You Could Just Stand There and Look Stupid: An Ascension Day Reflection

Today is Ascension Day, when we celebrate Our Lord’s bodily ascension into heaven.  The Acts of the Apostles describe the “aftermath” on earth as follows:

While they were still gazing up into the heavens, as he went, suddenly two men, clothed in white, stood beside them, And said: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up into the heavens? This very Jesus, who has been taken from you into the heavens, will come in the very way in which you have seen him go into the heavens.” (Act 1:10-11 TCNT)

For some reason, this reminds me of an encounter I had with one of my students.  This student was unique in many ways.   I found out independently that he had a hard life: abandoned by parents, brother in jail, poverty, but that he had given it his best shot in life and was working on his civil engineering degree (which he completed.)  Helping students like this makes teaching worthwhile.

One day he came to see me in my office.  My office is away from most of the College of Engineering and Computer Science in a building with 24-hour card access.  If you don’t have a card, during the day you can ring the doorbell and be admitted.  He did that and got to my office, but then he asked me a serious question: “What would I do if I didn’t know to ring the doorbell to get in?”

“Well, you could just stand there and look stupid,” I replied.

He thought a second and sad, “I could just stand there and look stupid.”  In spite of this inauspicious start, we had a good meeting.

Every time I read the passage in Acts I cited above, I always think to myself, “You know, those two men were certainly angels, otherwise they would have said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking stupid up into the heavens?'”  Our Lord had just given them instructions as to what they were supposed to be doing:

So, when the Apostles had met together, they asked Jesus this question–“Master, is this the time when you intend to re-establish the Kingdom for Israel?” His answer was: “It is not for you to know times or hours, for the Father has reserved these for his own decision; But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit shall have descended upon you, and shall be witnesses for me not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:6-8 TCNT)

But they just stood there looking upward until the angel gave them the reality check they needed.

Two thousand years have passed, and many Christians, mesmerized by whatever “spiritual happening” is going on around them, or what’s trendy in the church.  But Our Lord not only gave us a mission; he sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish that mission.

Our Lord’s messengers were too polite to tell the disciples to quit looking stupid and get on with their task.  But, polite or not, it’s the truth: the mission has not changed, and is still out there for Christians to accomplish it.

New Series on STADYN Wave Equation Program

We’re starting a new series on the companion site about the STADYN wave equation program.  This may be a little arcane for most readers of this blog, so it will be over there.

The first installment, however, concerns using a very old language (FORTRAN 77) to generate HTML code, which of course appears on just about every web page out there that isn’t a pdf file.  So the interest may be a little more general…for now.


The “Favourite Period” for Feminism was also the Favourite Period for Pentecostal Women Ministers

An interesting observation from Camille Paglia on her “favourite period” for feminism:

My favorite period in feminism has always been the 1920s and 1930s, when American women energized by winning the vote gained worldwide prominence for their professional achievements. My early role models, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, were fierce individualists and competitors who liked and admired men and who never indulged in the tiresome, snippy rote male-bashing that we constantly hear from today’s feminists.

It was also (not coincidentally) the “golden age” of women ministers in modern Pentecost, a fact which I touched on in my last post.  After 1950, setting women into ministry in Pentecostal churches (in the Church of God at least) went into decline until recent times.

Another thing that experienced a “golden age” in the 1930’s was aviation, where women such as Earhart and Laura Ingalls made their mark.  My grandfather was part of that era and I discuss that–and womens’ achievements there–in more detail here.

What happened?  In short, World War II, which induced many changes into American society that are still not appreciated.  Today we work under a paradigm (or paradigms, some of which are self-contradictory) that really isn’t working for anybody.  A good example of this comes from another observation from Paglia:

The main point here is that we should have had our first woman president way back in the 1990s, but neither Pelosi nor Feinstein, the leading female candidates, chose to run, as even Elizabeth Dole bravely did. There is absolutely no mythical “misogyny” holding back American women from the presidency: for heaven’s sake, the U.S. has had women mayors, senators, and governors for decades now.

We should have had our first women president then, but instead we got that Scots-Irish wonder kid, Bill Clinton.  Had we done so, as head of government she would have been sandwiched between the UK’s Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, both of whom were or are Tories.  (Even Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, Muslim countries all, have beat us to the punch on this one…)  Something is wrong, but our heated rhetoric confounds our ability to fix it.

Women’s Ordination: The ACNA’s Trickiest Minefield

…and they’ve stepped into it with their report on the subject, visible here.

The image opponents of WO dread the most: Navy Chaplain Jerry McNabb saluting his female superior at his retirement.

