Craig Vick's Scattered Thoughts

Adventures in Virtual Community


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Apologies to Sam

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Sam liked to impress the teacher. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in junior high it seemed to me to be a sin of the worst kind. Respecting the teacher was fine. Trying to be the teacher’s favorite crossed a dark line.

It was the first day of the semester. The teacher, whose name I’ve forgotten, was new. Sam’s desk was next to mine in the middle of the classroom. The teacher was explaining the rules. “You must raise your hand and wait to be called on before talking”, the teacher explained.

I looked at Sam, smiled and whispered, “I don’t have a hand.” Poor Sam took the bait. He blurted out in a loud voice, “Craig doesn’t have a hand.” The teacher was not amused. Her face burned with anger and disgust. Sam was chuckling at his success in using my little joke until he saw the teacher’s face. One look reduced him to silence.

Confession is good for the soul. I freely admit that I knew exactly what I was doing. Sam, if by some strange chance you’re reading this, please accept my apology.


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Brotherly Love

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I was twelve years old. My brother was seven. He took our Beagle Gigi out for a walk and came home in tears. He had wandered into a part of our neighborhood that was new to us. A couple of children living there had thrown sticks and rocks at our dog. My brother ran all the way home.

Being older, I realized it was my responsibility to come to the defense of my brother and of our family pet. I put Gigi back on her leash and set out for a walk. After a short time I came near the house of the Beagle violence. The two culprits were playing in their front yard. When they saw me they stopped in their tracks. Their eyes were wide open. Their jaws dropped. Astonishment, wonder and a little fear found expression in their faces. I should probably explain to my readers that have never seen me in person – I’m a congenital amputee, missing both arms below the elbow and my left leg at the knee.

The older and braver of the two children found his voice. “What happened to your hands?”, he asked. To which I responded, “You see that dog!”

We never had any problems after that.


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A New Blog

More than a few of my readers have gently teased me over the somewhat heavy philosophical nature of some of my posts. Though the teasing is meant in jest, I have taken it to heart because I don’t like anyone feeling unwelcome on my blog. I’m especially grieved when I suspect that one of my visitors feels stupid or ignorant because of what’s read here. I believe the real barrier is vocabulary and has nothing to do with intelligence. Learning the vocabulary connected with a specific philosophical problem is a challenge for almost all of us. When reading the books I most love, I usually have to read passages over and over, several times, before I’m confidant that I’m beginning to understand.

In order to make this blog a little friendlier while at the same time providing a space for my readers who enjoy philosophy as much as I do, I’ve decided to create a new blog, Craig Vick’s Virtual Book Club. I will scratch my philosophical itches on the new blog. Using a book club format, we’ll be able to walk through books at a leisurely pace picking up the needed vocabulary as we go. Posts on this blog will, hopefully, be more accessible and of more general interest. Let me know what you think.


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A Song of St Francis

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For reasons unknown even to me I started a little journey a few of weeks ago through the writings of St Francis of Assisi. I had just watched the film ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’. I wondered what the real man was like. His writings seemed a good place to start.

I began with Canticle of the Creatures. I wanted to read it slowly, meditatively, prayerfully. The opening praises moved me to praise. Joyfully I read and thought about Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the stars, wind and air, water, fire and earth. I too praised God for those who pardon, love and bear sickness and trial. I thought of some I know who live this way. Then I came to this line: “We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death”.
I stopped reading. My theological training began to inform my thoughts. Death is evil. Death is a result of the Fall. Death isn’t a gift; it’s a punishment for the sin of humanity. Death is an enemy, conquered in the resurrection. How can I thank the Lord for death? I quickly concluded that St. Francis was wrong to sing this. We shouldn’t praise the Lord for death.
My thoughts could have ended there or moved on to other matters, but the shock of St Francis being thankful for death was not easy for me to shrug off. A while later I consulted an obscure theologian named Celine Dion. I’ve been trying to learn French so I bought her ‘The French Album’. She sings with both passion and beauty, and I like that. Near the end of the CD I listened to the following soulful words:
Vole vole petite sœur
Vole mon ange, ma douleur
Quitte ton corps et nous laisse
Qu´enfin ta souffrance cesse
Va rejoindre l´autre rive
Celle des fleurs et des rires
Celle que tu voulais tant
Ta vie d´enfant
I believe there’s an English version of this song somewhere, but for now I’m afraid, dear readers, I’ll need to subject you to my poor French via my translation. Here goes:
Fly, fly little sister
Fly my angel, fly my sorrow
Leave your body, leave us
That your suffering will finally cease
Go join the other shore
That of flowers and laughter
That which you want so much
Your life of a child
I read somewhere that Celine Dion sang these words shortly after the death of a young and close cousin. I can believe that. I can hear the turmoil and emotion that death brings in her voice. I was quietly weeping the first time I heard her sing this verse. I tear up just thinking about these words now.
What kind of tears are these? Are they tears of sadness? Yes, in part. My sister, Renee, just had surgery for bladder cancer. We had a false scare two weeks ago where I feared we might lose her. The alarm was false, but the fear was real. I imagined singing these words to Renee. She’s been through so much over the past six months when she started her treatment. The tears were tears of sadness, but they were also tears of joy.There is a joy in knowing that death can bring relief from the sorrow and pain of this life. When viewed through the cross death is like flying.
St Francis’ song was simply too deep for me to understand. Now I can at least sense what it means to sing “We praise you, Lord, for Sister Death”. As the Bluegrass Psalmist writes “Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away”.


