Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wind in Your Sails

“Set back to wind,” she wrote. The Spirit fills us, pushes us along, just the next gust or the ever-present breath. No sinking, no long-range course for us. Like the wind.

John 3:8 – “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I love the wind. Strong or gentle, wrapping me or rattling my window, my eyes light like Galadriel’s going to sea. Calling, like I’m supposed to be there, in it. Hard to only watch. And what am I watching? Not really the wind itself. Family is careful to remind me that I am not seeing wind, but its impact. Transfer of energy. But the wind takes a long time to get tired.

Rain in the wind. Hair in the wind. Eowyn’s flag atop Edoras in the wind. Trees in the wind. Windy City. Windmills. Wind on my face. A sail-ship powered by the wind.

Romance of Sail by Frank Vining Smith
Romance of Sail

All my life I’ve wanted a picture of a ship. I’m picky. It has to be a beautiful ship on a beautiful sea. And the ship can’t bee too modern, or a pirate ship either. Ships in bottles excite me. I love anchors and the white and blue of a sailor, white ropes and wooden floors and round windows.

Comprehend my delight at finding the perfect substitute for my ship picture or ship-in-a-bottle: a model of a ship, about a foot long, unpainted. As soon as it’s made I will place it in prominence in my room, to inspire like wind in my room every day of the year. Such are all my decorations, bits of memory pointing me to love others, worship God, walk in the spirit, quest for the truth.

To God be all glory.

Do You Look for Him Everywhere?

We got Prince Caspian for Christmas at our house. Some movies offer what no books can: moments of sight and sound and emotion woven together. My favorite in this movie is Peter, High King, sitting back against the table of Aslan’s sacrifice staring at a carving of Aslan’s face and realizing that in his humanness, Peter is insufficient. Peter fails. And Aslan is always faithful. Perhaps he imagines the look on Aslan’s face when Edmund returned, forgiven. Now Peter knows too. And has to go on.

At the beginning of Prince Caspian is another moment. If you’re not watching closely, you’ll miss it. For just a second the view that had been following Lucy and Susan beneath the rail-station arch pauses to focus on the lion statue beside it. The sight is full of memory, as though the roar from Narnia is trapped in that lion. For a while I ignore the scene’s progression and I think of the year between leaving the Wardrobe and now.

One of my dear friends had the opportunity to spend a semester at Oxford, England. Surrounded by faith-friends and the sites of our favorite literature, my friend whose strength is imagination was four months in legendary England. Now she is home, just in time for Christmas. She grew while she was away, I know. And maybe we all could have predicted how her return would affect her: “It’s like stepping back out of the wardrobe,” she says. I see four children tumble onto the wood floor of a clean old attic.

And I want to ask her, “Do you look for Aslan everywhere you go?” I mean, you might hear a tune and think of fauns, or see some architecture like Cair Paravel’s. A turn of phrase might bring back the voice of an old friend. Just looking at the face of one who was with you there could bring it all back. But mostly I think that those who have returned from Narnia would have learned to watch for Aslan.

Of course Aslan is only a type of the true Lion, my King forever and Redeemer coming-back. Jesus is the ever-present, always active One whom I can always seek. Do I look for Him everywhere?

It always reminds me of John, the disciple Jesus loved. After three years of a close relationship – three years walking and talking and eating, crying and laughing, with God Himself! – this man says good-bye to his Friend. Buoyed by the hope translated to the gospel he would write decades later, the hope of presence and return and friendship and comfort, he marched on through life. But I wonder if sometimes he didn’t sit in the darkness and miss his Savior with all that he was. Imagine his excitement to literally be a part of Revelation, to be in those visions, to see again One – hesitantly, as though John had pictured this moment so many times that he might only be dreaming again – like the Son of Man. Familiar face, glorified, more like the few moments on the mountain than the months in the dust. And John is back, Jesus speaking to him, comforting him, rewarding his hope. But there is more to do. John’s work on earth is not finished. He is sent back to write the last words of the hope of new testament.

Sent back. Held back. Cannot follow. Kept waiting. Watching. Can’t sleep because you’re standing on the walls, straining eyes to see. Can’t despair because the words are true, Jesus is coming back. Must follow, because readiness is imperative for the return of the Bridegroom. Readiness that glows with anticipation and faith-full faithfulness.

