The Spectre of Wasted Time

The most difficult part of fatherhood is not finances or employment or providing.  It is the quiet space after the children are in bed when I realize that my time with them for the day has ended and that tomorrow we must awaken and be separated for some time. It is then that I question the wisdom of my decisions and attitudes and am haunted by the spectre of wasted time and failure to lead and love them as they need and deserve. Time is the most precious thing we can share with children.  I pray that ours is well spent and that God blesses me with wisdom and discernment.

Mars and Our Island Earth

“Mars mystery solved.” These words have been ringing in my head all day.  What is NASA planning to tell us on Monday?  It’s not every day that we receive a planetary science announcement in a planned news conference.  I know I’m a dreamer and it’s probably something far less exciting, but I can’t help hoping for life.  Even if it’s evidence of life that ceased millions of years ago.

Mars has for a long time been the source of awe, speculation, and artistic inspiration on Earth.  And ever since the first image of the Martian surface was sent to Earth from Viking I in 1976 (two years before I was born), we’ve had a lot more to think about.  Those rocks and shadows and dust look like features we might see on Earth, but they are actually 140 million miles away on a different planet.  That seems so far, but cosmically it’s really within arm’s length.  Mars, our planetary neighbor, so similar in size to Earth, with such familiar geological features.  Many are our differences, but what could be our similarities?

Viking I Mars photograph

The observable universe is 91 billion lightyears in diameter.  Our Milky Way is just one of billions of galaxies hosting billions of stars and untold numbers of planets in that vast cosmic expanse.  In the 1960’s, astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake created the Drake Equation, which basically defines a framework to predict the probability of extra-terrestrial civilizations in our galaxy.  Although it has various interpretations and plenty of criticism, the equation nonetheless shows that statistically, in a galaxy with so many stars, we are unlikely to be the only intelligent life.

Intelligent life is fascinating, but I prefer to broaden the perspective to something no less intriguing: what about any life?  What about evidence of any reproductive, self-sustaining, entropy-balancing creatures, all the way down to the tiniest microbes, past or present?  Expanding the search that far must certainly enhance the probability.  In a universe so vast, it can’t have happened only on Earth.

But why does it matter?

I hear objections to caring about the universe outside of our planet.  We have so many problems right here on Earth.  We have war, poverty, disease, starvation, injustice, environmental degradation, and hatred.  True.  We have a massive burden here on Earth; however, are we not to blame for much of this burden?  Do we not choose to fight one another, to hoard our wealth where it exists, to mistrust anyone foreign of birth or status, to exploit our resources, and to seek retribution when others treat us as we have treated them?  As a species, we have extraordinarily limited vision.  After millenia of evolution, we still see each other as different tribes, different races, different species perhaps.  We fail to see that we are one brotherhood of humanity.

The differences we see are arbitrary.  Some humans with pink skin will say that humans with black skin are inferior; however, humans with dark skin probably just descend from humans who historically found some evolutionary advantage in having darker skin.  According to the CDC, dark-colored humans have a much lower rate of skin cancer than light-colored humans.  Many cultures along the equator of Earth tend to be populated by darker-skinned humans than those in cooler zones.  Perhaps the skin color differences arose because the advantage conferred by color in one place was different than in another.

For the entire recorded history of the human race, we have behaved like spoiled children dividing up the toy box, failing to see beyond the walls of our playroom. Nation has fought nation for resources, humans have murdered for wealth, and genuine grace for the fellow human has become a sadly rare gem. We have for too long identified too deeply as ethnicities or nationalities or religions and not deeply enough as humans. To be made in God’s image does not mean to be of any color or shape or size; rather, it means we are rational, moral, and most importantly, communal creatures. It is unnatural for us to divide ourselves so deeply along arbitrary borders such as race or nationality.

We see only the planet we live on.  We do not see beyond the atmosphere to other worlds.  The universe is vast, but our perspective is narrow.  If we are to overcome our desire to divide, we must unlearn, broaden, and re-inform that perspective.  I assert that the discovery of any extra-terrestrial life — even microscopic life or life long extinct — would be the most important scientific discovery of our lifetime — perhaps of all scientific history.  Suddenly, we will no longer look at one another as American, Russian, Christian, Muslim, black, white, or anything else divisive.  We will realize we are truly a uniquely human creation on our uniquely Earth-ish planet in an immeasurable cosmic expanse awash with other unique life.  Earth will feel smaller, more precious; our divisions will feel weaker, less significant; the universe will feel much larger, yet also much closer.

To learn that we are not alone in the universe will draw us closer together and make us more appreciative of the beautiful blessing of Earth in the universe.  Our children will grow up in a world not divided by race or religion or class, but one knit together by human brotherhood.  I can imagine no better future for my children.  That is why the very idea of a life announcement is so riveting and keeps me awake late writing these words.  By understanding our universe, we will come to better understand our place in it and our importance to one another.

