Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Memories and Magic

April 10, 2017

I found this article a couple of weeks back and it struck me but I’ve wanted to ponder it for a bit before posting on it.

The gist of the story is that scientists think that superstitious, magical-thinking is behind people’s attachments to personal items belonging to people who have died (or, I would argue, haven’t necessarily died but are no longer part of our lives).  The implicit assumption seems to be that if there are two identical items, then our attachment to the one shouldn’t necessarily be any stronger or different than the attachment to the other.  To reinforce this, they nickname this preference magical contagion.   This is a very materialistic understanding of reality and humanity, and very dismissive of personal attachment to memories evoked from a particular item.  Scientists assume that if two things are identical, then any preference for one over the other based on who it belonged to must be magical.

The assumption is that this is somehow illogical and irrational behavior and therefore requires an explanation.  That explanation they call social connection.  The test they run for this is rather curious, I think.  They first make a group of people feel ostracized or unwelcome in a social setting and then test to see how heavily they prefer items personally related to someone they admire.  The assumption was that the need for social acceptance caused a higher level of attachment to objects personally associated with known people.  Hence, the need for social connection is at the root of magical contagion.  The article notes that social disconnection is not the cause of magical contagion, it just intensifies the belief or need for it.

Thus, the desire to have something that belonged to someone important in some way gets disregarded as essentially irrational.

I won’t venture to assume that everybody likes to keep things that belonged to important people in their lives.  But I’ve met very few people who, when visiting their homes or talking with them don’t have some sort of memento.  These aren’t necessarily lonely people, and they certainly don’t appear irrational.

It’s tempting to make the argument that what is lacking is a spiritual dimension – that somehow an object actually owned or worn or used by someone has some bit of their essence to it, and that this would be the unstated reason why people prefer that item over an identical item without the personal association.  But I’m uncomfortable with that as it leads us slightly down the path towards an almost animist view of creation, where spiritual essences and properties are attached to most everything and we begin to revere objects for this property.  I don’t think it’s my rationalist, materialist upbringing (as a part of Western culture in the 20th and 21st centuries) that wants to discard this.  I don’t think it’s Biblical either.  Nothing in Scripture leads me to conclude that there is a spiritual essence which we pass on to objects.

I think it’s just part of human nature, by and large.  Why do I want the item from that person that they actually owned, rather than an identical one?  Because they actually owned it.  Is that rational or logical?  I can’t see the argument why it is, but certainly not from a strict materialist perspective.  What makes it special is that they owned it or wore it or purchased it.  When we see that item, it reminds us of that person.  It isn’t magical, but it’s important.  Just because you can’t quantify the why of that importance in physical terms shouldn’t denigrate it with such a pejorative term!

Particles vs. Bodies

March 14, 2017

I’m often asked whether I think that cremation is an appropriate alternative to burial.  My standard response is that how we dispose of our bodies should reflect what we as Christians are told we are in Scripture.  We are special creations of God, distinct from anything else in creation whether animal, vegetable, mineral, whatever.  The fact that we may share some of the same elements, the same base ingredients as these other aspects of creation is not surprising given the description of our creation in Genesis 2.  But we are far more than the sum of our parts, far more than the chemicals and elements that constitute us.  We bear the imago dei.  How we dispose of our bodies should reflect this at some level.

Which is why I reject other options (or at least some other options) for dealing with a deceased human body as unacceptable.  I’ve repeatedly stated that I disagree with burial options that foster a different view of humanity as simply one part of an eco-system, using a decomposed or cremated body as part of the planting material for a seed(s) that will grow into trees or other vegetation.  I think this confuses the distinctness of humanity that Genesis clearly articulates.

And it is why I’m not a fan of this option – liquefying the body.  The process liquefies the soft tissue of the human body, leaving only the skeletal remains which can then be pulverized into a fine powder and given to the family.  But the liquefied remains are intended to be flushed into the local water system to be chemically treated like any other water.  The idea is that once all you have are basic chemicals and elements, there is no difference.  Treat ’em all the same.

That’s the part I object to.

