Sunday, August 28, 2016

Originality


Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.
- Alfred North Whitehead (English mathematician & philosopher; 1861 – 1947)
Works Cited:
"Quote of the Day"; http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/26863.html; Accessed 2016-08-28

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Party Line


Looking back over the last 40 to 50 years, one of the areas of greatest technological change has been our means of communicating with one another. Future blogs in this series will discuss such technologies as the internet, cell phones, and social media. Today, I will let Nora Jane Struthers and her band, The Party Line, demonstrate one facet of technology and the social change it brought. They do this with the lyrics of their song, “Party Line.”

The concept of the “party line”[1] is well known to rural settings of the 1950s and 60s in Canada. In the Central Alberta farming area where I grew up, farms had telephone systems in which as many as two dozen farms would share one line and users were given a distinctive ring cadence for which they would listen. One long ring, followed by two short rings, and another long ring, was one such cadence and was the ring for which my family would listen. I remember, as a small boy, being shushed so that my parents could listen closely to distinguish the ring and whether or not the call was meant for us. Of course, people came to know other people’s ring cadences as well and we could tell who it was that would be picking up the call. If you wanted to know your neighbour’s business (and who didn’t) you could quietly pick up the receiver and listen in on another farm’s call. A click on the line was a small indicator that someone else had picked up. (Heavy breathing from a third party was a big indication.)

In the song “Party Line,” Nora Jane and band are singing about the transformation that occurred when that “electric wire” of the telephone began to connect home to home. She laments that “no one ever comes to call” and sit around on the “back porch,” to “chew the fat.” There are some things you just can’t see, smell, or feel through an electric wire.

Party Line
(Words and Music by Nora Jane Struthers)

Imagine my surprise when they came down the drive
With that big spool of electric wire
I didn't understand exactly what they meant
But they said “When we’re finished you can talk with all your friends”
Right inside our own house without going out
Seemed like nothing new but who am I to doubt
The magic power of an electric wire

Now we're all on the party line
I can't hardly get a word in edgewise
Everyone's on that party line
But no one ever comes to call
Why don't you call?

We used to chew the fat. Do you remember that?
Back when time moved slow as the pine tree sap
Seeping up through the boards right here on my back porch
You know you used to love the smell of the magnolias in the morning
Now you telephone and this don't feel like home
Without your foot tapping while I put the coffee on
And I can't see your smile through an electric wire

Now we're all on the party line
I can't hardly get a word in edgewise
Everyone's on that party line
But no one ever comes to call
Why don't you call?


[1] Wikipedia, “Party Line,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_line_(telephony); accessed 2016-08-27.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Portadown Station


Sandra McCracken is one of my favourite song-writers. She has a great ability to write haunting songs that stir our emotions. “Portadown Station” is but one example. It is a simple story of someone on the road, loving the experience but missing someone at home. The lyrics, “I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound,” express the loneliness well. Here are the rest of the lyrics.

Portadown Station
(Words and music by Sandra McCracken from the album Gravity Love)

Sunset view from the train
Across these Irish plains
Rolling like the songs that are in my head
Portadown Station and another hotel bed

We pass through another town
the people swell in and out
I search the crowd for a face that I know
A thousand tales of a thousand years long ago

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown

looking for something real
matches, knives and steel
with open wide eyes, the sun goes dark
you can't touch or feel a broken heart

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown

so drain the light from the sky
and drain the tears from my eyes
I'm waiting like the shadows stretching thin
Could you hide me here 'till the morning comes again

Just get on board, take that last train out
I hear your voice in my head, but I miss the sound
Here at the station outside Portadown
Outside Portadown
Outside the station
Outside of Portadown 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Heart, Integrity, Respect, and Team at the Olympics



Sunday morning was a great day for Canadian Athletes as the Olympic Games came to a close. As I went about getting ready for my day, I found myself strangely transfixed by the Marathon. Then, as the screen split into two and CBC began broadcasting the closing press conference of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), I found the words of the President of the COC, Tricia Smith, almost as engaging. Smith has been a strong spokesperson for sport in Canada and her words from Rio were effusive and inspiring. She had praise for the many podium appearances of Canadian athletes and noted how successful Team Canada had been; but her praise was not just for those who won medals. Her speech made note of the many athletes who had shown great determination and integrity. She highlighted athletes such as Evan Dunfee, the Racewalker who came in tenth in the 20 km Walk and fourth in the 50 km Walk. Dunfee showed great respect for his fellow-athletes as, in one case, he encouraged the French Racewalker who struggled to complete the race. Then, in an act of sportsmanship, Dunfee did not challenge the 50 km Walk results after the Japanese athlete, Hirooki Arai, bumped Dunfee.  Officials considered disqualifying the Japanese Bronze Medalist. Later, Dunfee and Arai happily posed for a photo together.

Meanwhile, Eric Gillis, in a race dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian Athletes, came in tenth in the grueling Olympic Marathon. Top ten showings in international competitions are one measurement of an athlete’s success and are rightly considered a mark of excellence. This was an amazing success for a Canadian marathoner, and coupled with an American Bronze medal in this sport, bodes well for western marathoners in a sport that has largely been about the competition between African athletes.

As the Marathon reached the 42 km mark, Tricia Smith also spoke of the values that have led to a successful Olympics for the Canadian team. She spelled it out in four points that would make a preacher proud.

Heart – as a synonym for determination, Canadian Olympic athletes show great “heart” in both training for, and competing in, the games.

