Sunday, June 28, 2015

Redeeming Sexuality

Debra Hirsch has written her first solo book and I want to highly recommend it. Hirsch previously wrote Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship with her husband Alan Hirsch and now she turns to the topic of sexuality with her book, Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality. In it she reveals much about her own journey of faith and the course her understanding of sexuality has taken from early adolescence to her current understanding.

What makes this book so good is the way she adopts and explains a hermeneutical approach that allows us to distinquish other difficult ethical and cultural issues from the issue of holistic sexuality. She desires that we see how intrinsic sexuality is to our very being and says, “Sexuality is written through every aspect of who we are. We need to adopt a view of sexuality that encompasses all of our humanity, not just our genitals.” (p. 70, 71)

Debra Hirsch starts from a very positive perspective on sex. She quotes James Nelson (Reuniting Sexuality and Spirituality) and reminds us that,
Actually, Christian theology at its best has recognized that sin is not fundamentally an act but rather the condition of alienation or estrangement out of which harmful acts may arise. However, it has taken a long time for theology to acknowledge that sexual sin is fundamentally alienation from our divinely intended sexuality.
To put it overly simply but I hope accurately: sexual sin lies not in being too sexual, but in being not sexual enough – in the way God intended us to be. Such alienation, indeed, usually leads to harmful acts, but the sin is rooted in the prior condition. (p. 78)

She also reminds the reader that we are all broken by sin and that our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the LGBTQ community are no more or less broken than those who find themselves outside of the LGBTQ community.
We all must turn, with all that we are (sexuality included), in order to receive saving grace. No one is excluded from this call, and there is certainly absolutely no room for self-righteousness, because we are all – at the end of the day and to the end of time – beggars showing the other beggars where to get the bread. (p. 122)
. . . all of us hobble into heaven and get there by grace. There is no room for self-righteousness and exclusion based on disputed interpretations on non-essential issues of the Bible. (p. 131)
In chapter 7, Hirsch also gives us a high view of celibacy and urges us to encourage those who make such a commitment. “. . . we need to take a fresh look again at celibacy; it’s not the spooky monster it’s made out to be.” (p. 129)

The hermeneutic she recommends to us comes from William J. Webb and is called the “redemptive-movement hermeneutic.” (p. 139-147) This allows Hirsch to come to a traditional understanding that homosexual activity is sinful alongside other forms of sexual sin (heterosexual or homosexual). But, she then emphasises that we Christians have often been guilty of leading with theology. She suggests that we must instead “lead with our embrace.” (p. 145-147)

What Debra Hirsch is truly advocating is a church of grace and truth. She argues for a church that will allow people to belong before they believe and believe before they become sanctified. She is suggesting that the church must become a place of welcome where all may meet the saviour and make a decision for him and then begin the transformation of sanctification. On page 199 she states that
Centered-set thinking allows everyone to journey to Jesus in his or her own unique way, and we all end up perfectly unique in him (1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). While we all might be heading in the same direction, our paths are different and we journey at a different pace.
I encourage us all to consider the thoughts presented in this great book.

Works Cited

Hirsch, Debra. Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Making Scientific Discovery Interesting

The Making of Ambition

Lukasz Sobisz, is the Technical Director of Simulation for Platige Image's film, Ambition. The film is directed by Tomek Baginski and stars Aidan Gillen and Aisling Franciosi. In an interview about the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission and the accompanying film, Ambition, Sobisz expressed his surprise that the European Space Agency would need the creative skills of the film-making company for which he works.
I'm very surprised you need something like this at all now. Mankind sends a probe into space to catch a comet and land on it, and we need a great director, film, and actors to convince people this is interesting.1
Works Cited:
Ambition. Directed by Tomak Baginski. Performed by Platige Image. 2014.
The Making of Ambition. Directed by Wojciech Jagiello. Performed by Lukasz Sobisz. 2014.

1 (Sobisz 2014)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rosetta and Philae: Hello My Friend, Hello

Rosetta and Philae Communicating Again

In November of 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft delivered the Philae lander to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (see my previous blog here). This represented the first soft landing of a spacecraft onto a comet. This in itself was a great accomplishment despite the fact that the mission did not go quite as planned. The Philae lander was intended to send back data on the composition of the comet but landed in a region where its solar panels were shaded by a cliff and, after 57 hours of operation, it could not recharge sufficiently to achieve all of its science operations. The onboard computers powered down into hibernation mode and its orbiting partner, the Rosetta spacecraft lost radio contact with the lander.

