Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top Ten of 2012

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is a good time for me to look back and consider how I have grown through the year. That means looking through the blog posts of the past year and seeing what I have been thinking and writing about in 2012. After a quick perusal I came up with the following top-ten list. These are a few of my favourite posts in a, close to, tenth to first favourite order.

10. Our Time is a reminder of how grateful I am for the incredible blessings of my life. Thank-you Father for the place and time in which I live.

9. Don't Miss Your Life is the title of a song that came out on Father's day last June. It reminds all of us of the important things in life.

8. Prayer Changes Things is a bit of a confession that I am an experimenter at heart. The three styles of prayer represented in this blog show how I have spent a life-time in the laboratory of prayer.

7. Observation is all about science and the mystery of how God has put the universe together.

6. Contact is another excursion into exobiology and musings about the expanses of our universe. It reminds us that both theology and science must search for truth.

5. Dark Knight shows how deeply God has built self-sacrifice and resurrection stories into the fabric of our culture.

4. Adam and Genetics celebrates the completion of a degree and introduces a controversial yet widely held perspective on genetics and theology.

3. Higgs and Bosons pays homage to the biggest scientific discovery of the year and what certainly should have been the newsmaker of the year (contrary to what you will read about the Canadian Press newsmaker of the year).

2. Spiritual Inertia is short and to the point but reveals a quote that finally gave me the language to describe a principle of spiritual growth that I have experienced all of my life.

1. Pacing the Cage relates the lyrics of Bruce Cockburn's classic song and reminds me that I can never rest on yesterday's successes. Next year I will continue to seek to grow and develop as a person and a writer.

Together these blog posts show the spiritual journey of 2012 but there is one more event that has changed the man I am. This is also the year in which our first grandchild was born. He is certainly one of the best things that has happened to us in this year; and in our lifetime. Spending Christmas with him and his parents, cuddling his ten pound body into my shoulder, and praising God for his birth have been a beautiful way to end 2012. His small body reminds us of another tiny baby who came into the world with "fragile finger sent to save us; tender brow prepared for thorn; (and) tiny heart whose blood will save us."1 May our memories of 2012 help us become the people whom God is calling us to be. Happy New Year.

1. Chris Rice, "Welcome to Our World."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Welcome to Our World

We have been enjoying a wonderful Christmas season in Simcoe, Ontario with our daughter, Twila, son-in-law, Brad, and grandson, Clayton. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to go to Sunday worship at the Selkirk Christian Chapel in Selkirk, where they attend and are loved by a great church family. Brad, Twila, and I performed this Chris Rice song at the Sunday morning service. As you read these amazing lyrics you will notice that they describe the mystery of a baby born for the purpose of dying for every human who has ever lived on earth. Welcome long-awaited Holy Stranger; welcome Holy Child; welcome to our world.

Welcome to Our World (Lyrics and music by Chris Rice - listen to his recording here.)

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting
Welcome Holy Child; Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home; Please make Yourself at home

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven's silence
Welcome to our world; Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born; Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God; Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

Merry Christmas to all who take the time to read this blog. May your Christmas season be filled with love, grace, peace, family, and friends. May you continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cosmos Guest Blog

I am guest blogging on the Cosmos site. Add the Cosmos blog site to your regular reading and enjoy a re-blog of a recent Thirst post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas

Christmas reminds us that God's great endings come from His humble beginnings.

Keith Shields 2003

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Paul Valdemar Horsdal, known professionally as Valdy, is a Canadian folk musician who has been writing songs and performing for more than forty years. I remember discovering his "Country Man" album in the seventies and the couple of times I saw him in concert I was amazed with how this one man and his guitar could keep an audience engaged for hours. He is also one of the original artists who spoke out against the damage humans were causing to our environment.

His song entitled "MM-MM-MM-MM" is all but forgotten now (perhaps partly owing to the strange title) but has a great message of warning. The song envisions a future in which air pollution has reached such extremes that the people of earth have never seen the sun in the sky. In 1972 this was a vision that was easy to imagine. Due to the work of environmentalists and folk singers, air quality in such cities as Los Angeles has vastly improved since the seventies but air pollution is still a major health concern in rapidly developing cities such as Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

Valdy's words are still an important warning to the people of our planet. I looked for these lyrics online and could not find them so I offer them here in this blog.

