Sunday, November 29, 2009

Seeking The Origin of Life

The Large Hadron Collider is back on-line, after a fourteen month repair period. For the first time, scientists were able to achieve high-velocity proton collisions in the detector in November 2009.

Big deal.

The LHC is a technological marvel – there is no doubt about that. At a cost of $4.5 billion, and mostly financed by European taxpayers, it sits underground spanning the border of Switzerland and France – a twenty-seven kilometer (seventeen mile) circle of two empty tubes and liquid helium superconducting magnets. Protons are accelerated in the tubes to enormous speeds – moving in one direction in one tube, and the opposite direction in another. The particles move within the tubes at about one foot per nanosecond, which equates to approximately 11,000 times around the circle every second – nearly the speed of light. When the scientists see fit, they allow the beams to collide. Colliding protons emit lots of other particles, including photons, leptons, gluons and quarks. Simply put – smash things together and see what comes out.

Scientists hope that the Collider will reveal much to them about the structure of matter, the science behind electromagnetism, and origin of the universe. Scientists believe that at the moment of the Big Bang, the entire universe of particles that we know today was smaller than a single atom. It was all packed into an incredibly small space….and the collision of the particles within resulted in the universe as we know it – complete with rocks, water, helium, fruit trees, crocodiles, and you and me.

One of the things that the people at the LHC hope to find is the Higgs boson. This is a theoretical particle which should be produced by proton collisions, but it is so large and short-lived that it has so far been impossible to detect. Science has not yet been able to observe a single Higgs boson. But of more interest, the Higgs boson has been given another name by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. He called it “the God-particle…”

The irony is rich. And sad. Intelligent people are spending billions of dollars to find an all-inclusive theory of everything. They devote enormous energy to experiments that are indeed thrilling – and relatively boring at the same time. And their purpose is to find the meaning behind their own existence. How did we come to be? How does the universe fit together and work as brilliantly as it does? What is the origin of life? And the number-one thing that science is attempting to discover in this grand experiment is…the “God particle”.

God Himself has predicted this very thing – the foolish pursuit of wisdom by men who refuse to open their eyes and see Him.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’” - 1 Corinthians 3:19
I am not against science and the desire to discover more about our universe. But science, without God, is a vain pursuit. In fact, I believe He has predicted the creation of things like the Large Hadron Collider in the Book of Isaiah! Every time that man has gone in search of the smallest particle of matter, he has been surprised that what he thought was the smallest bit could be broken up into even tinier pieces. Molecules became atoms. Atoms became protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons can now be broken into bosons and muons and gluons and quarks. If we find all of these, will we think we are done? God answers that question:

“Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”Isaiah 29:13-14
Just when we think we understand it all, God reveals a new wonder. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Life Aboard The Mayflower

This year, during this time of thanksgiving, I’d like to reflect on what it would have been like to be a Puritan in 1620. That was the year that English separatists were finally able to leave England to establish a new colony in Virginia. And while planting a new colony and avoiding the religious persecution brought down by King James are some of the reasons commonly taught in textbooks for the Puritan’s departure, the opening words of the Mayflower Compact reveal even more about their purpose:

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia…”

A study of their purpose reveals that the Puritans wished to glorify God and advance His kingdom above all else. And so, on September 6, 1620, 102 people (half of them were part of the Puritan group, the other half were not) boarded a boat about 110 feet long and 25 feet wide – the Mayflower – and set sail for Virginia. Very little is known about the voyage itself. William Bradford, the leader of the separatists kept a small account of the journey. It is interesting to read one of his written passages, about the fate of a crew member who treated the Puritans poorly:

“There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the sea-men, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would always be condemning the poor people in their sickness, and cursing them daily with grievous execrations, and did not let to tell them, that he hoped to help to cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly. But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard. Thus his curses light on his own head; and it was an astonishment to all his fellows, for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.”
Only one other death occurred during the journey – a young Puritan servant named William Butten, who died just three days before the ship landed. Finally, 66 days after leaving England, on November 11, 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor off the tip of Cape Cod – 600 miles north of where they were supposed to land. Because of bad weather, the ship was not able to get down to Virginia – their desired landing point – and so the passengers and crew spent their first winter aboard the ship.

Cold and disease took its toll. By the spring, only 53 of the 102 original passengers survived (two had been born during the journey, so exactly half of those who had left England remained). I often wonder what kind of courage it took for them to stay the course and not leave their new home, in the face of danger and death. The passengers left the ship itself in April of 1621, and the Mayflower returned to England shortly thereafter. None of the passengers returned with it.

