Rise and Walk November 16, 2013Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Economics, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: faith, God's provision, healthcare, Jesus, John, miracles, money, Peter, poverty, Thomas Aquinas, wealth
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Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10 ESV)
We in the United States are the wealthiest country in the world. I guess. I’ve heard that all my life, and I admit I sometimes wonder what that means exactly. Our currency sets the global standard. Our GDP is the highest in the world (now rivaled by the EU). We have greater gold reserves than everyone else, and serious oil reserves. English is still somewhat a universal language of trade. Etc.
But so what?
I’m not against money in any way. I do understand that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. (See 1 Timothy 6:10) Money isn’t. Loving it is. I also understand that many things that tout their own greatness are not worth what they cost. Many of the things we can buy in life are like that toy you get so worked up over having, and are so excited about when you find it under the Christmas tree, but when you finally get it open and play with it for a months or weeks or even hours, it leaves you cold.
Things do that. Period. They cannot satisfy. Those who see and feel that reality might feel like it’s a curse, but that’s actually a blessing. If you feel like your stuff is doing it for you, that’s when you’re really in trouble.
So, back to the story… Peter and John were personal friends of Jesus. Followers. Disciples. Apostles. Jesus had gone into heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to anoint and activate them, and now they walked about in the power and Name of the Living God, Jesus Christ, whom they saw crucified, dead, buried, and then risen again in power. These were changed men.
They had nothing. No jobs. No status. No real earthly treasure. I’m sure they owned little more than they carried around on their backs that day. They were probably even dirty. Certainly somewhat unkempt.
Walking into town that day, they met a man who was born lame. In our day, someone who can’t walk can still have a very fulfilling life, hold down a good job, own a home, and roll his wheelchair up ramps mandated by the government to make everything from grocery stores to office buildings accessible to him. Having legs that don’t work or no legs at all doesn’t necessarily translate into going hungry in our day. In Jesus’ day, it did.
So, Peter and John meet this man. He has nothing, and asks them for financial help. No doubt he would have bought a bit of bread or some other basic sustenance if they’d offered him a few coins. But the truth is, Peter and John likely had little more than he did, from a monetary point of view.
And this is where the story gets good.
Peter and John get the man’s attention. I’m sure he thought he was going to get some cash out of the deal, so he becomes very focused. Can you feel his dependence? His hanging on their every word?
But they surprise him: “I have no silver and gold…”
Can you feel his disappointment and deflation? His utter helplessness?
Then the real surprise: “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Now, can you imagine his amazement and utter joy?
None of these men had money, but Peter and John had something far greater: power. Jesus had promised it just a few chapters earlier (See Acts 1:8), and kept His word.
And he did!
Do you think the man cared in that moment that they had no money? That he had no money? I doubt it. Something far more valuable was being freely given by the God who provides for our needs, if we’ll let Him.
Did the lame guy earn this gift from God? Not at all. In our day, we study and work and research and toil and educate and purchase insurance and build hospitals and pay deductibles. And we make the lame walk … sometimes. At least, the lame who can afford it. And there is a very real sense in which that too is a miracle. God uses doctors every day to heal the sick. But I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a bit of self-worship and idolatry in it. Like money, the power to heal isn’t bad at all, until it becomes the means by which we trust ourselves more than we trust God.
Now, tougher question… Did the crippled man only experience the miracle and the amazement because he first experienced the helplessness and dependence?
And that’s where I want to dwell for a second…
It is said that, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas once visited Pope Innocent II while he was counting a large sum of money. The Pope proudly remarked to Aquinas, “You see, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘silver and gold have I none.’” And Aquinas replied, “True, holy father, but neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
In our age of wealth and science and (perceived) knowledge and power and self-reliance, are we in God’s way? Are we deaf to His voice?
