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Sunday, October 30, 2005

cherokee 23rd psalm

I saw this recently on the Internet. Supposedly, this is the 23rd Psalm translated into Cherokee and then back into English. I haven't been able to verify it, but regardless it provides an interesting new perspective:

Update 12-19-05: The origin of this appears to be Kiowa, not Cherokee.

The Great Father above a shepherd Chief is. I am His and with Him I want not. He throws out to me a rope and the name of the rope is love and He draws me to where the grass is green and the water not dangerous, and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down but he lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. His name is WONDERFUL.

Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a valley. It is dark there, but I'll be afraid not, for it is in between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me and the hunger that I have in my heart all through this life will be satisfied.

Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards he gives me a staff to lean upon. He spreads a table before me with all kinds of foods. He puts His hand upon my head and all the "tired" is gone. My cup He fills till it runs over. What I tell is true. I lie not. These roads that are "away ahead" will stay with me through this life and after; and afterwards I will go to live in the Big Tepee and sit down with the SHEPHERD CHIEF forever.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I've written previously about microlending. A new organization, Kiva, takes the concept one step further and allows individuals to make loans directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can become a lender with as little as $25. For the cost of a dinner out, you can change the life of a goat farmer in Uganda. If you've ever wanted to be a high-stakes financier, here is your chance!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

around the blogosphere

Here's a sampling of thoughts from around the blogosphere:

From someone who should know, a critique of HUD's new ten year plan to end chronic homelessness.

A blog named Adventus asks, (But how is the Kingdom of God like that?)

Here's a dilemma we don't face in the United States: One faith, one baptism... two wives? Yusuf's life has been changed by Christ, but must he give up his polygamous ways?

This one is a little old, but I just learned of it recently (via Dissonant Bible) -- Just how shocking is the Bible? Jesus has a talk with a gay man in this modernized retelling of the story of the woman at the well from John 4.

Friday, October 21, 2005

bigger than these

I was listening to Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown CD, singing along with the chorus to the song Redemption:

I've got my hand in redemption's side
Whose scars are bigger than these fears of mine.

But something didn't sound right. Had I gotten one of the words wrong? I checked the enclosed lyric sheet and found "doubts" where I had said "fears".

It seems to me that the word "fears" would fit better. We're talking about faith, after all. If faith is a form of trust (and how could it not be?) then it makes sense to say that Christ is bigger than my fears. But doubts?

Maybe I'm just too far removed from the days when I saw doubts as a challenge to my faith. I've learned that doubt can actually strengthen my faith, by forcing me to challenge my assumptions.

On the other hand, I do know many people who react quite differently to doubt. To some people, doubts can bring their faith into question. For them, doubt may be frightening. And now we're back to fear again. No wonder I can't remember the lyrics.

And yet, maybe there is a larger point somewhere in all this. People are different, and we face different challenges to our faith. But we can trust that Christ is bigger than all of the things that might challenge us, whether doubts, fears, worries, or whatever. That's what faith is all about.

Monday, October 17, 2005

olbers' paradox

In the 1800s, an astronomer named Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers (I think he was German) made an observation that became known as Olbers' paradox.

Assuming the universe is infinite -- and that was a common assumption at the time -- every line of sight should lead to a star at some distance (however great) from earth. Therefore, every point in the night sky should be light. Night should be just as bright as day. So why isn't it?

Though several 19th century astronomers tried to explain the dark night sky, none were fully succesful. The resolution of the paradox did not come until Edwin Hubble's telescopic observations showed that the universe was expanding. In the same way that the sound of a train whistle is lowered as the train moves away from the listener, light from a star shifts to the red end of the spectrum and eventually out of the visible spectrum as the star moves away from the observer.

Hubble's observations also led to the Big Bang theory, which states that if the universe is expanding, it must have had a beginning and is therefore not infinite.

To 19th century astronomers, Olbers' paradox seemed to have no satisfactory answer. There was nothing wrong with Olbers' logic; his conclusion was wrong because he began with the wrong assumptions. Nobody could correct his assumptions because they were shared by everyone. Olbers never thought to prove that the universe was infinite because no one could imagine a finite universe.

I'm sure that our generation, too, has its unspoken assumptions that nobody would challenge, but that are nevertheless still untrue. Sometimes I wonder, what are our Olbers' paradoxes? When people of the future look back at the 21st century, what will they see about us that we all missed?

Sometimes, when I'm feeling a little too secure in my knowledge, I ponder Olbers' paradox and wonder just how many false assumptions I'm making.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

wei wu wei

Tao abides in non-action, yet nothing is left undone.

In a previous post, I mentioned the influence of Taoism in my life. One of the things that draws me to Taoism is its embrace of paradox. For example, one of the central ideas of Taoism is the concept of wu wei, literally translated non-action. What does this mean?

It doesn't mean to be passive, and it manifestly does not mean to be detached from one's surroundings. Quite the opposite. It means to be so in touch with our environment and with the people in our lives that our actions flow naturally from the situation.

This notion is often extended to wei wu wei, action through non action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Perhaps the best way to explain wei wu wei is to give an example. Every river flows to the ocean. An individual drop of water does not need to carve its own path; it merely needs to follow the course that has already been laid out. The drops of water are not acting on their own; they are doing what the situation calls for.

