Category Archives: Jesus Christ

Civility Involves a Change of Heart

One night recently I went to the top floor of the local university library. The sign below is next to the elevators. Beside this sign there is a huge placard as you come off the elevator that repeats the rules for using the area.

 

 

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I go here when I really need quiet and to think. However, as you can well guess, some people think the rules do not apply to them. While I was there I called people out twice.

Alas, before I get too high and mighty (that’s coming), I realize I have my own blind areas. But, basic civility would be nice in our society. We seem to have lost it, if we ever had it.

This experience in a library was annoying, but not that big a deal when compared to widespread rudeness in more important venues. The reason this little skirmish has become more pronounced in my mind is that the I think my senses are heightened to rudeness after the recent American election season and its aftermath. As a news and poltics junkie, I have seen our public discourse filled with out-of-the-ordinary base statements from political leaders, protesters and would-be amateur pundits on social media.

.I really don’t have high expectations from politicians and protesters when they open their mouths, but the things emanating from them have reached a new low. Rock bottom does indeed have a basement.

If you follow the news at all you are aware of the profanity, ad hominem attacks and even physical violence of political opponents and of youthful protesters and celebrities upset about the outcome of the vote in November.

Discourtesy and ill behavior in our society has not been limited to politics. My little library excursion example is indicative of a certain lack of courtesy on the American university campus. The squelching of dissent has led to  a Stalinistic atmosphere. Most recently I wrote about a confrontation I had with a student over her discomfort with my viewing choices in a public location at my local school. The girl took issue with a scene from a classic movie which I saw as history and she observed to be insulting. She got heated right away without any degree of politeness and shrilly demanded that I turn off what I was watching.

In addition, during warmer months on campus I have been subjected to more nonverbal effrontery. I have come close to being pummeled by passing skateboarders who speed by out of control, with little thought for the mass of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Once one of these sidewalk NASCAR wannabes silently came up from behind me and without any regard for personal space engineered a wild hop on their board in a noisy fashion. It scared the daylights out of me.

The causes of this lowering of respectful behavior towards our fellow humans are too numerous to expound on here. However, I think Rev.  J. Vernon McGee hit on something decades ago when he was discussing a passage from the Bible. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is having a debate with the religious leaders of his day over the importance of a rite involving the washing of hands.

Jesus said to these leaders and His followers:

“Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Jesus’s disciples asked him to explain what He meant by this statement.

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

McGee said of Jesus’s words,”We are seeing that working out in our contemporary society today. We’ve come to a period of what is known a ‘New Morality’. We’ve reached the day that (the prophet) Isaiah talked about. He said the day is coming when they’ll call evil good and good evil. And they’re doing that today.”

Decades ago McGee decried the dropping of biblical standards for “freedom”.

“The lid has been taken off and man today can express what’s in his heart. What comes out? New morality? No, same old thing. Evil thoughts. Murders. Adulteries. We hear a good amount about sex today. That’s what you would expect. Fornications. Theft. False witness. Blasphemies. Great day of freedom. But my friends, if you don’t put the lid on the bucket you have opened really a Pandora’s Box  and we’re in trouble.”

McGee even in his time called for some controls on mankind’s behavior.

“Man has to be controlled,” he said. “Man is the most vicious animal on this earth and yet we put other animals in cages. And yet we’re talking today ‘man must be free to do his thing’. And here’s what he’ll do. It’s not new morality at all. Our Lord said this sort of thing was evil and these things defile a man.”

The Internet did not even exist as a public tool in McGee’s day, but he still blasted the media and schools for pushing immorality on to youth.

“These are the things that are defiling young people and yet it is all being done in the high, lofty-sounding terminology of ‘freedom of speech’ and that today ‘we must express ourselves. And this is the way we are doing it.The thing that is in the heart is now coming out.”

Solutions to the problem of incivility are not easy. As McGee noted, man does not want to be controlled. This was easy to see in the 60s, one of the most revolutionary decades in American history.

