Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aptronyms and Encouragement

For those of you who have heard my story about Ms. Clara from my church when I younger, you know that I've spent a LOT of time in Acts chapter 9 (81 weeks in a row!), but lately I've been coming back to Acts 4 over and over again.  There are so many good habits for the church to "re-adopt" in that chapter, things that we really should focus on.  That's one reason I'm writing this blog entry.

My favorite verse in the entire chapter is Acts 4:36:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),...

There aren't too many times that I stop mid-sentence to point out verses, and while I realize that verse 37 is still the Inspired Word, I can't help but be amazed by verse 36.  Barnabas, yes, of "Paul and Barnabas" fame, was born with the name Joseph.

"Uh... so what?" you might be saying.  Well, did you know that?  Did you know that we've been calling Barnabas by a changed name?  It seems that Barnabas had earned himself a bit of a reputation.  It's basically a purposeful aptronym (a name that matches an occupation... e.g. George and Pete Hammer who own a hardware shop in Kentucky, or Dr. David Toothaker, a dentist from Arkansas).  Barnabas apparently was SO overwhelmingly encouraging, that the Apostles just decided to call him "Son of Encouragement."

I feel like I've made this point on this blog before... but I'd LOVE to be called something as awesome as "Son of Encouragement."  To gain a reputation for doing God's Work that is so much a part of oneself that it just becomes an identifier would be a great honor.  I think, if I had to choose one, I would love to be known as "The Conduit" since I like to find out what people are passionate about and connect them to other people who either share that passion, or have a need that can be filled by that passion.  What do you think you would be called if you honed the gifts that God gave you?

     But the first step in that is getting used to the idea of openly praising people.  We don't do that enough.  Thinking of people's strengths, and helping them grow into them and reach their full potential, with the help of the Holy Spirit is a task that the church SHOULD do for each other.  Check out 1 Thessalonians 5.  As a church, we need to become more encouraging as a whole.  Looking at the example of Barnabas, the fact that he was such an encouragement to other people led the Apostles to call him by another name, so that EVERY time someone said his name, he too, could draw encouragement from the fact that he knew he was serving God.  It's like... an encouragement cycle!

     Think about it... is there anyone in your life who could use a little attention for the good he or she has done for the Kingdom?  Step out, disregard the social awkwardness, and tell that person how appreciative you are of their service.  Who knows? the encouragement might come back around to you!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Disclaimer (seriously, how many of my blog posts begin with disclaimers?  An inordinate amount, I tell you!  I guess I'm just a careful guy.): I have no affiliation with THON anymore, they're not paying me to say nice things, my views do not necessarily reflect the views of THON, I'm not trying to solicit, but feel free to donate if you want, etc, etc, etc,)

Did you know that one of my favorite numbers is 5,240,385.17?  (Yes, really).  On a related note, in my experience there haven't been too many moments in life when I knew "This is a life changing / shaping experience!"  February 16, 2007 at 9:00 PM exactly, I knew it, because I walked into a scene that looked like this:

This is actually THON 08... THON 07 was also powerful enough that I knew I had to buy a digital camera to record the next year's for myself

A little background first to help you understand.  If you've read this blog, ever, you've probably gathered that I'm a huge Penn State fan and have been my entire life.  It got to the point where I was proselytizing.  In fact, I think that perhaps my friends Lauren and Kristin did end up choosing Penn State due, in part, to my influence.

I gave people all kinds of reasons why Penn State was AWESOME ranging from academics, to football, clubs and activities, and everything in between.  But at 9:00 PM on that Friday night, I found myself texting Lauren and asking, "Are you at THON?"  Turned out she was, and I went to find her and said "Remember when I was giving you all kinds of reasons that you should come to Penn State?  Well if I had known about THIS at that time, this would have been number one."

