30 November 2015

New page, please

Editing is a great gig. A person doesn't have to write a thing, but has the power to change what others have written by permitting or not permitting a line, a headline, or even a paragraph. Spin is the word many use to discuss the news media today. When I was a young man in the US, Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the go-to men whose reporting was objective and reliable. On radio it was Paul Harvey who told us the news and it was the truth. Here in Australia, the ABC was the most reliable, certainly without neo-spin. But now things are different.

The editor has power to change the language and the meaning of a report. The crumbled paper shown here represents the attempts of the author to get it right, and yet this is all meaningless if the editor chooses 'an angle' that the report should carry. And the sad thing is that so many media outlets nowadays are choosing a flank, a particular ideology rather than what some would characterise as fair and balanced. Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?

For instance, this article by Gareth Narunsky, highlights a faux pas from Channel 7 here in Australia. Narunsky tells of an editor, actually the ticker editor, and the spin allowed. "Channel 7 has compared a terrorist who stabbed an innocent 70-year-old man with someone “having an argument with their mother” prior to a car accident. The comments came from the network’s commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, when questioned by The AJN after the network ran a ticker saying “Israel: 16yo shot and killed by police” during the Sunrise program on Tuesday morning. The ticker was in reference to the attack last weekend on a 70-year-old Palestinian man by two Palestinian girls, aged 14 and 16, in Jerusalem."

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said media outlets which omit essential context and thereby “blur the lines” between victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks are “detracting from, rather than enhancing, the public’s understanding of the nature of terrorism”.

In their book An Introduction to World Politics: Conflict and Consensus on a Small Planet, Richard Oliver Collin and Pamela L. Martin use a current example of spin to help us see angles. "Israeli governmental spokesmen insist that Palestinian violence is terrorism, while Israeli violence is legitimate law enforcement. The Palestinians desperately spin back, arguing that the violence is killing many more Arabs than Israelis, and portraying themselves as an embattled and persecuted people defending their ancestral territory in the West Bank and Gaza." (Page 35)

So how will we ever be sure of the truth, of the spin-free zone promised by the media?

Did you ever see the short movie, "Eye of the Beholder" with Richard Conte? After some preliminary optical illusions, the story unfolds. Made in 1953 it features the character Michael Girard and six different people's views of him. Truth is somewhere 'out there' to be sure. It might be worth your watching this 21 minute episode albeit choppy on YouTube Beholder
Truth be told, the best beholder is the Almighty. He is the eternal arbiter of truth, justice and everyman's way. He is the one who claimed to be the Truth. (John 14.6). And His renderings of judgment are true and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19.9). You want to know spin-free truth? Ask God; ask Yeshua; ask Him what is right and wrong; what is true and untrue. He will not lie. (Titus 1.2) I'm telling you the truth.

29 November 2015

Is there really hope?

Mention the words Columbine or Colorado Springs, Sandy Hook, Port Arthur, Paris' Bataclan Theatre, and 9-11 and immediately images of terror and pain, mass murder and head-shaking fill your mind. The world is bad and getting worse. When the G-20 gathers, when Congress or Parliament in Australia or the UK conduct talks and seek answers, most thinking people simply wish them well, but doubt any real substantive changes will occur. Where is there hope?

Last summer I stood in Amsterdam, in the shelter/ home of Anne Frank. If anyone knows daily fear and chronicled it well enough to become the journalist of the new world, it was this mature teenager. She wrote in her diary, “Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Hope gives life, to be sure, and real hope is even deeper. But in light of recent and continuing terror, I ponder the question, "Is there such a thing as false hope?"

William Ruddick writes in Bioethics, Vol. 13, #3-4, 1999, in his abstract of his piece Hope and Deception: "Convinced of hope's therapeutic benefits, physicians routinely support patients' false hopes, often with family collusion and vague, euphemistic diagnoses and prognoses, if not overt lies. Bioethicists charge them with paternalistic violations of Patient Autonomy." He begins his essay with Ambroise Paré's maxim, "Always give the patient hope, even when death seems at hand." (XVI)

Bildad, a friend of Job the ancient in the bible said these words, "Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the rushes grow without water? While it is still green and not cut down, yet it withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; and the hope of the godless will perish, whose confidence is fragile, and whose trust a spider’s web. He trusts in his house, but it does not stand; he holds fast to it, but it does not endure. He thrives before the sun, and his shoots spread out over his garden. His roots wrap around a rock pile, he grasps a house of stones. If he is removed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I never saw you.’ (Chapter 8.11-18)

Bildad is saying that there is such a thing as false hope. Planting roots of a plant in a rock garden will cause disappointment. So he says, 'the hope of the godless will perish.' What if my hope in education or in government or in a new candidate for government is misplaced? What if my hope is false hope? Where can I turn?

