Help Rebuild Louisiana: A Story of Abundant Giving

An 18-wheeler full of donations. Courtesy of New Covenant Church.

An 18-wheeler full of donations. Courtesy of New Covenant Church.

I recently wrote a post calling for us to consider donating money for building supplies as Louisianans prepare to rebuild their homes and businesses. The stories of Americans’ generosity have been amazing. Today I want to share a story from New Covenant Church – my home church in Denham Springs, Louisiana.

Todd Whirley, the executive pastor, has admirably served as a contact person for relief efforts from the very beginning. New Covenant, along with a few surrounding businesses, was spared from flooding, allowing the church to serve as a staging area for rescues and as a donation center. (Amazingly, just about 1/3 of a mile north of the church, there several feet of water!) Two weeks after the flood, New Covenant continues to serve as a significant donation center. Here is an excerpt from the church’s website:

 

Today an 18-wheeler showed up at Home Depot in Baton Rouge to distribute goods. A fight broke out and we believe a policeman had heard about the ministry happening here and sent the truck here. Unexpected. Fully loaded. True story. If you want to see what the contents of an 18-wheeler that have been unloaded by hand look like, visit the Park area tomorrow. It’s like a grocery bomb went off in there. Teams from several states have been going through it for hours. Much more to be done. Come at 4pm and help. If you need pretty much anything a Walmart would sell, tomorrow is a really good day to take home what you need after church. Folks from all over the country have sent these things to minister to you. Even if your home was spared but you are

Just want to give you a heads up…The building now looks like a fully engulfed disaster relief center. There are workers and stuff everywhere. There are stacks of pallets and enormous boxes on the front walk that cannot be removed today. Serious ministry is happening and Christ is being exalted. Every time we say we are winding down the donation area, God says otherwise by sending us minor prophets like 18-wheelers. It will all get sorted, organized and distributed before the Lord returns…

America’s generosity – and God’s provision! – continues to shine forth. Do you want to know how you can help? Here’s one way….

The first organization that I want to highlight is New Covenant Church. Here, you have two opportunities of service:

  1. Give of your money. Visit New Covenant’s online giving website: https://www.lifewayegiving.org/g3/h/ (be sure to select 2016 Flood Disaster Relief in the drop down menu). Here you can donate monies that are specifically used for flood relief. One thing that I want to stress is that building materials will be in high demand in the upcoming weeks, and not everyone will be able to afford these materials. By donating money, you can help families that have no flood insurance to buy what they need to rebuild.
  2. Give of your time. I spoke with Todd Whirley last week, and he mentioned how New Covenant is willing to host teams who want to travel to Denham Springs to help in the rebuilding phase. The church has plenty of space where the team can stay, there is a shower truck, and there is a laundry truck. If you want to give by giving of your time, then fill out the contact form below, and I can put you in touch with Todd Whirley.

I will be highlighting other organizations in flood-impacted areas, so keep your eyes open for other opportunities to help rebuild Louisiana!

 

Help Louisiana Rebuild One Drywall at a Time

Photo of my hometown, Denham Springs, at Range Ave. and I-12. Photo courtesy of GOHSEP Facebook page.

Photo of my hometown, Denham Springs, at Range Ave. and I-12. Photo courtesy of GOHSEP Facebook page.

Hopeless. This is a word I used describe my feelings on Saturday, August 13 – the day in which my hometown in Louisiana experienced unprecedented flooding. Family and friends were forced out of their homes, while many had to be rescued from their homes as water rose quickly to heights never seen before. By the time the weekend was over, much of south-central and southeastern Louisiana was under water.

Making the best of a bad situation, my mom painted this sign in the demo pile in front of her home. This picture illustrates the attitude of most flood-victims - making the most of a dire situation.

Brightening up a unsightly scene, my mom painted this sign in the demo pile in front of her home. This picture illustrates the attitude of most flood-victims – making the most of a dire situation.

Resilient. Determined. Community. These three words describe how Louisianans have approached their new reality. My wife and I spent this past weekend in Baton Rouge helping my parents gut their home (13 inches) and in Denham Springs helping a dear friend and his family gut their home (7 feet). One thing that stood out to me was how everyone – literally everyone – that we came across was not despondent. Rather, they were ready to begin the cleanout and rebuilding processes. There was nothing they could do about the flood – it happened. But what they could do – and did with such energy – was to pick up where the flood left off. It was amazing – Louisianans did not sit around waiting for the government’s help or for the media to arrive for national attention. Instead, they strapped up their boots and got to work.

Even more amazing is the strong sense of community, particularly in an area that recently witnessed the Alton Sterling tragedy and the subsequent ambush of Baton Rouge cops. There have been stories of African Americans helping whites, and whites helping African Americans. My hometown pastor wrote of how he, along with others, were stranded on I-12 for 30 hours. Instead of stranded drivers remaining isolated in their vehicles and stewing in their frustration, a trucker cooked rice and shared with neighboring cars, a Hispanic family shared their snacks, and a woman handed out fresh produce that she had. Another man set up his grills, someone else provided steak and pork for a meal. In reflecting upon this scene, my pastor states: “Stranded travelers of different colors, cultures, jobs and backgrounds became a community in the middle of the interstate who cared for each other with much kindness. Never did I hear aggravation, frustration or foul language.” This story is just one of many that illustrate the overall sense of cooperation and community among the residents of Louisiana impacted by the flood. And yet, little has been said to this end by the national media.

As Louisianans jumped into the cleaning out process, the nation’s citizens moved quickly to donate cleaning supplies, food, clothing, and other necessities that impacted families lost in the deluge. It was amazing to see the outpouring of support by individuals, churches, and organizations. The Red Cross was indeed a presence in flood-impacted areas, but so were the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams from surrounding states, assisting Southern Baptist members and the community with cleaning out and mudding out homes, and with spraying for mold (all free!). Area churches and companies were mobilized as donation centers and shelters, while high schools across the state trucked in supplies to flooded schools. In a time of great need, Louisiana’s citizens were met by fellow countrymen ready to lend a hand.

