Thursday, April 29, 2010

Immigration and Freedom

In light of the recent Arizona immigration law, I felt inspired to write down my own opinion on the current state of American opinion on immigration.

During my sophomore year in college, I took an introductory class on comparative politics, and I always found it fascinating in our discussions how people divided up on the issue of economic globalization. Both the Left and the Right were divided on this issue, for seemingly opposite reasons.

On the Left, there was some hesitation to concede the idea that capitalism actually helps the world. Many Leftists view big multinational corporations as an inherent danger to society at large, believing that the employment opportunities they provide for third world countries are nothing more than exploitation. On the other hand, some people on the Left found themselves realizing that global free trade actually leveled the playing field for people in other countries. As one bleeding heart in our class put it, "Why should people in India have any less of a chance to succeed than we do?"

The Right was equally divided. On the one hand, many students with generally Right-wing views struggled with the idea that globalization challenges American exceptionalism. Because a lot of Right-wingers are ardent nationalists, they were of the opinion that jobs should be kept here rather than being exported. But other Right-wingers, believing so fervently as they do that capitalism is the best economic system around, were full supporters of globalization, believing that it would bring prosperity to all nations.

To be up front about my own beliefs, I am a fan of globalization, and I reject the nationalism of the Right as well as the implied paternalism of the Left. Supporters of capitalism on both the Right and the Left are correct--capitalism does bring prosperity, and what's more, people from every nation deserve the same chance to succeed as anyone in America. Free trade is a matter of acknowledging the inherent dignity of every individual human life by ensuring that each individual is free to choose how best to deal with his own property.

How does this relate to immigration law? What has emerged in our culture is a Right/Left division that makes no sense. On the Right, you have people who are always chanting for less government intervention and more capitalism, and then chanting that "illegals" should go home. On the Left, you have people who seem to believe that people who are not officially citizens not only have the right to live and work here but also have the right to receive massive government benefits in the form of health care coverage and public education for their children.

Neither position is self-consistent, and frankly I find both immoral. The Leftists appear to imagine that the Welfare State can somehow support uninhibited immigration. This is not only unsustainable, it is downright paternalistic--as in, "Oh, we'll take care of everyone, we're America!" I find Right-wing nationalism here even more offensive. Calling someone an "illegal" is not only an attack on the human dignity of that person. It also betrays a sense of entitlement on the Right, as in, "We were here first!" I find this sense of entitlement on the Right all the more offensive as they so often criticize the Left for being all about "entitlements" (though to be fair, this criticism is not without reason).

I am of the opinion that America is an idea, and is such it belongs to all human beings. It is the singular idea that every human being has the right to achieve whatever kind of success he desires by doing as he pleases with his own property. It would please me greatly if we lived in a country where immigration had very little restrictions; so long as we were capable of keeping out known criminals, I would be pleased. On the other hand, in such a system the Welfare State simply has to go. People have to be free to simply work for whatever wages they can negotiate with employers. If they can find better opportunities in America, they ought to be welcomed in; if not, they're free to go.

Unfortunately, fear is what drives this debate. Fear makes people feel entitled to things that used to be treated as gifts. If this is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave, then we should not fear what will happen if people are free to move in and out of our country. Nor should we fear what will happen if the Nanny State is not there to catch everyone every time they fall. Humans deserve the respect to be allowed to make their own decisions about where they work and live, and to be treated as if they can deal with the consequences of those decisions.

I would like to see the debate over immigration elevated to such rational principles, but sadly I suspect that it will mostly continue on by people simply taking sides. How long before Americans can stop thinking in terms of "us" and "them"?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Concrete vs. Abstract Society

Not that you should necessarily watch the whole thing (you would if you were a nerd like me) but here's an interview with Friedrich Hayek from 1985:

F.A. Hayek Interviewed By John O'Sullivan from FEE on Vimeo.

Here's a key idea. As humans move from small, homogeneous societies to large, pluralist societies, they also have to move from "concrete" to "abstract." In a small society, you know the people you work for, both your employers and your customers. In a large, pluralist society, you don't know whom you work for. In a complex society designed to sustain the number of people who now exist in the world it is impossible to see how it all fits together.

This has crucial implications, Hayek says, for how we view serving one another. In a small, concrete society, you know what it means to serve others: you address their needs directly. In a large, abstract society, this is impossible. The best way to serve others, he argues, is to maximize profit, i.e. be as efficient as possible. Efficient markets ensure that resources will shift to where they are needed the most.

The problem is that it's impossible to actually see those resources shifting the way you hope they will. We see in our common experience that a lot of people make money out of sheer luck, others by hard work. Some professions which seem more worthy of higher salaries don't pay as well as we think they should. How can we possibly trust that in the end, resources are going where they need to?

Well, partly these problems stem from the fact that our markets aren't entirely free. (For instance, I could go on about how the teaching profession is dominated by a monopoly created by bad government policies. This, I am convinced, is the reason why the salary for a teacher isn't as high as it should be.) But to be fair, results that seem grating to a person's intuition are bound to happen in a free market system.

Hayek suggests we ought to overcome that intuition. He even suggests that for exactly this reason, human beings may not be ready for a free market system. We are simply not ready to overcome our desire to see the system as a whole achieve a predetermined outcome. We do not like spontaneous growth. We prefer systematic, planned growth.

Perhaps what appeals to me about Hayek's argument is its critique of rationalism, i.e. the belief that human reason can obtain all the means necessary for progress. Moreover, Hayek's preference for spontaneous over planned growth suggests that he cherishes life over machines. Life is spontaneous and beautiful; machines are cold and rational, and they don't have the same self-sustaining qualities that life does.

But in times of economic turmoil, it seems most likely that people will turn to rationalistic attempts to fix the economy, disregarding the possibly disastrous side effects such a route could have. I guess that just proves there's nothing "natural" about the free market. Only a principled society can sustain it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Explanation vs. Appreciation

This blog post by Karl Giberson is a nice, moderate article about the relationship between science and faith. I especially enjoyed the following comment:
Scientific explanations exist for all that I see and hear outside my window. And explanations can be proposed for why humans enjoy nature so much. But faith is God is not about explanations. We do not believe in God because we need to explain this or that feature of the world. That is what science is for. We believe in God because we see something deeper in the world, something that transcends the scientific explanations.
This may be pushing in the direction of "religion and science are two separate spheres that have nothing to do with each other," but I don't think it has to. It's just a fact: believing in God neither begins nor ends a person's pursuit of questions about how the world works.

