Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Spiders

March 28, 2017

A beautiful thought to consider for a Tuesday.  Or any other day.  Or not.

You’re welcome.

History Still in the Making

March 7, 2017

Every now and then this local web site posts interesting historical tidbits drawn from newspapers a century or so ago.  This one was interesting because it pictures the first worship space our congregation built a century ago.  Time flies, faces change, but the Word of God continues to go out in our community!

City Liberals

February 21, 2017

My high school best buddy shared this article on Facebook recently.  When we were growing up, he was very conservative.  However these days, while he is probably fiscally still a conservative his other views have grown a lot more liberal than mine.  I’ll talk about the article in a moment, but I’ll give a couple of my own thoughts first to explain our divergence.  What are some other factors – other than where you live – that might contribute to a shift in ideological perspectives over time, particularly from conservative to liberal?

Church or no church?  Granted, there are plenty of very liberal Christian denominations and congregations out there.  But it would be interesting to see a study of how many people who begin at least nominally religious (parents only make them go to church occasionally as a child or more particularly as an adolescent) vs. those who are deeply embedded in church every week (even a congregation with a dysfunctional youth group, as mine had, at least to a certain extent).  Being part of regular Christian worship (and eventually believing it) certainly can and should make us more open to our neighbors, but also should instill some basic concerns about our human capacity to deal with the issues they (and we) face.  My high school buddy rarely went to church from junior high school on.  He claimed he believed in God, but I’m not sure if he would make that same statement today or not.

Who you marry.  My buddy married a very liberal woman.  Her views on almost every issue would, I imagine, be seen as very liberal and progressive.  Now, I don’t really know her at all.  I haven’t spent much time around her in the last 25 years or so.  I would imagine some of that perspective may have been softened by my buddy’s conservatism.  But when they were dating, she was a fire-brand atheist liberal with a very strong personality.  Regardless of the issue under consideration, marrying someone with an opposite perspective from you on it is likely to draw you at least somewhat towards their point of view.

Now, about the article.  I think it’s an interesting article in several regards, despite being one of those fluffy, popcorn-level articles with very little meat to it.  But the observations it makes are worth looking at.  I disagree once again with the automatic division of every issue into liberal or conservative viewpoints.  None of these issues are in and of themselves a liberal or conservative issue.  They are human issues,  citizenship issues, and ought to be addressed as such.   Until we realize that our political system capitalizes not on solving problems but on aligning people into supportive camps, we’re going to keep banging our collective heads against the wall.  Or more accurately others are going to keep banging our heads into the wall so they can blame it on the other party and galvanize us to keep voting a certain way which keeps a particular group of people in power.

The important thing to realize is a multitude of perspectives.  City folk see certain things a certain way because of exposure to things like crime and public transportation.  People who live in rural areas see certain things a certain other way.  The problem is the polarization of our society, so that each side thinks that it’s view is the only correct one.  As I’ve argued before, if we focused less on working towards problem-solving rather than working to keep a certain political party in or out of power, this would be  a lot healthier.

I don’t think liberals are stupid.  Many of them have a particular ideological bent that I don’t personally agree with even though I may appreciate their stance or approach to particular things.  Likewise, I don’t think conservatives are stupid.  I may err more towards their side of the fence than not, but they have an ideological perspective that has valid points as well.

 

Managing Fire

February 14, 2017

US Scientists have released a set of recommendations about how and whether and when embryonic human beings should be genetically modified.  The report was mentioned in this article, and you can download the entire 261-page report here.  A shorter summary is available here.

Important take-aways include the reality that this is already being done in laboratory situations where implantation for pregnancy is not the purpose.  Another important take-away is that scientists are basically saying that since the technology is going to be developed somewhere, by somebody, we should develop it here and regulate it carefully.  How this improves things eludes me.  If people dislike the idea of extensive regulations and prohibitions in their own country, they’ll simply travel to destinations with less regulation and restriction.

This reality makes the recommended prohibitions in the release a moot point.  The only type of genetic modification explictly recommended against development or deployment would be genetic enhancement modifications – to produce an exceptionally strong child, for example.  But again, if someone somewhere else has less scruples about this, it’s still going to happen.  Medical tourism is a reality that we don’t have a way to control and therefore even those technologies we really don’t like are eventually going to be developed and deployed in the name of safety or some other fuzzy goal.

