Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Justice Requires Listening

February 9, 2021

I just realized that I’m beginning my 10th year writing this blog. I’ve sorted out a lot of my own thinking over that time, and I hope that I’ve helped a few people along the way. Perhaps I’ve introduced some books over the years that have helped you deepen your own journey.

The Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks writing in his book, Morality, (yes, I’m still working my way through that one) talks of being invited to fly on the Prime Minister’s jet to a funeral in Israel. Aboard were the leaders of the three main British political parties (Tories, Labour, and Liberal for my American readers). They agreed to set aside posturing aboard and just discuss frankly what their hearts said about solving Britain’s issues at the time. The conversation affects Sacks deeply.

Reflecting on the conversation, Sacks discusses the story of Cain and Abel. (As an aside, this is also a hint at the dangers of taking the English translations of the Hebrew–and Greek–and trying to interpret literally to fit the theology du jour):

The text cannot be translated literally because it is syntactically ill-formed. It says that “Cain said,” but it doesn’t say what he said. The text’s fractured syntax forces us in the most dramatic way to focus on the fractured relationship between Cain and his brother–and then spells out the consequence: when words fail, violence begins.

This line of observation led Sacks to this conclusion, with which I heartily concur:

1. For there to be justice, all sides must be heard.

2. Truth on earth cannot aspire to be truth as it is in heaven. All truth on earth represents a perspective, and there are multiple perspectives.

3. The alternative to argument is violence. That is why the argument must continue and never cease.

More and More Useless Information

February 4, 2021

When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination.
I can’t get no, oh no no no, hey, hey, hey
That’s what I say
I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction.
–Rolling Stones

It was 1965. I was 17 sitting in a pub across the street from the University of Cincinnati campus. Upstairs was a big room with wooden picnic tables for the patrons. Bunch of nerdy guys. We sang out to “I can’t get no” and “Hey, you, get off of my cloud…two’s a crowd.”

We grew up. But some of us Boomers tried to overthrow the government. We’re still living the Stones of our youth. And we’ve become more and more gullible about the man on the radio (TV, Internet now) telling us more and more about some useless information.

Pick your poison, as they used to say in the movies. You can find your favorite flavor of poison without looking very hard.

It is so important to discern what to fill your mind with. It can feed my base emotions and desires for individual satisfaction. It can feed my mind with the kind of satisfaction that only comes from living in the spirit.

Writers for millennia have described the problem and the consequences. Take the story of Rehoboam in the Hebrew Bible, grandson of the famous King David. This happened almost 3,000 years ago. He was just about to be anointed King. He had two groups of advisors. He rejected the wise and listened to his young friends who filled his mind with more and more of some useless information.

On the day of what should have been his greatest satisfaction, he lost most of the Kingdom. What took his grandfather and father years to build, he destroyed in a day. He was seeking satisfaction.

Keep Justice, Practice Righteousness

January 25, 2021

How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!

Psalm 106:3

Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word translated as blessed can also have the meaning of happy. Similar to the Greek New Testament where Jesus talked about the types of people who are “blessed” or “happy.”

Aristotle talked about happiness as related to virtue–living courageously, temperately, nobly, wisely.

We are tempted almost constantly through advertising and social media to believe that happiness comes from getting drunk and having almost non-stop sex. That freedom comes from doing what we please when we want to want to do it with whom we want.

Happiness and freedom are virtues and responsibilities, not the result of licentiousness. My eighteen-year-old self hates to hear me say that. Many “adults” even into their fifties and sixties still refuse to believe that.

Justice means something broader than selfishly seeking justice for only ourselves. In the Hebrew Bible, it sometimes talks about justice for the entire tribe. And sometimes it includes justice for neighbors more generally. Justice for the poor, the stranger, the neighbor.

As Rabbi Hillel (first century before Jesus) is reputed to have said about the meaning of the scriptures, “Love your neighbor, the rest is just commentary.”

How happy we are, indeed, when we seek justice and practice righteousness.

Giving to Others

January 21, 2021

True words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth
does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information
may not know the truth.

One of whole virtue
is not occupied with amassing material goods
Yet, the more he lives for others,
the richer his life becomes.
The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle truth of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.

There may be no better time in America to read Wisdom literature. One of my disciplines for more than 20 years has been to immerse my mind in it every January. What a way to kick off a year.

But as I sit and contemplate the world, not one place on the globe can I see where such thoughts would not be worthwhile.

Those words were written perhaps 2,500 years ago and ascribed to “the ancients.” How long we humans have known what is the true path–and how little we have followed it.

