According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, June 19, 2014

God & Nature - Creation Care

Creation Care: What is it?
an interview with Dorothy Boorse

by Emily Ruppel and Dorothy Boorse

In your own words, what is “creation care” and why is it important to Christians, specifically?

Care of the natural world is a part of the job of all people. I think that’s the central concept of creation care.

How did you become involved in this movement and why? Who else do you see as a leader in this area, and who can become involved?

I grew up on a small farm with parents who were committed to caring for the world.  I attended Mennonite schools. Mennonites are committed to peace and justice and have a strong ethic of simple living. These things and an abiding love of the natural world born from camping trips, gardening and time with my family outdoors, gave me a drive to protect the natural world. My college mentors especially Richard Wright and Tom Dent and my experience at AuSable Institute cemented this desire.

(This is too many questions in one question!)

Anyone can get involved!

Many denominations have some type of creation care program.

Many relief and development agencies do as well.

I especially appreciate the work of organizations like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, AuSable Institute, Renewal, and Restoring Eden because of their emphasis on working with young people.

How have atheist or secular environmental science groups responded to this call to action? 

I can speak to atheists, but in my experience, secular groups have been glad to have a Christian voice calling for caring for the environment. In the last decade in particular, many scientific and environmental groups have reached out to faith communities.

What do you think is the most important habit or lifestyle choice to cultivate for Christians who want to make a daily impact on helping the environment? What else can we do?

I don’t know what the single most effective thing is, but I think we need a mindfulness continually. It’s very similar to diet and exercise.

If you live unhealthily, you have to change your lifestyle, it isn’t just one little thing.  I think we need to be “earth healthier “ I also think we will need significant new ideas. For example, having Zip cars for car sharing is a radical way to avoid having everyone own their own car. I think we need more such ideas.

What else should God & Nature readers know about Christian environmentalism in the 21st century?

I think there is support for care of the environment that comes out of a concern for the next generation. Knowing that we are making decisions today that affect the welfare not only of the poorest among us now, but of future generations, is a motivator to be more intentional in our actions.  I would want readers to connect North American evangelical Christianity to Christianity all around the world. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anabaptists, and a range of protestant groups all care about the environment.

G&N - Poetry for Scientists?

Poetry for Scientists?

At one time in my academic career, courses with names like "Chemistry for Poets" were being introduced. The idea was to teach liberal arts students at least something about chemistry without turning them off. My colleagues on the chemistry faculty used to debate whether mathematically minimal, non-laboratory courses in science would do more harm than good.

I forget which side of that debate I was on. Obviously it was better to produce liberal arts alumni who appreciated science rather than ignoring it or hating it. But would "science-lite" give them false impressions about science―and about their knowledge of it? Lately I've been thinking about the reverse situation. Would courses like "Poetry for Chemists" do much to humanize the scientific profession?

Readers of God & Nature may want to weigh in on this question. Anyone trained in science who is also a committed Christian knows that using scientific language is not the only way to say something important. God speaks to us from the Bible in an intensely personal way, sometimes in a special kind of structured language chosen for its emotive power. That's what poetry is. Actually, by even the strictest definition, poetry makes up over a third of the Old Testament, with other poetic passages scattered throughout the whole Bible. If the living God feels free to speak in poetic form, why shouldn't we? Chemists know how to speak in formulas, equations, objective analysis―why not in poetry?

To be literate, in the broadest sense, is to be educated. Literally, the word "literate" refers to an ability to read and write. When scientists complain that most of the general population is "scientifically illiterate," we mean that they couldn't read a scientific report and discuss it. Over fifty years ago, that situation was brought to public attention in a lecture by C. P. Snow, published as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1959). In this famous paragraph he chided the British elite for not caring enough about science:

"As with the tone-deaf, they don't know what they miss. They give a pitying chuckle at the news of scientists who have never read a major work of English literature. They dismiss them as ignorant specialists. Yet their own ignorance and their own specialisation is just as startling. A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?' " (pp. 15-16).

Snow was not your run-of-the-lab scientist, although he earned a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge in 1930 and spent ten years in research on molecular structure before becoming a civil servant. During WWII he was in charge of recruiting scientists for the British war effort. But he also wrote a series of successful novels about academic life in England, bridging the scientific and literary cultures himself.

