Thursday, April 28, 2011

Get Over It

Holy Cow - I had a very strange thing happen to me today.

I ventured into the world of religious politics - it is a very strange place to be.  There is a guy who I knew about ten years ago when I lived in a different part of the state and I saw his facebook status that completely floored me. He wrote something to the tune of "I still don't believe that Obama is a U.S. citizen."  Is he serious?  

So I did the stupid thing and commented.  Note to self:  people who get all political aren't very open to contrary viewpoints.  I thought I started off well - I quoted from Don Henley.  I was basically like "let it go" and then quoted from "Forgiveness"

  • John Wilkinson ‎"You better put it all behind you, babe"
    6 hours ago · 

  • John Wilkinson ‎"Cause life goes on"
    6 hours ago · 

  • John Wilkinson ‎"You keep carrying that anger . . . it'll eat you up inside"
    6 hours ago · 

  • I thought it was harmless enough.  But then it got weird.  Other people started to chime in that Obama's certificate wasn't authentic, didn't have raised seals, didn't have the right signatures, wasn't signed by the right people.  So apparently normal everyday schlubs are now experts at birth certificates?

    Now for all I care, Obama could have been born on the moon.  I mean really, as long as your mom is a citizen of the country you could be born on a plane over Antarctica and it wouldn't change your citizenship.

    But that wasn't the best part.  My point was that as people who follow Jesus, we have to have love for EVERYONE whether friend or foe.  In fact Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Apparently this is a major strain for some people who follow Christ and don't like Democrats.  

    For the record I am not Republican or Democrat.  My biggest political decisions are in my home - happy wife, happy life.  Just sayin.

    So I quote from I Corinthians 13 supporting the fact that we should love even those who we disagree with (you know the 'love is patient, love is kind' verse . . . it includes 'love keeps no record of wrongs . . . always trusts' you get the picture).  

    And then this guy enters the thread saying that what I said had nothing to do with Christianity - that it is our Christian duty to make sure that politicians are on the up and up.

    Now process that - I just quoted 4 verses of Holy Scripture and it has nothing to do with Christianity?  

    It was a weird place to be.  The fact that he misspelled 'Caesar' and 'non-sequitur' didn't score big points with me either.  I should have just shut my mouth (and my computer) and not responded.  But I did.  I do think that we can disagree with people and still cheer for them.  I believe that we can be convinced that someone is dead wrong and still have a great love for them and want them to succeed.  I do believe that you can be a member of a political party and a Christian, but you have to be a big C Christian and a little r republican (or little d democrat).  

    If it really is the truth, it eclipses all other attachments.  Don't let your politics cloud your Christianity.  

    And when you want to voice those opinions - run it through the filter of Grace (and spellcheck).  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So much of what we think we know is really all in how we look at it.

When I was at Penn State, I took this Astronomy class that I loved and hated.  I hated the lectures.  It was a man who was about 60 with dyed-black hair, pale skin, Woody Allen glasses, plump midsection, cheeseburger mustache and ABSOLUTELY NO CHARISMA.  Now to be fair, I am sure he was a very nice man, good husband and father.  But seriously ------ flatline.  Someone could have literally stood on their chair, lit their hair on fire and sang "God Save the Queen" and he would have kept right on teaching.

Now contrast that with the labs that we had on Tuesday nights.  The Teaching Assistant had dreadlocks, multiple piercings on his face, pajama (yes pajama) pants and the distinct odor of rotting wood (otherwise known as pachouli).  He was the most interesting visual persona - and he made astronomy exciting.  I loved coming to the lab to learn what I didn't in class.

One thing that my T.A. Andrew taught me was that your view of the universe was a matter of perspective. You see, I was determined in my lab project to show that the perfect balance in the universe (perfect ratio of oxygen in our atmosphere, perfect density of the Earth's core to have the perfect balance of gravity for the size of our bodies, etc.) was testimony to the fact that it was divinely enabled.  Andrew, however, countered that perhaps the only reason it appears divinely enabled is because we are alive and able to see it.  In other words, since the universe has come together in such a way as to give rise to sentient beings like ourselves . . . the only way it could be regarded was extraordinary because it did not come about in a way that did not produce us.  By necessity we see it as amazing because we are able to see it.

That kind of deflated my little theory . . .

