September 29, 2006


People are physical beings. So many times in the church we argue about meeting peoples' *spiritual* needs (the word "spiritual" usually used with an air of awe and reverence) and forget to meet their physical needs first. The typical example is the missionary going into a city full of starving people and saying "God loves you" without bothering to hand them his sack lunch. The funny thing is, most of the time they don't even say that, they say "you'll burn in hell if you don't repent," to which the starving people say "who cares, we're already there."

The irony in all this is that the church has one part of this right that they fail to extend outwards: ceremonies. Until recently, ceremonies have been acknowledged by the church as useful, even necessary tools in the journey of faith. A ceremony is simply any one-time event using symbols and imagery that marks a time and place as separate, distinct (as opposed to a ritual, which is a repeating event using symbolism, though both achieve the same ends). In the emerging missional movement, there has been a disturbing trend as of late (ironically following a precedent set by the evangelical, mainstream, and house-churches in their effort to be 'hip,' 'relevant,' and ‘seeker-sensitive’) towards the elimination of ceremonies. For example, churches are beginning to downplay the importance of baptism and in some cases, even weddings. To be fair, this is usually a reaction to their predecessors' misuse of baptism as a necessity for "salvation."

In my case, this is to be expected. I grew up in a church that practiced baptism by sprinkling. Due to other circumstances I ended up moving to a non-denominational church that practiced baptism by immersion. All was going well until the church told me that because I had not been baptized by immersion (they didn't go so far as to say only THEIR immersion), I was not a Christian. They had categories for people like me: the pious un-immersed; studying to be saved, but not actually in the kingdom and so if I died, I'd go to hell.

So many things are wrong with this that I won't even get into. The point is that I have just as much reason to disregard rituals and ceremonies as anybody. They have been misused and abused so much by the church through history that it would be easy to simply do away with them in favor of a steady, day-to-day rhythm of life. However, I do not believe this is wise either.

Rituals are actually a fairly useful practice. As I said, human beings are physical entities linked directly to their bodies. In C.S. Lewis' words, we are hybrids: half human, half spirit, we are not really one or the other, but a mix of the two that when intertwined give us a powerful advantage in the world. The two interact and affect each other, spirit on flesh, and flesh on spirit. It is easy to see then that rituals can have an impact on us as people.

Take baptism for example. Baptism is a ceremony which was initially set aside for the cleansing of sin (John the Baptist), but in light of Christ's death and resurrection, has been used by the church as a means of public declaration: I am a Christian. The ceremony is a biblical command, and while not necessary for salvation, has its benefits:
1. It connects the believer to all other believers who have gone through the same ceremony.
2. It gives the new believer a physical point in time from which to mark a transformation in their life.
3. It contains powerful symbolism on death and new life which is useful imagery that the community can learn from.
4. It is a public declaration of faith to the world, which is instrumental in sealing a believer's commitment - if you publicly declare something about yourself, you are far more likely to hold yourself to that belief.
5. It is a public declaration of faith to the church, who, now aware of the person's commitment, are able to support that person through their journey of faith.

I'm not advocating one form of baptism over another. Truth be told, baptism in water is simply a symbol, and so sprinkling, immersion, whatever you want, they all convey a message. Had I known about immersion at my own baptism, I would probably have opted that route, simply because I happen to like the metaphor of death and resurrection from the water, as well as the washing away of my old life to be replaced by the new.

That so many wish to do away with these ceremonies is understandable; as I said, I too have been hurt by them. But they are still useful and we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As Ashley Barker says in his book Surrender All, "Ceremony can be a way of touching the divine spark that God placed in our community from the start. Without attention, the spark can be lost. Visual, practical, and physical reminders can be our way of fanning into flame our common meaning and purpose. ... While these ceremonies are often simple, such as giving and receiving of prayer, they help provide the boundaries for new expectations and recognize the commitment of people."

September 28, 2006

A (Brief) Survey

I hadn't done one of these things in ages, so I thought, what the hell, why not? Maybe you'll find stuff about me that you didn't know.

Are you in a relationship? Yep. Lots of them – wife, friends, puppy, family …

Do you hate more than 3 people? Maybe

How many houses have you lived in? two, but one was in the basement. And one apartment and one flat.

What is your favorite candy bar? Tough call; perhaps snickers, twix, and mars on alternating days.

What are your favorite shoes? My hiking sneakers.

Have you ever tripped someone? Hell yeah.

Do you own a Britney Spears CD? No. And I never will.

Have you ever thrown up in public? Unfortunately yes, I’m one of those few who has such sensitive cochlea that I can’t read in a car, especially if said car is traveling through windy mountain roads along precarious cliffs. I get sick if that happens.

What is your favorite music genre? “music that doesn’t suck”.

What is your sign? “I’m with stupid”.

What time were you born? 4:10pm.

Do you like beer? No. But I like Germans.

Have you ever made a prank call? I tried once but I’m a terrible lier.

What is the most embarrassing CD you own? That’d have to be a Ricky Martin CD.

Are you sarcastic?

What are your favorite colors? Green, blue, black. Like a bruise, only less ominous.

How many watches do you own? 2: one swiss watch and one diving watch.

Summer or winter? Yes please.

Spring or fall? Autumn, especially one involving apple pie.

What is your favorite color to wear? Black.

Pepsi or Sprite? Pepsi. Except in Melbourne, then it’s gotta be Solo Lemonade.

What color is your cell phone? Black and Navy Blue.

Where is your second home? My … what? Home is where my underwear is.

Have you ever slapped someone? no.

Have you ever had a cavity? Yes. The filling looks like the rest of my tooth though.

How many lamps are in your bedroom? two

How many video games do you own? If by “own” you mean “purchased” … a bunch.

What was your first pet? A dog named Keeno and a cat named Kahlua.

Have you ever had braces? 9 months of painful hell; I am a brass player after all.

Do looks matter? Duh.

Do you use chapstick? Only when my lips are chapped, and sometimes not even then.

Name 3 teachers from your high school: Thomas, Olson, Baieve.

American Eagle or Abercrombie? Um … JC Penny?

Are you too forgiving? Yes.

Do you own something from Hot Topic? No, thank goodness.

What is your favorite breakfast? Buttermilk pancakes with blueberries and/or raspberries.

Do you own a gun? Soon …

Have you ever thought you were in love? I have thought that. Turns out I was right.

When was the last time you cried? Moving on …

What did you do 3 nights ago? Went out to dinner in the CBD.

When was the last time you went to Olive Garden? At least six months ago, it’s been far too long … but alas, they do not have them here in Melbourne.

Have you ever called your teacher mom? Yeah, Mama Thomas!!

Have you ever been in a castle? Many.

What are your nicknames? Chris. “Hey You”.

Do you know anyone named Bertha? No.

Do you own something from Banana Republic? No.

Are you thinking about somebody right now? My puppy, who is currently begging for her lunch.

Have you ever called someone Boo? No.

Do you own a diamond ring? No, but my wife does, if that counts.

Are you happy with your life right now? I’d like to think so.

Does anyone like you? I sure hope so.

What were you doing May of 1994? God only knows, I was like, 11.

McDonald’s or Wendy’s? Subway.

Do you like yourself? Occasionally.

Favorite feature of the opposite sex? Is that like an honest question?

Are you afraid of the dark? No. Afraid of things IN the dark? Yes. But mostly the things I’d trip over trying to feel my way to the bathroom.

