The Blind Men and The Elephant

The Blind Men and The Elephant is a poem adapted from a very old Indian story by John Godfrey Saxe about a group of blind men who stumble across an elephant. They go about trying to describe what an elephant is by examining it with their hands, each one touching a different part and making vastly different claims about what it is. One grabs the tail and says it’s like a rope. One touches a leg and says it’s a tree. Another feels it’s tusk and proclaims it to be like a spear. The obvious point of the story being that while each was correct in describing one aspect of the elephant, none were correct in that the elephant, taken as a whole is not like anything they put forth. It hints at the relativity and inexpressibility of truth.

The Subtle, Reasoned Harmony

Often this story is used by those who would say that all religions and worldviews are basically saying the same thing. That the aspects where they differ are simply the result of each religion taking hold of a different aspect of the same god and making it central. On the surface, this sounds really good. How better to bring the world religions into harmony than to help them to understand that they are all speaking about the same thing seen from different perspectives?

There is a flaw in this proposal that is just as apparent in the story and it is that in order for the story to make any sense it must be told from the perspective of one who can see. Once we realize the narrator is actually an actor in this drama, the moral has a completely different tone. Instead of being a humble statement of, “Who can know with all these different views?”, the narrator (and we by extension) look down on these blind men and say, “Actually, we have the absolute truth and all of you are only seeing aspects of it.”

The Religion of Modern Man

And now we see the modern man, like the condescending narrator, in order to unify the religions of man, must actually put forth that he has been able to grasp what all others have missed and that his religion has claim to absolute truth. If he does not, his views must be evaluated on exactly the same plane as the religions he is purporting to unite. His claims mask themselves as tolerance, saying that your religion and mine are simply seeing different aspects of the same thing, but it is extremely disrespectful to look at two people well versed in differing religions and essentially say to them, “Actually, I know both of your religions better than you do and neither of you are seeing the whole picture like I am.”

If we truly want tolerance, it must be in the respect found when a person of one worldview can meet a person of another worldview with the understanding that neither comes to their beliefs flippantly. To ignore that there are irreconcilable differences in major world religions is to treat them with the same patronising manner that this modern unity theory purports to do away with.

All Creatures…

All Creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and let us sing
O Praise Him! O Praise Him!
Alleluia

Creation sent to me the centipede
to witness the complexity
of one hundred legs that were moving unexpectedly
ironically

just as they were meant to be,
they’re fearfully and wonderfully made;
An organism praised in circadian rhythms:
the sun will rise and then the sun will set, and then the sun will rise again,
so lift up your head!

this is life: not a static object preserved and displayed like a relic from the dead
You are not a fruitless tree with a rootless disease
growin’ in a bucket in a rich man’s home
next to the TV tamed and alone
learnin’ to lust for the things you don’t own
like an armchair warrior who’s been dethroned
Declawed and fixed
fighting for your life with unattended slit wrists.
Don’t let your name get intermingled with the number cause its time to awaken from the devilish slumber,
to freely follow the Forerunner
to the fatherland and rally round the renaissance man
and the wisdom of His ways
and all the work of His hands
catch come as catch can
concentrating on the good words of the Son of Man,
the plan is to withstand the demands of a confused oppressor:
a wolf in sheep’s clothes
with monotonous lectures
and questionable gestures
unequal measures
cultural pressures
and synthetic textures
force fed instead of the most beautiful architecture
of our long lost, forgotten origins:
Unseen fiber in the blood of my King
And that old rock where we confessed our sins

Oh, my God, fellow man
in this great land they all cry out for
full restoration
and this will take
patience
And this will take the tribes
And the tongues of all the Nations
and all of creation groans in anticipation
Waitin’ for the Son of God to be manifest
I can feel it burnin’ in my chest
The liberation for the oppressed

And it’s beautiful like the feet that bring good news…
Its beautiful like this freedom tune
Its beautiful like the power to choose…to change
Beautiful like the long awaited rain
Beautiful like the healing pains
Beautiful like the holy flames…coming down!

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
O Praise Him!   O Praise Him!
Alleluia….

