“Why ‘Overpaying’ Workers Makes Biblical and Business Sense;” But Not Yet

greed

The link below is an excellent article by Tim Weinhold. See if you can spot the flaw in his argument.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/may-web-only/why-overpaying-workers-makes-biblical-and-business-sense.html?share=1VfMAeltTzsQyhId8dBZ80loae0IajOs

Here’s the flaw: The problem of static and declining worker wages in America cannot be fixed solely by promoting the formulaic idea that it is simply a good business practice for employers to pay workers higher wages than the free-market dictates. Why? Allow me to explain with an example: I once worked for a medium size company that paid all its employees more than the free-market rate in wages and benefits for our type of business. Unfortunately a competitor with deep pockets came to our communities and paid their workers less than the free-market rate. Our competitor was prepared to sustain losses for many years in order to drive us out of business and capture market share in the long run. We lost too many customers to our competitor’s lower prices which were subsidized by their workers lower wages. Since wages were the largest expense for our business, we could not compete without implementing severe cuts in wages and benefits, and so we folded.

The solution to the problem is not a business formula. The solution is first to change our hearts and accept the reality that something has gone amiss with our long-cherished American value of the free-market setting wages and providing equal opportunities for all. Then, either this generation or the next will need to fix the free-market, which has actually become crony capitalism.

free market occupy

Government can’t fix this problem because government is in bed with too many big businesses and special interests. More importantly, government can’t fix what ails the human heart. This next statement will sting but here goes: perhaps we followers of Christ ought to focus as much or more on the corruption of the free-market as we do on gay marriage. Why? Partly because a free-market that provides opportunities to all is part of the very soul of America. An uncorrupted free-market has the best chance of raising more people out of poverty than any other economic system on earth. The plight of the poor (and the middle class which is becoming poor) may take priority in God’s estimation over issues such as gay marriage. I base this statement on Ezekiel 16:49 that says:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Granted, America spends billions on government services to the poor. And yet we have hardly made a dent in poverty. Dependence on government programs is rampant. Only an uncorrupted free-market that provides opportunities to the poor like it does to hedge fund managers is moral. A corrupted free-market (due to insatiable human greed) will inevitably exploit the poor and the middle class.

Whereas socialism’s Achilles heel is human sloth (not the critter), the free-market Achilles heel is greed; and both share the common characteristic of being a condition of the human heart. Conservatives like to decry sloth while liberals decry greed . . . while God decries both, though based on my readings of the Bible I suspect greed really gets in God’s craw. Whether sloth or greed there are natural unpleasant consequences to both. And America is experiencing some consequences of both, and it will get worse if we do not have a day of reckoning or repentance from the highest levels of society to the lowest.

I do not agree with everything the Pope says, but at least he has spoken out on this issue of corrupted markets and capitalism gone awry. The silence from leaders of evangelical Christianity is deafening. Oh by the way, many employers pay higher than the market rate, but they treat their employees like slaves under their yoke 24/7; this, too, is an abomination. But I digress.

Dan Price is a young optimist. For a variety of reasons I do not expect that his admirable decision to pay all his employees no less than $70,000 a year will be successful in the long run (though I hope I’m wrong). It certainly won’t be successful unless the ENTIRE Christian world supports his efforts, and likeminded efforts, by helping to change our culture so that uber-wealthy businesses that insist on paying workers as little as possible are treated like pariahs in our society. On the other hand, workers have a moral obligation to make themselves more valuable to their employers. Undereducated workers or workers with no trade skills who feel entitled to a high-paying job … well, they also deserve pariah status. Making our economy work for more than a top tiny percent of the population requires that everyone accept their responsibility. I’m just saying.

Here is some interesting data from Pew Research on wages:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

Diverse Diversity

Diversity Group

Recently, we celebrated a friend who got hired for a ministry position in a town a couple hours up the road. Our friend shared his excitement about the new job, though he was disappointed to be leaving his diverse church. He’s going to a community with virtually no diversity, or I should say with no diversity based on the common understanding of diversity—that diversity is about skin color and ethnicity. His comments made me realize that I take my neighborhood diversity for granted. The zip code where I live is said to be the most diverse in America. See the article at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-diverse-zip-codes-in-america-2012-11#95834-south-natomas-sacramento-1 The diversity of my community has benefits. For example, when Cindy and I go out for dinner, our vast options for ethnic cuisine staggers the senses. I was reminded of the extent of my spoiling when we visited a region of the country where they used ketchup as red sauce on enchiladas (I kid you not).