For me, personally, believing in God inspires me to ask questions about how the world works. Knowing that God created all things, what could be more natural than to ask how he did it? But there are many believers who aren't really that curious about such things, and that's inevitable. It seems God has distributed curiosity to the human race in a somewhat uneven fashion.

I take offense at claims made by atheists that "God did it" is the answer Christians give to questions about the origins of matter, life, and ourselves. It's not that the statement "God did it" is unsatisfactory; it's simply that our curiosity doesn't have to end there. Questions of why and how are perfectly natural for those who have faith, and need not be the product of skepticism.

On the other hand, I admit that in order to answer questions of why and how one usually has to be discontent with traditional answers. This requires an attitude of skepticism toward the status quo, but not necessarily toward God. If God is truly transcendent, it makes sense that traditional understandings would continually fall short of explaining his work.

All in all, I think we need to be humble in our approach to nature and God. Healthy skepticism is a good thing, but it often leads to arrogance, in the same way that traditionalism can foster pride.

So while we will never be able to explain everything, we can continue to explain more and more by returning to an attitude of humility, rethinking our assumptions, and turning with a heart of appreciation toward the created world we love so dearly.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friedrich Hayek on Free Markets and Materialism

From an article entitled "The Moral Element in Free Enterprise" (courtesy of The Freeman)

I do not wish to deny, I rather wish to emphasize, that in our so­ciety personal esteem and mate­rial success are much too closely bound together. We ought to be much more aware that if we re­gard a man as entitled to a high material reward that in itself does not necessarily entitle him to high esteem. And, though we are often confused on this point, it does not mean that this con­fusion is a necessary result of the free enterprise system—or that in general the free enterprise sys­tem is more materialistic than other social orders. Indeed, and this brings me to the last point I want to make, it seems to me in many respects considerably less so.

In fact free enterprise has de­veloped the only kind of society which, while it provides us with ample material means, if that is what we mainly want, still leaves the individual free to choose be­tween material and nonmaterial reward. The confusion of which I have been speaking—between the value which a man’s services have to his fellows and the esteem he deserves for his moral merit—may well make a free enterprise society materialistic. But the way to prevent this is certainly not to place the control of all material means under a single direction, to make the distribution of material goods the chief concern of all com­mon effort, and thus to get poli­tics and economics inextricably mixed.


Surely it is unjust to blame a system as more materialistic be­cause it leaves it to the individual to decide whether he prefers ma­terial gain to other kinds of ex­cellence, instead of having this de­cided for him. There is indeed little merit in being idealistic if the provision of the material means required for these ideal­istic aims is left to somebody else. It is only where a person can him­self choose to make a material sacrifice for a nonmaterial end that he deserves credit. The de­sire to be relieved of the choice, and of any need for personal sac­rifice, certainly does not seem to me particularly idealistic.

I must say that I find the at­mosphere of the advanced Welfare State in every sense more ma­terialistic than that of a free en­terprise society. If the latter gives individuals much more scope to serve their fellows by the pursuit of purely materialistic aims, it also gives them the opportunity to pursue any other aim they re­gard as more important. One must remember, however, that the pure idealism of an aim is ques­tionable whenever the material means necessary for its fulfill­ment have been created by others.

With respect to my political philosophy, these days I find myself more and more inclined to call myself a "Hayekian liberal," or in some sense, as Hayek would put it, an Old Whig.

Which surprises me a little bit, because lately I've been very much influenced by Catholic and other Christian political thoughy that argues for more socialist economics.

(Now, if we can just get over the popular connotations of the word "socialist," it will be plain that I mean no offense by using the word. I simply mean to draw a distinction between state-led economic development and free markets. Indeed, demonizing socialism has had the unfortunate effect of making us completely unable to criticize it without sounding like right-wing lunatics. So let me make it clear that I don't wish to demonize socialism, but rather to engage it seriously as a legitimate strain of political thought in our culture.)

Yet whatever the intended benefits of socialism, I think they are outweighed by the costs. I concede that if the Church were to have full control of the State, we might argue from biblical principles that we are required to distribute material goods equitably, i.e. build a strong Welfare State. But there are good reasons to keep control of State out of the hands of the Church, just as there are good reasons to fight the increasingly intolerant secularism which seeks to dominate our current political system.

What the Church ought to understand is that a free market system allows it to influence society in a way more in line with how Jesus began to rule his Kingdom. I understand full well that this is a highly controversial statement, but my reasoning is as follows. Jesus' moral demands were decidedly not external, and indeed they were often individual, rather than corporate, in nature. Although he actually heightened the requirements of the law regarding matters of the heart (see especially the Sermon on the Mount), he had the tendency to overthrow traditions of external obedience, such as ritual washings, food ordinances, and Sabbath regulations. Thus he fiercely rejected the idea that God's Society could be marked out by external regulation, and taught instead that, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly.... Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart." (Rom. 2:28-29)

What I am saying, then, is that Jesus knew that God's Society could only exist on the basis of human freedom, with transformation starting at the very core of our being. (Paul talks often enough about freedom in Christ to make this point, I think.) Jesus' rhetoric is very much in economic terms: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume... but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." The political philosophy of Jesus seems to be this: the Messiah can only rule effectively by enticing the human heart to desire God's treasure more than the treasures of the world.

In the same way, the Church cannot expect to be the strong arm of Jesus in the world. We cannot expect that by imposing certain well-intentioned economic restrictions we will actually achieve any sort of justice in the world. Having studied what actually happens when we try this, I have found that the unjust always win. That is, the powerful always find a way to profit from zealous government regulations, while it is actually the honest hard-working people who suffer. (For instance, doesn't anyone wonder why health insurance companies haven't spent much money opposing the recent health care bill? It doesn't take a lot of thought to put two and two together.)

