Sunday, December 29, 2013

The End of 2013

It is the end of 2013. I have been consistently blogging for five years and this is my 458th blog entry. Some entries have been short, just a quote from someone else's writing; some have been longer examples of my own creativity. This blog is not restricted to a certain topic but rather ranges over the various themes which catch my attention. Some recurring themes are song lyrics (my own originals or someone else's), philosophy, faith, science, physics, biology, the relationship between science and faith, social justice, tea, relationships, crows, and evolution. I write because I believe that it is good for me to write. I write because I enjoy it. I write to improve my writing. I write to keep track of things I have learned. Sometimes this blog has become a repository for quotes from whatever book I might be reading. It is often a place I look when I am trying to remember a quote or a concept that is important to me.

Others can read the blog but I seldom seek to write things that will catch the attention of others. This blog is first and foremost the thoughts that strike me as important whether or not anyone else finds them important. Yet, I am also hopeful that others might be inspired or educated by the things I write. As I say in the short description of this blog: "This blog is a place where I do my public journaling. It is a place to practise writing and perhaps encourage others to hunger and thirst for righteousness." It is also a place where I work out my own faith in Jesus "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).  So, thank you to those who read the rambling thoughts of a man who is learning to write, learning science, learning faith, and learning to be the man God is calling him to be. Let's learn together. I leave you with a quote that speaks of both "tea" and "writing."

“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
- Anne Lamott

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tea and Hospitality

“In Ireland, you go to someone's house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you're really just fine. She asks if you're sure. You say of course you're sure, really, you don't need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don't need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn't mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it's no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don't get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.”1

C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

1http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/tea

Friday, December 27, 2013

Linus van Pelt or Ayn Rand

Philosophical arguments happen at Christmas time. It is one of those times when people ask questions about ultimate truth, the meaning of Christmas, and the meaning of life. Mark Gollom of CBC News recently interviewed Yaron Brook, a follower of Ayn Rand, to explore his thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas. Having read the interview I thought I would juxtapose two philosophies of life: Objectivism, as expressed by the Ayn Rand Institute, and the Christian Gospel, as described in the Gospel of Luke in the Bible (and as read by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas). The reader may choose which philosophy seems most credible and then research that way of life more thoroughly.

Objectivism, as a philosophy, proposes a way of life in which one pursues "rational self-interest, in making your life the best life it can be and adhering to principles that will guide you in pursuing your own happiness, your own success and your own flourishing as a human being."1 (Note the significant emphasis upon the self.) According to Yaron Brook, current executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, Christmas has become a non-Christian holiday which celebrates consumerism.
Brook: I don’t think it’s a celebration of materialism qua materialism. It’s a celebration of life. As such, the material or the materialism out there is part of life — how we make life better. We consume stuff but we consume stuff because it enhances our life and our life is not material, we experience life spirituality. But there’s no conflict, in my view, between spiritual and the material. The material enhances the spiritual — the function of consciousness is to make it possible for us to think and to produce and therefore to be able to enjoy the material world.
The material and spiritual go hand and hand, and I think Christmas illustrates that. You know you had to be productive and to make money all year to be able to have money to be able to spend it. All this is very non-Christian. And I think that’s what upsets people, that it isn’t linked to these ideas of sacrifice and self-denial, which I think are vices. I don’t think they’re virtues. So this is why I love Christmas so much, because it’s the celebration of the opposite of sacrifice, and the opposite of self-denial. It’s the celebration of success and prosperity.2
The traditional themes as expressed in the Gospel of Luke and in the soliloquy by Linus van Pelt are quite different from those expressed by Objectivism. Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14 as the true meaning of Christmas. Here it is in the King James translation used by Linus:
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Some of the themes expressed in this version of the meaning of Christmas include, a saviour who saves humans from their own self-interest; a saviour who saves people from striving for happiness in materialism; angels and humans who praise God for the gift of self-sacrifice given by God to the world; and peace and good will brought about by the same God who took on human form to save human-kind.

The essence of each philosophy is diametrically opposed to the other. Objectivism encourages self-interest and struggling after the things of this world; the Gospel encourages acceptance of a gift of sacrifice and self-sacrifice for the sake of others. I ask the reader to consider which path will serve our world and our spirits best. Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.


1 "Why Yaron Brook likes Christmas consumerism," By Mark Gollom, CBC News Posted: Dec 26, 2013 5:00 AM ET| Last Updated: Dec 25, 2013 3:47 PM ET; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/why-yaron-brook-likes-christmas-consumerism-sorry-charlie-brown-1.2474906
2 "Why Yaron Brook likes Christmas consumerism," By Mark Gollom, CBC News Posted: Dec 26, 2013 5:00 AM ET| Last Updated: Dec 25, 2013 3:47 PM ET; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/why-yaron-brook-likes-christmas-consumerism-sorry-charlie-brown-1.2474906

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tea and Christmas

My wife, Maureen, gave me a wonderful mug for Christmas. It has the following quote stenciled on it: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  - C.S. Lewis. It is the perfect gift on so many levels. I had never heard these words of Lewis; and yet, it sounds like something he would say. Merry Christmas and may you always find time to curl up with a nice hot cup of tea and a good book.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Canada and the Nordic Model

Canada's Supreme Court has struck down most of the previous laws related to prostitution in Canada deeming them unconstitutional because they breach the Charter rights of vulnerable and marginalized people and their right to "security of the person." The present laws will stay in effect for one year giving  the Parliament of Canada time to draft better laws. If elected politicians fail to create laws which will withstand constitutional challenge prostitution will be legal and unrestricted in Canada.

This has opened a door for all of our elected officials to work together regardless of political parties and I pray that they will work together for the good of Canada and for the good of vulnerable and marginalized people who have used prostitution as a means of survival. It will be messy political work but it will be important for them to be willing to risk their political careers to do the right thing. The tendency in the past has sometimes been to simply despair of creating better laws and leave social issues largely unregulated. Doing so in this case would be a mistake. There are examples of other countries of the world which have drafted effective laws on prostitution and there are examples of countries which have tried the route of legalizing prostitution leading to dreadful consequences.

Joy Smith, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul in Manitoba, is admirable in her willingness to step into the debate. On hearing of the Supreme Court ruling, she issued an immediate press release stating the importance of drafting new legislation. You can read it in its entirety here. In the release she states that "This ruling leaves police without important legal tools to tackle sex trafficking and organized crime and does not reflect a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision which stated that the elimination of prostitution through law was a valid goal." Thus, she encourages Parliament to have the will to use the rule of law to eliminate prostitution and protect people from human trafficking and organized crime. She further states that "prostitution as an industry . . . is inherently harmful to women and girls and therefore must be eliminated." Ms. Smith suggests, along with many others, that the way to solve this problem lies in the Nordic model of prostitution which targets the buyers of sex. The Nordic model criminalizes the buying of sex and the sexual exploitation of prostitutes and has been used effectively in countries such as Sweden and Norway. It also features a support program which aims to create strategies for those who seek to exit prostitution.

The position of the press release is summarised in these statements:
Prostitution must be eliminated because it dehumanizes and degrades humans and reduces them to a commodity to be bought and sold. Legalizing prostitution is a direct attack on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, girls and vulnerable people. In the same regard, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality. . . .
As a nation, we must ensure pimps remain severely sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized and instead given meaningful escape routes out of sex work. Most importantly, Canada must focus on the real root of prostitution by targeting the buyers of sex.

