26 November 2020

20 November 2020

What Are We Waiting For?

November is the start of a season in which we strive to come together, as families, communities, faiths, and nations. For Catholics and some Protestants, this is the season of Advent, a time when they wait expectantly for the symbolic coming of Christ. For Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, this is the season in which Diwali celebrates the "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance." For Americans, this is the season of Thanksgiving, when we celebrate generosity and sharing. In Britain, they celebrate Guy Fawkes Night near the start of the month as a "joyful day of deliverance" from terrorism and strife. For all nations, November 11 is Armistice Day, celebrating peace and remembering the sacrifice it took to end the first World War. In many ways, this is the season that celebrates Christ's dream for humanity.

Every Diwali, I think about the first chapter of James. James reminds us that God is the "Father of Lights" who gives "every good and perfect gift" (1:17). Wisdom is the gift of God and Truth is God's Word (1:5,18). Jesus tells us that we are to live this Word of Truth, not simply preach it. In Matthew 5:14-16 he tells his followers, "you are the light of the world... let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds."

Thanksgiving reminds me of the generosity of Abraham and how it stood in contrast to the hostility of the people of Sodom. In Genesis 18, Abraham receives three visitors. He tells his wife to get three seahs of flour and bake bread for them while he draws water for them. Three seahs is about 36 pounds or 16 kilograms. He gives them not just a meal, but enough food to sustain them for their trip. In Genesis 19, Abraham's brother, Lot, narrowly saves two of this same trio from being brutalized by the people of Sodom.

Finally, for Armistice Day, I think of the book of Revelation. In John's vision, the armies of God do not fight. They gather to praise God who redeems them and saves them from their enemies. Not once in the entire book does any Christian take up arms. The way of Jesus is the way of peace. Just like the three children who stood up to their king in Daniel 3 proudly proclaimed, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your hand, but even if he does not... we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (3:17-18).

God gives wisdom and truth. Those who live God's way are a light to the world, marked by their generosity, kindness, wisdom, and commitment to peace. These people are Christians whether they call themselves that or not, for they bear the fruits of the Spirit of God. During this time of Advent, we wait for the coming of our redeemer, the one who will bring peace to our world. This is the time when we do the work of John the Baptist and make straight his way.

This is the time when we put aside our differences, be generous, provide for our neighbors that none may go hungry this winter. This is the time when we train ourselves for empathy and compassion to recognize the same spirit in others which dwells in us so that we may work together to establish and maintain peace. We do not simply wait expectantly for our redeemer, we go prepare the way for him in anticipation of the start of next year when we begin anew the great work of God.

Peace be with you.

13 November 2020

Pascal's Thoughts on Persuasion

I read an article recently which brought my attention to a quote, penned around 1660 by mathematician Blaise Pascal. In it, he explains his process of persuasion.

"When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others."

"Thoughts" by Blaise Pascal, #9,10

Although he states that his purpose is to "correct with advantage," what Pascal has outlined is not only a process for persuasion, but one for finding common ground.

His first step is to see the perspective of the person with which you disagree and accept that there is truth to their point of view. This means we have to get past name-calling and demonizing, actually talk to one another, and find out what the other side believes is important. Once you know what that "most important" thing is, we can usually agree that it is at least important.

Pascal's next step is to show them your side, the side where their perspective proves false. Not only must you have empathy, you must invoke it in others. Allow them to talk around your perspective, really get a good look at it, because as Pascal writes, they are "better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered."

This is not novel, it is basic dialogue. It starts with listening and keeping an open mind to what has been said. It requires belief in the basic goodness of the person you are in dialogue with. The benefit is that it may result in one or both of you coming away with a new perspective.

To be successful, recriminations and corrections must be avoided. In pointing out mistakes or flaws, you appeal not to a person's reason, but to their pride. Their ego swells and they dig in their heels so no progress can be made. Instead, show them that from where they stand, they are right, and from where you stand you are also right, so that you may both come away with a new perspective.

No one likes to be wrong, even less to be told so. But sometimes there is more to be seen, and one's pride is not offended by the consideration of new information.

How might you apply this to discussions online? Well, this is why I refrain from using such divisive platforms. If you cannot respect the perspective of the person (or robot) with whom you disagree, you may consider the following proverbs.

"Never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it."

"Never argue with an idiot, people watching may not know the difference."

Until next week,
Peace be with you.

06 November 2020

The Prince of Peace

Jesus is often called the Prince of Peace. This phrase comes from Isaiah 9:6, and is found nowhere in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus has some very different words to describe his purpose. In Matthew's gospel, he declares, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (10:34) and in Luke's gospel he says "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled" (12:49).

In describing his purpose, Jesus quotes Micah 7:6, "For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household" (Matt 10:35). In Jesus's day, people believed the Messiah would come for all of Israel, the good and the bad, and that he would cast out all the foreigners, the good and the bad. Jesus tells them that his way is not a political revolution, but a revolution of the heart and mind. Jesus would embrace foreigners and cast out corruption, two things that, in his day, were not believed about the Messiah.

There was no shortage of violent revolts in the time of Christ. The Maccabean Revolt had concluded in 160 BC, and the Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-74 had resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. Further, the Bar Kokhba Revolt of AD 132-136 resulted in both Jews and Christians being cast out from Jerusalem.

However, the way of Christ was not about violent revolution. This is why, in John's Revelation, we see the army of Christ assembled not to fight, but to praise God. God will do the fighting, the church is not God's army, but God's cheerleader. Paul echoes this in Romans 16:20, saying "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."

Paul opens many of his letters with, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2). Peace is essential to being a Christian. James tells us that "Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness" (3:18). Following Jesus may put Christians at odds with family, friends, and their communities, but as Jesus tells us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Whether we live in a time of prosperity or oppression, we can have peace because Christ has overcome all opposition, not by war, as in the Bar Kokhba revolt (led by its infamous false Messiah), but by passive resistance, even to the point of giving his own life as a demonstration of God's love.

Whatever your worries, whatever your pain, know that God has already overcome and has made a place for you not just in the next world, but in this one as well.

As always,
Peace be with you.