Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thankfulness in the time of 2015

Thankfulness is a strange phenomenon.  I am at times struck by an awareness of things that makes my life richer and meaningful - but it's usually something over which I have no control at all ... I can only respond with a deep awareness of gratitude.  With a sense of awe and mystery... It seems that the older I become the more frequently this kind of awareness comes over me.  These is so much about God that is unknowable to me - but I consciously thank my God for these moments of awareness and that is part of the mystery of thanks...

 Here are some things that come to my mind when I recall what I am thankful for...

1. For clean air to breath - 2 good legs to walk in the early morning with 3 funny dogs. The morning sounds and smells are marvelous for all 4 of us.  
"Rusty" - the rascal
2.  For living in a country where loyalty is not equated with agreement with the 'party line' - being a good citizen means speaking up in agreement or disagreement.

Preparing for a luau in Hawaii ( from my study grant year in Hawaii)
3.  For my family:  Being in a long time loving partnership with my wife - We agree on most things - and when we don’t that's OK too. I'm thankful for our shared history, that we can remember so many people and places with laughter and tears. I'm thankful for our many shared adventures over the years...

After a long hike
4.  I’m thankful for our two capable and thoughtful sons, and their wives. They are capable, caring men, and we love them for who they are.

Peter and Marila

Andrew and Ayme w/ Judy
5.  Thankful for my new found Czech relatives that have opened new doors of relationship for me.  I love their photos and stores - and am deeply touched by their hospitality.  Not only Czech relatives but new and old European friends that touch our hearts with their kindnesses.

Czech family

Good friends in CZ

6. For my church  - where its OK to ask the tough questions, where we seek to follow the example of Jesus reaching out to the poor and excluded, were we believe that the Bible must be interpreted within the historical context of its many authors.  Where  everyone is welcome "wherever you are in your life journey." 

Niles church
7.  For the wisdom of our government who in the past created National Parks.  To know that wilderness exists feeds me all year long - and a few times a year we go to the high mountains to walk the mountain trails, to see cascading water, to enjoy the shooting star flowers, listen to the pika's chirp in the morning light, and to fly with the golden eagles...  

Saddlebags lake - 11,000ft 
8.  For the opportunity to see other lands and other people - to struggle with  languages, learn from different cultures and adjust to different  foods... truly a blessing.

A favorite street in Turkey

9. As Willy Nelson who said " I don’t do leisure very good..."... That’s me! - I am thankful for the challenge and satisfaction that come from my work with young new science and math teachers.  I love learning from them.

10.  I am thankful for a mind that still questions, and learns .  For a mind that sometimes has insights and finds discovery.  For a mind that can can experience give compassion and outrage...

Most Czech family and friends

11.  For the conditions of my life such that I have not been overcome with bitterness and regret.

12.  I am thankful for living in a time of history dominated by science and reason rather than superstition.  Thankful for the vast amounts of information available to me.

13.  Thankful for my sister with whom I  share the moments of our lives. We know each other so well and know that with each other we can talk about all our joys and struggles.  We dont always agree but we accept each other as we are...
Family portrait..
14.  For cousins and friends ... and for loved ones long gone who still are part of my world and my thoughts, who continue to teach me through their examples.  I am part of a blessed community.
Family in Kansas
Uncle John

15.  For vegetables fresh from the garden, for fruit from our trees.

16.  For the wonderful surprise of finding newts, columbines, gopher snakes, white crowned sparrows singing in the morning, humming bird moths, marmots,  and ptarmigans... I love the surprise of encountering life in different forms.  I am thankful that I do not have the compulsion to kill what I find.
Bald Eagle

Marmot (our good friend) 

17.  For my home,  Niles California - it is like a small town in an urban world, diverse,  quaint, and most important we are a collection of really interesting people.  We are near the open hills and a great regional park.  

18.  I am thankful for the views and opinions I have acquired over the years - shaped by many influences, countless conversations, following what seems just and responsible - I am a Progressive Christian, a Democrat, and one who believes in Social Justice.
My sister in law Susan and brother in law Conroe with somebody you know...

19. I am thankful to live in a time of history with knowledge of the germ theory, at a time when antibiotics are available, and where modern medicine continues to grow in treating the ills of mankind.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fight entropy!

