Monthly Archives: September 2005

Generosity: Antidote to Nihilistic Naturalism

Have you thought about the fact that many people subconsciously live outside of their worldviews? Think about how often you’ve heard–or spoken–the words “Nothing really matters here, anyway. We live, we die, we turn to dust. This world is all there is.” Such statements are woven from naturalistic DNA that presupposes that this world is all there is. Spirituality is locked out of it. No logical foundation for magnanimity or grace exists. No greater good can logically be ascertained. The naturalistic worldview is by nature precommitted to, well, nothingness. We’re here in the form of specialized atoms and arms, we think thoughts, do actions, and die. Any thirst for something greater is false. Such is the stuff of naturalism.

How interesting, then, that 99.9% of humans don’t live this way. Those who say that we are simply programmed matter without first cause or higher motive themselves disobey their precepts. They seek a better world, try to protect the environment, and fall deeply in love. Though they claim naturalism in theory, they deny it in practice. We also see this trend in the impulse to generosity so much of the 99.9% possess. If there is nothing higher, nothing better, nothing that possesses meaning, why do people strive to help one another? If naturalism is truly true, there ought not to be any drive to go out of one’s way to help one another. If naturalism is true, in fact, there ought to be no impulse toward generosity. We ought to be naturally geared, and only geared, to self-sustenance.

But this is not so, and any attempt to explain the world in naturalistic terms is false. We were imbued with purpose, with philanthropic instincts, and these things cannot be explained away. Naturalism, not God, is dead. Its proponents make great claims that they do not live by, because they cannot live by them. It is natural for humans to love, to strive, to want something greater. Of course, naturalism is right in that without God in the picture, hopelessness and purposelessness reigns. With Him reigning and ruling, however, all is well. Live is worth living. Gifts are worth giving. Love is worth having. This, not nihilism, moves our hearts, motivates our deeds, and composes our DNA. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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More on the Art of Looking Stupid

The second practical tip to help you look stupid (please recognize the slight irony in all of this) is this: tell someone of your fallibility. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Just try it. You’ll find a freeing sensation in doing so, like the lights went on in a little district of your soul that was in darkness. Go ahead, tell someone how you messed up, how you looked stupid, how you answered a question wrong. Tell them the real reason you got turned down. Maybe you’re not good looking enough. That’s okay. Life will go on. We’re not all Tom Cruise or Halle Berry. We should admit that. We couldn’t all have gotten into Harvard, and it’s not just because we fit a familiar profile. Some of us just aren’t smart enough. That’s fine! We’re not all geniuses. We couldn’t all have made the team. Many of us didn’t make the team for good reason. We were too slow, or too weak, or just plain not skilled enough. That’s fine. We’re not all athletes. Why, goes the question, should we pretend we are something when we are not? We shouldn’t, and should actually take steps to avoid doing so.

Parents, teachers, ministers, politicians, siblings, and so many others do much to gain our credibility when they discard the pretension that they do not err and embrace their faillibility. Of course, many people think they do this. Here’s how it’s often packaged, however. They know they’re fallible in theory, but in practice, they just can’t seem to think of concrete examples that show their fallibility. For every action, there is a reaction, and it usually involves the art of “explaining-away.” I’ve noticed with sharp people that the very first response to challenge or correction is to offer, often at light speed, an excuse, denial, or cover-up. These take the rightful place of a thoughtful silence, a mulling over, perhaps a humble follow-up question, and then a sincere admission of wrongdoing. So often when we’re confronted in peaceful concern we take up the weapons of self-defense and fight until we’ve bloodied the other person a bit. We know we’re wrong, of course, but that does little to ease the frustration and anger we feel at having our weaknesses and shortcomings exposed. So we battle back, thinking we retain some pride in the process, and we lose the opportunity given us to personally grow and find freedom from false perfection.

To close this post, the one who takes the opportunity to look stupid is in fact the one who, in the eyes of honest people, looks the best. We see this proven true with children. They see much, including the good and bad of their parents, and they are much more likely to trust and follow a parent who admits wrong. In humility is gain. In stupidity is wisdom.

