Saint Paul Made Tents

14 December 2018

I ran across a good discussion of the dearth of young pastors recently. Mr. Conn, himself a young pastor, draws on a 2017 Barna survey…but I’ll let him tell it:

According to The State of Pastors, a major study conducted by Barna in conjunction with Pepperdine University, the number of pastors under the age of 40 shrank from 33 percent in 1992 to just 15 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, the number of current pastors over the age of 65 has tripled.

Mr. Conn offers a solid analysis of why this is happening, and what churches might do about it. If you’re active in a church, I would urge you to read his article. As a second-generation pastor who’s been watching what happens inside churches for my whole life, I find his description of the situation all too accurate, and his prescriptions helpful.

That said, I think the Barna report is missing something important. It’s not telling the whole story, because it’s focused entirely on full-time, professional clergy.

I don’t have numbers to back this up nationwide, but my strong impression is that a growing number of the people doing the ministerial heavy lifting are bivocational. That’s certainly true in my area.

I see two significant reasons for this. The first reason is that a “traditional” church can be an extraordinary toxic workplace (as Mr. Conn’s post discusses), and a growing number of young ministers would rather let the dead bury their own dead. That sounds harsh, but…well, let me put it this way:

  • Church ministry at its best: tangibly serving and benefiting your community as you hear and worship God together with a close-knit family of people that will drop everything to help you, will back you up, will protect you when you’re vulnerable, support you when you’re weak, heal you when you’re hurt, and you’ll do the same for them.
  • Church ministry at its worst: a desperately lonely, treacherous game of king-of-the-mountain where, if you can hang on, your reward is knowing the very worst things human beings can do to each other, knowing the faces and names of the people who did them and suffered them. You carry this knowledge so that the Body won’t have to deal with its sins and bear one another’s burdens—they’re paying you to cover and ignore the sins and handle the burdens for them. (Bonus feature: they pay you less than a school bus driver, but require a level of education equivalent to a lawyer’s.)

Sometimes you get the best and the worst on the same day. Many of us find that the bivocational life gets us less of the worst, and more of the best. It’s not a bad trade.

The second reason more and more of us are bivocational is that full-time money is usually tied to “proven” legacy models of ministry (many of which are now failing, incidentally). Those of us who are called into something innovative often find ourselves with enough like-minded people to do the work, but no money to speak of. We have a choice: either self-fund, or tell God we can’t do what He’s calling us to, because His Body won’t pay us full-time wages. Pshaw; that’s no choice at all; I’m not too good to support myself. Saint Paul made tents.

EDIT: A third reason came up in conversation recently: It’s much easier to challenge the church body to step up to its responsibilities when you’re bivocational. “My job is to equip you; your job is to do the work of the ministry” is a tough sell in practically any church in the country, no matter how obviously biblical it is. They tend to say “That’s what we’re paying you for” and refuse to budge. They’re a lot less inclined to that foolishness when you can come back with, “No you’re not, and I have an 8-hour shift at my other job ahead of me, so if you want Aunt Myrtle to get a hospital visit before her surgery, you do it. Call me later and tell me how it went.”

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Family in Community

7 December 2018

One of the early responses I got to an earlier post on community was, “Tim, most people in the evangelical world can’t relate to the experience you’re describing. They don’t have anybody present in their homes, much less participating in the family life.”

The question I want to ask is: why not? How can it be that the people of God, the visible reflection of the Trinity on earth, do not live in each other’s lives?

And the answer is, “Because we’re rich.” This is most definitely a first-world problem; the rest of the world is very different, and the rest of time more so. But here we are in the first world, and if it’s a first-world problem, we have it.

In a first-century village (or even a city), people lived on top of each other. They knew each other’s business in the same way that I know when my upstairs neighbors take a shower, make love, or leave for work in the morning. The ceiling’s not soundproof, and I can’t really help knowing what’s going on up there sometimes. By contrast, the American dream is to use our wealth to separate ourselves from each other rather than to grow more interdependent. We live in single-family homes. We park in attached garages; we’re already ensconced in our little steel-and-glass universes, radio tuned to our favorite station, before the garage door opens to the outside world. We shop in stores that serve a wide enough area that we usually don’t run into anybody we know. (I live in a relatively small town, and have a fairly wide circle of acquaintance. I run into someone at the grocery store every now and again, but it’s pretty unusual. Back when I lived in a big city (or the suburbs, before that), it was vanishingly rare.)

