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Saturday
Sep132014

From the annals: "On the Size of the Universe and Other Trifles"

We, at The Ink Society, do not stand for "Chronologic Snobbery" even in the recent past. Therefore, it seems only fitting to recognize that what was written before might be even more seasonable and felicitous today. With this principle before us, we offer the following from the annals of The Ink Society: 


“Why should not a man say, ‘I like this cozy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see.’”[1]
           --G.K. Chesterton

            Every now and then I wonder at the size of the universe, and every time I come to the same conclusion: Either it is very large or I am very small. It is true, the universe is the largest thing we know, but we know so little, really. We think it is gigantic, romantic and hauntingly cold and beautiful, but as universes go It could be a rather medium-sized, homely one. The truest statement we can make about the general size of our personal universe is, that in comparison to us, it is rather hefty—like the bags.

            The next question to be addressed is, “Why?” Why is our universe so large, so spread out, so maddeningly outside our ability to explore it? Space may be the final frontier, but it is a frontier into which we have barely inched. Our little attempts at going to the moon and mars are like swimming a couple meters off the coast of California and claiming we have explored the Ocean. Wecould go farther, but current technology only allows us to reach the nearest star system as decayed bones or at best, fossils—not an ideal condition in which to go exploring or collect data.

            It seems that God has ordained humankind to stay on earth, at least for now; it is also clear he has not told us directly what is reasoning is for this. So I would like to guess. You will be tempted to call some of my conjectures science fiction, but I answer that it is only science if it is practical and only fictional if it is untrue. The following guesses on the reason for the size of the universe are neither practical nor, provably untrue. Better call them “Impractical Possibilities,” or better yet, “Silly Guesses.”

            1. God made the universe so colossal in proportion to humans simply to show them his grandeur--as a sort of exhibition of lights soely for the benefit of Earth's inhabitants. In this view, the far flung galaxies, nebulae and gas clouds are as they appear through telescopes—lifeless and beautiful to behold from earth. They are simply signposts on a cosmic scale pointing to the work of a powerful creator and sustainer. Earth may not be at the center of the universe on the “Atlas of the Cosmos” but it is the cultural, spiritual and biological center—the only life-sustaining planet fashioned by God, when he created the universe ex nihilo(out of nothing).

            I would guess this is the view held by the vast majority of Christians. It also happens to be the most uninteresting and, to be frank (sometimes I get tired of being Eric), boring option. It also has two major flaws: 1. It presumes that humans are the most significant thing created in the material universe—a tad bit presumptuous for a race of beings that gave “Captain Underpants” a Kids Choice award in 2007.  2. It makes God seem arbitrary and the rest of the universe superfluous. I’m sure there are nooks and crannies out there between galaxies or behind dark matter that are lovely places to look at, but due to our spatial and visual limitations, we are unable to see or enjoy them. If humans are the only really significant material life-form in the universe, it is hard to see a purpose for all the vastness and intricacy of the second heaven—outer space. In defense of this view, God may have created those unobservable nooks and crannies for his own pleasure, without mankind in view. But, in my estimation, this theory is quite limiting and narrow for a God who is anything but limited or narrow.

            2. The universe is gigantic because it was made to be explored/exploited by unfallen men and women. Now this view fires the imagination a bit! If physical death was one result of the fall (not a given, but certainly possible), then humans were made to stay in the physical universe indefinitely, procreating and recreating in innocent bliss. But, in that case, the earth would be inadequate to hold all these happy, good humans after a certain number of centuries. What a lovely thought it is that after the earth was filled, as God had commanded, there would be millions of other verdant planets, waiting to be populated with perfect humans—planets covered in lush,  exotic, edible plants and colorful wildlife, never before seen by human eyes; forests of unimaginably large hardwoods ringing with unrecorded bird songs; blue and green oceans, spangled with islands and teaming with, as the French say, “the fruits of the sea” (only they say it in French). Maybe, just maybe, the universe was made to be filled by humans, but that option was removed at the fall of mankind by the elimination of some interstellar highway or mode of travel. Maybe, as you read this, those beautiful planets are quietly spinning in a solar system millions of light-years away, filled with all good things for humans to enjoy, waiting patiently for the day when all things are made new and the plan of redemption is complete.

