Anti-theodicy and Religious Legitimacy by Colin Eckstein

The apparent existence of evil, maintains atheist philosopher David Hume, is irreconcilable with the assertion of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God.[1] A Deity who cares for humanity, is able to protect each individual without qualification, and yet permits unconscionable evil is without justification (and therefore unlikely to exist). In an attempt to retain both God’s perfect goodness and all-powerfulness, some theists have attempted to provide critics with a theodicy, or “argument that attempts to show that God is righteous or just despite the presence of evil in the world.”[2]

In the tradition of Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga, philosopher of religion and evangelical Christian Steven T. Davis defines theodicy as such with the expectation that God’s vindication is a requisite of religious faith. Davis’ colleague and fellow Christian John Roth, however, rejects outright the very idea of theodicy.[3] Outraged by God’s inaction in the face of evil (and Davis’ subsequent rationalizations), Roth proposes a condemnatory anti-theodicy. His position can be summarized as follows:[4]

(1)   Human affairs are far worse than any good reason can justify or than our powers alone can alter.

(2)   Humans must refuse to settle for the despair that the first feeling generates.

Roth’s “theodicy of protest” is a radical call for justice—an utter refusal to minimize felt sufferings or excuse God’s role in them. Consequently, Davis’ response is swift and forceful: “[Roth’s anti-theodicy] involves giving up on something that I regard as [I] religiously essential, [II] central to scripture and Christian tradition, and [III] personally precious: the notion that God is perfectly morally good.”[5] While I have nothing to offer Davis in terms of personal comfort, I intend to demonstrate that Roth’s anti-theodicy is both [I] religiously valid and [II] consistent with Christian scripture.

While Roth points to post-Holocaust Jewish theology as an exemplar of anti-theodicy, I will use as my reference point the satirical Broadway musical Book of Mormon. The scene is a rural Ugandan village plagued with drought, disease, and a gaggle of self-deceived missionaries:[6]

MAFALA [villager]: In this part of Africa, we all have a saying—whenever something bad happens, we just throw our hands up to the sky and say “Hasa Diga Eebowai!” […] There isn't enough food to eat! / Hasa Diga Eebowai! / People are starving in the street!

UGANDANS and MAFALA: Hasa Diga Eebowai! / Hasa Diga Eebowai! / Hasa Diga Eebowai! […]

ELDER PRICE [missionary]: Excuse me sir, but what exactly does that phrase mean?

MAFALA: Well, let's see. “Eebowai” means “God” and “Hasa Diga” means “Fuck you.” So I guess in English it would be “Fuck you, God!” […]

ELDER PRICE: Excuse me, sir, but you should really not be saying that. Things aren't always as bad as they seem!

MAFALA: Oh really? Well take this fucking asshole, Mutumbo. He got caught last week trying to rape a baby.

Confronted with this stark example of evil run rampant, Elder Price has no ready reply. The villagers’ cries of genuine sorrow, confusion, and pain are not something to be explained away. Rather, they constitute an expression of inherent spiritual value—an honest, albeit grim, dialogue with the God who ordained their suffering.

To satisfy Davis and more orthodox critics, a robust theophilosophical justification of anti-theodicy must appeal to Christian scripture for legitimacy. Although Davis fails to outline a criterion for “Biblical” theology, he elsewhere affirms the full canon as “inspired by God”[7] and useful for Christian faith and practice.[8] As such, my argument presupposes the religious authority of both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Notwithstanding this strict definition of scriptural congruency, I contend that a Biblical human-divine relational paradigm:

(3)   Acknowledges God’s perpetration of evil

(4)   Endorses human protests against divine injustice

In his epigraph, Roth alludes to (3) with a quotation from Exodus: “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.”[9] While most other translations sanitize this and similar passages by replacing “evil” with “disaster” or “harm,” the RSV (above) retains the word “evil” as a matter of consistency.[10] All major English translations define the Hebrew word “ra’ah” as “evil” in the context of human transgression, but most prefer benign alternatives like “difficulty” when describing God’s actions.[11] Only a select few rightly reject this theodicy of redaction as intellectually dishonest. A self-proclaimed proponent of Biblical infallibility, Davis’ impassioned defense of a whitewashed God becomes hermeneutically unnecessary (and perhaps even untenable) in light of this evidence.[12]

Having established a Biblical basis for (3), I nonetheless intend to continue justifying this premise while building a case for (4). A retelling of the Job narrative is my first occasion to do so. On account of a wager with Satan, God attempts to prove the loyalty of God’s servant Job by taking away all he holds dear: his children, his livelihood, his health.[13] Short of renouncing God, Job demands an explanation for his unjust suffering. Job’s wife ridicules his question as futile; “Curse God and die!” she sneers.[14] Job’s friends dismiss his question as disingenuous; “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” they admonish.[15] God rebuffs Job’s question as improper; “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God retorts.[16]

Job “refuses theodicy right to the end.”[17] Notwithstanding an inexplicable and unconvincing final scene of human and divine reconciliation, Job’s question remains unresolved.[18] Moreover, God’s capricious motives are exposed and found wanting.[19] As such, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel asserts that “[Job] did not suffer in vain; thanks to him, we know that it is given to man to transform divine injustice into human justice and compassion.”[20] A tale of pointless suffering and persistent questioning, the Biblical narrative of Job affirms both (3) and (4).[21]

Note that it is Job’s author, not its God character, who is understood to subscribe to (4). In challenging God’s innocence while maintaining Job’s integrity, the narrative favors the latter. The same can be said of Abraham’s rebuke of God in Genesis 18. Upon learning that God plans to destroy the wicked city of Sodom, Abraham demands that God desist:

Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?[22]

Amazingly, God relents at Abraham’s request. The Israelite patriarch, honored in the Christian “Hall of Faith,” comfortably argues with God over the just course of action.[23] This depiction of divine-human relationship, a textbook instance of (4) and compelling response to (3), is far more appealing to me than Davis’ stated alternative:[24]

(5)   Trust that the afterlife will be so blissful that “all previous sufferings will pale into insignificance.”

While I freely grant Davis’ personal preference for (5) over (4), his above objections to Roth demand that I defend my own—that I demonstrate the religious (specifically Christian) validity of anti-theodicy. How can I worship a God with whom I oft disagree? Begging Davis’ permission to respond with a question: How can you worship a God with whom you are theologically forbidden from disagreeing? Elder McKinley’s tortured soliloquy, again from Book of Mormon, illustrates my point:[25]

ELDER MCKINLEY: When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head / Don’t feel those feelings! / Hold them in instead. / Turn it off, like a light switch. / Just go click! / It’s a cool little Mormon trick! / We do it all the time. / When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right / Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light / And turn ‘em off.

Afraid to question God’s authority and thus compromise his faith, McKinley attempts to suppress feelings of anger and despair. Forced silence, however, is not a genuine alternative to honest expression of hurt or doubt. Indeed, passive acceptance of violence and idealization of violent partners are both characteristic of Battered Person Syndrome.[26] Healthy relationships, therefore, must afford all participants a means of authentic self-expression. As long as at least one of these participants is human (i.e. whether the relationship is human-human or human-divine), indignation at unexplained suffering must have some religious validity.

I am not suggesting that humanity live in a perpetual state of protest against God. As Roth asserts, “Confrontation is rooted not so much in rejection of God but rather in recognition that such defiance is crucial in struggles against despair.”[27] Rather, I insist on a human-divine relational paradigm that is three-dimensional, that rings experientially true both in times of joy and despair. Praise must sometimes give way to Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”[28]

As the God-man (and my final example), Jesus lives into the fundamental paradox of anti-theodicy: human-divine relationship must coexist with human solidarity in God-ordained suffering. God, by incorporating humanhood into Godself, experiences in Jesus Christ the overwhelming futility of evil. So much so that God condemns Godself to death and accepts God’s own blood as payment for sin. By suffering alongside us, God restores relationship with humankind. This Gospel calls not for cowed silence, but a human-divine partnership to eradicate the very evil we create.

In demonstrating (3) and (4), I outline a distinctly Christian approach to evil that also staunchly maintains (1). Moreover, my discussion of the Incarnation addresses (2) in such a way that affirms both human-divine relationship and human-human solidarity. Therefore, I assert that Davis can reject anti-theodicy only on the basis of personal preference—a rejection which I am happy to grant, but am in no way religiously, scripturally, or otherwise obligated to adopt myself. Meanwhile, (5) remains a live option; subscribers to anti-theodicy may logically accept it alongside (4) if so inclined. Even those who await the redemption of human suffering may join me in denying its justification.

[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1979); London: Longmans Green, 1878.

[2] Stephen T. Davis (Ed.). (2001). Encountering Evil, A New Edition: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. xi.

[3] Roth is not alone in this. For a review, see McWilliams, Warren. 1992. Review of The Evils of TheodicyJournal of the American Academy of Religion 60 (3). [Oxford University Press, American Academy of Religion]: 570–72. 

[4] Ibid. 18.

[5] Stephen T. Davis (Ed.). (2001). Encountering Evil, A New Edition: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. 20.

[6] Parker, T., Lopez, R., & Stone, M. (2011). The Book of Mormon Script Book: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical (First Edition edition). New York: Newmarket Press.

[7] 1 Timothy 2:16, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[8] Stephen T. Davis (1984). Debate About the Bible: Inerrancy Versus Infallibility. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press.

[9] Exodus 32:14, Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version. New York: International Council of Religious Education, 1952.

[10] See Exodus 2:15 (RSV): Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil…”

[11] Anderson, Craig, “Death of Joshua.” (Class lecture, Prophets, Kings, and Politics in the Hebrew Bible RLST 088, Pomona College, Crookshank 001, October 6, 2015).

[12] Stephen T. Davis (1984). Debate About the Bible: Inerrancy Versus Infallibility. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press.

[13] Job 1, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[14] Job 2:9.

[15] Job 11:6.

[16] Job 38:4.

[17] Bernasconi, Robert, and David Wood, eds. (2014). The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other. Reissue edition. Routledge.

[18] Many scholars reject these last few chapters as a later addition to the text to “undermine the truth value of all [previous] theological statements.” Alan Cooper (1997) “The Sense of the Book of Job”. Prooftexts 17 (3). Indiana University Press: 240.

[19] Ibid. 230.

[20] Elie Wiesel (1985). Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (Reissue edition). New York: Simon & Schuster.

[21] For an example of (3), see Job 2:10 (RSV): “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

[22] Genesis 18:24-25, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

[23] An evangelical moniker for Hebrews 11.

[24] Stephen T. Davis (Ed.). (2001). Encountering Evil, A New Edition: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. 85.

[25] Parker, T., Lopez, R., & Stone, M. (2011). The Book of Mormon Script Book: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical (First Edition edition). New York: Newmarket Press.

[26] Mega, L. T., Mega, J. L., Mega, B. T., & Harris, B. M. (2000). Brainwashing and battering fatigue. Psychological abuse in domestic violence. North Carolina Medical Journal61(5), 260–265.

[27] Stephen T. Davis (Ed.). (2001). Encountering Evil, A New Edition: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. 4.

[28] Matthew 27:46, Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.

Posted on July 3, 2016 .

Like Children's Toys: Portrayals of Faith in The Lego Movie by Pieter Hoekstra

Up until its climax, The LEGO Movie follows a team of LEGO people in their attempt to prevent the evil overlord, Lord Business, from freezing the entire world in place with a bottle of Krazy Glue. The LEGO people, led by Emmett, an average construction worker LEGO, appear to have failed; doomsday begins. But then our attention shifts to a young human boy named Finn playing with a plastic LEGO Emmett in his basement, and we realize that we have merely been watching Finn play with LEGOs the entire film. 

