Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's not the end of the world as we know it, but I don't feel fine....

Ok, it's May 23 and we're all still here.  It seems that Harold Camping, who has been wrong before, decided that he missed something, and the end will be Oct. 21, not May.  Backpedaling like an experienced politician, and changing tactics (probably in hopes that if he and his ministry aren't advertising and counting down, the culture's short attention span will let them fade from memory by Halloween) the Camping camp was wrong.  This comes as no surprise to people who actually know the Bible.  Matthew and Mark both record Jesus telling His disciples that no man knows the hour or day He will return.  So all Camping did was provide some people an excuse to party up, and most of those people would have been partying anyway, and give antagonistic non-believers more ammunition in their own battles against their own faith and that of others.  Similar to the way Fred Phelps damages the Body with his un-Biblical actions and words, or the way some anti-abortion activists have stepped outside of Christ-like actions against the abortion industry and providers.
These are major examples that have gotten a lot of attention lately, but they are far from the only ones.  A tale that has stuck in my mind for years is the account of a young runaway in the forties.  He joined a traveling circus and started playing the organ.  On Saturday nights, he played for the dancing girls, and on Sunday mornings, for the tent preachers, often seeing many of the same faces in both crowds. Seeing those incorrect actions of believers (I'm not putting it in quotes because I don't know their hearts, and don't want to be judging) helped push the young man to his future as Anton Levey, author of the Satanic Bible, founder of the "official" Church of Satan, and inspiration for unknown numbers of members of that church, self-styled satanists, and other active, antagonistic nonbelievers.
I started a new job this week, and already early in the training, there was instruction on the rules about work and social media.  The policy is don't talk bad about the company, other employees, customers, vendors, ect. There are instructions to make sure that if there are any references to the company, a disclaimer is added to make it clear that the person is not speaking as a representative of the company.  A fairly standard policy in this digital age, but one that is strictly a worldly policy.  Believers don't get to slap such disclaimers on our words and actions.  We are God's representatives here on earth, period.  Our actions and words are often the only Bible some of those around us will ever read.  Companies making social media policies like this understand the power of words and action, why does so much of the Church not get it?  If we did, then people like Camping and Phelps would not get the traction they presently do, because there would be much more positive evidence in front of the world, instead of the apathy and Biblical ignorance that gets so much attention.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Knowledge vs wisdom

