Monday Morning Insight: New Year, New Things

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

It’s the first Monday of 2017 — and for many folks it’s still a holiday, so that’s not a bad way to start the year!

The first quote I’ll present in this series this year is a promise from the 21st chapter of the Revelation of Saint John:

He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Sunrise!

(“Sunrise!” by Larry, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

 

Other translations render the verb tense a bit differently, but I like this one because it’s a statement of intention and purpose: not “I would like to” or “I am in the process of” but “this is what I do,” specifically, “I make all things new.” And not some things, not most things, but all things.

If we believe the one saying that is the one through whom all things were made in the first place — as the Gospel of John presents in its first chapter — then it is no great stretch to believe that he can remake the old into the new and even that he intends to do so. We might even go so far as to think that he delights in doing so.

And that’s a nice thought with which to start this New Year.

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Day of Despair

On this darkest day of the Christian calendar, I think about the disciples’ misery, their fear, and the hopelessness they must have felt.

They had no idea what the next day would bring, and how much better and brighter it would be.

I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us when we mourn, when we are afraid, and when we lose hope.

Opening of roadside tomb_0654

(Image: “Opening of roadside tomb,” by James Emery, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)
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Blogging the New CD: C is for Christ’s Hard Sayings

Third in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Some people reading this may be averse to anything that even hints at Christianity, its tenets or its practices. That’s okay. But even people who do not follow Christ can often recognize and sometimes appreciate things he said.

Consider “Turn the other cheek,” for instance. Many people might recognize that sentiment without knowing that Jesus said it, or without knowing how subversive it was at the time.* Like many of the things that Jesus taught, however, it’s easier to say than it is to put into practice. To apply it to a recent situation in science fiction and fantasy fandom, had more people been able to turn the other cheek the great Hugo Award Fracas of 2015 might have resulted in fewer hurt feelings and fewer damaged friendships.

The truth is that Jesus said some things that are difficult to understand and difficult to embody. As a result, the practice of Christianity is sometimes hard to accomplish.

Follow me, and learn to fish for human souls
Follow me, leave your family and your home
Follow me, I don’t bring peace, I bring a sword
Follow me, and let the dead bury their own

“We Want the Easy Road”

Some of those things are hard to figure out, and some are hard to do, on top of the basic problem of dealing with doubt and uncertainty day by day, and of trying to make the most of whatever measure of faith we may have. This song, then, is primarily about dealing with the difficult things that Jesus said, the things he said that fly in the face of the way we think the world works or should work, and above all else the one thing he said that can confound us whether we ignore it or we try to obey it. And that was simply, “Follow me.”

What are we to make of the things he said? At times during the song you get some of my reactions:

  • “It sounds so good, you knew it would, all the pleasant things you said”
  • “It sounds so odd, these words from God, so we ignore the hard things you said”
  • “It sounds absurd, these things we heard — all those crazy things you said”
  • “We close our ears, don’t want to hear, are we sure that’s what you said?”

And as the good things he said transition to odd things, to things that sound absurd, and to things that we may not want to hear, I conclude that quite often we want the easy road rather than the straight and narrow, the wine and the bread of communion rather than the sweat and sacrifice of service.

A loaf of bread...
“We want the easy road, the wine, the bread.” (Image: “A loaf of bread…” by James Lee, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Whether you are a believer or not, whether you have ever even thought much about who Jesus was or what he did, I hope you can find something to ponder in “We Want the Easy Road”. And if you like it, go ahead and share it with others who might like it, too.

___
*If you want to know more about how turning the other cheek or going the extra mile would have been subversive acts, drop me a line.

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Release Day! DISTORTED VISION is Now Available!

Almost 2 years to the day since I released Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, here comes my second musical collection, Distorted Vision.


(Album cover photography and design by Christopher Rinehart. Click to go to the Bandcamp page, to listen to or purchase the album.)

Like its predecessor, Distorted Vision is another collection of songs mostly inspired by or referencing science fiction and fantasy, as well as songs about the marvels and misfortunes of life itself. I consider it to be a second helping of “truths and lies and make-believe.”

