Archive for November, 2007

Oops Honey I Changed the World

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Gen 1:3

This is the basis for the first of the two creation stories in Genesis. In Scientific terms, this was the big bang. There is a second chapter in Genesis that introduces a talking serpent, but has a much less optimistic ending with man becoming a mortal sinful being. This pretty much set the stage for discussions that fundamentalists and progressives have been having ever since.

Scientists working on expanding quantum theory to the operation of the universe have come up with a second chapter of their own.

It wasn’t too long ago that scientists created the concept of dark matter to explain why the universe kept expanding. Based on the matter that we could see, the expansion from the Big Bang should have slowed significantly by now. So these clever guys said that there must be something else out there left over from the Big Bang of creation that we just couldn’t see that kept things running away from each other.

In 1998, scientists actually observed a phenomena which supported the theory of dark matter.

The problem is that another pair of scientists have now concluded that the observation itself may have altered the nature of this matter and as a result altered it’s ability to force the universe to continue to expand. This alteration will ultimately result in the universe collapsing back on itself like the film of the Big Bang run in reverse in very slow motion.

The reason why this argument has interest from a spiritual point of view is that it suggests that those that think the deepest about physical reality are telling us that this reality is actually an expression of our thought. In other words, we through our thought create our reality rather than some absolute reality acting on us to control or influence our thoughts.

If that is true, then where can we turn for dependable truth?

At least for me, the being that made the universe seems like a logical choice.

It also seems logical to me that if He created all to be good, it was good then and should still be good now. So when I see what appears to be evidence of poverty, sickness, war, and hate; where did the good go? Did God somehow change reality, or perhaps has my thought and the thought of millions of generations of humans warped our perception of good into our own human version of reality?

My sense is that God doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are the ones who have an opportunity to change by figuring out how to be more like Him. As we learn how to be more like Him, our reality changes too. The lame walk, the dumb speak, the blind see, the poor have the gospel preached to them, wars cease, and all men treat each other as brothers.

Jesus proved that it doesn’t take much to change the world. Just an open mind and a willing heart.

Happy Thanksgiving

Terror by Night

Friday, November 16th, 2007

“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” Ps 91:5-7

The biblical Jews had a lot to be afraid of. Through their history, they were conquered, enslaved, occupied, and persecuted. They had to deal with threats from the north and the south. They also had to deal with drought, disease, and internal unrest. But they sang songs like this that reassured them of God’s love and protection for them.

The nightmare of my generation was the Russians launching a pre-emptive attack with weapons we knew worked. I grew up in Omaha. We saw the B52 bombers flying every day from the nearby Strategic Air Command Headquarters. We knew that there were always some in the air because if the missiles did start falling, there would be no base or any Omaha, and the airborne planes would be part of the force that retaliated. This was so real to us that one of my neighbors built a bomb shelter for his family in his front yard.

This generation’s nightmare is a nuclear device set off by radical Islamists in a major US city.

We went to war in Iraq because of that fear. The fear that Iran is gaining some nuclear capability has us lining them up in our sites. We are throwing billions of dollars in military aid at Pakistan to keep their nuclear capability in the hands of the military. We even give money to Russia to help them gather up all of the weapons that they have scattered through the now independent parts of the collapsed Soviet Union.

So let’s say that that radical Islamists will somehow acquire nuclear materials. Could they build a bomb?

The practical answer is yes, they could blow up this very toxic material and perhaps render the city block blast area uninhabitable as a result.

Could they actually create a bomb that could result in the sort of city leveling devastation that our current weapons are capable of?

Never. Not even close.

They couldn’t even create the equivalent of the much less sophisticated bomb that we dropped on Japan.

Creating a successful atomic chain reaction which results in the explosion, is very difficult. That’s why governments have to test them over and over again in order to make sure that they have something that works.

It takes a minimum of 130 lbs of enriched uranium or 22 lbs of plutonium to make a bomb. Plutonium, though, is very difficult to obtain and very difficult to handle because it is so radioactive. Enriched uranium is somewhat more widely available and much easier to handle. But it also requires a much bigger bang to get going.

The other challenge is that the radioactive material is constantly affecting its surroundings. So the electronics needed to trigger the bomb break down after only a week of being exposed to the radioactive source.

The idea of a lone terrorist carrying a suitcase into Central Park and leveling New York City is fiction. The minimum size for this sort of home-made bomb would be an SUV. Creating it requires a large team, lots of money, lots of expertise, and some method to assemble the whole thing undetected shortly before they plan to detonate it.