But wait, doesn't that take away the miracle of the fact that we are here?  I mean, think of it - if you had a pencil point balanced on a table and allowed it to fall, wouldn't the fact that it fell directly on a point that was the perfect spot for all the conditions necessary for life to have started in a huge chain reaction be something to marvel at? Why would we chalk it up to chance and view it as mundane?  Crazy isn't it - that the difference between wonder and skepticism is such a narrow span.

But I guess it is in how you look at it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The in-between times

I remember when my Dad would work late nights - he was a public school teacher who also pulled the 3-11 shift as a security guard so that we could spend our summers at the shore (Ocean City, NJ).  Doing that kind of thing wasn't cheap and he would grab these gigs to make sure had great summers.

Eating early as a family and watching him take off out of the driveway always made me a little apprehensive.  I had all kinds of things to do before the sun would fall down between the trees, but something about your dad leaving when you are under 10 years old makes you a little unsettled.

I would play the rest of the day, have a later 'dinner' of some sandwiches with the rest of my family (because we ate earlier as a family with my dad before he left).  After dinner I would pretend I was doing homework and then play some more before the running of the dishwasher signaled bedtime.  And then I would lay in bed until I saw his headlights reflect on my wall as he pulled in the driveway at about 20 minutes past 11:00.  I knew that my dad was home.  I felt better then.

As my dad ambled his way up the steps I would let out a quiet little "'night dad" and he would poke his head in and tell me good night and that I should be asleep.

I couldn't be asleep - my dad was gone.  It was the in-between time - just waiting for him to return.

I can't help but in a small way feel like that right now.  It is 7pm on the Saturday after Good Friday and the Sunday before Easter.  I know it is over and everything has already been accomplished, but I feel like I am in the 'in-between' time.  Just a little apprehension about the gap between crucifixion and resurrection.  Where is He?  Is He alright?  When can I see Him again?

. . . looking for the lights of His return.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where do we go from here?

"Where do we go from here?"

It must have been on the minds of the men who had followed Jesus for three years.  Right in the middle of what would have been something like our Christmas Dinner, Jesus says, "this is my last night on Earth" and then discusses the torturous way that He will die.  And as John put it . . . after His Judas leaves to betray Him, "it was night."

In this room above the street level which was dimly lit by oil lamps everything changed.  It was a holiday, a time to celebrate and feel the warmth of friends and family . . . but this pronouncement brought the night indoors.  It felt dark, cold and unsettling.  I imagine sitting there, stung by this development.  I would have stared at Jesus from across the table, trying to listen to what he was saying about the bread and the wine, but still trying to figure out what tomorrow looks like.  Where do I go from here?

When night is at its full, the officials come to arrest Him . . . and we are powerless to do anything.

"Where do we go from here?"

It is so interesting that this man from Nazareth spent the last three years doing amazing miracles and even raising from the dead and it is all brought to this.  I mean, wouldn't you think that they would have understood what was happening?  Wouldn't they have remembered that Jesus predicted all of this?  Don't you think that this would be the very thing that the followers would have been excited about?  It is through this arrest that we will see God work, right?

So why did Jesus' followers flee when He was put on trial?  Isn't this precisely what He said would happen?  Some would seize upon this apparent discrepancy to point out the very real possibility that Jesus never predicted His death and resurrection.  That these theological ideas were planted a century later into texts that described the life of Jesus.

Yes, that is a possibility . . . but here is a more likely scenario painted by NT Wright in "Surprised By Hope" (Harper One, Publishers).  Perhaps the very thing that Jesus was talking about was so novel and so different that no one truly understood it.  Perhaps the entire world had never seen or heard of a complete return to life - a resurrection - so no one expected it.  Yes, there were stories of ghosts or resuscitations, but with no examples of a bodily resurrection, there was no expectation of it.  When the followers of Jesus heard Him explain that he would raise from the dead, they took Him figuratively - like at the last judgment - not literally.

In fact, according to Wright, this would have been exactly what they were conditioned to believe - no one returns from the dead and the only time that the dead rise was on the 'last day.'  So of all the likely scenarios, it would have been MOST likely that the followers of Jesus would have reverted to their childhood Sunday school lessons about raising from the dead and lost hope when Jesus was handed over to the authorities and died.

They would have been despondent - "Where do we go from here?"

