Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The gift of empty hands

In the last post, I asked how your faith has affected how you deal with the current economic troubles. A wonderful response came by e-mail from the Rev. John Hewett, senior minister at First Baptist Church in Monroe. With his permission, I am publishing it here.

I have rediscovered books bought but never read, trails driven by but never walked, relationships remembered but no longer nourished.

I have learned to savor things still available for free: quietness, laughter, rest, touch, smiles, tears.


I've been forced to trust in God rather than the work of my own hands or the safety of my retirement account.


I've rediscovered the joy of prayer without ceasing.


If it's true that God cannot pour God's riches into hands that are already full, the best gift we could gain at this moment is the gift of empty hands.


To which I add a fervent "Amen!"

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

A splendid viewpoint indeed for those who are 'grounded' enough to gain that perspective. There comes a time for many when they realize that they have done what they can do and then must rely on faith to carry them through.

These are indeed difficult times that require new strengths, determination and courage. Our values and concepts must be revised to meet new realities.

Iztok said...

"I've been forced to trust in God rather than the work of my own hands or the safety of my retirement account."

Wonder if he trusts God or science when he becomes seriously ill. Most people I know seek medical treatment and this seems to work best. Those who seek prayer instead end up worse or dead.

Work of one does more than prayer of thousands. Prayer might bring one some sort of inner satisfaction but doesn't go past that. Hard work on the other hand can feed someone's family. I can understand that minister of Baptist church would survive on prayer because church members actually pay him for doing so but they actually get to do the work to earn money to be able to pay.

John Hewett being minister of First Baptist Church leads me to conclusion that he also doesn't believe in evolution but I am willing to bet that he doesn't practice what he believes when it comes to infections and seeks help in antibiotics - a medicine that is based on the fact that bacteria evolves over time and eventually some becomes resistant on certain kind of antibiotics - thus new antibiotics have to be developed (hard work and research does that as well) to deal with evolution of aforementioned bacteria.

D.J. Williams said...

Iztok,

Please spare us the whole "Baptist ministers just sit back while their people pay their bills" nonsense. Come follow me around for a week and see what a Baptist pastor's week looks like. Church work is quite certainly work, and then there's the 40-hour a week job I hold down on the side.

Also, this Baptist minister fully accepts microevolution (the example you give per bacteria), I just reject the leap that says that evolution by natural selection is able to explain all life on earth as having descended from a single ancestor.

So let's leave the stereotypes behind. Taking potshots at the character of people you've never met doesn't help foster any kind of meaningful discussion whatsoever. Have I ever insulted your character? Please offer the same courtesy.

I fully trust God to provide in all situations. In the past year, I've rejoiced at the birth of a daughter, but I've also trusted God's good purpose amidst the resignation of my church's senior pastor and the cutting of 1/3 of my pay at my second job as a result of the economy. The same God has been in control of all, he's smarter than I am, and thus I trust that he will do what is best for me. I want to be like Paul, who at times had much and at times had little, but learned to be content in all situations.

God is a God of means as well as ends, and so when I am sick, I go to the doctor and I pray. All things, even the advancements of human ingenuity, are ultimately from God, since he has created all thigns and sustains all things. Thus, the false science/faith dichotomy you set up, where science does what it does and God does what he does and never the two meet, is nonsensical to me. We couldn't draw our next breath if not for the sustaining hand of God, much less develop amazing antibiotics and medical technology.

Soli Deo Gloria

Iztok said...

"Also, this Baptist minister fully accepts microevolution (the example you give per bacteria), I just reject the leap that says that evolution by natural selection is able to explain all life on earth as having descended from a single ancestor."

So you mean man is capable of walking to the end of the street in relative small amount of time but given days/weeks/months/years is not capable of walking to another country?

There is NO difference between micro and macro evolution except in your mind. What you define as macro evolution is just a lot of micro evolutions over a long period of time. No leap required. We observe speciation today in our lifetime (both animals and plants). Especially in those with quick life cycle (which is normal as it is hard for us to observe within our lifetime the life cycle of several generations of humans but that doesn't mean changes are not present).

As for cheap shots towards ministers. I do cheap shots towards used care salesmen as well. Except one can return a sold car if found broken while one can't return back if no "eternal life" is there for exchange. You have the ultimate sales product to sell, no returns ever as your unsatisfied customers are all dead and decomposing.

Quibbles said...

