Shock and Awe

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The world we live in is terrifically tumultuous. We’re constantly bombarded with depressing stories when we load up our online news distributors, unroll our newspapers, and turn on the nightly news. It’s very, very hard to escape the “bad news.” Sometimes it’s so bad that we long to be that ostrich head in the sand – as they say, ignorance is truly bliss. If we don’t see it happen, then maybe it’s not happening, right? All of the violence on our streets, war abroad, fanatical debauchery, the slip and slide of our economy… The list goes on.

But sometimes, there are just some horrors that, as a society, we can’t handle, and clearly aren’t prepared for.

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There are horrors that override our senses, and numb us to our surrounding environments. Horrors that we can’t even begin to properly explain to our kids.

idolism2There are horrors that make violence in war-torn countries seem like gum on the bottom of a shoe in comparison. Horrors that make the yearly deaths of millions of our children, our own future generations, seem insignificant.

idolism3There are horrors that make us weep uncontrollably. Horrors that make us doubt, make us despondent, and eventually annihilate our spirit.

idolism5Yes, there are horrors that can dismantle entire nations. These horrors can complete awful deeds on our well-being even if we just witness it once.

I’ll never forget the photos I’ve attached to this post. People may wonder how photographers can just stand by while said horrors are going on around them. “Why do they keep shooting and recording? Why don’t they stop what they’re doing and help the hurting people?” Believe me, there are some that do – photographers don’t come built-in with insensitivity. But the ones that stay the course and give us unforgettable images, such as the ones attached in this post, are the ones that will give our future generations the ability to see just how shaken a portion of humanity was in under a half hour’s worth of time.

Quotes have surfaced regarding this recent tragedy witnessed in Brazil. “[A]ll the hope simply left my body,” said one man, who, minutes later, would find his sister inconsolable in her home. ““She was shaking! We made her sip water. I’ve never seen sadness like it.” Another man who was interviewed relived the incident with a reporter, stating, “We were saying, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on, what is happening? Is it real?’” A woman who observed the catastrophe firsthand said, “I realize that only a miracle could save us.”

Indeed, I do believe it would take a miracle for societies to become self-aware of what this specific kind of tragedy turns a person into. I’m not entirely sure if Brazil will ever overcome this historic event, nor do I know if they’ll ever be able to take this kind of hurt again, but I do know we should be in prayer for them, for their healing and comfort.

Truly, the horror of witnessing the loss of a favored team in a sports event is something that in this day and age we clearly shouldn’t wish on our own worst enemies.

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God help us all.

 

Images from the Associated Press (AP Photo)

 

 

Still here – alive and well.

Still kicking. Kicking at a lot of things. Lots of stuff has happened in the past few months, which took me, once again, away from my blogging.

This summer I will be refocusing on my creative writing and blogging, so expect some more posts from this page soon.

I’m still racing too. Started a new league, which was one thing that took me away from blogging here. It’s called Runner-Up Racing. If you race on iRacing and want to be part of a good wholesome group of racers that will race you hard and clean, come join us! Most of the body of the league is made up of Christians, so we have that going for us as well. I will say, though – it’s hard work running a racing league by yourself. I’m constantly looking for new ways to speed up content processes yet still have it not look rushed. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to content, unfortunately. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Basically, I’m very much hoping to start pouring out my thoughts into words again soon. I lost interest in doing so on FB because it aggravated me how I would write paragraph after paragraph about a certain issue I believe is important, and I don’t get any feedback, but I post one picture of my clueless beagle and that gets a ton of attention. I believe I’d like to write more just about that observation. It’s not that I’m craving for feedback or positive vibes; I crave discussion, I crave having my mind challenged, and I crave having the chance to challenge someone else. Social networks aren’t the place to do that, apparently. My friend list is relatively small, and I don’t want to ignore others that actually *have* contributed to wholesome discussion, but let’s face it – the internet is simple-minded and probably run by P.E.T.A.

More musings later. Time for a link break, I’ll be back in a few.

Link!

Reading Religiously (Or, My Ever-Growing Book Queue)

My wife Claire and I were recently invited to dinner at the home of our friends Josh and Emily. It was our first time truly getting together one-on-one with this couple, and it was a very delightful experience. Like Claire and myself, Josh and Emily are devoted Christians. It was a lack of decision I believe I’ll always regret, but it wasn’t until after college when I truly took up the torch of Christianity full-time. I professed the faith, but I never really stopped myself and thought critically about why I believed it. During my college days, Josh was a part of a friend circle I was blessedly a part of, and I suppose I’ll go on written record now and say that I picked up on a lot of the actions and words that this friend circle expressed. I have to give some credit to this circle in regards to who I am today, even though I will admit I was a bit of a slow learner! In college I was, what I can probably describe myself as, a recovering relativist. If it wasn’t for the help and wisdom of the friends I had along with the woman who would eventually become my wife, I may have made that transition quite a bit slower – if, frighteningly enough, at all.

Now that there’s some background information given, let’s jump back to the present, shall we?

The discussion we had at the dinner table that night went to one of my favorite topics – books. As in, what were we reading, what were we learning, etc. Josh brandished an amusing book he found at a thrift shop, and talked about one he read on football injuries (his contemplation on the topic can be read at his blog). Emily talked about the nonfiction works she was studying about healthy eating (a subject I’m slowly gaining interest in, but admit that I’m very careful about what I read because of the abundant amount of legitimate sources out there that seem to contradict each other more than not in terms of studies), and she also writes about that interest on her own blog as well. Mostly, we talked nonfiction. In short reflection, I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a fiction novel – probably over a year ago. I guess there comes a point where one starts craving answers more than dreaming up fantastical scenarios… I think some people would call this “growing up” or “getting older.” Maybe I’ve just done too much fantasizing in the past and now I’m playing catch-up. Regardless, I don’t mind it at all!

