Sunday, January 25, 2009

Repost: Desiderata

Every so often, I come back to this poem. I think it summarizes important life lessons in a very concise way. Very good, thoughtful wisdom.

From the Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, Maryland:

Desiderata

Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with other persons, you may become vain and bitter, for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the council of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be careful.
Strive to be happy.

It's Just Like Facebook, Only, You Know...Real.

Mark Schaefer, the United Methodist chaplain at my university is becoming known for his creative sermon series'. Last semester, he did a series entitled "The Seven Words You Can't Say In Church" (a la George Carlin). These words included "Evolution", "Sex", "(Christian) Intolerance", "Death", and "She". The new series for this semester is based on the advertising campaign that we've been doing around the university, in which the core sign says, "Community. It's just like Facebook. Only, you know...real." The entire series is based around certain aspects of the Facebook community and how they relate to the Christian life. Tonight's sermon was the first in the series, and I have to say that it's one of the best sermons I've heard in a long time. It was entitled, "Jesus Added You As A Friend." The sermon discusses how different our definitions of friendship have become from what the original definition was, and how people today can take a lesson from the Christian definition of friendship, which can be truly transformative in our relationships with the people around us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Poem

The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander, as provided by CQ transcriptions.

"Praise Song for the Day"

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Inauguration Update

Yesterday was a tremendously historic day for the United States. The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States marked the 56th time a democratically elected leader was sworn into leadership in the United States, and the first time said leader was an African-American. The crowds that swarmed DC to witness this event broke long-held records. In celebration, two days before the inauguration, a massive concert was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial containing enough star power to solve the energy crisis. It was an amazing weekend, and while I didn't participate in everything, I was lucky enough to be in DC for the entirety of it.
The We Are One concert was held on Sunday January 18th on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President-elect Obama and Vice-President-elect Biden both attended with their families. Actors and prominent public figures did readings, including Tom Hanks, George Lopez, Denzel Washington, Martin Luther King III, Jack Black, and Jaimie Foxx. Musical performances included Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Stevie Wonder, U2, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, and Josh Groban. Around 750,000 people attended...I was not one of them. I did, however, watch the concert on TV from my dorm, twice-- the initial broadcast and the re-broadcast. It was an incredible demonstration of musical talent and patriotism. If you missed it, I urge you to watch for clips on YouTube and for the DVD version that I suspect HBO will be releasing at some point.
On the Monday night before the Inauguration, I went downtown with a group of my friends. We took the Metro to the center of town and walked to the White House to look at the building and the parade route, including the presidential reviewing stand. It was weird being able to walk down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the next day the president would be walking. Then my friends and I walked the 25 or so blocks to Georgetown for dinner, then walked around the historic district and university of Georgetown before taking the bus back to campus around 11:30-midnight.
Four and a half hours of extremely interrupted sleep later, I was awake and getting ready to go downtown for the inauguration with my friends Stephen, Nick, and Bharat. I've always been a firm believer in layers, and today was no exception: underarmor shirt and pants, two pairs of socks, long-sleeved cotton shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, jeans, jacket, scarf, thick gloves, hat, hood. Despite all this, it was still cold enough that I was wishing for boots, a blanket, and an extra scarf to wrap around my face.
We took the Metro downtown, then walked about 12 blocks to the nearest security checkpoint to get onto the Mall (with a quick stop at McDonald's for some food). We stood at this checkpoint for two hours waiting to get through the gates, but after we had only moved about 100 feet in that amount of time, we opted to get out of line and go further down the Mall to where you didn't have to go through a checkpoint. As a result, we wound up near the base of the Washington Monument to watch the ceremony. We had line of sight to the Capitol, though we couldn't tell what was going on except on the many jumbotrons and speakers set up all along the Mall.
I was struck by the sense that so many people seemed to recognize the significance of the moment. Emotions were high along the Mall by people who were ecstatic that the US had reached this point in its history. Everyone was excited and largely in a good mood, despite the bone-numbing cold and lack of sleep. I enjoyed every part of the ceremony, from Rick Warren's invocation to Itzak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma's music...but an extra chill, unrelated to the weather, went down my spine when Barack Obama took the oath of office as President of the United States. The peaceful transition of power is remarkable in this country. After a presidency as controversial as George W. Bush's, after a campaign as bitter as the one between Hillary Clinton and Obama, then McCain/Palin and Obama, each person I just mentioned was able to stand on the platform and honor the democratic will of the American people as they watched Barack Obama be sworn in. That said, however, I was rather disgusted by the booing that went up along the Mall as Bush walked onto the platform. Whether or not you agree with the man, he was President of the United States, and if nothing else the office deserves a degree of respect.
My friends and I opted to start leaving as soon as Obama's (in my opinion excellent) inaugural speech was done--given the crowds, this proved to be a good idea. We left around 12:30-12:40, and walked to Foggy Bottom to the Metro station at George Washington University to catch the train back to AU. It took us three hours to get back to campus, for a commute that on a normal day might take half an hour. I spent the rest of the day on the couch in the lounge in front of the TV trying to thaw out, napping and watching the parade and news coverage of Ted Kennedy's collapse at the Senate luncheon and later on the inaugural balls.
The consensus among my friends seems to have been that while the experience was well worth what we went through (lack of sleep, little food, freezing temperatures, huge crowds, etc), for all those reasons it still kind of sucked! Still, it was a historic day, and I was honored to have been able to be able to watch what was going on, even from such a distance.
I've been rambling about this for far too long now, and I appreciate your bearing with me. I posted a number of photos on Facebook, which can be viewed at by clicking here. There are also a couple of videos below. Enjoy!

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Locksmith of the Cosmos

I am not a math or science buff. So it may come as a surprise to some that the next book on my reading list after One Christmas in Washington was a biography of the great physicist Albert Einstein. I picked up a copy of Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson at the National Book Festival in September, got it signed by Isaacson, and then put it aside because of the limited time I have to read while at school. When I picked it up a few days ago, however, I quickly became engrossed in it and remained so until I finished it. It's a highly engaging biography, focusing largely not on the theories themselves (although there is an appropriate amount of scientific mumbo-jumbo as Isaacson attempts to explain Einstein's theories of general and special relativity, unified field theory, and assorted pieces of information about quantum mechanics). Instead, Isaacson focuses predominantly on the development of Einstein's creativity and rebelliousness, and how those traits lead to his development of masterful theories of physics that changed our understanding of the universe. It also dealt with how Einstein's views on politics and religion related to his understanding of science and the world, and as such largely morphed throughout his life. All things told, a great read about a fascinating man.

"He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atoms and the universe."