Monday, January 21, 2008

Take the Dawkins challenge

Recently I read an article in Psychology Today about ministers who become atheists (An Atheist in the Pulpit, Feb/08 edition). I found it an interesting read and noted that those mentioned in the article who had lost their faith came from traditions that were either legalistic or don't believe that God involves Himself in humanity's everyday affairs. But it was one man's story of reading Richard Dawkin's book The God Delusion that finally motivated me to buy the book and read it (yes that's right, I contributed to Dawkin's bank account and his crusade against religion. But it was on sale though...). At the start of his book Dawkins expresses his hope that everyone who believes in god (I use a little g as he sets his sight on all religions) will by the end of reading his book will become an atheist. So I'm taking the Dawkins challenge. So far, it's not working. A great sales pitch that could have been used is, "If you're not completely satisfied that this product has absolutely destroyed your faith, sent it back to us for a no questions asked full money back guarantee."

Now there's a lot of people (Christians) out there who are happy to take on a guy like Dawkins; people who are much more knowledgeable than I who can respond to every argument he makes about why we should all become atheists. Richard Dawkins is a brilliant man with a sense of humor who is passionate about his beliefs, and if anything good can be said about his work is that he has contributed to the idea of God in the public consciousness. So I won't blog on and on about how I think he's wrong; I'd rather be (in the words of Rick Warren) God's witness rather than His lawyer. God can defend Himself, and if I get all uptight about some book that says there is no God then I've already lost my faith in God's ability to change people's hearts & minds. I will however make three observations:

1). Dawkins declares that Albert Einstein believed only in a metaphoric God; while Einstein, a Jew by upbringing, did not believe in a personal God he did believe in a divine intelligence that preceded the formation of the universe. Here are some direct quotes from Einstein himself:

“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views (emphasis mine).”

But just because Einstein says there is a God doesn't make it so; neither does it mean that there is no God just because Richard Dawkins says there isn't...

2) Dawkins correctly points out that many horrors have been done in the name of religion (including the name of Christ), but fails to point out (at least as far as I've read - I'm only about half way through his book) that much good has been done because of religion, especially in the name of Christ. So instead of promoting the notion of reforming religious institutions Dawkins believes we should be rid of them (and God) altogether.

3) Dawkins questions the scholastic integrity of the Bible, saying that there were errors made in transmission through the centuries. But we know from the principle of Mnemonic systems that accurate transmission of information can survive for years without a written record. As well we have the Dead Sea Scrolls to show that the Hebrew scriptures we have today were the same ones read hundreds of years before Christ, and we have roughly 5000 partial or complete manuscripts of New Testament writings, all of which are remarkably similar.

Having said that, I will let God defend Himself by His Word, and I can't think of any better passage than the one I just happen to read this morning in my devotional. Here we'll let God have the last word:

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." - 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (NIV)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I love my job!!

Have you ever stopped to think about where you are today – that life isn’t what you imagined it would turn out to be, but you’re happy to be in the spot you’re in? Twenty years ago I never imagined that I’d be doing what I’m doing today. Back then I was finishing grade 12 and making plans to go to Bible school after grad, then on to university & seminary. Well, I did do a year in Calgary at the Baptist Leadership Training School, and when I graduated & came home I started looking for work. That’s when I saw the ad in the paper.

“Wanted: live in care-givers for people with disabilities” was what it said, and something about it appealed to me. So I made the call, took a two week course at Grant MacEwan College and moved in with a young man who had Cerebral Palsy. It paid $800 a month, plus free room and board and I got to go home on weekends. It was a sweet deal for a kid with no expenses except car insurance, gas and a girlfriend (guess who the girlfriend was…) The job only lasted for three months as my “roommate” & I didn’t get along, but it started me on a path that became very rewarding.

I’ve been back at Robin Hood Association for two weeks now doing lots of driving and day program work, and I’m loving it. Whenever I walk into the learning center I’m always greeted with “Hi Hendrick!” by one of the clients there. Actually, it’s more like every single one who knows me, and there’s a lot of people who receive services from the association. I feel like a celebrity when I go to work! Is it because I’m a great guy who’s popular? No, it’s got a lot more to do with the clients than with me. I’ve found that people with mental disabilities aren’t “different”, they’re just larger than life. All the attributes of humanity, both bad and good, are much more apparent with them than those of us with “normal” development. If they don’t like you they don’t hide it. If they like you they don’t hide it either.

