Nobody Won

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate_f_improf_645x254One would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the much-publicised debate in the U.S. between Bill Nye (can I not resist adding, “The Science Guy” after that?) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) held February 4th in Kentucky. Well, OK. If you don’t live in North America and you’re not either an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian, or an atheist, you possibly don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

But, nonetheless, it happened. “Ham on Nye” as it has become known.

There are numerous clips on YouTube and well past hundreds of search results on Google that will show you anything you wish to know about this event.

But, for me, the sound bites say it all. The answer to the question, “What would it take to change your mind?” was, according to Nye: “A single piece of solid evidence.” According to Ham: Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Since the Bible is obviously literally (according to Ham’s interpretation of it) fully accurate in Science and History, he needs no other evidence. Nothing will change his mind that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created in 7 literal 24-hour days (albeit, several of those days did not have the time-telling benefit of the sun–go figure!).

How does he know the earth is less than 10,000 years old? He’s done his Math and added up the generations found in the Bible’s genealogies. This is what he calls the “historical science” method. Since his literal understanding of the Bible is correct in all matters historical, then so is his guess of the earth’s age.

And here’s where the debate is unwinnable: the basic underlying world-views of these two men couldn’t be further opposed to each other.

To those of fundamentalist ilk, Ham was the hero, standing for the truth, defending the faith, and holding fast to sound doctrine and a literal reading of Genesis 1 against the tide of the Satanic theory of evolution.

To atheists and more progressive Christians, Bill Nye won with his solid evidence and logic, his proven hypotheses and superior intellect. To the atheist, the foundation of Ken Ham’s argument was as shaky as that of a flooded beach: how could one trust a book written by men of an ancient tribal culture (see *Note) with the aim of proving their deity was superior to those in the lands around them? After all, every culture has its own creation myths.

To the more progressive Christian, while claiming the sacred text to be inspired by God, it is seen to be, still, as bearing the indelible imprint of humanity with all its tendencies to interpretation in the light of current culture and the desire to prove tribal superiority. Progressives care not so much about the “how” of the universe’s origin as much as the “why” and the “what does this mean for us now?” So, while this event aroused cursorily, it held no real sense of consequence.

In the days following, source after source declared Bill Nye as the hands-down winner (even Christianity Today’s poll showed a 9-1 lead). However, in my opinion, “Ham on Nye” proved to be a fizzer, a debate which was more of a publicity stunt to showcase Ham’s Creationist exhibit and the organisation he has created to promote his own views.

Surely the church has learned from its own dealings with scientists such as Galileo or Copernicus. Surely they cannot take as historical fact a creation account that was written from the perspective of a flat earth, a fixed ‘dome’ (or firmament) and a sun, moon and stars that orbited over and under this flat earth. But this variant of the Christian Religion still prefers to remain staunchly opposed to proven scientific theory and overwhelming evidence. Its adherents see no need for science and evidence except when it bolsters their own interpretations of the world. The simplistic answers to the complex questions of origins are comical and, as one blogger states, takes the Jesus Movement back ten steps in its respectability and relevance.

Unfortunately, the wide brush of dogmatism has splattered the rest of Christianity with its ignorance and stubborn refusal to consider the evidence thousands of earnest scientists have uncovered since the dark ages.

Nobody won. Unless, of course, we have learned that debating those who choose to remain in the dark ages is futile, in which case good sense has won the day.

____________

*Note: This is a huge flaw in reasoning that I see in many creationist writings: they assume the reader will accept “The Bible says” as authoritative evidence when, in fact, many would see ‘The Good Book’ as having no more authority than a Superman comic. Even when I accepted their teachings, I cringed every time I read their work because I knew it would carry absolutely no authority in the secular world. They are indeed preaching to the choir.

#Nasuli

I am still amazed at the wonders of technology.

You may say that statement dates me as one who is ‘older’ and perhaps not up-to-speed with the marvels of electronic gadgetry and the like.