More pointedly, Finn has been playing with his father’s LEGOs, disrupting their meticulous placement in separate and thematically appropriate worlds—knights, pirates, etc. Finn’s Father (Will Ferrell), the LEGO world’s controlling, tyrannical creator is furious when he discovers his son’s shenanigans. Lord Business (conveniently, also played by Will Ferrell), with his plans for complete control, turns out to be Finn’s fictional representation of his father. Finn’s imagination also spawns the prophecy of “the Special,” a messianic LEGO prophesied to save the world. Between Lord Business and the Special, the film accomplishes thinly veiled religious commentary, which while cleverly implemented is ultimately disappointing in its simplicity and condescension.

THE LORD IS A JEALOUS AND AVENGING GOD

The LEGOs occasionally refer to a mysterious figure conveniently named “The Man Upstairs.” Of course, this is just Finn’s Father, who created the LEGO world down in his basement, and first appears in the film standing ominously at the top of the stairs. While this is a cute gag, it’s also our first reference point by which we can explore the parallels between Finn’s Father, Lord Business, and Judeo-Christian God—beginning with the film’s retelling of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. 

The Biblical account begins: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” Humanity decides to build a tower that “reaches to the Heavens.” But God objects: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse the language so they will not understand each other.” So God “scatter[s] them from there all over the earth,” reasserting control. Similarly, LEGO legend recalls a time when “all the people in the universe were once free to travel and mingle, and build whatever they wanted. But President Business was confused by all the chaos. So he erected walls between these worlds and became obsessed with order and perfection.” 

The narratives beg to be read in parallel. We learn in the first sentences that “the whole world” and “all the people in the universe” were unified. We’re next told that they built together. But a powerful figure invades each story and is worried by what he sees—President Business by lack of order, God by what humanity might do unchecked. So they divide up all the people and, through language or through walls, prevent their further cooperation. The film condemns them as control freaks who privilege power and order over societal progress. Through Lord Business and his human analogue “the Man Upstairs”, God is characterized as a stifling force, preventing human expression and unity.

Echoing Lord Business’s doomsday plan to freeze the world with a bottle of Krazy Glue, Finn’s Father tells his son, “Let’s put everything back the way we found it, so I can make everything the way it’s supposed to be—permanently.” The two tyrants’ twisted plans belie the film’s reductive understanding of Christian eschatology, one in which God destroys dissenters and forces the world back under his despotic rule. The film-makers, with their revelatory explanation of Christian theology, are shocked that anyone ever thought this was a good idea!

A SAVIOR IS BORN

The film casts parallels not only between Lord Business/Finn’s Father and God, but between Emmett the Special and Jesus Christ. Emmett’s quite the run-of-the-mill messianic protagonist. The film is fully aware of what a trope he is and leverages that for laughs, generically dubbing him “the Special” and repeatedly referring to him as some variation of “the most talented, most interesting, and most important person in the universe.” In the opening scene of the movie, a blind prophet named Vetruvius does battle with Lord Business. As Vetruvius is defeated, he predicts in verse that one day the “greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times” will “thwart the Kragle and save the realm.” Like Christ, the Special is prophesied long before his coming. But those around Emmett repeatedly assert that he’s an ordinary, un-special construction worker, just as the Gospels recount that people dismissed Jesus as an ordinary carpenter. Additionally, it is emphasized that destroying the Kragle may cause an explosion that would kill the Special, making Emmett, like Christ, a sacrificial savior. 

A few other tidbits key us into the intentionality of this Christian comparison. Upon his capture by Lord Business, we encounter Emmett strapped to a battery with wires emerging from each side, forming a figurative cross. At this point, when it appears that Emmett’s messianic mission has failed, Lord Business’sKragle-carrying fleet spreads out over the world, and he declares: “Don’t worry about the big, black monolith blocking out the sun!” After Christ’s apparent defeat, Luke writes that “the sun’s light failed” and “darkness came over the land.” And like Christ’s disciples, Emmet’s friends lament, believing him lost—but he comes back from the dead with an enlightened message.

WE SHALL BE SAVED FROM THE WRATH OF GOD THROUGH HIM

It would seem contradictory that the film’s supposed Old Testament God is pitted against its Christ figure, disrupting the flow of its Biblical parallels. But I would argue, at risk of overstating how these parallels operate, that the film breaks from the Biblical relationship of Father and Son intentionally. In fact, it argues that the Father of the Old Testament’s anger and selfishness are diametrically opposed to the Son’s vision of salvation from oppression. This is underscored by Finn’s own vision of salvation from his Father’s iron fist. The Heavenly Father, the film asserts, is part of the oppression from which humanity needs saving; Christianity, then, is inconsistent and ultimately unsatisfying.

This accusation of inconsistency becomes apparent when we examine the “evil” that the Special has come to defeat. It is not hedonism, unrest, or disobedience that the film takes issue with, but rather the restriction of human freedom. Lord Business becomes the antagonist by prioritizing order and control over progress, creativity, and joy. Like Christians did to their heretics so well for so many years, Lord Business “captured and tortured” master builders, the LEGO artists and forward thinkers who dared to try change anything, all to gratify his obsession with order. This gets at the root of the parallel between Lord Business and God: what the film thinks we need to be saved from is not sin, but the archaic, despotic God that we think loves us.

THE STONE THAT THE BUILDERS REJECTED...

But the solution of a salvific figure is also subject to critique. From the film’s perspective, Christianity is mistaken to place its hope in a single supernatural messiah. Instead, it calls us all to utilize our (naturalistic) “specialness” to achieve progress. As Lord Business is freezing the LEGO world in place, the “resurrected” Emmett implores him:

You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things, because you are the special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up. But it’s also true! It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you still can change everything.

“And so is everyone.” The film acknowledges that there isn’t some “most extraordinary person in the universe” come to save the world; but humans, working together, can still save themselves. “Look at all these things that people built!” Emmett tells Lord Business, in a nod to Babel. “You might see it as a mess...what I see is people inspired by each other. And you. People taking what you made, and making something new out of it!” This is a pathetic, patronizing attempt at consoling Christians whose entire worldview is being ceremoniously thrown in the garbage. The film wants Christians, supposed ideological conservatives in a world of progress, to recognize that the change around them is simply the next step for humanity. 

Belief in a supernatural savior, rather than human potential, is ridiculed through the film’s depiction of messianic prophecy. The world is to be saved by “the greatest, most important, most interesting person of all times. All of this is true,” Vetruvius prophesies, “because it rhymes.” The blind prophet literally leads the blind—and we believe him because he’s a good poet. Of course, by the end of the film, when Emmett and the master builders appear defeated, Vetruvius admits that he made the prophecy up. He tells Emmett he knew that anyone who found the Kragle’s cap could be the special, because all one needs to be special is to believe in one’s self. “But how can I just decide to believe that I’m special when I’m not?” “Because the world depends on it!” The LEGOs believe Emmett is their messiah out of desperation, a certain desire and strength of will, rather than objective reasoning. Some New Testament scholars make a similar argument: the disciples so wanted Jesus to be the messiah that they simultaneously hallucinated his resurrection. In reality, the film tells us, the messiah was never resurrected; he was just a guy who had some good ideas about throwing off the yoke of oppression, and who a bunch of wishful thinkers—like children playing with toys—decided to see as supernaturally “special.”

The structure of the film’s frame story also utilizes the concept of distorting reality through the lens of faith. Finn, when imagining the LEGOs as alive, throws them through a cardboard tube on which he has scrawled “magic portal.” He views reality through this constructed lens and sees the imaginary. Similarly, Vetruvius tells Emmett, “All you have to do is to believe. Then, you will see everything.” This is the film’s broadest critique of religion: that people of faith look at the world through a spiritual lens, falsely believing that everything they see is divinely “meaningful.” 

Is anything meaningful, then? It depends on how you define meaning. We spend most of the film seeing Emmett as a sentient, self-determining LEGO, a living entity. It turns out, however, that he’s an inanimate piece of plastic whose entire reality is in the hands of a child. And as a piece of plastic, he can’t move, he can’t speak, he can’t save the world. But just as Finn’s Father is about to glue the LEGOs in place, we see Emmett barely manage to wiggle off the end of a table. This catches Finn’s attention and inspires him to implore his dad one last time to let the LEGOs be. Despite his revealed unimportance, Emmett’s small act is still a catalyst for progress, and the film wants us to see this as meaningful. While humans lack true metaphysical significance, each of us can contribute to the larger story of humanity.

Emmett’s fulfillment in the absence of meaning is characteristic of the film’s atheistic humanism. The LEGO Movie has full certitude (or perhaps we should say faith) that we will be better off when we get rid of our damn superstition. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with making an atheist movie. But there is something innately condescending about pointing and laughing at beliefs you think are childish and absurd without providing truly thoughtful critique. The LEGO Movie instead distorts my religious convictions to the point of making them nearly unrecognizable. This is not to say that religion can’t impede progress and creativity; clearly it can and often does. But to reduce all of Christendom to blind warmongers with Stockholm Syndrome towards their captor God is simply dishonest reductionism. I’m no “culture war” hawk—I think the idea of a culture war is ridiculous—but The LEGO Movie does its best to fire a few shots. For a film that promotes ideological progress, The LEGO Movie does a pretty crappy job of fostering constructive dialogue.

Posted on October 2, 2015 .

Black Lives Matter: Moving Beyond Disingenuous Openness by Lindsey Mahomes

I cry every time I think about the murder of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police officers. “I can’t breathe” echoes over and over again in my mind, the music to which the image of a father facedown on gravel pleading for his life is set, and before I’m aware, I’m sobbing. I’m angered each time I think about the sickeningly numerous deaths of my brothers and sisters and I become enraged when I consider the all-too-predictable non-indictments that follow.

Since it is likely that you don’t know me all too well, allow me to clarify something: this behavior is quite unusual for me. I come from a debate background and have always been very rational when voicing my opinions; I am always passionate, but I do not cry. I avoid letting my emotions affect my rationality when it comes to political issues. I suppose this is still the case, though, because this particular issue is not political: this is personal. My fellow black Americans and I are in a constant state of danger and appear to have little recourse for the injustice we face.

In order to directly address these injustices, I must provide two further clarifications. First: nothing is an isolated incident. Second: we–Claremont College students, Claremont residents, and beyond—are not living in isolation. The murders of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and countless others, the continued discrimination people of color face, and even the defacing of Walker Wall and the quilt at Scripps are all connected. From micro-aggressions (small, often unintentional acts of racism) to blatant acts of racism and ignorance, we see evidence of a larger institutional problem. Historically, the systemic treatment of Blacks has operated on the conceptualization of Blacks as inferior individuals, even as property. Slavery has, of course, long since been abolished, but the prevailing idea of inferiority lingers and is still evident in our criminal justice, education, political and other systems. Over time, black lives have been systematically subjected to devaluation.

Those who seek to effectively combat this devaluation must understand that “Black Lives Matter” isn’t simply a trendy hashtag circulating the interwebs. It is a movement, established by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, rooted in actively acknowledging the need for black bodies to assert that our lives are important. Consider this: if“all lives mattered,” no such movement would be necessary. The problem lies therein. These are real issues and our communal attitudes toward them have real implications for their continued existence. Even in Claremont, we as a community are affected by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, regardless of whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

Perhaps it’s simply my perception, but I feel a large sense of apathy from my fellow 5C-ers, including the Christian community. I was initially surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response, manifesting itself in the turnout for the Ferguson rally, social media posts, etc., but since then I’ve seen the enthusiasm dwindle. No one seems to be talking or even thinking about these issues anymore, despite the fact that they have far-reaching and shockingly powerful implications.  No one seems to care. I feel scared, heartbroken and powerless, and all the while everyone seems to be going about their daily lives as if nothing has happened. As if nothing is happening. The violence I’m describing is ever-present: reduced media coverage and public consciousness does not mean that nothing is wrong anymore. On the contrary, they are indications that the violence is so normalized that it isn’t even newsworthy—if it ever was.