Between Claire and I, I’ve been the one going through the Christian apologetics books in a frenzy of sorts, although Claire has indeed begun reading two of the best ones I have. So we told Josh and Emily that we were reading those kinds of books. They asked for some recommendations, claiming that one hadn’t gotten their attention in a while. I begun writing the two of them a book recommendation list, but as I noticed it was getting lengthy and detailed, I figured why not just post it to my blog so more people can get the recommendations? So here I am, with a book list, containing those that I have read, and those that are in my queue waiting to be devoured.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There really isn’t much I can say about Mere Christianity that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll just say this much: click the link above, buy the book. Mere Christianity is just one gem in this collection. Lewis is a master wordsmith/reasoner and his writing is guaranteed to change your life.

Tactics by Greg Koukl

I already wrote earlier in this blog briefly about how this book really changed not only my discussion skills, but my outlook on Christianity as a whole. Yes, you can in fact talk about your convictions and reason your faith with individuals without resorting to louder tones and utter frustration. Koukl has quite a few tactics that he teaches in this work, and you’ll be sure to come away from the reading armed with many ways to “place the stone in someone’s shoe.”

Unsilenced: How to Voice the Gospel by James Boccardo

This book is a great companion to Tactics, and I use Unsilenced interchangeably with it in the youth class I teach at my church. Unsilenced is also a book about how to conduct yourself when voicing the Gospel, but stress is placed on getting past the usual objections to get to what you really want to talk to them about – Jesus. A short but fulfilling read, Boccardo lists many personal examples of his own tactics being put to use – usually resulting in a positive conclusion.

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

After reading Tactics I found Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason ministry. As I began to subscribe to every newsletter, podcast, and RSS feed of their website, I came across one of their teachers – J. Warner Wallace. Described as an “angry” atheist for over 35 years, Wallace came to Christ by following the evidence, using his skills learned over the years as a homicide detective to discover the truth about Christianity. Cold Case Christianity is about the journey that Wallace took to come to Christ, but as he tells his story, he shows his readers how to use the methods of a detective to find the truths of the scriptures. Great for Christians and skeptics alike, Wallace also has two websites which he updates on a regular basis: PleaseConvinceMe.com and ColdCaseChristianity.com. I can’t recommend this book and these two websites enough.

When God Goes to Starbucks by Paul Copan

A friend of mine turned me on to Copan’s works, and this title was one of the few that my local public library had from him in stock. Copan does a great job of taking select topics and dissecting them in a very precise Christian angle, utilizing scripture to discuss controversial topics or skeptical claims about various aspects of Christianity. In Starbucks, Copan discusses topics like, “Are people born gay?”; “Aren’t the Bible’s holy wars just like Islamic Jihad?”; and “Can someone do whatever they want just as long as they don’t hurt anyone?” Copan’s answers are very down to earth and true to the Word. This, along with Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (also written by Copan) are two titles that you definitely want on your shelf for reference. Answers are a wonderful thing to stockpile!

Love the Least (A Lot) by Michael Spielman

I’ll start off by saying this book is free for electronic reading devices. Yes, free. You really have no excuse to not read it. I own a print and Kindle version of this book because it has come in handy during discussions so much. Written by the president of Abort73.com, a website that gives you the most comprehensive, engaging and accessible abortion education that you can find online. Essentially divided into two sections (secular and Christian-centric), you’ll find plenty of answers regarding the horrors of abortion in this work.

Words to the Beloved by Lee Lewis

A devotional written by someone who holds a Masters of Arts in Religion? You know scripture will be used accurately and respectfully with that author’s background! Lewis has been serving as the pulpit minister for quite some time at my church, and with certainty I’m able to give you, reader, assurance that this devotional will definitely be worth your time. A collection of writings from his blog, Lewis fills a lengthy volume of encouragement and education for the “Beloved.”

Unfortunately my list of books that I haven’t read is growing quite rapidly, so I won’t be able to give a short blurb about the following works (even though I’ve read bits and pieces of some of them). Do know I have heard many good things about these titles, and look forward to reading them in full.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
The Case For Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture by Scott Klusendorf
Common Ground Without Compromise by Stephen Wagner
True For You But Not For Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith by Paul Copan
Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest
by Edward T. Welch
What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers to the Big Questions of Life by Edward T. Welch
Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection by Edward T. Welch
Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle
Thriving: Trusting God for Life to the Fullest by Nancy Grisham
Letters From a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd
Who is Jesus… Really? A Dialogue on God, Man, and Grace by Josh McDowell
Unplanned by Abby Johnson

To wrap up the list here, I’d like to submit to you a more relaxed book called The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion. Compiled by Garry Poole, this book isn’t necessarily a cover-to-cover read, but instead provides questions to ignite your own conversations. Some of them are simple and fun, especially at the beginning. However, as the book goes on, the questions get deeper and more intricate, prompting what could be very healthy discussions or providing much-needed reflection. Claire and I actually went through some of the more “fun” ones on a hike one day, and had a blast. I sense lots of opportunities within groups as well with using this book. Definitely get the Kindle version, as then you’ll have a portable copy of it you can carry anywhere, especially on your phone or tablet.

One last note before I close… As I was grabbing links for this list, I noticed that quite a few of the books were heavily discounted, especially for digital/Kindle copies. Even saw one or two freebies in there as well. Grab the deals while you can!

I’ve done enough recommending here, so the ball is in your court, readers! What books would you recommend to myself or anyone else looking for a good non-fiction study or mind exercise? Have you read any of the books I listed above, and if so, how did you like them?

