Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April's Adventures in Books!

Looking back on April, I was able to read some great books while contemplating new career directions, having a daughter, and keeping up with the normal abnormality of my schedule. I hope to reread most of these books, they were so good (and deep!). I hope that the lessons from these writers old and new end up sticking on this tabula that is thankfully not rasa.

The Republic-Plato

This classic work of literature was one that I had for some time been ashamed to have said I'd never read. Additionally, a recent blog entry of a friend referenced it, so I knew I needed to get off of my laurels and read it. Of course, I'd read the excerpts dealing with the allegory of the cave, but to take the whole of his argument for what its worth, and to feel the dialogue's progress in its natural fashion took work, but the work was well worth it. While Plato espouses some things that are strange, such as the dissolution of marriage relations to the point where individuals would be unsure of the identity of their parents, in order to foster a more communal sense of society, his thoughts on truth and tyranny make striking points about our world today.

Christ the Lord-Out of Egypt

I had wanted to read this book for quite some time, and bought the paperback copy about a year ago. We finally got around to reading this book and it was quite enjoyable. It covers the period of Jesus' life as a seven year old, from the time when he left Egypt and returned back to Israel. The crux of the book deals with how Jesus as a human boy would come to understand his divine nature. For some time it made me feel slightly uncomfortable to think that it's possible that he would be unaware of who he was, but then as I thought from my child's perspective of not fully understanding his place in the universe, it made more sense. Ultimately, whether Rice's speculations are accurate or not on the level of details, she accurately applies the truth that the mystery of the Incarnation unites the human with the divine without mixture of substances. I can't wait to get the sequel, which deals with the life of Our Lord as a young man.

Don't Waste Your Life - John Piper

This small book by Baptist preacher John Piper deals with the fact that life is so short, and should not be wasted. It sounds obvious but the sad fact is that in our society so many people are wasting their lives. I was expecting more glaring commentary on the ways in which our society is guilty of this crime, especially as the back cover includes a great example of how most people think that an ideal retirement is spent doing nothing. However, it stays more focused on a positive view of life's meaning. Perhaps Piper's positivity is more palatable to more people, but it didn't get to me really.

What's Wrong With The World - G.K. Chesterton

This book has a very audacious title, with an even more bold message. In it, Chesterton critiques almost every facet of society, from government to family to education to feminism. While some of his views were shocking at first, he did his usual charm and opened my mind. At the end of the day, he argues that the ideal should be our basis for judging something. His closing thought that shows that our society is flawed based on the redness of a poor girl's hair is enough to make you want to cry because of the beauty of his writing, and the fact that we neglect the poor.

Biography of St. Thomas Aquinas - G.K. Chesterton

I finished the first book in this two-book volume this month, reading about the life and views of a man who has proven to be quite enigmatic. I had started reading R.C. Sproul's book Classical Apologetics, which explains the view of those who think Thomas Aquinas got things right. However, as I was reading I thought that it would be better to go straight to the source. When I saw how large most of Aquinas' books were, I realized I should stick with my current favorite writer, G.K. Chesterton, whose biography of St. Thomas has been hailed as the finest by such modern Thomists as Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson. At any rate, Chesterton's exposition of what Thomas accomplished made me hungry to learn more about this man's perspective on the world. Chesterton's grasp of the problems of philosophy is as wide as his view of the world, and I can only hope that my eventual readings of Aquinas are as exciting as Chesterton's take on the man and his project.

The Phenomenon of Life: Towards a Philosophical Biology - Hans Jonas

This collection of essays by Hans Jonas, former student of Heidegger who parted ways with him due to Heidegger's refusal to denounce Hitler, applies the basic principles of St. Thomas to the way most biologists look at life. His writing is quite dense with philosophical language [this sentence is a case in point: Concerning the single particle, then, the traceable steady presence in the continuum is the sole operational meaning of "identity", and the traced "path" is its complete verification: no obvious claim to an internal principle of identity, such as retentive historicity or protentive urge for "self"-preservation, issues from its manner of inert permanence.] This is definitely one that cannot simply be read, but must be reread as one goes, and as one thinks back to particular issues. My favorite essay was "Is God a Mathematician?" I think he raises many very important points when one considers theology and biology and the mess that often arises when they clash.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

posting a Chesterton quote because I can

I was scanning through What's Wrong With The World, by G.K. Chesterton to post a quote onto our family site, when I realized that he had said something about marriage that I had meant to post some time ago. The words are so true. They were true when they were written in 1910 (just 2 years shy of the centennial anniversary!), but they are especially true in our time of ravingly mad divorce that runs rampant in our culture.