Stephen Sills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after a protest in 1966 in Hollywood. Residents were upset at the late night congestion caused by the numerous young folks who flooded the Sunset Strip area to hit the clubs and bars. So when the government put their foot down and enacted ordinances to curtail their outlandish behavior, the youth protest. This protest became civil unrest.The song opens this way:

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down (?)”

What Sills complained about in his lyrics is that the authorities were able to tell him and his fellow “children” (how apropos) what to do for the sake of others who were affected by their actions. But I don’t see his complaint as valid. If we are going to live in a civil society, we must have some common standards of decency for the sake of all. With freedom comes responsibility to others.

When human beings don’t voluntarily submit to some sort of standards of good behavior, then I am afraid they must be provided with incentives, even negative ones. I once heard of a new prison warden who asked an aide,”How much power do I have in this prison?” He was told that he had what amounted to dictatorial powers. When he heard this, the warden issued a fiat that there would be no profanity allowed in his prison. I imagine any rule breaking was punished. Over time the enforced manners resulted in a sea change of positive behavior in this jail.

Despite a huge swing toward incivility, I’m not asking for a fascist state to control all words and actions in America. I am not in favor of, for example, extreme self restraint of the media as new White House adviser Steve Bannon suggested when he said that it should “keep its mouth shut.” The Founding Fathers allowed for a free press as a watchdog on corrupt government. In our current society, however, the more recognized media companies have tended to be selective about which party’s corruption to expose.

This tendency of the press to shut down points of view it does not agree with has resulted in a media civil war. The battle has flooded over to the Internet and its social media sites, where every Tom, Dick and Harriet can have a say. Unfortunately, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, these interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites are filled with meanspirited, cowardly and selfish behavior.

The consequence of all this online heat has been the fracturing of relationships. During a concise and balanced discussion on media bias on CNN this week Christiane Amanpour said,”We should be able to have a huge variety of views without calling each other and treating each other as enemies.” What Amanpour says should apply not only to media types, but to we rubes on social media and individual friends, individuals and even strangers as well.

All I am asking for is some heart change that leads to obeying the laws, rules and principles developed by those who went before us to create a civil society. In order for that to happen we are going to have to quit being so self absorbed and start thinking about the welfare of others.

In addition to looking within for refinement, there are some things we can do. We can learn to listen. We can learn to listen ro understand. We can learn how to debate logically and ethically.  We can begin each interaction with goodwill. We can be kind. We can stop assuming that those with whom we disagree are inherently evil, bigoted, and criminal.

There are those who think that there are more important things than civility. Vann R. Newkirk II in a post in The Atlantic on December 5, 2016 notes that in matters such as racism that shaming can be an effective tool toward pushing whites in America toward confronting their bias. He writes:

Civility is not the highest moral imperative—especially in response to perceived injustices—nor is hand-holding and guiding reluctant people to confront their bigotry gently. American history is full of fights, including the ongoing struggle for civil rights, that have been as fierce as they are ultimately . Civility is overrated.

With the extremely marginalized, I can see Mann’s point. I don’t imagine a Jewish politician from 1930s Germany getting anywhere in persuading a Nazi counterpart to drop their racially stained views. Sometimes there is no other resort than war.

But as General Sherman said,”War is hell.” Those “ongoing fights” Newkirk speaks of were quite costly to America and Americans at times. Real change in these United States has only come it seems from either such conflicts or from persuasion.  It would seem to me that persuasion should be attempted at all times until there is no other recourse because of the insanely damaging effects of war.

Was war necessary to free the slaves in the United States? Perhaps. But there were some who believed that America would eventually be persuaded to ditch slavery. Instead, the opponents opted for civil war. After the war, the winners eventually made a political bargain to give control back to the losers. These people instituted Jim Crow, which carried racism over for almost another century. Thus, before we go to war it would seem to me that a long-term strategy for dealing with its effects be developed.

What is telling is that Mann believes there are other goals in argument besides persuasion. He writes:

Sometimes the goal of argument is to vent. Sometimes it is to simply tell the truth. Sometimes it’s just to loudly proclaim one’s own humanity.

