Thought of the Day 12.01.09

Consider for a moment the cumbersome process for incarcerating someone:

We have professional debaters present both sides of the issue.
We hear from as many witnesses as possible.
We give the accused a chance to defend himself or to say nothing at all, a choice which cannot be used to incriminate him.
We give him the right to confront all those who accuse him.
We carefully screen twelve jurors to prevent partiality or bias, then teach them the law, give them all available information, and require a unanimous decision.
In sentencing, information on character, background, and ongoing activities (or prior convictions) is presented so that the punishment fits the total context of the situation.
This is all overseen by a professional judge who operates within a complex system of appeals which takes a very long time to avoid the errors of haste.
And despite all of this, we still occasionally make mistakes.

So, if this is a reliable process for judging people, the question is, “How closely does your own mechanism for doing so resemble it?” I’ll let you judge what to do based on your answer.

Thought of the Day 11.30.09

I want to do something today which I almost never do in a thought of the day: refer you to another resource. Last week, Michael Medved wrote an outstanding column for USA Today correcting errors about the origins of this country. I strongly recommend you read it in its entirety.

The main one he describes is the inversion of motives for those who came here. Almost all of us have been taught that America was settled by people fleeing religious oppression to create a land of religious liberty and openness. This is exactly backwards.

The Puritans, for instance, came here precisely because they found European society too tolerant, immoral, and religiously lenient. They wanted to establish religious utopias with higher standards and greater purity (hence their name). And although it’s true that some did come here fleeing persecution like the Catholics, once here they established an extremely narrow religious society named “Mary”land.

The irony Medved hints at but doesn’t explicitly state is that America was founded by people who were fleeing places that had become, essentially, America in the year 2009.

Thought of the Day 11.25.09

Imagine you’re sailing to a new home overseas when the unthinkable happens: shipwreck. Somehow in all the chaos, you manage to find a lifeboat and scramble aboard with only a backpack containing your laptop, CDs, and DVDs.

After several days at sea on the verge of death, you finally float ashore an uncharted island, where you find people in a primitive society without electricity. They ask if you need food and water. “Yes, please,” you gasp. “Fine, what do you have to trade?”

Shocked, you eagerly show your electronics. “That is of no use to us. Do you have anything else?” Realizing they’re serious, you ask if you can roam the island for food. “No,” they reply, “All this belongs to us. Go find your own island.” Then, in stunned disbelief, you watch them turn and leave you to die amidst your useless wealth.

After considering the obvious evil of this example, I have a simple question. Just how sure are you that it’s perfectly okay for you to enjoy all those electronic gadgets while so many people in this world don’t have food and clean water?

Thought of the Day 11.24.09

The other day at the grocery store, I was looking at something when I thought I heard out of the corner of my ear a man gently telling Spencer, “No.” When I saw him near a big basket of beans, I inferred that he must have been touching them while the man filled his bag. So I called him back to me while the man (in his fifties) watched, uncertain about my reaction to him scolding my son.

I asked Spencer why that man had been telling him, “No.” “Was it because you were touching those beans.” “Yes,” he sheepishly replied. “It is not that man’s responsibility to correct you. You shouldn’t have put him in that position. You know better than that.” At this the man looked at me and said, “Thank you,” presumably for reaffirming his authority. But I wasn’t satisfied yet.

“You need to apologize to that man for inconveniencing him.” “I’m sorry,” Spencer said. The man simply smiled and told him, “That’s alright. You have a pretty good daddy.” “I know,” Spencer replied.

Although it might occasionally turn out wrong, I always start from the premise that 50-year-old men are to be trusted, and 5-year-old boys are not. Society can’t survive if that presumption is reversed.

Thought of the Day 11.23.09

If you’re a major league pitcher, one of the hardest things you are ever asked to do is walk an opposing batter intentionally. The reason this hurts so much is because you’ve spent your entire life honing the art of beating batters, and now you’re being told to surrender. Your manager is asking you to swallow your pride and trust him that this walk won’t come back to bite you even worse.

Similarly, major league hitters are sometimes told to give up the one thing that defines them at the plate: a hit. To help the team by advancing a runner, they may be asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt or hit a pop fly. As hitters and pitchers, players must be humble about their role in the entire puzzle of a baseball game and also trust that the manager knows best how to construct a win from that puzzle.

