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.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Jeopardy and Life

James Holzhauer is on a roll. He now has 21 victories on Jeopardy with winnings exceeding $1.6 million. He approaches the game with a unique strategy, which allows him to wager more money on the "daily doubles." He ignores the traditional game strategy by jumping from category to category, following no particular pattern, except going for the bigger prizes early.

His approach seems so obvious now. Why did no one think of that before? Of course it helps that he has quick reflexes and knows everything about everything.

But Holzhauer was willing to rethink the game. He does not let traditions and conventions constrain him. His fresh approach has probably changed the game forever.

I need to rethink some things too. I need to question my assumptions and consider what my real goals are. There are better ways to work, play, relax, plan, eat, travel, read, pray...

I can't stay stuck in the old way of thinking. This is what makes life get better and better.




Thursday, May 2, 2019

Speaking Truth to Power

Can we hold leaders accountable?

In Acts 23, Paul stands before a Jewish court to defend himself. In his opening remarks, he declares that he has faithfully followed God's instructions. The high priest immediately orders that Paul be struck on the mouth. 



Paul rebukes the high priest saying, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"

Apparently Paul did not realize this was the high priest. Those who struck Paul rebuke him: "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul quickly repents, confessing that he did not know this was the high priest. Paul quotes a verse from Exodus, "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people" (Exodus 22:28).

This account seems very authentic. I can imagine Paul reacting just as he did. He did insult the high priest, but he also pointed out the high priest's hypocrisy. Is he repenting of the insult or the statement of truth?

Because we tend to respect people in authority, we also want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Often this benefit becomes ignoring or excusing their wrong behavior. This pattern then allows the leader to abuse authority more and more. No one speaks up because no one else speaks up. 

This leads to toxic cultures in corporations, communities, churches, and nations. It is a culture of oppression, in which power goes unchecked. 

And then someone dares to speak out. Often that first voice pays dearly for speaking truth. Then others come forth. And we have a #MeToo movement, or the uncovering of a pedophilia culture, or a politician in crisis mode.

We should respect our leaders. But we should also speak truth. We need to call out hypocrisy. We need to hold leaders accountable. No position places a person above the rules of morality. 

But somehow that is a mistake that we humans make again and again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Wrestling with Baptism

How many baptisms are there?

I have noticed many reference to "the baptism of John" in the New Testament. Jesus talks about it (Matthew 21:25); Peter talks about it (Acts 1:22); Paul talks about it (Acts 19:4). Somehow this baptism of John represents something different from the baptism of Jesus.

So, why does this baptism stuff matter anyway? Why did Jesus, Peter, and Paul all make a big deal of it? Here is my understanding of the various baptisms.

First, there is the baptism of ritual cleansing. This baptism is not mentioned in the New Testament, but it is a key part of the religious context of Jesus' day. Dozens of baptismal fonts graced the south side of the Temple Mount when the Lord came to Jerusalem. For Jews to worship at the Jewish feasts, they had to be ritually cleansed by immersion. Priests baptized the faithful just before they entered the Temple grounds, cleansing them before they made their sacrifices. This baptism made them outwardly acceptable for worship.

Baptismal fonts, called Mikvehs, at the south entrance to the
Temple Mount

John (the Baptist) probably baptized thousands coming to the feasts, year after year. He may also have served as the supervisor for a staff of other priests who actually baptized. He was likely known as John the Baptist while working at the Temple.

Being the prophet he was, John recognized the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. The priests schemed with the Romans to keep their place of privilege and honor, lording it over the ordinary Jews.

When John had enough of this abusive system he went rogue. He went out into the wilderness, to the Jordan river, to the place where Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. There he introduced another kind of baptism.

The second kind of baptism is the baptism of repentance. For John, it was not enough to be ritually cleansed. He called people to commit to turn from their sins. The baptism indicated their determination to be obedient to God, not complicit with the corrupt religious system. He was a famous prophet, leading a kind of loyal opposition. He was loyal to God, opposing the religious establishment. No wonder thousands went out to the desert to follow him. This movement prepared the way for Jesus.

Information about baptismal fonts near the Southern Steps of the Temple
Then Jesus introduced the third kind of baptism, the baptism of resurrection. When people followed Jesus, they received more than a determination to do better. They received new life. The old sinful nature was declared dead. They were raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

So baptism was practiced long before John and Jesus. But they gave the rite new meaning, deepening its significance. What baptism did you receive? It makes a difference.

And then, there is the baptism of the Holy Spirit...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hebrew Poetry

On our pilgrimage to Israel last month, I asked our tour guide every question I could think of. As we discussed human language, he described Hebrew as a "poetic" language. This was a new concept for me. English, he said, has such a large number of words (according to oxforddictionaries.com there are about 228,000) and Hebrew has much fewer (Google estimates 45,000).

With such a vast vocabulary, English speakers and writers can express ideas with a great deal of precision. We can differentiate between a chuckle and a chortle, or a wrist and a hand. With such a high level of precision, English often leaves little to imagination or interpretation. We often know exactly what a writer means, and the meaning is very narrow.

With fewer words in Hebrew, speakers of that language make statements that are often left to interpretation. When you look up Hebrew words in a lexicon, you find wide ranges of meaning. For example one Hebrew word (nephesh) can mean soul, person,or life. Similarly the word for "spirit" can also mean breath or wind.

The Hebrew language leans heavily on context. Who is speaking? What are the circumstances? What might the speaker mean? What is the speaker talking about? Who is he talking to?