Two years before C. P. Snow delivered that Rede Lecture, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made earth satellite. That feat forced the West to play technological catch-up in a cold-war space race, initiating a kind of "golden age" for scientists in the U.S. But as research surged ahead, the American public's knowledge of science lagged far behind. Citizens in a democracy must vote on policies requiring some technical understanding, including policies affecting the funding of research. Aware of its precarious situation, the scientific establishment has been trying to educate the general public ever since: "Give everybody some experience with real science and many of them will begin to think the way scientists think." The problem with that idea is that real laboratory courses are expensive to teach, and what many students in the humanities remember about, say, a chemistry lab is that "it was awfully smelly." Hence, proposals for dumbed-down, non-laboratory courses like "Chemistry for Poets."

Scientists might make a better case for science literacy if we weren't such "literary illiterates." We're all familiar with what is called the scientific literature, but it has about the same relation to literature as rap has to music: at best a highly specialized fragment of the whole, at worst a different thing altogether. A few scientists have written well enough about science to make a name for themselves (and for science) among the general public. My A-list would include biologist Rachel Carson (geographer), Jared Diamond (anthropologist), Loren Eiseley (paleontologist), Stephen Jay Gould (molecular biologist), James Watson, and a number of others. A few scientists have written widely about other things or even written fiction, like biochemist Isaac Asimov and chemist Carl Djerassi. And, of course, biologist Charles Darwin wrote "a classic."

One literary genre, science fiction ("sci-fi"), seems to have stimulated a good many scientific careers. Great, but it should be possible for scientists to broaden our horizons beyond reading technical papers and weird tales of space travel. Would literature courses for scientists be an effective way of doing that? I'm still not sure. Just as looking at science from the outside doesn't present a true picture, I doubt that dabbling in literature from an external, analytical, spectator stance would get us very far. What we would need is the equivalent of a "literary laboratory"--that is, some hands-on experience to help us think like the writers of real literature.

Poetry would certainly be a good place to begin, even though many people feel that poetry is written to be deliberately obscure. I've heard that when the Cambridge mathematical physicist Paul Dirac learned that J. Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project wrote poetry, Dirac said, "The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way. The two are incompatible." A gross exaggeration, from my point of view, even if Dirac was a genius.

A special section of Science for 13 August 2010 argued that teaching science and literature in the same classrooms, wherever possible, would benefit both kinds of education. Contributing to that issue was an environmental toxicologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Arthur Stewart. He emphasized that ambiguous words, phrases, and figures of speech enrich our communication in science as well as in poetry. Stewart has had four books of his own poems published, the first in 2003. He published his fourth collection, The Ghost in the Word, in 2013. Could more of us do that? Maybe my personal experience as a working scientist and amateur poet could encourage others to experiment with literature―by taking a stab at, say, writing poetry. Of course, producing a few good poems won't mean that we should quit our day jobs.

Scientists have a problem here. We spend much of our lives in a largely "objective" mode, keeping ourselves aloof from feelings and out of the data as much as possible. We don't want to be stirred. We don't trust our emotions. Carry that too far and we turn ourselves into soulless machines. 

Starting from Scratch

As a freshman chemistry major I took chemistry, physics, biology, calculus, German, and English. That meant five afternoon labs a week (two in chemistry, two in biology, one in physics), leaving little time to read Shakespeare even if I had had the inclination. With other classmates in science and engineering, I took the standard freshman English course along with a lot of bright English majors. That was my only English course in four years of college. What I remember is that it made me feel ignorant and stupid. That was partly because the professor continuously expressed disdain for technical professions, but mostly because I really was ignorant. I can't blame my high school teachers for that. My mind had been on other things. I couldn't see the point of literature that seemed so unrelated to my interests.

