Sunday, December 29, 2013

The End of 2013

It is the end of 2013. I have been consistently blogging for five years and this is my 458th blog entry. Some entries have been short, just a quote from someone else's writing; some have been longer examples of my own creativity. This blog is not restricted to a certain topic but rather ranges over the various themes which catch my attention. Some recurring themes are song lyrics (my own originals or someone else's), philosophy, faith, science, physics, biology, the relationship between science and faith, social justice, tea, relationships, crows, and evolution. I write because I believe that it is good for me to write. I write because I enjoy it. I write to improve my writing. I write to keep track of things I have learned. Sometimes this blog has become a repository for quotes from whatever book I might be reading. It is often a place I look when I am trying to remember a quote or a concept that is important to me.

Others can read the blog but I seldom seek to write things that will catch the attention of others. This blog is first and foremost the thoughts that strike me as important whether or not anyone else finds them important. Yet, I am also hopeful that others might be inspired or educated by the things I write. As I say in the short description of this blog: "This blog is a place where I do my public journaling. It is a place to practise writing and perhaps encourage others to hunger and thirst for righteousness." It is also a place where I work out my own faith in Jesus "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).  So, thank you to those who read the rambling thoughts of a man who is learning to write, learning science, learning faith, and learning to be the man God is calling him to be. Let's learn together. I leave you with a quote that speaks of both "tea" and "writing."

“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
- Anne Lamott

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tea and Hospitality

“In Ireland, you go to someone's house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you're really just fine. She asks if you're sure. You say of course you're sure, really, you don't need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don't need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn't mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it's no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don't get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.”1

C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

1http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/tea

Friday, December 27, 2013

Linus van Pelt or Ayn Rand

Philosophical arguments happen at Christmas time. It is one of those times when people ask questions about ultimate truth, the meaning of Christmas, and the meaning of life. Mark Gollom of CBC News recently interviewed Yaron Brook, a follower of Ayn Rand, to explore his thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas. Having read the interview I thought I would juxtapose two philosophies of life: Objectivism, as expressed by the Ayn Rand Institute, and the Christian Gospel, as described in the Gospel of Luke in the Bible (and as read by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas). The reader may choose which philosophy seems most credible and then research that way of life more thoroughly.

Objectivism, as a philosophy, proposes a way of life in which one pursues "rational self-interest, in making your life the best life it can be and adhering to principles that will guide you in pursuing your own happiness, your own success and your own flourishing as a human being."1 (Note the significant emphasis upon the self.) According to Yaron Brook, current executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, Christmas has become a non-Christian holiday which celebrates consumerism.
Brook: I don’t think it’s a celebration of materialism qua materialism. It’s a celebration of life. As such, the material or the materialism out there is part of life — how we make life better. We consume stuff but we consume stuff because it enhances our life and our life is not material, we experience life spirituality. But there’s no conflict, in my view, between spiritual and the material. The material enhances the spiritual — the function of consciousness is to make it possible for us to think and to produce and therefore to be able to enjoy the material world.
The material and spiritual go hand and hand, and I think Christmas illustrates that. You know you had to be productive and to make money all year to be able to have money to be able to spend it. All this is very non-Christian. And I think that’s what upsets people, that it isn’t linked to these ideas of sacrifice and self-denial, which I think are vices. I don’t think they’re virtues. So this is why I love Christmas so much, because it’s the celebration of the opposite of sacrifice, and the opposite of self-denial. It’s the celebration of success and prosperity.2
The traditional themes as expressed in the Gospel of Luke and in the soliloquy by Linus van Pelt are quite different from those expressed by Objectivism. Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14 as the true meaning of Christmas. Here it is in the King James translation used by Linus:
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Some of the themes expressed in this version of the meaning of Christmas include, a saviour who saves humans from their own self-interest; a saviour who saves people from striving for happiness in materialism; angels and humans who praise God for the gift of self-sacrifice given by God to the world; and peace and good will brought about by the same God who took on human form to save human-kind.

The essence of each philosophy is diametrically opposed to the other. Objectivism encourages self-interest and struggling after the things of this world; the Gospel encourages acceptance of a gift of sacrifice and self-sacrifice for the sake of others. I ask the reader to consider which path will serve our world and our spirits best. Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.


