Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Best Christmas Catalog Ever

Every year around Christmas time, we get a catalog from World Vision. We get a lot of other catalogs, but this one stands out. For one thing, the photography is really good. For another, the stuff they're selling is totally great.

See, this catalog isn't full of new TVs or cute sweaters or baby toys or new cars. It's full of things like this:


Sheep are known to "go astray", but they are always worth finding! For cold, hungry families, a sheep's wool provides soft, warm, and long-lasting clothes. Sheep often give birth to twins or triplets, which can be sold at the market. Your gift of a sheep provides comfort and warmth, extra money, and nourishment.

Eye Surgery

This gift, given in your name through World Vision, will provide surgery to correct congenital blindness or vision impairment for a boy or girl in need. Soon, the eyes of a child in a country like Romania or Azerbaijan will literally be opened to the beauty of God's creation.

Now I don't know about you, but I think this catalog is a work of genius. I mean, it's pretty and the writing is nice, but the real power in it is that it forces our imagined altruism to go head-to-head with our consumerism. Once we've read this catalog, we can no longer tithe our tithe and do what we want with the rest of our money.

Thinking of buying yourself a few hardcover books? Instead, you could feed a village for a year.

Thinking of buying yourself a new computer? Instead, you could shell out that dough and help your son ... I mean, somebody else's son ... see a tree or a mountain or a ball for the very first time.

And the damage to our consumerism just keeps coming. The pictures in the catalog stick in our heads. So each time we think about spending a dollar on the movies or on a new car or on a fancy recliner, we're forced to consider what else we could be doing with the money ... and now that else includes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and ... dear God ... giving sight to the blind.

(You can find the entire catalog here.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Avatar Sneakiness

Today, I changed my Instant Messenger avatar - the little glyph that shows up when I send an annoying chat message. My avatar used to be the program icon for one of our pieces of software. Now it's a doodle I did in Microsoft Paint.

Pretty, huh? Before you go asking me what it is, take a minute to look at it again. What do you think it is?

Time's up! The answer is, it's a digital Ink Blot. You're supposed to tell me what you think it looks like, and I'm supposed to figure out what your interpretation tells me about the deep undercurrents of your psyche. Tricky, huh? A buddy icon generally gives you information about me ... it might tell you what I look like, or what cartoon characters I associate with, or how boring I am to choose a program icon. But this avatar works the other way around, and gives ME information about YOU! A testament to my own paranoia!

<insert diabolical laugh here>

Ok, so let's look at my first couple of victims and see how they respond. First, my unsuspecting wife.

vryhotwife: what's that icon next to your words?
studmffn: what's it look like?
vryhotwife: gray and white clouds. i can't see it very well.
studmffn: nod
studmffn: it's actually a kind of an ink blot
vryhotwife: hmmm.
studmffn: what you think it looks like is supposed to tell me things about you
vryhotwife: oh, and what did you learn?
studmffn: um
studmffn: i dunno
studmffn: what else do you think it looks like?
vryhotwife: um, a little bird smoking underneath a big tree trunk?
studmffn: now you're talkin'

Yes, she actually said "a little bird smoking underneath a big tree trunk". And no, those aren't our actual screen names.

I also got a good response from one of my work compadres:

reep: What is that?
studmffn: it's an inkblot
studmffn: sorta
studmffn: it tells me the deep secrets of all of my chatting buddiez
reep: Whew. I was getting nervous. It looked like a Communist Revolution to me.

Which, incidentally, reminds me of some scary things that have been in the news lately:

this (courtesy of reep, because I happen to own a copy of the Little Red Book, straight from the heart of Red China)
and this (courtesy of me, because the President is off his rocker)

But I guess it just goes to show: If you work for the gov'ment, you don't need inkblots. Heck, you don't even need checks and balances! And as reep pointed out: if the Prez is straight on this one, wouldn't it make Watergate legal?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Evolution and God's Love

Some Christians who reject evolutionary theory argue that it conflicts with their understanding of a loving God. Put simply, they think it would be unloving for God to create sentient life using such a wasteful process; one with so many "dead ends".

But this argument only holds if you think of evolution as a tool for creating homo sapiens. But what if you're a little more skeptical about the worth of human beings? I mean, we can be pretty nasty little organisms. And perhaps we too are a step in the evolutionary process. Maybe our current set of DNA has yet to be perfected, and God's Ultimate Creation is still waiting in the wings.

Given these uncertainties, it seems more convincing to argue that homo sapiens (while groovy) is not the only part of the creation that God really cares about. Instead of saying that evolution is wrong because it allows for "dead-end" species, we should say that God valued the extinct species just like he values their ancestors, and no part of the chain has been exempt from God's oversight and care.