Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Some great pictures by an amateur photographer living in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the city of my childhood.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Accidental world

A Baha'i friend and I recently met for dinner at an Indian restaurant, with a buffet straight from Vedic heaven. We talked about all the turmoil in the world and how we might, in some small way, mollify some of the pain and conflict around us. Most of the Baha'i faithful work for world peace. My friend supports the United Nations financially and believes that disputes between nations will one day achieve pacifism.

There are many reasons why I do not believe complete unity between nations will ever be possible; I could discuss theories of human nature and emphasize the inherent traits of greed and corruption and revenge and lust. Or I could make my point by addressing the limitations of living in a broken world of famine and drought and the innate drive toward self-preservation when one is threatened with extiction. I could make my case using Scripture, pointing to verses about the poor always being with us and reapers sowing and brothers against brothers.

My Baha'i friend believes that if the people of the nations somehow were able to really know the other, that this level of intimacy and understanding would solve most discord. Knowing is loving.

But I want to talk about accidents.

Suppose my Baha'i friend asked me to pick up his grandchildren from the airport. God forbid, but suppose, caught up in conversation, I missed the red light and his grandchildren were stripped from him. My friend then finds himself at a crossroads. Does he forgive and embrace me and we continue our friendship, or does he seek restitution, or even revenge?

Assume my friend chooses to 1) forgive me. Is it possible to return to the former level of intimacy? Or will the pain of loss prevent my friend from sharing the part of him that is so necessary for the transparency of friendship? Or perhaps my friend 2) cannot forgive me and breaks fellowship? Or maybe he now 3) hates me and seeks my destruction?

I assert that the loss due to accidental misfortune creates an impenetrable wall of sorrow. I further assert that this sorrow can only be consoled from without by He who heals. Therefore, it is only He-who-heals who can unite daughter with mother, son with father, brother with brother, wife with husband.

The greatest contribution I can make toward the reconciliation of the sorrowful is to remain receptive and vulnerable to the touch of He-who-heals.

"Blessed are the peacemakers."
"If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Quantum Physics and Spirituality III

At the risk of being tiresome, I am going to briefly summarize the physics topics covered each week so that we will remain on the same page. Or you can skip to the conclusions that we reached during the discussion by skimming down to the appropriately named heading - conclusions.

Last Thursday our DVD series covered the problems surrounding the calculation of the speed of light. (Not the speed it travels, but it’s relative speed.) Physicists at the close of the century struggled to determine what the speed of light could be measured against. Anyone who has taken an introduction to physics course knows that objects can only be said to be in motion relative to another object. The earth is in motion relative to the sun and other planets, a car is motion relative to the earth, a tennis ball is in motion realtive to the tennis court and the player, etc. But what is the motion of light relative to?

Aether(ether), theorized the physicists. Something must exist everywhere, on the earth as well as in the great vastness of space, that is static. Something that light is moving relative to. Otherwise light does not adhere to Newton's laws of motion. Therefore, physicists said, a substance - which they called ether - must exists. An invisible, unmoving substance surrounding all that is.

This theory held until Einstein sent physicists scurrying back to chalkboards around the world. That's next.

About half the group did not show up as Doug was away at a conference and, unfortunate as it may be, there is no discussion without Doug. At least not yet. Those of us who did show up fumbled with some of the ideas, but the discussion quickly came to an end, as George Costanza would say, "... of it's own volition." And so, as we await the return of author, speaker, pastor, blogger, physics discussion leader Doug Pagitt, I will address the comments of a certain Jon P., prognosticator extraordinaire.

Jon questions the scope of our knowledge compared to the knowledge of God. He also questions if more knowledge equals more love. (I hope I am representing his position correctly.) I agree with Jon that our knowledge is nothing more than a whisp of quickly evaporating smoke in comparison to the knowledge of God. God, claiming to be the basis of all knowledge, dissiminates such knowledge at his discretion and pleasure.

Jon and I are in agreement that more knowledge does not equal more love. I may pursue countless PhD's without ever gaining the knowledge, or love, of a child (or a mentally retarded person).

But our physics discussion does not aspire to acquire more knowledge, rather we hope to see hidden things anew by attempting to shift our starting-point.

We all have a starting-point. This starting-point - the intellectual, spiritual and emotional pad from which we launch - influences our praxis, that unreflective, habitual way of behaving. We engage the world, others and God based on this starting-point. Our behaviors spring from it. The very actions we put into practice in the act of loving God are based on it. If our starting point, for example, is justification by faith alone, we engage the world accordingly. If our starting point is tradition and iconoclasm, we act upon the world differently as well.