Au contraire! I am well-known for my love of gadgets and my fascination with all things that buzz, whistle, flash and hum.

keyboardBut I still stand in wonder at how I can see something happening around the world instantly, how I can listen to a song streaming from a server thousands of miles away as if I’m sitting in a concert hall in front of a full orchestra, how I can communicate with friends and see their face on Skype any time of the day or night.

Technology shrinks our world and brings into our life places and people from across the span of our lives: memories, sounds, videos, pictures, smells . . .

Smells? Well, not exactly. But sometimes I can almost smell and feel as if I have been magically transported back to a prior time in my life. So powerful is the sense I perceive as I leaf through these memory-triggers.

Nasuli is one such place.

I have fond memories of holidaying here with my family when I was quite young. We stayed in a guesthouse which, from memory, was on the grounds of a MAF mission base in the city of my birth: Malaybulay in the province of Bukidnon in the Philippines.

Rambutan trees with ants crawling all over them. Once you peeled off the ants and then the spiny skin, the fruit was delicious.

Houses whose walls were made of some sort of woven bamboo.

The American church where they had a real choir and a pastor who wore robes ( and where I first heard the amazing hymn This is My Father’s World.)

King Roly Poly. (OK. It was a book I found in the toy box where we were staying. He was so fat they had to build special furniture for him and a special table with a cut out for his stomach. Talk about politically incorrect! But we were children of the 60s.)

And then there was the spring.

nasuliCool water. Deep. Calm. Surrounded by trees that smelled musty, like the flowers of what we call a mavis bush.

I loved the spring. In my tyre-tube I would happily float around for hours. I even would venture to the other side where there were reeds and where ( so I was told) they would find water snakes.

I didn’t care. The cool water around me and the safety of my tyre-tube flotation device was enough.

I still love floating in water. Pool, beach, river . . . don’t really care. I think I thrive in that sense of calm and flow.

“So what does Nasuli have to do with technology?”

I’m glad you ask.

I was on Instagram the other day and one of the folks I followed posted a photo of a bus on the way to #Malaybulay (those of you who get the hashtag know where this story is going).

So I went to ‘Discover’ and searched on #Malaybulay. I came across quite a few photos of #Nasuli, some of them geotagged ‘Nasuli Spring.’

I followed the links, found the photos, was redirected to Google Earth and discovered myself back in the late 60s under sunny skies, floating in the peaceful, cool spring water straight from the central Mindanao mountains.

How an iPad can bring to my mind the smell of a mavis bush, the feeling of cool, clear water on a hot day, and the security of my tyre-tube (that apparently protects me from even the snakes), amazes me.

braintechI would imagine this is another incredible element of my humanity that takes an image of a place and recalls instantly everything of my life–good or not so–that relates to that location. I would go so far as to say this is our natural technology, our created memory system that, miraculously, transports us in time and space to places that have come to define who we are.

I would suggest that this inbuilt, intuitive and infinitely capable technology is far superior to any gadget, gizmo or thingamajig I could ever get my hands on.

The Miracle of Creation

I have been following The Hidalgo Grain Company blog for a while now and, having come from much the same place as the author, I can understand his ravings against fundamentalism and Biblical literalism. I understand. Sometimes things that well-meaning (but ignorant) people say can be very hard to swallow, especially when they claim that their reasoning is “scientific.”

This brings me to this post and a look at Creation a la Hidalgo Grain Company where he explains (from his point of view) what is a “creationist” and questions that have arisen in his mind about their understanding of divine revelation.

In the summer of 1976, my dad bought me a telescope at Sears and I spent multiple hours peering through the eyepiece. Like astronomers of old, I tracked the four major moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, peered at Saturn’s rings (the most distant planet I could clearly observe) – I even had an adapter to plot sunspots moving across our own nearby star. Then there was the Moon; a dry, dead world that came alive through my telescope’s eyepiece, especially when viewed as a waxing crescent on a clear evening. Eventually I learned most of the stars, their class and their distance, also the locations of various nebulae, clusters and galaxies. It was a time when Psalm 8:3, 4 became very real…

stars3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 what is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

It was this part of the verse, “…the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars…” which still causes me to go back to Genesis, Chapter One and re-examine the creation account –

And, invariably, I come up with questions…

Day 1 – the Earth was formless (no shape) and void (empty) – God said, “Let there be light.”

