Archive for the ‘Pastor’s Blog’ Category|
Friday, June 1st, 2012
How a 80 A.D. Sci-Fi Letter Saved Christianity
Christianity within Asia Minor was stuck in a complacent groove within the Roman Empire by the close of the first century. You could stand outside the marketplace and find a charismatic and gifted communicator claiming to give leadership to the church instructing the fledgling movement that since the Emperor wasn’t asking them to sacrifice a dove, lamb, goat or child to him that offering a mere pinch of incense wasn’t that bad. Considering also that if you didn’t offer up the incense to the Emperor you would not be given “the mark” and entrance into the marketplace where you could buy and sell the products you needed to meet your basic needs. (Revelation 13:16)
“You have a family to think. Besides,” the Nicholation would go on ” do we really want to upset the Emperor and our prosperity over such a trivial matter as a pinch of incense? Just look at what happened to our brothers and sisters to the south when they acted like they could subvert the government.(Luke 19:42) Christ message was one of “personal relationship.” (?) Christs message was that He would dwell in “your private lives”(?) so just offer a little sacrifice, get the mark and get back to your “public life.”
But despite the efforts of a small group of Christians in Asia Minor who thought this teaching was contrary to what the prophets and Jesus taught (Revelation 2:2), Christianity was very much on the decline. Who were people to believe? A group of poor, destitute followers of Jesus who were claiming to worship him and him alone even to the point of starvation and death or a group of affluent followers of Jesus who were claiming you could have the cake and eat it too. (Revelation 2:9) These Nicholations weren’t bad, immoral or even overtly evil people. They were competent men and women who were moving up in the Empire while “holding Jesus in their hearts.” Plus they did have a point. Everyone needs to eat. (Exodus 16:2 and Revelation 2:17)
And then came theologian Johns letters from exile. (Revelation 1:9)
It was subversive and gritty, a poetry-kaleidoscope trip into the adulterous near future. In this poem the smiling Nicolations were recast as worshipers of Jezebel (Revelation 2:20) and followers of Balaam (Revelation 2:14) who were unintentionally doing more than merely encouraging men and women to give a pinch of incense to the Emperor. According to Pastor Johns tale, giving the pinch on incense to the Emperor was equivalent to spending a night in the brothels of demons. (Revelation 2:20) It was a tale of beasts, dragons, monsters, stars, demons, angels, horses, serpents. The letter of the near future was bizarre, threatening to most, reassuring to a few and also strangely real to all. “For those with ears to hear” this story would have been like seeing the world for the first time and with its many throwbacks to the Hebrew Scriptures it would have also been like hearing the prophets again for the first time. With his ingenious use of sevens, sixes, fours, twelves and ones, Johns Revelation wasn’t just stylistically stunning; it felt like the template for a future that was breaking in upon them. A future that “was moving into the neighbored” not just in the future 15 minutes-it was the future sideswiping the listener and leaving them on their knees in either worship, repentance or confusion. Usually all three.
The letter was a desperately needed course correction. Christianity had lost the thread of devotion, obedience and sacrifice it was originally birthed with ( ). Christians were no longer worshiping a God who was beyond their comprehension, they were systematizing and compartmentalize a deity into “their private lives” so that they could avoid it all the while bowing down to a self-proclaimed deity that seemed to hold all the power. Someone needed to put the Emperors in their place, silence the Nicolations and more importantly, someone needed to grab this young movement by the scruff and yank it around-force them to look at the present moment and decipher its implications. “Let him who has ears, let him hear.”
Feeling out of options, St. John, reached for a long out of date genre for his letter. People had been complaining for decades that this particular genre wasn’t direct enough. If they couldn’t read it or understanding its meaning in 20 minutes with a simple scan of the eye they would move on to the latest “3 points and a poem” from the charming Nicolations. People criticized the genre as “fluff” and irrelevant to the worlds more sophisticated and scientific pallet. But for whatever reason, maybe John saw things alone on Patmos that could only be described with beasts, violence and mayhem. Who knows? For whatever reason John chose to write his letter as Science Fiction and the Christian church was jolted out of their slumber.