Rather, the Church ought to focus its attention on the human heart--not as a means of ensuring some future salvation that has no relevance in the present life, but, on the contrary, affecting the here and now in highly significant ways. In a free society, the influence of the Church ought to be very strong--and at least in America, it is quite strong, strong enough to be seen as a threat to many secular ideologues. But our influence ought to derive from enticing the world with something better than what it has, not by passing laws to impose outwardly Christian customs on our society. (For instance, I see no point in devoting massive political effort to passing a Constitutional amendment to define marriage, nor do I see anything particularly Christ-like about pushing for socialized medicine.)

Now, I do understand that many Christians feel frustrated with this mantra: "Those are just your personal religious beliefs; they don't belong in the public sphere." Hayek basically says the same, and I can understand why that would frustrate Christians. But before we act on this frustration, let's consider how it is that we actually want to have public influence. Is our goal a mere outwardly Christian nation, one that follows customs we find respectable because we impose laws that dictate such customs? I think this question applies just as much to the Christian Left as to the Christian Right. The desire to see wealth redistributed is every bit as superficial as the desire to pass a federal gay marriage ban.

(The abortion issue is entirely different, as it pertains to the very basis of freedom, namely the value of human life. It is precisely because human life is sacred that we ought to impose restrictions on the government's power of human beings. If the sacredness of human life is relativized, which is required for abortion to be made legal, then the very basis for human freedom is compromised. Thus the abortion issue is at the very heart of human freedom.)

I would rather live in a free society in which the Church's influence is found in its power to entice the human heart with something better than the things of this world--which is essentially an economic activity. In our culture the word "economic" is clouded by all kinds of bad connotations. Surely "economic activity" refers to nothing more than Mammon! This is nonsense. Economic activity takes place every time you decide what to do with your time, your talents, or your possessions; hence all Christian piety is economic activity. In a system of free enterprise, the Church has an opportunity to have tremendous influence simply by shaping the economic activity of people in our society.

I have no interest in reviving the "Christian Right"--that's the kind of conservatism that Hayek would criticize, and so would I. On the other hand, I suppose it would be easy to criticize me for attempting to reconcile Christianity with liberal modernist political philosophy. But at the moment I am wondering if that's such a bad thing. It's not as if all Enlightenment-era thinking was inherently secular. And besides, if I see a good idea out there, I feel entitled to incorporate it into my own philosophy if I feel I can do so coherently.

I have added a significant bit of my own opinions to those of Friedrich Hayek, and for that I apologize, because mine are considerably less informed than his. However, it's nice to be able to organize some of my thoughts as I continue to grow in my political outlook. There are some authors who just seem to inspire me, even after I've read a mere essay or two. Hayek is definitely one of them, and at some point I'll have to get around to reading his major works.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dealing with Death

You know, there are times when I truly feel the world is utterly gripped by insanity.

One of those times has been this week. Tuesday morning I got on the bus to go to class. I watched as friends chatted with one another as they walked to wherever they were going. I walked through the crowds of students. I looked at students handing out fliers for various events. I gazed at the busyness of it all, the excited activity of students pursuing success and enjoying college life. I walked to the math department, sat down for three hours taking notes, went to a seminar later in the day, and then went to dinner. I saw a friend at dinner, and we sat and talked about how his students had a test that night. We also talked about how our classes are going, and various other mathematical topics. Then we parted ways, he went to his test and I went home.

You couldn't even tell one of our own had died on Monday.

Why did they even bother to tell us? Why did they even bother to mention that counselors would be available to talk? Talk about what? Talk so we can get something out of our system, so that we can go back to work and continue to be productive, cranking out research for the machine that gives us funding?

"Did you know him?" Who cares if I knew him? A human being just died. Is that not enough for me to cry?

In our insanity we crawl right back to the big machine that we think will give us life. I guess it gives us a paycheck, if you call that life. Perhaps the insanity is fear. Are we afraid to face death? Maybe that's it. Maybe we think the big machine will keep us safe from death--even though it didn't save Matt.

Routines grant modern people a tragic substitute for salvation. In our insanity, we can scarcely even stop long enough to say, this life was more valuable than our routines. Can't we even shut down the department for one day, just to recognize that human life is more important than giving calculus tests and proving theorems?

But I fear that in this modern world, life only lasts so long and so is only valuable for what it can do, not for what it is. Gotta seize the day, right? As if going back to your work is seizing the day. As if you've gained anything of lasting value, anything that you can take with you into eternal oblivion.

There was a beautiful memorial service tonight. One of my friends afterward asked me, "Why did they say that death is our enemy?" I explained that this was the classical Christian belief about death--that the last enemy to be defeated by Christ is death itself. But, he countered, if we get to live forever, then what is the point of this life? I told him he could believe what he wanted, but that there really are only two options: either everything we are, everything we have, and everything we love will be swallowed up by death and amount to nothing, or they will have an everlasting place because of God's redemptive power. He sounded skeptical, but dropped the subject.

The insanity of the modern era is this: thinking that this life is all we have, we value it only as it exists now. No wonder we are always worried about getting old. No wonder we worry about having perfect bodies, perfect jobs, perfect houses, perfect relationships. And no wonder we can't stop what we're doing to acknowledge that human life is more valuable than any of this.

As for me, I am a hypocrite in all of this. Or perhaps I am merely a pawn controlled by the big machine. I continue on, talking with my friends about nothing in particular, doing my mathematics, continuing to crank out research, a cog in the wheel. For some reason I just can't wrest myself from my routine.

Really, I'm the most insane one of all. I glimpse my own insanity and I write it down for the whole world to see. I air my most personal and heart-felt emotions about death in a place where billions of people I don't even know can feel free to read it.

And yet why should I hold back from all the billions of people of the world? Every one of them is valuable. Each life means so much more than all my activity ever could.

Matt loved to take pictures. At the memorial service, they displayed a number of his photographs on the walls. I went over to them to stare at them. How amazing is it that a human being will see something and take the time to photograph it? Beads of water lying on a blade of grass; snow lying on a statue of Thomas Jefferson; a curtain hanging partially open. There are some things just worth staring at. Not for anything it's doing, just for what it is.

Human life is like that. Human life is worth staring at. It isn't about how much you're able to do in this brief life. If you feel you must fill your life with activity, then at least don't just let all of your activity be to feed some machine--don't sacrifice your life on the altar of routine. But if I could make one desperate plea to all of you in this great big world of ours, it would be this--stop. Look. Life is more than all these things you choose to fill it with.

