Friday, June 20, 2008


I recently watched a show called "Trick or Treat", hosted by Derren Brown. For those who don't know who Derren Brown is, he's the most famous psychology magician in the UK and arguably in the world (other than Benny Hinn). In the last episode of the second season he talks about superstition and it's curious ties with human reasoning.

He showed strong evidence that we are so self-absorbed that we naturally believe that random events in this world are in response to our involvement - no matter how detached.

I had to think about this and the book of Job came to mind. Here is a righteous man being tortured by Satan and his friends are picking on him, accusing him of doing wrong things that he never even thought of doing.

So I think there are Biblical applications here. In religion, we try to build a relationship between man-kind and the unexplainable. In a relationship with God, we often find that the best miracles happen when we do nothing other than sit and wait. So again, religion does not equate to relationship. Nevertheless, I want to suggest that there is an overall result of our behavior. If we do evil, God allows evil to fall on us with more severity and recourse to ultimate destruction. If we do righteous, then our prayers have merit and God will offer some graces and blessings where there would otherwise be none. But it appears to stop there.

Like my children, if they behave then after a while if they ask something special from me I'm more willing to give it to them - but they're still getting fed, clothed, sheltered and educated regardless. If they continually misbehave and rebel, then I step back and watch them fall. Sometimes I lecture them afterwords and sometimes I don't. Again, they're still going to be provided for regardless.

There's a proverb that it rains on everyone - the righteous and the wicked alike. From that proverb I agree with Derren Brown. Most of life occurs and it's what we choose to do with that occurrence that demonstrates who we are, but our ability in tomorrow's ball game is not dependent on our unwashed lucky socks.

So I've been rethinking some of the traditions and rituals I go through in life. Is it because I believe something will happen from it or because I think it's the right thing to do? That puts a new perspective spin on life.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Human Soul and the Denial of Monsters

The pain of denying ourselves the Supernatural comes in the price of becoming vulnerable without knowing it. Like poorly drawn statistics, we find explanations and evidence where in actuality there are none. As I browse through a series of UK shows one series entertains the belief of ghosts while professing to have the goal of disproving them. Another goes through a series of horrific creatures from folklore such as zombies, vampires, witches, werewolves and even demons with such an angle that anyone who does believe in their existence is reportedly uncivilized and stupid.

Derren Brown, the psychological illusionist mentioned during one of his shows that the power of suggestion is its greatest on those who don't have strong foundational faith - particularly one rooted in God. Those who are atheist, agnostic, Wiccan, Buddhist or otherwise are more susceptible to being influenced through suggestive forces.

Life is more than living like an animal. Animals live in the immediate with little regard of long term consequence. Banks would like little more than to reduce the admirable qualities of being human to that of a base creature so that people live solely for immediate gratification; having a population seasoned to practice debt for pleasure enslaves them and sets them on a leash by which they can be guarded and controlled.

Without control, we are civilly untamed, wild like werewolves and vampires in a fury who grapple bankers and lawyers and politicians with an eye for fodder. In this, there is no other course of action than to allow the chaos to settle in and the public have our way. But indebted, we are subdued into a trance where we become the meat dinners for monsters.

All legends have their beginnings. Some are reasonably seasoned over time until their roots are unrecognizable in a shroud of myth. Others are still new enough that they are debated among scholars and conspiracy theorists. But given enough time, things that should not have become forgotten are erased from the records leaving only the lore behind. Did St. George really slay a dragon? Was there really a King Arthor? Do the spirits of the Nephilim walk the Earth today?

Lore and legends are important to decipher because they reveal our innermost needs. They attempt to answer questions that mold and shape our world view. What is a soul? At what point does the animal part of man end and the spiritual part of man begin? What happens to man when he dies? Is there life after death? If so what is it like? What is the purpose of man? Are we accountable to a higher power for our actions? Does God continue to be involved in the world today and how? There are many more questions at the root of our existence, but one common trend is a clear battle between good and evil. We don't see that in the dumb beasts, though their fate is wrapped up in crossfire.

