reflection

Complex Communication

Cross-cultural communication can be very tricky. Especially when people from indirect cultures communicate with people from direct cultures, and vice versa. The potential for misunderstandings is huge.

This was one of the topics I taught this week. Craig Storti uses the dialogue concept (which was developed by Alfred Kraemer) in his book “Figuring foreigners out.” The idea is to bury cultural differences inside a small dialogue to make people think.

I am especially fascinated by the following dialogue between an American employer and an Asian employee.

Ms. JONES: It looks like we’re going to need some people to come in on Saturday.
Mr. WU: I see.
Ms. JONES: Can you come in on Saturday?
Mr. WU: Yes, I think so.
Ms. JONES: That’ll be a great help.
Mr. WU: Yes. Saturday’s a special day, did you know?
Ms. JONES: How do you mean?
Mr. WU: It’s my son’s birthday.
Ms. JONES: How nice. I hope you all enjoy it very much.
Mr. WU: Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.

One reason I find this one so fascinating is that even I did not pick up on everything. Of course, I am not a specialist for Asian indirectness. But would you have noticed that the first two replies from Mr. Wu are an indirect ‘no’?

Ms. Jones did not realize that already her first opening sentence was perceived as an indirect request. Neither did she realize that Mr. Wu answered twice in the negative, but in his indirect style. He was probably wondering why she does not get it, so he tries to be more direct but without success. I did realize that, in the end, they both thought that they had understood each other, but didn’t. Mr. Wu will not come to work on Saturday but Ms. Jones still thought he would. Not a happy ending.

Since my students were all from indirect cultures, one exercise was to rewrite indirect sentences into more direct ones, so that their colleagues from direct cultures would get the message. I have not yet seen all the papers, but I can tell you that it was not an easy task for them. What they considered very direct was still fairly indirect. I guess it is the same for us, from direct cultures – it is hard to be more indirect, and not have the feeling that this way the message will never come across.

On the other hand, we need to realize that in situations where people from several cultures work together, indirect communication is not a good choice. Indirect communication is also called high context. It works well in situations where people have a lot common. Then it is not necessary to spell things out clearly. A lot can be implied and will still be understood because people have an intuitive understanding of each other because of the shared context. This is not the case in more individualistic contexts, nor in multicultural contexts. In these situations it is better to work towards a more direct communication style to avoid misunderstandings. Hopefully with a happier ending.

Cross-cultural communication can be very tricky. Especially when people from indirect cultures communicate with people from direct cultures, and vice versa. The potential for misunderstandings is huge.

This was one of the topics I taught this week. Craig Storti uses the dialogue concept which was developed by Alfred Kraemer in his book “Figuring Foreigners Out.” The idea is to bury cultural differences inside a small dialogue to make people think.

I am especially fascinated by the following dialogue between an American employer and an Asian employee.

Ms. JONES: It looks like we’re going to need some people to come in on Saturday.
Mr. WU: I see.
Ms. JONES: Can you come in on Saturday?
Mr. WU: Yes, I think so.
Ms. JONES: That’ll be a great help.
Mr. WU: Yes. Saturday’s a special day, did you know?
Ms. JONES: How do you mean?
Mr. WU: It’s my son’s birthday.
Ms. JONES: How nice. I hope you all enjoy it very much.
Mr. WU: Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.

One reason I find this one so fascinating is that even I did not pick up on everything. Of course, I am not a specialist for Asian indirectness. But would you have noticed that the first two replies from Mr. Wu are an indirect ‘no’?

Ms. Jones did not realize that already her first opening sentence was perceived as an indirect request. Neither did she realize that Mr. Wu answered twice in the negative, but very indirect. He probably is wondering why she does not get it, so he tries to be more direct but without success. I did realize that, in the end, they both thought that they had understood each other, but didn’t. Mr. Wu will not come to work on Saturday but Ms. Jones still thought he would. Not a happy ending.

Since my students were all from indirect cultures, one exercise was to rewrite indirect sentences into more direct ones, so that their colleagues from direct cultures would get the message. I have not yet seen all papers, but I can tell you that it was not easy for them. What they considered very direct was still fairly indirect. I guess it is the same for us, from direct cultures – it is hard to be more indirect, and not have the feeling that this way the message will never come across.

