Neither a Pragmatist nor an Idealist be

For Christians who are politically conservative, this year’s Presidential election presents a dilemma.  As political conservatives, most in this group tend to vote Republican, since the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party.  In the past, even when the Republican Presidential nominee has been a squishy moderate, they have still been a much better option than the Democratic nominee, so the choice has not been that difficult.  This year, the Republican nominee is truly atrocious, forcing many to reconsider their approach to choosing between two less than ideal options.

Some take the approach that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” and refuse to vote for either major party candidate (either not voting at all, or voting for a third party).  Those in this camp may be considered Idealists.  Not only will they not vote for Donald Trump, they likely would not have voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, George Bush (either W or HW), or Bob Dole.  They will only vote for a candidate who substantially aligns with their vision of an ideal candidate, regardless of whether their preferred candidate has any possibility of winning the election.  The stronger their idealism, the more closely aligned the candidate must be with their ideal, and the fewer potential candidates there are to select from.

The problem with Idealism is that no two people share the same set of ideals, so it actually becomes very individualistic.  Although Christians must stand firm in their core principles, some of those principles include unity, submission, and humility, which means we must also be willing to prioritize which ideals are most important and seek compromise in other areas.  While it is true that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” Christians know that “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12, Ps. 53:3), so demanding a candidate free from “evil” is basically saying that Christians should not vote at all.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t bother to evaluate a candidate’s morality.  To excuse a candidate’s moral failings based on the fact that there are “no perfect candidates” or that “every candidate is flawed” is just foolish.

To answer the idealist objection that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” it can be countered that given a situation where the only options all have bad outcomes, it is morally right to seek the outcome that minimizes evil and maximizes good (even if the potential good is quite limited, it’s still better than the alternative).  I think this is a valid principle, if applied properly.  The problem I see, at least in the context of this year’s Presidential election and the rationale being used by Christians to justify support for Donald Trump, is that there seems to be little difference between this “greater good” principle and pragmatism.

The pragmatist does not ask, “what is right?” but instead asks, “what will have the better outcome?”  The pragmatist does not evaluate the options themselves, but the perceived consequences of the options.  Pragmatism as a guiding principle is not a biblical method of decision making.  For one, it requires that we actually know the outcome in order to judge the right decision.  But even if we do know the outcome, or even the likely outcome, the only person who really knows the ultimate greater good is God.  God has said, “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).  Righteousness defies logic (1 Cor. 1:18-31).  We are to act with wisdom, and plan for the future, but determining outcomes is God’s business, not ours (James 4:14, Matt. 6:34).

If I were a pragmatist, I would vote for Donald Trump.  The things that he says he will do (appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution, defend life, scale back government overreach) are on the whole, better than the things Hillary Clinton promises to do.  Even assuming (as I do) that Trump will entirely renege on every promise he had made, the things he is likely to do might not be as bad (at least in the short term) as what Clinton will do.  I don’t believe that Trump has any real core values other than self-promotion, but his opinions about what our country should do may align more closely with mine than do Clinton’s.  As Doug Wilson has said, “I would rather fight Trump than to fight Hillary.”

But I am not a pragmatist.  I am a “values voter.”  Actually, although this label is generally applied to those on the Christian Right, everyone is a “values voter.”  It’s just a matter of which values they prioritize.  I prioritize virtue over political ideology.  I prioritize truth and righteousness over Supreme Court vacancies, government regulations, and tax code.  I do not believe that Donald Trump is any more virtuous, honest, or righteous than Hillary Clinton.  Therefore, he is no more closely aligned with my values than is Clinton.  Given the lack of difference between the two individuals, I am perfectly content to “throw my vote away” this year by writing in a third party candidate.

