Friday, September 25, 2009

There is Good in Him

The politics of Star Wars are interesting. The philosophy, though?

I was watching Revenge of the Sith the other night, a tense and moving film filled with individuals in conflict. Obviously Anakin is torn between what he wants and what he fears. Padme loves Anakin but can’t believe who he’s become. Obi Wan has to fight evil, though it is manifest in his pupil and friend. The Jedi want to follow the Jedi-way, but evil is too powerful to be left alive that long.

The prophecy, about the “chosen one”, is the one common theme in all of the movies. Anakin is to restore balance to the force. Balance is just the half-full way of describing this tension. As Padme lies dying, she tells Obi Wan that there is good in Anakin. Luke repeats this in Return of the Jedi, and ultimately, appealing to this shaft of goodness is what saves the galaxy.

While I watched a few nights ago, Anakin Skywalker’s seduction by the Dark Side, I laid a finger on something that has always bothered me, a fundamental difference in philosophy between George Lucas and me. For Anakin, there is no going back. He never repents for what he has done, even at the end of Episode VI. In Episode III, after disarming Master Wendu, leading to his death, Anakin’s whole being looks like he wishes he could repent. “What have I done?” he cries out. As though unable to control who he is or what circumstances limit him, the young Jedi hates who he is becoming yet boasts in it. The wickedness in him is just as important, just as valid, as the good. In the end of the story it is not a turning from his identity that causes the change, but the resurgence of a different part of his character.

That is a hopeless, gnawing life. The truth is, Anakin wasn’t good. Neither was Darth Vader. Goodness could only really come by acknowledging the wrong, and turning from it to something truly good outside himself. Without that, there is no forgiveness, no redemption. Without that, good versus evil is ultimately irrelevant. Which matches the philosophy of the Jedi, who claim that “only the Sith [bad guys] deal in absolutes.”

To God be all glory.

Kingdom Distinction

It seems utterly incompatible, about as ridiculous as preparing for a crisis by studying gardening and botany. If persecution is coming to those who live godly in Christ Jesus – if a distinction is going to appear between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world in a way that requires we take sides - then what is the place of living in community: of being the church, the alternative culture shining brilliant hints of the patriarchs’ “better city”?

Yet this paradox lives, and has lived throughout the history of the church. It is when the people of God do life together that they are perceived as a threat to be persecuted. And it is under the threat of intense suffering that the people congregate, realizing that they need each other more than for a religious ceremony once a week – and that if time is short, the priority of life is all the more to live faithfully and investing in the eternal things: people.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker

Passive. Active. Force. Manipulation. Choice. Fate. Death. Freedom.

Does God mean for something to be? Is the only way to tell God’s will through hindsight? “Whatever will be, will be”?

For perfect free will, one must be not only all-powerful, but completely omniscient: to know all possible actions and outcomes and to be able to cause any one of those.

Humans tend towards arrogance, assuming that their knowledge comprises available knowledge of the world, and that if we seem to ourselves to be in control, we must truly be.

Though “love changes everything,” knowledge certainly helps.

Faith is not dependent on what we can comprehend with our own minds, but on the love of God.

If prayer influences God, does that make prayer powerful?

Can those who “love their neighbor” kill them? How much animosity, and how much humility, is required of Christians dealing with Muslims?

Read Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker, the story of Seth the surfer-genius who receives a form of clairvoyance that enables him to see possible futures, when he meets a fugitive Saudi princess named Miriam. What do they learn about the world, each other, themselves, and God? If there’s a way to happily ever after, they will find it.

To God be all glory.

Frozen in Time by Michael Oard

Like many children, my fascination with mammoths began long before I could understand the science. Maybe I caught the tone of mystery when anyone wrote or talked about these huge wooly beasts of the past. As I have grown up, I have gradually gained more knowledge of the mysteries surrounding mammoths and their ice age. Like the dinosaur question, how did they all die? Why were they living in Siberia and Alaska in the first place? These ivory-tusked creatures of legend have on occasion been found mummified, almost whole, standing upright in the permafrost. How did that happen, and what does it tell us about the climate of the past?

For a creationist, curiosities related to extinction and weather always bring to mind the Flood. How much did the world change when God judged mankind by sending a global catastrophe? Are we still affected today by the aftershocks of the Flood? So for a person like me, a book giving a scientific creationist perspective on the Ice Age and the Mammoth mystery is gold. Michael Oard, a meteorologist, has written such a book.

