Category Archives: Theology and Ethics

The Stockdale Paradox

Recently, I learned that Kansas State University Research and Extension has extended its ban on face-to-face 4-H meetings and events through July 4, 2020. [1] This more than any other bit of news has brought home to me the fact that we are in this for the long haul.

Because we’re in it for the long haul (whether we want to be or not), I would recommend an article by Jim Collins (no relation) on what he calls the Stockdale Paradox. Said paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest-ranking military officer held at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Go read it here. I’ll wait.

Boiled down to it’s essentials (just in case you didn’t go read the article), the Stockdale paradox is that we have to have faith that we will prevail, and even that we will come out stronger on the other side, without denying the hard fact that we are in for a long, difficult time of it. [2]

Those of us who claim Christ as our Risen Savior know that one way or another, we will come out of this crisis stronger than we went in. Our faith tells us that in Jesus Christ—who conquered evil, sin, and death in his suffering, death, and resurrection—we will prevail. While we can do this, we must also acknowledge that this is going to be hard, and it’s going to take longer than any of us want it to. Jesus, the most faithful, fully-human being to ever walk the face of the earth, suffered. There is no reason to believe we can avoid doing likewise. But the Christ’s suffering and death were not the end of the story. This difficult time need not be the end of our story, either.


[1] “K-State Research and Extension Has Extended Its Ban on All Face-to-Face Extension Programs, Meetings and Events through July 4, 2020.,” K-State Research and Extension, accessed April 19, 2020, https://bit.ly/3eLkvMu.

[2] Jim Collins, “The Stockdale Paradox,” JimCollins.com, accessed April 19, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Y1Ouda.

Christ Is Risen

To be honest, I didn’t know how I would feel this Easter morning without the prospect of gathering together in the sanctuary to celebrate. But as I woke up and realized what day I was waking up to the words that came to mind were from the hymn “Christ is Risen” by Brian Wren:

“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.” [1]

That’s the way I’m feeling. Thank God for Jesus Christ, thank God for Easter, thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.


[1] The full text of the hymn can be found as number 307 in The United Methodist Hymnal.

The Full Weight of Evil, Sin, and Death

As a Christian, I believe that, on the cross, Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, took upon himself the full weight of all the evil, sin and death in the world. This year, it seems to me, that burden is even weightier than ever. But I still believe that Christ was, is, and will be triumphant. My wish for each of you this Good Friday is that you may know the presence of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of your sins, and the hope of the resurrection.

Closed to Better Love Our Neighbor

This morning, I went down to the church, refilled the little free pantry, and posted the signs pictured below. I know that not all churches are following the same course of action, but I believe that this is the best way for our congregation to love our neighbors as ourselves during this time of crisis. If I were a medical professional, I would want folks to isolate themselves to “flatten the curve.” If I were a member of a vulnerable population, I would want people to stay home to reduce the chance that I would contract COVID-19. We’re working from home, broadcasting and streaming our worship services, and meeting by Zoom video conference to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

COVID-19 Signs

We’re Not Snake Handlers

Yesterday on twitter, I read a tweet that said, “I believe in prayer. I also believe in hand-washing.” I don’t remember who posted that (and I can’t find it now), but it’s a nice way of putting it. More directly, Beth Moore tweeted:

“It would be a mistake for us in Christian circles to disregard the warnings about large gatherings. If the thought is, “We’re the church. We’ll do whatever we please & God will protect us,” He does not protect the proud. He opposes them. We are not snake handlers. We’re servants.” [1]

I think both points are important. The Bible does not teach that Christians will not suffer. God’s beloved, only begotten Son, the most faithful person who ever walked the face of the earth, suffered crucifixion and death. We are called to be faithful; we are even called to be bold. But we know that being faithful and bold may come at a cost, and thus we also exercise wisdom and prudence.

Pray and wash your hands. Better yet, pray while washing your hands. [2]


[1] Beth Moore, Twitter post, March 13, 2020, 8:10 a.m., twitter.com/BethMooreLPM.
[2] One possibility: I just timed myself saying the Lord’s Prayer and it took 28 seconds.

In Case the Covid-19 Coronavirus Gets Ugly

I’m writing this because I fear there will be an ugly development in any possible Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic. That  ugliness will be a fear that abandons rather than helps the afflicted. We’re already seeing this as cities go to court to block victims from being quarantined within their boundaries. I fear that this type of unchristian response will become even more contagious than the disease.

One of the things the ancient Christians were known for was their care of the sick. Indeed, Christians have done this throughout the ages, whenever and wherever we have been at our best. At our best, we have overcome our fear of sickness and death through our faith in the one who went through death and came out triumphant on the other side. The outbreak of Covid-19 is a chance for us to be at our best. That doesn’t mean we won’t take recommended precautions when visiting and caring for the sick, it will mean that we treat everyone who is afflicted as if they were a beloved member of our biological family. It means we will not fear monger—and that means we double-check that anything we share on facebook or other social networks comes from a reliable source. [1] It means we won’t stereotype and single out a particular group of people for having the disease. It means we won’t engage in NIMBYism [2] as some municipalities already have. 

I would ask you to remember that, like the seasonal flu, not everyone who contracts Covid-19 dies. Also, I would remind you, that unless Jesus comes back sooner rather than later, we’re all going to die of something. (I’m hoping I’ll die of pneumonia, “the old man’s friend.”) I urge you to take heart in the knowledge that our Lord and Savior conquered death and we need not fear it. I urge you to hold fast to the faith. I urge you not to shun the afflicted. I urge you to visit and care for the sick if and when that is called for. In short I urge you to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to demonstrate your love for God by displaying your love for your neighbor in real and concrete ways. I urge you to hold me to the same standard.