If they are unable to test it, it will fail. In order to test it they probably need more like 260 or 390 lbs of enriched uranium and some sophisticated underground testing facility that they can successfully use only once because the results of their test will be immediately detected by worldwide monitors.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our responsibility as a nuclear nation to help the rest of the world manage these dangerous materials. I also support worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons including discouraging new nations from developing their own.

What I am suggesting is that we don’t use this irrational fear to guide our policies and justify our actions. Someday our children will look at this crisis the same way that we now look at the fear that drove us to build all of those bombers and all of those bomb shelters. The B52’s are still in use. For all I know the bomb shelters might still be in use too. As I recall it was a great makeout spot.

A Sound Mind

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.II Tim 1:7

Fear is the enemy of power, love, and good reason.

Since 9/11 we have been governed by an administration that has used fear to justify a systematic erosion of our freedoms. The most recent of these surfaced in a speech given by Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence at an intelligence conference last month.

In the speech Mr. Kerr suggested that the legal concepts of privacy that we have come to take for granted in this country may be outmoded. His premise is that because so much of our lives are accessible through search engines like google or social networking sites like facebook, anonymity and privacy are dangerous myths. As a result, privacy should be, “a system of laws, rules and customs with an infrastructure of inspectors general, oversight committees and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.”, rather than the absolute guarantees that are currently in law and the constitution.

What Mr. Kerr missed in his argument is the fact that regardless of how publicly you choose to live your life, the government is still prohibited by law and the constitution from any unreasonable search of anything of yours that is private.

What I found interesting in this discussion is that it is being raised by an administration that is the most secretive in history.

Here’s a short list you might find interesting.

In 2001 President Bush signed an executive order gutting the Presidential Records act originally signed by Ronald Regan. The law mandated that an administrations archive of records is opened to the public 12 years after that administration leaves office. Bush added a provision giving former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs the right to review any and all records before they are released. Courts have already found that this has the effect of keeping those records secret indefinitely.

VP Cheney still hasn’t said who the oil execs were that participated in his famous policy planning meeting, though the list was eventually leaked to the Washington Post. The Vice President has also claimed that his office didn’t fall under the Executive Branch in order to avoid Court orders to preserve email records.

Karl Rove is known to have used a Republican National Committee email address in an attempt to circumvent the executive branch records keeping requirements.

Senator Waxman has begun an investigation into which records the administration has been attempting to keep secret. Here’s his list.

The records at issue have covered a vast array of topics, ranging from simple census data and routine agency correspondence to presidential and vice presidential records. Among the documents that the Administration has refused to release to the public and members of Congress are

(1) the contacts between energy companies and the Vice President’s energy task force,

(2) the communications between the Defense Department and the Vice President’s office regarding contracts awarded to Halliburton,

(3) documents describing the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib,

(4) memoranda revealing what the White House knew about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and

(5) the cost estimates of the Medicare prescription drug legislation withheld from Congress.

The Buffalo News wrote this editorial on January 6, 2004.

“Concealing information has become an option of first resort… More than any presidency in memory, Bush’s has what can only be called a fetish for government secrecy. Whatever justifications there may be for this predilection – and there are some – Bush’s love of secrecy does much more harm than good, in the end, to the fabric of a democracy. Long after he is gone from office, this change in public policy will be a black mark on his administration.”

I just find it curious that a government that appears to breaking new ground with regard to withholding information from the public is simultaneously seeking to extend its powers of surveillance and weaken individual privacy protections. All this while wrapping itself in the mantle of defending the country during a time of war.

The solution to the problem of fear is not to become more secretive and fearful. It’s what Paul elegantly describes in his letter to Timothy. Fear is not something that comes from God. If it doesn’t come from God, then it has no reality. Simply reject those who suggest that there are fearful powers greater than God, and embrace what God has given us, the power to live a loving thoughtful life.

They shall be your Judges

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.”
Matt 12:25-27

Jesus ability to heal others really bothered the religious establishment because it went against their understanding of how the world worked and what the Bible meant.  The Pharisees were obsessed with condemning sinners.  They felt that those who were disabled were being made public examples by God for their sins.  They also felt that only God could forgive sins. So when Jesus healed a blind and dumb man, the only explanation they could come up with is that Jesus must be in league with Beelzebub, because only God can heal sin, and obviously this man was a sinner. 

As he always did, Jesus had something for the Pharisees and something for us.  He challenged the Pharisees logic by pointing out that Satan would have no reason to want to forgive sin or heal anyone. 

What he had for us was the promise that he wouldn’t be the only one who would heal.  Our children will be healers too and as such they will also be our judges because they will heal the problems we create. 

Our children today are telling us that they have problems with Christian Churches in the United States.

