Sunday, July 26, 2009

Observations

This week I've been thinking and doing a bit of research on a couple of topics. Those posts, however, are not yet ready, so this week I will share a few observations I have made recently (you can take this preamble as a warning for the slight chaos of this post).

I
noticed in May that the red maple tree outside my window was performing an autumn-in-reverse trick: the deep red leaves were turning summer-green.

As I played the piano this evening, I found myself once again reflecting on the relationship between time and music. Music, more than almost anything else, makes a person loose track of time. Yet music is distinctly bound to the limits and structure of time: it is art and expression that only exists in time. Thus it both frees from time and is bound by time. There is a little clock that sits on my piano. Within a year after I got it, it stopped ticking. It seemed somehow appropriate and I have left it that way ever since.

While walking through the woods and along the roads last week, I saw these beautiful wildflowers with large clusters of purple-pink flowers on tall stalks which give off a fragrance reminiscent of lilacs. I learned that these flowers were the milkweeds I was familiar with from my fall walks. It was almost strange to think that those green meadows and roadsides would be full of rattling pods and silky seed-parachutes by September. Funny how I never knew that before, and how it has changed my perception of that fascinating plant. I know there is some parallel to people in this.

Perhaps it's just the way that some people are different from others, but I have a strong suspicion that those who do art see things differently. I am convinced it is because they look at the world differently.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Christian and a Scientist?

A question has increasingly been taking on personal significance to me: what motivates a follower of Christ to work in the field of science? Is there some disconnect, or does one flow naturally with the other?

An answer most easily offered is that science benefits people. Those who pray, "thy kingdom come" are motivated to be a part of changing our world for the better. Most advances in medicine and other areas which aid people have been inextricably linked to scientific progress. Yet this statement cannot go the other way. All advances in science did not lead to the aid of humanity. Nuclear medicine developed alongside nuclear weapons. Even excepting that rather negative view, I find this answer rather far-fetched. Belief in the abstract ability of science to benefit people in the future does not seem like motivation enough to go back to the lab each day.

Another possible motivation is simply the sheer delight in the natural world as the invention of an incredibly creative and intelligent God. There is a fine line here. The Christian scientist does not merely love the created world, for that would be idolatry. He or she loves the exploration of the natural world because it enables them to see just a bit more clearly how beautiful and awesome is the God who made it. Piper has pointed out that God is glorified when his people delight in him. I agree, and find this answer much more plausible than the first.

Yet I am still troubled by this: the God revealed in the bible is not only a creative and majestic and awesome God; he is also the God who brings good news to the poor and justice to the oppressed. It seems to me that any follower of Christ, including the scientist, must also care about this. So what does this mean for the Christian scientist, or for anyone whose vocation does not directly help the poor or oppressed? I can suggest three possible answers to this question:
  1. We have to remember that we are not the only member of the church, and trust God that he uses many different people to work in myriads of ways. Surely our creative God does not need to limit all of his people to the same type of vocation. This may be true, but is it a satisfying answer?
  2. Science is only done with part of our lives; the rest of the time is also valuable time in which God can use us in other ways. Unless my second "answer" above is true, this point makes almost no sense. Even so, it stands on shaky ground. If the scientist can best glorify God by doing science, then why worry about doing anything else? On the other hand, if it is the evenings and weekends that really make a difference in God's kingdom, why bother doing working in the lab in the first place?
  3. There is a way of living that glorifies God and brings his kingdom on earth that is not limited by a career in science. Perhaps in one small but important sense, it doesn't really matter what career we choose. I am not saying our actions are meaningless. On the contrary, it is what we do all the time - the things we say, the way we interact with people, our priorities, the way that we praise God through our work - these are the things that matter. Surely God could provide opportunities to bring freedom and comfort and justice to those who need it, right in the midst of a scientific vocation.
I am still far from being comfortable with any of these answers. In the meantime, I am going to continue to delight in God, and to trust him in his incredible creativity and wisdom.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Encouragement

This post is like a line drawing done while listening to music and without lifting the pen. (You are bright enough to figure out that analogy...)


Encouragement

When you meet friends again after it’s been too long and discover
that though you’ve both been changing
the friendship grows stronger still.

A day or even two go well after a string of downwards-gray days.
It is a gift gratefully received
nearly untouched by the quantity of sunshine.

People different from you are found to be not so different after all
For they delight in the same insignificant thing that matters,
share the same hope.

Someone shares
a story, a meal, a passion, and with trusting openness
lets you see the remarkable person they are

But these things also hold a mirror to my self,
and they breathe hope –
a reminder that plants do grow straight even as the sun circles round
and that slowly they grow upwards.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

for the road

Since I won't have access to the internet this Sunday, I thought I'd just leave you a few poems by Emily Dickinson.

We play at paste,
Till qualified for pearl,
Then drop the paste,
And deem ourself a fool.
The shapes, though, were similar,
And our new hands
Learned gem-tactics
Practicing sands.



Heaven is what I cannot reach!
The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopeless hang,
That "heaven" is, to me.

The color on the cruising cloud,
The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind, -
There Paradise is found!


And finally, in honor of my forth-coming journey:
The Railway Train

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop--docile and omnipotent--
At its own stable door.