Let's join together in prayer and effort to see that this ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is a turning point in Canadian law. May we all work toward the implementation of a Nordic model of law regarding prostitution in this country. May we work to see people protected and work toward a just society in Canada.

Further Reading:
REED, Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity; http://www.embracedignity.org

"Legalizing Prostitution Will Harm Women – Canada Must Target Buyers of Sex," MP Joy Smith, Press Release, December 20, 2013, http://www.joysmith.ca/news.asp?newsID=761

"Supreme Court of Canada strikes down federal prostitution laws," The Star.com, December 22, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/12/20/supreme_court_of_canada_strikes_down_federal_criminal_prostitution_laws.html

"Supreme Court strikes down Canada's prostitution laws," CBC News, December 20, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-court-strikes-down-canada-s-prostitution-laws-1.2471572

Monday, December 16, 2013

Follow-Up to Ghost in the Machine

Two quotes from David Chalmers express the importance of studying the concept of consciousness.
Even when I was studying mathematics, physics, and computer science, it always seemed that the problem of consciousness was about the most interesting problem out there for science to come to grips with.1
I think [consciousness] provides plenty of grounds for reorientating our view of how the world might be. We think 'OK it's nice and simple' - there's biology, there's chemistry, there's physics and so on but one thing we learn from studying science is that the more and more you study science, the more and more you realise just how strange the world is. Quantum mechanics is fundamentally strange, what it tells us about the basic nature of reality. Studying consciousness tells us more about how the world is fundamentally strange. I think we have a few revolutions to go yet before we get to the bottom of it.2
1 David Chalmers, http://machineslikeus.com/biographies/david-chalmers
2 David Chalmers, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/david-chalmers-on-the-big-conundrum-consciousness/3546288

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ghost in the Machine

For some time I have been a fan of Kyler England. I love her solo work but she has also written and performed with "The Rescues" and most recently has teamed up with former "Rescues" member, Adrianne Gonzalez, to create the duo: "The Fire and the Sea." Their lyric video, The Ghost in the Machine, can be seen and heard here.
Ghost in the Machine
(from the lyric video by "The Fire and The Sea") 
You are the ghost in the machine
Flickering
And I don't know what it means
You trouble me 
Behind the smoke
And the screen
I'm hiding, I'm hiding
But when the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling 
In the light you follow me
Shadowing
In the dark you're all I see
Surrounding
In a sweet unwanted dream
Trouble needs a place to sleep
But when the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling 
When the secret's out
You are the ghost in the machine
Flickering
When the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling
The concept of "the ghost in the machine" is a well-known philosophical term which refers to the separation of mind and body. Some, like British philosopher Gilbert Ryle1, suggest that it is a false concept while others would suggest that the difficulty we have in explaining "consciousness" indicates that there is a "ghost in the machine" or perhaps a "soul in the body." Consciousness may be a candidate for a distinction between the pure chemistry of the mind and perception; but, is consciousness sufficient to suggest a ghost in the machine?

Regarding consciousness and perception, Alva Noƫ has said,
Consider this; we are conscious of both more and less than affects our nervous system. Let me give you an example. I look at a tomato. It’s sitting there on the counter in front of me. It’s red and bulgy and three dimensional and I experience all that visually. I have a sense even visually of the back of the tomato, but I can't see the back of the tomato. It’s out of view and yet it’s part of my experience of the tomato that it has a back. It’s present in that sense to me, but note it doesn’t strike my retina. It’s present. It informs. It structures my visual experience without actually being an element that stimulates my nervous system.2
N.T. Wright points out that Neo-Platonic concepts of dualism have influenced our concepts of body and soul, brain and mind, and heaven and earth.3 He suggests that the Bible is much more holistic in its presentation and argues for a holistic view of body and being. David Chalmers suggests that a machine could indeed be "all machine and no ghost."4 Others speak of the Holy Spirit of God and how it interacts with humans as the "ghost in the machine." What is the truth? This question is certainly troubling.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_machine
2 http://bigthink.com/think-tank/the-ghost-in-the-machine-unraveling-the-mystery-of-consciousness
3 http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_SCP_MindSpiritSoulBody.htm
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love, Emotions, and Fidelity

Inspiration for blog entries comes from personal experiences, community or world events, and emotional responses to all of the above. A muse may be uplifting or discouraging but the writer is responsible for the wisdom and encouragement that the experience creates. This entry has a number of influences contributing to the lessons learned.

Love, in movies and in real life, can look as different as film and Photoshop. Actors are often called upon to depict intense love for a person with whom they are only acting. In reference to such roles and the frame of mind he must find, Ryan Gosling has said,
I'm interested in love and the lack of it and the crazy things we do to get it. The knight slays the dragon and then lives happily ever after with the princess in the castle, but when they've moved in together, they have to share a bathroom. How do you keep love alive in a domestic situation? What is it about that that dismantles love.1
Those of us who have been married, or lived with someone, for a number of years can understand his question and may even wonder if we have what it takes to "make love last." But, does familiarity necessarily lead to a loss of love? Or is it something else which evaporates when the knight and princess share a castle?

There are a number of ways that we could investigate this question. Scientist have theories and equations that explain population dynamics and optimum family sizes for optimal gene transmission; and, although this usually explains animal behaviour, it seldom comes close to illuminating the impulses of men and women. In fact, there is not one explanation for the phenomenon of love that will satisfy all hearts and minds. For some, the following logical words of C.S. Lewis will be all that is needed  to inspire longevity in love.
Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go... But, of course, ceasing to be "in love" need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from "being in love" — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God... "Being in love" first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.2
Others will appreciate a more lyrical elucidation of the concept.
Love's Not a Feeling
(Words and Music by Steve Camp) (Listen to the song here
Take a look around so many broken hearts on the ground
No one was there to take the time to really care
Well a commitment's what, ooh, love should be, we wash our hands of it so easily
We give up so fast, then wonder why love doesn't last 
Love's not a feeling, oh we've got to learn
To get past our emotions to the meaning of the word
Love's not a feeling we can lose and throw away
Lord give us the courage to live it every day 
There's a love that Jesus shows and our desperate hearts need it so
His love is alive, it never ends, it never dies
God won't walk out on us when the pressure's on and times are tough
Just trust in his power, he'll see you through your darkest hour 
Love's not a feeling, oh we've got to learn
To get past our emotions to the meaning of the word
Love's not a feeling we can lose and throw away
Lord give us the courage to live it every day 3
The best that a writer can hope for is that those who read an article of this nature will pause long enough to consider their own significant relationships and ponder the height, and depth, and breadth of love. It is now your turn to muse and reflect. Selah.

1. Ryan Gosling, Vancouver Sun, December 22, 2010.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,Macmillan Publishers, 1952.
3. Steve Camp, from the Album, Fire and Ice, 1983

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Brothers K

I just finished reading a novel by David James Duncan entitled The Brothers K. If I were to do a review of the book I would, among other things, speak of the evocative language the author uses in many chapters. The opening scene in chapter one is particularly good; also the scene outside the pulp mill one foggy morning is incredibly touching and emotional. I might also speak of the unevenness of the writing because there is a whole section in which the author purposely uses poor grammar and weak logic to portray the emotions of some of the brothers (the technique did not really work for me). Overall, the book is very good and the parallels to Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, are present but subtle enough to leave the reader wanting to explore the themes to a greater extent. At certain points I found I wanted to read Dostoevsky in one hand and Duncan in the other hand to compare the characters.