Where T&L&MB had ten all-original tunes, this new album has eleven songs, including two which use existing tunes. I intend to write a series of posts examining each song on its own, but here’s the running order with a few basic notes:

All the above links go to Bandcamp, which is the only place the album is available at this time. At Bandcamp you can listen to the songs, purchase a download of individual songs or the whole album, and order a physical CD for me to send to you (and, yes, I ship them myself).* I will make the album available on CD Baby soon, and from there it will be available on Amazon and other outlets — and the songs themselves will be available for streaming.

If you never listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe,** but you’ve heard me play guitar and are a little leery of how these songs might sound, let me assure you that just like the first album I did not actually play any of the instruments on this one. My friend Mark Minervino was once again the studio musician par excellence, and also engineered and mixed the songs, and my friend Brian Ceccarelli of Talus Music mastered the CD so the sound quality would be uniform. I couldn’t have done this album, or the last one, without them!

So if this sort of thing interests you, or if you’re just curious, or even if you just want to humor me, I hope you’ll give it a listen — and that maybe you’ll find something you like enough to buy! And if you know someone else who might appreciate it, by all means send them a link to the album or to this blog post.

Thanks, I hope you like what you hear, and let me know what you think!

___
*Note that physical CDs won’t ship until close to the end of the month. Sorry!
**Really? It’s been out for 2 years, and you haven’t listened to it yet?

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Reflections on the Second Day

Today is the second day. A day of doubt, despair, and fear.

Jesus Cross
(“Jesus Cross,” by Claudio Ungari, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think of Jesus’s disciples on the second day. Those who knew him, loved him, followed him; who listened to him, questioned him, wondered about him. Those who believed in what they thought he would do, believed in what he said, believed in him. And saw him taken from them.

They were marked men (“Weren’t you with him?” “I don’t know him!”). Not so much revolutionaries without a leader as sheep without a shepherd.

The second day was a Sabbath day. A day of rest, when no work would be done. A day when the mind should be turned to God. A day of no distractions.

I imagine they prayed for distractions. For brighter memories of better days, instead of bitter images of the first day.

I imagine they did not think of the day as the second day, or the day before as the first. And I imagine they did not much anticipate what the third day would bring.

For them, it was just a dark and terrifying “today.”

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Does the Human Eye Prove that God Exists?

To answer the question right out of the gate, I’d say no, because no single phenomenon or example can “prove” that God exists.


(Someone is watching you ….)

The question comes from the headline of an article in The Telegraph — in the “film” section, no less — that discusses what a wondrous mechanism the human eye is, with its “astonishing inbuilt systems.”

Take, for example, a little trick called the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). In short, it’s our own personal Steadicam — an inbuilt muscular response that stabilises everything we see, by making tiny imperceptible eye movements in the opposite direction to where our head is moving. Without VOR, any attempts at walking, running — even the minuscule head tremors you make while you read these words — would make our vision blurred, scattered and impossible to comprehend.

As one who finds very jittery camera work in movies (like District 9) and some video game action (like the rolling ball in Katamari Damacy) very disorienting — to the point of physical illness — I am very grateful for the VOR!

But that’s not all:

… researchers have discovered the retina is doing a huge amount of pre-processing itself – and that as light passes through the retina’s several dense layers of neurons, a lot of detail like colour, motion, orientation and brightness are determined.

When I took a laser safety course (many years ago), we were told that the retina was put together opposite the way an optical engineer would have designed it, because the rods and cones actually point backward, into the retina itself, instead of forward toward the lens. This newly-found pre-processing function may have something to do with that, though personally I wonder if turning the sensors around would make our eyes more susceptible to damage from very intense lights.

Things like that make the question of deliberate design vs. development by natural selection interesting. As the article puts it,

Even today, Christians and creationists believe that Charles Darwin himself was troubled by its existence — seizing upon an (oft-misquoted) aside in Origin of Species, where Darwin remarked that the whole idea of something so flawless “could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

The full Darwin quote, with the important next sentence, is:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

Thus something that seems absurd may still be possible, and even reasonable. The question is whether it matters. For instance, whether it matters to a believer that sufficiently different eyes can be understood by natural selection to lead to the human eye. Or whether it matters to an unbeliever that the believer attributes the eye’s complexity to the influence of a creative God.

