Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sure footing in slippery times

Stocks in a tailspin every other day. Jobs in jeopardy. Home values slipping.


You can hear it in anxious conversations at the next table in the restaurant or around the coffee pot at work. It's not a hurricane of panic, just a rising tide of worry that relentlessly erodes our sense of security.

How can we stand? Where is the rock that provides stability in uncertain days? The Federal Reserve? A fat 401(k)? Family? Friends? Fate? Our own heroic efforts?

Those of us who walk the spiritual path are likely to respond that God is our foundation, our footing in slippery times. It's a matter of trust: We trust God to bring us through life's challenges. It's not that we expect to escape storms; we just rely on the promise that we don't navigate through them alone.

We trust. Or we try to, anyway. It's usually not long before we lose faith or patience and try to take matters into our own hands again ... with predictable results.

Much of our desperate grasping for security is an attempt to gain or maintain control over our circumstances. Ironically, giving up our illusion of control is the only real way to achieve peace in the chaos. It allows us appreciate the joys and opportunities of present circumstances, rather than living in fear of what lies ahead.

How do you cope with anxious times? What part does spirituality play?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Black holes and the gift of mortality

Have you heard the latest end-of-the-world scenario?

No, not another "Left Behind" book.

Think something more along the lines of Dr. Frankenstein's monster.

The world's most powerful atom smasher went into operation Wednesday, despite the fears of a few scientists that, when fully operational, it might create tiny black holes that could suck the entire planet into nonexistence.

Other scientists, including of course the more than 8,000 physicists across the globe who collaborated on the project, tell us to ignore the Chicken Littles. They appear to have science on their side, based on this article.

Still, it's hard to ignore doomsday predictions, however farfetched. So yesterday, when I became annoyed over a little matter, the Possibility of Imminent Planetary Annihilation crossed my mind. Then the microscopic black hole of "does this really matter if everything is about to go poof?" immediately sucked up the little matter, squeezing it into no matter.

Seeing the end -- even just a potential end -- tends to change your perspective.

And that, I think, is the gift of mortality. We know, if we dare to admit it, that our lives are short. They could end a week from now. Or tomorrow. Or today. If we keep this uncomfortable fact in mind, surely we are more likely to treat others lovingly, to forgive slights, to make the most of our time, to explore the big questions of meaning instead of sweating the small stuff.

The question remains the same whether the Large Hadron Collider destroys Earth in a few weeks or the planet gets a million-year reprieve: What will each of us do with the time we have left?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"The Devil ... no, my genes made me do it"

According to Study finds fidelity is in the genes, new scientific research shows that two of every five men lack the genetic aptitude for monogamy: "In other words, if a man's culture, religion and family background each have a seat at the conference table that determines his attitudes toward marital fidelity and monogamy, his genes might well sit at the head of the table."

I'm reminded of St. Paul's admonition to live according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh - although he had something other than gene variants in mind.

Does the study undermine the notion of moral choice? No, because inclination can't invalidate a promise. If someone vows to "forsake all others," then keeping that vow is the moral choice. The choice to remain faithful might be easier for some than others, but that doesn't make it morally optional.

Our genes -- like the culture and family we are born into -- are the building blocks of our life. What structure we build with those blocks depends on the choices we make.

So what do you think? Has "The Devil made me do it" been updated into "My genes made me do it"? Is biology destiny? How do you determine what is moral conduct?