See this great article by Foundation for Economic Education on the role of private disaster relief in Louisiana: In Louisiana, Private Disaster Relief Outperforms the Government“.

A helpful article on the response of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team.

The video below, shot by my wife, illustrates the outpouring of donations. This donation center is set up at New Covenant Church in Denham Springs (www.newcovenantds.com):

Despite the outpouring of support for the flood victims, I had a growing concern for needs that will be difficult for Louisianans to meet in the upcoming weeks. After homes completely dry out, there will be a great demand for materials like Sheetrock, drywall mud and tape, trowels, nails, and 2×4’s, among other building materials. As I was driving home from Louisiana, I was reflecting upon how it was difficult to locate a simple tile chisel in area hardware stores. All I needed was one chisel in order to remove the tile from my parents bathrooms. Unfortunately, they were sold out pretty much everywhere. The one we did fine was not the right kind. The thought struck me on Monday that, if I had difficulty locating a tile chisel, how much harder will it be for flood victims to find the necessary materials to begin rebuilding in the next few weeks? That is, with the sheer number of people who have had to gut their homes, supplies will be in high demand, setting up a first-come, first-serve scenario. For some, the rebuilding timeline will depend solely upon the availability of building materials.

Another factor to consider is the number of people who did not have flood insurance. Please note that, unlike New Orleans, the rest of Louisiana is not below sea level. In fact, there are numerous areas that were not flood zones that did flood. Though we do experience a lot of rain (relative to other areas of the country), flooding of the magnitude seen August 12-21 is an anomaly – not the norm. Thus, citizens who have never flooded (and therefore did not need flood insurance) experience perhaps the worst flooding known to this area.  I say all this to highlight this point: there will be many flood victims who will not get the funding they need to rebuild. FEMA will only pay so much (not the full cost), thus uninsured flood vicitms will have to pay out of pocket for materials. For many, rebuilding will be a difficult and drawn-out process as they purchase materials when they are able to. For others, rebuilding will be near impossible due to their financial situation.

The following video, shot by my wife, shows my best friend’s house as we clean up from 7 feet of flood water. The amazing thing about this clean up is the number of helpers that my friend did not know. Several were volunteers who just showed up to help.

The need is clear: Louisianans need help rebuilding. We are at a time when the nation’s attention is being turned away to new crises and events, pushing the Louisiana flood to the recesses of our collective memory. But now is the time when Louisiana’s flood victims need us most.  When the cleaning supplies are no longer needed, clothing and necessities have been restored, and the ability to obtain food secured, Louisiana will still be in need. The box stores and small hardware stores will be able to stock needed building supplies, but these will only go so far. We can help fill in the gap when supplies are low. We can still play a significant role in Louisiana’s recovery – a role that will last for the next several months until homes, businesses, schools, and churches are restored to pre-flood condition.

I am currently working on a plan to aid in the donation of building supplies to Louisiana flood victims. Until this plan has been formalized, I encourage you to check out donating to area churches and organizations, earmarking your donations for building supplies. You can check out the Red Cross and other government-run organizations, but I’m more inclined to work with individuals and private organizations, as they have a better feel of the pulse of their immediate surrounding community. Further, they will have a better sense of what is needed most, as needs vary from location to location.

Please check back soon for more information on how you can help. If you’re unsure where to begin in locating a donation site or organization, please fill out the contact form below and I will work on setting you up with the right contact.

Stay tuned! Let’s help Louisiana rebuild!

‘Till You’re Blue in the Face: Some Thoughts on Faith and Reason

What is philosophy?

This  question has driven my studies since I first became interested in the discipline ten years ago. For the longest time, I gave little attention to philosophy, thinking that it was for really smart people and those who liked to ask nagging questions about abstract ideas. Yet, when I took my first philosophy class out of a desire to know more about the discipline (instead of taking it because I had to for my degree), I realized that there was much more to philosophy than I had dismissively thought before. More specifically, I began to realize the value philosophy has for the believer.

My interest in the nature of philosophy derives from my previous attitude toward the discipline, which mirrored the attitude many conservative evangelical Christians have toward it. In an age where many philosophers have done much to discredit and harm Christianity, it’s no wonder that philosophy has such a bad rap among many Christians. However, when I began to study the history of philosophy, as well as various philosophical disciplines, I was amazed by the fact that many of the questions philosophy has sought to answer are questions that are very near and dear to the Christian faith. How, I began to wonder, can we as Christians use philosophy such that it is a boon to the faith as opposed to a detriment? The more I studies philosophy, the more another question became prominent in my studies: What is the relationship between faith and reason?

FAQ-Faith-ReasonFaith. Reason. In our culture, where we like to pit A against B, ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ have become perennial foes in both Christian and non-Christian circles. Faith has come to represent those who grant authority to some holy book or, in particular to Christianity, in divine revelation as the basis for and grounding of knowledge. Faith has come to encapsulate anyone whose worldview has room for the supernatural and subsumes all belief under divine revelation.

Reason, on the other hand, has come to represent those who reject any form of divine authority and revelation in favor of human autonomy. Human reason is sufficient to grant us the knowledge we need to understand the world, the wisdom by which to live this life, and the ability to discover the means for survival. Reason is also the standard by which to judge all belief; for one to hold to any religious belief is to, essentially, be unreasonable.

This dichotomy between faith and reason has a long, storied past. But, in Western culture (particularly in America), it has gained prominence among Christians and non-Christians alike, to the point that the discussion has essentially become “faith OR reason.” More so, the discussion on faith and reason has increasingly become primarily an epistemological issue – the one who is right is he who has the right belief(s).

Indeed, it is very important that one believes the right things – Christianity is a religion that distinguishes right beliefs from wrong beliefs. We are called to share the Gospel to the entire world, and to encourage and admonish one another in the Word – matters that involve sharing, correcting, and elaborating upon propositions. However, the emphasis on the epistemological aspect of the faith/reason issue is to miss a key factor at play when Christians and non-Christians debate dialogue – it is the issue of the will.

