Friday, July 21, 2017

Comfort Connection

We were built for human connection - person to person and face to face. But living in a bent and twisted world, those connections don’t always work well. It is not surprising, then, that many people run from true connectedness with others, and hide, whether in isolation, or alternate realities, often provided by screen technologies.

But we were not built for screens. It is not a meeting of souls. Oh, it can tickle the fancy or distract from the pain of loneliness or the frustration of people. But screens don’t heal or foster growth.

The apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth seeks to mend his connection with these people. The relationship has been bruised, and Paul is seeking to re-establish a connection that is distinctively Christian. This connection will not happen because they belong to the same political party or share the same hobbies. It will occur because they share the same view of the world that centers in One Key Person - in Jesus, God’s Son and man’s Savior.

The connection that we find in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 is a comfort connection. The word “comfort” shows up 10 times in vv. 3-7. It is a passage that admits that life is often hard, for you, and for me. And it is a word that assures that we each care for the other in the midst of life’s difficulties. Paul’s use of the word “comfort” assumes that it is something that we all need when experiencing affliction, and it further assumes that we are all better off for offering it to others. It is just a first step in engaging in face to face, “soul” encounters.

Again, many people avoid either receiving comfort and/or offering it. The reasons may be complex. But people, let’s be honest. We live in a broken world, and no one is a comfort expert, offering it perfectly. Only God has the resource to comfort from a bottomless heart and an endless love. And we only comfort well when we draw on this resource. And even then, I find that the self likes to get in the way. To coin a proverb: Don’t reject a kind word just because of bad grammar.

Comfort allows our relationships to be “buffered” rather than “brittle.” A “brittle” relationship is easily fractured. The slightest disappointment results in an unforgivable offense that ends the relationship, pushing the damaged psyche off into exile. On the other hand, a “buffered” relationship trusts in the good and godly intentions of the other person, however imperfect he/she may be, and accepts their care as a gift, knowing that the gift of comfort ministered from human hearts issues first of all from “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Algorithm

I was driving up north to Lake Ann for one of the quarterly board meetings at camp on which I’m privileged to serve. I listened to a podcast about artificial intelligence on the way up, and something he said caught my attention. The expert said that there are now boards of directors on which they are placing a robot as a voting member. One of the seats is actually filled by an algorithm. He (it) gets a vote - just one - but it is a real, participating member of the leadership.

The speaker said that certain algorithms are actually more skilled than people, especially in functions where non-emotional analysis is required. An algorithm can actually read an x-ray searching for signs of lung cancer more skillfully than a human technician. It is able to rapidly analyze each of the pixels of the photograph, looking at the picture differently than we humans tend to do.

Clearly this doesn’t apply to all roles that humans fill. Humans are better at considering situations from different points of view, and integrating ideas from a variety of disciplines. But, humans also tend to over-estimate their objectivity, and that’s where the algorithm shines. It doesn’t get bogged down in the emotions or subjectivity of a case.

A couple more things: Many such algorithms (robots) are now self-learning. That is, they analyze their own performance and the performance of others, and improve over time, rapidly, so that they write new algorithms that are better than before. They are self-improving, and don’t spend too much time denying that they have previously made a poor judgment, unlike you and me.

And then this: scientists are now designing “master algorithms” that are able to take the work and results of many algorithms with a range of responsibilities, and to unite them into a cooperative force that will address more problems. The scientists know that they will soon not be able to even understand all the conclusions that the algorithms will write. I guess we will then just have to trust them.

Other than looking around the room tomorrow wondering which one of us is really more algorithm than human - I had to wonder if God is not a little like the master algorithm - the one who is able to direct all that goes on from a superior position. But no, God is not a piece of code. For one, He is never-learning, in that He already knows all, and holds all knowledge at once. He does not figure things out, because He already knows. He holds secrets, but He also graciously reveals. And we know we can trust Him.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Fake Everything

We have heard a lot about fake news lately, and I am sure that some of it is true, on every side. Especially the weather. They seem not to have a clue. But that doesn’t stop the forecasting. But “fake” doesn’t stop at the news.

We live in a society that eats fake food. Do you disagree? Then tell me, what exactly is a gummy bear? Where does it grow? or, Where is it raised? Neither. It is manufactured. You may as well eat ball bearings. The manufacturers must say in their meetings, “Put enough sugar in it, and they’ll eat anything.” If it’s not real food, then it’s fake.

Or we try and supplement the fake food with nutritional pills - vitamin whatever. But studies show (if they are not fake) that what the supplements promise, they are not able to deliver. The nutrient might be there, but it doesn’t process properly; it doesn’t take. And so, it’s fake nutrition.

We send our kids to school to get a fake education. The ability to use and manipulate numbers and letters, let alone history, is down. The spending on sports is up. There is lots of sex education (fake-ly so-called), and seminars on bullying and self-control. But what exactly are the kids equipped to do, or more importantly, to think, by the time they graduate? They have a real diploma certifying an ephemeral education.

And then we see signs of fake faith. That is, faith espoused that is not lived; preaching that is not practiced. Religious practices that are done merely for show are evidences of a fake faith. Religious rites that are performed merely to make me feel better about myself are signs of a faith fake. Real faith believes in absolute truths, resulting in concrete behaviors that guide believers away from what God hates, and into what God loves. And God loves sacrificial service.

And fake faith is fed by fake preaching. It includes those messages that merely “tickle the ears;” that are in fashion and relevant. It is the preaching that elevates individuals rather than God, drawing a response of humility from individuals. It is the pitch that is designed to assemble the most people and collect the most dollars.

We are real people living in a real world with real souls. But with all the fakery that we produce, we find that, in the end, we have nothing that we can trust; no one upon whom we can lean. Jesus invited by saying, in contrast, “I am (that which is) true.”