Tuesday, May 29

Ruminations on Baptism

If you were baptised as an infant, then someone made a decision to do something good for you, a decision that you were incapable of making for yourself. In baptism, the child is welcomed into the household of faith and accepted as a part of the community of faith - all very good things indeed. But the best part is that the "good thing" of infant baptism occurs not by an act of the child's will, but by the will of another who is wiser, more loving, and far less self-centered than the child.

We baptise babies who know nothing about what we are doing or why we are doing it. They neither ask for it nor want it nor - in many cases - welcome it, but it is a very good thing we do for them, and we do it because we love them.

Infant baptism is a vivid picture of the work Christ did on our behalf. I am aware that much of Christendom prefers believers baptism and I respect their opinions, but the picture presented to us in infant baptism is profound, and we would do well to meditate on it.

The scriptures tell us that even though we were "dead in our trespasses and sins", Christ made us alive. Note that it does not say say we were sick, or weak, or disabled - it says we were dead.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions... Eph 2:4-5

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. Col 2:13

The scriptures tells us that we were sinners and enemies of God, but in spite of that fact, Christ reconciled us to God through His own self-sacrificing death.

But God shows and clearly proves His love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us... For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more certain, now that we are reconciled, that we shall be saved through His life. Rom 5:8,10

He did all these things because He loved us, not because we loved Him. Christ found us in a state where we were incapable of helping ourselves, incapable of asking for help and incapable of even knowing that we needed help. And yet, in just such a state, He saved us because He loves us.

As men, we are geared to performing, to working, to earning everything we get. We are constantly evaluated on the quality of our work - at home, in the workplace, in the church, on the athletic fields and courts - and we are all very aware of how well or how poorly we measure up. At work, when we perform well we get raises and promotions. When we perform poorly, we suffer. At home, when we work to our mate's satisfaction, we are rewarded in ways both overt and subtle. When we perform poorly, we pay the price. On the playing fields, the winners survive to play another day, but the losers go home.

The whole world operates under this paradigm. It is so deeply imbedded in our individual and collective psyches that we are offended when anyone suggests that maybe, just maybe, God does not operate by the same set of rules we do. We believe with every fiber of our being that God rewards those who do good and punishes those who do evil, because everything in our lives works that way. We are offended when the evildoer "gets off", (think OJ Simpson) and we cheer when the bad guy "gets what’s coming to him", (think Saddam Hussein).

It is little wonder that we men think God plays by the same rules. But baptism clearly shows us that God plays by an altogether different set of rules. Our baptism shows us that God extends His love, mercy and fatherhood to us regardless of our performance, and regardless of the quality of our choices and decisions. In fact, He made us alive when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and He rescued us even when we were His enemies. If that wasn't enough, (and to me that is plenty!), He promises that just as He was responsible for starting this "good work" in us, He will take responsibility for completing it.

...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

Furthermore, He has already planned the good works that He intends for "us" to "perform".

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph 2:10

Imagine! God not only plans the work we will do, but promises that He Himself will be responsible for making sure the work gets done.

We live in a world where those who perform are rewarded, and those who fail to perform are punished. There is Good and there is Evil and the two are locked in constant war. The world must be run according to Good/Bad dichotomies, else how would we function? If you are on the right side and do the right thing, you will be rewarded, but step across the line and you should expect to pay the price.

But the scriptures tell us clearly that God doesn't follow that set of rules. In fact, He "justifies the ungodly" (Rom 4:5).

In the creation story of Genesis, God offers Man free rein in the garden, with one minor prohibition. God forbids Man, (in the person of Adam and Eve), to eat from one particular tree. It is important that we understand what happened there, and particularly, to understand the name of the tree.

Many people seem to think that the prohibited tree was called "The Tree of Evil." They believe that if they avoid evil they will avoid the sin of Adam. Some think it was called "The Tree of the Knowledge of Evil." You shouldn't merely avoid doing evil, you should avoid even knowing about it. But both points of view share the mistaken belief that God intends us to both know and do Good.

Both views are mistaken. The tree God forbade was called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God never intended for man to have the power to discriminate between "good" and "evil". Rather, He intended us to "walk with Him in the cool of the day" and take all our cues - about everything - from Him. But ever since we learned about Good and Evil, we have chosen to depend upon our own ability to "Do Good" and to "Avoid Evil" rather than find our life in God Himself.

Most people recognize that our sins separate us from God, but what few recognize is that our righteousness separates us from Him as well.

