Of Salmon and Plastic Water Bottles

So I'm walking through Trader Joe's in Huntington Beach with my favorite uncle, who happens to work at a Trader Joe's in Chicago. He's retired from teaching and decided to work a few hours a week at a place he really loves. If you aren't familiar wtih Trader Joe's, it's as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a grocery store. There are 300 hundred of them, mostly in the West and East Coasts, yet each one feels like a neighborhood Mom and Pop shop filled with uniquely branded food, funky signs, and friendly staff members who seem to actually enjoy their jobs. And then there are the customers, who for the most part appear to be college-educated-Birkenstock-wearing-eat-healthy-care-for-the-planet kind of people who are fiercely loyal to their favorite grocery store.

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When Nature Groans

We’ve got some strange weather going on right now in Southern California. It’s raining, the wind is blowing, and yesterday there were tornados in Riverside County. One person died as a result. No life is inconsequential, but there’s no comparison between the problems and inconveniences we’re having and the horrific aftermath of the natural disasters that occurred in Myanmar and China, where the combined loss of life is expected to top 100,000.

When you read reports or watch video about the misery that people endure in the wake of these trajedies, you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness. You can contribute and maybe even volunteer to help the victims, but there’s no assurance that such holocausts of nature will not occur again. In fact, you know it’s only a matter of time before another hurricane hits or an earthquake strikes. And you wonder: Can we trust this life-giving sphere that is usually so good to us? It all seems rather capricious, especially when those who are least able to handle the terrestrial blast of wind, flood, and fire—the poor and the disadvantaged—are often hit the hardest.
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God and Natural Evil

Two headline-grabbing catastrophic natural disasters—the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China—once again have prompted the “Why?” question, as in, “Why does God allow these things to happen?” Some might even phrase the question this way: “Why does God cause these disasters?”

After all, we do refer to these kinds of natural events as “Acts of God.” Even insurance companies use the term to designate major natural catastrophes: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like. Is that accurate? Does God act to bring them about? Does He actually cause natural evil?

While I would never have the audacity to offer an answer to this vexing question, I think there is approach or two that may help us deal in some small measure with the unfathomable misery and suffering caused by such natural occurrences.It goes to the heart of the problem of evil, which includes both moral evil (the bad stuff that people do) and also natural evil (the bad stuff that people do not do).

Let's Not Get Defensive

Christians are playing defense a lot these days. Thanks to the bad press we're getting, along with the pounding we're taking from the "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are two of the most vocal examples), you can't help it but be a little defensive when it comes to talking about your faith. The problem with that posture, of course, is that it just reinforces what most people outside the Christian faith think: Christians are a bunch of whiners.

There's an alternative to being defensive, and it's not what you might think. Some people figure we Christians need to mount a good offense, but that's an equally bad tactic. Nobody likes a bully, and sometimes that's what a strong offense produces. So where do we land? May I suggest that we go back to what the apostle Peter suggested to the persecuted church in the first century: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15-16).

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You Gotta Love Richard Dawkins

You gotta love Richards Dawkins. Seriously, nobody in the last quarter-century has been a more creative, persistent, and grumpy advocate for Darwinism than the famous evolutionary biologist from Oxford. Thomas Huxley--Darwin's own "bulldog," who aggressively defended and promoted the theories of natural selection and common descent to a 19th century audience--has nothing on Dawkins. If you put Huxley and all of Darwin's 21st century defenders in a big pile, it would be dwarfed by the single pile that is Richard Dawkins.

You have to admire Dawkins. He is almost single-handedly taking on his (and Darwin's) arch nemesis, the theory of intelligent design. Other prominent Darwinists, such as Michael Ruse, seem reluctant to endorse their colleague (Ruse is quoted as saying, "Dawkins makes me ashamed to be an atheist"). So Dawkins stands apart, not just for his ability to stir up media attention and capture readers (his book, The God Delusion, is an international best seller, even though most scientists think his arguments are weak and somewhat spurious), but also for his absolute refusal to consider the possiblity that the universe got here by supernatural means.

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Resurrection Psalm

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is so many things: a time/space event that altered the cosmos; the ultimate proof of God's power over sin and death; the thin yet consumately powerful thread that gives the Christian faith its meaning and hope. The resurrection is all of these and more: so massive, so magnificent, so utterly marvelous. Yet is is also very personal, something that we can all embrace with wonder and thanksgiving.

I've been participating in a study of the Psalms over the last couple of months, and this week I came across Psalm 16, appropriately classified as a Resurrection Psalm. I was drawn in by the majesty of the opening line: "Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge." As the Psalm progressed, I found myself moved by the intimacy of its final four verses--

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Introduction to Bruce & Stan's new book "I'm Fine With God, It's Christians I Can't Stand"




Every segment of society has its members of the lunatic fringe. But Christianity seems to have a disproportionately high percentage of them. "I'm Fine With God, It's Christians I Can't Stand" is a candid dialogue about the Christian community that will make you laugh and even cringe as you read about well-meaning but misguided believers who take some parts of the Bible to ridiculous extremes while ignoring other parts.

Pagan Christianity?

Bashing the church has become very fashionable, and I'm not talking about "outsiders" doing the bashing. That's a given, and it shouldn't worry us. One of the last things Jesus told his disciples was that the world would hate them.  Human nature being what it is, people tend to bash what they hate.

The kind of church bashing I'm referring to is coming from those who go to church--or at least used to. The most vivid example has come in the form of a book with the rather startling title, Pagan Christianity? The question mark at the end of the title would appear to hedge the adjective somewhat, but you don't have to read too far into the book to figure out that the authors, Frank Viola and George Barna, believe the current church is based more on pagan practices and traditions than on the practices of the first-century church, which they believe is the true model for the way church ought to be.

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God and the Astronomer

Robert Jastrow, the renowned astrophysicist who played a major role in the development of NASA's lunar and solar system exploration, died on February 8 at the age of 82. Jastrow became a household name during the 1960s, when America and the Soviets were racing to be the first to land a man on the moon. He was a frequent guest on CBS and NBC, explaining in layman's terms the physics of spacecraft, as well as the intricacies of the solar system. Jastrow also wrote several best-selling books, including his seminal work, God and the Astronomers.

Although he was a self-professed agnostic, Jastrow was open to the possibility that the universe had a creator, or at the very least, a first cause. "When a scientist writes about God," Jastrow said, "his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers." Never one to worry about labels, Jastrow thought deeply about God. His most serious public reflection came in 1992, when God and the Astronomers was first pubished. In the first chapter of the book, approporiately titled, "In the Beginning," Jastrow wrote:

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I Can't Stand Christians Who Think Science Is the Enemy

In the interest of full disclosure--and at the risk of shameless self-promotion--you need to know that the title of this blog is also the title of a chapter in the new book, I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand, which I co-wrote with my intrepid writing partner, Bruce Bickel. In this candid dialog about the Christian community, we focus on well-meaning but misguided believers who take some parts of the Bible to ridiculous extremes while ignoring other parts.

There is perhaps no section of the Bible that has been exploited to "ridiculous extremes" than the first two chapters of Genesis. I present as Exhibit A the current efforts of Answers in Genesis to "defeat the enemy" of evolution in Great Britain, the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham, is a Kentucky-based organization whose mission it is to interpret the "evidence" of science so that it matches the biblical account of creation. For the folks at Answers in Genesis, this means interpreting scientific evidence to fit within the framework of the "young earth creation" model, which holds that God created the universe in six literal days a few thousand years ago.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.