However, as anticipated, as the comet has continued its approach to the sun, and solar energy has become more intense, the Philae lander has been able to recharge sufficiently to reconnect with the Rosetta orbiter. The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed that on June 19, 2015 several packets of lander information were delivered to Rosetta1. The two spacecraft are again communicating and this is a very hopeful sign for the mission analysts. The comet will make its closest approach to the sun on August 13 and the agency is hopeful that the increasing solar intensity will allow the lander to continue to gain charging capabilities and restart its science operations.

Meanwhile, the Rosetta spacecraft continues to send images and scientific data to earth as the ESA has extended its mission until September 2015. Rosetta will continue sending back images and data related to the comet while anticipating more data from the Philae lander. The European Space Agency continues to dream about how best to utilize both vehicles and is now considering landing Rosetta on the comet at the end of its lifespan. The ESA even has a cool mini-movie that addresses the importance of such missions that is designed to inspire ambition. Check it out here.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Broken From the Start

Jon Foreman (lead singer, guitarist, main songwriter for Switchfoot) has new solo music out. He released an EP to NoiseTrade called Old Seasons, New Day and one of the songs on that EP is called “Broken From the Start.”

In this song he is wrestling with his mortality with words like, “When our cords are cut that’s when we start to die” and “Lately every breath feels like I’m kissing death.” In the last verse he recognizes that as an artist he may never be truly respected until he is dead: “they still won't pay respect until you die.”

Why all of this pointing to death? The chorus gives us some insight.
If you hide yourself deep inside
Deep inside
In time you've got nothing left to hide
There's nothing left inside
Tonight, honey
I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start
Broken from the start
Despite the fact that we are “born to die,” we cannot lock ourselves up deep inside. Our hearts need to be broken. We need to open ourselves to others and to someone greater than ourselves. There must be hope beyond the mortality of this life.
Broken From the Start
(words and music by Jon Foreman)
(Listen while you read the lyrics)

(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh)
Life is a gift like fresh cut roses
Cut from the branch and brought inside
It's a slow contradiction, it's beauty in a vase
When our cords are cut that's when we start to die

Lately death and life get so confusing
I can't tell the difference here tonight
Lately every breath feels like I'm kissing death
And when time is dead I cease to be alive

If you hide yourself deep inside
Deep inside
In time you've got nothing left to hide
There's nothing left inside
Tonight, honey
I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start
Broken from the start

Choice is the only thing we're given
For one to live another dies
One road says, "Hello"
The other says, "Goodbye"
And the rose that you don't choose begin to die
(Oh, oh)

If you hide yourself deep inside
Deep inside
In time you've got nothing left to hide
It dries up inside
Tonight, honey
I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start
Broken from the start
Broken from the start
Broken from the start

They won't pay a cent to hear you laughing
They might pay a little to hear you cry
If you do it long enough
They might even pay attention
But they still won't pay respect until you die, die

If you hide yourself deep inside
Deep inside
In time you've got nothing left to hide
It's all dead inside
Tonight, honey
I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start
Broken from the start

Monday, June 22, 2015

Evolution and Christianity: to Kirk Durston

Today I would like to respond to a blog post written by Kirk Durston. I have never met Dr. Durston but I want to say I appreciate the post he has written even as I will disagree with points made within it. The post does a great service by pointing out many of the doctrines that would need to be examined and adjusted to fit an evolutionary understanding of creation. He notes, with Edwin Walhout, that “original sin,” “salvation,” and “God’s purpose in history” need to be re-examined. I will not take up any response to the issues of our understandings of “salvation” and “God’s purpose in history” for it seems to me that these two are more readily explainable and cause less of an issue than our concept of “original sin” and indeed it is this doctrine to which Durston refers throughout the rest of his post.

Our present understanding of original sin is highly linked to the understanding that historical persons named Adam and Eve lived in the literal Garden of Eden and made choices that were forever passed down to their descendents. Eve sinned first by eating fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” and then Adam joined her in this sin. There are several ways in which this rebellion against God is understood to be passed down from generation to generation but the key uniting factor in how this is viewed is that all of the physical descendents of this couple, in some fashion, receive this tendency toward rebellion or this sin into their lives at birth or shortly after. You can already see by my choice of words that there is a great deal of argument, confusion, and disagreement among theologians as to how precisely this occurs; but we will leave that out of things for now.

