• Sleep Tight Under the Stars

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Psalm19:1

    See that? It’s a picture of a tiny patch of empty space taken by the Hubble Telescope. And all those things are galaxies. Galaxies! Not just one star, but bilions in each one. Can you imagine?

    I look at something like this and wonder,”what in the world is this all about?” What is God doing, creating so much? One galaxy would seem to be enough. Or 100 or 1000. But that’s tens of thousands of galaxies and there are billions more. Why? What is God doing? Is there a reason for all of this or is the reason just the joy of creating and exploring creation that God desires? Is it a desure for beauty or a complex puzzle to enjoy? How many children does our God have? It boggles the mind.

    And how absurd that anyone who would attempt to claim to understand God. Looking at just a small glimpse of what God has made, how can we even understand man? What can it possibly mean to bear the image of the one who has created all of this? What is life in the middle of all this?

    After a while, the little girl in me can’t help but turn to her daddy and say, “look what you did! It’s so beautiful! I can’t believe you made all that! You did so good, Pappa!”

    (You can read more about the technical aspects of making this picture and what you’re seeing here.)

  • The Process is Life

    Scriptures say that creation testifies to God. Science is simply the study of creation. It is the gathering and studying of the testimony of creation. Which is why I think that it is important for people of faith to be using science to deepen our understanding of God and his ways.

    We see Jesus doing this, for example, in his teachings about seeds dying and bearing much fruit. It’s not just that Jesus was using a process which people were familiar with in order to explain something. It’s that this familiar process of creation is actually a living illustration of a much deeper, mysterious spiritual truth. It’s not just a coincidence that a seed works the same way that our spiritual life does. Rather, it’s reflects something purposeful in creation that testifies to God’s creation.

    When you learn to see creation this way, all of life becomes imbued with deeper meaning. And it provides a corrective to our erroneous ideas. What we believe about God and his ways must be consistent with this universe he made.

    That might seem to be a big claim to make, however, allow me to share something I read recently which illustrates just how deep this rabbit hole goes. I’m going to get all sciency with y’all for a bit. But I’ll make it simple and if you bear with me, I think you’ll see how taking creation’s testimony seriously can be a spiritually fruitful endeavor.

    So, what I’m going to be talking about today has to do with the very origins of life. Not necessarily how life began – that’s a mystery we are rapidly closing in on. But the why. Why is there life at all? Continue reading

  • Animals and Religion

    Did you know that animals engage in what appears to be ritualistic behaviors which appear to show some awareness of the luminous, if not the spiritual? It’s true. In particular, a variety of animals have death rituals:

    Magpies, gorillas, elephants, llamas, foxes, and wolves all use ritual to cope with the death of a companion. Magpies will peck the dead body and then lay blades of grass next to it. Gorillas hold something so similar to a “wake” that many zoos have formalized the ritual. Elephants hold large “funeral” gatherings and treat the bones of their deceased with great respect. Llamas utilize stillness to mourn for their dead. Foxes bury their dead completely, as do wolves, who, if they lose a mate, will often go without sex and seek solitude.

    That’s from an article on titled Animals May Have Religion. The author goes on to say, “in all of these cases, the animals rely on ritual to ease the pain of death.” Scientists are usually hesitant to ascribe motivation to animals beyond the desire for sex, food and survival. But it doesn’t appear to be too much of a stretch to make the claim that animals experience pain and may use ritual as a way to help transition into life without their former companion.

    Consider the case of the funeral procession or wake which a pod of dolphins were observed holding for a young dolphin who had died:

    Or this recent story about how scrub jays react to dead scrub jays. Or observed cases of mother giraffes spending time alone with her dead child’s remains.

    It’s not just death rituals either. Primates have been observed engaging in behavior which could indicate awe or ritual practices:

    The chimpanzees of Gombe “dance” at the base of an enormous waterfall in the Kakombe Valley. This “dance” moves slowly and rhythmically alongside the riverbed. The chimps transition into throwing giant rocks and branches, and then hanging on vines over the stream until the vines verge on snapping. Their “dance” lasts for ten minutes or longer. . . . 

    the savanna chimps of Senegal, perform a fire dance. Most animals flee from wildfires, fearing for their lives. To the contrary, these chimps only slowly move away from it, and at times even move closer to it. One dominant male went so far as to make a slow and exaggerated “display” at the fire. . . 

    Gombe baboons perform a “baboon sangha.” Without signal or warning, these baboons sat in silence before a stream with many small pools and simply gazed at the water. They did this for over 30 minutes, without even the juveniles making a peep. Again without signal or warning, they resumed their normal activities.

    Can somebody please hurry up and make an animal translator already? Wouldn’t you love to know what they’re thinking?

  • You Can’t Fight Reality Forever

    Is the church dead? No. But plenty of people seem to be preparing the obituaries and making the funeral arrangements for that inevitable day. Inside Christian circles, the pessimism over the prospects for the church is palpable. There’s a real sense among many that some threshold has been crossed and that it’s all down hill from here.

    There are a few die hards who are still trying to “take the culture back for Christ”, but increasingly there’s a recognition that the church went to war and lost. Even the dominionist movement, which has gained some footholds in state politics, seems to exist purely for the purpose of alienating everyone else. Their time will pass, once they’ve done enough damage that even the call the “take the culture back” isn’t enough to garner votes from nostalgic and frightened Christians.

    Now, I do not share this very pessimistic view of the direction Christianity is heading. In fact, I’m rather enthused about the future of the church. But I understand the defeatism which is being driven by the realization that the church went to war and lost. Badly. On every issue which the church decided to take a stand, they lost. Not only did the wider culture not embrace the church’s positions, the things which the church felt important enough to declare war over are the very reasons people give for leaving the church. And let’s face it, that kind of rejection stings.

