Sunday, March 23, 2008

One More Thing

It didn't occur to me until later this evening that this great Easter was an answer to prayer. I've been realizing that while I understand intellectually all of the principles of salvation outlined in the Bible, I haven't really been understanding them on a personal, meaningful, heart level.

So I've prayed that God would help me understand the true meaning of my salvation. And that, in short, was what happened today. During the pastoral prayer, the pastor thanked God for saving us, emphasizing that he didn't have to.

And it hit me - he didn't have to! He could have very rightly just abandoned us, and he would have been perfectly happy still. But he decided to provide atonement for us, which involved moving heaven and earth and sending Jesus to live as one of us and absorb unimaginable wrath. Wow, what a thought.

We call that concept grace - completely unmerited, unforced favor.

Anyway, as I illustrated it's something you can have a knowledge of without any real comprehension. But, as I illustrated, it's a prayer that God is glad to answer.

Man, what a thought. I urge you to consider Jesus's words:
And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
John 16:23-24
Glory, hallelujah!

The dead's alive and the lost is found - glory, hallelujah!

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23
If you're a Christian, then I hope you identify with my last post and that God smiled on you this Easter as well.

If you're not, the post probably sounded like foolishness, inasmuch as it claims to be evidence of an abundant life given by Jesus. You might say that Jesus's signature is not readily visible on the works, and one need not be a Christian to enjoy such simple blessings, so why attribute them to him?

I would say that you're right, but you're mistaken. My Easter Sunday didn't come with a greeting written in the sky or an angelic pancake, but I still saw the divine in what I received.

For his own reasons, our God is a God who hides himself so that he may be sought out by his creatures. And he is also a God who bestows his blessings on all of his children, whether they honor his Son or not.

It is for this reason that, as the seraphim cry out in Isaiah 6:3, the whole earth is full of his glory. We all experience sunrises and smiling babies and friendships as I did today because God loves us all and shows himself through his good gifts.

Such a thing as good could not exist without such a person as God to set the standard. So the enjoyment of any good thing is screaming proof of his existence and his nature. Any response but humble gratitude is off the mark.

But what of that great counterargument, suffering? If all good things come from God, then what of the bad? Is God not then spiteful as often as he is benevolent, and as worthy of curses as of praise?

Indeed, in church today we heard of orphans in Liberia and a missionary's house burning down and the poverty of Malawi, and also death. It is a worthy question to ask how anyone can believe in God in the face of pain and death.

The answer is that the sufferings that touch all and fill the lives of so many testify all the more of God and his goodness. These things entered the world through humanity's choice to reject a world without them.

Adam and Eve were given two trees - one which gave eternal life, and one of which they were promised brought death. They chose the death tree. So do we. We all know what is right but so often choose to do what is wrong.

And the ultimate evil, death, doesn't come from God's design; from the beginning it was not so. Death springs from transgression in the same way that sunflowers spring from sunflower seeds.

Jesus is not made an irrelevant liar by suffering and death. On the contrary, it is through these things that we see desperately our need for him.

Simply, it is through him that they are not the end of the story. They could have been - God wasn't obligated to do what he did - but the wonderful truth of Easter is that they are not. Jesus's birth brought a new human nature into the world, one that was not doomed to trespass. He experienced suffering like none have and hung on a tree so that, impossibly, God could be found just and we could be found blameless.

And he lived again. Death, the unconquered foe, could not hold one who knew no transgression. Jesus left his tomb, never to be touched again by pain or by death.

The Good News is that, for those willing to admit that they need it, his victory is for the sharing.

It is for this reason that Christians can look at a day when the sky turned black and call it Good Friday. And it is for this reason that Easter brings joy, hope, and love.

Joy, because just as Jesus raised from the grave, so shall we.

Hope, because we find ever greater power over our nature which knows good and does evil, and look forward to a day when that release is final.

Love, because to understand Jesus's work for us is to adore him for accomplishing it and to deeply want to live out his example to all his children.

Happy Easter.

Shout on, pray on, we're gaining ground - glory, hallelujah!

