Have You Made Oobleck?

We squish our arms elbow-deep into oobleck.  Amazed, we play all morning in this mixture of cornstarch and water. 

Mixing Oobleck

The children invite me to make oobleck, but I’ve never even heard the word.

“You know–it’s oobleck!  1 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup water!”  These little girls know their science: mixing cornstarch with water creates a bowl of joy with unusual physical properties.  Oobleck functions both as a solid and as a liquid.  When you apply pressure to the mixture (mixing it with your hands, slapping it around), you get a nice ball of dough.  When you let it rest in your hands, that otherwise solid shape melts and oozes like a milkshake.

Little Girls and Science

It’s bizarre.  It’s addictive.  I find myself manipulating the oobleck with these friends for an hour.  Nevermind that white goop covers the counters and the floors (just let it dry and it sweeps right up).  Nevermind that I have work to do.

It’s just so fascinating, this stuff. 

I’m fascinated by objects or places that possess in-between sorts of qualities.  I like transitional states, borderland locations, and things that are both one thing and another at the same time.  I think of my froglet or that estuary.   I think of caterpillars turning into butterflies, autumn leaves changing and falling, and snowflakes forming above me.  Those things that are almost but not yet resonate so deeply with me.

Solid and Liquid Oobleck

It’s because I too am almost but not yet.  Half human, half spirit, we all dwell in that mystery of in-between living.  We are almost to heaven, almost to our true home.  In the meantime, I hold this day in my hand, sometimes feeling the hard pressure against it, sometimes feeling the smooth flow of peace in my heart.  Either way, I’m fascinated.

Journal:  When life feels “almost but not yet,” how do I find peace right where I am? 


A Science Experiment About My Mood

Last night we picked wild Queen Anne’s Lace for a science experiment.  I wanted to show the girls how capillary action works.  The stem of the Queen Anne’s Lace in a cup of dyed water, will, within a few hours, suck the water up into the flower and turn it the same color as the dyed water.

We put our Queen Anne’s Lace in water dyed dark purple, neon blue, and pink. This morning, sure enough, the flowers were the same color as the water.
Amazing!  The color was striking, and it occurred to me how trusting the Queen Anne’s Lace is, how indiscriminate.  Whatever liquid environment you place the stems in, they draw it in deep within themselves and assume that color.

I imagine my living room as one big vase of water and my family as Queen Anne’s Lace.  I’m thinking about what they draw in from me, from my attitude, my hope, my flair. 

It’s just too easy for the stem to draw in whatever it’s near–no matter what shade.  Hopefully, that color is bright and joyful. 

(Photo courtesy of Lexington Gardener Examiner)


Some Science Behind Happiness

The more I read about the brain, the more I have to admit I sabotage my own happiness on most days.

If you knew how lazy I really am, if you knew how much I detest exercise, and if you knew how my arms are really flabby noodles pretending to be arms, you’d be amazed right now.  Collective flair bells would ring all over the world.

I’ve never been able to do push-ups.  I’ve tried.  I can maybe do 4 on my absolute best days.

But with Jillian Michaels encouraging (yelling) at me from my basement television screen, I get down (in girl style on my knees), and start to lower myself only to push myself back up with the strength of my little frail arms.

It hurt.  It hurt, hurt, hurt.   But I did it.  And then I did it again and again. 

Here’s the story I told myself as I suffered through it:

“Do this, Heather.  Do this because you are investing in your future happiness.  You are gathering in happiness by changing brain chemistry right this very minute.  You wouldn’t forget to take your thyroid medication, right?  Swallowing that pill makes your body work for the whole day.  This next push up is your medication for mood control.  Do it, Heather.  You are earning 48 hours of elevated mood, scientifically proven, confirmed by neuroscience and brain scans.  There’s no getting out of this.  You have no choice, here.  You know the science.  Exercise trumps nearly everything else when it comes to long-term elevated mood.  You can’t ignore the science, girl.  Do it.”

And so I did it.  It didn’t feel like flair while I was in the thick of it, but the fact that I was investing in a future mood pay-off mattered so much.  We aren’t used to future returns.  We want immediate.  But living with flair means I don’t always have the luxury of automatic happiness.

Maybe it means understanding the science behind happiness.

