Awkard Silences and Being Like Jesus

I moved to a new place recently. There is a large amount of economic disparity here, especially along racial lines. There is also widespread atheism. Putting aside all policy arguments, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do about the problems this city has using a Godly yet uncondemning approach. Jesus is the best example of how to deal with these problems. He hung around with poor and marginalized people, and although he alienated the upper crust of society, most people loved him. My question is…how?

CityI mean, Jesus was perfect. But does that imply sinlessness or complete perfection in all areas? He seems to have known exactly what to say to make people feel loved, even when he didn’t agree with them. Does perfection also mean he never had awkward moments where he didn’t know what to say to homeless people, how to talk to his teachers, or how to solve a math problem? Did he ever not know how or even whether it would be wise to talk to people about God?

On one hand, Jesus was fully human, so he had moments of extreme mental distress, exhaustion, and he had to keep in contact with God by prayer. On the other hand, God seems to have come through an *awful lot* and told him what to say when. Unfortunately, my words never seem to come out right. Perhaps this imperfection itself is not a sin, but a symptom of not spending enough time with God.

On the bright side, whatever it is, it seems to have afflicted a lot of people in the Bible. Elijah hid in a cave because he didn’t want to face Jezebel right after God had sent down fire from heaven to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice. You’d think that would have given him some nerve. Nope. He ran away and hid in a cave even after God sent an angel to feed him en route. It took God passing by the mouth of the cave and talking to Elijah in person to give him his nerve back. Even then, God didn’t yell at him: he sent him reinforcements in the form of Elisha, and allowed him to continue calling down fire from heaven.

God seems to do that a whole lot. The Bible says fear is the opposite of love, and God is love, but most of the important people in the Bible are really fearful. Peter failed walking on water and denied Jesus because he was afraid. God had Aaron speak for Moses because Moses was too scared. After John the Baptist was thrown in prison, he sent people to verify Jesus’ identity even though he had already heard God identify him. Abraham lied about his wife because he was afraid the Pharaoh would kill him. Paul doesn’t seem to have been too fearful as a Christian, but prior to that, he was a legalist, which in my experience is an expression of fear of the consequences of personal insufficiency.

The good news is that this discussion of perfection is arbitrary. Perfection is not gained via legalism by wanting to be perfect. If Elijah’s experience is relevant, the proper approach is to talk to God (sans hiding in caves), find reinforcements, and keep on trying to love people. As Paul said of legalism, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Even if the silences are *really* awkward.


The 4th Dimension, God, and Buckaroo Banzai

In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, the hero drives his amazing rocket car into the eighth dimension, through a mountain, and  re-materializes on the other side. The titular character (physicist, neurosurgeon, race car driver, and rock star) explains that he didn’t actually drive through the mountain. He drove onto another plane. For all the faux science-speak the movie has, it holds a grain of truth. Even if the magical machine really worked, he *didn’t* drive through the mountain. He drove around it.

Every dimension is at right angles to all the ones before it. The y-axis  makes a 90 degree angle with the x-axis in the 1st dimension, and the z-axis makes 90 degree angles with the x and y axises. So the 4th dimension must also be at right angles to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dimensions. But what on earth does this look like?

Being In Two Places at Once

The 4th dimension is the only place  in which we can have two 3-D objects at the same point in 3-D space. In the 0th dimension, there can only be a point, but in the 1st dimension there can be an infinite number of points, forming a line. In the 2nd dimension, there can be an infinite number of lines, forming a long rectangle. In the 2nd dimension, there can be an infinite number of squares, forming a tunnel. In the 4th dimension you can somehow have an infinite chain of tunnels. So, in effect, the 4th dimension contains an infinite number of alternate worlds.

It’s pretty universally agreed that time is the 4th dimension. Normally, we move along time like a point on the number line or a square in a square tunnel. If 4th dimension is time, than 3-D beings can move through any point of  time, just as a point can move forward or backward on a number line in the 1st dimension, a line can move forward or backward on an elongated rectangle in the 2nd dimension, or a square can move forward or backward in a tunnel in the 3rd dimension (as long as nothing gets in the way).

