Is God Unknown Today?


Here are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday of Easter.

——————————————————————–

I cannot help but wonder how Paul would react in today’s world, especially in light of the first lesson for today (Acts 17: 22 – 31). Or rather, how would today’s society react?

For back then, as Paul spoke in Athens, he spoke of an idol dedicated to an unknown god. In a world where there was a god for just about everything, we have a utilitarian sort of god, one that covered everything that wasn’t already covered. Today, the problem isn’t that we need such a god but rather we don’t have this god. In fact, the God whom I personally call Father and who sent His Son so that I may have eternal life is virtually unknown today.

The atheists and secular humanists of the left would have us believe there is no god at all but they offer no option other than a religion of rational thought and logic. Instead of promoting their new “religion”, they simply attack other religions, often (I think) in anger because they asked for something and they didn’t get it.

By the same token, fundamentalists and other religious conservatives offer a god that bears little resemblance to the Father that Jesus Christ told us about. The god of the fundamentalists is an angry god, quick to seek retribution and vengeance, militaristic in nature and blind to the problems of the world. Their god is an authoritarian god, one that does not allow questions and forbids the seeking of the truth. They seek a world in which knowledge is limited and no one outside a select circle is allowed to know the truth.

And it would seem that the only god that the atheists and secular humanists see is this god. We live in a world where the one true God is unknown.

Fortunately, as Paul himself stated to the Athenians some two thousand years ago, God tends to overlook the ignorance of human beings. In that same speech, Paul makes it very clear that it was God who created the heaven and the earth but Paul does not offer a timeline. He does say that mankind would search for Him. To me, this is an affirmation of both the Genesis story and the nature of evolution. We are created by God and we are to seek God. We cannot do that in a realm limited to faith or logic alone. We must do it in a world of faith and logic.

There are those of us who believe in this God because we understand in our hearts the sacrifice His Son made on the Cross for us. We are a minority of believers however. We are the ones to whom Peter wrote his letter (1 Peter 3: 13 – 22), encouraging us to speak out and led the kind of life that Jesus taught us to live and those in the first Christian communities sought to live.

Ours is not a God of war and violence but one of peace. Ours is a God that cares for His children, seeking to include every one of them even when they do not know they are included. We understand the promise Christ made that we would not be alone; we understand that it is not easy, especially when those on the far right and the far left have louder voices and offer easier solutions.

It is easy to blame others for the ills of society; it means that you do not have to do anything to fix the problems that create the ills. It is easy to say there is no god but then you have to develop one to explain the things that logic and reason cannot explain.

God is not unknown; it is just that too many people are not looking for Him. They look around and they see death and destruction, they see sickness and disease, they see poverty and homelessness and they wonder why. And then they look around and they see people who, in the name of Christ and God, seek to exclude people, not include them. They see people who in the name of God and Christ seek destruction and violence instead of creation and peace. They see people who in the name of Christ and God seek to limit the knowledge of this world, not increase knowledge of this world. And they see those who argue against such people but offer nothing in return.

This is a time when we who are Christians must live up to our name. This is a time when those known as Christians must be the ones who seek peace, who seek to heal, who seek to bring freedom to the oppressed and who live according to the ways we were taught. It will not be easy to live this way; it will not be easy to get people to listen to you in a world that demands quick fixes and physical proof.

The fix will not be quick but the proof will be physical. For we have been offered the Holy Spirit (John 14: 15 – 21) and we have been give a new life. In us people will see the proof and they will wonder why. And then they will know that God is not unknown but among us today.

Turning Words Into Actions


For those who follow Star Trek, the words “Kobayashi Maru” have a special significance. For those that don’t know, this is the name of a ship in a Star Fleet Academy exercise. It is an exercise to determine how potential Star Fleet officers will respond to situations; in this case, a situation that is a “no-win” situation.

The Kobayashi Maru is a space freight trapped in the Neutral Zone between Federation space and Klingon space (at a time when the Federation and the Klingon Empire were not friendly) and sending out a distress call. Federation ships are forbidden from entering the Neutral Zone and thus the commander of the star ship in the simulation is faced with his or her first dilemma. Do they enter the Neutral Zone and rescue the freighter and its crew or obey the prohibition to not enter the Neutral Zone.

