Delayed for My Appointment

I usually refer to posts like this as a “blast from the past,” but I think you’ll see why I don’t in this case.  I first posted this in 2005.

One of the wonders of Christmas is that it’s one of those things we do at the same time each year. As children, we’re caught up in the wonder of the decorations and the presents. As we age, our attention turns to all of the holiday partying and getting together with family. These kinds of associations accumulate over the years; we want to relive every Christmas in the one we’re celebrating at the moment.

A real spoiler of all of this merriment is when tragedy strikes at Christmastime. As an employer, I always found myself doing layoffs (and an occasional termination) during December, and this made everyone feel rotten. But for me Christmastime took a definite turn downward when my mother passed away a few days before Christmas. We had her visitation just before the holiday and afterwards took her back to her native Arkansas for burial.

It was an eventful time in the “Land of Opportunity.” Its “favourite” son, Bill Clinton, was going out of office shortly, not to be replaced by his sidekick Al Gore, who had lost his own home state. Arkansas had been hit by a record ice storm, darkening the state and making travel difficult. All of these events served as a distraction for the moment. But every year when the decorations go up and the partying begins the painful memories come back.
My mother’s father had purchased a family plot. My mother was the last to be buried there. Her family’s course through the twentieth century had been a tumultuous one. Her only brother was killed in World War II when his plane experienced mechanical failure and exploded over Long Island Sound. Her mother never got over that; the rest of her life was a long downhill run in the shadow of that tragedy. In turn my mother left Arkansas to seek opportunity elsewhere, as many from the South did after the war. But she found that prosperity in Palm Beach didn’t bring peace or happiness, and so our family had tumult of its own.

My mother’s family were Christian people. As each one of them left this life, they carried the hope that, having trusted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, they would inherit eternal life and ultimately have that eternal life together. With each departure came the promise that the separation was temporary and that, when the plot was filled up, they would all be together with God in heaven.

Today I find myself in the same situation my mother was in after she buried her father in that same cemetery. I am the last one of my immediate birth family left. Our course to eternal life wasn’t as straightforward as my mother’s family, but the end crowns the work, and the eternal result is what counts. Each day I am reminded that those I have left behind are reunited with each other, waiting for me, and that someday I too will be reunited with them in eternity. That is the appointment that I will keep someday, the appointment with eternity, God Himself and those who have already kept their own appointment.

And that’s the greatest paradox of the Christian life. One the one hand, once we have made Jesus Christ first in our life, our course towards heaven is set, and our agenda is to let God keep us in the voyage. On the other hand we are commanded to do things that will facilitate others making the voyage with us, and that involves work. With eternity as the objective, however, that kind of paradox is eminently manageable, although sometimes our churches and religious institutions don’t do a perfect job of managing their paradoxes.

“And, as it is ordained for men to die but once (death being followed by judgement)…” The loss of those who have gone before is a painful reminder that the rate of death is still one per person. But there is hope: “…so it is with the Christ. He was offered up once and for all, to ‘bear away the sins of many’; and the second time he will appear–but without any burden of sin–to those who are waiting for him, to bring Salvation.” (Heb 9:27-28 ) More than that, there are those who wait for us:


Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1,2)

This then is our hope. But I must go. I am delayed for my appointment.

If you need to prepare for your own appointment, click here

All scripture quotations taken from the Positive Infinity New Testament

The Sophisticated Just Don’t Get It on Tibet

Ever since growing up in Palm Beach, I’ve always heard that Americans are hopeless, naïve “babes in the woods” on foreign policy because they’re always pursuing some moral cause without reference to the realities of the situation.  I was also told that we should emulate the Europeans in their more “realistic” and “sophisticated” approach to politics, foreign policy and even life.

It looks like the Europeans, and specifically French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have hung around us too much:

Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, Poland, during celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of former Polish President Lech Walesa winning the Nobel Peace prize. France currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency and Beijing warned that China-EU relations may suffer, adding that the Dalai Lama was a separatist and a “political hooligan”.

As I noted last April, Tibet has become the romantic cause for leftists on both sides of the Atlantic.  It wasn’t that long ago that Mao Zedong and his communists in Yanan were in the same category.  Now Mao’s successors have to put up with this kind of political sentimentality directed against them.

But all the Europeans are doing is punishing China for its recent good policies:

This year, Beijing has proved it is a cooperative and responsible member of the international community on three different but highly significant occasions. The Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August were in the words of Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, “truly exceptional”.

