No Safe Place To Stand

 

The search.

If we focus long enough we can see;

There is Life and there is Death.

By each step we search for both,

By each desire we have chosen one.

It is undeniable which we truly want – Life,

Just as a newborn naturally wants Mother.

Time and again the focus tunnels us home,

Landing in the desert, we are brought to safety.

Quasi.

Sometimes I feel like I am already gone,

Other times I feel far too present.

Akin to fickle leaves before their season of emptying,

While still similar to the unwavering root of the baobab.

But is there a consummation to it all?

Somehow in my own dim confusion I see Peace.

Time and again the focus tunnels me home,

In the desert I begin to hear the tender whispers.

Chaos.

The answer leaves me standing in the desert.

In the desert what you lose is time,

In the desert what you gain is newness.

In the chaos of the desert there is no safe place to stand,

But one ever told me that chaos felt so like peace.

My only option is to step;

My only option is Life.

 

 

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Artificial Intelligence is Coming. How Do We Prepare?

A very long time ago, in 1997, there was an excellent Disney TV show called Smart Guy. In the show a genius little boy, 10 year old T.J. Henderson, transfers from 4th grade up to high school. In one of the episodes T.J. faces off against an undefeated computer in a chess tournament for the honor of his school. Being a kid at the time, it inspired me to see a kid prevail over a computer.

Smart GuyThat episode captured much of what our society views as true happiness. It captured the social connections we create with one another being necessary, our own sense of importance within a community, and a sense of purpose in a time of change. “Change”, in this case, being a world approaching artificial intelligence (i.e. AI) and automation. Today we see the rate of this “change” is accelerating.

It is hard to imagine a future world where humans are not the smartest beings. The question for our society becomes whether the pros of artificial intelligence outweigh the cons. Even though we cannot predict the true future extents of AI we do know the world is changing at a rapid pace, so thinking critically about these changes is crucial if we want to continue thriving in the future.

It is important to note that this post is not advocating against furthering AI. The improvement of AI is coming whether we like it or not. The purpose is to prepare us for the inevitable possibilities AI will bring us. 

Lets define AI:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that creates intelligent machines able to complete a task, problem solve, learn from experience, adjust to new inputs, and/or perform human-like tasks.

There are three main types of AI:

  1. Artificial Narrow Intelligence: This type of AI exists in our world today. Narrow AI is predetermined/programmed to perform a single task — whether it’s checking the weather, playing chess, or analyzing raw data to write journalistic reports. Narrow AI is not conscious, sentient, or driven by emotion the way that humans are driven. Siri is an example of Narrow AI. The automation of jobs that we see replacing people is done by this AI.
  2. Artificial General Intelligence: This type of AI does not exist yet. It would be able to perform any intellectual task that a human can. AGI is expected to be able to reason, make judgments under uncertainty, plan, learn, and integrate prior knowledge into decision-making. These machines would have such traits as imagination and autonomy.
  3. Artificial Super Intelligence: This type of AI also has not arrived and may never arrive. However, researchers believe that when [the previously stated] AGI is developed, these same machines may eventually be able to enter never-ending self-improvement loops that would lead them to a greater cognitive performance than humans in all domains of interest. They could become so powerful as to be unstoppable by humans.

That said, there will be a spectrum use of AI. Not just three categories. There are computers, robots, genetic engineering, and then a merging of individual human brain/computer interfaces (i.e. a blend of humans with AI capabilities added to them similar to a performance enhancement drug). The rest of this post will be focusing on the further innovation of Narrow AI and automation brought about by AI.

The prediction of when science will achieve these various levels of artificial intelligence varies. In their last few active months of the Obama Administration warned us that 60% of our jobs will be automated by 2030. A bipartisan-style warning telling us that this isn’t a political matter but a human matter. Sam Harris, the popular philosopher, neuroscientist and public intellectual fearfully said on the matter, “We are in the process of building some sort of god.” [A statement analogous to the biblical Tower of Babel story, but I digress.]

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Workers exchange spools of thread as a robot picks up thread made from recycled plastic bottles at the Repreve Bottle Processing Center. Source: Chicago Tribune

To display the positive side for a moment – some of the benefits to AI and automation include:

  • It will aide in the daily productivity of businesses.
  • It will add new, ancillary jobs that we’ve never had before.
  • It will be able to spot and detect people’s diseases and health defects better than any human doctor can detect.
  • It will drive down consumer costs, making many of our products and services more affordable than ever before.

