Life Transitions

On November second – in the middle of Game 7 of the Cubs World Series victory – my wife and I welcomed our first child, Sophia Lenore, into the world. The miracle of birth and the joy of new life is itself overwhelming, but I think the Cubs victory added a bit of excitement. The coincidence of her birth and baseball have forever connected the two in my mind and memory.

And just as Sophia was born at the end of the baseball season, she was also born at the end of the liturgical year. She was born one day after All Saints day and shortly before the start of a new church year with Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany falling within her first weeks of life. Stronger than my associations with post-season baseball, her birth and these seasons of the church and now linked in my mind and memory. I’m using these liturgical seasons and some theological concepts to provide language that will frame some of the “epiphanies” I’ve had in the first few weeks of parenthood.

Daily Bread

Over the course of the last few weeks and months, one of my most consistent thoughts has been this: being a parent is hard. Really hard. The lack of sleep, the extra loads of laundry, the anxiety surrounding caring for a tiny human have all combined to make this season uniquely difficult. The difficulty of this season has added new meaning to the biblical hope conveyed in one line from the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Like few other times in my life, this season continually forces me to rely on God’s providence for strength and courage each day. Like God’s people had to gather manna in the wilderness each day, I too must gather strength and courage each day. It would have been nice to stockpile extra kindness, grace, and courage – not to mention sleep, freetime, and clean laundry! – but this season has given me a new awareness of my reliance on God and the insufficiency of my own strength and will.

Another way I have thought about this is using the text from the hymn: “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” I’ve felt a similar dependence on God and God’s people at other times during my life – new job, school, difficult seasons – but this transition has removed all notions of self-sufficiency or autonomy by underscoring how much I depend on God and the people of God.

Simul Justus et Peccator

Another theological principle that has taken on new meaning is the Luther conception of humanity as both sinner and saint. I’m learning to embrace all of my humanity and accept the surprises of this new awareness. I’ve surprised myself with my own saintly behavior: lovingly cleaning up dirty diapers, patiently rocking a crying child, wisely choosing things that lead toward flourishing and joy. I’ve also been surprised by my own sinfulness and vices: flashes of anger over spit-up, gluttonously rolling over for another few minutes of sleep instead of tending to my stirring child, jealousy toward others who seem to be having an easier time of it.

I wish I could say that this transition to fatherhood has made me more saintlike – I’m still hopeful that it will! – but right now this transition is helping me to accept more fully the heights and depths of my humanity. I’m becoming more comfortable wielding both my saintly power (“I can hold her while she cries, you sleep.”) and accepting my human limitations (“I’m having a tough moment, could you hold her for a while?”.)

The Communion of Saints

Lastly, my transition into fatherhood has blessed me with a fresh awareness and appreciation for the Communion of Saints. In this transition, I know I’ve joined the community of parents. But the Communion of Saints stretches far beyond the community of parents and includes all those that extend love and care for others. The Communion of Saints that has surrounded us includes the doctors and nurses who extended care; family and friends who came bearing gifts of clothes, blankets, and food; those who offered quiet words of encouragement or silent prayers; and others who in whatever way extended love and care in this season.

Inescapably as I hold my own child, I think about the people that held me when I was a infant and my mind wanders to those that taught me in and out of school, watched me, etc. I’m newly aware of people who have offered me love and encouragement, guidance and hope, books and stories that have guided me on my way. So through this transition, I see more clearly and with ever growing gratitude the Communion of Saints that has surrounded me since before my birth and continues to bless me with love.

And – embracing my Saintliness!- I think about the role I’ve played in the lives of other people. I’ve been a part of that Communion of Saints in the roles I’ve played in the life of others – as a camp counselor, Sunday School teacher, librarian – and hopefully in my daily living in this world. I think about the Communion of Saints as a great interconnected web that stretches through time and space that binds us together in our common humanity and in relation to our triune God.

Perhaps because I’m writing this reflection during this time between All Saints Day and Epiphany, I’ve combined these two theological movements in my imagination. I imagine my wife and I as Mary and Joseph standing in awe of this new life. And I imagine the Communion of Saints streaming not through “Gates of Pearl” as the hymn suggests, but streaming into the smallness of our home just as the Wise Men came to visit the baby Jesus. And like the Wise Men, the whole Communion of Saints comes bearing gifts to the newborn child: gifts not of gold, frankincse and myrrth but gifts of food, clothes, books, love, encouragement. And like Mary, I sit by “treasuring these things in my heart” newly aware of the rich blessings I’ve received and recommitted to serve the greater community. And to raise my daughter to know know that the richest part of life is found in serving others.