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Worldview Moratorium

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I’m advocating a two year moratorium on all worldview talk. This is not because such talk is meaningless or even unhelpful. It’s because such talk is overly used in a way that shuts down conversation. My moratorium will cover talk of presuppositions as well.

The value of worldview talk is that it can open or give direction to a conversation that appears to be stuck. Suppose a mom and a daughter have an argument about chores. Mom states that her daughter didn’t do her chores. Daughter insists that she did.The normal way to solve such a dispute is to look and see whether or not the chores were done. Mom will see, when she looks, that the chores were done or Daughter will discover that contrary to her intentions and what she thought she did, she in fact left a chore undone.
So far so good. What happens, however, if both mom and daughter look at the evidence and still disagree? Perhaps one of the chores goes by the name ‘clean your room’. Mother and daughter both look at the room. Daughter says, “See, I cleaned it!” Mom says, “It’s a mess. You haven’t cleaned it at all.” Here’s where looking at presuppositions and examining worldviews can be helpful. In terms of presuppositions, Mom and Daughter can talk about what constitutes a clean room. In terms of worldviews, Mom might point out that she’s not a tyrant, trying to ruin her daughter’s life with meaningless chores. Daughter might show that she’s not just being rebellious and has made efforts to please Mom. So worldview talk and looking at presuppositions deepens the conversation. The conversation becomes more difficult, however. Mom and Daughter are called to a form of self examination, but the fruit promised is worth the effort.

How then can it all go wrong? Why would I push for my moratorium? It all goes horribly wrong when Mom or Daughter or both get locked into their worldview and presuppositions. There’s no self examination. The conflict quickly devolves into a shouting match. Worldviews and presuppositions become iron clad defenses against any presumed attacks. Daughter says, “You hate me.” Mom says, “You’re lazy and rebellious.” At this point the conversation can’t move forward unless both Mom and Daughter show a genuine willingness to unlock themselves from their views.
In some of the Christian circles that I call home, this is what has taken place. Worldview talk is being used to build an unassailable defense against questions and doubts. It doesn’t open conversations, it ends them. There’s no place for self examination, just worldview assertion. We need to live without this tool for awhile. After a couple of years we will hopefully find ways to use it more wisely.


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Winners and Losers

Competition runs deep in our culture. We pay tribute every weekend  in our sports arenas and through our televisions. We invest heavily in sports not just in terms of money but even in terms of our emotional well being. If my beloved Green Bay Packers win this Sunday, all is well. If they lose it will take me a couple of days to adjust. When my team wins I exclaim, “We won!!” This is odd given that I didn’t even play, nor do I have a personal relationship with anyone on “my team”. I read of many horrible things that take place in our world. I’m ashamed to admit that I respond more violently to a “bad call” by an official than I do to poverty, totalitarian brutality and gross injustice.

