Why a Dose of Awe May Be All the Medicine You Need

There is a not-so-new but surprisingly effective aid for treating many social, personal, and spiritual problems: awe. If you’re stressed out, worried about money, or breathlessly short of time, you need to get your mind blown.

Recent science suggests that experiences of awe have a profound effect on human wellbeing. The person who stands in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias or surveys the vast ocean from Big Sur just might be happier and more hopeful.

Awe, according to Professors Dacher Keltner of UC Berkley and Jonathan Haidt, formerly of University of Virginia, is comprised of two principal factors: a profound sense of vastness and a perceived need to accommodate oneself to it. When we are in the presence of something much bigger than ourselves – a mountain, the sky, a thundering waterfall – our perception of ourselves and of the world changes.

That perceptual change, according to a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, can lead to a greater sense of humility which is fundamentally important to spiritual understanding and growth. Matthew Hutson, reporting on the effects of awe for The Atlantic, suggests that experiences of awe make people more spiritual, generous, and content.

Hutson cites evidence that experiences of awe lead some people to firmer faith in God, while instilling in others a sense of greater connection to people. A study of NASA astronauts suggested that awe led them to feel more intimately connected with the rest of humanity – a feeling that is in perilously short supply just now.

According to a study led by Melanie Rudd of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford, people who experience awe feel as if they have more time available. Experiences of awe leave people less materialistic, more willing to volunteer their time, and more satisfied with life. Other studies have suggested that people who are “awe-able” are more generous and more likely to give to charities.

Further, awe has been linked to greater patience and better over-all health. Some researchers have found that the experience of awe leads to a more efficient immune system and a lower level of cytokines, a protein linked to heart disease and Type-2 diabetes.

Awe-treatment can lessen stinginess, stress, and dissatisfaction. It can give people a more balanced view of their own strengths and weaknesses and lead them to be more deeply concerned for others. There have been numerous studies that link awe to great satisfaction with life.

Why is this so? Some social scientists, approaching awe from a Darwinian evolutionary perspective, speculate that the positive benefits of awe are a conditioned response. This is surely an incomplete explanation. Would not a likelier result of awe be fear and isolation? Indeed, some research suggests that awe can have this effect.

I would argue that we experience these positive results because we are “awe-able” by design. If, as St. Augustine said, we have been made for God, we would expect to be made in such a way that awe could have beneficial effects on us, which is just what we find.

If, as current research suggests, awe leads to better social, physical, and spiritual health, could it be that we are not very healthy because we are too seldom awed? And in a world like ours, habituated to small screens and jaded by big promises, how are people going to be awed?

We cannot create awe, but we can put ourselves in situations where it is more likely to happen. This will require us to plan for times of solitude. Constant distraction and perpetual busyness effectively insulate us from the experience of awe. Get alone.

Visit beautiful places. Wander through a museum. Listen to Bach. Sit on the porch and await a thunderstorm’s approach. If you can’t do any of these, watch an episode of Planet Earth. Studies suggest watching it or similar programs can evoke awe and produce beneficial results.

Get alone in nature’s cathedral or a quiet church and ask God to reveal himself to you. Pray and meditate deeply on Scripture until you begin to perceive the vastness and power of God. This can be the prelude to big and beneficial changes in your life.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/15/2018

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Course Correction Required

When Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, it was sometimes necessary to fire the engines of either the Lunar Module or the Service Module to alter direction. These “burns” included, on both the outbound and inbound journeys, significant midcourse corrections. Even before launch, which went off without a hitch, mission control knew that at least one major course correction, and possibly as many as four, would be necessary for each leg of the journey.

It turned out that only one major correction was needed. Had Apollo 11 not made that correction, the outbound flight would have missed the moon entirely and been lost in space, and the inbound flight would have missed the earth and suffered the same fate. Smaller corrections were also needed to achieve orbit around the moon and to land the Eagle on its surface.

