Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christ's Unified Law of Human Morality

I find theoretical physics both fascinating and light years beyond my comprehension.

I'm a business guy, but every once in a while I'll dive into the rabbit hole of Wikipedia articles and NOVA videos about those theories which attempt to explain natural phenomena. As a result, I've learned just a few basics about some prominent theories and one of them reminds me of something Jesus said.

The Laws of Physics
Einstein's famous theory of relativity (E=mc^2) was a major breakthrough in theoretical physics, opening the door to lots of new theories about how the universe works. It basically defines the relationship between energy and mass. That's apparently a huge deal because energy and mass had previously been understood only in the context of their own separate laws. What Einstein did was make sense of energy in relation to the physical world. Now, we don't need two separate theories about matter and energy. Einstein gave us one theory to include both.

In that same vein, the next major pursuit for theoretical physics is called a 'unified theory.' Basically, we're looking for a theory that puts all the remaining separate physical principles together in a way that makes sense. For example, right now, the physical laws we've identified for super-microscopic matter (like sub-atomic particles) are different from the physical laws that govern massive celestial bodies (like planets and galaxies). There's a whole big messy pile of laws that govern various elements of nature. We need a theory in physics that defines how all matter behaves, regardless of scale.

The Laws of God
When God first identified Abram's faithfulness and claimed for himself a nation of people through his descendants, God provided for them a set of laws to follow that would help preserve and improve their lives, both at an individual level and a national, societal level. It was by this set of laws that the Israelites (eventually identified as Jews) abided for thousands of years (to varying degrees of success).

When Jesus arrived on the scene as the Son of God, he provided clarity and purpose for the Jews regarding that big, seemingly complex pile of laws. Now, this didn't go over so well with the Jewish religious leaders of that time, because they had made a life's work out of memorizing, interpreting and enforcing those laws, making the pile messier and uglier than God had ever intended. Needless to say, they were hesitant to accept Jesus words of clarity and authority on the subject.

Attempting to trip Jesus up, they asked him what was, in their minds, a trick question. They said, "which law is the greatest law?" Expecting him to be stumped, they were surprised when Jesus revealed his stunningly simple and true answer -- what I like to call the Law of Human Morality. He said, "The greatest law is this: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,' and the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the law and all the prophets are fulfilled in these."

His critics were silenced.

Genius and Elegance
In the world of theoretical physics, one general measure of a theory's value is referred to as 'elegance.' Basically, the more simple, intuitive, and inclusive the theory, the more valid, useful, and likely to be true it is.

Christ unified what people had previously perceived as a big, messy, splintered, unrelated pile of laws into one beautiful, elegant, simple law: love the Lord and love your neighbor. Every law and prophetic truth that has ever been spoken or written are congruent with this.

We often feel overwhelmed by a barrage of do's and don'ts when it comes to living a good life, or pleasing the Lord with our behavior. We often try to compile rule books for ourselves; lists of things we know are okay or aren't; things we can feel either good or guilty about with certainty. Jesus took all of that anxiety away. Christ's unified Law of Human Morality makes all those lists obsolete. Anything you think, say or do can be measured against this one beautifully elegant plumb-line for human behavior, and you can know in your heart whether or not you're on the right track.

He said that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it -- which is exactly what he did.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

C.S. Lewis & Julia Allison

A friend shared the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity yesterday:
“When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.”
This excerpt applies directly to an email I almost sent a woman named Julia Allison recently. She's apparently a media maven who talks about pop culture and dating on morning shows and writes magazine columns, etc. I stumbled across her on twitter then read some of her blog posts, several of which tracked a recent break from dating and casual sex (which are apparently the same thing in NYC). There was also a New York magazine article or something entitled No More Sex in the City in which she and others were mentioned for their intentional celibacy, as though people not having sex on purpose was some sort of eccentric trend.

While I decided it's probably not fitting to directly email this stranger about her sex life, I felt immediately compelled to start a dialog with her about why it felt so surprisingly right, peaceful, and healthy to abstain from sex. I wanted to say that perhaps at too immature an age most of us start following our physical impulses before we understand their far-reaching consequences and it's not until 10 years later that we wake up and say to ourselves, "Wait a minute, is there another way to do this? Is this the best way for me to live my life?"

Lewis' thoughts in this excerpt sum up my point beautifully. So many dive headlong into the fog and handicap themselves from ever seeing clearly again -- without knowing there's an alternative.

So here's Julia Allison, whose entire being is begging for a change, and she stumbles into a fleeting moment of clarity. I really hope there's somebody in her life with enough perspective and love to say she's on to something.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Problem with church...