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More on the Necessary Art of Looking Stupid

I was originally going to devote only one blog to my suggested life rule, that of looking stupid occasionally, but I’ve found more to say on the subject. This post gives some practical suggestions on how one can integrate a dose of reality into the life-consuming project of impressive appearance. In other words, here are some tips on fighting misplaced pride and recovering natural humility.

The first tip is this: If you get stuff wrong, don’t try to explain it away to the person next to you. Also, don’t shake your head and mutter. Look, pal, I know I’m not perfect, and I’m quite sure no one else I know is. There was one perfect man, Jesus Christ, and he happens to be at the right hand of God right now, not answering questions in history class. You do not look or live like Him, so don’t pretend you’re perfect. Lay hold of your humanness. You’re a person, so you make mistakes. Admit it! Sure, we all get a little red-faced, and that’s okay. It’d be great if we didn’t, but we can’t change that overnight. However, we can work on our moment-by-moment responses to our own errors. To all professional basketball players, some of the greatest pretenders one can find: if you miss a shot, don’t scream at the ref. He didn’t miss the shot, and you likely didn’t get fouled, or he would have called it. Students, if a professor marks you down on a paper, don’t bridle at the suggestion you are an imperfect writer. You are an imperfect writer. And no, he’s not a really hard professor, it’s just that you aren’t that good of a writer yet. Save the energy you would expend explaining away your low grade and channel it into actually improving your prose and argumentation of thought.

Can you see from the above paragraph how much effort we give toward making ourselves look good—or rather, preventing the inevitable, that of looking stupid? So much, so much is wasted in this vain pursuit.

Look at politics. You know, I am pretty much an out-and-out conservative. Across the board, down the line, from sea to shining sea, I’m conservative, and completely unapologetically so. But—and this is important—I appreciate an honest politician, conservative or not. I may not agree with them, or like their work, or support it, but I will appreciate them for their honesty. This is understandably so, but so many in the public eye fight a lifelong struggle to appear flawless in decision-making. Almost nothing does more to sour people on leaders than to see that they are not realistic about themselves. When people see you’re not real about yourself, they realize you probably aren’t trustworthy at all. After all, if you can lie to yourself, you can certainly lie to people you’ll never meet and faces you’ll never see.

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It’s Good to Look Bad

I’ve come up with a good rule to help facilitate a happy, comfortable existence on this earth. It’s rather blunt, and it gets right to the point, and as a result it is fairly helpful. Here it is: allow yourself to be wrong. Perhaps this is aimed most directly at men, who tend of the two genders to be the most competitive. Contrary to what some would think, the masculine competitive nature does not die with Little League or high school graduation. It simply expands into other fields, even as it remains anchored in sports for many men. Many guys compete over most any thing their mind fastens upon. At the office, what salary one makes. At the home, who has the prettiest wife. In the gym, who has the biggest muscles. In the church, who leads the most ministries. At seminary, the competition takes a muted but still-present form in the matter of hours spent working and taking class. I must have had thirty conversations with other seminarians in which I was asked a) how many hours of class I was taking, and b) how many hours of work I was working. One might say that these inquiries need not necessarily be competitive, but I think I discern fairly well the masculine instinct, however sanctified. In the case of such conversation I usually smell competition.

All of which makes it very hard for one to look stupid. The average driven American male seeks to construct a world around himself in which he looks as good as possible. Sure, there are times he trips, or messes up, or airballs, but by and large, his life is dedicated to looking good. Like the need for food and drink, he seems to navigate life according to likely actuality of impressive appearance. He eschews things that will make him seem lesser, poorer, and slower than others. What comes from all of this is a falsity to everyday life, to one’s own self-conception, that is damaging. We all become all-stars, albeit stars that play on a field of our own choosing and to an audience of our own imagining. Hints of weakness, of a lack of ability, of failure we push away, rationalizing all the while. “Well, I could have got that girl…she just prized the wrong things. She said once she liked me.” “Yeah, we would have won, but the umpiring was really poor.” “I could have gotten into that school—I just didn’t want to.” There can be truth in some of these statements. Sometimes teams do get gipped, sometimes girls do make stupid choices, sometimes schools overlook a gifted student. But the perpetual quest to look good traps us, lies to us, and sows bitterness in our heart.

