Wednesday, December 24, 2008

MinnPost Link!

Thanks to Justin at MinnPost.com's Blog Cabin for the link to Galya's Tale. If you want the synopsis of my other blog's purpose and story, read his column here. If you want the detail, go to Galya's Tale itself.

Merry Christmas!

For you and yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. As much as we are focusing on our newly-extended family, this time of year is about remembering and celebrating another child and why he was born. Enjoy the season, the family and the traditions. But remember first the real reason of Christmas.

God bless,
Ron

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Blog!

Okay, this will be a temp blog, but I started a new one called Galya's Tale. It's named in honor of a little girl we're working to adopt from Ukraine.

We leave tomorrow for Kiev, with much to do, and many things hanging in the balance. We'll use Galya's Tale as a way to keep the interested informed.

'til next time,

Ron

Monday, August 18, 2008

Randomness

Yeah, back for my (apparently) every other/third/fourth month blog entry. Random thoughts of recent note, and I don't pretend you'll care about them:

I can't take gymnastics (or figure skating, or diving, or any "judged" sport) terribly seriously when scoring is so subjective.
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This Phelps guy - he's not bad. Despite the "creating history" thing, though, my daughters are much more interested in the gymnastics. They're also convinced that they'll both be in the Olympics someday, despite not having taken more than a community ed gymnastics "class" or two. If I ever find someone stealing the innocence and faith of those two...
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Continuing the sports theme, go Twins! Keep getting ignored by the national media despite being in first place this late in the season! Whoo-hoo! (And no, I don't think they win the division; too many bullpen problems, even with a Chicago team that's not exactly unbeatable. The World Series does not go through the AL Central this year.)
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Can Evangelicals please stop thinking that just because someone> is passionate about social justice issues that he/she is NOT an unbeliever? And just because he may associate with people of different beliefs that there's something wrong with him? Remember: They will know us by our love. I don't recall an 11th commandment that they'll know us by our fidelity to a 20th Century pseudo-political Evangelical interpretation of scripture which leads to an inordinate amount of time being spent arguing against gay marriage rather than loving people and sharing the Gospel.

Just saying.

(Note to self: you were writing a series on this. Get back to it. Also, obligatory defense of my beliefs on the subject of gay marriage/abortion/etc...not found here as they are irrelevant to my argument. But they are consistently orthodox.)
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That said, Senator Obama may have lost my vote a long time ago. I just can't get past this comment that says that babies are a punishment. I know what he (says he) meant by that comment, but it betrays an absolutely abhorrent philosophy that bothers me in a couple of ways. First of all, children are not punishment. We need to stop devaluing life. Now.

And I don't care what excuses the statement; in this scenario he's talking about his own (hypothetical) grandchildren being a punishment! No matter the context, it just doesn't sit at all well that someone vying to be the "leader of the free world" would even think something so horrific. Then he inserts his own children into the example? Ugh. It's been months since he said this, and it still disturbs me.

Second, this comment points to a philosophy of responsibility-avoidance that has become epidemic among leadership in this country. When our leaders don't exhibit pesonal responsibility, why should the rest of us? We need leaders who don't look for ways to get out of trouble; we need leaders who talk about (and are examples on how to) avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
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That doesn't mean I'm a Senator McCain fan. Maybe I'm too young to remember, but have we always had such a dearth of good political candidates? In my mind, the last "great" politician was President Reagan. I'm not sure if we've even had a great senator or congress-person in my lifetime. Any nominees? (And I respect Senator McCain as a great American and soldier. Doesn't mean I think he's been an extraordinary Senator.)
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Facebook is somewhat addictive. But I have more than 100 friends now, which is nice. Much better than the, what, 3-4 I have on MySpace?
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Finally, I don't get to movies in the theaters as much as I used to, but I have been able to see a couple this year. Indiana Jones IV wasn't bad, but the first and third installment of the series were much better. Likewise, The Mummy 3 was a mild disappointment. I think the franchise just isn't the same without Rachel Weisz as Evelyn. I'm just waiting, though, for a good movie that's (a) not a sequel, (b) not part of a series and (c) is an original of high quality.

