29 January 2008

Man, I'm Old!

Yesterday was my birthday.

No wait, all of you know that. Some of you know that because you have loved me for a long, long time (thanks Norman, Julie, Mommily and others).

More of you know that because I am on Facebook and MySpace, community forums which publish my birthday and e-mail it to all of my friends. Honestly, I have never had so many happy birthday wishes. Umpteen discussion forums sent me automated e-mails. Marcos Madrid wished me happy birthday, which showed that he had finally forgiven me for giving him a failing grade in English his senior year at Superior High School (class of 1998).

I spent the day teaching--when your birthday is January 28, there is nothing to do outside of working a shivering in your bed. In the evening, Jenny took me to see U2-3D at the IMAX in Nashville. It was an awesome show and something that I completely enjoyed. I may write more about this experience later.

Today was my first chance to feel really old, though. Owen was talking about Lego Bionicles--his favorite toy, and his most recent obsession. He wanted to find out what Legos were like when I was a boy.

"Daddy," he said. "When you were a boy--you know, back in the 1900s--did they have Legos?"

The 1900s? I remember them well, I guess.

I'm beginning to really, really hate the 21st Century;)

27 January 2008

My Primary Vote. What do YOU Think?

Tennessee's presidential primary is just over a week away (February 5), and I'm totally undecided on whom to vote for. Knowing that a third of my readers are ex-pat Americans who won't get to vote--and another third aren't American citizens at all--I'm going to ask for your help.

Here are some parameters. I will be voting in the Democratic primary, so don't recommend any Repugnicans. I'm still ticked at John Edwards for his failures in the 2004 presidential campaign (he failed to carry a single, Southern state for Kerry-Edwards), so it's hard for me to appreciate his hard-left turn--something I would usually applaud.

That leaves me with Hillary or Barack. I really can't choose. Either one would make a good president, in my opinion. Which one would be better?

Here's how I see it. I am enamored with Hillary's experience and competence. Don't forget, George W. Bush has been my country's president for the past 7 years. He has learned NOTHING on the job. He's as confused and clueless today as he was on 1/21/01. Somehow he couldn't see Islamic terrorism as a real threat until after 9/11. He still has a muddled view of the whole Hurricane Katrina disaster. He really, really, really wants just one more chance to make war (on Iran).

Hillary would get it. She would be ready on Day One. She wouldn't screw things up, and I think she would move the country forward again.

Obama's charisma is up against Hillary's competence. And what charisma it is! I listen to him, and I think, "This guy could unite the country. This guy could lead us to do great things." I mean, I could finally see a presidential candidate win more than 55% of the vote--something I fantasize about on a regular basis.

What do you think? Leave your comments--I'll give extra weight to those who are farthest away (and those who can't vote in the primary themselves). I'll be interested to see what you wonderful people have to say.

20 January 2008

Thoughts on Einstein and Relativity

Einstein's theory of special relativity has been around for over 100 years now. Somehow, I think that people of faith are still about 100 years from really getting it or applying it.

We can't avoid it--that's for certain. Special Relativity explains the unique characteristic of light: that its speed is constant, 670,000,000 miles per second, relative to all forms of motion.

It works like this: Let's say I set up an experiment. I have developed two spaceships, each of which travels at 500,000,000 miles per hour. One will be speeding away from me. The other will be flying toward me from another star system. After five seconds, I will shoot laser beams in each direction, asking them to measure the speed at which light passes them.

Of course, the guy with the light meter, standing stationary next to me when I flipped on the laser would measure a speed of 670,000,000 miles per second.

The bizarre finding that Einstein discovered is that the guy in the spaceship traveling away from me, would also find that the light of my laser zipped past at 670,000,000 miles per hour. Moreover the ship coming towards me would also measure the same speed. This theory has been proven mathematically and physically time and time again.

That's what relativity is all about. Speed and time are not always constant. Relative to the speed of light, they are malleable, changing, capricious. That's why Einstein showed that speed and time are not absolute values but relative values which exist on a continuum--ergo, the space-time continuum which governs physical science today.