Tactical Deployment (#1) – A Good Definition

Last summer was a very significant season for me as far as the evolution of my own character goes. While professing a Christian belief for quite some time, it wasn’t until after a few significant self-realizations that I began to seek out answers to questions that attempted to challenge the Christian-minded individual. In the summer of 2013, two books completely blew me away and changed my world, especially with how I viewed discussing Christian convictions. The first book, Mere Christianity, is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the modern Christian apologetical movement, and being written by an ex-atheist, the book has been blamed for many conversions to Christ – and rightly so. I took the book fairly slowly, because of the amount of information in it (every chapter felt like an overabundant Thanksgiving feast), and the fact that I was forced to meditate on each topic that Lewis wrote about, along with re-reading portions of select chapters before moving on. After reading the last page, I was set on finding similar books dealing in apologetics, especially those from present-day free-thinking Christian individuals.

After placing a couple of titles from Amazon into my online cart, I found that I was short a few dollars for free shipping. On a whim, I ordered Tactics by Gregory Koukl. His name was unfamiliar to me at the time, but the book sounded intriguing. Taken from Amazon.com’s summary blurb:

In a world increasingly indifferent to Christian truth, followers of Christ need to be equipped to communicate with those who do not speak their language or accept their source of authority. Gregory Koukl demonstrates how to get in the driver’s seat, keeping any conversation moving with thoughtful, artful diplomacy. You’ll learn how to maneuver comfortably and graciously through the minefields, stop challengers in their tracks, turn the tables and—most importantly—get people thinking about Jesus. Soon, your conversations will look more like diplomacy than D-Day.

I knew that I was in need of a book like this, and the reviews were solid as well, so I took the chance, and hey, I got my free shipping out of it at least! What I didn’t know was that this book, together with Mere Christianity, would shape my views more than any other work has done before. Well, save for the Bible, which is what the two previous books deal with, of course! Never before had an impulse buy worked so many wonders.

To give some background, for a long while I had the knowledge that a Christian should have, but I didn’t have the necessary wisdom nor the appropriate character to discuss the truth about the Gospel and what the Bible actually teaches with deniers, skeptics, and unbelievers alike. I had a few friends that were either professed agnostics or atheists, and even some who had become what I call a “denier” – that is, someone who grew up with select Biblical knowledge forced upon them by either family members or private religious schools, and who are currently rebelling against their previous tutelage, yet still holding on to select Christian beliefs that they can fit into their secular lifestyle. I have had quite a few conversations with these friends in the past – some fruitful, some barren – but there was one constant throughout all of them: I never felt 100% comfortable with sharing my faith, nor did I feel like I had the necessary answers that were needed. It wasn’t that I believed the answers never existed – quite the opposite – it was just that I lacked the reasoning to get to that point, and I hardly felt like I connected with the acquaintances that I spoke with. I feel I can share a whole separate post on how I got to the point where I’m at right now with this, which is a complete 180 spin from where I was just a year ago, but that’s not what this post is about.

Since last summer, I’ve been running the conversational techniques I’ve learned from Koukl’s works, along with other Tactics reasoners like Brett Kunkle, J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, and Alan Shlemon, through the paces. I’ll just go on the record here and say that they’ve been working absolute wonders, especially in the realm of face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. However, a few nights ago I attempted to use the techniques in what I hoped to be an online discussion, and was met with some interesting resistance. In the following paragraphs, I will be deconstructing this conversation, taking a step back and critiquing not only the persons I was speaking with, but also my own comments that I posted to keep the conversation running. One thing I want to mention is that by no means do I believe I’m nailing these tactics 100% – I’m still somewhat a newbie in the Ambassadors for Christ collective, and I know that only with practice and prayerful meditation will I be able to raise my success ratio; hence, the main reason for critiquing this conversation after it has cooled. My prayer is that those who read this post are able to learn not only how to expose the holes in the “logic” presented in this example, but to also learn from what mistakes I made and are able to dodge those for themselves in the future.

[To see screencapped images of this online conversation in order to gain context, please click on the links found within the paragraphs below.]

The conversation began when an acquaintance of mine on Facebook (yes, Facebook – you may know where this is going already!) shared an image that, as you can see here, didn’t quite feel like it was firing on all cylinders, so to speak. We will get into why later on, but for now, look at it and come to your own conclusions before going forward with this post.

On first glance, I took this as a great first step into a discussion about morality. The “good person” argument is frequently used in our culture, and it’s something that Christians need to be able to address properly to those that think being “good” is, well, good enough. But first, in order to explain this, we need to find where the person who spouts this kind of statement really believes, if they believe anything for certain. Instead of doing what the rest of the Facebook world does when they find something they disagree with, offering their own counter-statement, the Ambassador needs to be willing to listen and gain more insight into the person’s character. We do this by asking questions, which is the first tactic Koukl teaches. He calls this the Columbo tactic, named after the famous TV detective who was known for asking his suspects plenty of questions – questions that may not seem all that important at the moment, but after a series of them, it leads Columbo in solving all of his cases by the episode’s end. Effective, yet when questioned, the suspects first feel reassured during the initial questioning, but soon become increasingly irritated with Columbo’s questions. Keep that in mind as we continue on with this conversation.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: Here is the question that I asked. In beginning the conversation, my intent behind this opening question was to see if my acquaintance (let’s give him the name of Garth), the reposter of the image, could give me a clear definition of “good,” since the original illustrator of the image wasn’t exactly clear or without bias on what “good” really was.

What happened next was fairly interesting. My acquaintance didn’t answer, but one of his friends did. To the Ambassador, this opens up an even broader range of effectiveness – Ambassadors need to comprehend that we will never know who is reading or listening in on the conversation you’re having, making it all the more important to keep your reasoning sound and your character in check. The first reply from (let’s go ahead and give him the name of Wayne, as identities save for my own will be blurred out for privacy) Wayne stated that going to church and praying doesn’t make a person “good.” That I can completely agree with! However, his follow-up statement was even broader than the image’s statement: “Doing good things makes one a good person,” and that people who do good things tend to be a good person. Not only does this not even begin to answer the original question I posed about what defines “good,” but a key word in this statement poses a loophole in Wayne’s reasoning: tend.

