Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Christmas Shopping Directions Knowledge

So my wife and I and my two oldest sons were out shopping yesterday. I was driving. We needed to go to a jewelry store in a particular shopping center. I was pretty sure I recognized the name of the shopping center and knew where it was, but we had the GPS up as well. And guess what? The GPS was taking us toward where I knew we needed to go.

Except that isn't where we ended up. We stopped a good, eh, mile (maybe less) earlier than what I'd thought. I'd had the "general direction"  pretty good up to a point, but I didn't really know where the shop was located.

It seems that this is a problem with much of the state of knowledge with most people in the US today. We are content with a kind of "general direction" feeling and allow that to give us a certitude of knowledge we don't deserve. Senators like Joe Liberman have recently commented on the aspects of the health care bill they say they don't like -- while at the same time admitting that they haven't even read it! Politicians like Sarah Palin talking about "death panels" even when it has been clearly defined what living wills and end of life consultation with doctors really means.

In today's world, "knowledge" has been degraded from "truth" to "your interpretation of it." And unfortunately, the people on the fuzzy end of the stick are not the liberals, but the conservatives. The scientists and those who deal in hard data and reality are the ones who insist on a more literal reading, while the conservatives are much more willing to misread the data or misconstrue it in light of irrelevant or made-up ideas or previously-drawn conclusions.

This may be due to the fact that many of them have already drawn conclusions in certain areas that they feel the obvious conclusion in other areas would bring conflict with. But then cognitive dissonance is never an easy thing to deal with! It makes some people quite irritable.

As knowledge proliferates, people will have to make choices of how to deal with it. Situations constantly occur which challenge our expectations, and it is going to be our reaction to knowledge that may make the difference. Why do so many young people leave the church? Is it because we believe there is no knowledge other than what we think we already know and everybody had better listen only to us? Is it because we condemn others for their beliefs but really don't provide the most solid basis for our own?

Our young people are not fooled when they see us making erroneous arguments! They may not say anything, but we often lose their respect.

Perhaps another problem with people's reaction to knowledge is that the truth is usually complicated. That's right, complicated. The truth is almost never an easy, simple solution that anyone can see. Oh, it sometimes is, sometimes, but usually not. People, situations, and data are complex things. Interactions are complex. You can never sort out all the variables or understand all the interactions (if you could, you would be God).

But people want the simple solutions. They want the easy answers. That way they don't have to think too much. It makes for great politics, too! Just scream "socialism" and any good program will seem evil. Announce that you are promoting "responsibility" and a program that hurts the poor and benefits the rich will have its justification.  And few will take the time to gain the knowledge needed to understand the realities.

This leads us to another problem. It is so much easier to tell a lie than it is to correct it. I have scientist friends who will not participate with "creationists" in their so-called "debates" because the lies they tell about the science in five minutes would literally take two weeks of good solid instruction in the classroom to begin to undo.  That's right, begin.  Telling untruths about science is easy. Learning science is hard work.

Point: if you don't like evolution, then learn it thoroughly so that you don't wind up lying about it. Nothing makes a scientist more irritable than to have his work lied about by someone who won't take the time to learn about what they are opposing (and of course assume that everything coming out of their supposedly divinely inspired mouths just has to be the gospel truth!).

Another problem with learning is that people have the idea, "why should I learn this? Where am I ever going to use it?" I see this frequently in my classrooms. One never knows where knowledge, information, thinking skills and abilities may be used in one's life. It is like the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Those who are prepared can meet most any situation. Those who are not -- well, sorry folks! Why not learn it? Why not know it? Why not try to understand what it means?

Well, I have now added one more specific piece of information to my navigational knowledge of Raleigh. And I have taken the tangent line to talk about knowledge in general.

I hope in this next year that you will make an effort to learn more about everything -- the things you like and the things you don't -- so that you can be well-informed, knowledgeable, and reasonable. The Lord knows how much we need reasonable people around in days like these! And remember the Scripture: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Well, it is actually Christmas Day. But I have just come back from a Christmas Eve service from Raleigh Christ Church Episcopal.