In fact, it seems like there complete hopelessness is the greatest witness to the truth of the resurrection.  In the words of Wright, they were "surprised by hope."  If they were portrayed in the Gospels as expecting it, we would have reason to be suspicious.  It was in their humanity that we get a glimpse of God's hope for the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Divine Spark

Most people have heard the idea that we have a 'divine spark' within us that was put there by our creator.  Essentially this means that we are the product of matter (flesh, bones, blood, skin etc) and the 'spark' that set it in motion.

Sometimes people take this in the direction of being divine.  The idea of a 'divine spark' doesn't say that we are divine, just that we are products of the divine.  In the same way that your MP3 player isn't music, it just plays music.  We are not divine, we are conduits of the divine.

Now of course there are those that would say that there is nothing divine . . . anywhere.  This point of view says that we are all animals - some more advanced than others.  Humans are no exception.  We are just animals with a bigger brain case that allows for the abstraction of ideas to encompass things like hopes, fears, imagination and logic.  The only reason that humans can pray and dogs can't is because of the processor speed of the brain.

This is where we examine the Sphex.  Yes, today is animal planet at this blog . . . we are looking at a pretty wicked little bee called the Sphex:

There was an interesting little tidbit that I heard about the Sphex - it is actually Daniel Dennet's idea that is used for explaining how animals do not have the same kinds of reasoning skills that we do as humans. You see, the Sphex burrows in the dirt and sets a trap for its prey.  Once the prey is caught, the Sphex comes out to inspect the victim.  Researchers found that when they move the prey, the Sphex will go find it but quickly return to the nest only to set it up all over again.  Once it goes back inside to tidy up it returns to find the prey moved by the researcher.

The Sphex does this over and over with no sense of exasperation.  It is merely executing its program.

Humans?  I am sure some nasty words would fly at some point and perhaps a hopelessness would settle in . . . but that is because as humans we are different.  The Bible says that everything else was created but humans have a special 'breath' of God within us.  Perhaps this is the divine spark - whatever it is it makes us human and different.  So I don't know whether it is a literal breath or if it is figurative . . . but that is beside the point.

The point is that God made us different . . . for a purpose.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Safer Sex and Living in Truth

People get so stuck in their little way of thinking.

We cannot be so arrogant to assume that what I think I know is all there is to know about something.  Sometimes it takes a person who thinks outside of the mainstream to remind us that as humans, the bandwidth of human reason is surprisingly small.  Like this little (true) story:

A mom showed up at a parent night for her little middle schooler.  After looking at artwork and reading the different stories that their kids had been working on, it was time to meet the health teacher who was going to lead them in an exercise.  This mother (we'll call her Jen) knew that sex education was on the night's agenda for discussion and was ready to hear how the school would tackle the issue they were already talking about at home.

"Everyone take a seat," the teacher said and parents began filing into the room.  Jen found a spot near the back and put her purse down, smiling at other parents who were taking their seats.  "I want you to know that we are going to be talking about sex with your children and emphasizing 'safer sex' . . . so I am going to ask you to do something."  

For some reason, Jen felt like she should be very careful from this moment on.  It wasn't the fact that the subject was sex.  On the contrary, as a concerned mom she was very open with her son on this issue.  It was something else. She felt a strong reluctance to participate in whatever activity was about to take place.  "I want everybody to stand up and mingle . . . shake hands with people throughout the room," the teacher announced.  At this, parents slowly stood and walked through the room awkwardly shaking hands with each other.

All except Jen.  She stayed seated - hoping that no one would see her non-compliance.  She had no idea what the little activity was all about.  If there was anything she did know, it was that she shouldn't take part.  She felt silly just sitting there while everyone else was taking part in the activity.

The teacher came over visibly annoyed that Jen wasn't taking part.  She said, "can you please spend a few moments mingling with the other parents."  Jen felt completely ridiculous.  She stammered a very weak response, "I . . . think I am just going to sit."  The teacher persisted and asked that she please join in the activity but Jen continued to resist.  Seeing that she was getting nowhere, the teacher let out a small huff and went to the front of the classroom.  "Okay, now everyone have a seat."

As everyone took their seat, Jen wanted to have this whole thing over with . . . now.  

