Friday, July 10, 2015

There’s a Lot More to the Fishing Experience Than “Hook, Line and Sinker”…

The popular movie of 20-plus years ago, “A River runs Through It,” has a key line in it where eldest son-of-a-preacher Norman Maclean declares, “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fishing.”
One could almost say the same thing about our immediate family, as “the fishing experience” provided many venues of interesting, whimsical and allegorical conversation amongst my two sons as they were growing up, and myself.

In the movie the father is the preacher and the story revolves around the two sons’ correlation of their  father’s love of (fly) fishing and many of the spiritual aspects of life itself.  In contrast, in our family the philosophically-bent father (and mom, of course) ended up with both of the sons in ministry: Gregg, a senior pastor, and Doug, a theology professor/ordained minister.
Both of them now outfish their father, as you can see from the photo (a salmon excursion on Puget Sound 11 years ago).

So how does “the fishing experience” affect so much of life?  So glad you asked.

The late POTUS Herbert Hoover once said, “Fishing is a constant reminder of the democracy of life, of humility, and of frailty; the forces of nature discriminate for no man.”  You readily understand the meaning of this statement if you have ever spent a long day on a lake or stream throwing every bait you have at these wily finned creatures and ended up only with hunger and a sunburn.

Yes, fishing can teach you a lot about the vicissitudes of life but it also offers mind-boggling opportunities to see, touch and experience the wonders of God’s creation.  When my sons were young, we lived in Oregon and would often make our way up into the beautiful, mountainous, wooded and stream-laden areas of the State. 
The upper Clackamas river, from the confluence of the Collawash River down, was an especially great area for trout and even steelhead in the warmer summer months.   As we stood on the river bank, casting and retrieving, the boys would often ask questions about nature, creation, the skies, or the universe.  Almost always the question began with “why?”.

John Muir, said to be an avid fisherman, observed, “God is making the world, and the show is so grand and beautiful and exciting that I never have been able to study any other.”  As I think back, that’s what the boys and I discovered those many years ago.

Fishing always teaches you two things; namely, patience and humility.  The aforementioned Herbert Hoover also postulated that “a fisher must be of contemplative mind, for it is a long time between bites.”  I certainly know that I have a contemplative mind; someone else can decide which came first, the love of fishing or the latter.  On humility, famous outdoorsman Zane Grey pointed out that “there was never an angler who lived but that there was a fish capable of taking the conceit out of him.”
I resemble that.

It’s obvious, to me at least, that there is a whole lot more to fishing than first meets the eye.  For me, a lifetime of angling has provided many lessons and a richness to life itself.   The lessons it has taught are priceless.

Izaak Walton summed it up this way, “the good angler must bring a large measure of hope and patience.”  I can’t think of a much better approach to life. 
Many of the quotes in this post are from a booklet I’ve enjoyed called “A Fisherman’s Guide to Life – Wisdom and Wit Based on the Realities of Fishing” by Criswell Freeman.  It was given to me as a birthday present at least 20 years ago by dear friends Ed and Darlene Wall.

And yes, I’m hooked for life.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

What's All the Fuss?

Apparently, a lot of American Evangelical Christians got their holy noses bent out of shape by the recent U.S. Supreme Court Ruling prohibiting discrimination of same sex marriages. 

At first glance, this may seem like a normal -- or maybe even expected -- response.  But when you look a little closer, the patent truth is that nothing has substantially changed for followers of Christ.

Yes, it has come to pass that same sex marriage now has equal civil recognition in our country as does marriage between a man and a woman – as ludicrous as that may sound to many traditionalists.  But what is quite interesting to me, however, is the reaction to the ruling among fellow Christians.
As I’ve watched the responses on social media and in commentaries in various periodicals, there seem to be two general themes for the most part: a) “Keep calm; this is nothing new,” or b) “OMGosh, our country is headed for Hades.”
Has this issue sparked a strong response from you as well?

