Edges

Have you ever thought about the fact that we are known by our edges? Countries are defined by their boarders and people are defined by their extremities.
When computer designers and programmers tried to “teach” computers how to “see” they started by programing them to find lines. They were looking for the lines that were the outside of the object. Once they could find the outline they could compare the shape to a memory bank of images that had names attached. Sometimes the edge is difficult to see. If the item is the same color as the background the edge is hard to define. The computers were “taught” to take the known information and to create lines to complete the shape. Basically they would take known points and connect the dots to complete the shape in a way that matched the most likely known image. This is exactly what our brains do to identify images.
What is interesting is that we are known by our extremities. The same seems to be true of our reputations. Think about it. We are not known by our normal day to day activities. Our reputations rest on our extremes. Monica Lewinski is not known for her daily activities as an intern, rather she will always be remembered for sexual activity with President Clinton. Christopher Columbus is not remembered for his years of service as a navigator, rather he is remembered for pushing the edge and discovering the New World.
We also tend to be known for our great victories or our great failures. These are the edges or our reputations. They shape how people perceive us. Any object rests on its lowest point. I hate to say it, but reputations rest on our lowest points. People just naturally tend to focus on our failures more than our successes. A good reputation can be built over a lifetime and one major failure can call our entire character into question. That is why the book of Proverbs so often comments on the value of a good name.
Recently I watched someone close to me do something incredibly stupid. My response was not to look at it as an isolated event. Instead my mind began to rerun all of the events of the last year or so. I reevaluated everything trying to discern their motivations in light of this recent failure. Everything was brought into question. Everything that I had chosen to interpret in a positive light now was covered with a dark cloud of doubt.
The high points were canceled out by this new low point.
Duaneisum
“A man’s good name rests on his but.”
It is said that when the word “but” is used in a sentence it means, disregard everything that came before. For example, ‘Frank is a good talker, I have been impressed by the way he thinks and presents himself, but I don’t trust him’.
You see we are defined by our edges. People judge us by our extremes not by our daily activities, and the negatives tend to overwhelm the positives.
Many Christians are familiar with the Bible verse that says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God look on the heart.” We tend to read that and focus on the stuff after the ‘but.’ We focus on the fact that we are not to live to please the eyes of men. We are not to just put on a facade for people to see, rather we are to work on our hearts, our intents and motives. You can put on a show for people but God is not fooled.
We ignore the first part of the verse. People only know us by what they see. They start with what they see, our actions, and then they infer our motives. It is not easy for people to get an accurate picture of us. You don’t always get to explain yourself. Besides, explanations, excuses and apologies only go so far. The only way to have good reputation is to start from the inside out. Have the pure intents and motives. Then have actions that are always consistent with your pure motives.
Above all watch your “buts”.

Does Christianity Suppress Women?