Indeed, the literature we dissected in that freshman English class was of less interest to me than the frog I was dissecting in biology lab. The prof seemed to take delight in badgering science majors, calling on us by name to confirm his poor opinion of us. Once, after assigning John Keats's poem "Ode to a Nightingale," he focused on the line, "Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards." One after another he forced the science majors to confess that they didn't know what "pards" meant. When he got to me, I recall saying (in the Texas drawl I still had), "Aw, that's easy. It means his companions—you know, his pardners." Bad guess (it's "leopards"). Only once did I score a point. In class one day I argued that science is more valuable than literature because science is based on fact. "Aha!" (the leopard pounced): "Surely you know, Mr. Hearn, that there is a difference between fact and truth." Somehow I found nerve enough to reply, "Well, I may be confused, sir. For instance, was what you just said the truth, or was it a fact?" For once it was the professor who felt rescued when the bell rang.

Actually I had an earlier exposure to poetry in a form I didn't even recognize as poetry. It was a tradition in my Boy Scout troop for young assistant scoutmasters to recite long narrative poems around our campfires, strong stuff like Percy French's Abdul Abulbul Amir, Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din, and especially the adventurous tales of Robert W. Service, like The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. As a kid I loved the sound of those rhythmic yarns spun out in the semi-darkness on camping trips. My favorite was a long narrative about trudging through Yukon ice and snow, The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill. After all these years, I can still recite the way it begins:

I took a contract to bury the body of "Blasphemous Bill" McKye,
Wherever, whenever, or whatsoever the manner of death he die . . . 

There's a huge difference between hearing a poem recited and seeing the words printed on a page. In grad school I did some focused listening. From the university library I checked out recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and played them over and over again, memorizing the lyrics of a number of the funny "patter" songs. I can still come up with memorable lines from The Sorcerer:

Oh! my name is John Wellington Wells,
I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
In blessings and curses
And ever-filled purses,
In prophecies, witches, and knells . . .

Enjoying such clever word-play, it finally dawned on me that all those hymns I had sung (off-key) growing up in church, were actually poems―or at least verses. I tried writing a few verses myself, including a ballad to a folk tune then being sung by The Weavers, On Top of Old Smoky. My version began, "On top of old East Chem, there's a light burning bright: / The graduate students are working tonight."

The ballad told of my major professor dropping in for what was known in our lab as a "midnight research conference." On this occasion he offered suggestions for characterizing what seemed to be a new amino acid that I had just obtained by hydrolyzing the antibiotic streptothricin:

"Well, first I would benzoylate, then if I were you,
Get a neutral equivalent is the next thing to do."

And as he was leaving, he turned to retort,
"Have it all done by morning for the Progress Report."

In 1955 I began teaching at Iowa State College. I was assigned a biochemistry course that was a prerequisite for a nutrition course taken by all students in home economics. Most of them couldn't see the point of learning "all that chemical stuff," so I kept trying new ways to catch their interest. One year I wrote a parody of songs from Annie Get Your Gun and handed out copies of the libretto. The plot featured a coed named Fannie who had no fun, not seeing the point of it all ("You Can't Get a Man with Your Brain") until she got a crush on her lab instructor. He tried to inspire her, singing:
The girl that I marry will have to be
Loaded with glucose and ATP;
The girl I call my own
Will have adrenocorticotrophic hormone . . .

Everything ended happily, including that term's class. Another term I went high-class, with a "Metabolic Opera" condensation, Carbon, based on music by Georges Bizet. In a big reduction scene, the sexy heroine tossed valence electrons to Don CoA (coenzyme A), with glycolysis and the Krebs cycle playing out to various arias like Seguidilla, all sung by Eugene "Gino" Lazzari, a grad student of mine with an operatic range. He was at his thundering best as "Oxy-geno" in the "Toreador's Song," explaining that "Oxygen is the stuff that makes life go, / For every H, you know, / Must go to H2O." He sang that the chain of hydrogen-transfer reactions "Builds ATP, / Aerobically." And toward the end:
What comes next?
You should have read the text,
For men have written tomes
About the cytochromes . . .

My opera had a short run (the day before the final in my 8:00 AM class) but was a critical success. Thunderous applause brought people from all over the Chemistry building to see what was up.

From Parody to Poetry

In 1960, Iowa State became a university, with a new Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics. I was one of the founding members, transferring from Chemistry. For our first departmental party I wrote another libretto, The Launching of the B&B, to music from HMS Pinafore. Faculty colleagues in the chorus complained that only a tone-deaf person would have chosen the most difficult music from Gilbert & Sullivan's original.

