Archive for March, 2011

I Can’t Think

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In Newsweek recently there was an article called “I Can’t Think.” It is about the fact that we are overloaded by information. “The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionalized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we make decisions,” journalist Sharon Begley writes. Begley warns us that we are overloaded with information, choices, alternatives.  When we have so many choices, we are unable to make any choice at all. As a result, when we finally do respond “the ceaseless influx trains us to respond instantly, sacrificing accuracy and thoughtfulness to the false god of immediacy.”

In other words, we respond out of exigency and expediency and not out of thoughtfulness and care.  We choose the quick not the right, the convenient not the just.

George Loewen of Carnegie Mellon University warns that “getting 30 texts per hour up to the moment when you make a decision means that the first 28 or 29 have virtually no meaning.” Immediacy dooms thoughtful deliberation.

Another casualty is creativity. Creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem, rather than going at it in a full-frontal, analytical assault . . .”  So much for making decisions in the shower or on a quiet walk.  We swamp ourselves with text messages and twitter and IMs.  We don’t need to reflect on a problem we can google our crisis away with 100s of hits.

Oh that it were so! No one, my friend, can put humpty together again but the Maker. Yes God.  Unless we can Twitter our way to the Holy Spirit or text God we might be in trouble.  We will not be able to send an SOS out on Facebook to solve our sorry lives—we need a direct, old fashioned touch of God.  In the midst of so much information the thing that really matters, we discover, is WHO we know and not WHAT we know.  Well, all this information is only information after all.  Ah ha!  Our epistemology will takes us no farther than our metaphysics.

How can you protect yourself from having your decisions warped by excess information?  Ms.  Begley suggests we take our e-mails in limited fashion, like a glass of wine before bedtime.  She wants us to control our access to Facebook—only twice a day.

Silly me.  May I suggest an alternative?  Why not turn off the computer. And pick up your Bible. And read it.

Crossing the Creepy Line

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Google CEO Eric Schmidt made the now infamous remark about Google’s practice of getting very close to the “creepy line” but not going over. With the decision to release an update to Google Goggles that will allow the app to identify human faces Google has arguably crossed “the creepy line.”

            What this would effectively permit is the identification of people on the street or in a public place by simply pointing your phone camera at them.

            Now that is creepy. 

            The need to be anonymous is as basic as human nature. We like to remain unknown in a crowd, or, at least we deserve the privilege to reveal ourselves to whomever we please.  If we commit a crime, perhaps, that right is abrogated.  We may be, even should be, identified and apprehended.  But to be identified by perfect strangers, gratuitously, randomly, is creepy. Joseph Conrad, in Lord Jim warns us, “There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.” Zip!  With the focus of an I-Phone the mystery disappears.

            Many people “are rightfully scared of it,” one journalist said. “In particular, women say, ‘Oh my God. Imagine this guy takes a picture of me in a bar, and then he knows my address just because somewhere on the Web there is an association of my address with my photo.’ That’s a scary thought. So I think there is merit in finding a good route that makes the power of this technology available in a good way.”

            Interesting thought.  We dare not STOP using the creepy thing—we have to find a laudable reason to do so.  I am Eichmann appreciated that irony when he realized that the technology was there to murder 6 million Jews so we might as well do it.  Do you think so.

            I like Google’s response—a typical Post-Modern response–“I think we are taking a sort of cautious route with this,” Google said. “It’s a sensitive area, and it’s kind of a subjective call on how you would do it.”

            Another signature mark of the times: “Each person decides for himself if he uses a certain thing.”  No, not this time. I don’t want perverts to identify and to visit my grandchildren whenever they like!  I don’t care if the technology is there or not.  Get rid of it.

            Now that is a novel idea—get rid of it.  That is exactly what I am saying.  Get rid of the technology.  Not only do we want never to use it, we need to erase our footsteps and get rid of our ability to do the thing.  There is no good, no possible good, in a perfect stranger being able to identify another private human being.

            Can we deal with that? I doubt it.