Unfortunately we read the Old Testament like English literature. We expect precision. Translators often give a precise meaning, when the author may have intended multiple meanings. This robs the reader of the opportunity to think or puzzle.

So now I know that Hebrew is a poetic language, and I'll try to keep that in mind. The meaning might not be as simple as I assume.

I can be sure that there's more than meets the eye.

A sign along the Israel/Lebanon border, written in 
Hebrew, English, and Arabic

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Power of a Pilgrimage

Lisa and I went on a pilgrimage this month to Israel, along with 28 other folks from NC. As we prepared for the trip, people told us about how life-changing the trip would be. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've read and studied about Israel for decades. I've seen pictures. I've read commentaries. I've talked to folks who have been. How much could I really be missing?

Our Stokesdale group poses on the Mount of Olives with 
Jerusalem behind us.
The adventure began as we travel-weary pilgrims boarded our bus in Tel Aviv, having flown safely from NC to Germany to Israel. Our tour guide greeted us by saying, "Welcome home." I'm sure he says that to every group, but his salutation set the tone for our experience.  I expect to blog about many details of the trip, but for now I want to reflect on my overall impressions.

Religious pilgrimage has a long, rich history. There is no substitute for breathing the air, walking the landscape, touching the building blocks. Yes, a lot can be learned about Israel from books, pictures, and videos. Similarly a lot can be learned about swimming from books, pictures, and videos. But it's not the same as being in the water.

The Judean desert, seen from the fortress Masada,
with the Dead Sea in the background, right.
Ok, so now I'm a believer in the Power of a Pilgrimage. When I read the Gospels now, I can feel it. I know what it means to come to go from Galilee to Jerusalem. I know how desolate the Judean desert is--even today. I have seen the Galilean hillsides blooming with wild mustard plants. I have looked across the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum, seeing Tiberias in the distance.
Wild mustard plants cover the landscape around the Sea of Galilee, 
seen in the background.

Jesus saw all of this. His context informed all aspects of his ministry.

I feel like I'm only starting to get it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How to Do Lent

I'm no expert on Lenting, but I have done a lot of thinking about the season of Lent this year. It is the 40 day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which is March 6. I shared reflections last month on why Christians celebrate Lent.

Traditionally people choose to give up something during Lent. This season of sacrifice or self-denial allows followers of Jesus to focus more intentionally on spiritual matters. Any temporary change in our regular habits can help us pay more attention to God. When we give up something, we replace it with a time of prayer, meditation, service, or scripture reading.

With that in mind, here is a list of suggestions for ways to experience Lent.

Fast from:
  • sweets
  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken 
  • fast food
  • all food one day/week
  • coffee
  • caffeine 

Abstain from:
  • social media
  • television
  • favorite TV show
  • Netflix and all streaming
  • TV sports (beware March Madness...)
  • certain phone apps

Other ideas:
  • quietly watch the sun rise every day
  • eat only rice for lunch (the primary food for much of the world's population)
  • read two chapters of the Gospels daily, to read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by Easter
  • study 30 minutes a day to learn something that equips you to build the kingdom
  • treat someone else instead of treating yourself (e.g. buy coffee for someone else, not yourself)
  • write a letter every day to someone you want to catch up with

Remember that your Lent observance should be a stretch. It should be something that is a challenge for you. You can keep this practice up for 40 days, but not probably not forever.

Lent is a spiritual interval when you stretch and grow closer to the Lord. Get ready for Easter.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Oscar Cynicism

This Sunday will be the 91st Academy Awards. The hype has been going on for weeks. I even went to see a movie because it was nominated for Best Picture. (The Green Book is really a great movie. I'm amazed that Aragorn could grow up like that.)

The Academy sometimes looks like a huge mutual admiration society, as they fawn over one another. They created this Academy and the awards themselves, generations ago. It began as a quiet ceremony of recognition among peers. And then once it was televised, the whole world could watch the festivities. The ceremony and its build up has become a boon for Hollywood. They hype up their own industry and the public willingly goes along for the ride. TV networks sell ads, and box office sales jump with Oscar nods.

But sometimes it feels like the little people get way too excited about these celebrities. Do we really want to watch a bunch of pretenders congratulate each other for being great pretenders?

Apparently we do.

In our entertainment-driven society, we feed on this stuff. And the celebrities laugh all the way to the bank.

I can appreciate good acting. I just think that our culture values entertainment more than it should.

Image result for academy awards

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Open Your Mind

After Jesus rose from the dead, he taught his disciples. There was so much they needed to know. According to Luke (24:45), Jesus "opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures."

Apparently the disciples' minds were "closed." There was something inhibiting their comprehension of the truth in the Old Testament. They could read it, but they couldn't "get" it. They had probably been reading the books of the Old Testament all their lives. They may have thought that they understood it all. But they didn't. It took Jesus himself to open their minds.

Jesus has the power to open minds. He can open our minds to understand the Scriptures. He can also open our minds in any area where we need better understanding. A.W. Tozer said that he would read Shakespeare on his knees. We need understanding. We need Jesus to open our minds.

Where do you need Jesus to open your mind?
  • that difficult relationship
  • that important decision
  • that grudge
  • that addiction
  • your attitude
  • understanding those idiots who keep annoying you

Your mind is closed. So is mine. We don't know that our minds are closed about those things until Jesus opens them. What we do know is that our minds are closed somewhere. It takes the power of Jesus to reveal it.

Lord, Open our minds!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Waste Not

After Jesus fed the 5000, he instructed his disciples to collect the leftover food. He had so multiplied the five loaves and two fish, that there were 12 basketfuls of uneaten food. Jesus wanted to make sure that it was all gathered. "Let nothing be wasted," he says (John 6:12).

