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Posts Tagged ‘Cultural commentary’

In Biology class we are studying cell reproduction. The somatic or body cells reproduce by mitosis, yielding genetically identical daughter cells. The gametes (sex cells: egg and sperm) come about by a “double mitosis” as it were called meiosis, that yields genetically divergent cells that have half as much genetic material. Biologically, when an egg and sperm combine you have all of the potential of the mature person. This single cell is called a zygote. After several mitotic cell divisions the zygote is called a blastula. As the cells continue to multiply, they differentiate into various major body parts and systems in what is now called the gastrula. These early stages with their various names are clumped under the name embryo. From 8 weeks on the differentiation is significant enough to recognize some large body form features and the embryo is called a fetus. Most people recognize the fetus as a baby even before he/she is born. The baby becomes an infant, the infant a toddler, the toddler a child, the child an adolescent, the adolescent a teenager, the teenager a young adult, then middle aged adult then senior adult. From fertilization until death the organism is a live person with all of the potentialities of the original zygote. None of us have reached our full potential, but that in no way makes us less human. Therefore, the zygote all the way through the old goat is a human fully deserving the respect of other humans and full protection of the law. Abortion makes no logical sense.

I had a student the other day want to present to me a position speech she was supposed to give for English class as a way to practice it. Several other students were in attendance in my classroom for this “study hall/remediation” session, so she had a willing audience. Her speech contrasted the conditions, laws, and attitudes about abortion in Missouri and Illinois. Then she ended by giving her opinion as the assignment required. She declared that she is pro-life. She stated along the way that she believed that the baby is a human and should not be aborted except under two circumstances. Her two exceptions were rape and incest. I ask her if the child conceived by rape or incest was also human. She conceded that they are human. “Then,” I asked, “Why shouldn’t he/she be afforded the same protections as any other baby whom you claim should not be aborted?” She replied that their conception was a horrible situation that would be harmful to the mother, the baby’s future, and the wider family. “So,” I continued, “You are saying it is OK to abort this baby based on feeling rather than law.” She replied, “The mother has a right to make her own decision.” “But you just said that she did not have a right to abort a baby not conceived by rape or incest,” I rejoined. I went own to say that we cannot ultimately rule by feelings because the whole society will and is falling apart. We must rule by law consistently and that her perspective about abortion did not make logical, legal, or moral sense.

I would throw this one small bone to the pro-abortionists. At least when they desire and demand abortion at any stage for any reason, they are being logically consistent. They are not being morally or legally consistent, however, because according to their scheme, no one has protection under the law. The fetus, like it or not, baby, is fully human at conception. Therefore, they must be given protection like all other humans, or else no humans are guaranteed protection. And of course, this is true. Euthanasia is an extension of abortion “rights”. An “all-wise” doctor, sanctioned by an “all powerful” government decides when the infirm are no longer human, just as they decided when the fetus began to be called human.

Claiming that I have no right to speak about the subject of abortion because I am a man is just another means of ruling by feeling. Besides, I have worked very hard, and by God’s grace, and raised five children. I pointed out to this young logician in my classroom that the problem of unwanted pregnancies could easily be solved by relaxing the adoption laws so that the many people wanting children could raise happy children conceived in less than ideal circumstances. The circumstances of no human are perfect. We live in a fallen world. Much better to make a child’s circumstances better than end his/her life and destroy the mother emotionally and sometimes physically.

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You know a metaphor to be a word picture, that is, words that bring to mind certain scenes or ideas. I was looking for a word whose definition is a picture that suggests words. Perhaps some of you wizened wordsmiths could help me out here and come up with the word. Unless and until that happens, I’m going to attempt to coin my second(1) word. Pictometaphor(2,3)- a picture or other visible art meant to suggest words. Now, you know we see these all of the time, but I don’t know if anyone has given it a name. And we say a picture is worth a thousand words, to which I say, of course, pictometaphor.

