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From Part 1 it should be obvious that i’m a fan of fully exercised diversity (above and beyond a lip service to the societal value of diversity).  So, what is brilliant about it?  Why did i choose the word ‘brilliance’ to describe diversity?

Well, brilliant has a couple meanings.  One is glittering or resplendent and another is displaying mental keenness or striking intelligence.  I believe rightly exercised diversity is brilliant in both senses.  It is ‘shining’ and it displays someone’s mental brilliance.  The latter of these, of course, begs the question “Whose mental brilliance?”

Well, that would need to apply to anyone who thought of the idea, but more so to whoever originated the idea.  Certainly there a lot of modern proponents of diversity, but what if we look back more than a few hundred years?  I don’t claim to know all of the people throughout history who might have proposed the value of diversity, but I do know of one who predates all modern philosophy and sociology.

The author of the biblical books of Romans, 1 Corinthians & Ephesians instructed Christians to value diversity about 2000 years ago.  This being the case, i’d like to propose that valuing diversity was God’s idea before we became ‘enlightened’ later in history.  (If you don’t buy that God is the source of the bible then either it was just Paul’s idea or some anonymous writer of these books fictitiously attributed to Paul, but still it is not just a modern idea!)

I think the passage that best illustrates my point is Ephesians 3:10.  This passage is fairly well known but usually taught out of context.  Here the author says “His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” Excellent so the church is supposed to display God’s wisdom – this would seem obvious to Christians already.  But what is the context?  He talks about a gospel and a mystery, and it would be easy to just assume he’s talking about the general gospel message and leave it at that.  But look more carefully at the context – what comes before and what comes after.  Especially verse 6 where he tells us straight out what the mystery is: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” The mystery was that God was bringing ethnically and culturally diverse people TOGETHER through Jesus.

If that doesn’t make HOW God’s wisdom is to be displayed in the church clear enough by itself let’s put all of chapter 3 in context.  Chapter three starts off with ‘For this reason . . . ”  For what reason?  Clearly he’s building on what he just said before that which is:

For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

And if this isn’t enough, what does Paul talk about in chapter 4 – the stuff that comes right after chapter 3?  He talks about unity and serving each other and diversity of talents and ministries and how God wants to use diverse people working together to make all of us stronger.

So, let’s get back to 3:10 – HOW is the church intended to demonstrate God’s wisdom?  Through it’s diversity AND unity at the same time!  Brilliant! God is wise.  But he wants to demonstrate this wisdom (at least in part) through diversity rightly and fully exercised.  The church is to be brilliant (resplendent, shining) in order to display God’s brilliance (amazing wisdom, dazzling intellect).

But this can’t happen if diverse people simply choose to live separately ‘in peace’, claiming to think diversity is important, but never actually sharing life with people who are different from themselves.  If we are to demonstrate God’s wisdom and experience all the benefits he designed we can’t just be diverse, we have to be diverse AND together.

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In the budget debates this week Paul Ryan said “If you tax something more you get less of it.”

Lovely sound byte that is completely misleading when applied in the real world.  This statement is true in world with only 3 objects: stuff, taxes on stuff, and 100% rational consumers.  The problems with this should be obvious:

1) consumers are not 100% rational, and

2) there are way more factors at work in the real world equation

All that is needed is one example: roads (as a placeholder for general ‘infrastructure’).  If we don’t tax anything to keep the costs down and because of not taxing don’t build any transportation infrastructure do we get more stuff?  Absolutely not.  We get less of it WITH less taxes.

The same is true of providing for an orderly society in which commerce can run effectively (read – $ to fund military and law enforcement).  The same is true for providing protections for the stuff itself (read fire departments and drafting and enforcement of laws against theft and vandalism).

In a complex society, zero sum game theory is still possible and a valid way of analyzing some social and governmental challenges.  But only if you include all the variables.  And that is very hard to do in the real world.

Point of fact, taxes do tend to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ that people can purchase, but what we DO with the tax revenues can have a wide range of effects from further reducing production & consumption to offsetting the production/consumption limiting effects of the taxes to actually increasing production & consumption.

Harry Reid says “the Republicans want to shut down the government because they think there is nothing more important than keeping women from getting cancer screenings.”

Now apart from the amazing arrogance of the claim to be able to determine what is most important to an entire group of other human beings (I guess Harry Reid has ESP too), this sound byte is disingenuous for another less philosophical reason. If what liberal politicians really want is for women to be able to get cancer screenings that could be done NOW in a way that conservatives would sign on to in a heart beat – fund an organization that provides that service without also providing abortions. What’s more – there already are such organizations.

If this were really about cancer screenings for women, Harry Reid and conservatives would have been in agreement on this issue all along!

The real truth which he doesn’t want to say because it scores fewer political points against his political enemies is that liberal politicians want federal funding for abortions.  But it takes more guts (and a willingness to take your political lumps for what you really believe) to admit that then to claim something that is false but sensational sounding.

Our society is right to value diversity.  Diversity is powerful.  Diversity can and should have good effects on both individuals and society (though only a willfully blind individual could fail to see that harmful responses to diversity are very possible as well).

So, how is it that diversity can be most beneficial?  More specifically, is the mere fact that our society is diverse sufficient for our society to also be better?  Is the mere fact that there is diversity along with my choice to intellectually value diversity sufficient to apply the benefits of diversity to me as an individual?