If Peter and John had been sporting expensive suits and fat wallets, on their way to the office that morning, then it would have been a great … good … helpful … what’s the right word? … nice … gesture to drop a couple alms in the lame man’s cup, right? Or maybe a coupon book for a local fast food place? Or a hot cup of coffee? That’s all great. And helpful. But in that version of the story, it’s also highly unlikely that they would (or is it more to the point: could they?) have offered the man a miracle. Can someone with a high-paying job and enough cash in their pocket to afford a great healthcare plan have the faith to allow God to miraculously heal them or use them to heal their neighbor? Can God work miracles in us when we’re that self-sufficient? I’m not sure.
What if we didn’t have the fat wallet, or the high-paying job, or the expensive suit? What if that all went away? What if the healthcare system goes to the dogs under a new government-run approach, or interest rates spike, or China has us for economic lunch, or the dollar collapses, or the next terrorist attack is worse than the last one, or whatever? What if all the stuff we thought was making us secure was suddenly gone?
Maybe then, God would do more miracles because I’d have more faith, borne out in desperate and dependent face-down prayer?
Maybe we’d read Luke 17:6 or Matthew 6:28-33, and actually believe them … taking Jesus at His word when He says our faith has real life-changing power and that if God takes care of sparrows and lilies, He will take care of us.
Maybe the church would act more like the church… sharing what we have, being a real part of each others’ lives, taking the time to care for one another, caring for the poor and needy, and loving our neighbors. You know, acting like Jesus.
And maybe more people would rise and walk.
If I do not wash you, you have no share with me November 15, 2013Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: God's love, humility, Jesus, love, Peter, sanctification, servant leadership, The Last Supper
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In the Bible, chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John are entitled by scholars as “the upper room discourse”. The scene is Jesus’ last supper with the 12 disciples – His closest friends. This meal takes place the day before Jesus is nailed to the cross for the sins of the world … mere hours before He would be betrayed by Judas (one of His inner circle) and arrested.
The first half of John 13 (verses 1-20) is devoted to the story of Jesus’ washing the disciplines’ feet before supper. In the culture of the day, it was customary to do so. Back then, there were no Converse Allstars. No Timberlands. No Nikes. And no sidewalks or paved roads. No cars. Instead, the disciples no doubt walked around in open-toed sandals (if they had shoes at all) on dirt paths and roads, amid horses and oxen and donkeys and … all the stuff left behind by horses and oxen and donkeys. So, I suspect their feet were … um … disgusting. In that day, it was the horses that “just did it” … all over the “sidewalk”.
To exacerbate the need for washing, tables and table setting were not the same either. In modern western culture, we are accustomed to high tables and chairs, which orient us upright at the table with our feet under it. If you come to supper tonight barefoot with dirty feet, your family might not even notice. However, in Jesus’ day, in their culture, the table was lower to the ground. You would essentially lie on the floor or on cushions, propped up by more cushions, and lean over the low table to eat. So, now my disgusting feet are way too close to the head of someone else “reclining” at the table. In that environment, there’s no way you’d want your Aunt Sally’s feet left unwashed for the meal.
So in one sense, Jesus’ act of service to wash the disciples’ feet is very practical. He’s preparing them for their meal together, and giving a radical demonstration of servant leadership in the process. John quotes Jesus as explaining this after he’s washed their feet… “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:13-17 ESV)
But as radical and exemplary and instructive as that was, it’s not my focus. Neither do I think it was Jesus’ only focus. Rather, back up a few verses, and observe Jesus while making His way around the table to wash His friends’ feet. Ostensibly, it was easy going until He got to Peter, who stopped him and objected to what he was doing. First of all, it’s always Peter, but we’ll come back to that. Secondly, it’s amazing no one else objected. I can imagine that the whole group was absolutely stunned that He was doing what He was doing. Maybe they were silent because they felt guilty that nobody had done it first. That would have been me (feeling guilty). Maybe they felt like one of them had failed in some aspect of preparation. Maybe someone was supposed to have a servant there. Maybe the servant was late. Maybe it was Matthew’s turn that night, and he dropped the ball. Who knows!? But I’m quite sure that what Jesus did was unexpected. So much so, that Peter reacts and creates a second teachable moment inside Jesus’ lesson about serving one another…
Peter gets a bad rap. I love Peter. He could never be accused of being lukewarm. (See Revelation 3:15-16) And I bet God loves that about him too. He’s broken and fallible, hot-headed and impetuous, overly eager, dramatically overestimates his abilities at times, and more … but … he’s definitely hot. I hear a lot of people in my world throw around phrases like “sold out” or “on fire for God”. Whenever they do, I think of Peter. If 10% of the people that boast that level of devotion to Jesus in our day were 10% as “on fire” as Peter was, our whole world would be different.
