Sunday, May 29, 2011

Happy 200th Anniversary, Astoria!

One of my favorite places in Oregon, Astoria on the north coast, celebrates its bicentennial this year.  I've been visiting Astoria (as an adult) as regularly as possible since the late 1990s.  In my May 10th radio interview, I talked about the inspiration the area gave me for elements of Tristan's Travels.  

While many people seem to think of Astoria as a dark and dreary place, my visits often take place on the most beautiful days: brilliant blue skies, cool ocean breezes, and wonderful ocean views.  (If you want to see some good Astoria photos, check out the video trailer for our little "tale of tails."  Several photos are courtesy Oregon photographer Austin Granger.)  So, I hope you can stop by Astoria, Oregon and wish it happy 200th!  It's a great place to visit, and, I imagine, even a better place to stay.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Old Woman in the Trees

One could say it's been one of those weeks in our neck of the (soggy) woods.  It began with my wife Kimberly being hospitalized last weekend for emergency surgery.  Thankfully, she's doing fine now--and we're all catching-up on sleep after a challenging week.  (It's not as much fun as one might think getting along on two hours of sleep; fortunately I stayed out of new car lots last Saturday.)  

This is going to be a short entry today, but I did want to quickly share a a short story that illustrates...well nothing really, but I wanted to share it anyway.  So, some of my readers know that I work for the State of Oregon as a number cruncher.  Sometimes my work makes it necessary to make personal visits to homes.  These visits can be weird--to say the least.  When I worked for a previous state agency, they were often a little more stressful than today.  Still, anything can happen, and it often does.

Some (undisclosed) time ago, for example, I visited a rural residence.  I parked my state car and, after my standard "safety" pause, I headed for the front door.  I immediately had a strange feeling at this particular home.  This may have had something to do with all the bugs gathered in the area of the front door.  It was the kind of place you felt dirty even standing outside.  I brushed cobwebs from my face and tried to wave away the bugs, slapping a mosquito or two in the process.  I knocked loudly on the front door and noticed that the curtains were not drawn, but the inside of the house was comparatively pitch black.  I could see the top edge of a rocking chair inside, silhouetted by a crack of light from a window to the rear.  

With some uncomfortable curiosity, I noticed the chair begin to rock as if someone was rising out of it, but I couldn't see anyone, and no one came to the door.  Brushing the flying bugs out of my hair, I began to leave one of my standard notices on the front door. It was a couple minutes before I left the notice and turned around to return to my car.  As soon as I had walked a couple steps, however, I noticed an old woman just staring at me from the corner of the house.  I'm not sure how long she'd been standing there quietly watching me, but, all in all, the conversation that followed was not altogether a "comfy" one.  It was also oddly disquieting that she didn't really look at me when I spoke to her, but her eyes seemed to look just beyond or behind me.  Fortunately, at least, no spooky music began to play and no old farmer appeared carrying a shotgun.

Why share this little work-related adventure?  Because, I suppose, it's worth bearing in mind that we're not really in control of what happens to us.  We can plan and use common sense, but the good, the bad, and the pain weird and ugly are still going to come our way.  The best thing to do is to take each day as it comes, offering it up, and hoping that the one that follows will be a little better than the last.  I don't know about you, but I hope I don't see that old woman again any time too soon!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harold Camping & His Lie (Updated May 23)

With May 21st come and gone, it's easy to make light of the people predicting the end of the world yesterday.  As I was doing a little research for this entry, though, I came across the Facebook "Wall" of a young person (not the one pictured in the photo above) who had been publicly proclaiming this terribly misguided prediction.  She had been very much caught up in the lie and had obviously invested a great deal of her time and energy (not to mention credibility).  From scanning the most recent Facebook entries, I was struck with what a wedge its obviously created within her family.  A family member had posted a comment that included the following excerpt: "your Dad and I love u and will always..."  (See part of her response at the bottom of the page.)

This sentiment reminded me that, while there is an element of the ridiculous here in the larger picture, the close-up picture shows many brokenhearted (albeit, very gullible) people and broken families.  It makes me all the more angry at Harold Camping.  In fact, here's a copy of a letter I sent him late last week.  (It's been edited at a couple points.)

Harold Camping,

Given Christ's stern message of Matthew 24:36, you're placing your supposed special knowledge above the very words of Christ.  Besides joining a long list of thoroughly discredited spiritual prognosticators, you're either denying the deity of Christ or you are declaring Him a liar; not a good position for a man claiming to be a minister.