Durston points out the problem of accepting that humans were created by God through a process that involved ancestors who were more primitive hominids. He shows how this might require that we choose some couple within the evolutionary process to be the original Adam and Eve and make this couple the initial pair in God’s redemptive process for humanity. Yet, the problem with God simply choosing two humans and declaring them to be Adam and Eve, is that the same contemporary science which states that humans descended from other primitive hominids also states that the human population has never been less than a few thousand individuals.This means that we did not all descend from just two individual homo sapiens.

Up to this point, I agree with Durston’s post. It is here that we diverge in our hypotheses of how God began the redemptive process. I, along with such authors as Dennis Venema and Darrell Falk, would begin to disagree with certain statements in Durston’s next paragraphs. There are other ways to solve the difficulties of our present theology than the ones presented by Durston’s post. He rightly points out that the fact that the humans now on this earth descend from a few thousand original humans means that we could push the original chosen couple even further back in time and further back in evolutionary history such that the original Adam and Eve were one of the antecedent hominids. Adam and Eve may have been Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis) or Denisovans (Denisova hominins) or a combination of the two. Of course this creates other questions with which our theology must wrestle but these are not insurmountable challenges, as Durston seems to suggest.

The other possibility to which Durston points is to suggest that there never was an historical couple named Adam and Eve. Although this may be a difficult concept to accept, again, it is possible to imagine that God speaks to us through Genesis in a fashion that was readily understandable to the people of the time in which it was written and must now be understood in a different fashion. Durston suggests that if we get rid of the concept of an historical Adam and Eve then the New Testament writers “were sincerely mistaken in their acceptance of Adam as a real historical figure” and that the Bible must be viewed as a document containing “divinely inspired misinformation.” I am tempted to take issue with Durston’s use of the words “mistaken” and “misinformation” because, to my mind, these words are too harsh and convey too much about the alleged character of our God, but I do not want to make this the main issue and so let us use the terms which Durston uses. Then we would say that the New Testament writers who refer to an historical Adam would be mistaken and that the New Testament would contain misinformation. Surely Mr. Durston is not unaware of other examples of mistaken ideas and misinformation in the Bible. Take for example the Old Testament commands regarding “clean” and “unclean” animals. Both Leviticus 11:3-6 and Deuteronomy 14:7 state that the hare chews a cud. This is clearly a mistaken concept based on Ancient Middle Eastern understandings. Hares or rabbits do not chew cuds and so this information in the Old Testament is technically wrong and “divinely inspired misinformation.” Despite this fact, we do not call into question the entire Bible or the entire Old Testament. What of Joshua 10:13 which speaks of the “sun standing still” to prolong the length of the day? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to speak of the earth standing still? What of Matthew 13:32 that refers to the Mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds? This is a mistake and represents a false understanding of the scientific world. We could go on with other examples.

Perhaps the New Testament writers were mistaken in their assessment that Adam was an historical figure. Is this an insurmountable theological problem? No. Is integrating an understanding of evolutionary creation going to require that we re-think some of the theology that has been created over the last two millennia? Yes. I respectfully submit that Kirk Durston is not willing to follow some of these possibilities to their theological ends; but they may indeed be workable and consistent with both divine inspiration and scientific discovery. Alternatives that reject an evolutionary understanding of creation have their own theological issues that must be explained. If God did not create humans using more primitive hominids, why do we find such ancient hominids in the fossil record? Why does our own DNA seem to contain DNA from ancient neandertals? Why does the earth and the universe appear to be extremely old?

Theology must work toward answers that are not yet seen. We need new hypotheses that may be tested to see how they work before moving on to seek to explain the next challenges that may come at our collective theologies. I pray that we might be able to live with uncertainty and hope until all uncertainty is banished and we see clearly the object of our hope. Of course, that time will only be when we see “all things with perfect clarity.”1

1 1 Corinthians 13:12 (New Living Translation)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Science and Hypothesis

Is Science the new philosophy? Is philosophy dead? Is science still based on hypothesis? Can science make categorical statements about philosophy, theology, and cosmology? People like Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow speak assertively that science has the answers to all questions and that we can do without God terminology.
Science can explain the universe without the need for a Creator. In A Brief History Of Time I used the word "God" like Einstein did as a shorthand for the laws of physics. However, this is not what most people mean by God, so I have decided not to use the term. The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a God. 1
Furthermore, Hawking and Mlodinow state that even philosophy is dead. They refer to the vast questions of how the universe has come to be when they say,
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.
I wonder what Rene Descartes would have to say about such certainty in theoretical scientists. Descartes' writings about science and philosophy have been looked to for generations and suggest a more humble, impartial, and ambiguous approach.

