Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

STUFF 2013 science and . . .stuff

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Fall 2013 Issue of Connect Journal was "Science," and my regular column is called "A View from Elsewhere."
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . . 

Science and . . .  Stuff.

“You don’t see something until you have the metaphor to perceive it.”
--Robert Shaw, Chaos: Making a New Science, 1987

There was a time, a long time in fact, when people honored the God of the Gaps.  In simple terms, when something could not be explained, it was Because God.  Anything one could think of that could not be explained was Because God.  Obviously, as people started to figure out that natural forces created things like rain clouds, the need for praying to a God to bring rain seemed unnecessary on some level and--to some people--downright silly.  And thus, the more we learned about our environment, the less we needed God as an explanation for the gaps.  Hence, the God of the Gaps began to die a slow and quiet death with the advent of the Filler of Gaps: Science.

There was also a time when religious folks (i.e. nearly everybody) accepted that God was in everything.  (You know, the One in whom we live and move and have our being?)  But over time we kind of confused being in everything with being in charge of everything.  We lost the notion that God was everywhere to the steady advance of knowledge.  The more we learned, the less we needed God to fill in the gaps.  And if God wasn’t everywhere, and was only where we needed an explanation, well, explanations crowded God out of the picture.

Sadly, to many people, this means God must be defended form the encroachments of science, lest God be banished entirely.  If God isn’t everywhere, then the God of the Gaps gets smaller every year.  Sure, people still have their personal gaps they can fill in with a #2 pencil in a pinch.  God saved me this parking spot.  God beat back the incurable cancer.  God let the Cubs win the World Series.  (Okay, that one really would have to be God.)  But on the whole, a God of the Gaps is headed for retirement, plain and simple.  We only need that god until we can explain things.  And science is racking up points in the game of explanation, that’s for sure.

Enter, the relief pitcher named Quantum Physics.  On the smallest most intimate level, the rules are completely different, right?  An object can be two places at once.  A cat can be both dead and alive.  An object can move from one place to another without actually traveling the distance in between the two points.  And suddenly, all that explaining stuff doesn’t explain things at their most basic level.  On the subatomic level, things are not made up of matter; they’re made up of forces holding matter together.  And with all that craziness, maybe we can get back to thinking about God being in everything rather than being in charge of everything.  And the reason I can say that is because of this:  It’s all about relationships.

Quarks, are the things that make up protons and neutrons; they live inside bubbles called hadrons.  And the really interesting thing about quarks--or, I should say, the most significant thing to me about quarks--is that there is no such thing as one quark.  They always come in groups of two or three.  Protons and neutrons consist of a little trinity of three quarks.  They live in that little bubble of life and make up everything you see.  On the absolute most intimate level, everything is made up of relationships.  There is no individual.  There is no lone gun, loose cannon, or self-made atom.  It’s all about community.  It’s all about interaction.  It’s all about what God has been telling us all along . . . A dance of life where two or three are gathered.

Turns out, it seems you don’t have a metaphor until you can’t see something to perceive it.

George Baum is exactly one half of the band, Lost And Found (www.speedwood.com), an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, the father of two, and the husband of one.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

STUFF 2013 a day over fifty

Though this was submitted to a prestigious journal or two, none bit.  Therefore I pass it along to you, given that it's timeliness shall become less timely over time.

A Day Over Fifty  --  George Baum

As one who was born the day after JFK was assassinated, turning 50 cannot just slip by unnoticed.  Everywhere we turn, there is a reminder that 50 years have passed since his death, meaning 50 years since my birth.  Do not go gentle into that dark November, good George.

My parents recently dug up some newspapers they had saved from those traumatic days.  (And here I’m referring to Kennedy, not my birth.)  As I paged through them tonight, I came across an opinion poll kind of thing.  The question was, “Do you think women belong in political life?”  Of the six respondents, 4 said absolutely not, mainly because women already have a place, and it is in the home.

On a nearby page, there was a small piece about how the President’s death had reopened the debate in society regarding stricter controls on guns.  Some suggested that the tragedy was a wake-up call to restricting easy access to firearms; others argued that such violence points to the need for more citizens to arm themselves.

Around ten years after those papers were printed, my mother ran for the local Board of Education, citing the Board’s lack of female representation as her initial inspiration.  She was (not surprisingly) the first woman ever elected to the city’s Board of Education.  She was a guiding force toward desegregating our city’s schools.  She fought for reproductive freedoms outside that role, and raised four boys who consider women’s rights an absolute given in society.

And now, it is easy to imagine a woman holding elected office, and it is therefore hard to imagine four out of six interviewees saying a woman’s place is in the home.

While it is perhaps difficult to imagine a repeat of the tragic day in Dallas, given today’s extreme security measures, it is quite easy to imagine the resulting “conversation” regarding gun restrictions.

“In 1962 an ordinance in Dallas making it unlawful to carry firearms within the city was declared unconstitutional in the Dallas Court of Appeals.  The judge ruled that the ordinance was an ‘unauthorized invasion of a natural right the citizens of this state have never relinquished to their rulers’.” 1

A 2009 Stanford study compared female lawmakers to their male counterparts, focusing on “three specific measurements of the effectiveness of each member of Congress:
1) the number of pieces of legislation each member introduced,
2) the number of Members of Congress who cosponsored each piece of legislation, and
3) the amount of discretionary spending each member was able to direct to his or her district.
The conclusion of the study was clear: women are more effective legislators than men.  Quantitatively, women introduce more legislation and procure more resources for their districts.  Qualitatively, the legislation women introduce receives greater support from their colleagues.” 2

My basic point is this:  Some things never change.  But, more importantly, some things do.  We can imagine a man on the moon, cheered by a President who was shot by a gun, the prohibition of which was considered an unauthorized invasion into the natural right that has never been relinquished to the rulers.  And some people could never have imagined a world in which a woman might introduce superior legislation, which might one day prevent the kind of violence that occurred around the time of my birth.

Sometimes, what seems lacking is simply a decent sense of imagination.

George Baum is an Episcopal priest who makes his living playing music, and lives in Ohio with his wife and daughters and one BB gun.


1 Niagara Falls Gazette, Nov. 25, 1963, pg 19
2 Linda Sanchez, Rep. Of California Dist. 38, http://www.blogher.com/why-women-should-run-office