Except this movie will somehow violate both (a) and (b) and still somehow be (c). That's how much faith I have in Pixar. That's the one company for which I'd move to California to work, site unseen. (My wife would, of course, require the salary work out too. But that's why I married her. She's practical, and reminds me not to do stupid things like uproot the family on a whim.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Praise Him in the Storm

As long-time readers know, I have an affinity for the hobby of storm chasing, or at the least storm spotting. I am a certified Skywarn spotter and, although married to someone who thinks I'm nuts, find violent weather to be fascinating.

Please note I said "fascinating" and not "good." There is something awe-inspiring about the power of the whirlwind. And sometimes there is beauty; but all too often, there is death, destruction or pain. I don't want to be a spotter to have an excuse to go out in the rain. I choose to be a spotter because trained spotters can help alert people to get to cover safely when dangerous weather approaches. It's something all the spotters I know take seriously, although for many there is an element of weather geekdom or a thrill/rush in chasing something so unpredictable and powerful.

I say all this to set up this past weekend's events in my city. I live in Coon Rapids, a suburb on the north side of Minneapolis. This past weekend, my family and I went up north to the in-laws' lake home to spend time with my wife's clan. It was highly relaxing and enjoyable up until Sunday evening, when as we were getting ready to have dinner we caught on the news that a tornado had touched down in Coon Rapids. Stories mentioned "Highway 10 and Hanson Boulevard" or "Coon Rapids High School" - both locations within a mile or two of our house. We called a number of friends and family who lived nearby, but nobody answered their phones (many were also out of town.) We didn't know whether to come home and see if our house was still standing, or stay where we were and hope for the best. We chose the latter, and as more stories came out we learned that the tornado likely crossed our city about a mile or so north of us. We also found out another tornado touched down in Hugo, a 'burb of St. Paul, and that one child had died when he was sucked out of his house. It put a damper on the feelings of relief when we returned to find our home intact, and not so much as a hailstone dent in the siding. Dangerous weather in crowded cities can cause tragedy that nobody, not even those of us fascinated by twisters, ever wants to see.

Monday night the tragedy came even closer to home when we found out the little boy who died was the son of Gerard and Christy Prindle, a couple who play in the same community band as my wife. I found this out when I saw the band's director interviewed on the news talking about the story. I haven't met the Prindles, and my wife doesn't know them well at all - but the proximity and familiarity made the story hit harder.

I'm glad there were spotters watching the storms Sunday; warnings were early and many had taken shelter. It could have been worse; but it was bad enough. Why were some homes unscathed and others obliterated? Why did many survive yet the youngest die? Why does God allow such things?

As with the 35W bridge collapse, or recent earthquakes or cyclones, we won't know the reason this side of eternity. I trust God knows best, but that's easier for me to say than for those who've been more directly impacted to hear. All we can and should do at this time is show compassion and provide help and comfort as best we are able. At times like these I can't provide answers, and I can only speculate how I'd handle something like this happening in my own family. I would hope I could praise God even in the storm, but until it happens I don't know. I selfishly hope to never find out. I just can't not think about it at a time like this.

Remember we live in a fallen world; pray for those who suffer. Offer help when you can. And listen for what God may be whispering in the storm.

God bless,
Ron

Friday, May 16, 2008

Presumptions of Science

I am taking a break in my series (ha! a break he says; more like a sabbatical) to post on a couple of articles I read recently that have me thinking. They both point to an arrogance, I think, in the hyper-rationalistic, hyper-naturalistic worldview that claims that nature is all there is; that science is the only way to explain things, and science can not only remove the need for a God, but can remove God altogether. It's not enough to say, "here's an alternate explanation to God." Many are instead saying, "this explanation is it, and God can't possibly play a part."

This strikes of hubris, a wee bit. It also points to a blindness in that particular worldview that keeps the holders thereof from seeing the problems in their own philosophy.

The first article is this article from FoxNews which discusses a book attempts to answer "the question 'Does science make belief in God obsolete?'" Full disclosure: I haven't yet read the book. I may not ever read it. That said, there is something disconcerting in the self-confident assertions that "Science has failed to find natural evidence of God. Natural evidence is all there is. No God. Case closed." Or references to another book entitled "God: The Failed Hypothesis — How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist."

