Friday, June 6, 2014

An Elephant in the Room!

Thanks to OMAC for the great pic!

This week I've been thinking about truth and lies and in particular what makes a lie, a lie? I'm not as concerned with whether or not it's appropriate or moral to lie, or whether a lie is wrong or right, although those are good questions to ask. I'm pondering about the nature of lies and how to define them.

Truth has consistency. Truth is an accurate description or definition. A statement that is false is one that fails one of these two criteria. 'An elephant is a small, fuzzy animal with tiny ears' is a statement that is false, an obvious lie. It is a description that does not match our knowledge of a kind of animal we have named 'elephant'. While the entire statement is false, each element in the statement is true. There is nothing inconsistent with any one of the qualifiers in themselves, but together they don't match our definition of an elephant.

In fact without true qualifiers we wouldn't be able to define falsehood. A false word is one that has no definition. It doesn't truly exist. If we use a false word in an otherwise true statement, the statement does not become false. As an example, “fifuba” is an imaginary word. Saying 'an elephant is a fifuba animal' would not make the sentence false. Such a statement actually gives definition to 'fifuba' imparting some shared qualities that an elephant has to the word 'fifuba', making 'fifuba' a true word and by implication 'an elephant is a fifuba animal' also true.

However, a true statement may actually be a lie. If we changed our original statement to 'Elephant is a small, fuzzy animal with tiny ears', it could be an entirely true statement if 'Elephant' was the name of a specific small, fuzzy animal with tiny ears; an animal such as a pet mole. But then we would wonder why the writer would continue to use the ambiguous term 'animal' instead of clarifying the potential confusion by changing 'animal' to 'mole'. This statement is completely true, but it could still be a lie because it could be said in such a way as to be misleading. If said to a person who does not know what an elephant looks like, it would be mislead the audience into thinking that an elephant is defined as a small, fuzzy animal with tiny ears rather that a small, fuzzy animal with tiny ears was named Elephant. Without further clarification the true statement becomes a lie. In fact it is misleading whether or not the speaker intends to be misleading. What constitutes a lie is whether the audience has falsely defined terms regardless of the intention of the source of information.

What creates the deception is partial knowledge. The audience doesn't know the definition of elephant, doesn't know that the subject is the name for a specific animal rather than a name of a kind of animal, and doesn't know that the word animal can be narrowed down to a specific kind of animal called a mole. The partial knowledge doesn't change the truth of the statement, but does make the true statement into a lie for the audience because the audience's understanding conflicts with (and possibly prevents) a more complete knowledge of elephants and moles.

None of us have complete knowledge. We all are in various stages of partial knowledge about any given thing. But that doesn't mean that we are necessarily believing lies. When we first learn about elephants we probably see a picture that shows a large, nearly hairless animal with big ears and long trunk and somebody tells us that that is an elephant. Our knowledge of elephants is limited to what we can observe from a lifeless picture. It's true knowledge in so far as it goes, but what an elephant is is much more than the picture can convey. When we are taken to the zoo or circus and can watch the elephant move around, interact with other animals or his or her keeper, and hear the elephant communicating, then our knowledge of an elephant improves and we have a truer understanding of elephantness.

If we become an elephant veterinarian such that we understand what makes an elephant sick, or how to help an elephant give birth, then we have a fairly in depth knowledge of elephantness in a general statistical kind of way. As an elephant veterinarian we would know where to find the heart, liver, or kidneys. We could look at the size, the teeth, toes, and tusks and know with a high degree of certainty how old the elephant was. We could examine the eyes, skin, tongue, and excrement and figure out how healthy the elephant was.

We could become an elephant historian and learn about elephants throughout time starting from when elephants became distinct from their mammoth cousins to present day struggles to keep them from going extinct. We could learn the history of man/elephant interaction, when and where elephants were domesticated and the kinds of work they did for their human caretakers. We could learn all the stories, songs, and ways that elephants have been incorporated into our culture. But until we became a trainer of a specific elephant, spending day in and day out with the animal our knowledge would remain broad and sweeping and might not be relevant to the specific elephant.

As a veterinarian, it would be no use to know the proper medicine to heal an elephant if you couldn't get the specific sick elephant to take his or her medicine. As an elephant historian, it would be of no use to know that hundreds of other elephants have carried massive logs, if it's not possible to get a specific elephant to do the same. Knowing an elephant is knowing the likes and dislikes, fears and desires, moods and movements that encompass who the animal is beyond superficial knowledge of the elephant's body or history. As a trainer we could know a specific elephant, but elephant personalities vary from elephant to elephant making it impossible for one person to completely know elephantness in all it's true expression for what is true for one elephant is not necessarily true for another.

