Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 9: Home by way of the 1 (and 101, and 60, and 215...).

After maybe four hours of sleep, we rose at 6 and departed within a half-hour. We stopped in Santa Cruz and Monterey, catching coffee at the little bagel place we had visited the summer before on our first road trip together.

Our plan the summer before to take the 1 up the coast had been derailed when some maintenance issues set us back. This time, though, we were determined to make the drive.

And of course it was totally worth it. Click on this panorama to get an idea of the scope of the view.

We tried to stop whenever we could. There was some traffic and construction, but it still flowed pretty well.


We traded [awkward] pictures with another couple.

Daniel being coy.

We stopped for sandwiches in Cambria and asiago cheese bread in San Luis Obispo. The bread turned out to be one of the best parts of the day. I'm not even kidding. It was delicious and wonderful and we definitely ate the entire loaf for dinner.

Daniel drove and ate the bread and I took pictures of the bread. Barbara and Ciera, taking the eight-hour route, called us for a Lady Gaga dance party via phone when they were in San Diego County and we were just leaving SLO. Daniel and I started to flag once we hit LA, and by the time we neared Fallbrook, at hour fourteen, we were pretty punchy. But it had been a really good nine days—desert, mountains, forests, wine country, cities, beaches. And asiago cheese bread.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scientists as Theologians by John Polkinghorne.

In my ongoing effort to look like I know what I'm talking about with a minimal amount of commitment, I checked out the shortest book in the library by a man visiting campus for our lecture series next month. John Polkinghorne is a physicist turned Anglican priest who stands in the space of tension between science and theology. I care about very few things more than this very intersection. I think it's this borderline obsession that saves me from intellectual hipsterdom. Here, anyways.

My cheat sheet of compelling ideas:

Polkinghorne describes the failure of the Enlightenment project in terms of good-enoughness:
We have to stick our necks out if we are to be able to see anything. The Cartesian and Enlightenment programme of the search for clear and certain ideas as the basis for unshakeable knowledge has simply proved to be a failure. It would have been nice if it could have succeeded, but we have discovered painfully that it has not. I am sufficiently postmodern to recognize that this is the case.

This acknowledgement, however, does not lead me to intellectual despair, for my second observation is that our minds are so constituted, and we live in a world itself so constituted, that intellectual daring in the pursuit of a strategy of cautious circularity proves capable of yielding reliable knowledge. I say that not because the world had to be that way, but because, as a matter of contingent fact, it has proved to be so. The defence of critical realism depends upon an appeal to historical experience rather than to metaphysical necessity. We do appear able to gain knowledge of what is the case. (16)
Pardon the extended extract, but my science-theology fixation extends to epistemology, and I often find it hard to function intellectually because I get struck by these moments of existential-postmodern despair, often right in the middle of class, and this often because I'm thinking through a response I never actually say out loud because I've been sucked into the "but how do we know that Heathcliff represents intuition and Linton represents socially constructed culture? Isn't that an anachronistic application that cannot apply to the meaning of the text because Brontë could never have attempted such? Aren't you presupposing a Platonic ideal? How can we assert a transcendent meaning without first establishing a philosophy of the human? What are you even talking about? What am I talking about? How can we ever say anything about anything?" (There are more steps in a brain rant like this, but I'll spare you.)

Polkinghorne locates his own philosophy of the human in the very striving for the transcendent that humans exhibit. Suicide, sadness, and a protest of death are, in Peter Berger's phrase, "signals of transcendence," bespeaking what Polkinghorne calls "that dimension of openness to something beyond us which I have called spiritual, and which carries in the midst of time a hint of eternity" (26). Polkinghorne links this to the emerging perception of the universe developing throughout the twentieth century, the viewing of the world "in terms of dynamic becoming rather than static being. . . . The God of the Bible is One who is active in and through the unfolding drama of history" (27).

Polkinghorne also attempts a deft working-out of the implications of chaos theory and the manner in which a non-deterministic universe at the atomic level can be understood to be non-deterministic at the macroscopic level as well: "Chaotic systems are not totally disorderly; their future is contained within the confines of possibility" (35).

The manner in which God can be understood to be involved in creation, on Polkinghorne's view, has much to do with the actual existence of the universe. The why does anything exist, the Hawking "What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" must be answered this way: "The central concept of the doctrine of creation is divine ordaining and sustaining, not divine initiation" (44):
A concept of central importance in relation to an evolutionary world is that of creatio continuua, continuing creation. . . . One could summarize the theological significance of an evolutionary universe as its being a world allowed by its Creator to make itself. Doubtless, God could have produced a ready-made world, but he has done something cleverer than that in allowing creation's history to be the exploration and realization of its God-given fruitfulness. (44-45)
Theodicy has much to gain from the scientists, Polkinghorne argues. Suffering is a necessary contingency of divine openness: "Exactly the same biochemical processes that allow cells to mutate and produce new forms of life will allow other cells to mutate and become malignant. . . . The happenstance of the world can be extremely painful and diminishing, but it is at least delivered from being seen as the express imposition of the divine will" (48).