These are beautiful benefits that people have to agree are good.  Since we have problems that we need solved – e.x. Alzheimer’s, cancer, climate science, etc. – we WILL continue to innovate our technological intelligence to try to fix them. However, every beneficial thing on this earth has a dark side. Just as the advantageous social media has a dark side….the dark side of AI and automation is arguably worse.

Here are five points that we need to begin to take serious for the near future:

1) How will AI affect the workplace?  AI automation will affect jobs. We’ve all seen employees replaced at our local grocery and retail stores by machines. For another example, a large number of truck and taxi drivers are predicted to go away within the next 10 years. That’s a ton of middle-aged adults left without a job and likely do not have the scholastic means to find another profession they’re qualified to perform. Companies like Amazon, Uber and Google have already stated how they want to increasingly automate their jobs that are currently held by people. Subsequently, millions of jobs are likely to be displaced.

Why are companies seeking workforce automation? The primary goal of any company is to increase revenue. With AI automation usage a company saves money by (1) not having to pay their machines a salary and (2) not having to pay healthcare for human employees. And, to add, these machines are not limited to 8 hours work days and vacation time – they can work 24/7. This drastically decreases company costs thus increasing revenue.

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Prediction of how Automation Affects the Human Workforce. The Economist

2) How will AI affect unemployment?  As jobs are displaced due to AI automation, there will be new jobs created [as previously stated]. Unfortunately it is hard to predict how many new jobs and what they will look like. Additionally, today we already have many jobs waiting to be occupied. What we do know about these jobs is that many of them require a high level intelligence. Not everyone has the cognitive gifting to be a lawyer, dentist, or computer scientist. This trend will lead to an even wider income gap in our country and an increased rate of poverty. With the way our youth educational system is currently setup children are not properly equipped for the new sector(s) of jobs that will be in demand.

3) How will this affect the family?  With research we are beginning to learn the psychological and sociological effects of unemployment. People are meant to how-men-can-confront-toxic-masculinity-sad-man-feature_1320W_CL-1work. We are hardwired for it. When people lose their jobs they feel they lose their purpose. Studies have shown that men and women tend to respond differently to job loss. In men, there is increased escapism. We have seen the rates of depression, opioid overdose, fatherless households, and suicide increase in some correlation to the increase in male unemployment. Conversely, women show no statistically significant emotional effects correlated with their unemployment status.

This effect is coupled with society still grappling/learning the effects of women increasingly entering the workforce. Before the introduction of women into the workforce men only competed with other men – now they compete with both men and women. We also know that today women are generally better educated than men; so these men are now at the increasing disadvantage of both women and AI machines in the workplace. That is not a reason to oppose women [or AI] being in the workforce but rather an objective analysis of the unprecedented, complex outcome of it. Where men are walking in their purpose of design, the home and society at large flourish. With AI, men will take a more direct blow. Because, you see, people don’t need money, they need function. Where that doesn’t happen, there is a backslide of society.

4) How will this affect the cohesion of our society?  The historical cause and effect from the rise in poverty is an increase in crime. The empirical evidence is indisputable that inequality drives crime. Sometimes we can see an increase in uprisings from the lower income class when there is massive inequality. During the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s England and America saw numerous revolts from the labor force due to the sudden replacement of jobs by machines.

We have to be careful here because if the amount of inequality ramps up enough then our social system will destabilize. The likelihood of an uprising from the lower class increases when they believe their economic opportunity (and the opportunity of their offspring) is fixed/rigged to stay below a reasonable level. The economic game being fair is the American Dream. AI automation can bring down cohesion within society as it takes away the opportunity of masses of people and as it increases poverty.

The estimated job replacement of AI automation is at a much higher scale than that of the Industrial Revolution. If we do not expect the possibility of some form of revolts, then we’re being quite optimistic. We also need to look at the impact of AI on our individual, everyday lives. Will automation cause a decrease in our patience, empathy, care, and investment in others? If a student can supplement their brain with some level of AI will their cognitive advantage over regular students be taken into account or not? Think about how smarter we are right now with the ability to look up anything on our iPhone. Imagine having that ability installed in  your head.

human-brain-on-white-background

5) Miscellaneous: How will this affect international relations? How will it change social media? How will AI weaponry change how we view the morality of war? How will AI sex robots change the world?

