Prayer for Winnipeg the Beautiful

This is Winnipeg at night.  Photo was taken from orbit by Cdr Chris Hadfield.

This is Winnipeg at night. Photo was taken from orbit by Cdr Chris Hadfield.

Today is Election Day in our city.  New trustees, new counsellors, and a new mayor – we will have all these by the end of the day.  I won’t endorse a particular candidate but let everyone be encouraged to vote.  But even voting is not demanded of us by explicit command in Scripture.  But there is one thing that is:  Prayer.

Prayer for our leaders and prayer for our city.  Praying for secular leaders is very clearly commanded in the Bible:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  1 Tim 2:1-2 ESV

We don’t know who our leaders will be by the end of the day.  But God is in control and we need to pray for Him to give them guidance and wisdom.  They are, in a sense, our ministers for the common good.  It’s a tough job surely and they need our prayers.

Also we need to pray for our city:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  Jeremiah 29:7 ESV

This command isn’t directly given to Christian people in Winnipeg.  Context shouldn’t be ignored.  But it is parallel enough to our situation that we ought to receive encouragement to do likewise.  Jeremiah wrote this to exiled Israel in Babylon, who were tempted to ignore, retreat from, resent, or otherwise not participate with the culture/city around them.  They are instead encouraged to become involved and pray.  Pray for the good of everyone.

On Election Day this comes even more sharply into focus.  So vote wisely and from an informed place.  And most importantly pray.  Pray for God to place the right leaders into office.  Pray that they may be given wisdom.  Pray for the flourishing and prosperity of Winnipeg to grow and grow.  Pray for peace for everyone and the tearing down of divisions between us.  Pray especially for the most vulnerable communities and individuals among us.  Pray that God’s people would continue to serve and be a blessing to our communities.  Pray that we could participate in public life for the good of all.  Pray for God’s abundant blessing on all our neighbours.

What Happens When We Want the Fruit but Chop the Roots of the Tree?

Last week , I wrote a summary of French atheist Luc Ferry’s acknowledgement of what Christianity has given to the world.  It was refreshing to read an atheist’s acknowledgement of what would be otherwise be unthinkable in the world of ideas if it were not for Christianity:  the universal equality of all persons, and the true democracy and foundation of human rights which flow from that.  And it was commendable on the author’s part.

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I closed with this:  “It is commendable that an atheist philosopher can acknowledge how much we owe the Christian worldview.  But it leaves us with a lingering question.  Doubtless, anyone living in the West enjoys a culture that has received these gifts.  But…   Will we be able to stay in possession of these gifts (the equal dignity and worth of all human beings, for example) when we have refused the Giver?”

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In other words, can we continue to receive nutrition from the fruit after we have hacked away the roots of the tree? What will happen to our civilization if we do?

The Resurrection, El Greco, 1584

The Resurrection, El Greco, 1584

Someone has provided an answer:

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…we know now that the modern world is coming to an end …at the same time the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism.  He will cease to reap the benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies…  Loneliness in faith will be terrible.  Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love which flows from one lonely person to another …the world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean…  Romano Guardini (1885-1968) from The Lord 
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That right there, is a prophecy.

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A Holy Friend

How should people of faith be towards the world?  How should we build ‘ramps’ instead of ‘walls’?

This is often a favourite question of mine and this talk by David Brooks is such a gift.  Yes, sometimes it takes a Jew to tell Christians how to be better Christians in our culture.  This talk is one of the best, most challenging, most encouraging things I’ve heard in a long time.  Here is a favourite excerpt:

He [Joseph Soloveitchik, the great rabbi, in his 1965 book “Lonely Man of Faith."] said we have two sides to nurture, which he called Adam One and Adam Two, which correlate to the versions of creation in Genesis.

Adam One is the external résumé. Career-oriented. Ambitious. External.

Adam Two is the internal Adam. Adam Two wants to embody certain moral qualities to have a serene, inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong, not only to do good but to be good, to sacrifice to others, to be obedient to a transcendent truth, to have an inner soul that honors God, creation and our possibilities.

Adam One wants to conquer the world. Adam Two wants to obey a calling and serve the world. Adam One asks. “How things work?” Adam Two asks, “Why things exist and what we’re her for?”

Adam One wants to venture forth. Adam Two wants to return to roots.

Adam One’s motto is “Success.”

Adam Two’s motto is “Charity. Love. Redemption.”

So the secular world is a world that nurtures Adam One, and leaves Adam Two inarticulate.