Polkinghorne continually affirms the deity of Jesus Christ, asserting, "However mysterious and difficult to articulate . . . it seems to me that an indispensable Christian insight is that in Christ the Creator actually shared in the travail of his creation" (70).

He ascribes to the early Christians an almost scientific approach to understanding the person of Jesus: "It is important that early Christian thinking on the natures of Christ arose in the context of a struggle with experience, and not as the result of some unbridled metaphysical speculation. All the scientist-theologians are concerned with a Christology 'from below,' building on the evidence. I believe that a strong incarnational Christology is the best attempt to make sense of the data of Jesus' life and death and resurrection, and the Church's experience of him" (71).

And though our modern secular reasoning cannot countenance the full humanity and full divinity of the Christ, the early Christians' conclusions can still be seen as worthy interpretations of reality: "Divine and human natures in one person, and the coinherence of humanity in Christ, are mysterious ideas, uncongenial to the secular twentieth-century mind. They have arisen in Christian thinking, not from an obscurantist urge to mystify, nor from a fanciful propensity to speculation, but from the struggle to do justice to actual Christian experience" (73).

Polkinghorne gives evidence for the historicity of the Gospels, including one of my favorite arguments: "[I]f the tale were concocted, then why, in the male-dominated ancient world, were women assigned the leading role?" (76).

He also solves, or at least provides an explanation for, a dilemma regarding the bodily resurrection of the saints first brought to my attention by Daniel's math/chemistry major roommate: "[H]e regards it as problematic what will happen to us because that atoms of our corpses will disperse with time. It is difficult to see where the problem lies, since we all recognize that there is nothing specifically significant about those individual atoms. After all, they are changing all the while in the course of our lives. It is the pattern that is me that will be re-created by God in the new environment brought about by his eschatological act of general resurrection. We shall be resurrected, not reassembled" (77-78). Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 8: From Mammoth to Sacramento, and a summer Winters wedding.

We left Daniel's parents and brothers in Mammoth early Saturday to make the journey to the wedding of our friends Jeff and Angela. We paused by Mono Lake for a little breather before the long haul.

Daniel let me drive stick for a while under his careful guidance. I felt bad that I couldn't shoulder more of the driving on this trip, but me driving stick was way more tiring for both of us than having Daniel behind the wheel for most of it.

We passed through Lake Tahoe and through untold miles of mountain roads. It was a long drive. There were a lot of trees. I realized how citified I've become. I used to spend whole summers in the mountains and leave wanting more, but one week in the wilderness now made me crave buildings, cityscapes, people. I started snapping pictures of the edge of Sacramento as soon as we passed Placerville, out of sheer joy. Metropolitan living has ruined me for rural life.

Of course, once we hit the city I wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee. We drove through downtown Sacramento, passed the Capitol building, and found this charming place courtesy of mobile Yelp.

Urban life tastes like dark coffee in a white ceramic cup.

Daniel and I changed quickly in the car on a dirt road among wineries (not recommended) and made it to the county park where the wedding was to be held in plenty of time. Barbara was bridesmaided and ready to go.

We grabbed some votive beeswax candles and helped with the finishing touches on the setup

Barbara had had a total of one hour of sleep the night before, so that she could finish knitting the groomsmen's ties. Best. bridesmaid. ever.

Angela and her father walking down the aisle.

Husband and wife. Daniel and I had spent many stimulating evenings with Angela and Jeff as part of a reading group Angela held in anticipation of theologian William Cavanaugh's visit to campus last semester. We were glad to be able to celebrate this next stage in their lives with them.

My dapper wedding date.

Daniel tested the photo booth that Ciera ran.

Seven hours in a car does beautiful things to your hair.

Daniel and I sat at the debate table, here with Ciera and Kim, waiting for our turn at the carne asada spread.

We danced under the stars. This is my "Oh look! You have a camera!" face.

All danced out.

We saw the couple off to their Duke University grad school adventures in theology, and headed up to Barbara's house for a couple of hours of sleep.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 7: Trolley ride to Twin Lakes.

After our lengthy hike the day before, we decided to spend our last full day in Mammoth at a leisurely pace.

Daniel and I said goodbye to his parents at the town shopping center and hopped on a trolley.

For whatever reason, we love trolleys. Monterey, Balboa Park, Mammoth—if it's free, we'll ride it.

Mammoth's trolley system is surprisingly convenient. We were able to ride from town out to nature and back to our condo quite easily.

Maybe it's the way the light filters in on a trolley that is the appeal for me. And the fact that Daniel is a captive subject for my camera assault: "Here, look thoughtfully out the window." Hah.

We decided Twin Lakes would be our destination. Daniel found dandelions.

We walked along the lake and admired the waterfall (the same one that we visited on day 2, but below this time).

The water was clear and green and blue and we would have spent more time there among the dragonflies and sunshine, but the mosquitoes were too much even for seasoned hikers like us.

We waited by the trolley stop in more beautifully filtered light.

And then we came back and did our favorite evening routine. How did people ever vacation without WiFi? Oh, and we didn't mean to match; it just kind of happened. Definitely not the first time.