After the crisis in Georgia, Moscow did not succeed in bringing Beijing on side to recognize the breakaway Georgian states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By refusing to back Moscow, Beijing avoided perpetuating the sterile antagonism between the West and the Sino-Russian axis. Last but not least, during the recent financial turmoil, Beijing has been a key factor of stability. Despite China’s constructive and balanced behavior, the EU ends 2008 by an unnecessary quarrel with one of the main pillars of the 21st century’s global order.

By officially displaying strong support to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, some European politicians want to believe that they are doing the right thing. They are, in fact, demonstrating shortsightedness, ignorance and, to a certain extent, irresponsibility.

Today those on the left are crowing about the arrival of real rationality to the White House.  But, if you look at the Democrat Party’s upper income constituency, you’ll find many romanticists about Tibet, encouraged by this kind of European rubbish.  If the Europeans can’t come to reality about a situation like this, what hope is there for us?

The Tricky Part of Obama’s Infrastructure Plans

Barack Obama has some ambitious plans for upgrading the U.S.’s infrastructure:

President-elect Barack Obama said he’ll make the “single largest new investment” in roads, bridges and public buildings since the Eisenhower Administration to lift the sagging economy and create jobs.

Obama, in his weekly radio speech today, said his plan to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs will also include making public buildings more energy efficient, repairing schools and modernizing health care with electronic medical records.

“We won’t just throw money at the problem,” he said. “We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve — by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.”

But this road–and I’m going to concentrate on the transportation infrastructure–is longer than it looks.

  • The general financial situation of the Federal government, coupled with that of the states, will make allocating funds to this difficult, even in a “stimulus mode.”  The general trend in American governmental budget allocation has been towards entitlements, and reversing that habit won’t be easy.  For the most part the states don’t have the option of deficit spending.
  • All transportation infrastructure projects have an environmental impact, and getting through both the regulatory maze and the political opposition of the environmentalists will be time consuming.  I discussed this during the campaign.
  • Most state DOT’s have projects “on the shelf” ready to go for Federal funding.  But there will be a delay in finalising the designs and getting through aforementioned regulatory processes.
  • If he tries to push too hard, the waste of money will increase.  Any time a large flow of money comes from the government all at once, oversight deteriorates and more money ends up in places it wasn’t intended to.  The financial bailout is a good example of this.
  • The construction industry will be delighted with the increase in activity.  But expanding the labour force will take time.  In the 1930’s when FDR and Huey Long were out expanding the infrastructure, much construction labour was unskilled and people with no prior experience could be absorbed into the workforce much for easily.  On today’s techno-mechanised, safety conscious job site, people (especially in the heavy construction segment, which builds transportation projects) needs to be trained and know what they’re doing.  And that, with the native labour force, is easier said than done.

Although upgrading our infrastructure is badly overdue, it’s not a quick road to reinflating our economy.  And in a political system notoriously short of patience, Barack Obama will discover that his electorate will become restless very quickly.

The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent

From the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some Thoughts on the Teaching of Evolution

It’s gratifying for me to see that there are a more than a few who would not uncritically accept Laura Lorentzen’s “Why We Must Teach Evolution in the Classroom” in the Summer 2008 edition of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum.  Having done the “Masada” deal with that publication myself, I’m glad that there are some who would take issue with her position on the matter.  It’s a pleasant surprise.

One of the more extensive responses is that of Mr. Michael A. Flannery, Professor and Associate Director for Historical Collections, Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham.  His in particular has nudged me to make some comments I’ve wanted to make for a long time on this issue, coming as I do from a) the applied sciences (engineering) and b) the geosciences (geotechnical engineering) as part of my expertise.

One of the big differences between pure and applied sciences is that, if one makes a faulty hypothesis about a phenomenon and it is later proven false, the universe will go on as before and no one (except for the scientist’s reputation and ego) is the worse for it.  In the applied sciences, if one makes a faulty design and it fails, the consequences only start with reputation and ego; they can involve public safety and economic loss.  That’s a major reason why engineers and designers tend to be conservative; the cost of failure is too high.

Unfortunately, advocates of evolution have taken what can only be described as an apocalyptic view of the consequences of not teaching what they believe to be true.  They seems to imply that the universe will stop if their idea of how it evolved is not set forth as unquestionable dogma.  Such panic is, IMHO, unjustified, at least form a scientific view.