When rain falls on grass or fields, it soaks into the ground and feeds the plants. It doesn't seek the nearest river, it does what the situation calls for.

That's wei wu wei.

A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.

Putting wei wu wei into practice means knowing what our situation calls for, and knowing it intuitively so that our actions flow naturally, without conscious effort.

My father has the ability to talk to a stranger and almost instantly find some sort of common ground. My wife has the ability to know exactly what to say to cheer up a friend. Neither my dad nor my wife think there is anything unsual about what they do. They just do it. That's wei wu wei: spontaneous and natural action producing harmony.

On a larger scale, wei wu wei means helping to bring about peace and harmony with society and nature. It means being in tune with the Tao.

The closest Christian analogy, I think, would be seeking the kingdom of God. Jesus taught:

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” ... But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

That's wei wu wei.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

the global rich list

Just how wealthy are you, compared to the rest of the world? Enter your annual income, and the Global Rich List will show your ranking.

To be in the top half, you'll need to make at least $869 a year.

Hat tip to Keith in Burkina Faso.

Monday, October 10, 2005

the brick testament

Take a look at the Brick Testament -- the only Bible with illustrations made from Lego blocks.

It's probably the only Bible with a built-in ratings guide, and the story selection is not what you'd find in the Revised Common Lectionary, but those Lego scenes are breathtaking. Check it out!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

not a tame lion

I almost majored in theology in college.

It was in college that I first heard the term "systematic theology." At first I was intrigued because systematic thinking has never come naturally to me. I was impressed by anyone who could organize their thoughts about God into a nice logical system. I wanted to learn more about God, and I thought that might be the way to do it.

It wasn't long before I became disenchanted. Barth's systematic theology was nothing like Tillich's. It was hard enough to learn names like Schleiermacher, Pannenberg, and Troeltsch; keeping their systems straight was beyond my level of ability or interest. And John Calvin... (shudder).

My junior year, I changed my major from theology to computers, and I never looked back.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I looked back often, wondering if there was something I was missing. The other theology majors seemed to thrive in the interchange of ideas. I, on the other hand, couldn't fit any of them to my own understanding. Was I lacking? It didn't seem like it. In fact, the more I studied theology the more each system seemed inadequate.

It seemed to me that there was something important that was not being said, that I didn't know how to say either.

I've written about how my studies of Taoism helped me to reconcile myself with unanswered questions. That was an important step, but the missing piece to the puzzle finally came to me from an unlikely source, or maybe not so unlikely a source.

C.S. Lewis was not a theologian. He was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature, who also wrote some books about his faith, including a childrens' fiction series that remains popular more than 40 years after Lewis' death. In the Chronicles of Narnia, the Christ figure Aslan inspires awe and even a little fear among the animals. As one character says, "He's not a tame lion." I think those five words sum up exactly what is wrong with systematic theology.

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God and told parables to describe what God is like, but he did not have a systematic theology. Furthermore, he doesn't easily fit anyone else's system. Like new wine poured into old wineskins, he spills out of any container we might try to force him into.

Jesus says, "Follow me," and his disciples follow. Sometimes I've struggled with where he has wanted me to go, but looking back I can see that every difficult experience has been an opportunity for growth. Sometimes, like Jonah, I've run away, but God has never run away from me.

That's where my theology is now, trying to discern God's call in my own life. I'll never be a great systematic thinker, and fortunately I don't need to be. Perhaps God has called some to organize their belief systems for the benefit of others. I don't know. What I do know is that I've been pulled in a different direction, and that's good enough for me.

Friday, October 07, 2005

honk if you love jesus

It's been years since I received this email, but I still get a laugh out of it, and today I need a good laugh.

The other day I went to the local religious book store, where I saw a HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS bumper sticker. I bought it and put it on the back bumper of my car, and I'm really glad I did. What an uplifting experience followed!

I was stopped at the light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord, and didn't notice that the light had changed. That bumper sticker really worked! I found lots of people who love Jesus.

Why, the guy behind me started to honk like crazy. He must REALLY love the Lord because pretty soon, he leaned out his window and yelled, "Jesus Christ!" as loud as he could. It was like a football game with him shouting, "GO JESUS CHRIST,GO!"

Everyone else started honking, too, so I leaned out my window and waved and smiled to all of those loving people.

There must have been a guy from Florida back there because I could hear him yelling something about a sunny beach, and saw him waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.

I asked my two kids what that meant. They kind of squirmed, looked at each other, giggled and told me that it was the Hawaiian good luck sign. So, I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back.

Several cars behind, a very nice black man stepped out of his car and yelled something. I couldn't hear him very well, but it sounded like, "Mother trucker," or "Mother's from there." Maybe he was from Florida, too. He must really love the Lord.

A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and were walking toward me. I bet they wanted to pray, but just then I noticed that the light had changed to yellow, and stepped on the gas.

And a good thing I did, because I was the only driver to get across the intersection. I looked back at them standing there. I leaned way out the window, gave them a big smile and held up the Hawaiian good luck sign as I drove away.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

give the king your justice

I'm just going to let this speak for itself:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son.

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.

May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.

May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

- Psalm 72