Should the decision be made to enter the Neutral Zone, the commander quickly finds out that it was a trap set by the Klingons. The Federation starship is out-numbered and out-gunned and is ultimately destroyed. No future starship commander had ever successfully passed this simulation test until James Kirk took it. It is said that it took him three times to pass the test and he only passed the test because he modified the program controlling the simulation so that a win was possible. In other words, he cheated.

The object of the simulation is to see how future and potential commanders face death and Kirk admitted that he did not like that option. I would agree; normal (and I stress normal) conflicts should never be a “no-win” situation. But conflicts are often never normal and while our thoughts and our feelings are directed maybe directed towards situations where there is a clear cut winner and a clear cut loser, we often are faced with “no-win” solutions.

A case in point has to be the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Those who lived during that time frame of thirteen days in October can tell you of the urgency and crisis that enveloped not only this country but the entire world. Those who have watched Kevin Costner’s 2000 movie, “Thirteen Days”, can get some sense of that crisis. I believe that a better depiction of the crisis is given in the 1973 made-for-television movie, “The Missiles of October”, if for no other reason that it is a starker, black-and-white presentation.

It is clear from watching either movie that the outcome could have easily been nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. One of the benefits of the collapse of the Soviet Union was an examination of papers and materials that tell their side of the story and the realization that we were closer to nuclear annihilation than we even thought back then.

It seemed to me from my reading of Robert Kennedy’s book (the basis for the two movies) and watching the movies that there were those on both sides who wanted war and there were those who wanted to avoid war. And it was also clear that one false step by anyone on either side would result in a war that no one wanted. Because what some might have thought might be a small tactical war would quickly expand in a global conflict with the exchange of nuclear weapons. And the result of that exchange would be a world where the living would envy the dead, a “no-win” solution.

It seems to me that we need to somehow include such visions of what the future might be in our current political process. We have the technology to make simulations that involve complex decision making; in fact, we make such simulations right now. But these simulations are treated as games to be played by children.

We need to expand such simulations and get those who desire to be our political leaders to actually show us what they would do when they are faced with potentially no-win situations. We need to see how they would react when one false step is taken or a word is misunderstood; we need someway to show politicians to the consequences of their words when they are forced to put their words into action. We need someway to see how those who seek to lead will respond when those who follow seek solutions that run counter to the desired outcome or whose solutions are for their own personal glory rather than the good of the people.

We love reality television shows; we love games. Here is a chance to put together the ultimate reality show. This will not replace elections; elections are the will of the people but the people need to be informed. We need to be informed as to what those who seek to lead will do when faced with problems where the only solution is a no-win one.

We have the capability to make it so (to borrow another Star Trek phrase); shouldn’t we find a way to turn words into actions so that we can make better decisions?

———————————

Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Bottom Line


As a follow up to this post, you might check out “Clueless in America”, Bob Herbert Op-Ed piece in the April 22, 2008 issue of The New York Times.

———————————————————————

If someone were to ask me what my favorite television shows were, I would have to list “The Rogues” and “Banacek”. But number one on this list is and will always be “M*A*S*H”.

From its debut as a movie, it was something that I somehow identified with, even to the point that my dorm room that year became known as “The Swamp” (but that was after someone flooded the laundry room and that’s an entirely different story).

Through the wonders of cable TV and re-runs, I have probably seen ever episode of the television series, from the pilot to the series ending show, at least four times. I can watch a particular episode for a few moments and generally remember what that episode central story or stories are. This does have its disadvantages however.

I do not know the names of each episode or when they were originally aired. And sometimes what I think was in one episode was actually in another. Such is the case with one thought in my mind. There is one episode in which either Father Mulcahy tells Hawkeye that it is one thing for doctors to lose their patients but when he loses one, he loses their soul or Sidney Freedman (the psychiatrist) says that he loses their mind. As one who works with both the mind and the soul, I can find much in either of those two comments.

As an educator, my profession is the development of the mind and finding ways to encourage the creativity of our children and young adults. As a lay speaker and lay minister, I have to focus on the souls of those with whom I converse or speak with and who read what I write on Sunday mornings.

The problem with both American education and the American church today is that we have either forgotten what it is that we are supposed to be doing or we have decided to change the definition of what we are supposed to do. It seems that the church and school today are driven not by the outcome that the church and school offers but rather by “the bottom line.”

For too many denominations today, it is not the number of souls that are saved (as if that was something that could be easily measured and verified here on earth) but how many warm bodies are in the pews each weekend.

