Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Creator Who Gives Being

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void…

One of the things I love about how God created the world is that He both created from nothing, spoke things straight into existence, – and also formed things.  This is something true of God.  He is abundantly powerful, and everything has its source in Him.  He is the Alpha.  And also, He is a God of life, of living and growing and progressing and moving.  He is the Omega, both Beginning and End.  He is the eternal I AM, but He created a world of experience - not just existence. 

When God created the world, He began a story.  When God created Adam, Adam was fully formed and when God breathed into him the breath of life, that is when Adam became a living being.  But God started with Adam a dominion, a mandate, a command, a purpose.  That purpose is being unfurled still, across the generations, covenant to covenant.  Each life is like this, too.  God forms us in our mothers’ wombs.  He begins our stories, and we don’t come into this life “finished” or complete.  Our purposes are yet unfulfilled. 

I don’t always like it, that God takes time.  That God begins with seeds that must sprout and grow and blossom before they bear fruit – that is hard for me to wait on.  But it is beautiful.  It is glorious in that we get to partake of imitating God, of acting and producing. 

These thoughts coalesced as I thought about Pope Francis’s recent comments about the nature of evolution.  I don’t know the intent of his comments; I’m pretty sure I disagree with some parts of them.  Maybe he was pointing out that even evolution and the big bang don’t have an explanation for the beginning of things.  But the concept of evolution: that things once started do tend to develop – this is not inconsistent with what we know of God.  He starts things that change.  “He created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and [sic] their fullness of being,” said Pope Francis, “… [God is] the Creator who gives being to all things.” 

I don’t believe God started the world with the Big Bang.  I don’t believe He started humanity from a single-celled organism in a primal soup.  Maybe, though, the appeal is for all of us, evolutionist or creationist, to recognize this truth about our world as God has set us in it: that we’re progressing towards the end of the story.  And, as Pope Francis went on to say, “Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist*, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the earth, and, of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature. But, at the same time, the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary** mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realise, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the Creator. So, while limited, the action of humanity is part of God's power and is able to build a world suited to his dual corporal and spiritual life; to build a human world for all human beings and not for a group or a class of privileged persons. This hope and trust in God, the Creator of nature, and in the capacity of the human spirit can offer the researcher a new energy and profound serenity…”

To God be all glory.

*I suggest this applies to humans, to Christians, and to Christian scientists; it is not exclusive to researchers (see Genesis 1:28)


**I am not sure whether in the context, the term “evolutionary” is exclusively referring to the scientific theory of evolution.  I am inspired only by the aspect of evolution in this definition: “any process of formation or growth; development”.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What Is Not the Boss

My little friend Prudence is 3 years old.  She's in the process of being potty-trained.  So the other night her mom told her to go use the bathroom.  She objected that, "My body isn't telling me I have to."  First, this is a necessary thing to teach children to recognize, when their bodies are telling them to use the toilet - and to get them to act on that and go, on their own initiative.  However, a much more important lesson came in my friend Amie's reply to her daughter, "Who's the boss?  Your body or Mommy?  Your body is not the boss of you."

Your body is not the boss of you.  We should absolutely be teaching children this.  And then, maybe when they're adults, they'll know it, too.

Interestingly enough, it rather aligned with the article by GK Chesterton that Prudence's dad read to us the same night.  In it, the author was responding to a critic who insisted that since his bodily impulses for pleasure were natural, they were legitimate.  The critic was also interested in pursuing these pleasures while preventing natural consequences of the actions.  Yet another valuable lesson.

Consequences are natural (and therefore legitimate?).

To God be all glory.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Retold for the Modern Reader

In a world where (aggressively shifting) vocabularies rule our comprehension and communication is often compressed into a “tweet” or a “text”, the elegant structure of grammar as an aid in clearly passing thoughts and information from one person to another may be a lost art.  How can we withstand it?  Maybe language ought to be more poetic, about the images it gives us, the feelings with which we respond, the ways we wish to interpret what we hear.  In which case, all those little in-between words aren’t so necessary anymore…

I once had an experience with a young woman who believed God wished all people to be vegetarians.  We read together from Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, [that is], its blood.”  She picked out a few words on which to base her application: “not eat flesh” and she said this was because of the “blood” and respect for “life”. 