How much better to look stupid every so often, to admit weakness, to grin and bear it, to give up false conceptions of self-grandeur, to embrace our humanity with all its shortcomings. Honesty, they say, is the best policy. The adage holds true. There is great freedom in admitting we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we won’t be it all. How ironic—in the pursuit of a realistic self-image that includes failure and shortcoming, we find true excellence of person. That’s an equation most of us think little of, and oh, how we miss it all.

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It’s Good to Look Bad

I’ve come up with a good rule to help facilitate a happy, comfortable existence on this earth. It’s rather blunt, and it gets right to the point, and as a result it is fairly helpful. Here it is: allow yourself to be wrong. Perhaps this is aimed most directly at men, who tend of the two genders to be the most competitive. Contrary to what some would think, the masculine competitive nature does not die with Little League or high school graduation. It simply expands into other fields, even as it remains anchored in sports for many men. Many guys compete over most any thing their mind fastens upon. At the office, what salary one makes. At the home, who has the prettiest wife. In the gym, who has the biggest muscles. In the church, who leads the most ministries. At seminary, the competition takes a muted but still-present form in the matter of hours spent working and taking class. I must have had thirty conversations with other seminarians in which I was asked a) how many hours of class I was taking, and b) how many hours of work I was working. One might say that these inquiries need not necessarily be competitive, but I think I discern fairly well the masculine instinct, however sanctified. In the case of such conversation I usually smell competition.

All of which makes it very hard for one to look stupid. The average driven American male seeks to construct a world around himself in which he looks as good as possible. Sure, there are times he trips, or messes up, or airballs, but by and large, his life is dedicated to looking good. Like the need for food and drink, he seems to navigate life according to likely actuality of impressive appearance. He eschews things that will make him seem lesser, poorer, and slower than others. What comes from all of this is a falsity to everyday life, to one’s own self-conception, that is damaging. We all become all-stars, albeit stars that play on a field of our own choosing and to an audience of our own imagining. Hints of weakness, of a lack of ability, of failure we push away, rationalizing all the while. “Well, I could have got that girl…she just prized the wrong things. She said once she liked me.” “Yeah, we would have won, but the umpiring was really poor.” “I could have gotten into that school—I just didn’t want to.” There can be truth in some of these statements. Sometimes teams do get gipped, sometimes girls do make stupid choices, sometimes schools overlook a gifted student. But the perpetual quest to look good traps us, lies to us, and sows bitterness in our heart.

How much better to look stupid every so often, to admit weakness, to grin and bear it, to give up false conceptions of self-grandeur, to embrace our humanity with all its shortcomings. Honesty, they say, is the best policy. The adage holds true. There is great freedom in admitting we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we won’t be it all. How ironic—in the pursuit of a realistic self-image that includes failure and shortcoming, we find true excellence of person. That’s an equation most of us think little of, and oh, how we miss it all.

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It’s Good to Look Bad

I’ve come up with a good rule to help facilitate a happy, comfortable existence on this earth. It’s rather blunt, and it gets right to the point, and as a result it is fairly helpful. Here it is: allow yourself to be wrong. Perhaps this is aimed most directly at men, who tend of the two genders to be the most competitive. Contrary to what some would think, the masculine competitive nature does not die with Little League or high school graduation. It simply expands into other fields, even as it remains anchored in sports for many men. Many guys compete over most any thing their mind fastens upon. At the office, what salary one makes. At the home, who has the prettiest wife. In the gym, who has the biggest muscles. In the church, who leads the most ministries. At seminary, the competition takes a muted but still-present form in the matter of hours spent working and taking class. I must have had thirty conversations with other seminarians in which I was asked a) how many hours of class I was taking, and b) how many hours of work I was working. One might say that these inquiries need not necessarily be competitive, but I think I discern fairly well the masculine instinct, however sanctified. In the case of such conversation I usually smell competition.