Course corrections are not only needed on the nearly half-million-mile trip to the moon and back, they are also necessary in the 79-year trip through life that the average person in the United States takes. Course corrections are not an “Oops!” They are not a sign of failure. They are part of the plan from the very beginning. Without them, people end up somewhere they never intended – and do not wish – to be.

Course corrections are not about choosing new destinations. The Apollo mission could not, for example, have decided mid-course to go to Mars. Likewise, a mid-course correction in life is not so much a reinvention as it is a reorientation. We are not changing our values but reaffirming our commitment to them and making the necessary course alterations to remain in line with them.

Sometimes the major course corrections are not as tricky as the minor ones that require greater attention to detail. In my six decades or so on the planet, I have kept a pretty straight course: I fell in love with a girl, got married, and had three sons. There were plenty of minor corrections in orientation that were needed but only one major one.

Both my wife and I intended to serve God overseas, where the need was great and Christian influence was minimal. We went through college with this intention and were in agreement about it when we were engaged and, later, married. The various decisions we made in our early years together were meant to keep us on this course.

The organization with which we hoped to serve gave us some preliminary direction, which we pursued to the best of our ability. From my perspective, we were on course and moving slowly and steadily in the right direction. Then we met with a representative of the organization and he told us plainly, “You’re not who we’re looking for.” It was time for a course correction.

At the recommendation of the mission organization, I was already serving a small church as pastor. It was a role we’d never imagined nor desired but for which, as it turned out, I had some ability. Since this way of serving God and people fit our core values and our giftedness, and since we concluded God was guiding us to it, we made the necessary course correction.

It’s obvious to us when big course corrections are needed. It’s the smaller ones, which are equally important to our success, that are trickiest. For example, I have been a music-lover since childhood, but there’s not a lot of contemporary Christian music I appreciate. Yet we sing such songs in worship because they represent the best medium for many of our church members to worship. Minor course correction required.

I have sometimes become aware that I have been off-course as a father. One such time was when I realized I rarely praised my sons or told them I was proud of them, though I was. Course correction required.

As a husband, I have sometimes been obtuse and insensitive. Course correction required. Such alterations may seem less important than the major course correction that led to a different career but they are not. If anything, they are more important because they involve relationships, which are at the heart of our service to God and are key to the contribution we make to the world.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/8/2018

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Boy, Was the President Ever Wrong About That!

President Trump recently told Evangelical leaders from the U.S. that Evangelicals stand to lose everything in the upcoming midterm elections. Don’t believe it!

I’ve linked a CT article by Michael Horton, the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. It’s worth a read!

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/august-web-only/evangelicals-trump-elections-losing-everything.html?share=9BK8Rsg2xPN10S1trdtwsyRgpvsDh7Dc

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Everyone Loves a Winner

Everyone loves a winner. Or hates a winner. It depends how he or she won.

Ashley Thomas, a researcher in cognitive development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, has found that even very young children have a predilection for winners. When she was a graduate student at University of California, Irvine, Thomas devised a way to determine whether children, ages 21 months to 31 months, would show a preference for high- or low-ranking individuals.

In a series of seven experiments, the toddlers watched a puppet show featuring two nondescript puppets (one a red rectangle, the other a yellow oval, each with an eye and a straight line for a mouth) trying to cross the stage but getting in each other’s way. In each case, one of the puppets yielded to the other, granting it the right of way. At the conclusion of the puppet show, the twenty-three toddlers who participated were given the opportunity to reach for one of the puppets. Twenty chose the puppet who “won.”

By repeating the experiment so that each of the puppets won, and by using different obstacles to be circumvented, Thomas was able to show that toddlers expressed an overwhelming preference for the winner, whichever puppet that might be. However, when the successful puppet achieved its goal by violence – knocking the other puppet down – the children overwhelmingly preferred the losing puppet.

