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Interesting Times: 2013

17 Feb

These are interesting times.  Two-thousand-thirteen has been quite eventful, thus far.  Somewhere between the words “interesting” and “eventful” lies the reality that affects us all:  Nothing in this world stays the same.

Friends retire from their lifelong vocations and press into their permanent vacations.  Others have medical issues arise and leave work, and full-time ministry.  Personal and moral issues drive a certain number into involuntary retirement way too soon.  Still others switch jobs and look for additional excitement.  Whether work or ministry, such revelations seem the pointers that guide each sunrise during the early days of this current year.

The possibility exists that many of the changes I write about are age-related, and that this is the season for change for those in question.  However, most are changing by choice, and doing so for a variety of reasons.  For example, I have lost colleagues and co-workers, pastors and friends, and sports buddies to change.  Some of these changes are conscious and weighed, others compelled by circumstances.  Even sickness and death have reared their ugly heads in 2013.  In fact, far too many of my family and friends are now ill and battling with one dreadful thing, or another.

In the midst of all of this change, so many wonderful opportunities have emerged for so many–even for many of those I reference above.  We could easily find ourselves mired in the negative aspects of life’s shortcomings.  That would be understandable.  However, in so doing, we would miss the blessings of each moment we are granted.  I use the word “granted,” for none of us are guaranteed any breaths or heartbeats.

Focusing on despair means sometimes missing out on the joys emerging, from within whatever struggles we face.  We will have them, and most of us will endure.  Those of us who are older are realizing the blessings of new family members, grandchildren, job-changes, ministry opportunities, writing ventures, and the  joy of realizing we have affected many lives for good, along the way.  I thank God for the people in my life.  Specifically, for example, I am grateful for people who decide to overlook what I do, in favor of whom I am.  Aligning these two, indeed, takes more than a life time, and is accomplished best by the Almighty.  This year the losses might be great, but we are all dispensable in this world.

I was reflecting on this very truth this past week.  My wife and I arrive at work very early each morning.  One day this week I commented, “imagine putting a sign up on your classroom door that read, ‘Mrs. Z’s classes will not meet this week.  See you next week.'”  She smiled and then laughed.  We both understand that laugh.  I then said, “You know, within 24 hours of your last day on this job, the system will continue like you never existed.  Things will change and the new students and teachers will have no idea of your life’s work.”  In her wisdom, my wife replied, “I know.  But hopefully what I do will live on in the lives  I affected.”  She is absolutely correct!

I share this brief conversation to say that we are products of the many people who left us long ago.  We are also living proof of those who left us recently, as well as emerging souls by the efforts of our contemporaries, including family and friends.  In change, and in God, there are always remnants–seeds planted–that germinate and flower through the efforts of others, later in life.  We owe much to those who gave their lives–only to be left along the trail of dusty memories.  Soon we will all be in that class, as we are mere passengers on this planet, transients, and this is not our home.  

At the sunset of one phase of our lives, where will we stand?  In the words of John the Baptist, when asked about his followers, directed all of his affection toward the Lord:  “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Therein lies the beauty of a life-in-focus, and priorities-in-line.  Life is not about my presence.  Life is about His presence in me.

The tabulation of the bottom-line for 2013 has begun.  No one knows what lies out there for any one of us.  However, I can assure you that making choices to thwart the status quo, and comfort, is what drives my passion for life.  Care to join me in the possibilities?

Open the door, God, if only for a moment . . . Walking by faith and not by sight, should get easier with age and diminished eye sight.  [smile]

Weird Parking Lot Experiences

7 Jul

Just yesterday afternoon, I was out and about after work.  I had just parked my
car in a shopping center parking lot when a man walked up to me and asked me
what my doctoral degree was in and where it was from.  My car license plate is
personalized, and I guess the man was quite curious about my pretense.

This was not the first time I was asked about my license plate, or about
my name.  One other time I was asked the genealogy of my family and the
etymology of my last name–all while pumping gas.  The man said that his wife,
who was sitting in their car, was curious.  I am sure we all have our parking
lot stories.

I have to laugh about the gas station confrontations I have had in my
life here in California.  About 5 years ago, I was pumping gas (Yes, the state
trusts us to pump our own)–and I was staring off into the distance and letting
my mind wander.  Suddenly, I heard this voice off to the right of my
daydreaming.  This mid-20s young man challenged me, “What are you looking at,
punk?”

I removed my sunglasses and said, “Excuse me?  Are you talking to me?
If you are, thanks for the compliment.”

He realized I was much older than he thought, and his bravado fell way
short.  Looking back now, it sort of reminded me about “Men Without Chests”
(C.S. Lewis).  I will save this analogy for another time.  But I went home and
told my wife I was a “punk.”  She replied, “You just found that out after all
these years?”  Wiseacre . . .

So back to my original story.  The man who questioned my degree gave me
a certain degree of his own–a bit of scrutiny.  He made a couple of loaded
statements of accusation that ended with question marks.  You know the kind.
Here is what he said:  “You are not one of those liberal, closed-minded
public-school teachers who indoctrinates our kids are you?”  Notice the
accusation with a question-mark?  I replied, “That’s an awfully closed-minded
thing to say.”  He was quiet, but he followed me into the same store.  Ironic,
yes. But that’s OK.  I don’t mind intellectual confrontations.

After a couple of minutes in the store, I ran into a friend and we began
to talk.  I don’t think I can go anywhere in this town without being known by
someone, or knowing someone.  While I was talking with my friend, the man
blurted out, “So, what do you think is the best thing to invest in, today, since
you teach economics and government.  Is it gold, silver, or some other precious
metal?”  My friend looked at me and smiled.  The other shoppers standing in our
vicinity were just looking.  I mean, the man’s decibel level just about made the
arugula and eggplant jump out of my cart.

