Saturday, August 27, 2011

Song Writers

Music is highly personal. Ask a group of people to tell you some of their favourite songs and you will get a wide variety of answers. A friend of mine recently blogged about choosing his perfect music for a long road trip. Although I could appreciate his list and even liked some of the songs, his road songs and my road songs would be quite different. Many people tell me they never listen to lyrics; but I am a lyrics first person. Intelligent lyrics that I can sing are a must for me to engage a song. Good rhythm and melody are important but they come second.

This got me thinking and I decided to put together a list of some of my favourite song-writers and some of their songs. So, read this list and then let me know of one of your favourite song-writers and why you think they should be on my list.

Annie Tate, Dave Berg, and Sam Tate, writers of Moments
Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason, and Matt Odmark, writers of Faith Enough
Don Henley and Steuart Smith, writers of Waiting in the Weeds
Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, writers of Bad Timing
Harry Chapin, writer of Taxi
James Page and Robert Plant, writers of Stairway to Heaven
James Taylor, writer of Copperline
Jimmy Webb, writer of The Wichita Lineman
Mac McAnaly, writer of Down the Road
Marcus Mumford, writer of The Cave
Robbie Robertson, writer of The Weight
Wayne Kirkpatrick, Gordon Kennedy, and Tommy Simms, writers of Change the World

Friday, August 19, 2011

Problem With the World

"The Problem"
Written by Marc Martel and Jason Germain
Copyright 2008 Centricity Music Publishing/Germain and Martel Publishing/ASCAP
There's got to be some reason for all this misery
A secret evil corporation somewhere overseas
They're pulling strings, arranging things
It's a conspiracy

Or what about the ones who shape the course of history
What if we petitioned for one grand apology?
I'll write to my prime minister
You, write your president

Everybody's wondering how the world could get this way
If God is good, and how it could be filled with so much pain
It's not the age-old mystery we made it out to be
Yeah, there's a problem with the world
And the problem with the world is me

Some will say the devil and his legions
They put us in a headlock of submission
But they lost all power over me
A long, long time ago

And since I was a kid you know I've caused a lot of hurt
And no one ever taught me how to put myself first
It came so very naturally
But I'm not a prodigy

So I will look no further than a mirror
That's where the offender hides
So great is my need for a redeemer
That I cannot trust myself
No, I cannot trust my self
I dare not trust myself
So I trust in someone else

The sooner you can sing along
The sooner you can sing this song
The happier we'll be
The problem with the world is me
Sometimes the poets say it better than all of the philosophers, scientists, and politicians. This time the guys from the band "Downhere" have said it well, "the problem with the world is me."

(Of course, an astute reader will recognize that the boys from "Downhere" are quoting the great G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton was once asked by a London newspaper to join other authors and thinkers to address the weighty and important question of "what's wrong with the world." His response:
Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


On Sunday August 7, Discovery Channel premiered a new series: “Curiosity.” The first episode was a show entitled “Did God Create the Universe?” The episode was narrated by Stephen Hawking and presented his own arguments and scientific explanations. The show is available online here.

Stephen Hawking continues to be a man that both amazes me and frustrates me. I have a great deal of respect for him and read his popular works with enthusiasm. He has a very large platform for his ideas. He is highly respected and has become a “rock-star” in the scientific world. He is likely the most famous mathematician who has ever lived and the second most famous scientist next to Einstein. We all know that he can do the math to prove the existence of eleven dimensions in our multiverse. In more recent years he has become a vocal atheist and philosopher. Although he would say that philosophy is dead, there is little doubt that as he speaks of cosmology (the nature of the universe) he often strays into the areas of philosophy and cosmogony (the study of how the universe came to be).

In this episode of “Curiosity” Hawking makes bold statements about how science can explain the universe such that there is now no need for God. He suggests that those who hold to a belief that God did create the universe are simple minded. He compares them to ancient Vikings who screamed at the “wolf god” to prevent it from eating the sun as they experienced a solar eclipse. He apologizes to people of faith and then firmly states that there is no God, no heaven, and no after-life.

I am not a logician or a philosopher. There are plenty of others who are writing about this program and Stephen Hawking's line of reasoning. One can easily compare my explanation with others. My understanding of Stephen Hawking’s reasoning goes something like this. First, Hawking says that we can mathematically analyze our universe in ways that allow us to “see” the creation of our universe right up to the “Big Bang” from which our universe sprang. So far, so good, Hawking and other physicists have the technical knowledge of math and science that allows them to analyze things which others cannot.