Many of us have been disappointed. We have placed our hope in people and things and they have failed us. The dashing of our hope has caused deep disappointment and the pain of our disappointment has filled us with the fear of being hurt again. That fear has held us back from entering new relationships as freely as we once could. Once burned-twice shy, as the saying goes.

Job says that the hope of the godless fails. He is talking about godless hope-a hope that excludes God and makes us dependent on the things and people of this world for our core fulfillment. This kind of hope often fails because it requires others to be what they don’t have the resources to be – the answer to our need for a relationship with God. In contrast, hope that doesn’t disappoint is centered first in God because it knows that no one can be faithful in a way that God is faithful. No one can love as God can love us. God alone is fully dependable. God alone will not let us down.

Hope is most real when it is based on what we know about someone. It is most dangerous when it is based on unrealistic expectations because that sets us up for another failure.

That's why this picture is so powerful to me.
It's the picture of someone from above a pool, reaching to rescue someone drowning. The actual story which inspired this painting is in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. In that chapter of the Bible, Yeshua is seen walking on water. Then Peter is looking around and says, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Yeshua said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua." Wow, that would have been thrilling. And exhilarating and full of glory! "But seeing the wind, Peter became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

This story is real to me just now. The Bible makes it clear that God wants to be in relationship with us, not only those who never have heard of Him, or who go from sinner to saint in a prayer. He wants to be in relationship with us who have walked with Him for decades. Each of us fails. Each of us is still walking in feet of clay. God's hand is not so short that it cannot save us. (Isaiah 59.2) Our sins separate us from Him, but His hand is ever reaching to get us out of the troubles in which we find ourselves. Hope "does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5.5)

This is for believers AND for unbelievers. This is for those who are new to the faith and those who are long involved. Hope does not disappoint. Thanks be to God!

26 November 2015

For US folks... a Thanksgiving poem

My Thanksgiving

The autumn-time has come; on woods that dream of bloom,
And over purpling vines, the low sun fainter shines.
The aster-flower is failing, the hazel’s gold is paling;
Yet overhead more near the eternal Star appears!

And present gratitude insures the future’s good,
And for the things I see I trust the things to be;
That in the paths untrod, and the long days of God,
My feet shall still be led, my heart be comforted.

O living friends who love me! O dear ones gone above me!
Careless of other fame, I leave to you my name.
Hide it from idle praises, save it from evil phrases:
Why, when dear lips that spake it are dumb, should strangers wake it?

Let the thick curtain fall; I better know than all
How little I have gained, how vast the unattained.
Not by the page word-painted let life be banned or sainted:
Deeper than written scroll the colors of the soul.

Sweeter than any sung my songs that found no tongue;
Nobler than any fact my wish that failed of act.

Others shall sing the song, others shall right the wrong,—
Finish what I begin, and all I fail of win.
What matter, I or they? mine or another’s day,
So the right word be said and life the sweeter made?

Hail to the coming singers! Hail to the brave light-bringers!
Forward I reach and share all that they sing and dare.
The airs of heaven blow o’er me; a glory shines before me
Of what mankind shall be,— pure, generous, brave, and free.

A dream of man and woman Diviner but still human,
Solving the riddle old, shaping the Age of Gold!
The love of God and neighbor; an equal-handed labor;
The richer life, where beauty walks hand in hand with duty.

Ring, bells in unreared steeples, the joy of unborn peoples!
Sound, trumpets far off blown, your triumph is my own!
Parcel and part of all, I keep the festival,
Fore-reach the good to be, and share the victory.

I feel the earth move sunward, I join the great march onward,
And take, by faith, while living, my free hold of thanksgiving.

- John Greenleaf Whittier

13 November 2015

Distance from here to there

Distances are hard to measure in the skies. To measure distances in the universe, a person would need to construct what is commonly referred to as a "cosmic distance ladder". In other words, astronomers use different methods to determine the distances to objects; the specific method which is used depends on how far away the object is. But all of the methods are wonderful combinations of science and mathematics!

I travel a fair bit and enjoy seeing the world through my camera and my own eyes. If you are familiar with Flickr, and even my Flickr site, you know I have thousands of shots of nature and enjoy seeing what God made.

When I'm close to a flower or the beach, the distance is fairly easy to determine. When I'm on an airplane and see the clouds or this rainbow which I saw from the golf course on Monday, I cannot so easily figure out how to measure the items. Of course, as a former mathematics teacher, I could use angles and radii and approximately measure items in the distance, but without all the formulas and measures, it's another story.

When the thunder sounds and lightning flashes, the formula is fairly simple. Count the number of seconds that pass between a flash of lightning and the crack of thunder that follows it, then divide that number by five. The resulting number will tell you how many miles away you are from where lightning just struck. (For metric conversions, divide the number of seconds by 3 if you want the answer in kilometers. A three-second count say, would place the lightning strike about 1,020 m away, or roughly 1 km.)