 

Throughout history the rate of growth of society has been an intuitive, linear slope. With linear progression humankind is better able to adjust. The past half century has shown that technological growth is an exponential progression. So as we get closer to AI capabilities, we won’t experience 100 years of growth within a century, it will actually be more like thousands of years of progress within a single century. This is extremely difficult for humankind to adjust to.

Google futurist, Ray Kurzweil’s, graph to illustrate his beliefs concerning exponential technological growth.

Historically, the Church has had a tendency to be late on discussions of technological advancements. We are typically late to the game and reactive. It seems to be the contrary this time around. Recently (April 11, 2019) over 60 well-known evangelical leader created and signed a new statement centered on the principles of AI.

“We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care,” stated the authors of the new statement unveiled to The White House.

This is a key step in approaching the global discussion of AI. It marks a claim for a seat at the AI ethics table for Christians as world governments try to prepare for the future change rapidly occurring in our world. Still, it isn’t solely up to our evangelical leaders; the rest of us also have a duty to uphold. Our awareness on the topic is paramount. AI tools and their limitless potential can be at odds with a belief in human dignity and morality based on the image of God.

There are warning signs around us if we simply open our ears to hear. The economic growth of our society is not what sustains us. The world, the family, and the individual were each designed with a particular hierarchical purpose in mind. What we will need to focus on is the preservation of our communities as one of our greatest challenges today and in the near future.

there-are-far-far-better-things-ahead-than-those-we-have-left-behing-cs-lewis

Do Group Identity Politics HELP or HARM Minorities?

Group identity politics is an idea used over the past 30 years to try to defeat social injustice. In this post I will attempt to test rather it is specifically effective for minorities. Before doing so, the concept must be properly defined:

Group identity politics is based on political positions focusing to divide people in society into different groups of shared interest and perspectives. Instead of society being based on the individual, the individual is identified within a particular exclusive group. It makes ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, political party or social class the primary element of our being.

When we look outside at the world, we see an increasingly depraved, polarizing, impatient world that is complex beyond measure. In this broken system, people have been trying to fix the world since the beginning of time. In particular, with the current social issues that have plagued us we are still searching for solutions. Identity politics is the current “potential solution”.

The thought is that by putting people into groups it will empower the people within them and raise awareness against things like racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. That this will help people who have been victimized also come together as victims and rise above the oppressors. Sounds like a plausible solution.

However…the primary question is…..:

Do Identity Politics work?

My 12th grade AP Economics Teacher taught our class a key principle in consumerism – “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  That is, every choice/solution in life has a cost. That cost may be our finances, time, energy, a human right, a relationship, 431265-Thomas-Sowell-Quote-There-are-no-solutions-there-are-only-trade.jpgquality of relationship, or a life itself. Today we hear chants for social justice. We want things fixed and we want them fixed “immediately”.

A wise approach when considering a new policy, system, or ideology is to consider as many outcomes as humanly possible if it is implemented. The most important outcome to consider above the others is the worst possible outcome.

Before making a decision, asking a question such as: What are the ways in which we might accidentally make things worse with this? Or, if we open this door to make something better, are there other ideas (or consequences) that will walk through that same door now that we’ve opened it?

We use a similar thought process in the engineering world when we conservatively design buildings. We do this in the sports arena when setting up rules to protect players from injury. We even do this when choosing which car to buy or where to eat for dinner. In the fields of mathematics and the social sciences, this process is called game theory.

Sometimes the costs are worth paying but, historically, many of times they are not. Besides Christ, there is especially no solution to any social issue that, if implemented, would not then be taken/used/twisted by the enemies of God several years down the line.

How does group identity politics affect the world?

The world is too complex and “endlessly” diverse for identity politics to function with consistency. It cannot be measured and quantified. It cannot be used as a tool for success on either political spectrum.

Within the Social Justice Movement and group identity politics there is no hint of consistency due to the absence of objective truth. This movement wants to remove any given number of contradictory rules and then tell us all which rules apply at any given moment. Our country cannot reasonably function with these rules.

maxresdefaultIn the same sentence they say, “You cannot understand me because my experience is too different. But wait, you also must understand me because my experience is too different.”