Have you ever eaten paste? No.

Do you have a webcam? Yes.

Have you ever stripped? I stripped a wire once to build a phaser toy.

Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds.

What was the last film you saw at the cinema? Pirates of the Caribbean 2

What are your favorite TV shows? Thank God You’re Here, Bones, Stargate SG-1

What did you have for breakfast? Toast with Peanut Butter.

What is your middle name? Allen

What is your favorite cuisine? I like lots of them – Mexican, Chinese, sushi, Italian ...

What foods do you dislike? Summer squash, some fish … the list goes on.

What is your favorite CD at the moment? Jeremy Camp: Restored

What kind of car do you drive? Public transport, but hopefully a Rav4 eventually …

Favorite sandwich? Currently it’s a Subway Chicken teriyaki sub.

What characteristics do you despise? Whining, and morning-types.

What are your favorite clothes? Shorts and a t-shirt.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation where would you go? Cancun.

What color is your bathroom? ecru.

Favorite brand of clothing? The one that fits.

Where would you want to retire to? Who does that anymore?

Favorite time of day? dinnertime.

Where were you born? Rochester, NY

Favorite sport to watch? Melbourne Storm NRL

Are you a morning person or night owl? Night owl.

What did you want to be when you were little? I think astronaut, paleontologist, and garbage man were on the list.

What is your best childhood memory? Lego building in my room …

Eye Color? Hazel

Ever been toilet papering? Only to my bum …

Favorite day of the week? Currently they’re all about the same … perhaps Thursday …

September 27, 2006

September 26, 2006

Wednesday Update

A few random things today.

My wife has posted a couple new sets of pictures. I want to plug her photography as much as possible: she's an amazing photographer, and she's got this amazing new camera that I bought her and, well, she's doing some amazing things with it and I think you should see. I think I should get a medal if I can use 'amazing' a few more times.


Wildlife Photos

Flower Photos

The randomness continues: I am working on videos today after a tiring couple of days. I was at Urban Seed yesterday, which made for a long day, but we also had two (fantastic) guests here for the last two nights. Mike and Dave are new friends for me, but friends of friends. Denise (a wonderful friend and devoted pray-er from home who emails telling us she's thought of us at 3am; awesome!) had a son a while back and he grew up and decided to do an exchange program at Wollongong Uni in Sydney. He and his mate Mike went for a road trip, and we got to host them for two nights, make them breakfast, show them the city, the works. Good times. But I'm really tired now and so I'm holing up for the day.

Moving on. I love this new show I've discovered, called Thank God You're Here, and I found some new videos on YouTube, one of which was on last week. Amazing stuff, really.

TGYH: The Car Crash

TGYH: Robin Hood and His Merry Men

Lastly, definitions can be confusing. I've had a few people ask me now: what is the emerging church? While the answer can get complicated (go figure), this short clip is a fairly good summation of the umbrella category that is "emerging church." Brian McLaren, eat your heart out.

Staple Food

It's odd, but I find myself more tired on tuesdays than on any other day of the week. I'm not sure why this is. It might be that I have to wake up earlier than on any other day, so I can make the train to get down to Credo (Urban Seed). It might be because I never sleep well the night before. If those are the case, though, I reckon that it's got some sort of common denominator, something along the lines of dreading what's to come the next day.

Don't get me wrong - I like the people at Urban Seed, working with them, talking with them ... and yet, every monday night I start getting edgy, worried about what the next day will bring. It's always fairly predictable - chop up some veggies, maybe stir a pot or two, saw up some bread, put out silverware and chairs, that sort of thing. Then talk with people while they eat good food. It's not hard ... but at the same time, I dread it every week. No idea why. Maybe it's because I'm trying to be changed, to be moved, and while some of me wants to, most of me doesn't. Change is hard.

Anyway, after cooking and singing a rousing version of "Be Thou My Vision" (I bet you wish you could have hymns that were 'rousing' at your church), we read a bit from Luke's gospel today during the gathering that precedes tuesday Credo:

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here."

He replied, "You give them something to eat."

They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd." (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each." The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. [Luke 9:12-17]

I found myself unusually drawn to this particular scripture today. For some reason I'm horrible about disciplining myself to read the Bible on a regular basis, but when other people want to, I get sucked in like a paper plane into a tornado. Marcus asked us to start thinking about the sorts of questions that came out of our reading of this passage. People came up with all sorts of good ones, ranging from questions about Jesus' sovereignty to questions on whether or not Jesus was being hypocritical about feeding them miracle loaves of bread after he'd been tempted in the desert to do just that and said no (no, was the collective answer, he wasn't). My personal favorite was Marcus' point about Jesus' command that the disciples feed the crowd with what they had, despite the fact that the disciples were exhausted and that there were a gread deal more people than loaves of bread.

For some reason, I couldn't get past some of the more ... I dunno, edgy? mundane? irritating? obvious? questions that kept popping into my head, questions like:
-why is it that Jesus split everybody up into groups of fifty?
-where did the twelve baskets come from to collect all that extra bread and fish?
-how big were the baskets?
-were the fish cooked, or were they going for a sushi type lunch?

I brought up these questions to Marcus afterward, and as usual, he had a somewhat intricate response which I won't post here (because you'd have to know a lot about the way he thinks about scripture to understand it). Suffice it to say, it involves the symbolism of the number of baskets and another account in Mark about feeding four thousand guys. I still want to know where the baskets came from. I mean, did Jewish women just carry around baskets for fun? And seriously, why was the kid (in other gospels, we find out it was a kid with the lunch) the only one with a sack lunch, and why was it fish? I mean, fish go pretty stale after a while, at least, as far as I remember.

I dunno. I suppose I went into this whole internship with the aim to get answers to burning questions in my mind, questions about how to serve with a joyful heart, and the like. Instead, I seem to keep generating more questions. Is that the way it works? Does God just keep putting questions in our heads until we realize we can't ever answer them all?

September 24, 2006

Diving in Cairns

I made a video of our day out on the Barrier Reef when we were in Cairns. I hope you like it. Lessons learned for next time:
-Use the network cable, not the wireless when uploading to YouTube
-Take more pictures when out of the water for a better slide show

September 20, 2006


I had a dream the other night. I woke up in a cold sweat, the story pounding through my head, and suddenly I knew I couldn't sleep until I'd written it down. Let me know what you think.


"Silence!!" she bellowed, her voice rising over the clamor, bringing quiet to the room.

"Why does a voice echo in a room made of wood?" she asked.

"It's because of ..." started another student, silenced by an icy glare.

"I know what an echo is," she said slowly. "An echo is created when sound bounces off of a hard surface. Nobody likes a hard surface; you do not like bread that is too hard, nor a pillow or bed that is too hard. You do not want to fall onto hard stone, and you certainly don't want to be hit with a hard bat. Nor," she spoke more quietly, thoughtfully, "do those with hard hearts bring you any joy whatsoever." She paused as many considered this.

"But," she continued, "soft is no good either. A pillow that is too soft will not support your head. Water is too soft a surface to stand upon (though many would prefer to drift over it on hard surfaces), the children of soft parents are trying at the best of times, and air ... well air is enough to give us life, yet we move through it without a second thought."

"No," she said, "we must be careful to balance hard with soft. A hard heart is good for no one - its owner cares for no one. Rules are hard as well; they attempt to anticipate specifics for situations that have not happened yet. Likewise, a soft head is good for nothing but taking up space between one's ears; nobody profited by a soft head, least of all its owner."

