Archive for October, 2010

A Rational Alternative?

October 19, 2010

Here are two interesting articles on the growing vocality of atheists.

The first is a  New York Times piece on a recent conference on atheism and strategies for furthering atheist arguments in American society.  
The article highlights the dissent within atheist ranks about how to spread their gospel.  Disagreement between those more traditional atheists that seek to not challenge religion directly, and those who see no good purpose in masking their utter disdain for religion and those who adhere to some form of it.  These latter are often referred to as the new atheists , who are marked by a much greater willingness to unequivocally condemn religious thought and argue for not just it’s elimination, but it’s prohibition.  
The second article is a short interview with one of the new atheists, Sam Harris.  He has recently published another book arguing that there is a reasonable alternative source for morality – science.  Harris portrays scientists as the new moral authorities in the coming age, finally eliminating what Harris believes is the last bastion of religious holdout – the argument that without religion there is no source or reason for morality.  
These two articles are rather interesting in what they highlight.  Harris’ claim that a better understanding of genetics is the key to a new basis for morality is intriguing, particularly in light of some of the things highlighted in the coverage of the convention.  They represent an amazing naivete and trust in the human nature that Harris believes is essentially itself the source for morality.  
Just in watching how atheists interact with one another, it seems clear that there isn’t much of a stronger evidence of a higher or more consistent morality than what some religions argue for (or against).  Their bitterness towards their ideological adversaries is at times shocking.  Some of them seem quite at ease with completely dismissing the scientific work of Francis Collins, apparently simply on the grounds that he is also an evangelical Christian.  They disrespect one another in how they characterize nuances of opinion or approach that differ amongst themselves.  An atheist at the end of the story essentially advocates for dishonesty as a matter of convenience.  She alleges that her dishonesty is for the betterment of her employer, but this is really a rather thin sham.  Her dishonesty is to protect her employment because she realizes that her ideological stance is not compatible with the purposes of her employer.
If there is a greater or higher morality that is implicit in human nature and awaits only the intelligent teasing out or revelation of it through genetics or secular philosophy, it doesn’t seem to be on display here.  And if it’s not, then it only has itself to blame.  An attempt to posit a consist moral framework based on human nature leaves very little reason or excuse for failures to comply with this moral framework – especially by those who seem most able (on their terms) to discern it and promote it.  It seems a very good example of the old maxim that those who can’t do, teach.  
Harris’ trust in human nature is, at best, childlike, as is his dismissal of religion.  He asserts that religion is “dangerous” for asserting things that are contrary to human nature based on the promise of an afterlife Harris insists “doesn’t exist”.  That’s pretty incredible reasoning for someone – demanding acquiesence to an assertion about the nature of reality based only on the ‘evidence’ that if you can’t prove it’s there, it cannot be there.  
Harris asserts that despite despite mankind’s terrible track record of acting in a moral manner, we ought to be able to trust humans to tell us the best way to behave based on something that is already internal to us.  We are the source of our own morality, though he’s not very clear on exactly how this is the case, or why if this is the case we seem to manifestly fail in following it.  He’s insistent that religion is out of step with reality, but only if you dismiss all religions together as equally ridiculous without examining what a particular religion may actually say.  
Christianity is unique in saying that regardless of what we know about how we’re to behave – whether we look internally to our own best ideas or even externally to a God-given law – we are incapable of improving things at all.  Christianity describes reality incredibly well.  Here we are, trapped in guilt and fear and angst over a world that we know isn’t the way it’s supposed to be (despite it being all we’ve ever known), and trapped in guilt and fear and angst over our own lives that we know aren’t the way they’re supposed to be (despite our best efforts to the contrary).  Terrible things happen and we know that they are terrible and real, yet we also know that they’re not appropriate to this world, that they are aberrations, incongruous with how reality ought to be.  We are creatures saddled with an amazingly developed sense of should that doesn’t at all match what is.  If what is is all that’s ever been, why aren’t we used to it?  
And as for Harris’ assertion that the lab-coat scientist as the future of moral law is not a figure to be feared, wow.  Amazingly naive.  Or else he thinks we’re all stupid (which I’m betting is also the case).  Having dismissed (rightly so) the ridiculous notion of relative truth, we know darn well what truth he is convinced is really true and real – his truth.  His understanding of reality.  And he stands ready to dismiss every single other idea that contradicts or in any way disagrees with his assertions.  He advocates for genetic modification but only if we can be “confident that what we’re doing isn’t going to be harmful in the end.”  How are we to know this?  Whose confidence to we rely on?  And when that confidence turns out to be erroneous or misplaced, who puts Humpty Dumpty back together again?