I was reading a few interesting blog posts today and came across a call for input. Here's the opinion I volunteered:

"Churches are human institutions and to address the problem of church (small 'c') we must address both of its components: humanity, and institutionalism.

One of these components (humanity) will always be broken by sin until the second coming. That's not to say we give up hope on humanity, but it is to say that changing human nature is Christ's territory, not ours. Our efforts toward improving 'church' will be better spent on the other component; institutionalism.

Human institutions embody the characteristics of the people who comprise them, and churches are no different. Because of human nature people are sometimes gracious, sometimes critical; sometimes selfless, sometimes selfish; sometimes innocent, sometimes corrupt; sometimes transparent, sometimes guarded; sometimes honest, sometimes manipulative. All these inputs go in one end, and out the other comes a speckled identity the whole world over that we're forced to call 'church'.

Trying to maintain an institutional identity can sometimes work for companies and organizations; they emphasize positive customer experiences and product improvement and generally impact only a tiny fraction of an individual's life. For 'church' to attempt this masquerade is an instant invitation to criticism. Episode after inevitable episode of hypocrisy is illuminated for the world to see, exposing the difference between what 'church' hopes to be and what it really is.

And here lays our solution.

People have a very different type of relationship with other individuals than they do with institutions. People are forgiving of other people; understanding of their faults and weaknesses. A relationship between two people is give and take and frustration and harmony; it's messy and real, and that's the way it's supposed to be. I don't want that sort of relationship with an institution. Institutions won't receive that kind of grace from me.

The only way to overcome the weaknesses of 'church' is to discard the institution altogether. Let the REAL Church (big 'C') replace human institutions with human relationships, one by one, two by two, four by four -- at the leading of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, let the Spirit continue to work through institutions despite themselves, or let them limp along until they become irrelevant. Unless my history is incorrect, the Church thrived and grew at a faster rate -- even under oppressive persecution -- prior to the invention of institutional church by Constantine (~400 A.D.?) than it ever has since"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Conversation Continues

I received plenty of great responses to my previous post on www.SteadfastLutherans.org.  This was my second posting in reply:

I’m very thankful to all of you for your respectful, deliberate, and engaging responses. I had no expectation of a real conversation here and I’m delighted to see that I was wrong.

Eric (#9), I am also a layman with limited theological training and I appreciate your eloquent response. I am in fact a marketer by formal education and by profession, which leads me to address your concern for the language I used in my comment. While identified almost exclusively with profit-seeking corporations, marketing boils down simply to the equation of human communication; i.e., there is a transmitter and a receiver. Allow me to explain what I intended to communicate.

Take, for example, the conversation we’re having right now. My mind is formulating an idea and wrapping that idea in language, while my fingers are capturing the language in type. Your eyes are viewing exactly the type I transmit to you, and your brain is decoding the language back into ideas. So we have a 5 stage process (by the way, this is also true of all non-verbal communication): idea > language choice > transmission media > receiver > interpretation. Because I intend to express my ideas only to you, you are my audience. Because you are only one person, you are a very small (niche) audience. With context clues (the purpose of this conversation, this website, its historical context, and what little else I know about you from your post) I would be wise to choose the first three of those stages deliberately, so that you are most likely to accurately execute the final two stages and capture the desired idea.

Jesus did exactly that by teaching heavenly Truth in parables. Not only did he choose language familiar to his audience, but also subject matter and social contexts familiar to his audience; communication media that they were most likely to receive and interpret accurately. My point was that liturgical worship (in my experience) makes very shallow (if any) consideration for the contemporary context of its audience. In this way, liturgy fails to follow Christ’s example of communicating heavenly Truth - reaching into the lives of his audience with relevance.

I suspected it was a misstep when I used terms like “niche market” and “audience” in my post above because my understanding of those terms was different from yours, therefore ineffectively communicating my point. Ironically enough, your response has served as opportunity for me to prove it. The Message that liturgy carries is far too crucial to be allowed to be obscured by its antiquated and irrelevant media of delivery, let alone steadfastly obscured.

Pastor Rossow (#11), you have clarified several other points of miscommunication for which I am responsible - many thanks to you. The first is this:

No on has claimed divine authorship of the liturgy.

