Friday, October 20, 2017

Wisdom Is Beyond Information and Knowledge

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature
Empire, Michigan
In the biblical books of Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, the pinnacle of humanity's search for meaning is wisdom. Not information. Not knowledge. But wisdom. 

Many use the Internet to access information. Beyond that, few matriculate to knowledge. Precious few beyond that graduate to wisdom.

"For all its resources, the digital humanities makes a rookie mistake: It confuses more information for more knowledge. DH [The digital humanities] doesn’t know why it thinks it knows what it does not know. And that is an odd place for a science to be." (Timothy Brennan, "The Digital-Humanities Bust," The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 17, 2017)

Brennan, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, goes on to say that the Digital-Humanities promotes ""digitization, classification, description and metadata, organization, and navigation." An amazing list, which leaves out that contradictory and negating quality of what is normally called "thinking." It would be a mistake to see this banishment of the concept as the passive by-product of a technical constraint. It is the aim of the entire operation." (Emphasis mine.)

It leaves out....   thinking. Few are the thinkers; fewer yet are the wise. Information is not knowledge, and is further yet from wisdom. (See The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols.)

Wisdom is a deep well, requiring a lifetime spent in focus and discipline. Wisdom is a mile deep and an inch wide. Information is shallow, an inch deep and a mile wide. (See Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.)

Information says "X is."

Knowledge says "This is how X is."

Wisdom says "This is why X is."

Information grows like mushrooms. Knowledge grows like an oak tree. Wisdom grows like a canyon. 

Ecclesiastes says,

There's nothing better than being wise,
Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life. 
Wisdom puts light in the eyes, 
And gives gentleness to words and manners.

Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message Remix 2.0: The Bible In contemporary Language (p. 941). 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Yearn For the Ocean Before Building the Ship

Battery Park, NYC, the Statue of Liberty in the distance

"If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, 
and organize the work, 
rather teach people the yearning 
for the wide, boundless ocean.” 
 (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

As churches, what do we envision? Many attempt to build ships (the methods of ministry) before the people have acquired a yearning for the wide, boundless ocean ( = the vision of the God's kingdom). Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, points out that Jesus' eyes envisioned a God-bathed, God-permeated world. Jesus craved to sail the high seas of His father's kingdom. The desire to bring others on this adventure drove all that he said and did. Given this desire, "ship-building" comes naturally.

The first task in spiritual formation is bringing people to that place of yearning for the beautiful kingdom of God. I've seen people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit begin to catch Jesus' vision of the kingdom, only to be encouraged by the church “to buy wood, prepare tools and distribute jobs." Ship-building becomes more of an obligation than a delightful joy.

We must, within our churches, re-imagine what God's own life is like ("heaven"), and then bask in the reality of His vastness, goodness, justness, and love. We must recognize how indispensable this yearning, this ferocious desire to explore the vast, boundless ocean, is. Building the church without the peoples' deep longing for heaven on earth is wasted energy.

Buddhism's View That Evil Is an Illusion

I took this picture of the massive "Reclining Buddha" in Bangkok.

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

Today I introduced my Philosophy of Religion students to the Buddhist idea of evil as an illusion.

J.L. Mackie, in his logical argument from evil against the existence of God, states that one adequate solution to the problem of evil would be that the third statement in his famous "triad," "evil exists," is false. Mackie doesn't think it is false (neither do I), but some do. He probably is referring to Buddhism in its pure form, untainted by cultural influences.

BUDDHISM & the PROBLEM OF EVIL (Evil = “Gratuitous/Pointless Suffering”)

1. The Story pf Siddhartha

The time: 6th century BCE.

A prince, Siddhartha Gautama, has lived in a wealthy household and has been sheltered from all forms of suffering. One day he tells his father he wants to see the outside world. Reluctantly, his father lets him go.

He sees suffering in the form of sickness, old age, and death. Plus, he sees a wandering ascetic who has left behind wife and family and job in search of spiritual liberation. These four sights cause a crisis in Siddhartha. He decides that there must be more to human existence than profit, power, pleasure, and prestige.

The result is: Siddhartha leaves his wife and children and father, rides to the border of what would have been his vast inheritance, shaves his head, takes off his expensive clothes, and becomes a wandering holy man in search of the meaning of life. He wanders around North India, studies with various holy men, and his body becomes skin and bones.

