Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Instead of evolution: faith

“… Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful." 2 Chronicles 20:20 (New International Version)

I pray daily that God strengthen my faith in the inspiration of the Bible, especially the book of Genesis. I have to choose consciously to continue believing that God exists, that the Bible is the Word of God and not the Word of wise men. I have to want to continue believing. Sometimes the only proof that God exists is how he’s changed my life and continues to change my life from the self-centered and vain existence I’ve lived on and off for most of my post-childhood experience.

Sometimes in my moments of doubt, or low-brow intellectual posturing, I have to fight against the nagging suggestion that Moses is the only one responsible for the entire book of Genesis. What I mean is, in weaker moments I’ve wondered if this ancient genius, who was a byproduct of an advanced civilization, Egypt, didn’t himself synthesize much or all of Genesis from his great education, as well as his original mind.

If this were the case, it explains much of the supposed problems with the two creation accounts, the beginning of sin, and why we are here. It also, of course, creates other problems: if we’re alone in the universe, then it’s up to us and no one else to solve all or some of the problems we’ve inherited and which we’ve created. If humankind fails and blows up planet earth some day, and if it turns out, we were the only intelligent life in the universe to begin with, then how pointless it all would have been. We evolved from single-celled organisms. We lived, we loved, and we died as a species. Perhaps somewhere else in the universe, the miracle of life would come into miraculous existence again. Or perhaps, after the Big Crunch, there would be a new Big Bang and the entire miracle of life just might happen again? Or perhaps we’re only one in an infinite number of universes. Perhaps somewhere in one or more of those other universes there are intelligent beings or will someday be intelligent beings who will ask the same questions we’re asking now.

I personally hope and pray that Moses didn’t originate the Torah all by himself and in effect --because of a need to create a new system of thought and culture-- the entire Judaeo-Christian belief system that has been handed down to us. I hope instead that God gave Moses all or the more essential elements of the Torah. Perhaps faith is really about not believing what you'd like to believe, but what you need to believe in order to live a meaningful life.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blackbird Raining Skies

After seeing Pedro Almodovar’s Volver starring Penelope Cruz, without warning, my mood felt lighter than it’s been in a while. The afternoon was brighter than I had remembered it from previous sunnier-than-gold afternoons. Chigago’s Transit Authority album blared from my car stereo and matched the windy and cool South Florida afternoon.

Feeling so good, I thought why not go to Friendly Seas, the restaurant I used to live in years ago & enjoy a tall glass of cool orange blossom tea, as well as one of their garden burgers or Buffalo burgers. I might even meet another friendly solitary diner who was looking for company if only while she or he was in the outdoor patio. I decided at the last minute not to turn left, but to turn right and keep on going home. It was almost as if someone else was doing the driving. I thought it odd that I no longer could decide whether to turn right or to turn left. Why complain? Perhaps it was better that some unseen force was turning the wheel for me, or at least, with me. I had to feed Callisto, my golden retriever, and perhaps after I had taken care of that detail I’d still be fired up and roaring to go out again into the elegance of a bright afternoon.

I almost made it safely out of my black car when I looked up at the sky & saw hundreds of black birds flying east & southeast in what seemed like chaotic patterns of flight or gliding pleasure. The sky was still light but overcast with smoky cloud wisps taped onto purer white cottony cloud formations. Willingly trapped in my slightly warm car I couldn’t stop gazing at the sight of those relentless flocks of black birds trapped in oceans of air. Surely it would only be a minute or two then the birds would all fly away & I’d be able to resume my walk upstairs to feed Callisto. The blackbirds continued to swirl in ever-increasing numbers. How long could I stay in my car? What if neighbors wondered what I was doing in my car so long? Who was I waiting for? Why didn’t I take off or go upstairs? I decided not to be concerned with what others might think of me looking toward the western skies at what other people, no doubt, thought was an empty sky. Perhaps it was empty to them, but to me it was full of possibilities.