Mr. Mann and I could have a civil debate on such a statement. I would take the position that shouting is not an appropriate method of argument, at least from an Aristotlian perspective. Furthermore, those “telling the truth” may think they are, but like us all these folks are subject to their own limitations. What they believe to be the truth may indeed not be.

What Mann’s discussion of the goals of argument has done for me, though, and why his comments above are telling is  that it explains why there was such profanity and base statements coming from speakers at the recent Women’s March. Those speakers represent a point of view which says that their opponents will not listen to reasoned argument. Only stigmatizing the opposition will do. My one complaint of this approach is that I am doubtful that Madonna or Ashley Judd had attempted accepted modes of persuasion prior to their profane rants.

Even though I don’t agree with many of the points in Mann’s article, it is well supported with academic research and nods to the arguments of opponents. That kind of argumentation I can respect. Thus, it makes his piece well worth the read.

Abhorrent perspectives like racism are a matter of the heart. I am afraid there will always be people with evil views. Where it gets dicey for all of us is when these folks begin to act on their beliefs. So there must be some control of evil.

If we don’t transform ourselves, I am fearful that the outcry will be so great that we could lose our hard-won freedoms. If we don’t do this as individuals on a voluntary basis, then I am afraid others with powerful institutions behind them will MAKE us behave.

When they do they won’t be bringing lollipops to persuade us; they’l be sporting hammers.

 

 

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A Tale of Two Attitudes

It’s been the best of days. It’s been the worst of days. Sorry Charles Dickens. I couldn’t resist.

But my twist to the opening to that great 19th century author’s wonderful novel “Take of Two Cities” does aptly describe today.

As I write this in mid-afternoon, I have experienced both agitation and peace. The former has come from circumstances, the latter from accomplishing the proper attitude in response.

The disturbances in my heart have not really been a big deal. The first was especially minor. The Internet was very spotty in one of the coffee shops I frequent. The second incident occurred when I could tap into it. I read an Email from an employer about a job I had applied for. It included this sentence:

This message is to inform you that the search for this position has been failed which means it will not be filled at this time.

Talk about creative denial. Using the passive voice is not a problem to me, but using the verb “failed” in this context is just….what can I say? Someone has been looking at too many “fails” on YouTube.

I finally did get up to leave, especially after my complaint to one of the servers didn’t alter the Wi-Fi capability of the place. After all, I go to coffee shops to have fun, and I was not enjoying my frustration at not being able to access websites. . Although I am not a girl, I empathize with Cyndi Lauper. Boys just want to have fun, too.

The final aggravation came about during my planned walk in town after the Joe stop. Twice I had cars park themselves right in the crosswalk as I tried to claim my pedestrian rights in accordance with what the signals were saying.

One of my legs is a bit tricky right now, so I have to be aware as I cross streets. These people were not helping and in fact creating a dangerous situation for me. That they were violating traffic laws right next to to the town hall, courthouse and city police station only added to my disquiet.

Since I was right next to the police station I went in to complain. The desk officer was very nice in taking my verbal complaint. I did wonder though when he said,”The people just aren’t paying attention.” Was he excusing their behavior? That’s how I took it I guess.

I responded with,”Well, these people need to get a ticket.”

The officer said he would pass my  comments on to the traffic police. He wished me well and said be careful out there” as I walked away. He was so nice that he for the moment altered my negative stew.

As I ambled into the warmer-than-usual winter day and headed toward the river, I thanked a policeman getting out of his car for his service. It was then I realized that had been accumulating a series of offenses in my mind and getting wound up. If you had been walking with me you might have said “it’s much ado about nothing” and you would have been right.

As Dickens intimates, our world is a mixed bag. Some are wise,while others are foolish. To get to the spring of hope, we must endure the winter of despair. I can either walk in unbelief or have faith.

