Imagine if you will a holiday on which it is customary to bring flowers, chocolates, and the like to another person for whom one has romantic feelings. I know, I know, a preposterous proposition, but sometimes an outlandish thought experiment can be helpful. And so on this holiday, you bring a gift of flowers and observe how happy they make your crush. The next year, you are late to the florist and cannot get flowers so you bring chocolate instead and notice an equally happy reaction. The following year you are extra prepared–flowers ordered in advance and just-in-case chocolates; you give both and notice your crush is even happier, but not really twice as happy as with either gift alone. Now you are curious, and so the next year you supplement flowers and chocolate with provocative loungewear only to discover this makes your crush less happy than if they had gotten no gift at all. O dear! What is going on?

[Read more…] about Science Corner: When the Bloom is off the Rose

## Ash Wednesday and the Gift of Lent

*We are delighted that Bobby Gross, author of Living the Christian Year and who has contributed previous series during Lent and Advent, has agreed to write a new series of Lenten reflections with future pieces appearing on Mondays beginning February 26.*

Why would anyone think of the penitential season of Lent as a gift?

Forty or so days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday during which we deprive ourselves of good things—like coffee or chocolate or wine or social media—and fast on certain days and generally mull over our sinful condition. The starting point, Ash Wednesday, says it all: feeling a vague disapproval for whatever celebratory activity we might have enjoyed the previous day of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday!), we kneel to have a priest or pastor smear a cross of ashes on our forehead intoning “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.” “Organized gloom,” as one spiritual writer bemoans.[1]

And yet this has been the practice of the great majority of church for seventeen centuries. And in recent decades, the observance of Lent has been spreading dramatically. Why is this season in the Christian liturgical calendar proving beneficial to so many? How can we experience it as a gift, a source of spiritual grace?

We might start with what the apostle Peter says about grace in his letter to first century Christians under cultural duress:

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but

gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.[2]

Grace finds those wearing garments of humility. Uplift comes to those who choose to humble themselves, to make humility a practice.

Peter, of course, is echoing Jesus here, undoubtedly remembering a certain argument among the disciples over which of them was the greatest, the most important, a dispute they were reluctant to admit when Jesus confronted them. Perhaps this heated contention had arisen in reaction to the way Peter, James, and John had centered themselves as they recounted their experience on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Jesus declares simply: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”[3]

Later, on the night before his execution, Jesus indelibly modeled exactly this kind of counter-cultural humility: before beginning the Passover meal, he disrobed and wrapped a towel around his waist and, one by one, washed the dirty feet of his uncomfortable friends. He was enacting his love for them, even for proud Simon Peter and treacherous Judas Iscariot.

And this vivid gesture becomes an enacted parable of the self-emptying love at the heart of Jesus’ whole life: his relinquishment of divine privilege, his assumption of human nature, his willingness to serve people, all people, the lauded and the least, his obedience to his Father, even to the point of excruciating death on that horrid instrument of torture.

But then God exalted him, highly exalted him! Above everyone and everything.

Paul expresses this wonderous and holy mystery in a hymn-like passage in his letter to the Philippians and offers this takeaway for his readers:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind[set] be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[4]

Friends, such humility is so un-American!

So, maybe Lent can serve as a designated, which is to say, a sanctified period to practice this kind of humility under God and toward one another. To be deliberate for a time in sustaining this inward posture and its outward embodiment might allow us to shake of the dust of cliché from these much-quoted paradoxes: lose your life and you will gain life, give and you will receive, serve the least and you will be great, humble yourself and you will be lifted up.

This is how spiritual grace will actually come to us.

This is how the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom, the mournful find comfort, the meek inherit the earth, those thirsty for righteousness and justice get satisfied, and the pure in heart see God.

Christlike humility.

The word humility derives from the Latin *humilitas* meaning lowly, literally “low to the ground” or “on the ground” (earth, *humus*). So when the priest marks us with ashes and describes us as dust/dirt, it reminds us of our humble condition as human creatures and our need to live with humility before God and alongside others.

“Hence with humility,” says Richard Foster, “we are brought back to earth. We don’t think of ourselves higher than we should. No pride or haughtiness. No self-deprecation or feelings of unworthiness. Just an accurate assessment of who we actually are. Our strengths and competencies. And, yes, our weaknesses and shortcomings.”[5]

As Foster suggests, humility is self-abasement, not self-erasure. We should carry ourselves with dignity, but not arrogance. We should be full of gratitude, but not self-entitlement. We should extend ourselves in service, but with no hint of superiority.

