Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Moon Landing Nostalgia

I remember where I was 50 years ago, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. It was late at night, and my parents insisted that we children stay up late to watch this historic event.

Just a few months before my family had visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The whole place was buzzing with anticipation and excitement. We walked through the tall building where the rockets were built. Our tour guide pointed out a huge sign on the ceiling of the facility, saying that the sign was the size of a football field. As a 6-year-old, I doubted that the sign could be that big. I also remember seeing a big digital clock counting down the days and hours until the next launch. The space program made a big impression on me. I proudly brought home a souvenir wall pennant from that visit, and I think I still have it somewhere...

It was an exciting time in our country. We were all cheering on the Apollo program, united in the spirit of exploration. Yes, we were racing against the Soviets, but everyone hoped for the safe voyage for our astronauts. I don't remember that particular launch. I don't remember the splashdown. But I do remember sitting in my den, late at night, with friends visiting from out-of-state, watching the historic step.

I didn't realize how significant that time was, when all our nation, and all the world, watched together as peaceful history was made.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Patriotism and Perfection

Patriotism seems to be suspect these days.

There has never been a perfect government on earth. Some governments are better than others, but none is perfect. That's because human governments are run by humans. Our selfish, arrogant, blaming, judgmental natures come through every time and mess things up. The best we humans can do is anticipate the bad actors and plan accordingly. And by the way, we are all potentially bad actors, especially when we are entrusted with power.

Our imperfect founders realized that only flawed people are available to lead any nation. They set up a system whereby no single person or group of people can run the whole government. The hope was that unwise or selfish policy would be avoided when responsibility is shared. With our Constitution, there are three branches of federal government, each with its own limited responsibility.

Unfortunately, these checks and balances have not prevented unwise government policies and actions. It took far too long for the U.S. to allow Americans of African descent to have rights equal to those of European descent. The battle continues today. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Agreements with Native Americans have been virtually worthless as our country has shoved that population into scattered reservations.

This country is flawed. It has a history of abusing its power and its citizens. It has rewarded those who exploit others. It has meddled in the affairs of virtually every other country of the world. It has fostered in its citizens a sense of pride and arrogance.


The United States stands for high ideals that are worth celebrating:
  • The promise of opportunity, that lures people around the world to risk life and limb to enter our borders
  • The freedom to choose one's career, art, entertainment, religion
  • The hope that injustices may be corrected
  • The context of lawfulness in which one's life and property are generally safe
  • The belief that a population can be trusted with freedom
  • The incentive to be creative and reap reward for innovation
I do love this country. It is the only place I have ever lived. I choose to love this imperfect country, partly because it's all I know, and partly because its system offers the hope that wrongs can be made right.

I don't worship the United States, but I choose to be patriotic. Patriotism does not require perfection. This Independence Day let's celebrate this imperfect land of freedom and opportunity!

I'm trusting Jesus for the perfection piece.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Purpose of Trees

God did some spectacular setting up in the Garden of Eden. Somewhere in the creation process he made a garden, especially for Adam. In it he put some trees. Of course we know about the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Less well known is the Tree of Life, also in the middle of the garden. These were among all the trees that God put there.

But notice why God made these trees: "And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food" (Genesis 2:9).

Trees have a purpose. Trees are pleasing to the eye. I love to see the green leaves of an oak tree against a deep blue sky, leaves rustling in the breeze on a summer day. In the fall this same stand of trees turns golden, orange, and red, giving depth to the woods that changes with the hourly angle of the sun. When these trees lose their leaves, their lines show the simplicity and complexity of their skeletons. These lines gain depth again when snow marks them so carefully and individually.

Yes, trees are pleasing to the eye.

Trees are also good for food. We harvest their fruit and enjoy the sweetness of peaches and apples. Other trees are also useful. We can use their leaves for compost, we can cut the trees and mill them for lumber. We can hang swings from their branches.

Trees are beautiful, and trees are useful. Notice that beauty comes before utility in Genesis. We like to skip the beauty, and go straight to the utility. After all, what use is beauty?

Beauty is all around us. But we need to recognize it, encounter it, and let it transform us. God made this world both functional and beautiful. Among all God's creatures, only we are able to recognize this beauty. We have the capacity to engage with beauty, but so often we just ignore it.

Pondering, considering, absorbing, basking in, rejoicing in, resting in--this is how we encounter beauty. And this encounter transforms our souls.

Do we have time for that? When no one has time for beauty, we erode away into nothing but production. And there is so much more to life than production.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Anxiety: My Worry Box

I have found it. And I have opened it. It was scary. But that has changed everything.

You see, I have this imaginary box. In it I keep all manner of scary things, things that promise me harm. It throbs with foreboding. It rumbles. It keeps calling out to me with veiled threats.

So what is in this box? In general terms, this box contains things that will harm me unless I do something. Maybe I need to save money, fix something, do maintenance, have a difficult conversation, get disciplined, get specific direction from God, read a book, follow up with someone, plan something.

