Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Illusion of Truth



The Illusion of Truth Effect is an interesting phenomenon and one that is often used to manipulate us. We think we judge truth by objective, rational means. Our brains, however, have a different strategy. Because we need to judge information so frequently, our brains use several techniques to gauge the relative "truthiness" of what we hear or see.  Our brains use statistics, familiarity, and connection.

Children as young as infants give evidence of using statistics to learn. Infant brains keep track of how often they hear a sound in order to determine if that sound is important to language. We continue with this as we grow older, but we apply it to bigger chunks of language. The more often we hear something the more likely we are to determine it is true because our brains apply more importance to it. This works great while learning the phonemes of language; not so great when determining the accuracy of something posted on social media.

Once we have heard something many times, even if we haven’t paid close attention to it, we begin to see it as familiar. How many of us can sing commercial jingles from our childhood? We did not study these commercials, we simply heard them and now they are familiar. Chances are good we see the products that were represented by these jingles as positive, too.

The third technique used by our brains is connection. If what we hear is connected to something else we believe, then we are more likely to accept it as true even if at first glance it seems a bit unlikely. This is how political campaigns get us to believe horrible things about an opponent. The message going out is repeated in many forms and through many platforms and is just one step closer to evil than what you already accept because of your strong political beliefs. In some cases, even seeing hard evidence that something is NOT true does little to change a person’s mind. To our brains, what is repeated, familiar, and connected somehow must be true.

Look at the use of “fake news” from both sides of the political spectrum. Fake news begins as a twist of the truth but morphs into what we believe. Then it is easy to assume that anything that does not agree with our new belief must then be “fake news.” It is an insidious process and it is effective in bringing in the vote and keeping support.

But, if you are like me, this would not happen to you because we are rational beings who always check sources and information. Certainly it is good that we do, however, the effect of the Illusion of Truth Effect is to activate emotions that discourage us from thinking rationally. The trick is to activate fear or anger. These emotions urge a quick and impulsive response and they serve to make us even surer that the information is true.

The devil wants us to be afraid and angry. This makes us so much easier to work with. And not to say that politicians are devils (I don’t want to start my own fake news campaign) but when we are afraid or angry we are much easier for campaign messages to manipulate. 

Here is a good rule of thumb: if what you read makes you feel strong emotions be wary. 

Except for cute bunny videos. You can never go wrong with cute bunny videos.

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. Psalm 33:4-6

As individuals, Christians are not exempt from the effects of truth illusion, but we do have an effective weapon. We know that real, solid, dependable, non-manipulating truth is found in God’s word. This is our first defense.

Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
Psalm 33:8-11

Our second defense is that we know we can give our fears and anger to God. He has control over our world, He has complete power, and He can overcome our emotional response and replace it with a healthy fear of Him. He does not tell us to ignore the things in the world that are wrong, the things that make us angry. He simply tells us He is in charge and will direct our righteous path.

Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name.
Let Your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22

Let God's steadfast love be what is familiar. It's a great place to be. It is safe; it is faithful; it is true.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

500 Years


Castle Church Wittenberg, Germany
 Today marks the 500th anniversary of what is accepted as the beginning of the Reformation.  Luther wanted to reform his church, but soon found irreconcilable differences. He put his life at risk, took advantage of new technology, and moved forward teaching a clearer understanding of God’s love for His people.

Here is what the reformation means to me:

Sola Scriptura

I do not have to try to decide which books speak the truth about God. I can turn to the Bible with complete confidence that not only is it God’s word, but it reveals itself. The Bible is more than a book of faith; it is the revelation of grace.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me. John 5:39

Sola Fide

It is not my responsibility to save myself or to make myself pleasing to God in order to earn salvation. I can do good works to show the love of God to others but my good works do not add up on some sort of score card. I cannot earn salvation; it has been earned for me and is given to me through my faith which is also a God-given gift. I am free to do good works out of thankful joy; not because of the burden of guilt.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2: 8-9

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Sola Gratia

I am a precious, beloved child of God because of God’s merciful disposition. He is not a sadistic task master; He is a loving Father who wants what is best for me even when I seek what is worst. This grace is serious, efficacious, and revealed to me through the means of grace: the Word and Sacraments. This grace comes to me because of the sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Solus Christus

My salvation does not need anything but Jesus Christ and His redemptive love and actions.

Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68

Martin Luther

I can see how God can work change through the work of a flawed, sinful, leader. God helped Luther to use his intelligence and passion to its utmost and accomplished His work in spite of Luther’s weakness and failings. 

