An Interesting Psychology Experiment

Monkeys

Have you heard the story about the psychology experiment? Here’s how it goes:

You start with a cage containing four monkeys. Inside the cage you hang a banana on a string. Then you place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the dickens out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm – because he is now part of the “team.”

Then replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

In every case, the experienced monkeys that are beating up the new monkey have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana. Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!

The original version of this story goes on to make application by suggesting that “monkeys” holding certain elected offices in governmental circles should all be replaced at the same time. It goes on to say that this suggestion is meant to show no disrespect to monkeys.

I’ll suggest another application, albeit a fairly obvious one. In circles other than governmental ones, the same phenomenon sometimes occurs. In families, schools, churches, community organizations, neighborhoods, civic clubs, social groups, and almost any other collection of people one can imagine, traditions abound.

We often don’t know the source of traditions we follow. We simply follow them. Why? Because they are traditions. We’ve always done things that way.

Most folks my age, and many folks even younger than I, are pretty cotton pickin’ traditional. Yet unless breaking a tradition requires violating biblical, moral, legal, or ethical principles, a tradition might well be replaced by a new practice that better accomplishes the organization’s purposes or objectives.

You might want to remember this story next time you come across a tradition that seems to have no intrinsic value or detracts from the mission you and your group are trying to achieve.

During his earthly life, Jesus broke many traditions. And on a topic far more important than earthly traditions, he said: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5)

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Assisting the Poor and Needy

Poverty

We often hear stories about programs for assisting the poor and needy. Some of those stories show the success of such plans. Others show how the system fails and is even abused.

An internet search for “solving the welfare problem in America” produces lots of information on this topic. Here’s one: http://solutions.heritage.org/entitlements/welfare/

When President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he said that it was intended to strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” He added, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Five decades and $24 trillion later, the welfare system has failed the poor. Poverty rates remain stagnant, and self-sufficiency languishes.

Today the federal government operates roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total federal, state, and local government spending on these programs now reaches over $1 trillion annually.

The cost of welfare is unsustainable, and pouring dollars into an ever-increasing number of welfare programs has failed to improve rates of self-sufficiency. It is time to get welfare spending under control and to reform welfare to encourage self-reliance and human thriving in the context of community.

In addition, in one of my computer files I found these statements on this topic, written by an unknown author from an obviously conservative perspective:

  1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
  3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
  4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

These statements may seem a bit harsh and surely do not tell the whole story of human need and how it can be met. Yet governmental, religious, and other public or private agencies need to assist the poor responsibly to avoid harming both givers and receivers.

The Bible says: “There will always be some in the land who are poor…Share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” (Deut. 15:11 – NLT)

The Bible also says: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10 – KJV)

If a poor person is truly unable to work, we who have been abundantly blessed have a duty to assist. If a poor person is truly able to work, to rely on external assistance is hard to justify.

Charity. Generosity. Stewardship.

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Today’s quote is from Francis Quarles, an English poet who was born May 8, 1592 and died September 8, 1644: “Proportion thy charity to the strength of thy estate, lest God proportion thy estate to the weakness of thy charity. Let the lips of the poor be the trumpet of thy gift, lest in seeking applause thou lose thy reward. Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a closed mouth.”

These are powerful statements, each of which is corroborated by the following equally powerful Scripture passages:

Luke 6:38: Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you … For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

1 Cor. 13:3: Paul wrote, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Luke 21:2: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 18:9-14: The Pharisee boasted about his tithe but the tax collector dared not to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

2 Cor. 9:7, 11: “God loves a cheerful giver … You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God bless your generosity through charitable giving, demonstrating your faithful stewardship of the blessings he has entrusted to your care!

Relationships among Pastors

Credit: potomacag.org

Credit: potomacag.org

Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)