One day he is sitting under a tree in North India. He vows to stay there until he is given the secret of our meaningless wandering from rebirth to rebirth. After 49 days he is “awakened.” He is “buddhaed” (“Buddha” means: awakening, enlightened.) What did he see?

2. Siddhartha's Enlightenment

The Four Noble Truths
  1. All of life is suffering.
  2. The cause of suffering is craving.
  3. The end of suffering is getting rid of craving and grasping.
  4. The method to use in overcoming suffering is the Eightfold Path.
 “Buddhism is about removing the arrow of suffering.”[1]

The Eightfold Path[2] (Steps 1-6 are basic moral commands common to most religions. Steps 7-8 are when desire is extinguished.)
  1. Right view. The disciple gains proper knowledge about illness – how he or she becomes ill, endures illness, and is released from illness.
  2. Right aim. The disciple must be prepared to renounce attachment to the world and give benevolence and kindness.
  3. Right speech. The disciple must not lie, slander, or use abusive or idle talk.
  4. Right action. The disciple must abstain from taking life, from taking what is not given, and from carnal indulgence.
  5. Right living. The disciple must put away wrong livelihood, acts that are condemned in the fourth step, and seek to support him – or herself by right livelihood.
  6. Right effort. The disciple applies the force of his or her mind to preventing potential evil from arising in him – or herself, to getting rid of evil that has arisen in him – or herself, and to awakening and sustaining good potentials within him- or herself.
  7. Right mindfulness. The disciple looks on the body so as to remain ardent, self-possessed, and mindful. The disciple has overcome the craving and dejection common in the world. The disciple also looks on each idea, avoiding craving and  dejection common in the world.
  8. Right concentration. Aloof from sensuous appetites and evil desires, the disciple enters the first jhana (meditative state), where there is cognition and deliberation born of solitude, joy, and ease. The disciple moves a step toward the fourth jhana – purity of mind and equanimity where neither ease nor ill is felt.

He then began to teach others what he had learned. In a deer park in North India he found five travelers. To them, he gave his first sermon. It was on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

3. Two Additional Insights.

All things are impermanent and every-changing.

The search for permanence in any experience leads to suffering (dukkha[3]). This is because “there is no permanence either in the world or in the one who experiences it.”[4] Everything is characterized by transiency.[5] Everything that is born must decay and die.

Suffering is a result of trying to grasp and hold on to this world and the things of this world. On Buddhism suffering comes from “ignorant craving.” It comes from mistaking things as unchanging and then clinging to these so-thought unchanging forms. Or, as one Zen Buddhist teacher has said, “Suffering arises from wanting something other than what is.”[6]

“Mahayanists emphasized that the world of experience is only appearances; the real world is one revealed in the enlightenment experience.”[7] (Mahayana Buddhism)

There is no “self.”

In Buddhism “the ‘self’ is a figment of the imagination.”[8] “You” are not. There is no permanent self to experience anything. So what’s going on then?! What you think is a self is really the aggregation of five basic groups, or skandhas[9], of experience that generate the appearance of a “self.”

Here Buddhism departs from Hinduism, claims there is an eternal self that continues on through a series of bodies. Buddhism disagrees with this. Consciousness is not the “self.” “A person is an aggregation of psychological activities, all temporary. In death, the aggregation comes apart. These five skandhas make up what we refer to as a person. Those who seek permanence of the self suffer, for no self exists.”[10]

There is no ego, no soul, only a temporary gathering of skandhas. Since objects, persons, and processes are impermanent, trying to keep them produces suffering.

4. The End of Suffering

Knowledge, or “enlightenment,” brings an end to suffering.
  • We see there is no objective, permanent world to be grasped.
  • We see there is no permanent self.
So, suffering (evil) is rooted in an illusion.

1. Suffering (evil) is caused by desire.
2. There is neither a self to desire nor a permanent world to be grasped.
3. Therefore suffering (evil) is an illusion.

“Seeing clearly the nature of a person – that there is no permanent self – helps bring an end to craving. Realizing that everything is only part of impermanent psychological processes makes grasping foolish. There is nothing to have and nothing to be had… Letting go is the end of suffering.”[11]

Nirvana – to “puff out” or “extinguish” or “be released from” desire and craving.