I left ISU in 1972, moving that year to Berkeley. In 1985 I was invited back to Ames for the B&B Department's 25th anniversary, to give a talk on its beginnings. I was pleased that a repeat performance of my old Launching of the B&B was part of the celebration. In 2010 I was again invited back, this time to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of what has now become the Dept. of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology. A "near-death experience" (from ventricular fibrillation) forced me to cancel the trip but I sent a copy of my remarks to be read by someone else on the occasion. I included a celebratory sonnet, which gave some indication that I had composed it while still in the hospital:


A wonder, is what it is, that ISU
Should boast this scholarly community
Called "BBMB," where more than just a few
Molecular explorers (of various degree)
Employ vibrational waves of varying length
To penetrate parameters unknown:
Perhaps an enzyme-substrate bonding strength
Or nucleotide components of a clone
(World-class research, I'd say, "state of the art"),
Probing more deeply than a surgeon's knife
The inner core (in metaphor, the "heart") 
Of robust fragility, which we call "life."
So here's a toast: May your "vibes" increase;
May every member's wonder never cease.

My efforts to write serious poems, sometimes with a touch of whimsy, go back to 1963. The turning point for me was hearing a real poet, Prof. Richard Gustafson of the English Department, read some of his works in progress at a monthly "coffee house" that had just been organized by students. I was the only other faculty member there, so carried away by the experience that I rashly volunteered to read my own poems the following month. Then I had to write feverishly to add to my only two attempts up to that time! "Gus" attended my reading and was surely less impressed by my poems than by the fact that a practicing biochemist had made the effort. Anyway, he invited me to submit something for Poet & Critic, a moribund little magazine he was nurturing back to life. I submitted a sonnet with an explicitly biblical theme. When it took the prize ($30) for the best poem in that issue, I was hooked.

If I had known anything about poetry, I might have realized that sonnets were out of style. I tried writing free verse, with rhythm but no rhyme or set pattern, but found that it kept getting out of control and going on and on. In contrast, sonnets were both patterned and short; when I finished line 14, I knew I was done. Somehow that format must have been lurking in my brain since high-school English.

When Ginny and I moved to Berkeley in 1972, she soon became copy editor for Radix magazine (and still is). Most magazines, maybe Christian ones especially, are deluged with poetry submissions "not quite ready for prime time." One day I saw editor-in-chief Sharon Gallagher toss a stack of them into her wastebasket without responding to the senders. I said, "Hey, you can't do that! Even an absolutely unpublishable poem may be somebody's dearest and best." Seeing that I was serious, she fished out the doomed poems and handed them to me. "Here," she said, "You take care of these." That's how I became the "Poetry Rejection Editor" of the magazine. Some poets regarded my tongue-in-cheek title as a slap in the face, but over the years they began to appreciate my efforts to encourage each one of them and offer a few suggestions. Usually my amateur critique of an amateur poem would go something like this: "Now, that's a good line (or phrase or word or metaphor); let's have more of that." Once in awhile, finding almost nothing of redeeming social value to praise, I had to fall back on, "Well, you've got the length about right." Eventually Sharon persuaded the widely published Christian poet Luci Shaw to be a real Poetry Editor for the magazine.

In a special 1980 poetry issue, Radix let me introduce about a dozen promising poets whose work I had found in the stacks of mail I sifted through. Only three or four of those talented young people had ever had a poem published before. Besides introducing them and their work in that issue, I contributed a "how-to" article that was like an essay on "the science of doing poetry," despite the fact that making a poem is an act of creation. Any creative activity, including scientific research, is governed by principles but not by rules to be followed exactly. If we had exact instructions to follow, we would be copying, not creating. That's also why we can speak of "the art of doing science."

A Laboratory Manual

My how-to article listed four qualities that help distinguish a poem from something else, or a good poem from a bad one. The best poems combine:

1) a definite rhythm;

2) evocative language rich in imagery;

3) unity of focus on a single idea or theme; and,

4) compactness or "tightness" in which every word must bear its freight.

5) Still, the most important criterion is that a poem has to "sound just right" and make sense when spoken aloud. Hearing seems to be the most basic avenue of human communication, because that's the way human infants develop language. We receive intelligence of the outside world through our ears long before we learn to read. Even after years of developing our visual sense, hearing poetry spoken aloud is more likely to stir us than anything we see or read―certainly more than most research papers in scientific journals.