Join me Monday to hear what NASA announces.  If it is a life announcement as I dream, join me in embracing a deeper appreciation of what it is to be a human in a vast, exhilarating universe.

Being Pro-Life Also Means Not Killing Abortion Providers

Caveat and disclaimer: This thought was inspired by a Law and Order episode.  I have not been debating with myself about killing abortion doctors.  Also, I only got a good grade in my God, Meaning, and Morality class at JMU because I was put in groups with smart kids. Anyway…

Conclusions 1

What is murder?

Murder is the willful termination of another person’s life for some cause other than immediate self-defense.

When does a person’s life begin?

At conception.

What is an abortion?

In the case of a woman whose life is not in danger, termination of another person’s life for some cause other than immediate self-defence; therefore, it is murder.

Conclusions 2

If I were to see another person being murdered and had the ability to stop it, would I?

Of course.  This seems like a moral imperative.

What if stopping the murder involves killing the murderer?

I pray I would find another solution, but I suppose I would kill the murderer to save the victim if there were not other solution.

Conclusions 3

Since abortion is murder, should abortion providers be killed?

No. This won’t stop the abortion, so it is not a justified homicide.

Since abortion is murder, should mothers considering abortion be killed?

Of course not.  This kills the baby also!

Conclusions 4

Since killing mothers and doctors doesn’t stop abortion, we pro-life folks should not engage in murdering abortion providers.  People who support those actions miss the point of being pro-life.

The first person who asks me how this squares with killing animals for tasty food gets a punch in the nose.  Srsly.

Finding Those Who Do Not Feel Lost

As a Christian, one of my duties — nay, passions — should be sharing the peace and power of Jesus with friends.  We learn that each human is born with God-sized void that we attempt to fill with earthly things, like money, food, cars, sex, friendships, clothes, houses, televisions, etc; however, none of those things eternally fill the void. They are ephemeral: money gets spent, food gets eaten, cars break down, sex stops working, friends get distracted, clothes tear, houses are foreclosed upon, and televisions exceed their factory warranty.  Therefore, we are all broken people trying to fix our brokenness with acts and stuff, a behavior which is ultimately fruitless.

The obviously broken people are easy to spot and probably easy to witness to as long as we keep it real (this means we don’t tell them they’re destined for Hell or leave them a little comic book on the bathroom sink).  We can see their struggle, we can possibly even relate, and we can show them how the love of God can fill their hearts beyond measure and beyond the power of sin.  Bazillions of books exist on this topic; an important one with which you may be familiar is called The Bible.

But what about those people who do not seem to be struggling in a Godless life?  What about people who do not have financial struggles, endure no marital strife, do not beat their kids, do not abuse drugs, and are quite content with life’s circumstances?  It’s easy to point to a person’s struggle as evidence of a need for God, but it’s much more difficult to say, “Hey, I know you have it all figured out and you’re pretty happy and your life is pretty awesome, but you should check out a real relationship with God.  He can help you with that…um…never mind.”

I have two friends who often come to mind.  One is a typical American living her life quietly and simply with no major obstacles or struggles.  Another is some sort of atheist who is extremely successful in his career, has a relatively perfect family, has no trouble making payments on a nice house, and has a heart that is not troubled or pressured.  Neither of these people face any pain or feel any significant desires to follow different paths than the ones they are already navigating with ease.

So, Christian friends, how do we even begin to approach the task of ministering to friends who cannot see a need for a relationship with God because they cannot find anything wrong in life?

Do we wait and hope for some sort of tragedy and exploit a ministry opportunity?  I don’t think I like “Ah ha!  I have you now!” Christianity.

Do we try to frighten them with stories about people in Hell?  Even when I was an atheist, I disapproved of conversions for the sake of an afterlife. Besides, we want people to find a relationship, not just get a ticket to Heaven.

Do we try to convince them that they can experience an even more awesome life with God?  As true as it might be, it’s hard to tell a successful person that he can do better with God than he can alone.

Or do we wait, pray, love the person, and allow Jesus to live through us, trusting in God’s will instead of our own clever powers of persuasion and being confident “that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6)?

James 2:17

Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
– The Message

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– New International Version

Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
– King James Version

Faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead).
– Amplified Bible

A faith that does not do things is a dead faith.
– New Life Bible

Således og med troen: har den ikke gjerninger, er den død i sig selv.
– Det Norsk Bibelselskap 1930

See for yourself at Bible Gateway.

The Elegant Mind of God

After re-reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (did I really understand it in high school?), my tiny brain became deeply interested in reading more about the macroscopic cosmos and the microscopic world inhabited by quarks and smaller things.  My friend Austin recommended The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.  I found a copy at the library and then bought one at Blue Plate for $8 and have had my nose stuck in it ever since.