My reply to the man’s question went something like this:  “I think the
most important thing to invest in is human lives.  These are the most valuable
resources in this world and in the next world, as well.”  He replied, “Can’t
argue with that answer.”

My friend winked at me.  One other woman adjacent to us spoke out the
words, “You got that right.”

So off I went.  But I did forget the fresh basil.  Dang!

Moral of the story?  Sometimes California fruits are misplaced and found
in the vegetable section–which happens to be one aisle over from the nuts.

California is in Trouble

17 May

My home state has caused its own trouble economically.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Democrats have ruled this state for decades and now they’ve created the
largest mess in the nation.

Illegals have so drained precious resources in education, medicine, law
enforcement, and monies for incarceration.  What illegals bring to the state, in
terms of revenues, is overshadowed by the annual allocations provided to
them.

I am not against people.  I am certainly not against people wanting to
be in the United States.  But we have to get these folks who are here illegally
either into the system, or out of our nation.  They cannot be protected as some
“legal class,” or granted minority status.  They are illegal.  If nothing else,
I implore my democrat-friends to consider the numbers.

California is on verge of going bankrupt with a $26.3 billion deficit.  We
are considering saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually by cutting
monthly welfare payments to illegal immigrants.  This equates to $640 million a
year.  But we’ll see if the democrat-ruled state ever votes to allow that.

California has an estimated 2.7 million illegal aliens (7% of the
state’s population).

Here is an example of entitlements given a family of illegal immigrants.  My
state gives a 43-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico $650 a month for each of
her four children and about $500 in federal food stamps and other vouchers.
That is $2600 plus $500 for food.  That’s $3100 a month for the family of
illegals.  This is $37,200 per year.  This does not include education
expenditures and medical expenditures, which are at no real cost to illegals, in
terms of the taxes they pay and the benefits they receive.

Let’s play the numbers game and lump everything together.  Assume that
the 2.7 million illegals in California were broken into family units of four.
There would be 675,000 illegal families in California.  Take the $37,200 per
year, per family, and multiply it by 675,000 families, and the annual
expenditure equates to over $25 billion.  We cannot assume that all illegals are
taking funds, as such.  But we can assume all illegals find their ways into
California public schools and hospitals, and some find their ways into
inarceration.

California spends between $4 billion and $6 billion annually on schools,
jails and hospitals for illegal immigrants. That doesn’t even include other
local government costs such as police and fire, road maintenance and other
public services.

~$2.3 billion anually, the largest amount 300,000 illegal immigrant
children at public schools throughout the state.  Each of them comes with a
price tage of $9,015 per student, annually.  Again, do the math.  300,000
illegals being educated in California public schools puts the tab at 2.7 million
dollars a year.  In one decade alone, $27 million has been spent on illegals
just to attend public schools.

Having compassion is one thing, but we have created a monster–one so
large that our illegal population surpasses the populations of more than a few
states’ population, overall.

Here are some other numbers:

~California spent around $834 million to incarcerate nearly 20,000
illegal aliens in fiscal year 2009-2010.

~My state spends $700 million annually for medical treatment on an
estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants.

More than half the healthcare money will go to emergency services but a
substantial portion will pay for non-emergency health services such as
abortions, prenatal and postpartum care and even nursing homes.

California is in serious trouble.  The democrats control every political
majority in the senate and assembly.  They occupy the governor’s and lieutenant
governor’s offices.  The attorney general of the state is a democrat.  Judges
are appointed by democrats.  Major cities are “blue.”  Taxes are high, and
Governor Brown is threatening to cut to the bone, causing massive layoffs for
citizens–yes citizens.  Yet, he and the Democrats will do little-to-nothing to
send illegals packing.

In plain English, we are a mess.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/calfacts/calfacts_010511.aspx#zzee_link_29_1294170707

Mixed Messages

12 May

Sometimes we use excuses as a means of sidestepping responsibility for actions, or words.  Blaming others is part of human nature for many.  We see this in our politicians blaming predecessors.  We see this in our children.  It appears in the media, and it is certainly found in the workplace.  Taking responsibility for things that we say and do just seems like something passe.  Today we are told that words and actions do not have to line up.  In fact, words are justification for ill-behavior and it is quite annoying.

Take, for example, the sign that was tacked to a tree near a Catholic convent:  “No trespassing!  Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law–Sisters of Mercy.”  We call that a mixed message.  I cannot help but wonder how often we come across the same way, because of our words and actions.  I am sure it is pretty close to daily.

Nothing irks me more than the practice of hypocrisy, which is most likely why one political party bothers me so much.  Momentary, political expediency and vilification of anyone different is the practice.  Character assassinations and double standards are hypocritical and send mixed messages.  I think the height of this “mixed-message-syndrome” is found in the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.  Allow me to explain.

On the one hand, the president is against any technique that causes a terrorist to give up information to save lives.  Information given up through touch interrogation techniques yielded a booty of intelligence that lead to bin Laden.  Obama defines such techniques as torture.

I am sure the president would allow torture of a terrorist if his wife’s, or daughters’ lives were in jeopardy.  But all of that aside.  How can a person be so against a technique–torturous or not–and then be in favor of assassinating a terrorist and others in a raid?  We don’t torture, we just kill?  I call that a definite mixed message.

Politics aside, we struggle daily with the sending of mixed messages.  The root of this struggle is found in two areas of our human nature.  First, we value “self” over others and seek to hide things deleterious to our reputation.  We see this “saving our hides” attempt in the Garden of Eden story in Genesis.

Second, with power comes the ability to make certain of outcomes in one’s favor.  So, our words can be overridden by actions.  Both are hypocrisy at their core.  We find each of these problematic–both in our own lives and in the lives of people to whom we entrust power.

As an educator, I work in the trenches daily.  I am entrusted with power over many lives.  The moment I say one thing and do not follow-up with actions that align with my words, my students are quick to call me out on it–and rightly so!

