Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Were You?

Isn’t it amazing how some of our most vivid memories involve tragedies?

We often hear questions like, “Where were you when…:

  • …JFK was shot?”
  • …you heard Elvis had died?”
  • … when the planes slammed into the World Trade Center on 9/11?”
  • … when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?”

Today people across the nation are remembering the Challenger disaster that occurred on this date 25 years ago. I was at work, writing an article for our organization’s magazine.

Because schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe was on the flight, like most Americans I knew about the scheduled takeoff. Space Shuttle missions had become so commonplace they didn’t always get a lot of attention, but publicity about the personable educator had made this one different.

To watch the celebrated launch, we had set up a TV in a room used for working on our publications.We cheered as the rocket took off, marveling at the power pushing it skyward and wondering what it must have been like to be strapped in the spacecraft, poised to leave the Earth’s clutches.

At first, the plumes of smoke didn’t phase us. They appeared like Fourth of July fireworks; not being veteran Shuttle launch observers, we thought that was how it was supposed to look. But news commentators soon began informing us what we had seen was not business as usual, but rather a calamity in which there would be no survivors.

We learned many things that day, but perhaps most poignant was the reality that life is unpredictable – things can change dramatically, in an instant.

In 1965, a rock band called The Byrds recorded a hit song called “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, originally written by Pete Seeger with lyrics adapted from the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. The first two verses of that chapter state, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die….”

We might not like it. But as Edith Ann, the little-girl character portrayed by Lily Tomlin in the TV variety classic, “Laugh-In,” used to say: “…and that’s the truth.”

Our time on this Earth might not end in a manner that merits national news coverage – hopefully not. But it will come, one way or another. So we would be wise to treasure each day, treat it as a rare gift, and seek to be good stewards of the time and opportunities presented to us. Love our loved ones well, use our gifts and talents to make a difference in others’ lives, and work toward leaving a legacy we won’t regret.

Monday, January 24, 2011

“Curiouser and Curiouser”!

In Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland, young Alice assesses strange things she observes as “Curiouser and curiouser.” Apparently, according to recent news, we’re closer to Wonderland than we think.

The Pachydermatologist’s Wild and Wooly Plan

Item 1: In Japan, researchers announced plans to “resurrect” a long-extinct mammoth through the use of cloning technology. The idea is to take nuclei from mammoth cells and implant them into an elephant’s egg cell from which the elephant nuclei have been removed, resulting in an embryo with mammoth genes.

Implanted into an elephant’s uterus, the unsuspecting pachyderm will give birth to an infant mammoth. I know: “Awwwwwhhhhh!”

This project, researchers announced, will take about five years. (Why not? Milk those science grants for all they’re worth, and enjoy half a decade worth of guaranteed employment.)

I’m no scientist, so I won’t risk comment on scientific ramifications of this, but can you imagine how surprised the little mammoth would be? After all:

· The last time the mammoth walked the Earth, the wheel hadn’t yet been invented – and look at all we’ve learned to do with it.

· Some of mammoth’s distant relatives have run off and joined the circus.

· The caveman has “left the building” – and so has Elvis.

· Mammoth might be shocked to know it has been turned into an adjective, as in “mammoth sale,” “mammoth snowstorm,” and “mammoth undertaking” – which, by the way, is what this science project sounds like.

The report I read didn’t indicate what scientists would name the baby mammoth if indeed they succeed. I would suggest “Mammy” if it’s a girl, or “Willy” if it’s a boy – you know, Willy the Wooly Mammoth?

No Indigestion With This Gestation

Item 2: In somewhat related news I suppose, country-western singer Keith Urban and actress (or is that, actor?) Nicole Kidman announced the birth of their second child, Faith Margaret Kidman Urban, via a gestational carrier. (Not an elephant.)

No, you don’t need avoid gestational carriers. They’re not contagious. “Gestational carrier” is the 21st century term for “surrogate.” Keith and Nicole had their “stuff” lab-assembled and then had somebody (they didn’t announce who) do the heavy lifting for the next nine months.

Ain’t it grand? Think of it: “I was pregnant. Wish I could have been there!” Or a company advertises its gestational carrier services: “No more morning sickness, no stretch marks, no indigestion or unpredictable late-night cravings. Let us do the carrying; we’ll deliver right to your door, if you like.”

Curses on Cursive Writing

Item 3: And in even more distantly related news, our local paper ran an article about the decline and fall of cursive writing. (That’s handwriting with lots of loops and squiggles.)

With the rise of technology, the art of writing in script (or cursive) faces imminent extinction. In fact, because of computers (desktop and laptop), electronic “tablets” (like the iPad), even cell phones, penmanship is “out the window,” one expert pronounced. If so, can the pen and pencil be far behind?

Being a writer, possessing what some have described as “good handwriting,” I mourn this development. However, I’m not surprised. When I write – like now – I work exclusively at a keyboard. And when conducting an interview, I find my notes a blend of cursive and printing, along with assorted abbreviations.

Thanks to e-mail and texting, handwriting isn’t the only casualty. There’s spelling, too. But don’t get me started.

