Saturday, August 6, 2011

Officially Closed

This Blog is Now Officially Closed. Please visit my new and improved web page at www.laurensheil.com to follow my continueing evolution and exploration of the world and our places in it....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quit Complaining About The Weather

I'm a country boy. I transplanted to the city against my will 13 years ago. If one more of you city slickers complains about all the rain I think I'm going to snap! Read all about it here...

Quit Complaining About The Weather

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lauren Sheil

Lauren Sheil

Check out my latest comment on the May 21 2011 Rapture Theory over on my new wordpress page

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shutting Down and Moving

The Earworm is shutting down and moving to WordPress.

The Earworm on Blogger was a great way for me to get my feet wet in the blogosphear but recently I decided to take things in a new direction.

To that end I'm re-focussing and re-branding the whole thing. No more Earworm! It was a cool idea at the start but in the end I found it a bit of a hinderance, better to write under my own name at this point. I'll keep the twitter feed @theearworm going for now but I will be gradually migrating all of my tweets and followers over to my personal feed @laurensheil in the coming months.

I chose to move to WordPress due to it's greater flexibility, better stats and overall I just like the look and feel of the system more. No offense to Blogger.

The Earworm will remain archived here and I will check in to follow up on comments from time to time.

To all my old Blogger and Earworm friends, I hope you make the move with me and continue to follow my evolution of thoughts and writtings.

Join me now at www.laurensheil.com

As always, I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it.

Lauren

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Narcissism of Minor Differences

It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them.
..It would be tempting to pursue this idea and to derive from this ‘narcissism of minor differences’ the hostility which in every human relation we see fighting against feelings of fellowship and overpowering the commandment that all men should love one another. – Sigmund Freud; The Taboo of Virginity


Over the past several weeks I’ve been working through the implications of a socioeconomic and political stance that places brotherly love above all things. I call it Meekonomics. The more I’ve thought about and studied this issue I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the strongest causes of division in society is what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences.

It is the little things that we obsess over. Racism, sexism and ethnic conflict are all based on relatively minor differences, things that either only go skin or even clothing deep or are predicated on behavioural differences that are difficult to detect in individuals. It’s only when you begin lumping people together in groups that the more subtle behavioural differences can even be detected.

As an example take the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine; taken out of the context of ethnic war and dressed in street clothes can anyone really tell the difference between an Israeli military officer and a Palestinian fighter? Or even more subtly, look at my profile picture; I’m a white male, am I American, British, German, French, Swedish, Australian, Russian, Canadian, or even possibly South African? Someone with an intimate knowledge of racial histories might be able to narrow it down based on some physical features and when I speak my accent would further give it away but these are all minor differences. They say nothing about the kind of person I am.

I recently reached out to a fellow blogger in Libya in an attempt to exchange ideas. He refused to engage with me citing my government’s involvement in the current Libyan conflict as some kind of evidence that I wasn’t worth conversing with. Sadly he couldn’t see me at all, when he looked at me the only thing he saw was a NATO commander wearing the insignia of the country I live in ordering airstrikes on the country he lived in. A minor difference prevented him from looking long enough to see the similarities in our thinking that could have gone a long way at bridging the gap between our major differences.

Major differences are paradoxically harder to detect but once recognized are easier to discuss and influence than the minor ones. Major differences are ideological but it is much easier to get me to change the way I think than to change the way I look. Unfortunately it is the way I look that most influences what other people think of me so the challenge in any dialogue over ideology is to get people to see past the outer layers and really hear what the person on the other side is saying.

My Libyan associate refused to do that. He accused me of something I have no influence over and made me guilty by association. I can`t tell you the number of times I have received similar challenges. They start out with the person on the other end making a blanket statement about some socioeconomic group that I may or may not be a part of and ends with the conclusion that I must therefore think or act the same way. Most often it has something to do with my faith or nationality. I`ve been told that as a Christ-follower I must therefore reject science and as a Canadian somehow I must have a genetic predisposition to love Ice Hockey; neither statements are true about me as an individual.

When we refused to look at and listen to people as individuals we rob them of their humanity. In order to live in peace with one another we need to give people back their humanity and do the hard work of ignoring our minor differences so we can talk about what really matters.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Meekonomics

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth. [Jesus, Matthew 5:5]

I came up with the term Meekonomics about a year and a half ago around the time when I read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Around that same time I was also engaged in a study of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7] and many of the ideas of the world’s great economists seemed to create dissonance with the words of Jesus.

The idea came back to me this week as I read another book on the history of economics, The Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner.

In a nutshell, Meekonomics is my economic theory that it is better to give than to receive. Put in more practical economic terms, it is better produce than to consume.

It is by producing a product or service of value that you serve the consumer. The consumer rewards the producer with economic gain which he then reinvests in more or better products that better serve the needs of the consumer. But the goal of the producer is always one of service; gain for gain’s sake is greed which leads to all manner of abuses causing the system to collapse on itself.

On the contrary the producer must always remain meek (also translated; gentle, humble, patient and free of pride). A greedy producer will tend to start hoarding his wealth, stop investing in improvements, and even block the production of competitive products that in the long run may do an even better job of serving the consumer.