The results seem conclusive: even very young children prefer high-status individuals (winners) to low-status individuals (losers) as long as the winner achieved his high-status fairly. This preference for winners seems to be built right into human nature.

Advertisers appeal to this instinctive preference for winners. It is no accident the actors who sell us everything from cars to personal care items and cleaning supplies are presented as winners. They’re attractive, possess markers of affluence (expensive clothes, jewelry, and cars) and are often surrounded by lower-status admirers. The hidden appeal is: buy our product and you too can be a winner.

People not only love winners, they love to celebrate winners. Writers understand this dynamic and employ it to create an emotional response in their readers. The Star Trek franchise wrote a standing ovation for their lead characters into the ending of Star Trek IV. It was apparently so popular with audiences that they did so in subsequent movies again and again. People love to celebrate winners.

So, from a theological perspective, why does the Church not celebrate Jesus’s victory more frequently and with more gusto? Why are there so few standing ovations for the Son of God? The Dante scholar and popular novelist Dorothy Sayers rightly complained of Christians who “muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

Not even toddlers will show a preference for that nondescript imitation of Jesus. The New Testament portrays him in a very different light. He is “the Captain of Salvation,” the “pioneer of the faith,” “the Glorious Savior,” “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End” and the “Savior of the world,” who has been given “the name above all names.”

The Book of Revelation celebrates his victory. Chapter five even features a Star Trek-like standing ovation—on steroids. Angels and heavenly authorities sing his praises, and every creature across the universe responds with exuberant praise. Upon his victory, in chapter 19, another roar of praise goes up, and continues on and on. It booms like Niagara, explodes like peals of thunder. The armies of heaven are seen following Jesus, and he is declared “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Here is a hero of the highest order, the ultimate victor. And he comes to this place not by violence but through personal sacrifice. He is worthy of “praise and honor and glory and power,” because he has earned this homage as the “Lamb who was slain,” rather than the bully who got his way. He is not a fitting household pet for pious old ladies, but the hero of the Church and the Savior of the World.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/1/2018

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Avoid Using “Insider” Language

Groups that have been together for a while develop their own way of communicating – an insider language, a kind of fraternal dialect. They understand each other, but outsiders get the feeling they’re missing something. This is usually not intentional, but it leaves those who don’t know the language feeling a little lost.

This week, as I was leaving to meet someone at a place I’d never been before, I discovered my GPS has stopped working. I quickly printed up directions from Google Maps, read through them a couple of times to commit the route to memory, then set off. The directions took me by back roads, and I did fine until I was about twenty-five miles from my destination.

I came to a T in the road and had to turn one way or the other. The directions indicated the next turn would be to the left, but the road name differed from the one Google supplied. One was a state route number and the other was a name. I turned left anyway, but soon came to another intersection where the road names again differed.

I suspect that locals used the road name while outsiders used the route number. I was definitely an outsider and was feeling a little lost. After the next turn, I gave up on Google and relied on my own sense of direction to find the way.

I think something similar happens in the church. People on the inside use terms that make sense to them, but outsiders feel like they’re missing something. And they usually are.

The church has its own patois, understood by insiders, but confusing to those who are new. For example, the pastor says: “We just need to love on the immigrants who’ve come to our community.” Church regulars may understand the pastor wants them to show concern for immigrants by their words and actions, but if any of those immigrants happened to be present, they might worry that being “loved on” was neither safe nor proper.

Some of the theological terms we use in church convey nothing substantive to newcomers. When the pastor talks about “sanctification” or “the gospel,” nothing at all comes to mind. It’s even worse when commonly used words take on idiosyncratic meanings when combined. For example, outsiders understand both the word “love” and the word “offering,” but the announcement that there will be a “love offering” at the conclusion of the service may leave them baffled. Or what about the outsider who hears someone say, “God spoke to me this week.” He wonders just what God’s voice sounds like – is it a James Earl Jones bass or does it have a Patrick Stewart accent?

