Dresses and Air-Balls: Logical Humility in a Black-and-White World

Two weeks ago it was a dress.  Some people claimed it was blue and black; others claimed it was white and gold.  So, who was right?

This afternoon it was a basketball shot.  Some people claimed it was goal-tending and celebrated the victory; others claimed it was an air-ball and mourned the loss.  So, who was right?
In both cases, the arguments played out all over the internet, on television, around water coolers and in living rooms.  Like most debates in contemporary society, everyone becomes an instant expert, offering their opinions verbally and digitally through such logically-persuasive means as the ever-conclusive “meme.” 
So, was the dress blue and black or was it white and gold?  And what about that shot?  Did the referee make the correct call by calling it goal-tending or was it clearly going to be an air-ball had it not been touched?
But what do we do with “yes?”  We don’t like “yes.”  We want an answer.  Either it’s true or it’s false, right?  Not always.
Without going too deep into a conversation about Aristotelian logic, the fallacy of the excluded middle, or what “fuzzy logic” is, I simply want to point out that there are times in life when “truth” is not as black and white as we would like it be (or as black and white as those guys who wear the black and white stripes would like it to be!).  Often, we find ourselves in situations that are messier than the categories that we’ve set up to understand our experience.  When we can’t fit the grey experiences of life into our black and white boxes, it leads to frustration and anxiety.
What if we learned to become comfortable with the fact that sometimes life offers two (or more) equally valid experiences or options?  Imagine the potential for political progress if politicians would legitimately acknowledge the valid aspects of opposing perspectives!  Unfortunately, the alternative with which we currently live is a system of black-and-white in which a politician is either completely in favor or vehemently opposed, forced by the dominance of the two-party system that predetermines an individual’s platform as soon as they declare themselves a member of this party or that.
Is it easy to consider a reality in which multiple truths may be simultaneously offered? No, because it requires humility.  How can I admit that someone else is right when I know that I am right?
Does this mean that there are not times in life when things are black and white?  Of course not.  In fact, the “greyness” of life may even constitute a minority of our experiences.  The danger of viewing the majority of life through a filter of grey is that it leads to a path of relativism, losing any notion of right and wrong all together.  
In most cases, people can generally agree on the colors of dresses.  In most cases, it’s generally clear whether a basketball goes through a hoop or not.  But we do damage to ourselves and to each other when we view all cases like “most cases” rather than viewing all cases as unique.  
Opening myself to the possibility that the person with whom I disagree may be equally right in their opinion fosters a healthy relationship of respect and vulnerability.  Imagine the impact that this type of logical humility could have in a family, in a workplace, in a neighborhood, in a church, or in a society.
Now, if only I could convince the NCAA to recognize the validity of my opinion that the UCLA shot was clearly an air-ball, maybe they could at least create a rematch…  #PonyUp

“May the Best Meme Win: Social Media’s Impact on Theological Inquiry”

This week has been revealing.  The many goods and ills of social media have been on display, taken to the limit and even pushed beyond their normative boundaries.  As the deeply meaningful topic of marriage has been brought to the forefront of the society’s collective dialogue, arguments from every angle of the issue have been clawing their way to the surface, attempting to win the day.  On whichever side of the issue one finds one’s self, the form and fashion of both personal discernment and civil debate have been fascinating. 

Over the centuries, the Church has sought to identify the source of God’s revelation, particularly as it pertains to the task of theological inquiry.  When faced with various issues, the burning question being asked has been, “How do we discern the truth?”  One of Martin Luther’s key concerns with the Roman Catholic church was its twofold source of theological truth: scripture and apostolic tradition.  Raising the banner of sola scriptura, Luther argued that Scripture alone should be the sole source for theology.  As theologians continued to wrestle with Luther’s premise, however, the impact of one’s context on the theological task began to raise questions.  Within the Methodist tradition, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” (practiced by John Wesley, but coined by Albert Outler) seeks to broaden the scope of theological revelation.  While it affirms the legitimacy of scripture and tradition, it also recognizes the importance of reason and experience.
For those within the Wesleyan tradition, this quadrilateral approach is the litmus test for theological truth.  When faced with an issue, one is wise to view it through all four lenses, always remembering to keep Scripture as the primary source.  With the advent of social media, however, the entire task of theological inquiry seems to have taken a back seat.
This week I have read, heard and watched solid arguments on both sides of the marriage issue.  As I continue to strive toward “intensional living” on the via media, I have done so with an open mind, trying to bring as few prejudices and biases to the conversation in order to give my full attention to both sides.  As people have publicly grappled with this issue by sharing articles, videos, references to scripture and stories of personal experience all over Facebook and Twitter, the thing that perhaps makes me most uncomfortable is the viral sharing of memes, and the startlingly serious comments in reply.
For those of you unaware, the phenomenon of “memes” is the pairing of pictures and illustrations with pithy and witty sayings, often shaped by irony and/or humor.  The more clever the meme, the more it gets shared on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter.  In a world where Stephen Colbert and John Stewart are more trusted news sources for young adults than any of the major networks, wittiness wins the day.  If you can relay information in such a way that makes somebody laugh, they are more open to trusting it as the truth.  I won’t lie; many of the memes that I have seen are extremely clever and often elicit a chuckle from me.  However, I cringe when I see someone share one of these pictures or illustrations and say something like, “No further questions,” as if this singular image and saying has made up their mind on such a deeply significant issue.   
Allow me to share a couple examples:
In favor of homosexual marriage:
Opposed to homosexual marriage:
In reference to the trend of those in favor of homosexual marriage changing their profile pictures to the red equal-sign logo as the SCOTUS makes their decision:
Again, witty? Yes. 
Funny? Sometimes.
Authoritative? Absolutely not.
You may think that I’m simply blowing things out of proportion, or making a caricature of the sharing of memes, but I beg to differ.  When a teenager in my youth group shares a meme, I am not surprised.  When they comment on a meme and make obvious the fact that they have not put much time into personal discernment on the issue, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, when I see self-respecting adults sharing these images and sayings and commenting on them as if they actually add credibility to one side of an argument or the other, I have to shake my head in disbelief. 
Has our social dialogue been diminished to this?  Has personal discernment taken a back seat to collective pop-humor? 
As faithful Christians, we are called to be disciples and to create disciples.  We must do everything we can to train and equip thinking and discerning Christians who take the theological task seriously.  With Scripture as our guide, and with tradition, reason and experience each contributing to the conversation, may we not lose sight of the importance of the process of faithful inquiry.

