Two Score and Five

This week I turned 45 years old, or as I would say while driving through Gettysburg— two score and five years ago my mother brought forth, well me. However it is phrased, I’m starting to run up the “score.” (snare. snare. high hat.)

I’m not going to get all clichéd about how that seemed so old when I was a kid. Truth be told it seems old to me now, and completely foreign to my conception of myself. I have reached that rather awkward age (call it adolescence part deux) where I think that I can still get away with being hip.

Just the other day I passed this kid on a skateboard that looked like me five (or maybe 25) years ago. I rather cooly remarked, “What’s up bra?”

He looked at me like I was nuts. Are the kids not saying that anymore?

Come to think of it, I seem to have a lot less in common with young people than I used to. I mean how the heck can they listen to that music.

Wow, that sounded somehow familiar.

Oh yeah— that was my grandfather’s reaction when he heard me blaring Guns-n-Roses.

So perhaps I’m not the same person that I was in my twenties. And since I was pretty much a jerk when I was in my twenties (although at least I listened to good music), that might be a good thing.

If I am honest with myself I am much happier now than I ever was when my abs naturally arranged themselves into neat rows and I didn’t have to manually stretch my face in order to rid myself of these stinking furrows.

And it is kind of fun to complain about the fact (and it is an absolute fact) that hip hop really sucks! Do the kids still say sucks?

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that growing up, and older, is actually pretty awesome. And those who try too hard to turn back the clock usually come off as kind of pathetic. Because we are meant to grow and to reach forward, not backward.

My devotional reading for today was rather fitting—

So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it! -Heb. 6:1-3 MSG

So hear’s to the next two score and five. And here’s to hoping that in the coming years they’ll figure out a way to remove these stinking furrows from my face without me looking like a melted Barbie Doll (no offense Meg Ryan).

God and the Great Googling

Throughout my college years I was told I often came across as condescending. This was never an intentional attitude, but the result of an extremely declarative way of speaking. When I believed something, I would pronounce it with the air of utter conviction. People called it condescending. I always preferred convinced.

And then Google came along and let much of the air out of my inflated opinions. Suddenly convicted pronouncements could be instantly fact-checked for accuracy. No one enjoyed undermining my rather numerous assertions of infallible truth more than my brother, Chad. He had a smart phone way before I did and took great pleasure in deflating my completely plausible diatribes. I would make a pronouncement and he would whip out his iPhone, calmly revealing my error (with a really smug look on his face, I might add). And even I couldn’t argue with Google.

Arguments that I used to dominate with the sheer volume and dogmatic confidence suddenly wilted under the suffocating light of truth (which was really annoying).

Today I am much less blustery (depending on who you talk to) but still keenly aware of this tactic of discourse.

Working as the Communications Director for a non-profit that routinely tangles with mainstream scientific reporting, I often deal with reporters who make vague pronouncements loudly, often, and without much interest in whether what they are saying is true or not.

And I find that this scientific condescension is not just targeted at those who question current agricultural practice, medical treatment options, or environmental policies. Media reports about religion are increasingly filled with condescension and outright antagonism.

And this antagonism goes beyond the historical battle between creationists and Darwinists. As science arrogantly marches into areas that it doesn’t fully understand, like genetic manipulation, religious objections are increasingly met with scorn and derision. In any arena where science butts up against religion, the media increasingly dismisses the latter as naïve, misinformed, and even dangerous.

Now, as a Christian, I know that I have something much better than Google to deflate these condescending windbags. My Bible clearly elucidates the truth about where we all came from and where we are going. It lays out the principles that govern man, his world, and the cosmos as a whole. It clearly establishes the limits of human scientific understanding and its relation to God.

Paul puts it this way:

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” 1 Cor. 3:19

But how do you convince a group who refutes that the Bible is anything more than a cultural artifact? Sure, I could point out that everything that the Bible has ever predicted has happened (something no scientific theory has ever managed). I could demonstrate the positive influence that this book has had upon civilization (when much of science has done the opposite). I could point out that if they are right and we are all just a random evolution of matter that even discussing these issues is pointless because our lives (and hence our arguments) mean absolutely nothing.

I guess perhaps the best thing I can do is cling to my faith, pronounce it proudly whenever possible, share with any who will listen, live it out joyfully, and trust that the ultimate fact-checker will one day reveal all truth, whether skeptics care to believe it or not. My Bible tells me that a day of judgment is coming (the Great Googling for purposes of this post) and I believe and declare this emphatically and expectantly. And I stand by this fact regardless of what your smartphone says!

