Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Losing the Fight Over Love

In Calling, Church, Health, Humanity, Marriage, Politics, Science, Theologians, Thought on March 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

My heart is heavy with all that is taking place right now concerning the debate over gay marriage. Apart from the issue itself, I lament the hostile rhetoric of it all and the way sides are being taken with so little nuance (see Facebook's pink equal signs and their "Christian" cross variations), not so much for a position but against someone else taking the opposite one.

With this in mind, I appreciate N.T. Wright's perspective on framing the discussion and would encourage you to give thought to it in terms of how Christians should engage:

As to the issue itself, I wrote about it here on the blog five years ago and you're welcome to agree or disagree. For a more recent treatise that I think worthy of your time, Voddie Baucham's article, "Gay Is Not the New Black," is an important piece that does a good job addressing the issues at hand in the context of the current rhetoric.

All that said, pray for our country, that regardless of whatever differences people have, we can show love to one another in our discussions of them.

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So I’m Having a Little Surgery Tomorrow…

In Family, Health, Science on January 8, 2012 at 8:36 am

I had a bit of a scare earlier this week by way of a doctor's appointment in which the word "cancer" randomly found its way into the list of possible pain diagnoses. Thankfully, I actually have two "significant" kidney stones (9 millimeters and 7 millimeters; one in each kidney) and am scheduled for an outpatient procedure early Monday morning to have them lasered. (All prayers appreciated for this procedure tomorrow; for the menfolk out there, this is where you cross your legs in empathy).

With the exception of one day, I haven't been in any kind of major pain; however, the doctor was concerned when I described to him the pain I had felt being in both sides of my back. He said it was rare to have "synced" kidney stones in each kidney and thought the odds were a little against that. When I asked him what else might account for the dispersed pain, that was when the briefest of cancer discussions began.

In general, I'm not one to freak out at things like this, and I didn't; odds or not, the pain was similar to the only other time I've had kidney stones, so I was pretty sure that's what I was dealing with here. But the doctor had me get a CT scan later that day so we would know what the problem was, and in the 36-hour period of waiting for the results, I experienced a few emotions at the possibility of having cancer that I'm not sure I had felt up to this point in my life.

My first emotion – starting in the doctor's office – had to do with the challenge of the prospect: I felt myself hoping it was cancer so I could take my best shot at beating it. Perhaps a form of denial or just prideful presumption, I remember thinking through how I could "use" this to inspire others through my battle and come out on top in the end. I know: sick. But that was my first emotion, self-serving and naive as it was.

My second emotion – once I moved past the idiotic hope of wanting cancer – had everything to do with Megan and the girls. I began thinking through all the details I needed to figure out (and fast) so as to make whatever time I had left with them the best that I could. I also spent a lot of mental energy trying to figure out when and how to break the news, as their disassociative abilities are not as fully developed (read: non-existent) as mine are in terms of dealing with bad news and not immediately personalizing it.

My final emotion – and the one that was strangest to deal with – was my first real visceral sense that, in my humanity, I am indeed mortal and vulnerable to death. Though I've made peace with this reality from the philosophical and theological perspectives, this was the first true emotional consideration of the fact that I am not always going to be a living, breathing person. I felt fear, sadness, and disappointment creep in at the possibility that I might be dead prematurely (at least by my watch), and I emotionally winced at the Bible's teaching that, "…you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14) I prefer not to be a poster child for this truth (though I – and all of us – are).

Thankfully, I DON'T have cancer, the kidney stones will be taken care of in an outpatient surgery tomorrow, and I fully intend on making a quick and complete recovery and getting back to what God has called me to do. In fact, as I processed all of the above this week, one thing that did encourage me was that, if indeed I had limited time to live, I had no desire to do anything other than what I'm doing – no end-of-life trips or job-quitting plans required. This is reassuring and has brought new focus to the tasks at hand this week.

I'm glad for that 36-hour period in which I didn't know for sure what the future held; if anything, it was a good and practical opportunity to hold on tight with open hands to my life and check how much I do or don't trust God with it. In not knowing, I felt relief that, by His grace, I seemed able to trust Him for whatever would come, as several times Job's words were my own: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." (Job 13:15 ESV)

Not doing much arguing of ways these days…just grateful to God to get to have one more.

Summer Seminar Washington: A Summary

In Education, Nature, Places, Science, Travel, Westminster on July 26, 2010 at 7:51 am

As you know if you've been following along, I just recently returned from my third Summer Seminar, this time to the Pacific Northwest. One of the students' assignments was to journal their thoughts regarding the intricacies in nature that we saw on the trip. Not wanting to miss the opportunity myself, I pulled out my own journal and wrote a bit. Here (with a few pictures the students took) is what I wrote:

Summer Seminar is blowing me away right now as we process the intricacy of all that we're seeing. I confess I'm at a point where, as I consider our experience at the Hoh Rain Forest with what we saw earlier today at Ruby Beach's low tidal pools, I'm struggling a bit with my faith that God really created it all, is sovereign over it all, is aware and at work in it all. The complexity of the way the different systems complement and interact with each other is just so mind-boggling; likewise, the beauty is amazing as there is form and function, aesthetic and efficiency, and I marvel at the creation – process and product – wondering how God can be the Lord of it all?