Am I wrong? Is everyone secretly thinking about the systemic violence against black bodies and the institutionalized racism we continue to face? Are others silently hurting with me? I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this were the case; I often silently think about systems that oppress others, maybe even those that oppress you. But even a short conversation with me would usually reveal my silent thoughts, and in light of the conversations I have engaged in and observed, I remain skeptical that people care—whether silently or not. Perhaps we as a community are missing a certain depth in our relationships that would allow for these kinds of conversations to take place. I sense a perceptible lack of reflection regarding these issues that only upholds these systems of injustice.

Delving deeper into this lack of reflection, I also sense the presence of what can be termed disingenuous openness. Perhaps there’s a general understanding that institutionalized racism is real and harmful, but only to some ambiguously large extent. How many people have stopped to think about what this actually means on an individual level? I’ve had many conversations with people who claim to be open-minded but have internally settled on a very limited worldview that they are uninterested in reconsidering. A commitment to genuine reflection and open-mindedness is essential if we’re ever to make any progress or have substantive conversations. Without such a commitment, you might be even more likely to become part of the problem than those who are explicitly close-minded because your ostensible openness leads others to believe you’re on your way to being part of the solution.

In leading lives that are void of genuine reflection, we often miss the larger point. For example, why are we so quick to sign up for community service and opportunities to help those we identify as ‘others,’ but reticent to meaningfully engage with those around us when it comes to discussing these systemic issues? Don’t get me wrong: community service is great and can be an enriching experience for both you and the people with whom you’re working. But don’t be fooled: the people you’re helping are suffering from the same systemic injustice you are regularly (consciously or not) refusing the opportunity to think about and discuss. As I’ve mentioned before, it is all connected; nothing happens in isolation.

As I see it, the reality of the situation is this: we are one family and collectively comprise one body (Mark 3:34-5, Romans 12:4-5). Thus, it is fundamentally our responsibility to care deeply about and for one another. If the idea that all human beings are equally valuable and worthy of respect does not persuade you that these issues are worthy of your time and consideration, the fact that we are all closely related should. We often view the charge to be family as symbolic or only embrace it when we feel like it. Inevitably, there are times when it is more convenient to acknowledge other individuals as our brothers and sisters and love them as such. Perhaps these are the times you choose to give the issues that affect your surrounding community some thought. The problem with this approach, though, is that we are required to go above and beyond the natural human inclination to only occasionally think about others. Anyone can do the bare minimum; the challenge to care more than that is intentionally difficult. Ponder this: if we were naturally motivated to constantly think about others, the scripture would not have needed to pronounce us “family,” because our lives would have already reflected that reality. Christianity isn’t only about pursuing and maintaining a personal relationship with God or doing community service or being an overall “good person”: it is an active stance we take that demands a (binding) notion of constantly engaging with and being sensitive to each other. This means imagining issues that aren’t your reality as if they were actually happening to you. This means recognizing that those issues actually are your reality because they’re attacking a member of your family and hurting a part of your body. This means, as much as your instinct might be to kick and scream and claim otherwise, ignorance is not an option that is readily available to you. In the same way, disingenuous openness is unacceptable.

The problem I’ve identified is serious. However, I truly believe in the power of community and I have faith in our ability to create a family where we relentlessly and genuinely support each other. I’ve seen glimpses of this in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, one of the most welcoming groups I’ve encountered in my short time here at the 5Cs, but there is, as always, room for improvement. In this spirit, let us all be cognizant of our role in systems of oppression, recognize our obligation to be present in each other’s lives, and work towards building the community we’re called to live in.

Posted on September 17, 2015 .

To Become the One Who is Near to Others by Michael Spezio

“Humility says, ‘How can I serve you?’ Hubris says, ‘Here’s how to fix yourself.’” – Fr. Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries, Los Angeles, CA

A lot of my scientific work falls under the areas of affective neuroscience, social neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, moral psychology, and mindfulness or contemplative studies. It sounds like a lot to keep together. Admittedly, keeping it together doesn’t always work (especially near the end of the term!), and interdisciplinary connections can prove elusive, confusing, even irritating, especially if they require reshaping of one’s own beliefs or of the sacred disciplines themselves. These hallowed halls of academia can seem sometimes feel rather like hollow silos, lacking the life-giving stores of wonder, curiosity, humility, and openness in a community of seekers, in solidarity to and for one another. But halls, after all, are for connecting. Hallways do the bridging work in terms both spatial and social. Thanks to the generous spirit of colleagues and communities who have led the way and who continue to seek (and find) connections that many suspected were never, and could never, be there, hallways still open up before us, sometimes unsuspected, much like NASA’s recently discovered magnetic portals linking Earth to the sun.

I entered one of these bright portals during my sabbatical in 2013-2014 at the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, NJ. CTI, which next year will begin two years of interdisciplinary encounter on the societal implications of the search for life in the universe (astrobiology) funded by NASA, is located in spirit and in space between Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. During my time there, though, our community of colleagues from biology, psychology, history, philosophy, religious studies, and theology worked in the broad area of religious experience and moral identity. We were one part of a three-year experiment, or inquiry, in deep interdisciplinary engagement, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and run by and at CTI’s wonderful offices. The generosity, expertise, and deep rigor of my colleagues stay with me and shaped my work in ways that I’m still discovering.

One of the lessons I learned from the work at CTI was about which questions to ask, rather than which answers to follow. The central question that took us all of nine months not (!) to answer was: How do we recognize compassion, justice, and the good of others before we become sensitive to the salient features that shape what it means to be for others in loving encounter? Feature set, sensitivity, and selection are central problems in decision theory, touching fields from neuroeconomics to political psychology to robotics and artificial intelligence. Are we sensitive to the features to which we need to be sensitive? How would we ever know if we are not, since knowing one’s insensitivity is only theoretically possible through suitable sensitivity? Could we follow programs already well established and celebrated by those around us we admire? If we follow the best moral principles, how do we know that we are not acting out of a love of our own pure consistency, or out of a fear of being inauthentic? If we follow the most admired moral authorities, how do we know that we are not acting out of a love of their praise and admiration of us, or out of fear of their disapproval? Will our need to belong with the morally superior overcome our acceptance of those who do not belong, who will never belong, who do not want to belong? Even if we lead our own crowd in acts of heroic altruism, how do we know we are not acting out of love of our own reputation or out of fear of its loss? These questions circled around the tables and followed us into the halls of CTI.

One weekend, a few of us from CTI went on a field trip to visit St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan community in nearby Philadelphia. Every day, about 250-450 people from the surrounding area come for a midday meal. Most are single, many live on the street, but almost all come with at least one other person. Many entire families come, children sometimes with both parents, sometimes with only one. All of them sit at tables, place orders, and servers bring their food. They don’t shuffle through a food line. They can sit, and talk, and enjoy their meals in peace. The children can sit with their sisters and brothers and parents and relax in a place that is chaotic at times but full of smiles and friendly voices. They are never asked to bus their own tables. I was a busboy that day, probably because the leaders took one look at me and saw right away that I couldn’t cook, wouldn’t do a great job cleaning, but that I could probably carry my fair share of stuff. No one at St. Francis Inn calls anyone else by any title. Even the priests don’t get the “Father” treatment. The implied hierarchy gets in the way of knowing who the other person is, gets in the way of genuine encounter. Everyone is just “sister” or “brother”. The place runs without federal funding, not because they wouldn’t be able to use it, but because the dollars would come with distinctions that no one there wants to make. If it took the federal money, St. Francis Inn would need to turn away lots of people who come and sit and eat while drunk or high or who are experiencing some other kind of challenge. In the principled language of federal funders, St. Francis could still seat the “worthy poor,” but not the sisters and brothers who come to the door.

In adherence to principle or authority, the place and face and voice of the other person in real encounter are supplanted by a search for stable moral guidance and moral purity. So a principled stance can leave one standing outside of the place of genuine encounter. Let me be clear: we can all learn how to do good things for other people, and so how to be beneficent, and wouldn’t it be great if more of us did just that? Honest reflection, though, reveals that beneficentaction does not entail benevolentaction, does not entail that we learn to genuinely love the good of others for their sake, with an affection for them and for our imperfect selves. In other words, we can do good things for others while looking right past them. We may look toward moral certainty and look away from risky moral encounter.

In my project at CTI, I wondered about the desire for a kind of moral certainty that shuts out risk and, at the same time, feeling. My work led me to a little and little-known book published in 1955 and edited by a Dominican friar, Albert Plé, entitled Love of Our Neighbor, first published in French in 1954. In that book the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has a little essay called “‘Associate’ and Neighbor”. Unfortunately for the English language, we use “neighbor” as a wholly insufficient translation for the original Greek term, plésion, meaning “the one who is near.” Other languages, French among them, have no such limitation, for the French translation hasprochain(e), “the one who is next to.” In his remarkable paper, Ricoeur discovers the “surprise” that is the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan: the epistemological purity and certainty sought by the moral inquirer is denied and instead supplanted by a call to action, a call to “go and do likewise.” Recall that the parable is placed where it is because it is an answer to an eternal question, “Who is the one near to me?” Who is this person that I am to love, as seen in Leviticus 19:18? How can I recognize her? Tell me, what features must I look for to show me who is worthy of loving encounter? We hear the Samaritan’s story as providing the answer. The Samaritan is said to have “compassion” (in the Greek, a movement of the inner area of the viscera or womb, like a “gut feeling”) on the one who was attacked and left to die, and to immediately have gone into action. So we can hear the story saying that the Samaritan knew who his neighbor was, and acted accordingly. But at the end of the story, the question the storyteller asks is not, “Who knew, whorecognized, the neighbor?” Instead, the question is, “And whowas neighbor to this man?” And then the surprise: “Go and do likewise.” The answer is imitatio in action, not a principle of knowledge. We don’t know the near one, we rather become the one who is near to others. As Ricoeur notes, “So there is no sociology of neighbor; a science is at once ruled out by a praxis. I have not got a neighbor: I make myself somebody’s neighbor.” (p. 150)

Of course, we have already noticed the paradox of making oneself into something one is not already. So instead of the “I make myself” of Ricoeur, we have instead the “Go and do likewise,” a word spoken from the mind and person of Christ. So could it be that in becoming the one who is near to others, one so takes on the mind of Christ, a mind of compassion embracing oneself, the face and person of the other, and the very encounter itself? Could our call be to bestow love without first sighting evidence of another person’s lovability? Could these be the questions that continue to circle and follow us into the hallowed halls?

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Mathematizing the Mind by Hong Suh

Many perceive math as a discipline of universal truths, but this assumption overlooks the foundations of mathematics. Math is the discipline of truths in a certain context, a context built up from a set of assumptions, or axioms, which we take for granted to be true. A brief look at history will show that math is not quite the absolutism with which it is often associated. Examining the history of mathematics may challenge our personal standards of objective logic, and inform the way we approach our own life philosophies.

The math community went through heavy turmoil in the 1900s, when the foundations of mathematics were being built. The appeal of unifying most of mathematics under one theory motivated a movement to establish these foundations, and mathematicians thought set theory could be the answer. The idea was that any mathematical object -- numbers, functions, ordered pairs, anything -- could be defined in terms of sets.

But the development did not proceed smoothly, and several challenged it. Most famously, Gottlob Frege, a German mathematician, wrote two large volumes constructing naive set theory, which he hoped would serve as a foundation for much of mathematics. Just as the second volume was being published in 1903, Bertrand Russell constructed a paradoxical set (now called Russell’s Set) that derived a fundamental contradiction in Frege’s theory. Frege quickly admitted his mistake and sought to remedy his error, albeit without success.

Soon after this famous incident, Ernst Zermelo and Adolf Fraenkel proposed another set of axioms for set theory, now called ZF. Unlike naive set theory, ZF rigorously defines what can and cannot be a set. (In ZF, Russell’s Set is not actually a set.) A slight expansion of ZF (called ZFC) is the axiomatic system that most mathematicians work with today.

