Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Photo-blogging at Christmas...

A few shots from our recent trip to northern New Mexico... "A dusting of snow" "Early morning contrast" "Snow detail" "Fence glow" "Aspen glow" "Sunrise, Boxing Day" "Sunrise detail, Boxing Day" "Tritone contrast" - all ©2004 R.L.

Home from the Holidays...

The Lopez clan returned yesterday from spending Christmas in northern New Mexico. A wonderful time was had by all as we enjoyed celebrating our Savior's birth. In the meantime there was the devastating news of the tsunami in south Asia. Our earthly existence is truly fragile. Its commencement is not of our doing, and we have no way of preventing its end. If there is a Giver of Life, all-knowing, and all-powerful, what should our attitude be towards Him? Donate to the tsunami relief effort via World Vision.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Merry Christmas...

Poetry from the Ark Music CD Centerpoint Another Mystery I Pose, by Keith Patman
It is mystery enough, this pulsing starlight blazing. Grazing pine tops, glazing virgin snows. And yet, another mystery I pose: What pulse is this that beats beneath a virgin's pulse? What light from east of earth's end blazes in this bestial close?

Digitizing Memories...

This Advent Season has been a bit more hectic around the Lopez household as we eagerly prepare to spend Christmas with family. One particular project of mine, that has increased my stress level, has been that of compiling our old family home movies into DVD format. After having our 8mm and Super 8mm film movies digitized earlier this year I set about to leisurely edit, enhance, and render them onto DVD. I had planned to have them done well before Christmas. A few weeks ago, however, with Christmas fast approaching, I found myself riding on top of a rapidly cresting wave (with a savage and rocky shore in sight). Even with the impending deadline I was able to complete the project and re-live many wonderful childhood memories as well. The digitized memories are now found on MiniDV tape and DVD disk, easily accessible and reproducible for all our family. Gotta love those shades...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

On our "Call to Worship": Do baggy shorts and flipflops enhance our peaceful, easy feeling?