Scientists have a problem here. We spend much of our lives in a largely "objective" mode, keeping ourselves aloof from feelings and out of the data as much as possible. We don't want to be stirred. We don't trust our emotions. Carry that too far and we turn ourselves into soulless machines. No wonder so many scientific societies today try to give science a human face. Christians trained in science have an advantage: we recognize our own humanity; we know that life is more than science. Yet to know a lot about the vast literature in our own language is not enough to humanize us; we must "feel it in our bones." Listening to live poetry readings is a help in that direction. I think that reading aloud our own poems, no matter how amateurish, takes us even further.

We get the word poem from the Greek ποεμα (literally, "something made"), the word the apostle Paul used in Ephesians 2:10 to describe Jesus' followers as God's "handiwork" (KJV). Making a poem takes a lot of work. Yet no matter how much effort poets expend in crafting their poems into final form, most of them speak of each poem as a gift. Such language resonates with Christians, who regard all things as gifts from God. It ought to resonate with scientists, too, since the word data comes directly from the Latin word for "given." Many great scientists have recognized that their best insights came to them from outside themselves. If we are sufficiently humble and open, poems may come to us.

A poem can begin from a striking metaphor, a bit of word-play, the kernel of a fresh concept or a new twist on an old one, or just a memorable cadence. Think of that gift as a seed to be planted and nourished to fruition. Don't abandon it; build on it. Like an airplane, a poem won't get off the ground unless the pilot goes through a sort of check-off list: Is the idea something I want to pursue? Are my words adequate to sustain the idea? Is the language rich enough to engage a listener's ear? Have I wandered away from that seed concept? Can I tighten the final product by getting rid of excess words or substituting a stronger word for a weaker one? Have I adhered to a rhythmic pattern, or perhaps intentionally deviated from it to keep it from being too predictable? Does the whole poem sound just right to me and to others? Is it time to quit?

We don't need to learn literary terms like "iambic pentameter" (which happens to be a sonnet's rhythmic pattern). All rhythms are made up of accented and unaccented syllables. Iambic meter sounds like the letter a in Morse code (dit-DAH), but there are other patterns whose names I forget, like n (DAH-dit) or u (dit-dit-DAH). In free verse, almost anything goes that sounds right, but even more rigid classical forms allow some wiggle-room. Poems can have two, three, four, or more beats per line. The pentameter of a sonnet requires five beats (DAHs) to each line, but I can get by with straying from the dit-DAH pattern with a few extra dits―if I don't overdo it. The accents should fall primarily on strong verbs or nouns rather than on weaker conjunctions or adjectives. As for rhymes, different schemes are possible, even for a sonnet. Rhythm and (often) rhyme are what make poetic lines memorable. The simplest sing-songy nursery rhymes stick in our minds throughout our lives.

Find a poem you like about something you care about and read it aloud over and over again until you get the "ring" of it. Or listen to a favorite hymn and use its pattern to write a stanza of your own. What's important is not to analyze a poem technically, but to roll up your sleeves and "get your hands dirty." You may not want to spread your first effort around, at least until you've tried reading it aloud to one or two trusted friends. Even better, get a friend to read your poem back to you. That's like sending a research paper to a peer-reviewed journal, hoping for a positive reaction to your work. You can see if your auditor/editor stumbles over any of your lines, and you may even get some helpful suggestions.

To begin, all we need is a single seed idea. Let's say that it comes to us as a rhythmic line. Now we need another line to amplify, illustrate, contrast, or play on that first one. Then we keep going. If the lines have a rhythm but don't fall into a regular pattern, call it free verse and keep going until it sounds finished, complete. It's good to put an unfinished poem away for awhile and come back to it fresh. Sometimes a poem will "come alive" and go where it wants to go, with us just tagging along. Your seed idea may not even make it into the final version. That's O.K. It will have served its purpose.

Trying to write a poem is an exercise in choosing just the right words from all possible words and arranging them in the most communicative way. Even if we find that we ourselves don't do it very well, the effort can give us an immense appreciation of what good writers do. That appreciation can lead us into reading great literature and perhaps eventually loving it. It can be the beginning of the liberal arts education we didn't have time for in college.