(Listen to the song here.)
Valdy (from the album "Country Man," 1972; also released as the B side of the single: "A Good Song.")

And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm
That's not the way things oughta be
And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm excuse me
I'm on the outside being free

Run to your houses and dally no more
Close up your windows and lock your doors
The sunlight is comin' the sunlight is comin'
Close all your curtains and lie on the floor

They had never seen the sunlight before they were sore afraid
They had never seen the sunlight before so they all obeyed

And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm
That's not the way things oughta be
And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm excuse me
I'm on the outside being free

Why, the last time the sun came out in full
Four men were trapped out on the moors
Now they've all four gone stir crazy
Cause they won't come back indoors

They say the sky is gonna break and turn some colour of blue
They're all nuts they said the trees looked green
Do you want that to happen to you?

And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm
That's not the way things oughta be
And I'll say mm-mm-mm-mm excuse me
I'm on the outside being free

Monday, December 10, 2012

Follow-up to Observation

As a follow-up to Saturday's blog entitled "Observation," I offer the following quotes related to science and observation. The first two are equally true although in tension with each other.

[Those] who have an excessive faith in their theories or in their ideas are not only poorly disposed to make discoveries, but they also make very poor observations. - Claude Bernard (1813-78) French physiologist, 1865.

The dispassionate intellect, the open mind, the unprejudiced observer, exist in an exact sense only in a sort of intellectualist folk-lore; states even approaching them cannot be reached without a moral and emotional effort most of us cannot or will not make. - Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter (1872-1939) English surgeon.

Sherlock Holmes, although fictional, is a great proponent of observation, data, and theory - in that order.

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. - Sherlock Holmes, the fictional creation of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) British physician and novelist.

George Santayana offers this definition which seems to agree with my own sentiments.

Science is nothing but developed perception, interpreted intent, common sense rounded out and minutely articulated. - George Santayana (1863-1952) U. S. philosopher and writer. The Life of Reason.

Lastly, Voltaire has this witty comment.

Common sense is not so common. - Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Because I have studied science most of my life, some people will confide with me that they wish they had studied more science. I usually tell them that it is never too late to start. The convenient thing about science is that one can begin studying at any time. Science, at its core, starts with observation and extrapolation. We have all observed that if the wind is coming out of the east then a flag on a flagpole will point to the west. So, we observe a flag and can draw conclusions about which way the wind is blowing. If we notice that a flag ten feet above the ground is pointing one direction and one on top of a 250 foot building is pointing another direction, we can draw some conclusions about the movement of air currents at different altitudes.

The world is wide open for this type of observation and discovery. Great scientific breakthroughs happen because someone paid attention to their world. Take a look around you and see what lines of observation might be available to you. Many of us can see the moon rise and set from where we live. Have we really observed the moon? Can you answer this simple question? When the moon is waning, that is, going from full to new moon, which side of the moon is lit up? Left? Right? Another way to ask this question is, "When the moon is waning, does it take the shape of a 'C' or a 'D'?" One should be able to answer this question after just a few nights of observation. If you get good at answering this question you will be able to make predictions about whether the moon will be brighter or dimmer the next evening. It will also allow you to make predictions about tides if you happen to live close to the ocean. The movement of tidal waters is another great source of scientific study. See what you can learn by noticing the direction anchored boats turn in the water at any given time of the day and how high the water is on the shore. What can you learn from these simple descriptions?

Another lunar observation that is available to us relates to the direction in which the moon revolves around the earth. You can do some observation over the next few days or weeks to see if you can determine whether the rotation is clockwise or anti-clockwise relative to a view from above the earth's north pole. Here is a hint, you will need to observe where the moon rises in the sky (east, west, north, or south) and the time of moonrise over a few days. Is the time of moonrise the same every day or does it rise later or earlier each day? This was a query posed to me by a tenth grade physics teacher which set me off on a lifetime of observation and discovery. Try not to cheat and look up the answer on the internet. This is where much of present scientific study can falter. We get lazy and do not seek the answer ourselves. Instead, we trust someone else's answer without even seeing the data that led them to their conclusion.