A person’s opinion matters not on the individual level but relative to their identity group. So a gay white woman’s opinion matters less than a gay black woman – both are oppressed by the man-dominated world, both are oppressed by the heterosexual majority, but the black woman has the added victim-hood of racism. The more memberships in oppressed groups you have, the higher you rank on the hierarchy. It plays out everyday.

  • We attack Kevin Hart for homophobic tweets in 2010 but we let white female comedians slide when they’ve used similar homophobic tweets. On the intersectional scale, Amy Schumer, a liberal white woman, gets a pass over Kevin Hart, an apolitical straight black man, because her combined political and gender oppression outweigh Kevin Hart’s single racial oppression.
  • For myself, being a black male I have noticed that I get away with speaking more freely on social issues (race, gender, class, homosexuality) than my white male counterparts.

You see, without objectivity we rely on subjectivity. In a subjective world view, anything goes at any given time. Conversely, anything can be taken away at any given time. Group identity politics is insufficient in covering the marginalized because all people are marginalized in some ways. Everyone is oppressed. In a subjective world, how are we going to say one person’s marginalization trumps another person’s marginalization? Who dictates the hierarchy and the extent of oppression? How far back in time do we account for the oppression of our ancestors? It is not simply black and white or men and women.

  • The LGBTQ community is oppressed too right?
  • Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans are marginalized.
  • Jews and Muslims are discriminated against as well. Look at the complexity of the Crusades, the Israeli-Palestistian conflict, the Holocaust.
  • What about the deeply tense tribal differences between the several Asian communities with all their wars over the past hundreds of years?
  • For the gender fluid white women who will identify as white men tomorrow, will they simultaneously then be classified as privileged oppressors and hierarchically dominant white men?
  • Are white people who grew up poor less marginalized than black people who grew up in middle class families?
  • Do black women and Hispanic women deserve more than white women in the workforce?
  • What about job positions in society that Asians preferentially occupy? Are there too many Asians in the STEM fields? Are we going to put a quota on them?
  • Should oppression of black Africans equal that of black Americans?
  • And what about attractive people who have walked through life more privileged than less attractive people?
  • What about shorter men? Should they get privilege over taller men?
  • What about intelligence versus a lack of intelligence?

This goes on and on until we get to the level of individual people which is exactly where we should be in the first place. The victim system will never be equal. The irony is that it is our SHARED sense of oppression and pain that unifies us, not what separates us. We have each felt pain and caused pain. No one is innocent. Separating off into different groups does more harm than good. The benefit may be a short-termed warm feeling of camaraderie.  However, this does nothing long term for reconciliation and fixing the actual problem.

What do we risk when grouping with identity politics?

  1. We run the risk of being ignored because we have all these other accompanying social ideas and accompanying proposals that are not the same. For example, fighting for racial reconciliation tends to be accompanied by the acceptance of homosexuality. They may be similar looking by the standard of oppression but there are massive distinctions theologically, sociologically, and politically. Some of those distinctions may reduce our own quality of life. Having those accompanying ideas hardens the hearts of people who argue for the fact that there are distinctions.
  2. Some of the ideas associated within identity politics will, in turn, hinder our relationships. It will further polarize people. It will cause further tension between people who identify in seemingly opposing groups rather than unite them as humans.
  3. It will open the door to radical Right wing racists who would also like to play identity politics.
  4. It runs the risk of demonizing people who do not deserve to be demonized. For example, it puts Louis CK at the same evil level as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. It puts a white Chipotle manager, who did her job in refusing to serve two black men who Dine & Dash, at the same evil level as white supremacists. Or it simply names anyone transphobic who believes gender dysphoria to be a mental disorder.

(I will stay on that black-white racial tension train for the remainder of this post). Black Americans are being duped by identity politics to carry a weight they are not meant to bear. Black minorities are being pushed to the front of the line [by other identity groups] as a plea for diversity & inclusion when ultimately much of what those groups truly care about are their own agendas. Racial diversity is just the ticket inside the door that, in left unmonitored, allows in other ideologies. People are prone to give in to accompanying ideologies that they cannot defend against for the sake of the continued validity of our own hopes.

What actually works as a solution?