Don't succumb to the insanity of this world.
Life is too precious. Modern people are afraid to look squarely at death because they are afraid to look squarely at life. Life is too beautiful for us. If we don't find life beautiful, then how can we truly live?

This has been the question haunting me as I go about my insane routine, day in and day out, during a week that should be marked by stopping, grieving, reflecting, hoping...

All I can do is pray that I have strength to make tomorrow more like today should have been, and that the redemption of the world is near. My heart still clings to this hope: that the dead will be raised, and we will see life in all its beauty, forever.

Matt, your life was, and is, valuable. You will rise again.

God save us all from the curse of death.

In the Name of Christ, Amen.

Calvin on Christ Our Redeemer

I've finished a portion of the Institutes (Book 2, XIII.1 - XVII.6) dealing with the doctrines of Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. This is a portion of Calvin's work that addresses a number of historical heresies that we don't normally talk about in typical Christian circles. For instance, Ch. XIII starts out with "Proof of Christ's true manhood." I somewhat doubt that there are many Christians today struggling with that issue.

Perhaps because the issues aren't so controversial today, it gets a little boring throughout this segment. Calvin spends most of his time simply arguing from Scripture--although that is perhaps the beauty of Calvin's style for the traditional Reformed. There's not much embellishing with philosophical or mystical contemplations of Christ's mysterious existence as both fully God and fully man. Calvin reads the Bible like a lawyer, using the plain-sense meaning of the text to support one straightforward proposition after another.

One passage that is particularly bizarre/amusing to the modern reader is XIII.3 in which Calvin has to defend a woman's physical role in procreation:
But in order to disguise their error--to prove that Christ took his body out of nothing--the new Marcionites too haughtily contend that women are "without seed." Thus they overturn the principles of nature.
I didn't know this, but apparently Menno Simons (the theological ancestor of the Mennonites) believed something like what Calvin is here refuting. Interesting. But what I found somewhat fascinating was how Calvin's humanism shows up in a small way in this passage: he informs his reading of Scripture with human reason.

Moving on. Calvin's doctrine of the Incarnation is more or less what every good evangelical believes today: Christ was fully God yet fully man, truly human yet sinless, truly God and yet able to take on our sufferings. Because I'm not expert on the subject, I kind of wonder how much modern Protestants owe to Calvin for this synopsis of Christ's Incarnation. If nothing else, Calvin was brilliant at producing a good formula for teaching doctrine.

One place where I would fault Calvin is his explicitly dualistic view of human nature, which he uses to explain the duality of Christ's nature.
If anything like this very great mystery can be found in human affairs, the most apposite parallel seems to be that of man, whom we see to consist of two substances. Yet neither is so mingled with the other as not to retain its own distinctive nature. For the soul is not the body, and the body is not the soul. Therefore, some things are said exclusively of the soul that can in no wise apply to the body; and of the body, again, that in way fit the soul; of the whole man, that cannot refer--except inappropriately--to either soul or body separately. (XIV.1)
I won't go into all the reasons why I dislike a dualistic view of the human person. What's more pertinent right now is that Calvin uses this kind of dualistic language later to talk about Christ in ways that I find a little disturbing.
Surely God does not have blood, does not suffer, cannot be touched with hands. But since Christ, who was true God and also true man, was crucified and shed his blood for us, the things that he carried out in his human nature are transferred improperly, although not without reason, to his divinity. (XIV.2)
This is at best a rather bland way of stating a remarkable idea. Nowhere in Calvin's thought is there any room for, say, a Florenskian approach based on antimony, rather than on rationalism. Christ's divinity and humanity cannot contradict one another; they must be fit into a logical system. Thus Calvin makes the Scriptural witness to Christ all too predictable, too tractable, too systematic. Whereas for me one of the beautiful things about Scripture is its unpredictability, its challenging contradictions, and its stubborn inability to be contained by human systematic thought.

But as I complain about Calvin, I also try to put things in their proper context and read sympathetically. There is an obvious reason why Calvin would busy himself here with refuting heresies--not only ancient ones, but contemporary anti-Trinitarian heresies such as those of Servetus--namely, that he was busy trying to establish a foundation for the Reformed Church.

It seems to me Calvin found himself surrounded on all sides by ideas that worried him. Catholics perhaps know Calvin primarily as an "anti-papist" who condemned the Roman Catholic Church. But in reality, in all 500 pages of the Institutes that I've read so far, Calvin has spent more time refuting heresies of other Protestant groups. Thus Calvin, while wanting to break away from the Roman Catholic tradition, also wanted to be sure to ground the Protestant Church in the classical traditions of the ancient Church. The Institutes certainly provide such a grounding, despite all of my amateur criticisms.

To reinforce my earlier point about Calvin being brilliant at making formula for teaching, Chapter XV explains the purpose of Christ's incarnation in terms of those three offices which Reformed Christians love to quote: Prophet, King, and Priest. You can look up any Reformed catechism to get a basic idea of what Calvin says about these. My only complaint here is that he gives the office of Prophet rather short shrift, in my opinion. Jesus really was a prophet, in more ways than one. Most evangelicals seem to entirely miss the prophetic meaning of Christ's crucifixion, as does Calvin (or so it appears in this brief summary). I'm thinking here of Luke 23:28-31:
But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
Such powerful language suggest that Jesus' crucifixion was not only a priestly act, but a prophetic one. It warned Israel of the destruction of the temple and by extension it warns us all of a coming judgment. That seems to be a powerful theme in the gospels, yet we often reduce the crucifixion to a story about how people get saved from their sins.