If I were you, I would think on these words for some moments, call a specific family that is dealing with divorce to mind, pray, and ponder how our society can come to a point where the rending of souls united is a more rare event.
But enough of my rambling--on to Chesterton.

"The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.
In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian marriage is quite another matter, it is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy. The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is equally discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other and do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for "incompatibility of temper" I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible."
{emphasis added}

Monday, April 28, 2008

But what about Paraguay?

The first book that I read which gives an analysis of the Reformation and Catholicism from the Catholic perspective is Louis Bouyer's The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

The book is highly engaging and has brought up many of the core issues that have importance when one considers the church. One drawback about the book that has been evident in reading it a second time out loud is that Bouyer is so well-read that one has to know the scholars of whom he speaks. While he cites Calvin and Luther at length, most of what he says about Barth and Kierkegaard is based on the assumption that one has a good understanding of these writers. The main thrust of his themes is still able to be grasped, but sometimes he lists French writers that were famous in France but I've often no clue who they are.

He also has the sort of grasp on history that I hope to have some day. For instance, he argues that if one is to grasp that the ultimacy of God's glory is something sought after by both devout Catholics and Calvinists, one can see that the fundamental application of these concepts of this are true in a political realm. For, he argues, if one compares Calvin's Geneva, at least as conceived ideally, with the work of the Jesuits in Paraguay, then one will find some striking similarities.

So, what about Paraguay? Ignorant American that I am, when I read those words, they did not say too much to me. I had recently read about where this small country is, nestled in a landlocked state between Brazil and the larger South American countries like Argentina. And it's true I did note in passing fancy that it was interesting that the vast majority of the population is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and Guarani, the native American dialect of the area. But I failed to see any religious significance.

Now, since Louis Bouyer had mentioned Paraguay, I looked up the Jesuit connection with Paraguay. This link is one of probably hundreds discussing the matter, but I will at least say that superficially I am very excited about this notion. Often one hears of the empires built by Europe as those which decimate culture and language in the name of religion, but the fact that the Jesuits did not discourage the use of the native language in this instance hints that this may not be a universal rule.

It also raises the question that always was on my mind--was the oppression that occurred historically wrought by the hands of religious men and women, or was it done by opportunistic individuals? It seems that Paraguay is not only an anomaly in terms of relative frequency among countries established in the Americas, but also with regard to the fact that in this country the religious Jesuits had more power and less competition with thrill/gold/fame-seeking conquistadores. So which model of preaching is the exception, and which is the rule? In the sense that a rule is based on a standard or ruler, it would seem that Paraguay would be the way in which one ought to gauge the merits of the religion that was spread to new cultures. There was a philosophy underlying this mission, that was able to permeate more due to less competition with those not in the clergy. But we seem to emphasize the stark and frightening acts of man that are based on no principles that a man would boast of to his children. We think that because they are more shocking they say more. But that would only be true if the motives underlying those deeds were ultimate to those individuals. This seems to be yet another instance where we as a society have things backwards.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

The world is viewed in too linear of a fashion at times; after all, it is a globe. Why not assume some things in this world are cycles? Lean years, fat years, make sure your fat ears are open if we are truly being destructive.

Then again, you tell me that our destruction is irreversible due to greenhouse gases, but if the world is full of more CO2 than before how would this not be more fuel for the fire of a tree's photosynthetic rate? Does an increase in CO2 do nothing to affect photosynthesis?

I'm asking sincerely, being not a skeptic but not a sheep on this issue.

The last time I checked, a greenhouse was for growing trees. How would greenhouse gases not turn the cycle back down towards less CO2 because of trees that reaped the benefit?

