Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Atheism, Narcissism and Why None are Righteous

Today's entry is unformed.  I haven't really thought through it very deeply, so if you have critique's or corrections let me know.  

A while ago I was looking at this map.  The map is about social mobility according to geography and it demonstrated that all over the place there still is a good amount of economic mobility to be had.  What struck me the most was that children of the wealthiest 1%: those who had the most opportunity and ability to "play" the system only ended up being on average in the 30-40%. (NY:32% San Fran 38%).  This was pretty shocking to me.  How could people with the best educational opportunities fail at a pretty significant rate to "maximize" their opportunity?

So here is the idea. I was thinking about the modern godless notion that we are the ones who imbue life with meaning.  People can pursue whatever they wish, whatever they assume will bring them happiness.  And for many,they find it is not money that brings happiness.  The children of the wealthiest have seen the things and status and wealth do not bring lasting joy. They see the lies that their parents have made god And so they pursue a different path to personal happiness.  Only these paths are just as godless and just as false.  

In all of these paths where the individual is free to give life it's meaning for them each person is forming a god in their own image.  And all of these end up being expressions of our pride, our self sufficiency and our alienation from the true God.  In an atheistic culture it is no wonder we see the explosion of narcissism. It is no wonder that without a god to follow we become god's in our own eyes.  

Narcissism continues to grow as we strip western culture from it's religious underpinnings.  Narcissism grows as we advocate self esteem above a universal moral code.  We are seeing the outgrowth of Nietzche's philosophies all around us as people feel freed from the social rules and mores. More and more people see themselves as Nietzche's Supermen (women) who saw themselves as above an artificial other imposed ethical code. Atheism breeds Narcissism.  An individuals ability to be the author of meaning in their life is not a positive development. 

I say this even as many choose "noble" paths, and seek to fill their lives with good deeds, and by being people of substance and concern for others. Even in the what I would say are the majority of cases.  Those where individuals don't exhibit narcissistic behavior' there remains an aspect of self-centeredness since the individual is the author of meaning.  So even if meaning is derived from service, and caring from others. Ultimately it comes back to the fact that the individual wants to serve self through others. 

It is only in Christ that this self focused reality can be undone.  When we live for him, either serving others or making a lot of money are both honorable paths forward. It is the entire Christian message applied to life.  When we know grace, we are free to uphold the laws.  When we know God's grace, we are free to use our gifts and passions in our work to the benefit and service of mankind, whether it be in finance, the non-profit sector or as a baker, teacher or trash man. In all of these areas we serve others because we first serve God. In that our identity is found in him, and not our jobs.  In that, we are no better than anyone else because we have a "better" job.  In that, we are equal because we are all made in the image of God.  When we find our identity in him we are free not to give purpose and meaning to our own lives, but rather we are free to live out the purpose that is already there. 

"Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-38

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I must not have had a single thought for the last 7 months.  At least nothing that moved me to write here.  Or more accurately (I hope) is that without a place to collect and capture the thoughts we have, a journal, a sermon library or something, all our thoughts, all our insights all that inspiration disappears.  It is forgotten.  It loses it's power.

I assume this helps us see why Scripture is so important.  God's Word needed to be recorded written down because if it wasn't future generations wouldn't have the benefit of seeing Jesus. We wouldn't be moved and inspired.  We would have forgotten our calling.

It's also interesting that it wasn't written down right away.  When Jesus fed the 5000 or healed the blind people who saw it didn't feel the need to write it down.  It wasn't that second of inspiration you get from a dream.  It wasn't that connection that made sense of the relationship between God's grace and our call to unconditionally forgive.  Experiences of Jesus were like the moment your baby was born. So powerful and transformational that for me to put it into words wouldn't help me recall it.  It wouldn't help me re-experience that day. The experience is always there.  I have no fear that it will be forgotten. No fear it will lose it's power.  But if I want these stories to live on I just may write them down.  

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it. If I'm looking to be more consistent here those stories could be helpful....

Friday, December 21, 2012

No Compromise

As the fiscal cliff looms I am sure that no deal will be made prior to the deadline.  This is for one primary reason: self interest on the part of the politicians. A deal prior to the fiscal cliff would be reasonable and practical and helpful and wise.  These are not things American politics is primarily interested in.  