-The Genre that John wrote Revelation in is called Apocalyptic Literature. It is different than Science Fiction in that it is even more bizarre
-I left the title as similar as I could to Paolo Bacigalupis article in the June 2012 edition of Wired magazine because the post is mirrored almost completely on it. See “How the 80′s Saved Sci-Fi” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Wired 20.06
Thursday, May 24th, 2012
What Money Can’t Buy : The Moral Limits of Markets
Michael J. Sandel – Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012 – 244pp. – $29.95
Early this week I knew exactly five things about Harvard University.
- 1.With information provided courtesy of Ben Afflect , Matt Damon and a Wikipedia search I knew that it was located in Cambridge Massachusetts.
- 2.Political propaganda of 2004 taught me that Barack Obama studied law there.
- 3.Dallas Willard informed me in Divine Conspiracy that at Harvard questions of right and wrong, morality and immorality are strictly forbidden.
- 4.In addition to enticing and lurid information about the comings and goings of the University, through Ben Mezrichs Accidental Billionaires I learnt that Facebook originated on its campus.
- 5.A little commonsense told me that they would never accept me as a student.
Michael Sandel who Vanity Fair describes as “soft-spoken (professor whose) offhand sentences emerge as if flawlessly etched in crystal” poked a hole in the idea that at Harvard questions of right and wrong cannot be asked. Better still, he obliterates the notion with his lectures in Harvard’s Sanders Theater filling to the limits of the fire code on just that subject and thanks to Apple University and this year’s publication of What Money Can’t Buy we can all gain entrance into the hallowed hall. The back and forth dialogue that Sandel has with students is lost in the print form however the reader is still able to wrestle alongside the professor and future presidents with questions like; “should we pay children to read books or to get good grades” (interesting those who -like me- got a little too comfortable with Freakonomics are asked to take another look) , “should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere” , “Is it ethical to pay people to test new drugs or to donate their organs?”, “What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars?” , “should we selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?” Even if you aren’t an immigrant, disgruntled with the way wars are currently being fought, desperate for extra cash, Albertan or simply desperate to get your child to read, these are questions that you need to engage with outside of the who-yells-the-loudest partisan speech and debates of politicians and their respective media outlets.
Except for Johnny Depp who joked from his yacht on the way to his private island; “money can’t buy you happiness but it can ferry you there” most people would say that money has it limits. Money shouldn’t be able to buy everything. Yet no matter how badly the economy and the systems that regulate them (or don’t) get hit, we continue to act as though it can. No matter how many times markets have been shorted, inflated, stimulated, spiked and tanked they still dominate every aspect of our lives in what Sandel calls “Market Triumphalism“. A line needs to be drawn somewhere.
What I found at first frustrating and then frustrating again is that in most of the issue Sandel is able to draw a clean distinction between the right and the wrong. It is as if the “grey” area that I seem to have taken permanent residence in isn’t even on his map.
With the Professor we find that ;
Option A : Gives you X
Option B: Gives you Y
And Option A is better because of A,B, and C.
To this tune Sandel can sound rather “preachy” at times and if that wasn’t frustration enough (Harvard teachers shouldn’t preach!) when I found myself working up the courage and objecting one of his points with; “Well you didn’t factor in thought D” only to read a little further to discover that, yes, he had taken it into account as well as option E, F, G, H etc.
The only saving grace is that my pitiful objections were held in the company of my dog in the backyard and not standing in front of a full lecture hall while being taped for millions of viewers on AppleU which leads to another drawback of the book which is that besides his gift of taking information from on high, his ability to share it below with his students in back and forth banter is remarkable and as mentioned before the dynamic that happens in his lecture hall is lost even though in reading his material it is apparent , through implicit and explicit comments, that his content has been shaped by the teaching experience. All is not lost as a consolation dynamic can be achieved if the book is read, as it should be, in a group. Book Club anyone?