On the other hand, in situations where people from several cultures work together, indirect communication is not a good choice. Indirect communication are also called high context works well when people share a lot of background in common. This

Does God still speak today?

In one of our last Bible studies we discussed another chapter of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.“ It was on the spoken word of God.

We read a whole series of verses about God’s word and suddenly I realized that we usually assume that these refer to the Bible, even though most of them do not necessarily say that. It’s so easy to hear “God’s word” and think of “God’s Word” as if it was the only word of God.

This reminded me of a book that I had read two years ago, and it motivated me to do a little summary of what I learned through it. The book is Hearing God, developing a conversational relationship with God, by Dallas Willard (1984)

Willard starts the introduction with a story of his wife’s grandmother: When somebody in her house group mentioned that God had spoken to him, she remarked “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.” She is in good company. Maybe you have had the same question. Many believers like her have a rich interactive relationship with God but are unfamiliar with God’s voice and the possibility of having a conversational side of a relationship with God.

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest root in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are matures personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects” (29)

He defines this conversational relationship as telling God what is in our hearts and hearing and understanding the “still, small voice.”

In the following chapters, Willard treats different aspects of this question, misconceptions and arguments why God cannot, would not, and does not want to speak to people. These arguments are partly influenced by “naturalism,” leading people to believe it is unscientific to think that God speaks.

(If you don’t have time to read a long post, jump to the end of the post for the summary.)

Willard is very clear on the question that the Bible is the primary manner of communication. However, the second way as expressed in Ps 32:8 is guiding us with his eyes. This means an awareness of what the other person is thinking. This is what Willard calls the conversational relationship, an outworking of Jesus living in us and his presence in us (Col 1:27, Gal 2:19-20).

Jesus promised us that we can hear his voice (Jn 10:1-16). One aspect of hearing his voice is to receive guidance. He can use dreams, visions, voices, the Bible, extraordinary events, etc but the most important one is the “still small voice” or “gentle whispering” that Elijah heard. It is easily overlooked and disregarded. It can be audible, or a human voice, or through messengers including angels, but most often we will hear it inside our spirit.

Willard addresses some common misconceptions:

– “a message-a-minute view” – every movement needs to be ordained by God, and people are unable to act without clear guidance from God even for daily tasks.
– “it’s all in the Bible” view – leading to the assumption that we do not need to hear his voice today. He also call this “Bible deism” – similar to the Sadducees, there are those that believe that God stopped speaking, but this is a wrong way of honoring the Bible.

When the Bible refers to the “word of God” without further qualification it usually means God’s speaking, communicating, his thoughts and his mind (Ps 119:89-91). God’s word is powerful and in speaking God created the universe (Gen 1) and through it he rules the kingdom. In the same way that the word of a king is powerful and can have big effects (including heads rolling), the same is even more true for God’s word. This is what the centurion recognized (Mt 8:10) – “just speak a word and it will happen.”

The reality in the kingdom responds to the spoken word! God also gives power and authority to people (e.g. Num 20:8-12). God handed over power to Jesus, and Jesus handed over power to us, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21, Mt 10, Lk 9)

There are different degrees of power – sometimes we are called:

– to ask for God to speak a direct word (pray)
– to speak on his behalf (Acts 3:6; 14:10)
– to take action on his behalf (Acts 9:40)

We need to keep in mind that THE word of God is Jesus (Jn 1:10-11).
And the Bible is God’s Word, his written word, and one result of God’s speaking.

Willard makes it very clear that:

“the Bible is the written Word of God, but the word of God is not simply the Bible” (141)

When we examine Bible passages with this in mind, we will discover that

– the Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form
– but the Bible is not Jesus Christ who is the living word
– neither is the Bible the word of God mentioned in many Scriptures passages: e.g. Ps 119:89, Ps 19:1-4; Acts 12:24; Mt 13 – in comparison to 2 Tim 3:15-17 which refers specifically to the ‘sacred writings,’ or Scriptures or 1 Pt 1:23-24 where both are mentioned next to each other.

All of these are God’s word, including when we hear from him individually!

God’s word is portrayed in the Bible, and available to every person through the Bible, but it is not limited to it. God uses the Bible to renew our mind, but it is mainly through his speaking to us that we are transformed in a character for whom listening to God’s voice is natural. This is what our union with Christ looks like (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:21).

