God & Money

One general objection I have with some of the messages within the Christian faith is selective emphasis—that is, emphasizing certain verses of scriptures over others—in addition to selection bias: omitting certain verses from scripture.

Recently, there has been one verse that continually keeps coming into my life: “‘No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). While I had heard this verse in messages before, it was infrequent and rarely the center of any serious analysis; however, in my personal life, I recently had felt a great sense of comfort not merely by reading this verse in isolation, but in its complete context, spanning Matthew 6:19-34. It was through the added context of Jesus’ words that I truly understood what was being said in verse 24; moreover, the context and rich examples that Jesus uses provided me with the comfort, guidance, and reassurance of faith that I needed.

In our world, especially in American culture, materialism, work, production, and success are all encultured into you; moreover, they are blended up and somehow attached to your self-worth. As Jefferson Bethke writes (playing off Descartes’ famous words), “America’s mantra is, ‘I produce, therefore I am.’” It seems that our lives somehow have become intertwined with what it is that we produce or can show others. This goes hand-in-hand with our media-driven culture—however, let us return to scripture.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.’” Here, is a clear verse illustrating that we are called to produce fruit, but what kind of fruit? Well, John 15:15 says, “lasting fruit” or “fruit that will remain.” And, how do we accomplish such a task? We do so by following Jesus’ command: “‘Don’t store up treasures here on earth…Store your treasures in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:20-21, NLV).

So, why is this all so important? The issue comes back to what is being emphasized. As Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 say, “‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV). This is a matter of our hearts and, thus, is of remarkable relevance; moreover, it is regarding how our relationship to the material world should be, which is of paramount importance in the current culture in which we live.

Unfortunately, this message seems to not receive as much attention as it deserves—in fact, the attention it has received by some leaders within the Christian faith has been to emphasize the opposite point, and conflate the idea that inner works can be manifested materially. I will speak more on this in my next post as I discuss the emergence and growth of the prosperity gospel.

Warning: Contains Political Content

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I have refrained from talking about the current political climate in America because the polarization of the “Us vs. Them” mindset seemed impossible to surmount. Out of fears of my inadequacies, I have chosen to remain silent, rationalizing to myself that my silence was justified: Peoples’ minds have chosen sides, and there is nothing that can be said or done to sway peoples’ opinions.

Upon recent reflection, I realized that I had let my cowardice get the best of me. Moreover, I discovered that within this presumption outlined above was the implicit acknowledgement of the “Us/Them” false dichotomy. However, even after this revelation, there still have been persistent beliefs within myself that allowed me to continue to bite my tongue: “You have nothing to offer, and, even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. No one would read it, even if they bothered to read it, it wouldn’t change their minds.” It was this last part that has compelled me to break my silence and finally write.

I am a counselor by trade, even so, it is still fascinating to discover irrational beliefs that produce internal (psychic) tension. The last part of this negative self-belief is where I illuminated a fundamental error in my line of thinking. Similar to the counseling process, the goal is not about changing someone’s mind, rather it is about providing new perspectives, experiences, reflections, etc. that further inquiry and help to refine and better define their beliefs, values, and aspirations.

Furthermore, this shift in my perspective about the starting point for political discussion has also allowed me to reflect upon the array of experiences I have been collecting. I am a member of groups and organizations that would be deemed “far-right,” as well as ones which lean towards the “far-left.” Initially, these group experiences produced a great sense of tension within me that was further exacerbated by the division being portrayed within the American news. However, through maintaining the delicate balance between being open-minded while, simultaneously, having the courage to hold to certain deeply held convictions, I have been able to resist the pull of absolutism; that is, the tendency to want to resolve my internal discomfort produced by the tensions of both sides and foreclose on one of them as the absolute truth and guiding principle that all people should adopt.

This has been a difficult endeavor to undertake, especially considering the political and cultural climate of America growing more rigid and extreme by the day. However, I am grateful for being able to be a part of the “in-group” for both groups of the left and the right, because it has allowed me to understand some of the more mundane experiences, issues, and concerns that are at the root of the larger movements and politics that flood the internet and media. It has provided me with faces and verbalized expressions of the people who hold certain ideologies, instead of the abstract, dehumanized, and dogmatic view of such ideologies that are often portrayed through media. The importance of the medium through which information is absorbed is often overlooked. When ideologies are provided, devoid of any relation to actual experience, it allows the individual’s assumptions, preconceptions, unconscious biases, and a host of other psychic content to be combined with their imaginative capacity. In turn, this perpetuates ideologies and beliefs as having a sort of life in and of themselves, outside of the lived experienced of individuals.

