Friday, October 9, 2009

A Fatal Misconception

Thinking rightly about such important topics like God, life, death, purpose, meaning, eternity...and the list could something I seek to do on this site and in my own life. Doing this usually requires a careful examination of incorrect ways of thinking about things or causes of misconceptions. One such misconception that pervades our culture today is our mistaken ideal of manhood and womanhood. This misconception is fatal because it is fundamental to how we live and love as humans.

Earlier this evening I heard a talk from a man named Joe Erhmann in which he identified three lies about manhood and womanhood. The lies he identifies are helpful in seeking a proper understanding of the roles of men and women. Here is what he says.

3 Lies about manhood:

1 - Men are told that their worth as men is decided by their physical strength, power, and athletic prowess.
2 - Men are told that sexual conquest proves their manhood.
3 - Men are told that satisfaction as men comes in their money and careers.

3 Lies about womanhood:

1 - Women are told that if they are worthy they will be rescued by prince charming
2 - Women are made to believe that if they have the right body size and type they will be loved.
3 - Women are told that attractiveness or beauty matters more than intelligence or fulfillment.

His main exhortation to refute and repair the damage of these lies in the lives of men and women who have bought into our culture's definition of what it means to be a man or a women is simple. He says we must understand what it means to love and to be loved. Cultivating the capacity to give and receive love is essential in life because relationships are what provide meaning and purpose.

Mr. Ehrmann's points are helpful, but now we must ask what is a proper understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman? In his book Whats the Difference? John Piper gives a compelling visions of manhood and womanhood. He writes of manhood:

At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.

He writes of womanhood:

At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationship.

These definitions present a picture of men and women who complement each other in their roles. And it is about roles. Men and women are different but complementary. In another book, John Ensor writes that, "The issue is not about equality--equality is a given. Nor is about superiority and inferiority. It is about men being stronger than women and women being stronger than men in different and complementary ways. Our complementarity is rooted in nature."

Knowing our nature as a man or women and the corresponding roles we were designed to play is fundamental to living and loving as humans. The malaise our culture finds itself in comes from the lies Mr. Ehrmann discussed but more importantly, and perhaps originally, it comes from a rejection of true manhood and womanhood. This has been our fatal misconception, and I do mean fatal, for it has been the source of much death, violence and destruction in the lives of many.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Totally like whatever, you know?

This "poem" by the modern poet Taylor Mali offers a humorous, but biting, critique of the qualified, noncommittal language we use in our modern culture. You can read it below, or better yet, listen to an oral reading of it here. (Listen to the first 5 mins of the audio file). Enjoy.

In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?

Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?

What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .

And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!

I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

God and Evolution

Is man a created or evolved being? This question of man's origin has enormous implications for a person's existence here and now. I wrote recently about the debate over stem cell research and how the basis one uses to determine the value of life informs one's position on that issue. Similarly, perhaps even more fundamentally, the question of man's origin informs one's position on so many other issues. Tackling that question head on is a daunting task, but related questions can be helpful in shedding light on it. One such related question was asked by the Wall Street Journal last week: "Where does evolution leave God?" The commissioned responses by Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong provide some insight to the state of the discussion over God and evolution.

Armstong's response suggest that God becomes a necessary myth for man to explain suffering. "Religion," she says, "was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace." God is a fairytale that helps us satisfy our conscience, that provides something we can point to for the inexplicable things in life. The summary of her position lies in this paragraph,

The best theology is a spiritual exercise, akin to poetry. Religion is not an exact science but a kind of art form that, like music or painting, introduces us to a mode of knowledge that is different from the purely rational and which cannot easily be put into words. At its best, it holds us in an attitude of wonder, which is, perhaps, not unlike the awe that Mr. Dawkins experiences—and has helped me to appreciate —when he contemplates the marvels of natural selection.

Armstrong might be on to something in describing religion as "a mode of knowledge that is different from the purely rational" but she comes far short of a full picture of God. God is not an abstract, transcendent entity that exists for us to pawn off the unanswerable questions on. The ambiguous, distant, mythical God -- divorced from reason -- is to small a picture of him. Any full understanding of God requires reason and spiritual faith. God is mysterious and yet personal.

There is much more to say about the nature of God (I would point you to A.W. Tozer's book, Knowledge of the Holy), but in general I think the modern world tends to have far to small a view of God because we have an elevated sense of man or, in Richard Dawkin's case, of nature.

