good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

Continue reading “good news for all the people”

overlapping magisteria?

My last post touched (if only in passing) on the relationship between two realms: the philosophical/religious and the scientific. Among other things, I was suggesting that there is both a distinction and an inter-play between the two.

We are all –to an extent, of course– both scientists and philosophers. We engage in the stuff of science; for at various levels of skill, we figure out how things work, what makes things tick. We also engage in philosophical reflection; for we all navigate our way through life based on an understanding (either assumed or deeply worked out with much reflection) of what is good, etc.

Continue reading “overlapping magisteria?”

brian walsh: targum of Romans 12:1-2

The Romans 1:1-17 targum wasn’t enough…

…I had to post this one as well…

Again, I advise reading these two simple verses in an easy-to-read translation before reading the targum…

In case it’s not obvious, Walsh is anything but a typical ‘republican-style’ Christian…

If this doesn’t stir your heart, check your pulse… Continue reading “brian walsh: targum of Romans 12:1-2”

brian walsh: targum of Romans 1:1-17

Read Romans 1:1-17 (in a good, easy to read translation like NIV or CEV), and then check out Brian J. Walsh’s ‘targum’ (an interpretive ‘modernisation’ of a given passage) of it… (Copied from here)

I just love this stuff…
Continue reading “brian walsh: targum of Romans 1:1-17”

in science and in medicine

This is the opening verse to the song ‘Miracle Drug’ on U2’s latest album ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’.

I want a trip inside your head
Spend the day there…
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see

I wanna hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I wanna see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out

Freedom has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby’s head

They’re good, aren’t they? One can easily imagine these words speaking of the struggle of one human understanding another. The strained desire to know and be known in return. The pain of failed relationships, and a longing for a ‘miracle’ cure…

But these lyrics come even more alive when we hear Paul Hewson (‘Bono’) describe what inspired him to write these words: Continue reading “in science and in medicine”

languages of love?

In 1992, Gary Chapman published the first edition of ‘The Five Love Languages‘, which is a well-known book in Christian circles. It offers 5 very practical ways of understanding how your mate shows affection.

  1. Quality Time
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I don’t want to disagree with his 5 points, because I think they are quite helpful, but I do want to share some further thoughts I’ve had about them. Continue reading “languages of love?”

mary elizabeth toalson cottingham

My grandma passed away early this morning.

She lived in Columbia, Missouri, with my aunt Mary Jane, which is about a 3 hours drive from where I grew up in Bolivar. We probably went up to see them a couple times a year, and I always enjoyed grandma.

There are two memories of her that I will always cherish:

1. She had this really… well… unique way of greeting you. (this was when I was young – and shorter than her!) She would hug you really tightly and press her teeth — yes, her teeth! — against the top of your head – hair and all! It was the strangest thing AND the most endearing at the same time! :)

2. Much later, after she had one of her strokes (and when she could still for the most part recognise who you were), I went up by myself to visit. I brought my guitar and we all sang some hymns together. My favourite song that we did was ‘Trust and Obey.’ The chorus goes: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus – than to trust and obey.”

The reason it was my favourite song was not the theology of the song or whatever. It was the experience of singing it with my grandma, and seeing the smile on her face. And most of all, the fact that it didn’t matter at ALL that she wasn’t articulating all of the words too well. I remember her sort of singing, “Trust and obey, for is no other way …(mumbling)… Jesus – …mm… trust and obey.”

Priceless moment.

Where is my grandma now? That depends on how you define what a human being is, and how you interpret reality.

Some ‘spiritual’ religions would say that her ‘soul’ has finally been ‘freed’ from it’s prison-like cage, and is now able to perhaps be re-incarnated into another body, or in other religions re-join the ‘oneness’ of the universe. I talked to a Hare Krishna guy the other week that said that the state that the soul is in when it leaves the body is the state it will stay in afterward. Therefore, the goal is to get your soul in a ‘good’ state before you die, I guess…

Some versions of Christianity (not completely unlike the ‘spiritual’ religions) would say that her ‘soul’ went either to ‘heaven’ or to ‘hell’, depending on whether she had signed on with the correct religious group. The goal for some of these people is first to ensure that they are in the correct group, and second to get everyone else in their group. Choose carefully, I guess…

