Smile: the humanizing power of technology

Technology is an extension of the hands of man.*

We fight with our fists and by extension with bombs. We heal with our hands and by extension with scalpels. With fire we warm our homes and we burn villages.

The power of humankind to hurt and to help are magnified by the technology we create.  It extends our reach.

Recently, Listerine commissioned the creation of an app that allows the blind to “see” a smile. This is an example of how technology amplifies our humanity. And this is just the beginning.

Kudos to Listerine. Sure, it’s marketing. But isn’t it an advance when corporations, who are rightly motivated by profit, tap into the best of what makes us human rather than the most vulgar and vile? Love this.

Imagine: What might a future in which technology makes us more human look like?

*For more thoughts on the “new trinity” — biology, culture, technology — see Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future by Alex McManus.

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Fish populations change as ocean waters warm

NorthAtlanticFish

Marine ecosystems are changing as ocean temperatures rise according to Global Change Biology. Remember, when thinking about the future, it’s not what happens, but what happens because of what happens.

One example of “what happens because of what happens” is the overfishing of marlin and shark off of the California coast. That is what happened.

What is happening because of this?

The numbers of aggressive squid appears to be growing near inhabited beaches, making them even more dangerous for swimmers and divers. ABC News in Los Angeles, for example, reported an explosion in the squid population off the southern California coast.

What happens because of this? We’ll see.

But a possibility may be that swimmers may no longer fear the shark fin but fear the squid tentacle. Imagine this: rather than being attacked by a shark, a swimmer is dragged by the feet hundreds of feet under the sea until their ears explode.

Ok, enough Hollywood. Back to the warming waters of the Atlantic.

The consequences of warming waters is that fish accustomed to warmer waters are pushing into the North Atlantic. Will cold water fish like Cod disappear and be replaced by Sardines? And, the million dollar question, what might happen if this happens? The potential consequences are many and, as of yet, unpredictable.

The Culture of Blur

transgenderAccording to the Washington Post, On April 15, 2015, Sweden will add a gender-neutral pronoun to its official dictionary . That pronoun is “hen.” It turns out that the Swedish pronoun for males is “han” and for females is “hon.” So, while it’s unfortunate that it sounds like the english word for a female chicken, “hen” is not that far out there, if you’re speaking Swedish. The Washington Post reports that according to linguistic expert Sofia Malmgård,

“…the gender-neutral term can be used in two ways. “First, if the gender is unknown or not relevant (as in: “If anyone needs to smoke, ‘hen’ may do so outside”). Second, it can be used as a pronoun for inter-gender people (as in: “Kim is neither boy or girl, ‘hen’ is inter-gender”).”

We live in what I call a culture of blur, and this is an example. The culture of blur is an effort to erase boundaries and redefine reality. And this effort targets basic societal structures such as marriage, family, and gender. For example, when a child is born, most people across time and culture have been able to quickly and easily determine the “sex” or “gender” of the child. In the past, a doctor would happily announce the baby’s gender: “It’s a girl!”

Not anymore.

The culture of blur is a shift away from the vision of those who see the world in more  “either/or” terms. Those who inhabit the culture of blur, on the positive side, are often able to see invisible things others cannot see. On the downside, they are often unable to see distinctions visible to others.

In common usage, these two words (“sex” and “gender”) are practical synonyms, but in certain circles, these two words have come to have distinct connotations.  For many, the former is about biology and physiology and the latter is about social constructs and expectations.

In the culture of blur, this happy pronouncement of gender is withheld, even though the biological and physiological distinctions are clear. To announce a child’s gender limits the child’s future possibilities. After all, the pronouncement of physiological truth brings with it too many societal expectations which we are trying to rework.

If by “erasing gender” we mean an attempt to end discrimination against the female of the human species, this is a good thing. Will adding a gender-neutral pronoun work to reshape the human imagination about gender roles? Probably not much. Turkey, according to the Post, also has a gender-neutral pronoun. Nevertheless, the country was only ranked 125th in the 2014 gender equality report of the World Economic Forum. So it may not be effective, but it has good intentions.

But if by “erasing gender” we mean, an attempt to mask difference, then it may be well intentioned but evil. It may make some adults feel better but confuse everyone else (worst of all children). Yes, gender expressions can be varied. Females can be “masculine” and males can be “feminine”. But are not the vast majority of these expressions that run along the spectrum of “feminine to masculine” launched from the basic binary platform of male and female? When we begin our human experience, we are either male or female and that should be celebrated.*

The Shift: from distinguish to blur

Have you heard of the old book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus?  It came out in 1992,  sold some 50 million copies, and remained on the bestseller’s lists for over two years. The book’s premise is that most relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the genders.