Mr. Dawkin's article idolizes natural selection above anything else, which I assume is the focus of his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth. I must give him credit for having a deep appreciation for the natural world that he lives in. He asks, "What is so special about life? It never violates the laws of physics. But although life never violates the laws of physics, it pushes them into unexpected avenues that stagger the imagination. If we didn't know about life we wouldn't believe it was possible..." His awe of nature goes so far as to cause him to claim that "the universe created us." Indeed, he begins his manifold assertions with one quite bold; "Evolution is the creator of life." He assigns the origin of man to a process.

While I share Mr. Dawkin's awe of nature, I would ask him just one question. If man is the product of an impersonal evolutionary process why does he bother respecting his fellow man? I do not think he would deny that moral categories exist for humans (he makes a moral claim by simply saying that life is a good thing). Yet, if man than has intrinsic value as a person, he must receive it from somewhere. Man can only have the value of personhood if he is the creation of a person of infinite worth -- a personal, creator God. This God is the one Mr. Dawkin's denies and Mrs. Armstrong diminishes to a nice fairytale. They both would do well to consider a God who is capable of both creating them and loving them personally. Dawkin's naturalism and Armstrong's fairytale are insufficient explanations of man's origin because they do not address the question of man's intrinsic value. If they deny that value, than we have a whole other debate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cities: What are they?

Perhaps this seems like an elementary question, but what are cities after all? I find myself fascinated with the city. The organic, ecological nature of it, the structures, the streets. A city can team with industrious life, accompanied by the clang and blare of street noises, and yet host neighborhoods of tranquility complete with serene parks and ponds.

There is a multiplicity of things one could highlight when defining a city. It has great diversity of people, places, events, interests, and scenery. It is a convergence of this great diversity. It is an intersection for people in work and play, and yet it is also a home for some. Captain's of industry rule the downtown centers, but the artist also express herself on walls or creates and performs in prominent centers of theater. Poverty is sometimes exposed in city limits but wealth is often predominant. Perhaps most surprisingly, or obviously, each city is so incredibly unique.

It is hard to discover what is at the heart of a city. Why do they even exist? Is it for convenience? Why doesn't everyone live in cities? Surely there are good reasons for those who avoid cities or at least avoid living in them. Aristotle says that, "man is by nature an animal intended to live in a polis." Of course, the Greek polis is nothing like the modern metropolis, but the principle is still there. Man is by nature a communal being. He is designed to live in community with his fellow beings. Thus, at the heart of any healthy, growing, and flourishing city is human community.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a flight from the cities to the suburbs by the middle class in America. The downtown areas became dangerous places to be at night. Slums developed, trash piled high, streets deteriorated. American urban designers decided the solution would be to destroy and rebuild. Yet, a surprising discover was made. Amidst all the disfigured city landscape existed unique niches of community. This was primarily among ethnic groups, such as the Italians in New York City or the Irish in the North end of Boston. These "slums" held together and thrived amidst the city because of bond of community. The people had common religious beliefs, heritage, and experiences (such as recent immigration) that brought them together in the struggle for survival and betterment.

At the heart of the city is community. This is often missed, however, when we fly over NYC gawking at the skyscrapers or walk the National Mall in Washington D.C. gazing at all the patriotic monuments surrounding us. Community in a city is also a challenge, for the very reason that it is easily missed and misunderstood. Urban planners got it very wrong for a long time (and still do!). In fact, American cities could have looked very different if it was not for one courageous author. Jane Jacob's wrote a book called, The Death and Life of American Cities in 1961 (here is a short review), that directly challenged the conventional wisdom of "urban renewal," which is what the central planners called their massive overhaul plans for most great American cities from Chicago to Boston. In her first paragraph, Jacob's boldly states that the book is, "an attack on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding." Her seminal work would transform the way we think about cities from complex metrics of highways and skyscrapers to multifaceted and interconnect communities of people.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good, Truth, Beauty and Leadership

Only at Hillsdale Colllege would I be asked to relate leadership to the good, the true and the beautiful. A recent assignment for a class on leadership, responsibility and power required that I answer this question: "Why should one pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful, and what have they to do with leadership?" Here is my short but hopefully adequate response.

