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Behold! In the last days…

I was turned on to an HBO television show (now in it’s 2nd season).  We’re watching the 1st on DVD.  It’s called, “The News Room”, about an anchor news man with his own news show in NY, NY.  It’s done by the same mob who did West Wing a decade ago.  Well done, thought provoking, not always saying what “we” want to hear – no matter what political, economic, societal, special interest group, religious point of view you take.  Aaron Sorkin is good at that.  I like it – I like the approach.  Some times, it validates me, sometimes it offends me, sometimes it challenges me.

Many people are not like this.  In fact, it has recently been said that never before have we, as a people of a nation state, been so divided since our bloody, awful, gut wrenching and long lasting resentments, Civil War.  That’s a scary thought…. We no longer have a common center of definition, identity, values, “story”, history, experience, agenda, longings…  we are in real trouble.  One would think globalization would aid in a “coming together”.  When recently in London, I was amazed at how I find it harder to differentiate the Americans from the British today…  I used to be able to differentiate French, German, British, Yank in a second.  Not any longer.  Only “fresh off the boat” immigrants from other “distant” (culturally) lands are identifiable…  their kids while having different features and ethnic skin colour/color look exactly like other British kids of any ethnicity…  YET, with all this globalization and clothing revealing global sub-cultures, there is more and more devolution…  devolving of nation states.  Be it Scotland, or US regions and states wanting less affiliation to the US, or multiple nations of the former USSR, African states splitting, and even in China, it is a current reality.

The reaction and current I see in the USA is one where sub-cultures, more than geographic identities, are moving apart at alarming rates, which in many ways is more concerning than geographic regions moving apart.  These sub-cultures, in these “last days” no longer want truth, but want “their truths”.  They want “their truths” in the news – not varying, opposing points of view.  There is a disdain for anyone who thinks, concludes, values, see a different perspective.  Rather than respect, it’s division.

In this cultural battle wanting only “our truth” told to us, we’ve gone from even tolerating hearing other views, or even any view (aka “truth”) that is contrary to our pre-digested views.  A friend in another city dismissed an argument I had in a topic of discussion because it came from the BBC.  He hardly sees the BBC, the undisputed most respected news agency on the planet, as objective.  His “truth” comes only from Fox News, who most journalism institutions question as even being journalism, but rather propaganda (propaganda in the classic sense – promoting an argument from one perspective and agenda).  How can we discuss anything, as we cannot even agree to disagree – rather I’m seen as less intelligent, less reliable, of character question because I see global and national politics, social issues differently.  We are truly very, very divided as a people and the future within the USA is scary due to this.  People in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The United Kingdom, The Republic of Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, etc, are very concerned as we’ve remained adolescent as a people, as a nation, and not maturing in our ability to understand and engage the world.  It scares me also.  This is akin to the “right thinking” in totalitarian states, such as China, North Korea, much of the Arab world, etc.  We are just “the other (right) truth… the mythology of the Lone Ranger continues.

Yet, critical thinking has been paramount to intelligence, and even more so wisdom.  Critical thinking is paramount to have a functioning democracy.  Democracy requires one critically think, then allow the will of the people to carry the day.  Yet, the recent slaughter of dozens in mass terror incidents and the reaction of over 50% of US states loosening gun laws, contrasted to ten tightening them reveals where the will of the people (90%+) is irrelevant to the special interest groups (aka powerful ($) lobby groups, visa vie NRA) are to the reality.  Politicians don’t critically think, but react to the most powerful interest groups who bank roll them, and people do not want to think, but they want what they want.  This is true in areas where more liberal policies have won as well.

Maybe we should pause and define critical thinking, as it is no longer a virtue in our society.  While some, like Wikipedia, offer simplistic definitions, I feel it imperative to offer a more substantive definition:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Bottom line, it means giving honest ear to “hear” different views and perspectives and wisely discern for truth and wisdom.  That is NOT in vogue.

I repeatedly find people very “certain” in their views.  They do not want to “hear” other views.  When in university, I had a professor for a 400 level course who was an exchange professor from Duke.  She was brilliant and challenging in many ways… the greatest lesson she gave me – above anything in the class subject matter – was to “listen and hear” opposing positions and voices.  To respect and listen with an ear to hear, a heart to receive, a mind to learn.  It has also been a curse, as it puts me at odds with people who at first see me as “on their side” in be it politics, religious doctrine, social hot potatoes, etc.  I am then often alienated, ridiculed and judged.  My “learning posture” which she taught me has caused me to grow, adjudicate my convictions, values, priorities, agenda, morals and theology.  This scares the hell out of some people who rather than critically thinking, being too scared to go “astray” accept what is predigested and fed to them, and usually is introduced with “Well ____ says….”  They become black and white, simplistic, “certain”, arrogant and divisive and dismissive of anyone else and see them as an opponent, and immediately pass anyone they meet through a complex sieve to define and categorize them.  To be honest, drives me nuts.

