Friday, December 29, 2017

Run along and bake cookies...sweetie

In a video piece offering Hillary Clinton some New Year's resolutions, Vanity Fair suggested Hillary Clinton take up some new hobbies in 2018, such as knitting.  Beyond the sort of sexist undertones to taking up knitting, I'm really bothered that most of the digs are aimed at distracting her from running again.  But she has made it quite clear that she will not ever run for office again, why can't we take her at her word?  Does "no" still not mean "no" in 2017?

I'm sympathetic, having recently been told to wander off and bake cookies now that I'd been schooled about God and science.  Like I was some doltish child who had dared to interrupt the adult conversation.

The suggestion that women take up some domestic activity, such as knitting or cookie baking, has long been a proxy for get out of the conversation and leave the field to the (obviously more qualified) men in the room.

Last month I got tangled in a Twitter exchange about God and science.  I was responding because a friend had pointed out a tweet stating that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle proved the existence of God. For obvious reasons he thought I might be the right person to shed some light on this notion.

The characters involved were fabulous: a self-aggrandizing anti-evolutionist with a superficial knowledge of science whose favorite epithet is "sweetie," an ingenuous evangelical woman, someone who invokes Luther as a source but thinks Thomas Aquinas is likely fictional, an atheist or two, and a pantheon of baffled scientists.  C.S. Lewis could have a field day with this crowd.

The conversation was definitely illuminating, though not quite in the way my friend intended.  There was no intellectual engagement as all, the style of debate runs to  don't you know anything about science and flat assertions: you are delusional if you believe in evolution. Because. The scientists are baffled because observations and experiments are dismissed as nonsensical. From this perspective it is not fodder for Lewis or his ilk at all, because there is no content, no actual arguments to lay out.

Best lines...

Ingenuous evangelical: "Are you Christian?"  Yep. [In retrospect, I wonder if she is a bot. I scrolled through the tweets to find lots of odd repeats.]
Scientist:  "Dude, she's a chemist."
Other scientist: "Are you trying to intimidate a Vatican Scientist?" [For the record, not in the least intimidated. Amused, saddened, but not intimidated.]
Onlooker: [in response to a comment I made that the statement of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle provided was a simplified version] But what is it then?  [Someone told him to Google it, but if you don't know some quantum, that's really not going to help.]


I still don't know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle has to do with the theory of evolution, and the responses by the original poster was....hardly illuminating. The first one was "because it means things are uncertain."  Yeah.  The final swipe was this:
"actually it proves the theory of evolution cis [sic] not falsifiable, and the simple claim that ToE is unfalsifiable according to the problem of demarcation, proves it is a pseudo science."

Sunday, December 24, 2017

We could be all flame

From a reflection in Give Us This Day, Christmas 2016.

A light is kindled in the darkness.  A word is spoken. The cold air crackles, the stones stir underfoot, a fire hisses out its breath, coals creaking like wind-racked pines. A woman labors to give birth. 

And so God arrives among us, shivering in the cold, howling with hunger, begging with each breath to be fed and clothed and sheltered.  A voice crying out, aglimmer with a Gospel demanding to be proclaimed.

Gloria, we exclaim, and hunt in vain for angels in the sky. But Isaiah hinted at the shape of the light we seek: Share your food with the hungry, shelter the poor, clothe those in need, then your light will blaze forth like the dawn. 

Three decades later, ablaze on a sun-bright hillside outside Jerusalem, is he remembering that night?  I was hungry and you fed me, a stranger and you made me welcome.”  When, we asked, the wailing child and spent mother long forgotten.  Whenever you did this for the least among you.”  And we saw his glory.

Can we stop hunting for the cherubim and seraphim long enough to listen to the unending and all-sustaining Word, crying out in need, or for the Light pleading for light, for warmth, for food and shelter? If you wish, said one of the desert mystics, you could be all flame.  If we wish, we could be Isaiah’s blazing dawn.

The Word came to dwell among us, that we might be a word spoken, a voice for those in need, a light to the nations.  Children of God, all flame.


