"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for October 2011

Seeking the TRUTHS about climate change

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A very interesting presentation from the UK’s NPL (National Physical Laboratory) on the challenges of measuring climate on a global scale. The first 30 minutes are very worthwhile as the presenter talks about the level of uncertainty in present satellite measuring systems. His conclusion – the level of uncertainty in present satellite measurement is such that we can’t project climate models beyond about 30 years out. His presentation is to support a call for traceable satellite observation systems.

As a former instrumentation engineer, I really appreciated his overview of the measurement challenges. It also highlites the present uncertainty about climate models, something that is rarely included in some of the emotional discussions on climate change. What this means, is that before we spend billions on halting climate change, we need to determine if what we are measuring is actually reflecting reality. As a present parallel, we hear police argue that the long gun registry is a “useful tool” for law enforcement…but how does that “useful tool” measure up cost-wise about other possible tools. Before we spend money, we need to understand if the data set provides us any support for that expenditure.

Most concerning is his description of the present strategy, which is to rely on relative measurements only, versus the desired measurement of an absolute value versus a traceble standard.

The task facing the developers of measuring systems is complex. Here’s an example.

You want to measure the wear on the second step of a stone staircase over the course of several decades, to validate a wear model you have produced. How do you perform this measurement, over 30 years, in a manner which allows you to absolutely measure the change in height of the surface of that step?

It may sound like a trivial problem, but it is far from it. Some thoughts…how do you demonstrate that the ruler you are using to measure the step’s surface is unchanging over those 30 years? Each time you use the ruler, you risk changing it, or causing wear to it, which changes its measuring characteristics. What do you measure the height of the step against? What in the environment is unchanging, or is changing in a way that is known well enough to compensate for that change? Do you use the step below (which is also wearing), a survey reference point nearby, or a global positioning reference? How is each of those changing with time, and how do you track those changes? What is the uncertainty in each reference (for example, differential GPS may be able to resolve in the millimeter range, but you are seeking to measure in the tenths of a millimetre) 30 years is a long time, what if your measuring technology changes over that period, how do you ensure absolute continuity over the overlapping periods of measurement?

A general rule of measurement requires a truth source at least one order of magnitude more precise than the standard you are measuring to. If you are trying to measure to a tenth of a millimetre, your truth source needs to be good to the hundredth of a millimetre.

It just leaves me wondering about the factual basis for much of the climate modeling which is projecting change out to 2100…

An absolute measurement is one that represents reality as close as is possible within the limits of the measurement system. A relative measurement represents only the difference between what is being measured and a reference source. An absolute measurement is portable – if it is traceable to an SI standard, you can apply that measurement in comparison with any other SI traceable measurement with confidence. With relative measurements, it is very difficult to make any comparisons as the measurement is not based on an objective, external, standard.


Written by sameo416

October 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

War and Peace Remembrance Day Workshop

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The Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network will present the workshop: ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian to Do?” on Friday, November 11th, from 1-4 pm at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, 10035-103 Street, Edmonton. There is no charge for this workshop, to be led by the Rev. Tim Chesterton, however a donation is suggested to cover the cost of coffee and refreshments.

In the early Christian centuries most Christians seem to have been pacifists, believing that the teaching of Jesus forbad his followers from participating in war. Later – especially after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire – a new tradition gradually developed, the ‘Just War’ theory, which most Christians today accept.

How are we to interpret the teachings of Jesus about loving our enemies in today’s world? How do they fit in with the rest of the Bible, and what are the different ways they have been interpreted throughout Christian history? Come and learn about the different ways Christians have interpreted the teaching of Jesus, share your own views on the subject, and listen to what others think. To register, please contact All Saints’ Cathedral at 780-428-6323 or email them as asac@telusplanet.net. The Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network is a community of Christians from different denominations who believe that violence and war are incompatible with the teaching of Jesus and are learning together how to practice this conviction in their daily lives.


A worthy dialogue.