Does ZFC work? Kurt Gödel, a famous logician, published his two incompleteness theorems in 1931, which firmly limited the power of axiomatic systems like ZFC. Informally, his second incompleteness theorem states that any reasonable axiomatic system either is inconsistent or cannot be proven to be consistent within itself. So if ZFC is consistent, there is no way to show that it is consistent, given the axioms of ZFC. And if we are able to show that ZFC is consistent by only using ZFC, then it is inconsistent! A consequence of this theorem is that there is no way to confirm that ZFC is not paradoxical unless it is indeed paradoxical. The only thing mathematicians can do is have faith that ZFC is consistent.

Most of us completely trust the results of mathematical research to be true, as we should—math proceeds as logically as is humanly possible. But even math hinges on assumptions whose logical consistency is unknown. In this way, a strict definition of faith does not run counter to logic as we often think. In the development of mathematics, we see that faith—in assuming the truth and consistency of axioms—is actually necessary to begin logical deduction. Mathematicians have demonstrated that rigor can be built from uncertain axiomatic foundations by being aware of the limitations of their assumptions (see Gödel’s incompleteness theorems), careful to build every theory up from foundational and relatively universal axioms, and quick to discard inconsistent theories (see Frege).

Can we similarly rigorize our philosophies? Can we make our beliefs and philosophies consistent and self-aware in the spirit of the history of mathematics? Can we mathematize the mind?[1]

We all live with our own axioms inscribed in our hearts, but often, they are so ill-defined and convoluted that we can’t enumerate them clearly. Sometimes we have no proof, not even a bad one, for our supposed theorems. Yet, in their roots, our philosophies are analogous to mathematics: both start with assumptions and build up into theories. How would our philosophies be different if they were scrutinized in the same way that mathematics has been held to a decided set of axioms?

Math relies on logical deduction from assumptions to produce theorems. It is difficult to overlook a misstep in logic when consistently referring back to a transparently articulated theorem. If we mathematize our minds, logical inconsistencies reveal themselves willingly, perhaps too much so. In Frege’s case, a simple paradox, in three lines, revealed a clear inconsistency that tore down two volumes of work. Hidden contradictions are insidious— thinking our systems of intellectual and moral standards are consistent, we may continue to build upon a contradictory set of beliefs. Approaching personal philosophies and spiritual orientations with a critical rigor minimizes the risk of logical inconsistencies in our systems.

But what is left in our minds when we reorganize our philosophies in the manner above? Perhaps almost nothing. We may find that cleaning up our beliefs results in a trash can full of unfounded theorems and little else. We may find that we actually know nothing of what we thought we knew. Examining our personal philosophies in the conventionally “rational” framework of an axiomatic system sheds light, perhaps too much of it, on the limits of our knowledge and beliefs.

For persons of faith, sifting through philosophies in a rigorous manner will almost certainly reveal that there is very little we can know about what lies beyond the physical or conceivable. But doing so also strengthens the few inklings of conviction that do survive reorganization. You may think that after such a process, one would know less than before, but can we really qualify the unfounded, disposable theorems as knowledge? I would argue the meta-knowledge of what we do and do not know to be one of the most valuable bodies of knowledge one can explore. The few axioms and theorems that survive a rigorous sifting are, then, indisputably yours. You own them confidently, you know them inside and out. Through this perhaps painful process, we can reclaim our philosophies as truly our own.

I’ll conclude with a meta-analysis of the axioms I’ve assumed thus far. Perhaps the most important axiom that this article accepts is that not believing a false proposition is preferable to believing one. Is this a reasonable axiom to accept? We put considerable effort into showing that faith does not run counter to logic, but what if one disagrees with the basis upon which we define logic? Is it worth mathematizing the mind without first accepting the mainstream standard to which these life-defining philosophies will be held? I have no answers, and you may find yourself similarly lost at many points along your analyses. But note that we were only able to ask those questions by using the self-awareness and rigor exemplified in the history of mathematics. Let us continue to organize, rethink, and reclaim our philosophies in our surely incomplete but worthy quest of understanding religion, morality, and the likes.

 

Glossary:

AXIOM: an assumption taken to be true without proof

AXIOMATIC SYSTEM: a set of axioms with a language and deduction rules

GÖDELʼS SECOND INCOMPLETENESS THEOREM: for any reasonable axiomatic system that can describe the natural numbers, it is either consistent or it cannot be proven to be consistent within itself

NAIVE SET THEORY: a set theory that defines sets to be a collection of objects with a certain property, with little restrictions on what the property can be

RIGOR: the precautions taken in the methods of mathematical proof to ensure correctness

RUSSELLʼS SET: the “set” R of objects x such that x does not contain itself. It turns out that R simultaneously contains itself and does not contain itself -- it is too “large” to be a well-defined set

SET THEORY: the mathematical study of sets, or collections of objects

ZF: a set of 8 axioms that was one of the first attempts to resolve problems in set theory such as Russellʼs Set

ZFC: ZF in addition to the Axiom of Choice; underlies most of modern set theory

 

 

 

[1]  The purpose of the following paragraphs is to draw analogies from math to apply to our personal philosophies. Note that personal philosophies are quite different from formal systems. Appeals to Godel and other math results are merely looking to mathematics for inspiration. Also note that references to technical terms such as “axiomatic systems”, “axioms”, “proof”, etc. are colloquial and meant to associate philosophies with formal systems, not to equate them.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Freedom and Submission by Vivian Zhang

There is, I believe, a sweeter freedom in submission than in independence. This freedom is less about freedom to do things, and more about freedom from things— freedom from loneliness, fear, insecurity.

We walk among each other blind, mostly, to the times and the ways those around us have been lonely, afraid, insecure. Yet we feel our own loneliness, fears, and insecurities so keenly. Our painful reality is that it is hard to be alone yet not feel lonely, to be faced with fears yet not be fearful, or to be unpopular yet be secure in self-esteem. Our insecurities and fears shape who we are and the decisions that we make.

We are in a way bound to our insecurities and fears: they keep us from taking risks, asking for help, and being “ourselves.”  (I’d think that most anyone who’s been through middle school knows this, and truthfully most of us will wrestle with it for most of our lives.) At our core, we want to be free from these things, and more than that, we want to exchange them—how sweet would it be to instead be known and be loved?

But to be known and be loved doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It necessarily involves parties beyond the bubble of the independent self. I think we’ve come to consider freedom primarily as independence: freedom to do what we like, say what we think, pursue what we desire. This bubble-building kind of freedom, or autonomy, is what John Stuart Mill famously argued for in On Liberty: it is pursuit of individual interests without interference by others so long as only the individual is put at risk. More simply put, this is the harm principle: “do what you want as long as you aren’t harming anyone else.”  The bubble gives us freedom to govern our own actions. But what if that isn’t the only kind of freedom we need, or if it isn’t even the kind of freedom that we need most deeply? What if, more pressingly, our heart of hearts yearns—and I think it does—to exchange our loneliness, insecurities, and fear for the freedom of being known and loved?

Let us for a moment imagine life as indeed walking among each other. I can decide to walk in any manner of speeds, styles, or directions, but if my issue is that I want to walk together with someone, then making those decisions on my own will be of no benefit. Without looking around me and taking into account someone else’s pace and direction, I’d get nothing more than bumping into a stranger or briefly taking a few steps in synchronization before falling out of step again, the way my car’s turning signal does a couple flashes in sync with the car in front of me at a stoplight until they fall out of step again, each entirely ignorant of the other’s rhythm.

If I want to walk together with others, then I have to change my pace and direction to match theirs. I might end up walking slower than I prefer, in the shade when I would prefer sun, and so on. Yet for the company— and even when there is no contact or conversation between us, for the warmth of knowing we’re in it together—it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. This then is what I mean by submission: sacrificing what I want, for who I want to be with. To submit literally means to “put [oneself] under” (from the Latin mitterie: put, sub—, under).  Submission is putting one’s own interests under another’s, freely letting the pursuit of individual desires be less important and less ultimate. It is to “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV).

We sacrifice and submit this way for our family and friends; it’s part of what makes those relationships meaningful to us, and part of how we prove that they are meaningful to us. The hours that go into surprise birthday parties, emergency hospital trips, and listening to feelings and frustrations are our submission to one another. They’re acknowledgement that our individual desires for our time are less ultimate than the needs of those whom we love. And when we voluntarily put each other’s interests above our own in this way, when we enter relationships of submission, we open ourselves up to being known and being loved. Amongst family and friends we find freedom from our loneliness, insecurities, and fears. We know that we won’t be judged or misunderstood or any less loved for what we do or say around them. Even when apart, there is freedom to be bold and take risks that comes from the awareness of unconditioned support.

But this all is speaking in ideals.

Even siblings, parents, and the best of friends will inevitably fail, betray, and misunderstand us at some point; in our relationships there is an understanding that the closer we are, the more vulnerable we are to being hurt. Submitting to others and their interests opens us up to other people’s flaws, ignorance, and selfishness.

Yet entering relationships of submission means submitting to this possibility, putting others above our personal interest of not getting hurt. Our autonomous independent-self bubbles don’t leave room for others to get in our way, complicate our lives, or hurt us, but they also leave little room for the possibility of others knowing us and loving us. How freeing it is to be both thoroughly known and still loved: to have someone know your deep insecurities and fears, to have someone know how you, too, have been flawed and ignorant and selfish—maybe even have suffered hurt from you because of that—and yet, still love you. We may or may not reach this fullness of love in our relationships in this lifetime on this earth, but the prospect is so sweet and the not-quite-there-yet form is still so rewarding that we strive on towards it anyhow. It is worth it to submit to one another in spite of the ways we hurt and get hurt, because that is where we find meaningful relationship for our whole selves.

And so submission is less freedom’s opposite than its beginning. Seeking freedom without submission we really end up with neither, but seeking to submit to one another we end up with a more whole and more lovely form of freedom, which speaks more truly to our deeper desire to love and belong.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

A House Built on Sand: Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty by Pieter Hookstra

Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Mt 18:5

What does it mean to hold a worldview that is authentic and life-shaping? Although we don’t like to admit it, Western culture tends to avoid that question like the plague. And a key component of that avoidance, as I see it, is an unwillingness to sincerely engage our minds with the difficult intellectual problems our worldviews present. Instead, we thoughtlessly accept the hand-me-down worldviews of our parents or culture, stuff them into our closets, and let them collect dust while we go about living our lives as if our worldviews don’t exist. We prefer intellectual dishonesty to honest doubt because we’re deathly afraid of the question, “What am I really living for?”

I’ve witnessed and learned through experience that there are serious consequences to ignoring this all-important question—yet we’re trained to do just that from early youth. In all types of communities (atheistic included), parents want their children’s spiritual lives to be uncomplicated and care-free, and avoid challenging them intellectually as a result. As my Christian experience has demonstrated, this often results in outright indoctrination rather than the cultivation of a critical mindset. “Leave those pesky existential anxieties,” the parents say, “for when they go to college, or into the real world.” Because that always goes so well.

Don’t get me wrong: college can be a great place to seek a faith that is both communal and individual, brought on by sincere reflection rather than indoctrination. And for many (myself included), this involves a serious, sometimes painful struggle to figure out what one truly believes. But is an eruption of overlooked turmoil upon leaving the nest really our best option? Should not addressing doubts and questions be a central component of our lives? Jesus commanded his followers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” (Lk 10:27) Jesus doesn’t present loving the Lord with your mind as one of the options—the mind is a necessary component of faith, and he asks for all of it. An essential part of loving the Lord with one’s mind is seeking and understanding the challenges that the world has to offer to the thoughtful Christian. What can we learn from an honest examination of other faiths and worldviews? What can we learn from examining weaknesses in our own?

