August 17, 2008

Weeks 32 & 33 of 2008

I missed last week’s update, but I have an excellent excuse. My wife came back! Nikki came back from her vacation on Saturday evening. We spent Sunday together in Illinois with her relatives. For that evening, we went to Medieval Times in Schaumburg, Illinois. I’d been to Medieval Times once before in Dallas. I enjoyed it about as much this time; Medieval Times is a lot of fun, though it is rather pricy. But it’s a fun thing to do, especially for an anniversary. This was my and Nikki’s fourth anniversary.

It was marvellous to see her again. I don’t remember longing for anything as much as her return in a very long time ... it was like waiting for Christmas as a kid, when it takes forever but is so much more special when it does arrive. The married life agrees with me, I think.

Other than her coming back, there’s not too much to update you on. I’ve started martial arts training in Genbukan ninpo; it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as much a rank beginner in something. In college, I was taking classes in things I generally had some background and experience in, but this is quite different. It can be frustrating to do so many things wrong ... but I’m sure it’s quite healthy. Right now much of my training is in bowing and scraping properly. :)

Samurai Charging Gatling

A few years ago now, I saw Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai. It was an interesting film, but it deeply angered me. It seemed to me to portray the culture of the West as degraded and worthless, in contrast to the worthy and glorious culture of the Asian East. (Though, to be fair, there is one scene I recall which showed a single positive point of comparison between the West and East: Tom Cruise carries firewood for a woman.) At the end of the film, there’s an epic battle between the Western-style Imperial Japanese Army and the traditional samurai. During the first part of the battle, the samurai are able to trick the Imperials into fighting at close range without the support of artillery, and the Imperials are slaughtered. Then, at the final scene of the battle, the samurai perform a glorious mounted charge against the rest of the Imperial army ... defended by a single gatling gun. They are destroyed to a man, mowed down by the pitiless gun.

The scene is meant as a great tragic moment when all your sympathies are with the samurai nobly giving their lives and living out their traditions. I, on the other hand, am rooting for the gatling gun. I crow in triumph as the proud samurai meet their doom, as their ancentral armor made with such care and skill is made worthless by the murderous fire of the gatling gun. I rejoice, because those samurai despised the West. They despised our weapons, our culture, our achievements. They thought it all worthless. Degraded. Lower. And yet it killed them, in all their haughty pride and great skill. They may have martial training up the wazoo; they may fight with enormous determination and nobility, but in an open field charging a gatling gun, it’s all worthless. They’re blown away.

Arrogant horsemen either learn to respect a machine gun, or they die. Our culture and our weapons have great power. To ignore that is foolish and suicidal.

You may hate the West, but you shall fear our weapons (in their proper element), or you will die.

I don’t mean to commit the same error of despising the old weapons. They too have great power. At close range, a well-trained sword can wreak havok among people wielding guns. And the enormous care and skill and glory of what the old world was able to make deserves our respect. But some of our modern stuff deserves theirs as well. And if they despise it, they shall be destroyed by it if they fight us (just as we will be destroyed by the old tech if we despise it and face it on its own ground).

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:32 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

Groups As Living Things

A while back, it occurred to me that corporations (indeed, all groups of people) have some interesting qualities when viewed as living things.

In some ways, corporations are living things. The law has recognized this for more than a hundred years, giving coporations legal “personhood”. Most people I discuss this with think this is foolish. Corporations aren’t people. They’re dead inanimate objects.

But it occurs to me that corporations are like living things. They are things that we humans create which take on a life of their own. All human groups are like this, to a greater or lesser extent. When you form a club, that club exists almost as a living thing, albeit a very weak one. All groups depend on their members for their continued existence (much as we humans depend on our bodies for continued existence). Some members are more important than others: the loss of a few key people will be the end of a almost any small group. But the larger a group gets, the more immortal it is. The less it depends on and is shaped by any one individual. Just think: if you were to try to change the nature of Ford Motor Company, how many of its people would you have to change? The CEO would not be sufficient. Neither would all its board. It has a distributed life (though some members are more important than others).

