Tag Archives: God

Theory of Personal Responsibility

8-year-old boy with Down Syndrome
8-year-old boy with Down Syndrome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am responsible for me.

This means first that I must act in a way that is responsible for myself. Live out the consequences of my choices without needlessly burdening others.  Other have their own troubles and their own responsibilities. When we each who are capable live in this way we both free others to do the same and free ourselves to be more able to help those who truly are needy.

It is a paradox that those who are most self-sufficient are those most capable of helping those who are not.

Existing social structures are each responsible in turn: Family follows the self, then friends, then community and civic/social groups, then local government, then state government, then federal government. This does not mean the federal government is the ultimate authority. It means that the federal government is only authority when and in circumstances where all other levels have either failed, abdicated, or are incapable on sufficient scale to bear any given responsibility. This is the same for each succeeding layer of responsibility: Family is only responsible for that which the individual is not capable of being responsible for. An infant is capable of very little in themselves, so the family is responsible for them, but the family is also responsible for raising that infant to take responsibility to the utmost of it’s capability. When the family fails, or a situation gets beyond, or is beyond, the family’s capability, greater numbers of involved and invested and capable people, friends that is, then share in the responsibility. This does not have to be only in serious situations, it could be when children go off to play together at each others houses, friends share in responsibilities to the benefit of all. Then communities such as churches, clubs, social circles and the like, to which we have voluntarily joined ourselves, bear a certain level of responsibility.

You can see the graduating layers as each successive level bears some responsibility innately and then gains certain responsibility based on specific situations and circumstances. The way to visualize this is as a pyramid: The individual has ultimate responsibility, that is, first and last. While others may become responsible at different times and in different situations, the individual has first responsibility and will answer at the end for all that pertains to them whether others were involved or not. Each successive and broadening layer then goes down, not up, in authority over the individual and over each successive layer. This leaves federal government not as the ultimate responsible party but as the last responsible party. In some ways this last position equates with “least”. It is last in priority, and therefore has least priority in the layers that stand above it. It is not a foundational position either. The foundational responsibility can only belong to something outside, something not us. God does not form a layer below the federal government, God forms the all-encompassing framework inside which the entire pyramid exists.

The second outcome of self-responsibility is that each successive layer of responsibility ought to generally, as a matter of course, act in a way that is not-responsible towards those layers that are above it in priority. Family only takes responsibility for the individual when and where that individual is incapable of being self-responsible. Friends, only when and where the family is beyond it’s capability. And so on. The various layers of government ought only bear that responsibility for which all other layers are incapable or not suited. This does not mean that each successive layer out to act antagonistically to those layers above it in responsibility, but ought instead to build up each layer in order that those other layers are MORE capable, and so that responsibility only falls upon the lower layers when all else has failed. In other words, the family ought to build up the individual so that the family is less necessary, and less likely to be called upon to support that individual as it matures and takes on more responsibility for itself. The friends ought to build up the family and the individual in the same way, and the community ought to do the same for the friends and the family and the individual, and so on. This structure of reinforced and supported and encouraged responsibility results in the strongest communities, the strongest families, the strongest nations, because each individual and each successive layer of responsibility is invest in those that take priority above it, and as each successive layer is made as strong as it can, the entire structure can bear much weight and stress in times where responsibility increases or situations change for any given layer.

The federal government, then, ought to be primarily invested not in centralizing responsibility, authority, and power to itself, but instead in divesting authority. Not delegating, for that implies that it retains ultimate responsibility and is superior to those layers which are in fact superior to it. But divesting authority, actually giving it away (or, more realistically, having it taken away) to those layers which it ought to instead be supporting and reinforcing so that they are able and capable of bearing more and more responsibility and authority.

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Is Modern Christian Music Unoriginal?

Kirchenchor
Image via Wikipedia

Yes*.

My wife shared an article with me that asks “Is Christian Music Today ‘Genreless’ and ‘Unoriginal’?” and asked my opinion on the subject.

As a musician this aspect of Christian music has bothered me for some time. But it does not bother me so much as some, because I don’t think all Christian music is bland and blah. At the various times in my life when I considered writing or composing, it has never occurred to me to publish it in a “Christian” venue. I’d rather write and play and sing songs that have truth than pigeon-hole my music into a particular demographic. Listen to a John Denver song and you’ll generally get the idea: he sings about strong and true things. A Christian will hear his lyrics and be prompted to examine their life and praise God. A non-Christian will also be edified as the aspects of their soul that resonate with the truth of the words will perk up and be strengthened. He would have gained nothing by selling his music as “Christian” music, and the world probably would have lost much.