“In Buddhism, the state of being free from egocentrism and the suffering that it causes. Positively, it is joy and peace.”[12]

[1] Stephen Prothero, God is Not One, Chapter 5.
[2] Matthews, World Religions, 6th edition, 112
[3] Dukkha means: “suffering.”
[4] Matthews, 112.
[5] Prothero, Ch. 5.
[6] In Prothero, Ch. 5.
[7] Ib., 133
[8] Prothero, Ch. 5.
[9] the five elements that sum up the whole of an individual’s mental and physical existence. The self (or soul) cannot be identified with any one of the parts, nor is it the total of the parts. They are: (1) matter, or body, the manifest form of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water; (2) sensations, or feelings; (3) perceptions of sense objects; (4) mental formations ; and (5) awareness, or consciousness, of the other three mental aggregates
[10] Ib.
[11] Ib., 113-114
[12] Ib., 115

Smartphones and the Coming Mental Health Crisis

Image result for smartphone addiction cartoon

What are cell phones doing to our kids? See "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" by psychologist Jean Twenge (San Diego State University).

Twenge calls those born between 1995 and 2012 "iGen." "Members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet." 

Here are some quotes. See the entire article for more.

Today's teens are on the brink 
of a mental health catastrophe. 

Twenge writes:

"Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones." (Emphasis mine.)

Smartphones make teens seriously unhappy.

"There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."

"Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. 
There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness."

Smartphones are related to the increase 
in teen loneliness and depression.

"When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.
So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression."

Smartphones are related to 
an increase in teen suicides.

"Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)" 

Parents should limit teen smartphone use.

"The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world."

See Twenge's book, 

iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How We Help Troubled Relationships - Resources

Thanks to all who joined Linda and I on Facebook Live for last evening's One-Hour Seminary.

Linda and I shared how we help troubled relationships.

We mentioned some resources - here they are.

One of the best books on relationships is Real Relationships: From Bad to Better, From Good to Great, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

The best book on how to communicate when in conflict is Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Towards Others, by David Augsburger. 

If there has been adultery in a marriage, the most helpful book we have seen is by David Carder, Torn Asunder; Recovering From an Extramarital Affair

One of the best books on the place of forgiveness in restoring relationships is The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don't Know How, by Lewis Smedes.

The Boundaries books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend are necessary reading!

Begin with Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

Then, we have...

Boundaries in Marriage

Boundaries in Dating

Boundaries with Kids

Boundaries with Teens

For some instant help with boundaries, see these teaching videos by Henry Cloud:

FINALLY...  You can watch the One-Hour Seminary Linda and I did last evening on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fake (Faux) Renditions of Jesus

Wilberforce, Ohio

In our attempts to introduce people to the Real Jesus we battle against a number of folk beliefs that have little or no connection to the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Here are some "folk Christian" things I see, followed by a few methodological considerations.