Producers who forget that they are servicing consumers will underpay their workers and over produce their goods on the mistaken assumption that there will always be a market for what they sell. When the consumer, who is also tied to the producer as a worker, can no longer afford to buy any products, sales will slump forcing the producer to further cut wages, slow production and reduce the work force eventually leading to economic collapse.

Consumers aren’t off the hook though; they too need to learn a few principles of Meekonomics. A meek consumer recognizes that the producer deserves to be paid for the products and services he provides. Quality is worth something. Not only the quality of the end product itself but also the way the producer treats his employees, his competitors and the environment. Greedy consumers care only about a bargain without thinking about how that rock bottom price was arrived at. Are the employees underpaid, is the producer destroying the environment, is the product safe? These are the questions a meek consumer needs to ask when faced with a price that seems unreasonably low.

When greedy consumers thoughtlessly flood to the lowest price producers will be forced to cut wages, slow production and reduce the work force eventually leading to economic collapse.

Do you see the pattern here?

It’s a delicate balance. Producers and consumers need to live in symbiosis so that the market can be self-regulating. That takes meekness on everyone’s part.

The single biggest threat to a balanced market is greed. When one side of the equation gets greedy the other feels threatened and starts to take steps to protect its interests. The organization of labour, trade unions, consumer protection agencies, industry associations and government lobby groups are all driven by greed, either active greed, the desire for more or passive greed, otherwise known as protectionism.

Some will say that at its heart Meekonomics is the very definition of laissez faire but there is one very distinct difference. Traditionally laissez faire has led to class distinctions and inequality while Meekonomics recognizes equality between producers, workers and consumers. Not economic equality like Marxism or communism but moral equality. The truly meek person (gentle, humble) will never turn his back on a person in need because he sees him as his moral equal. Morality after all is not measured in dollars and cents.

The greatest lie ever told is that some people are worth less than others. The philosophy of Meekonomics wholeheartedly rejects that claim and seeks to help everyone participate in the system. It recognizes that investment in public infrastructure, education and health care will pay dividends for years to come and that the beggar on the street could be a worker who lost his job when you opted to buy that cheap knock off rather than the real thing.

“There but for the grace of God go I” is the mantra of the meek. Now since you have received God’s grace, it is your responsibility to give it back in some way.

Meekonomics is not a utopian ideal. I believe it is the way the world has always been intended to work and that it is greed that continues to undermine a properly functioning market economy. When we successfully banish greed, then and only then shall we learn what it means to inherit the earth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Loving God

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [The Apostle Paul; Galatians 2:20]

Here’s a happy thought – when you become a Christ-follower you die! Not literally of course but in a very real sense by surrendering our will to the will of God Christ-followers are dead to their own lives and their own desires. We’re dead men walking. We live a life of complete surrender to the will of God. The first century Christ-followers knew this so thoroughly and talked about it so much that some outsiders considered them a death cult.

Jesus’ own words about following him couldn’t have been clearer; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Mark 8:34] This is well before His crucifixion but even so in a first century context the image of carrying one’s cross would have given people a vivid image of death.

As a salesmen it’s funny to me that this is how Jesus pitched what it meant to be his disciple. It’s as if he was saying “If you want to follow me, get ready to die.” Sign me up!

To the early followers however, and even today in some countries, converting to Christianity could very well have been a death sentence. In a first century context this death imagery was very appropriate but what does it all mean to a modern day western Christ-follower?

Of course surrendering your will to the will of God is not an exclusively Christian concept. Many major world religions talk about self denial and surrender as a path to righteousness. The Arabic root word of Islam means to give up, to desert or to surrender to God. Hinduism encourages adherents to commit themselves to a life detached from worldly concerns in order to fully surrender their will to understanding the will of God. Popular self-help author Eckhart Tolle calls it releasing your ego.

All of these worldviews hold in common the notion that it is holy to somehow detach from yourself and others in order to attain peace. But instead it leads to personal isolationism or worse, a form of tribalism that seeks to protect the followers understanding of, and access to, God at all costs. But to a Christ-follower it’s more than that. It’s not just surrendering to God, it’s submitting to one another as well. Many people miss the fact that when Jesus was asked to define the greatest commandment he actually refused to reduce it just one:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]
He could have stopped at the first point, but he didn’t. The Pharisee asked him for ONE command but he gave TWO. The implication of that is huge; Jesus is saying that you can’t love God alone without also loving everyone else. You cannot love God in isolation. Becoming isolated from God’s people, indeed the whole of creation is NOT an act of love toward God.

So how do you love God? By surrendering your will to God and allowing Jesus to live through you to serve the needs of mankind.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Defence of SPAM

Let’s face it – I spam people. A Lot!

Each and every one of my readers has, at one time or another received an unsolicited email from me. It’s how I introduce myself and my writing and invite people to join this conversation. As much as the branding people at Hormel Foods might beg to differ, that’s spam. Although dressing up really cheap canned ham and tripling the price is marketing genius!

For the most part nobody complains and many, if not all of you who are reading this have taken the time to write back, become followers and even add your two cents from time to time. I really appreciate that. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, I don’t write this blog to stroke my ego or to spread my opinion. I sincerely and humbly just want to learn how the world works and hearing from my readers helps me to broaden my understanding.

