20 March 2014


How we greet spring.... Our institute on the eve of the equinox.

When the waves of change, instability, and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm me, that's when it is good to recover some perspective.

Our Moscow Friends Meeting has not been immune from all the swirls of assertion, counter-assertion, and sheer emotion connected with events in Ukraine and Crimea. Among us are some who are dubious about the new leadership in Kiev and support the takeover of Crimea, and some with the opposite views. But in the quiet and light of meeting for worship for business, on the eve of the Crimean referendum, we are able to re-anchor ourselves with this minute of essential unity:
Московские Друзья продолжают держать в Свете ситуацию на Украине и молятся о мире, преодолении взаимного непонимания, недоверия и вражды между отдельными группами людей.

Мы чувствуем поддержку мировой семьи Друзей, получая письма поддержки от разных собраний.

Moscow Friends continue to hold the situation in Ukraine in the Light, and pray for peace that overcomes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility between different groups of people.

We feel the support of the global family of Friends as we receive letters of support from a variety of Friends meetings.
And it's true, we feel uplifted by the many communications we've received from Quaker meetings, churches, and individuals who include us in their loving concern for peace. Perspective changes when your priority is love.

Here in Elektrostal, we've often been asked by our friends, colleagues, students--"What do you think of the situation in Ukraine?" As I said last week, our priority is not to give our opinions but to listen to theirs. After the Crimean referendum and U.S. president Obama's announcement of sanctions, some of the questions became a little more pointed. One of the cleaning staff at the Institute asked me this evening, "Is it really necessary to be so insulting to us? You know yourself that we're decent, normal people."

Just before the referendum, U.S. senator McCain said, "Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country." Of course the stupidity of such a comment rather neutralizes its offensiveness, but we have to live in the backwash. To restore a bit of perspective and provide some evidence that not all Americans interpret things quite as he does, we brought this Wonkette post to our evening class. This kind of sharp sarcasm isn't my preferred style of political commentary--it has a violence of its own--but I was actually rather relieved to show our friends that the biting humor of Russian political discourse on the Internet does have its American equivalents. Too often we Americans are portrayed here as pleasant idiots, and right now, not all that pleasant.

In all the breathless news coverage of Ukraine, Crimea, and Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, there was one major story that was an extraordinary contribution to restoring perspective. As Tuesday's New York Times headlined it in a front-page story right in between Malaysian 370 and Crimea: "Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang's Smoking Gun."

The headline states the case with more certainty than scientists themselves might use, but even the strong possibility of this breakthrough is exciting. We may have a major hint into the nature of creation itself, particularly that first instant when the universe violently "inflated" at a speed faster than light, leaving gravitational traces that we can detect even now, 13.8 billion years after they left their imprint on the cosmic microwave background.

The summary report (pdf) of the BICEP2 observations and calculations, incomprehensible to me in its mathematical details, still gives off an intuitive sizzle. The press conference announcing the findings (link here in right sidebar, mp4 file here) is riveting, full of helpful graphics for nonspecialists. And here, thanks to openculture.com, is a wonderful video showing the human dimension of these findings. We watch Russian-American physicist Andrei Linde reacting to the news of possible confirmation of his ideas on creation: "Let us hope it is not a trick. ... What if I believe into this just because it is beautiful?"

"Ukraine's Struggle: Where Heaven and Earth Have Met."

Meanwhile, as we try to cope with information wars all around us, "Russia Today's YouTube Glitch" and how it was interpreted, and "The Pros and Cons of Propaganda." (I include links for discussion, not as endorsement.)

Brian McLaren on U.S. National Public Radio, "What's Being Done to Palestinians Is Wrong," along with a brief (and not entirely sympathetic) introduction to dispensationalism in the comments section.

More perspective:  "Endless Grace: a Story of Forgiveness."

And more perspective: "Preparing for Canonization."

Are you running Windows XP? As support ends on April 8, here's an alternative. Carpe penguin!

Ten years ago, my cousin Johan Fredrik Heyerdahl and I went to a club in Birmingham, UK, to hear a teenage blues guitarist named Joanne Shaw Taylor. I'm so glad to see that she's doing well--very well, judging by the evidence:

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