Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

26
Sep
17

Blessing? Curse? You pick…

Work in the labI heard a story on the radio last week that scared the beejeebers out of me.

(Sorry for the strong language.)

The report said that for the first time ever, scientists in a lab have edited a piece of human DNA. (All Things Considered program on National Public Radio… September 20, 2017).

Apparently, we always knew that DNA could be edited, but last week was the first time it was actually done in a lab.

The story talked about the fact that this breakthrough could give us the ability to correct certain genetic anomalies in the womb and drastically reduce the incidence of birth defects.

It also talked about the possible dark and sinister uses of gene editing… such as people being able to order “designer babies” that are a little taller, a little more athletic, a little blonder than other children.

In a very real way, the idea of gene editing revives memories of eugenics… The pseudo-science of selective breeding that helped give birth to the Master Race dream of Hitler and the Nazis.

Shivers literally went down my spine as I thought about the prospects of the “haves” (those who might afford designer babies) becoming stronger more beautiful and more intelligent, while the rest of us have to do it the old-fashioned way: taking whatever nature gives us.

I mean… if you think there is “class warfare” and divisiveness in our country now, it is probably a PICNIC compared to what it might be in a gene-edited future.

Can you say DYSTOPIA?

But then – as I sometimes do – I turned off the radio and kept thinking about the story. You can do that when you’re on a long drive.

And here is where that extra thinking led me: it led me to the question, “Has there ever been an example of one of humanity’s “great strides of discovery” that has NOT carried seeds of both blessing and curse with it?”

Grog the Caveman was no doubt excited when he discovered that fire could warm the inside of the cave and impart a lovely flavor to the mastodon steak he prepared. But he soon discovered his new invention could also burn down the entire forest.

Glo the Cavewoman was thrilled to find that a stone, cut into a round, wheel-like shape, could help her move heavy objects with ease. But she also discovered that it could be used to power a gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV.

The splitting of the atom gave us a source of energy that did not require us to rape the earth through strip mining or fossil fuel development. But it also gave birth to the atomic bomb.

We award Nobel Prizes every year for all kinds of scientific breakthroughs designed to benefit humankind, but then we remember that the man who started the prize – Sir Alfred Nobel – was also the inventor of dynamite.

Surely there must be some, but can you think of any discovery or breakthrough that can be accurately classified as “pure good”?

I mean, besides Jolly Ranchers.

The reality is, the “goodness” or “badness” of most things – including discoveries in science – is not inherent. They become good or bad as you and I pick them up and use them.

The way we use it gives money the power to be a blessing or a curse.

The hands at the controls are what make an airliner either a device for expedited travel or a tool for terror.

And yes, I’ll go there: it is our hands and our intentions that cause guns to be either good or evil. Their moral character is not stamped in at the factory. (Although let me quickly add: it is INSANE that we can’t/won’t pass more laws to limit their availability).

As Mark 7:21 tells us: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…” And it is also from within, from the human heart, seeded and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, that loving intentions come. (My paraphrase).

My hope and prayer today would be not, “O Lord, help us refrain from discovering things that might be put to dangerous uses,” but rather, “Lord, continue to guide us in your way so that as we continue to use our amazing minds to discover new things we will always choose to put them to use to accomplish YOUR holy purposes.”

AMEN.

18
Sep
17

Try to Remember…

remember-clip-art“Sorry. I forgot.”

Boy… If I had a dollar for every time those words have come out of my mouth, I would have a LOT of money.

But then after I got that money, the challenge for me would be remembering where I put it!

It is a rather annoying part of my make-up I’ll admit. Forgetting can certainly increase friction on the home front – “Oh, sorry, honey… I forgot to ask her! Sorry, sweetheart! I forgot to bring that inside!” etc., etc.

Forgetting also increases gasoline expenditures… with all of that turning around and driving back to the store for those three things I forgot to buy.

And let’s not even start on the conversation about someone forgetting to renew his or her (actually, his) passport until TWO DAYS before a recent trip out of the country.