Do you look for Him everywhere?

To God be all glory.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Eve

...Began at 9 AM, at which point I determined that, even though I had awakened naturally, I had experienced too little and too shallow a sleep. So I returned to that state for two hours.

Finally really awake, I smelled bread baking upstairs. (Mom got up at 6:30!) So I checked my email and got started.

Today I made two skirts, a pink and green one with cream embroidered flowers and an exciting ruffle - and another made from off-white plush blankets, very warm. I'm delighted, because I've been in need of nice warm skirts here in Colorado, let alone if I ever move somewhere more frigid!

In the middle of all the sewing and pinning and cutting I finally took time to tap out Christmas songs from the hymnal on my piano, one of my favorite holiday habits. My little sisters sang along.

On the radio near my sewing machine was Hugh Hewitt interviewing a theologian and historian, who was giving the history of Christmas carols as a Christmas habit. The man, a Mr. Roberts, also said that Christmas as we know it (a celebration lasting one to two days involving friends, family and charity) was invented by Charles Dickens, who used his writing to advocate the holiday. In light of the Shadowlands quote from my post earlier this week, that if charity is alone, the magic is removed from Christmas, I wonder if CS Lewis was a fan of Dickens. Chesterton was; in fact, I prefer his accounts of Charles Dickens' novels to the books themselves and any movie versions.

When the skirts were completed, I made chocolate cheesecake filling to try with cinnamon rolls tomorrow. It's an interesting thought; I'm curious, so I'm going to try it. (My version of chocolate cheesecake involves no baking: cream cheese, sugar, cocoa, shortening and cool whip!)

Afterwards, my family went driving to our favorite Christmas light spots, two in particular. A man from our church is on his 29th year of filling his yard with lights, electronic decorations, and trains. As you approach his light-flooded driveway, he offers hot chocolate (very necessary in such weather). Then you proceed beneath a lighted archway to the back yard, a train following you on its course around the house. In the back are dozens of moving elves, Santas, Snoopy's, Winnie the Pooh, gingerbread men, and even nutcrackers. By the time you've seen everything, you're freezing, waving and thanking the host hurriedly so you can get back to your heated car.

The other light spot is a house with its own radio station, playing a series of songs to which the light display has been synchronized. There is usually Snoopy, Frosty, O Holy Night, and something patriotic. This year was a little more techno than usual, so we didn't stay as long (nothing specifically against techno; we just don't like it).

Back home my sisters and I went down to the basement to watch my Christmas Eve traditional movie, Little Women. "Change will come as surely as the seasons," Jo says. So it does.

The other adventure for the day was my brother, who worked this morning and hit his head, causing a 3 inch gash which he didn't realize was so serious. He wiped it with his glove and put his hat back on. But my mom and dad thought it was more serious than he did, so when he got home hours later, they made him call the doctor. Doctor said to come in. He got stitches and is on the thrilling cycle of ice about ten minutes each hour all night long.

Change happens, but some things stay the same. That's what I remember at Christmas. I'm very excited for Christmas morning. We trade names for gifts in my family, and our spending limit is smaller this year, but it has worked out so that people are actually getting more presents (though not as big or valuable). We'll be around the tree all morning!

Tonight I read RC Sproul, Jr.'s Kingdom Notes, mentioning Advent once again, and how it is both memory and anticipation. We celebrate two comings: 2,000 years ago and the return of our Lord. I'm so glad He's coming back.

Merry Christmas!

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to Wrap Hard Gifts with Ribbon Tying Bonus (Pictures!)


To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Gift Wrapping How-to with Pictures


Watch the video for the first step, then click here: How to Wrap a Gift Well

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spirit of Christmas

This week I've been thinking about my focus at Christmastime. I love Christmas. The atmosphere intoxicates me. Silver bells, lights, carols, music, parties, sweets, friends, gifts, giving, cards, crafts, kids, memory, and history all bundle up and go dancing through the frosty nights as the year winds to its shortest day. Without the celebration, we might go mad within the shortened boundaries of daylight and warmth.