One question I wish Sandel would have engaged would have been “What price should we place on education.” With his Harvard course titled “Justice” running as one of the most popular at Harvard I find his answer would tragically be “free to all” as those lectures are offered for free through Itunes. As a critic of open source material I would have liked Sandel , chief supporter of open source material, to explain why attaching a zero dollar figure to his Harvard course is acceptable. Maybe he would reply that he balances his free lectures in the hope they will; entice eager students to buy his book “Justice”, its accompanying reader also of the same name and show those who will never study at Harvard that those who are there now and will become the next Presidents of the United States of America are having to wrestle with questions of Right and Wrong. If so, it worked on me.
Saturday, May 5th, 2012
Little over a weeks’ time we will begin our sermon series on arguably the most debated and speculated at piece of writing in the Western and Eastern biblical canons, the book of Revelation in our series entitled Letter From Patmos. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” Fortunately for St. John and G.K. Chesterton they were not prophets in the predictive sense of the word therefore they were spared from hearing the wild, escapists, end-of-world-forecasting fantasies that have been successful (think billions, not millions, of books and movies) in being propagated the past few decades. Most namely being the collection of novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. What has often been left behind by these and other “wild commentators” has been the Bible itself. With this firmly in mind I have spent as much time as possible with guides whom recent history has found to be not all that wild ( nor for that matter wildly successful at entertaining the masses as their counterparts have been) and would like to offer up a brief bibliography of the texts , both biblical and none, that have been the poet Virgil equivalent to me not as I journeyed through a fiery inferno but as I journeyed through the vision of reality for the 1st century as well the 21st century and everything in between, before and after, given to Poet John while in seclusion on the Island of Patmos. This summer and early fall at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren we have fifteen Sundays to engage this book which means much will regrettably be omitted and so for a slight consolation if there is something you want to engage with a little longer, linger on or cultivate more fully, it is my hope that this little bibliography can serve as a good place to start.
Canonical (The ancient writing collected in the Christian Bible) Books: Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the Psalms. Throughout the series I will be teaching from, unless otherwise noted, the New Revised Standard Version but any translation will do and if you don’t have yet have a Bible flag me down and I will set you up.
Non-Canonical (ancient writing not collected in the Christian Bible) Apocalyptic Books:
1 Enoch ( http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/enoch.html) ,
If the book of Revelation will “bring a blessing to those who read it” why is the message seemingly so obscure?
The simple answer is that it isn’t obscure and that we have just lost the art or ability that would have been commonly held by Pastor John’s original congregations. As one commentator puts it “faced with the style of revelation, the modern reader who knows little about Biblical literature and its parallels is like a person who, though unfamiliar with stocks and bonds, tries to understand the Dow-Jones reports.” I argue that the best place to start engaging the letter of Revelation (outside of the book itself) is the Bible. While St. John takes pieces of every book of the Bible and makes it his own, he writes in the line of other Jewish prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the poets of Psalms. We would be well suited to learn from the same prophets and poets that shaped Theologian John. When it comes to having our imaginations first filled with the prophets and poets before we pick up the letter of Revelation Eugene Peterson goes so far as to warn “we have no business dealing with Revelation until we have (read the entire Old Testament)” which is a helpful reprimand but not entirely feasible for some who may be new or newer to the Bible. However it would serve a good purpose to say that the collected Christian canon should be engaged before we engage the non-canonical apocalyptic books (1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra).
Commentaries, Dictionaries and Introductions
The Revelation of St. John The Divine
Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2005 – 242pp. – $37.63
A Rebirth of Images
Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2007 – 350pp. – $44.26
J. Massyngberde Ford – Doubleday and Co.,1975 -455pp. – $44.99 (or free for loan from my library)
M. Eugene Boring, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 – 236pp.- $27.50 (or free for loan from my library)
Craig S. Kenner, Zondervan, 2000 -576pp.-$35.49 (or free for loan from my library)
Revelation for Everyone
N.T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 -227pp.- $16.50 (or free for loan from my library)
J. Ramsey Michaels, InterVarsity Press, 1997 -265pp.-$18.99 (or free for loan from my library)
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings
Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2000 -465pp.- $71.50 (or free for loan from my library)
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
John J. Collins, Daniel C. Harlow, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.-2010 -1360pp.- $104.99 (or free for loan from my library)
To help with these ancient texts, no matter what they wrote in their introductions, modern commentators like Austin Farrer and J. Massyngberde Ford are demanding and call for a level of familiarity with the text and context of Revelation but offer the best example of the intent of St. John (Farrer) and assembly of the most current scholary material (Ford). I mention Borings Revelation because it is part of my favorite commentary series Interpretation and will use it extensively in our sermon series thus potentially making it redundant reading. Ehrman and The Eerdmans Dictionary on Early Judaism both contain only entries on apocalyptic literature and the book of Revelation so here I would suggest not a purchase but a visit to your, or my own, local library. All the remaining texts are accessible ranging from the slightly academic Revelation by Keener to the devotional approach of Wright and Michaels.
