Saturday, November 18, 2017

My mission statement

I can't remember, to be honest, when I first got the idea of a personal mission statement.  It was quite a while ago - I would say before the word "mission statement" had become part of standard managerial-ese, an idea to dread as much as to welcome.  Nowadays it sometimes seems that a highfalutin "mission statement", heavy on jargon and light on content, is a required component of any kind of planning for something new.  Dilbert, as usual, neatly satirizes the trend:

But wherever it came from for me - perhaps from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits, perhaps from thinking about my impending duties as department head, perhaps somewhere else - I found the idea of a personal mission statement a helpful one.  Not something that would necessarily set objectives for me every day - but something that I could review prayerfully, every day, to remind me what was important.  Various versions of this have lived with me over the years - currently it is incorporated into PrayerMate, the excellent iPad app that I use to remind me about daily prayer items. [Splitting it into daily items in this way has allowed me to add comments - "Move out of the comfort zone" has somehow acquired the comment "When was I last in it?"]  But while tidying up my desk (actually, while rectifying the consequences of near-disastrously spilling my drink around the router) I found an old copy with the nine points neatly listed.  I wondered if I should share them.  Please ignore these if they are of no use to you, but here they are:

John's Mission Statement

All to the glory of God
Succeed at home first
Communicate every day
Seek the heart of worship
Move out of the comfort zone
Teach from the heart
Prepare the ground for insight
Start with what matters most
Love alone endures

It is hard to write these things without being all too aware of how I have failed to live up to the aspirations they represent; but, as I approach the end of earthly life, I do feel that by and large those aspirations were solid ones, worth aiming for, and worth seeking Grace for when I miss the mark.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

“Mathematics for Sustainability” sent to Springer

Friends -

I am very excited to share with you the news that Mathematics for Sustainability has been sent off to Springer-Verlag, the publisher, for copy-editing.  During the past couple of months we have been responding to comments from Springer’s readers, and from other friends who have reviewed the manuscript for us, and their input has helped us significantly improve the book.  Now that work is done.

This is the next-to-final step in the publication process.  The copy-editors read the book looking for spelling errors, misplaced punctuation, and things like that.  This job will take a couple of weeks.  After that, we get to review and incorporate the copy-editors’ corrections (together with any additional minor changes of our own), and then return the final book version to Springer.  At that point everything is out of our hands and the physical process of printing can start.

It is so exciting to have reached this point! I would like to take the time to once again acknowledge (split infinitive! Don’t tell the copy-editor!) the enormous gift that my coauthor Russ deForest has made in bringing the project to completion, especially in recent months when illness has limited the amount I can contribute.  Thank you!

We were honored to hear a few days ago that as well as listing it in their series Mathematics of Planet Earth, Springer have also chosen our book to inaugurate a completely new publication series, Texts for Quantitative Critical Thinking.  This is a strong push from our publisher and helps convey their confidence in the work we have done.

We were also honored by a most gracious and lovely foreword contributed by Francis Su, past president of the MAA.   Here is part of what he wrote (addressed directly to students):

Here’s what stands out to me when I read this book: there are many math books that will feed you knowledge, but it is rare to see a book like this one that will help you cultivate wisdom.

There is a deep difference between knowledge and wisdom. A knowledgeable person may be armed with facts, but a wise person considers how to act in light of those facts. A knowledgeable person may think an answer is the end of an investigation, whereas a wise person considers the new questions that result. And a knowledgeable person might ignore the human element of a problem that a wise person deems essential to understand. As the authors illustrate, mathematics that pays attention to human considerations can help you look at the world with a new lens, help you frame important questions, and help you make wise decisions.

Amen!  I truly hope and trust that this book will help its readers cultivate wisdom.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Transforming


Cover of Transforming
A sweet gift arrived in my email last month.  It was a PDF file containing a review copy of Transforming, Austen Hartke's forthcoming new book about the Bible and the lives of transgender Christians (#TransformingBook - it is available for preorder: if you have a local Christian bookstore, please support their business by preordering from them, or you can preorder it here from you-know-who in Seattle).  Publication date is early April next year and, sadly, I don't expect to be around to hold a copy in my hands.  But Austen is a good friend and knows how much this project - a project that only he could carry out - has meant to me.  So when he obtained some electronic "review copies" he was gracious enough to send one on.  As it happens, the email arrived just at a moment when I had been feeling sad about not being able to see this book, and it lit up my face when I realized what it was!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

That Amazing Photograph

John and Liane in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, May 2016
In my last post, I mentioned that there was a tale to tell about this picture of Liane and me in the dining room at the Ahwahnee, at the beginning of our Yosemite trip in May 2016.