Credit: Coldbourne.

Credit: Coldbourne.

Let me illustrate. Have you ever argued with a family member about a course of action they are about to take? You know (as do others) that you are in the right, and the reasons for your position are practically self-evident. Reason dictates that your family member not take a certain course of action. The particular family member “sees” what you are saying, and fully comprehends your reasoning. Yet, despite your reasoning, they still choose to take the course of action. That is, they’ve heard your reasoning, and they even acknowledge that they understand where you’re coming from, but they still choose to go their own way. As they saying goes, you argue until you’re blue in the face, but to no avail. Your family member has not heeded your reasoning.

So, back to the faith/reason dichotomy we’ve been discussing. If the matter were primarily epistemological—that it is just a matter of right belief versus wrong belief—then it would seem that the faith and reason problem would be easy to solve. But that is far from the case; instead, what we see is little headway made in one side convincing the other is wrong. One’s case only strengthens his own beliefs and the other’s beliefs.

The modern faith/reason dichotomy is missing the key component of the human will and the role it plays in one’s belief. A Christian refuses to believe the atheist’s argument because he chooses not to; likewise, the atheist refuses to belief the Christian’s argument because he chooses not to. As such, debates end up with the two parties talking past one another. The issue is not primarily an epistemological one; rather, it is also a volitional one.

Paul K. Moser, a Christian philosopher at Loyola University Chicago, has a helpful approach to the problematic faith/reason dichotomy. In 2012, Moser’s paper titled “Christ-Shaped Philosophy” initiated an on-going project at the website for the Evangelical Philosophical Society—a project titled the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project.” Though Moser’s earlier works touched on his Christ-shaped philosophy, Moser’s 2012 paper sought to sound a call for Christian philosophers to rethink what it meant to be a Christian philosopher, and to do Christian philosopher. What made Christian philosophy different from secular philosophy?

Agony in the Garden. Credit: Andrea Mantegna

Agony in the Garden. Credit: Andrea Mantegna

For Moser, what makes a Christian philosopher a Christian philosopher (as opposed to a philosopher who happens to be a Christian), is that the individual has encountered what Moser calls a Gethsemane union – the volitional act in which one commits “to the God who sends his Spirit with agape and forgiveness for the sake of union with Gethsemane union with Christ.”[1] Moser’s allusion to Gethsemane points to Jesus’ willing and humble obedience to God’s will when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of his arrest.[2] Here, our Lord prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39, ESV). Despite knowing what he would endure on the cross, Jesus humbly obeys the will of the Father.  There is the volitional act of Jesus submitting to God’s will.

Likewise, when one comes to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, they are not merely assenting to a proposition (though this is involved). James 2:19 warns us that even the demons believe, yet they tremble in terror. Salvation involves one’s volitional act of laying aside her own will and submitting to the will and authority of God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.[3] Moser emphasizes that one’s Gethsemane union with Christ cannot come about through their own intellectual power (or any other human power); it comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gesthemane union with Christ calls for “volitional cooperation and companionship with Christ, who empowers and guides” in all we do.[4]

[Moser states earlier – and this is vital to understand the proper context of the quote just given – that:

The Gethsemane union with Christ, although volitional, is grace-centered, because it revolves around God’s unearned offer and sustenance of companionship with receptive humans. One must “work out” this union for salvation (see Phil. 2:12), but such “working out” is volitional cooperation with God that differs from “works” as a means of earning or meriting salvation (cf. Rom. 4:4). Accordingly, Paul describes himself as struggling according to all of the energy that God empowers in him (Col. 1:29). No Pelagian threat will arise here, as we distinguish the terms for offering a gift (for instance, completely unearned) from the conditions for appropriating the gift (for instance, cooperation of receptive humans with God). A requirement of active human cooperation with God, after the model of Jesus in Gethsemane, does not entail a requirement of human earning (emphasis original)].[5]

In short, Moser’s “Gethsemane union” illustrates that the dichotomy between faith and reason is a false one; one’s beliefs and assent to authority necessarily involves the will—a volitional act. This is not relegated to Christians alone. All make the conscious choice of what to believe, particularly when faced with claims that go against one’s beliefs. In the context of Christian evangelism and apologetics – it is not just a matter of convincing a lost person that they are wrong and that they need to believe (assent) to the Gospel. It is (more importantly) that their will is moved by the power of the Spirit to choose to believe the Gospel and to accept in faith the God’s free gift of grace found in Christ Jesus. And this can only be done through the work of the Holy Spirit, for no man can move or change the will of another.

The discussion on the relationship between faith and reason, then, is better presented as that of the relationship between faith, reason, and the will. With Moser’s concept of the Gethsemane union found in his “Christ-Shaped Philosophy”, I believe we can set the discussion on the relationship between faith and reason within a more proper context. We can then move beyond the faith=Christian/religious, reason=autonomous human distinction and into a more fruitful discussion of how “faith” is not relegated to the religious alone; rather, all of humanity practices faith—the issue is in whom/what one’s faith is placed. Further, “reason” is no longer seen as self-sufficient or as “requiring no justification from anything more ultimate than itself.”[6] Rather, reason is rightly viewed as one’s cognitive ability to discern, make judgments, and analyze ideas (this is a very basic definition; one of my goals is to write on the ontological nature of reason – a proper view of what reason is).

As believers, the question regarding faith and reason is not one of faith vs. reason. We need not shun reason in order to remain faithful. Rather, reason is an ability given to us by God to use for his glory. Rightly understood, faith and reason work together, and do so as intended when the human will is in Gethsemane union with Jesus Christ our Lord.


[1] Paul Moser, “Christ-Shaped Philosophy.” Evangelical Philosophical Society, Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project, 2012. Accessed http://www.epsociety.org/userfiles/art-Moser%20%28Christ-Shaped%20Philosophy%29.pdf.

