Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reading about Dark Matter, the Universe and Sex in the Bible

I had opportunity this past weekend to get several books read.  One of the nice things about traveling is that I am very good at tuning-out other people out as I stick my nose in a book.  Thankfully I had a few good books to read, and a couple that were less exciting.

The first book I read, Paradise Lust : Searching for the Garden of Eden .  The book was interesting because the author traces the journeys of several different persons in their exploration of a finding the historical Eden.  The book reads more like a biography of the explorers themselves, then an exploration of Eden as a place.  In those ways, the book explores as much as anything the unique personalities and persona of the people who have tried to find Eden.  There were several persons reviewed in the book that I had heard of, or had some real year to us because of their association with Biblical studies.  But there were several characters detailed in the book and presented numerous eccentricities in terms of their reasons for searching for Eden in various places of the world.  I should not have been surprised, but I was surprised to discover that people have claimed that Eden is in places as far as China, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Venezuela and even Ohio.  Of course these are very different places then the region of the Fertile Crescent or the region of Mesopotamia which is what I have always been more familiar with.  The book was interesting, not one that I would recommend or reread , but intriguing and fun to explore all the same. 

My lovely bride picked up this book for me while she was at the library, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness:  Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully and Joyfully.  When I was in Thailand and this summer, I had opportunity to interact with Buddhism and Buddhists people on a daily basis.  I was intrigued by the calmness and serenity of most of the people that I met and my wife knew that.  This simple book, does precisely what it claims in its title, it presents several different ways by which people can use different practices to be mindful about every day of their lives.   I did not read the book from cover to cover – as the mindful practices are designed to be practiced, one week at a time – hence the 52 chapters.  But I did read nearly all of the chapters and found that, if a person were to do these simple things, there is no doubt that they would be more thoughtful and aware and attuned of their daily life – sights, smells, sound and presence around them.

Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by ennifer Wright Knust.  This book was recommended to me by a friend and I certainly thought the title sounded intriguing.  The book was interesting – and there were many, many things that persons would learn about the Bible by reading it.  But, in truth, many of the issues were not new to me – and several of them I disagreed with – both in terms of presuppositions and in terms of the hermeneutic used by the author.  But, that would be no surprise to the author as she says in her own conclusion, “Whatever we wish for . . . probably can be found somewhere in the Bible . . . .  We are not passive recipients of what the Bible says, but active interpreters who make decisions about what we will believe and what we will affirm.”  The next paragraph begins, “Once upon a time, the followers of Jesus knew that they were interpreting the Bible, not simply extracting truth from a set of divinely inspired texts.”  Her use of “once upon a time” – to make it sound like a common fairy tale, and her use that “they” were “not simply extracting truth” is a bit problematic for me as it does seem the followers of Jesus (she cites Paul) did think they were engaging inspired texts!  More to the point, while the author does well to point out that the Bible has no simple solutions – and in fact, quite a myriad of solutions/responses – to issues of sexuality – she comes away with no sustaining ethic for framing any moral basis for any sexual code/principles based on the collection of stories found in the Bible.  Here review of the Bible is important, as her reading portrays the deep complexity of myriad issues involving all manner of sexual practice in the Bible!  But, to come away from these texts and conclude only with a reader-oriented-uninspired-open-ended-the-Bible-doesn’t-really-say-anything-because-the-Bible-says-so-many-varied things, seems to leave us with no sense – and nonsense all together.  Issues of sexuality are complex, indeed!  But even in her review of Song of Songs (Solomon) – the author demonstrates her agenda for interpretation as being one that has a political (w)edge against religious groups that use the Bible to isolate views that espouse “family values.”  Anyone who reads Song of Songs (Solomon), though, should see plainly that the poems are not about “marriage” but about the passion of lovers.  The book, I am sure, will score many points with those who want to “argue” against narrow minded and small-visioned fundamentalist interpretations of erroneous stereotypes for family values from the Bible!  But, a full reading of the Bible demonstrates this plainly enough, without needing the bias and ambiguity that Knust adds to the already complicated issues.

It’s a good thing I read this book as an audio book, because it was so good, with so many fascinating issues that if I had read it in paper form – I would have found myself dog-earing pages, highlighting issues, and, in general, it would have taken me 2 or 3 times as long to read with all the notes I would have made.  The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek.  Fascinating and brilliant.  It takes the reader through a gamut of facts, figures, numbers, persons, and stories that narrate the complexities of what we know – and don’t know about the Universe – and life and the worlds and stars and planets.  With fascinating mathematical figures and curious events taking place – the author weaves together a wonderful picture of how much we do not know!  What a great book.