Our love of competition goes deeper than sports. We make everything a competition. It’s not enough for me to be a good software engineer. I must strive to be the best engineer. My company is out to crush all competing companies. We have competitions, formal and informal, even where they might seem to be out of place. Who is the greatest artist, dancer, philosopher, actor, teacher or preacher? We latch on to objective, measurable indicators of victory. The best preacher isn’t the one closest to God (we’re not sure what that would mean) but the one with the greatest following. If a matter seems undecided, we can always take a vote. Our legal system is implemented via competition. Our political system, our democracy, is expressed as a series of contests. If Derrida had been an American his two great dicta would have been “There’s nothing outside of sports” and “It’s competition all the way down”.
Many years ago I used to speak to various churches on the subject of competition. My talks were based on the insights of an author I’d love to credit, but, unfortunately, I’ve forgotten his name and the title of his book. His main point was both simple and compelling. Competition is good, but always as a means rather than an end. The word ‘compete’, for example literally means to strengthen with. ‘Contest’ is to test or challenge with. I may, for example, run on my own and achieve speed, endurance or both. If I run in competition with another, we strengthen each other. We run faster and better than we would have run on our own. Competition, then, is good when it serves a good purpose.
Our adversarial court system is good, we believe, because it has the best hope of achieving justice. The prosecution and the defense battle the case and, hopefully, truth prevails. There are no guarantees. We understand that our system isn’t perfect, but we believe that it is better at assuring justice than any other system.
Disaster occurs, however, when we forget the greater good. The greater good gives competition meaning. Without it, competition is meaningless. Worse, without it competition risks becoming something evil. A prosecutor may win a case by obfuscating evidence. Most of us see such behavior as immoral even when legal.The goal is a just trial, not a win. The same goes for sports. A sports franchise that holds a community hostage in order to get a stadium built, without regard to the needs of that community, is immoral. It’s evil. It’s wrong.
When my son was young he played in several sports. At times, leagues would attempt to hide winning and losing. The thought seemed to be that losing was so detrimental to the self image of a young boy or girl that it’s better if we make it appear that all the children win. At times we wouldn’t keep score. At other times we’d change the score at halftime if one team was too far ahead. I find such practices to be pretty silly. Even so, they do show a recognition that competition can do harm when we forget the greater good. A better approach, it seems to me, is to teach our children the real value and meaning of competition. We need to teach that the goal isn’t to win, but to make our opponents better as they make us better, to strengthen together. We do that by playing the game with passion, working to win and working at playing justly. Winning or losing doesn’t automatically make us better people. Winning is meaningless as an end in itself.
Because of my disability, I wasn’t able as a child to do all that’s required to participate in sports. I couldn’t run, which made it close to impossible to get to first base even on a good swing of the bat. I was also far too easy to catch and sack, which would seem to preclude my ever being a quarterback. We might think that my childhood was spent on the sideline, watching my friends play. We’d be wrong. My friends included me in all of our games. We simply changed the rules so that I could meaningfully compete. In baseball, someone would run for me. In football, we outlawed rushing the quarterback. We found that rule gave me too big of an advantage, so we changed the rules again. We allowed rushing the quarterback after counting to five. With very little reflection, we knew that the rules of competition should serve us rather than the other way around. Dare I say we understood that the greater good, our friendship expressed as we played together, was what gave meaning to our competition?


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Worship Metaphors

 

On any given Sunday two people may perform the same actions, one worshiping while the other is not. They may sing the same hymns, pray the same prayers, hear the same sermon, and partake of the same sacrament, all the while having the same postures and expressions, and yet only one worships. One may sing a song of praise to the Lord. The other may sing the same song to no one in particular perhaps cherishing thoughts of the upcoming football game. True worship, the kind of worship that God seeks, is in spirit and in truth. Self deception is an ever present possibility. Looking like everyone else doesn’t equate to worship.

 

Perhaps, we might think, we simply need to be more spontaneous. Prayers, speech and song composed on the spot might seem guaranteed to be genuine. Sadly, our self deception runs too deep for such a guarantee. Like a husband who knows just what nods and sounds are needed to convince his wife that he is listening, even when he is not, so to we can quickly learn how to spontaneously generate what only appears to be worship.

 

How often do we truly worship? At times, we know we are merely participating in the forms of worship rather than the reality. We conclude that such a state of affairs is a minor sin when, in reality, it’s idolatry. For this reason, I am sometimes impatient when we discuss our forms of worship while ignoring what I believe is the elephant in the room. If we focus on the form without addressing the spirit and truth of worship we will only succeed at generating controversy.

