Flat Earth?

Over at The Twelve, Joshua Vis keeps exploring the theme of Lent but not Easter. That is, we all have a tendency to read Easter back into the story, to think of Easter as a miracle that does not really touch our lives. (Put another way, even the resurrected Lazarus still dies — miracles are not forever). Here is how addresses the issue:

The message of the triumphal entry is that we should reject the idea of a fantastical and mercurial God who occasionally breaks into our world to save someone from pain and suffering. Likewise, the cross says “no” to that version of God. Instead it asks us to find the courage to hope in each other, in our acts of love, mercy, and kindness toward one another—not because God has abandoned us, but because God has empowered us.

God urges us to choose to love one another. God will not be experienced through miraculous interventions. Rather, God will be experienced through acts of justice, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and love.

On level, he’s right, God is not experienced through miraculous interventions, but seen another way, the experience of knowing God does leave open the possibility of the miraculous. While the narratives of rationalism (per Hume) or of apophatic theology want to rule out divine intervention, the people of God have also held other narratives where God in-breaks, and where that in-breaking is known. Vis only gets to his position by starting with an assumption about what narratives are to be listened to.

The embodied life of faith knows that the universe has a surplus of meaning, that there is more to our lives than our own particular frame. “Miracle” is one of the ways that this reality gets proclaimed, that “justice,” “mercy” and “love” are in fact possibilities for people generally and not simply for our kindred. Indeed, justice requires an open universe, one larger than the imagination of the status quo, for only in that universe can forgiveness be shared and the wrongs be restored.

So today, on Palm Sunday, the Triumphant Entry is not so much a hope of cheap grace, but a prophetic act, a pointing away from the Palace and the Temple to the purposes of God. There is another story being written, a good story: God’s purpose for us and for our communities is not played out.


On Justice

Dan Winiarski entertains some ideas about the current appeals for “justice”

Over the last few years, the term “Justice” has become far to ill-defined and confused with other virtues and ideas. Words mean things, and if we play fast and loose with their meanings, we inhibit our ability to communicate, diagnose problems, and identify the best solutions.

For example, I’ve heard justice defined subjectively and nebulously as “making things right.” What things? Right according to whom? Making them how?

He goes on to offer his own definition: “Justice is people getting what they deserve, whether good or bad, and whether we personally like the outcome or not.”

But that begs a question: Is “justice” something that can be defined? The same nit-picking used here can be applied to the preferred definition: “deserve”? what standard is that? what order? who sets the terms, etc. Or for that matter, how do we determine “good or bad”? The moment I push the concept it goes all squishy.

Rather than speak abstractly of “justice” why not biblically? Justice takes place in the presence of a wrong, thus the psalmist cries out for justice for the poor. Justice is about the ordering of our relationships so the reflect and participate in God’s interaction with us. The very care God has for the poor and weak leaves us exposed:we are sinners. This brings to the other sense of justice, that God acts to restore a relationship with us, unilaterally. That decision is profoundly displayed in the crucifixion, and vindicated on Easter morn.


Why the Second folows the First

At MLive there has been a raging war over the propriety of openly carrying firearms to civic meetings. this leads to a number of talking points, perhaps the central role of guns and rights. Does force undergird the establishment of free speech. As one commentator put it:

Guns protect your free speech. In fact guns gave you your free speech.

Free speech and free minds are the necessary foundation to gun rights. Freedom begins when we move away from the Hobbesian war against all, when we covenant together. Freedom takes place precisely when we limit our turn to private force.

Moreover, the notion of guns as protection means first that there must be a notion of justice. That is, to be legitimate force must first be used to a just end, otherwise it is simply the expression of the subjective self, of whim. So how then do we determine justice? Force cannot provide the answer, rational discussion must. Thus, free speech necessarily precedes the weapon, because only be such speech (or philosophy) can we determine when force is just and proper.

Literally, without free speech and free minds you would not know what to do with your gun.

Songs of Salvation

She’s Occupy,he’s Tea Party; she’s white, he’s black; she’s Portland, he’s Richmond. Nathan Clarke introduces us to Pam Hogeweide and Emmett Bailey, and asks

How can people who share the same faith embrace such different political views?