If the culture makes it hard to follow Jesus, then we need to be countercultural; it’s that simple. Wordliness is not about what kind of car you drive or how many iPads you have or hemlines and necklines (although it can be expressed in all those things). Worldliness is about how much The Way Things Are dictates your willingness to be obedient to Christ. When our culture makes sin look normal and easy, and righteousness look strange and costly, what will you do? Will you be carried by the stream, or swim against it? Will you follow Jesus when it makes you weird?

In the culture we’ve built for ourselves, it is actually very difficult to live in close community with one another. We’d have to go well out of our way to do it. Which is to say that our repentance really will be costly. But it will also be rewarding.

I’ve been seeking tight community since early adulthood. I managed a form of it…and then I moved cross-country to a new state eight years ago, and had to start all over again.

It wasn’t easy; I’m not a naturally outgoing person. But I got there. In my community now, I’ve called for help at 1 in the morning, and gotten it. I’ve been called for help, and dropped everything to go help with…whatever. Taking chicken soup to a sick friend. Babysitting during a family emergency (or to salvage a date night when the regular babysitter got sick at the last minute.) Providing a ride to the hospital. Taking my massage chair and oils to relieve a headache or back spasm. Running to the bank because my friend’s small business was out of quarters.

As I make my final editing pass through this post, there’s a spool of grey thread on the counter. I’ll drop it off with one of my friends later today, so she can mend a hole in a pair of her daughter’s pants. We noticed the hole yesterday; she doesn’t have the right thread, and I do. It’s a simple thing, a small extra errand.

But it’s also an extra errand in an already crowded day, and it would have been easy enough to avoid. All I needed to do was keep my mouth shut instead of saying, “I think I have the right color thread for that at home.” Why complicate my life? Because the right kind of complications are glorious.

Marriage complicates your life. Having children complicates your life. Making lasagne or bread or soup from scratch complicates your life. Deciding to build your own piñata for the birthday party instead of just buying one complicates your life. Calling a friend instead of an Uber complicates both your lives. Making music with your friends rather than just popping in a CD complicates your life. Close community is made of just such complications. We are choosing that rich complication over convenience. We want to live closely. We live for the triune God, and therefore for each other, not simply for ourselves and our own realization of the American dream.

How did I get there?

Not, I can assure you, through some virtuoso display of relational acumen. I’m actually kinda awkward. But I keep showing up, and I keep loving people. I followed God’s leading, and as I participated in His mission on earth, I found some fellow-travelers that would walk alongside me. We supported each other in our shared mission, and along the way, we became friends. We walk with God together, worship together. We support one another, day in and day out, in all kinds of ways. And we face the world together, caring for broken and hurting people, supporting the weak, bringing healing to the brokenhearted and light to the darkness.

When we ask each other, “How are you doing?” we actually want a real answer — first of all because we love each other and we care, and second because we do rough work together and if somebody can’t bring their A game today, we gotta know so we can adjust. (And it’s ok — nobody brings their A game every day. We cover for each other as needed. But precisely for that reason, honesty is prized.)

In the suburban churches I came of age in, there was far too little of all this. There was an awful lot of country-club Christianity: folks were saved, sure, and lived a generally non-scandalous red-state existence. Beyond that, their faith often seemed to make very little day-to-day difference in their lives. They came to church and pretended everything was great, no matter what was actually happening. I saw at least one family utterly ostracized for telling the truth about the ruin and hurt in their lives.

The teenagers, with their gift for cynicism, saw right through it all. They still see right through it all, and they’re disenchanted with the church, in droves. Rather be anywhere else. They want something real, and in too many churches, that’s simply not on offer.

