Monday, February 27, 2017

America


I love rediscovering great songs. Listening once again to the song “America” written by Paul Simon, and performed by Simon and Garfunkel, I was struck by the genius of this song. The chord structures, time signatures, and poetry are beautiful. It paints stunning pictures in my mind.

The song tells a story of two young people finding their way in the world. It captures the angst of a whole generation of people in the 1960s and 70s. There is the optimism of youth and the emptiness that seems to stem from a generation not knowing who they are or for what purpose they exist. Paul Simon was asking good questions about life. I wonder if he ever found his answers.

"America"
(Listen to the song


Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.
"Kathy", I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
"I've come to look for America."

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.

I said, "Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera."
"Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat."
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.

So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.
"Kathy, I'm lost", I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching and
I don't know why."

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

Songwriter: Paul Simon, Published by Universal Music Publishing Group

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chained to the Rhythm



I have a confession: I like one of Katy Perry’s songs. “Chained to the Rhythm” is her latest single and she debuted the song on the Grammy Awards Show. Why do I like this song? The message of the song is aimed at the average person in North American culture, and the message is that we should no longer be content with the things that previously made us happy. The white picket fence, enough drinks to keep us comfortably numb, and our favourite songs to keep us dancing and distracted should not be the way to the good life. Simply putting on “rose colored glasses” and pretending that all will be well is not going to solve the problems of the world. It reminds me of another song, from another time, from another artist: “It will all get back to normal if we put our nation first. But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” (Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble with Normal”)

The bridge of the song features Skip Marley and suggests that it is time to “Break down the walls to connect, inspire.” Yes, I can concur with those sentiments. He then begins to speak about rioting. Is that the solution? Surely in every culture, riots should be a last resort and they must always be peaceful. Martin Luther King, Jr. led what might be called riots; but it was always his desire that they remain peaceful. These protests have long stood as some of the most effective in history.

“Chained to the Rhythm” is designed to be a “wake-up call” for all of us. The artists of our culture have often provided a prophetic role. The solutions remain for other prophets to proclaim.


Chained To The Rhythm
(Written by Katy Perry, Max Martin, Sia Furler, Ali Payami, Skip Marley)
(Listen to the song while you read the lyrics.)

Are we crazy?
Living our lives through a lens
Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we're living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren't you lonely?
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough
Happily numb
So comfortable, we're living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

(Aha)
So put your rose-colored glasses on
And party on

Turn it up, it's your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion

Turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah
We think we're free (Aha)
Drink, this one's on me
We're all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm
Turn it up, it's your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah
We think we're free (Aha)
Drink, this one's on me
We're all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm

Are we tone deaf?
Keep sweeping it under the mat
Thought we could do better than that
I hope we can
So comfortable, we're living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

(Aha)
So put your rose-colored glasses on
And party on

Turn it up, it's your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah
We think we're free (Aha)
Drink, this one's on me
We're all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm

Turn it up, it's your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah
We think we're free (Aha)
Drink, this one's on me
We're all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm

It is my desire
Break down the walls to connect, inspire, ay
Up in your high place, liars
Time is ticking for the empire
The truth they feed is feeble
As so many times before
They greed over the people
They stumbling and fumbling
And we about to riot
They woke up, they woke up the lions
(Woo!)

Turn it up, it's your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Turn it up (turn it up, turn it up), keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie (like a wasted zombie), yeah
We think we're free (Aha)
Drink, this one's on me
We're all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm

It goes on and on and on
It goes on and on and on
It goes on and on and on
'Cause we're all chained to the rhythm

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Searching Kind


“And I know if he’s here tonight, somewhere looking in on us, he would smile and be so proud that this artist is performing this song. To George who we love and will always miss, this is for you . . .”  James Corden, introducing a tribute to George Michael performed by Adele on the 2017 Grammy Awards.

It used to be rare, but there are a significant number of people in North America who live without religion, faith, or a sense of the divine. This segment of our population sometimes expresses their opinion by saying that before they were born, they were nothing and after they die they will be nothing again. In their view, life is like a light bulb: we are on and then we are off.

Some of these same people will make other statements and express other ideas and emotions when faced with the death of someone they loved or highly respected. They will say something like what James Corden said Sunday night or they will find themselves agreeing with Corden's thoughts shared about the one who is no longer with us. They will speak of the one they miss and say that they “just might be watching from above”; or that they are “among us tonight”; or that they are “in a much better place”; or that they are “at peace now”; or that they are now “doing what they loved the most.” The person saying or agreeing with such things may blame their inability to shake old notions; they may say that it is just their old Catholic upbringing coming through; or they may blame it on their parents' indoctrination about what happens when a person dies.