As Iztok may remember (because it was pointed it out to him a few posts ago), a recent article in Psychological Bulletin states that decades of scientific research have shown that devoutly religious people, on average, tend to live longer, to have happier marriages, to do better in school, and to have better psychological health in general. (McCullough & Willoughby). On a more popular level, the health benefits of religious faith and practice are discussed in an article entitled the "The Biology of Belief" in the current of issue of Time. If that's what "some sort of inner satisfaction" gets you, I'm there.

Catholic101 said...

When, oh when are we going to see Iztok and his naysayers banned from these discussions? They offer nothing. Their only purpose is to be an irritant.

D.J. Williams said...

Iztok,

I'm not debating evolution on this thread. It's off topic. I simply wanted to point out that your previous statement doesn't accurately characterize the worldview of ministers and Christians.

Look, you think faith is a sham. Cheap shot away on that. But your cheap shots were directed at the work ethic and character of ministers across the board, and they don't reflect reality.

I do agree with you on one thing, though - if inner satisfaction is all that prayer can offer, then it's a joke. If Christianity is true and God is real, then it's invaluable. If it's not real, then I'm a deluded moron who's wasting his life. The Scriptures state as much.

Soli Deo Gloria

Quibbles said...

The religious and secular rationalists can fight it out for their inches of turf on the battlegrounds of "the real" and "the true." We postmodernists will continue to experience the inner satisfaction that comes from enjoying a good joke.

D.J. Williams said...

Quibbles,

So would you say then that it is ultimately inconsequential whether or not God exists, so long as one derives personal satisfaction from one's belief? Just trying to understand your line of thought.

Soli Deo Gloria

Iztok said...

"When, oh when are we going to see Iztok and his naysayers banned from these discussions?"

Danbo, good old Catholic doctrine is coming out after all. Are you already building stakes to burn heretics? Banning and burning books is next? Putting Jews in gas chambers and declaring that one is just doing God's work?

Quibbles said...

D.J.,

I'm saying that I, for one, don't have a clear idea of what the words "God" or "exists" or, for that matter, "consequential" even mean in this context. I'm saying that ultimate things, like "truth" and "reality," are above my pay grade. I'm saying that inner satisfaction -- along with the other good things you mentioned about your workweek -- may or may not be all there is, but they are enough. Unreliably, tenuously, difficulty enough. But certainly enough.

Your belief is what I find consequential. I genuinely appreciate your commitment to your point of view, most of all because it comes with an open-mindedness toward the views of others with whom you disagree. I am glad you are there keeping up your end. For anybody to win the argument would be for everybody to lose it.

I'm saying that nobody has to apologize for using his imagination to explore answers to questions that only imagination can answer. That's what I'm saying. Sort of. I guess.

D.J. Williams said...

You give my belief a lot more credit than I do, then, because I only think it's consequential if it relates to reality. I believe that the answers to the big questions are about far more than mere imagination.

If you were on an airplane headed to L.A., and were flying only 500 feet above the ground, you'd have a problem. However, what if the pilot came over the intercom and said, "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, we've now reached our cruising altitude of 30,000 ft. - at least that's what I like to believe because it makes me feel good inside." You'd crap your pants, because reality matters! Yet, when we come to matters of theology, we are told that an entirely different standard of truth applies, where whatever you choose to believe is perfectly valid for you.

This approach only makes sense if one of two things is true - either faith is unimportant (for then, who cares what anyone believes if it works for them), or it's all made up anyway (because again, if that's so then whatever works for you is great). If God is real, and if our understanding of the divine matters at all, then our believes are good only insomuch as they reflect truth. Empty hands are a liability - not a blessing - if nothing real is actually going to fill them.

Are truth and reality above our pay grade? Perhaps, unless God has revelaed himself to man in a way that is comprehensible and grounded in our shared reality (i.e. history). I believe he's done precisely that, and thus I believe that if what I see as divine revleation is really just the ramblings of a bunch of deluded people, then I'm a fool of the saddest degree.

"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." - 1 Corinthians 15:19

Thanks, by the way, for an meaningful and useful discussion. That's becoming exponentially more difficult to find around here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Catholic101 said...

Iztok asked, "Are you already building stakes to burn heretics? Banning and burning books is next? Putting Jews in gas chambers and declaring that one is just doing God's work?"

No. No. No.

Don't know where that last one came from. Catholics consider the Jews our brothers in faith. We both await the same thing -- the arrival of our Lord and Savior.