In other words, the way we’re called to live is everything your jaded suburban teenager craves and doesn’t know how to ask for…and they are the future of the church. Get ’em involved in something real. Let them spend time with addicts and drunks and soccer moms and restaurateurs…people of all kinds, just like Jesus did. Let them serve, and bless, and have hard conversations, like Jesus did. Debrief with them, just like Jesus did with the disciples. And like Jesus did, lead by example–which means you go first.

It will do your heart good, trust me.


Set the Captives Free

30 November 2018

Set the Captives FreeWorship is warfare, but it’s far more than that. Worship is ministry to God; an offering to Him. Worship reminds us where we belong, and restores us to that place. It opens up space for us to bring our concerns and requests to God, and hear His voice speaking to us.

Today an album is being released that exemplifies all this. Set the Captives Free is the debut album of Present Glory, a worship band based here in Englewood at Mosaic Community Church.

The album has nine original songs and two covers. The covers are well chosen and well performed, but I want to talk about the originals. The power couple behind the band is Jeremy and Seleste Sault, and most of the originals are Seleste’s work. “Set the Captives Free,” the title cut, is a personal testimony as well as a theological meditation. “No Other Way” is a prayer for deliverance from ourselves. “Power of the Blood” reflects on the freedom we find at the cross. “The Good Shepherd” is a personal walk-through of Psalm 23. There’s more…but you gotta hear them for yourself.

The truths will be familiar enough, if you’ve been around church for a little bit. But there’s something special happening here. Here, you’re not just hearing well-worn truths set to catchy tunes. You’re hearing from someone who knows these truths firsthand, who has lived every word of the song. You’re hearing real worship that happens to have been recorded.

The musical chops are there, but there’s far more than music going on here. I have seen God use these songs to break chains, restore the fallen, heal the broken. I have benefited from them myself. And now you can too.

The album is available everywhere — Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, CDBaby, and probably a bunch more places I don’t know about. (I’m doing well to have the links I’ve got. I don’t know much about music distribution.)

Buy it. Get to a quiet place, and listen. You’ll be glad you did.

P.S. I had a hand in producing the Set the Captives Free Devotional Guide. Enjoy.


Practicing Unity

27 November 2018

This post is part of the November Synchroblog on church and national unity. See the bottom of this post for a link list of other participating blogs.

The prompt for this month’s Synchroblog framed the quest for unity in terms of politics.

Well, the elections are over … but not really.

As I write this, counting is still going on in various states, and lawyers are setting up battle lines. Newly elected officials are heating up the rhetoric, and protesters are starting to lash out.

What is the role of the church in all of this?

It goes on to ask some bigger questions.

How can we work toward unity in the Body of Christ?…Does unity mean uniformity? If not, then how can we get along? And beyond unity in the church, how can we show the world the path toward peace and unity?

At the policy level, those are some tough questions. At the level of national policy especially.

To address those questions at the policy level, the level of presidents and congressmen and archbishops and general secretaries and such folk…jeepers. You would need a strategy that would unite the vast majority of all Christendom. As things stand now, any council with sufficient authority would never agree on a strategy.

But what makes us think we have to solve the problem from the top down? Top-down solutions are convenient, because they mean that most of us don’t have to do anything until the higher-ups get their act together. That shows no sign of happening anytime soon…so we don’t have to do anything, and it’s all conveniently somebody else’s fault.

That convenience ought to make us suspicious. Jesus rarely leads us by the convenient path. So what if He’s calling us to solve the problem from the bottom up?I think He is, and I think any straightforward reading of John 17 and Ephesians 4 confirms it.

What would that look like? Well, let me tell you what it looks like in my life right now. I’m not using myself as an example to say, “hey, look at me, I’ve got this thing knocked” — not a bit of it. I have a lot to learn. But I’ve also come a long way. What I have now? The man I was 15 years ago didn’t believe any of this was even possible. But it is.