In all of this, I feel a tremendous and nearly overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am grateful for God’s promise of Daily Bread and grateful to receive “Strength for today and bring hope for tomorrow.” I am grateful that the fullness of my humanity – both sinner and saint – is accepted by God and the people of God. And I am grateful for the great and diverse Communion of Saints that stretches throughout time and space.

What makes Ben Steel Great

I’m writing a poem about Ben Steel per Elise’s request. It’s for his 30th birthday. I’m also procrastinating from working on a paper I need to complete for GSLIS. I’m also writing a limerick.

What Makes Ben Steel Great

I know an old man from out West
Who barked and who coughed in distress
he struggled to write
his shirt – too tight!
the American Flag ruined our bible test.


Personal Mission Statement

I’ve been thinking about writing a personal mission statement for a while now… and think I’ve come up with one that suits me. Here it is:

I work to tell stories using data and technology that facilitate personal and communal transformation.

It’s not great and doesn’t capture everything but I think it’s a good summary of how I see my vocation in the world at this point.

Statement of Intent

How should I even approach writing this statement of intent? I really have no idea, especially given that my desire to go is really waning. Perhaps I should just call it quits and not stress out about it so much…

Languages. I have come to realise that the languages are a necessary and foundational part of serious biblical study and I would want a solid foundation in the biblical and ancient languages before embarking on serious post graduate study. This is why I have complimented the year of Greek I took as an undergraduate by taking a year of the accelerated introduction to Latin at the University of Chicago. The strength and reputation of the language component of the Early Christian Studies program at ND were major factors in my selection process and why ND is my top choice.

I understand that my language proficiency is somewhat limited at this point, but I am committed to building on these skills, whether through continued study at the University of Chicago or through the summer language institutes offered through ND, to allow and enable me to pursue in depth and serious academic study.

What I want to study?

I am most excited about studying the relationship between faith and mathematics and it’s historic development. As an undergraduate math major, I was first opened to these questions in Real Analysis, the proof based class that builds from arithmetic to the fundamental theorem of Calculus. Following these questions, I have written on the relationship between faith and mathematics in a number of different ways: a 20th century logician Kurt Godel, who dealt the fatal blow to some modern philosophies of mathematics with his incompleteness theorems. By writing about the way in which mathematic truth has been understood in the writings of worldviews of Augustine and Aquinas. And by putting this all in a broader perspective with an independent study in the philosophy of mathematics, where I summarized the the Christian development, at times contrasting it to developments in other cultural and religious worldviews, and by returning to the Christian framework of Augustine and Aquinas to offer an strong, Christian view of mathematics in the modern world.

I am very excited to continue these studies at Notre Dame, and I am confident that the language preparation and the core classes in the ECS program would prepare me for future study, and taking elective courses through the department of the history and philosophy of science is a tantalizing option.

What I have failed to capture up until now, is the great emotional and spiritual significance that the study of the history faith, especially in what appears to be a dry and esoteric area has provided me in study. More than just the relationship between faith and numbers, the broader narrative and the history of the church has been very spiritually enriching for me. Without a doubt the classes that have been most influential to my faith and worldview have been classes dealing with the history of the church in some capacity, and the lessons, stories, personalities, and ideas first presented in a historical context are still the most important and influential stories in my faith life.

In this way, my academic and spiritual life have not been divorced at all, and in fact have been deeply interwoven throughout my academic study. This is a major reason why I desire a broad Christian framework as a I approach my ultimate goal as a college professor, because in my own experience, my professors have served in both pastoral and academic roles with no sense of difference.

Things I want to mention

  • Mathematics
  • Kurt Godel
  • Augustine and Aquinas
  • Independent Study
  • Language
  • Greek
  • latin
  • Continued study needed
  • Fundamental importance
  • End goal
  • Professor
  • Pastoral as well as Academic role
  • ND
  • Language
  • Broad
  • Rigorous
  • History and philosophy of science program

Tell the story of Dr. Iverson. That is what I am excited about: the relationship between mathematics and faith. List off the other studies and what I want to do in the future.

Language. These are the basics of the program. I want an explicitlly Christian as well as academic focus to work with. Build on these rudiments (compare with learning mathematics)

End goal (college professor) and why ND would be a great place for me to study in this way.