Frozen in Time is well-constituted, moving through a thorough introduction of the subject and mysteries to a presentation of the Creationist Flood model and its Ice Age mechanism followed by a summary of secular theories and their difficulties, finishing with an exploration of the evidence for and against the proposed explanations for the Ice Age and the demise of the seemingly out of place mammoths. Michael Oard is willing to criticize both secular and creationist scientist for jumping to conclusions about the extinction of mammoths, pointing out that a deep snap freeze is not necessary to preserve a few mammoths in standing position with relatively unspoiled food in their stomachs. His book provides an alternative and points out that most mammoths appear to have died and been buried in more normal ways.

Aside from including very interesting tidbits about mammoth finds, other large mammals associated with the Ice Age, elephant taxonomy, and weather patterns, Frozen in Time is an important book because it is yet another evidence that the sciences built on uniformitarianism (demanding an old earth and repeating processes in nature) cut the floor from under themselves. By excluding short timelines and catastrophic possibilities because of their bias, secular scientists have no chance of following the evidence where it leads. Like trying to figure out which paints to mix to create green when the existence of blue is denied, the scientists are figuratively mixing any color except for blue, and are frustrated that they have not been able to explain green. This is bad science.

Creation science, on the other hand, not only solves puzzling natural phenomenon (and no, we do not solve everything by saying “God did it.”), but provides us with useful sciences and models. In this book are included speculations about cavemen, about classification, the adaptability of animals to different climates, geology, geography, global warming or cooling, and migration of man and beasts.

To God be all glory.

Frozen in Time

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why, when the evidence works for biblical creation and worldwide flood – but not for uniformitarian, old-earth evolution – would you compromise your Christian belief in the literal history of the Bible to subscribe to the secular theory?

When a Creationist does something predictive, like entering conditions they believe were existent immediately following the Deluge into weather pattern models, their presuppositions yield predictions that are founded by scientific evidence. Here I want to be completely honest about my claim. I’m not saying that a creationist who knew nothing of the Ice Age put flood data into models for meteorology and geology and bam! there was an Ice Age in the model. What I am saying is that creationists, who had already developed the theory of flood ramifications (plate tectonics, volcanic and geothermal activity, massive amounts of water in the air and on the continents draining into the oceans, dispersion from Ararat), put the puzzle pieces together and connected these models to the Ice Age. When applied, their results matched the evidence.

The secular scientists who reject the Bible’s claims about history, especially on origins, age of the earth, and the Flood, have observed and know that there was an Ice Age, but had no preexisting mechanisms they could apply to the historical advent of the Ice Age. So all of their efforts have been to study the data about Ice Ages and devise possible mechanisms, according to the traditional scientific method. Except every time they test their hypotheses with computer models, the predictions fail to account for the data. In fact, many times the uniformitarian (long-age) theories have resulted in predictions directly contradicting the data. What’s more, the more puzzling questions of the Ice Age (Mammoths in Siberia, Hippos in England, ‘disharmonious associations’) are left unanswered, and never answered as part of a comprehensive model of the Ice Age.

So why would a person, who claims to believe in God and the Bible, trade belief in the most reliable historical document ever written, whose predictions are universally proven by the evidence, for a theory whose science, hypotheses, and predictions are so unsatisfactory and questionable? Christian, you don’t have to compromise, or try to fit secular philosophies into your Scripture. They have no evidence. To switch sides on such unconvincing assertions is foolish!

Skeptics who like to comment on this blog, if you’re going to object to the claims made here or in any of these books I’m reviewing, you’re going to have to be more substantial than the
ad hominem attacks that the creationists are ‘lying’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘bogus scientists’. A battle of name-calling is misplaced on this blog. If you want to discuss evidence, models, or the logic and reality of presuppositions, please comment. We all benefit from critical thinking.


If it has key in the name, I’m bad at it. Or lock. I turn it the wrong way. I turn it back, and it still won’t work. That righty-tighty and lefty-loosey thing doesn't work, either. The key gets stuck, or it won’t go in. Combination locks are no better. And just now, as I turned on my computer, I realized that my thumb drive is a bit too much like a key. I press it against my USB port, and it doesn’t glide in. So I turn it over (the markings that used to tell me which side is up have washed off – and some USB drives are backwards, anyway). But this time it doesn’t go in, either. I push harder, and still no success convinces me to turn it back to the first way and push hard, which tends to work. Story of my life is not pushing hard enough. Then I just get up the nerve to push something harder, like a cd that ought to be eaten by the player in a friend’s car, and actually the cd was inserted into the space between the cd player and the dashboard. Oops!