In my defense, I can say that I don’t discriminate in my forgetfulness. I forget big things, I forget small things; I forget things about people who are close to me, I forget things about casual acquaintances. I forget the names of black people, white people, gay people, straight people, American-born and non-American born people, Republicans and Democrats alike.

And this forgetting thing somehow doesn’t seem to DECREASE with the accumulation of birthday candles on my cake either… hard as that might be to believe.

It does trouble me, yes. It troubled me enough, in fact, to have some neurological tests done recently. (Weirdly, they came back saying my brain is perfectly OK.)

 But as troubling as MY forgetfulness is, I find myself significantly more worried about OUR forgetfulness. And by OUR, I mean humanity’s.

In the past thirty days we have experienced more than our fair share of calamitous events in this part of the world; two monster hurricanes that wreaked havoc and devastation… wildfires scorching thousands of acres of forest and destroying homes in the American west… and a giant earthquake just to our south in Mexico.

In every one of these situations, we saw incredible outpourings of heroic compassion. People who were complete strangers reached out to help their neighbors. I remember sitting in spellbound awe listening to a radio story about a man in Texas going from house to house to house in his bass boat helping people get to shelters, saving their pets, and delivering aid.

Money has been pouring into the American Red Cross and other assistance groups since even before the first hurricane hit. People in little churches and towns all around the country have been reaching out as if to say, “I may have never met them, but those are my brothers and sisters there in Texas and Florida and Oregon and Washington and Arizona whose lives are being torn apart by these disasters. I need to HELP!”

But then… Even before the waters have begun to recede… we forget.

  • We forget the humanity we share.
  • We forget the fragile nature of life on this planet.
  • We forget we live in a nation that once said we find “strength in diversity.”
  • We forget we are each made of the spiritual DNA of a loving, compassionate God.
  • We forget the “Love one another” commandment from John 15:5… or else we have edited it and added our own little caveat that says, “… but only in times of dire emergency.”
  • We forget the deep joy that comes from carrying our neighbor’s burden … and then also double forget Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” that is found in the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

diverse gatheringBut some things we remember all too well…

Sadly, we seem to remember to pick up the fears, prejudices, and mistrust of other people that we momentarily laid aside when the storms hit.

  • We “remember” the monumental importance of staking out our positions and platforms and defending them against all manner of heretical critique.
  • We remember who the “insiders” and the “outsiders” are and we rush to reinforce our walls of protection.

It’s funny; hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes seem to remind us who our neighbors are.

But guess what… they’re the same people when the sun is out and the day is calm!

Let’s try to remember that.

Abundant blessings;

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…

15
Aug
17

Certainty, Wisdom, and the Fugue

Three tinhornsMy wife and I had some fun over the weekend. We were part of a local musical revue that featured songs and dances from several well-known Broadway shows.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when I got to sing the Fugue for Three Tinhorns from “Guys and Dolls” with two other men.

Even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably heard it before. It is the song that features an amateur horse race bettor singing, “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and here’s a guy that says if the weather’s clear…” The other two guys join in, fugue-style – singing the virtues of THEIR picks in the upcoming race; horses named Valentine and Epitaph.

The concluding line of the song is when the three point to their tip sheets and sing in harmony, “I’ve got the horse… right… here!!”

It was fun and (I thought) went rather well.

Thinking back on that show and our song, I suddenly realized our frivolous moment onstage might have actually concealed a deeper message.

That message is about CERTAINTY and the ways we arrive at it.

In the song, each of the bettors believes they have a foolproof source of information. For the first guy, the race day weather is the key. The second bettor’s friend is the jockey’s brother so he feels secure with his “inside” information. The third guy relies strictly on the odds displayed in the tip sheet.

The point is, each bettor believes his horse is THE horse.

In fact, they are each certain of it.

Thinking about the song in those terms brought to mind a phrase I read recently in the book, A Failure of Nerve. This book, written by Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman, includes insightful prescriptions for those who lead during turbulent times.