Tend, defined as “regularly or frequently behave in a particular way or have a certain characteristic,” isn’t exactly the right word to use for defining something else. Tend, by definition, doesn’t mean something is a particular way 100% of the time – just regularly or frequently. I kept this in mind as I posed my next question. In order to know something is “good,” there needs to be something to judge the “goodness” by, right? A standard, if you will – and I wanted to know from Wayne where he believed the standard came from.

Before Wayne could answer, however, it was Garth’s turn to come up to the plate. To Garth’s credit, in his statement, he poses the objection I had with the image above, and points out the bias in which the image had. Garth realizes that, “…she appears to have come from a Christian faith…” and goes on to state what Christians shouldn’t do. Again, something I agree with – no, a true Christian should not do the things this character did in the image. However, my question to this is, why did the church have a cross? Why did it show the girl in a pew praying with a cross in the background? This betrays the illustrator’s intentions, clearly displaying a bias against Christianity - not portraying simply a religious individual doing all of the activities. No, this person had to be a Christian. Coming from an artistic and non-biased standpoint, how hard would it have been to take the cross off of the building, and have the character raising her arms up in the air, eyes closed, with a group of other individuals doing the same thing? All religions seem to participate in a meditating or prayer manner like the example I gave at some point, so why not be fair to all religions in the cartoon instead of singling out Christianity?

Because that would be too difficult. Instead, the artist committed to illustrating one of the biggest Straw Man fallacy statements that those against religious beliefs usually make. For those that are new to the term, the Straw Man fallacy is when an opposing viewpoint builds up something with loaded, usually negative, qualities, and then attempts to knock it down – hence, the “straw.” Essentially, it is a misinterpretation of the opponent’s position, which is something that the illustrator seemed to throw himself upon willingly. As I stated earlier, no true Christian would believe that the qualities displayed by this character in the cartoon were true Christian qualities. Garth continued on with this fallacy, as he writes, “its not something against Christianity but those that tote a bible and fail to follow through.” Since Christians are the ones that “tote” Bibles, I would reason that it is, in fact, a jab at Christianity and not religion as a whole – a hidden objective made by the original illustrator, but also betrayed by Garth’s statement. We will return to the Straw Man point momentarily.

Wayne was back up to the plate by this time. A Christian with basic knowledge about their faith would be able to see the holes riddled through the statement he made to follow up Garth’s, but the one thing I decided to latch onto was the “cultural” or “societal” differences in what defines “good.” At this point, I really wanted to know what Wayne’s definition of “good” was, because from what he began to describe seemed to be from a relativistic standpoint. The empty statement about being “kind” and “nice” was what made people “good” didn’t do “good” justice enough. On a side note, I found it entertaining that the examples Wayne used for being universally bad were “gossiping” and “bullying,” not something like, I don’t know, murder or theft.

Which I brought up in my next reply. With Wayne stating that some things were universal, he (unknowingly) made the claim that there is, in fact, a standard, which is one of the main things that I wanted to bring up in the conversation. To emphasize this, I offered the example I did above about murder and theft, and a universal standard. But in order to zero-in on what they truly believed, and in order to expose the hole in their collective logic, I knew I had to call upon Columbo once more, offering the question: “How many times do you have to break the law to be considered guilty?”

There’s really only one answer for this, and this should lead you into the proper train of thought to come to the conclusion of what people truly are – and we will get to that in a moment. However, this is where the conversation takes the inevitable ugly turn. Remember what I posted about earlier about Columbo’s suspects getting irritated by his questioning (which usually happened when they began to feel their protection being stripped away)? Guess what? It happened.

It was interesting to see from Wayne (the first poster in the last image) how he managed to backtrack and say that he hadn’t made any “hard or fast” definitions – he was right. In fact, he hadn’t made any definitions at all, completely dodging the question I posed! With the double-whammy, he also gives away that he knows that I’m leading the conversation at this point towards a conclusion, but before waiting for the train to get to that destination, he decides to jump off, still keeping to his original statements, and claiming ignorance on what my statements were “getting at.” Patience was clearly not a virtue any longer, and with the following reply from Garth, neither was respect. Garth also fails to see where the series of questions I’ve posed are headed, and also jumps off of the train – not without metaphorically tripping over himself beforehand, offering a backhanded insult instead of a reasonable reply. At this point, if there is any audience, they have seen that Garth is without merit at this point. Why? In these kinds of conversations (or debates, as those uncomfortable with respectful, reasonable conversation tend to call them), the first one to resort to this kind of verbal behavior is the first one to “lose” said argument, or debate. Unfortunately, what was quite a respectable conversation, especially by Facebook’s usual standards, had just taken a critical blow.

To offer up some background freely, this wasn’t the first rodeo I have had with Garth, on or off of Facebook. I will state, however, that in the past it was who had turned the conversation ugly with my own frustration. I have said things that I have regretted more than once, and without getting into too much detail, I wanted to learn from my mistakes. Character is one of the most important features that Christian Ambassadors have – without that, we’re just like the rest of the noise. Much like our acquaintance, Garth, has succumbed to once more.

I am not sure what Garth meant by “raising [rising]” above “it,” but I knew one thing – Garth had lost my respect, and therefore, I certainly wasn’t going to give dogs what was sacred, or cast pearls before the swine. I have witnessed my knowledge and wisdom given out trampled, and I have been turned on and tore to pieces. If there is one thing that I have learned from the conversational techniques I have studied, it is that a Garth loses the right to take part in a conversation once he has thrown dirt. Before, I used to try and press my advantage, trying to prove whatever it was that I was saying was true was in fact true, or trying to prove myself. The fact is, the advantage has already been given to you once something like this has happened in a conversation, and you’re on the bad end of an acquaintance’s choice of language. Knowing this, I turned my attention to Wayne, who hadn’t yet followed Garth’s example.