It is absolutely amazing the sheer amounts of data available to us today.  I get a dozen or so magazines, for free, every month that are various trade journals, a couple of political newsletters, and a couple from different Christian organizations.  The trade journals are mainly computer and IT related, although I haven't cancelled the ones I started when I was selling insurance, primarily to try and keep an eye on the current healthcare debacle and it's effects on the industry (and in turn, the effects on us the consumers).  Those are just the printed ones I can get for free.  Visit your local bookstore and gaze in awe at the long stretch of magazine racks, covering music, sports, news, technology, art, movies, religion, lifestyles, et al.  Don't check the one at the grocery store, their selection is dwindling rapidly.  Then there is my inbox, which is flooded daily by news, devotionals, music reviews, free stuff and industry updates, most of which I signed up for.  Many of those emails are lists of white papers about the latest cloud computing security features or how to archive the new crop of data (ironic, no?).  Moving out into the rest of the internet, there are millions of hours of talks, radio shows, and sermons, along with podcasts, blogs, videoblogs, Youtube channels, all with more insight, information, and entertainment for us to absorb. 
There was a time when we thought that our impressive brains could hold many times the amount of information the world could generate.  With the world's knowledge doubling at ever decreasing intervals, I think we are approaching a time when that amount of data may well exceed the brain's capacity.  Last week I talked about how our machines let us do more in less time, and how the quality of that output has gone down.  I think in many ways, the same applies to our knowledge.  How many of those news reports and polls and studies are outdated or disproved before we even finish reading them?  How many of those great technological guides are obsolete by the time the email gets fished out of the spam folder?  Thinking further, how many surveys and studies do nothing but confirm what a minimal application of common sense and observation already knows?  It never ceases to scare me to see headlines, especially now as the U.S. Census data continues to be analyzed and released, that tell us the government, state or fed, or some advertiser, spent a whole lot of money to tell us what common sense already knew. 
One recent poll showed that Americans knowledge of civics, i.e. how our government works and how it is supposed to work, keeps dropping.  Other polls about people lack of Biblical knowledge and mores, even in churches, keep showing up.  Even simple knowledge, like what fruit did Adam and Eve eat in the Garden of Eden or what swallowed Jonah is lacking, let alone major things like living together before marriage is sin and homosexuality is too are missing from much of the Church.  We have a divorce rate that is the same as the worlds.  Now, I'd like to find some breakdown of that and find out how many of that number are people who divorced before they were saved, but the problem remains, along with an increasing number of pastors (not just Catholic priests) getting in legal trouble for child pornography and molestation or getting in trouble with their church for other less than saintly sexual activities. 
There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Based on the present state of society, I think it's no small leap in logic to say that knowledge can easily push out wisdom.  The examples I gave are examples of missing wisdom.  Too many churches and schools are doing nothing but throwing knowledge out at parishioners and students.  Wisdom used to be imparted to the next generation by parents, but like the churches and schools, that link in the chain has also been broken over the years.  The result has been a vacuum, and if you didn't get that bit of knowledge from the buckets of data in school, nature abhors a vacuum, meaning that if there is a hole, something will try and fill it.  This further supports my theory, that as wisdom has shrunk, the space in our mental landscape gets filled in with knowledge.  Knowledge without wisdom is like the Mississippi River right now, great power unrestrained, simply wiping out everything in it's way.  Knowledge has long been established as power, but power that is not focused, that is not directed, not controlled is useless, and often simply destructive.  We are barreling towards that flood, but we seem more interested in increasing our knowledge and seeing how big an explosion we can make. 
It's not over, however.  This seems like a very negative bit here, but everyday that there are still people who know that difference between knowledge and wisdom, there is still hope.  Every time those people parent their children, or teach their students, or preach to their flock, or just engage the people around them in intelligent discussions that help to foster some of that wisdom, help water that blossom, it is another step out of the muck.  The world has been standing in a sinking hole ever since the Fall, and the amazing thing about sinking is, if you do nothing, you keep going down.  It takes a conscious effort and action to fight gravity.
When people talk about fixing the world, it quickly gets bogged down into thoughts of "there are too many of them and not enough of us" or "what can one person do against all these ills?"  Deuteronomy 32 talks about 1000 put to flight by one who has the Lord behind them.  Add to that an interesting tidbit I picked up from a speaker recently, mentioning that an effective pastor can pastor (not just preach to, but actually pastor) about 100 people.  Megachurches (effective ones) overcome that by breaking up into cell groups, where those 100 each pastor another group, usually slightly smaller than the initial 100, and those groups typically continue to break down into smaller groups.  So lets put all this together.  If one man (or woman) of God can put a thousand of the world to flight, and that one is even a decent pastor (not necessarily an ordained preacher, but a leader in their family, at work, within their church) and they are pastoring fifty brothers and sisters, that is 50,000 running for the hills under a righteous spiritual assault.  That's just the first ripple, not taking into account those learning from that first fifty.
We aren't fighting a physical war, so our victories don't always show themselves to our physical eyes.  But when the Body is walking in the Word, those numbers add up quickly, maybe not in the votes we'd like to see  at the ballot boxes or the actions we'd like to see in our schools or any of the social changes we'd like to happen, but the numbers are there, with people moving closer to Christ, and names being added to the Book of Life, and those are the numbers that are really important.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Too much of a good thing....

My lament today matches that of Calvin's dad (that being the little blonde boy whose exploits with his stuffed tiger Hobbes entertained us daily for many years from the newspaper, and continue to from their books) as he stared at a desk full of paperwork whose urgency was compounded by the then burgeoning electronic frontier.  Everything is available at our fingertips instantaneously, so production is expected to maintain a similar pace.  Calvin's dad (I never noticed that the parents never were addressed by name until I read the anniversary book that Watterson put out, it's a cool idea, but makes it difficult to reference the characters) reminisces of a time when getting a project out in a week was a rush job, and an unlikely outcome, and that was nearly twenty years ago.  He continues on about how all the efficiency and accessibility just makes us want more in less time, concluding that if we want more time, we need to make our machines less efficient. 

