Notebook of Sand



Curriculum Vitae

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

June 2005
2004: Earlier | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2005: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2006: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2007: Spring | Summer - Summer 2008 | Spring & Summer 2009 | Now
Thursday, 30 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I am finally in the zone. It took me weeks. It always takes some time to transition from the school mindset, which is changing so constantly that it's difficult to put together a good bout of focus. But now, even with tons of craziness going down all around me, I found it.

It took a lot. I had to finish writing some poems, which occupied a lot of thought process. The poems are great. They're done, which is even better. Last night, I had to sit up, bang away mindlessly at something that I really needed to get done last week. I stayed up, sitting in my seat like a stone untill 3 A.M. and made little progress.

O blessed weirdness that is the human psyche!

I got up this morning, rested, ready. Thank you for miracles, Lord.

Getting up, I sat down at the couch and started typing. That was 6 hours ago.

Zip, zing, pow.

I have gotten more done in the last 6 hours than I normally get done in days at the office. My fingers feel like a surgical robot on speed dial.

Ahh, now I remember what programming is like. Flow, flow. It's the coolest trip you could ever ever ever get, when the mind and the body and everything are completely, fully focused and intent and intensely cranking out on a large task. It's nice to see things coalesce smoothly, rapidly, and with deliberate pace, until the code and text and graphics come together into the single whole.

Just me and the screen.

J. Nathan Matias, in flow mode

Like I said, I'm tripping today. Mind and body are on turbo right now.

I wonder how long it will last this time? I sure hope it keeps up for a few weeks. Hightened acuity may seem like insanity. But it sure is fun -- and effective.

A Trip to Philly
Tuesday, 28 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

So, I have a friend who is going to be attending Live8 Philly. He asks me,

we have all of Sunday to explore the city. We were thinking of going to the Eastern State Pen. I was wondering if you, in your vast exploration of the city, had any recommendations for what to do or see that one day we have free

Well, since people often seem to be asking me that question, I suppose I ought to post online.

For Live8 attendees, the Eastern State Penitentiary is an obvious choice. It marks the beginning of the quest for humane treatment of prisoners in the West. And yet it also provides a warning that good intentions are not enough. Even when the most wealthy and educated get together to work toward positive change, they can make harmful decisions. Enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard are necessary. One needs a balance of careful humility, a willingness to change's one's efforts when change is needed and a lot of dedication.

I highly recommend a visit to South Street, one of the more culture and subculturally-diverse parts of the city. A visit to Isaiah Zagar's marvelous murals is well worth the trip to South Street. If you have time, make some art in his garden.

Those looking to worship in a church might want to think about visiting the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. I visited once, and although I'm not used to big formal services, I was really blessed by the sincerity and thought-out wisdom of the sermon I heard from Phillip G. Ryken. The church has been around since 1828. The music is awesome; I know some of their musicians, and it's top notch, classical/high church stuff.

Although I highly disagree with Unitarians, those interested in the history of racial equality should definitely check out the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. The Unitarians, along with the Quakers, were the most outspoken group of social activists working for racial equality in the 19th century.

Speaking of which, the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum is open on Sundays.

Nearby is the Atwater Kent Museum. I love that place. This museum has always been my favorite museum in Philadelphia. They always have great exhibits.

Of course, if you're looking for art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is never a bad choice. It's huge. The artwork from all around the world is excellent, particularly the European religious art, Philadelphia collections, and collections of Asian art. Sadly, the Dali exhibit has moved on. Walking through the collections of the art and furnishings of Philadelphia's well-bred elite, I first fully understood the futility of living a life trying to gain, display, and hoard beautiful things. Having studied the horrible plight of thousands of Philadelphians, I was saddened to see the great lengths to which Philadelphia's rich would go to flaunt their wealth. But I also know that Philadelphia's elite were great philanthropists. Money from an individual only stretches so far, no matter how rich they are. Philadelphia's philanthropists attempted to build long-lasting organizations that could do good beyond their death. I think this is a good idea. Look up the paintings of Eakins.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is only a few blocks from the Eastern State Penitentiary. Of course, if you go to the Museum of Art, make sure you check out the Rodin Museum. It will give you a chance to see the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is my favorite part of Philadelphia because it displays the flags of many countries, including Guatemala!