A veterinarian might not know the history of the elephant the same as the historian. Nor the historian understand the biology and physiology of the elephant the same as the veterinarian. Each has a true understanding of elephantness to the limits of their discipline, but neither could claim a complete understanding of elephantness. Neither would be lying if they explained elephantness as they understood it, but if they presented their knowledge as the complete knowledge of elephantness, they would be considered liars. If the veterinarian, historian, or trainer were to tell a young child that the picture was an elephant, they would be telling the child the truth, even though it would only be a partial truth. The fact that they did not explain elephant physiology, history, or personalities to the child would not discount the truthfulness of the partial knowledge; the child could not absorb more knowledge than they were given. However, if the veterinarian, historian, or trainer limited the child's future acquisition of knowledge about elephants to the picture, we would consider their behavior deceptive, particularly if that knowledge would have benefited the child in some way or kept the child from making ill-informed assumptions about elephants.

The claims we make about knowledge and how we communicate knowledge transform knowledge into lies. These lies, intentional or not, are sourced in how the audience perceives the information given. It is important for those in the business of proclaiming the Truth to understand how their audience is processing the information that's being given otherwise they could be undermining their own credulity. It is also important to have humility to recognize other contributions of truth and one's personal scope of understanding, otherwise what was intended to enlighten may end up being deceitful.






Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Garlic Mustard Pesto Pasta


Garlic Mustard, photo by Bettan
Garlic mustard is an invasive weed in Chicago land area and my yard is no exception. While its tiny clusters of white flowers on foot high stalks are a beautiful addition to any flower garden, I am fearful that it will take over as it has done in so many wild places. It spreads quickly in shady conditions and has such minuscule seeds that within a few years it can dominate a forested area. So every year about this time I am diligent about pulling any and all that I can before it's blooms turn into seeds. Fortunately, the roots of young plants do not penetrate very deeply so it is relatively easy to pull out.

Like many non-native plants, garlic mustard is edible. Deliciously edible. In the early spring when it is flowering -or just before- the pungent flavors have not been overpowered by the bitters. The name describes it's taste to some degree, although the garlic flavor does not dominate. As I collect the garlic mustard I've pulled, I keep all the roots together and underneath so that the leaves don't get sprinkled with dirt. Then I snip or pull off the leaves and wash them in a bowl of cold water. In addition to washing off the dirt, the water prevents the leaves from wilting.

While most cookbooks are geared towards foods you can easily buy in the grocery store, there are some recipes available through searching the internet or in specialty books. Some times it is possible to substitute a wild ingredient for a domesticated ingredient. If your family likes mustard greens then they might be just as happy with a substitution of garlic mustard greens. Garlic mustard's pungent taste would do well in a curry. In my search,I discovered a recipe I like very much because it uses lots of garlic mustard, the other ingredients are not that expensive, and it uses pasta which is often tasty winner with kids. It's called Pesto Petiolata or I like to call it Garlic mustard Pesto Pasta.

In a blender combine:

3/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
2 Tbs walnuts or pinenuts
1/4 tsp salt

When the nuts are pureed, slowly add leaves:

2 cups packed garlic mustard leaves
2 cups packed basil leaves

If serving right away, add:
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

This is enough pesto to flavor pound or more of rotini. I like using rotini because then the pesto can get embedded between all the curls and make it more flavorful. Because I'm allergic to dairy, I substitute a soy parmesan. It works, but it's not quite as good as the dairy version.

Introducing my family to eating “weeds” has been challenging. I've had to deal with a lot of fears and prejudices. On top of the normal trepidation of eating new foods and acclimating to new flavors, comes a prejudice against eating anything that is not sold in the grocery store. Our multicultural community has expanded the diversity of the fruits and vegetables offered in the store, but it is still limited to what can be industrially grown and shipped. There are lots of domesticated fruits and vegetables that either don't have widespread demand, or don't ship well, or are not conducive industrial agricultural methods that are good to eat. Many urban dwellers have been so conditioned by what they are served in restaurants or what they find in the grocery store that they don't realize that there is a cornucopia of food available outside that box. In fact I find it really sad that many urban dwellers refuse to eat the diversity of fruits and vegetables available to them within the grocery store box.