In Chapter XVI, Calvin goes through the Apostle's Creed to illustrate how Christ fulfills his role as Redeemer. I found this comment interesting:
I call it the Apostle's Creed without concerning myself in the least as to its authorship. With considerable agreement, the old writers certainly attribute it to the apostles, holding it to have been written and published by the apostles in common, or to be a summary of teaching transmitted by their hands and collected in good faith, and thus worthy of that title. ... We consider to be beyond controversy the only point that ought to concern us: that the whole history of our faith is summer up in it succinctly and in definite order, and that it contains nothing that is not vouched for by genuine testimonies of Scripture. (XVI.18)
Calvin's totally Christocentric view is nicely summed up in XVI.19. It's a little long for me to copy word for word, but believe me, it's well worth looking up. This sentence sums it up nicely:
In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.
Chapter XVII finishes off Book 2 of the Institutes. It defends the idea that Christ merited our salvation for us, which for Calvin simply means that it was his obedience that allows our salvation. The reason this is controversial at all is that some would suggest that it's God's grace that opens salvation for us, so why would that grace need to be earned by anyone? I find this question a rather compelling question, so I was happy that Calvin answered it in a sensible way:
Hence it is absurd to set Christ's merit against God's mercy. For it is a common rule that a thing subordinate to another is not in conflict with it. For this reason nothing hinders us from asserting that men are freely justified by God's mercy alone, and at the same time that Christ's merit, subordinate to God's mercy, also intervenes on our behalf.
I find this kind of reasoning so much better than this terrible Sunday-school answer that someone had to pay, or else God couldn't be merciful. What a dreadful way to speak about God! As if his mercy couldn't simply be mercy, and his grace couldn't simply be grace. As if God has to meet some bottom line at the end of the day. But Calvin's solution is simply to show that Christ's merit is simply a function of God's grace. In other words, this is how God chooses to show his love to his people.

Often you hear people say only that we were once God's enemies, but now through Christ we are reconciled to him. But for Calvin, we are both God's enemies and loved by God:
For, in some ineffable way, God loved us and yet was angry toward us at the same time, until he became reconciled to us in Christ. (XVII.2)
I think this is a wonderful way to say it, for it assures us that God is not simply some wrathful monster who can be appeased by the death of his Son.

Next time I'll be blogging about Book 3 of the Institutes, "The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow." This will surely get into a lot of those details we now associate most firmly with "Calvinism." It'll be interesting to read.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Walk for Life 2010 Pictures

This morning's Walk for Life in Charlottesville was a big hit. As promised, here are some pictures I took.

The event was actually quite a big to-do. There were large balloons marking out the walk site, as well as clowns to greet people coming in. There was also a bouncy castle for kids to play in.

Is that dog wearing a fire helmet?

Anyway, we started off inside a pavilion where we turned in our donation forms and grabbed some breakfast. They had Dunkin Donuts, Bodo's Bagels, chicken biscuits from Chick-Fil-A, bananas from Whole Foods (which were Fair Trade certified--I checked), lots of baked goods from Food Lion, and coffee from Shenandoah Joe's. Seriously folks, someone did an excellent job soliciting donations from local businesses.

(If you've never considered Chick-Fil-A for breakfast, think again! Those chicken biscuits were SO GOOD OM NOM NOM.)

Entertainment was also provided by CHoosE, UVA's Christian a cappella group. They sang about how God is like, so amazing, and stuff. :)

There was also, of course, a nice display showing us how important the pregnancy centers are.

That second picture shows model fetuses at 7, 8, 9, and 10 weeks.

After getting a little motivational talk from the director of the event...

...we started on our way!

My church was represented near the front of the walk. Here's our sign!

The leader of the Walk for Life was none other than Miss Albemarle!

I got to meet and talk with Miss Albemarle's mother, Tammy. She is the youth pastor at Northridge Community Church in Charlottesville. She's been involved with the pregnancy center in Charlottesville for many years as a volunteer and supporter. We had a nice chat while enjoying the walk, for which we had perfect weather this morning.

After we finished the walk, I asked Tammy nicely if she would take a picture of me with the prize I got for raising over $500--a new t-shirt (of course) as well as a $50 gift certificate to The Melting Pot!

At last, with our walk complete, we settled in to wait for the others to finish.

Finally, we all got back into the pavilion to hear the prizes announced for most funds raised. I have to say, there was quite a diverse allotment of businesses that contributed prizes.

That's Applebee's, Arby's, Ben and Jerry's (how'd they pull that off?), Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Carmello's, Carmike Theater, Cheeseburger In Paradise, Chick-Fil-A, Cville Coffee, Golden Corral, Guadalajara, Lemon Grass, McDonald's, The Melting Pot (that's what I got!), Qdoba, Perfection Nails, Putt-Putt Mini-Golf, Sam's Club, Smoothie King, Splendora's Gelato Cafe, Take-it-Away Sandwich Shop, Target, Timberwood Grill, Vinny's NY Pizza & Pasta, Virginia Discovery Museum, and Wood Grill. And the Grand Prizes were donated by Massanutten Resort and Wintergreen Ski Resort.

Again--someone did a really good job at soliciting donations.

When they announced the top fundraisers, my camera started to flake out on me. So I didn't get pictures of the winners, but I can tell you this much. The First Place winner raised nearly $16,000. She admitted that she actually raised about $8,000, but then her parents' business matched that. Still, $8,000 is pretty phenomenal. Second Place raised around $4,000, and Third Place actually only about $750. I was actually pretty close to Third, but pathetically far off from First. Also, the top youth fundraiser raised about $1,200. Pretty good for a 14 year-old.

So that was my morning. Although most of the people at the walk weren't necessarily the hippest, coolest people in Charlottesville to spend your Saturday morning with, they were really the most kind-hearted, sincere, God-fearing folks who just want to save babies and help women in need. And there were lots of little kids there, too, which is always encouraging.

Thanks again to all those who sponsored my walk. A little contribution goes a long way to help people in need. Thank you.

Walk for Life 2010 - Last Fundraising Update

Well, my mission to raise funds for the Pregnancy Centers of Virginia has come to a close, and I am happy to say I have reached my goal. Here are the totals:

Online donations: $190
Offline donations/pledges: $375
Total donations/pledges: $565

My goal was $500, so I'm happy to say I met that goal. I couldn't have done it without all of you who contributed! Also, I couldn't have done it without setting up online donations. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Now I'm off to go Walk for Life! I'll take pictures and post them on here. Thanks again for those who contributed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Economics and Idolatry

A few weeks ago my pastor at Trinity made a powerful exhortation. He called on academics in our church (of which there are several) to start thinking about our economic system in light of the gospel. He said, "We've given a lot of thought to how good our economic system is at producing wealth. We've thought very little about how much our economic system produces idolaters."