Christ asserts that a believer who doesn’t put his words into practice is like “a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Mt 7:24-27). When Christians urge their children toward the path of least intellectual resistance, they are setting the spiritual foundations of their children’s faiths on sand. That faith might look pretty, it might even feel livable, but questions will come, doubts will blow, and the faith will fall with a great crash.  Working through doubts can grow and test one’s faith in intellectually honest ways; that is how one builds a faith on solid rock. Without such inspection, the foundation of a faith remains fragile.

What might a faith built on sand look like in contemporary Christian culture? Take, for example, the Sunday School version of King David. “He’s a man after God’s own heart, the classic Biblical hero!” the teacher exclaims “What a great king for God’s people!” Christian children learn about his defeating the giant Goliath, his harp-playing, his honorable refusal to kill King Saul. What they don’t learn about is how he slaughters innocent villages for their possessions and sends a man off to his death so he can have sex with his wife. Keep in mind—this is a man some Christians views as a symbolic predecessor to Christ. The idealistic vision of Biblical “heroes” falls apart, of course, when a Biblically knowledgeable atheist points out some uncomfortable truth. The irony here is that there’s so much for a follower of God to learn from such a realistic portrayal of human nature, and the loving redemption that God offers humankind at its sickening worst. Yet Christians often shy away from gruesome Biblical realities because, well, showing grace towards murderers is tricky and they wouldn’t want to scare the kids away. And when contemporary Christianity ignores or misrepresents the vast majority of the Bible, one is justified in feeling lied to. I’ll mention in passing that this type of disillusionment—brought on simply by turning to a random, overlooked page—is symptomatic of having just emerged from a cult.

Another question arises from examining the Bible: how can the Word be authoritative and perfect when it seems to house blatant contradictions? The Synoptics say that Jesus claim that Jesus died during Passover, while John asserts he died the day before. They can’t both be right. Luke details a Roman census that scholars are fairly certain never took place. While I don’t view these kinds of issues as “faith-breaking,” they need to be addressed in some capacity if one’s views on the Bible are going to hold up outside of the Christian bubble. What do contradictions mean for how one understands the Bible and the Christian faith?

Biblical arguments aside, secular thought has produced an array of effective arguments that attempt to foil or explain away the Christian faith, and they can’t be outright ignored. Great thinkers argue that religion is an illusion, cooked up purely as a tool for social and political organization. Morality, they say, is a product of our natural evolution, and therefore inherently meaningless. The more scientists understand the human brain, the more we question whether we really have any agency in the world. Meanwhile, historians have pointed out that just about every ancient Mesopotamian society had their own flood myth with striking similarities to the Biblical account, and Christians steer clear of discussing the potential implications. But it’s when children haven’t discussed how to approach these secular explanations of faith that their ability to seek truth is undermined by fear, panic, and frustration.

Self-deception about the security of one’s beliefs—that is what leads to collapse. Our beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. There are infinite plausible explanations for who we are and why we are here, and there is no way to assign validity to one without understanding the nature of the others. We should choose worldviews based on what we find to be the most compelling explanations for existence, history, and human experience.  But it would be impossible for us to make that judgment if we didn’t seek a grounded understanding of the alternatives. You can’t pick one dish, avoid so much as smellingthe other options, and reasonably conclude that you’ve found the most delicious item on the menu.

But you have to ordersomething. Living inconsistently is inherently harmful, and goes hand in hand with not being challenged. I spent most of high school and freshman year ignoring this fact. Instead, like many others, I partitioned my brain. On one side, I had beliefs that made me feel comfortable and secure. On the other, I harbored unresolved doubts and questions about those beliefs. And the two never touched; after all, it’s much easier to simply believe that you’ve figured life out, while ignoring those nagging doubts over in the corner. But in separating my hand-me-down faith from my doubtful intuitions, I had completely undermined the faith itself. I no longer regarded it as so relevant as to actually have to impact my decisions. All this is to say that sometimes when a belief hasn’t been tested, it doesn’t get used, either. And this schism can be downright torturous, whether that means guilt, confusion, depression, or fragile delusion about one’s comfortable status in the world.

I speak from experience: don’t go down that road. I humbly invite my readers to examine their own beliefs with the critical mindset that I’ve applied to Christianity. Does your daily life reflect what you claim to believe? Have you really considered the basis for your beliefs? Why do you find yours to be more rational than the alternatives? In other words, do you actually think your beliefs are true? If you’re having trouble answering these questions, it’s time to dig that hand-me-down worldview out of the closet, dust it off, and give it a look over. Start figuring out which parts are broken, and which parts you aren’t using. Be honest with yourself. The best thing you can do for your worldview is to go all-in; whether you end up throwing it away or fixing it, you’ll be somewhere nearer the truth.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Heaven on Earth by Peter Chen

There is a children’s movie calledFlatland, and in Flatland, the main characters are geometric shapes that exist in a two dimensional world. One day, a huge commotion breaks out when there is a report of a creature that can appear and disappear in a moment’s notice. This being is breaking into safes and materializing behind closed doors, and no one knows how. It turns out this being is a three-dimensional shape, a sphere. Imagine that there were creatures living in a piece of paper, and you could put your finger anywhere through the paper. The only part of your finger these two-dimensional creatures could see would be the cross-section of your finger on the paper. If you lifted your finger and placed it anywhere else through the paper, it would seem to them that your finger had teleported. But before discussing the implications of these dimensional interactions, let us clarify: what is a dimension?

Look around you: the world we live in and perceive is in three dimensions, with the components of length, height, and width. In modern physics, space and time are connected to create the space-time continuum, which consists of four dimensions. This one higher dimension defies our natural perception of a physical reality, as aspects like distance are distorted. One can only imagine what changes in the higher-up dimensions, as new variables are introduced and with it a new set of natural laws and conventions. And we should also establish the mathematical principle of dimensions: every lower dimension is subsumed under its higher counterparts. Each lower dimension is a part of those higher than itself, and the higher dimensions contain those lower.


Imagine if a four-dimensional or higher being acted in our world as the three-dimensional being acted in Flatland. The fullness of their existence would be out of our natural scope of understanding and perception, and they would have powers we struggle to comprehend. We could only catch a glimmer or a shadow –a three dimensional image – of their higher-dimensional existence. Just as the idea of capturing only a glimpse of a being’s essence is logical under the mathematical assumption that there exists more dimensions than we are able to perceive and that they permeate through dimensions lower than themselves, looking from a religious perspective, perhaps we’re able to see glimpses of a spiritual realm in which a god or deity dwells and how it may filter through our physical reality.[1]

For the purposes of my own faith and this article, I interpret this in terms of Christianity and the Christian God,[2] and consider some of the implications that arise from such a perspective. Within this framework, God must exist in the infinite dimension, because Scripture describes God as an infinite and eternal God.[3]Jeremiah 23:24 says,

"Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?" declares the LORD "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. “
 

Just as the third dimension contains the first and second dimensions, God, on the infinite dimension, fills all the ones below Him, and we can see how this echoes throughout God’s characteristics. God is touted as omnipresent: He fills the vastness of space. God is eternal: time exists in a lower dimension for Him. And this is why God considered to be omniscient: He can see everything that happens and might happen as well.[4] Earth, existing in the third dimension, is only capable of capturing a shadow of God’s glory. The earth simply cannot contain His glory, and that is why when God manifests on earth, in the form of a pillar of fire, a burning bush, or a huge cloud in the Old Testament, these are physical wonders that are temporary and do not fully make sense to us.

Although something does not make complete sense to us does not mean it does not exist. God exists behind a veil that we can never lift and lives in a space we can never reach: He is beyond us, and the most we can ever know about Him is a shadow of His entire glory.

But now, what are the implications for approaching Christianity within this framework? If each dimension is contained in the one above it and God is in heaven, this begs the question: is heaven right in front of us? Just as the second dimension is not a separate bubble of space that we enter into, what if our three-dimensional space is not a separate bubble from heaven, but in actuality, a part of heaven?

If heaven exists in a higher dimension, then we, as humans, cannot see anything that might be happening in heaven, since we are limited in our ability to observe the characteristics of these higher dimensions, heaven included. Just like the citizens of Flatland, we can only see how these supernatural ripples affect our world. There is no denying that Christianity is founded upon elements of divine intervention. An example of this is the prophetic gift. Another example is the divine inspiration of the Word of God. The prophetic gift allows us to see and sense past that veil and beyond the space-time continuum to see what God sees. The inspiration of the Word brings these higher dimensions down to earth, revealing to the world who God is. In either of these situations, it is the Holy Spirit and the spiritual aspect of our identity that allows us to experience and recognize the supernatural. In 1 Corinthians 2: 13-14, Paul writes to the church in Corinth:  

“This is what we[5] speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words…because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Furthermore, 1 Peter 1:21 also says,

“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

From these verses, we see an illustration of what the life that we live could be if we moved in the Spirit and what the words we say would mean if we spoke from the Spirit. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis writes in his Reflections on the Psalms, regarding the illumination of the Scriptures,

“Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately….When a series of such retellings turns a creation story[6] which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.”

C.S. Lewis makes it clear that in some way, the re-tellers and writers of the Scriptures were guided by God, and that there was purpose in God’s decision to move in their spirit to write such stories.

These verses, along with this excerpt from C.S. Lewis, point to a gift that is instilled within us as humans in the core of our spiritual identity: to be led along by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps these are signs that our world exists within the heavenly realm, that our spirits, guided by the Holy Spirit, testify to a spiritual reality above our physical existence, even though we are still on earth. We may not be able to discern the fullness of heaven’s presence on earth, but from this cross-section of the spiritual realm, we see glimpses and shadows of realities greater than our own. By living and walking in the Holy Spirit, our actions reflect the spiritual reality above us, and thus, in doing so, we bring heaven down to earth.

 

 

[1] For the sake of this article, I won’t discuss those implications here, but I am more than happy to meet and have a conversation about it.

[2] I think it’s perfectly viable to look at this mathematical argument and make a case for pluralism or for the truth in any other religion. The point of this article isn’t to prove Christianity as the one true religion by any means. Please come discuss this with me if you want.

[3] To not detract from this article, I will not prove the infinitude of God, but for a biblical assertion of this, see Revelations 1:8 and 2 Chronicles 2:6. For a non-biblical assertion of an infinite God, see Thomas Aquinas’Contra Gentiles.

[4] So this article is not scattered,those who have questions on how this idea of God’s omniscience can be reconciled with the idea of free will can also come talk with me, and we can engage in delightful conversation.

[5] Contextually, Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church, but in our day and age, I interpret this to apply to all believers that allow to Holy Spirit to speak through them, as I believe that this gift has been extended to all believers.

[6] Academically speaking, scholars say that Genesis borrows heavily from Babylonian and Mesopotamian creations myths, such as the Enuma Elish, as well as other myths from that time period and cultural context. Also, C.S. Lewis is speaking from a Christian perspective.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Education is Not a Right by Shakayla Rouse and Laura Mallison

For those who only read the first sentences of articles, we’re just gonna lay it out: at the end of the day, we don’t understand one another, and any insights we may have are just gravy.

For people facing power structures like the patriarchy, racism, ableism, homophobia, classism, among other “ism”s, words like “I know what you’re going through” and “I understand how you feel” can be more inflammatory than comforting. Unless the speaker faces the same “’ism”s, what is meant as compassion instead trivializes the experiences surrounding these issues. For example, a day of exhaustion from working late on a paper is not the same as living with a chronically exhausting disease, and not being able to afford a luxury trip is not the same as growing up in the working class.  There may be enough similarities among our experiences to provoke empathy, but part of truly understanding is recognizing that power structures make these experiences inherently different.  Every experience is legitimate, but that does not make them equivalent.  To treat them as the same essentially denies the existence of the “ism”s that are very real sources of anger and hurt. For minority people, these power structures are not ideologies to be discussed, debated, and then put aside at leisure.  Rather, these are issues with many intricacies and nuances that form daily battles that we do not have the privilege to ignore.  Similarly, the movements against these power structures are more than ideals or schools of thought; they can mean protection, legitimization, and otherwise impossible rights.

