Agnotology is the word Stanford University science historian Robert Proctor coined to describe the deliberate dissemination and misinformation, often to try to sell a product. The tobacco industry developed a strategy to cast doubt on scientific studies showing that smoking causes cancer. In politics, the campaign to cast doubts on President Obama’s national origins was an example of agnotology. Climate deniers use a similar strategy. The news media often perpetuate agnotology in the interest of offering a balanced perspective, and the Internet provides a platform for people to pose as experts while engaging in agnotology. ‘We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,’ says Proctor.”

Quoted from the 16 March 2016 edition of Christian Century, page 9. The cite the BBC, January 6, as their source.

If you haven’t seen the documentary (or read the book) Merchants of Doubt, I highly recommend it. It’s all about how agnotology is used by corporations to increase profits. Right now, Standing Rock Sioux are protesting the building of an oil pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline. To counter this protest, it appears that pro-pipeline organization (read: Big Oil) has directly or indirectly created fake Twitter accounts to make it look like there is public support for the pipeline.

Read more about the Standing Rock protests at http://www.democracynow.org/topics/dakota_access (where there are old stories and up-to-date stories listed.

“When you register for a driver’s license in the United States you are asked if you’d like to be an organ donor.  It’s an ‘opt-in’ question, and only about 40 percent of people choose that option. In Spain, Portugal, and Austria, you’re considered an organ donor unless you opt out. In those countries about 99 percent of the people are registered as organ donors, and there are a higher number of transplants as a result.”

Quoted from Christian Century, 31 August 2016 edition, page 9. They cite ProPublica, July 27 as their source.

Until we can get the ‘opt-in’ changed to an ‘opt-out’ policy in these United States, please make sure you’re an organ donor.

“What if every adult citizen received a universal basic income — a stipend of $10,000 each year, with a smaller allowance for children? Would people stop working? Would those in poverty use their stipend wisely or foolishly? An experiment along these lines was tried in Manitoba in the 1970s. The quality of life went up, hospitalizations went down, more teens stayed in school, and the rate of work changed very little. Richard Nixon tried to get a universal income bill through Congress. Support for universal income has come from the left and the right. It’s a way to eliminate paternalistic government programs and at the same time reduce poverty and give workers more options and leverage in the marketplace.”

Quoted from Christian Century, 20 July 2016 edition, page 8. They cite the New Yorker, June 20 as their source.

I have long thought that a universal basic income would be a great idea, but I thought it was my radical lefty learning that supported it. But of course conservatives like the idea — if it shuts down some government programs. And libertarians (if they’re willing to admit that we have an obligation to help our impoverished neighbors) would love the idea of it coming with no strings attached (small government and all that). Of course, I want to pay for it by adding additional tax brackets at the top of incomes and taxing them heavily, but that’s another story.

It is immoral for a corporation to be making money off of the incarceration of people. If we the people must lock some people up, we the people should be doing it. In other words, it is a governmental responsibility.

And there’s evidence to show that private prisons are a bad idea in other ways:

“In order to write about the inner workings of a private prison, journalist Shane Bauer took a prison guard position at a Louisiana prison for four months, at $9 an hour. The prison is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, whose CEO made $3.4 million in 2015, nearly 19 times the amount paid to the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During Bauer’s time as a corrections officer, the federal Department of Corrections temporarily took charge of the prison due to a rash of stabbings among inmates. Thirty-four percent of prison guards suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, a rate higher than that for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Correctional officers commit suicide two and a half time more frequently than the general population.”

Quoted from Christian Century, 3 August 2016 edition, page 9. They cite Mother Jones, July/August as their source.

Diana Butler Bass reminded me that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks was a Sunday.  I don’t think I talked much about it during our worship service that day. It was Rally Day, the day that we kick off a new Sunday School year, and we want to have a festive feel to the day.

This year, the 15th anniversary, 9/11 is a Sunday again. It’s Rally Day again at my church (though I wasn’t there today). I suspect my colleague didn’t make much of the anniversary either.