And what's going on in the realm of food rationing? There are too many questions, with even more answers (correct, incorrect, and just absolutely irrelevant).

Friday, April 18, 2008

me in a nutshell

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reflections as Time Passes

Life is so immeasurably important and so measurably short.

I have trudged through the soils of the earth seeking truths from molecules, and have gotten dirty in the process. Overwhelmed by my options, I want to arrive at a point of less divergences. There are many ways to skin a cat, but if you fight over how to get the job done like the trolls in the Hobbit, you'll invariably lose the ability to skin the cat.

So I take my blade and raise it to the sky and say that this is the way to end the battles, and hope that I get a chance to make a meal that provides sustenance to body and mind.

But will this hunt murder my conscience?

All signs say no, but voices around me murmur a hushed yes, don't do it.

I must shun the advice of others when the message of my heart says this is the right way. Dial a cliche.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

in honor of nouveau blogger j. ho.

see more fun here:

Friday, April 11, 2008

august of 1995

A few weeks after this picture was taken the guitarist gave me an old bass that had been used by many others (I think Isaiah and Aaron Calles). His instructions explained the structure of the bass in terms of the strings being E, A, D, and G. So it's no wonder why I never progressed. But oh, the nostalgia of the time.

Almost 13 years have passed since then, and what has happened? Quite a bit, I would say.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mead Releases New Grad School–Ruled Notebook

The Onion

Mead Releases New Grad School–Ruled Notebook

RICHMOND, VA—Company officials say the new notebooks feature lines 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

March's Reads--no fancy title this time

So March seems to have been less busy for me in terms of reading (in my mind, at least--feel free to mock me for feeling like a reading failure this month), but I managed to read some great books, and some so-so books. I predict April will be jam packed with reads as my current life situation doesn't have me interviewing for jobs or contemplating any in the immediate future. Combine that with the fact that I'm in the middle of some huge books that are truly tomes (so there, fellow bibliophiles!), and you have my present multi-tasking reading situation.

At any rate, on to the books du March.

How the Reformation Happened-Hilaire Belloc

I had read Joseph Pearce's biography on this larger than life man who walked the earth with G.K. Chesterton, and had read his poetry for children and celebration, but I had not read Hilaire Belloc's actual writings on serious matters. Speaking of his poetry, I recently experienced a sing along to two of his poems, which is a story for another time, and was quite enjoyable and magical. But I digress. This book presents his perspective on life in the 1500's and 1600's. He does a great job of contextualizing the several tumults which occurred in multiple European countries which get amalgamated and discussed by those of us living today as one homogeneous event known as the Reformation. Not only is that bad thinking, he argues that it's bad thinking to ascribe the events of those days as purely religiously motivated. He shows the facets to the situation and makes fascinating observations such as the fact that the Black Plague stirred up nationalism and separation between European countries which presaged the separation among different religious parties. They were there in spirit in warring factions who wanted power, but they gained their proverbial wings when the Church was split. Whether that was for good or ill is up to you to decide, but as for me I know that the event in itself was tragic and should be remedied. More of that later, when I discuss a book by a fellow Presbyterian, John Frame. Overall, this book was interesting. It was very focused on history but had some timeless comments on the philosophies at war in this war.

Survivals and New Arrivals-Hilaire Belloc

I promised myself to only buy (and consequently, to read) one book this month. After buying Belloc's book on the causes of the Reformation, I found out that there would be a meeting of the minds to discuss the greatness of Hilaire Belloc. Survivals and New Arrivals was to be the book of interest, so I had to buy a second book, to my pocketbook's chagrin. At any rate, this book was even better than his historical analysis of Luther et al. I was captivated by his arguments which were not only prescient but revealing of his time. I laughed out loud, I questioned my stance on many issues, and I came to experience what had been described in Pearce's biography of this man--his great wit and way of making incisive points about anything he tackled. In the case of this book, his subject matter was those things that attack the Church.
I can't wait to read some of his more esoteric work, especially The Path to Rome.

Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the One Body of Christ - John M. Frame

This is a nice cartoon of John Frame, former student of Cornelius Van Til. I looked and looked but could not find an image of the cover of this book. Perhaps that speaks to its relative popularity (or lack thereof) among standard Reformed readers. Contrarian that I am, I highly enjoyed this book for its openness in admitting that the church is far too separated due to denominations. He sees the logical conclusion that is my own, which is that there should never be a multiplicity of denominations. Throughout the book there is a tension between admitting this and going forward to saying that Catholicism is good, but historically speaking there is a "one-up" for the Roman Catholics, at least with regard to this issue. I found his "back to the future" especially intriguing. In this road to unity, he contemplated (but rejected) a scenario where all churches that can affirm the Nicene creed would get together. This would, of course, include Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and the Coptic churches. It's hard to wrap one's mind around in some senses, but to me it 's clear that this is also part of the family of Christianity getting unity. I know my Catholic brethren will say this is unrealistic because of a lack of a principium unitatis, and my evangelical brethren will say this is an abuse of our liberty as Christians, but at the end of the day it's a great idea to chew on. The book was written in 1992 and in a 2000 update he expresses his unhappiness with the direction the family of God was in. What would he say today, I wonder? P.S. You can find this book online here

Evangelical Catholics-Keith Fournier

This book is by a Roman Catholic who describes that he shares much in common with Evangelicals of the more standard "Protestant" stripe. The book is autobiographical combined with an explanation of how one's evangelical zeal can flourish within the Roman Catholic Church. Because I've experienced this on a direct level with some friends, the book was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but it was informative nonetheless.
Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State - Daniel Dreisbach

I picked this book up because the subject is of interest to me and because the author is an acquaintance. I found it a very fascinating read, as it places Jefferson's life and writing in its historical context. After reading about the Danbury Baptists and others from those days, I think I understand the origin of the term "The Big Cheese".
The basic thesis of the book is that if one considers Jefferson in context, it's clear that the separation he calls for is an opposition to the federal government establishing a particular religion. He leaves the question open with regard to state governments, and points to the fact that Jefferson approved of days of prayer when he was in Virginia's state government, while he opposed such displays on the federal level a few years later. I agree with his interpretation of the facts overall, but am left wondering how this relates to a post-Lincoln era where the Federal government reigns supreme, and no powers are really left in the hands of the state government See, for example, the 10th amendment which states "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." One could persuasively call this a phantom amendment that is no longer existent, at least in comparison to the former amount of heterogeneity between states.

Danny The Champion of the World-Roald Dahl

My last book that was finished in March was a bedtime story read. This book is the first by Roald Dahl that is not entirely whimsical in its use of the imagination. One can actually imagine this happen in real life. I'm sorry to say that Mr. Wonka's creations must remain in the realm of fantasy, but such is life. This book features the standard wit of embracing the simplicity of childhood and the rejecting of "adult" "wisdom". The moral is great-it shows a boy's love of his father, and the fun they could have in trying to catch pheasants. A must read!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Stop Making Movies About My Books

The Onion

Stop Making Movies About My Books

On the fourteenth of March, in towns nationwide, In every cinema, multiplex, on every barnside, Gleamed another adapting of...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Governmental Overkill?

Much of my teaching and discussion of science involves work with computers. We share our data using programs such as Powerpoint (and Apple's superior but rarely used Keynote), projecting images using archaic overhead projectors or using projectors that attach to computers directly. That is all well and good as a concept, but the problem I have currently is that my lab meets in a room that barely holds the ~8 members in our section without getting a little too cozy for comfort. To make matters worse, the power cord for that projector is so small that it makes one need to place the projector in an awkward location; not centered and taut as can be, the power cord presents a tripping hazard for clumsy souls, who just so happen to be overrepresented in the scientific community.

Enter my plea for governmental intervention. I ask the IT people for an extension cord last Thursday, and find out they'd forgotten about it. I needed it for a presentation tomorrow morning and for a lecture tomorrow evening, so I was emphatic. They assured me there would be one for me when I picked it up. Well, it turns out I was stuck in another room so when I got back to my lab I stumbled upon this monstrosity that still makes me want to cry tears of laughter. I needed 5 or so extra feet, but this is what I got!!!!

Maybe my next Powerpoint presentation will be at a festival like Coachella!!!