Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Richard Dawkins and a Baptist Preacher Walk into a Bar

Somebody asked me recently what I would say to Richard Dawkins (the scientist-writer guy, not the dead, former host of Family Feud).  I didn't have an answer at the time.  Maybe I still don't.  But here's what I'm thinking.

Let's say I meet Mr. Dawkins in a bar.  This would be difficult as I don't visit many bars these days.  But let's just say.  Unless he brought it up, I don't think I'd say anything to him about faith.  He's a smart guy.  His mind is made up.  He knows the gospel.  He might have thought about it more than I have.  Who knows?  The best thing I can do for Richard Dawkins is pray for him.  It's not like I'm going to persuade him.  And even if I did persuade him, it wouldn't mean much.  It would just be us reasoning together and I would have somehow won with the super-power rhetorical skills I got when that radioactive copy of Aristotle's Omnibus fell on my head in college.  Dawkins would still have to square things up with God.
Suppose someone has a photograph of the earth at the time of the flood (Noah's ark and all that), taken by one of L. Ron Hubbard's space aliens.  And, this photograph has been scientifically authenticated.  Don't ask me how all this comes to pass.  But just suppose.  I guess that would make it ok to accept that there was a global flood.  But then, that's not faith.  Seeing isn't believing.  Believing is believing.  Hebrews 11:1 nicely defines faith.

I read some of the message boards and how people throw down on this whole age of the earth thing.  They get nasty about it.  So let's say someone proves beyond any doubt that the earth is five thousand, four hundred, and sixty-two years old.  Ok…so what?  That doesn't change a thing about what I'm going to do tomorrow, and it has very little bearing on what goes on in eternity.  If such a thing were proven, it would remove the need for faith about the age of the earth.  For the record, I don't claim to know how old the earth is, though I am pretty sure God made dinosaurs because He knew we'd need petroleum products for our cars.
If we could explain some of these things, what would we need faith for?

I understand faith in Christ is a foolish proposition.  It says so in the book (I Corinthians 1:23).  The Apostle Paul wrote that if he were wrong, he'd be the most miserable person out there (I Corinthians 15:13-19).  But Paul had faith.  The big delusion among a lot of people is that they have to see something to believe it.  That's existentialism, if you're interested in such things.
The problem with proving things is that somewhere it always boils down to faith.  I'm sitting in a chair right now.  I can see it and feel it.  My wife says she can smell it.  But I have faith that it will support my weight.  I trust the chair and it's not because I know that much about physics.  I don't know if that makes any sense. Sometimes faith doesn't make sense.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Six Things I Learned During the Blackout

Thursday night, about six-o'clock, the power goes out.  This coincides nicely with our first taste of winter.  Despite the hyperbole proffered, whenever the weather changes, by the local STORM TRACKER TEAM!!!!!, it wasn't that bad.  We had maybe two inches of snow, winds in excess of 35 miles per hour (which moved our STORM TRACKER TEAM into conniption-level blizzard warnings), and the temperature dropped from the mid-forties to the mid-teens in a 24-hour period.  But hey, it's December.  It's going to snow.

Ok, where was I?  It snowed, it got dark, and the power went out, all at once.  In the back of my mind was something about a Mayan end of the world.  And one more thing, the kidlets had just finished finals and this was their first evening of Christmas break.  Emotions were already high.  I had planned on some Cordon blue, twice-bakes with bacon and blue-cheese, and probably a simple salad.  Such was not to be.
After about two minutes, candles were sputtering and cries came out to go to grandma's house.  Being the horse's rear end that I am, I managed to pull off a 30-minute wait to see if said power might return. It did not.  During this time they noticed how slowly the hands on the clock turned.  I told the girls that if this were the 1820s it would be about bedtime anyway and that they should go play with string or make a quilt or something.  That's when we went to grandma's and had pizza.

