Tag Archives: biblical principles

On contentions and being content in what you know

purple_hills_by_beth25491white-d3c42a6In college our dorm room was on the 7th floor of a tower overlooking the Oneota Valley in Decorah, Iowa. Our windows faced west and winter sunsets over the valley were often quite dramatic. When the sun went down and twilight was complete, the hills lining the Upper Iowa River a mile away turned purple in the evening light.

Or so it appeared one late afternoon to the eyes of all those sitting together in our dorm room as the sun went down. “Look how purple the hills are…” I pointed out the window.

“No they’re not. They’re black,” one person responded. We all looked at him.

“Are you color blind?” someone asked.

“No. I can see colors,” he insisted. “But those hills are black.”

The hills clearly appeared purple. But everything this fellow knew about the world was telling him the hills looked black.

We all argued the point for a few minutes and then someone changed the subject. We were getting nowhere in our efforts to help him understand the principles of shadow, light and the color spectrum.

Other than reality

His contention that the hills could not be anything but black once the sun went down were based on something other than a reality perceived by everyone else in the room. Perhaps he truly could not see the color purple and did not know that he was color blind in that way. None of us had any way of proving that to him at the moment. So from his perspective, he won the argument.

That tendency to argue something cannot be a fact unless you can immediately prove a contention wrong is quite common in this world. It helps explain why so many people have trouble grasping basic scientific principles as part of their worldview. Over time, people tend to build up a brand of pride in affirming their own worldview, no matter how wrong or shortsighted it may be. If they find enough people that share their narrow perspective, it becomes even more powerful a way to think.

Content in what they think they know

vfiles24241In other words, people tend to be content in what they feel they already know. Many feel like they’ve worked hard to assemble their worldview. They don’t really want to hear contentions to the contrary. They grow proud of their ability to defend this worldview to the death. One thinks of well-known creationist Ken Ham, whose arguments about biblical truth through literalism are popular with all who find solace and contentment in a simplified view of the world where God created the universe and nothing has changed or evolved since the beginning of time.

That’s very much like contending that the hills are black rather than purple at sunset. Or that they were green during the day, so how could they be purple at night? Nor could they be orange at dawn. Perceptions confined to simple rules quite easily rule out so many possibilities on grounds that cannot be argued away. They are matters of faith in how something is meant to be perceived. It’s a confining way to think, but some people like it that way. They’re proud of their surety, firm in their convictions, and nothing can make them change.

Not even the purple hills of sunset 

Yet we also know from the Bible that not even God is depicted as changeless. The deity that appears in a cloud in one book and a burning bush in another takes apparent pride in shifting and playing with the perceptions of all those who would fix the Creator in one place, one form or one time.

God transcends all of that. So does nature. It is very clear that our perceptions of both are organically intertwined. It is also acceptance of one does not automatically cancel out the other.

New understandings

PaversWe all proceed at times with theories that ultimately get proven wrong. It happens in faith as well as science. Among Christians the old religion gave way to a new understanding with the advent of Christ. Then Martin Luther came along to shake up the Catholic order and traditions. Now there’s a new wave of Progressive Christians tugging at the sleeves of believers to reform around an organic view of the Bible that allows scholarship into the mix to determine a better understanding of what scripture really means, and what it doesn’t.

The trick to a establishing a better understanding in life is to never be content in what you know. That’s what’s taking place every day in science. Some people point to that fact as the source of an idea that science cannot be trusted. But that’s a mistake in perception too. We depend on science for all kinds of trustworthy activities. From medicine to industry, biology to economics, our sciences deliver dependable if not changeless information about how we view and interact in this world. Without this source of humanistic culture, we are in essence reduced to tribal beings caught in a blind play in which we have no control at all over our destiny. And shockingly, some people still think God wants that for us too.

We need our moral traditions to be equally open to change. One could say that God expects that of us. The right kind of pride is having the humility to be awakened to new ways of thinking. God has never liked stiff-necked believers.

Proverbs 21: 9–– “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy.”

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Confessions of a hayseed and what it means to a life well-lived

As a kid who loved being outdoors there was never shortage of burrs in my socks or mud on my pants. My roots were rural. Both parents grew up on Upstate New York farms on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Bainbridge. We freuqently traveled back to visit those farms. That also meant time spent shoveling manure into troughs in the barn and hanging out in the upstairs of the barn where mountains of dusty hay made a great playground.

These rural experiences colored my worldview about what is valuable and true in life. My brothers and I developed a land ethic that led us to become avid birders. That led me into a life of painting birds, wildlife and landscapes.

Decidedly rural

In some ways that formatively rural background was vital to becoming who I am today. Yet there were drawbacks as well to the innocence and joy found in outdoor experiences. While my mother and father both attended college and were well educated (mom at Potsdam University in Music Education and my father at Cornell and electrical engineering) there was a certain simplicity to their worldviews in having come right from the farm into the larger world.

That is no criticism. But it is reality. Throughout my early years there were many times when I sensed a gap in my understanding about how the world really works versus the manner in which I believed it worked.

My brothers evolved a quite sophisticated understanding of music and social graces. We all excelled in athletics. But we also wrote poetry, produced art and loved insightful banter.

But there was always a bit of hayseed lurking in our past. I once even had a track teammate walk up to me and say, “You know what? You’re a hayseed.”

Hayseed mentality

He was right. There was so much about the world that was so hard for me to understand. There were social graces that escaped me. Even basic knowledge sometimes came as a revelation. I readily confess all that.

It’s not that the kids around me were much less rural in outlook than I. In fact the high school I attended was surrounded on all four sides by cornfields. Many of my classmates were farmers. Yet they also seemed to grasp the life ahead so much better. Business and such.

When I attended a small college my worldview grew some, but not that much. Back in Illinois for work as an admissions counselor, I was still shy and scared of the city. I didn’t know how it worked. I was still a hayseed.

Growth and change

Fortunately through years of reading and experiences the hayseed in me represents a percentage but not all of my worldview. But it’s still there in important ways as well. Never have I lost that connection between the natural world and its importance to all of us. It even infuses my religion and an appreciation that the faith we know as Christianity is deeply dependent on the same rural roots from which my own worldview has grown. The Bible is inextricably woven with organic symbols and metaphors that drive our knowledge of God. Our grasp of spiritual principles emanates from a long series of highly significant natural symbols from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus taught using these organic symbols because he knew that people need to be able to go back to basics to grasp the greatness of God.

That does not undermine the verity of science in any way. Nor does it defy our own lifelong journey to become educated or develop a sophisticated understanding of the world. Instead the confession of a hayseed understanding of the bible teach us that great wisdom can come from great humility.

Whether it’s a hayseed or a mustard seed, great faith can some from small things. That’s a lesson we should never ignore.