I get quite frustrated with the media that does not hold our president accountable to his words and actions.  I wish I could get the same pass by those who hear and see me, but I can’t.  My power is limited and it is shared.

Power is addicting.  The more it is used, if combined with lessened public accountability, one begins to think he or she is actually right over time.  Therein lies to deception that comes with hypocrisy.  Promises are made and broken, and are not reported.    Controversies arise and are quelled.  Events are spun to sound like “truth.”  No wonder power can be so intoxicating.

The lasting truth about mixed messages and hypocrisy can be summed in double-mindedness.  It is quite clear that those of us who practice double-mindedness in words and deeds are “unstable in all our ways.”  (James 1:8)

Have you ever wondered why our chief executive says one thing, does another, confuses all of us with rhetoric, etc.?  Remember all the promises he made during his campaign just to get elected?  The truth is that he is unstable, due to shifting ideologies.  In other words, the anchor in his nature dangles just above the ocean floor.  There is no greater mixed message than what emerges from a messenger that believes dangling, unfixed anchors are actually evidence of positive change.

Power is best used when it is shared.  Power used to obtain more power is glorification of self.  “Do as I do, not as I say,” is a hypocrite’s mantra.

Know what I mean?

The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible

20 Apr

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment and growth–growth of the whole person.  However, the moral-free campus environment, coupled with the abject spiritual poverty and outright ridicule of things Christian, is enough to see the real threat our own children face in schools of higher learning.  There is a war over “faith” that many of our own children face.

Students are subject to ridicule, and fear standing up, or else their grades may be affected. Standing for truth and absolutes is difficult today, but not impossible.  Every generation has some challenges. One of these challenges is found in the following.  A recent Chronicle of Higher Education issue contained a piece titled:  “The Bible is Dead; Long live the Bible.”

The Chronicle Review published the piece from a book written by a professor at Case Western Reserve University, Timothy Beal.  In his recent book titled, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, Timothy Beal questions the integrity and veracity of the Bible. Take note: “Did no one notice all the glaring discrepancies? Could all those many, many people involved in the development of biblical literature and the canon of Scriptures have been so blind, so stupid?” Just what exactly where they blinded to, so stupid, regarding?

Beal writes: “The Bible can atheist any book under the table on some pages.  It presumes faith in God, yet it also often gives voice to the most profound and menacing doubts about the security of that faith.  The Bible is not a book of answers, but a library of questions. How rare such places have become in a society addicted to quick fixes, executive summaries, and idiot’s guides. The canon of the Bible is that kind of place.”

Apparently, placing trust in the Bible as God’s Word and a guide for life equates to being blind, or stupid. Yet, with that assumption on my part, Beal leaves unaddressed that the major questions of life are indeed answered in the Scriptures. These include the purpose and meaning of life, love, marriage, children, as well as life after death–and a host of others.  Yes, there are questions, but unlike other religions, there are very direct assurances in the Scriptures, based on Jesus Christ.

The author attempts to argue that “There is no faith without doubt.  Doubt is faith’s other side, its dark night. People of faith know the reasons to doubt their faith more deeply and more personally than any outside critic ever can.” Notice the appeal to Eastern religion here? What Beal does not address is the relationship aspects that are clearly developed in the Scripture. He dichotomizes faith and doubt, as if opposite sides of the same coin.

Faith, like doubt, has to be placed in or on someone or something. Doubting one’s faith, as a thing owned, is very different from doubting the One into Whom faith is placed.  If one doubts his or her own faith, then no wonder there are issues. Such a faith is merely human and emerges from a psychological base, not a spiritual, or relational one.  If a person can doubt his faith, can he have faith in his doubt?  Now that raises some very interesting questions.  I think the reader sees the point.

Beal tries to cozy up to the Bible, but his best efforts fall short. Having rejected the authoritativeness of the Scriptures, he then writes:  “Scriptures have a tendency to exceed the boundaries of orthodoxy and resist closure.  The Bible keeps reopening theological cans of worms.  It resists its own impoverishment by univocality.  In so doing, it fails to give answers, leaving readers biblically ungrounded.”

By stating there is no univocality, Beal strikes at the heart of the Bible as God’s Word.  After all, if the Bible is God’s Word, then there is a vocality to which we ought to listen. The Bible claims that “all Scripture is inspired by God . . . ” That sounds quite univocal to me!

The author stresses a supposed inadequacy of the written text. One can only question whether he is open to books written by one man, such as the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or other religious books, in terms of their univocality?

He seems open to quoting Buddha and others to make his points, hence an appeal to truth through the avenue of human faith in self. Here is another area where Beal sorely misses the point.  The Bible is inspired by one voice, written through the voices and styles of many, and points to One and only One Person, overall.  Faith is unidirectionally. Faith is placed in Jesus Christ, who is the “way, the truth, and the life.” No one comes to the Father, except through Him, according the Scriptures. (John 14:6) But if the Scriptures are not God’s Word, then even these attributed words of Jesus are suspect.

As people, moreover as believers, we can place our faith in doubt, or we can doubt our faith.  Whatever the case, both miss the mark.  Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims as God comprise the object of faith placement.  Show me more univocality than Christ’s exclusivity, and that’s where I would doubt that faith as merely human.  God in the flesh is quite exclusive.  Dead men’s bones in tombs make their religious claims neither true, nor exclusive.

In closing, one does not need Kant, Buddha, or even Dostoyevsky to make a point about faith. If a person does not believe the Bible to be God’s Word, then what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, life, death, and many things in-between are also suspect. Either faith in self exists, or faith in God exists. Having faith in faith is mere gimmickry. It is from God’s Word where we derive our moral compasses and absolute truth. Faith and doubt are not truth. Faith in truth does not make it so.

Truth changes not, in the face of the worst doubt, or extreme faith.  What else is unchanging in this world, regardless of views that attack the Scripture?  It is Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  Did not the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus answer the ultimate questions of life?