Friedman says, “An anxious system demands certainty.” Naturally, that anxious system looks to its leader(s) to provide them with the sought-after certainty.

More often than not, leaders are very willing to provide certainty to the anxious system. That certainty usually comes in the form of strong declarations of righteous, unshakable principles. It comes in the form of definitive lines drawn to help us understand who is on the “good side” and who is on the “bad side” of the issue. It comes in the form of vague, but bold-sounding statements of steps that will be taken, “… going forward.”

Sound familiar?

The problem, according to Friedman, is that certainty is almost always the antithesis of wisdom. When we allow anxiety to drive us toward sure and certain answers, we find that we must also silence the voices that challenge our certainty.

The tinhorns in Fugue sought certainty about an uncertain horseracing event in the future. But by definition, the future cannot be certain until it gets here. And when it gets here it is no longer the future!

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve wisdom. According to Friedman, our comfort with ambiguity is, “… critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (A Failure of Nerve, New York: Seabury, 1997).

As I see it, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and all forms of hate have their roots in the desire for certainty AT ALL COSTS. We look around us and see a dynamic, uncertain, and changing world… and it seems threatening. The dynamism of that world leads some of us to rush out and erect walls of protection against a world that looks less and less like the one we grew up in. It also makes us hostile to the forces of change.

The good news is yes, there is a timeless truth. Yes, there is omniscience and ultimate wisdom. But it does not reside with you or me or anyone equipped only with this puny three pounds of gray matter we have inside our skulls. It resides only with the One who created us and placed us here in love.

Psalm 111:10 reminds us that: “Fear [meaning awe, or respect] of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord… do not rely on your own insight,” and a little later that, “… wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11).

I believe God calls us to be wise rather than certain. I further believe that the first step on the path to wisdom is HUMILITY… in other words, knowing that we do not know.

May your path lead you to wisdom today.

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;

25
Jul
17

Artificially Intelligent

The Birth of Artificial IntelligenceBack in the Stone Age when I was young, there was a popular TV commercial for Memorex-brand cassette tapes. For those of you under the age of 40 who have no idea what a cassette tape is, go ask your uncle.

The Memorex people wanted to tell us that the quality of their recording tape was so good the average person couldn’t tell the difference between a real, live sound and sound recorded on Memorex recording tape.

Their catchy ad slogan was: “Is it live… or is it Memorex?”

According to an article I read in today’s paper, we might soon be asking a version of the same question about our next-door neighbors.

That might be stretching the point a little for the sake of argument, but it is not too far off base when it comes to the whole area of A.I., or artificial intelligence. AI is certainly not new, but it seems that the folks who have been toiling away in the AI labs around the world have been making a lot of progress lately.

Enough progress, in fact, to scare tech guru Elon Musk.

You know Elon Musk… he is the guy who can’t stop inventing stuff, from the Tesla battery-powered car to the reusable Space-X rocket to the supertrain known as the HyperLoop. You would think a guy with high tech credentials like these would be chomping at the bit to own a piece of a robot-filled future.

Instead, the Kansas City Star reports that Musk recently warned an audience that if we are not careful with AI, we might end up living in a world where the humans answer to the machines instead of the other way around.

It sounded like the world depicted in the movie I, Robot actually come to pass.

I don’t know if Mr. Musk is accurate or not, but the whole topic made me stop and think… using my genuine, authentic, grey matter human intelligence.

What is intelligence in the first place? And what makes one kind of intelligence natural and another kind artificial?

The dictionary says that anything made by human beings can be defined as artificial. Which, of course, means that this computer I am typing on, the desk that holds it up, the house I am sitting in, and the water bottle I just took a sip out of are all – technically – artificial.

Intelligence is defined as: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Using those definitions, I suppose it is not impossible to see how something made by human beings could acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Pausing for a minute and reading that last sentence again actually gave me a little shudder of dread.