Man is a complicated being who has the ability to reason, to feel emotion, and to experience passion. A man cannot, however, understand what he is, nor answer questions of meaning or purpose, without looking beyond himself. Indeed, to be fully human a man must consider what is the good, the true, and the beautiful. Knowledge of these things is fundamental to being, and living well begins with pursuing an understanding of goodness, truth, and beauty.

As man discovers the truth of things outside and around him he confronts a natural order to the world. He learns that objects, animals, and even himself are only good when they are fulfilling their appropriate purpose. Truth, he realizes, is discovered not developed. As he pursues knowledge of these things a natural moral order becomes apparent. In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis identifies this moral order as the Tao, a set of objective values. He explains that values within the Tao are natural and universal across all cultures and therefore applicable to all men. Thus, all men seeking to live well must know the moral order and follow it.

A man who seeks to lead other men must know this order because leadership is a moral process and demands moral decisions. Leaders require more than a skill set, disposition, or raw power. They require the fortitude and aptitude to make moral decisions that affect those who follow them. To achieve this, a leader must understand where morality comes from. The first step is to know what it means to be fully human, and to do that, one must know what is the good, the true and the beautiful.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mankind's future in the Universe

I wrote an op-ed on NASA and space exploration earlier this summer which touched on an important topic, namely what is man’s future in space? I wanted to share it here given the pending release of President Obama’s advisory panel’s report on NASA and it’s implications for where we go has human’s in the world. It is incredible how much space exploration has effected our daily lives by “spin-off technologies” (where do you think toothpaste came from?) and I think it is important to consider where we go in the future.

"Private Space Entrepreneurs will inherit the Apollo Space Legacy"

The recent celebration of the Apollo program’s first lunar landing has led many to wonder about the future of space exploration. With its uncertain vision, aging employees, and the retirement of its manned shuttle program next year, NASA is unlikely to lead the way. But any reevaluation of the future of space exploration must include the private sector. Over the last decade, private firms have proven that there is no shortage of interest in space entrepreneurship.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy vowed America would “become the world’s leading space-faring nation,” and instructed NASA to lead the U.S. to victory in the space race. Only seven years later, Neil Armstrong made his giant leap for mankind.

Today, however, NASA has no Cold War competition and no specific timetable or goal to inspire the nation and motivate her engineers and astronauts. Its two biggest investments over the last two decades—the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station (ISS) —are both scheduled to be discontinued.

Fortunately, the private sector is following in Armstrong’s footsteps, revitalizing space exploration in a way NASA no longer can. Although the prospect of a space shuttle in every garage is a ways off, some private firms are pursuing manned, commercial space flight.

The private sector is already at work on commercial ventures such as low-orbit tours around Earth and launching telecommunication satellites. As early as next year, tourists anxious for a new exotic travel destination could book a seat with Virgin Galactic, the private firm that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. $200,000 will buy you a trip to outer space where you will be able to float weightless as you watch the Earth through large windows. The price might seem exorbitant, but it’s a bargain compared to the $20 million multimillionaire Dennis Tito paid in 2001 to take the Russian capsule to the ISS.

With the ISS scheduled to de-orbit in 2016, many scientific experiments are in jeopardy. Private firms, however, can fill that gap as well. Bigelow Aerospace is developing commercial space stations, or habitats, and envisions them as destinations for research scientist and astronauts. These private stations could open the door to space for countries who have never had the opportunity to use the ISS and who would like a chance to do more extensive research.

Incidentally, after ending its Space Shuttle program in 2010, NASA plans to contract private firms to fly shuttles to the ISS until it is discontinued in 2016. Other opportunities for partnership between private and public enterprises abound.

But these companies need not seek government contracts or subsidies. Collaborating with the X Prize Foundation, Google has offered $30 million to the first privately funded company to place a rover on the moon and beam back pictures and other data through email. The rover must reach the moon before 2012 or the reward drops to $15 million and disappears altogether in 2014.

As NASA considers where to go next, fledgling aerospace companies are creating lean, efficient spacecraft to meet market demands and seize the X Prize. Ten years ago, a private space industry would have been considered science fiction—today it’s a viable business plan.

American's should remember the achievement of NASA’s Apollo program with pride. But as the next frontier in space approaches, we must consider the likely role of ambitious space entrepreneurs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How highly do you value Life?

This past weekend I watched a film called Lines that Divide which documents recent development in stem cell research. The documentary joins the bioethics debate over whether or not research using stem cells taken from human embryos is a moral hazard. Honestly I was largely uniformed about the issue prior to my viewing, which allowed me to appreciate the care taken to explain the topic. Yet, more than anything it challenged me to consider why I value life and to consider how much value I place upon it.

