Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Shape of the Universe

How does one describe the shape of an ever-expanding universe? It is not easy to imagine what it might look like. Neither was it easy for some to imagine a spherical earth. For many centuries, the best model for the shape of the earth was a flat disk. This model held sway for at least five centuries in the Common  Era (CE); and, even then, a spherical model was only adopted in certain Greek philosophical circles. Imagine for a moment how difficult it would have been to conceptualize that if you traveled west long enough you would arrive back at your point of departure. Returning to the shape of the universe, apply such imagination to its shape. What if someone told you that if you kept going in one direction in the expanse of the universe, you would one day come back to your point of origin? Would that be similarly hard to comprehend? That is precisely what would happen in the current best model for the shape of the universe. The model is represented by a toroid. It is sometimes described as a donut shape but a donut shape is only the simplest of the toroidal shapes. The shapes pictured in this blog also define toroids.

The best calculations by mathematical physicists tell us that the universe is close to completely flat and could fit on the surface of such a toroid. This is a shape that is definitely hard to conceptualize for very long. I think it must have been brief glimpses into the mysteries of the universe such as this that led Albert Camus to say, “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.” We can only hold such images in our minds for the briefest of moments before they escape us or drive us mad. Those who lived in a "flat disk world-view" must have felt the same. How could one hold onto this concept for more than a few seconds? It was outside of the experience of all people until a few brought back reports of strange journeys and new understandings of geography and geometry. Now, although we take it for granted that it can be done, few have circumnavigated the globe to prove the theory. I can only dream of what the experience might be like and only astronauts have a true, immediate, experience of circumnavigation. But, in my mind, momentarily, I can capture the mystery.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I Just Want To Know

Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, I pray that you might be always drawing closer to God. As I went for a run this morning a prayer written by Steve Taylor came to mind and I prayed as I ran.

In all of the activity of life: teaching, mentoring, preaching, planning, and writing, "I just want to know am I pulling people closer; I just want to be pulling them to You. I just want to stay angry at the evil. I just want to be hungry for the true. . . . Oh, search me Father and know my heart, try me and know my mind. And if there be any wicked way in me, pull me to the rock that is higher than than I." May you always be drawing closer to God.

I Just Want To Know
(Words and Music by Steve Taylor) (Listen as you read the lyrics.)

Life's too short for small talk
So don't be talking trivia now
Excess baggage fills this plane
There's more than we should ever allow
There's engines stalling and good men falling
But I ain't crawling away

I just wanna know
Am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you
I just wanna stay angry at the evil
I just wanna be hungry for the true

Folks play follow the leader
But who's the leader gonna obey?
Will his head get big when the toes get tapping?
I just wanna know are they catching what I say?
I'm a little too young to introspect
And I surely haven't paid all my dues
But there's bear traps lying in those woods
Most of them already been used

I just wanna know
Am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you
I just wanna stay angry at the evil
I just wanna be hungry for the true

Search me, Father, and know my heart
Try me and know my mind
And if there be any wicked way in me
Pull me to the rock that is higher than I

I just wanna know
Am I pulling people closer?
I just wanna be pulling them to you
I just wanna stay angry at the evil
I just wanna be hungry for the true

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Venus and Mars Are Alright Tonight

For three nights only, our solar system put on a great show. For those who were under clear skies and looked west, they could catch a glimpse of both Venus and Mars. Just after sunset, from February 19 through 21, both planets could be clearly seen above the horizon. If you looked at the right time you could also see a waxing crescent moon close by. This conjunction of planets reminds us of our perspective in the solar system.

Our planet is relatively close to these other planets moving around our sun. Mars, is a mere 225,300,000 km from earth (on average) while Venus (on average – although it varies between 38 million and 261 million km) is 41, 900,000 km from earth. But it is the unique orbits of all three planets that create this apparent conjunction. From our perspective, we are looking at Venus and Mars as their orbits swing them around until they are very nearly aligned with each other. It makes for a great show: Venus, the bright, white light, Mars, the dim red light, and a sliver of moonlight to give us perspective. Many people captured this phenomenon on cell-phone cameras and other more sophisticated lenses. Here are two images from social media.


Photo Credit: Daniel Smith, Three Hills, Alberta.


Photo Credit: Arvind Paranjpye @a_paranjpye

"Venus and Mars are alright tonight." - Paul and Linda McCartney

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reckless Forgiver

The band Jars of Clay sings about a “Reckless Forgiver” (listen to the song here) on their album Inland. I leave it to your imagination as to who it is that truly forgives recklessly. I may not be fully capable of reckless forgiveness but I certainly could be more generous with my forgiveness.
Reckless Forgiver
(Composed and performed by "Jars of Clay;" 2013)
Writers: Charles Daniel Lowell, Daniel Paul Haseltine, Matthew Thomas Odmark, Stephen Daniel Mason; Copyright: Middle Space Publishing (BMI), Grow Your Own Music O.B.O. Middle Space Publishing.