Gmail ProTips #2 – Priority Inbox

So my friends asked me to send out some tips for how I set up my email and I got some good feedback from it, so I guess I’ll post this next one on my blog…

I have been using gmail’s new Priority Inbox for some time now and I really like it. Basically, it automatically sorts the emails that are important to me from the ones that are less important. From what I’ve seen, this is mostly determined by who the sender is, and how many recipients there are. IE, a message sent from someone in my contacts to only me is likely more important than one sent by Facebook to a mailing list.

So… to get set up with priority inbox, simply go to your email settings screen

and click on the Priority Inbox view.

 

Select all the options as you see here:

Once this is all set up, you’ll have a link on the top of your left hand menu for Priority Inbox. Clicking on that will take you to a screen similar to this:

As you can see, my emails are now separated into unread messages that Gmail has classified as Important, messages I’ve starred, important messages I’ve already read, and then everything else. Now, Gmail isn’t perfect when it comes to figuring out what’s important to you, but it can actually learn from you as you use the priority settings. If you get a message that should be marked important and isn’t, or one that isn’t important but got labeled as such, you can change it’s importance by selecting it and pressing the little  keys. Gmail will learn to mark these messages correctly over time.

 

This really helps to weed out all the miscellaneous stuff I get from social networks and forums and highlights the important messages I get from actual people! Pretty Cool!

Minami-Sanriku

I had the opportunity last week to visit Japan and provide whatever small help I could to the victims of the tsunami that happened last month, as well as to my friends in Tokyo, who have been coordinating relief efforts from the beginning. Grace City Church is a small church that started meeting less than a year ago in Tokyo and they have joined with another church in the neighboring province of Chiba to make over 50 trips into the hard hit province of Tohoku. The day after flying into Tokyo I got to sit in on a meeting with the main organizers of what is turning into a full fledged organization they are calling Grace City Relief. It was such a great opportunity to really comprehend their vision for the future in Tohoku.

They are looking to gain official non-profit status in Japan and are hoping to establish a community center in the town of Ishinomaki. It’s through this that they want to bring the community of those remaining in Ishinomaki together so that they see that they are not alone. It was awesome to see their desire for a long term endeavor. What was described to me and what I saw was that the Japanese government is doing an excellent job of reestablishing infrastructure, but what is lacking is the rebuilding of people, both emotionally and mentally. Some of the towns that were hit by this tragedy lost half their population, and those that survived have lost their whole livelihoods. It is essential that they see that the others in their community and those outside it are all standing with them in order to give them the courage to actually start rebuilding.

 

On the following day, we loaded a moving van with fresh vegetables donated by a grocer in Tokyo, as well as an electronic Organ (the couple I was staying with were both accomplished musicians and Roger wanted to bring music in to a place that hadn’t had it for weeks). It took 7 hours to drive from Tokyo to Minami-Sanriku (which is about 10 miles from Ishinomaki) and we finally pulled up to a ritzy hotel that missed the tsunami as it was high on a cliff overlooking a bay. The hotel was giving much of it’s space to relief and cleanup workers and had also given space to the full time members of an organization called OGA for Aid. We met up with this group and stayed in the room next to theirs in the staff dorms above the hotels day care center.

 

The following day we loaded our van with more supplies they had gotten previously and headed out on a round of delivering provisions to a number of unofficial hinanjos (evacuation sites) in the area. There are a few large government run hinanjos as well, but many people have chosen not to live in the cramped spaces and are relying on the aid of grassroots organizations like OGA and Grace City Relief for help.

 

Many of these hinanjos are the homes of people in the highlands of Minami-Sanriku who have opened their doors to their neighbors. The hinanjo pictured below is housing 18 people and they are taking care of the distribution of provisions to about 180 other people in nearby homes.