I thought of Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. In that poem it was winter in the Northeast. In my blackbird experience it was an early summer-like winter in South Florida. Had the blackbirds kept on flying all afternoon long, I probably would have stayed in my black car looking at the endless arrival and departure of hundreds of sky birds in black. It wasn’t only the blackbirds that entranced me. It was a sense of well-being and of wonder that coincided with the blackbird phenomenon. I almost thought that perhaps this enhanced sense of being, of contentment, of simple acceptance of things-as-they-were and not things-as-they-should-be was how my life would be from this moment on.

I thought that it would be nice to have someone by my side in the car to point out the blackbird reverie, but then I remembered that Wallace Stevens’ wife could not relate to the nature-drenched poetry that others read and analyzed in introduction-to-poetry classes in the 70s. She just didn’t get why anyone would want to contemplate for such lengths of time, realities that were best noted, then ignored. If no one else was there to join me in the silent symphony of blackbird flight, then at least God was taking note of the contemplative moment with me. I didn’t dwell too much on how it was there because of Him, but I’m glad He turned my head upward ever so gently and coincidentally in order not to miss the invasion of winged things in the slowly darkening skies.

This had to have a coda, this endless symphony of flight & I looked in amazement as yet another movement started quietly then grew louder & more enjoyable as the next wave of blackbirds continued heading east and southeast. I had to look higher and more to the southwest in order to see a fading flock of blackbirds continue the silent symphony. I thought I’d never leave my car till night erased the silent music from the blackbird clouds.

The birds decided to finally end their 20-minute chance-like symphonic dance and I gathered my cd and excess time and headed upstairs to feed Callisto & to await another pre-Sabbath Friday night at home.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Truth about Life's Origin

It is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18).

The word of God says “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).

Evolutionary theory says that life created itself from lightning interacting with amino acids, which through eons evolved into all the species that have ever lived on earth, including humankind. It does not include any outside assistance from a supernatural force. Life in a sense, it seems to infer, created itself out of nothing, or at least out of the simpler elements found on primordial earth.

Evolution is therefore a lie. No matter how logical and scientific it claims to be. It is no matter that the fossil record indicates that simpler life evolved into more complex life. Actually Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History states that there was more complexity and variety in the earlier evolutionary stages than in later stages. Evolution makes no mention of God. It is a Godless scientific theory. It does not lead to God, but rather, away from God. Anything that leads away from God is not good for your spiritual health, as well as your mental or physical health.

Belief in evolution does more harm than it does good.

God give me faith, hope and love to believe in what the word of God says and not the lie that evolutionary theory claims about how life began on earth.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Creative Approaches to Sabbath Keeping

Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." -- Mark 2:27 (New International Version)

I once heard an elderly man years ago say that Friday Sabbath nights were the loneliest nights because he couldn't turn on the television to keep himself company. He got so depressed with the silence of his apartment that he decided that once he had read his bible for a meaningful amount of time, he would then watch situation comedies. This was told me in the late 80s. Perhaps situation comedies were more family-oriented then than they are today, or perhaps he watched reruns on TBS or Nick at Night.

Yes, of course, one can always seek out a congregation where they have Friday night meetings, but that isn't always possible, or desirable depending on one's personality or travel requirements or the danger present in big cities late at night when taking mass transit. Even those with a car can make a wrong turn and find oneself in an undesirable neighborhood. So much for a restful Sabbath evening.

I am not making excuses for wanting to turn on the television on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons after you come home from church. Sometimes there are no afternoon programs and you are not in the mood to visit hospitals, prisons, hand out literature, etc. Additionally, not everyone is allowed to install a satellite dish in their condo apartment or rented apartment for the Hope channel or similar religious programming.

In the end it depends on one's conscience and what interferes with your Sabbath connection with God. Sometimes on the Discovery channel or the History Channel or on PBS there are great programs that are of a scientific, cultural or religious nature which provide meaningful content for the non-secular Sabbath hours.

