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Layman's Walk

Mandelbrot and Mystery

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After my mentioning of Carl Sagan yesterday, I looked on YouTube for some videos of him.  I found a very interesting special that featured him, Stephen Hawking, and Arthur C. Clarke from the mid-1980s. 

I greatly enjoyed their hour-long discussion which attempted to allow regular folks like me to begin to understand the magnitude of the universe.  During the show, Dr. Clarke demonstrated the Mandelbrot on what would now be considered an ancient computer.

Today, we can find not only images, but many videos illustrating the Mandelbrot Set, such as this one:

I’ve always felt a connection between mathematics and the divine.  The Mandelbrot Set is, to me, a prime example of this connection.  No matter which way you zoom on the set–inwards or outwards–it continues forever in a repeating and recursive pattern.

That’s really all I have to say; I’m just intrigued by the mystery of both.



Layman's Walk

“You are star stuff, and to star stuff you will return.”

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One of my favorite quotes is by astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan.  At the end of one of the episodes of his iconic series, Cosmos, he looks directly into the camera and tells the viewer, “We’re made of star stuff.”

I find this concept particularly poignant on Ash Wednesday, when churchgoers are reminded that “[they] are dust; and to dust [they] shall return” as the mark of the cross is made on their forehead in palm ashes.

Each year I find this ritual quite moving.  It reminds me that my imperfect and sinful life on earth is finite and that I, too, will ultimately die and my body break back down into the simple elements. (We, too, are physically just atoms after all.)  More so, it reminds me that everyone will experience  death.  Regardless of how we die, we will all still die.

Seeing the black cross on the heads of all these people really stops a person in one’s tracks.  Not only will I die, the person I don’t know that well will die too.  So will my dearest friends.  So will my parents and relatives.  So will my wife.  So will my children.  I couldn’t help but stare at the forehead of my youngest son who, after a long day, fell asleep in the pew during tonight’s church service with the same black cross on his forehead.  I was reminded that he, too, will some day die.

Of course, this ritual is not meant only to remind us of each of our own worldly deaths to come, but to remind us and refocus us on the importance of Jesus Christ’s own death and resurrection–the promise that when we each die, that death does not have the final say.  To the Christian, this reminder of our own demise becomes not a sign of destitution but a sign of comfort and hope.

I like being able to find parallels between elements of my faith and the general world around me, thus my Sagan-ean twist on the words I heard said to so many people tonight.  I am a person of faith who also reveres science.  I firmly believe that the human capacity for critical thought and reason are gifts from God and that we should and must use them to discover all we can about God’s creation–our cosmos.  As such, when I have the opportunity to draw a connection between science and faith–or even the broader secular world and faith–I love to do it.

As we pulled out of the church parking lot tonight, I was pondering how all people who have ever existed and all things that have ever existed in the universe are all composed of what is essentially “recycled atoms” that have originated from distant stars and how everyone and everything I have ever known will ultimately return to that state same state of “dust” or “star stuff.”  As I turned on the radio, I heard the 2019 cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” by Whitney Houston and Norweigan DJ Kygo.  Yes, the 2019 cover of a 1986 song featuring an artist who died in 2012 using vocals recorded in 1990 and a backing track created nearly 30 years later.

Again, in my appreciating seeking the holy in the secular, I was reminded that while our earthly deaths are certainly permanent, they are not final.  We have a hope in Jesus Christ who preached and demonstrated the higher love that God has for our entire cosmos. 

Walk in the higher love of Jesus Christ and be at peace with your star-stuffiness.


Layman's Walk

Fat Tuesday! (Or Mardi Gras!)

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While I certainly cannot compare my low-key antics with those in the Big Easy or Carnivale, I am enjoying my Fat Tuesday before the Lenten season begins tomorrow.

While I’ve never been much for “giving up” something for Lent, this year, I am intentionally making a point of focusing on making concerted changes in a variety of areas on my life for specific reasons.

#1 – No Alcohol

With the exception of the wine served at Holy Communion, I am abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of Lent.  People who know me well know I enjoy good beer (and even not-so-good beer).  However, I recognize that it is unhealthy, it makes me sluggish, and that I don’t need it.  So, I’m going to experiment with having no alcohol for forty days and see how I feel at the end.  Maybe I’ll go back to having a beer or two or a couple glasses of wine with a good meal or with friends at a gathering.  But maybe I won’t.  I am also quite aware of the calorie count associated with most alcoholic drinks.  Considering I weigh the most I have in my life, I could certainly stand to shed a few pounds.  Abstaining from my malty beverages should help with that as well.