Take that Chad (love you bro!).

PS- Here’s a headline for all you scientists- there is life on other planets. Google:
Ephesians 3:10

Close Encounters of the Bottled Kind

 

When I was in my twenties I used to regularly utter the phrase: “I won’t live to see 30.”

 

Given my propensity for excessive living, that seemed a rather likely bet. At the time I made this morbid claim with a certain pride. I was living the rock n roll lifestyle and would go out in a blaze of glory (or puddle of puke) like Joplin, Hendricks, Morrison or Moon.

 

I enjoyed drugs, but I always knew that alcohol would be the vehicle that would carry me into oblivion. I liked to drink and could never quite get enough. I would drink until everything was gone or I passed out.

 

And I had many close brushes. More often than I care to recall I awoke to find myself caked in vomit, lying on a saturated pillow with chunks of gorge dried to my face.

 

Even then, in my sheer recklessness, I knew how close the reaper had passed. Every time it happened I would feel an icy shudder pass slowly down my spine. After all, the stories of the rock gods of that era tended to end in said musical deity drowning in his/her own bile while passed out.

 

But God obviously had other plans for me. Despite my every effort to end my life eternally, he spared me and slowly weaned me from my self-destruction. It has been many years since I’ve woken in that state. Looking back, it seems like a different person living someone else’s life, and in many ways that is true.

 

I really thought that I was past the place where I had to worry about death by beer. I thought this right up until a few weeks ago.

 

Right before the holidays I was driving from Frederick to York to pick up my girls for the weekend. I didn’t have any plans for weekend debauchery. No keg stands with kiddos in my future. I was anticipating a couple of days of ice skating, Uno and charades, when out of nowhere my old nemesis and lover struck.

 

In this case the front end of my car.

 

As I was hurtling down the highway at sixty miles per hour, a case of beer flew out of the back of a Subaru station wagon and collided with my brand-new VW Jetta. I had no time to comprehend what was happening, much less swerve. I felt and heard a loud thud, felt the car lurch and skid, and began braking.

 

By the grace of God I was able to successfully navigate to the shoulder of the highway without injury, at least to my person. The car was a mess (to the tune of $6500 worth of damage), but I was alive, breathing and thanking God.

 

And now that my heart rate has returned to a less frenetic rate, I find the irony really funny. God spared me yet again from death by beer. I’m not sure that I have any profound conclusion to draw from this episode except that it didn’t make me shudder. There were no icy fingers stroking slowly down my spine. There was no moment of terror.

You see, had that case of beer been the instrument that carried me from this world, I would not have been headed into some dark oblivion. Rather, I would have been carried home to a reunion with both my earthly and heavenly fathers.

 

And that would have been a heck of a funny story to share with them both.

The Hitler Abortion Question

hitlerdead5

I remember one of those super intellectual discussions I had during a late-night ‘study’ session back in college. Here is the premise- if you were a doctor in Austria in the late 1880s and you knew your patient, Klara Polzl, was going to give birth to the monster who would go on to spawn the holocaust, would you abort the fetus?

 

Regardless of your views on abortion, it is an interesting question? And it is a question that has stayed with me through the years.

 

The reason I find this so fascinating is that it answers so many puzzles related to God. Why would God create a being like Satan? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why doesn’t God intervene more directly in my problems? Why doesn’t God get rid of all those scary clowns?

 

For me, the answer is the fundamental subject of the Fallen Angel Trilogy- Free Will (no, not the thing about the whale).

 

If I am the Austrian doctor with that kind of knowledge, I am, in one respect, like God. God oversees the births of over 350,000 people every day. If we accept that God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, than we have to accept the fact that he allows individuals to live who he knows will kill, injure and destroy. Why? Because if he didn’t, free will would be a complete sham.

 

If I allow only those who will do as I wish to live, is there really any choice available? If I know you will disappoint me and remove you from the equation, did you ever get the chance to decide?

 

Personally, if I were in God’s shoes, Hitler would have been toast. But, than again, if I were in charge, I’m not sure I would have made the grade. I know those stupid clowns wouldn’t.

 

 

Apologies To Job

There have been many moments over the last year or so that I have compared myself to Job, the biblical character whose faith is actively tried by Satan’s persecutions, with God’s sanction. A wealthy man who literally loses everything except his life, Job maintains his faith in God’s goodness despite being subjected to every type of personal assault- loss of enormous wealth, his home, his health and his family.

