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Archive for the ‘Cultural commentary’ Category

It’s a pity when life gets in the way of blogging (just kidding!). But I have so many thoughts and experiences from the summer that I could blog for quite some time. It is not likely to happen as I see more things happening soon, but that’s OK.

I did want to share a few thoughts and pictures. I don’t often suggest books for several reasons. I do more technical reading than reading for pleasure, and frankly many books don’t meet my high standard of what I would unreservedly pass on to those I call friends, or enemies for that matter since I want them to one day be friends. A book that I can enthusiastically suggest is “The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi. Because of his culture and his faith he simultaneously looks at the West as an outsider and insider at the same time. I keep having the feeling that he is correcting much error from lies our culture has fed us about how we got to where we are. He uses personal experiences and copious quotes to show the deep imprint of the Bible on western culture. I think that you will hear more about it here once I am finished with it.

My friend, colleague, and climbing partner, CC, took me to two boulders I’d never been to before. In fact, he had only been there a few days before with another climbing buddy for the first time cleaning about ten problems, laying a thick base of branches in a wet spot, and clearing part of a large fallen tree. I was privileged to try out the new rock. I like to go back to old familiar routes, but there is a particular excitement about trying new routes, and particularly ones that haven’t been climbed before. I was definitely not climbing at the top of my game, only topping out on a V1 and 3 V2’s. I tried two V4 and got shut down. Both problems involved a gaston with my left hand that I could not stick. It has challenged me to train that weakness. On the second one I discovered that if I did a side pull with my right hand instead, I could top out to the left much easier. We both agreed that it would rate as a V2. I decided to name it “Easy Out”. The two pictures are of me on the right sidepull and the topout. We saw several Cardinal Flowers in the wet, rich spots by the creek. I definitely want to go back, and hopefully clean some problems on new rock myself. (Photo credit: CC with his phone)

KIMG1043

Lobelia cardinalis

KIMG1051

Taking it “Easy..”

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“Easy Out”

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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Bibles and spiritual discussion involving Christianity have largely been expunged from public discourse, politely ignored at best or ridiculed as archaic. So we as a society try to convince ourselves of how enlightened we are by studying various religions and philosophies, all the while being open only to human autonomous naturalism. Even many church-goers acknowledge God as no more than a concept of good behind the scenes rather than a personal, involved, just and loving Sovereign Creator, a real person to whom we are responsible. It is quite ironic that the most Bibles are to be found where the least acceptance of its content is given. In just such a room I stood recently, silent, considering the lack of Bibles elsewhere in the building and the multitude of them here.

Comparative Religion and Philosophy Class

Deep irony in our midst
The most Bibles in a room
On a shelf with all the rest
Equal texts as they assume
Thoughts of men believed the best
Ridicule of God will bloom
Putting God's Word to the test
Sweep away truth with a broom
Of poor logic or mere jest
Scoffers conceived in this womb
Birth unbelief in this nest
Many young skeptics to groom
And others their faith arrest
Sending belief to its tomb
Extract self from this class lest
You take part in death and doom
Instead, set out on a quest
In each context truth exhume
That society be blest

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Early in 2001 my father passed on to the next life after a slow decline resulting from many and various ailments. I believe that it was a grace that he passed without knowing of 9/11. He fought in WWII receiving a bullet and multiple pieces of shrapnel near the German border. Every 4th of July he would hang a copy of the Declaration of Independence and an American flag on the living room mantle. As the years went on he added more evidence of his love of America and its freedoms, things like a small Statue of Liberty. I used to think how much the world changed during his lifetime. Afterall, TV had not been invented when he was born in 1922. Polio was a major killer; the War to End All Wars was a fresh scar; the roaring twenties had not succumbed to the Great Depression. During my formative years airplanes, bridges, skyscrappers, atomic energy, and space travel were among the top of the list of items and ideas that he talked about and learned about and visited. How the space race had resulted in a handheld calculator was amazing to him. The world had changed so much in one lifetime.