I was amazed by the complete destruction of the town. I saw the pictures and all the before and after shots, but it was when I was standing in the middle of a field of rubble the size of a town where only 3 buildings were left upright that I really glimpsed it. The residents had been warned that the tsunami would be about 6 meters high, but when it hit land, it rose to over 23 meters and swept away even some of the evacuation sites people had fled to. This car was lifted and set on the roof of a three story building, and this was a quarter mile inland from the coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was some good to be seen, though. As I said, the Japanese government has worked quickly to reestablish roads and power to most of the area. We even past this amazing, operating gas station in town amidst all of the debris. The attendants were manning the stations while the suit-clad owner stood in front of the metal skeleton of what used to be his garage. It was amazing how much hope that one spot gave amidst all of the wreckage, that rebuilding and restoring is possible.

Gmail ProTips #1 – Infinite Email Addresses

I know some of you wanted more deets on filtering spam and such, so here’s my set up that seems to work pretty well.

What you mainly need to know is that you can add a + to the end of your gmail name and add whatever you want and it will all go to your account. So if my email were tanner@gmail.com, I could have people send mail to tanner+skiing@gmail.com or tanner+church@gmail.com or whatever and it will all come to the same inbox, and unless you’re looking for it, you won’t even notice a difference.

So what I do is, any time some service asks for an email and I don’t particularly want any junk from them, I use tanner+spam@gmail.com and then in my gmail I create a filter where I have the word “spam” in the from box and automatically send it to the spam folder. That way I can get the confirmation email out of the spam box when it’s sent to me and ignore anything else from that address.

You could take it a step further by using the name of the service, like, tanner+BestBuy@gmail.com, and then when I start getting spam sent to that address, I know which service sold my email address.

The other thing I was saying is that a lot of websites won’t let you put a + in their email address fields, so for those I use an email address like this:tan.ner@gmail.com

You can add a period anywhere in your name and it will also be sent to you. So I have another filter looking for tan.ner@gmail.com and doing the same thing.

So there’s my Gmail tip of the Day! Tune in next time for Priority Inbox and Keyboard Shortcuts!

Dustbowl Dance

Dustbowl Dance, by Mumford & Sons

The young man stands on the edge of his porch,
The days were short and the father was gone,
There was no one in the town and no one in the field,
This dusty barren land had given all it could yield.

I’ve been kicked off my land at the age of sixteen,
And I have no idea where else my heart could have been,
I placed all my trust at the foot of this hill,
And now I am sure my heart can never be still,
So collect your courage and collect your horse,
And pray you never feel this same kind of remorse.

Seal my heart and break my pride,
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide,
Align my heart, my body, my mind,
To face what I’ve done and do my time.

Well you are my accuser, now look in my face,
Your opression reeks of your greed and disgrace,
So one man has and another has not,
How can you love what it is you have got,
When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store.

There will come a time I will look in your eye,
You will pray to the God that you always denied,
The I’ll go out back and I’ll get my gun,
I’ll say, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”.

Seal my heart and break my pride,
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide,
Align my heart, my body, my mind,
To face what I’ve done and do my time.

Seal my heart and break my pride,
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide,
Align my heart, my body, my mind,
To face what I’ve done and do my time.

Well yes sir, yes sir, yes it was me,
I know what I’ve done, cause I know what I’ve seen,
I went out back and I got my gun,
I said, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”.

What Church?

Why do our churches not look like the early church? Why do we gather on Sunday mornings and maybe small grops once during the week. We talk with our friends, share the latest news and gossip and then sit in a lecture hall to sing emotionally stirring songs and hear intellectually stimulating sermons, then say goodbye and have our weeks to ourselves with our other friends.

Why doesn’t the church act as our life and health and unemployment insurance? Why doesn’t it share meals every day? Why have we relegated mercy ministries to para-church organizations? I feel like if my church were to disappear tomorrow, I could easily replace it with some other social club. I could join a bowling league or a community chorus and fill the niche that the church currently fits in my life.

It would be so easy to pass this problem off to “the Church”, but the Church is its members. We are the church and if we see problems, they are only the manifestations of our individual issues. If the Church is not caring for the poor or seeking social justice, it is because the church’s members are not seeking to be imitators of Christ in His ministry to the outcast and downtrodden. If the Church is hostile and accusatory towards those outside it’s walls, it is because the church’s members have failed to see themselves in the chastised religious elite gripping stones to throw at the adulterous woman. If the Church’s main concern seems to be gaining political power and legislating a comfortable situation, it is because the church’s members have become like Jesus’ disciples on the road to Jerusalem; expecting Jesus to ride in and overthrow the Roman oppressor, all the while missing Jesus own words “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33).

