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I’m sitting in a chair. No, that’s not quite right. I think I’m sitting in a chair, but quantum physics tells me there’s really no chair there at all, just infinitesimal packets of energy whizzing around that can only be described as probabilities… And of course, I’m also just a collection of probabilities. So there’s no me sitting in something that isn’t a chair.
It makes me wonder who or what is the “I” that’s wondering all these things.
At the other end of reality, I learn about a universe that’s some 14 billion years old, and more than 28 billion light-years across. Like an ancient psalm writer, I wonder, “Who am I, that anyone should think I matter?”
I can’t comprehend a billion of anything, whether time or distance.
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: bubbles, quantum physics, astronomy, dark matter, Abrams
I write these words while Wheel of Fortune flickers on TV. I’m not paying attention, but I’m dimly aware of the rituals being acted out on the screen. Spinning the wheel. Applauding on cue. Groaning when someone goes “Bankrupt.” Standing on the right spot on the floor for the final challenge, when exactly the same letters will come up every time.
Meanwhile, Vanna White pretends to turn blank squares turn into letters -- even though everyone knows she’s only there as eye-candy.
The formula is so predictable, it could be hosted by a robot. Maybe it is.
And audiences love it.
Yet people claim to dislike rituals. Typically, they call them “meaningless.” Especially in the religious context.
Tags: Rituals, routines, systems
I have to admit that I’ve reached the age where I need checklists. I don’t remember things the way I once did. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have forgotten my wallet. Or my hearing aids. Or my house keys.
I could print up some all-purpose checklists and fasten them to the wall at the foot of the stairs. Just to remind me of things I might have forgotten on my way out.
Have I taken my cellphone, in case of emergencies?
Do I have my sunglasses?
And did I remember the list of the things I’m supposed to do while I’m out, so that I don’t have to make a second trip later?
Tags: Checklists, flying, baggage
Earlier this month, news came that Roger Bannister had died.
I turned 18 the year Roger Bannister became the first human to run a mile in less than four minutes. A mile – you may remember those things, a quaint anachronism consisting of 5280 feet, each containing 12 inches. Only the U.S. still uses those funny dimensions, although it has long given up other measures of the mile – eight furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods…
Back in 1954, though, the mile was still a standard measure. We measured fuel efficiency in miles per gallon, speeds in miles per hour.
And the four-minute mile was still considered impossible for mere humans.
It turned out to be a psychological barrier, not a physical one.
Tags: Roger Bannister, mile, Miracle Mile, 1954
Another icon bit the dust recently.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I worked among people who revered Saul Alinski. They took the side of the underdog – any underdog, it seemed. For 40 years, Alinski made a name for himself organizing those underdogs, particularly among the working-class areas of Chicago.
Alinski summed up his ideology in a book called Rules for Radicals.
He started out as the darling of the leftists who wanted to raise the underdogs. In the strange ways that social change evolves, he ended up as the darling of conservatives who wanted to keep the underdogs under. The Tea Party distributed Rules for Radicals to its members. Donald Trump built his entire presidential campaign on personalizing an enemy. Or enemies.
What the left initiates, the right will eventually co-opt.
Tags: Seth Godin, Saul Alinski, Tea Party, Donald Trump, Rules for Radicals
We had a week of bitter winter weather recently. I didn’t want to go outside. So I looked out through our double-glazed windows at the winter wonderland outside.
The most visible item was our bird feeder. Swarmed by various kinds of finches, sparrows, chickadees, and juncos.
We’ve had that feeder a long time. The congregation Joan and I belonged to in Toronto gave it to us when we moved west, in 1993. Since then, I’ve replaced its roof, replaced the clear plastic panels that contain the bird seed, replaced the mounting, and replaced the feeding tray the birds perch on.
Hardly anything remains of the original feeder.
But it’s still the same old feeder.
It reminds of an axe that had had three new handles and two new heads, but it was still the same good old axe.
As its owner said, “If it was good enough for Granddad, it’s good enough for me.”
On a recent snowbird holiday to warmer climes, Joan and I attended an evening event where the MC invited men from several nations up onto the stage. Spoofing the macho male of Mexican myth, he asked each of them, “Who runs your household?”
Joan and I, in the audience, turned to each other and said simultaneously, “The Cat!”
We have both a dog and a cat.
Our dog is a 12-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She embodies the virtues that “liberal” churches think of as godly -- unconditional love, loyalty, forgiving to the nth degree…
Conversely, The Cat (capitalization deliberate) embodies what I associate with the more conservative theology familiar from the David C. Cook Sunday School curricula of my youth -- a sense of being almighty, judgemental, distant, and unquestionably in control.
Tags: dogs, cats, Egypt, macho
But why do we limit love to one day a year? Why not every day?
Granted, handing out Valentine’s cards in the workplace might seem a little Harvey Weinstein-ish. Especially if accompanied by a leer.
It occurs to me that I have rarely felt more loving than when I’m recovering from surgery. It’s probably the morphine. I fall in love with everyone who’s looking after me.
Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting sending little doses of morphine, or any other narcotic for that matter, to everyone on my Valentine list.
But I am thinking that there must be better ways to show love. After all, why should a tree have to give up its life so that millions of children can glue little pink hearts onto sheets of paper?
Tags: Valentine, chivalry, hearts, flowers, chocolates
Next Wednesday, the church Season of Epiphany will end.
All through Epiphany, church services have focused on the coming of light – like the lightbulb that used to go on over cartoon characters’ heads when they got an idea.
Light is important. But I found myself wondering, one evening during a quiet, contemplative worship service, why we ignore darkness.
Darkness is also important. Seeds germinate in darkness. During the hours of darkness, our bodies recover so we can face a new day. We cuddle loved ones in darkness.
During that contemplative service, most of the church was dark. We gathered in a softly lit circle, around a candle, feeling ourselves wrapped in a shawl of darkness. We felt close.
Most families have fond memories of sitting around a campfire, watching the flames dance, watching the firelight flicker on children’s faces.
Light and darkness are partners, not enemies.
Tags: darkness, light, epiphany
I was born without a theory. About anything. I didn’t know up from down – literally, since I had just emerged from a watery and weightless womb.
But from that instant on, I started creating theories to help me make sense of the world I found myself in. Everyone does. We figure out that moms are warm, soft, and soothing. Floors are hard. Smiles make big people smile back.
As time passes, we develop theories about everything. As we amass more experience, those theories get more sophisticated, better at predicting outcomes. We figure out that compliments generate more support than criticism, for example. That men and women are different. That blue-chip stocks are a safer investment than snake oil or swampland.
And, for the most part, we modify our theories to take account of new facts as they emerge.
Tags: Seth Godin, theories, trains, belief systems