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
John 16:22
I have never felt the joy of being a Christian more fully than on this Easter day.

A dozen things already today highlight the full abundance that life with Jesus promises. Really, he promises it.
  1. I rode my bike downtown for Tenth Presbyterian Church's sunrise service. Headed due east on my iron steed, the city was filled with the glory of the rising sun, and I delighted to ride farther into it. My hands just about fell off from the morning air.

  2. During the service I was thinking to myself, "Man, I wish I had somewhere to go for pancakes." The pastor announced, "Please join us for pancakes in the fellowship hall after the service."

  3. After the service I ran into two newlywed friends.

  4. At the breakfast I saw a friend I haven't spoken to in a year and a half, and heard from him about the marriage of a freshman year acquaintance to the girlfriend he had been striving to love wholly and purely.

  5. At the table I caught the eye of a baby boy, and we played a nodding game.

  6. Also at the table were the baby's parents, a young doctor and his wife getting ready to move to Niger to heal the sick and bring hope to the brokenhearted.

  7. Between he and I was Dr. Joan Caddell, who graduated from medical school at Penn in 1952 as one of three women in her class. I heard of her own incredible experiences in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. "I wasn't just sitting underneath the banana tree."

  8. I biked straight down a nearly empty Broad Street in the still-clear and still-early sunlight to Jonathan's house and shared in Easter morning with him, before heading back to church with his three lovely sisters and his lovely Stefanie.

  9. The church was so full that we had to sit in the basement and watch the service on TV. The people down there were a bit sheepish on singing the hymns but, not to be deterred on so grand an occasion, Jon's sister Mary-Robin and I sang out. Folks joined in.

  10. The service boldly proclaimed the resurrection in about five ways, which I'll spare you.

  11. Afterwards, spurning the crowded Geno's Steaks, Jon and I found a great cheesesteak and a pot of begonias in a Mexican shop that made me smile.

  12. Biking back, I passed quickly from a Mexican neighborhood to a Vietnamese one to an African American one. That's three continents!
All of these moments are glimpses of the eternal kingdom to come.

The baby and Dr. Caddell and I will sit again at the same table, this time without inadequacies of youth or infirmities of old age, and declare the works of the risen Lord, whom we shall see face to face and with our own eyes. The Kreamer sisters will still walk arm in arm, but now through the city of God, where all nations will dwell together and
They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
Revelation 22:5
I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Biofuel: Starving the World's Poor Since 2007

I don't have many original thoughts to share regarding the headline, so please read what David Warren has to say on the subject:
A scheme to kill off the world’s poor, through starvation, has already been launched on the advice of environmental “experts,” and is showing promising results.
"Biofuel" is the means. By turning much of the planet’s limited arable land, including especially the lower-cost breadbaskets of the Third World, into grain generators for biofuel, the environmental revolution is creating the conditions for famine on a colossal scale.
Any attempt to use corn to replace or even supplement our supply of petroleum is misguided at best. Proponents hope to capture in our crops amounts of energy rivaling the amount pumped cheaply from the ground in the form of petroleum. The problem is that the amount of energy we get from petroleum is much greater (a gallon of gas contains about 31,000 Calories) than the amount of energy we get from food.*

There is simply no hope of finding enough excess energy in our food supply to shift significantly into our petroleum consumption. We've been trying anyway, and (partially) as a result food prices are climbing worldwide, with results that may prove to be nothing short of devastating.

Biofuels are not a new source of energy. They merely reallocate an old, more valuable source of energy. This is completely backwards, yet it continues to be trumpeted as great progress.

To replace our oil consumption, sources of energy that don't originate in oil must be developed. Nuclear power generates energy from mass (E = mc squared, remember), and we have mass in abundance. The sun radiates more energy to us than we would know what to do with if we could only capture it efficiently. Heck, below the earth's surface geothermal forces move entire continents.

We would be much, much better served in learning to better harvest sources like these, none of which need appreciably emit carbon, if that's what you're worried about. Considering petroleum isn't actually running out at present, there is no need to panic. In likelihood we have a few decades to work things out.