Our need to battle and conquer evil may invoke the creation of monsters, or perhaps the monsters that make up the contents of Pandora's Box creates the need to battle and conquer such evil. We do know, however, that an evil exists out there and only those who treasure the liberty and goodness of God's grace find purpose in fighting it while the rest of us... the rest of us placidly watch the outcome of zombies, vampires, witches, werewolves and other powers of darkness on the silver screen as the real monster counterparts close in.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Human Soul and the Frankenstein Effect

Movies are an amazing part of our culture. Each movie has a message through which directors, editors and producers take the art work of the actors, camera men, sound men, prop builders, makeup artists, etc and build out a (hopefully) coherent slant or idea. Sometimes it's as base as revealing our crass natures to be compelled to watch vile trash. Sometimes it's highly intellectual and perpetuates water cooler conversations about life's mysteries.

One recurring theme in science fiction and horror movies is the Frankenstein base. This book poses two questions: At what point is the act of science crossing the boundary of playing God, and at what point does the human soul exist or not exist?

There are certainly other aspects to Mary Shelley's story, and I don't want to typecast her novel into just these two ideas, but they are core concepts that have riddled philosophers for ages.

It appears that the first question is loosely tied to another theme. When man uses science to overcome mortal fear, the result is something to be infinitely more feared. In conjunction with this, the outset of the creation can never exceed the creator. In other words, we can't make humans better than they were created to be in the bounds of the natural laws and trying to do so creates a monster. Even in reality, medication has side-effects which include mortal danger. The balance and trade-offs that typify a "lesser of evils" concept is prevalent throughout nature. The question remains - where is that balance, and who are we to determine it?

In Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde," a scientist tries to separate the mortal sin from the soul. The problem is that sin dominates our lives so instead of an angelic and benevolent personality surfacing, he split out a psychotic and horrific personality fit for the city of Sodom.

Frankenstein is not much different. A scientist is looking for a path to immortality, but discovers that with an immortal body comes an eternal pain. The monster is never given an identity, leaving it soulless. Though the experiment is a success, its level of suffering significantly outweighs the level of elation, and readers are left to view meddling with nature in such a fashion as a failure to all humanity.

These themes have only become more modern with scientific discoveries. The 1958 version of "The Fly" takes a scientist who intends to defy the laws of creation to disintegrate and rebuild molecules of living animals in a God-like manner but finds himself a victim of carelessness. This leaves those around him struggling with the concepts of morality and the limits of the human soul.

At first, Andre the scientist is arrogant. He claims to know God's purpose for humanity without acknowledging God's limits: "God gives us intelligence to uncover the wonders of nature." After catastrophic failure he denounces that statement: "There are things man should never experiment with. Now I must destroy everything, all evidence, even myself. No one must ever know what I discovered." His wife tries to convince him not to follow through: "You can still reason, Andre... You've still got your intelligence... You're still a man with a soul. You've no right to destroy yourself!"

"The Fly" equates intelligence and reason with having a soul. As long as the half-man-half-fly can reason and shows intelligence, the man-creature is considered to have a soul, and killing him/it is considered murder. In the movie, the truth is merely twisted to simplify the innocence of Helene, but even the Inspector, after squashing the fly in the web considered his act the same as murder. You can't murder a thing, so it must have still had a human soul in context.

The newer version of the fly from 1986 was much more atheistic and followed more of a "using science to overcome fear results in something more feared" approach. There are some thoughtful punches about how cognitive and intelligent behavior separate man from beast, but references to a human soul were absent. The Brundle-Fly transformation showed more of a reverse evolution effect, and the duration of Seth's transformation into a fly was prolonged only because it felt good rather than out of hope to return to a human state.