"Child," asked a professor, his voice at once gentle yet firm, "do you propose a solution or are you simply wasting this school's time?"

"Of course I have an answer, I would not risk such a display if I didn't. The answer is principles. Principles are the perfect synthesis of hard and soft; they guide but do not injure. They are at once firm enough to stand upon but light enough to move through. A hard head and a soft heart, one might say. Case in point: The New Testement is loaded with principles but void of mandated rules."

"But what about the old testement? The ten commandments?" Another student looked up at her from a seat to her right, an innocent but quizzical expression on his face. "Aren't those rules?"

"Quite so," she said, "but what manner of rules? They do not speak to a situation, but to many situations. 'Have no gods before Me' is not so much a rule as it is a guide - how best to love God is to avoid all others that would steal His glory. 'Do not commit murder' is a principle. Jesus recognized this, he summed up all ten commandments into two: 'Love the Lord with your heart, soul, mind, and strength' is a principle. 'Love your neighbor as yourself' is a principle, not a rule.

"Think of the ten commandments as principles to explain how one is to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and how to love their neighbor as themselves. One can always turn to a principle for the answer in any situation; you might say that it's the spirit of the thing. You can fight for a principle; you cannot fight for a rule."

September 19, 2006

Thank God You're Here

I know, I keep posting videos lately. This one I couldn't turn down though: I've watched this show a few times and it's absolutely hillarious. Basically, the idea is that famous personalities come on the show to do a "Whose Line"-type improvisation, except that they're introduced into a scene about which they know nothing. They're placed in a costume and they have to find their way through the scene as creatively as possible and without screwing up too badly. I like this one because it's ... well, you'll see.

September 18, 2006

Story Time with Chris

So wouldn't ya know, I actually did create a video for our time here a few months ago. It's not very good, and for about half of it, you have to have attended Crosswinds (the church we went to in the States) at least once or twice. But hey, it's a video, and it's one of my first, so boo-yah! I'm going to try and start editing new videos at some point here, maybe once I free up some hard drive space (you wouldn't believe how much space video takes up, it's unreal). Anyway, I hope you like it.

September 17, 2006


"Do this in remembrance of me."

I wondered why Jesus would say that. It sounds so solemn, so sad, as if it's easy for us to forget the central figure of history who up and died on a cross. But then it occurred to me - he wouldn't have asked us to remember if he figured it'd be easy; it's not a "just making sure" sort of comment. So why did he think that we (or the disciples, at the time) were going to forget what he did?

I think the answer lies in something I seem to write about more often than not: memory. I don't have a very good one; actually, I have the memory of a fish (as I've written on numerous occasions, forgetting each time that I wrote about it before). If I'm doing something, and something else happens, I completely forget about the first thing. It's a real problem.

It also means I go on long tangents.

So I started to wonder, did Jesus tell us to make sure to remember him because he was thinking we'd be busy doing soemthing else? If so, what was that other thing to be?

Maybe the answer is the great commission. He said "go and make disciples of all nations". You know it, we've all read it about a bajillion times. But maybe that's just it - we need to remember to take the time and remember because the rest of our life is to be full of loving our neighbors and of making disciples - of others, and of ourselves. If we spend a lot of time making disciples, we might forget to simply stop and remember Jesus' sacrifice.

But I suppose we should ask ourselves: has our remembering taken the front seat? Has the modern-day church spent too much time reminiscing and not enough time serving and making disciples?


September 15, 2006

Politics and the Way of the Backpeddler

Have you ever done something and then wondered why you just did that? I do it all the time. I'm a fairly avid backpeddler - I say, do, think, and feel stuff all the time that I often regret. I was the kid who mom always had to ask "why did you say that?" The whole "think before you speak" lesson never sank in so well. I'm not entirely sure if this is normal or not, but I feel like even if it is, I do it more often than the average person.

The reason I like writing so much is that you can edit what you write after days of thinking about it. You can look at it from every angle, pondering possible reactions from people. I feel like I keep more friends that way. I say stuff all the time that is offensive and rude, mostly because it never occurred to me that it might be offensive; in fact, if somebody points out to me "that's offensive because ___", I'll often be so increadibly sorry that I say something else stupid. I don't mean to, and I'm not a malicious person at heart, I just don't think fast enough to keep up with my mouth.

But even writing has its limits. I wrote a
post on politics the other day out of sheer frustration. I don't remember editing it very much before I posted it; it was posted in a fit of sheer emotion. Part of the reason I'm writing about it now is that I need to make something very clear: that post was more about equality and fairness than it was about my own views. I'm not a huge Bush fan, but I also don't hate him; but I do hate politics right up there with beetroot, squash, and the crud on the bottom of the pool.

I suppose that, on some level, I'd really like to "retract" what I wrote just because more people might like me, but on another level, I look at it and see nothing particularly wrong with it. It's not a representation of my political views, just of a few thoughts I had.

And so I present my limited political views, for your amusement. Maybe this clears the air, but feel free to disagree with me. I know politics gets a lot of people riled up a bit (and in my family, we usually have a rule that we don't talk politics, lest it create an air of tension around the dinner table), and so please try to take it in stride that these views are mostly in-progress and subject to the swing of my mood. Please don't be offended: chances are I like you, and so remember my innocence and obliviousness when you think about smacking me one the next time we meet.

Politics with Chris

1. Bush seems like a nice guy. I don't agree with lots of things he says, or the way he says them. But all in all, he seems fairly nice. Clinton seemed fairly nice too. So did Ralph Nader. I didn't particularly enjoy the whole Lewinsky thing, but then again, I don't much like the Iraq war either. I don't think anybody likes death or lies. Some things, however, are out of my control, and at least Bush is honest about the stuff he does that I don't like. The thing that DOES bug me, though, is when people talk about stuff with seemingly "well-formed opinions" that they really know little to nothing about. I have a rule: don't trust the media for your news.

2. Religion and State mix funny. I think when religious people try to make laws (especially fundamentalists - and let's be clear, atheists are just as religious as muslims and christians), they screw the whole process up. For example, I am pro choice, but not in the way that most people define it. I think that you shouldn't have an abortion - it's killing a life, a life you created and are responsible for. However, I don't have a right to tell you what to do, any more than you have a right to force me to do anything. I think that trying to put into law so many bans and all that (the bans on gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, etc.) is just creating problems for everybody, and nobody listens to people they don't like. I sure don't. Forcing somebody "not to sin" isn't much good - they still wanted to do it, and ultimately, their choices are not on my hands.

3. The environment is important. I don't like the idea of drilling for oil in Alaska; there's a lot of cool stuff there that I haven't gotten to see yet, and I'd really like to! I also don't much like war - it also destroys the environment, and people. SUVs and volcanos and Trucks and trains and people littering all destroy the environment. I recyle as best I can, and I use public transport. Human beings and are symbiotes with this world, and we have to realize that what we do affects us in lots of ways. But when it comes down to it, if I had to choose between my wife or kids or some stranger and a squirrel or deer or horse or plant, I think I'd have to choose the person. But I really like what Google is doing now - to think, somebody is trying to do something for everybody else at their own expense ...

4. I'm not sure where to put myself on a political spectrum. Some issues - the environent, for example - put me fairly left. Others put me towards the right. I guess I'm not really a person that likes the categories to begin with (because no one category will ever get it 100% correct), but I do have to decide, and so I sort of pick and choose my side depending on each issue. I'm just as likely to vote Republican as I am to vote Democrat or Green or Conservative or Liberal.