As Jesus told the religious leader who correctly identified the “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, “Go and do likewise.”

For You Are All One

November 20, 2020

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Apostle Paul, Letter to the Galatians, 3:28

A recent news item reported on the “first all-black officiating crew to work a game in the National Football League.” My first thought was, “Why did this have to be significant news?”

Similarly, there is a female official working NFL games. Although football isn’t necessarily a female sport, why would this particularly matter?

If the ideals of the 60s had really come to pass, we wouldn’t have to notice such things 55 years later. People would just be people. Various people have passions, skills, talents for various things. Good. We reward passion, skill, dedication, training, education, and the like.

Despite these words from the Apostle Paul in the first century and despite that two millennia of Christians have poured over Paul’s words looking for a list of rules to separate themselves from the non-believers, so many in the Christian church have missed this little sentence. No, women are not to be shoved aside into “women’s roles”. No, 10:00 am Sundays should not be the most segregated hour in America (probably still today).

When we don’t need news items like the NFL one, then we will be arriving at the original destination. Meanwhile, let’s all go back and study Galatians.

Special tip:

I have written at times about the value of handwriting your notes. It’s even great to send handwritten notes to people–a personal touch emails can’t reach. Someone sent me this link to an infographic of 20 Ways Handwriting Is Good For You and Your Studying. You have to scroll down a bit on the page.

Signs

November 18, 2020

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Five Man Electrical Band

The way I see it, Baby Boomers as a description is much to general. As I recall and when I listen to late 60s rock, there were at least three strands specifically Boomer and a fourth strand of the type of traditional people all three groups didn’t like. There were (and are) peace and justice people; rebellious people; and, whiners.

Most of us are probably sick of the whiners. “I didn’t get my way, Wah, Wah, Wah.”

There are a few of us who were (and are) peace and justice people. We just generally don’t make as much noise as we did in 1965. You get old, I guess.

Then there are the rebels.

What brings this to mind was a trip through some of the ubiquitous strip shopping centers along Randall Road in the western Chicago suburbs (my new home). Many stores had signs. In fact, all stores had signs about wearing masks to enter. No brainer. But many had a sign, “If you have one of these symptoms of Covid-19, do not enter.”

I thought, this is worse than needing a sign in the restroom reminding employees to wash their hands. I mean, what moron goes out into public with symptoms of being sick with Covid, the flu, even colds? Both Covid and the flu kill people. Heck, a cold can lead to pneumonia, and that kills people, too.

Much of Jesus’ teaching dealt with people in community. How we should care about others. How we should help–open a door, or carry a load, or pay for the next person at a fast food restaurant, or don’t spread your disease to your neighbors.

This is so common sense to me, I am still flabbergasted that you need that sign. Forget the Five Man Electrical Band. This isn’t one of those signs. It’s a sign that literally means life.

Save a life today. Wear a mask. The life you save may be yours.

Enjoying the Fall Of A Big Man

August 27, 2018

What do you feel when you read about a “big man”, an important leader, a rich guy falling?

Be honest looking at yourself.

What story headlines do you click on when browsing the Web? What things to you repost and pass along while on Facebook?

Don’t we all feel a little touch of satisfaction or pleasure at the misfortunes of others–especially those who are larger than life?

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday keeps you spell bound as he weaves the story of Nick Denton, the founder of a suite of gossip websites under the name of Gawker media and millionaire, Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, billionaire, famous now as a Trump supporter, Hulk Hogan, the now disgraced wrestling star.

Gawker made its money paying young writers next to nothing for churning out whatever dirt they could get on anybody. They hid behind the First Amendment, perverting its intent and shirking responsible discourse.

And its headlines were specifically designed to entice people to click. And click they did. To the tune of hundreds of thousands per article.

But they got caught not just skating around the law but actually violating it. They published secretly recorded video of Hulk Hogan in a setup. That’s illegal. They were sued. They are now no more.

The question for us and our own personal ethics lies in the privacy of us and our computing device. What do we click? Do we support the nastiest of discourses? By clicking or by reposting we are actually supporting someone. They may be the Russian government trying to sow the seeds of discord in an enemy. They may be cynical businesses plying the spectacular for eyeballs consuming advertising.

It all comes back to my dictum. What you fill your mind with is what you become.

I recommend the book. I also recommend watching what we feed our minds.