Revelation in the News
Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation
Elaine Pagels, Viking, 2012 – 246pp.-$29.50 (or free for loan from my library)
If are only going to read one book on Revelation make it one of these
Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination
Eugene H. Peterson – HarperOne, 1988 – 194pp. – $18.99 (free from my bookshelf)
The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions
Michael W. Pahl – Cascade Books, 2011 – 106pp. – $11.65 (free from my bookshelf or the LMBC Library but you really should buy it)
As someone who has made her academic career on Gnosticism I was shocked to find Elaine Pagels engage a most decidedly earthy gospel. One of Dr. Pagels many gifts is the ability to bring academic debate into the public square. She is able to articulate an interesting view of the writer John and presents a widely different approach than the one I will be taking which will most decidedly be in the vein of Peterson and Pahl.
Non-Religious Summer Reading You Could Justify as Revelation Work
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
Margaret Atwood, Signal, 2011 – 255pp. – $26.99 (free from my bookshelf)
Cormac McCarthy, Vintage, 2007 – 304pp.- $21.00
The actual quote eludes me but I once an essay by Michael Chabon in which he wrote something like ” a religious systems of belief is beyond my grasp because of how much Science Fiction I have read” the quote, or idea, struck me as odd as it is precisely that type of literature (like Jeremiah, 4 Ezra) that create the right atmosphere to embrace a faith that has real life consequences on this earth here and now as represented in the letter of Revelation. Atwood displays how Science Fiction forms our imagination while Cormac McCarthy does just that.
Friday, April 27th, 2012
With an arm full of newly acquired books I left Dr. Mensah’s offices early November 2010 knowing that I was about to embark on a new career in Law via Political Science. While in the elevator I turned on my cell phone and begun searching through the messages and found one from the Pastoral Search Committee of Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church, a congregation on the south side of Edmonton that my wife and I enjoyed joining in worship with once a summer for the past four years. I called the Chair back and he informed me that the church was looking for a couple of pastors and I said I was looking at a stack of political science textbooks and an LSAT exam in the summer because over the years I had found myself involved with pastoral work that involved more administration, building projects, leadership techniques, program maintenance and felt that there must be more qualified and impassioned individuals to fill those types of positions. I was through with being that type of a pastor. However, I would turn in the newly acquired books back into the waiting selves of Dr. Mensah if I could be a part of a community where, as a pastor, I could spend the bulk of my time preaching, teaching, praying and visiting. I was informed that would work well within LMBC and nine months after my first day on the job I have found that to be so.
In my nine months I have had the opportunity to journey with the church community through the subversive text of Colossians in a five part sermon series entitled Suburban Dream, a twelve week series in the parables and prayers of Jesus in his Samaritan travels and within those book ends of sermon series were a few stand alone sermons on Lists, Prodigals and couple on Advent. In all of these sermons I never felt the inclination to “dumb” or “water” down anything. LMBC has a reputation for being willing to wrestle through thoughts, ideas and opinions and the reputation is one that is merited. The post-sermon Sunday School discussions that I was a part of were lively, challenging and ultimately life-giving. My other responsibility to the Sunday School program lay with the College and Careers group in which we studied Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.
In my nine months I have had the privilege of having over fifty informal meals and coffees with various members, adherents and people interested in finding out more about LMBC. My family and I have experienced true Mennonite hospitality. This also has given me much needed insight into the experience, dreams and fears of those who call LMBC their home.