Our modern obsession with science is problematic in that it all too often insists that everything and everyone is the same.  Genetics seeks to demonstrate not our uniqueness so much as our similarity to other species.  Chemistry dictates that we’re just walking chemical reactions that eventually – for one reason or another – stop.  By viewing humanity exclusively under a microscope we are able to justify any manner of dealing with our bodies – both while we’re alive as well as after we’re dead, arguing that there are no theological or even moral implications since we’re just a collection of chemicals and elements.

The Bible insists that we lift our eyes away from the microscopes sometimes, to see things as He sees them.  Yes, He created the chemicals and the elements that constitute our being.  But He sees us not in these terms, but in terms of being his creation, his unique creation, even the pinnacle of his creation.  We are more than the sum of our parts, more than just a collection of chemicals and elements that happened to accidentally arrange themselves as a human being for a few years.  Our choices for what to do with our bodies after our death should reflect this as a final testimony to our hope in Jesus Christ.

Yes, the body decomposes.  Given proper conditions and time it will on its own liquefy and disintegrate into the ground.  But it does so in the ground, not in a cylinder to be flushed into the water supply like any common grey water or sewage.  Cremation disposes of a great deal of our physicality in smoke and steam, but these elements are released, rather than incorporated back into some sort of system to be repurposed.

You were created unique.  Not an accident or an oversight.  Planned before the dawn of creation by the God who called the cosmos into being.  Special and unique in all of time and space.  Far, far more than just the sum of your parts.  Intended for eternal life and glory.  Step away from the microscope long enough to appreciate that.  You don’t have to deny that our bodies contain basic chemicals and elements.  Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what defines us.

Twilight Zone

March 13, 2017

I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and loved it.  Recently when Netflix was streaming them we watched a few of them as a family.  I was surprised at how they held my kids’ interest, and how they actually enjoyed them.  I had expected the shows to be too old-fashioned compared to the rapidity of video games and modern movies.

But the shows are still good.  They engage at a deep level, resonating on themes that never really go away – loneliness, paranoia and fear, love.  And yes, we can learn a lot about ourselves and how we are and how we should be from these shows.  The lessons aren’t original for certain, but viewing them in a more modern context can be very helpful.

Unsocial Media

January 13, 2017

What does your social media look like?  Not necessarily which one you use, but who are you in contact with through it?  I don’t Twit, and Facebook is my only social media venture thus far.  When I scroll through my friends, I see a broad spectrum of people.  There are two guys I’ve known since elementary school.  A smattering of folks from Junior and Senior high.  A few from college.  Some from many of the places I’ve worked (other than Burger King…oddly enough I’m not in contact with any of those folks still!).  Some from various educational institutions I’ve either attended or worked for.  Some from the congregation’s I serve(d).  There’s a growing number from the bar pool league I play in.  Finally there a few people that I’ve met in various capacities and situations only briefly.

It’s a diverse group, to say the least.  I take this into account when I post on Facebook – which is rarely.

I’m not sure about you but when I’m with any one of these many people, I don’t feel compelled to shout out my opinions on politics, sexuality, religion, or current events.  I may talk about some of these things with these various people, but there’s always a context to the conversation.  I’ve never had a single conversation where I or the person I was talking to simply announced If you hold this particular opinion on this particular subject, I don’t ever want to talk to you again and I hope you die in a car fire.

But I hear the equivalent from people all the time on Facebook.

I wonder about the diversity of their social network.  How many different people are they around?   Do they expect that every single person in their social network should think and feel exactly the way they do?  Have they forgotten that I’m in their list of friends?

It’s easy to think of the people posting obnoxious, rude, and hateful things.  But I’d argue that there are other people doing the opposite of this and it’s just as weird.  Many of the people I interact with on a regular basis aren’t Christian.  It would never strike me as appropriate when running into them at Costco or over a pool table to just shout out a verse of Scripture.  But I have friends that do this as well.  Are they only friends with Christians?  What must that be like for their non-Christian friends?  I can understand quoting Scripture to encourage a brother or sister in the faith, but does it have that same effect on non-Christians?  My experience has been overwhelmingly that it does not.