Getting back to the scene… Jesus is trying to wash His friends’ feet. He gets through a few of them, but Peter stops Him and objects. Jesus then used some pretty harsh and specific language in response to Peter’s objection: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8b) This is what I wanted to talk about. I contend that three things were going on…
I know best!
First, Peter had to humble himself and obey the Lord, even though it didn’t make sense to him. Peter thought he knew best, and Jesus was making clear to Peter (and to us) that in fact, Peter had no idea what he was talking about. What a great example / lesson for us: Whether it makes sense to us or not, whether we understand why or not, whether the path is clear to us or not, whether it will cost us something or not… In all things, obey the Lord. If God says “jump”, we say “how high?”. Like we concluded above, it doesn’t work to tell God “no”. Period.
If you refuse God in that way, or interrupt what Jesus is doing to explain your superior wisdom to the God of the Universe, then in that moment you’re the God in your own heart, not Him. And in that position, you have no share with Him. You cannot serve two masters. (See Matthew 6:24) It’s His kingship or yours, but it can’t be both.
Me before you!
Secondly, in that moment, Peter was preaching a different gospel than Jesus was. Peter says, “You’ve come for us to serve you!” Jesus was saying, “I’ve come to serve you!” God is truly high and lifted up. Above all things. Majestic in beauty. All powerful. And we are absolutely created to serve Him! But that infinite and almighty God stepped into time to die a criminal’s death on the cross for us. He came to serve us. In the same way satan had a point in saying that Jesus could command all the nations to bow down to worship him (See Matthew 4:1-11), Peter was saying that Jesus should be served, not serve. There’s a truth in those things, but that doesn’t make them right. Peter didn’t realize it, but in that moment, he was singing satan’s song… “Don’t worry about the cross or some lesson about us serving each other. You’re above that. Be worshiped! That’s what you were meant to do and be, right?” Satan wanted Jesus to put Himself first, and so did Peter. Me before you!
But Jesus’ unrelenting will was to fulfill the plan … the purpose for which He came to earth, and the vision He and the Father had together from the beginning. If Jesus had again said, “Get behind me, satan!” (Matthew 4:10a), it wouldn’t have been uncalled for. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (See Philippians 2:3-8)
Love is selective!
And lastly, Jesus was and is determined to sanctify those who follow Him. God desires that we would become more like His Son. The plan in Peter’s heart when he interrupted and tried to redirect Jesus was all about how Jesus was above washing Peter’s feet. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch, therefore, to assume that Peter too was above washing others’ feet. Maybe not everyone. He’d have jumped at the chance to wash Jesus’ feet, and probably been quick to wash the other disciples’ feet as well (although you’ll notice that neither he nor anyone else around the table beat Jesus to the punch on that). But what about beggars and lepers, tax collectors and sinners, adulterers and prostitutes, drug dealers and cruel overseers? What about gentiles or Samaritans? What about all the people in your life that you don’t particularly like or value or think much about? Who’s washing their feet?
Well, simply put, Jesus would. Would Peter? Would you?
