Saturday, January 24, 2015

Songbird

- by Lance Odegard

She’d been flitting at the back and along the sides of the congregation for weeks—
her calculated late arrivals working like camouflage.

At the back, on the tables, she tends her many plastic bags (the smaller bags inside the larger bags, each tied with strong, tidy knots)—the evidence of a quiet resolve, the gathering of a mobile nest.

She lives in layers, under multiple coats. She takes up less space than her body accounts for. Pressed flat, she has been thinned into near invisibility—turn her sideways and she might disappear.

We talk after the service, usually about my kids, sometimes about her week. She says most nights she sleeps in the library’s indoor lobby, sitting upright, perched in a chair. She whispers her words, not intending them to travel. They must be held like the small feathers my kids find at the park; one careless puff and they’re gone.

Months ago, I asked for her name but she wouldn’t give it. She says she never tells anyone her name. Who or what had turned it against her, I wondered—
and what is a person without a name?

Today, I had a name for her.
Songbird. 
Her quiet eyes blinked and she asked, why did you give me that name? 
Because I think you like music and you remind me of a bird.

It was a clumsy answer, and it didn’t tell the whole truth. But she perceives the smallest of intentions. Shifting her feet, she said, You can call me by that name.



Lance Odegard (MCS '11) is a pastor with Artisan Church in Vancouver, BC. Lance has particular interest in the intersections of faith and art, pastoral ministry and poetry, and neighbourhoods and neighbours. Lance and his wife Aimee live in the Strathcona neighbourhood with their four children.
http://world.regent-college.edu/arts-theology/songbird

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Power and Limits of Science

Two quotes caught my attention this week. One was by a prominent atheist; the other by a prominent Christian. In The Limits of Science, Nobel Prize winner (and atheist) Sir Peter Medawar, writes:
Science is a great and glorious enterprise - the most successful, I argue, that human beings have ever engaged in. To reproach it for its inability to answer all the questions we should like to put to it is no more sensible than to reproach a railway locomotive for not flying or, in general, not performing any other operation for which it was not designed.
I am impressed with these words of Medawar. They show an uncommon humility that recognizes that his favourite discipline, the one he has pursued most of his life, will not be sufficient to answer all questions.

Sir John Polkinghorne, a former professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge and an Anglican priest, has said something similar.
I submit that no-one lives as if science were enough. Our account of the world must be rich enough – have a thick enough texture and a sufficiently generous rationality – to contain the total spectrum of human meeting with reality.1
Science has great power; and part of what makes it so powerful is its absolute reliance upon data. In its truest form, science does not speak beyond the data. Extrapolations and deductions lead the scientist to further experiments that will, in turn, result in more data. The quest in science is to collect more and more data to support a theory and thus increase the probability that the theory can be proven (in a technical sense of the word "proof"). Science seeks to never speak beyond the data. Science’s great power results from this self-imposed limit.

Scientists such as Medawar recognize that it is wrong to ask science to pronounce on issues outside its jurisdiction. Polkinghorne recognizes that people do not typically live solely by the scientific method. Science is powerful; but it is not enough.

1 Quotes found at "From the Archives: Miracles and Science, Part 2; Biologos Forum"; http://biologos.org/blog/from-the-archives-miracles-and-science-part-2

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Power Over Blindness



A few days ago I wrote about a miracle or legend in the life of Saint Columba. Today, take a look at this passage from Acts 13:6-12. Here we read about a miracle that happened when Barnabas and Paul chose to do the work to which God had called them. Opposition came but God overpowered this sorcerer and gave them access to the governor.
[Barnabas and Paul] traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” 
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
I ask us the same questions I asked before. What gates are barred to us? What fierce enemies seem impossible to overcome? God has all the power necessary to conquer the obstacles. He asks us to trust that He can overcome. He asks us to trust in the power of the cross.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Above All, Do Not Lie

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality,1 and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.2
1 By bestiality, Dostoevsky refers to "human predatoriness, and godless egoism." Ronald D. Leblanc Times of Trouble: Violence in Russian Literature and Culture, http://bit.ly/1BYSjLF; Elsewhere in The Brothers Karamozov, Dostoevsky says, "People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to a beast; a beast could never be so cruel as a man, so artistically, artfully cruel."
2 (Dostoevsky 2002 edition, 44)

Work Cited:
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saint Columba



Saint Columba is widely known as one of the first missionaries to Scotland and certainly Scotland's most famous missionary. He preached to the fierce Pict people in Northern Scotland. These were the people with tattoos all over their bodies who made intimidating screams when they went into battle. They were frightening people to whom Columba chose to speak the Gospel message.

In the book, Life of St. Columba, written by Adomnan of Iona, there is a story that is either a miracle that truly happened or a legend that teaches a truth. It is hard to distinguish which it is. But around 563 AD, Columba set out to convert King Brude, one of the known leaders of the ancient Picts. He knew that if he could win over this king it would lead to the success of bringing over the whole nation to the worship of the one true God. So he visited the pagan king Brude at his fortress near modern-day Inverness. The King, influenced by the Druids in his court, had specifically instructed that the gates be closed against Columba. When Columba arrived at the king's fortress he found the gates locked and denying him entrance. So Columba made the sign of the cross on the gates and the gates are said to have miraculously opened by themselves. King Brude was so impressed by this that he opened his home and he opened his soul. King Brude became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.1

What gates are barred to us? What fierce enemies seem impossible to overcome? God has all the power necessary to conquer the obstacles. He asks us to trust that He can overcome. He asks us to trust in the power of the cross.