There is some justification for my family's fears and prejudices of eating unfamiliar plants. Some plants are poisonous. In fact a lot of houseplants are poisonous. We tell our children not to eat plants, berries, and seeds they find outside. Deadly nightshade is a common weed that has colorful berries that attract children. The name “weed” is often said with a tone of disgust which warns anyone to be wary of a plant with that label. However, many “weeds” are non-native plants which grow prolifically because there are no predators to keep population in check. They are often plants that were useful to European pioneers for their medicinal or flavor qualities, and so liked the conditions here that they quickly escaped their garden confines.

Fortunately, there are wonderful resources available that can help a curious person identify safe wild food. In fact evolution has perfected our abilities to distinguish different characteristics such that even from drawings, descriptions, and photographs most people should be able to identify different plants. This is great news for those of us who want to take advantage of these nutrient rich foods and diversify our palettes. According to John Kallas in Edible Wild Plants, garlic mustard is an excellent source of vitamin A, B-carotene, vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, and Manganese with substantial amounts of Omega 3 and copper. And this does not even account for all the wonderful phytochemicals that science is just beginning to explore how our bodies benefits from.

If you have more garlic mustard than you want to eat as a pesto pasta, you can preserve the pesto made without cheese in the freezer. Fill an ice cube tray with extra pesto and store the green cube in a zip lock bag. Each cube is about two tablespoons. I figure about one cube per one cup serving of cooked pasta. Use a couple of teaspoons of parmesan per cube of pesto. Garlic mustard pesto pasta can be a great addition to a summer meal when it is too hot to cook much.



Friday, January 10, 2014

Finding God's Love in the Old Testament

The following are most of Old Testament verses that specifically state the God loves someone(s) or something selected primarily from the King James Version. I think I may have left out one or two Deuteronomic verses which were identical but separated by a chapter or two. The Song of Solomon was kind of complicated because of its allegorical nature and I may have accidentally skipped over a reference which should be included. Occasionally I switched to the NIV to make the passage clearer to the reader. I also included other verses so as to give a better context for the love statements.

I chose not to search for love verses from other versions in order to simplify my search procedure. Other versions would substitute the word love in places where the KJV describes someone having sex or where the KJV might use the word mercy instead. While love might be implied from the context, I wanted to be as close to the literal as possible. Since I am unfamiliar with Hebrew I couldn't search using the original language. I felt like the KJV would reflect a fairly close the phrase comparison and would be acceptable to most readers. The parenthetical letters in the NIV translation come from Bible Gateway's cross referencing.

Deuteronomy 4:36-38
King James Version (KJV)

36 Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.
37 And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;
38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.


Deuteronomy 7:6-10
King James Version (KJV)

6 For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.
7 The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:
8 But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
9 Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
10 And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19
King James Version (KJV)

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:
18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

2 Samuel 12:24-25
New International Version (NIV)

24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba,(AN) and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon.(AO) The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.[c](AP)

Psalm 11
New International Version (NIV)
For the director of music. Of David.
1 In the Lord I take refuge.(A)
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee(B) like a bird to your mountain.(C)
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;(D)
    they set their arrows(E) against the strings
to shoot from the shadows(F)
    at the upright in heart.(G)
3 When the foundations(H) are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;(I)
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.(J)
He observes everyone on earth;(K)
    his eyes examine(L) them.
5 The Lord examines the righteous,(M)
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.(N)
6 On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;(O)
    a scorching wind(P) will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous,(Q)
    he loves justice;(R)
    the upright(S) will see his face.(T)

Psalm 33
New International Version (NIV)

1 Sing joyfully(A) to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting(B) for the upright(C) to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;(D)
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.(E)
3 Sing to him a new song;(F)
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.(G)
4 For the word of the Lord is right(H) and true;(I)
    he is faithful(J) in all he does.
5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;(K)
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.(L)
6 By the word(M) of the Lord the heavens were made,(N)
    their starry host(O) by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters(P) of the sea into jars[a];(Q)
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;(R)
    let all the people of the world(S) revere him.(T)
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded,(U) and it stood firm.
10 The Lord foils(V) the plans(W) of the nations;(X)
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm(Y) forever,
    the purposes(Z) of his heart through all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,(AA)
    the people he chose(AB) for his inheritance.(AC)
13 From heaven the Lord looks down(AD)
    and sees all mankind;(AE)
14 from his dwelling place(AF) he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms(AG) the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.(AH)
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;(AI)
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse(AJ) is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes(AK) of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,(AL)
19 to deliver them from death(AM)
    and keep them alive in famine.(AN)
20 We wait(AO) in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,(AP)
    for we trust in his holy name.(AQ)
22 May your unfailing love(AR) be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 146
New International Version (NIV)

