Out on hiatus…but we’ll return September 3!

First off, thank you, dear readers, for your patience and your part in our work. Without your attention, feedback, and criticism our work would be empty lines of code lost in the matrix.

As we’ve discussed briefly, we have recently relocated to two very different cities, have since been working internships and tracking down jobs. Due to our divided attention, we’ve decided it would be in Doxometry’s best interest if we took a break for a while.

But tune back in September 3rd for the resumption of our blogging efforts, and be expecting more content, discussion, and analysis from meaningful avenues. Also, expect a fresh new look for Doxometry upon our return.

Again, thanks for your readership and loyalty to Doxometry. We look forward to discussing belief matters with you all come September.

Your resident Doxometrists,
Bryan and Eric

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Science and Technology: Higgs Boson

I am not a scientist, but all this news of the Higgs Boson particle has me very interested in particle physics. Not being a scientist and understanding very little about particle physics (quarks? what the heck is a quark?), I took on the task of finding easy ways to understand particle physics. PHD comics does a fantastic job at introducing the layman to the Higgs Boson.

The website Symmetry does an even better job at explaining the Higgs particle.

It states,

“According to the Higgs model, elementary particles gain mass by interacting with an invisible, omnipresent field. The more a particle interacts with the Higgs field, the more mass it will have. Scientists had such difficulty explaining the Higgs field to the British government that in 1993, UK Science Minister William Waldegrave challenged them to send him their best one-page descriptions. Waldegrave handed out champagne to the winners, who included physicist David Miller of University College London. Miller compared the Higgs field to a crowd of political party workers spread evenly through a room. An anonymous person could move through the crowd unhindered. However, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would attract a lot of attention: Party workers would clump around her, slowing her down, giving her metaphorical “mass.” Creative types have since swapped the characters in the metaphor for Albert Einstein mobbed by fellow scientists or pop stars swarmed by paparazzi.”

Well that makes much more sense, but what does any of this have to do with belief?

Too much. Yes, the particle is called the “God particle,” but that’s more because it was so elusive than anything (apparently God is too?). As an amateur scientist at best, I don’t really have much to say on the discovery of the Higgs Boson than other people have already said. Dennis Overbye of the New York Times says, “According to the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. Particles wading through the field gain heft the way a bill going through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming ever more ponderous. Without the Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, all elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.”

Those are some pretty staggering implications! Without this particle, nothing else would exist. For scientists, it has been the most elusive particle to find and by far the most important. When all is said and done the universe is made of structures and the Higgs Boson may only be the beginning of that structure. Ultimately, this particle isn’t the end of the line.

Actually, in a naturalistic universe, there really is no end of the line. Perhaps the scientific community is so excited about this discovery because, in a naturalistic universe, we can find out as much as we can to one day control as much as we want. Really, if we’re honest with ourselves, we want to be the end of the line.

Conversely, scripture declares that God has the final word when it comes to His creation. Amazingly, Colossians 1:15-20 declares, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Now, we can say that Jesus is the true and better Higgs Boson.

-Bryan and Eric

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What’s important about the 4th of July?

I was originally dictating this post, and decided just to post my dictation. Happy Independence Day everyone!

– Eric

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Ascetic Assumptions

A year or so ago I was perusing the book rack of a thrift store and chanced upon several books that looked intriguing. One in particular, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, solicited itself as the most widely read Christian spiritual work apart from the Bible. I finally picked up that book a couple of weeks ago, and it was quite an interesting and challenging read.

Thomas Hemerken was born in 1380 and became a Catholic monk in his twenties. After losing a brother to illness and moving his entire monastery due to exile, he penned The Imitation as a straightforward treatise on how to be a diligent follower of Christ. At times his pain is clear, showing how much he longs to fully delight in and enjoy God despite what is happening to him.

Of this Thomas talks at length, revealing how fervently he wants to obey God’s word and hold steadfast to the truths of scripture. In this Thomas clearly articulates what we see in the Bible: those who realize they have been saved from a great punishment delight in a great reward.

