You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The call of Matthew

Throughout the week many different things call for my attention; but only a few command my complete and immediate consideration. My dogs watch me, wondering if it’s playtime or if I will fumble my people-food, and they receive a portion of my time, but they do not command my attention. My kids likewise request and receive a measure of my day, but only rarely do they arrest my complete focus. Perhaps the person who gets my closest awareness is my wife, but many of her requests during the day get put off for another time. School requires a lot of my day, though I find my attention wanders and so I wonder: what would snap me from these everyday inattentions to complete focus on another person? That their very word would call me away from everything that holds me now into something different?

Reading the call of Matthew in his gospel (9:9-13), I am convicted by the simple statement that drew him from his occupation into his service with Christ. The record indicates that Jesus was walking by the tax-collector’s booth where Matthew was working; he saw him and said, ‘Follow me!’ And rising, Matthew followed him. He left the profitable exercise of his business, essentially quitting his job to become a follower of Christ. He took Jesus to his home and had all of his friends over to meet him.

If you are reading this blog, chances are good that you are a believer in the message of Christianity and the person of Christ, but it seems that the call of Matthew is really a call to every one of us. Follow me! And just like Matthew, we must respond in simple obedience. Whatever calls for your devotion is no longer worthy of your attention, follow him! As you follow, there are many things to balance, but they all must fit under the category of following Christ: Are you a parent? Follow him and raise your children correctly! Are you a husband or wife? Follow him and love your spouse! When you feel yourself drifting and aimless, remember Matthew’s response to Christ’s call. He got up. And followed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The human expectancy for justice

There is a new book out this month by Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell. Apparently, it is making quite a stir in some parts of conservative Christianity. The book has just been released , but was already receiving criticism before it came out. This is due to the fact that Bell is discussing the reality of Hell and eternal punishment. He seems to insinuate in his video advertisement that a good God would not condemn people eternally because "love wins" in the end. In fact that is the title of the book, "Love Wins". Now I have not read the book and I get very uneasy when people criticize an author/speaker before they have read/heard his/her arguments. It is important that conservative Christians give Bell respect as a fellow believer by reading his book before commenting. If I ever publish, I hope that I will get that treatment.

But Bell's video advertisement did trigger a thought in my mind that often goes missing in discussions on this topic: the human need for justice (Bell may discuss this in his book, I hope he does). Both believers and unbelievers often chaff over the justice of God as we learn about his wrath and judgment upon sinful humans (Rom. 1:18-3:20). How could a loving God send people into judgment? The short answer is that God is just. Justice cannot be separated from His love. His justice judges sin and His love provides the Gospel. It is typical to put ourself in the place of God and say that we would forgive everyone no matter what. But if we stop and think about that for a moment, then we quickly realize that it is not true. We often jettison forgiveness because of a desire for justice.

One of the most pronounced examples of this in my opinion is how the vast majority of Americans rose up with one voice after the events of 9/11 and cried out for justice. Carte blanche forgiveness was not on many lips. We recognized that the innocent had suffered and there needed to be payment. There needed to be judgment. Another illustration is seen by me every week as I teach at a maximum security prison. The offenders are locked up because this is how our system perceives that justice will be satisfied. They have committed crimes and are paying for them. You can imagine the feelings of the victims, if some of these offenders never had to suffer any penalty for their crimes. The cry of "injustice!" would be heard, and bitterness would result. It is not just the victims though who cry for justice. It is also the offenders. They have a strong sense of justice. They see the problems with the "system" better than anyone else and often the desire for justice is expressed.

It makes complete sense that if we as God's creation crave justice, then the creator God would crave justice exponentially more. We often misperceive what is owed to us in order for justice to be met, but God knows exactly the cost of sin and the payment for forgiveness. If we remove the characteristic of justice from God, then we do not glorify Him; in fact we make Him less than human. As human beings we expect justice; how much more should God?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Surplus Value and Help for Japan

We are all concerned about the people of Japan as they recover from the devastation of Friday’s earthquake. If you’ve been living under a rock, the island nation experienced and 8.9 magnitude earthquake, a 23 foot tsunami wave and now a nuclear plant is leaking radiation. Scary stuff. Video images highlight the damage and the costs of cleanup will run into the billions of dollars. Billions.

Thinking about the ordinary costs of life causes enough stress. For many of the Japanese people their immediate concern is not the normal stress, but the unthinkable. Homes, businesses and farmland have been rendered useless. Where would you sleep if your home was destroyed? Where will you work and earn an income if your place of employment no longer exists? What will you eat today or tomorrow? These worries are very far from us, but very close to the people of Japan. Even if your home and job are unaffected, how will you help? Will you invite a stranger into your home and share your food? How long until that gets old?