In chapter 8, Willard provides detailed answers on how to recognize God’s voice. It is a learning process. We need to learn to discern his voice, both while reading the Bible and when listening to the “still small voice” because even Satan can abuse the Bible. In this learning process it is good to have help from others, who have a close relationship with God. But first we need to accept that God does speak, and wants to speak to us, then we can grow in experience and ability to hear his voice.

On the question how to distinguish God’s voice from our subconscious voice, Willard cites E. Stanley Jones who points out that the subconscious voice argues with you, tries to convince you, but the inner voice of God does not argue, it just speaks (175).

When God speaks we can sense the weight of its authority. This is combined with a spirit of peacefulness and confidence, which is similar to the godly wisdom mentioned in James 3:17. We should test it because it has to be consistent with God’s character and the principles of his written word, e.g., fear motivation does not come from God.

It also helps to accept that there is no guarantee for perfection, or infallibility of discerning God’s mind. It is impossible to never be mistaken and nowhere promised, but maintaining a close relationship to the Bible helps. Willard warns us that this is not the same as scholarship.

“Scholarship does not replace experiencing the living voice of God.”

Concerning fear of not being able to discern God’s will: “God is not a mumbling trickster” (191) – when we are willing to listen, he can make himself understood and is able to communicate plainly.

God can direct us mechanically, without speaking, like driving a car or directing a robot, “but when he guides us with conscious cooperation, he speaks to us.” The necessary conditions are:

– our willingness to listen
– asking him to speak
– being still

We should not be anxious if we don’t hear from God, but trust that he gives us a lot of freedom to determine our life, and sometimes he wants us to make our own decisions.

Concerning the “perfect will of God”: when we follow God’s general counsel of his written word, we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will, and if there is any specific word, we should be obedient to it.
Beyond that we have a huge freedom, because God does not always have a specific plan for each moment – “no ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely for each believer.”

Two final thoughts:

– Hearing God does not exclude risks or suffering.
– The greater goal of listening to his voice is to move beyond it to living in the kingdom (211).

Willard summarizes the book with the following steps (213)

A) Foundational steps

– having entered into an additional life by the additional birth, including the commitment to find out more what is morally right and commanded by God
– seeking fullness of the new life in Christ at the impulse of the spirit of God, growing in faith, moving beyond living in our own strength

B) Steps to hearing God

– meditate on God’s principles of life in the Scriptures
– be alert and attentive to what is happening in our life, mind and heart
– pray and speak with God about all matters that concern us
– listen carefully and deliberately for God’s voice
– if God does not speak

o ask him about possible hindrances
o seek counsel from other believers who live in close relationship with God
o correct whatever comes up
o if nothing comes up, act on what seems best to you.

Deeply De-Christian Doctrines (meme)

Joe started an interesting meme: Evangelist Changing: 5 Deeply De-Christian Doctrines Meme which I discovered through Eddie’s blog  Deeply De-Christianised Doctrines « Kouya Chronicle

Peter Kirk has tagged me with a meme that states: list 5 doctrines that are taught within the Christian church that you believe to be deeply de-Christian.

Among those who have already participated are:
Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » Deeply De-Christian Doctrines

St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: ‘5 Deeply De-Christian Doctrines’

clayboy » The Deeply De-Christian Doctrine meme

De-fending the de-Christian | lingamish

Lingamish suggests that “If you’re a reader of this blog consider yourself tagged.” So, I consider myself  tagged and will contribute some thoughts on this topic. However, I am not necessarily listing real doctrines but ways of thinking that I believe to exist in many Christian circles but are not necessarily biblical.

1) Some cultures are more Christian than others: this is along similar lines as Eddie’s “Christians in one country or region are better than others” but not quite the same. The colonial attitude is unfortunately still alive – it assumes that Western cultures and Christianity are nearly identical. Therefore in case of doubt, the local culture must be wrong and unbiblical. For some it is hard to imagine that they got it right, even before becoming believers, and we might have gotten it wrong.

2) Bible Idolatry: the book called “God’s Word” is sometimes considered God’s only Word and often becomes more important than the author himself and my relationship with him. We forget that the Bible is only a means to an end – a deeper relationship with our creator.