Image: Chris RockWhite privilege is real. We may not agree on the definition – CNN, NAACP, and other sources may have different versions of the definition. It may not be quantifiable. However, it is undeniable that, historically and today, there exists some form(s) of white privilege. This does not mean white people are criminals. There are other forms of privilege that people of color have that white people do not. Our society doesn’t have  a white problem it has a heart problem. As Chris Rock said at the Oscars, “Everything isn’t racist, everything isn’t sexist.”

A true “solution” for racial reconciliation would be to aim for incremental [compounding] improvement. By approaching it incrementally we can more effectively defend away chaotic and unnecessary accompanying ideas that are not needed for the overall goal of racial reconciliation. Let me explain: There is a difference between a person who is a reformer and person who is a revolutionary.

A revolutionary person attempts change in an immediate time frame with little foresight and, in turn, risks damaging the world. A reformer sees a social problem and understands the complexity that fixing it will possibly take hundreds of years. The reformer understands the wise, loving, beneficial patience in an incremental approach. MLK was a reformer. In an increasingly impatient world, we do not do too well with reformers – their ideas take too long. Jesus and the Apostles were also reformers. The world did not treat them too well either.

The solution is a sacrificial approach. Jesus died on the cross for something He did not do. He died for us. For racial reconciliation we all need to be willing to sacrifice for one another regardless of who it is. Must me see all people are souls, not particular social group.

The solution is grace. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. For racial reconciliation we all need to forgive one another. It is wise to learn from history but we should not let history dictate our current emotions. All people should recognize the effects of history on people today and work through it for the sake of equality.

I recently heard someone say it like this when speaking on corporate repentance in the Book of Ezra, “Sometimes repentance is taking responsibility of sins past and present that are not your own.”

Jesus’ prayer is that we will be one. ONE. He said this because there is a spiritual war that is much more important than any societal or cultural war. It is by fighting the spiritual war together that we also have success in the societal and cultural wars.

The answer is simple in deed, yet complex to carry out. But the answer is good and worth the attempt.

 

Satire: Bye-Bye Christianity Hello Atheism (Part two)

I-Quit

Those crazy Christians.

I cannot sit through another ridiculous worship song – simply repeating the same words over and over and over again. How can I continue to associate myself with a people who rely on faith in a god they have never seen? The same god who is allowing the evil from Syria to North Korea to Chicago. These same people who cannot decide whether they love Donald Trump or hate him. The same people who have more denominational sects than the number of likes on a Kim Kardashian Instagram photo. Christians are too fickle to trust and their god is a borderline tyrant. Those crazy, delusional Christians. I am Team Atheist now!

I know what you’re thinking. “How do you know the atheists are right?” Well, good question. Off the top of my head I can give 3 reasons:

1.  I could jump on the giant shipload of people with the plausible claim that the Bible was tampered with by the Roman emperor Constantine and/or by King James for their respective political reasons. Now to be fair to Christians lets admit that the Bible is a collection of documents written in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), written on 3 different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), by 40 different authors over the span of 1500 years. Any tampering is extremely complex to pull off.

Not only that but if the Bible was tampered with then they did a terrible job. A good Bible tamper wanting to make Christianity more attractive would remove the part about John The Baptist getting his head chopped off. Also, why not omit the part about God lighting people on fire and killing evil rulers?

Strange thing is that all the older translations validate the accuracy of the King James version (because all translations are done by going back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts and creating the translation from there). In order for The Bible to be secretly doctored then the doctoring must be taken place multiple times over the span of 1500 years on 3 different continents in 3 different languages…all the while not getting caught. Did King James’ staff use their Delta Skymiles to secretly travel from Europe to Africa so quickly?

Ok even though the tampering argument doesn’t hold up I’m going keep faith that it is possible. Hence, Team Atheist!

 

2.  Many Christians today prefer to dodge “unnecessary” conflict by avoiding any discussion on whether Genesis is history or not. On the topic of the validity of the Creation Story, I’ll admit, being an engineer and an atheist simultanouesly would be a little tough for me to believe the Atheists. It’s a dilemma because there is contradiction there. Secular science claims that Genesis is a myth but then cannot explain how some things occurred otherwise.

For example, I have undergraduate/graduate studies in geotechnical engineering and coastal engineering – including erosion, scouring, and sediment transport. If you look at the remarkable layering of the Grand Canyon you will see that it is sharply cut out. Basic engineering law would say it is impossible for the Colorado River to have done this feat over the span of millions of years. Many geologists have finally abandoned this once agreed upon secular theory.

