Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 7, 2008). The Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1 – 11, 2 Peter 3: 8 – 15, and Mark 1: 1 – 8.
I have been intrigued by two thoughts this past week, the attitude of today’s students when it comes to cheating and a statement about the minds of fundamentalist that I thought I heard.
First, following the comment by John Meunier to my post on “Academic and Scientific Integrity”, the links that WordPress attached in the comment section (especially “And AWAAAY We Go!!”), and the information in his post, “Lying, cheating, stealing … America’s youth”, students today seem a little cavalier in their attitude towards cheating. For some, it is a fight against the “system” that they think is tilted against them; for others, it is the only way that they see themselves succeeding or achieving the level of success that they feel they need to achieve. That should not be surprising since we are a society in which the final result is all that counts and the easier it is for you to achieve that result, the better you are. It is a mark of our society that we no longer reward hard work or thinking but rather applaud those who find the quick and easy way.
We may not encourage or suggest that cheating is the best way but we don’t mind it when it is done if no one is caught and it harms no one. Whether or not there is actual physical harm to another person is not the point, because if a person uses faulty methods to obtain knowledge, they will be hurting themselves and society in the long run. It makes me wonder how we intend to be competitive in fields such as alternative energy and climate control if we do not insist that our students begin to think and come up with the innovations that will be required for their future and the future of this planet.
The other thing that I heard, or thought I heard this week, was regarding a study that suggested that there was something wrong with the minds of those individuals that call themselves or are identified as “fundamentalists.” I did not catch the name of the study or the authors of the report and I am willing to ignore the report as another report that equates religion with psychological instability.
But, if we, individually, are unwilling to develop thinking skills and we, as a society, no longer encourage the art and process of thinking, then there is something wrong with our minds. Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I thought like a child. But when I grew up, I put away my childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13: 11). The lack of thinking that seems, at least to me, so obvious in this world today, comes about because we stop thinking the moment our formal education comes to a close. Many of us take the attitude that there is no more to learn or think about.
Now, no matter whether we are a child of twelve or an adult of thirty-two when we first come to Christ, we are apt to see things in a child-like way. Among other things, we see the world in black and white, even when it is a world of color. We like things simple and easy, even when they are complex and often difficult. The problem is that as we grow in Christ and Christ in us, our thinking must also grow as well.
One reason why children leave the church after high school is that they have “grown up” and begin to they see in their parents and the people of their church a world in contradiction with the world that they have been taught in Sunday School and church. They have questions about the world around them that are in conflict with the world of Israel some two thousand years ago and they seek the answers to why there are such contradictions. And the church and the elders of the church are often not willing to give them the answers, in part because they themselves may not know the answers, in part because they know that the answers will show the contradiction more clearly.
This is seen in the fight for creationism in science classrooms. The teaching of evolution as a theory for the explanation of life on earth is seen as a conflict to the teaching of creation as outlined in Genesis. If we understand how science operates (see “The Processes of Science”) and we understand the purpose of the first chapters of Genesis, then there should not be a conflict. But if we do not understand how science operates or what the purposes of those first chapters of Genesis were about, then we have not grown in our thinking.
And if we are not growing in our thinking, we are apt to find ourselves in a world where we try to find ourselves in a world where we try to write a rule for every situation conceivable. But it is not possible to create such rules and we are apt to find ourselves creating rules that contradict other rules or we find ourselves in situations where our inability to think prevents us from coming up with viable solutions (see “The Challenge of Education”).
The focus of the Old Testament reading for today as well as the Gospel reading is on preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. How are we going to prepare the way for the Lord when we ourselves are trapped in a world where we cannot think? How shall we prepare the way for the Lord when our lives are in the valleys that we must fill?
On a couple of occasions, I have noted that I have seen the valley filled and the road made straight. In one case, the effort removed a series of switch backs going up the side of Pine Mountain in Kentucky. It made the drive down U. S. Highway 19 into Johnson City, Tennessee, a whole lot easier. But I have also seen the tops of the mountains in that same area of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina blown off so that the coal in the mountains could be easily obtained. The debris from this mountain top removal ends up in the valleys and fills them up, polluting the streams and destroying the natural habitat. The valleys have been filled; the roads have been made straight but the glory of God cannot be seen in the destruction of the land.
We are destroying the world around us, both the real and the spiritual world, because we are not thinking. We pollute our air, our water, and our land because we do not see it as the glory of God. We destroy the environment because we claim that jobs are needed but we are unwilling to pay the little bit extra that would create the same jobs yet protect the environment. We are hardly preparing the way for people to live in the coming years.
We are faced with several crises right now, crises that cannot be solved by military might or government bailouts of large corporations. Yet, because we cannot think, we see no other way. We feel that it is better to give money to the rich and suggest that they help the poor rather than ignoring the rich and helping those who do not have. We have forgotten the words of Christ who warned us against ignoring the poor and needy.
We fear the love of two people of the same sex and claim that it will destroy this country while corporations pillage the national treasury. Somehow, I don’t think we are preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.
But there is a voice crying out in the wilderness, crying to us to prepare the way and to prepare ourselves. The Baptizer called out that the time is now and the opportunity presents itself.
We can prepare the way. We must cast aside our childish ways and begin to grow in heart and mind and spirit. We must begin to seek the Lord by thinking and saying and doing. We can prepare the way and there is still time.