Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blue Moon

Remember all of those things that you do "once in a blue moon?" Well get ready for a flurry of activity. Friday, July 31, marks the appearance of a blue moon. No, you will not see a change in hue; the moon will still look the same colour. A blue moon is "an additional full moon that appears in a subdivision of a year, either the third of four full moons in a season or, a second full moon in a month of the common calendar."[1] The first full moon of July, 2015 occurred on July 2 at 02:19 UTC; thus, the full moon that occurs on July 31 at 10:43 UTC will be the blue moon.

The concept of a blue moon is only a calendar construct based on where we place the days on our contemporary calendar. It is a bit like "the tail wagging the dog," (another folk saying that warrants its own explanation at some other time). Before the standardization of the calendar, the moon was the physical constant that signaled the change of a month. Ancient people groups would not experience the concept of a blue moon for they would simply allow the next full moon to announce a new month.

So, if someone asks you what you are going to do with your blue moon, you can give them a list; or, you can tell them it is only a human invention that has no bearing on how you see the world. Then, you can explain the whole concept to them.

Of course song writers have been singing about blue moons for years. Here is but one example.

Once in a Blue Moon
(Words and Music by Edie Brickell; from the album Volcano)

She said I tried to mind my own business
But that sad look on your face was a challenge to my faith
Made me wanna chase the dark out of your room
So she smiled and said hello; little did she know
He would take hold of her soul and never never never let go

He was fine before he met her
Eyes like faded jeans, soft and blue and he had seen
Everything, and he had been everywhere
Til he turned his gaze her way, longed to see it every day
Heard a voice inside him say you'll never never never be the same

Once in a while
Once in a blue moon
There comes somebody like you

They got fire and they got fever
He was more than fine; she was more than young
And the orange setting sun was beautiful
Ever so at ease, in the summer evening breeze
They would talk and they would tease
And never never never want to leave

Once in a while
Once in a blue moon
There comes somebody
There comes somebody like you

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


“Liquid” is a brilliant song by the band known as Jars of Clay. They blend an ancient 11th century chant with contemporary music and lyrics that flow together with creativity and beauty. They remind us that in the midst of the many questions and perplexities of this world, there is at least one constant. They state that there is “one thing that I know” and challenge us to find the “one thing” about which they speak. The “arms nailed down,” what do they tell me? The “eyes turned out,” for whom are they looking? The chant gives an answer: “The Lamb has redeemed the sheep; The innocent Christ has reconciled sinners to the Father.”


Agnus redemit oves
Christus innocens Patri
(reconciliavit peccatores) – this part is not sung in the chant but completes the thought[1]
[Translation: The Lamb has redeemed the sheep; The innocent Christ (has reconciled sinners) to the Father.]

Arms nailed down
Are you telling me something?
Eyes turned out
Are you looking for someone?

This is the one thing
The one thing that I know

Blood-stained brow
Are you dying for nothing?
Flesh and blood
Is it so elemental?

This is the one thing
The one thing that I know
This is the one thing
The one thing that I know

Blood stained brow
He wasn't broken for nothing
Arms nailed down
He didn't die for nothing

This is the one thing
The one thing that I know
This is the one thing
The one thing that I know
This is the one thing
The one thing that I know
This is the one thing
The one thing that I know

Published by/Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

[1] Victimae Paschali Laudes by Wipo of Burgundy;

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mountains of Ice

Suddenly, we know for a fact, that there are entire mountains of water ice on Pluto. After four years of drought, wouldn't Californians love to bring one of those mountains home to replenish their reservoirs? The photos sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft have been widely spread across many news services and, by now, we have all seen some of them. New Horizons took 9 years to travel from earth to the Kuiper Belt, within which Pluto resides. The exploration and the amazing series of photos sent back to earth has reopened the debate on whether or not Pluto should be considered a planet. For now, astronomers will leave Pluto in the official classification of "dwarf planet." The bigger question is, "Why do we explore the far reaches of our solar system?" Some would try to put a pragmatic spin on the things we can learn from such an expedition, and certainly there is value in what we learn about the propulsion of vehicles through 5 billion miles of space and the things we learn about the Kuiper Belt itself. Yet, the more sincere answer to the question is that it satisfies our curiosity. Humans simply want to know as much as we can know about what is out there.

Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named) once said, “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.” Whether it is by telescope, by robotic spacecraft, or simply by experimentation and our own observations of the universe, humans continue to explore. As a people, and as individuals, we must never lose such curiosity; for curiosity is at the root of true education. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “. . . at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

So let us continue to praise the technicians, astronomers, researchers, and propulsion experts who gave us these amazing pictures of a dwarf planet billions of miles away. Let us never stop being curious. Let us never stop exploring.