Integrity – Evan Dunfee spoke of his team-mates and other international race-walkers with whom he trains who choose to compete clean in a sport that is sometimes marred by doping. He challenges the entire Olympic community with his commitment to integrity.

Respect – Canadian athletes made us proud with their respect for world-class athletes from around the world. They cheered for each other and cheered for the best qualities of athletes from other countries. They behaved themselves in Rio and made us all proud.

Team – Smith also gave a strong affirmation to teamwork as she noted the strength that is apparent as one person rises to the challenge when another is having an off day. She emphasised that sport is about being a team in every sense of the word.

Both the athletic competitions and Smith’s words give Canadians a sense of pride as we seek to be a country where great results and great humility are celebrated. Smith continues to show her commitment to the ideals of sport which she addressed on the day she was chosen as the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Her words on that day are a bookend to her words on August 21, 2016.

“I feel enormously privileged and grateful that our sport community has entrusted me today with the leadership of the COC. It’s an honour I accept with pride and gratitude at a time when the eyes of the country are upon us. Based on my platform, this endorsement sends a clear message that our members embrace the values of sport and expect integrity. I will be a champion for creating a safe and inclusive environment for our employees and all those involved in the Olympic Movement in this country. I will be a tireless advocate for unity, inclusiveness and collaboration with our many partners. We now enter an Olympic year with great excitement and anticipation. We must be at our best. We will do everything in our power to ensure we create an optimal environment for Rio 2016, so our athletes and coaches can be the very best they can be.” – Tricia Smith, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee (November 22, 2015)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made



 A friend of mine is in the hospital right now and is undergoing chemo-therapy and a bone marrow transplant to rescue him from cancer. In the midst of it, they did an MRI of his brain and discovered a tumour outside of the brain but inside of the head. You might ask, “Why would one person have to go through so much?” Of course my friend and his wife will ask questions such as this, but I also see them exemplifying a life of hope in the midst of great difficulties. Despite what they are going through, they are trusting God to lead them through it. They do not know where this journey will lead but they know that God will go with them in it. This afternoon we read part of Psalm 139 together and prayed. Psalm 139:13-18 says,

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

God knows all about our bodies. He knows how all of the blood vessels in our body are connected. He knows about blood/brain barriers. He knows how many hairs are on our heads or, in my friend’s case, how many hairs are not on his head right now. He made us and He cares for us. He knows how many days we have on this earth. Both God and we know that the number of days we have on this earth are indeed finite. Yet, we pray that my friend has many more sweet days of life with his wife here on this earth. Regardless of how many days we have on this earth, may we all seek to live those days with God. In all that we do, may we agree with the psalmist, and say God, “you are still with me.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bernard Ramm on Science and Fear




Out of the many people with whom I would like to spend some time, I think I would have enjoyed sitting down for an afternoon of conversation with Bernard Ramm. Ramm, the Baptist theologian who wrote much on such topics as hermeneutics, and apologetics, would have been an interesting person with whom to have a visit, for he was well versed in the discussion of religion and science. His first love was science and he studied chemistry at the University of Washington before turning to the Philosophy of Science. The following two quotes from his prolific writings give us an insight into his mind and how he saw faith, theology, science, and philosophy.

Contemporary philosophy, contemporary theology, and contemporary science may be very unfriendly to evangelical theology. They seem to be opening all sorts of doors and windows to let in soul-chilling drafts of air. But … the Word of God in our hearts should drive out fear—fear of an unexpected discovery in science or archeology or psychology or sociology. Not that in each instance evangelicals should rise up and refute the distressing charge. Christians are in this for the long haul, and vexing problems of today may well be resolved by tomorrow.[1]

Might we sometimes feel a cold chill in the air of contemporary science? Certainly there are some who would believe that they can destroy the Word of God in our hearts with words of solid or dubious science. But Bernard Ramm is quick to point out that such disturbing questions may only be problems for which we have not yet found a solution.

In theological studies one should not prematurely judge that a disturbing question or problem has no solution. Granted, there is a fine line between dodging an issue and patiently waiting for a solution. Aware of this, nevertheless I have maintained that a problem that at the present seems impossible to resolve may yet be resolved in the future. And in many instances this has been my own experience.[2]

Despite the fact that these words were written in 1954, I find them amazingly resilient and fresh. They stand well against the test of time and give me further confidence in the words of the Bible. For it is in 1 John 4:17-18a that we read, “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” (NLT)

Works Cited

Ramm, Bernard. The Christian View of Science and Scripture. 1954.


[1] Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), 64.
[2] Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), 2.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Agency and Prayer

 

We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all, but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.
Pascal says that God “instituted prayer in order to allow His creatures the dignity of causality.” It would perhaps be truer to say that He invented both prayer and physical action for that purpose. He gave us small creatures the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. He made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers.
- C.S. Lewis in “Work and Prayer” and republished in God in the Dock, 1970.

C.S. Lewis has a way of saying things that helps me to “get it.” Here he helps me to understand the agency God has given us. We truly are “small creatures” in a very large universe, and yet God has given us the ability to change our neighbourhood, our city, or even our world. We can do physical actions to flour, water, and yeast, making bread that did not exist before we started. With that bread we can feed a family who needs a loaf of bread. We can change the course of history with our actions.

Perhaps equally surprising is that God has given us the agency of prayer. Lewis says there is “free play” in God’s plan of history that can be modified by God in response to our prayers. God’s Kingdom will come and His will, will be done; but there is “free play” in the will of God that can be affected. We have an opportunity to influence the Kingdom and will of God. We can change the course of history with our prayers.