Posts tagged ‘Care’

A Prize Worth Winning

Credit: Timur Weber / Pexels.com

To say that we live in a divided society is an understatement. Everything from politics to economics to sociology to now, as researchers have discovered, geography divides us. Bill Bishop, in his book The Big Sort, explains that over the course of three decades:

People had been reshaping the way they lived. Americans were forming tribes, not only in their neighborhoods but also in churches and volunteer groups. That’s not the way people would describe what they were doing, but in every corner of society, people were creating new, more homogenous relations. Churches were filled with people who looked alike and, more important, thought alike. So were clubs, civic organizations, and volunteer groups. Social psychologists had studied like-minded groups and could predict how people living and worshiping in homogenous groups would react: as people heard their beliefs reflected and amplified, they would become more extreme in their thinking. What had happened over three decades…[was a] kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, social division. The like-minded neighborhood supported the like-minded church, and both confirmed the image and beliefs of the tribe that lived and worshiped there. Americans were busy creating social resonators, and the hum that filled the air was the reverberated and amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.

This self-sorting into like-minded communities has often, sadly, turned these like-minded communities into closed-minded communities. This, in turn, increases polarization and fuels confrontations between different beliefs, behaviors, and worldviews – and not just in society generally, but even in families personally. More and more, more and more people are no longer interested in learning from those with whom they disagree, but instead in defeating those with whom they disagree.

Around 750 B.C., the nation of Israel was riding high. They had recently captured two Syrian cities, Lo-Debar and Karnaim, and were proudly confident in their military might. What they did not realize, however, is that the Assyrian Empire was quietly ascending and would soon sweep in to decimate and defeat their northern half of their nation. The conquerors would soon be conquered.

It is into this context that God sends a prophet named Amos who warns Israel of her impending calamity:

You who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” For the Lord God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” (Amos 6:13-14)

Israel’s victory over these two small towns will mean nothing when they are defeated by a powerful empire. Indeed, the name Lo Debar in Hebrew means “nothing.” Israel may have won a battle, but ultimately, she has “nothing” to show for her victory.

In a polarized moment like ours, Amos’s warning to Israel is also a warning for us. As we fight our battles, it may be worth it to ask: even if we win whatever battle we’re fighting, what are we actually winning? All too often, the answer may be Lo Debar – nothing. We may win a battle, but in our proud moment of victory only hurt others and fray feelings. The cost of our victory in battle far outstrips the value of the prize.

This week, when you feel tempted to do battle – whether culturally or personally, such as with your spouse or one of your children – ask yourself: if I win, am I actually gaining anything, or am I just hurting someone? If the answer is the latter, trade your desire for combat for a patient conversation. Who knows? If you seek to help and understand instead of to win and coerce, you might just both win by not losing a relationship. And that is a prize worth winning.

June 20, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What Does God Think of You?

Credit: Pixabay

In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

On Michael Brown and Darren Wilson

Credit: Reuters

Credit: Reuters

They are the protests that just won’t stop. The cries of activists in Ferguson, Missouri are loud and only seem to be getting louder. One cry in particular caught my attention. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was reporting from Ferguson when protestors began to throw rocks at him. Some of them yelled, “Tell the true story!” But one man shouted what I think is perhaps the most profound insight into this whole, sordid affair I have heard to date. “This isn’t about Mike Brown no more,” he said. “It’s a civil rights movement. It’s about all people.”

I agree with the protestor. Though they are often conflated, what’s happening in Ferguson today can and should be distinguished from what happened in Ferguson on August 9. This is not about Michael Brown anymore. This is about – be they real or perceived – civil rights grievances.

On the one hand, this is not all bad. This tragedy has ignited some important national conversations. On the other hand, in these conversations, we have taken the very real pain of two very real families – the Brown family and the family of the officer who shot him, the Wilson family – and turned it into an expedient talking point for rallies, protests, and cable news brawls. But their pain deserves more than our marginal mentions. We need to do more. We need to go deeper. We need to take some time to empathize with these families.

Empathy is when you take the human experience and personalize it. In other words, you use what you know from the human experience in general to try to understand one human’s experience in particular. What has happened in this case is the exact opposite. We have taken the personal experiences of two families and de-personalized them, hoisting their pain on our petard.

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson have become emblems. Michael Brown has become an emblem of racial tensions that have plagued Ferguson for decades. Darren Wilson has become an emblem of mistreated law enforcement officials. But these men are much more than impersonal emblems. Michael Brown was a son with college aspirations. Darren Wilson is a man with a family at home.

In an effort at empathy, I’ve been pondering what questions these families must be asking themselves as they watch all this unfold. I’ve been thinking about the questions I would be asking if was in their situation.

As I’ve been thinking about Michael Brown’s parents, I’ve wondered if they’ve asked themselves:

  • Did Officer Wilson really have to use deadly force to subdue our son? He has lots of ways to subdue suspects.
  • It was broad daylight! How in the world did the officer not know our son was not pointing a weapon at him?
  • Did Officer Wilson overreact because he was scared of a black man?
  • What is a jury going to say about all this? Is justice going to be served?

As I’ve been thinking about Officer Wilson and his family, I’ve wondered if they’ve asked themselves:

  • Why can’t people understand how difficult it is to make snap decisions as a police officer?
  • Why do people always assume officers have the worst of intentions?
  • Don’t the protestors realize that their threats scare our whole family?
  • What is a jury going to say about all this? Is justice going to be served?

Of course, I don’t know for sure what questions they’re asking. And I would never claim to understand how these families are feeling. But empathy is not about claiming to know how somebody feels. It’s about caring how somebody feels. And we should care about and for these families.

To this end, I would ask you to pray for these families – both of these families – and for peace to be restored in Ferguson. Try to empathize with them – their pain, their fear, their confusion – and then pray that God would give them strength, comfort, and hope during this difficult time. Remember, these families are more than causes, they’re people. We cannot forget that.

Allow me to add one final note. Just because I seek to uphold the value of empathizing with the Brown and Wilson families doesn’t mean I don’t believe larger discussions around race are unimportant. But I pray we don’t have these conversations like it’s 1963. I pray we’ve grown since then. I pray our discussions are more civil, our thinking is more compassionate, and our hearts are more, well, empathetic toward those who have different experiences and perspectives. But for now, my prayers are with the Brown and Wilson families. I hope yours are too.

August 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm 1 comment

Decidophobia

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.

___________________________

[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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