Folk (faux) Christian ideas include:
  • The "prosperity Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants to make you rich, as if that were on his kingdom-expanding agenda. The Son of Man didn't even have a roof over his head, remember? Haven't you read that everything Jesus says about money is negative? Money, said Jesus, is an alternative god. (See, e.g., Ben Witherington, Jesus and Money.)
  • The "drug Jesus"; viz., the idea that we can "smoke a little Jesus" and get high on Jesus, and that abiding in Jesus is somehow analogical, physically and mentally, to drug-induced highs. I used to drug out and get high. I feel insulted when a comparison is made between being filled with the Spirit and being high on drugs. Are you kidding me?
  • The "alcoholic Jesus"; viz., the idea that "getting drunk on Jesus" is like an alcoholic drunk who staggers around incoherently and just generally makes a fool of himself and alienates himself from other sober people (as if that was the kind of behavior seen in the early church when they were accused of drunkenness, which of course it was not). In Acts 2 it's true that people thought the Jesus-followers were drunk, but it was because they were speaking in other languages, not because they were staggering around and falling into gutters like a bunch of alcoholics. It's hard enough to understand the slurred speech of a drunk much less add them speaking French or Coptic. Haven't you heard that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control?
  • The "rule-concerned Jesus"; viz., the idea that, e.g., the clothes we wear are either especially displeasing or pleasing to God; that wearing hats and slacks in the sanctuary is hated by God; that Jesus is primarily concerned with external physical appearance at all. Jesus looks on the human heart, not the clothes or the hairstyles or hats of people. Read the Gospels and see the Real Jesus battling against such Pharisaical legalism.
  • The "hymn-singing Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus was especially fond of the "old hymns," with "old" meaning the 19th century in Europe and America. Jesus and the early Church didn't sing the old hymns, because they lived 1800 years before them. 
  • The "orderly Jesus": viz.,  the idea that Jesus is really concerned about the length of religious services and especially bent out of shape when the service "runs too long." What difference does time make if God is in the House? If God actually showed up in our houses of worship people (not all) would hang around. Remember that Jesus never followed "Robert's Rules of Order," and that the Greek word for 'Holy Spirit' is not 'Robert.'
  • The "pageantry Jesus"; viz., the Jesus who desires that buku bucks be spent on lavish, panoramic church programs that entertain "audiences" of people. Remember that Jesus and his disciples had very little money, and what $$$ they actually had was not used on "ministry programs." Jesus didn't need money to be effective.
  • The "mega Jesus"; viz., the idea that size = relevance as regards God's Kingdom, and that size is needed to change the world. Remember John 6:66, where the True Church gets downsized because it's hard to follow Jesus through the narrow gate.
  • The "balanced Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came to show us how to balance our lives (while in actuality the Jesus-life is fundamentally imbalanced, with the love of God encompassing all things). The Real Jesus lived and lives a very unbalanced life. (See "Prayer and the Unbalanced Life.")
  • The "non-7-11 Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus despises repetition (7 verses sung 11 times) in worship singing. Remember that tribal worship is repetitive, and Hebrew culture was tribal. Repetitive worship functions as a form of meditation which is, essentially, repetitive. Jesus isn't angry when we repeat "Yes Lord, Yes Lord" over and over and over again, right?
  • The "butler Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus is a divine butler sent to satisfy all our human goals and the establishing of our own personal kingdoms. This is the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that U. of  Notre Dame's Christian Smith has told us about. It's the religion of choice among a lot of adolescents today. But it's not Jesus. Not at all.
  • The "political Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus places his hope in nations and political systems, and that our hope is in achieving "Christian nations." Recall that Jesus is the one who refused the offer of forming a Christian nation when he was tempted by Satan. Remember that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
  • The "American Jesus"; viz., the idea that "America" is the summum bonum of Jesus' plans and purposes (while saying, again, that his kingdom is not of this world... not at all). Note that whatever positive Christian influence America may have had has been lost - see Philip Jenkins's important The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 
  • The "rule-giving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came not to set us free, but to pile on more rules for us to follow, thus increasing our current oppressed condition. 
  • The "King James Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus himself spoke in King James English and anyone who reads the Christian Scriptures, even in their original autographs, has just purchased a ticket to hell. Note that no biblical scholar worthy of the title looks to the KJV as the standard of accuracy. While the KJV is wonderful and has been greatly used by God, the original manuscripts are what scholars do and should study. And yes, we do (inductively) have access to them.
  • The "striving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus did what he did and said what he said because he tried a lot harder than we do. Remember what Jesus said about himself in John 14-16, and his teachings there on remaining/dwelling/abiding in the perichoretic Triune unity of the Godhead. Abide "in the Father," not "strive."
  • The "make a decision Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants us to make some decision for him, and then live like hell. As if that was the essence of "salvation" (getting sozo-ed). Praise God that "salvation" is a huge, vast idea that involves way more than "making a decision." 
  • The "angry-at-you Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus gets really ticked off at you and at times is in a very bad mood regarding you, and then appoints religious fault-finding people to point this out to you and judge you and condemn you. How about this as an alternative: Jesus loves you. This you know. For the Bible tells you so. Little ones to Him belong. You are weak. He is strong.
  • The "formulaic Jesus"; viz., the idea that there are a series of steps involved in the real following of Jesus. Remember that it's all about relationship with Jesus, and relationships can never be reduced to a mere formula.
  • The hipster Jesus; viz., the idea that Jesus is just the coolest thing or person out there who would wear hipster clothes and listen to hipster music and ghettoize himself if he walked the earth today. Please note: there is not an ounce of trendiness in the real Jesus. Jesus didn't have or want or impart the "shopping anointing." That's part of what makes Jesus stand out, and why he is so different, and so radical. Jesus isn't cool. Jesus imitates no one. He's either your enemy, come to overthrow the rule of self, or he's your Lord and God. 