[2] Paul Moser and Michael T. McFall, eds., “Introduction,” in The Wisdom of the Christian Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 6.

[3] Moser, “Christ-Shaped Philosophy,” 6.

[4] Moser, “Christ-Shaped Philosophy,” 9.

[5] Ibid., 7-8.

[6] John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 7.

How I’m Starting to “Get” the Race Problem

I grew up in south Louisiana in a town where – from my perspective – racism was not out in the open. At least, I did not “see” instances of racism. My parents raised my siblings and me to respect everyone regardless of color, and because I did not see my parents speak of or act toward African-Americans in a derogatory or prejudiced manner, I assumed that everyone else was of the same belief. As such, I saw the world as one in which racism was an issue of the past.

There were moments, though, when it would hit me that my town still had a “black section.” Further, I did find it odd that our high school had a very disproportionate ratio between whites and blacks (if I my memory serves me correctly, I think it was 99% whites to 1% black, or something close). However, I assumed that the way I saw things was good – that we were beyond the racial strife of the ’60s and African Americans now enjoyed the rights and privileges whites had always enjoyed. In short, I didn’t see any problems with the way things were, and I had no problems with African Americans.

It was not until I moved to Kentucky to attend graduate school that I came to recognize that my view on race issues was not accurate. I began to see every time I visited home that there was a tenseness that increased the further south we travelled – that while there were no racial issues overtly public, it seemed to simmer just below the surface (this is not to say that racism is primarily in the south; rather, it is to say that my view of the south, in particular, was wrong). I also began to see racism differently; how I had initially understood racism (an overt act against another person because of their race) was a very narrow view, one that did not factor what I had been guilty of for quite some time – prejudice that isn’t overt, but which infects the very assumptions and beliefs of my worldview.

For example, for quite some time I believed that African Americans were given the same opportunities as me – a middle class white male. They lived in an age where the Civil Rights Act was firmly in place. Thus, any African American who lived in poverty and its resultant problems did so because they didn’t take advantage of what was available to them. That is, essentially, they “chose” to be who they were and where they lived (that is, that’s how I saw things). Any protests or demonstrations by African Americans was just an issue of “playing the race card” and refusing to work hard to get out of whatever situation they were fighting against. In short, I saw the current state of many African Americans as their own fault.

How wrong I was! It took me a while to really see that racism is not just an overt act against one of another race; rather, it is something that reaches down to one’s very attitude and assumed beliefs. It can lurk unseen, impacting how one interprets current events, how one votes on issues, and how one acts towards others not like themselves. We tend to focus too much on one’s visible actions; instead, the issue lies with the heart and one’s underlying beliefs and attitudes.

The news in our nation lately has been consumed with tragedies that have renewed the racial strife that defines our nation. In particular to recent police shootings, Jake Meador over at mereorthodoxy.com has a helpful post (On Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) in which he encourages white Americans to look at the heart of the issue that we tend to “not get”.

White people need to listen to our black neighbors when they tell us that they are afraid of the cops—and we shouldn’t assume the worst when we hear them say that. Indeed, the Castile shooting seems to be something of a perfect rebuttal to all the people who have, so far, tried to dismiss the other shootings as results of individuals not complying with police. Castile was calm, disclosed to the officer that he had a gun, and was reaching for his license and registration when shot. You cannot simply cite the more ambiguous cases, like Michael Brown, and act as if that solves the issue. It doesn’t at all. There are plenty of examples that adequately explain why a completely innocent African American, and especially an African American man, would still feel afraid when they see a cop (emphasis mine).

What Meador is getting at is that we white Americans tend to not see the real race issue behind the recent shootings – what looks like isolated events to us is instead to the African American just one more injustice in a long history of injustices at the hand of those in a position of power.

If we broaden out to our culture in general, I think Meador’s observations apply. It’s easy for whites to look at African Americans and think that they don’t encounter the racism and prejudice experienced just a generation ago. It’s easy to think as such since we are now in a day of civil rights, where we now have laws protecting against discrimination based upon race. And, indeed, this is true. No longer are African Americans enslaved or under the crushing burden of Jim Crow laws – America has changed laws and entities that prevent the sins of our past toward our African American brothers and sisters. But what American law and government cannot change are the decades upon decades of beliefs and attitudes that undergirded race relations from the beginnings of our nation. Laws and government pronouncements cannot change the hearts and minds of men and women who grow up within a particular context and culture – one in which whose fabric is made up of the attitudes and beliefs of those who have gone before.

So, for the African American, there is a long and arduous history of oppression and discrimination at the hands of whites in some form of power or authority. Thus, fears, apprehensions, and distrust toward whites is handed down to future generations because it is in the very fabric of their lives. Sure, the Civil Rights Act has given them the equal standing they rightly deserve, but what the Civil Rights Act cannot change are the hearts of men in which lies attitudes and beliefs of prejudice, discrimination, mistrust, and wrong perceptions. So while race relations have indeed made improvement and the law seeks to be blind in regard to race, African Americans still face the attitudes and beliefs that have shaped and defined our culture for over two centuries. As such, the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Paul O’Neal are not isolated events – rather, they are one more note in the cry of anguish from a people still seeking to overcome the oppression caused by the sins of our nation. Further, acts of discrimination (real or perceived) are not isolated events – rather, they are yet another affirmation that the status quo continues. [The author of the blog Beyond the Glass Wall wrote a very helpful blog post titled “Why I am a Racist…” that explains better than I can what I tried to express here.]

Some may say: Are there acts of racism not just by whites, but by blacks (and Hispanics, etc.) as well? Yes. Is every white person racist? No. What I am saying is that though many white Americans do not condone racist acts and beliefs, we can unwittingly harbor prejudice beliefs that cloud how we interpret current events such that we don’t see things the way the African American community sees it.

