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Low Tide & Wet Sand
May 2011 Olympic Wilderness Area on the Washington Coast
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Point Wilson Beach, Washington State, July 2010

Point Wilson Beach, Washington State, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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As humankind continues its exploration of earth and the universe it becomes more and more evident that our knowledge is infinitesimal compared to what actually lays before us.  Put in more simple terms, the more knowledge we acquire about the physical universe the more we realize what we do not know.  Our discovers, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, do not bring us any closer to an end of knowledge but only open the doors to other vast horizons of the unknown.

As we look out into space and get a clearer picture of distant galaxies, suns and their planets the more we realize that we really know nothing about what lies out there.  At the same time, the smaller we break down our physical world from atomic to sub-atomic particles the more we realize that we know nothing of what lies beyond our limits of present knowledge.  What lies beyond our human learning and knowledge is all mystery.  It is discoverable but it is still mystery.  It is the mystery of it all that attracts our desire to learn more about it all.

What scientists used to label as “simple cell” life forms is now recognized as highly complex organisms.  Looking inside their inner-working has revealed a whole world of biological machines within biological machines.  What scientists used to label as absolute and universal “laws of the universe” are now suspended in light of discovering places, times and mechanism in which those “laws” do not apply at all.  Science and math in recent years has taken us to places beyond human knowledge and understanding and left us with only theoretical questions marks instead of factual periods or exclamation points.  The more we learn, the more we learn what we do not know.

This becomes a problem for those who depend upon a world view that can be weighed, measured and calculated.  Scientific materialists (those who believe that all that exists – reality – is only physical material and that there is no metaphysical reality – a reality beyond the physical) either have to suspend their belief in an understandable material universe or they have to admit that human discovery will always be a finite enterprise.  As such, they dismiss mystery – the metaphysical – in their world as anomalies and focus, instead, upon what they do know and what they can explain.  There is no “mystery” in their universe, only the unexplained.  If this is the case, then they will always and forever have to live with the realm of the “unexplained.”

I really enjoy learning and reading about all the human discoveries.  I always find it fascinating.  I celebrate the discoveries that humanity has made about the universe and the world in which we live.  The journey of human discovery and the explosion of human knowledge in the last century have truly been mind-boggling.  The flexibility of humans to adjust and learn based upon new discoveries truly is amazing.  We are always learning and relearning.

At the same time, I celebrate the mysteries of the world in which we live and the universe in which it is set.  These mysteries point me to a metaphysical reality that will always be beyond human knowledge and discovery.  The complexity and the order of creation in its vastness and in its minuteness point me to something or a Someone that is larger and far more complex than what our human minds can understand.  I believe that mystery will always be a part of our human existence – however you want to discuss it or label it.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, philosophers then were coming to grips with the advancement of human knowledge and understanding about creation.  Ideas and theories about the make up of the earth, the universe, the human body and the relationship of all these things together were quickly changing.  Even then, some were beginning to realize that human knowledge and discovery would always have its limits.

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Nicholas of Cusa was one such famous philosopher during his time.  He is largely unknown today except in schools dedicated to his body of work or students of philosophy.  He was born in Kues, Germany (thus his name) in 1401 and died in 1464.  He played an important part in Christian philosophy and was an important historical figure of the church.  He was also well known for his contributions to theology, mathematics, science, and the arts thus making him a true “Renaissance man.”

After all of his astronomical learning, voracious reading and deep thoughts on every then known subject, he came to the conclusion of what he called “learned ignorance” or docta ignorantia.  This is the notion that the purpose of knowledge is to learn how inadequate all learning is when seeking to explain the unexplainable or the mysterious and so, God.  (His writings are still available today and prove to be some pretty thick reading.)  In other words, he came to the conclusion that greater knowledge will only lead to an understanding of how great one’s ignorance really is in face of the vast unknown.