Once again this reminds me of one of my favorite books, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which grapples with our scientific and technological dilemmas.  Scientists can’t control how their discoveries are used and applied, and there will always be someone willing to take the step in a bad direction that others refuse to.  Our own intelligence is our own undoing, an inevitable result of our fundamentally broken and sinful condition.

So it’s nice that scientists are thinking about these things.  But at the end of the day their research money comes from governments and other entities that will exercise control of one sort or another over the application of their discoveries.  There isn’t a way to avoid this, just as there isn’t a way to prevent less reputable or ethical researchers from selling off discoveries to the highest bidder.

That would be fundamentally depressing, if there weren’t some greater hope beyond our own abilities or inabilities.  As a Christian I can applaud the judicious use of science and our intellects, while fully expecting that it is only a matter of time until these things are abused or misused by someone or other, perhaps to the detriment of all humanity.  But my hope is not in these discoveries, in their proper or equitable use or distribution, but rather in a future where our abilities will ultimately be able to used and managed properly.

In the meantime, managing fire will remain a difficult and dangerous business.

 

On a More Positive Note

January 18, 2017

The idea of zombie comedy has always appealed to me.  Movies like Zombieland  touched on this and showed that it was possible.  Now Netflix has a new series called Santa Clarita Diet with Drew Barrymore and an unorthodox but interesting take on the undead.  The clip looks promising, if they can figure out how to carry the theme on over time.

Christian Persecution

January 13, 2017

While the American press – allegedly representing a population that is overwhelmingly Christian in one degree or another – fails to talk about this, the reality is that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise.

Two separate reports from two different groups highlight the growing acceptability of Christian persecution.  The first report is from a UK-based group – Open Doors UK – that reports that the rate of Christian persecution has risen around the world for the last four years.  I don’t know how they determine this, though from the use of numbers throughout the summary article, perhaps it’s based on the number of deaths reported world-wide as faith related.

The second report is from a US-based group – International Christian Concern – and it puts the United States on its list of countries where Christians are persecuted.  Obviously this group could be considered somewhat biased since they’re based in the US, and they clearly articulate that persecution in the US is not like persecution in other countries.  But they also want to draw attention to disturbing trends of persecution in the US.

A parishioner gave me a copy of this essay this morning.  It’s important in highlighting a very current example of persecution.  I looked up the video of Kim Burrell’s sermon on homosexuality.  The quality is so poor I can’t understand the majority of it, though enough is clear that she’s preaching very strongly against homosexuality.  The irony is that in trying to discredit Ms. Burrell for her point of view, her co-stars and ‘friends’ claim that prejudice against someone who disagrees with homosexuality is allowable and honorable under the guise of “there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017”.

That is persecution.  Ms. Burrell is being persecuted for her Biblical stance on homosexuality.  Publicly shamed, financially damaged.  I’m fairly certain that if a gay person was rejected from appearing on a promotional tour, uninvited from a guest spot on a television show, and had their radio show cancelled for saying things that are pro-homosexuality, it would be decried as gross prejudice and malice and anti-freedom.  It might be argued that homosexuals have dealt with such issues for a long time.  But that does not allow them to utilize the same techniques against those who disagree with them and claim they are doing so in the name of freedom and anti-prejudice.  If it was prejudiced when it was done to them, it is prejudiced when they do it to others.  We don’t get to redefine the terms.

Please pray for people everywhere who are persecuted, regardless of their faith or the reason for the persecution.  Suffering is evil.   And I pray for Christians who are persecuted.  For those who are more than socially embarrassed or chastised, but who are imprisoned and executed and abused in numerous ways that are – as yet – still somewhat unthinkable here in America.  But beware.  Trends move in directions.  And if the trends in the US are for Christians to be increasingly marginalized, it’s a fantastically short leap from public shaming to death camps, and that reality is demonstrated around the world not just in history but in real numbers and lives today.

Surprise, Surprise

December 29, 2016

Two articles with “surprising” revelations about the very real issue of cause and effect.

First this article which finds that in states that legalize recreational marijuana usage for adults, there is an increased acceptance of marijuana usage among minors.  In other words, adolescents have a more accepting view of marijuana usage in states where adults can utilize it legally for fun.  The proposed solution to this undesired outcome?  “States should consider developing evidence-based prevention programs aimed at adolescents before they legalize the recreational use of marijuana“.