This is a pressing question facing Christians today. I for one am a Christian that does not accept Just War theory (even having operated for 20+ years in uniform following the law of war that is directly derived from that theory). I do not believe that one can remove Christ’s imperative to avoid violence, but demonstrating through reason that some circumstances demand that response. Sin is sin, even if there is a really, really good moral reason for carrying out that action.

What troubles me is that this line of reason leads to an outright rejection of the use of force, the military and even the police. I have heard Christians state directly that Christians do not join the military or become police officers.

The one situation that is clearer is the Christian who lives in a dictatorship or a hostile culture. Oscar Romero’s priests taking up arms to fight alongside their parishoners is not something that I could conceive as a Christian response. A Christian under persecution is called to suffer with Christ, as is the witness of history and the witness of Scripture.

The question of far more interest to me, is the onus on the Christian to follow the second great commandment, to love their neighbour. How does this impact Christ’s command to avoid the sword?

I see that there is some contradiction in the Christian assertion that Christians do not become police officers. Yet those same Christians, I am certain, call upon the police to investigate their break-ins and hit and run vehicle accidents. How a Christian can permit “non-believers” to provide good order and law to their society (even though many police are believers), while prohibiting their brothers and sisters from undertaking that role, is not coherent. This is also what Ron Sider was speaking out against in the Mennonite community – the willingness to allow other people’s sons and daughters to face the risk; while continuing to enjoy the safety that is brought about by that sacrifice.

I’m also doubtful of such absolute prohibitions, barring an explicit absolute prohibition in Scripture. To do so is to limit God’s ability to act in the creation – what about the Christian who discerns that a call to uniformed service is his or her Godly vocation?

The question that challenges me is the use of force when one is in the position to stop violence being done to others, but only through the use of force or at least the threat of force. Your choice to not act does not bring suffering upon you, but upon your neighbour. My decision to follow a path of non-violence is fine if it results in my death; but how am I a neighbour, when I make that decision to preserve my own holiness…and it results in my neighbour’s death?

So, what does it mean to be a neighbour, when your neighbour is being murdered, and you have it within your means to save your neighbour, but only by injuring or killing the attacker?

I keep coming back to Rwanda on this point. If the US had supported UN action to send an armed force to Rwanda, the threat of force in-country would have likely halted much of the genocide. That UN force would have to go with the ability to use that force, just in case their presence was challenged. Would that be a Godly use of violence?

My answer would still be no; however, it might be a situation where the best we could do is to respond with force…to accept we’re sinning…and to repent after the lives are saved. I can’t justify (in a Godly sense) violence by arguing that the situation is dire (that’s just an end justifies the means argument), but I can accept that it is perhaps the best we can do in a broken world.

The contrary argument would seem to drive us to remain passive, albeit in prayer, while our neighbour is killed. My choice to opt for holiness brings suffering on others. I can’t accept that.

However, I will freely acknowledge that my unwillingness to not act means that I am choosing to act because the short-term protection of neighbour is more critical to me than the thought that God, in His time, will make all things right. That’s another sin by my measure, but the best I’ve been able to figure out in my brokeness. I’m also confident that God will be able to compensate for my errors and my use of violence.

Final point, as much as Hays and Yoder and Haueraus debate this point, I can not see any place in Scripture where there is an absolute prohibition on military service or police service. Christ’s comment to the Roman soldiers who ask him about what they should do was not, thrown down your swords, but rather, do not extort and be content with your pay (Luke 3:13-15). I would appreciate it if those opposing perspectives would acknowledge that they are forwarding a derived theology that can be supported (and not supported) through textual work, but is not directly available from Christ’s words. As John Stackhouse Jr notes, I, like him, would appreciate some acknowledgement that there is more than one position available on the question of military/police service.

Written by sameo416

October 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Learned Contentedness

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Sermon series on Money, St John the Evangelist
Philippians 4:10-20, October 16, 2011 “learned contentedness”

Let’s Pray. We continue in our sermon series looking at the place of money in our lives, and this week I want to specifically look at one of the ways that the quest for money gets a hook in our lives – this being the cult of consumption that is promoted by our modern culture, and the unhappiness that rules our lives if we’re not following Christ.