When church members use terms like these without explanation, they leave outsiders feeling, well … outside, out of place. But there are problems for insiders too. We assume we know what a term means because we hear it often and even use it ourselves, but if we cannot explain it in a way that someone unfamiliar with the Christian faith could understand, our own grasp of the concept is suspect.

Take the term “salvation.” It is used by churches around the world and repeated weekly by tens of millions in the Nicene Creed. But if your sailboat capsized and you washed ashore on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, and its inhabitants did not immediately kill you, as they have done in the past, how would you explain salvation to them?

Church members should be able to translate biblical terms and churchy dialect into language outsiders understand. Yet there is an even higher level of communication possible, one that transcends words: Love. Love can communicate to people what even our most precise words fail to make clear.

Felix Mendelsohn wrote a series of short piano pieces he titled, Songs Without Words. When a friend offered to write lyrics, Mendelsohn demurred. He thought that words would not clarify the meaning of his music but obscure it.

Sometimes our words – theological terms and churchy dialect – do the same thing. They obscure what God has communicated. When words fail, piling on more words will not help. What is then needed is love.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/25/2018

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Take Responsibility for Your Own Thoughts

The thoughts that enter a person’s consciousness over a period of months, years, and decades will have a determinative effect on the character of that person and the quality of life he or she experiences. In other words, what a person thinks about will largely determine the kind of person he or she becomes.

If this is true (and, as far as I know, no one denies it), what a person thinks about is one of the most important things about him or her. The choice to allow a train of thought to travel through one’s mind or to set a train of thought in motion is made countless times each day and is, therefore, common. Yet, precisely because that choice is made countless times a day, it determines one’s identity and is, therefore, critical.

It is vital for health and wellbeing that a person take control of, and responsibility for, his or her own thoughts. Yet many people do not know this is even possible. They are under the impression that thoughts originate outside themselves and, as such, are uncontrollable. They go wherever the most recent impulse takes them: into a success or revenge fantasy, or a replay of yesterday’s argument at work, or last night’s Survivor episode. They don’t realize they are responsible for their thoughts and in control of them. That’s one thought that never enters their minds.

The moment one accepts responsibility for his or her thoughts is one of the most important moments in a person’s life. It makes positive change possible. It resets the future. It sets the stage for personal and spiritual growth.

Many people allow thoughts to run unsupervised through their minds. Those thoughts link together into a train of thought – often a runaway train – and they feel helpless to stop it. But people can, and must, take control of the trains of thought that pass through their minds. They have the power to refuse them admittance, direct them when they are admitted, and stop them when they are going in the wrong direction.

A different analogy might be helpful. Imagine that thoughts travel along something like riverways or canals. The riverways – or neural pathways – are already in place by the time a person is mature enough to exercise control over them. Yet it is possible to redirect riverbeds or dig new canals – neural pathways – upon which one’s thoughts can travel. It is possible, but it takes significant effort.

One of the great engineering feats in U. S. history was the redirection of the Chicago River. In the early part of the twentieth century, it flowed into Lake Michigan, which provided Chicago with drinking water. Because the river was contaminated with human and industrial waste, drinking water was polluted, and tens of thousands of people died from typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.

The flow of the river was reversed by digging a system of canals, channeled through large sewage treatment plants, then into the Des Plaines River, the Mississippi, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

Something similar happens with us. Significant amounts of toxic thoughts are being dumped into our minds on a regular basis. We must prevent such thoughts from entering our stream of consciousness and polluting our minds. This means governing what we watch, read, and hear. TV, movies, books, and Facebook pages that continually dump toxic ideas must be shut off.

Even if we do this, some toxic thinking will remain, and more will enter our minds unbidden. So, we must take control of the thoughts we already have and redirect them. One way of doing this – a sewage treatment plant of sorts – is to routinely confess to God (and, as appropriate, to another person) toxic thoughts of pride, vengeance, fear, and sexual immorality.