Having said that I will not give a complete review of the book, what I would like to do is draw our attention to one section in which the author explores concepts of giving, trust, faith, and salvation. The book has many themes worthy of exploring but one of the more significant is the nature of the spirituality of Laura "Mama" and Hugh "Papa" Chance. Laura Chance is an extremely devoted Seventh Day Adventist Christian who is very severe and legalistic in her faith. In most of her life she speaks her mind in no uncertain terms and says that some in her family are destined for heaven and some are destined for a fiery hell, unless they change their ways and become members of the Adventist Church. At one point she sets up a system of merit and rewards in which the faithful church attendees are cared for with meals, laundry, and cleaning while those in the family who do not attend are left to fend for themselves. There is a reason for her hardness; but we do not get to know the reason until the final scenes of the book. Hugh Chance, on the other hand, is not a religious person; unless one counts his devotion to baseball. Laura "knows" that her baseball pitching, beer drinking, chain-smoking husband is destined for hell. She continues to love her husband, although her actions do not show it, and shows greater tenderness toward him in the months leading up to his death. The following excerpt is taken from a time when Hugh has died of cancer and, against Adventist theology and Laura's wishes, but in compliance with Hugh's demands, his body has been cremated.
He'd left it to Mama to select his container, and she'd chosen – of all things – the same blue ceramic jewelry box in which she used to keep her Sabbath tithes and offerings. It gave me a turn to see it, full of powdered Papa on our dinnertable there. But once my intestines swung back around, it began to feel about perfect. Because what is an offering really? What can human beings actually give to God? What can they give to each other even? And what sorts of receptacles can contain these gifts? Work camps and insane asylums, Indian trains and church pews, bullpens and little blue boxes . . . Who belongs in what? When do they belong there? Who truly gives what to whom? These were questions we were all struggling to answer not in words, but with our lives. And all her life Laura Chance had placed ten percent of all she'd earned in this same blue box before offering it – in full faith that it would be accepted – to her Lord. So now, just as faithfully, she'd placed a hundred percent of her husband in the same box. That was her answer to the questions. And I'm hard put to think of another that would do greater honor to her husband, her Lord or her little blue box.1
As a final "offering," Laura Chance "offered up" Hugh Chance in a blue box trusting that God would know what to do with him. We sense a softening of her fierce legalism and perhaps a willingness to admit that she did not have all of the answers and that God still held some mystery for her. There is much we can learn from the Chance family and I encourage discerning readers to consider the lessons inhabiting this work.


1 Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. New York: Random House Inc., 2005 (originally published in 1992), p. 620, 621.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Surprised by a Book

One of the great pleasures of my life is being surprised by a book. A friend recommended one to me and so I read it. I didn't expect much from this thin book by an Eastern Orthodox theologian. But, as I read it, I began to realize that, despite the short chapters, it was a dense and biblical analysis of the topic of same-sex attraction. The book is called Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections; written by Thomas Hopko. Not only does it deal with same-sex attraction, it has many helpful insights regarding sexuality and relationships in general. Chapter 15, on friendship, is worth the price of the book itself. The following quote is from that chapter.
People of predominantly or exclusively same-sex attractions and desires will know that they must work and pray to find and nourish deep, close, and lasting friendships with persons of their own sex with whom they have no erotic sexual relations. . . . Whatever the causes of a person's sexual feelings and desires, however, it remains a firm conviction of Orthodox Christianity that healthy and holy people always have friends of both sexes with whom they learn to love in all ways God commands human beings to love. Another firm conviction is that some of these spiritual friendships have to be older and wiser than they are.1
In one simple paragraph Hopko lays out a very helpful theology of spiritual friendship. It seems to me that he is saying something that is badly needed in our hyper-sexualized culture. It is important for each of us to have non-erotic friendships with both genders. Women in business lament that older, experienced men in the business world are hesitant to mentor women because of the optics (see Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In). Yet, these kind of mentoring relationships are just what many women need and there are too few women in senior leadership to mentor all of the women who wish to have such a relationship. Yes, men and women need to take proper precautions and define appropriate boundaries; but, there is tremendous value in friendships with those from the gender to which we are most strongly sexually attracted.

It seems to me that some church leaders who express a hyper-complementarian understanding of gender relationships would do well to have spiritual friendships with persons of the opposite sex. Some may need to change their thinking about the opposite sex and control their sexual feelings to a greater extent. The sexualization of most relationships that often occurs in the predominant culture of our time is an aberration. It does not need to be that way. In the same chapter, Hopko gives examples of significant spiritual friendships between persons of the opposite sex that were perfectly chaste and wonderfully healthy. There is something important for us to learn from such spiritual friendships. Like Hopko, I call on us to seek to live holy lives in which we are free to have healthy friendships with both men and women.

1. Hopko, Thomas. Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 2006, p. 69.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

Charles Wesley, who lived from 1701 to 1788, was a clergyman and an early leader in the Methodist movement. As such, he was a significant leader, contributing greatly to the history of the evangelical church in the west. He was the youngest of three brothers, the other two being John Wesley and Samuel Wesley. The three of them were close and worked side-by-side in outdoor preaching, training of people for the work of the church, and training in spirituality. Charles also wrote over 6,000 hymns; many of them are still well-known today. He wrote "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."

Charles was the son of a rector and, along with his brothers, followed this course and became a clergyman in the Church of England. During his training at Oxford, around 1727, Charles formed a prayer group with his fellow students, his brother John, and George Whitefield, another notable preacher of the day. The group was notable because of two features: methodical Bible study and encouragement toward holy living. They developed a very detailed system of study, discussion of the Bible, and disciplined lifestyle. Some continue to follow this structure today. Take a look at examples here and here. It was because of these methodical processes that the followers of the Wesleys came to be known as Methodists. The Wesleyan movement or Methodists would eventually break from the Church of England to become a separate denomination. John was convinced of the necessity of this split but Charles was not as certain.

What I find striking about the life of Charles Wesley is that, after many years of serving the church and following the methods of his own movement, he would say that he did not experience conversion to the faith of Jesus Christ until May 21, 1738. His brother, John, confesses to having had a similar experience just three days after his youngest brother. Charles had come to see his methods as legalistic. He felt he had missed out on the freedom of Christ in his attempts to structure his spiritual life around the Methodist techniques. Around the time of his conversion he wrote the words to one of his greatest hymns: "Amazing Love: And Can It Be." The lyrics (of the four most popular verses) are here below; note especially verse three.
Amazing Love: And Can It Be
(verse 1)
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(verse 2)
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For O my God, it found out me!
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

(verse 3)
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?