I think we make a thing of the multiple-of-five anniversaries of events because we have five fingers on each hand. That’s also probably why we use base 10 for mathematics. And why we get excited when the odometer in our cars turns from 99,999 to 100,000, but not from 99,998 to 99,999. And why we got excited about the beginning of a new millennium on the evening of 12/31/99, even though the millennium didn’t really begin for another year.

And so, another anniversary comes, and it’s a multiple-of-five anniversary. As a nation we pause and remember. I’m staying away from the news, but I’ll be politicians are trying to make hay out of the anniversary.

For the families who lost loved ones on 9/11/01, I’m sure each anniversary was and is devastating. I can’t imagine the depth of loss the experienced and experience now. I can’t imagine what their grief was and is like. And I’m a pretty imaginative guy. This blog post isn’t for or about those people. This is about the rest of us.

I’ve been listening to Diana Butler Bass read her book Grounded as I’ve been driving this week. Today, as it turned out, I heard her section on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. She quotes the Dalai Lama, and I’m putting that quote here because I think it is the most important thing for the rest of us to remember:

A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience, provide for another. Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience in your own life, and in the world…. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe. If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another. Those others are waiting for you now…. They are looking to you for love.

A little inspiration as I move a little deeper into my sabbatical.

Gifts in Open Hands

Happy first day of the next one hundred years,
Denali and Death Valley,
Shenandoah, Saguaro, and Sequoia,
Acadia and Arches,
Congaree and Carlsbad Caverns,

Isle Royal and Olympia,
Yosemite and Badlands,
Haleakalā and Dry Tortugas.

And to the national monuments,
as well as the parks —
Agua Fria to Ellis Island
Honouliuli to Ocmulgee —

to you, as well, happy first day.

May your lands and waters,
your summits and gorges,
your air and your wild creatures,
be touched gently.
May your fossil fuels
be treasured underground.
And may there be silence
in a world of great noise
and a refuge from light pollution,
so the stars can be seen.

May you be visited by people
of all ages, all races, all faiths,
all languages, all abilities,
all countries –
those who have travel budgets
and those who may not
have money —
but need the peace,
the wilderness, the…

View original post 51 more words

“Since the early 2000s, Americans have said in polls that crime has increased since the previous year, despite the fact that the national crime rate is about half of what it was in 1991, the peak year. There were, on average, 20,377 murders per year during the Reagan administration. In 2014 there were 14,249 murders. In the meantime, the population has increased 35 percent, driving the per capita rate of murder way down. The perception that crime is on the increase is likely fed by the media coverage, the entertainment industry, and by political rhetoric that plays on people’s fears.”

From the “Century Marks” column in the 17 August 2016 edition of Christian Century. The column cites New York Magazine, 19 July 2016 as their source.

This fall, beware of that last thing – politicians playing on (and stoking) fears.

“Nearly all mass murderers are men – 98 percent by one count. Gender is the most common feature among mass murderers, not race, religion, nationality, political persuasion, or history of mental illness. Toxic masculinity, when faced with disappointment, can turn to hostility and violence toward others. Collecting and using guns is a way for men with grievances to show their dominance over others. While women tent to blame themselves for failure, men tend to project their failures onto others.”

From the “Century Marks” column in the 17 August 2016 edition of Christian Century. The column cites Atlantic, 16 June 2016 as their source.

nino2n-3-web

David Carlson

“What we’ve seen for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming. We would have thought it would take several years to warm up like this. We don’t have as much time as we thought.” ~ David Carlson, director of the World Meteorological Organization’s climate research program on projections that 2016 will be the hottest year on record [from The Guardian, 21 July 2016]

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, Month 21, 2016, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures:  Luke 15:11-32 and Romans 8:31-39
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