Basic information about THON:  THON is a dance marathon that started back in 1973.  It has evolved since then and currently stands as a 46 hour dance marathon that takes place every year on the third weekend in February.   About 700 dancers from all across Penn State University take place every year.  Now to be completely honest, there isn't a LOT of real dancing that goes on at THON.  Basically, it's a grueling 46 hours worth of staying awake and fighting to stay on one's feet.  The only reprieve that the dancers get are 10 second rubdowns on what are called the "Slides of Strength."  So, in a span of 46 hours, dancers spend about 45 hours 58 minutes and 40 seconds or so standing.  There IS dancing at least once an hour though as they have hourly line dances. (H/T david06pa)

But why subject one's body to such torture?  That's something that can be answered in three letters-- FTK.  For the kids.  When THON began, it was supposed to support a deserving charity.  Every year since 1977, the Four Diamonds Fund has been that charity.  The Four Diamonds fund supports patients (and their families) in the pediatric cancer ward at Hershey Medical Center.  When a young child with cancer shows up there, the family gets welcomed into the Four Diamonds family and are assured that almost anything that their insurance doesn't cover-- operations, treatments, lodging, food, transportation to and from Hershey-- will be taken care of by the Four Diamonds Fund.  These families come to visit THON every year to share how much the physical, emotional, and financial help means to them.  A few hours before the dancers are finally allowed to sit, some families take the stage usually one family who lost a child to cancer, and one whose child beat it, to share their stories and to thank the kids for their support and what they do all year-round.  One of the important things to recognize about THON is that as driven as the college students are on THON weekend, the kids and their families fight cancer all year round with the same drive and strength that the dancers draw on in hours 45 and 46.

There's so much that makes up THON.  It's an all-year process that climaxes at one weekend in February.  Fundraising starts on October 1 every year and culminates at the end of the weekend with a dramatic reveal... like this one from THON 07 (you'll definitely want to turn your volume down for this-- (H/T to Pituch3))

Hence, 5,240,385.17 being one of my favorite numbers

There is much more to point out... and I could drone on and on (like I haven't already) but the question I have is, why don't we see more events like THON?  As special and unique as THON is, it had humble beginnings because someone had an idea and took it to action.

Gretel and Bijal-- Christian Student Fellowship's dancers for THON 07-- with some wimpy dude who was only there for 30 hours of the 46

I love THON, but as a Christian, I'm somewhat secretly envious.  If I could bottle THON and let people get even one sniff of it, I believe it would show people that passion and excitement can bring greatness.  Let's face it-- THON is doing work that the church wants to be known for, and it's doing it better than most churches.  Organization... passion... success... kindness... caring... community... it's all there.  I encourage you to log onto this weekend to view the live webcast and take a look at the activity going on and pray about how you may be able to get THAT excited about something that you can't do anything BUT spring into action.

Now obviously, just because THON is not a religious organization doesn't mean that Christians aren't involved.  Nor does it mean that THON shouldn't do this kind of work, like the church has a monopoly on it. THON has it's own issues as well, but I'm convinced that those aren't my concern.  The only standard that THON has to meet is its own-- the church needs to meet God's.  Are we?

Take a look at this description of the early church from Acts 4:32-35:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

And how about this from Paul? (Ephesians 2:8-10)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So I ask again, are we doing that today?  If not, I believe we still can and should.  If we look at THON as a fantastic example of what can be done without God's explicit guidance, imagine the POWER that would be added if we include Him in the plan.

THON runs from 6:00 PM Friday night through 4:00 PM Sunday.  The money total should be announced by 4:45 PM I'd imagine.  Anything you need to know about THON, including its history and how to donate can be found at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grandpap Sandy

     This blog post might end up being pretty short.  That's mostly because I've been thinking to myself "I will NOT be controversial this week, I will NOT be controversial this week, I will NOT be controversial this week!"  But uncontroversial can be boring, and boring doesn't always make for a very enjoyable blog.  Let's see if I have anything meaningful, and non-controversial to say-- I think I do.