Would a course like "Literature for Scientists" be a good idea? Well, maybe. Scientists might learn a lot from such an experience—provided it's a hands-on, laboratory course.

GTU Online Education - Announcement of Hindu Studies & the Dharma Project

The Graduate Theological Union is an ecumenical and interreligious crossroads, building bridges among Christian denominations and other faith traditions, and dedicated to educating students for teaching, research, ministry, and service. We seek to achieve our mission in two ways: as a graduate school offering academic programs in a wide range of fields in theology and religious studies, and as the largest partnership of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States. The GTU flourishes as a haven for interdisciplinary religious thought, study, and practice, making a tangible difference for the greatest good – and serving as the place where religion meets the world.

Click links for more information on:

GTU and Dharma Civilization Project Announce Partnership

The Graduate Theological Union and the Dharma Civilization Foundation have agreed to enter into a multi-phase partnership with the goal of establishing a Center for Dharma Studies within the GTU. The first two courses in Dharma studies will be offered in the fall semester of 2014. GTU President Riess Potterveld noted that “This partnership fits perfectly the mandate of the board of trustees of the Graduate Theological Union to expand the representation of the world's great religious traditions at this consortium and create a robust and singular place for scholars, students, and the public to engage one another to build deep mutual understanding and promote the common good.”

Prof. Shiva Bajpai, an eminent historian and President of the Dharma Civilization Foundation, observed that “DCF has been seeking a prestigious institution in the American Academy, for the development of a center of excellence for teaching and research on Dharma centered Indic philosophical traditions, with academic rigor and critical constructive reflection that also respects the self-understanding of these traditions. And the GTU is a perfect fit for this.” Dr. Manohar Shinde, Chairman of Dharma Civilization Foundation, said it was his aspiration that “The Center for Dharma Studies at GTU will be a great place for the creation of a community of academic scholar-practitioners, from many Sampradayas (denominations) both within Hindu Dharma and the other major Dharma traditions such as Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh who can enrich the global discourse on engaged and applied Dharma.”

Initial course offerings include a course on the classical sacred texts of Hinduism, with emphasis on commentaries of Adi Shankara, taught by Dr. Ann Berliner, Professor Emerita at California State University, Fresno; and a course on Comparative Indian Ethics: Dharma, Justice, Gender, and Ecology, taught by Dr. Purushottama Bilimoria, Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Studies at Deakin University in Australia; Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne, and former Visiting Professor at University of California, Berkeley.

The Dharma Civilization Foundation, founded in Los Angeles in 2012, is an organization of academic, professional, and spiritual leaders from the Indian American community which seeks to establish the systematic academic study of Dharma, its interpretation, expressions through culture, and contemporary application, through the creation of academic and intellectual infrastructure in the U.S. such as visiting professorships, endowed chairs, scholarships, centers, academic institutions, conferences, and publications.

The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, is home to the largest Ph.D. program in religious studies in North America. As a consortium of independent theological schools, the Graduate Theological Union includes nine seminaries, three of which are Roman Catholic, five Protestant, and one Unitarian Universalist. In addition, the GTU features a variety of centers and affiliates, including the Center for Jewish Studies, the Center for Islamic Studies, the Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, and the Center for Arts, Religion and Education. Founded in 1962, the Graduate Theological Union is dedicated to building bridges within and across different religious traditions by educating students for teaching, research, ministry, and service. The GTU works collaboratively with the University of California, Berkeley, and is the home of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, one of the largest theological libraries in the U.S.

A Personal Testimony: Suicide and Depression - Signs and Helps

"I Sleep A Lot"

God & Nature Magazine

Spring 2014
by Denis O. Lamoureux

“Can you prove to me that the resurrection actually happened?” This was the very first question that was launched at me in September 1997, during the first minute of my first class teaching Science and Religion at St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta. Of course, the question caught me off guard, because it was completely out of context. I mumbled and stumbled and can’t remember what I said. But I do recall thinking to myself that if this is what teaching theology is going to be like, then I wanted to cross the street and return to the Faculty of Dentistry where I had been a clinical instructor for previous six years. Teaching students how to pull teeth is a lot easier!