After the pizza and some zany-whacky cable television, I opted to return home.  The doggies would be scared and cold and someone needed to watch the house. Alternate motive:  I wanted to go home.  After much worrisome banter I bid my farewells and braved the storm!
Long story short, the power was off for eighteen hours and some change.  I survived.  Here are six things I learned:

Lesson #1:  Social anthropologist could write a good paper on how a society spends its technology on what it values.  In our case one might list transportation, communication, and making coffee.  My grandparents used to have a phrase about how they were going to, 'put on a pot of coffee'.  It was quaint, but what did it mean?  My grandmother grew up in a house with a wood stove.  Let's think about that.  What would it take to make a pot of coffee on a wood stove?  All I can say to this is that at 5:30am, when I woke in the pitch-black cold house (had somewhere to be at 7:30), it was a triumph of fortitude to find the camping percolator, fill it with water and coffee, and get it to boil on a single-burner portable unit.  And it took forever.  And it was delicious.  But by 6am I had already expended more calories on that pot of coffee than I usually spend by noon on a regular techno-day. 
Lesson #2:  A messy house is not conducive towards emergency situations.  For example, where can I set the hurricane lantern in a house with no clear counters?  Hmmmm…. Good question - not only is it a fire hazard but it also adds to the level of aggravation.  Really, only the kitchen was messy and my bedside table always has books and crap on it.  But still.

Lesson #3:  Speaking of aggravation - I have a good number of things to use for when the power goes out, or whatever.  But I store them out of the way.  It makes sense until you need them.  Then, finding them and remembering where they are adds to the aggravation level.  So, after locating the sleeping bag, the camp stove, the lanterns, and etc… and after walking the dogs in the greatest blizzard known to mankind, I was ready to have some serious night-nights.  The best news was that I always have a flashlight handy and they are loaded with crisp batteries.  That helped.
Lesson #5:  I have a freakin' awesome sleeping bag.  During the night, the temperature in the house dropped from 64 to 41 Fahrenheit.  That made me happy about the insulation in the home because by morning it was fifteen degrees outside.  But during the evening I got hot inside the bag.  I had to unzip it part way and stick my arms out to help cool down.  It's a High-Peak with Hi-Fiber Technology.  Hubba hubba.

Lesson #6:  Speaking of freakin' awesome things, hurricane lanterns loaded with kerosene are gold.  They are bright and fun to carry.  I felt like somebody in a cool Dungeon's and Dragon's adventure walking around the house with the lantern swinging in my chilly little hand.  Those shadows put forth the righteous scare and, I dunno, it just felt right.  I read myself to sleep and like an old timey guy, blew it out right before my blistering heat-wave sleeping bag took me to la-la land.
Lesson #6:  Another little aggravation is remembering how things work.  It makes sense.  I do not use the emergency one-burner stove that often.  So yea, take a minute or two to remember how it operates.  But in the dark, when you really just want to push a button and get your George-Jetson cup of coffee?  Again, more aggravation.

Just call me the survivor...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Time for the Birch

"I'm getting the birch," Santa said.

"Oh dear," said Mrs. Clause.
He tapped the cold ash from this meerschaum and lay it on the desk before him.  He looked up and stared at his wife's cherry-hued cheeks and her big blue eyes.  This year he meant it, and it might break her heart.  "Have you seen the reports?" he asked.
The birch had not been used for long ages.  He'd wanted to use it every year since 1963.  That was the first year the naughty stack had been thicker than the nice.  But after the Coca-Cola campaign of the 50s, with the happy, jolly, fat man image being popularized, he knew there'd be PR problems.  And so, this debate became a ritual between him and his wife.  But not now.

"Dear," she began her well rehearsed template, "you don't mean it.  Where's the nice pile?"
"See for yourself."  He had a single manila folder with three pieces of paper in it.  "There's a kid in Wyoming, homeschooled, hardly ever leaves the house.  There's that girl who puts up nice posts on Facebook for the Down's syndrome kids, and… you're in there."  He pushed it across the desk towards her.

She flicked the edge of the folder with her thumb but didn't pick it up.  Could this be true, she wondered.  Had the world gotten that bad?  "How can this be?"
"Do you realize," he began, "I had to buy a new external hard drive just for the porn lists?  Bullying is up twenty-four percent, not minding is worse than the American national debt, and the meanness indexes… Pouting and crying are the least of my worries, but they're just as bad."

She tilted her head at him and saw something different in his eyes than in years past.  "What about coal?  You haven't used coal in forever.  Give them a warning.  Couldn't this be a coal year."
"I haven't used coal because in the western hemisphere I'd be fined by the United Nations for carbon emissions.  In the rest of the world it would be a reward."