I have repeatedly reread this story over the last eighteen months and tried to use it to keep from losing my own faith. Recently, I have felt assaulted by the enemy and abandoned by God. I have railed against God and openly questioned where his protection is? Though I have yet to curse God, like Job’s wife suggests he do, I have had some pretty frank criticisms for him

Two days ago I realized how foolish my comparison has been. Upon returning from a run, I read a text that my ex-wife had sent responding to my request to speak with my kids:

‘Kids can’t talk. Tali in hospital.’

That was it. My heart instantly froze in my chest and I nearly collapsed. I tried to call my ex but got no answer. I tried calling other members of her family, my panic rising by the minute. It was a terrifying half hour before I received a follow up text telling me that everything was OK.

It puts everything back in perspective. My assaults of the past year have been related to money, finding a publisher, my ego and questions about the future; but I have been healthy, and more importantly, my kids have been healthy, happy and secure.

Job lost everything in a very short period of time, through no fault of his own. He is then subjected to a variety of bad advice from everyone else in his life. I have had financial challenges (related to my own mistakes) and have had good friends and family to support me. I haven’t lost anything very important. In fact, I have been very blessed.

So, my apologies to Job for making inappropriate comparisons. And my thanks, as well, for showing that despite whatever Satan can throw at us, God is ultimately in charge, and he is on our side.

God’s Equations

I once read a book detailing the history of Albert Einstein’s famous general theory of relativity. It was the work of his life. His attempt was to develop a theory that would be useful to cosmologists in mapping space and time. He wanted to develop a model of the universe that would explain the data of mathematicians and astronomers.

In reading this book, “God’s Equations,” I was struck by a quotation in which Einstein said that through an understanding of math and science, we could get closer to knowing God. Most mathematicians and scientists have long forgotten this point, that their work and the work of theologians is one and the same- reaching out for the one unifying principal of the universe-God.

Very few people in history, in fact very few scientists, have ever fully understood the complexity of Einstein’s theory. Those who have understood it have been overwhelmed by the beauty and harmony of the formula. I don’t understand the formula. I barely can grasp a layman’s description of the formula, but I do understand the awe that scientists have felt in studying the formula.

Several years ago Chad and I went on a trip to Europe. We spent a few days in the Swiss Alps in the little town of Gimmelwald, which is as close to heaven as I have ever been. We hiked up majestic mountains drinking ice cold glacier water straight from the streams. We walked through giant fields of wildflowers serenaded by the clank of cowbells. It is a place of harmony, unspoiled by pollution, overpopulation, waste, development, and all the other scars upon the land. You can see the immense glaciers which melt throughout the summer, you see the rock that these glaciers have ground into fine mineral rich dust, you see the fields nourished by these glaciers, the cows feeding on those fields, fertilizing those fields, the locals taking only what they need. You see a world in harmony and balance, the way that I believe God intended the world to be. I remember the awe that I felt in seeing that world.

Today, I awoke at 5 a.m. I drove to the Inner Harbor through the slums that surround Johns Hopkins. I drove down dark streets strewn with trash. In the predawn darkness, the homeless were already milling about, begging, scrounging, stealing. The bus stops were occupied by those who depend on others to deliver them to their minimum wage jobs.

As I drove through the cold, dark streets of the city, I thought about that trip. I have been to heaven and I have seen hell. I know there is a God because I have watched the beauty of a waterfall cascading down a sheer mountain cliff in Switzerland. I know there is a devil because I have seen a man reduced to living in a pile of trash on the steps of city hall, his only hope clutched inside a brown paper bag.

God developed certain rules for governing the universe. Objects in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. Gravity exists and exerts its will. A pretty girl will always get better service at a hardware store.

We can choose to understand the equations that govern the universe and realize that they make our lives better or we can ignore them. We are given that choice. We can choose to see rules as a hindrance to our freedom, or a means to maintain a balanced and healthy life.

God created the world and it was good. He told us to be good stewards of that gift. But we, particularly in America, have ignored that mandate. We have subtracted without adding and we shake our hands at the sky asking why it has gone to hell.

We tolerate a world where so much is controlled by so few. We pollute and destroy without thought of tomorrow. We spend as if there will be no tomorrow, no buyer’s remorse.