I while back I watched a debate between a Christian and an Atheist on YouTube. During the closing statements the Atheist dropped his guard and became very frank and honest, which I appreciate. He brought up a point that had not been part of the debate. He said he objects with religion because religion suppresses women and other groups. I could tell from his tone and facial expression this was a sincerely held belief. I sensed that as an outspoken atheist, he saw himself as a defender of the disadvantaged.
The view of religion as suppressing women is common. Even within the Christian Church there are ongoing debates about the role and position of women in the home and in the church. People will point to passages that say women must submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18), women should be silent in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), or women should not teach in church or have authority over a man (I Timothy 2:11-13).
I tell you, if I were a woman coming from the popular, women’s liberation, women’s rights culture and I read those passages then I would want nothing to do with the Christian Church. But I am not a woman and I don’t come from a non-Christian background. I grew up in the church and I know the teachings of Jesus and his care for women. He had a faithful following of women that stayed with Him all the way. They were there with Him at the crucifixion, when nearly all of the men had abandoned Him. Mary was the first one at the empty tomb on Easter morning. She was the first one that He spoke to. If women were so oppressed then why were they such faithful followers? It doesn’t make sense.
Some would say, ‘That was Jesus, but the teachings of Paul and the current churches oppress women’. It is obvious that people that make such statements have never been in a church, or if they have, they never looked around them. Go to any church of any denomination on any Sunday. What you will find is a lot of women. Typically women will outnumber men two to one. If Christianity is a tool used by men to suppress women, then the Church should be filled with men dragging their submissive wives to Church every Sunday. The opposite is true. Women turn out to church in droves. They beg their husbands to attend. They go to prayer meeting and ask for prayer. The greatest desire of their hearts is that their husbands come to know Jesus. These “suppressed” women somehow believe that if their husbands become Christians they will become better men and better husbands.
There is a real disconnect here. It seems that the old proverb, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” applies here. Christianity works. It works for women and it works for men. What looks like suppression, seems to in reality be liberation.
It is a theme within Christianity that our first impressions are usually wrong. God’s methods are not our methods. Jesus says that to live you must take up your cross and follow Him, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, to be the leader you must be servant of all, in weakness we are strong, the poor are rich in the kingdom of God, and on and on. These things don’t make sense to our normal thinking, but to the fully devoted follower of Christ, they make perfect sense; because they work. I can’t fully explain it; but it is true. Praise be to God!

Stirred, not Shaken

Random Thoughts

I had been working around the house all morning and really needed to get outside for a little while. I decided to water the lawn, which, with our current drought in California, is probably some kind of major crime. But the lawn had not been watered in months and I needed to get outside, so I figured I would risk the jail time and water anyway.
As I was walking out the door I remembered coming across a page of prayer requests while cleaning the table. I decided it would be a good idea to water and pray at the same time, so I grabbed the paper and headed outside.
I started in at the top of the page. There was line after line about people in desperate need. Some had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Others were entering the final stages of that dreaded disease. For one person it seemed like everyone in the family had lost their jobs. There were two cases of brain tumors: one in an older person and one in a very young child. I prayed for each one. As I did I became keenly aware of how much people around me are quietly suffering. Of course I had those kinds of questions as to why God doesn’t just heal them all. I know the technical answers but I still feel their pain and know that God does too. I was also grateful that God has spared me and my family from that level of suffering.
Then as often happens when I pray, my mind began to wander. I thought that maybe God didn’t test me like that because I couldn’t handle it. My mind suddenly switched to the James Bond movie Beckie and I have recently watched, and the scene where the bartender fixes him a martini, shaken not stirred. As random thoughts go, I was back to the prayer list, that long list of people going through trials and personal tragedies, things that could shake a person’s faith to the core. But that is not God’s purpose. God puts us through trials to stir our faith not to shake it. Stirred, not shaken.

