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Bad News, Bad Astronomy, and Great Scripture

November 18, 2014

Dan Bowman tuning our piano.

For years we have had Dan Bowman tune our piano. He has been blind since childhood. But nevermind that.


Dan Bowman’s 2014 contribution to the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.


Dan is also an avid woodworker, joyfully making a handcrafted masterpiece to donate to the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale every year. This was his 2014 contribution.

Amazing doesn’t begin to describe him, and as I learned recently, we aren’t the only people who think so. Two professors, Mike Grundmann and Shaun Wright, at James Madison University in the School of Media Arts and Design are apparently doing a documentary about him, and hope to release it at Court Square in Harrisonburg, Va. later this academic year. I hope to see it!

I chuckled as Dan described what it is like for a video team to invade your home after you have made it spic and span and all straightened up, and they proceed to move furniture, set up lights, and otherwise totally destroy what you have just spent hours tidying. He told me how they worked at helping him be concise and respond to questions with complete sentences and all the tricks I have learned over a number of years helping to interview people for videos or documentaries as well.

Dan loves history, connecting with people, current events, the church, and always has a book he is reading (either himself, or his wife reading to him together, which they both enjoy). During our most recent tuning, he again brought up another of his favorite hobbies, astronomy.

Um, yes. How does he “see” the stars in the night sky?

When our oldest daughter turned 12 or 13, we invested in a telescope for her birthday—but really for the whole family to enjoy. Well if you know much about telescopes you know they are tricky to use, so after some initial exciting and educational use, it just kind of sat in the corner of our living room. When Dan first discovered we had a telescope in the corner by the piano (I usually describe the lay of the land for him, so he knows what’s where and pitfalls to avoid in moving about our house), he was fascinated. He admitted that one of the things he regrets about his blindness is that he cannot see the stars—but he remains enthralled.

Now with the Internet, he can pursue his somewhat unusual—for him—hobby to his heart’s content, using a website he has come to love and read almost every day: Bad I was perplexed by the name.

“The Bad Astronomy web pages are devoted to airing out myths and misconceptions in astronomy and related topics.”

According to Dan, the blog for the website is always very current, very fascinating, and can be on anything related to the whole general field of astronomy.

Yesterday for instance it took on some news that had passed me by, because I was off line for about four days taking care of a grandson. Yes, I knew about the Rosetta mission with the space probe, but not about the follow up Shirtgate:

“But another event caused a stir at the same time, tangentially related to the event. Matt Taylor, the Rosetta mission’s project scientist, went on the air to talk about the successful landing. However, his choice of attire was unfortunate. He was wearing a bowling shirt covered in pinup-style drawings of scantily clad women.”

The big oops got even bigger with a bad choice of words as he described the “sexy” nature of the mission, but I won’t go into that here.

Dan likes Bad Astronomy because it describes things in such detail he doesn’t have to see the images—Phil Plait does it for Dan as he uses his computer through a screen reader and the modern marvels of technology. Dan told me he uses JAWS (Jobs Access With Speech) found at which enables those with low vision or sight loss to use a computer without a mouse.

Dan and Phil and everyone who takes an interest in the world and trying to understand it, make it better, take me back to Isaiah (we could also visit Psalms or Job or other texts (even Amos!) for biblical astronomical inspiration. These days I’m gazing at the heavens frequently as we take our four month old puppy, Velvet, out for her night time potty breaks.


Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name. Isaiah 40:26

He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit. Psalm 147: 4-5

And this:
Praise God, sun and moon;
praise God, all you shining stars.
Praise God, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies. Psalm 148:3-4, adapted

And Amos:

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night … Amos 5:8

I take inspiration from my longtime friend Dan, unknown but wonderfully accessible newer online friends like Phil, and always from the Creator of it all (however that was accomplished). We will never be able to grasp, this side of heaven, the expanse of God’s vast universe and the wonder of God’s ways.

That gives me comfort when the news on television, radio, or online is overwhelming (ISIS, Ebola, Ferguson, and more) and scary.


What is your favorite Bible passage related to the heavens or astronomy?


My weekly newspaper column Another Way can be found online at


From → Faith, Nature

  1. Dan inspires us all. I have heard that when one sense fails (sight in this case), other senses are heightened.

    Favorite “heavenly” verse? Without a doubt, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

    Uplifting post as my sisters and I begin our last day of packing. Thank you, Melodie.

    • Marian: thanks for Psalm 19:1–one of my favorites too. In citing the others which I did, I wanted to find some of the not-so-common ones. I’m glad it was uplifting for your day of packing and I hope it went well.
      And Dan continues to inspire. He called me last night with some corrections. He admitted it helps to be tech savvy to do what he does online. For one, I learned that the reader he uses reads the tags we put with photos which help him get a sense of the photo–but when there is no tag–which I neglect most of the time–it reads a number, which is no help at all. He played a portion of my blog post back to me over the phone using his reader. 🙂

  2. Colin Figures permalink

    A nice piece of writing.

  3. Thanks for leaving a comment, Colin!

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