Timothy Beal. “The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible.” The Chronicle Review. April 22, 2011, B6-8.

Ownership of Human Life

1 Mar

Ownership of Human Life

By Ernie Zarra, Ph.D.

Competition has always been the bedrock of American economics. Adam Smith, political philosopher and economic genius of his day, wrote about the invisible hand. Within that discourse, he penned these words: “Profit is the motivator, and competition is the regulator.” How true. How true.

Profits. Profits are why most of us work. The notion that there is somehow a purist out there, akin to Mother Theresa, and works tirelessly, selflessly, or otherwise spending oneself for the sake of a higher purpose is more fiction than fact, I am afraid. In the words of Gordon Gecko, vis-a-vis Wall Street fame, “Greed is good.” Art imitates life and sometimes it is the other way around, in fact. Greed certainly is not good and is not about what is good. Greed is about “goods.” Allow me to begin with such a premise.

We all do things for “self.” Politicians who claim to have the American people’s best interests at heart, or claim to be doing the will of the people, are just plain rambling rhetoricians. Religious leaders whose gospel is about “American rights and civil discourse,” are preaching a religion of racial or political sectarianism. These are the “goods” from the systems in which this emerge, and they are self-serving. Such systems are fraught with competition, per se.

What I plan to address in the following is honestly controversial and might very well offend some readers. I apologize for any disagreement that might be taken personally. But I do not apologize for speaking what I truly and honestly comprehend as the truth. Truth never has to apologize. But honesty? It may have to be couched in apology after apology.

These past few years have pitted some very distinguished groups against each other. Most of these groups are concerned with issues of life–some for moral reasons, and some for monetary reasons. Some of these groups seek ownership of products through patents. All of the groups are seeking profits, in one form or another, including the storing and purchasing of human tissue and body parts. Many university and private research labs are seeking names for themselves, and make “no bones” about asking for federal funding.

Monday, March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama (#44) signed an Executive Order revoking the limitation of “Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells.” (www.whitehouse.gov) What the president has done with this order is to pit life advocates against life advocates.

Recall, President George W. Bush (#43) signed a moratorium on federal funding of any new embryonic stem cells lines. He did not ban private groups or private money. Bush was pro-life and Obama is certainly different than Bush, in politics, decisions, and fundamental beliefs about life.

Essentially, Bush allowed the Clinton administration’s advanced research to continue only under private monies, while funding the Clinton’s existing embryo experimentation programs, when he took office in 2001. Federal funds did go to existing stem cell research at the time through the NIH (National Institutes of Health)—but not to any new stem cell lines of research.

Let’s take a brief look at the current president’s fundamental rationale for removing any barriers in experimenting with embryos in his executive order. First, Obama says he wants to “enhance the contributions of America’s scientists to important new discoveries and new therapies for the benefit of mankind.” Second, the president writes that he “is a man of faith,” and his faith is a driving for helping mankind.

At this point, many readers of this piece (making a great assumption here), are probably thinking I am against stem cell generation, harvesting, and research–including therapies derived from such scientific and medical breakthroughs and programs. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I know many people in my daily sphere who are medical professionals. I rub shoulders in the real world with physicians. I pick the brains of scientific researchers. I have coffee with oncologists, and have met with and lunched with neurologists. Some of these and other medical experts are close friends. Several of these experts are religious, but not all. Some have deeper ethical beliefs than others, but so do we all. Just to assure the reader, I have done a little homework on this topic. Doctors and their profession is not so ideological so as to bypass financial and economic endeavors.

There is serious competition today between university and private research groups seeking to patent human genome discoveries. There is a “race to trace” the patterns of genetic structures. Also, the science world seems bent on patenting human embryos, which scientists fertilize in labs. These same embryos are stored in “embryo banks,” often the result of paid college-age donors’ sperm and eggs.

Europe, Australia, and North America continue to bring requests to own “human life” before their courts. The same is true for the proposition of human cloning. Human cloning has been billed as the “perfect fit” science. Allow me to explain.

If a person had a clone of himself, then any worn out part cold easily be extracted from a storehouse of parts, or a clone-bank, like unto what is already done with corneas, blood, and other organs that are harvested. Clones would make it possible to have a perfect fit for our own bodies, theoretically allowing for a personal warehouse for each of us.

With the passage of Obama’s order, the argument of removing barriers to science is one step closer to removing another barrier: human cloning. Some call this a “step in the right direction.” Others call it a slippery slope. I am in the camp of the latter. Science is never satisfied with status quo. Politicians politicize. Legislators legislate. Scientists scientize. Thus, professional and scientific competition is on! The race for patents and profits is a Gordon Gecko mantra made-to-order!

I find the President Obama incredibly naive in at least two areas: (1) He thinks scientists and scientific advanced are both enhanced by ending human life, and (2) His faith causes him to overlook moral and ethical issues. His experience and decisions demonstrate that he is firs a man of politics. His sacrifice of morality and ethics is glaring.

Who or what gives any president the authority to determine that human embryos are a matter of experimentation? I know what gives him the power. But I am talking about authority. If he is a man of faith, I ask “what faith?” Faith in science? Faith is whom, faith in what, faith in what sets of beliefs? Valid questions–ALL OF THEM.

The reader has already picked up on the fact that I am against using embryos for scientific experimentation. Such experimentation creates niche markets and eventually such a supply is available only to elitists demonstrating the wherewithal of demand. So, what are the alternatives to this mad, competitive drive to own human property?

There exist at least eight stem cell therapies already–including the use of adult stem cells that come so very close to the stem cells of the embryo. The Bush moratorium in 2001 actually enabled scientists more broad discoveries and realistic therapies, than would have been discovered if everyone was focused only on the use of embryos for therapies. There is only a “promise of potential” in the use of embryos. Are the moral and ethical, political and fiscal costs worth the “possible” benefits, knowing we already have so much helpful therapy available, presently? I do not think so, for many of the reasons already stated.