3) Perfectionism: we are supposed to become more or less perfect soon after our conversion. If it does not work, I need to at least pretend; put on the Sunday smile before going to church. This is one of my more recent insights – we are called to become more and more Christ-like and this is NOT identical with being perfect but a matter of maturity. It’s hard to shake off a perfectionist upbringing and learning to understand that rules are not more important than relationships – “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

4) Having the right information solves all problems: as long as I have the right information (=get enough training, do enough Bible study), I can use my will and make the right decisions. Conversion and faith are a matter of the will. Legalism and judgmentalism are the logical result when you think that that ideas and choices are key to being a Christian and making us into the right kind of person. This means when you know God’s Word, you are able to decide in every situation what’s God’s will for yourself and others. No need to ask God. Or so many people seem to think. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who have all the right information and still make the wrong choices.

4a) Right theology is more important than character transformation: even though the theological part is only one point of many and the last in the list for the qualification of elders, it is often treated as the most important one when choosing a pastor or elder, to the detriment of other points that the Bible seems to consider more important.

5) Our mind is more important for spiritual living than the body: this mind-body dichotomy is rooted in a medieval psychology that is long outdated and no longer tenable in view of more recent psychology and brain science, but Western theology still subscribes to this view. Will and spirit were seen as spiritual and important, while the body and emotions were seen as fallen and therefore unable to please God. Today we know that will and spirit are very much linked to our body.

The last three points I owe largely to teachings by Dr. Jim Wilder, especially his recent webinar series on “Why Western Christianity Failed.”

EDIT: Oops – I forgot to tag others. Let’s see if the following people will take up the challenge: Dr. Mouw, Rombo, Marti, Tim and Wess.

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Patient With Yourself

Be patient with everyone,
but above all with yourself.
I mean, do not be disheartened by your imperfections,
But always rise up with fresh courage.
How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbors’ faults
if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
He who is fretted with his own failings will not correct them.
All profitable correction comes from a calm, peaceful mind.

– St. Francis de Sales

You are there

In yesterday’s Bible study group, we discussed another chapter of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God“. It was on God’s omnipresence. Among other things, we read Psalm 139:7-10 and were then encouraged to rewrite the verses with those places where we need to be reminded of God’s presence. Here is my personalized version:

When I am wasting time with red tape,
you are there.

When I feel powerless in the face of corruption,
you are there.

When I am overwhelmed with things to do,
you are there.

When I am exhausted from the noise around me,
you are there.

When I am unable to meet others’ expectations and accomplish my own goals,
you are there.

When I feel lost and uncertain about the next steps,
you are there.

Even there you are IMMANUEL – God with me,
surrounding me with your love,
and delighting over me.

Rewriting these verses was very helpful for me and a wonderful reminder of God’s presence.

What did you learn today?

So, what did you learn today? (or the last few days)

Here is what I learned last week:

I spent the second half of last week in San Diego at a conference of the NAES, National Association of Ethnic Studies. The main goal was to see how such a conference is organized and to learn how to present a conference paper. This means I was more interested in the technicalities than in the content, but I still tried to choose presentations that were of some interest to me.

Here are some of my observations:

  • General framework: each panel was scheduled for 1hr 15min, and had 4-5 speakers. As there should also be time for questions at the end, this meant that each presenter had about 12-15 minutes. This is very little. It is certainly not easy to stick to that time.
  • The chair sometimes introduced the presenters in detail, sometimes not. In one case the chair used the final time slot to present a critique (not criticism) of each presentation, basically giving an additional presentation. I found that less interesting than the Q&A times.

Presenters roughly fell into three groups:

  1. Some gave a strict reading of the paper, often with little eye contact.
  2. Others read the paper, but interspersed with informal comments and explanations, usually with more eye contact and lively (livelier) intonation. In some cases they read large passages but then made transitions with informal remarks that made it more lively. Or the reading was interspersed with explanations about the PPT (powerpoint) slides.
  3. A third group presented the material freely without reading any material, except maybe some quotes. My guess is that most people in this group were teachers or professors who were used to lecturing without reading their paper.