Back to our mammoth clone – when it was traversing terra firma the first time, its buddies Ork and Grogg were probably proficient at cave writing, carving into stone. Perhaps they were the original rock stars.

Can you imagine their dismay when their children (or grandchildren) started working with primitive ink, scribbling on rocks with abandon? “Kids!”, Ork might have muttered. “What’s going to become of them? One day they’ll start writing on leaves, or something like that. I tell you, the world’s going to hell in a handbasket!”

Monday, January 17, 2011

As White As Snow

Last week we had the most beautiful yard in our neighborhood. Pure, white, picture-perfect. Well, at least our yard was as pretty as anyone else’s. The seven-inch blanket of snow that descended onto our street provided a sparkling covering that concealed weeds, bare spots, aging bushes, rocky soil and other horticultural flaws.

Changed from a landscaper’s nightmare to a winter wonderland, all at the drop of a snowflake.

The Bible offers a similar observation about snow. If we’re honest, we’ll admit our lives also display weeds, decay, and other undesirable qualities. We might regret having them and even try our best to hide them from others. But the all-knowing God sees them. Not only does He know about them, but He also extends the offer to purify us from them. “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’” (Isaiah 1:18).

There’s one important difference between natural snow and spiritual “snow,” however, as a glance out my window reveals: Most of the snow in our yard has melted; deficiencies again are visible. Although hidden for a time, they were there all the while.

When a person commits his or her life to Jesus Christ, however, their sins are not just covered up, to be unveiled again one day. The Bible talks about complete change, not superficial concealing of faults.

As someone has wisely observed, God loves us just as we are – but loves us too much to leave us that way. Through the working of His Spirit, our journey with Him involves a lifelong process of total transformation. As the Bible assures us, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Teamwork – A Real Snow Job

We’ve been busy shoveling out, like much of the nation. Snow, ranging from six to 10 inches, fell upon the Chattanooga area, the largest accumulation – our friendly meteorologists tell us – since the 24-inch snowfall of 1993.

Other parts of the U.S. have seen much more snow this winter. But for our area, several inches of snow on Christmas Day followed by early Monday’s frosty blanket is more than Southeastern Tennessee folks are used to.

Looking at the snow is fun. Shoveling it, as well as driving in it on our hilly terrain, isn’t. But this morning our snowy street provided a classic example of a timely adage: Many hands might light work.

Surveying our ice-encrusted street was daunting, but something had to be done. I had succeeded in driving down it to take my wife to work, but trying to drive back up was another matter. After several attempts, my car got stuck at the bottom.

I spread some rock salt on particularly problematic spots, hoping once the sun came out the ice and snow would melt enough to permit safe passage. Then several neighbors joined me in chipping away the ice and clearing a path for our vehicles. In less than an hour, we had freeze-free tracks opened and I was able to drive my car up the hill and then down our driveway (which I had already cleared) into the garage.

They say workhorses teamed together can pull multiple times what they could pull separately, and we experienced a similar outcome in working shovels in unison to accomplish a common goal. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Brief Biography of the ‘Big Bang’

In the beginning, there was…nothing. Nada. Nil. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

There was no system, no order, no control. Because there was nothing to systematize, order, or even chaos to control. There were no values, morals or laws, because there was nothing to value, moralize, regulate or legislate.

Then suddenly, nothing purposed to do something. (Of course, since there was nothing, there was no purpose – but nothing purposed, just the same.)

Nothing caused a “Big Bang.” There were no journalists, photographers, stenographers, commentators, or casual observers back then, so modern-day historians can’t examine an historical record, but “people of faith” – evolutionists, Darwinists, atheists – know without a doubt there was a big bang. Really big.

Suddenly out of nothing came…something. Even though no one was there to witness it, the result – at least initially – was chaos. When something emerges out of absolutely nothing, it’s pretty chaotic.

Life as we know it began very simply, scientists surmise. It started with a single, lonely, one-celled structure, a “coacervate.” Nobody really knows why it’s named that, instead than “Herman” or “Ethel,” but there you are – or were. One coacervate. By itself.

One day – before there were days – it decided (before there were brains and minds) it’s not good for a coacervate to be alone. A one-celled organism gets lonely. So it multiplied, dividing into a second cell. (One-celled organisms are good at math.) Then there were two.

Once that happened, the die was cast. Two’s company, but it wanted a crowd. The more the merrier. Lots more cells. Then cells began forming simple creatures, then more complex creatures. Until after a very, very long time, this process resulted in human beings. Bringing us up to the present.

It’s important to know this. Because to dismiss the theory of the Big Bang shifts thinking into a totally different sphere. Because in the real world, we know effects must have causes. And if there wasn’t a big bang, there must have been some other “first cause.” Some people call it God. And that opens up a whole new can of worms – and they’re much more complex than coacervates.

Because then you have to consider statements like, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Or, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:21-22). And who wants to think about that?

No, believing in the Big Bang theory is much easier. And certainly less complicated.

In the beloved musical, “The Sound of Music,” one song contains the phrase, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could,” but the nothing that caused the big bang didn’t know that. Big bangs don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about such things – or singing.