The peculiar thing about being white and living in supposedly the most diverse zip code in America is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the most diverse zip code in America. I suppose part of the reason for this blindness to diversity is due to the human tendency we all have to live in enclaves of people who look and act somewhat like us (though I pity anyone who looks and acts like me) even when the surrounding population does not look and act like us. Anyhow, the church I attend is mostly white with a broad smattering of people from a wide range of ethnicities. The church has mostly transitioned through the church-plant phase and has entered the comfortable-with-each-other phase. The comfortable phase feels good because we have started to love each other despite our array of differences. Becoming one body as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 takes time and malleable hearts. Becoming one body is not possible without the glue of love found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Out of all our efforts and spiritual gifts in the church, love lasts forever. Prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. … those things are finite. Not so with love.

A church in another part of our town has a reputation for opposition to diversity, they’ve even been accused of racism. They do not go out burning crosses at night nor do they tattoo their bodies with images denoting white supremacy (which would also denote their glittering ignorance regarding God’s kingdom). They just have a reputation for making non-whites feel like they might be better served by finding another church. Are they racist, or are they just afraid of people who might cause change in their church? I’d guess it is both.

There is a movement in the American church toward diversification. I hope it’s more than a fad that gives us bragging rights. Here’s the thing: diversity is not limited to skin color and ethnicity. Diversity can be also achieved in church via a variety of measurements such as: Rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Young and old, employed and unemployed, good part of town and bad part of town, industrialists and environmentalists, gay and straight, single and married, married and divorced, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, contemporary music lovers and traditional music lovers, Giants fans and Yankee fans. Leaders who tweak church outreach efforts and leadership vision in order to encourage the growth of a diverse congregation—however diversity is defined in their community—are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s glowing pleasure. That’s not to say that making changes to increases diversity can be achieved without blowback and resistance. After all, going down the path of diversity is likely to reveal some hidden and unexpected prejudices in places we would not dream they might be found. But what the heck, we need to deal with those prejudices if we want the privilege of considering ourselves genuine followers of Jesus. I’m just saying!

Equal Opportunity Police Brutality

Police-Officer

Many moons ago, I worked as an undercover store security agent. The work brought me into contact with a variety of law enforcement officers. One store I covered, located in a rough part of town, fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. We caught many shoplifters and fraudsters and we referred them to the sheriff’s department for criminal prosecution. I used to cringe when one particular sheriff responded to the store. We’ll call him Joe. Joe was the quintessential middle-aged officer who had long since burned out on law enforcement. He was mean to every suspect right from the point of first contact, often antagonizing them until they fought back physically. If a suspect did not answer his questions quickly or if he felt they were deceitful, he would come down on them hard. Suspects that could have been released with just a citation to appear in court ended up being painfully restrained, arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail with a big brouhaha in front of customers and employees. (Oh such fond memories … not.)

All of our security personnel and many deputy sheriffs knew that Joe had a problem, but it was challenging to get anything done about it. He had tenure, so to speak. I eventually went to work for another company, so I never heard what happened to Joe and his rough-handed approach to the administration of justice in the community.

Here’s the thing: Joe was abusive and even physically brutal to ALL suspects. He did not care if a suspect was black, brown, or white; he was brutal towards all humanity that might find itself afoul of the law, no matter how minor the offense. As it turns out, Joe was a great mentor. Yep, he was one of the reasons I decided to not go into policing. Don’t get me wrong. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of law enforcement officers who executed their duties with professionalism, firmness, and even compassion. Out of those hundreds of officers, I encountered maybe two Joes. But being a police officer can wear a person down.

Real law enforcement work bears little resemblance to what we see on television and in the movies. Rarely is it glamorous. Officers, quite frankly, spend most of their time encountering the detritus of humanity. Yes, I know that God does not see any human being as garbage. But the reality is that some human beings live like animals. Day in and day out, year after weary year, police officers interact with the same types of people—criminals, the uneducated, the uncouth, the addicted, the manipulative, the violent, the deceitful, the mentally insane and occasionally some regular citizens who just need some help. After years working in the trenches of law enforcement, police officers can easily get jaded towards all humanity. It takes a special type of person to remain positive and professional under these circumstances.