     I got an e-mail on Monday from my mom.  It was forwarded on from one of our family friends who lived across the street from us when I was very young, and it contained an obituary.  Our former next door neighbor, a man who I called "Grandpap Sandy" had passed away.

      It had been years since I had seen him, so his death didn't really feel like loss to me, at least not in the way that most people associate loss with death.  No, I had already "lost" him just through various circumstances in life... my family moving, too many years passing, and the fact that, according to the things written in his obituary, I had never really "known" him to begin with.  But I knew him as my Grandpap Sandy, and that's how I'll remember him, and I can live with that.

     My fondest memories of him, and his wife "Grandma Ruth," involved what I always refer to as "the spot" at "the fence" where my parents would always talk to them.  They had a pretty extensive garden set up, especially for that part of Northern New Jersey, which despite its epithet as the "Garden State," has more houses than trees I think.  Grandpap Sandy and Grandma Ruth would always send over bags and bags of eggplant, which I didn't like, but I guess my parents did, or at least accepted.  They were a weird and wacky couple who had one of those 90's answering machine raps, and a radio that was shaped like a Tropicana Orange sitting on their kitchen table.  Their generosity was evident, as well, as I have the first 14 or so Hess Trucks of my life because of them (batteries came with the Christmas present).  I'm fairly certain I still have BOXES of animal crackers left in my parents pantry from them as well.

     I can live with those memories, and look back fondly at that time with those people, but when I think about how I proceed from here, I'm never quite sure what I want.  It's funny that my mom got the obituary from who she did-- her son's was one of the first deaths that I had experienced, when I was 7.  To this day, I attribute the fact that I refuse to leave friends on bad terms to his death... not because we were on bad terms when he died, but because I learned at a very early age how fragile life can truly be.  I wish I had time to truly know and keep in touch with everyone I've come across in life... I'm sure there are literally hundreds of thousands of stories, smiles, and tears that could be shared, but it's so easy to get swept up in the "business" of life.  Just yesterday, I caught up with a woman who was a camp counselor for me in middle school.  Since then, three kids have shown up in her family photos on Facebook!  I think I remember the first one-- but three?!

      It comes back to my concept of "investing" in people's lives.  Depending on how much effort one puts in, that's about the return you should expect-- and I don't think it qualifies as a friendship if you don't expect some return.  I can't return the investment that Grandpap Sandy made to my life anymore, at least not to him.  Another name that pops up is Jesus Christ.  How can I return the investment He made in my life?  I think the answer for both of those men is the same-- pay it forward (Literally, perform the action of paying it forward... don't go out and buy the movie with Haley Joel Osment and give it to people).  Matthew 25:40 reads: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

    So I'll pay it forward... but I don't want to forget the people who are still around me today, the investments, or the returns.  Let's make the most of having the people who are still in our lives.  In chapter 4 of his letter, James writes "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  We might not have tomorrow to do that, to rectify relationships, or to have the option of telling people how much they mean to us.  Similarly, we might not have the ability to give the same to God, to glorify Him.  If I can implore you to do anything... don't wait.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Science in the Classroom

Well, after 2 straight weeks of controversial subjects (homosexuality and pro-life rallies), I figured I'd take a break from blogging about another controversial subject.  But then I changed my mind because I'm in a bad mood and venting makes me feel better.

I'm becoming convinced that many of the problems that the church is facing in finding its place in our world today can be traced back to the public school system in America.  Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape, let me throw a disclaimer out here:  I am a product of the public school system, and I have a degree in Secondary Education, so I don't criticize my upbringing and professional degree lightly-- but I believe it's fair criticism.

I was debating my friend Lance the other day, and it occurred to me that most people still think that Darwin's Theory of Evolution is accepted by most members of the scientific community.  Did you know that's not true?  No one denies that Darwin was onto something, and with the limited knowledge he had, he was still able to accurately detect natural selection.  Most scientists accept this as the driving force behind current evolutionary trends, but it is not complete.  Yet most graduates believe that Darwin's original theory was correct-- But why?