The soil layering upon the sides of the Grand Canyon would simply collapse as the soil and rocks slowly erode over time. Our beautiful world wonder would simply not be as majestic. The only way it is possible to explain is with the short time frame in the aftermath of The Great Flood in the Bible. But wait I keep forgetting, I’m on the Atheist Team now. Lets change the subject.

grand-canyon-02

 

3.  Before I get to Number Three I must admit that I am now laughing in my head. What is funny is that if the God of the Bible is not real, if macro-evolution is true, if the Big Bang is true and we’re all chemical reactions…then everything I think and feel is only matter in motion. Therefore there is no way for me to develop the reasoning needed to conclude which of my competing thoughts are true and which are not.

You see, the Big Bang developed an instinct in me. If I have Instinct A vs Instinct B, how can there be a third Instinct that tells how to pick better the two options? My fellow Atheists, I’m on your team but that is not how things work. The Big Bang cannot create a conscience out of meaninglessness to dictate our thoughts. 

bigbang

Not only that, but if we are meaningless matter floating in the air then we are predetermined in every way. Everything becomes subjective. The moment I make a truth claim (i.e. there is no God) then I am rising above the rules of subjectivity. Once this happens I directly violate that determinism. The entire thing is a made-up mind game that goes in an endless, backwards circle.

Ooooh forget it. Why am I trying to kid myself? I will quit being an Atheist now. At least I fought the good fight for a solid 2 hours. Being an atheist would be far too much mental denial for me. Atheism is an uncomfortable faith. Secularists assume the current scientific paradigm is true when historically we have always had scientific paradigms collapse. Science constantly changes on itself. But hey, maybe our known science today is 100% true for the first time in human history. That is a risky gamble to trust my life with though.

Ok I’m back on Team Christianity! You can call this sudden return an epiphany. Or…or maybe what it is is belief in something which my soul knew was true all along. Maybe this is Truth.

I’d rather go back to church and sing worship songs with my hands raised. As the great philosopher Brad Paisley once put it, “What if they’re wrong what if they’re right? Those Crazy Christians.”

On a similar note, there is an extremely great question we tend to ask – “How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil and suffering in this world?” Well, that is a discussion for a latter post. What a great God we have who allows us to search the mysterious wonders of his ways. As Ecclesiastes 4 and Hebrews 11 put it: Mystery is a prerequisite to Faith. And without Faith it is impossible to please Him.

 

 

A Man, Drugs, & Penn State Revivals

[The following is a true story based on events that occurred at Penn State during their Christian Revivals of 1980-1983. If you don’t believe me, look the revival up. This story was once told to me from the person who experienced it.]

fire 3

Yesterday was cocaine. Today is weed. Just an ordinary Spring day at Penn State when Mark and his friends would skip class to get high. They sat around the sofa stoned, laughing hysterically at the stories they’d tell of their latest escapades. Freshman year was a blast and sophomore year for Mark and his friends was a breeze.

One by one the guys left Mark’s dorm room as they wrapped things up. Mark remained on the sofa –  his eyes glazed, shoulders slumped, his head barely upright on his body. Somehow the drugs hadn’t reflected in his college grades. Mark was a decent engineering student to the point where it would be impossible to guess what was going on behind closed doors – or so you would expect. The year is 1981 and drugs are a normal recurrence with many students on campus. Buying a bag of marijuana was almost easier than buying box of pencils.

As Mark’s high eventually began to calm down, he realized that he’d soon have a choice to make. Up to this point Mark had done (and enjoyed) practically every drug except heroine. His friend Ashley was able to buy some heroine earlier that day and they planned on doing it together. They say, as Mark thought to himself, “Once you start heroine there is no going back.”  Nevertheless, he settled on joining her that evening. Since Mark could handle all the other drugs he concluded that he could handle heroine just fine.

Just before evening time there was a knock on his door. As he opened it he barely recognized who it was, but he’d seen them around campus before. They were two preppy-looking Freshmen guys inviting him out to a Christian gathering for later that evening. They added that there would be food and the opportunity to meet some new people as well.

[The odd thing about this occurrence was the rarity that someone would even come to Mark’s door about this. Percentage-wise, Christianity was not a big thing at Penn State at the time.]

