I’m glad to say that I made it home safely from Finland a few days ago. My return journey was very smooth (except for a very upset stomach during one of the flights…). I was also very fortunate to meet Professor Osmo Pekonen at the train station in Jyväskylä. He is a professor at the University of Jyväskylä, and had a hand in organizing the Bridges conference. We ended up on the same train to Helsinki, and we chatted for quite some time over tea in the restaurant car. He is a man of many interests, and I enjoyed our exchange.
After arriving in Helsinki, I was joined in my travels by Professor Rogério Martins from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal. He has created a television show in which various mathematical themes are explored. We ended up having lunch together and discussing many things while we waited for our flight to Amsterdam. Again, I very much enjoyed this exchange, and was thankful for the company during this portion of my journey. Truly, one of my favorite aspects of conferences such as Bridges is the opportunity to meet and interact with diverse and interesting people.
Now that I’m home, I need to process the Bridges experience. How will I move forward in my artistic/mathematical pursuits? For one, I’ve been re-inspired to better understand the mathematics and aesthetics of substitution tilings (both periodic and non-periodic). For another, I am interested in continuing to explore aesthetic possibilities associated with m-palindromic continued fractions. I do believe such possibilities exist. That might be plenty for now, especially since the school year is about to start. But, if I have time and energy, I want to think harder about how to design a new course that merges mathematical and artistic concepts. I would love to teach something like this, and I met a few people at Bridges who have done so.
I am also processing other aspects of my time in Finland. For example, I had several conversations with people I met about the topic of Christianity in relation to mathematics, education, culture, and personal salvation. I was very thankful for these conversations, and I hope they were beneficial to those with whom I conversed. They, at very least, served to sharpen my own ability to express my Christian faith in a relevant and accessible manner (or at least I hope they did).
On the same note of religion, I attended two different churches on Sunday. In the morning I attended the Jyväskylä City Church, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. It was an interesting experience. I attended with the intention of actually engaging in worship (as opposed to attending as a sort of “religious tourist”). However, this was a bit difficult since the service was held completely in Finnish. Nevertheless, I was able to discern which scriptures they used for their readings, and found benefit in meditating on these passages. They were Exodus 4:10-12, 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, and Mark 7:31-37. It seems that the theme must have been related to God’s ability to work through our weakness, despite our natural impressions to the contrary. The congregation in attendance at the City Church was on the smaller side, maybe 50 at most. The service was very liturgical, as would be expected at a Lutheran church. The music was nice. Since the service was not in English, I don’t suppose I can say much more about it.
In the evening, after stopping by Enrico Le Donne’s house to brainstorm some math research ideas, I headed to Jyväskylän Vapaaseurakunta, a local Evangelical Free church located a short walk from my hotel in the city center. I had communicated with the church prior to arriving, so when I walked in and said “hello” with an American accent, someone immediately asked, “Are you David?” Thus I felt welcomed from the start. They also made translation service available, so I was able to understand the entire service. I enjoyed a very nice time of worship during both the singing and preaching service. The message was of a practical sort, focusing on the theme of “Jesus Among Us.” The speaker spent time meditating on the role of the Spirit in the Christian life, and our goal to know Jesus better and be more like him. I also enjoyed hearing one of the church leaders describe some of the needs for volunteers. It sounds like the church is involved in some good work for the glory of God! I was also encouraged to see the congregation (of about 100 or so) made up of both older and younger people, and many families with children were present as well. I am thankful for this small glimpse into some of what God seems to be doing in a part of the world very distant from my own.
Now comes the obvious question: Will I plan to attend Bridges next year? It is scheduled to be held in Waterloo, Ontario. We’ll see how things go, I guess…