But inevitably things get in the way, and this is the cornerstone of his work. About halfway through the book he writes a section titled “How we should forget all created things, that we may find the Creator.” Thomas hovers around this idea that created things detract from focusing on and obeying the God of the universe, and does so throughout the entire book.

Which is kind of true and kind of untrue. In the Bible, Paul of Tarsus writes about how prone we are to worship created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18). In fact, we’ve all done it; our rebellious nature is bent towards supplanting the Creator with his creation.

But at several points in his work Thomas tends towards a drastic impression of this. At one point he writes, “Behold-meat, drink, clothing, and all other necessities of the body are painful and troublesome to the fervent spirit which, if it might, would always rest in God and in spiritual things.” And yet verses like Ecclesiastes 2:24 show how good it is to delight in what God has given us, things like good food and being satisfied in your work.

It’s this dynamic that I think is so telling. Whether it’s really the most read spiritual work or not, The Imitation has nevertheless been very popular. It talks about delighting in an awesome God, yet focuses so readily on denying the “things of this world.” In fact, on several occasions, Thomas advises against having many close friends, as they would only be a distraction from contemplation (and yet Jesus had 12 guys who followed him everywhere).

I think The Imitation crystalizes (and predates) many assumptions about believing in Jesus, namely the centrality of asceticism. Being a Christian gets so easily distilled into spurning all things that might be enjoyable, which is just another incarnation of rule following. It’s assumed that being a Christian means being a bookish hardliner who tries to remove themselves from the disdainful world. All this rule following is really about needing to get on God’s good side, and nothing is farther from the truth.

But in scripture we see that Jesus came to set us free from rule following in the name of pleasing God, and instead of renouncing the world we can be in the world and not of it, enjoying the things God has said are good (like food, wine, spouses, family, and an honest day’s work) while staying obedient to God.

Jesus is all about saving his people so they can enjoy him. That doesn’t mean that everything else must be unenjoyable. It just means that when we bite into a juicy apple or kiss our loved ones we can look to Jesus and say, “Wow. Good idea.” In doing we will only get a clearer and clearer picture of just how awesome the God of Creation really is.

– Eric

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Apocalyptic Obsessions

Aside from vampires, the most common, verging-on-stereotypical, element in pop fiction is the dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting. It’s been this way for a while; reaching back towards “Mad Max” and 1985, the fingers of dystopian fiction have laced into much of our cultural fictive mindset. “V for Vendetta,” Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I Am Legend (yes, it was a book before Will Smith muscled into the role of Dr. Robert Neville), and, of course, The Hunger Games all lay claim to this popularity.

Perhaps briefly I need to distinguish between dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. Dystopian has to do with a repressed or controlled social system, while post-apocalyptic describes a post-technological world in which some catastrophe has left humanity without communication, transportation, digital information, etc. Admittedly these often overlap, like Will Smith’s computer in I Am Legend. Literature never really fits into our neat categories.

Despite the difference, the shared elements are so popular. Perhaps the best example lies in the realm of the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead is a fantastic work of fiction, but how that kind of zombie fiction makes its way into the real world is fascinating. Once, over chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, my friends and I plotted our escape plan if the nuclear holocaust or zombie apocalypse instantly occurred. Instructables even has plans for zombie apocalypse survival kits.

Honestly, I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic scenarios. Thinking about the break down of social order, loss of technology, and survival led to my first flash fiction story, Shards. For me, the most interesting part is figuring out how to act when utter freedom with space and material goods is tempered with the need to survive and possible competition. The struggle to stay human inside that framework is substantial and scary.

But I don’t think the philosophical implications really appeal to everyone. No, I think dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories are interesting to us because we are so freaking bored. Consider the following: we live in a (somewhat) orderly society, yet we love the escapism of a broken down society that longs to be orderly like the one we have now. We intimately know a longing for things to be right, and we give voice to that longing through fictive mindsets in which the problem is completely obvious; stories in which social order is broken, stymied, or dictated are easy to perceive, and the fight for rightness or peace is equally envisioned. The explanations to this provided in the Bible are extensive and exposing; suffice me to reference Revelation 22, where the longing for Jesus’ return is exhilaratingly palpable.