But let’s call a spade a spade; I’m a spammer and a lot of people hate that.

When I send out emails inviting new readers I usually get one negative response for every twenty or so positive ones. Not a bad ratio when you think about it but one response this past week got me thinking. It wasn’t that it was a particularly well thought out argument or anything, it was just a simple statement;

“STOP SPAMMING ME!”

But the fact that it was in all caps, bold, and italics made it seem as if I had gently tapped a stranger on the shoulder and he had spun around and punched me full in the face.

WOW – Who sneezed in your corn flakes buddy?

After the initial shock wore off I had another thought. What’s so bad about spam anyway? Personally I love it. (Not the canned ham, the advertising technique)

I’ve been in business for myself in one way or another for nearly 30 years now. I’ve tried every form of advertising going, commercials, direct mail, telemarketing, newspapers, you name it. Honestly, spam get’s a bad rap. Not only does it taste great on toast, there are three things that immediately come to mind which make spam a great form of advertising.

1) It’s far less intrusive than telemarketing. Studies have shown that it takes less than 10 seconds to determine if something you’re reading is of interest to you or not. If it’s not the delete button is an extremely effective tool for getting rid of unwanted messages. When was the last time you got a telemarketer off the phone that quickly? Not to mention the fact that spam never interrupts your dinner.

2) It’s more environmentally friendly than any print based media. No trees were harmed in the writing of this blog post or any of the emails that I may have sent you in the past. If you feel the need to print everything that comes in to your email box it’s you who’s killing the trees, not me.

3) Dollar for dollar, spam is the most cost effective form of advertising going. In fact, other than time, sending (and receiving) spam is free and if you’re offended by the time it takes you to receive it, see point one above.

Bottom line, as a business person and budding author, spam is my promotional tool of choice and I’m not going to stop using it any time soon. If that offends you the delete button is in the top right corner of every computer keyboard, learn to use it, I promise I won’t be offended, I won’t even know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Pacifist Reading of Romans 13 – It’s Still All About Love

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my attempt to remove the teachings of Jesus and the early church from any kind of political debate. Many of my readers have taken offense, or at least questioned my understanding of the role of the church in politics. They site passages such as Romans 13 that emphasis the centrality of God over all things, including government, and state that Christians must therefore become more involved in the political process in order to ensure that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Nice thought but that leads to a whole other debate over how well we understand what God’s will is in any given situation. Perhaps I’ll get into that one day but for now let’s stay focussed on one debate at a time, shall we?

I maintain that Jesus teaching on the centrality of brotherly love [Matthew 22:35-40] and enemy love [Matthew 5:43-47] transcend all politics and therefore must be held above any partisan debate over such trivial things as personal freedom, border security, economic policy and even the rule of law. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our political affiliation.

Indeed, even in the aforementioned Romans 13, Paul reiterates brotherly love as the central theme of Jesus teaching.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Romans 13:8-10]
But I’m jumping ahead; my critics never get that far, they fixate on the first half of the chapter and miss the broader context. Romans 13 begins with this;

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]
Interesting stuff no doubt but to fully understand what Paul is saying here we need to understand a bit of historical context. Read that passage again but this time, think about who were the “governing authorities” that Paul was referring to.

Paul is not talking about a democratically elected government. The “governing authorities” to which he is referring were agents of a Roman despot who held on to power through brutal oppression and coercion. It is impossible to read this passage and apply it to our western, democratic, capitalist values system that includes personal freedom and the rule of law, those things simply did not exist in Paul’s day.

No; this passage is a pragmatic call to pacifism in the face of brutal oppression and a reminder that no matter how evil and oppressive the governing authorities get, it is ultimately God who is in control. Paul reminds his readers to do what is right, not to rebel and God will take care of them. He goes on to remind them that there is no law against brotherly love, even going so far as to say that loving your fellow man is the fulfillment of all the laws [Romans 13:8-10].

But it’s also important to note what Paul does not say in this passage.

He does not say that Christians have a role to play in government. Yes the rulers are God’s servants but that does not mean that they need to be Christians too. Again, you have to remember the historical context. The Roman authorities that Paul is referring to were not Christians. They weren’t even Jews. The very notion that a breakaway Jewish sect would have a snowball’s chance in hell of significantly influencing the Roman government is simply ludicrous and the thought would never have crossed Paul’s mind. What Paul knew was that God could and often did use pagans to further his purpose here on earth, as He still does today.

This of course leads to another question, whether or not it’s possible for non-believers to be considered good. While I’m sure that would be a fun debate too, I’m not prepared to go down that road right now, as I said earlier, one thing at a time.

Finally Romans 13 ends with what is a familiar refrain in Paul’s teaching –

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. [Romans 13:12-14]
When in doubt, act like Jesus.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Canadian Music Week

The Earworm is taking a break. My day job in the Canadian Music and Entertainment industry has me working 12 hour days in the conference hall at Toronto’s famed Fairmount Royal York Hotel for Canadian Music Week.

The Earworm will return next week. I’ve begun formulating a doozie of a post on a pacifist response to Romans 13. It’s sure to be a challenge a few of my more conservative readers.