Unfortunately in our culture that word -- Life -- gets thrown around a lot without true care for its significance or meaning. You have it right now. You could lose it a moment from now. Ponder it's meaning. Is it existence? Is it the absence of death? Does it even end with death? Where does it really begin? These are important questions for you're daily decisions (why should you really value eating healthily?) as well as for determining the value you assign to yourself and other beings.

Before you rush to answer any of those questions, it is important to recognize that life is mysterious. There have been many attempts to unlock the secrets of this mystery, to harness it's power, to discover it's source. Science seeks to discover the truth about this mystery. In that quest scientist find opportunities to improve the quality or extend the length of our life. Yet, it seems that the more we discover about life the more we are able to manipulate it in some fashion. This has been abundantly clear with stem cell research, particularly embryonic stem cells. It is this ability to manipulate life that raises the ethical questions that we can only answer after stating why we value life.

C.S. Lewis would say that we cannot answer that question outside of a moral framework, which he calls the Tao, though I'm sure many of you are more familiar with the term Natural Law. This moral framework is discovered, not developed. Lewis would say it is around us and in our hearts. It is what compels us to argue for fairness, it stimulates our knee-jerk reactions against oppression and injustice, and it screams at us when we violate another person's life. This is the first key to determining the value we place on life, namely that there is value inherent within ourselves and others that is readily apparent.

But, we must ask where does this value in life come from? Some say (I find this argument common among libertarians) that our existence gives us value. This man centered, existentialist explanation, however, leaves me unsatisfied and terrified by its implications. I'm unsatisfied because right and wrong is reduced to 'not harming others' and terrified because "existence" is difficult to define. Indeed, this is the very problem being debated in scientific circles right now -- does human existence begin at birth? at conception? as an embryo? Most say there is no clear answer. And therefore, the value placed upon an embryo, a fetus, or a human is decided on an individual basis.

I would posit that the source of life, and thus the value of life, comes from God. God speaks at creation and life begins -- Genesis 2:7 says that God "...breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Gen 2:7). If this informs you're understanding of life, you cannot place a high enough value on it. For the value of it is not yours to decide, it is the Creator's. If you do not affirm this position, then I would encourage you to consider reading C.S. Lewis' book, The Abolition of Man. He wrote it because he was concerned that the modern world (and now even more post-modernity) was losing their belief in Natural Law. He outlines the consequences of such rejection as the abolition of man.

I do not think it is an overstatement to say that the battle of man's future is being debate right now over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. There are many tangential battle's, but this is certainly one worth being informed about. Watch the documentary, think about how much and why you value life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Does Christianity make a good civil religion?

One of my last days in D.C. I spent touring the National Cathedral with a friend. A rare building for American soil, this cathedral is not as ancient as it's counterparts in Europe and the message of civil religion that emanates from the internal decorations and literature is a distinct characteristic of this national cathedral. The stain class windows portray brave American soldiers who fought valiantly in battle, while statues of famous presidents like Lincoln adorn the corner niches. The cathedral serves as an intersection of religion and the state, symbolizing the synthesis of Christianity and Americanism.

Now, the question of how religion relates to society is as old as the Greeks, but the answer and resulting social practices have changed over the centuries. More than any other nation previously, America seems most ardent in it's attempt to conflate identity as a Christian and identity as an American. Without answering whether or not this is a good thing, it is helpful to consider if Christianity really can be a good civil religion.

In the most recent issue of The American Conservative, Dr. Richard Gamble--a professor at Hillsdale College--begins his review of The American Patriot's Bible by asking, "Does Christianity make a good civil religion?" Simply put, his answer is no, it never has and it never will. To the dismay of many who believe that Christianity will revive the morally corrupt culture and imbue politics with truth Gamble asserts that, "There is no golden age of Christian America waiting to be rediscovered and reclaimed." Gamble handily deconstructs the modern evangelical attempt to synthesize Americanism with Christianity. He exposes the unfounded historical perspective that "imagines an ideal American founding on Christian principles" and "blames the nation's demise on secularist." Yet, the secularist who desires non-faith and unbelief at the center of the public square, and probably sighs with relief after such a statement, might be surprised by Gamble's analysis. Both secularist and evangelical should be asking why Christianity would be unfit as a civil religion.