(verse 4)
No condemnation now I dread
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine
Alive in Him, my living Head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ my own
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God, shouldst die for me?
Words by Charles Wesley (1738), music by Thomas Campbell (1825)
Public Domain.
Verse three in particular shows the sense in which Wesley felt bound. He speaks of chains which fell off. He speaks of the amazing love which he sensed from God. The caution for our own lives may be obvious; yet, let me expand upon it for just a moment. Holiness, disciplined living, service for God, and methodical Bible reading are important aspects of our life in Christ. They must never take the place of a genuine relationship with the God of the universe, His Son who rescues us from sin, and the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Shortly before he died, Charles Wesley sent for a Church of England rector and asked that he be buried in the church cemetery. He said to the rector, "Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England."1 His request was granted. His legacy of methods, although important to church history, was not as important to him as the unity of the church and freedom in the love and grace of God.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wesley#Ministry

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. Yes, it is also the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley. The fact that all three died on the same day prompted the author Peter Kreeft to write a book entitled Between Heaven and Earth in which he discussed the conversation the three might have had in the "waiting room of heaven." On this anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis I will devote this blog post to a few lesser known quotes from Lewis.

Those who are not followers of Jesus may not agree with everything the man said. Yet, I daresay that most anyone will find his description of love, in The Four Loves, to be brilliant.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. 
But of course he was not simply a great writer; anyone who has read C.S. Lewis' writings will know that he was a careful apologist for Christianity. He would not allow people to pretend they were Christians. In Mere Christianity he pointed out the depth of commitment required when one claims to have faith in Christ.
[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
Yet Lewis was also careful to not put God in a box. When asked how one could help people encounter God, his answer is far from formulaic.
"You can’t lay down any pattern for God. There are many different ways of bringing people into his Kingdom, even some ways that I specially dislike! I have therefore learned to be cautious in my judgment."
“But we can block it in many ways. As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the faith. We give in too much. Now, I don’t mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colors, if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away."
“There is a character in one of my children’s stories named Aslan, who says, ‘I never tell anyone any story except his own.’ I cannot speak for the way God deals with others; I only know how he deals with me personally. Of course, we are to pray for spiritual awakening, and in various ways we can do something toward it. But we must remember that neither Paul nor Apollos gives the increase. As Charles Williams once said, ‘The altar must often be built in one place so that the fire may come down in another place.’"1
C.S. Lewis was a remarkable man and one of the most interesting people of the 20th century. Take some time to learn more about him as we honour his memory today.

1 Decision magazine, September 1963; © 1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
http://www.cbn.com/special/Narnia/articles/ans_LewisLastInterviewA.aspx

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Avian Einsteins

You may already know of my interest in crows, jays, and other intelligent bird species. (If not, you can catch up by reading previous blog posts here and here.) Today I want to share with you another interesting study that suggests that crows have the ability to teach other crows to avoid dangerous human individuals. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have performed a fascinating field study in urban Seattle. The "dangerous person" researchers put on "cave man" masks and then engaged in threatening behaviours with the crows of a certain area of the campus: they trapped, banded, and released the crows while wearing the "dangerous person" mask. Later when researchers walked about in the same area of the campus, wearing the "dangerous person" mask, crows scolded them from tree-tops and other safe distances. The crows did not react to other persons wearing different but similar masks. Their eye for detail made the scolding very specific. Both crows that had been "threatened" (trapped, banded, and released) and those that had not been threatened engaged in the scolding. This indicates that the crows are capable of communicating the danger of certain individuals to companion crows and family members. The researchers showed that it was not simply one type of mask that got a response from the crows by repeating the experiment in different regions using different masks for the "dangerous persons" and "safe persons."

This research suggests a couple of things. First, crows are intelligent enough to know a person who has done something scary to them. They recognize individual people and can tell us apart by facial recognition. Second, they can communicate information about individual people to each other. Even crows that had not been scared by certain individuals knew the particular face that belonged to a person who was a potential threat. This suggests that their communicative powers are better than we might have expected. Whatever the mechanisms, the communication methods are sufficient to communicate complex information about facial characteristics.

I am inspired by the intelligence of both the birds and the researchers. The researchers carefully designed their field research and were alert to test alternate theories. As the researchers readily admit, it is field research, as opposed to the controlled setting of a laboratory, and is therefore messy; but by not over-interpreting the results these investigators have contributed to the scientific knowledge base. The crows have once again shown themselves to be intelligent, protective, and communicative. This is another testimony to the glory of our God who created birds with intelligence. This inspires me to praise men, crows, and God.

"Crows Share Intelligence About Enemies;" CBC.ca/Technology and Science; June 30, 2011 (accessed 2013-11-17) http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/crows-share-intelligence-about-enemies-1.1014915.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Filling Our Lives

As we approach the most commercialized, consumerist, season of the year, it is appropriate to pause and consider our values once again. Let's take a quick look at some of the messages given to us by the dominant culture at this time of year:

  • buying things will make you happy
  • if you buy one thing for someone else you can get a gift card to spend on yourself
  • entertainment systems are a necessity
  • big, high definition, entertainment systems will make your life better
  • buying enough things so that everyone can have their own is only fair
  • buying things that allow you to choose your own entertainment options will make you happier
  • your home is your sanctuary away from the problems of the world
  • stuff will make you sexy
  • sexy will sell anything
  • houses need to be big enough to keep all of your stuff.

If these are indeed some of the messages heard in the dominant culture (and certainly we could add more), let us ask ourselves, "How many actually make sense to us?" How many of the dominant messages of our culture have become part of our thought processes? Father Richard Rohr has said,
Most Christian 'believers' tend to echo the cultural prejudices and worldviews of the dominant group in their country, with only a minority revealing any real transformation of attitudes or consciousness. It has been true of slavery and racism, classism and consumerism, and issues of immigration and health care for the poor. From a religion based on a man who was always healing poor people and foreigners, it defies any logical analysis!1
To what is God calling us? How might we once again become a people who follow a man who healed poor people and foreigners?
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
Romans 12:1-3 (New Living Translation).

1 Huffington Post, "Religion and Immigration: We Have Not Yet Begun to Love," October 18, 2011.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Daring Greatly

I do not know much about Theodore Roosevelt but these words of his resonate with me.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.1
I had breakfast this morning with a friend with whom I previously worked very hard. We were involved in an endeavor that was about risk and experiment; great joy and tremendous sorrow. It reminded me that I want to be one who is in the arena; even if it means I make mistakes and have failures. I want to spend myself in the worthiest of causes; even if I might fail while daring greatly. I have known both victory and defeat; I rejoice that I continue to learn from both.

1 Theodore Roosevelt, Citizen of the Republic Speech, April 23, 1910; (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7-it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts-not-the-man); also quoted in Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing the World

I had tea with two friends who, when they were each 24 years old, read the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger  (about five years ago for each of them). I commented that I had also read that book when I was about 24 years old (about seven years after it was published). I thought about my life and wondered how I had done living out the principles of the book in the 29 years that have followed. I realized that I never really understood the principles until I worked at practising them in my own stumbling ways. I decided I still needed to put much more into practise. The three of us had been at an event at which Ron Sider and Shane Claiborne spoke. Ron Sider was speaking out against consumerism before consumerism became a dirty word. You might say that "he was active, when activism wasn't cool." Because of people like Ron Sider, Mother Theresa, and Shane Claiborne, North Americans do know that it is not acceptable to horde our wealth while the poor are oppressed and hungry. These prophets have spoken of and modeled for us the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. They have reshaped evangelical opinions on poverty and wealth. Sider says,
We need to make some dramatic, concrete moves to escape the materialism that seeps into our minds via diabolically clever and incessant advertising. We have been brainwashed to believe that bigger houses, more prosperous businesses, and more sophisticated gadgets are the way to joy and fulfillment. As a result, we are caught in an absurd, materialistic spiral. The more we make, the more we think we need in order to live decently and respectably. Somehow we have to break this cycle because it makes us sin against our needy brothers and sisters and, therefore, against our Lord. And it also destroys us. Sharing with others is the way to real joy. - Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.
"Sharing with others is the way to real joy." Do I really believe that all of the time? How much of myself am I willing to share with others? Shane Claiborne reminds us that we must know those for whom we advocate and serve.
And I think that's what our world is desperately in need of - lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about. - The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
I thought about how I have been reading about these things and attempting to live them out for many years. I find I am in agreement with these words of Claiborne. “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Piety and Science

One of the purposes of a blog of this nature is to point people to writers whom readers might otherwise miss. I have previously noted an article entitled, "Why Conservative Christian Piety Should Animate Evangelical Engagement with Science’s Sticky Subjects." Today, I want to highlight a few of the main points within this article.