But I don't like Christmas Eve service at church, or Christmas pageants. I recall a conversation from the movie Shadowlands, in which Jack Lewis observes that people are out of spirits at Christmas because they've "lost the magic." If we make Christmas about rituals and charity, he says, of course no one is going to be having fun. I believe in living life to the fullest, in frolicing when there is joy so huge that I can't keep it in. The joy and "magic" are my favorite part of Christmas.

Sermons seem so utterly out of place at Christmas. Jesus spent the interim of His life speaking. But on Christmas and Easter, He acted. He lived. He was Immanuel, the God-with-us. So I guess that's what I want, is to jump into these days with Jesus, feeling vividly the wonder of the story. There are implications, but not today. For this week I'm not doing theology or studying orthopraxy. I'm living on the edge, ready to float away with the current of truth so real that I'm too busy knowing it to think about it.

That's what I want. But somewhere in the midst of the magical, atmosphere of awe and merriness, I get lost. My mind forgets that the joy is Jesus', that He is sharing it with me, and that I only get it through Him. Awareness drops off that the gatherings and giving is to honor my Jesus. The balance goes away, leaving this stressful anti-peace business.

Christmastime is sometimes called Advent. Ann Voskamp, a blogger I recently discovered to my delight and encouragement, has pointed me to the idea of Advent. We remember and celebrate the first coming of God in the flesh. We dance the dailiness of His presence, His moment-by-moment coming to us with more grace. And we watch, on edge, doing the waiting that is not impatient but eager, looking for the 'blessed hope and glorious appearing' of our Bridegroom. He's coming back.

So I challenge myself, and you with me, to let the waiting inherent in the crazy Christmas world remind me that I'm waiting for my Savior, the Great King, to come for me. I am pursuing the balance that refuses to have any joy apart from Jesus. But I will have joy, because I cannot be with Him and not rejoice.

To God be all glory.

My Life in Ten Pictures Fall 2008

I have been camera crazy this year, filled with intentions of having one of those beautiful blogs filled with artistic pictures that speak effortless, silent poetry. Life has kept me busy, stunned me with its picturesque every day. This is my small sample. Me in one of my creative Christmas outfits. Here in Colorado the weather has scarcely ventured above freezing for two weeks, so I'm a little bored of my usual sweaters, inspiring creative ensembles.

There's another cause, too. In December, for several reasons, we should cancel laundry: 1. We are buying new clothes for Christmas parties anyway. 2. We are receiving new clothes at Christmas. 3. We are never at home, so laundry is impossible. 4. There's going to be enough guilt from all the candy and baked goods we eat, and all the New Year's Resolutions we instantly break. Why add unfinished laundry?

(To be honest, my laundry is all caught up as of about an hour from now. And I really don't get new clothes at Christmas or make New Year's Resolutions. Nor do I feel guilty about my sugar intake.)

For my birthday I hosted a party at which we watched the movie, Penelope (starring Christiana Ricci, James McAvoy, and Reese Witherspoon). The bright contrasting colors inspired me. For my parties I usually have either candles or flowers. These were too perfect, and looking exquisite in the daisy vase a friend gave me for my high school graduation.

Aren't the colors so vibrant?

Fall lingered in Colorado. I'm glad I have pictures to remember it by, not only because it was beautiful, but also because now it's so cold that I can't believe the Indian Summer we had.

See. Winter.

For weeks I went around with my camera in the passenger seat of my car so that when I found beautiful colors, driving through the right part of old Denver, I could snap a shot at a stop sign! It turned out great!

This old house was so charming as I drove that I took a picture of it, too. Denver is a lot nicer place when you see the cozy residential areas near downtown.

It can be a frustrating place. There is something nostalgic about railroad crossings, I admit. And I'm glad I had my camera, because otherwise the wait that day would have been intolerable. Trains are such dirty, slow, loud vehicles!
Speaking of waiting, that is one of only two things that I have done this season. The other is enduring impossible stores with gifts impossible to find or afford. I'm ready to stop waiting in lines and in traffic and behind trains and for people to come or go or catch up. My idea of nice waiting is to be curled up in front of the Christmas tree with a book, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby crooning in the background, a nice plate of fudge and a cinnamon roll handy.

These are some of our family's signature cookies. Admit it. You never want just one of those regular-sized cookies. So instead of making you go back until you've had three or four, we put the whole serving into one cookie. They're amazing. And my 11 year old sister is a pro at making them, attributed to her procrastinating style.

