Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Justice, fairness, and eternity

Reading is a very important need in life, and one of the things I've been working on is taking the time to do some serious reading (almost) everyday.  Part of that is a daily Bible reading plan, part is working through the stack of ebooks on my phone, and part of it is working through the actual hard copy books on the shelf that I haven't gotten through yet.  The hard copy book I'm on right now is Lee Strobel's The Case For Faith, and it is rapidly becoming one of those books that I think everyone should read, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, simply because it will challenge people in both camps.  The man, a former atheist, takes his journalistic background and delves into asking the serious, major questions and objections that people have about faith and God, interviewing various scholars of faith and philosophy to find the answers.  The first objection is a common one, that since there is evil and suffering in the world, a loving God cannot exist.  An image that he refers to several times is an old cover of TIME magazine showing an African woman holding her baby who had died in a vicious drought.  People who want to argue against God claim that because all it would have taken to save that child is rain from the heavens, from God, this is proof that there is no good, loving God.  Later in the book, the more direct question of how can a loving God kill children, specifically referencing the cleansing of the Holy Land by Israel, where God ordered Israel to put every living person in the land to the sword, regardless of age or gender. 

I'm not looking to answer those questions, but the direction I went with these questions was that we have lost sight of the difference between fair and just, as well as looking at these issues through our own finite glasses.  The slaughter of the people of the Promised Land looks horribly unfair to us, and in reality it is.  But that cleansing was not meant to be fair, it was meant to be just.  We do not have the details about how God offered those nations the opportunity to repent and turn from their sin.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of how God gave individuals and nations the chance to save themselves.  Jonah gives us both, Jonah got the chance to repent from his sin of disobedience, and Nineveh got the chance to turn from their wickedness and not be destroyed.  How many times did Pharaoh have the opportunity to let Israel go free without losing every firstborn child in Egypt?  These and other examples before and after Israel took over the Promised Land show us that God doesn't just randomly smite people.  These events were deserved in the name of justice, in the name of God enforcing His rules on mankind.

The first place dissenting minds are going right now, and some agreeable minds as well, is what did that dead infant and their mother do to deserve their fate?  That delves into several other thoughts.  There is a very strong, Biblical theory that there is an age requirement to get into Hell.  People who die before that age of responsibility are spared eternal torture.  It's a deep theological theory which we don't know the exact age and it's not my point, so for the purpose of this discussion we will assume that theory is correct.  So the fate the child receives is a place in Heaven, and the fate the mother, as well as others who loved the child receive is, if they are believers or become believers later, is that internal peace and the goal of getting to join their lost loved one in Heaven when it is their time to die.  It's rather difficult to argue that those fates are unfair or unjust.  Their short term, worldly fates may seem to be, but God operates far past those limited planes.

What of the fairness and justice of this event in the eternal view?  How many people saw that picture and it burned their heart to help out not just the mother who lost her child, but the others suffering from the drought, either by prayer, awareness raising, monetary contributions or even going to Africa to provide spiritual and physical support on the ground?  How many people saw that picture, and questioned their own faith, and the internal debate bolstered their trust in God and His wisdom, or even led them to finally accept God and His word?  The short term sufferings led to much greater things, things we will in all likelihood never have a clue about until we see eternity.  Ravi Zacharius swings the idea in a different direction, with the same eternal viewpoint, he envisions nonbelievers going before God and asking "why is there all this suffering and diseases and problems?" and God's answer is "I sent you millions of souls with the answers to those problems and cures for those diseases, and you decided those lives were too inconvenient and aborted those children."  Our visions of fairness and justice have gotten so polluted by worldliness that we ignore God's visions of them.

God doesn't like watching us wallow in our sins.  He doesn't take pleasure in sending people to Hell, or meting out worldly consequences for our actions.  He does see how pain that seems interminable to us in the short term can lead to great things for the Kingdom.  How many are inspired to faith by the stories of those who have died for their faith in the past, or even by seeing those who do now in many parts of the world?  Remember the man who was born blind in John 9, who the disciples asked if his condition was punishment for his sins or his parents.  Jesus said that it was for neither, but so that God would be glorified.  Think about that for a little bit, being blind in first century Israel was a far poorer existence than being blind in modern day western culture, yet Christ Himself said the reason it happened to this man was so that the works of God could be shown.  Not only was the man healed, but read the discussion he had with the Pharisees, and think about the huge amounts of theology that are crammed into that exchange.  All because this one man enured being blind his whole life.

The world's definition of fair is coming up a lot right now, especially since it's an election year.  Some people think it is fair to take from group one and give it to group two, some think that it is fair that we all be handed the same material things so that everyone has exactly the same amount of everything.  Justice is on the lips of many as well, often believing that public opinion is interchangeable with the term.  The mess that is the Treyvon Martin case is a fine example of how clueless we are on the definition of justice.  People are screaming that George Zimmerman must face justice, and I'll be the first one to say that it is possible he needs to go to jail for unnecessarily killing that young man.  But lynching the man without a trial or even an investigation is not justice, not by a long shot.  Worldly justice is innocent until proven guilty, not trial by media.