In fact, in his view God was “the coincidence of opposites” or coincidentia oppositorum.  God is the ultimate Maximum and ultimate Minimum all at the same time; He embraces everything all at once.  From the smallest fabric of the physical universe to its utter outer reaches, God is in, over and above it all.  He is the mysteria that places before the human search for knowledge and understanding what is paradox and unexplainable.  Thus, the only way to explain “God” is in ultimate negative terms = in-finite and in-comprehensible and in-effable.  Thus, just as God is an infinite potential, so the universe is an infinite potential too.

Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy has been picked up and celebrated by a diverse range of world views from Buddhists to Animists to post-modernists.  Nicholas’ rejection of scholasticism as the “end all” for human knowledge and discovery is one reason.  This leads to a rejection of scientific materialism as well.  Another reason for their embracement of Nicholas is the affinity they have with his explanation and allowance for mystery or the divine in creation.  In fact, most of the world would be more in line with Nicholas of Cusa’s thinking than otherwise.

I make no claims to be a “renaissance man.”  However, I do read very widely and follow my studies wherever they lead me at a time. My curiosity has led me on many interesting paths of thinking and questioning.  Likewise, my undergraduate and graduate degrees with a heavy emphasis in theology and philosophy have caused me to focus on the big questions of life and existence.  As such, while I don’t agree with everything Nicholas of Cusa wrote, I cannot but help appreciate his view.  I find that it is not too dissimilar from one of the smartest men who ever lived, King Solomon.  Solomon pretty much came to the same conclusion that Nicholas did several thousand years ahead of time.

As humankind continues its search of knowledge and understanding, I do not believe we will ever come to the end of learning.  It is as infinite as God is infinite.  As such, it is also discoverable in the same way God is discoverable.  There is a place where the rational ends.  What is needed is the supra-rational.  Like Nicholas of Cusa, we may learn more today if we would be willing to move away from the Aristotelian-Scholasticism that has captured academic inquiry and human knowledge for the past 300 years and embrace a more Platonic approach which better allows for and explains the metaphysical realities we seem to struggle with and want to deny.

In all of our human learning and research, it may be time to admit to docta ignorantia – the science of ignorance.  It just may be that until we are ready and willing to admit that what we have learned so far has only highlighted our ignorance that we will not be able to lock the secrets of the universe around us.  Either way, the truth remains that there is so much more “out there” and there is something or Someone out there that defies explanation.  Whether humankind plumbs the depths of the sea and tiniest organisms or reaches to the farthest heavens, one thing remains certain: all we’ll learn is how ignorant we really are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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I have been a lot of discussion and debates recently over everything from religion to politics, from environmentalism to capitalism and beyond. It is very stimulating.  I always enjoy it when I meet people with opposing views who are articulate and cogent in their arguments.  The debate can help sharpen my own thinking or argumentation.  Sometimes, I even change my mind or at least give a little ground!

Not everyone is suited for these types of engagements, however. I find people from all across the spectrum of ideas, beliefs and philosophies who hold to ideas without solid reason.  In other words, they know what they believe.  They simply do not know why they believe other than someone else told them or they learned it somewhere.  For some, this causes them to dig deeper and search out answers.  For others, they simply blockade behind what they already believe and pursue it no further.

The intolerable ones in the public dialogue are always the ones, from whatever side of the issues, who are more concerned about being right than anything else. It is more important for them to be right than it is to respect the others differing opinions or feelings.  It is more important for them to assert what they deem to be the absolute truth than it is to mutually seek understanding and arriving at “truth” together with someone they started out in disagreement with in the first place.  In most cases, they may win the argument but they lose the battle.

The real battle in so much of our public dialogues of late is not who has the right answer but who can be the right person. Everyone thinks they have the right answers, whatever the subject being debated.  We witnessed this during the recent public health reform debate.  We see it in the discussion over financial reforms for Wall Street.  We hear it in the discussion about what to do with terrorists, or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or immigration reform, or drug control, or…well, you get the idea.