When May 21 comes and goes, I hope you will pause before making yet another foolish prediction to your misguided followers.  Should you pause to take spiritual stock of your life's mission, I think you may begin to recognize yourself for what you are: a common false prophet, preaching an old lie (dressed in the cheapest of "new clothing") to the most gullible.

I urge you to seek forgiveness--as well as real reconciliation with the Christian faithful--before the opportunity to do so becomes impossible;Christ does not look kindly upon those who lead His sheep astray.

Like many other people, I've been following this tragedy of sorts for the past few weeks.  It's hard to watch some people running off a precipitous credibility cliff.  In the particular case of Harold Camping, though, it wasn't particularly hard to watch.  Two things that made this issue of particular interest were the Premillennial Dispensationilist view as well as the danger of religious organizations centered on an individual--as opposed to Christ.

As a former Evangelical Protestant before becoming Catholic, I was reminded in one sense of issues we had struggled with in the past--only much more extreme, of course, in the case of the Harold Camping situation.  The whole Premillennial Dispensationilist view points to how easy it is for some to get carried away with these end of days predictions--which each new generation thinks has arrived.  Of course, a literary example of this is the whole Left Behind series.  While I enjoyed listening to Jerry Jenkins in-person a few years ago, his books paint a picture unsupported by either Scripture or Christian tradition.  

In fact, the Protestant view of rapture most often would have Christ coming not twice, but three times!  (For more details on the history of this dangerous line of thinking, read Carl Olsen's Will Catholics be Left Behind?)  Lastly, the Catholic understanding of end-times also doesn't usually hold to a view of the Church being taken away before the period of tribulation.  After all, this view diminishes the suffering of the Christian faithful in centuries past; why are we too good to suffer for Him today?

To a lesser extent, the controversy also reminded me a bit of what happened when a loved pastor of our church at the time decided to leave.  In the wake of his departure, the small church of the Lutheran Brethren tradition almost fell apart.  An older retired minister within the congregation tried to insert himself into the pulpit, and things seemed to get worse from there.  It was almost as if the church was more about the personality of the ministers than focus upon Christ.  It was a sad time, and we left the church. While I'm sure there are many Catholic examples of churches experiencing hardships and struggles at the departure of a loved priest, it doesn't seem to go as far as the rifts and divisions created in Protestant circles--e.g. new churches aren't usually the result!

At any rate, that's all for today.  I hope you have a great week.  A special thank you to those who prayed for our family's health struggle this week.  We are happy to have her back home safe and sound.  God's protection was evident throughout the entire struggle. We thank Him for that most sincerely.

Updated (May 23)

Below is a letter from someone who still believes that May 21 was indeed the start of the end.  It sheds some light on the reasoning of their thinking...and it couldn't sound like much more of a cult.  Please pray for the young person who wrote this.  She's obviously bright and kind, and enthused with her faith; what a waste.

"Hi Karl,

Actually, no one was misled. May 21, 2011 was the beginning of Judgment, spiritually. I am saying this off my own studies. All of the timelines lead to that date and God did save a great multitude of people by the end of May 21, 2011. The door is now shut for salvation.

The problem with the "prediction" is that all of us believed that all of the key events related with Judgment Day (a 5 month period) would occur simultaneously in one moment ie. the earthquake, rapture etc. That's where human error came into play. But God is perfect and Judgment Day is here, spiritually. As the other events unfold over the next 2-3 days, the rest of the world will see the truth. Everyone needs to pay attention but they won't...then sudden destruction will come as spoken of in 1Thes5:4

They cannot see it now because it was only the spiritual part of the Judgment. That's why it looks like a "failed" prediction. But God is perfect and does everything in His perfect will and time. We are all watching in the Bible, praying as He reveals His perfect plan.

I hope that helps."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reductive Materialism in the Crosshairs

I had a lot to choose from to write on this evening.  First, I was tempted to write on the benefits of humor, then there was the lesson on civility (or lack thereof) we might all learn from an Amtrak passenger named Lakeysha Beard, or my letter to the latest misguided spiritual prognosticator, Harold Camping, but I finally decided to pursue a more cerebral discussion this evening.

I'm nearly done with two books I'm reading, more or less, simultaneously: Dinesh D'Souza's Life After Death, The Evidence and Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven.  In case you think this reading strategy is a strange habit, I'd probably have to agree.  I'd also have to disclose, though, that there are other books, too.  I think a good rule for me is to avoid picking-up a new book until I've finished two--but I digress.