1 http://archive.org/stream/lifeofsaintcolum00adam/lifeofsaintcolum00adam_djvu.txt

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gravity and Skiing

Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Higgs in Stockholm, December 2013

I "went down a rabbit hole" in Wikipedia today. I wanted to better understand gravity. On the face of the matter, it seems like a simple enough question: "What is gravity and how is it mediated?" I went cross-country skiing on Saturday and felt its effects; but what is this force that keeps me on the planet and slams me to the ground when I take a spill? The articles in Wikipedia left me wondering if it is possible to know anything for sure. Some physicists have spent their entire lives trying to understand this one force in the universe. It is thought that there must be an elementary particle that mediates gravity. The hypothetical particle, that has not yet been experimentally confirmed, is called a graviton. Could there be particles traveling between the mass of my body and the mass of the earth that pull the two together? Could these particles be traveling between our planet and the moon to keep it circling around us? Could these particles be traveling between the moon and the oceans of the earth to create tides? We know that light can travel large distances through space. We even know that light is made up of discreet little particles called photons. We know about other elementary particles that act in similar ways: W bosons, Z bosons, and gluons. In 2013 one more elementary particle was confirmed: the Higgs Boson. This particle mediates mass rather than gravity.

But, this just takes one further down the metaphorical rabbit hole for this brings us face-to-face with difficult questions about what other particles exist in the universe. The answer is that our universe and even the immediate neighbourhood is made up of a whole zoo of known particles: six types of quarks and six types of leptons which come together to form atoms. Then there are all of the anti-quarks and anti-leptons of anti-matter. Yes, such things do exist outside of the Star Trek universe. Before I lose my audience completely I will mention one other form of matter in our universe: dark matter. "Dark matter is one of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics." There may be as much as five times more dark matter than ordinary matter in the universe, yet "it cannot be seen directly with telescopes" and "it neither emits nor absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation at any significant level." The existence  of dark matter can be inferred from its "gravitational effects on visible matter, radiation, and the large-scale structure of the universe." This rabbit hole is considerably deep and complex.

As Edward Witten, an American theoretical physicist and professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey said,
"Albert Einstein famously devoted the later part of his life to seeking a theory that would offer, at least in principle, a comprehensive description of the laws of nature. . . . In fact, there are ample reasons why one might doubt whether Einstein’s vision is achievable . . . Crucial clues may be hopelessly out of reach. . . . Moreover, even if we could somehow find the unified field theory, it is not at all clear whether we could determine that it is right. . . . some of the most important phenomena may be permanently beyond our experimental reach."1
Theoretical and experimental physicists alike have made many significant discoveries in the last century and certainly we can expect that more will be made. As the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland is scheduled to be restarted in May of 2015, there is much hope that further experimentation will confirm the properties of even more elementary particles. Yet, it would also seem that with such a long list of particles to examine, the data may take years to generate and interpret. Meanwhile, researchers have still not found the gravitons that pulled my hip resolutely toward the frozen ground. Perhaps I need to get out of this "rabbit hole" and go skiing more often.

1 (Witten 2005, 1085)

Work Cited:
Witten, Edward. "Unravelling String Theory." Nature, December 29, 2005: 1085.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Rising Up on Wings Like Eagles

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Twelve years ago I was in the midst of one of the biggest decisions of my life. I was sensing that God was calling me to step out into something new. It was not a demand from God; it was a divine option. God was not forcing me to do anything; but like so many times before, He offered me something more. It was as if God were asking me to consider joining Him in some things He was doing. He could use me on a special team if I was interested. I was already invested in His mission and there would always be a place for me to use the gifts I had been given and the skills I had developed; but there were other options. I could join this specialized division that would focus on another piece of the mission.

I remember my thought processes were captured by lessons the Creator had built into nature. That previous summer, as I sat on the shore of Kootenay Lake, I had watched Osprey teach their young how to fly. It felt like God was offering me a chance to stay in the nest or step out and fly. There were plenty of reasons to stay in the nest. In 2003, I was working at a job with good pay, good benefits, and good prospects for eventual retirement. I was working at the Molecular Diagnostic Lab in Calgary and was part of a team that contributed to an ever greater understanding of genetic mutations and their clinical implications. I had worked hard to get to where I was and so I wrestled with understanding why God might call me out of that place.

If an Osprey chick were capable of abstract thought, they too might wonder why they were being called out of the nest. Nests can be great places: safe and comfortable with daily food deliveries. Why would the chick leave such a secure place? Why risk everything by jumping out into wind currents that could not even be seen? Eventually, all healthy Osprey chicks leave the nest.

I left the comfort of the lab and followed a new path. My family and I spent five years starting a new congregation of faith in Calgary and five years in Vancouver doing similar work before returning to Calgary to help lead an established church. The wind has always been beneath our wings. Through fair skies and storms, not once have we been let down. Have I served as well as I could? I will leave that revelation to God at the end of all time (Matthew 25:14-46). Were there other opportunities and calls to even more that I missed along the way? Possibly. Have I been blessed beyond anything I gave up? Yes, most certainly!

What does 2015 hold for you? Not every call from God will require us to leave our jobs and find other employment. Perhaps your call is to stay right where you are at. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your call and your place in this world. Make certain you use everything available to discern the next steps in your life. Then, with great joy and confidence, rise up on the winds that God has provided.
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. - Isaiah 40:31