Following Christ

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Dear Russell & Friends,

I know that it has been a while since I’ve written.  For a while, I’m pausing here.  Why?  Do I owe an explanation?   If I’ve taken the time to write, and you’ve taken the time to read and write back then the answer is yes.  I do owe an explanation.  TIme.  Time is the explanation.  We all have the same amount of it.  No one is more busy than any one else.  We just spend our allotments of time differently.  For a season of almost two years, this blog was a wise use of time as I poured my heart out to a friend and opened my mind to those with whom I disagreed.  Honestly, in some areas – – I’ve been convinced.  If time is a zero sum game, and I argue that it is, what was I missing?  The pages of my paper journal are sparse.  My academic productivity has waned.  And I’ve read many new books and learned new things that may take me several years to absorb.  One revelation of this blog to me was my own personality and just how strong my trait of introversion is.  I think that I need about a thousand pages and a thousand miles to think in the best way I know how – – prayer during long journal entries and long runs.  Will I return and share some of those thoughts and prayers?  I hope so.  I don’t want my solitude to be selfishness, but for now I ask your leave to enter the solitude that has never left me lonely.  Russell may continue to write here in my absence if he chooses.  There are several other competent and compassionate interlocutors both here and elsewhere.  In fact, Mrs. Pascal and I are looking forward to dinner with two of them on Sunday night.

Thank you for joining this season in my life.  I pray blessings on this season in yours.  I have learned so much more about skeptics and atheists.  Two things are most important – – I know that I love them and I know that the time spent listening was well spent.  I’ll see you later – – here or elsewhere.

Love,

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Dr. Robert Jeffress,

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’ve cc:ed you on my open letter to Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, Texas.  For point of reference, I’m responding to his sermon here:

Dear Dr. Jeffress,

My name is Pascal and I am a follower of Christ.  I have done so since I was a child, trained by imperfect but godly parents who loved me and taught me to to love scripture.  I had not heard your name or seen your face before you chose to address the world in the guise of addressing your congregation.  My first impression was that you must be a Republican politician.  Red tie.  Dark suit.  Dour expression with forced smiles.  When I searched your name, most posts were from Fox News.  First impressions can be illuminating.  Malcolm Gladwell would call it a blink.  That was type 1 thinking – – a heuristic reflex that recoiled and said – – this man is a Pharisee.  In this open letter, let me return to type 2 and carefully respond to what you carelessly constructed.

“As Christians we follow the Bible.  We follow the New Testament specifically.  You cannot find a verse anywhere in the New Testament that commands us to kill unbelievers.”  Jeffress, above: 1:50-

Your polemic was actually very short on the scripture that I love.  Let’s go to that scripture to evaluate your words.  First:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1

Jesus’ brother James is talking to both of us.  We both teach.  You teach the scripture as a vocation and presumably well for you were called to teach at a powerful church in one of America’s largest cities.  By posting on YouTube you are teaching more people than could ever crowd that building and reaching those who would never darken its doors.  What about scripture?  What does scripture say about itself?  Second:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Your assertion that Christians follow the New Testament specifically is constructed in a way that dismisses the Old Testament.  As a debater, I understand why you did it.  The Old Testament is rife with verses that say exactly what you assert the Qu’ran says.  As a believer, I must remind you that our whole story of redemption – – creation, fall, chosen tribe to bless the earth, saviour and much of what we learn about government comes from the Hebrew scriptures – – our Old Testament.  Paul, who wrote the precious verses to his young pastor mentee Timothy above, loved scripture and said that it was useful.  Christians follow all of scripture.  What is scripture useful for?  It is useful for one thing I’ve honestly never used it for before – – rebuking error, even from a pastor-politician.

You said that God does not intend man to live without borders and that securing borders is the God-given priority of government.  Be careful.  Using God’s name in vain does not only mean swearing.  It means speaking for him without sufficient study and respect.  A false prophet uses God’s name in vain.  In support of your argument you quoted this:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  Acts 17:26

Paul was speaking in Athens on Mars Hill to believers in all current faiths, including those who believed in no God.  To read the words in context belies your thesis.  What does scripture say that God intends for the people of the world?

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  Rev 7:9

At the outset of your speech, a version of which I expect to see at the Republican National Convention for which you were auditioning, Christ-following was constrained – – even reduced – – to the New Testament.  False.  Scripture rebukes you.  That allowed you to conclude that Donald Trump was right.  Shame on you. What does scripture say about refugees and immigrants?  Again and again – – it says this:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Lev 19:33-34

I realize your position.  You are an elder.  I recognize that scripture warns me to take accusations against an elder very seriously and to do so only in the presence of other mature believers.  That is why this letter is as open as the video that you posted.

