Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hymn of the Week--Saved by Grace

Some readers have mentioned that I should provide links to the music for the hymns I discuss. Unfortunately, many of them appear to be found only in the cyberhymnal, which provides a tinny-sounding and quickly-played version of the tune. This is one. But it's the best I can do if you really don't know the tune at all.

I did discover that the inimitable Ken Medema has recorded it, but unfortunately there is no clip.

It's of course particularly appropriate that Ken Medema should have recorded it, and if you don't know why (being for whatever reason unacquainted with Protestant hymnody and music), it's because both he and Fanny Crosby are blind. Except, of course, Fanny isn't anymore, because she's in heaven.

Fanny Crosby wrote so many hymns I couldn't begin to list them, and nearly all of them allude to her blindness. In this one, it's the chorus: "And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story, saved by grace." Sometimes the allusion is more subtle, as in "Pass me not, O gentle Savior." There she is comparing herself to Bartimeus who was a blind begger and called to Jesus as He passed by.

But the song (go read the words at the link) raises the interesting question of assurance of salvation. One of my moves away from being a Baptist has been my conclusion that it is possible to fall from grace. This is sometimes identified as a "Catholic" view, but actually I believe it is also standard Lutheran theology and is certainly implied by much Anglican liturgy. Now, Fanny obviously is absolutely convinced that she is going to heaven, which I guess the Catholics would call "presumption."

For myself, I can't see it that way. I'm reminded of a very personal story: My dad had been sick a couple of years ago, and he was home from the hospital and still not doing too well. He told me on the phone about how he passed out one time. He said he thought to himself as everything went dark, "Well, I guess I'm goin' to heaven." "But then," he continued, "I just woke up on the floor with a gash on my head."

Now, it seems to me that there is a certain innocent purity in some people, such that their confidence of this sort is itself evidence. In both of these cases, my strong inclination is to say, "That's not someone whose eternal destiny I have to worry about. That's someone close to Jesus. That's someone who is ready."

Anyway, enjoy "Saved by Grace," and if you already know it, go around humming it this week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A resolute idea

I dunno. Some people seem a bit worked up about the Armenian genocide resolution. Even some conservatives. (Read that in the philosophers' sense: "There exists at least one x such that x is a conservative and x is worked up over the Armenian genocide resolution.") By "worked up" I mean "in favor."

I don't claim to know a thing about it. Never heard of the Turkish genocide against the Armenians until this past year. But I'm a pessimist. People are evil. I'll buy it. That it happened, that is. But the sudden appearance of a resolution about it just now on the congressional roster is hardly a result of the fact that Nancy Pelosi woke up one morning and was seized with the abstract lust to tell the truth at all costs.

So. Suppose you are a conservative congressman, and you think this thing really happened. Suppose moreover that you think there are people who deny it or downplay it in a fairly annoying fashion, and that it is therefore a controversial truth. You are the sort of person who hates not to speak controversial truths boldly just because of consequences, and you don't like the feeling of being muzzled by the fact that we have an unpleasant ally who has an unpleasant desire to bury this unpleasant truth about the past. You worry that you are a cowardly skunk and a tool of the administration if you oppose the resolution. On the other hand, you know quite well that not all truths need to be told at all times, that there are prudential reasons against this resolution, and that its introduction is a cynical political ploy by people who are hardly your friends on other issues, so you don't want to be their tool, either. What do you do?

Well, isn't it great that you came here to read my blog, because I've got an idea. Did somebody say "controversial truths, denied by many"? Did somebody say "murder of innocent people that people want to cover up"? In Veggie Tales terms, have we got a show for you! Introduce a replacement resolution, or an amendment, so that the resolution condemns not only the Armenian genocide but also the murder of the unborn by abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade and the dehydration murder of Terri Schiavo. Be sure to include the word "murder." I can think of lots of other additions to offend the Democrats if that isn't enough, but that'll do for starters. And conservatives, even the sort who get worked up about the Armenian genocide, ought to be all in favor of such an idea.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why does salt water taste salty?

In case this burning question was ever bothering you, I thought I'd post the answer here. We have been doing some research on this here at Chez McGrew lately after I noticed in Middle Daughter's science book a diagram that seemed to mean that when salt dissolves in water the ions of chlorine and sodium actually get separated from each other and surrounded by water molecules. So, I wondered, why is dissolving salt in water still considered a physical rather than a chemical change (if the salt is really broken down into its sub-molecular components), why does the salt water still have the property of being salty to the taste, and why do you get the salt back when you reverse the process by evaporating the water?

The answer is apparently that there are such things as semi-associated states of ionic molecular compounds. Evidently the ions of chlorine and sodium are, despite being separated and individually surrounded by water, still associated within a certain distance by their respective charges. This allows them to snap back together into a crystalline solid state when the water is evaporated.

To make things even more interesting, evidently our subjective sensation of a salt taste is caused by the separate effect on our taste buds of the sodium and chlorine ions, not by a single undivided molecular substance called "salt." Hence a certain amount of dissolving actually has to take place in order for us to taste salt at all.

It's my impression that not all compounds (e.g., not sugar) dissolve to this extent in water, but salt is one that does.

See here and here for a Q and A about this.

Now, didn't you always want to know that?

Against ANT-OAR

I won't post the whole thing here. Done that here at W4, as my colleagues are taking to calling it.

The basic gist is that this technique is supposed to give us "embryonic" stem-cells without our ever making (and then destroying) embryos. That has always sounded fishy to me. What I decide in the post is that one way of doing it probably does make embryos and the other plausibly doesn't. But I could be wrong even about the second of these and am disturbed, perhaps more than I make evident in the post, by the lack of empirical underpinnings for all of this. The bottom line is that to some extent it seems the proponents of this stuff are doing armchair science and don't really know what will happen when they try this stuff. Moreover, one advocate, Marcus Grompe, is gung-ho even about the ways of doing this with knock-out genes that sure look to me like they would make merely damaged embryos. And the fact that he doesn't make any serious distinction between the two methods (though some other advocates do) makes me wonder how different their results really are and how they would know.

All skating on exceedingly thin ice, ethically, it seems to me. Why do it?

P.S. I actually do plan to update here at least weekly, but I was sick last weekend.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hymn of the Week--I Sing a Song of the Saints of God

This hymn of the week is another of those "darned if you do/darned if you don't" things. As a very low-church-sympathizing Anglican, I like it a lot. It has exactly the via media touch: On the one hand, the writer of the words is clearly thinking of specific people who have been saints historically. Both in that fact itself and in the whole implication of the words there is none of the rather lazy idea one sometimes got in Baptist circles that Christians are all automatically saints, even if we live like the devil. The words say, "I mean to be one, too," implying that there's some remaining question about the matter.

But there's no denying that it has a rather more Protestant notion of sainthood than a Catholic one, in its idea that we are all, as it were, "candidate saints" and "there's not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn't be one too."

The upshot of which is that, though I like it, the high churchers think it's too Protestant, and the Baptists would probably think it's too Catholic. I haven't actually sounded any of my Baptist and unspecified evangelical Protestant friends on it yet, though, so I could be wrong about that second part. But as for the first, I know it rarely seems to get picked at church for All Saints' Day. I have to squeeze it in by playing it as the postlude. (Heh, heh.)

If you know the 1940 Hymnal, you'll know the tune. You can hear it here. But beware: Somebody's gone and changed the words on that page and several others I've seen on line. Must be from some gol'darned revised hymnal. Mine are the real ones. I gather the "shops or at tea" stuff was too un-American sounding for some people!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.
And they followed the right for Jesus’ sake the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast,
And there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.

They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints, who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007