The economic end of this tragedy highlights the importance of surplus value. Every business is in business to produce a profit by growing, making or improving something that someone will make an exchange for and we often use money to represent the trade. This sounds complicated, but really isn’t. When I work, I exchange my time and effort for a paycheck which I then use to trade for the things my family needs. Someone else used their time and effort and perhaps property to produce the thing I trade my money for. If I am wise, I will have more than I need and can anticipate some distance into the future to provide for my hungry children. If I am successful, I can use my money to trade for a higher standard of living or to save for future needs. This is ‘surplus value.’ Resources (money) have been produced in excess of need. Directing those resources appropriately is the owner’s responsibility. The ‘golden rule’applies here: he who has the gold, makes the rules.

In the American capitalist system, the means of producing value remain (mostly) in the hands of private individuals and this system has produced fantastic wealth. This is a good thing. Surplus value is necessary to pay taxes to the government, to provide for religious services and to help those in need. When the amount of surplus value declines the government receives less tax income, there are fewer jobs for clergy and less help for the needy. There is less surplus value in the world today, and that’s a bad thing. Particularly for the people in Japan who find themselves homeless and possession-less. They must rely on the surplus value created by other people for real daily necessities until they are able to return to creating their own. We are the ‘other people,’ and we have an obligation to dig deep and help out. Our current economic woes mean that we may not be able to help as much as we should.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

BS and Social Justice

In recent discussions at seminary, we have broached the topic of ‘social justice,’ which seems to me a loaded and very elastic term. It’s elastic because different people mean different things when they say it, and it’s loaded because it opens the door to broader economic and political discussions. The very term ‘social justice’ strongly implies that if you are opposed to it, you are, in fact, promoting ‘injustice.’ The definition of ‘social justice’ becomes an important part of the discussion, what, exactly, are we talking about?

This is the basic problem in any discussion of anything, and particularly social justice: it isn’t very clearly and concisely defined, and there is no broad agreement among theologians of a biblical understanding of just exactly what social justice is. Without a clear definition, anyone interested in the problems of human society and how to resolve those problems (all of us?) ought to enter the discussion with their BS detector turned on and tuned in.

Social justice seeks a foundation in the biblical understanding of man as created in God’s image, and as a result of that creation, humankind should interact with mutual respect and honor. There’s no problem here. The problem comes when mutual respect and honor are violated, either through abuse of power or by indolence. It is wrong for the rich to use their position to marginalize the poor, but it is also wrong for the poor to expect their support from others at no cost to themselves. The same Bible that admonishes the rich to use their wealth properly (1 Tim. 6:18) also implements a no-work, no-food tough love ethic (2 Thes. 3:10).

One of my favorite books begins like this: “One of the most salient features or our culture is that there is so much bulls**t. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted.” Any discussion of social justice must be rigidly defined and carefully compared to what the whole Bible says about human interactions. What I’ve examined recently reads Scripture selectively to affirm its narrow vision of ‘social justice’ and conveniently ignores important contrary evidence.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The down and up side to group projects

Recently, I have been thinking about the role of group projects in the arsenal of teaching tools. Both my ninth grader and my seventh grader are currently in the bonds of a group project, and being a teacher myself has brought to mind some reasons why I dislike group projects. To state it bluntly: group projects punish good students and allow unmotivated students to bring home a good grade for mom and dad. Boy that sounds critical!

But think about it...in middle school/high school good students were paired up with unmotivated students to work together. I assume that this was in the hopes that the unmotivated students might be won over by the diligent student. Even with the best intentions in mind though, most of the group squandered the time while one student did most of the work. The problem is that not everyone is motivated to the same degree to have the project succeed. Some are happy to get a "C" while others are mortified at an "A-". Also, there is minimal concern that each member has for other members around them. In other words, the happy "C" student does not think, "I had better work harder because 'so-n-so' will be disappointed with an 'A-'." I personally don't utilize the group project tool too often in my classes. It just becomes too difficult to gauge who is doing the work, and how to reward a grade. I always feel like I am punishing the hard working student.

On a more positive note, I did think about one event when group projects really work well. In this event each participant is highly motivated not only to contribute to the cause, but also to ensure the success of the others in the group. What is it you may ask? Zombie apocalypse. One thing the Left for Dead series of games has taught me is that I need a team. In a zombie apocalypse you have to protect the other team members, and everyone is working very diligently for the group to succeed; if the group fails then you fail as well. This may not redeem the group project teaching method, but if the zombie apocalypse befalls us, then you are welcome to my house (if you are not infected) and I promise to participate fully for the good of the group.

... :)