Transit of Venus

A rare event will take place today, something that won’t happen again this century:  Venus will cross over the face of the Sun.

After Tuesday evening we sink into history’s pages, having witnessed a rare astronomical event: the Transit of Venus across the sun. This won’t repeat for 105 years.

Look to the west Tuesday evening, June 5, Venus begins to cross the sun at 6:04 p.m. EDT Tuesday evening, as a notch in the sun. By 6:22 p.m., from our perspective, Venus becomes a black dot moving across the solar disc.

On this transit, it’s a 6-hour, 40-minute trek for our neighboring, interior planet – and because the sun sets – we only see a few hours of this cosmic memory.

Venus transits occur in pairs, eight years apart, alternating between 105.5 years and 121.5 years apart. Tuesday’s transit is paired with the crossing that last occurred in June, 2004.

Here are the several preceding (and present) pairings, as documented by astronomer Roy Bishop, in the Observer’s Handbook 2012:

* 1631/1639 (each in December)

* 1761/1769 (June);

* 1874/1882 (December);

* none in the 20th century;

* 2004/2012 (June).

Looking ahead, the next pair won’t occur until Dec. 11, 2117 and Dec. 8, 2125.

For many cities in the eastern U.S., including Washington, the transit starts at 6:04 p.m. on Tuesday. The central and western time zones can see more of the transit, while Hawaii can see the whole event.

via Transit of Venus 2012: the last trip across the sun for 105 years – Capital Weather Gang – The Washington Post.

Don’t look at it with your bare eyes or you might burn your optic nerve.  You can watch it here.

I would add that when this happened in 1769, Captain James Cook was sent from England to the Western Hemisphere to study this event.  That voyage led to the “discovery” of Australia.  Capt. Cook would go on to “discover” Hawaii and Alaska.  (The quotation marks mean that I know that human beings already lived in these places, but Capt. Cook was the first European to find them and to open them up for colonization.)

 

That God is love

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, the traditional festival–now that Ascension and Pentecost are over–to honor and contemplate the one God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we confess in the Athanasian Creed that is customarily confessed on that Sunday, God Himself is a unity of distinct persons.

That is to say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Love is a unity of distinct persons.  The doctrine of the Trinity shows how love is inherent in the very essence of the Godhead.

Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis’s friend, suggested that just as there are heresies in regards to the being of God, there are related heresies of love.  Some heretics affirm the unity of God and deny the distinctness of the Persons.  Similarly, in relationships, some, in the name of love, demand utter conformity, often manifesting itself in one of the lovers dominating or even obliterating the other person.  There is unity in the relationship, but no distinct persons.  This is heretical love.

Other  theological heretics teach the separateness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, denying their essential unity.  Similarly, in relationships, sometimes the people in them go completely in their separate ways.  The persons are affirmed, but not the unity that love needs.

Only God, of course, gets love exactly right.  And, indeed, His love is not just self-contained in the Godhead, but it extends to us.  And He doesn’t obliterate our persons, even as He brings us into a unity with Himself, through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son.  May God’s love shape all of our loves!

 

 

Obama the assassin

A withering piece from Charles Krauthhammer on the way President Obama wages the Drone War:

A very strange story, that 6,000-word front-page New York Times piece on how, every Tuesday, Barack Obama shuffles “baseball cards” with the pictures and bios of suspected terrorists from around the world and chooses who shall die by drone strike. He even reserves for himself the decision of whether to proceed when the probability of killing family members or bystanders is significant.

The article could have been titled “Barack Obama: Drone Warrior.” Great detail on how Obama personally runs the assassination campaign. On-the-record quotes from the highest officials. This was no leak. This was a White House press release.

Why? To portray Obama as tough guy. And why now? Because in crisis after recent crisis, Obama has looked particularly weak: standing helplessly by as thousands are massacred in Syria; being played by Iran in nuclear negotiations, now reeling with the collapse of the latest round in Baghdad; being treated with contempt by Vladimir Putin, who blocks any action on Syria or Iran and adds personal insult by standing up Obama at the latter’s G-8 and NATO summits.