Second, he maintains that for most things in the universe “it takes something to make something.” You can’t make a mountain of dirt without taking dirt from a hole in the ground. However, the universe, he claims, is the ultimate “free lunch.” Quantum physics suggests that subatomic particles can spring into existence out of nothing. I would want to check with physicists to see if they would agree that this is what is happening at the subatomic level. Perhaps others would express it as not knowing the source of such particles. But since you and I are not physicists (I doubt that physicists read this blog) we will concede this point to Professor Hawking. He states that when we consider anti-energy, anti-matter, and other universes, it all adds up to zero. So, as long as the net sum is zero, the universe can come to exist out of nothing (at least nothing in our universe). Okay, that was the hard one to understand. Hang in there for one or two more paragraphs before you give up on this blog.

Third, Hawking says that, at the Big Bang, time came into existence. Therefore, we cannot talk about a time when God existed before the creation of the universe because there was no time prior to the Big Bang and God could not be in a place where there was no time. Plus, we have filled in all of the gaps in our understanding of the universe and there is no need for God. Therefore, God does not exist. That, in simplified terms, is the argument Hawking wishes us to follow and with which he would like us to agree.

Okay, here is where my small brain begins to disagree with Professor Hawking’s large brain. Just because I don’t see a need for something does not mean that thing does not exist. He might have convinced me of his argument if he had said that "there is an alternative explanation of how the universe came to be and the explanation does not require God." I might grant him that and we could agree to disagree on which explanation suits our philosophical understanding (since we are now solidly in the realm of philosophy, theology, and cosmogony). But the leap from “we don’t need God to explain the origins of the universe” to “there is no God” is too great for me. Even other atheists have pointed out the weakness of this argument. As for there being no time before the Big Bang, in first year Bible College we considered the possibility that God existed outside of time. Einstein’s theory of relativity has always been a great source of comfort to me as I have grappled with understanding just how God might indeed be able to see all of time at once and stand outside of it. Again, Hawking can say that there is an alternative explanation that does not require God but this is not the same as saying "God cannot exist."

Curiosity, I am all for it! I think it is appropriate to ask the questions proposed in this television program. We should seek to learn all we can about this amazing universe. We should seek to explain how things came to be in the world in which we find ourselves. We should hear from scientists who wish to explore these topics as well. But science and mathematics are still not the only tools we use for analyzing our world. Philosophy and theology continue to be valid disciplines which add to our understanding of the questions and the answers. I appreciate the Discovery Channel programming and the way they challenge us to think, dream, investigate, and experience the world. These questions lead me to a greater sense of awe about the God who calls us into relationship with Him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Two Great Mysteries

In as much as we are conscious at all, we human beings, find ourselves in the centre of these two great mysteries. The first is our presence in a world which we did not create, we could not have expected, which is continually a surprise and a gift and a challenge. We are born into mystery. We exist. Why?
The second is our consciousness of all of this. It is not just that all of this is here, from the rings of Saturn, to the Hubble deep field pictures that we can see, to the living things that are all around us. It is not just that all of that is here but that we are aware of it. Consciousness is a greater mystery than the whole universe and as far as we know is unique to this part of the universe. It is a gift and a problem as scientists try to figure it out. -Loren Wilkinson (Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy at Regent College) in a lecture to a pastoral science cohort, 2011.
In as much as I am conscious at all? Am I conscious at all? I should be incredibly excited about the world in which I find myself. Most days the level of my consciousness is not that of astonishment and mystery. Why is it that I am so uninspired by existence and consciousness? There is evidence that the psalmist, David, caught glimpses of such awe and wonder when he says,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. Psalm 19:1-6
Much of the time I go through life without a thought of the miracle of being here as opposed to not being here. What did it take for me to be living here in this place at this time? The placement of the sun and earth had to be just such that life, as we know it, could exist on this planet. My ancestors had to thrive and escape death long enough to have children who in turn had children of their own. My own immune system had to defeat numerous viruses and cancer cells to keep me alive.
Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise." — Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher)
Most days I take all of this for granted. But there is great mystery and awe in being here and being conscious. Without consciousness I am little more than a self-propelled sac of biochemicals.
My mitochondria comprise a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter. — Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher)
But consciousness changes everything. The fact that my brain can rise out of the goo that is biochemistry long enough to realize that there might be something more to all of this is one clue that there just might be something more to all of this. And therein lie the two great mysteries. We are here and we are conscious. Because of this, before I get to work, I think that I shall allow myself a few minutes of "contented dazzlement of surprise."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Eighth Day

I am working on a paper for some studies I am doing at Regent College and so I am doing a lot of reading in the area of cosmology, origins of the universe, and origins of man. I am reading a number of journal articles in contemporary theology, science, genetics, and philosophy. It is challenging and exhilarating work. It can sometimes get far removed from the day-to-day issues of life. Yet, every once in a while I find a piece that helps make sense of life in the here and now.