There are certain high profile individuals on both sides of any issue who think that shouting the loudest, more smartly demeaning their opponents or gaining mass agreement is all that is important to win the day. Once again, I am afraid the focus upon only winning the debate or argument will ultimately lose the larger battle of gaining common ground and understanding to build relationships and alliances.

Being right does not, no matter what one may think, necessarily guarantee one has the moral high ground if assertion of it only leads to hostilities and making enemies. One can be right in all the facts and wrong in every way.  However, being wrong in all the facts but right in one’s attitude and actions will, I am confident, ultimately bring one to the right conclusions even if their starting point was erroneous.  A position of being a humble learner of another’s point of view is not a position of weak acquiescence to their position.

I think this position is true in any number of relationships. For instance, should a parent assert their “rightness” over seeking to understand the position or thinking of their child?  I have been guilty of this – thinking that I must somehow convince them that I know better and that I know right.  I have discovered that sometimes seeking to understand their thinking and point of view become the bridge that convinces them that I am right after all.  In other words, being the right kind of person to my child is more important than always being right.

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

How many relationships have been ruined because individuals were more concerned about asserting the idea that they are right than they were about being the right friend, parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, etc to the people around them?  Constructive dialogue sometimes requires us to enter into the world and mind of the other person before we make them cross the bridge into ours.  Seeking to be the right person for what is needed to reach mutual understanding becomes more important than simply being right all the time.

This does not require an individual to give up what they believe to be a rational and cogent point of view. They do not need to adopt erroneous thinking or a bad idea.  It is possible to hold onto one’s position and still enter into another person’s thought processes to understand them and their reasoning.  This exchange does not necessitate a denial of what one’s believe is true.  It does necessitate an honest effort to understand others.

So, the next time you are faced with someone who does not see things the way you do, whether it is your child, co-worker, friend, relative or acquaintance ask yourself,Do I simply want to be right?  Or to understand and be understood?”  The answer to that question will determine the outcome of the discussion or debate.  What do you want from this relationship; to be right or to be the right person?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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It is part of the American ideal to think that “all men and women are created equal.” In terms of human value this is true.  In terms of human capacity it is not.  Every human person is unique in his or her talents and capacities.  Not everyone can be a LeBron James on the basketball court.  Not everyone can be a Warren Buffet in finances.  There was only one J.S. Bach.  There will only ever be one Albert Einstein.  There will only be one you or me.

Into human talent and capacity the good Lord put a lot of the right genetics into the right person at the right time. The famous runner Steve Prefontaine was made to run.  He had all the right biological equipment – heart, lungs, feet, legs.  A tragic death took him too soon from this world.  I ran cross-country in High School and did OK.  However, I never did as well as others even though I trained just as hard.  I played hours upon hours of basketball.  I never got as good as many of my peers.  I certainly was never going to be another Michael Jordan.  There is only one of him out of all the millions of kids of his generation who played basketball and the hundreds who even made it to the professional leagues.

We probably all have had an argument with our Creator at some point in our life where we wanted to know, “How come you didn’t make me like so-and-so?”  In our limited understanding, the world, or at least us, would be better off if we were like the one we idolize.  Almost all of us want to be Nietzsche’s “ubermensch” – superman or superwoman.  However, this mythical humanoid never existed and never will.  After all, human capacity is limited.  This is what reminds us that God is God and we are not.  There is no limit to God’s capacity.

So, in our minds and hearts we play to our fantasies instead of the realities with which we are dealt; at least for awhile. I have discovered that this is where maturity comes to bear in our lives.  It is the recognition and acceptance of our own limited human capacities.  This is no stoic acceptance of the death of dreams.  It is, instead, the embracing of our full potential and willingness to explore it to its very edges.

Granted, our cultural heroes can inspire us to greatness. But living vicariously through their achievements and accomplishments is not enough.  The “joie de vivre” is to attain to one’s own measure of greatness to whatever capacity that may be as an individual.  This is why so many of us are amazed at how some of the ordinary people in our lives become our “ubermensch” at the end of their life.  It is not until the sum of their life is put before us at the end of their life that we realize how truly great they were as a person.