What is social media ultimately for?  Is it a platform to express my inner thoughts and feelings, even in a manner that I would never consider doing face to face with another person?  Is it a means of fostering dialogue and contact with a great number of people across the span of my life?  Should it only be for and with people who think and feel exactly as I do on whatever topics I make determinative?  Is it a reminder and celebration that even people who are very different can still find value in one another?

How is it that we’ve come to think of social media as different from our face-to-face interactions, even though it encompasses many of the people we interact with face-to-face?  Is it possible to disparage a particular point of view and have any respect for someone who believes it?  Is that the nature of friendship and relationship, let alone the definition of loving my neighbor as myself?

It’s troubling, regardless.

 

Loose Lips

December 13, 2016

Thank you to Becky for alerting me to a new piece of state legislation introduced a few days ago here in California.

Back in 2009, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature expressing support for a Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California.  It seemed a fairly innocuous, vague resolution without any real teeth or meat to it.  It was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, among others.  Many such expressions of support are undoubtedly passed in our country every year, most of which coming to very little of substance.  The terms aren’t defined, and no specific actions or funding are allocated.  It’s essentially a warm-fuzzy sort of document.

But warm-fuzzy documents can give rise to more tangible realities later on.

So it is that this week Senator Richard Pan (D) introduced  Senate Bill 18.  Senator Pan represents Senate District 6 which encompasses the greater Sacramento area.  He is a pediatrician as well as a Senator.   SB18 aims to “expand and codify” the Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California, turning it from a warm and fuzzy idea into some form of law.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving the lot of children everywhere.  But when the government decides that it’s going to assure that this happens, I begin to ask questions.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a “comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California”.  I would argue that this already exists – it’s called the family.  The family is a comprehensive framework that protects the rights of the children within that family.  Certainly there are situations where the family fails in this duty, and it is necessary for an outside entity to get involved to assure the protection of children.  But to assume that the State needs to create a “comprehensive framework” of its own that extends beyond the many agencies and programs to assist children and families strikes me as a bit odd.

More specifically, the Bill prescribes that within five years – by the end of 2021 – this Bill of Rights is enforced “evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state.”  Why do I need such a framework applied to my children?  My children have a solid family which is their framework.  Now I begin to worry.  How is my framework going to interact with the state framework?  Under what conditions and situations?  And if there is a conflict between the two frameworks, whose wins?  I’m going to make a wild guess here and say that if push comes to shove, the State is going to insist that their framework trumps mine.

The Bill’s premise is that all children are entitled to certain rights.  I would agree, and I would agree that our Declaration of Independence includes those in broad terms, just as it does for me:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are not intended as necessarily all-encompassing, but they go a long way towards a baseline we can all agree upon.  But this Bill intends to create a series of rights for children that is far more specific.

  1.  The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest.  This sounds good, but who gets to decide what is in my child’s best interest?  I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that the State is going to reserve that right to itself.  What if I disagree?  Hmmmm.
  2. The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being.  What does this mean?  Who defines healthy attachment?  Who decides what adults they should be required to form such an attachment to?
  3. The right to live in a safe and healthy environment.  Sounds good, but again, who decides what constitutes safe and healthy?  Don’t we have building codes and other things that already determine this?  What does healthy mean, and how is it distinct from safe?  What does environment mean?  Is that physical?  Emotional?  What?
  4. The right to social and emotional well-being.  Who defines these things?  On what basis?
  5. The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical and social development.  Again, who determines the best means for achieving these things?  It sounds as though there is only one way to reach these goals.  Is that true?  If the State decides that my kids will only reach optimal social development by going to school rather than us schooling them, what recourse do I have?  None, I’m going to guess.
  6. The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood.  This seems like an even more pointed attack at my parental rights to determine how best to educate my children.  The current state-sponsored public education system seems to be producing many children who do not have a quality education, and are unable to cope with the outcome of a presidential election, and who can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their ideas about the world, and who need safe spaces and other means of insulating them from opposing points of view.  Does this mean that the State is going to find public schools inappropriate?  Somehow, I doubt it.
  7. The right to appropriate, quality health care.  Again, who decides these definitions?  Given last year’s fear-based legislation mandating vaccines for as many children as possible in the state, what else is going to be determined to be appropriate and quality?

