Friday, June 19, 2015

The Faith of Abraham

I don't feel like I have a lot of faith. I can't walk on water. I haven't moved any mountains. And I have no confidence that if I pray for someone that they will be healed. I have not sold all of my possessions and given to the poor. In fact, I have even stored up treasure in a 401k. I constantly feel chastised by Jesus words, 'Oh,  you of little faith!'

One pastor I had defined faith as R-I-S-K, risk. But I really don't think that all risk taking is faith. Plenty of it is just presumption and foolhardy. Many people equate faith with belief and use the two words interchangably. And while I agree that probably it's not likely to have faith without a belief in something, a hope in the unseen as the apostle Paul would put it, faith seems to be more than some mental assent to dogma. The apostle James argues that faith without works is dead. Faith seems to some how change the way we behave.

The great exemplar of faith in the bible is Abraham. In faith, Abram leaves his family and goes to an unknown country. If we read closely between the lines, we find that Abram is a disenfranchised priest. He knows how to pray. He knows how to make sacrifices. But he has no temple, not even a shrine devoted to his deity. In a landscape of city/states where the ruler is also high priest, Abram's family are wandering on their way to Caanan. They have most likely lost their land, temple, and people in the competition of expanding city/states. On top of this insult, Abram doesn't have any children; no one to carry on the family tradition, heritage, or the family name.

In Haran where his family settles, Abram is a foreigner in a place where no one knows or respects his God. No one wants Abram to offer sacrifices to his God on their behalf. And why would they? Abram's God did not seem so strong. He had not kept Abram from losing his land, his temple, or his people. He had not blessed Abram with children, so Abram's masculinity on par with an eunuch, but without the protection of an overlord. Abram's status was not much better than the slaves who kept his sheep. In a time when your guilt or innocence was determined by your material blessings, Abram appeared rather guilty indeed. Abram appeared to be a low life has been, not a person you would likely want representing you to a deity of any kind.

I read a commentator that suggested that the book of Job is considered one of the oldest in the Bible. So maybe Abram is familiar with Job's story. Maybe it's Job's story that gives him hope that in spite of his troubles God will still remember him. Maybe the story of Job inspires this idea that his God of peace and justice loved him and wanted to bless him. That if he kept worshipping this God, his God would give him an inheritance bigger than anything his family had lost, that his God would make him into a nation bigger than any other.

Maybe all the hardship Abram had been going through was just a test of his faithfulness? God had spared his life. Would he wallow in self pity like Job, blaming God for all his troubles, or would he be God's faithful priest to the end? If his God really was the Most High God, the one true God, then wouldn't he eventually cause all people to worship him? If he was faithful to God, wouldn't God eventually be faithful to him? Faithful to the one true God meant that Abram could only be priest to the Most High God. Abram couldn't compromise by working to make ends meet with doing priestly duty for people to their gods like other members of his family did. He needed to get away. He didn't know where he was going, but just maybe he'd try going on to Caanan.

So by faith Abram left his father's family and traveled to an unknown country taking with him his wife and half sister Sarai, his nephew Lot, Lot's family, and all the sheep and shepherds that belonged to the two of them. Because Abram believed God loved him, faith moved Abram one step at a time into the unknown.  Because Abram believed in that the faithfulness of God demands the faithfulness of his followers, faith moved Abram from being a nobody priest in the middle of a pantheon of religious ideologies to being a sole worshipper of the One True God in the loneliness of the desert.   Because of Abram believed in the character of God, faith moved Abram to wander the wilderness in a hand to mouth existence trying to provide food for his flocks. Because Abram believed God had given him a vision of the future, faith moved Abram to make a covenant with his God. Because Abram believed God can do anything, faith moved Abram to keep having sex with his wife. Because Abram believed God is faithful to keep his promises, faith made Abram to change his name to Abraham and his wife's name to Sarah. Because Abraham believed God was the giver of life, faith moved Abraham to offer Issac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah.

So when God calls me to live a life of faith like Abraham, he's calling me to let my belief that he loves me lead me into the unknown. He's calling me to isolate myself from competing ideologies that tell me I'm a nobody, that undermine the message of peace and the justice of God. Living a life of faith like Abraham means I don't have to grasp for what I don't have. It means I can live in the desert and the rocky mountains instead of the rich plains because I trust God is going to take care of what I need. When God calls me to live a life of faith like Abraham, he's calling me to faithfully love the relationships he has given me, even though I'm not seeing any benefit. Faith like Abraham means identifying with the future promise rather than the current reality. Faith like Abraham means giving up control because I believe God can restore new life.

Putting one foot in front of the other some how doesn't feel as challenging as moving mountains. Continuing to have sex with your wife some how doesn't feel as audacious as walking on water. In fact, the faithfulness of Abraham seems to have a rather humble mundaneness to it. There is no glamour in living in a tent in a rocky mountainous countryside where there is meagre pickings for your livelihood. Changing your name from High Father, the reality of priest that you are, to Father of Many, the promise of what you hope to become, seems to invite ridicule -as if your life does not have enough things to make fun of. But such acts of faith have opened the door to miracles that have changed the course of history. There are very few people today who don't know something of the man who let his belief in the Most High God change the way he lived. There are very few people today that aren't in some way affected by the faith of Abraham and the God who kept his promises.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Meditating on meditation

Spiritual stillness is like a swamp
where the river of life slows down
and lets the hard things that knock us around
in the turbulent flow sink to the bottom,
filling the bottom and enlarging the swamp's capacity.

The foolish flotsam rises to the surface
only to be snagged by a limb of truth
protruding out of our lives
from the sunken mire below.

When the splish and splash, the whish and the dash
no longer ripple, we can hear
the hum and song of life rising
and coursing across the surface;
the bird, the frog, the damsel fly;
the saint, the psalm, the tender prayer.

Reeds bar entry to those who would disturb
the feast set on scattered plates of greenery
and explosions of color bursting forth from the deep
except to those thin muscles waving thoughtful reflections
as they meander in and out
consuming both bug and botany.

In the quiet waters, life abundantly grows out of that
which flows pure refreshment for the soul.

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 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.