So until next week....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Screw Politics! It’s about Love

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.[Jesus, John 13:35]

I`ve spent a lot of time lately talking about Jesus and how following Him fits within the political spectrum, or more to the point, how it doesn`t. It`s a difficult question and the answers are difficult to articulate. Many people feel that the all encompassing message of Jesus necessarily incorporates politics but I maintain that all forms of politics and government are human inventions that serve to separate us from God, not bring us closer. God`s Kingdom is not of this world and any attempt to manipulate it through earthly means is quite simply sin.

The children of Israel where warned of this when they rejected Samuel’s sons as judges and demanded a king over them. God’s warning was clear, a king would not provide the security they were looking for, or be a just judge; rather, he would oppress the people and ultimately create a barrier between them and God.

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”[1 Samuel 8:10-18]
And that’s what a political system does. It creates walls, both physical and metaphorical, between people and God and most obviously amongst the people themselves.

Politics is divisive. It has created hierarchy through concentration and manipulation of power and perpetuated the myth that some people are worth more than others. It has created an elite class to rule over the lesser citizens and has drawn lines between peoples. Politics is more concerned with keeping certain groups out than allowing anyone who looks different or thinks differently in. God’s design, evident in the Garden of Eden was for man to commune directly with Him, each other and with nature but we continually reject God and have created a political system that is indicative of our fallen world.

In order to commune directly with the almighty there cannot be any division among us. Over and over again we find in scripture plain instructions on what to do to get closer to God. These instructions have one fundamental thing in common. Screw the Politics, get together and do something meaningful.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. [Jesus, Matthew 18:20]
And what are we told is meaningful? Follow the Abrahamic law? Draw borders on a map? Live in communities of exclusion, elitism and hierarchy?

No – We are plainly told that a meaningful life is a life of love and service to others. A life with no political division or hierarchy where Christ is the centre and our only mission is to love and serve one another.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. [The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3:11-14]
I sincerely believe that God is grieved by our many divisions. The first step to unity is to recognize that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. All people are made in the image and likeness of God. All people deserve love and compassion. All means all.

This has nothing to do with politics. The sooner we recognize that the sooner we can get on with it and really start loving our neighbours as ourselves.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[Matthew 22:35-40]
All We Need is Love – John Lennon, Paul McCartney

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Word on my Use of Words

The Passions of Mankind have boiled over into all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes, and frustrations. – Saul D. Alinsky; Rules for Radicals
I made a mistake.

In my last post I stated as my political position that I consider myself to be a Christ-Following Libertarian who places his Politics on the Right but his Jesus on the Left.

I stand by that definition but the mistake I made was in using language that is so politically charged. As has been clearly pointed out by more than one of my readers, the term libertarian and any attempting to place Jesus on the political spectrum can be too easily misunderstood.

One of the first things I learned when I started writing is to be careful with definitions. Dictionaries never tell the whole story. Definitions are fluid and coloured by experience; a fact that one must always be mindful of when writing and speaking. Even if the dictionary is on my side, recent history and life experience of my readers may not be. So allow me to further explain what I mean by the use of these particular words.

Let’s start with what I mean by “Christ-Follower”. I have been asked on a number of occasions why I don’t simply call myself a Christian and the answer is simple; because I am not.

The term Christian is a Greek noun, meaning “Little Christ” it assumes something static and denotes someone who has arrived at a conclusion of what it means to be a reflection of Christ. While on the other hand, to be a follower is a verb which alludes to a journey and a person who still has some distance to travel before arriving at his destination. While I do not mean to cause friction between myself and those who consider themselves Christians, at this point in my life I have far too much left to learn so for me calling myself a Christian would be the height of arrogance.

Although I know that there are political parties in many countries that call themselves Libertarians with platforms that center around a narrow interpretation of personal liberty and, in the case of the United States, the constitution, my intention in using the term here was to point to a more classical definition.

Dictionary.com defines a Libertarian as;

1. a person who advocates liberty, especially with regard to thought or conduct.
2. a person who maintains the doctrine of free will

That’s it! No political party affiliation, no mention of any constitution, just a dedication to personal freedom and the right to choose your own destiny. By calling myself a “Christ-Following Libertarian” I am stating that I have chosen, of my own free will, to follow the teachings of Jesus and that I support a government that does not interfere with that choice. I hope that more people would chose to follow my example but my respect for liberty and freedom does not allow me to impose my will on others.

Now I can hear some of my more evangelically minded friends starting to protest; what about the Great Commission?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[Matthew 28:18-20]
The key word in that passage is “teaching”. In order to fulfill the Great Commission we must learn to teach like Jesus, live like Jesus, lead like Jesus and above all know when to walk away like Jesus; that is the core of evangelism and it in no way contradicts a libertarian way of thinking. God himself was the first libertarian when he offered free will to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Coercion and control of followers is a human invention.

Which brings me to where I place Jesus politically; while I still stand by my assertion that many of the things Jesus taught are the same types of things that tend to be championed by the left, that by no means makes Jesus or those who follow him leftists. Jesus transcends mere politics and in most instances simply ignores it.