Back in March, 2004, I wrote a post titled, On Worship, based on a message by R. C. Sproul in which he discussed how our worship to God should be characterized by sacredness and respect. His message was titled, Surely God is in this place and might still be found at his site. One of his criticisms, and one of mine, was how our current Christian culture seems to have lost the concept of respect for God due, in part, to our misunderstanding of the character of God. Sproul said,
Nothing reveals more clearly what your church believes about the character of God, than how you worship. You can take your confessions, your doctrinal statements, your programs, and roll ‘em up and throw ‘em in the garbage can because they don’t mean anything, in terms of what really is being expressed about the character of God, as in your worship. Our problem in not an architectural problem, it’s not even a musical problem, …the problem is people are coming to church and have no sense of the presence of God. In fact the basic sense of the American person in our day is a profound sense of the absence of God.
I questioned that our lack of respect is sometimes evident through, but not limited to, how we dress when we go to worship. My critics immediately charged me with being legalistic and claimed that what matters, to God, is not how we are dressed when we approach Him, but what the attitude of our heart is. Now, while it’s true that just about any custom or liturgy could get to be so routine as to make it ineffective, I believe the core of my criticism is valid. I have not stated that one is unable to properly worship unless dressed in fine, expensive clothing of any particular style. I have also not stated that the attitude of our heart in preparation for, and during worship, is irrelevant. Rather, I have maintained that our spiritual attitude is not unaffected by the physicality of the manner in which we present ourselves before God. We exist in the reality of the universe created by God, and that reality entails the material and the abstract, the physical and the spiritual. Yet, given the way some Evangelicals approach the act of worship, it seems that we sometimes place more emphasis on the abstract, spiritual side of reality than is warranted. What could possibly drive the line of thinking that what matters most to God is not the physical nature of our reality, but the spiritual? Could it be driven by the fact that Jesus spokeout more against sins of thought than sins of action? Or is it due to the fact that the Bible states that while we see only the outward man, God sees inside the heart? Or could it be simply due to the fact that our culture elevates personal rights and, accordingly, personal feelings to that of supreme importance? Well, for whatever reason, the spiritual aspect of our being seems to be regarded not only as authoritative over our physical being, but it is sometimes considered to actually be free from the effects of the Fall. In Greg Koukl’s Decision Making and the Will of God series, one of the criticisms he receives is that our decision making process should not be based on our reasoning skills but, rather, based on our spiritual connectivity with God. In other words, we can’t trust our own reasoning, so the argument goes, but we can trust our spiritual direction from God. Likewise, when I discuss how we, as Christians, should exercise some effort to actually study the Bible in order to understand the meaning of the words and intentions of the author, some critics respond that such a practice stifles the leading of the Spirit. Again, the argument presented by critics is that the process of spiritual formation through God’s Word is best dealt with through God’s supernatural action, and that any attempt by us to rely on our own reasoning is inherently corrupt. There is, it is alleged, a dichotomy, however subtle, between the spiritual and the physical. This line of thinking, I believe, fails to embrace the fullness of God. It works from a false premise and ignores the very Christian idea that, while we are not of the World, we remain in it. I would argue that there is no dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical and that, in fact, there is Biblical evidence that the physical reality of our existence is just as important to our theology as the spiritual reality is. In another message by Sproul, the title of which I cannot recall, he examined the aspect of our five senses and how they might relate to God’s revealed Word. For example, Sproul raised the question as to whether it made any difference that God chose wine and bread to be used for the holy sacraments. We understand that they are symbolic in nature, and that the symbolism is abstract; but does the color, smell, and taste of wine guide the symbolism in any way? Does the texture, structure, smell, and taste of the bread aid in our understanding of the intended meaning of the sacrament? Consider how God described the burnt sacrifices of the Old Testament as releasing a pleasing aroma to his nostrils (e.g., Exodus 29:18). Ponder the implications of finding the proper sacrificial lamb as well as the meaning behind the color, smell, and texture of its blood. Of what value would our intimate appreciation of the smell of expensive perfume be as we ponder the equally existential aspect of feet that are encrusted with dried mud made from sweat and dust? Is our abstract understanding of the sacrament of water baptism amplified through the physical experience of being engulfed in water? Is there such a thing as a “physical” aspect with regards to our attitude of worship? If so, does scripture give us a template on how such an aspect of our attitude of worship should be shaped? A cursory reading of scripture would seem to reveal a reverence for the “call to worship” that we, in the 21st century West, seem to have missed. Does our culture’s reliance on the importance of presenting a pure “spiritual” attitude of the heart reflect sincere piety, or does it reflect a misguided and, possibly, self-centered worldview? When Christians think that they can casually approach God, because God “accepts them as they are,” I think that they have seriously misunderstood who they are, who God is, and how important the physical reality of this existence truly is. The Gnostics considered the physical to be evil thereby elevating the spiritual to that of supreme importance. While a casual attitude with regards to our call to worship does not, in and of itself, deem the physical to be evil, it does tend towards elevating to sole importance the spiritual aspect of our relationship with God. Indeed, we are not Gnostics. We live in a reality encompassing both the physical and the spiritual. As such, we should be about understanding the full measure of our responsibilities towards worshipping God.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Additional thoughts on human obligation and natural law...