The most helpful explanation of why Christianity won't redeem America, and more importantly why it should not try to, is provided by Augustine. Gamble explains,

"An Augustinian perspective may help frame that conversation. In Book XIX of The City of God, the Bishop of Hippo explained in which areas there can be peace and in which there must be conflict between the earthly and the heavenly cities. Christian and non-Christian have a common interest in earthly peace, good order, and the “necessaries of life.” But in matters of worship, Augustine wrote, the Christian was forced to “dissent” from the earthly city. The limits of the common life had been reached. The Christian was forced “to become obnoxious to those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecutions…” Praising piety and faith in general alongside remnants of the historic Christian faith, The American Patriot’s Bible combines the things of God and the things of Caesar at the very point where they most vigilantly need to be kept apart. When the City of Man sets up Americanism as its faith, the Christian is forced to dissent."

Christ did not intend for Christians to establish a perfect society here on earth and his call to the church is far more radical than to build a civilization on Christianity. Jesus calls Christians to be citizens of the City of God while living, serving, and participating in the City of Man. Yet, how do Christians do that in the City of Man? And what is their status in the City of Man? Are they citizens?

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, describes Christians as "unalienated aliens." This phrase recognizes the tension in a Christian's call to be in the world but not of the world. The apostle Peter in his first letter to early Christians calls them "aliens and strangers." Would a mainstream, culturally reflective, distinctively Americanized church classify themselves as aliens to their country? How would you reconcile civil religion to this description? You can't. It is important to realize that the opposite extreme of fundamentalist lambasting non-Christians and pushing a narrow political agenda is also wrong. Christians are neither mainstream chaplains or seclusive sectarians. You ask, than what does it look like to live as an unalienated alien? Peter answers this in his letter (2:12),

"Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

Christians should be vilified for their unwillingness to conform to culture and admired for their love and service. And this is what it means to be in the City of Man but a citizen of the City of God. Therefore, promoting a "Christian America" (aka civil religion), and hoping that we can return to an idyllic past, is not just bad history it is contrary to Christian principles

Sunday, August 16, 2009

24 hours back, and 24 things I love about California

Yesterday I returned home to the sunny state and I have a multitude of things to be thankful for now that I'm back. Here are just a few.

1 - The Weather! After a summer in hot and humid D.C., I walked out of the airport and was immediately reminded why this state, especially the Bay Area, is so amazing.

2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, - Lydia, Hudson, Simone, Rachel, Caroline, Katie, Sarah (& Dave!), Mom and Dad.

12 - San Francisco. I spent today in the city and it is not only gorgeous but unique.

13 - The Pacific ocean breeze. I will always love the fresh smell of salt water.

14 - My house. The old Victorian thing is getting a remodel.

15 - Berkeley's Homeless. After church today, I was walking down the street and a man was yelling, "there is only one God!" And, "Jesus was just a prophet." Apparently, a Christian man was talking with some other people about Jesus and this was the first man's way of protesting. He believed in Allah. Naturally, I stopped and talked to him. He turned out to be Berkeley's resident pseudo-spiritualist Muslim and also homeless. Quite an interesting fellow, but unfortunately I had to leave after 10 mins conversation.

16 - There are places here called Yogart Land and Yogart Park. Good dessert.

17 - AMC Emery Bay Theater. And friends willing to see movies with me!

18 - My piano!

19 - Trevor.

20. - The Golden Gate. I'll never get tired of that view.

21 - Toyata Prius. They're EVERYWHERE!

22 - Telegraph Avenue. Need people variety? Go there.

23 - The sun sets over the water.

24 - All of this can happen in just 24(ish) hours.

Friday, August 14, 2009

D.C. Reflections Part 2: "don't waste your life!"

A friend and colleague of mine said those words to me after describing a disturbing experience he'd just encountered. He watched someone commit suicide. He was innocently walking down the street just blocks from our office and then it happened. A man had jumped from a building, hitting the ground just yards from my friend. Needless to say, his mind has been reeling for the last week as he copes with the trauma of witnessing such an event. And as he put it, he has been asking some "tough questions." At the very least, he has come away with the right conclusion: "don't waste your life."

For those who work in the District, a wasted life seems to not be a common worry. Like I mentioned in my last post, most people here are highly motivated and seem to have a clear direction for their life -- or at least they tell a good story of their imagined future. I'd say 90% of the people I've met have a type A personality. This is no surprise given the opportunity this city offers to satisfy the ambitious. Yet, sometimes I wonder if it really is a wasted life that people fear.