One of my readers questioned my assertion that Jesus had very little to say to the political leaders of his day and did not teach how to steward political power. I acknowledge that as early as Samuel and King Saul prophets have spoken truth to power and warned of cracks in the system. But I stand by my position here as well. Jesus spoke directly to the church leaders of his day, the Pharisees, but he said very little to the Roman authorities who controlled the government. Jesus never advocated for a return to the “glory days” of a Jewish state therefore advocating for a Christian state is nothing short of a perversion of the gospel.

For the first three centuries Christianity was a minority underground movement that had no political power. Almost the entire New Testament was written from prison cells. Jesus and the apostles taught extensively on how to live in community under a more powerful authority but never advocated for political uprising or taught on the subject of how to grasp or hold on to power themselves. On the contrary Jesus taught about an upside down kingdom where the last shall be first [Matthew 19:28-30] and whoever wants to gain life would lose it, [Matthew 10:38-39]. Jesus went on to model the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the many and the apostles all died as martyrs.

I can’t stress this enough, Jesus and the apostles direct their teaching to the church, not to the government. It is a personal challenge and if you are a Christ-Follower or claim to be a Christian you must model the things Jesus did and taught. Christ-Following is not a political cause, it is a personal journey.

So, not because I wish to change any of my original meaning but for the sake of clarity, I hereby revise my earlier statement;

I am a Christ-Following Libertarian (in the classical sense of the term) who rejects all other labels and actively seeks to live in a way that honours the teachings of Jesus regardless of politics.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jesus on the Left

Last week I was asked by a new follower to describe my political position. It seemed that through reading my posts he was a bit confused. I can’t imagine why. Sometimes I appear to be conservative, at other times quite liberal. So where exactly do I stand on the important issues of the day?

I answered him thusly; I consider myself to be a Christ-Following Libertarian who places his Politics on the Right but his Jesus on the Left.

Much of the debate between the so called Christian Right and Christian Left centres around two things. The roll the church should take in government and the roll the government should take in social institutions. I believe this entire argument is misleading and misrepresents the roll that either institution should take in our daily lives.

As a libertarian I maintain that government should be small and so I lead by example removing myself from it as much as possible. I vote for initiatives that traditionally have been the purview of the right, small government, liaise-faire economics and personal freedom. I don’t like it when my government tells me I have to pay taxes to maintain a road I may never drive on, build a school I will never send my children to or support a war I don’t believe in. But the bible clearly tells me to shut up about it when they do so I don’t get involved in rallies and protests either.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. [Romans 13:1-2]

But as I read through the Gospels I also clearly see a Jesus who was very concerned with the plight of the poor and marginalized, values traditionally associated with the left.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ [Matthew 25:37-40]


I also see a Jesus who had very little to say directly to the governing authorities about such things. He spoke directly to his followers and the religious elite not to the government of his day. The instructions Jesus gives never tell his followers how to lobby government or how to wield political power. His instructions are personal and specific.

So what does this mean in a day and age when certain values seem to have won the day and do hold political power? Are we to applaud or condemn government when it seeks to provide free healthcare to those who can’t afford it? Are we to get involved or remain silent when certain members of the church abuse their freedom of speech to spread hate and oppression?

The answer of course to these questions is simple, follow Jesus. Many Christians are fond of saying “WWJD?” (What Would Jesus Do?)

Of course we know what Jesus did; he cared for the poor, he did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, he commanded us to love our enemies, he preached peace, he ate with sinners and he did it all without any support from the government or the church. In fact he all but ignored the government and fought with the established church until they had him killed.

I get very uncomfortable when Christian organizations accept government support. Government does not allocate money based on the good it will do so much as on the votes it will buy. Christians on the other hand should not be concerned with politics. Our only motivation should be to follow Jesus. When we become dependent on government support the motivation not to offend is too great.

A few months ago Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preached social justice, calling it a code word for communism. But the church is the only place where social justice can be effectively preached at all. It is the core teaching of Jesus and it functions quite nicely without any help from the government.

Why would anyone anywhere on the political spectrum (right or left) have a problem with that?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Tower of Babel and the Real Modern Day Babylon

As expected a few of my readers took exception with the point I made last week that America should become more involved in worldwide government bodies like the UN. In spite of my plea not to confused Orthodoxy with Literalism some claimed that God himself is against such organizations, incorrectly sighting the story of the Tower of Babel as “proof”.

To quote one reader;

It appears that you and many of your commenters here are trying to backtrack to Babel; at present scattered around the earth, confused in language so as to not be able to understand one another, but trying to return to the plain of Shinar to build a city and tower to reach to the heavens and build Utopia on the earth.

This is a complete misunderstanding of the story. The Tower of Babel really doesn’t condemn World Government at all. On the contrary it can more accurately be looked as a warning against becoming too insular.

At just nine verses, the story of The Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9] is a relatively short account, a mere foot note in the broader arc of Genesis. That fact alone should give readers an idea of how much importance the author wanted to give it. It’s as if the he was saying, “yes this happened but it isn’t really that important so let’s move on.”