I am becoming more convinced that diversity must be rightly exercised in order to have its intended benefit, and when it is rightly exercised it truly does have tremendous benefits.  So, what does diversity ‘rightly exercised’ look like?  I think there is a continuum here:

  1. I hate everyone who isn’t like me
  2. I am convinced of the superiority of people who are are like me
  3. Diversity is just a fact and whether i like it or not is irrelevant – it is.  It’s enough that ‘they’ leave ‘us’ alone and ‘we’ leave ‘them’ alone.  Tolerance is important.
  4. Diversity is good, everyone has value, and it’s good that everyone has a place they belong.  But i am more comfortable (and i’m pretty sure they are too) when we all spend most of our time with the people we are most like.  Diversity works best when we all have a place and we all are tolerant and we all respect each other, but there’s no real need for anyone to stretch themselves to really LIVE with diversity.  We all should be able to be comfortable with who we are.  As long as we all get along with and respect each other that’s good.
  5. Diversity is a powerful tool to break down preconceived ideas, fears, suspicion, arrogance, racism, nationalism, parochialism, and a variety of other ‘isms’, but to have this effect it t must be practiced.  Exercised diversity and the benefits it brings are valuable enough to risk being uncomfortable and threatened and make intentional choices to share time and parts of my life with people who aren’t like me.  People who aren’t from my country, my social background, my ethnicity, my gender, my political party, my religion, my whatever!  I come to understand things better and truly become a better person by choosing to exercise diversity rather than just acknowledging its value intellectually.

I really do believe what is in #5 above, and i think a lot of folks in our society do to.  Unfortunately, what I observe in our society is that most people who value diversity are actually stuck in #4.  Stuck with an intellectual assent to the value of diversity and even a pride that our society is diverse, but without any serious effort to live in and benefit from this diversity themselves.  There are also, of course, people still at levels 1 – 3 in this continuum.  But my challenge is really for myself and those of us who are tempted to be satisfied with pride in diversity as a fact and tolerance of others without choosing the discomfort of regularly spending time with people ‘not like me’.

I am convinced that we really are better off as a diverse society, and that diversity rightly practiced is highly effective at helping us mature as individuals and as a society.  But only if it is rightly practiced.  It must become more than a philosophy, more than a societal value.  It really needs to be a value we LIVE OUT through choices of who we choose to invest our time in and who we seek to invest time in us.

And if this seems a little ‘liberal’ for an orthodox Christian, just wait until i get into what God thinks about a diverse society!   (Part 2 to come)

Bad door! Bad!

Have you noticed how we like patterns? Formulas for living?  Predictability?  There’s something about the way our heads are wired.  I suspect that it’s also partly just that it’s a lot easier to do the same thing (and think the same thing) over and over again than it is to constantly examine everything and re-examine everything.

Now i REALLY like patterns.  For you psycho-babel fans out there (like me) i am a very high NTJ and very high on all three.  This means that either i’m making a lot of money as an engineer/inventor/judge/researcher or i’m in psychotherapy because i can’t handle the fact that i just can’t get the world to behave the way it really ought to.  I am seriously hard-wired to like patterns.  Especially MY patterns.

So why do i find myself at this stage of my life being like the anti-formula fanatic?  Hmm . . . let’s leave that one for another time.

Human religions are almost universally formulaic (the word used by non-religious folks is ‘rigid’).  It isn’t that the originators and foundational texts always intended it to be that way – it’s more to do with what we humans DO with ideas when we get our hands on them.  I’m sorry to say it but far too often we decide something makes sense to us and then we  . . . stop thinking.

My example du jour from my own religion is the concept of ‘God opened the door’ and ‘God closed the door’.  Now, there are actual passages in the Bible that speak of this (Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12) so there must be something to it.  The basic concept is based on the idea that God is active in this world and still directs things and influences people and events according to his plans.  This is what Christian theologians call the sovereignty of God.

So how does a principle become a formula, and is there really any harm in the formula? Well, that’s where our love of being able to predict stuff and figure things out enters the picture.  The idea that God is working and directing ought to lead those who seek to love, serve and honor him to simply follow him.  Simply follow.  Nothing more, nothing less.  This is also found in the Bible – it’s called abiding, keeping in step with the Spirit, obedience, etc. etc.  But if we latch onto the idea that God directs US by ‘opening doors’ and ‘closing doors’ our desire for predictability and explanation can very easily drive us to what has become a very common use of those phrases – trying to determine/predict/explain God’s direction by interpreting the circumstancesIf the circumstances are favorable for particular direction that might be God ‘opening the door’ for that opportunity.  If the circumstances are unfavorable for a particular direction that might be God ‘closing the door’ for that opportunity. And you know what?  It might be!  It is possible that is what is happening!

So, what’s the problem with looking to circumstances as an indicator of whether God is opening or closing doors for a particular direction?  After all doesn’t God influence our circumstances?  The problem is our desires.  Which do we desire more?  Easier circumstances or harder circumstances?  Pleasant circumstances or unpleasant circumstances?  Well if you are human  i can predict your preference with 99% accuracy.  We will immediately be faced with a semi-conscious to fully sub-conscious temptation to interpret easy, pleasant circumstances as “God opened the door” and hard, unpleasant circumstances as “God closed the door”.

How can we know whether a given situation is, in and of itself, a message from God that we should proceed along a course or desist? Being turned down for a job at Company A . . . does this mean that God closed the door and doesn’t want me to have a job at Company A?  Being offered a job at Company A by a hiring manager who just adores me and is going to pay me twice the going rate for the work position . . . does this mean that God opened the door and wants me to have the job?

Or take an example from the Bible.  When Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, did they interpret this as God closing the door on preaching the gospel?  Hardly!  But would we?  Well, if we’re using the opened door/closed door formula I bet we would!

There is only one way to know God’s direction for our lives in any given circumstance: ask him, listen, and do what he says.  Oh, and it would probably be wise to be very familiar with all the stuff he’s already said that got written down for us.