Seagull Reflections, Long Beach Peninsula, Fall 2009

Seagull Reflections, Long Beach Peninsula, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus alluded to the human capacity in his parable of the talents. In the parable (Matt. 25:14 – 30), the master did not give everyone the same amount of talents.  Each was given what he or she could steward according to the wisdom of the master.  The only stipulation was that they take what they were given and use it to its full capacity so that when the master asked for an accounting of what he gave them they could show how it had been invested.  This is still applicable to us today.

The accounting of our human life is not going to be summed up in comparison with anyone else when we stand before our Creator. We will not be able to turn to anyone else and say to the Creator, “But I didn’t get as much capacity as her!”  We will not be able to complain, “Why didn’t you give me a chance with the capacity that he had?”  Instead, the Creator will look at us and ask, “I created you for this purpose in this place at this hour.  What have you done with what I gave to you to live and enjoy life to its fullest?”

The existential choice each one of us has is to determine to live life to the fullest within the measurements of the unique capacities we have or to spend our life decrying who we are not and what we do not have. This is why envy and jealousy is such a sin.  They not only attempt to second guess the Creator’s work and purpose, but it ruins the very one who harbors it.  Envy and jealousy paralyzes one’s ability to enjoy to the full extent what they have been given in life.  They destroy the full potential of the one who harbors them.  No wonder Paul warned Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).  Perhaps the apostle Paul in his old age knew by experience the damage envy and jealousy can do in one’s life.

I know that for my own spiritual journey, it has been liberating to come to the acceptance and contentment of what I have a capacity to do and what I do not have the capacity to do. This gives me permission to say “Yes” to the things that the wise Creator has created me for in this life.  It also gives me permission to say “No” without guilt to the things that the wise Creator has not given me the capacity to handle.

This is not to say that there are not times where He challenges me and stretches my capacity in order to enlarge my life.  However, these have been painful times and thankfully infrequent.  At other times, the Creator has placed me in challenging positions where I must depend upon the capacity of others – or completely alone upon Him – to see me through.  This makes me aware of my need for others in my life and my necessity to depend upon Him.  He did not create any of us with the capacity to travel the journey of life alone.

Joyfully living within the limits he has created me with allows me to enjoy life.  This kind of contentment with “life as it is handed to me” allows me the freedom to fully explore all that the Creator has created me with and for in this life.  Free from envy, jealousy, anxiety and perhaps even anger, I can discover what it means to be Ron Almberg “created in Christ Jesus to [do] good works” (Eph. 2:10).  In other words, it is accepting that “God planned for [Ron Almberg] to do good things and to live as he has always wanted [him] to live” (CEV, with my personalization).

So, you and I may not be the next sports all-star or the next American Idol. Neither of us may attain to international recognition for some scientific breakthrough, gaining the Nobel Peace Prize or appearing on the cover of Time magazine.  However, we are in the most important place in the universe – the heart and mind of God when He created us and set us in this world in our generation among the people we influence.  And He’s watching us.  Cheering us on.  Helping us when we ask.  Because more than anything, He wants us to reach our fullest potential/capacity.  Not only will it bring us the greatest joy – “joie de vivre” – but also bring Him the greatest glory.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Purple Starfish in the Surf, June 2003

Purple Starfish in the Surf, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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What Church People Learn – Part 3 and Conclusion

Part 3 and Conclusion –

Workable models and methods that transform lives and so transform communities are available all over the world. This is where the American church might be wise to humbly learn from her brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.  There are places in the world where the church is growing rapidly.  More important than just growth, however, is the transforming power the message of Jesus and the way of Jesus is having upon whole sub-culture groups.

This will require the American churches and their leadership to admit that:

  1. For the most part, what is presently being done is not working and is not sustainable;
  2. The American church no longer has all the answers to address the world’s problem;
  3. The American churched that birthed so much of the 19th and 20th century missions movements is now in need of missions help itself; and,
  4. Change must take place before the changes of our American culture make the American church wholly irrelevant.