Embryonic Stem Cells. Let’s review exactly what an embryonic stem cell is all about. At the point of conception (fertilization) between sperm and egg, a zygote is formed. Within 3-5 days, due to rapid cellular reproduction, the package of cells is supercharged and is programmed to continue rapid multiplication. Throughout this reproduction, the DNA is present for a complete human being, with all the earmarks of a potential living, breathing person.

At around the five day mark, these “super-cells” are not yet marked for any specific tissue, and have the potential to develop into any tissue, if manipulated. So, the issue of embryonic stem cell research, then, is about scientists intervening at the point of human conception. They then remove the super-cells from the “blastocyst” (3-5 day-old embryo), and discard the rest. They throw away, as waste, the parts of human life that are not “needed.” The theory behind the use of these super cells is that they would be introduced into diseased areas of bodies to grow new tissue, or support existing good tissue.

Because the size of what is being used is small, it is visually insignificant. No one has seen a soul, yet many of us believe the invisible to be quite valid and essential to human life. To many people in the United States, the soul is implanted at the point of conception, and “being-ness” becomes an reality. We must question that if the president is a man of faith, does his faith inform him about this dimension?

Alternatives to the Use of Embryos. Presently, stem cells are grown from blood, placenta, spinal fluid, organs, and several other areas of already, fully grown adult stem cells and tissue. Such donations of bodily material and fluids are not resulting in forfeiture of human life. These are donations that enhance life. Embryonic stem cell research pits scientists against human conception, and it is NOT a fair competition. Conceived human life always seems to lose against the “possibility” of saving the human life of one already born.

The president has pitted those with disabilities, illnesses, and diseases against those who would seek to protect embryos from experimentation and destruction. I can assure you I am not against science and I have empathy for those who are suffering. Again, I would like science to be free to find cures–not at the expense of the life of another, or human life at its fundamental source.

Destruction of human life–and everyone agrees that is exactly what is being done–for human life is unfair and unjust competition. It will result in economic monopolies. Whenever human life is seen as “property,” we lose our moral compass. Just the mention of the terms slavery, abortion–and now embryos–in the same breath, sends shivers down my spine. Involve the government in the same discussion and other historical contexts resonate.

I asked earlier where the president, a man of faith, got his authority to decide the fate of embryos. Solomon’s words are appropriate here: “No man has authority to restrain the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

The president’s naiveté, or his blatant disregard in not considering the depths of morality on the issue before the reader is in line with his style of political leadership-not his faith. Going into greater debt fiscally in order to climb out of fiscal debt is just plain dumb. Going into greater moral debt to climb out of what he sees as “8-years of failed political and moral policy” debt is even worse. If these are the principles of faith to live by, we might, down-the-road, very well have to apologize to other groups for their eugenics and fetal experimentations. I sure hope not.

In closing, the president’s actions of late have disenfranchised the three largest bases of religious groups in America. Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and Mormons . . . add whomever else you will to the mix. Is this the man of faith and principle we are talking about? Is this the man of change?

Life v. Life . . . a Barack Obama special edition of “I can do what I damn well please, and there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do about it.” Well, game on, Mr. President. I am glad you have put down the cigarettes. Now it is time for the teleprompter to hit the road.

 

Mankind’s Greatest Achievement?

20 Jan

Here we are!  We have reached a new decade in the twenty-first century.  We humans are so accomplished.  Or are we?  The answer to this last question would depend upon whom we were listening to at the time.

Technologically, we have reached the moon, sent probes deep into space, mapped human and animal DNA, invented all sorts of things–including wireless audio and visual communications, and organ transplants.  Everywhere, we see medical advancements, scientific breakthroughs, and life’s longevity seems greater than it ever has been in the United States.  We are a nation of “haves” and we like it this way.

Whether communication, transportation, education, medicine, exploration, and data-information, the United States seems to have ownership of so very much of the world’s capabilities and resources.  We are now competing with China and other Asian nations for global economic and political status.  Yet, for all of this achievements, we still fall woefully short of the greatest human achievement of all.  But like good and productive humans, we plod along as if progress outweighs reality.

Matthew 16:26 offers us this query by Jesus, “For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?  or what will a man give in exchange for his own soul?” 

That is a great couple of questions.  The questions cause us to ponder the contrast of how far we humans are willing to go for ourselves, without even giving pause to the deepest part that comprises us all.  Again, we plod along as if the human soul is not the greatest of all concerns.

We live in an age of the ethic of retaliation and political correctness.  We promote individual over common good.  We have confused what it means to love, and the biblical moorings of this love in relationships and marriage.  All of us have fallen short and we will continue to do so, as long as we are alive.  But for all of our accomplishments, so-called, we have yet to achieve the very thing sought by most:  Immortality and Youth.

Despite the fact that immortality and youth are not ours for the keeping, we still try to achieve them.  How many products and spas can you name?  What about this treatment of the body, or that application to the flesh?  We strive to keep what we have, knowing that it is first-of-all, not ours for the keeping, and second, there is nothing we can do about it.  Still we strive.

Man’s greatest achievement is not in the body.  It is in the soul.  For if man’s greatest achievement is the body, then it might appear logical that death is the ultimate achievement, since it happens to us all, in its own way and own time.  Ironically, what is thought as mankind’s greatest achievement, immortality, is not achievable by mankind at all.  He needs the assistance of the One who conquered this whole issue.

I think you know where I am headed with this blog.  Religion is man’s attempt to find immortality on his own.  Relationship with God is the reality that God connected with us.  The two are very different, and the latter is quite exclusive.  It comes down to either man’s attempts, or God’s accomplishments.  Which one places our souls in good hands?

