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Reflections on courage: Observations from Benedict’s resignation February 18, 2013

Posted by Dr. J. M. Givens Jr. in Christian living.
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Courageous.  I have read and heard this term numerous times on television and in print during the past week to describe the decision of Benedict XVI to resign as pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of February.  Perhaps they are viewing the decision from the perspective of the world’s definition of power.  If you think power is something to be grasped rather than to become the servant of all, then perhaps the term “courageous” is justified.  The Bishop of Rome is one of the most influential people in the world and some cannot comprehend how Benedict could give up that kind of power.

Benedict said in the past that he would abdicate the See of Peter if his physical and/or mental capabilities no longer enabled him to perform the duties of that position.  Faithful to his word, he has elected to step down as his health appears to be waning.  “Courageous” to relinquish such power and responsibility?  Benedict is said to be the “Vicar of Christ.”  So if Jesus defined messiahship (i.e., Christhood) in terms of a suffering servant when the world around him insisted it should be a conquering king, then courageous is the wrong adjective.  Faithful, honorable . . . certainly.  Even visionary, as Benedict actions set a precedent (or renews one?) to place the good of the Church above personal gain.

But courageous?  John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, comes immediately to mind as more deserving of such a moniker.  Many who use the term “courage” of Benedict clearly have John Paul in mind.  They think John Paul was selfish or lacked vision when he continued in his papal duties even as his health declined in his final years.  But John Paul emphasized the sanctity and dignity of human life throughout his reign.  All human life, he emphasized, is created in the image of God and has equal worth to God as well as to those who bear the name of Jesus.  This worth extends to the unborn babe within the womb, to the mentally ill or disabled, and even to the physically disabled and the dying.  John Paul rejected abortion and euthanasia.  More importantly, he lived what he preached, demonstrating to the end the dignity of life.  Breaking with tradition, he lived out his final days in public so that we all might hear his message.  That is courageous!  Living what you preach.  Allowing us to see the frailty of life and the dignity by which he lived his final days, rather than receding into the shadows of private life as if the elderly have no worth.  I have noted this previously: http://www.baptiststandard.com/resources/archives/45-2005-archives/3563-2nd-opinion-by-jm-givens-jr-lessons-from-the-dying.

Many have observed the last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415, almost six hundred years ago.  The prior century had been a turbulent time for the church.  Most of the fourteenth century found the Bishops of Rome residing in the south of France, until an angry mob surrounded a cardinal conclave and insisted an Italian pope be elected who would reside in Rome.  The cardinals complied, but almost immediately afterward declared a second man pope, claiming the first was illegitimately selected under duress.  For the next forty years, two men claimed the title pope.  A council in 1409, intending to resolve the issue, declared the two men deposed and elected yet a third man pope.  As neither “deposed” man recognized the council or its actions, this only exacerbated the issue.  Finally, a second council declared the popes who had reigned from Rome to be the legitimate popes.  All others were “anti-popes,” so Gregory XII was the legitimate leader of the Church.  At this recognition, Gregory chose to step down in order to put the entire embarrassing period to rest by allowing the cardinals to select a new pope, one unstained by the struggles of prior decades.

A church leader putting the unity of the Church–his denomination–ahead of his own vision for its future.  A man willing to give up personal power in order to empower others.  Here is an act of courage!  After decades of schism and political maneuvering, would that Baptists had ears to hear and eyes to see.

Boy Scout membership policy proposal flawed January 30, 2013

Posted by Dr. J. M. Givens Jr. in Uncategorized.
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The following is a letter submitted to the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America on January 30, 2013:  