I have to invest in mood-control activities that, scientifically, will change brain chemistry–maybe not right now, but soon.  The more neuroscience I read, the more I’m amazed with how much I sabotage myself every day.  The brain works best with certain foods and certain activities (keeping a flair journal is one of those things for me).  I don’t have a choice when it comes to this kind of living with flair.


Why Professors Can Also Be Christians

It’s possible to be a scholar and a Christian.   It’s possible to study neuroscience, understand the process behind how we age fossils, know the mechanism of evolution, immerse yourself in various spiritual paths and still proclaim, with a resounding “yes,” that Jesus Christ is the one true God.  Many professors have deeply held spiritual beliefs.  Students, I find, have a hard time believing this.  Let me set the record straight.

I believe the claims of Jesus because I don’t base my faith on my experience (I read too much neuroscience to be able to validate my perceptions of God as truth).  And although I feel, on a daily basis, what I describe as the peace and love of God in my life, answered prayer, protection, provision, and joy, I’m not a Christian because of emotion or experience.

I also acknowledge Jesus because I know you don’t need to discount science.  I’m married to an organic chemist, after all.  I honestly don’t understand, with 100 % certainty, the matrix behind creation or how species evolved (I wasn’t there).  The more I read, the more I observe, the more I see mystery and the limits of human understanding.   I’m not afraid of science; the deeper I delve, the more I’m amazed.

When students ask me why I’m a Christian, I tell them it’s because of the historical Jesus.   As a college student, I read the entire New Testament because I had to be absolutely certain that Jesus made claims to divinity and that his body was resurrected as proof of his claim.  Why, I reasoned, would I stake my life and my reputation as a future scholar on some hogwash that wasn’t true?  I needed to come to terms with the claims of Jesus.

What I found when I read the eye witness accounts of Jesus of Nazareth included miraculous demonstrations of power:  controlling weather, healing diseases, curing blindness and paralysis, knowing a person’s thoughts, multiplying resources like bread, wine, and fish, casting out demons, and predicting the future.  As I read, I wondered to myself why people worshipped this man.  And why did he cause such a political stir?  Other people, as the scriptures and historical documents report, did miraculous things.  Healers, psychics, and sorcerers had been around for a while (they made big money).  Other men, in other cultures, claimed to have the power of God.  They even performed miracles.  I’ve even read other cultures, in other times, have their own virgin birth narratives.

But when I examine the resurrection of Jesus’s body, when I analyze the reports of who saw him, and when I read how I could know God, I had to listen.   I also had to listen to the hundreds of prophecies, written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, that talked about his life and death–and resurrection.

The religious rhetoric imprisoning Christianity makes it nearly impossible to talk about it.  I don’t even know how to begin.  What I can say is that I acknowledged, in my mind, that Jesus was the incarnation of God.  Scripture talks about “receiving Jesus” into my life, so mentally, I asked the spirit of God to reside in me.  As someone who reads about the brain, I’m not sure where the Holy Spirit actually dwells in a person, but I know Jesus claimed that receiving the Holy Spirit meant you had a Counselor and a Comforter.  Jesus also claimed that by receiving him, I’d have eternal life that began now.  In other words, the spiritual death that accompanies our separation from a holy God wasn’t a future death.  It was the reality of my life before knowing God (“sin” is one way to describe it).  I had no “relationship” to God.  When I began praying to Jesus, I became alive spiritually. This meant that I began to enjoy worshipping God, praying to God, listening to the instructions and promises in the Bible, and most importantly, relishing the favor of God.  I also had power in my life to become the type of person God wanted me to be.

I didn’t go to church today.  I was too tired (grading, a big wedding, everything else).  As I lay in my bed, I thanked God that my going to church doesn’t help me impress God.  I’m deeply loved, completely free, and completing confident that I am known by God.  I go to church to enjoy praising God with other folks.  I don’t do one thing to earn God’s love; I also can’t do anything to lose God’s love.

So, in case you wondered, that’s why I’m so happy and full of energy when I’m teaching.  That’s one reason why I can live with flair.  God’s love is unfathomable; it sets people free.  My teaching philosophy has much to do with the love and acceptance I extend from knowing God.

Now you can say you know a professor who is also a Christian.

Living with flair means seeing the harmony between the life of the mind and the life of faith.