Notice the vagueness with which Harris answers the question for a specific moral issue that science can provide an answer to.  Notice first of all how Harris begins by throwing out science all together as even a pre-requisite for a new moral law.  Science is to be our guide rather than God, he asserts, yet he immediately dismisses even science as a necessary guiding force.  It’s self evident.  Fascinating.  So there is to be no moral guide then other than self-evident common sense?  The people wielding the machetes and perpetrating the rapes appear to have an understanding of reality that justifies their actions.  In a competing market space of ideas with no greater authority to discern Truth, how is one understanding any more valid than another?    How do we avoid might makes right?  Or in Harris’ case, smart makes right?  And if smart makes right, it isn’t very long before the ones with the guns figure out that they have all the smarts they need to seize right for themselves.  
As for Orwellian visions of dystopian authoritarianism?  Silly fairy tales, according to Harris.  We’re going to “discover” new ways to convey the value of compassion, and we’re simply going to leave it up to people to use this information wisely and uniformly?  Hardly.  Harris needs a good look backwards at human history to see what happens to utopian promises of a better tomorrow as safeguarded and defined by a handful of the elite or special.  The common good is already held up to be the trump card over individual liberty and freedom.  The costs to the whole from the ability of a few to lie seem to justify to Harris using technology to make lying impossible.  And of course that technology will be applied equally and fairly to everyone, I’m sure.  
Overall Harris would like to trade one fairy tale for what he believes is the fairy tale of religion.  He pitches the well-worn promise of human ingenuity and goodness eradicating the problems of the world and leading us upwards and onwards towards a better quality of life.  We know how that fairy tale ends.  Ask the citizens of the former Soviet Union.  Or the Chinese who lived through the Cultural Revolution.  Ask the Cubans.  Ask anyone who has relied on the wisdom or persuasiveness of a few to lead them to a better life.  Substituting scientists in lab coats for soldiers in riot gear will not result in a different end.  The route to that end may look different, but the end is assured.  If you want a world view that is radically out of sync with all of human history and experience, one need look no further than the sugar-coated myopia of Harris.  
Christianity is far more obvious in stating what we have experienced directly and historically – we are broken and we cannot fix ourselves.  The good that we want to do, we don’t, and the bad that we would rather not do, that is what we end up doing.  Who can save us from this predicament?  (Romans 7:18ff).  It is the Bible’s answer to this that earns it the disgust and disdain of Mr. Harris and others who would prefer us to place our trust in them.  If the Bible were merely a description of our situation, it would still be unparalleled for it’s unblinking honesty and forthrightness.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The Bible also describes the solution – and that solution is not within us, though it has walked amongst us.  The solution to the conundrum Paul states in Romans 7 above is God, not me.  The solution has already been given in the God-Man Jesus Christ.  The cure has already been administered.  But the cure is not complete – not yet.  And the cure requires the eventual death of the disease and all those who make their stock and trade in it.  The good news is that the cure is available to them as well – it is freely offered.  Not everybody is interested in it.  Not everybody knows that they are sick, and that the sickness is fatal.  
Changing those in power does not eliminate the problem of a broken human nature.  Assuming that intelligence is immune to corruption and greed and all of the other forces that open up vistas of misery to those in the right positions is foolish wishful thinking on a par easily equal to whatever other religions Harris wishes to dismiss.  Stupidity is not our problem, sinfulness is.  And sinfulness affects the intelligent as well as the stupid.  There’s an argument to be made that the intelligent can become an even greater power of evil because they can rationalize to themselves and their victims why their behaviors are not inconsistent, not in fact, flawed or evil.  The thug understands mostly that he is strong and the other is weak, and that exploitation is an opportunity.  It is a rough form of street justice wherein the possibility of a larger bully on the block is always real and always understood.  The genius sees that same exploitation as a duty, a sacred trust that he must bear for the improvement of humanity – regardless of the cost to actual humanity in the meantime.  Nobody can be seen as better equipped for this duty.  The pride of the mind will tolerate no rivals.
Don’t get me wrong.  This is not a diatribe against intelligence, but rather a strong warning against the pride that accompanies it.  I don’t blame Mr. Harris for wanting to make a better world.  It’s a commendable desire.  But in his rash arrogance he demonstrates how this is not even remotely possible, even for the smartest of us.  