This girl had a subjective interpretation that served her preconceptions.  The last words had more impact on her, too, I believe, because she remembered them better than the first sentence.  She seemed unable to grasp the relationship between one thought and the next, though she used cause and effect words (not rationale, only the vocabulary) in defense of her own position.  People like her know what words sound persuasive, what words make people feel good.  I wonder how often more intelligent speakers are condemned for being judgmental simply because our vocabulary made people feel bad, made them feel that we were dealing in stark absolutes. 

And I am encountering this phenomenon in lesser degrees more and more.  A word in a sentence might just as easily suggest its opposite as its traditional meaning.  A word may or may not be modified by other words in context.  My interpretation of what you say or write is just as valid, just as likely to guide my decisions, as the interpretation you intended.  Ideas cannot be comprehended if they take more than three sentences to build and capstone. 

What is our obligation to combat these trends?  How much are we the communicators responsible to mind our audience and deliver our messages in ways that will have the effect we desire? 


These are the questions I wish to explore with my new blog, “Retold for the Modern Reader” at www.LanguageDeconstruction.blogspot.com

To God be all glory. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"You wore blue."

"I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey. You wore blue."

"Yes. I put that dress away. When the Germans march out, I'll wear it again."


~ Casablanca

One of the things I love about Ilsa is that she is a character.  We see only these few glimpses, and it seems like she is always dependent and following, but what kind of woman captures Rick’s heart and inspires Laszlo?  It’s the woman who wears blue the day the Germans march into Paris.  She isn’t mourning, isn’t hiding.  We know she was afraid.  But she is celebrating hope, I think – a confidence that the city-conquering Nazis will not be victorious in the end – not if brave, faithful men and women stand against them. 

But.  She has put that dress away.  She will wear it again when the Germans leave.  That will be a day also for celebrating hope – hope fulfilled, hope overcoming. 

It would not be right for her to get the dress out early, before the Nazis are defeated.  Doing so would turn the original defiant hope into an image of how naïve she had been – despairing retrospection. 

It would not be right for her to get rid of the dress.  That would be like throwing hope away, or like saying hope has nothing to do with the outcome. 

Do you have anything you have “put away”?  Do you laugh when you promise that you will wear it again? 


To God be all glory.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Asking

Several of my friends are learning about asking for help.  And when such dear friends are learning something, so am I.  They pose challenging questions, and as I meditate on my experience, my personality, I see where I also need to grow.  I’m on the watch, as are they, for opportunities to humble myself and ask for what I need. 

I practice gratitude, like a tight fist on the last rope holding me from slipping from trust.  I choose to see the ways that God provides and blesses.  I struggle to understand how grace is abundant and need still stands, inviting God, inviting His people, to invest.  I have been gifted many friends, time to hold children, nearness of God as I read Scripture, job to earn money, good food, moments to pray with God’s Church. 

But I am thirsty, needy.  I feel this restlessness for days.  When I take time finally to examine, I find that being with people is not enough.  That though giving is a blessing, sometimes receiving is all I can do; sometimes I am on my knees too weak to even hold myself up.  I need attention.  I need a hug, given to me.  I need some other to be strong.  And though God is the supplier of all, and though even without nourishment I would still have life eternal because of Jesus, there are some things that I need in this life that are not God.  I need food and water and air.  I need people to speak truth specifically relevant to the problems I face and the doubts that assail.  I need to be heard.  I need to not just be known, like the perfect God knows His children, but discovered, like a daughter, like a friend.  Discovered and not rejected.  Vulnerable and embraced and even delighted in. 

I ask my brother, confidante, “How do you ask for [attention]?  And then someone says ‘yes’ and what – stares at you awkwardly?”  So how do I confess my need?  What exactly do I expect from whomever I ask?  And when it is my turn, how do I meet needs that are this profound, this tender?   


To God be all glory.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Brim

I wore a hat today - a cute pale blue newsboy cap with a bit of bling. It was a fun accessory to complement my outfit.  But that brim got in my way.  I could still see.  I drove safely to the library and back.  While scanning titles on the shelves the whole hat kept being cumbersome: falling off, tilting into my face, needing me to carry it.  Even when I was upright and facing straight ahead, there was this shadowy obstruction above my brows.

Lately I have felt so often that there are lies in my mind, sitting just out of center-vision, distracting and clouding the truth that I focus on.  I know what they are up there.  Addressing them is a hassle.  Somehow I just can't take the hat off.  The battle goes on and on, my mind slipping into chasing derivatives of the deceptions until I pull up short.  I remember something I know is true, about me, my life, and God.  And there it is, lurking on the edges, needing to be refuted by the brightness of reality, chased out of mind until I turn my head to look at something else, and there it is again in my peripheral vision.