Since I had an inkling the conversation was undoubtedly coming to a disrespectful close, I began to make my final statements. If Wayne genuinely wanted to know where I was going with my statements, I would give it to him. However, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of reason behind a follow-up reply, if there was one.

So I made my statement. It was long, yet concise. However, I fear that I let a bit of my frustration leak into my words, albeit not in a disrespectful manner, but loud enough that someone looking for negativity would have been able to catch it. The first comment I made was my statement to Garth’s reply that, in essence, I would not be speaking to Garth for the rest of the conversation that followed. I also pointed out the hypocrisy that could be seen between Wayne’s comments about bullying being “universally bad” and what had just happened to me from Garth. The question is, should I have said anything in regards to this? Looking back on it, probably not. The statement from Garth spoke loud enough, and I didn’t really need to prove any sort of hypocrisy behind it – anyone looking at the comment objectively could see that. The lack of reason and respect was something I wanted to point out, especially since we were talking about what makes good “good,” but I probably shouldn’t have said anything in reply to Garth, and have just let the silence speak for itself. Again, I don’t believe I said anything equally disrespective, but I don’t believe I added anything to the conversation by letting my frustration out, even just that little bit. What really irks me is that I knew a statement like that would be coming from Garth, as it has many, many times before, yet I still played it out objectively, as if an audience didn’t know the personal history that Garth and I shared. Regardless, let’s move on.

Wayne made a couple of statements that I, in fact, agreed with, to a certain extent. In order to make progress on the conversation, an Ambassador needs to be able to establish common ground with the person they’re talking to, especially when they don’t know them personally. By telling them openly and honestly that you agree with them (and yes, there will be things that even Christians can agree with atheists on!), it should and usually will progress the conversation in a manner that proves to be much more fruitful than if no common ground was established at all. I’ve had plenty of conversations go without any common ground being had, and I’ve seen the power of “common ground” work wonders – I’m definitely subscribed to it. However, when establishing common ground, you can’t compromise the position you hold which you believe is true. Finding common ground with someone on one point does not mean you agree with them on their overall point or on all of their points. In my conversation with Wayne, I made sure to let him know what I agreed with him on, yet asking him to establish his overall position more clearly.

However, it had gotten to the point now where Wayne had grown impatient with me, asking me to “make my statement.” I obliged him of this, but not without telling him that I was upset that I wasn’t allowed the courtesy to understand where Wayne was coming from more accurately. I was quite disappointed and afraid at this point, because without knowing exactly where Wayne, in this instance, was coming from, I was running the risk of building up a Straw Man, which we discussed earlier.

Was I a little snippy with my remarks? Looking at them objectively right now, I probably was. I let my frustration creep out a bit more than I should have, even though everything I said was very honest, and in my opinion, not insulting or intellectually vulgar (as odd as that description is). What I should have done was not have given Wayne nor Garth my time to properly address them after they posted their last comments, especially since I had a strong feeling about where this conversation would end.

However, I had the end game in mind. I was still thinking of those that may be reading this conversational thread – those that may have genuinely wanted to hear what I was “getting at.” In any group atmosphere, you will almost always have a silent attentive person that you may not think is paying attention to what’s going on or what’s being said, but they turn out to be the most attentive one of all. I pushed forward, whether it was the right decision or not, because of the potential for my words to affect someone’s life in a meaningful way. I ran the risk…

…and I took the fall. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “fall…” Again, I must stress that I knew where this was going to go, but while Wayne shifted blame onto me for where the conversation went (instead of simply answering the questions I had asked earlier), he said a few things that were quite interesting. One of them was exactly what I had wished to get out of the conversation, and at least one of them betrayed Wayne’s initial aspirations about what he wanted out of this “conversation.”

Wayne makes the claim that I used “tricks” to direct the discussion. This is the first time that someone has called this kind of maneuvering as “tricks” to me, personally. I have heard the term “tricks” being used before when someone has lost their way in a debate, but only when they’ve obviously lost a significant amount of ground. It is quite apparent that Wayne knew something was up in this conversation, and wasn’t quite comfortable in dealing with it. Instead of seeing where the train went, he made the decision to jump off, and then in this admission, essentially waved as the train thundered on. Ambassadors, the conversational tactics you use may be considered “tricky” by critics, but there are differences between tricks and simply trying to get to know a person better so one may avoid hiccups like what happened in this example. Was I directing the conversation we were having? Apparently so – Wayne admits to it, also essentially admitting there was no other structure to be had but what I was giving. Was he comfortable with it? Certainly not, judging from his words. Why this is, I do not know, taking this statement at its value alone. I don’t know if Wayne has ever entered into a conversation with a stranger where the stranger attempted to actually get to know his position better than he was initially giving. I don’t know if it was his own discomfort with his lack of knowledge (or should I say, more accurately, his relativistic standpoint) on the topic. Regardless, it clearly rubbed him the wrong way.

To go along with this, Wayne also admits to going into this conversation with the mindset of someone being right and someone being wrong. This has been the unwritten Facebook creed for many a year, now – conversational manner never flourishes properly in the social networking world. In the realm of selfish pedestal creation, everyone seems to try and put themselves up on a higher level than even the people they call “friends.” Conversation? Nope, let the biased one-sided images/memes speak for themselves, and anyone who finds error or disagrees with them be damned (what’s even more amusing about this is that it usually comes from the side of those that profess their “tolerance” for everyone – funny, that).