As I was nearing the end of my audio-reading of 4% Universe, I picked up and read, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense:  The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks.  The opening chapter in this text, happened to cover the same issue – so I thought the rest of the book would prove intriguing.  It did not.  Essentially the authors takes issues that seem quite settled in the scientific community but for which there may be an outlier or anomaly that exists – and this author tracks that outlier/anomaly as though *it* were the real truth to be found.  Because, for example, a single bandwidth of reception came in through “the Big Ear” at 1420 Mhz in August of 1977, “we can conclude that it was a single from an alien civilization.”  And later he writes that the “best we can suggest is that it was a signal from an alien spacecraft . . . aimed momentarily and erroneously in our direction as a civilization migrated through our cosmos.”  The author will do well to join in with those who, he claims, have succeeded in making ColdFusion work in the past. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Small Group "Team Building" "Exercise"

The Space Between Us by Marty Alan Michelson.pdf Download this file

This is more than a casual "team-building" "exercise."

It has connection though - with "really" "meeting" and being "met" by others in a genuine Encounter.

I'll let the attached PDF speak for itself.

If you work with people in small groups, or on retreats, you might find this intentional encounter helpful.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Authenticity, Accuracy and Reliability


This past week I had the opportunity to be the designated respondent to a lecture presented at the Oklahoma City's Museum of Art - OKC MOA - connected to the private Biblical Antiquities collection owned by the Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby, Inc.

Much more about the exhibit can be explored here: Explore Passages

As I understand it, my presentation will soon be available in DVD format - similar to this DVD in the same series. That is fun! My low quality - personal recording of my portion of the the presentation is available at this link: Michelson on Authenticity, Authority and Reliability of Scripture.

Additionally, I will be the first to announce here - what the President of my university, Southern Nazarene University will soon be announcing - I have been invited to become a Scholar-Mentor with the Green Scholar's Initiative. This will not only be exciting for me, working with the Green Collection - it is also exciting that through this series of connections, I will get to work with emerging young scholars who will continue to develop their ability to study and engage the Bible, working with unheard of access to primary texts and documents that have not yet been translated or researched!

At the most recent lecture, I was able to get this snapshot - including (from left to right) - Dr. Jerry Pattengale, Director of the Green Scholars Initiative; Dr. Loren Gresham, President of Southern Nazarene University; Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, Inc.; Dr. Stan Toler, General Superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene; and myself.

The lecture I responded to was entitled "Answers to New Theories Regarding How We Got the Bible." I used several news or book issues (Headlines in the Associated Press News, to Cover Stories in national magazines like the National Geographic, to popular HarperOne published best-sellers) to talk about the continuing authenticity, accuracy and reliability of Scripture - especially discerned in light of a Wesleyan Perspective on the role and function of Scripture. It is great to be a representative from the Church of the Nazarene invested in this process!

It was a great opportunity and I am anxious, myself, to see the DVD when it becomes available!

I am always delighted to have opportunity to share in other Churches or Synagogues regarding what we can know about the Bible. I'm excited that I get to share a small portion of this knowledge with other churches even this Fall.

What a privilege to share!

As a supplementary note - several weeks ago I was asked to provide a series of "sound-bite" quotes for the media group working with the advertisement and promotion of the Green Collection and the Green Scholars Initiative. I am not sure if and when any of these quotes might get used - but they accurately characterize my thoughts on the Green Collection:

Past Scholars in Biblical studies have been known to acquire treasured documents and use these documents to advance their own careers. The Green Collection and the Green Scholars Initiative is intentionally stewarding treasured documents in shared ways - to advance scholarship and discernment of the Bible for the world! Their work and their sharing is a sign of their commitment to let these Ancient texts continue to speak today!

The Greens have done the world of Biblical Scholarship a great favor in their willingness to share these important ancient texts. The Bible has shaped the culture of the world and the willingness to share these important, ancient texts demonstrate their kindness and their contribution to a world that is aware of the influence of the Bible.

The fact that the Green Family is committed to scholars and mentoring relationships, demonstrates that this is not a short-lived commitment by the Greens. By encouraging established scholars to share research and engagement of ancient texts with emerging scholars demonstrates a life-long- extended commitment to excellent scholarship in the area of Biblical studies.

Generations of scholars - and Biblical scholarship - will be forever shaped by the Green's willingness to share and steward these resources among small teams of scholars - and young people.

This will allow teams of scholars to study the ancient wisdom of the Bible - for applied discernment and extended influence in advancing good news for the future of our world.

