Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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How To Treat A Fool

Faith & reason

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b, 7, NRSV)

“Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.” (Prov. 26:4, NRSV)

OK, wait for it…WAIT for it…

“Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Prov. 26:5, NRSV)

Events of the last few days have led me to ponder when to apply each verse; or more precisely, when, because of compassion (1), should I stay in a conversation, with the hope that, at least, seeds of the kingdom of God, rumors of glory, might be planted, OR…when should I extricate myself from obtuse fools and unedifying conversation? The story begins about a week I ago.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Miller, a pastor of the thriving Glenkirk Church in the quiet, suburban city of Glendora, authored a book: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” (Abingdon Press, 2013). Jim Miller, my former presbytery colleague and current Facebook friend, asked me recently to “like” the “Hardwired” Facebook page. Last week, I read the book on my Kindle. A variety of worries and concerns met me as I read, though now after reading the book a couple more times, I have a more appreciative view of the book.

I began a blog post to respond to the concerns I had about the book. Often when I make a post, it is as long as a term paper, and requires two or three days to write. I was determined that I was not going to produce a critique that long; when I make a long post, I try to make one that works on several levels, has humor, a spiritual point, unexpected content, and is seeded with a few spiritual time-bombs that will go off later, opening up unexpected prospects for the reader (I believe this is why this blog is read in so many countries). I gave myself one afternoon to write the post. However, as the afternoon wore on, I saw that for me to be fair to the author, and understood by my readers, a long post would be required after all. So after writing several pages, I just threw them in the trash. I would just try to continue to exemplify in my blog posts, my approach to Christian apologetics, or what I prefer to call commending a Christian faith and worldview.

Then I thought I might receive some help from an online discussion. I was a member of a group that I had never used. You might think that with “apologetics” in the title, the group would be mostly sympathetic to Christian faith, though of course, some members might not be Christians. You would be wrong. I asked what members thought of the book, “Hardwired”, and then asked a longer and more nuanced version of this question: “Isn’t the use of the metaphor, ‘hardwired’, a double-edged sword? When used outside of the original context of computer science/artificial intelligence, it seems to be a pseudo-scientific term that gives an unearned patina of science to arguments. It was used in this way first by anti-religious materialists.” At first, I received some short, helpful responses. Then the anti-Christian trolls came out from under the bridge, so to speak. Anything I said was deemed so obviously false that it did not need to be refuted. Responses that I made that got too close to their targets, were met with lazy misunderstanding or attempts to distract me (and the group) with irrelevant questions. You’ve probably seen in political discourse, that sometimes questions about an issue are met with just changing the subject by bringing up another issue. One member exemplified the very worry I had, by attempting to debunk religious beliefs by explaining how they are hardwired into us because they have an evolutionary survival value. Insults to Christian faith, and a kind of bullying that involves the words “of course…”, flowed freely for the next 24 hours. My instinct is too stay with a conversation and too never give up. But this conversation had sunk into a morass of willful misunderstanding and foolishness. And so, I applied the proverb, “Do not answer fools according to their folly…” With Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), out of the room, I was bold to also remember this verse: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” Leaving the reversionists behind, I ‘unjoined’ the group with “extreme prejudice” (to paraphrase the film, “Apocalypse Now”).

Remembering that, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'” (Ps. 14:1a. NRSV), the question before us is: When should we apply Proverbs 26:4, and when should we apply Proverbs 26:5? I do believe that all humans bear the image of God, and so, even foolish or evil ones have dignity, and should be treated with respect. Two thoughts come to mind. 1) One of the principles of L’Abri Fellowship, founded by Dr. Francis and Edith Schaeffer, is to give an honest answer to every honest question. There is a presumption of staying with the conversation, even if the answer is, “I’ll get back to you on that, after I’ve done some work on it.” But, if the questioner is insincere, unwilling to seek and acknowledge truth, then one’s time and energy is better spent elsewhere. 2) Dallas Willard, in the DVD series accompanying his final book, “Living In Christ’s Presence: Final Words On Heaven and the Kingdom Of God” (InterVarsity Press, 2014), said that he will not debate with atheists/agnostics/materialists/etc., but that he will engage with them in a common search for truth.

Another way of thinking about this is to remember that Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15a, NRSV). Some of us are ostensibly more oriented to the truth-speaking command, and some, to the love command. We need to live out both parts of the instruction, or we risk being cold and pedantic, on the one hand, or mushy and intellectually flabby, on the other hand. It seems to me though, that without love, one’s truth-seeking becomes distorted, and one’s truth-speaking drives people away. And, love entails willingness to help people acquire the knowledge that they need (1).

(1) See my post of 10/12/14: “Lack of Knowledge Is a Compassion Issue.”