Would I be able to maintain the same faith and strength of purpose as these men, women and children? In the face of possible loss of family members – sorrow upon sorrow – would I hold fast to the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom and glorifying His Name?

I close with the words of John Robinson, a pastor to the Separatists who stayed behind in England, but who left them with the words from this passage in Ezra 8:21:

“There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.”
I hope that all of us who treasure God and family are able to stay humble before Him in the coming year, and that He will bless us explicitly. I am thankful for my friends, my family, and most of all for my Lord who knows my desires and who watches over me with a long-term plan that I cannot begin to fathom.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ten Things I Like About The Homeschool Civil War Ball

Yesterday, my daughter and I attended Northern Colorado’s Civil War Ball, sponsored by Agape Family Schools of Loveland, CO. It was a defining and memorable moment in our relationship. Some things I liked:

1) Molly invited me to the ball. Put plainly, she still wants to go to the dance with her daddy as her date.

2) My daughter looked absolutely stunning in her peach dress, complete with hoop skirt. I wasn’t the only one who said that she looked like a real Southern belle. Wasn’t it only a short time ago that she was watching Snow White while sitting at her Little Tikes table and drinking from a sippy-cup?

3) The group practiced for two hours on Saturday morning, just to be ready for the dance that night. During that time, I never saw any of the kids rough-housing or chasing each other around the room. I did not see the typical teen organization into cliques. There was clearly an air of respect and friendship – between boys, girls, and parents. I LOVE homeschooled kids.

4) I got to learn the Virginia reel.

5) During the instruction time in the morning, our coordinator made it very clear – spaghetti straps and strapless dresses were prohibited. If they tried to wear them to the evening dance, they would be prohibited from entering. I like that they were not afraid to draw that line. And the rule was upheld.

6) During the practice, we learned a lot about Civil War era etiquette. Women are to be honored by the men and they go first in everything (which makes some dance moves easier to remember). A man or woman never called someone of the opposite sex by their first name in front of others. It was always “Miss” or “Mister”. Every moment was governed by civility and respect. Our culture could learn a thing or two by going back to those ways.

7) The dresses were amazing. Every girl looked gorgeous in their old-fashioned hoops, and their hair up in curls. It felt like a scene out of Gone With The Wind. Each of the men got to pick a Confederate or Union outfit to wear. I, of course, stayed true to my Southern roots.

8) My daughter and I got to spend some very precious and memorable time together. She got her hair done professionally and was a picture of beauty and elegance. I got to show her how a Christian woman should be treated by a man. It breaks my heart to think that I might have to give her up to another man someday.

9) Molly and I were pleasantly surprised when we were placed next to our Colorado state Senator, Kevin Lundberg, during one of the dances. He is an ardent homeschooling supporter and a devout Christian man – a prince among men in our State Legislature. We got to spend ten minutes talking with him during one of the breaks. His outlook: he has rarely been as encouraged as he is right now over the changes in political winds. He believes that things will get better over the next few years.

10) On a night when so many other teens were taking in the latest installment of the Twilight movies with each other, my daughter and I, along with a dozens of other brave teens and parents, shunned the cultural decay – and spent a wonderful evening together as father and daughter. And made a lasting memory.

More photos are being added on Wendy’s Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ten Thoughts on the House Health Care Bill

Ten random thoughts on the healthcare initiative...

1) The same government that can’t get for-profit labs to create H1N1 vaccine in a timely manner wants to take over the whole healthcare shebang. And half of the people want to let them have it…

2) Nancy Pelosi promised on September 24, 2009 that she would let the bill be published for 72 hours before calling for a vote. “Absolutely. Without question”, were her very words. But she decided in the end not to do that. Why? There can be only one reason – she believed that three days of discussion time could only result in the bill’s defeat. So she broke her promise and drove through a bill that should have been debated – and defeated.

3) I cannot for the life of me figure out WHO is going to get the $1.2 trillion that they want to set aside for the program. But I’m willing to bet it is the people and organizations which come out in favor of the bill in the coming weeks. Once someone actually reads it.

4) Can anyone really explain what a “public option” is? Does anyone really know how healthcare will change if such a bill were to pass? I’m willing to bet that 95% of the American people (and 80% of the people in Congress) don’t know what we’re talking about. I’ll admit that I don’t.

