Archive for March, 2015

Belief

Denise and I were flying back from New York City this weekend, when it suddenly seemed like I was being bombarded by atheism. It started that morning with CNN running a story called, “The Friendly Atheists Next Door,” and extended into the night with 60 Minutes interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson (who is claimed by atheists but who really isn’t one, as I’ll show you later), and through a variety of shows on FOX written by Seth MacFarlane (who is claimed by atheists and who really is one). I didn’t watch any of the shows, but it made me sad to think about the fact that there are people out there who not only don’t believe in God, but who really, really, want you, me, and our families not to believe in God either. It made me feel really distant to those people; the chasm between people who believe and don’t believe in the same thing seems awfully wide.

The CNN story was really a story about a couple who lost faith in the Catholic religion, and who then extended that unbelief in their church to unbelief in God. The sad part was that after they made their decision, they suddenly felt that they needed to share and promote this non-belief, and so the story documented how the couple was forming Sunday gatherings (yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird for atheists to come together on Sundays) apparently to talk to others about how and why they don’t believe in God. The story mentioned some things that atheists have in common: apparently they are mostly white, upper-middle class, college educated, and male, and most of them used to be Catholics. I’ll add another: They are also often handsomely rewarded by the natural world, and especially by other atheists, for “coming out.” For whatever reason these days, if you decide to become an atheist, even if you aren’t fully sure what that means, you’ll quickly find acceptance and apparently become newsworthy.

As Denise said in her book, though, there are really extremely few actual “atheists” in the world. That’s because it really takes a ton of work and research to even get close to coming to such an absolute stance, and even then there’s so much evidence for God that it’s hard to ignore. That’s why noted “atheists” like Richard Dawkins have said that they’re not really atheists – instead, for example, Dawkins says he’s agnostic. Same thing with Neil deGrasse Tyson, if you look here, you’ll see he doesn’t like being called an atheist, or any “ist” other than a scientist, and instead says that if you had to label him, he’s more likely agnostic: http://bigthink.com/think-tank/neil-degrasse-tyson-atheist-or-agnostic.

In fact, he finds the word “atheist” itself odd, since virtually nobody else tends to belong to groups mostly identified with what they don’t believe in. He’s got a point.

belief

All of this really boils down to our worldviews. We all have one, whether we know it or not, which makes up the entirety of our points of view. Knowing your worldview is handy because knowing what you believe can guide you through all of life’s tough times. Now, people who call themselves atheists have a worldview that perhaps partly includes unbelief in God, but I just wish they’d focus more on what they actually believe through their overall worldview instead of the thing or things they don’t believe. Agnostics have a worldview that involves saying they just aren’t sure what to believe about God, but you don’t see them holding meetings or actively trying to convince others also to claim ambivalence.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where I was probably best described as an agnostic because I simply wasn’t sure about what to believe, spiritually or otherwise. But then I decided to do the work needed to form a decently purposeful worldview. I ended up forming the spiritual part of my worldview after years of studying a variety of other spiritual worldviews and putting together the evidence that I needed to live my life based on what I believed to be the Truth. I suppose my worldview includes not believing in certain things, like eating gluten or maybe even atheism, but I’d rather focus on what I do believe. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was God come in the flesh. Because I’m a follower of Jesus, I believe everything about who he said he was.

If I could get atheists to focus on the things in which they believe, instead of the things in which they don’t believe, they might say something like, “We believe in human beings.” If they do, then this chasm between me and atheists might not seem so wide, because I believe in God, and God believes in human beings, too.

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Special Needs — Special Spirits

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I haven’t told too many people this before, but there’s a thing I do to calm down when life gets really hectic.

When you ask most people how they calm down, they’ll tell you they meditate, or breathe slowly, or maybe take a pill or something. If they’re followers of Christ, they may say that they pray or read the Bible. I’ve done most of these things, but that’s only because they’re a bit more convenient than the way I know that works best for me.

My way of reducing stress involves hanging around people with special needs.