Personally, I don’t think white Americans will ever “get” it – that is, we will never fully know the struggle that African Americans speak of. We won’t ever truly understand their cries for justice and pleas for peace after yet another tragedy, because we, as white Americans, have not had to experience what their people have faced and still face. But, we can do our best to try to understand their pain – to see why they continue to fight for their rights. What has helped to open my eyes to their plight (and here I get to the point of my post) is probably the one source that most anyone would not think of – fiction. Several works have had significant influence in opening my eyes to my own prejudices that have gone unnoticed for quite some time. Here are a few with some thoughts:

  1. The first work that had a significant impact on me was The Same Kind of Different as Me, by Denver Moore and Ron Hall. This is a true story (the only non-fiction book I note in this post) of how an international art dealer from Texas and a homeless, former sharecropper African American became best friends and brothers in Christ. The chapters alternate between each men as they tell their history, how they crossed paths, and how their friendship grew into brotherhood. The book is a picture of God’s saving grace and his divine healing of both men from the sins of their past and racial prejudice.
  2. Another influential book was Leon Uris’ Trinity – a book about the Easter Uprising in Ireland (1916). Though it takes place in Ireland and the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants, it captures the very matter I discuss in this post – the struggle of an oppressed group to overcome prejudice and discrimination, and to break out of the cycle of despondency brought about by oppression. What stood out in particular was how prejudiced beliefs and attitudes played out through politics, economics, and even religion can have a long-lasting affect upon successive generations, creating a perpetual gyre of hopelessness and despondency from which a rare few can break.
  3. The works of Ernest Gaines – a Louisiana-born, African American, award-winning author (for a biographical note on Gaines, go here) – are of particular importance to me and my changing view of the racial issue that divides our nation. The setting for most of Gaines’ novels is in the Louisiana of the 1960s and 1970s in which, through the power of fiction, he illustrates the struggle of African Americans in a post-Civil Rights South. Two novels in particular that have had an impact on how I have come to understand race relations from the perspective of African Americans are: A Gathering of Old Men – a novel in which a black man kills a white farmer in self defense, yet is in danger of being lynched by the dead man’s powerful father. The second novel is In My Father’s House – a novel about Phillip, a minister and civil rights leader who encounters his past when his son from a previous relationship seeks to contact Philip for the first time in years. These two novels – in a simple yet powerful way – illustrate the struggle of African Americans that we hear spread over the news after yet one more tragedy. Here one experiences the fear of injustice, the struggle to overcome discrimination, and the herculean effort to fight the past in order to forge a new, hopeful life. Gaines gives the reader a unique perspective that otherwise would be missed by anyone not in the African American culture.
  4. The Forge by Thomas Stribling follows the Vaiden family in the moments before and during the Civil War, followed by their changed way of life during the Reconstruction. Though the Vaiden family is a white family, Stribling using them to illustrate the attitudes of the white South toward blacks, and how they justified slavery and the social structure of the Old South. Interestingly, despite the Vaidens’ attempt to begin life anew in an ever-changing post-war South, the family illustrates how racism kills essentially deadens a culture, stripping away any life and vitality.

There are many more books that help us to “see” what the race issue is about, particularly those of us who have never had to face racism or prejudice directed toward us. These, however, are the books that have had a very significant impact on me and have changed how I view our culture.

Jarvis Williams, PhD, is a professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he has done significant work in calling for racial reconciliation within not only the Southern Baptist Convention, but within American Christianity as well. He recently sent me a helpful link of past and current works by African Americans on the race issue in America – thoughtful pieces that seek to put into perspective the reality of racism today, and how we can move forward. The link was put together by the African American Intellectual History Society in the wake of the Charleston shooting on June 17, 2015. This is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of America’s racial issue.

The race issue today is complex, and it will take all parties’ cooperation to move forward. Everyone, regardless of race, has some level of prejudice that must be dealt with. We must all do our parts. And one way we can move forward is for white Americans to strive to understand African Americans’ side of the race issue and to reassess attitudes and beliefs accordingly. This isn’t the only step needed for reconciliation, but it is a necessary and vital one.

Two Rams Fighting

The Act of Disagreement: A Vanishing Art

It goes without saying that if you want encouraging news, then don’t go on Facebook (or any other social media site, for that matter). Whereas social media seemingly began as an innocent means for friends to connect, it has increasingly become a virtual soapbox for anyone to broadcast whatever chaps their hide. Though there are many who seek to avoid the cacophony of complaints and rants, they are seemingly unable to be heard above the noise of political, religious, and cultural rantings.

Two Rams FightingWe could spend countless hours discussing the reasons why negativity reigns supreme throughout social media, but that’s not the purpose here. What I want to focus on is the vanishing art of disagreement. I wrote in a previous post that social media has exacerbated the tendency of poor argumentation – attacking the person with whom one disagrees as opposed to dealing with the issue. Instead of dealing with the issue, it is easier to resort to character-bashing, name calling, and ranting. One result of this poor approach to argumentation is the devaluing of the act of disagreement. What can be a fertile field for dialogue tends to be nothing more than a verbal slugfest.

When two or more people disagree, there is an opportunity for both to seek to either demonstrate the plausibility of one’s view or to persuade the other of one’s view. Here, the parties seek to reason with each other about the issue(s) at hand. And while agreement is not always attained, a disagreement handled well can aid in the parties at least understanding where the other is coming from.

"Dialogue" within social media. Credit: Coldbourne.

“Dialogue” within social media. Credit: Coldbourne.

However, we are human; disagreements involve not only one’s reason, but their emotions and deeply-held beliefs as well. As such, disagreements can descend into shouting matches or verbal standoffs as emotions rise and beliefs are insulated from attack. Granted, this is not a problem that has risen since the advent of social media, but it has become more of an issue recently because we daily encounter an onslaught of disagreements as more and more people are able to have their voice heard.