The Tower of Babel was constructed in the city of Babylon in the Shinar valley near present day Baghdad. Babylon was possibly the first city constructed after the flood by Noah’s grandson, Nimrod. Nimrod is a Hebrew word meaning to rebel and may not be a person’s name at all, more of a moniker given to protect his true identity and the identity of his family. In today’s vernacular it might be more appropriate to refer to him simply as The Rebel.

And rebel he did. At a time when the rest of Noah’s family were spreading out in an attempt to repopulate the earth, Nimrod defied the will of God and Noah’s instructions and stayed close to where it is believe the Ark ran aground. Why do you think he did that?

The key to the whole story lies in verse 4 –

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”[Genesis 11:4]


Did you catch it?

Nimrod and the people of Babylon were afraid of the very thing that eventually happened. They wanted to remain in close community with one another so they undertook an ambitious capitol project that would focus their collective efforts and hold them together while at the same time drawing more people into their orbit.

Does that sound familiar? How many times have you heard the mayor of a town or city call for the community to rally around a similar project sighting the need for them to attract business or residents? Several years ago the city in which I lived expended a massive effort to build a new convention centre so that they could “make a name for themselves”. In the end the project lost money and cost the mayor his job. Similarly, why do you think the competition to host an event like the Olympics Games is so intense?

God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel is a story of how he wants us to build community. The people of Babel were insular, building great monuments to draw attention and pulling people in but God had commanded Noah and his family to go forth and “fill the earth.” [Genesis 9:1] If you try to entice people to come to you, what you are really doing is projecting a sense of superiority. Everyone you attract will somehow be a second class citizen. They came to your city or country because of some great monument, social or political institution, business or event but they didn’t help build it so they don’t really belong.

And that my friends; was the great sin of Babylon! They built a monument to their own greatness and community based on a concept that was exclusive setting up a hierarchy of belonging and diluted themselves into thinking they were somehow better than anyone else.

By confusing the language and scattering people across the face of the earth God was telling them (and us) that we can’t build community by turning inward. Community is “out there”. Worldwide bodies that promote a form of world community are not the problem. The problem arises only when these organizations become an exclusive hierarchical club or when members of the organization make it difficult for them to function as they were intended.

Don’t get me wrong, the UN and other world bodies have their problems, but they are not Babylon. I can think of a few cities that resemble Babylon much closely than any worldwide goverenment, with a single language, monuments to their own greatest, and irrational fear of outsiders and a hierarchy of belonging that would put even Nimrod to shame.

Any guesses?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Letter to America

Dear America

Grace and peace to you from beyond your northern border; may the peace of Christ and the blessings of our sovereign Lord rain down on you all of your days.

Let me begin by saying how much I respect and admire your strong culture and your personal freedoms, you are a light to us all in terms of how democracy “for the people, by the people” can and does work.

Your economy, though slightly battered and bruised of late, is built on fundamentally sound policy and ideals which will recover and once again thrive; I have no doubt of that. Your political system is built to withstand all kinds of threats both from external forces and most importantly from within. You are a strong, unified nation, and so you shall remain for many years to come.

But there is a problem. You can’t seem to agree on even the most basic measures to fix your economy, political system or social institutions. I started to notice it around about the turn of this century when your presidential election hung in the balance for several days over irregular balloting in one or two states. It’s only gotten worse in the past decade.

Those of you who recognize that something is wrong can’t really see the problem for what it is. You have become polarized so that no matter what anyone says, half the country will automatically brand you as one of those people and write you off before you even finish speaking.

Stop bickering! You’re acting like children! Your internal arguments appear to those of us on the outside as nothing more than petty school yard spats. Like Rome before her, Washington is burning but you are too preoccupied with the notion of liberty and personal freedom to do anything about it for fear of what it might cost you.

I promise you this; if you do nothing, it will cost you everything!

America is a young nation. Just 235 years old. On the scale of human civilizations that makes you a mere toddler, but look at what you have accomplished in such a short time.

Your declaration of independence and constitution are powerful documents. Some of the greatest legal and moral codes since Moses brought down the 10 Commandments or the British Lords gave us the Magna Carta. At the time of your founding you were surrounded on all sides by hostile nations and a lawless frontier. Traumatized by a tyrannical central government that you had little influence over and afraid of imminent invasion you did what you had to do. By empowering your citizens to go forth and make their own destiny you built the greatest nation on earth. You should be proud of that but for the love of God, keep it in perspective.

Many of you have elevated your founding documents to the level of Holy Scripture and turned America into some sort of latter day promised land. Indeed to hear some of you speak it’s as if Jesus himself, not George Washington was the one to cross the Delaware. Give me a break!

I wish I didn’t have to point this out because it seems so basic to a nation that claims to have been founded on Christian faith, but you have violated the first commandment! You’ve turned these documents and your interpretation of them into what Dr. Timothy Keller calls a Counterfeit God. What greater sin could America commit? [Exodus 20:2, 3]

The human heart takes good things... and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, [Dr. Timothy Keller; Counterfeit Gods]

The world has changed in the last 235 years. The rest of us caught up with you. Liberty and freedom have been adopted throughout the developed world. Technology has advanced, economies have become integrated. The threats you face, we face together. You need to work with the rest of us or you will fail. No country is strong enough to go it alone. Many people may disagree, especially here in Canada with our close proximity and higher than normal interdependence, but I strongly believe that you need the rest of the world more than we need you. By clinging to the past you will be consigned to the annals of history alongside Athens and Rome.