Some of what I'm saying might even apply to people who live with a significant other or family. After a while even your mate or children are talked out and are itchy to do something else other than engage you or be engaged in conversation.

The bottom line is, if you feel that the only things to do are read the bible, the sabbath school lesson, the Spirit of Prophecy or sing hymns all night till its time to go to bed or time to have vespers on Saturday night, but you don't want to do only those things, what does that mean? How do you handle the desire to do more creative things? I've sometimes thought, especially in the beginning of my Sabbath keeping experience, that if it feels disagreeable to keep on singing, or reading the bible, watching the Passion of the Christ or other religious film for the hundredth time, by continuing to do so, you are not really keeping the Sabbath & you are not enjoying your life very much on a Friday or Saturday afternoon.

On the other hand, if you naturally and eagerly continue reading the bible or singing hymns or doing the other spiritual, non-secular activities I've mentioned here, then it's natural and truly the result of a live connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. But even the latter reach a point when they do long for a change whether that same day or the following week. The Sabbath, after all, keeps on coming at you week after week. Sometimes it seems like it's the same Sabbath you kept a week or a month ago, or at any rate, a continuation of the previous Sabbath day. This is both a lovely thought as well as a challenging one, especially for those of us who live alone, whether out of necessity or by choice.

My suggestions are as follows: read the bible, sing or listen to spiritual music, but when you've had your fill of those activities, do other things. Redefine what constitutes spiritual music for you. I find little time to enjoy most of my orchestral music collection during the week. Sometimes a little Mahler or Satie or Bartok on a Friday night or Sabbath afternoon adds a transcendent element to an otherwise non-eventful segment of hours. Be as creative as the Lord had made you in your life. Don't start watching the Lord of the Rings on a Friday night unless you really discern all of the spiritual and mythic-religious themes in Tolkien's work. If you're watching it just to pass the time, or to be merely entertained, it probably won't be conducive to a meaningful Sabbath evening.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mars Sabbath

From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. -- Isaiah 66:23 (New International Version)

24 Hours, 37 Minutes is the length of the Martian day. 687 Earth Days is the length of the Martian year.

The Sabbath is kept from sundown to sundown. It follows that this method of observing God's special day (creation & deliverance from slavery or sin) would be based on the setting of the sun on Mars after 24 hrs and 37 min. If you add up the extra 37 minutes, at some point the Sabbath day on Earth will have passed in relation to the one kept on Mars. For the Martian colonists, Adventist or Jewish, the Sabbath day would be as meaningful even if it lasts 37 minutes more than it does on Earth. Given enough time though, the weekly seventh-day cycle would be so out of sync with the actual 24-hour Sabbath and seven-day week on Earth, that the Martian colonists would, in effect, be keeping something appropriate to the time and place in which they find themselves, however far removed from the actual 24 hour day and seven day week as it exits on Earth. As more and more weeks, months and years pass by, the two Sabbath "days" would be farther and farther apart in time though not in intent.

What does this mean for us who are not yet on Mars, though our descendants may well live there some day?

As a child most of the Adventists I knew kept sundown calendars so they could begin and end the Sabbath exactly when the sun set on Friday and Saturday. Sometimes it was perplexing when we couldn't find the calendar and had to keep on looking at the sky to see if it was dark enough yet. It sounds vaguely legalistic to me. It didn't bother me that much at the time.

Yesterday, it rained all day. I showered late and never got to do much of anything on my day off. I have not used the calendar method of beginning or ending the sabbath for eons now. My dilemma was there was a lovely piece of secular music I wanted to hear all day. The sky looked vaguely pre-sunset though it was hard to tell as the rain and overcast quality of the sky had made it dark all day. I took my chance with a tinge of Sabbath preparatory anxiety. I enjoyed my 3 minute secular song on cd, "The Day that it rained forever" by Nick Heyward. I then remembered who I was sitting with when last I heard that song. I enjoyed the coziness of the music and the swirling string arrangements as well as the power of simple song craft to renew one's inner vision. The song ended and I waited for the Bible to open itself to the accidental, or perhaps not so accidental text, something in Ezequiel about how "The End had come." It was interesting but a bit too severe for a vesper text so I tried my usual Sabbath author Isaiah. Anything near chapter 53 is usually appropriate for me.

