Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Race and Repentance

We all think we are right.  If I did not think I was right, I would change my position.  Duh.  But just because my answers make perfect sense to me doesn't mean that I am right.  Maybe the problem is that I think I have it all figured out.

I have been listening since the murders in the Charleston church last week.  I have heard many different opinions about the meaning of the massacre.

It is a little too late for raw reflections.  It is time for more thoughtful reflections.  But I'm actually still raw.  I thought I had this pretty well figured out.  I've been to Charleston more than once, and I really like the culture there.  That was the last place I expected to see such headlines.

This shooting was the work of a lone psychopath.  He was clearly motivated by racism, and possibly by hate for God.  His actions failed to divide the community.  The public outcry seemed unanimous.  One way or another, everyone condemned his actions.  He should be prosecuted, the Christian community pulls together, and everyone condemns racism.  Boom.  The world puts this ugly chapter behind us.

But this issue has not gone away so quickly. 

Reactions in the black community look different than I would expect.  Instead of recognizing that nearly every white person condemns this horror, the black community seems to screaming, "Don't you see the problem?"  I'm thinking, Yeah, don't we all?  What am I missing?

Suddenly I realize that maybe I don't get it.  I am listening more than ever.  I had all the answers before.  Now I wonder if I have any answers.  OK, I do know that Jesus is the answer.  But how does that translate into dealing with this?

A multi ethnic prayer meeting?
A sermon series on equality before Jesus?
A heart-felt reading of the Declaration of Independence?

I'm now seeing that the American history of racism is a deep, deep wound.  The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement have only begun the process.  They brought about long-overdue freedom and legal protection for people of color.  That, to me, looked like enough.  The healing would take time.  But time, patience and understanding would fix it.

The wound looked healed.  To me.  The troublemakers kept looking for ways to stir up the race issue.  Why would they do that?  They just want attention or funding or positions of influence.  They could not have sincere motives, because their positions clearly ignored the facts.  Obviously they were opportunists.  They would pull the scab off the healing wound of race relations, only making things worse.

The president seemed to be the worst at this.  Rather than applauding the great strides in our country's history, he kept playing the race card.  Where there was a chance for harmony, he would throw a race grenade.  Of course he is an opportunist.  He's a politician.

But the wound runs deep.  Healing on the surface can conceal deep, toxic infection.  The groundswell of outrage from Ferguson and Baltimore show that there is a deep-seated problem.  Something is tapping into the wells of disenfranchisement, all across the country.  That comes from more than media bias and race baiting.

Now I am repenting.  I am repenting of thinking that I
have it all figured out.  I no longer dismiss the concerns and complaints that don't match my preconceived notions.  There is a problem.  It shows up in hiring practices, prejudices, education, lending, real estate, and law enforcement.  The fact that I have never been able to see it is more evidence of the problem. 

We all think we are right.  If we can step back and question our assumptions maybe we can actually hear one another. 

Jesus is the answer.  I need him to show me what that means.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Irony of Condemnation

Preparing for this Sunday's sermon, I am studying the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. 

This woman is caught in sin, condemned by religious people, and brought to Jesus for judgment.  Yet, these religious people are also guilty.  They had conspired to catch this woman.  They are just trying to find a way to accuse Jesus.  They are condemned already (John 3:18).  But they look for ways to condemn other people. 

The condemned long to condemn. 

Jesus, however, is the only perfect person in the story (or all of history).  He is the only one who has the moral authority to condemn anyone.  Fully aware of this woman's sin, Jesus refuses to condemn her.  He speaks truth, and calls her to repentance.  But he clearly tells her that he doesn't condemn her.

The Perfect One longs to give mercy.

So the one who has the right to condemn refuses.  Those who have no right to condemn look for ways to judge everyone else.

Here is the greatest irony:  So many of us listen more to the bogus condemners than to the Perfect One who calls us to repentance and life. 

What are we thinking?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Outcry for Good Work

Gallop CEO Jim Clifton has written a book called, The Coming Jobs War.  In it, he suggests that wars in the near future will be fought for the sake of jobs.  In an interview about his book, he cites the "Arab Spring" as an example of the uprising of the frustrated masses.  A good job, he says, is a job working 30+ hours per week with a steady paycheck from an employer.

