Saturday, June 26, 2010

Essentially an Ethical Problem

I've been trying to figure out what exactly is going on with the gulf oil spill, and I'm running into the same problems you are probably running into as well. There seems to be confusion everywhere: from both BP and the government. We're seeing the classic battle of government vs. business being played out, and I'm already tired of the partisan answers that have been flashed by both sides. Political opportunism reeks as I hear politicians use this disaster to further their own ends instead of trying to come up with a way to help the people most affected.

Some people think the disaster proves we need more government oversight of industry. Some claim that this is the turning point for the environmental movement, a salient visual reminder of the consequences of industrialism. Others blame the government for the confusing response. There's plenty of blame to go around, sure, but is now the time to be trumpeting the blame so loudly when real peoples lives are, to put it mildly, in upheaval?

I think the oil spill further reveals the ethical problem facing America and it's leaders. From a macro to a micro level, ethics is eschewed as a tangential issue of little relevance to a society which has more to worry about than what is right and wrong. After all we're on the cusp of technological breakthroughs and business innovation. Who has time to stop and wonder if what we so blatantly term "progress" is actually the right kind of progress?

We don't need, as some would assert, to harken back to our "Christian roots" at the founding of our country. The fact is, there was very little that was Christian about our founding, unless you equate Christianity with a kind of therapeutic moral deism. Rather, we need individuals inside the Church to take civic responsibility seriously. We don't need to "take back the government", we just need people who will actually listen, discuss, and be willing to come up with smart solutions to tough problems.

The gulf oil spill is a complicated mess, too complicated to neatly place blame on one side or the other. It shows, however, that we as a society have more to do in terms of catching up morally and ethically to the vast complexity of technology that we let rule our lives.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Technology vs. Creation = Creation Wins

I crave beauty. As I spend more time with technology, gadgets, and web development strategies, I am constantly aware of a nagging urge to be in the presence of beauty. The natural world is alive in a way that exudes beauty and energy. Technology only approximates beauty. It attempts to mimic what we find everywhere in nature.

I've been researching design over the past few weeks, looking at it mathematically, conceptually, visually, and ideologically, asking the question: “what makes something beautiful?” One thing has become clear throughout my research: God is the ultimate designer, and anything we humans design is nothing if not a distant approximation of what he has already done. Technology is driven by functionality on one side, but equally as important it is driven by design. If something doesn't both feel right and work right, it's hard for that piece of technology to gain widespread use. From cars to cell phones, design and functionality are the two key principles driving technology.

But the more time you spend with technology, the more lackluster it becomes in comparison with the grandeur of God's created world. There are constant annoyances, bugs, caveats, and problems with every single piece of created technology. Show me, though, one design or functionality flaw in an oak tree. What about a duck? Each thing that God created was and is perfectly designed for the role for which it was created.

I see so much arrogance and greed in the world of technology. I start to adapt these habits myself when I'm blindly following where they lead. There is a constant urge under the surface to have something more, something better, and to have it exclusively. It's why people wait in line for a product, why people devote their entire lives to blogging about a particular device and/or company. Of course technology is not all bad, and I would hate for that to be the point taken from this little rant. However, I've noticed firsthand how difficult it is to turn off the roaring engine that is the desire to possess something new. It is perhaps one of the most silent, yet dangerous dispositions to let creep in to your life. It is the exact opposite of contentment, and the Bible is clear throughout that a constant desire for material possessions (mammon) is sinful and idolatrous.

And that is where beauty comes in. All around us is a world created by God that we all too often fail to recognize. Technology drives us inward, but creation points to the Creator. With such created beauty everywhere around us, it should sadden us all the more when horrific man-made disasters like the gulf oil spill occur. We would all go up in arms if someone were to throw a can of oil on a da Vinci, Monet, or Rembrandt painting, yet I am surprised and confused by the response, or lack thereof, of many professing Christians to the oil spill. Where is our sense of creation care? We are highly protective of our “own” possessions, but when it comes to the world that has been given as a gift for us to live in, we balk at our responsibility.