5) Name for me one country which has adopted a public health plan which has been deemed a success. Canadians still cross the border to get a lot of their surgeries performed in the States.

6) The most telling words of all that I read when news articles were announcing the removal of funds for free-for-all abortion under the plan were “For now”. Abortion foes were given an incentive to vote for the current plan when this language - the Stupak amendment - was introduced (abortions will still be covered for rape, incest, and “the health of the mother”). But I’m guessing that pro-abortion Congressmen were told to “Just wait – we’ll get that wording back in there in the final version.” If you have no inkling about what the rest of this legislation means, please pressure your Congressmen and Senators to vote against it for this one reason – public funds are being used to fund abortions. This is the single most important topic in this whole debate.

7) $1.2 trillion over ten years. An average of $120 billion per year of new taxes. There are 105 million people a year who pay taxes. That’s an average of $1,143 per year, per tax-paying person in each household. For ten years. Hey, where did we think the money was going to come from? French taxpayers? The sale of Chris Dodd’s Irish cottage?

8) If you have reached your credit limit on five credit cards – is the solution to get another card? Or is it to control your costs? For healthcare, the primary problem that I see is runaway costs in the industry. It is NOT that some people don’t have health coverage (because there are ways around not having formal coverage). Fix the cost issue first, make healthcare more affordable for everyone, and more people will be able to get on board.

9) The best single method I have heard to get healthcare costs down is to enact tort law reform. Minimize and limit the amount of damages for which people can sue – malpractice insurance costs will plummet for the doctors – this savings will be passed on to the customer. I am led to believe that this cost is not insignificant. The only people to be hurt by this reform will be the lawyers. That’s a good reason to implement tort reform right there! (Sorry – to all my lawyer friends out there…)

10) It’s not too late to put pressure on your Congressmen and Senators. Find out their positions and write them at this link. March on their offices. Go to a Tea Party. And remember – “Abortion is not ‘healthcare’”.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Walls (Part 4)

In the year 445 B.C., Nehemiah was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, king of Persia. He had previously lived as a Jew, likely from the tribe of Judah, in the city of Jerusalem, which had been largely destroyed in previous Persian campaigns.

Upon hearing of the decline of his hometown, Nehemiah was convicted that he needed to return to Jerusalem to direct the construction of the walls surrounding the city. A city without walls was defenseless and it was considered an embarrassment to the people who lived there. Earlier attempts had been made to rebuild the wall during the time of the priest Ezra, but they had failed.

Having gained permission from the king of Persia to return to oversee the effort, Nehemiah begins by praying for the work. This was not about his own glory or power – he genuinely sought God’s blessing and direction over the effort. That might explain his dramatic success, because prayer was the very first thing he undertook (Nehemiah 1:4 and 2:4).

The book of Nehemiah makes it clear that he rallied families and workers to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the construction of the wall (chapter 3). Opposition arose against him and he was repeatedly asked to stop construction. The enemy even resorted to tricks to lure him outside of the city. At one point, they sent a seemingly friendly messenger to try to get Nehemiah to hide in the temple (where he was not allowed under Jewish law) because of a fabricated threat of being murdered in the night. Nehemiah stood firm. Even in the face of an impossible task, with daily opposition, Nehemiah was able to keep everyone on task, and the wall was completed in an amazing fifty-two days.

Once the wall is complete, he drew God’s people together in order to evaluate their dedication and purpose. Things began to really change for the Jews now. The word of the Lord was read publicly in the main square, and people would listen for hours. They would respond to the words by confessing their sin and rededicating their lives to the service of the Lord. Each day became a time of reading, confessing and worshipping of God. Now fully protected from outside invaders, the people of Jerusalem began to change and grow in their service to the Lord.

We have read in this series how walls have been built to keep people out (the Maginot Line) and to keep people in (the Berlin Wall). One might conclude that walls are simply bad and they should always be broken down. That sounds very much like a modern self-help theme.