1 "Why Yaron Brook likes Christmas consumerism," By Mark Gollom, CBC News Posted: Dec 26, 2013 5:00 AM ET| Last Updated: Dec 25, 2013 3:47 PM ET; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/why-yaron-brook-likes-christmas-consumerism-sorry-charlie-brown-1.2474906
2 "Why Yaron Brook likes Christmas consumerism," By Mark Gollom, CBC News Posted: Dec 26, 2013 5:00 AM ET| Last Updated: Dec 25, 2013 3:47 PM ET; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/why-yaron-brook-likes-christmas-consumerism-sorry-charlie-brown-1.2474906

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tea and Christmas

My wife, Maureen, gave me a wonderful mug for Christmas. It has the following quote stenciled on it: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  - C.S. Lewis. It is the perfect gift on so many levels. I had never heard these words of Lewis; and yet, it sounds like something he would say. Merry Christmas and may you always find time to curl up with a nice hot cup of tea and a good book.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Canada and the Nordic Model

Canada's Supreme Court has struck down most of the previous laws related to prostitution in Canada deeming them unconstitutional because they breach the Charter rights of vulnerable and marginalized people and their right to "security of the person." The present laws will stay in effect for one year giving  the Parliament of Canada time to draft better laws. If elected politicians fail to create laws which will withstand constitutional challenge prostitution will be legal and unrestricted in Canada.

This has opened a door for all of our elected officials to work together regardless of political parties and I pray that they will work together for the good of Canada and for the good of vulnerable and marginalized people who have used prostitution as a means of survival. It will be messy political work but it will be important for them to be willing to risk their political careers to do the right thing. The tendency in the past has sometimes been to simply despair of creating better laws and leave social issues largely unregulated. Doing so in this case would be a mistake. There are examples of other countries of the world which have drafted effective laws on prostitution and there are examples of countries which have tried the route of legalizing prostitution leading to dreadful consequences.

Joy Smith, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul in Manitoba, is admirable in her willingness to step into the debate. On hearing of the Supreme Court ruling, she issued an immediate press release stating the importance of drafting new legislation. You can read it in its entirety here. In the release she states that "This ruling leaves police without important legal tools to tackle sex trafficking and organized crime and does not reflect a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision which stated that the elimination of prostitution through law was a valid goal." Thus, she encourages Parliament to have the will to use the rule of law to eliminate prostitution and protect people from human trafficking and organized crime. She further states that "prostitution as an industry . . . is inherently harmful to women and girls and therefore must be eliminated." Ms. Smith suggests, along with many others, that the way to solve this problem lies in the Nordic model of prostitution which targets the buyers of sex. The Nordic model criminalizes the buying of sex and the sexual exploitation of prostitutes and has been used effectively in countries such as Sweden and Norway. It also features a support program which aims to create strategies for those who seek to exit prostitution.

The position of the press release is summarised in these statements:
Prostitution must be eliminated because it dehumanizes and degrades humans and reduces them to a commodity to be bought and sold. Legalizing prostitution is a direct attack on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, girls and vulnerable people. In the same regard, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality. . . .
As a nation, we must ensure pimps remain severely sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized and instead given meaningful escape routes out of sex work. Most importantly, Canada must focus on the real root of prostitution by targeting the buyers of sex.

Let's join together in prayer and effort to see that this ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is a turning point in Canadian law. May we all work toward the implementation of a Nordic model of law regarding prostitution in this country. May we work to see people protected and work toward a just society in Canada.

Further Reading:
REED, Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity; http://www.embracedignity.org

"Legalizing Prostitution Will Harm Women – Canada Must Target Buyers of Sex," MP Joy Smith, Press Release, December 20, 2013, http://www.joysmith.ca/news.asp?newsID=761

"Supreme Court of Canada strikes down federal prostitution laws," The Star.com, December 22, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/12/20/supreme_court_of_canada_strikes_down_federal_criminal_prostitution_laws.html

"Supreme Court strikes down Canada's prostitution laws," CBC News, December 20, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-court-strikes-down-canada-s-prostitution-laws-1.2471572

Monday, December 16, 2013

Follow-Up to Ghost in the Machine

Two quotes from David Chalmers express the importance of studying the concept of consciousness.
Even when I was studying mathematics, physics, and computer science, it always seemed that the problem of consciousness was about the most interesting problem out there for science to come to grips with.1
I think [consciousness] provides plenty of grounds for reorientating our view of how the world might be. We think 'OK it's nice and simple' - there's biology, there's chemistry, there's physics and so on but one thing we learn from studying science is that the more and more you study science, the more and more you realise just how strange the world is. Quantum mechanics is fundamentally strange, what it tells us about the basic nature of reality. Studying consciousness tells us more about how the world is fundamentally strange. I think we have a few revolutions to go yet before we get to the bottom of it.2
1 David Chalmers, http://machineslikeus.com/biographies/david-chalmers
2 David Chalmers, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/david-chalmers-on-the-big-conundrum-consciousness/3546288

