Sunday, 28 August 2016

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. – Proverbs 14:12

Today’s Scripture Reading (August 28, 2016): Proverbs 14

In the Star Trek Voyager episode “Bliss,” which first aired on February 10, 1999, the crew of the Voyager is tricked into believing that they have found a wormhole which will finally take them home. What they had really found was a space dwelling life form that was a kind of “pitcher plant” which lured starships into its mouth to be consumed as food. The luring was in the form of mental images that convinced unsuspecting space travelers that all of their dreams could be found within the confines of its yawning mouth. The plot line of the story hovers around the idea that the crew, all except for the reformed Borg Seven of Nine, the Doctor, and the young Naomi Wildman, believe that they have found their way home. As they fall into their trances, their minds are filled with images of family and pictures of home. Everything seems right about the wormhole. Yet, the passage home is nothing more than a trap that will kill them as they are consumed by the organism. Seven of Nine, on the other hand, is seen as nothing more than a false prophet of doom. It is thought that her fear of earth is making her see boogiemen where, in truth, none exist.

Sometimes I feel a lot like Seven of Nine. It seems that our whole system of advertising focuses on this one idea – how can we make the buying of our products seem right and essential to life? And we consistently fall for it. I am gravely concerned at the amount of personal debt many of us are carrying. I weep for my friends who sometimes can’t seem to find their way out of the trap, and even when they try to get out, in reality, they only get trapped even deeper in their debt. When we talk, they tell me that it seems right. The salesperson told them that it was right. They can lay the argument out in front of me until I think that somehow they must be right. But I know that they aren’t. This is the way of death.

The advertising industry is built around giving us a need and then telling us how to fulfill it. We are enticed to purchase things that we don’t need, and we finance our future so that we can obtain them. In the exchange, we give away our hope for a possible brighter tomorrow. And we don’t even know that we are doing it.

The author of Proverbs sums this up beautifully. There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. It is a “pitcher plant” that needs to be avoided. And it is the reminder in the Book of Proverbs that takes on the thankless role of being our Seven of Nine.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Proverbs 15

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. – Proverbs 13:20

Today’s Scripture Reading (August 27, 2016): Proverbs 13

One of my mom’s favorite sayings, usually because I wanted to wear my jean jacket to school in the dead of winter, was “if all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” My argument for my jean jacket was that it really wasn’t all that cold (after all, what is -20 between friends) and it was the dress of the other kids in my class, thus the “jumping off the bridge” response. But the comment made little impact on me. Jumping off a bridge to my certain death and wearing my jean jacket, and staying within my admittedly undeveloped fashion sense, to my certain discomfort seemed to be two very different things. No, I would not jump off of the bridge if my friends all jumped off, yet I still want to wear my jean jacket to school.

But mom’s concerns were not without merit. To a certain extent we are the company we keep. Our friends and colleagues exert an unbelievable force on our lives. So much of what we believe is determined by our social contacts. What we deem to be permissible or true is often defined by the people with whom we spend our time. Whatever your goal is for your life, the best way to make sure that you achieve that objective is to hang out with people who have reached, or are at least making strides toward, their own similar goals. Do you want to be socially aware? Make sure that your friends are socially aware. Do you want to acquire wealth? Then hang around and follow the activities of the wealthy. Do you want to learn to be stupid? Yeah, I know what I want to say, but it might not be politically expedient. The problem is that stupid seems to excel in some of our social media contacts.

This is exactly the advice that Proverbs gives to us. If you want to be wise, then hang around with people who are wise. Don’t argue with them other than to strengthen your own wisdom, allow their wisdom to seep into you. Or you can hang around with fools and allow my mother’s greatest fear to become a reality in your life – you can follow your friends as they all jump off of the proverbial bridge.  

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Proverbs 14

Friday, 26 August 2016

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18

Today’s Scripture Reading (August 26, 2016): Proverbs 12

A War of Words. In our media-driven society, we hear a lot of them. Politicians are involved. So are our cultural heroes. Sometimes the wars come from honest disagreements on the way things should be done. Sometimes the wars are based on exaggerated claims. Sometimes they are based on outright lies. It is probably this last category that bothers me the most. Now, with social media and news stories that no longer have to be vetted and properly sourced, it is easier to get the lies out. Often the lies are more sensational and, therefore, gain traction faster. And our reactions to the sensitive issues of the day begin to be built around things that aren’t even true.