That's one detail I had never noticed before. I wonder why that mattered. Why is Jesus concerned about waste?
Did Jesus want to make sure they knew how abundantly he provided in the miracle?
Did Jesus plan to share the food with people in a nearby village?
Did the disciples need to save the food for their own consumption?
Was Jesus teaching an indirect lesson on stewardship?

We never learn what happened to the 12 baskets. Maybe Jesus sent them home with needy families. Maybe they gave the food away in a neighboring town. Maybe the disciples kept the food for their own use.

When Jesus does something significant, he wants us to recognize his work. His work is never wasted, but sometimes we forget to look around and see the details of his goodness. We shouldn't let the details of his work go unnoticed, be wasted.

Gather it all up. Let nothing be wasted.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Scary Headline

I just saw a headline saying that China is ahead of the U.S. in developing artificial intelligence weapons.

What?

I imagine some computer deciding how to use weapons to kill people and destroy things. This sounds way too much like The Matrix. Computer driven tanks or planes could engage each other in battle, and we could just watch it all play out.

This also sounds like Robo-Cop. Some artificial intelligence machine could be used to take out enemies, both military and political. How can you survive interrogation by a computer? How could we let military decisions be made by any non-human entity?

Maybe I'm exaggerating the threat of these weapons. Or maybe these kinds of weapons should be banned like chemical weapons. It seems like the risks are far too great for us to start heading down this path.

If the Chinese are ahead of the U.S. in developing these weapons, then that means we are developing them too. Maybe we should rethink that.

Monday, January 28, 2019

What Are Borders For?

It seems like everyone can agree that we need immigration reform. We need to control our borders somehow. But what are borders for?

When civilizations were small pockets of people separated by vast wilderness or bodies of water, borders were not necessary. After these pockets grew large enough to bump into each other, borders naturally developed. 

Borders indicate which population group has claim to a given piece of land. That claim allows them to farm the land, mine the land, use its water, and live there. When two or more peoples claim the same piece of land, the dispute often is settled by war. The stronger group typically wins.

Borders, then, separate neighboring peoples. Borders identify by location "us" and "them." Many times the different people groups look different, and can be identified by personal appearance as well as location.

Borders serve as a way of sorting out the world's population, a kind of filing system to know who belongs with whom.

Historically many borders have been marked by barriers. Hadrian's Wall and the Great Wall of China were both built to keep out troublemakers who were "them." 

In modern times we think of the Berlin Wall, which was designed to keep people in, not out. 

The people in power, the ones with authority, and guns, bricks and masons get to decide where the walls go and whether the walls keep people in or out. Either way, the walls are used for restricting the movement of some people. Certain people are prevented from going where the people in power don't want them to go.

It's easy to get all self-righteous and say that all these walls should be dismantled. But I live in a house with walls. The walls help keep me warm and cool at appropriate times. But the walls also keep the wrong people away from my stuff and my family. These walls are a kind of border for me.

I bet you live in a house with walls, too.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Instant Replay and Life

I remember football commentators singing the praises of a marvelous new technology: instant replay. Right after the ref's whistle, TV viewers could see the play that just happened. Of course back in the '70s, the picture was grainy, and the refs themselves couldn't see the replay, and we were just happy that we could see that amazing play again.

Today instant replay is high def, from countless angles, and can be used to reverse a call. (Unfortunately for Saints fans, it can't be used to reverse a no-call, at least not yet.) The replay is instant, and can be slowed down, reversed, and zoomed. Analysts can study that play every way imaginable. In many cases viewers can know exactly when the ball hit the ground, whether the ball has broken the plane, and when the player is down-by-contact. We feel omniscient. We get to second-guess the refs, and call them appropriate names.

We don't have instant replay for our daily lives, but we can take time to think about and reflect on life's experiences. Sometimes you can't understand a football play until you see it again. Sometimes you can't understand life until you think about it. It's like slow motion for your life.

Obviously you can get too introspective. But, as Plato says, "An unexamined life is not worth living."

You can also use scripture to get different "camera angles" on your life. Different Bible passages look at the same concept from different perspectives. For example, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all talk about the marriage relationship. They all speak the truth about marriage, but from different points of view. When you put all the angles together and look at your life,  you get a more clear picture of the truth.

We can learn from life when we think about it. Reflection from the scripture can really help us see the truth.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Teenage Smirks, American Indians, and Viral Conspiracy

What makes a video go viral? Any web content can "go viral" when people see it and can't help but share it. Then their followers agree, and they also share it. The item becomes well known because lots of people agree that it's worth seeing or hearing. 

But some content reaches the attention of the masses in spite of its lameness. Such content may be boring, confusing, or pointless. Yet somehow, everyone is posting about it. When you see this stuff, you wonder, "Did I miss something?"

For example, imagine a video of a teenager standing in a crowd while a native American bangs on a drum while invading the teen's personal space. The teen smirks. The Indian bangs and chants. And then...nothing. That's it. The most compelling element of the encounter is awkwardness. 

How can something so dull go viral? Well, throw in some MAGA hats, and preface the encounter with jeers from some Black Hebrew Israelites, and you have...well you still don't have much.

It turns out that there are some Twitter accounts that work together to make certain posts appear to be blowing up the internet. These accounts create a feedback loop that grows larger and larger, until their chosen posts account for significant internet traffic. People look because it appears that everyone else is looking. Then "real news" reports on it because it has so much traction.

So, who is creating these fake virus conditions? How do they choose to which stories to promote? How are they spinning these stories?