Mark, extremely reluctant because he didn’t know much about religion, heard his conscious urge him to go so that he could get out of his heroine date later. After little debate, Mark decided to take a chance and go to the Christian gathering instead.

At the Christian event that very night, Jesus saved Mark and he began to believe.

In the days following, Mark went cold-turkey from all his drugs. He would still hang out with his normal crew of friends and just not partake in the usage. His friends didn’t mind. Sure, they thought it was strange, but it just meant more enjoyment for them.

When Mark wasn’t in class or hanging with his old friends, Mark now spent all his time swimming in the scriptures and going to the Christian events of that small campus ministry.

After about a month of being saved Mark and his two closest old friends took a weekend camping trip. That night his two friends pulled out some Crystal meth to use. They begged and pleaded Mark to join them. Mark initially refrained.

They reasoned with Mark, “Come on man, just this once like old times. It’s not fun if you don’t join us. You’ve gone a month without a high anyways.”

Mark eventually gave in. The three of them got started and immediately the high kicked in for each of them. Mark could feel the familiarity from the high that he used to feel, but something was different this time. It was as if his heart wasn’t for it. He began to feel his face melting, which is a typical reaction to meth. Mark glanced over at the flames from the fire pit and heard a distinct high-pitched, demonic laugh come out from the fire.

[To this day Mark believes that was Satan’s demons laughing at him as they realized they’d gotten one of God’s chosen to slip.]

Without delay Mark fell to his knees after hearing the demonic laugh. He began to cry out loud to God that he was sorry. All the while his friends stood enjoying their own highs. Mark cried continually asking that Jesus take away the high. After repeatedly praying aloud for healing…. suddenly…. the impossible happened…. Mark’s high vanished. Not only that, but Mark’s friends had their high abruptly taken away as well.

[You see, a Crystal meth high doesn’t just abruptly end after a few minutes. A Crystal meth high literally lasts anywhere between 8 to 24 hours and has a gradual decline of its effects.]

Knowing this from their past experience, Mark’s friends freaked out. They frantically asked Mark what just happened. Before Mark could respond his friends tearfully got on their knees and asked Mark to tell them about this Jesus he’d been following the past month. This same Jesus who Mark just prayed to who impossibly took away their high. What a miracle, what a God. Mark’s friends got saved and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord that night.

What happened the rest of the school year at Penn State was nothing short of a miracle. revivalMany other of Mark’s drug friends also became believers. There began to be a Christian revival on campus that year and subsequent years. Numerous campus ministries formed and each experienced drastic growth in numbers.

But for Mark, how long did it last? Was it just a little phase or spiritual high that Mark went through?

There are other spiritual stories to tell of Mark and his obedience to Christ. However, I’ll end with this: Today, Mark is pressing harder than ever into Christ as he wrestles for more faith as his wife of many years is now struggling with ALS. Both having a life lived well for the Lord, are now living life well through suffering. But still, the fight goes on. “It is the worst time and it is also the best time,” Mark says encouragingly.

Mark and his wife were asked, “If you knew what your life would hold, would you still choose it?”

Their reply – a resounding ‘Yes’.

Oh to have such remarkable faith.  The angels rejoice over Mark and his wife. For all eternity, we will celebrate.

“I’m a pilgrim passing through. We’re just passing through on this journey. I’m blessed that I’ve had such a wonderful wife all these years. Whatever God gives us today will be wonderful. So what about the dreams we had, heaven is so much better. It is said that it is better than anything I can hope for or imagine. And I have a pretty good imagination.” – Mark

Till We Have Love

This is my complaint:

Every beautiful strength has a hideous weakness. My brother, Mufasa, is truly a trendsetter of that adage.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. I have always wanted the best for him. However, the kingdom of the Pride Lands was turning into a nation bound for doom due to his weak incompetence. That said, I refused to call him King Mufasa as the rest of the nation does. I love him far more than any political title can represent.

My name is Scar; the younger sibling to Mufasa and frequently seen as the Ghost of Christmas Past in his shadow. Mufasa was always the “good” one in the eyes of others. He foolishly relied on his Faith. Even through it all, I was never jealous of Mufasa – to the contrary I loved him but simply disagreed with his ways of doing things.

