Uncharitable

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 18 August 2018.

TV Guide“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

“A federal agent in Chicago hampers the work of an enterprising American job creator.”

Rick Polito has won his fifteen minutes of fame by crafting somewhat sardonic synopses of movies for newspaper TV guides. Sure, it is strictly accurate to acknowledge the above as descriptions of The Wizard of Oz and The Untouchables, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite fair. Funny, perhaps, but not fair.

Polito was doing it for humour, but we all tend to do it out of anger. People have this way of painting our opponents in the worst possible light, assuming the least flattering interpretation of their words and actions. It’s sad, because it doesn’t achieve anything - nobody is going to be persuaded to adopt your point of view if they feel they’ve been misunderstood and not heard properly.

And it has a terrible pedigree. After all, when Jesus turned up in first century Palestine, he forced people to a choice: would they believe he was the messiah God had promised, or would they condemn him as a blasphemer? The least charitable interpretation was the one that they went with in the end, and that ought to give us pause.

Thank God that things didn’t go according to our plan. Instead, born into a confused land, a young man died and rose again as the first person in a new humanity, and then teamed up with dozens of people to save more still!

Treadmill

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 11 August 2018.

Ant MillI confess I’ve never looked upon a treadmill with any enthusiasm; it’s always seemed like a necessary efficiency to me. But it does have a significant advantage: you can always get off and stop walking.

Army ants are completely blind, and navigate by scent. Chiefly, they’re actually following the pheromones of other army ants. And sometimes, this is a recipe for disaster.

If a column of army ants accidentally crosses its own tracks, then the lead ants will follow their own scent, and march in a circle known as an ant mill. They will march, on and on, until the whole column of ants dies of exhaustion. Their instinct is to follow the safe path that’s been taken before, and with every circuit, the pheromone trail gets stronger, and the endless walk appears safer than ever.

Ants  are, of course, incredibly social creatures. They cooperate intensively, and by necessity trust the whole colony to perform every required deed. Their strength individually is tiny, but when they work in concert they can achieve incredible feats.

They’re like us, actually. Our cooperative society has learned much and worked well for the good of humanity. But are we any good at spotting when we’ve trapped ourselves in a viciously circular argument? I can think of a few places where I know our society is digging deep ruts without any real grounds for taking a particular path.

Fortunately, our God can open blind eyes.

Auto-Motive

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 04 August 2018.

AutomatonYou may have seen the Scorsese film Hugo, or read the book that it was based upon, but the story is actually drawn from life. In 1928, a Philadelphia museum was given a fire-damaged automaton that the donors believed had originated in 18th century France.

A machinist employed by the museum carefully and painstakingly restored the machine, and when the work was done he placed a pen in its hand. The automaton then drew four different drawings and wrote out three poems. The last piece included a decorative note that identified the inventor as Swiss mechanician Henri Maillardet, who had built it in the 1700s. His ingenuity had enabled him to precisely store nearly 300,000 bits of data that were still there two centuries later.

That’s pretty incredible, really. We marvel at the achievement, and rightly so; Maillardet deserved the credit that he made sure we’d give him. Mind you, a child of ten could probably achieve the same feat, and without the grease and oil change. What’s more, they could even make up the poems and choose their own pictures to draw.

The God who made us so far exceeds our own ingenuity that it escapes our conception. Our humanity is not merely a pre-recorded set piece; we are self-powered, imaginative and amazing talented. And we reproduce ourselves.

This feat alone (and it’s far from alone) makes him worthy of praise. Our God is amazing!

To The Rescue

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 29 July 2018.

RostronA little-known detail from the Titanic disaster: it was very nearly so much worse. The survivors were rescued by the ship Carpathia, whose radio operator had completely missed the original distress calls sent by Titanic - they came in after he finished up for the night. As he prepared for bed, however, he switched on his radio on a whim and discovered what had taken place.

He rushed the news to the captain, Arthur Rostron, who immediately ordered a change of course, and sent the whole crew scurrying to be ready for a rescue mission. He and his engineer managed the ship’s engines so well that they had it moving 25% faster than its maximum speed. In a pitch black, moonless night, with icebergs known to be all over his route, he raced to the rescue. The risks were extreme, but Rostron, a devout Christian, didn’t hesitate. He had been captain of the ship for less than three months, but he knew exactly what to do.

Once all the orders were issued and preparations for the rescue operation were in hand, Rostron found a quiet corner and prayed. He would later explain the safe passage of his ship to the rescue site by testifying, “I can only conclude another hand than mine was on the helm.”

When we know of those lost in darkness, facing certain death, God’s people hurry to their aid. It might be costly and it’s never convenient, but how could we do anything less? After all: Jesus is the one we follow, and that’s the nature of his path to the cross.

Fading Glory

Written by Anthony Douglas on Monday, 16 July 2018.

Who would have thought that Roger Federer and Serena Williams could surrender so meekly in the space of a day? Two indisputably great tennis players, with the path to a Wimbledon trophy wide open, and both somehow failed to achieve what might once have been considered an inevitable victory.

It happens, of course. The greatest athletes eventually pass the peak of their ability and retire from the spotlight. We will have to see whether 2018 marked that moment for either of these two, but we know the day will come eventually.

It’s one of the inconsistencies of the way we view the world. We are unshakably convinced of the march of progress; our technology will improve, we’ll find cures for disease, we’ll harness new forms of energy. We’re an optimistic bunch. And yet at the same time, the laws of physics testify to the unstoppable winding down of the universe, and we see it reflected daily in the ageing of our heroes, and the constant chaos of our daily lives.

Second TempleSo what will last? Where should we place our hopes for the future? Jesus’ disciples drew his attention to the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24), and well they might have. The engineering was extraordinary; the building itself was a wonder. The Roman authorities testified that if you had not laid eyes on it, you had never seen beauty. And yet, as Jesus predicted, it was gone in a generation.

What will last? No - but who will. The Son of Man will return in glory, and he was the one to trust. He was telling them the truth, indeed.

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