You may have heard about the recent riots in Baltimore over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a black man, who died in police custody. After Gray’s death, the City of Baltimore erupted with cries of police brutality and racism. When these tragedies happen, some in the community immediately default to racism as the root problem. Apparently those same people seem to think the job of a police officer is little different than, say, a dentist or a businessperson. The reality is that if a police officer has crossed the line and used excessive force, or has simply been careless in his duties, it is quite possible that the officer has simply become extremely jaded towards people in general. It may have little if anything to do with racism in the heart of the officer. But apparently being excessively jaded isn’t as sexy as racism, though it is just as tragic. This is not to say that racism does not exist in police departments across the country. But come on folks, our police officers have a most unpleasant job that places them in constant contact with the worst the human race can produce. We can’t excuse their behavior when they cross the line, but we can at least have a little understanding and sympathy.

Retire or Face Consequences

Stun Gun Taser

The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.

That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.

My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”

I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.

Manners Maketh the Lady

mchenry

ISIS beheads more innocent people in the Middle East … and people have lost interest.
Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for president … and it hardly gets our attention.
Dzhohar Tsarnaev gets convicted for Boston Marathon bombing … only a few people notice.
But when pretty ESPN reporter Britt McHenry spews her toilet mouth at a female clerk working in an auto impound yard, all hell breaks loose as the video goes viral. Many people rushed to condemn McHenry while some attempted to defend her actions as possibly a one-time lapse in judgment and manners. She later issued a public apology. ESPN suspended her for a week. I hope she apologizes to the clerk without cameras rolling as that would demonstrate character.

I do not know McHenry but I would hate to be forever judged by a momentary lapse of control. On the other hand, if this display by McHenry is indicative of her true character, no amount of beauty treatments and on-air talent can make her a beautiful person. Only God can change what ails her.

We live in a new world where the prolific spread of public video cameras as well as the millions of smart phone cameras floating around has the consequence of capturing us at some of our worst moments in life. Cameras are like little elves watching our every move that they report to Santa when little boys and girls misbehave. You might think this new level of electronic scrutiny would put us on our best behavior, but you would be wrong. It didn’t stop a South Carolina police officer from shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back last week; nearly all of it caught on camera.

At the risk of sounding like the old man who shouts at kids to stay off his lawn, I’ve watched manners and civility decline in America during my lifetime. It used to be unusual to encounter ill-mannered people, and when you did it was said of them that they were not raised right. The community ostracized them. Not so any more. Today the uncouth can rise to the highest levels of society. Apparently we have decided that manners are not as important as in the past. This will have tragic consequences for everyone. How so? Because good manners matter to God … a lot! Hosea 4:1 (NLT) says:

“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
‘There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.’”

God made this statement to the society of Israel just before he broke their nation and scattered its people around the world as a consequence of their self-obsessed lives. At that time most people in Israel did not care about anyone else but themselves. History has brought us to the same point in America. There are some deep and errant philosophies and ideologies that have led to this, but needless to say it has arrived.

What can be done about it? The answer is old fashioned but right on: manners and civility has to be taught in homes, churches, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, soccer teams, and schools. If we have not embraced manners and civility by adulthood, it’s never too late to learn. As a society we must stop rewarding poor behavior … no matter how much money uncouth people bring into our businesses, institutions, and organizations. If some people insist on living like animals, then they can do so on the outskirts of society.

Treating people with civility is a herculean task when we don’t feel good or when we feel that someone has screwed us. But that is what Jesus told us to do when he said “turn the other cheek.” The teaching that we turn the other cheek is not an imperative that we never fight back; it simply means we fight back with grace and manners, sometimes by letting the issue go or by actually helping our adversary. Such an approach demonstrates the beauty of the kingdom of heaven because it is in sharp contrast to the way the world does things. I hope McHenry learns it and lives it. I hope we all learn it and live it. We all drop the ball of good manners occasionally, but that’s ok so long as it breaks our heart and inspires us to perfect our manners going forward.