– Before “Let there be light”, what was there? Dark? But, you can’t have “dark” without light, so is this formless, empty pre-Earth dwelling in some unknown plane of existence?

– At no point is it recorded that God said, “Let there be time” – but somehow we already have literal 24-hour days? (Not to mention there is no Sun, Moon or stars, yet.)

– Speaking of Time, what is it? Why do we perceive it? Why is it asymmetric?

(Read the rest of this post here.)

Does God Need Our Help?

This too-strange-to-be-true story from Urban Legends:

ARKANSAS CITY (AP) — A Little Rock woman was killed yesterday after leaping through her moving car’s sun roof during an incident best described as “a mistaken rapture” by dozens of eye witnesses. Thirteen other people were injured after a twenty-car pile up resulted from people trying to avoid hitting the woman who was apparently convinced that the rapture was occurring when she saw twelve people floating up into the air, and then passed a man on the side of the road who she claimed was Jesus.

“She started screaming “He’s back, He’s back” and climbed right out of the sunroof and jumped off the roof of the car,” said Everet Williams, husband of 28-year-old Georgann Williams who was pronounced dead at the scene. “I was slowing down but she wouldn’t wait till I stopped,” Williams said. She thought the rapture was happening and was convinced that Jesus was gonna lift her up into the sky,” he went on to say.

“This is the strangest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been on the force,”said Paul Madison, first officer on the scene. Madison questioned the man who looked like Jesus and discovered that he was dressed up as Jesus and was on his way to a toga costume party when the tarp covering the bed of his pickup truck came loose and released twelve blowup dolls filled with helium which floated up into the air.

Ernie Jenkins, 32, of Fort Smith, who’s been told by several of his friends that he looks like Jesus, pulled over and lifted his arms into the air in frustration, and said “Come back here,” just as the Williams’ car passed him.

Mrs. Williams was sure that it was Jesus lifting people up into the sky as they passed by him, according to her husband, who says his wife loved Jesus more than anything else.

When asked for comments about the twelve dolls, Jenkins replied “This is all just too weird for me. I never expected anything like this to happen.”

Fortunately, this account, though widely circulated by reputable media distributors, has been proven to be false. I do, however, believe there is a believability to this tale simply because we, as humans in desperation to see something happen, tend to think we need to help God along to execute God’s grand plan. How else could you explain this misguided woman actually jumping out of her car’s sunroof?) Much of the popular theology in circulation supports this theory:

  • If we can send missionaries to all people-groups of the world, then Jesus will return (assumed to be the meaning of the verse, “The gospel will be preached in all the world, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14)
  • When the world sinks the lowest it can possibly go into sin, corruption and decay (spiritual, physical, mental and environmental), the we will see the Kingdom of God established. (Great for those who don’t want to care for creation and prefer the decadent lifestyle of waste and plunder.)
  • When every nation is actively engaged in war against Israel, the Antichrist will be revealed and the tribulation will take place (This, of course, followed by Armageddon and the reign of Jesus on earth).
  • If we do our part, then God will be obligated to bless us. (The basis of the support for most televangelists, revival preachers, and prosperity theologians.)

While we many may see these ideas as common sense (or sound theology?), this whole idea is reminiscent of the scientific study that shows how we naturally see God as being like us, loving who we love and hating what we hate. This same god will follow our guidelines on how he (and this god is most often a “he”) should act and bows to the pressure of his accountability to us, the epitome of his creation. This is evident in the way Christians today view Jesus, as Johnjoe McFadden, on the Richard Dawkins Foundation blog, states quite accurately:

A study led by Lee Ross of Stanford University in California has found that the Jesus of liberal Christians is very different from the one envisaged by conservatives. The researchers asked respondents to imagine what Jesus would have thought about contemporary issues such as taxation, immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion. Perhaps not surprisingly, Christian Republicans imagined a Jesus who tended to be against wealth redistribution, illegal immigrants, abortion and same-sex marriage; whereas the Jesus of Democrat-voting Christians would have had far more liberal opinions. The Bible may claim that God created man in his own image, but the study suggests man creates God in his own image.