A new model of Frankenstein effect has come out recently under the context of zombies. Specifically, genetically altered humans. Movies such as "Resident Evil", "28 Days Later" and "I Am Legend" have been hitting the theaters since 2002 where everything from military experiments to pharmaceutical greed to philanthropic science has been the seed to bring about deadly results.

What makes these so frightening is that, like other Frankenstein effects of their time, it involves a science that most people know little about - even the scientists who currently explore these new venues. Creating life from the genetic level is also known to be problematic because of genetic mutation. Life that can change function or resistance over a few generations of reproduction is unpredictable and thusly, frightening. Using a virus as a mechanism to inject the genetic instruction amplifies the mutation and unpredictability because of its short reproductive cycle and its massive growth rate in a short period of time.

Because as a collective race we know so little about genetic based medicine, it has become a modern-day equivalent to technologies of electricity and surgery back in Shelley's time.

Nevertheless, the heart of the matter is the human soul. To be spoken of with any credibility or seriousness, zombie manifestation, like all apocalyptic events have to deeply coincide with faith and spirituality. If not from Biblical context (Revelation 9:6), it should at least be taken in the context by the merit of the soul.

If any one of us were to turn into a zombie, would we have a soul? What is a zombie? Could someone be both dead and alive at the same time? What is the essence of man and when does it leave the body and can the body survive without it?

Ghosts are easy - they're disembodied spirits. But zombies hold the paradox. Not only does it question life after death, but like in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", it questions life-in-death. At what point, if any, is man reduced to a dumb animal? At what point is the human soul lost beyond redemption? If it can be redeemed, then what's the price?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

-Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Spiritual flaws and support for character assessment

OK. Here's the first part of a hot rant response on the career path program that occurred in my work place. Before I begin, I want to mention that the owners of the company are incredible. You will hardly ever find two more dedicated and wonderful people who love their work almost as much as they love helping others. They paid to have this executive level program brought to everyone in the company because they believe that it helps us in our walk of life.

Secondly, I want to mention that statistics can be deceptive. Without a full report on the target of the assessment and mention of the process with who was admitted and who was rejected from the sample, it's difficult to ascertain a full body of truth from the numbers. All the same, statistics and psychoanalysis are interesting and shouldn't be entirely rejected.

So to the first step - DiSC assessment. Well, I believe this is another facet of generalization that has similar pinings as astrology. I'm born in early August, which sticks me at the Leo portion of the astrology circle. But to be honest, I am more like a Capricorn than anything else. I haven't tried business matters, so I'm unable to determine how well I'd do there, but when I think I know what's best, I'm stubborn as a mule; it takes a very persuasive argument to lean me towards anything else. I also over think everything and you'd have to get through me first before you come close to hurting my family. Oh, and I'm also much like a Taurus - it is so me. I might have been civilized over the past seven years, but I am so passionate about certain aspects of life that I can't keep my mouth shut, which often leads me to trouble. Although I strongly believe people of all ages can change if they want to, I also believe that there are certain universal truths that should never change. I steam up quickly and hotly. But I also forgive others at a drop of a hat when they ask for it or when new evidence comes to light - I look for reasons to forgive them.

OK - cutting to the chase. It could be just me; I won't rule out that there are some people in this world like "The Pretender" who could slip into almost any role, and when I took the DiSC assessment, I sat almost perfectly in the center of the wheel. Supposedly that means I have the ability to become any personality I want to with the right motivated effort and environment. But I believe that God gave us an incredible ability to change.

He wouldn't give us commandments, especially through His Son, if He didn't believe it was possible for mankind to follow them to some extent. None of His commandments say we have to be able to fly or that we aren't allowed to love if we want to be saved. He does say, however, that He doesn't expect us to perfectly follow the basic ten commandments - so He sent someone to intercede for us. Interestingly, the message in the Gospel of repenting is common throughout the entire Bible. If He believes we can change - repent means to change direction back to Him - then we can. He made us and knows what we're capable of. End of story.