Let Them Eat Wedding Cake: Applying our principles

gayweddingcake

Perhaps you’ve followed the hullabaloo in the news lately about Christian business owners at odds with LGBT activists, the media, the law, and public opinion over their refusal to provide goods and services at same-sex weddings on the basis of religious belief that marriage is designed by God for a man and woman. The state of Indiana also go into hot water for passing a law that would provide some legal cover for people of faith, such as Christian business owners, who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to provide goods and services at gay weddings. Several states have similar laws. Even the federal government has a law that provides protections based on religious belief and practice, though it was originally intended to cover Native Americans who wanted to use Peyote (a hallucinogenic plant) in their religious ceremonies.

LGBT activists have a propensity to label traditional Christians as bigots and haters. They paint Christianity with a broad irrational brush and have recruited many in society to jump on their bandwagon. When Christians tell the gay community and the world that we love them but we do not love their sin, well, that just goes in one ear and out the other.

Should Christians fight back in the legal, political, economic, and cultural arena? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Christian business owners (such as those who own bakeries, floral shops, and wedding photography studios) might want to consider the stories of Jesus at the Canaan wedding and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How does a straight wedding in Canaan two thousand years ago apply to gay weddings today? Well, Jesus supplied wine at the Canaan wedding … a lot of wine. Maybe you only go to dry weddings, but I’ve been to some wet weddings where some of the guests were not just pleasantly buzzed on a glass of good wine. Nope! I’ve seen guests get hammered, tanked, and falling-down-drunk at weddings. According to the Bible, getting drunk is a sin. Should Jesus have refused to turn the water into wine because some of the guests were sinning by drinking to the point of inebriation? Granted, we do not know for certain that any of the guests at the Canaan wedding were drunk, but it’s a pretty good guess there were some.

Lot was a fairly righteous man who moved his livestock business to the region around Sodom and Gomorrah. You may recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone in those cities, except Lot and his family, were engaging in evil deeds all the time. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had become so immersed in debauchery that they could not be redeemed. One of their sins was their enthusiasm for same-sex sexuality. I am guessing but it seems highly probable that Lot bought and sold goods and services with his neighbors despite their debaucheries. Since the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of such sins, how could Lot live among them and refuse to do business with them based on his religious beliefs?

Okay, I am no longer playing devil’s advocate. But the question remains: should Christians refuse to provide goods and services at gay weddings? If Christian business owners were to refuse to do business with all sinners outside the church, there would be no Christian businesses. Yes, situations arise where we need to take a stand based on moral conviction; I get it. We are to be salt in this world, a force that slows the process of decay. Still, I wonder if we are being overly selective about sins that inspire us to apply our principles. Perhaps God puts more emphasis on individual responsibility than we imagine. In other words, when people choose to sin, they own the sin; the person who supplied their tasteful wedding cake does not own the sin.
Apostle Paul has some thoughts on this topic as found in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (NLT):

“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; …”

You see, we can’t expect unbelievers in the gay community to comprehend the spiritual implications of sexual sins. That would be like trying to convince Colonel Sanders that killing chickens is an abomination before the Lord. The bottom line is this: taking a stand on sins in the church is a higher priority, according to God’s word, than taking a stand on sins outside the church. This does not mean we should not push back against sin in our secular society. I wholeheartedly support the right of Christian business owners to push back against sin based on their religious conscience. But sin in the church is our first concern. Before a Christian bakery owner refuses to provide a cake at a gay wedding he might want to think about confronting the unmarried worship leader in his church who sleeps with someone in the congregation. I’m just saying.

Love Thy Newcomer As Thyself

Welcome to Washington

The center of society in Deer Park, Washington, can be found at the massive Double Eagle Pawn shop where comes and goes a steady stream of hunting, fishing, and camping enthusiasts. Recently, I happened to be in Deer Park to visit family. I like Deer Park. It’s a quiet little town where most of the inhabitants behave like me (think introverts); they’re not exactly warm and friendly, though they usually mind their own business (a character trait that qualifies them for sainthood in my book).

Anyhow, the main tourist attraction (my grandson) was taking a nap, which prompted me to go downtown to check out the Double Eagle. The Double Eagle has an inventory of guns that would turn third-world armies green with envy. I’m not exactly a gun connoisseur, but I do know my way around a Remington 700; having hunted with one for decades. Imagine my delight to see several 700s in stock. I selected one in a caliber I’d been searching for and brought it to the man behind the counter. (You heard that right, the guns are on display for anyone to handle just like lingerie in a department store … not that I handle much lingerie.) I asked him if I could buy the gun and take it home, even though I live out of state. He said absolutely not. I could only buy it through a gun dealer in the state where I live. The gun would have to be delivered directly to the gun dealer in my home state.