God's justice is not trial by media either, nor is it lynch mob justice.  It only seems that way when we are looking at it through earthly eyes.  God's justice is laid out in His law, specifically for this discussion, the law that sin leads to death.  God would have been perfectly justified in smiting Adam and Eve as soon as they bit into that apple.  He was perfectly justified in flooding the world, drowning everyone but Noah and his family for their sins.  He is perfectly justified in telling us "I never knew you" if we stand before Him on our own at our judgement.  Fortunately, He was also justified in providing a way out of trying to defend ourselves in His court, by sending Jesus to stand in for us in His death.  That is still justice, only the justice is served to one who was willing to accept it on our part. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More than just Peeps and plastic grass.....

Usually, I tend to skip the big events, simply because everybody and their dog is talking about X at that time.  This can lead to unimportant stuff being on everybody's lips or important stuff just become part of the white noise that surrounds us.  The big event coming up is Easter, and it has sadly become part of the background.  Easter is the whole point of Christianity, without the empty tomb, the crucifixion, Jesus' ministry, the nativity,they all become meaningless.  Easter is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion.  First and foremost, few other belief systems have a savior, someone who lifts man up from the grave.  Typically, other beliefs hold that it is up to man itself to do the right deeds and be good enough or go through enough pain to be purified and move to whatever the next level is supposed to be.  There are deities, there are leaders, there are prophets, but no saviors.  Jesus was miraculously all four, God incarnate, the head of the Church, he knew and told the future, and He provided a way out of death. 
Next, while every other major religion's leaders/founders/prophets/ect have died, none of them have come back.  There are some who are supposed to come back at some point in the future, but their bones still sit in the grave. You can visit the graves of Muhammad and Confucius,  but while a couple of sites are believed to be the tomb Joseph of Arimethea, there is no body in either one.   This is huge. The world is covered with the gilded graves of not only religious leaders, but of kings, philosophers, musicians and others over the centuries that draw crowds of admirers, followers, zealots, ect.  Even David and Solomon's tombs were part of the landscape Jesus walked.  It is an ancient custom to build memorials to those they believe to be great, as evidenced by the Egyptian pyramids and the emperor's tombs in China.  Yet there is no memorial for Christ, because there is no where to put it.
Christmas gets most of the attention in modern times, yet in the Bible, it is not even afforded an accurate date.  Easter on the other hand, is attached to the Jewish Passover festival, along with the details about how Jesus was crucified on Friday, and hurriedly buried before the Sabbath began.  Easter gets lost in chocolates and eggs, the same way Christmas gets lost in gifts and trees, but Easter is the defining moment of Christianity.  I think we don't like to think about all the death and blood attached to Easter through the necessity of Jesus dying on the cross before He could come out of the tomb, and it's easy to get too wrapped up in the pain and suffering of the Passion, but it is all part of the whole.
This Easter, like every Easter, is a chance to remember what an awesome God we serve.  He sent His own Son to endure human life, to fulfill the promises that fill the Old Testament, to open the gates of Heaven to all.  That Son willingly went to the cross, took the sins of the world, past, present and future on Himself, and died.  Then, as if all that was not enough, God raised Jesus from the dead, glorified and perfected His body, and sent Him back to provide the proof of who He was.  (Stubborn as we are, the miracles, the prophecies, the healings, the resurrections weren't enough.)  Nevermind speaking creation into existence, molding man from the dirt, building the nation of Israel from one old couple, taking that nation out of slavery in Egypt to the land promised to that old couple, even all that pales in comparison to what Easter did for us.  Nothing wrong with enjoying biting the head off a few bunnies too, but keep these things in your minds and hearts this weekend, and the rest of the time too.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Internal Medicine

All right, I'm still on the metal kick that was mentioned last week, and one of those odd juxtapositions struck me.  I recalled an old metal album entitled Pierced From Within.  The album cover featured a rotting corpse strung up with a ring of large spikes projecting out of it's gut.  Yummy, I know, but there is a point.  Last week we talked about the war that we all face and fight, particularly our internal battles.  That picture seemed exceptionally appropriate to follow up with the war imagery.  Those battles we fight can grow inside of us, getting larger and larger, sharper and sharper, pushing their way out, ripping through our bodies, not only causing us our own pain, but even making it impossible for others to come near us to help as the pointed spears create a wall around us.  Sometimes we forget about the internal front in spiritual warfare.  We try and bury those seeds of thought and action deep inside, only to have them sprout through all the compost we cover them with.
As I was working on this, I had to make a run, and when I started up the van, Seventh Day Slumber's song "From The Inside Out" was playing, a not so subtle reminder that the spiritual positives work the same way.  Our armor isn't built up by piling more on the outside, it's built up by growing layers on the inside.  Outer armor is often like the whitewashed sepulchers Jesus referenced.  Armor built up from the inside, with much prayer, study and fellowship, grows and makes its way to the outside, not quite as painfully as the impaling spikes, but it still starts from the inside. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Prepare for's prepared for you.