Of course, it wasn't long before Einstein's theories were applied in a variety of ways. Prior to 1905, prior to relativity, the world embraced absolutes. There was man and woman, good and evil, right and wrong, slave and free. No one considered these to be relative terms but absolutes. Like the old cigarette advertisements said, "We've come a long way, Baby."

Now everything is relative. Absolute man and woman? Tell that to the person who claims to be "transgendered." Good and evil? Maybe for folks like Hitler and Mother Theresa, but the rest of us fall somewhere in between--somewhere on that infernal continuum that relativity unleashed.

Relative to your political beliefs, you may believe that abortion is an absolute evil--or that the child's right to life is relative to its mother's health or ability to care for it. Relative to politics, you believe that the torture and sexual abasement of prisoners of war is either absolutely wrong or appropriate, relative to acts perpetrated against Americans by terrorists.

Everything is relative. Let's admit it and move on, shall we?

Really, relativity has thrown churches for a loop for over 100 years. It has been every bit as much a challenge to established religion as the discovery, 400 years earlier by Galileo, that the sun did not orbit around the earth.

I was in church a few weeks ago, singing along with the praise band. For some reason, my thoughts turned to Einstein and relativity. Suddenly, it hit me: the whole relativity thing and the whole Christianity thing suddenly wrapped themselves together and provided me with the answer. I am sharing this with you, just as I shared it with my fellow believers later that week in a sermon.

I mean, honestly, what are Christians to do with relativity? When we really look at what Einstein was saying--and how this theory was subsequently proved over the following century--will we find it to be compatible?

Does relativity wipe absolute-dependent Christianity right off the map, or does it provide an opening for something more? I think it does.

In fact, I think that relativity opens up the gospel--the very Bible itself--to the meanings that God intended. No, I'm not kidding. I haven't blown a mental gasket. Christ wrote the rules of the universe, didn't He? One of those rules was that light is constant. He knew this, and he taught it--so did St. Paul. It just took us a little over 1800 years to figure it out.

First, consider the Bible's teachings about light. "Your word is a...light for my path," the Psalmist says (119.105). John compares the life of Christ to "the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (1.4-5). There is much imagery in the Bible comparing light to the Righteousness that God wishes to instill in us--the Righteousness that was embodied in the life of Jesus Christ.

But does this Righteousness live up to Relativity? Of course it does! One of the things that Jesus rebelled against was the insistence on absolutes by the religious leaders of his day. One could boil down his teachings in Einsteinian terms: "There is one constant in the universe--that constant is God. There is no absolute Jew and absolute Gentile." How can you explain a gospel in which a Rich Young Ruler isn't rich or a destitute widow isn't poor? RELATIVE to God, these things were so.

I mean, think about it: the greatest teaching of Christ's life is this: death and life are not absolute, they exist relative to the righteousness of God, engendered in Jesus and fed by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. (That last sentence is the greatest testimony to the Trinity that I have ever written.)

Should Christians, therefore, whine and moan about the loss of absolutes? Of course not! They didn't belong there in the first place--they existed only so long as people didn't completely understand Christ's teachings. Good riddance!

My second finding was this: if Righteousness, like light, is a constant, then what does that mean? It means this. Whether we are running towards God as fast as we can or running away, His righteousness meets us at a constant speed. The believing Christian who seeks God through study and prayer basks in the same glow as that which warms the back of the unbeliever who has turned away. This is the truth behind the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Vineyard Workers.

All my life I have seen people who built rocket ships to God, claiming that this truth or that practice would speed up their faith to the point that they would be ahead of other believers. Pull out the light meter and measure the righteousness. It is constant. Praise be to God!

Finally, I wondered how a Christian would act if they accepted this belief that space and time didn't matter anymore. Well, first, for the time thing: I don't see time as a normal person sees it. I live relative to eternity. This shapes my worldview and my approach to time.

And what if distance doesn't matter either? How do I treat my neighbor or my enemy when there is not distance between us? How do I treat my fellow Christian when we are one in the Spirit? It's an amazing concept--one that Christ has tried to instill in Christians since his first sermon.

The Bible is filled with this new view of light and space and time. Look it up for yourself and leave me a comment to share what you have learned. A great place to start is Ephesians 3:17-21

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus thrroughout all generations, for ever and ever!"