People want jobs.  They want to feed their families.  They want stability.

Clifton further says that a great job is one in which the employee believes that the boss cares about the employee's development, the employee uses his strengths, and the employee believes that her contributions are making a difference. 

People want their lives to have meaning.

All around the world, people will settle for a good job, and so few have a great job.  Clifton estimates that less than half the world's work force has even a good job.  The real unemployment rate, he says, is well over 50%.

Shockingly, Clifton believes that wars will be fought over jobs.  Yet governmental leaders fail to realize the need.  Governments on the local level need to clear the way for entrepreneurs to begin businesses, eliminating needless regulations and burdens.

Refreshingly, Clifton believes that free enterprise will lead the way to good and great jobs.  I wholeheartedly agree.  When individuals are free to put their strengths to work, and reap the benefits of their work, the world also benefits.  This system only works well, Adam Smith would warn us, when people are guided by ethics and morality.

Maybe this war can be averted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Flow of Science

This universe is a mystery, all the way around.  We humans have been trying to make sense of it through the ages.  We wonder how it all began, and we wonder what it all means.  Every person comes into life in a cultural context.  Children learn from their elders as they work to understand this existence.  Society’s traditions, mores, rules and expectations shape our thinking.

We innately realize that there is purpose all around us.  We recognize that humankind holds a unique position among earth’s creatures.  We extrapolate that human existence has meaning, and that our own lives in particular have meaning.  Myths, religions, and philosophies throughout history have offered explanations for existence.  These explanations include stories of the origins of the world.  The Judeo-Christian story of beginnings can be found in Genesis 1-2.  It has been critiqued and studied for centuries, and is remarkably consistent with the scientific evidence.

Western science today bypasses the question of meaning, and pursues the mystery of origins in purely material terms.  Whether this universe has a purpose is irrelevant.  Scientists have gravitated to The Big Bang theory which postulates that this expanding universe had its beginning when all matter of the universe was compressed in a tiny “singularity.”  This speck in space then exploded, yielding, over time, the universe as we know it.  Today, most scientists seem to take this theory for granted.  It is the best explanation scientists can find.
As more evidence comes to light, the evidence is incorporated into the Big Bang theory.  Sometimes the evidence seems to contradict the Theory, and so elaborate explanations are offered.  For example, many scientists hypothesize that the universe is full of  “dark matter,” and “dark energy.”  This matter cannot be seen, they say, but we know it is there because our Big Bang equations won’t match the evidence without dark matter.  By some estimates, 95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy (  Almost all of the universe, then, cannot be detected, except by calculations based on the Theory.  This traditional understanding bears the uncomfortable weight of having different “rules” for physical properties inside an atom vs. the larger world.  Einstein’s theories make sense everywhere except on the subatomic level.  There, scientists apply the rules of quantum mechanics.

Now some scientists are questioning the Theory.  Earlier this year an article was published entitled, Everything We Know about the Big Band Could Be Wrong (  The revisions to the Big Bang theory have become so cumbersome that the theory as a whole becomes implausible.  A simpler explanation seems more likely, as this article suggests.

The new thinking eliminates the “need” for dark matter, and bridges the gap between Einstein’s theories and quantum mechanics.  The old theory no longer matches the preponderance of evidence.

Centuries ago, when scientists took for granted the geo-centric theory of the solar system, theories of planetary motion became so convoluted that they no longer made sense.  The foundational theory was just wrong, and empirical evidence could no longer fit into it.  Only dogmatic devotion to a traditional view could sustain the flawed theory.  Good science required that the theory be rejected.  The Big Bang theory could be at just such a tipping point.

Science must keep on grappling with the evidence, and it will remain in flux.  But the theories of the meaning of life remain unchallenged.  As Genesis says, people were made in his image, given the role of taking care of this world.  As Jesus says, the most important tasks in life are to love God and love people. 

Life is still mysterious, but the light of the gospel brings unchanging hope that one day the mystery will be revealed.