Saturday, August 20, 2016

Evangelical Lethargy

Why is it so hard to get evangelicals to simply love people without pretense?

Notice I said "evangelicals" rather than Christians. As evangelicalism became a movement, it became a label that means so many things beyond (or in conflict with) the term "Christian". The fact that "evangelicals" have become a voting block seems to officially deem the term as dead with regards to its original meaning.

In any case, I've found it interesting that, as I've become involved with refugee resettlement initiatives in Northwest Arkansas, evangelical churches have been some of the most difficult to work with. That is, so far, they're among the least likely to get involved and have the most questions not related to logistics or practical matters. They have the most "spiritual" objections.

The most oft-stated area of concern is the non-proselytizing clause, though I'm loath to say it is really the primary issue. In any case, that non-proselytizing clause (which originates form the U.S. State Department) has been the number one stated reason for saying, "We don't think this best fits our mission at this time," or similar phrases. Here's what I find uncomfortable about this:
  • Despite the frequent blurring and blending of the two, evangelism and proselytism are not the same. Rather than explain the differences myself, you can read a brief synopsis or a more complete description for yourself.
  • Most people I know who are part of churches, evangelical or otherwise, don't really share their faith anyway. Few people talk about it with their non-believing neighbors, colleagues, etc. I make no judgement on these people; I'm just stating a reality. To somehow reject caring for refugees for this reason seems to hint at pretext rather than authenticity.
  • I don't see that the Bible ever makes sharing the gospel a prerequisite for loving someone tangibly. The parable of the Good Samaritan certainly doesn't. Many miraculous healings don't mention it, and after some healings (e.g. this healing of ten lepers), only one person actually heard more of the message (that we know of, at least). I'm not saying that the gospel and service should be separate, but the Bible seems to say that the only prerequisite for helping someone is that they are human.
  • Many people from these churches are interested and even excited, but it the pastor or mission board or some other governing body ends up shooting down the idea. It seems these people should be the most aware of the distinctions between evangelism and proselytism.

As I said, it sometimes seems like the non-proselytizing clause is a pretext for the real reason, but I'm not sure what that real reason would be. It sometimes feels as if the real reason might be related to the other churches that are participating, namely, mainline denominations, often of a more liberal orientation. I understand not wanting to affirm a theology that conflicts with your own, but when (a) the operating organization is a non-religious, interdenominational non-profit, (b) the goal is to help those in need, and (c) participating groups don't have to work with other groups, I simply don't understand how that could be a barrier.

So, I'm left with the question I began with: Why is it so hard to get evangelicals to simply love people without pretense?

As a side note, could it be one of these reasons?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Food and Covering

I've long wondered about the passage in 1st Timothy that reads, "If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content."

I was thinking about this a few months ago, mostly because I was wondering why paying my mortgage was always my biggest concern next to food. How can I simply be content with food and clothing? Don't I need a roof over my head, especially in the winter? (That said, the recent heat makes be incredibly thankful for a home with air conditioning as well.)

Then it came to me: I will always have shelter.

Let me give that thought a bit more teeth. Whether a Christian is single or married, with or without a family, if that person is in community, if they are in the fellowship of believers, they should never be worried about shelter. Every Christian should be willing to open their homes to others in need. Perhaps not permanently, but at least for a time. Every Christian should be able to rest in faith that their brothers and sisters would take them in if need be.

If the same situation does not exist for you, something's wrong, either with you or your community.

I'm not saying Christians can be lazy and not work. I'm not saying Christians can just bum off other Christians. But if brothers or sisters fall on hard times, they should never fear being without shelter. Even if they lose their homes due to their own mistakes. (Help them learn from their mistakes.) Even if they lose homes because of sin. (Help them repent and move toward righteousness). A Christian in community should not be left alone in the dark.

Is this really what 1st Timothy 6:8 means? I'm not absolutely sure of that, but it doesn't seem far off. And it has lightened my load considerably for the past few months.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Houston: Take-Aways

This isn't Amos, but it is in Houston.

So, last weekend and early last week was the final time (to our knowledge) that Amos will need to go to Houston for medical-related reasons. There were a few take-aways, mostly positive.
  • The neuropsych evaluation revealed no abnormal or delayed development. That isn't to say that he won't in the future, but up to now, we have a lot to be thankful for.
  • There have been no observed seizures since he went on medication the on the day following his first seizure, so there have been only two recorded seizures. His VEEG on Tuesday, however, revealed sub-clinical seizure activity in his brain. In the near future this means that he'll either need an increased dosage of his present medication or a second anti-seizure medication. I'm glad it was caught early.
  • In the intermediate-to-distant future there will be no return to China. We had been considering weaning Amos off his medication, as he hasn't had a seizure for more than two and a half years, but after the aforementioned VEEG, that plan is kaput. Unless Chinese treatment for this disorder improves dramatically, we face the reality that we must stay in the U.S. in an ongoing struggle to control what can't be cured.
  • As per FDA requirements with regards to Amos's medication, Amos has had to see a optometrist every three months. That requirement has been lifted, which makes for two or three fewer optometrist appointments per year. More to be thankful for!
  • I'm simply glad that I don't have to drive in Houston traffic again until I choose to do so. We spent something like 80 minutes on the 17 mile-drive on I-610. I won't miss that.
So that's about it. Goodbye, Houston. We appreciate the wrok of many doctors and techs, and we are forever grateful to friends who've helped us with home-stays and such, but I won't miss the long drives and long days.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Plea for Healthy Self-Skepticism

I've been thinking a lot about public discourse (or lack thereof) in the U.S. I've been thinking about how communication occurs in public, specifically on social media and news talk shows, by common folk, pundits, commentators, politicians, etc. I feel like all I see, hear, and read are people talking past one another. Words are coming out of people's mouths and keyboards, but little communication is happening.

