Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brexit, Perplexit, & Ways We Behave

I realize almost no one in the United States is talking about Brexit these days, but I've got a post that came to me as I was on vacation a few weeks ago. So casting caution and good sense aside, I decided to post this in the midst of the welter of news, info, tweaks, rants, and joyful exclamations surrounding the Democratic Nation Convention. And, in doing so, instead of getting all political, I'll keep this more personal.

The surprise of the Brexit vote occurred just as I was starting my first day of vacation in Europe—a continent to which Britain soon will not belong. As an American, the whole thing feels a bit distanced. I mean, our country’s foundation was to separate from England. So generally, independence sounds like a good thing to me and other Americans. (Incidentally, the U.S. also celebrated its Day of Independence--i.e., July 4th--while I was also on vacation.) Separating. Being independent. It's catching on. I read that the Netherlands might be next by doing, yes, “Nexit." And the Greeks with "Grexit"; France with "Frexit." Etc. 

Does this lead to Perplexit (my term), the state of wondering why this is all happening? Put more directly, Should we find this move unusual?

In seeking to answer my own question, it struck me that the impulse for Brexit is so common—when those around me bug me, why not just break the connection, stop texting, or de-Friend them on Facebook? I, like James Taylor (and the Drifters before him), want to go “up on a roof” and be by myself with the stars. 
And there, the world below can't bother me.”
Now of course, there are times when to separate is all well and good. Times when we need our space and relationships that--as the current saying goes, are “toxic"--that drain out our life and our health.

And yet. And yet, I wonder if we are not surprised—just like the Brits who really didn’t want to leave the European Union—that our protest actions are taken too seriously. That once we calm down, we find ourselves alone, isolated and lonely.

In another context, a family member quoted Abraham Lincoln—and the U.S. slogan—“divided we fall.” Both sources paraphrase Jesus, who commented that “every city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25). Those words, it seems to me, are worth recalling.

Maybe Britain can stand by itself. I'm not sure, and I'm not really not predicting. But what I do know is that we as humans are prone to be deceived by the thought that we can make it on our own. In those moments, instead of pressing Exit, next time maybe should we try pressing Pause.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Because It's True": Why We Need to Engage Science for the Sake of the Gospel

I'm writing a book on why we need to integrate Christian faith and mainstream science, especially for emerging adults (18-30 years old). This is the current version of my opening paragraphs ("the lede" in publishing speak)--I'd be interested to know what you think.

I write this book because it’s true.

      And it here can refer to at least three things. Each of which is also true. I'll post just the first two of these today.
      First of all, it’s true that we as Christians believe that Jesus is Lord of all. Therefore whatever forms of human knowledge—and thus whatever the sciences—truly discover, we are bound to bring it under Christ’s Lordship. In other words, no form of human insight and knowledge is outside of Christ. Put another way, God knows far more about science than Albert Einstein.
      Secondly, it’s true because whatever human knowledge discovers in nature, we are bound to follow it. Because God made the natural world.
      This realization emerges from the fact that when we begin by confessing that God has created this world very good, we are in the proper starting place for the study of nature as Christians and as scientists.
"O Lord, how manifold are your works! 
    In wisdom you have made them all; 
    the earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104.24
Or from The Message
"What a wildly wonderful world, God! 
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, 
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations."
      I was at a conference on science and theology and a biologist commented, “Every scientist I know began with a profound experience with nature.” The message of the Bible is that we are created to relate to the world around us. The thrill of the scientist is that the natural world is exciting to discover. That begins the process of science.
      Consider the daughter of a friend, Eva. As we were hiking in the Sierra Nevada
mountains together, she would find beautiful rocks and bring them to her father (who has a degree in geology)—“Aren’t these amazing? Isn’t this one pretty, dad?” He affirmed her scientific impulses and dutifully collected each of these geological gems (and they gradually filled and weighted her his backpack.) 
Eva essentially summarizes my point.
            And so does the great astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus: 
“The universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.” 
Or, the head of the National Institutes of Health and one of the top scientists in our country—and also a follower of Jesus—Francis Collins
“I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation”
Collins, Copernicus, and Eva agree: I need to write this book because it's true.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Reflection on Technology and Angst

I've been pondering again why so often we are so drawn to our smart phones instead of to other human beings.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle, author of both Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2012) and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015) emphasizes (by my reading) how technology invades and prevents true human community. Tech often gets in the way of true conversation and empathy.