Talking Is Not Doing

June 27, 2018

The Washington Post recently ran an article profile on gossip writer Elaine Lui. In it, she is quoted–“Talking is action. Conversation is action,” Lui says. “The result of a conversation is that you’ve conversed; you’ve heard each other. That’s an action.” I picked this up from an email on the Daily Stoic.

Ryan Holiday, who writes the Daily Stoic, was aghast. Talking is not doing. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, a leading Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor–Marcus Aurelius struggled with this even two thousand years ago, and reminded himself that it was meaningless to have philosophical debates about being a good person—all that mattered was what you did. “No more talking about what a good man is like,” he said, “Be one.

I am reminded that Jesus left us with action verbs in his commands–Go into the world, Make disciples, Love God, Love your neighbor.

One of the largest bursts of growth of Christianity occurred in Rome early in the Christian era. There was a plague that ravaged Rome. All the men fled to the hills. They left women, children, elderly, servants behind to fend for themselves and probably die.

Christians came up out of hiding and nursed the sick and dying at great risk to themselves. People were so impressed by the way that Christ-followers lived that they also wanted that life. The church grew out of an active response to calamity.

One of today’s greatest cultural problems is that way too many people spend their time debating–or spouting off–ideas and opinions. We are doing way too little doing.

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No more talking about what a Jesus-follower should believe. Be one.

Ethics Always Transcend Legalism

June 20, 2018

The disciples were walking with Jesus on a Sabbath along a wheat field. They picked some grain, rubbed it between their hands, ate a snack. The Pharisees were aghast. They broke the Law. Jesus basically shrugged his shoulders.

Jesus consistently pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who slavishly followed their laws without a heart that loved God and others.

The Apostles Peter and John were thrown in jail for breaking the law by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul was repeatedly physically abused–thrown out of cities, jailed, stoned, flogged–all because he broke Roman law by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus (oh, and breaking some of the Jewish traditional laws).

(I’ve been studying the Acts of the Apostles. Useful reading.)

Throughout history, Christ followers have broken laws perpetrated by new Pharisees.

The Abolitionists broke laws of slavery (theologically justified by “Christians” such as John Calhoun a signer of the Declaration) in order for ethics to triumph over unjust laws.

The Civil Rights movement led by Christ followers of the early-mid 60s and beyond broke laws in the name of a greater ethic taught by Jesus and furthered by Paul.

Jesus said, I leave you with this commandment that you love one another. He had already explained the two great commandments that his disciples should follow above all–love God with your entire being and your neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor? Jesus used the example of a Samaritan–an outcast to his audience.

While meditating this morning, the spirit spoke so clearly–write Ethics trumps Law. It wouldn’t let me get out of bed until I agreed to walk over to my computer and do it.

Change Your Focus To Stay In Focus

June 4, 2018

When you are slicing through a big loaf of bread, you need first to focus on the relationship of the blade across the loaf to make sure you are straight. Then you shift focus down the side to be cut so that the slice is straight and parallel to the end. (Okay, I have my OCD moments, but stay with the analogy.)

I just finished my second weekend of the season as referee director for a youth soccer tournament. After recruiting and assigning the best referees I have to the appropriate games and making sure that we have certified referees on every game, then I spend my time observing and troubleshooting.

Someone approaches me distraught or angry. I focus on them and their problem/complaint. Then I go to the referee later. I focus on her/him and listen to that side of the story. You have to focus on both sides of a story in order to come to a conclusion about what really happened. Then you deal with corrections or just calming down as the case requires.

Sometimes you are reading difficult material. Maybe from the Bible or from someone’s argument about the meaning of something. You are presented a word or phrase that doesn’t make sense immediately. You should:

A) skip the phrase (and risk missing the meaning of the passage)

B) come to a quick conclusion about the phrase (maybe making up your own interpretation)

C) mark the phrase as difficult and resolve to return to it when you’ve read more

D) change your focus and research that word or phrase (Dr. Google can help, as can a dictionary)

Jesus left us with only a couple of commands. (Not suggestions, directives.) Shortened version–Love God, Love you neighbor. The love your neighbor part is repeated often, say at the end of John.

When we get into disagreements or feel our prejudices rising (requiring self-awareness), we need to change our focus from ourselves to what Jesus said. Maybe the problem concerns people of different races, or different gender, or different lifestyle, or gender identification. When we realize we’re dividing people into groups and developing a theology that says one group is inferior, we need to change our focus and go back to the basics. Love God, love our neighbor.

Our question for ourselves when we are deciding upon such matters is “to what degree is what I am doing reflective of what Jesus commanded me to do?”