The ACNA came into the world with considerable baggage, some of which was due to the way they had to “patch together” the institution from several provincial efforts.  That was one of those things that led Greg Griffith to swim the Tiber, characterising the effort as  having “…the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire.”

But the ACNA also came into the world with two unresolved issues: the Anglo-Catholic vs. Reformed (or Evangelical, or Charismatic, or…) divide and women’s ordination.  The two are related to some degree but are certainly not same.  This report represents trying to “start a conversation” on the subject, and that in the Anglican/Episcopal world is always a dangerous proposition.

The report makes it clear that, for the moment, there is no change in real policy, which leaves the issue as a diocesan option.  And I would confess that I have not gone through its 316 pages myself.  Having said that, I will outline my position on the subject, one which I have discussed before.

In supporting the practice, Lord Carey has referred to Acts 2:

‘It shall come about in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; your sons and your daughters shall become Prophets, your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams; Yes, even on the slaves–for they are mine–both men and women, I will in those days pour out my Spirit… (Act 2:17-18 TCNT)

That’s a pretty strong statement and a strong case.  If women can get the prophetic gift, why not the rest?  That said, and looking at everything else, for a church to have women’s ordination, two things must be in place.

The first is that the gifts of the spirit must still be operating in the church.  It doesn’t make sense to ordain women based on the prophetic gifts when same have ceased.  That leaves the cessationists out, which takes most of the Reformed types with them.

The second is that the church cannot claim the magisterium, i.e., the ability to authoritatively interpret the Scriptures and establish doctrine.  That leaves out Roman Catholicism and the Anglo-Catholic community, although the latter has its own authority issues.

Protestant churches de jure deny the magisterium, but de facto you’d never know that based on the way many act.  I discussed this issue in my piece Authority and Evangelical Churches.  Beyond that, a church which claims the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit enters into a different concept of authority whether it wants to admit it or not.

With Anglicanism things are a muddle, because, while they retained the episcopal form of government and set forth the Articles of Religion, they denied the magisterium.  I had an interesting discussion on this and other topics on the authority of the church with the “Ugley Vicar,” the late John Richardson.

At this point I think the ACNA is between a rock and a hard place because, while it could go one way, the other, or take its half out of the middle, it embodies so many other contradictions in its borders it’s going to have a hard time doing things consistently one way or the other.  It’s an unenviable position.

There are two other important points that I would like to make.

The first is that WO isn’t a “women’s rights” issue.  The Episcopal Church has discredited the concept by making it one.  There were women ministers in Pentecostal churches long before Robert Appleyard ordained the first ones in what was then PECUSA, but they not only didn’t do it as a women’s rights issue, they were of an entirely different character.

The second is that you cannot separate the issue of women ministers from women bishops.  If the laity must come under the “authority” (see above) of a woman as rector, then the clergy can do the same under a bishop.  Clergy exempting themselves from things like this is about as admirable as Congress exempting itself from the many things it imposes on us.

Prevention is Still the Best “Kill Switch” for Malware

A very ingenious solution to a very serious problem:

An “accidental hero” has halted the global spread of the WannaCry ransomware, reportedly by spending a few dollars on registering a domain name hidden in the malware.

The ransomware has wreaked havoc on organizations including FedEx and Telefonica, as well as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), where operations were cancelled, x-rays, test results and patient records became unavailable and phones did not work.

However, a UK cybersecurity researcher tweeting as @malwaretechblog, with the help of Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint, found and activated a “kill switch” in the malicious software.

But it’s important to note that Microsoft had released a patch against this malware back in March.  Microsoft, for all the jibes it takes from the digital community, has made updating its software just about as seamless as it can get.  And I haven’t run into the dreaded “this software worked until the update and then…” problem in a long time.  (I actually run Windows, MacOS and Linux on my various machines.)  Either the NHS’ admins didn’t have their machines set to automatically update or they’re still running XP and Vista.  As good of an operating system as XP is, it’s just too vulnerable to keep it online, especially in a network situation.

Lesson: make sure you’ve got your automatic updates working, in addition to the anti-virus software.  Backing up is also important, but with ransomware the hostage files can get into your backup system before you can stop it.