In physics, there is apparently a well-known experiment involving a beam of light, a piece of cardboard with two vertical slits, and a photographic plate that records where the light lands. The theory goes that a beam of particles will pass through the slits and leave an impression on the photographic plate in one way, but a wave will leave a different impression due to the destructive interference of wave crests on the other side of the slits canceling out some of the wave’s energy. Passing light through the two slits yields the wave results, so light is proven to behave as a wave in addition to behaving as a particle. There are some who then reasoned that all matter has the ability to behave as both a particle and a wave of energy. Due to a thing called the uncertainty principle, we can only ever guess the probability of where a particle may be, but we can never be precisely sure. Superstar physicist Richard Feynman gathered all of this with a bunch of other knowledge, pressed it together in his supercharged brain, and came up with an explanation for particle behavior called “sum over histories” (or “sum over paths”, depending on which author you’re reading). With sum over histories, Feynman explained the slit experiment results by stating that a particle follows every one of an infinite number of paths between two points and all but one of those paths is canceled out by matter’s wave-like behavior. Bizarre, right? Apparently, both this explanation and the uncertainty principle are proven with complex mathematics to an astonishing degree of accuracy (one of the nice things about popular science books is that I get to enjoy the concepts without any of the frightening equations). As bizarre as it seems, I think it bears noting a quote pulled straight from Mr. Greene’s text:

The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers.

And here is where I feel I have an choice to make. I am certainly flexible enough to accept answers which seem bizarre. I live in a world created by an incredible God whose mind is awesomely more vast than I could ever comprehend, but I have fun trying. The choice is whether or not to believe. Stephen Hawking measures the weight of physics’ advancements and concludes that there is no need for a creator in the universe. In younger, more atheistic days I agreed. Now, however, every absurd new possibility I learn about the universe makes me even more reverent of God’s immeasurable mind. At the core of my being and deep in my heart, I cannot believe that such a complex system could evolve by chance and is not the expression of the greatest mind.

We Christians believe that God exists outside of time, is able to see the entire history of the universe at once, knows what will happen, and has a significant hand in what happens. Perhaps Feynman’s sum over histories is a glimpse into how God views the universe. Infinite numbers of paths for each particle, person, planet, star, and galaxy spread out before him, but only one path becomes reality. Even now I am falling far short of the truth as I try to explain a timeless God with temporal references. Nonetheless, the concept of sum over histories, the uncertainty principle and the quantum mayhem it suggests, and the idea of a spacetime fabric warped into gravitational fields by mass make me want to spread my arms wide and worship the God whose mind is so vast that every answer seems to unlock a new world of questions. From galactic clusters to tiny quarks (or smaller!), God’s ultimate creativity is expressed everywhere in our universe.

Mosque-Free Zone

Lots of my friends are really upset about the idea of a mosque at Ground Zero.

Sometimes on the crusade pilgrimage, Christians would slaughter towns of Jews. Their reasoning: “If we’re out here to avenge Christianity, why not kill some of the people who had Christ crucified?” So, what if some Christians decided to build a church in a town where crusaders slaughtered a bunch of Jews? If you’re okay with that and not the Ground Zero mosque, why?

Honestly, I don’t feel at all offended by a mosque at Ground Zero. I’m sure plenty of devout Muslims died that day while they were at work. The problem here is that Americans are so quick to equate Islam with terrorism, but also just as quick to forget all of the equally reprehensible things done in the name of our Jesus Christ.

Maybe if you are concerned about this mosque, you are concerned about the “Islamification” of America. Well, take a look around you at the culture we live in. Miley Cyrus dresses like a hooker and is adored by thousands of teenage girls. Rap musicians teach young black men that violence, drugs, and sexism are the norm and that reason and ambition are uncool. Schools kill music, art, and academic programs to keep the football funding strong. Television glorifies wealth and materialism. Credit card offers fill our mailboxes and we are encouraged to charge our purchases so we can fulfill those lusts for wealth and possessions immediately. Parents put children in front of Sponge Bob for hours. Local libraries put staff on furlough and close their doors while municipalities focus on trivial infrastructure expenses, like customized manhole covers. Children waste away hours with the PlayStation or the DS instead of being outside. School curriculum is controlled and standardized by executives who will never even see the children in the classrooms. Teachers are so afraid of offending someone or breaching standards of learning that they become mere administrators of that generic curriculum, much like a radio station programming director whose only job is to make sure that on-air DJs — if there are any — adhere to the playlist selected in a board room 900 miles away.

I could go on, but it’s late and my examples are in danger of becoming stale. The point: Islamification should be a minor concern for Americans. We’re much more likely to destroy ourselves through our own culture before being terribly affected by an “invasion” by another culture.

