Apprentice to the Truth

A New Book by Myron Penner

I haven’t read this book yet, but I can recommend an article taken from it, called “Ironic Witness,” which appears in the July 10th issue of The Christian Century. Myron Penner likens living faithfully, in this age, to being an “apprentice to the truth.”

I love that phrase, “apprentice to the truth.” Penner explains what he means:

“… a life of faith is more aptly articulated in terms of a struggle to be faithful— to live truthfully– than as the possession of truths and absolute certainties…. Rather than thinking of the believer as the possessor of truth, who must then work ardently to maintain belief over against all rational challenges, it might be better to view the one who has faith as an ‘apprentice to truth.’

“To speak of an apprentice to truth in this way is to acknowledge that truth is not our possession, but something by which we must be possessed. I do not have the truth and cannot get it on my own. Instead, I must apprentice….”

In many ways, this is a fine articulation of religion in balance: the affirmation of the reality of a Truth (or a Love, or a Power, or a Goodness, or a Beauty) bigger than– and independent of– any person’s idea of it; the affirmation of a humility that recognizes our inability to possess this Truth (Love, Power, Goodness, Beauty); and the affirmation that this Truth (Love, Power, Goodness, Beauty) is worthy, not only of our time and attention, but also of our bending our will in its direction. It’s a reality to build lives out of.

via NetGalley Catalog

“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower….”

The Forces at Work in the Cosmos– Yarkovsky Effect

The near-miss asteroid last week raised questions regarding how these space rocks move in orbit. Astronomers are studying the “Yarkovsky Effect”– a subtle force caused by the uneven heating of an asteroid’s surface. University of Arizona astronomer Ed Beshore [excerpt below] likens the force of the Yarkovsky Effect to the pressure you feel when holding two grapes in your hand– an almost negligible force for the duration of a moment, but which, accumulated over millennia, has appreciable influence on an asteroid’s orbit. Over time, the Yarkovsky Effect can “move mountains.” (Beshore)

This is a reminder of how many and varied are the powers at work in the world– and a reminder that power is not just big and loud. Small pressures, applied patiently and relentlessly, can shift seemingly irresistable objects. So it is good to pause and recollect these small pressures, these soft powers: the powers of love and commitment; the powers of prayer and trust; the powers of truthful words and good deeds. They don’t move asteroids, but they can move the human heart.

“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my green age” is Dylan Thomas’s poetic rendition of another power: the life-force, pulsing and moving, in flower and human alike. For some of us, Christ is the fullest expression of this life-force: the willing renunciation of domination (power over), and the willing embrace of suffering love/compassion (power with). Even death, we affirm, is not stronger than this force for life.

The asteroid story from The Christian Science Monitor follows:

For instance, when sunlight hits the surface of an rotating asteroid, the asteroid returns that energy to space in the form of heat.

“The heat acts like a tiny rocket thruster that can push asteroids out of otherwise harmless orbits,” he says. The reason: A rotating asteroid sheds the heat unevenly across its surface, in effect sloughing it off in the direction of “dawn” on the asteroid. This direction may or may not coincide with the direction the asteroid is traveling along its orbit.

Indeed, this force, known as the Yarkovsky effect, is thought to help resupply the inner solar system with asteroids that otherwise might have stayed in the main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter.

A year ago, Dr. Beshore says, one of the mission’s team members performed “a really exquisite set of measurements using radar data and came up with a preliminary estimate for the kinds of forces” this effect imposes on OSIRIS-Rex’s target asteroid.

It’s about the same as “the force that you feel when you hold a couple of grapes in your hand,” he says, adding “that force, applied over millions of years, can literally move these mountains of rock around.” [Emphasis added]

Since the force also plays a role in shaping and reshaping the orbits of near-Earth asteroids, “it’s really quite important for us to make sure we understand this force much better.”

via Friday’s near-miss asteroid could help track more dangerous ones +video –

What Is of Concern

The Capitol, Washington DC

Two years ago, I ran into a highly-respected former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, whom I knew through church. We got to talking. “The partisanship and shenanigans are getting out of hand,” I remember him saying. “Really?” I said, “Is it really getting worse?” Oh yes, he said– much worse.