The article suggests that some Christians view an anti-science stance as part of their serious Christian piety; the stance against science being a kind of badge of honour for the holiest of people. That is, if one is truly in tune with God and guided by the Holy Spirit, that person will avoid scientific study so as not to influence their relationship with God. Christopher M. Hays instead says that we need people with deep Christian piety who will also study the difficult issues of science. We need scientists and science enthusiasts filled with a deep love for God who will help all of God's people navigate through science and how it relates to our theology. Hays refers to this as a matter of trust. Can we trust God enough to believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired the "composition and compilation" of the Bible and believe that it still has spiritual nourishment for us while also trusting that God is revealing himself to us through creation. I would add that God is also revealing himself through the methods of science. He is the author of the systems of cause and effect and experimentation and observation. Both the systems and the results bear witness to the nature of an orderly and logical God of justice, grace, and generosity.

Piety is devotion to God. It is about trusting God in all aspects of life. It is about putting our trust in him above our trust in our own abilities to conceptualize God. The God who is creator and sustainer of our universe is certainly difficult to grasp and we are all too prone to simplifying our image of God. Peter Enns, in a post specifically dealing with the science of evolution and its relationship to faith says,
It may be that evolution, and the challenges it presents, will remind us that we are called to trust God, which means we may need to restructure and even abandon the ‘god’ that we have created in our own image. Working through the implications of evolution may remind Christians that trusting God’s goodness is a daily decision, a spiritually fulfilling act of recommitment to surrender to God no matter what.
I need this reminder to trust God. I must trust God more than I trust the words of men and women; and I must trust God more than I trust theological constructs. Piety (trust in and devotion to God) means that I can engage theology and science while trusting the God who gave us minds that can think through difficult concepts.

The article by Christopher Hays also reminds us of a time honoured way in which men and women have understood the truth of God. He speaks of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that "articulates how God’s truth is revealed through Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience (with special deference to Scripture as the “base” of the Quadrilateral)." Whether in the study of theology or in the study of science, these four factors must guide our understanding. All truth is God's truth.

I find myself agreeing with Hays when he points out his own agreement with the words of Amos Yong.
Those who are led by the Spirit can therefore pursue the life of the mind, even the scientific vocation, and in this way also bring their own questions, perspectives, and curiosities to their scientific endeavors.… [P]ursuit of the Spirit-filled life can be part and parcel of the modern scientific task.
I want to be one who is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led; I also want to be one who engages in the scientific process and one who communicates the wonders of what is being discovered in the realm of science. This is part of the great challenge to which I am called. As Hays says,

. . . grappling with the Big Bang and abiogenesis can express precisely the sorts of piety that should animate Christian evangelicals. For the sake of the lost and for the sake of our own struggling parishioners we have an obligation to sort out a faithful understanding of modern science.
 The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leadership Prayer Breakfast

Today, Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, spoke briefly at the 45th Annual Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast. This breakfast started as an opportunity for Christian leaders to come together to pray for the city and our country. Since those early years, Calgary's cultural and religious diversity has increased. Today there were references to Christians, Muslims, and Jews working together for the good of the city in flood rescue and reparations.

Mayor Nenshi said that there are "more things that unite than divide us." He spoke of our common "responsibility to serve others" and our sense that we are "in this together." He inspired the crowd by drawing from his heart and from the words of others. He said that "together we are stronger" and that we are "greatest together." He concluded with a reference to a message written on a sheet of plywood in a flooded community in Calgary. The simple message on the makeshift sign read, "We lost a lot of stuff; we gained a community."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Breathing

Prayer is relationship. It is much more than asking God for something every time we come into his presence. These words flying out of my keystrokes are really just the confession of a pleading soul. I can easily fill any empty space with wishes, gentle beseeching, or all out demands for God to do my will. How much better my soul is when I simply come into the presence of God without asking for anything.
Breathing(by Lifehouse) 
I'm finding my way back to sanity again
Though I don't really know what
I'm going to do when I get there
Take a breath and hold on tight
Spin around one more time
And gracefully fall back to the arms of Grace 
I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I'm looking past the shadows
Of my mind into the truth and
I'm trying to identify
The voices in my head
God, which one's you?
Let me feel one more time
What it feels like to feel
And break these calluses off of me
One more time 
'Cause I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside your door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I don't want a thing from you
Bet you're tired of me waiting
For the scraps to fall
Off of your table to the ground
I just want to be here now 
'Cause I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be
My best worship is when I take this attitude and simply seek to be in God's presence without looking for any thing from him. The scraps from the table of the God of the universe are enough to feed me forever; sitting outside heaven's door, listening to God breathing "is where I want to be."

1 Writers: Jacob Elisha Luttrell, Henry Binns, Jason Wade, Laura Abela, Justin Franks, Yoyo Olugbo, Gregg W. Sutton.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Recognizing the Divine

I have this sense that God might sometimes be showing up in my life and I am missing it. I am concerned that I may not recognize all of the ways in which God is at work. How do I recognize him and his handiwork when he shows up in my world? In the years that I have walked on this earth, I have met a few people who over-spiritualize things and see miracles in ordinary occurrences; but much more common is a tendency to under-spiritualize and miss the miracles that God has done. When God answers prayer it is easy to find other explanations that will normalize  the experience. Beyond that, it is also sometimes challenging to accept a miracle from the hand of God and admit that this time he actually did disrupt the normal sequence of cause and effect and the scientific order.

One particular incident in my life that illustrates this is an event that happened in the spring of 2007 when I was miraculously healed of a one centimeter mass on the pons of my brain. I have previously written about that experience here. Accepting this as an actual miracle requires a humble recognition that God has given me a great gift. Yet, how can I accept this gift from God when others around me have had brain tumors, have not been healed, and have died from the tumor? In many ways it would be easier to come up with other explanations: the doctors made a mistake; there was an artefact on the imaging that only looked like a tumor in my brain (of course there was the matter of the pain which disappeared at the same time as the "artefact" disappeared, so it is not that easy to say that it was just an artefact); or it was, excuse the pun, "all in my head." How can I be thankful even as I ask, "Why me?"?