1 Praise the Lord.[a]
Praise the Lord,(A) my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;(B)
    I will sing praise(C) to my God as long as I live.(D)
3 Do not put your trust in princes,(E)
    in human beings,(F) who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;(G)
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.(H)
5 Blessed are those(I) whose help(J) is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven(K) and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful(L) forever.
7 He upholds(M) the cause of the oppressed(N)
    and gives food to the hungry.(O)
The Lord sets prisoners free,(P)
8     the Lord gives sight(Q) to the blind,(R)
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,(S)
    the Lord loves the righteous.(T)
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner(U)
    and sustains the fatherless(V) and the widow,(W)
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns(X) forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

Proverbs 3:11-13
King James Version (KJV)

11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.

Proverbs 8:17
King James Version (KJV)

17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

Proverbs 15:9
New International Version (NIV)

9 The Lord detests the way of the wicked,(A)
    but he loves those who pursue righteousness.(B)

Song of Solomon 2:4
King James Version (KJV)

4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

Isaiah 38:16-18
King James Version (KJV)

16 O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.
17 Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.
18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

Isaiah 43:4
New International Version (NIV)

4 Since you are precious and honored(A) in my sight,
    and because I love(B) you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.

Isaiah 63:8-9
New International Version (NIV)

8 He said, “Surely they are my people,(U)
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.(V)
9 In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel(W) of his presence(X) saved them.[a]
In his love and mercy he redeemed(Y) them;
    he lifted them up and carried(Z) them
    all the days of old.(AA)

Jeremiah 31:3
King James Version (KJV)

3 The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

Hosea 11:1
King James Version (KJV)

11 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

Hosea 14:4-7
King James Version (KJV)

4 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
6 His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
7 They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.

Zephaniah 3:17
King James Version (KJV)

17 The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Malachi 1:2-3
King James Version (KJV)

2 I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob,
3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Struggling to Walk When Things Aren't Right


My friend wrote a post Longing for Things to be Made Right and it inspired thoughts in the middle of the night that I've been mulling around for long and short times. Below is the beginning of her post and then my refined comments.

Thankful for picture from Human Resource Leaders
"For the past month, I've found myself saying these words more and more often.

It's been 285 days since we've had measurable snowfall in Chicago. It's not right.

It's getting harder and harder to find foods in the form in which God made them. It's not right.

Two of my good friends are struggling under the weight of chronic illness which, among other sadnesses, compromises their ability to care for their children.  It's not right.

A little boy, less than six months old, has a near brush with death because of a brain tumor. It's not right.

Twenty children die in an elementary school shooting. It's not right.

The world is broken. Creation is unraveling. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Repay evil with evil or overcome evil with good? Seek vengeance or forgiveness? Doubt everything and everyone or trust? Come to terms with what is or seek change? Preserve and protect or let go? Save or give? Despair or hope? These are the tensions that we live into every day. Since the dawn of time, human hearts have been conflicted.

Recently, my kids are getting to the age when they're asking the perennial questions of evil. "God can control the weather, so why doesn't He stop hurricanes? Why doesn't God wipe out the mosquitoes that cause malaria? Ordinary mosquitoes are bad enough! Why do we have to get the flu? Why do people shoot each other?" Different clothes on the same question body... "Why are things so broken?" It's not right.

And my heart aches... because it's true. Things are so broken. The world is not the way it's supposed to be. It's not right....."

The author goes on to talk about people's sinful choices and God's good news. I agree that people make sinful choices that leads to a lot of the problems in the world, but I suspect that the story is a little bit deeper......so I commented:

I liked your post a lot. It sounds like you're having some good discussions with your boys. :) I like that they think deeply about things. I too wonder many of those same questions.

