I heard someone predict years ago that we soon would be entering a time when what is solid will be liquid, what is certain would be uncertain, what we see with our eyes could not be trusted. Nothing will be as it appears. The result? Chaos and conflict.
I think we are there.
A video was released of Stanley Kubrick, a prominent film-maker (now deceased) who made a death-bed confession that, under contract for the US government, made an elaborate film of a the initial moon landing. We all thought it was real, but it was an elaborate hoax to fulfill Kennedy's challenge and undermine the Russians. (Whether or not the video itself is counterfeit is another discussion). So real or not real? I don't know.
A Muslim couple shot up a government office party in San Bernadino. Or, at least we thought it was an American Muslim man and his immigrant Muslim wife. Reports are now circulating that some witnesses identify the shooters as three, not two, and tall, white males, not a short, slight woman and an Arabic looking man. Real or not real? I don't know.
A year from now, we'll elect a president, which means that we have been in the pre-primary stage of information overload, awash in claims and counterclaims, truths and lies, accusations and denials. Even so-called fact-checkers (like Politi-Fact and Snopes) seem to themselves need fact-checking. Spin is the name of the game. Polls are twisted and re-interpreted, assertions are made, blatant falsehoods are presented all to manage the reactions and perceptions of the populace. What is real? I often don't know.
Do most Muslims subscribe to Sharia and are they out to undermine America and attack us from the inside out? Is the economy about to collapse under the weight of its own $18 trillion debt, or is it just business as usual with the usual Chicken Littles squawking doom and gloom? Will Donald Trump bring stability and a strong voice to a crumbling civilization, or will he ignore the Constitution and act pragmatically as the exact, conservative alter-ego to Obama? I'm not sure.
Living in the fog of uncertainty and confusion, and not committed to thinking critically, most people gravitate to harder edges of arguments and quickly express emotional responses, and ad-hominem arguments ("you're a @#$%"). Absent of any sense of curiosity about the other person's reasons and arguments, they choose to express rather than listen, to speak before understanding, and so fulfill the Proverb, "It is foolish and shameful to answer before listening." (18:13).
So the solutions proposed (or being enacted) on a national scale are breathtaking:
"Ban all Muslims."
"Ignore the Constitution."
"Increasingly restrict weapons."
"Censor the Internet."
"More government programs."
"No government programs."
"Let anyone immigrate into the United States."
"Close all the borders."
"Meet violence with violence."
It's hard to be nuanced when verbal grenades are being lobbed, and innocents are actually getting killed. But if there ever was a time when we needed to listen first, and (in Steven Covey's words) "seek first to understand before being understood," it is now.
Is everything just a matter of personal preference and one’s perspective? Hardly. Truth does exist. Many of our positions can be judged as more or less accurate to the facts, which are usually measurable and knowable. Even when talking about solutions, there are bad and better positions based on statable values and priorities. And I can be wrong about things I feel deeply about.
I do have some convictions about most of the issues floating around today, though some I really am at a loss about what to believe or do.
As a Christian, I believe we can never be "know-it-alls," only "know-enoughs." I believe every person matters or no one matters. I'm convinced that "God so loved the world..." I also believe that government was divinely-ordained to protect people and promote justice, and should be accountable, not all-powerful. I also believe that even if 300 million people believe in a dumb idea, it's still a dumb idea.
A lot of the issues are complex, and we might not agree on many of them because of our convictions and presuppositions. But with a dose of humility and respect, in an environment of free speech, we can listen to each other, learn from each other and show respect to each other.
When civilization stops being civil, it is flirting with being over.
Fifteen days until Christmas!
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because most of the stuff I want, I clearly can’t afford, or I’d already have it. Whatever the reason, most the excitement of Christmas has shifted over the years from filling out a gift list, oogling presents under the tree, and waiting in excited anticipation, to pondering the fact that God visited us.
Don’t get me wrong. I love nearly everything about the season. I actually enjoy stringing up lights on the house in the rain. I begin playing Christmas music around Thanksgiving. (My grown daughter and I have a contest to see who plays the first carol of the seasons. This year she won—calling me around the end of July and surprising me with a holiday treat in mid-summer.) I don’t mind shopping (but I don’t like fighting for a parking space). Once I’m there, I do like the get-togethers where we meet new people or enjoy some time with people we do know. I really love watching someone open something I’ve given them, see the delight and surprise on their faces and bask in the shared love.
In the Walker home, it all typically starts Thanksgiving evening when we watch (for the umpeenth time) the Hallmark presentation of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, with George C. Scott as the sour Scrooge. The day after I untangle our boxed lights, and try to remember how I strung them up to cover the whole roofline last year. In the days that follow, we cut a tree, decorate it as a family, wrap packages and prepare our hearts.
Christmas eve is celebrated at one of our church's five services (or in my case—usually all five.) Then, the highlight on Christmas morning is opening our stuffed stockings to see what amazing, creative, little gifts someone thoughtfully gave us.
It all ends the day after Christmas when the tree goes to the dump, the lights are yanked off the house, and all the decorations are boxed up until next year. With a couple sweeps of the vacuum, all is restored to pre-Thanksgiving order. And the new year peeps around the corner.
I love it all.
But most of all, I am grateful that for once during the year, my mind deliberately muses over the birth and coming of the One who has set my heart free, the One who has won my love with His love, whom I will someday see face to face. I think about sometimes how frustrating it is to be human, to be sinful, to be so limited; and I realize that the Son of God understands it all, because He became one of us. I unwrap the gift of a relationship with Him, full of hope and power, wrapped in mercy and forgiveness, and my face brightens with delight and surprise.
The older I get, the more grateful I am for what Christmas is all about. The wrappings are really nice, but the gift is overwhelming.
May your musings this season brood over Him who came, whose love for you is priceless!
Much love to you in Christ,