Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Souls and Culture

This is a really old post that I never finished up. It makes reference to the following posts from 2007: ChoicesSouls and the Sovereignty of GodWhat is a soul? Based on those posts, I wish to examine what I believe this implies about the relationship between souls and societies.

If there is anything obvious about human society, it is that we have produced a varied collection of social structures. While I believe that Western society is in many ways superior to other cultures produced throughout human history, it nonetheless remains true that men in every culture manage to find ways to live remarkably similar lives, at least in terms of the basic structures of their lives. Family, friendship, work, leisure - these are common elements of every cultural expression of man. Given this common structure, it seems plausible to me that God would, in expressing His love for the soul He created, recognize the impact on that soul that would result from placing it in a given culture. By impact, I mean both limitations and opportunities. I have heard those who strive to bring broadened opportunity to less developed cultures speak of the uncounted number of "3rd world Einsteins" who will never reach their fullest potential because they find themselves trapped in a subsistence culture where the leisure required to develop higher reasoning skills is not available.

However, if we accept that God creates souls and loves them from the moment of creation, then we have to ask whether He would in fact do such a thing. It may very well be that their are no "undiscovered Einsteins" in the 3rd world because God would not place a soul with such a potential into a 3rd world culture in the first place.

I do not want to be accused of Western bigotry. As a Westerner, I appreciate the advantages that being born and raised in the West has given me. And I can only speculate as to what opportunities are available in cultures that I am less familiar with. But no matter what the relative benefits of different cultures, it seem wholly reasonable to me to believe that God places soul into cultures of His choosing.

Another risk in this position is to assume that I believe that souls are created primarily for this life. I do not believe this. We are created for eternity with God; but I believe that He places great weight in what happens in the span of our lives, and therefore positions us in this life in whatever place  offers us the greatest chance for preparing ourselves for the next.

There is an interesting question that this raises. If God places souls into cultures based upon His recognition that the soul will best reach their potential within that culture, then cultural change is of necessity very slow. The individuals within a culture are those best-suited for that culture; any individual who would likely push for large change will most likely find themselves in a culture more to their personality. This makes the struggle of the prophet more compelling, they are most likely "souls out-of-place,"except for the fact that they are exactly where God has placed them.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Blogging - again

If you've known me for very long, you know that blogging is an on again/off again proposition. I'm on again, and hope to be so for a while. I thought I would take a second to explain why. Late last week on the the men who works for me, Terry Plyler, sent me an article. This is one of the things that Terry does for me; several of the most significant technology articles I have read over the last couple of years have originate from Terry. This one is titled How to Scale Yourself and Get More Done Than You Thought Possible. It is a summary of a talk given by Scott Hanselman, one of Microsoft's project managers, and it is must reading for anyone who is breathing. I'm not going to bore you with a summary of the article; what I want to do is give you my 4 takeaways.

  1. Inbox Issues. Scott recommends that you have a very precise organization for your inbox and that you use tools to manage it. I receive at least 200 emails every day, and my inbox is my to do list. My problem is that I let the arrival of emails drive my life. I am not sure how I'm going to do it, but I am going to change that. Somehow, I am going to take back the reins of my email.
  2. Reserve Fridays for Reflection. The idea here is to become aware of goals and outcomes - 3 each, for a day, a week and a year. I am not naturally inclined in that direction, but I could stand to become more so. Again, I'm not sure exactly what that will look like, but it's going to change for me.
  3. Try the Pomodoro Technique. 25 minute sprints in which nothing is allowed to distract you. I "multitask," which works for me because my cost of task switching (read the article) is pretty small. But I rarely give myself 25 minutes of uninterrupted time. That is going to change. I will close my email and put up some indicator so that everyone knows I'm focused; and then focus.
  4. Conserve Your Keystrokes. For Scott (and for me), this means blogging. If I want to share something technical, spiritual, philosophical or personal, blogging it increases the likelihood that it will outlive me. Further, writing helps me tie things up nicely; if I just say it, it is never as locked-in as if I write it.
So, I have begun blogging again. At least one post a day, usually at the end of the day, to reflect on something I have learned.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Noah - A Review

