According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rebecca Trotter - Defiance is a Christian Virtue



Defiance is a Christian Virtue
http://theupsidedownworld.com/2011/11/18/defiance-is-a-christian-virtue/

by Rebecca Trotter
November 18, 2011

The moments in my life that have been most sure and which have left me with the most peace and joy have been moments of defiance. The times when, even though no one else would get it, I knew the path I needed to take forward and I took it. These are my reckless moments. Those things that caused offense, consternation, even concern for my sanity among those watching.

I am often a very cautious person. I don’t go shopping without knowing what I’m going to buy and how much I’ll pay for it. I skip the “trust” part of “trust, but verify” and go straight to verify. I can explain the things I do and the choices I make down to a level of detail that could put a hyper-active 7 year old to sleep. I think of what I’m going to say before dialing the phone. I think of questions I can ask people and topics to discuss before I get into conversations. I bite my tongue often. I handle my relationships with kid gloves lest I damage them or hurt someone unintentionally.

So these moments of defiance must seem out of character to anyone who doesn’t understand what’s going on beneath the surface. But these moments of defiance are my most true moments. They are the moments when what is beneath rushes to the surface and propels me forwards, regardless of all the consequences. Because I already know all the consequences. And not one of them – not disapproval, the loss of relationships, poverty, pain or anything else – is nearly enough to stop me from doing what I know I need to do. I can be reckless because I know that I’m doing something I have been specifically called by God to do or because I know that the damage done to myself if I do not do them is far greater than any of those consequences could be. I can be defiant because I have examined the matter through and through and I know that it’s coming from a pure place in my spirit. You have to be willing to be defiant if you are going to follow God and allow him to restore your heart.

This defiance is something I love about Christianity. The bible is filled with people recklessly defying expectations, norms, social pressures, sometimes reality itself. When Peter or Paul sat in a prison cell, often beaten, and sang songs of praise to God, that is defiance. When Hosea married a faithless woman and wooed her back to himself over and over, that’s defiance. When the woman with her jar of perfume washed Jesus feet with her hair, that was defiance.

Some of the strangest stories in the bible are one where God appears to approve of or reward those breaking the rules. The prophets who bargained for a better deal from God to protect their people from the full blast of God’s wrath. Jacob who deceived his own father and wrestled with God. The parable of the crooked steward who bargained with his master’s debtors to gain favor with them when he realized he was going to be fired or even imprisoned. These are all stories of people who said, “not good enough” and bargained, schemed and acted to forge a different path in defiance of all expectations.

Jesus’ entire life and ministry were defiant. He wasn’t the warrior the Jews were looking for. He talked to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to. Made outcasts - the inconsequential and the unclean - the heroes of his stories. When faced with an attempt to force him into a damned if you do – damned if you don’t choice (should we pay taxes? stone the adulteress?), he found a third answer no one else had seen before. He broke rules that were misinterpreted and misapplied and made those who tried to shame him for it look the fool. When he did not even say a word to stop his own execution, it wasn’t the enemy gaining the upper hand as it appeared, but a defiant willingness to walk a path no one could have predicted. And in the end, he defied death itself.

All these millenia later God is still calling us to be faithfully defiant. So we sing through our tears. Forgive the unforgivable. Confront those who spread pain, fear and suffering about them. Love the filthy and mean and undeserving. When we serve small children and drug addicts and those left behind. When we fall down and get back up and fall down and get back up and repeat as many times as it take until we succeed or we die, we are faithfully defiant.

This sort of defiance is freedom and peace and goodness in action. It washes away doubt, discards baggage, untangles unhealthy entanglements. When we follow in the footsteps of the defiant faithful who have gone before, we truly are taking the road less traveled. It’s not paved or smooth or even particularly safe. It’s the narrow winding road that few find and fewer stay on. Often to those watching, it looks like we’re wandering in the wilderness with no direction and no sense. And yet, as long as we continue to use our spiritual eyes, nothing can convince the faithfully defiant to abandon it for the more sensible, well traveled path. Because a journey begun in faithful defiance is guaranteed to lead us closer and closer to God – no matter how dire our circumstances. If we end up alone, despised, poor, crushed and even dead, we do so gladly, in defiance of all expectations and external pressures. And I would rather be crawling on my belly in filth and misery along the narrow way than walking in comfort on the wide path that my God has told me leads to no where I want to be.