One more thing: the Guardian told us that the UK based researcher “spent a few dollars” registering the domain name.  Have some pride in your currency; “dropped a few quid” would have been better.  (Unless, of course, he was a Remain supporter and used Euros, or a Bitcoin fan…)

Those African Immigrants Sure Are Encouraging

Carol Swain, the Vanderbilt professor who took early retirement after ruffling the feathers of their very politically correct establishment, tells this turning point while growing up in Roanoke, VA:

She married in her teens and wound up a “divorced welfare mother of two sons.” It was a fellow shift worker at the Liberty House Nursing Home, an African immigrant named Abou, who persuaded to try her hand at higher education. Against these steep odds, she climbed the academic ladder all the way from Virginia Western Community College to a law degree at Yale and professorships at Princeton and Vanderbilt. Prominent mentors along the way—at Roanoke College, where she completed her bachelor’s; Virginia Tech, her first master’s degree; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her doctorate in political science—helped make it possible. But these days, she reflects, “In some ways, I feel like I didn’t always turn out the way people had hoped I would turn out.”

Seven years ago, my Kenyan department head and his Cameroonian assistant sat me down and told me I needed to get my PhD.  He’s told others that, but I took his advice.  The rest is history.

Ending a Ban on Communists in Government is an Improvement in Some Places

Like California:

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill to repeal part of a law enacted during the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s when fear that communists were trying to infiltrate and overthrow the U.S. government was rampant. The bill now goes to the Senate.

To tell the truth, a real Communist would be an improvement over the sybaritic post-modern leftists that dominate California politics.  I’ve referred to the place as the “People’s Republic of California,” but in reality it’s in the thrall of its moneyed elites in a way that would make the “capitalist roaders” of yore envious.

One thing that Communists liked to do (at least in the early years of their rule, before they let the economy run down like Brezhnev did) is to do big public works.  California could use some of that now, but its moneyed elites have an allergy for same, and sad to say the few Republicans left there do too.

Another big problem, however, is that there are few real Marxists-Leninists-_____________ around these days.  The right likes to call American leftists Communists, but few are, even those who claim the label.  The closest major figure on the left to being a Communist is Bernie Sanders, but even with his appeal to the Millennials the Democrat party’s establishment “tilted the table” to prevent his nomination.

Our ruling elites wouldn’t be facing the populist upheaval they are if they were more mindful of the needs of their general population.  But they look down on same general population and then expect adulation.  And they wonder why it’s a bumpy ride these days?

So What Will We Do When We Don’t Have to Think?

In this article about my friend Ethan Hereth, the following:

Like others before me, I have the perception that the education of quality engineers in the field of CFD has been falling short recently. It feels to me like there are very few engineers in this arena that grok CFD like many of the founding fathers and engineers of CFD did before us. I feel that the latest generations of CFD engineers have become used to applications that do much of the work, often shielding them from having to really understand the underlying concepts.

That perception has been around a long time.  Forty years ago when I was in the aerospace industry and working for Texas Instruments, I developed some software (had to write the code for it in this language) which automated some of our analysis work.  My boss was impressed with the results, but asked the question: what will happen when we just let the computer do all the work and we dummies just look at the results it spits out without knowing how they were produced?  My answer was that those of us working on the code know, but those who come after are the ones we have to be concerned about.

Well, as we used to say at Texas A&M, next year is here.  Most people who use technology today–and that includes some people in the STEM fields–have no clue how computers do their work, how the answers are arrived at, the theory behind their methods, or how easy it is for bugs (and security flaws) to get into the code that makes the software work.  The result is that, while the computer should make us smarter, the reality is the opposite effect.

The place where fixing that problem starts is in STEM education and the way we look at computers.  We need to get away from the accepted point of view of STEM education as people learning to push buttons in software they use, and we need to teach people how to code, even at the most elementary level.  One of my math professors observed that coding was a form of mathematical proof, and that in turn teaches you how to think.  But that skill is in short supply in our educational system, and if you think the results are not pretty now, just wait until “next year.”

Beating the Baptists to the Mission Field

For all the money they’ve sent to Richmond, not much to show for it:

Whatever the overall totals, what’s striking is the continuing size of the U.S. proportion. The largest 40 or so Baptist groups when combined ac­count for around 55 million people, 40 million of whom adhere to bodies in the United States. That compares with 7 million members in Africa, 5 million in Asia, and 2 million in Latin America. Non-U.S. numbers rise if smaller denominations are included, but they count their numbers not in the millions but in the tens of thousands, and applying the same standard also raises U.S. figures comparably.

Jenkins’ explanation of these laggard results doesn’t satisfy.  I would first observe that the “900 pound gorilla” (or 400 kilo gorilla, for those of you really mission minded) in the Baptist world is the Southern Baptist Convention.  That being said, their target home mission field is the Scots-Irish South.  I think that the cultural state of these people is so specific that being successful with them forces a church to adopt a life and method that hinders the communication of the Gospel to just about anyone else.

That hasn’t stopped people like Billy Graham, probably the best known Southern Baptist on the planet, from using his background as a springboard for world evangelisation.  The SBC gave him roots and wings, and he flew; the basic problem with Southern Baptists (and many others in this culture) is that they are stuck in the roots and lack the wings to fly.