Christlike humility.

So, in humility, I invite you to join me in the “observance of holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; in prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (*Book of Common Prayer*). Whatever Lenten practice(s) we quietly commit ourselves to, may they serve to draw us into an appropriate humility. And may that humility yield for each of us unexpected dividends of grace.

* * * * * *

Over these next six weeks, I will write continue to explore this theme of humility in relation to five aspects of our human condition: our creaturely mortality, our moral culpability, our circumstantial precarity, our intellectual limitations, and our disabilities in seeking to change the world.

[1] Richard J. Foster, Learning Humility (IVP, 2022), p. 23.

[2] I Peter 5:5-6.

[3] See Mark chapter 9.

[4] Philippians 2:1-11.

[5] Foster, p. 10.

## The Balanced Life — A High Wire Act or a Spacious Path?

One of the greatest high wire artists in history was Charles Blondin, also known as “The Great Blondin.” Beginning in 1859, he walked across the Niagara Falls gorge on numerous occasions. On one of these, he stopped midway to cook and eat an omelet! On others, he did it blindfolded, on stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow, or carrying his manager on his back.

I suspect for some of us, the quest for a “balanced” life feels much like this. Sometimes we try to do all of Blondin’s feats at once. We try to balance our spiritual life with family responsibilities, professional responsibilities with Christian community, performance expectations with good self care. We feel pretty wobbly sometimes. Sometimes we jettison one or more aspects of life to maintain our equilibrium. And sometimes we just take a tumble–hopefully into a safety net!

I’d like to suggest a different image for the balanced life, that of a spacious path. While it’s possible to leave the path or even get lost in the woods or a bog, there are a number of reasons this needn’t ever happen.

**The path is spacious enough for Jesus to accompany us. **I love the Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30:

*“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”*

This is not a path you need to walk single file, trying to keep up with Jesus. Other translations say “take my yoke upon you,” an image of a crosspiece, across the necks of two animals, allowing them to pull a cart or plow together. Jesus offers real rest, not from our work but in it, both sharing the load and setting the pace, not hurried or forced but “the unforced rhythm of grace.”

**The path is spacious enough to stop and rest when needed. **Sabbath is Jesus invitation to stop one day a week just to rest and enjoy him, others, and all his good gifts. We worry that we will get run over by others in their 24/7 life. Sabbath is an act of trust that in six days of work we will accomplish all that’s needed and that God is at work when we are not.

**The path is spacious enough for others to walk with us.** I’m struck by the fact that Jesus did not send people out alone. Paul, in his missionary journeys, always had travel companions, and often, they listened to God together when they decided where to go next (cf. Acts 13:1-3; 16:6-10). God helps balance our lives and keep us on his path with others.

**The path is spacious enough to allow us to walk at our own best pace. **Balance need not look the same for all of us. Jesus may lead us more to one side than others. Some may be more fleet of foot than we are. Because of our different gifts, we will do different things along the path. All that matters is being on the path with Jesus.

While the “balanced” life is not one of keeping a number of different priorities precisely distributed as we walk a high wire, there are some practices that I might commend for our walk on the spacious path:

- Walking with Jesus: beginning our day listening and talking to Jesus about it, using “breath prayers” as we move from one thing to another to stay present and in step with Jesus, and reviewing our day with both thanks and confession as we surrender ourselves to Him in sleep.
- Walking in unforced rhythms of grace in rest and work: observing sabbaths, and taking daily time for the self-care that allows us to love Jesus with all our being.
- Walking with other believers: recognizing the gifts of partners and wider communities, including those unlike us in age, gender, ethnicity, ability, education, and material wealth.
- Walking with Jesus in our work: Reminding ourselves that whatever we do is “for him” and “with him.” Jesus doesn’t wait for us in the parking lot but joins us as we teach, experiment, and even go to committee meetings.

I love walking on spacious paths. It is fun to anticipate what I’ll see around the next bend. It is a joy to know that I never walk alone and that Jesus knows how the path will bring each of us home. And who knows–perhaps I will see you on the path–there’s room enough for us both!

## Conference Report: Developing A Christian Mind at Harvard/MIT

*On January 19-20, 2024, the first Developing a Christian Mind Conference in the United States was held at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This article is drawn from a report written to ministry partners by Jeff Barneson, Associate Director of Faculty Ministry and Campus Staff Minister at Harvard University*.