Moving forward you must first, recognize that a strong central government with the power to enact and enforce law is not your enemy. Representative democracy is messy and sometimes individuals will find themselves in the minority. Laws designed to protect and strengthen you may at first seem oppressive, but that is not a reason to doubt the effectiveness of the system or undermine measures that serve the greater good. After all, Aristotle and Koffka both taught us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Personal freedom be damned if it lead to anarchy.

Second, there are radical elements in all religions that must be controlled but religion itself must not be allowed to divide us. There is a lot of fear and misunderstanding between the religions of the world. While all claim to know the path to God you must not confuse Orthodoxy with Literalism. "Thou shall not kill," is key to nearly all faiths, especially the dominant Abrahamic faiths, regardless of what a literalist, lunatic fringe may think. Remembering that and refusing to be lured into violence, by acts of violence is paramount for peaceful coexistence. [Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:43, 44, Quran 5:32]

Lastly, do not fear “world government”. Many have bemoaned the UN, the G8, the G20 and the World Economic Forum as harbingers of some sort of apocalypse. The warnings in the book of Revelation against such things should not be interpreted literally. By working together democratically we can stand up to tyranny and promote liberty in ways individual states simply cannot. It is America’s refusal to sign international treaties such as those that ban landmines, set targets for carbon emissions or place controls on banking systems which doom them to failure and will eventually force the world to act without American support, indeed we’ve already started.

In closing I wish to reiterate how much America has gotten right. It is not my intent to insult or offend you. I merely wish you to look beyond yourself and see the world for how it really is. We want you to become a full partner, not some kind of international Big Brother, who stands on the sidelines tisc-tiscing away but never offering constructive help until the only thing to do is swoop in on your proverbial white horse (aircraft carrier) and save us from a disaster you helped to create.

To quote former president George W. Bush; “You’re either with us or against us”; the days when you could act unilaterally and expect to get your way are over. Please don’t be a fool and try to hang on to some antiquated idea of America at the top of the world order. Recent events in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world are proving once again that democracy, the same democracy you’ve been trying to export since the end of WWII, is winning but now your decentralized approach is in the minority.

Make no mistake, American influence is declining and how you handle that decline will determine if the new world order will be peaceful or lead to the bloodiest battle in recorded history. No one wants that.

I’m begging you, set aside your personal obsessions and join the collective effort to make the world better. It’s not too late.

Sincerely;

Your friend, neighbour, biggest trading partner, and Christian Brother – Canada

(Or at least one Canadian – I shouldn’t say I speak for all 32 million of us should I?)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Yes Man

I once heard an old story about George Washington, it has all the hallmarks of a legend and may never have happened but this is how I remember it.

There was once a traveller who needed to cross a river in the early part of spring. The water was high and running very quickly and he was on foot. While he stood on the shore contemplating the best way to get across he was met by a group of men travelling on horse-back. Since the river was so high even crossing on horse-back would be treacherous.

It was obvious by the attire of this group and the way they carried themselves that they where powerful men of means. After looking them over, the traveller approached one of the men and asked if he could ride with him across the river. The man did not hesitate and said yes. After they were safely across one of the other men asked the traveller what made him ask the president of the United States for a ride. Surprised the traveller responded that he did not recognize the president but that as he looked over the group all the other men had “no” faces, he pick the man who had a “yes” face.

Too often in the past my default answer to any question has been no. It has become so ingrained in my response that sometimes I feel like it’s been tattooed to my forehead. I’m so caught up in my own world, my own pre-occupations, needs, worries, wants and desires that I brush by everyone. I may as well be screaming “NO! – Leave me Alone! – Don’t Bother Me!”

Last week I decided on my New Year’s resolution. I know, most people figure this out and make a bold pronouncement on Dec 31, next year I’m going to... But most have sadly failed by the middle of January! So I figure by not even making a resolution until now I’m ahead of the game.

Are you ready? Here it is.

2011 will be the year of Yes!

This year I will do my best to say yes to every request. That doesn’t mean I will be able to do everything people ask me to do, there will inevitably be conflicts of time, lack of funds or insurmountable physical barriers. Don’t ask me to jump over the moon or give you a million dollars and don’t ask me to help you move on my wedding anniversary. But if my default setting is yes then I will be more open to giving you the change in my pocket or helping you move on the day after my anniversary.

Will I get taken advantage of? Probably, but the goal here isn’t to judge the motives of others. The goal is to be available, to offer a helping hand and to deepen relationships. If someone tries to take advantage I can be discerning and call them on it but that response need not be an outright “no” but rather a sincere questioning of real need and exploration of alternative solutions.

Ultimately it’s not about me. It’s about the relationship I can have with my fellow man. Fear of being taken advantage of weakens relationship and destroys the opportunity to show love and compassion to those who need it most.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. [1 John 4:18]

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It’s Hard to be Humble

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. – John Keats

I’ve recently been reading through a few books on the rise of Terrorism in the west and the declining influence of the UN and I had this thought;

Whatever Happened to Humility?