One of God’s most basic equations is this- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (otherwise known as Newton’s Law of Motion). The apostle Paul said it this way, ‘you shall reap what you sow.’

Our book attempts to demonstrate this concept. We see, primarily through the character Gadreel, that action without forethought does not preclude consequence. Jumping without looking doesn’t make the rocks below disappear. Gravity will pull you down whether you choose to acknowledge its presence. It’s in the equations.

HOW v. WHY

I have taken a few days off from the blog to work on a new business venture, a mobile kiosk that will soon be moving through the streets of Baltimore, spreading joy and dispensing vanilla lattes. As I was working on adapting the plumbing and electrical systems, a thought occurred to me- you can’t run water through a wire, but you can run electricity through a pipe.

 

This rather profound thought occurred to me as I was wiping the water that had just burst from a pipe out of my eyes, realizing that I had failed to turn off the electricity. Luckily, I did not electrocute myself, but I did learn something- morons shouldn’t mess with plumbing.

 

I also realized that sometimes, we as humans, attempt to use a wire to funnel water. We use the wrong tools to build the birdhouse. We use the wrong lens when examining a problem.

 

Let me give you an example- my brother (the real brain behind the book) is a doctor, is engaged to be married and will soon be a first-time father. As a doctor, he needs to look at a problem that a patient brings from a detached, scientific perspective. However, if he uses this same perspective in dealing with his fiance’, he might experience the following:

 

[fade in on couple getting dressed for dinner party]

 

Honey. Does this dress make me look fat?
Well, dear. Given that you are pregnant, your body is storing higher levels of glycogen, thereby increasing your bmi, so technically you are fat. The dress really has nothing to do with it. 

[zoom in on crying girl and fade out]

 

In other words, you can’t use your medical school training to comfort your pregnant fiance’. You need to use different paradigms when examining different types of problems. You can’t use philosophy to work out a scientific problem. You can’t use science to work out a philosophical problem.

 

This is because science answers one specific question- how? Philosophy and religion, on the other hand, don’t offer the necessary framework to understand how. They are meant to help discover why. Part of the problem that exists between science and religion is that too often scientists forget that they don’t have the why tools, and philosophers sometimes mistakenly believe that are able to reason out the how.

 

In the Fallen Angel Trilogy, we attempt to use both. I hope we don’t electrocute ourselves in the process.

Angels’ Underwear???

 

I remember, as a little kid, having to memorize Hebrews 13:2 for my weekly memory verse. Given that I was too young to read, this had to be accomplished by reiterating what the teacher recited. She read:

 

Forget not to shew love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

 

I can remember asking what it meant to entertain angels’ underwear and being a bit peeved when she laughed at me.

 

Chad and I wrote the book to try to remind ourselves and anyone else who reads it that there is a spiritual realm, inhabited by angels and demons, who are waging a war. Here in the physical realm, it is all too easy to forget this fact. We are so busy trying to manage our affairs, make a buck, get ahead, get to the gym, get bent, whatever… that everything else fades to myth, mystery or misrepresentation.

 

The last few weeks have been that way for me. We have been hustling to get our company up and running and EVERYTHING has gone wrong- broken generator, espresso machine, water pump, etc., etc., etc.
During times of stress it is easy to push aside the knowledge that there is a bigger context to our struggles. I nonchalantly pray that God will bless me and then push him aside for the day to get to the real work.

 

But today he tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that he and his angels are there- and they have my back.

 

As we were closing up this morning, I took some of our leftover pastries and cups of hot coffee (a very nice Brazilian blend) over to a few homeless men who were hanging out nearby. After returning to our little mobile cafe, a large African American man approached our window and asked in a very serious voice if we were giving away free food and coffee to the homeless.

 

For a second I thought that perhaps there was some law against feeding the homeless, but I decided to be honest and admit that we were guilty as charged. He smiled and asked if I had $50. Thinking that he needed change, I retrieved a couple of twenties and a ten, asking if he needed any smaller bills. He smiled and handed me a hundred dollar bill and told me to keep the rest. I protested, but he insisted, saying that doing good should and will be rewarded. He told us his name was Mike and walked away (after I forced him to take a copy of the book).

 

I am still stunned by this episode. The $50 will not make up for the thousands that our run of misfortune has cost us, but it does something much better. It reminds me that God and his angels are there- and they have my back! It also reminds me that success is not measured in the amount of money that you make, or the number of books that you sell. It is in how well you allow God’s blessing to flow through you to the world that you occupy. Mike- you are an inspiration!