How can these two views be reconciled? Well, not by man’s work, that’s for sure. Rather, it’s that Christ has become our Reconciliation. He claims our lives in our particulars, including our politics. Our politics fail, unintentionally harm; we ourselves fall short. Christ’s reconciliation means that we can engage the world, make mistakes, even be on opposite sides. Reconciliation means that the other side is not my enemy, but is someone loved by my Savior.

My guess about what they would do? Sit down and sing songs of salvation.

Biblical Justice

If the conservatives are all in favor of justice, then how do you walk away from where Sojourners goes?  Or more to the point, how do you know that a given Sojourners position is even wrong? Now a partisan has no problem with this, since that partisan stance guides the decision making (and the Bible provides the frosting). Left and Right.

If we are going to be biblical in our thinking, we can’t be ruling out one side or the other. At the same time we need to acknowledge that we are always bringing in something of our selves. Thus moving to a biblical view of justice asks three things: an ethical stance on our side, an appreciation for the ethical stance of the other, and Scripture that keeps challenging both sides. This allows us to pick up thorny issues, differ and not dissolve into civil war. When one side or the other so appropriates Scripture that it deprives it from the other side, then the cause of justice is lost, we will only see it as a reflection of ourselves.

On Going Hume

I’m still digesting this essay by Amartya Sen from The New Republic, but it raises the significance of David Hume for international relations.

The notion it stirs is whether justice depends first on the reservation of force (the sovereign), or is it something more organic, and thereby arises from and is socially contracted by parties? Or in a slightly different form: does justice require force?  A thinking article.

On the Rich

[Rev. Daryl DeKlerk wrote an essay in The Banner on the Occupy movement, ending with a celebration of the rich, an argument that they have earned their wealth. Well maybe yes, but then again… ]

I’m also one of those who would be cautious about how we deal with social and economic issues. This is the territory for wisdom and prudence.

Rev. DeKlerk does a fine job highlighting changes in global economics, and had he left it there I would be rather edified. It’s when he moves to the domestic front that he gets in trouble. There are three areas where I get cautious.

First, biblically: Scripture (and experience) does not allow us to take an uncritical eye on the rich or the poor. Whether we look at Proverbs, James, Luke or the prophets we encounter cautions about wealth and the spiritual dangers that arise from riches. The human, fallen nature of ours makes it easy to self-deal and look only after ourselves and our families. This note was missing in Rev. DeKlerk’s essay.

Second, economically: the treatment of the rich, the notion that they “earned it” would benefit from greater study of the structure of wealth. While some grow wealthy by leading and building teams in entrepreneurial organizations, other paths include the financial sector (a segment that has expanded substantially in the US economy in the past generation), natural resources, real estate, and inheritance.

As to earning it, as late as the mid-70s the chairman of Herman Miller was limited to a multiplier of 35 — his income was to be no larger than 35 times that of the average wage on the floor. And that company was not alone. Today, the multiplier is on the order of 300 – 400: has the executive suite become that smarter in this past generation?

Finally, Rev. DeKlerk runs into the real differences between the United States and Canada. The two nations have quite different tax structures, and differing political approaches to their tax systems. Thus to say we shouldn’t raise taxes will mean one thing where there’s a 13% GST, say, but quite another where such phrases have a particular political and partisan cast.

The question that he has stumbled into is that of what makes a tax rate just — this is an interesting topic, but I am not sure it is one for a general publication such as The Banner.

Law and Justice

‎”Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self-defense. It is for this reason that the collective force—which is only the organized combination of the individual forces—may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.”
Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

Not a bad liberal quote in the old-fashioned sense. However the counter would be the other tradition in the West, that of the Augustinian Christianity that understands that force is also a tool for justice (as a guard or restraint on individual behavior, and on occasion as a proactive aspect — one does as well as react).

[A secondary note would be that Bastiat does not especially in this quote deal with the question of anarchy. This is Hobbesian territory, an area I probably should explore if I had time.]