The year was not without pain for our church family. Expressed and unexpressed pain was carried by many within our church family. The loss of loved ones and painful diagnoses from Doctors seemed to happen all too frequently. On Tuesday February 28, 2012 many of us gathered to mourn and remember our brother, uncle, cousin and friend F.D. Standing on the platform most Sundays as I look to my left where Fred used to sit when he wasn’t serving the church or when I look straight ahead to the sound both where much of his service was spent, the lose is felt again.
When I told my fellow pastoral colleagues that I was moving on to become a part of a church community that would allow me to focus on prayer, teaching, preaching and visiting they often would say; “We will see how long that last.” They couldn’t believe it was possible for a pastor to spend the bulk of her time doing these things. They couldn’t see how a church could function without the pastor wearing all the different hats they were accustomed to wearing. My fellow colleagues doubted the plausibly of the LMBC model because they had never meet H.J. who with efficiency and care helped the board to move as smoothly and efficiently as possible. They had never met any of the Commission Chairs who on top of their commitment to employers and family went over and above in their commitment to their commission. They doubted the plausibility of having lay preachers as a serious component of formal worship because they had never meet A.V, D.H, D.E. and M.K. who all in their unique way added much needed perspectives to our faith.
I will need to schedule another visit to Dr. Mensah’s office because I have some books of his that are long overdue. Books I will not be reading anytime soon because I have a church family that has given me the opportunity, privilege and responsibility to be a pastor who preaches, teaches, prays and visits.
May we experience even more grace and even more peace in the year to come.
Friday, April 27th, 2012
The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95mph
Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine – Simon & Schuster, 2011 – 208pp. – $27.99
I could have said it was Derek Jeters’ backhand flip to Pasada to tag out Giambi in the bottom of the seventh in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series or I could also have said it was Monday September 18th 2006 when the Los Angeles Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and then went on to secure first place in the National League West after Nomar Garciaparra’s two-run home run in the 10th. A moment with Albert Pujols, the same year as the Dodgers comeback, would also have been close to escaping my lips as my final answer to my brother after Albert struggled through an ugly 0-for-4 game but with one swing of the bat on his fifth at bat of the game turned around not only the game but the National League Championship Series and the Cardinals’ season. Pujols sent a previously impenetrable Brad Lidge pitch over the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park to give his Cardinals a 5-4 win over the Astros in a National League Championship Series elimination game on October 17th.
All these answers would have satisfied my brother Marc last week when he asked me what my favorite baseball memory was and while those are good memories to have my favorite baseball memory comes from the summer of 1998. For financial reason my family downsized in home space and we moved from a four bath six room home in the nice part of town to a one bath three room condominium in the not so nice part of town. With the loss of space and rooms Marc and I were required to share a room together for the first time in our ten year relationship. I don’t remember it as the happiest time in my family history but one of the perks of downsizing was that there were no longer enough rooms to place all the televisions we had acquired over the years so Marc and I got one in our room. Cable was out of the question but this was the time when CBC still broadcasted Toronto Blue Jay games and so with Marc on the bottom bunk and me on the top we would spend almost all of our Saturdays watching a rather exciting Blue Jay Team which featured Carlos Delgado, Alex Gonzalez, Jose Cruz Jr. and Shannon Stewart.
I don’t know if we ever made it past the second or third inning before falling asleep but those 2-3 innings every Saturday afternoon during the 1998 season are easily my favorite baseball memories.
A player we also liked to watch was a young Shawn Green who at 190 pounds defied what it meant to be a power hitter.
How did he do it? How did someone with his frame hit 328 home runs, drive in 1,071 RBIs and bat over 280?
According to his book The Way of Baseball, Zen.