Now we hear that the world was forever changed by 9/11. In one sense, of course it was! We collectively look over our shoulder as a nation, wondering when or if it will happen again. But did it really change the world? Hasn’t every generation had at least one event that so penetrated the minds and hearts of the populace such that each person knows where they were when it happened? If you are old enough, do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? For my father’s generation the event that riveted their attention was Pearl Harbor. News traveled much slower the further back you go but there were terrors and plagues and perplexities for centuries. In 79 A.D. when Pliny the Younger described the flaming bombs of Vesuvius sinking ships in the harbor off Herculaneum while Pompeii was covered in noxious gases and pyroclastic flows, the world must have seemed to be at an end.

Do I attempt to diminish the severity and pain of 9/11? Do I not see the ways in which it changed how we do freedom in our land? By no means. But the cause of terror and pain has not changed. Because of sin there is stark evil and natural disaster in the world as there has been since the Fall of Adam. These adversities should call us as a nation back to God. We deteriorate; our nation’s demise is at hand, yet we see 9/11 and Antietam and Hurricane Katrina and Pearl Harbor as totally disconnected from our spiritual condition and God’s call to repent. Evil exists in the world because there have been and are evil people in the world. We must confront the evil in ourselves so that our enemies have no excuse for their evil acts against us and we have no compunction about attacking it when it comes.

I remember where I was on 9/11, watching the screen in my classroom as the first building hit earlier was burning and as the subsequent one was hit and the towers collapsed and students came into my room who wanted someone to make sense out of the chaos. In those first moments during my planning period before that screen I prayed that God would have mercy upon us as a nation. In many respects He has and He is but we must cry for it and act in ways commensurate with receiving mercy now more than ever because we drone on in our mundane, garden variety evils as if 9/11 never happened. God have mercy on us!

The world has changed but not so much.

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The nature versus nurture debate is a longstanding argument over whether physical and behavioral characteristics we observe in an organism have resulted from genetic gifting (nature) or environmental influence (nurture). Most informed science observers realize that outcomes in an organism are the result of both. Still the argument persists because we want to know which of the two influences has the most effect on a particular characteristic of an organism. Genes affect the outcome of the organism; environment affects the outcome of the organism; environments pressure genes to turn on or off, producing outcomes in an organism (epigenetics). But does the force of genes and environment decide how a person must act? If you or I say that we cannot help act in a certain way because this is the way we are made or you and I act this way because that is how our parents or culture taught us to be, are we excused to act in that way? No, neither nature nor nurture is an excuse for how a person acts. To see why I say so let us assume for the sake of argument that our actions are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.1 Are we excused for our actions? I have a tendency to lie, which I believe all people have (Jeremiah 17:9; I John 1:6,8,10). Does that excuse me to lie? No, it does not anymore than being pressed into a gang and having a genetically predisposed tendency toward anger gives me an excuse for murdering someone.

Most people will admit to the truth of these statements but what if the subject is more controversial? Chelsea Kensington writes, “Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. In recent decades, biologically based theories have been favored by experts… Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.” Many similar quotes may be obtained off of the internet with ease. Again let us assume that this statement is true1, namely that there is a strong genetic predisposition toward homosexuality coupled with certain undetermined environmental factors. Does that make it acceptable in God’s sight? Does that make it right? Does that give us an excuse or reason? No, it does not. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” An abomination is “a thing that causes disgust or hatred,” but to whom? God hates it. If you are still reading this article you are probably either agreeing with me or very angry, but you must realize that if you vehemently disagree that you are not arguing with me, but God. When God hates something, then it is not right and “all unrighteousness is sin” (I John 5:17). The result is sure: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10). The solution for all these sinners listed, murderers and liars, too, is the same. Do not blame genetic nature or poor nurturing. Instead, admit that you have the spiritual nature of your father, Adam, a tendency to rebel against God, and that you have acted in self-willed reliance upon that nature in your rebellion against God. Plead with God to rescue you from your sinfulness based on what Jesus did on the cross to take away sins and what He accomplished when He rose from the dead to defeat death. (Acts 2:21; 4:12; John 3:14-20; I Corinthians 15:12-26; Ephesian 2:8-9) Nature and nurture have no ability to restrain you from the outcome of joy and peace you will experience.

