Category Archives: Religions - Page 2

Freedom in discipline

In the 30 years I’ve been a runner I’ve run more than 150,000 miles. Still, some of the hardest steps I take are those first few getting out the door for daily runs. –Bill Rodgers, Lifetime Running Plan

Are you drinking enough water? —my Dad, upon your acknowledgement of any feeling of ill health

Are you exercising? —my Dad, upon your acknowledgement of any feeling of ill health (if the above is answered in the affirmative).

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity liked an armed man. —Proverbs 6:10-11

It’s been a bit of a broken week for me.  On the heels of being out of the office Tuesday to Friday last week, I was in briefly Monday, only to head to the airport in the afternoon—work stacking up  but trumped by more travel.  On top of that, my Chicago Marathon training was scheduled to start this week. Having taken time off after Boston, with the plan to let my body heal and adjust my running form, I’ve lost almost all of my hard earned fitness, am using very different muscles to run and have what amounts to a relatively short period left to prepare.

The net result is that I have learned to dread running again.  I have slowed my pace at times to nearly 2 minutes slower than my goal pace, labored over short runs, walked, blistered and bled.  My legs have hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had, and I am often back to limping down stairs again.  I just saw this morning that I have toe nails that are dying.

It’s so easy to forget how hard it is to get started.  Running 70 miles a week is easier than the first few runs after a break.

About a month ago, I also started a Bible in a Year reading program, which requires that I read 4 chapters per day on average.  I’m behind on this as well, watching my estimated day of completion slip over time and struggling to get caught up.

I realize these don’t seem like major events, and in the grand scheme of things, they are not…not in and of themselves anyway.  But, when my personal disciplines fade, I become grumpy, stressed and disquieted.  And it’s usually a viscous cycle for me. I start to dread runs more and attach too much significance to each run. I procrastinate on my Quiet Time (my Bible reflection and prayer). I sleep later than I should, my diet deteriorates and my alcohol consumption climbs. Then I start rescheduling my week (problem solving at its best), trying to figure out where I’ll make it all up.  Problem is, Wednesday’s run become 8 miles instead of 6, Thursday’s rest day goes away—and the next thing I know I’m in bed sick from late night cookies, dehydrated from one too many beers, trying to figure out if I can even run 8 miles any more!

Then I start beating myself up and/or making excuses.  In this case, I have been almost to the point of quitting on Chicago this year.
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Everyone believes in something

Science shows us that the universe evolved by self-organization of matter towards more and more complex structures. Atoms, stars and galaxies self-assembled out of the fundamental particles produced by the Big Bang. In first-generation stars, heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen were formed. Aging first-generation stars then expelled them out into space – we, who consist of these elements, are thus literally born from stardust. The heaviest elements were born in the explosions of supernovae. The forces of gravity subsequently allowed for the formation of newer stars and of planets. Finally, in the process of biological evolution from bacteria-like tiny cells (the last universal common ancestor) to all life on earth, including us humans, complex life forms arose from simpler ones.

Albrecht Moritz, taken from The Origin of Life

Scientists love to ponder the statistical improbability of the Big Bang, seemingly just to see how many zeros they can crowd into a denominator. The conclusion is usually some variation of how fortunate we are that the universe was formed, that the earth is inhabitable, that life formed from quark-gluon plasma and that somehow the simplest microorganisms eventually developed into complicated animals—how fortunate we are that just like that, some 15 billion years later, human beings walked onto the scene.

I don’t mean to knock the Big Bang.  It’s a theory that both fascinates and befuddles me (though I confess I have no idea what quark-gluon is. And I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could put a date on this event!). But I must say, I think it takes some faith to swallow the theory whole. And it interests me that if a random Big Bang is as unlikely as scientists agree it is (was?), they don’t stop and ask whether it was random at all.  In fact, its very randomness makes it difficult to explain the nearly inarguable order and predictability of the natural world (the very order and predictability on which modern scientific theory is built).

Is there more of a chance that the Big Bang and evolution produced this ordered, predictable world full of complex organisms or that there is some cosmic force behind the universe that deliberately put the pieces in place and quark-gluon plasma in motion? To be honest, I just don’t know—I’m not smart enough to discount the probabilities.