OK, if you are not mathematically oriented, then you might simply learn to take cover if the lightning/thunder differential is less than 3 seconds. That's easy! Don't delay.

Measuring is important historically. They built pyramids and Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, and so many major substantial structures without computers. They measured well and those structures are still here as a result. The Book of Deuteronomy reads, "then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one." (21.2) Measuring mattered back then. Consider this about distance and the ark of the covenant. "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3.3-4) They had to know what a cubit was, and then how to measure distance.

And they had to know how to get from here to there, and from there to here.

All around the golf course on Monday I kept looking for signs to help me get from 1st hole to 2nd to 3rd...to the 18th. And knowing where we are going, and measuring our energies, and measuring our expenses-- those are all part of determining our distance.

Nothing is clearer if you know about God, than that there is a great distance between humanity and the Almighty. I guess that's what Yom Kippur is about. That's what spiritual retreats are about. We learn that we are far from Him, from His plans, from His desires for humanity and making His Kingdom come among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering. And that distance is measurable. The prophet Isaiah said, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear."

But there is a way to shorten that distance. Hebrews 4.16 reads, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." God wants us to come to Him, and His arms are open to you. To me. To all of us.

The real answer is Yeshua, as we read in Hebrews chapter 10. "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

You want the shortest distance between two points? Between you and God? It's found in Jesus. Get to know Him. He's the Messiah and Saviour and lover of our souls. Want to talk about Him? Let's chat.

12 November 2015

World Trade Centre and seeing forever

Last week I ascended 102 stories of the new One World Trade Center in downtown New York City. The elevator took 47 seconds, and thus traveled 22 miles per hour to get me there. I was not alone. The queue outside was not too long on that Tuesday, and I was happy to exit the lift at the top. The view was blocked by a video screen which quickly ran a history of the development of the area and of the building itself. Then the screen lifted and voila there was the world outside From above as the sun set across the City.

I was delighted with the views. As I walked forward, the path took us past the restaurant/ cafe and then we paraded onto the 100th floor where the expanses were visible in all 360 degrees. I remembered the Twin Towers had a similar view, but this one was clearer on this day. No clouds; just New Jersey in the distant background as the sun kept setting.

The theme of the show was 'see forever' and the company that sells photographs of you superimposed on the scenery (which of course I had to buy, you know, just had to) is named See Forever .com or such. Here's my photo in the sunset But it's not the same sun and it's not the same day and it's not the same location and ... but otherwise it's all true.

So I got to thinking about seeing forever. Could I really see forever from the top of the WTC? In one way the phrase means that I have unlimited viewing. Nothing got in the way of my seeing into the far distance. The only limitation I had was my own optics. In other words if I had a big enough telescope or binoculars, I could have seen Argentina or at least Miami. Even so, that would have only allowed me viewing of places on earth, so my telescope would have needed to point further up and I could have seen Alpha Centauri or the Southern Cross or such. But hey, I can do that from anywhere... no need to see from the top of a building in NYC, you know?

So what else might 'see forever' mean? It could mean that I can see into forever, that is, look into the future (and I suppose the past as well, although rarely is that the intended meaning.) The prophets of the Jewish Bible (nicknamed by some the Old Testament) were those who could see into the future and make predictions and tell forth the justice and mercy of the Almighty. Perhaps this is the 'see forever' understanding to take away from the WTC that day. To be fair, the Jewish prophets like Isaiah, Joel, Micah.. never claimed to see everything, only to teach/ preach what they did see, but they understood their limitations. A wise man knows his.

So let me recommend the third way to see this phrase. That is to see that there really is a forever. If you understand that life on earth is not all there is or will be, and I'm not speaking cosmologically, but rather that your life of its 30 years, 70 years, 91 years and 214 days, however long, is not all there is to your existence, then you are 'getting' it. We were born to live forever. (Deuteronomy 29.29, John 6.51) And that's because God lives in eternity and lives forever. (Ex. 3.15, Dt. 32.40, Ps 10.16) And He desires us to have a relationship with Him which is real and good. We have sinned, long ago and even yesterday, and God doesn't blink at that and at those. (Ecc.7.20, Ps.51.5, James 1.15) However, He has satisfied His own justice by sending Yeshua, the Jewish messiah, to die for us in Jerusalem and to be raised from the dead on the 3rd day. Sin, the great prevention of our spending eternity with Him, has been eradicated and thus we can not only see forever, we can live forever with the Lord. That's better than Argentina or Alpha Centauri.

Want to read more? Check out the Bible verses above, and have a quick word with the Lord. That's what they call prayer. Ask Him if this is all true. Ask Him who Yeshua is. Ask Him.. you will have plenty of time to ask Him lots of other things, too, if eternity is real. You don't have to spend the $32 to ascend the World Trade Center. You can talk to God right in your home or on the train. You can meet Him just now. No need to wait until Tuesday. Want to do that?