My friend is a pacifist and will probably not visit the next location, but I would suggest a quick visit to the small museum of the First City Troop. From their website: "The First City Troop is the oldest continuously active military unit in service to the nation." They're still a cavalry unit, though they also train in tanks. The First City Troop did a lot of good for the city in the 19th century. As an item of local history, the First City Troop was the group of cavalry that set fire to the covered bridge across the Susquehanna during the days leading up to Gettysburg. The towns were never compensated for the loss of the bridge, despite federal law. And Pitts is right (as quoted in the article). The towns in that area, once considered fine enough for a possible location for the nation's capitol, have since become very economically depressed. (but I digress)

Visitors to Philadelphia should definitely keep an eye out for Toynbee tiles. Try to print out a map of tile locations in Philadelphia and visit a few. It will make the trip more interesting.

If you're looking for hidden narrative in the city, look for Implementation by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. This novel, written by hypertext/experimental literature guys, exists as a bunch of stickers in unusual places. Look for rounded rectangular labels. The novel has been over for a few months, but you might be lucky and find some chapters.

(this one is just outside the library, on the big button art. I can't believe I missed it! I was right there, just a few months ago.)(I blogged Implementation during my last visit to Philly)

Fairmount Park is a nice place as well. It's Philadelphia's oldest park and one of the oldest public parks in the U.S..

If you go toward Broad Street or City Hall, make sure you visit the Wannamaker Organ. If you miss church, you still have a chance to hear beautiful music.

If you want some food, I'm not the best person to ask. I ate out of the grocery store. But Cosi is a good place to be if you want a sandwich and a good drink. The atmosphere is great -- and there's wireless internet.

Or, you can head over toward uPenn (where there is also a Cosi), enjoy walking on an Ivy League campus, and catch some Asian food (Thai, Indian, Chinese etc etc mmmm).

** * **

So, to my friend: enjoy Live8. I hope lots of money is raised, and that it will be used wisely. I wish I could be there with a blogger pass; I want to understand the people of my generation who care. I want to see what the future holds. Can entertainment capitalists do what the efforts of industrial capitalists have not yet accomplished?

Maryland Ho!
Monday, 27 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I did it. 8.5 hours, over 100 miles. I traveled south to Columbia, crossed the Susquehanna River, then biked south over the ridges (oy! The ridges), past the place where Dr. Winpenny's daughter was recently married, along the river into Maryland. I (fortunately) got lost and missed some confusing roads. Finally running into Maryland Route 1, I went east across the Susquehanna at the Conowingo Dam.

The heavy mountain bike limited me to a steady, slow pace, particularly up the hills, but this was good training for long-distance riding. Oy. I can't wait to get replacement tires on my bike.

I then followed 222, then 272 up to beautiful Lancaster. The sun was horrifyingly hot at this time. I stopped at a grocery store on the way to Lancaster to avoid heat stroke. Once I got back to Lancaster, I stopped again at Franklin and Marshall. I didn't feel tired until the last 5 miles, when I had to stop one more time to get out of the heat. The rest of the ride was slow, but steady.

A friend recently asked me to soliloquize about nature. The trip was full of beautiful, desperate, and marvelous sights. There was much to think about. There's much more amazingness wrapped up in that day than can be easily typed out.

The Southern Cycle
Saturday, 25 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I leave in a few minutes.

I'm going south, across the Susquehanna, and down past Holtwood. If I'm feeling good, I'm going to cross the Susquehanna in Maryland and ride back up.

I have a lot of miles to do today.

I'm planning to do this on a hunker of a Chro-Moly mountain bike, since my own bike's rear tire is flat.

It ain't going to be pretty, but I figure this: If I can do this ride today, I can handle the Nightmare.

Wish me luck!

The Witch's Yarn
Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I have been thinking about Bernstein's Challenge for quite a while now. See, Interactive Fiction was what initially interested me in hypertext. In my mind, they are very much related.

So when I saw The Witch's Yarn listed as an innovative interactive fiction on a game site, I was immediately interested. I downloaded a copy.

Image composition from images in The Witch's Yarn

I won't go into a detailed description of the story. There's a thorough description and review of The Witch's Yarn at Adventure Gamers.

But here's the basic story. The protagonist is a witch (described in an innocuous, Harry Potter-ish sort of way -- not a dark/evil sort of way) who has decided to abandon the ways of magic and start a home business -- selling yarn.