To start with, I’m going to break a rule of instructional technique…which says you never start with the bad example, as that’s what’s remembered. But here goes. I heard an interesting quote on the radio: unhappiness is the difference between our desires and reality; unhappiness is the difference between our desires and reality. So, happiness is quite simple, either make your desires fit reality; or make reality fit your desires. That’s it. Any questions?

In researching this question of happiness I came across this book: “The How of Happiness”, written by a psychologist, and documenting her research that tells you how to increase happiness in your day to day life. Her hypothesis is that 50% of our happiness is tied to genetics, which we can’t change. 10% is tied to our particular life circumstance, which are difficult to change. The balance of 40% is a part of our capacity for happiness that is within our power to change. Her plan is certainly interesting, as she promotes gratitude, optimism, positive thinking, kindness, relationship, forgiveness and spirituality as areas that support the development of your residual 40% happiness capacity. It’s science, so it must be true and good, right? This is the wrapping in a form of pseudo-science of the same message I heard on the radio – unhappiness is the difference between our desires and reality. It is a bit of a despairing message as well, for this ‘scientific’ study suggests that about 60% of our happiness is based on a reality we can’t change. That’s not bad news for we who live in a land of plenty…but if you’re a child growing up in a garbage dump in Brazil, the news that you can only bring happiness to the tune of 40% under your control, is probably not too encouraging.

Now, to undo some of this bad example, I’ll just say that all of this is junk, and you should forget it. My only purpose in bringing it out is to highlight Paul’s teaching we’re looking at today, and to highlight a lie of this world: that your happiness is either within your control (40%), and you should be working to make yourself happy; or it is out of your control (60%) and there’s nothing you can do about it. The problem for me is the great message of condemnation that arises from that pseudo-science…if you’re not happy to the tune of 40%, it’s your own fault. Also, if you manage to achieve that 40% of happiness, and your life falls apart, you are left asking yourself what you might have done wrong…after all, your happiness is under your control. What I want to emphasize is a path to contentedness that is: *completely independent of your ability to make yourself happy; *unrelated to what your genetics or particular life situation might be; a way to contentedness that is grounded in the rock of Jesus Christ, and is unchangeable compared to this changeable world. Paul’s learned contentedness encompasses the 40%, the 10% and that unchangeable 50% and renders the changes and chances of this world incapable of altering contentedness in Christ.

There is a strong contrast in the language here I need to make clear up front: for the world speaks of happiness…while Paul speaks of contentedness. The Greek here means: “strong enough or possessing enough to need no aid or support independent of external circumstances, contented with one’s lot, with one’s means, though the slenderest.” This is not happiness, and I’ll note that it is possible to be content without being happy: an example: you’ve just done something that will save your family from death, but in saving them you have guaranteed your own death. I would be content, in the knowledge those you love are safe, but certainly not happy with the way the story will end for me. The promise of Paul is not glee, but that Christ will leave you content regardless of circumstance.

Now contrast this contentedness of Paul with the constant grasping of our culture, the constant need for things. Part of what has made the capitalist approach to democracy such a success is the constant expansion of demand. Historically, that expansion of demand started just after the Second World War, and has continued without any real interruption to this day. I am not going to suggest that capitalism is an intrinsically bad thing, as the present bunch of protestors seems to suggest, but just to point out that anything which is made solely of humankind is subject to our fundamental flaw…we love to turn things into idols. Capitalism, as an idol, is as destructive as any other idol, as is democracy. Capitalism, not submitted to the Lordship of Christ, becomes an unrestrained pursuit for profit above all else.