Much like Greens perennial slow starts the book comes out sluggish, childish and boring. The first chapter details his struggle with the 1997 Toronto Blue Jay coaching staff namely two time World Series winning manager Cito Gaston and 1998 Atlantic League manager of the year hitting and coach Wille Upshaw. The problem with Cito Gaston, according to Green was that he was “overbearing”, “viewed many younger players with suspicion” and benched players without a premeditated rational. Wille on the other hand was “a good guy” but who “generally marched in lockstep with the boss, Cito” and who “threw erratic batting practice.” In 1997 after being benched by Cito and forbidden to take unsupervised batting practice by Willie, Shawn found refuge, his swing, his future and maybe even redemption in a developing a spiritual practices around a batting tee. Green recounts that he would spend at least thirty minutes every day alone in a hallways taking swings on batting tee. Like most little league tee ball stands the one Shawn used during his exile from the batting cage and away from the overbearing gaze of his managers could be raised and lowered to work on extreme high and low pitches. Green notes that it was during this thirty minutes alone while hitting off the tee that he found the stillness, peace and perspective which proved to be life altering discoveries. During his tee work he was able to practice awareness, presence, space and separation, all of which were to become the seed bed which would ultimately blossom into The Zone (His historic game against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002) During his thirty minutes of tee work Green was able to forget about Cito and the managers and if the reader is able to forget the seemingly petty digs at former managers (“The ’97 season ended on a high note…Cito and the faction of coaches that had been less than supportive…were all let go) and seemingly cavalier statements about being able to know what pitches pitchers like Randy Johnson, Brad Radke, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were about to throw, the remainder of the book is as life giving as I think the authors had intended the whole to be. What you get in the remainder of the book is a baseball players incarnation or reinterpretation of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Zen in the Art of Archery and Siddartha. (Incarnation or reinterpretation that as a baseball fan and practicing Yogi I appreciated.)
In regards to meditation Green gives needed reminders ; “It’s the most common thing in the world to forfeit a fulfilling routine when one’s schedule becomes more demanding. Pouring myself into spring training, I was unaware that mediation could fit unobtrusively into my daily routine, even at the office.” In the same chapter Shawn finds his swing writing about stillness “Finding stillness enabled me to understand the pitfalls of allowing the ever-changing external world to dictate my inner world. If one stranger’s opinion could actually change my stress level, anger level, and overall well-being, then who was actually at the controls of my life?”
The book is accessible to anyone, fan or not, but there are parts that are plain boring no matter where you are on the sports spectrum. Listen as Green explains for two pages his swing; “In my square stance, my right foot, right hip, and right shoulder were all perfectly aligned aiming at the pitcher. However, as I took my stride I’d wind up aiming more toward the shortstop. Thus, my up-the-middle approach was defeated when I actually took my swing. How to correct the problem? Instead of fighting where my body wanted to go I went with it. Keeping my entire body locked into its natural position, I danced my feet around clockwise so that, when I swung, my right shoulder would be aimed directly at the pitcher…” I digress and I wish Green had as well as this description carries on for another page and a half. Luckily for the reader moments like this are rare.
In the summer of 1998 one player who didn’t really capture my imagination or that of my brother was Tony Fernandez. Tony, however, gets much attention and praise in The Way of Baseball. I left the reading of this book hoping that Tony too will write a book someday.
It was into my shared bedroom with my brother that I feel in love with the game of baseball. Within those afternoons the darkness in the house seemed to lift and I was able to carry that peace (as best as a fourteen year old could) through the reminder of the week. Fourteen years after the fact I now wonder if maybe in a small way the peace that was given to me those afternoons was a product of the mediation and philosophy of a slim 6’4 power hitter. I may never be able to return to that room but I can return to my highlighted copy of Greens The Way of Baseball a spiritual tune up or a good nap.
Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
The founder and publisher of the online science salon edge.org, John Brockman, wanted to know what scientific concepts would improve humanities cognitive toolkit. He wanted to know which scientific concepts should join the ranks of “market,” “placebo,” “random sample,” and “naturalistic fallacy” in making a difference in our everyday lives. Martin Rees, (President emeritus, the Royal Society; professor of cosmology & astrophysics; master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge) ventured the understanding of “Deep Time” and the “Far Future”
Evidence that the first century-church expected Jesus to return in a “very short time” and in “the near future” is finger printed all over the New Testament. Most incriminating of all evidence is the idea that Jesus’ closest disciples began to rethink their understanding of his return travel itinerary before the close of the apostolic period. Arguably nearing the end of his life, Simon Peter, wrote a second letter that seemed to address the issue; “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.” Peter was trying to persuade the church or maybe just himself that they needed to extend their time horizons. That they needed a deeper and wider awareness that far more time lay ahead than had elapsed up until then.