5. You can disagree with me as much as you like - that's the beauty of freedom. Just know that you're not allowed to disagree with me violently. Attacking me is not your right; nor is it mine to attack you for your views. But at the same time, sticking up for those whose rights are being violated is also a value worth exploring. Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, India - in so many places, those in power oppress those that are weak, and I think that maybe those of us who can do something about it should. War is a quick fix, I guess, but it often just breeds more discontent, more war, more hate, and starts a downward spiral that won't be easily remedied. That, and it's hard to negotiate with people who are already trying to kill you and anybody that doesn't think like they do.

To be perfectly honest, there's a good reason I avoid politics as often as I can: it's about making decisions for a lot of people that all disagree with one another, a job that I do not envy. I think that anybody who gets into politics is just as likely to be getting into it for their own interests as for the interests of others, and it's nearly impossible to tell the difference - they all speak so nicely.

I've probably just alienated half my reading audience, but I thought maybe that might clear the air. Feel free to try and persuade me to another viewpoint; I promise I'll think about what you say. I guess I try to be open-minded about stuff, and I really just like people and individuals a lot more than large groups. It's easier to talk to an individual.

September 14, 2006

Back from Vacation

I suppose returning home shouldn't be such a big deal most of the time. But this time it felt weird somehow. Liz and I were walking (half running, really) to the train to go pick up Wisdom today, and she mentioned to me the same feeling: it's like home, but not ...

I think this is probably more of an issue to those people, like me, who have never really moved much. I spent the first eighteen years of my life in one house (minus the first two weeks of my life, spent across the street), and the next four in college half an hour away, and the next year half an hour south. I suppose it's only natural to feel odd about calling a new city "home," but in our case the city in question is literally half a world away from the place we've both grown up. To return to Melbourne from Cairns was funny because in a way, it's like Melbourne was supposed to be a vacation - albeit, a long, work-filled one - and "returning home" only applied to one place before.

All this to say, I did a lot of writing while I was in Cairns. It was a fantastic week of rest, relaxation, diving, and eating. For your literary convenience, I thought perhaps I'd provide links to each post. There are some great photos in there, if you don't really feel like reading my ramblings. Really, I won't be hurt.


To Keep the Rabbits Out

There's just something about Aussie humor that gets me every time.

September 13, 2006

Cairns - Monday

Liz's camera finally came today. In a weird sort of way, it's a good thing it came today, just because it gave us something to do; we spent the morning figuring out the basics of how it works. It's a complicated little thing, but it takes really nice pictures. It has so many buttons and menus and odd abbreviations and acronyms that I think Liz will be kept busy for quite some time just learning the new language we've dubbed "Canon."

The highlight of the day was, as we didn't do much during the day, dinner. Tonight, to thank Shawna and Matt for their brilliant hospitality and wonderful friendship, we took them to the Hog's Breath Cafe, a restaurant in Cairns that serves steak.

This, however, is no ordinary steak. This steak is slow-cooked for at least eighteen hours before being briefly seared to perfection (and to order) on a grill. It is, in short, unbelievably tasty. The only steak I've ever had to match it was one of those $25 (insanely expensive) steaks that Liz and I bought at Wegmans to take with us camping. We froze it, then filled the bag with teriyaki sauce to slowly marinate for three days as it defrosted, to ultimately be grilled over open flames in the middle of nowhere in the Adirondacks. Hog's Breath steaks are that sort of good - the sort of steak we all wish we could cook.

It made me long for my own grill. Summer is starting to creep in here in Australia, slowly but surely. Already many new buds are out in Melbourne (though they never went away here in Cairns), and summer is, as we all know, the season of barbeques and campfires, of late nights talking over a drink with friends, and of swimming, kayaking, boating, fishing, and generally spending more time outside than in.

I think a grill is a perfect symbol for summer, and for my new take on how God asks us to live. A grill is servanthood: somebody has to prepare the food, to grill it to perfection, and to serve it to those that will eat it. A grill is friendship: many friends gathered around the grill talking and laughing and telling stories long into the evening, waiting for that last hot dog before we shut it off for the night. A grill is dirty; it's not perfect, it's got to be cleaned from time to time, and sometimes doesn't work quite right. But a grill is also memories, of campfires and parties and many good times.

I think church is all of that and more. We're to serve our neighbors and our communities and our planet, but we're also to befriend all of those around us, to live a life worthy of Christ's. We're also to celebrate life, to live it to its fullest, unhindered by the rules of man; we are free. We are to remember; I think if Jesus were to do the last supper again, he might do it around a grill - had Jesus come 2000 years later, communion might be, instead of wine and bread, a beer and a burger. Can you imagine? "Take this, the cheeseburger of life, and remember me. This beer is my blood, shed for you." The wesleyans and baptists would freak out about that one. I think the catholics might like it though.

Christianity is, first and foremost, a religion for the normal people. That we've turned it into a thing of splendor and pomp is a shame; Jesus pulled ordinary guys - guys that burp and goof off and don't put down the toilet seat - to help plant the seeds for his kingdom. The women that followed Jesus were not of the refined sort - prostitutes and whores and widows and the like followed him long before executives and housewives did. I think maybe it's time to stop taking ourselves so seriously.

Cairns - Sunday

Yesterday and Today were spent travelling and lounging in Atherton, QLD, at the ranch of Matt's parents. The beauty of Atherton is remarkable, and I saw the first wild kangaroo since I've been here. It was 50 meters away and the only reason I knew it was a roo was when it bounded away up the hill.

Because it was Atherton, there wasn't a whole lot for me to do. Matt and his parents took care of all the cooking, and wouldn't hear of help cleaning, especially given my possibly-contagious, sinus-clogged, running-nose, snot-sucking state. At some point, Matt and his father wandered off to do Coleing things (about which Matt mentioned only that he was helping his dad with something mysterious), and Shawna and Liz were happy to reminisce and talk with Matt's mother. As it happens, I can't reminisce about things that I've not yet done, and after I'd exhausted all possibilities of entertainment with Bundy, the family bird, I settled into a chair with my laptop and spent some quality time writing.

I don't get to write this much while I'm at home. There's always something else to be doing, which is why I love vacations so much. The Aussies love them too, so much so that a standard full-time just-out-of-College job here starts with at least 4 weeks of paid vacation, to say nothing of the jobs that earn a lot of money, and not including the fifty or so long weekends due to public holidays - they celebrate everything with a long weekend. Needless to say, I balked when I heard this, and drooled at the thought of working in such a place as this.

Of course, as one ends up running out of subjects to write about, he begins to edit. But as it happens, a guy can only edit the same five articles so many times, and sooner or later, needs some fresh material. So I began to dream.

Someday I want to have my own little office in our house, with lots of bookshelves (which I could probably already fill up) and a big desk that has one of those insanely comfy chairs behind it. I can invite people (students, friends, whoever) into my office, where they might admire my fish tank while I tidy up some papers I'd been working on. As they sit down in another comfy chair across from the desk extension, they'd see my bonsai tree next to a little cactus and a miniature ecosystem-in-a-bubble. On my desk would be a stylish yet barely noticeable desk lamp, the laptop plugged into a dock, the flatscreen monitor pulsing a mesmorizing but strangely satisfying screen saver. After they managed to pry their eyes from the screen saver, they would notice the fern in the corner, and perhaps decide to examine the many rows of books, all arranged by category and genre. Perhaps they would pull out the complete works of Calvin and Hobbes, or examine my collection of postmodernism texts, or peruse the sci-fi novels. As I finished, they'd nearly trip over the dog, who just wandered in to say hello before we got down to business, and notice the collection of exotic foreign masks, instruments, and swords on the wall next to the door.

