After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bonhoeffer on seeing people as they are

Every day I am getting to know people, at any rate their circumstances, and sometimes one is able to see through their stories into themselves—and at the same time one thing continues to impress me: here I meet people as they are, far from the masquerade of "the Christian world", people with passions, criminal types, small people with small aims, small wages and small sins—all in all they are people who feel homeless in both senses, and who begin to thaw when one speaks to them with kindness—real people; I can only say that I have gained the impression that it is just these people who are much more under grace than under wrath, and that it is the Christian world that is more under wrath than grace.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Monday, June 28, 2010

Penn Jilette on Christians

Penn Jillette and Teller (that's it, no given name) make up the comedy duo Penn and Teller. They host a Showtime television show called Bullshit!, where they call out people and organizations who they feel are misleading people. As atheists, two of the most popular targets for them are the Catholic Church and Christians in general. However, they don't necessarily make it personal. In an interview with, Jillette had this to say:
Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good fucking Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Predicting Traffic Jams

   Science and math can do a lot of things. They can predict severe thunderstorms. They can predict the likelihood of an asteroid striking the earth (not very, thank God). They can even predict who might be candidates for Altzheimers or other diseases.
   Yet one phenomenon they have yet to conquer. Or have they?
   I am writing about traffic jams. Most of us have found ourselves in stock-still traffic, and we frantically scan the radio for some sort of explanation. Moments later, it clears up, and further travel shows nothing to be amiss; no emergency vehicles or tow trucks on the side of the road.
   Wired Magazine has an article which decribes the effort of MIT scientists to minimize the number of  these "phantom jams." As the article explains:
Phantom jams are born of a lot of cars using the road. No surprise there. But when traffic gets too heavy, it takes the smallest disturbance in the flow – a driver laying on the brakes, someone tailgating too closely or some moron picking pickles off his burger – to ripple through traffic and create a self-sustaining traffic jam.

The mathematics of such traffic jams are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, said Aslan Kasimov, a lecturer in MIT’s Department of Mathematics. Realizing this allowed the reseachers to solve traffic jam equations that were first theorized in the 1950s. The MIT researchers even came up with a name for this kind of gridlock – “jamiton.” It’s a riff on “soliton,” a term used in math and physics to desribe a self-sustaining wave that maintains its shape while moving.

   Yes, it's a little egghead-y, but still interesting since it is an experience many of us share. Here's a video which shows how jams happen.

   For more on this topic, read the article here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bonhoeffer on vanity and grace

On Sunday afternoon I attended an extremely festive high mass in Sacré Couer. The people in the church were almost exclusively from Montmartre; prostitutes and their men went to mass, submitted to all the ceremonies; it was an enormously impressive picture, and once again one could see quite clearly how close, precisely through their fate and guilt, these most heavily burdened people are to the heart of the gospel. I have long thought the Tauentzienstrasse [Berlin's red-light district] would be an extremely fruitful field for church work. It's much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010


   MOST OF WHAT WE REMEMBER of our fathers, either good or bad, is based on our experience with them—those decades spent in proximity. For John Ames, giving his son that chance will not be possible. In 1956, at the age of 77, this pastor of a small church in Gilead, Iowa finds himself facing two incongruous truths: failing health due to heart disease, and a seven-year-old son from a late marriage. So, he decides to set down his story as best he can in a long letter. A novel, Gilead, is that letter, and it is wondrous.
   He tenderly tells of the young woman who came into his church one Sunday and immediately stole his heart (Not easily, mind you. His devotion to his calling was always first, especially since the death of his first wife years ago during childbirth). He refused to say anything to her, though, because of the disparity of their ages, until one day…
“I came near alarming myself with the thought of the loneliness stretching ahead of me, and the new bitterness of it, and how I hated the secretiveness and the renunciation that honor and decency required of me and that common sense enforced on me. But when I looked up, your mother was watching me, smiling a little, and she touched my hand and she said, ‘You’ll be just fine.’ . . .
“She began to come to the house when some of the other women did, to take the curtains away to wash, to defrost the icebox. And then she started coming by herself to tend the gardens. She made them very fine and prosperous. And one evening when I saw her there, out by the wonderful roses, I said, ‘How can I repay you for all this?’
“And she said, ‘You ought to marry me.’
And I did.”
   The marriage is happy for both. Yet as Ames’s health issues loom, another complication arises as the son of his best friend, who once left town in disgrace, returns to Gilead and re-inserts himself into the life of the pastor and his wife. As he watches this man in his 40s bond with his wife—herself near that age—and son, he wonders if he should tell her of what has gone before. And he wonders if it even matters.
   As older men are wont to do, Ames loves remembering the past, and tells thorough histories of his grandfather, a hellfire and damnation preacher who went to Kansas as an abolitionist and fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. His father, naturally, became a pacifist preacher who nevertheless held enough rage to nearly destroy his family. All of this becomes the lineage of a young boy who, Ames hopes, will one day read his letter.
   The book is so luminous and so alive that you simply feel you are reading the actual remembrances of a man such as John Ames, which is a testament to the talent of the writer, Marilynne Robinson. The Washington Post hails Gilead as “so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it.” The spiritual musings and perceptions are among the most profound I’ve read in fine literature. Through John Ames, author Robinson shows she understands both goodness and grace. In thinking about his young friend as the prodigal son, Ames describes himself thusly: “I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father’s house. . . . I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained.’’
   It is rare these days to find a good book about a good man. This is one.
Book Review by Wayne Steadham.

Friday, June 11, 2010

David Foster Wallace on Choosing the Object of Your Worship

[H]ere's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
—The late David Foster Wallace, author, from a commencement speech in 2005 at Kenyon College.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Remembering Normandy, June 6, 1944

Remembering the many, many men who fell in battle on this day 66 years ago. Here is a video which shows one way that remembrance was shown. The videographer explains:
While visiting the American cemetery in Normandy, a French gentleman and his friends came upon Amos, and when he realized that Amos was a WW2 veteran who fought in Normandy, the French gentleman gave Amos a letter.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


days ago
I became the first child of John and Joyce,
the first grandchild of James and Mildred
and Croley and Hazel.

I found myself a sinner
in need of a Savior.

well over half my life
I have loved one above all others.
we started keeping house.

I became a father
(and again at 10,418, 9650 and 8424).

A mere 86 days ago
I became a grandfather.

And I count each day passed worthwhile
and the days to come
surely less than I wish
yet more than I deserve
as gifts.

So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12.