Living things share a common basic goal: they all want to continue to survive. If you’ve noticed, groups do too. In fact, corporations are often criticized for this: they prefer their own profitability over the good of individuals. But to a corporation, profitability is life. An unprofitable corparation is a dead organization (or it’s a government or a charity :)). If the most basic drive of a living thing is to survive, why should we be surprised that the living things we create have the same basic drive?

Living things also tend to have a certain insatiability to them as well. Many animals will eat themselves to death, if given the opportunity. Human beings in particular have a “hole in their hearts”: they always want more than they have. Again, the groups we form share the same characteristics: they too always want more.

Corporations generally are very dumb living things. The larger they grow, the dumber they get. This is probably because the more a group grows, the less it depends on an individual for its existence, and the less a single individuals’ intelligence guides it. As a semi-famous quote puts is: “any one of us is smarter than all of us.” Corporations are often criticized for not having the intelligence/humanity to put the interests of others ahead of their own. But children also have a marked tendency to be selfish: selfishness is indicative of immaturity.

The largest single difference I can think of between groups as living things and individuals as living things is what they’re made of. Groups are made of individuals. Individuals are made of lots of things, none of which is sentient apart from the individual. For an individual, the life of the members is and should be wholly subordinated to the life of the body. My body is a tyranny, not a democracy. When a member of my body revolts and does its own thing, we call it cancer.

Groups, however, are made of individuals. Each of which has rights and goals and opinions of its own, which are not subordinated to the rights, goals, and opinions of the group. As an individual, I can destroy my members at a whim (though it is wise to consider their utilitarian value: I’m not going to sacrifice a useful member if I can help it). A group, however, should not do this. A group should destroy individuals only when doing so saves more individuals. A member of my body only has value if I myself think it does. A member of a group has value whether or not the group thinks it does.

Groups have tremendous power. The most powerful groups are many many orders of magnitude more powerful than any individual but God. They have enormous wealth, incredible resources, and vast manpower. People working together have great power. But groups find it very difficult to control their power. Sitting in on meetings and seeing the results should convince anyone of that. Groups do lots of things they don’t quite intend to do, and (like all actions) their actions have unintended consequences. Groups are barely alive and only sort of have their own will and intentions, but they still manage to do a lot of things.

Guilty and Innocent Groups?

Modern conservatives do not consider groups living things. In particular, they do not believe that groups have moral responsibilities. They (accurately) believe that responsibility, guilt, and blame can only be attributed to living things; because they do not believe groups are living things, they don’t believe groups (particularly corporations) have any moral obligations to their members (or to others). This is incorrect: in the Bible, the nation of Israel was condemned and sent into exile for its sins. In the book of Nehemiah, he prays:

let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.

Nehemiah 1:6–7, ESV

Nehemiah clearly feels guilt for the nation he is a part of; for the sins of his fathers and his peers as well as his own. Again, this time in the book of Daniel:

we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.

Daniel 9:5–11, ESV

How are we conservatives to factor this into our calculations of guilt and innocence? In the book of Isaiah, God says:

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.”

Ezekiel 18:2–4, ESV

This is the justice we believe in: people are only responsible for their own sins and actions.

Can an individual be held responsible for the actions of his group? Even the actions of that group occurring before his time? Most conservatives I know are extremely resistant to the idea that they are responsible for the sins of their fathers (one specific example is whether to feel guilt over our nation’s history of slavery and discrimination).

Lest anyone make the argument that mourning over the sins of one’s group is Old-Testament-only, there are numerous times in the New Testament where mention is made of mourning for the sins of one’s group. One specific example: “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” (2 Corinthians 12:21, ESV).

Yet people do stand apart from their groups and are judged individually all throughout Scripture. Examples: Achan, though part of the victorious Israel, was destroyed for his personal sin of taking things that were supposed to be devoted to God for himself. Interestingly, Israel was also judged for his sin: they suffered a terrible defeat at Ai (Judges 7). Rahab, on the other hand, though part of a condemned city/nation, was delivered by her faith. Moses’ intercession spared the nation of Israel on a couple occasions (Deuteronomy 9:13, Numbers 14:12) as well. Righteousness or evil of an individual has consequences for his group. The most extreme examples of this is are Adam and Christ.