The Bill indicates that solutions will be “research-based”.  What level of concurrence in research will be necessary in order to use it as the basis for a specific solution to one of the areas above?  How will the State enforce this “comprehensive framework”, and what recourse will parents have – if any – in disagreement with this framework?  And as is typical, what recourse do parents have if the solutions imposed through this Bill turn out to actually be harmful, rather than helpful?  If you’re going to force me to do things to and with and for my children that I don’t want to do and don’t think are helpful to them at all, what recourse do I have if I turn out to be right?  If your research turns out to be faulty?  If special interests dictate questionable applications?

I don’t doubt that the intent of improving life for children is the actual intent here, but I dislike the idea that somebody outside of my family is going to make those decisions for me, particularly in the current ideological and intellectual climate.  How is the State going to make meaningful legislation that is broad enough to be applied to every family in the State?  I don’t think that’s possible, which means that the alternative is that some families are going to have their rights overridden by the State.

This seems like a really bad idea.  The State unfortunately may need to intervene in situations where children are at risk through neglect or abuse, and I am grateful for such services.  But to expand beyond this to create legislation that applies to all children and families is very overreaching.  I hope that this Bill does not pass!

Truly Safe Spaces

December 12, 2016

Long-time readers know that we home school our children, and that my wife helps lead a home-schooling cooperative.  It’s mostly a means for about 300 home schooling families to communicate, sharing resources, ideas, field trip invitations, and any number of other miscellaneous items with one another via a somewhat moderated (and very unwieldy) e-mail list.

Part of what my wife coordinates is a weekly play date at a local beach or park (depending on the time of year).  It’s a great way for people new to the area or new to home schooling or both can come and meet others and integrate into the community.  Over time, she’s made some really good friends with a handful of other home schooling moms who come regularly for their kids to play together and for them to talk together.  They’re all very different people, to be certain, and were it not for home schooling, they might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends.  There’s a mutual respect and appreciation which has developed despite different home schooling approaches and backgrounds.

So it struck me recently, as she was talking about a conversation that had happened the day before, how destroyed our society is.  The conversation among the mom’s veered over to the issue of vaccinations.  One of the mom’s felt it necessary to remind or warn the group that this is a controversial subject.  How sad.

How sad that a group of adult women who are highly capable and educated, who have known each other for some time and have grown to truly appreciate one another, feel like they have to warn each other before talking about a controversial subject.  As though because it’s a controversial subject, they’re suddenly going to turn on each other and become nasty and rude and dismissive?  As though it isn’t possible for intelligent people to reach different conclusions on a topic, be able to discuss the topic respectfully, and remain committed to one another even if nobody changes their mind as a result of the discussion.  As though there are things that we shouldn’t talk about because it’s just too risky.  As though issues and our stances on them are what defines and determines our relationships, rather than mutual respect and appreciation.

Home schoolers, of all people, ought to recognize not just the benefit but the need to model healthy dialogue and intellectual discourse to their children.  To demonstrate that it is possible to disagree without disparaging.  That someone who reaches a different conclusion than you is not necessarily an idiot or deranged or less of a human being than you are.  If public schools are more and more prone to ideological indoctrination that makes people intolerant of others – all in the name of tolerance – then truly those educated outside of that box are going to need to know how to communicate with one another, how to engage in true intellectual discourse rather than just name calling and ad hominem attacks.

The great fallacy of our age is that there is only one right solution to any given situation, and that anyone who holds a position different from our own must be wrong and bad and stupid.  The problems that face our society are nothing new.  They have been around as long as people have, despite the shiny gadgets we have that are new.  If solutions have eluded us for thousands of years, the odds of one group having the silver bullet solution and everyone else being raving morons are pretty low, it seems.  And perhaps focusing on issues and challenges, rather than on political associations and ideologies, might be a better way of moving forward together.

If our education system is a mess, I don’t really care if a Democrat or a Republican is the one who comes up with a better solution.  If we really want to slash our national debt, it’s going to require a new alternative to what has traditionally been championed by one party or another, if only because party-politics prevents any plan from being implemented very well.

