Monthly Archives: December 2006

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Life is Unpredictable

My local newspaper includes a "Year in Review" section in the December 31 edition that is titled "In Memoriam." Pictured, and listed, are a number of nationally prominent persons who died in 2006. Also listed are a number of local people as well, several of whom were friends of mine. It seems that this kind of looking back on the loss of loved ones, as well as prominent people, is something we do every year at this time. For some years now, when I have read a story like this one, I have always done one thing: I have asked God to grant me the grace to live for his glory in 2007 with the full realization that this might be my last year. Of course, some year, at some point in time, will actually be my last year. I think about this a great deal and do not consider it morose in any true sense of the term.

This particular article began with this sentence: "Life is unpredictable." I pondered that statement most of the day. There is an obvious truism

By |December 31st, 2006|Categories: Death|

Sin and the Human Genome

Francis Collins, who heads the human genome project, is a devout Christian. He actually believes in original sin. He also believes there is evidence for original sin at the most basic genetic level. "There are no perfect human specimens at the DNA level," says Collins. "We are all walking around with a significant number of misspellings [in our DNA]." Most of us have as many as 40 or 50 glitches in our DNA, most of which never cause us serious problems. But some of these glitches are the real causes of ailments like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Collins believes that the genome project may be "a bright light we can shine into the darkness of our ignorance about almost every disease." Most of these diseases, Collins believes, will eventually be addresssed by pharmogenetics, drugs designed to address specific genes or DNA misspellings.

These potential solutions may be nearer than we think but they will be costly. They also have huge downsides since someone must decide who gets them, at least initially, and who does not. This all underscores the incredible potential of

By |December 30th, 2006|Categories: Science|

Good Guys and Bad Guys 2006

I thought I had seen almost every possible poll imaginable until AP-AOL News issued its leading "good guys/bad guys" poll today. President Bush tops both polls. People either think he is worse than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden or they think he is the best guy of the year. (His numbers for best guy were much lower than for worst!) In fact, President Bush won the villain poll by a huge landslide, with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein very far behind him.

Regardless of your political views, and regardless of whether you like or do not like George W. Bush, you have to admit that this kind of response reveals far more about our culture than about the president. Bush may offend you, with his confident and brash Texas style, and he may be wrong about a lot of important issues as well. There is clearly room to disapprove of Bush’s handling of the job. The ratings say most Americans do disapprove. But to compare Bush with Saddam and Osama as the "bad guy of the year" is beyond sanity.

By |December 29th, 2006|Categories: Culture|

Who Really Cares for the Poor?

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks challenges perceived mainstream social orthodoxy in his new book, Who Really Cares: Who Gives, Who Doesn’t and Why It Matters. For generations it has been assumed that political and social liberals are generous towards the poor while conservatives are proverbial tightwads. At least since the days of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge this has been the popular view. Liberals continually remind us that they are the ones who really care about welfare since they promote the grandiose government solutions to the problem.

No one should doubt that government has a role to play in finding solutions. Private charity cannot do it all. But the question has always been what role government should have and how the solutions it creates should be paid for and then properly delivered. I believe government does best in this area when it administers welfare at the local level, where people know people and thus get involved with them personally. When welfare comes from a large bureaucratic government trickling downward through numerous agencies it repeatedly fails to accomplish what is promised. This is one reason

By |December 28th, 2006|Categories: Poverty|

Gerald R. Ford, RIP

The death of Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) is an occasion for a little historical reflection. He came to the presidency as the only non-elected president in our history. Under the 25th Amendment he was appointed as vice-president when Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace in 1973. On August 9, 1974, he became our 38th president when Richard Nixon resigned under the duress of the Watergate fiasco and an impending impeachment trial. He won the Republican nomination in 1976 only to loose to Jimmy Carter, in an extremely close election. (I voted for Carter and have regretted it for many years!)

Little known facts about Ford include the following: (1) He survived two assassination attempts. (2) He vetoed 39 bills in his first fourteen months, most of which were sustained by Congress. (3) He worked successfully to prevent a new conflict in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel. (4) His work focused mainly on the economy, which got much worse under President Carter.