The ethereal music I had experienced during the pre-Sabbath day, the insularity of the rain-flecked "green architecture" windows, and the momentary shock of Ezekiel's "End of the World" prophecy brought to mind my past meditations on the Sabbath day and how to find meaning and sustenance in an enhanced version of the Sabbath. I thought of future Adventists or Jewish believers who would have the financial ability and, perhaps, vision to escape Earth's violence, global warming and overcrowding to settle on Mars 100 years from now.

I was then reminded again of my unusual attempts to enhance the Sabbath by extending the hours of reflection & meditation till the sun rose on Sunday morning. A month ago when walking the dog at midnight on a Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, I briefly meditated on the enhanced Sabbath day it is my habit to observe since the spring of this year. Yes, it's not biblical, but some would say the same thing about the Investigative Judgment or, at least, the "pre-advent judgment," depending on whether you are a traditional modern Adventist or a post-modern or "progressive" believer. Once or twice I felt a bit of guilt for wanting to extend the Sabbath meditation beyond Sunset on Saturday night. Guilt is a two-edged sword. It can cut away the wrong things we do, but it can also limit the creative and new things or new ways to think about things that are normally possible.

In the end the important thing is the spiritual blessing you derive from the Sabbath. It may be the traditional sunset to sunset 24-hour Sabbath. It may be an enhanced conceptual sabbath. Or it may be, someday, a 24 Hrs, 37 Mins Sabbath day on the Martian colonies in the 22nd century.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Real but not "in-your-face" Real

What would reasonable people think of you if you told them you’ve been talking to and learning about and thinking about three people since you were a little child, but had never actually seen or heard or touched these three people? It sounds a bit unsettling, does it not?

There are people who have done just that, but don’t think of these three people in the same way as they do, say, their close friends, husband or wife, children or parents. They think of these three people as being, somehow, “other.” Yes, of course, they will tell you these three people are real, but in a way, not as real as their other significant others, the ones they can see, touch and hear.

The other day, it dawned on me how I have spent an entire lifetime mostly thinking about these three people as “other,” and not as very real, in-your-face real. It made me think how I could have thought so much about them, for decades now, but somehow categorized them in an alternate, less real and tangible reality, that of the spiritual. Even though I’ve never seen them, touched them or heard them as you hear a child’s laughter, they are just as real and inhabit a very real world or realm.

I hoped at times that they had decided to make themselves “in-your-face” real, instead of physically removed, audibly unheard, tactilely unperceived. How different and yet familiar it would be for each of them, or at least, one of them, to appear when I wanted to see, hear or touch that person. That would make a world of difference. Of course, that was not how they wish my encounters with them to be. Historical accounts tell of a time when one of them was heard audibly by thousands of people and still, hours or days later, the “in-your-face” encounter might just as well not have happened. Then, of course, there are the various accounts of one of them walking, talking and touching and being touched by hundreds, and yet, hours, days or weeks later, the “in-your-face” encounter might just as well not have happened. So I’m left with the perplexing reality that seeing, hearing and touching a very real person does not guarantee you have a valid, lasting and significant relationship with that person. I’ve heard, seen and touched people I thought I’d hear, see and touch as long as my life should last, and they have since disappeared into the shadows of time and emotion.

Still, how uncanny and unbelievable to be so obsessed and to spend so much of my waking and dream life focused on the three in question: God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Deprogramming your own Progressivism

“I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there you may be also.” John 14

I started to write about an alternate and spiritual interpretation of this popular verse about the second coming when I got side-tracked. In the film The Shoes of the Fisherman mention is made of the Cosmic Christ. For unknown reasons I thought of searching Google for any information I could find. A site that caught my attention was revealing. I’ve tried to edit the paragraphs to make them relevant to my post. Of course, to get the original context and intent of the author, please see that website by following the link, if you must.