I believe so many questions like this deserve our consideration.

I’m also prone to wrangle with probability of spontaneous life—that is, life willing itself into existence through the cobbling together of non-living matter in the proper proportions and sequences. Then, I wonder about the presumed serial advancements of those life-forms which allegedly culminated in man’s evolution from ape—the crowning accomplishment of the Will of Life.

Did you know that archaeology has never proven man evolved from apes?

Again, the theory is fascinating—and could still prove to be true, but as of now, it remains a theory. The Missing Link has many connotations, but none of them change that fact that no amount of digging has filled holes in the evidence that would prove the theory. Like evolution, we fill the missing links with quark-gluons and faith in the theory itself.

I think everyone believes in something—whether or not they realize it. Some may claim they are people of science, not faith; but so much faith goes into scientific theory, particularly where questions of the cosmos are concerned! Repeatable science is tough to argue against, but to me it’s (the very order and predictability of repeatable results) evidence for an Intelligent Designer. In the end, theoretical science is theory—and all theory is a way of filling in the missing links.

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Exclusivism that welcomes all

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. –Matthew 11:29-30

I have given a lot of thought recently to what makes Christianity unique among the religions to which it is often compared.  I think the answer hangs on the exclusive claims that Jesus Christ made about who he was and why he was on earth.  No other religious leader (of any major faith) claimed to be God.  No other religious leader promised to destroy death; followers of no other religion claim its leader’s resurrection.  So I contend that Christianity is either “better” or much worse than all other faiths.  I use the word “better” simply because Christianity makes a claim of unique truth that (if valid) supersedes all other truth claims.  That is, either Jesus was in fact God and was in fact resurrected from the dead, or he was not God and/or was not raised from the dead.  If the latter is true (in either variation), Christianity is a farce based on lies.  I accept that.  But if the former is true, it has far reaching implications. I believe the most important question a man must answer in his life is whether or not Jesus’ exclusive claims have been borne out by history (recommended reading on the historical validity of the Biblical accounts: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – Richard Bauckham).

I recognize the intellectual problem presented by exclusive truth claims (such as this), particularly for thoughtful modern people.  The notion of unique, exclusive or True Truth is often perceived to be dangerous and/or obtuse and naïve.  I’d like to try to respond to those criticisms in the hopes that we can consider the nature of the Christian Truth claims and what they might mean for our lives.

Admittedly, history has demonstrated that exclusive truth claims can be dangerous.  The Crusades—designed to propagate Christianity’s unique truth claims—are not a bright spot in the history of that faith; just as the September 2001 terror attacks did not do much to mollify the world regarding the nature of Islam’s unique truth claims.  Sadly, many other horrifying examples can be cited, but misuse of truth does not negate a truth in itself—and I think it unfair to reject the thing itself before we even consider its claims. An exclusive truth claim can undoubtedly be dangerous, but it depends on the nature of the Truth it claims.

As for the obtuse and naïve nature of unique truth claims, I quite disagree with modern prevailing wisdom.  The general form of the argument against exclusive truth claims is often illustrated with a story about blind men trying to understand the full nature of an elephant they come to meet.  One feels its trunk and believes the elephant is soft and agile, perhaps snakelike.  Another man feels a leg and thinks the elephant much like a tree.  Still third man, feels a tusk and has quite a different interpretation of what the elephant is.  Each man understands a part of the elephant, but none of them has the full picture.  Such is life, the illustration suggests.  All any of us can hope to bring to the table is the unique piece of understanding we can derive from our experience, but none of us can understand the full elephant, as it were.  That is to say, yours or my unique truth claim will reflect yours or my limited understanding, but it cannot be the complete picture.  The problem with this argument (which admittedly comes in various forms) lies in the question of who is telling it.  After all, who could tell it? It can only be told by someone who sees the complete elephant.  Otherwise, how can the teller know that any individual has an incomplete picture?  In other words, the argument that no truth claim can be the full truth is itself a truth claim of being the full truth!
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