The way things will play out is the Fiscal Cliff will pass and only then deals will be made.  A secondary reason why this will be allowed to happen is because the fiscal cliff is not so dramatic as it sounds.  The financial impact will begin slowly, they are what the Atlantic calls a fiscal slope. Basically the cuts will be end up being very pronounced but the immediate impact will come slowly and eat into our recovery over time.  The takeaway is the immediate effects are not as bad as you may have been led to believe.  So don't freak out. 

As I said the primary reason for no deal prior to the deadline is political self interest on both sides.  Basically tax hikes and spending cuts that will necessarily begin on Jan 1.  Both cuts and tax increases are things that our politicians understand need to happen because  for the US to get healthy we need more revenue and less spending.  We need to get our budget under control. The problem is that Dems love to social programs and Repubs love low taxes.  They promise these things, they run on these promises.  Even if it isn't in the best interest of America they know what their constituents want to hear and how they will vote.

So here is the beautiful/sad irony of this arbitrary cliff.  Not making a deal plays into the hands of leaders on both sides. Once the spending cuts and tax hikes begin members of both parties can now keep their promises.  High taxes are thrust upon us poor Americans, cuts to our social services are enacted and we begin to feel the pinch.  A post cliff deal would allow the promises each party made to its supporters to be kept. Repubs can lessen the severity of the tax hikes and Dems can lessen the cuts to social programs.   Everyone keeps their promises! That way they won't lose in primaries!  Congressmen who are only in self preservation accomplish their primary goal of reelection! Yay for Congressmen! They finally compromised and saved the day!  Except they really just gamed us and the system. 

All of this to say that our hope should not be in governments or nations.  It should not be in individual leaders or institutions. 

Like Jesus we need to understand the basic nature of humanity. (John 2:23-25) That all have sinned, that all fall short.  That none of us is perfect.  Except for the One who came to us on Christmas day millenia ago.  

Jesus did not run on selfish promotion but self sacrifice.  Jesus came as a poor baby and ended up even lower, dying on a cross between thieves.  He laid his life down so that we might be lifted up. He turns the games of this world on their head. And because of that Jesus is the real hero.  The one who truly saves the day.  If you are sick of the games, sick of manipulation and alternate agendas trust in the One who already gave the greatest gift, for you. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Parting Words

I know from the title it seems like this could be the last post I ever write.  I hope that would be compelling enough for you to click through this post even though it's not my last post.

The real reason I'm writing is because of my parting words to my kids regarding anything.  They are going to school. Have Fun! They are walking over to a friends house.  Have Fun!
Pretty much that is my standard sendoff, and I think a lot of parents.  Even after church my first question often is, "Did you have fun?" As if that were the most important thing. (Hint: It's not)

Then I was thinking back to my parents or people in times gone by.  Often they would say Be safe! or drive safe!   Maybe my kids don't drive yet and so I don't think they could be hurt so quickly by being careless. Or maybe it's just a change in mentality.  

I don't think either send off is the right one.  Instead of reminding children to be careful, or encouraging them to be a bit reckless (that's how I would often have fun.) I think there is a middle way that is best. 

 Praise God!  or Glorify God!  seems like it should be the thing we are telling our kids.  You are going to school:  Glorify God! (by doing your best, by living with joy, by being responsible)  You are going to a friends house:  Glorify God! (by being a light for Christ, by listening to their parents, by having a great time delighting in this friend of yours who bears the image of God)

This brings me back to the tv show home improvement Where Brad, the oldest doesn't want to have his parents say I love you.  So they develop a code word imbued with meaning.  When Tim (the dad) says how about those lions?  He really means I love you. 

I doubt that my children want to hear me say glorify God to them as I send them off.  Simone doesn't even like me to kiss her goodbye, and Gabe is gone the moment we touch school grounds.  So maybe it's talking to them, and telling them what this kind of thing means and then encourage them with Live Well, or Do Good (like literally, do "good")

The point is, we should send our kids out with reminders that all of life is filled with significance. We need to underline that significance rather than utter vacuous statements that don't instruct or instruct in error.

Alright, until next time.  Live Well!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Blog Commenting Perils

I probably spend too much time commenting on blogs.  After reading I react. After reacting other people react. Often I get drawn into this discussion. I feel like I am doing a good job wisely and sensibly responding to error and misunderstanding. I feel like I have a chance to present the gospel, use apologetics and unearth people's preconceptions about the nature of God and Scripture and truth.  Sometimes these conversations go well.  We end up at a point of understanding and mutual learning.  Other times people attack rather than deal with arguments. I don't do this...but often I want to.  