What is needed today is a refresher on what it means to disagree and how to operate within a disagreement. Honestly, I don’t have this issue figured out—it’s something I’ve just begun reflection upon. But, here are a few thoughts that came to mind:

  1. Is voicing a disagreement necessary? That is, why do you feel the need to state a disagreement? Is it for edification (there are times when a disagreement must be voiced)? Or, is it to satisfy the desire to get on the proverbial soapbox?
  2. Is the disagreement legitimate? That is, is there a valid point of disagreement? Sometimes disagreements are over peripheral issues or matters of preference – things where there is room for disagreement without the need to break fellowship.
  3. Why are you disagreeing? This question is similar to the first question, but here I have in mind the idea of purpose. A disagreement seeks to right a wrong, expose error and promote truth, and to clear away any hindrances to right relationships. Yet, often times one disagrees out of dislike of a person or idea. Some are contrarian by nature, while others have a strong sense of being right in all (if not most) matters. Thus, they pick a battle often. Regardless, disagreement for the sake of disagreeing does nothing more than stir strife and deepen any divide.
  4. Is it the right time to disagree? Here, I have the idea of choosing your battles wisely. As a parent, I find myself so quick to correct my daughters. Yet, as they’ve grown older (and I hopefully wiser), I’ve found that it is best to be silent at times, while there are other times best for correction. That is, I don’t need to nit-pick their every wrong – I’ll end up exasperating them. Likewise, if one’s tendency is to voice a disagreement at every wrong (real or perceived), then they are likely to be viewed as the boy who cried wolf. There is wisdom in the words of Proverbs:

    A fool gives vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back (Prov. 29:11, ESV).

    Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov. 29:20).

  5. Is the disagreement stated in context? Twitter and Facebook allow for quick responses to news, articles, etc. As such, the temptation is to simplify the issue of disagreement. That is, it comes across like “they say A, but I say B!” It sets up a dichotomy between the two parties. I just did this in a Tweet (since deleted) where I linked an article with which I disagreed along with a claim of my own. Sure, it let others know of where I stood, but it did little on illuminating what the article’s author said that I disagreed with, and how I believe we should answer him. Most people, when reading a status update, will only read a linked article’s title as the context of the disagreement. But, if this is the case, little is done by way of edification or correction; rather, it just illustrates a dividing line between two people’s ideas and beliefs.

If there is anyone who had the authority to call out every point of disagreement, it was Jesus Christ. God Incarnate, the Truth, walked among mankind two thousand years ago. Amazingly, Jesus Christ exhibited much patience and grace toward sinners. Granted, Jesus was quick to rebuke at times the Pharisees and scribes, and even the disciples, but his overall approach was not like the cultural warrior we see today – wielding a verbal sword to cut down every false notion and word. Rather, firm in truth, he approached mankind (and still does) with patience and grace. The Gospel accounts show us Jesus patiently teaching, asking questions, and listening to the lost. Even with the religious leaders of his day Jesus exercised patience in his rebuke of sin and error. We can learn much be reflecting on what the Gospels teach us about how Jesus interacted with those who disagreed with him, and with those who were in error.

Header

Read to Them Still While They’re With You: Dispatches from a Dad of Girls

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy. :) Credit: Angie McDonald

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy.🙂 Credit: Angie McDonald

My wife and I made it a regular practice to read to our girls when they were young. The time spent reading to them before bed time formed sweet memories. Sure, there were nights when we would rather go to bed, and other nights where the last thing we wanted to was to read to them [parents, you know what I’m talking about😉 ]. But, all in all, I look back on those times with much fondness.

As the girls have grown older and more independent, our practice of reading to them has become more of a rarity. Speaking for myself, I did not see the “need” to read to my girls; my thought has been that they are now old enough to read on their own. They need the practice of learning to work through books, build their comprehension skills, and venture out to discover what kind of literature they enjoy. So, for the last several years, I honestly can’t think of many times when I’ve read to my daughters.

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The past several days have brought a dramatic change to the way I think about reading to my children. My oldest daughter, Maddi, has to read Francine Rivers’ The Last Sin Eater before the new school year begins. She had been trying to read it on her own (she has developed into an avid reader, willingly reading a book while her sisters are watching TV); because I see her reading so much, I just assumed that she was enjoying the book. The other night, however, I realized that the opposite was true – she said that she didn’t want to read the book…at all.

My wife and I began to pepper her with questions, such as “Why don’t you like it?” and “Don’t you know it’s required for school?” Of course, I brought up the obligatory reminder: “We bought that book for you to read! You have to read it!” But nothing we said would deter Maddi from her decision – she was not going to read the book. Then, in a rare moment of lucidness in the face of conflict, a new question came to mind. I asked Maddi if I could read the book with her. I told her that I was interested in the book and that it would be fun to go through it together. Well, my suggestion worked. Maddi would finish the book, only if Angie and I would go through it with her.

That night I began reading to Maddi – the first time in quite a while. And what a joy it was! I’ll be honest – my throat was dry and my voice getting hoarse (middle school books have longer chapters than the kid books!). There was even a point when I felt that Chapter 1 was taking way too long (again, middle school books have longer chapters than kid books). But, as I read through Chapter 1, I stopped periodically to answer her questions or to offer an explanation of a concept. Already, in one night of reading, we were able to discuss the problem of sin and our need of a redeemer. The next night I read Chapter 2 to her – there were not as many questions this time, but again, we were able to discuss some underlying themes of the story (how we can’t remove the sin of stain, for instance). Little did I know going into this “compromise” that our reading time would be an opportunity to discuss Scripture and biblical themes. Further, I did not realize that it would rekindle the joyful practice of reading to my children.

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Where have I been all of this time?! As I type this, I don’t see how I thought that reading to children was only for the toddler years. Rather, it can be something that lasts as they grow older. I’m not trying to say here that if you’re not reading to your older kids, then shame on you. Not at all! Rather, what I am saying is that I have missed out on something that I find my children are still open to. We are always looking for teachable moments – what better way than when reading to our children?

For more on reading to older children, check out this helpful article: The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids  by Melissa Taylor.