Last weekend we hosted our first conference on Developing a Christian Mind at Harvard & MIT. The initiative, based on the longstanding conference – DCM Oxford – was an experiment for us and our Faculty Ministry Leadership Team. Our intent was to explore new ways to empower faculty ministry with early-term graduate students – especially those headed toward work in higher education.

## CONFERENCE PROGRAM

**Friday Jan 19:**

1:30pm – Registration, snacks, coffee, tea

2:00pm – Main Session 1

-Welcome & Introduction

-Talk & Discussion: Discipleship of the Mind: **Reflections on seeking the shalom of the university**

-Talk: Discipleship of the Mind: **Reflections on integrating Christian faith with our scholarship**

-Panel Discussion: **What does it mean to be human and be made in God’s image? **What is the understanding of a human being in your field? How does the Gospel map critique and help redeem the dominant understanding of humanity in your field? What ways have you found to seek the shalom of the university?

6:30pm – Dinner & Discussion

**Saturday, Jan 20:**

8:30am – Breakfast, coffee, tea

9:00am – Main Session 2

-Talk: **What is our response to creation? Christian Science and Engineering**

-Talk & Discussion: **Wholeness, Sin and Redemption in Public Health**

12:00pm – Lunch & Discussion groups

1:00pm – Main Session 3

-Panel Discussion: **What is the influence of sin in your discipline and what does redemption look like in your discipline?**

-Talk & Discussion: **The Calling of Christian Graduate Students and Academics**

4:00pm – Closing worship, prayer & sending out

We are still processing the experience with graduate students, faculty members and InterVarsity staff, but it is already clear – this DCM was a hit. Some of the things we observed were:

• Graduate students loved seeing their professors speak about the distinctive meaning of the gospel of Jesus for their research, teaching, mentoring and leadership in the academy. Several faculty remarked how much they wished they had received this kind of teaching when they first set out on their studies.

• Faculty members experienced a unique opportunity to work together and learn from one another across discipline lines – engaging generously with one another and with graduate students

• Invitations to professors to speak and work on panels provided significant opportunities for them to reflect on and strengthen the integration of their own *Journey with Jesus* and what this means for their calling in the academy

• Dinners in the homes of professors extended conversations, allowed students to ask more discipline-specific questions, and developed deeper relationships between faculty and students

*What is the influence of sin in your discipline and what does redemption look like in your discipline?*Photo courtesy of Jeff Barneson.

On Saturday evening, our organizing team celebrated and debriefed the weekend with professors, students, staff and family members. There was a lot for which we were thankful. The most common words used to describe the conference were *awe, grateful, powerful, *and *humbled.*

Please continue with us in prayer as we work together to understand how to strengthen the ministry of professors with graduate students and each other in the future.

## Mathematics Through the Lens of Faith: A Path For Integration

*We appreciate this latest contribution to our “Through the Lens of Faith” series. Matt Lunsford argues that integration is a two way street, so perhaps it would be fitting to add “and Faith Through the Lens of Mathematics” to the article title! We would also like to acknowledge that this article first appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of the *Journal of the Union Faculty Forum *under the title “Mathematics & Faith: A Path For Integration*“. *We are grateful to Matt Lunsford and the *Journal* for permission to re-post this article.*

As members of the Academy who are employed in Christian higher education, we have a peculiar requirement in our vocation. We are called to think Christianly about our work in general and about our discipline in particular. This path for integration of faith and discipline often can seem to be a one-way road where faculty only use the Bible or a prescribed canon taken from the Christian intellectual tradition (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Lewis, etc.) to understand their discipline but not the reverse. It is generally left to the faculty member to discover how to integrate this additional content within the context of the discipline. Here, I postulate the path to a robust form of integration is, in fact, a two-way street, in which Holy Scripture and the Christian intellectual tradition inform our view of the discipline and how we teach it, and our discipline illuminates our understanding of the Christian faith and our ability to communicate this faith effectively. The goal of this essay is to explore a path for integration of faith and the discipline of mathematics. To do so, I will begin by discussing three aspects of my discipline: *language*, *nature*, and *contribution*.