Fifteen years later, I’m sitting in a campus pub across from the student who asked that very first question, sharing a good laugh about how my theological teaching career began. This is one of the most blessed aspects of being a university professor. A number of our students become life-long friends. Not only that, the irony of teaching such talented young men and women is that they end up teaching professors as much as their professors teach them.

In that inaugural class, I knew intuitively that this young man was special. And indeed he was. He was incredibly bright and was being pursued by the university to go to graduate school in his specialized scientific discipline. But instead he went off to seminary to study theology. There were more pressing and larger questions that needed to be answered. Eventually the reality of having to make a living caught up to him. He became a very successful businessman, making six figures a year and working only a few hours a week. Yet as the theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes reveals, he has come to see the vanity of it all. And he reminds me that I predicted he would return to the academy, because it’s the pursuit of those questions about the meaning of life that beacon the human soul. Sure enough, here we were, sitting in a campus pub (where so many important decisions are made), and he was exploring the possibility of graduate school in philosophy.

And then in midst of our conversation, he said it. “I sleep a lot.” For most people, these four words mean very little. But for me, they shout out. It’s because I suffer from depression, and the classic sign of this medical condition is that patients sleep a lot. Cautiously, I asked him more about why he slept so much. I revealed to him that this was the main symptom that led to my diagnosis. As he slowly opened this dark region of his life, I felt comfortable asking another question, one that few of us ask our friends. “Ever think about ending it all?”

Yes, the “s” word. The word no one wants to talk about, let alone admit having pondered seriously, especially if you are a Christian. I further disclosed that I had thought about suicide before, and often yearned that my life would end. In fact, I knew exactly what I would write on the suicide note. “I’m tired of being tired.” But despite the power of these feelings, taking my life was only a thought and never a reality. My faith was my rock. I knew well that if I ever took my life, I would soon be standing in front of Jesus with absolutely no excuse. Besides, I could not do that to those I love—my family, my friends, and my students, like this former student in front of me. And then I said to him, what I believe needs to be said from the pulpit in every church. “It’s OK to get psychiatric help; and it’s OK to use medication. It’s not against God’s will.”

One of the most enlightening aspects of being treated for depression is that a doctor takes an inventory of your life. It’s here where I realized that for years I have been doing things that are not healthy for my brain. Though there is a history of depression in my family that few ever talked about, the primary etiological factor of my condition was that I simply had not taken time off from school/work. In graduate school, I did two masters degrees in 24 months and two doctoral degrees in 80 months. To finance my education I practiced dentistry. So I went from the library or laboratory to the dental clinic and back again without any holidays, assuming that a change was as good as break. Wrong. The chronic stress in both grad school and dental practice are well-known. My brain needed a break. And since beginning my teaching career in 1997, I had never taken a holiday. I’d assumed that going to a conference like the annual American Scientific Affiliation meeting was the same as a break. Wrong again. As much as I love being with my pals like Terry Gray, Paul Seely, and Kirk Bertsche, we spend most of our time debating the issues of science and religion. And with these guys, you’ve got to be at your academically best … or else!

The greatest revelation of my psychiatric evaluation was identifying my weekly habits. I’ll admit there’s a bit of righteous pride in saying I work for six days and then take Sunday off. But is Sunday really a day off for me? It’s not. I might be sitting quietly in a pew listening, but my brain is in overdrive thinking theologically. Where this became painfully evident was when I looked at my written notes for my book Evolutionary Creation (2008). I have pages upon pages of stapled offering envelopes from my church with penciled-in ideas for the book. And this is a problem for many of us in ministry. Sunday is not a day off and we need to find a day to rest both our soul and our brain. So here is the bottom line: I started graduate school in September 1984, and up until about two years ago, I haven’t taken a real holiday or observed the Sabbath in any restful way.