How Will Twitter’s Vine Impact the True Vine?

Remember when families used to sit around and listen to the radio together because there were no televisions yet?  Remember when televisions came into the home and replaced the radio?  Remember when the ability to record TV enabled families to watch shows whenever they wanted?  And remember when you could stream shows and movies straight to your portable device or phone?
Remember when advertisers used to buy airtime on the radio?  How about when advertisers had to begin thinking visually as they created television spots?  Or do you recall the first time you watched a digitally-recorded television show and were able to fast-forward through every commercial??
With every transition in media technology, the advertising industry has been forced to adapt.  As more and more people use social media as their primary source for daily news and entertainment, companies have been trying to keep up by transforming their marketing strategies. 
Recently released by Twitter, Vine may once again change the face of advertising.  Instead of radio spots or television commercials (not to mention the sudden decline of print advertising), Vine offers users the ability to create and post 6-second GIF videos. 
Todd Wasserman, of Mashable.com, shares about several companies who have already started to experiment with Twitter’s new service.  Wasserman asks the question, “Will the :06 become the new :30 in the ad world?”
As a teacher of God’s Word, I already face the difficult task of encouraging people to spend time in Scripture.  I wish I could say that this challenge is particularly daunting with teenagers, but I’ve come to find that adults today have just as much trouble finding the discipline to sit down and intentionally read their Bibles.
In our ever-increasing world of sound-bites, people today stop paying attention after more than a few seconds.  When daily Scripture verses can be sent to their email accounts or show up on their Twitter feed, people think, “I’ve heard my sound-bite of Scripture for the day.” 
The memorization of large sections of Scripture has been replaced by keeping a couple favorite verses in one’s back pocket—and they’re usually paraphrased at that!  I’m afraid to see how this trend will continue on its current trajectory!
I can picture John 3:16 going from, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” to “For God so loved the world…” 
That changes things!  When we begin to chop up Scripture we start leaving out key aspects of various passages.  Sure, this would focus on God’s love, but it completely forgets about the True Vine, Jesus Christ, and the response that is necessary for those who love and follow Him.
Now, I would hope that this scenario is more hyperbolic than realistic, but we can regularly see the results of such thinking in all sorts of theological circles. 
As our attention spans get smaller and smaller, I pray that our Scriptural spans will not follow.  But I’m afraid that’s idealistic thinking.  The question that emerges is, “If the :06 becomes the new :30 in the ad world, how does the Church respond?”
Some may say, “We need to find creative ways to communicate the gospel in :06.”  These accomodationists will most likely jump all over Twitter’s new Vine service and find success in doing so.  I am not against this.  In fact, I wouldn’t put it past me to join those in this challenge!
However, as I seek to live intensionally, I will press on even harder to get those with whom I worship to seek intentional discipleship, to push back against the sound-bite trends of society by practicing discipline in their reading of Scripture.
Discipleship is tough.  Discipline is required.  But we cannot afford to lose the significance of the Christian story, simply because our attention spans have become too short to spend time reading Scripture.
Ignoring cultural trends will leave us naïve, isolated and completely irrelevant to the world.  Yet on the other hand, giving in completely to those cultural trends without challenging individuals to recognize them, and to make a conscious effort to subvert them, will lead to such a watered-down gospel that we will have nothing significant to offer the world in the first place. 
Even in our practices of social media, may we learn to live intensionally.