It would be different if we were simply voting for a Party.  The Republican Party Platform is much more closely aligned with my values than the Democratic Party Platform.  All else equal, I would much rather see a Republican in power than a Democrat.  I plan to vote for Republican candidates in other races.  If we were only voting for a party, I would gladly pull the lever for the Republican party.  But we’re not voting for a party*, we’re voting for a candidate.  And character matters too much for me to “hold my nose” and vote for Trump.  Political policies hold no value if morality is simply cast aside.  It saddens me to see those on the Christian Right valuing the political outcome of voting for Trump over the moral defeat of voting for a man so devoid of character.

(*You might argue that, in fact, we are voting for a party, and the electors of each party are the ones who then select the President.  While that may technically be how the Electoral College works, for all practical purposes a vote for Trump is just that: a vote for Trump.)


Robotic Back Scratcher

I like to get back rubs and have my back scratched.  Unfortunately, my wife stubbornly refuses to rub or scratch my back every night until I fall to sleep.  So I thought it would be nice if someone invented a robotic arm that could be attached to the headboard of the bed and would scratch my back for me.

The robotic back scratcher should have a rotating cuff so that it can scratch the user’s back while the user is lying on their stomach or on their side (and can scratch to the left or to the right depending on which side of the bed you’re on).

The robotic “hand” should be equipped with pressure sensors so that it automatically maintains the right position; if the user moves, the “hand” should follow, maintaining contact with the user’s back.

Dr. Claw

The ideal design would NOT be modeled after Dr. Claw.

The “fingers” should have retractable “nails,” and the amount of pressure applied should be adjustable, so the user can choose between a light back scratch and a deep tissue massage.  (For safety, the maximum pressure when the “fingernails” are extended will be less than when they are retracted.)  Another option to consider is the ability to use a flexible “palm” instead of individual fingers.

The direction of motion should be adjustable, so the user can choose between a path that is primarily circular, side-to-side, up-and-down, or fully randomized.  The range should also be adjustable, to accommodate user preference and backs of different sizes.

The pressure and path of motion should be somewhat randomized, to make the experience more “natural” and keep it from being too repetitive.  The degree of randomness should be independently adjustable for each setting, based on user preference.

Finally, the robot should be equipped with Bluetooth so that the operation and settings can be controlled via a smartphone app.  The app should provide on-the-fly adjustments, but also allow user preferences to be saved and recalled to support different users and/or different moods.

Anyone want to build this for me?

Just use the last part

“Choose you this day whom ye will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” makes a good slogan. Growing up, we had a plaque with the latter part of Joshua 24:15 on our front door.

Joshua 24:15With no context around the phrase, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” it sounds like Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and “choose to serve the Lord (like me and my house).” However, the full verse indicates that the choice being offered is not a choice as to whether to serve the Lord or not. The choice being offered is a choice between false gods: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell.” Joshua is offering a choice to those who have already decided to reject God; he is saying, “here are your alternatives.” Maybe the first part of Joshua 24:15 doesn’t make such a good slogan for a piece of decorative art work after all!

In the broader context of the whole chapter, Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and to serve the Lord. In the preceding verse (14), he says, “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.” And in the following verse (16), the people reject his alternative choices, saying, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” Joshua warns the people of the consequences should they fail to uphold their commitment, but they insist (24), “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”

So, does the fact that the broader context gives the Israelites a choice between serving the Lord and serving other gods justify using “choose you this day whom ye will serve” from verse 15 in that sense? I think not. Truth is too often twisted and misconstrued, which only gives people more reason to accept the notion that truth is relative. Christians especially must be precise and accurate in our assertions of what is true. We should not use a passage of Scripture in a sense that is not what the passage is actually saying, even if our usage is consistent with a principle that is true. We must allow Scripture to say what it actually says, not use it to say something different.

Getting Things Done By Walking Around

A ton of people have written tons of books about how to be more effective at getting things done.  One such popular book is titled Getting Things Done.  I have not read any of these books.  I don’t know if what I’m about to say is consistent with the best recommendations out there, or if it flies in the face of all the “experts.”  However, here’s my take on one way to keep from falling behind with the “little things” that tend to accumulate.