Perhaps I’m thicker than the average bear, but I do understand the liturgy in question to be referred to as the “Divine Liturgy”, which is also understood to be “inerrant”, correct me if I’m wrong. You (and others) clarified the difference between liturgical style and liturgical content. Liturgical Lutheran content is strictly scriptural and I 100% agree that scripture is the sole reliable source for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (divine and inerrant). However, I think liturgical style has been the greatest source of my frustrations in the traditional Lutheran church (hence my certain ethnic musical association, also mentioned by Eric in #4), because things like order of worship, chanting, hymnody (which is a word I’ve never seen before yesterday) and musical style are entirely social constructs. They were social constructs in ancient times, in Luther’s time, and in our time today. How can we claim the inerrant nature of any of these things? They were not laid out in scripture as instructions for us. What makes an ancient or medieval style more worthy than a contemporary style? What is the purpose of trapping scripture’s crucial message of Truth in irrelevant, outdated social media that acts as a barrier between the message and its audience?

I am a huge fan of Martin Luther and his story of church reformation was the unadulterated work of God. God most certainly used him to break the message of Truth free from the established religious hypocrites, back into the language of the people - back into relevance for the desperate masses for whom it was always intended. I don’t know how happy Martin would be with a church under his very name that chooses, steadfastly, to limit the transmission of the Truth for which he fought so radically by winnowing away the otherwise available options for its transmission. We are not called to be of the world, but we are called to be in the world. So who are we to be cloistered away, poo-pooing the worship and outreach of the active majority of Christ’s body while their hands heal and hearts feel and feet walk - constantly striving to live into Jesus’ example?

Sure, the Lutheran church is theoretically and rhetorically accepting, but in practice it has placed far too many barriers between it and the world it was commissioned to reach, all in the name of preventing error from entering worship. My reference to David merely served as one example where genuine worship and praise to the Lord existed outside the Lutheran liturgy - to prove that it’s possible. Not only that, but to remind us all that humanity has been worshiping our Creator God for millennia previous to liturgy’s conception, and that the Holy Spirit is alive and well among the believers who worship daily and weekly without it, despite their errant ways.

I assume your reference to I Corinthians points to the second half of chapter 14. Here Paul encourages orderly worship so that those led by the Spirit to speak or prophesy can be heard one at a time, allowing those in attendance to receive the message. Again, the Paul’s point is on effective delivery of the message to its audience. Whether by oration, gregorian chant, ancient hymn, or set to rock and roll music, Paul simply advises the clear communication of the Gospel message. If I missed it, please point out the scripture that infers a preference of one order of worship over another, or one style of delivery over another.

I have many more thoughts on your collective responses, but it’s really late here on eastern time. I hope to post more later, specifically on these subjects:

–“How do I a sinner stand before a holy God?”
–”You are more interested in ‘moving’ people than having sins forgiven.” (directly related to the first)
–”The Spirit is found where Christ’s word is preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command.” (By virtue of the fact that this takes on more forms than merely the Lutheran liturgy, the steadfast denial of those other forms intentionally limits the media by which the Spirit may choose to move. The Spirit is active and dynamic - meeting us in our hearts - living.)

Comment by Jesse — September 11, 2008 @ 12:43 am

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Steadfast Lutherans

I was reading a recent blog post, which was a response to another blog post on a website called SteadfastLutherans.org.  It inspired me to write a (bit more strongly-worded) response too, so I'm sharing it here as well:

I was raised in a Lutheran church that held liturgical services early on Sunday and praise/worship services afterward. I'm inferring by what I've read here that steadfast Lutherans don't discourage praise and worship, they merely discourage the adulteration of the Lutheran liturgy. In other words, praise and worship does no harm so long as the liturgy is preserved in its divine entirety.

I must commend those of you who have posted on this site and acknowledged the legitimacy of individual worship preference. I can accuse none of you of the ignorance that would demand only divine liturgy as legitimate corporate worship - although this conversation is walking dangerously close circles around that bottomless pit (a conversation draped in denominationally approved robes and ordained wisdom). I'm gathering here that the Lutheran divine liturgy is intended to serve a very different purpose than praise and worship - to serve strictly as a tool for serving up scripture and sacrament, rather than to facilitate the spiritual or emotional connection between Christ and his body, or even among the members of that body.

I would take this opportunity to remember that the experience of interacting and being edified by the presence of God permeates the entirety of human experience beyond liturgy delivery. Take, for example, David, the man after God's own heart. A sinful and fallen man, to be sure, but one who, to the glory of God made an embarrassing spectacle of himself by dancing and singing the praise of the Lord in the streets. The original words David wrote in the Psalms flowed from the divine inspiration within his heart, serving to calm Saul's rage, and to extol the greatness, reverence, and joy he had for his intimate Lord. We know, theologically, that the Holy Spirit did not reside in David at that time (at least not the way it resides with us now), but that because his words are 100% congruent with the entirety of scripture they were divinely inspired for canonization. It is, however, impossible that they sounded anything like the German Lutheran heritage which this blog so stoutly affirms as divinely liturgical. That can only mean that across millennia and an entire globe of cultures, more than one divinely inspired style of writing and singing praise to the Lord legitimately exists.

