Thursday, January 28, 2016

Red Math, Blue Math, Old Math, New Math

It wasn't long after moving to the US before I found myself in a heated discussion about math teaching.

Not the perverse pride of "Oh, I was always hopeless at math", but a serious discussion about the best teaching methods in K-12.

As the conversation went on, though, I became more and more puzzled by the intensity that my partner brought to the discussion.  It seemed that he was less interested in talking about the different ways in which people learn, and what might be best in a mixed classroom; more alarmed that the correct, "traditional" way of teaching was being undermined by dangerous innovations promoted by impractical university professors.

Fast forward to today's polemics against "Common Core math" (see the meme above, and many like it which you can probably find in your Facebook feed).

Friday, January 1, 2016

Studying "Laudato si"

During the fall, I was privileged to convene a small group to read through the encyclical letter Laudato si.   Three State College churches - St Paul's Methodist, Grace Lutheran, and State College Presbyterian - were formally involved, and I know that one or two participants came from other congregations as well.

We finished our studies at the beginning of December - just as the Paris climate conference was getting under way, and while its outcome was still uncertain.  We took time to pray for the world leaders gathered there.  The outcome of the conference, when it arrived, has been an encouraging one; but of course the real work will start this year, and in the future, when high-sounding commitments have to be translated into practical action.  Fine words butter no parsnips, as my grandmother used to say. 

I prepared a handout for each of the studies, using material from various sources including the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Presbyterians for Earth Care.  I've combined the materials into a single file here.  You're welcome to use them in your own studies if you find them helpful.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to 2016, and I pray for a deepening "ecological conversion".  To quote Pope Francis again
We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next... Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, 'he looked at him with love'.  He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way he showed us how to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive, and compulsive consumers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Dropsical Man

At State College Presbyterian this morning, Dean Lindsey was preaching from Luke 14:1-6, where Jesus, on his way to a fancy meal with "a leader of the Pharisees" on the sabbath, pauses to heal a man with "dropsy".  This is the set-up to another confrontation about healing on the sabbath, of course, but I confess that I had never paused to think about what "dropsy" might be and what significance could be found in this particular ailment.  Dean's message really grabbed my attention.  (Afterwards, I went to the big commentary on Luke by Joel Green, where I found the same information developed further.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Zero Sum v. Abundance

It's probably a fair guess that the book of Zechariah is one of the less frequently studied portions of the Hebrew Scriptures.  It has some surprises though.  This morning I was reading Zechariah chapter 2 and found this

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand.   I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”
While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him  and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it..

Monday, November 2, 2015

A heartfelt plea

My apologies for the silence on Points of Inflection over the last couple of months. I've been busy teaching my math for Sustainability course, and also a series of small group studies on Laudato si... so much to write about, so little time.

Today I am reposting a plea from John Baez over at Azimuth regarding the (what now seem like) annual giant fires in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He writes

I lived in Singapore for two years, and I go back to work there every summer. I love Southeast Asia, its beautiful landscapes, its friendly people, and its huge biological and cultural diversity. It’s a magical place.
But in 2013 there was a horrible haze from fires in nearby Sumatra. And this year it’s even worse. It makes me want to cry, thinking about how millions of people all over this region are being choked as the rain forest burns.
Read the rest of his post here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Penn State Goes Boom?

It was perhaps in 2006 or 2007 that I first heard the word "fracking".

I was sitting in the chair at Fetterolf's Barber Shop, getting a trim.  Next to me was a Penn State geology professor, talking with animation about the Marcellus shale; how new technology was going to upend the energy industry, and (what's more) how it was going to upend the economy of rural Pennsylvania.    Know what? He was right.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"It is we who need to change" - Chapter 6 of Laudato si

Hope long deferred makes sick the heart; but a Desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
These words are from the book of Proverbs,  though when I read them I always hear echoes of the English mystic Thomas Traherne.  They remind us, as Traherne does, of the centrality of longing to authentic humanity.  Who we are is constituted, as much as anything, by what we deeply desire; and disordered, unattainable desire leads to a heart sickness that cannot be cured.