I've been on a metal kick lately, and in that kick, the war imagery that permeates Christian and secular metal of all genres has been sticking out.  Secular bands dig into the violence and gore of the battlefield, along with the pride of victory and agony of defeat, while Christian bands tend to use the imagery as a metaphor for the spiritual battles we face.  The question that comes to mind is if such imagery is appropriate in the Christian realm.
The Old Testament is replete with not just war imagery, but real war as Israel both acted as the means of God's judgement on the various people occupying the Promised Land and as they faced judgement for breaking God's covenant.  Along with the historical books, the prophets and psalms use battle and weapons to illustrate the conflict between not only God and the world, but the internal spiritual battles mankind fights.
The New Testament moves away from the physical war, with Jesus setting an example of pacifism.  However, as Jesus was approaching his arrest, He instructed the disciples to buy a sword if they did not have one, indicating that there is a time to fight.  Later, Paul uses the reference to both the weapons of our warfare and the full armor of God to describe the struggle between the Christian and the world, and how those struggles are to be handled. 
That is the clincher here.  Anyone who has been honest about their struggles with sin, whether it's lust, addiction, anger, doubt, or any of the long list of what we fight against inside knows it is a war, period.  Anyone who is honest about the struggles we face trying to show and convince the world about the truth of Christ knows it is a war, period.  These aren't spiritual debates (though they may be worldly ones) they aren't board games, they aren't book reports, these are nasty, vicious, bloody, fights to the finish.  It's barely even a metaphor to describe the need for swords and shields to win these battles. 
I think while we need to maintain Christ's example of not engaging in unnecessary worldly battles, the pendulum has swung a bit too far, with too much focus on being a door mat for the world, with not enough honesty about how our struggles, both internally and with the world need to handled.  It can be very easy to take the mindset too far the other way, focusing too hard on the battle and not those weapons and where we get them from, or be looking for the worldly victory over spiritual ones.  But we can't win the battle if we walk into it prepared to flip tiddlywinks, either.    

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why Rush Shouldn't Have Apologized

Rush Limbaugh made some comments about a young lady who stood in front of Congress to explain why the Jesuit affiliated college she is attending should be forced to go against their firmly held, consistent beliefs against birth control and provide it to their students.  One of the specific comments was that contraception costs $3000 a year, leading Rush to speculate about how much activity this women and those going through that much birth control a year are engaging in.  The left and the media (redundant I know) pounced, some sponsors bailed, and Rush took the high road and apologized.
I absolutely believe there was no good reason for him to do so, for several reasons.  First, the man was expressing an opinion.  Where did we get this ignorant idea that everyone's opinions have to be nice, or even that we have to accept those opinions?  I work in a prison, and get all kinds of nasty words thrown about referring to me and the other C.O.'s, kitchen workers, teachers, and every other employee.  Do I get to raise a stink to earn a apology?  Do I deem the comments worth even reacting to 99% of the time?  Do their words really mean a hill of beans to me?  The answer to all three is no.  Ms. Fluke went publicly in front of Congress, and made some very bold statements about a controversial issue, among those statements some of questionable validity, like the $3K annual cost, or the idea that these students and employees have no other option for their birth control methods then through their school, who is opposed to such things. 
The second reason is very related.  Google Bill Maher and Sarah Palin, then Louis C.K. and Sarah Palin.  Those are just two examples of some of the sick, nasty things that have been spewed at Palin by left leaning folks, and only examples of what was thrown at her, never mind the horrible things said about other conservative and Christian individuals.  Then you can easily delve into viscous attacks on organizations, ideology and people groups from various individuals, groups, media organizations, ect.  Where are the demands for apologies and sponsors fleeing from them and front page news stories?  It's the hypocrisy and doublethink out of these people that makes them undeserving of any apology.
Thirdly, the people demanding the apology refuse to accept it.  Everywhere you look, commentators are saying Rush only apologized to save his show, it was meaningless, he was just lying.  I hate to break it to folks, but Rush could probably walk away from his show today and never have to look back financially.  His show is the top market share, and has a list of people wanting to be advertisers that runs around the block.  According to the man himself, some of the "leaving" sponsors have already asked to come back, and I'll bet a huge stack of bills that if you keep track of those lists of advertisers "blacklisting" Limbaugh, in six months to a year tops, they will be right back on the EIB network, because few companies, no matter what their professed political leanings may be, are going to turn their back on having their product exposed to that many people in one fell swoop.  Back on track, even Fluke herself, the only person the apology really should matter to, said it doesn't change anything, and she hopes Limbaugh doesn't try to contact her directly for a personal apology (See here)
Rush did the right thing.  I'm glad he did.  I'm glad he was a big enough man to overlook these and many other reasons that I'm sure he and others could think of and issue an apology for his words.  As an individual, the apology is always the right thing to do.  But I will say I think he could have used the opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of his detractors as well as their pettiness.  Of course both shine through even in light of his apology.  But neither will garner anywhere near the attention of the event itself.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Independent's Day