I would posit that fundamentally a meaningless life is what many, if not all of us, truly fear most. We're afraid of staying in our "boring" towns, of getting stuck in a dead-end job, or ten thousand other uninteresting life stories. Instead, we seek fame, connections, wealth, or anything else that will prevent a wasted life, that will give us satisfaction and meaning. There is nothing wrong with seeking any of those things, but is there more?

Someone named John Piper would say there is. In fact, all those other things -- wealth, fame, relationships -- he would say are empty without God. They only have true purpose in glorifying God. We only have a true purpose in glorifying God. He explains this in his book, "don't waste your life." Yet perhaps that sounds narcissistic on God's part, but if you ponder for a moment that if He is the one who gave you life, who created you and all that you know, than perhaps credit--indeed glory--is His rightful due. But is a fulfilling life, one that is not wasted, only realized in a subservient, self-abasing lifestyle? No, far from that. Piper's mantra that,"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," clearly speaks of something else.

It is when we are seeking to glorify God in our attitudes, words, and actions that we find meaning and satisfaction. One of my favorite passages from Scripture says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." If we first love and delight ourselves in the Lord, then all other pursuits follow. So be ambitious, driven, and set your goals high, but love God first.

My friend witnessed a wasted life come to an end. It scared him. It would scare me. But, he has no solution. Inside him he wonders if he is any different. What if his hopes fall short and his dreams die? What if success is empty? Relationships shallow? Life wasted? And even if these things do not happen, how do you know your life is not wasted? This is what I would ask those who have sought fulfillment here in D.C. or anywhere.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

D.C. Reflections Part 1: Living in (arguably) the most powerful city in the world

As my second summer in D.C. comes to a close, I have a few departing thoughts to share over the next few days.

To anyone who has visited, read about, or lived in the District of Columbia it is obvious that it is a unique place. It truly is a powerful place, with powerful people. This fact defines everything from the ornaments that decorate the city’s landscape to the populace that walk its streets. Young, ambitious, and intelligent people fill the subway cars and office buildings. Just like Rome centuries ago, this city’s architecture and monuments set it apart from any other cityscape in the nation. Power emanates from buildings that stand prominently in view, from the Capitol at the head of the Mall to the Pentagon across the Potomac.

I had one incredible opportunity to view this city from an uncommon location, the dome of the Capitol building (Thanks Matt Stone!). From that vantage point, William Clayton took the picture in the upper right (if you want to see a larger image go to his website: As I stood up there with the Statue of Freedom herself and let my eyes wonder to familiar landmarks as far away as the National Cathedral I was struck by the thought that this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but reminded of something else far more important. Power and politics wax and wane, careers blossom and then disappear, friendships draw near but often move on, yet one thing never changes. God reigns eternally.

How this affects my life is a constant struggle for me to understand. After spending pages and pages crying out, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” the author of Ecclesiastes concludes in two powerful sentences:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

The man who wrote these words presided over a thriving kingdom, commanded the worlds respect as its wisest king, and enjoyed almost every pleasure the world had to offer. Yet, he called it all vanity without God. Everything I’ve done or accomplished (which isn’t much, by the way) is not measured by the power I amass, or even the fulfillment I find in it, but only by whether it is good or evil. And the metric of good or evil is not something legislated by congress, measured by an expert, or decided by the majority population. No, it is God who “will bring every act to judgment” on the final day.

Perhaps you do not believe any of this is true. Perhaps you find it unfair or abstract that some other being decides the measure of your life’s worth. Fine. But, if it is not true than what? How do you choose to live? What do you measure your life by? Power? Relationships? Fame? How do you know it is not all vanity? Think on that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Get with the Creator yo!"

Truth is hard to come by in our culture today. Popular culture perverts it, the mainstream media distorts it, and most of us try to ignore it because we fear the responsibility of knowing the truth. Few speak out boldly by their lifestyle, their words, or their actions.

One man has chosen to speak truth in a sincere and straightforward way, but perhaps in an uncommon medium; rap. I have come to appreciate rap, though it will probably never be something I can listen to for any extended period of time. I like to describe it as poetry put to a beat. If done well it can be powerful. Lecrae, a rapper and a follower of Christ, uses it to proclaim the truth he knows.