            Call it fantasy; call me crazy, but this theory is just as possible as the first, maybe more. It’s certainly more logical. It gives the universe a purpose outside of it's general impression on mankind. It gives it living purpose—to be explored and settled.

            3. Now we come to my personal favorite of the possible reasons for the universe’s immense girth. God made the universe so unfathomably large to keep humans out of it—to keep us from soiling other planets and races who did not fall into sin as we did. We are quarantined by light-years of space that we have no hope of traversing alive, and the last frontier is really only the inside of a generously large but barren prison cell.

           Are we so audacious as to presume we are absolutely the only intelligent life God created in this entire universe? Humans, made in the image of God, have prolific imaginations filled with visions of intergalactic alliances, elves, boy wizards and those little furry guys from Star Wars. Must God’s creativity be relegated to Earth? Granted, Earth is a lovely, romantic, complex and mostly comfortable place to live. But I would argue, there is more life in the mind of God than we see across our land and in our oceans. This theory makes the scientists’ desperate attempts to find microbial life in the underwater oceans of Jupiter’s moons comic and a little sad. They don’t realize it is our sin that makes finding life on other planets and planets’ moons impossible. God has a plan to redeem the Earth; part of that plan may be to keep us and our sin on that earth and not to spread the disease of our selfishness to races who chose not to eat their forbidden fruit—or whatever form it took on their planets (forbidden fish jerky?). The implications of this view are highly fascinating and give a new meaning to “the great multitude” of Revelation seven and an expanded view of what the new heaven and earth imply. It is important to note, each one of thse views, though differing in details, has one constant: "The heavens declare the glory of God." Whether the universe is burgeoning with life or completely sterile, its function never changes.

            In 1977, the United States launched the voyager spacecraft. On that spacecraft was a golden record with a voice recording from then President Jimmy Carter (brother of the highly esteemed Billy Carter) that said in a silly southern accent to any alien life form that may find that record,

“This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”

            President Carter (brother of the esteemed Billy Carter) in his little recording may have been entertaining prophecy unawares. But those who “survive our time” will be the redeemed of the LORD and not scientists with the highest IQs. So to all of the NASA scientists and space nerds longing to explore the billions upon billions of Galaxies filling our universe, your best chance of doing that will come when you fall on your knees in repentance to the God who made those Galaxies and will someday open their mysteries to the redeemed inhabitants of Earth.

R. Eric Tippin
In "The Study" on 8th Street
October 26, 2012 

Image:
"Cow Considering the Stars and the Moon"
Acrylic on Canvas - 1923
Peter L. Folkes 


[1] Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2009-10-04). Orthodoxy (p. 58). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday
Sep102014

Hobbler No. 3 [On Waking First]

I have been ruminating as of late upon the particular appeal of the early morning as opposed to other times of day. As with many concepts I turn over in my head, I have pressed, punched, kneaded, and rolled out a number of ideas that, in part, may speak to this phenomenon. But, similar to a pastry chef dissatisfied with the amorphous collection of ingredients loosely formed on his floured table, so too does the doughy ball of my musings still seem unfit for the oven. Perhaps this essay may become a glass bowl of sorts, towel-draped, in which a writer’s yeast might be allowed to burgeon forth a necessary volume and consistency for the product. And so I begin!

It seems to me that, being a man of only twenty-four, I am still nearer to the period of my life in which I yearned for more sleep, dreading always the impending grind of A.M. classes, (be those high school or collegiate) the six o’clock chill of the butcher shop where I worked for some time, or any of the varied challenges that seem to walk arm-in-arm with the dawn. Naturally, as I cherished the time when I could avoid early rising, and relished very little the surrounding joys when I had no choice but to be awake, I have fewer memories than I would like of exceptional mornings. This brings me to my first and simplest point: I seek to soak up the morning as often as is possible because I feel I’ve somewhat squandered those opportunities until this moment of life. Of course, there are natural external factors that demand and condition a person to consider the “sleep in” as a relic of the past—driving one’s wife to work, years spent attending or teaching day-opening courses, and a genetic predisposition for light sleep being a personal few. 