I wonder why did God make us so that we have to struggle to learn? Why does learning to walk mean we have to fall down? Why is it that we learn as much or more from our mistakes than our successes? Are some of the 'not right' things about our world simply because we as a human race are still learning to walk? I suspect that God is not nearly upset about our failures as we are. Like a parent holding a child's hand he knows that the growing process is hard, but has complete confidence that one day we'll 'get it'. That his sadness over our falleness is like a parent trying to comfort a child who lost his balance. Our problem in walking is not thwarting God's ability to take us where we need to go. He knows the way and is patient beyond all measure. And when we get too tired to walk any more, when we lose faith in taking another step, he just picks us up and carries us and we see his miraculous hand at work. But for the most part, God would prefer if we would keep trying to put one foot in front of the other even if it's 'not right' and we fall down.

I believe that much of the brokenness of creation is because we haven't yet learned how to be the image bearers of God. We need to discover the good that God put in each and every part of creation, including mosquitoes and malaria. (I had an idea about malaria bearing mosquitoes: maybe the mosquitoes are tiny vaccinators which haven't been given the right vaccine? Maybe it's our job to give the mosquitoes the vaccine(s)? It might be a preferable way to build up immunity than going to the Dr's office.)

I've been struggling with understanding what is 'right' and I've been comparing and contrasting John the Baptist and Jesus. Each had high praise of the other. Each were prophets. Each were filled with the Holy Spirit from before birth. Each were on a mission to usher in the Kingdom of God. Both preached repentance and changed behavior. Each were killed for their their beliefs, for standing up to the powers of their day. And yet they were so different...

John the Baptist lived a Nazarite vow. He abstained from anything impure to the point of avoiding eating food raised through injustice. Jesus, on the other hand, went where he was invited and ate what was set in front of him. While John's criticism of hypocrites was backed up by a holy life, Jesus criticism of hypocrites was backed up by a holy God that still wanted to connect with his sinful creation. Christ's righteousness was in his grace, therefore he was a friend of sinners and drunkards.

I can make rules for myself that could guide me in living a life that loved my neighbor as myself, but if I think more about the rules than the people for which the rules are made to respect then there will come situations where I am not truly loving my neighbor. I can make the rule that I should not burn fossil fuels because of how it endangers the lives of millions (or billions). But if my neighbor is having a heart attack and the quickest way to the hospital is to drive a fossil burning car and my neighbor dies because I chose a slower non fossil fueled alternative then I didn't really love my neighbor. If I don't love the neighbor who I can see, touch, interact with, then do I really love any of the persons endangered by climate change? Or am I only loving my view of my self?

The resurrection proves that grace is a deeper kind of justice; a deeper kind of right-eousness. Through grace what was wrong is made right: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the prisoner is set free. Grace picks us up. Sets us on our feet. Brushes the dirt off. Kisses the wound. And sets us on the path again. And again. And again.

We may be brilliant at logic, philosophy, or theology, but until we see ourselves as others see us, we will probably always come short of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We will probably always think that we know what is right, rather than depending on God to show us the need in our neighbor that we can love.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Once Upon a Planet


Once upon a time people believed the earth was flat; that you could sail to the edge of the sea and fall off. But scientists discovered the earth was round. Brave men like Christopher Columbus who believed the scientists ventured into the unknown and discovered a whole new world. Scientists have continued to learn how this world works and brave men have continued to venture into new territory that scientists have discovered. In 1961 and the years following some of these brave men ventured into orbit. For the first time humanity could see the truth that scientists had taught: the earth really was round.

Once upon a time people believed that only the gods controlled the forces of Nature. That if you wanted the sun to shine, the rain to fall, and the harvests to be plentiful you had to sacrifice to multiple deities. That the large bones in the rocks were those of giant humans, trolls, and dragons. As scientists dug down and began to uncover layer by layer, piece together bone to bone, they began to discover a time when the world was very different than what we see now. They discovered that the earth went through very warm times and very cold times. That biological development flourished and changed corresponding to cycles of warmth and cold. And that there were times of rapid change when many species went extinct. When the scientists looked closely at the evidence, they found instead of giants, trolls and dragons, six time periods of flourishing life, each period dominated by species of a more sophisticated biology, each time period ending in the mass extinctions of life and variety. Each time period except for the last flourishing, our time period.

Our time period has been one of learning how the world works. Scientists have applied reason and new tools to understanding the forces of Nature. They discovered how they could predict solar and lunar eclipses, sun spots, and that adding carbon dioxide from fossil fuels to the atmosphere would change how warm the planet was. They learned to harness the forces of electricity and magnetism and put them to work predicting the weather. And in 1961 scientists and astronauts over came the force of gravity and began exploring space, first with men on the moon, later with satellites in orbit and flung to the far reaches of the solar system.