06 January 2008

How American Elections Work

I got an interesting question e-mailed by my mom's cousin, John Courtis, who lives in England (Suffolk).
I must confess to a longterm lack of understanding about these. What are your readings about the Iowa outcome? We only get our 'news' filtered through 'journalists' and 'experts' of mixed authority.

I just had to answer, and I liked my reply so much, I'll post it for you to enjoy, too (I hope).
Interesting question, John.

I have to admit that the thought of an 11-month election campaign is exhausting just to think about, and I haven't given it the scrutiny that it deserves. The presidential primary for Tennessee, the state where Patsy and I live, isn't until February 5, by which time there may be only one or two contenders left in each of the major parties--although this is the most wide-open primary season we have had since 1988.

The ingenious/frustrating thing that the framers of the US Constitution set up was a federated system that was really a United group of States rather than a single, centralized nation. For that reason, states choose delegates for the August nominating conventions through a system of primaries (secret ballot votes) or caucuses (public voting in a forum). The fact is that it is up to the states when they want to have their primaries. Basically the August nominating convention is the official stage where delegates from the states (elected in the winter) formally choose the nominee. I don't think a nomination has come down to the convention since the 1950s, and it is usually a foregone conclusion.

Traditionally, Iowa and New Hampshire have been the first two sites, but this year larger states like California and Florida moved their primaries up to February 5 in order to have a bigger impact on the nominating process. As a result, a half-dozen other states jumped in, and Iowa and New Hampshire moved their elections up to just a few days after New Year's.

I guess the comparison here would be for Brown and Cameron--in order to get their parties' nominations--would first have to win polls in places like Suffolk and Lincolnshire, competing against other members of their own party first.

As far as the results, I think that Barack Obama has a unique angle on the nomination (personally, I support Bill Richardson, governor of America's most beautiful state, New Mexico, and was Ambassador to the UN and Energy Secretary under President Clinton). He seems to be the only one from either party that seems intent on uniting the country. That's why he brought out such a strong independent vote in Iowa.

Personally, I find Hillary Clinton highly qualified (second to Richardson), and I would vote for her in a general election. But she has a lot of baggage, and doesn't inspire people in the way that Obama does. The Right hates her--and left-leaning Americans like me cringe at the thought of another anything-goes election scramble.

American elections since the Vietnam War have been similar to exercises in trench warfare. Both sides are dug in. No offensive against the other party is out of bounds--no means of attack too severe, and the electorate is split. An American president hasn't received a 50.1%+ majority of the nation's votes since 1988. The party most adept at this warfare is the Republican party. They have lost only three elections in 40 years: one two years after the infamous Watergate scandal (Jimmy Carter), and two when independent Ross Perot divided the vote (Clinton).

We saw how, in 2004, they attacked a decorated war veteran like John Kerry for cowardice, and elevated a glorified war evader in George W. Bush to re-election. Personally, I won't believe that they can lose this election until the last vote is counted--if it is counted at all.

I'm not sure if that answers all of your questions. I haven't written much about the Republican candidates, because I don't follow that side as closely. None of them are criticizing President Bush right now, because they are merely courting the votes of Republicans--the 27% of the populace that still seems to approve of the job he has done wrecking the country. That may seem surprising to those of you overseas, but it's very, very true.

Congratulations to Dorothy on her book deal! I'm quite jealous. Ironically, I'm listening to my iPod as I write this, and "Rule Britannia" just played (I had downloaded it for a lesson I taught on English patriotic songs at my high school last year). "Britons never shall be slaves!!" I love it.

01 January 2008

Happy New Year!

It has been a busy Christmas break for me, getting caught up with work on my 2nd and 3rd jobs and too busy to blog.

I don't want to let the New Year pass without indulging in a tradition here on 'Point Pleasant:' posting U2's "40."

I love this song so much--and it's much better live than you'll find it on their album, "War!" The message is perfect for New Year's--and it comes straight from Psalm 40:

He put my feet up on a solid rock
to make sure I wouldn't slip.
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,
a praise-song to our God.
More and more people are seeing this:
they enter the mystery,
abandoning themselves to God.
from The Message paraphrase

How long will it take until I can sing the song described by David in this psalm? I'm going to sing it now--and continue throughout 2008.