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Strangely, the experience causes one of two responses in me: the first is the realization that, once again, I have made God too small and in my own image; the second is the recognition that I can become numb to creation and wonder if, maybe, it really is the rarest function of random chance and evolution, for it all seems so big (too big) for anyone (even God) to have created and set in motion and rule over. This is just the Pacific Northwest! What about the rest of the U.S.? The world? The universe?

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The Christian worldview, both theologically as well as ecologically, does not work with a small, ethnocentric god created in my own image. I forget (again) how much work it is to keep from limiting my understanding of the person of God, but am reminded (again) by His creation of plenty of reasons that help me doubt my doubts.

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I do not believe the world's existence to be luck or chance. God has taken credit for His work of creation, and I am wrong to limit His person in the face of the reality of the intricacies I see in the world. My limited understanding of all He has made does not negate the truth that these ecosystems and their connections (which are difficult to fully comprehend) were and are under God's sovereign reign.

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My mind, as well as my heart, can only grasp so much. The main question
I've been asking myself on the trip is what does it all mean?
What do I and these kids (as well as the world and its inhabitants)
take away from all of this creation that might change and bring
contribution to God's world? How do we translate our awe at God's
intricacies into actions on behalf of them?

Re-reading my entry and seeing the pics brings to mind the beginning of Psalm 14:

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"

Lord, forgive me for my doubts…and keep me from being so foolish before You.

Twilight It Isn’t

In Books, Education, Nature, Places, Science, Travel, Westminster on July 9, 2010 at 5:36 am

Twilight-eclipse-2

I'm flying to Portland today in preparation for Westminster's Summer Seminar in Washington, which starts tomorrow and runs for the next ten days. We've got 22 soon-to-be-seniors and 7 staff (none of whom are pictured above) going on the trip. Here's a tentative (read: weather-permitting) itinerary:

July 10, Saturday
Rendezvous with students/staff in Portland, OR
Lunch
Transport to Forks, WA (yes, I know this is where the Twilight "saga" is set, but no, that's not why we're going there)

July 11 or 12, Sunday or Monday
Forks logging and mill tours
Hoh Rain Forest hike
or
Hurricane Ridge
and Crescent Lake

July 13, Tuesday
Tidal pool study at Ruby Beach
Transport to Mossyrock

July 14 and 15, Wednesday and Thursday
Mt. Rainier
or
Mt. St. Helens

Transport to Deschutes River state park

July 16, Friday
Hike Mt. Hood (Copper spur: 7.8 miles)

July 17 and 18, Saturday and Sunday
Raft Deschutes River

July 19, Monday
Holiday Inn Express, Portland, OR

July 20, Tuesday
Depart

Core classes include:

  • Is This the Way It’s Supposed to Be?
    This core will introduce the tension of needing a vital raw material, yet wrestling with the consequences of acquiring that resource.
  • The Biology of the Old Growth vs. the Modern Lumber Industry
    This core will explore the idea of an old growth forest juxtaposed with a replanted forest: Can we simply replant and expect to sustain the old growth ecosystem?
  • The Way It Should Be: Systems That Function
    This core will explore ecosystems functioning as they were intended to and seek to understand that species work towards the benefits of the entire system due to a “biological Invisible Hand”.
  • The Cedar as Central: The “Buffalo” of the Pacific Northwest
    This core will explore the Native American view of the old growth cedar as central to their survival and how the same cedars are central to the survival of Forks, WA. Students will understand the centrality of the cedar to an old growth ecosystem and its species. A comparison will be drawn to the buffalo on the Great Plains. What are the differences between the White and Native American views of these natural resources?
  • Sustainability
    This core will explore author Lynn White’s claim that a Christian worldview with its notion of dominion is ultimately responsible for the ecological crisis. Students will also interact with Francis Schaeffer’s "Pollution and the Death of Man" as a counterpoint to White’s ideas and will seek to explore a proper Christian view of dominion with an emphasis on sustainability.
  • Mt. St. Helens: A Theological View of Restoration
    This core will explore the gradual, natural restoration of Mt. St. Helens and the parallel idea of God’s restoration of Creation from a Reformed eschatological position.
  • The Economics and Politics of Logging: What Will It Cost You?
    This core will explore the costs of proper dominion. Considering that the whole Old Growth debate is driven by the economics and politics of rationing a scarce resource, students will be introduced to the notion that proper dominion will be costly to their generation.