I love the bumper stickers that I see in Berkeley and Oakland - one of my favorites reads "Entropy isn't what it used to be!”.  Before I knew about entropy I thought that the word had a nice sound - it must be good.  But in fact entropy is the idea that left alone any natural system, any human endeavor, everything... tends to go from a state of high organization to lower organization.  The only way to fight entropy is to spend energy opposing it.  Every once in a while I clear my desk, my work shop, my car, my garden... and then, over time, don't pay much attention and it dissipates back to piles of paper, tools, old coffee cups, weeds and fallen leaves.  Left alone, any system tends toward disorganization

Bodie CA - rusting car
Consider a tree - it takes in CO2 from the air, water from the roots, a few minerals from the soil, and a steady supply of sunlight energy... it produces sugars, which are changed into cellulose, which is used to make cell walls.  As long as the tree takes in a steady supply of raw materials and sunlight energy it can continue to 'fight' disorder.  

Happy fungus - digesting our Jack O Lantern
If the tree dies the forces of decay take over - in time it is broken down by termites, beetles, fungus, bacteria back to CO2 and water...  The only winners in that decay are the critters who gain energy to fight their own battle with entropy.  If I cut the tree into firewood the sunlight energy stored in the cellulose is quickly released in the forms of heat and light, also CO2 and water are returned back to the world.
Stored solar energy - just waiting for me
I am constantly undergoing entropy - going from highly organized matter to lesser organization.  I fight this by taking in energy into my body.  I can not capture sunlight energy directly so I have to usurp the energy captured by photosynthetic organisms.  If I decide to eat a baked potato for dinner - that potato came from a plant that required months of sunlight collection to create the stored starch that I eat in one meal (along with other things).  I may have chicken with the potato - and while the chicken is not photosynthetic it gets its energy from plant products or by eating bugs who eat plants.

Fungus returning carbon and oxygen to the ecosystem
When my new young teachers start the school year, 30 some students come into their classrooms - there is a very low sense of order - the class culture has not yet been created - to lower the level of disorder the teacher must spend a great deal of energy to create class expectations with regard to work habits, behavior expectations, a sense of student responsibility.  If the teacher focus and energy are allowed to coast the students will move in the direction of increased entropy - increased disorder. Once effective class culture is created, the energy required to maintain it must be constant - Just like the tree - A great oak tree needs daily energy to maintain - but not nearly as much as that needed to create the tree in the first place.

The sun warms the soil - warm air rises - rising has a cooling effect - Air cools to its dew point - clouds form
We all know how true entropy is with regard to our roads and infrastructure - An uncared for road deteriorates into pot holes... A constant input of energy is required to counteract the decay.  Bridges rust, plumbing systems fall into disrepair, painting  is necessary... it is the nature of things.  
Every second our sun is losing energy - entropy is building - don't worry - the process is very slow
It is easier to be uneducated.  Education requires energy - its hard work.  It is the way of entropy to follow the path of least resistance -  hang out with friends instead of taking classes or developing knowledge.  Some people gain knowledge outside of the formal schools and universities - the key thing is not to remain in ignorance ... Ignorant people  (people without knowledge) are easily swayed and they add to the general disorder of society.
Social entropy - the earth possessions of a homeless person piled into a cart
Social and political systems are the same - A marriage or family requires a steady input of positive energy to stay healthy.  A union or political party will decay if there are not creative people working to deal with disruption and selfish interests.   Some of our congress people need to pay attention - are they doing the work of the people or are they enjoying the benefits of public office and out seeking money to be reelected...?  We need to be alert...

Capital Building - Washington DC
Definitely not true for all - but those for whom it applies should be voted out.  Being a responsible leader requires having a vision of the common good and they providing the energy to make that happen.  Being a responsible voter means taking the time to know the issues, to know the record, and to not fall victim to high powered political advertising designed to influence us.  Selfishness and greed are agents of entropy.

 "Left alone systems tend toward disorganization and lower energy".  Fight entropy!  The alternative is decay...
Niles fence - gone years without care
Every storm carried sand and gravel from the hills to the flat lands - the organized hills are being reduced to flat planes