And here’s the harsh truth: If we won’t wash their feet, then Jesus would say that we have no share with Him. You want to be like Jesus, Peter? Well, then you shouldn’t be thinking about thrones in heaven or streets of gold or Palm Sunday. Being like Jesus means thinking Good Friday … about being despised and rejected by men, being nailed to a cross, and washing the feet of those who would kill Him but whom He loves anyway. That night, Jesus washed Judas’ feet too.
So, do we “have a share with Him”?
If we do, then…
- God knows best. We say yes to God. No questions. With or without understanding. Even when it’s hard.
- You before me. We understand God’s true, servant nature. We do not stand between Him and the cross. And we love others the way Jesus loved us.
- Love one another. Even when they’re different or we don’t like them or it costs us a lot to do so, we serve them. They’re not beneath you, whoever “they” are.
Jesus’ lessons are hard. May God grant me (and you) the grace to even be the moon and reflect the brilliance of the light of His example! Glory to the Most High King! Amen.
Is there life on other worlds? November 10, 2013Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Science, Technology.
Tags: Alien life, Faster-than-light travel, NASA, Physics, Space, Star Trek
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I remember in 1994 when Mexican astrophysicist Miguel Alcubierre was the first (that I’m aware of) to postulate that the “warp drive” we all know and love from Star Trek was in fact more potential science than fiction. He even used terms like “warp bubble” and others, borrowed from the show, to describe how he envisioned “bending” space-time to create a wave we could right to exceed Einstein’s cosmic speed limit for all travel and communication (the speed of light — you know, “c” in his famous E=mc^2 equation).
Well, after a couple decades of not hearing much about faster-than-light travel outside of Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica, earlier this year, Nasa scientist Harold White has postulated a potential design for an engine based on Alcubierre’s original theories. Scotty and Zefram Cochrane would be proud!
In the light of this revolutionary announcement (read more), I asked a group of friends at lunch today, and I’ll ask you… So what?
Let’s say that NASA starts in earnest to built an FTL drive, meets with every conceivable success, rides the prototype into the stars in a couple years (without unzipping the space-time continuum like a cheap jacket), perfects the process over a ten year stretch, and – before another 20 years go by – has revolutionized our concept of space travel. Let’s say, by 2034, we’re leaving warp signatures all over the Sol system and beyond that even the most dim-witted Vulcan traveler could stumble across, even with sensors set to stun. Again, so what? What exactly would we do with the ability to travel to distant stars in … reasonable amounts of time?
Well, first, I’m sure we’d explore. We could send out probes to take pictures of far away places and send them back to earth. I’m also sure we’d search for resources, such as natural resources we could use for fuel or construction – probably of more ships. And ultimately colonize, because we will someday have too many people and too few resources on one planet. I think these are all admirable and useful goals. But the first place everyone’s mind went at lunch today was to the search for life on other worlds. So, in keeping with my tendency to overtly stir the conversational pot, I asked if they all thought we would someday find ET in a neighboring star system.
There were several answers given immediately. First, “I don’t care”. Ha! I guess I’m just a tad nerdier than the average guys chowing on Gyros in the NW suburbs. Second answer, “Of course. It’s statistically inevitable.” Interesting, and reasonable. There are certainly an unimaginable number of galaxies and stars and planets. We’ll get back to that. Then a question I greatly appreciated, “What kind of life?” Excellent question! But the answer I most appreciated was, “Well, that’s both a scientific and a spiritual question…”
My first premise: God is actually real. He made us, not the other way around.
My second: So is the Bible. It’s not just a book, but rather the infallible, inerrant Word of God.
So, I realize that I’ve lost a few (a lot?) of you at this point. That’s fine. But if anything else I say here is going to make any sense, you have to be all the way in on these first two ideas. And by the way, that’s always true. You can’t really have a discussion about anything meaningful without a philosophical starting point, right? Much of what people readily call “science” today cannot be put in a test tube and tested, so it’s really more philosophy than science. So is it with this question. But I digress…
If God is real, and Jesus really lived, and all these prophets wrote about Him, and all those prophecies came true, and there’s a Moses, and an Abraham and an Israel and so on… If that’s all real, then I can’t imagine there is intelligent life on other planets.