However, it was his last statement which stood out to me: “You made some decent points, especially concerning intent behind actions.” Ambassadors, this is what you want to hear. As Ambassadors for Christ, you don’t want to necessarily “plant the seed,” as many Christians will tell you to do. No, defending the faith doesn’t mean winning someone to Christ. If we can successfully place a “stone in their shoe,” as Greg Koukl states so well, then each time they take a step in the direction they go, they’ll feel the discomfort of that stone. The point I made about intent behind actions was my stone. Did I know what words of mine would be the metaphorical stone? I had no idea. However, this goal of mine was set, and I’m happy that Wayne, although sounding very frustrated, decided to give me this bit of information. My only hope and prayer now is that he seeks to follow that trail on his own time and come to the only sensible conclusion that can be had about this topic.

What about Garth, you may ask? Well, Garth wasn’t done just yet. Regardless of if I was speaking to him again or not, he decided he had more to say – this time about, surprisingly enough, the Straw Man fallacy. I won’t spend much time on Garth’s reply here because it simply doesn’t deserve the deconstruction. I just found it very amusing that someone who professes to know about the Straw Man fallacy and thinks it is “bad” also thought it important enough that he share an image that exemplified the fallacy in such a basic manner!

I posted one last comment, which essentially addressed some of Wayne’s flawed objections to the last statement I typed. But it was my last paragraph that was the main intent of my final statement. After reading my comments, I was realizing I had let a bit of my frustration through, and admitted to that – something that neither Wayne nor Garth had done. I politely asked Wayne what exactly was it about my behavior that he thought was off-putting. To give him credit, Wayne kept his pseudo-promise and did not pick up the thread any further – most likely thinking my last statement to him was yet another “trick,” even though my last paragraph wasn’t even about the main subject of the thread (more of a “Comment Card,” in which he could have critiqued me all he wanted). I was genuinely interested in where I may have gone wrong with my words to him, but his silence on the matter actually told me more than was necessary.

There will always be the person that wants to get the last word, and this person was, as per the norm, Garth. Acknowledging that I deciphered the manner of his aggressive words, Garth “apologizes,” stating that he was sorry that I found his comments insulting, not that it actually was insulting, or that he was sorry he even said them. Fortunately, I can sense when a word or series of words is meant to be insulting (usually very obvious, especially from my personal past histories with Garth) without actually being personally insulted. Since I knew something of that caliber was eventually going to come from Garth, as they had come many times before, my own defenses were already built up to it. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I can’t exactly stand by and let happen, it’s hypocrisy, and I found Garth’s statements fairly hypocritical, especially regarding the image that he posted. In his last sentence, Garth also brandishes his ego one last time before departing from the conversation – also something that I am used to, and fortunately was able to let slide. A year ago, I probably may have called him out on this behavior on his public wall in this thread, which wouldn’t have been a great thing for either of us, honestly.

The conversation subsided after that point. There were a couple of follow up replies – both from people who wielded quotes they found from a Google search and copy+pasted (with the formatting giving it away), but honestly, anyone can read quotes from other writers. When I’m engaged with someone, I want to know what *they* think, not what someone else thinks verbatim.

One last thing that I would like to state: I never once came to this conversation from a blatantly “Christian” angle. Not once did I mention Christ, or God, or religion (especially Christianity) – I went into this conversation purely from a non-religious standpoint. Now, was my goal to eventually move it to a religious discussion? Yes, it was, and that’s where the proper usage of tactics will lead you, but I knew it wouldn’t help my cause if I came in frantically waving the Christian “flag,” so to speak. I wanted to leave that aspect out of it, and solely focus on the topic at hand, which was “what is ‘good.’” Sure, both Wayne and Garth attempted to throw Christianity on the table, but that would have been ad hominem. It’s very important to be concise with these discussions, cutting out the fat that inevitably builds up as one progresses.

If you’ve read up until this point, I sincerely congratulate you. I have a few more Tactical Deployments in mind that I would love to write about – these about face-to-face encounters! However, I wanted to start with this one for a few reasons. One, because of Wayne and Garth’s easy-to-decipher statements, and two, I discovered something in this conversation. I am not sure if the Columbo tactic can work in an internet forum atmosphere, where people are allowed time to think up of ways to dodge the questions the Ambassador delivers. Questions work best in a face-to-face atmosphere, which I will detail at a later date. That being said, I believe this may have been the last time that I participate in an online thread discussion, especially on the Facebook wall of an acquaintance which I know has had a history of being bullish to his own acquaintances. Now here, on my blog? That’s a different story – my house, my rules. But as far as social network pages or threads go, that aren’t confined to a respectful group atmosphere (which actually do exist on Facebook!), I believe this was my grand exit. And to be very, very honest, I don’t believe I will miss it.

I am, however, interested in what you, reader, have to say about either my performance (especially that) or the performances given from Wayne and Garth, and if you can find other hiccups in their statements that I may have missed. I only ask that this be an example of what to do and what not to do when having conversations like this (and this goes for both sides!). Until then, I hope your party time is excellent!

God bless.

Duck, Duck, Goose

I suppose everyone that has a fair connection to the internet knows about the Phil Robertson case going on right now between himself, his family, and A&E, who produces their hit show, Duck Dynasty. Before I begin on the topic at hand, I want to set a few statements first so I can get those out of the way and move to the meat of this post.

— I’ve never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty and more than likely never will, willingly. Reality shows just aren’t my thing, no matter the quality of the people the show features. To each their own in the realm of entertainment.

— Do I believe A&E was in the right? Yes and no. Why yes? Freedom runs both ways. If they choose not to support what someone on their payroll said (outside of filming, in this case), that’s their charge. However, I also say no, because I do not believe that the terms are equal. If a homosexual that worked for them got interviewed in a magazine and actually did bash Christians thoroughly (which the Christian in question, Robertson, did not do in his interview) then I do believe that person wouldn’t get the boot. Recent history has backed that belief of mine up quite well. It sounds like a funny point, but if Robertson suddenly converted to Islam, then I think there’d be a healthy amount of intrigue if he said the same things and got away with it. But that happens all the time in the media, and yes, the terms are usually not in favor for spouting Christian ideals/beliefs/thoughts in the media. So if A&E wants to do this, all I have to ask for is consistency. Freedom is consistency.