There shouldn’t be any issue that can’t be discussed, particularly among people who respect and care about each other and yet may have different attitudes on the topic.  Sharing different perspectives, learning about how and why people think differently is hugely important.  It’s important for us as adults but also important for our kids as well, and I’m grateful that my wife has a place where this can occur, and where our kids can watch and hear it happening.

The alternative is that we aren’t allowed to discuss anything, and that’s truly deadly for all of us.

Happy Endings

December 9, 2016

I saw Mike again this morning.

It’s been probably six months since he arrived at the Rescue Mission to begin a year-long residential recovery program for drug and alcohol addicted men.  He only lasted a couple of weeks there.  I had asked them to consider him, and while my request probably didn’t amount to much, I felt bad for recommending someone that wouldn’t complete the program.

I had hopes for a happy ending for Mike.  I had hopes that he and I could continue to grow together in the faith someplace other than jail.  I had hoped that despite a lifetime of drug addiction he could enter the Rescue Mission and receive the help he talked about wanting.  I had hopes that he could graduate clean and stay clean.

My happy endings are rather high bars, but I’m learning to lower them.

It’s that I’ve changed my mind about what would justly constitute a truly happy ending, or that I’ve accepted a life of addiction as somehow acceptable or desirable for anyone.  I haven’t gone soft on what ought to be, but perhaps I’m learning to look for the silver linings more in the storm clouds.   I realize that not everyone is going to have the happy ending I wish they would.

So it was a happy thing to see Mike this morning in jail.  Not at church, not at the Rescue Mission.  But at jail.  It meant that he’s safe for the moment.  He’s in familiar territory, a place that he knows very well.  Those are good things.  It means he’s not on the streets.  Not cold.  Not strung out.  Not vulnerable to a bad batch of dope or the transient cruelty of other street people or the random pedestrian or driver.

I know Mike will get his happy ending someday.  I know we’ll see each other in a better place through faith in Jesus Christ.  But for now I’ll content myself with this passing happy ending.  He’s safe today.  We could pray together today.

And for Mike, maybe that’s enough to be thankful for right there.

Prepare the Way

December 1, 2016

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Saturday will be the first memorial service I’ve participated in for a clergy member.

Jim had been retired from parish ministry for quite a few years, but his last Call was to the congregation where I now pastor.  When I arrived here six years ago he went out of his way to both make me feel welcome and to ensure that I had no misgivings about the fact that he still lived in the area.  He worshiped at another congregation.  He only attended my congregation on special occasions – usually memorial services.  But he always seemed worried that I would view his presence as some sort of threat or interference.  Former pastors can be a source of contention for new pastors, and in our circles the rule of thumb is that once you retire from a congregation, you need to find a different place to worship.

Jim followed that advice faithfully, but I never worried about him, and wouldn’t have worried at all even if he was in the pews every Sunday.  He wasn’t the sort of guy to cause problems, and  I think in the past couple of years he recognized that I trusted this and  he relaxed a little bit.

It’s a pleasure doing a memorial for a pastor – or at least this pastor – because he had instructions all laid out for what he wanted at his memorial.  Bible verses and hymns selected, with several different options of both depending on what season of the Church year he died in.  His family didn’t have to struggle over what to do or how to do it – he had instructions prepared in advance.  Note to readers – I don’t care how old you are – take the time to jot down some notes regarding your memorial service and put them someplace where people can find them.  Those you leave behind will be very thankful, as well as whomever will be conducting the service.  This is advice I need to follow myself as well!

In this matter, as in matters of the faith, Jim fulfilled the theme indicated on our  Advent paraments.  He prepared the way.  It was what he did as a pastor and chaplain, and it’s what he does still now as he guides myself and the others who will conduct his memorial.  Preparing the way so that we can not simply commemorate a wonderful man, but preach the Gospel that defined his life, his death, and his life now as he continues to wait for the return of his King.  But now He waits in glory, in the presence of God the Father.  No more back pains.  No more struggles with an increasingly bewildering world or an increasingly challeged church.    Peace. Joy.  Victory.