Furthermore, if a line can contain an infinite number of points, a square an infinite number of lines, a cube an infinite number of squares, and the 4th dimension an infinite number of worlds, than someone in the 4th dimension can be in two places at the exact same time, just as a line can have two different points.

Not Seeing Everything

This brings up a fascinating point. Each higher dimension can only “see” in lower dimensions and guess the existence of their own dimension. However, each higher dimension can see inside lower dimensions. A point in the 0th dimension can see nothing. A line in the 1st dimension x-axis can see only a point in the 0th dimension. A square in the 2nd dimension x-y plane can only see a line in the 1st dimension, but it can see the middle of a line, which the line cannot. A cube in the 3rd dimension x,y,z can only see shapes in the 2nd dimension. This is why we use paper instead of  cubes. We see one side of the cube. We feel the other sides. We cannot read both sides of the paper at once. Someone in the 4th dimension can actually see inside 3-D objects, but even he can only see his fellow man in terms of the 3rd dimension.

Having More than One Facet

When a higher dimension encounters a lower dimension, the effects are very weird. If a 2-D circle passed through a 1-D plane, first a short line would intersect, than the lines would grow longer and longer until the middle of the circle was reached and the lines grew smaller and smaller until they vanished. A 3-D circle passing through a flat 2-D paper would start out as a dot and grow into a larger and larger circle until it began to shrink again. A person from the 4th dimension who carried his entire life with him would intersect the 3-D plane as a baby, and grow and grow until he reached adulthood, at which point he would begin to shrink until he finally died, but the rate at which this happened would depend on how fast he was moving through time.


I think the implication here is people don’t belong in the 3rd dimension. We’re stuck here. We have 4th dimensional quantities, such as time, although we’re stuck at a certain age rate. Yet, I’m not sure time travel the way we try to invent it is possible. Never mind Doctor Who, there would be some very wonky results, such as a person living out their entire life in both medieval France and modern Germany.

The 4th dimension explains how God is omnipresent: someone in the 4th dimension can be two places at once. It explains how he is omniscient: he can see the inside of us, of our minds. It explains how God is undying: He’s a time traveler, and time traveling involves being able to move between times with your entire life. It explains how some people can sense God: we cannot see all three dimensions, but we infer that they are there. Likewise, we cannot see or touch time, but we can infer its presence. Similarly, sometimes, we can infer God.

I am not arguing that God is confined to the 4th dimension. (Even higher dimensions have similar properties with added benefits, but God doesn’t have to confine Himself like that.) I am arguing that if math makes room for a combined physicist, neurosurgeon, race car driver, and rock star, then math can make room for God.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal ~1Corinthians 4:18

For another look at the dimensions see Imagining the Tenth Dimension.

Reference: Flatland by Edward Abbott Abbott

First Impressions

I gave a speech a week ago. I was prepared for it too. I said it a dozen times in front of my mirror, and two dozen while I was making rice pudding. It wasn’t a long speech. I was supposed to give it at a civic club, which I assumed was sort of like a town hall meeting in the south. I felt its purpose was to inspire half a dozen wealthy retirees to contribute to the scholarship that’s helping keep me afloat and my parents out of debt.

I should have realized that things were going to be different when my ride pulled to a stop in front of a massive country club. Ok, I can do this. Wow, I didn’t realize people had cloakrooms anymore, and this veranda looks like it’s something out of Blandings castle. Suffice it to say, that when the guests showed up, and I was introduced as “our speaker,” I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into. They spoke with accents, they were all dressed up, and one guy there looked a bit like Tuppy Glossop. I mean, I wasn’t ready to give a speech to a bunch of highbrows. Perhaps if I had reflected a bit more, I would have realized that Blandings isn’t highbrow.

Well, the moment came, and I stood up somewhat awkwardly, put my back to one of the railings, and let loose what little I had to say. And they told me I had given a good speech. My first reaction is that I’m an open book, and any feelings of nervousness were probably pretty obvious to all concerned. My second reaction was, you know, these are normal people. I proceeded to sit in on an hour of fundraising negotiations that closely resembled one of my venturing crew meetings. Then they took a picture of their guest speaker of the evening to put in their newsletter as proof that they’d done things that night. I came home, but I still felt a bit odd about the whole affair.