You see, I have what the Bible calls the gift of discernment, which is one of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. I have other gifts, but when I test for it, my gift of discernment is kind of off the charts. By the way, if you haven’t taken a class on the gifts, or haven’t taken a test or two attempting to figure out your gifts – and yes, you definitely have at least one – then I really encourage you to do so. I mean, if you spend enough time in the world, you’ll take about 20 personality tests that try to figure out how you work with other people (so you can say, for example, “I’m a purple introverted INXP!”). A spiritual gifts test will tell you how you work with other people according to God’s purpose for your life, and that seems like a more useful thing to know.

Anyway, discernment simply means that I can discern spirits, good and bad. When it’s strong, I can sense spirits from a distance and in varying degrees. Like a lot of things, that can be a blessing and a curse. For example, you’d think that certain places, like churches, would only have good spirits in them. Not true. And you’d think other places, like cemeteries, might have bad spirits in them. In fact, I’ve found that cemeteries tend not to have any spirits in them at all (which makes cemeteries a fabulous place for me to run in peace.) I’m drawn to people with good spirits, and I have had to work in the world with people with not-so-good spirits. Of course, there’s more to it than all of this, and those of you with discernment know how quickly you can freak people out if you talk about it too much or explain all the different ways it works.

This is a roundabout way of saying that when I’m in the presence of people with special needs, I sense only good spirits – really, really good spirits – and that being around them calms me down. In fact, if I’m feeling especially weird, I’ll go looking for them just to be in the presence of their spirits. There’s something so pure and good inside each one of them, and I’m reminded of God’s love and presence in every one of us. I am reassured by a God who takes a human body that some people will unfortunately say is “bad” or “not normal”, and then places a spirit inside them that shines so brightly. I think it’s one of His ways of, once again, explaining the Kingdom as a place that is simply different from this world.

Not too long ago, the well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, commented on what a woman should do if she learned that her baby was going to be born with Down syndrome. He said, “Abort it and try again.” Like a lot of what Dawkins says, it’s not so much shocking as profoundly sad, and wholly neglects even to imagine what a beautiful emissary for God’s Kingdom a child with Down syndrome would be.

I mention this last thing not to condemn him or to depress you, but only to emphasize the vast difference between the natural and the supernatural worlds. We live in the natural world, but the supernatural world is our home, and it’s clearly that world that gives you the best insight into special needs people. So if you see a person with special needs, remember what a discerner told you about them. Special needs – special spirits.

Love and Basketball

This story has been making the rounds on television – I saw it first on the CBS news, so here’s the link:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-high-school-basketball-team-incredible-sportsmanship/

It tells about how a couple of high school boys in Waco, Texas, thought it was sad that the Gainseville, Texas, juvenile correctional facility’s basketball team never had any fans when they came to play. So this time, when the Gainesville Tornadoes came to play in Waco, these two students made sure that the Tornadoes had fans, posters, and even cheerleaders to make them feel like a real team.

Of course, they were already a real team, but it just took a bit of love to help them to fully realize it. A classic definition of the kind of love God expects from us is this: meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own. I’m sure it wasn’t necessarily easy for the two Waco kids to put this whole thing together, and I’m sure that they could easily have just brushed the whole thing off. But in the end, because of the love showed by the people in Waco, at least a couple of the Gainesville players said they would never forget that day for the rest of their lives. Who knows, maybe it even turned them around.

I work in criminal justice, and I understand the need for empathy to solve the kinds of criminal issues we see today. What I don’t say enough is that I absolutely think that God is really the only way to solve any criminal justice issue. We can talk about cost-benefit analyses, constitutional mandates, and even social science research, but it’s only love for our fellow human beings that will change our future for the better.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” but this merely reminds us that the word “least” is really a label that we use in the world. God doesn’t love them any less, but they do offer us an opportunity to show love, mercy, and justice in concrete ways.

As Saints, what we do in the world matters, but the two boys in Waco have shown that you don’t have to dump a bunch of money at a problem or come up with some amazing super-solution to make a difference. All it takes is a bit of love and creativity, and God smiles.



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