Realistically, we have learned to swim under water like fish, learned to fly through the air like birds, and we have explored the heavenlies like angels.  But we have yet learned to walk the earth as mankind should.  Essentially, we think accomplishments count as points in some sort of “Look at all I did,” system.  Put another way, “What would it profit a person if he scored the highest on every test imaginable, died with the highest intellect, and cured the most diseases, and owned the most toys?”  Isn’t he still dead?  What about the soul?  Since death is the great equalizer, where is the profit then?

There is a lot of truth in this, my friends.  Often, truth is bypassed in life by those who practice the philosophy that truth is made by mankind.  I would only offer this:  If something is “truth” then it will not change during life and after death.  That’s the kind of reliability I’d prefer to trust.

May we continue to learn to walk in relationship with the Almighty, and in the newness of the opportunities of each day.  The spiritual truth is this:  In losing ourselves to God, we find ourselves.

“He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake, shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:39)

Christian Ethics and Choices

30 Oct

The following survey questions were written with the Christian in mind, and are part of my larger lesson on “Christian Ethics and Choices.”  A fully informed choice is the responsibility of us all.  Ignorance can lead us into all sorts of choices that, at first, seem the only way to decide an issue.  However, the choice measured by “truth,” is the most informed choice.  But do we desire such choices?  Therein exists accountability morally, as well as spiritually and physically.  In a culture that seeks quick decisions and easy answers, I do not believe we always take the necessary time to find the best answers for our choices.  The question is out there . . . What is God’s role in our choices?

As Christians, we are called to live by different standards than those who are not believers.  Society glorifies individual “choice,” and the believer is called to glorify God.  There is serious biblical tension in trying to accomplish both. 

If truth is unchanging, and not subjective to relative changes in culture, then it is lasting beyond each generation, and serves as a measure for all generations.  There are “truths” that each of us live by.  But what are the ultimate principles that are unaffected by belief, or practice?  This remains to be seen.  Welcome to my lesson . . . [smiling].

Feel free to respond to any or all of the 13 questions that follow,  and let me know what you think.  I am not collecting data from this survey.  That is reserved for in-person activity.  Your answers are strictly for blog dialogue.

TRUE or FALSE

_____  1.  Life has value because society has added to its value.

_____  2.  It is morally wrong for a Christian to believe in abortion.

_____  3.  Human life begins at conception.

_____  4.  Being human implies personhood.

_____  5.  Human beings are eternal beings.

_____  6.  Abortion is always sin.

_____  7.  Personhood begins at conception.

_____  8.  There was a time when the Son was not God.

_____  9.  A Christian should have a choice over how he or she dies.

_____ 10.  If a Christian commits suicide he or she will still go to heaven.

_____ 11.  Physician-assisted aid in dying is sometimes the right thing to do.

_____ 12.  God has a plan for our lives and deaths.

_____ 13.  Abortion is murder.

Honoring Our Parents

8 Sep

As many of you know, I am working on this brand new class for church–and I am excited about its direction.  It’s no secret that we assimilate and emulate a lot of what we are taught, and we appropriate to our lives the things which our parents also have appropriated.  Yes, it is true that we all must live our lives for ourselves.  However, when things go wrong, there is this popular notion that we should blame our parents for our problems.  Well, I am here to say that rather than cause dishonor to our parents by making ourselves victims, why not see things and practice things differently?

Taking personal responsibility for actions and words brings honor to our parents, for it shows the quality of ownership of one’s humanity.  Being unable to stand back and accept full responsibility without also saying, “Look how imperfect you are too,” is a dishonor to our parents.  Standing back and saying “I was wrong, forgive me,” is an honor to parents. 

There are those of us whose parents messed us up royally, or at least we think so.  OK, but so what.  Show me an average human who is not messed up somehow.  I think we’ve messed up enough because of our own choices as adults, that we can now let parents off the hook.   Show me an average human who does not yet have choices in life to move away from one thing, or another.  Show me a human who is honest, sincere, and willing to come alongside others without pointing out another’s “second-hand humanity,” and I’ll show you someone who honors his or her parents.  We need to focus on ourselves and get off the side-taking and finger-pointing.  Those things are dishonorable and childish.  Our own kids will do to us what we have done to our parents–including the blaming part.  We need to break that cycle.

Whether our parents are still with us, or whether they have departed this earth, our words and actions continue to demonstrate honor, or lack of honor for their roles and memories in our lives.  I pray that one day when I am gone, my own children will carry on the legacy of honorable living for themselves and for the honor with which they presently live. 

I am not a perfect man.  It just seems that way to negative people who cannot, or will not change to change.  In many people live by negative emotion rather than common sense.  They are used to the negativity and are addicted to it. 

Piety is not notoriety.  It is humility.  Efforts to change on our own are often met with futility and it’s easier to tell the world to celebrate its foibles than overcome them.  I am an overcomer, a victor.  Most of you are too.  There can be no greater honor to our parents than evidencing in our daily walks the Godly qualities by which they lived.  The second greatest honor is getting it right for our own kids to appropriate into their lives, and so on.

So, to those of us who are moving forward, getting a few things right each day by the grace of God, we are living in honor to our parents.  Those of us who are not are probably not living an honorable life in the eyes of their own families. 

Break the negative cycle with each and every choice to do so.  It is so freeing.  If a friend is a bad and toxic influence, break the friendship–or be a better friend and a better influence than the negative one.  Make the choice.  It will bring US honor.  It will demonstrate honor to our parents, which should never stop just because they have left this earth.

Thanks for reading!

Life is a part of Death

5 Sep

We all seem to think that when death occurs that life is over.  Let me flip this whole notion on its head.  Do I have your attention yet? 

We all use phrases such as “That’s life,” or “Death is a part of life.”  We even use the phrase “Life’s not fair,” as our bumper-sticker philosophical and theological default. 

These phrases, and others, have small places in our minds and realities, to be sure.  But are they true?  Are they true as long as they “happen” in another person’s life?  Do they become unfair and an invalid statement, losing it’s truth, when something happens in OUR lives? 