The cult of consumption, which tells us we can never be happy without (fill in the blank), is a part of that unrestrained capitalism. Paul talks about this too, in chapter 3 of this letter he identifies the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ as those who see, ‘their god is their belly…with minds set on earthly things.’ The image here is stark – the cross of Christ represents the denial of all that is earthly, to follow a path of suffering/contrasted with those whose god rests in their stomach (that is, in the worship of physical things). Your god is your next meal, or whatever can satisfy you until the hunger starts again. Which path do you wish to follow?

Commercial advertisements tell us that happiness can be won by buying the right things, and the right number of things. Even pet food commercials promise us happy cats if we but purchase the right brand of chow (as if a cat would ever let you know it was happy). This is a path to emptiness, for the cult of consumption creates in us a hole that can never be filled with anything but more consumption.

Let’s contrast this with what Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi, which is quite a short piece (4 chapters) of instruction about how to live life as a believer. It is short enough that it can be read while making a cup of tea (the proper English way, of course), and I’d suggest you take a read through all four chapters. Our focus today is on the fourth chapter, and I want to specifically focus on Paul’s statement about what I’ll term ‘learned contentedness’, at verse 11, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Notice how Paul talks about learned contentedness in all situations, and offers three pairs of contrasting descriptors: brought low/abounding; plenty/hunger and abundance/need. There is an important truth here, that abundance is as spiritually risky as hunger. Too much stuff allows us to convince ourselves that we are where we are because we have done it all on our own. Too little stuff can make us bitter and angry, as we know we deserve more than we have. Learned contentedness permits us to rest in the place we happen to be at, and to be content. It is not self-satisfaction based on the abundance of our lives, and the conviction that we have done it all ourselves. It is not self-sufficiency based on our ability to do it all without anyone else’s help. It is self-surrender that brings us to the place of content existence in Christ.

Learned contentedness, as Paul sets out, inoculates us against the threats of too much and too little – and note that these are quite relative terms depending on your mindset. There are many in our nation of plenty who believe they have far too little, and resent the world as a result – I have heard more than one complaint about some people being too rich and how the growing gap between rich and poor needs to be narrowed by wealth redistribution. I find this all quite mystifying and it is made even more so in light of Paul’s teaching of learned contentedness. I do not deny that there are structural injustices in our society, but much of what I hear today seems more based on complaints about other people earning more income, which somehow offends some abstract concept of fairness. I wonder what would happy to the occupy Wall Street movement if the protestors all took learned contentedness to heart? What if the Wall Street bankers, the object of the protest took Paul’s contentedness to heart?
Listen again to what Paul says about that dissatisfaction with systems, with too much or too little income: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Consider this very radical idea as the counter-point to a culture and a climate that seeks to leave you unhappy and dissatisfied so that you will continue to consume. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Learned contentedness.

This teaching comes through in other parts of Paul’s writings. Consider 1st Timothy: 1 Tim 6:6-8: 6Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Learned contentedness is Paul’s message of the true path to contentment. Look also at Hebrews 13 – Hebrews 13:5-6 “5Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” With God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us, what can man do?

Now this message of contentedness is not one that encourages a lack of action…it is not a ‘fat, dumb and happy’ type of contentedness, but rather a state of being that permits one to be content regardless of circumstance. So, this does not blunt Christ’s call upon us to transform unjust social structures, far from it. What it does mean is that, unlike just about every protestor I have seen interviewed, our state of being as we seek change in the world is not one that is defined by anger, or hatred, or anxiety, or jealousy, but contentedness.

The message of contentedness strongly contrasts with this culture’s messages of profit and acquisition above all else, including compassion and fairness. Our learned contentedness comes from our understanding of the nature of God, and our sure faith in his promise that he will provide us with all we need, when we need it, and will never forsake us. That does not mean a life empty of danger, or pain, or death, or suffering, but it means a life that is full of contentment in Christ independent of circumstance. Note also that this is not just talking about material things, but also about love, emotional satisfaction, relationships, life companions and anything else that we might desire but not have. I am all things in Christ, and most particularly, I am always content in Christ. Amen.

Written by sameo416

October 16, 2011 at 4:58 am

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"As I mused, the fire burned"

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