 

How do we address the real problem? I don’t know how to do that directly. It’s a question of being spiritually awake and examining our own hearts. What I hope might be helpful, however, are the following worship metaphors. None of these metaphors are original with me, though I have found them to be good guides. Metaphors cannot create true worship, but they can remove some of the noise that keeps us from hearing clearly the voice of the Word.

 

Worship as Performance

 

At first sight, it might seem that viewing worship as a kind of performance or play is exactly what’s wrong with much of worship today. The thought comes naturally enough. Many of our sanctuaries look much like theaters. People come to be entertained. The worship leaders, pastors and choir put on a show, and that’s why there on what looks like a stage. We do not sell tickets; we do try to fill seats. The service is evaluated in much the same terms as we might evaluate a movie. We want our preachers to be dynamic, the service to be stimulating and, like a play, it should all start and end on time. Participation by the congregation is limited by everything from the seating (there is little room to do much more than stand or sit) to the overall setting. If someone up front does something particularly outstanding, the congregation wants to applaud (though probably won’t). True worship, as a performance, seems about as likely as being able to jump into a film.

 

That can all change if we view the performance as Kierkegaard suggests in his Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Rather than thinking of the congregation as the audience and the worship leaders as the performers, he suggests that we view God as the audience. To worship is to perform for and before God. The performers are the congregation. The worship leaders are, according to Kierkegaard, the prompters. They give us our lines when we forget. Our desire and goal is that God be pleased with what he sees.

 

At the end of a worship service, rather than asking one another what we thought of the service, we should ask what God thought of the service. Though I’ve read several reviews of plays, I’ve never seen a review that evaluated, or for that matter, even mentioned the prompters. Rather than asking how the preacher or choir performed, each member needs to review his or her own performance. God, our audience, has told us what he is looking to find, worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.

 

Worship as Dialog

 

Most worship services are structured as a dialog. God speaks first. He breaks the dark silence with his wondrous light. We respond. God calls us to worship and we sing praises to him. He reveals his law to us and we weep for our sin and cry out for his mercy. He speaks his love to us through the death and resurrection of his son. He declares his forgiveness. We rejoice and commit to living for him. He teaches us and we bring before him our needs. He blesses us with his good words.

 

For this metaphor to be useful we must each hear the voice of our Lord on Sunday morning. God has not called us to eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation; he speaks to us. We are called to answer and to encourage one another to answer. He speaks through his Son, through the Scriptures, through the exposition of the Word, through the celebration of communion and even through our love and encouragement of one another. We respond with songs from the heart, prayers of faith, repentance, praise, and love for him and for his people. If we do not hear his voice, we cannot truly worship. If we are not responding to his voice we are like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden trying to cover our own sin.

 

On Sunday we, as a congregation, are called to meet with God by God. This is an appointment that cannot be missed. The call goes out to all corporately and to each individually.

 

Worship as Dance

 

A quick word study of the Scriptures will show that the Bible sees dance as an expression of joy. Great victories are frequently celebrated by dance. Dancing is also contrasted with mourning. There are times when our joy is so full and great that dancing is the most natural response. Worship is a joyful dance. It is a joy that we cannot help but express. When our troops come home in victory we dance. No one needs to tell us what to do. To hear the news, if we understand it, is to want to dance. God has won the greatest of all victories in the death and resurrection of our Lord. On Sunday, we dance.

 

We can develop this metaphor even further. When we dance our Lord leads and we, as his bride, follow. We move in perfect time to the music as we are led by him and filled with his Holy Spirit. Our dancing is not random; it is given form by the order of worship. God calls us to the dance. He announces the great victory. He heals our hearts and gives us the ability to move freely. Our mourning is turned to dancing. We have not been given an invitation to watch a dance. Those who simply watch soon find themselves in the company of Michal who complained when David danced.

 

Are we dancing on Sunday? As I look at my own heart I find that often I’m not. We cannot fix this by making changes to our order of worship. That’s not to say that the form of our worship isn’t important. The form, however, is not the central problem. If the words of the new song do not move me to dance, changing the tune will not help much (though as an observer rather than a participant, I may strongly believe that the tune is the most important thing).

 

When God calls us to worship this Sunday, these metaphors may prove useful. They will, admittedly, break if pressed too far. If used carefully, however, I hope that they give us some tools to worship in a way fit for our King.

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