All this to say that I hope the steadfast Lutherans understand just how niche a market they serve; just how specialized and miniscule a fragment of the body of Christ is actually edified by the divine liturgy; just how small, aging, and whithering a corner of the global Christian population they are providing any meaning to - after CENTURIES of obscurity have rendered the musical tastes and symbolic significance of the liturgy drastically deficient for reaching the majority of today's audience, if not entirely irrelevant. When was the last time a Lutheran liturgy moved someone -just one person- the way Christ's words moved thousands?

As constant and true as any other characteristic of God, throughout all time, God meets humanity where humanity resides. We are shortsighted if not blind; crippled if not immobile, and completely incapable of our own salvation since the very fall of man. Only God's reaching hands of sacrifice and salvation have clothed our naked shame, and his strength is always greater than our weakness. That is, God is constantly covering the distance between him and us that we cannot; a distance that is never in short supply.

For example, the Old Testament Israelites needed the specificity of sacrificial procedure to understand reconciliation with God. God finally reached even farther to meet us with Christ's sacrifice, and our challenge today is to fully understand the completeness of it's reconciliation for us. Even while Christ was on the earth he explained every heavenly principle in socially relevant earthly terms. A message that does not resonate with its audience bears no fruit; has no purpose; lacks meaning and fullness. Christ spoke in terms of vineyards, seed planting, kings and subjects - the familiar elements of the audience around him; constantly reaching to meet humanity within humanity's limitations. The Architect of humanity has always understood this, so why would those who seek to know Him, with such dedication, exhaspirate themselves over the nuances of the preservation of an ineffectual medium?  
Please, continue in your steadfastness for the growth of your own understanding, or for the continued edification of those generations who appreciate your liturgical nuances, and for the Truth portrayed by divine liturgy. But I beg you, I BEG you, do not allow your intellectual and rhetorical exercises to distract you from the living Spirit which works and moves on the earth, and in your hearts, even now. Do not neglect the starving hearts of those whose tastes and emotions and needs are rooted in THIS place, at THIS time; in YOUR communities and YOUR congregations. Do not forget that Jesus' physical body spent its ministry HEALING, GOING, SERVING, SHARING, and REACHING out to people no matter where they were or what their sins had looked like. If this is our great commission as His physical body now, how significant is the preservation of Lutheran liturgy to His work?

Luther's teachings are certainly essential and they served as a great incubator for my infantile faith from birth through college, but let's remember that he was a first-generation recovering Catholic, only one degree of separation from a tyrannical phariseical organization. Remember that the early church, fostered and maintained by the very apostles whose hands held Jesus' hands, and which wrote the Gospels and epistles, had no such tradition as your divine liturgy; nor did the intimate gatherings of foundational believers in the early body. Did they know the fullness of Christ's redemption any less? I would argue that they knew it better than Martin Luther himself (gasp!).

Christ reprimanded and drove out all sorts of spiritual evil, but he criticized only one group of human beings: the established church - those whose religiosity had prevented them from communicating the Truth God had entrusted to them.

I have no expectation that this comment will be posted, but I would be shocked into a greater respect for this entire community of steadfast Lutherans if it is. Dare you open your conversation to non-synodically approved theology and dissent? What's the greater good - the preservation of your undisturbed homogeneous worldviews, or the opportunity to link arms with the broader body of Christ?

That's obviously a loaded question, but I eagerly await the answer.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Polygamy and Other Relationships

There are all sorts of firsts in the book of Genesis. Not just the creation of things and life, but firsts of behaviors and motivations and relationships. There was no such thing as husband before God gave Eve to Adam, and no such thing as wife. There was no such thing as father or mother until they bore their first children, and second generation human beings were the first to understand what it means to be a daughter or son, brother or sister. These are the relationships that define how human beings behave with one another. Eventually as the population sprawled into distant relatives, the relationship of a friend received its meaning.

I'm interested by the relationship of husband and wife. Now, God created Eve specifically for Adam; her form, her heart, her mind, the passions of her spirit and the strengths and weaknesses of her character, all designed to compliment those of Adam. They were meant to unite as one by their design and there was little ambiguity in their relationship to one another - as simple as a nut and bolt.