            And it is coming folks. Apparently Google got over its concerns and has decided to roll facial recognition out in a mobile context. Science and technology have their own logic and momentum. Because something is possible there’s an impulse to see it realized or implemented in the world. Perhaps there’s such identification at Google with “innovation” that it was “culturally” impossible for Google not to roll this out.

            Creepy I tell you, creepy.

            There is one power, one power who does know me. Always has, always will.  Knows my next thought, predestined my next action.  Someone who is in absolute control of everything—Almighty God.  But He alone deserves this sort of power.  He loves me, He cares for me, He died on the cross at Calvary for me. 

            I do not fear His perusal, but my friend, if you swing your Motorola to my grandchildren and I think you are identifying them, not merely taking a picture, I am going to smack you.

            Not really.  But I am going to think you and Google are creepy.  Take that.

Captain America: A Different Kind of Hero?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

        For years, the American notion of a hero has been accosted, compromised, and generally diluted. Gone are the days when John Wayne rode into town and took care of business.  We knew he was good—really good—and we were comforted by the fact that he would kill no one who did not deserve to die. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” Wayne sagaciously intoned.  “Women have the right to work wherever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home.”  Oops!  I guess he said that too but never mind .  .  .

            Not so today.  Heroes exude empathy not goodness. Witness Robert Downey’s flawed, self-centered Ironman.  Or Hugh Jackson’s moody Wolverine.  And who can forget the poor, pathetic Hulk? Everyone wants to forget the shady, morally dubious Christian Bale’s Batman!  But my personal favorite for sissy of the year is Spiderman. One Freudian self-identity crisis after another.  He whines all the time.  Can you imagine John Wayne whining?

            One sidebar—I am arguably a candidate for sissy of the year myself. Last week I had to have a tetanus booster.  Don’t you hate doctor waiting rooms?  And I emphasis WAITING rooms—sometimes for hours. As I waited for my tetanus shot I imagined myself waiting for the guillotine with Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities

            Finally my executioner appeared.  “Roll up your sleeve,” the perfunctory and sturdy 6´3” Nurse Roxanne quipped. 

            “Hello,” I replied.

            “Do you mind shots?” the Nurse Roxanne asked as she ignored my greeting.

            “Yes, I do,” I quivered almost in tears.

            “Too bad,” Nurse Roxanne replied with the first hint of enthusiasm.

             I muttered, “It is a far better thing I have done than I have ever done before . . .”

            Nurse Roxanne, who obviously had not read Dickens  attacked me with the needle as if she was going after a dart board. 

            I whimpered a little and Nurse Roxanne frowned and pointed her index finger at me, “No wimps allowed.”

            No wimps allowed.  Yes, fellow Americans, we have dumbed down, glamorized, and wimped down our heroes to the point where they hardly seem to be heroes at all.

            But now, suddenly, on the silver screen, appears Captain America. Captain America is a different kind of hero. In 1940s American ordinary, unspectacular, five feet something, Steve Rogers inadvertently receives an injection that turns him into a superhero.  But not a run of the mill hero, he is actually a genuine hero.  As one reviewer explains, “He’s got a lot of ailments, but it hasn’t made him bitter or jaded in anything. Even after he has been given his great gift, he still continues to do the right thing.”  No that is a novel idea—doing the right thing. Take that Will Smith and your character Hancock!

            Yes, a new hero has arrived—a hero who does the right thing without equivocation or self-interest.  Captain America.  Or is he that new afterall?

            Sounds to me like Moses who left the courts of Egypt to obey God. Or Joshua who conquered the Promised Land. Or Peter, even after much failure, found that even Hell itself could not prevail against the Church he founded.

            Yes, and, again, perhaps we meet a man who even John Wayne would like.  Wayne was fond of saying, “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”  Roll up your sleeves America, Nurse Roxanne and Captain America are finally here.  And there is no room for wimps.