We're both quite down-to-earth people.  Strange, "touched-by-an-angel" experiences happen to someone else - not to us. Yet we'd both agree that the journey that culminated in this picture was one of the strangest we have ever experienced.  There was a message at its heart - a message of grace and tenderness, a message that we were granted at the exact time we needed it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Ezer Kenegdo

John and Liane in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, May 2016
I've received such a lot of encouraging letters (both the paper and the e-mail kind) recently. Not only letters of sympathy or prayer - though there have been plenty of those too, and they mean more than I can say.  Right now I'm thinking more of those readers who want to express their thanks for the encouragement they have found in the material I've been posting on my blogs, either here, or on Caring Bridge, or Receiving Me, or my math blog, or in other places.  Some want to say "your faith is so inspiring".   Some want to say "I count among my dearest blessings the opportunity to get to know you and to be touched by your wisdom and friendship." Some want to say "It is really remarkable how you combine rationality and science, your faith, and such a positive attitude on the realities of life, in such a beautiful way."  It is great to know that what was written partly as a way to share news and partly, let's be fair, as a kind of therapy for myself, has turned out also to mean so much to so many other readers.  This brings me great joy and thankfulness.  But it's also made it clear to me that I desire to make a public acknowledgment, a "thank you". Read on - this is it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

If you die, we split your gear

Until some major life event draws near (a house move, a death, perhaps a separation) it is hard for one to realize just how much stuff one has accumulated around one's existence.  Much of it has brought joy or has enabled joyful experiences, but as the end draws near one wonders:  what next for this stuff? How can it continue to bring joy to others? How can we avoid it becoming simply a burden, a nuisance, until - stripped of meaning - it just ends up as someone's waste?


This question has weighed on me in regard to several groups of things.  What of my books? What of my rock-climbing gear? What of the surplus air-miles in my travel account? And I've been working on trying to share them in a joy-bringing way. The air miles, for instance, went to bring three working pastors (who could not otherwise have afforded the travel) to the Reformation Project conference in Chicago this weekend. And as for the climbing gear - Well, I had a bright idea to share it with my friends at Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides.  I've enjoyed their comradeship and encouragement almost since my first visit to Seneca, in October 1998.  And Seneca has become one of the special places in my life, a "thin place", a window into joy.  What better than to give back?  Well, as I said, I had an idea.  I shared it with Diane Kearns, one of the co-owners of SRMG and someone who's been a friend to me and to my family.  She took it and ran with it a bit.  The above little video is the result.  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Manifesto

I have been posting regularly here at Points of Inflection since 2011, or about six years.  A lot has happened in that time. The intention was to write down my thoughts and reflections about mathematics and sustainability, and especially about the challenges presented by the GreenFaith program that I had just joined.  But our youngest child was just about to embark on a journey of gender dysphoria, a gender which would test their courage to the limit and beyond, a journey to bleak places of mental illness, a journey that would ultimately bring us all to a place of terrible loss.  And that's spilled over onto Points of Inflection, though I've tried also to make a more focused site at Are You Receiving Me?

And then at some point during that awful journey, and during the original thinking process that this blog was intended to document, came the call from the family doctor - "I want you to make an appointment with a brain surgeon". Though it turned out that a brain surgeon was not who I needed (that was the result of some strange appearances on the MRI) I did need some very delicate surgery, which I received at Johns' Hopkins, and when it and chemo and radiation were done there was still some chance of a recurrence.  Guess what? I was in the recurrence group. So I am now looking at life-ending metastatic cancer, and meanwhile I have just finished Math for Sustainability thanks to the wonderful work of coauthors Russ and Sara, and it will, I hope, appear early next year.  I am really blessed by the gift of this team to work with.

So it feels like time to write a "manifesto".  If I wanted to say something for the future, for the next six years, what would it be? Are there ways in which I would want to change the fundamental metaphor of "points of inflection"? Is there something I'd like to add? Some error I feel I should defend against?

Here's a really early post which I still feel hits the nail right on the head.  A new manifesto, if there is such a thing, should start here I think.

American households are drowning in "stuff".  But why?

There's a ready answer that many preachers and people of faith would give.  Materialism! Too much attention, too much attachment to physical objects; not enough to the realm of the spirit. Surely this is the ground for a culture of endless accumulation.

I don't think this is right; or, a least, I don't think it cuts deep enough. When you think of a greedy materialist, you might think of a miser returning every evening to gloat over the beautiful objects he has hoarded.  But that kind of greed is not really characteristic of consumer society.  When I've acquired the IPhone 4, I may gloat for a while; but only until my neighbor gets an IPhone 5. Perpetual dissatisfaction, rather than gloating satisfaction, is what I feel about my stuff.

William Cavanaugh writes, "What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment.  People do not hoard money; they spend it.  People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things...Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism."

What if our unsatisfying overconsumption is a symptom, not of materialism, but of a restless and misguided spiritual quest?  What if we're not materialistic enough