I am wondering today, “Where is the truth about death these days?”  Are we avoiding it for the universal reality that us really is?  Or have we just accepted its reality, sort of like the elephant in the room no one wants to address?

Excuse my Political Incorrectness.  It is not vogue to discuss death and dying.  As my mother used to say, “If you talk about it, you might cause it to happen,” and “Stop being so morbid.”  I’d swear she thinks reality hinges on my words and that I somehow have the power to cause mayhem and malady upon the world.  Let’s face it.  People who avoid discussions of death simply do not want to consider the emotional aspects of what we all know will occur to each of us.  Welcome to my blog addressing “This Journey Called Death.”

Our Upbringing.  We all were raised with parents who said things like, “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.”  We’ve all teased and told others, “Come here, I’ll kill ya.”  I could go on.  But we don’t seem to have a problem addressing the issue of death when it comes to power play and humor.  The sheer fact is, death is real.  Death is eventual.  Humor and extreme language may help to defray the deeper issue of its reality.  However, none of us make it out of this world alive, in the body as we know it.  Besides, would YOU want this body to make it out into another life?  Talk about torture!

I argue that we are all really good at evaluating the circumstances of others, but get quite blinded when similar circumstances strike close to home.  Un fairness never looks so “unfair,” as when it is delivered unexpectedly to those of us who expected to remain unscathed in this life.  I think one of the reasons for this, quite honestly, is that “living vicariously through others’ experiences is easier than living through our own.”  Because we wouldn’t do to others what life has just done to them, or us, we claim life to be unfair.  I totally understand these emotions.  It feels as if we died while we are still alive!  But where does that leave us? 

That’s Life.  (“Oh, that’s what people say.”  Remember that song?)  What do we mean by this?  Do we elevate life to some deterministic boogey-man, or is the statement a natural admission of our cluelessness about what is going on in our lives?  Moreover, is the phrase an acquiescence to a force that is outside our control?  Do we then relinquish our wills to the “whatever we cannot control” forces of life?  In my mind, the phrase “that’s life” is stated most often toward others, and not ourselves.  It is used as an attempt to ameliorate the impact of life’s stuffus upon others.  We should just say “Relax and accept what took place” in their lives.  The notion that we all face similar experiences sooner or later is a commonality and point of identification for us.  But we’d all like to defer the bad stuff, or hope it avoids us and our loved ones. 

The phrase “That’s life,” is shallow, indeed.  But the truth of the matter is, “Life happens”–another colloquialism used by the masses.  Life happens because life is not under our control. 

Death is a Part of Life.  Nothing is farther from the truth, with respect to life as we know it here on this planet.  Death is the cessation of life, and not incorporated as a part.  If it was a part, as such, it would be occurring in the string of life and be evidenced in one’s daily existence.  Death affects life–ultimately for those of us who experience it, and those who are left behind to grieve. 

Now, instead I like to use the phrase, “dying is a part of life.”  I think this adequately reflects the truth in a decaying world.  This implies that we are aging, getting older and things are literally less alive than they were in months and years past.  Somewhat interesting in all of this is that feelings are not normally affected by this process of decay, but the body certainly is.  Does that not imply that living on as a conscious, aware, and feeling individual is expected–even for those dying?  As the body ages, the “person continues to grow, apart from this process.”  In my mind, this is an evidence of life after death.  It is not the strongest evidence, and certainly not the only evidence.  But advocates of “death is a part of life” ideology–whether knowingly or not–actually provide an argument for “eternal life being a part of earthly dying.” 

Life’s Not Fair.  Define fair.  My experience is that life is fair and that are consequences that occur, along with unintended consequences for most of our actions.  If life is fair because we all get the same size piece of birthday cake, then we must be careful what we wish for.  Life is neither fair nor unfair.  It is not life’s fault that death occurs.  Is it?  Is life not fair because death, disease, and dying are mixed into the equation?  If these were a PART of life, as advocates state, then they ought to be accepted as such. 

If we were all honest, the reason we do NOT accept them is because we know the truth.  Life is of great value.  Death does not diminish life or its value–regardless when death occurs.  Life is a natural right granted by our Creator.  Life at any stage does not have the right to claim “unfair.”  But people do.  Is it fair that a person chooses abortion?  Is it fair that a baby is born with Down-Syndrome?  Who decides “fair?”  If life happens by our choices, and death is a part of life, then “life’s not fair” is to be accepted as well.  But is that the case?

With all the talk of atheism and evolution, there should be no squawking about whatever comes our way.  Yet, when things do happen in this dying world, we blame God.  Sounds a little like the way politicians like to blame predecessors for the current messes.  It is just another way to deflect responsibility for our parts in creating this mess on earth.  We wanted free will.  We got it.  We argues that we can create our own truth, contrary to life.  It is irresponsible to blame God for gracing us with what we deeply cherish. 

Do We Know?  Since none of us knows for certain, by personal experience about the existence of life beyond this physical realm, we really can’t say for sure that life is completely over at death.  In fact, the only reasons we would ever imply that life is over at physical death is (1) we know for certain that nothing exists after death, (2) that life as we know it is the ultimate, (3) life as we know it does not have an eternal aspect, viz. eternal life, etc.

I am not a proponent of universalism.  It is not popular these days to believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell (place of eternal torment).  But may we be reminded that we just didn’t sit around making up these beliefs.  Christians, like myself, are followers.  We place our trust and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.  So, the beliefs for which we are judged as intolerant come from Him.  Is Jesus intolerant of people choosing to reject Him? 

I find it quite intolerant to judge a follower of Christ as intolerant, for just holding a belief and obeying the command of sharing this belief.  Life does not remove ultimate truth.  But show me a life that removed the ultimate experience of universal death, then I am paying attention. 

Not believing something doesn’t make it less true.  Discarding as intolerant does not remove the fact that Jesus taught something and followers believe it.  Now let me move this provocation along a bit by the following statement.