What is your starting-point?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Literary Journey

I spend my days looking for God in books. One of the first books that I can remember reading that impacted me was Holy Sweat, by Tim Hansel. I came across it recently and couldn't get past the first few pages. Here is a short list, in semi-chronological order, of the books that have led me to how I see God today.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Lessons from a Sheepdog, by Philip Keller
The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee
Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins
The Walk West, by Peter Jenkins
How Should we then Live?, by Francis Schaeffer
Money and Power, by Jacques Ellul
The Jesus I never Knew, by Phillip Yancey
Heaven - Your Real Home, by Joni Eareckson Tada
The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Portofino and Saving Grandma, by Frank Schaeffer
The Mars Hill Review - (postmodernism issue), Mars Hill Review
The Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Marie Rilke
Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham
Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott
Saints and Villians, by Denise Giardina
The Existentialist Posture, by Roger Shinn
Ways of Seeing, by John Berger
I and Thou, by Martin Buber
God in Search of Man, by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Is it Righteous to Be?, by Emmanuel Levinas
The Mystery of Being: Reflection and Mystery, by Gabriel Marcel
Waiting for God, by Simone Weil
Three Outsiders, by Diogenes Allen
Life with Picasso, by Francoise Gilot
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
Hey Nostradamus!, by Douglas Coupland
When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd
The Source of Life, by Jurgen Moltmann
The Conflict of Interpretations, by Paul Ricoeur
The Fratricides, by Nikos Kazantzakis
Silence, by Shusaku Endo
A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin
The Art of Listening, by Neil Pembroke
Malccolm Muggeridge: A Biography, by Gregory Wolfe
Jesus: The Man Who Lives and Jesus Rediscovered, by Malcolm Muggeridge
My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy
A Tragic Sense of Life, by Miguel de Unamuno
The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N.T. Wright

I am currently spending my evenings reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Complete Jewish Bible, a very interesting translation by David Stern.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Quantum Physics and Spirituality II

This afternoon Annie and I took Silvi to the park for her first solo on the swings. She loved it; her face broke into a huge smile each time the swing reached its apex and she experienced that brief moment of weightlessness.

Silvi was completely unaware of the physics involved during her time on the swings. She didn’t realize that she was proving Newton’s theory that the natural state of an object is to remain at rest unless acted upon by a force. Nor did she understand the reason she didn’t float off into space was due to the pull of the huge ball we call earth beneath her. She also didn’t realize that each time she passed close to the earth that she, too, was pulling this “ball” toward her, however slightly.

She just giggled and smiled her gummy smile.

I, on the other hand, understood at least the basics of the physics involved in the movement of her swing. Which brings me to my question: How did my comprehension of the physics involved in the operation of the swing influence my interpretation of that gummy smile?

We watched two more parts of the physics series at Doug Pagitt’s home last Thursday night; about a dozen of us, most in our late 20’s to mid-30’s crammed into his living room to watch a DVD of a professor walk us through the foundations of Classical Physics. We haven’t begun our study of quantum physics yet, as it is important to grasp the basic principles first.

Doug began the night by summarizing the purpose of the discussion. (I’ll paraphrase to the best of my recollection.) “There have been three major paradigm shifts in thinking and speaking about the cosmos. The first was formulated by Aristotle; his theories about the division of the heavens and the earth was the prevailing view of the universe until Newton provided a largely accurate description of the movement of planets and all objects on the earth. These scientific “laws” ruled until Einstein and his “Theory of Relativity.”

“The way we see our world influences the way we see, and speak about God. As science changes, so does our theological view and language. Because of Aristotle’s influence, the Church spoke of the God “up in the heavens” and humans “down here on the earth.” With Newton, the Church began to speak of the God of order, the God of absolute “laws,” and the clockwork universe."

"Einstein shattered this mechanistic view of the cosmos with his theories of relativity, and people’s perception of their place in the universe shifted once again. The Church however, has been slow to reconcile with these new findings, and continues to use Newtonian concepts to speak of God and the world.”

“The findings and language of quantum physics are poised to address the spiritual questions being asked today.”

That brings me back to my question: How does my understanding of the cosmos influence my relationships with those I love? My wife? My daughter? My God? If I had an Aristotelian view of the world, would I have interpreted my time with my daughter differently? If I had lived under the strict influence of Newton, would Silvi’s gummy smile have struck me more one way than another?

How much is my love for God influenced by my view of how the world works? And can I grow in my love for Him, and others, by studying quantum physics? Time will tell. Unless it’s all just relative.

Friday, October 07, 2005


A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce.

But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved.
Gabriel Marcel