Sunday, February 9, 2014

Response to Blessings, Curses and Quantum Physics

Since it wouldn't fit on Facebook…Response to Blessings, Curses and Quantum Physics

"Words are powerful."  Absolutely!  I don't know anyone who believes the childhood saying, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  We all have personal experiences to disprove that claim.  Teen suicide as a result of bullying has become endemic in this country.  Those who have suffered abuse and neglect (not just physical) are at high risk for a number of emotional, psychological, and academic problems.  Additionally, we have evidence in the field of neuroscience, which shows that brain development is greatly influenced by external social influences.  It is not hard to find both anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the truth that words are powerful.

It is for this reason, the power of words, that I think it is imperative for ministers to take care to check their sources when using any evidence to support what they preach.  Being a shepherd to God's flock is a huge responsibility!  I believe that all truth is God's truth, and that science reveals who God is.  However, when Christians use false teaching to support truth, it invalidates their message.  You lose credibility with critical thinkers and non-believers who will write you off before you even get to your message, and you potentially lose followers who will toss out the baby with the bathwater when they find that what you say is not accurate.

It would be amazing if Dr. Emoto's "research" was valid.  If he used sound methodology or if others could replicate his findings, it would certainly change how we view the world and the connection between thought and nature.  Perhaps someday a connection will be made, and I hope that people continue to ask questions and do thorough research, but currently there does not appear to be any valid evidence supporting his theories.  Here is one critical review of Emoto's work with the effects of language on water.  And a very simple (you can easily replicate it at home) debunk of Emoto's work with the effects of language/negative emotion on rice.  I have not found any support for Dr. Emoto in the scientific community or any replications of his work that use sound methodology.  Entertaining the idea that Dr. Emoto's work is valid without putting any thought or research into seeing if it could be true is dangerous.  There is plenty of actual science that supports your premise without having to dip into pseudo-science.

I have to disagree with the comment, "you can have answers, or you can have Jesus."  It is true that we can't know everything, but I don't believe that God wants us to stop seeking truth.  Answers and Jesus are not mutually exclusive.  I don't think that real faith is blind or turns a blind eye on what we learn about God through studying God's creation.  And, I don't believe that anything we learn through scientific discovery will destroy our concept of God or contradict what we believe.  If it does, then maybe we don't have the right belief about God to begin with.

Now, aside from the great science vs. faith debate, I found your thoughts on what the Bible, and Jesus specifically, says about forgiveness to be interesting.  You prompted me to consider a different view and look into what Jesus actually says about forgiveness in the gospels.  Why do we forgive?  Who is forgiveness for?  Who has the power to forgive?

You start out by saying that there is a theme in Christian thought that forgiveness is not for the person forgiven, but for the one who forgives, and then say that this idea does not hold up.  After reading through the gospels to see what they say about our responsibility in regard to forgiveness, I have to disagree with you.  All three synoptic gospels support this theology.  Following Jesus' instruction on how to pray, Matthew 6:14-15 says "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."  Mark 11:25 "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."  Luke 6:37-38 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  What I found most compelling though, was the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35.  Peter asks about how many times you should forgive someone and Jesus tells a story about a servant who was forgiven his debts but then refused to forgive someone who owed him…as a result the master got angry and had the guy tortured.  "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."  Now that is pretty powerful, and it all has to do with forgiving for our own sake because we were forgiven.  C.S. Lewis says it beautifully in this way:  "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." (Essay on Forgiveness, 1960.)

You brought up John 20:23, which throws a twist into our understanding of forgiveness.  "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."  This verse bears similarity to Matthew 16:19 in which Jesus says to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  This is where the Catholic church points to claim papal authority through apostolic succession (and forms the basis of the plot for one of my favorite irreverent movies, Dogma :)  I think that these are some of the most difficult verses to tackle, but that in any case, they need to be approached in context.  As modern day Christian readers, we need to note that Jesus was speaking directly to specific individuals, not necessarily to every Christian.  I'm only barely acquainted with pentecostal theology, but I would be curious to learn the pentecostal perspective on the Johannine pentecost in John 20:21-23 and what, if any, authority is given to Christians through Jesus' words to his disciples in that encounter.

In his essay, Navigating the Living Waters of the Gospel of John, Paul Anderson begins, "The Fourth Gospel has been called 'a stream in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.'"  The gospel of John is simultaneously an accessible introduction to Christianity and a theologically challenging and highly contentious piece of literature.  It is no wonder that biblical commentators have many theories and interpretations of the verse you site.  Some say it was meant only for the disciples, some that it extends to all Christians, and to some it is not the authority to forgive or not forgive, but the commission to spread the gospel, thereby either sharing God's forgiveness by speaking, or denying it through inaction.  When you delve into it you have to consider the complexity of translating many definitions in the Greek as well as the historical context of when the book was written in relation to the synoptic gospels and the specific purpose that it is designed to fulfill.  In researching this piece of scripture, I have found more questions than answers.

I finally decided to lay the Johannine passage next to the same commissioning in the synoptics to try to gain more perspective on the event.  Matthew 28:18-20 "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."  Mark 16:15-16 "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  Luke 24:46-47 "He told them, 'This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."  John 20:21-23 "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"

In every gospel, Jesus commissions the disciples to go into the world and preach the good news.  Given this context, I don't think that Jesus is speaking about our personal authority to issue or deny divine forgiveness for personal transgressions against us, but is talking about the forgiveness that is given within the parameters of the gospel.  When it comes to personal forgiveness, Jesus is very clear that we are to forgive because we are forgiven, bestowing on others the same mercy that has been given to us.  He does not say that we have the power to "deflect judgement" or mitigate consequence for the other party.  We have the opportunity and mandate to extend grace and leave judgement to God.

I am not writing in anger or with any sort of malicious intent.  I'm not trying to embarrass, but to be involved in a dialogue.  I considered responding privately, but since you posted in a public forum, I think it's appropriate to include anyone who wants to read or participate.  Seth, thank you for challenging me to dig into both science and scripture. I feel like I have greatly benefitted from spending some time in research and have felt convicted to forgive someone who I have been reluctant to forgive. Blessings on your head.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

8 Year Old's Poetry

Recently, EJ has become obsessed with Phantom of the Opera.  She has a voice that can hit those notes too!  After watching a recording of the play about 3 times, she asked me to take dictation while she sang her own song.  She was expecting me to get down the lyrics word for word and write the music as well.  I really wish I could do that because her song was amazing.  Even though it in no way captures it, here are the lyrics that I was able to record:

Sing a song for me
Just as the stars go up
and I'll be with you no matter what.

Soon you'll be my song
All these years I've been dreaming for you

Just as the river flows
you have been sad
I'll be with you as long as you need
You are the one who I love

Sing a song as butterflies fly along
Don't be shy, I'll sing with you

The wind blows and you will shine
You will be with me
I will be with you
Nothing will matter

No matter what I'll stay with you
Just let me sing with you
For who you are, I love.