In my humble opinion, it can be very easy to convolute the spiritual with the civil for many American Evangelical Christians (or anyone).  It is easy because many folks too readily believe that America is a “Christian” nation and that God has blessed us because our founders were deists or because we hold fast for the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and other such arbitrary and immaterial gestures.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, and we should be thankful for it. 
Freedom to practice our religion (ANY religion) is a great gift from our forefathers.  But also part of that great gift is the prohibition of establishing any particular religion as a state practice (the separation of Church and State).  We are not a “Christian” nation; that would effectively be a theocracy, and that will only occur when Christ comes back to earth to rule and reign.

At best we are a democratic republic consisting of a (dwindling) majority of "professed Christians."  Our CULTURE may be Christian to the extent that those who profess the faith actually live it out (and this is fast changing), but our nation is not. 

Further, consider the consequences if we ever modulated to having a majority of Muslims in our country; would you want their theocracy then?  God forbid.

So, take a deep breath, cool the heels and take a look at reality.  What the Supreme Court did was to recognize equality under CIVIL law for same sex marriage. 

The significant question to ask (in my view) is: What is unique about this ruling to make it different from how Christians have dealt with (and reacted to) civil law for two millennia?  The glaring answer is -- nothing.   Absolutely nothing.
The law to which we adhere as followers of Christ is God’s law, well elicited for us in the Bible through hundreds of years of tradition and church guidance.  How we will be ultimately judged is not by how well we lived by man’s civil laws but rather by how well we live out the Gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ when he was on earth.

Last I heard no one is requiring anyone to participate in anything one wasn’t participating in previous to the SCOTUS ruling.  But if we ever do go down that road in this country, as Christ-followers we know where our allegiance lies.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Exercising To Lose Weight? It’s a Waste of Time, Says Latest Info

All my life, I’ve wanted to weigh less than I do.  Except for the summer of 1961 which I spent in Mexico – at the Summer  Institute of Linguistics Jungle Camp in the State of Chiapas.
The fall of that year was the only time I can recall weighing close to “what the charts indicate.”  Of course it didn’t last. 

I’ve been called “husky,” “big-boned” and “stocky.”  Never “thin.”  I’ve tried exercise, conditioning, and diets of every variety known to mankind.  Nothing has ever worked the way I wish it would have worked to get my weight where I wanted it.
Now, apparently, we have scientific evidence that there is a very good reason.  Evidently, exercise + diet = no weight loss (you eat more to compensate for the exercise).  It’s looking more and more like the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in as food.  Sounds so simple, but doing it is so hard.

Sugar and refined carbohydrates in our American diet are likely the most significant culprits.  And the food industry is not without guile in often blatantly misstating their effects and, in fact, promoting fitness while at the same time encouraging the use of carb-loaded “sports drinks” and such.
None of this is revolutionary.  But it sure is disconcerting that all those workouts and laps around the track didn’t take off anything that gravity pulls on.

Here is the science:  In a current article in the Washington Post by cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, he cites a large body of studies that show that basal metabolic rates tend to drop as people lose weight in spite of exercise. 
“A comprehensive 2013 literature review by Amy Luke, a public health scholar at Loyola University of Chicago, concludes that ‘numerous trials have indicated that exercise plus calorie restriction achieves virtually the same result in weight loss as calorie restriction alone,’” writes Dr. Malhotra.

Now don’t misunderstand.  Exercise is good and beneficial.  It does many good things (reduces risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.).  But, alone, it does not take weight off.  And further, exercise is not even needed to lose weight.
I just knew it would turn out this way.  I guess the good news is that I don’t have to push the exercise bike quite as hard, but the bad news is I may have to get counselling for separation anxiety from the absence of deep dish pizza and bacon cheeseburgers.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The God Who Is Convincingly There