"I want you to now look under your seat and see if there is a paper taped to your chair.  If there is a paper with a red dot on it, I want you to raise your hand."  About half the room's hands went up.  The teacher continued, "now I want the rest of you to look around and see who's hand is up and whether you shook hands with that individual, because those with red dots have an STD."

A general murmur began around the room and light bulbs went on in the minds of parents about the need for encouraging their kids to participate in safer sex.  "Now I want you to think of who you shook hands with after shaking hands with those who had red dots," continued the teacher, "because you are infected as well."  

"Not me," Jen said and then realized that she spoke out of turn and put her hand up as if to validate her interruption.  "I didn't play the game."  "I never had to worry about the red dot because I refused to play the game."

I wish I was there.  What a great moment.

For me the issue isn't about safer sex or abstinence . . . it is the ridiculous way that humans behave like lemmings lining up behind what the educational establishment or the entertainment industry or religious authorities or governments tell us that we ought to think about and practice.  We lose a sense of what God gave to us in the midst of it all - a brain to think for yourself and a heart to embrace the truth when you know you feel it.

There are those that tell us what to think about faith - I think you should ignore them.  

Ignore the fools who tell you there is no God because He can't be seen.  Ignore the religious leaders who tell you not to read certain books or think certain thoughts because God wouldn't want you to.  Both extremes are littered with fools.  It was Jesus who said that the truth will set us free.

Belief and truth would be so much easier to find if we didn't have people trying to fit it into their human categories or 'best practices.'  You have been given everything you need to know the truth and be set free . . . so go live it in freedom.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cute little carnivores

I don't know how it happened . . . but I got suckered into it.

It happened one night last December - there were these two little kittens that kept coming to our back porch.  Of course it had nothing to do with our children feeding them everyday and building a shelter for them out of the gas grill cover and cardboard.

Well it was a very cold night - getting down to 17 degrees and we were about to go out for the evening.  Just about ready to leave, my wife was reminded that the cats would probably freeze to death if they were left outside.  Just one of these little furry critters could fit into your palm . . . so we did  the right thing and put them in the garage and fed them.

Okay, so long story short, they are now our outdoor cats.  They have grown a bit, but they still sleep on our back porch.  Our kids have named them Nellie and Chloe (even though one of them is a boy).  How do we know?  BECAUSE WE PAID TO HAVE THEM SPAYED.  I didn't think we were going to be collecting any more animals - we already had an inside cat and two hermit crabs.

Now that they have weathered the winter, they are young and strong and take every opportunity to exhibit their worth to us by bringing the corpse of some other cute creature to our back step.  When I come down in the morning the lifeless eyes of a bird or a bunny or some other helpless creature staring at me.   Nearby a very proud young cat is licking its paws.

In fact the other morning I was making an omelette and my 5 year old states rather nonchalantly that Nellie is eating breakfast.  I glance outside and see the decapitated mangled body of a bunny being gnawed on.  It was something out of Saving Private Ryan.  I had to rid myself of the image as I continued slicing mushrooms for my omelette.  I kept thinking how thankful I wasn't eating anything Italian.

It made me think: "How can something so cute be so savage?"

The two don't go together.  It runs counter to the definition of 'kitten.' You think of little fur-balls lapping milk, not predators who kill.  

But maybe this is a kick that I am on.  You see, I can't hack it when people (especially Christian people) act like total jerks.  Spending some time in the city recently, you watch some people act like complete beasts to each other.  Using each other.  Manipulating each other.  Hurting each other.  It makes me lose faith . . . quickly.  I wonder how God can put up with it.  

Not only that . . . but I wonder how can faith be real when people act so disgusting to each other (sometimes in the name of Christ).  One of the biggest questions I routinely choke on is how all of this works in the context of heaven.  Think about it:

1.  We are all sometimes little beasts with each other.
2.  Being a beast doesn't work in heaven.
3.  So we must be changed in some way so as to not reflect our beastliness.
4.  If we are changed that drastically, how will be recognizable to each other?  To ourselves?

Not a whole lot of answers . . . maybe that is where you come in. 

Does it bug you that people who claim to be of faith are nasty little brutes?  Does it keep you from belief?  What is it that God would need to change in us that makes something like heaven possible?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Perhaps it al comes down to the whole idea of dying to the self.  If we don't die to the self here in this existence, is the sinful part of the self killed off so that we don't live for ourselves ever after?  If that is true, I would like to get started on that way of living here and now.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My little Wiccan, Reincarnated Poison Ivy tree

Spring is almost here . . . maybe.