Movie Review: Jumanji

October 19, 2010

Seeing Jumanji again 15 years later is an interesting experience.  Lots has changed in 15 years, perhaps most notably the addition of three smallish children watching alongside me.

The movie holds up very well (probably better than I have) for its age.  The digital effects are not as smooth or polished as new movies, but they are still very compelling overall.  Sure, there are plot holes (why do they spend so much time running around and away rather than just rolling the dice non stop?!?!?) but it’s still an enjoyable story.  While the kids were a bit scared in some parts, they were laughing hilariously through many others.
Theologically and philosophically, there are some interesting aspects, though not terribly many.  I think it’s interesting how the film pokes fun at psychiatric care (or perhaps more accurately, at how people can subvert reality under the care of a psychiatrist).  One of the characters has been under extensive care for years, reaching the point where a traumatic childhood event has been relegated to the status of bad dream because it defies rational explanation.  
Kids, on the other hand, know reality when they see it – whether they can explain it or not.  Reality is not always explainable in rational terms, but the lack of explanation for something doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t real.  The luring drum beats of the Jumanji game may only be heard by kids, but the effects of the game are experienced and perceived by everyone, despite being unable to explain them.  Wishing something is not true does not change reality.  
This isn’t a deep movie, but it’s fun.  And if my only other options are Spongebob episodes, I think it’s a good alternative for family fun.

In da Crib With Eminem

October 14, 2010

I’ll start out by saying that these sorts of interviews tend to make me very skeptical.  There’s nothing I find more irritating than the public relations pieces that are done up on celebrities and other famous people.  Often times these people make their living off of being provocative and/or pushing the limits of public decency.  And then they do some heart-to-heart interview schlock thing for Parade magazine or Reader’s Digest  to show who they really are.  Tender.  Sensitive.  Animal-loving.

Give me a break.
Not that people aren’t multi-faceted, and not that a person’s public persona is the sum total of their existence, but often times these articles stretch the limits of credulity.  
Case in point, an interview of the popular and controversial rap star Eminem with Anderson Cooper.  On page three of this partial transcript, Eminem talks about how he doesn’t allow profanity in his house, about how undignified and inappropriate he finds it in that realm.  He draws a distinction between what is appropriate for his children and family, and what he claims is his “art”.
I don’t think you can distinguish those things.  Or if you can, I don’t think you should.  “If you’re the parent, be a parent” Eminem states in typical blunt fashion.  That’s good advice.  Except he’s sending mixed messages.  His art and his beliefs don’t add up, and that leads me to question how real the art is – or how real is beliefs are.  If art is an expression of self, which self is he expressing?  If beliefs dictate how you act and think and speak, how are those beliefs manifest in his music?  Which is the sham?
It underlies a crass individualism that is very rampant in our culture.  Be the parent.  And yet he’s a parent as well.  And how can he justify holding one set of standards for his own house while encouraging another set of standards for his listeners and fans?  How can he find it inappropriate for his life but appropriate for theirs?  You can’t logically do this, unless you really don’t care at all about anyone else – if you’re only focused on your responsibility, and your responsibility is to you and to your immediate family and to nobody else.  It’s a dangerous individualism because it isn’t just refusing to help another person, it’s an insistence on actually damaging the other person.  
All of which doesn’t make Eminem any more sympathetic or appealing to me.  He may be talented, but what a waste if he insists on utilizing that talent in a way that is either very dishonest to himself or to everyone who listens to him.  If respect is what he’s after, I’d like to suggest that this isn’t the way you earn respect. 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