Iztok said...

"Don't know where that last one came from. Catholics consider the Jews our brothers in faith."

The last one comes from the book of someone who was raised Catholic and Catholic church celebrated its birthday for many years.

Small difference is that Jews don't consider Jesus anything special while Catholics consider particular Jew special.

Quibbles said...

D.J.,

Well, yes and no. I want the pilot to do more than feel good about his flight performance, certainly. But then again, if the pilot gets me where I want to go, I do not care that "up" and "down" are arbitrary conventions that mean nothing to the universe. Nor do I care that the entire "airplane" is possibly nothing more "real" than a collection of vibrating, Planck-length probabilities that could (and presumably would, given an infinite number of chances) fly apart at any moment. Nor do I care that the only brain with which the pilot has been given to work can do no more (and, more to the point, no less) than create images out of electro-chemicals. "Mere" imagination? The imaginary may not be all there is, but it's all WE have with which to find our way. At least in this looking-glass life.

I like your focus on the concrete, human and historical experience of the divine, though. I like that a lot. I'm not so sure that Paul is right about the pity thing. But I do think the question is the right one to ask, if for no other reason than I find myself in the pitiable class. I also think that the open-minded search matters more than the answer.

P.S. I really do hope I'm right about that last part. If not, I may need a reference.

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "The last one comes from the book of someone who was raised Catholic and Catholic church celebrated its birthday for many years."

That's nice. It has nothing to do with me, but that's nice.

Iztok wrote, "Small difference is that Jews don't consider Jesus anything special while Catholics consider particular Jew special."

You're absolutely right about that. It is a small difference.

Catholic101 said...

Izzie, I think you misread the blog title. It's "The Gift of Empty Hands," not "The Gift of Empty Heads."

Give those tired old arguments of yours a rest -- they deserve it.

Iztok said...

Catholic101, how is this http://punditkitchen.com/2009/02/17/political-pictures-pope-benedict-xvi-faith-bulletproof/ for faith? From the looks of it even Pope puts more faith in bulletproof glass then in Jesus to protect him.

D.J. Williams said...

Quibbles said...
"But then again, if the pilot gets me where I want to go..."

And therein lies the key, I think. The pilot will only get you where you want to go if he operates in reality - a reality where 500 feet will never be 30,000 feet, no matter how much he wants it to be. The postmodern ethos provides lots of fodder for out-there ideas and intellectual debates, but at the end of the day we all live as realists, or we're in an institution. Our surgeons and pilots and such can only do what they do because of a recognition of objective truth and reality. Unless theology is much less important (and to the contrary, I believe it's exponentially more), then it must be approached in the same way in order to have any value whatsoever.

The search matters, sure. It has value. There's joy in the journey. Most people in modern American society never even get that far. However, the only way the answer doesn't matter more is if there isn't one. If God has spoken, and even more, if he's entered his own creation in the person of Christ, then that changes everything. That's why Paul can say what he says. That statement is predicated on the fact that we live the way we live because Jesus was resurrected. Paul was enduring beatings, Christians were watching their families and friends being murdered, they were giving of their time, energy, and possessions for the sake of the gospel. If Jesus were still dead in the ground, then they were fools. I think a big reason that people today don't get Paul's sentiment is that for most people, their Christianity costs them nothing. It's just a nice little trinket that goes well with their Chevy, their golf game, and their Xbox.

The short of it is, if Jesus is alive, it changes everything. Thus, if we're living as if Jesus is alive (and I strive to do so, albeit imperfectly), and he's not, then we're living lives that will be misplaced and wasted. We're fools.

Soli Deo Gloria

Catholic101 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catholic101 said...

Iztok asks, "Catholic101, how is this http://punditkitchen.com/2009/02/17/political-pictures-pope-benedict-xvi-faith-bulletproof/?"

Fine, thanks. How is this?

A young woman teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks. There is, however, one exception. A girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd.

The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different.
"Because I'm not an atheist."
"Then," asks the teacher, "what are you?"
"I'm a Christian."

The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian.

"Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My Mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian."

The teacher is now angry. "That's no reason," she says loudly. "What if your Mom was a moron, and your dad was a moron. What would you be then?"

A pause, and a smile. "Then," says Lucy, "I'd be an atheist."

Iztok said...

"If you were on an airplane headed to L.A., and were flying only 500 feet above the ground, you'd have a problem."