The Obama camp thought that any political problem with foreign policy would be cured by the Osama bin Laden operation. But the administration’s attempt to politically exploit the raid’s one-year anniversary backfired, earning ridicule and condemnation for its crude appropriation of the heroic acts of others. . . .

The Osama-slayer card having been vastly overplayed, what to do? A new card: Obama, drone warrior, steely and solitary, delivering death with cool dispatch to the rest of the al-Qaeda depth chart.

So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.

A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.

This is not to argue against drone attacks. In principle, they are fully justified. No quarter need be given to terrorists who wear civilian clothes, hide among civilians and target civilians indiscriminately. But it is to question the moral amnesia of those whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the Bush methods that kept America safe for a decade — and who now embrace Obama’s campaign of assassination by remote control.

Moreover, there is an acute military problem. Dead terrorists can’t talk.

Drone attacks are cheap — which is good. But the path of least resistance has a cost. It yields no intelligence about terror networks or terror plans.

One capture could potentially make us safer than 10 killings. But because of the moral incoherence of Obama’s war on terror, there are practically no captures anymore. What would be the point? There’s nowhere for the CIA to interrogate. And what would they learn even if they did, Obama having decreed a new regime of kid-gloves, name-rank-and-serial-number interrogation?

This administration came out opposing military tribunals, wanting to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York, reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights and trying mightily (and unsuccessfully, there being — surprise! — no plausible alternative) to close Guantanamo. Yet alongside this exquisite delicacy about the rights of terrorists is the campaign to kill them in their beds.

You festoon your prisoners with rights — but you take no prisoners. The morality is perverse. Which is why the results are so mixed. We do kill terror operatives, an important part of the war on terror, but we gratuitously forfeit potentially life-saving intelligence.

But that will cost us later. For now, we are to bask in the moral seriousness and cool purpose of our drone warrior president.

via Barack Obama: Drone Warrior – The Washington Post.

“Maintaining stability” in China

Dissident Yu Jie on what is going on in China:

Contrary to myths and assumptions, economic liberalization and development will not inevitably lead to corresponding political liberalization and development. Economic power has only reinforced an increasingly absurd state power in China.

Rapid growth has transformed China’s party-state into the world’s wealthiest regime, thereby providing endless funds for “maintaining stability,” a pleasant-sounding euphemism for crushing dissent. The official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported that government expenses on “stability maintenance” totaled about $110 billion last year, more than even the defense budget. State expenditures targeting Chen alone reportedly ran into the millions per year, producing a rare growth industry in rural Shandong: monitoring Chen and blocking visitors to his home became the most promising career path for locals. Representing a similar mind-set, the police chief responsible for monitoring my life in Beijing once told me, “Since you moved here, our district has been able to enjoy millions in stability maintenance funds.” He did not see me as a threat or even a nuisance. He just saw me as a means of making money. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is the reality of China today.

China’s economic development over the past decade has refocused resources toward state control. State-owned enterprises have relied on monopolization and connections to realize rapid growth, while private enterprises have faced increasing policy restrictions. State-owned enterprises are not, in fact, state-owned but the private enterprises of well-connected princelings. Each important family in the senior leadership has its industrial fiefdom: former premier Li Peng’s family controls the power and coal industries; the family of former president Jiang Zemin controls telecommunications; the family of former premier Zhu Rongji is involved in finance. Premier Wen Jiabao’s family is involved in the jewelry trade. The average citizen, by contrast, has not derived similar benefits even after decades of economic growth: The gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and social inequality has become increasingly stark. . . .

In effect, the central government and local officials have taken each other hostage in the name of “maintaining stability.” Beijing has placed the burden of stability on local officials, who can face serious punishment from above for outspoken petitioners and activists in their jurisdiction. So local officials are willing to do almost anything to “deal with” people like Chen, rather than addressing the issues he and others raise. The central government then not only condones but also enables such behavior. . . .