Marty Alan Michelson, Ph.D.
Peacemaker, Pastor, and Professor at Southern Nazarene University

Again, we've got to re-think everything

I am an advocate of science.  It comes to me naturally, it seems, since I grew up in a home where my dad was a Science Teacher!

I am thankful that I have been able to spend the past decades of my life having had opportunity to witness strategic and important new discoveries in Science.  Some of these discoveries have extended past theories in new ways - and some of these discoveries raise challenges to the certainty with which we "know what we know."

As a theologian, these issues are important to me - because getting at the heart of what we know and don't know - about all things - about Ultimate things - is very important.

It is with intrigue, therefore, that I read this recent news:

Roll over Einstein: Law of physics challenged

GENEVA (AP) — One of the very pillars of physics and Einstein's theory of relativity — that nothing can go faster than the speed of light — was rocked Thursday by new findings from one of the world's foremost laboratories.

European researchers said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit.

The claim was met with skepticism, with one outside physicist calling it the equivalent of saying you have a flying carpet. In fact, the researchers themselves are not ready to proclaim a discovery and are asking other physicists to independently try to verify their findings.

"The feeling that most people have is this can't be right, this can't be real," said James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which provided the particle accelerator that sent neutrinos on their breakneck 454-mile trip underground from Geneva to Italy.  (Full Article here.)

An interesting response to this news - that raises issues about new cosmologies and new theologies that might need to be explored as the result of this:  HERE.

I certainly do not have "answers" to these complex realities - and I don't pretend to peddle easy responses!  For sure!

And yet, I marvel at the mystery that continues to shape what we do and do not know in this utterly, seemingly-infinitely complex world. 

It is truly Awe-inspiring to me.

What does it mean to re-think and re-frame Violence

A great article from Duke's Faith and Leadership program on interrupting violence.

It begins in this way:

White spoke to the two men privately and then brought them together to negotiate a resolution. When discussions were at an impasse, White pointed first to the man who had dropped the cash and said, “I see you in the penitentiary.” Then he turned to the man who had picked up the money: “And I’ll be going to your funeral.”

The solemnity of White’s words, coupled with the respect he had gained as a fair, streetwise negotiator, set in. Two hours after the incident began, the $70 was returned, with no one disrespected and no one dead.

“That’s in essence what we are trying to do all the time -- make sure no one goes to the cemetery and no one goes to the penitentiary,” said Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois and creator of the violence interrupter component of the program.

Full article here

Link to a relevant (and connected) presentation to a group of M.D.'s here.

What is striking to me is the claims made about mimicry - which connects with Girardian Theory on mimesis, desire and rivalry that are at the heart of triangular desire and violence.

Always glad to read about persons effecting to reshape patterns of violence that break-forth in the world - and it seems that Dr. Slutkin has found new ways to label and "prescribe" patterns to help persons break the "epidemic" of violence! 

We need an end to violence in our world!


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Jimmy Carter, Capabilities, War and Mindfulness

A few short entries on several miscellaneous books I've recently read and reviewed.

With all the stuff going on with the Palestinian bid for statehood these days, I decided I needed to get my hands on some Jimmy Carter texts - as I know he's been influential in the field.  I picked up and read through - but was able to skim through much of - his two texts.  His Palestine:  Peace Not Apartheid text is not new - but I had not read it.  It raised quite a bit of "drama" for him - and reasonably so - and I think even he would agree that his use of "apartheid" was challenging - though I think it is helpful that he labeled the problems there in this way, too.  Sometimes "calling something out" helps frame the dialogue.  An important text, with good ideas.  More recently, Carter wrote, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land.  This text was written at the time when Obama was coming into office, with specific attention to direct conversation to what Obama could do "now" (2007) to effect change.  Had the suggestions been heeded, perhaps change could have been effected.  It seems, now though, the idea of a two-state-solution is null and void.  A pointed review on the death of the two-state-solution and the failure of diplomacy for Israel can be read here.

