Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mrs. Hollywood in the Sunday News

Annalisa was the subject of an article in the Sunday News on Easter about a Sunday School class she will be teaching next Sunday through May 31. The Sunday News links expire quickly, so here's the text:

It all adds up to the 'God of Mathematics'
First female adult Sunday school teacher at Wheatland Presbyterian explores infinity ... and beyond

By Helen Colwell Adams, Staff Writer
How is Christian faith like mathematics?

The possibilities, as Dr. Annalisa Crannell sketches them, are nearly infinite.

Infinity itself, for instance.

"Mathematicians and Christians look at very similar kinds of things," Crannell, a professor of mathematics at Franklin & Marshall College, said. "We ask very similar kinds of questions. What does infinity mean? How do you resolve a paradox — how can God be three in one?"

Crannell will be opening that world of possibilities for an innovative Sunday school series at her church, Wheatland Presbyterian, April 19 through May 31. The series, "The God of Mathematics," is innovative for another reason.

Crannell will be the first woman to teach an adult Sunday school class at the Lancaster Township church, part of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America denomination.

"Having Annalisa and her husband, Neil Gussman … and their family here at Wheatland is a great blessing to us, and we are excited that she can use her considerable gifts in this way," Wheatland's pastor, Bruce Mawhinney, said. "She is an amazing believer and follower of Jesus Christ who not only talks the talk but walks the walk."

"I have a lot of support," Crannell said. "I have the feeling there are a lot of people who were trying to figure out how to make this happen and still be true to their values."
The logic of faith
Part of Crannell's understanding of God comes from metaphors of mathematics. John 1:1, for instance, says, "In the beginning was the Word."

"For math, everything flows logically from axioms," Crannell explained. Logic comes from the Greek logos, the "Word" of John 1:1.

"Because I know math and because I like axioms, I have a good picture in my head of how God can speak the world into existence."

Mathematicians believe in the extranatural, as Christians do.

"I believe in 2. There is no 2 in the world," Crannell said. Numbers aren't tangible or material; they are concepts.

"... In that way, math is not of this world. It helps me to understand something that's bigger than a material universe."

But when mathematicians change the axioms, "you change the universe," she explained. "… You change the kinds of things that happen in the world.

"When God spoke the universe into being, the way he spoke it formed us."

She'll be unfolding those ideas in the Sunday school series, which is open to the public. Topics include "Math and Metaphor," "Sizes of infinity," "Mobius strips and the Triune God" and "Symmetry, pattern and repetition."

Too much information? Crannell doesn't think so. "I'm used to dialogue with people who are math-averse," she said. "… How much math do you need to know? If you like puzzles, if you like doing things like Sudoku, then that's enough math."
The logic of submitting
It might seem counterintuitive for a respected female academic to belong to a church that holds, among other doctrines, that only men may serve as teaching and ruling elders or deacons.

For Crannell, it's a matter of biblical mutual submission.

"There are ways in which it's very countercultural to be a Christian at all," she said. "It's a faith that does ask you to submit … to something bigger than yourself all the time."

At Wheatland, an eclectic congregation "that really loves Christ," she said, "we're all submitting ourselves in various ways."

Plus, Crannell noted, "The church is the most segregated institution in the United States. One of the obligations we have as Christians is to try to fight that by placing ourselves with people" who think differently.

"It is very hard to do it. We need to look at people who have differences of opinion not as enemies we should shun but as people we should engage."

Crannell said the church has been enthusiastic about her series, planned after the governing Session voted to allow women to lead adult classes that do not involve teaching the Bible.

"Ordinarily our adult classes are taught by an ordained officer of the church — pastor, elders and deacons — but having a member like Annalisa teach this class is not really a new step for us at Wheatland," Mawhinney said.

"We have been planning on her doing this and trying to find a good place in our schedule for some time now. We try to use our members in areas of their expertise in our Sunday school ministry."

Crannell's membership at Wheatland is part of her faith journey.

"I came to faith very late in life, nine years ago," she said. She began attending church with Gussman, a convert to Christianity, to understand him better and found herself drawn to faith partly by math connections.

"Even atheists will talk of mathematics as something beautiful," she said. "It's something pure and holy."

For her, it's another way Christian faith is like mathematics.

"The God of Mathematics" will be offered at Wheatland, 1125 Columbia Ave., from 9:30-10:30 a.m. April 19 through May 31. For information, phone the church, 392-5909, or e-mail info@wheatlandpca.org.

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