If one local official were punished for his abuses, official morale would be damaged and the floodgates would be opened for similar cases nationwide, posing a direct threat to the regime. Although distinctions are often made between corrupt local officials and a righteous central government, their interests are aligned: maintain the veneer of stability at any cost.

via Chen Guangcheng and these Chinese imperative of stability – The Washington Post.

Art, Christ, and the agony of Thomas Kinkade

We earlier posted about Daniel Siedell’s contention that the late Thomas Kinkade was a “dangerous” artist because his work purposefully evades the Fall.  But in this followup piece, Siedell, drawing on Luther and Lutheran theologian Oswald Beyer, brings Christ and the freedom of the Gospel  into the picture (so to speak):

Last week I suggested that Kinkade’s quaint and nostalgic images, as pleasant as they seem to be, are dangerous, offering a comfortable world that silences the two words with which God speaks to us (law and gospel). The world isn’t so bad, faith isn’t so hard, grace therefore not so desperately sought. Following Michael Horton, Kinkade’s desire to depict a world before the Fall is Christ-less Christianity in paint.

I would like to go even further and suggest that it was Kinkade’s work that killed him. It was not a weak heart or too much alcohol that caused his sudden death at 54 on Good Friday, but the unrelenting pressure that the production and distribution of these images exerted on a man who spent thirty years trying to live up to their impossible and inhuman standard. His emotional life found no creative release in and through his studio work. As he, like each of us, experienced the ebb and flow of life, the challenges, tragedies, and the struggle with personal demons, he was forced (condemned) to produce the same, innocuously nostalgic pictures again and again, fighting on one hand to preserve a brand as the Painter of Light, while he fought to the death his own demons on the other. These seemingly gentle images came to exert a claustrophobic spiritual pressure on him that rivaled anything that Munch, Picasso, or any other modern artist has produced. It is a pressure that, as Luther observed in his commentary on Jonah, “makes the world too narrow” so narrow that “a sound of a driven leaf shall frighten them” (Lev. 26: 26)–a driven leaf or a Kinkade print. . . .

He became a prisoner of a pre-Fall fantasy world that by refusing him creative space to work through his life’s difficulties, destroyed him, over and over, to which he finally succumbed. . . .

Christ also frees our work, including our art and culture making, liberating it to glorify God and serve our neighbor, rather than means for our salvation or justification, as metaphysical transactional leverage. In captivity, “the world becomes too narrow for us.” Christ opens up the world, the world of experience, action, making. He does so because, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “all things were created through him and for him” and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 15; 17). And that includes Kinkade’s work, even if he was unable to reconcile the creative work of his hands to his daily struggle as a Christian. In Living by Faith:  Justification and Sanctification (2003), Oswald Bayer writes,

“Justification comes when God himself enters the deadly dispute of ‘justifications,’ suffers from it, carries it out in himself. He does this through the death of his Son, which is also God’s own death. In this way God takes the dispute into himself and overcomes it on our behalf.”

Kinkade and his work engaged in a deadly dispute over justification, which he lost. But the final word on Thomas Kinkade is not his work’s. Nor is it mine. It is God’s, who offers the final Word of liberation and freedom. The next time I notice a Kinkade print in an office or a home, I will now see it next to the icon of the resurrection, reminding me that Christ is at work reconciling “all things” to himself, and second, I will give thanks that the work of my own hands, which in its own way deceives and distorts, judges and condemns me, narrowing my own world, will receive God’s final Word as well.

via The Final Word on Thomas Kinkade.

Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional

The Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, was declared unconstitutional by an appeals court in Boston because it discriminates against legally-married gay couples.

This will likely  go the Supreme Court.

This means that gay marriage will likely no longer be left up to the states.  Rather, it will be resolved on a national basis.

Court says marriage law discriminates against gay couples | Reuters.


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