In the album (rebel), the title to one song says it all: Truth. He unabashedly challenges our culture's acceptance that all truth is relative. He says, "If what's true for you is true for you and what's true for me is true for me, what if my truth says your's is a lie? Is it still true? Come on man!" But, this verse is my favorite.

"See, there's this thing called "Secular Humanism", it says man is the source of all meaning and all purposing. You know what i'm saying? We're just the result of a big cosmic explosion. We don't really have a purpose or meaning, so we just come up with our own purpose. We're the source of our meaning and our purpose. How can a man, which is the product of chance, a finite being be the source of purpose and meaning? You can't! You're created with purpose man! Get with The Creator yo!"

This man's life, which was broken and floundering, changed. Why? He'll tell you it was Christ his savior that reclaimed his life by the truth of Jesus' redeeming sacrifice. Now he proclaims that in his lifestyle, actions, and his music. If you do not know truth in your life, consider that you were created for a purpose. And "Get with The Creator yo!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thoughts on Burke (part 1): The Contract with Prosperity

The New York Times Columnist, David Brooks, wrote an op-ed recently titled The Power of Prosperity where he engages in an instructive thought experiment. He asks, “What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?” His full answer is worth reading, but this paragraph gives the crux of his argument.

"Without posterity, there are no grand designs. There are no high ambitions. Politics becomes insignificant. Even words like justice lose meaning because everything gets reduced to the narrow qualities of the here and now."

I want to dwell on an important idea that Mr. Brooks alluded to: the relationship between the living, dead, and unborn. Edmund Burke famously wrote about this in his letter to the young Frenchmen Charles DePont—an enthusiastic revolutionary who had elicited Burke’s response to the revolution in France. Burke’s book length letter later became known as Reflections on the French Revolution.

In the Reflections, Burke defends the importance of heritage, protects reason from rationalism, and reminds those crying “Liberty, equality, fraternity!” that liberty is not license, justice is not equality, and fraternity has responsibility. The revolutionaries in France rejected their past heritage because they accepted Rousseau’s definition that the social contract existed merely as a commercial agreement between consenting individuals. Burke agreed that a social contract did exist, but he gave it far more meaning. He says,

“Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

Simply, I believe he means that past and future, not just present, matters. If we deny the past bequeaths us any duties or posterity demands our responsibility, than we will develop a narrow individualists set of values. This “presentism” gives rise to the license and irresponsibility that dominated the French Revolution and is corroding the DNA of America. Why worry about a founding document if the culture has changed? Why reform Social Security if you will be dead before it is bankrupt? Why commit to marriage and children if it prevents immediate pleasure? Why invest in a community if you will not be here to see the fruits in the next generation? And there are many more similar questions that could be asked.

We are indebted to Mr. Burke for standing athwart the doctrinaire radical who wants change for the mere sake of change, and thus destroys the contract between God and man and between the generations of mankind. If Burke were asked to evaluate the thought experiment at the beginning of this post, I believe he would say: “The whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with another. Men would become little better than the flies of summer." And that is why we must remember our contract with prosperity.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Do you live for your Reputation?

As I step onto the stage and voice my opinion, I cannot help but wonder – who is listening (or reading)? And what do they think? More personally, what do they think of me? I care, like every other human being, what people think of me. I behave, talk, or even alter my posture in the elevator to maintain some ideal reputation – automatically, almost without thinking. Today, after reading the quote below by John Piper, I spent the rest of the day considering how many times my actions and attitudes are dictated by some ideal reputation that I imagine myself having and which I seek to perpetuate. After reading the quote, ask yourself, “What reputation do I live for?”

What men think of us can burden or brighten our days. But it is of little account in the end. A good name among people may be better than great riches now, but neither name nor riches will survive the fire of [God’s] crucible. Truth is all that will matter. Not money or man’s opinion.

John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ

Monday, August 3, 2009

Social Networking Part 1: Facebook vs. Myspace

Ever wonder why people started using Facebook instead of MySpace? Perhaps you use both, but you probably favor one. Some recent research suggests that your use of Facebook or Myspace reflects your socio-economic class.

