How Did I Get Here (Or There)?

I just wanted to let you all know what I will be doing over the next few weeks so that you all can be praying for me, and so you don’t scratch your head when you see posts that are coming from another country.

I will be leaving for South Africa next Wednesday to do mission work with Proclaim! International.  I am very excited as I will get a chance to do many of the things that I love: coaching, teaching, preaching, leadership development, maybe a little worship leading.  This happened pretty quickly and I was not sure whether or not it was going to work out, but I eager to go and see what God has in store for me there.  Please be in prayer for me if you could.

I have to confess that I am am not sure that I had anticipated having the opportunity to be able to do mission work on four different continents when I was younger.  I have to confess that I did not think that I would have visited four different continents when I was younger.  It has been a lesson for me in how to adapt to different cultures, climates, and governmental systems.  As someone that grew up in a very monolythic culture in Wyoming I can honestly say that the growing curve has been steep but enjoyable.

I will try to use this blog to post journal entries, photos, and videos so please bear with me as I attempt to learn how to make this page work for me.  I will also be posting on my Facebook page and Instagram if you are into that sort of thing.

Pray mostly for my wife as she will have to deal with my four wonderful children in the time I am gone.  I have never been away from home this long.  She is a very loving and capable person, but four wonderful kids are still four kids.

I Am No Longer the Religious Zealot, They Are. Isn’t that Great?

So here is some historical context to set the stage for what I am about to say.  Over the last hundred years of so Christians (especially fundamentalist) have been making comments based on their zeal for their faith.  Not that they were wrong for the most part, but they did not use any sort of evidence or data, or science that the world would lend credibility to.  They would just say things like “the earth was created in six days because that is what the Bible says”  As an evangelical I like the phrase “because the Bible says so” but as someone that realizes that I live in the world I know how little weight that argument holds with, well, everyone else.  I personally like data and fact and evidence, I think that it brings great credibility to what people say.  I also know that data, facts, and evidence are tools that are brought to bear by bias people.  And there is the rub, many scientists today are operating with more religious zeal than a Bible thumping, hell fire and brimstone, turn or burn, screamin’ from the pulpit fundamentalist preacher.

Please understand that I am not going to address one single current event because I am positive that this will turn off people that have opinions one way or another.  What I want to address is science.  When I see the news I find that science is no longer being practiced by scientists, and data is being skewed or blown out of proportion so much that there is no actual way to get back to the facts.  Then they do something highly scientific, they get lots of other people to buy into what was bias from the beginning.  Consensus on bad science does not make good science.  Science today starts with a bias, goes about finding evidence to prove it, tries to convert followers, and then tries to dissuade anyone from arguing that it is not true.  Does this process sound familiar?

“Look at this boys and girls, this is how cults are made.”

This process is more of a religious process than a scientific one.  And here is the funny thing, I can use to process I learned in elementary school to do science.  Science says that I observe, develop a hypothesis, go about experimentation to see if the hypothesis is correct, and then something magical happens.  If the hypothesis is wrong I have to start over, not skew the data to prove my hypothesis.

I am just so happy right now because I can now look at scientists, politicians, and celebrities pushing the “science” of the day with the same arrogant contempt that they have looked at me with for so many years.  Not that I will, but I could.  They are now just as religious as me, maybe more so.  So go ahead those of you that believe in Jesus, feel free to loose the chains of oppression set upon you by those that have tried to prove Christianity a farce.  The very people that once made it their religion to try to disprove Christianity have now set their sights on starting a new religion.  Now that they have done that we can start treating them with disdain and they can set their sights on developing a music program.