Also, for the mosque-opposers who consider themselves law-loving Republicans: remember that there’s nothing illegal about building a mosque there.

A Little Legalism

A prevailing idea around Christian teaching today seems to be avoidance of legalism. Legalism, as I understand it, is the concept that I can provide my own salvation by following a complex set of rules or that God requires me to follow a set of rules without which there is no salvation.  I have also learned that once I accept Christ, God forgives me of everything I have done and will do.  That is truly an amazing love, but does it really mean I can totally ignore the concept of legalism?

In John 14:6, Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through me”.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Okay, I can’t provide my own salvation.  Got it.  John 3:36 states “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”.  Okay, Jesus holds salvation for me.  Got it.  Believe in Jesus, go to Heaven.  That’s simple enough.

But should it be that simple?

In Leviticus, God gives the Israelites a massive and intricate set of laws.  The Israelites began to focus solely on the letter of these laws and evolved into a legalistic society that had forgotten about the love of God.  In Matthew 3:27-28, Jesus says:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

In fact, read all of Matthew 23.  Jesus hands the Pharisees their butts on a platter.  If the Bible were written in modern internet language, it would be written that Jesus pwn3d the Pharisees.

This is awesome, but I think some modern Christians reject the idea of legalism too completely at their own peril; I am certainly among that group.  We understand the concept that salvation is available only through faith and not works; however, what is salvation if it is not somehow manifested in life and the works of that life?  Isn’t there more to being a Christian than merely getting into Heaven?

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical.  I’ll use a commandment from Exodus 20 — the “Ten Commandments”. In Exodus 20:15, the commandment is “You shall not steal”. I’ll pick that one because it’s simple to illustrate. So, let’s say I am a terrible sinner and I burglarize houses for a living.  One day I have a revelation and I offer my life to Christ.  I’m saved.  Excellent.  What happens if I’m back to burglarizing homes three days later?  Obviously if I’ve attained salvation, God will no longer hold me accountable for the sins I commit; therefore, I can be saved and continue to rob houses.  Man, Christianity is the coolest religion ever!  But really, shouldn’t there have been some change of heart to go along with my salvation?  Shouldn’t I no longer wish to break into homes and steal stuff?

Shouldn’t “being saved” be just the beginning to a new adventure and the catalyst for some much bigger changes in the present life?

This is where I think a little legalism goes a long way.  If I offer my life to Christ, there should be a change of heart.  This is not to say that all sin is eradicated, but I should grow to be less interested in the pleasures and ease of that sinful nature.  By ignoring legalism altogether, we free ourselves — or deprive ourselves — of the desire to seek God and his will and make choices he wants us to make.  Will people on this side of salvation still commit all manner of nasty sins?  Absolutely!  1 John 1:8-10 states “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  But we shouldn’t ignore works completely and glide through life, resting on salvation.  I like Romans 6:14-15:

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

I had a conversation with a good friend several months ago.  He grew up being very active in the church; now, however, he says he believes in God but sees no reason to follow him because he does not think much about the afterlife and doesn’t feel a relationship with God is applicable to life.  I explained that eternal salvation has little to do with why I seek to maintain a relationship with God.  I seek that relationship because I know God can sustain me to make the positive change he wants to see in me in this life.  He doesn’t want me to coast until I die.  Even if I have attained salvation, I can’t just sin with impunity because salvation is irrevocable.  I’ll definitely coast if I totally forget about legalism and never think and pray about the works in my life.

Faith is most important, but without some change of heart and some accompanying works, it is pretty powerless in this world.

Zechariah 4:10

I came across Zechariah 4:10 in the liner notes of an Alli Rogers CD I bought for Christie. The verse as printed in the liner notes appears to be from the New Living Translation. Interested, I decided to read further. I looked the verse up and came across this page on Bible.cc: http://bible.cc/zechariah/4-10.htm. Who rejoices? God? The despisers of the day of small things?

From Messengers of God

I recently finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Messengers of God.  For some reason, I felt compelled to mark two passages from a chapter called “And Jacob Fought the Angel”. Since I am about to loan this book out to someone, I am recording these passages here for later thought.

From page 125:

There is a connection between divine and human solitude: man must be alone to listen, to feel and even to fight God, for God engages only those who, paradoxically, are bother threatened and protected by solitude.  God, traditionally, elects to speak to His chosen in their sleep because that is when they are truly alone, removed from all alien presence to distract them.

From page 130:

At dawn Jacob was a different man.  Whatever he touched caught fire.  His words acquired a new resonance; he now expressed himself as would a visionary, a poet.  Jacob’s strength is named Israel, says the Midrash.  Did he win the battle?  Can man defeat his Creator?  Obviously that is impossible; but is it not a privilege to be defeated by God?