Daily Devotions

Not an Isolationist in Ideology or Theology

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Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

I am about half-way through an epic read of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “No Ordinary Time.” This 759-page book describes Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s life leading up to, and through, World War II. I highly recommend Goodwin’s massive work. I am awed by her detailed study and her ability to find intimate details from hard-to-find letters, interviews, and other means of investigation. Through her well-told story, one of the major themes leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor is how the Isolationists were unwilling to assist England and the rest of the Allied Forces, believing that we were safely beyond the war’s reach.

We are infinitely more global than we were in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, yet our country is going through a moment in history where we are once again hearing the echoes of Isolationist ideology. Just like Franklin’s moment in history, we too are facing real enemies who would like nothing more than to see the destruction of our nation and its democracy.

Isolationism, then and now, is the idea that our nation has its own challenges at home and our first concern should be for our own people. The problem with this belief is that when, as the most powerful nation in the world, we pull away, it leaves a vacuum in leadership and power that will be filled by other, often less-ethical world powers. I would argue that the most beneficial action Americans can do for its long-term security, is to keep a hand in the security and humanitarian needs of our world.

Many Christian groups live an Isolationist faith. They emphasize a theology based on nurturing a personal relationship with God that provides the opportunity to inherit, if not earn, a place in God’s heavenly kingdom. I believe this type of Christian theology is every bit as misguided as the Isolationist movements at different points in American history. God loves us and has marked us in baptism. Our salvation is a gift of God that we are already blessed to receive. Our task is to retain that relationship with God through prayer, worship, and caring for all God’s children, both here in our nation and throughout the world. God doesn’t see through our nationalistic lens but sees all of us as one. When any people in this world are suffering injustice, God cries. Today, pray for our commitment to see ourselves as one global people, called and blessed by God.

The Bible Comes Alive

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Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

In the final installment from “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” I appreciate Rolf Dobelli’s wisdom on the issue of “story bias” in his chapter entitled, “Even True Stories are Fairy Tales.” Dobelli asked the reader to imagine an invisible Martian was following you around with notebook in hand. He would write down everything you said and did, and then report it back to his supervisors so they would know what made humans tick. Dobelli said, “The rundown of your life would consist of entries such as “drank coffee, two sugars,” “stepped on a thumbtack and swore like a sailor,” etc. The Martian would be able to give a relatively complete rundown of statements and activities, but that alone would not define you in any meaningful way.

Dobelli goes on to define “story bias” by describing a car driving over a bridge just as the structure collapses. He said, the next day, “We hear the tale of the unlucky driver, where he came from, and where he was going. We read his biography: born somewhere, grew up somewhere else, earned a living as something.” “Not one of these stories explains the underlying cause of the accident.” The writer of this crash told a story, it was even truthful, but it wasn’t the full story. We didn’t hear what occurred to make the bridge collapse at that moment, what were the design flaws, etc. Most stories give us partial detail and leave us wanting more. Or worse, we add to the story to fulfill our bias. For example, we focus on the driver, and if the driver is under 18, we say, “If that driver had experience, it wouldn’t have happened.” “The company who built the bridge was from out of state, and they built a faulty bridge because they do not care about the people in our state.” If we do not get enough information or do not like the information we receive, we subconsciously change it to meet our needs.

These responses happen when we read the Bible as well. Sometimes we read it as a book of platitudes, so we do not even attempt to consider the real lives of the characters within. Others are frustrated by the vast differences in cultures between their ancient society and ours, and judge their society by our rules. While still others desire to know why so badly, that they fill in the blanks with their own bias and then treat their additions as Biblical fact.

As you read your Bible today, pray that you can move beyond story bias. Pick a Biblical character like Moses or Rachel and read the Biblical narratives. Then, picture them as real human beings with fears and hopes, faith and questions, just like any other person. Next, gather information about their culture – how was it different and the same as our own. Finally, glean what you can about God’s role in speaking to them and guiding their path. What was difficult? What was infuriating? What was blessed? In doing this, you bring the pages of the Bible to life. Then, finally, pray over your reading with a prayer for illumination. Let God’s Spirit help you move beyond your own bias in order to find the sacred truth within. Your reading of the Bible will come alive!

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