It is one thing to measure the success of a church by the number of people who attend but is that the best measure? We quite willing use demographics to reach out to find people and plant churches where the people are or will be but we also quite willingly seem to use demographics to determine when to abandon a church. A church may be losing people but we need to know why and a simple demographic analysis may not tell you what you need to know. I sometimes think that we abandon churches in regions when the church can be a positive symbol of hope and where hope is most needed because of the change in population. Sometimes we cannot help it if a whole region is losing people (portions of the upper Midwest come to mind) but if it is a pocket within a region (say an inner city), then shouldn’t the church be staying and helping to bring life back?

I will address the issue of the bottom line as it applies to the church today later. For the moment, I want to look at the application of the bottom line as it applies to education.

It seems to me that we, as a society, have turned our educational process has something driven by the “bottom line”. No longer are we interested in what students will become; we are interested in how many students we graduate. (For an interesting take on this, see Tom Chapin – Not on the Test.)

Every child, no matter how old they might be, can always tell you what they want to be when they grow up. And as they grow up, their focus on that goal becomes clearer and more defined. As educators, parents, and interested parties be encouraging that process. It is important that students have a sense of what they will do in and with their lives. We should not be talking students out of a career choice because we do not feel that it is a good fit for them; rather we need to be providing opportunities for the student to make a decision about a career.

But if their decision on a career is made because they think that career will bring the riches, fame, or glory and they have no idea of what is involved in the process, then their path to that career will be strewn with potholes and many, many detours.

I have had students who have an expressed a desire to become pharmacists, not because it is a valuable part of society but rather because they were promised a job bringing $30,000 as a starting salary when they completed their undergraduate degree. I can understand why students would jump at this opportunity. But I also have to wonder what those same students will do when they find out how much science and math they must have in order to get that degree? And what will they do when they find out the salary for this job after five or ten years is still essentially $30,000?

Similarly, I have meet and taught students who wish to be doctors and nurses for a variety of reasons. But their background and preparation, especially in the areas of science and mathematics, often limits their advancement. I have seen students who have expressed a desire to become elementary teachers because they like working with children. Again, this is a good job choice and the reason for doing so is a valid one. But becoming an elementary school teacher is a very demanding task because you must be conversant in all of the academic subjects (science, mathematics, reading, social studies, English, etc.). Most elementary majors are well-versed in social studies, reading, and English but not so in science and mathematics. The lack of skills does not prevent one from becoming an elementary education major but it does not help in the preparation of the students for further studies.

But when these students run into problems during their academic career, what do they do? Do they seek help and determine if their career choices were correct? Some do but most argue that it was the teacher’s fault and they do what our society has taught them to do; they sue (See “Avogadro Goes To Court” for one example; see “Transformation Sunday” for my thoughts and their implications for the church).

The argument posted in that particular court case was the student was a consumer and thus should be able to decide the value of their education. This argument would work if the students understand what it is that education is supposed to do. Education is supposed to give you the skills so that you can make better decisions; it is not a consumer-oriented activity in which the student decides what it is that he or she will learn.

In the movie “A Man for All Seasons”, there is the following interchange between Thomas More and Richard Rich.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The definition of a teacher should be in terms of what their students become and they will know it when the time comes.

But when are we going to realize this? Last week I posted “Where Have All the Flowers gone?” In this post I pointed out some of the more intellectually challenging aspects of television advertising. Now I find that there are at least two studies dealing with incompetence and the inability of people to determine their own incompetence (see Social scientists alert: Gather that data!).

For right now, I think that the bottom line, at least as it applies to education today, was first expressed by Robert Frenay in the book Pulse, page 440 (from the April Mini-AIR), “That we are smarter than algae is a given. Whether we are wiser remains an open question.”

At some point, our desire to “give the customer what they want” is going to conflict with “give the customer what they need”. Then what are we going to do?

——————————-

This is cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

The Church’s Bottom Line


Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday of Easter.

————————————————————–

Links updated on 18 February 2010

————————————————————–

Sometimes it is interesting how things work. For the better part of the week, I thought that this Sunday was April 27th instead of April 20th. So my thoughts about the Scripture during the week focused on both April 27th and May 4th (when I go back to Dover). I had not given much thought to the Scripture for April 20th because of that.

But in my post of April 18th, “The Bottom Line”, I said that I would consider the church’s bottom line at a later date. Then I reread the Scriptures for the 20th and I found the thoughts that I needed. Isn’t it interesting how things work sometimes?