It's the seemingly insignificant details that make dreaming so interesting. I've not yet given thought to what sort of fish I might want in the aquarium, or what color the carpet might be (though I know the wood would be of a dark flavor, perhaps cherry or oak), but I think those details are best left to the time I'm actually planning the thing. I also haven't decided if I want a couch in my office. Couches are very nice, but sometimes they can clog up useful space that might be used for more books or a recliner. And maybe I'll have a pipe sitting on a shelf, not because I want to smoke, but because it looks sort of distinguished. My grandfather had pipes in his office, and I always thought they looked (and smelled) fairly nice. I think my office would be as much a museum and library as it would be a working space; I like that sort of thing. Photos of my travels and family would be around my office on the walls, I think, or maybe they'd be the screen saver. Maybe I'd even have a trio of flags in the corner: American, Australian, and Swiss.

I often wonder if I'll ever get to do this at all. Will I be able to afford a house that gives me a space for an office? Will we settle down near one place, perhaps the university at which I teach, or will my life involve traveling, moving from place to place, renting small apartments with barely enough space to contain the energy of our children?

Cairns - Saturday

Queensland is a big place. The state begins at Australia's northern border (around the equator) and moves rapidly south, nearly two-thirds the distance down the coast. Despite its massive size, Queensland has only one large city, Brisbane, and several smaller ports (Cairns, Port Douglass, and Townsville). However, it boasts a massive diversity of ecosystems, from outback bush to dry desert to steep mountains to lush wetland to beach coastline. It also is the home of the world-famous barrier reef, one of this planet's natural wonders.

Many of these ecosystems are found in the tablelands, our destination for the day. Among them are a particularly isolated group of tree kangaroos that dwell on the top of a single peaked hill surrounded by grassy knolls. On the outskirts of Atherton, a scattered country town in the tablelands, Matt's parents own a rather fascinating house, complete with outdoor camping kitchen (stocked with iron pots and dutch ovens) and a variety of fruit plants (lemon, orange, tomato, and mullberry) in the yard.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by the dog (a friendly little bloke who is apparently not allowed to lick you), Matt's parents, and Bundy, a Galah (a sort of parrot) who enjoys seeds, flowers, and a scratch behind the neck. I kid you not: the bird is more domesticated than our dog, working his way around the cage (inside and out) as entertainment, in between his little squeeks for attention from anybody around. He prefers walking to flying, using his beak and two little feet to climb the cage to its open doors, using them as ledges to perch upon and beg for a scratch.

Unlike Cairns, Atherton is more varied in its temperatures. Instead of Cairns' two varieties (hot/dry and hotter/humid), Atherton claims a wider range, from just above freezing to hot and beyond. An example: when we arrived, it was quite warm, and we were all sweating. When we ate dinner, a mere four or five hours later, the temperature had dropped to the point that we all changed into jeans and long-sleeved shirts. I'm told that in the evening it may drop to just above freezing (roughly 2C), but I'll be inside and don't intend to find out.

Before dinner (on empty stomachs, as we hadn't eaten since the breakfast burgers we had at 9am), we found our way (aka Matt and Shawna walked with Liz and I in tow, struggling to keep up) to a spectacular waterfall and natural pool on the side of one of the mountains at the end of a long mountain road. By "long mountain road," I mean a very long old logging road that was barely a foot path (by Adirondack standards). And we drove the length of it with four of us packed like sardines in a very small, decently aged coupe that can bottom out if you ate too much for breakfast. Somehow we made it in and out without major damage to the car and mostly intact nerves. Then we walked through a thin little path through the trees of varying elevation (lots of up-and-down) over scraggly sharp rocks and finally down a steep, peril-frought cliff.

But the waterfall was spectacular. I took a picture.

In the evening, after a scrumtuous roast that had been cooking for four hours, we retired to the living room to watch the Brisbane-St. George's footy game (which Brisbane lost, to our dismay), and then went to bed, stuffed with good food.

Cairns - Friday

Today we had breakfast with birds.

I woke up this morning - early - to the pain of a cold and a slight sinus infection. My head felt like a bowling ball, as if I hadn't slept all night, and my sinuses were swollen and mostly clogged. With Liz's encouragement, I managed to drag myself out of bed and shower. When we left, the sun was at just such an angle as to provide the maximum number of its rays into my face as it could. The drive was an hour long, through tight, winding highway along the coast between Cairns and Port Douglass (not unlike the drive to Kuranda).

Having set up my initial misery, I have this to say: I'm glad Liz dragged me out of bed to go to this place. I think that everybody should go to have breakfast with birds sometime.

It works like this: you go in, pay your entrance fee, and are sent to the breafast tent, where a young woman in khaki outback gear cheerfully greets you and shows you to your table (after pouring you your choice of a glass of champaigne or OJ). After advising you to leave your choice beverege covered with a napkin, she points you off towards a large buffet of breakfast food. Then you pig out.

The eggs were cooked right in front of me, as was the toast they went on. There were more varieties of fruit than I know the names for, and a nice selection of decent pastries to choose from. Then came the sausages, baked beans, and hash browns. But my favorite part was the freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

Apparently, the birds like the juice too, because no sooner had we sat down to eat our first round, than a number of parakeets with shiny blue heads hopped up onto the table and began slurping away from my cup (and so I had to go get a new one). A large white bird with rather long beak noticed Liz's bacon, and began helping herself. A small bird with what looked like dreadlocks hanging from his head lurked in the background, no doubt hoping something scrumtuous might get thrown his way.

To summarize: there was no shortage of entertainment. Birds could be seen in every direction, and if the birds weren't entertaining enough, occasionally a small child would provide additional amusing commentary. I think I only ate about half of the food that I picked up; the rest was consumed by the birds who not-so-quietly appeared at the edge of the table.

After breakfast, we made our way to see the koalas. They were very cute, but they didn't move that much.

Then we discovered the kangaroo pen. The whole park is interactive (with the possible exception of the crocodile pen and the snake tank), and so walking from the koala pen to the kangaroo pen, we encountered an emu, a large flightless bird that was more interested in the bowl of fruit than in our approach.

The kangaroo pen is a large circle with a stream running through the middle and a path meandering in between patches of trees. Several varieties of kangaroo make their home amongst these trees, including wallabees (a sort of tiny, fuzzy kangaroo) and the usual kangaroo you'd see on postcards in every giftshop in Australia. The roos spend their whole time in what I'd imagine is the American dream: eating, drinking, sleeping, and having sex. I know that they eat: I fed them. I know that they drink: they're still alive and have a large pond from which to lap water. I know they sleep: half the roos were lounging around the entire hour we were in the pen, especially a large male who preferred the warmth of the sun and the soft grass by the pond than the food Liz repeatedly offered him. I know they must have sex: I saw several kangaroo females carrying joeys in their pouches and drew the obvious conclusion.

As I said, we got to feed them. Liz bought a small pouch of roo food, and spent the next hour in constant amusement. One roo in particular seemed to take a special liking to her, as he started following Liz for short distances until she'd return back to feed him again. At one point, he began holding her hand with his little paws so she wouldn't leave. Eventually, of course, he made his way through the entire bag of food, at which point he started eating the bag.