This is not entirely different than “Deep Time” presented by Martin Rees who argued if we could come to understand that our present biosphere is the outcome of about 4 billion years of evolution, and we can trace cosmic history right back to about 13.7 billion years ago, if we could not only grasp the stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past but also the immense time horizons that stretch ahead we would be the better off.
Last week my friend Darrel wrote; “Writers of the New Testament wrote as though in a sprint against Christ’s return. 2000 years plus and it’s a marathon. Should that not impact our orthopraxy?”
While there is no justifiable denying of the fact that a belief in a “very short time” or “near future” return of Jesus did not (expansion of first century church) or does not (expansion of the 20-21st century pentecostalism) engender activity. Much of it good. Though the same could be said of positive short term gains with steroid use in professional athletes. Within “Short Time” we are left scrambling, hurrying, rushing and worst of all time is treated like a non-renewable resource which we trade like oil and water in the apocalypse waste land of Mad Max or science fiction landscape of Justin Timberlake. Locating ourselves within the “Deep Time” of Christ or the universe doing the opposite of leaving us intimidated by the vastness of both we are liberated to live thoughtful, present lives and lives to the full.
Like an injection of Human Growth Hormones Christ could have used “very short time” language to incite a flurry of activity in his followers but instead he chose to prepare them without using that type of hurry and crisis language so common in election campaigns. For the health of his church and followers he welcomed them into “deep time” to the point where people accused him of being lazy. Eugene Peterson;
“A kind of intimacy develops naturally when men and women walk and talk together, with no immediate agenda or assigned task except eventually getting to their destination and taking their time to do it.”
Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of wholeness will be available to us when we come to understand that our sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got 6 billion more years before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporizing any life that might then remain on Earth. But even after the sun’s demise, the expanding universe will continue, perhaps forever. That, at least according to Martin Rees, is the best long-range forecast. Who knows.
Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of intentionality on this life, here and now, will be available to us when we come to understand that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.”
Friday, April 13th, 2012
Damned Nations: Greed Guns Armies & Aid
Samantha Nutt, M.D. – Signal McClelland & Stewart, 2011 – 228pp. – $29.99
“Most of us come into this world amidst a frenzy of pain and unpredictability, and too many of us leave in the same way” and with the annual military spending at the highest point since World War II (higher than during the Cold War) these premature, frenzied and painful departures into Beechers great mystery show little signs of slowing. President Obama’s “peace” platforms did not translate into much peace rather much more action as he authorized more attacks against suspected terrorists by unmanned drones flying over Pakistan than George W. Bush did in his entire presidency, killing civilians at a ratio of fifty to one. There seems to be no end in sight when security interests continue to trump humanitarian and development concerns. As recently as of this week I have heard Congressman Mitt Romney arguing that he doesn’t want a “hollowing out” of the military. In Canada the Conservative government froze Official Development Assistance at $5 billion a year for fiver years and within months, Prime Minister Harper had the audacity to announce a $9 billion purchase of F-35 American fighter jets. (The 9 turning into a 30) Dallas Willard warned that “Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity” in that words, places, experiencing, people that we come in contact with so often begin to loss the depth and edge and original significance that they once carried. War, weapons, military and aid may be verbs that in recent years have garnered enough debate and controversy to engender a familiarity that has left many at best ignorant at worst apathetic. The bad; Military and military profiteering including modern-day “revolutionaries” including the cause-of-the-month Joseph Kony profit from this ignorance and apathy. The worst, so do many of us. “(War is) in our pockets, generating annuals returns for our pension funds, encircling our ring fingers, and filling up our cars,” powering our IPads (1),hidden beneath the cloak of “aid” or “missions’ giving, among other luxuries.
