At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

God in the Balance

     Earlier this semester, as I was teaching my Ethics students about the nature of God, his covenantal actions, and introducing the concept of Christian ethics, I wanted us all to pick our brains about the relationship or lack thereof between God's existence and morality. Keep in mind, I'm using morality as "the categorizing of actions, thoughts, and words into right/wrong and good/bad and noble/evil delineations."

    I forced the following writing prompt on them, knowing full well that they, like me, could take it in many directions: "Answer one of the following questions: (A) You need God for morality because.... or (B) You don't need God for morality because..."

And here's my free-write response:

Absolutely you can say "You don't need God for morality", for the simple reason that there are plenty of moral people who are completely secular, atheistic, or agnostic. You do not need to believe in the existence of God in order to categorize between right and wrong. We can't help but put actions and ideas into either barrel (or a neutral one, as well); it's part of human nature, or what C.S. Lewis noted as the Law of Human Nature. But this question itself is loaded as a cheap hotel is with roaches and crickets, and it is more complex than seven-layer dip or my wife's delicious lasagna. There is something innate within us that places items, events, speech, actions, and thoughts in good or evil slots, wise or foolish patterns, and so on, whether or not one believes in the existence of a Creator or Divine Providence. We all have morality. But that automatically leads to a follow-up question. If God's existence and morality are separate issues (a baseline theorem of secularism), then how do we say we know what is right and wrong? That is, after all, the whole question of ethics as a pursuit distinct from "morality". 
     One might say, "Well, we don't do anything that would harm someone else!" No question that is, by and large, a noble idea. Yet one could say, "But why is that important? Do you mean comfort, health, and safety as good and physical harm and mental torture as bad? If so, why do we elevate one category over the other? Could one person's pleasure be another's pain?" The moment we turn these ideas into universals, we have to explain why they are universals.
     Again, one might counter that with, "We avoid doing harm to others because pain feels bad." And still that begs the immediate question, "To whom?", before turning to the larger question of "Why do we trust these feelings?" It begs an answer.
     Suppose someone says, "We can see from experience that things work better for society if we do X instead of Y." Yes, experience can be a guide, but we also have to recall that slavery, sacrificing virgins to appease the gods, and Communism have all been viewed as positive notions for the greater good before, all part of the warp and woof of societal 'experience' before.
     The point is this: I think when you pursue this line of thinking with more questions, we discover that whatever the standard is for right and wrong, it exists independently of us. When a person blurts out, "That's not fair!", then fair to whom? And why? How do you know that? You're appealing to a standard outside of yourself by which all actions are judged, a law of human nature.
    Something can't come from nothing here. Principles don't belch forth from the dark void. The law of human nature has to have a standard that's independent of us.
     And what if...what if...that law of human nature was beyond a law, but rather a Lawgiver who created humans in his nature?
     Can you believe in morality without God? Yes!
     But can you justify and explain morality while explaining him away?
     Just asking...let the conversation continue.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Eighteen Years

Eighteen years ago today, I was driving through the streets of Lafayette, Louisiana. My exams were dropped off safely at a colleague's house for transport to school so my students could take them on time. I was otherwise occupied. My very pregnant wife needed to get to the hospital.

Today was the day.

As we drove to Lafayette General Medical Center, I couldn't shake the weight of responsibility that hit me with all the subtlety of Donald Trump on cocaine. I was going to be a father by the end of the day.

"God, please help me. I am going to have a son and I feel so unready."

The following fifteen hours were a complete blur, although I have a vague memory of watching a Dutch soccer game on ESPN2 while my wife drifted off into a semi-drugged sleep before my parents arrived from Mississippi. More blurred moments, and then at 10:18 pm CST on December 15, 1997, Joshua Cameron Davis, all six pounds, eleven ounces of him, was born via C-section.

That's when life hit us between the eyes and never let up. Joshua was crying to get air in his lungs. He cried. Soundlessly. No noise. All he could manage was a barely audible squeak. His arms flopped from his sides like hung bratwurst in a German butcher shop. Something was unexpected.

I didn't say wrong. I said unexpected.