Carving new riverbeds through which our thoughts can flow takes almost constant vigilance at first. It requires the painful work of confession. It depends on finding sources of clean and healthy thoughts: books, movies, websites, and people who introduce true and refreshing ideas to the mind. But as this hard work is done, the control of ones thoughts becomes more manageable and life becomes healthier and more enjoyable.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/18/2018

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A Lesson We Must Learn: Words Matter

Words matter. They have power. The world operates by words. Yet, experts tell us that when someone speaks, we do not exactly hear words; we think them. The process is a complicated one.

Speech, like every other sound we hear, causes the air to move in wavelike patterns, which we call “soundwaves.” These waves of air are funneled through the outer ear and ear canal to the middle ear, vibrating a small drum of tissue that is about 8 millimeters by 10 millimeters in size. Its vibrations set in motion a chain reaction through three tiny bones, which in turn causes fluid in the spiral-shaped cochlea to move. Hair cells in the cochlea transmit neural signals along the auditory nerve to the brain, where the signals are interpreted as words. And words matter. They have power.

Years ago, my family was sitting in the car, waiting to cross the border into Canada. When we reached the border services officer, I was stroking my upper lip with my thumb and index finger. I had just shaved off my beard and it was the first time I had been mustache-less since 1975, and it felt odd. The officer thought I was fidgety and probably hiding something, so he told me to pull over and open the trunk. We were then ordered to wait inside the border office until our car had been inspected.

I stopped at the counter to inform the officer there, then the five of us sat on metal-framed chairs against a wall and watched the people coming and going. Forty-five minutes later, we were still sitting there, and I wondered if we’d been forgotten. I approached the counter again and said to the officer: “Excuse me, but we’ve been waiting for about forty-five minutes.”

She looked up and said apologetically, “I’m sorry, but we’re having to do a lot of strip searches today, so we’re running behind.”

The soundwaves that vibrated my eardrum sent those tiny bones in my middle ear to work. The fluid in the cochlea washed over the hair cells and sent signals down the auditory nerve. In less than a second my brain pieced together the meaning of what I had heard, and the power of those words couldn’t have been more obvious. They sent me back to the waiting chairs, where I sat down, shut my mouth, and meekly waited my turn.

Words matter. They are powerful. That’s why the Apostle Paul ordered Jesus-followers to “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…” Words can save a life or destroy it. As the ancient proverb puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

This is not something that we sufficiently appreciate. Hitler devastated Europe and killed six million Jews and nearly as many non-Jews. His weapon? Words. Armies marched, bombs fell, and people died at his word.

The tongue also has the power of life. I entered pastoral ministry through something of a side door. I never wanted to be a pastor, but two years of church ministry was a denominational requirement for the overseas service for which my wife and I had trained. During those first two years, I didn’t feel that my sermons were helping anyone. I doubted they were any good.

Some college friends visited one Christmas. In my hearing, one of them told another that he thought I was among the best preachers he knew. The soundwaves did their work in my middle and inner ear, signals were transmitted along the auditory nerve to my brain, and the power of his words brought life. Nearly forty years later, I still remember them. Had I not heard those words, I might not be in the pulpit today.

Words have power, and God’s words are all-powerful. The biblical writer declares, “By God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed.” Ours is a world of words, brought into being by words and operated by words. When Jesus, quoting Moses, said that “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” he was not spiritualizing. He was stating facts.

It is a lesson we must learn. Words matter – God’s and ours.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/11/18

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Mea Culpa

A reader from Ohio called the office this week, wanting to talk about the Saturday, July 28th column in the Canton Repository, which was also posted to this blog. She had to hunt down my phone number, so it is clear she was motivated.

I wasn’t in the office, so she left a voicemail. She was gracious and articulate, which I appreciate. She was also critical, which I appreciate even more.

