In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs, general editor of Esquire magazine, writes, “Julie [his wife] always told me that things happen for a reason. To which I would reply, Sure, things happen for a reason. Certain chemical reactions take place in people’s brains, and they cause those people to move their mouths and arms. That’s the reason. But, I thought, there’s no greater purpose.”
We all long to know where our lives in particular and history in general are going. Does everything happen by chance? Or is God directing the course of human events with purpose? Are our lives part of a larger story (a meta-narrative) that’s going somewhere?
In last week’s post I reported on our trip to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, a Biblically scaled ark with many thoughtful exhibits. Invoking artistic license, the creators have assigned names and back stories to everyone on the ark. In one exhibit Japheth’s wife (whom they’ve named Rayneh) is troubled by the massive loss of life outside their boat. She ponders these questions as she goes about her daily chores.
On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.
I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.
And a little too gleaming?
God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills.
If every reporter who has savaged (or even snorted at) Vice-President Mike Pence for not dining or working late alone with women other than his wife would simply google “where do affairs happen the most,” they might change their tune.
They would find that anywhere from 38–53 million men in the U.S. have cheated on their wives, touching one in every three couples. And that 65-85% of adulterous affairs begin at work.
They would also find that few consciously decide to start an affair.
Plato’s News Cave (courtesy Imgur)
Recently The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”
I know what some of you are thinking: “Ba-ha-ha-ha.”
It is indeed rich that a publication that has long questioned the existence of truth now lays claim to it in their advertising. Long ago the mainstream media relinquished its claim to reporting truth. Instead, at their best, they report “truth” from several different perspectives, weighting the progressive/oppressed perspective the most heavily.
The result has been the loss of truth. Now we see the media caught in its own trap. As Donald Trump exaggerates and equivocates, they desperately try to refute him. But if you don’t believe in a solid ground of truth, how do you have a place to stand from which you can throw rocks at untruth? Isn’t it just another perspective with ”alternate facts”?
How do we hold on to Truth in a hostile culture? CS Lewis shows us in his fourth Chronicle of Narnia: The Silver Chair…
Narnia’s crown prince has been missing for ten years. His aged and failing father, King Caspian, while desperate to find him, has banned his knights and citizens from seeking him because too many search parties have disappeared, just like prince Rilian.
Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.
Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.
So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:
Happy New Year!
Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:
#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.
When we walked in the door from watching the new Rogue One Star Wars movie last night we heard the sad news: Distraught over her daughter, Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, Debbie Reynolds had just died of a stroke.
(Slight spoiler alert) We had just watched a digitally young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in the final scene of Rogue One. One of the rebels hands her electronic intelligence delivered at the cost of many lives. When he asked what she’s been given, she lights up a smile and answers, “Hope.” But in a tragic irony, yesterday sixty-year old Fisher died of cardiac arrest in the wake of years of the kind of drug abuse that damages your heart. Now, her elderly mama appears to have died from a broken heart.
In a 1990 interview with Larry King Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia said, ““One of the side effects of Percodan (a narcotic painkiller) is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria.”
Until this election, I didn’t fully appreciate your fears about climate change. About damaging our beautiful world beyond repair.
Now I’ve talked to enough friends and family to feel your frustration. Your deep concern. Even fear? And I am sorry.
For years I’ve heard many of you losing confidence in any larger story that explains how the world works and how we find hope for the future. I thought that meant that you had given up on any larger story. But I’m realizing you do have a larger story, at least many of you do.
I’m hearing so many voices united in real fear that our Earth is on its way to overheating and the end of civilization as we know it. It seems like you do believe in a larger story of saving the Earth, or at least our species. Working to reverse what you believe to be man-made climate change. Or finding a way to insure the survival of our species on Mars or another planet.
In this season of political hype and spin we hear accusations flying: “That is a lie.” ‘”That’s a — that’s — go to the — please, fact checkers, get to work.” Truth is taking a beating. And fact checkers are called on to establish the truth at a time when voters have less and less confidence that truth even exists.
What does it mean to claim to have the truth and how can we know if we have it? Can we trust the fact-checkers to hold the candidates to the truth?
If there is one thing we learned from the first presidential debate of 2012, it was that, in these postmodern times, even the “smartest guys in the room” agonize over how much to focus their message on empathy or reasoning. Likeability or a robust contention for facts and evidence. Should they approach their audience more as thinkers or feelers?