In my hometown, there’s a phone app developed by Chico State grads, PocketPoints, which rewards its users if they turn off the phone during college classes. As they state clearly on their website, 
“Phone addiction is a pervasive problem.” 
A friend—a younger friend at that—cannot help but notice that, during a quick stretch break I usually offer my students in the middle of lectures, the students quietly text their friends or check their social media instead of meeting the people right in their vicinity. He’s rather blunt at this: “Why wouldn’t these guys want to know all the gorgeous girls that are all around them?”

Or as Turkel puts it: 
"Texting offers just the right amount of access, just the right amount of control. She is a modern Goldilocks: for her, texting puts people not too close, not too far, but at just the right distance. The world is now full of modern Goldilockses, people who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people whom they also keep at bay."

Indeed. We feel anxious about messy conversations in real time, with real people, and thus more comfortable “connecting” virtually. And—though I doubt this is true in my classes—my students are probably just a bit bored. 

Boredom and anxiety—that potent combination which together make the German word angst and the French version ennui—propel us toward our cell phones like the proverbial moth to flame. The little shot of dopamine that’s released as we are stimulated by the next scream has addictive qualities. And so we continue. Angst stimulates our flight toward cell phones. And so it is particularly with emerging adults, who were given screens to quiet them as fussy babies. Such earlier training is sticky and recalcitrant.

The lurking question is what will retrain us. But I'll leave that unanswered for now...

Monday, February 29, 2016

Time and God's Eternity

I'm working on an academic article on time and eternity. I'm particularly gripped by the question of whether God's eternity implies that God is timeless. My answer to date is, No, in some way, God has to have movement and progression in order for there to be speech and music in heaven. Moreover, God's Incarnation in Christ requires that God has touched the temporal sphere and inhabits it. At least, that's a thesis (or maybe two) I'm pursuing.

Since this piece will surely will not see the light of day for several months, it seemed good simply to lay out two key quotations.

First from Wolfhart Dannenberg in first volume of his Systematic Theology:
“The thought of eternity that is not simply opposed to time but positively related to it, embracing it in its totality, offers a paradigmatic illustration and actualization of the true Infinite which is not just opposed to the finite but embraces the antithesis”
And, particularly on the question of how the Incarnation helps us interpret God's temporality (or not), Thomas Oden, who summarized the relation between time and eternity through the pattern of the Incarnation, was particularly helpful: 
“The decisive Christian analogy concerning time is that between the eternal indwelling in time and the incarnation. Brilliantly, the classical exegetes taught that the creation of time is analogous to the incarnation in this way: The Father inhabits time, just as the Son inhabits human flesh” (from the Living God, citing Hilary, Nemesius).
I draw then this provisional conclusion: The eternal God embraces temporality. God is not timeless or atemporal, but is also not defined by earthly time. Indeed God, in many senses, transcends time... which, I suppose means, that God doesn't stay some timeless Deity, up in the sky, but truly interacts with you and me. And that I take to be central to the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

An Invitation to Lent

“You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.” - John Calvin
If you’re not familiar with Lent, it comes from the word “to lengthen”—in other words, during these weeks the days begin to lengthen with the coming light of spring. The period of Lent is
 40 days of fasting before the celebration of Easter. Traditionally, Christians have fasted—given up certain foods or other things— during Lent as a sign of repentance, faith, and preparation for Easter. Lent does not include Sundays because in the history of the Christian church, those are “feast" days, in which we celebrated the Resurrection, and not “fast” days. In total, there are 46 days during this season (not including Easter), but we fast for 40 of those.
As the community of Christians worldwide, we now enter into the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, particularly the call to repentance. 
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
Joel 2:12-13
A few years ago, when I looked back over my life, I realized that I couldn’t go forward simply by pressing on faster—instead I needed “to turn around” and slow down. This insight from C. S. Lewis spoke to me,
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."
Progress is the result of “turning around” around fast, as long as we realize that “turning around” is the root meaning of repentance and that in Lent, we fast (give up certain pleasures or necessities)
in order to slow down and get on the right track. 
Why it’s called Ash Wednesday? Because ashes are a sign that we are making a U turn, that we are repenting. As a sign of repentance, the Bible speaks of using ashes. Consider these two verses:
Joel 2:12-13 says, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” 
In Matthew 11:20-21, Jesus calls two towns in Galilee to repent in sackcloth and ashes: 
“Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.’”
So, Ash Wednesday—whether we literally use ashes or not— initiates a time of repenting or seeking to turn our life around in the places we are heading away from God. That way we we turn back to God, at the center of our life.

What do I need to repent from? God, search me and help me to find out.