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Sunday, July 31, 2005

a change of perspective

To live more voluntarily means to encounter life more consciously. To live more simply is to encounter life more directly.

- Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity

I remember very clearly the night I decided to stop watching television. It was a Saturday evening in April of 1997. Flipping through the channels I found a sitcom on TV Land and started watching. I forget what show it was, but it was a show that had never really taken off during its original run.

But for some reason on this night, TV Land was running a marathon of this sitcom. Since I had never seen the original, all the episodes were new to me. I watched through six episodes before deciding that I had had enough.

When I turned off the TV, I realized that my Saturday evening was gone. I had wasted it lying on the couch, alone with the tube. How many more did I want to waste?

I unplugged the TV that night, and didn't plug it in again for another six months. When I did, I found that I had a completely different attitude about television. I couldn't get into a new series without thinking about how much time it would take away from other activities. I couldn't watch a commercial without a healthy skepticism of the advertiser's motives.

Whereas I had once thought of television as a way to unwind, I now see it as a distraction from life -- even moreso now that I am a father. I would much rather run through a sprinkler in the back yard with my son, or walk with him down to the railroad tracks, than to sit with him in front of a glowing box.

Usually I don't make major decisions quickly, but the choice I made on the spur of the moment on an April night in 1997 has turned out to be a major factor in shaping who I am.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

a lot of hot air

Global temperatures are getting warmer. That much is beyond dispute. It is also beyond dispute that human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, are contributing to the warming trend.

In 1997 representatives of the United Nations met in Kyoto, Japan to discuss the issue of global warming and to plan a course of action to reduce the human impact on climate change. The resulting agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, requires industrialized nations to reduce their aggregate emissions rate to 5% less than their level of emissions from 1990. They must reach this target by the year 2012. Nations that reduce emissions below the targets receive credits for the balance, which they can sell to other nations that cannot meet their goals.

The agreement had its weaknesses; the most significant was that developing nations were not bound by the restrictions. These include China and India, two nations with rapidly expanding economies. Increases in their use of fossil fuels could potentially offset any savings by the industrial world.

Some critics of the Kyoto Protocol have also claimed that meeting its requirements would cause economic hardships.

For these reasons, the United States -- the world's most prolific polluter -- has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, promising since 2001 to provide an alternative. European leaders have criticized the U.S. for this stance, however, many European nations are not on target to meet their reduction goals. What we hear from both sides sounds like nothing more than a lot of hot air.

But we may finally be reaching a turning point.

This week the U.S. joined with five other nations to announce a new initiative to promote cleaner fuels and more efficient use of existing fuels. The good news is that this initiative includes China and India (the other three nations are Australia, Japan and South Korea). The bad news is that it is nonbinding -- none of the six nations are required to take any action to meet the goals of this agreement.

Seven and a half years after the Kyoto Protocol was first drafted, we have the beginning of a dialog. But while the politicians argue about how to deal with the problem, the world continues to get warmer. I only hope we can reverse the trend before it is too late.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Steve Jones, in his blog Freethinking Faith, has some thoughts on a subject that I've often struggled with: The 'Why' of Christ's Death. Some Christians understand Jesus' death as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Steve's blog points out some of the weeknesses of this theory. He ends his post with this statement: "Maybe the death of Jesus is a thing to be lived more than defined."

His view certainly resonates with me. Jesus' death and resurrection are important to my faith, but I can't say they make sense rationally. The substitutionary theory is one of several doctrines of the atonement that I've heard. I don't find any of them wholly convincing. The 'why' of Christ's death remains a mystery to me.

But in the end, I'm not sure it matters whether I understand. Faith is not a set of intellectual propositions to piece together like a doctrinal jigsaw puzzle. A few (or many) unknowns should not get in the way of a relationship with Christ. On the contrary, the mysteries of faith can only underscore the need for reliance on God.

That's my experience. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, July 25, 2005

adam and eve

I never really understood the story of Adam and Eve until my son was born.

I grew up with a simplistic, literal understanding of the story. Living in a small town, I was not aware that there was more than one way to read it. I was in college before I was exposed to the idea of allegory in the Bible. Adam and Eve were symbolic of all human beings.

But in the spring of 2003 my first child was born into this world completely innocent. Naked and unashamed. His early life was like being in paradise: he only needed to make a sound and some godlike being would appear to take care of his needs.

He's growing up now. He turned two this past spring. At some point he tasted the forbidden fruit, his eyes were opened, and he became as wise as us. (Aside: The scriptures don't say what the forbidden fruit was, but I'm convinced it had lots of sugar in it.) Now I ask him, "Do you want some water?" and he says, "No. Pop!"

He hasn't yet reached the point of deliberate disobedience, but I know the day will come, just as it does for all of us. And I wouldn't be surprised if, when confronted on that day, he tries to blame someone else.

I don't believe in a literal Adam and Eve, but I'm convinced their story is as true as any that has ever been told.

Friday, July 22, 2005

the blind men and the elephant

John Godfrey Saxe's poem The Blind Men and the Elephant (opens in a new window) has always been one of my favorites. I first heard it when I was in 7th grade. My aunt Margaret, who had lived for a while in Indonesia and Africa, was a guest speaker for our geography class. She read the poem to us at the end of her talk. Its theological implications were well beyond my comprehension at the time, but I was captivated by the imagery of the six blind men trying to describe the animal they had found.

I recalled the poem several years later as I was trying to find an analogy for humans' imperfect understanding of God. I didn't remember all the details, just the bare facts that there were six blind men trying to describe an elephant when they had each only experienced one part of the animal. Though their mental images of the elephant were completely contradictory, each was partly right.

At some point I realized that the poem could probably be found on the Internet, so I ran a Google search and found the link that you see above. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the analogy I had made from this old poem was the author's original point!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

The poem has taken on even more importance in the three years I've been married. My wife's theology is far more conservative than mine; sometimes we're so far apart, it seems like we belong to different religions. Yet if we talk about it calmly, we are usually able to reach a point of agreement. Many times our differences are more a matter of terminology than of actual disagreement. The hard part, sometimes, is getting past the surface differences to see how our viewpoints really do complement each other.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

the journey

Life is a journey. In my case it's a winding road with surprises around every turn. I've had my share of both joys and hardships, and mundane drudgery as well. I never expected many of the turns that this road has taken. But all my experiences have helped shape who I am, and I wouldn't trade even the worst of them if it meant being somebody other than the person I have become. That doesn't mean I don't have any growing to do; the journey continues as long as I'm alive.

Faith, too, is a journey. I had my first real encounter with God when I was in high school. It's been almost 20 years now, and though my faith has grown during that time, I still barely understand God. The more I understand, the more I realize there is even more to learn.

If I could go back in time and talk to the person I was ten years ago, we wouldn't always see eye to eye. If I could talk to the person I will be ten years from now, I would probably be surprised by some of the things I heard.

I have always found it helpful to put my thoughts in writing. I plan to use this blog as a sounding board. I may float some ideas that interest me, even if I don't fully agree with them. I have found that sometimes I learn more just by understanding why I don't agree.

So I want to know your thoughts, even if you disagree with me... especially if you disagree with me. Even if my opinion is unchanged by the exchange, I have learned something about why I believe what I do. Maybe you'll learn something from me, too.

So, as I continue my journey, I invite you to walk with me for a while. I can't tell you where the road leads, but that's what makes the trip worthwhile.