Key word here: difference.

This book signifies the formerly and widely held point of view: men and women, boys and girls are different. The content of most marriage conferences and seminars I’ve attended have been based on the same premise.*

Not in the culture of blur. strongwoman

Rather than basic difference, blur sees a spectrum of possibilities for each person. So, rather than categorize a child at birth according to the visible biological truth, let’s let them develop apart from the gender biases that are part of the world and allow them to explore how they fit into the world in a more neutral environment. It prioritizes potential gender “expressions” over the existing binary physiological gender. It underplays physiological gender to the point of making it invisible.

But is propagating an untruth the best way to raise awareness of a truth?

In the past, the basic differences were assumed. Today, in 2015, if you’re going to lead a seminar on dating or marriage, before you can begin to unpack the differences between men and women, you may need to make a case that there is, in fact, such a thing as men and women. If, in fact, there is. I recognize that gender-neutral language is about more than societal expectations for women, but that is where I want to begin. I’ll touch on other issues in a later post.

Sweden and the hen

In Makers of Fire, I include a list of descriptors that point to things that are happening in our world right now. One descriptor, already mentioned above is ERASURE. Another descriptor of the present is SPEED. The Washington Post article tell us,

“Over the last few years, the word ‘hen’ has more and more found its way into the Swedish language,” Malmgård told The Washington Post.

Five years ago, barely anyone in Sweden was aware of the word. The decision to now include ‘hen’ in the authoritative SAOL dictionary is expected to facilitate an even more frequent use of it in everyday conversations. 

Five years. How did this happen so quickly? Again, according to the Washington Post article:

According to experts, the ‘hen’-revolution in Sweden has two primary origins: LGBT groups have promoted the pronoun as a way to raise awareness for their cause. However, support for the idea has also come from a more unexpected side: Nurseries, kindergartens and preschools such as Egalia increasingly argue that the pronoun’s usage allows children to grow up without feeling the impact of gender biases. “The public debate over the pronoun actually only started after the publication of the country’s first gender-neutral children’s book”, Lann Hornscheidt, an professor of Scandinavian languages and gender studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University explained.

In terms of speed, I anticipate that the rate of social change, say for example in the concept of marriage, will move quickly from traditional marriage, to 20th century love-based marriage, to gay marriage, to polygynous marriage, to communal marriage, to interspecies marriage, to organic and robotic marriage. Once romantic love became the basis of marriage within a culture, there is very little, aside from some radical disruption, to stop these developments. (Some of you will think, relationships with robots? But, if we are losing the ability to see the distinguish between male and female, why do you believe that we will be able to maintain a distinction between the organic and the synthetic?)

  ARE WE A BINARY SPECIES? 

And here we reach a point of tension. The Washington Post reports:

To Hornscheidt, the popularity of ‘hen’ has not come as a surprise. “The introduction of a pronoun which challenges binary gender norms has been an important step, following a more thorough debate over the construction of gender within the last 10 years,” he said.

The Berlin-based researcher nevertheless cautions that simply introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in other countries may not be sufficient to fight sexism or gender-biases. 

owlyingandyangBe sure to take note: this pronoun challenges binary gender norms. These binary gender norms come from at least two sources.

A basic description of binary reality given to us in the poetic truth of scripture is that God created humankind male and female. I am not saying that binary gender norm is true because the Bible says so. I’m saying exactly the opposite. The Bible has this description because that is what we see out there. This leads us to the second source.

The evolutionary wisdom of natural selection brought us to this point. The binary coupling of male and female is how our species survives in nature. Any other couplings are evolutionary deadends. That’s a binary model of human kind.

How important is this? It depends on whether you want clear vision or not. We must challenge and topple ideologies that depreciate the value of the female.

After all, this is the most startling thing about the binary description of humankind in the Genesis chapter one. The male and the female are both essential to the image of God in humankind. There is no hierarchy in this image. If this is what we mean by a binary “gender” norm, then we must champion these kinds of changes in language. Must. This is a global battle and, I am convinced, it is the trajectory of the biblical narrative. This means using language, as in Sweden’s case, to highlight how our social constructs and cultural assumptions may limit the possibilities of women worldwide.

In other words, the difference between men and women may not be the differences we have created. Many of these socially constructed expectations limit the full potential of our girls. At the same time, we must not mask the reality of difference in the binary or we will create an unhealthy future.

Rather than erase the biological platforms we each receive, we must celebrate them.