After we exhausted ourselves with the roos (and made our way through a rainforest exhibit full of more birds), we made our way to the beach and had lunch at a little mom and pop burger joint we ran across. Then we made our way up the hill to the overlook.

The view from the overlook was worth the long trudge up the stairs (and the ensuing headache from sinus congestion) to get there. Deep blues and brilliant turquoise mingled in the ocean as it lapped upon a golden tan beach spotted with tourists (and one naked baby). Palm trees swayed in the light breeze as a radiant sun shone down from the nearly cloudless sky.

It was that cool.

At this point, after taking many pictures, we moseyed our way down to the car and began the long trek home, where I crashed for a nap to recover.

Cairns - Thursday

Today was the big event: diving the great barrier reef. It's the diver's event of a lifetime, I'm told (especially for those of us that live in the northeast and are surrounded by mucky lakes), and as such, it was a day I've been awaiting with much anticipation for nearly a year. Scuba diving is an amazing gig, to be sure, but it's a skill I haven't used in two years, since my honeymoon. It was a lot of fun then, despite the extraordinarily small boat on the rediculously large waves of the day that nearly led to seasickness for both of us. My first ocean dive, three years ago, was in Hawaii, on a rather decent-sized dive boat. It was the sort of boat you go on only for diving; bare necessities, but large enough that it wasn't tossed by the waves.

This time, as every time I dive, was different. Quite different, in fact, and not just because of the location. Like an idiot I forgot my towel, and as such am currently indebted to my wife for the use of hers. The boat - or rather, yacht - we dove from was a twin-hulled monstrosity with all the modern amenities; toilets, showers, air conditioning, windows XP (apparently they trust a Dell to control the GPS and navigational systems - take THAT, apple), and, of course, a bar with beer and wine.

And the diving ... oh, the diving. Even now, thinking back on it (despite my headache from a bouyancy issue I had at the end of my second dive), I'm nearly drooling. Fish everywhere, in schools packed so tight that it was hard to see the coral behind it. And such diversity of sealife! - barramundi, a thousand varieties of coral, sea cucumbers (the infamous sand-eating slugs of the sea), giant clams, angel fish, clownfish, anemonies, and many others.

I've never seen such colors underwater. Diving Hawaii was pretty good, but the reef was extremely young (relatively speaking, due to the nature of the volcanic activity in the region) and so all the coral was a sort of dull greyish-brown color, punctuated only by the many tiny (yet brilliant) fish that lived there. The barrier reef is extremely old, dating thousands of years, and the time has given it a chance to grow to staggaring proportions. As with everything in Australia, things out on the reef just get big; some of the angelfish we saw were the size of my chest, and given the amount of tim-tams I've had since we got here, that's saying something.

More words cannot describe what I saw out there today. Instead, I'll leave you with something else: pictures. Liz and I rented a digital dive camera today, and though its battery died halfway through the second dive, we managed to capture a few gems (and yes, every one of these were taken by either Liz or myself). Enjoy them - we certainly did.

Clownfish in an Anemonie, aka Nemo and Marlin

The Reef is a Colorful Place

Batfish in Open Water

Barramundi are Protected on the Reef

School of Fish

Baby Giant Clam

Sea Turtle

Cairns - Wednesday

Driving on the left side of the road, day 2: today, Liz and I decided to take my newly acquired skill to a new level and brave driving the road to Kuranda, an aboriginal tourist attraction (mostly shops) up through the Kuranda mountains. Getting there is a bit of a nightmare; the road up through the mountains is mostly switchbacks - it looks less like a road and more like a two-year-old's squiggle-drawing on the map.

The hardest part, for me (the driver) was going around the curved switchbacks as large heavy-duty construction trucks came flying around the curves from the other direction, leaving little room for error; to drift too far one way means getting flattened by the truck, and to drift too far the other way is to run into the mountainside. Needless to say, I was a bit high-strung the whole way there. Once we got there (to my great relief), we ate lunch at a little cafe. As we ate, I noticed a little place across the road that sold aboriginal art - and didgeridoos.

I've wanted a didgeridoo since I heard of them. When I was in college, Mike, CP and I spent an evening and a decent amount of money on PVC piping to try and build our own didgeridoo, under the theory that perhaps we could combine the didgeridoo with the bagpipes, or at least the trombone. In the end, the trombone thing sort of worked, but it was CP's project and he got to keep it; I still wanted one of my own.

The didgeridoo is a quirky instrument with a rather interesting story. Since I first learned of its existence, I've often wondered what posessed the first aboriginal to use a termite-eaten tree limb as an instrument. To make a didgeridoo:

1) Wander the outback - a vast expanse of nothingness full of many poisonous things that can kill you several times over - and find a tree limb that's been hollowed out by termites, and remove the limb from the tree. The limb should ideally be wider at one end than at the other.
2) Eliminate the termites from within the tree limb. Enough said.
3) Sand down the outside to a smoothness of your liking.
4) Paint and stain the outside with a story of your choice. Often this involves the stories of your fathers ("you" usually being a man, as women are not allowed to paint the animals involved in storytelling). The designs used are done by pointilism, an art form that takes time and precision, something the aboriginals have in abundance and do very well.
5) Affix a rim of wax to the smallest end of the tube. This is more for comfort than function. Cure the wax to relative hardness, and you're finished!

The didgeridoo, when played by those who created it, is a magical instrument capable of a wide variety of expressions that are used in the aboriginal storytelling circles. Like a language, the sounds are put together to create stories. These stories are beautiful, and take many forms. As you may have noticed, I love storytelling, in its many forms - writing, art, and of course, music. Me and the didgeridoo were fated to meet at some point.

I spent the better part of an hour working through nearly every instrument in the place, each an original work of art by an aboriginal craftsman. When I found the one - and it's a beauty - Liz and I went for a walk to think it through. They're not particularly cheap, but it was an opportunity I'd been waiting for for years. Obviously we bought it; it's a D instrument (it drones on the note of D) and has a carved-painting of a snake that runs the length of the tube. I'll have to wait to get home to america to unpack it to play it again, as the lady who packed it up did such a good job that it can be shipped as-is. I'm not sure I want to chance re-packing it, and so now comes the hardest part - waiting.

September 12, 2006

Cairns - Tuesday

If you ever want to be humbled - especially if you're a pasty, sort of lumpy new yorker - go to a tropical climate; everyone - the women, the men, the snakes, everyone - is thin and fit. I imagine it's because of the heat and humidity: you can't have body fat because it's just too much effort to carry around. Stepping off the plane into the Cairns airport was like stepping from a humidifier into a lake. If I was going to live here year-round, I imagine I'd lose ten or fifteen kilos in sweat alone, and maybe even that extra something around the middle built up over the months from too many tim-tams.

The hardest part is knowing that this isn't as bad as it gets. I'm told that this is the least humid that it gets during the year; their winter is a gorgeous tropical paradise, and though this week is unusually humid for this time of year, the summer here is simply three months of hell on earth: 100% humidity, and scorching temperatures up to 40C. It's either raining or just about to rain during the summer, and a guy has to just accept the fact that he's going to be wet all the time, either from the rain, from his own sweat, or from the ocean he just walked into because he needed to cool off for a minute.