I’m part of an interdenominational pastors’ prayer group in Englewood, Colorado. We meet once a month, and the pattern of the meetings is simple. We’ll go around the circle and check in with each other, and then we pray for each other. The check-in consists of three questions:

  1. How’s your ministry doing?
  2. How’s your family doing?
  3. How’s your walk with God doing?

That’s it. Brevity is valued — the goal is to answer all three questions in 3-5 minutes per participant. (Of course, we’re all pastors, so we don’t always make it under the 5-minute mark, but we try.) In a normal meeting, we’ll pray for each other, celebrating victories and blessings, and lifting up needs. When something unusually difficult is happening, we may abandon. The format entirely. There have been meetings where we put a chair in the center of the circle, sat our wounded brother in it, laid hands on him and just prayed for him for half an hour.

Nondenominational, Southern Baptist, Anglican, United Methodist, Assemblies of God, Messianic, Dutch Reformed…all of these are regularly represented, and over the 8 years I’ve been part of this group, we’ve also had Missouri Synod Lutheran, Grace Covenant, Vineyard, independent Baptist, a Navy chaplain, and many others. We don’t need a denominational commission to sign off on this; we just do it. We do it because Jesus told us to love one another. We do it trusting the Scriptures, which tell us that the Spirit makes the unity (not us!); our job is just to steward it (Eph. 4:1-6). And it works.

I’m also part of a ministry to the homeless of our city called Giving Heart. Come into Giving Heart when it’s open, and you’ll meet volunteers from all kinds of different churches — any of the ones above, and then some. You’ll also meet people who don’t go to church; some of them don’t even identify as Christian. They just want to help their city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, and this is where it’s happening.

Giving Heart began 7 years ago with the realization that most apartment-dwellers are sorely lacking in community life. It started as a privately held community center serving a big multi-housing complex. The goal was to provide a third space where people could meet–host dinners, movie nights, parties on the holidays, and so on. It worked to an extent…but the open door turned out to be a magnet for the local homeless population. When we didn’t turn them away, more came. We didn’t have a lot to offer back then, but someone gave us a big popcorn machine. So if we were open, you could come by, get a bottle of water and some popcorn, and take a load off for a few minutes. Many did. A bottle of water led to conversation, which led to sharing life together.

Over time, the apartment ministry dwindled and the homeless ministry grew. Today, Giving Heart has grown into an access point to medical care, job training, transitional housing, counseling services, resource navigation assistance, and much more. Along the way, my business partner Joe Anderson was able to lead the pastors’ prayer group into a partnership with the city that birthed Change the Trend Network. Change the Trend is a partnership of city government, police, healthcare providers, Giving Heart and other ministries like them. Together, the network’s member agencies provide a road map out of homelessness, and the wrap-around services that getting out of homelessness requires.

Again, none of this came from a fancy council of archbishops, general secretaries, and so on, nor is it sustained by such people. It was birthed by local Christians working together to help the people right in front of us, because that’s what Christians do.

When we do what Christians do together, we minister healing to the sick and freedom to the captives. We proclaim the good news of Jesus to the poor and broken. We seek the Kingdom of God, and God is pleased to give it to us. As we do this together, the unity of the Body is a daily practical reality.

You notice I haven’t said anything about the elections. You know what? The people I rub shoulders with…some of them voted Trump, and proud of it. Some of them are “I’m with Her” folk. Some of them only voted for Hillary because Bernie wasn’t an option. Some of them held their nose and voted R or D; others held their principles and voted third party.

We’re just not that susceptible to the Facebook-meme level of political discourse, where you either voted like I did or you’re literally the devil. We already know better. We laugh together, cry together, pray together, work together to care for the people we all love. We have that basis of positive experience; we already know that our fellow workers who voted for those people are–however inexplicably–really decent human beings, definitely among the good guys.

So when the time comes to have hard conversations about politics, we have the relational and spiritual capital to handle it without demonizing the people who voted differently. We have a reason to actually listen to other points of view, because we already trust each other.

And the brutal truth is, we will not get to a solution any other way. If we can’t love the people right in front of us–the faces we see at home, at work, at church, on the street–then we will not become the sort of people who can handle bigger conversations and bigger issues. Conversely, if we will simply do what Jesus said — love our neighbors — we will find that the Spirit has already given us unity, and we will become the kind of people who steward it well.

Then when the time comes for the archbishops and general secretaries to do their thing, they won’t be trying to manufacture unity out of whole cloth. They will be seeking to steward  the unity their people already have. And that’s the way it should be.