Amen.


[1] Dr. Brian Holmes recommends using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website: https://www.cdc.gov

[2] NIMBY means Not-in-my-back-yard.

Hymn for the 81%

In Seminary, I was the president of the Evangelical Society at Saint Paul School of Theology. (Evangelism was, and in some places still is, a broad category.) In the last two decades, I have grown increasingly dismayed with the choices and behavior of many evangelicals. A new song called “Hymn for the 81%” captures my pathos and dismay. The lyrics are below in case you can’t stream the video.

Lyrics:

I grew up in your churches
Sunday morning and evening service
knelt in tears at the foot of the rugged cross
you taught me every life is sacred
feed the hungry, clothe the naked
I learned from you the highest law is Love
and I believed you when you said
that I should trust the words in red
to guide my steps through a wicked world
I assumed you’d do the same
so imagine my dismay
when I watched you lead the sheep to the wolves

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
so I’m loving you now
you said to speak the truth
I’m calling you out
why don’t you live the words
that you put in my mouth
may love overcome and justice roll down

they started putting kids in cages
ripping mothers from their babies
and I looked to you to speak on their behalf
but all I heard was silence
or worse you justified it
singing glory hallelujah raise the flag

your fear had turned to hatred
but you baptized it with language
torn from the pages of the Good Book
you weaponized religion
and you wonder why I’m leaving
to find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
so I’m loving you now
you said to speak the truth
so I’m calling you out
why don’t you live the words
that you put in my mouth
may love overcome and justice roll down

come home
come home
you’re better
you taught me better than this

come home
come home
you’re better than this
you taught me better than this

come home
come home
you’re better than this
you taught me better than this

come home
come home

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
I’m trying to love you now
you said to speak the truth
so I’m calling you out
I wish you’s live the words
that you put in my mouth

may love overcome and justice roll down
may love overcome and justice roll down
may love overcome and justice roll down

may love overcome and justice roll down

 

 

The Triumph of Love

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace, by Henry H. Knight, is one of the best summaries of John Wesley’s theology that I have ever read (and it is, by far, the shortest). Here are a few excerpts:

Wesley’s vision of a new creation filled with the love of God is a fitting outcome of his theology. From 1725 on he was committed to holiness of heart and life as the content and goal of salvation; now, near the end of his life, he extended renewal in love from the hearts of humans to the entirety of creation. [Which means that all of creation will be redeemed/saved.] This was one of the last of the many insights Wesley gained throughout his life and ministry.

His fundamental insight, that governed all the rest, was that salvation is all about our renewal in love, our being restored to the image of God. Without this holiness of heart and life we are neither truly happy nor truly Christian. [1]

… Commenting on 1 John 4:19 (“We love him, because he first loved us”) Wesley wrote, “This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one say less . . .”332 Wesley believed that this love of God will triumph in the end, and it is this same love that seeks to triumph even now, in every human heart. [2]

I’ve been thinking about restarting The Breakfast Club with this book. Let me know if you’re interested.


[1] Henry H. Knight III, John Wesley: Optimist of Grace (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2018), 141.
2] Ibid., 145

Movie Recommendation

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.” — Mark Twain [1]

The quote above is how the movie Prohibition begins. It’s the documentary that I recommended yesterday. I forgot to mention that if you have a Netflix subscription, you already have access to it.


[1] Prohibition. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novac. Florentine Films and WETA, 2011.

Unplanned

I have long steered clear of the hot-button issue of abortion, but an upcoming attraction is forcing my hand.

The movie Unplanned which treats the issue of abortion from a pro-life perspective is coming to the Great Plains Theatre. The movie review site Rotten Tomatoes says it’s “a dramatic approach to a hot-button topic whose agenda is immediately clear, Unplanned will only reinforce the feelings of viewers on either side of the issue.” [1]

I haven’t discussed this issue from the pulpit, only in private conversations. In a nutshell, I agree with the position of the United Methodist Church, and I want abortion to be as rare as possible, but I believe that making it illegal will not accomplish that goal and will instead put the health and safety of a great many women in jeopardy. (The rise of the mob occurred during prohibition.) There are times when threats to the health (including the mental health) of a woman make abortion the least bad option. In the words of The Book of Discipline:

“Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.

We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.” [2]

I believe there are things we could do to make abortion a rare occurrence (like comprehensive sex education, the use of contraception, and a stronger social safety net—under our current system, an abortion costs a lot less than a birth). But our society has largely rejected practical measures and instead opted for a divisive cultural battle. The women I know are better equipped to navigate the ethics of their pregnancies than the collective legislative bodies found in Topeka, Kansas and Washington, DC.

My plan at present is to address this issue at the place where I feel that it can best be discussed, direct dialogue between two individuals or conversations among small groups. Both Jenny and I would like to hear what you think.


[1] https://www.rottentomatoes.com
[2] http://www.umc.org

The Transfiguration of the World

“The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.” — Patriarch Athenagoras [1]

Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, he went through death and came out on the other side. The same will be true for us. We will not be resuscitated, we will be transfigured. I’m going to be mulling over this quote for the rest of the day, I invite you to join me.


[1] Jim Friedrich, “Preaching on Easter Sunday Isn’t About Convincing People,” The Christian Century, April 4, 2019, http://bit.ly/2UGnuie.