I understand that none of us is completely consistent in our expressed views, or in our understanding of the mystery of life. I want to encourage all of us to sort through our emotions and intellectual thoughts as we seek to comprehend life. For most of us, this will take a lifetime of thinking, imagining, reading, and studying. We need to encourage one another to look deep inside and see the variety of conflicting thoughts and emotions that lie inside the minds of each of us. We can seek to resolve them.

I encourage us to keep on searching for truth, hungering for righteousness, and thirsting for the answers that make the most sense. This will mean reading widely, paying attention to the ways in which humans have understood life in the past, being honest with our tendency to create a system that works for “me” in “my time,” rather than one that embraces others and is timeless. It will mean that we become adept at sorting through a variety of philosophies, theologies, and ideologies to understand why they came to be. It will mean giving a concept a fair shake before putting it aside. In short, it will mean that we stay curious, continuing to search for answers all through our lives.

Kyler England puts it well in her song, “Simple Machine.” In this song, she calls upon her friend to return to the “searching kind” of person they once were and not be afraid of what they might find. My prayer for us is that we might always be the searching kind. If we search for truth, we will find truth, and the truth will set us free.


Simple Machine(written by Kyler England)
(listen to the song here)
we never talk about the big things anymore,
it’s too hard
there’s a canyon between us that we can’t cross,
it’s too far 
whatever happened to you?
you used to be the searching kind
lately you turn and run
like you’re afraid of what you’ll find 
i know you believe
the heart is only a simple machine
and the love that’s running through our veins
is just a pulse of electricity
and you’ve given up on finding meaning
in this great big mystery
but baby don’t give up,
baby don’t you give up on me
you say we’re like a light switch
we’re on and then we’re off
and this is all there is
we’re here and then we’re gone,
then we’re gone
we’re here and then we’re gone
how can you believe 
the heart is only a simple machine
and the love that’s running through our veins
is just a pulse of electricity
don’t you give up on finding meaning
in this great big mystery
and baby don’t give up,
baby don’t you give up on me 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Nature Dance


I watched a nature dance today. As I drove past Nose Hill Park in Calgary, I noticed three deer sticking close together in a herd. Then I noticed two coyotes on this side of the deer, two more to the west of the trio, and one more behind the deer. I realized I was watching a coyote hunt. They were working as a pack to corral the deer, assessing which of the three moved most slowly through the deep snow, watching for any signs of weakness. The coyotes were moving with a circular motion around the deer and the whole collection of animals was moving in a westward direction. The resulting appearance made one think of choreographed dance – but a deadly one! There was a good chance that one of the dancers was about to die. I could not stay long enough to see the final result but I think I might go by later and look for signs of blood in the snow or any other evidence of a struggle. It was a beautiful, sad, and noble thing to see. This was how things were designed to be. This was the struggle of life and death; of one carbon-based creature seeking metabolic energy from another carbon-based creature. The deer had been doing the same just a few minutes before this as they munched on the dry grass of the park; chewing up the life of a plant that lived and died upon the land.

I thought about how fragile life can be. I thought about my own struggles and the things I must do to find sufficient energy to keep my carbon-based metabolism running smoothly. God has crafted me with the same care with which he prepared the deer and coyotes to interact. He has even used several of the same principles. I am not God’s pet; I am his child. He wants me to go out into the world and find my way. He wants me to be mature and look for my place in the ecosystem. I am like one of those coyotes. I must look for ways in which I can create lasting sustenance for myself and for my pack. I must serve the greater bio-system.

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
    How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
    in the shadow of your wings. - Psalm 36:5-7


Friday, February 10, 2017

La La Land



Spoiler Alert:
This blog will give you some general knowledge of the basic plot line of the movie La La Land.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:12-17
My wife, Maureen, and I recently went to see the movie La La Land and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. They had me from the first scene where they were singing on the freeway. I love musicals. But, the message of the movie is a message that is very much opposed to that of John 15.  At one point in the movie, Mia (the leading lady) says to Sebastian (the leading man), “I’m always gonna love you” and Sebastian responds with “I’m always gonna love you too.” But by the end of the movie, each of them has pursued their own dream; and the dreams they have pursued have left no room for the person they claim to love. Did I just give you a bit of a spoiler? I doubt it. When we think about it, isn’t that one of the main messages of many of our movies and television series? You probably could have guessed the plot of this story.

Television and movies tell you that the most important thing in life is to follow your own dream. Jesus tells you in John 15 that we are to love one another and create space for others in our lives.
Jesus calls us friends and sets the example for us of how we are to treat one another as spiritual friends. We are to love each other with a selfless love that puts aside our own lives, or maybe our own ambitions, for the sake of helping others.