Because these struggles are daily personal experiences, not just classroom discourses, some level of privacy in sharing them should be expected. In this way, educating others regarding our experiences is not a given right. Our experiences are just that: experiences. Some conversations are better kept between friends where there is enough trust to be vulnerable; there are times when we simply cannot deal with an audience in the process of healing from the hurt of our struggles. Our purpose is not to be academic sources, microcosms to study power structures, or inspiration; rather, our stories are simply personal, unique, raw experiences that no one can be entitled to hear.

One of the layers that oppressed minority groups face is the necessity to conform to the expectations of the majority, be that the ability to take the stairs when no ramp is available or choosing a live-in partnership instead of marriage because of geography. Using our experiences to educate others becomes yet another layer of oppression. Sharing our stories to promote awareness and understanding is very important, but the attitude of being entitled to our perspectives perpetuates the very cycles we are trying to break by sharing them. It is a privilege to hear personal experiences, not a right. Oppressed groups must be given the right to privacy and the power to choose if, what, how, when, and where to talk about our experiences. Go ahead and ask! Just treat it like consent: you’re not entitled to it, permission is continual not one-time, and it might be awkward, but that’s ok. Minorities, this does not mean we’re off the hook and never have to leave our comfort zone of what to share.  However, they will continue to suck if we’re never willing to move past the hardships and emotional responses, and towards productive action.  We are by no means suggesting pushing beyond what feels safe or meeting expectations for the sake of meeting expectations.  However, sometimes discomfort can be worth it as long as we have control over when to engage in an uncomfortable conversation.  For example, we are not responsible for engaging in every discussion that could concern us or calling out every sexist status on Facebook.  What we are responsible is putting forth effort, however small it may look like.  Some days this might be confronting all the “ism”s with every form of activism imaginable, and other days this might be making the response “I don’t want to talk about it right now” polite instead of brusque.  Both of these are awesome!  How much we do is far less important than the fact that we are doing something.

As we’re moving forward, we need to remember that being oppressed does not come with an automatic understanding of oppression. Being in the same “group” is not the same as having the same experiences. Being disabled does not come with magical insight into racism any more than experiencing gender discrimination yields an enlightened perspective on sexuality discrimination.  We need to be careful to not set an example of overgeneralizing ourselves amidst the frustrations we seek to address.  We are just as responsible as the majority to approach these topics with tact and humility and make room for others to express their voices and experiences.

Just in case, like us, you tend to read the first and last paragraphs and fudge the middle: we all have privileges, which are better recognized than demanded.

Jesus America and the Middle East by Danica Harootian

Before I left home for college, people at my church would commonly react in the same way when I told them that I planned to major in Middle East and North Africa Studies: “Wow! Are you going to be a missionary?"

Why was that path seen as the only option for me in this academic field? Though missions and proselytization in the Middle East is a separate issue that I continue to form opinions around, there appears to be a shortage of Christians who are understanding and appreciative of Middle Eastern culture and do not deem a missions-mindset necessary for this approach. The fact that the Middle East’s rich histories, traditions and cultures are not what first came to my fellow church-goers’ minds is indicative of the mainstream sentiment in Western churches today. A predominant ideology within the Church considers the Middle East a comparatively less righteous place than the nation of Israel made up of a less sanctified people than the Jews or Israelites, and of course, those within the Church.

Throughout my upbringing and young adulthood, I have been confronted by Jesus’ amazing and radical love while also witnessing unloving political acts directed at those affiliated with the Middle East. This includes everything from outright prejudice in the media to the glorification of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and other neighboring populations. What I cannot understand is the way that some American evangelicals align themselves with this political ideology that goes against Jesus’ groundbreaking love. The Old Testament does identify Israel as God’s chosen people, and I do not seek to spell out a monolithic stance concerning these passages. The point I make in this article stands regardless of what those passages mean. I believe that there needs to be a change in the way some American Christians associate political Zionism and Israel’s distinction as the Holy Land with anti-Arab sentiment and military action. The Christian supporters of Zionism are wrong to believe that the political project for the modern state of Israel goes hand in hand with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This supposedly Christian stance is reductive, disrespectful and in contrast with Jesus’ clear direction of love and engagement with the vast group of the world’s population that identifies as Arab, Muslim, or Middle Eastern.[1]During His life, Jesus set a countercultural example of cultivating loving relationships with ethnic groups historically marginalized in Israel. In the book of John, Jesus passes through Samaria and begins talking to a Samaritan woman at a well, a big cultural taboo from gender, ethnic and religious standpoints. Their conversation begins with Jesus’ simple request for some water from the well, continues on as they talk about the woman’s past marriages, and ends with a loving promise of belonging. Jesus tells her that a time will come when all people, including both Jews and Samaritans, will be united in spirit and truth (Cf., John 4:1-24). By His example, Jesus directs us to consider all people cherished as God’s children and bound together by His love. Jesus’ love does not include prejudice, bias or discrimination, and neither should the ideology of any Christian. From Jesus’ example, it is clear that xenophobia, Islamophobia, and prejudice against Middle Eastern cultures and ethnicities cannot be part of a truly Christian way of being.

Unfortunately, Americans live in a society that has designated the Middle Eastern region and all that it is affiliated with as political and ideological enemies. For some evangelicals, the estrangement of Arab populations and cultures is equivalent to drawing near to God. Even if this designation were appropriate, Christians would still be required to love Arabs and Muslims since Jesus said to love one’s enemies (Cf., Matthew 5:43-44). However, we would do well to question whether categorizing people, let alone entire groups of people, as the enemy is in line with Jesus’ teachings. Either from the learned culture of treating the other as less than oneself, or specifically from Zionist ideology, there is a harmful tendency to view individuals associated with the Middle East as being opposed to God’s chosen people. Having said this, those who hold this position need to turn the categorical switch and view Arabs as their neighbors, not their enemies. This will help dislodge the widespread misrepresentations that American systems of power endorse. When loving Arabs, Middle Easterners and Muslims becomes central to Christian identity, the enemy label will be erased and all will experience the gentle, compassion-driven love which Jesus says we are to embody.

We especially need to be conscious of misrepresentations influenced by Zionist or American imperialist perspectives. We need to actively reject the way the media treats Arabs. We can’t get used to the token Arab characters on TV, present to speak an exotic language and aid the government intelligence officer in his pursuit of catching the terrorist. We cannot believe that a woman who wears any form of a veil is inherently oppressed, suspicious or asking for help. It is a difficult, ongoing process that needs conscious, intentional effort to break down societal stereotypes. Regardless, we shouldn’t disregard Jesus’ clear, lived example to use Scripture in support of various prejudices.

American Christians must hold fast to the truth that all nations and peoples are worthy of God’s love and are equal in their position as humans on this earth. From Galatians, we read that God’s love reaches beyond the ancient Israelites, his Jewish disciples, and his American supporters of Israel: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Though these verses encompass all nations and break down the designations of Jew and Gentile, we can also understand that Jesus seeks to love each and every person within a nation or ethnic group without the nation or ethnicity itself.

This vision of love and understanding between American Christians like myself and people who identify as Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim seems to coincide much more strongly with Jesus’ position on cross-cultural interactions. I do not claim to know how to interpret the verses in the Bible that elevate the nation of Israel, but I do believe that Jesus would not lead us to engage in “redemptive violence” and theologically motivated oppression in order to increase peace in the world. I know that there are knowledgeable, sincere Christians who have different interpretations on this topic, but Jesus’ character and the pursuit of emulating His character are incompatible with the use of violence and oppression justified by dogma.

 

 

[1] I do not seek to use terms describing ethnic, religious and regional categorizations interchangeably in this article. However, I think American society and Christian discourse about any or all of these groups often assigns the same connotations and judgments upon these different identity groups. 

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

Ethnicity & Incommensurability by Daniel Tan

Racial reconciliation is the buzzword of the moment. More precisely, it’s the buzzword of the Christian moment. A quick Google search returns headlines such as “Pentecostal denominations move toward race reconciliation” and “Five Steps for Racial Reconciliation on Sunday at 11am”—the Christian connotations attached to this phrase are not subtle. Let’s take a step back and develop an understanding of what it actually means before it joinssynergy and paradigm shift in my list of “Words That I Use To Seem Less Dumb”.

Reconciliation is a concept pervasive throughout the Bible. It asks us to remove an offense that causes the disruption of peace, and results in the return to harmony or the restoration of friendly relationships after a conflict. Here’s where things get sticky: racial reconciliation is not the Gospel, nor is it the central focus of it. It’s simply an application of the Word in practice, and it’s up to us to figure out the qualitative ways in which this concept is relevant to us as a multiethnic community.

Here’s where things get stickier: the manner in which we have addressed racial reconciliation has been a spectacular failure. Whether it is through a fundamental flaw in the message or a mistake in the way that message is delivered, this failure has developed a sense of apathy in our community that has stagnated the process. One of those mistakes is the way that Asian Americans have been “reconciled”. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Asian Americans hold a disproportionate share of power and influence in the Christian community.

There’s a reason why this article isn’t titled Is Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship Racist?, and it’s not just that I’m a firm believer of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines. It’s that the questions that we should be asking—those of the intersections between race, spirituality and identity—are so nuanced and convoluted that to even begin to answer them requires serious reflection on our individual identities. I want to note that I am phenotypically East Asian, so I can only reflect on the Asian American experience as shared by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese individuals (further references to Asian Americans refer to those of East Asian backgrounds for brevity’s sake). But I encourage everyone to look inward first when considering reconciliation, because if we are to participate in racial reconciliation, we need to recognize that the issues between racial groups are correlated with issues within our respective racial groups. Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazzsaid it best: “Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.”

Let me tell you what it means to be Asian American in the Christian community in Claremont. It means feeling welcomed and “normal”. It means being able to articulate your personal views on faith and spirituality without being representative of your entire race. It means never hearing other people use the phrase “ethnic quirks” to describe your religious beliefs. If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same language that we use to describe White privilege. As an Asian American Christian, I have the privilege to focus on my spiritual identity without worrying about the color of my skin, and the freedom to remain complacent in my understanding of race and spirituality.  I have the luxury to be blind to my color and the color of others. My fellow Asian Americans and I reap the benefits of being part of the statistical, cultural and social majority.

Asian American theology has been distorted by social factors pertaining to the myth of the model minority, which tells us that there is a negative correlation between success and maintaining ethnic identity. We found that the more we assimilate to the dominant culture, the further up in society we get. We were presented an image of a “good Christian” and it’s an image that was molded by white hands. We confused the Gospel with the American Dream, and along the way, we lost sight of who we really are. Church historian Tim Tseng calls this phenomenon the “evangelical deconstruction of Asian America”, wherein our “earthly identities ultimately do not matter because our Christian identity is our most important one.” Instead of clinging to our marginalized identity and expressing our faith in a way that promotes justice (like Hispanic and Black churches), we enjoyed our social mobility, called it God’s blessing, and accepted the Eurocentric theology that we borrowed from Whites when they didn’t even want us in their churches.

We are an oppressed people, but we’ve chosen to forget that because we have been socialized to believe that brokenness is anathema. We feel that “Asian-ness” has to be perpetually constructed within our churches to preserve our place as the model minority within the racial hierarchy in America, and we constructed a unitary ideology to hang on to our wedge position as God’s “chosen people”. We’re starting to believe that our earthly identities don’t matter because they are superseded by our spiritual identities. We’re beginning to forget that Scripture speaks to marginalized communities in diaspora, not just to affluent communities in the suburbs, and that the Bible was written for Vincent Chin, not just for Jeremy Lin.