At the same time, we must recognize the ways in which our assumptions, language, culture, and even biology often create systems that depreciate women, human uniqueness, and radical otherness. The question becomes how do we BOTH topple the global oppression of women and champion their value as women, AND still recognize and celebrate the distinction.

Gender-neutral pronouns are an attempt (however futile) to remove the invisible limitations of expectations, social constructs, and cultural morays, but may be prove just as harmful to our ability to see the reality that is visible.

Strange, isn’t it? We live in a culture that wants us to see invisible realities clearly and at the same time seeks to blind us to visible realities. I wonder if we can be open-eyed to both. My question is, Will Sweden’s experimentation with our children one day be considered abusive, irresponsible, or just a harmless eccentricity? My bigger question is, Will the global human community one day so recognize the valuable and indispensable treasure of the female that it will loudly, proudly, and happily announce, “It’s a girl!”, without suppressing anything and everything that a girl could become?

What do you think?

_______________________________________________ 

*I recognize that there are rare cases in which the gender is observably ambiguous. This is the exception that proves the point. *While it’s important, I think, to maintain the difference (singular) between the female and the male and sustain the binary and complementary image of the Genesis narrative (and of nature with regard to the evolution of our species), it is also necessary to acknowledge that the differences (plural) we often see are social constructs. Men and women are not equal in the sense that they are interchangeable. But both are necessary to the image of God in humankind.

Yogaphobia

Catholic priests, according to Andrea Jain of Indiana University, are warning the flock about  the “dangers” of yoga. Many evangelicals have been doing this for as long as I can remember.

As I stated in Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future, an essential aspect of leading from the future is the capacity to fearlessly describe the present. And so we must ask, what’s going on out there?

  1. Are the practices of other religions dangerous to Christians?
  2. Can these practices be separated from the religions in which they developed?
  3. As our culture becomes more pluralistic, what is our view of the religions themselves?

As I look around our culture, It’s obvious that the practice of yoga has become ubiquitous. Yoga pants are everywhere. And we as a culture are becoming more Buddha friendly.

But what is the greatest danger: Yoga or what we westerners will do with it?

I think that the practices of other religions are in danger of the American genius for branding and marketing everything. We will take almost anything and figure out a way to sell it and turn a profit.

Doesn’t matter what it is — Yoga, Meditation, Martial Arts, Breathing –we will market it and figure out a way to monetize it.

I think we should warn the world religions of the dangers of exposing their practices to America.

I have to interrupt here with a personal note:

I take this stuff seriously. I made a turn towards Christ through a deliverance from evil. That came as a surprise to me since I didn’t believe in “deliverances from evil” or Christ, for that matter.

So, I write this as someone who was a nonbeliever and is now on a journey towards faith in the God of Jesus. I sometimes joke that I am an atheist who is still surprised by his own conversion. And that’s no joke. (And, for an excellent complementary read, check out the excellent article on Yoga spirituality for Atheists).

Ok, back to yogaphobia.

The Christian practice is to take pagan things and give them new meaning. For example,

  • the pagan festival celebrating the Sun (Dec 25) and
  • the celebration of the goddess Eostre usually in April

We baptized these pagan celebrations with the new meaning

  • incarnation (God’s self giving) and
  • resurrection (the new creation)

Then we modern, free market, capitalists empty the newly baptized pagan practices, rebrand them, and market them:

  • Christmas…the perfect time to give (thus, black Friday) and
  • Easter… the perfect time to get a new outlook (thus, new dresses, bunnies, chocolates, spiral ham).

loveWe need not wonder whether yoga, meditation, and Indian head rubs can be detached from the religions that spawned them. We have proven within our own experience that religious practices can be emptied entirely of meaning and detached from the religion within which they developed. We did it with Christmas and Easter.

I think we have also started to make a case that religious practices can be dangerous to Christians –Christmas and Easter are two prime examples — because, even if they are detached from their original meanings, we infused them with new meaning. Why? Because the human is a religious animal, a meaning seeking creature.

We live in a complex world. We may take up meditation, dabble in buddhism, and become more peaceful. We may start going to church and become more hawkish, more martial. A good friend of mine testifies that using LSD in the 60s opened him up to Jesus Christ later. Not everything leads us in the direction we expect.

So, while Catholic exorcists are claiming the devil does yoga (and they may be right), I would add he also does Easter. And while priests are warning that tai chi endangers the soul (and it might), I would add so might Christmas.

Again, remember my personal note. I do think there are spiritual dangers in the world. Secularism, humanism, and atheism are clueless when it comes to evil. These world views are not good guides here.

