Category Archives: History

The Not So Big Blue Marble

earthriseThe single worst event to happen to our culture is showing the first picture of Earth from space.

I know what you’re thinking: “Huh? How can a single, awe-inspiring picture from space damage our culture? That picture shows the epitome of human determination, creativity, and risk-taking. It heralded countless technological advances that we now take for granted.”

All true, but as with everything, there is a down side.

When we see pictures of Earth taken by satellites and astronauts, on Google Earth and the map apps on our phones, our perspective of the size of our world has altered, irrevocably.

It’s not the vast, massive world that could never be tamed or disrespected. We instead see it as that little blue marble floating in a sea of sparkling black.

As such, we have elevated our own size, increasing our arrogance with the belief that because we can see any part of our planet with a click of the mouse, we can control it.

Yet we can’t predict the weather with more than a 30% accuracy from one day to the next. We’ll never stop a volcano from erupting, a tornado or hurricane, an earthquake or tsunami. Or as Tennessee sadly shows, we can’t stop all wildfires. We either have to get out of the way (if we have time) or pray that nature will intervene on itself.

We’ve lost our humility, and in some ways we think of ourselves as greater than or equal to God.

And part of that arrogance and self-delusion came from seeing a picture of our planet from space – making it appear thousands of times smaller than it really is.

Are My Teeth Strong Enough?

Recently I was offered a volunteer editing job for an organization based out of Asia helping to start new churches and orphanages.

I’ve edited one newsletter so far, which took all of fifteen minutes to do. It was quite well-written, especially for someone who’s English isn’t his native language.

I was also asked how many I could edit a year, and I told them one every two weeks would be doable.

Thinking all requests would be easy like the last one.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

A few nights ago I received the following email (in part):

“I have a very rough story (it’s a bit difficult story). You will need to work on it to be developed into a story. What I have in the attachment is a basic story and very rough outline. Will you be able to develop it into a story? The audience will be our friends in the US. If you need to do any research on alcoholism, winter or the plight of slums, you can always do a Google search. If you need any specific information, do let me know.

But you do have full freedom to do this story. You will have to rework it completely. You have that freedom.

So how do I describe the sounds, the smells and the overall sense of a place I’ve never been? I found hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the slums, so describing the look will be easy.

To create an immersion of the place for readers will be difficult, and more than a little daunting. And not only the five senses, but the spiritual sense of the place, the despair, the anger, and sorrow. How can I capture that in such a way without being over-dramatic, but to someone who has been there can say, “She got it right.”

I’ve never sat down and consciously prayed before I wrote anything. I just wrote. In this case, however, I will have to pray quite hard before a single word is typed, because I don’t think I can write this on my own — and have it be believable, and honest.

I’m writing, after all, about real people in real circumstances. To over-dramatize or change their life story to fit my idea of what it should be is the height of disrespect, both to the people who live it, and the readers who want to know the truth of what happened, and is happening.

God and Science: Irreconcilable Differences?

On a Facebook group called “Conservatives and Liberals in Search of Understanding,” one conversation discusses how science and the arts have fallen prey to political agendas.

One person brought up how people approach science like a religion, and how science and religion are incompatible.

But are they? Do we have to approach God on only a spiritual, or at least emotional level, ignoring our intellect? Do we have to study science leaving our emotions at the door?

During the discussion, I stated by comparing religion – or at least faith – to science is apples and oranges. Since their end-goals are so different, comparing the two is counter-productive.

The more I think about it, however, the more I see how they’re not only compatible, but are intrinsically linked – assuming we are willing to see the connections. That’s key. It seems to me some scientists (and science enthusiasts) are unwilling to see God in the natural world, and enough religious people fail to acknowledge that the pursuit of science can help us see and understand God more clearly.

Recently my son and I watched a fabulous 6-part documentary called “Egypt” produced by the BBC. The episodes focused on three men who were key in discovering the rich history of ancient Egypt; from Tutankhamun’s tomb to the life of Ramases and finally translating hieroglyphs via the Rosetta Stone.