Being an American is a little deceptive, though. When you call internationally, you have to first dial the country code. The US code is 1. The US has the most billionaires of any country in the world, and is the largest of the top 10 richest countries to boot. If you’re reading this right now with your own computer you are in the top 10% of the world regarding personal wealth (myself included). Our government hasn’t been replaced in more than 200 years, and we’ve never been invaded by an army we couldn’t manhandle. All the stats tell us that America is one of the most well-off countries in history, despite experiential or personal arguments to the contrary.

But apocalyptic obsessions don’t purely intimate a subconscious dissatisfaction with American life (though the 30 million anti-depresant prescriptions in our country might speak to that). Fiction is inherently escapism, a safe mental vacation. Few Hunger Games fans, given the chance, would really hop into the arena and fight for their lives. How quickly they would long to be back in civilized society with friends, innate politicians, and Netflix. The best part of fiction is that, no matter how dangerous or disturbing, it always ends. We always end up right where we were sitting to begin with.

The existence of fiction as a whole is stimulating. We like coming up with stories that satisfy our longings; “The Avengers” for adventure longings, “The Notebook” for love longings, and every Adam Sandler movie for being mildly entertained by someone you feel superior to.

Perhaps dystopian fiction shows us our longings for adventure or drama, but I think it shows a deeper element of humanity. We don’t just long for rightness, we want to know what rightness is; we just want to know what it is we want. We believe in something better, and I think we honestly long to know what that better thing is and to have it realized in our life-time. In the end, though, we might just choose comfort over rightness that might cost us comfort.

– Eric

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Community: Love one another

Americans find it hard to love each other. We’re too independent and don’t care about other people. This is no new fact. People have always looked out for their own self-interests or the interests of their immediate family. We don’t want anyone to be in control of our lives or have any authority over us. Sometimes this freedom is a good thing, like freedom from a fearless tyrant or an overbearing master. Unfortunately, most Americans throughout history, including today, have wanted freedom just so they can be free to do whatever they please. But an independent person is still in a community whether they like it or not.

In truth, everyone is in community. Jobs, grocery stores, and neighborhoods all have a unique sense of community. Any group of people is a community, no matter how much you interact with them or not. People are everywhere and you can’t get away from them. The world often says to just ignore those people, but that’s doing something. It’s putting you in authority over them. Often it communicates a sense of superiority over them. What an unfortunate way to live. This may be the extrovert talking, but people are fun and loneliness gets boring. Even so, forcing someone to love and serve, even like another person who is not like them is near impossible. You can try to form community around common interests (rugby anyone!?) or common goals, but in the long-run these communities will fall apart because the differences between people are too strong. Believers have unique communities because they are formed around intangible ideas or historical realities that aren’t easily taken away.

At this point I could tell you all to love one another because it’s the best way for you to enjoy life, but then I wouldn’t be getting at your motivations for loving one another. I could tell you about the historical benefits of communities that work together, but then I’m reminded of all the failed communities (Soviet Union anyone?). Instead, I’m going to tell you a story.

It was time for a the biggest festival of the year, one celebrating freedom from captivity and the inauguration of a new community. Kids were laughing and dancing in the street and families came together again. For three years, a man from a small town had been gaining a small following of men teaching them the best way to live and showing them things that they never thought possible. The time came for the feast and instead of letting the servants wash his followers feet the man washed them himself. Knowing he was going to be betrayed that very night by one of his followers, the man said, “What you are going to do, do quickly” and continued to eat with his other followers. As soon as he left, the man said, “Now I am glorified. Followers, I am with you for a little while longer. Where I am going you can’t go. There’s one more thing I have to say to you. Love one another. By this all people will know you are my followers, if you have love for one another.” After that night, the man was betrayed and abandoned by his followers and killed by the rulers of the day.

The importance of this story cannot be overlooked. Obviously the man is Jesus. He gives them a command after 3 years of being in community with them before his death: Love one another so that all people will know you are my followers. Jesus first points out that his identity leads to his death, and through his death he will be glorified. This identity is also given to his followers, not because of what they have done, but because Jesus called them and declared them followers of the glorious King. The command to love one another is not there so that the followers can form an identity. It is there so that the world can recognize them.