Chicken or the egg? What comes first? A nation that does not want to disclose its arms deals or citizens who don’t want to register their firearms? A question to pursue another time but what is not in question is that for the past five years, Canada, which is among the world’s top ten arms exporters, has had one of the lowest international Arms Transparency ratings among industrialized economies. The fact that “War Sells” puts money in our teachers’ pockets as all but two provincial teacher’s pension funds are invested in one or more of the world’s top one hundred arms producers. Nutt “When teachers start betting on a boom in weapons sales to see them through their golden years, it’s time to load the trunk of the car with flashlights and soup cans.” This is bad. Worst is that all Canadians are implicated as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) holds more than $200 million in investments in twenty-four of the worlds’ top one hundred arms-producing companies.
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” If that were the case I don’t think Mikhail Kalashnikov would have expressed regret in creating the AK-47 and wished he had invented a lawn mower instead. “Well Mikhail if someone wants to kill someone, they could use that lawn mower.”
Damned Nations makes the case that war is a big business and to use language from the past five years a business that may “be too big to fail” but fail it must if we want to see the day when “between the two certitudes of birth and death a generous period of life, free from the shackles of violence and poverty” will be available for those who do not have the luxury of collecting retirement pay on blood.
This is bad.
I was aware of many of these and other issues that Dr. Nutt raises in her book. I knew things were bad but I wasn’t prepared to hear how my being uncritical of my good intentions was actually exacerbating the problem. “Only fools rush in believing they have the answers, not realizing how quickly they become part of the problem.” It was not till after reading Damned Nations that I came to see how dangerous Bono, Child Sponsorshipprograms (2), the recent Kony 2012 campaign, and my desire to see tangible results right now can ultimately be. It is not my intention to regurgitate the entire book but I will offer her issue orphanages.
I cannot claim ignorance as I have read enough Charles Dickens and I have lived in North America long enough to know that orphanages are not a good idea. I know that they are harmful to children physically, emotionally and psychologically. I know that is why they no longer exist in North America. I knew this. Then why did I think it was ever a good idea to build them in developing nations? Why did I think it a good idea to take teams to work in these orphanages for two weeks a year? In reading Damned Nations I came to the understanding that not only do developing countries not need our used shoes, extra holiday candy and Christmas Boxes, they do not need our failed systems and programs. The bad, when it comes to aid, is not that we do it the bad is that often we are uncritical in doing it and that, argues Dr. Nutt, is exactly what we have to be and her book serves as a guide in helping the reader take the first steps. While the reader has to walk alongside her as she ventures into some dark stories of rape, abuse, murder some being helpful in personalizing the conflicts, others at times, seem gratuitous and meant to shock more than explain or even inform. There are moments when it seems like she is willing to forgive misspent funds and time for the cause of long term gain but when that money and time is misspent by Oprah or Madonna none of her caustic ink is spared in pronouncing judgment.
For the most part Nutts methods match her message. As harsh as the material is at points her respect for the people and situations is evident enough to keep the reader from cringing to the point of “turning it off” or closing the book which is important because once the reader has walked through the bad a rough blueprint is given for what can be done. Nutt distills her years of research and experience into initiatives she feels are worth supporting. They are;
- A. Eliminating the Gender Divide
- B. The Burden of Poverty and Unemployment
- C. Legal Aid
- D. Search for Alternatives
Dr. Nutt is a woman I would never want to cross the wrong way but someone who I am thankful to for opening my eyes and directing my future steps in foreign development and aid. Which reminds me, for my birthday, don’t give a village a goat for me. Get them a lawyer and get yourself Samantha Nutt’s Damned Nations.
 “Coltan is an ore that yields the metal tantalum, which is one of the
four minerals mined in eastern Congo used to make capacitors in
electronic devices including cell phones, digital cameras, video game
consoles, and computers. Between 60 and 80 percent of the world’s
coltan deposits are in eastern Congo, where it is collected by hand. This
resource is used in developed countries every day, yet most have no
idea what it is or where it comes from.” Think Leonardo DiCaprio and exchange “Diamond” with “Minerals”
 Nutt likens the dehumanizing consumerist approach to advertising
sponsor children with buying a Cabbage Patch Doll or Pound Puppy.