The eye still exists, and some of us can praise God for it even though its existence is insufficient to prove that God exists.

And that’s okay. After all, faith is “the evidence of things not seen.”*

___
*Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

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A Book of Truths

Following up on a conversation I had with a friend at the last science fiction & fantasy convention I went to, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between truth and fact.

Bible Study
(“Bible Study,” by .:[ Melissa ]:., on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Specifically, that truth and fact are not the same thing.

A fact is a provable assertion, something verifiable by applying an operational definition. A factual assertion will be true, or it cannot be considered factual. Truth, however, especially what we might call “capital-T truth,” is bigger, broader — higher and wider and deeper — than fact. It may be based on fact, but it may also be based on logic or intuition or revelation because truth goes beyond fact.

The conversation we had specifically dealt with Scripture, and the difficulty some people have with it. Within the Christian church, for instance, many believers seem unwilling or unable to face up to metaphors, translation issues, and other problems with the Biblical text. Their faith at times seems to be in the Bible itself — in what they believe is an infallible text — rather than in God.

On the other side of the divide are my atheist friends, some of whom are lightning-quick to mention errors or points of disagreement with the Biblical text. Indeed, some appear to use such things to justify their decision to deny even the possibility of God’s existence, action, and love for humanity.

In each case, the formula seems to be “If any part of the Bible is inaccurate or problematic, then the whole of the Bible cannot be trusted.” Some Christians go so far as to treat Jesus’s parables, his teaching stories, as if they described historical events because they cannot abide the thought of Jesus telling a story that might not be “factual” even though it illustrates a “truth.” On the other side, I understand that some atheists go so far as to claim that Jesus was not a real historical person, though I have not personally encountered anyone who voiced that opinion.

I wonder at the deeper motivations involved. Do my Christian brethren ignore problems because at heart they want to believe and any textual difficulties will shake their beliefs? In a similar way, do my atheist friends point out problems because at heart they do not want to believe and the textual difficulties provide them a ready excuse?

Regardless of the underlying reasons, many believers and atheists alike seem to want or expect or demand that the Bible be a book of facts that has some truth in it. That seems to me a shallow outlook; in my estimation, it’s more accurate to say the Bible is a book of truth that has some facts in it.

And to me that makes a world (if not a universe) of difference.

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Where Are the Muslims Who Disavow Violence and Terror?

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, I noted that I was supposed to be in the Pentagon that day, but was delayed.


(Heritage Print of the 119th Fighter Wing’s mission over the Pentagon on 9/11. North Dakota National Guard image.)

Today I will finally ask a question that has bothered me ever since we found out the attacks were carried out by Islamists: where are the peace-loving adherents of the “religion of peace” who publicly distance themselves from their own lunatic fringe?

I believe that most Christians have no problem rejecting the off-the-wall pronouncements of our own extremists who clothe their prejudice, hate, and pseudo-righteous indignation in obscure verses or who twist what the Scriptures say. I, for one, state categorically that none of them speak for me, my faith, or the God in whom I believe.*

Where, then, are the Muslims willing to do the same with respect to their faith’s extremists? What Muslims stand up against the Wahhabists or Salafists — two names for the same ultra-conservative faction from Saudi Arabia — and reject the hate-filled fatwas, or tell the sharia-loving imams and priests and mullahs that they’re full of it? I don’t know of any. Why is that?

One reason is probably fear. The Wahhabists and their ilk — who also call themselves Muwahhidun, i.e., “Unitarians” or “unifiers of Islamic practice” — are known to take their own twisted law into their own bloody hands. They scream and scheme for the blood of artists over books and cartoons, of women over failure to clothe themselves in deathlike shrouds, and of anyone who dares to proclaim that Mohammed is not their prophet.

As noted at www.globalsecurity.org, the “reformer” Abd Al-Wahhab’s

instructions in the matter of extending his religious teaching by force were strict. All unbelievers (i.e. Moslems who did not accept his teaching, as well as Christians, &c.) were to be put to death.