I didn't vote yesterday.  There was a major election in Arizona yesterday, February 29th, and I did not participate.  But haven't I been one who complains about We the People getting involved in the election process?  Yes, so I feel that some explanation is in order.
The reason I did not vote yesterday is because it was the Republican primary, and I am not a registered Republican.  My voter card says independent, because the Republicans have burned my biscuits almost as much as the Democrats over the last several years, primarily by playing politics and being more interested in achieving and maintaining power then doing what is in the best interests of the nation.  I have yet to see any serious Republican efforts to cut their own pay and benefits, protect citizen's privacy, hack and slash through the bureaucracy, red tape and asinine regulations that make it nearly impossible for the US to cut it's deficit, gain energy independence, or encourage manufacturing jobs to come back to the US, among numerous other issues.  Sure, they tried to make a big deal about the Keystone Pipeline, but that was sadly election year posturing, because they knew full and well the White House would shut the project down.  The Republicans are supposed to be the conservative side of the coin, but I'm still not seeing work done to reign the federal government back into the constraints the Constitution placed on it, and considering there have been numerous Republican actions that have been kicking down those fences, I cannot bring myself to put that R on my card, knowing that I will have little effect in bringing real conservative candidates to the forefront of the party through my vote.   
Frankly the fact that we have been pigeonholed into a two party system really gets under my skin at times like this.  In this election, it seems that Mitt Romney is going to be the GOP candidate, and frankly, I'm not a huge fan of his.  He seems to be the politically safe candidate, the one who won't rock the boat too much to have a shot at winning the election.  We got the same thing last election with McCain, a middle of the road, safe choice.  Look where that got us.  (In all honesty, I don't know that we would be that much better off in terms of the big picture if McCain would have won.  There are specific things that would not have happened, obviously, like Obamacare, but I don't know that McCain would have had the backbone to make the big changes that need to be done.)  The only thing R's and D's agree on is that serious competition hurts them both, in one way or another.  Hence the difficulty for any third party or independent candidate to make a dent in the national scene.
I think a bigger playing field would do the country some serious good.  Forget Ross Perot or Roseanne Barr, think serious people willing to go to D.C. and shake the foundations, telling both sides that their job is not to get re-elected or fill their coffers for retirement, but to represent the best interest of their constituents and the nation. We have had a wide variety of political parties in this country before settling down to the current two.
More candidates would make for more competition, meaning they would have to fight harder for each vote.  Right now whoever the GOP candidate is will be getting a good chunk of votes from people who don't want another four years of Obama.  Obama will get a good chunk of votes from people who are opposed to Republicans, whether that is for real ideological reasons or because they are following some bouncing ball.  Polls are showing that many Democrats and liberals aren't happy with Obama, and polls are also showing the many Republicans aren't thrilled about their options either.  Imagine what would happen if there were more candidates, not just single issue candidates or looney left (honest) socialists, but real business leaders who haven't spent the last ten years in the D.C. bubble, or even liberals who are willing to live and let live instead of demanding legal changes for every real and imagined "offense".  Not only would these additional options bring different views up, but ideally the establishment players would have to start getting specific about their own plans, as opposed to the "I'm not the other party" lines we get now.
To fix the problems we have in the Federal government is going to take We The People holding whoever gets elected to both the White House and Congress feet to the fire.  We need to be getting specific plans out of both parties, written down, analyzable, testable, and something we can use to hold them accountable throughout their terms.  So long as either side just has to convince one percent more of the people who come out and vote that they are the better choice, we aren't going to get that out of either side.  It's going to take high voter turnout for one, and for another, real competition.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

He Hit Me First!!!! (And how not to react)