What if we were to call science back to its original skepticism and emphasis on hypothesis? Marilynne Robinson suggests that we are only sane if we recognize that all of our interactions with the world are based on hypothesis.
I tend to draw analogies from science because I believe that our sense of the world is always hypothesis, and we are sane in the sense that we understand this. To proceed by hypothesis is the method of modern science, ideally. It is one of the dominant assessments of modern culture that science, by its nature, drives back the shadows of error. It is this confidence that very often leads science to forget skepticism and to take itself for the unique domain of truth. Many of the darkest shadows of the modern period have been the products of science, and there is no reason to call it by any other name than science simply because it was grossly in error. Racial theory and eugenics are cases in point. I say this because I wish to assert that all thought always inclines toward error. The prejudices that would exclude one tradition of thought, be it science or be it theology, from this tendency are simply instances of the tendency toward error.3
Robinson is suggesting that “all thought always inclines toward error.” Now by that she does not mean that all thought is error; but rather that all thought has a bias and an inclination toward error. We must necessarily guard against this inclination by starting from an hypothesis, testing our hypothesis, and then proceeding to further hypotheses. This indeed is science and can also be applied in the areas of philosophy and theology. Robinson’s novels 4 show examples of the error that persists when an idea becomes unquestioned truth rather than a tentative hypothesis and shows the compounding of error upon error when “truth” can never be questioned. She is calling us to something different; something more cautious and humble.

My prayer is that, in theological debate, in philosophical and scientific debate, we might be much more tentative than assertive. May we hold all of our cherished truths as hypotheses requiring further evidence. I pray that we might be able to live with uncertainty and hope until all uncertainty is banished and we see clearly the object of our hope.

Works Cited:
Guardian Editor. "Gods of science: Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox discuss mind over matter." The Guardian (, September 2010.
Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010.
Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Robinson, Marilynne. “On "Beauty".” In The World Split Open:Great Authors on How and Why We Write, 121-139. Portland: Tin House Books, 2014.

1 Steven Hawking in “Gods of science: Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox discuss mind over matter” Guardian Editor, "Gods of science: Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox discuss mind over matter," The Guardian (, September 2010., September 11, 2010.
2 The Grand Design, Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.
3 Robinson, Marilynne. “On "Beauty".” In The World Split Open:Great Authors on How and Why We Write, 121-139. Portland: Tin House Books, 2014.
4 See for example, Gilead, Robinson, Marilynne; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; (2004).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tiny Pluto

Click on the thumbnail photo for a larger image.

A few days ago this site focused on the Cassini Spacecraft and its mission to the moons of Saturn; but, that is not all that is going on in the far reaches of our own solar system. The "New Horizons" spacecraft is due to reach Pluto in just a few days on July 14th. Pluto, now officially known as a dwarf planet, will have a brief visit from the probe before New Horizons sails past Pluto and out into the cold, barren space beyond. New Horizons launched on January 19, 2006 making it a relatively fast trip to Pluto. It took the spacecraft only 9 hours to cross the orbit of our moon (a journey that used to take three days in the Apollo era) as it traveled at 58,000 kilometers per hour. 

Pluto itself still holds much interest for NASA scientists. It is the "final frontier" before spacecraft explore beyond the confines of our neat and tidy system of planets revolving around the star we call our sun. Pluto is an extremely cold world which has been warmed only a little by her star. This means that for 4.5 billion years its surface has remained much the same without the effects of rapid warming and cooling. We will get a glimpse of one variation of what a planet looked like at that time. It is also the largest representative of the many dwarf planets and comets that orbit in the Kuiper belt. Pluto has five known moons that will be visible during the very quick tour.

One might ask why the probe will travel past Pluto so fast? The mission has been called "nearly a decade of boredom capped with hours of terror"1 since the approach will take a matter of hours and the actual transit time across the face of Pluto will last three minutes. New Horizon has been in sleep mode during most of its journey across the solar system with annual "wake-up calls" to check instrumentation. The reason for the fast trip and quick engagement with the dwarf planet is related to the cold. Pluto is headed into the cold portion of its orbit around the sun. It is presently getting further and further away and it takes 248 earth years to make a revolution. As it gets further from our star the atmosphere gets so cold that it may freeze solid forming an icy shell around the planet. This would make it difficult, if not impossible to see the surface of Pluto. New Horizons needed to get there before the year 2020. Once the spacecraft gets there, it is impossible to slow it down. There are no large gravity sources to use for braking. So, for now, NASA must make do with a short flyby and quick cameras.