But the story of Nehemiah makes it clear that there is a proper place and time to erect a wall – primarily for protection and to keep out evil influences. In fact, it is often absolutely necessary in order to have a place where we can reflect, be still, and know God. Nehemiah even made it a point to physically separate the people of Jerusalem from outside cultures (Nehemiah 13:1-3). To some degree, nearly all of us put up walls against things we find offensive or which might negatively shape our thoughts and actions, or those of our children. I get some strange looks when I tell people that our family doesn’t watch many movies or much television – and what we do watch is on the ultra-conservative end of the spectrum. Likewise, I still experience some derision from some who think our choice of homeschooling is over-protective and short-sighted. Yes, these things are both walls of a sort – intentionally built – and which I think are necessary in the sea of a declining culture. But like those people in Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C., it is done “for the sake of the Law of God”. From Nehemiah 10:28-29:

“The rest of the people – priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand – all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our God.”
Each of us, like the people of old, need to search for those times when we go into the world to be a light, and also understand that certain times call for us to clothe ourselves in protection, and block out evil influences. There is no simple recipe that can be written out to detail when each one of these occurs. But a good place to start is to do what Nehemiah did - begin with prayer for wisdom. Walls are sometimes a necessity.
Return to Part 1...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Walls (Part 3)

…(continued from previous post)…

The Berlin Wall went through several transformations. The most well-known version, and the one shown in most of the surviving photographs, are the twelve-foot high reinforced concrete wall sections, along with a “Death Strip” of gravel leading up to the wall from the East German side - to make it easy for border guards to shoot any defectors trying to cross to the West. While the Wall was up, there were as many as 5,000 successful escapes made to the West. In the first three days of the order to divide the city, a famous photo was taken of Conrad Schumann (an East German border soldier), which showed him leaping the barbed wire to safety. In a famous, non-successful attempt, an eighteen-year-old East German bricklayer named Peter Fechter tried to leap the six-foot wall, but was shot by East German guards. He fell back to the East German side. Both sides were afraid to help him, for fear of being shot as well, and Fechter bled to death over the course of an hour – in full view of cameras and passers-by.

The Wall was built on order of the Soviet government, with the purpose of preventing people from escaping or being able to compare socialism and democracy. But it became a symbol of oppression, despised by all those who treasure freedom. When the Wall was up, the side facing democracy was painted and made colorful by graffiti. The side facing Communism was gray and untouched - guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who approached it.

In June of 1987, to commemorate Berlin’s 750th anniversary, Ronald Reagan visited Berlin’s Brandenburg gate and uttered these now-famous words:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two years later, the Berlin Wall came down, but not before a strange sequence of events occurred. Eastern-bloc Hungary decided to open its border to Western-minded Austria. Thousands of East Germans fled there. Other East Germans already in Hungary crowded the West German embassy and announced that they would not return to their country. This triggered protests in East Germany against their own government. A revolution was well underway.

Under pressure, the East German government issued an edict allowing refugees and private travelers to exit the East for the West. Television stations and announcers, confused by the text, announced that East Germany was opening its borders to everyone (which was not really the intent). On November 9, 1989, people began gathering at the wall and demanding the guards to let them through. The guards, also confused, called their superiors but found that no one on the other end of the phone was willing to direct them to use force to preserve the borders. The guards simply opened the gates and let people pass freely. People began to systematically chip at the concrete wall. Small tools turned into sledgehammers over the next few days, and the Wall began to come away in large pieces. By mid 1990, the German military began tearing down large sections of the wall. Germany was formally reunified on October 3, 1990.

Unlike the French Maginot Line, which was designed to keep people out, the Berlin Wall was primarily erected to keep people in. But is one purpose more noble than the other? Keep reading the series…

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walls (Part 2)

On this twentieth anniversary of the opening of East Germany's borders to the West, it seems appropriate to continue this series in discussion about the Berlin Wall...

After World War II, Germany was divided into zones, each of which were controlled by one of four war “winners” – The United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The goal of the first three was to return Germany to economic and government independence. But it was immediately clear that the Soviet Union had no intent to honor this part of the agreement, as they began to make plans and take action as if to make Germany their own. Within a few years, the US, Britain and France combined their three zones into one and funneled funds toward German reconstruction. The Soviets did not participate.

Curiously, the city of Berlin itself lay deep within the Soviet zone. As part of the original agreement, the city itself was divided into four occupation zones – one for each of the aforementioned nations. It is important to understand that Berlin became divided into two cultures and two governments – with all of this taking place within the Soviet occupation zone. As the city of Berlin evolved into East and West, it should be noted that West Berlin was an island of democracy, surrounded entirely by a Communist-controlled nation.

In 1948, over a reconstruction disagreement, East Germany blockaded the import of food and supplies to West Berlin. Because West Berlin was geographically surrounded by East Germany, an airlift of goods was put into place by various western nations (including the United States).