This is more true of my evangelical brothers and sisters than any group I know.  I hate to say that and don’t want to beat on this subculture or demean them, but there is so much truth in this reality.  There is not a posture to learn and grow, to expand, mature through life, but an arrival that we now, today, have cornered truth.  Scary.  I am not covertly arguing for DOMA or against it; not fighting for The President or against him; not wanting a form of government change.  I’m simply arguing that we will be better people if we have a posture that respects and will actually “hear” others – if for nothing more than to a) understand – there is nothing like “being heard”, being understood and validated as a person and our experience.  Worse case scenario, we will be heard better and with reciprocating respect when we start here; b) we will learn, grow and develop grace when we “get it”.  When we stop and hear how we as ethnic-Europeans come across to Native American peoples when we talk about “our” story as America, we talk about Manifest Destiny, as if a certain mandate from the Living God.  Yet, they hear terrorism, empire, invasion, disenfranchisement, abuse, slaughter, theft, humiliation, etc.  When you listen, you suddenly see America differently, our story differently and an understanding of what it might be for “us” all to go forward.  Now expand that thinking to Asian introduction to America, African introduction, Italian introduction.  Did you know the abusive experience of Italians directly – DIRECTLY – gave rise to societies to take care of each other and when exasperated these societies, often along clan lines, became what we know as “the Mafia”?  It makes our story different.

What alarms me, even more, especially amongst fellow Christians, is that when this shining mythology of our story is dismantled for the complex reality that we inherit, there is even more anger, rejection and ostrich head buried in the sand, to attempt to return to the myth that made us feel special, unique, clean, guiltless and not the empire we in reality are.  This carries directly over to our theology, or more accurately our ortho-praxy (our practice of faith), which is more cultural (not just American culture – which we are highly synchronistic in our cultural understanding of God’s Word) but how we are not really interested in knowing the full story, really being like Christ, but rather, being comfortable, feeling secure and having our own felt desires massaged.   We don’t want to change how we culturally experience God to accommodate others, but rather demand they become like “us” and “like” what we like and have been given.  I give that there is an inheriting of faith and practice that creates a common story, but we make our story “the right story” and invalidate others.  That is scary.

This fear, this denial, this rejection is overarching in life and rather than being a counter-cultural phenomena we become anti-cultural and anti-societal and reduce ourselves to combatants in the culture wars and we’re losing because we fight with weapons of this world and want to win, not win souls.  We’re more interested in “our rights” than right… how, ugh, hmmm, American?   Should we not be Christ-ones?  Reflect His heart, character, value, priority?  Would we really like, follow and want Christ if He showed up today?  I’m not sure – because I sincerely do not think He brings “our truth”, but His.

I was asked immediately after this was first published why I called it, “Behold, in the last days…”?  I think because “we” (His people) always think of “them” (non-Christians, the enemies of God) as the ones believing and being fooled by “other truths”/false truths – aka lies.  It never says that.  There is a miss perception by many that it is only them.  Yet, I see Christians all over the globe distracted and believing things that are not orthodox at all, but agreed upon by the celebrity leader(s) and therefore mimicked by his/her loyal follower masses.  Can we not be believing “other truths”?  Did not the German soldier’s belt say “Gott mit uns” [God is with us]?  Did not the confederate and the unionist, the revolutionary and the whig all pray to Christ Himself?  Does not the Evangelical, protestant, Orthodox and Catholic pray to Christ?  Yet, there are many different realities… maybe “we” (whichever “we” you are) have embraced a “truth” that could stand to grow, mature, even change?

I am going to follow with sharing a series of articles from Sojourners, a monthly Christian journal/magazine.  I admit up front, I like many things in it.  I also admit, I disagree with a lot of things in it.  BUT I read them all – because they help me critically think, understand and therefore discern and conclude wisely.  I also admit that I have learned, grown and even altered some views because of what they offer and share.  This alienates some.  It is not the only source, but one of many sources I read to gain a broader perspective on issues.

I am not arguing for any position or issue – but rather the much broader reality of how we digest issues and arrive at conclusions.  Maybe we should arrive more slowly, more cautiously, less “certain”, more open and reticent to have crisp hard lines.  Yes, it is a simpler world and easier to know where we fit… unless we fit in a false reality.  Maybe it is a more complex world…. did you know 97% of all knowledge was gained in the past two years?  Our abilities are growing that fast!  Our world, thanks to communication, speed of travel, globalized economy, culture, etc, is more complex.  Maybe we’d be better off, have less wars, less culture wars, and even, as saints following the Living God, earn a more sincere hearing.

I hope you enjoy this mini-series to come.  I hope it challenges, grates and encourages you.  I hope it makes you mad, gives you a new light to “light up” and even relieve the need to have a stone foundation on every issue you encounter.  Maybe it releases you from having a certain position “today”…maybe you can be un-concluded for a while?  Maybe we can listen, hear, understand and therefore, not be enemies with any and all who think differently and maybe we all move towards each other – rather than devolving back to where we were in late 1865 and the dark decades that followed.   Yes, you’ll leave the mythology, be it left or right, that you’ve embraced.  It’s okay, you won’t fall.  Maybe you’ll be on more solid footing than ever before and for the first time, be free from “having to buy so fully into the party line”.

More to come….

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