Here is some Scripture to inform how we should post, because as Christians our posts should be different. They should be redemptive and true.  

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6).

"By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:37).

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom. 12:10).

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).

Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:1525).

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless" (James 1:26).

Scripture passages From http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/justintaylor/being-a-better-blog-commenter
This article has more wisdom on commenting as well, for those of you who have found yourselves in my shoes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Should Write a Book

This week I was looking at these amazing graphs about the impact of the Industrial Revolution over at the Atlantic. Basically they show the creation of wealth since the 1800's and how rapidly things changed during this time.  Within the article there is a book that is plugged Guns, Germs and Steel.  I didn't read the book and don't know the extent of his argument, but one aspect of his book is that Europe came to dominate the world partly because of the geography.*  This is a theory that I developed on my own years ago.  I should have written this book!

For me the argument goes like this.  In Northern Europe (and later the American Northeast) it is cold and yet a lot of people live there.  So you have a lot of ideas being passed around with the advent of the printing press.  You also have a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands to think. Especially in the winter when you are stuck inside for month and month.  In Southern and tropical climates it's so beautiful that you are outside all the time its easy to get distracted, you don't have as much time to process things before you go out again. Also because life is so "good" you also don't have as much incentive to improve on life as we know it.  

I fear that today we may be falling into the same kind of lull since we can so easily fill our reflective time with angry birds or TV or whatever your pet interests are that the necessity and opportunity to create are lessened. 

In this line of thought there is also a line of thinking that relates to faith.  In Scripture, observing creation is designed to point us to the creator.  Over and over again the Psalms (8, 19, 29 etc) emphasize how the created world inspires and reinforces belief in God.  Observing creation shows us how majestic this world really is and we confront the brilliance in it. The design. Until recently we all came into contact with God's created world every day.  Today, to escape the city and its confines is a choice. Some don't choose to escape, others can't afford that choice. Creation as a reminder of God's power is often missed. Today as we are distracted, not by the beauty of God's creation (as in warm climes) but by our own creations, we observe the growth in Atheism. We see people no longer awed by God's handiwork, but by their own. This is something to contemplate.
I should write this book!

Or maybe watch another episode of Mad Men...

*(His thrust however is that the lower classes died off due to disease and the poor living conditions and the upper classes with education and a greater stress on integrity and character were the perfect blend for the burgeoning increase in productivity.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Right now I'm reading Bible Gateway's devotional featuring Dietrich Bonhoffer's meditations.

Today's hit home. 

They seek out all those who have fallen into sin and guilt. No need is too great, no sin too dreadful for mercy to reach. The merciful give their own honor to those who have fallen into shame and take that shame unto themselves. They may be found in the company of tax collectors and sinners and willingly bear the shame of their fellowship. Disciples give away anyone's greatest possession, their own dignity and honor, and show mercy. They know only one dignity and honor, the mercy of their Lord, which is their only source of life.

Most of the time when I am merciful it is something that I think enhances my dignity.  What I mean is lots of times I am doing some "great service" at least in my book.  Missions trips, service projects, even my job in an inner city youth center.  All of these things that when I do them make me look good. 

However, there are a couple of experiences lately where I have understood what Bonhoeffer is getting at.  

A while back I was at an event at Gabe's school talking to the parents of his friends.  Gabe's friends are the good kids, with great families that all look and feel like they have it together.  They are like us.  That's where we belong. Life was as it was supposed to be.  

Then I saw a friend of ours whose life is a mess.  I hadn't seen them in a while and they looked bad.   But when I saw this person I left my group of high status people and walked over to this individual to catch up and talk.  But, as I did it I felt my association with her making me dirty in the sight of my peers.  There was a sense of loss, even a slight anger with this person for "doing this to me" at this time. 

All of this to say that it's easy to be friendly to people in the right circumstances, but what about when I have to pay a price?  And that brings us back to Jesus, the one who paid it all.  The one who bore all our shame to give us dignity.  The one who came to hang out with losers like you and me. That's the person God wants us to be.  And the price to be like him really is costly. 

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." Matthew 5:7

  • Why is "renunciation of their own dignity" necessary if disciples are to be truly merciful?
  • How might a church renounce its own dignity in order to be merciful?
  • How is Jesus our model for renouncing dignity in order to be merciful?
  • Is there anyone beneath a disciples' mercy? Why, or why not?