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.


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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creation Care Litany

Our congregation's "Sustainability Circle" is helping put together a service focused on Caring for Creation at the end of this month. I volunteered to help develop a Litany as part of the service.

A Litany is "a ceremonial or liturgical form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations or supplications with responses that are the same for a number in succession." For a Brit of my generation, the model is the Litany in the 1662 Prayer Book, which goes on for quite a few pages and which I don't remember ever using in public worship (though I have used it in my own prayers now and again).  My favorite single petition from the 1662 Litany is

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment - Good Lord, deliver us
Anyhow, here is my attempt at a Creation Care Litany - definitely shorter and more manageable. Like most liturgical prayers this is not "all my own work".  I was particularly inspired by two of the litanies on the Earth Ministry website and took over several of the petitions with little adaptation.

[I see this as having two leaders, L1 and L2, leading alternate sections – but it could also be led by one person of course.]

L1: We give you thanks and praise, O God, for the grandeur of all you have made, saying together
We thank you, God

For the healing waters of creation, which bring joy and health, purity and life,
We thank you, God.

For the richness of the good Earth that brings forth fruits and flowers, a pleasure to taste and a joy to behold,
We thank you, God.

For the birds of the air, the creatures on the Earth, the fishes in the seas, for all creatures great and small with whom we share this precious web of life,
We thank you, God.

For the sunlight of day, the mystery of night, the wonder of the stars, and the call of the unknown in the universe,
We thank you, God.

L2: We confess, O Lord, that we have not heeded your call to be faithful stewards of your creation.  From our folly and greed, we plead together
Good Lord, deliver us

From heedless misuse and dishonoring of the wonders of your hand,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the fear of scarcity and the need to hoard,
Good Lord, deliver us

From the temptations of using more, spending more, and wasting more
Good Lord, deliver us.

L1: In our eagerness to possess Earth’s fruits for our own, we have made our fellow-creatures pay a high price.  For polluted lands and lifeless waters, we cry out together
Lord, have mercy

For the choice to send our garbage where other people live
Lord, have mercy

For the third and fourth and future generations, who will carry the weight of our climate-changing lifestyle
Lord, have mercy

For every species, meant to join in Creation’s song of praise, whose voice will never more be heard
Lord, have mercy

L2: Yet we do not lose heart, for You have set your hope in us.  For the courage and wisdom to work with one another to love and restore the Earth, we ask together
Strengthen us, O Spirit.

For the insight to see You in all the people you have made, especially in the hungry and thirsty, the unclothed, the stranger and the prisoner,
Strengthen us, O Spirit.

For repentance and the determination to begin our stewardship anew,
Strengthen us, O Spirit.

All: Help us to know that in caring for your wonderful world, we are working for your kingdom, being stewards of your creative power, and giving you the glory.   Amen

Image from Pax Christi USA