The Secret About Zombies

Monday, March 28th, 2011

The Secret About Zombies An obsession with zombies is feeding a frenzy of books, movies, and television shoes. In fact, Americans are in a love affair with “the living dead.” Why? A Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman writes: The construct of the zombie—the mindless stumbling about—feels increasingly like our world. It feels like going to the DMV or like sitting on hold with your HMO and talking to a machine. What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly disconnected and disembodied. It feels zombie-like. Now that is sad! Modernity, with its emphasize on mindless therapy and shallow existentialism is creating a “living dead.” The pervasive pessimism of our culture invites Americans to fear a time when there is a “horrible pandemic and the markets plunge.” It is never about the zombies, Dr. Schlozman argues, it is about the way people respond to the Zombies. Amen. How do you respond to the zombies?

We ignore them. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,/to the one who seeks him (Lamentations 3:25). We are not “mindlessly stumbling about” through life. Our lives have purposes and hope. Let’s review a lengthy passage that refutes the hopelessness of this age: Psalm 139 1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you (NIV). Take that you silly zombies!

Masters of Disguise

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


Last week I was reading the New York Times and, being somewhat bored, I visited the “dining” section.  I love to compare the culinary offerings in Johnstown, PA, to NYC, NY.  Of course we don’t have the Red Rooster Harlem—serving gourmet southern cuisine—what an oxymoron!—but we do have Hong Kong Buffet that lovingly serves amuse-bouche fried cheese sticks, a Johnstown favorite. 

I remember attending my son’s wedding reception, so wonderfully hosted by his Indianapolis in-laws.  There was a nice man with white gloves standing next to me. Not sure why he was there, I tried to shake his hand which he politely did but kept standing there. I was handed a warm cloth by a man wearing white gloves.  I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do with it—I am embarrassed to tell you what I do with small white clothes—but I saw that most folks were wiping their hands, and some pioneering souls were even wiping their faces.  I being a real trailblazer went further.  I wiped my hands, my face, nose, and when I was moving onto my ears my wife Karen stopped me with a glaring frown.  I guess those things are not for ears.  Next, the nice man with a towel on his arm offered me one little bread roll that he parsimoniously placed on a plate that overshadowed the pathetic thing.  The nice man, no doubt discerning my disappointment,  asked me if I wanted a couple of more, but, my sweet wife, who occasionally helps me out this way, with somewhat too much enthusiasm replied “No.”  Next the waiter—what was he really?—gave me something that looked a lot like a salad except that it had all kinds of red stuff, allegedly lettuce.  It looked nothing like my personal favorite—an iceberg wedge smothered in real blue cheese dressing.  I gratuitously gave my salad to my wife, hoping she would give me her pigs in a blanket and rigatoni that every Johnstown wedding sports—But do you know what?  Apparently these poor Indiana people have not yet discovered these foods of the gods. There were no pigs in a blanket and rigatoni at this Indianapolis wedding.  I suppose nobody told these poor folks that wedding cuisine always includes these two items.  In fact, on these two motifs, in Johnstown, PA, one builds one reception and life—full of simple, tasty metaphors.

I am an inveterate Johnstown cuisine lover.  My love affair, my wife Karen would say, has put 80 pounds on me in the last 21 years, but she is being ungenerous since I mostly eat her wonderful cooking.  And what fine cooking it is!  I remember the first meal Karen cooked for me in 1977.  It was broiled chicken seasoned with salad dressing and boiled broccoli seasoned with lemon pepper.  Until then, I had never eaten broiled chicken—my chicken was always fried—unless Big Momma served her famous chicken and dumplings.  Broccoli, southern style, was cooked longer than it took General Grant to capture Vicksburg, MS, and I had heard of pepper (and used it liberally after I coated everything with salt) and lemons (which I put in my sweetened ice tea)—but never both together.  Actually, my first meal was pretty good and the next 33,000 or so she has cooked me—my expanding waistline is a testament to my thorough conversion to Nouveau Yankee cuisine.  Yummy good!

Well anyway the New York Time’s article argues that finally—finally—there is a vegetarian burger that rivals the most delicious Whopper or Quarter Pounder.  Apparently, while the rest of us languished in the throes of the new Angus Quarter Pounder, inventive New York chefs have been working tirelessly to create the penultimate veggie burger.  Food reviewer Jeff Gordinier is veritably overcome with joy when he writes “Veggie burgers . . . have explored into countless variations of good, and in doing so they’ve begun to look like a bellwether for the American appetite.” 

