Monday, November 22, 2010

The Brilliant, the Blind, and the Believer

On an interview with 60 Minutes last night, genomic pioneer Craig Venter said he didn’t believe in God, because he thinks “the universe is far more wonderful than just assuming it was made by some higher power.”   

Hmm. Random chance explosions are pretty clever. 

But he also admitted, in the same breath, that cells “are software-driven machines and that software is DNA, and that truly the secret of life is writing software is pretty miraculous.” (Italics mine) Perhaps miraculous wasn’t what he meant to say, or perhaps, he simply couldn’t stop himself from using a word typically meant to describe something that transcends the laws of nature, something that often involves a supernatural power or agency.

In either case, I find it mind-boggling that brilliant people like Venter can look at the spectacular wonders of the universe, be they cell or supernova, and put more confidence in some unknown, unseen, and undiscovered natural act rather than in a Creator. Way before the telescope, the naked-eye psalmist couldn’t help but sing, “The heavens declare Thy glory, O God.”

Ever since fourth grade when I received a Wonder Book of the universe, I have been fascinated with space. And so it was with great anticipation that I finally went to the local planetarium for one of its Friday night shows. After viewing Jupiter through the observatory telescope, we entered the science center. Expecting to see walls lined with photos of nebula, or planets, or solar flares, or something celestial, we were astounded to be greeted with displays of Star Wars scenes and science fiction movies. 

Not a NASA photo in sight. Not a lunar landing. Not a bit of wondrous reality.

How are our kids going to know the difference between a Hollywood set and reality? The ensuing light show was equally drab. As if aware of this, the presenter ended the show by treating us to a roller coaster ride through the universe. This consisted of a graphic spiral twirling at a dizzying speed through black space. And all the previously bored kids oohed and ahhed.

My interpretation of the whole experience was that kids weren’t expected to appreciate the marvels of creation for what they are; that they needed to be entertained rather than taught. I say rubbish. We need nothing more to dazzle them with than the truth. And that truth points to the miraculous, even if you are a brilliant, atheistic scientist.

Maybe we all could benefit from a refresher in wonder. How about buying a book of NASA photos for Christmas or bundling up in a lawn chair some night and soaking in the celestial marvel, and wonder, and awe that is intended for our great pleasure of the One who made it.

But now ask the beasts and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind?—Job 12: 7-10

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't Mess With Fun--Fly Quantas, Trust God

Have you ever noticed how a situation can actually remain unchanged but seem entirely different in an instant because of an attitude adjustment?

While I was making arrangements for our vacation to NZ years ago, a Quantas rep suggested we take advantage of their "Nipper Tripper" promo and take in a few days in Australia. (nipper referencing kids/family rather than libation!) We began our journey in NY, then flew to LA to catch the midnight flight overseas. By the time we boarded our jet, stuffed our bags, and settled in our seats, we were exhausted, and I suspect, a bit kvetchy.

The Quantas crew, on the other hand, would have none of it. They smiled. They laughed. They brought warm wash cloths, juice and kids' toys as soon as we each settled, not waiting til after the whole jumbo liner was ready. Their attitude was infectious. But what kicked me out of my it's-been-a-long-day complaining was the attendant's exhortation: "Hey, you're all on vacation. This is supposed to be fun!"

A timely word hits its mark. She was absolutely right. We had nothing to whine about but everything to be thankful for. And not only thankful in our minds but in our actions. Instantly, we laughed and entered into the enjoyment of our situation.

I thought about a conversation with an agnostic Hannah Whitall Smith wrote about. He told her the "Christians he knew seemed to be the most uncomfortable people. They carried their religion around as a man carries a headache. He does not want to get rid of his head, but at the same time is uncomfortable to have it."

Often we get in a tizzy striving for more of this, and more of that, and even more of God. We worry we don't know Him, hear Him, aren't going to make right decisions and on and on. We act as if the chances of His answering our prayers are about as good as winning the lottery. I like what Oswald Chambers says about his--"our problems arise when we refuse to place our trust in the reality of His presence."

Just do it.

After spending three days at the Great Barrier Reef, we caught our morning flight to Sydney where we were to make our connecting flight to NZ. Before we landed, the Quantas attendant asked the following people to meet her at the gate: " the Moston party."  She told us our flight had been canceled, but that Quantas had put us up for the day at the (Hilton, I think it was) and would be flying out that night. "Have a good day." she said with the cheeriness of someone expecting this delay in plans to be viewed as a great bonus.

For a fleeting moment I worried about all our other reservations and plans, but not being able to change a thing, we let go and let Quantas rearrange our vacation. We went to the zoo and saw echidnas, and wombats, and platypuses; we lounged in our luxurious hotel, and we delighted in our good fortune.

Granted, there's a difference between trusting Quantas with my vacation and trusting God with my life. But today, in the daily little things, I can choose to believe that God is able to will, and to work all His good pleasure in my life. And I can choose to act as if I truly believed it by enjoying Him.