Travel seems to be a fascination of more and more people that I encounter, but before I yearn to explore states, continents, oceans, and beyond, I would rather temporally explore my current surroundings, absorbing all that they are at all times that they exist. Early mornings and late evenings prove to be far less expensive endeavors.  

Large family gatherings are, for all their extraordinary benefits, often awkward experiences as various individuals with varied sleep schedules, morning routines, and the like worm out from underneath comforters, stumble to doors, and collapse on living room furniture while sleepily awaiting a quorum for breakfast (a number usually determined by the matriarch(s) of the family, who, from my observation, regularly assume the mantle of coffee preparation, as “pot” quickly becomes “pots”). As a child I found it terribly uncomfortable to rouse myself and twiddle my thumbs on the couch rather than participate in the multitude of activities I enjoyed—most of which would have disturbed the sleep of others—and so remained in bed, studying the ceiling (or sky, were it a camping adventure). It was on one such camping trip with my wife’s extended family that I realized what a role and responsibility it is to be the first out of bed.

We were gathered in a campsite in Upper Sioux territory, and as my wife (who has the gift of finding the deepest of sleep in the shortest of time) blissfully lay on our slowly-deflating air mattress, I half-crawled half-stiffly somersaulted from the unzipped tent door, pulled on a sweatshirt, and began reading Dickens’ David Copperfield at a picnic table. As each of my relatives began to emerge from their makeshift wilderness lodgings, I found it perfectly suited to my mood to direct them quietly to the coffee, greet them with a smile, and return to my reading, putting the “ball in their court,” so to speak, in terms of opening conversation. Human beings, immediately after they wake, are often at their most vulnerable. Before we enter sleep, we carefully tend to the safety concerns of our surroundings, be those locked doors for thieves or properly stored food for bears. We often clothe ourselves far less, and if full pajamas are a preference, they’re not as durable or protective as the jeans, work boots, or jackets of midday hours. While asleep, our defenses are lowered, our wits are certainly not about us, and we, in all honesty, enter a state of exposure possibly equaled only by venturing into traffic while operating a motorized vehicle. By being the first to rise, one is also the first to take assessment of the surroundings, to check belongings, to determine if anything is amiss. One becomes, however temporarily, the watchman, the protector. Each rising member of the family, upon seeing one more alert and kick-started than themselves, is relieved of some stress—they need not be on guard, need not be worried, at least for the moment. 

In that small gift to my relatives, I see an infinitesimal reflection of a gift we receive every day; our Father never sleeps, our Lord sees all things, our God greets us at our most vulnerable. What a joy to have this reassurance at all times!

I realize that some, in the reading of this essay, are those heavy sleepers who find it difficult to rise first, and who might feel slighted by this writing. Let me be clear in saying that I intend not to delineate a better approach to one’s resting habits, favoring one above another, but rather to proclaim, in words, a thought previously held but unarticulated. Deep, full, rich, unencumbered sleep is a blessing, and is something I have envied in others, but realizing the way that one joy replaces another is a skill that allows us to take ownership of our gifts, and to cultivate a fertile ground for the growth of the Spirit within us.  

Welcome those moments when you can usher in others to a new day. Welcome those chances to do things that fall by the wayside among the flurry of midday activity. Presently, I’m doing my best to make the most of one such morning, and it is indeed rewarding.