***

Here is the list of other writers and authors who contributed to this month’s Synchroblog. Go read them all to see what others think about church unity.


Riffing on Romans 10

23 November 2018

Christians have always been called to engage in the healing and growth of the world in a holistic, spiritually aware way — not that we’ve always been good at doing it. Today in spiritual-but-not-religious circles, a quasi-secularized version of the same kind of person is often referred to as a lightworker.  

My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the lightworkers is that they would experience overflowing life. For I bear witness that they have zeal for love and peace, but their zeal is not according to knowledge.

For being ignorant of God’s ferocious personal love for them, and seeking to establish connection to divine love by their own wisdom, they have not submitted themselves to the love of God, although they often benefit from it. For Christ is the convergence of all wisdom that produces love, for everyone who simply entrusts themselves to Him.

Solomon writes in a certain way, “By wisdom God founded the world” and “those who hate wisdom love death.” But love through faith speaks in this way: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” which is the word we preach: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you, too, will be filled with life,

Because with the heart one believes, resulting in reconciliation to divine love, and with the mouth you make your confession, resulting in overflowing life.

As the Scriptures also say: “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Because with God there is no distinction between those who are religious and those who are not. The same God over all hears their requests and is rich to all who call on Him, as the Scriptures say: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.”

But how can they call on God for deliverance, if they have not trusted themselves to Him? And how could they trust themselves to Him, if they’ve never heard the truth of who He is? And how will they hear the truth, unless someone tells them? And who will tell them, unless someone is sent to do the job?

As Isaiah says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.” But having heard that good news, they have not all obeyed, as Isaiah also says: “Who has believed our report?”

So then they trust God because they hear the truth about Him, and they hear the truth when we proclaim the word of God. Can we say that they have not heard? No! “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies declare His handiwork” and “There is no speech or language; their voice is not heard, but their sound has gone out to the end of the earth, their words to the end of the world.” And again, “What may be known of God is revealed in them, because God has shown it to them.”

Paul explains: “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became empty in their minds and dark in their hearts.” In that they have addressed their prayers and credited their results to the created universe, they have evaded the need to thank the God who made it, so that “professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the creator God into an image made like the creation” and “worshiped and served the created thing rather than the Creator.”

So these lightworkers, seeking healing, yet having fled from the one from whom all healing comes — has God cast them away forever?

No! I am one of them! God has not abandoned His creation, but “we also are His offspring.” Jesus said, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Me.” And with this Paul agrees, saying, “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” As also Isaiah said so many years ago: “I was found by those who did not seek Me, and was revealed to those who did not ask for Me.”

Remember that when Elijah pitied himself and said, “I alone am left,” God said, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal,” and on the last day, John shows us the saints before the throne of God, “people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.” Therefore among the lightworkers, God has reserved for Himself a people, for He “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

And knowing that “the kindness of God leads us to repentance,” He bestows rain on the just and the unjust alike, and also healing grace and love on those who seek Him and on those who do not. His love flows through lightworkers who know His name, and through those who erect altars “to the unknown God,” not recognizing the source of the grace that is given to them.

And yet the altar bears witness that they are grateful, and that they know this power does not come from within them. And so, God has overlooked this ignorance, but now calls all people everywhere to repent.

And from that call, we in the churches are not excluded. We have neglected the healing grace of God. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, but we have said that healing of memories is not God’s work. Jesus came to make the blind see and the lame walk, but we have been too timid to ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. If these lightworkers have found no place among us, is it because they have rebelled against God? Or is it because we have?

But thanks be to God, He calls all people everywhere to repent—even us.

 


For The Healing of the World

16 November 2018

From the beginning, we were always supposed to be about cultivating and guarding the world. After our failure in the Garden to guard the world as we should, we can add healing the world to the list. The world is broken, and we can’t cultivate and protect it if we don’t heal it too. That applies to our own hearts as surely as it applies to the rest of the world.