The funny thing is how few people ever truly realize that Christianity is a team sport. And if egoistic baseball players can trust a fallible human manager like this, why do we get so disgruntled when God declines to let our lives produce the individual results we yearn for?

Thought of the Day 11.20.09

As many of you know, I find the interplay between language and reason terribly fascinating. One of my favorite aspects is the way language use can backfire, communicating the exact opposite of what is intended.

For instance, I recently heard a Congressman dismiss concerns about the likelihood of passing health care reform with the assurance, “We will not fail to get this done, because failure is not an option.” This sounds nice, and it probably even comforts some people, but I saw it as admission of real uncertainty. After all, if failure truly weren’t an option, there wouldn’t be much need to reassure people by saying so.

Imagine legislative support for this plan was overwhelming, like say, like say 70%. In that case, the same man wouldn’t bother overstating his chances. He’d simply say, “We’ll get this done. We have 70%.” In situations where failure actually isn’t an option, no one bothers saying it. It’s a phrase used only when it isn’t true.

Thought of the Day 11.19.09

Last night at the grocery store, I had a rare opportunity to see the full range of feminine beauty represented side by side.

The first lady I saw walking with her man was stunning. She had beautiful hair. Her makeup and jewelry were perfect, and she was dressed in the most stylish clothes for her age, probably about thirty. But most importantly, she was thin, almost too thin, in that way men these days reward with an extra glance or three. Like I said, beautiful. As a man well-trained by this culture, I couldn’t help noticing her.

About ten feet behind her was a second lady, walking with her husband. Her hair was short, not flowing. She didn’t seem to have either makeup nor jewelry on, and she was wearing what would best be described as clothing, the sort that covers your body and that’s about all that can be said for it. And she was plump. Not so much fat, but certainly not thin, the sort of woman who might enter a singles bar and people would wonder why she was there, if they even noticed her at all.

Truth be told, under most circumstances, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed her. But in addition to my training as an American, I have also been trained by the Bible, and so I did notice the one key thing about her which made all the difference in the world to me: her three children. And seeing this stark contrast between a female body that promises entertainment and one that has actually delivered life, it was clearer than ever to me what real feminine beauty looks like.

Thought of the Day 11.18.09

I know in advance that I’m likely to be accused of reading too much into things with today’s observation, and that’s probably a fair criticism. Nevertheless, the other day we were watching a movie, and it suddenly struck me as quite odd that every last little contribution to the motion picture needs to be named in the credits.

A car doesn’t typically come with a brochure in the glove box telling me the names of all the engineers, accountants, and line workers who made it. The computer I’m writing this thought on was produced by the collaboration of innumerable people, most of whom will forever remain anonymous to me. And the same is true of most everything we own or enjoy, including most art other than movies. So why the distinction?

Perhaps one might say it’s merely easier to give credit here than in other endeavors, but I don’t think that’s the reason. To me, it’s arrogance. “Our work matters more than yours does. Look, we even have an awards show.” But this pride belies a tragedy.

See, the line worker who assembled my car long ago learned how to take joy in merely knowing his work makes other people’s lives better. The understudy to the assistant third foley, unfortunately, needs to see his name on that screen in order to feel significant.

Thought of the Day 11.17.09

The other day, Spencer and Ethan were doing what young children do: they were squabbling over a toy, which they both claimed to have had first. Since our general principle is that both boys need to share with each other and not fight, I took the next logical step. “Alright, if you can’t share properly, I’ll just take it away and no one can have it.”

This sent Ethan into apoplexy but Spencer simply issued a nonchalant, “That’s fine.” Feeling a bit like Solomon, I realized that there were several levels of evil going on here, so I made Ethan happy by giving him the toy.

At this point, Spencer complained of the injustice. So I told him that he clearly did not care very much about the toy, whereas Ethan clearly did want it quite badly. I told him that I was also very disappointed in him not yielding to his younger brother over something so obvious. But the worst violation of all was the fact that he would gladly have lost access to the toy himself so long as that deprivation made Ethan miserable.

A minister of justice must never let his rules be used as an instrument of injustice, especially by a five-year-old.

Thought of the Day 11.16.09

If I tell you that a particular man likes to go off in the desert for four or five hours several times a week to read the Bible and pray, what do you think of him?