The main problem at 500 feet would be huge gas consumption and perhaps bigger potential of bird strikes. Rest is not so much of an issue. Avoiding buildings that are taller then 500 feet shouldn't be an issue either as there are only few spots between CLT and LAX where such would even be an issue.

Quibbles said...

D.J.,

With respect, I don't think any human being has ever spent a productive nanosecond trying to recognize "objective truth" or "reality." I live as a pragmatist, not a realist, and in a world of images and words, not truths. And, so far, I have eluded the net.

Iztok said...

"Then," says Lucy, "I'd be an atheist."

This is interesting, considering that it is clear that higher education is in reverse correlation with religiosity. Or in other words, more religious are generally less educated.

"Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is."

I just wonder how come Pope puts more faith in bulletproof glass then Jesus? Perhaps he knows better. (Bulletproof glass does more then God when it comes to protecting Pope.)

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "The main problem at 500 feet would be huge gas consumption and perhaps bigger potential of bird strikes. Rest is not so much of an issue. Avoiding buildings that are taller then 500 feet shouldn't be an issue either as there are only few spots between CLT and LAX where such would even be an issue."

Well, since airplanes don't fly at AGL altitudes -- they fly at ASL altitudes or at Flight Levels -- at 500 ASL the Rocky Mountains might tend to disagree with you as you fly from CLT to LAX.

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "This is interesting, considering that it is clear that higher education is in reverse correlation with religiosity. Or in other words, more religious are generally less educated."

A tired, overused statement. Also, untrue.

Iztok wrote, "Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.""

Misleading and highly questionable statistic. The the National Academy of Sciences does not represent the average American. Comparing apples to oranges is your specialty, but even a third-grader could see through your deception.

Iztok wrote, "I just wonder how come Pope puts more faith in bulletproof glass then Jesus? Perhaps he knows better. (Bulletproof glass does more then God when it comes to protecting Pope.)"

Gee, is that what you're trying to say? LOL. He doesn't. But he also knows that one does not "put the Lord thy God to the test."

Got any arguments that are post-1970?

Iztok said...

"Well, since airplanes don't fly at AGL altitudes -- they fly at ASL altitudes or at Flight Levels -- at 500 ASL the Rocky Mountains might tend to disagree with you as you fly from CLT to LAX."

Well original poster was stating above ground hence my comment. He didn't state 500 ft above sea level. Glad you too found the issue with original statement.

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "Well original poster was stating above ground hence my comment. He didn't state 500 ft above sea level. Glad you too found the issue with original statement."

My point is that you have a habit of commenting on issues you know nothing about. Like you commenting on religion.

Iztok said...

"The the National Academy of Sciences does not represent the average American."

It is clear that it does not. It is just the brightest top.

Higher the education less religious people are on average.

Iztok said...

"My point is that you have a habit of commenting on issues you know nothing about. Like you commenting on religion."

Was or was it not original stated 500 ft above GROUND? I didn't make that comment so you should direct this "know nothing about" to the one who wrote the statement.

As far as religion is concerned, what makes you any more qualified? Do you have first hand access to all the tenants of your religion?

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "Do you have first hand access to all the tenants of your religion?"

Did you mean tenets of my religion? Tenants are people to whom a landlord rents. See what I mean about writing about things you know nothing about?

Quit while you're an empty head.

If so, yes, actually. I have first-hand access to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Iztok said...

Yes tenets. My browser spell checker decided to incorrectly correct my spelling so what?

" I have first-hand access to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit."

You just broke one of 10 commandments.

Jane Pope said...

Stop it right now. I'm sick of both of you thinking that insults make for good conversation.

I do not have time to police these comments 24/7. But if I have to, I will set up this blog so comments have to be approved before they are posted. If it comes to that, you're likely to have to wait a good while to see your comments ... IF they are allowed in at all.

Anonymous said...

According to a UCLA study, 80 percent of college professors describe themselves as "spiritual." Scientists are not the only educated people.

Iztok said...

Anonymous: "According to a UCLA study, 80 percent of college professors describe themselves as "spiritual.""

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W4M-4SD1KNR-1&_user=10&_coverDate=04%2F29%2F2008&_alid=759868596&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=6546&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=1&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=bdb3ca48b21fdb2959

"Evidence is reviewed pointing to a negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief in the United States and Europe. It is shown that intelligence measured as psychometric g is negatively related to religious belief. We also examine whether this negative relationship between intelligence and religious belief is present between nations. We find that in a sample of 137 countries the correlation between national IQ and disbelief in God is 0.60."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2111174/Intelligent-people-%27less-likely-to-believe-in-God%27.html

"People with higher IQs are less likely to believe in God, according to a new study."