I appreciate technology, and I get excited to think about the possibilities and new horizons that it opens up. But I am equally aware of the frightful limitations and negative consequences that it brings our way as well. More on this later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Lies Beneath

A few days ago news came out that nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources lies beneath the surface of Afghanistan. The New York Times article gives more detailed facts, but I want to focus on the implications behind this discovery. I happened to first hear the story while driving back from spending the day with Andrew Crosson at Schlitterbahn water park in south Texas. We were listening to NPR at the beginning of the long drive back, and they had a 5 or 6 minute spot about this particular story.

Honestly, the first thing I thought about when I heard this news was not how great it would be for Afghanistan, but how much more oppression, greed, and manipulation would follow. While having that much untapped potential under the surface seems like an incredible blessing, I can’t help but think about the multinationals that are licking their chops, ready to pounce on this already impoverished nation in order to simply gain a larger profit.

This seems like the story of DR Congo and Nigeria all over again. Relatively poor, unstable countries that were found to have huge natural resources which huge multinationals soon began to extract, only to lead to terrible exploitation and poverty for the vast majority of citizens. Hopefully Afghanistan won’t go the same way, but it has the conditions needed for this same tragedy to take place.

For one, it is a nation that in the middle of a war. Politically, its stability teeters on the edge of survivability at the best of times. In the worst, it’s been labelled as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Then consider its economy. Because of the war, long-term planning that we take for granted in the relatively stable and secure West is not an option for people that are just trying to make it through the winter. As a result, cash crops are by far the easiest and most profitable business for most citizens, and the most lucrative cash crops are the ones that become illegal drugs.

The government is not quite stable, while the economy still searches for profitability in something other than illicit drugs. One would hope that the news of all this new wealth under Afghanistan would lead to a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous future for these people. They have endured a tremendous amount of both internal and external strife in the last few decades, and they certainly deserve a brighter future.

Let’s hope the story of DR Congo and Nigeria (along with numerous others) doesn’t repeat itself in Afghanistan and that, indeed, this is news to celebrate for a people who surely deserve some good news.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Think of it as a Gift

I'm slowly reading my way through Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline. I was caught by an idea that corresponded to what I was reading in Scripture, and it helped shine a light of gratitude into my heart, so I wanted to share it.

In one of the first few chapters, Barth talks about proving the existence of God. He thinks these proofs we've constructed about the existence of God don't really do anything but prove our short-sightedness. He thinks the other way around. To him, the idea of God is more concrete than the idea of himself. The experience of life can seem like a dream; how do you know it's real? Basically, he is working from the framework that God is the solid rock of understanding and that we are like shifting sand.

It's a highly philosophical point, and one that I don't quite know that I fully understand, but the Spirit brought an "aha!" moment to me as I was reading this section of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 2:

For the Spirit searches everything, even p the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts q except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now r we have received not s the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this t in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,u interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual

The realization dawned on me: knowing God is a gift! To interact with, to think about, to have a relationship with God is quite an astonishing thing when you stop to think about it. It is a precious gift to know him. It's undeserved grace. Knowing God. It helps to think of it as a gift. This isn't a relationship I control or manage. It's interactivity, it's submission and obedience, and it's joy.

I'm not sure that's what Karl Barth intended when he wrote that section of his book, but the beautiful thing about communicating the things of God is that the Spirit works to bring understanding in mysterious ways.

Friday, June 4, 2010

3 things

1) 3 songs i'm loving right now

Susan Enan Bring on the Wonder
The Boxer Rebellion These Walls are Thin
The Radio Dept. Heaven's on Fire

2) 3 books I'm loving right now

Philip Yancey & Paul Brand Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Khaled Hosseini (sp?) A Thousand Splendid Suns
C.S. Lewis The Grand Miracle (a collection of selected essays)

3) 3 observations from happenings this week

The Armando Gallaraga almost-perfect game fiasco seemed to get everyone riled up except Armando Gallaraga. Do we place too much emphasis on sport in America when an umpire is getting death threats because he missed a call?

The Oil Spill disaster continues. BP has not responded appropriately, and most Americans don't seem to care that this might be the biggest national environmental disaster in our history. Should this teach us a few things about how we live in God's created world?

Sprint showed off its newest 4g phone this week, the HTC Evo. Added to Verizon's HTC Incredible and the new iPhone due out in a month, phones are getting more powerful and will vie for more of our attention. But as much as I love technology, I'd rather have a nice, long, personal, face-to-face conversation with a good friend any day.