She began to cry and he reached out and took one of her hands in his.  "It's not for all of them," he said.  "The real little kids, of course they'll get their presents.  But fourth grade and up is shot.  It's done.  Honey, they need the birch."   He put special emphasis on the word need.
She said nothing but bent and placed a gentle kiss on her husband's bald head, between two liver spots she found most charming.

When she left the office he stood and stretched his back and with a heavy sigh walked to the special equipment room and opened the iron vault where the most powerful of his things were kept.  Most of these relics had not made the songs.  He stepped inside and looked around. 
On one shelf, in a jar of formaldehyde, was the red nose.  He picked it up and swirled it around like he would an olive in a martini.   It yet glowed.  How he missed that little mutant.  Tragic really, he thought, that reindeer only live about twenty years.  He put it back and then saw the hoof-wreath from the others of that original team.  They were thick and grey with age.  Dancer's still had that big chip in his from when he'd broken his ankle and had to be put down.  He'd run the hooves along a line of the original harness and had hung it in the kitchen for a while.  But of course the Mrs. didn't stand for that very long.  I really ought to get rid of some of this junk, he thought, but knew in his heart he was just a sentimental old fool.

"Time for reminiscing later," he said to himself.  He walked to the metal cabinet that hung on the farthest wall opposite the door.  It had been the medicine cabinet from their first house.  He blew dust from the surface of the mirror and looked at himself, checking his teeth for bits of breakfast and thought about shaving.
Then he opened the door and there was the birch.  It looked like a principal's paddle from ages gone by.  It was two feet long and eight inches wide.  One end tapered to a handle.  Holes were drilled at regular intervals along the paddle.

He hefted it in his thick hands and slapped it on one palm.  "It's been too long and a long time coming.  Should have used this years ago.  Things might not have gotten so bad."
In the early morning hours of December 26th of that year, every child above the age of ten woke from a horrible nightmare.  They cried out in their darkened rooms and alarmed parents ran to find them red-faced with tears streaming down their cheeks.  Their rear ends burned and emergency rooms were filled with what looked like a severe rash on their backsides.  In the minds of the children rang the words, "You better be good, for goodness sake."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seven Gift Ideas for Your Pastor

What does Pastor want for Christmas?  Good question.  Perhaps others might have the same concern.  So, here is a list of seven Christmas gift ideas for your pastor.

1.  Honesty.  They can't all be great sermons.  No one bats 1,000.  I can't think of one occupation where a person always does a great job.  Perhaps this holiday season, while leaving the building, you might say, "Not as good as last week's pastor."  Or a kind, "You've had better," would be fitting.  I can't speak for all preachers, but in a way, such a comment would be a breath of fresh air.
2.  Sincerity.  Don't be all, "Jesus is the reason for the season," and then go into debt buying plastic Chinese crap for the kids.  Jesus doesn't like debt.  I know because I've read the book.  Similarly, don't be all, "It's not X-mas, it's Christmas," and then miss church on Christmas morning to play with the electronics made by slave-wage Indonesians.  I mean, if you're going to spout a platitude, then pitch your tent on the plateau.

3.  A tithe.  A tithe for Christmas is always welcome.  See, what with all the extra expenses and gift-giving, the December and January offerings are always down.  And yet, the expenses for the church remain the same.  In December and January, churches use the same amount of water, electricity, natural gas, and (in some climates) have snow-removal costs.  Technically, this isn't a gift for the pastor, but knowing the bills will be paid for another month somehow makes things better for him.
4.  Homemade cookies and pies.  Nuff said…
5.  Prayer.  Pray that your pastor doesn't snap and say what's really on his mind.  Pray that your pastor doesn't preach from Jeremiah 10:1-5 on Christmas morning in front of all those people who only come to church on that day.  Pray that your pastor remembers 1 Peter 5:2-3.  Anything along these lines will help.
6.  Silence.  Turn off the cell phone.  Put the fear of God into your child before services.  Stop zipping your bible during the invitation.  Go pee after the invitation.  If someone next to you is snoring, nudge him.  Things like that.
7.  Forgiveness.  Remember that time the Pastor spit in your coffee when he thought you weren't looking?  Well, now is the time to forget it.  Ok?  Look, he's just another smelly human.  He's going to mess up and get on people's nerves, just like everyone else.  Let it go already.  Them grudges get heavy anyway.  Not doing yourself any favors by hanging on to ancient history.  So this one's like giving your spouse a Starbuck's gift card.  You know they'll spend some of it on you.