Everyone assumes they have the answers. Nobody stops long enough to think that maybe, just maybe they might be wrong.

What these recent books have been alluding to but never really admitting is that the rise of fundamentalist thought has paralyzed growth across a broad spectrum of disciplines and has coincided with the decline in broad based “liberal” education, not just here in North America but all over the world. In short; the Renaissance man is dead, killed jointly by the nuclear physicist and the fire and brimstone preacher.

In the west the result has been the rise of atheism while in other parts of the world it has led to militant forms of tribalism. We see it here in Canada very clearly. The most recent census data shows 23% of Canadians claiming “no religion.” That’s an increase from less than 1% as recently as the 1930s. In that same time span fundamentalist views of Islam in the Middle-East and around the world have similarly increased.

When you look at the numbers in terms of educated professionals they tell an interesting story. A western trained scientist is more likely to claim atheism while a Middle-Eastern scientist is more likely to adopt a fundamentalist view of Islam. By comparison the more educated you are in the arts and humanities, regardless of where you come from, the more tolerant you are of opposing viewpoints. The reason seems clear to me; when we train people to think in terms of black and white, they tend to view the whole world that way and can’t tolerate ambiguity. Tolerance lives in shades of grey.

Most of the more militant atheists tend to claim a monopoly on reason with a zeal that rivals that of any religious leader. But that reason goes out the window when a theist enters the conversation, the contempt goes beyond all reason. By the same token religion has a bad track record of denying proven facts when the truth of the matter is staring it in the face.

I blame the education system. Simply put, a system that is married to facts above all else kills tolerance and mortally wounds creativity. What we need isn’t more reason or even better proof, what we need is more humility on all sides.

The definition of humility is to know, what you don’t know. Humility loves questions, searches for answers and is always open to new ideas. You would think that professions that seek answers like scientists and preachers would both be among the most humble and open minded people on earth but they have been taught to be closed minded and arrogant. If our society is to evolved beyond sectarian violence and intolerance it will be the humble that lead the way.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The $1 Difference

According to the World Bank approximately 1.4 billion people around the world live on less than $1.00 per day. The total population of the world is expected to reach 7 billion by the end of this year. That means that nearly 20% of the world population is now living on less than what I spend for a coffee on my way to work every morning.

I made just over CDN$57,000 in 2010. Out of curiosity I typed that into the calculator on globalrichlist, where to you think I landed?

I thought maybe top 25% but boy was I wrong! It was interesting to see that I am approximately the 58 millionth richest person in the world. Not so impressive until you put in on the scale of just under 7 billion people. With that in mind I’m in the top 0.97% of global income!

That’s not a typo!

I made more money in 2010 that 99.03% of the rest of the people on the entire planet!

That got me thinking. If 1.4 billion people are surviving on less than $1 per day ($365 per year) what would it look like for them and for me if I intentionally lowered my income to help raise theirs? A person living on CDN$365 per year falls in the bottom 8% of global wealth. What if they had $730? They would leap-frog over an addition 1.5 billon people and rise 26% from the bottom 8% to the bottom 34%. That’s what.

What about me? By lowering my income by the same margin my position on the global scale dropped by less than 0.01%. It didn’t even register on the two decimal place display on the Global Rich List! That got me thinking again, how much of a personal sacrifice would it take to lower my position by even 0.01% and how much of an impact could that have on someone living on less than $1 per day?

I had to lower my income by $1100 to drop my position on the scale about one tenth of one percent. And what does adding that same amount to the poorest of the poor do? CDN$1465 per year ($365 + $1100) puts you in the TOP 31% of the world’s wealth!
That is astonishing to me. Let me put in another way so you can understand.

By lower my position on the global wealth meter by just 0.01% I can raise the position of one of the world’s poorest people by a whopping 61% and move them into the top half – no the top 3rd, of the world’s wealth!

A few months ago I wrote a few posts where I tried to get you thinking in terms of living a more charitable life. As anticipated I got some push back. A lot of you claimed that small amounts of philanthropy don’t have an impact. Clearly these statistics expose the lie of that argument.

According to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) one dollar a day will; provide 11 families with clean drinking water, plant 6 life giving and income generating fruit trees, put a roof on 3 homes or send a child to school for a year. We – the top few percent of the world’s wealth – can do this without noticeably changing our own position.

Not only can we do it. We must.

It is the single most repeated command in all of scripture, both Old and New Testament. Over 3000 times in fact the bible tells us in one way or another to help the poor. God’s strongest condemnations and most violent destruction are reserved not for those who reject Him but for those who refuse to share their wealth.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy [Ezekiel 16:49]


This is going to be hard for some of my Christian friends to swallow but God is more concerned with how we treat the poor and needy around us than how we treat Him! The clear fact is that He will punish greedy Christians more severely than generous Atheists!

Think about that for a minute.

We all know what happened to Sodom. But the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, it was greed! As one of the top 1% of the wealthiest people on earth, that’s me! And I dare say it’s you.

How you spend just $1, is a life and death decision. Not only for the poorest of the poor but for you too. Small amounts of philanthropy save lives – maybe even your own.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. [Isaiah 1:17]

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

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]