Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Vote

Regardless of today's outcome, I am very proud to have Scottish and English ancestors when I see how non-violent the campaign for independence has been. As Nahlah Ayed, a reporter for CBC says,
. . . this isn't Braveheart. "There hasn't been so much as a bloody nose in the modern fight," says Luke Skipper, a polite though savvy backroom adviser — from Canada, no less — who works for the pro-independence Scottish National Party. Some of its supporters compare their movement to a "peaceful revolution." "I think there's something, not necessarily cold-blooded about the Scottish mentality, but it's very 'sit back, weigh it up, keep it close to your chest'," says Skipper.1
The Scottish and English people could be a model for other countries like Ukraine, Syria, and even Canada and Quebec as they each debate independence issues. Independence does not need to be bought with blood; nor does the language of debate need to be malicious. We can say "Yes Please" and "No Thanks." So I say to all living in Scotland and the UK: "Slainte mhor agus a h-uile beannachd duibh; Good health and every good blessing to you!"2


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Longing To Reach Home

Part of what attracts me to the writing of C.S. Lewis is the transparency with which he writes. He was a person of immense intellect, but also, immense emotion. He shared these emotions in his writings and prompted his readers to experience similar sentiments. His awe inspiring book, Til We Have Faces, was published in 1956. Towards the end of the book we read these words.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
Lewis is expressing his own emotions through the longings of a character he has created for the story. He willingly shares his journey of discovery and the longing that is there in his soul. Perhaps this is what separates the poet from the ordinary person: a willingness to be vulnerable and express emotions, longings, joys, and embarrassments in their own words. In these particular words, Lewis shares that all of his life has been a quest for home and that he will never be truly home until he has left the place that has substituted for home.

I can relate that I have sensed such emotions as well. I have longed for something more than the experiences of this earth. I have recognized that there must be more. I suspect that this might be true for many others even if the sensation has not yet risen to the surface. We long for another place; a better place; a far away country. See if Lewis' emotions stir similar emotions in you. Perhaps today is the day to set your eyes upon the far away country, to set your eyes upon hope.

Follow-Up to Gravity

“I have no reason to believe that the human intellect is able to weave a system of physics out of its own resources without experimental labour. Whenever the attempt has been made it has resulted in an unnatural and self-contradictory mass of rubbish.”
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Friday, September 12, 2014


I admit that my "nerd quotient"1 may be higher than the average found in the general population and so this post may go beyond concepts you have thought about or wish to think about. (I have at least saved you from reading the formulas that I considered writing into this blog.) Yet, even those who do not give it much thought will recognize the mystery of gravity.

Gravity is truly one of the most enigmatic forces in the universe. It is weak enough that its effect is negligible to a human body at 10,000 km above the earth's surface and yet a black hole, an entire galaxy away, still has some influence on each of us.2 We are familiar with the concept of "weightlessness" inside the International Space Station because of videos of Chris Hadfield and others floating through its various chambers. However, the earth's gravitational influence still has an effect inside the International Space Station (330 km altitude). The apparent weightlessness is due to the fact that, technically, the station is in a free-fall relative to the earth. Centrifugal force from its rotation around the earth nicely balances out the gravitation of the earth giving a relative micro-gravity environment.

On the practical side, gravity is what holds us onto this planet as Earth spins and travels through our portion of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is what gets us into trouble spots resulting in skinned knees and broken bones when we take a big risk on a bike or skateboard. Every object that has mass attracts all other objects that have mass. So, if I stand on a ladder to paint a room and lean so far that I lose my footing, my body, which has a small mass, pulls on the enormous mass of the earth and the mass of the earth pulls on my body. The two masses try to pull each other toward themselves; but, because my mass is small relative to the earth, my body quickly moves toward the large mass of the earth until there is a collision between the two. The collision will most likely be painful for my soft biology but will very likely not harm the floor.

Gravity can also contribute to the "thrill" in our stomach when we ride a roller-coaster at high speed or a car on a hilly road. It both helps and hinders us when we are one year old and learning to walk: it holds us on the floor so that we don't drift into the walls or ceiling; but it also sets us down on our butts when our feet are not in the right place relative to our centre of gravity. It is also what we feel pulling on us as we inch that bicycle to the edge of a ramp and sends us shooting down a ski-hill as we glide off of the chair-lift.

Gravity is something which even the best physicists have trouble conceptualizing, explaining, and fully understanding. For all of its effects that can be measured, experienced, and predicted, we still know very little about what it is and how it has its effect. Some physicists propose gravitons as the mediating particle while others postulate gravitational waves; yet neither has ever been detected. Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer and writer has said,
“Having gone from basically philosophical understandings of why things fall to mathematical descriptions of how things accelerate down inclines from Galileo, to Kepler’s equations describing planetary motion to Newton’s formulation of the Laws of Physics, to Einstein’s formulations of relativity, we’ve been building and building a more comprehensive view of gravity. But we’re still not complete, . . . . We know that there still needs to be some way to unite quantum mechanics and gravity and actually be able to write down equations that describe the centers of black holes and the earliest moments of the Universe. But we’re not there yet.”3
We are often unaware of gravity in our day-to-day lives; but watch for it, and you will notice its effects all around you. You too may find yourself pondering the mystery of gravity.

1 Some of you are wondering if there even is such a thing as a "Nerd Quotient Scale." I assure you there is. Google it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Two Prayers

Two prayers caught my attention today. One is a contemporary prayer from Scot McKnight who prays:
Grant us, O Lord,
To trust in you with all our hearts.
For as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
The other is an ancient prayer of the early church:

"Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν."
"Lord Jesus, Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner."2

These two prayers ground me and keep me from focusing on my happiness, my rights, and my abilities. May they be a similar correction for us all.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Silence and Reflection

Silence, reflection, hearing the Word of God, and understanding; Augustine instructs us in all of these in Sermon 52, 22.
"Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it."— Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius, in the Roman province of Africa: present-day Annaba, Algeria; 354-430 Common Era.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scientists and Philosophers

Some interesting remarks from Michael Gungor.
"If two different teams try to play two different games on the same field against each other, it’s probably not going to go very well.
Good scientists have a very clear road that lays out what they are trying to do. They are generally using observation and experimentation to understand the physical universe. They focus on questions like, “How did life arise on planet earth?” Religious people are also trying to understand the world we live in, but it is a different sort of understanding. It is questions like, “Why did life arise on earth?” that belongs in the realm of a philosophical or religious discussion. I think the problems happen when the two perspectives infringe into the other discipline’s zone. The scientists try to be philosophers and the philosophers try to fudge the science. I think a way forward is to adopt the position of so many Christians throughout history: Let scientists do the science, and if that plainly contradicts something we read in Scripture, then re-interpret how we are reading Scripture. The Bible makes for a great religious text, but it is not such a great science book. And vice versa." - Michael Gungor