Thursday, September 29, 2011

the Gospel and Suffering

Recently I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Suffering.  It was so good that I wanted to share parts of it with you.

First: the centrality of the gospel.  We can only understand suffering in the context of what God has done.  For one thing, it shows that whatever reason it is that God allows suffering in the world, it is not because he does not love us.  One point in the sermon that really struck me was when Tim Keller stated talking about 1 Peter 1:12 , which says
It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
What does this mean?  Why is this gospel so incredible? Listen to this clip.

Another point really got me thinking - is it possible that God can use suffering to make some things better than they could have been without the suffering having taken place? Listen.

In case the audio doesn't work, or in case you want to read it again, the quotation by Dostoyevsky is:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small and fabrication of the Euclidian mind of man. That in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass, that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed, that it will make it not only possible to forgive, but to justify what has happened. -Dostoyevsky
 Isn't that an interesting thought?  What do you think?  Was any of this helpful to you?  Challenging?


p.s.   If you want to listen to the whole sermon you can download it for free on iTunes on the "Timothy Keller Podcast".  It is titled "Suffering: If God is good why is there so much evil in the world?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From One Amateur to Another: Photography Tips and Terms

I'm branching out a little from my usual topics to talk a little about one of my hobbies: photography.  So many of us love to take pictures; there is something of wonder in the ability to capture a moment - an expression, a beautiful scene, whatever it is that captivates us.  If you are already a photographer I suggest you skip this post and read one of my others. This post is about the basics, and a few rules of thumb.

Aperture - the size of the opening that the light can get through.  The picture shows (1) a large aperture and (2) a small one.  There are several important practical things to note about this:
  1. The higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture.
  2. The size of the aperture determines how much light gets in to the 'film' (in digital cameras, a CCD array), so in low light a larger aperture might be helpful
  3. The size of the aperture also determines the way the image is focused.  A small aperture will only let light 'rays' come through straight, resulting in focus over a relatively large range.  This is what you will hear referred to as "depth of field" - a small aperture allows a larger depth of field.  Conversely, a large aperture does not limit the rays as much and so only light coming from one plane of focus will be well focused.  This image will be well focused, though.  The diagram below (from shows the light rays from an image on the left focusing on the sensor on the right.  The black lines show something that would be in focus.  As you can see, the smaller aperture brings objects at all three distances into a much tighter focus than does the larger aperture.  Of course there are other factors that influence the depth of focus, such as distance away from the object, but if you start playing around with this you will get the idea and see what a difference it makes.

Shutter Speed - This is what it sounds like: how fast does the shutter stay open?  When the shutter is open, light hits the film or CCD.  For example, on a bright sunny day if you leave the shutter open for a long time your film (or CCD) will be "overexposed" and you will probably just get a white (or nearly white) picture.  In bright lighting you want a faster shutter speed.  Conversely, in dim light, you will need a slower shutter speed.  Another factor to consider when setting the shutter speed is blurriness: if the object you are photographing (or your hand holding the camera) is moving faster than the shutter, it will move during the time it is open and you will get a blurry image.  Sometimes this is desired, but it is important to be able to control this.  
ISO - This stands for International Organization for Standardization, the people who came up with the system used for quantifying the speed of film - how sensitive is it to light:  A higher number means higher sensitivity.  The film sensitivity must be carefully paired with the shutter speed (and the aperture) A helpful rule of thumb is the "sunny 16 rule" which goes something like: 'On a sunny day set aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO film speed'.  For example, if the ISO is 200, you set the shutter speed to 1/200 of a second.  If you had more sensitive film, say an ISO of 400, you would have to expose it for an even shorter time, say 1/400 second.  One more thing to watch out for is this: if your ISO is high (i.e. very sensitive film or sensor) you will also get more noise, resulting in a more grainy image.  Sometimes this is the only option in low light situations, and occasionally you may want this look, but in general you should avoid using high ISO to avoid this problem.

Finally, a few examples of what I've been talking about:

An example of an overexposed image on a sunny day - a faster shutter speed, a lower ISO, or a higher f number would have helped fix this.
shutter speed too slow (trying to compensate for low light): my hand moved and made the picture blurry
Use of a large aperture to create selective focusing
Use of a larger aperture in portraiture.
I hope this was helpful!  There are lots of other great tutorials etc out there if you are more interested.  

Amendment: point 3 under "aperture" is confusing and only partially correct.  Wikipedia has a better explanation:

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Do you have those places?  Those places that are somehow more important than others? Perhaps you had that extraordinary feeling of discovery when you happened on it.  Maybe you were wandering, looking for a place, or maybe you weren't, but now you know you will come back to it.  Perhaps it is a place you knew about all along, but it has become special because of what you thought about or what you did while you were there.  Maybe it is a place comforting in its familiarity, or a place that is familiar only in its sense of difference and the refreshment it brings to you.

I think most of us have these places.  I certainly do.  Sometimes these places are far away, and they have become over time a place in my memory that is probably different from the actual place.  I wonder how it will be if I return?

I long to share these places, to show someone how the hill curves this way or the shadows fall that way or the birds always sing that tune.  Do you feel this way?  I know I rarely 'have the time' to let others show me where they have explored, and of course, who would take the time to follow me around and let me show them my places?  Yet that would make an interesting life, don't you think?  It strikes me that we neglect to see not just literal places, but about many things that others care about.  How would we all be different if we really learned to listen and to see, to take the time to penetrate part of the loneliness we all feel and really listen?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life

The summer has come to an end, and so has (hopefully) my vacation from posting to this blog. This has been the longest period of no posting since I started this blog two and a half years ago, and it is high time I began again!  I welcome your continued reading and commenting!

I will share with you the idea that has been most central to me this summer.  It starts with a passage from the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
Paul is describing the longing and anticipation that we feel as we look forward to the new bodies we will receive - the process of being made new that God is beginning now and won't bring to completion until the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.  This is not (as N T Wright points out) a disgust or dislike for our physical bodies and a longing for a better, more spiritual and immaterial state of being; rather we look forward to God finishing the work he has begun, for our new "mode of physicality [... that] will be [...] much more real, more firmed up, more bodily, than our present body" (Wright Surprised by Hope 154).  It is difficult for us to imagine, and yet we long for it, don't we?  Perhaps this is the reason the transformation of the butterfly is such a powerful image to us today.

Understanding this, the phrase highlighted above is a beautiful image, something that I pray for and look for and long for.  I pray that it may be ever true.  I look for it and rejoice to see it in myself and others. I long for it, because I see the sinful, mortal nature that is still here, and long for the true life of Christ.  May "what is mortal be swallowed up by life"!