I think that we can extract a few principles:

  1. God may punish groups for the actions of individuals.
  2. God may bless groups for the actions of individuals.
  3. Individuals are held responsible for their own sins, not the sins of others. Judgment for the sins of others may fall on the groups an individual is part of, but not personally on the individual.
  4. As part of a group, it is appropriate to mourn the sins of its members, both past and present. You may not be personally responsible for them, but your group is partly responsible.

I think it’s safe to say that guilt can be borne by both groups and individuals, and that it’s a different kind of guilt. One is personal; you yourself have it. One is shared: all of you in a group have it. This matches the point of this whole post: that groups themselves are a kind of living thing that can have responsibilities and guilt. As a member, you share those responsibilities and guilt, but you share them. You do not carry them alone.

Can a group be saved or condemned? I hesitatingly advance that it can, though individual members of it may not share in its fate one way or the other, depending on their actions. Israel as a nation was sent into exile, though individuals were spared and a remnant was left. Christ threatened the church of Sardis in Revelation:

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’“

Revelation 3:1–6, ESV

The church as a whole was threatened with judgment, but hope was held out for individuals. The reverse is also true; the author of Hebrews points out that the nation of Israel was delivered from slavery, yet the majority of its members perished in the wilderness because of their sins. The group may be delivered, but the individual perish.

I suppose all this goes to say something simple: groups are real, and individuals are real. They can be guilty and they can be judged and they can be saved. Groups are judged as groups (and all their members are affected), and individuals as individuals, and they stand alone.

Morality of Groups

As alluded to earlier, groups are different from individuals. Their morality is also different. But what is that morality? How is it different? How is it the same?

I don’t think I have answers to that. I’ll try to muse about it a while, but I don’t know if much will come of it.

Groups are different from individuals because they are composed of individuals whereas individuals are composed of ... well, not of individuals, anyway. Both individuals and groups have to generally relate to three kinds of “others”: groups have to relate to their own members, to the members of other groups, and to other groups. Individuals have to relate to their groups, to other individuals, and to groups they are not part of. They also have to relate to God. I guess groups do to: the Bible contains lots of stuff directed at groups as well as individuals. God is concerned with groups as well as individuals, so it seems that groups also need to be concerned with God as groups.

A group is very nebulous. It almost always has leaders, but it has lots of non-leaders as well, and they also matter. Leaders have an enormous influence in a group, but the sum total of their influences is less than the total influences on the group. There is no one person who makes the decisions for a group (generally there’s something sick and dangerous in a group where one person controls it totally. A healthy group has more than one active person.) A leader bears more responsibility for the group than a non-leader (James 3:1). A group bears some responsibility for the actions of its members. This is clearly demonstrated in the Bible.

When is an action the full responsibility of a group, when the full responsibility of a member? I don’t think either of those extremes really exist. Any action of a member has some relevance to the group, and any action of the group is taken by its members (and almost never all of them), so they always bear some individual burden as well. I was pondering the question of how a group can repent. We see an example of a group repenting in the book of Jonah:

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Jonah 3:6–10, ESV

I doubt that all of Nineveh repented, but enough of them did to “save” the group. Indeed, it doesn’t take many people to “save” a group: Abraham wheedled God down to 10 to save Sodom. (Genesis 18:22)

I suppose the question of the morality of groups is intimately tied to the morality of the groups’ members. Because all actions of every member affect the group, the “good” actions of a few can “save” a group, and the “evil” actions can also condemn it (or call down judgment, anyway). But when can the group be said to be acting? I suppose the answer to that is anytime a member of the group acts. The more members act together, the greater the impact. (That’s where groups get their power).

So does the morality of a group reduce down to the sum of the morality of its members? Or does it have responsibilities as a group? According to my previous conclusion that both groups and individuals are real, it must. Sodom was judged as a group. Nineveh repented as a group. So what is a group action? A group action is something its members do together. Can a group be said to be under the same law as individuals? To “love the Lord with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself?” Does the group have a heart? Yes; it is a living thing. Obeying this law would obey all four of its responsibilities: to God, to the members of others, to other groups (both qualify as neighbors), and to one’s own members (to love your neighbor as yourself, you must love yourself, to love yourself, you must love your members).