Ah, the joys of flight; give me four hours in a crowded tin can with pleather seats and I can move from a mild temperate zone into the tropics. Note to self: buy some noise-cancelling headphones for the next plane flight; listening to music gets harder and harder every flight. I hope my hearing isn't damaged at all from background noise+jet engine noise+music noise.

Humidity aside, this land is absolutely gorgeous. I've so far only seen it at midnight, by moonlight in a car that was a bit too heavy (again, too many tim-tams and a slightly overpacked suitcase did a number on Matt's car on the way home), but the things I saw make me drool with anticipation for the things I've yet to see here.

I only hope that Liz's new camera makes it here in time for us to get some use out of it. We bought her a brand-new Canon 350D (Rebel XT for those in America) from a store on Ebay, and after a month of haggling, found a way to get them to send it here to us in Melbourne. Then they mailed it to my parents' house in NY. I said a few not-so-kind words at this point, as we were really hoping to be able to bring it with us on our trip; the tropics warrant a good camera, and from the palm trees and the deep blue sky I can see just outside the window, I gather that I'll be taking pictures left and right. My parents, the kind, wonderful souls that they are, offered to mail it to us in time for our trip; until they realized that this kindness would cost them $300 in order for it to get here in time, at which point somebody suggested mailing it to Shawna and Matt instead, a much more reasonable kindness (to which they happily agreed) and one that I hope works out as planned.

Today's tasks:
-buy some new, non-black t-shirts so I don't die of body heat + sun
-buy new board shorts for swimming and scuba diving
-take lots of pictures
-don't get bitten by poisonous snake or spider
-avoid stingrays at all costs; the poor Irwin family, our prayers are with you!
-rent car and avoid hitting other drivers (note to self: learn road rules for left-side driving, particularly roundabouts)

[update: much later]

-bought t-shirts and board shorts
-didn't get bitten, and didn't get near the ocean
-rented a car, didn't kill anyone

Let me tell ya, driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time (sorry, the left-hand side) was a rather frightening experience. It certainly brings to light all the multitasking that I'm so used to when driving in the states; even the little things, like coordinating turning the wheel with flipping the signal-lever, all the while trying to check for traffic from the other direction (the one I'm not used to), and then not hit the curb as I enter the roundabout.

Funny things, roundabouts. We don't have many of them in America, though I can't see why. There's one in Gettysburg, and I'm pretty sure I ran into one (in a metaphorical sense) down in the southerntier of Upstate NY. But here in Australia, they're everywhere. Because they are more cost-effective to build (you don't need to worry about signal-light timing) and are more efficient for moving heavy traffic in multiple directions (in Melbourne, the famed 'worst roundabout ever' moves traffic in five directions, in addition to the two tram lines that cross it), the Australians have chosen roundabouts as the preferred method of intersecting two (or more) roads.

The beauty of roundabouts is that if you're doing all this multitasking while driving (which for some includes talking on cell phones, doing their makeup, and of course, my personal favorite, eating), and you happen to miss a turn, you just keep going around and around until you figure out which road you were supposed to take.


Two weeks ago sunday marked a bit of an event in Mimos history. For the first time (in our long and eventful history of six-ish months) we began transitioning leadership. I think I've mentioned before that Ruth (the current teaching pastor) is up and leaving with her family, bound for Thailand to serve alongside other Christians on the Thai-Burmese border at an orphanage. The trouble is, she's the one who has the apostolic gift on our leadership team of five, and is usually the one who God talks to about the direction of our church.

I say "usually" because that's why it's a leadership TEAM - we all get God talking to us from time to time (and hopefully we're listening), it's just that He seems to have picked out the apostles in the church to talk to more often about mimos' future. And of course, mimos works on the principle that every single one of us - including Thomas, who's only four years old - is a minister and capable of doing God's work here on earth (and thatn often means that much of the direction of the church comes from people not even on the leadership team).

In her place are two people, the first of whom was introduced this past weekend. Annette Dobson is to take Ruth's place as the go-between (dare I say "pastor" without the term misrepresenting her role?) from mimos to the Wesleyan-Methodist denomination here in Australia. Annette has already been taking care of the various administrative functions (in addition to her role as a member of the leadership team), and has been with us since the beginning of the plant. The thing is, God has also been talking to Annette - quite extensively, I might add - about mimos' future, and has given her a vision so compelling that I wish we could stick around just to see if we're up for the challenge! I won't share what that vision is just yet, because I think Annette would say it a whole lot better (and if I can just get her to comment on the bottom ....).

The second person has yet to be decided, but Sarah Bolsche has been asked to take Ruth's vacant spot on the leadership team. Sarah too is a wonderful devoted follower of Jesus, with a gift for Apostleship (questioning the rules and pushing the church to always be expanding into new territory) that I envy.

In fact, there are five spiritual gifts outlined in Ephesians: Apostleship (pushing the church forward, Prophesy (revealing the world as it is to those of us who aren't so aware), Evangelism (being able to tell others about the good news in a meaningful way), Pastoring (being able to take care of people, both Christian and non-Christian alike, as well as sharing the truth of the scriptures as they apply to everyday life), and Teaching (being able to discern the scriptures and lead in an academic sort of way). To an extent, every person has a certain degree of each of these gifts, but usually each of us stand out in one or two, often at the "expense" of the rest. The ability to lead can be added to each one of these, but often one can be a prophet without being a leader, or a pastor without being a leader. In a church, all five are necessary in active leadership if that church is to be a vibrant, healthy, growing organism.

We originally chose to have a leadership team of four people, but it seemed that God had other plans and nudged Ruth to invite a fifth member onto the team. Leadership, in the past, was considered to be something removed from the everyday. Leaders were people much like surgeons or doctors; highly educated, insanely smart, and often elevated to a pedestal because of their talents and training, and thus, in a way, removed from the rest of society. Surgeons and doctors are able to fix everything, and in many ways, we used to look to our leadership to fix our problems for us, or to at least be able to prescribe the right treatment in order that we might become whole. The problem was, God was removed from the equation, something that seemed to work fine at first, but eventually, some of us began to notice that, despite the many recommended treatments, we weren't getting better.

In a postmodern age, we've stopped thinking of our leaders in this manner, but have begun to think of them as equals. Leaders no longer lead from their thrones or their committee-chairs or their pulpits, but rather, from beside those that follow them, working the soil alongside the rest of us. We now allow leaders to learn on the job, realizing that there is no substitute in one's training for hands-on experience. In place of the surgeons, we now have fellow students, looking to the ultimate doctor - the triune God - for the healing we need so desperately.

September 3, 2006


Note: I'll be in Cairns for the next week or so, so if I haven't posted, fear not, I shall return on the fourteenth with many pictures and a tan.


I've noticed a lot of Australians these days don't seem to much like America. Mostly this doesn't come out when I'm around, but I can eaves-drop as much as anybody. Lots of it seems to be discontent with the war in Iraq (I heard a poet today going on and on about the evils of the war), but it seeps out into attitudes towards Americans themselves.

I think it's odd that the world doesn't seem as keen about freeing up the various countries in the middle east as we are. The various arguments against it all seem economic (i.e. we're in it "for oil" ... as if, oil prices have only gone up since we started the war, a fact I'm quite sure even Bush figured out before he charged back into the middle east), but there's the occasional rant about bringing our soldiers home because we're needlessly sacrificing life (because none of the soldiers volunteered to be in the army, and of course couldn't bother to quit).

