Monday, December 02, 2013

Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu (reprint from 23-Nov-09)

This is for all those who, like myself, are frustrated with time. Like the famous rabbit of Alice's tale, I seem to be endlessly running, always late for some very important date. If I'm not late, I am waiting for someone who is, until we are both late. There is never enough time.

Quite on my own, I came up with a theory: Not only does it feel like time is going faster, but it actually is going faster. I later found some scientific backup for my hypothesis. Edwin Hubble, who later had a telescope named after him, discovered by observing galaxies moving away from us that the universe is expanding, and since space is the measuring stick of time, time itself is accelerating. Einstein's theory of relativity included the idea that the expansion of the universe should slow down at a constant rate, though he was unable to account for some factors in his theory. Then in 1998, researchers discovered that the expansion of the universe is actually speeding up, not slowing down.

What does that mean? The fact that the expansion of the universe is accelerating means that time itself is speeding up at a greater rate than previously thought. The problem is that our means of measuring time is also expanding. It's like trying to measure your height with a tape measure that is growing at the same rate as you - it always reads the same, though you have a strong suspicion that you are taller than you were before. Likewise, time is speeding up, and the only way we can tell is that it feels faster every year.

Whether you like my speculation or not, you likely share my frustration with time.

I have wondered what it was like for Jesus, who stepped out of eternity into the thing called Time that his Father created. He had a first breath, and a last. He experienced "waiting," and learned patience. His carpentry jobs had a deadline; he was perhaps often late for lunch. He could not be everywhere at once, nor did he have the time to do everything he wanted. His appointed time had no cars, cell phones or dishwashers; everything he did, from traveling to working, required a good deal of time. After 33 long years, Jesus could finally say, "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."

In the world that God made,
    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
Yet God placed in our hearts something that tells us that time is not all there is. This morning as Kristie and I prayed with a student, Kristie said something in her prayer that got me thinking about time (again) this evening. She said that our frustration with time points to the fact that we were made for timelessness.

Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3 continues, "I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." C.S. Lewis put it this way: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

So my frustration with time is understandable, yet not excusable. Jesus entered time, yet he seemed to have all the time in the world. Though the world swirled around him, demanding signs, seeking healing, requiring answers, he seemed to march to the beat of a different Drummer. When told that everyone was looking for him, he could say, "Let's go somewhere else." As important people waited on his verdict, he could draw in the sand with his finger. I am told that by faith I can walk in this world as Jesus walked.

And there will be an end to time. Jesus said repeatedly that certain things would take place, and then the end of the age will come. Maybe sooner than science supposes: "If dark energy density rises rather than falls, the universe will eventually undergo a 'hyper speedup' that would tear apart galaxies, solar systems, planets and atomic nuclei, in that order" (Scientific American, September 23, 2008). Or as Peter pictured it,
    The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

    Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
Hang on a minute! Rewind! " you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming..." What on earth? We can speed up time? We can make the end of time arrive sooner? How? Peter tells us in this same chapter.

We can live holy and godly lives. The Jewish nation has always understood that repentance - turning from sin and turning to God in their attitudes and actions - would precede the coming of the Messiah.

We can join God in bringing people to repentance. "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." This is what he is waiting for, if it can be said that God waits.

We can anticipate and long for the Day of the Lord. One of the early prayers of the church was "Marana tha," which means, "Our Lord, come!" Jesus' model prayer for his disciples also started this way, "Your kingdom come!" There would be no reason to pray this way if it had no effect on the timing of his coming.

"So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation..." Oh, he knows patience. He knows waiting. He has experienced time, wrestled with it and won. Time is now all on his side. And one final day, we will stand with him and watch Father Time squeeze the sun like an orange.
    They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
    Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.

    But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.
May you speed his coming. Marana Tha!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Great Concessions

I took our students to a great one-day conference last week. Main attraction: Shane Claiborne, who is almost cool enough for his accent alone but also delivered a high vision of believers living in intentional community where suffering is the greatest. Great stuff and much food for thought.

I went to a seminar which really troubled me, though, and I was less troubled by the seminar than by the fact it it seemed to trouble few others who were there with me.

Let me start by saying that I do not hate people who identify themselves as gay. I have known quite a few in my lifetime and I love them dearly, though I know they are often less than comfortable with me. I am in turn not afraid of them, though I have briefly felt that kind of fear with some gay people - something like what women might feel about some men whose glances, attitudes and touch make them uncomfortable.

However, I was told in this seminar that I also should not seek to help people who identify themselves as gay. I have big questions about that stance. In a PowerPoint cartoon shown on the screen, a fellow says to Jesus, "I just can't help having these feelings," and Jesus replies, "Who says you need help?"

That cartoon is not representative of my Jesus. Sorry.

To explain why, let's take the theory of evolution as an analogy. Everyone knows that the earth has been around for billions of years and that there has been plenty of time for life to develop from the simplest beginnings to become the complexity it is today. Since this is common knowledge, followers of Jesus concede to the general consensus with some explanation of creation that allows for the evolution of life over billions of years. If they don't do this, they were likely home-schooled and haven't really thought it through for themselves.

But evolution is only a theory - an assumption by the masses, yes - but we may all be wrong.

There is also the theory of sexual orientation. Everyone knows that some people are born with a sexuality that is different than the heterosexual majority, so that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual is simply who they are. Since this is common knowledge, followers of Jesus concede to the general consensus with some explanation of why we should receive people of any sexual orientation and practice into our fellowship without any expectation of change. Those who don't do this are homophobic and probably live on a farm with cows and chickens.

But genetically-based sexual orientation is only a theory - an assumption by the masses, yes - but we may all be wrong. That admission was the only breath of fresh air for me in that seminar.

Can we stretch our minds for a moment, and imagine that God really did create the world and all the wonders in it through his spoken word, and that he did not require billions of years to do it? Even if that is too far a reach,  can we stretch in another direction and imagine that there are other explanations for the growing prevalence of variant sexual orientation?

If so, we may discover tragic consequences to our strongly-held assumptions.

Though there is no conclusive evidence of a genetic link to homosexual orientation, there is a great body of evidence for developmental causes (I'm no big fan of Wikipedia, but if interested compare and, or just Google though it may take you places you do not want to go). These developmental causes - whether environmental or circumstantial - are largely ignored, just as evidences for creation are largely ignored.

Does it not seem possible that we have been duped into refusing help to a group of people who are in desperate need of it?

What if "gay" is not who a person is, but what he or she has become, how they have responded to developmental issues in their lives? What if the root causes include deep layers of pain, loss and injustice that will never be addressed because we assume this person was born this way? What if we close the door to Jesus' redeeming grace in these areas of his or her life because the general population considers it demeaning to offer them help, bigoted to to be bearers of the grace of God? This would indeed be gross negligence on the part of Christ's body, the church.

But it is too unpopular and perhaps even dangerous to entertain such possibilities. Instead, we are told to do everything possible to make our gay brothers and sisters as welcome and comfortable - even celebrated - as possible. We would not want to make them feel ill at ease by offering them help for who they are.

Recognizing that I have placed a loaded gun in your hand with this post, I welcome your best shot.