From Robert P. George's book, The Clash of Orthodoxies,
Two weeks before Justice Thurgood Marshall resigned from the Supreme Court, I sat in my office in Princeton chatting with then-Judge Clarence Thomas who was in town to address a judicial eductation seminar. I was, at the time, putting together the volume of essays that appeared under the title Natural Law Theory, and our discussion turned to the questions of natural law and civil rights. However much Judge Thomas's confirmation hearings left the public confused about his ideas of natural law and natural rights, he made his position on the issue crystal clear to me: "Those who deny natural law," he said, "cannot get me out of slavery." Of course, Justice Thomas was not suggesting that contemporary historicists or conventionalists - "those who deny natural law" - believe in slavery, and he well knows that some nineteenth-century believers in natural law argued for a natural right to own slaves. His point was that the moral relativism that informs historicist and conventionalist accounts of rights precludes the proponents of such accounts from offering a rational moral argument against slavery. All they can say is that once upon a time in this country white people had the legal right to own black people, and now black people (and, indeed, all people) have the legal right not to be enslaved. For the latter proposition they can cite the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their historicism and conventionalism preclude them, however, from saying that the Thirteenth Amendment embodies or gives legal force to a moral or natural right not to be enslaved. Under their account, no one would have had objective moral reasons (though some could have had economic or other instrumental or nonmoral reasons) to support the abolition of slavery. Of course, people may have believed (and acted upon their belief) in a natural right not to be enslaved, which provided a moral reason for them to support abolition, but this subjective belief, under the historicist and conventionalist account, lacked a rational ground. That is to say, it was in no sense rationally superior to the belief of other people that no such right existed or, indeed, that they had a right to own slaves. It also follows that neither history nor convention could provide an adequate rational defense against the return in the future of some form of slavery. (emphasis in original)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Theistic Evolution and Naturalism’s “Big Tent”…

Joe Carter has an enlightening post titled, Voltaire’s Bastards: Why “Neo-Creationists” are the Heirs of the Enlightenment, which raises some very interesting points with regards to the irrationality of the naturalistic claim that reason arose through purely naturalistic means. Joe concludes with,
Perhaps the atheists are right in claiming that the only difference between Newton’s brain and mule’s dung is the arrangement of molecules that release the mystical properties capable of producing reason. They may very well be right on that point. But their ideas are not based on reason. And they are certainly not children of the Enlightenment. To claim otherwise is nonsense; the nonsense of rogues.
Interestingly enough, in the comments section, DarkSyde continues his claim that, essentially, critics of the evolutionary paradigm are antiscience. One paragraph he wrote is particularly striking:
Many antiscience advocates also complain about something they call 'naturalism'. They think that science excludes supernatural possibilities or initial causes. Science does not exclude such a possibility and I'm sorry if we give the impression that it does. In fact there's a supernatural explanation called "Theistic Evolution" which is 100% fully backed by science. Theistic Evolution, or TE, is the idea that God used Evolution the same way He used Chemistry or Physics to work His Will.
I’m intrigued by Dark’s statement that TE is “100% fully backed by science.” Is he stating that science is capable of detecting supernatural action? I doubt it. What he probably means is that the TE scientist believes that God used the processes naturalists have proposed to achieve His goals. An important feature of TE is that while they believe in God’s supernatural action, they also believe that we are incapable of empirically verifying such action. So, the claim that TE is 100% fully backed by science could be misconstrued to mean that all of science and, therefore, all scientists, back the TE model. This is certainly not the case. Perhaps a better rendition of the phrase “100% fully backed by science” would be, “as long as Theistic Evolutionists do not attempt to empirically verify supernatural activity, they are free to believe that God acts behind the scenes.” As I’ve stated before*, belief in such a god is relegated to the realm of subjective opinion. A god whose actions can only be subjectively perceived reduces to an unnecessary god. Indeed, take a look at a recent post on The Panda’s Thumb in which we meet a new contributor – a Theistic Evolutionist. The post, Opening Shot, has currently drawn over 100 comments. What is interesting is to note the questions of at least two of those leaving comments. Mark asked,
Can you kindly explain why you, an obviously rational person who is capable of viewing the Genesis story from the standpoint of its logic and consistency, nevertheless keep faith in a personal God despite the complete lack of evidence, besides a sentimental adherence to your sweet childhood emotions?
And Greg has asked,
If PT introduced a new contributor as an astrologist, or a tarot reader, or even as a Scientologist, I think a lot of readers would wonder if the editors were joking. Why do some irrational beliefs — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. — deserve more respect than fortune telling or homeopathy?
These are honest and valid questions, yet Mark received a mild rebuke from one of the site administrators that the question was not in line with the intent of the PT (see the comment immediately following Mark’s). Do you see what’s happening here? Theistic Evolution is 100% fully backed by science as long as we understand that the Theistic in Theistic Evolution is viewed as subjective, personal opinion. As such, it has no place in a science discussion regarding empirical and verifiable phenomenon. While I disagree with their worldview, I must at least give credit to the likes of Mark and Greg for taking the logical implication of Methodological / Philosophical Naturalism to its conclusion. * reference an earlier commentary I wrote about Theistic Evolution.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Giving to those in need...