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ghost in the Machine

For some time I have been a fan of Kyler England. I love her solo work but she has also written and performed with "The Rescues" and most recently has teamed up with former "Rescues" member, Adrianne Gonzalez, to create the duo: "The Fire and the Sea." Their lyric video, The Ghost in the Machine, can be seen and heard here.
Ghost in the Machine
(from the lyric video by "The Fire and The Sea") 
You are the ghost in the machine
Flickering
And I don't know what it means
You trouble me 
Behind the smoke
And the screen
I'm hiding, I'm hiding
But when the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling 
In the light you follow me
Shadowing
In the dark you're all I see
Surrounding
In a sweet unwanted dream
Trouble needs a place to sleep
But when the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling 
When the secret's out
You are the ghost in the machine
Flickering
When the secret's out
And the wounded sing
What's lost is found
You trouble me
And it's troubling
The concept of "the ghost in the machine" is a well-known philosophical term which refers to the separation of mind and body. Some, like British philosopher Gilbert Ryle1, suggest that it is a false concept while others would suggest that the difficulty we have in explaining "consciousness" indicates that there is a "ghost in the machine" or perhaps a "soul in the body." Consciousness may be a candidate for a distinction between the pure chemistry of the mind and perception; but, is consciousness sufficient to suggest a ghost in the machine?

Regarding consciousness and perception, Alva Noƫ has said,
Consider this; we are conscious of both more and less than affects our nervous system. Let me give you an example. I look at a tomato. It’s sitting there on the counter in front of me. It’s red and bulgy and three dimensional and I experience all that visually. I have a sense even visually of the back of the tomato, but I can't see the back of the tomato. It’s out of view and yet it’s part of my experience of the tomato that it has a back. It’s present in that sense to me, but note it doesn’t strike my retina. It’s present. It informs. It structures my visual experience without actually being an element that stimulates my nervous system.2
N.T. Wright points out that Neo-Platonic concepts of dualism have influenced our concepts of body and soul, brain and mind, and heaven and earth.3 He suggests that the Bible is much more holistic in its presentation and argues for a holistic view of body and being. David Chalmers suggests that a machine could indeed be "all machine and no ghost."4 Others speak of the Holy Spirit of God and how it interacts with humans as the "ghost in the machine." What is the truth? This question is certainly troubling.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_machine
2 http://bigthink.com/think-tank/the-ghost-in-the-machine-unraveling-the-mystery-of-consciousness
3 http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_SCP_MindSpiritSoulBody.htm
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love, Emotions, and Fidelity

Inspiration for blog entries comes from personal experiences, community or world events, and emotional responses to all of the above. A muse may be uplifting or discouraging but the writer is responsible for the wisdom and encouragement that the experience creates. This entry has a number of influences contributing to the lessons learned.

Love, in movies and in real life, can look as different as film and Photoshop. Actors are often called upon to depict intense love for a person with whom they are only acting. In reference to such roles and the frame of mind he must find, Ryan Gosling has said,
I'm interested in love and the lack of it and the crazy things we do to get it. The knight slays the dragon and then lives happily ever after with the princess in the castle, but when they've moved in together, they have to share a bathroom. How do you keep love alive in a domestic situation? What is it about that that dismantles love.1
Those of us who have been married, or lived with someone, for a number of years can understand his question and may even wonder if we have what it takes to "make love last." But, does familiarity necessarily lead to a loss of love? Or is it something else which evaporates when the knight and princess share a castle?