And we shouldn’t confuse finding another world that could support life and actually finding sentient life. An “M-class” planet (sorry for all the Star Trek references) or two or many is statistically pretty likely, but I contend on spiritual grounds that finding sentient life is not.
The thing is that you and I aren’t space bunnies … or regular earth bunnies either. We’re not just animals. God “breathed into us the breath of life” (See Genesis 2:7). This means we’re special. We’re spiritual. We’re eternal. We have souls — a little like God Himself.
If somewhere out in the distant cosmos there was even one planet just like Earth, where people something similar to us wandered around asking questions like “Is there life on other worlds?” AND all that spiritual stuff (which isn’t “stuff”, it’s the core of reality if you have the eyes to see it) is true, then only three possibilities remain…
- The story of the Bible took place here, but not there.
- The story of the Bible (or something similar) took place BOTH here and there.
- We started one place, where the Biblical account took place, and transported life across the universe to/from the other place (either way), but forgot about it and there’s no evidence of it (literature, history, archeology, technology, etc).
The last of these seems pretty unlikely to me. How do you “forget” something like that? Where did all the tech go? Why is there not really anything like that in ancient legend (all due respect to Prometheus and company)? Seems like there’d be some kind of evidence. We’ve done a ton of archeological exploration and proven quite a few of the Biblical accounts, many of them dating back thousands of years. Why not the “aliens planted us here” account? Even Daniel Jackson had some inkling that the pyramids weren’t built by the pharaohs, right? (Just for giggles)
And the other two of these possibilities – where I think people would linger longer and debate harder – massively erode the Biblical story. Where there two Abrahams? Two Jesus’s? Two nations of God’s chosen people? Two Gardens of Eden? Or, and this would be even harder for me to swallow, did we just “luck out”, and this other world kinda got screwed?
And when I read the Bible, I get no sense whatsoever of “another earth” — anything to indicate anything about any of these theories.
And the main reason I feel these 2 theories don’t work… Neither are consistent with God’s character.
So, in my world, if you fundamentally believe that man created God, then nothing I’m saying here makes sense. Even if you believe God created man, but don’t buy into Jesus, then you could probably go along just fine with the X-Files worldview. But if you’re a Bible-believing, card-carrying Jesus follower like me, then I don’t believe the door is open to you to expect us to find intelligent life outside of the human race.
And (I could write a whole entry on this alone)… How cool is it that God created the whole vastness of the universe just for us!? Not just for us “humans only”, but for us “humans and God”. In the universe, as in our bodies, as in so many things, God is showing off. His amazing creativity and limitless power are so evident to me in the reality that there are hydrogen atoms swirling around rocks in galaxies so far away that it would take a billion years for the light from them to see us, and God’s holding those atoms in the palm of His hand as much as the molecules that make up my mind and heart. (See Colossians 1:15-20). Something about that just fires me up!
I hope it does the same for you!
Ammendment… Check out a couple of cool videos I looked up…
Faith is Borne of Relationship November 6, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: faith, heaven, relationship with God, The Bible, Trusting God, wisdom
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In the book of Hebrews, the Bible defines “faith” as follows (I’ve done a little reordering of the text, but otherwise this is Heb 11:1-16 ESV)…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
It then goes on to describe a “Faith Hall of Fame” of sorts, commending those who pleased God with their faith…
This is what the ancients were commended for…
- By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
- By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death… Before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
- By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
- By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- By faith Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
How amazing! The people cited here for their faith are commended by God for knowing that this world is not their home. They did not cling to this world – were not ashamed to be “other-worldly” – and as a result, God was “not ashamed to be called their God” and He “prepared a city for them”. Awesome! I want God to prepare a city for me. I want to cling to Him, not the fleeting things of this world. How hard is that!? But it is possible. The folks listed here who lived in ancient Biblical times weren’t the last ones to honor God this way.