P.S. The title refers to our vacation and not to the airlines recent troubles

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Having a Go at it Down Under

We get pretty used to safety measures in the US. Mind you, I am fond of guardrails on sharp curves, seat belts that jam rigid at the slightest sudden stop, and car bells that ding if grandma is about to back over the family cat. (To say nothing about my pride in having a son in Homeland Security, whose card with the shiny badge I keep right behind my driver's license.) But I have discovered such a dependence on things to keep my world secure can actually soften the nerves.

One of the things I enjoy about traveling to another country is the opportunity to see, when all the familiar is removed,  just how much I trust God with my life. We've had the good fortune to visit Australia once and New Zealand twice. (I was going to tell you why I love Quantas airlines, but since they're having a bit of engine trouble presently, I'll wait a day or two.)

 The New Zealanders, in particular, are an adventurous sort. They first convinced the rest of us what fun it was to wrap an elastic around our ankles and get thrown off high places with their bungee-jumping prototype; they roll down hillsides inside padded balls, and scale glaciers. So when we signed up for a plane ride across the 12,000 foot mountain range to get to Milford Sound we expected a bit of an adventure, but when we arrived at the "airport" in the middle of a field, my sense of fun turned to fear. Didn't they know tourists expected something a little more officail looking?

My first concern was that I was taller than the plane. The pilot cheerfully herded all six of us inside, warned us it would be a bit noisy, and cleared the dirt runway. Within minutes, we were skimming glacier-topped mountains as far as the eye could see. I kept one eye glued to the pilot and the other fixed on the potential crash sites. Even though the plane coughed and sputtered , the pilot reamained unpertubed. Gaining confidence in his calm, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the spectacular ride.

I wasn't, however, expecting any adventure when we boarded our "real" airplne for our trip home. We departed from the south island for Aukland in the north where we would catch our overseas flight. In between the two points is the city of Wellington. The flight really wasn't scheduled to land there, but if the weather was good, apparently the pilots accomodated the passengers for Wellington by stopping on the fly-over rather than taking them all the way north and having them backtrack on the regularly scheduled run. A thoughtful gesture.

But the weather was terrible. We were socked in storm clouds which only seemed to quicken our pilot's sense of adventure. He announced in his sporting Kiwi accent,"Ladies and gentlemen, the visibiltiy is quite poor and they are having radar problems at the Wellington airport, but we are going to have a go at it and see what we can do." Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief as the plane banked, revved, and plowed through the dark clouds. After forever, it turned and began to ascend. My relief was short-lived as our undaunted pilot again came over the intercom with the news, "Ladies and gentlemen, as you could see we didn't make it, but we are going to have one more go at it. It may be a bit bumpy, so buckle up."

By now, I'm certain my next adventure will be experiencing my spirit depart from my body to meet the Lord. But after a noble effort, our pilot gave up and headed on. We returned home without incident only to discover we had won a trip back to New Zealand.

What is it about the human spirit that loves a thrill? Fears forgotten, I eagerly got out my travel guides and began to plan our next go at it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Perseverence and Apple Pie

Ah, a nip in the air reminds her of apple pie—but after four increasingly frantic attempts at a previously tried and true crust, she left the dog lapping the mess and went in search of Mrs. Pillsbury.


Sometimes you just have to know when let go and move on. As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” The question is, just what is that point of knowing the difference between perseverance and obstinacy, of winning or quitting?


As a Christian, I can get my mind in quite a tangle by over-spiritualizing my every move. Saturday’s scenario was simple: company coming for dessert, apples in season, make a pie.


The sun was shining, the music playing. I cheerfully gathered my supplies only to discover there wasn’t a pie pan in the house. Undaunted, I ran down to the local five and dime, purchased a pan and hurried home.


I had two types of flour on hand, one an all-purpose light, the other, an all-purpose unbleached. Not anticipating any problems, I mixed the light flour according to the recipe. The sticky mound clung to the bowl like wet mud. I threw in more flour, but pasty wads twirled around the roller and left gaping holes in the stuff stuck to the board. Thinking maybe it wouldn’t adhere to the smooth surface of the granite countertop, I dumped the mess on it, but my superglue dough clung in defiance.


Deciding the light flour no good, I tried the all-purpose unbleached. This batch sucked up the water and shortening like cement in a mixer.


Now I am frustrated and begin to wonder why, why my very pleasant enterprise is making me feel like throwing balls of pastry at the wall. Maybe the devil doesn’t want me to make a pie because it will bless my company, or conversely, maybe God doesn’t want me to make a pie because they hate pie, or are allergic to apples. Should I persevere and get the victory over the dough, make something else, find a bakery? By this time I’m beginning to wonder why I ever invited people for dessert.


Which brought me back to the important. It’s all about the company, not the pie. Defying the devil, I once again hurried off to the store for the ready-made crust, and heeding God (just in case He actually was warning me), grabbed a bag of berries and an angel food cake.


Several hours later, the mess is cleaned, the puppy walked (because she ate so much spilled flour) the candles lit, and my attitude readjusted.  


“Which would you prefer?” I ask my guests. Ignorant of the drama that preceded this presentation of perfectly mounded pie and the berries and cake, they choose. 


“Both,” they said.