The competition to succeed in the Adam One world is so intense, there’s often very little time for anything else. Noise and fast, shallow communication makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from our depths.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be assertive, to brand ourselves to get likes on Facebook, and it’s hard to have that humility and inner confrontation which is necessary for a healthy Adam Two life.

And the problem is that I have learned over the course of my life that if you’re only Adam One, you turn into a shrewd animal whose adept at playing games and begins to treat life as a game.

You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to a moral purpose that gives life worth. You settle into a sort-of  self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You follow your desires wherever they take you. You approve of yourself as long as people seem to like you. And you end up slowly turning the core piece of yourself into something less desirable than what you wanted. And you notice this humiliating gap between your actual self and your desired self.

So this secular world may look like Kim Kardashian and vulgarity, but I am telling you it is a river of spiritual longing. Of people who are aware of their shortcomings and lack of direction and in this realm.

They don’t have categories, they don’t have vocabularies, but they know the gap.

They know the gap because none of us gets through life very long without being knocked to our knees either in joy or in pain. And a bunch of activities expose the inadequacies of an Adam One life.

A Holy Friend – David Brooks, The Gathering, 2014

What Do I Love When I Love My God?

There was once a time when theologians were also poets.  It was a time when the way they spoke made you want to believe what they argued for.  Maybe we should try to get that back.  But first we need to go to school with a master…

Augustine by Champaigne (that's his own burning heart he's holding; what does your heart burn for?)

Augustine by Champaigne
(that’s his own burning heart he’s holding; what does your heart burn for?)

What Do I Love When I Love My God?

It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.   St Augustine

How Should We Become Ourselves?

How should we live?  How do we become who we should be?  How do we truly “be ourselves”?

These aren’t silly questions.  They are terribly practical.  The answer we arrive at tells us a lot about our view of the world.  And it will also shape how we see our own human nature.

How should we become ourselves?  By following our nature or by going against it?  Is our nature good or bad?  Or do we need a new nature entirely?

A random ancient Greek looking guy.

A random ancient Greek looking guy.

The ancient Greeks believed – generally – that the world was an ordered place.  Plants, animals, natural forces all behaved in the way they ought to. (there was an ought) The world was the way it should be and operated within not only natural law but also moral ones.  For them, to live the virtuous life was to follow your own nature. Everyone had a role to play in the world, and when we were most true to ourselves we would live an ordered, virtuous, moral life.  This is an incredible over-simplification but it serves.  We need to be truly ourselves and then we will live the way we should.  We’ll find our place, treat others properly, and be most true to who we’re supposed to be.  If we acted in accord with our nature, we’d be who we ought to be. But the problem with this way of thinking is that it was missing something.  That is, a satisfying answer to why things aren’t the way they seem to ought to be. I it really just because some people weren’t living out their true natures?  What if we find that our natures are not inherently predisposed to virtue and right living?  What then?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).  Seriously thinking about something serious.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Seriously thinking about something serious.

On the other side, and much later in history, came Immanuel Kant.  One of the most influential thinkers in history, to be sure, and someone who took an opposing position to ancient Greek thought.  Kant believed there was a Universal Good and everyone should pursue it.  (again, an ought)  That Good meant acting in unselfish ways towards others and humanity as a whole.  But Kant didn’t think that nature was a good guide.  Why?  Because we’re naturally kind of selfish.  Our human nature would incline us away from what was good. So Kant argued for acting in ways that were not in our natural inclinations.  If we were able to act in ways that were selfish, we could also train ourselves to act in ways that weren’t.  By, in a sense, not acting in accord with our nature.  (see how different this is from the Greeks?)

But there are just as many problems with this.  How do we act out a new nature?  Where does this new nature come from?

So, should we get more in tune with our nature like the Greeks suggest? Or, should we resist our nature and discipline ourselves into a new one, like Kant wants us to?

If we feel like we have Greeks to the left of us, and Kant to the right, we should look at a way in the middle.  Greek thought can’t account for the disorder of our natures – the ‘natural’ selfishness and so on.  Kant thinks we can’t follow our nature but he can’t really give a us a new one either. Our nature’s are bad.  But they weren’t always. The Greeks are right that there is a perfect way human nature should be.  But they’re wrong in thinking that we’re already there.  Kant is also right in that we can’t (kant… haha) follow our natural inclinations but he can’t provide us with a new nature either.  But there is one who can.