Bryn Homuth
Listening to autumn’s cool whistle on my apartment porch
September 10, 2014

Image:
"Early Morning, Fishing Boat on a Strand"
Oil on Canvas - 1877-1944
James Humbert Craig 

Tuesday
Sep092014

Ambler, No. 24 [On The Soul of Sports] 

If we should question the teeth of Elephants, that is, whether they be properly so termed, or might not rather be called horns; it were no new enquiry of mine, but a paradox as old as Oppianus. -- Sir Thomas Browne

(c) Rosie Sayers; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

While it is certainly true that I am never lost, but that I just happen to have very little idea where I am going, it is also very true that I often have very little idea where I am going. A man is afforded the opportunity to test his directional prowess in stadiums where athletic events are taking place. For though all men are unique, and no two are completely similar in physical or mental makeup, it still holds that most men have heads. It is, in fact, far more likely for a young man to get lost in a stadium than out in nature, for nature allows us to find our way by the sun or the stars. But as I was saying, most men have heads, and when looking for that particular back portion of a head, lost in a sea of heads, the task becomes excruciatingly difficult.

*****

The author of these audacious Amblers has mixed feelings about the nature of athletic competitions. It is becoming truer that the religious fervor which once dominated our lands is being replaced by an unhealthy adoration for these competitions--men knowing and openly discussing the height and weight of other men. Nevertheless, athletic competitions allow us to freely observe a fundamental aspect of man--competition. It was during one of these events that I left my seat and took on the role of water boy. Juggling four water bottles and stumbling and staggering my way toward the aisle, I finally made it “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” if you will. For though not as congested, the aisle at an athletic stadium is no safe place to be. It is similar to merging into the freeway, and I was that car that, upon getting onto the freeway, seems to have second guessed the choice, and instead of speeding up with the rest of traffic, maintains its original speed.

And there I was, attempting to keep track of whose water bottle was whose without spilling or dropping anything. Emerging from the row I was end, I picked up speed lest I got bulldozed over, and in so doing, I completely disregarded the number of the row. Despite the odds not being in my favor, I eventually did make it to the water fountain where I proceeded to fill up four water bottles while impatient and dehydrated fans cursed me under their breath. I was undeterred, however, and my shirt supporting the home team, I was not pummeled to death. It happened, though, that because I was far too concerned about keeping the specific water bottle with its owner and keeping my eyes glued to the bottles, I reentered to the stadium in the wrong section.

The back of a man’s head is not so unique, and so I labored down a few steps--all the while attempting to keep the water bottles straight--and sought to get a view of the faces from down below. It was at this point that I cursed myself for not making note of the numbers of my row. Numbers are objective. Faces are not. A man may smile and smile and still be a villain. The false face must hide what the false heart doth know. In short, the sea of white faces looked wholly unfamiliar to me until I spotted a particular individual whom I believed to have recognized from before. If this were the same individual, which of course it was not, my row should be three up from his. So dodging bodies and fumbling with the bottles, I proceeded up and down that aisle to get a proper view. Nothing. No familiar faces in sight. At some point in my traversing back and forth through the aisle, eyes no longer glued to the bottles, but wide-eyed in fear of losing my friends, I believe the attendants began to get rather annoyed with me. It was to my fortune that at some point during this debacle the home team scored, putting everyone in a jolly mood.

*****

That athletics are unnaturally taken with far too much seriousness these days is true. But athletic competitions remind us an important lesson, and that is, that though winning is good and more desirable, losing is necessary. They harken back to the soul of man, the now forgotten soul that would dash off to war and fight for a cause. But now the only cause worth fighting for is the fight for the self. Goodness, morality, truth, and meaning all proceed from within us these days and fighting for an ideal is seen as problematic for a pluralistic society.

This mindset has infected modern society to the point where standards, or the ideal, are outdated and not helpful. The only standard that matters is the standard we set up for ourselves. So every kid gets a trophy even if he does nothing but pick at dandelions during the game. Every high school student gets a diploma even if he cannot (or will not) read it. I recently read a somewhat outdated (an often ill-used term) article that argued an English major can graduate with a bachelor’s degree without taking a single course in grammar. But it is not that he can get a bachelor’s degree without taking a grammar course; it is that he can obtain his doctorate without taking, or knowing, any grammar; it is that, if he really wants to, he can be a doctor in English, having no latin and less Greek; that he can teach English at a university without ever having read Plato, Aristotle, or the Apostle Paul. I would not be so surprised if the average English doctorate student read fewer than three plays by Shakespeare outside required class readings and was more familiar with the modern theory on gender than Milton, Dickens, or Chaucer.