1I do not agree with the statements but assume them true to show it makes no difference in responsibility.

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Culture is an odd and interesting phenomenon. Though the word has now been co-opted to refer to interaction in a business office, the more traditional definition looks more like the http://www.merriam-webster.com first entry: “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time”. Therein is the oddity and interest. That is a very broad definition trying to capture all that goes into a culture. You can mix and match the first three terms (and the “etc’s” for that matter) with any combination of the “particular” last four terms. Try for instances this combination that helps to explore a situation our tour explored in Peru: ‘art of a particular society in transition through time‘.

Pressing out the air bubbles

Pressing out the air bubbles

Painted, glazed, kiln dried, sun drying

Glazed and painted and drying in the sun in readiness for the second firing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We toured the Seminario Ceramicas in Urubamba of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The head potter, Pablo Seminario, along with his wife the head painter, Merilu Behar, developed a style of glazed and decorated pottery that has elements of ancient Peruvian cultures and modern stylistic exploration. The style was further developed by the isolation necessary for survival during the Shining Path insurgence of the 1980’s. One motif that the potter declared to me that he finds ever new is the shape of the arrowhead. As he said, “It was a tool for gathering food…is similar to the water drop or a leaf”. So Pablo continues to explore splashes of modern creativity mixed with hints of ancient continuity.

Moderno-ancient mix

Moderno-paleo creations

   I was temporarily separated from my tour    group because I was taking some pictures in this gallery of creations of the artist. When I exited the room outdoors I didn’t see anyone. I assumed a whole group could not have gone far in a minute so I went to the nearest doorway. When I entered, there was Pablo wielding a small carving tool on a large arrowhead. Realizing I had entered his private studio, I began to back out but he waved me forward, not even slowing the pace of his work. 

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

 

  For the next 10-12 minutes we amicably discussed the creative process. He seemed to be quite interested in talking with me because I had brought students to tour Peru and because I talked intelligently about art and science. I asked several questions about how he begins a concept and carries it out. One question involved the arrowhead, “You obviously like to make arrowheads. Why did you start with it and why do you continue with it now?” He related the request from an art exhibit many years ago that he combine modern and ancient elements of design. This request caused him to reflect on the usefulness and ubiquitousness of the arrowhead shape he noticed in nature as quoted above. He continues to see new things in the shape and strives to continue to grow and so pursues more content in the arrowhead. This discussion led to me commenting on how one should be thankful to the Creator for instilling the gift of creativity. He retorted that it was far more work than creativity. I countered that the work is necessary but without merit if the person lacks the creative ability; each of us should work to develop the gift we have. The waste of potential that he sees as an artist and I see as a science teacher consumed some of our interaction. We also interacted over the similarities in science and art, how each involves elements of the other, and how both center around the abilities to think and work hard. It was one of those moments when we both knew that we had connected in a meaningful way even though before that moment we had been total strangers from different cultures pursuing different vocations and avocations, separated by different worldviews. Our connection was musing on life, its processes, and its meaning.

His life had been one sufficiently isolated from the insanity of the violent culture around him in order to survive and thrive, and yet not isolated from creative interaction, as his collaboration with his wife and 50 potters and painters in training attests. 

Decorating the forms

Decorating the forms with Inca symbols

Main Gallery

Main Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that in this discussion and on this trip I discovered a more complete reason for why I like to travel. It extends my musing on life through observation of diversity in nature, culture, thinking, history, distance, science, people, God’s work in the world, and a host of other providential allowances given by a good Creator. We want to see beauty and substance and understand its meaning and purpose. But many are not willing to wade through the meaning of ugliness and triviality to reach the beauty and substance that does not lend to their preconceived ideas of what it should mean. I agree with Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Don’t be afraid to examine yours and others and risk having to change what you hold dear for what is true and good and beautiful and full of substance.