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tolkien on Judging Others

J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us that we must not be hasty in judgment in this line from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a good reminder to all of us.
 “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 
The Apostle Paul also reminds us not to be hasty in judgement but further reminds us to help each other in the church. In 1 Corinthians he distinguishes between judging those outside of the church and keeping order within the church.
When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. . . . It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9, 10, 12, 13
 This is challenging stuff to put into practice. I will seek daily to live by these words, even as I know I will struggle to live them out completely.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Recently, I watched the science-fiction movie Oblivion (2013; starring Tom Cruise and directed by Joseph Kosinski). It is an entertaining movie with a good mix of action, philosophy, and romance. If anything, the writers and director may have been a little too ambitious, for one can readily see threads from several other movies embedded in the main plot from which they seek to tell multiple stories. Yet, in the midst of all that is going on, there is an important contemporary parable from which we can learn "if we have ears to hear." This blog will have many spoilers, so you may want to watch the movie before reading any further (it is presently available on Netflix).

In the year 2154, Jack Harper is a patriotic hero of the war against the aliens who invaded earth. Much of the earth is a now a post-apocalyptic disaster zone due to the destruction of earth's moon and the nuclear explosions that were used to drive off the aliens. Jack is one of the last humans living on the earth and works as Tech 49 to keep the cleanup machinery functioning. Energy from Earth's oceans is being harvested for the sake of the few remaining humans on an off-earth world called The Tet. The Tet stores this energy and transmits some to a colony on Saturn's moon, Titan. At least this is what Jack and Victoria think is happening. Victoria is the communications officer who watches over Jack's dangerous repair expeditions and communicates with Sally, their off-world connection. Victoria and Jack eat, sleep, and work together and appear to have an idyllic life. The work may be dangerous and challenging but they have all the latest technology to help them live well and overcome the obstacles. They have their romantic relationship to give them comfort and connection. Their memories have been wiped in a mandatory procedure designed to erase all harmful memories of the past. When the day's work is over they retire to their penthouse overlooking the earth and enjoy the best of food, wine, technology, and recreation.

What they don't know is that they are living a lie. They are oblivious to the fact that the ease with which they live, and even the challenges they face, are a facade of what is really going on behind the scenes. Both Jack and Victoria are clones of their former selves who have been created by the aliens living in The Tet. We are given a brief glimpse of the hundreds of Jack surrogates on The Tet waiting for their opportunity to be Jack. Tech 49 means that this Jack is the 49th clone to be sent out as a technician; and in one scene we see Jack encountering himself as Tech 52 doing the same job he has always done.

Jack 49 lives a largely dutiful life but is haunted by memories of a former existence with his wife before the destruction and cloning. Deep inside his being he longs for a simple way of life where he lives beside a mountain lake and grows crops with a family. For all of its problems, Jack still feels that Earth is his home. Daily he suppresses these thoughts and only occasionally goes to his secret place of solitude where he has set up a primitive cabin filled with artifacts of the past. Victoria shuns such foolishness and stays focused on her work and recreation in the communications tower, only dreaming of the day when she and Jack can retire to the colony on Titan.

Parables and the truth they represent may be hard to understand; but we can agree on some parallels with our contemporary world. Like Jack and Victoria, many live in a routine of work, recreation, and sexuality. As long as life is seen to have appropriate challenges, moments of humour, good food and drink, a comfortable home, and joyful moments of sexuality, we live in happy oblivion to the ultimate questions of life.

George Harrison, in a VH1 Interview, once said, [when]
. . . I think through the Beatle experience that we'd had, we'd grown so many years within a short period of time. I'd experienced so many things and met so many people but I realized there was nothing actually that was giving me a buzz anymore. I wanted something better. . . . You know, I get confused when I look around at the world, and I see everybody's running around. And you know, as Bob Dylan said, 'He not busy being born is busy dying,' and yet nobody's trying to figure out what's the cause of death and what happens when you die. I mean, that to me is the only thing really that's of any importance, the rest is all secondary.
Daily, we live as if this meager existence on this little planet in space is the only thing that matters. Yet, it really is secondary to the question of what happens when we die. Some would say that it doesn't matter what happens when we die because we can't do anything about it. But, what if we really can do something to prepare for death? Isn't it worth a bit of risk to do that which will prepare us for the things that lie beyond this life?

A recurring theme in the movie Oblivion is the concept of a good death. Jack quotes Horatius when he asks, "How can man die better: than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?" Many would say that the odds are stacked against a God who cares and a world that goes beyond this earthly existence; yet, what of "fearful odds?" They may indeed be frightening; but the alternatives are more fearful yet.