Bellwether for the American appetite.  Excuse me, but I doubt it.

Can you imagine cruising through the MacDonald’s drive through and asking for a veggie burger with fries and milk shake?  Hum . . .

But excuse me.  I respect vegetarians.  More power to you.  But, why do you want to copy my food?  Do I try to copy yours?  Respectfully, I doubt, even in NYC, that one can find broccoli and asparagus that will match the effervescence of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Nonetheless, “There is something very satisfying about holding one’s dinner in one’s hand.”  Indeed.  But it can’t be done.  Not really.  A meatless burger is an oxymoron and it can never b e a dinner.

And here is another oxymoron—and this is where I am taking this—our society is desperate to emulate the Christian life.  The Christian life, like the hamburger, is genuine, real, juicy, and full of protein.  Lived in the right way, it can bring great life to a person and to his world.  And it cannot be replaced by good feelings, good intentions, or other existential offerings.  As Tolstoi writes in War and Peace, “Let us be persuaded that the less we let our feeble human minds roam, the better we shall please God, who rejects all knowledge that does not come from Him; and the less we seek to fathom what He has been pleased to conceal from us, the sooner will he vouchsafe its revelation to us through His divine Spirit.”

Butts & Guts

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Guts and Butts

 I want to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.
 I belong to a weight reduction, health accountability group at my YMCA called Guts and Butts (G&B) (I am not making this up). I am the youngest member (57).  Our group is the main competitor of the YMCA perennial favorites, Silver Sneakers (SSS)who are fortunate enough to have Blue Cross and Blue Shield Insurance with no deductable.  We G & B have hybrid high deductable insurance plans of dubious quality.
 We have periodic contests with the Silver Sneakers.  So far they have beat us every time.  Last Christmas we had a contest to see how many pounds each group could lose between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The S & S champs lost 150 pounds.  We gained a net 9 pounds.  They received gift certificates at Subway©.  We gave ourselves a party.
 Last Easter we competed in the swim-the-most miles contest.  Each person was on an honor code and wrote his daily mileage on a poster board behind the life guard, who very carefully scrutinized both pool performance and log in totals.  Once I logged a mile.  The life guard scowled at me. 
 “Well if you consider the back strokes, it was a mile,” I sheepishly offered.  Of course it took me about half the life span of the teen age life guard sitting on his exalted lifeguard throne, to accomplish it, but I did it. Really.
 The G&B logged 150 miles.  The SSS soared at 350. They got free coupons to the local Subway.  We had a party.
 Well, another contest is in the works this year.  We are led by a fairly aggressive 75 year old, Amazon, Margaret. 
 “This is our year,” she prophesies.
 The SSS all have little red roses embroidered on their swimming suits.  Wheezing B&G High Pockets —we call him that because that is how he breaths after even the most moderate exercise and he wears his pants up too high above his ample stomach–has a USMC symbol on his left forearm.  That is the best swimming motif we can sport.
The SSS have the newest rental lockers sporting top-of-the-line master combination locks.  The B&G can’t be sure we can remember or combinations, so we try another approach. We put our stuff in the broken lockers hoping that potential brigands will ignore our depositories.

       I am an inveterate G & B.  I like to swim my laps and pray and take my time.  I have no destination, no pressure to perform.  I love my swimming and I love my God.  And in that pool, with other G&B, I find my way again, to the sublime perpendicular line that tells me again, for one more Christmas, good and faithful servant, you have reached the end and need to turn around. I don’t know how to flip over like the SSS, but I know how to turn around and go back in the other direction when I meet the way.  And that is enough.
 Not that I will win any coupons to Wendys this Christmas.  But this I know—I will enjoy my time with brothers and sisters, old and infirm, faithful and unpretentious, who, if we can’t win a contest, still have fun along the way. And sometimes, when I am in that surreal pool lap life, I just enjoy my God so much.  I can feel his presence.  I can feel his pleasure.  And that, is enough winning for me.
 And I know, no matter what happens, at the end of the great swim, I am going to party with my brothers and sisters—and no doubt a few SSS– at the end of the long swim. The God of history is faithful and true.