But here’s the key… My observation in studying this text is that the faith described in this chapter of Scripture doesn’t come from rules or religion, formulas or church programs. It comes from relationship with God. Anyone who knows God is awed by Him, and their life is changed. Period. If I’m not amazed by the God of the Universe and I’m not becoming more like Him over time, then the reality is that I don’t know Him. Doesn’t matter what I say or how I spin it or what story I tell about a prayer I prayed. God sees through all that to the reality of the heart, and God cannot be mocked.
But another crazy thing happens when I know God… I should begin to look foreign to the world around me. If my city is the one the Lord is preparing for me, then I will think and act accordingly. I’ll do things that don’t make sense to this world – like value time over money, not cheat to win, not receive my identity from my work, serve others rather than use them, tithe generously, not be afraid of things that scare others, etc. But the line between making rash, foolish decisions and faith-filled, other-worldly decisions rises and falls on relationship.
So let’s look at some of the folks listed in Hebrews 1…
- The difference between Cain’s and Abel’s offerings was that Abel’s heart was like God’s – a condition that comes only from spending time together. In the same way that you and your spouse will not be of one heart and mind without time invested in the relationship, neither can you have with God outside relational intimacy what you can from within it. Cain simply didn’t know God like Abel did.
- Noah wasn’t crazy for building an ark. He was obedient. A man of faith. Other-worldly enough not to care that others thought he was crazy. Or if he did care, he moved forward anyway. Why? Because he knew God, and knew he could be trusted. He had the faith of intimacy, which sustains us long after the faith of religion and regulation utterly fails.
- Abraham and Sarah trusted God (rocky path to get there, but they did) because they knew Him. They relied on that relationship to sustain them over a very long time of waiting for God’s promises to come to fruition. They were barren and old, and yet expected a child. But they weren’t crazy; they had faith.
Acting on my own against the flow of earthly wisdom is crazy and dangerous.
Acting out of my relationship with a God who counsels against the wisdom of this world is a faith that leads to a new home in heaven and the joy of really knowing that your Father’s promises can be trusted in this life and in the life to come – that you can put your full weight on them, and they will hold you up.
Joy cannot be found anywhere but in faith. Faith is knowing God is who He says He is, and letting that change who you are. For my part, I want to be like those listed above – a life of “crazy” that comes from knowing God and taking Him at His word, that this world is not my home.
Understanding the Philosophies at work in American Politics November 5, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in News, Politics and Culture, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: 2012 election, Barack Obama, conservatism, Democrats, Economics, Foreign Policy, liberalism, Mitt Romney, politics, Republicans, The Bible, The Constitution
On the eve of the 2012 elections, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve heard recently about election:
“I f—ing hate Mitt Romney. Everything he says is a lie.”
“Barack Obama’s a communist. He’s intentionally trying to destroy America.”
“There’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. They’re all just scumbag politicians.”
Wow. Really? I gotta say I don’t love what politics in America has become: far less about the issues and far more about hating the other guy. I disagree with you, so you must be satan, right? I’ve had a few of those conversations myself – some even immortalized on this blog. So much fun, and the main reason I tabled most of the politics over the last few years, especially in public.
Me and the dog in a locked closet talking fiscal policy: good.
Me and coworkers sitting around talking about anything other than topics we can all get behind together, such as despising the Bubble Guppies: uh … bad.
But as a play for and investment in the belief that there’s still reason out there, and in response to some specific questions I’ve also been asked lately, I thought I’d actually throw out a few ideas about the contrasts between philosophies at work in this and other elections. I’m the first to grant that candidates don’t necessarily line up to these philosophies, but life isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. So, no matter what you believe, I hope you invest in knowing more, exercise your right to vote, and demonstrate civility toward people with whom you disagree.
It should go without saying that every philosophy has pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. Extremes are dangerous wherever you find them, even if (and one might argue especially if) they are rooted in fundamentally good ideas.