A group is much clumsier than an individual. It almost has to be; it is much bigger. So how does a group love its neighbors? The same way one loves anything: by genuinely acting for its good. So how could a group genuinely act for the good of others (which is what we often want corporations to do)? I suppose its obvious how groups could act for the good of others; what is not obvious is how to get the group to do so. A group tends to be highly immature and dumb. How can you get a child to willingly act for the good of others? I suppose by telling them to and (much more) by doing so yourself yourself.

I’ve heard it said that children will follow in the footsteps you thought you’d covered up. In general, we individuals in today’s culture do not love the jobs we have or act in the best interests of the companies of which we are a part. The general attitude I see in people is a desire to get as much as they can from their company and being grudgingly willing to work to get it. They do not love their group and do not really act for its benefit. And they wonder why the group grows up to act the same way toward them: the corporation grows up to desire to get as much out of its employees as possible and is grudgingly willing to give them various benefits to get those things. So I suppose the first step in teaching a group to love others is to love the group.

I think that’s enough for now. I wonder how many of you made it through this whole post? It’s a really long, meandering, philosophical one. Maybe nobody. :( I suppose it was valuable anyway, since it let me think through my philosophy of groups, but I hope it benefited someone else too.

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:31 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

August 03, 2008

Musings on Pornography

Picture of a young woman with this caption: 'Sex is part of us. It's a part of our nature. But to show it, it's suddenly ''Dirty Pornography''. Shouldn't a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic?

I ran across the image on the right while browsing the Internet this past week. It interested me. The caption says “Sex is part of us. It’s a part of our nature. But to show it, it’s suddenly ‘Dirty Pornography’. Shoulnd’t a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic?”

It’s not a bad question, though I am doubtful of the Platonic philosophical motives of its source. I will try to answer it.

Sex is indeed beautiful. It is the most intimate thing one human being can do with another. It is both physical and spiritual. In some ways, it is a fulfillment and affirmation of what it means to be human, of God’s intent that love should find its joy, its ecstasy in giving joy and ecstasy to another.

Yet we humans are ashamed of it. Have been ever since the fall. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7, ESV). Seems a strange first action for humans newly emancipated from the tyranny of God. But it rings true.

One word which should describe sex is “intimate.” But now we humans are all afraid and ashamed. None of us would be willing for everything we’ve ever said, done, or thought to be known to everyone else. Sex generally affords another human being the chance to see us totally naked, stripped of the clothes we wear that make us look “acceptable.” Every physical flaw is laid bare. Small wonder it holds great fear. But sex is more than physical; the emotions of a person are also laid bare. Or should be. If they aren’t, sex becomes increasingly mechanical and emotionally void.

So should we cheer on those of us with the courage to “take it all off” and envy them their cheek? Courage is required to do something you’re afraid to do. But courage can be required to do evil things as well: I hear that most killers are at least somewhat apprehensive their first time as well; killing someone also takes “guts”. You cannot blindly admire someone for doing something they were afraid to do.

How much intimacy can pornography have when the one being pornographed is a stranger? They lay it all out for you and you give nothing back. And they don’t do it for you as a person; they do it for the crowd. For the generic, impersonal “you”. Whatever intimacy is given is a lie.

Pornography when the pornographed is known to you (your wife, for instance) is a trickier issue. One trouble with it is that it is still unidirectional: one party reveals themselves and the other does not. Though the graph (I figure an instance of pornography can be referred to as a graph) could be of the two of you. Then I inquire about the purpose.

The purpose of sex is to give. The reason your organs were made the way they were is to give pleasure to another. To be sure, sex is a source of great pleasure for oneself, but when it is used as such instead of a source of great pleasure for another, it is twisted. This, by the way, is my fundamental objection to masturbation. I struggled with it greatly as a teenager and still face the temptation (far easier to deal with now that I’m married). And I realize that masturbation is a contentious issue and one that’s dangerous to judge too harshly: many many people live under a terrible crushing guilt because they’re trapped in an infinite cycle of giving in to temptation, regretting and repenting, and giving in again. It’s demoralizing in the extreme.