The bad news is that Asians have simultaneously erased their marginalized past and accepted the position of privilege that was “granted” to them by the dominant culture. The good news is that race relations, specifically from the perspective of those with privilege, are salvageable. If you’re not already familiar with the story of Nehemiah, take some time to read his word because he is a superb example of an individual that confronted the concept of the generational sin. He resisted the impulse to sacrifice his own Jewish ethnic identity for that of the dominant Persian culture around him. Many exiled Jews compromised their faith to minimize the importance of the temple as an excuse to remain in prosperous Persian society (despite their second-class status). Nehemiah embraced his ethnic identity despite its connotations, returned to Jerusalem in hopes of rebuilding a fragmented Jewish religion. Let’s follow Nehemiah’s path and avoid using the pretense of spiritual camaraderie to skirt the issues that are prevalent in our community. Banalities such as “I don’t see color” are absurd. “Please ignore my color”, said no minority ever. Let’s actively engage ourselves in the uncomfortable, messy conversations that entail discussions on race relations, and let’s do it the right way.

Our theology dictates that to align with heaven, we must look past earthly identities and see others as part of God’s creation. Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that our ethnicities are irrelevant in the presence of Christ. The Gospels recognize that we are a broken people—broken in our relationship with God, broken in our relationships with each other. We were given different ethnicities, but such distinctions led to divisions and social segregation. However, the Gospel is the announcement of the coming of the kingdom of God—the arrival of that new reality in which the brokenness of creation is being repaired. The call, therefore, is to listen to God and reorient our lives according to how He’s redeeming and restoring humanity. And let’s be intentional with our language: tolerance leads to disingenuous, coercive egalitarianism, but acceptance and appreciation is the first step toracial reconciliation. The Lord will guide us further.

This process requires the presence of mind to delineate the line between wanton assimilation and cultural integration. While the Bible dictates certain ultimate truths that all Christians are obliged to follow, each and every one of us has a unique relationship with God that was shaped by our inimitable experiences, which are inevitably influenced by the color of our skin. We can’t be frustrated by the differences in our theologies because they are, to a certain extent, incommensurable. That we will never know what it’s like to be of another race is not a trivialization of our experiences, but rather a recognition of our limitations as human beings and a celebration of our unique experiences as blessings from God.

Philippians 4:12. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Paul knew how to live as a poor man and as a rich man. One would hope that he would’ve found a way to live as a Jew and as a Greek as well. We need to be able to accept our ethnicity and all the baggage that comes with it, and still find a way to live as Christ did.  And that’s not going to be easy. Feelings will be hurt, core beliefs will be shaken, and friendships will be challenged. But we’ll come out of it better people and better Christians, even if we stumble at first. And because I’m always looking for an excuse to quote Adventure Time, here are some wise words from Jake the Dog: “Sucking at something is the first step at being sorta good at something.” 

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

On Christian Culture by Megan Pritchett

Judgemental, hypocritical, anti-LGBTQ, and insensitive; these are the top adjectives used to describe Christians in the U.S. Collectively, Christians have managed to hurt and anger a lot of people by claiming total moral and spiritual authority. Who would want to be a part of a religion like that? Many days, I am hesitant to call myself a Christian because I fear that I will be immediately labeled with the aforementioned adjectives, so instead I choose to opt for the far more neutral “follower of Jesus.” Something about Christian culture is turning the loving and truthful words of Jesus into a toxic mess that people don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

When I first became introduced to Christian culture early in high school, I was fairly open to learning about the faith and I hadn’t had any experiences that would make me cautious. As I spent more time going to Sunday services and youth group, I acquired cultural capital that allowed me to fit in, think deeply about important issues, and develop meaningful relationships that became my lifeblood. Christian culture made me feel accepted and welcome, and I still feel at home when someone mentions “discipleship” or I hear a song that I learned during Vacation Bible School.

However, what happens when people can’t easily fit into Christian culture, like I was able to? The Christian culture that makes me feel included can simultaneously make Christian spaces unwelcoming to people who aren’t familiar with the routine of a Sunday morning service. Church is supposed to be a sanctuary for all; instead, we often seclude ourselves on Sunday morning, thanking God that we are not like the people who are not in attendance.[1]

When the Church constantly expects “secular” culture to conform to our image, we create a culture of judgement that communicates that faith is not enough; you must also wear our clothes, listen to our music, read our books, and worship how we do. Church culture is not an inherently bad thing, but when we don’t talk about it, unnamed and silent expectations filter out individuals who, don’t fit the “standard” Christian mold (white, upper-middle class, heterosexual). If we never take the time to realize who is missing from our community, we’ll never realize how we might be alienating them. I believe that it is the responsibility of the church to engage culture and approach difference with humility and discernment, instead of fearfully condemning others for being different.  

Judgement, however, is not a one-way street; the hypercritical eye that chastises non-Christians also demands perfection from those already on the inside. I picked up on this expectation pretty early, and my devotion to my academics soon expanded to include being an awesome Christian. Church became something to be good at, and dammit, I wanted to be the best. Reading the Bible and daily “quiet time” was initially so exciting for me - I got to talk with God and study beautiful poetry, stories, and letters that were relevant to my life. But eventually this attitude became more of a checklist, and I experienced severe guilt when I didn’t make the grade. Striving to meet all of these expectations was exhausting, and I frequently burned out.

Although many of these expectations required nothing more than time, I loved buying Christian stuff. I remember the first time I walked into a neatly organized Christian bookstore; every shelf vied for my attention with glossy, colorful Bibles, serious looking devotionals, and cross-shaped bookmarks that all promised to help me reach my spiritual best. If you calculated the amount of money I have spent over the last seven years on Christian books, conferences, and other related goods, I would probably be ashamed to tell you the answer. This commercialization is damaging because it cheapens the complex, messy Gospel into a simple, marketable message. Christianity wasn’t designed to spread through programs and pamphlets; it was designed to spread through people. In the New Testament, Jesus talked more about money than he talked about heaven and hell combined. A capitalistic understanding of the Gospel assigns a socioeconomic class to faith. This isn’t just bad theology, it’s failing to love others like Jesus did.

Despite the judgement, perfectionism, and commercialization that have come to define the church, I am encouraged to hear growing numbers of stories detailing how people find new ways to follow Jesus that directly combat these stereotypes. Opening up our doors and minds to new ways of loving God and others are the first steps, and these actions need to be soaked in the humility and prayer. In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne writes that, “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived,” and I agree. Let’s talk about exclusive language, racial reconciliation, and learning how to welcome people of all socioeconomic statuses. Let’s start the conversation. I’m all ears.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

The Apostle Paul: Sexist or Pragmatist? by Colin Eckstein

Few Christians (particularly in the 5C community) would champion a return to Pauline ideals regarding gender roles. The apostle Paul is often the poster boy for good old-fashioned religious chauvinism. Unfortunately, it would seem, Paul was able to slip a few questionable passages past the Divine Editor and now modern Christians must simply closet these antiquated verses with embarrassment. The following article is by no means a final judgment in regard to Paul. It does not satisfactorily address every question of Biblical egalitarianism and it is not intended to. Rather, it offers a critical and authentic method for approaching difficult texts and demonstrates, perhaps, that the jury’s still out on Paul.

If Paul is to be defended with any legitimacy, two principally incriminating passages need to be addressed: (1) Paul’s perplexing discourse on head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 and (2) the smoking gun of Biblical sexism, 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul bars women from Church leadership. By supplementing these passages with appropriate historical context, I hope to demonstrate that while egalitarianism was a struggle for the early Church, Christianity’s roots are by no means inherently chauvinistic.

And so we come to our first problematic text, 1 Corinthians 11:5-6:

“And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off…”

It is precisely verses like this one that modern Christians would love to Sharpie over; its applications seem not only antiquated, but outright sexist. Must women conceal themselves before God while men lift their heads unbridled? Or were head coverings some patriarchal fancy of Paul’s, who used Christ’s authority to subject women? And if so, what use is this outdated, bias-laden Bible of ours? My answers came to the hand of a mentor of mine, an Episcopal priest and ardent feminist, who reintroduced me to Paul’s rebuke on head coverings in its proper cultural setting.

Let us begin unpacking the relevant background of this passage by establishing this: the Corinthian church was not well-liked. Corinth, as commercial hub entertained much religious diversity and brought pilgrims from throughout the empire.[1] Christians, however, discouraged idol worship, putting them at odds with artisan who fashioned idols for local temples. Mystics and brothel owners felt similarly targeted and united to discredit the Christian Church and its practices.[2] The Eucharist, in which Christians adherents “partook of Christ’s body and blood,” was denounced as cannibalism. Baptisms, performed at night to avoid persecution, were dubbed cultic orgies because the individual being baptized wore no clothing. At the time of Paul’s letter, the Corinthian church was an epicenter of cultural controversy and its reputation within the community desperately in need of repair.

Furthermore, in line with Paul’s initial encouragement, women in the Corinthian church had come to view themselves as free in Christ and longer slaves to societal conventions. What’s more, they were no longer slaves to their husbands. Paul introduced the revolutionary concept of marital partnership when, in 1 Corinthians 7:4, he usurped the traditional interpretation of women as mere property. Instead he asserted that, though a husband has authority over his wife’s body, a wife likewise has authority over her husband’s, rendering conjugal relations subject to the radical notion of “mutual consent” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Rather than wear a symbol of their former subjugation, some women in the church, it would seem, rid themselves of their head coverings. Critics of the Corinthian church immediately censured those individuals as loose women who, in the practice of prostitutes, left their heads uncovered as to denote their belonging to no man.

Paul was understandably upset that in the midst of a barrage of public reproach the Corinthian church was exposing its image to further damage. Thus, while Paul did not abandon his position on improved gender equality, he pragmatically recommended Corinthian women readopt their head coverings.

Whether salvaging the church’s standing within the Corinthian community was worth sacrificing a consistent stance on gender equality is perhaps the most important question for us as modern Christians. Where should the Church compromise? How do we maintain our relevance without sacrificing our principles? What do we sacrifice for the purpose of unity, and when is unity not worth sacrificing people? I do not believe that 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 is principally concerned with the headgear of Christian women. If we are looking the headgear of Christian women. If we are looking to take the Scripture seriously, I think we are called to look at a much bigger and more relevant picture.

Thus far, we have constructed a plausible alibi for Paul in terms of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6. We are left, however, with the difficult task of rationalizing 1 TImothy 2:12. In this infamous passage, Paul asserts that, “[he does] not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”  As far as subjugation goes, Paul’s discourse on Church leadership appears to be a textbook example. Moreover, when pumped up with the authority of God, it is often the last word. But while the dogmatic interpretation of a misguided minister seems compatible with the text at face value, proper perspective is again in order.

Paul emphatically endorses the ministry of “sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1). Deacons, early Church equivalents of bishops and pastors, are described in 1 Timothy 3 as “overseers” who exercised leadership over the members of their house churches. Paul writes to the Romans advocating Phoebe in this role, commanding them to, “give [Phoebe] any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me” (Romans 16:2). Paul grants this woman his authority in Rome, acknowledges that he has learned from her. And while some cling to the possibility that Phoebe simply needed help baking cookies for after the service, contextual evidence bars such an interpretation of the deaconship.

So we are left with a Janus-faced Paul, sometimes asserting gender equality and other times surrendering to cultural prejudice. And while the former is all well and good, these points of compromise require explanation. Some point to the ambiguity of 1 Timothy 2:12 as an instance of dialogue within Scripture, in which the boundary between moral “prescription” (the what-to-do’s) and “proscription” (the what-not-to-do’s) becomes thin. While Scripture explicitly encourages us to emulate Jesus and avoid the pitfalls of Jezebel, some Biblical figures are not so black-and-white. It is not apparent, for example, which of Elisha’s bold acts are examples of faithful zeal and which are warnings of blind passion. The same is potentially true for Paul, whose devotion we should imitate but whose cultural conformity we should avoid. Others emphasize the importance of Paul’s clause “I do not permit…” as opposed to “God does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

Both theories have their merits. The first introduces an appealing way not only to approach Paul and Elisha, but many Old Testament figures. The second seems consistent with the character of God throughout the Bible, in which women such as Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) were divinely appointed to serve as spiritual leaders for God’s chosen people Israel.