Or "In the US, according to raw data from the 2004 General Social Survey, those with graduate degrees were the least likely to believe in the afterlife or the Bible as the word of God, suggesting a link between religious belief and lower educational attainment."

One thing to consider is the fact that there is peer pressure in US that can negatively affect someone's career should one come out as an atheist. Thus many are still afraid to come out as an atheist to their families, friends, and at work because of negative reactions. There is only one openly non-religious senator in US and many (according to him) remain in the closet.

Catholic101 said...

Iztok wrote, "You just broke one of 10 commandments."

Which one, Einstein?

Catholic101 said...

Jane, if you are going to allow Iztok to attack like a rabid dog, I am going to defend. I've made polite requests over and over again to disallow his posting here. He has never once tried to "add" to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

"I've made polite requests over and over again to disallow his posting here."

God answers all the prayers. Perhaps this time answer is no?

Catholic101 said...

Anonymous the Brave wrote, "God answers all the prayers. Perhaps this time answer is no?"

I think I asked Jane, not God. But I'll get back to you -- that is, if I can find you, Anonymous.

D.J. Williams said...

Quibbles said...
"With respect, I don't think any human being has ever spent a productive nanosecond trying to recognize "objective truth" or "reality.""

Well, then I hope to bust up your paradigm (incidentally, The Busted Paradigms would be a great name for a rock band), because I've spent my life searching for that reality, and I've had several productive nanoseconds over the years (at least 3).

Call it pragmatism or realism, but at the day's end I don't see a functional difference. Perhaps you can explain the difference as you see it. If I understand you correctly (and feel free to correct me if I don't), then you're saying that as I look at my computer monitor right now, all I can really know is that my brain is chemically processing the image of a computer monitor, but since I can't know for sure whether or not there's actually a monitor there, then it ultimately doesn't matter whether or not there's a monitor there. I maintain my contention that such a philosophy falls apart on a functional level. I've never seen anyone live like that is true. You certainly wouldn't want a surgeon who doesn't believe it matters what appendage he cuts off because he's not sure if you really exist in the first place. If you think you can dodge the net (which perhaps is no more than a chemically processed and projected image anyway, so why bother dodging it?), then more power to you. Yet, I would challenge you (as I challenge myself daily) to ask the question, "Does my life reflect the logical implications of my stated beliefs?" How we live is what we believe, for better or for worse.

And by that paradigm, one can clearly see that you believe in civil discussion and a marketplace of ideas, which is worth thanking you for again in light of the other overnight debates.

Soli Deo Gloria

Quibbles said...

D.J.,

I'm not saying anything at all about what is or is not "there" outside the mind. What I am saying is that all that WE ever know (in this world) about anything (including the divine) is in the mind. It is imaged. It is imagined. It is our own creation. The universe might continue to exist without us, but the universe as we know it would not.

Imagination, therefore, is not "mere," and religious imagination is no more "mere," in my view, than any other kind of imagination. Whether religious imagination is more or less useful than scientific imagination (or another kind of imagination) depends on the purpose for which one uses the imagination. To fly a plane, I would not favor religious imagination. But I certainly would want the pilot to use his imagination -- and use it well -- if the engines go out.

Everything we know since we started using language is altered further by the words we use to organize what the brain imagines. To think in terms of nouns and verbs, rather than noun-verb processes, changes things. There is what there is, but what we know about it is constructed by us through words that define perception.

So, when Moses asks God who He is (or, if you will, is He is real), God replies: "I am who I am" or, even better, "I am who I will be." He gives a verb-heavy answer to a noun-heavy question. Which suggests to me that the question was not well framed to begin with. Perhaps God is more action than entity. Or at least entity-action in a way that defies our language conventions. So, the inner effect of religious practice and belief is not, in my view, incidental. It is central. Which I think is maybe sort of like the point you made that the end of your last very thoughtful post. And I agree, it's too bad we had to do this through sniper fire.

Bob said...

Iztok:

You left out the part in the Richard Lynn study about how Anglicans and Jews outscored atheists on the IQ test. And, by the way, Richard Lynn? Who's next, Herbert Spencer?