According to Andrea R. Jain, Assistant professor, Purdue University:

At one Jan. 9, 2015 morning mass in the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City, the Pope spoke of that day’s gospel reading, and mentioned that only the Holy Spirit could open peoples’ hearts and free them to love, no matter how many catechism courses, spirituality courses, zen courses or yoga courses they took.

Now, I like the new Catholic Pope named Francis. I recognize that he tends to be a person of the “Left” intellectually and politically. (That’s pretty predictable for a latin american intellectual). Still, I think he’s spot on in his comments about connecting to God.

But some misquoted the Pope as saying that yoga would keep people from God. That’s not what he said. He includes Catholic catechism in his list of things that cannot do what the spirit does!

I agree with the Pope here. Only the spirit of God can liberate the heart to love.

Now I have to say that a much younger version of me would probably not trust today’s version of me. As a new believer I warned against Halloween, Easter bunnies, and Christmas trees because of their pagan origins. Today, I exploit whatever raw material is available to introduce the new meaning Christ brings. I was against anything that smelled of nonChristian religions such as buddhism, hinduism, or islam. Yoga was demon worship. Tai chi was invoking ancient spirits. Martial arts had the smell of ancestor worship. Today I appreciate the physical and mental health promoted by these techniques. The bigger shift was that I very quickly began to sense that Christianity presented as much or more of a danger to us than the “foreign” religions.

But, even though I am more open than ever, I do sense that we are in constant danger of being seduced by evil. Yogaphobia, for example, is a form of xenophobia, fear of the stranger. Xenophobia is an ancient evil. I argue in Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future that, according to the scriptures, God is on a mission to eradicate xenophobia from the face of the Earth.

So, these Catholic priests may be stereotyping a practice when they should be teaching both the commonalities and distinctions between the Hindu and Christian worldviews.

For an example of how to do this with emotional and cross cultural intelligence, check out the Mosaic teaching series, The Truth Between Us, by Erwin McManus. (Podcast available on iTunes). This series touches on the truths shared in common between Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, Catholicism, Judaism, Scientology, and Mormonism. Here’s a link to the episode in the series relevant to yogaphobia, The Truth Between Us: HInduism and Christianity. The content is great, but the deep learning in the series is the emotional and relational intelligence that Erwin models for the Mosaic congregation. Listen to the whole series and let the attitude roll over you. You’ll experience the qualities that we must cultivate if we are to lead from the future.

The secularist press derides the Catholics for this “ridiculous” fear of yoga but we must remember that as secularists and atheists we know nothing about evil. This is a moral category that doesn’t fit well in these world views. As a result, the Catholic priests are way more right than the secularists here.

The Catholic priests have knowledge. They know that there is an evil waiting to pounce. They’ve just misunderstood evil’s ubiquity.

Evil is not lurking in the other religions –or in yoga– waiting for opportunities to enter our religion. Nope. Evil is already at home here. It is among us and available to us in our own practices. And “they” are in as much danger from “us” as we are from them. It is a distraction to point to the evils that may jump on us through yoga.

Sundays – a stunning short film

Mischa Rozema released his stunning 14-minute science fiction short film last Monday and created a three-studio bidding war between Warner, Sony, and Fox. By Friday Rozema had closed a deal with Warner. I find it visually compelling.

This narrated short film has to me the feel of the Matrix, The Adjustment Bureau, and Inception. Enjoy this short and let it feed your imagination. When the feature film comes out, you’re going to want to refer to it because a lot of the people in your audience will have seen it. Enjoy.

SUNDAYS from PostPanic on Vimeo.

Reflections on Easter — Where is the other guy?

REFLECTIONS ON RESURRECTION FAITH

What Happened to the Other Guy?
He Qi is one of the most popular modern painters of religious themes. Here a triumphant angel announces that Christ has risen, conquering the demons of darkness who now flee from him. The women have not yet woken properly, and seem unaware of what has happened. They still mourn, but the angel is telling them that the time for grief is over.  Instead of the unfurled military-style banner often held by Christ in earlier paintings, He Qi's angel carries a luminous lily, sign of purity and peace.

He Qi is one of the most popular modern painters of religious themes. Here a triumphant angel announces that Christ has risen, conquering the demons of darkness who now flee from him. The women have not yet woken properly, and seem unaware of what has happened. They still mourn, but the angel is telling them that the time for grief is over. Instead of the unfurled military-style banner often held by Christ in earlier paintings, He Qi’s angel carries a luminous lily, sign of purity and peace.