Because that’s worked soooooo well with alcohol consumption, right?

Look, here’s the issue.  If you legalize something for adults, kids are naturally going to get the message that whatever is legal for adults must be OK.  Sure, they may be banned from legally enjoying it themselves until they turn 21, but the reality is that it must be OK.  Which in turn will lead to increased usage by people under 21.  If they see Mom and Dad doing it and it’s legal, they’re going to want to try it for themselves.

If you want to encourage young people not to engage in marijuana usage, you have to convince them somehow that it’s bad for them.  Unhealthy.  It stunts their brain growth or other negative outcomes (the article specifically mentions “psychosis” and “poor financial status” although those are pretty vague terms!).  But this may lead the discerning student to wonder whether there are adverse effects for adults who use the substance legally, and now you’re taking on the pro-marijuana supporters who insist that there is no negative health impacts of pot usage.

Fortunately, there is the strong stance of experts on this stuff, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which boldly asserts that there “may” be a health risk to children from marijuana.  Wow.  That should dissuade a lot of kids (and their parents) from trying pot!

In other news, cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have reached an all-time high in our nation.  According to this article, over 1/3 of our country is infected with some sort of STD.  Does that seem outrageously high to anyone else?  And let’s stop to unpack this for a moment.

Based on US demographic data from 2015, roughly 32% of our population is either above the age of 65 or below the age of 14.  Those between 14 and 65 make up 2/3 of our population, and I’m assuming that they are also more sexually active than those below 14 or above 65 (and also more likely to be with multiple/different partners).  If the US population is roughly 318 million, that means there are roughly 200 million folks who are statistically most likely to be sexually active.  And perhaps half of them are infected with an STD of one sort or another?!?!?  Yet we continue to encourage our young people to emulate the irresponsible sexual behavior of adults?  Despite the fact that just the three STDs discussed in the article can lead to “infertility, cancer and death” and are part of a 16 billion dollar annual medical tab?

Which my tax dollars help to pay, thanks to mandatory health insurance laws and government subsidies?

And the amazing thing is that, of all the possible causes listed in the article, having sex is not even mentioned!

Instead, blame is shifted to “erosion” of publicly funded treatment and prevention resources (which I suspect is fancy talk for Planned Parenthood facilities) and increased screening.  Fortunately, if we spend more money in “community services” (another term for Planned Parenthood?) and sex education, we can reverse the trend.  I’ll assume that this sex education won’t emphasize monogamy or celibacy until you’re married, because that would just be silly and unrealistic and impractical.  Right?

Brilliant.  Let’s not warn people about the real risks of sex with random people (college hook-up culture, anyone?) or the benefits of monogamy, we’ll just spend more money to treat people dealing with the inevitable repercussions of a licentious culture.  I *love* that my taxes will continue to increase in part to pay rising subsidized health care costs driven in part by our cultural insistence that sex never entails the need to think about very real physical repercussions because you can get a shot or an abortion for cheap or free.

I’m so surprised at this data.  So very, very surprised!!

 

 

 

 

Wet Bar Wednesday – Mezcal Negroni

December 21, 2016

Blessed as we are to live in the Southwestern US, we’re privileged to have access to citrus relatively easily this time of year.  A parishioner graciously gifted me with a basket of oranges from his tree, and I wanted to put them (or at least one of them!) to good use.

I’ve shied away from trying the Negroni because I’m not a gin fan.  Then I remembered this awesome little video that changed up the Negroni with mezcal instead of gin.  I decided to give that a shot.  And, I wanted an excuse to practice the little-used but oh-so-impressive art of flaming a citrus peel.  Someone has done this with tequila and dubbed it the Tegroni.  I don’t feel the need to call it a Mezgroni.

Though it’s tempting.

Mezcal Negroni

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • orange peel

 

Stir or shake the ingredients and pour into a glass over ice (a margarita or martini glass looks very nice, if you have one), and add the orange peel. You can also mix the ingredients with ice and then strain the drink to serve it (straight up).

I was very surprised at how much I like this drink.  It’s a fantastic balance of sweet and bitter and smokey that will keep your senses busy throughout the drink.  It’s visually very appealing as well, and if you can flame the citrus peel also, the enjoyment factor goes through the roof as far as I’m concerned.