What other miracles and signs of the divine might we be missing? Mary Doriah Russell uses a bit of prose to examine the issue in her book, The Sparrow. Russell allows us to listen in to the thoughts of one of her characters named Anne.
Once, long ago, she'd allowed herself to think seriously about what human beings would do, confronted directly with a sign of God's presence in their lives.  The Bible, that repository of Western wisdom, was instructive either as myth or as history, she'd decided.  God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf.  God walked in Jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work.  Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question:  If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God?  A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.1
The question we all must ask is, "What will we do when confronted directly with a sign of God's presence in our lives?" Will we retreat into the banal? Will we look for ways to explain it away, afraid that someone will think that we have missed a dose of Thorazine and that the miracle was just the expression of our psychosis? Or, will we embrace the presence of God for what it is and rejoice that we have been allowed the opportunity to connect with the divine?

1. Mary Doria Russell; The Sparrow, Page: 100.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apophatic Theology

I happened upon an article at BioLogos which directed me to an article at www.respectfulconversation.net which caused me to reflect on theology, poetry, and Children of God. By the time my brain had come in for a landing it had gone on quite a merry chase. The theme that runs through these perambulations is one that requires further thought and may result in a subsequent article. For now, let me tease you with two quotes. The keeners in the blogosphere will want to follow up on the links and will find themselves going on their own merry chase into theology, science, and the nature of God. Perhaps one of you will beat me to the punch and write a magnificent blog post on "Hubris and the Nature of God."

The article at BioLogos suggests that we might learn from (without completely embracing) a type of theology known as apophatic ("not" and "capable of being spoken") theology. It states that,
Apophatic theology is not simply an exercise in saying what God is not; it is no primer to theological nihilism. Rather, apophaticism is a spiritual and intellectual commitment to recall that our predications about God, even when true and revelatory, are also inadequate caricatures; whatever true things we may say about God fall magnificently short of exhausting or circumscribing him. Recourse to apophatic theology might counterbalance the hubris by which we presume unduly on our understanding about, e.g., the way divine agency operates in creating and sustaining the universe. Apophatic theology is not to be confused with sloppy relativism; it manifests deference to divine transcendence.1

I do not recall coming across the term "apophatic theology" before; but I know I have met the concept in the writings of others and have sensed the reality of the idea in my own thoughts. (Despite my strong opinions, my depth of hubris is shallower than most people think.) Mary Doriah Russell does a marvelous job of capturing the concept in the dialogue within one of her novels.  In Children of God, Russell's characters consider the reality of Christianity and Judaism and question the motivation it brings to their lives.

"Even if it’s only poetry, it’s poetry to live by, Sofia – poetry to die for,” he told her with quiet conviction. He slouched in his chair for a time, thinking. “Maybe poetry is the only way we can get near the truth of God. . . . And when the metaphors fail, we think it’s God who’s failed us!” he cried, grinning crookedly. “Now there’s an idea that buys some useful theological wiggle room!”2

Theological wiggle room?; or theological reorientation? Could it be that our hubris has caused us to believe that we had it all figured out when the truth of how God operates is many fathoms deeper than we have yet imagined? After-all, God's thoughts are not humans thoughts and are wondrously greater than the greatest thoughts we have ever had.


1 http://www.respectfulconversation.net/ae-conversation/2013/10/12/why-conservative-christian-piety-should-animate-evangelical.html
2 Mary Doriah Russell, Children of God. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1998), 145, 146.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Not Too Long Ago

When a person starts an article with "not too long ago" it is a good idea to check to see who is saying this. Paleontologists study fossils and life forms that existed 3 billion years ago up to approximately 200,000 years ago. Thus, to a paleontologist, "not too long ago" might mean 200,000 years ago. Archeologists, on the other hand, typically study the life, culture, and tools of human societies with an emphasis upon the emergence of humans 200,000 years ago up to the time when written languages developed around 6000 years ago. So, "not too long ago" to an archeologist will refer to more recent events than the events to which a paleontologist might refer. But when an astronomer says "not too long ago," as in a recent article in Science News, their time scale is very different again. Astronomers deal with events which happened 13.8 billion years ago right up until our present time. Thus, "not too long ago" in the mindset of an astronomer can mean something like 350 million years ago. Also, because of the large distances which light must travel before an astronomer can detect stellar events, they must be content with seeing events which happened many years before they witness them. If a star is 5,000 light years away from our sun, the light reaching us now and the events unfolding before our eyes started 5,000 years ago. It is like peering back in time.

The recent Science News article speaks of the work of scientists who are closely studying a galaxy referred to as SPGC 6240, "which sits 350 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Hydrus."1 This galaxy "recently" collided with another galaxy sending out intergalactic shock waves through the universe, causing a complete rearrangement of the structures of both galaxies, and birthing many new stars. Astronomers watch such events with the collective fascination and horror of pedestrians observing a car accident. The havoc caused in each galaxy allows astronomers to "see" the immense energies generated and the resulting gravitational entanglements of stars and solar systems. But, "recently", and "not too long ago" in this case refer to events that happened more than 350 million years in the past. That was a time when there was primitive life on earth but before God had created humans! Galaxies and points of light were slamming into each other while God looked on with joy and expectancy of the things yet to come.


1 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/galaxy%E2%80%99s-petal-structures-came-collision

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Purpose and a Relationship with God

Mark 1:35 says, "Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray."
Mark 6:46 says, "After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray."
Mark 14:32-42 gives us the account of Jesus spending the entire night in deep prayer.
Those who read this blog regularly will recognize that sometimes I speak as a science enthusiast and sometimes as a pastor. This will be a pastoral post.

Our purpose in life will flow out of our relationship with God. In order to do great things, we must first have a deep relationship with our Lord. In order to serve this world our senses must be finely tuned to Jesus. This requires that we constantly pay attention to the Spirit of God and avoid other things which crowd out our sense of God. My language here is intentionally Trinitarian.

Some of us spend time daily reading the Bible and praying. Another necessity is solitude. We will benefit from taking time to get away from distractions. Might I suggest that on a weekly basis you leave your electronics behind and spend a few minutes in a quiet place. Once or twice a year plan a retreat in which you work hard at listening to God. Our goal is to determine our unique place in the work to which God is calling us. Our goal is to determine where we are at, right now, and then determine how we can get to the place to which Jesus is calling us.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Avoiding God

C.S. Lewis had this to say about avoiding God.
The avoiding, in many times and places, has proved so difficult that a very large part of the human race failed to achieve it. But in our own time and place it is extremely easy. Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.1 
I wonder what he would have to say about smart-phones, tablet computers, and mega-shopping-malls?


1. C.S. Lewis, “The Seeing Eye,” a paper collected in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Eerdmans, 1976), 168-69. Also quoted in "C. S. Lewis on Avoiding God," John Stackhouse blog, May 2, 2013, http://www.johnstackhouse.com/2013/05/02/c-s-lewis-on-avoiding-god/

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Instincts

There is a common argument that goes something like this: "If we look at the animals of our world we see that many behaviors are normal and natural. Therefore they must be normal and natural for humans as well." This argument has been used for many years but so has an alternative argument that sees the behavior of animals as guided by instincts and that we humans, who also have instincts, are capable of choosing whether or not to follow those instincts. In 1954 C.S. Lewis asked the question, "Should we simply obey our instincts?"
But why ought we to obey instincts? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it? - an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement of psychological fact "I have an impulse to do so and so" we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle "I ought to obey this impulse." . . . Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey  "people." People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.1
Those who follow the teachings and example of Jesus know that many of our "normal" and "natural" instincts are opposed to the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is not normal or natural to "love our enemies" (Luke 6:27-36). Our instincts do not tell us to "love our neighbour as ourselves" (Matthew 22:34-40). Our instincts tend toward self-preservation, self-enjoyment, getting ahead of others, and revenge for wrongs done against us. The Bible clearly teaches, and the actions of humans show, that we are capable of rising above the impulse of instincts. It is not natural or easy to do so; but we have the ability to do so. The Bible also teaches that humans are not simply intelligent animals. We have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); a concept that has much to do with our ability to be creative and to be able to over-ride our natural instincts.

