Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Lure of Fear and Hate

The past three months have felt surreal around these parts of Germany. Dresden has become a bit of a punching bag because it is perceived as a haven of racism and hatred. Late in 2014 a handful of people started to schedule marches and demonstrations to protest what they called “the Islamization of the west,” and tapped into a nerve of fear that caused numbers to swell into the tens of thousands.

It is silly to think that a region with 2-4% immigrants would produce a movement based on fear of immigrants. (Although not knowing any immigrants is one of the best ways to have fear of immigrants persist.) And yet, even the perception and subsequent ridicule of Dresden is an exercise in unfairness. 35,000 is a small percentage of half a million people, and estimates claim that nearly three-fourths of the marchers are from other areas all over Germany.

The worst aspect of this whole drama, has been the way that it taps into fears that attract all sorts of people and not just the neo-Nazis that one would expect. In fact, it has attracted a lot of Christian types. It could easily pass for a Republican, or at least a Tea Party movement if it were to occur in the States. That is quite an eye-opener. For all one hopes Christians are true followers of Jesus who stick to the teachings of Scripture, many are easily manipulated herds looking for someone to tell them how to think.

And fear and hatred are the easiest feelings for self-serving leaders to manipulate.

Some will point out that Islamization is a real threat. That there are Muslims who hate the West and Christianity and the danger is real. But we are not Muslims. We do not react to our enemies by forcing them out of society or promoting violence against them. Jesus has called His followers to love their enemies. Love, and not hatred or fear, is the way to deal with those with whom we disagree. It is not the easy way, it is the right way.

Thankfully, Germany is dominated—if not by Christians—at least by people who remember the mistakes of their past, and reason seems to be regaining ground. We may breathe a sigh of relief, but all of this should serve as a reminder and a warning to people everywhere that love and not fear or hate is the best policy for intercultural, interpersonal interaction.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Aliens Clarified (1 Peter 1:1,2)

“To those… who are chosen
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
And the consecration of the Spirit,
For obedience
And sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Peter describes the recipients of his letter, these “aliens” in the NAS, in such an interesting way. Firstly, it would behoove all followers of Christ to read this letter and be reminded that we are all foreigners, immigrants just passing through. This world is not our home. Or, for many increasing numbers of Christians, neither the United States nor Europe are “God’s country.” We need to drop all the political posturing that claims these governments are somehow saved. The recipients of Peter’s letter were being persecuted by their governments, and that is the way Jesus had warned His followers it would be. With that in mind, do you really want to be on the side of the persecutors?

Peter goes on to describe the salvation we have received in an explicitly Trinitarian fashion. We have been chosen by God the Father before the world was created. That is to say that the decision was made independent of anything we had done or deserved. It was made entirely in God’s sovereign will through the action of His grace. We have been consecrated by the Holy Spirit. This may also communicate the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of the believer (sanctification), but it also clearly has an aspect of being set apart for God and His purposes. Finally, we have been washed in the blood of Christ. His sacrifice on the Cross provided the means for our sin to be overlooked, forgiven, cast away, and for us to regain our relationship with God in His kingdom.

The little aspect I jumped over in that Trinitarian description of our salvation is the prepositional phrase that describes the purpose of our saved life. We are saved for obedience. Obedience to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and God’s redemptive plan for creation. This is a key to keep in mind while reading the message of 1 Peter. We have not been saved for our convenience. We have not been saved for our benefit, our comfort, nor our dreams and plans. We are rescued from our sin and death to surrender our lives to our Creator and Lord for His purposes and His plans. The rest of the letter makes much more sense when we understand this truth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Carnivora (Part 1: Feliformia)

If I am really honest, in spite of my difficulty settling on just a few favorite animals (and the source of all of these breakdowns and vast lists of animal coolness), the Carnivores probably are my favorite Order in all of Animalia. So you might find my all-time favorite animals on this or the next Carnivore list. Here are my favorite of the “cat-like” carnivores:

15. Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

The only non-cat on this list, I like it for two reasons: it has one of the best scientific names ever, and it does something amazing to a coffee bean when it passes it through its digestive tract. Kopi Luwak!

"Asian Palm Civet Over A Tree" by Praveenp - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

14. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

These cats are strikingly beautiful, and one of the more amazing feats of engineering in creation.

Filip Lachowski [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

13. Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus manul)

These Asian cats look like the little-old-wise-man version of the cat world.

"Manul2" by Karin st at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

12. Domestic Cat (Felis catus)

This common (and often hated) little animal is the closest I can get to friendship with a wild animal.

Picture at the top is my own.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Only Lovers Left Alive" (2014)

Wow. This is the stereotypical Art House Film. If ponderous, slow, brooding is the essence of artistic depth, this may be the best vampire film ever.

Now, in all seriousness there is an esthetic beauty to this film. As a painting or a photograph it might hold a certain amount of interest. But as a story it leaves one dry. (Hmmm, a vampire story that drains the viewer.) It is a shame though, because one gets the sense that this film wanted to say something and may have even served as a counterpoint to the Twilight dreck that sullied the genre.

Instead, the film is so pompous in its themes and so failing in its delivery that it must be taken as a missed opportunity. There were interesting bits here and there. (Eve packing for her voyage, the fascination with art and beauty, the frustration with humanity’s destructive nature, etc.) None of them are developed. There could have been moments where something happened. (Rumor has it that there were action moments, but when Jarmusch was asked to add more he instead removed them all.) As delivered we await for a plot that never comes. That is a form of suspense, just not what a vampire story promises.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Wonderful Miracle of Earth

NASA has taken an interesting approach attempting to reawaken interest in space: Science Fiction. They commissioned an artist to create travel-agency-style posters for hypothetical trips to newly discovered planets outside our solar system: Kepler 186f, Kepler 16b, and HD 40307 g. The whole idea is fiction, of course, beyond the mere impossibility of an actual trip.

These planets are barely known. But the fascinating appeal to exoplanet “exploration” is the search for places where life, or even better we, could thrive. One (and only one) of these three planets meets a couple requirements to fit the bill. Kepler 186f is close in size to Earth and within the “habitable zone” of its star in its orbit. The problem?  The list of requirements that a planet must meet for life as we know it to thrive is already 68 known factors long and growing. If there were 10 billion trillion planets in the universe, the odds that one other would meet all the requirements to support complex life such as is found on Earth are smaller than 1 in 10 to the 1050th power, according to physicist Dr. Hugh Ross.

However, the approach seems to be the way to go. After all, interest in space was never higher than before we got out into it. Our imagination thrived with the possibilities of what we could find there. Once we started going, we learned a lot that improved life here on Earth, but what we found out there was so much more of a letdown. The science is important and valuable, but the adventure we find out there right now is not what sci-fi promised us. Life, with all of its wonder and capacity for creativity and imagination, is still only found in the very small, very rare, miraculous place we call home.
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