Once upon a time people used to use the planets moving amongst the constellations to predict their future. Scientists in their quest to understand the natural forces and expand their knowledge of how the world works to how the universe works, ventured into the unknown with satellites and discovered that the round blue earth is most likely the sole oasis of life in the solar system. They discovered that the morning star, otherwise known as the planet Venus, was a carbon dioxide induced oven. They found that planet Mars, on the other hand, had a scarcity of carbon dioxide which led to large polar ice caps. Each planet or moon was either too warm or too cold for life as we know it. The guiding morning star that navigators used to use to chart their way to the new world now guided scientists to new realizations about the future of the earth. When scientists looked back at home they realized that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was critical to the thriving of life and that we were changing those levels quickly without thought of our future or the future of life on this planet.

For the first time in the history of life, life was witnessing the earth's climate changing. Scientists who studied the stars saw the same danger for earth as scientists who studied the rocks. Changing the carbon dioxide levels was changing the climate quickly from cool to warm; the same phenomena that caused multiple extinctions before. Scientists began to watch what happened in the fossil record play out in real time before their eyes.

For the first time in the history of life, life is forcing the climate to change. Humans are forcing extra carbon dioxide into the air by burning fossil fuels. With increasing carbon dioxide, weather is becoming more extreme. Times of extreme heat heat are becoming more frequent. The times between rain are becoming longer and less seasonable. When rain does fall, it comes in greater quantities. And the storms that bring the rain are becoming more violent. As the earth's average temperature increases, dry places are becoming more dry, wet places are becoming more wet, and frozen places are thawing. There is no precedent for how quickly humans are changing the climate.

While there is no precedent for how quickly humans are presently changing the climate, there is plenty of precedent for how humans have responded to the effects of past climate change. In our brief history on earth we have seen small variations in climate which have caused droughts and severe winters. These trends devastated crops and pasture lands upon which we have been so dependent. As a result there were mass migrations, increased conflict, starvation, and epidemics. Since the last climate variation the human population has expanded exponentially, our weapons have become more deadly, our borders more rigid, and our food distribution more inequitable. The potential for deadly conflict and suffering has multiplied.

Our vulnerability to climate change has increased as well. Large populations live in areas that potentially will be covered when ice from glaciers, Greenland, and Antarctica melt. We are reducing and polluting our water reservoirs both on the surface and underground that could help us manage long dry spells. We have destroyed many wetlands that are nurseries for sea life and protect in-land fields from tidal surges that come with the more frequent and intense storms.

Our food supply is vulnerable to climate change because we have applied industrial methods to such a degree that we have depleted the earth's ability to produce thus putting at risk that which we have worked so hard to provide. We have over fished the seas, over grazed our pastures, our soils have eroded away from our fields, our fertilizers have contaminated our water ways and have created dead zones in the sea, our herbicides and pesticides affect our own health while at the same time contributing to evolutionary processes that are creating super bugs and super weeds able to withstand our lethal soup. The vast expanses of a single crop are a highway of food to new chemically resistant plagues and pestilence. Even without climate change our food supply is vulnerable. With it, the potential for crop failure and suffering has multiplied to become a certainty.

At the heart of our forced climate change is our economic system. The economic system that sent explorers to the new world and men to the moon, is the same system that is burning fossil fuels and forcing our climate to change. The globalization that began in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue is the same globalization that creates large world wide monopolies; large monopolies which are inflexible to change and reduce citizens' options; large monopolies which control prices, wages, and politicians; large monopolies which cannot survive without tax advantages and subsidized fossil fuels.

At the heart of our economic system is a marketing engine that leaves us dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. We have been lead to believe that there is something better just over the horizon and in our drive to get to the promised land we leave behind a wake of destruction and debris. And because we do not value what we have, we risk falling off the edge of the world and loosing it all in a global catastrophe that threatens every life on this planet.