...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags... Isa 64:6

We demand "righteous behavior" from ourselves and from one another, never realizing that God is as unimpressed with our righteousness as with our sin. In fact, is this not the whole point of The Parable of the Tax Collector?

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The tax collector went home justified, not because of his deeds, but because of who he trusted: God. Contrariwise, the Pharisee went home condemned, not because of his deeds but because of who he trusted: himself. Living in the realm of "Good vs. Evil" and "Right vs. Wrong" places our trust in ourselves and our own deeds. When we do poorly, we condemn ourselves. When we do well, we congratulate ourselves. But in both instances, we are failing to trust God.

In His divine wisdom, God has chosen to accept us in Christ, not because we do well or because we do poorly, but simply because He has made as an object of His love. If we place our trust in Him, and in His love, then we too will "go home justified". But if we place our trust in our own works, whether they are "Good" or "Evil", we will surely go home condemned.

God's love is a free gift given to us without regard to our performance, worthiness or gratitude. It is truly free - just as our baptism was. We can choose to enjoy it, or we can choose to ignore it, but nothing we do can change the power or the graciousness of that gift.

Friday, January 26

Medicine & Terror - Two Approaches

My buddy Michael Spencer and I have a long-running disagreement about the role of the government in fighting terror. Michael is, by his own admission, terrified that someone is going to smuggle a suitcase nuke into a crowded location and kill a whole lot of people, (a la this season's paean to fear on 24). He is in favor of most any steps the government can take to prevent such an occurrence.

I, on the other hand, argue that the powers of the government should and must continue to be limited to those explicitly enumerated by the Constitution, regardless of threats. I contend that the extreme steps taken by the government, (suspension of habeus corpus, national IDs, airport "security" and the like), are a bigger threat to our freedom than anything Islamic terrorists can accomplish.

Are either of us right? Or wrong? Or are we perhaps not even talking about the same issue?

To Michael's point, the mere idea of a nuclear detonation on American soil, (or any soil for that matter), is unthinkable. Michael and I both have children, and both wish to live in a world where those children are safe. Neither of us want to live in a world where criminals are able to deliver and detonate suitcase nukes with impunity.

I think the difference in our views is analagous to two different approaches to medical care.

Modern western medicine, when confronted with an infection in the body, takes an aggressive "kill the intruder" approach. This involves the use of some sort of chemical or mechanical process designed to kill the offending germs, virus or cancerous cells. The problem with such approaches is that they kill without discrimination. Antibiotics destroy not only the "bad" germs, but also the benign and helpful germs the body requires to maintain health. Most forms of surgery require general anesthestics that induce a near-death state in the patient. Chemotherapy introduces toxins into the body in doses that are near-fatal. The toxin is so dangerous that it would be lethal if continued, but the plan and hope is that before the chemo kils the patient, the chemo will kill the cancer.

This approach to medical "care" creates an environment of ever more powerful bugs adapting to ever more powerful drugs. For every "win" the doctors enjoy, they also create an environment where superbugs are forced to evolve to survive. It's the medical equivalent of the Cold War policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. There is no end to the escalation in sight.

There is another approach to medicine: the naturopathic approach. Naturopaths tend to have a much more humble philosophy of health care than do MDs. naturopaths perceive the body as a complex "system of systems" and believe that they cannot upset one of those systems through direct intervention without upsetting them all. Naturopathy seeks to influence the body in the direction of health, rather than attack the disease itself and in the process inflict all sorts of unsuspected "collateral damage".

In other words, a naturopath does not try to kill the bug. Rather, he works to create an environment in the body that is simply inhospitable to the growth or even existence of an offending organism. If, for example, the pH of the body is too acid, (an environment that is conducive to infection), naturopathy will work the change the pH of the body to a more alkaline balance. The change in the environment forces the offending parasite out of the body because it cannot thrive or even survive in such an environment. The best part about this approach to medicine is that it is not dangerous to the body. In fact, naturopathic medicine assumes that the reason the body is sick is because it was previously an attractive environment for sickness to invade. Modern western medicine, in contrast, neither knows nor cares about the state of the body prior to the onset of disease. It simply seeks to eradicate the disease and has as a target end-state for the body the body "as it is now, only without the disease". In other words, modern medicine does not look at the underlying reason for sickness to be in the body. It restricts its attention to the bug itself, rather than the environment in which the bug has come to exert influence. Naturopathy believes that a healthy body is able - in most cases - to maintain health without "outside" interference such as antibiotics.