The urge to multitask has been taken by many to insane extremes.  I'm bad about trying to accomplish half a dozen things at once, but I usually realize when I've hit that point where the attempt to do several things at once is seriously detrimental to the needed focus on one or more of the tasks at hand.  A prime example, as I sit here writing, my Facebook is open in another tab, and when that little number in parenthesis shows up in the tab, I reflexively go check what popped up, instead of putting all the focus in on the writing process here.  Or trying to listen to sermons and talks while walking, cooking and the like.  Or downloading new music while checking the news online. 

Some of this comes from the massive amounts of data that we are surrounded by, some of it comes from the 24-7 connectivity we're granted by our laptops, our cellphones, and our tablet computers.  We expect our emails and text messages and status posts to be immediately responded to, and try to do the same in return.  But where it hurts us is in our ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Our minds have been multitasking long before there was 3 and 4G connections, but there was a time when that multitasking went on standing behind a plow being pulled by animals, or while taking in the dark night sky just because it wasn't cold enough to need a fire and there was no other particular reason to use the fuel.  That type of mental multitasking is a bit different than letting the world know about the coolest new viral video while checking the sports scores and ordering Chinese take out. 

No, I'm certainly not calling for an obliteration of technology.  My concern here is not the stuff, but what it is doing to our minds and though patterns.  It was hard enough to sit down and focus on one thing in those short quiet times before the constant threat of a text message or notification ding, and when we think about the fact that those quiet times are where we are supposed to do most of our communing with God, and extrapolate that out into the attitudes and actions of so many people around us today, it seems that such focus is not only becoming more difficult, but even less frequent.  I know it's hard, but it is possible to rebuild that focus.  It takes work but it can be done.  Little things like getting up fifteen minutes earlier, but don't turn anything on yet.  Take a part of your lunch break out in the car, still with everything off, radio, phone, everything.  Digital Bibles are great, but if the device is too much distraction, there are these cool old things called books, you flip the pages, and they don't have any pop up ads or notifications to distract. 

A dozen people learning to unplug and focus for a few more minutes a day won't change the world overnight, but it will change those people, and those people will affect some of the people they interact with, and the wave will spread.  Isn't that worth waiting another few minutes to know that your buddy got crowned mayor of the grocery store? 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The big news of the day

Last night, it was announced that Osama Bin Laden, the mind behind 9/11 along with numerous other attacks against Americans and American interests, had been killed by U.S. troops.  This is a major win in the war on terror, far from the end of it, but a major victory nevertheless.  Pres. Obama should be commended for continuing the hunt, and authorizing the mission.  The only knocks I'll give him is a few too many, well placed I's in the announcement speech, and a warning that this is not a campaign point. 

I personally am very torn over the news.  Osama was a murderer, a terrorist, and a figurehead who poured gasoline on the fire of war in the name of radical Islam.  Even still, he was a human being, one who, despite his actions was intentionally and lovingly created by God.  His actions broke numerous laws, all worthy of punishment, and as of this writing, the reports indicate he fought back during the raid.  The worldly side of me says he deserved it all.  The Christian side says wait a minute.  Judge not, let he who is without sin cast the first stone and all that.  Lucky for me, my wife had the same thoughts, and in her looking around, came across Deuteronomy 16:20 "Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land of the Lord you God is giving you."  By every definition I can think of, justice was served.  I'm glad I wasn't involved in the decision making or the actions.  I don't think we should be celebrating the man's death in and of itself, but we can celebrate the completion of a mission, the execution of justice, and the positive effects the event will have on the continuing war on terror.  We can celebrate the closure the event offers some of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.  But to just jump up and down over Osama's death, and even to start making some of the jokes of questionable taste already just seems to be in very poor character.