So I'm weary.  But not beaten.  Praise God for a strength I can scarcely believe, to persevere.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Lament

The weekend before Christmas I attended a holiday concert.  The band leader introduced one song, sung in another language, saying it was so sad he didn’t want to tell us what it was about.  My spirit breathed in the still moment, lullaby melody haunting the sanctuary.  It felt so right, that amid the songs of joy and hope and triumph there would be a few that take time to sense the sadness. 

A little girl looks at the wise men figurines from the nativity set, and tells me part of the Christmas story.  She says that the mean king wanted the kings from the East to tell him if they found the star-heralded infant they sought.  He didn’t want to worship the Boy, like he said; he wanted to assassinate Him.  And my little friend and I keep talking about the story, part we usually leave out of advent calendars and candlelight services: that though God’s plan went forward in the family exiled to Egypt, many little boys were slaughtered by Herod.  As prophesied in Jeremiah, Rachel wept for her children, and would not be comforted. 

There is hope.  And hope is terribly needed.  The world is dark.  Kings kill.  Babies die.  Sin persists.  Faith wanes.  The sadness is real.  And hope belongs there.  It doesn’t erase the pain; it sits with it in the dust, and then raises it up. 

Jesus weeps outside his friend’s tomb, before He calls him forth. 

I spend hours searching for Christmas laments.  I am intentional about seizing the wonder and beauty and joy arising from this Light come into the world.  But I relate to the burdening grief in this fallen place, sympathize with a bereft woman keening beneath the Christmas stars in Bethlehem.  Dear friends suffer also, personal events in their own stories not so far away as the homeland of David.  In Christmas there is a place for them, a place even for their aching.  I want to look at it.  I want to seek the whole truth unshrinking, though on my weary knees - and see the God who belongs there, too. 

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Etymologies 2013

I don't know how "tan" developed into "toe" in the name for that plant you kiss under at Christmastide.  But in Old English, "mistletoe" was spelled mistiltan from the root "missel", basil or the plant we know as mistletoe, and "tan", which means twig.

Speaking of "Christmastide", the second half of that compound word is something we usually associate with the ocean and beach.  "Tide" arrived in English, however, associated with time.  In Old English it meant a period of time, from an ancient root having to do with dividing out a portion.  By the 1300's we were using it to refer to the water levels on the shore, from the idea of "high tide" and "low tide" being at specific times.  Old English had the word heahtid but at that time, it would have referred to a day like Christmas, "festival, high day".

"Tidings", as in "tidings of comfort and joy", has a long history, early diverging from the word "tide".  For a thousand years it has meant an announcement of an event.  It comes from the Old Norse adjective 
tiðr, "occurring".  Going just a bit further back, this word joins with the roots of "tide".  

The debate rages about celebrating Christ's birth near the solstice, when the Northern hemisphere has the shortest day of the year.  Pagan observances of this event involved the expectation for the winter to end and life to begin again.  Israel, where Jesus was born, is in the Northern Hemisphere, but that is no proof that his birthday was in that season.  Regardless of the actual event, we have placed Christmas at what is considered by astronomers to be the beginning of winter.  In Celtic nations and Scandinavia, the solstice is considered to be "midwinter", an interpretation I prefer, agreeing with meteorologists' definition of winter as the coldest months, normally all of December, January, and February here on this half of the globe.  Etymologists don't know where the word "winter" comes from, but they have a couple ideas.  One is that it comes from a word for "wet", *wed-/*wod-/*ud-which makes sense in more temperate climates.  Or it might be from the word for "white", *wind-.  Obviously this latter is more relevant to the ice and snow of the cold season.  


"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a Christmas carol written by Christina Rosetti by 1872, celebrating Jesus' humbling Himself:


In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

The word "bleak" meant "pale, whitish, blonde" in the Old Norse whence it arrived in English circa A.D. 1300.  Before that, the words origins meant "shining, white" or "burning".  The same root gave us the word "black", from the color things get after they have been burned.  By 1530 it also carried the meaning "windswept, bare".

Such conditions alongside the green of fir trees, or the geothermal fields of Iceland are signature beauties of Scandinavia, and even the northeast coast of the United States.  There is something wonderful about life continuing amid hostility, be it from weather, self-righteous religious leaders, or power-paranoid kings like Herod.  Winters, and birthing in a stable when You're really King of Heaven and Earth, can be harsh.  "Stark" is an Old English word stearc with an extensive definition: "stiff, strong, rigid, obstinate; stern, severe, hard; harsh, rough, violent".  One of the things I love about places like Iceland is how the difficult climate and landscape have revealed the stern character of the people who live there.  But how do you embrace strength in hardship without losing tenderness and humility?

