Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Roots: Using DNA and Google Earth to Find Ancsestors

I was watching African American Live 2 on PBS tonight. The host, Henry Louis Gates Jr, demonstrated how with new DNA testing it is possible to determine ancestral identity for African Americans. Indeed, he did that with some prominent celebrities in that community. The precision applied indicates that it is possible to prove what tribe, country within Africa, and perhaps even what slave boat voyage brought their ancestors to America. Scientists have been able to match DNA sampling with Google Earth to visually represent where certain groups of genetic matches congregate.

This is incredible stuff. To someone like Don Cheadle (see right), who has travelled through a number of African countries, being given this information was profound; it was knowledge he was going to share with his parents, and on which it seemed he would also act on by travelling to Cameroon for that is where his DNA told him he was from.

My family from originates from England, from a place in Derbyshire called Thornhill in the Hope Valley. I knew this when I was young from the few records I found in my parents belongings after they had died. However, It was my cousin Lloyd Darwent who did the heavy lifting over a course of a decade (maybe more) to give a bigger picture of what our family tree looked like. His hard work determined that we originated in that village around the 1630's. He/we know this due to the public records that were kept. I have been fascinated, like anyone else, about my heritage because I did not have parents on whose knee I could learn these things.

Now, having seen the series episode referred to above, I am left wondering what else could be known about our family. What could geographical genealogical mapping used to trace Don Cheadle's roots tell us about the Darwents. did we have origins that take us back to some other place in Europe? Saxons? Danes? Romans? Or were we homegrown Angles? Another question that is in mind is where does one start to obtain this kind of testing? How much does it cost?

I find it exciting, even though as Morgan Freeman said this information cannot be turned into silver or gold. Its definitely something to explore.

Monday, February 23, 2009

There's No Such Thing as Isolation

Reading Romans 14:7-9:

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself

If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord. Whether

We live or die we belong t the Lord. It was for this purpose that Christ

Died and rose to life again. – that he might be the Lord of the dead and the living.

William Barclay in his commentary on the Book of Romans1 states that no one lives in isolation. We live in the past by virtue that all we encounter we take a little bit of each and it is added to our soul.

We live in the present. Nothing we do only affects ourselves. You may have heard of the Butterfly Effect, which is associated with Chaos Theory, that refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter, delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a weather pattern half a world away.2 The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of a system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events. Now whether it’s cockamamie or not, it is a good illustration of how we impact others, and perhaps persons we have not even met. By virtue of our actions on a brother or sister – good or bad – it causes a reaction by making them happy or sad that is transferred unto others by their own actions. “We are all bound up in the bundle of life, and from that bundle we cannot escape” (Barclay). Former U.S. President Jimmy Cater once wrote (I paraphrase) that we are presented two choices in our moments with people. We can either smile at them or make them enemies for life. It is easier to smile at them and receive the rewards than it is to make them life-long enemies and pay the costs.3

We live in the future. “As we receive life, so we hand life on. We hand on to our children a heritage of physical life and spiritual character. We are not self-contained units; we are links in a chain” (Barclay). CBC News reports today4 that a “team of scientists found early child abuse changed the expression of a gene that is important for responding to stress.” The news story further reports 36 males were studied post-mortem, and included twelve individuals who had suffered severe childhood abuse. Their brain tissue was compared to 12 accident victims who had not been abused and 12 controls. The researchers concluded the men who were abused were programmed to be more vulnerable to overwhelming feelings of despair. Researcher, Louise Newman, a professor of perinatal and infant psychiatry at the University of Newcastle in Australia, she said, "This impacts directly on how the brain develops and the stress regulation mechanism. It becomes highly stressed so it's like setting the thermostat on high, setting up a system which regulates stress less efficiently.” The study identified the area of the victim’s brains that are impacted. Newman says this region , “…controls feelings, so they're more likely to be highly stressed, have difficulties with anger and emotions, and be prone to self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression." Anybody who has lived with a person suffering from anger issues, anxiety or depression knows of the reality of transfer. Without intervention the cycle only continues.

Using this line of argument Barclay also claims that we cannot disentangle ourselves from Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in Christ or not, he is a living presence in our lives. All life is under his gaze. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920).5, a Christian Reformed pastor and former Prime Minister of The Netherlands wrote that “Every square inch of the Universe belongs to Jesus Christ.” We are his slaves; we cannot escape him. Our existence is linked to him for the sacrifice he paid to save us from eternal damnation. Now, because of his brand on us he sees us in all that we do and he shall be our Advocate in our deathly hour.

In that time, Barclay adds, we shall see Jesus in his visible presence. Death is not the chasm that ends in obliteration; it is the gateway that leads to Christ.


1. Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002 (The Daily Study Bible Series).

2. Butterfly Effect. Wikipedia. Accessed February 24, 2009

3. Carter, Jimmy. Living Faith. New York : Times Books, 1996.

4. "Scars of child abuse reach down to genetic level, scientists find." [ {accessed February 24, 2009}]

5. Hexham, Irving. Christian Politics according to Abraham Kuyper. [First Published in CRUX, Vol. XIX, No. 1, March, 1983:2-7] Found at [ {accessed February 24, 2009}]


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Structural Awareness

Lately I have been spending a considerable amount of time with someone -- growing an acquaintance into a friendship that I hope is long lasting. Through this my self-awareness has increased. I see how have ordered my life into neat structures. I have self-imposed these structures to keep me honest and lessen procrastination. My friend jokingly refers me to being anal for having the seams of the lampshades in the living room turned to the wall. I am sure this is not what Dr. Sigmund Freud meant when he coined the term. It is both annoying and amusing to see that my friend has turned them "out."

What other rules do I daily apply? Electrical cords need to be coiled, not bow-tied. Hey, it makes sense if you want your stuff to last and provide you with safety you need to treat it well. I don't swear (much). I like tidiness. I have my countless alerts and alarms set in my Palm device so I am getting things done; getting to bed before eleven o'clock. I have been advised that I am formal person. This is funny because it is not how I see myself. On the other hand, I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era, and would like to believe I would have thrived in a more formal period.

My friend is more loosey-goosey in approaching life than I. The saying, "Life is short, live," is a real mantra in this person's walk. I have come to realize that there is no harm in this philosophy. We should live. I fear that as I get older I am being trapped into being too routine and too complacent. So I now know it is okay to be spontaneous. It is okay to have the lampshades turned out (just not all the time).

Even with this discernment I also know I can never be as care-free. I am a slave to my personality type. In my case, as it would be described by Florence Littauer (1) (2), I am a "melancholy." I require logic and order, lists, downtime and spurts of creativity. I used to resist the notion that I could be typecast. "Aren't I unique?" I asked. However, as I mature this insight has become more palatable. It actually helps me to know how to deal with other people not like me (there is still much to learn). Melancholy-patterned people have a tendency to be perfectionists. Well, I know this: I will not reach perfection in this life. Hopefully, by Christ's love for me, on the day I die I will be made perfect in heaven. What this means by present-day application is that I could wish/search for the all the "right" attributes in a partner, but the likelihood is I would never be satisfied. To find one Godly-person who isn't as curvy as a Heidi Klum, rather who is spontaneous, and who can bring laughter in great doses is better than most -- indeed is perfect. For eventually, all that which I desire in the flesh retires with age. It either will be the love of my partner's heart that sustains me and for which I will see as adding physical value as well or I will be hopelessly chained to the World and all that it values.