Saturday, December 23, 2017


My desk at its worst.
My study-under-the-eaves has two tables in it.  My computer resides on one and the other, tucked into a gable, is for spreading out and thinking.  Except when it's not. For the last three months I have been dropping stacks of papers and books on it, as one project has moved into the next without respite.  The surface vanished somewhere in late September.

Giving a talk at another institution earlier this fall, I was captivated by the states of various offices.  From starkly empty — nothing on the walls or desk or shelves — to stacks of paper on every surface, the monitor for the computer half on, half off a pile on a small side table. And every permutation in between. These are the #realDesksOfAcademia.

I really don't work well without a clear surface to spread out, and two current projects are in the stage where I really need that space.  And my office at the college (where the desks are indeed clear, and thus where I have been doing that sort of work) is going to be inaccessible for the next several weeks due to construction.

"Clear off the desk." was stuck on my Saturday to-do-list all November, finally morphing into an (aspirational) item on my daily list — "30 minutes on the !@#$& desk" — staring at me each morning, mournfully.

I finally got a breather on Thursday and spent an hour on the desk.  It's progress.  Perhaps next week I will see its surface.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Light aborning, light bearing

A summer sunset over the gardens at Castel Gandolfo.
As I drove home from an errand yesterday evening, there was a single, vein of pure gold in the indigo clouds piled up on the horizon.  So, too, in these days do obligations and crises pile up while I scan the leading edge of my calendar for any sign of hope, of relief, for cracks that will let in light, and not the cracks that presage collapse.

It was a vivid reminder that Light is what I yearn for, but am I longing for passive illumination or am I willing to expose myself to a light that will not leave me unchanged, a light that I will be expected to bear. For...

"Chemists see light as active. It doesn’t just illuminate, driving away the darkness, it can fundamentally change what it touches. One molecule becomes another, electrons shift allegiances, marching ‘round materials like armies of stars. Yet more wonderfully, once the light has soaked in, it can shine forth again, in new ways and new directions: fluorescence and phosphorescence appear at different wavelengths from the exciting light. And from these depths, the light speaks to us, telling us what was and perhaps, what will be. What is the shape of this molecule? By what pathways can it change?Light of the world, light of my heart." — read the rest at the Vatican Observatory Foundation's blog

 Light born, light a'borning, light to bear.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What do we value?

Heated debates over the "War On Christmas" have raged for years, with many on the right complaining that political correctness has made it less acceptable to say Merry Christmas. Trump has seized on these feelings, regularly telling primarily religious audiences that his presidency has made it acceptable to "start saying Merry Christmas again." CNN

We are promised "returning moral clarity to our view of the world" and an end to "attacks on Judeo-Christian values."  I cannot recognize my Christian values, nor any particular moral clarity, in the White House or the Senate or Congree. 

Perhaps because it's not whether we say "Merry Christmas" that's the measure we are told we must meet, but Matthew 25. Feed the hungry, care for the sick, bring water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger.  It does not say wish everyone a Merry Christmas while cutting nutrition programs, undermining health care, and making sure that strangers are demonized.

Meanwhile on my denomination's calendar (and we would be the largest Christian denomination in the US), the Christmas season has yet to arrive.  If we were really keeping the religious season, not the secular one, the stores would be decorated in violet, and offer free socks to the homeless.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Love. Period.

I flew to Boston earlier this week, an early evening flight so I could hit the ground running for a talk on Wednesday.  We were held on the ground at Philly, after a long taxi out to the edges of the airport.  It felt like the pilot had decided to drive to Boston.  And truth be told, with the delay, elapsed time door to door was the same for the trip by plane or by car.

When we were finally at the gate in Boston, it took them some time to get the jetway open. (#waiting #Advent #amIright?)  The guy behind me was dictating a text to (I presume) his wife. "I am on my way to the hotel...period...I will get dinner and then you...period."  The guy who had been in the middle seat next to me was rolling his eyes at this.  "Gotta have that punctuation," he muttered.

I, too, was musing about the punctuation.  He had the pacing down, so this was clearly his habit.  But love period.  What about "love you exclamation point"?

Would I be that stingy with punctuation to my spouse?  I hope not!

How many exclamation points should you use? A delightful essay in The Atlantic.