Saturday, July 20, 2019

Apollo11


If you are an Apollo 11 nerd like me, you will want to check out a new website created by Ben Feist, a Canadian “software developer and spaceflight data visualization researcher working with NASA.”[1] The site called, “The First Landing on the Moon, Apollo 11, Real-Time Mission Experience,” is a treasure chest of audio clips, photos, and live data of the Apollo 11 Mission. This was the mission which resulted in the successful moon landing and return to earth of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Michael Collins flew the command module in orbit around the moon while other two men made the historic landing, set up experiments on the moon, and brought back rock samples.

By now, most of us will have seen a reminder of the July 20, 1969 landing in some form of media, and CBC has done a great job of retelling the story on their news site. If you want to go deeper and relive the excitement, anxiety, mystery, and joy of humanity doing so much with so little and making it possible for two men to leave footprints on the moon, spend some time on Ben Feist's remarkable website. Only the biggest Apollo geeks (I may be in that category) will enjoy hearing the exact pitch, trim, and roll of the linked Command Module (CM) and Lunar Module (LM) as they came out of radio silence on the far side of the moon, but others will appreciate the radio signals between the astronauts and Ground Control in Houston as they established a secure voice link by switching from one antenna to another. The care and detail of each team is evident as everyone works to get everything just right for the separation of CM and LM and the eventual landing of the LM.

There are also humorous moments in which the NASA crew on the ground joke with each other and challenge each other to rise to the immense discipline and hard work required to make everything function just right. The attention of thousands of people made it possible to do what three men accomplished in orbit around and on the surface of the moon. One of the most striking elements of the audio tapes is the calmness with which every command is given and received. At one point, we hear Houston say that they want to make a correction to data they had previously given. “We made an error on those coordinates. We'd like you to load for latitude in a NOUN 89 plus 01 243, longitude over 2 plus 11 844, altitude minus 001 46 as shown in the Flight Plan. Over.” Collins replies in a calm voice “Okay, Thank-you.” There are many more examples of real-time problem solving that occurred at every stage of the process. One gets the impression that the entire operation was highly disciplined and polished to perfection.

There are amazing full-colour and black-and-white photos associated with the audio transcripts that allow one to have a sense of what the astronauts were seeing as they worked on the details of the landing. There is video of the Houston Control Room where we can see Flight Director Gene Kranz smoking a cigar as he awaits the undocking of CM and LM. The actual landing is shown in detail and we see Armstrong testing his ability to step onto the surface and making sure he can still get back onto the LM steps before he makes his momentous official first words from the surface.

As I write these words, I have the Mission Control audio running in the background. It is almost like experiencing the landing first-hand fifty years ago today. Thank you, Ben Feist, for once again inspiring my imagination. Thank you, NASA for inspiring all of humanity with this remarkable feat of engineering on July 20, 1969.



[1]BenFeist.com blog site, 2019-07-20

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Legacy of George MacDonald

 
Our Lead Pastor Steve McMillan quoted George MacDonald this past Sunday. This reminded me of a few other MacDonald quotes. If we look past the male oriented language of the day, there are some good insights here.

"To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved."
— George MacDonald, Author of The Princess and the Goblin.


“Ere long, I learned that it was not myself, but only my shadow, that I had lost. I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood.”
― George MacDonald in Phantastes.


“Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business, namely, his own character and conduct.”
- George MacDonald in The Hope of the Gospel.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Writing as Education

 
“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” 
― Anne Lamott

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

That Sunday Evening


That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:19-22 (New Living Translation)

John’s Gospel tells us how it was the evening of resurrection day. Some of the women had told the other disciples a wild story that Jesus had come back to life. These followers of Jesus, in a locked room, were trying to believe the story but they just couldn’t shake the fear. What if the Jewish leaders started rounding up those who had followed Jesus? What if they put each of them on trial like they did Jesus? Jesus was crucified. They saw him dead, not mostly dead, really dead. What would the soldiers and religious leaders do to them? They made sure the door was closed and bolted from the inside and prayed like crazy. This atmosphere would have created a strong desire to pray.

Suddenly, Jesus stood right there with them. John knew right away it was Jesus, but how did Jesus get into the room? You know that startled feeling you get when you don’t hear someone coming and suddenly they are there? I think that is how John felt. “Oh I didn’t hear you come in. Wait, how did you get in here? I thought we had the door locked. Who let Jesus in?”

I can just see Jesus smiling and saying, “Peace, man.” Okay, or maybe more like, “Peace be with you.” The Old Testament version of this greeting is “Shalom to you” and it was an everyday greeting, but here Jesus has loaded this word with theological significance.

The Hebrew word, shalom, refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ … Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.”[1] 

Jesus indeed brings Shalom to his followers. He reconciles all things to God. He is reconciling his followers to God and he wants his followers to be at peace. He shows them his hands and his side, to display to them that his wounds and his great love for them have reconciled them to God. The same is true for us. We have been reconciled to God by the wounds, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

This is the context of shalom within which Jesus says his next words. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus has done the work of reconciliation on the cross and brought us peace. Now we get to join him and his father in the work of reconciliation. We have peace and now we get to offer this peace to others. For you see, we do have something to offer to this world. We can offer them the unconditional love of Jesus who reconciles the world by his submission to the cross. And let me assure you, this world is looking for unconditional love. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn will give you “likes” and even “loves” if you give the world the right things. But Jesus gives us real love, unconditional love.

Not only does Jesus invite us into reconciliation with God and invite us to join him in his Father’s work, but he gives us the power to do so. John tells us that Jesus’ next words were, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and then he breathes on them. Practically speaking, this empowerment by the Holy Spirit means that they – and we - don’t need to be scared of passing on the faith to others. We have the same power in us which raised up Jesus Christ from the dead.