So, that said, what’s the difference between conservative and liberal thought? I personally (as with everything in this blog, these are just my opinions) break it down into three basic categories…
1) Economic Principles
Liberals fundamentally believe that there is a finite pot of resources in the world, and everyone is jockeying for position in the distribution of those resources. Therefore, they invest heavily in creating fair and equitable mechanisms, processes and entities to govern the distribution of the resources. The natural result of this thinking is more government and more regulation leading to more fairness. Liberals subscribe to the theory of bottom-up economics, believing that consumers drive the economy. The liberal’s focus is typically on equity of outcome.
Conservatives fundamentally believe that wealth is created by innovation, so by definition, the only limit to how much resource exists is your creativity and ingenuity in coming up with and executing clever ways to make more of it. Therefore, conservatives invest heavily in creating the highest-powered mechanisms, processes and entities possible to create wealth as quickly and efficiently as possible. The natural result of this thinking is less government / less regulation / more freedom for business to maneuver to innovate. Liberals subscribe to the theory of top-down economics, believing that producers drive the economy. The conservative’s focus is typically on equity of opportunity.
2) Foreign Policy
Liberals fundamentally believe that almost all countries and peoples and philosophies are basically the same. They emphasize equality and fairness – a level playing field. A frequent outcome of this thinking is that the United States has played an overblown and overly-dominant role in world affairs and world history. Missteps in doing so have angered other relatively-equal nations, and provoked them to respond very negatively to what is in the liberal’s mind has been an aggressive and arrogance approach to relations with the rest of the world. The typical liberal therefore feels that America’s influence in the world should be reduced and makes decisions accordingly. Their focus is typically on an equal, diverse community of nations.
Conservatives fundamentally believe that America is very different than the rest of the world – standing out both in relationship to other countries today and in history. They welcome America’s role as a super-power, and although they do not agree with every decision we’ve made, believe that our philosophy of government is superior to many others, and that America should embrace and even expand its leadership role in the world. Conservatives typically feel that if other countries such as China or Germany or Russia or India were in the position the US is in (the largest and most powerful economy and military in history), that the world would be a fundamentally different, even worse, place to live. Their focus is typically on leadership among the community of nations.
3) Social Philosophy
Liberals generally believe that morality evolves with and is informed by history. Most liberals believe that truth is fluid. They are motivated primarily by a sense of fairness in the social community, and define justice as “what is fair to my neighbor who is different from me”. Liberals tend to change governing contracts based on trends in social behavior. Key examples would be the Bible or the constitution – both of which the liberal philosophy feels should be periodically updated to reflect the evolution of the culture.
Conservatives generally believe that history evolves with and is informed by morality. Most conservatives believe that truth is absolute. They are motivated primarily by a sense of objective moral authority, and define justice as “what is authoritatively dictated by a higher power”. Liberals tend to change social behavior based on the dictates of governing contracts. In the examples of the Bible or the constitution, conservative philosophy feels these documents should never be changed but rather should be constant and consistent influencers of culture and behavior over time.
Politicians are people, and yes, they’re trying to get your vote. It is very rare to find a politician who, over the long haul, hasn’t compromised away their basic philosophical believes. It’s also very hard to find a politician who is fully conservative or fully liberal – especially at the national level. In almost all cases, you’re choosing the lesser of two evils (so to speak). But it is imperative to understand the differences, and it’s imperative that you do choose. We have the rare opportunity (in all of history) to choose who will govern us. It’s a terrible and amazing opportunity, and I hope everyone reading this takes that very seriously.
I also hope my thoughts on the philosophical differences involved is helpful. Constructive comment or questions is welcome. He’s to another awesome demonstration of freedom in tomorrow’s election. Rock on!
The Technology Economy November 3, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Business Innovation, Economics, Engineering, Technology.