Before I go any further with this story, I should let you know that revealing one’s identity as a California resident visiting certain parts of Washington State is like wearing a Giants hat to a game at Dodger Stadium–there are risks. A great many Washingtonians harbor animosity towards California and Californians. One reason we are resented is because many California expats have moved to Washington State and driven up the cost of housing. Apparently we Californians tend to pay more for homes than Washington residents. This drives up housing prices and makes it unaffordable for many locals. There are other reasons as well, but we won’t list them right now.

Getting back to my conversation with the gun barista at the Double Eagle. I told the clerk I know a gun dealer in California who might be willing to work with me to buy the gun. An elderly gentleman overheard our conversation and joined in. Here is how the conversation went:

“Ha, do they still let people buy guns in California?” said the elderly man, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Yes, but they have restrictions on some guns,” I said.
“I have a friend who tried living in California,” said the elderly man. “He wanted to buy a gun there once but it was too much of a hassle.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said.
“You know what my friend says about California now?” said the elderly man with anger smoldering in his eyes. “He says California can go f#@! itself!”
I was taken aback and felt that he was sending me a clear message—you Californians ain’t welcome here. At that the elderly man stomped off before I could assure him that I had no intention of buying an overpriced house in Deer Park. I wanted to assuage any fears he might harbor that I would move to Deer Park and open a yoga studio that would gentrify his rustic little town. I especially wanted to assure him that I was not an elitist who would transform his neck of the woods into a haven for hipsters. If only I could have convinced him that I have little in common with those loons in LA and San Francisco (other than a love for cutting-edge ethnic food). But he was forever gone from my life.

In all fairness to that elderly gentlemen who expressed himself so eloquently, he does have a point. We’re a bit arrogant in California. We have fantastic weather, a massive economy, a gorgeous coast, fantastic mountains, sublime deserts, and chic cities. California is also the creative center of the universe. We attract people from all over the world. We seem to love change, as long as it is our kind of change. We love to build communities that look like photos in Sunset Magazine. When our citizens move to cities in other states, they have a tendency to want to make their new community just like the community they left in California. I’m beginning to understand that this approach might not be the best for locals and expats.

The same phenomena happens in many churches. For example, some churches do not ordain women. They take this stand in good faith based on interpretation of certain parts of the Bible. Yet it is not uncommon for people to join such churches and later on pressure them to change their bylaws to allow the ordination of women. Such conflicts can get out of control and cause tremendous discontent as well as harm the example of Christ’s church in the community.

Need a less contentious example? Most churches do not handle poisonous snakes during worship. As much as I might enjoy such a spectacle, it would be wrong of me to pressure my church leaders to incorporate the handling of poisonous vipers as a test of faith during our Sunday liturgy.

Perhaps mature Christians have an obligation to explore the beliefs and heritage of a prospective church BEFORE they join so that later on they do not feel compelled to take it upon themselves to cause a big brouhaha in a quest for change. Granted, some churches and denominations need to change the way they operate. But I suspect that many people who take it upon themselves to affect change in a church have not been led by God to do so. They do it because some issues get under their skin or because they are passionate about a new way of doing things.

On the other hand, established church members who want to obey God by welcoming newcomers have an obligation to recognize that the influx of new people usually means change will eventually follow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys who loathe all change. I do not think all change is bad. But neither do I believe all change is good … especially if the peddlers of change have not shown respect for things that long-timers on the scene hold dear. I’m just saying!

Curt Schilling Pitches High and Inside

Curt Schilling / By Google Man at the English Language Wikipedia

Curt Schilling / By Google Man at the English Language Wikipedia

I have many character defects, but tweeting is not one of them. Still, news stories that involve Twitter and other social media catch my attention. Perhaps you heard the recent news about former Major League Baseball player Curt Schilling’s response to internet trolls who verbally, and anonymously, attacked his 17-year-old daughter with sexually explicit tweets after Schilling posted some congratulatory remarks about his daughter’s accomplishments. Schilling investigated and exposed the true identities of some of the trolls who attacked his daughter. His actions resulted in rather unpleasant personal consequences for the trolls, consequences that may follow them in cyber space for the rest of their lives. The story sparked a debate about whether people need to accept the ugliness and ill-manners found in social media as “just the way it is”, or whether people need to be held accountable for the things they say, even when said anonymously in virtual reality. Schilling points out the importance of this topic because virtual reality has become reality for today’s young people.