First World Problems

Baptism
Around our house when someone starts to whine and complain about something one of the family members will say, “That sounds like a first world problem”. That usually puts an end to the complaining.
The idea is that we, in America have it easy compared with much of the world. We complain when we have to drink tap water when much of the world has no access to safe, clean drinking water. We complain when we have car trouble or when someone left the tank on empty and we have to take the other car. Most of the world walks or takes public transportation. We complain when our doctor’s appointment conflicts with something else. A great many people don’t have access to quality healthcare. The list goes on and on. We have it so good and we still complain.
Last night I was at the Easter Service at our church, it was at a local College in a massive auditorium. I attend a big church and Easter is a major production. It is an attempt to wow the C&Es, those who attend church only on Christmas and Easter. We know that this is one of the few chances to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we go all out.
There is impressive music, and remarkable, high-tech lighting effects. Pastor Jeff delivers a powerful, clear and compelling message. And an altar-call is presented; people are invited to come forward and commit their lives to Christ as their Lord and Savior, and be baptized. That’s right, we do baptism on Easter. Large, blow-up pools are setup in-front of the stage. A large team of people are there to assist, so you can clear out your pockets, put on a, free tee-shirt (that says “I have decided to follow Jesus”), and help you out of the pool, take your picture, and give you a towel to dry off. There are also counselors to talk with you and make sure you understand the decision you have made and to get some information from you to help you plug in to the church. It really is a pretty amazing operation.
As I was listening to Pastor Jeff invite people forward, saying ‘come forward, accept Jesus and be baptized. Don’t put it off. We have taken care of all of your excuses, the pools are here. There are people here to assist you. We have tee-shirts and towels—come now.’ I heard that and went, ‘Wow, that sounds like a First World Baptism’. I saw the contrast between what we face in America when it comes to baptism and what much of the rest of the world faces. We sit there and ask ourselves, ‘should I go forward now and be baptized? I’m not sure. Who will hold my cell phone and wallet? I got all dressed up for Easter; I don’t want to get all wet. They are filming this, what if my make-up runs and I look awful on camera? We are supposed to go have Easter dinner after this. I don’t have a change of clothes and I don’t want to sit in wet clothes for Easter dinner.’ The mind swirls with a thousand different First World problems.
I thought of that in contrast to a young man, Omar, that I counseled with last year after he was baptized. He was a big, kind of tough looking guy. I thought I was going to counsel with him and explain what it means to be a follower of Christ. That is not how the conversation went. It was the other way around. He talked and I listened. He told me what it means to be a follower of Christ and what baptism means. He told me about coming from an Islamic country, and being raised to believe in Allah and follow Islam. I learned of his getting involved in drugs and crime, his time of incarceration, and his examination of the Bible and the claims of Christ. He went on to tell me of a dramatic encounter with the living Christ. I sat in awe. It was the kind of stuff that they write books about. I found myself wishing that my experience with Jesus was that powerful.
He went on to tell me what it means to be a follower of Christ. He had accepted Christ months earlier but had waited until that day to be baptized. His Islamic parents knew about his coming to Christ and were happy about the positive changes in his life. At the same time he was encouraged not to broadcast that he had become a Christian. If the news got out there would be severe consequences for the family. The family would be cut off from all of their family and friends. The support that they receive from their community would evaporate. That is assuming that it would end there and that it would not escalate to further harassment. The other choice would be for them to cut off their son and completely disown him. There is even more, because Omar was recently married, and she was not a believer yet. His marriage could be torn apart also.
To “counsel” with Omar was a great experience. It gave me a whole different understanding of First World problems, First World baptism, and First World Christianity. Omar lives in America, in the First World. When people in his home country decide to follow Jesus and get baptized, they may be killed, their house or place of business may be burned, and they will be ostracized. The problems and pressures will be enormous but it is worth it to have Jesus.
Every time I hear Pastor Jeff go through the list of First World problems that are preventing people from following Jesus, I want to stand up and turn around to the audience around me and shout, ‘Those are First World problems, stop your whining and complaining and get up there.’
I haven’t seen Omar since, our encounter last Easter. I often wonder about him and sometimes I even remember to pray for him. Pray for the millions of Christians around the world for whom coming to Christ is much more than a First World problem.