Other differences and observations:

  • Some read too fast and it was hard to follow, especially when coupled with
    • Reading with little intonation, not very lively way of speaking.
    • Using too many big words that were hard to conceptualize for non-insiders.
  • Only one person handed out copies which was good because his PPT did not work, but it is hard to know how many people will come to each group.
  • Maybe half of the presenters used PPT.
  • In one case the picture on the screen was for the following presenter. This was distracting.
  • Only one person went overtime and even that was due to a misunderstanding.
  • There was especially one presentations that kept the audience spellbound by the way of presentation (as far as I could tell):
    • an African professor who was a great storyteller (in good African tradition).
  • There were three presentations (among those that I heard) that captivated people due to the content:
    • an African-American young lady who talked about her auto-ethnographic research and search for identity,
    • two men who spoke about the humanitarian blight of illegal immigrants along the American-Mexican border.

Concerning the content of the presentations and the supporting research data:

  • The presenters did not give a lot of information about the research data, only about general methodology (probably due to the time constraint).
  • Even if they had done a lot of research the presentation could only focus on a small part of it.
  • The titles of the presentations were not always telling you much about the content.
  • In quite a few cases I had the impression that the title had more to do with the conference theme than with the actual content of the presentation.
  • Some presentations had very little to do with ethnic studies, e.g.
    • one geography student who had done the same presentation at a geography conference and now just left out a lot of geographical details.
    • one student of philosophy (?) spoke about the Islamic concept of the heart with very little reference to the panel theme.

All this tells me that I need to be less concerned about not having material that fits exactly with the conference theme. It seems to be OK if it only touches on the theme in some broad sense and with creativity. This was actually my main worry because it is of course rare that you have done sufficient research in an area that fits a conference theme exactly. I also go the impression that there are large differences in the amount of research that went into each presentation, and the depth of knowledge.  This will also help me to be less afraid of not having enough data or having done huge amounts of research.

Good ideas and things I want to copy:

  • Set a timer before you start. Even though the chair will give you a notice when you have only 2 minutes left.
  • Say “quote” before you read a quote.
  • Explain the larger context of your paper in the beginning, including any planned future research.
  • Don’t assume that the audience knows a lot about your topic, give enough simplified explanations so that anybody can follow.
  • Avoid “big” (technical) words and tongue twisters.
  • Mention authors of existing works in your research area by name.
  • Preferably use a PPT but not too many slides.
  • Try to speak freely but practice good timing and lively intonation.
  • Provide a clear summary at the beginning and the end of what you propose or want to communicate through the paper.
  • If possible try storytelling and include personal stories.

All this was very helpful and gave me a better idea about what it means to present a conference paper, as this is something I will be doing in the near future. Thanks to this conference I am now better equipped to do it. And hopefully less nervous. 😉

Sharing a meal

This is one of my favorite memories from my time in CAR (Central African Republic). I wrote it for Pictures, Poetry & Prose when the theme was “Sharing a meal”. I forgot to check back and discovered only now that my contribution had been chosen, and I received the “Exceptional Writing Reward.” My first blogging reward!

expwriting

1994: Our team of sociolinguistic surveyors arrived in a remote village planning to do a group interview on language use. We were told that the men were all out in the field drinking palm wine. So we had to wait for the next day. In the late afternoon the other female team member and I got the crazy idea to cook a local dish – Gozo (manioc/cassava fufu). Our guide organized all the necessities – Manioc flour, stones for a stove, fire wood, sieve, cooking pot, large wooden spoon. We did not need to pound the flour, but we nearly forgot to sieve it. We had quite a few spectators – two white women cooking on an open fire? Most village women had never seen a white person before. Can white women cook? They did not think so. When the Fufu was nearly ready, we decided to open two tins of lentil soup to accompany it, instead of a local sauce that would have taken a lot more time. Suddenly we had the even crazier idea to ask the village chief (who was present and not drinking palm wine) to eat with us. In an African context a very normal thing and matter of politeness and hospitality – except when you are not even sure how your meal will turn out. To our own surprise he accepted. So our team, our guide and the village chief sat down together and ate as is normal there – from one big bowl with our hands. It tasted quite good but the lentil soup must have been unusual for the village chief.

The next day in the morning we were finally ready to start our group interview. The village chief gave a moving introduction speech concluding it with the words: “Formerly white people came and treated us like monkeys. Today another type of white people has come. They are white people with whom we can put our hands in the same bowl (which is an important sign of friendship).” We were all deeply touched.