Mom tried to recreate the salad she likes from Chik-fil-a. It was so bright and pretty that I had to take a picture.

That's all.
To God be all glory.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Socialistic Penal System

We came up with the ultimate socialist plan tonight, inspired by my brother’s roommate. Socialism says that we share the work and we share the profit, everybody being entitled to the same wages no matter what they accomplish, and the same “nanny state” benefits such as healthcare and public schooling (even through college – which, in actuality just means that they’re destroying what healthcare and education there was). So why not socialize the penal system? When someone commits a crime, each person in the community can pay part of the fine and serve some of the time. Can you see any inconsistencies between our plan and true socialism?

To God be all glory.

Lonestar Steakhouse - A Birthday Blessing

For my birthday and the willingness to accept their advertising emails throughout the year, I received several free things: Coldstone ice cream, Baskin Robbins ice cream, a burger from Red Robin, and an entrée from Lonestar Steakhouse.

My dad took me to Lonestar (he’s a fan of steak), though we had to drive across town to the nearest location. I’m writing to endorse the Lonestar Steakhouse in Littleton, Colorado. Their service is absolutely tops. Here is my story.

Arriving at about noon, the parking lot was full, but the two of us were seated right away. The waiter came along in a minute or two, the intervening time spent with pails of peanuts. He was polite and efficient, asking us what we wanted to drink and if we would like a few more minutes before ordering. Having looked up the menu before we went, both my dad and I knew what we wanted, so we ordered right away. The waiter continued his courtesy and thoroughness, proving a knowledge of the user-friendly menu. He collected our menus and departed.

At this point I scanned the restaurant, including the staff and the other patrons. One wall was painted an orange and yellow Texas scene. There was a saloon style bar on one side, and on the other a row of tables flanked by walls of hunting trophies, longhorns, saddles, spurs, and my dad even noticed a jackalope. After a short discussion about the range of jackalope and antelope, the waiter delivered the free brown bread and butter, which proved to be soft, warm, and tasty.

I watched a man who seemed to be organizing his wallet. Another waiter a few tables over made an excellent offer of drinks to a child, “Can I offer you a Pepsi product?” I mean, how many times do you sit down in a restaurant and before you can find the drinks on the menu, they’re asking you which you want, and you ask them what kind they have (because Mt. Dew isn’t available if they serve Coke, and Coke is no comparison to Pepsi)? Then they have to go through the whole list when they could have simply asked the way this waiter did. A man with a limp walked by, leaning on the seat of each booth as he passed, so a waiter offered him his arm to get him to the hall leading to the bathroom. An older employee bussed one table in a hurry as a favor to the host, who was in need of the table.

Dad’s appetizer, a Texas Rose (deep fat fried onion with spicy-creamy dip) came out shortly thereafter. I don’t like onions, but Dad said it was good.

When our waiter delivered food to the table next to us, he stopped by ours, promising in what I interpreted to be that flippant, have-to-say-something way, that our food would be right out.

A few minutes later, as I tired of the endless football commentary silently playing on the TV screen in the corner, I began to watch the busy activity near the kitchen door and computer/cash register/order station. A few waiters were looking our way and I subconsciously shrank in my seat, desperately hoping the mostly male staff wasn’t going to sing for my birthday. I didn’t go on my actual birthday (the actual day I went to Olive Garden, where the wait and host staff gathered around to light a candle on a free cake and sing thanks for coming to Olive Garden), so they really didn’t have to sing. Who sings before the meal, anyway? They didn’t come my way, so I straightened back up and pushed aside the bread and butter tray to make room for my expected plate.

Dad commented that ten minutes wasn’t exactly “be right out,” but I made the excuse that the waiter was just saying that. I mean, we’re talking about steak. You don’t rush steak.

Wearing a white button-up shirt as opposed to the black t-shirts the waiters wore, a man I assumed was the manager came up to our table. He explained that he was sorry for the delay in our order, that the wait was unacceptable, that he didn’t know what caused the extra time, and that the inconvenience would be reflected on our bill. He even offered to bring us something else (more bread or water?) while we waited.