The atheists/naturalists would say that my grandma, like all humans, was only made up of atoms, chemicals and elements, and that her body will simply decompose. They would say that the best thing to do is remember her. Well, lucky for me, I’ve got good memories! Unlucky for those whose deceased family weren’t so nice… I guess you try to forget them…

I can’t make sense of the ‘spiritual’ worldview where your ‘immortal soul’ floats around somewhere and perhaps does something interesting every once and a while for the rest of eternity. A soul without a body seems to me like software with no CPU (central processing unit) – a set of strings with no guitar – words with nobody to say them. I’m very nervous about this sharp distinction between soul and body.

I also can’t make sense of the worldview that says reality is only material. I can’t make the logic work that the universe of matter and ideas caused itself into being. I’m not interested in hiding from scientific discoveries or trying to prove God from what science has not discovered yet. I think every discovery science makes simply shows how interesting and bewildering God’s universe is.

I also can’t make sense of the obsession of some Christians with trying to ensure that you’ve got the right group, the right list of beliefs, the right day of the week, the right rules and regulations. It seems ironic how consistently each type of group assumes that their group is the right one. And wasn’t this kind of assumption about being the right group precisely the kind of thing John the Baptist (not to mention Jesus) warned against when he said, “Don’t say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!”

It does, however, make sense to me that the universe, reality – Life; is the result, intention and action of a Creator. It makes sense to me that a good Creator would create a creation that was not mechanistic, predictable and tied-down, but rather a creation that was alive, teeming with chance and possibility – a free creation full of danger, mystery, beauty and grandmas that press their teeth against your head.

It makes sense to me that human beings are just as dangerous and free as the rest of the universe. It makes sense to me that human beings are more than atoms and particles. It makes sense to me that a soul and a body would be so over-lapping and intertwined, you wouldn’t know where one stopped and the other began.

It makes sense to me that these heart/soul/mind/body/spirit/strength interwoven realities called human beings would be God’s primary means of caring for each other and creation. It makes sense to me that the Creator would have a plan to renew all things. It makes sense that a Creator would re-create things at the end of the story.

It makes sense to me that my grandma is not merely decomposed forever. It makes sense that her ‘soul’ is not flying laps around Jupiter. It makes sense that my grandma is somewhere between now and the end of the story. It makes sense that the finer details of the end of the story are not things I’ve got advanced information on. It makes sense that we’ll all be surprised.

It makes sense, to me at least, that I’ll be able to feel teeth on my head again some day.

science, faith and the process of Q&A

Science has produced some very interesting theories about reality…

I ask that those partial to the field of science hear me out before crucifying me, but I think there is a reality that we must all put up with, whether we are holders of Ph D’s in physics or at the level of simple observation – namely the reality that science (like essentially every other field) is limited by our level of observation.

For example, as is commonly known, we know of many ancient suggestions about reality that have long-since been proven to be… well… silly. The sky has been thought to be a solid ‘dome’, with the stars being seen to be holes in the dome. The earth was, of course, thought to be flat, or perhaps a square-ish thing held up by four elephants. Advanced scientific opinion suggested that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it.

More perspective had led us to better suggestions of reality. This is, after all, a foundational principle of the scientific method. I’m very much a fan of science, myself, so I hardly mean to devalue the great field of science, but simply want to demonstrate the (for lack of a better term) ‘fallibility’ of science.

Telescopes and Microscopes

As our telescopes and microscopes have gotten stronger, we’ve been able to have precisely what we’ve needed to arrive at progressively better theories of reality. But it’s an interesting consideration that, for example, as our microscopes have taken us further and further into the detail of our universe, to the atomic level and beyond, more and more questions have arisen! I think it would be fair to say that perhaps some old questions have been cleared up, and new questions have arisen about such things as the nature of matter itself (see, for example, theories such as that of ‘quantum physics’)!

Also, as our telescopes have grown stronger and taken us further and further away from our seemingly small solar system, you could say that the same result has occurred; some questions answered – other ones emerge (dark matter, black holes, habitable planetary probability, etc.). Considering how off we’ve been in the past, I often wonder how off we are now, and what embarrassing dogmatic theories we may hold now that may be either confirmed, challenged or de-bunked by later observation.