The last two episodes focused on how the British and France raced to be the first to translate the hieroglyphs, most specifically Thomas Young of England and Jean-Francois Champollion. During the show, a monk from the Catholic Church expressed concern that Champollion’s studies would lead to proof that the earth was older than 6000 years old.

My first thought was why? Why, if God is the creator of everything, would we – especially as Christians – be afraid of evidence that challenges, not the Bible, but our notions of it and God? It may seem like I’m parsing a bit, but hang with me. It’ll all make sense by the end.

I soon realized the Catholic Church at that time wasn’t concerned about people’s faith being challenged or weakened. When people are shown that their church is incorrect in their doctrines – especially when it comes to science – the Church wanted to shut it out, or silence it, because when people question their church, the church loses power.

Galileo Galilei believed and was able to prove mathematically that the Earth and other planets in the Solar System rotated around the Sun at a time when most everyone else believed we were the center of the universe. His views were controversial to say the least. He, too, challenged the Church that wielded even more power than during Champollion’s time. He was eventually tried by the Inquisition and was convicted of heresy where he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Even so, hundreds of years later, most people have accepted his and other scientific discoveries that the Earth and the universe is much older than 6000 years, and we are indeed not the center of the universe.

Yet Christians, in accepting this, don’t find any disconnect to these discoveries and their faith and the authority of the Bible. How does that work?

A few things.

Some have accused Christians of abandoning their reason and intellect in favor of their faith in God and the authority of the Bible.

Galileo felt this way when the Church tried to silence him. One of my favorite quotes expresses his frustration quite succinctly:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

Nor do I, and nor does the Bible:

“Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.” – Proverbs 10:15

“Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps.” – Proverbs 14:15

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” – Romans 1:19-20

There are many more, but I don’t want to inundate you too much. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with doing your own research.

God has countless times (well, not literally, but certainly more than I have personally counted), encouraged if not outright demanded that we use our intellect as well as our hearts to learn and grow toward him. As the passage in Romans said, if we want us to know him better, look at and study his creation. All of his qualities can be found there.

Sure we get things wrong; it’s part of being human, but anything we discover doesn’t change who God is. It can change our perception of him and certainly challenge our faith. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, such challenges and uncertainties in our notions can lead us to greater understanding and greater faith.

Some have claimed that theories such as the Big Bang and Evolution disprove the Bible. If we try to read the Bible as a scientific paper on the origin of the universe, of course we’ll find discrepancies. Doing so, however, makes as much sense as reading a toddler’s first book on colors to discover how fast light travels and bends around gravity wells. We have to consider the audience when reading the Bible. It was originally written for a nomadic people who had no formal education and had no concept of galaxies, or that every life form is made up of millions of individual cells, and it all starts with a single DNA strand.

One such argument is that the Earth and heavens were created in a single day. Our understanding of space and how light travels alone tosses that idea out. So does that mean the Bible is wrong? No. The Bible also says that to God, “… a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.” (Psalm 90:4) He is eternal, so a day to him could very well last millions, if not billions or trillions of years when measuring time how we perceive it. Again, we have to remember to consider the original audience.

So to anyone who uses scientific discovery to “prove” God does not exist, I can only tell them to look deeper, because they haven’t looked deep enough. Besides, God will only go where he’s invited. If someone refuses to see God, there’s nothing anyone can do to prove otherwise. They have to first acknowledge the possibility. I like to use Christopher Columbus as an example. He didn’t know the Earth was round before he set sail; he believed it and then set out to prove it. Many didn’t believe he was right until he showed them otherwise. The flip-side of that is there are still many who believe the e

arth is flat, and no amount of proof will convince them. They simply refuse to see. Proving God’s existence works the same way. He will remain invisible until people are willing to acknowledge his existence.

Which is the very heart of scientific search and discovery: To present a hypothesis – no matter how outlandish it seems at first – research and experiment until we are able to prove one way or another if it’s true or false.