Questions from Ecclesiates 2

Here is another interesting quote from the “Quester” – as Eugene Peterson calls the writer of Ecclesiastes (explained in another post):

24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?

Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Ec 2:24-25
This made me very thankful for the work God has given me. Not just because of the economic situation. I know that not everybody finds satisfaction in their work and so I am very grateful that God has given me a job that I find very satisfying. Some say that this is a matter of attitude and this might be true, even though I am not sure that I would find any kind of work satisfying.

Apart from that, no matter in which situation you are, being thankful for what you have and learning to thank for the small things in life can change your whole outlook and even improve your health.

Invitation to thankfulness: What are you thankful for today?

***

Hier ist ein weiteres Zitat vom “Sucher” oder “Frager.” So nennt nämlich Eugene Peterson den Schreiber vom Buch Kohelet oder Prediger (in meinem anderen Eintrag erklärt):

24 Es gibt für den Menschen nichts Besseres als essen und trinken und genießen, was er sich erarbeitet hat. Doch dieses Glück hängt nicht von ihm selbst ab: Es ist ein Geschenk Gottes. 25 Denn wer hat zu essen oder hat Grund zur Freude ohne ihn?

Gute Nachricht Bibel, © 1997 Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Kohelet 2,24-25

“.. genießen, was er sich erarbeit hat.” ist im Englischen übersetzt mit “.. und Befriedigung in seiner Arbeit findet.” Das ließ mich sehr dankbar werden für meine Arbeit. Nicht wegen der gegenwärtigen Wirtschaftssituation. Mir ist bewusst, dass nicht jeder Befriedigung in seiner Arbeit findet und darum bin ich so dankbar, dass Gott mir eine Aufgabe gegeben hat, die ich sehr befriedigend finde. Manche sagen, dass das eine Frage der Einstellung ist und das kann gut sein, aber ich bin mir nicht sicher, dass ich selber jede Arbeit befriedigend finden würde.

Abgesehen davon, egal in welcher Situation du dich befindest, dankbar sein für das was man hat und lernen für die kleinen Dinge im Leben dankbar zu sein, kann die ganze Perspektive verändern und sogar die Gesundheit verbessern.

Einladung zur Dankbarkeit: Wofür bist du heute dankbar?

Fast changes

This week and the next I am in an intensive class. One day this week the professor pointed out how many things have changed in society within the last 50 years, and how the rate of change has become shorter. He said this in the context of the process of institutionalization, which is a cycle where man and women become reformers, then they create a movement, after some time the movement becomes a machine and then a monument. At this point a new reformer will stand up and the process begins again. Every time the people breaking out of the institution swear they will never end up there, but history shows that they will. The only difference: formerly the cycle took 80-100 years, nowadays it is only 40-50 years.

 

Questions from Ecclesiates

Here I have something for you to chew on this week from Ecclesiastes. Eugene Peterson calls the author “the Quester” and writes in the introduction of The Message:

“Ecclesiastes” is a Greek word that is usually translated “the preacher” or “the teacher”. Because of the experiential stance of the writing in this book, giving voice to what is so basic among men and women through history, I have translated it “the Quester.”

One passage especially stopped me in my tracks and again I thought, it’s unbelievable that this has been written so long ago, and yet it is so relevant for today:

13 There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver.
14
Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children.

(Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Ec 5:13-14)
Amazingly relevant in the present situation, isn’t it?
Let me add another quote, in case you decide to read that book for yourself. At times I could not help thinking, “Boy, this guys sounds depressed!”  In case you get the same reaction, another part of Peterson’s introduction might be helpful:
Ecclesiastes challenges the naïve optimism that sets a goal that appeals to us and then goes after it with gusto, expecting the result to be a good life. The author’s cool skepticism, refreshing negation to the lush and seductive suggestions swirling around us, promising everything but delivering nothing, clears the air. And once the air is cleared, we are ready for reality – for God.
Let’s get ready for reality!
P.S. In case you are looking for the audiobook – on Amazon.com the author of the printed books is Eugene H. Peterson, the author of the audiobook is Eugene H. Petersen. 😉

Foolishness?