This communal identity isn’t formed by what they do, but who they already are. This is what we need today: a community living out it’s declared identity for the benefit of the world.

– Bryan

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Networking: What I didn’t learn in college.

Recently I had a phone conversation with a fellow grad who is, like myself, still job searching. We were passing along stories of job possibilities, interviews, and the whole application business, wishing there was some way to instantly know of all the places around you that are hiring (app idea, possibly?). She mentioned that it really comes down to good networking, something we both would have appreciated a little more mention about in our undergraduate journey.

Now, granted, I majored in history education. Perhaps my professors didn’t see a terrible benefit of instilling in us junior historians a business mindset towards employment. Sure the occasional mention came up, especially in my education classes (cause finding a teaching job is like unicorn hunting). But all we ever got was a talk on cultivating good references.

And references are a must when applying for a job. But how in the world do I know where the jobs are? I can go to job fairs, search Craigslist, pick up the occasional classified section, and never find the right job. It really all comes down to networking in your field and praying for a heads-up from one of your colleagues, plus due-diligence on your own part for getting out there and presenting yourself like a champ (here are some tips on good networking skills from Yes and Yes for everyone, especially introverts like myself).

But all this talk of networking sounds droll, even demeaning. I dislike it for the same reason I hate job applications: I always feel like I’m selling myself, and I hate the idea of that. Thus the job reference is my favorite fall-back. I would much rather have a former employer talk well about me (here’s hoping) than have to laud myself to a potential buyer to assert my own value. You even set a price with pay bartering. It’s all just one big yard sale.

But my feelings aside, I wonder if this networking push reveals some of the nature of the American business world. Knowing the right people is half the battle, but I sense this undercurrent of using the right people and picking good stepping stones to get where you’re going. Surely this speaks more to the larger corporate ladder, with higher up businesses and such (here’s a good place to rant about Wall Street), but nevertheless, our corporate practices reflect our own desires. The 99% rages against the 1% only because they aren’t in the 1%’s shoes. I think we’d like to think we’re better than that, but greed and selfishness are in our DNA.

The Bible talks about this, about the battle against using people for your own benefit; we want things at the expense of each other because of our disobedient nature. The Bible also speaks about the inherent worth of every human being. Thus each person in your network is of equal worth to you, just like all of the bosses who haven’t offered you a job and all the homeless people you might get to know during unemployment. Our disobedient hearts want to claim our value in our abilities, our success, our gain. Through the work of Jesus, though, every person is of equal value. Our value comes not from our success but through an awesome God who paid for our disobedience despite our inability to pay.

And that’s not to say that networking or good business-work is inherently evil. It is to say though, that ultimately we can either believe everything we know is the best it will ever get, or to hope that one day everything, including Wall Street, will be made right in Jesus. I don’t think we’d willingly admit to the former choice.

– Eric

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Comfort: New places and new faces

Eric and I both recently moved to different cities after graduating college at Appalachian State in May.  I moved to Tacoma, WA to take an internship with Soma Communities and Eric moved to Raleigh, NC for an internship with Vintage 21.  It was a big step for both of us.  We realized that stepping out of our perceived comfort zones was what we needed to grow as individuals and as Christians. Eric recently posted about influence of  generous hospitality as modeled by the life and death of Jesus during his time in Raleigh by the people of Vintage.  I’ve come across the similar hospitality at Soma and am grateful for the same gospel that binds us across the country.  While driving across the country, I had the opportunity to stay with a former intern’s family in Chicago on my first night and am currently staying with a family in Tacoma who is providing me with free room and food all summer.  Yet something seems off.  I’m getting too comfortable.  I’ve had to ask myself if this is a good thing, this comfort, or if I need to examine myself more deeply.  It’s easy for me to get comfortable in a new place rather quickly and there are certain circumstances where there needs to be a healthy dose of uncomfortability.