For those that didn’t read the post, I made the observation that the ultimate bottom line for the church is the number of souls that are saved. I also commented that such a measurement would be a little difficult to determine. In truth, the only way that you are going to know your impact on life, be it in the church or education or some other field, will be long after you are gone from this place on earth. But if we wait until such time to determine how well we have done we will have wasted many opportunities.

The problem is that we evaluate those opportunities in ways that often are counterproductive to the mission of the church. At times, we are more interested in the number of warm bodies we can put in the pews each weekend or we are interested in how much money we contribute to the missions of the church.

Yes, we should be contributing our time, talents, and funds for the missions of the church; yes, we should be seeking to have large numbers of people in worship each weekend. But those measures are often used as substitutes for the actual work of the church. And we measure the success of a church by those same numbers.

But what happens if a church is in an economically depressed locale? Are we to abandon that church because its numbers are dwindling and its monetary contributions are falling off? What is the mission of the church if it is not to bring hope to an area? What message of hope can be given if the church itself bails out of an area and says that it cannot survive there?

People have come to believe that if they attend church regularly and they tithe, then they have met the requirements for being a good and faithful Christian. They see the church in that same way as well.

This, of course, is contradictory to the major precept of the church that it is one’s faith in Christ that is the sole requirement. Too often we turn the words and thoughts of the Scriptures from what they are into what we want them to be.

We forget that the early Christians more often than not died because of their beliefs. We forget that the early Christians had to meet in secret because of their beliefs. We forget that the early church was a community brought together because of a desire to live a life that was demonstrated to them by Christ. And we have forgotten that we are take the message that was given to them into the world, not forcing people to believe but rather showing them what it means to believe.

As Peter wrote in his first letter (1 Peter 2: 2 – 10), we are a chosen people. But that doesn’t make us exempt or remove us from the world; nor does it make us “special.” In fact, it means exactly the opposite. We are to be in the world, showing the world what life can be. It does not make us special, other than we live with a confidence that the secular world cannot provide.

The road that we travel each day is the same road everyone else travels. And for many people, that road is fraught with danger and uncertainty. As Thomas first said to Jesus, “we do not know where you are going so how do we know the way?” (John 14: 1 – 14) Thomas’ thoughts are our thoughts; we do not know the way and we seek to find the answer within this world.

Of course, we cannot do that; for the way that we must walk is a way of life, not a road. It will not be an easy life and those that say that Christianity promises an easy life have no clue as to what they are saying. The only certainty is that we have a secure foundation in Christ and that foundation will be the protection that we need when the winds of change and uncertainty blow around us.

What is the bottom line for Christianity and the church then? We are called to bring the Good News to the people. That is the bottom line. We are not called to be prisoners or martyrs for Christ. We are not called to convert people or condemn them; we are not called to stand on a street corner in our home town and shout Bible verses at the top of our long. We are called, instead, to live a life that shows the power of the Holy Spirit present in our lives.

Is this dangerous? Yes, it is. People have died living the life that Christ taught us to lead. People have been criticized and ostracized for leading the life that Christ calls us to lead. And people have left the path because they do not want the criticism, the ostracism, and the threat of life. But when we lead the life of Christ, we can approach all those fears with a new found confidence. Stephen preached the Gospel to the people and the people reacted by killing him. But through it all, Stephen praised God and asked that the people be forgiven. (Acts 7: 55 – 60)

To be sure, to be willing to die for a cause does not make the cause right. But if we are called to die for our faith, then we can see the immense worth of our faith and the worthlessness of much that we hold to have value. In his trial Socrates taught that the purpose of life is not to avoid dying but rather to avoid unrighteousness.

During the Civil Rights struggle of the early sixties, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the value of truth:

I can’t promise you that it won’t get you beaten. I can’t promise you that it won’t get your home bombed. I can’t promise you won’t get scarred up a bit — but we must stand for what is right. If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for. (From Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs by James C. Howell)

The outcome of those days was a change in the mindset of the people, though I am not so sure it is remembered that way today.

What good did it do for Stephen to die? Remember that an on-looker to this event was Saul of Tarsus. Yes, he will soon begin prosecuting Christians but one has to think that this set the stage for his own encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and his conversion to Paul.

I began with a focus on the bottom line and our need as a people and as a church to think about what that constitutes. The bottom line is not the number of people in the pews for a given worship service nor is it how much money is spent by a church or individuals on mission work. And the bottom line is not your death in the name of the cause. Those who seek their death in the name of their faith have a very poor understanding of their faith. But if you understand your faith and you are willing to live your faith, then you will face the outcome with joy and celebration. That is the bottom line.