Superhero Moving Targets

So as I am watching each new superhero movie, I am constantly amazed at how entertaining and frustrating they are to me. My personal favorite superhero is Spiderman because of his wit, his nerdiness, his strength, and his toys. He is a combo superhero, a veritable Swiss army knife of a warrior. However, he is also the most frustrating of superheroes at the same time because his tool belt and his strength is so unevenly applied to the reality that is dictated by the cartoon (or movie) itself. Now I realize that by entering into this discussion there will be superhero people that will ask me to define which Spiderman that I am referring to. To this I would respond by saying that you may be wearing your replica Spiderman tights/PJ’s a little too tight.
Here is the issue as it relates to Spiderman, why is it that he is vulnerable to one supervillian one episode, and almost immortal when it comes to another? Don’t worry, I will turn this around to address more serious issues in the third (or fourth) paragraph, but for now I need to rant about the uneven power distribution that exists in the comic book world. Why has some other superhero not gotten a hold of the web formula? Or a better question, why has the web formula not been used to solve a whole slue of problems from innovative packaging and transport problems to special forces applications? It seems to me that Spiderman initially came up with the webbing solution as a scientific innovation, not a radioactive spider bite. Uh Oh, I just aggravated the pajama guy again I better move on to less sensitive topics.
As I watch these movies I am frustrated by the lack of consistency that exists in each movie(or comic)individually as well as the lack of consistency from one movie to the next. People, no matter how much they want to believe it, are shaped by what they are exposed to both passively and actively. If we spend much of our lives watching television, playing video games, or surfing the web we will be shaped by the overt and implied messages that are presented. So here is the implied message that I struggle with when it comes to superheroes:
Their power and tools seem to be decided by what the story presents. Think about the implications of that; they have whatever power is needed to make the story what it needs to be, not consistent power that would help us to be able to put a finger on what his or her true capabilities are. People, by implication, are being taught that the story will help them to decide what they are capable of, not their reality. If I am faced with an obstacle in my way, the reality of who I am will not be the determining factor that solves the predicament. Instead, I will look for something outside myself to give me something that I don’t have to solve a problem that I had not prepared for.
I will now change out of my Batman PJ’s and go to work.

The Grass is Always …. But is it?

I have been reading Michael Crichton’s last book lately, actually it was a manuscript that was found after his death, and it reminded me of something that has always bothered me. But I will come back to that.
In a previous life I was a history teacher, actually that is what my undergraduate degree trained me for and so that is what I did. My faith was developing right along side my knowledge of history which was a real shocker for me when my Sophomore Western Civilization Professor decided to go on an anti-resurrection kick. But for the most part this was a good experience, especially when I ran into those Evangelical Christians that would try to sway me and others into thinking that these are the end times. As a Christian I know that being with God is going to be great, and I know that heaven will be a wonderful place. However, I actually do enjoy life here on this earth and love to experience the wonderful variety and beauty in God’s creation.
This last week as seen a great deal of tectonic movement, which some people in the Seattle area perceive to be a little troubling since everyone thinks that we are one earthquake or Rainier explosion from being an archeological dig. And again we have the same group of Christians thinking (and some hoping) that this is the end of times.
Here is my take as someone that has read a little history (I emphasize “a little” for those of you that actually still teach the stuff). These are not the worst of times. First off, from a simple Biblical perspective we will not know when it is coming. Speaking of the Bible, did you know that Christians have been trying to convince others of the end times since the first Easter. There is actually a book in the Bible in which Paul talks the Thessalonian people off the proverbial ledge because they thought that they would not see their friends and family die before Jesus came back. It was not even the end of the first century yet!
So back to the Michael Crichton book, that man does not leave of the grossest of details. Sometimes I wonder if he relished the thought of his readers experiencing the accounts of peoples faces getting chewed up by rats. We tend to romanticize the past and apocalyze (Spell check has just informed me that I made up that word) the present don’t we? How many times have we thought about the old west or the swashbuckling Caribbean with rose colored glasses. I was asked by my students this week why Jesus had to be crucified? They wanted to know why that method was necessary. I said that it was both painful and public, and the Roman’s loved both.
The times before now were not that great by comparison. The Roman empire was ruled by terror, the wild west was a brutal and unforgiving place, the dark ages saw millions of people die before their 20’s because of a variety of diseases (not just the plague). Up until the late 20th century infant mortality was fairly common and now it is considered an exception. And something that is commonly kept out of that discussion with Christians is that Christianity is spreading faster throughout the world right now than any time in history. Its stagnating in the western world so it doesn’t seem so, but it is.
I know that I don’t talk about faith issues as much as some would like me to in this blog (actually I have not talked at all on this blog in a while) but this issue has been brought out into the public in weird ways over the years. As a Christian I love the thought of Jesus coming back and renewing all this, putting evil to death. The disasters that seem to sometimes define the times that we live in are horrible. But the amazing things that we have seen in our lifetime, the tremendous good that the news seems to ignore should also define them as well.

A Blog Post With Mood Swings

I cannot emphasize this enough, one incident is not cause for policy.  Even several incidents highly publicized is not cause for policy.

I will not go into the problems with social media, and this is a huge one, but I would like to talk about the nature of decision making.  So I was watching the Seahawks vs. Vikings football game the other day and I realized after I stopped jumping up and down with my hands in the air that the kicker will only be remembered as the man that lost the game for his team. I have friends that are Vikings fan, I want you all to know that this is not my attempt to indict a team indict a team or a fan base.  This would happen with any team and any fan base.