The logical flaws here are gaping. Science, by definition, only speaks in regards to the natural world. God is by definition super-natural, or above nature (unless one is a pantheist.) Science cannot possibly, by its own limitations and the reach of traditional scientific methodologies, say anything whatsoever about God's existence. Science can put forth explanations, yet any explanation put forth by any scientist is built on assumptions - some of which could potentially be invalid. To say that because "science has failed to find natural evidence of God" (a claim disputed by some scientists, although I can conceded the point and still win this line of reasoning) doesn't mean that there is therefore no God. God could quite skillfully avoid detection were He to want to, and His visibility, or lack thereof, to the proponents of such a philosophy says nothing whatever about whether He exists or not.

And don't even get me started on how science, something which by definition can't speak to things outside the natural realm, can show that God does not exist. I can buy that adherents to scientific/naturalistic worldviews don't believe that God exists; I can't at all buy that they've proven their belief in God's non-existence through science any more than I can prove my belief in God's existence via science.

The second column, written by David Brooks of the NY Times, talks about how neural science is leading to a new debate about who, or what, God is. (And yes, I know I am quoting both the NY Times and Fox News in the same blog post. I expect this will cause both liberals and conservatives to then be up in arms with me.)

To me Brooks' column was more interesting than the Fox News one. The Fox article demonstrates the misplaced hubris of the fundamentalist naturalists. That's easy pickings, not really advancing anything new, and a standard covering of a philosophy that won't lead anywhere. By contrast, the Brooks column stands out to me as an actual challenge. In an over-simplified summary, scientists studying cognition and neural development are observing that certain areas of the brain "light up" during times of "religious experience." The naturalistic interpretation is that our brains, therefore, are inventing our encounters with God, or that our brains can connect with something bigger than ourselves; they can transcend ourselves and that explains how so many things are commonly held across cultures and time.

The challenge, Brooks seems to say, is that those like me, who believe in a personal God & that truth is found in scripture, are going to have a harder time defending those beliefs in light of this neural research. If the brain's behavior makes us feel close to God, the question seems to be, how can we be so confident God is there as we believe Him to be? How do we know our brain isn't messing with us? Similar arguments have been broached by those of a deterministic bent, who deny us freewill on the grounds that naturalistic determinism (chemical/physical interactions, etc...) cause us to think, say or do what we think, say or do. That is, we don't choose, we're nothing more than computers programmed by a non-intelligent natural environment; we can't help it.

This challenge isn't so difficult as one might presume. My soul, if I have one, would be (like God) super-natural, and therefore outside of the realm of scientific observation. Neural scientists, then, would only be seeing part of the picture and drawing conclusions based on incomplete information. My view, if I may offer it here on my own blog, is that we have brain and soul, and they interact in what I would call the mind. The soul is supernatural, the brain is natural, and the mind is the interface betwixt the two. (I may be stretching definitions here, but this model makes sense to me.) Materialists will never see the soul. Science will never see it in the lab. But that doesn't mean it's not there. What we are seeing when we measure the brain may well be the effects of the soul, via the mind, directing the brain what to say, to think or to do. What we see as active neurons may not be our brain making us feel close to God. What we see as active neurons may very well be our souls being close to God, and letting our brains know about it.

Of course, I can't prove this any more than I can prove the opposite. But that's my point. Science needs to remain humble. For all the certainty the militant materialists can muster, the challenges they pose are no real threat.

Please note, too, that I am not at all opposed to science or scientists. I married one, and I have a background in both computer science (formal training and career) and meteorology (my hobby). I just think it best to keep the bold proclamations about things outside the realm of science to a minimum. When the tool isn't equipped to address the problem at hand, it's best not to trust your solution to that tool. Find a more appropriate one. Say philosophy. And use it with humility.

God bless,
Ron

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Mega-Why?

Last time I introduced a little bit what I was going after in this series. And yes, I know it's going on a long time. Before I get too much further into it, I wanted to clarify why it is this question has some hold on me.