So, we naively worship a god who is just like us, only a more perfect version. Who does, in fact, need us because, even though he is infinite in power, limits himself to the capacity of a chameleon-like genie to changes to be however the beholder wishes him to be.

By simply naming God, we ascribe to God a character that we humans ourselves define. Rightly has hymn writer Bernadette Farrell written about “God, beyond all names,” for we could not begin to describe God except in our own mortal–limited–language.

Therefore, let us not assume that God needs our help in any activity. Being God means God has in God’s own self the power and ability to do whatever is to be done.

Rather, count it as a privilege and a grace to join God in the work already begun–God’s mission–of bringing Jesus’ good news to life in our world.

And should God in wisdom choose to catch you up to heaven, kindly let God alone do so–no assistance will be required.

Meanderings . . .

While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy  one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get  you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night. – Daniel H. Pink, quoted by MINEmergent

God is not going to help you cut your grass. He’s going to help you cut His grass. He’ll give you the lawnmower and the fertilizer and teach you to take care of His grass, not yours. – John Schneider

Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in our culture. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true. – Richard Rohr, adapted from a non-published talk at a conference in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

I guess I tend to associate the gospel with humanity relative to how people are acting more like “kingdom people,” regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. It seems to me that Christ wasn’t so fixated on whether other people loved him or not (though this was certainly mentioned, but not so much as a prerequisite of acceptance into what he was about). I think Jesus identified with those who were simply what he was about himself (making his god’s world a better place), not so much, if at  all, dependent upon whether someone loved and devoted themselves to him. – Chris Hill

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. – George Bernard Shaw

Why do we train ministers for 7 years, lay preachers for 2 years, but worship leaders…? Not at all (except, perhaps, as musicians). . . . Facilitating worship is not a musical job. It’s a theological job. . . . John van de Laar (from Twitter @Sacredise, www.sacredise.com)

Consumer society, by constantly making us aware of what we don’t have, instead of making us thankful for what we do have, has turned out to be the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacturing and distribution of unhappiness. –  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals. – from Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talk)

This world is enchanted
Lean closer to see it
This world is enchanted
Dare to breathe it in

O God. . .

Give us new eyes to see
Give us new skin to feel
Give us new lungs to breathe
The wonder underneath

Faith like a mustard seed
Holy naiveté
To swim in Your mystery
We need to be free
Free to breathe it in
Free to breathe it in
Born and born again

This world is transcendent
Lean closer to see it
This world is resplendent
Dare to breathe it in

–  Enchanted, by Aaron Niequist


Your Image of God Creates You, Part 2

“Spirituality creates willing people who let go of their need to be first, to be right, to be saved, to be superior, and to define themselves as better than other people.”

This is the last instalment from Richard Rohr’s week of “Your Image oif God creates You” meditations. I’ve highlighted a couple lines that grabbed me. These may also resonate with you, or you may be caught by something else he writes.

My dear friend, Dr. Gerald May, made a distinction years ago that I have found myself using frequently. He says spirituality is not to encourage willfulness, but in fact willingness. Spirituality creates willing people who let go of their need to be first, to be right, to be saved, to be superior, and to define themselves as better than other people. That game is over and gone and if you haven’t come to the willing level—“not my will but thy will be done”—then I think the Bible will almost always be misused.

I would like to say that the goal in general is to be serious about the word of God, serious about the scriptures. We have often substituted being literal with being serious and they are not the same! (Read that a second time, please.) I would like to make the point that in fact literalism is to not take the text seriously at all! Pure literalism in fact avoids the real impact, the real message. Literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning in a spiritual text.