I mean, yes, I would love to have my own domestic robot who could fry a perfectly over-medium egg, mow the lawn, and take the dog for a walk. But I am not at all sure I am comfortable with the idea of him (do robots have genders? Hmmmm.) acquiring his own knowledge and skills and running around applying them, willy-nilly.

I guess what I find fascinating in this whole conversation is the very thinly veiled fear that we might be entering a future filled with knowledge and technological wizardry, but utterly bereft of SOUL… for lack of a better word.

And the people who seem to be the most worried about the consequences of this soul-less future are the folks at the forefront of bringing it to us!

I think this is exactly the kind of situation that the word IRONY was invented to describe.

Intelligence is good. God did not put brains in our heads without expecting we would use them. Our intelligence is right at the forefront of reasons the psalmist says human beings are “… fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).

But intelligence without soul and without heart is just plain fearful.

YES!… We need knowledge. We need skills. We need solutions to the complex, critical issues that face the world today.

But those skills and solutions have to flow from a renewed, soft, soulful heart… the one so lovingly fashioned by our God.

You and I have a choice about the kind of future we will enjoy; will we choose the hyper-efficient, albeit soul-less one? Or will we pick a slightly wobbly and off-kilter, soulful and thoroughly human future?

I know which one I’m voting for.

But please don’t tell the robots!

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
17

Predictable Abundance

Vitamin pillsI take vitamins.

Every morning.

Plus a daily allergy medication.

I also have a very specific WAY I take my vitamins… grouping the pills by size and shape and being sure to take them between the morning showering and shaving functions. (Yes, siblings, it’s true… I am more and more becoming our father.)

So sure… go ahead and snicker at the idea of anyone being so persnickety and anal-retentive about something as trivial as VITAMINS, for crying out loud.

But as you’re sitting there laughing at my silly vitamin quirks, are you sure you don’t have a few eccentricities of your own I might get a kick out of hearing about?

The truth is, we ALL have stuff like this; whether you call it patterns, or habits, or quirks, or routines. These things serve as little anchors that give us some modest illusion of control of our lives.

The popular narrative is to accuse older folks of cornering the market on rigidity and routine. But my experience has often been just the opposite: after a certain age, people often learn the difference between the things worth hanging on to and those that aren’t. I’ve found that younger people are often much more rigid than their grandparents.

The real fun begins when any of these “anchors” are challenged by someone asking, “Why do you do it THAT way? Why not try THIS way instead?”

Suddenly our backs are up… our claws come out… we are more than willing to mount a vigorous defense of something that might not actually be worth defending.

We are seldom willing to acknowledge the reality that the person who challenges us and our patterns might actually be doing us a favor.

Routines can indeed make life manageable and sane. But they can also make it dull… predictable… lifeless… lackluster. And have you noticed… the people who make a practice of shaking things up… asking questions… challenging the status quo are usually the people with the greatest zeal for living; even if they regularly get under the skins of those of us who want to tell them to take their questions GET LOST!

When you dig into his story, you find that Jesus was a shaker-upper. Par excellence! Nothing was immune from his searching, challenging eye. No practice, no belief, no understanding, no routine, or habit was safe in his presence.

I’m sure that is why some people found his ministry liberating and life-giving while others found him to be a supreme pain in the tukhus.

I often wonder how many people – when they heard him say, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) – muttered quietly to themselves, “But Jesus I don’t WANT life abundantly! I want life SAFELY and PREDICTABLY!”

It’s true: when we are willing to look at one of those “anchors” in our life – whether it is a habit, a belief, or even a trivial daily routine – and examine it with fresh, questioning eyes, we are taking a chance.

We are taking the chance that life might become less stable.

But we are also taking the chance that it might become a whole lot ABUNDANTER.

It is a choice we face every day… no matter our age or station in life; will I go for predictable today, or abundant?

Wow… when you put it that way, I might even dare to start taking my vitamins ONE AT A TIME!

 

Abundant blessings to you today;




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