I’m not too concerned about attack ads anymore, or about negative campaigning in general. Truth (frankness, openness) is almost always a casualty in political speech, whether it’s campaign season or, after the campaign, when it’s spin season and those who have been elected are trying to look good in front of the camera. This has been the case since at least the time of Cicero.

Of concern is not what you and I are presented by candidates for consumption, but the inability of politicians– once elected– seriously to consider policy options and to act in the best interest of the country. It’s as though they actually believe the fatuous pablum of the campaign, and can’t adjust to the reality of governing– a reality that requires reasonableness, and the skill of compromise. Both of the major parties are guilty.

If politics is always a zero-sum game, we will lose (if we haven’t already) the domestic tranquility that is the result of good governance. The exercise of politics does not determine the meaning and worth of an individual life, or even the meaning and worth of a society: politics is too clumsy to be that fine. As the preserver of a public order in which individuals and communities can thrive, however, politics is important; and more wisdom in our political life– even (perhaps especially) if it’s behind the scenes– would be helpful.

Established Power and Truth-Telling

Brian Haw: English Prophet?

Our popular usage of the word “prophet” casts it in the direction of  “fortune-teller” or “one who possesses secret wisdom.” Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible is not about fortune-telling, but is more accurately understood as “truth-telling”– and especially the kind of truth-telling that established power doesn’t want to hear.

Whatever one’s view of war– from the most aggressive neo-conservatism to the most non-violent pacifism– no one can reasonably deny that innocent people get harmed. (Some will maintain that there is no such thing as a “non-combatant” (i.e., “innocent person”) anymore, in this age of total war. We can dismiss this, for now, as an unreasonable view.) One’s view of war surely shapes one’s judgment regarding the moral significance of innocent people being harmed, but one’s view of war cannot change the fact that in war, innocent people get harmed.

Englishman Brian Haw arrived at the conclusion that children being killed in the war in Iraq was morally unacceptable. Acting on that conviction, he encamped in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, protesting English government policy that supported the war. Whether English government policy should have or shouldn’t have supported the war in Iraq is debatable. What is prophetic– that is, “truth-telling”– about Brian Haw’s protest, is that he confronted members of Parliament with a significant truth about war: innocent people get harmed.

And the response of established power? Entirely predictable, whether in Western democracies or in Arab plutocracies rife with nepotism (Tunisia, Egypt): marginalize the truth-teller (or tellers) whose truth-telling challenges the dominant narrative or threatens the regime. To the credit of the English legal system– and to the tradition of Western political liberalism– attempts by established power to have Brian removed failed.

While the freedom of speech protects the right of people to speak stupidity or plain falsehood, it also protects the right of modern-day prophets to speak truth to power.

Brian died last Sunday, June 19th. The link is below.

‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011

British anti-war activist will be remembered for his unyielding protest on behalf of children killed in conflict.

via ‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011 – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Remembering Who We Are: “Moon Over Manifest” by Clare Vanderpool

"Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool

Great theology can come from theologians; great theology can also come from poets and storytellers. “Moon Over Manifest”, a work of historical fiction by Clare Vanderpool, is not explicitly (nor even implicitly) about God. Rising from the story like warmth from glowing coals, however, is Vanderpool’s sensitivity to theological themes, and her feel for the human journey.

A primary theme is the play between what appears to be and what is; between appearance and truth; between concealment and revelation. Manifest, of the title, is a small town in Kansas. As the story goes on, the name of the town becomes emblematic of the truth about the town’s past becoming visible– becoming manifest.

Another theme is suffering– and more specifically, that particular suffering known as grief, which comes with love and loss. Vanderpool’s characters want to distance themselves from their painful past. With help they remember what they already know: that there is no going around grief; there is only going through it. By going through it– by remembering their love and what it costs– they are healed.

Good art, like good theology, reminds us who we are as humans: what it takes to be healthy and whole; what our limits are; what we’re capable of, both for good and for ill. Forgetting who we are as humans leads us to mischief. “Moon Over Manifest” helps us remember who we are. And it’s a great story.