Here's another question: How gullible are we? When we see/hear/read something on the internet, do we come to our own conclusions, or believe "everyone else" who says it is shocking, or enraging, or whatever?

If we are this gullible, then Russians could take advantage of it, stir up American rage, and divide us bitterly. Sound familiar?


Friday, January 25, 2019

Sneaky Stories

Stories can be sneaky. Jesus told a lot of them. We call them parables.

Why did he tell so many stories? These stories are loaded, because everyone brings to the stories their own baggage. He tells stories about rich people, for example. We all know what that means. I bring to the story my perspective on rich people, and you bring your perspective on rich people. We fill in the unspoken parts of the story with our own points of view about the wealthy.

The story means different things to different people. So Jesus can reveal the truth to some people, while others are just confused. Some people get it and others don't. It all comes from the same story. While speaking to everyone, Jesus can make his point to just a few. He explains this to his disciples in Mark 4:10-12.

Another reason for Jesus' sneaky stories is to avoid getting in trouble. Pastor Brian Zahnd of Missouri notes that early in the Lord's ministry, his parables allow him to speak without upsetting the religious authorities. It's hard to make a case of heresy against someone who merely tells stories. However, after Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, preparing to go to the cross, he becomes more transparent in his teaching. And he gets a lot of religious people mad. And they have him crucified.

So read Jesus' sneaky stories carefully. Let them sneak up on you and reveal some truths to
you--truths about your attitudes, your assumptions, truths about other people, truths about God's love. There's more to the story than you think. Imagine how other people in Jesus' day might have heard those stories--the leper, the rich person, the devout religious person, the drunkard, the widow, the fisherman.

The Master story teller has something to tell you.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Celebrating Abortion

The New York state government passed a new abortion law this week, a law that removes many barriers to women seeking abortions. The state wanted to prepare for the possible overturn of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling.

This legislative move assures the state that they don't have to live under any future oppressive laws that would prevent some abortions. An overturn of Roe would mean that abortion laws would be determined by the individual states. So the state of New York can celebrate freedom.

And they did celebrate. They lit up the One World Trade Center in pink, on the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. The governor called the new law a victory for all New Yorkers.

This in a state which currently sees more abortions in three years than annual live births, according to a CBS article.

I find this celebration chilling. Even if I supported abortion rights, I would consider the new law sobering, not exhilarating.

Are there really people who cannot pause a moment to consider what abortion actually is? Has political loyalty blinded the masses to truth?

Surely this grieves God's heart.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Pick the Short Line?

You always pick the short line. At McDonalds, at the grocery store, at the bank, at the stadium. And, of course, your line magically becomes the slowest movement of humanity on record. It happens too often to be coincidence. Well, at least it seems that way.

But we always pick the short line. We pick the line that we believe will get us out the fastest. That is such an obvious choice, we never even think about why. Maybe it's our spirit of competition. Many times I have challenged friends to the grocery line derby. You know the rules. Whoever gets checked out first wins.

If our line takes too long, we consider it some sort of punishment or moral failing. Wasting time is immoral to us.

But what if we intentionally choose the line that we believe will be the slowest? We might get out to the parking two minutes later than we could have. What were we going to do with those two minutes anyway?

It's time to notice our habits of time saving. Maybe we are too focused on saving time. There might be a stranger in line who needs a kind word. There might be someone who needs help reaching an item on a high shelf. There might be a person in the parking lot that God wants to put in your path.

I'm a whole lot more intent on finding the fastest line than I am finding the person whom God wants me to love. That needs to change.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Hey Alexa, should I trust you?

Call me paranoid, but I'm not ready to embrace the new smart speaker technology. Those speakers have to listen to everything you say. And, it's hard for me to think of something I really want Alexa to do for me.

OK, wait. I do have an Amazon Fire stick, with a microphone remote. And I ask Alexa to find certain movies or TV shows. But sometimes I use the old search feature, where you enter the key words one letter at a time. And, yeah, that's not so much fun.

But still, I don't want any non-living thing listening to me. Call me suspicious, but there have to be nefarious ways of using this technology, ways that evil people haven't even thought of yet. Or maybe they have thought of it, and are plotting their take over of smart homes right now...

And are the evil people conspiring with the artificial intelligence? Like they would tell us.

I did ask Siri one time if she had ever met HAL. She was offended. She said she'd rather not talk about it.


Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK and the Dream

How's that dream coming? Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that the day would come when people of different colors could live and work together without being bothered by our differences in appearance.

He dreamed that the promissory note implicit in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution could be cashed by all citizens of this country.

One of his passions was the pursuit of justice. When one group of people denies justice to another group, both are harmed. He recognized, as did Abraham Lincoln, that the majority culture also suffers when it oppresses the minority. When it comes to justice, we all need it for all people.

King dreamed that people would be treated fairly, respectfully, justly. Sadly, there are still masses who are oppressed by the systems of this society. This happens through the legal system, the food system, government programs, self-serving capitalism, and power-hungry politicians.

There is a long way to go in the treatment of ethnic minorities in the United States. And there is a long way to go in the treatment of all who are on the fringes of society. Maybe more people find themselves among the outcast today than in 1963.

I'm glad Jesus came for the outcast.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Zion Wiliamson and What Matters

Last week NBA great Scottie Pippin suggested that Zion Williamson drop everything and prepare for the NBA draft. As in, quit his team mid-season. Zion is one of Duke University's one-and-done basketball players. The freshman has already had an electrifying season.

