Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Technology Can Never Do

Doomsday prophets and sci-fi writers predict the end of the world as we know it. They give us a vision of an age in which the complex web of technology and expertise that keeps our society moving along unravels in a heap. It all seems kind of unlikely.

Since the wheel was invented around 3500BC technology has been marching forward around the world. It moves faster in some places at some times and slower in others. The progression is undeniable. Irrigation, the smelting of iron, paved roads, gunpowder, the printing press, steam power, electric lighting, internal combustion, the radio, the airplane, nuclear fission, antibiotics, computers, the internet, Viagra, Facebook, Snapchat... it just keeps on going.

The rate of new technology is advancing faster than ever, but the rate at which it betters our lives, the human value of new technologies is slowing down. Some would argue that every new technology unleashes new burdens on us that outweigh the good. Even the internet, the most important advancement of the last 50 years has proved a mixed blessing. It connects us to information. It makes communication faster, cheaper, and easier. It opens up a virtual worldwide free market online. But it also brings us human trafficking, pornography, online gambling, and a tendency to substitute genuine relationships with real people in real places for a virtual presence that is anything but genuine.

There is a lot that technology can't do.
It can't bridge the gap between rich and poor. It can't create a brotherhood of men. Technology can't make us love each other. It does not rescue slaves or feed the homeless. It can not keep marriages from falling apart.

It seems that the best new technology is primarily directed at bringing the rich more entertainment options. We have ever faster and more accessible machines on which to play World of Warcraft and look at porn.

I dream of a day when the advances of the human race are no longer measured in inventions and new products to buy. That is not to say there is nothing left to invent. But it is time we focused less on creating new gadgets and more on using these things to do good. Or to put it another way, our collective creative energy could better be used finding new ways to love and serve humanity than in building a better mousetrap.

Perhaps the next age will be the age of humanity. The age when we break down the barriers that divide races and nations and families. Perhaps it will be the age in which we eliminate starvation and easily preventable diseases (since we already have all the technology we need to do so). Hopefully the next age will be one in which the poor are lifted up and class struggle becomes obsolete. Maybe in the next age we will focus on relationships with real people, getting to know them, learning to love them.

As we look ahead, we should not eagerly anticipate the new technology that will make our lives easier. Our lives are easy enough. We should anticipate a new world where we use what we have been given to serve others. We should anticipate sacrifice and giving up ourselves for others as Christ gave up himself for us. Love and sacrifice are not as sexy as the latest iPhone. But as I move toward Jesus, I long for the advance of this love as I long for the Kingdom to come.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's a Wonderful World (Feb 14, 2014)

3 Good Things That Happened This Week Around the World

I am continuing my quest to highlight the good happen in the world. That is not to say I think the world is all good. In fact there are some really troubling things happening around the world this week. I don't look at the world with rose colored glasses.

But we don't hear enough about the good things happening in the world. And there is good. Because God is good and God is active in the world. And in spite of all the bad, it really is a wonderful world. Take a moment to enjoy the wonder.

1. Korean Family Reunions. North and South Korea have agreed to hold off their bitter disputes to allow families separated by the Korean war of sixty years ago to reunite next week. There was also talk of ending the incessant cross border name calling and insults. I think it's too early to call it a step toward peace or unification, but people working together, uniting families and speaking with civility to one another is always a good thing.

2. Israeli Doctors Treat Syrians. Israel and Syria have been in a virtual state of war for decades. The border is highly fortified and hostilities are not uncommon. But during this time of civil war in Syria, Israel has quietly accepted over 700 patients from Syria to receive medical care at medical centers and a field hospital near the border. There are a lot of negative things that can and have been said about Israel, but you have to give them some credit. Love your enemies. It is even possible in the volatile Middle East.

NRG celebrates the future of solar energy at the grand opening of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on Thursday in Nipton, Calif.3. The Sun Now Powers 140,000 homes in Nevada.  The largest solar energy generator in the world went online yesterday. It uses thousands of mirrors to focus a beam of sunlight which heats water to generate power. It is just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of homes powered by fossil fuels in the U.S., but it is a great stride forward in sustainable living. Regardless of what you think about the environment and climate change, we know we are not living in a way that can be sustained. We are using more than our share of the earth's resources. They will not last forever. But there is hope we can learn to live in a more sustainable way in the future.

Monday, February 3, 2014

If You Didn't Like the Commercial You Won't Like the Song Either

I was enjoying a bowl of warm chili and the fellowship of friends watching the Seattle Seahawks ravage the defenseless Denver Broncos last night. Having thoroughly enjoyed seeing Stephen Colbert's head splitting open in a pistachio ad, we eagerly anticipated the next commercial breaking the monotony of the game. Suddenly our TV was filled with an image of a beautiful southwestern landscape and a familiar tune graced our ears. We continued to watch as several singers serenaded us to "America the Beautiful" in various languages including: Spanish, Hebrew, and Keres Pueblo, while people of various cultural backgrounds drank coke.

When it was all over, I thought, What a beautiful commercial! I am not particularly patriotic, but I am reminded again why America is indeed beautiful. Not just for her mountains majesty, but for the beautiful people who have come from every corner of the earth to unite as one nation. People who have escaped poverty, tyranny, and oppression to seek opportunity, prosperity, and freedom. It reminded me of another poem I've heard: 
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!*
With all the bad things we can say about our country these days (and there are plenty to choose from) the melting pot of immigrants and the hope they bring with them is one of the things we still get right in America.

I can't say I am surprised at the backlash. My wife and I predicted it within seconds of the end of the song. There will always be those who will look back to the glory days of the past and say this is what America is supposed to be. Soon after the commercial aired, Twitter flooded with statements like "Characters in these Cola commercials, from Mexicans to Indians, learn to #SpeakAmerican already!” and "Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist's language." (What language do terrorists speak anyway? Pueblo?) I can only hope the people who made these comments don't realize how much they offend Americans who recently immigrated here, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, and many others.

If this is your take on America, so be it, but don't deceive yourself  into thinking you have any claim to the song "America the Beautiful" If the commercial was so offensive to you, then you probably won't like the song much either.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!**
We are fighting over a song that idealizes brotherhood, the idea that we are all equals, that we all have something in common that connects us to one another, that draws us to love one another. For the follower of Jesus, we already have a mandate to love our neighbor as our self. But for the rest of the populace, this song proclaims that as Americans we love each other as brothers, or at least that is the ideal we strive for. So if we are going to say things in order to offend our brother Americans we are spitting in the face of the very song we claim to be defending.

There's more in the second verse
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law**
The "beautiful pilgrim feet" are not just the feet of the "Pilgrims" who landed on Plymouth, but of all those who made a pilgrimage to America, every immigrant from those first Puritan separatists to the ones who stepped off the plane today. America has always been a nation of immigrants, just ask the Cherokee. And each successive wave has struggled to blaze their thoroughfare of freedom, their place in our society, their American dream. And we are all better because of it.

So if you sing this song, sing proudly of the country where by God's grace your ancestors landed or you yourself were able to reach. But also sing that God would "mend ...every flaw" in our country, including every root of hate and prejudice. Sing for the brotherhood of the diverse people who have immigrated here and those who (willingly or not) welcomed us here. Because that is what "America the Beautiful" is about. And that is what makes America beautiful.


*"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus 1893 was originally mounted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

**"America" penned in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates. I quote the version which first appeared in 1913 as "America the Beautiful" and reflects how it is usually sung today