Students are to have read The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest by William Dietrich and written an introductory three-page response essay before the trip. They'll then submit five revised journal entries, culminating in a five-page essay due at the end of the month. I'm responsible for the reflecting/writing/grading aspect of the trip, as well as for publishing a book compilation of the students' best writing and pictures.

All in all, it should be fun. If I see Edward or Bella, I'll say hello for you…

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

In Family, Health, Places & Spaces, Science, Seminary, Young Ones on April 17, 2010 at 6:55 am

In the past week, I've coached five baseball games, the last of which counts almost for two as it went 12 innings (high school games are seven innings). The good news: we won every game (even the 12-inning one); the other news: by the end of the week (or really by Wednesday) I was completely exhausted.

When I got home Friday night after school, a seminary class, and a reunion dinner with my family to reintroduce myself as husband/father, I was so tired that I was in bed and asleep by 7:30…that is, until Megan came to bed at 11:30, which is when I woke up and couldn't go back to bed. I knew I was still wiped out, but I could not for the life of me fall back asleep. And now it's early morning. Nuts.

I remember taking a psychology class my sophomore year in college and reading about sleep deprivation experiments done on mice. Somehow, before taking that class, I had honestly believed that one's need for sleep was simply mind over matter; we didn't really need to sleep, but it was a good idea to do so anyway. I'm not kidding: I honestly thought this (in the words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon.")

Then I read about experiments in which researchers filled an aquarium with four inches of water and placed a long triangle-shaped column the length of the aquarium floor. The edge of the triangle jutted up out of the water by an inch or so, and the mice would perch themselves on the edge so as not to fall in and get wet. However, when the mice fell asleep, their grip on the edge relaxed, they fell off, woke up, and scrambled back onto the edge, newly awakened but increasingly sleep-deprived. This went on for days and weeks until they finally died from sheer exhaustion.

Maybe it's my farm background, but I've never been a real night owl; even in college, I was usually in bed by 9:30 and up before everyone else in the dorm. This all changed 8-10 years ago in Colorado, as I started getting up in the middle of the night multiple times – sometimes because of crying kids, but often because I just kept waking up and couldn't go back to sleep. I began to notice that I didn't dream anymore, and I needed naps more than I used to because I was just so tired all the time. I also snored, which along with my constant getting in and out of bed,
kept Megan up at night.

This sleep pattern continued when we moved to St. Louis five years ago, but it didn't make sense because we were through the crying-kids-at-night stage, yet I was still waking (and getting) up. Studying in seminary became especially difficult as I couldn't read anything even early in the evening without falling asleep 20 minutes later. Then, when I started teaching full-time in addition to everything else, I would come home from school and have to lay down for a good hour, as I was so wiped out from the day.

At Megan's request, I finally did a sleep study at St. Luke's Sleep Medicine and Research Center and found out that I woke myself up approximately 100 times a night due to sleep apnea. Apparently, I have very narrow nasal passages that hinder my breathing and keep my brain from dropping into REM sleep because it's too busy making sure I don't stop breathing altogether by causing me to gasp for more air. Yet because I had been kind of asleep, I never really noticed (though Megan did, especially the gasping part).

For the past couple of years now, I have been sleeping with a mask that's connected to a ventilator of sorts and pushes air through my nasal passages to keep them from collapsing during the night. The mask took some getting used to (I'm a tummy sleeper, so I've had to learn to sleep more on my side), but the change has been remarkable: I sleep harder, I rarely wake up enough to get up in the middle of the night, and best of all, the dreams are back and that really makes me happy (I have cool dreams).

Except last night, when there were no dreams because there was no sleep. I was afraid this might happen going to bed so early, but I had little choice – my body just wouldn't stay up any longer. So, I'm a little tired this morning, but as this is my last clear Saturday to work on my seminary capstone project, I need to resist the urge to try to go back to bed. Thankfully, I have four alarm clocks with legs who will do the trick when they get up pretty soon, but for now, I'm glad a night like last night is the exception and not the rule anymore.

(Note: I'm not paid to endorse sleep studies, but if you're constantly tired, give some thought to whether it could be because of poor sleep. As was true in my case, you may not know what you don't know.)

Life on Other Planets: Some Thoughts

In Church, Humanity, Movies, Nature, Places, Science, Theologians, Travel on August 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

A friend of mine and I sat through the movie Knowing the other night. While one of the worst movies I've watched in a while (incoherent plot, numerology silliness, Nicolas Cage once again playing Nicolas Cage), the film did serve one purpose: it got us talking about the idea of life on other planets.

Despite my X-Files affections, I tend to doubt that we have neighbors in the universe: other populated worlds aren't mentioned in the Bible, and most scientists say the odds against are just too huge otherwise. Maybe I'm your typical egocentric human, but when astronomer Carl Sagan said that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe it would be "an awful waste of space," I guess I feel kind of special.