I went and watched the movie Noah with my wife Bethany and younger son Michael yesterday. I had heard a number of different things about the movie, including a couple of interviews with the writer and director Darren Aronofsky. I knew the people of faith were divided in their expectations of the movie; but I went in with an open mind. Like most of us, I want to see movies that treat my faith with respect, and I want them to do well. Did I find that at the theater this time? Note: there will not be any spoilers in this blog. I will keep the discussion in general terms. If you wish to see the movie, you can continue reading without fear of me giving anything away. The short answer to the first part is, "Yes." I know this is going to produce some controversy. Now, I am not saying that I think the events of Noah's life looked anything like the movie depicts. In order to take a short story that occupies a mere 3 chapters in Genesis and turn it into a feature length movie, the movie's makers had to take great liberties with the story, and augment it with their own imaginations. I don't even agree with many of the choices they made - I would much rather have seen some things done differently. But those are creative differences. What matters to me the most is that the makers of the film did not choose to mock the story in any way. The entire tale is couched in concepts that are entirely consistent with the meaning and purpose of the Biblical story. Ideas such as fallen angels, miracles, evil, and sin are woven into the story without any sense of sarcasm. The depths of man's depravity are presented as a given and worthy of judgement. Noah's struggle with hearing from God and doing His will are struggles that every person of faith can identify with, even if his struggles are at a level that we will never experience. Several complaints have been leveled against the film by believers, and I want to address them briefly. First, it is said that God is never mentioned by name in the entire movie. I believe this charge to be unfair. True, the word "God" is never used in the movie; the filmmakers prefer the identifier "The Creator" when speaking of Him. But this is merely a semantic difference. Everyone who watched the movie knows exactly who they are speaking of, and there is nothing about The Creator that is in any way inconsistent with the nature and character of the God of the Bible. Just as the name of God never appears in the book of Esther, but there is no doubt who had it working behind the scenes, so it is with this movie. The Creator is the God of the Bible. Second, I have heard some complain that it has an underlying environmentalist message. The only possible source of this complaint is with Noah's struggle to understand if God intends for there to be men on the earth after the flood. But my reading of the opening verses of Genesis 6 gives me very much the impression that if it weren't for Noah, God would not have had any humans on the earth after the flood. The evil in men's hearts was too pervasive. Sure, it is possible to read an anti-human environmentalist message into Noah's struggles, but only if you read them into Genesis 6 as well. Finally, I can imagine some believers disturbed by the imagery of the creation story, which clearly (to me) represents an evolutionary perspective. Now, if you know me, you know that that isn't going to disturb me. But before you get too upset that the presentation doesn't take 6 literal days, let me ask you - does not the presentation clearly indicate that the creation process was the ongoing handiwork of The Creator? And think of the audience. Had the film makers opted for a 6 day narrative, they would have lost the ability to speak to the large audience that cannot accept such a time frame. We as believers are more forgiving, having been taught by our Lord to look at deeper things, and can look past the superficial time frame to rejoice at a telling of the beginning that acknowledges the greatness of the creative work. Rather than being disturbed by a secondary issue, we can worship the Creator while sitting in a movie theater eating popcorn. But what about the movie itself? Did I enjoy it? My honest answer is very mixed. I think the film making was spectacular. The acting was very good. Michael complained that it was "too fantasy" for a story that wasn't fantasy. Perhaps he is right. But the real reason I struggled to enjoy the movie is that it was too real. The story is not a child's Sunday School story, with animals walking calmly into a floating zoo so that God could save them "2 by 2". It is an adult's story, telling of the very real pain and conflict present in the Biblical story. Noah was a righteous man surrounded by horrific evil. He was asked by God to perform a super-human task, and to watch as everything he had ever known was destroyed. In the flood scene we hear the screams of people dying just outside the boat - do we think this wasn't the experience of Noah and his family? Remember, in the Biblical story, God Himself shut the door of the ark, presumably so that Noah and his family would be powerless to save even one other person. This is not a sweet story told at bedtime to help a child go to sleep; this is a story of tragedy and destruction, one that would give us nightmares if we ourselves had lived through it. Understanding the psychological trauma experienced by Noah and his family, it is no wonder that the first time we encounter Noah off of the ark he is drunk - the trauma may very well have haunted his sleep for the next 350 years. How is it possible to enjoy such a story? It isn't. But I believe that people of faith should see the movie for two reasons. The first is a very practical one. If we want Hollywood to choose to make movies that take our faith seriously, these movies must succeed when they are made. But the other in a reason of faith. The movie raises questions of belief and action, questions of justice and faith, questions of good and evil. Do you believe in a God who creates and destroys? Do you believe that men, while made in His image, are corrupt through and through? This movie will force you to confront that belief, and it will, if you allow it, let you leave with your faith not only intact, but strengthened as you see God triumph through the actions of imperfect, broken men and women. Men and women like you and I.