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Courtyard Beauty

Courtyard Beauty of Seminario

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For 8 days four of my students, a mother, a grandfather, and I learned about culture and history, and observed wonderful beauty of the unique and diverse country of Peru. 

Launch Complex 39 Assembly Building

Launch Complex 39 Assembly Building

   But first we had to get   there. The flight from Charlotte to Miami flew right over Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Looking out the window for a glimpse of the coast now and then, I looked at just the right time to see Launch Pads 39A and B. At 36,000 feet the 10 story Assembly Building and trackway to the launch pads look like diminutive LEGO constructions. I was surprised by the airport code for Miami-Dade International – MIA. That means something else to me, but I must confess that layovers in airports can feel just like what I thought that codes means.

Stain Glass in Lima

Stain Glass in Lima

Because of clouds I did not see land again until we turned to make our approach on Lima. I must confess that big cities are a bit intimidating, stressful, and dirty to me. I like people but not so many at once. Lima has its own differences. At 10 million people, it constitutes a full 1/3 of the population of Peru. One native told me that this proportion was largely a result of people escaping the Shining Path during the 1980’s and 90’s. Because of cold ocean currents offshore Fall and Winter are almost entirely cloudy and rainless. This combination results in a dreary, humid, polluted, pleasantly cool climate with very little variation at night. How so many people have enough water from rivers flowing from the mountains is amazing to me. Downtown Lima has numerous churches. Most of the ones I went into on this trip disallow pictures, but I did get some in a basilica near our hotel.

Statue and Hotel of Bolivar on the Main Square

Statue and Hotel of Bolivar on the Main Square

The two heroes of independence in Peru, Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar, figure in numerous statues and place names in Lima. San Martin proffered partial independence in 1821 and Bolivar completed the task in 1824. Two other tumultuous periods figure largely in the abbreviated Peruvian history that I received: The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) and The Shining Path Insurgence (1980-~2000). During the former, Chile seized territory from both Peru and Bolivia over a mining treaty dispute via naval and desert battles. Peru lost three ports and Bolivia lost access to the ocean. A tour guide explained that the most northerly port city was returned after 10 years by referendum. The Communist Party militant arm, The Shining Path, committed many atrocities in an attempt to gain control of the government. Desperate times require desperate measures, so that President Fujimori from 1990 to 2000 committed atrocities of equal if not greater intensity to rid the country of this scourge. He succeeded and failed; he is now in jail in Peru.

Kennedy Park ("Park of the Cats")

Kennedy Park (“Park of the Cats”)

After hostilities calmed down I am told that Peru experienced a period of phenomenal economic growth, the best in South America until a few years ago. One reason may be the large number of government employees. Every park and sidewalk has workers who sweep, wash, plant, water, weed, in a word, beautify, and the same spaces have provincial and national police.

Peruvian National Police

Peruvian National Police

Beautification Committee

Beautification Committee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction and Prosperity

Construction and Prosperity

Shine and Decline

Shine and Decline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from our hotel window told a variable story of economic stability. Even in the downtown area many building are in decline while others shine.

Franciscan Monastery

Franciscan Monastery

 

A Franciscan Monastery that we toured was more interesting to us for what was under it than what was in it. When the archeologists were allowed to survey the catacombs in the 1990’s they carefully estimated that 25,000 people had been buried there. Bones and skulls in every compartment and such superior structure as has survived several major earthquakes. The tour guide pointed out a “well” said to be 10 meters deep in bones. Everyone wanted to be buried under the church. Believing in the invisible church as the actual body of Christ, many of these bones will not arise at the resurrection, but the magnitude of this scene gave new meaning to the excitement on resurrection day- bring it quickly, Lord Jesus.

Next time I want to discuss the Larco Museum of Archeology in Lima and the flight and first impressions of Cusco. (Note: I find it nearly impossible to orient the text and pictures just as I want them. Oh well, hope you enjoyed my discoveries anyway.)

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