Now, your traditional IF would have made the user the protagonist. But Keith Nemitz has learned the lesson of Galatea. Instead of choosing what the protagonist should do, the user chooses which character should enter the scene next. I think this is a really smart way to do interactive fiction. It's actually more like hypertext in that regard, since you don't actually type anything. You just click the icon for a character.

The story is like IF in that there are puzzles to solve. But the puzzles are not your ordinary type of IF puzzle. In the first chapter, you have to help the character progress to make some yarn while at the same time come unscathed from an argument with her mother. If she gets too discouraged or frustrated, she will give up.

In the second chapter, you have to help her keep her calm while she opens for business. She deals with memories of her family, of her dead husband at the same time she has to handle the community opposition to her business.

This section would be brilliant if not for the annoying mushroom familiar who's always saying things like, "Oh no! I'm afraid that if she gets any angrier, she might quit! Try to cheer her up." There are also too many dead ends. This story and software concepts work well enough that there shouldn't have to be any dead ends.

The amusing part is that you never know what will happen when you introduce a new character, at least not until you see them interact with the protagonist and get to know them better. And of course, their attitude may change along the way. This gets around the difficulties recently outlined by Mark Bernstein. Mark says:

Dramas depend on the specific natures of the characters. Lots of people with kids remarry, it happens all the time. Desire Under The Elms is about one specific, nasty, old man, Ephraim Cabot, who went out and got himself a fresh new wife. If you were his son, eager to inherit the farm and to see the last of the nasty old man who worked your sainted mother to death, you might handle the situation well or poorly but you probably wouldn't handle it quite as badly as Eugene O'Neil's Eben Cabot does. And if you were Abbie Putnam, you'd almost certainly make better choices about handling your stepson and your new baby.

The Witch's Yarn is all about the characters. Unlike traditional IF, the user is *not* a character. This allows the story's creator to fully define the personalities and actions of characters while allowing wide-ranging user interaction.

The actual writing is so-so, imho. I think the puzzles tend to get in the way of what otherwise is a great story. The graphics are pretty good. My only graphics peeve is that character images are not antialiased, which makes some scenes look pretty bad.

I think the concept of the puzzle is unfortunate tendency of too much IF. Puzzles are fun. They are also helpful to the author. They narrow the a branching story down to a specific point at their solution. The story can then start branching again. But must every IF be puzzle-based? (this is changing due to the increased discussion about IF as a literary form

The Witch's Yarn uses puzzles, but also introduces another concept: chapters.

The game is structured in chapters, which I like. Readers can undo back to the beginning of a chapter. But more importantly, it the story within a chapter can range widely without requiring the whole story to be a set of branches that get too far out of control or too bulky for the writer. Although the chapters proceed linearly, I imagine that one could potentially write multiple chapters 2, 3, etc. for a similar work.

I think that this type of game has a great potential for demonstrating what can be done when the player is a third party without direct control over the plot. This, imho, is the easiest way to guarantee large amounts of reader freedom. It makes me think of a lot of late 19th century, early 20th century novels where the entire novel was from the perspective of a constructed narrator.

By further restricting the user from actually deciding actions, The Witch's Yarn is more like a hypertext than a traditional IF. Indeed, it would be very easy to design this sort of hypertext in StorySpace.(Sorry Tinderboxers, I think you need guard fields on this one, though I think it's possible to hack-implement guard fields on export) I think this character/theatre concept should be further explored.


The Witch's Yarn is built using an adventure engine designed by its publisher. This Python-based engine (I peeked in the executable -- the actual text is bzipped) presumably allows writers to piece together graphics and sound to make similar works. According to this blog post by peterb, the CineProse engine will be made available for other developers.

While I would probably feel more at home designing something like this in StorySpace, I certainly look forward to seeing the tools, and more importantly, seeing the stories inspired by this interesting adventure game.

Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

After some emails and discussions, I have made an update to my previous posts on religious freedom.

Tuesday, 21 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

Memory is one of the greatest parts of love. We think of it as a small attempt to regain or re-experience something that is forever lost. But memories are to be savored. They are to be enjoyed. Homesickness is a beautiful thing; it reminds us of God's past kindness and points us to the gentle blessings he has given us today. Memory is the last and deepest part of life's events. This is partly what makes poetry so special.