And that's how--by the grace of God--Christy and I went forward. We had a physically disabled son whose DNA went through a genetic wringer and caused him to have a rare neuromuscular disorder. Many things have gone on in that journey and much has changed. That little peanut of a kid now shaves, he desires to be a soccer player or sports announcer, and he loves to read James Bond novels and watch Doctor Who and Sherlock

Joshua is also a young man who had to come to grips early on about his disability. He figured out early on he could never run. He has seen what was an ability to walk gingerly disappear into a wheelchair-bound view of life.

And never, not once, do I recall him complaining. And this is a kid who nearly died after spinal surgery in Miami. He wondered why it all was happening, but he managed to take it in stride in his own way.

What am I most proud of regarding Joshua? He accepts what life has thrown at him, he doesn't complain, and he lives in hope. Perhaps we'll get to the point of a cure for X-linked myotubular myopathy, and he wants to so badly. But for now, a boy who--odds were--could have died before his first birthday is now eligible to vote. 

Joshua doesn't quit. He is our son. God is with him.

On this day, what could be better than that?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent Inspired

There are many things we find joyous about the Advent season: family reunions, good food, the end of a school semester (speaking selfishly). But the joy of an anointed Savior entering a broken world alienated from God for the sake of His grace is above and beyond all those trimmings.

That news can bring about inspiration from the oddest angles. This past year, as I was thinking about Advent in advance some months ago, I began thinking along the lines of Christmas carols; specifically, I thought it might be nice to have a new carol in the mix.

Which of course led me to think, Maybe you should do that yourself.

It was around that time I was also thinking through some meditations from former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold (long story as to why). He had many spiritual musings, but the one that especially resonated with me is the following:

"How appropriate that Christmas should follow Advent. For him who looks to the future, the manger is already situated at Golgotha, and the Cross has already been raised in Bethlehem."

The more I considered that quote, the more I wondered about how to express that cosmic dimension of Christ's birth, how it was the launching moment toward his ministry, death, resurrection, and the restoration of all things. The more I considered that, the more a tune came to mind...that of the Welsh song "The Ash Grove" (sung here by Laura Wright), because...well, I'm Welsh!

Four hours later (with some last-minute touches months later before the final copyright), I had--much to my surprise--done it.

A new carol, with the manger of Bethlehem as the genesis of the turning point of history. A new carol, capturing the birth of, death of, resurrection of, and restoration wrought by the Christ Child of that manger. A new carol where the Cross, empty tomb, and the riven skies of the Apocalypse find their beginning in the manger.

By no means do I claim this will be a classic, but it's an offering of humility tracing the story of Jesus. May that be enough to warm our hearts with Advent hope.

In it's final form..."The Christ Child"
Written by Luke H. Davis (2015)
Tune: The Ash Grove (Welsh melody)

The Christ Child has come, the Lord dwelling among us,
The Savior descending from Heaven’s bright throne.
From ages long promised, now here in time’s fullness,
Our King born to claim us redeemed as His own!
The Christ Child has come! The babe born of a virgin,
He reigns and ordains since the ages began.
The manger ensconces this grand Incarnation,
Jesus, Friend of Sinners, the true Son of Man.

The Christ Child has come and, obediently living,
He teaches and heals and to sinners draws nigh.
In willingness pure and our judgment embracing,
The Lamb to the slaughter, he goes forth to die.
The Christ Child has come, the one slain for rebellion,
The fair Rose of Sharon now crushed to the stem.
The manger commences our wond’rous redemption:
The Servant of Suff’ring born in Bethlehem.

The Christ Child has come! The Great Debt has been canceled,
The satisfied Father thus shatters the grave—
Now raised from the death throes unable to hold him,
The Lion, triumphant and mighty to save.
The Christ Child has come—Glorious hope he has given,
And we by His blood shall stand, never condemned!
The manger leads on toward his great resurrection:
The Lord’s conqu’ring vict’ry dawns in Bethlehem.

The Christ Child has come, His shalom never ceasing,
His children the servants renewing God’s world—
Though kingdoms oppose Him—His peace still increasing,
His cov’nant of grace through the ages unfurled.
The Christ Child has come, all things new He shall fashion;
All honor and blessing forever to Him!
The manger, the beacon to all restoration:

Our journey to glory forged in Bethlehem.