I know too many people who you wonder where you stand with them, but that’s not the case with people with disabilities. They don’t have those social inhibitions we learned that keep us from being real with others. It’s funny (and kinda sad), but I feel more accepted by the people I serve at work than I do in the church. I work with a segment of the population that loves unconditionally – people who don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, so long as you give them some attention and respect. It’s no wonder that believers like Henry Nouwen and Jean Vanier have been impacted by their work with people with disabilities, and they in turn have impacted the world. People tell me that I must be a special person to work with people with disabilities (I hate it when I hear that), but I’d rather think of myself as being a blessed person to work with people who have shown me what real life is all about, and it’s all about acceptance and relationship.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The year of growth

A couple of days ago Angel & I went to the Muttart Conservatory here in Edmonton, and it seemed fitting to wind down the year’s end in a place that became part of a new routine at the beginning of the year. It also seemed fitting to go to a place where you can find growth and life in a cold environment, as it best describes what 2007 was like for me – a year of growth. As I looked back on my blog entries and other writing I’ve done this year I can see how I’ve grown in so many ways – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, intellectually and experientially. Yeah, there’s been more than a few bumps on the road; the heartache that can come with life is the cold environment I’m talking about. But I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned over this past 12 months. Looking back I was able to boil down a number of happenings that were the catalysts of that growth:

- Taking the year off to focus on my studies (I’m now 2/3 finished and hope to complete my degree by the end of this year)
- Our surprise house warming party our family threw us
- Going to Jasper for our 16th wedding anniversary, which was the most enjoyable trip to the Rockies we ever had
- Joining Facebook and connecting with friends new and old (as far back as high school & Bible college)
- Traveling to England to see Colin, Galya (& their son Josh), Nathan & Dawn
- Attending the Wallace Family reunion in Revelstoke, BC; celebrating my 37th birthday on the worst day of the July heat wave, going to Capital Ex & Heritage Days
- Attending five weddings where Angel was the photographer at three and I was the marriage officiant at one
- After a year of living in the condo all our renovations have been finished, all thanks to the help of family
- Saying goodbye to our friends Phil & Deene, who returned to their ministry in Columbia
- Angel’s surgery in the spring and her job change in the fall
- Attending 2 “Joe shows” (“Joe” is an award winning Christian Hip-Hop artist who goes to our church) & Michael W. Smith’s Christmas concert
- Attending Connie Packer’s funeral

From all of these things I learned:

- that if we don’t let go we don’t grow
- to cope with losses big & small, from changes in routine that brought me comfort to mourning the death of an old friend
- the value of receiving
- to see the world through Jesus’ eyes
- that God is not limited in helping me
- it’s ok to embrace the good things God has given me, even things and accomplishments, and to simply enjoy life
- how God’s grace can change human history
- that the life we live is the legacy we leave behind after we die
- how I add to the consumer mentality that makes nothing sacred
- that technology can either enhance your social life or isolate you from deep and meaningful relationships
- that the more we know the more we realize we will never know
- that Jesus cares about the little things we hold important, and that He truly is enough for me, even if I was left with nothing else in life

I realize that I have a tendency to look at the passing of time from the perspective of loss, whether it’s youth, opportunity or whatever. But I think the first thing I’ve learned in 2008 is that I can choose to look at the passing of time from the perspective of gain. Even though I have less of an idea of what life will look like this year than I did last year, it doesn’t mean I have to be afraid of what I might loose. I know that I’ll be working more and studying less, and we’ll have Colin, Galya, Nathan & Dawn’s visits to Canada in the spring to look forward to. Otherwise I haven’t a clue what’s in store, but I know that I will gain from whatever comes. Recently I was catching up with the pastor of our old church (Harvest Vineyard), and as I was telling him about the happenings of my life he felt that God had some surprises in store for me. I don’t know if that will happen or what that would look like, but I think I can handle being surprised sometime between now and January ’09. I guess I’ll have to wait til then to be able to look back on another year and see what it was.