To many people, living in the moment means a life that doesn't heed future consequences. They sometimes make sudden choices while thinking, "I'll probably regret this later." They regret it later. Memories become bitter.

The Christian is different. By following God, we do live in the now. But we can also savor the past, as we see God's grace in our lives. Within the light of God's love, even the hard times can be met with a sigh and a smile. For the Christian, bitter memories can become sweet.

Show me the valley of the shadow of death. Show me teardrops, bloodstains, and bitter gall. But you cannot show me darkness, not in the presence of Christ's own. Look back, and see. For as the weary soul trods onward, up the ragged juts of stubborn rock, one Hand holds it steady, and the other plants a flower where each teardrop fell.

Flower in the desert --from

Sunday, 19 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I was supposed to be away today, revising an academic paper for an upcoming conference. "Don't bother to come. We're not planning anything, except maybe a nap." But halfway to the coffeeshop, I turned toward home.

Jorge Luis Matias, with Pike and House in backgroundI want to talk about my father. Although he rarely shows up in the blog, he hovers large in my thoughts and life. When people think of him, they often think about his life experiences:

He is from Zaculeu, Guatemala, where the indigenous people of his area made their last stand against the Spaniards during the conquest. My father was the first person in his area to receive a "modern" name rather than be named by the day's saint. Why? His mother had not named him, and a passerby from the city gave him the name "Jorge Luis." I like to think that this woman from the city was thinking of Borges. Raised by his extended family in an area of rural poverty, he grew up with minimal education.

Growing up, he was told never to dream for the future. The realities of poverty are made worse by a greater appetite, they said. He tried to gain spiritual freedom through the Catholic church and found only opression . When he did find Christ via the word of God and protestant understandings, he was punished and disowned.

My father's story goes on; it's the stuff of great stories. It makes me sit back and wonder at the great advantages I have experienced as a Christian American. It makes me wish to honor God for His generosity.

But my Dad is more than an inspiring story. He's a real person.

My father is a creative person. I can remember, even when we had very little, my father would twist together animal toys for my brother and I from the twist-ties on bread bags. Unconventional thoughts often become fruitful solutions in my father's mind. For he is also a thinking person, one trying to understand God and the world around him. I can vividly remember his English-learning experience. It is the story of my own childhood. Meals around the table served two purposes: discussing English and practicing rhetoric. Of course, I didn't understand at the time. I do now.

Once my father mastered enough English, he put it to good use. When I was young, he had a small personal drawer. A curious youngster, I would peek inside. I can remember finding copies of Nietzche and Kant and Aristotle and other books -- math, science, philosophy, religion, and literature. At the time, I didn't understand why, and my very practical mother didn't always either, but I now respect his willingness to study and understand. I recently watched my father cry in public as he talked about what God has done in his life. I have seen him actively care for the lives of other Hispanic immigrants.

I always wondered why he has been content to work in a factory. His success is already high for someone of his background, but he has so much more potential. I am partly the reason; he has passed on his efforts into building a good foundation for the lives of his two sons. But he also realized something. Like the mechanic in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, he has found the path of least resistance, a situation where he is able to be creative, has very few organizational responsibilities, and may freely meet many people from all over the factory.

My father likes to use his hands. They are worn, seared, sometimes black with grease, and ragged from many years of hard labor. He sometimes comes home sore and bruised. There is never enough sleep. These are signs of his love.

Jorge Luis Matias, looking at the sunset

It is sometimes difficult to grow up in a home that lives in the world between two cultures. My family sometimes feels like a tectonic seam until things are explained and worked out. But my parents were never the kind of people to fit too smoothly into their cultures of origin. Rather, they were seeking something beyond the mere tradition of their environment. They dug deeper, tried harder, and have gone farther than many people I know, and they have spent the last 25 years making sure my brother and I have a head start.

That is no small committment; they have done it well. Newton said that his theories stood on the shoulders of giants. Newton referred to the scientists of the past. When I think of standing on shoulders, I think of my parents. As a youth in Guatemala, my father managed to find his feet and stand against all odds. Having done so, he has given us a solid foundation.

Now you know why I try, as best as I can, to take every moment, every opportunity, and make the best of it. I do it partly to honor my parents.

What can I say to their love? God is good. He is faithful. Praise Him.