**Three Aspects of Mathematics**

*Language*

Creation is a gallery, full of intrinsic beauty. The feat of expressing this beauty with fidelity requires rigorously defined terminology. An inherent preciseness is required to ensure that we humans, as universally as possible, comprehend the terminology uniformly. Mathematics provides such a *language*. Defining terms with prudence is the starting point for conventional mathematics. Mathematical language is characterized by clarity, precision, universality, and, whenever possible, simplicity. Not unlike an ordinary dictionary, which defines words using other words, the mathematical vocabulary, to avoid circular reasoning, must have terms which remain undefined. Obviously, these undefined terms should constitute as small a set of words as possible. For example, a mathematician studying geometry must define “right angle” before using that term in any formal way. Assuming the terms used here either have been defined previously or have been designated as undefined terms, a mathematician defines “right angle” as an angle formed by two lines intersecting to form equal adjacent angles. Continuing in this same manner, precise mathematical definitions of more challenging concepts such as symmetry, similarity, congruence, dimension, infinity, chance, paradox, contradiction, order, and chaos can be established. In many ways, the language of mathematics is ideal for describing creation’s beauty.

*Nature*

The *nature* of mathematics is discovering mathematical truth. The mathematician follows a rigorous method for establishing mathematical truth:

definition → axiom → conjecture → proof → theorem.

As we have seen, definitions are essential to the language of mathematics. Axioms are statements that are assumed to be true without the requirement of a proof. For example, the statement “all right angles are equal” is considered an axiom of geometry by mathematicians. This claim seems self-evident from the aforementioned definition of right angle; therefore, no additional logical argument is required. Beyond a minimal set of mutually agreed upon axioms, any statement that is claimed to be true requires a mathematical proof. A mathematician often begins with a conjecture, that is, a statement that seems plausible considering the definitions, axioms, and theorems that already have been established. If an unerring logical argument can be presented (i.e., a mathematical proof), then the statement moves from the category of conjectures to the category of theorems. Typically, a proof requires not only deductive reasoning but also creativity and imagination. Mathematical truth produced in this manner exhibits permanence, in that, if we continue working within the same framework of definitions and axioms, known as an axiomatic system, then the theorems proven will remain true. Conversely, if a statement is false in the axiomatic system, then it always will be false within that system.

An example of a timeless mathematical truth is the Pythagorean theorem, which states that a square constructed upon the hypotenuse (the longest side) of a right triangle (i.e., a triangle with a right angle) is equal in area to the sum of the areas of the squares constructed upon the two legs (the remaining sides) of the right triangle. It is believed that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras discovered this theorem around 400 B.C. If he or any of his followers gave a proof of this theorem, then that proof has been lost. Fortunately, an ingenious proof of this theorem appears in *Elements*, written by Euclid around 300 B.C. After constructing squares on each side of the right triangle, Euclid sections the square on the hypotenuse into two smaller rectangles. He then proves that the area of each rectangle corresponds exactly to the area of one of the squares constructed on the legs.

Two millennia later, the character Scarecrow in the classic movie *The Wizard of Oz*, upon receiving his diploma—which apparently signified the miraculous appearance of a missing brain—says these words: “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side” [1]. By the way, an isosceles triangle is a triangle for which exactly two of its three sides have the same length. How is one to decide if this statement is true or false? The nature of mathematics dictates that one should be able to demonstrate either a proof of this statement, thus establishing it as mathematical truth, or provide a counterexample to this statement and assign it to the trash heap of falsehoods. In this case, a counterexample is readily produced. In fact, I challenge the reader to find even one isosceles triangle for which Scarecrow’s conjecture is true.

Unfortunately, mathematics has limits when it comes to establishing its own truth. Because of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, there exist well-formed mathematical statements within a given axiomatic system that lie outside the purview of a proof. Hence, the truth value of these mathematical statements is unknown. Mathematicians generally believe that these statements are rather complex and therefore are not a hindrance to the routine work of producing mathematical truth. However, if it makes sense to talk about absolute truth within a given axiomatic system, then mathematicians are aware that absolute truth within a given axiomatic system is not synonymous with mathematical truth since the latter can never encompass the former. That is, if we assume that mathematical statements are either true or false, then there exist true statements within the system that cannot be proved.

*Contribution*

A remarkable *contribution* of mathematics to human society is its ability to impart understanding. How does mathematical truth discovered within an axiomatic system convey knowledge of the real world? One primary way involves the creation of mathematical models of reality. Working within well-formed models, mathematicians, engineers, scientists, financial analysts, and others can analyze and obtain truths about the real world and even predict what will happen in the future. Mathematics advances our understanding of the past, present, and future status of whatever the researcher attempts to model. Of course, these mathematical models are not exact.