I've already mentioned Bernd Heinrich's fine book in an earlier blog entry titled "The Cougar and The Raven...and Science," so I need to preface tonight's comments by sharing some thoughts on Dinish D'Souza's book.  First, I have to admit I had perhaps unrealistically high hopes with regards to this book when I began reading, but I still have greatly enjoyed it.  As someone who has helped save a life, it was my hope that this book would address some areas with a bit more depth--life after death accounts, for instance.  Its strength is really the distillation of complex concepts and beliefs into much more easily understood terms; he simplifies things to a point that most anyone can grasp where he's going fairly easily.  Strangely enough, an argument might be made that this is also perhaps one of the book's weaknesses.

That is, there's a tendency within the book towards over simplification at times.  This bothered me less, though, than the author's repeated paraphrasing of his opponents' positions, sometimes coming fairly close to the debater's error referred to as the "straw man argument."  That is, he seems to articulate his opponents' in such a way that they are more easily refuted.  While I agree with his arguments for the most part, I think it might have been better to include more text quoted from his opponents.  Still, in all fairness, perhaps it's not easy obtaining permissions in these circumstances?

At any rate, both books are very good.  It just so happened as I began reading this evening that an intriguing thing happened.  I realized that both books (on entirely different subjects) were discussing the source and nature of human consciousness.  D'Souza's book was discussing it in terms of suggesting that one's brain and one's mind cannot be the same, and that our consciousness rests in the more mysterious mind, separate from the biological neuron network of our brains.  This powerfully illustrates one dimension of the fallacy of reductive materialism.  That is, the reductive materialist says everything can be explained by breaking it down to component parts, taking it apart.  Of course, we can stare all day at someone's brain, and that's not going to give us any insight into his thoughts or mental state.

From the philosophical perspective, Mind of the Raven takes the reader on a more biologically-centered journey.  The author's position is that consciousness is simply an evolutionary outgrowth required for intelligent living beings to make decisions.  His emphasis is on consciousness as simply necessary to enable the animal to test different courses of action in its mind before choosing one action over the other.  For example, raven behavior is often very complicated, posing a challenge to those trying to decipher the birds' choices--e.g. to cache food, or not, or to bond with predators such as wolves in the creation of unlikely alliances.

While I wouldn't describe the latter author as a reductive materialist, he certainly seems uninclined to recognize the deeper meaning of what he has spent his life studying.  Ravens, after all, mate for life, demonstrate great care in the raising of their young, and display a level of intelligence in play and work hard to reconcile with simple evolution.  Hawks are wonderful hunters, for instance, but the raven's brain is far superior.  Has this made it a better hunter than the hawk?  Not necessarily.  

This also touches on the false idea many of us may have heard in our youth concerning the supposed inability of animals to really feel pain or emotion.  We're not engaging in anthropomorphic fancies to reject this simplistic view of God's creation.  

In short, our very consciousness and awareness of who and what we are testifies to the glory of God just as do the other marvelous works of His creation--spiders excluded, of course. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On Saints and the Airwaves

As some of you may have heard, I had the good fortune to be on KBVM 88.3 FM in Portland last week.  In case you missed the broadcast, please take a listen via the links at the bottom of the page.  Thank you to KBVM for permitting me to share this recording online.  I also would be remiss not to mention University of Portland.  I had a few minutes to wander the attractive campus after the interview, and I really enjoyed that, too.  As a matter of fact, I visit Portland regularly, but I think it was my first visit to this particular campus.  All in all, May 10th was a very memorable day for me.

It's been a busy week for our family.  Yesterday, my cousin was married in north Portland.  We greatly enjoyed the experience, and it is my sincerest prayer that their relationship be always blest and protected by heaven.  The day also brought back a lot of memories of our own wedding in Dallas, Texas in late September of 1990.  Today, I thought I'd adapt some thoughts I had prepared to share on the air concerning  saints and clarify things further by drawing upon our experiences with family and friends.

When it comes to saints who have made a particular impact in our life,  I would have to say Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and also Saint Thomas Moore have all been important to us.  Saint Augustine comes to mind because of the impact Confessions made on me.  It truly is a man’s confession before God.  He was a man with failings like any other man, but Christ came to him in the garden, and his life and purpose changed 180 degrees.  (In a sense, Thomas Merton’s moving Seven Storey Mountain is like a modern version of Confessions.  Sadly, Merton's life seems to have veered too far from the Cross in its latter years.)
Saint Francis, because his life so exemplified a simple, yet profound life lived for Christ.  He also shows us what it means to love nature, not for nature itself, but because it is God’s fingerprint--all about us.  Saint Thomas Aquinas, because his writings demonstrate the dovetailing that is possible between faith and reason.  Lastly, Saint Thomas Moore is important to us because we learned that he appears to be a distant relative on my wife’s side.  