— Do I believe what Robertson said was okay, or within his rights to even say in the first place? Well, it was an interview, he was asked a question. Should he just say nothing? That’s not what they pay people to do for interviews. If we want any sense of honesty in the media we have to allow people to say what’s on their mind instead of keeping it in – that’s how we come to know who people are, and where they stand. If you don’t agree with what he said, that’s fine – move on with your life and continue to not support Robertson, and seek their entertainment on a different channel. But that doesn’t mean he should clamp down just because an organization doesn’t care for what he said. If we all did that, how on earth would our society progress? I read an interesting and timely article this week on LibertarianChristians.com discussing discrimination in the workplace. The author, Laurence Vance, concluded,

“To ban discrimination is to ban freedom of thought and freedom of association, not aggression or violence. In a free society, everyone has the right to think whatever he wants to think about everyone else and to choose to associate or not associate with anyone on the basis of those thoughts. That includes employers and business owners. His opinions may be erroneous; his opinions may be illogical; his opinions may be irrational; his opinions may be based on stereotypes, prejudice, bigotry, or racism — but he is entitled to them. In a free society it couldn’t be any other way.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. In our “free” society, however, I hesitate to say that people are seriously searching for any kind of truth. It’s much easier to act offended and have action taken against someone else for what they said.

I remember coming home from elementary school, distressed about some kid or kids making fun of me, and my mother drilled the following familiar phrase into my head: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now all of us know that words do hurt, but the truth is, they only hurt as much as you let them. Instead of the word “will,” the phrase may be more accurate in saying “words should never hurt me.” I can’t count how many times I’ve seen motivational posters or memes online posted by someone with homosexual beliefs, that states something along the lines of “Love yourself, it doesn’t matter what others think, you’re perfect the way you are regardless of what others say,” etc. So when something like this news story breaks, and I see the “offended” party rising up against whomever it was that stated the quote (in this case, homosexuals), it confuses me. If someone is “perfect” regardless of what others say, and it doesn’t matter what they say, then why are they pitching a fit over it? Something isn’t consistent here, and I’m led to believe that something else is speaking out louder to them then they’d like to admit. Words themselves should never hurt, but maybe it’s the truth that does.

Which brings me to my main point.

Something like what happened between A&E and Phil Robertson was primed to happen for years now. Countless news stories have broken regarding the persecution of Christian thought; persecution especially from the LGBT community, which seems to be hell-bent on bullying those who don’t conform to their uprooted belief structure. It has gotten to the point where the LGBT community reminds me more of a larger scale Westboro Baptist Church than a community with any sort of reason behind their belief structures. Westboro sues anyone that they troll into action against them, and the LGBT community seems to be following suit. Both are, of course, just two organizations to blame for the degradation of Christendom. In light of this, there is one danger that is even worse – a “true” Christian without little-to-no knowledge of what the scriptures actually state, and what Jesus’ teachings really were.

Now this may seem like a jump, but so many people have talked about things I mentioned previously that I figured the danger had to lay elsewhere. And last night up until now, I witnessed my theory being brought to life.

Ah, good ol’ Facebook. This is where we always get fuel for the fires, right? I really don’t expect much from Facebook “discussions” or “conversations” anymore, which on a personal level is dismaying to me, because I can formulate my thoughts better through writing than vocally, even though I am working hard to be better at the latter. But today was no different, as I witnessed many different “status updates” being tossed into the mix with half-cocked thoughts and any sort of reasoning simply didn’t seem to exist. But what worried me most was seeing Christians stating variations of the following:

“It makes me mad when celebs start judging people while hiding behind the Bible.”

“Start getting involved in their lives before you judge them.”

“Isn’t that what Jesus would have done? Help them instead of judging? Jesus never judged.”

“People should just do what scripture says and leave the judging for God.”

Basically, the word of the day is “judging.” Which is something that, let’s be real here, everybody does. Anyone who partakes in exercising rational thought judges. People assess what they witness in the world based on their beliefs, and then follow up with making decisions based on their assessments. This is the definition of judging.

But that’s not how the word is defined in today’s culture. If someone says, for example, “It’s wrong to judge,” they’re usually trying to stop the conversation. Which is very odd, considering when I witnessed these comments, they were on statuses posted with an invite to discuss. If someone says “You shouldn’t judge,” isn’t that a judgment in itself? It’s someone assessing that your behavior of “judging” is wrong. The statement is self-refuting, and they end up being guilty of the thing that they accused someone else of doing.

So, now that we have the stale statements out of the way, the question is, did Jesus actually judge others? There is no doubt that Jesus helped others, but it seems to me that people are comfortable stating that Jesus never “judged.” As long as we’re throwing facts out there, here’s another one to digest:

Jesus judged. Plenty.

And here’s where Christians and skeptics alike will throw out the famous “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” scripture, found in Matthew 7:1. Here’s the kicker – this verse is almost always taken out of context in the masses. Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely something that Jesus is saying about judging, and definitely saying that there’s something wrong with it. But it’s not what most people think. In order to accurately determine the meaning of this verse, you can’t read the verse. One should never read a Bible verse. Always, always read the surrounding verses if you want to get an accurate meaning of the single verse. I find it interesting that people tend to do this the most with scripture, but never any other books that they read. It wouldn’t make sense to crack open “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and quote a character out of context there, would it? The audience wouldn’t understand the reference or the purpose of why it was stated in the first place. So in this case, when we look at Matthew 7 in its entirety, we find that Jesus is actually doing something that most Christians believe He has forbidden.

