Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for September 2008

On Old Friends and Different Paths

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I read this passage last night, dropped in the middle of Chapter Five of Anna Karenina.  It has stuck with me throughout the day today.  As I’ve been dressed in a suit, thumbing through reams of paper, hunting for numbers, and double checking excel spreadsheets I’ve wondered what my friends of old would make of me.

The two characters, Levin and Oblonsky, are of the same social class in 1870s Russia, rich aristocrats who, unlike the vast majority of Russians at the time, had the education, freedom, and wealth to choose what jobs they wanted.  It strikes me that they aren’t unlike us in that respect and that makes me wonder how we think of our friends who have taken different paths . . .

Levin was almost the same age as Oblonsky; their intimacy did not rest merely on champagne.  Levin had been the friend and companion of his early youth.  They were fond of one another in spite of the difference of their characters and tastes, as friends are fond of one another who have been together in early youth.  But in spite of this, each of them – as is often the way with men who have selected careers of different kinds – though in discussion he would even justify the others’ career, in his heart despised it.  It seemed to each of them that the life he led himself was the only real life, and the life led by his friend was a mere phantasm.  Oblonsky could not restrain a slight mocking smile at the sight of Levin.  How often he had seen him come up to Moscow from the country where he was doing something, but what precisely Oblonsky could never make out, and indeed he took no interest in the matter. Levin arrived in Moscow always excited and in a hurry, rather ill at ease and irritated by his own want of ease, and for the most part of with a perfectly new, unexpected view of things.  Oblonsky laughed at this and liked it.  In the same way Levin in his heart despised the town mode of life of his friend, and his official duties, which he laughed at, and regarded as trifling.  But the difference was that Oblonsky, as he was doing the same as everyone did, laughed complacently and good-humoredly, while Levin laughed without complacency and sometimes angrily.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter Five.

Written by furthermusings

September 30, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Reviews

Longing for Silence (Again)

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I’m done working on my dissertation for the evening and with Charity out of the house all I can hear is the soothing tick-tock of the clock and the soft chirping of crickets mixing with the occasional car driving by outside.

Often these days I think about things that I’ve already written about here on the blog.  While the thoughts aren’t less worthwhile for being repetitive I rarely write about them again, but as today has consisted of work work and of school work I’ve been thinking about silence a good bit and longing again for holy leisure.

This isn’t a new thought for me but it is one that keeps coming back to me again and again.  I fill much of the knawing void of the day with endless news stories via websites and blogs.  I’m thankful for a bit of silence and inner quiet tonight.  Praise God.

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September 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Reflections

An Epistemic Question

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A friend of mine from the Physics and Astronomy Department let me read his response to list-serve post where someone derided the doomsayers of the Hadron Collider, a 17 mile long particle accelerator on the Swiss/French border, where scientist hope to create small black holes.  As I understand it the doomsayers worry that it might literally end the world.  I post it below as I think it is an interesting discussion of how we decide we know things.

* * * *

An epistemic question:  Why such trust of the scientists?  If they were priests of another, more religious, sort and were engaged in a large, expensive, bureaucratic endeavor, and some ignorant folks claimed that said endeavor would end in bad things and should be stopped and if those in power assured everyone that such a concern was nothing to worry about, would there be any suspicion of motives, talk of power plays, etc?

When is it okay to trust the experts?

a) Only when they have Ph.D.s because the academy instills virtue, so those who have advanced degrees are trustworthy.

b) Only when they have a proven track record of being right.  Scientists have always been right (e.g., Ptolemy before Kepler, Newton before Einstein, Becher before Lavoisier); therefore, we should trust them regarding the physics of small black holes created in energy regimes never before attained in the laboratory.

c)  Only when we can evaluate the evidence that they put forth.  I understand general relativity and particle physics well enough to evaluate this evidence and have found it convincing.

d)  Only when they’re on “my” side, as in, “I trust scientists because they’re against the hordes of ignorant people, including religious zealots, and so am I,” or, “I trust Sarah Palin because she’s against the damn liberal elites, and so am I.”

e)  It is never okay to trust the experts.  I don’t believe anything I haven’t proven to myself.  My world
is thus very small and uninteresting.

f)  Other.  Please specify.