Talk about an uplifting service! What a way to welcome in Christmas Day!

The sermon was very special. The speaker had brought an owl. He noted that owls can communicate with each other in the dark. And even in the darkness of this world, God wants to to communicate with us. God sent His son to do just that. The incarnation of Christ may have happened just once in the past, but our faith is not just in a past event, but a present reality. For we also know that Christ is in us! His spirit dwells in us!

The darkness is very real, but God is good at communicating in the dark. His word can pierce through the darkness to the most lonely heart, reminding them of His goodness and love.

And indeed, God is Good. It is Christmas Day. I will sleep a few hours and get up with the children, open presents, see the excitement, and be content with family around me. And I will think about the greatest gift ever given - the child that night who would become my Savior.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

So let's get into the Spirit of Christmas here today, or at least into a Winter Wonderland. Yesterday and today there has been a massive weather system all along the East Coast. In the mountains of North Carolina in West Virginia, Virginia, and northward, it snowed.

But it didn't just snow. It dumped snow in record quantities. The storm rushed in pretty much with little warning, but with overwhelming effect. And caught in the storm were a couple of kids on their way home from school for the holidays -- Mike and Erin.

Mike is my son. Erin is a friend who lives in Hawaii, but was on her way to her grandparents house. She caught a ride with Mike. They planned their itinerary not knowing that Mother Nature was going to be in a very bad mood this trip.

So when I learned about the storm's possibilities of snow, I called Mike to warn him. He hadn't run into any bad weather at that time, but he told me he would keep a look out for it. It didn't take long. By the time he got out of Ohio into West Virginia, the bad weather had caught up to him. He made it down to Charleston and ventured South on 64, only to find out at a toll booth that the road was closed and he would have to turn back.

He and Erin were in a bad situation. They had counted on returning to North Carolina that night. Money was tight. They didn't have much on hand. Everything but what had been reserved for meals had gone into the gas tank. Now they had to turn back to Charleston, and it was getting cold. Fortunately, they found a motel and Erin's grandfather in North Carolina convinced the motel to accept his credit card over the phone. He told the clerk, "You are not going to make my granddaughter go out and freeze in the cold!"

I really like Erin's grandfather. He convinced the motel that their piggish rules made no sense in the situation at hand. I would venture to guess that the clerk felt that he might come after them if they refused Erin and Mike the rooms based on their rules. I think he might have! We need people with such spunk and conviction not to let people run over others while hiding behind "the rules."

So today Mike and Erin got in the Jeep and started south again. It was slow going and treacherous. And they are stranded once again, a few miles further south in a town named Beckley. It took them over 6 hours to traven the short distance between Charleston and Beckley. Mike reported lots of jack-knifed tractor-trailors, confused motorists, and people who needed help. The fire-stations at Beckley prepared a place for people to come, then moved the shelter to a couple of churches. They provided a place to sleep and some hot food for all who needed it.

Mike is 20 years old. He is my second son, and what an adventure he is having!

But let's think about this shelter idea a bit. If it was structured like the current health care proposals in congress, we would be having to check whether everyone was insured to get into the shelter. If not, they would pay a fine. Even if you were insured, you would pay a copay. So if you had spent the last of your money on gas and food before getting stranded, and you didn't have the copay, then no shelter for you!

The shelter for all concept is that it is a general public good. It is for the general welfare, even if not everyone is among the traveling public. Furthermore, the communities are putting up shelters for those who don't even live in their areas! It is still for the public good!

Shouldn't health care be that way as well?

Why go through the whole rigamarole of the insurance system anyway? We could simply cut them out. Oh, we could offer their clerical staff jobs at competitive rates as clerical workers for our own single payer plan. But the single payer plan would be dramatically more efficient, and the plan would be looked at as being for the public good, not as a profit-maker to line the pockets of the CEOs.