You see, if it weren’t for these words of Jesus found here in John 15 (and several other places), we could live our lives in isolation, seeking to read our Bible daily and develop our relationship with God. But Jesus is saying something else. He is saying, the only way that we truly enter into friendship with God is by the grace of community. We must have, and we must be, spiritual friends.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another ... Hebrews 10:24, 25.
The key is finding ways to connect with one another, motivate one another, and encourage one another. The goal is acts of love and good works. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Adam and the Genome


Dennis Venema, Ph.D., gave an exceptional lecture at Ambrose University on Friday, February 3, 2017. The event was sponsored by the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation of Calgary, Ambrose University, and the Templeton Foundation. What follows is a collection of thoughts inspired by the cold, snowy evening, and the warm engaging crowd.

Venema, a geneticist at Trinity Western University, who studies cell surface proteins in the wings of fruit flies, began by referencing the words of Thomas รก Kempis, “There is no creature so small and abject, that it representeth not the goodness of God” before leading the crowd of approximately 100 people through a tour of major scientific evidence supporting evolutionary creation. He drew heavily from his recent book, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science.

The book, published by Brazos Press and available on Amazon.ca is co-authored by Scott McKnight and offers both a scientific and theological perspective on Adam and genomic studies. I look forward to reading the contributions of both authors.

In many circles, the “two book” concept of God’s revelation has become a common approach on such issues and so Venema gave only the briefest of comments about how God reveals himself through special revelation in the Bible and through general revelation in nature. Dr. Venema reminded his listeners that, in the context of science, the word “theory” means a well-tested explanatory framework. In contrast, in everyday language, we use the word “theory” to suggest that something is not very reliable. We say, “Well, that is just your theory.”

Venema shared evidence of evolution from such varied sciences as genetics, physiology, fossil records, and embryology. Scientific results from each discipline were brought to bear upon the evidence that points to the fact that the ancestors of whales and other water-dwelling mammals were land-dwelling quadrupeds. After showing further evidence in other systems and other animals, Venema made the statement that evolution is a well-tested explanatory framework, supported by a large body of experimental evidence, that makes accurate predictions; furthermore, evolution has not yet been shown to be false by experimentation; nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution; and evolution is the most foundational theory in biology.

One of the highlights of the lecture was when Venema compared the changes that accrue in a language over time to the physical changes in the population of a species over time. Evolution involves changes in average characteristics in the overall population of a species rather than changes that occur in an individual. He reminded his audience that it is important to stay focussed on populations rather than individuals when assessing evolutionary change. In the same way, language usage in a population changes over time. Venema showed one verse from the Gospel of John in six forms as it changed over time. He started with the West Saxon form (around 849 CE), followed by the Wycliffe version, Tyndale version, 1611 King James Version, the Cambridge King James Version, and lastly the contemporary New International Version of the Bible to show how language changes in a very short period. He made the point that evolutionary change is similar but much slower.

Having established that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution, Venema then went on to show evidence that humans are also part of the evolutionary process. Multiple sources of genetic evidence such as chromosomal structure, and pseudogenes in both humans and apes, suggest that 4 to 6 million years ago we shared a common ancestor with Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees). Not only have humans descended from other species, contemporary genetic evidence (population genetics and recombination frequencies) indicates that humans of today descended from a population of approximately 10,000 humans that lived approximately 200,000 years ago.

Of course, all this genetic and scientific evidence poses questions related to our common understandings of Adam, sin, death, and the Fall. Venema pointed out that when we see such apparent conflict, we must consider that this may be due to deficits in our science or deficits in our theology and work to find a way of better understanding both. Venema worked with Scott McKnight in publishing the book Adam and the Genome because he wanted to work with a New Testament scholar as they considered the implications of reading scripture after genetic science. In the theological realm, Venema readily admits that he is not the expert, McKnight does most of the theological analysis.

One of the key questions in the New Testament is our understanding of the Apostle Paul's words when he speaks of Adam. Venema and McKnight’s book suggests that Paul was part of a long history of intertestamental writers who wrote about Adam between the time of Malachi and Matthew and used the concept of Adam for theological arguments. Other important questions will relate to Augustine, and others, also contributed to our contemporary theology of what God means by saying that creation is “good.” McKnight and others are now asking questions about such words. Does “good” mean “perfect?” Does it mean that there was no death? How do we understand sin coming into the world? What does the Bible mean when it speaks of humans made in the image of God? Each of these questions demands new consideration in light of contemporary genetic science. Such vast genetic information has only been available to philosophers, scientists, and theologians for a few decades. Our theology now needs to keep pace with our scientific findings.

Venema referred to Sir Francis Bacon in his lecture as one who readily understood the necessity of studying both “books” of God’s revelation: God’s word and God’s works. I will give the last words of this blog post to Bacon: “To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both. . .”