Do we get things wrong at times? Absolutely, and we will continue to stumble our way through, taking many a wrong turn here and there. But that doesn’t change anything. The Sun will shine and galaxies will continue forming and imploding long after our bodies turn to dust. And God remains who he is regardless of how we view him.

Science can no more disprove God than these words disprove my existence.

And scientific search and discovery is one way we can find him.

 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. – Jeremiah 29:13


Thinking on Labor Day

From the US Department of Labor website:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr also said of labor:

We must set out to do a good job, irrespective of race, and do it so well that nobody could do it better.

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. As one college president said, “A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.” If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.

Today is the day we celebrate a job well done. It’s important to not only take pride in how well we do our job, but resolve to do it better; to become indispensable. Even if (or especially if) that job is considered “below” other jobs.

Because if we were all doctors and lawyers, who would pick up the trash, or clean our sewers?

Even better, perhaps we should use this day to thank others for doing those so-called thankless jobs.

I, for one, thank you.

9:46am CDT, 11 Years Ago

The day was Tuesday. It was a lovely day. Sun shining, nary a cloud in the sky. It began as any other. Go to work. Turn on the radio. Sit down with my first cup of coffee and begin tackling all the work that needs to be done for the day.

All activity stops when the radio announcer preempts whatever was playing to proclaim that a plane crashed into one of the twin towers in New York City.

My first thought was that it was an accident similar to what happened in 1948 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. I figured while horrifying, it was nothing more than an accident where a pilot wasn’t paying attention.

For the most part I listened to find out more details, which were scant at best.

Until a mere 15 minutes later we hear news that a second plane hit the second tower.

It’s not very often I could describe a reaction to “my blood running cold.” It’s a cliche, but in this instance, an apt one. I knew at that moment we were under some kind of attack. This was all on purpose. Not a half an hour later we heard about another plane hitting the Pentagon, and one more unaccounted for, headed for Pennsylvania.

I went home for lunch and watched the buildings fall in a dense cloud of black smoke and fire.

That image will be burned in my memory forever. As it should be, but more on that later.

With all that was happening, my work still needed to be done. After lunch, me and a few others had to go outside to set some property corners in a new residential subdivision.

I watched a couple dressed in military gear load up their car. I knew they were called up and would end up who-knew-where to prepare for and begin to fight a war. I feared for them, prayed for them, but also silently thanked them for their willingness to put their life on the line so I would not have to. I also noticed the sky was completely devoid of airplane sounds and contrails when normally we’d see four or five at one time during this time of day.

I remember also people wondering why we kept seeing the same footage over and over, and one announcer finally said, “We have a lot more, but we can’t show them.”

What was even more frightening at the time was how there were so few people going into emergency rooms. That meant that people close to the towers were not injured, but killed outright.

It’s a miracle that fewer than 3000 people were killed including those on the planes. Normally more than 50,000 worked at the World Trade Center. One reason there weren’t as many people there was because they simply hadn’t gotten to work yet. The reason the Pentagon survived as well as it did is because the plane crashed into the one area that was just renovated with higher-strength windows and structural materials.

On October 27, 2001, September 11th was designated “Patriot Day” as a day of remembrance and mourning. On this day, all flags are to be flown at half-staff, and request that all Americans observe a moment of silence to remember those that perished that day beginning at 8:46am Eastern Daylight Time. House Resolution 71 passed the House 407-0 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 18, 2001.

On September 9, 2011, President Obama released a proclamation calling September 11 “Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.” The proclamation states in part: “. . . I ask all Americans to join together in serving their communities and neighborhoods in honor of the victims of the September 11 attacks. Today and throughout the year, scores of Americans answer the call to make service a way of life — from helping the homeless to teaching underserved students to bringing relief to disaster zones. I encourage all Americans to visit, or for Spanish speakers, to learn more about service opportunities across our country.”

It’s the same again this year, because I’m hearing public service announcements on the radio about serving the community on September 11.

I’m all for serving communities. Every day of the week, not only on September 11th.