October 13, 2010

In the process of attempting to fabricate human life on our own terms and outside of our biological design for such things, there’s a lot of room for error.  Consider the case of an in virto fertilization (IVF) couple ended up with children a different skin color from themselves due to an insemination error on the part of the IVF service.

The couple is suing the service, attempting to show that the service failed to meet it’s duty of care and is therefore liable for damages.  This despite the fact that the service has apparently offered to negotiate some sort of settlement prior to the law suit being launched.
The judge in the case stated that the children involved, on who’s behalf the suit was brought, have “no legitimate expectation other than being born healthy and well.”   On one hand, this sounds reasonable.  It’s the parents (the ones bringing the law suit) that had expectations in terms of how their children ought to look.  For whatever reasons, they opted for an IVF process in which human error can and obviously does enter in from time to time.  There would seem to be a burden of responsibility that the parents in this situation must bear in exchange for the opportunity they are seeking.  While the situation is unfortunate, isn’t this a risk?  
On the other hand, does this comment indicate that people have a right to expect to be born in a certain condition?  I’m sure that’s not the intent of the judge (the quote is from the author of the article, not a direct quote from the judge himself).  What expectations do any of us – can any of us – reasonably have about the state into which we’re born?  If the parents are the ones with expectations about their children, isn’t it a logical extension that the only reason a child would think to have expectations about their own state is because of the expectations and judgments of the community they find themselves in?  Who defines what healthy or well are?  Is there legal recourse available – or should there be? – for individuals who through no control of their own find that their lives are not the picture of healthfulness or wellness?  
As much as we wish to believe we can take control of things, there are elements of unpredictability in every aspect of our life.  Expecting that just because we pay a large sum of money that these unpredictabilities should be weeded out seems rather optimistic, at best.  It ought to give all of us pause to think – and to give thanks for all that we think is as it ought to be.  

Defining Moments

October 13, 2010

We went on our first home school field trip of the year today, and it was great, but thought-provoking.  We joined a group of home schoolers in taking an Amtrak train from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles’ Union Station (for only $7/person, round trip – woohoo!).  Then, we walked about 1/2 a mile to theJapanese American National Museum.  There, the kids got to watch (and participate in!) a demonstration of taiko drumming.  Our daughter was chomping at the bit to try her hand at it, and she did great (of course).