She brought up what I had written in the second paragraph, which I share here: “When he spoke of Darwinian Evolution, it was as if he were intoning the name of a god, like an ancient Jew invoking El Shaddai or a Sikh exalting Akal Purakh. And his faith gave him hope.”

The caller was Jewish, she said, and she found the reference to a “god” (lower case “g”) like El Shaddai or Akal Purakh offensive. She read the passage as if I were disparaging El Shaddai (a frequent title for God in the Old Testament) and Akal Purakh. She acknowledged (hopefully, I think) the possibility that the words did not come out as I intended.

I was appalled. I went back and reread the passage, and saw that it could be taken that way. It was certainly not what I meant. In context, I was writing about a scientist’s genuine faith in Darwinian evolutionary theory and the hope that it brought him. The comparison between a Jew or a Sikh was meant to emphasize the sincerity of the man’s faith, not disparage it, still less to disparage the Object of faith for Jews or Sikhs.

Like the ancient Jew I referenced in the column, I believe in and serve El Shaddai. My life’s ambition is to hallow his name, not dishonor it. So, thanks to the caller for helping me right a wrong and write a retraction/explanation. If you happen to read this, know that I am grateful you read the column, and appreciate the  fortitude it took to call someone you don’t know for the sake of the Name you honor.

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Lost on Us: Another Thing We Should Be Learning from #Me Too

A powerful deity has been added to the pantheon of gods. It is as if a star has appeared in the heavens to guide its worshipers through the maze of modern-day life. Though relatively new to the world stage, this deity now commands enormous respect, especially in the western hemisphere, and particularly in the United States. It is worshipped by untold millions: the great god Career.

People will go to almost any length for the sake of Career. They will leave friends and family, forsake their church, forego leisure and play. In the name of Career, they will sacrifice their marriage, interests, and even morals. They will do whatever it takes to experience the blessing of Career.

A generation ago, at least in some circles, Education ruled supreme. Since then there has been a shakeup in the heavenly pantheon. Education, once sought as an end in itself, now exists for the sake of Career. Today, its acolytes, professional educators, must frame the rituals and sacrifices of education as service to Career. Education has become a satellite deity that is only important if it revolves around Career.

Children, particularly children from affluent families, are often educated for the sole purpose of dedicating their lives to Career. Parents take advantage of school choice laws to send their kids to the best schools in their district or they go out of district to expensive private schools. They do this in the hope that their children will be accepted into top-tier colleges where they will learn to be Career-driven, Career-minded, and Career-wise.

When my children were young, I coached Little League baseball for a couple of summers, including T-Ball. The T-ballers would swing and miss repeatedly, or swing and hit the tee, knocking the ball to the ground. Some parents would shout at them from the stands: “Keep your eye on the ball! Swing harder! Run faster!” For these parents, even T-Ball was an initiation rite for five-year-old into the good graces of Career. So, of course, failure was unacceptable.

That is because they believed Career has power to bestow happiness, fulfillment, and material goods on their children. But children who miss out on its blessing because of laziness, deficiency in intellect or appearance, or societal injustice are destined to eke out a meaningless existence in humble circumstances.

As faith in the power of Career has spread, priests and prophets have emerged to serve the deity. These priests go by various titles: career coach, certified career counselor, success guru, and career blogger, among others. Career also has major and minor prophets, whose writings impart vision, provide inspiration, and instruct neophytes in the ways of their god.

The idolization of Career is dangerous on many fronts. People who are willing to pay any price to secure the blessing of Career will always be at the mercy of people who have the power to bestow it. This is one of the principal truths the #Me Too movement can teach us, but few realize it and even fewer dare to speak it, perhaps from fear of committing Career heresy and offending Career worshipers everywhere.

In an explosive expose in The New Yorker, six women told Ronan Farrow that sexual harassment from CBS chairman Les Moonves had damaged their careers. One, a former child star hoping to make a comeback, said: “I’d been taught that powerful people can hurt you, they can ruin you, they can ruin your career … I thought, ‘Wow, is this the way the world works and I just don’t get it?’”