This earth is the promised land, an oasis of life light years from any other possibility. We have eaten from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and are witnessing our own fall. We have made ourselves into gods controlling the forces of nature. But we are gods full of pride and greed, bringing about our own self destruction. Our only hope is to humble ourselves before the Creator of the universe, the one eternal god who made everything and seek forgiveness. We must repent of our ingratitude and begin caring for all of his creation. We must use the good we have learned to build places of grace for every kind of creature; sanctuaries that are resilient to catastrophic climate change. We must return our planet to being an ark of life amongst the planets. We must open our arms wide to embrace the weakest members of society. Only then we will become resilient to Siren call of marketing that drives us to our destruction. And only in that embrace we will we find the love and forgiveness and healing our hearts seek. In that embrace we will become a whole people and whole planet.

If we have the courage to become humble and change, we will be embraced by our Creator. If our hearts become full of thankfulness and our hands become generous, we will become secure in the future uncertainty. And if we give grace, we will become a holy people in a Promised Land.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Entering into Forgiveness


Editor's Note: For Lent this year I made an interactive art project which helps the viewer engage in the forgiving process.  What follows are the instructions and visual of the art piece.

When someone hurts us, it is natural for us to want to retaliate. It is natural for us to want to hurt them back. When we retaliate, instead of only taking an “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” and satisfying justice, revenge escalates the injury of insults to an ever increasing cost of life. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) God encourages us to give him our desire for revenge so that he can exact his justice. On the cross Jesus opens his arms wide to receive the wrath we have for the sin others have done to us.

We are invited to place our wrath and desire for justice on Christ instead of the person who has offended him by throwing stones at the figure. The stones are provided because stoning was an Old Testament way the community exacted the justice of the death penalty (Dt 13:5, Dt 17:5) By throwing stones, we recognize how our desire for revenge ultimately leads to death. Notice how when the stone hits the figure it falls down rather than bouncing back. Through his death Jesus absorbs all our wrath. Instead of returning evil for evil, Jesus bears all sin in his body, allowing it to die with him and thus defeats evil.

Sometimes the sin in this world causes us to feel hurt and shame. We are invited to surrender our hurt and shame by taking a pin and a label and writing on the label our hurt or shame. Remove the label from the backing and wrap it around the pin to create a white flag of surrender or peace. Take the white flag and place it in the figure, remembering Isaiah 53: 5;
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
The punishment that we feel in the form of hurt and shame is now put upon Jesus through his being pierced. When we surrender our hurt and shame to Jesus, we can find healing and peace with God.



When we move to the other side of the cross, we place ourselves behind Christ in submission. When we look into the mirrors, we see ourselves with our all our faults and we remember how our faults have hurt others. But we also see in the cross a reflection of God's love. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12) In our mind's eye we can look through this 'window' of mirrors to the other side where we had previously given Jesus our anger, hurt, and shame. Now Jesus is holding open his arms to protect us from the revenge others would give us for how we have hurt them. Jesus is absorbing and healing the hurt and shame we have caused and cannot undo. We can enter into receiving God's forgiveness by remembering Jesus words “Father, forgive (our name), he/she knows not what they are doing.” Notice the light from heaven reflecting off of the cross and onto your body. When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, he is reflected onto and through you. You become like Jesus of whom the Father said, “This is my child in whom I am well pleased.”






Friday, February 10, 2012

The 1% and our Quality of Life


I believe that every person wants to live a healthy, happy, long life even if some people choose short term gains of happiness at the expense of their long term happiness and well being.  One of the important aspects of our individual health and happiness is our relationships; relationships with family, friends, and the society at large.  The government has an important role in mediating relationships.  It sanctions marriage, provides courts to resolve conflicts, and provides protections from threats.

I don't believe that our happiness is bound up in the wealth we have or don't have.  But I think there is a certain amount of angst we all feel when one person has more and won't share, or when most persons have some except a select few.  This is why it is considered impolite to eat in front of others without at least offering to share.

I recognize that for our economic engine to work there has to be an income differential, just like for a steam engine there has to be a temperature differential.  We have economic collapses when money stops flowing.  The steam engine stops turning if the water can't move through the engine.  And just like there isn't an endless supply of water for the engine, there isn't an endless supply of money.  Somehow the money needs to circle back around. If the money flows to the wealthy through the economic system then somehow that money needs get put back into the economic system at the lowest level.  If the money gets sequestered at the top then eventually the economic engine grinds to a halt. A failed economy hurts everyone in society not just the poor.
 
I watched a TED talk by Richard Wilkinson and I was very impressed with his data.  What he said about wealth on a national level seemed to echo what what I learned in Your Money or Your Life  that the law of diminishing returns also applies to acquiring money and growth of GDP.  There is a point at which getting more does not improve our lives or make us happier, but rather the opposite.