When Facebook started at Harvard in 2004, Myspace dominated the online social networking world (which was tiny compared to today, but growing quickly). Originally limited to just college students by requiring a valid university email address, Facebook held a reputation of exclusivity for the first couple of years. Myspace's open registration attracted all types, however, and it was the "in thing" to join for teenages by 2005. When Facebook opened up its registration so anyone could join in September 2006 an important transition occurred. It seemed every high school student was flocking to the new site, attracted by the opportunity to network with older, 'cooler' college students at universities they would soon be attending. It turns out, however, that not all teenagers made an exodus to Facebook, or if they were just joining social networking they did not necessarily choose Facebook over Myspace.

Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tackles the question of how these two social networks developed. Danah's main discovery in her research, and the proposition she advances in this essay is this: the social networking sites of Facebook and Myspace reflect the socio-economic class divisions evident in real society. Therefore, as Danah explains in a recent speech, a teenager’s choice of a site depended heavily on what socio-economic class they were in. As she admits, this is a sticky and often muddled issue, but an important one to think about.

Fundamentally, the divide (albeit murky) between Facebook and Myspace reveals that humans will almost always connect with and seek out others like them. In our lives we tend to build the closest relationships with people who share our values, like the same books, listen to similar music, etc. Is this wrong? No, I don't think so. Is it worth thinking about? Of course, we already do it all the time. But, how and why you make friendships is an important question you should ask yourself. Online social networking has exploded as an outlet for relationship building, to the point where many of us will say (only half-jokingly), "We're not friends until its official on Facebook."

I plan to consider next how the phenomenon of online social networking is shaping our daily lives and defining the culture of the 21st century.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is the News as we know it about to disappear?

People process varying amounts of news everyday, some are addicted to it others ambivalent, but no one can avoid it entirely. Yet, how we receive news and what type of news is delievered could changing dramatically very soon. Indeed, it already has changed. The internet has revolutionized American's way of life in the past 15 years in a wirlwind of creative destruction that has opened new markets and transformed industries. The news business has been no exception.

Traditional modes of mass producing news no longer dominate the industry. Traditional methods of journalism no longer seem essential. The emergence of the blogosphere and other low-cost alternative news sources, like the drudgereport or the Huffington Post, have undercut the revenue stream by diverting readership away from previous news giants. Print newspapers are particularly threatened as fewer readers subscribe for home delievery. Journalist wonder if they will have a job in their industry in 10, maybe even 5 years. It is not an outlandish question to ask if news as we know it is about to disappear, or at least drastically alter in form.

But if not that, than what? What will news look like in the future? Will it be the immediacy of twitter feeds? The diverse but opinionated blogs? How will they produce revenue? I find the most compelling suggestion to be The Nichepaper. This type of paper could reinvent what 'news' actually is. The author of the article I linked to says,

Nichepapers aren't a new product, service, or business model. They are a new institution. They're a living example of the institutional innovation that is the key to 21st century business. They're not the same old newspaper, sold a different way. They are 21st century newspapers, built on new rules, that are letting radical innovators reinvent what "news" is.

Yet, Nichepapers are only one possible business model for the future. Chris Anderson, editor in cheif for Wired Magizine, explains in an interview that the internet's challenge to the traditional press might force most news to be free. Perhaps it will be reported by part-timers contributing whatever local knowlege they have combined with others analyzing and filtering it for the masses. Its hard to imagine an industry that is so interwhoven into the daily lives of most people changing so fundamentally. But, perhaps it is because news is so inseperable from most people's existence that the industry is being forced to change.

Monday, July 27, 2009

LifeAbundant: what its all about

This blog is premised on the belief that life is meant to be lived fully, purposefully, and abundantly. In this world there are some who meander meaninglessly, others consume their lives in careers, and still others choose to believe life has no purpose. As someone who has dedicated his life to following and becoming more like Christ, I believe life not only has meaning, but purpose. And therefore, it can be lived well or poorly.

As a starting point for living well, I look to Jesus' statement, "I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly." The purpose of this blog, then, is to reflect on the world, people, and the choices we make that determines our quality of life. One of the first good choices anyone can make is to choose to reflect. Socrates had it right when he said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Please join me as I reflect, converse, and share about what makes life worth living and what makes it abundant.

As an important side note, despite the often confident rhetoric, I do not pretend to know more than a 21 year old college senior could. But, I am committed to seeking truth and I welcome honest debate, argument and disagreement - even if it is premised on a denial that there is such a thing as truth, a God, or meaning. What I think most everyone can agree on is that they want to live well and therefore are willing to reflect on how to do so.

On a personal note, it is important that you know I love God, history and Frisbee, in that order (although, there are some things in between).