“To watch over mouth and tongue
is to keep out of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,”
acts with arrogant pride.” (Prov. 21:23-24, NRSV)

This post was powered by the CD, “The Banner Days Sampler” (2014) by The Banner Days, the CD, “Modern” (1999) by Battered Fish, the CD, “Love Songs And Prayers [A Retrospective]” (1994) by the Choir, and the CD, “Brutal Romantic” (2014) by Brooke Fraser.

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Speak to Your Soul

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, ESV)
When Terry and I studied at the Swiss L’Abri in the 80s, Prof. Donald Drew would tell us: “Speak to your soul; don’t let your soul speak to you.” This thought is related to the example of the Psalmist in texts like the one above and also to the desire to not merely drift along with whatever chatter is happening in our heads, but to order our emotions to reflect what we believe, to Reality, to Truth.

In our culture, at least since the 19th century Romantic Movement, it seems natural to place a priority on emotions. I believe that, though we might not express it this way, we assume that we must obey our emotions and feelings. Otherwise, we are not ‘authentic’ or we are denying our ‘true selves’ or we are ‘phony’. I believe that what seems so obvious to us is really a largely unexamined assumption of our culture. I remember Woody Allen trying to justify his sexual relationship with his adopted step-daughter. He said, “The heart wants what it wants.” I remember a Christian television celebrity entitling her book, “I Gotta Be Me”.

Now emotions and feelings are not bad. They are part of our response to reality; they are an avenue of knowledge. They are also essential for motivation to act. C.S. Lewis found that a feeling of longing was part of what drew him to God, as he discovered repeatedly that what he thought he wanted did not satisfy his desire. God has made us so that we can appreciate beauty, order and truth. He has made us for delight and joy. I do not want to suggest that we should deny what we feel or repress our emotions. I just want to suggest that our assumption that we must obey our emotions is a particular cultural attitude that is relatively recent in human history and is in tension with our call to live in the light of God’s revelation of himself and of our world.

It follows then that we should feed our emotional life with that which helps to bring our emotions into harmony with what we believe. Daily Bible reading is important. The Psalmist’s “delight is in the law (torah, instruction) of the LORD and on his word he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1 from memory). We are promised the mind of Christ. This is where my saying, “The devil gets no space on my hard drive” comes in. For you IT nerds, I might have said “no space on my CPU”. I have a God-given mind with particular abilities. I will not use my mind for cynicism or lies. I will not engage in obsessive doubt. There is a place, of course, for asking honest questions where we really seek answers. But for a long time in our culture, since Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), there has been an assumption that we must find an indubitable starting point for our thought, and then must engage in systematic doubt, so that we may believe only what cannot be doubted. Post-modernism has at least undermined this program and we should have understood earlier that this is an impossible program. I remember being caught in this mental hamster wheel. But now I seek to allow God to use my mind for his purposes. I am a ‘think tank’, if you will, for God’s people and I seek to understand my culture so that I can enter into the cultural stream and plant seeds that will change minds and maybe slightly move that culture toward openness to God’s love and reign.

What goes into our minds at the end of the day has great power to affect our emotions, especially if we have not taken the time to reflect on how our thoughts and feelings of this day fit into God’s story with us. Here is my theory of dreams. Dreams are mostly the mind processing the experiences of the day, coding them with emotion, making connections and starting memories on the way to storage in long-term memory. Sometimes God speaks to us or begins to heal us in our dreams. God has spoken to me in dreams. We all dream or have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, but only some of us remember our dreams. Dreaming is very important to our spiritual and emotional health. This can be seen in studies where people were given adequate time to sleep but were repeatedly awakened before they could enter REM sleep. Eventually, as soon as they were allowed to sleep, they would enter into REM sleep. People deprived long enough of REM sleep begin to hallucinate.

Many of us work or play hard all day long. At the end of the day we are exhausted. So we do something mindless or watch television (but I repeat myself) until we collapse, and then wonder the next morning where our feelings are coming from and why we are in a funk. Our unexamined experiences and emotions have gone into our subconscious. How much better would we feel if we followed the Hebrew pattern of beginning the day in the evening? We might reflect on our day and how it fits into God’s story and then think about our opportunities of the next day. We could begin our day in the evening by committing our night and day into God’s hands through prayer. God gives his people peace in their sleep.

Think also about how we might see films. Let me suggest that rather than just view them as entertainment, we see them with other Christians, and then go out for coffee together and discuss what we have seen from the perspective of what we believe about God, humans, creation, salvation and all that God has revealed to us through the Bible. If the film is important for our cultural engagement, I am not very concerned about what it is rated. What is important is that we place the film in relationship with our Christian worldview.

Let us speak to our souls:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5, ESV)

This post was powered by “Hollow Songs” (2008), “Mercy Songs” (2010), “The Vault 1: Live in Kansas City, December 2006”, all by Michael Pritzl, and “The Story of Our Lives, Pt.1 – The Fantastic Machine” (2012) by The Violet Burning.

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