Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good morning, Moon

Early morning. Four-forty-five ante meridian and the moon hung like a smudged basketball over the western horizon, looking more spherical than I had ever seen it. Fascinating.

How weird and entertaining is it that there is a sphere that orbits the earth? Ordinarily, the moon is just a silver disk that sits above the world lighting the night, the bright circular end of a halogen flashlight. But this morning it was more three-dimensional, more intriguing, and more alive, that’s it, more alive than at any other time. It made the distance between ball and ball seem so much shorter, and space behind it seem so much deeper, further away.

It got me to thinking about the other eclipsing arrangement. Here the earth was the perpetrator casting cold shadow on cold orb. But there are those times when the moon slips between sun and earth, choking off heat, blotting the light, exposing just how vulnerable we really are, and standing ever so briefly in a position of veiling power that reveals an ordinarily hidden glory, the solar crown. How unbelievable that we live in such a place, in such a world!! It’s a wonder that we can even sleep at night.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
John of Patmos, Letters
Christopher Parkening, In the Spanish Style
Gioacchino Rossini, String Sonatas

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Go For A Walk

I recently sent a few hand-written notes out to some students just to greet them and tell them I appreciate them. A trickle-through report has one student who knows me fairly well, turning to his mom upon receiving the mail (snail mail …. remember that?) and saying, “Whose handwriting is this?”

Have you ever noticed with email, especially corporate email, how some people expect you to be sitting in front of your computer and ready to respond instantly? This is one of the irritations with Blackberry’s. Instantly on call through the Internet. I know one fellow who lives in a steady-state of low-level panic and jumps nervously when his Blackberry vibrates. He is instantly compelled to read it and answer whatever message came in. It actually reminded me of a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. story set in the future (which is probably here by now) where people were equalized mentally, physically and soulishly through a governmental agency and electronic devices they had to have with them at all times. The Blackberry thing is an insidious form of slavery. So is email when people expect always-on attention and instant responses. The only instant response that makes sense to me is the automatic one that returns an email stating, “I’m on vacation for the next 3 weeks. Suck it up and live without me.”

I still have dial-up and that’s not likely to change anytime in the next 5 years given my location. You can imagine what an irritation I am to the corporate digitizers. I check my email 4 times a day whether I need to or not, and I respond within another 4 to 6 hours to those that seem sort of important.

Ultimately, the choices we make about technology shape and sometimes direct our lives. When we accept a new technology, we either control it, or it controls us. We never really remain neutral. I’ll no doubt touch on this with regard to iPods, cell phones, automobiles, gameboys, etc. But this much I must say now. I am not a materialist. By that, I mean that I don’t have to act a certain way because a new process, new gadget, new technology comes to the market. I don’t have to accept all the changes it brings. I prefer to drive my automobile and not have my automobile drive me. We should prefer to consciously use our technology as a tool and not have our technology turn us into something a bit less human or turn our world into something a bit less humane. And really, to do that, we need to shut it all off and go for a walk in the real world.

Today's Influences and Soundtrack:
Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny
Patrick O’Brian, The Fortune of War
Michael W. Smith, This Is Your Time
Roy Whelden, Galax
Felix Mendelssohn, Choral Pieces

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Long Pause

With a sort of solemn fascination, I’ve observed a tree in a nearby park all summer. In mid-spring, after everything had recovered from the frozen hammer that hit us, this strong specimen of oak was healthy, vigorous, and well-placed for growth during the stressful drought of a St. Louis summer. At more than 50 years old, it had everything going for it. Right now, it is nearly dead. Two living branches remain sticking out from its scarred trunk; hopeful, etiolated but unpromising. Everything else in its 45-foot crown is withered. And its been a long, slow, instructive demise.

I first noticed it while bike riding. The bark had been blasted off the north side; a telltale sign of super-heated cambium. This was lightning death. As a spring cold front swept through, electrons in the field collected on the bark, turning the living tissues into a giant capacitor. When they became hyper-active and discharged to the sky, they turned the blood of the tree into steam, expanded, and took the living cells with it. BLAM! From a distance, we heard thunder. No one, probably, and certainly I hadn’t, heard the sigh of an insentient creature giving up its life-force in the struggle against futility.

The weird part about this, and what has captivated me, is that this wasn’t the tallest tree in the area. Within 20 feet on both sides, there are taller trees, more susceptible I would think, to being struck. They weren’t touched. And it makes me ask by what criteria this one was singled out.

It’s the not knowing, not seeing, that draws me and troubles me. Because this happens to people, too.

It was said of Jonathan Edwards that from the age of 17 on he contemplated is own death every day. This wasn’t morbid. If anything, it was intensely realistic. He did this to make certain that he would be able to say, each day, he lived as he thought he should have in the face of eternity. I’ve watched that tree with the same sort of temper.

My brandy is finished. Time for bed.

Today’s influences and soundtrack:
Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny
Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
Gabriel Faure, Requiem
Imogen Heap, Speak For Yourself
Jake Armerding, Caged Bird