I do have a belief system that provides principles for dealing with the kind of hindrances I encountered today. It wasn’t until I crossed over the river and into some gardens that I realized I was not following my faith tradition’s tenets.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, what came to my mind was a statement he made to his disciples which has recently meant a lot to me. He said,

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

Now I am not a bitter clinger to a religion, as our outgoing president once said of his opponents.  The only thing I am clinching in my fists is my personal rights.

In my mind today were the ideas that the world was here to serve me and that it should be run perfectly in that purpose. Walking along the path it came to me that the truth is that neither of these  supposition were based in reality.

The truths I live by tell me that my thoughts were the opposite of these ideas. The doctrines of my faith tell me that I am trodding this soil to serve others for Jesus’ sake and that this earth and the people in it are in a fallen state. It’s not paradise.

I can wish for valhalla on earth, but it’s not going to happen. As my departed Dad like to say,”Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.” Given the state of things, I should be happy when things go right.

With the principles of my two fathers (my heavenly and earthly ones) in mind,  I improved my attitude. I sat in a park after my walk and thanked God for a coffee shop to go to and a police force to protect me. I also expressed my gratitude that He had my destiny regarding employment in His hands. Better His than those of some poor sap who can’t write a sentence.

So while I thought about hitting the trifecta and writing the personnel director of the employer that sent me the aforementioned Email, I didn’t do so. I decided to drop it because I knew the only person that my missive would affect would be me, and not in a good way.

This isn’t to say that I should just let injustice go.  But If I am to avoid losing my sanity, then I have to learn to pick my battles. The things that happened to me today were not that important. They fell under the categoty of “inconvenience.”  .

In summary, while I was in Dickensian terms going the opposite direction from heaven this day, my God stepped in and turned me around.  I had created my own little season of darkness, but He made it into a season of light.

I learned some things today, which made it a good day. Anytime I can feed this value, I am happy. The application for tomorrow and the next day and the ones after that is to assist my mind by enjoining it from noisily insisting that my current waking period be received in superlative degrees only.

My times are not the best or the worst. They are what I allow God to make of them.

 

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Jesus and Dr. Who

In one of the earlier seasons of the popular sci-fi series “Dr. Who”, the time lord and his charges end up on a space station orbiting the Earth 200,000 years in the future. This is not any ordinary vehicle. It houses the central source of news for the entire planet.

In order to access the vast knowledge of what amounts to the Internet in that time, higher level reporters buy a chip which is implanted in their heads.  When information is desired, the chip pops out of their forehead and a huge ray of light transmits all knowledge.

What they don’t know is that the information they receive is controlled by a malicious alien on the floor 500 of the space station.  The whole episode, even though broadcast over a decade ago, seemed to be aimed at taking a shot at fake news before we even had the term.

As I ponder the birth of Jesus celebrated today, I realize that this event was the greatest news in history. Of course, like in the Dr. Who episode and the falsehoods posing as news today, the narrative about Jesus has been determined over two millennia by who is writing it.

As a follower of Jesus, I tend to rely on what I read in the Bible about him. What it says about Him is that He was God who limited himself by taking human form.  In a supernatural miracle, the Holy Spirit created human life in the womb of his mother Mary.

The entire episode in theological terms is called the Incarnation. As I thought about it today, I was fascinated.

It is really hard to define in my own limited brain. The reporters in the Dr. Who show I watched  were a faulty analogy.  What it DID imagine is the inputting of huge amounts of knowledge into the brain of a human. But I risk heresy if I use that scenario as an accurate portrayal of what the birth of Jesus meant for us. The Incarnation was so much more.

Whatever the nature of the Incarnation, it was a seminal event in the journey of mankind. It changed everything; it altered history. Sometimes that term is altered into “His Story.”

In church today and on a Catholic website  I was exposed to the following description of how important the Incarnation was in the human story.  My priest read this Christmas Proclamation from the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;

the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;

the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

the whole world being at peace,

in the sixth age of the world,

Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.

–From Roman Martyrology

One may quibble about the dating, but even so this piece does reflect how Jesus appeared in history, as we were minding our own business.

Once He did, we didn’t have an excuse for business as usual anymore.  

 

 

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