140 years ago, a man and his family were living a blessed life. The father was a successful lawyer, with healthy children and a wife who was admired and respected in the community. They lived in Chicago where the family fortune was largely invested in a thriving real estate market. They moved in prominent circles and were good friends of DL Moody, the famed evangelist. 139 years ago, their only son died at age 4. 138 years ago the family’s wealth was wiped out in the great Chicago fire. 137 years ago, the man placed his beloved wife and four daughters on a ship to England to start a new life in England working with Moody. He stayed behind to attend to loose ends before following them across the sea. But the ship his family was on collided with another ship on the open sea. His precious daughters were ripped from their mother’s arms by the force of water that sank their ship in only 12 minutes and drowned. On the voyage across the ocean to join his wife in her grief, one of the great, defiant songs of Christianity was written. Because defiance is a Christian virtue:


David Phelps, "It Is Well With My Soul"





Exploring Evolution Series - Microbiome may have shaped early human populations

Reconstruction of Rhodesian Men. | Credit: Public Domain

Microbiome may have shaped early human populations
http://phys.org/news/2014-12-microbiome-early-human-populations.html
Dec 16, 2014

We humans have an exceptional age structure compared to other animals: Our children remain dependent on their parents for an unusually long period and our elderly live an extremely long time after they have stopped procreating.

Could the microscopic fellow travelers that consider the human body to be their home - collectively known as the microbiome - have played an active role in shaping and maintaining this unusual aspect of human nature?

That is the speculative proposition advanced by Martin Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at NYU's Langone Medical Center, and supported by mathematical models produced by Glenn Webb, professor of mathematics at Vanderbilt University. They present their argument in a paper titled, "Host demise as a beneficial function of indigenous microbiota in human hosts," published online today in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Scientists have known for a long time that every species of plant and animal acts as host for a distinctive collection of microorganisms. The human microbiome consists of about 100 trillion microbial cells, outnumbering the much larger human cells by about 10 to 1. Until recently they thought that the influence these microscopic communities have on their hosts was extremely limited. But recent research has found that their influence extends well beyond aiding digestion and producing bodily odors; they also aid brain development, reproduction and defense against infection. Taken together, the new evidence has led to the hologenomic theory of evolution, which proposes that the object of Darwin's natural selection is not just the individual organism as he proposed, but the organism plus its associated microbial community.

Blaser got the idea for the impact of microbes on human age structure from his lifetime research on Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium found in the stomach of more than 50 percent of the world's population.

H. pylori co-exists peacefully in people's stomachs for most of their lives. It even has some beneficial effects. In 1996, for example, Blaser discovered that it may help regulate levels of stomach acid. However, H. pylori is also a major cause of stomach cancer, a risk that increases with age.

"I began thinking that a real symbiont is an organism that keeps you alive when you are young and kills you when you are old. That's not particularly good for you, but it's good for the species," Blaser said.

Webb's expertise is the development of nonlinear differential equations to describe dynamic biological processes. So the microbiologist turned to him to see if they could come up with a mathematical model that would test this idea.

The approach they agreed upon was to create a model of an early hunter-gather population and see what role the microbiome might have played.

"We don't have many facts to go on, so we don't know what happened a thousand generations ago," Webb said. "But differential equations are all about change and by comparing different rates of change to one another we can tell what works and what doesn't work."

One of their basic assumptions was that people haven't changed much in the last 100,000 generations. In particular, they had the capability to live up to 120 years, which seems to be the current limit on human longevity. Of course, they had shorter average lifetimes because they had a number of sources of mortality that have been largely eliminated in modern society: fewer outbreaks of infectious diseases due to improved sanitation, reduction in back-breaking physical labor, increased availability of food, and modern medicines like antibiotics.

Their model divided the population into three different age groups: juvenile, reproductive and senescent. They looked at how the population would respond to different combinations of fertility and mortality rates. They developed a baseline case using the best estimates of these rates that they could find.

Then they added mortality risks based on particular microbial profiles.

In one version, they added a risk factor based on Shigella, one of the leading bacterial causes of diarrhea worldwide. This increased mortality only among children. It caused the population to crash.

In another version, they added an H. pylori-type mortality factor, one that increases with age. They found that this decreased the percentage of the senescent population, which benefitted the juvenile population by reducing the elderly's demand on food and resources. The end result was stronger population growth and greater stability than the baseline case.

These results are consistent with Blaser's contention that evolution may have acted on the human microbiome to favor bacteria like H. pylori that target the aging. "This isn't good for the individual, but it is good for the species," Blaser said. Anything the bacteria can do to stabilize the human population benefits them because they loose their hosts if the population crashes.

The researchers also decided to see what happened when they doubled the fertility rate. The result was an unstable system that was thrown into catastrophic boom-bust cycles in response to disasters (events that caused major population loss).

In another variation, they increased the proportion of elderly in the hunter-gatherer population. They found it didn't take much of an increase to force the population into a state of decline.

In addition to providing validation to the proposition that the microbiome may be shaping the human age structure, Webb observed that the modeling effort also reveals an underlying truth about human population growth. We have the right fertility and mortality rates to support our unusual age structure.

"If you go back 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, there were only 30,000 to 40,000 people in the world and they were scattered over Africa, Europe and parts of Asia," said Webb. "Are we lucky just to be here? Or did we survive because our ancestors were robust enough to handle all the environmental changes and natural disasters they encountered? According to our equations, it was because they were robust enough."