My Dearest Mary
Saturday, 18 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

A friend of mine, Christy Somerville, recently made me aware of an excerpt from The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette. It describes a dubious way to announce one's love to a female interest. Of course I had to record it. Its unofficial title:

A Gentleman Makes a Frank Acknowledgment, Gushing with Sentiment, and Running Over with Poetry (mp3).

Path in Williamsburg, Virginia

The music is from Magnatune, of course. The cello of Antonio Meneses is marvelously beautiful. It is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, 15 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

It's dim now.

Something about a girl, I think. Yes. It must have been. Something more? But I remember the other man's eyes. They too, like the lanterns in the windows, were expectant. Why was he there? The glow moseyed over the rough floorboards, skipping over the cracks and shadows. The light vaguely slid through the porch railings and settled on


His gun.

** * **

Betty heard him moan first. She stood up, pressed the front of her starch white dress smooth, and sighed. She knew what came next: moans followed by convulsions, screams, and then? She knew because it had happened before. Unnerved -- it had been her second day after all-- she had flown to the telephone across the long room's bare-patterned floors. That night, she had struggled to keep her composure over the sound of his anguish.

"He remembers at last," she had realized.

This time, Betty didn't run or even walk to the telephone. She threaded carefully among the beds, imagining the rack on wheels and the vials and tubes and needles that hung from it. She knew what they could do.

She was at his bedside now. Slipping off her ring, she took his hand gently. The man calmed.

"Be still," Betty whispered, "it's just a dream. And it has a happy ending."

It wasn't until after he fell asleep that she slid down wearily into her seat and remembered to cry.

"It's just a dream," she said to herself, "and it has a happy ending."

And that's
Thursday, 9 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

all the politics you're going to get out of me for quite a while.

See sidebar for details.

But there's a further detail
Thursday, 9 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

Using the reasoning of the previous post, we see that it is also very bad form for a small minority or spare majority to attempt to tear down public traditions that have developed over centuries. We should not force people in these issues.

Do you worry about government endorsement and funding for religion? Then complain about the mosques that were set up in Iraq with U.S. funds. Even on military bases, the U.S. government sets up or restores Mosques for use by Muslim workers. They choose to respect local customs to that level. I imagine that complaints about the unconstitutionality of those efforts would fall on deaf ears. Accomodating the religious tradition of Iraquis is good policy.

I worry that some people who attempt to end "religious discrimination" are not acting entirely in good faith either. (a good motive would be to provide religious freedom. a bad motive would be because you can't stand those idiotic Christians. Any decision on at the request of people in the second group can have a great chilling effect on religious freedom)

If public prayer has been a long-held tradition at a school graduation, why should it end? I sometimes question the authenticity or value of a prayer that has a merely-ceremonial function, but I do not demand that a Nate Certified (tm) pastor give the prayer. In some cases, I am unwilling to bow my head in public ceremonial prayers. But I'm a big boy now. If I disagree, I just don't bow my head. Nobody's forcing me to pray. I shouldn't stop the proceedings to enforce my personal view.

These questions get very muddled, since activism breeds opposing activism breeds ill will and distrust. Factions form, and battle lines appear.

In the end, when fights over religious freedom break out, very few people end up practicing religion (or not practicing religion, if they so choose). They're too busy fighting over religious freedom to enjoy and celebrate it.

Update June 22. After some conversations and emails, I have learned a few things and I wish to clarify a few things. First, I do not support efforts to "save school prayer." Not only does it go against the principle of religious freedom (thanks Mark), but it goes against the principles of Christianity (see previous post. Thanks Jon). Second, the comments of this post and the previous one do not refer to my opinion on what the United States Government should do. Rather, they refer to individuals. For example, I do not suggest that individuals or small groups of individuals attempt to change things, whether to include or exclude religious material and tradition. This only breeds ill will. I am in favor of all measures which would, in good faith, provide religious freedom equally without favoring any religious or anti-religious view.

How *not* to present Christianity
Thursday, 9 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I get worried when I hear about things like public zoos choosing to depict acccounts of creation.

Although I do believe that God created the universe, I am aware of the fact that this belief does not agree with the results from the scientific community. That's not the issue I want to discuss here. Rather, I want to discuss the sort of reasoning that Christians are more frequently making in order to regain or retain their chance to be part of public discourse.

I'm surprised that so many Christians make arguments like, "well, there's a Hindu symbol and Native American quotes, so we should be allowed to have our imagery and perspective."