It is the talk of everyone - "I am SO tired of cold and rainy!"  Honestly I don't know what we are going to do if it gets warm out.  My kids will be like, "what is that thing in the sky that makes me squint?"  

If you look closely you can see little buds coming out on the trees.  They say that this is where the Eastern religions get the idea of a cyclical view of life.  Their ideas on reincarnation come from the idea that the earth goes through a birth, growth and then decline and death . . . only to reseed the world for the next season and find its expression in life again.

Certain sects of Wicca hold the same idea . . . birth, growth, death, birth.

It becomes a naturalistic support of a religion, but it is not very accurate.  Did you take note of those same trees last fall?  They didn't die.  They made little buds and then closed up shop for a few months and sent everything down to the roots until it was warm enough to come back in the spring.  So if anything, the trees and the flowers don't speak of cycles or reincarnation . . . they speak of waiting.

Waiting for the sun to return.  Waiting for the conditions to come back in which we can begin growing again.  If it really mirrored reincarnation, my maple should have died and fallen down last November and this spring I should see a Holly Tree.  I am thankful that doesn't happen . . . who knows what I would get every spring.  Can you imagine? 

"Honey . . . you better sit down . . . this year our Maple is Poison Ivy . . . lots of it."

So as you head outside and see the growth happen, remember . . . it isn't coming back to life, it was alive.  It was just waiting for the sun to return.

Perhaps this is a better reflection of the Christian faith.  As a symbol of our hope in the return of God - we wait for the Son to return.  This is hope for the here and now . . . it makes us bloom as we head into Easter.

And then some day when we die . . . we will wait for the return of the Son to bloom an eternal bloom in the garden of God.

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:23

Monday, April 4, 2011

Caught with my pants down . . . sort of

It was 7th grade.  Dance night.  I had a special feeling about this night.  I was determined to ask someone to dance with me.  Didn't matter who it was, I just wanted to come home saying that I danced with someone.

So to give me that special edge, I decided to grab my brother Chuck's yellow cross-country jacket.  It was very cool - complete with a large "E" on the left side of it for the varsity letter he had in cross-country.  It was the addition to my wardrobe that would put me over the edge and make me irresistible to 7th grade women everywhere.  I didn't bother asking if I could borrow it because I knew his answer would be "no."  I just thought I would spare us both that little awkwardness.

So I went to the dance with my new-found confidence assured that everyone was checking me out in my brother's gleaming yellow cross-country jacket.

They were . . . but in the wrong way.  Imagine a few dozen 7th grade boys coming up to you with a sneering, "I didn't know your name was Chuck."  Note to self: when you wear someone else's jacket, and it has someone else's name on it, be prepared for snide comments if you are in middle school.  I shrugged it off.  A few "nice yellow jacket" comments were thrown in but I ignored that too.  I decided that it was time to make my move so I went over to Cindy Klassen and in my most awkward tweeny voice asked, "hey, you wanna dance?"

I waited.  The world stopped.  She looked at me and then said the two words I'll never forget:
"With you?!"

Shrieks of giggles ensued from her entourage as they all ran to the bathroom.  I took that as a "no."

It was at that moment that a friend of mine brought the most egregious error to my attention.  "Dude, where are your pants?"

In all my plans I miscalculated the one thing that would have made me the most unattractive dance partner . . . my brother's jacket was so long it covered my shorts and made it look like I was a 7th grade flasher.  Already 80% of my body was legs, so covering my shorts with this long jacket made me look completely ridiculous.  The one thing I figured was my ace in the hole was the very thing that worked against me!

Lesson learned?  Actually a few:
1.  7th grade dances are best enjoyed not paying any attention to the opposite sex.
2.  Look in the mirror before you leave the house.
3.  And this is the most important . . . BE YOURSELF.  

When we try to be someone else, it usually interferes with your best asset - yourself.  

I just figured that in life we all need this subtle and gentle reminder from time to time - doesn't matter whether you are 13 or 33.  You could be in the boardroom or at basketball practice - find out who you are and be that.  You can't go wrong when you stay true to your self . . .