It is Time!

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


“Who knows, you may have been placed in this place for such a time as this?”

–Esther 4:14

The Book of Esther is a story of how a marginalized people overcame imminent destruction and, as a result, encouraged a whole hostile nation.

Babylonian Queen Esther=s Jewish community stands at the brink of annihilation, genocide.  They are the victims of the vitriolic and uncontrolled hatred of one man, Haman, and the whimsical irresponsibility of the foolish king, Ahasuerus.

Today America is facing a crisis. While we no doubt have political and military hegemony, we have lost the high ground.  That is for sure!  And our world as we know it is ending. The once sacred cultural icons of this nation are forgotten, and the paltry offerings contemporary politicians and sociologists offer no longer satisfy the needs of our people.  What is God speaking to us, brothers and sisters?

In the past God used Revivals to bring renewal.  I think it is time we had another.  Could the home school movement, even in a small way, be a forerunner of that revival?

I believe it is!  For such a time as this, God has called His people, a small but significant part of which is the home schooled community, to be salt and light to a nation that has lost its flavor and lost its light.

Esther’s cousin Mordecai comes to warn Esther than she must give up her anonymity and take a stand or they will all perish.  All Esther wants to do is slip back into the safety of her role.  Who can blame her?  But for the sake of the nation, Esther will risk everything to do what is necessary.  Though her knees must be shaking, she determines to stare death in the face and stand up for her people.  Which is what she does.  Unless summoned by her husband, Esther faces certain death by approaching him,for one never approaches an Oriental monarch unsummoned.  Especially if one is a lowly woman–even a wife.

In 2011, home schoolers, are we called to give up our anonymity and to risk everything for the promise of revival?

It is time!

The theologian writer Fred Buehner writes in his book Now and Then, “When you find something in a human face that calls out to you, not just for help but in some sense for yourself, how far do you go in answering that call, how far can you go, seeing that you have your own life to get on with . . .”  You go as far as necessary.  You go as far as you can.  You go as far as Christ went. . .

Home schoolers, how much do you love America?  Are you willing to die for them?  Are you willing to put your children in a place of risk for this nation?

Perhaps we are called to this place for such a time as this . . .

Home schoolers we have come again to that sacred moment when God meets us in Jesus Christ.  We are loved into becoming agents of transformation. We now need to take Him to the world.  He empowers us to withstand whatever obstacles we may face. 

Martin Luther wrote, “There is no greater love than God and no more desperate scoundrel than the world. . . His love is greater than the fire seen by Moses and greater even than the fire of hell.”

 We stand today basking in the glow of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

My question to you  is this: How much do you love God? The USA?  The World?  Enough to prepare your children to be world changers for Christ?  To prepare them to die for the Gospel if necessary so that others may know Him?

Esther had no status, very little influence really, she had no obligations to anyone but herself.  But she obeyed God and saved a nation.  In Ch. 4 when she turns the corner and faces her husband unsummoned she is facing death . . . or eternal victory.  In the courts, in the business world, in higher education our children are doing the same.  Will we prepare them to do this?

We stand with those facing death.  We stand against systems that tyrannize, abuse, demean, and destroy.  We stand for life–all life, everywhere.  We stand because we know that we are loved . . .  That He died for our sins so that we might live, and love others too.  We daily dare to search our hearts, minds, and behavior and risk new ways of thinking, speaking, living, for the sake of our suffering neighbors, sisters, brothers, mother, fathers, sons, and daughters.  We will not necessarily succeed . . . but we will try.  The German theologian Karl Barth urges every church to ask constantly this question, “Is it time?”  Could we be God’s instrument?  Is this our time?  Could we be called for just such a time as this?

Finally, I end with a prayer written by the theologian, humanitarian, and writer Thomas Merton wrote this prayer shortly before his death: “If I have any choices to make, it is to lie here and perhaps to die here.  But, in any case, it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place.  To speak your name . . . and the light you have given.”

It is time.