- Published on Monday, 30 September 2013 08:56
The telegram came from the commanding officer and it read, “The situation is hopeless but not desperate.” With these words, he described the battle conditions the German powers faced on the eastern front during World War I. But they also describe the stubborn will of that great Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who served under that same commanding officer. Ludwig’s stubborn will tackled the hopeless big questions of life. And he did so without a sense of desperation. I studied philosophy in graduate school. As I neared my final quarter of study, I took a seminar on the philosophy of Wittgenstein. His biography alone was amazing. He was a profoundly complex personality! He inherited the family fortune and then gave it away. He also volunteered in the Austro-Hungarian army and fought during World War I. He forfeited opportunities to become an officer and chose to remain with the enlisted ranks. And during the war, he happened upon a bookstore, bought and read a copy of the only book left in that war weary store: Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief. But most amazing of all, during the periodic pauses in the fighting, he worked on and completed the first draft of a manuscript, which was eventually published under the title, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Wow! Can you imagine him with rifle in one hand and pencil and pad in the other? Ludwig embodied hopelessness without desperation; occupying his mind during war with writing a book on philosophy. While I moaned about writing a 20 page term paper and having to brave the 14 and Interstate-5 freeways, in order to make it to class, reading about a philosopher who escapes the horrors of battle by writing a manuscript during his brief gaps in fighting was a reprimand to my comfort. I can’t help but wonder whether the horrors of war called forth a latent stubborn fight in the young Ludwig or whether he already possessed an unquenchable restless, fighting spirit, which led him to volunteer for military conflict?
Maybe his battle experience afforded him unique insights into meaning in our world. One biographer notes that Ludwig’s statements were expressed with “an almost oracular force.” He wrote in his manuscript, “The meaning of the world must lie outside the world” (Tractatus 6.41). His teacher, Bertrand Russell, wrote about the time he tried to deter Ludwig from pursuing a certain idea, “I said it would be dark, & he said he hated daylight. I said it would be lonely, & he said he prostituted his mind talking to intelligent people. I said he was mad & he said God preserve him from sanity. (God certainly will.)” Like Socrates, Ludwig was a wartime author. Like Socrates, Wittgenstein was a philosopher who was also a soldier in battle. And in his attempt to remain clear and to speak truthful, he wrote in a private notebook “May God grant to the philosopher insight into what lies before everyone’s eyes” (VB, p. 163).”
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- Published on Sunday, 08 September 2013 10:12
To Know God
Do you know God? Does God speak to you? Is God active in your life? Where do you get your assurances about God?
These questions may yield a variety of answer, except for that last one. Most Christians agree about where we learn of God. We study the Bible; the true revelation of God. It’s easy. Open your mind and heart; study the word; know God.
Well, maybe not easy. If it were truly easy we would all know the same God. But we don’t.
- Published on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 06:44
I grew up listening to many different missionary stories; stories of brave people who sailed across distant oceans, hacking their way through uncharted jungle, waging spiritual warfare against demons, and eating strange foods with natives, a bible in one hand and a plate of beetles in the other. They faced countless odds, and yet, through their faith in God, they came out of their stories alive, and also somehow managed to convert and baptize entire villages. When I thought of these stories, I imagined that I too, would have such adventures. I would face danger for the sake of the gospel and bring light to a dark world. Of course, I would face trials and tribulations just like the people in those missionary stories, I would have hard times, and I would probably get malaria, but I would be the hero in my own story.
So when the time came when I could be a missionary, the decision was not hard. I jumped in feet first and signed up with Adventist Frontier Missions, or AFM, before my parents could think about it too much. Now, AFM doesn’t let you choose where you do your mission service; they place you where they think you can be most helpful. So I thought of all the different countries that they had missions in, and I dreamed of going to Africa, where I hadn’t (and still haven’t) been, to help the career missionaries there establish a Christian presence, or Albania, where I hadn’t even thought of as existing, to help lead a church through its first steps. I even selfishly dreamed of Ireland, though there were no open positions for student missionaries, just because I wanted to go there to visit.
But all these dreams were just that, dreams, because I was sent to Laos, a small land-locked country that borders Thailand, where I would be teaching English at a school in the capital of Vientiane. In my mind, this was a very distant cry from the romantic, exotic places that I had seen myself in. I also hadn’t seen myself writing lesson plans, grading papers, and sitting at a desk for a good portion of the day, which is what I ended up doing. Teaching people how to speak English has its benefits, I’m sure, but this is not what I had in mind when I thought of spreading the gospel. Could English education really be the idea of Christian mission service?
- Published on Monday, 10 June 2013 08:11
Our lectionary sets for us two tales of widows facing the abyss. These women face the immediate prospect of life without a son. Not only does a son represent a great gift in the ancient world in which they live, something for which every woman longed, but the loss of such a son often constituted a dark economic threat. Moreover, neither woman in our texts has a husband, so life for them is harsh and difficult. The widow of Zarephath appears in dire straits even before her son becomes ill. In a time of famine she gathers sticks to prepare food for herself and her son before they die. Luke does not describe the economic situation of the widow of Nain, but we feel a dark emotional setting in his tale as well.
What is it like to face the abyss? What do these ancient tales tell us about the human reality of suffering and death? You have no doubt already seen there is something about them that strains our modern sense of credibility. We resist the idea that God grants healing for some and illness or death for others. We have a hard time with the notion of faith healing itself. Unlike those times of long ago when miracle workers like Elijah and Jesus roamed the land, we have a large science-based industry of medical professionals and hospitals able to relieve suffering and to forestall death to an extent unknown before modern times. Jesus said, “ Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). That promise has come true. Often today the dying are snatched from the jaws of death. Soldiers who would have died earlier in history are rehabilitated. Cancer and heart patients are often returned to their families and careers.
Yet we still have miracle workers not far different from the ancient practitioners because in spite of the advances of medical science, we still confront the abyss of pain, and suffering, and death. There are still diseases of the body and mind that cannot be cured. We still come to points in our lives when we face canyons of uncertainty. The term widow in our stories might be taken to signify a lack we have experienced that still baffles us. So our stories do have something for us. They show people like us confronting death or some other important issue. What is it that satisfies the sick and wounded today? What satisfies us in impossible situations if it is not compassion? Luke tells us that Jesus had compassion on the widow of Nain. Yes, he restored her son to life, but first he had compassion on her. And if we are not to experience a miracle, can we not at least experience compassion?
- Published on Tuesday, 07 May 2013 07:23
In Davita’s Harp, author Chaim Potok tells the story of a young girl's search for meaning and for God. Raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father—both nonbelievers, Potok leads us to an understanding of the insatiable hunger young Davita has to know God and to be known by Him. Separated by literal walls in the synagogue which she attends, Davita sits quietly with the women, curtained away from the men and from the religious experience she longs for.
When she learns that her father has been killed in the Spanish Civil War, Davita dares to stand to her feet and to speak out loud the words of the Kaddish, the prayer of mourning. Amid stares and whispers, she leaves the synagogue, only to be reminded on her way out that girls don't speak in worship.
Was there ever a time in your life when you longed to stand and to take your rightful place in worship? To take your God-called place in the church?
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