 

By the way- if you are looking for a cute picture of a little angel in swaddling clothes- avoid using the search term: angels in underwear. 🙂

Alcoholic Angels

Did you hear the one about the drunken angel? Apparently no one has. I was amazed that of all of the rather controversial items that we take on in the book, the issue that generated the most push back was the concept of angels drinking.

There are several characters in the novel who have a taste for yayin. Although it is never explicitly stated, it is inferred that this is some type of wine.

While to me this seemed like a minor point of controversy, [after all we endorse a version of the big bang, we  imagine angels using wormholes, we conceptualize a network through which dark energy is continually recycled, we even have angels mining the material of quasars] many of the earliest reviews contained questions about drinking in heaven.

Here is our answer: perhaps angels never tasted wine in heaven; however, the fact that Lucifer, an angel living in heaven, was able to be tempted to reject God and was able to convince a third of the angels to follow suit seems to indicate a level of temptation in heaven.

If there is no temptation, there can be no choice. Sin needs opportunity in order to exist.

Sin is most often the misapplication or perversion of a good thing. Food is good; gluttony is bad. Sex is good; promiscuity is bad. Football is good; the Dallas Cowboys are bad.

So an angel walks into a bar and orders a martini…

* I would have given proper attribution to the picture above, but found it in several locations and wasn’t sure who to attribute it to. If it is yours, thanks!

The Trouble With Time

The concept of time has been a point of contention between philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. To this day many different ideas about the nature of time exist.

Sir Isaac Newton believed that time was a fundamental structure of the universe. This realist view postulates that time is a real thing that people and events move through.

Immanual Kant argued that time is a mental framework which allows us to experience, rather than a real thing. It is a means for us to organize and understand the world, much like language.

Einstein developed the idea that time is dependent on the spatial reference of the observer. It is this theory which opens the door for ideas like time travel or relativistic travel (theories that we utilize in the book).

I believe that all of these ideas are partially true. And in the book we use these different definitions of time in order to explain some of the ways in which science and religion both fail to see the bigger picture.

Here is an example:

Monotheists are adamant in arguing that God created the earth in six literal days. Scientists are equally adamant, although much less exact, in arguing that  it had to take billions of years for the earth to form. This is because both sides are choosing to define time in a very Newtonian way (which is ironic since monotheists believe that God is omnipresent and most scientists embrace the theory of relativity).

While I might not be able to perceive time in anything but a realist view, except perhaps philosophically, I am rational enough to understand that my perception is limited. I can conceive that if there is an all powerful deity, he might not be subject to time the same way that I am.

Here is an example from the book:
A deep voice interrupted his thoughts. A word rang out in the stillness. He did not recognize the word, but he somehow knew it. It was the word. The word of initiation that gave life. He couldn’t repeat it. As soon as it was spoken he could no longer hear it, but he saw it begin.

The great orb suddenly exploded in a dazzling display of light. The giant ball of gas became instantly alive with life-giving energy and heat. The immense glowing globe drifted off to the side and Ariel could see, in the newly brightened space, a much smaller sphere approaching. How was he seeing Gaia?

A voice answered inside of this own head.

‘You must understand that here and there do no exist for us. We are where we are and now we are creating a new world, a world that you helped prepare. You did well. This is a special creation. One that has been planned for a millennium and will be the site of a great and terrible chapter in the history of the Kingdom. In time the entire universe will come to realize that this creation marks a pivotal turning point. Many will be tempted to doubt the wisdom of this creation, but I ask you to have faith that it is for the greater good that we gather here today.’

What did this mean? How could this creation be both great and terrible? He was so excited to be witnessing this and so confused by what he was seeing and hearing. There was no here or there? What did that mean? Again the voice answered him inside his own head.

‘Some things you are unable to understand, but your faith is strong. We would ask that you continue to believe. We are not restricted by space and time the way that the created are. While you are here, in the throne room with us, these things do not apply to you either. You are literally in that small solar system in the Milky Way, but you are also here, securely seated in Mount Kol. You are going to witness a process that requires a week, but to you it will seem like minutes have passed. The word of creation has been spoken and that single word spawns all of creation, but we will try to explain it to you as we go.’

 

This scene comes from our conception of Gaia’s creation. We hope that it gives you an alternative way to consider some of the issues that science and religion fail to find common ground on.