Moreover, this separation between ideologies and actual experiences is doing damage to our democracy, for many individuals have become so certain of the absolutism of their beliefs that there is no room for common ground. While the overt differences in beliefs are emphasized, the nuances within the ideologies of either side are overlooked or disregarded. Furthermore, these nuances have become beyond reproach, since they are entirely overshadowed by the perceived irreconcilable schism of the defining features of each ideology.

Therefore, the impetus for my writing about the topic of politics in America is to emphasize the aspects that are being overlooked. While the differences in ideologies and beliefs between the right and the left are being magnified–and, in fact, personified through the attack or defense of President Trump– the similarities of experienced shared by being a human being living in a world of struggle, change, uncertainty, with feelings of isolation, desire for belonging, and striving for purpose and meaning, are being entirely overlooked. Insofar, that these aspects that comprise life are being eliminated from communal discourse, unless both parties identify with one another politically and ideologically. This lack of communication between members of opposing sides will only deepen the divide that is already present, and it will erase the opportunity to live and interact as fellow citizens of a democracy, learning from one another and enriching each other’s lives through the sharing and celebrating of differences, as well as those of similarities.

Working to Live

Believing in dreams is as strange as the belief in things that are seen.
Capture its essence and measure its substance through the division of parts —
Only then may it be allowed to dwell in the depths of our hearts.
Proof is what we prize;
“Seeing is believing” is not as true as “Seeing is perceiving.”

A culture of empiricism mixed with a need to customize our eyes
To fit the correct narrative that we consider an imperative.
Internal contradictions lead to increased inflammation;
Therefore, we work ceaselessly in a state of constant agitation.
Always waiting for that day of jubilation
When we are launched into our genuine aspirations.

In the meantime,
We work at our vocations dealing with daydreams of our next vacation
When we can put a stop to the rumination
And celebrate the ceasing of our continual fixation.

A Self in Society

Conditioned to be polite,
We converse wearing our social decorum.
But, is this for us or for them?
Moreover, since when did disagreement become synonymous with intolerance –
If we all agree, will we still be free?
To some degree, it would appear that the fervent desire to unify as one
Is causing our nation to become undone.

With that said, there are issues on which we must agree:
Some form of common sense logic must be present as foundation to stand upon.
This does not dictate any issue,
Rather it provides us with a necessary tool to engage in discourse.
Embarking on these sorts of endeavors without common ground
is predestined to forever circle round and round.
Therefore, remember that it is okay to have some remorse;
It’s okay to change your mind in light of new evidence.
This is not something to feel ashamed of though –
It is, however, a test of letting go,
The pieces of one’s ego necessary for growth.
Through taking this oath,
One may become flexible enough to tolerate viewpoints of both.
This requires great vulnerability, and without this there is no true strength –
Only an inflated self-esteem kept afloat by the desperation of others
Who, too, refuse to change and prefer to remain the same.

This is the what it means to be enslaved to oneself, ensnared by pride.
Terrified to be denied, one chooses to continually lie.
For the sake of pride, one cannot hide;
Therefore, the fear of mortification leads to emotional amplification.
Allied together under a noble cause: Defend this nation, at all costs.
However, the lack of insight veils the perception of one’s self,
Instead, projecting outward blaming others for their rage.
Not knowing that it is a manifestation of residing in a cage of their own making.

Learning & Experience

What am I but a self? But where did ‘I’ come from? Was I born thinking myself apart from the world, or did I learn it through methods of learning like conditioning and reinforcements?

I do believe there to be sufficient evidence to support the notion that we did learn our idea of self and was not innately born thinking ourselves separate from the world. This was the first major divide.

After all, we know for certain that it takes time for us to learn that objects remain even if they disappear from our field of vision. Understanding that objects exist even when we are not perceiving them is a fundamental part to understanding the world. But yet this too, we learn and is known as object permanence.

But how much have I truly learned about the world? I have learned a lot more about the world than I have experienced firsthand. Think of all the facts that you know about the body, the countries in the world, or the solar system, yet you have never experienced many of those things.

Moreover, there are many things I will never experience, nor do I even have the faculties to experience some things that are just too immense. Understanding the complexities of space in the form of mathematics and language is one thing, but to experience the reality of those equations is and entirely different thing.

So, as you go about your daily routine, think about what you know. Where did it come from? Your experiences? Or other’s words and theories and accounts?

 

Individuals

You love your arm. I am sure of it because if you were to lose it, you would be very afraid and upset. The same thing is true for your legs and most all of your body that is vital.

You wake up to the same pair of hands that you have watched your whole life. They are a vital piece of who you are, so is your legs and arms. We care about what state our body is in. It effects our sense of self.

But how often is the connection made that every other person you see feels that way about their body. They, too, call that physical flesh “them.”

What is even rarer is taking time to put yourself behind the eyes of people that pass by normally unnoticed by the conscious mind. But they are not just background noise, but individuals selves that possess a whole world behind their eyes, just like you.