"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for February 2016

Truth and Science

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As an applied scientist, I have always tried to represent truth, as understood by the state-of-the-art science of that day, to the best of my ability.  That said, I also try to acknowledge that all scientific truth is mutable and changeable…as I heard one climate scientist comment, Real science reserves the right to be proven wrong with each new day.

There have been a number of scandals in the past few years that suggest the drive to publish new and exciting results, or to support a particular dogmatic theory (and to be clear, when a scientist becomes dogmatic, they are no longer practicing science, but religion).  Dogma is at home in my parallel profession, theology, but not in my role as a scientist.

My quest for truth in theology is similar to the one in science (historically, theology was seen as the queen of the sciences, as it was the theological method that was used by early scientists), but it is not the same.  In particular comes the role of quantitative data as a means of supporting a hypothesis, as much of theology is done in the absence of defensible data.

This interesting article talks about the prevalence of BS in scientific research, “The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit”.

He references this paper, titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”.

Which led me to this paper, “Fraud and Freud: is there an association in scientific misconduct?”

And this interesting book which I just ordered:  Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science.  This sounds like a fascinating discussion of truth in the medical sciences.  From the review (linked above):

“Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”¹ Alice Dreger is a bioethicist employed, until very recently, at Northwestern University. The fact that she felt compelled to resign over a point of ethical principle just underscores the points she makes in the book. She has long been a champion of two things. First: that driving spirit in science – the Galilean one – that sees truth as a spiritual goal and raises a middle finger to those that disagree. Second: The just treatment of those typically marginalized and ignored because their needs are inconvenient to wider society.


Written by sameo416

February 21, 2016 at 11:05 am

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Ash Wednesday Reflection

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Why are you here?  In a world full of distraction and all sorts of succor for whatever ails you mentally, spiritually or physically, why are you here?  I cannot offer you the machinery and pharmaceuticals of health care, or the bright lights and sound of a theatre production, movie or rock concert.  I can’t offer you a self-help prescription that will take you to happiness and success in 31 days!  Lord knows, I can’t even really offer you myself as a good example.  All I’ve got for you this day is ashes and oil and a few words.  So why are you here?

Job was going about his business like any other normal person on a normal day, not realizing that in a few short moments the layers of the onion that was Job’s success and blessed assurance would be stripped away one by one: first health, next family, finally wealth.  Job was a lot like you and I, gleefully living out our four score years enjoying all the marrow of life that we could get.  And then, when he was most certain that he was righteous and blessed, it all was stripped clean and he was left, at his best, sitting on an ash pile scrapping his skin with a pot shard.

Job was hurting, and I suspect the reason you have come tonite is you know that place, or if you don’t know it first hand at least know enough to expect that you will be in that place at some point.  That place where you stand in the midst of the ashes of a life’s aspiration or next to the literal ashes of a loved one where you can no longer avoid the reality that this is an ending, a finality, a loss that no noise of this world will resolve.  This leaves you in the midst of hurt, or as we used to say, in the hurt locker.  When this is truly severe and all-encompassing you are left literally sitting in the midst of that pile of ashes wishing for the end.  Have you been there?  That place at the edge of the world where colour departs, the landscape flattens and grey clouds stretch out to a grey horizon, a rainy-east side tenement of grey stone buildings stained with the markings of generations of Jobs who have traveled this way, full of grey-clad people who walk past you with head bowed encompassed about fully with their grief.

Job is sitting on that ash pile with us, totally alone and feeling isolated from everyone and most certainly isolated from God.  Up to that point Job’s comfortable dispensations told him with certainty that he was living the golden life…mightily blessed, surrounded by family and wealth and abundance…to the point that he perhaps even became convinced that this was his right as the righteous one.  Then, on a whim, it is all stripped bare and he is left bereft, and the worst…well, the worst is still to come.  These three friends come to sit silently to share in the misery, well, their true stripes will soon be shown as they turn to witnesses for the prosecution to explain why it is that Job is really in this pickle…he is not nearly as righteous as he thinks.

