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Archive for the ‘Compassion / Social Justice’ Category

The strictly medical factors are rarely the most crucial to healing. While a patient’s lifestyle and environment are important elements to be considered in any medical evaluation, traditional medicine nevertheless finds its power by breaking problems down into their constituent parts, isolating individual issues and dealing with them as discrete clinical entities. But the complex, interrelated web of troubles that confront the poor make it impossible for me to treat the medical portion of their lives in isolation. I cannot address James Martin’s hypertension without worrying about his economic status (how is he going to fill his prescription?), his educational level (does he understand the need to take medicines—especially given their side effects—that will not, in the short run, seem to do anything for him?), or his family situation (how does the incarceration of his oldest son or the pregnancy of his daughter affect the hypertension?).

Within traditional medicine, the physician is the central player because he holds the keys to wellness. The doctor who chooses poverty medicine, however, not only finds his own power circumscribed by the same forces that dominate the lives of his patients but also quickly discovers that he is not the most important player on the team. At any given time, it may be the nurse, the social worker, the nurses’ aide, the counselor, or the receptionist who offers what is most needed.

— David Hilfiker, “Not All of Us Are Saints”

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This approval addiction must be why Jesus expressly warns us not to seek human praise by our obedience. He warns us not to flaunt our works online in order to be praised by others: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).

Consider one example. Imagine setting aside a few weeks of your summer vacation to travel on dirt roads and bump around in loud jeeps, winding deep into remote jungle villages in Central America. You risk fevers, diseases, and heatstroke, all in order to help build an orphanage for twenty destitute kids. At the end of the month, you step back, take a selfie with your handiwork in the background, and post it with pride on Facebook. Poof!— the reward is gone. Think about it. In one humble-brag selfie, the trade is made— eternal reward from God is sold for the porridge of maybe eighty likes and twelve comments of praise. (Context is not the point; we do this same sort of thing with pictures of an open Bible in a coffee shop.)

The trade is horrible. “You lose something great, and you gain something pitiful,” Piper explains. “What do you gain? You gain the praise of man. You want it? You get it. It’s like a drug. It gives a buzz, and then it is gone. You have got to have another fix. And it leaves you always insecure. You are always needy of other people’s praise in order to be happy or to feel secure. You are never satisfied.” We wake up each day hungrier than ever for validation.

The buzz of social approval has conditioned us to feed on “regular micro-bursts of validation given by every like, favorite, retweet, or link.” This new physiological conditioning means that our lives become more dependent on the moment-by-moment approval of others. The problem is not just that we need to turn away from these micro-bursts of approval, but that we must deprogram ourselves from this online hunger.

If we don’t detox these habits, we will go on seeking intimacy by reproducing ourselves, bingeing on man’s approval, and starting each day with an approval hangover. Then we need the antidote of new affirmation from our friends to keep convincing ourselves that our lives are meaningful. This is tragic. This is wasted reward. The solid praise we expect from God is based on actions now largely unseen; the whimsical praise we seek online is based on what we project. We cannot neglect this contrast.

— Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You 

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Families become dysfunctional when they refuse or fail to make room. If the members of a family don’t make room for one another, but consider each other competitive obstacles to love and security and success, there is no family. Siblings who do not go beyond this minimum never live as genuine brothers and sisters. They never mutually share hopes, dreams, secrets, joys, games, blood, and spit. They are living against the grain of the universe, living contrary to the pattern of mutually inhabiting love evident in the world around them.

Each individual must make room; the family as a whole must make room for nonfamily if it is going to be healthy. A family that refuses contact with outsiders can appear “strong” and “close-knit,” but the dysfunctions of such isolated families are well known. Unless a home becomes home to more than the family, unless it opens itself out through hospitality and enters into the lives of others, it is not a family but a pathological fortress.

In larger groups—in churches, neighborhoods, cities—individuals equally have to make room for one another. Anyone who has been a conscious member of a larger group for more than a few years knows that this is not an altogether pleasant experience, and can be wrenchingly painful. Many lives are slums, as full of anger, violence, and bitter brokenness, as littered with trash and broken bottles, with discarded needles and failed hopes, as the darkest of America’s inner cities. We don’t want to live there, and we sure don’t want them to move in with us. However, closing them out is not an ethical option. We should occupy the lives that open up to us, even if those lives carry a stench of decay and death. We should open our lives to the human wrecks we encounter, lest we be like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’s parable about the good Samaritan.

— Peter Leithart, Traces of the Trinity

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My phone can connect me to many friends, but it can also decouple me from an expectation for real-life engagement. When I go into my social media streams, too often I use Facebook to insulate me from the real needs of my friends. Facebook becomes a safe and sanitized room where I can watch the ups and downs of others as an anonymous spectator, with no compulsive impulse to respond and care in any meaningful way. And as I do, I become more and more blind to the flesh and blood around me.

— Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You 

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[I]n his essay “Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights” Charles Taylor explains the Western dilemma in the face of resistance from Asian and Middle Eastern nations. Taylor writes, “An obstacle in the path to . . . mutual understanding comes from the inability of many Westerners to see their culture as one among many.” Western secularists insist that their view of human rights is simply obvious to any rational person, but non-Western cultures respond that they are “far from self-evident.” This leaves human-rights activists quite vulnerable to charges of imperialism. If human rights and equality exist “just because we say so,” then activists are not able to persuade, only to coerce. They can force cultures to adopt Western, individualistic ideas of rights and equality by using money, political power, or even military force. But, the charge goes, all this is just the latest stage in the West’s inveterate bent to domination and colonialism. Western nations are now doing what they’ve always done, but disingenuously now, under the banner of “human rights.”

— Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical 

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Can our passion for justice be honored in a way that does not nurture our desire for blood vengeance? Volf says the best resource for this is belief in the concept of God’s divine justice. If I don’t believe that there is a God who will eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure that there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain.

— Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism 

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Many have pointed out the problems that result when people turn to benevolence and social activism as a way to find more fulfillment for themselves. This approach is ultimately, and ironically, extremely selfish. Your supposed generosity is really just building yourself up. The most famous of the critics is Nietzsche, who argued that modern people help the needy out of a sense of moral superiority. They feel superior to their former, unenlightened selves, as well as to earlier times and societies which were not committed to equality as they are. In short, they are not serving others as much as serving themselves. They are using the needy and poor to achieve the self-worth they need. This not only can lead to paternalism but can also turn to disdain and contempt if their altruistic efforts are not met with respect and gratitude. Helping others in response to your own discontent will not work in the long run, either for others or for you.

— Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

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