In the South, the teetotalling Baptists did more than anyone else to make that Southern eating institution, the cafeteria, great.  Since the Baptists became punctual at ending their services, if the rest of us got there first for whatever reason, we told each other that we “beat the Baptists to the cafeteria.”  Today the very Baptistic place I live in has no cafeteria to beat the Baptists to, but there’s still a mission field out there, and it seems that we’ve beat the Baptists there too.

Advice to Graduates: Consider the Brusilov Option

It’s that time of year when most people who graduate from anything actually do it.  And graduation brings up more the most important issue: where do I go from here?  Really, if you’ve waited until graduation to answer that question, you’re in serious trouble.  If you’re reading this long before graduation, perhaps it will save you lost income and other dire consequences of an unexamined life.

The Russians are all “the thing” these days.  Everyone seems to be obsessed with them.  Did they throw our election?  Do they get special treatment from our current President?  Is your tax accountant a Russian spy?  (I have a relative who actually experienced that problem.)

For those of you who aren’t paying attention (and my classroom and lab experience tells me that’s me that’s a lot of you) we’re travelling through the hundredth anniversary of World War I, and this year the Russian Revolution.  Rolling all of that into one brings us to the best part of Russia’s war effort in World War I: the Brusilov Offensive and its commander, Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov.

From the beginning of the war, Russia’s war effort was dogged by difficulties.  Some of these were due to the nature of the country: large, poorly connected by roads and railways, its soldiers recruited from an illiterate peasantry, its industrial base small and underdeveloped.  Others were due to the uninspiring leadership from its Tsar, Nicholas II, his family and hangers-on, not the least of which was Rasputin.  The result of this was, by the end of 1915, the Germans and Austrians had taken Poland and Russia had no good prospect for improvement.

Enter Brusilov.  Taking command in 1916, he prepared for a major offensive primarily against the Austrians, which he perceived to be the weaker opponent.  Discarding putting everything into one type of military operation (a persistent fault of World War I command) he organised a multifaceted operation including infantry, artillery and cavalry assault (this last was sometimes beneficial in the East, not in the West.)  It was well organised and supplied (neither a given with Russian operations) and he kept the secrecy of the preparations to a higher than usual level.

The last worked: the Austrians were not ready when his armies began their assault on 4 June 1916.  Over the next two months the Russians advanced anywhere from 25-50 miles along an approximately 300 mile front.  Although the Russians were not able to follow up on their success, his offensive forced the Germans to take the pressure from the French and Italians, and his offensive pretty much broke the Austrians as a major ally for the Germans.

The benefits to Russia of their victory have long been debated, especially since their revolution took place the following year.  But one Russian was obviously impressed with the results: Lenin.  Brusilov was never a Bolshevik or Communist, but Lenin recruited Brusilov to serve in the Red Army as an advisor and trainer.  And Lenin did win the Russian Civil War.

So why is all of this relevant for you?  The question you need to ask yourself is simple: are your abilities and skill set of such a calibre that your enemy would value you enough to retain your services?  Or, if things changed significantly like they did for Russia in 1917, would you be able to survive the change?  Russians were faced with the same choice when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and watching them take the challenge changed the way I looked at many things.  Is your degree or skill set dependent on things going on the way they are?  Most of you are products of an educational system whose main goal is to make you fit for the existing system.  What happens when that system changes radically or goes away?  The fear of that result is what’s driving the assault on free speech we see on campuses today.

And then there are those immigrant people.  They came to this country to seek success in a different system.  Could you do the same by leaving this country for another one?  What foreign language skills do you have?  Are your skills marketable outside of this bubble?  Do you even understand the metric system of weights and measurements?  Why is it that everyone has to move here?  These are questions no one is asking these days, but we’ve seen many “unexpected” things in our lifetime, why not some more?

Christians, who are way too heavily invested in these United States, need to think about this as we debate Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.”  That will never work unless we in turn adopt the “Brusilov Option” of being able to survive and thrive in a hostile world.   Failure to do so will make any “Benedict Option” economically unviable.  (Remember that Benedict’s motto was “To Work is to Pray.”)  We live in a trashy and slovenly culture; unless we can seriously rise above it, we are toast.

Unfortunately for many of you the die is cast with your major, although strange major/career combinations are not unknown.  For those of you reading this who have a better head start, you should think about it.  We have a society which likes big talk about “pursuing your dream” and “changing the world.”  But if the world changes and you’re not ready for it, you’ll wish you had considered the “Brusilov Option” when you had the chance.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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