There are a number of ways that we could investigate this question. Scientist have theories and equations that explain population dynamics and optimum family sizes for optimal gene transmission; and, although this usually explains animal behaviour, it seldom comes close to illuminating the impulses of men and women. In fact, there is not one explanation for the phenomenon of love that will satisfy all hearts and minds. For some, the following logical words of C.S. Lewis will be all that is needed  to inspire longevity in love.
Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go... But, of course, ceasing to be "in love" need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from "being in love" — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God... "Being in love" first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.2
Others will appreciate a more lyrical elucidation of the concept.
Love's Not a Feeling
(Words and Music by Steve Camp) (Listen to the song here
Take a look around so many broken hearts on the ground
No one was there to take the time to really care
Well a commitment's what, ooh, love should be, we wash our hands of it so easily
We give up so fast, then wonder why love doesn't last 
Love's not a feeling, oh we've got to learn
To get past our emotions to the meaning of the word
Love's not a feeling we can lose and throw away
Lord give us the courage to live it every day 
There's a love that Jesus shows and our desperate hearts need it so
His love is alive, it never ends, it never dies
God won't walk out on us when the pressure's on and times are tough
Just trust in his power, he'll see you through your darkest hour 
Love's not a feeling, oh we've got to learn
To get past our emotions to the meaning of the word
Love's not a feeling we can lose and throw away
Lord give us the courage to live it every day 3
The best that a writer can hope for is that those who read an article of this nature will pause long enough to consider their own significant relationships and ponder the height, and depth, and breadth of love. It is now your turn to muse and reflect. Selah.

1. Ryan Gosling, Vancouver Sun, December 22, 2010.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,Macmillan Publishers, 1952.
3. Steve Camp, from the Album, Fire and Ice, 1983

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Brothers K

I just finished reading a novel by David James Duncan entitled The Brothers K. If I were to do a review of the book I would, among other things, speak of the evocative language the author uses in many chapters. The opening scene in chapter one is particularly good; also the scene outside the pulp mill one foggy morning is incredibly touching and emotional. I might also speak of the unevenness of the writing because there is a whole section in which the author purposely uses poor grammar and weak logic to portray the emotions of some of the brothers (the technique did not really work for me). Overall, the book is very good and the parallels to Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, are present but subtle enough to leave the reader wanting to explore the themes to a greater extent. At certain points I found I wanted to read Dostoevsky in one hand and Duncan in the other hand to compare the characters.

Having said that I will not give a complete review of the book, what I would like to do is draw our attention to one section in which the author explores concepts of giving, trust, faith, and salvation. The book has many themes worthy of exploring but one of the more significant is the nature of the spirituality of Laura "Mama" and Hugh "Papa" Chance. Laura Chance is an extremely devoted Seventh Day Adventist Christian who is very severe and legalistic in her faith. In most of her life she speaks her mind in no uncertain terms and says that some in her family are destined for heaven and some are destined for a fiery hell, unless they change their ways and become members of the Adventist Church. At one point she sets up a system of merit and rewards in which the faithful church attendees are cared for with meals, laundry, and cleaning while those in the family who do not attend are left to fend for themselves. There is a reason for her hardness; but we do not get to know the reason until the final scenes of the book. Hugh Chance, on the other hand, is not a religious person; unless one counts his devotion to baseball. Laura "knows" that her baseball pitching, beer drinking, chain-smoking husband is destined for hell. She continues to love her husband, although her actions do not show it, and shows greater tenderness toward him in the months leading up to his death. The following excerpt is taken from a time when Hugh has died of cancer and, against Adventist theology and Laura's wishes, but in compliance with Hugh's demands, his body has been cremated.
He'd left it to Mama to select his container, and she'd chosen – of all things – the same blue ceramic jewelry box in which she used to keep her Sabbath tithes and offerings. It gave me a turn to see it, full of powdered Papa on our dinnertable there. But once my intestines swung back around, it began to feel about perfect. Because what is an offering really? What can human beings actually give to God? What can they give to each other even? And what sorts of receptacles can contain these gifts? Work camps and insane asylums, Indian trains and church pews, bullpens and little blue boxes . . . Who belongs in what? When do they belong there? Who truly gives what to whom? These were questions we were all struggling to answer not in words, but with our lives. And all her life Laura Chance had placed ten percent of all she'd earned in this same blue box before offering it – in full faith that it would be accepted – to her Lord. So now, just as faithfully, she'd placed a hundred percent of her husband in the same box. That was her answer to the questions. And I'm hard put to think of another that would do greater honor to her husband, her Lord or her little blue box.1
As a final "offering," Laura Chance "offered up" Hugh Chance in a blue box trusting that God would know what to do with him. We sense a softening of her fierce legalism and perhaps a willingness to admit that she did not have all of the answers and that God still held some mystery for her. There is much we can learn from the Chance family and I encourage discerning readers to consider the lessons inhabiting this work.


1 Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. New York: Random House Inc., 2005 (originally published in 1992), p. 620, 621.