But I still think it’s worth fighting against, particularly for a guy. The fundamental problem with masturbation is that it uses one’s sex organs (and one’s mind) for your own unshared pleasure. I think there is great gain and maturity to be found in fighting against its temptation if you fight because you know that your sexual powers were not made for you, but for another.

This has great relevance to the case against pornography as well. If pornography has good uses (which I have not yet conceded), by far most of its uses are evil: they are a case of a person (usually a man) taking sexual pleasure in a graph of people he does not know or care about as people. There is no true intimacy in it. And sex without intimacy is evil.

There are only two cases I can think of where pornography can be good, and they’re debatable. One use of it is when the pornographed is your spouse, and you view it not to get sexual pleasure in the current moment, but to remember a marvelous intimate moment of the past. I find remembering my wife and our moments together to be an inoculation against temptation of all sorts. The other case would be when you share the graph with the pornographed and together you delight in it.

As an aside, it is perilous to commit pornographs to anything but memory. My wife refuses to do so, and she has a good point. A photograph can be viewed by someone who shouldn’t far easier than a memory.

So back to the image and its questions. A human body in a state of sexual ecstasy is more beautiful and artistic, but it is also far, far more intimate. It cannot be intimate for you, though, unless you truly know and love the pornographed, and sex without intimacy is evil. Additionally, pornography is commonly viewed for the sexual pleasure it provides the viewer. Sexual pleasure is meant to be given; to seek it out for oneself is evil.

And finally, to neglect or deny the shame we humans feel about ourselves and our bodies is foolish and naive. We are ashamed because we are conscious of sin. It is perilous to lose or destroy that consciousness of sin unless the sin has been dealt with, much as it is dangerous to lose the painful sensation of burning until you have quenched the fire.

And even we Christians are not exempt. The sin nature still haunts us and gives us cause for shame. This is a whole separate topic in itself: the sin nature is at once dead and alive in us. We are free and not free of it. I have not puzzled out the interconnections completely. But I find Jesus’ parable to be extremely valuable:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24–30, ESV

I think the kingdom of heaven in our own hearts is similar to this: we have wheat and weeds in our souls, and God to avoid rooting up the wheat chooses not to strip out the weeds until the harvest. I’m not sure if we should be ashamed of our sin nature anymore, but we should be aware of it.

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:22 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

Biblical Tolerance

I came across a couple of passages this week that are worth recalling. The Romans 14 passage in particular is deeply relevant when dealing with the issue of Christian tolerance or lack of it. Some people are surprised to find it’s in the Bible at all.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. ...

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. ...

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 14, ESV, emphasis mine

Sorry for quoting almost all of the chapter (I imagine most of you skimmed it, but Romans 14 is awesome. It’s worth a sermon. Probably a whole series of sermons. Click on the citation link to see what I cut out. There are many issues which come down to opinion in Christian living. Church music. Tattoos. Earrings. Pants for women. Drinking alchohol. The list is infinite. This passage advises us on how to deal with inevitable differences.

  1. Do not despise the one who disagrees with you. Young one who hates hymns, do not despise the old one who hates your music. Old one who disapproves of tattoos, do not despise the young one who’s sporting one. As long as the person who doesn’t wear earrings does so to honor God and the one who does because his conscience is clean (not to spite someone), God is glorified.
  2. Do not judge or despise your brothers on trivial things. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” As we’ll see in the next passage I quote, there are times when Paul advises you to judge your brother, but do not judge him over trivia. When in doubt, it’s trivia.
  3. Do not hurt your brother through your freedom. Do not flaunt your differences of opinion and make him uncomfortable. “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”
  4. Do not hurt your brother through your rules. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
  5. “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” It’s ok to speak up when people rag too much on modern music. Or hymns.
  6. “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.”
  7. “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” I think this can be taken in two ways. First, you are blessed if you can honestly take stock of the things you approve of without guilt or nagging doubt. Beware of approving things you feel a little guilty about or unsure of. Second, it’s better to have fewer rules in one’s life that make you pass judgment on yourself for what you approve.