*****

When the home team scored and the crowd cheered, I was reminded, and grateful, that the majority of the world does not live in academia. I did eventually find my friends and we watched the band blow and bang on their instruments, inciting the crowd to cheer their team to victory. In athletics, equality is the pejorative. The odd thing about a fight song is that, it does not really encourage anyone to fight. More than likely, the songs invite the crowd to march in honor of their ideal--their ideal team. But, of course, I believe our culture needs more fight songs for things other than gridiron. We should compose fight songs for every aspect of society. The local grocery store should compose a fight song to counteract the horrible globalization our nation has undergone. The checkers and baggers should sing the song while they work; men at the meat counters would slice the meat to the beat; the 'duce-man would juggle apples and oranges; other 'duce-men would spin the celery like a baton; the men stocking the shelves would do so in a beautiful pattern, perhaps the store's logo, as they marched down the aisle; the fans who come to this grocery store would eventually join in; the revolution would be started; the locals would march for their ideal grocery store simply because it was theirs.*

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
August 31, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
In "The Catacombs,"
Kansas State University English Department,
September 9, 2014

Painting: "Fulham Marching Band"
by Rosie Sayers,
Oil on canvas, n.d.

_________________

*The thoughts on the final paragraph are courtesy of R. Eric Tippin who likewise received the same ideas from G.K. Chesterton's fantastic essay, "The Little Birds Who Won't Sing."

Thursday
Sep042014

Testing Mortars

TESTING MORTARS

You might think your home was a battlefield,
the way a bass shiver chills the wall
when a shell thumps ground,
a broad dent in the Earth
some unknown distance away, old dust
beaten from the house like a rug shaken out.
It’s not so much that initial jar,
but the anticipation of the second,
the third,
the fourth,
braced against an impact you can’t see,
can’t time with the mental addition of seconds.
If only you could fast-track sleep
by a careful closing of the eyes, an exact stillness
of the body, a perfect cadence of inhale, exhale.
But again—the thunderous shudder,
desk lamp quaked to the floor,
and you rise to steady the room, piece by piece.
Remember the sigh you breathe
when the tremors stop,
because you can still walk to the front door,
run your hand along the oaken grooves,
twist the brass knob,
and welcome quiet across the threshold. 

Bryn Homuth
On a comfortable couch, recalling a once close proximity to Fort Riley, KS
September 3, 2014

Image:
"The Bombardment of Hartlepools (16 December, 2014)"
Oil on Canvas - 1915
James Clark 

Tuesday
Sep022014

Ambler, No. 23 [On Making Mountains out of Molehills]

If therefore any shall affirm the joints of elephants are differently framed from most of other quadrupeds, and more obscurely and grossely almost then any; he doth herein no injury unto truth. – Sir Thomas Brown

About two months ago a friend and I were out west of town and, like Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont, we made our way along the Pipeline Trail of the state park we were at, with walking sticks in hand. Now, there is a peculiar etiquette concerning the walking stick that one ought to always follow. First, man should only get his walking stick from the dead limbs that have fallen or will soon fall from dying trees. It is best if this stick is slightly taller than the walker but not too tall lest it becomes more of an encumbrance than a help. The height matters when on trails heavily populated by overhanging trees which produce shade and scenery but also spider webs. A stick properly used keeps one from unwittingly getting caught in one of these webs, and the walker is best served by holding the stick slightly in front as if it had a light on its end and was guiding him, and he should, now and again, cry, “Attercop! Attercop!” for added safety measure against the spiders. This done, the stick of a walker should also be relatively smooth and firm. A stick with too many protuberances may cause physical harm to any fellow companions and a flimsy walking stick may falter if one meets with sharp inclines or rocky roads. Finally, every walking stick should be placed at the head or end of the trail when the ambler is finished with it, placing it back in its natural environment from whence it came but in such a way that other travelers may one day notice and use to their own benefit. There is, of course, an etiquette for discarding your staff. One does not merely set it down or fling it away as if it was mere utility for a good walk. No. But when one returns his stick, he must, if it has served him well, proclaim some benediction over it before replacing it. Such a benediction should be thoughtful, and the best ones are witty or rhyme and rely on puns. A few humble benedictions I have heard consist of the following:

O stick! You’ve served me well. May your bark be ever better than your bite!