The trick is you have to head towards a goal. In this case, it's obvious that the Bible is referring to turning back to God and His righteousness. But it seems reasonable to me that anyone having faith enough can move in any direction they choose. The problem I have is having faith in a world of will-nots and can-nots. It's difficult to believe that I can change into who I know I can, and should, be when people are constantly telling me I will-not change because I'm too old or I can-not change because that's just not the way things happen.

Bah! Who said it would be easy!? In a society where instant gratification is the norm, they've lost touch with the real issues. People don't always change on a dime. We are wired to repeat an act until it becomes a habit, then repeat a habit until it consumes who we are, but with God all things are possible. I've seen people drop some really nasty habits without anything other than sheer willpower. They had no help from patches or therapy, and in some cases, not even help from a friend or an accountability partner.

I've been systematically tamed out of passions to the point that I'm more effectively controlled in the business world. That's not entirely bad. Even a wild stallion, as magnificent a creature as it is, is useless until it's been tamed. Meekness, I'm finding, is a valuable trait when used properly.

However, after watching people in the work place it's obvious that there are benefits at times to breaking the rules. People at work have become praised, if not marked as little heroes, for their willingness to do something clever that hadn't been suggested to them. That means there are certain unspoken "soft" boundaries, that although the general mantra in the work place is "do as you're told and nothing else", we can find something outside of that rule to bring laughter and joy and ease to others. Just don't toot your own horn. Even when you fix something important, it backfires in animated proportions.

My biggest challenge is keeping focused on the vision and keeping a motivated faith on it. My second biggest challenge is to regain the outside-the-box mentality that's been put aside for the sake of business, then learn how to wield it properly to the benefit of others to bring more joy and humor to the world.

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Friday, February 29, 2008


I'll get back to the habit post later, but something struck me that I really want to share and remember.

Why do people sigh? If others are like me, they sigh when they're about to face an event or person that brings a sense of trouble or frustration during a time when they are already tired or they sigh in relief after a good amount of tension has passed.

It's sort of like saying "As tired as I am, I'll step up to take care of this tedious task, but I wish it wasn't necessary." For example, if the dishes in the sink are flowing over and the dishwasher is full, either I sigh or my wife does. The one who sighs is generally the one who takes the responsibility.

Sighs of relief are a bit more rare. It's like holding your breath in anticipation, then when the event is over letting it out. It's that moment at the end of a good movie or sports game when you say "Whew! That was close."

While reading through Mark I came across something that stood out. Jesus sighed. It's mentioned twice in the Bible - both times in Mark, almost back to back in scripture (Mark 7:34, Mark 8:12). Jesus apparently had moments of exasperation. He didn't get angry, but you can see his disappointment.

Mark 8:12 is obvious, so I'll address that first:
And the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him (Jesus), seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side... Then He charged [the disciples], saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod."

There are other issues going on through this verse, such as bickering about a loaf of bread, hardened hearts, and selfish ambitions amongst his disciples. Though that contributed to Jesus' frustration, I don't think it was the root of His sighing.

Jesus shows frustration on two specific related issues. At first it appears that it might be because the Pharisees are being a pain, but Jesus has dealt with these jerks before. I think it specifically has to do with them demanding a sign and spreading some idea that even though Jesus heals the sick, the lame, the blind, the possessed and has miraculously fed thousands that unless He can make some super-miracle sign from heaven (like maybe turning the sky green or something goofy like that) then He can't really be (from) God. And I think the second issue is that his disciples and others were starting to believe that the Pharisees had a point.

It's obvious from these troublemakers that even if Jesus gave them a bigger sign than He already had through His ministry that they wouldn't be satisfied and would want an even bigger sign. They didn't want a Savior, they wanted a magician.

Jesus could have given a big enough sign that it would have overthrown the Roman Empire. This should all sound familiar - it was a temptation from Satan when Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days (Luke 4:5-6). He wasn't here to do that, and doing so would have gone against the will of God The Father.

