Society: Are Ideas Like Mutual Funds?

There is much to be said, socially and intellectually, for bringing together people of different outlooks and beliefs; but there is not rational basis for the notion that by mixing a number of conflicting views you are likely to arrive at the truth. You cannot construct truth from a mass of dissonant and disparate material. You cannot construct truth at all: you can only discover it. And the more noisily opinionated people intervene with their contributions, the less likely you are to discover it.
~Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind. Servant Publications, p.112.

Jody and I have been away for a couple of weeks to the Midwest. The first week we facilitated Prayer Summits for pastors—Jody in Chicago, and I in Wisconsin. After that was done we slipped away to the Door Peninsula in northern Wisconsin for a little R&R. We had a restful time. The weather was windy, cold, and sometimes rainy. It even snowed lightly. No matter. The weather was a good excuse to sit by the fire and read a book, browse the gift shops or hang out in a local Internet café.

I’m thinking about a conversation at the Internet café.

Chit-chat with the owner of the shop turns toward the war in Iraq. Since Caleb just spent a year there (it seemed like a hundred) I know something about it; I even have some opinions. As we talk, another guy comes into the store. He buys a coffee, sits down behind me next to the door, and quietly ponders his Americano. He listens to the discussion as the topics flow: the insurgency…the shaky Saudi monarchy and how handy it might be to create a friendly government with reliable oil reserves …troop strength and long-term prospects for withdrawal…equipment needs and pressure on industrial output…spent uranium war materials on the Iraqi landscape.

I pick up on that last subject. Not qualitatively different than the danger of landmines in other war-torn regions, I suggest. Mr. Americano, the guy behind me, chimes in with observations about the CIA and clandestine operations. The subject takes a left turn into the Viet Nam war. He wonders how many guys died in Viet Nam, and then suggests an estimate that doesn’t seem right.

“I’ll find out,” says the owner and turns to his keyboard—tappity, tappity, tap. “Uhhmm—uhh …says here, around 58,000…Says it’s a myth that most of the guys over there were drafted. Says two thirds were volunteers.”

Mr. Americano: “What web site are you lookin’ at? Sounds like it’s right-wing. You need to get a different web site.”

It turns out the web site was sponsored by an association of Viet Nam helicopter flight crews, but that’s beside the point. It was Mr. Americano’s response that intrigued me: find a different web site. He hears information that doesn’t square with his point of view—get a new web site; get another source, one that matches my leftward idea of the world. The thing is, I’ve heard the similar things said by the right leaners. “Where’d you hear that? NPR?” say my conservative friends. “That’s liberal. Get another source.” Whether right or left, blue or red, liberal or conservative, it’s about staking out the territory of truth and standing with the lot that agrees.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, “the marketplace of ideas,” but the term seems particularly appropriate. Actually, we live in a world that is more than a marketplace of ideas; it is a supermarket—ideas for every preference, worldview, and ideology; for every opinion, position, and point of view. The search for truth has been all but abandoned and replaced by a quest for validation.

Where is the Christian mind in all of this?

In the dominant American culture ideas are often like mutual funds. They come bundled together, marketed and managed. Property rights and pro-life are a package deal that comes in the same portfolio with second amendment rights, privatizing social security, and welfare reform. The environment, abortion rights and gun control come packaged with subsidized housing, stem cell research and the welfare state. But are ideas like mutual funds? If we buy one do we have to buy the rest? Is it really up to the idea mavens to decide our agenda? I think not. As Christ followers our task should be to discern what is relevant to our Master and to us and then live consistently with that regardless of the direction of the market. That will require abandoning the crowd and sifting through the prospectus of society—the dominant culture and the sub-cultures, even the evangelical one.

I don’t think we can afford to let our ideas be managed by the spin masters and pundits any more than we can afford to protect those pre-packaged worldviews by seeking out only sources that agree with them. We have to demonstrate more independence and certainty than that. We have to live the reality of “human life held in the hands of God…the whole universe sustained by his power and his love…the natural order dependent upon the supernatural order, time contained within eternity…this life as an inconclusive experience, preparing us for another; this world as a temporary place of refuge, not our true and final home.” (Blamires, p.67)

Economy: The Soul of Generations

There is a rhythm of global dominance. No country remains the first player forever. Maybe this American hour will not last. And who will be the next leading player? Maybe next will be China. But more probably, before China, it will be the united Europe. Europe’s time is almost here. In fact, there are many areas of world affairs where the objective conclusion would have to be that Europe is already the superpower, and the United States must follow our lead.

~Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission.

I’ve been reading “The United States of Europe” by T.R. Reid. I was intrigued by the post-war largesse of the United States to rebuild Europe and Japan after the Second World War. What has changed since the Marshall Plan? It seems like the generous heart of America’s “greatest generation” is being forgotten in Europe by the generations that followed. New generations in Europe are now ready to move ahead, unwilling to look back.

But new generations have emerged in America, too. Now, America is seen in many parts of the world as a bully and a consumer nation-greedy for the resources of the world. Has the generous heart of the greatest generation been supplanted by the greed of the boomers, and the detachment of the generations that followed? Worse, are we the last of all to know it? Certainly there is much generosity expressed by our nation. Still, we have to own up to the charge of rampant consumerism, accumulation, and waste.