I posted this on Facebook more than 16 months ago, right before going into a yearlong self-imposed Facebook exile:

I simply have difficulty being quiet when anyone (from either end of the social or political spectrum) makes complicated issues seem overly simple. It is difficult for me to hold my tongue when people make it seem as if they have a perfect understanding or perfect interpretation of things that really can’t really be understood or interpreted in neat little boxes. When we try to make complicated ideas seem simple and clear, we posit people of opposing (but potentially valid) ideas as fools, forces of evil, or run-of-the-mill assholes. Most aren't. Most are people who simply understand and interpret life differently. 
Most of my diatribes on Facebook or elsewhere come down to this: Things are complicated and people need to get it into their heads that these issues are not easy, nor are they clear. People of opposing views may be in error or they may not be, but they have ideas that are worth considering and are usually also well reasoned. To put it another way, people of opposing views may be wrong, but we don't have to dismiss them as idiots or jerks. I simply hope that people can start to have dialogue without being so damn sure of themselves all the time. 
To this end I pose questions. To this end I add contrary bits of information and opposing ideas. Do I have firm stances on some of these political and social issues? Sometimes. But, I'm not about to think I'm an expert or have expert knowledge enough to understand all these things clearly. For that matter, even honest-to-goodness experts don’t have completely clear pictures. This is what I hope other people learn as well, on this issue and almost any other divisive issue out there. Have some damn humility and understand that you don’t understand everything (and probably less than you think you do). I know I don't.
This thought catches my eye: "I simply hope that people can start to have dialogue without being so damn sure of themselves all the time." One of the major problems, as I see it, is that people lack a healthy self-skepticism. That is, whatever the reason (e.g. denial, pride, shame, fear, lack of awareness, embarrassment, machismo, ignorance, etc.), people are unwilling and/or unable to understand and/or admit that they don't know everything.

This poisons everything.

Go ahead. Doubt yourself a little. It's good for you.

I just like this picture. Isn't it cute!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Speaking One's Mind? Really?

I agree with speaking one's mind. I believe in being able to express one's opinion. I believe in freedom of religion, speech, the press, and so forth. I have known the 1st Amendment by heart ever since I had to memorize it as an 18-year-old journalism student. To limit people's freedom of speech is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerous.

I also believe that people must take responsibility for what they say, and that we can and should hold others accountable for their words. Not that there's no forgiveness, but that there's accountability.

Therefore, it has long bothered me that “speaking one's mind” is used like a get-out-of-jail-free card that people can play whenever they want to express intentionally offensive or hurtful remarks or when others seek to justify that person's remarks. As if a person doesn't have to be responsible or respectful as long as they are “speaking their minds”. As if accountability is irrelevant as long as a people are "speaking their minds". That's not only illogical, it's also antisocial.

Speaking one's mind, as far as I can tell, should mean that one is able and willing to express unpopular ideas. There are situations when speaking one's mind is just that. For example, if colleagues have one opinion of a supervisor, but you have another. Or when people are ignorant of or blatantly ignoring an elephant in a room. If everyone in your company insists that there is no ongoing sexual discrimination, but you know or believe that there is, it behooves you to speak your mind rather than let injustice persist.

Then there are ways to speak one's mind that are quite socially inappropriate. It is inappropriate, not to mention illegal, to slander someone. It is inappropriate to someone bully someone. Yes, insulting people could be a way to speak one's mind, but it doesn't mean we should simply accept it. That doesn't mean we should excuse it. It certainly doesn't mean that we should praise that person for their willingness to speak their minds, ignoring the actual messages they express.

And here's the ugly reality: We only think it's speaking one's mind when we are not the ones personally insulted. We can say someone is simply speaking their mind when they are calling people of other countries "rapists" or when they are insulting people of a different religion than our own. However, it doesn't seem so acceptable when it is directed towards our own demographic groups.

What if Obama said, “Christians are a bunch of ignorant, uneducated fools.” Is that just him speaking his mind?

What if Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama quipped, "White American men are redneck, sexist pigs." Is that just her speaking her mind?

What if Paul Ryan remarked, “Divorced women are hard-to-please gold diggers who don't know how to properly take care of their husbands.” Is that just him speaking his mind?

What if Richard Dawkins stated, "Jesus was a clearly a pedophile. He always wanted the children to come to him so that he could 'bless' them. We know what he really wanted." Is that just him speaking his mind?

Or, are these four examples simply remarks that would be promoting ignorant stereotypes? Trying to intentionally stoke anger? Outright race/gender/religion baiting?

I think my worst fear is that I might actually have to answer that rhetorical question.