We need leaders in our society who will advance our standard of living, but we need to be careful that our leaders don't get too far ahead of the followers.  When a military platoon advances the front line, they stay close together.  If they spread out, they can be divided and defeated.  When a society experiences too much economic and social inequality, it becomes divided and defeated -either by external or internal forces.  We can build societal unity by making sure that our leaders are not advancing their own personal standards of living through the neglect of the followers' standard of living.  Or even worse, at the expense of the followers' standard of living.

Richard Wilkinson mentions in his TED talk how different societies have chosen different methods to solve societal inequality.  I like the idea that there is more than one way to skin a cat; that each economic solution is custom tailored to fit the people that live in that society.  The best clothes are always the ones that are made with the individual wearer in mind.  Where the wearer isn't trying to fit into someone else's idea of what is fashionable or into some industry predetermined average size. But where the clothes reflect the wearer's artistic expression melded seamlessly with the form and function of their work.

Your solution of "make[ing] sure the bottom rungs of the ladder to economic success are not missing" is an important step in preventing inequality from happening, but it doesn't necessarily create equality.  Considering how different we all are with our different amounts of intelligence, talent, and ability; considering how our society's values favor some talents over others, I don't see how solving broken rungs on the economic ladder will create a society that is more equal in any way, shape, or form.  I don't see how fixing the rungs of the economic ladder solves the problem of keeping money in the economic system circulating.

If we had a system that rewarded people based only on their productivity, then economic inequality would be a function of an individual's own laziness.  I agree that if someone chooses "not to earn, let the[y should] feel the effects of that neglect".  However, I have serious doubts that any economic system could be devised to reward people based on only their personal effort.  And the inability of real economic systems to be fair demands some sort of wealth redistribution in order to create a semblance of equality.

Maybe one of the reasons why God created a world in which it is impossible for us to earn equality is because he wants to teach us grace.  Grace gives regardless of whether or not a person deserves the gift. Even to the lazy and undeserving, Christ's body and blood are offered for us to eat and drink.  And regardless of our choices, God still sends rain and sunshine.  If God treats us this way, then shouldn't we treat others the same?  Regardless of how a person lived their life, I believe we should, both as individuals and as a society, avoid the extreme callousness that allows people to be abandoned in the street to die. For in the fate of the one, is the fate of the whole.

John Dunne says it eloquently in his poem "For whom the bell tolls":
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee. 
 
Society constitutes one body of humanity.  Money is the blood that our society needs to flowing through the whole body. An economic collapse where the money stops circulating is like a heart attack. If the blood stops flowing long enough the body dies. Stopping the circulation of money in certain economic region, is like a person who has a stroke. Where the blood stops flowing through a part of the brain, the brain dies. Even in small situations like when we stub our toe and get a bruise, the accumulation of blood that causes swelling hurts the whole body.  When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. 
The body can also suffer if it gets cancer. At first cancer is not noticeable. It's just a few cells which take control of the local blood supply, and grow uncontrollably. After a while they have multiplied and spread until normal body organs can no longer function properly and the whole body becomes sick.  Eventually, if nothing is done to prevent the cancer, the body will die. We can treat cancer by subjecting the whole body to lethal radiation or toxic chemicals. Or we can cut off the blood supply to the cancer.

Let's not confuse the growing poverty in this country as a cancer of poverty. But rather name the ballooning wealth of the 1% for the cancer that it is. Let's wake up to the fact that the 1% have not only taken control of the blood supply, but are effecting the various nervous centers of control in order to augment their own growth. The growth of the 1% has not only commandeered the blood supply and nervous centers of this country, but through globalization and military might, has dominated the world.  The 99% can live without the 1%, but the 1% cannot live without the 99%.  And if the 99% cannot through democratic means control the blood supply to the 1%, then we are left with other more lethal the dubious choices which may kill the body in the process of trying to cure it.

I have seen the compassion of the American people as they have face numerous challenges.  And I believe in that compassion. I believe that there is still hope for the democratic process.  I believe that as a country we still hold to our ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people and not just the 1%.  I believe that the society which freed the slaves and demanded civil rights, will also win economic rights for all people.  I believe that we will reject the bonds of debt tied to our striving for a higher standard of living, and instead choose a quality of life where health, happiness, and long life are free to anyone regardless of their bank accounts.