As an undergraduate, I always joked that I was studying the two most pure forms of truth. My majors – Mathematics and Biblical Studies – seem to both be connected in this way, but the connections seem to end there. I was a math major because I had always loved numbers and mathematics and was planning a career teaching mathematics. But I was also irresistibly drawn to Biblical Studies, with a particular interest in historical theology and the history of the Church, classes and topics that were deeply important in shaping my worldview. These pursuits seemed unrelated, or so I thought until Dr. Alice Iverson changed my whole perspective.

One day I was sitting in Real Analysis class, an advanced, proof based course in the theory of math that sought to trace mathematics from the most self-evident of assumptions all the way to the fundamental theorem of calculus, one of the greatest achievements of Western culture. We were working through a proof that, for lack of a better word, seemed ugly. We had filled the entire whiteboard and seemed no closer to a solution. I saw no clear way way out of these mess and was frustrated. However, in the next few minutes, seemingly meaningless lemmas and corollaries came into play and what can only be described as a beautiful and elegant process, we had solve the proof before us. I remember sitting there, stunned; absolutely floored by the beauty of this proof and humbled that my mind, though I could never have conceived those ideas, was able to follow them and understand. Dr. Iverson slowly put the cap back on the dry erase marker and told our class: “Somewhere, it is written, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is praiseworthy; if anything is these things: thing about that. And this” -referring the proof and on the board – “is true, and this is beautiful”. And there, for the first time, I considered the relationship between faith and mathematics. My two interests and passions suddenly where mixed.

For my senior seminar, I studied a hugely influential logician, Kurt Godel, and wrote about the implications of his incompleteness theorems to a Christian understanding of mathematics. In a Medieval philosophy class, I was able to consider how Augustine and Aquinas thought about mathematical truth. And as a independent study in my last semester as an undergraduate, I wrote a general overview of the relationship of mathematics and faith from a historical perspective, tracing it from Euclid to the present day, while offering the understanding I had found in Augustine and Aquinas a valid and powerful understandings for the modern day. My two interests had collided powerfully.

But how has this experience and these interests lead me here, to the Early Christian Studies program at ND? Notre Dame in general, and this program in particular, is an ideal fit for me in a number of ways. I am looking for a broad program to build on my undergraduate degree in Biblical studies that will provide a broad understanding of the culture and society of time, with the competing philosophies and worldviews that created the Christian mindset. I want to focus on the intellectual heritage and legacy, Platonism and Neo-Platonism in their Christian manifestations. The other major appeal of this program in particular is the focus on languages that this program would provide. Admittedly, my language background is relatively weak – I am currently enrolled in the accelerated introduction to Latin and the University of Chicago to complement my year of Greek as an undergraduate – but I have come to realise that a solid foundation in the biblical and ancient languages is essential for future study. I am committed to building on this foundation – whether through continued courses in Chicago or through a summer language institute program- because of their fundamental importance. The other great assess of Notre Dame is that outside of the Early Christian Studies programs would be a great number of professors and topics that would be of great personal interest to me. An example would be the department on the History and Philosophy of Science that would certainly overlap my interesting in the history and philosophy of mathematics.

My journey thus far has been one of great power development; that as I learn more about various fields, the more connections I find and the more personal connections and passion I experience. My end goal – to explore the history of the Christian faith with a special focus in intellectual history and the transmission of mathematic knowledge – had lead me to feel great interest and excitement about the ECS program at ND. The breadth of the program, the importance on languages, and the opportunity for electives outside of the program are some of the big reasons that ND is my first choice as I consider different programs and different ways to accomplish these goals.

Mathematics and Biblical Studies

2012 Resolutions

  • Write at least 1 letter per week (and more thank you notes)
  • Get back to running (6 days per week) at helwig.
  • Establish a good routine each day and each week.
  • Cook a lot more: eat out less, more simple meals, eat/cook with Jim more.
  • Pay off student loans.
  • Donate more money than I spend at restaurants/bars.
  • Donate blood regularly.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Make bike bags.
  • Stop using plastic bags.
  • Keep the neard trimmed for Christy.
  • Continue to cultivate virtue (courage, patience).
  • Continue to grow and develop in the library and CQ work.
  • See Tim Murakami regularly (weekly).
  • More random acts of kindness.
  • Finish Pietism.
  • Ride my bike more often