I agree with Lewis that our instincts are at war. They are at war with the teachings of justice and fairness. They are at war with the image of God. They are at war with our higher calling.

1. A Severe Mercy [reprint: HarperOne, 2009, pp. 146-148]). The letter is dated 14 May 1954. I have only quoted a small portion of Lewis' letter. The whole letter is specific to sexuality and sexual sin and is a helpful comment on wider issues.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Follow-Up to Science and Faith

One of the bright stars of contemporary theology is a young woman by the name of Bethany Sollereder. I met her at Regent College when we were both completing Master's Degrees. She is currently working on her Ph.D. at the University of Exeter in the UK and is one who is asking good questions about how and why God created the dinosaurs and other now extinct creatures. She recently wrote a great paper called "The Purpose of Dinosaurs: Extinction and the Goodness of God."1

I encourage readers to read the paper and I entice you with the conclusion of her paper:

Thus God’s providential action is twofold: each individual creature and species is an end in itself, existing for the glory and delight of God in that moment; and the disparate story lines of all beings that exist or have existed are wound into the epic tale of earth’s history.
1. The Christian Century, September 23, 2013.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Science and Faith

Let me give you a little glimpse into a typical conversation with people I meet. A "get to know you conversation" often goes something like this. The person asks me what I do for a living and I tell them I am a pastor and they ask how long I have been a pastor. I tell them how long and that I used to work in a molecular diagnostic lab in the Alberta Children's hospital before that. Then they ask about my education. I tell them I have a Bachelor's degree from Alberta Bible College, a seminary Master's degree from Regent College, and a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology. About that time the person usually gets an odd look on their face and they say, "Wow, that must mess with your mind!" or "Wow, that is quite a wide divergence of careers!" or "Wow, how do you bring those two worlds together!" or "How do you deal with the conflict between the two?" It is assumed that there is something impossible about bringing together faith in God and an understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology. Some of you reading this may think that as well; or, at least, you may feel that it is impossible to bring together science as it is taught in most universities and the faith of your church.  Yet, if God has created the entire universe, why would we be hesitant to use scientific methods to explore the universe he has created?

I became a science enthusiast before I became a God enthusiast. In school, I loved all the sciences. I studied hard and learned much about each of the sciences. I became a Christian at 15 years of age when my interest in and knowledge of science were already well ingrained. When I became a Christian it never occurred to me that bringing together science and faith would create any difficulty. Eventually people started asking me questions about how I brought the two together and I was able to begin to answer from my science and faith perspective.

Now, some of my initial responses were naive; the truth is, bringing together contemporary scientific findings with our ancient faith does sometimes require adjustments to our contemporary theology. If we can trust at least some of the science of our day, how does it connect to the theology of our day? Does it? Should it? How important is it to have a holistic picture of the world?

Many people are wrestling with these questions. Allow me to suggest a few places where faith and science interact with one another. In astronomy, one of the big pushes right now is to find life on other planets inside of our solar system or outside of our solar system. What will it do to our theology if we discover life on another planet? What will it do to our theology if we discover intelligent life on another planet? Also in the area of astrophysics, we must ask how we understand God's will for end times in light of the fact that a large asteroid could strike the earth with catastrophic results.

In the area of biology and food, how does our faith speak into the fact that researchers in Holland have successfully grown in the lab enough raw bovine meat to make one hamburger? The hamburger cost £250,000 and did not taste very good but this is just the beginning of this process. Does our theology affect this? Does this affect our theology?

There are numerous other science and faith questions that we could ask but of course one of high interest is how science relates to our understanding of the creation of the universe that we read about in Genesis 1-3. There are a number of approaches that have been taken on understanding creation in light of contemporary science. One approach is to largely disregard science and think strictly in terms of the text of Genesis. For one such example, we can look to an address given by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in which he said,

The universe looks old because the creator made it whole. When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man. By our understanding that would’ve required time for Adam to get old but not by the sovereign creative power of God. He put Adam in the garden. The garden was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole. . . . it looks old because it bears testimony to the affects of sin. And testimony of the judgment of God. It bears the effects of the catastrophe of the flood and catastrophes innumerable thereafter. I would suggest to you that the world looks old because as Paul says in Romans chapter 8 it is groaning. And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin. . . . I would suggest to you that in our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.

The other end of the continuum looks something like agreeing with everything that rationalistic philosophers and scientists say as we abandon the Bible all together. Neither of these extremes is appealing to me.

The comic strip, Non Sequitur, portrays the battle like this:


(Click on the image to enlarge the comic strip.)

Does that seem familiar? Why does it have to be antagonistic? We should not fear the findings of science. Truth is truth and all truth is God's truth. God is not surprised by our scientific findings. Now, we must distinguish between science that is done well and science that is not done well. We must distinguish between science that is objective and science that is done in a way that could skew the results or the interpretation of those results. Still, good science is God's science. We must also distinguish between theology that is done well and theology that is not done well.

When you want to pursue this further, try this: read Genesis 1 and 2 and 3:1; jump to Genesis 6:1-8; then read Genesis 11:1-9 and Genesis 12:1-5. What do you notice? Did you catch the stylistic differences in the writings in the first 11 chapters and chapter 12? Literary scholars suggest that Genesis 1-11 are more ancient, more poetic in their style. Genesis 12-50 have a more historical and prosaic form.

So, if we allow that Genesis 1-11 may be largely poetic, this tells us that it is written in a way that teaches the big picture and teaches big lessons about the fact that God did create the universe and gave humans a special place in that universe. It does not necessarily teach us how God created the universe; nor how he created humans; nor how he endowed them with his image.

If we allow that we may not have many details on how God created, but that he did indeed create, we are ready to look at some contemporary science that suggests how God made the universe, life, plants, animals, and humans. We can look at DNA sequences and other science and look for similarities and differences we see between species. This is a good starting point for deeper discussions. If we trust the science, which I would suggest there is plenty of good science we can trust (well thought, well documented, well controlled, peer reviewed), then we can ask questions about how the science might affect our understanding of how God created. It will then inform our theology about our God and his creation. There are some theologians that are working hard on this dialogue right now. Are we ready for the hard scholarly work and relational engagement this will require?


1 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/tough-questions-christians-face-2010-national/why-does-the-universe-look-so-old/

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

God's Voice

In a previous post I wrote about guidance from God. This present post must be understood within the context of that broader article. In the previous article I spoke of God's guidance coming through God's word, God's voice, God's reason, God's people, and God's circumstances. Today I would like to write about one part of how God guides those who seek him and submit to his will: God's voice. How do we listen for God's voice?

1 Kings 19:9-13 falls within a long section in which Elijah plays several key roles. It is hard to pull one part out from the rest. Elijah was a very complex prophet; but, read this section and ask yourself one question: "What does God's voice sound like?"
There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. . . .
Hebrew scholars note that one possible translation of the word that is here represented as "a quiet whisper" could also be "a silence." The emphasis is on God being faint, subtle, restrained. He is not in the powerful wind, he is not in the earthquake, and he is not in the fire. He is much more subtle with Elijah in this situation.