There is a group of crows that collect mussels from the seashore close to my house. They have learned how to do a sort of crowish “science.” Once the birds have collected the mussels they must find ways to break open the shells to get at the life-giving meat inside. This hunger, and survival by eating, is the huge motivator for their scientific study. If they drop the mussels from a height onto rocky places, some will break open; but often the mussels will catch too much air and flutter to the ground without making a significant impact with the ground. These crows have observed that if they drop them on the seawall, a walking and biking path along the shores of the ocean, there is a good chance that a human will step on the mussels or run them over with their bicycle. This nicely opens the shells and allows the crows to get their breakfast or dinner of mussels. These crows have become keen observers of human behaviour. They know when the paths are busy and how to use this tool to their advantage. They have also discovered that bicycles are much more likely to break open the shells than are footsteps. Cyclists race along the path and do not even notice that they are running over mussel shells whereas pedestrians tend to step around the shells to avoid the crunching underfoot. In places where the seawall is nicely divided into a cycling path on one side and a pedestrian path on the other side, one can observe approximately ten mussel shells on the bicycle side for every one mussel shell on the pedestrian side. Crows have learned probability. Presumably, the crows that do put the odd shell on the pedestrian side also know that occasionally the tourists do not pay attention to the segregation of bicycles and pedestrians; and cyclists will sometimes ride on the pedestrian path.

Vancouver has massive murders of crows that fly through the air at predictable times. Every evening, about a half hour before sunset, they fly past the windows of my home. I am not sure how long it took me to come to this conclusion but it was a natural one as I noted the murders of crows, the time of day, and the amount of light at the time. They are expert at flight and use the currents of air to their great advantage. I am sure I could learn several things about the weather and bird behaviour if I took the time to chart things like wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, temperature, speed of the birds and altitude at which they fly. Science is very egalitarian. It makes itself available to all.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The World We Didn't Create

This quote by Eugene Peterson fits well with my own thoughts of the last few days.

Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important.  Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us.  We are known before we know.
This realization has a practical result: no longer do we run here and there.  Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out.  Rather, we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives.  The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God.  God is the center from which all life develops.  If we use our ego as the center from which to plot the geometry of our lives, we will live eccentrically.
All wise reflection corroborates Scripture here.  We enter a world we didn't create.  We grow into a life already provided for us.  We arrive in a complex of relationships with other wills and destinies that are already in full operation before we are introduced.  If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by another.  And this other is God.
My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself.  There is something previous to what I think about myself, and it is what God thinks of me.  That means that everything I think and feel is by nature a response, and the one to whom I respond is God.  I never speak the first word.  I never make the first move.1.

It occurs to me that if we start with ourselves and extrapolate to God, we end up with a superhuman, a god made in our own image. If we start with God we find that we are marked with his image. We end up with little creators.

1. Eugene H. Peterson, Run With the Horses (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 38.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Time

Once we begin to think about our place in time and geography, the mystery of where we happen to exist is great. Think of all of the other points in time we might have been born. I was born in the latter half of the 20th century; but, I could just as easily have been one of the many people born at the beginning of the 20th century, or in the 5th century of the current era, or 2000 years before the current era. I might have also been born in the year 3000 of the current era, if our world should happen to last that long.

Then, there is the mystery of where I was born. I am one of the fortunate ones to have been born in a wealthy country of the 20th century. It was not a wealthy country in the 5th century but, when I happened to come along, Canada was one of the greatest countries on the planet. The good fortune of living in a country with modern medicine, plentiful food, and clean drinking water is certainly something about which to be grateful. The mystery of how this happens is astonishing.

The reality is that all of us have arrived in the middle of the story. We appear at a time and a place that has been shaped by countless lives that have gone before us. We could not choose the kind of world into which we were born and there are limits on how much we can affect it now that we are here. We are in the middle chapters. It is not the beginning of the book; nor is it yet the end. Each of us finds our place in this story. Some of us work hard to find our place and make our mark. Others are content to drift with the tide of time and place.

Some of the lives that have come before us have been obscure and did little to shape this time and place. Others have put a permanent mark on the world as we know it. What mark will you leave upon this planet? What is your perception of the degree to which you want to shape the world? Each of us indeed has a choice. No one is requiring us to change the world. Yet each of us has the ability to do just that. There is a principle in the book of Esther which proposes that we may have been placed in our current circumstances for a reason. This principle suggests that all of us have choices that we can freely make. When opportunities to act come our way, we may choose to do nothing while others act and have an effect on the circumstances of the day; or we may choose to see the opportunity as something for which we are uniquely prepared and choose to act with resolve. Esther 4:14 can be paraphrased, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place; but who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?"