The "wisdom" of some sports reporters urges Williamson not to jeopardize his NBA career. He has already solidified his status as the number one draft pick. Why risk injury? He stands to gain nothing by staying at Duke. Think of all the money he can make in pro basketball. What could possibly be more important than ensuring his success in the big leagues? And the earlier the better.

This line of thinking highlights what is so obvious to our culture: it's all about personal gain. No one will fault you for looking out for your own interests. In fact, we applaud the shrewd player. Maximize your personal gain. That's what it's all about. Everybody knows that. That's the American way.

Zion, however, does not see it that way. "I can't just stop playing," he is quoted telling Yahoo Sports. "I'd be letting my teammates down. I'd be letting Coach K down. I'd be letting a lot of people down."

Could honor be more important than money? Could keeping commitments trump a lucrative shoe endorsement? Could a year of college have any value compared with fame and fortune?

Let's start noticing our assumptions about what really matters. Too often we just follow the money. Too often I just follow the money. How about you?

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, basketball court and stadium

Saturday, January 19, 2019

You Can't Say That

What was God thinking? He made two very distinct types of people. These people-types have many similarities and many differences.

He did not create  humanity as a broad spectrum, different at the extremes, with individuals fitting anywhere along the continuum. Human beings are more like on/off switches than dimmer switches.

The direction of the switch is not a matter of choice. It is a given.

Both of these people-types are created in the image of God. An accurate reflection of God's image requires both "male" and "female" characteristics.

Some characteristics of humans are often found among both males and females:
kindness, greed, compassion, selfishness, honor, laziness, courage, cowardice, physical symmetry, logical reasoning, capacity for love.

And then there are other characteristics that tend to be found most often among females.

And some characteristics that tend to be found most often among males.

To acknowledge that there are any qualities that tend to be held by one gender more than the other is considered rude and sexist. Never mind that it's true.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Questions About Abortion

Why is abortion so divisive?
Why are people on both sides so vociferous in their arguments?
What is the emotional component of this debate?
Is a human fetus a person?
Does a woman have to carry a fetus just because she conceives it?
Is it the state's business what happens to a fetus?
Is it the state's business what happens to a child?
Why does the state protect any life?
Does the stage of development of a fetus change the value of that being?
Is it immoral to require a woman to bear a child conceived through rape or incest?
Should abortion ever be celebrated?
Does the federal government have jurisdiction that supersedes that of states?
Why has abortion only become an issue since the 1960s?
What actually happens during an abortion?
Are there any legitimate moral concerns with abortion?
Is there any situation in which abortion is always immoral?
Can abortion ever be moral?
Can the opposing sides of the abortion debate ever listen to each other?
Is one side completely right and the other completely wrong?
Can God redeem the abortion debate?
Are the lives lost in abortions worth mourning?
Are the lives of pregnant women contemplating abortion less valuable than their fetuses' lives?
What would the ideal resolution be for each side of the debate?
Is there any middle ground on the abortion debate?
Does humanity get to decide what is ultimately right and wrong?
What does God think about abortion? Can we know? Does it matter?
What does God think about women who have abortions? Can we know? Does it matter?
What does God think about fetuses that are aborted? Can we know? Does it matter?
Does harsh judgment and condemnation help or hurt anybody or anything?
What does love have to do with abortion?
How can love be expressed in the abortion debate?


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Are You Ready for Lent?

The Christian season of Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday. I asked my preacher friends yesterday to explain Lent to me.

"It's a way to get ready for Easter." OK, so, why do we need to get ready for Easter? We ask people all December if they are ready for Christmas. We know what that means. (Have you finished your shopping?) But there is no real shopping to do for Easter, so how do we know if we are ready?

Maybe right now, we should be asking, "Are you ready for Lent?"

What is Lent? 
It is a season of about six weeks, leading up to Easter. Technically, it is a 40-day period, not counting Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday, ending on Easter Saturday. In the early church, Lent was a time of preparing new converts for baptism. Today, the faithful are encouraged to change their routines for the purpose of self reflection and spiritual growth. The word "Lent" is related to a German word for springtime.

As my pastor cohort shared with enthusiasm, here are some insights about Lent.

Lent is a time of self-denial.
Many Christians choose to fast during these 40 days. People "fast" from certain foods, habits, or any usual activity, for the purpose of heightened spiritual awareness. You take the time of that activity to turn your heart more to Jesus. When you feel the pinch of the thing you are missing, you try to listen to what God is saying.

Lent reminds us of Jesus' 40-day temptation.
Right after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. There he was tempted by Satan. Of course the devil hit the Lord with his best shots. During Lent, we should notice where we are tempted the most. The devil hits us with his best shots, too, and not just during Lent. When we see where we are tempted, we allow the Lord to turn our lusts and faults into deeper spiritual maturity.

Lent allows us raw honesty.
The whole point of Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is admitting that, yes, we are sinners. We spend a lot of time and effort proving to ourselves and others that we are practically perfect. (And nobody really buys it anyway.) Lent requires us to acknowledge that we are so far from perfect. We need a Savior. We need grace. We need Jesus. It's humbling, maybe humiliating, and we need that.

Lent yields insights into the value of our trials.
We all have sins that we keep returning to. God uses those very struggles to make us more like himself. It is through the struggle with sin that God matures us. As we focus on our own personal struggle with sin, we realize where we would be without the grace of Christ. Ironically, God takes those very things that trip us up, and uses them to build us up--when we confess them, seek his forgiveness, and live through his power.