Almost There, Just Begun or a Bit of Both?

I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart, you could say. I just want to know why. The way I sometimes hear people talk about different theories of reality often makes me suspicious. Theories (including both evolutionary ones and ‘intelligent design’ ones) are often defended with statements like, “…well, no theory can really be proven, but science has all but proven this one.” Is this really the case?

Now, I’m not suggesting that scientific observation doesn’t get us any closer to ‘proving’ anything, but I have a question about how close we really and truly are to proving such theories as the origin of the universe or life itself.

The “we’ve-basically-solved-it” way of speaking reflects this diagram, in which ‘science’ has thoroughly dealt with the major, large questions of reality, leaving us with only a few minor, small questions left…

In this model, theories (again both evolutionary or ‘intelligent design’ ones) are said to basically have it all explained, save (perhaps) a few minor details. I want to suggest that our pursuit of better theories of reality may not work like that at all. Again, I am not denying that scientific advancements are indeed advancements, I suggest a truer model may well be the reverse of the one shown above. I don’t think we’ve leaped the big hurdles or explained the big questions at all.

In the same way as history gets foggier the further back you look, with science, the further you look (whether through a telescope of a microscope) into things, the harder the questions get. Actually, the fogginess of history spills into science as well. The things we are perhaps the most scientifically unsure of are the things that happened at the ‘beginning’ of it all; whether that be along the lines of string theory, big-bang theory, intelligent design theory or whatever. The more foundational the question, the harder the answer. This model would look like this…

This model is able to appreciate the genuine advancements of science, while at the same time not presuming that the only questions left are ‘small’ ones.

Science has taken us a long way, and no doubt will take us many great and needed places. But as it continues to take us places, let us both appreciate the work it has done and at the same time be aware of how truly difficult the big questions are.

fighting over the god of abraham?

U2 rocked Mt. Albert Stadium this past Friday.In addition to providing exhilarating entertainment and much more, Bono – to the surprise of none – beat his drum of anti-poverty and world peace. Noble indeed. At one point, Bono donned a white bandana with the word ‘Coexist’ in black letters. The Crescent moon of Islam, the Jewish Star of David, and the Christian Cross in place of the ‘C’, ‘X’ and ‘T’.The idea is obvious and wonderful: These three world religions ought to be able to exist together without murdering each other. From the horrific Crusades involving all three, to the Nazi extermination of Jews (and others) in the name of Christ, to the more recent acts of terrorism by Muslim fundamentalists, the world has seen more than enough violence in the name of religion. To advocate peace is undeniably a good and desperately needed cause.

During this part of the concert, Bono pointed out that Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim Abraham as a father-figure and are happy to call themselves ‘Sons of Abraham’. One phrase he used to drive this home was “Jesus. Jew. Mohammed. It’s true.”

The reaction from some of the Christian community has been quite interesting. Some see Bono as equating the three faiths, and others defend him as merely trying to advocate peace and using their common ground with Abraham to do so. At any rate, the following question has resurfaced in many conversations: Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

I’d like to answer the question with another: Do Christians, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses worship the same Jesus? Whether we like it or not, the answer to these questions is both Yes and No.

On one hand, we can point to the basic, general things the faiths have in common. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same principles of monotheism (all 3 believe in One God), election (all 3 believe that God chooses a people to be His own) and eschatology (all 3 believe in a future hope of eternal life with God).

On the other hand, we can point to the many more ways in which they are different. The number of different beliefs is too many to list here, so I’ll just focus on the one that is not only the biggest, but the most important – Jesus.

Jews believe Jesus was a good prophet and teacher, but far from Messiah, and anything but Lord of the Universe. Muslims believe that Jesus was ‘a messiah’ that will return to earth again, but don’t see him as ‘the Messiah’ and certainly not as God incarnate.

The Christian faith centers on Jesus. He is the One Lord; of the One people of God; who have the One glorious hope of resurrection.

One of the great things about serving Jesus is that he doesn’t ever ask us to kill in the name of religion. Though there are differences between Judaism, Islam and Christianity which will always separate us spiritually, we should have no problem coexisting with them physically.

I’ll close by quoting the end of a discussion Jesus had with the Pharisees of his time.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” – John 8:56-58