In 2003, the chorus I was singing with went on tour in New Zealand and Australia.  We really only got to see a little bit of Australia – Sydney and Melbourne – but I went to New Zealand early, did some traveling on my own, visited museums, and felt got to see much of the country.  I felt like I really began to understand its history and cultures.  Humans didn’t come to the islands we now call New Zealand until the late 1200s.  That’s not even a thousand years ago.  Europeans didn’t arrive until the 1600s.  The first settlers were eastern Polynesians, people who over the centuries had migrated across the ocean from Taiwan, island-hopping to the east and south.[1]

When I think about those Polynesian explorers, I’m stunned.  They stood on the water’s edge or maybe even on the highest point of the island they were on and looked out at the vast nothingness and decided to get into canoes and head out into the unknown, trusting that they would find a place to land.  No GPS to guide them.  No satellite images to assure them that out there in that direction there’s another island.  And still they stepped out (or rather paddled out) into the unknown, boldly going where no one had gone before, little canoes bobbing on the vast ocean of the unknown.

earthrise - NASA; public domainApollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft orbited the moon.  On December 24, 1968, mission commander Frank Borman and astronaut William Anders looked out the window and noticed the earth rising over the horizon of the moon.  Anders scrambled to get the camera with the color film and took this picture.[2]  “We came all this way to the moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet,” Bill Anders said.[3]

A year later, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind.”  Looking up at earth from Tranquility Base, the earth was so small that Armstrong noted that he could blot it out with his thumb.  He was asked later if this made him feel big.  “No,” he replied, “it made me feel really, really small.”[4]

I can’t help it, but when I contemplate these sorts of things I end up wondering where it’s all going and what it all means.  Are we human beings merely an infestation on one planet orbiting one average star of the one hundred billion of stars swirling in one galaxy among 225 billions of galaxies in the vast universe?

At some level, we are very small.  At some level, we are inconsequential.  And at some point, perhaps in eight billion years or so, our sun will turn into a red dwarf and this planet will be incinerated.[5]  The chances of human civilization existing at that point are pretty slim.  An asteroid or a comet crashing into the earth would end human civilization – and that certainly could happen in the next eight billion years.  We could end human civilization ourselves with nuclear weapons or biological warfare.  More likely, we will cripple human civilization to the point of collapse through climate change.  And there is, as activists like to remind us, no planet B.

At some point, our species will die out and there will be no one left to remember that any of this ever existed.  And, as Brian McLaren says, “If this prediction is the whole truth, our unremembered lives and their illusory meaning will be reduced to nothing, gone forever – utterly, absolutely, infinitely gone.”[6]

The good news – at least if you believe that the Bible contains some spiritual truth – is that the prediction isn’t the whole truth.  The good news – if you believe that the Bible contains some spiritual truth – is that the end is not infinite nothingness.  There is God in the end.  Almost like a fairytale, where the princess and the prince marry and live happily ever after, the Bible keeps pointing to a great feast, to a wedding banquet when “humanity welcomes God into its heart.”[7]

Our gospel lesson is an example of how our scriptures point to this ending.  In the parable from Luke, “human history can be seen [in] the story …  The family experiences conflict.  The rebellious younger son runs away and for a while forgets his true identity.  The dutiful older son stays home but also forgets his true identity.  The younger son reaches a crisis and comes home.  He is welcomed by the father, which then creates a crisis for the older son.  Of course, the story isn’t only about the identity crises of the sons.  It also reveals the true identity of the father, whose heart goes out to both brothers, who graciously love them even when they don’t know it, and even when they don’t love each other.  The story ends with a celebration – a welcome-home party, a reunion.”[8]

But, did you notice that the story’s ending is not fully resolved?  We know what the father does in the end:  he throws a banquet fit for a wedding.  We know what the younger brother does:  he accepts his father’s welcome, forgiveness, and love.  But we don’t know what the older brother does.  Will he “remain outside, nursing his petty resentments?  Or will he come inside to join the Big Celebration and rediscover his true identity?”[9]

When I was younger, I found myself identifying most with the younger son.  I understood the desire to strike out on one’s own, to embrace that freedom, to seek adventure.  And I understood how easy it is to make bad choices, to ashame ones parents, to feel along and lost, to forget who and whose I really am.

