Stranger: A Brief Note on Fatherhood

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” — Matthew. 25:34-35

There are few people in the world that I know more about (in proportion with how much there is to know) than my son. At the same time, he is such a stranger! Yes, there is a striking resemblance between him and his mother. Yes, he has unmistakably received the genes for thoes earlobes from me. Despite inherited similarities or tendencies, when you get to know him, you come to know someone utterly different, unique; gathering and putting into action a perspective on the world that I cannot get inside of. When he was around six months old, I read Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out, and was floored by one small comment that Nouwen sneaks into his book. He writes that “hospitality” should be the dominant feature of relationships between teachers to students, professionals to patients, and parents to children:

“…hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone…we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center”.[1]

Hospitality is the contrast of what Nouwen called “hostility”, and hostility is caused by loneliness. :

As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them”.[2]

Loneliness however, is not dealt with just by getting around other people as much as possible, or, what is so easy to do today, by creating an inescapable clamor of notifications about everyone else’s existence. Loneliness is overcome by solitude, specifically, solitude that is intentionally created to seek God. Through this kind of solitude we are more able to be truly hospitable. This is because in deliberately seeking out time to be separate from the hustle and bustle, we “become aware of the presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first.”[3] This was obvious in the life of Jesus Himself. It’s often rightly pointed out that Jesus is God’s affirmation of intense and immediate involvement in our broken world, yet Jesus was not frantically involved. He frequently retreated to solitude.

I have been so grateful that the very decision to be open to Conrad’s life came as a detour to “the plan”. God moved clearly in my wife Bryna’s heart, and as I witnessed the not-so-coincidental signs given to her I thought: “The timing is a little crazy, but this will be amazing!” I’m grateful that Conrad was brought into this world that way because it’s been so much more natural to love him out of solitude and not loneliness. 

To be sure, God works differently in different lives, but the fact that our decision to have a child came during a season of transition and relative “instability”, rather than the more culturally encouraged season of “stability”, has actually helped us see Conrad as a guest, one who we can create space in my life for without trying to satisfy any inner cravings of loneliness.

Conrad is human, and no angel (though it’s debatable), but he is a stranger in many ways. I also know that my wife and me were given a duty to provide for him out of what God has provided to us. The clothing, feeding, and inviting of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 may not naturally bring to mind parenting. Yet I can’t help but think that parents the world over, in giving hospitality to their children out of a content heart of solitude, are putting these words into practice.

[1] Nouwen, Reaching Out, 52-54

[2] 72

[3] 30.

Cheap Resurrection vs. Gratitude

In his Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen writes:

To the degree that we have been able to dispel our illusion of immortality and have come to the full realization of our fragile mortal condition, we can reach out in freedom to the creator and re-creator of life and respond to his gifts with gratitude.

The inverse of this is that we are unable to reach out and experience this re-creation if we are still living as though it is “a given” that our life is going to last forever. In-between Good Friday and Easter, there was no resurrection, and without facing that reality in our own lives, we will soon be celebrating a “Cheap Resurrection”, very much like a “Cheap Grace” that loses its’ reverence for the scandalous love of God. Later in that same work, Nouwen says: “The mystery of God’s presence, therefore, can be touched only by a deep awareness of his absence”.

Tomorrow, Christians celebrate, and rightly with deep joy. But do we really have deep joy? Does the Resurrection hit you with the visceral immediacy that such a ridiculous belief should? I suspect it’s the lack of owning up to our transient flesh and bones that prevents the same over-the-top response that the first apostles had. Let’s spend a few minutes remembering what the world was before Easter, laying down our defenses against seeing how small we are, so that the living Christ can fill us now with that same power that conquered the grave.

Is there a Reason the Universe Seems Fine Tuned for Life? Pt. 2

In my last post, I gave a very general explanation of how the universe seems fine tuned for life. This is not a matter of biological fine tuning (though evolutionary models are a whole separate issue which, so far as I can tell, lend themselves to the same kinds of questions), but fine tuning of the most basic laws of our universe. You’ll have to read that post to follow along with what follows.
carina-nebula-1920
Van Inwagen believes that we have no reason to prefer either the “creator” hypothesis or the multi-verse hypothesis, but I disagree.

There are two possible scenarios in the multi-verse hypothesis. One is that there are a limited number of possible cosmos, the other is that there are an infinite number.