The knowledge derived from mathematics has changed our everyday lives. We drive cars, ride in subways, fly in airplanes, use laptops and smartphones, receive urgent health care, yet somehow we remain unaware that the understanding mathematics brings is essential for all of these technologies. There is a recent joke of a person on social media lamenting that another day has passed without having to use the Pythagorean theorem. Actually, the Pythagorean theorem has been in continual use since its discovery. The theorem yields the mathematical formula for measuring distances in two and three dimensions. In current times, because the result is so fundamental, the actual statement of the theorem is often hidden from view. For instance, our society is enamored with flat screens, and the instructions for the pixels in those flat screens are determined in part by their relative distance from an initial locus. In fact, any technique for lighting an image or scene that calculates illumination for each pixel, such as per-pixel lighting, necessarily utilizes the relative location of each pixel on the rendered image. So, whether one is watching digital TV, or playing a 3-D video game, or just tapping, swiping, or dragging on a smartphone, the Pythagorean theorem is there, working in the background, making this technology function.

**A Path for Integration **

How can one integrate mathematics and the Christian faith? How does one think Christianly about mathematics? Is it possible that not only the skills acquired from studying mathematics (critical thinking, problem solving, struggling with a difficult problem, etc.) but also the content of mathematics is transferable to an integrated life? To address these questions, consider a passage of scripture from the New Testament. 1 Peter 3:15 commands, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always *being* ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect” [2]. Serious consideration of this passage reveals that words (“to give an account”) and truth (“to make a defense”) and understanding (“for the hope that is in you”) are key components of a faithful life.

Communicating the richness of the Christian faith demands *language* sufficiently robust to articulate our thoughts fully. Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Pascal, and Lewis have used mathematical language to enlighten and clarify their thoughts. Similarly, we can use mathematical language to clarify, to construct analogies, and to make claims. One literary example is Edwin Abbott’s novella *Flatland* [3]. In this work, Abbott uses the subject matter of geometry and the concept of dimensionality to create an analogy for the gulf that exists between a lost unregenerate person and a spiritually regenerate one [4].

We are truth-seekers, and fortunately for us, we can draw upon the work of theologians over two millennia who have studied the scriptures to aid us in our defense of the faith. However, when doctrinal differences arise, as they certainly have in the past, how does one decide which path leads to the best orthodoxy? One potential tool in our arsenal is the model used by mathematicians for seeking mathematical truth. Like the *nature* of mathematics, the systematic theologian seeks to define terminology precisely (definitions), to state in advance all suppositions believed to be true without additional justification (axioms), and then proceeds to deduce doctrinal statements (theorems) from this structure. The 20th century British scholar C. S. Lewis exemplifies this approach in his apologetic work *Mere Christianity*. Applying this model, we have a valuable resource to enhance our defense of the faith.

Mathematics enhances our understanding of God’s creation and therefore has *contributed* greatly to the advancement of human civilization. As believers, we acknowledge the often-positive contributions of mathematics to human society, but we also realize that “the hope that is” in each of us is not to be found in human knowledge or its applications. We place our hope neither in mathematics nor in the technologies it facilitates, for these will not provide the redemption for which the creation groans. Our hope is in “Christ as Lord” and in Him alone. Though our hope is in Christ and not in mathematics, we remain grateful for the ways mathematics facilitates the purposes of Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

Thinking Christianly about the discipline of mathematics is a two-way road. The language of mathematics allows us to use an expanded vocabulary to communicate the beauty of creation as well as a deeper understanding of our faith. The nature of mathematics provides us with a coherent model for demonstrating truth through rational means. The contribution of mathematics to human understanding gives us new ways to appreciate the design of creation and to improve the physical condition of our human society. Mathematics, through both its content and the skills its study produces, remains an integral part of a liberal arts education and facilitates a vibrant path for the integration of faith and discipline.

## REFERENCES

[1] Vidor, King, et al. *The Wizard of Oz*. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1939.

[2] *Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible.* 1995, 2020. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] Abbott, Edwin A. *Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. *New York: Dover, 1992.

[4] Lunsford, Matt D. *Dialogue Between Dimensions: The Communication Dilemma in Flatland*. Journal of the Union Faculty Forum **Vol. 32** (2012), pp. 57-62

## Previous Articles by the Author at ESN

Matt Lunsford has written previously for ESN, publishing a series of articles titled “A Christian Mathematician’s Apology.” Here are links to that series:

*Finding My Vocation.* Matt describes how he discerned his calling to study and teach mathematics.

*Integrating Faith and Mathematics. *Lunsford describes what it means for him to be a “Christian mathematician” and what it means for him to live the integrated life.

*Redeeming the Discipline. *Matt outlines his ideas of what “redeeming the discipline” looks like for him as a mathematician.

*Thinking Christianly. *A description of how Lunsford “thinks Christianly” about both his scholarship and pedagogy.