Friday, June 23, 2017

Memories XIII: Eli/Miriam Memorial Site

For the last year we have used the Are You Receiving Me web address (receivingme.net) as a pointer to the series of talks and events on campus that we have helped to sponsor in memory of our dear child.

As time moves on, it is not so relevant to use this address to point simply to a schedule of talks that are past.  Liane and I have decided to use the address to point to a more permanent memorial for Eli/Miriam. This will include the talks and events but also other material like Eli's obituary in the Centre Daily Times, other writing and interviews we have done, and so on.

Thanks for visiting receivingme.net 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ichabod


Moses and Joshua Bow Before the Ark, by James Tissot
So Donald Trump has decided to walk away from the 2015 Paris climate accord.  Count me among those who believe this will make less difference that may at first appear to the ultimate outcome of humanity's battle with climate change - which is, at root, a battle with ourselves; whether the interests of our future selves can overcome the greed and inertia of our present selves.  Aquinas would have called this temperance (before that word became associated specifically with alcoholic indulgence):  "a disposition of the mind that binds the passions".

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Letter to PA Human Relations Commission

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is considering guidance clarifying that discrimination against LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania would be treated—and investigated—as a form of sex discrimination. This guidance, which follows precedents set in federal courts and by federal agencies, would be a huge step towards helping ensure LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are able to live their lives free of discrimination.

There is a public comment period that ends in a couple of days (you can find information on the linked website). Here is the letter I sent. Please, if you live in Pennsylvania and support equal opportunity protection for LGBTQ people, send your own letter of support.  I don't doubt that they will receive plenty of comments that lean in the other direction!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Memories XII: Joy, Sorrow, Time


Of all the pictures we have of Miriam (Eli) as a young child, this is probably my favorite.

It's an autumn evening, some time before Miriam's first birthday.   I've just got home from work - maybe four straight hours of teaching math to Oxford students - good work but demanding.  And I have not even had time to take my tie off before I'm swamped by the waves of joy coming from this strong-willed little person.  (To the right of the picture my guitar awaits - Miriam loved music.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bret Stephens, Alan Jacobs, and climate change

Alan Jacobs (via amazon.com)
My aggregator list has about 30 different blogs on it.  All of them represent voices that I found interesting and important when I added them; many have now fallen silent, and I regret that, and wonder whether I should remove them or whether they might, perhaps, come back to sparkling life.  One blog that is very alive and  consistently fascinates me is Alan Jacobs' Text Patterns.

Jacobs is currently a distinguished professor at Baylor and before that was at Wheaton College.  He wrote a fine biographical study of C.S.Lewis - one of the best, I think - and more recently has published a history of the Book of Common Prayer - I'd love to read that as the BCP has been a steady guide to me in my Christian journey.

He also writes a wide-ranging blog which right now is revolving around two aspects of our present age which are both loudly announced (by some people) and which seem to be mutually contradictory: on the one hand, that this age is the dawn of the Anthropocene, the age when the human race is getting "big" enough to become the central influence on our planet's ecology; and on the other hand that it is also the dawn of the posthuman, the era when human beings are transcended and (according to some) superseded by machines that are faster, stronger, more agile, precise and intelligent that we are.   "Ours; not ours", writes Jacobs. "It is in the light of this twofold reality that theology in our time should be done."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

My final class (probably)

Class photo
Last Thursday I wrapped up Math 583, Introduction (interpreted in a rather generous sense) to K-Theory, which is likely to be the last class I teach at Penn State.  My students presented me with a beautiful and generous card, and also insisted on taking a group photo (see picture).  I was instructed to put a picture of "something K-theoretic" on the board above us, so I chose the irrational slope foliation on the 2-torus, which Michael Atiyah had me read about when I arrived at Oxford as a new graduate student, and which I was teaching my own students about a couple of weeks back.

It has taken me a lot longer than you might expect to realize that my life as a professional mathematician revolves around my delight in teaching - not simply in teaching classes in the usual sense, but in explaining, making stuff clear, a gift that my parents gave me (both of them being teachers, and my father a teacher of mathematics who ignited my delight in geometry from a very early age). Most of my research has arisen from a desire to explain things to myself which I believed, sometimes wrongly, were clear to everyone else.  I don't think that this is everyone's path, or that it has to be, but it was certainly mine.   Writing books is of course a well-known symptom (compare Ecclesiastes 12:12) and I have churned out a few.  We are meeting on Monday with the publisher from Springer for Mathematics for Sustainability, which as regular readers know has been a major dream of mine for many years. It is incredibly exciting to feel that finally coming together.

Of course the temptation for people with this sort of gift is to believe that being able to explain things is enough.  (That might account for my thinking seriously at one point in my youth about becoming a pastor - after all, it's all about explaining the Bible, innit?  Mercifully I was dissuaded from this.)  Explaining is often a necessary step, but for accomplishing meaningful change, it is never a sufficient one.  We also need builders of community, summoners to action, companions in suffering, co-celebrants in joy: and that is true whether I'm talking about the community of faith or about working for a sustainable future.  For those who have been that sort of partners to me and my family, especially in the crucible of the last few years, I am truly grateful.

Onward!




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Transgender and Christian

As many readers know, Liane and I have been sponsoring a series of presentations at Penn State this year in honor of our transgender child Eli/Miriam, whom we lost to suicide in January 2016.  Here below is the video from the final presentation in the series, Transgender and Christian, with Allyson Robinson and Austen Hartke