This week I read “Foolishness to the Greeks” by Lesslie Newbigin for the upcoming class. It gave me lots to think. Here are a few remarkable quotes:

Islam denies the Christian doctrine of original sin and therefore believes that it is possible to achieve a total identification of the laws of a state with the law of God. Church and state in Islamic thought are one, without distinction of function. That way we cannot go. The sacralizing of politics, the total identification of a political goal with the will of God, always unleashes demonic powers.

I am aware of this teaching in Islam and found it a very interesting analysis. He goes on to say:

We are witnessing the same thing, but under Christian auspices, in the emergence of what is called “the Religious Right” in the United States. The leaders of this movement, while accepting the biblical doctrine regarding the radical corruption of human nature by sin, in effect exempt themselves as “born-again Christians” from its operation. They identify their own cause unconditionally with the cause of God, ….

Wow! This seemed so unbelievable. Newbigin wrote this in 1986 !!! – more than 20 years ago. This left me nearly speechless. It reminded me so much of what I had heard and seen over the last few years and what had seemed to me a recent development. I was not aware that this “Religious Right” had started much earlier. I know very little of what it looked like twenty years ago. The remainder of the paragraph is much more dated, but I can still see certain parallels:

… regard their critics as agents of Satan, and are apparently prepared to see the human race obliterated in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which the nuclear arsenal of the United States is the instrument of Jesus Christ for the fulfillment of his purpose against the Soviet Union as the citadel of evil. This confusion of a particular and fallible set of political and moral judgments with the cause of Jesus Christ is more dangerous than the open rejection of the claim of Christ in Islam, just as the shrine of Jereboam at Bethel was more dangerous to the faith of Israel than was the open paganism of her neighbors, for the worship of Ba’al was being carried on under the name of Yahweh. The “Religious Right” uses the name of Jesus to cover the absolute claims of one national tradition. (See 1 Kings 13; and see Karl Barth’s extended commentary thereon in Church Dogmatics II / 2, 393ff.)

But the rhetoric of the “Moral Majority” is only a further development of the ideologizing of politics that stems from the Enlightenment. … The Enlightenment gave birth to a new conception of politics, namely, that happiness can be provided by a political system and that the goal of politics is happiness. The project of bringing heaven down to earth always results in bringing hell up from below. (pp 116-7)

Even though the reference to the Soviet Union is outdated and the present situation with Iraq is different, there are enough parallels to make us think. This and other parts of the book are a powerful reminder that church and state have different tasks and this distinction needs to be maintained even if every citizen were a member of the church. On the one hand, it is wrong to accept the relegation of the church (faith, values, purpose) to the private sphere as a result of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to identify any single country or political party with God’s will on earth. We are all fallible.

We ARE called to engage the culture and world-view of our societies, shape public life, challenge politic rulers with God’s standards, give people a taste of God’s reign through Kingdom activities, but we cannot establish God’s kingdom through political achievements.  We need to have the courage to testify to a reality that cannot be proven true according to the rules of our society (where only scientific facts count), and we need to give others the opportunity to observe us in community, worshiping our loving King, and experience through it the “radiance of supernatural reality” which can draw people into His kingdom.

Seeing is believing

I am presently reading “Seeing is believing” by Gregory A. Boyd (2004). He’s got an interesting point about the importance of picturing spiritual realities with our inner eyes.

In my twenty-three years as a pastor I found that the primary difference between those who love worship and are impacted by worship, on the one hand, and those who never seem to enjoy it or get much out of it,on the other, is not that one group is simply more spiritual or committed than the other. Rather, the fundamental difference, I have found, is that something’s happening in the minds of the first group that isn’t happening in the minds of the other.

In the same way, I have generally found that the difference between those who spend a good deal of time and get a lot out of prayer and those who do not is not necessarily that the first group is more mature and committed than the second group. Rather, they usually pray more because it feels real to them. And the reason it feels real to them is because something is going on in their minds when they pray that tends to be absent in the minds of those of us who find prayer laborious, boring and unreal. … They pray ‘with all five senses.'” p 100 (italics in the original)

I fond this very interesting because it is certainly true for me. But I thought it is just God’s way of communicating with me, based on how he created me, as I am rather visual (painting, photography) and because I am generally thinking in pictures, which I am told is typical for dyslectic people.

Now I am curious what you think about it.
Would you confirm these statements from your personal experience or not?