That second issue is about leavening. These Pharisees and Herodians are trying to devalue the works of God. When they start spreading thoughts that what Jesus is doing isn't good enough evidence of who He is and others start believing it - even His own disciples - that's a great disappointment.

How should we apply this? We need to be steadfast in God's word and get to know His character. Most churches teach what the Bible says, and the good ones go as far as how to apply it - but how many really go into the character of God? We need to be on lookout for that. It's our individual responsibility... and let's stop putting conditions on God.

We shouldn't say that if God is really God then He wouldn't allow some event to happen or that He would have performed some crazy sign. That's what the Pharisees and Herodians did. Sometimes He does give us signs, but I don't see evidence that He does it to show off who He is, but rather to help us know who we're dealing with. I doubt that's the type of sign the Pharisees would be willing to, or want to, accept. Even when Jesus was crucified and the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom they didn't take it for a sign and just sewed it back up.

Mark 7:34 is tougher to get through. Partly because the man's heart isn't revealed until well after Jesus sighs, but remember that God can see into the heart of man and that He can tell what state it's in. The gist of this passage is that Jesus heals a deaf and mute man who had nothing more than the selfish expectation to be healed. Jesus tells him not to tell anyone (this has caused trouble in the past - and I believe it ultimately led to the Pharisees confronting Jesus in chapter 8, see above).

You'd think this guy could at least be quiet - after all, he was so speechless that he didn't even take a moment to thank the LORD for healing him. But he immediately runs off and disobeys Jesus' command with the very tongue that was just healed. How many times do we beg God to do this - or to do that and expect it to be done, then get angry with God when it isn't to our liking... or when He does answer our prayer we go off sinning just like before - perhaps with the very part of our life that God just healed?

I'm not saying we shouldn't ask. God makes it clear that asking Him is good. When we come to expect it from Him is where we go wrong. We can't put our sinful man-limited expectations on the creator of the Universe and expect any good to come of it.

Then, when God does pull through we should turn to Him in gratitude and ask Him what we could do for Him . What He wants usually isn't what we think He wants. Our society is selfish by nature. We tend to quickly forget the good that others do and remember the bad. Apparently this neither new, nor specific to our culture.

Go against that selfish grind. Pay close attention - people are doing thoughtful things for you that you have no idea of. Find out about those things, then when you discover someone doing something kind, thank them and ask what you could do for them. In the meantime, list out specific times in your head when something happened (or didn't happen) to save you from trouble... chances are, that was God. His greatest miracles happen when there is the least expectation.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Where's the Joy

During my trip to DC, a dear friend and I had a conversation where I disclosed two separate thoughts that he put together.
  1. I believe that any authority over me was put there by God.
  2. When I was moved from one department to another I put myself into a state of misery, assuming I was being punished, but not able to determine exactly what for.
To my surprise he replied that for exactly this reason he doesn't like religion - that we take on a god to believe in then beat ourselves up with it. I hadn't thought of what I had been doing in that light.

The truth is that I did nothing wrong and the company had gone through a series of events that just led to moving me into a different department where I could benefit the company more. Furthermore, it wasn't by any lack of performance or ability that I was moved - though me being a telecommuter had a strong hand in their decision.

But even if God did cause these "coincidences" to occur, it's not my place to beat myself over the head about it. Playing the blame game with myself doesn't allow me to take in what this position change has to offer, it makes me miserable and others see it... then they point to God, rather than my flawed beliefs, as to why I'm so miserable.

If I really believe that God's in control then I have to ask myself - what am I worried about? To be a successful representative of Christ, I need to quit knocking myself and start counting my blessings. You can't have joy without peace, and you can't have peace without a thankful heart (Phil 4:4-7).
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Finally, having joy is an exhortation (1 Thes 5:12-22). That means it's a choice in the same way that love is a choice.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
So what have I learned from this whole experience?
  1. People are judging God by my behavior and actions.
  2. I've been adhering to more religion than relationship with God.
  3. To choose joy, pray and be thankful.

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