A great experiment was now put in place – one which could not have been designed or implemented more thoroughly in a laboratory environment. East Berlin operated under a restrictive Communist regime (and struggled), while West Germany implemented a western capitalist-style economy (which thrived and grew). It is no surprise that people in East Germany found themselves wanting to emigrate to the more prosperous West Germany.

Until 1952, people were allowed to pass freely between East and West Germany. As the two political experiments began to grow apart from each other, the Soviets began to restrict movement across the border. Stalin directed that the border between the two be closed, and barbed wire was erected between the two nations. The borders between East and West Berlin remained open up to this point, though. People wishing to immigrate (illegally) from East to West simply went to East Berlin, rode the subway or walked into West Berlin, and then took a flight out of Berlin to the western half of Germany. Thus, they escaped through the “island” of democracy which was surrounded on all sides by Communism.

By 1956, the Soviet leaders back in Moscow had seen enough. The Soviet East German ambassador Mikhail Pervuhkin said, "the presence in Berlin of an open and essentially uncontrolled border between the socialist and capitalist worlds unwittingly prompts the population to make a comparison between both parts of the city, which unfortunately, does not always turn out in favor of the Democratic [East] Berlin." Additionally, Germany began to see a “siphoning off” of their most educated and talented workforce, with millions of engineers, doctors, teachers and lawyers leaving for the West.

On August 1, 1961, Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union, suggested the placement of a wall between East and West Berlin. On August 13, at midnight, streets began to be torn up along the dividing line, barbed wire was set in place, and soldiers were placed with orders to shoot any defectors. Shortly thereafter, construction of the Berlin Wall began. The U.S. administration of John F. Kennedy put up a weak protest and eventually informed the Soviets that the States considered the Wall “a fact of international life” and did not challenge it (even though many families had been split up, with little recourse, by the sudden border placement). Curiously, the border was only closed in one direction. Anyone wishing to travel from West to East was allowed to pass.

…(to be continued)…

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walls (Part 1)

When Germany attacked France in World War I, the French losses were devastating. The loss of so many young men during this war had an effect on the next generation – there were far fewer French men to take up arms during World War II, precisely because there were fewer men to marry and raise families. France was determined never to allow this to happen again.

When Hitler began rattling his saber toward France in the runup to World War II, France believed they were ready. In the ten years from 1930 to 1939, the government had built an elaborate set of deterrents to dissuade Germany from attacking. The Maginot Line consisted of blockhouses, anti-tank outposts and retractable turrets (called “cloches”), which would be used to detect the enemy, damage their equipment, or prevent equipment from passing. The French buried large metal girders in the forest, pointing up out of the ground, in order to discourage tanks from passing. They even established low-lying zones which could be flooded quickly with water to prevent the passage of the German army.

The purpose of this Line was manifold – prevent a surprise attack, allow time for the French army to be mobilized (predicted to take two to three weeks), and to encourage the German army to choose a different route to attack, preferably toward Switzerland or Belgium. A quick look at a map of Europe shows how this would play out.

The Maginot Line was a wall, of sorts, designed to deter an enemy and deal defensively with the threat of invasion. For the French, they invested heavily in a defensive installation, while many in their government were instead proclaiming that they should be investing in better offensive weapons.

When one views the complexity of the Maginot Line, one cannot help but be impressed by the effort. The technology (for the time) was excellent, communication between bunkers was in place to transmit the occurrence of an invasion, and there were formidable placements of guns and mortars designed to cripple the German army as they approached.

So…the German army took the hint and attacked northward, through Belgium, beginning on May 10, 1940. They sent airplanes and gliders to fly over the Line and drop bombs on the French behind their defenses. Within five days, the German ground forces had skirted the entire Maginot Line and were into France via the Belgian border. By May 24, the Germans had bottled up the British Expeditionary Force (in-country to aid the French) at Dunkirk. The English had their backs to the sea (the outcome of this battle is a great story and victory of sorts for the British – but we won’t go into detail here). Finally, Paris fell to the Germans on June 14, 1940. The capture of an entire proud nation had taken just over a month. The Maginot Line was a failure.

What was wrong with the French strategy? It seems they failed to consider the ease with which the enemy could circumvent their defenses. In reality, the Germans did not have to go far out of their way to go around the Line and achieve their objective. The French had invested heavily in a purely defensive strategy, without regard to the very real possibility that they needed to be ready for an offensive battle.

This has very real application to our spiritual readiness, which will be covered in Part 4 (think of Nehemiah). But first, we’ll look at another wall, which fell only some twenty years ago.