Jesus was crucified, according to Luke, along with two others.
One of these men mocked Jesus. “If you’re the messiah, save yourself and us!”

The other defended him: “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus turned to him and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The modern imagination conjures up all kinds of scenarios about what this means. One of these scenarios is that they both went to heaven when they died. The two crucified men ended up together in Paradise, then, now, and forever, amen.

But then we turn the chapter in Luke’s gospel and find that on the third day after Jesus’ death, Jesus appears to two men who are walking towards a small town called Emmaus.

Of course, we’re so startled by the appearance of Jesus that we forget the other guy. You know, the guy Jesus took to paradise with him. Shouldn’t he be happily tagging along behind Jesus?

No.

Something happened to Jesus that did not happen to the other victim of crucifixion. Jesus experienced resurrection.

Sure, the other guy may have been experiencing life after death, something we know little to nothing about. But Jesus had gone another step further. Jesus was experiencing, in the words of NT Wright, life after life after death. To be more specific, Jesus was experiencing resurrection life (a fully embodied and physical life) after the life (about which we know little to nothing) that comes after death.

This is so important as we approach Easter Sunday– the one Sunday a year in which we remember the reason we gather all those other Sundays.

We don’t gather because Jesus’ spirit goes on. (Insert Titanic musical theme here).
We don’t gather because Jesus went to heaven (or paradise) when he died.
We gather because we ride the wake of the most surprising event in the history of our species: a resurrection, a physical, fully-embodied, historical defeat of death that anticipates the resurrection of all.

It isn’t that Jesus is alive after death.
That’s not resurrection.
That’s not the gospel.
It’s that he defeated death and was bodily raised.
He’s not “alive” where he’s supposed to be… that is, in heaven or paradise or anywhere where the dead are suppose to go.
He’s back. Not his spirt. Not his ghost. Him.
That’s the news.

That means the powers that rule this world are in danger because their
ultimate weapon, death, is defeated. Resurrection faith does not claim the next world but concedes this one. Resurrection faith believes that the powers of evil in this world can be opposed. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus means that they don’t get to keep this world.

This “religion” is not an opiate for believers. It is a mortal blow to the powers.

The resurrection means that this world has been taken from the hands of the powers of darkness – demonic, governmental, economic, religious, societal or otherwise. We are now traveling towards a future in which the meek inherit everything.

Yes, the future. That’s where the resurrected Jesus comes from. He comes to us from the future, God’s future. God’s future is not made up of disembodied spirits or souls living in heaven, but of an integrated new creation, a new heavens and new Earth become one.

So back to Luke’s story.
The other guy from Luke’s story, the one who was promised paradise?
He was not tagging along with Jesus on the road to Emmaus because he was not yet raised.

At best, he only had life after death. Meh.
He awaits his resurrection, as do we all.
He’s in the parenthesis, in the midst of transition, as are we all who are in Christ.
He is, as are we who believe, in heaven.

But, Jesus is raised to Life from life after death by the power of God.

What do you think?

Alex McManus
Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

Series Blurb…
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.

Retro Posters about Future Vacation Possibilities

Kepler_16b_20x_30

Download the posters from JPL.
My friend, Joby Harris, created some beautiful posters for NASA to mark the discovery of habitable worlds.

From the CNN source:
These posters mark the discovery of potentially habitable worlds.

“Rendered in the retro style of classic travel billboards of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the posters depict these distant worlds as pleasurable destinations.

The image for Kepler 16-b — previously compared to the fictional “Star Wars” planet of Tatooine because of its dual suns — shows a space-suited figure basking in the light from the twin orbs overhead.

“Relax on Kepler 16-b,” the poster says. “The land of two suns … Where your shadow always has company.”
HD_40307g_20x30Although the planet is depicted as a rocky, terrestrial world, NASA says it could also be a gas giant like Saturn with freezing temperatures that would make it hostile to known lifeforms.

A second poster shows an astronaut free-falling to experience the powerful gravity over HD 40307g, a “Super Earth” 44 light years — or 264 trillion miles — away.
Another sunny day on Kepler-16b.

The third depicts Kepler-186f (even further away at 500 light years) with a scene of red trees held back by a white picket fence.
Kepler_186f_39x27The planet has been previously described as “Earth’s cousin” because it’s similar in size to our own world. Because it orbits a cooler, redder sun there’s speculation that if plants did grow here, they’d be a different color to our own vegetation.

Where the grass is redder

“Kepler-186f, where the grass is always redder on the other side,” the poster’s slogan reads.”