What I take issue with is calling Patriot Day also a Day of Service and Remembrance with an emphasis on service. Emphasizing the service part minimizes what happened that day. That day was an attack on our nation. It was an act of war. Acting like it was anything else is a true disservice to everyone who died that day.

It’s a day to remember that our country is worth protecting, just as those people on Fight 93 did. They didn’t sit back and let the terrorists take control over their destiny. They decided that if they would die, they would do it on their terms, and with the hope their actions would save lives of those on the ground the terrorists intended to kill.

It’s a day to be a Patriot; to say to our enemies, “We will not be terrorized. We will not bow down to you. If you try to destroy us, prepare to face the consequences.”

It’s a day to say, “Let’s roll.”

Making our job harder still

I just read this article where Dove World Outreach Center plans on burning a Koran on 9/11 to commemorate the 9th anniversary (See the article HERE). I can only shake my head in frustration. As a Christian who longs to share who Jesus is, I find Dove’s actions almost as offensive as the Muslims do (although I won’t go so far to burn an American Flag or call for the death of anyone).

Jesus was not afraid of those who disagreed. In fact he sought them out. Burning a Koran, or any other book that contradicts the Bible is saying it has power over us. It’s saying we don’t have enough faith in the Word or in God to persuade others. Dove World (based on their actions, they are horribly misnamed) is spewing the kind of hate Jesus preached against.

Beyond that, in a cynical world who sees Christians as nothing but hypocrites, this adds one more piece of evidence that they are right.

If we are to bring Jesus to a despairing world, we must meet everyone on their terms. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees differently than the fisherman. Paul used different arguments for the Greeks than for the Jews and Romans.

How does burning one religion’s holy book help to convince them that perhaps their way isn’t the right one? Is that something Jesus would have done? With a sense of irony, the people of Dove would probably answer in the affirmative. I’d even wager that they would use the scripture where Jesus overturned the money-exchanging tables in the Temple as their reasoning. Convincing them otherwise might take more effort than trying to convert a rock to Christ.

Perhaps that’s a harsh judgment on my part, and puts me on the same level as Dove World. Call me a cynic when I say they’ll have to change their ways to prove me otherwise. I just get so angry when professed Christians act in a way contrary to Jesus’ teaching. It only makes my job that much more difficult.

A Touch of History

While in school, History was not my best subject. I honestly didn’t care about it, figuring it was a bunch of dates, events, and dead people that had no bearing on my life.

As I grew older, I began to understand the importance of history. I could see in my minuscule little life how the present and future in many ways is determined by the past. I could see cause and effect. Knowing my own history helped me to not repeat mistakes, for one, and to use my past successes to build new ones.

I not only started to gain an interest in history, but an affection for it.

As a land surveyor I get to research documents that date back over a hundred years. However, I rarely get to touch the original documents.

That changed today, however.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation hired us to scan in original engineering drawings of two state parks. They want hard copies for a presentation, and electronic copies so they can make as many copies as they want without continuing to handle the originals. The state Historical Society has bugged them for years to give them the plans, but Parks and Rec didn’t want to part with them.

Now they can.

I scanned in about a third of the plans today, and doing so was simultaneously exciting and unnerving. These plans were drawn by hand, mostly in pencil on thin onion paper. This paper is no thicker than the tissue paper used to wrap gifts, so they need a gentle handling. I almost wished I had a pair of cotton gloves.

I also held my breath every time I fed a 24×36 sheet into the scanner. I feared every time I would feed it in wrong and the scanner would tear the plans.

Luckily the scanner is well-designed, and when it senses a fold or bend in the paper it stops. I have yet to witness it tear a sheet, but the worry still exists.

The best part is I get to handle a small part of North Dakota’s history. These plans were drawn up from 1939 through 1941. They are true works of art as well as historical documents.

I’m proud to play a small role in perpetuating that history for future generations.

Change o’ subject.

My nano word count is a pathetic 2549. I’m not worried as I still have plenty of time to catch up.