And yes, it would make a lot of sense to stop using oil where we don't need to.

There is much to say on this topic, but for now I'll leave it at this: biofuel is the kind of solution that makes your problem worse, like taking a habanero pepper for heartburn. Except instead of getting indigestion, you make basic nourishment considerably more difficult for billions of people to obtain.

A grave, grave error that should be reversed immediately.

*It's true that to grow our food supply we depend on large amounts of fertilizers derived from fossil fuels. This means it makes even less sense to try to convert crops into fuel, since the way we do things now we are converting fuel into crops to begin with.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Response: Ms. Ninette Murk, Designers Against AIDS

[Note: This is a response to comments Ms. Murk left on my February 13 post, "Shopping has never been more important."]

Ms. Murk,

Thank you for your response to my post. It's good to know that you're listening. I'm sorry my reply is somewhat tardy.

, a clarification. I indicated in my writing that the campaign's decision to focus exclusively on prevention betrayed "some hypocrisy that I can't put my finger on." Here I misspoke. To fault anyone for fighting only one facet of a multifaceted disease would be to place a ridiculous demand on any attempt to do good, and unfair.

My assertion was meant to express my confusion at the ambiguously stated goals of the campaign. I assumed that something as broadly titled as "Fashion Against AIDS
" would address similarly broad aspects of the disease. I was frustrated, first at the difficulty I had in digging up its goals, and second that the campaign only seemed to be feeding itself.

I do find it dishonest that the campaign masquerades as the means to the end of fighting AIDS
, when the campaign itself is a primary end. I'm also very skeptical of the reasoning which equates buying a t-shirt as doing good, since the purchase purportedly (1) spreads awareness and (2) helps sell more awareness-spreading t-shirts. This logic extols self-indulgence as a moral act, and that is misleading and dangerous.

I reiterate: with efforts like these
, everyone involved, from the designers to the consumers, gets a pat on the back,* while no one with the disease gets anything. If this is justified by saying the consumers are being educated, then it should at least be made clear that's all that's going on.

I'm also concerned by your statement that prevention is overlooked in the West
, "Possibly because there are antiretroviral medicines now, so even if you do get infected, you can live to be a hundred years old (give or take a side effect or two)." The belief that a morning cocktail solves all of the problems of AIDS is just not true, and it's a dangerous myth for anyone to believe, let alone someone in your position.

Antiretroviral medications do exist
, but for them to be effective, patients must be one hundred percent compliant to what can be rigorous and complicated regimens. These regimens must be frequently adjusted as the disease adapts, and side effects are not negligible. And this dance cannot continue indefinitely, as the disease and the medications war simultaneously against the body and something must give.**

Misconceptions about the gravity of contracting HIV encourage carelessness with prevention
, and thus cost lives.

It is true that young Westerners don't know what they should about AIDS
, especially with regard to the impact right at home and their own risk. Thank you for working against this problem, and for your response which has spurred me to become better informed myself. I encourage you to be diligent in finding the best way to do pursue your goals, to be transparent in your intentions, and to accept the enhanced scrutiny that falls on those who reap the benefits of being known for doing good.

My best wishes in your endeavors.

*And what a pat
, in some cases! Check out the glamorous lifestyle of Kate Roberts, founder of (Fashion Against AIDS-beneficiary) YouthAIDS, as romanticized by the Washington Post. The perks of sainthood are considerable.
**At least
, that's what I remember learning from Jim Biddle, who has HIV and should know.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

If stomach no smile, heart no smile, and face no smile.

I'm sick. I can't eat much, but I do spend a lot of time in my room fantasizing about foods that I love. Here are some foods that I wish I was eating right now:
  • Eggs benedict
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Cheeseburgers, from Johnny Rockets or Fuddruckers or Blarney Stone or my kitchen or anywhere, really
  • My mom's pizza
  • Even a glass of orange juice
Mmm mmm mmm, all of these foods are so good. Woe is my wishes-it-wasn't-empty-but-doesn't-want-to-be-filled tummy.