Stick! You have gotten me out of many a sticky situation. Be free!

Stick! If they made you into a club, I would join you!

Stick! If they made your bark into a bark, it would sail the seven seas o’er and o’er and never cease to remain afloat!

And so on. Thus, the proper etiquette for obtaining, using, and returning a good walking stick. If it was a bad walking stick, then a curse should be pronounced, it should be broken in two, and hidden from sight.

*****

Making our way across the Pipeline Trail with two hardy sticks, my friend and I spotted wild turkey. Unable to catch any, we kept our eyes open until we at once spotted a blue object in the distance. It is very common for man to seek opportunities to both explore and discover. And so we set out to discover whatever this object happened to be, unsure if it was some type of stagnant bird or inanimate treasure. Leaving the path and using our sticks, we weaved our way in and out of pine trees, chanting “Attercop!” and keeping our eyes peeled on this object. It occurred very quickly that the object was not sentient. It remained fixed in its position as we approached. But the thing about forests is that one often backtracks or proceeds around lines of trees, rarely making a direct beeline to his destination. So with eyes fixed on the item we made our way sometimes to the left of it, other times to the right, always coming a little closer to our magnificent discovery.

*****

My friend who accompanied me that day has often bemoaned the sad fact that he will never have the opportunity to name something. That nearly every area of land in this country has been previously trampled on is a sad fact indeed. And so in the genuine simplicity of his character, the man, some weeks later, said to me that since he cannot discover anything new, he may as well be small--as small as a mole perhaps. For then we need much less to be contented and happy. The 1200 acre state park would afford an explorer many years of discovery, if he is the size of a mere mole. The pond is a great lake that can be crossed by the bark of that walking-stick which now seems more like a limbless tree than a stick.

And the world becomes so much more dangerous. A spider bite may mean losing a limb; the majesty of the great blue heron grows into a very real terror when it soars about you like a sentient 747. The true explorer needs this element of danger if he is to have any satisfaction at the end of the day. If the element of danger is completely taken away, the wild becomes nothing more than another type of playground.

And while I am on it I must state that the smaller a man is, the happier and more contented he is. How much better if you are so insignificant that no one is actually thinking about you? If you could go through your day without worrying about what anyone thinks because you have a true view of your own worth, would you not be free from a need to be liked and accepted? But we tell our students that they are the most important beings on the planet, and then we wonder why narcissism and selfishness are so rampant. We tell our students in writing classes that they need to “look within themselves” to write well, and in doing so we create a bunch of writers who create works that are meaningful to a select few but largely useless on a universal scope. True originality and creativity come from speaking Truth in such a way that has not been done before; it comes in making oneself very small, so that he can write about everything else that has become rather large and wild.

*****

Our exploration continued as we dodged trees, all the while convinced that we were doing something unprecedented and illegal, convinced that we were the first souls to make our way out to this area. As we neared the object, its size shrunk and the initial blue tint was discovered to have a good bit of silver and some red. The object was situated near the foot of good old pine; it had been sliced down the middle, though its oval shape still remained, and as we got close enough to take in our first true glimpse, our spirits sunk within us and we groaned, cursing the modern world. For the object which took us from our path was nothing but a Red Bull can. We, at least, rested easy that this time it was not Bud Light*

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS,
August 23, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II,
After Much Delay and Vexation,
September 2, 2014

Image: "Papa's Walking Stick"
By James Rannie Swinton
Oil on Canvas, n.d.

______________________

*I say, if one is going to roam around this world and litter it with his trash, the least he can do is litter it with a higher quality beer than Bud Light. His reputation would be somewhat salvaged if it was a Guinness or a Boddingtons. Better yet if he littered his own parks with the brew of his local land. Better even if he locked himself in his house and trashed that instead of spreading his filthy disease of sloth where everyone else has to deal with it.