We often think that other people’s words have power over us.  We say that our identity is formed because of what other people say about us.  For example, when you have a degree bestowed upon you by an academic institution you are declared a graduate and that becomes your identity. Or in American society people move from place to place because they feel uncomfortable about the city they live in or the community around them.  People’s identity is often formed by the neighborhood someone lives in or the job that a person holds.  For instance, “I’m a doctor and I live in the suburbs of (insert name of large city here).”  We use declarative words to shape and mold our identities.

Yet the story told in the Bible is different.  Instead of man declaring something about himself, it is God who declares something about man.  From the very beginning God declares something about man. He speaks and by the power of his word man comes into being, bearing the image of God himself. In the fall, man rejects this image and tries to be like God, knowing good and evil. But God redeems humanity through the powerful Word, Jesus, and will create a new home by the power of his declarative word.  Because of this story, our identity is no longer in what other people have to say about us, but what God has declared us to be by the power of his word.  We can find comfort wherever we go because we are no longer defined by the people around us or the jobs that we hold.  Instead our identity comes from the one who has created, redeemed, and who will one day restore us.

-Bryan

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Generous Hospitality: The crux of free things.

I moved to the Triangle three weeks ago now, and I’ve gotten pretty good at wifi thievery. I’m originally from a much smaller city, so here I tend to drive around, get lost in the process, then search for a place with wifi to reorient myself.

All this wifi pilfering had me thinking, though, about free services. McDonald’s have free playplaces, roadhouses have free peanuts, even grocery stores have free samples (my favorite is Whole Foods). But none of these are really free, they’re intended to entice you towards buying something else; it’s in the establishment’s best interest to give you something free so you spend more money. Can I really waltz into a Mexican restaurant, order a water, stuff myself with chips and salsa, then leave?

When I visit a place with wifi I usually feel compelled to buy something. Except at McDonald’s. I feel no remorse for stealing their wifi (watch Supersize Me and you’ll understand). In the usual case it’s a trade off; I give a café some money, get some coffee, then get to use their space and wifi for a couple hours (sometimes longer). Right now I am sitting outside of Amelia’s Café in Brightleaf Square, I haven’t bought anything, and I feel kinda bad.

Before leaving I bought some strawberry and green apple gelato. It was a good choice.

But all of this social contemplation led me to think about hospitality and generosity. I think we Americans tend to have a trade-off view of personal hospitality. When we go to a party and bring food, we shoot for spending or bringing the same amount as everyone (or less). We donate Campbell’s soup to homeless shelters but buy Progresso for ourselves. If we get something out of it, we are far more likely to put more in.

Which also makes it hard for us to receive hospitality. When I got to Durham I didn’t have a place to stay, but a guy from the church I’m working with offered his blowup bed for a couple of days. In conversation at his place the next day I said I’d like to fix dinner for him, to which he replied, “As long as it’s a gift and not a payment.” I didn’t cook him dinner.

People know hospitality is a good thing, whether we want to become more hospitable or not. Scripture gives us an amazing example of generosity at the expense of another: Jesus left luxury in heaven to be born in a barn, all to give life to those who were dead. But a believer’s hospitality and generosity to others can’t be a trade-off with Jesus, either. We can’t be “good people” because we feel like we owe it to God. Our actions towards other don’t appease him, only Jesus’ righteousness does that. But our obedience does please him.

This summer at Vintage21 we are focusing on generous hospitality because we need to. In all honesty, Christians across America could use a wake-up just like us. Based on what scripture tells us, hospitality should look very different for the Christian than the non-Christian. We have this supreme example through Christ, our lives should in some way show that.

Now I’m at It’s a Grind in Cary, NC, and the Colombian roast was relatively good. Writing about generosity makes me want to put something in the square tip jar in front of me, but that’s just the guilt talking. Still a work in progress.

– Eric

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Transit Tales: Roadtrips with Bryan

Public transport is probably the best invention that never quite took hold in the South.  I’m currently traveling around the Northeast with four other college friends to cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.  Each of these cities has its unique transit system, but what connects them all is the crowded sense of humanity. No matter what there are hundreds of people on each train each with his or her own story waiting to be uncovered…

[Check out my guest blog over at Guidry in Transit and be sure to follow this upcoming star of a writer.]

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