God can use me, too; even me. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes  to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

God loves me, He saves me, He makes it possible for me to believe and to serve Him. He brings good out of my life, in spite of my sin.

These are simple, yet powerful, truths.

A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need 
That hath us now o’ertaken. 
The old evil foe. 
Now means deadly woe; 
Deep guile and great might 
Are His dread arms in fight
On earth is not His equal. 

With might of ours can naught be done, 
Soon were our loss effected;
 But for us fights the valiant One, 
Whom God Himself elected. 
Ask ye, Who is this? 
Jesus Christ it is, 
Of Sabaoth Lord, 
And there's none other God; 
He hold the field forever.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Salt, Light, and Germs




There is a new book out about Joseph Lister and his campaign in the 19th century to make surgery safer. Dr. Lister took Pasteur’s new science of microbiology and applied germ theory to surgery infections. In his day, surgeons thought that infections were caused by bad air and nothing could be done about it. Lister proved them wrong, but not until he weathered a fair amount of criticism.

His fellow surgeons, proud of their filthy, bloody, surgery aprons thought Lister’s theory of bringing dirt into the wound as the cause of infection to be medical heresy. Of course surgeons were not to blame for their patients’ deaths. It was simply the luck of the draw – or at least the luck of the air.

Lister was scorned, ridiculed, and even vilified in the medical journal Lancet as surgeons were warned not to adopt his methods. It wasn’t until he saved the life of two members of the royal family that his preaching against germs started to gain credibility.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a stand, and it give light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

As children of God, redeemed by our Savior, we serve the world as Christian versions of Dr. Lister. Instead of relying on papers written by a fellow scientist, we gain our wisdom from the study of scripture. Armed with this knowledge we work and live in our world, but strive to not be of the world. We see evidence of the germs of sin and try to live a different life as a testament to what can be rather than simply giving in to the natural consequences of sin.

We do not do this for salvation because salvation has already been won for us. We do not do this of our own accord, because without God’s help we can do no good work. We do this because God has saved us and taught us about sin and its consequences. We do this to be salt and light; to be an example to others by preserving what is good and shining a light on what is bad.

Like Lister we often talk to people who do not want to hear. We risk being condemned for our beliefs about the value of life and the value of living a good life. Others are warned to not believe us and we are often scorned and ridiculed.

And like Lister we are not without sin or error in the way we live our lives as salt and light. We have found better antiseptics since Lister’s time and he was convinced that it was a lost cause to try to sterilize the surgery room.  Furthermore, Dr. Lister, the surgeon had germs on him, too. Likewise our lives are filled with sin and grief. Yet, in that grief we know we are forgiven children of God and He uses us to further His ministry.

Lord, make my heart clean and help my words, actions and values be true salt and light in a stinky, dirty, germy world.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hemmed In, Behind and Before





O LORD, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:1-6

I am not a stranger to my current situation. I have been here before. I have stood at the watershed moment that likely marks the beginning of the end for a parent. Like for so many other elderly parents, it's begun with a fall.

Some children lose their parents far too young. Others receive an unexpected phone call. Some of us have the opportunity to hold a hand and walk alongside our parent as God begins the preparation for the journey home. We do not know how long this journey will be, but we feel in our hearts the first step has been taken and the road will not likely turn in a different direction.

Each situation has its own unique grief and joy. Each situation offers its own blessings and opportunities.

While I certainly cannot predict this journey, having walked this path before I know some of the decisions ahead; decisions about levels of care; decisions about permanent moves or temporary; decisions balancing medications to offer palliative care rather than healing. Palliative care offers relief from physical, mental, and emotional stress in order to improve the quality of life. It is strange that this starts at the end of life. We could use this relief so much earlier.

I love the spiritual palliative care offered by the words of Psalm 139. My siblings and I feel hemmed in by the stresses and busyness of lives that do not stop when we need to care for our mother. We feel boxed in by the need to interpret doctors and nurses and share their information in a way our mother can understand. We feel a bit claustrophobic in terms of our ability to understand what the doctors are saying while reading between the lines of their communication.

We do not want to be here. But this is where God wants us to be. This is the work and ministry He sets before us. We are hemmed in, behind and before, but the weight we feel on our shoulder is not the weight of decision; it is the hand of God reminding us of His very presence in our lives, in our decisions, and in our mother’s care. Such knowledge is indeed too wonderful for us to comprehend. Instead we stand before Him, with one hand holding the hand of our mother. We stand blessed and loved and we take a deep breath before that first step. The path before us, while unknown to us is known to our Heavenly Father.

If this is your journey, too, know that God's comfort rests on your shoulder, also. 

Abba Father, hear our prayer.