Though it wasn't on my agenda, I picked up and read, What The Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President? - Jimmy Carter, America's "Malaise" and the Speech that Should have Changed the Country.  Since I was not yet ten . . . barely 8, in fact, when this speech was delivered - it was not on my "radar screen" as a child.  But, I have read the speech as an adult and I appreciated it.  I have thought more than once about how very different so much of the world would be right now had we opted for wiser stewardship, and more fiscal accountability with respect to energy in the 1970s - as it seems to me much of our current spirit of war is motivated in ways we do not want to admit - by our dependency on foreign sources of oil.  Alas.  The text was a fascinating look at the situations that gave rise to President Carter's speech - and the author wove in major "movements" and movies and issues from the 1960s and 70s that set the stage for the speech.  The final words of the text itself, sum up the central importance of the text - and the speech - when Mattson writes:

This book also assumes that Carter's speech still resonates to this day.  Consider the speech's major insights in light of the present.  We are still a nation dependent on foreign sources of oil and lacking a national energy policy that searches for alternatives.  So, Carter's suggestion that America had to generate a sense of national purpose and a 'common good' to fight the energy crisis doesn't sound all that distant.  We are still a nation infatuated with private self-interest, whose civic culture seems torn apart, a nation that still 'bowls alone,' as on political scientist recently described it.  We are still a culture that prizes consumerism and materialism, whose pop culture seems vapid and distracting at best.  Foreign wars still warn us against thinking of America's greatness in simplistic terms, as if it can be easily projected throughout the world without a blowback.  So, in the end, this book ends with a question about 1979 as a turning point.  Are we so certain that the turn taken was the right one?  To remember Jimmy Carter's speech today allows us to ask that question with the sort of moral import it deserves.

 I skim read Empowerment:  The Art of Creating Your Life as you Want It.  I don't buy into the notion that we can "vision" and "see" our future and "create" it as a possibility in the same way the authors propose, so the book was not too captivating for me.  I am not a believer in "visualization" - though I do think it is important to consider possible futures and plan for possible outcomes.  Not a book I woureallld recommend, but the book did offer numerous good "exercises" where persons could respond to self-reflective questions that would give them opportunity to consider their life and re-think their goals/perspectives.

I really wanted to like the book, War Is A Lie.  While I liked many "glimpses" of ideas in the book, I found the book very difficult to read and discovered, after I was well into it - that the book had been self-published - and, sadly so.  I think David Swanson has good ideas and important insight.  His book has key research data that does inform its content in important ways - but the ideas and the logic and the history "bounces" all over the place in a way that made it difficult to discern how/why he "bounced" from one idea to another.  The titles of each area are clear enough - but the content within each chapter read, to me, as a scattering of ideas - from various points in time in the history of America - and in the history of the world!  I wish the 350+ text was cut in half - at least - I think a good editor would do that.  Tighten the text and the ideas and - and produce a better book with the same theme.  The chapters, if they were better written, have great titles!  "Wars are not fought against evil."  "Wars are not launched in defense."  "Wars are not waged out of generosity."  "War are not unavoidable." "Warriors are not heroes."  "War makers do not have noble motives."  "Wars are not prolonged for the good of soldiers."  "Wars are not fought on battlefields."  "Wars are not won, and are not ended by enlarging them."  "Wars news does not come from disinterested observers."  "War does not bring security and is not sustainable."  "Wars are not legal."  "Wars cannot be both planned and avoided."  "War is over if you want it to be."

I'm piecing my way - on a causal basis, through, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness.  Based on several experiences I had this summer in Thailand, I am certain my life is now having - and will have - greater fullness and meaning as I learn to be more mindful.  I work too hard, sign up for too many things, get too involved, and personally self-distract in many significant ways - all to my own detriment.  I'm trying to slow down more - and "take in" what life has to offer me.  I think, every-single-day - about being more perceptive of my life, having and receiving better communication - and of insuring I don't have any misplaced anger in my life.  And, this little text offers several practices (53 of them, in fact) for being more mindful.  As I use a few of the mindful practices, I am, indeed, more attuned to the patterns of my life - and to those in my life with me.  I find myself to be more attuned with people  - and to people - and I find myself to be more "easy-going" - though this is very hard for me.  Robyn picked up this text for me, and I'm glad she did.

And, finally, Creating Capabilities:  The Human Development Approach.  The book operates more at the theoretical level -- though this is important for outlining her perspective.  And, here, even for the sake of my own time, I'll cite another reviewer from who wrote succinctly:  "In Creating Capabilities, Martha Nusbaum provides a lucid overview of her version of capabilities theory, which is a theory of justice built on the idea that a society is just if it enables individuals to achieve their potential as human beings. Capabilities theory stresses both the importance of enabling people to develop inner, personal abilities and their living in a society that permits them to use their abilities. In a sense it integrates concepts of liberty and of equality and of postive and negative liberty, concepts that are often viewed as in tension with each other. Prof. Nusbaum also comments on the similarities and differences between her view of capabilities and that of Amartya Sen.  Capabilities theory is an important alternative to traditional and contemporary theories of justice, including John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. This book makes the theory accessible to non-philosophers and could become important in discussions of what the nature of a just society and a just world should and can be in the 21st century."