Divergent—Insurgent

We watched the movie the new Divergent last night. My purpose here is not to critique the movie as much as to look at the underlining story or philosophy.
It seems like there is always a story or movie out there about someone or some group engineering a utopia. These started way back with the ancient Greek philosophers and have continued on to today. There are some clear underlying ideas here. One is that there is an understanding that the world is a messed up place. It seems that everyone believes in their soul that the world is not the way it should be and there should be some way to fix it or to just start all over again. So we have all of these ideas as to what is needed to create the perfect society. In the more recent movies like Hunger Games and Divergent there is another theme. It is that all of these attempts at a perfect society fail. In some cases flaws in the system set it up for failure from the very beginning. In other cases that new society begins well but then deteriorates in some unforeseen way. Eventually it spirals out of control.
In the case of Hunger Games and Divergent the system is horrendously flawed and a unique individual rises to a position where they can change things. But the change in these cases means bringing down the corrupt system. The unrecognized problem is that this does not solve the problem. All it does is to clear the land and set the stage for a new attempt to create a new utopia based on a new set of ideas. But the basic ingredients in the recipe have not changed. The fly in the ointment is us—human beings.
It seems that no matter how good the idea or the structure; corrupt humans, corrupt the system. No matter what hero arises to fix the system, given time, it will still fall apart again.
This is quite a dilemma. We recognize that the world is not what it should be. We try repeatedly to fix the system, but no matter what we do, we fail. On closer analysis we see that we are the problem. Our savior cannot be just another human; He must be more.
Jesus seems to be the answer. He is human and can live and function in our world. He can relate with us and to us. But He is so much more; He is God and is not limited by our fragilities and our bent toward self-destruction. He does not just deliver us from a corrupt system and propose a new one. His goal is not just to deliver us but to transform us. Jesus offers us the ability to replace our sinful nature with His righteous nature. There is even more. He will eventually recreate the heavens and the earth and restore them to the perfect state that we all imagine they should be.
That is the solution we are looking for.

The March of Progress – Illustrating the Philosophy of Evolution

We are all familiar with the illustration of the evolution of man. We have seen it a thousand times. It starts with some small monkey like creature and works through a number of stages all the way up to modern man. Now you will see all kinds of comical renditions of it including a man in a business suit with a briefcase or a man hunched over a computer. The original was painted by an illustrator named Rudolph Franz Zallinger. The picture was titled “The March of Progress” and was produced for a Time Life publication in 1965.
The picture and its title tell a story that is much greater than the story of evolution. It reveals something that underpins all of science—Philosophy. That’s right, all science is built on philosophy. I know that, today that sounds hieratical but at the beginning of the scientific revolution it was a common understanding. Philosophy was considered the king of the sciences.
Sir Isaac Newton did his research based on a philosophical understanding that there was a creator God and this God was a God of logic, order reason and laws. Based on this understanding Newton developed a number of Natural Laws. As his research progressed his findings continued to reinforce his philosophical underpinnings.
Evolution is no different. It can be plainly seen in the illustration “The March of Progress”. The philosophy that underpins evolutionary theory is one of progress. It sees the world as continually progressing. It is especially true in biology where the “survival of the fittest” virtually guarantees that all life progresses.
There is another aspect to this philosophy that is also shown in the illustration. With most chart formats time runs left to right and progress runs bottom to top. The height of man should not be any indication of progress or superiority of modern man. Obviously a monkey that is small, lightweight, agile, and can hang from his tail is much better suited to the jungle than modern man. But the illustration helps to recreate a familiar chart curve that rises and progresses over time. The illustration reinforces the philosophical belief that we, modern men, are the most advanced and most important animals in all of nature.
The final aspect of the illustration is the march. Normally you would make an illustration like this by lining up the animals facing the illustrator, like a jailhouse line-up. That is not what is done here because it does not reinforce the philosophical understanding. The philosophy is not just that man is progressing but he is progressing through his own efforts. It is man that is stepping out and moving forward.
I really have to commend Rudolph Zallinger; he did an absolutely brilliant job of using Evolution to illustrate the philosophy of humanism. This is not the only evolution chart used to promote humanism. Nearly every evolution illustration does the same thing, but “The March of Progress” is arguably the best.
Next time you read an article or see an illustration, realize that everyone has a world view, a philosophic base that will affect their work and their reporting. Remember that philosophy and science do together, they always have and always will. Don’t make the mistake of viewing the science and missing the philosophical underpinnings.