I suppose most of us would initially envy his devotion and wish we could emulate his practice. But I’m not so sure. There’s a whiff of something here I don’t like, and if my sniffer is right, we should literally be praying for this man rather than praying like him.

See, I immediately want to know how much time he spends with other Christians discussing the things he learns in the wilderness because one of the irreplaceable benefits of other mature believers is their tendency to keep us from our own misguided exuberances. Just as a spouse tends to moderate our eccentricities, the fellowship of other healthy people keeps our dangerous intellectual impulses pruned back.

So while I admire this man’s devotion, I know that his solitude needs a community to guide his development in a healthy direction. The Bereans indeed searched the Scriptures daily. But they also compared notes with each other afterward.

Thought of the Day 11.13.09

Every day, salespeople encounter prospects who raise objections to buying their products. Good salespeople get excited when this happens because they know that objections indicate a desire to buy rather than an aversion to doing so. The person just needs help becoming sure.

See, if he didn’t want the product at all, he wouldn’t bother raising an objection. He’d just say, “No.” Whereas “I’m not interested” is the end of a sales call, “That costs too much” is actually the beginning of one. It’s a vital distinction far too few Christians understand, especially concerning the “problem of evil.”

See, when someone says that a good God wouldn’t allow children to get cancer, we tend to think we’re entering a battle to vanquish an opponent who is our intellectual enemy. Quite the opposite.

Most of the time this person wants very badly to believe in God, but is stymied by the pain of some loss. Far from advocating atheism, he’s actually making a coded request. “Please, sir, I want to make a much deeper purchase of faith. I just need your reassurance that this truly is a wise investment.”

Thought of the Day 11.12.09

One of the funny things about how both language and our minds work is the difference between accuracy and potency. Certain expressions have tremendous effect despite being untrue, whereas others which score high in truth value have virtually no impact at all.

Consider the well known aphorism, “Waste not, want not.” I suspect billions of minor resource use decisions have been turned by this particular turn of phrase. It’s a highly potent cliché. Nevertheless, neither of the common interpretations of it are true.

Frugality won’t always save you, as tens of millions of people around the world living on the verge of starvation can verify. Also, being wasteful won’t make you poor, as wastefulness is actually one of the most visible indicators of wealth.

So what phrase would be truer? “Waste not, and you’ll run a significantly lower chance of wanting under the right external circumstances.”

Truth be told, sometimes the truth isn’t worth telling.

Thought of the Day 11.11.09

Dear God, please protect my family from sickness and crime.

Dear Lord, please provide me with a job that pays our bills and allows me to use my talents in a way that really serves people.

Dear God, please bring my brother to know you and to serve you fully.

Dear Lord, please heal my friend’s cancer, and do it in such a way that even the doctors would come to believe in you as a result.

Dear God, please guide our leaders, and cause them to hear your voice clearly and to be willing to obey it, even if it means changing directions in what they planned to do.

I suppose we’ve all prayed prayers like these many times in our lives. Why? Because we all believe that God wants to do good things for us and will do so if we ask Him to, presuming that He can.

But here’s the question. When other people ask us for something good we’re capable of giving them, do we respond the way we hope God will respond to our requests?

Thought of the Day 11.10.09

There are four categories of sin.

The first is our favorite category: sins we’ve never struggled with. These are extremely comfortable to talk about because we’ve never been tempted by them and there can, of course, be no shame to us in discussing them.

The second category is potentially just as pleasant: sins we’ve overcome. Although we can be reluctant to admit our history, we’re usually more eager to celebrate God in the remedy. Having been sufferers ourselves, we tend to be more humble in discussing them.

The third category is very unpleasant: sins we currently struggle with. Obviously, these are things we prefer to avoid, both in disclosure and in conversation, except to the extent that we take pleasure in the hypocrisy of vehemently condemning groups to which we secretly belong.

The fourth type, however, is the most deadly: sins we don’t realize plague us. After all, the most durable slave doesn’t even know he is one, for what man fights for freedom when he thinks he already has it? Also, a group of equally enslaved people can easily persuade themselves that such slavery isn’t even slavery at all.

Thought of the Day 11.09.09

Imagine for a moment someone who believes in gay marriage and someone who opposes it having an argument. It could be pretty vehement, right? Now imagine someone walking up to them and offering the following advice: “Hey, guys. Why don’t you just realize that this issue is all a matter of opinion and it doesn’t really matter since there is no truth anyhow. Can’t we all just get along?”