Something had to snap. But depression is not like a broken leg. Many times, it slowly creeps up on you. There isn’t a day when I can say “I became depressed.” I knew I was tired when I finished graduate school, but just thought that was normal, and assumed it would go away. But it didn’t. The stress also continued; first in establishing the first tenure-track position for Science and Religion in Canada, and then competing for tenure in a research university. Sleeping during the day began around this time. It started with a 20-minute nap at lunch. Then it extended to an hour, then two hours, and then up to four hours. That and I was sleeping eight to nine hours at night. The breaking point came when I started to sleep for an hour after supper. That hit me hard. I knew that there was something terribly wrong. My parents are in their mid-80s and they only needed a one-hour nap after lunch. But I was in my mid-50s and I needed to sleep twice a day to function. Even after all this sleeping, I still felt tired.

Having many friends in medicine, I went to them and was tested for everything they could imagine (seems like they drew gallons of blood!). All the tests came back negative. Then my GP suggested maybe I was depressed. I quickly wroteoff that diagnosis by insisting that I was not unhappy. I was just always tired. Nevertheless, he told me that when I was ready to accept that possibility, he would refer me to a psychiatrist. As a former clinician, using medication is in principle not a problem for me. Yet I had reservations about psychiatric drugs; I just didn’t want to be hooked to pills. Besides, I didn’t for a second believe that I was depressed. I was living my professional dream—teaching and researching science and religion in a public university. But in fact, I was depressed, and worst I didn’t know it despite being told that it was probably cause of my tiredness.

So how did I end up in the psychiatrist’s office? It was the personal testimony of friends who had suffered from depression and who have been and are being successfully treated by medication. It’s worth underlining that all of them were wonderfully committed Christians. Looking back now, this is where I believe the Lord started sending messengers (angels) my way. The first was a university professor in the medical school who seemed to be one of the happiest people I knew. This person shared stories of not being able to function without medication. Another was a professor I met at an ASA meeting who revealed to me their family tree was dotted with suicides. A third was a personal friend, one of the most stable individuals I’ve ever met. This is a clinician who was put on meds following graduate school, and who told me it saved her marriage. Lastly, a dental classmate came forward. He was instrumental in my coming to Christ. He was also one of most energetic people I’ve known. His story of depression reducing him to a shadow of a man hit close to home, because when he shared his story, I was working no more than four to five hours a day. It was at that point that I phoned my GP and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. And I have never regretted that decision.

I think it’s worth sharing a bit about my experience with the medications, and of course this is only my experience because people react differently to them. It took eight months and seven different drugs before finding one that worked. Some of these made me incredibly nauseous with pounding headaches. I was within three weeks of handing in my resignation at Christmas 2010 before a drug started to have a positive effect. It was slow and very subtle. The naps in the afternoon got shorter and shorter, and after about a month, they stopped completely. It’s worth noting there is no sense of feeling “high” or “jacked-up.” Surprisingly, and this may seem hard to believe, but I had forgotten what it was to feel rested. That’s the main “feeling” I have experienced being on medication.

About eight months into the treatment, I slipped a bit, and my psychiatrist placed me on a second medication. This often happens. My only restrictions are that I have to take the drugs on schedule and be in bed about the same time every night. This past summer I was slowly removed from one of my anti-depressants, and this coming summer, we’ll try stopping the second. But my psychiatrist thinks I will probably be on this one for the rest of my life. So be it. At least, I got my life back.

One of the most revelatory moments of my battle with depression was a comment made by my pharmacist when the first drug started to work. I told him that I probably should have been on anti-depressants 10-12 years ago.

He replied, “You have no idea how many people say this the first time a medication works.” Then he said, “It’s the stigma of depression within our culture that stops us from seeking treatment.” Roughly 20-25% of us will suffer from depression requiring medication, but regrettably many will suffer without knowing help is near. And this is the reason I wrote this short testimonial. The stigma about depression needs to be destroyed. And those who have benefited from anti-depressants need to stand up and be heard.

For me, it was the testimony of Christian friends that was critical in my seeking treatment. I’m quite passionate about this topic. In my Science and Religion class, there is a point in the course where I put my anti-depressants on an overhead and tell the students that I would not be teaching if it were not for the medication. It gets pretty quiet in the classroom. It’s a poignant and holy moment. Thankful emails from students on medication quickly arrive. Most are from Christians who feel “guilty” and “damaged” for being on meds. I assure them that it’s not against God’s will. Rather, we should praise the Lord because we live in a time when the blessing of psychiatric science can help heal our brains and souls.