There are serious problems with proposing an infinite number of actual cosmos, infinite we might say. This excerpt from an article in Scientific American sums them up well:

The most popular cosmological model today predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about 10 to the 1028 meters from here… The estimate…does not even assume speculative modern physics, merely that space is infinite… There are infinitely many other inhabited planets, including not just one but infinitely many that have people with the same appearance, name, and memories as you.”(1)

This was still a misrepresentation of the state of affairs among physicists at the time, but still, the problem of proposing that there are an infinite number of universes is that if the above scenario is true, we come up with ludicrous situations. If it is true, there is bound to be a universe to match absolutely any possible scenario we can think of. Consider this one posed by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom in his book Anthropic Bias:

“When black holes evaporate…things such as boots…have some finite probability of popping out…there is thus a finite probability that a black hole will produce a brain in a state of making any given observation…even “uninhabitable” universes can con taint the odd, spontaneously materialized “freak observer”…It is even logically consistent with all our evidence that we are such freak observers”

While Bostrom’s last sentence would make absolutely no sense if the scenario he just described is actually the case, since there would be no “we” to speak of, the fact is that this scenario leads us straight into the worst kind of skepticism, the kind that is existentially untenable. You might be the freak observer, and everything around you is simply the state of your brain. It could be the case that there are no laws of physics, most of what you think you know about the world would be false, and there’s no way to verify it because you cannot “get out” of your experience as this singular observer. You cannot bring in your memories to ward off this possibility, because they are part of that moment, or moments, of spontaneous existence. It is impossible to live with the skepticism implied in this hypothesis.

But, what if there a limited number of universes, an extremely large amount of them? Well, string theorists have been at the forefront of the multi-verse hypotheses because the strong theory model of physics “yields a gargantuan number of models: about 10,500, give or take a few trillion”(2). For Leonard Susskind (a founder of string theory) an proponents of the multi-verse, each of these different possibilities in the model is an actual existence universe somewhere. But there is one huge hurdle facing the multi-verse hypothesis in any form. David Gross, a Nobel prize winning theorist put it simply: “It’s impossible to disprove”(3). Gross further claims that because we have no way to get out of our own universe and falsify whether there are others, the theory itself isn’t science (ibid). He isn’t alone either.

Lisa Randall at Harvard claims “You really need to explore alternative before taking such radical leaps of faith”. Astronomer Bernard Carr says that the reason Gross (and presumable other scientists) do not support the multi-verse hypothesis is that they see

“science taking on some of the traits of religion… In a sense he’s correct, because things like faith and beauty are becoming a component of the discussion” (ibid).

This will get to the heart of the issue “Gross believes that the emergence of multiple universes in science has its origins in theorist’s 20-year struggle to explain the finely tuned numbers of the cosmos” (ibid). Because of this, Gross and others are actually at work to find some way to refine the equations of string theory, and discover a “theory of everything”, which would exclude the multi-verse hypothesis, but at the same time weaken the plausibility of a Creator of the cosmos. In response to this, string theorists like Susskind have said that they may be “looking for meaning in a meaningless set of numbers” (ibid). Which leads us back to where we began; it is a fact that the universe is fine-tuned for life to exist. Corey Powell, a senior editor of Discover magazine, interviewed Leonard Susskind and makes this keen observation

Susskind embraces the megaverse interpretation because it offers a way through the intelligent design challenge

I believe that anyone who looks at the same facts squarely in the face will be blown away by the universe’s suitability for life. The reason that the “multi-verse” interpretation has emerged is not an empirical one, it is metaphysical.

In my next post, I’ll elaborate on how that is obviously the case (if it’s not clear already), and on an argument that I believe gives belief in a creator much more plausibility than mere emotional appeal. 

SOURCES

(1) Tegmark,
Max.
Parallel
Universes.
Scientific
American.
May
2003.
 <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=parallel‐universes&gt;.

(2) S.
Powell,
Corey.
THE
COSMIC
LANDSCAPE
String
Theory
and
the
Illusion
of
Intelligent
 Design.
The
New
York
Times.
Jan
20
2006.
 <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/20/news/20iht‐booksat.html&gt;.

(3) Brumfiel,
Geoff.
Our
Universe:
Outrageous
fortune.
Nature.
January
05
2006.
 <http://creationism.org.pl/groups/ptkrmember/filozofia‐ przyrody/2006/document.2006‐01‐30.0746182444>.

With Voice


Tell me more
hollow speech

With twists, their harmony
the strings
tattered

With blindness, her shame
a trench
a trench

Settle score
tell the lore

With force, from rubble
the tales
framed

With bruises, walls hollowed
a foothold
a foothold