Afterwards, we were treated to a tour of the museum by a docent which culminated in an origami art project for the kids.  
There is one ongoing exhibit at the museum which is what we received the tour of.  And while the exhibit purports to describe 130 years of Japanese American history up to the present day, the overwhelming amount of time was spent on the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Out of fear that Japanese Americans might decide to aid Japan, Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated in remote places (such as Arizona and Wyoming) for part of the war.  Oftentimes this included their non-Japanese spouses and their children, and it often resulted in the loss of the property and businesses in the meantime.  Truly a painful experience.
I was just surprised that this was the major emphasis in the exhibit.  I remember a few cases of artifacts, luggage, etc. detailing the early days of Japanese immigration to American during the late 19th century.  I don’t remember any information on Japanese Americans since World War II.  I trust there must have been something that I missed.  But without a doubt the most time and the most memorabilia was dedicated to the incarceration period during World War II.
Again, this is definitely a crucial aspect of Japanese American’s experience.  It must have been hugely traumatic, and there are those that see parallels between this period of US history and our current struggles over illegal immigrants from south of our border.  But I would have been very interested to hear more about the contributions of Japanese Americans after the incarceration.  How has the community rebounded?  What was learned?  Who are prominent Japanese Americans – both as individuals as well as corporations?  What about Little Tokyo just outside the museum – what sort of neighborhood is it and how does it compare with other Japanese enclaves around the nation?  
So much information that I would think is available and would be of interest.  I don’t wish to either forget or ignore the past – particularly a past where different people within our borders have suffered different situations in the interest of freedom.  It’s a good reminder of what fear can do, and how fear can compromise the principles our nation stands for if we aren’t very, very careful.  But I came away wondering whether or not a community or a culture can or should define themselves by moments of great tragedy?  Is there a risk in that preservation of a past identity?  Is it a betrayal to say that whatever indignities and abuses our particular people suffered in the past will not define us?  
Or is it the duty of the offspring to perpetually maintain the injured identity of their ancestors or parents?  Is forgiveness ever possible or desirable?  Or are those ultimately capitulations in a melting pot context?

Book Review: Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics by R. C. Sproul

October 12, 2010

This is an excellent introduction to apologetics that places the bulk of the emphasis on the philosophical arguments typically used against theists. Essentially this is apologetics that focuses to begin with not on Scripture, but on epistemology. How do we know what we can know? This has been a critical arena for non-theists seeking to discredit the possibility of a God without the necessity of dealing with any particular god. 

Sproul deals with the major epistemology topics of the law of noncontradiction, causality, the reliability of sense perception as a means for gathering knowledge, and finally the analogical use of language. He then moves on to an overview of key voices on the topic of natural reason and faith. He then moves on to offer the four basic explanations for why there is stuff – you, me, the earth, the universe, lemurs, what-have-you. Does stuff really exist at all or is it an illusion? If stuff is really there, did it get there by chance or by it’s own causation? Could it have always been there in one form or another? Or does the fact that stuff exists necessitate an uncreated creator that is the source of all the stuff we know about today? 

Afterwards there are several chapters dealing with key philosophers in the modern period who contributed powerfully (generally in the negative sense) to the discussion of the existence of God. Each is examined in light of the four major issues of epistemology to determine whether they are rationally sound or not. And finally Sproul deals with the reliability and authority of Scripture. 

It is this last topic that seems to be the most briefly and inadequately treated, perhaps because Sproul expects that it will be more familiar to his readers. It is in this section that there are more dots that appear to be unconnected – or connected only tenuously. There is valuable material here, but it could have been dealt with a bit more thoroughly. 

If you aren’t well-versed in philosophy, this book is an excellent primer with a target of educating Christians to feel more adept at engaging non-theists on the topics that non-theists often choose for their rejection of theism. Sproul writes engagingly and accessibly. There are sections where he quotes Scripture rather extensively, but in other areas he deals with the topic purely from a rational standpoint – since that is how the apologist is going to need to engage the non-theist. 

An excellent introduction to an important and often neglected aspect of apologetics.

Convenience Kills

October 11, 2010

The trade-offs we make for convenience will ultimately be shown, I firmly believe, to have long-term health risks that will appall future generations.  I think that the 20th century will be seen primarily as a case study in the dangers of plunging headlong into practices that are expedient but only marginally thought through.  I’m not a doctor, or a scientist.  I have a brain and I try to use it – sometimes better than others.  So when I look at skyrocketing cancer levels, part of me questions the wisdom of, say:

  • cooking our food with microwaves rather than with traditional heat/fire
  • incorporating chemicals into literally every thing we eat and wear
  • allowing the substitution of synthetic products for natural products on a mind-boggling scale
  • allowing our food to come from fewer and fewer sources all in the name of saving some money
  • making cell phones and other wireless objects ubiquitous
I know, I’m a fringe nut-case.  Be that as it may, I’m more and more convinced that in our pursuit of convenience and time-savings we are trading away our health and lives in unforeseen ways.  
Thus I’m inclined to agree with the overall tone of this interview with the author of a new book on the dangers of cell phone usage.  Yes, I own a cell phone.  No, I generally don’t keep it on my person and my usage per day is a few minutes at best.  Yet I still worry.  No, the research isn’t conclusive but as the author points out, this isn’t necessarily surprising.  It seems reasonable that the possible negative effects of cell phone radiation will take time to manifest themselves.  In part because we may not know what we’re looking for, and then in part because it will take time to definitively link the effects to a particular cause.  In the meantime, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a very real cause and effect going on.
Our kids are too young for cell phones, and I’m going to delay getting them phones as long as I possibly can.  Hopefully someday they’ll thank me.  And hopefully I’ll be around to say you’re welcome.  

Behind Blue Eyes

October 11, 2010

Here’s an interesting issue.

A candidate for public office is being criticized by his opposition for his membership in a World War II historical reenactment group.  Sounds harmless enough, right?  After all, historical reenactment groups are nothing particularly unusual.  There’s a Civil War reenactment group not far from where we live.  People interested in various periods of history are sometimes led to take that interest and curiosity to a level that some others might find odd, but at the same time interesting and potentially educational.
What’s the problem?  The candidate in question was part of a group who’s identity was a WWII German SS division (click on the link labeled “Wiking Reenactment Unit – Who we are and what we do”).  A photo of the Richard Iott in full SS garb has been raising hackles over the past several days.  
As a historian of sorts, I find this interesting. The complaint is not historical reenactment per se, but rather the particular reenactment of Nazi units.  The Atlantic article linked to above is quick to point out that this sort of reenactment is illegal in Germany and Austria.  There are plenty of things that are illegal there that are not illegal here (such as homeschooling in Germany).  I can certainly understand why the nations that bear the brunt of responsibility for the Nazi atrocities should be particularly keen not to encourage their citizens to reenact those periods.
But should it be questionable here?  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a complaint before about historical reenactment in general (should we be offended that there are groups dedicated to vividly recreating the details of a Confederate division?).  I know people who participate in paint ball battles that are themed around WWII engagements, and they try to dress appropriately, and I’m fairly certain that they aren’t closet Nazis.  
Both the web site for Iott’s particular division (which he quit three years ago) as well as The World War II Historical Reenactment Society, Inc. (the larger organization Iott’s group is a part of) very specifically indicate that ideology is not what is being practiced, pushed, or espoused here.  It’s simply guys getting together to re-enact battles.  Granted, guys with some free time and the willingness and ability to accumulate the appropriate clothing, gear, and weapons for the group that they are part of.  Guys do strange things sometimes.  I wanted to join The Society for Creative Anachronisms when I was in college.  Unfortunately, there was the pesky matter of tuition to be paid, and so I ended up joining the working class instead.  C’est la vie.  
Are some things so horrific that even reenactment should be shunned?  Should historical reenactments be viewed as a breeding ground for the particular ideologies that the reenacted groups espoused?  Are Confederate re-enactors secretly wishing to divide the Union still?  Someone reenacting a Communist division is secretly a proponent of Marx and Lenin?  
Or is this an inappropriate overreaction to something being blown out of context and proportion?  Historical reenactment isn’t my bag, but I wouldn’t be suspicious of those who do find it enjoyable on that basis alone.  Perhaps other details will come to light that might indicate that Iott is more of a sympathizer with the Nazi cause than he appears to be at this point.  But perhaps this sort of publicity will be adequate to hamper his election bid without the necessity of culling his personal history.  Convenient, if indeed there wouldn’t be anything incriminating found in that history.  This wouldn’t be the first personal smear campaign in American political history.  But it just might be the most unusual one.

Be Careful What You Ask For

October 8, 2010

I knew this article would be blog-fodder at some point, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say about it.