The answer is simple.  Kids still learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution in school, even though it's not up to date by scientific standards.  If we're willing to teach kids something that we KNOW to be incorrect, why can't we teach kids something that we can't discern whether it's correct or not?  Our current theory of evolution falls under that umbrella... and emergent evolution... then again, so does Creationism... and so does the Mormon account of Creation... and Greek Mythology... really any mythology... Shinto as well... and if we're going to bring Shinto and Mormonism into the fray, we shouldn't exclude Buddhism or Hinduism either.  Really, where should that line get drawn?  I'm in favor of teaching kids all of those theories and belief systems in science classes in high school, or none of them.

"That's not a science class then," some of you might say... in fact, that's what Lance said to me.  My question is, "When did science, as we know it today, become so arrogant?"  What I described in the previous paragraph would have been science class if your name was Aristotle or Socrates, Ptolemy or Caesar, Newton or Galileo... but apparently it's not science class if your name is Hawking or Sagan.

When I ask science-supporters why Creation or Intelligent Design shouldn't be taught in the classroom, I get one consistent response: they don't fit the scientific method.  Now as I understand it, they're looking for observable, empirical evidence which can also be repeated so we can predict future results.  Creationism and Intelligent Design do neither of those.

But, then again, neither does Darwinian evolution. It is not observable in nature, it's not repeatable, and there are many holes in Darwin's original theory.  Current evolutionary theory does what it can to plug up those holes, but it can't be proven using the scientific method... it's still very hypothetical.  To me, that means it's no more reliable than smacking your hands together and saying, "It's MAGIC!"

But what about the other things that we learn in science classes that don't fit the scientific method?  Gravity comes to mind.  Newtonian physics largely apply on Earth, but we believe that the laws begin to collapse when dealing with subatomic particles, and also near the event horizon of a black hole.  We can't observe what happens in those instances, but we're content with saying "Well it works in most cases and explains almost everything... so it should be taught in schools."  But it isn't SCIENCE... at best it's belief.  We have NO IDEA why gravity exists, we only know that it does, and most of the time we can predict how it will work.  Until 10 years ago, we didn't even know that Gravity actually travels in waves.  We believe that acceleration due to gravity is constant, except when it isn't. It varies, not even between planets, but at various places on Earth itself.  But ask any student in a physics classroom "What is the accepted number for acceleration due to gravity on earth?" and they'll (hopefully) tell you, "9.8 meters per second per second."  We're taught that it's a constant, that it's observable, that it's repeatable, but it isn't!  We even have a pretty good idea why it changes, but we don't teach that in school because... I actually have no idea why.

If we're supposed to be teaching our kids science, based on the scientific method, we're doing a terrible job.  If we're allowed to teach our kids unreliable theories, why NOT also be allowed to teach Creationism, or at the very least, not mock it. What difference is there between "So you believe a god created everything that's around us?" and "So you believe that we got here because of an explosion that arose from nothing to create everything?"  Neither are observable, neither are repeatable, neither are empirical... yet one is the widely respected opinion and the other is lampooned as theological crazy talk, for no better reason than the established order says so.

I'm not the first who has arrived at this conclusion, and I'm sure I won't be the final one either.  The late Paul Feyerabend comes to mind when discussing this issue.  He went so far as to say that science should be separated from the state IN THE SAME WAY that church and state should be separated.
The way towards this aim is clear. A science that insists on possessing the only correct method and the only acceptable results is ideology and must be separated from the state, and especially from the process of education. One may teach it, but only to those who have decided to make this particular superstition their own. On the other hand, a science that has dropped such totalitarian pretensions is no longer independent and self-contained, and it can be taught in many different combinations (myth and modern cosmology might be one such combination).
Science and church getting equal treatment?  Sounds like a pipe dream... but to the rational observer, perhaps it doesn't sound so crazy after all.

EDIT: I've gotten too much heat about "Emergent evolution" to keep it in.  "Current leading evolutionary theory" or something to that effect replaces it.