This box holds all those things that steal my joy. I know they are in there, but I dare not open the box. I could never cope with the crushing weight of so many problems and situations crying out for action. I keep the lid on the box, knowing that's the only way I can be safe. I preserve myself by ignoring the box, hoping it will just go away. Or at least be quiet for a while.

It's like the monster under the bed. Its existence haunts me. It rules my soul. Sounds from within it get my attention. It reminds me that I certainly must be scared. Now. I dare not let my guard down. I could not handle the catastrophe that would ensue. I would surely die, or be broke, or friendless, unemployed, miserable, a failure, humiliated, worthless.

Even when I deal with one of the items, I merely crack the box open enough to pull it out, refusing to look at the countless other burdens preying on my mind.

But now, with some considerable courage, I have dared to recognize this box for what it is. It is a huge deception, a bluff. When I do look in the box to see all those menacing problems, I realize that there is very little substance there. I look at the problems one by one and see that they are mostly empty. At worst they are complicated, but never unmanageable. Almost always they are no actual threat to me. When a truly unmanageable problem arises, I can trust that God is already handling it.

"He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord." Psalm 112:7.

Now I can laugh at the box. I can experience real joy. I can face those things that threatened me. I can stop putting off the tasks that I dread. They will not crush me.

What a relief!

What's in your box?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Abortion Conversation

It's heating up now. Abortion has come front and center as states pass abortion restrictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have swung to the right. Other states have passed laws guaranteeing abortion rights. The NY Times compares the new laws in this article.

While many states legislate to restrict abortions, rallies across the nation this week called for abortions rights.

There are good-hearted, compassionate people on both sides of the debate. I know them. I have talked with them. Many pro-abortion folks care deeply about the young pregnant woman who feels trapped and confused. Many anti-abortion people recognize the fetus as human life and believe it should be protected as such.

So, both sides care about people. Unfortunately, many on both sides see the debate so clearly that they cannot imagine another point of view. In fact, they think, those with the opposing point of view are motivated by hate, ignorance, political agenda, or self-righteousness. Such people don't even deserve a hearing. They are stupid. We should silence them. They are the enemy.

The sides of the abortion debate seem more and more hostile to each other. The debate has become more about winning than truth or justice. Each side thinks that the other is unreasonable. No one is listening. Facts are used as weapons to beat down the opponent, while other facts are ignored.

If both sides really care about people, shouldn't we be able to have this conversation with more civility?

Here are some observations I have about the debate.
  • Abortion is a moral issue, too often hijacked for political purposes.
  • While both sides say the issue is simple, it is actually complex.
  • Stances for or against abortion rights always include some motive, often obscure.
  • One's views on abortion are informed by experience, beliefs, traditions, culture.
  • The Bible does not directly forbid abortion.
  • The life of a fetus is distinct from that of the mother. It is human life.
  • The abortion process legally requires that this life be terminated in the womb before the tissue is removed. Because of this requirement, abortion is different from other surgical procedures.
  • The abortion option only arises because something has gone wrong. A woman did not intend to become pregnant. A fetus appears to have abnormalities. A woman was raped. A woman doesn't want more children. Birth control failed. A woman fears the consequences of disclosing her pregnancy.
  • There are different ways to measure when life begins: at conception, at the first beat of the heart, at the first breath. The most visible of these is the first breath.
I believe abortion is wrong, but I don't want to demonize people who disagree with me. I do want to persuade them.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Artificial Meat

I have seen a lot of news lately about "meat" produced from plant-based products. I'm not sure what to think about that. Maybe it will taste just like real meat, although the meat substitutes I have tried have been rubbery and tasteless.

But what has spurred on all this research? A lot more people are becoming vegetarian and vegan these days. I think that the market is responding to demand.

What troubles me is the underlying assumptions about the morality of meat consumption. This is probably one of those things that I'll never understand and I'm sure my musings are unlikely to change anyone's mind.

Anyway, it seems to me that some believe it is a noble thing to avoid meat consumption. One celebrity declared that he would eat nothing that has a face. And so faceless creatures are less valuable than those with eyes? How can we arbitrarily say that? And does a shrimp have a face? What about potatoes? They have eyes.

One thing we fail to realize is this: For us to eat, something has to die. It may be a plant. It may be an animal. But something has to die. For us to live, something must die.

Chew on that.

Of course the Holy Grail of food production may be creating nutritious food from chemicals. Maybe food engineers are working to create that food which requires nothing to die.

But I think God knew what he was doing when he designed this place. I'm always skeptical of our "improvements."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Legalized Abuse

How could our laws be so bad? Today I read that it is perfectly legal in N.C. to tamper with another person's drink in a public place. Seriously? See the article. Further, it is legal to have non-consensual sex with an intoxicated person who willingly became intoxicated.

Who wrote these laws? How barbaric are we? How can we not respect the dignity of others? Finally some victims of sexual assault are sounding the alarm, calling our attention to these wretched laws. Sadly many have been harmed, and only after the victims cry out do we see these twisted rules of engagement. These victims sought justice, but learned that no crimes had been committed.

We must do better.

This makes me wonder what other laws allow the powerful to exploit the powerless. Please, let's find these codified injustices and fix them! Thanks to the courageous victims who have spoken up.