Health care should be for the public good. A simple example like the emergency shelter can teach us that. But we do not treat it that way. We do not see it that way. We don't appear to want it to be that way -- or at least some of us.

In which case, the opponents of health care should find themselves stuck outside the shelter, exposed to the cold and the elements - at least until they come to see that the public welfare is not the place to make a killer profit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is Coming!

As a very political person, I see the resemblance on Capitol Hill between those who want to give Insurance Company Scrooge all the wealth they can dream of and make the dream of affordable health care for the rest of us just that -- a dream.

And as usual, the very influential conservative religious base sides with the very wealthy and the powerful, claiming that it is God's will somehow that government not intervene to rectify an injustice. Like the Pharisees, they make loud prayers making sure they are heard of men and they talk a lot about bringing the nation back to righteousness. Loud talk, and little action.

It strikes me as significant that these people who are so fervent about "righteousness" for the nation are not so much about themselves. There is a lot of money passing hands in the halls of power in opposition to this health legislation, and former preachers and religious leaders don't hesitate to tell lies about it. Does God approve of lying to promote righteousness?

Which is why, it seems, that when Christ came, he was not born in Herod's Palace Hospital. Christ did not come to the Conservatives. In fact, in every aspect of Jesus' ministry, He poked at the Conservatives of His Day for their hypocritical positions. Their positions were always self-serving. They would gladly criticize others for their faults, but they effectively had none of their own.

Christmas is a time for self-reflection. It is a time to understand that we all are in need of real help and righteousness. What was the promise of the angel to Joseph?

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20b-21.

That Child, born in lowly circumstances far away from positions of power, came on a mission. He came to save His people, including me, from their sins. He didn't come so that I could save you from your sins while ignoring my own, or to save you from your sins by legislating against them, or to save you from your sins by favoring the rich against the poor.

He came to save us from our sins by living with the poorest of us, healing us of our sicknesses (a Tangent Line for another Time!), teaching us how to live and treat others -- even under adverse circumstances, and finally, by giving his life for us.

At the end of His life, the Scriptures tell us, The Conservatives used Town Hall tactics to provoke the people into shouting down Pilate against this wonderful Healer of Men (who did it without charge and against the rules laid down by the high muk a muks) -- "Crucify Him! We will not have this man to reign over us!" The Self-Righteous suborned perjury against Him, mocked Him, and had Him put to death.

And that might well have been the end of the matter -- at least they hoped so. But who except the scholars remembers any of their names or what they did?

The Christ Child? He IS remembered, at Christmas in His Birth, and at Easter in His Death and Resurrection. I confess my love for a Savior, Christ the Lord. Come to save me from my sins even now! Come to heal me, to teach me, to love me and give Himself for me. Such an attitude! Such grace! And what a contrast to the religiosity of the day!

So, when all the "takers" in this world begin to get you down, think of the Christ child - the Giver. And Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What is a Tangent Line?

The term comes from such fields as geometry, trigonometry and calculus. It is a line which intersects a curve in exactly one spot.

So a person who goes "off on a tangent" has found an intersection to a topic, and leaves the topic at hand to pursue the other idea which had intersected it. If this is done in the pulpit, the preacher is "chasing rabbits." Other speakers merely ramble, of course, or just get off topic. I occasionally "get on the soap box" in my classroom, an allusion I am certain that most of my students let politely go over their heads.

So, you may have some idea of what to expect from this blog. I will not be on one topic specifically -- although I certainly have some favorites! But I will talk about things that interest me. And oh, what a lot of things interest me in this wide, wide world!

Of course, I will welcome your comments. I do ask for a measure of civility, even when there is intense disagreement. It *can* be done, you know! In the face of an increasingly hostile world, I still believe in the gift of which the angels spoke: Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men.

And ah! ... Christmas is coming! ......