I was flipping through the radio and stumbled on a rarity out here, a preacher speaking. (at least they aren't hardly ever on when I am listening to the radio)  This particular sermon was on the crucifixion, and in particular focusing on the fact the Jesus had more than ample power to stop the whole thing.  He could have called down angels to smite the Roman guards, He could have pulled His hands and feet out of the cross, He could have simply disappeared from the cross, teleporting Himself to the ground, or into the crowd, or behind them.  But He didn't.  He endured it all, for lots of reasons, but the one I'm thinking of today is His divine nature.
As all this was being described, I had a random juxtaposition.  That final scene from the movie Carrie came to mind, with the young woman standing in front of the crowd of high schoolers, covered in pig blood, being laughed at and mocked.  She took the very human route, and used the power she had to extract nasty, painful revenge on the crowd, not only for that humiliation, but for the years of abuse and mocking and put downs.  The contrast struck me, this is a very human reaction, a very worldly reaction.  We don't want to take it, whatever "it" may be, we want to strike back, we want to get away.  However, if it's our path, our calling to take that "it", be it physical pain, suffering, martyrdom, poverty, or social pain, suffering, martyrdom, poverty, we have to let that divine nature rule over the human.
We're entering Lent, the precursor to Easter, and regardless of one's specific denominational practices of Lent, it's a good time to stop and think about how, 2000 some odd years ago, Jesus was following His divine nature towards Golgotha and the Cross, to be followed by the empty tomb.  Without the first, the second doesn't carry the same meaning.  What if He had followed the human side of His nature, and rained fire down on the crowd (now I'm thinking Raiders of the Lost Ark, how about you)?  Then where would we be, without that perfect sacrifice to atone for all our sins? 
Heard a much less dramatic story from Billy Graham's brother in law, he was on a plane and had a 96 year old woman sitting beside him, and he asked her what the most important thing she knew in those 96 years was.  When she said Jesus, he decided to poke the bear a bit and asked her how she was so sure about that, and received a good old fashioned Southern sermon right there in the airplane.  Calming her down, he let the woman know he too was a believer, and his relation to Billy Graham.  The woman had never heard of Billy Graham.  When the story was related to Billy, after laughing at his brother in law getting his comeuppance, Billy's reaction was "Isn't it wonderful that there are millions out there who don't know who we are, but know who Jesus is?"  That is letting the divine attitude dictate our reactions.  The human reaction would have been "How could she not know who I am, I'm Billy Graham!!"  How many people out there know who Billy Graham is, but still don't know Jesus?
So as we continue to Easter, use the focus on Christ's painful, humiliating death on the cross as a reminder that those things that seem so horrible at the time, through our human eyes, can be part of something so far beyond our contemplation in God's plan.  How many inspiring stories of faith through sickness and pain and persecution do we know of?  How many people have come to Christ or held on to Him because of what those people went through?  How can we emulate that divine attitude of following the path, be it to a cross or to a mansion?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What are you standing on?

A recent article popped up with scientists declaring they figured out why zebras evolved their black and white stripes.  The scientists discovered that flies are less attracted to the striped zebras than to solid colored horses.  (I first read about it here from the BBC) What's missing from the logic however is, what was it that figured out that narrow, alternating black and white stripes are not as appealing to flies?  It fascinates me how evolutionists so easily ignore that their house is missing a foundation.  Ok, zebras are striped to avoid flys, similar to the peppered moths that changed from a pallet of browns to one of whites and greys as their British environment turned grey from the industrial revolution.  But what was it that said "let's change from this color to that?"  The moths and zebras obviously didn't, both creatures lack the mental capacity to even contemplate such an action, much less the control over their genetic structure to effect it. 
Continuing on those lines, I was flipping through Newsweek at the magazine stand (evidently my free trial has run out) and found this article, wondering why evolution hasn't eliminated our desire for dangerous and unhealthy behavior, specifically drugs.  The author makes a humorous statement, that evolution isn't a perfect system, it's a random one.  That randomness is why that process hasn't eliminated our inclination towards self-destructive behavior, whether it's cocaine or chocolate cake. (An aside, should evolution also eliminate the whole genre of extreme sports?) Amazing how despite the huge logical flaw in the evolutionary mindset, we are the bitter clingers isn't it?  Logic and common sense tells us that things like zebra stripes need direction to occur, not just random happenstance, nevermind more even more complex things like opposable thumbs or the series of complex valves that prevents giraffe's heads from exploding from the blood pressure needed to run blood up to their brains when they bend down to drink.  Logic and common sense tells us that there has to be a foundation to build all of this off of. 
There has been a recent firestorm over certain mandates in Obamacare regarding birth control and religious beliefs.  There is a very simple solution to the problem.  Get back on the foundation of the U.S. Federal government, that document called the Constitution.  Is there anything there giving the Feds any power or right over healthcare?  No?  Problem solved.  Similar to the way evolution falls, no matter how much it's built on because it has no foundation, many of our present government problems can be solved by getting back onto the foundation instead of building additions that are not anywhere near that foundation. 
Over the last several years, many churches have begin condoning "alternative lifestyles", supporting various gay marriage actions, even ordaining practicing homosexuals.  All this despite the fact that the Church's foundation declares homosexuality a sin.  (In the interest of full disclosure, it's not any worse than the stuff I did before I was saved, or even stuff I've done since then, but I'll be the first to say those things were wrong, too)  Such actions are not the only things various churches are doing to build away from their foundations.  Becoming social clubs instead of lights to the world, becoming judgmental instead of loving (cut you off before you go there, it's much more loving to be honest with a person acting in sin than to accept it as OK, whether it's homosexuality, cheating on their spouse, knocking over liquor stores, ect, ect) among other actions. 
Foundations are a necessity, for houses, institutions, governments, ideologies and people.  If your foundation is weak, it doesn't matter how fancy or impressive looking your building is, how many arguments you can present to prove your point, how much you want to help people out.  The rain of logic, the wind of opposition and the floods of time will send it crashing down.  When your foundation is solid, none of those can knock you down.  The foundation of creation is God, the foundation of salvation is Jesus, the foundation of the United States is the Constitution.  We can see what happens as individuals, groups, churches, and governments move off those foundations.  A little logic tells us we don't want to be under those additions when they fall. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Welcome to the 24th and a half century!