As we learned this not long after becoming Catholic, it was a strangely encouraging to know of this connection.  Also, as a government employee, his last words before his beheading are particularly poignant.  "The King's good servant, but God's First."

I know many good people reading this will say that saints are simply an example of extra-biblical Catholic devotion, but, in truth, it's the logical conclusion to Christ's victory over death.  In 1 Corinthians 15:55, for instance, Saint Paul reminds us that death has lost.  Its sting is powerless when faced with the Everlasting power of Christ our Savior.  In other words, there is no death in Christ.

While this isn't the place to attempt a full explanation concerning the Catholic understanding of saints, it's important to mention that we see our intercessory prayers to be basically like you going to a friend and asking them to pray for you.  The saint is not being worshipped in any way, but we are seeking their help. While it doesn't replace prayers to Jesus, it is a way to deepen one's spiritual devotion, and sometimes the answers to this kind of prayer seems to be especially full of gracious surprises.

As we try to understand the nature of saints and intercessory prayer, I wanted to offer a real life illustration of its power.  To protect the privacy of the family, however, I won't be using any real names.  One Sunday evening we introduced ourselves to a large Catholic family sitting behind us.  My wife made a reference to their children being a real blessing, and they both looked at each other, smiling.  They agreed it was and asked if we wanted to hear a story.

When the couple was first married, they were unable to have children.  A doctor finally explained that the wife would be unable to bear a child for medical reasons.  They were heartbroken--to say the least.  At about that same time, the wife's grandmother was known to be dying.  One day the wife went to her grandmother to ask her for a most special favor.  She asked her grandmother to ask Jesus for children of their own when she came to heaven.  The grandmother smiled and promised to do so.

A few days later, the grandmother passed on to heaven.  The wife had all but forgotten of her request some months later when she was found to finally be pregnant. (As I recall, I think she learned this on a special day associated with the life of her grandmother--perhaps her anniversary.)  When the day of the birth finally came, the child was born on her grandmother's birthday.  Today, the family happily fills nearly a complete pew with its beautiful children.  Not only does this remind us of the blessing children truly are, but it also is a great example of a kind of intercessory prayer.

If you would like more reading suggestions concerning the Catholic understanding of intercessory prayer, please contact me.

That's it for now, and I hope you have a great week.

Radio Interview 

I did try to share audio only, but I ran into some "technical difficulties," so opted to do it this way.  Before long, I hope it will be accessible via the radio station's website.  Sorry about the static on Part 1, by the way.  TwitVid is looking into the problem.  As you may have already guessed, my talents are not of the technical sort.

Radio Interview, Part 1

Radio Interview, Part 2

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gnawing, Biting, Breaking, Hacking, Burning...."The Shack"

First things first...  Apologies to one of my favorite Catholic fiction writers, J.R.R. Tolkien.  I couldn't resist a little fun with the blog title this evening.  Being a writer who is deeply connected with all the latest goings-on in the deepest reaches of the publishing world, I just heard about the legal controversy surrounding the awful little book called The Shack.  Of course, it is nearly a year-old and hardly breaking news, but that misses my main point: I really dislike this book.  

Seriously, though, I had really high hopes for the book when I purchased it while on a trip in Texas a couple years ago.  The photo above is one I took in the summer of 2007 at Lake Wallowa in the far northeastern corner of Oregon.  This is the setting for some critical passages of the book, and that's one of the reasons why I thought I'd enjoy it.  Sadly, being a fan of the Blue Mountains was hardly enough to salvage my opinion of this tale.  

Since I am a little pressed for time this weekend preparing for next week's radio interview, I thought I'd share my review of this "interesting" little book.  Now, I realize in retrospect that my review may be considered a little long by today's standards, but please understand that I drank really strong coffee back then, so that clearly explains the slight tendency towards what might be technically characterized as a presentation style of the written word leaning or bending (or possibly swaying?)  towards what might be called by some (but not you) verbosity.  Again, sorry...  :)

Without further ado, then, I give you Tearing Down The Shack .  If nothing else, I hope my work will provide readers with one or two tools of destruction when it comes to shady books of this depressing ilk.

PS.  Did I mention that I really don't care for The Shack?  Just checking.