In his first debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama opted to forego answering Gov. Romney’s questions about his record. Postmodern conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to win today’s audience to our point of view we do it with empathy and likeability more than evidence and facts. If you argue the facts, if you forcefully appeal to reason, you can seem angry and unlikable. So appeal to emotions more than reason.
Just be nice.
The New York Times reported that in mock debates in 2012 with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, “Mr. Kerry drew Mr. Obama into a series of intense exchanges, and Mr. Axelrod (his chief campaign strategist) determined that they were damaging to the president.” Obama pulled his punches and didn’t get into an exchange over the defense of his record.
So much for conventional wisdom. The disappointment and frustration of his supporters resounded from the debate hall to the Twitterverse. Reading the early reviews on his iPad on his way back to his hotel, Obama called Axelrod, “I guess the consensus is that we didn’t have a very good night.” “That is the consensus,” Axelrod replied.
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’ve not been a big fan of Donald Trump. So I guess I don’t officially qualify for his “basket of deplorables.” Then why did I feel personally scorned by Hillary’s remark at an LBGT fundraiser last Friday?
To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.
Because, as a conservative Christian with a high view of God’s Word, I have seen all of those labels but one (racist) aimed at people who believe exactly as I do.
No woman I know wants to look unattractive. As the seasons change we’re in the stores looking for styles and colors that make us feel good. For many of us that means finding clothes that are new and trendy. (Fall pastels!) Or comfortable. (yoga pants for millions who never yoga) Or even beautiful, although beautiful is more elusive.
Of all the places we might expect to find beauty, we’ve come to expect less and less of it at fashion shows. Or the pages of fashion mags. Watch the shows online or pick up a copy of Vogue magazine and I have rarely seen pictures of so many women who look like they absolutely do not feel good.
They look bored. Depressed. Starving. Androgynous. They look like Dr. House has diagnosed them, all of them, with the extremely rare condition of anhedonia– the inability to experience pleasure.
Of course, if I was wearing what they had to wear, I would probably feel, or not feel, the same way. What is going on?
It’s the story new research is pointing to, but that Science won’t admit. We all have this self inside our heads. We see images, remember memories, hear music and an inner voice. We speak in an inner voice. We silently pray. We perceive things and feel an emotional response long before we can put it into thoughts or words.
Is all of this merely the result of neurons firing and chemicals washing? Or is it the universally shared experience of being a living soul?
Our schools and culture are saturated with the message that, “The scientific and philosophical consensus is that there is no nonphysical soul or ego, or at least no evidence for that.”
The brain is a computer. We may sense a self — a “ghost inside the machine.” But, according to Big Science, it’s all just data processing.
The New York Times reports, “’The machine mistakenly thinks it has magic inside it,’ says Dr. Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton. And it calls the magic consciousness. It’s not the existence of this inner voice he finds mysterious. ‘The phenomenon to explain,’ he said, ‘is why the brain, as a machine, insists it has this property that is nonphysical.’”
This idea that we are an organic machine has huge implications for our daily lives. Must we live as neurotransmitters, simply responding to the programming of our genes or perceptions or emotions? What is the real story Science is telling about its search for consciousness—the magic in the machine?
Last week I posted about Charlotte, NC teachers being encouraged to use the Gender Unicorn to explain to students how the sex you are “assigned at birth” may be different from your gender. And how every night, as we watched the Olympic Games, we all experienced a reality check: the obvious biological differences between male and female athletes.
This week a new scientific study, “Sex and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences,” published in The New Atlantis journal, offers findings that challenge LBGTQ orthodoxy:
You are not born gay. Nor is your sexual orientation unchangeable over a lifetime.
Most young people (70-80%) who have feelings and sensibilities that do not align with their biological sex will eventually grow out of them.
LGBTs have a higher risk of poor physical and mental health than heterosexuals, including:
Non-heterosexuals are at double the risk of depression.
Trans people are ten times more likely to commit suicide.
Stigma and prejudice do not completely account for these differences.
These conclusions, published two weeks ago by two well-credentialed Johns Hopkins scientists, are not receiving nearly the attention of the mainstream media that they deserve. Meanwhile, the Gender Unicorn, produced by LBGTQ student activists, is gaining credibility in our schools.
Why does this study matter so much for all of us?