Well, who did I expect them to be? A dissertation committee? You have to start somewhere. Finally, I realized what was bothering me. As much as I expected them to be a highbrow, judging sort of people who would see me as a philistine, I had been judging them, which had colored my actions toward them. I hate being judged, but that had been what I was doing, and the realization hurt. But I realize this affects my actions toward more than just these people, and my ability to be friends with them. Ironic, isn’t it? In attempting to be good enough to escape the censure of this whole academic culture of pride, and exclusivity, I’ve become part of it.

It becomes ever harder to judge people once you’ve become friends with them. My flatmate is Muslim, and I find myself thinking about Muslims differently because of her. I don’t agree with some things she says, and I certainly don’t condone jihad, but I do find myself re-examining whether I’m seeing a people group the way God sees them or as a stereotype of what I think they’re really like.

Spring Semester Summary ’11

Campus Center

West Georgia Campus Center

I look back at the past four months with a feeling of awe. Where did all the time go? This last semester passed so much more quickly than the one before it. Again, I learned many new things, quite a few of which were not included in the curriculum. I detail a few of these today.

1. English is not about grammar, but rather about philosophy, and, in today’s schools, any reasonably developed and supported analysis of the philosophy in literature will receive a good grade. Likewise, while math and terminology is important to science, a general common sense, impossible to endow to a machine, is the most important thing one gains from science. The ability to apply one’s knowledge, rather than the ability to regurgitate it is the goal. I wonder, however, whether we have not laid too much emphasis on the measurement of one’s knowledge, rather than the results. Several of my classmates and I wrote English papers with which we did not entirely agree (How many writers are able to cram that much subtle meaning into a paragraph?) because the course required a paper, and we could think of no A-worthy argument which we truly thought the book’s writer espoused. (Now, others did not compromise their beliefs and still received an A. I salute them.) In the same way, I did not prepare for my final chemistry exam properly, because, per my teacher’s suggestion, I was studying other things. Here is the thing, though. The second-semester ACS exam focuses on skills that the student should have picked up over the course of the year: general knowledge, ideas which ought to be ingrained in the student’s soul, and some calculations. This is not to say that I did not need to study for the test. However, sometimes, the most valuable knowledge is not what is crammed in at the last moment, but that which is cherished and used fifty years later. And that is something which I gained from both English and Chemistry. Whether the ability to make a coherent argument, or to have a general idea whether some things are flammable: these both apply to real life.

2. Grace is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It may lead my professors to grade me more mercifully than I deserve, perhaps allowing me to get into a better graduate school, allowing me to one day find a cure for some form of cancer. And it may lead my God to die for me so that there is a chance He may spend eternity with me, if, one day, I notice Him and decide that I would like to spend eternity with Him too. The sad thing? Sometimes I have to be reminded of this latter grace by His demonstration of the former.

And finally, last, but by no means least, I would like to wish a wonderful Mothers’ Day to my beautiful mother, who has taught me far more than I will ever realize and shown me more grace than I could ever deserve. Happy Mother’s Day.


With less than 24 hours before departure, I have much to worry over. However, I am mostly packed, so I can put it off awhile. Instead, I have reflections. Some of the stuff that has put us on this trip is just providential.

Firstly, our Venturing crew wanted to go to a camp sponsored by the army Rangers last year. To tell the truth, I wasn’t physically wholly ready, but had eagerness to make up for it. The night before we paid, two people going broke or strained their ankles. We decided against going, much to my loudly voiced chagrin. This April, we are approached, months in advance, by someone asking if our all-female crew would like to go with them to this awesome high-adventure base.

Point two. We often have trouble finding female leaders to go on trips with us as required by regulations. This group already had four.

One requirement for this base is that at least two members of the group going are wilderness first aid certified. We got our invitation at first aid training and have double the amount of required people.

We got a good deal on plane tickets.

Even down to the last detail. Say, how many times can you go up to a scout and say, “Here’s your sleeping bag stuff sack. You left it on that camping trip. I hope you don’t mind; it went to Philmont without you.”?

Now that’s cool. Next week ~Joanna