Over the past weeks and months I’ve been reading a book called “The Experience of God” by philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.  It’s a belief-challenger (or re-enforcer), and it’s not for the conceptually-timid, which is one reason it’s taken me a while to wade my way through it.
Let me make a few generalities about what Hart covers (and avoids):
     1) He exposes big leaks in the balloon of “New Atheism” (Hitchins, Dawkins, et al).  In short, he shows how the “anti-metaphysical method” of modern science simply is inadequate to account for existence, consciousness or bliss (defined as the desire for truth, beauty and goodness).
2) He spends a great amount of time considering, defining and providing scope for what is meant by the term “God,” and then sets out an apologetic, where a “transcendent reality” trumps naturalism.
3) He suggests there is a shared wisdom in all the major theistic traditions.  In addition to Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas, he draws from Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Sufi and Hindu thinkers.  However, the book does not specifically focus on the Bible or on orthodox Christian theology.
4) This also is not a “proof of God.” He does not take you by the hand and lead you down a flower-filled garden path to theistic happiness.  As an example, he even questions Anselm’s classic apology of God, suggesting that, philosophically, it clouds more than it clarifies.
5) On the other hand, Hart is convinced that the naturalist’s problems of accounting for the aforementioned existence, consciousness or bliss is the ultimate stumbling block to recognizing a “transcendent absolute reality.”
For individuals like me, who view life and existence from a philosophical, almost whimsical, but very logical point of view, this work by David Hart is like morphing into a bee and then finding an orchard in bloom.  It massages, and even suggests plausible answers for, so many “ultimate” questions I have always wondered about, but at the same time the book leaves open to interpretation much of the conclusive aspects.
I especially like the comment by Orthodox reviewer Michael Lotti, who says “he directly and indirectly guides his reader to a place of wisdom, which is what most lovers of philosophy are seeking.”
So, where is this “place of wisdom”?  And what lies therein? 
Hart clarifies that classical atheism itself misunderstands classical theism by making “God” to be a superpowerful perpetrator whose existence is (only) made possible as an “irreducible complexity.”  Classical theism, on the other hand, refers to God not as a being, or even an omnipotent being, but, rather, as the absolute source and end of being -- not a cause of a type that can induce change within a system of causes and effects, but the original and final cause, that which gives purpose and order to the whole system.
The greatest handicap of a naturalistic belief system is that it can sophisticatedly describe the what, but it has no clue as to the why Being, consciousness nor bliss cannot be explained by science because it is not observable.  Science becomes neurotic when it has no rational  enlightenment, and so it goes on to even  suggest the absurd; e.g., an effect without a cause, or, an infinite regress of causes – totally untenable.

At least the theist has a plausibility for being and consciousness, but, alas, the naturalist is left to pure conjecture.   A similar dilemma for the naturalist is present when trying to “de-transcendentalize” bliss.
Hart concludes (in many more words than this) it is the explanatory strength of theism’s answers to these questions, relative to that of atheism, that is commanding.   If you follow atheism’s answers, you will likely end up in a vicious circle that degrades and reduces, rather than defines and undergirds our humanity: being, consciousness, and bliss.  
At the end of the search, no matter where it takes you, there is great weight of evidence, according to Hart, that what is extant (giving you being, cognizance and hope) is a transcendental God.

Monday, April 06, 2015

It's Opening Day

Cano, Cruz & Felix
You may have heard me say this before, both here and in other venues, that the game of baseball just may be the most perfect game/sport/contest ever created.  The conjecture is verifiable at so many levels and for so many reasons.

First, and perhaps foremost, for a batter to react to a pitched ball in milliseconds and swing/place his bat in perfect position to squarely meet a speeding, spinning, curving and dimensionally moving baseball, is a skill requiring utmost hand/eye coordination.  Very few people on earth have that ability at the professional level.

It’s one thing to shoot a basket, run with a football or kick a soccer ball into the goal.  But try using a stick to hit a little ball approaching you at triple-digit speed and having some lateral movement to boot.  You get the picture.

Then there is the element of perfect dimensions.  No other sport, in my view, has the critical relationships of measures like baseball has.

For instance, the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is 60-feet, six inches.  At that distance, since baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY, 174 years ago this summer, no human has been able to throw no-hitters at will, nor has any batter been able to claim success more than 40% of the time.  And the vast majority of even professional players are only able to get hits less than 30% of the time.  Which has made baseball a game for the ages – and perhaps for the age to come (so son Gregg and I believe).