This argument doesn't work, for the same reason that token nodding to Hindu or Native American traditions doesn't encourage many people to embrace those traditions. When we put up symbols of Ganesh or talk about the Mother Spirit, we actually puts down those traditions. The people who create such displays are rarely Hindu, rarely Native American. The hushed one that describes these traditions doesn't encourage people to believe the statements made. Rather, it's the hushed tone of a storyteller who knows that it's just a story. This is what Said complained about in his work, Orientalism. By describing the foreign other, we become more comfortable in our own assumptions.

A good example of this sort of discourse is Ellen Kushner's radio show, Sound and Spirit. Ellen takes a single topic, finds examples in many religions, and then plays related music while describing the views of these many religions. The show does the opposite of encouraging religious belief. The common response to her show is, "oh, interesting," or a deeper agreement with the idea that all religions have commonalities and stem from the same (insert here).

By looking in from the outside, we hardly encourage people to be inside, especially when we present so many religions side-by-side.

This is why very few students of religion are dedicated proponents of a single religion. An external, "objective" observation of ritual, tradition, and theory lends itself to a solely-intellectual, comparative conclusion rather than the rich experience of plunging into a life blessed by God.

** * **

If Christianity can only be discussed by the State as another religion with its own quirky stories and held significances, then I would rather not have it discussed by the State.

The forced discussion of Christianity in a context of "religion" only weakens the potential for true faith. Christianity is not an oddity to be paraded with these other views. Thos who try to force others to proclaim the ideas of Christianity will, like Ozymandias, find that the sculptor has the last laugh:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said -- two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias, by Peter Bysshe Shelley

Force people, and your legacy will be two trunkless legs of stone and a crumbled sneer.

** * **

Furthermore, I don't think that the proponents of this Creation display are doing it in good faith. They don't really want to equally, fairly display the views of all religions. I can't see them describing the Epic of Gligamesh or any other creation myths alongside the Biblical account.

** * **

The time is over. Christianity no longer retains the significant, unchallenged position it once held in American culture. We cannot go back. It is pointless to grasp at it or try to bring it back. What good can you gain by "winning back the culture" ? Culture is something that springs out from the aggregate consciousness. It is true that secular forces have taken firm control of the culture-definers: entertainment and education. But you can't change this with a law. To change it naturally would take generations.

And after all, what are we Christians to do? Who told us to control the culture? A culture with heavy Christian influences has as many problems as one with few Christian influences, maybe more. It encourages hypocrisy and diluted ideas. Social pressure is a horrible way to introduce people to God, precisely because it often fails to do so.

Besides, a spare majority of Christians who attempt to control culture most usually fails. It failed in England in the 17th century. It failed in the United States as well.

In an age of pluralism, we must be oh-so careful not to set up our little stand in the strip-mall of religious choice. My faith is not a hobby, and I will not sell it like a hobby. It is not just a story, tradition, or mental discipline. I refuse to treat it like just another idea.

We should certainly be excellent in our thinking, understanding, and explanation. But the best way to teach others about Christ is not to put up a diorama of Creation in a Zoo. Rather, it is to live such a Christlike life that people know our faith is more than just a story.

And if you are able to pass on the spark of righteous living in Christ, you won't need to force it down people's throats by means of law. The reality will be evident all around.

Spinning My Wheels
Wednesday, 8 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

J. Nathan Matias, after training on June 6While not official, it is decided.

I'm doing the Nightmare. I haven't yet decided if I'm going to do 175 miles or 200, but I'm going to be riding that day.

Why, and For Whom

When Lancaster County refused to pass the Library funding referendum, I was furious. I firmly believe the statements made by the library system:

Libraries are one of the cornerstones of democracy. When you support your local library you are enriching your community, fostering economic development and providing educational opportunities for both children and adults now and into the future.

How do I know this? I'm only the son of a Guatemalan immigrant who didn't know English when he came to the U.S.. For both of us, libraries have been a major part of our education. We take advantage of the opportunities.

If I can raise money for the library system by riding many miles, I am happy to do so.

What does cycling have to do with libraries?

Nothing. I don't know why people donate money to those participating in athletic activities. But if that's what it takes to get the complacent, stingy people of our county to actually give money to the public libraries, then I'll do it.