Loneliness, loneliness, it won't last forever
Happiness, happiness, wait in line

Every time I look in the mirror
I'm in the shadow of doubt
Maybe I'm as lost as the next guy
Who just has to find, just have to find out

All I want is peace like a river
Long life of sanity, love that won't leave too soon
Someone to pull out the splinters
A reckless forgiver
You know I'm talking to you

I made a mess, made a mess
Of the heart I borrowed
So get undressed, get undressed
Laugh tomorrow

Every time I look in the mirror
I'm in the shadow of doubt
Maybe I'm as lost as the next guy
Just have to find

All I want is peace like a river
Long life of sanity, love that won't leave too soon
Someone to pull out the splinters
A reckless forgiver
You know I'm talking to you
I leave it all for you

All I want is peace like a river
Long life of sanity, love that won't leave too soon
Someone to pull out the splinters
A reckless forgiver
You know I'm talking to you

I want peace like a river
Long life of sanity, love that won't leave too soon
Someone to pull out the splinters
A reckless forgiver
You know I'm talking to you

I leave it all for you
You know I'm talking to you

I leave it all for you
All for you
Yeah, Yeah
I leave it all for you

Friday, February 20, 2015

Going Deeper

“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences.”
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Are We Here?

Today, I want to ask the question, "Why are we here?" That is, why does the universe exist; and why do we humans exist in this universe? As a response, I will list a few interesting quotes from others who have pondered this question. The reader can meditate upon these responses and consider the path of inquiry which will then be most satisfying.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), a Christian philosopher, did not believe that science could answer this question in a satisfactory manner. He wrote,
Question: "Why do I live?" Answer: "In infinite space, in infinite time, infinitely small particles change their forms in infinite complexity, and when you have understood the laws of those mutations of form you will understand why you live on the earth. . . . You are an accidentally united little lump of something. That little lump ferments. The little lump calls that fermenting its 'life'. The lump will disintegrate and there will be an end of the fermenting and of all the questions." So answers the clear side of science and cannot answer otherwise if it strictly follows its principles.1
On the other hand, Richard Dawkins has confidence that science can and does answer the question. He points to Charles Darwin and says,
Darwin told us why we exist and that’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not just us, it’s all living things. The living world is incredibly complex and staggeringly improbable – unless you understand where it came from; it looks as though it’s been designed; everyone thought that it was designed; but Darwin showed that it wasn’t. That’s the importance of Darwin.2
In a documentary entitled "Why Are We Here?" Dawkins goes on to say that the universe has "no purposeful design" and that humans "provide the purpose."3 Essentially, what he is saying is that the purpose of the universe is what we humans decide. We give the universe the only purpose it could possibly have.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) said that we were made "to look upon one who looks back in love." The Westminster Catechism asks the question, "What is the chief end of Man?" or What is the main purpose of humans? The answer provided is: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever."4

At this point in history we find two premises alive in the world. One is that the universe spontaneously came into being. The other is that a Creator caused the universe to come into being. It seems to me that all of our understanding, values, and philosophy are then derived from one premise or the other. As we meditate upon these two premises, we must consider well our own understanding and the implications for how we will live our lives.


1 Tolstoy, Leo. A Confession, The Gospel in Brief and What I Believe (trans. by Aylmer Maude). London: Oxford University Press, 1958; pp 27-31.
2 National Geographic Interview with Richard Dawkins, "Professor Richard Dawkins on Darwin"; http://natgeotv.com/uk/dawkins-darwin-evolution/dawkins-interview-darwin
3 "Why Are We Here?"; Richard Dawkins; Discovery Science Documentary; http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/why-are-we-here/
4 http://www.creeds.net/reformed/Westminster/shorter_catechism.html

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Heart is Full

Upon this day, my heart is full
The fam’ly tree that once was two,
Now has branches fully pulled,
And bowed and stretched and turned askew

The stems are laden with the fruit
And fill the soul with rev’rent bliss
The outflow of two hearts that grew
As sealed upon the lips that kiss

A little girl has come today
To add more joy and fill the way
With toys and strings for all to play
Oh Katie love, we bless this day

Oh maid’n love and knightly power,
We turn our hearts in holy praise,
To give the scent of sweetest flower,
And hands that stretch and fully raise.

Oh mystery of all complete,
We wonder at these gifts we take
Fully blessed with life replete,
On this your day, our precious Kate.

A little girl has come today
To add more joy and fill the way
With toys and strings for all to play
Oh Katie love, we bless this day

Love, Love, Love
Love is in this home
Love, Love, Love
Love is in this home

A little girl has come today
To add more joy and fill the way
With toys and strings for all to play
Oh Katie love, we bless this day


Welcome Kate Evelyn Mitchell.