Ok, this week's topic is easy.  For our anniversary, my lovely, wonderful, awesome wife got me a big honking Android phone.  (Not that electronics are on the traditional anniversary gift list, but that's ok)  I have been keeping an eye on technology trends and have been fully aware of the capacity of our newer smartphones, but to actually hold one and work it takes me back to so many memories.  Looking at those green tinted monstrosities that were the Apple IIe's our school had, being amazed at how much smaller and whiter the Apple IIc's they updated to a few years later were.  Standing in front of the display NES at WalMart watching those pixelated plumbers jump on walking mushrooms.  Hearing that grating sound as the dial up modem inside that new Windows XP tower (yes it took a while to get online out in the boondocks, so shoot me).  This little rectangle has more computing and connectivity power than anything that wasn't science fiction back when I was typing funny little BASIC programs that would print faces made out of X's on those big green screens.  It has more storage than even Bill Gates thought the whole world would ever need a few years back.  There is a disturbing amount of power, numerous kinds, in these tiny Pandora's boxes.
Yep, that's the right reference.  With video, pictures, texting, internet access, cloud access, social networks all in the palm of our hands, there is great potential for good and evil.  It's easy to shoot a video, intentionally or unintentionally take it out of it's context, and cause a huge firestorm around the world.  It's easy to send off an angry comment and have it come back to bite you in the butt, possibly socially, possibly in your employment, even legally.  But that's only part of the possible issue.  How easy is it to sit and stare at that screen instead of paying attention to those immediately around you? (Very, I've figured out already)  Technology has taken us to levels of world community that weren't even imagined a couple of generations ago.  
All of this wonderful technology is a tool, much like a hammer.  A hammer can be used to build a home for a family or a toy for a child, but it can also be used to tear down a home, break a toy, or even kill a person.  What is done with any tool is up to the person wielding it.  Many revolutions going on in the world, some we hear about, others not so much, are working across all of these unprecedented levels of technology.  Some of those revolutions are good, some not so much.  In other cases, people are simply being distracted from real life by their toys, ignoring the things around them that are affecting them and the world. 
I''m no Unabomber, I love technology, nor do I think we need to burn all the video games and their developers.  Having this new toy in hand is just a reminder to put it down occasionally, engage in some face to face conversation, read a real newspaper sometimes, dust off some of those books on the shelf. 
No, I'm not posting this from the phone, going to take a while before I'm that used to the keyboard (if ever).  Nothing wrong with that, right?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Well, well, well....

One advantage of writing out one's thoughts, especially in a public and easily reviewed forum, is the ability to notice trends.  A trend I've noticed in my posts is frequent references to the same source material.  Right now, Ravi Zacharias and his ministry RZIM generate many of my thought processes.  This is mainly because Ravi has a version of his radio show that is edited into 15 minute segments, meaning I can listen to the whole broadcast on the way to work and still blast some music as well, as opposed to the standard 30 minute version which, depending on speed and traffic, I may not quite get through in it's entirety.  In addition, while none of them have made it here yet, I'm working through Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost For His Highest" devotional, and drawing a great deal of inspiration from that as well. 
When I initially noticed this trend, my thought was "oh dear, I need to diversify my input more".  Now there is definitely a point there, we can get hooked on or attached to certain sources of inspiration that can get us stuck into corners or even lead us off the correct path.  But on the other hand, The argument can be made that focusing on a specific source can help one draw as much knowledge from that source before moving onto another.  Think about a well.  If one is drawing clean, usable water from a well, and all indications are that the well is a good, deep one that can supply one for a long time, do you really have to have other wells immediately available?  Or can you continue to use that well, keeping in mind that it will eventually dry up or possibly not be able to provide as much water as is needed for your growing fields, and planning for that possibility? 
If you have a short list of favorite preachers, speakers, evangelists, hosts, ect, start the way you should start everything, hold them up to the Bible.  Not what they say about the Bible, but the Bible itself.  If their words and works pass that test (probably wouldn't hurt to run them by some trusted friends as well) take advantage of the well you have found.  Use it to quench your thirst and water your crops.  Keep checking it to make sure nothing starts seeping into water, and keep your eyes out for other wells, in case your fields outgrow the one well and need even more water than it can provide. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who Do You Trust?

