Saturday, May 19, 2018

Last words?

Columbarium, State College Presbyterian Church

The writer of this blog -- my beloved husband John Roe -- left behind his earthly life on March 9, 2018. He was confident that he was beginning "a more focused time of peace and joy" with his Lord, and that he would rest close to our child Eli, as they both awaited the resurrection (see his Dec. 11, 2017 post: Waiting close).

In the last week of John's life, as his body was weakened by cancer and his mind was affected by pain medication, we had some brief but touching interactions. His words as he was dying reflected the focus that he had in life: his relationship with God, love for me and our family, and (of course) thoughts about mathematics.

In his last days, John spoke out of the fullness of his heart and his mind, even as his connection to them was slipping away. It occurred to me to wonder: When I myself reach that state and the thoughts of my mind come spilling out, will my words be as joyful, gracious, and God-centered as his?

I wanted to share a few of John's last words here, in the hope that they will give inspiration to others as they do to me. In another sense, these are not his last words, because his writing and blogs continue to speak with his unique blend of insight, passion, and humor.

Monday, March 5, 2018: John called me to his bedside, and wanted to pray aloud together. That was unusual, because his prayer life was usually intensely personal and private for him. But he prayed "Lord, it looks like I’ve reached the end of my life on earth. But we know that for your people, this doesn’t mean the end of life. We know that you hold me in the palm of your hand, and you also hold Liane. In the last minute of our lives, you will not be any different to us than in all the other minutes."

Tuesday, March 6, 2018: At 8 am, I asked John if he wanted any breakfast, and he replied that he needed "circular fruit". I asked why he needed that, and he replied "to reflect on the shape of our joy together". For John, his faith and his mathematical mind were intimately connected, right until the end. Fortunately, there was an orange in the kitchen; I peeled it and he ate a few bites. Later that morning, John asked for some paper and wrote "Everyone! Hello, Hallelujah" and then said to me "Tell everyone 'Hallelujah'". When I asked why, he responded "Because God is good and deserves being praised by everyone”.

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018: John's mind was meandering and he was musing about theology. I asked myself (aloud) "Are you leaving me?" and was surprised when John answered "No, I feel closer to you, not further away". I affirmed to John that his body was giving out and that he would be leaving the earth but would be with Jesus. And John replied "A new beautiful land appears -- a new world".

Rest in peace in that new land, beloved, until you and Eli are raised with healed bodies.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Stairway to Heaven

Or just a journey to work?  Job requirements: a priestly calling and climbing ability up to 5.7.  

In the remote mountains of northern Ethiopia, a lone priest scales a 250m cliff each day to reach his church and study ancient books containing religious secrets.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Sulitest report logo
I received an e-mailing from an organization called "Sulitest", which stans (I think) for SUstainability LIteracy TESTing.  This is in fact one of the many ideas that are related to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, 2012, and known as Rio+20 because it was a 20-year follow-up to the original Earth Summit also held in Rio - in 1992!

Specifically, Sulitest is part of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI). The website says, By joining the HESI, Chancellors, Presidents, Rectors, Deans and leaders of Higher Education Institutions and related organizations, acknowledged the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development. They agree to teach Sustainable Development concepts, encourage research on sustainable development issues, make their campuses greener and more sustainable, support sustainability efforts in their communities and share results through international frameworks. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thy Word Is Truth

I was having my afternoon nap when my phone rang. Usually I remember to set it to "Do Not Disturb" during my nap, but this time I had forgotten.

"Hello, is that John?  This is Matthew" began a bright, cheery voice, obviously launching into a script of some sort. [Name has been changed.]

I grunted something incoherent, in the way one does when one has just been woken up. But "Matthew" was unstoppable.

"I'm a financial advisor.  I work with several of your neighbors and I'd like to help you too."

I grunted some more.

"Let's get some things straight. Tell me, do you have any investments with X or Y [two well-known mutual fund companies}?"

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Welcome to Newspeak

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a political satire written for its time (the late 1940s).  Orwell extrapolates the totalitarian direction of the Stalinism of his day, and imagines what would happen if it were combined with ubiquitous surveillance technology. In the world of the novel, truth is no longer a constant, an unchangeable record of how things really are.  Instead, "truth" varies from day to day according to the requirements of the Party.  If the size of the crowd at a certain event was declared, by the Party, to have been the greatest ever - why, then, it was the greatest ever, and any historical record suggesting otherwise needed to be adjusted [this example is not an actual incident from Nineteen Eighty-Four, but a similar though more extreme "changing of gears" occurs at the beginning of the crucial Chapter IX of the book]. In fact, the Ministry of Truth, where the book's hero, Winston Smith, works, has as one of its main functions this continuous 'adjustment' of the historical record. Winston rebels, but by the end of the book he has been brought back into line; he will declare even that 2+2=5 if his Party torturer demands it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Waiting close

When we lost Eli - nearly two years ago now - a great many decisions had to be made in a hurry.  We quickly decided that his body should be cremated, but  what should be the resting-place for his remains? We are fortunate that there was a natural answer. Some years ago, wise and generous donors endowed our church with a columbarium - a place (actually part of the church building with a little garden) which provides spaces where the cremated remains of church members may be respectfully stored.  I love the symbolism here - that when we currently-living members enter in to worship we do so in the company of a whole fellowship  of believers extended backwards through time. In England one often enters the village church through the graveyard, receiving a similar message about the "communion of saints".

As you can see from the picture, each niche in the columbarium can hold two sets of remains.  When we laid Eli to rest, that did seem as though it might be a problem.  It was not long, however, before we found out that the space we had reserved for the second occupant was going to be needed soon enough - for me! So, once the stupid cancer has its stupid way with me, I will rest close to Eli as we both await the general resurrection.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Manifesto, Part II

A week or two ago I put up a post called Manifesto.   The idea was to ask myself what I - or what Points of Inflection - should be standing for in these serious days.  It looks as though my own days are short - but if they were long, if I were writing a manifesto for some kind of gathering or movement, what would I emphasize as centrally important?  And in such a document I'd want to bring together both the hard-headed mathematical analysis that I've tried to do, and also the spiritual or even "prophetic" critique which tries to understand the 'principalities and powers' that are in action behind the upheavals of recent times and which we can expect in the future.  So, in the first Manifesto post, I revisited the idea that materialism bears responsibility for our woes, and found it misguided: I felt our problem was that we did not revere materiality enough, not that we revered it too much.