You are wrong.  You have misrepresented scripture and handled it poorly.  You have used your pulpit for politics.  Change.  Bring back the prophecy of truth telling, not punditry.  Go back to the full counsel of scripture.  Repent (turn around) and pray for God to humble your heart.  He will if you ask.  I’ve been there and he’s forgiven me of my foolish pride too.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15

Deeply grieved,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

Family Forgiveness

Dear Russell & Friends,

A brief companion to yesterday’s reflection on how a family must sometimes fight to preserve itself and maintain integrity.  Families also don’t leave.  They don’t stop when members do painful things.  They love deeply, especially in the context of disagreement and disappointment.  That is not acquiescence to wrong.  It is the decision to love someone even if her opinion is wrong.  It is the decision to love when you just can’t like.  It is patient and kind, neither envying nor boasting.  It is not arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful.  It rejoices in truth, not wrongdoing.  It does not insist on its own way.  It bears, believes, hopes and endures and never ends.  This is the love of a family in a fight and it is so damn hard.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35

Even when you’re wrong family, I love you and will not leave.

Pascal – – 1:16

Family Fight

Dear Russell & Friends,

This won’t be long or profound.  There is no image I borrowed to entice you.  It is only a heartfelt response to the last week and the people I love – – my family.  My family is now nuclear after the passing of my mother this year preceded six years ago by my father’s death.  One wife and three sons.  My older brother and I are not close at all.  My sister and I love and respect each other, but are not entwined, let alone enmeshed.

This family is the family of Christ.

I call myself a follower of Christ rather than a Christian for reasons that are apparent to any who have tried to unpack the baggage of the latter term.  I want to follow the example of Christ as a man, and I acknowledge the divinity of Christ as the firstborn over creation.  Perhaps that is the litmus test for a Christian.  Is Christ divine?  ‘No’ or ‘I don’t know’ are legitimate answers held with integrity by those I consider friends.  But, for orientation, my answer is ‘yes’ and now is not the time to argue why.  It does, however, identify me as part of the family of Christianity in at least the primary color of its enormous spectrum.

If you’d like to read this post by Russell’s wife, it gets very close to my heart on this. If you choose not to read, I’ll summarize the thesis:  she is confused and disappointed by Christians who don’t welcome Syrian refugees or Muslim refugees in general.  Further:  those who don’t welcome Muslims, or [insert other human here] confuse and disappoint her.

Do I, a member of the family of Christ, share her disappointment?

I do.  Deeply so.  It is like the disappointment I felt when I first discovered why Southern Baptists were so named.  It was like the disappointment that stained my subconscious even after the apology twenty years ago for that evil stance on slavery and racism.  How could that be prospectively tolerated 170 years ago then willfully maintained for 150 years?  Didn’t my family read the scripture?  Didn’t my family think?  Didn’t we argue?  It was like the disappointment I felt after learning that Martin Luther was a rabid anti-Semite.  I thought Jesus was Jewish.  What did I miss?  How could such a brilliant theologian have such a hateful blind spot?

So, here’s the thing about a family.  We will confuse and disappoint each other.  We will hold diametrically opposing views at times ensuring that one of us is wrong.  I’ve certainly been on the wrong side of many arguments.  On this one, I’ll stick to an anchor of scripture:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

Why would a follower of Christ cast out the refugee?  Why would the follower of Christ not welcome a fellow creature of God?  Why would the follower of Christ fear death from a bullet or a bomb?  I just don’t get it.  Isn’t this life to be lived to his glory with gratitude and the next life to be eagerly anticipated?

I love you family – – but you are wrong.  The brothers and sisters who want to love, want to accept, want to understand will need to disagree and even fight within the family to keep the family together.  Are we not light?  It doesn’t feel like it now.

Love,

Pascal — 1:16

Revery Interrupted

Dear Russell & Friends,

I had intended to post on stewardship this morning and was thinking about the structure of the post and the planned alliteration before falling asleep last night.  I awoke to the morning solitude, strong coffee, an open journal and the internet newspaper.

Again.  Terror again.  Violence directed at the unarmed and uninvolved. Violence without warning, without defense.  Violence by those wanting to die – – a locally uncounterable strategy.  And those who started a normal day weep.  And those loved ones lost.  And I just can’t write about stewardship or even the punchline – – time.

I grieve with you, those who suffer the sudden loss of love now fully recognized.  I grieve with you, those in physical pain and mental shock in Paris hospitals.  I grieve with you friends and families at the bedsides I have so frequently attended feeling – – helpless.