As a society, we don't trust anyone or anything anymore.  This is painfully obvious right now, since we are knee deep in campaign season, with both sides throwing out numbers and claims about themselves and each other.  My feelings about the sitting POTUS are known, but even I am taking most of the claims that the republican candidates are throwing against him, specifically job numbers and money numbers, with a grain of salt, simply because at the bottom of all those claims is always a mess of fine print about adjusted for inflation or other such adjustment.  The same fine print comes at the bottom of Obama's claims as well.  Other recent events throw up the trust issue.  The Occupy movement was based on a distrust of corporations, and situations around the protests were made worse by the protester's distrust of police and other authority figures as well as some police's distrust of the protesters.  The actions of some people in various churches, everything from the child abuse and coverups within the Catholic church to the very unChristian protests at funerals to the wandering away from Biblical teachings of some pastors, churches, and denominations, have all made it very difficult for many people out there to even trust the Church as a whole.
This culture of distrust reaches into the area of faith as well, beyond just the congregations and the buildings.  I was having a discussion with a coworker recently about faith, and he tossed out the familiar canard that the Bible was written down by men, and man makes mistakes and changes in everything we touch.  It's familiar because I've thought that myself in the past, and see it frequently now.  While that is a specific argument, the belief that we just can't trust anyone or anything has definitely been passed onto our vision of God.  Society thinks that they just cannot trust that there is a God, that He passed down mankind's history in the Bible, that He protected those words through the centuries, neither can they trust that He loves us and that He sent Jesus, His Son, to take the punishment for our sins. 
None of this is new.  The Old Testament is full of stories of people, even faithful, believing people, who didn't trust God to come through, and those people always caused more problems.  Abram didn't trust God to provide the child He promised, so he and Sarai took their own route.  One of the prophets with Elisha decided that the stew God ordered them to make wasn't good enough, so he added his own ingredients, which ruined the stew.  The rich young men who Jesus told to sell all their possessions evidently didn't trust God enough to take care of them.  (Note to class warfare/Bible teaches socialism type folks, there's no call to poverty in the Bible.  Many great, faithful men in the Bible were very wealthy.  The question is always if it's God's plan for one to be materially wealthy)
We have all got to work to bring trust back into society.  Not just because it's better to be able to trust people, but because trust is one of the cornerstones of faith.  Like all the other issues in our world, it didn't break overnight, nor is it going to get fixed overnight.  Like ripples in a pond, by doing our own part in instilling trust in those around us, especially our children, but others we are around as well, it is possible to rebuild those broken foundations.  It's not just a matter of being trustworthy ourselves, although that is important.  One of the biggest pieces in the puzzle is teaching others that yes, by trusting people, sometimes you get hurt and burned.  It happens.  But that isn't enough reason to completely lock trust out of our lives.  It seems that in listening to people, that most of the distrust we see comes from having trust broken at some point in life, possibly by an absentee parent, an abuser, a divorce, or any other of a number of situations.  Sometimes, we may even feel that we get burned by trusting in God, however, typically we learn through hindsight that it was a matter of us not listening, not a matter of God breaking our trust.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stop The MCP! I mean SOPA/PIPA!

I'll use the internet blackout day as an excuse for not putting this up last night.  SOPA/PIPA are bills currently in the U.S. Congress that are intended to clamp down on piracy of music, movies, and bootleg designer merchandise over the internet.  However, the bills offer the federal government the ability to shut down websites with little or no due process.  It is also very vague about who can be targeted for shut down, meaning legitimate file sharing sites that people happen to put copyrighted material up on could be completely shut down.  This alone puts a huge dent in much of the push to the cloud that so much of the internet is moving to.  Of course, like any government mandated action, it's going to cost tons of money, on the part of businesses that have to monitor their services and on the part of the government to enforce these rules.  If this runs up the cost of doing business on the internet, then as we have seen in the past with numerous production plants, refineries and other businesses that have packed up and left the U.S. due to overbearing environmental, labor, and tax laws, then the business done on the internet will drop. 
This is sadly nothing more than another huge power grab by the federal government.  Why these bills even made it to the floor is evidence that we desperately need to clean house in Washington.  To top it off, nothing in these bills is really going to have any affect on the proposed target, intellectual property piracy.  It's still going to happen. 
Which brings me to another point that hasn't come up much in this debate.  The mainstream movie and music industry is not adapting to the modern landscape.  They are still trying to hold onto a business model that doesn't hold water in the new digital age.  For example, people get dinged on Youtube for using copyrighted music in their video, even though many of those videos pull up ads for the artist that is being used, offering the opportunity to buy the music, as well as increasing exposure for the artist, which is difficult to quantify, but as the old saying goes, there's no such thing as bad press.  Having a million listens on a streaming site shows record companies that people like your music, increasing the odds of keeping that record deal or giving the execs a reason to support tours, TV appearances ect.  What is really amazing is that so many non mainstream artists, from musicians to film makers and others have quickly adapted to the internet, often times using many of those targeted file sharing sites to legally distribute their material, and make money through other means, such as licensing, advertisements on the artist's website, and merchandising.  Big Entertainment, instead of adapting (or maybe generating higher quality product that people are more willing to pay for), is trying to use their money to work the legal system, creating laws that work in their favor.  (Don't believe me about the money?  As soon as Obama announced his plans to not sign the bills, numerous Hollywood sources declared they will not be contributing to O's reelection campaign.  I imagine following the money and checking the bills sponsors will show some large campaign contributions from many of those same sources.)  Much of the Federal government is going along with the plan  because 1) as was mentioned, Big Hollywood generates a whole lot of cash for our representatives and 2) as was also mentioned, the proposed solution offers Big Government more power over a notoriously unregulated source of information, organization, protest, and education.
I'm really starting to sound like I should be sitting in a park with a V for Vendetta mask on, but this is a serious issue.  Pirating intellectual property is a bad thing, but there are already laws in place to fight it.  These bills are poorly thought out, overreaching, empowering the wrong people, and last but certainly not least, not what our government needs to be focusing on and getting done. 