When Richard Nixon considered a nominee for vice-president in October 1973 he had four finalists in mind: John Connally,

By |December 27th, 2006|Categories: Politics|

Love and Marriage

Today Anita and I celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary. I love my wife more now than I did when I met her, in fact even more than I did at our 35th anniversary. Love, to me, is first friendship. Friendship, like love, is destroyed by long absence, though it may be increased by short intermission. Anita and I have understood this for many years and realized that we need to be together a lot but we also need intermissions, the very brief intervals that feed true love and deep abiding friendship. We get along wonderfully, enjoy each other immensely and share many common interests. But we also are very different personalities. In our case it could be said that opposites did attract. But the glue that has kept us together so well for all these is the glue of divine love, the love that God gives to those who seek His kingdom above their own happiness.

The philosopher Leibnitz once said, "To love is to find pleasure in the happiness of the person loved." I think we could both say that this

By |December 26th, 2006|Categories: Marriage & Family|

The Nativity Story

I waited until Christmas afternoon to see "The Nativity Story," thinking it would be an interesting day on which to see a movie that corresponded to the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth. Though the script clearly had some facts out of place (e.g., the wise men visited the Bethlehem birth site the same night the Savior was born in the movie version while the facts are quite different as Bible readers well know) the overall story line was quite well done. The roles of Mary and Joseph were well acted in my view. Mary displayed elements of honest fear, real doubt and then incredible trust, displaying exactly what you would expect to have happened to a young teen, who received such an announcement from an angel. And the response of people in Nazareth to her pregnancy was also quite well done and very believable. Furthermore, Joseph proved to be an honorable and decent man in a believable way.

Hollywood often misrepresents biblical narratives very badly but this movie gets things about right, if you can overlook the few minor historical mistakes made

By |December 25th, 2006|Categories: Film|

Christmas Tradition and a Prayer for Blessing

We obviously do not know the exact date of the Messiah’s birth. The church has celebrated his birth on December 25 for more than seventeen centuries, give or take a few years. It fits nicely into the liturgical flow of the year and helps us all "remember" the advent of the one who came to save the world. We can all stand a great deal more remembering these days.

My wife and I celebrated the birth of Christ in a lovely communion service where a number of old carols and hymns were appropriately sung as part of the retelling of the drama. The familiar texts of Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20 were also read. Perhaps the most moving portion of all was the benediction.

"May you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the magi, and the peace of the Christ child. Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless you now and forever."

That prayer just about sums up all I

By |December 24th, 2006|Categories: Church Tradition|

Contemplation: The Second Part of Effective Mental Prayer

I wrote yesterday about meditatio (meditation), arguing that it is essential to meaningful prayer and spiritual formation. The other essential practice is contemplari (contemplation). Contemplation is a simple dwelling upon God, a reflective resting in God’s presence. The term contemplation suggests a subject that is intent upon an object.

Contemplation is plainly rooted in Neo-Platonic concept of theoreo (theory). But this concept was given Christian meaning by Hugo of St. Victor (1096-1141) when he wrote, “Love enters in when the understanding remains outside.” Christian contemplation was related to the word and to sacramental reality where God might be seen in Jesus Christ.

St. Francis de Sales said contemplation as nothing more than a loving, simple and permanent attention of the human spirit to divine things. So what makes it different from meditation?

To stay with the analogy of bees, used in yesterday’s post, de Sales observes that little bees are called nymphs until they make honey. In a similar way prayer is only meditation until it produces the honey of devotion, which is then turned into contemplation. He

By |December 23rd, 2006|Categories: Spirituality|

The Place of Meditation

Mediation and contemplation are both essential aspects of prayer and Christian devotion.  I was taught very little about either growing up an evangelical. I have learned a great deal more by pursuing the subject of spiritual formation over the last ten years or so. Today I want to consider the value of meditation. Tomorrow I will connect this to contemplation.

Meditatio means “to consider, or to reflect.” Traditionally it has been viewed as a form of mental prayer in which the mind is very active. In early spiritual thought it was understood best by the Rule of St. Benedict which specifically urged Christians to meditate on “a text of the Bible so as to study it and learn it—to commit it to memory, to understand its meaning, to endeavor to live by it.” St. Francis de Sales says the word meditation means simply “an attentive and repeated thought that is capable of producing good or evil affections—feelings of fond attachment. In Holy Scripture, however, the world is ordinarily applied to the attention we give to the things of God [in order to]

By |December 22nd, 2006|Categories: Spirituality|
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