There is No Such Thing as Universal Afterlife.  We are all NOT on the same path, moving in the same direction.  We all die at different times, so the path is not one.  Is there REALLY anyone who lives as if loving someone deeply as another human is a ticket to ride?  Is there a human love that can override truth?  Are there wrongs that are just wrong to us, but not to God?  Are there “rights” we possess and act upon that are wrong to God?  You know, where all is said and done, death is universal.  Then what?  Do we even care?

Where are we Headed?  Our spiritual GPS is not loaded and focused on the same destination.  One religion has the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Birth, another does not believe in the death of Jesus, but allows for dozens of virgins for eternal pleasure.  Wisdom for the ages is good to live by, but terrible to die by.  The path we take does matter.  Who and What Jesus is does matter.  Do you care?

Again, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I submit my understanding to His exclusive statement.  John 14:6:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”  Either statements like those are lies, deceptions, myth, or sheer ego-mania.  Statements like those are exclusive to Jesus. No other religious leaders, founders of religions, etc., make such claims.  Could it be that this uniqueness is worth listening to, or rejecting?  But if statements like those are true and we reject them, then what?  

Life is a Part of Death.  No one can reject away death by one’s beliefs.  One’s beliefs will be proven true, or not, in the end.  Scientology and Christian Science can “believe away,” or even pay for the privilege of “feeling cleared” of all past baggage.  The stuff is still there and its effects just as certain.  Death happens.  L. Ron Hubbard and Mary Baker Eddy are proof.

As a guy, I am told that I do not stop and ask for directions when I am lost.  But I am atypical then.  I ALWAYS stop and ask for directions.  If I reject the directions and try to find a shortcut, or believe all ways lead to my destination–or that my way is better, then I must accept the consequences.  Today we blame the direction-giver for why we chose to get lost. 

Where is the Hope?  I think we have it quite backwards in society.  We no longer provide hope for people.  We have taken hope and called it tolerance, thereby reducing truth to levels of “truth for you,” and “truth for me”–as long as it is watered down, so as not to cause a stir.  As long as it works for you and me, truth is subjective enough to be elevated to THE truth.  Once that occurs then the argument is made, “all truth is subjective.”  This is pure nonsense, in my thinking.  Just think about applying this principle to a marriage, or to justify a behavior to a boss, or whatever.  Is all truth subjective because YOU say so?  That statement alone seems like an exclusive and objective claim.  How then can ALL truth be subjective by a universal declaration that is objective?  Do you see the way we elevate ideas in our culture?  Here is an example.

“Jesus cannot be the only way to God because there are many ways.”  Pure nonsense!

Faith has its Place.  We place faith and trust all in the here and now, for fear of offending someone else.  Then we get bummed out when life doesn’t pan out like we expected.  In terms of our nation, in reality, minimizing Jesus’s deity equates Him to the rest of religious leaders.  But they have no answers of security for the next life.  Now what? 

Likewise, placing faith in men and elevating all the other religious leaders to the level of Jesus Christ places them in positions which they did not intend as mere humans.  Now what? 

How does either of those attempts help anyone in the long run?  If the words of Christ and His promises are false, all Christians have done is validate that all religions are essentially the same, and that He was truly a mere human.  Christianity then becomes just more religious stuff to do as humans, then we die.  But is that the case?

Non-Exclusivity?  If all religions get us to the same place, then all the “unfair things of life” in the name of religion are honored by some brutally sadistic universal power . . . That doesn’t work.  If it does, then I am heading off to the most selfish of religions and living for myself right now–ATHEISM!

All roads cannot lead to a place that is exclusive.  If they do, there is no exclusivity.  That would be like saying all political beliefs lead to the same political party, or the same political candidate.  Simply makes no logical sense, let along practical sense. 

If practicing a religion is the key, we are all in–assuming a few thing are in line.  

  • How much does one have to practice? 
  • Are we trusting another mere human to keep the tally and tell us? 
  • How much good one must do? 
  • Who or what defines good? 
  • If good is enough, they why would anyone do better? 
  • And what about doing our best? 
  • Is it just pass-fail? 
  • Who defines “bad,” and is there a subtraction factor from the good?

Here is where the ludicrous enters the universalist salvation philosophy.  

  • What if a person does good for a nation, and not the world, does he or she get in? 
  • Who is keeping the tally? 
  • And if a person does one good deed in life, or gives the most money to a cause, is that good enough? 

Universalism does not work, because people were good Nazis for their nation, good terrorists in the name of Allah during Jihad, and good murderers in the name of God throughout history.  Would you like to share an eternal life with these people?  If there is no eternal life, or punishment for anything, what is keeping all of us from destroying each other?  Would others like to share an eternal life with ex-spouses, or abusers?  Based on things done, universalism has no answers. 

Religious practice simply doesn’t cut it.  Religion may be universal in belief, but relationship is not.  If all roads led to the same place, then Christians practicing Buddhism, along with adhering to Jihadist ideology, and Roman Catholicism, etc., etc., along with polygamy are just fine and dandy. 

“Relationship with Whom,” you ask?  With God Himself–not religion.  I did not make this up.  Again, I trust the words of Jesus:  “I came to the world that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  In the final analysis, I am placing my trust in the next world, right here and now in.  But I place it in Someone Who has been there, conquered the very thing we all cannot escape, and Who accepts me as I am. 

Religion enables my conscience to have a one-way relationship with a continuous grasping upwardly set of beliefs and practices.  Jesus Christ secures a relationship downward and validates it by His death and resurrection.  You know, come back from the dead on your own and  You, sir, at least have my attention–if not my soul. 

“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

“Eat, drink, and be merry.  For me to live for myself is the ultimate.  There is nothing after this life.  For tomorrow we may die.”

Which one of these gives hope both now and later?  And do you even care?  The choice is yours.  It always is.

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