27 August 2017

End of winter, here comes the sun

When I grew up in the middle of the US, winters were harsh, snowy, windy, cold. I bundled up and walked to school as a young lad, then took the bus and later even drove as a senior in high school. It was harsh; and I longed for springtime to replace the darkness.

This scene above was shot in Nashville last January and winter was real and harsh and I didn't like it. Maybe because I had become so used to winters in Australia where in Sydney the coldest it gets is 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius). Last weekend I traveled to Canberra and awoke to -2 (Celsius) temps and frost on the windscreen of the car. That was tough. But nothing like winters in Kansas.

This scene reminds me of the sunshine which is lacking during winter.
Psychologists talk much about the effects of winter on the soul. The amount of light is so minimal, certainly compared to summer's extended hours of sunshine,

The form of depression most often associated with variations in sunlight is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder runs in cycles of depression and wellness that follow the seasons -- more specifically, the availability of sunlight. Someone with SAD might feel perfectly fine in spring and summer, and then experience a severe downturn in mood when fall hits. They'll stay that way through the winter, until the sun comes out again in full force. SAD is particularly prevalent in parts of the world with little winter daylight and/or extended overcast periods, like Alaska or the U.S. Northwest.

The Guardian reported this in 2003.
"When it gets dark, a region of the brain called the pineal gland starts producing melatonin. This is thought to make our bodies cool down and feel drowsy, helping us fall asleep. But flick on the lights and melatonin production is cut off. The "hormone of darkness", as it is known, does not just make us sleepy. It has also been linked to depression. People who live in regions with very little sunlight tend to have higher levels of melatonin and are more likely to suffer from depression.

In 1997, in an attempt to bring joy to the miserably light-starved people of Helsinki, psychiatrist Timo Partonen of the National Public Health Institute gave people special lamps producing light that closely matched sunlight. After leaving the lamps on their desks throughout the winter people felt happier, less hostile and more alert.

Light also triggers changes in the brain that make us feel more cheery. Evidence is emerging that light pushes up levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, two key feel-good chemicals. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mild depression during winter, often crave foods like chocolate and strawberries, says Anne Farmer of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, which are high in tryptophan, a natural precursor to serotonin.

According to Partonen, physiological changes are just part of the story. "Light has been associated with good, and dark with bad. So, there is clearly a psychological influence," he says." (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2003/apr/24/thisweekssciencequestions3)

Maybe that's why I'm excited about winter's ending this week in Australia. I hear the Beatles singing, "Here comes the sun" and the temperatures are warming, the days are lengthening. I'm like a school kid all over again. Farewell, "long, cold, lonely winter."

No wonder we believers get excited when we ponder the coming of Messiah, too. Isaiah the prophet wrote, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them... For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (chapter 9, verses 2, 6)

The darkness of winter, of sin, of pagan teaching infecting the Jewish religion, of self-centeredness... all came to a head in the death of Messiah. Yeshua died to bear our weakness, to take our sin, to feel and welcome the darknesses around him, that we might have the righteousness, the light, the love of God in Him. What an exchange!
The Bible says, "God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Exchange darkness for light today. Trade in winter for spring. Depression in winter, natural serotonin, longer days... here comes the Son of God!

22 August 2017

On death and dying

John Donne's famous poem splashed across my thoughts all day today. My long-time friend Dennis Krause passed away yesterday and I read about it this morning. He was unwell but lived life fully. In his youth, he was a member of a couple rock and roll bands, most notable to me, the Hallelujah Joy Band. What a champion he was, staying at the same church he joined back in the mid-70s, serving in music, on the sound desk, and just about anywhere he was needed. His wife, the lovely Anne, is now a widow, way too soon. So which Donne poem? The 10th Holy Sonnet, "Death, be not proud." I quote it in full then add my comments below.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Maybe it's that I'm ageing at some new speed, but it seems that more people I know are dying. Last weekend in Kansas City, a group of friends from Shawnee Mission East High School class of 1969 remembered John Rooker, our former Senior Class President or Student Council president or such. Three men's memories stood out-- those given by Rick Daniels, Rick McNeely and his own brother Tom Rooker. Memories of days gone by. We come and go almost too quickly it seems.