Mufasa and I were inseparable growing up. Mother used to say that we counted on one another from birth. There has always been a joy-filled pride in me when it comes to my brother. I looked up to him. He was the fastest in the pack, he had the 2nd best looking mane (second to myself of course), and his leadership presence was quite satiable. Rafiki, who serves as shaman of the Pride Lands, spoke of Mufasa as, “Having a temperament rivaled only by the angels.”  But a boring temperament if you ask me. He’d always waste many hours a day staring at the distant mountain gorge. Foolish.

We had plans to rule Pride Rock together, but the political tradition of our nation put my brother as the sole heir to the throne. Before his crowning, I pleaded with him three times to instead fight with me so that we could rule together. This was for the good of him, me, and the kingdom itself. I failed miserably in my attempts.

Things worsened when his son was born. Whatever piece of intimacy our relationship had left was forfeited over to his investment in Simba, the next heir to the throne. That was the real day I lost my brother – not today.  I love Simba, but Mufasa needed a brother in arms not a little kid in waiting. See, Mufasa cannot sustain this nation without me. We are best when we have each other which, in turn, benefits society.

Therefore, I am writing this letter to you, Lord, with my fist raised. My complaint comes against you. Even though I have done nothing but serve and honor my family their entire life, they have given nothing in return but pain, grief, and destruction toward me. Even more scary is that it can affect the Pride Lands. You are a cruel God who must be blind to the needs of this world. I recognize that I am powerless before you, but if there is one thing I can do against you, it is to make my complaint known by speaking it to the nation.  

Before Mufasa fell to his death, I tried once more to reason with him. The plan was not for
him to die. To the contrary, you know that it was simply scarto scare him into submission. No one is at grief more than I. It was the hardest decision of my life. Even then you could have saved him but you failed.  What do you have to say for yourself?  You have no answer.


Dear Scar,

my name is Leo. I am a head angel in Heaven writing this letter to you on behalf of our Father God, our Savior Jesus, and The Holy Spirit.

We have heard your complaint in Heaven and watched your life long before receiving your letter. The Father watched your life even before there was a second of it. You are worse than you think you are, but you are more loved than you can ever imagine you are. There are many things that you will not understand, but I will try:

In one way or another everyone on earth is just like you. You are the bitter cynic who cannot possibly understand the love between God and his creation. None of you understand. Your perspective of the very love that you claim to have for your brother is infected by your fallen heart. We know you loved your brother. No one “on Earth” loved Mufasa as much as you loved him. You loved him overbearingly so.

The feeling that you call love has ended in the death of your only brother and the estrangement of your nephew. And now you put God on the judgement seat?

Mufasa used to wake up in the mornings and stare at nature. He’d think to himself, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing – to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from – the place where I ought to have been born.” Do you think it all meant nothing, all that longing

What do you long for, Scar?

The Mountain that Mufasa longed for was The Kingdom of God. The Mountain you long for is one of yourself. Without the Divine Love which comes from God, any other love become corrupted. Any other type of love turns in on itself and becomes narcissistic. For example, without the presence of selfless divine love, the beautiful gift of erotic love becomes lust-based and power-based. This is when so marriages break down. fourLoves

The “joy-filled pride” for your brother turned in idolatry. It grew to the point of wanting him to be at a height of perfection that is unachievable on earth. Mufasa was always destined to be crippled in your eyes, no matter what philosophy he followed or action he implemented. Your love of the Pride Lands and every living creature in it drove your fear into manipulation and control.

Instead of following the God that Mufasa follows, you created your own version of God that only saw life how you see it. You have a wicked heart. The nature of sin isn’t always the obvious bad thing. Sin can also be the internal twisting of good things by the heart. You would rather kill your brother than have him attain joy apart from you.


Dear beloved Leo,

Had I known before how the Angels watch earth, I would’ve shuttered at the very thought of an audience to my humiliation. I now see that it was not they who treated me so wrongly, but me who treated others wrongly. I am my worst enemy – Not anyone else and certainly not God.

All my life I doubted the validity of the love which comes from Faith. For now all I can tell, the only difference [between our love and God’s love] is that what many on earth “feel” we call a real thing, and what only one feels we call a myth. But things that many feel may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are felt only to one may be waterspouts of truth from the very depth of Truth.

Now I see well why God did not speak to me and used you instead. Till the true understanding of love can be dug out of us, why should He listen to the babble that we think we mean? How can He talk to me about love till he gives me His love?

God is the answer to my question. In front of His love, all questions die away. What other answer would suffice?