At the same time, I recognize that just because the Bible doesn't record the existence of life on other planets doesn't mean there isn't. Remember: the Bible is a historical-redemptive narrative, not an all-encompassing science book. And speaking of science, there are plenty of scientists who do not share my doubts, running huge scientific initiatives and spending a boatload of money in hopes of making some kind of contact with other beings.

Despite my doubts, and certainly different from the typical evangelical Christian line, the argument for other life in the universe does seem plausible, if for no other reason than the very nature of God as Creator. But here's the question I think it all comes down to: The Scriptures attest to our fallen nature as created beings, but is that to mean all that is on the Earth or all that is in the entire universe?

The question is important because, while we have the account of God redeeming Earth through Christ, if there are indeed other beings in the universe and the universe is indeed fallen, then was there a plan of salvation for other planets as well? C.S. Lewis believed so, namely that when the Bible talks of "creation," it is in reference to the Earth and not necessarily the universe. From this perspective, the idea of other created beings without need of redemption is possible; we just don't have a record of it.

Thinking about all this is particularly interesting in light of mankind's desire to explore space. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that the only way humanity can survive is to figure out how to leave the planet; hence, the importance of the U.S. space program. This, of course, begs the question: If the Earth is the only fallen part of God's creation, what does our going out into a non-fallen universe mean? Does it matter? And what would it be like to meet other creation who are intact in their creation perfection?

This is what I understand Lewis' Space Trilogy
to be about: man
leaves Earth
(called the Silent Planet, as it was cut off from the rest of the
universe because of its evil), to colonize elsewhere in the universe
(Perelandra) among beings not in need of redemption. These innocents, though not fallen
themselves, are nevertheless affected by humans and Earth's evil
before it is all finally resolved in the Siege of Deep Heaven against
the Bent One of Earth. In other words, sinful Earthlings contaminated another part of space which, until their arrival, had not been so. Thankfully, however, good overcame evil.

I've always thought of and understood the Fall applying to all of God's universal creation; thus, I differ with Lewis' premise that creation perfection is alive and well outside the surly bonds of Earth. Having said that, however, if God so chose to redeem other inhabitants of his universal creation, I'm assuming he has both prerogative and means to accomplish his will. In my finite, self-centered self, it's just easier to think about me and Earth, especially since God gave us a record of all he has done for redemption here (not to mention that I have no plans or desire for leaving).

Still thinking on this, but I'll stop for now. Anyone have a more formed/informed thought?

The Contentment Equation

In Friends, Health, Humanity, Science, Westminster on March 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I had a tough discussion with a student this week – tough not because of the student, but because of the student's family situation. Details aren't important for my purposes here, so I'll refrain from sharing any; suffice it to say, I wanted to help a lot more than I could. Leaving school, I prayed for the student, asking God to grant strength and maturity in handling parents who are both behaving badly.

As I was praying, I wondered when the last time the student had ever felt real and extended contentment in life. Was it within the past year? Doubtful – we've been processing the situation together since at least November. Any time during the teenage years? Possibly, but most of what the student is dealing with has been years in the making, and teenagers pick up on that stuff. When my student was in elementary school? I hope not (that would be a while ago). Even before then? Man.

I think about stuff like this a lot – not just with kids, but adults as well. My theory (and I'm just throwing it out here) is that the further a person has to go back to find real and extended contentment, the older they feel and seem to others. Granted, this idea may not be rocket science (and I'll grant that my definitions of "real" and "extended" are more than a bit fuzzy), but I wonder if a math-type could put together an equation to qualitatively test my hypothesis; all I've got is a gut feeling it's true.

As any good teacher asks a student for an answer to his own question, I tried to answer mine. When was the last period of real and extended contentment for me? When was the first? How many have there been in between? Most importantly (I think), how young (or old) does the accumulation or absence of these make me seem to others? I'll be honest: I feel (and have felt) pretty content for much of the past year, but has that been contentment or just happiness? What really marks a difference between the two?

A favorite passage on this topic is Paul's statement in Philippians 4:11-13:

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be a content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

God's promise in verse 13 is every Christian's favorite – that is, until they discover that being content is what God promises to strengthen us for (instead of just winning sport events or passing tests). For hermeneutical reasons, I stopped applying this verse to non-contentment kinds of things a long time ago, but I'm not sure how recent it's been since I picked it up again to apply it in the right way. I'm not sure I'm that brave.

With regard to my schizophrenic inquiries above, I'm still thinking through my answers; however, I'm as interested in whether the questions are even the right ones as well. What do you think of my equation (try this for starters: PA (perceived age) = AA (actual age) – C (contentment) / T (time))? How accurate does it seem in measuring your own experience? And what does it take for you to feel as well as talk about being content in your own life?