All of which makes it very hard for one to look stupid. The average driven American male seeks to construct a world around himself in which he looks as good as possible. Sure, there are times he trips, or messes up, or airballs, but by and large, his life is dedicated to looking good. Like the need for food and drink, he seems to navigate life according to likely actuality of impressive appearance. He eschews things that will make him seem lesser, poorer, and slower than others. What comes from all of this is a falsity to everyday life, to one’s own self-conception, that is damaging. We all become all-stars, albeit stars that play on a field of our own choosing and to an audience of our own imagining. Hints of weakness, of a lack of ability, of failure we push away, rationalizing all the while. “Well, I could have got that girl…she just prized the wrong things. She said once she liked me.” “Yeah, we would have won, but the umpiring was really poor.” “I could have gotten into that school—I just didn’t want to.” There can be truth in some of these statements. Sometimes teams do get gipped, sometimes girls do make stupid choices, sometimes schools overlook a gifted student. But the perpetual quest to look good traps us, lies to us, and sows bitterness in our heart.

How much better to look stupid every so often, to admit weakness, to grin and bear it, to give up false conceptions of self-grandeur, to embrace our humanity with all its shortcomings. Honesty, they say, is the best policy. The adage holds true. There is great freedom in admitting we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we won’t be it all. How ironic—in the pursuit of a realistic self-image that includes failure and shortcoming, we find true excellence of person. That’s an equation most of us think little of, and oh, how we miss it all.

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Consciously Forgetful: the Culture and Death

It tells us something about the state of the human soul that people have to be reminded of their impending death before they will consider it. Death is perhaps the greatest of all realities we face as a race, and yet think of how few give time to consider its approach. Christian groups have recognized this and thus often use some sort of witnessing style that points folks to ponder their end and their relative preparation for it. The witnessing encounter, however, usually serves not as a reminder but as an initial warning to the person wrapped in a protective blanket of naturalist, materialist, and escapist fabric. To watch the world at work is to realize that it is in a maddening rush to forget its certain end.

How interesting that programmed into the very essence of our lives are continual–and oftentime sobering–reminders that we are surely decaying and will surely die. In fact, decaying, or aging, is in fact another way of thinking of dying. From the moment we’re born, we’re dying, in a sense, because at birth we are placed on an irreversible course toward nullification. We think little as a society of this fact, but it’s true. We’re dying. It’s just a matter of time before the process completes itself.

The ancients were more honest in their worldviews about death. The Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans confronted their mortality head-on and then constructed ways of dealing with it. It is my belief that these philosophical attempts to reconcile life and death were ultimately insufficient and fatally flawed, but at least those people attempted as they did. Today, in America, it seems we would rather turn up the Itunes, pour a stout glass of something, and entertain ourselves until we are numb and have forgotten our fate. The pretending, however, does not make the reality go away. Death must be faced, and it is a force one cannot trifle with, a state one can scarcely escape.

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Finding God’s Will, Part Two

Before we discuss certain precepts, let’s note two important ideas that necessarily undergird a discussion of the will of God. I don’t think that everyone is conscious of these two ideas, but I think that thinking over them will help us understand the importance of the matter of God’s will. That is to say, God’s will does not simply relate to where we go to college. Rather, it relates to the way we understand ourselves—and the way we understand God.

The first key idea is that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live. It’s a simple matter, really. If you think that God’s will is hidden and difficult to discover, you will naturally live in confusion. Your confusion won’t simply surface in frustration over decisions, but will trap you in a pattern of fear and tentativeness that is certainly damaging to your spiritual life. You will think of life as a confounding journey, a perplexing quest to a destination you do not know and cannot find. The days you are given will not present themselves to you as opportunities for exploration and growth, but as little time-sealed prisons. Much of the joy that the Bible promises the hungry Christian will evade you, or rather, you will overlook it. It’s not a pretty picture, and it may be a bit dramatic, but it is nonetheless realistic for many Christians, I think.