Turning to subject of righteous judgment ...

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:9–13, ESV

From this passage, I take away that it’s not Christian’s job to condemn the outside world. The first part of this passage strikes me as particularly interesting: Paul clarifies that by saying one shouldn’t associate with sexually immoral people, he isn’t referring to people outside the church. “God judges those outside.” Let Him do so.

Where we need to draw the line of association is when it is “our people” who are sinning egregiously. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anoyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” I emphasized greed because we tend to be hypersensitive to sexual sin and blind to other sorts.

It occurs to me that Christians already have a reputation for being cruel to their members who transgress sexually, so let me also quote the words of Paul from Second Corinthians, probably referring back to this very passage.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

2 Corinthians 2:5–8, ESV

“The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all.” (Chesterton)

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:20 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

Week 31 of 2008

Week thirty-one of 2008 has slipped past. My wife is still on vacation, though she’ll be coming back at the end of this week. I miss her greatly. I function reasonably well as a bachelor but there’s a persistent feeling of incompleteness and not-quite-rightness to being alone. I’ll be very glad to see her this weekend. We’ll get a chance to have dinner together at Medieval Times in Chicago when she gets back. Our fourth anniversary is this week.

Happenings of this week ... last Sunday I went to a house-blessing party for a couple from our church. While there, I struck up conversation with some of their neighbors. One of them was a sculptor by trade and was very interested in Epic. Our founder, Judy Faulkner, has made the artist community of Madison exceedingly happy over the years. The main Epic campus at Verona is filled with marvellous, quirky art of every kind. A few examples: they have artificial trees in one building, and wooden stairs leading through them upstairs. Midway up a “life-size” statue of a troll guards the landing. There is a lifelike sculpture of a squirrel in that tree. Just inside reception at Epic is a chessboard made of Muppet characters. There are dragons in that building as well. If you ever come by Madison, make sure you ask me to give you a tour of Verona. Anyway, this sculptor and a friend were so interested in Epic that I offered to give them a tour of the Verona campus this week. I was going to be in Verona anyway for a class on Friday, so we met for lunch (which is always good at the Epic caffeteria), and then I spent a little more than an hour giving them a tour of the place. It was a lot of fun. It’s always neat to show something wonderful to a person for the first time. One grows jaded to the glory of a place; it’s nice to have someone to remind you how cool it is. :)

I have finally acquired a library card! It’s been ten months since my wife and I moved to Wisconsin, so acquiring the card was painfully overdue, but at least I have it, at long last. :) A thought struck me as I wandered the library: I have a fairly large sense of awe when inside a library. The feeling of being surrounded by inestimable knowledge on every side has always made libraries seem a little ... awesome, possibly holy to me. There’s just so much there! The thoughts of thousands upon thousands of people, spanning hundreds of years, dozens of countries, and uncounted different perspectives are there, waiting for you on shelf after shelf. You could profitably spend your life there and still never come to the end of it. What struck me as odd was the fact that I feel no such similar awe when launching out onto the Internet. But all the knowledge packed into the library is the tiniest drop in the bucket next to the collosal knowledge at my fingertips when surfing the Web. There are the thoughts of millions (possibly billions by now) of people from every country of the world. In terms of sheer knowledge, the Internet outweighs any library many times over ... and yet I feel no such sense of awe. Partially because of how easily accessed the Internet is. You have to go to the library, enter the doors, and you see it all around you. The Internet can be accessed from the comfort of my own home (or from my Blackberry), but as a rule only one page is visible at a time. The Internet can hide its vastness behind the little windows we call monitors that we use to view it. But it strikes me that it would be wise to launch myself on the web with more awe than I do. I suppose what I need is someone who is experiencing it for the very first time, like the two gentlemen I gave a tour of Epic to.

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:19 PM
This post has been classified as "Autobiography"
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