To Do ListDon’t put off the “little things” until you have time to do them all at once.  Just do them a little at a time while on the way to do something else.

The “trick” to this is two-fold: one, you have to be observant so that the “little things” don’t go unnoticed.  Secondly, you have to learn to accurately assess what qualifies as a “little thing.”

Take household upkeep, for example.  When you’re walking through the house, pay attention to the state of things.  Notice a dusty shelf in the hallway?  Instead of adding “dust the house” to your to-do list, just grab a dust rag or feather duster and dust that one shelf.  Don’t worry about the rest of the house right now.  You can dust the TV later when you happen to be in the living room.  The key here is that you take care of one “little thing” right when you notice it, without allowing yourself to get distracted and coming off of one task to start a different task.  Stay focused on the task at hand, but just allow yourself some leeway to do a little something extra on the way.  Don’t stop what you’re doing in order to do something else, but when you’re on the move, take notice of things that need to be done, and just go ahead and do one of them, provided it won’t interfere with something more important.

Apparently, people have done studies and determined that multitasking can actually make you less productive than if you just stay focused on getting one thing done at a time.  I’m not advocating that you jump from task to task or try to do two tasks at the same time.  I’m talking about utilizing “transitional time” to squeeze in one or two little things.  If you’re supposed to be writing a paper, don’t get distracted by organizing your desk.  However, when you get up from your desk to get a drink, take some of those old papers to the recycling bin while you’re at it.  When you have to take a bathroom break, go ahead and wipe down the toilet, or do a quick scrub of the toilet bowl, or clean the mirror while you’re in there.

I’m not saying that you always need to be doing something either.  If you want to sit on the couch watching TV, that’s fine.  But when you go to the kitchen to get a snack, grab a few of those dishes on the counter and put them in the dishwasher.

Use your “walking through the house” time to look around and see what you can put away, clean, or fix in a minute or two.  If you do this regularly, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to schedule an extended time to do some thorough cleaning or organizing, but you can manage to do a lot of your regular upkeep without needing to set aside specific time for it.



Two Kinds of Freedom

Jonathan Edwards writes in Freedom of the Will about moral ability and natural ability.

We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we cannot do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature does not allow of it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the Will; either in the Faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moral Inability consists not in any of these things; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the Will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary.

There is absolutely no way that I would ever leave my daughter on the side of the road and drive off.  Even if I wanted to be free from the responsibility, cost, and stress of raising her, it would be impossible for me to abandon her like that.  It is impossible, not because I lack the physical capacity to do so, or the mental capacity to carry out such an operation.  There is no armed guard standing watch over her, preventing me from carrying out such a thing.  There is no innate human characteristic that precludes me doing this; other people have done such things.  No, it is impossible because I lack any inclination or motive to do such a thing; or even if such an inclination or motive were to make its existence known, it would immediately, without any question, be entirely overpowered by my strong desire to keep her, protect her, and love her.

Fork in the roadIn the same way, fallen humans are morally incapable of submitting their life to God.  Adam’s sin was to put himself in the place of God; evaluating for himself what is good and what is evil.  Every human ever since has done the same thing.  Fallen man has no inclination whatsoever for giving up his assumed role of arbiter of right and wrong.  He retains control of his human faculties of thought, emotion, speech and action, and can direct these faculties according to his will.  He retains the ability to decide who he will obey, and he retains the ability to act in accordance with his decision.  But his dead spirit leaves him no motivation to exercise his will in submission to God; or even if he thought that submission to God might be a good idea, his desire for autonomy would immediately overrule such a notion.  His human nature retains the freedom to choose in accordance with his will.  However, his will is corrupt and lacks the moral freedom to choose God.


Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Throughout history, many churches have utilized liturgical services, where both the order and much of the content of a worship service is written out in full.  This hymn comes from one of these service orders, the Liturgy of Saint James, a liturgy for celebrating the Eucharist that originated with the church at Jerusalem, dating back to at least the 4th Century.  It is named for James, the brother of Christ, author of the New Testament Epistle bearing his name, and the first bishop of the Jerusalem church.  Some of the eastern churches still use this liturgy today.Saint James

The first part of this liturgical service was open to anyone, including those who might just be investigating Christianity, as well as those who had accepted the claims of Christianity but had not yet been baptized.  Like our own service, this first part included hymns, prayers, the reading of Scripture, and instruction from the Word.  However, as they prepared to partake of the Communion elements, the catechumens, or unbaptized, would be dismissed, and the choir would chant this hymn as the bread and the wine were brought in to be placed on the altar:

“Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself.  For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before Him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

The first phrase echoes Habakkuk 2:20, which says, “the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”  It brings to mind Isaiah chapter 6, where Isaiah sees the Lord on his throne, surrounded by the seraphim, and Isaiah responds with fear and trembling.  Or, the last few chapters of Job, where God “answers” Job with questions that reveal God’s surpassing greatness and authority, and Job’s response is to “lay his hand on his mouth.”

So there is a somberness to these words that we sing, as we ponder our own sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and we rightfully tremble before the power and authority of our Creator.  However, silence before God is not only due to standing before Him with fear and trembling, but also because we have no need to fret or worry.  As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  If we are God’s children, we can have internal peace, and be calm and silent when we see God for who He is.  We also sing with rejoicing in our hearts, because we are celebrating the arrival of our glorious Savior.

Perhaps especially meaningful for the church at Jerusalem would have been the prophecy from Zechariah chapter 2, where verses 10-13 read, “‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.  And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people.  And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.  And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.’  Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

And so, we sing this classic hymn, not just imitating traditions of the past, but standing alongside the saints from throughout history, unified in our doctrine and our devotion.  Let us stand, and with a holy mixture of fear and joy, give homage to our Lord who came to redeem us and nourish us by giving us himself.

In Christ Alone

In Christ Alone…”  These three words are a fragment, implying that we need to finish the sentence.  In Christ alone ______________.

This hymn fills in that blank by answering the question of “where do we place our hope?”  The world suggests we place our hope in having lots of money.  Or, if that doesn’t work, the government will take care of us.  But ultimately, everyone will let us down, so we have to be prepared to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, and look out for Number One, says the world.  We can’t count on someone else to save us after all, but we can save ourselves.  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  Well… we know that that’s not true.  We are broken and powerless, in need of a Savior, and we place our hope in Christ, and in no one else.cross

The hymn also answers the question of “what is the basis for that hope?” If Christ alone is the source of our hope, what is it that makes that hope secure?  And so, we sing about the work of Christ on the cross.  The death that He died on our behalf accomplished what only He could accomplish.  The wrath of God, which we justly faced because of our sin, was satisfied by Jesus.  No one else could secure our freedom.  Only His blood could purchase our redemption.  Only His resurrection could conquer the effects of sin and death, and grant us the same victory.  We place our hope in Christ, because only He can save us.  The things that we need can be found in Him alone.

Here is my favorite line in the hymn:  “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”  This sums it up:  “Jesus commands my destiny.”  For starters, what this says to me is that I don’t control my own destiny.  I may want to sometimes.  I may try to.  But my destiny is not up to me.  It would be futile to put my hope in myself, because I don’t have the power to determine my future.  I don’t have the power to determine my eternal worth.  My destiny is controlled by Christ alone.

Furthermore, not only does Jesus hold the reins to my destiny, but He really is in command.  My destiny is not a wild, out-of-control horse that Jesus is trying to rein in.  My destiny is not up in the air.  My destiny is certain, because the one who controls my destiny has all the power in heaven and earth, forever and ever.  Jesus commands my destiny.  What more could I want?  What more could I hope for?