Different recipes argue about whether the three liquids should be in equal amounts, or whether the base liquor (here mezcal, but otherwisse gin) should be prominent by 50% or more.  I liked the above ratios, but I’ll try the equal amounts next time.  Either way, enjoy!

 

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.

Reinventing Mary

December 10, 2016

A colleague on Facebook posted a link to this article about Mary.  The article is interesting in how it wants to recast Mary – or cast her for the first time – from Scripture as a modern feminist ideal.

God woos Mary, seeking her approval.  He does so because of her amazing grace, some special combination of moxie and pluck that has caught God’s eye, compelled him with the idea that now is the time, because this is the girl.  Mary is the leading figure in the nativity, not God.

I’ll warrant that there are plenty of banal sermons that have been given for centuries that utilize Mary in the other direction, to use her as an object lesson for feminine obedience and subjugation to authority, particularly male authority.  This is wrong.  The point of the Annunciation is not to make women meek and submissive, just as the point of the Annunciation is not to empower women by cultural standards.

The point of the Annunciation is the plan and purpose of God the Father to reconcile creation to himself through the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God.  Mary is the means for this.  It is God’s plan which makes Mary magnificent, not herself.  It is God who imbued Mary with any and every grace she bears.

Mary was a woman.  She is a woman.  She is only a woman.  Not in the dismissive sense, as though compared to a man she is of no account.  But rather, in the fullest sense of the word, Mary is a woman.  This is a good thing!  A creation of God the Father.  Loved by him.  Redeemed by her Son, Jesus the Christ.  Strengthened by God the Holy Spirit.  It is in her normality that women today should find hope.  They do not need to rouse themselves to some cultural definition of greatness to earn the awareness of God, to merit his love and favor.  He created all women, just as He created all men.  He loves us all.

The author wants to make Mary exceptional so that women today might seek to be similarly exceptional.  No washing dishes for Mary!  Nothing so boring or humdrum or mundane!  Mary the world traveler!  Mary the adventurer!  I wonder how much of Mary’s travels she would have gladly skipped, how many of her adventures she would have done without?  The author wants to dismiss one role that women have and do have – that of mother within a household – and substitute a different set of duties and exercises that are somehow better, more noble, more fitting of Mary.

She must be older, since women these days marry and have children later in life.  Away with cultural norms that differ from this!  Let’s not dwell on life-expectancy or other issues that would explain why a girl younger than 16 might be married and having children.  Any such notion is a blatant suggestion of divine pedophilia, exploitative in the extreme!  We can’t have today’s women feeling guilty if they wait longer to have children!

Mary is strong and independent.  She owns her body and can decide if and when and how she wants to become pregnant – just like today’s modern, enlightened woman.  Mary is actually a forerunner of procreative independence.  No need for a husband, a community, anything other than the desire to have a child!  Mary is the most famous unwed mother!  She should be emulated!

All of which avoids most of the Biblical testimony about Mary and Joseph and their situation together, not just Mary alone.  It ignores why Mary might be visiting Elizabeth in the first place – not just to verify the angel’s claims but also to be out of town and out of sight now that she’s with child.  Recasting fear and terror and flight as a bold sense of adventure and a desire to see the world is dishonest to the text, just as dishonest as using the text to justify a woman’s inferiority to a man.

The Annunciation is not a story of female empowerment or female subjugation.  It is the story of a good God who fulfills his promises to men (prophets, Patriarchs) and women (Eve).  It is the story of a God who utilizes everyday, ordinary people in order to accomplish his miraculous will, just as He uses ordinary water, ordinary bread, ordinary wine – to continue to create and feed and sustain his people. It is God saving all of us because we cannot save ourselves, no matter how empowered or plucky we might be.

Any attempt to recast the story of Christ for own purposes – on either end of any spectrum – is sinful and dangerous and just plain ridiculous.  It is this very tendency towards re-appropriation that we need to be saved from ourselves, rescued.  By a baby, born to Mary.  By the Son of God, born to the theotokos, the mother of God.  Via the unimaginable and the unthinkable, by the unduplicable and unemulable.  To destroy our biases not affirm them.  To set us free to be subjects of the King of Kings.  It’s his story, not Mary’s and not ours.  Always has been.  Always will be.