Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Culture of Questions

"I know the question of 'ends' cannot safely be mentioned in the polity itself, because that would imply that some 'lifestyles' are better than others. We do not want that sort of sentiment around. Virtue cannot be a viable option, for that would mean that some things are vices. Still, as an act of rebellion, it is good to wonder about things that we are not supposed to think about."

Fr. James Schall's thoughts from On The Unseriousness of Human Affairs bring up an important facet of life which is easy to pass over: asking questions. In the hustle and bustle of each day, finding the time to sit back and contemplate life isn't easy. And, to be honest, contemplation sounds both heady and boring to most of us. Between our lack of time and the apparent lack of practicality, our culture doesn't encourage asking questions.

Or, perhaps we should say our culture does not encourage asking the right questions. When you think about it, there are all sorts of questions that we regularly ask. Who will win the next game? Is the stock market up or down this morning? Did you hear about the latest gaff from that celebrity? What is the best way to do ____? How will the President respond to this crisis? What are the polls saying about that hot button topic?

The list could continue. When we look at our questions though, how many do you see directed towards "ends?" That is, how many are focused on the purpose or reason for things? As Fr. Schall says further on:

"Those things that flow into us and those things that flow out of us belong to one world. We are not complete if we do not reflect on the highest things, or even on our own things. Nor are we complete if we do not seek to relate all things to one end, not just to any end, but to the truth of things."

Thinking about "ends" involves seeing how things fit into the truth about the world around us. While everything is unique, they are also specific parts of a whole - the whole of reality. Schall emphasizes that seeing this whole requires contemplation - specific focus on each of these facets and how they relate to and are part of the whole. Of course, in order to do this, we must know what the whole is, or at least have the framework from which to hang the other facets we encounter.

Francis Schaeffer communicated similar thoughts when he indited the Church for seeing "things in bits and pieces instead of totals." Schaeffer's concern was that focusing on the differentiation of subject matter prevented us from seeing how all of reality works together. Viewing the world as a series of compartments makes it easy to forget that these facets are part of a whole. Until we understand and know the whole, we will not be able to make sense of the facets.

This idea of knowing the whole implies that there is an absolute truth to the world - truth that applies to everyone all the time. This is why Schall regretted that questions of ends could not safely be asked in our culture- if they were to be accurately answered, we would find that some people were living life wrong because they were pursuing wrong ends. Still, he encourages us that, counter-cultural as it might be, these questions about ends are worth asking. After all, there are some things which are important enough for us to contradict the culture.

In the end, Schall and Schaeffer remind us that questions about ends are important because they require us to see reality as a whole - and in the process realize that Truth is something we see, not something we create.

In light of their thoughts, there are several questions we should ask ourselves: Do we agree that these questions ought to be asked? If so, does our personal culture and the culture we add to those around us support and encourage asking these questions? How do we encourage this kind of culture?

Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and answers. I'd be interested to hear your perspective!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"I'm the Only One"

I'm the only one. It's just me. There's so much that is is going wrong in the world around me, but the tide of evil can't completely be turned because, well, I'm the only one fighting against it

Sound familiar? This seems to be Elijah's perspective after the showdown at Mount Carmel. In first Kings, we read his explanation of the situation to God:

He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:14, ESV)

Does this ring any bells for you? If so, listen to God's response as Paul reports it in Romans 11:

Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:2b-4, ESV)

This exchange between Elijah and God points out several things to us:
  1. Our Vision is Limited: Elijah thought that he was God's last true servant, yet there were seven thousand others still serving God faithfully. Just because we can't see others faithfully serving, it doesn't mean that they aren't there.
  2. Not Everyone's Service is in the Lime Light: As we touched on in an earlier post, serving God faithfully does not always mean that our work will be front and center. Instead, it could easily be backstage, at least for most of the world. That does not make it any less important to the Kingdom. This is key to remember both when we are worried that our work isn't making an impact and when we are worried because we can't see others working. Not everything that God is doing will be visible to everyone.
  3. God Knows What is Going On and is in Control: The turn of events for Elijah wasn't unforeseen by God, nor was the need for servants to advance His Kingdom. He was already prepared for it and had the needed reinforcements all set. As it is, we should also keep in mind that numbers (or the lack thereof) do not hamper God's ability to achieve His goals. This fact is ably shown in Gideon's defeat of Midian (Judges 7). Who is on the roster list isn't important - faithfully serving where we have been placed is.
It is also worth noting that this sense that "I'm the only one" applies to groups just as much as individuals. The only difference between "I'm the only one" and "we're the only ones" is the plural terms. Both thoughts focus on our finiteness and frailty while ignoring God's sovereignty and omnipotence.

In other words, God, who has already won, is marshaling his armies and has all that is needed to bring about His victory. Given this fact, we are never "the only one" in the fight. Odds are, there are others in the trenches that we just aren't aware of. More importantly though, God Himself is working in and through us. We are not alone because He is with us, ensuring that His will is carried out. Or, as we learn in Joshua: One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. (Joshua 23:10, ESV)

What are God's directions for your life right now? If you don't know, how can you learn them? If you do know, what can you be doing to pursue them more effectively?
Do you think God normally has people work on their own or in teams? Why? How should this impact the way we pursue the goals He gives us?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Living Like You Are A Human

"...the Christian is called to exhibit the characteristics of true humanity, because being a man is not intrinsically being sinful man, but being that which goes back before the Fall, to man made in the image of God."

Schaeffer's thoughts from The God Who is There indirectly touch on an interesting facet of how we define what it means to be human. We often tend to think of people solely in the context of Genesis 3, The Fall. After all, one of the basic facts of life is that everyone is fallen, right? What we miss is that in order to fall, you first need to have been standing. Genesis 3 doesn't make any sense without Genesis 1-2. You have to start with a good creation for that creation to fall. Evil isn't original - either in chronology or it's ability to create. It is proceeded by good and can only twist what is already there.

This perspective should impact how we live life in at least two specific ways:
  1. Recognize the Twisting Effects of Evil - it touches everything, including the people with whom I interact. In the Truth Project, Del Tackett presents a helpful analogy: People who believe the lie of sin are POWs, not enemy combatants. The fact that they have been fatally messed up shouldn't prevent me from seeing that they were created to be something good. 
  2. Enjoy Life Fully - Following God and enjoying life is a both/and proposition. G.K. Chesterton puts it this way in Orthodoxy: "The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild." Good things running wild, life filled with zest, places and people enjoyed simply because God created them and they were created to be enjoyed - that's part of the life others should see in us. It's easy to evaluate experiences solely in light of their practicality: How much does this cost? Will I be learning something valuable? Is there a more profitable way to spend my time? Those are the questions that I have been quick to ask in the past. While there is a place for questions like these, we also need to recognize that they can completely miss the fact that some things we ought to do simply for the sake of enjoying God through his creation.
Following God and enjoying the world is a both/and proposition. In fact, on some level enjoying the world provides us with a unique way to worship God. With this in mind, what are some ways that you will be enjoying God through His creation in the near future? What are other facets of living a truly human life which we should be thinking about?