When we consider God's guidance, and in particular, God's voice, how do we hear him? What might his voice sound like to us? I stress again that we listen to his voice within the context of his word (the Bible), his reason (logic placed in our brains), his people (the community of faith), and his circumstances (the indications we have that point us in a certain direction). God's voice will likely sound different to each of us as he uses our personalities and nature through which he speaks. The key is we must carefully listen for the subtle voice and carefully separate that voice from all of the other things that might distract us from his voice.



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Follow-Up to "Margaret Atwood and the Future of Food"

In the television series Fringe, there is an exchange between two scientists who recognize that they have gone too far in some of their research. Quoted here is a portion of the script as Dr. Walter Bishop (played by John Noble) and Dr. Nicholas Boone (played by Jefferson Mays)1 reflect on past mistakes, souls, redemption, and judgement.
WALTER: Well... that makes one of us. A little memory loss is often kind to the soul.
NICHOLAS BOONE: That a figure of speech? Or do you believe there is such a thing? The soul?
WALTER: There are days when I wish I did. There are days when I wish I didn't.
NICHOLAS BOONE: I often wake up at night, frightened, with the understanding that there are things man shouldn't know. That the scientific trespasses I've committed...
WALTER: ...will one day be judged. Belly and I would often debate this very thing. William Bell. You've heard of him?
NICHOLAS BOONE: Well, of course. Founder of Massive Dynamic, richest man in the world.
WALTER: We used to share a lab. Quite a fall, hmm? If indeed there is a soul, we must consider then that there is still time for redemption. We're not being hauled off to be judged yet, Nicholas.2
Similarly, one of the themes that can be picked out in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy is a critique of science. The books point us toward questions related to what should and should not be attempted in the scientific endeavour. There are many things that can be attempted; yet, humans must ask, "What are the costs involved in such a path?" To this date we have not been good at analyzing such questions or setting appropriate limits. Yet, "there is still time for redemption."

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1390443/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
2 http://fringepedia.net/wiki/Midnight 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Margaret Atwood and the Future of Food

Most rolled their eyes when they heard of it; others laughed at the silliness of creating synthetic meat in a petri dish when millions of cows walk the earth; some were simply nauseated. Margaret Atwood had a quiet smirk. A Dutch lab invited the media to a press conference at which a researcher sat down to a hamburger with a meat patty that had been grown in the lab.1 They explained how 20,000 small strips of meat had been grown at the staggering cost of £250,000 per 142 grams of meat. Back to Atwood, she has increased her fame by prophesying that humans would one day make synthetic meat in the lab. An excerpt from her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, confirms her foresight:

"This is the latest," said Crake.
What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.
"What the hell is it?" said Jimmy.
"Those are chickens," said Crake. "Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They've got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit."
"But there aren't any heads," said Jimmy. He grasped the concept-- he'd grown up with sus multiorganifer, after all-- but this thing was going too far . . .
"That's the head in the middle," said the woman. "There's a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don't need those."
"This is horrible," said Jimmy. The thing was a nightmare. It was like an animal-protein tuber.2

Actual synthetic meat grown in the Dutch lab took three months to grow and was dry, firm, and required bovine stem cells to initiate the process. Some have suggested that it might be a bit like eating a rather large wart. Still, this is just the beginning of a potential food revolution that could change the very definition of food.

Meanwhile, Margaret Atwood signs her latest book completing the trilogy started in Oryx and Crake. Maddaddam,3 her new dystopian novel picks up where The Year of the Flood left off. All three of the books are a painful reminder of the implications of allowing scientists to define morality and the limits of acceptable experimentation. They readily point us to the need for moral and scientific boundaries as well as relationship with the Creator. Others will now attempt to perfect such experiments; other sponsors will want to get in on what Google co-founder, Sergey Brin has started financing. Is there any end in sight? Not according to Margaret Atwood.


1 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2384715/At-tastes-meat--Worlds-test-tube-artificial-beef-Googleburger-gets-GOOD-review-eaten-time.html
2 Oryx and Crake, 2003 - http://www.amazon.ca/Oryx-Crake-Margaret-Atwood/dp/030739848X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1379625203&sr=8-1; Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. 2009 Paperback Edition. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2003, page 202.
3 Maddaddam, 2013 - http://www.amazon.ca/MaddAddam-Margaret-Atwood/dp/0771008465/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379625337&sr=8-1&keywords=maddadam

Friday, September 13, 2013

V'Ger Has Left The Building

One of the more philosophical Star Trek movies was Star Trek: The Motion Picture released in 1979. The plot line wrestled with what makes humans human; what makes a machine a machine; what makes a sentient being sentient; and what might happen when an alien race encounters a human-made probe. The story revolved around a Voyager space probe (the fictional Voyager 6) that had been repaired by unknown inhabitants of an unknown solar system before being sent back to earth to find its creator. Commander Spock gets the most important line in the movie. In a rare expression of human emotions Spock cries for V'Ger and says, "Each of us... at some time in our lives, turns to someone - a father, a brother, a God... and asks...'Why am I here? What was I meant to be?'"1

These words came to me once more as I read the news that Voyager 1 had left our solar system (the first of two actual Voyager vessels) making it the first human-made object to explore interstellar space.2 Originally launched on September 5th, 1977, it is an example of "boldly going where no one has gone before." Crossing the boundary into this territory places Voyager into space in which the dominance of our star finally fades to imperceptible levels and allows for the measurement of interstellar magnetic fields, galactic particles, and high energy plasma ejected from other stars. Such measurements will enhance our perception of the universe and contribute to our understanding of fundamental questions like "Why am I here?" and "What was I meant to be?"


1 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Directed by Robert Wise. Performed by Leonard Nimoy. 1979.
2 http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/353199/description/At_last_Voyager_1_slips_into_interstellar_space

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Second Coming

In 1919 William Butler Yeats wrote a rather dark poem that matched the mood of the time subsequent to the end of World War I. Yes, there was celebration of the end of the war but there was also a sense that something had changed. A darkness had crept into the world.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?1
This poem continues to be quoted and referenced and still has great relevance today. In 1996 Rolling Stone reporter Will Dana stated, “We used to think the center couldn’t hold,” referring to Yeat’s poem, “All of a sudden, there doesn’t seem to be a center at all.” We live in a “centreless” world. Such is the cultural experience of living in a world stipulated without any reference to the transcendent.2

This is what Nietzsche anticipated in 1882, in his book, The Gay Science, when he wrote,
“Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?” Nietzsche anticipated that with the decline of Christianity it will seem for a time as if all things had become weightless or without center. Nietzsche continues, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives—who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?”3
Must the prophetic words of Nietzche continue to unfold? Or, is there is a Way back to God? Let those who have ears and eyes, hear and see.

1 William Butler Yeats (1865-1939); written in 1919. http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html
2 As quoted in http://www.cardus.ca/blog/2013/05/cultural-ptsd ; "Cultural PTSD" in Comment Magazine,  May 31, 2013.
3 As quoted in http://www.cardus.ca/blog/2013/05/cultural-ptsd ; "Cultural PTSD" in Comment Magazine,  May 31, 2013.