Part of the weakness of so much Protestant preaching is that it tends to be vague for the sake of not getting into too much trouble. I suppose this exhortation is meaningful enough, but it's not sufficiently directed. What kind of idolatry was he referring to? Does he even know? Or does he simply have some vague sense that we worship wealth in this country? The love of money is one of those standard sins that draws believers into a nice guilt trip, but it's difficult to say anything substantial about how to avoid this sin or what it means for our society to be corrupted by it.

Let me be a bit more specific about the kind of idolatry we've created through our economic system. It would be easy to point out the incredible greed that capitalism generates. It would be easy to point out how free markets tend to indulge our desire for things. We see it, we want it, we buy it. And these would appear to be sins of the prosperous. Those who have, want more. And we are never satisfied with the excess we enjoy.

But there is a slightly more pernicious form of idolatry that is evident in today's political climate. You can see it in the discussion about health care. In our day people will refer to medical treatment that didn't even exist 100 years ago as a "basic human right." Notice the word right. That means if society doesn't find a way to provide it to every human being, it is inherently unjust.

If you've been following economic news at all, you'll know that the number of foreclosures on homes these days is outrageous. How did that happen? Because our government, our banking industry, and our culture at large sent a clear message to Americans: you are entitled to a home. And so we have had large numbers of people living in houses but not paying for them, thus letting their debt get out of hand while they go off and buy more trivial goods. Of course, this also perhaps speaks to our obsession with things, but there is a more important issue going on. The fact is, many people in this country who are by no means wealthy are still encouraged to be idolaters. Our economic system has allowed them to live in a dream world of instant gratification and entitlement. Unfortunately, this fantasy will not last.

What makes all of this so evil, so morally corrupt, is that it by no means appeals to anyone's sense of community or sharing. An idealist might say, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had all things in common? It's not right for some people to be fabulously wealthy while others suffer, is it?" That's a fine ideal that I fully support. But we have not encouraged sharing. Rather, politicians have pitted socioeconomic classes against one another, playing on envy to achieve political gain. Meanwhile, we create fantasies to make those on the lower end of the economic spectrum feel as if they're living the American dream.

This attitude of entitlement does nothing to cure the idolatry of the rich. Rather, it simply extends that sin to the poor, so that we all go down together--one great nation of greedy idolaters, obsessed with our human right to possessions.

I've recently begun to read about the Fair Tax. The basic idea behind it is to eliminate all income tax and replace it with sales tax. It is designed to be revenue neutral (that is, the government gets the same amount of money in the end) but mildly progressive (everyone gets an automatic rebate check from the government--this benefits the poor). Its proponents are basically fiscal conservatives who want to see our country achieve more prosperity by freeing up the economy from the strain of our current tax system.

But I've thought of another great reason to move to such a tax. Perhaps if all of our taxes were sales taxes, there would be more incentive to think less about things and more about people. Since prices would go up, you would think a little harder before you went out and bought that new gadget you've been seeing on TV. But as the government would take absolutely none of your paycheck, you'd have a greater incentive to save money, as well as give it directly to people in need (there's no tax on charitable giving). This would be a fabulous way to incentivize healthy economic behavior.

We certainly can't go on forever under this current economic system. Our government has every incentive to try to cover up every economic failure with massive deficit spending, because this buys them votes. But this kind of behavior is exactly what gets us into so much trouble. As my pastor himself pointed out, debt is a philosophical principle. It is the idea that I don't have to deal with the consequences of my actions until an indefinite "later." It is a philosophical consequence of greed--I am entitled to what I want right now, so I should be allowed to pay for it later. Thus, it is all a consequence of idolatry, since greed is idolatry.

There is only one way out of the mess we're currently in. We need rehab. We need to detach ourselves from the entitlements we are so addicted to. There is no other way. Where your treasure lies, there will you find your heart.

I pray that America's heart will find its way to better things.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Update on Walk for Life 2010

So far I've actually been relatively successful in raising funds for this year's Walk for Life for the Pregnancy Centers of Virginia. Part of my fundraising has been done online through ChipIn, and part has been done on paper through the sponsor form that they give you.

On my sponsor pledge form, it appears I've raised $275 in pledges and donations.

Through ChipIn, I've raised $80.

That gives me $355 so far out of my goal of $500. If facebook helps me at all, then maybe I'll get up to $500 by the end of this week. The Walk itself is this Saturday.

I have to say, these folks really need to go electronic. If you Google "Walk for Life Charlottesville," I believe my blog and my ChipIn page are two of the top results. Which is a shame, too, because it appears the Pregnancy Centers of Virginia have a nice web site; why can't they do their fundraising online, as well? I'll just have to do it for them.

Anyway, if you'd like to help out my cause, donate using the widget below!

Monday, April 12, 2010

He killed the wrong child reports on an abortionist who lost his medical license because he aborted the wrong fetus:
Matthew Kachinas was supposed to do an abortion on one of the twin babies who had Down syndrome but wound up killing the other baby in the failed abortion.

Kachinas injected a chemical to kill the baby in the abortion, but the injection ultimately killed the healthy unborn child.


The pregnancy in question involved unborn children conceived through in-vitro fertilization. Records show that after the "wrong" baby was killed in the first abortion, a second abortion was done to kill the disabled unborn child as well. The babies were 15 weeks along at the time of the abortion.

At 15 weeks, we can already make a judgment about which children are "fit," and which are not. We don't punish doctors for carrying out a social Darwinian agenda by aborting unfit children. We just punish them when they don't do it right.

A relative of mine commented that there's this strange irony in our culture: a perfect stranger will make judgmental comments to a pregnant woman who is smoking, yet we do nothing to prohibit access to abortion. But perhaps there's not much irony in this at all. Our culture has come to believe that if life can't measure up to a standard of fitness, then it shouldn't even exist. If a child can't have a perfect upbringing, it's better to just kill him before he has to go through that.

I wonder if it occurs to people that "mistakes" like the one made by Kachinas point to the utter finality of abortion. The siblings were not the same. Nor will those children ever come back. Every child conceived in the womb is unique; his genetic signature will never again be seen on the planet. Ever.