John Leland, Baptist Minister

Russ Moore’s Soul Freedom: An Idea as Old as Baptists Themselves

John Leland, Baptist MinisterA video of Russel Moore’s response to a question at the SBC Convention has made the rounds today. It is a video of Moore’s response to a question from John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church, Blytheville, Arkansas. Generally questions from SBC messengers or members are not worthy of re tweeting or posting on some social video site, but Wofford’s question strikes a chord with many conservative Americans, and Moore’s answer (to which I agree) ruffles the feathers of many of the same. Watch the video below for Wofford’s question and Moore’s response:

One can understand Wofford’s question in light of the atrocities that have happened on American soil and abroad at the hands of Islamic extremists. But, denying Muslims in America the right to build mosques is to undercut the very religious liberty Baptist enjoy – the very religious liberty every religion in America enjoys. The government is to extend to every individual right of “soul freedom” – the right to choose to worship their religion without interference from the government. That is, the United States government should not dictate who is able to build a house of worship and who is not. The government should not dictate who can worship their religion and who cannot. Religious liberty is extended to every individual and guarantees that the government will not interfere.

The idea of “soul freedom” is not unique to Moore, nor is it an idea that has been birthed by the recent clash with militant Islam. Rather, it’s an idea that has been around as long as Baptists have been around.

John Leland (1754-1841) was a Baptist minister in early America, having served churches in Virginia and Massachusetts. What Leland is perhaps most known for is his fight for religious liberty. Robert G. Torbet, in his A History of the Baptists, says Leland was “leading Baptist spokesman in behalf of religious freedom.”[1]  Leland states in his An Address Delivered at Westfield, March 4, 1833, that “next to the salvation of souls, the civil and religious rights of men have summoned my attention, more than the acquisition of wealth or seats of honor.”

Leland’s view on religious liberty directly flows from how he understood the relationship between church and state. Leland believed that “government has no more to do with religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics.”[2]  So strongly did he believe in a strict separation of Church and State, that any idea of a Christian commonwealth (i.e. State) “should be exploded.”[3] 

Government, when rightly formed, embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms – prescribes no creed of faith for either of them – proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion – impartially protects all of them – punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may.[4] 

Note again: “Government, when rightly formed, embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans [i.e. Muslims] and Christians, within its fostering arms.” Baptists, for over 200 years, have championed religious freedom not just for Baptists alone, but also for Muslims, that they too may have the liberty to practice their religion (even build their own mosques) in America.   All civil laws should recognize all individuals of all religious backgrounds as citizens and should protect their rights.[6] 

Baptists, and all other faiths, in America are in debt to Leland and his tireless work (along with other Baptists like Isaac Backus) to ensure religious liberty is extended to all religions in America.  May we as Southern Baptists today continue to champion religious liberty for all – even to Muslims who are here on our soil.

Post Script: I encourage you to read Russ Moore’s post dated June 8, 2016, titled “Is Religious Freedom for Non-Christians Too?” Moore provides excellent insight into a difficult issue, but one that we must face in today’s turbulent times. Though we as Christians are rightly troubled and angered by the actions of Muslim extremists, we live in a country where one religion is not to be favored over another by the state. The federal government is not to endorse one religion over all others; in particular, our government is not a Christian government. We are not in a Christian nation. Rather, we live in a nation where religious freedom is extended to all – even though with whom we are at odds.

_____________________


                [1] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptist (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2000), 241.

                [2] Isaac Backus, A Fish Caught In His Own Net, in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism [Works], ed. William G. McLoughlin (Boston: Edes and Gill, 1768; reprint, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1968), 190-1.

                [3] John Leland, The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland [Works], ed. Miss L. F. Greene (New London: 1791; reprint, New York: G. W. Wood, 1845), 184.

 

                [4] Leland, The Virginia Chronicle, Works, 107.

 

                [5] Leland, Short Essays on Government, Works, 476.

                [6] Leland, Letter to the Rev. O. B. Brown, Works, 608-10.

Backlit keyboard

Reflective and Reactive Thinking in a Social Media-Driven World

In a previous post, I shared how the reactionary-nature of social media leads to more reactionary ventings than actual “engaging the culture.” What under girds our tendency for reacting as opposed to engaging is that our way of communicating online tends toward reactive thinking over reflective thinking. Before I explain what I mean by reactive and reflective thinking, allow me to set the context.

Backlit keyboard

By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30343877

The Internet and social media (from here on out shortened to “the Internet”) gives us the ability to access news and goings on with incredible ease. Likewise, we can respond to issues with incredible rapidity. Gone are the days of waiting for news to unfold; we can literally watch (or read) the news as it unfolds. In a related vein, but one more germane to my topic for this post, is one’s ability to develop and maintain a presence online and garner a following of sorts. One does not have to rely on the traditional methods for their voice to be heard (print, TV, radio). Now, the Internet offers a far cheaper and instantaneous method for one to develop and project their voice to a much larger audience than the traditional avenues. Consistently post and reply to others’ thoughts, and you can develop quite a following and presence rather quickly.

Today there is a push in corporate America, academia, and even within the church for individuals and groups to develop an online presence. Now, developing an online presence is not a bad thing, but the reactionary-nature of the Internet and social media feeds the sense that one must respond quickly and frequently in order to stay current and relevant. Such an approach – though helpful at times – does not foster good thinking habits. Rather than fostering reflective thinking (where one takes some time to think through the implications of one’s assertions, the relevance of their examples or support, or the coherence of their thought with their worldview and with the Gospel), one is caught up in the moment of winning the verbal battle or making their voice heard above others. The end-goal is short-sighted as one seeks to deal with that issue at that moment. After the issue has concluded or attention has shifted elsewhere, the work one has done evaporates in the wake of the never-ending Internet news cycle. Thus, maintaining one’s online presence involves constant awareness of current news and the cultivation of one’s ability to think quickly and broadly. But, I’m afraid, it does little by way of fostering deliberate and sustained thinking. Instead, it becomes easy for one to create the habit of what I call reactionary thinking – a sort of thinking on the fly in order to address the immediate issue in the context of a specific argument within a particular forum (comment section of an article/blog post, Facebook post, a Tweet, etc., etc.).