On the other hand, if you think of God as a revealing God who does not wish you to live in a swamp of confusion and disarray, you will find much joy. If you remember that God is sovereign, you will know that your life is not ultimately dependent on you and your decisions. You will see instead that while you are responsible for making wise and faithful decisions, God has the creation in His palm. He loves it, and He loves you as His child, and He will work all things out for your good. That idea doesn’t simply apply to the end of life, when everything “works out for good” in the ultimate sense (being heaven), but on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being perplexed by the days and their options, we can see them as gifts from God in which we discover His goodness. And so we see that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live.

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Finding God’s Will, Part Two

Before we discuss certain precepts, let’s note two important ideas that necessarily undergird a discussion of the will of God. I don’t think that everyone is conscious of these two ideas, but I think that thinking over them will help us understand the importance of the matter of God’s will. That is to say, God’s will does not simply relate to where we go to college. Rather, it relates to the way we understand ourselves—and the way we understand God.

The first key idea is that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live. It’s a simple matter, really. If you think that God’s will is hidden and difficult to discover, you will naturally live in confusion. Your confusion won’t simply surface in frustration over decisions, but will trap you in a pattern of fear and tentativeness that is certainly damaging to your spiritual life. You will think of life as a confounding journey, a perplexing quest to a destination you do not know and cannot find. The days you are given will not present themselves to you as opportunities for exploration and growth, but as little time-sealed prisons. Much of the joy that the Bible promises the hungry Christian will evade you, or rather, you will overlook it. It’s not a pretty picture, and it may be a bit dramatic, but it is nonetheless realistic for many Christians, I think.

On the other hand, if you think of God as a revealing God who does not wish you to live in a swamp of confusion and disarray, you will find much joy. If you remember that God is sovereign, you will know that your life is not ultimately dependent on you and your decisions. You will see instead that while you are responsible for making wise and faithful decisions, God has the creation in His palm. He loves it, and He loves you as His child, and He will work all things out for your good. That idea doesn’t simply apply to the end of life, when everything “works out for good” in the ultimate sense (being heaven), but on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being perplexed by the days and their options, we can see them as gifts from God in which we discover His goodness. And so we see that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live.

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Finding God’s Will, Part Two

Before we discuss certain precepts, let’s note two important ideas that necessarily undergird a discussion of the will of God. I don’t think that everyone is conscious of these two ideas, but I think that thinking over them will help us understand the importance of the matter of God’s will. That is to say, God’s will does not simply relate to where we go to college. Rather, it relates to the way we understand ourselves—and the way we understand God.

The first key idea is that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live. It’s a simple matter, really. If you think that God’s will is hidden and difficult to discover, you will naturally live in confusion. Your confusion won’t simply surface in frustration over decisions, but will trap you in a pattern of fear and tentativeness that is certainly damaging to your spiritual life. You will think of life as a confounding journey, a perplexing quest to a destination you do not know and cannot find. The days you are given will not present themselves to you as opportunities for exploration and growth, but as little time-sealed prisons. Much of the joy that the Bible promises the hungry Christian will evade you, or rather, you will overlook it. It’s not a pretty picture, and it may be a bit dramatic, but it is nonetheless realistic for many Christians, I think.

On the other hand, if you think of God as a revealing God who does not wish you to live in a swamp of confusion and disarray, you will find much joy. If you remember that God is sovereign, you will know that your life is not ultimately dependent on you and your decisions. You will see instead that while you are responsible for making wise and faithful decisions, God has the creation in His palm. He loves it, and He loves you as His child, and He will work all things out for your good. That idea doesn’t simply apply to the end of life, when everything “works out for good” in the ultimate sense (being heaven), but on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being perplexed by the days and their options, we can see them as gifts from God in which we discover His goodness. And so we see that the way we understand God’s will determines the way we live.

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