My conclusions in light of these difficulties are two-fold. Firstly, while Paul might not be considered feminist in the context of our modern culture, he did much to establish himself as a catalyst for the reexamining of gender roles in the first century C.E.. Pronouncing that there is “neither male nor female” in Christ (Galatians 3:28), Paul recognizes a woman’s right to participate in public prayer alongside Christian men (1 Corinthians 11:5, 13).[3] In a display of cultural radicalism, Paul entreats the church in Rome to “greet Priscilla and Aquila, [his] co-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3), not only recognizing Priscilla as a fellow apostle, but naming her before Aquilla, a man and her own husband, as a gesture of respect.[4] “Far from being repressive and chauvinistic,” Biblical scholar Robin Scroggs asserts, “Paul is the one clear and strong voice in the New Testament speaking for the freedom and equality of women.”[5]

Secondly, Scriptures such as this one require a good deal of wrestling with. Regardless of which interpretation we choose, there is no easy out. We can, however, find comfort in God’s willingness to be confronted. We can trust that He will always be with us–sometimes to answer our questions, and other times to simply acknowledge our frustrations. Yet, there are also times when the faithful pursuit of truth does bring answers. The intellectual pursuit of God, though frustrating at times, is an incredibly fulfilling way to experience Christ and a refreshing change of pace from the all-too-commonplace hunt for an emotional high. While secular culture often dismisses Christianity as self-deceivingly “gettin’ psyched up for Jesus,” we have an opportunity “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15a). “But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter continues; be a certain kind of intellectual who offers answers in humility and love to the ultimate questions of peace, hope, forgiveness, and purpose.   

 

 

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible. volume X. Abingdon Press. Nashville 2002

[2] Ibid. 775

[3] Ibid. 926-932

[4] Marie Noel Keller, Priscilla and Aquila: Paul’s Coworkers in Christ Jesus (Paul’s Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010). Pp. xviii + 106. Catholic Biblical Quarterly. April 1, 2012. (William). Walker, Jr., Trinity University, San Antonio, TX 782112)”

[5] “Paul: Chauvinist or Liberationist?” Robin Scroggs. Christian Century. March 15, 1972.

Posted on September 10, 2015 .

More Than Mere Kindness by Daniel Jin

When we are asked what it looks like to love others, our natural inclination is to say, “Being kind to others."

We are to treat people with kindness, for there is kindness in love. However, kindness is not tantamount to love. When kindness is disconnected from love’s other elements, it involves an undercurrent of indifference. According to C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, “Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.” It does not entail any long-term commitment to the wellbeing of its object; rather it satisfies itself with a “niceness” that does no harm. How do we see this isolated kindness in the environment around us? When I read this excerpt from The Problem of Pain, I immediately related it to quotidian interactions with people on campus–namely because I found myself perpetuating this very strain of kindness.

Whenever I encounter people with whom I am only vaguely acquainted, I instinctively feel inclined to adopt a congenial demeanor to make sure they feel comfortable. I plaster on a cheerful smile, alter the tenor of my voice, and ready my habitual greeting, “Hey, how’s it going?” to express a degree of concern. I hope that they will respond with a brief “I’m good; how are you?”, smile, and continue on their way. It’s painless, easy, and efficient. But even when I am in a particularly gregarious mood, I can’t seem to get past the threshold of feeling truly connected, despite my best intentions. I find it extremely easy to fall into my default state of being: relying on scripts and social cues to navigate my way through conversations to avoid the risk of displeasing others. When this default state comes to define our interactions, the moment we’ve exhausted our arsenal of pleasantries and the conversation grows stale, an awkward silence prevails as we try to extricate ourselves in the least offensive way possible. All we’ve done is ensure that the other person has escaped the interaction unscathed, and, spurred by feelings of obligation to unfinished tasks and places to be, we gradually come to perceive the other person as someone, even something, to get through. This is the kindness C.S. Lewis is wary of: a façade of cold philanthropy harboring veiled feelings of indifference to the wellbeing of its object–keeping one another at arm’s length so that we don’t step on other people’s toes.

With this strain of shallow, impoverished kindness so far removed from the love in which it ought to be subsumed, how are we to know what kindness grounded in love looks like? We must remember kindness is not tantamount to love, for love is multifaceted and kindness is just one of it elements. Hence, preceding that question is this one: What does it mean to truly love others? In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Paul tells us, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If considered individually and applied collectively in our daily interactions, these qualities will radically change how we understand the true nature of love.

To begin seeing love in this rich light, we must notice a clear thread in Paul’s description; love is inefficient. The fact that love is patient, does not insist on its own, rejoices with the truth, and endures all things suggests that love is inefficient in its very nature–it calls us away from making productivity primary. As unwelcome and subversive as this facet of love may sound, acknowledging it can prove to be one of the most liberating exercises in our practice of love. If we are willing to embrace this presently inconvenient truth, we can expect an alleviation of the anxieties and inhibitions suppressing our willingness to love. This may be the first step we need to take in our quest for nurturing a love that transcends mere kindness; accepting love’s inefficiency leads to patience, and patience opens us up to love’s many rich manifestations–including, but not limited to, the qualities listed in 1 Corinthians. As we divest incrementally from the internal monologue that binds us to our exacting agendas and invest ourselves in the spirit of loving, I believe we enter an authentic dialogue with not only the people around us but also with God. For if God is love, we are engaging in communion with Him when we seek to love others. As our love for others develops and supplants our self-centeredness, we will begin to see people the way He does, the way the people around us fit within His sovereign plan, and how we were created to run on God’s love as the nonpareil source of fuel, with every other source of purpose or meaning rendered superficial and insufficient in comparison.  

As we are internalizing love’s disposition, we must be mindful that love requires application for it to be sustained. C.S. Lewis exhorts, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” Loving others take discipline and attention, especially at the beginning, because we are adjusting what has long been our default frame of mind in how we perceive and interact with the world. It will require continually praying for God to be the source of love, for love engendered by ourselves is unsustainable in the long-run susceptible to our own imperfections. The great news is that we are promised to get back what we put in, and more. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.” The amount of genuine, willing effort we put into loving people will determine how much love we have for others as a result.

The way we love others can take a myriad of forms: It can be the conscious decisions to treat every person we encounter as the most important person in the world; it can be intentionally putting others’ needs far above our own until we begin to see their needs as inseparable from ours; it can be choosing to set a tone of vulnerability in as many conversations as possible; it can be writing little notes to affirm the people who we especially appreciate; etc. All these manifestations are inefficient because they go beyond mere kindness to affect kindness grounded in love.

It will be easier for us to accept this inefficiency if we remember that we are on this journey of life together. For while it is radically profound that God has chosen to love each of us in spite of our faults, it is even more unbelievably radical that he has chosen to love every person around us in the same way. If we can remember that God’s love for the people around us is eternal and infinite, and cultivate a deep longing to love those around us more and more in that boundless way, we will become more like the sort of people God created us to be–a people inextricably united through love. 

Posted on September 9, 2015 .

The Relevancy of Quakerism: on Integrity, Modernity, and Religious Minority by Mary Chawaga

There are only about 90,000 Quakers in the United States—a tiny number compared to, for instance, the 90 millionAmerican evangelicals. Their global influence for good, however, has been much greater than this number suggests. Quakers’ vast and varied humanitarian efforts rest on the conviction that “there is that of God in every One,” and the Society of Friends has led the way in advocating for universal suffrage, abolitionism, civil rights, and the end of war. Quakers have been a consistent historical model for direct non-violent action and suffered significantly for their radical pacifist and egalitarian convictions. From their inception, the Society of Friends was persecuted for their dissenting views, especially for refusing to swear allegiance or show deference to the English Crown. Their rejection of church hierarchy led to persecution by Anglicans and, in the American colonies, by Puritans as well. As conscientious objectors, Quakers of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for, “promotes[ing] lasting peace with social justice” in the midst of World War I. Yet, the Friends’ faith-based position on nonaggression has engendered rejection and disdain from many mainstream communities. More recently, non-violent civil disobedience for the cause of consumer rights and sustainable energy has led to further imprisonment and legal penalties.  

Despite its differences from traditional evangelicalism, Quakerism was founded by George Fox as part of the 17th century Protestant Reformation. Believing that God had created everyone equally, George Fox reasoned that each person should be able to speak to and hear from God unmediated.  It was these views about the priesthood of all believers and their rejection of creeds that made Quakers notably radical, even among other emerging Protestant faiths of their time. In the face of religious persecution, many members of the Society of Friends Quakers moved to America. And although there was continued religious discrimination, the Quakers thrived in Pennsylvania where William Penn organized his nascent state according to the Quaker Testimonies.

What little 5C students haveheard about Quakers relegates them firmly to the past, an old-fashioned sect with no role to play in the modern world.  Yet the guidance of the Quaker Testimonies (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, service and stewardship) could not be more relevant to today’s oppressive, materialistic, and war-torn world.  We must practice simplicity in the face of the greatest income inequality in American history since the time of the robber barons. We must assert that “there is no Way to Peace:  Peace is the Way” as America persists into a second decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The beliefs and practices of the Quaker community are relevant to people of all religious backgrounds and identities. Unplugging, seeking authenticity, having the courage to speak my personal truth, committing myself to non-violent conflict resolution, valuing every human being fully and healing the world through service—these Quaker ideas have shaped my own spiritual identity.

It was my teachers at Friends’ Central School in the Quaker hub of Philadelphia who encouraged me to “be here now,” a shorthand expression for being mindful and aware. It is safe to say nobody here in Claremont reminds me to “be here now” and I miss the weekly Quaker Meetings for Worship that were built into my academic life before college. Each week at Friends’ Central, the entire school community—students and faculty—came together “in the manner of Friends” for unprogrammed worship.  Meeting for Worship, as Quaker “church services” are called, brings together the community to sit in silence for about an hour, listening for a message from God. If they are moved to speak, Friends stand up and share their message with the rest of the community.  Though I did not always appreciate the rare opportunity to sit quietly in contemplation for 40 minutes on Wednesday mornings, I have begun to appreciate that time through its absence.  The challenge of Meeting is to truly “be here now,” to let go of distractions and listen for (and to) the Divine.  And as I think we have all discovered in our own lives, that is easier said than done. There is a reason so many major religious disciplines choose to pursue silence and mindfulness, strategies to help pay attention to the world within and without.  

Though I must admit, I myself am notorious for not listening to people, too busy checking my Instagram likes and changing my cover photo to the newest-funniest Mindy Projectscreencap.  The process of writing this very piece is helping me reflect on my own embodiment of the Testimonies. To me, “being here now” does not simply include putting away cell phones and closing laptops (which we are constantly being told to do, ironically, via our Facebook timelines); it goes much deeper than that. “Be here now” means more than just being present, it means committing myself to the project of really listening and really seeing. I recently went into a Target to buy three items and realized, when I got home that everything was either the wrong size or the wrong style—a problem I could easily have solved if I had just looked at what I was buying.  Though this example may seem trite, it embodies the disengaged and scattered way I sometimes make decisions. The Testimonies are touchstones for Quakers, and meditating on the ways my actions do and don’t align with them is a useful practice, and one that helps me be consciously conscious.  When I have a moment of real engagement—when I’m completely immersed in life—I realize how much richer my experiences and actions are. I realize that the difficult task of quieting oneself in this loud, distracted world is as essential as ever as we strive towards ideals of peace and justice.

Posted on September 9, 2015 .