Advent points us to the return of our King and to a day when we too will know perfect peace, joy, and victory.  Not on the basis of how good we’ve been, but rather on the basis of the perfect gift of God – his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.  All those who put their faith and trust in this are to give witness to their hope in their lives in different shapes and forms as they’re equipped by the Holy Spirit.  Some are called into roles specifically to help prepare the way, to shepherd and guide, to teach and preach and give God’s people the good gifts of God – his Word and Sacraments.

Regardless of our role, though, we all have a final opportunity to point the way to others when we die and when we call our friends and family together for Christian memorial.  It isn’t to remind everyone how great we were, but to once again prepare and point the way, so that others know where we are, whose we are, and that they might follow in trust and faith, hope and joy.  That’s what Advent – and life – are all about.

Rest in peace.  The way is prepared for you.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands…

October 3, 2016

…they’re killing babies if they don’t think the babies will enjoy some arbitrarily defined idea of  a good or meaningful life.  This is not aborting pregnancies before they come to term – this is lethally injecting babies after they’re born.  This is nothing new, but the desire is to legitimize it fully and remove any stigma from it.  And it isn’t just a European aberration.  It’s an idea that is touted here in the United States by certain intellectuals.

What is promoted as an act of selfless mercy is ultimately an appeal to very selfish utilitarian principles and ideas.  What is often at issue is not the merciful ending of a life of pain, but rather the limiting of the costs – emotional, financial, and otherwise that caring for those with serious conditions requires.  In which case, who is being given mercy, the infant being killed or the state that is being spared from a lifetime of care and cost?  Who gets to make that decision and on what basis?  The insurance company?  The hospital?  The government?  How short a path is it from offering infanticide as an option to requiring it as a matter of policy?

And how is it that people can be so comfortable with the idea of killing people?  Oh wait – that’s right.  We’ve been primed for this already through the promotion of abortion.

Routines

August 11, 2016

Like most people I’m a creature of habit.  I don’t like that fact and I like to think that I flail against that tendency, but it’s there all the same.  In a vocation with a great deal of flexibility both by choice and necessity, there are still certain routines I prefer to follow.

Thursdays I like to go to my favorite coffee house around 6:30am and spend three hours or so perusing various commentaries.  Then I return to my office to distill their wisdom (and sometimes mine) into notes for my Thursday afternoon in-depth Bible Study.  It takes a long time to read theological material, and it takes time to distill it and spit it out first in written form and then verbally.  I keep my Thursday calendar clear in general because of this.

But it doesn’t always work out that way, despite my preference for routine.  Sometimes, things get in the way.  More accurately, sometimes people get in the way.  And when that happens, what I try to promise myself is that I will always let them.

I’m not here for my routine.  I’m here for people.  I’m here to interact and laugh and love and share with people in a variety of contexts.  Maybe it’s at the jail like Friday mornings.  Maybe it’s with men in recovery from addictions like Thursday afternoons (my one exception to my open schedule on Thursdays!), or women in recovery on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the sweet little old ladies at the retirement center next door on Friday afternoons.  Maybe it’s with the guys at the bar on Tuesday nights or the college students on Sunday evening.  And of course it’s my wife and children as well.

Routines can easily eclipse people.  The knowledge that stuff needs to get done sometimes makes me want to set people aside so I can just do what I need to do.  But I try to fight against that as much as possible.  Which means sometimes Bible study won’t be ready on Thursday afternoons because I was needed by various people.  I feel guilty for that but I don’t want to.  Bible study can wait.  At the end of the day I’m pretty sure that the Bible study won’t make the difference between heaven and hell for those assembled 22 or so faithful.  While they enjoy the study and I enjoy doing it, we can’t forget that we are privileged to share the love of Jesus Christ with people.  We know plenty as Christians, on average.  Letting that knowledge impel us towards people is where it’s harder.  It’s a lot safer to stuff my head in a book or a Bible study than to interact with people who may challenge my conceptions of myself and my God and those books.

But sometimes Bible Study is going to have to wait because somebody had a greater need.  When that happens (as it did last week), I count on the forgiveness of my members – which they are very good at giving.   And I need to practice forgiving myself, which I am not so good at doing.  And I need to give thanks to God for putting people in my life in ways that challenge my routines and preferences and keep me alive to his Spirit at work.