So, does the Bible have any instructions about proper behavior in virtual reality? Yes, one such instruction is found in Matthew 5:21-22 where it says:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Various Bible translations interpret these two verses a bit differently. We won’t dive into the weeds of translation here. It is enough to know that these verses warn us against insulting language that spews from a heart filled with anger. From God’s perspective, anger and insults can progress to the same level as murder. In these verses, Christ himself condemns the use of insulting epithets as an offense against humanity, the same humanity created in God’s image. Words matter in God’s world. “In the beginning was the Word” gives us a glimpse of the importance of words. Think of it like this: according to the Bible, calling someone a fool is akin to calling them the N-word.

We can’t expect unbelievers to fully grasp the spiritual implications of anger-driven insults (I myself do not fully comprehend it), but we can trust the teaching of Jesus on this issue and we can set an example by the way we treat people, including when we are online at 2 AM in the dark of our basement while tapping away at the keyboard under cover of a silly pseudonym.

Who among us can see into the heart of an internet troll, or anyone’s heart for that matter? Is a troll’s heart filled with jealousy, misplaced anger, the hurts of life, revenge? Did the trolls who attacked Schilling’s daughter hope to hurt him because they disliked him or his team when he played professional baseball? These are disturbing questions. And I find it especially disconcerting that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of people online who are filled with such bitterness and rage. The internet and social media have been wonderful at giving more people a voice, but technology also gives a voice to the ugliness in the human heart.

So, should people be held accountable for the things they say on social media? Sure, but even more important than what people say online is what people have in their hearts. And only God can heal the human heart.

George Orwell Owns ISIS

Islamic State Militants
So how is it that those ISIS dudes manage to recruit thousands of willful followers into their depraved lifestyle? ISIS has a reputation for being astute at wielding technology effectively in the recruitment of their minions (no offense meant to those loveable minions in Despicable Me). But technology and slick marketing doesn’t completely explain why young adults rush to enlist in a crusade of killing and being killed on the basis of religious belief. How do we understand the motives of people who sign up for membership in such a vile gang of terrorists as ISIS? Some of our leaders in government would have us believe that ISIS followers are mostly disenfranchised young men who don’t have jobs and whose prospects in the world are bleak. There might be a shred of truth in the disenfranchisement argument, but I suspect something more is going on inside the noggins of ISIS recruits. I stumbled upon it in a paragraph written by George Orwell during a time when America found itself locked in bitter war with Nazi Germany. Orwell proposed some uncomfortable motives for why the Nazis embraced struggle, extreme hardship, and death. One could draw parallels with ISIS today. Here is what Orwell said:

“Also he (Adolf Hitler) has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

George Orwell, 1940

Orwell grasped that not all human beings just want a comfortable life in perpetuity. People will periodically embrace struggle, pain, and death if they have been convinced it will accomplish some greater cause or purpose. But here’s the thing: It has to be the RIGHT cause or it has no virtue. In fact, if not the right cause it is likely an evil cause that envelops all who go down its path so that they experience ever more spiritual darkness. Jesus alluded to this darkness in Matthew 6:22-23 where he said “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In other words, if your eye (your mind) confuses darkness as light, you will be in extreme darkness indeed. ISIS followers have come to believe that darkness is light. Many of them, I’m sure, believe what they are doing is the will of God and therefore it is what’s best for humanity. Their darkness is deep.

Some of the ISIS leaders, no doubt, are in it for the power; they want to be the ones wielding great dominion when their caliphate is established. But power is a dangerous desire. Ragnar Lodbrok (the main character in the History Channel’s TV series Vikings) recently said “Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” Many who gather under the ISIS banner do so with aspirations of gaining power over others. Some think they will use that power to help people live better lives. Others plan to use that power to enrich their own lives at the expense of others. Either way, power will ruin them because their cause it evil. Even when the cause is just, power is a dangerous tool. Remember that Jesus was also tempted by the allure of power when he was in the wilderness with Satan. Jesus did not permit Satan to distract him with the seduction of power. Jesus stuck to the right cause and finished his ministry well. Human beings often do not do well with unbridled power. We abuse it.