But as they multiplied and their generations of offspring spread throughout the earth, I wonder how the process of choosing a mate evolved. I wonder if, or for how long, multiple "wives" or partners was the acceptable practice. I also wonder if this was by God's design for a time. Moses refers to Eve as Adam's wife (Gen, 2:25) and the next reference to a "wife" is Cain's (Gen. 4:17). After the introduction of Eve, it is assumed that by man's nature and the desire of his heart he will "leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). If a man is to find a wife and become one flesh with her, it makes sense that the role of "wife" is referred to only in the singular, for how can a man become one with more than one?

But by the seventh generation of human beings, "Lamech married two women, Adah and Zillah" (Gen. 4:19) - the first occurrence of polygamy in scripture. I thought for a moment that maybe he had two wives because the first had died at some point, but in verse 23 he speaks to both at once.

In the very next chapter we learn that Lamech is the father of Noah - only one generation previous to the flood. Now, we know the flood was God's reaction to man's thorough wickedness and sin, so we shouldn't assume that the people of Lamech's generation were still close to their creator. The were obviously living lives of disobedience and distance from Him. According to Noah's genealogy, Lamech died only five years before the flood. I think he's very likely to be among those who brought pain to God's heart at the time Noah was instructed to begin building the ark.

I wonder, was Lamech's polygamy a contributing factor to God's displeasure with man? And not just Lamech's, but that of any other man on the earth who had taken multiple wives. Isn't polygamy contrary to God's design? I've got some reading to do yet, but I think I'll wrestle with this throughout scripture. I think of David; the man after God's own heart, who had concubines and I-don't-know-how-many wives. How can that be? I also think of one of Paul's letters in the new testament, which mentions that any leader in the church should have but one wife. Does that infer polygamy was a generally acceptable practice among the Jews who had recently been converted?

This will have to be a point I revisit.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cain's Plight

Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Later they had a son named Seth, but the story of strife between these two brothers is the famous first example of murder among mankind, and they're really the only two people I think of as second generation human beings. I'm forced to realize that this is far from the truth - that there were likely hundreds of offspring from Adam and Eve in this second generation - when I get to verse 14 of chapter 4.

This is after Cain has killed Abel and God has banished him to wander the earth, which will also no longer produce fruit for him as punishment for his crime. This seems a pretty fitting, if not lenient, punishment for inventing murder. Of course, today we're all-too familiar with homicide and it's not a stretch to understand the implications of exile; separation from home, family, and familiarity. But this was more severe still, because cultivating the soil to bear fruit was Cain's livelihood. It was his work, his profession, his method of providing for his family, and the trade he learned from his father, Adam. This was among the very first learned behaviors between one of the very first father/son relationships. In only two generations of human existence there's hardly such a thing as heritage, but this was about as close as it gets. Fittingly, Cain has been deprived of it.

Anyway, at verse 14 Cain petitions God on his own behalf, claiming that this punishment to wander the earth would cause "whoever finds" him to kill him. God responds by putting a mark on him and announcing that whoever might kill Cain would be avenged seven times over. Needless to say we don't hear anything about Cain being harassed after that. But it was here that I realized Cain had other people to worry about on the earth.

At the time of Cain's sentencing, humanity consisted of much more than the happy little four-person nucleus of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel as I had always pictured. Adam lived a total of 930 years and he was 130 when Eve gave birth to their only other named son in the Bible, Seth - after Abel's murder (Gen. 4:25, 5:3). So Adam could have been 129 or 130 years old already at the time Cain's exile, meaning that it's physically possible for the first of his offspring to have been 128 or 129 years old as well. If Eve never delivered twins or multiples and had about one child per year until this time (remember, it was their job to multiply and populate the earth), then there could have been up to 127 other second-generation humans with Cain and Abel. Assuming the age of 14 before any of these offspring were fertile themselves, there could have been as many as 3348 third-generation human beings at this time (following the logic of a 50% female population and a reproduction rate of one child per year after age 14). These women could have turned out a total of 3477 first, second, and third generation humans for Cain to be concerned with at the time of his exile. Not to mention any fourth, fifth, or sixth generations in even larger populations, the oldest of which could have been 87 years old already. This means roughly tens of thousands of people at risk of judging or killing Cain as a wanderer on the earth.

All this to say that I was originally confused about why Cain was concerned for his safety, but there was obviously more happening on the earth than I originally pictured. Understanding this moderate estimate of reproduction rates and population growth also helps me with the picture of everybody "marrying" or "laying with" people who could not have been farther in blood relation than a first cousin. I guess when the numbers so quickly reach that of a moderately sized rural American county, kissing your sister isn't quite so much like kissing your sister anymore.

I'm still confused by the issue of gene pool diversity, but you've gotta start somewhere, right?