I strongly encourage the executive board to not move forward with the proposed policy change to membership standards. While the proposed change is intended to localize the decision regarding sexual orientation, the proposed change is flawed for a number of reason:
1. The statement is made that “members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” yet this is only an accurate statement in the urban centers. Rural and suburban areas often have only one unit from which to choose.
2. The argument for localization implies scouting units are autonomous. This is not entirely the case, however. Units gather together at summer camps, for instance. Individuals from diverse units are selected to join Order of the Arrow. Will OA lodges be allowed to determine their positions regarding sexual orientation? If not, is there truly a “members and parents can choose” standard? If a lodge is able to discriminate, what happens to the discriminated scout who is a valid member of a unit connected to the lodge? Is the solution two lodges???
3. The policy will likely drive away more members and potential members from scouting than it will pull in. There are several scout-like options already in existence, and new programs will certain emerge. These programs will pull current and potential members away from scouting, whether or not the local unit adopts the open policy.
4. The assumption seems to be that sexual orientation is on the same level as race and gender. This assumption is by no means universally accepted. One is born black or white. There is nothing that person can “do” to change that reality. Sexual orientation is different. While there may be a genetic link to sexual orientation, that link is dormant until it is acted upon. Thus, sexual orientation is something one “does” and not something one “is.” For point of comparison, geneticists have identified a “warrior” gene. Individuals with this gene are more prone to anger or combativeness. Such individuals do not have a protected right to engage in assault or murder, however. They are expected to control their actions even though they have a genetic proclivity toward certain behavior. (The same is true of other proclivities, such as alcoholism.)
5. If one opens scouting to all forms of sexual orientation, that would include transgender individuals. Does BSA intend to allow females who think they are male to join units that decide that is a protected sexual orientation? Removing a defined sexual orientation position from the membership policy opens the door to this legal fight.

As one or more of the issues above indicates, the proposed change is flawed. The best course of action for the board is to uphold the existing membership standards policy.

Dr. J. M. Givens Jr.
Assistant Scoutmaster
Troop 253, South Plains Council

*The views expressed in the letter are my personal views as a Scouter and are not offered in my official capacity as a professor at Wayland Baptist University. 

Monovision and Single Vision April 10, 2010

Posted by Dr. J. M. Givens Jr. in Christian living.
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I told the eye doctor recently that I had quit wearing my contacts because I was starting to have difficulty reading for extended periods of time. I have been nearsighted for years, but have 20/15 vision with corrective lenses and no problem reading without. As with most persons hitting their forties, however, my eyes are losing the ability to compensate for my contacts when I try to read something close to hand.

He asked me if I wanted to try monovision; that is, using different contacts so that one eye is able to see distant objects and the other is able to see near objects. He told me most people’s minds are able to adjust to this situation and quickly learn to trust the dominant eye for seeing distance and the other eye for reading. It sounded strange, but I decided to try it. After all, it would be half the price since I only need the one contact for distance vision!

I wore the one contact for several days. While it was true that I didn’t notice the duality all the time, I continued to have difficulty seeing mid-distance, especially in lower light levels, and night driving didn’t work at all because oncoming lights were doubled—one in focus and one out of focus. My doctor finally decided that I was one of the 20% or so who can’t adjust to monovision because I’ve always accepted input from both eyes.

This experience made me start to wonder how many live a spiritual life of monovision, with one eye focused on the will of God but the other still focused on the world and self? How many are able to rationalize the conflicting information, picking and choosing what they want to see? Is it really so easy to accept the duality of data to create one’s own “unified vision” of truth?

While many can and do attempt it, ultimately this is a futile act. James the brother of Jesus condemned the “double-minded man” as “unstable in all he does” (1:8); Jesus himself told us we “cannot serve two masters” (Matt 6:24); and the Apostle Paul warned we cannot partake from the “table of the Lord” and the “table of demons” (1 Cor 10:21).

Certainly if you attempted monovision, you could recognize the clearly evil and the clearly good, just as my mind was able to see clearly the distant and near objects. But where I had difficulty with monovision was with mid-distance as well as night vision. This is precisely where a life of spiritual monovision would have difficulty—knowing the right from the wrong as you enter the many gray areas of life. What you truly need is not monovision but single vision, that is seeking God with your whole heart. Only singleness of vision can help you make the right decision in those realms of gray.

As the Lord said through his prophets: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba” (Amos 5:4-5a). That is, get rid of the monovision and set your vision upon the Lord. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13) Only singleness of vision will help you truly find the Lord and his will. If you “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” Jesus tells us, then “all these things”–that is, what is right for the world and for yourself–”will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33)

Father, help us seek you with all of our hearts.

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