Our church has been blessed to have an Old Testament scholar teaching a morning adult Sunday School class for the past few months. Today he related the fact that no other book in the Bible shows more concern for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the powerless, as does Leviticus. One of the purposes of the Law was to insure the powerless are provided for. The responsibility of helping those in need was not given to the government, but to us... As Christmas approaches, you might want to consider making a donation to an organization that cares for the disadvantaged. The Sheepfold is a center in southern California that ministers to battered women and their children. Their Mission statement:
The Sheepfold’s mission is twofold. First, to shelter and provide daily care to ease the pain of battered women and children who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets, in their cars or in a park. Secondly, to restore their sense of self-worth, help them find employment and establish them in an apartment of their own. The Sheepfold provides battered and homeless women and their children with food and lodging in a clean and loving home atmosphere. During their stay, residents are ministered to through daily, non-denominational Bible studies. We assist and encourage them to establish goals, improve life skills, and to obtain employment as they seek a "new beginning”. We maintain a peaceful home environment through the supervision of our resident managers. All services and daily necessities are provided free of charge.
I've added a link to the sidebar with which you can link directly to their donation webpage to either donate online, or obtain a mailing address to mail in your donation. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Do the practical thing: Contrasting worldviews against current events...

To build off of my previous post, let's contrast how the Christian Worldview approaches current events with how the "There is no should" Worldview does. The Christian Worldview states that there exists a transcendent morality which humans are obliged to follow. The "There is no should" Worldview states that - there is no should - and that actions are merely performed on the basis of practicality. Per FoxNews: Emotions High at Peterson Sentencing Trial
Laci Peterson's mother took the stand Tuesday in the sentencing phase of Scott Peterson's murder trial, screaming at her former son-in-law that divorce was always an option over taking her daughter's life. A very emotional Sharon Rocha brought members of the jury panel and those in the courtroom to tears with her heart-wrenching testimony, much of which she addressed directly to Peterson. Peterson, 32, was convicted Nov. 12 of killing her daughter, Laci, and the couple's unborn son.
Should Peterson have murdered his wife and unborn son? The Christian Worldview says no; the "There is no should" Worldview says that he merely acted out of practical motives and, therefore, the act was no different than, say, tieing his shoes. Also from FoxNews: Netherlands Hospital Permits Euthanasia for Terminal Newborns
A hospital in the Netherlands — the first nation to permit euthanasia — recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives. The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives — a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents.
The Christian Worldview posits that humans are made in God’s Image and, as such, should not be murdered. Should medical professionals intentionally kill patients they deem to not have a sufficient quality of life? Should these medical professionals propose such actions as standard policy after already performing them? The Christian Worldview answers with a "no," while the “There is no should” Worldview sees the acts as either meaningless, or practically good for society. From CNN (link): Report: Video Game Argument Leads To Fatal Drive-By
A 7-year-old girl reportedly died on the way to the hospital from a gunshot wound she suffered in a drive-by shooting on Monday night. Sources told Local 4 that the shooting may have been the result of an argument the child's mother had with a man outside the family's home at Glenfield Street on Detroit's east side last week.
Should someone intentionally discharge a firearm towards a home, knowing full well that innocent life could be taken, simply because they were angry? The Christian Worldview answers “no” because such action is morally wrong. The “There is no should” Worldview answers that all our behaviors are the same and that humans are not obliged to act in any manner whatsoever… they just act. Therefore, the person who killed the 7 year old girl was simply doing what he does; it just so happened that he committed murder while practically expressing his anger. Which worldview would you rather follow? Which worldview should you?