Jesus told the parable of the rich man who had decided to gather his riches into barns and take his ease when, that very night, his soul was required of him. It may well be that Jesus’ story may be applied to nations as easily as to persons. Do nations and their constituent generations have a corporate soul?

So, what of the followers of Jesus, the nation within the nation? Are we taking our cues from our national culture or from our spiritual Father? I’m going to need to think about my own heart in these matters. I am a consumer. I am attracted by the lure of stuff. I am wasteful. I’m bombarded daily with the call to accumulate. Jesus warned people like me to keep my vision clear and to accumulate treasure in heaven.

I remember a song by John McCutcheon called “Vultures.” Here’s one of the verses. I’ll close with it, at least for now.

Like a fish in a river bitin’ on a fly
They’re tryin’ to make us want stuff we can’t buy,
It’s the worst kind of treachery, the worst kind of taunt
Tryin’ to make us buy stuff that we don’t want.

Random Thoughts: The Price of Neglect

(from Acts 2:42)
If we neglect…
The Lord’s Table, which is the revelation of His truth,
The teaching of the apostles, the application of His truth,
Prayer, the reflection of His truth,
Fellowship, the expression of His truth,
Or the persistent conveyance of redemption outside the community of the saints, which is the translation of His truth,
Then we will never wholly embrace our Lord.

Quote: John Paul II

Young Pope.jpgI, too, was 20, like you. I enjoyed sports, skiing, acting. I studied and I worked. I had desires and worries. In those years, now so long ago, when my native Land was wounded by war and then by the totalitarian regime, I sought the meaning to give to my life. I found it in following the Lord Jesus.

Dear young woman, dear young man, youth is the period in which you wonder what to do with your life, how to contribute to making the world a little better, how to encourage justice and build peace. Do not tire of training yourselves in the difficult discipline of listening. Listen to the voice of the Lord who is speaking to you through the events of daily life, through the joys and sufferings that go with it, the people who are close to you, the voice of your conscience thirsting for truth, happiness, goodness and beauty.

If you are able to open your hearts and minds with generosity, you will discover “your vocation”, in other words, the plan that God in his love has devised for you from eternity.

–Pope John Paul II in June, 2004. Taken from the web page for the Catholic chaplaincy at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland:

The Cost of War


Jim Weisenburg of Portland hugs soldiers [Caleb Mayhew] at the demobilization ceremony in the Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds for the Oregon National GuardÂ’s 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry and their families. ANDREA J. WRIGHT / Statesman Journal

This Photo appeared in the Salem paper Saturday, April 2, 2005. The soldier is my son, Caleb. Jim Weisenburg is the father of David, the son that did not come home (see previous entries in March). I weep as I write this…

Community: Orchestral Christianity

(2nd of 2 parts begun April 2, 2005)

And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning…

Matt 24:6-8 (NAS)

I see the church as an orchestra that needs to play in every season. In these days, some of us need to play the theme of peace and non-violence, which is at the core of God’s heart for the universe (Ps. 34:14; Mt. 5:9; Rom. 14:17). This is a prophetic reminder to a world that is prone to conflict that the Father calls us to peace. Still, others need to pick up the harmonies of mercy for the innocent caught in the crossfire (Ps. 41:1). Others need to play the melody of prayer for those in leadership (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Others need to play their energies for refugees (Is. 25:4). Others for the soldiers (Lk. 3:14; Mt. 8:9-10). And there are dozens of other ways that we might play the symphony of Christ’s compassion for the world.

I’ve been forcing myself to remember the people in this because they are those for whom Christ died. He didn’t die for a cause—the cause of patriotism, the cause of peace, or any other cause. He died and rose that whoever believed on Him would have eternal life. He instructed us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and then to serve that world in His name.

It seems to me that our Father has many things He would say to this world and that He is relying on His church to say them. No single person will be able to reflect the facets of His heart, but His church can, acting together, each playing the instrument of his or her gifting. The challenge is for each of us to play our particular instrument in concert with the others and not withdraw to play a solo or assume that some “musicians” aren’t fit to play.

Here’s my dream: I envision a gathering of believers who affirm one another in their conscience and calling. I see a group gathering around to pray and commission others to minister as intercessors for the refugees and the poor, perhaps even help send someone to work with Mercy Corps or other relief organization. I would like to see people gathering around to affirm and commission some folks to, in a Christ-like manner, call for peace and remind the world of the Prince of Peace who is its only source. Can you see it? Can you envision a “sending out” of somebody to preach on the streets, or work for justice for the poor, or reverently march in a demonstration for peace, or send encouragement to soldiers in the conflict? Nothing I’ve mentioned falls beyond the pale of God’s heart for the world. We may not all share the same passions, but we all can honor one another’s conscience.

Though the nations rage—and it looks like we better get used to it—we should remember that they are all, even the United States, a drop in the bucket (Is. 40). Though we are Americans, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom first. We are members of God’s symphony. Perhaps the Lord is inviting us to prepare for the coming days by encouraging each other to become skilled with the instrument He has given us to play, and then to play our part faithfully.

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