Thursday, November 24, 2022

Giving Thanks


1 Chronicles 16:34  -  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 7:17  -  I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

Psalm 118:21  -  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

1 Corinthians 15:57  -  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 9:15  -  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Colossians 3:17  -  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 5:18  -  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 7:12  -  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.

Revelation 11:17  -  We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.

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Truth is...The act of giving thanks is evidence that you recognize someone has been responsible for something good in your life that you did not earn or deserve. In which case, who better to be thankful to than the One who has been responsible for the greatest good of all?

Thursday, November 17, 2022

It Doesn't HAVE To Be Science Or Faith


I recently started reading a book by a couple of Jesuit priests who work at the Vatican observatory (Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller). It's titled Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? and its first chapter gives a great analogy that explains how science and religion don't have to be at odds with each other.

One piece of background explanation: the painting that is referenced in this quote was not painted with brushstrokes of paint, but was created using a technique called pointillism, where the image was built up by adding colors dot by dot, much like the digital imaging techniques used today.

When I look at A Sunday on La Grande Jatte  -  1884, I keep flipping back and forth between seeing the whole scene, which is lots of people enjoying a beautiful day in the park, and seeing the little dots from which that scene is made up. But to me that doesn't mean the world is falling apart  -  it means that there is more than one way to see the world. One way is to see the big picture, the everyday world of common experience. Another way is to see the world as analyzed by science: a world of tiny atoms, of particles and waves, of fields of force  -  a world that can be described mathematically.

That's one way to get at relating science and faith: think of it as flipping back and forth between two different ways of seeing one and the same world. We can see the world through the eyes of science or through the eyes of faith.

When you see the world through the eyes of faith, you are often very much concerned with everyday experiences of what is right and good and beautiful. You are concerned with how your life hangs together and makes sense  -  or doesn't!

But when you see the world through the eyes of science, your concerns are different. You want to know how the world works and what it's made of, right down to its smallest pieces. The world as analyzed by science can seem disconnected from the world of everyday experience, just as the dots in Seurat's painting can seem disconnected from the larger image.

The trick is to get comfortable with the idea of flipping back and forth between two different ways of seeing. And the trick, also, is not to panic if one way of seeing omits something that the other includes, or emphasizes something that the other neglects.

So you can see this painting as a collection of dots, or you can see it as an image of people in a park. Both descriptions are true. If one of them is true, it doesn't make the other one false.

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Truth is...and I think I may have said this before...when presented with an either/or choice, sometimes the best option is both/and.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Whether Your Candidate Won or Lost...


In these days following the mid-term elections, let's make something abundantly clear.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)  -  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

(NLT)  -  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

(Phillips)  -  Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander and no more malicious remarks, Be kind to each other, be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.

(Voice)  -  Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts — these are poison. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King.

(Amplified)  -  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence]. Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.

(The Message)  -  Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

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Truth is...If you can recognize your own need for forgiveness and have gladly received it from Yahweh, how could it be possible to withhold such a blessing from anyone else?

Thursday, November 3, 2022

White Majority In The Rearview Mirror


I've got bad news for those wanting to hang on to the myth of white superiority and primacy. From Brown Is the New White by Steve Phillips:

"The country's demographic revolution over the past fifty years has given birth to a New American Majority. Progressive people of color now comprise 23 percent of all the eligible voters in America, and progressive whites account for 28 percent of all eligible voters. Together, these constituencies make up 51 percent of the country's citizen voting-age population, and that majority is getting bigger every single day. ...

"The New American Majority is growing larger every single day (every minute, actually). Each day, the size of the U.S. population increases by more than 8,000 people, and nearly 90 percent of that growth consists of people of color. To understand this startling reality, one must look at the rate of births and deaths, and the rise in immigration.

"In terms of births, as of 2011, the majority of babies born in America (50.4 percent) are now people of color. A baby is born every seven seconds, resulting in 12,343 births per day. At the other end of the age spectrum, the racial composition of the over-65 segment of the popula­tion is quite different. Because of centuries of racially exclusionary im­migration policies, the total U.S. population was nearly 90 percent white as recently as 1950. As a result, the current over-65 population is 78 percent white. Using that figure to estimate the ra­cial breakdown of the country's deaths -- which occur at a rate of 6,646 per day (once every thirteen seconds) -- it's clear that while a majority of births are people of color, deaths are overwhelmingly white.