In the case of evolution, as many critics of the original article have pointed out, it’s impossible to replicate experimentally the events of the past.  All theories set forth–evolution, ID and the like–are, from a scientific standpoint, interpretations of data subject to change, especially since the data itself is expanding.  Such a difficulty should inculate a sense of humility that the hypotheses being put forth are subject to future modification and/or even being discarded.  Given these uncertainties, the best thing to do is to set forth these hypotheses as just that: the best state of knowledge we have, subject to change, and concentrate (especially at the secondary level) on that which has the most practical application to the widest spectrum of students.

And it’s the practical application situation where things get complicated.  One thing evolutionsists hate to discuss is just what would happen if their dogma is not taught.  Using Young Earth Creationism as a red herring isn’t an answer, but that’s what generally gets done, either explicitly or implicitly.  As Mr. Flannery points out, the interpretation of the causes of changes in the species has been subject to variation from the very beginning of the debate, even when the age of the earth and the general chronology of prehistory is not an issue.

Concerning that, one thing that gets lost is an important change in the way physical causality is viewed.  In Darwin’s day, Newtonian mechanics were the “state of the art,” and this resulted in a deterministic bent in philosophies of the era (Marxism is another good example of that.)  Now we know that Newtonian mechanics are a special case and that quantum mechanics have taken away absolute determinism in causality.  The result we see around us today is not the only possible result, and this can be affirmed both from a scientific and a theological standpoint.

The last thing I’d like to observe–and I’ve mentioned this before–is that I find the trend in science towards litmus testing and dogmatism very disturbing.  The rise of secularism has been accompanied by the increase in turning science–real or perceived–into a religion, one enforced by state and institutional fiat if necessary.  One thing I’ve always liked about science and engineering is that they are open disciplines, subject to the laws of the universe.  If this is taken away the result will be the loss of qualified people going into the sciences, and that would be a tragedy for everyone.

Why Are Christmas Trees Specifically Christian?

The rather silly decision by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to leave the Christmas trees out of the library brings me to a rather strange question: why are Christmas trees specifically Christian?

One of the problems of living long in a fast changing world is that one remembers things that everyone else forgets.  There was a time when many “Jesus people” regarded Christmas trees as a pagan, German symbol.  Now culture warriors on both sides think of them as Christian, which is why they get the boot when secularists have the upper hand.

On top of that, evergreens of any kind are a Masonic symbol of eternity.  Every Masonic burial involves throwing the evergreen sprouts into the grave.

Merry Masonic Christmas?

For a Church to Attract and Retain, It Must Have Distinctive Meaning

I’ve been saying this for a long time, but from the land of Starbucks this, in a book review:

Wellman expected to discover that the Northwest’s progressive social ethos and politics would be fertile ground for liberal Protestant churches. Instead he found the contrary. While it has strong liberal congregations, Wellman discovered that in general the region is not hospitable to progressive Christianity. And perhaps just as unexpectedly he found that “entrepreneurial evangelicals have carved out a foothold in the region, and are fast becoming the dominant Christian religious subculture…”

Wellman’s other conclusion is that members of liberal churches are experiencing an identity crisis. Too often, he observes, liberal Protestants in the Northwest struggle to develop an identity that is distinct from the broader culture. “To a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place.” Ironically, he concludes, “liberal churches fail to attract the unchurched in part because they share so much in common.” Evangelicals, on the other hand, seem more certain of their identity and thus more confident in the ways they engage and critique the prevailing middle-class ethos of the Northwest—or in some cases create an alternative Christian culture.

Leonard Sweet says that every Starbucks is a challenge to the Christian church.   No where is this more true than in the chain’s birthplace.  But the churches which feel the challenge the most sharply are liberal ones.

The blunt truth is that, if you’re a liberal church and your message is indistiguishable from the culture, people will stick to the culture and head out for a good cup of Joe.

On the other hand, the challenge for evangelicals is to effectively communicate the Gospel in a culture that no longer has been moulded by it.  That means crossing many bridges of many rivers and other wide bodies of water (the PNW is also the home of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, better known as “Galloping Gertie”) that weren’t necessary to traverse before.

And that, by definition, is being missional.

China’s six-to-one advantage over the US: Piano Lessons

This, from the incomparable Spengler:

America outspends China on defense by a margin of more than six to one, the Pentagon estimates. [1] In another strategic dimension, though, China already holds a six-to-one advantage over the United States. Thirty-six million Chinese children study piano today, compared to only 6 million in the United States.[2] The numbers understate the difference, for musical study in China is more demanding.