In verse 6, we have the also-famous piece of scripture, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine…” In verse 15, he calls out false prophets, and verse 23, we see one of the scariest pieces of scripture, where Jesus says He will say to some, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” What we have here is one of the harshest moral judgments seen in scripture, and this makes it clear that Jesus is going after a certain kind of judging at the beginning of Ch. 7.

When Jesus says “Do not judge,” He isn’t saying that we shouldn’t assess moral behavior. In this statement of His, He’s speaking against hypocritical and self-righteous statements. We see this in the log example (“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”). This isn’t Jesus saying that it’s never right to judge, but that it’s wrong to judge when we exhibit the same characteristics as the person we’re judging. This is Jesus explaining how to judge rightly, warning His audience against launching criticism and condemnation on others without willing to examine their own behavior – in this example, when religious leaders were vehemently condemning others all the while justifying their own sin. Our culture that values “tolerance” so highly loves to use this part of the Sermon on the Mount, but they completely, well, misjudge what Jesus is speaking of on the whole.

What people miss is that although hypocritical judgments are condemned, we, as Christians, are commanded to make two different kind of judgments – judicial (ie, passing a sentence), and factual assessments, as mentioned previously. And again, I must reiterate – this kind of judging, this assessment, is something that everyone does. This is what we have to do in order to even survive.

So what about the rest of the red letters? What else did Jesus say on the matter? Let’s take a look at some examples.

— When Jesus teaches at the feast, in John 7:24 He states, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

— At the beginning of Jesus’ Gospel in John 3, it begins with judgment, shown in verse 19: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” The message begins with the bad news, with Jesus pointing out the reality of our sin and the subsequent punishment. But it ends with the good news, as in Romans 8, it is written, “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” stressing that the just judgment is removed from us because of His mercy and forgiveness.

Now that we have given a brief but thorough look (and my hope is that the selected scripture linked in the above text have been read in their entirety, not just singling out a verse), we have to be prepared for what Phil Robertson and many others before him have gone through. What do you do when someone tells you that you shouldn’t judge?

This is a question that needs to be answered, as our latest example of A&E shows, people are going to be playing “Duck Duck Goose” until someone finally cracks, and the chase begins – as it seems to have commenced with the whole Duck Dynasty deal. It could be just one person, it could be an organization, but the moral relativist mindset is very much ingrained in our culture, and we need to learn how to deal with it. How do we respond, especially as Christians, to others telling us we’re being judgmental or “You shouldn’t judge!”?

“Why?”

It’s one word. Quite simple. They placed the burden on themselves to state why we shouldn’t judge, so they need to back themselves up. And they will usually answer in at least one of the following statements:

“Judging others is wrong!”

“Because you shouldn’t force your morals on others!”

“Because it’s wrong to judge!”

At this point, the jig is up. If what they say is true, that judging others is wrong, then why are they judging you? Why are they partaking in the very thing they’re condemning you for? It’s because we can’t help judging – everyone does it. Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason mentions a verbal tactic which one can use to follow this up:

“What’s interesting about your reason is that it is itself a judgment. But that’s okay because we all make assessments of what we think is right and wrong. So, if we’re agreed that making judgments is okay, let’s continue talking about [fill in the blank]…”

The tone is key, here. Usually the person calling the Christian judgmental is already irate about the topic, so level-headedness and building common ground is necessary to continue a healthy discussion.

Everybody judges. We’re wired to do so. But like everything, there’s a certain way to do it. This is what Jesus preached on the Mount – not to shy away from judging on the whole. This may make some people uncomfortable, but in my studies, the truths in the Bible are usually anything but comfortable. Being too comfortable, or shying away from potential conflict, not only does a disservice to society, but a grave disservice to our spiritual life.

These situations like what happened to Robertson will continue to happen. And it could even happen to you tomorrow. So, one last question remains – will you judge righteously when that time comes?

Last call for new beginnings

I’m going to attempt to revamp and rework how I’m going to do my blog once again, because I desperately need to get back into writing. Freeformed, structurally opinionated, mind cleansing writing. I’ve been writing over at inRacingNews for quite some time now recapping the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series, but I’ve been pulled back to the commentary side of things, and not the thoroughly researched and structured writing. It’s what I went to school for, it’s what I crave to do. I will still write for iRN, but I’m feeling a desperate need to divide my time, and a lot of topics have popped up in my mind as of late that I need to start writing about myself. A lot has happened since last I wrote here, which was in, let’s see…

April.

APRIL.

And that was just two paragraphs.

Much has changed in my life in the past year, and plenty just since April. I’ve met new folks, rekindled old friendships, and have released others into the wild where they longed to belong. I have changed. I’ve shed quite a few characteristics and molded new ones, as anyone should do, in a positive manner. I’ve learned to adapt. I’ve learned to react. I’ve learned how to be intolerant of evil. I’ve learned to stand up for reason.

And hopefully, I will learn how to get into this “writing regularly” deal once again. Because if I don’t, if I go months on end without updating this place, I’m calling it quits for good with blogging. I can’t delude myself into thinking that I have time and interest in doing this if I don’t even log into my personal WordPress account to jot down a few thoughts. So here I go, once again, rebooting this place. Wish me well, and pray for me – let’s hope this lasts.

I’ve got lots to tell.

To be continued…

Thought for consumption

It’s interesting to hear people talk about the “good ol’ days” where the majority of citizens were consistently happy and there weren’t widespread instances of school shootings/acts of terror, significant death tolls outside of war, negative public schooling atmospheres (bullying, etc.), health outside of drugs/pills, and similar commentary. Yet when some “backwards” politician (usually Republican in title) tries to reinforce or make a law that would have gone over fine in said “good ol’ days,” society is apparently falling back into a state of turmoil because we’re going back to mindsets of past centuries.

I’m not making specific commentary on one law or lawmaker or another. Just the hypocritical statements people tend to make instead of stopping to genuinely think and study matters at hand. There *is* correlation to some of this.