As some of you know, I am now, for better or worse, and elder at my local church. I have learned much, met many new folks, seen attendance rise (not my fault), heard squabbles, shared joy, and been encouraged by many "God sightings." Frankly, when I accepted the election to serve I didn't know completely what I was getting into; but I wasn't caught off guard either. It's been a joy, a challenge and a humbling privilege. I found out how much I didn't know, and in how many new places I could serve. Hopefully I'm holding my own, but we'll see as time goes on. The biggest challenge for me has been balancing this role with my roles of father and husband.

We have also hired, as of just under two years ago, a new Sr. Pastor. Great guy, good preacher, good leader. But, as part of the process we started hearing questions. Will we be another Eagle Brook. Will we be another Willow Creek. Do we want to grow that big?

The concern seems to be from two perspectives. One is a uncertainty about how big a church should be. My quick answer to that is, "as big as God makes it." He brings the growth, after all, through the people in a given congregation. It's a Sunday School answer of sorts, but it's true.

The other concern is that the large churches asked about, besides being huge in numbers, tend to be thought of as "seeker driven" churches. And there are a lot of people who are concerned about being seeker-driven in our churches. It is that concern I want to address in this series. First, is there necessarily a correlation between size and being "seeker driven"? Second, if there is, is there a problem with being "seeker driven"? Mixed with this will be a look at what church is, and who it is for. These are questions we've been wrestling with at Grace Church for the better part of a year or two. We'll see if I can distill that into a blog series, even one as long-running (ha!) as this one is turning out to be.

God bless,
Ron

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

May your Easter be blessed, and the risen Son of the Living God be your source of Life forever and ever.

Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Megachurch Question - Part New

A while back (oops! a loooong time back) I raised a question about the megachurch "movement" in America, and whether the criticism of megachurches is valid. I'd like to get back to that today as a way of...I think this is called blogging, but that would imply a more frequent rate of posting. At any rate, I'm going to kick this series off.

Willow Creek. Saddleback. Lakewood. North Point. What do most people think of when asked about this list? For some these are the names of famous churches. For others, these are the churches associated with a famous pastor. Some are associated with books written by staff members or pastors. For most of us, these are all examples of what is called the megachurch.

By some definitions, a megachurch is any church with a regular attendance of at least 2,000 people in worship services in a given week. Many, like Willow Creek, are independent of a denomination. Modern American media services and mythology also associate megachurches with the Republican party, or the "Religious Right." Hence some megachurches are seen suspiciously by folks on the left side of the political spectrum. As to those criticisms, most are often leveled at conservative Christianity as a whole, and so are not specific to megachurches. As a whole, I'm not going to look deeply at those criticisms because (a) I agree with criticism of a church that delves too deeply into politics, and (b) they are not specific to any particular form of church organization. Small churches can be too political, as can liberal/mainline churches. As I'll touch on later in this series, churches are not political tools. When any local church steps outside its purpose it's bound to encounter problems.

What I really want to touch on in this series is why conservatives, or evangelicals depending on one's classification, so often have problems with megachurches. There are two general principles at play that I'd like to explore in this little conversation. The first is that Christians are to judge their own. We should be discerning and diligent not to let either doctrine or purpose slide. The second, though, is that we should show love and grace in matters that aren't critical. Where do we draw the lines in the megachurch question.

I'll admit this topic isn't burning across Evangelicaldom, but it is of interest to me and so I'm going to think out loud about it. I hope it's interesting, and please do feel free to chime in as you see fit. As always, politeness and civility, grace and charity in commentary.

God bless!
Ron

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

So far 2008 is off to a rousing start in the northern 'burbs of the Twin Cities. Plenty of snow, lots of family gatherings and some ice skating with the NBB daughters last evening. Good times.

The NBB wife is planning another trip to India, I'm hoping to travel again to Ukraine, and we together (shhh....) are considering adopting a special little girl. Details, due to the law of the country we're hoping to adopt from, are quiet now, but it is something you'll probably be reading about as soon as we can lock a few more things down. Regardless, much is going to be happening 'round here in '08. And those are just the not-quite-standard things.

So...while I don't make New Year resolutions, really, and since I've already said I need to write here more often (and...um, haven't...) I won't promise daily updates. But there is much going on that I need to share. This is one of my outlets. And feel free to nag me if you don't see as much as you're expecting:-)

I hope your 2008 is blessed!

Ron