Unless I’m really wrong in my assessment of human nature, the gay marriage advocate and the gay marriage opponent would immediately unite to fight off such an offensive bit of “friendly” advice. The amazing thing is how rarely the dogmatic indifference preached by relativists elicits that response.

See, the basic message of relativism isn’t that everybody is right, but that everybody is wrong for thinking that anyone can be right. In essence, they try to unite disagreeing parties through the supremely arrogant assertion that only relativism is right. At least those of us who disagree about what is right still agree that something is right and that figuring it out matters.

Thought of the Day 11.06.09

President Obama and the Democratically controlled Congress are trying to pass a health care package which will require health insurance for all Americans, provide that coverage for many of them, and intensely regulate non-government insurance plans. Both the scope and novelty of this proposal have led many people to question its Constitutionality.

See, no matter how good an idea is, Congress can only do what the Constitution permits. Everything else is illegal. And because states were scared of an expansive federal government, the burden of proof was historically against Congress. A law was presumed unconstitutional unless the power to pass it was specifically enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. This is why the President had veto power, not as a way of coercing them to pass his agenda, but as the first line of defense against Congress playing out of bounds.

Sadly, our founders may have had too much faith in the federal oath of office, or, more precisely, in the Constitutional knowledge which it presumes.

Thought of the Day 11.05.09

This morning, Spencer was twirling Sage around on his back by the legs on our bed. At first he was laughing, but then he stopped smiling and started complaining mildly. I immediately told Spencer to stop because “Sage doesn’t like that.” “But daddy, he was laughing about it,” he replied.

At this point, I realized I needed to be very careful how I proceeded because there were really two different things going on here. On the one hand, Spencer was doing what Sage didn’t enjoy, which needed some correction. But on the other hand, Spencer clearly was trying to entertain Sage and had been correct in sensing his early enjoyment, which I wanted to encourage and praise.

So, I said, “Well, honey, you have to keep paying attention because he can change quickly from liking something to being upset by it. But I’m really glad you’re playing with him, and I like that you’re paying attention to whether he likes it. That’s good.”

One of the great challenges of parenting is to nurture the good and also discourage the bad things kids do, especially when both are present in the same behavior.

Thought of the Day 11.04.09

As someone who loves language, I regularly find myself in a linguistic bind. On the one hand, I can use the word or grammatical construction which is common but which I know to be inaccurate. On the other hand, I can use the correct word or construction, knowing this will make me sound strange to most people. Loving others enough to want them unhindered in hearing my ideas, this dilemma vexes me. My normal solution is to find a different, correct way of saying the same thing without sounding weird…or British.

Consider the simple word “assume.” If, based on past experience, I say, “I assume he’ll pay his bill,” someone will likely quip about what happens to both of us when one assumes, heh, heh. Cute, but not helpful. See, “assume” can have many meanings, but “to form a belief recklessly” is not one of them. On the contrary, making an assumption requires some sort of reasoning process rather than wild (and imprudent) guessing.

To avoid this problem, I’m willing to use another word when I mean that I’ve thought about it and formed a rational conclusion. But what word should I use? Infer? Suppose? Reason? Surmise? Deduce? Presume? “Yes, Mr. Holmes. Quite so.” Only “assume” is not awkward in such expressions.

So, feeling like my culture has betrayed the language I love, I’m left without a satisfactory alternative. This makes me grumpy because I assume there’s just no way to win here.

Thought of the Day 11.03.09

Acts 3-4 tells a story about the apostles healing a man who was crippled his entire life. In response, the non-believing Jewish leaders imprison the apostles and confer amongst themselves. Startlingly, they admit that a genuine miracle had been done, which everyone in Jerusalem has to know. They even go so far as to say that there is no feasible way to deny the fact.

At this point in the story, we naturally expect the Jews to be converted. After all, they have seen a miracle and been told it was done by the power of Jesus Christ. But no. Their response is to try silencing the apostles so that no one else will be carried away by such demonstrations. This tactic, of course, does not work.

It’s amazing that these men could stand in total admission that a miracle had occurred (the very pinnacle of proof that any skeptic might want) and yet still seek to suppress the truth instead of being converted by it. It’s a sobering reminder not to be too optimistic that people will embrace the truth even when they’ve seen it with their own eyes.