But they are, after all, just words.I wish we were exempt from this problem as Christians, but I often think that it is the reverse that is our reality. No group seems to be as susceptible to the lie as the Christians. We also go well beyond the lie; we give the lie a moral understanding. And this intensifies the War of Words.

If we are truly a people that believe in the power of the Bible as Word of God that guides our behavior, we need to pay a little closer attention to these words from Proverbs. Proverbs insists that it is the words of the reckless that pierce, but the words of the wise bring healing. Our calling has never been to pierce like a sword, but rather to heal. The question on our minds should not be what tantalizing piece of sensational news can we tell, but rather how can we bring healing to this world. 

I am tired of watching Christians standing on a picket line picketing whatever it is that is that week’s flavor of evil. If the world must see us taking a stand against evil, it should not be our sharply chosen words that it sees. It should be our tears.  It isn’t another war of words that is needed; it is a church that takes the nails that are driven into it and cries genuine tears for the pain of this world. Then, maybe, we can be involved in the healing process of the world.
And the war of words can be finally left in the domain of the politicians.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Proverbs 13

Thursday, 25 August 2016

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth. – Proverbs 11:16

Today’s Scripture Reading (August 25, 2016): Proverbs 11

The argument continues over the issue of equal pay for equal work. We hear it when our celebrities speak, and when our athletes talk. But the issue of equal pay for equal work is not all that straightforward. After all, every job is different, and the economic realities of each company are very different. According to my friends, I am vastly underpaid (or maybe they are vastly overpaid, but don’t tell them that.) I put in more hours doing the same job as they do and yet receive less money. Maybe, based on my reality I should campaign for equal pay for – and there is the question. My economic reality is different because of the economic reality of my church is different. No two jobs are alike. Would I like to be paid more? Sure. But the reality is that I could move to a different church and receive a higher paycheck, but I am willing, at least at this moment, to sacrifice wage for a church situation that I enjoy.

Researchers have noted this dichotomy in the equal pay argument. Men on the average are paid more than women. They also, on the average, tend to work longer hours and are willing to sacrifice comfortable working conditions for higher pay. Woman tend not to want to make that sacrifice. Do these differences account for enough of the wage gap? That is hard to tell. It is tough to evaluate when the two jobs have qualitative differences. On a personal level, a female friend of mine has a paycheck that exceeds many of her male colleagues working for the same company, but she is single and willing to work split shifts and lots of overtime. She is also ready to work in a variety of work situations and able to do the job competently. She has decided to trade comfort for money and is getting paid very well for that trade. Examples like my friends lead some to argue that the Gender Wage Gap is a myth. I am not sure that we have enough evidence either way to make the argument, but they might be right.

It is hard to read passages like this one without just a little hesitancy at the comparison between a man and woman. I can almost hear the women’s lobby screaming behind me as I write this that once again the woman gets shafted. After all, the woman of the passage gets honor while the man gets paid. But that might be a misreading of the text. It is a reading of the text according to our cultural values which places money at the top of our list of priorities.

What we might need is a more “Klingon (Star Trek)” reading of the text. For the Klingon, nothing is more important than honor. The Ferengi, on the other hand, are an exaggerated picture of Western society. For the Ferengi, all that matters is money. (And, by the way, the woman are kept barefoot and pregnant [and naked]. There is no equal pay.) The Klingon’s regard the Ferengi as being a people without honor, and in their world, there is no bigger insult. According to Klingon philosophy, not everything is about money – but everything is about honor.

This Klingon understanding is precisely the reading that needs to be brought into this text. The kind hearted woman excels at what is important – honor. The ruthless (this word has also been translated as vicious, violent or even just strong) man can only excel only at making money. The big, and possibly unanswerable, question of the text is whether or not only women can excel at honor and men at making money. My suspicion, and hope, is that this is not gender dependent. Men can obtain honor too – and it is something that we should all try to achieve, even more than we try to make money.       

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Proverbs 12