Thursday, December 25, 2014

this little light

The Christmas season brings news of all sorts.

We always hope that will be good.  After all, it is the season of ultimate good when many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But the news can mixed.  Such as, an email I received from a close friend here in Barra de Navidad yesterday morning.

I got the word this morning that my older sister had passed away after many years of living with dementia, blindness, immobility, diapering, and other struggles.  She was only 73 but is now at peace with her Lord.
The email caused an odd mixture of responses -- or non-responses -- in me.  I just did not know how I should feel about the news.

After all, the news itself was mixed.  My friend always evidences a strong Christian faith.  That element was there.  But there was an element of sympathy for his sister.  That her long struggle was over.

A lot of my secular friends get hung up on "quality of life" issues -- especially at the end of life.  Several have told me that they would prefer to be shot rather than suffer through long bouts of medical intervention.

I understand their argument.  I suspect that my distaste for the medical profession while I am healthy will not somehow morph into a love affair when the catheters, hypodermics, and pharmaceuticals enter from stage left.

Where I part company from them is their underlying philosophy of positivism.  Or, rather, their rather tortured application of positivism.

You undoubtedly recall what positivism is from your high school philosophy class.  Positivism purports to be science-oriented.  It believes that received wisdom cannot exist.  The only valid knowledge is knowledge derived from  mathematical and logical treatments of experiences that can be experienced by human senses.  In short, what we learn through the scientific method is the only knowable truth.

Positivism was the driving philosophy behind a lot of the progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century, and pitted the hard sciences against the humanities.

You have undoubtedly met people who think they understand the underpinnings of positivism.  They purport to argue that they will believe nothing unless they experience themselves or until science tells them it is true.

The refusal to believe in the existence of God (
or even in the possibility of God's existence) is a central tenet for positivists.  When confronted by a supporter of the humanities to explain a father's love for his child or the beauty of a butterfly, the positivist will slip back into the blinders of science. 

"I will believe there is a God when science tells me there is one."  Even though that postulate is false on its face.  The scientific method does not pretend to answer metaphysical questions.  Modern positivism makes the same mistake the social Darwinists made.  You cannot prove a postulate using the wrong tools.

So, why I am rattling on about philosophy on Christmas?  Because it is a perfect day for us to realize that all of life cannot be defined by mathematics and logic.  They are beautiful tools for understanding a portion of the creation in which we live.

But there is far more than that to life and its enjoyment.  There is poetry.  And music.  And walks in the rain savoring the petrichor as its rises from the pavement.

Science can tell us only so much.  And then we reach out in faith to a far broader understanding of life.  Knowing full well that we can only glimpse a bit of this world's underlying truths -- with each glimpse fortifying our faith.

I thought of that tonight at our Christmas Eve candlelight service.  At the close, a candle in the front row was lit.  That candle lit two more.  Those two, two more.  Until all of our candles were aflame.

Our pastor pointed out that one candle lighting another did not diminish the flame of the first.  What could be a better lesson for this day?  A baby was born two millennia ago.  That flame lit the faith of others. 

And that is what we celebrate on this day.  A faith that teaches us to love our God with all of our being and to prove that we rest in that love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

When I read my friend's email, that is the faith that shone through to me.  And it was faith enough for me to rest in on this glorious day.

I trust that your day will be blessed in a similar way.

Merry Christmas.

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