Tags: Economics, engineering, information technology, innovation, nanotechnology
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Economists are now commonly referring to our modern post-industrial economy as the “information economy”. I suppose I understand that. But I’m not sure it’s the best possible label for what is (or should be) going on in the post-industrial modern world. And I don’t mean just America, but Western Europe, much of Asia, and key parts of the rest of the world as well.
I think the reason economists are hung up on information is that, in their estimation, “information” has become and will increasingly continue to be the currency of trade between nations and corporations and people. Thus, they feel it drives the economy. In many ways, they’re probably right. But to me, an economy isn’t named by what it trades or produces, it should be named by what drives the economy forward, causes it to grow, makes it successful, etc.
The agricultural economy of the 19th century was driven by agriculture. Yes, we traded fruits and vegetables, cows and chickens as the currency of the day (even after gold, silver, and paper bills became common), but the economic time was labeled “agricultural” for the powerful influence hunting, gathering, and farming had over the growth of the economy. The key roles were the farmer (production) and the eater (consumption).
The industrial economy of the 20th century was driven by industry. We were builders of things you can see and touch and feel. Once built, we sold them, and that produced money, which we moved around in huge quantities to represent “value”, because it was impractical to trade cows and chickens any longer. Smart people created marketing, which in turn created “consumerism” to tap into the insatiable desire of the human heart to have. So we bought and produced and bought and produced. The key roles here were the manufacturer (or engineer) and the shopper.
The modern economy – which will shape our thinking and our wallets well into the 21st century – is an economy driven by technology. Information technology, computer technology, mobile technology, cloud technology. Medical advances, social networking, and other factors will play huge roles as well, but they will all be driven into existence (or not) by technology.
People seem to be creating a philosophy about this new economy that implies the key role is the CEO. And sometimes it feels like everyone else will either work at Starbucks (so the CEO can get his coffee in the morning) or be on welfare (because the CEO replaced all their jobs with A) robots or B) outsourcing). I understand how people have come to this conclusion, and like you, I feel the Orwellian theme music playing in the background when it’s given voice, but I fundamentally reject this view of the future as a necessary answer to “what’s next?”.
It’s up to us to make the world something totally different. Not with bigger government or more programs that somehow try to even things out, but with innovation. Rather than invest in shuffling around what exists, let’s make more for everyone.
How? Well, I submit that the engineer is still the key role. But it’s a different kind of engineer. The engineer of the 20th century was industrial or mechanical or electrical. They built buildings and roads, plastic moldings and bridges, assembly lines and monuments – ever striving for bigger and more visible. The engineer of the 21st century are the computer scientists and ECE’s (electrical and computer engineers) – the guys making everything smaller and writing invisible software to run on it. These are the artists of the social, cloud, and mobile movements. They’re the guys who figure out how to slam together Google maps, the iPhone, and GPS technology so that my wife knows when I leave work and can get dinner started. These engineers are tackling the challenge of Big Data so that companies can manage reputation on line and governments can add cyber divisions to their anti-terrorism units. It’s these advances that will lead to nanotechnology and cars that drive themselves, augmented reality glasses and evensmarterphones.
But I also submit that it isn’t these science-soon-to-be-non-fiction cases that are the most interesting. Perhaps the most impactful to the modern economy is the potential of information, mobile, cloud and other technologies to move your existing businesses forward. For example, if you’re a $50-100M business in America today and cloud, mobile and social haven’t made what you do cheaper and created opportunity to do things you couldn’t do 5 years ago, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Right now, today, technology holds the power to increase your revenue, reduce your costs, lower your risk, improve your employees, expand your reach, and much more. And at cost models that are shrinking on the same curve as the cost of your favorite TV at your favorite big box store.
How? If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, it’s not “easy”, but it is “straightforward”. It’s a matter of right placement of the investment. It’s a matter of understanding business and the technology, and knowing how to make technology work for you. Like you trust a financial planner to make your money work for you or a tax attorney to make the tax code work for you, so should you invest in the right resources to make technology work for you. That guy isn’t the easiest person to find, but I submit, you’ll know him when you see him.