I tremble when I think that we measure the value of human life based on a false Utopian view of the world. You would have thought people had been warned enough against this kind of ideology.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Calvin on Old and New Testaments

Today is a day for a blog post on Calvin, but I have run out of time, so I have to be brief. Calvin says in this section of the Institutes (Book 2, VIII.39 - XII.7) some of the most impressive things I've read so far. First, as I've already blogged here, Calvin's view of love is rather extraordinary--not at all what you'd expect from the Calvin we know from stereotypes and myths. Moreover, his view of the commandments is such that every believer is meant to follow them, so that love for all people is not some special holy achievement to be made by only a few. Thus Calvin opposed the tradition of the medieval Church insisting on a profoundly egalitarian yet strict view of piety. He insists that when Christ said things like, "Love your enemies," he really meant it!

Secondly, Calvin's view of the continuity between Old and New Testaments is striking, even for someone coming from the Reformed tradition. One might almost get the sense that Calvin believes in "works righteousness," if one is so inclined to always be sniffing for that kind of thing. But the people who would really hate this section of Calvin's work are those holding dispensationalist theology. For Calvin, there is essentially one covenant of grace, to which he says the pious Jews of ancient times clung to as much as the Church does now under the gospel. Eternal life obtained through pure grace was always the goal. He refutes the idea that the Old Testament was full of physical promises that had no eternal benefit.

There are a couple of fascinating passages in which he describes the faith of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) in such a way as to make them really shine as heroes of the faith. It's just funny how modern evangelicals will gladly trash these guys as pretty despicable human beings--you know, Abraham selling out his wife to avoid danger from the Egyptians, Jacob stealing his brother's birthright, and all that. But just as tradition (even in the New Testament) has always spoken of these men as great men of faith, so Calvin outlines their lives in great detail, but in a very positive light. It made me realize that hardly ever does anyone these days talk about how great Abraham was. Calvin, on the other hand, says that "We ought to esteem Abraham as one equal to a hundred thousand if we consider his faith, which is set before us as the best model of believing." Calvin didn't shy away from venerating saints!

One key emphasis throughout this section is that "the opposition between law and gospel ought not to be exaggerated" and that "even in the Old Covenant justification derives its validity from grace alone." I find this point to be attractive on a number of levels, for it indicates that first and foremost Calvin is reading the whole of Scripture through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But on the other hand, it is difficult at times to see how Calvin can really argue this point on the basis of Scripture alone. I can see how he does it based on first principles derived from the New Testament, but some of his arguments directly from the Old Testament are a little shaky. Unfortunately, I don't have time to go into details. Suffice it to say that I'm not really sure what the end result of our reading of the Old Testament should be. Should we let it say what it says? Or should we, just as the early Christians did quite explicitly, read the Old Testament solely in light of Christ? What should the balance be? I'm fairly confident we shouldn't choose one strategy and then pretend we're employing the other--e.g. we shouldn't act as we're reading the plain sense meaning of the Old Testament, when actually we're reading it in light of the New.

On the other hand, it's important to note that Calvin reveals a belief in progressive revelation--that is, God's revelation becomes clearer and clearer to the world through time. His promises were not always totally clear to Abraham or Moses, and even the prophets couldn't precisely predict what was coming. I think this is a strength of Calvin's theology, and it's a principle I would extend to all of history; although most of the Reformed tradition seems to cap it off at the revelation of the gospel as recorded in the New Testament (that is, we now have everything we need to know about God's self-revelation to humankind).

Calvin does discuss some key differences between Old and New Testaments, but they're things pretty much every Christian would agree on, so they're not very interesting to mention here. He also goes off into an argument about why Christ had to become man to be our mediator, and he argues against one named Osiander that Christ did not choose to become man for any other reason than to be our redeemer. Here I think Calvin's arguments are honestly pretty weak, and he very obviously resorts to proof-texting of a pretty crude sort. But in the end, his only point is that it's foolish to speculate about such things--so even if Christ was planning on becoming human anyway, for some reason other than to be our redeemer, it's not worth contemplating such things. That's a point I can handle without all the wrangling over words. Overall, I guess I could pretty much do without Ch. XII, especially since it has the tendency to push us Protestants away from the mystery of the Incarnation.

But as for the past couple of weeks' reading in general, I've really enjoyed it. Calvin has a lot of wonderful things to say, and I'm looking forward to what he says in the next chapter (which looks to be entirely about the Incarnation, perhaps making up for what disappointed me in Ch. XII).

Side note: I'll get to talk much more about this later, when I'm actually reading Calvin's view of the sacraments, but it really intrigued me to read this line in Calvin's discussion of the fourth commandment (emphasis added):
Although the Sabbath has been abrogated, there is still occasion for us: (1) to assemble on stated days for the hearing of the Word, the breaking of the mystical bread, and for public prayers...
Mystical bread, huh? Who would've expected stodgy old John Calvin to call anything mystical? Perhaps Calvinism has lost part of the mystery that it once had.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Meditation

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:11-18
Every year I always feel Easter comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Christmas is always a big deal, of course. Since I've been a student pretty much my whole life, I'm used to the rhythm of school calendars, which always find it convenient to have a nice long break build around Christmas time. But judging from the pace of life these days, universities couldn't care less about Christianity's most important holiday.

That's okay, of course. I find it pretty silly to get on a soapbox about the increasing secularization of our culture or whatever. I only bring it up because as a matter of empirical fact the pace of our lives tends to be out of joint with the theological heart of Christianity. Easter really is the day for Christians.

And not just the day. Why would the Monday after Easter be just another Monday? Certainly the Monday after the first Easter could not have been a normal day. Luke records that Jesus met with the apostles for forty days after his resurrection. What must those forty days have been like?

Being raised Protestant, I've really only ever observed Church Calendar Lite, so unlike Catholics and Orthodox I'm only vaguely aware that the forty days after Easter have always been a special season for the Church. But I'm pretty sure I know why the forty days after Easter should be a special season. This marks the forty days during which everything changed.

As I understand it, the Christian faith is faith in Easter, that is, faith in what happened early in the morning on the first day of the week almost 2,000 years ago.