We often speak of the days of creation and wrestle with how to understand all that there is in our universe (or multiverse) and how it all came to be. We might speak of the 7 days of creation or the 6 days of creation and a day of rest. We might ask questions about these 7 periods of time. We might argue about whether these are 7 twenty-four hour periods of time or 7 indefinite eras. But what about the 8th day? What is our understanding of the process of creation? Was it a once and for all historical act? Or is there a sense in which the universe is still being created? What about new islands (like the Galapagos Islands or even younger islands) that form as volcanoes erupt in the sea? Are they part of this mysterious process of creation? Or, what about a new baby that is born into this world? Are they a part of the creation process? Is there a goal toward which all of creation is heading? Is the whole thing just blind chance, variation and natural selection, cause and effect? Is there a purpose?

Some of my recent reading has focussed my attention on the continuous process of creation. The universe in general, and the earth in specific, are still in the midst of being made. They are very much a work-in-progress. I like this perspective. I like the idea that things (including me) are not yet finished. We get to watch it unfold. We have a front row seat for the biggest show of all time and it is the "show of all time." It puts me in the midst of something. It makes me a character in the story. It makes me one of the "adams" of the creation story and not just one of the "atoms" in the cosmic theatre. It also leaves room for God. John H. Walton says,

If God's work of creation is considered only a historical act that took place in the past, it is easy to imagine how people might not think in terms of God being active today. We have lost the view that nature does not operate independently from God. He is still creating with each baby that is born, with each plant that grows, with each cell that divides, with each nebula that forms. We might find it easy to look at some majestic view like a glorious sunset or the grandeur of the mountains and ponder the magnificence of God's handiwork. But this sense needs to extend beyond the "wow" moments to encompass all of our experience of his world. We have the same problem when we only recognize God in some incredible occurrence in our lives and forget that he provides for us, cares for us and protects us moment by moment, day after day. God did not just create at some time in the past; he is the Creator-past, present and future.*

God is involved in the day to day actions. This does not mean that we discard our understanding of embryology. It means we understand that God is involved and is behind and sustains the embryology that leads to the development of a child that will be born on the earth today. It means we can look for the mechanisms of how things come to be without discarding the "why and who questions."

Perhaps some readers would like to take up this challenge today: watch . . . . See if you can catch something in the process of being made. It is happening all around us whether we notice or not.

*Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 142, 143.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Fiddling Wood

I came upon this powerful poem a few days ago. Take the time to read it slowly. It is a master-piece.
The Fiddling Wood by Stephen Vincent Benet

Gods, what a black, fierce day! The clouds were iron,
Wrenched to strange, rugged shapes; the red sun winked
Over the rough crest of the hairy wood
In angry scorn; the grey road twisted, kinked,
Like a sick serpent, seeming to environ
The trees with magic. All the wood was still --

Cracked, crannied pines bent like malicious cripples
Before the gusty wind; they seemed to nose,
Nudge, poke each other, cackling with ill mirth --
Enchantment's days were over -- sh! -- Suppose
That crouching log there, where the white light stipples
Should -- break its quiet! WAS THAT CRIMSON -- EARTH?

It smirched the ground like a lewd whisper, "Danger!" -
I hunched my cloak about me -- then, appalled,
Turned ice and fire by turns -- for -- someone stirred
The brown, dry needles sharply! Terror crawled
Along my spine, as forth there stepped -- a Stranger!
And all the pines crooned like a drowsy bird!

His stock was black. His great shoe-buckles glistened.
His fur cuffs ended in a sheen of rings.
And underneath his coat a case bulged blackly --
He swept his beaver in a rush of wings!
Then took the fiddle out, and, as I listened,
Tightened and tuned the yellowed strings, hung slackly.

Ping! Pang! The clear notes swooped and curved and darted,
Rising like gulls. Then, with a finger skinny,
He rubbed the bow with rosin, said, "Your pardon
Signor! -- Maestro Nicolo Paganini
They used to call me! Tchk! -- The cold grips hard on
A poor musician's fingers!" -- His lips parted.

A tortured soul screamed suddenly and loud,
From the brown, quivering case! Then, faster, faster,
Dancing in flame-like whorls, wild, beating, screaming,
The music wailed unutterable disaster;
Heartbroken murmurs from pale lips once proud,
Dead, choking moans from hearts once nobly dreaming.

Till all resolved in anguish -- died away
Upon one minor chord, and was resumed
In anguish; fell again to a low cry,
Then rose triumphant where the white fires fumed,
Terrible, marching, trampling, reeling, gay,
Hurling mad, broken legions down to die

Through everlasting hells -- The tears were salt
Upon my fingers -- Then, I saw, behind
The fury of the player, all the trees
Crouched like violinists, boughs crooked, jerking, blind,
Sweeping mad bows to music without fault,
Grey cheeks to greyer fiddles, withered knees.

Gasping, I fled! -- but still that devilish tune
Stunned ears and brain alike -- till clouds of dust
Blotted the picture, and the noise grew dim --
Shaking, I reached the town -- and turned -- in trust - Wind-smitten, dread, against the sky-line's rim,
Black, dragon branches whipped below a moon!