Things That We Discover


If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have a concern for education and the direction it is headed.

There is a thread or discussion going on the Chemistry Education Discussion List (or CHEM-ED list for short) about the nature of education today.  It started with some questions about when classes were being scheduled and such schedules are driven by the needs or desires of the students.

If you are interested in reading this discussion, go to http://mailer.uwf.edu/listserv/wa.exe?S1=chemed-l and put “When did this happen?” in the first box (marked “string”).  You should get some 57 “hits” (including the new thread “Effective Teaching”).

But, as many discussions or threads do, there has been a shift from the need to accommodate or meet the needs of students to the demands students place on the instructional process (often called the “student as the consumer” model).  There is a passing reference to this model in my post for Transfiguration Sunday (“Transformation Sunday”); to save you the trouble, read “Avogadro goes to court”.

Now when I posted my note about the court case to the list, one respondent suggested that it was nothing more than an urban legend.  But, as I noted in response, a Google search for “students suing the instructor” produced 175,000 hits.  Some of these are legitimate cases but others point out the idea that many students come into class with the idea that they are consumers and they have a right to decide if what they receive is the what they wanted (i.e., student as a consumer).

I also discovered that this problem is not as new as some think but has been around for at least fifteen years.  See

  1. “Student as Consumer”: A Critical Narrative of the Commercialization of Teacher Education (see http://www.jceps.com/index.php?pageID=article&articleID=56) and
  2. ”Should We Buy the “Student-As-Consumer” Metaphor?” (see http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall1997/Cheney.html).

Against this backdrop, I find a little bit of good news.  The George Lucas Educational Foundation has identified a number of educators, the “Daring Dozen”, who are working to change the system.  It may not seem like twelve people (the number that the foundation has identified) may make a major change in the ways things work but Margaret Mead reminds us “…that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”  Or if you will, as Sonia Johnson (an American feminist who was excommunicated by the Mormon church for her activities), “We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.”

It would seem to me that there is hope for our educational system and that we need to be taking note of these changes.

This will be cross-posted to RedBlueChristian.com

Two Thoughts on Science and Religion


I have had one thought bouncing around in my head for a few days now and a recent article in the New York Times (“Gauging a Collider’s Odds of Creating a Black Hole”) prompts me to post it and other thought.

First

What is the ethical or religious response to the prayer at the beginning of this essay?  What do you say to a person whose creation or invention can, if used one way, benefit mankind but, if used in an entirely different manner, destroy mankind?

And yes, this is the question that we faced in 1945 with the development of the first atomic weapons?  My father was one of those who knew that his life was spared because we dropped the two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the likelihood is that your father might have been one as well.

So how do we respond?

Second

Whether you think that our first encounter with other life forms is a derivation of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Independence Day”, or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, what should be our response?  How do we relate the Good News to another intelligent/extra-terrestrial life form?

Just some things to think about today.

The Common Good


As we slog our way through the final months of primary elections and prepare for the upcoming conventions and then endure the fall campaign and everything that it promises to be and not be, I wonder if we haven’t seen or are now seeing the end of our two major political parties.

To be honest, I don’t think that either major political party now accurately represents their historic constituents. The Democratic Party was once the party of labor while the Republican Party was the party of management and business. Democrats were often for change while Republicans stood for the status quo (that’s how I saw it). It always seemed that there were clear cut differences between the two parties.

But lately, with a view to history, I am having a hard time determining what Republicans and Democrats believe or stand for. The history of each party seems to be just that, a history, and not a guide for tomorrow.

Perhaps it is time to let these two parties die and for new political parties to develop. If I am not mistaken, the word “politics” is derived from the Greek for the people; perhaps I am wrong about theat. But if that is the case, then maybe it is time that our politics to be the words and thoughts of the many and not the few.

The first reading for yesterday was from Acts and it described the beginnings of the new church. The people shared everything and everything was held in common. This is not a call for communism or even the development of communes. Rather this is a call for leaders and those who desire to be our leaders to seek what is good for all, not just a few. This is a call for a thought of what we as a people can do for the common good.

There will always be a discussion about how such a goal can be obtained; that’s what politics is all about. But the means that we have at our disposal are not necessarily working and I think it is time to seek of alternative ways.

Are our political parties more important or is the common good more important?

This has been cross-posted to RedBlueChristian