The Christians of Acts shared everything and depended heavily on the community of the Church for even their basic needs. I don’t depend on my church at all. In fact, I often catch myself thinking about how much the church relies on me! Certainly I should be ready to help those in the church (or else how would anyone be able to depend on the Church in the first place?) but if the degree to which I bear the burdens of those in the Church does not cause me to turn around and lay my own burdens on other brothers and sisters, am I truly bearing any burden at all?

Show Me How to Die…

Show Me, by Audrey Assad

You could plant me like a tree beside a river
You could tangle me in soil and let my roots run wild
And I would blossom like a flower in the desert
But for now just let me cry

You could raise me like a banner in a battle
Put victory like a fire behind my shining eyes
And I would drift like falling snow over the embers
But for now just let me lie

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and breathe me back to life
But not before You show me how to die

Set me like a star before the morning
Like a song that steals the darkness from a world asleep
And I’ll illuminate the path You’ve laid before me
But for now just let me be

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and breathe me back to life
But not before You show me how to die
Oh, not before You show me how to die

So let me go like a leaf upon the water
Let me brave the wild currents flowing to the sea
And I will disappear into a deeper beauty
But for now just stay with me
God, for now just stay with me

I love her voice. And I love this song.

Doing Unto Others…

In college, the a cappella group that I was in often had a booth on our quad to publicize various auditions and concert events and I spent a lot of time manning that booth. This usually meant sitting for an hour or two at the table waiting for the occasional passerby to take notice and come up to ask a question or get a ticket. That is, unless we happened to be placed in a booth next to the one that the Mormons were using.

I dreaded sitting on those days, because I knew they would want to talk to me. I dreaded it because in everything they said, I felt like they were positioning themselves to share their beliefs with me, even if it was the most innocuous “Hi, how are you.” This always put me on the defensive because I didn’t want to hear their beliefs. I didn’t want them trying to convert me, and yet here I was publicizing a singing group whose sole agenda was to share the love of Christ to the campus.

I don’t bring up spiritual things with people because I am afraid of being like those Mormons. I’m afraid that people will react to me the same way that I react to people of other faiths who try to share their beliefs with me: by clamming up and going on the defensive. I don’t want to share my faith because I don’t like other people sharing their faith’s with me.

It’s not that I’m afraid that they may be able to ‘convert’ me or ‘defeat’ me in some way. I’m very confident in what I believe. The trouble is, I have a sense that other people are just as secure in their beliefs, so trying to talk about them in a persuasive manner is an exercise in futility. Why should I bring up a topic like faith with someone who is as set in their own ways as I am in mine?

Perhaps the issue is how much emphasis I place on persuasive speech. If my faith were as much a part of me as, say, my love of snowboarding, why should talking about my beliefs with other people be any different than talking about the gnarly slopes I hit last weekend? Any time faith or beliefs comes up in conversation, my mind immediately jumps into ‘debate mode’ (which is sad, because I’m kind of terrible at debate and I know it so ‘debate mode’ really turns into, ‘say nothing of significance so I don’t mess up other people’s witness in the future mode’). Perhaps I need to train myself to not jump into that thinking and instead just talk about my experience of faith. I could take a lesson from Paul about staying away from subtle argument and persuasive speech and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work, because He’ll do a much better job of it than I ever could.

Pointless Babbling.

That title wasn’t meant to be ironic or suggestive of anything. I just got a new keyboard and figured I should test is out on my blog. It’s been an awesome Christmas time here in Charlotte. Had a white day after Christmas, which is more than I can say for Denver, unfortunately. Denver has been dry for pretty much all of winter so far. Hopefully that will change in the near future. But at least the mountains have been getting hit pretty good. Best early ski season in years from what I’m told.
I think it’s about time for me to make another post with some meat on it. Be looking for that in the near future.