A Few Methodological Considerations in the Quest to Escape Folk Christianity and Follow the Real Jesus

  • Read the 4 Gospels. There you will encounter the Real Jesus
  • Read the Pauline letters as further complementary and supplementary revelation about the Real Jesus
  • Identify core elements of the Real Jesus. For example, Jesus warns us about money, and has a preferential option for the poor.
  • Interpret following Jesus through his basic message, which is the message of the kingdom of God/heaven. To know Jesus, everything stands or falls with this.
  • Discern nationalistic, ethnic, and temporal frameworks that spin the Real Jesus in the wrong way.
  • Be in daily relationship with Jesus (see John 14-17).
  • Soak yourself in Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7 (the incredible "Sermon on the Mount").
  • Hang around and fellowship with people who, above all, want Jesus and his kingdom.
  • Finally, never presume to have the final word on Jesus. History is filled with good people who put a spin on Jesus that we now see to be historically conditioned. Probably you and I are doing that to some extent, too.

Monday, October 16, 2017

J. L. Mackie's Logical Argument from Evil Against God's Existence

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

1. "Evil" means gratuitous suffering (pointless suffering); viz., suffering that is not needed to bring about a greater good, or not needed to prevent a greater evil from happening.

2. Mackie believes "theism" is logically incoherent.

Two statements are logically incoherent in that both cannot be true at the same time, in any possible world.

For example:

a. John is a bachelor.
b. John's wife is Linda.


a. X is square.
b. X is circular.

3. Mackie's Triad

Mackie gives a "triad" of statements" which, he claims, cannot all be affirmed at the same time without contradiction. They are:

1. God is all-powerful.
2. God is all-good.
3. Evil exists.

He adds two assumptions to this, which are: a) an all-powerful being would be able to stop evil from happening; and 2) an all-good being would desire to stop evil from happening.

Mackie says there is no possible world where you could affirm all three statements at the same time. Therefore theism is incoherent.

4. Mackie's Possible Solutions

Mackie says we would have no "problem" of evil if just one of the three statements was false. 

If 1 is false, then 2 and 3 could logically be true, since God might desire to stop evil but could not do so since he would not be all-powerful. 

If 2 were false, then while God could stop any evil from occurring he would not desire to.

If 3 were false and evil did not even exist, then of course we are not left with a "problem of evil" any more than we have a "problem with unicorns." 

And who might deny that evil exists? Buddhism does, at least in its virgin, culturally unpolluted form. I'll next explain this idea to our students, which always proves to be head-twisting.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Power of "No"

Sunset on a Lake Michigan beach

Robert Bly wrote: “The making of a man is making your body do what it doesn't want to do.” (Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men)

The mature person flourishes in life as they are able to wield the powerful word "No." The Jesus-idea is that, as we connect to him as a branch connects to a vine, we bear "fruit," part of which is awe-inspiring "self control." (Galatians 5:23) People drop their jaws and stare in wonder as people say "No" to mere self-gratification.

A Spirit-led, self controlled person is a free person. They have grown in their humanity and are empowered to say "No" to eating the wrong things, to spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need, and to engaging in sexual behavior as the objectification of other persons.

"No" is the ultimate boundary word. The ability to wield this word will not come from hearing will-power slogans like "Just say 'No'." Authentic, boundary-setting 'No-ability" must become one's heart, one's inner being. This happens as Christ is formed in us.

Think of Jesus after he fed the 5,000. The people rushed after him to make him an earthly king. Jesus exercised his innate self control and refused. His 'No' was not only for him, but for the sake of others; indeed, for the sake of the whole world.

This is a narrow road, said Jesus, and few take it. But it is the road to freedom. M. Scott Peck described The Road Less Traveled as "gratification delay." "No" is, perhaps, the ultimate other-centered word.

Pray for the "No" of Christ be formed in you, and go free.

Healing of Shame - Part 1 (Sermon)

Image result for redeemer fellowship monroe mi

My sermon "Healing of Shame: Part 1can be heard HERE.

I preached Part 2 of this message today - it should be online in a week.