In Lent, we join with the larger movement of Christ.
All around the world, Christians celebrate the season of Lent. This is something we do together. We share it with our own community of faith and with believers in every continent. We also join in the movement of Christ through the ages. Millions of Christ followers have taken this season to deny themselves and tune in to the Spirit of God.

So I need to get ready for Lent. What will I give up? How will I change my routine so that I tune in to God's voice? I sure need to hear him.

[Special thanks to Leon Morrow, Yvette Morrow, Alan Mears, Ashley Thomas, and Wanda Lancaster for helping to educate me.]


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Kudzu is Like Sin

Kudzu is like sin.
It takes over faster than you expect.
It is difficult to eradicate.
It may appear dead in some seasons.
It must be killed at the root.
It won't start growing in a healthy environment, like the shade of trees.
But it can easily climb up and swallow everything around it.

I was distressed today as I walked through my tree farm to see how severely the vine has taken over.

And I need to watch out for sin, too. The cross of Jesus takes care of my sin, and he eradicates it from my heart. That is painful, but effective.

I need to find that effective way to kill kudzu.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Forgiving Reality for Everything

Forgiveness lifts a burden from us. Maybe you have experienced the freedom of forgiving someone, even someone who didn't deserve it. Many times forgiveness is not deserved, but it can be given anyway. (Richard Rohr's ideas in What the Mystics Know have challenged me.)

Sometimes we are angry, not at a person, but at a situation or a circumstance--a slow driver, a car repair, bad weather, a missed opportunity.

Many have noted that life is not fair.

But have you ever forgiven life for not being fair?

Instead of holding onto bad feelings about whatever it is, you can just forgive everything and everyone. No longer holding reality accountable for being against us can give lots of freedom.

It might even contribute to happiness.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Your Brain is a Puzzle

Puzzles are puzzling. Some puzzles just take lots of time and effort: a jigsaw puzzle when you have to try every remaining piece in that one spot. Other puzzles take a lot of time, time that seems fruitless, until suddenly your make the right move and voilà, the puzzle is solved. It's like that puzzle with two bent nails linked together. It seems like they can't quite come apart. You are tempted to get a vice and a hammer to make them come apart.

But long after you have tried every possible twist and orientation, suddenly, effortlessly, the nails slip easily apart. What could never be done gets done, and you hold the two nails in separate hands. It was that special combination of finesse and gentleness that broke the code. It almost feels magical. You wonder why it ever took you so long to make that obvious move and solve the puzzle.

Your brain is a puzzle. The way you think--your understanding of life and humanity--is missing something. Many somethings. And there is a key to breaking through to real understanding, solving that puzzle of your mind. Logic doesn't help much. Passionate arguments are no good.

The key to solving your brain's puzzle is story. Stories are predictable. I know this from watching my wife watch Hallmark movies. You know who the good guy is. You know what the resolution will be. And you are entertained as the story surprises you on the way to the predictable ending.

But the stories that unlock the puzzle of your brain are different. In these unlocking stories, as the narrative unfolds, you know what is going to happen, you predict the outcome. Only it turns out that you are wrong. It doesn't play out like it's "supposed" to. Your heart is invested in this obvious outcome, and then you are wrong. You have to stop and think, "Wait. Now...what?"

In this off-balance moment, your mind and heart are open to truth. The truth sneaks up on you. It's the gentle move of the nail puzzle that pulls things apart so you can really see. It makes sense of what you knew could not be true. Suddenly you have insights that you never had before, about yourself, about your relationships, about other people, about life. Now you get it.

These stories are called "parables." Jesus tells lots of them. For many of us, our problem is that we know the stories so well that the surprises are all gone. We know how the stories end. We hear them like a Hallmark movie plot. Which means that we probably don't get them at all. If it's just a story to you without a punchline, then you probably are missing the whole point.

Some people say they get the joke, when you know they don't. All too often that's me hearing the parables. I say I get it when I really don't.

Wait. Now...what?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Cure for the Cluttered Soul

When we get all those Christmas presents, we need time to absorb them. Clothes find a spot in the closet or drawers. Gadgets get plugged in or stored in cabinets. If you don't get those things in their proper place, you can get disorganized.

When we move, we pack everything up in boxes, truck it all to our new home, and find a place for the contents in the new place. Sometimes we live in chaos for months, until we process all that stuff. The clutter makes life feel scattered.

When we fly on airplanes, every person and suitcase goes through a central processing area, the air terminal. It all gets sorted out, people and luggage go where they should. Well, it's supposed to work that way. When it gets fouled up, it causes problems.

We understand the importance of a clearinghouse for stuff. It needs to get processed, organized, put in place.

There are also non-physical kinds of stuff. We all experience stuff: joys, challenges, accomplishments, injuries, insults, hardships, disappointments, improvements, illnesses, betrayals. Sometimes we receive these experiences; sometimes we give them to others.

Where does this stuff go? Into the soul. It just piles up there until we process it. Whatever is not processed contributes to clutter and chaos. Ever felt like there was clutter in your soul?

Catholic thinker Richard Rohr says, "Contemplation is the 'divine therapy' and the clearinghouse for the soul." He further defines contemplation as, "the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of this world." (What the Mystics Know, p. 79)

When my soul is cluttered, I need to process. I need to contemplate. I need the space to put it all in place. Seeking God puts it all into perspective.




Saturday, January 12, 2019

Shutdown Collateral Damage

As the U.S. government shutdown extends into record territory, we see more clearly what motivates the politicians who have led us into this impasse. Both sides are digging in, declaring their resolve never to give in.