It must be a conspiracy. Chinese parents are selling plasma-screen TVs to America, and saving their wages to buy their kids pianos – making American kids stupider and Chinese kids smarter. Watch out, Americans – a generation from now, your kid is going to fetch coffee for a Chinese boss. That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course – some of the bosses will be Indian. Americans really, really don’t have a clue what is coming down the pike. The present shift in intellectual capital in favor of the East has no precedent in world history.

“Chinese parents urge their children to excel at instrumental music with the same ferocity that American parents [urge] theirs to perform well in soccer or Little League,” wrote Jennifer Lin in the Philadelphia Inquirer June 8 in an article entitled China’s ‘piano fever’.

And expatriate Asians in the U.S. continue that tradition, as I am reminded of every time I go to my wife’s MTNA affiliated conventions.

And for you Christians that have any doubt: sure would make it easier to get someone to play on Sunday if more knew how…

The New North American Anglican Province: It’s Easier on Paper Than in Reality

Fellow Palm Beacher George Conger’s detailed analysis of the recognition process is as good of an opportunity as any to make some comments on this complicated process.

In principle, I think it’s a great idea.  North American Anglicans deserve better than the warmed-over humanism they’ve been getting out of TEC and ACoC for the last four decades.  It’s simply too easy to find the answers these churches give outside of Christianity, and even easier to find the ones they don’t inside of it.  Both of these explain most of the loss of membership that has taken place.  If TEC had devoted the resources it has used to legally retain the property to retaining and expanding its membership, it would have more of both in the end.

But that’s done.  It’s admirable to watch those in the various Anglican groups on the continent try to put together a single institution.  It’s not an easy job on simply internal grounds, let alone seeking the approval of the convoluted structure that is the Anglican Communion.

There are several items that tell me that Anglicans better be in for the long haul on this one:

  • The difficult process of recognition, as Conger outlines.  That speaks for itself.
  • I don’t see any Archbishop of Canterbury, either the present occupant or any successor that a British Government might suffer, recognising this province.  They can talk about the ACC or the Primates all they want, but unless the Archbishop of Canterbury gives the high sign, real entry into the Anglican Communion is impossible.
  • The issue of women’s ordination (WO.)  There’s simply no consensus on this issue, irrespective of which side you take.  That goes to the heart of the apostolic succession issue, which is key for a proper Anglican church.
  • The resolution of the seceding dioceses, which will involve the U.S. court system.
  • The real possibility that our government, in its desire to be politically correct and its need for revenue, will begin revoking tax-exempt status for churches that do not embrace homosexuality.  That will doubtless be coupled with a legal assault based on anti-discrimination legislation and all of the other legal tools I outlined in my 2007 piece Waiting for the Cops to Show Up.

Given that the GAFCON provinces are sure to recognise this new entity, one things for sure: this new entity will go a long way to formalising a split in the Anglican Communion, which in the end may be the best–if not the happiest–way to resolve this long-running conflict.

George Barna: Change They Really Didn’t Believe In

George Barna’s latest poll on how the economic crash is affecting churches is spot on, as anyone involved in church finance will attest:

During the past three months, one of the ways that adults have adjusted to their financial hardships has been by reducing their charitable giving. In total, one out of every five households (20%) has decreased its giving to churches or other religious centers.

Church cutbacks have been most common among downscale households (30%) and those families which are struggling with “serious financial debt” (43%). Not surprisingly, 31% of those who have lost 20% or more of their retirement fund value have sliced their church donations, as have 29% of the people who have lost 20% or more of the value in their stock portfolio.

The degree of reduction in giving is significant for churches. Among people who have decreased giving to churches and religious centers, 19% dropped their giving by as much as 20%, 5% decreased their generosity by 21% to 49%, 17% reduced their giving by half, and 11% sliced their provision by more than half. In addition, 22% said they had stopped their giving altogether.

But then there’s this:

On average, Americans believe it will take about three years before the economy fully recovers. Only one out of four adults (24%) said the economy would completely recover within a year; 30% said it would take two or three years; and 32% said it would take more than three years. A small proportion (2%) said they do not believe the economy will ever completely recover.

The most pessimistic people are Asians, upscale adults, and sociopolitical liberals. The study also showed that people who voted for Barack Obama are significantly more likely to expect a prolonged period of recovery than are people who voted for John McCain. (emphasis mine)

Huh?  The messianic adulation (certainly in the MSM) accorded to Barack Obama would lead one to believe that his followers expect great things.  But evidently they don’t.  It explains, perhaps, why his base isn’t going more postal than it is over his cautionary statements regarding the speed of his response to the crisis.  For someone like me who is given to cynical pessimism, it makes one wonder: why did these people go bananas over this guy?