Oh, I know other stuff is important, too. The story of the resurrection has plenty of back story, and plenty of story that follows it. But for me, it's the story of Jesus rising from the dead that makes Christianity live. If Jesus lives, then Christianity lives. If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead.

I find that in religious discussions, too much emphasis tends to get placed on the other details. Not that other details aren't meaningful. But are you really going to find your life in an exact statement of theological truth?

"But Jameson," you'll ask me,"aren't you a mathematician? Don't you know that without getting the details right, you don't have truth?" Nonsense. Every mathematician knows that when you're looking for a new result, you have to ignore some details at the beginning to get to the core of what you're trying to solve. My advisor is always explaining to me how "morally" this or that result should be plausible. Of course the details matter; you can't write a paper without them. But if you don't get to the core of the truth first, you won't even know where to start.

I adore this resurrection narrative in John. Every time I get to the end of John and read the words of Jesus, "Mary!" I admit that tears come to my eyes. What a beautiful way John frames his whole gospel! Just as in the first chapter, Jesus asks the first disciples, "What are you looking for?" so now Jesus asks Mary, "Whom are you looking for?" Just as Andrew tells Simon, "We have found the Messiah," so Mary makes the inverse statement, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Just as the disciples call him "Rabbi" (and there John also notes the translation, Teacher), so Mary calls him "Rabbouni." And just as Jesus says to those first disciples, "Come and see," he says to Mary, "Mary!" and she does see. Thus, finally, the resurrection is the fulfillment of Jesus' words to Nathanael, "You will see greater things than these."

So you see the whole gospel is really about seeing. It is not first about knowing, though Jesus speaks often about knowing the Father. Yet before one can know, one must see. Christianity is an empirical religion. It is not about philosophical first principles. It is not about presuppositions and logic and systematic proofs of God's existence. It's about seeing.

And yet, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." We have many reasons for believing in the resurrection (I recommend reading N. T. Wright on this issue; here's a nice video to start with). Yet there is inevitably a sense of risk, a sense that this really just might not be true. Jesus was gracious enough to appear to Thomas, but I certainly have not seen him in the body.

The resurrection is both the easiest and the hardest thing for me to put my faith in. The easiest because I know it is good news, the hardest because I know how disappointing it is when faith in good news fails. If only I could just see. I really don't think people give Thomas enough credit. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." Why should he? I tell you, it's the oddest thing to me when modern people assume early Christians had no sense of scientific evidence.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." I do not take these words as a rejection of our empirical faculties, since Jesus did just at that moment show Thomas exactly what he had demanded as evidence. Rather, I take it that these words are meant as comfort to the rest of us, who have to take it on faith that this really happened. Sometimes it just seems downright cruel. We have to take it on the strength of a few disciples from Galilee that Jesus actually physically rose from the dead? And not even on that, but rather on the record of their testimony passed down for hundreds and hundreds of years. I should hope Jesus has compassion on us if our faith falters.

Yet believing in this resurrection is the greatest thing that we can do. Whatever else we believe, if we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we have something quite remarkable. For the rest of the world operates under its sovereign ruler, Death. It may not at first appear so, but that's exactly what it is. We inspire ourselves with words like, "Imagine all the people living for today," but it is no more than a sedative to help us face the inevitability of everything we know being swallowed up in Death. All of our art, science, literature, and technology; all of our good deeds to one another, our loving relationships, our hopes and our dreams; all of the best meals we eat, the beautiful places we see, the stars we marvel at, the music we listen to, the creatures we wonder at, the mountains we climb, the oceans we explore, and all of our homes we build--all of these things will be swallowed up in Death.

It is no different if you want to talk about reincarnation, or souls floating off to heaven, or becoming immortal through the memory of others; no, in all of these things Death has the final word. Rarely do people choose to bow down and serve Death, yet most people have no choice but to go on in dim resignation to the fact that Death alone is god. Any attempt they make to find meaning in this world is nothing but a pathetic whimper which Death allows because he knows he will eventually be satisfied. Death's desire is to consume, and it does not appear that there is anything that can resist his will.

But we have the resurrection of Jesus. Our God is the God of Life. That is the point. That is the heart of it all. If you do not believe in resurrection, then what do you have? A tiny blip in a vast, empty universe. Oh, how people will comfort themselves by saying they are strong enough to accept this! There is no strength in accepting Death as god. If Death is god, then you accept him while I reject him, and he will laugh at us both. For in the end, he will consume us both. The king and the pawn end up in the same box. No one is stronger for knowing the difference.

As for me, I believe in the God of Life. I believe in the God who gives us all things: all of our art, science, literature, and technology; all of our good deeds to one another, our loving relationships, our hopes and our dreams; all of the best meals we eat, the beautiful places we see, the stars we marvel at, the music we listen to, the creatures we wonder at, the mountains we climb, the oceans we explore, and all of our homes we build--and I believe all of these things are meant to live on into a new world, where there will be no more death.

Death has been swallowed up in victory. That is the heart of it all. There is reason to believe that Death is not god. There is reason to explore this beautiful world, and to care for one another, and to love life and enjoy every minute of it. Death cannot claim it. Life is real, life is beautiful, and life will not go away. Our God is the God of Life.

And that's why the season of Easter really matters. We have a job to do. Life is too precious not to be celebrated. Seize the day? No, seize life! It is not the scarcity of life that makes it precious; it is the thing itself. We don't live in the moment on the principle that the moment is all we have; rather we live in the moment because our God will always be with us in the moment. Eternity will be manifest to us moment by moment, and each moment will be better than the one before it. There is no limit. We hopelessly stifle our imaginations because do not believe this.

So why are we going about business as usual? The world must be conquered with the message of Life. We have not even begun to show what it means that Jesus has conquered Death. Until we free our hearts from a tacit acceptance of Death, until we have enough faith to believe that Eternal Life is really possible, we will never begin to do the things we are capable of. We will never get to see life for what it really is.

My intention this season of Easter is to truly see. I have to keep my eyes open. It is easy to pretend that you see simply because you want so badly to see. It is also easy to stop looking because you are tired of not finding. But if there truly is life that conquers death, then it is worth looking for, every moment of every day. And I think we do see it every day, even if often we pass it by because we're not ready to see it. I pray that God will help us to see, so that we might believe in Life, and in the One who gives Life.