I'm also puzzled by the anti-Bush propoganda. The worst people seem to be able to come up with is that he's not as eloquent as Bill Clinton. That's nice: Clinton screwed his secretary, and we liked him. Bush wants to free some people from tyrany, and we don't like him. And another thing - it's not like Bush could possibly act alone. The US government is set up in such a way that if the majority of the country wanted to back out, it could happen. It's called checks and balances; we learned about it in sixth grade. It's so that one part of the government can't take control over another, and more importantly, so the power remains in the hands of the people. Bush can't be held 100% responsible - he's got an entire congress and senate and judiciary council that are all just as equally responsible as he is; not to mention the 55% of America that voted him into office, and the other 45% that voted in the congress and senate.

But then I read

"News is out there, but only the bad stuff is interesting enough to broadcast because happy stuff won't keep us watching. American soldiers have distributed nearly a million dollars of clothes and food -- this year alone -- that was sent to them by their hometowns and families. They clothed Iraqis, gave them school supplies, fixed their homes and plumbing, etc. but that doesn't make the news. What makes the news are things like bombs, fear, pessimism, hurt, anger... that is what we have to see and talk about ad nauseum. That is why Cindy Sheehan is on our TVs but the parents of those Marines who died with him are not. They are at peace with their sons' service and Cindy is not. Anger and unrest leads... especially if it bleeds."

Nobody ever mentions that America far surpasses any other country in the relief aid it sends to middle eastern countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan (a fact Israel doesn't like much). Nobody wants to know that stuff. It's easier to hate the government than support a war where our loved ones might die.

Don't believe everything on the news; they twist and distort the truth all the time simply by reporting or not reporting something as they see fit. Stop and think before you blame everything on one person. Stop and think before you don't blame it on others. Better yet, stop trying to put the blame on somebody; the war is on, and so why not make the best of it and free people who want to stop living in fear? Yes, crooked people do screw things up for the rest of us sometimes - it's called "life." But not everybody is crooked, even if they're involved with the Iraqi war. Compensate for the crooks by trying to make the world better to live in for those around you.

[end rant]

September 1, 2006

Science and Religion

I received a comment on a post a while back that I wanted to comment on more extensively. The comment read:

"You might think of the discoveries of science as tools. For example, evolution and genetics are enormously powerful tools for conducting medical research. Another example: When you build a house, you would be wise to use a building code manual. You would want to know some math and physics too. Religion could be thought of as a tool people use for their emotional well being and to provide social structures for societies. But you wouldn't want to use the Bible if you're trying to figure out what optimum roof truss spacing you need to support the weight of your roof.

Recently on the radio I heard a religion scholar named Karen Armstrong. She said she evaluates faith traditions with the following question: "Does it result in practical compassion?" I think this is a very powerful view of religion that gets away from the endless (and destructive, in my mind) arguments over who (or which religion) owns the truth about God. It also enables us to find a way to respect traditions we don't fully accept for ourselves. (As you said in your original post, we have to figure out how to get along.)

You could carry this over to the evolution concept and say "Does it have a practical application that will help us find a cure for malaria, for example." And, yes, in fact it adds a great deal to the understanding of this medical problem. You may not have to accept it theologically, but it's critical for us to respect its usefulness as a very important tool in medicine and scientific research (and many other fields). Why so critical? So we can solve problems!"

On one level, I couldn't agree more. Evolution, like all scientific theories, is a tool and a language used to describe and explain certain observations made by various individuals we call "scientists." As a language, then, it is simply a construct we use. It is not the truth, but it attempts to describe the truth. It is a perspective. Science works in such a way that if new evidence comes along that better explains the observations we've made, we can revise the language we use to explain the universe we live in. It's a work in progress.

A great example in recent news is the terran solar system. Human language has now evolved to a point where we describe planets differently than we used to. Pluto, now, is part of a binary dwarf-planet system, rather than a planet with a moon. The language has changed because our understanding of the phenomena has advanced to a point where we can use new evidence - and new language - to better explain the universe. It was the case with Newton's gravitational laws to Einstein's relativity to Quantum Physics; as our understanding progessess, so does our language.

Science, in the case of absolute truth, has more to say than religion, in some ways. Science posits a universe with an abolute set of boundaries (sometimes called laws) in which all behavior - of objects, life, molecules, etc. - can be rationally explained. If you know the laws, you can then explain (and hopefully predict) how everything works, then use that knowledge to do things. So many religions don't buy into this kind of world; they think that truth is "relative," meaning that it changes from individual to individual. While I don't think that anybody really buys into relativity (how can you possibly when you're absolutely sure that each time you take a step you won't go hurtling off into the oblivion of space?), lots of people have used it as a useful mental construct that makes any argument go away. We can all be happy because everybody is right and nobody has to feel dumb for being wrong.

In order to discover its absolute truth, science relies on repeatable, verifiable evidence by multiple objective observers in order to explain behavior. The trouble is, there is no such person; objective observers do not exist, because everyone's perspective is subjective. In order to be an objective observer, you must be unimpaired by judgemental bias, something that human beings are incapable of. A mundane example: a scientist observes something happen, but as soon as he sees it, by his very nature he is already conjuring up a theory as to why it happened. In order to prove his theory, he must conduct experiments, which are then designed to prove his point, rather than disprove it (in pure science [translation: optimistic science], this is the opposite; you perform experiments to disprove your theory, but rarely does this happen in a world that expects results - we are not payed to disprove our theories, rather we are payed to prove a theory that will make money and progress). Still, the fundamental principle is a good one; if you can observe something repeatedly, you will be able to develop a theory to explain it. It works - we have the drugs and the cars and the computers to prove it. Ask anybody.

Religion, like science, is a construct, a language we use to try and explain the various phenomena we observe in the much-debated metaphysical world. These phenomena tend to be much more subjectively verifiable, however, open to much speculation due to the low number of observers and the unrepeatable nature of the phenomena. So many people do not understand that religion, like science, is also a work in progress. We aren't perfect, and since we aren't in control of metaphysical phenomena, and therefore can't perform experiments to verify their existence, we have to go with the evidence we have, limited as it is. Religion, by its nature, will talk about things that it has very little understanding of - God, first and foremost. Because religion does not require repeatable evidence, it can believe in God/gods, angels, demons, nymphs, sea monsters, aliens, and all sorts of things that science does not.

Science, on God, has a fundamental flaw. As many scientists acknowledge, it is impossible to prove the existence of God simply because there is no objective observer, nor is there verifiable evidence. In order to prove God, you would have to be outside of God. Since God is everywhere (omnipresence), this is impossible; the very definition of Hell, in some textbooks, is a place with the absence of God. So you'd have to be in hell to prove God is there, and chances are that if there were such a place, you'd be there precisely because you didn't believe in God. Science gets stuck in a logic loop here; either God is or he isn't, and it's easier to believe he isn't.

And so often enough, science and religion start to speak different languages, simply because of their differing requirements for evidence. In the end, the people (humanity) seems to have gone the science route because of one thing: results. Science has proven itself time and time again because it provides tangible benefits to people. You can see these benefits everywhere: medicine, technology. The fact that you're reading this right now is a result of science.

I'm not saying this to say religion is wrong, but to inspire us forward. Science can only bring us so far, and it cannot give us one thing: meaning. It is the task of religion to give us a language for meaning. There is an absolute truth out there, and though our perspectives cloud it (we see as through a glass darkly), it's there. I submit that God is there, and in fact, all around us. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.