    Over the last few years, copious pixels have been used analyzing and lamenting the reasons for the church’s impotence in the face of the freight train of cultural change. Some have traced the beginning of the end all the way back to the Enlightenment. Or Constantine. Or the hippies and women in pants.

    So what happened, really? It seems to me that the answer is pretty simple: reality.

    For much of human history, our understanding of reality was pretty limited. The sun circled the earth. God or gods controlled the weather. Sicknesses were demons or curses or God’s vengeance. Counting and measuring were for economic transactions, not studying. In this environment, one of the purposes of religion was to explain a reality which was otherwise unexplainable. Part of the power held by Christianity was that, in addition to being a spiritual path, it provided narratives and explanations for reality that worked well enough to be plausible.

    Along came the Enlightenment and with it the rise of Empiricism. (Empiricism being the idea that knowledge is gained by observing and measuring what can be experienced through our senses. As opposed to rationalism which favors using logic in order to construct an understanding of reality.) Basically, we went from learning about the world by thinking about how things might work or should work to observing how they actually do work.

    This shift in our approach to understanding the world frequently had an unsettling result; it turns out that the world didn’t work very much at all the way we thought it did. And not only that, we could prove it. Conjecture and supernaturalism were no longer realistic methods of explaining the world around us. And unlike religious or philosophical ideas which could be rejected or accepted based on our own judgment (or the judgment of authorities), rejecting the findings of empiricism meant rejecting proven reality.   Continue reading

  • The First Brain

    You know, y’all are an unusually quiet bunch of readers. I would bet money I don’t have that a freakishly high percentage of you are Introverted Intuitives on the Meyer’s Briggs Personality Test. Which isn’t a complaint, of course. I’m an Introverted Intuitive myself. But it does mean that I know far less about y’all than most writers with an audience my size.

    However, a few of you have been bold enough to reach out and make yourselves known to me. And I have to assume that the rest of you are really awesome because my readers who I’ve gotten to know have turned out to be some of my favorite people. I even consider many of them friends.

    One of the first readers who connected with me is a professor of biology at The University of West Chester Pennsylvania named Oné R. Pagán. Over the last nearly two years, Oné has become a friend and has been a source of encouragement to me. I’m certain he would be shocked at just how often certain things he has said to me have kept me going when selfdoubt and discouragement came prowling. He has been a true blessing.

    The reason I am telling you about dear Dr. Pagán is because not only is he a professor and great guy, he’s also a blogger and a newly published author who I think you should know about. You can find his blog at Bald Scientist where he writes mainly about science with an aim to make it understandable and interesting to lay people. A new Carl Sagan in the making.

    PLUS, Oné’s first book was recently published by Oxford Press (he’s a fancy, impressive guy that way). It’s called The First Brain. It’s about brains. And flat worms. And drugs. And aliens. Ok, not aliens. But if you like reading about science and have any interest in neurobiology, you should check it out. Because then you’ll be smarter and the world will be a better place. And we all want the world to be a better place, don’t we?

    Anyhow, I wanted to pass that along to you, my dear, mostly silent, anonymous audience. And offer a proper congratulations to Oné for the publication of his first book. You can learn more about the book as well as get a code for 20% off a hard cover copy of The First Brain here. I would put up a picture of the super cool cover for y’all to see, but I’m having no end of technical difficulties, so you’ll just have to follow the link and be impressed.

    And, reader? It’s OK to speak up from time to time, k? :)

  • dinosaurs save the world

    Consciousness and Genesis 1

    I want to write about my personal theory on the story of creation told in Genesis 1 today, but I can’t think of any interesting or clever way to start the post. So I thought maybe I could find a good joke about creation to use. After looking for awhile I found this little gem:

    A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot.
    They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake.
    Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and
    jumped in the water.

    Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying
    their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come
    along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in
    time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi
    covered his face while they ran for cover.

    After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the
    minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather
    than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in
    MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”

    Of course that joke has nothing to do with creation, but it’s funny so in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided that’s what counts. Now . . . moving on to the story of creation.

    One of the oddities of the story of creation in Genesis 1 is that the order in which things were created makes no sense. First there’s day and night and then later, after there was land and plants, but before there were animals, the sun, moon and stars get made. Water was apparently pre-existing and had to be separated from air to make the sky. So on and so forth.

    For creationists, none of this matters because somehow that’s just how God did it. For people who run a wee bit deeper and wider than that, both logic and science say that it couldn’t have happened like that. Those who reject religion say the creation story is just something people made up to explain the world and really means nothing. Christians who don’t blasphemously reject the evidence of God’s own creation in favor of man’s understanding of scripture figure the point of the story is that God made everything, he made it with purpose and it is good.

    I personally have my own pet theory about why the order of creation is all jumbled up in Genesis 1. Continue reading

  • mistakes

    Bloggy Linky Goodness

    Well, it’s been a slow week around here as you might have noticed. Next week will be different, but you’ll have to head down to the bottom of this week’s Bloggy Linky Goodness to find out more about that. In other news, I shaved my legs and pits for the first time in months. Most exciting thing to happen around here in a while, I tell ya!

    But I do have some good writing/reading for this week’s Bloggy Linky Goodness to share with y’all:

    Radical Practice Needs Deep Roots in Doctrine I love synchronicity – great minds think alike and all that. This beautiful post by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at The Everyday Awakening explaining the gospel, suffering, atonement theology and more reads like if you took my own posts on suffering, the church and the sacrificial death of Jesus and put them into one post with much more skill and clarity than I have. Really great stuff. Continue reading