Of course we’re inadequate to the task — we were never meant to do any of it except hand in hand with God — but it is our job nonetheless. Into our weakness, Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” (Luke 4:18-19)

We are invited — commanded — to follow His example.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14, emphasis added)

How can we possibly live up to that?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

At Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the Church in power, and from that day to this we are called to attend to the words of Jesus, to practice the ways of Jesus, and to do the works of Jesus in the world. We are united with Him in baptism and partake of Him at His Table, and we are the Body of Christ in the world, because we are what we eat.

We are citizens of a capital city which is presently in heaven, but will one day come to earth. That new city will be the center of the whole world, and the center of the new city is the Lamb, who is its Temple.

“There shall be no night there: they need no lamp or light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.” (Revelation 22:5)

That future light shines down the corridors of history, and if we have eyes to see, it illuminates our present world well enough:

“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

May we live in the power of the Spirit that Christ has given to us.


The Redemption of Natural Philosophy

9 November 2018

In order to understand the place of science in the world, we need to define some terms.

Natural Philosophy: an investigation into the way the natural world is and the way it works. In ancient times, philosophers weren’t just concerned with intangibles or ethics or human nature, they were also concerned with how the world worked. So Aristotle, for example, expresses a natural philosophy.

Science: born out of natural philosophy, science is a particular way of investigating the natural world that relies on generating ideas about the world, generating predictions from those ideas, testing the predictions through repeatable experiments, and revising the ideas accordingly. Or so it says on the wrapper….

Scientists object to being lumped in with natural philosophy because they consider themselves vastly more rigorous than the natural philosophers, and insofar as they really are more rigorous, they have a point. But then, many scientists also regard naturalism as coextensive with ‘Science,’ and naturalism is a religious conviction not subject to scientific testing — so they’re natural philosophers. They just can’t help themselves. Religion gets into everything, and there is no neutrality.

Special Revelation: God telling us something particular. Sometimes questions about the world do address an area where God has spoken. For example, “Is it true that we’ll die if we eat this particular fruit?” As our experience in Eden demonstrates, when God has spoken to a point, it is wise to take His revelation into account.

False religion: various untrue ideas about spiritual things. The principal goal of these ideas is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, to keep Yahweh out of human awareness.

We are obliged to hear special revelation. What God has shown us must be taken into account, period.

We are obliged to disregard false religion. We may not bow down to or in any wise serve idols, and ideas that exist to turn us away from Yahweh are to be rejected out of hand.

Science and natural philosophy, however, are a different matter, and have to be handled differently. Science and natural philosophy are always tied in with an overall worldview, and it matters which one they’re tied in with. Carl Sagan’s science is no more to be trusted than Lao Tzu’s natural philosophy — but no less, either. To the extent that they have observed the natural world accurately, they must be recognized. Paul requires it: “Whatever things are true…think on these things.” To the extent that they have failed to glorify Yahweh and be thankful, they have exalted themselves against the knowledge of God, and they must be cast down. Since we have to do both of these things, we are simply not permitted to discard them, nor to swallow them whole. We are required to seek the redemption of science and natural philosophy, to see these disciplines brought into obedience to Christ.

In the Western world, we like to lump science on the side of the angels, and demonize natural philosophy. Christians have adopted this into our theological schema very uncritically, such that Western medicine is appropriate for Christians (despite its pronounced tendency to murder babies) and acupuncture is not, because it’s not scientific and tied up with Taoism.

Well, sure it’s tied up with Taoism. Good thinkers always seek a consistent, integrated view of everything, and Chinese natural philosophers didn’t keep their Taoism locked in a box whilst they were observing the natural world. Whaddaya expect? Nor did Carl Sagan keep his atheism locked in a box when he looked through a telescope — but I don’t know even one Christian who thinks that means we should ignore what he saw. If we’re prepared to accept insights about the natural world from the round-eyed observer, then why are we so balky about the slant-eyed ones?

Frankly, I think it’s simple xenophobia. Our M.D. doesn’t believe that we have a soul, and that doesn’t bother us at all, because we’re used to it. An acupuncturist says something about yin and yang, and we lose our minds — without even stopping to find out what he meant. As communication improves and the world comes back together again, we need to learn to listen carefully rather than simply rejecting unfamiliar things out of hand. We might learn something.