Certainly, the world needs more unconditional love. We all want more unconditional love. Our friends want to hear more about unconditional love. They no longer know that there is such a thing as unconditional love. They have become so used to Facebook "likes" and "loves" and think these are the major kinds of love that are in the world. We can show them what Jesus has done for them, mostly with our lives, and also with our words. The unconditional love of Jesus that we have experienced and the faith we embody will be passed on to others as we simply allow ourselves to be authentic. If we will be ourselves and be authentic and vulnerable with others, the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of others as they see faith lived out in us.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Modern Technology and the Human Future



I recently finished reading Craig Gay’s book, Modern Technology and the Human Future and found it to be a very balanced approach to many of the questions we find ourselves asking about the good and bad of contemporary technology. We all know how valuable our hand-held devices can be and Gay speaks highly of the gains in productivity and efficiencies afforded by such devices before citing some telling statistics. “‘On average,’ one recent study found, ‘people in the United States across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day’, roughly once every fifteen minutes. For people between the ages of eighteen to twenty four, that number goes up to seventy four times per day, or once every twelve minutes.”[1] Many might say that we are enslaved to our phones, but if that word seems a little harsh, let’s just say we are obsessed with our phones. What are we checking for on our phones? Well it could be all kinds of good information in the virtual libraries of information available to us. We could be exploring art galleries in distant cities, getting the latest facts on nutritional information, or following NASA’s ever curious explorations of the galaxy. More likely than not, we are checking our social media accounts to see how many people have liked our recent post or seeing what posts others have made that we can like, hate, find funny, or thumb-up.

Gay is not a technophobe or luddite, his confessions in the chapter entitled “A Personal Conclusion” make this clear, but what he is saying is that we must consider every advancement in light of the good it will do and what we will give away as we embrace the technology. He points out that one of humans’ early advances was going from an oral culture to a written culture and to a culture of the printing press. Socrates expressed concerns that increasing literacy rates would have a debilitating impact on memory.[2] Of course he was right! Oral societies must commit all important information to memory, but as soon as one adapts to a written culture, much can be stored in lists, recipes, personal journals, and text-books. However, without literacy, one could well argue that we would never have the kind of understanding of who we are and what we can do.

Gay does lament that contemporary technology tends towards seeing all of nature as a machine.[3] Photosynthesis in the hands of a scientist can become nothing more than physics and chemistry. Similarly, the human body and mind can also be viewed as a complex machine that could, given enough time, be converted into a mechanical device to house our consciousness. He also calls us back to remembering who we are. “The church has long recognized that if the eternal Word of God ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” as the apostle John declares (Jn 1:14), this confers staggering value upon ordinary fleshly existence.”[4] “While the Christian church always stands in need of remembering its theology, the need today is particularly acute, given how rapidly automatic machine technology is trending away from ordinary embodied human life.”[5]

In this book, Gay calls us to “repent of our hubris” and recognize that the “principle precept of Christian discipleship is that we are not our own” and that our “task, therefore, is primarily one of stewardship.”[6] He speaks of a proper place for technology where it “starts great conversation” and an improper place when it “prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.”[7] Proper uses of technology will lead to greater harmony of people, animals, plants, and rocks rather than dis-harmonies. Gay calls us back to our theology of being, incarnation, and eucharistic embodiment and prompts us that the eucharist or communion meal is to be a place where we reorient ourselves around what is important: God and his people embodied in flesh.

There is much more that could be said, but I leave it to the reader to take the time to purchase and read this book for yourself. It is readily available wherever books are sold.

Works Cited

Gay, C. M. (2018). Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.




[1] 2015 data; (Gay, 2018, pp. 31, 32)
[2] (Gay, 2018, p. 25)
[3] (Gay, 2018, p. 101)
[4] (Gay, 2018, p. 133)
[5] (Gay, 2018, p. 165)
[6] (Gay, 2018, p. 169)
[7] (Gay, 2018, p. 177)

Stark Raven Mad

 
In other blog posts, I have told of the intelligence of ravens, crows, and other corvids. These birds have been shown to use tools, create tools, and communicate danger to others in their area. Recently, another study has shown greater detail on the communication abilities of these remarkable birds. The study shows that when one raven dislikes its food choices, this mood toward food can be passed along to others such that they have a negative expectation of their food choices as well, even before the naive ravens had any idea of what might be in a food box. Thus, the “glass half-empty” attitude was communicated and transferred to other ravens who had not yet had a reason to be pessimistic. The “how” of this empathy transference is unclear but it is likely the same mechanism used to warn fellow crows about dangerous individuals on a university campus. More studies are needed to bring light to the amazing social communication of these birds. Watch this blog and Science News for more developments.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Beyond Trailer


The Great Beyond is a novel with spiritual insights. It is the story of Ray, a man who has done much wandering and is now on the greatest journey of his life. Through out the story, Ray must make choices that impact his future and his ultimate happiness. The book trailer is available here and the summary appears below.

Ray did not expect his life to take the turns it did. He had always been a simple man who enjoyed modest pleasures and a few travel experiences. In fact, he thought he might have travelled more. But life just sort of happened and he never got around to the things he wanted to see. Now, on the biggest journey of his life, going places he could only imagine in his dreams, he is not sure he wants to be on this path. He is not sure how he got on this path or where it will take him next. Perhaps the biggest question is, "Who is in control?"
The Great Beyond is available at Amazon.ca: https://amzn.to/2VbVu6c; Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2DnEVtY; and Indigo: https://bit.ly/2UOieK3