I remember hearing Jack Provonsha say, my apologies if dim memories of his sermon at Atlantic Union College during the 1970s contain any misquotes, that there was value in Teilhard de Chardin’s treatise on Christianity and evolution. I later heard Ronald Lawson of the Adventist Forum New York say in a casual conversation to others that Adam and Eve were not real people. After reading these excerpts, I’m intrigued that these progressive and highly educated Adventists were influenced in their thinking, if only mildly, by Teilhard de Chardin’s writings. Importantly for me, I have been influenced all these years through their impressions of Teilhard de Chardin. I’ve tried to shake much of this progressive thinking, but how does one make oneself less progressive? How do you "unbelieve" a progressive and ingrained world view and start thinking in a more conservative fashion? It is not easy, but perhaps I’m doing it every time I read and reread the Bible or argue with the Sabbath School lesson editor in what are clearly very conservative points. Who knows whether I’ll succeed or go off the deep end. I’m being a little funny here. Not to worry!

Now to the task at hand, selecting and commenting on these scattered impressions that have influenced me for almost 30 years or so.

“But in the theology of Teilhard we are all becoming Christ. There is no Original Sin, and therefore no need of Redemption. Evolutionary forces are ferrying everyone along to God-hood and all are `anonymous Christians' making faith in the literal death and resurrection of Christ unnecessary.” I actually like that phrase “we are all becoming Christ.” Of course, becoming like Christ is the more traditional. But Christ did say, “I in them and they in me, that we might all be one.” The ultimate temptation is doing away with Adam and Eve in which case Original Sin loses its meaning. Nevertheless, when you get down to practical human living, it makes sense that killing and stealing and sleeping with another man’s wife creates all kinds of problems and so is not desirable. Needless to say, I do believe and find value in the literal death and resurrection of Christ. I thank God for that.

Pope John Paul, unlike Teilhard, believes in Original Sin, the existence of Adam, and that Jesus Christ is not a `force of nature' but the God Man who literally died on the Cross and rose again. He told the scientists they were free to pursue `theories' of evolution as long as they realized that God's relationship with man was key. I thank God that I still value Jesus and his personhood. I could not love a ‘force of nature.” Regarding the Adam and Eve issue, there are some good points and there are some bad points. I’ve previously mentioned the good side of not taking the Adam and Eve story literally, (See this link.) While that approach solves some problems it, of course, creates others. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, then man was essentially born a sinner, or worse, was always a sinner and was never perfect, or always had the possibility of being a sinner of his own accord. Either way, he can’t save himself and needs a savior to come to his rescue and to love him and to provide the object of infinite love, his creator. But we are getting into problematic waters hear by saying that man, or human kind, was never perfect to begin with. All the more reason for needing a helping hand from the creator of us all.

The world is not heading toward an Omega point of cosmic consciousness. It is headed for a judgment day and there are two groups emerging in a confrontation. On one hand there are those who worship, love and serve God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand there are the New-Age disciples of Teilhard de Chardin and his ilk who think that we are God. The more Christlike one becomes through the genuine work of the Holy Spirit, one can get a sensation that one is becoming less imperfect and sinful. (Although one shouldn't kid oneself and ever think that is somehow closer to perfection than one was the month before. We should focus on Christ the author and perfecter of our faith. We shouldn't focus on ourselves.) In a sense we are becoming Godlike and is what “Be therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” is trying to get at. That perfection comes, of course, through the abiding Holy Spirit and not through one’s own moral achievements. I also wish to love and serve God, Jesus Christ, and significantly for me, the Holy Spirit. He’s often left out of the picture and I think it important to mention Him as often as possible. For me during the last two years, the discovery of the reality and the personhood of the Holy Spirit is something for which I am grateful to God, to Christ and to the Spirit Himself.

Perhaps next time I won’t get sidetracked and will focus on how Christ comes to you and me every day through the Holy Spirit.