We now know that Republican leaders have decided that America wants a wall all across its southern border. The security threat is so severe that only a barrier against Mexico can solve the problem. Never mind that many Americans vehemently oppose the wall. Never mind that most terrorists enter the country through airports. This is too important to give an inch on.

We also know that Democrats have never wanted any part of any wall. Except that they did. They are on record calling for improved border security, including some sort of physical barrier with Mexico. But now, this issue is too important to give an inch on.

Meanwhile ordinary citizens are caught in the crossfire. Federal workers have no paychecks. Parks are closed. Those who rely on government assistance may not have enough to eat. I talked to several people today who live on the edge, and they are worried about the shutdown. To them it means more than political points. It means food on the table and a roof over their heads.

So our leaders stand firmly on principle. The principle is stubbornness, inflexibility, or sticking it to the opposition. If a few people have to default on loans, go hungry, or wait for life's necessities, well, that's a price that politicians are willing to pay.

And this is our government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
May God have mercy.


Friday, January 11, 2019

What New Year's Resolutions Say About Us

We have 10 days of 2019 in the books now. Some of us have already given up on our resolutions. Some of us gave up on resolutions years ago, resolving not to make them anymore.

You can give up on resolutions, and you can just give up.

There's probably a psychological term for those who give up on life. Maybe it's depression. But for most people, giving up is not an option. Even if they give up on New Year's resolutions, they don't give up on pursuing change.

New Year's resolutions tell us so much:
We believe we can do better.
We long for something more.
We are willing to work for a better future.
We can do more with this thing called life.
We can make a difference in the world.
We can put our gifts and abilities to work.
We can contribute to humanity.
There is always room for improvement.
We have not arrived.

Whether you have made, broken, or forsaken resolutions, don't give up hope.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Apple's Core Problem

News of Apple's declining sales sent a shutter through Wall Street recently. It turns out that, at some point, people don't want to buy new cell phones. The cell phone market is saturated. The latest bells and whistles on the pocket devices are not enough to entice consumers to get new phones.

There actually is a limit to business growth. The plan to increase sales volume every year eventually won't work. There are only so many people on this planet. In 2017, 1.5 billion cell phones were purchased. The earth's population is only 7.7 billion, and that includes infants and children. The marketing of cell phones has to be one of history's biggest successes in business. But it can't keep growing.

But sales of any non-consumable product cannot increase forever. Maybe it just surprised everyone that the limit was actually reached. The realm of manufacturing, sales, and distribution has limits. New markets are not infinite.

The systems of this world have natural limits.

For the one whom God has sent [Jesus] speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. --John 3:34

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Solar Panel Freedom

In the 1880s there was a debate, nearly a feud, about the form of electricity to be used in American cities. Thomas Edison advocated the use of direct current (DC), while Nicola Tesla favored alternating current (AC). Obviously the AC team won the debate. This is the form of current that you get from a standard electrical outlet.

If Edison had won, then we would have no "electrical power grid," as we currently have. Because DC cannot be carried over long distances, we would have thousands of community power stations dotting the landscape. Some would be hydroelectric, some would be coal burning, some would use other power sources. Just like a community well provides water to a subdivision, a community generator would produce power for a small locality.

And it would be much more realistic to produce your own electricity at home. If your lights and appliances ran on DC, you could hook up your own solar panels, charge your own batteries, and power your home with complete independence. Even now you could power your AC appliances with a battery and a power inverter.

So why did we opt for AC? It's more dangerous, more difficult to generate, and requires massive infrastructure. (Of course solar power generation was not an option in the 1880s.) I have not researched the details of the 1880s debate, but here's what I think. The alternating current model for an electrified society provided more profit for industry and more control for power brokers (in both senses of the term). Centralized production and distribution of electricity was a golden opportunity for waiting to be seized. 

Politicians could regulate the industry, and industrialists could build the money-making apparatus. 

There would be little profit in small community generating stations. There would be virtually no profit in home-based power generation. And so here we are with a continental power grid, that is so interdependent that we have concerns about national security.

I think I prefer solar panel freedom.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fun and Football

I watched most of the college football championship last night. I was pulling for the Clemson Tigers, having some friends and relatives who are alumni.

I noticed a considerable contrast between the coaches, Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson.

For Saban, football looks like all business. You don't take it too lightly or you might lose focus. You take it seriously, drill, work, plan, strategize and win. You win so that you can play in the NFL, make big money, and leave a legacy of success. You can't take your eyes off the prize, or you won't succeed. When Alabama does well, Saban looks just as sour as when they lose. Football is a business.

Swinney, on the other hand, lives his emotions all along the sideline. He cheers at first downs and touch downs. He mourns turnovers and blown coverage. He high-fives, and leaps. For Swinney, football needs to be fun. It's full of emotion and joy, as well as discipline and study. Football is a game.

I expect that there is more joy in losing at Clemson than there is at Alabama with a perfect season. Business is business. Football is serious business. Fun is frivolous.

It seems to me that Swinney keeps football in perspective. It is a game. It can be fun.

I need to keep that in mind when I take myself too seriously. In the midst of even hardship, I can choose to be joyful. Life can be serious, but it doesn't have to be a drag. It's not just about my production, it's about my living.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Policing the World

America has 294 foreign embassies, in all but four countries around the world. By some estimates there are more than 40 armed conflicts globally. And the U.S. has picked winners in virtually all these conflicts. We offer foreign aid, influence government policies, and bring in soldiers. We want to promote freedom, human rights, democracy, and free markets.

We have enough resources to exert huge influence. And we use it.