So perhaps some of my lack of worry is because I never considered “Christian” music to be as distinct and separate as some would consider it, even when I held to the legalistic perspectives of my youth. But some protection from that cynicism has come from my seeking out musicians that aren’t endlessly derivative. In fact, rather than spend time trying to explain how there are nooks and corners of Christian music, and even some broad swaths, that are not “genreless” and “unoriginal”, far from it. There are some artists that are veritable fields of deep and spiritually healthful music calculated not to tickle the ears of the masses, but to speak to the soul words of truth.

Pandora introduced Dirt Poor Robins to me a few years ago when they played Masquerade by this husband/wife group. It’s clever use of a well-known nursery rhyme caught my attention, as did it’s musical genius. Then the words of Rise Up, meshing the words of God to Job and Isaiah, have served at many times to bolster my spirit in difficult times. But all these pale to I Shot A Man:

Rich Mullins’ music has attracted me since I first heard Creed, and the intro to Sing Your Praise To The Lord seems to me to have effectively pre-dated most of the Classical/Rock fusion now common in the songs of Evanescence and Within Temptation. That’s not derivative, that’s original.

While no one would claim that Steven Curtis Chapman or Michael W. Smith are in any way nearly as talented musically as either Dirt Poor Robins or Rich Mullins, I think these two illustrate a second aspect of how “genreless” and “unoriginal” are not the only standards by which Christian music can be measured, especially for Christians themselves.

No one can argue that Smith and Chapman more than make up for their lack of talent with a great depth of spirit and honesty in their Christian walk. I think recent events probably brings this more to the forefront in Chapman’s life, but I get the same feeling from Smith’s music as I do Chapman’s: they are both real men with real hearts of God who sing to the utmost of their ability praises to their Lord and Savior. Granted, these men play rather key roles in my own spiritual growth, proving to be catalysts in my breaking free from the legalism that captured much of my youth. Hearing This Was Her Time during a televised Billy Graham Crusade showed me irrefutably that contemporary styles of music were not devilish, and at my first (and only) concert, Chapman had the son of Nate Saint and Mincayani himself as guests on stage pushing an upcoming film on their stirring story. At that same time we’d been studying the story of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint at home and this coincidence confirmed to me further that God was being glorified through modern music as well as through the old.

But regardless of my own attachment to these two, they both use their derivative and unoriginal music to make joyful noises to the Lord, edifying and encouraging Christians who hear them in their own walks. That, to me, indicates music that is successfully Christian, regardless of it’s stylistic grade.

This brings me to a final point: more is gained when music is appreciated for what it is than criticized for what it’s not. Music that is good for Christians comes in two flavors: music designed to encourage praise of God in a corporate or private setting, and music designed to encourage good living. I listen to much more of the latter in my personal music library, and this latter category also contains much music not written for, or even by, Christians. The former category has certain inherent limitations imposed by it’s purpose: it must be singable, accessible, and “relevant”. In a word, it must be popular. It is generally mostly in the latter category that you’ll find music that is interesting, technically creative, stylistically challenging, in short, original and genred. Unfortunately, it is the former, singable, accessible, “relevant” music that you hear on KLOVE or whatever your local praise-fest station is, and it is this style that is mostly what is thought of when you hear some comment about how dull and stupid Christian music is.

The author of the article ended by saying that Christian music ought never have moved beyond hymns, stating that is the only “true” Christian music genre. I assume he’s forgetting that a hundred or more years ago when most of those hymns were written, they were in the style of the popular music of that culture. It has been as many in the church have gotten stuck in a 300-year-old music style that the church has grown old and stuffy and concerned about things like walking down the aisle, saying the “sinner’s prayer”, developing theologically questionable habits that are more about pew-warmer’s comfort and less about letting none perish. Not that these two trends are necessarily causal, but they certainly are correlated.

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My People Perish

“They had zeal without full knowledge, hope without understanding, religious practice without clear theology.” ~ J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament

“My people are destroyed” said God.

While you could say the small prophet Hosea spoke to a different time and people, look around today and you’ll see it is still true. God’s people are destroyed. Beaten back on every front, surrendering left and right the ground of morality and decency and charity. Christian responsibilities co-opted by conniving socio-political systems that seek to enslave through manufactured need rather than free by salvation of the soul.

But why are God’s people destroyed?

It isn’t, as one would gather from visiting churches today and listening to the people and the pastors and reading the glut of how-to-fix-Christianity books, that they lack heart or soul, or truth or depth in their feelings of devotion. It has nothing to do with with a lack of action by them on behalf of the gospel. It isn’t that they are too involved in the culture, and it isn’t that they are too distant from it. It isn’t that they don’t read their bibles, or because they protest at abortion mills. It is not for any of these reasons that God’s people are destroyed.

No, it is because they lack sense. Because they are not intelligent about what it is they believe. God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Passing through a bookstore, do you breeze past the Theology section? Do you see a book titled “Systematic Theology” and your eyes glaze over? Do you come across a difficult section of scripture and you skip past it looking for greener pastures for your soul? Does the thought of countering charges of biblical inconsistency or addressing the basic points the foundational principles behind baptism cause you to shiver? Why is this? Do you fear that you don’t know enough about “those things”, that such things are better left to pastors and some nice but weird people who God has made specially for debating and defending the faith and that scary thing called “Apologetics”?

