Monday, August 25, 2008

Can We Love Too Much?

Originally posted on MennoDiscuss, answering the question, "Is it possible to love someone too much?"

Honestly, we all suffer from loving too little. We are too caught up in our own needs, more often than not (even if that need is a compulsion to help others). The Bible says that if we really love God, then we will love others, and that should never be in conflict. Our usual problem is not loving others too much but loving others in a way that is not love at all.

I know of a woman who loved her adult son so much that whenever he was in need, she would always be there for him. Whenever he needed money, she would provide it. Whenever he needed housing, she would always give it. Whatever he wanted, she was there. And so he became an emotional mess, serverly depressed, never able to provide for himself, a user of drugs and of people because he felt that others were there to help him overcome his suffering. She didn't love her son enough. Not because she didn't care for him, but because all she could see was her role as "mother who provided everything" rather than seriously looking at him to see what he really needed.

True love provides for one's need. But our human needs can be complex.

At times we need to be cared for. At times we need to be left alone to fend for ourselves.
At times we need to listened to. At times we need to listen to God.
At times we need a pat on the back. At times we need to be rebuked.
At times we need free food. At times we need an opportunity to work.
At times we need sex. At times we need abstinence.
At times we need corporate worship. At times we need a silent retreat.

Love is providing for another what they need, when they need it. True love is knowing someone well enough to provide what they really need when they really need it.

Churches Helping the Poor

This was posted in a forum on MennoDiscuss, in a discussion about whether it is enough for a church to help the poor or whether they should give them the gospel as well.

One thing I have noticed in working with the homeless for years in a church context is that "churchies"-- by which I mean middle class Christians-- are willing to give the gospel and they are willing to share resources, but they are often unwilling to do the very thing that would bring people to the Lord-- have a realtionship with the poor.

Both options that have been batted around on this forum-- giving help alone or giving the gospel with it-- are easy to do from a distance. I pass people with signs asking for food or some kind of handout. Usually I have breakfast bars to hand out to people. Sometimes I have a bag which has socks, a bar, some fruit and a tract. But honestly, does any of this really bring anyone to the Lord?

Of course, it is the Spirit that really brings people to the Lord, and we can pray for them. But do we? Do we enact the Spirit by praying for those whom we help?

The best thing we can do to bring people closer to God, to really meet people's needs is to do these things in the context of relationship. I know about 500 homeless people now. I know how they live, what their weaknesses are and their strengths. In the midst of this, I know if I can give them money or not. I know what they really need. I know how to pray for them, and I do. Now, that's easy for me, after all, I'm a pastor to the homeless. It's harder for someone in a middle class context to connect with someone in a lower class.

My recommendation: Rather than setting up a program in which one's church is "serving" the poor with a wall separated between them. Rather than handing out tracts to the poor in hopes that they would come to know Jesus and so become "like us" (which a lot of times means for them not only following Jesus, but also being middle class). Instead, as a family, invite a poor family out to dinner. Don't have them come to your house or go to their house, because they would feel either inadequate or judged. Find a neutral ground that you can just talk and find out more about each other.

Evangelism is so often seen as an instant event. But in reality, it is a long process. And the ones who will win souls aren't those who preach the message often enough, but who get to know people enough that they can really see Christ in them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Interpreting Revelation

The book of Revelation is just so tricky. Everyone interprets it differently, and though there are schools of thought, I haven't seen any that I'm really enamored of. It seems to me that Revelation pretty much interprets itself.

1. The author says it was written to seven churches in ancient Turkey, most of which do not exist today. Thus, it means that the book was supposed to be understood by them. This doesn't mean that they would have seen all the events it expounds, but they would have read the book and said, "I know what that means"

2. The book has over 2000 OT references. So if we understand the OT well and looked at all the references, we might have a pretty good idea of what it meant.

3. The book clearly talks about future events. We just know these events were after the writing, but not when, specifically.

4. The book is a good portion allegorical. Since John often tells us "this symbol has this meaning" like at the end of chapter 1, then we know that a lot of the stranger symbols have specific meanings, which are often explained in either the OT, Jesus or other apocalyptic literature of the time.

5. The ones who are blessed are not just those who read the book and understand it, but who "do" it (1:3). Thus, the book isn't just about prophecies, but about actions that need to be listened to and obeyed. The majority of these commands are in chapters 2 and 3, but not exclusively.

These princples don't explain everything about the book, but I think it explains some. And I think that we can rule out most of the interprtive schools of the book from them:

Preterist: The whole book couldn't have taken place in the first century. Jesus didn't come back. Thus, at least part of the book hasn't been fulfilled yet.

Futurist and Historist: We can't read the book with newspapers (or History books) in our other hand. The seven churches didn't have the benefit of our contemporary literature, thus the contemporary literature must not be necessary for interpreting it.

Thus, I think that the book is full of symbols that could be interpreted in the ancient world about event that might not have occured yet. And one of the main focuses of the book is the life we are to live before God. So even if we get an event wrong, if we get the princples right and live them out, then we are okay.

Causality and Randomness

Posted in MySpace Philosophy group under the topic "Chaos and Randomness":

Whether any action that happens today is uncaused is a matter for debate.

But unless we hold that time is cyclical, was there not ONE action that was uncaused? That which initiated all things to exist?

The Big Bang was not uncaused. So there had to be some event before that. But the initial event of existance was uncaused.

We depend on causal thinking-- what was called "lazy reasoning"-- because it works, for the most part. Sometimes causal thinking doesn’t work because we have determined the wrong cause. Perhaps it is because some action has too many causes to consider. And perhaps it is because it has no cause.

But considering how many actions occur in a given day, how many forces, both sentient and non- are at work, then we can say that most actions have a cause, no matter how complex it may be. Whether we know or can understand the cause or not.

The Symbol of Light

Light, except is physics, is a symbol.

The question is, what does the symbol mean? Most of the time, light is equated with "truth", which definition deserves it’s own discussion.

But its use goes back to the ancient world, long even before the Gnostics, the New Testament or Plato.

The ancient concept of it goes like this:
In darkness, one cannot see well. In light, everything is exposed. In darkness everything is hidden. In light, everything is open. Thus, light becomes a symbol for knowledge, for truth that was otherwise unknown and for personal openness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Justice and Traffic

In my opinion, justice is the societal responsibility to make sure everyone has the opportunity to meet their needs. This does not mean that society has to meet everyone's needs, but they need to give them the opportunity to do it for themselves. If they are unable to meet basic needs on their own then society, out of mercy, might help them, but justice is giving everyone opportunity.

People's needs vary greatly, but the basic category of needs are the same for everyone: everyone needs food, shelter, warmth, a place to go to the bathroom, connection with others, basic health, a certain amount of pleasure, security, inner peace, and some respect. No one can be promised any of these things, but they can be assured that nothing would block them from receiving any of them.

Where I think our society has gone wrong is the decision to micro-manage rather than make the big decisions that would be good for everyone. A controversial example is traffic laws. We have a whole system of traffic, a combination of motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians, and everyone has to know the complex system or else people could be injured or die. If this system is to be safe at all, then it must be micromanaged carefully and with precision.

However, I wonder if a more rational and just decision would be to just make motorized vehicles over a certain weight illegal, except on personal property. We weren't meant to have two ton appendages to our body-- we just aren't careful enough. And the system as a whole is a failure. Simply because we allow large motorized vehicles, 43,000 people a year die in the U.S. And two and a half million people are injured per year. That's almost one percent of our population.

Micromanaging doesn't seem to work. We just spend more money and aggrivation trying to force people to follow a complex system that changes all the time. I don't think humanity is smart enough for all that.