By British Cartoon Prints Collection - Library of Congress Catalog

By British Cartoon Prints Collection – Library of Congress Catalog

Perhaps I’ve overstated the issue here. However, I know that in my own experience of developing some sort of online presence while maintaining a writing schedule for journal and book publication, I’ve found that I am caught between the Scylla of maintaining a research and writing schedule that demands reflective thinking, and the Charybdis of maintaining an online presence – one is sacrificed over the other.1 Broadly speaking, when a Christian seeks to address cultural issues, they tend to favor either engaging the culture (as intended by Carl F. H. Henry and others) or reactionary ventings (as fostered by the Internet and social media). In short, one is caught between the Scylla of reflective thinking and the Charybdis of reactionary thinking. When one is faced with these two options, a person generally fosters one type of thinking over the other as well.

The more one favors a particular mode of thinking over a period of time, the more it becomes habit. And when something becomes habit, it becomes the default mode for approaching various situations. If more time is spent developing and maintaining an online presence, then they will tend to favor and employ reactive thinking. However, if one develops and maintains a presence in taking time to spend time on a particular issue, then they default to reflective thinking. Unfortunately, I think many of us today (myself included) have defaulted to reactionary thinking as more time is spent surfing the Internet and social media.

Note, what I’m not saying is that we have an either-or situation. There are times when reactive thinking is needed, and there are other times when reflective thinking is required. What I am saying is that if we are to favor one mode over the other as our default approach, it ought to be reflective thinking. Too often, it seems, we think on the fly – as if the matter requires immediate resolution or addressing. Too often, it seems, we give too little time to reflection before we speak (or write). We have put the proverbial cart before the horse. An emphasis on reactive thinking only reinforces reactive thinking. However, if we place the proverbial horse before the cart (emphasize reflective thinking over reactionary thinking), then what we do is enable one to develop a solid foundation from which one can think reactively when the situation calls for it. Reflective thinking can inform and foster reactive thinking, but the converse is not true – for reactive thinking begets only more reactive thinking.

What many think of when they hear "reflection." Credit: By Karora - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2810153

What many think of when they hear “reflection.”

So, what does reflective thinking look like? For many, I’m sure, “reflection” conjurs up images like The Thinker where one is caught up in deep, sustained, uninterrupted thought. For others, it may include original and profound thinking. While these characteristics are included in reflective thinking, they are not the essence of reflective thinking. Rather, here are some characteristics of reflective thinking that I believe are less intimidating but capture what I believe we all can practice:

  1. Allow time to pass between one’s reception of and response to an issue. I think the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 provide an excellent illustration here. Upon hearing Paul preach the Gospel, they would “receive the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (ESV). The Berean’s did not just receive and react to Paul’s message. More importantly, they went home and studied Scripture to ensure that what Paul said was actually the case and then acted upon what they heard and studied. When there’s an issue you need to address, don’t feel that you have to respond immediately with your complete answer. Giving yourself time allows your emotions to settle; often times emotions can cloud thinking and dictate how you respond. Further, distance between the issue and your response gives you the opportunity to consider other angles that you may not have considered otherwise.
  2. Ask questions. As a parent, I know how wearying questions can be. However, the longer I have taught and parented, I’ve come to see the value and necessity of questions. Asking questions helps to drive reflection, it guides one’s thinking, and it helps you to go beyond the surface issues. Further, asking questions can sometimes help you to “see” where the other side is coming from; the more you understand the assumptions and underlying motivations of the other person, the better you can respond. Questions aid you to this end.
  3. Read (or Re-read) on the Issue. Sometimes you may be very familiar with the issue, while at other times you may have some level of unfamiliarity on a particular topic. Regardless, read what others have said (both those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree). There’s little by way of original thought – somewhere someone has written what you are thinking or has alluded to what you want to say.2 Be informed (as much as possible) before you respond.
  4. Talk to Others. Sometimes just talking to someone about an issue helps you to think through its various nuances. The other person may provide some helpful insight or ask some pointed questions. Or, just vocalizing your thoughts may help you to “see” something you had not thought of before (this happens to me often). Further, by talking to others, your thoughts will be accountable to others – a reminder that you are not a lone ranger, but a member of the body of Christ.
  5. Remember the Big Picture. Issues do not occur in isolation, nor do your thoughts. That is, what you say now can have implications down the road. Further, what you share is a reflection on you, your family, your church, and on Christ. As a believer, you are a Christ-bearer; as such, do your best to speak and write in such a manner that you reflect Christ. Pray, asking the Lord for his wisdom and discernment. Remember, interacting with others is not about you (or me); rather, it’s ultimately to proclaim the truth of God in Christ.

Reflective thinking is not for the deep thinkers or the ivory tower academics – this is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Rather, reflective thinking is something we are all capable of doing. More importantly, it’s something we are all called to do – note the Bereans’ example. Further, 1 Peter 3:15 implies that we reflect upon what we believe before we give a defense for our faith. Finally, when Jesus states that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth, this implies that we are to understand what this truth is and how it directs our life before God and others.

Lastly, reflective thinking need not be something you do when in isolation (free from distractions) or when you are able to devote an hour or more to it. Rather, it’s something that you can do as you go or when you have a lull in action. The great thing about thinking is that you can “take” your thinking with you anywhere you go.

In short, as we develop the habit of reflective thinking, our responses will become better informed, structured, and poignant. Further, we will have a better foundation upon which to think reactively when called upon.

Origins by Philip Rolnick

Book Review: “Origins” by Philip Rolnick

Origins by Philip RolnickOver at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, I had the opportunity to review Philip Rolnick’s Origins: God, Evolution, and the Question of the Cosmos? Evolution continues to be a point of contention between not only some corners of Christianity and science, but between Christians as well. Rolnick seeks to provide a solution to this ongoing debate. You can see my review at the online journal of JBTS.