This movie has a message for us. The message is that a life of oblivion will not soothe the bigger questions of life; and we cannot mask the higher callings with the pleasures of this life. Perhaps that is a message worth hearing in this present time before we reach the increased complexities of 2154.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Truth and Fiction in Science

We have heard of many who are experiencing a crisis of faith as people wrestle with the place of God and faith in their lives; but there is another crisis of faith that is happening as well. Many are wondering how much we can trust science and the articles published in our scientific journals. We have witnessed a number of tragic situations in which articles has been retracted because the results were not reproducible, often as someone did not pay enough attention to the statistical significance of their data. We have seen situations in which the pressure to produce papers (the publish or perish mentality) have led some to falsify data to get a publication. It is also difficult to get papers published for work that does not support a reigning theory and so some information never makes it to the public sphere.

Tom Siegfried in a recent editorial in Science News says,

. . . publishing papers requires playing the games refereed by journal editors. “Journal editors attempt to judge which papers will have the greatest impact and interest and consequently those with the most surprising, controversial, or novel results,” Reinhart points out. “This is a recipe for truth inflation.”
Scientific publishing is therefore riddled with wrongness. It’s almost a miracle that so much truth actually does, eventually, leak out of this process.[1]

Science is a discipline which uses reason, logic, and the search for truth; but the discipline is only as accurate as the biases inherent in normal human interactions. Therefore, the reason, logic, and truth of science can be flawed. Neither Siegfried nor I are suggesting that we cannot trust science and the majority of our scientific publications; but we must watch for potential bias and flaws in the logic. Often, we must look to the parts of papers that are really not that interesting (the footnotes, the statistical analysis, and methodologies) to make a fair assessment of the accuracy of a particular finding. We must not turn off our brains and trust that the researchers and journal editors have done their job of vetting the data.

[1] Science is heroic, with a tragic (statistical) flaw – Tom Siegfried, Science News, July 2, 2015;

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Edwin Aldrin

Edwin Aldrin, better known as Buzz Aldrin, turned 85 last January. If he can celebrate a few more birthdays he will be on track to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20th. Aldrin piloted the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM) to the surface of the moon and landed it at 20:18 UTC on July 20, 1969. Six hours later at 02:56 UTC on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong and he stepped onto the surface of the moon.

Aldrin, an elder in the Webster Presbyterian Church, had decided to take a home communion kit with him on the flight to the lunar surface. While still in the LM he spoke these words over the radio contact with mission control.
I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way. (Listen to the recording here)
He then read a portion of the Bible to himself, ate a small piece of bread, and drank a tiny chalice of wine as a brief ceremony known as communion. Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas has the chalice used for communion on the Moon, and commemorates the event annually on the Sunday closest to July 20 with what has come to be known as Lunar Communion Sunday.

Buzz Aldrin has lived an incredible life which has been described in his book Magnificent Desolation. It tells of moments of greatness like his contributions to the Apollo landing and his discovery of an Earth/Mars orbit called the Aldrin Cycler; but it also tells of times of depression, alcoholism, and marital struggle. Aldrin later stated that he has now had second thoughts about how he celebrated the moon landing.
Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind -- be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning -- a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin is certainly an interesting and complex man. He has the capacity to inspire us to do great things and dream big. He has also learned to give thanks and live a grateful life. May he inspire us to do the same.

Works Cited:
Huffington Post, The Moon Communion Of Buzz Aldrin That NASA Didn't Want To Broadcast; Posted: 07/19/2014
Webster Presbyterian Church website;
Wikipedia, Buzz Aldrin, 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Postcards from Pluto

The latest images from the New Horizons spacecraft, which is headed for a rendezvous with Pluto on July 14th, show a series of four dark spots on the lower edge of the visible disc. The pictures were taken on June 25th and 27th when the vehicle was approximately 22 million kilometers from Pluto. Some are speculating that these spots may be evidence of clouds in the atmosphere and the shadows those clouds create on the dwarf planet's surface. Analysts will continue to watch for other developments as New Horizons continues to approach Pluto and its moon Charon. The atmosphere of Pluto is certainly one of the significant aspects of study for this probe and New Horizons raced to get to the planet before the atmosphere could freeze over on its long journey away from the sun (see my previous blog here).

Click on this image to see a larger picture.

NASA's website will have more images and live commentary as the probe gets closer to her July 14th flyby. Check back with them regularly for more information.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Meditation for a New Day

I have not read much of John Calvin, but it is worthwhile to meditate upon these words:
This is the wondrous exchange [mirifica commutatio] made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.- John Calvin in Institutes of the Christian Religion.
 May we all experience this wondrous exchange.