So, should we pray for the deliverance of ISIS followers into the light and truth of Christ, or should we pray for their physical destruction so that they do no more harm to innocent people? Pray that they embrace Christ and the Golden Rule and that God gets the credit for their life-affirming conversion. Pray that ISIS comes to the realization that they are fighting on the wrong side in the great struggle of good against evil. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with praying that ISIS is stopped in their tracks, even if it is accomplished by military force.

If followers of ISIS can’t be prayed out of darkness, the Middle East will likely be in for a bitter and protracted conflict. I’m no prophet, so I do not know if the evil embraced by ISIS will blossom into the Armageddon mentioned in the Bible or whether it will affect us in a substantial way here at home … but I suppose it could happen in our lifetime. Yes, pray for ISIS to be stopped in their tracks AND for their hearts to turn to the light and truth of Christ. But it is even more important that we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the front line in the fight against ISIS. When I say “pray” I don’t mean it in an abstract sense. I mean intentionally pray in church, in Bible studies, in home groups, and in private. Don’t forget our relatives in Christ who are under the shadow of ISIS.

THE Right Answer: It ain’t closing the book

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The high priests of atheism would have us believe that we should not fear the end of life because death simply means shutting off the switch. (Ironically their message frightens me.) Modern day philosopher Stephen Cave believes that being afraid of being dead, or of what’s on the other side, is irrational. He points out that we are not good at imagining ceasing to exist. Cave finds it helpful to think of life as a book with a beginning and end where the characters within know no horizons. They only know the moments that make up their story, even when the book is shut. As a result, the characters are not afraid of reaching the last page. Cave believes this is how we should view life: as the moments in between. He says it makes no sense to fear what’s outside the covers of our book. In Cave’s worldview, the only thing that matters is that we make our life a good story.

What is my opinion of Cave’s metaphor for life? Well, if making our life a good story is the only thing that matters, who is going to read our story and love the characters within after we die and our book is closed and placed on the shelf? If no one, other than a handful of surviving friends and family members, is going to remember our story for a brief time after our book is closed, why does it matter if our story is good or not? Also, what if our individual stories are not books in and of themselves? In other words, what if each person’s life story is like a chapter in a much larger story? Our stories, though potentially powerful, are not enough by themselves to justify our existence. If our story is to have any value greater than a vanishing mist, there must be a transcendent purpose for our story plus a reader who is invested in us and our story. Only God can bestow transcendent purpose to our life stories. The universe does not bestow transcendent or poetic purpose to our life story. The universe constrains us primarily to the purpose of survival and at best provides a forum for us to thrive for a brief span of time. The universe did not create us to love us forever. But God did.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has planted eternity in the heart of humanity. People make a grave mistake when they deny the eternity of their soul. Why? Because denying the existence of our eternal soul does not make our soul finite. Our soul is either eternal or not. Either way, its existence does not depend on our belief or disbelief in its existence. Just because we can’t see our soul under a microscope does not mean it is not there. But if our soul exists and is eternal (and I believe it is), we must choose our eternity. One eternity is with God and the other eternity is without God. Denying the eternity of our soul does not eliminate the choice. In fact, denying the eternity of our soul IS a choice; it is the choice to spend eternity without God. On the other hand, don’t think a person who chooses eternity with God has an excuse to live a lame life in the here and now. In Matthew 18:18 Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In other words, the things we do in this life (our story) transcend this life in a mysterious way. Eternal heaven makes itself available to us in the here and now and beyond. Here’s the thing: Christ is the key to each person’s part in the story that transcends death. In order to choose eternity with God, we must believe Christ and that he is the only one who can give us the option of eternity with God. Christ is the right answer.

Attempts to explain away our life on earth as a mere story with a beginning and end can have tragic consequences, not only after death but also here on earth. I shudder to think how humanity (which is capable of unspeakable selfish evil) would eventually choose to live if everyone adopted the belief that there is no accountability after this life and the only thing that matters is making your life a good story, however you define it. How depressing to think of our lives as nothing more than tired old volumes of books collecting dust on the shelf of some cosmic library.

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