Prime source for information and updates as these progress The Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Finally, a music review!

I love music.  Some people may not call everything I listen to music, but that's okay.  One of the things that was planned for this blog was to interject some album reviews now and again.  However, being cheap and broke, I rely heavily on free (legal) sources of music, which are not always the most current releases, or often are samplers, which give you numerous bands to discover but are rather difficult to write a review on.  One short EP came across my exploration a short while back, and after sitting down to listen to the whole thing, I realized this is good stuff, it's new, and it's free.  So, with no further ado, it gives me great pleasure to introduce many of you to the band Eternal Emperor, via their album Sudwarts.

Eternal Emperor jumped to the top of my list of favorite symphonic black metal bands as soon as I finished listening to these three tracks.  The orchestral parts are very well done, and the metal parts are equally excellent.  It's hard not to swoon along a bit as the music rises and crescendos.  One of the things that makes this such an enveloping listen is the high quality production.  Black metal bands have a nasty habit of thinking that lousy production makes them sound more brutal.  Eternal Emperor have obviously transcended this idea, with the vocals, guitars, drums, strings, and other instruments each coming forward and receding back into the tapestry at the right time.
By all accounts, Eternal Emperor is a Christian band, but the lyrical focus of this album is a celebration of the first successful trek to the South Pole.  Certainly a different choice, and there's nothing wrong with that.  The title track unfortunately is in German, so I can't comment on the lyrics there, but "Keeper of the Southern Gateway" is a very allegorical vision of that expedition to the bottom of the world.  The final track "Icebound" is an instrumental, keeping with the excellent layered black metal of the first two tracks.  Even if one doesn't like or even know what black metal is, I think it's worth 15 minutes of your life to give this a listen.  Maybe even thirty minutes to hear it twice.  There is just a lot to hear, a lot of swells and sways to the songs that can move a person the way many of those great classical pieces we know from commercials or background music in movies do, even to people who can't stand classical music.  

Right now the band website only offers a download of this EP, and a promise of a new full length album this year, titled "Antarctica" as of right now.  Like most underground bands, often times the music has to be put on the back burner until resources and time come available.  Personally, I hope both do come available for this band, and we hear more from them soon.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Back in the Saddle, Now Where Did the Horse Go?

Okay, one of the new year objectives is to get this happy little thing going again, but there is just nothing impressive enough rolling through my head to kick off such a resolution.  Therefore, this week's post is simply an announcement that yes, I'm still going to be spewing forth my ideas and opinions here this year, hopefully at least once a week, preferably more, but we'll just take one step at a time.  It's not a lack of content, just a lack of refined content.  I suppose that's a holdover from the old days of newspapers and books when each word needed to be chosen carefully because space was sparse and valuable, compared to now when it's so easy to spit out a few words and post it to the world.  Coming into this year, we have an election year with a less than impressive menu to choose from, problems that will not be solved regardless of who gets the GOP nom or the presidency, social and moral ills becoming more and more acceptable, even by some of the groups and organizations that are supposed to standing against such things, churches falling apart and to the wayside, communities (physical and social) expanding and collapsing on themselves, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. With all this gasoline being poured on the fires, inspiration is out there, just waiting to be plucked up.  So, consider this post a warning.  I'm coming back, and don't plan on keeping things pretty.  None of us can afford that.

On a more lighthearted note, my lovely wife has picked up on Kristie Alley's 100 Days of Dance campaign, and having a blast with it, along with our daughters.  As of this writing, three of the thirteen videos featured on the website are theirs. If that has changed by the time any of you folks see this, the collection can be found here.  Check them out, and keep their fifteen minutes of fame going.