Here in Australia a 7-year old boy is being remembered. He died in a horrible manner last Thursday in Barcelona, Spain. He and his mother were walking along Las Ramblas Boulevard, and according to Reuters today, "Julian Cadman was among the 13 people killed when a van driven by a suspected Islamist militant mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona... The boy was separated from his mother who was taken to hospital in a serious condition. Authorities in Australia and Britain had flagged he was missing since Thursday."

I don't know that anyone in Australia knows any other names of the 14 dead in Spain. There's something wrong, or just feels wrong, about the loss of a child. An innocent. Why did the Islamic terrorist feel that killing that boy was right? Why do we feel so badly about Julian Cadman being killed?

Maybe you remember the movie with Liam Neeson, Schindler's List from 1993, the Oscar-winning movie set during the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews and countless others were killed by madmen in uniforms. The scene highlighted in this still photo
makes the killing of millions personal. The girl in the red coat is one of unnamed thousands in the ghetto, gathered, escaping, hiding, caught. For some reason, when she is noted, we continue to watch for her, to care for her, to wonder what will happen to her. And isn't that what love does?

And maybe it's love, or a desire for love, that makes us so upset at the death of Julian Cadman. And the 13 others. It's one thing to note that 6,775 per day die in the US. But I only noticed two this weekend. Jerry Lewis, because the media made great mention of him here, and my friend Dennis. It's when death gets too close that we note it. But death is not the end. So said John Donne. There is eternity, and there is hope. "Death shall be no more." he said, "Death, thou shalt die"

Hosea, the Jewish prophet, wrote this, which no doubt influenced Donne. "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?" (Chapter 13, verse 14)

Paul the apostle picked up this notion and filled it full with his remarks recorded in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: "When this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, Where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (verses 54-57)

Donne and Paul and Dennis and I all have the same unwavering hope that those who put their faith in the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (many call him Jesus), will eventually join with the myriads in the company of heaven. It's heaven which is our eternal home, not Barcelona or Sydney or Warsaw. The grave is not our eternal resting spot. Finally John the Revelator wrote this in summary of the end of history as we know it. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Revelation 20.13-14) "Death, be not proud." We shall live again. And "death, thou shalt die."

05 August 2017

...then they came for the Jews...

I'm in almost shock as I read the news from Bondi this week. And the rest of the Jewish community is beyond unhappy as well. Waverley Council has knocked back the appeal of its citizens for a new synagogue to be built on Wellington Street. Maybe they would say, "Too many cars" or "not enough parking" or "the grading of the footpaths needs to be improved." But not one of those excuses were even mentioned. Why would the synagogue not be allowed to build on its property it owns already?

According to news.com.au, the Council "banned the construction of a synagogue in Bondi because it could be a terrorist target, in a shock move that religious leaders say has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent. The decision, which has rocked the longstanding Jewish community in the iconic suburb, was upheld in court this week as the nation reeled from the alleged airline terror threat and debate raged over increased security measures at airports and other public places.
The Land and Environment Court backed the decision by Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue, because it was too much of a security risk for users and local residents.
Jewish leaders are shocked the decision appears to suggest they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists — and that the council has used their own risk assessment of the threat posed by IS against it."

Yup, that's what it says. "they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists"

The hashtag OneWayReligiousTolerance is my phrase for this madness. Let a Muslim seek to build a mosque in Lakemba or Auburn and let the local council there deny their request because of security reasons. You will see marches in the streets; you will see terror and hostility like never before.

Look, to be fair Pastor Niemoller was not a stalwart pro-Jewish Lutheran pastor (compare Dietrich Bonhoeffer) but his quote is too good to miss. We must speak out on behalf of those Bondi Jews. We must stand up for religious freedoms, especially if the synagogue will maintain its own security, as it does worldwide, and certainly here in Sydney at schools and other synagogues.

Shame on the Waverley Council.
Let's write our local members (MP) .
Let's write our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull (twitter to @TurnbullMalcolm) and demand someone notice this travesty of justice, actually injustice. Or else Niemoller would be shouting "What will you do when they come for you?"

For more read the Daily Wire article which cites the News report on the 3rd. Read it here.