In a recent survey published by the Bama Group, only 60 percent of 16-29 year olds consider themselves Christian.  That is a dramatic shift from the 77% of 60+ year olds who answered the same question.

Those who don’t consider themselves Christian feel organized religion is hypocritical, judgmental, and too political.  They generally are very favorable to the basic teachings of Christianity (77%), but feel that organized religions no longer represent those teachings and values.  As a result only 16% say that they have a good impression of Christianity.

What is even more eye-opening is that 50% of those in this age group who do go to church share those same views.

One of the key issues separating young people from organized Christianity is the hostile position many churches hold to homosexuality.  80% of those who call themselves Christian and 91% of those who don’t describe organized Christianity as “anti-homosexual”.

Numerous surveys have shown a growing majority of young Americans have a relaxed, tolerant attitude toward homosexuality. A 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 60 percent of Americans ages 17 to 29 support same-sex marriage, yet same-sex marriage is illegal in 49 of the 50 states.    

One pastor familiar with the study said, “How did homosexuality become such a huge issue for us?  As I see it, it’s no different than any other sexual sin.”

I can’t answer him, because I ask myself the same question.

What I can see is that our children have a better grasp on the basic values and teachings of Jesus than many of us do.  Their love of their brother isn’t blinded by hate or fear.  They will be our judges.  Fortunately, they will also be our healers.

Crying in the Wilderness

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

“Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us.  What sayest thou of thyself?  He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”  John 1:22-23 

John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah by preparing the way for the Christ.  He also gave us a archetypical character of the person out of step with society, but consumed by his quest.  Just like Cervantes’ Quixote that came after him, John had a notion of what was to come, but he didn’t have enough of the vision to become a disciple.  Instead he got wrapped up in local politics and it eventually cost him his life.

 There is a similar interesting character in Congress. 

Tom Coburn is a republican senator from Oklahoma.  He is a medical doctor specializing in obstetrics.  He served as a deacon in the Southern Baptist Church.  He was elected to the House in 1995 as part of the conservative “Contract with America” Republicans.  He was regarded as one of the most conservative members of Congress at the time, opposing abortion, gay rights, the v-chip, and increases in federal spending.  He made a name for himself early on by trying to hold Newt Gingrich accountable for his failure to deliver on the Contract with America that got them all elected. 

The picture that you are getting about this guy at this point should be fairly accurate. The reality, however, is that this is a sincere deep thinker who feels that the problem is not Democrats or Republicans.  The problem is career politicians who profess to be working for the people, but in fact are just working for themselves.  He summarized his deep concern regarding how our government really runs in a book he wrote in 2003 called Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders. In 2004 he was elected to the Senate and has carried on his fight there. 

Here are some of his recent activities that you might find interesting. 

He called the high level of federal spending our biggest challenge telling reporters, “The greatest moral issue of our time isn’t abortion, it’s robbing our next generation of opportunity.” He added, “You’re going to save a child from being aborted so they can be born into a debtor’s prison?” 

Coburn blamed the GOP’s loss of their majority status in Congress on voter’s dissatisfaction with Republican spending hypocrisy saying, “It’s not a bad thing power changed last year.”  He feels that voters should hold their representatives accountable.  What a concept! 

The conservative senator also challenged his colleagues to examine why public opinion on Congress has reached historic lows. “If we have only 11 percent support, are we a legitimate government?” he asked.  He added, “The 11 percent who have confidence in us, what hole are they in?”   What a refreshingly honest admission that the right to govern is ultimately one granted by the people and those who have the privilege to serve should do so only with the approval of those they are serving.  If this were a parliamentary style government, the Bush administration would have already lost a vote of confidence in 2006 and we would have new leadership in place with a new foreign and domestic agenda rather than the current government still acting as if they have a mandate. 

During the debate on whether or not the United States could afford to extend the children’s health care insurance bill, Senator Coburn offered up an amendment which would have blocked over $500M in special “earmarked” spending already on the books until Congress figured out how to pay for the $10M in additional insurance that was in the healthcare insurance bill.   “This is going to speak volumes to the American public about our priorities, it is either going to be kids or it is going to be us.” 

He took the Small Business Administration to task because they have a $15B loan program with absolutely no measurements on whether or not the loans are successful or even needed. 

Senator Coburn appears to have inherited the mantle of fiscal watchdog from the late William Proxmire who created the Golden Fleece Awards for foolish federal spending.  Even though I don’t share many of the conservative views of Senator Coburn, I very much admire his willingness to stand on principle and fight the good fight for responsible government.  Let’s just hope that this wilderness voice doesn’t also lose his head.