So what does this bring us, as sufferers along with Job?  We can learn from the first example of the three friends of Job, who come and sit and dwell with him, torn robe in front, and ash and dust in the hair.  That question we all fear – what do you say to someone in that place, when all you want to do is flee to protect your own life, as if you could somehow avoid that ash heap through speed or ignorance.  What do you say?  Job’s friends give us that answer…in the truly trying times the best gift is not to say anything, but to sit in the midst of the horror to remind Job that there is still a community surrounding him, even when he feels most alone.  And the people there are a reminder that God sees Job, even in his torment (I’m coming to your town, St Benedict’s table music).  So our gift to those who suffer is that silent witness when we sit and rest in the Lord with them, keeping vigil, standing with a friend in their own garden of despair as they wait for the uncertain dawn.

For those who sit in the dark of night, alone and suffering, it is some help to know that Jesus has been there too. What comes with the dawn may not be healing but the strength to see the journey through another day or another hour.

Our hope is in the gospel account of another chronic sufferer, Jesus. He left the garden with friends but was still very alone for His last hours on earth. Jesus rose into the glorious tomorrow through the crucifixion but still bore the marks of that torture on his body (John 20:27). The gospel shows us that great grace exists through just continuing the journey. For those who sit as Job, sometimes the only thing we can do is place one foot in front of the other to struggle until the finish line of this race comes into sight.  And tonight, we gather as a community of sufferers to receive the sure reminder of God’s presence even in the midst of our loss, the cross of ashes that marks us as his own.



Written by sameo416

February 17, 2016 at 9:34 am

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The Ritual Reason Why

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The absolute best book on church liturgy and tradition was published in the late 1800’s, “The Ritual Reason Why” by Charles Walker. This is a very traditional book that describes just about everything you would ever want to know about the practice of worship…from amices to the use of candles.

It has never been republished, but the copywrite is no longer in place, and the book is openly available in the internet archive, here.

From the preface to the first edition a good explanation of why liturgy is important:

If it should at all tend to consolidate the essential connection between dogma and ceremonial, it will not have been written in vain; for ritual divorced from truth is of all things the most melancholy : it is worse than the Shadowless Man of the German fictionist it is a shadow without a substance, and an engine of Satan for the snaring of souls.

Some of the material relates to things that are rarely practiced today, but it provides a historic, tradition and Scriptural background for everything associated with our modern liturgies.

Written by sameo416

February 7, 2016 at 4:47 pm

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On visions…

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I was on my internship when a long time parishoner had a serious fall, and ended up in a coma.  At the hospital, my supervisor and I laid hands on and prayed.  After the prayer, things felt unfinshed, so we asked his wife if there was something missing.  She said he never wanted to be this way…in a bed, in a coma.

My supervisor asked if we should pray for his release, and she said please.  So we prayed again this time for God’s will to be done in granting peace.

Now, it has happened to me that the act of praying for someone, particularly someone near death, can create a link.  After that I will find myself aware of happenings.  More times than I can remember, I will know the minute a person dies.  That, I am convinced, is intended to be a help for intercession, so I know what to pray.

That night as I was in bed I was praying for this man when I had a waking vision.  I saw he in his bed, and his wife asleep in a chair next to him.  Then I saw a light lift from him, rise above his body, and then two other lights came through the wall and surrunded his light.  I knew this was a soul, and the other lights angels.  The lights the rose through the ceiling and were lost to view.  Immediately I was filled with an overwhealming sense of joy and began weeping.  I also had a clear thought…note the time.  It was 21:36.

The next morning my supervisor mentioned our friend had died overnight.  I asked what time,  but he did not know but would ask.  When he returned he asked me what time I had thought, it was the same time.

I won’t pretend to understand such things, and as an empericist I can only acknowledge my lack of understanding…although I must say that quantum entanglement offers and explanation!

So, when my friend mentioned an idea for an art installation for missing and murdered indigenous women, I wasn’t shocked to have a dream that night.

I was walking in a poplar forest of bare trees in winter.  There was snow on the ground and it was cold.  As I walked I entered a clearing, and in the clearing stood a circle of bare tipi poles, next to an empty firepit.  I was overcome with despair.  The camp was incomplete, and the fire cold, because all the women had been taken.  There was no one left to finish the camp, or to tend the fire, to bring life and warmth.

Parts of that dream will be at the bleeding heart space opening this Sunday, Feb 7.

As a footnote, I’m also not surprised to learn of recent advances in quantum entanglement.  That two entangled photos separated by over 100 km can seemingly communicate with no delay, sounds a lot like my prayer experience.



Written by sameo416

February 4, 2016 at 10:27 pm

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"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.