To God be all glory.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Small Town

Everyone in the small co-orbiting towns of St. Francis and Bird City is an amateur genealogist. Each has a curiosity and supply of information about who is whose child, and to whom they were married. This has been complicated by divorce and widowhood, causing remarriages and blended families, all of which are duly noted and considered relevant information when telling a story about an individual.

They each have a pharmacist’s knowledge of pills and what they’re for, how much is taken, and especially the side effects. In fact, side effects and various ailments are appropriate conversation at any time or location. Growing old and dying are familiar aspects of the neighborhood, perhaps helping an individual reconcile to the fact of his own mortality and dwindling independence in a way that makes it harder on a person like me.

Almost all of these small-town citizens have attempted a country occupation like farming or cow-herding at one time or another, and so ought to be classified with country folk. They are innovators, recognizing their limitations and designing ways to compensate. Just as if a field had not enough water to grow corn, they would grow something else or dig a trench, so they treat all of life. Bad knee? Short term memory loss? Hailed out crops? There is a way to move on with every situation. Tenaciously they cling to their possibilities, but they are fatalists, resigned when at last there is no other way out. “That’s how it will have to be.” “This is best.”

In the little metropolis, signs are everywhere about country things and health things. Not only hospitals, but gas stations and grocery stores advertise ways to prevent the flu. Another common sign is that the establishment does not accept credit cards – but they do accept checks, local ones. It’s so backwards from the big city. And their streets perfectly crisscross, perpendicular to each other, but with only a rare stop sign and no hint of right of way.

I got to talking louder last week in the small towns, with all the hearing loss about. And I breathed deeper. Feelings were opened up in that safe, dear place. The country is both an art gallery and a museum, but it is my retreat, a rare place where I am myself and that is all I want to be.

To God be all glory.

Catching Fireflies

She used to love to catch fireflies, chasing around the yard on a summer evening. Those were the best days, the sun up so long, and even after dark you could stay outside because it was warm, buzzing with humidity. And she would laugh to be alive, regular brown hair bobbing as she ran, transformed by the dusk into elven innocent beauty. What could be more fetching than a girl cupping living light between her hands?

But she moved away and started growing up. She didn’t play in the mud anymore, or hold summer bugs in her palms. Butterflies were safe to land on a nearby flower and she would only watch. Dandelions were enemies to uproot, not fairies to set flying on the wind. Sitting behind a desk with a computer and a cell phone now, weeks and months went by without remembering those days of childhood glory.

A few quirks remained, nothing to hint to a judging world that anything of her elven self truly remained. As the clock displayed numbers corresponding to the month and day of her birth, she celebrated. Her clothes demonstrated an independent taste: dark earth tones punctuated every so often by a royal blue or coral. She always had something to say for a dessert that layered chocolate. And mythical monsters like Bigfoot and Nessie never lost their interest.

Then it happened. Enough of her stable, grown-up life fell away; just as she was ready to take a leap into a real responsibility the freedom of childhood reentered her life. She fled to the country, to the remnants of summer twilights under the stars. Seeds, formerly inserted in precisely dug holes round a circumscribed flower bed, flew from her hands into the fallow ground. Rain fell and she learned to dance, not shivering from the night breeze, but turning her face towards it.

Had she grown out of the child she had been, or had her world trapped her in a box of expectations and limited possibilities, a prison from which she had finally escaped?

To God be all glory.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Flood Legends by Charles Martin

Flood Legends by Charles Martin

In a short 120 pages (and appendices with translations of flood legends), Charles Martin introduces his readers to interpreting mythology. Can myths be true? If they are, how would you know? Focusing on three accounts of a global flood taken from cultures around the world, Charles Martin compares the similarities and differences. Did the legends, and dozens like them, have a common origin? The comparable details indicate not only that the legends are derived from the same story, but that the tale is a common memory of an actual event. Which versions are most likely to be accurate, and why?

On page 119, the author states his reason for investing time in research, translation, and writing Flood Legends: “Contrary to what many may believe upon reading this work, this is not about ‘proving’ a global flood. It reaches deeper, asking us to abandon preconceived ideas and to think. We should be willing to look for connections – not only those connections that dwell in metaphor, but also the kind that dwell in history.” By taking the case of the flood legends, so universal in traditional lore across humanity, he demonstrates the prospects that come when we take stories at face value, first testing the possibility of truth before disregarding them as imaginative inventions.