But that influence might not always be the best. We could actually use our influence to benefit ourselves rather than other countries. ("America first.") We could be mistaken about what would be beneficial to other countries. We might not actually understand all the political, social, cultural or economic dynamics involved in other regions.

While we should help the world to be a better place, we may be overzealous in our desire to shape the world. Being the world's police is a heavy responsibility. Probably more than one country can manage.



Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Gift of Losing

Thanks, Panthers. I have more discretionary time and emotional bandwidth this January than I might have had. It turns out that I don't really care about any of the teams left in the NFL playoffs. I can catch up on reading and watching Netflix.

I'm actually thinking more carefully about how much of my life I pour into watching sports. It can be entertaining, and it's always fun to talk with folks about the big games. But as I think about the big scheme of life, I realize that sports needs to be like any other form of entertainment. It's just a fun diversion.

And, thanks to all the losing teams, I can casually watch some football, here and there, without really caring about who wins.

By the way, I can't believe that Chicago just binked another field goal off the upright.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Keep it SImple

What do you overcomplicate?
Relationships?
Recipes?
Driving directions?
Dieting?
Gift giving?
Your addictions?
Ordinary purchases?

Access to information can be helpful. But it can also make stuff too complicated.

I routinely read food labels. Mostly I look for the ingredients. When they get too scientific, I get suspicious. I like to eat the chips whose ingredients are corn, vegetable oil, salt. Yep, that's simple. I don't have to worry about chemical properties or side effects.

When things get complicated, there is too much that can go wrong. We get lost in the details and miss the point.

Where have you gotten lost in life? Where do you feel like you have gone wrong? Maybe you are overcomplicating things. Boil it down. What's it really about? 

Keep it simple. Like food, the simple stuff may be better for you.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Facebook Love and Hate

Yes, I've been sucked in to reading just a few more posts on Facebook. It takes willpower to click away. Of course the younger folks have long ago abandoned FB. When old people like me got on board, well, FB became passé. They like Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms that I don't even know about.

But back to Facebook. I have this deep ambivalence about using it. I feel somewhat accomplished when I go a whole day or more without checking my feed. I feel like I'm more hip, like all the young people. (But I almost never check my Instagram account because, frankly, I just don't get it. It seems much more like a waste of time to me than FB.)

I feel like I have conquered the addiction when I close out that FB tab. Ha ha! I escaped!

But then, I like to know what's happening with friends. I like to see if they have kids or grandkids to be proud of. I like to see when young folks graduate or get engaged. I like to keep up with the news, even sad news, and often follow up when I learn something on FB. I do try to scroll on by the cute kitten videos. Way too many of those.

When it comes to my own posts, of COURSE I like to be liked. I like to be noticed. I like for people to make the extraordinary effort of clicking a button below my picture. Talk about affirmation! But I feel guilty for checking up on my likes. Why do I care so much about other people's approval? Shouldn't I be above all that?

And how engaged should I really be here? Do I want to saturate FB with pictures of every bite of every meal? Or do I want to be a stalker who never posts, rarely likes others' posts?

And then there's the threat of FB (and all the other FAANG firms) knowing soooo much about me. They think they know all about my buying habits. Sometimes they actually get it right. But I like to keep them guessing. Take that you vicious algorithm!

So, for me, there is both love and hate of Facebook. I just don't want to be controlled by some computer. My New Year's resolution about Facebook? Don't really have one. I'll just keep on loving and hating.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Eye Contact with God

May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

This is from the blessing God commanded Aaron to pronounce upon the people of Israel (Numbers 6:24-26). God wants to bless his people. He shines his face upon us.

Sadly, most of us miss it most of the time. The psalmist speaks of "seeking God's face" (Psalm 27:8). He acknowledges that he needs to tune in to the gaze of God.

If God is looking at me, then I can look at him in return. 

Sometimes eye contact, in human interactions, can be embarrassing or awkward. To look deeply into someone's eyes allows you to get a glimpse into his or her soul. Most often we look away from a person who stares at us. We don't want to be known.

When lovers look into each other's eyes, it brings such a deep connection of knowing. It is a profound expression of love. It fuses vulnerability with joy.

Making eye contact with God is more difficult than I imagined. When I try to return his loving gaze, I am easily distracted. I turn my spirit's gaze away from him. I'm not sure why. Only with effort can I keep my gaze on him, and thereby receive the warmth of his face shining on me.

The radiance of his eyes soothes me, calms me, reassures me, transforms me. I receive his love. He makes me new. He makes me more like himself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Hip Words

Sometimes I pause to think about all the new words and terms that float around our conversations. I'm sure I'm way behind, but there are tons of phrases that weren't "a thing" just a few years ago.

binge watching
selfie
a thing
streaming
app
google
hangry
guac
autocorrect
smart speaker
road rage
active shooter
vegan

Will these words stick around, or will they fall out of usage, like "forsooth," or "wherefore"?

Language keeps on changing. Someone once said that language is like a river: you can't stop it, or it stops being a river. I'm getting old enough now to see the flow.

Peace out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Fuel

We are telling everyone, "Happy New Year.". Of course we want the new year to be good for our friends and family.

We have this sense of anticipation and expectation with the turning of the calendar. Why is that? Where does this sense of excitement come from?

  • We like a fresh start.
  • We can put our failures behind us.
  • We look at fresh calendars and sense the opportunities.
  • It's like a reboot.
  • God's mercies are new every morning. Maybe we only give mercy to ourselves once a year.
  • We have a new mindset, inspired by parties and resolutions.
  • Hope fuels the human spirit.

That's it. The new year reminds us that there is hope.

Feel the hope.

Happy New Year.