God may not have called us to defend our faith before a television audience with Larry King. He may not even care whether or not we show up at the local park and talk to strangers about Him. But He wants us to not be destroyed.

We avoid destruction through knowing, first and foremost, what it is we believe. And not in simple Sunday School terms that haven’t advanced since 2nd grade. It is the responsibility of each and every Christian, to the extent of their own ability, to know why they are saved, what they are saved from, who saved them, and how that salvation came to be. For most people, the extent of their own ability is far beyond where they are now.

We avoid destruction through also knowing why it is we believe what we believe. This requires knowledge of the history of the Christian faith. We do not live in the only important time. It is a general fault that the majority of each generation thinks only in terms of their own generation. But the world, humanity, and Christianity are all very much older than any one of us, and are likely to continue on much longer than any one of us. Those troubling issues we deal with today are in no way unique. Brilliant people have struggled and pondered and argued over every nitty-gritty detail of the various ideas that comprise orthodox Christian theology, and there are very good reasons why the most universal and general beliefs of orthodox Christianity are what they are today. Even a little knowledge of how we came to believe what we believe can help defend ourselves against the destruction of predatory and untrue belief systems and cultish ideas.

We avoid destruction, in short, by studying to show ourselves approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Can you rightly handle the word of truth?

I doubt I’ll ever be able to handle the word of truth. But that will not stop me from learning and honing and studying and growing in knowledge so that I may escape destruction.

Hosea 4:4-6
4 Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
5 You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

2 Timothy 2:14-19
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene… 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

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Mea Culpa: Defining God

From http://hypernews.ngdc.noaa.gov
Image via Wikipedia

I have been guilty of a grievous error: I have thought it possible to comprehend God.

Reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer I have been convicted of my inability to logically comprehend God.

Let us say I compose a piece of music. I put into that music my heart and soul, my passion and creativity, a dash of pathos, and sprinkle of… whatever I’d sprinkle in a piece of music. As a composer that piece of music is mine. That music’s very mine-ness, though, prevents it from ever being me.

“Duh”, you say. But think of that concept applied to God.

God created the universe, the physical laws of the universe, all that we see and touch and hear and feel and experience. He also created how we experience. He created our senses and our minds and hearts and, listen carefully, the emotions and thoughts, the mental and spiritual and emotional mechanisms by which we experience. And, just as He created the non-physical mechanisms of experience, He created the non-physical mechanisms by which we ponder and manipulate creation.

By the very act of His creating the ideas of love and peace and justice and mercy He shows that he himself cannot be our human conceptions of these metaphysical entities. Our conceptions of these concepts are mere shadows of what He is. We can attempt to use words to describe and encapsulate the totality of the epitome of His characteristics, but the entire surface covered with books would still be too few words to describe Him in even only one of His aspects.

My big error was based on the idea that, as God’s creation is logical and can be understood to abide by laws and facts, God Himself must therefore be logical and capable of being understood by rules and facts. The inference was that those facts of human logic that enable and undergird much of our understanding of the world would be the same laws by which we would be enabled to understand God.

This cannot be further from the truth, and indeed it indicates some portion of my pride.

God, creating a world that can be understood by logic, which He then, by extension, would have created, is above and outside those laws and logic which He created. The creator of time cannot Himself be bound by time. He is not prevented from participating in it, but to do so requires a conscious intention and action on His part.

Let me not think of God as being comprehendable, in the abstract sense. Instead, let me see God as one far above and apart from me who, nevertheless, has chosen to make Himself known to me, involving me in the plans He is working out through all His creation.

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Book Review: Same Kind Of Different As Me

Same Kind Of Different As Me

What do an affluent art dealer and man raised in what was essentially 20th-century slavery have in common?

I don’t know either.

But God did, and in this true story of two men for whom being from different sides of the railroad tracks didn’t begin to describe the gulf between them we see Him working His will to bring each of these men into the fullness of His goals for them.

Same Kind Of Different As Me tells the story of Denver Moore, a man raised in extreme poverty as a share-cropper in the American south, and Ron Hall, a man of self-made wealth who didn’t have a problem money couldn’t fix. Brought together by Ron’s wife and her work in a Dallas-area homeless shelter, what began as Ron’s begrudging and prideful helping out became a bond between these two that carried them through storms of life many of us have not faced.

I cried reading this book, which doesn’t happen often. But more than the emotional depth of the story was the truth that we are not as different as we may think. I see people on the trains riding to and from work and I think “what could I have in common with them?” Then memories of this book come to me and I think “if Denver and Ron were brought together, I should not doubt there may be some common purpose here as well”.

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