The distance between bases is another marvel.  At 90-feet, no hitter has been able to consistently beat-out infield hits.  One might speculate that sooner or later someone would come along with extraordinary speed who could hit a ground ball in the infield and make it to first base every time.  Hasn’t happened – and likely never will.

The square that forms the baseball infield (affectionately called a diamond) is a design of perfection, maintaining continuing high levels of competition between offense and defense.  With a parity of playing ability, baseball will always remain a chess match on grass and consist of fair and difficult battles.

Last night was Opening Night for the 2015 Season, in a game won by the Cards over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which is undergoing four years of renovation-between-home-stands.  Today just about all of the remaining teams will enjoy Opening Day or Opening Night.

Last year the San Francisco Giants, the team I have followed since the 1951 Bobby Thompson home run, won its third World Series Championship in five years, this one on the strength of the arm of pitcher Madison Bumgarner who blew away virtually every WS pitching record.

This year, our Seattle Mariners at this point enjoy the fifth-best odds of winning the World Series, something that has never happened here.  Better get used to hearing the names of Cano, Cruz, Seager, Ackley, Morrison, Hernandez and Walker.

The Modern Mariners are ready to navigate the high seas of Major League Baseball.  Let’s play ball!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good. Friday.

I’ve been struggling this week with the implications of Good Friday – especially in terms of how it should affect us – especially my own self – and how we should observe it. 
On one hand some uber-dedicated Filipino Christians had themselves nailed to crosses earlier today in their native land “to mimic the suffering of Jesus Christ.”  Now that is ultimate identification with a cause. 

Yet others, probably the vast majority here in America, neither thought much about it nor did anything different this day than yesterday – nor will they tomorrow.  It would be easy to simply note that we need to be somewhere in the middle of those extremes (if we are a practicing Christian).  But I think that may distort the deserved impact of Good Friday.

The point is that the events of Good Friday some two millennia ago are so staggering they are virtually beyond comprehension.  That a man who proclaimed himself to be God would willingly allow an impudent, indifferent human race to end his earthly life in such an ignominious manner, defies sensibility.

But what if it is meant to be exactly the way it unfolded?  I seem to recall words from John’s Gospel, which were etched into my brain’s hard drive as young boy, that alluded to these convoluted events of Good Friday:

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”

And that’s just the springboard.  When this Jesus walked out of the sealed tomb two mornings later, breaking all binds and boundaries of human death, he was the living “first fruits” of a new world and cosmos, from that point on in the process of being revamped and realigned by God himself – and of which we are now a part and for which we continually pray in the Lord’s prayer.  

When Jesus walked out of that granite sepulcher and interacted for a time with his followers, he established the kingdom of God on earth – then and still a work-in-progress that will find fruition when he returns to this earth.

So on this Good. Friday. Let us reflect on the immeasurable provisions of the day and allow its magnitude to affect our lives in the Kingdom here and now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Clarify Perspective, The Easter Bunny Needs To Hop Out Of Holy Week..

Ask most anyone what they think of at Eastertime, and you’ll probably get either the Easter bunny or an egg hunt as an answer, with maybe flowers or springtime following closely behind.

So sad.

At the risk of being curmudgeonly and/or party-pooperish, this should not be so.  I get that kids need to have fun at a holiday time and all that. 

But how does the most sacred and meaningful day in all of Christendom get reduced to a bewildered bunny and plastic eggs filled with candy? 

I don’t mean for this to be an attack on secularists, or even on people who love to enjoy life.  However, there is always a moment to pull back, look at the big picture, and say, “whoa – what is going on here?”

In a bit of irony, Easter – the word – is said to have evolved from pagan roots –- namely,  Eastre, the Teutonic goddess of Spring.  Further, the word Easter, as far as I can tell, is never associated biblically with any events of Holy Week. 