Within a week or two, I expect to have a website online, along with Paypal donate options and my training information. But for now, I'm just trying to get back into the routine now that I'm back from Virginia.

I rode 3.5 hours today and covered a lot of ground. If I keep it up, I think things will go well. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 7 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

I am very glad that I have friends who can say things like:

Excessive attention to detail without sufficient interludes of hedonistic delight renders Jack a hebetudinous fellow

A Legacy of Good Faith
Monday, 6 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

"Stay up here, Nathan," she said.

The dinner had been marvelous: salmon and steak, salad, soup, and desserts. I had eaten a piece of carrot cake slathered with icing. But now it was the awards ceremony, and they had recognized the scholarship students first.

Kevin, Kyle, and I gave our short words of thanks and shook hands with the faculty members of the 2005 Floyd M. Riddick Practicum in Parliamentary Procedure. But while they walked back to their seats, Mary Smith called me back.

While I stood in front of the group, she talked about the life of Hugh Cannon. As she finished her words, she opened up a thin white box. Inside was a gavel.

J. Nathan Matias, Hugh Cannon Memorial Scholar 2005, at the Floyd M. Riddick Practicum of the American Institute of P:arliamentarians

I cried. As the first Hugh Cannon Memorial Scholar, they were giving me more than a gavel. They were giving me the trust of an honorable legacy.

** * **

I have never placed great value in objects and awards. But this piece of wood carries with it much more than splinters of a dead tree.

Hugh Cannon died in January, 2005. He had paid for my first opportunity to formally study parliamentary procedure two years ago. His book on procedure remains a great inspiration.

Upon his death, the Charleston City paper said this about Hugh Cannon:

Longtime public education advocate and School Board vice chair Hugh Cannon died last week at the age of 73. A lifelong Carolinian, Cannon graduated from Davidson College before earning degrees from Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar no less, and Harvard Law School. A former assistant to then-N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford in the 1960s, he served as that state’s lead budget officer before coming to Charleston as the vice president of Palmetto Ford. He was serving his second consecutive term on the School Board and was reportedly mulling a run for its chairmanship when he passed away. Cannon, described in the past as a “limousine liberal” in this paper, was a true rarity — a rich white guy who cared deeply and fought heartily for the educational prospects of the poor. And that alone can get a camel through the eye of a needle. Godspeed, Hugh.

Hugh was the parliamentarian of the DNC for 20 years; he was also the parliamentarian of the NEA for many years. During this time, he revolutionized the field, making the practice of convention procedure efficient and fair, while keeping well within the delineated rules and tradition of law.

What does one do with something like that? There is only one choice for me: make the most of what I have been given and carry on the tradition of a man who is known for his kindness, fairness, and excellence.

** * **

It seems like my comments on politics have not been unnoticed.

Don't worry, William. I can guarantee you that as a Christian, as a person who tries to live a fair, honorable life, and as a parliamentarian, I am dedicated to both the ideals and careful practice of true democracy.

I gave a lecture on Thursday (photos to come shortly) about the need for fairness, good faith, and good will in democratic practice. I would be the worst of hypocrites if I didn't hold these ideals very close to my life and action. This is no equivocation. It's the truth.

This, I believe, is the sort of person Hugh Cannon was. It is the sort of person I hope to remain.

I'm going in...
Sunday, 5 Jun 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]

Test PaperThis morning, at 8am, I begin my test toward becoming a Certified Parliamentarian. I have studied hard, and I hope to pass.

Outcomes are never certain, particularly in tests; I would like to be better prepared. But here I am. Faced with an hour and a half before I take my place, I will not use all my time to review. I want to spend part of my morning praising and giving thanks to God. He is the author of my life, and the giver of the freedoms and opportunities I enjoy. My study would be nothing without him.

Whether or not I pass, the test has fulfilled its purpose, to encourage me to further, detailed study of parliamentary procedure such that I am much better prepared for advising and carrying out the principles and process of democracy.

Not that passing the test would be a bad thing ;-).

Now, a final set of quotes:

The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give to the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal. (Robert, Henry M. Parliamentary Law, New York Irvington: 1975)
It is difficult to find another branch of knowledge where a small amount of study produces such great results in increased efficiency in a country where the people rule, as in parliamentary law.(Robert, Henry M. Epigram to Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 10th ed.)

I'm going in....