Here is the how it played out, and I will simplify for those that are unfamiliar with American football (I DID go international at one point).  The kicker scored all the points for the team all day long because the rest of the team could not.  Then he missed the last one, which truthfully was the easiest of the day.  Now the moment speaks to the failure of the kicker, the game speaks to the failure of the team.  I wonder if the kicker will be fired for the one kick, I know there are some fans that he should.  But will it be a decision-maker for the team.

Now let me get a little more social-political.  The other day someone on some random college campus in the United States was offended by some random comment made by some random person who did not realize how their comment would be construed.  I will not make a judgment on whether the comment was inappropriate or not, that is many times subjective.  The comment could have been blatantly offensive or merely offensive to highly sensitive people.  The question is whether or not we need to legislatively respond to it?

Or let’s say that that someone has a car accident on a lonely highway in which a guardrail has not been put up in the place where the person went off the road.  All due respect to the person who died, but just because someone was injured or died does not mean that a guardrail needs to go up.  A guardrail would need to go up when someone studies the location and uses good data to make an informed decision regardless of public appeal.  Or maybe I am crazy.

I hesitate to continue in this direction because I can think of a couple of accidents that have happened to people that I know in which this something very similar occurred.  The question has to be asked “Does one incident constitute corrective action?”  And secondarily, if people are so passionate about corrective action; is it because corrective action is necessary or is it because they need to make sense out of what happened?  Many times people try to bring closure or a sense of fairness or feel that their pain needs to profit in some way for the good.

I can see that I have transitioned from a football game to a traffic fatality which may seem a little uneven.  But this is the point, isolated emotional responses too often have been the basis on-going policy.  I see two problems with this, one is political and one is personal.  First the political or more correctly the legislative; making policy.  A world that creates policy because of small clusters of emotion responses is a world that will stop….

There is no way to possibly make everyone happy, and quite frankly people’s emotional responses (mine being the worst) are not the best gauges of good decisions.  We cannot be afraid to hear peoples emotional responses and tell people that we hear them and we are sorry that it happened.  Somehow the political machine, through a combination of guilt and public relations, has decided that a there needs to be a response, when in fact there just needs to be people to listen, to sympathize.  That leads me to the personal.

When people are going through a painful time because of an incident in their lives our response should not be “how can I make this better?”  Our response should be “How can I help?”  Usually the best you can do is to be there, to listen, to cry with them, to hug them.  But it is not normally a healthy response for the hurting person or for the person that is trying to help them through it to immediately try to find a way to make it right, or to make it mean something.  The world is broken, the people that I know that have made it through the struggles in their lives with the best outlook, are the ones that have had people in their lives that did not try to distract them from mourning with promises of justice.

Sometimes an emotional response can be a spark plug to show something that is going on that needs to be investigated.  Emotions are not the opposite of rational thought and should not be ignored, stuffed or belittled.  They are the gut level response to the things that happen to us and are usually a very honest response.  However, they should not be the final say in good decision-making, merely one of it’s informants.

 

Value

Being a student of culture, theology, church, and life I have often come back to the word “value”.  Not in the sense of “value-meal” or “is this blow dryer a good value?”  Instead I mean what someone or something is worth, and more importantly where they acquire that worth from.

Lately I have found that there are many that find their value in the culture that they identify with.  I know that this flies in the face of some that believe in being sensitive to all cultures so I will say this with as much even-handedness as I can: No culture has the ability to ascribe true value, only perceived value.

This sounds like a naive statement to some I am sure, but consider this: culture, like humans and like the very ground that we stand on are created things.  Unlike humans and the ground that we stand on however culture is man-made.  Deeply ingrained, ethnically informed, geographically shaped, and most times arrived at honestly and without intended malice, but still man-made.  That statement to many might seem ignorant too, but I assure you that I have not arrived at that conclusion based on ignorance but a preponderance of evidence.

Instead of stepping on ethnic or sexual landmines that I could step on accidentally or on purpose I will use the church as my case study for this particular foray into cultural awareness according to Bart.  The church over the centuries has developed many cultures.  Some of these cultures are based on liturgies, some on programs, some on pet theologies, some on specific moral behaviors, some on buildings, some on particular heroes of the faith (many people refer to these people wrongly as “Saints”).  To some that have followed these cultures the culture itself has actually served to distract from what was to be the actual purpose of the church in the first place and that is The Glory of God.  Let me state that differently so that the point is not missed; the church has many times supported cultures that actually distract from our very purpose as Jesus followers.

This is actually what I consider to be the heart of my life’s purpose, to show people that The Glory of God is even greater than the treatment that it is given by the very people that are supposed to be displaying it.  People, myself being the worst, will always fail to fully show The Glory of God.