There will be no one method or model that will work in every ministry context in America. The diversity of our cities and even our rural areas require flexibility and creativity.  Nevertheless, any method or model must answer a few simple questions:

  • Does this actually lead to obedience to the way of Jesus that will transform lives?
  • Is the reproducible from one believer to another, one church to another?
  • Does this encourage indigenous leadership, that is, does it raise up leadership from within the church instead of relying on leadership to come from outside of it?
  • Does this engage the larger ministry context of the community, town, or city and seek to bring transformation through Kingdom living and influence?  Or, in other words, what Kingdom benefit is brought to the surrounding culture?
  • Is it self-sustaining?  Or, will it burden the church with constantly “feeding the dragon” to keep it going?
  • Is it simple enough that children and young people will be able to communicate it and follow-through with it?

Much of the ministries in American churches today demand professional clergy leadership. On the other hand, in mission movements where the church is experience not simply growth but multiplication, there is not that luxury!  And yet, the church continues to thrive and grow.  Statistically, American church growth experts tell us that, overall, the higher the level of clergy education the less effective the church becomes (which will have to be a topic for another time).  I am not arguing for Scriptural ignorance, but simply pointing out that perhaps the way we educate and disciple is the wrong model and not working today.

Even in America, fast growing church that are effective in creating genuine followers of Jesus have learned to adapt and adopt many of the same methods used by missionaries and their agencies overseas.

First, they quickly embed new believers into the Body of Christ and a small group of believers to learn spiritual life through prayer, Scripture, worship and witness.

Second, they expect believers to disciple or mentor new believers and new believers to share their new story with unbelievers in their circle of influence.

Then, they look for radical obedience to the words and ways and Jesus and target those individuals to start new churches or lead small groups of believers.

Notice that all education and spiritual transformation occurs within the context of relationships, ministry and obedient devotion to Jesus.

Beach Pebbles, June 2003

Beach Pebbles, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Is this process messy?  It sure is!  But then, I’m not too certain that our current American models are any less messy.  We have just learned to cover it up, not deal with it, and sterilize the after-effects.  It is all about keeping up appearances for our professional image.

The New Testament church was very messy.  Amidst the rapidly growing young church, there were all kinds of problems.  (Read the New Testament letters to the churches!)  The apostle Paul did not seem to care if he made them public.  He asserted that dealing with disobedience publicly demanded proper reverence for the Lord, his church and those the Lord placed in authority over it.  At the same time, public affirmation and reconciliation, according to Paul’s methods, also testified to the restorative power of the message of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.

By depending upon professional clergy for every aspect of church movement and growth, what we have we taught church people?

  • Church people have learned that they cannot teach others unless they are properly educated and trained.
  • Church people have learned that they cannot lead others in worship unless they have the right credentials.
  • Church people have learned that only professional clergy really know how to pray.
  • Church people have learned that there only purpose is to support the pastor and cheer him or her on in her Kingdom efforts.
  • Church people have learned that ministry is what happens on the church platform, not what happens in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods or other gathering places.
  • Church people have learned that they cannot really understand the Bible unless they have gone to Bible School or Seminary.

I do not know any pastor in America that would say that these are the things that he set out to teach his parishioners.  It seems to occur by default simply because of the model for ministry we utilize and the methods we use.  I know for certain, in fact, that many, if not most, American pastors beat their heads against the wall because they see the effects of ministry presently and are frustrated by it.  Almost every church leadership person that I have come across feels trapped by the structures presently at work.

Perhaps what are needed in order to teach and train church people differently are new churches.  For myself, as I talk to pastors, missionaries and other leaders, I perceive that a church renewal or reformation is on the horizon.  I pray that the leadership presently in place in our American churches and denominations embrace it.  I pray that we will be brave enough to welcome the change into a new wineskin.  Hopefully, the result will be that we will give church people something different to learn.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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