"What this means for net population growth, then, is that the white birth number of 6,048 new babies each day (49 percent of the babies born every day) are largely canceled out by the 5,204 white deaths ev­ery day. For people of color, the 6,295 daily births (51 percent of all births) are only reduced by 1,442 deaths, leaving a net increase of 4,853 people of color every day.

"And then there are the immigration numbers. Implied, feared, but unstated in America's heated immigration debate is a remarkable pop­ulation statistic -- more than 90 percent of all immigrants to America are people of color. In terms of legal immigration alone, 2,618 people are added to the U.S. population each day, nearly all of them people of color (reflecting the reality that most of the people outside of the United States are people of color). When those numbers are added to the net increase from births and deaths for people of color, the bottom line is that each and every day, 7,261 people of color are added to the U.S. population, in contrast to the white growth of 1,053 people."

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Truth is...It's way past time for "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight" to make it into the hearts of adults and not just Sunday School children.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Truth Behind John Belushi's Final Flight


The uncontrollable end of John Belushi, as described by his agent, Bernie Brillstein, in Where Did I Go Right?

"One day in early March 1982, I flew with John Belushi from Los An­geles to Martha's Vineyard in a private jet. We had it all to ourselves. He was thirty-three. I was fifty-one. The accommodations were first class and we should have been having the time of our lives. We weren't. In fact, John Belushi no longer had a life. He was stretched out across two cramped seats in the tiny jet, wrapped up in a body bag. Our destination was his funeral.

"Everybody loved John Belushi. The problem was that he didn't love himself enough to believe he had value in the world and that he wasn't indestructible. As John's TV, then movie, career took off, and his fame grew, so did his inability to control his appetites. After he left Saturday Night Live, his life lost the discipline having weekly responsibilities im­posed, and his erratic behavior became more frequent. Total strangers gave him drugs just to get close, to be cool to tell their friends they'd done it. And John consumed it all. It wasn't just an over-large lust for life; he was trying to fill a hole inside. If God hadn't created drugs, John would have found something else to abuse. Lorne and I thought Belushi craved love and acceptance. I could identify with that. I wanted the same things; we all do. But instead of using drugs, I became a personal manager.

"Belushi could be, and often was, a great guy. The rest of the time, as he careened toward the end he was either crashed out or out of control. Those who cared about him would say, 'You're hurting yourself and the people who love you,' but he'd just try to charm his way past the warnings. When I pushed him too hard to straighten up, he'd tell me to back off.

"There's nothing more painful than watching a man you love de­stroy himself. I don't know why it happens. I'm not a psychologist, though sometimes in my job I have to act like one. I suppose there are as many reasons as there are people who [mess] up: Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of being a fake. Feelings of worthlessness. A need for love. Arrogance. Narcissism. They're played out with drink, infidelity, drugs, domestic violence, and other weird behaviors that are hard to imagine. Even performers who aren't screwed up sometimes act this way, so it's hard to tell what's going to happen or how serious it is -- until it's some­times too late."

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Truth is...Whatever your fear or source of pain or lack of self-esteem causes you to do that distracts you from recognizing God's unquenchable love for you, get rid of it now, before your own "it's sometimes too late" moment catches you off guard.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Avoid Viral Infections by Attending Church


Church involvement can be good for your health.

According to Social Intelligence: The Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman, staying generally healthy can come down to living life on a peaceful, even keel.

Peaceful Easy Feeling

"[Meet] Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, who has intentionally given colds to hundreds of people. Not that Cohen has a malicious streak -- it's all in the interest of science. Under meticulously controlled conditions, he systematically exposes volunteers to a rhinovirus that causes the common cold. About a third of people exposed to the virus develop the full panoply of symptoms, while the rest walk away with nary a sniffle. The controlled conditions allow him to determine why. His methods are exacting. ...