Both Origen and Augustine in the third and fourth centuries said there were at least four levels of interpretation to every scripture text. Recent fundamentalism, which says that literalism is in fact the truest meaning of the text, is totally inaccurate—and very late in coming. Literalism is the lowest level of meaning and if you just stop there you will never come to any real Encounter. You have engaged your own critical and self-protective mind, instead of bringing your mind into union with your heart. It will not get you very far. It will make you wilful but not willing, and that makes all the difference. (from Richard’s Daily Meditations, 24 February, 2012)

Your Image of God Creates You

I came across this short piece from Richard Rohr today which I though well worth sharing:

Your image of God, your de facto, operative image of God, lives in a symbiotic relationship with your soul and creates what you become. Loving people, forgiving people have always encountered a loving and forgiving God. Cynical people are cynical about the very possibility of a coherent loving center to the universe. So why wouldn’t they become cynical themselves? Of course they do.

When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it says? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that make you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of the Sacred is to expand you. I know they are the first ones that come to our mind because that is where we live, inside of our ego, and these are the questions we were also trained to ask (unfortunately!).

I would, however, offer you and invite you to ponder another question. Simply having read the text, ask: What is God doing here? Then ask yourself: What does this say about who God is? Then, what does it say about how I can also meet this same God?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

(Added 22/2/12): What is God doing in the Scripture reading? With that question in mind, I want to give you an operative principle that, I believe, had it been used the last 500 years, would have given us a much more exciting and positive Christian history. If you are meditating on a Bible text, Hebrew or Christian, and if you see God operating at a lesser level than the best person you know, then that text is not authentic revelation. “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and no person you meet could possibly be more loving than the Source of all love itself. It is as simple as that.

Haven’t you read texts like this, and not known what to think? Yahweh presumably tells the Israelites to kill every Canaanite in sight—men, women and children—and then has them impose a ban on every pagan town, telling the Israelites to enter, burn, and destroy everything (e.g., Joshua 6-7). Do you really think that is God talking? I don’t think so.

Well, you say, it is in the Bible and that makes it right, right? That is why we have to use a whole different lens for interpreting any authoritative text. How we deal with sacred texts is how we deal with reality in general. And how we deal with reality in general is how we deal with sacred texts. And both reality and all sacred texts are also fragmented and “imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:12). It takes a certain level of human and spiritual maturity to interpret a Scripture. Vengeful and petty people find vengeful and hateful texts (and they are there), but even when they are not there! Loving and peaceful people will hold out until a text resounds deep within them (and there are plenty there!). In short, ONLY LOVE CAN HANDLE BIG TRUTH.

*   *   *   *  *   *   *

(Added 23/2/12): The sacred texts of the Bible are filled with absolute breakthroughs, epiphanies, and manifestations of the highest level of encounter, conversion, transformation, and Spirit. The Bible also contains texts which are punitive, petty, tribal, and idiotic. A person can prove anything he or she wants from a single line of the Bible. To tell you the truth, the Bible says just about everything you might want to hear—somewhere! Maybe this sad and humiliating recognition can be your ashes today. Like a phoenix you can rise and rebuild your knowledge of Scripture in a prayerful, calm, skillful, and mature way. Then you can read with head and heart and Spirit working as one, and not just a search for quick answers.

Maybe one of the biggest mistakes in the history of Christianity is that we have separated spirituality from theology and scripture study. In other words, we put the Scriptures in the hands of very immature and unconverted people, even clergy. We put the Scriptures in the hands of people at entirely egocentric levels, who still think “It’s all about me,” and who use the Bible in a very willful way. It is all dualistic win or lose. The egocentric will still dominates: the need to be right, the need to be first, the need to think I am saved and other people are not. This is the lowest level of human consciousness, and God cannot be heard from that heady place. Perhaps it is not accidental that we place the ashes of Ash Wednesday precisely on the forehead.