Dare I grieve for the misguided, angry and evil young men who convinced themselves that this was for God’s glory?  Dare I grieve for the mothers of these men and wonder if this was their aspiration?  Dare I grieve for those who hold their faith as preciously as I hold mine and see themselves disdainfully numbered amongst the criminally insane?  I dare.

Dear God – – I know these few sentences will be a thin slice of what is aching in my heart. Please comfort the broken.  Please heal the hurt.  Please walk amongst us with compassion and join our suffering as you did in Jesus Christ.  Please forgive these most despicable of our enemies and give us the courage to follow your lead.  Thank you for being there and for caring when we hurt too much to breathe.

Love,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

The Russian Winter

 

Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study

Love & Friendship

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Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m back a week now and so happy to be so.  The cobwebs of jetlag are clearing.  I’m so appreciative of Russell’s Paean to a Peon in the last post.  I thought I would add my perspective.  When will I speak of the impact of visiting Israel?  Not for some time.  There is so much to digest before I’m ready to synthesize and share.

Last night we drove the 1.5 hours needed to pick up our oldest son at his dorm and take him out to dinner with his brothers.  We met two friends of his from high school out on a dinner date and discreetly enquired as to their social status.  He said they said they were friends.  They looked happy, compatible and able to enjoy each others company.  P1 said it with a twinkle in his eye.  “Yeah – – we’ve tried to tell them there’s more to it.”

Perhaps our young friends are discovering what the older crowd knows.  ‘Just friends’ is a middle school perspective.  Friendship lasts when passion fades.  What then is the difference between love and friendship and how does it relate to my friend Russell and me?

Love is a decision.  For a follower of Christ it is a command.  Love God.  Love others.  It has a description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

It is hard.  At least for me.  Despite Russell’s insistence, I’m not kind by nature.  I actually enjoy sarcasm and that can be quite rude.  I am irritable and prone to resentment.  I don’t bear all things, don’t hope in all things.  Don’t endure.  Love is hard.  But to love and be loved brooks no description.  It is air and you only notice it when it isn’t there. Loving Russell was a choice.  I loved him because God loved him and I honestly admired him for the way he served his wife and daughters and cared deeply about the effects of his deconversion for them.

So, what is friendship?  I’m not sure that it is as much a decision.  It is actually harder to build than love in my opinion.  Friendship is aided by such things as common interests and disinterests.  Much of what Russell and I enjoy is spawned from the common interest of science.  Do our interests diverge?  Of course. Even in science my competency tends towards psychology & biology and his towards physics, math, engineering, computer science, formal logic … (you get the idea).

Friendship requires – – time.  I used to say that time was the currency of love.  That is true as far as it goes, but it is likely more true of friendship.  I can love someone out of respect for God and his commands or out of respect for a fellow human and her intrinsic worth as a co-member of the race.  I need not know her to treat her with love.  I only need the work of:  patience, kindness, humility, pliability, and selflessness. Only that.  Easy, right?  But friendship takes time.

So what if you start with friendship?  That is what happened with my wife.  We talked, walked, listened, wrote letters and realized that we enjoyed each other’s company.  We were teens and next enjoyed each other’s embrace then married and enjoyed sharing more and more of life.  But we were friends.  Still are. In marital love, friendship is an antibody to despair and divorce.

Russell and I inverted the process – – we started with a brotherly love.  The friendship has been building.

I’m curious as to the advice you might give another – – friendship, love, both?  How does it work for you?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  By Pictofigo (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A Little Lost

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Dear Russell and Friends,

This is the view from a place I had never been before on the trails in my morning run.  A man I admire had pointed out a new series of trails that I had not explored.  This was the morning to do it.  The kids were at school and I was off work, preparing to leave with my bride on a long anticipated vacation.  Grandparents waited at home, happy to take care of our sons.  So, as the sun rose I ran and found this trail that others had clearly trodden.  But not me.  It was new to me, so exciting and a little intimidating.  My mileage clicked up a half mile at a time and I ran farther and farther from the car, knowing that each new trail would have to be traversed to return.  And I got a little lost.  Only a little.  I could still hear sounds of traffic so had the reassurance that I had a point of reference.  But a little lost.  I couldn’t have directed you to where I was, and I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to find this trail next time.  Don’t follow me, I’m a little lost too.

Or, follow me, because I know what it is like to be a little lost.  I know what it is like to be hopelessly lost.  I will never judge you for your partial or complete lostness.  To the contrary, I’ll come to find you if you’re gone too long.  Off then with my bride.  Our friendship grows with each passing year.  Next summer we’ll celebrate half our lives spent in the marriage contract that strengthens us both.  Russell promises to write in my absence.

Pascal – – 1:16