So, some Muslims who disagree with the Wahhabist interpretations of the Koran, etc., likely do not speak out because of fear — in much the same way that Catholics who disagreed with the Inquisition did not speak out because of fear. One key difference, of course, is that the Catholic Church at the time was the voice of authority in Western Christendom by virtue of its roots in historic Christianity; Wahhabism, in contrast, is a minority, upstart sect despite being favored by the Saud royal family.

I ask again, Where are the Muslims who repudiate the hard-line interpretations and reject the call to violent jihad?

Lest my own position be unclear, let me try again: I hereby reject and repudiate any bit of Christian writ that enjoins me or anyone else to kill an unbeliever or someone who believes in a different faith than I do. I further reject and repudiate any bit of Christian-derived writ — any commentary, any apocryphal work, any pronouncement from a church or lay official — that enjoins me to or anyone else to kill someone on the basis of their faith or their lack thereof.

My question for truly peace-loving Muslims is this: Do you reject and repudiate every passage in the Koran and the hadith that calls for the deaths of unbelievers and the spread of Islam by the sword? If so, I will count you as my friend. If not, then I must conclude that you count yourself as my enemy.

___
*I even wrote a song that talks about it.

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Why I'm Not Fighting in the 'Christmas War'

On this Christmas Eve, let me start by saying HAPPY HOLIDAYS, whether you celebrate Hannukah, or Kwanzaa, or Divali, or the passing of the solstice, or whatever winter festival fits your traditions and beliefs. Personally, I will try to make a Merry Christmas for my family and friends, but even if that is not your practice I wish you all happiness at this, the turning of the year.


(happy holidays! by mel5545, on Flickr.)

Likewise, if you are family, or friend, or casual acquaintance … if you were my teacher or my student, my boss or subordinate, my co-worker or colleague, or even my enemy or a complete stranger to me, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

  • If you hear “Happy Holidays” as a threat — as an encroachment on what you perceive to be your rights or a debasement of something you hold dear, rather than as a simple well-wishing — I would rather you wouldn’t, and while I wish you a Merry Christmas I hope you will not take offense when I wish you Happy Holidays as well.
  • If you say “Happy Holidays” as a jibe — as a quasi-political statement intended to elicit some vehement response, rather than a sincere attempt to spread good cheer — I wish you wouldn’t, but nonetheless I hope you can find something during the holidays about which you can be happy.

I will not fight in these battles any more.

We have reached a sad point in Christendom when those of us who call ourselves Christians begin demanding any sort of rights from society at large. Do we not follow the Son of Man, who said to expect tribulation more often than triumph? Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers; not the arrogant, the judgmental, the disruptive.

How did Matthew record it?

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
— Matthew 5:11-2 (NASB)

Too often we think of the time Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple, and think we should act likewise; and if we have people conducting inappropriate business in our churches, then perhaps we should. But the marketplace — the mall, the shopping center, the superstore — is not the Temple. Inasmuch as we sometimes treat it as such, that is a different problem (and one that lies within us).

So, by all means and in whatever way seems appropriate to you, have a happy holiday. If you wish me well, I wish you well. If you wish me ill, I hope that we might come to some better understanding by which I might change your opinion … and meanwhile, I wish you well.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life.

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Giving Christianity a Bad Name

I was as dismayed as anyone, I think, when I heard about Pat Robertson’s ill-conceived and heartless pronouncement following the Haitian earthquake. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, just how insensitive his comments were.

This morning I posted a brief comment on one of the writing forums I frequent:

As a Christian, I feel quite safe in saying that many Christians give Christianity a bad name. I’m sure I have, and do, and will, as much as I may try not to. Fortunately or un-, I don’t have a televised platform from which to broadcast my stupidity and bigotry. (Oh, but if I did ….)

For the record, Pat Robertson does not speak for me. “God so loved the world,” for me, must also be cast in the present tense.

I am profoundly grateful to God that He loved me before I knew Him, that He loves me now in spite of all my shortcomings, and that “His love endures forever.” And if my gratitude — my thankfulness for and reliance on what He did instead of anything I’ve done, on who He is instead of who I think I am — ever comes across as arrogance, I apologize and beg your forgiveness.

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