So now I come full circle back to culture and value.  To the extent that I find my true worth or value from the culture that I identify with I will be detracting from where my true value comes from.  This is the heart of the issue for many that disagree with the values that God upholds.  If the culture that I support conflicts with God then I will always lean on the source of my value, and for many that is their culture and not God.  I cannot expect people to behave as I would if they find their value from another source than I do.  This by the way is not a statement to diminish the value of culture.  The varieties of cultures that are displayed throughout the world can in many ways display The Glory of God in so far as that culture and/or its practices are not counter to God.

The real frustration for me is to see a person that so desires to find their value in God, but is still sold out to the culture that defines them.  One of the joys in my life is when I stopped trying to fit my beliefs into who God truly is and who I truly am, and started to truly accept what God says about himself and about me.  It flies in the face of our rugged independence to say that there is freedom in submission, but that is the scandalous gospel.  And the truth is that no matter how much we hate to admit it, we are submitting to a culture that we have used to define ourselves for most of our lives.

Value is found most correctly from the source of an objects existence.  While I have an smart phone in my pocket, I don’t understand the true value of it, only what it does for me.  The one that knows the true value of it is the one who designed it and knows what a masterful stroke of innovation it truly is.

It Told Myself I Wouldn’t Do It

I have been most aggravated over the last few day because of the rhetoric by people in regards to the Syrian Crisis.  To be honest my aggravation has been leveled at all sides of the issue.  I know a few things about blogs metrics that makes me believe that the three people that read this will probably not agree with me.  I also know that with the legion of articles, blogs, memes, Facebook posts, tweets, etc.  this particular voice will most likely be lost.  And like I said in the title I told myself I wouldn’t enter my voice into the fray because it would be part of the white noise.  But one thing keeps bugging me to the point that I needed to get it off my chest.  So here it goes.

What I am about to say is not going to land (hopefully) politically on one side of the debate on what we should do about Syria, its refugees, or the other issues surrounding this crisis.  Those of you that know me will probably get my political views while dealing with one of my coffee infused rants, but I wish to keep my views on politics out of this to address the Kingdom of Jesus and the Kingdom of this world.  If you asked me to take in a refugee family from Syria I would (upon discussing it with my wife of course), and if you told me that the U.S. government decided to not allow it, I would also acquiesce.  You may ask yourself how I could possibly live in the tension of both of those ideas when all parties right now seem to be making this a political or moral issue.  I would say that what I expect from a government is different than I would expect from an individual.  What I would expect from someone that follows Jesus is different than what I would expect from someone that does not.  The decision that I would expect a Jesus follower to make for an entire country is actually going to conflict many times with a decision that they would make for their own family.

Why?  Because government was never set up to behave the way an individual would.  And by the way, God warned us of this in the Bible (1 Samuel).  And in case you all think that we should disregard the Old Testament in light of Jesus, Jesus also made a clear statement about this (give unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s).  Jesus also made it clear throughout his ministry that our hope was in Christ and not on the structures of this world.  I desire that government will make moral decisions that will lead others to Jesus, but I don’t put my hope there.

In another life I was a government teacher.  The first question that I would ask at the Christian School that I taught at was “what is the fatal flaw of democracy?”  A question that calls into question my allegiance to America I know.  After the kids would work through their struggles with what they knew and what their parents had instilled in them I would say “the fatal flaw with democracy is that if the people are not seeking God, or at the very least moral, then the government will not do likewise.”  I believe that democracy is a great buffer to one person making all of the decisions that is not seeking God or is immoral.  Democracy makes this issue about what I would do as an individual versus what I would expect of my government a fuzzy one because we are supposed to be the government.  I get to bring my viewpoint and my vote to bear on issues and policy (and I do), but ultimately the greater good of the people as a whole hopefully will be served well by the majority decision.  I know that is not always the case, but I am speaking about the ideal.

Ethically and practically speaking government is supposed to behave in a more utilitarian way, the best for the greatest number of people.  However, a Jesus follower is supposed to work in a kingdom way, which means that we will seek God and hopefully become like Jesus and help others do the same.  That, by the way, is not always utilitarian.  Here is a mind blower, Following Jesus might not look anything like the most practical way to run a government.  Selling out to Jesus will, and already has in many cases, not turned out well for people.  This is true in the United States and around the world (to much more dire consequences).

Please, Jesus following brothers and sisters, lets not lose track of the fact that both sides of the Syria issue are trying the best they can to interpret the best course of action according to what Jesus would do.  I hope and pray that all Jesus followers and all people really would be the kind of people that would welcome the alien as God would have us do.  But I also know that the Bible makes it clear that governments many times have to make decisions that a Jesus follower, or just a merciful person, would not make for the greater good.  Demonizing people on either side of this allows us to be leveraged for political purposes and does not allow is to make the best decision.