If you’ve been watching the Olympics these past weeks you’ve seen many male and female bodies beautifully sculpted by years and years spent practicing their sport. From swimming to high jump to kayaking, we see male and female bodies shaped in similar ways by training, but the women are shorter and less buff than their male counterparts. The men simply swim faster, jump higher and paddle more powerfully than the women.
For teachers in the Charlotte, NC school district, it must have been something of a reality check. They spent part of their in-service training last week being instructed by resources from transgender activists.
By day they were told that sex is “assigned” at birth. As if sex is something that a delivery nurse arbitrarily or accidentally determines.
By night they watched highlights of every male sprinter lining up in the blocks with larger shoulders and thicker wrists than their more graceful female counterparts.
Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” It’s looking bad.
A gold-star Muslim father, Khizr Kahn, whose son was killed in Iraq, challenged Mr. Trump from the podium of the Democratic Convention. “Have you even read the Constitution?…You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
True to his own advice, Trump hit back and keeps hitting back. He even attacked Kahn’s wife. (No surprise to Heidi Cruz.)
The Star Trek movie Into Darkness ends with a moving eulogy from a young Captain Kirk, “There will always be those who mean to do us harm…Our first instinct is to seek revenge…. But that’s not who we are.” Who would have thought that a Star Trek movie would express a nobility that seems beyond the reach of Election 2016?
I’ve watched the acrimony and violence of this past week with a heavy heart. The Director of the FBI is by most accounts a man of “north star” integrity. Yet when he condemned Hillary Clinton as “extremely careless” in handling classified information without recommending a criminal indictment, he was harshly attacked. Two days later white police shot and killed blacks who seemed suspect. A black shooter in Dallas vented his rage by shooting as many white police officers as he could.
We tend to think that we can rip and tear at the fabric of America, but that our laws and institutions are indestructible. They can take whatever assault we deliver. But nations as well as families rest ultimately on a foundation of trust. A trust based on respect for the dignity of each individual as well as respect for the laws and institutions that protect us.
We look back over this week and wonder if that trust is fraying into an irreparable breach. And we wonder, what responsibility do we bear for being ministers of reconciliation who take seriously the call to care for our culture?
At an author’s retreat a few years ago Liz Curtis Higgs grabbed several of us and said, “Come on, let’s take a picture of the Silver Foxes together.” In today’s culture that worships youth, her proud ownership of her silvering hair infected all of us. I’ve never thought of mine quite the same. While ageing is a fact, our attitude determines how we experience it. And more and more of us are experiencing it.
Experiencecorps.org reports that by 2030 the number of Americans age 55 and older will reach 107.6 million (31 percent of the population). Americans reaching age 65 today have an average life expectancy of an additional 17.9 years (19.2 years for females and 16.3 years for males).
This generation of retirees can anticipate far more from their fourth-quarter than previous generations. They will be the healthiest, longest lived, best educated, most affluent seniors in history. According to a survey conducted for Civic Ventures, 59 percent of older Americans see retirement as “a time to be active and involved, to start new activities, and to set new goals.”
The only way to get to San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta is to drive down a dry riverbed. We bounced so much down the boulders in outback Guatemala that I arrived brain-rattled and bruised, but laughing because of the great company we were in.
On a missions training trip, we had come with our new friends Harry and Patty Larson to encourage and equip the leaders of a small church there. Together with their young son Peter the five of us bedded down in a tiny room off the back of the church, “air conditioned” by a 12-inch gap between the walls and ceiling.
Lying there in the dark we could hear the soft flapping of something swooping through the gap, in and out of our room. Unsettled, I asked, “What is that?” From his bed Harry began singing in a perfect Sesame Street Transylvanian accent, “One bat hanging in the steeple, One bat flies in through the door….” Patty chimed in, “That makes two bats in my belfry, Wonderful!”
We giggled at The Count’s perfect tribute to our adventure and drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by dogs barking and a rooster crowing. In the middle of the night. And then the bed started to shake.
“Jack,” I half-whispered, “what is that?”
“It’s just a big truck going down the street.” And he rolled over.
As if a big truck could have made it down that riverbed.
The shaking grew worse. And worse. Earthquake!!
I sat bolt upright. “What do I do?!”
Harry responded, “It’s ok. You’re ok!”
The shaking grew worse.
“What do I do?!!”