“Rendezvous with Pluto,” Science News 2015-06-12 (viewed on 2015-06-16);
“Pluto,” Wikipedia, (viewed 2015-06-16)

1 “Rendezvous with Pluto,” Science News 2015-06-12 (viewed on 2015-06-16);

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Saint Columba Day - Altus Prosator

Today we celebrate the life of St. Columba who died on this day in 597 C.E.
Saint Columba, or Colm Cille, spread Christianity through what is now known as Scotland. He wrote several Latin poems and hymns, some of which have survived to this day.

Altus Prosator
(Attributed to Colm Cille, also known as Saint Columba; 521-597 Common Era) 
High Creator, Unbegotten,
Ancient of Eternal days,
Unbegun ere all beginning,
Him, the world's one source, we praise:
God who is, and God who shall be :
All that was and is before:
Him with Christ the Sole-Begotten,
And the Spirit we adore,
Co-eternal, one in glory,
Evermore and evermore:—
Not Three Gods are They we worship,
But the Three which are the One,
God, in Three most glorious Persons :—
Other saving Faith is none. 
All good angels and archangels,
Powers and Principalities,
Virtues, Thrones, His will created—
Grades and orders of the skies,
That the majesty and goodness
Of the Blessed Trinity
In its ever bounteous largesse
Never might inactive be;
Having thus wherewith to glory,
All the wide world might adore
The high Godhead's sole-possession
Everywhere and evermore.

— The Hiberno-Latin abecedarian hymn, Altus prosator, a sequence attributed to St. Columba, from Lays of Iona and Other Poems; English translation by Samuel John Stone.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cassini and Hyperion

The Cassini spacecraft recently completed a close flyby of Hyperion, one of the moons of Saturn, and sent back some amazing pictures. Hyperion is certainly one of the more odd shaped moons in our solar system. Whereas people used to think Earth's moon was made of cheese, Hyperion truly looks like Swiss cheese. The surface and interior of the moon are filled with pores and tunnels giving it the appearance of a sponge. In fact, much of the planet is made of water ice with very little solid rock. There are so many holes in the moon that if you could find a pool of water large enough, say our own Atlantic Ocean, the moon would float with about half of its bulk sticking out of the water. Hyperion is known to have an erratic rotation. It wobbles on its own axis and its orbit about the planet is eccentric and highly influenced by its proximity to Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

The Cassini robotic spacecraft itself has had an amazingly successful mission in space. Originally launched in October of 1997, the spacecraft is now in its second mission extension which will see it perform active scientific observations through 2017. On its way to Saturn, Cassini flew past Venus and Jupiter, relaying information on each of those planets before achieving orbit around Saturn in July of 2004. In December of 2004, Cassini released the Huygens probe which successfully landed on the surface of Titan, sending back 350 pictures of this large moon. This latest flyby of Hyperion is the last for that moon. Now Cassini sets its sites on other moons in the Saturnian system. In 10 days Cassini will fly past Dione and send back images of that moon. Today, she is in position to get a good look at Enceladus and the outer rings of Saturn (see the image below).

We live in a time when it is possible to learn much from the exploration of our solar system. I am thankful for the scientists and technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that use their imaginations to design and execute such amazing missions to the outer reaches of our solar system.

Works cited:
Cassini–Huygens in Wikipedia,

Hyperion (moon) in Wikipedia,

NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Saturn, Cassini,

Science News, "Cassini gets last look at Saturn’s spongy satellite Hyperion," 2015-06-04,

You can click on these images for a larger view.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Uncertainty and Hope


David P. Goldman, in an article entitled "Christianity and Myth: Why There's No Jewish "Narnia'" says that he thinks J.R.R. Tolkien is a better writer than C.S. Lewis. Goldman goes on to say,
Whereas C S Lewis tries to make us comfortable in what we already believe by dressing up the story as a children’s masquerade, Tolkien makes us profoundly uncomfortable. Our people, our culture, our language, our toehold upon this shifting and uncertain Earth are no more secure than those of a thousand extinct tribes of the Dark Ages; and a greater hope than that of the work of our hands and the hone of our swords must avail us.2
A writer exhibits a great gift when he or she makes us uncomfortable with what we think we know and points us to a greater hope than we could otherwise imagine. Perhaps all writers would aspire to such writing, but few attain it.

Do those of us who live in the 21st Century understand that we live in uncertain times? Or, do we actually think that we can save ourselves by the "work of our hands and the hone of our swords?" Can we see a greater hope? Is that some discomfort I feel creeping into my safely constructed world?

1 Image courtesy Michael J. Kruger, at
Christianity and Myth: Why There’s No Jewish “Narnia”by David P. Goldman, 2010-03-05.