Now, I find myself identifying much more with the older son.  I understand the call of duty and responsibility.  I’ve experienced that sense of working hard and feeling like I wasn’t getting the acknowledgement I deserve (or at least that I think I deserve).  I’ve even felt something like the older son’s – what? jealousy?

Most important, though, is the sense of God that this story presents:  that deep longing for all to come, for all to enjoy the feast, for all to discover or rediscover their true identity in God’s family.[10]

This points to the purpose of giving your pastors sabbaticals.  In addition to acknowledging our hard work, you are creating space for us to enjoy the feast and to rediscover and deepen our true identity in God’s family.  Why wait until we’re dead to enjoy the banquet?  Why not feast now?

So, tomorrow I’m going to disappear for three months.  Not only will I disappear from this building, but I’ll disappear from Facebook (I feel the need to rest from that medium, too).  I’ll spend time with family, and while I don’t expect my father to kill a fatted calf when we get together, I do expect him to eat some of his birthday cake.  I’ll spend some time in nature, allowing the beauty of creation fill me with awe – and I’ll bring back pictures.  I’ll read some books that have been on my reading list for months (or even years) and catch up on a four-inch high pile of journals that I haven’t kept up with.  I’ll spend some time in intentional community that is grounded in a rhythm of prayer.  And I’ll, as our special music suggested, just breathe.[11]

In my head, I believe that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  But sometimes I need to stop and let my heart fall into that truth.  Sometimes I need to stop and renew my soul.  And that’s really what I most want to accomplish on this sabbatical.

I hope to follow the flow of the parable of the Prodigal.  The parable of the Prodigal flows toward reconciliation.  God’s love is not found in right belief or doctrine.  God’s love is found in love.  “If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, [then] the great, big, beautiful, wonderful, holy, mysterious, reconciling heart of God waits to be discovered and experienced,”[12] again and again and again.

“Human speculation – whether religious or scientific – does the best it can, like a little boat that ventures out on the surface of a deep, deep ocean, under the dome of a fathomless sky.  Our eyes cannot see beyond the rim.  Our ears cannot hear the music beneath the silence.  Our hearts cannot imagine the meaning above us, below us, around us, within us.  But the Spirit blows like wind.  And so this mystery humbles us even as it dignifies us.  This mystery impresses us with our smallness even as it inspires us with our ultimate value.  This mystery dislodges us from lesser attachments so we sail on in hope.  This mystery dares us to believe that the big love of God is big enough to swallow all death and overflow with aliveness for us all.

“‘Do not fear,’ the Spirit whispers.  ‘All shall be well.’  That is why we walk this road, from the known into the unknown, deeper into mystery, deeper into light, deeper into love, deeper into joy.”[13]

As we move into our time for quiet reflection, I invite you to reflect on …
… anything from the sermon or scripture that caught you attention or imagination; or
… a moment in your life when everything came together and, for at least a moment, “all was well”; or
… the image of the end as a great homecoming celebration, or a great marriage banquet; or
… the image of being in a small boat, buoyed up by depths that you cannot fathom, feeling what it means to be upheld by mystery, letting God’s peace surround you.

[1] “Māori people,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Māori_people#History (accessed 18 August 2016).

[2] “Earthrise,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthrise (accessed 20 August 2016).

[3] Robert Poole, “For teh Apollo astronauts, a small world,” Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jul/19/opinion/oe-poole19 (posted 19 July 2009; accessed 20 August 2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], chapter 52, page 259. Retrieved from amazon.com.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 260.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Two in the congregation sang Jonny Diaz’s “Breathe.” You can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnjeMwxFuBA.

[12] Ibid, 261.

[13] Ibid, 262.

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