Jesus, the mighty Son of God, gave us an example when He was born a needy babe, pursuing with perfect resolution His cause of love, though He walked through the wilderness and built a whip to drive money-changers out of the temple, and though He submitted Himself to face a severe death by crucifixion.  "Babe" was likely imitative of infants babbling, though in most cases this became a word like baba for "peasant woman" or "mother", as Etymonline.com cites John Audelay, c. 1426: "Crist crid in cradil, 'Moder, Baba!' "  Old English used the word "child" to refer to infants.  It seems originally to refer to the relation between the little one and his or her mother, as the "fruit of her womb".  The significance of the mother's role in bearing the child is also seen in surviving Scottish "bairn", Old English bearn, from a root meaning "carry".  


"Incarnation" is not an English word; it has it's roots in Latin: caro or carnis means "flesh", so it is litearally "being made flesh".  This is the mysterious truth described by CS Lewis: 

...the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. 


and by the Apostle Paul

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

To God be all glory.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The History of Answers, Fixes, and Solutions

I was thinking about our term in simple math for the part of an equation following the equals sign.  Generally, we call this the “answer”.  In specific cases, it is the “solution”.  Somewhat familiar with alternate definitions, I began to wonder how these words came to be applied to math.  Here is what I found from the Online Etymology Dictionary about their origins. 

Answer – is an Old English word meaning “swearing against”, suggesting a sworn statement rebutting a charge.  As early as the 1300’s it was used to mean an answer to a problem as well. 

Solution – In the late 1300’s we received this word from the French – or possibly directly from Latin, solutionem “a loosening or unfastening”.  

Remedy – comes from a Latin root meaning literally “to heal” with the “intensive prefix” re- , meaning “fully” or “again.  This definition, “make whole” is a common definition of old words for “heal, cure”, along with “tend to” or “conjure” or “ward off, defend”. 

Cure –  *kois- is the suggested Proto-Indo-European root, meaning “be concerned”.  In the late 1300’s it began to be used for “take care of”. 

Aid – came to English around 1400 by way of the French, originally from the Latin adiutus “give help to”. 

Help – is the Old English helpan “help, support, succor; benefit, do good to; cure, amend”.  Our modern word actually sounds more like the Proto-Indo-European root, *kelb-.

Amend – The verb form is now generally supplanted by the shortened form, mend.  But this word has been in English since the 1200’s, “to free from faults, rectify”.  It comes from the Latin prefix ex- and Proto-Indo-European root *mend- “physical defect, fault”.   

Fix – is another word likely originating in the Proto-Indo-European, the root *dhigw- “to stick, to fix”.  The sense of “repair” dates from 1737. 

Antidote – comes ultimately from the Greek antidoton, literally “given against”. 


To God be all glory.  

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Very True Story

She stood on the edge, one foot raise above the rug.  That rug captivated her attention so that she first stared, turned shyly away, then went back to watching it ponderously.  She had to choose, and she couldn't forget that.  But once she chose, she couldn't know what the consequences would be.  She lowered her foot, close to taking the step, then drew back.

Daddy had made her a deal: If she stepped on the rug, she might get pinched - or she might get candy - or she might get both.  Without the step, no candy, for sure!

Her daddy loved her.  Whether pinch or candy, he would be doing good to her.  She trusted him, but she still hesitated.

She tried to figure it all out.  What did "might" mean?  Was Daddy making a rule with a punishment for breaking it - or was this different somehow?  Would Daddy pinch hard?  How much freedom did she have?  Could she go away and do something else (as if she'd be able to long forget 'the deal')?  Was the whole rug implied?  She wanted to be sure she wasn't inadvertently getting herself into the risk.  

She climbed on the couch beside the rug.  She sat on Daddy's lap for a while, held from the portentous tapestry by his strong arms until she was ready to make her choice.  Then she was back on the edge, testing whether her chances were better if she made a covert move towards touching it.

Daddy spoke, "If you step, I don't want you to do it timidly.  I want you to run out onto the rug and say, 'I'm touching it!' "

A little more consideration, and there she was - feet across the rug, yelling like her daddy said.

He caught her up in his arms and gave her his choice.

To God be all glory.