#2 – Practice a Lenten Devotional

Just because someone is preparing for ministry doesn’t mean their spiritual life is just as it should be.  I often find that I am too quick to jump into the business of the day and neglect setting aside time with God.  As such, I am  making a point of leveraging a daily Lenten devotional to re-instill my daily morning ritual of prayer and thanksgiving.  I will be using a devotional created by Luther Seminary, which can be found here if you’d like to use it. It’s relatively brief, so there’s no excuse for not using it daily.  I plan to use this devotional with my family at the end of each day before bed in addition to my morning routine.

#3 – Attending to My Writing

I started this blog a few years back with the intention of chronicling my journey to ordained ministry and beyond.  Frankly, I’ve done a pretty poor job doing that.  Writing is a good practice for anyone, especially if you need to be able to communicate to others in a meaningful and clear way.  In addition to being somewhat therapuedic, writing this blog helps me to hone this skill.  (And hopefully others might find some value in it as well.)  As such, I will post something every day during Lent.  I hope it will be particularly insightful, but no guarantees.  In any case, I will post something–maybe brief and frank, maybe long and insightful–but something.

#4 – Move This! (Shake that Body!)

No, I’m not part the 90’s electronic group Technotronic but I will be taking their advice over the next forty days:  I’m gonna “move  this.”  I am not one who likes to exercise.  I hate the idea of “working out” or doing physical activity only for the sake of doing physical activity.  However, I have found enjoyment in activities as simple as taking the dog for a walk.  So, I will be implementing a practice of walking Shortie (our Carin Terrier) when the weather permits, and doing some other upper  lower-body focus work.  This is because, today is not only Fat Tuesday, it’s lose-some-fat Tuesday.


Whether or not you choose to do anything during the Lenten season, do me a solid favor and help keep me accountable.  While none of this seems too hard, it will definitely be a challenge for me.  But if Jesus could do forty days in the wilderness, I think I can do forty days of  this.  If not, I have some serious #FirstWorldProblems.




Layman's Walk

“Zombie Blog!” — or– “Ahhh! Failed Again!”

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Just when you thought it was dead….BAM! The blog that hasn’t had a new post in, uh, well, an awfully long time has one!

Sure–I could list plenty of reasons I haven’t posted in so long. I’m busy–so is everyone else. Work had been intense–as is the nature of work. I already have to do so much writing for seminary assignments and preparing for sermons when I preach (which are most Sundays)–but so do a lot of other people in situations similar to mine.

The fact of the matter is–I just didn’t make it a priority.

Along the lines of why I’m not physically fit, why I procrastinate, and any other aspect of my life where I feel I fail to “live up to expectations,” it’s just because I haven’t made it a priority.

This strikes me as ironic. How does someone who talks about how we need to purposefully seek to be God’s hands and feet in the world fail to be purposeful about so many other important aspects of his life? How does a person who teaches leadership courses to groups of professionals–part of which is emphasizing the criticality of living “intentionally”–not follow his own teachings?

Simply put–because I ain’t perfect.

(And I say “ain’t” to emphasize the imperfection–and because my wife, Kari, hates it when I use that word, but I think it’s great!)

As a human being, I will never be perfect so I may as well get over the disappointment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I should stop trying to improve myself–but it does mean I should “give myself a little grace,” as some good friends have told me a number of times.

When I recognize my shortcomings and forgive myself, a great weight is lifted from me. When I remind myself of the areas in life where I actually do well instead of where I lack, I find confidence, strength, and hope for tomorrow.

It also reminds me I need to show that same grace to other people–especially those who are closest to me, and those who I love the most.

Unfortunately, when most people are frustrated, the ones who bear the brunt of that frustration are the people they care about that most. It certainly is the case for me.

So when I remind myself that it’s ok that I’m not perfect–I remember that it’s ok that others aren’t perfect as well.

Perfection only comes in the love and forgiveness of God. And just as God forgives me, I must forgive myself–and others, too.

“It ain’t easy.” But it’s worth remembering. Because it’s only in forgiveness that we become whole–as individuals and as humanity.