Just as an MD assures us that western medicine is the only effective tactics for dealing with infection, the government assures us that their current tactics for rooting out terrorists are the only effective ways to deal with them. An MD uses ever more invasive and destructive methods to eradicate infection and disease from the body, and the government tries to use anything within their power to find and stop the people who want to use a suitcase nuke. But just as the MD approach to medical care destroys healthy cells in the pursuit of malignant ones, the government's terror-fighting tactics kill and/or maim many innocent people in pursuit of the few malignant ones. The government's method for pursuing and apprehending terrorists requires the abridgment of many fundamental rights and freedoms. In their view, in the pursuit of terrorists, there are going to be collateral damages; that is simply the price of eradicating the disease in the body politic.

But what if the root of the problem is that the body itself has become a hospitable host to these invading organisms? Or worse, what if the governments tactics for eradication actually create in the body politic an environment that is ever more hospitable to infection or invasion? Would it not make more sense to approach the problem as a naturopath approaches the problem of disease in the body?

My symptoms were fatigue, poor concentration, general malaise and stomach acid. The MD I visited gave me proton pump inhibitors to reduce the acid in my stomach and told me to reduce my cholesterol. If my cholesterol did not come down, he would have put me on Lipitor. Neither of these pills would have solved the problem, but they would have reduced the syptoms. In other words, the western medical approach would make the problem less painful, but would not actually eliminate the underlying bad health.

(In contrast, my naturopath has given me supplements to strengthen my pancreas and to help my stomach with digestion. My chiropractor found that my thoracic vertebrae were misaligned in the region that feeds the adrenal glands. He is adjusting accordingly. I have seen my health improve significantly.)

The western medical mind sees symptoms as the disease and therefore assumes that elimination of the symptoms equals elimination of the disease. This is not only wrong, it is dangerous. If an underlying disease that has not manifested symptoms still exists after eradication of the symptoms, it will inevitably manifest sooner or later somewhere else. And since the western modern approach is to treat the symptoms, it will result in an upward spiral of drug use and medical intervention.

This is exactly analogous to the current situation with terror and terrorists in America. Terrorism is a disease in the body politic, but the traditional military/interventionist approach treats the symptoms of terrorism as the disease. Without getting into the politics of the situation, my suggestion is that we think about the end game for the terrorists. Assume for a moment that the scenario played on 24 this season is real and that some group of disgruntled terrorists have 5 suitcase nukes they are ready and able to deploy. Worse yet, assume that they actually detonate these nukes and kill 100,000 people.

Then what?

They do not have an inexhaustible supply of nukes. They do not have an army to invade us with or an air force to control our skies or a navy to control our ports. They cannot land an army of Islamic invaders on the Atlantic and Pacific shores. They cannot take over our governments and force us to live the way they want us to live. They do not have the power to destroy us, they do not have the power to invade us and they do not have the power to occupy us. So what exactly are we afraid of from these terrorists?

I don't think we know. These radical Islamists no doubt have a political agenda that they would love to foist upon the whole earth, but the reality is that they simply do not have the power to obtain military or political goals in America unless we give them that power.

What might the islamic radicals really want? Well, we know that they believe that the whole world should be under the rule of Shari'a law as interpreted and administered by Ayatollahs. This is basically the form of government operating in Iran since 1979. What would that look like?
Discrimination on the basis of sex and religion would be mandated rather than prohibited. Muslims men would have full rights under the law, Muslim women would have few rights. Non-muslims of all varieties would have minimal rights. Freedom of worship would be banned. Freedom of speech would be banned. The right to free assembly would be banned. The religious authorities would hold the power to imprison and/or punish you without the right of appeal. Religious apostasy would be punishable by death.

In other words, the fundamental rights ascribed to all men and enumerated in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights would be utterly overthrown.

Do we fear that Islamic terrorists are going to take over our government and suspend the Constitution and Bill of Rights?

The government itself is saying that in order to combat terrorism, they need to suspend the rights recognized in the Bill of Rights and need to take up powers explicitly denied the government in the Constitution.

Or to say it another way, the government is telling us that in order to protect us from the terrorists end game, (an end the terrorists do not have the power to achieve), they need to take from us the rights the terrorists would take from us if the terrorists won. Does that make sense? This would be like the doctor saying that in order to keep your bronchitis from turning into pneumonia, he is going to remove your lung. It is an effective approach to eliminating bronchitis, but it completely misses the point of treatment in the first place.

Thursday, January 25

I have watched (my sisters) strive to achieve that elusive and self-defined thing called "perfection," just as I have. As we age, I find we are all a little more weary because of the fight and a little less sure of the definition.


I found this little gem hiding in a blog called "chick truths - the worldview of a woman with unrealistic expectations".