Biblical Christianity tells us the world was once a certain way – unspoiled, perfect, ordered.  But it also tells us that that it’s no longer that way.  Nature (and our human nature) was once good but now it’s not.  But it also gives hope for us because it offers us a new nature. In Jesus, that is when we believe in Him and are changed by Him, we are given a new nature.  We become part of new creation.  And we’re told that we must not follow our old nature – like the Greeks would have us do.  But we’re not left to construct a new nature – like Kant says.  Instead we’re given as a gift a new nature – by being born again – and told to put off the old and put on the new.  And it is by doing that, that we truly become ourselves and find the way to live in the world.

Thinking and Responding to Muslims

Minarets

Interaction with Islam and Muslims is important for Christians to think about these days – especially given the climate of the world of just the last few weeks.

John Dickson – a pastor and Christian leader from Australia – has written a pastoral letter to his congregation which is worthy of wider readership and reflection.

The beauty of his admonition is that he avoids looking Islam with rose-coloured glasses – think of all “the religion of peace” stuff.  And he avoids the twin mistake of seeing Islam as universally violent and threatening.  Westerners, Dickson says,tend to impose their own imaginings onto Islam. Following September 11 years ago, and again more recently, people seem to break into two camps: those that rush to condemn Muslims per se as violent and poisonous, and those that defend Islam as a perfectly loving, non-retaliatory, democratic religion.”  

But Dickson also makes clear that most Muslims we meet in the Western world share many of the desires we do.  “I have no doubt that almost all the Muslims we’re likely to meet in Sydney [insert Winnipeg, or wherever else here] wish us no harm. They want what we want—health, safety, education, and a future for their kids.”  This is acknowledging that we have shared common ground with our Muslim neighbours and should seek fruitful co-citizenship.

But best of all, is his desire for personal connection.  Common sense and Christian faith urge us to shun both a naïve recasting of Islam as the mirror-image of liberal democracy, and a hateful projection of our own tribalism onto Australian [or Canadian] Muslims. Instead, let’s go out of our way in the coming weeks and months to pray for the Muslims around us and to convey love and friendship toward them.”  Make friends, seek the common good of all, be good neighbours, have conversations.  I, personally, have never had a conversation with a Muslim who has not wanted to talk about God with me.  Why can’t we seek to understand one another, and share the radical Good News of Jesus?

Dickson’s pastoral is brief, balanced, biblical, and heartfelt.  I agree with almost everything in it and encourage people to read it.

A Letter To My Church About Islam – John Dickson

An Atheist Ponders Christianity’s Gifts to the World

Luc Ferry

Luc Ferry

There are atheists and then there are atheists.  There are atheists who view religion in general (and Christianity in particular) as having nothing of value to offer the world.  Then there are atheists that recognize the incredible gifts that Christianity has bestowed on the world.

Luc Ferry is the latter.  In his A Brief History of Thought:  a philosophical guide to livinghe recognizes 3 important innovations in the world, each that would have been impossible without the advent of Christianity.  They are so much a part of Western civilization we probably assume they are self-evident but they are not.  They are gifts and did not exist before the arrival of the Christian worldview.  They are:

1)  “Freedom of choice, ‘free will’, becomes the foundation of morals.”  This isn’t about free will vs determinism but about how virtue became an aspect of what someone did instead of what they were.  For the Greeks, Ferry says, virtue was akin to a talent or natural endowment, like having brown eyes or a stronger physique.  For Christians, that kind of natural hierarchy had no place.  People were all fundamentally the same and what counted as moral would be a matter of a person’s choice rather than their endowment.

2)  “In the moral sphere, the spirit is more important than the letter.”  Outward acts become not the only thing that matters and are certainly not the most important thing.  Conscience matters.  Motivations of the heart matter.  Think of many interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees to see how this is so.  For the Greeks, only what was done mattered and so behaviour was highly regulated within that society.  Ferry points out how much Judaism and Islam differ from Christianity in this regard too.  Christianity depends more on the individual’s conscience and moral motivations.

3)  And finally, “the modern notion of humanity makes its entrance.”  The first two predicate the third.  In essence, Ferry is acknowledging that we could not have our modern view of individual human worth and dignity without the legacy of Christianity.  “As soon as free will becomes the foundation of moral action and virtue is located not in the natural, ‘unequal’ gifts, but in the use to which they are put, then it goes without saying that all men are of equal merit.” (77)  And so Christianity becomes the foundation for human rights and real democracy.

It is commendable that an atheist philosopher can acknowledge how much we owe the Christian worldview.  But it leaves us with a lingering question.  Doubtless, anyone living in the West enjoys a culture that has received these gifts.  But…   Will we be able to stay in possession of these gifts (the equal dignity and worth of all human beings, for example) when we have refused the Giver?

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Thought:  a philosophical guide to livingpages 72-77