Minimum Wage

Every so often Congress and the public begin a debate about raising the Federal Minimum Wage. The arguments in favor of it are based on two ideas. First is the statement, ‘No one can survive on minimum wage”. The second is that there is a great discrepancy between the lowest paid workers and the highest paid workers. Raising the minimum wage is viewed as a way of forcing profits to be shared with the lowest paid employees.
Are these ideas correct and will raising the minimum wage solve them?
First is it true that no one can survive on minimum wage. I would have to say that statement is true. The Federal Minimum Wage is ????. I can’t imagine anyone living or supporting a family on that income, but is that the intent of the minimum wage? Is it intended to be a livable wage or is it intended to be an entry level wage or a supplementary wage?
My youngest son is seeking his first job. He does not need a wage on which he can live independently. He only needs to pay for his schooling, transportation, eating out occasionally and some money for personal purchases and entertainment. That covers a lot of things but there are also a lot of things not covered. It would be nice for him to make even more money but it is not necessary. There is a place for an entry level wage that is not a livable wage.
There is another related question, “What is a livable wage?” I live in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The cost of living here is fairly high but it is not even close to the cost of living in New York City or San Francisco. On the other hand the cost of living in rural Mississippi is fairly low. It is pretty easy to see that a single Federal Minimum Wage cannot be a livable wage for all peoples across all of America. States and Cities corrected for this by establishing their own minimum wages. If various States and Cities need to set their own minimum wages then what is the purpose for a Federal Minimum Wage? I guess it sets a minimum below which no state can go but it has little if any affect on establishing a comprehensive livable wage. A livable wage must be set by each locality.
The second argument for raising the Federal Minimum Wage is a more equitable distribution of wealth. Is this a real problem? I think it is. There is a big problem with greed in America and it seems to be getting worse. People are not rewarded for their work in proportion to their labor, but will raising the minimum wage correct this? I think it will, at least temporarily. The problem is that when the lowest paid workers get a raise it is not long before those directly above them demand the same level of increase. This wave of increases will continue up the ladder until everyone has obtained an increase. But how will the companies pay for the increases? That’s right they will raise the prices for their goods and services. What happens when all of the companies across the nation raise wages and prices? Well we call that inflation.
The end result is that the cost of living has gone up; minimum wage is no longer a livable wage and the talk of raising the minimum wage begins all over again.
This sounds like we are back to square one but there are winners and losers when we have inflation. The winners are a few people who have borrowed large sums of money and been able to profit through the careful use of that money. They got the benefit and will pay back the loan with deflated dollars. The banks will lose on the deal, but the banks make projections for this and adjust their interest rates accordingly. The real losers are retired people who are living off of their savings. They did not get a raise when minimum wage went up. All they received was rising prices that eats up their savings.
Who else loses? There are a few companies that sell goods and services that are very labor intensive but do not have a high profit margin and cannot raise their prices. An example of this would be some recycling companies. The process is labor intensive. The profit is low. In some cases it is almost as cheap to by new paper as it is recycled paper. The new paper is a much more automated process and is not greatly affected by the change in minimum wage. A raise in the minimum wage could drive the recycling company out of business, and waste paper would end up in the landfills because it is not cost effective to recycle. This is just one example but it is a good one. In my area much of the recycling is done by people living below the minimum wage. They are living on the streets and making a living by picking through trash cans. There are many industries that would fall into this category. These industries quietly fold up and go away or they move to another country where wages are lower.
So who profits from raising minimum wage? The politicians do. The politicians are perceived by young workers and the working poor as caring about their plight. They effectively buy votes using other people’s money. They create a perception that the government is the place to turn to have your problems solved. Their power, authority and control grows.
There is another way in which the Government wins. By driving up wages they drive taxpayers into higher tax brackets. The Government gets to collect more taxes. Then they have more money to payout, further increasing people’s dependence on them.
In conclusion, obtaining a livable wage for a greater number of Americans is a worthy goal, as is a more equitable distribution of wealth, but raising the Federal Minimum Wage will do little or nothing to accomplish these goals.