So, I want to try out my new word on you. I am making wedding rehearsal dinner decorations (That was a mouthful.). I am not really creative in this realm, so that the contrivance of my wife and I is a modified copy of things we liked online. It is in some respects simpler, and by me making it, much cheaper. But all that is not the point here, and I can’t give away too much before the dinner, so the pictures are limited. My point is for you to look at the following picture and write down pairs (in this case) of words that immediately come to mind. To see the quality of my pictometaphor, please don’t look at my answers until you have written down several pairs. It is totally fair and desirable to consider that this pictometaphor is in the context of an upcoming wedding. It needs context.

20190805_134150

Before I give my answers, let me further comment on the quality of a pictometaphor. The picture, sewn cloth (in this case), statue, etc, should universally suggest the same words to all people. This might be too much to expect given different cultures, so perhaps, it should at least be universal within a given culture. Or perhaps it becomes a code word (code picture?), a sort of jargon joke for the initiated.

When I look at the picture above in the context of marriage, I immediately think male/female, strength/beauty, utility/luxury, mundane/special (plano/fancy?), daily/special event. How do your pairs fare? Do they align with mine, mean the same thing with different words, contradict at points? Share by commenting.

Now, I like extended metaphors, as long as they don’t verge on the ridiculous. So I have added some possible additional accoutrements to the decoration. (This is somewhat tongue in cheek, and my wife said that was not happening when I suggested it.) Make your list of pairs again and let me know how you did.

20190805_134235

The selection of additional items colors(4) the connotations of the pictometaphor. Because I have selected two items that involve work or chores, the suggestion is not work versus play, but what kind of work. Probably for many of us, they suggest traditional gender roles. I am not going to apologize for that. I have hung up many clothes, particularly as a child, and my wife has helped me by hauling lumber and bags of concrete, but there are differences in our roles as male and female, and those have quite naturally and thankfully expressed themselves in our culture in nurturing and supporting ways. Much that is wrong with our society at present revolves around the abandonment of God ordained, given, and declared gender roles within the family, church, and society. Therefore, the first pair that came to my mind when seeing the nails and clothes pins was male/female. Also, I think home/job.

I could have directed the pictometaphor in a completely different direction by some simple change like replacing either the clothes pins or the nails with a few Lego bricks or a small doll. Then I would be driving the picture toward work/play, responsibility/privilege, chore/leisure, or even childhood/maturity depending on the exact toy I select.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading my comments and selecting your word pairs for the pictometaphor. The connotations of the pictometaphor need not be pairs, but the ideas must be ones that are widely understood. That is where culture and history and language come in. Language and art are at least partially an archive for culture and history. We should not revel in language and art changing so fast, because that blurs and eradicates much that can be learned and shared between generations. For instance, Western Culture has a rich language and art based on a biblical understanding. Many pieces of literature and art can not be understood in isolation from an understanding of the Bible. Of course, some want to rush the change, obliterate the references and understanding for the Bible given by language and art, and wholeheartedly reinterpret both, but that is a pictometaphor for another day.

1- The first word I tried to coin is “momentaneously”- circa 1995- used in response to impatient inquiry to mean you are high on my priority list and I will get to you with all speed as circumstances allow. Used in a sentence: “I will answer you momentaneously, but you are interrupting Jane at the moment.” For evidence of my coinage I site numerous classrooms full of students. Please spread the word since this may be my best possibility at fame. And, oh, by the way, don’t take me too seriously.

2- I considered iconometaphor, photometaphor, or imagometaphor, but each of these suggest connotations not in line with my definition, so I settled on pictometaphor.

3- “Hey, George.” What, Frank?” “How about photaphor or imaphor (or imagaphor) or iconaphor.” “Oh, Frank, that last one sounds good, but do you think people will understand what it means?” “George, the sound of a word can help the availability of its meaning, but ultimately, there is nothing like a clear and consistently used definition. ‘Is’ means ‘is’ even if some people say it ‘ain’t’.”

4- I am also partial to puns.

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Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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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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