(Check one)

Written by furthermusings

September 15, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Geeky Blogs

A Distant Grief

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A Distant Grief is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read.  And for all it’s remarkableness I’m still nearly speechless two weeks after I finished it.  It’s the story of a Ugandan pastor whose church begins to grow as Idi Amin comes to power in Uganda.  Set in Kampala, Uganda’s urban and modern capital where development and western cultural influence mix with traditional Ugandan culture and religion, the first half of the book is the story of Kefa Sempangi’s childhood, education, and Christian conversion. The second half is his account of what happens to him and to his church during the first years of Amin’s rule.

Sempangi returns to Uganda after receiving his PhD in England to teach at a national university and he also pastors a small church in Kampala.  As Amin gains power incongruous sights appear and a vibrant city begins to realize the terror coming upon them that they cannot escape.  Couples stroll by hand-in-hand across the green lawns between the Ugandan Museum and a municipal golf course. Among the lush plantings of flowers a group of soldiers beat a man to death.  His screams mingle with the crying birds and every passing man and every passing golfer is helpless to interfere. Bodies begin to appear in the streets. Houses are filled with the dismembered bodies of their residents. Horrified, unresponsive survivors are brought to Sempangi’s church unable to speak, unable to engage in reality given what has happened to them.  The church worships, the church prays, the church begs, and the church swells even as martyrdom begins to fall upon them.  Church membership questions include: are you ready to die for Jesus Christ?

A Distant Grief is a mix of the modern and the deeply spiritual.  It’s a story of witch doctors and of Christians.  It’s a story of rural and urban Ugandans.  It’s a story of men who kill with their hands and of victims of the most heinous crimes.  It’s the story of the men and women who found themselves facing so grievous that they were beyond grief.  After witnessing the murder in the park Sempangi writes:

“In that moment I learned a new truth.  I learned that just as there is a boundary beyond which human beings cannot comprehend the glory of God, so there is a boundary beyond which they cannot comprehend the evil in the world.  There is boundary beyond which everything is a senseless chasm.  It is here in the nightmare of utter chaos that human feeling dies.  It is here, where death and terror seem to have full dominion, that even the deepest of human sorrows becomes but a distant grief.”

I sit in amazement, grief, and wonder at this book.  In amazement that these men believed in the message of Jesus Christ and when they died violent, gruesome deaths at the hands of evil men they were full of love and joy because of they believed.  I’ve never read accounts of martyrdom before and I can’t shake stories of these men, whose heads were sawn off with bayonets or beaten to death with hammers while they call on God to love their executioners.  I sit in grief that Amin butchered men with his own hands and he enabled and encouraged the murder of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children: how terrible to live in that land at that time under the power of the blood thirsty and the evil.  I sit in wonder at the safety and order in the land that I reside in.  And I sit in amazement that I worship the same God as these Ugandan martyrs.

Written by furthermusings

September 12, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Reflections, Reviews

Hanging with the Fellows

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One fun moment over last weekend was sitting with Bill and his boys on the living room couch watching football and sipping on beers (Bill and me).

A noise was emitted in the room and Colin remarked to the emitter:

“You have a bullfrog in your pants!”

I thought “this is a moment that I don’t usually when we hang out with our good friends C’s in Chapel Hill with Charity, Steve, Jeannie and their two girls.”


Reading Captain Underpants

Written by furthermusings

September 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Laughter, Pictures

Another Visit To Amherst

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Charity and I were both traveling last weekend.  While she had her taste of rural living in MN I traveled to Boston for a conference for a few days and then on to Amherst for two days of visiting the C’s who where an easy train ride away from Boston towards Springfield.

On Sunday we went peach picking, harvested collard greens from the garden, and cooked them both up as a part of a very tasty Sunday dinner.  It was a real pleasure to see the C’s again and to rest at their home under the care of their hospitality.

Written by furthermusings

September 7, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Church, Pictures

Opening Weekend

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I’ve been pretty excited about college football for the last month.  Clemson was ranked #9 and picked to win the ACC.  UNC, with lots of returning starters from a team that lost many a close game last year, was the conensus #2 pick in their division.

Then came Saturday.

First I find out that UNC squeaks by McNeese State. (who?) Then I watch Clemson get blown out and flat out embarrassed by Alabama. (ugh) And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I find out that UNC even botched the pregame, big time: the parachute guys landed in the wrong stadium

Maybe I’ll reclaim my Saturdays and give up on college football this year.

Written by furthermusings

September 1, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Posted in UNC