I appreciate the immense effort and talent of the researcher, Charles Martin, whose passion led to this book. Though he was repetitive at times, he made some important points in a simple, straightforward way. The true value of this book to me is the intriguing sample of flood legends found in the appendices.

To God be all glory.

New Leaf Press

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Church as Entmoot

Treebeard, as an elder of Fangorn forest, takes a walk one morning, engaging the wood’s word of mouth network to call a meeting of the Ents. Some Ents won’t come, too busy with their own thoughts and existence to heed the call of community. Others will surprise Treebeard, waking and walking as they have not done for decades, to mark the importance of the moment by their presence. The cause is that which the whole forest has been awaiting to arouse them.

The tree-herders, shepherds of the forest, gather for a moot in the dingle. A moot is a gathering for deliberative purposes. So the Ents spent three days deliberating. They took their time getting the facts and feeling the urgency of their participation in the world’s events. At last they made a decision, and the conversation stopped. Then it erupted in a communal shout, which echoed into a chant as the Ents left their little dell that seemed so remote as to be not part of the real world, and marched.

No more waiting. No individuals left to ponder whether they were with the group in the action. All of the tree-people swung themselves over the hills in the gentle descent to their doom. The decision had been built into their nature, and the making of it at last was only a matter of being clear that the need was legitimate. So they went, making war on Isengard and breaking down the wicked stronghold that had harried their defensive borders for so long.

Contrast this with the two days the hobbits spent in the House of Tom Bombadil, also in a forest that shares many parallels with Fangorn. In that house they were protected and refreshed. The hobbits heard many stories of history and the way of the world in the land where Bombadil is Master. But when they were sent away, it was a thorough departure, not a continuation of the fellowship begun in the house, or even of the instruction given in the house. And so they surrendered to temptation and deceit, almost losing their lives to the Barrow Wight. Bombadil was willing to come to their aid, but not to go with them, having, as Gandalf explained, withdrawn into a little land within bounds that he had set.

The nights with Bombadil and Goldberry comprised a vivid experience for the hobbits, opening their hearts to history and destiny in a way that little else could. But it was disconnected from the rest of the quest. Frodo and his companions could no more return to the House under hill than they could spend their eternal rest in Valinor before the tale was over.

I think church should be like the Entmoot. Don’t you ever sit in a gathering of believers, praying, singing, sharing the word of God, and just imagine everyone getting up and rushing the doors to take on the world? What if we actually did?

To God be all glory.

(quotes taken from that all-three together Lord of the Rings that came out right before the first movie)

p. 467 – Entmoot = an assembly of the people in early England exercising political, administrative, and judicial powers. Also an argument or discussion, esp. of a hypothetical legal case. An obsolete definition (therefore the most likely intention of Professor Tolkien), a debate, argument or discussion.

p. 467 – “Entmoot… is a gathering of Ents.”

p. 468-469 – “The Ents were as different from one another as trees from trees… There were a few older Ents… and there were tall strong Ents…”

p. 469 – There were about 48 Ents present (and no young Ents or Entwives, due to the tragic history of the Ents).

p. 469 – “Merry and Pippin were struck chiefly by the variety that they saw: the many shapes, and colours, the differences in girth, and height…”

p. 469 – “standing in a wide circle round Treebeard…”

p. 469 – “a curious and unintelligible conversation began.” (In jest:) Were they speaking in tongues??

p. 469 – “they were all chanting together”

p. 469 – “gradually his [Pippin’s] attention wavered.”

p. 470 – “But I have an odd feeling about these Ents: somehow I don’t think they are quite as safe and, well funny as they seem. They seem slow, queer, and patient, almost sad, and yet I believe they could be roused.”

p. 470 – “But they [Ents] don’t like being roused.”

p. 471 – “However, deciding what to do does not take Ents so long as going over all the facts and events that they have to make up their minds about.”

p. 472 – “…but now they seemed deeper and less lesisurely, and every now and again one great voice would rise in a high and quickening music, while all the others died away.”

p. 473 – “…the voices of the Ents at the Moot still rose and fell, sometimes loud and strong, sometimes low and sad, sometimes quickening, sometimes slow and solemn as a dirge.”

p. 473 – “held conclave”

p 473 – “Then with a crash came a great ringing shout…”

p. 473 – “There was another pause, and then a marching music began like solemn drums… before long they saw the marching line approaching…”

p. 475 – “It was not a hasty resolve… we may help the other peoples before we pass away.”

p. 475 – “songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.”