Yet somehow through the eons, likely because Spring, blooming flowers, Jewish Passover, Resurrection Sunday and people wanting to celebrate, are all interwoven, the bunny and the egg have emerged as the poster-agents of Easter.  Convoluted? Yes.  But it is a widely perceived reality.

Lest you think I am advocating for commissioning Elmer Fudd to extinguish all “wascally wabbits” or to eliminate eggs as a symbolic source of new life, let me instead suggest an alternative.

Check out and broadcast the real meaning and origin of Resurrection Sunday, aka Easter.  I have found one of the best discussions of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be in N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.

Surprised by Hope is one of the most “aha!” books I’ve ever read.  It has given me a fresh, enlightening perspective on how the meaning of the Resurrection can affect the core of our faith journey.  Beginning with how the ancients used and understood the term.

Perhaps Wright’s signature theme is to point out that none of the Gospels identify “future Christian hope” as part of the Resurrection story, and, further, they do not say that because of Christ’s resurrection, there is life after death.  (Read that last sentence again.)

Rather, according to Wright, the writers say, “Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord: Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun – and we, his followers, have a job to do!”

Wright then goes on to explain the early Christian idea that God is now at work (and we are a part of it) doing for the whole cosmos what he has done for Jesus in the Resurrection – and what that means for us in our present life and in our future.
Surprised by Hope is a thoughtful and challenging must read, in my opinion, especially during Holy Week.  At the least, it's a wind in the back on the pathway from a pagan understanding of Easter to a cosmos-like grasp of Resurrection Day.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Is Here; Time For A Man’s Fancy To Turn To Thoughts Of…

BASEBALL!  (So very sorry if you were expecting a lovely four-letter word.)
It’s only eight days until the start of the Major League Baseball Season, and here in the Pacific Northwest, for the first time in many years, we are thinking positively!  Our Mariners are finally (expected to be) contenders!
A secondary  baseball season is also beginning this year for our family.  Our second-to-youngest grandchild, Nathan, (photo above) is now old enough (6-1/2) to venture into his first taste of organized baseball, tabbed “Coaches Pitch.”  He follows his cousin Aubrey (now 12), who has played organized ball for several years.
Nice catch, Nathan! Practice hard!
Nathan’s season begins on April 14 and lasts until a week or so into June.  Which means this old grandpa has just about two months to vicariously re-live the experiences of his younger days.  It’s a metaphorical way to experience a resurrection, of sorts.  (Notice the subtle but intentional seasonal link to Easter.)

For me, admittedly good or bad, the start of the baseball season is about as close to a religious experience as you can get without it being a religious experience.  There is something about the aromas of freshly cut spring grass and well-oiled leather gloves coupled with the sound of the crack of the bat that evoke a visceral reaction in my being. 

It has been that way since I was a kid playing ball on a knee-skinning, asphalt-paved street corner intersection in the city of Chicago, where the four sewer covers served as bases and center field was an empty lot split by a power pole.  And where the Cubbies were already decades removed from a World Series win, and that was 65 years ago.

In those days Burt Wilson was the Cubs radio broadcaster (long before Harry Caray) and the team's outfield consisted of Hank Sauer (in left field) whom son Doug and I subsequently met at a U of Portland game in the 80’s in which he was scouting for the Giants,  Andy Pafko (center) and Frankie Baumholtz (right).  They were, unfortunately, “average or slightly above” players who have seemed to define the Cubs for almost a century now.  This year, however, could be different.  O, wait; we’ve said that for all of our lives, haven’t we?

Suffice it to say that when the MLB season begins -- usually right around Easter -- life appropriately seems to click into focus for me.  Daylight hours are increasing, grass is freshly green, trees are bursting into fragrant bloom, taxes are done, and baseball games count. 

Can it get any better than this?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Coming Back With A New Look...

This Blog(ger) is arousing from its slumber with a new look and some fresh topics.  Won't be long until you see a fresh post.  Hang on, they're on the way!

In the meantime enjoy the above photo taken at a lake in the foothills of Mt. Rainier.