Category Archives: Lifestyle

Masks in America: Hiding, Revealing, Transforming

It would not be surprising if the words for “mask” in the world’s languages have been used more in the past year than in all recorded history combined. That is impressive, given the length of time masks have been around. In 2018, archeologists discovered a 9,000-year-old Neolithic stone mask in the Middle East. One could argue that the earliest masks, although not face masks, were worn by Adam and Eve when they donned fig leaf coverings and tried to hide from the Lord.

Ancient Egyptians wore masks in religious rituals. They also placed masks on the faces of the dead to protect them on their crossing to the afterlife. In the Far East, masks were worn both for religious ceremonies and for theatrical productions. Classical actors routinely performed in masks, which explains why the ancient Greek word for actor was “hypocrite,” which means, “the one under the mask.”

Masks sometimes serve as identity markers. The mask marked the stage performer as an actor, the shaman as a healer, the chief as an authority. In West Africa, certain masks identified their wearers as intermediaries through whom petitions might be delivered to the dead.

More often, though, masks are worn to hide one’s identity. In ancient religious ceremonies, masks sometimes hid the wearer from malicious spirits. Historically, judges in many cultures have donned masks to protect themselves from reprisal from both friends and enemies of the accused. Today, companies are working to design “masks” that hide people’s identity from facial recognition software.
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Church and Kingdom: Not a One-to-One Correspondence

The church is where the kingdom of God takes shape on earth, but the kingdom extends beyond earth, beyond humanity, and throughout creation. Saturn and Jupiter, the Milky Way, the Horsehead Nebula, MACS0647-JD (the furthest known galaxy) are all under … Continue reading

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Humility: The Path Along Which All Spiritual Growth Proceeds

Jeremy Taylor was one of the most influential teachers and theologians of the 17th century. His influence reaches our day through writers like Geroge Macdonald andC. S. Lewis. His two most famous works are The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. My son Kevin recently showed me some of his instructions from Holy Living on the subject of humility.

Since humility is the path along which all spiritual growth proceeds, and since “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” true humility is of greater worth than gold. Taylor makes the following suggestions for anyone who would live in the “grace of humility.”

To begin with, we need to understand that “Humility consists in a realistic opinion of yourself, namely that you are an unworthy person.” For the self-esteem generation, this assertion cannot help but seem misguided and even harmful. It is perhaps the most difficult advice Jeremy Taylor gives on the subject – and the most important.

When Taylor says we are “unworthy,” he does not mean we are worthless. Far from it: our worth is incalculable. When he says we are unworthy, he means that we have done nothing and can do nothing to merit the value God has placed on us. Until I see this is so, I will always be trying to prove myself worthy by my strength, my intelligence, my kindness or even my spirituality. I cannot “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) while at the same time trying to prove myself. It is impossible. Continue reading

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As Good as Fingerprints: The Words We Use

The “social psychologist James Pennebaker spent years researching the significance of our words. With a team of grad students, he developed a sophisticated computer program that analyzes what our words say about us. Pennebaker claims that the words we generate over a lifetime are like ‘fingerprints.’ Even small words, or what he calls ‘stealth words’ – like pronouns (I, you, we, they) and prepositions (to, for, over) – ‘broadcast the kind of people we are.’”

Our words show who we are. They also show who we are not. A teacher who speaks of grace had better be gracious. The person who exposits the Lord’s prayer better pray and the one who teaches us to forgive had better not harbor bitterness. Does the teacher’s life match his words? He or she will be judged by them. But the same is true for all the rest of us: Does our life match our words or do our words betray us? Continue reading

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A Plea to Facebook Users

About once a week, I say to myself and anyone listening: “I hate Facebook!”

It’s not that I’ve got something against Mark Zuckerberg. I am not, during these weekly laments, critiquing social media generally, though I am concerned about the losses suffered by those who spend more time in virtual relationships than in face to face ones. My chief complaint is with the lack of charity displayed by professing Christians on their Facebook pages.

I confess that I haven’t seen this for myself. I am not “very online” and have never had a Facebook account. But I frequently hear about these posts and that is almost worse. It means that the unkindness of professing Christians has been common enough to become a topic of conversation.

This is a plea to Christian Facebook users to stop writing posts that go against the teachings of Christ and his apostles. They had a lot to say on the subject of verbal communication. If a Facebook user is going to flout those instructions, at least let him or her include a disclaimer to the effect that the views shared are personal and should not be taken to represent the views of Jesus Christ or his church.
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The Costly Substitution of our Values

The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.

The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.

When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.

Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
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Prejudice: Going After the Root

When enough people care enough about prejudice, when concern reaches critical mass, action is taken. This usually means that legislation is passed or new policies enacted. The display of hatred associated with a particular prejudice – for example, race discrimination … Continue reading

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A Different Kind of Climate Change

Though many Americans first became aware of climate science in the last few decades, it has a long history. By the 1850s, scientists investigating large-scale climate differences in past geological ages began to suspect that atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane might have an impact on global temperatures.

Their theories generated debate but not consensus. Nevertheless, interest in vacillating global temperatures (in ages past) grew. By the late 1950s, some scientists were not just thinking about the history of climate change but its future and they saw trouble ahead.

I feel like one of those 1950s climate scientists (minus the math proficiency). Like them, I am warning about climate change, although it is a different climate – the social climate – that concerns me. I too see trouble ahead.

In the earth sciences, climate change is measured by temperature fluctuations in earth’s oceans, on its surface, and in its lower troposphere. In the social climate, change is measured by fluctuations in respect and contempt levels. Currently, respect levels are falling and contempt levels are rising.

Social climate change threatens human flourishing. It puts human institutions like marriage and government at risk. Long-term consequences could include poverty, governmental instability, and the unraveling of the social fabric.

What signs are there of social climate change? Continue reading

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You Need to Make a Choice: Here’s Why

In the biblical story of the first humans, Adam and Eve face a choice: obey their Maker’s directive or disobey and seek their own way. They chose the latter, at great cost to the race.

We might wonder why God would put them in a place where a choice of this magnitude, with such potentially catastrophic consequences, would be required. One reason seems to be this: if they were to have any hope of becoming the magnificent beings God intended, they would need to become volitional; that is, they would need to become choosing creatures.

The stakes would have been even higher had God waited until there were millions of humans before presenting such a choice. In terms of humanity’s prospects, the one thing worse than a wrong choice by Adam and Eve was a no-choice by Adam and Eve. God made them to be human, which is another way of saying, he made them choosing creatures.
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Nostalgia and Faith: Can They Coexist?

No one needs faith for something that has already happened. Faith, by its nature, requires a future component, a measure of uncertainty. In situations where there is no uncertainty – the package has already arrived, as promised, the test has been scored – faith is superfluous.

Does this imply that people of faith, like myself, will not be nostalgic, since nostalgia is about the settled past and faith is about the unsettled future? I hope not, because I sometimes wax nostalgic, particularly around the holidays. I remember winter mornings when my brother and I would run out on the front porch in our bare feet to retrieve the foil-topped bottles the milkman had left. We’d pour ourselves a glass, then chew the frozen milk crystals that collected on the top.

Such memories are pleasant to me. Nostalgia is not about times of loneliness and sorrow, but about times of peace and camaraderie. The past I remember seems simpler, gentler, and more manageable. Unlike the future, the past never incites fear.

When the term “nostalgia” first came into use in the 17th century, it denoted a kind of mental illness. The doctor who coined the term described it as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” It was thought to be a type of home-sickness – the term coming from the Greek roots for “returning home” and for “pain.”

In recent years, however, social scientists have discovered various benefits that accompany nostalgia. Continue reading

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