Farrow’s story portrays Moonves as a bad man, but it also reminds us that “Career First” is a bad policy. The women in Farrow’s piece acquitted themselves well, but think of the women who didn’t, who placed Career above integrity. To do so virtually guarantees dissatisfaction, either now because of failure or later because of success. It takes some people a lifetime to realize it, but what each person has in the end is not a Career but a self, which has been formed by the choices it has made. Career can be changed or abandoned, the self cannot. We are stuck with it.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/4/2018

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Can Hope Be Found in Present-Day America?

I was once on a college campus for a conference that featured a prominent biologist as a keynote speaker. During his talk, he defended Darwinian evolutionary theory from attacks by other academics. Whether his defense was successful or not was a matter of opinion, but what struck me was the vibrancy of his faith. It was not faith in God, but it was faith nonetheless.

When he spoke of Darwinian Evolution, it was as if he were intoning the name of a god, like an ancient Jew invoking El Shaddai or a Sikh exalting Akal Purakh. And his faith gave him hope. He freely admitted that there are current mysteries in biology which our best scientists (the priests of the new order) have not been able to penetrate, but he was certain that everything will be uncovered and laid bare before the advance of Darwinian Evolution. The apocalypse, the unveiling, is coming. Until it arrives, he would live in hope.

This inspiring vision strikes me as thoroughly religious. It offers something usually found in religion but missing in the secular order, the current one, at any rate: hope. Humans can only thrive when they have hope, and the great movements throughout history, whether religious, political, or scientific, have been full of hope.

Former President Obama recognized the deep human need for hope. In his 2008 campaign, he intentionally used the words “hope” and “hopeful” again and again. Across the bottom of his campaign posters, from one side to the other, was a single word, all in caps: “Hope.” Ten years later, the terminology of hope has been virtually expunged from our national discourse.

In the last general election, both major party candidates could have placed the word “Fear” from one side of their campaign posters to the other. Or perhaps “Anger.” Many current candidates for national, state, and local offices are following their example. Fear and anger are, like hope, highly motivational, but fear and anger burn people out. Only hope builds them up. We are in serious need of some hope.

I think a genuinely hopeful mid-term candidate, as opposed to one who uses the language of hope to manipulate others, could be successful. Such a candidate would have an answer to the question, “What kind of country do we want to be?” and it would be an answer infused with hope. And voters, suffocating from a lack of hope, would respond.

But where does genuine hope come from? The lecturer in biology was, I believe, genuinely hopeful that a glorious Revelation of Darwinian Evolution would vindicate him in the end. Deprived of such hope, he could not have gone on. And isn’t that just what has happened to the Communist movement worldwide? In the 1980s, Communists around the world, deprived of hope by the continued failure of nation states to achieve Marx’s vision, gave up hope.

Hope needs faith to survive. The biologist was brimming with faith, a true believer in Darwinian Theory’s ability to explain the presence of life in its diverse forms on the earth. And that faith inspired his hope for the future.

Similarly, Christian hope thrives in an atmosphere of faith. The Christian trusts God’s desire and ability to bring salvation to herself and to the world, and her faith inspires in her a genuine hopefulness for the future. She has already seen that future – incompletely, of course – but truly. It has begun to manifest itself in her life. Because she already sees the promised future of world-wide wholeness and harmony, of joy and justice taking shape in her own life, she is filled with hope that it will happen in the world.

Genuine hope is a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian faith and has been from the beginning. Christianity does more than paint a rosy picture of the future. Christians believe the future reaches back and changes the present. The peace and joy and love which will characterize the age to come are already occurring in their own lives as they trust in God.

Hope is not absent from present-day America, though one needs to know where to look. It thrives among people whose lives are being transformed by faith. That’s where hope lives.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 7/24/2018

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