"We know that low levels of vitamin C, smoking and sleeping poorly all increase the likelihood of infection. The question is, can a stressful relationship be added to that list? Cohen's answer: definitely. Cohen assigns precise numerical values to the factors that make one person come down with a cold while another stays healthy. Those with an ongoing personal conflict were 2.5 times as likely as the others to get a cold, putting rocky relationships in the same causal range as vitamin C deficiency and poor sleep. (Smoking, the most damaging unhealthy habit, made people three times more likely to succumb.) Conflicts that lasted a month or longer boosted susceptibility, but an occasional argument presented no health hazard. ...

"While perpetual arguments are bad for our health, isolating ourselves is worse. Compared to those with a rich web of social connections, those with the fewest close relationships were 4.2 times more likely to come down with a cold, making loneliness riskier than smoking. The more we socialize the less susceptible to colds we become. This idea seems counterintuitive: don't we increase the likelihood of being exposed to a cold virus the more people we interact with? Sure. But vibrant social connections boost our good moods and limit our negative ones, suppressing cortisol and enhancing immune function under stress. Relationships themselves seem to protect us from risk of exposure to the very cold virus they pose."

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Truth is...if you were paying attention, you'll realize that we won't receive the implied health benefits by merely attending worship services. The real boost to our immune system comes from being involved and cultivating meaningful relationships. You know...not just going to church, but actually being the church.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Time to Notice the Normal


The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, by John Koenig, not only has short definitions of brand new words, but also includes short essays expounding on things we non-poets seldom contemplate. One of those essays is so perfectly phrased, I can't even think about commenting on it without making sure you've actually read it. Here then, are the paragraphs that follow the definition of maru mori: the heartbreaking simplicity of ordinary things.

Cat in window

Most living things don't need to remind themselves that life is precious. They simply pass the time. An old cat can sit in the window of a bookstore, whiling away the hours as people wander through. Blinking calmly, breathing in and out, idly watching a van being unloaded across the street, without thinking too much about anything. And that's alright. It's not such a bad way to live.

So much of life is spent this way, in ordinary time. There's no grand struggle, no sacraments, no epiphanies. Just simple domesticity, captured in little images, here and there. All the cheap little objects. The jittering rattle of an oscillating fan; a pair of toothbrushes waiting in a cup by the sink. There's the ragged squeal of an old screen door, the dry electronic screech of a receipt being printed, the ambient roar of someone showering upstairs. And the feeling of pulling on a pair of wool socks on a winter morning and peeling them off at the end of the day. These are sensations that pass without a second thought. So much of it is barely worth noting.

But in a couple hundred years, this world will turn over to a completely different cast of characters. They won't look back and wonder who won the battles or when. Instead, they'll try to imagine how we lived day to day, gathering precious artifacts of the world as it once was, in all its heartbreaking little details. They'll look for the doodles left behind in the margins of our textbooks, and the dandelions pressed in the pages. They'll try to imagine how our clothes felt on our bodies, and what we ate for lunch on a typical day, and what it might've cost. They'll wonder about our superstitions, the weird little memes and phrases and jokes we liked to tell, the pop songs we hummed mindlessly to ourselves. They'll try to imagine how it must've felt to stand on a street corner, looking around at the architecture, hearing old cars rumbling by. The smell in the air. What ketchup must have tasted like.

We rarely think to hold on to that part of life. We don't build statues of ordinary people. We don't leave behind little plaques to commemorate the milestones of ordinary time:


But it all still happened. All those cheap and disposable experiences are no less real than anything in our history books, no less sacred than anything in our hymnals.- Perhaps we should try keeping our eyes open while we pray, and look for the meaning in the things right in front of us: in the sound of Tic Tacs rattling in a box, the throbbing ache of hiccups, and the punky smell that lingers on your hands after doing the dishes. Each is itself a kind of meditation, a reminder of what is real.

We need these silly little things to fill out our lives, even if they don't mean all that much. If only to remind us that the stakes were never all that high in the first place. It's not always life-and-death. Sometimes it's just life  -  and that's alright.

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Truth is...I'm not sure how all this fits or conflicts with any particular theology, but I do know our lives will be measurably sweeter and richer and fuller the more we recognize and appreciate that we are...indeed...standing on holy ground; that the world is a wondrous place; that to live is a great adventure.