This sort of story about this sort of church is pretty popular these days.  Hip, non-conformist start-up church meeting in an unusual place with unusual practices that seem to be directed at not looking like church while still being church.  Don’t like church?  Come here.  We’re a church, but a cool church that doesn’t act like church.
That’s not my comfort zone.  While I would be more than happy to do things very differently with church, it’s not simply for the sake of doing things differently.  While I am often frustrated at the good things that become monolithic obstacles to reaching people, I don’t feel that the purpose of church is to cater to people’s desire to be shocked.  More accurately – I do think that this is what church is at it’s core, and I think that substituting tattoos and hair dying and other gimmicks is pandering and giving people far less shock and awe than the Bible promises.  We have the most radical news in the world to share with people, but we want them to notice that we’re using KFC buckets to collect our offering?  How is that really shocking?
On the flip side, I trust this church is meeting some people where they need to be met.  I’m not sure that St. Paul would have had a problem with this sort of approach – assuming that the message is being kept straight.  St. Paul might have commented that this group seems more caught up in who they are (and aren’t) than in whose they are, this is a distinction that might be lost on a new convert to Christianity or a curious person wandering in.  There will be a time and  a place to talk about image vs. substance.  Or at least I hope there will be.
I think most of all I’m sort of disappointed in the pastor in this article.  I don’t know him or anything about him beyond what the article says.  But I look at the enthusiasm and support that he seems to have from some of his people.  I think that if I had that sort of energy and commitment and dedication at my disposal, I’d be asking for something other than for the person to get a tattoo.  That’s the sort of energy and dedication that could help launch new outreach opportunities,  could invest hours and hours in discipling new converts, that could go out and share the Gospel with a group of friends that might otherwise never hear it or come to church (no matter how hip that church might be).  I pray that this pastor is directing that enthusiasm and excitement and commitment into meaningful arenas and not just self-indulgence.  I pray that it’s not just about celebrating how hip and un-churchlike we can be.  
Eventually you run out of body parts to tattoo or modify or dye or what have you in order to ramp up the excitement of young people.  Eventually you come to the end of your resources, the end of your abilities, the end of your ideas, the end of your energy, the end of your rope.  And at that point, what you want to be sure of is that you haven’t conditioned yourself and your people to just wander off in search of someone who can continue to feed the need or desire for a rush.  Hopefully you’ve conditioned yourself and your people to take a deep breath together, to look into one another’s eyes and step out in faith that says even though we’re at the end of our abilities, the Holy Spirit is the one that is really at work here, and we’ll continue to be as faithful as we can and allow Him to do His work.  
I pray for this young pastor and his unconventional flock.  There’s nothing wrong with being unconventional, unless being unconventional is the main reason you’re there at all.  And then you’re dancing on a dangerously thin line between preaching a radical Gospel that turns this entire world on it’s head, and simply settling for celebrating the fact that you’re unconventional.  Which side of that line you fall to your knees on makes all the difference – in this world and the next.

Widening Health Gaps

October 8, 2010

I found this article a few months back about how in Great Britain, the health gap is wider than it has been since the early 20th century, particularly the period after World War I and during the Great Depression.  The health gap is a measure of the mortality rates for poor people as opposed to rich people.  A small gap is when there is no appreciable difference in the mortality percentage rates between the rich and poor.  A large health gap is when more poor people are dying than rich people.

When I saw this in my bookmarks bar, I was intrigued as to how the US compared on this little factoid.  Is our health gap getting bigger or smaller?  While I found an article asserting that it’s getting bigger as well, more specific details were difficult to come by.  I found a very poorly translated article on the growing health gap in Manitoba, Canada, which seems to indicate that this is not an isolated issue for Great Britain at least, and that the article assuming that the US health gap is growing as well is probably not far off base.  Another older article discusses the racial health gap between whites and blacks in the United States.  
I’m just a little amazed that this trend appears to be growing in first world countries.  It’s something that one might more readily assume of an undeveloped nation.