After we thanked him he walked away, and Dad and I looked at each other, puzzled. In the middle of a lunch rush, we weren’t waiting all that long. “Did he hear you?” I asked doubtfully. There was no way he heard Dad’s comment. They just have really good service.

In a short thereafter our food was brought, my salmon and some of the best mashed potatoes ever and Dad’s steak and sweet potato casserole. Then a woman came up to our table and introduced herself as Winona, the manager. She had my coupon for free birthday meal in her hand. “I’m going to give this back to you,” she said, “because I don’t think you got a good experience out of this free meal. I’ll sign it on the back, and even though it expires next week, I’ll write that it is good whenever you want to come back. Today’s ticket is on the house.” She added that our order had been misplaced, resulting in the extended wait.

We weren’t impatient. Our food was good. We didn’t complain. The service was excellent. And they gave us both my dad’s steak, his appetizer, and my salmon all for free in addition to another free entrée whenever I want. It was incredible. I was all around impressed.

Dad asked for a box (in which he put half a ‘Texas Rose’)and then double-checked that we had properly understood the manager, that there was no bill for the meal. We got up and left feeling abundantly full and blessed. Now I just have to figure out how to justify going back to Littleton for my second free birthday lunch.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Knights and Princes

"I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well -- and indeed, so I do still at my heart..." - Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Women have always had a thing for men in uniform, whether it was the shining armor that bespoke defense against dragons and pagan armies, or the clean, gloved dress blues of the United States Navy today.

On the radio this week I heard an interview by Dennis Prager of Allison Armstrong. This woman has a book and website about “understanding men,” and being a woman, she is obviously comparing them to females so that women, knowing themselves, may appreciate the men in their lives. One thing she said about women is that what they need from a man is security. While few professions are more dangerous and truly insecure than defense, I argue that a woman feels more secure when she is with a man in uniform.

So it might seem strange that nearly every girl dreams of being a princess. She wants to be beautiful and important, and to have that prince at her side who will dance her into the sweet sunset. Nevertheless, a man is created to lead. Prince, being part of the hierarchy in a system of monarchy, is the romantic personification of authority. He has a kingdom at his fingertips. His people look up to and respect him. What woman would not want to be at the side of such a man? For women crave that figure in their lives that gives them direction.

In the old chivalric code, a knight seldom wed with the lady to whom he dedicated his conquests. The woman might be of a social position out of reach, or she may demonstrate the good sense that so few women are able to carry out: not joining her life with that of a man whose every day is violent risk of life. In other places I have addressed this romantic moral.

So here is my principle of Knights and Princes. When a girl or woman is rescued by a gallant man, be it from certain death, the humiliation of carrying something too heavy for her, or the common courtesy of having doors opened on her behalf, if that man is a stranger, or a brother, or a mere friend, he is a Knight, honored by all, a man who stands ready to serve and defend wherever the need is presented. (Though less relevant to my thesis, I will here add that her father, should he so deliver the maiden, is doing is high and worthy job as Guardian, Defender of the Realm.) And if he is husband or fiancé performing the deed, I name him Prince. A true lady would never call a mere knight her prince, or think of him as such, lest she be claiming another princess’ Prince.

Knights have arisen in my life this week, blessing me and coming to my aid: a neighbor of a friend relieving me from shoveling snow in 20-degree weather, a friend carrying a sign too heavy for me, a boy from church holding a door, and my brother working in my place voluntarily on this my birthday. I hereby dub them Knights.

To God be all glory.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Serious about Sermons

This weekend I reread one of my favorite sermons, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In searching online for the sermon, I realized that many people feel that Jonathan Edwards was a vindictive preacher who tried to scare people into Heaven. When I read the sermon first (as a freshman, I think), I did not feel this way. The sermon addressed for me the question of why bad things happen to good people. The answer: 1) we aren't good, and 2) things are not nearly as bad as we deserve. Perhaps to a world unacquainted with the reality of God's standard and justice, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a revelation to them about the wrath of God. I have known about Hell all my life, so the experience for me was one of overwhelmed humility and gratitude.

The thing that struck me in reading the sermon this time was the first paragraph. Edwards opens with a Scripture, from Deuteronomy. (How often do we get sermons from Deuteronomy?) And then he jumps directly into a history of Israel and a theological exposition of the text with application. There is no opening story or illustration. His words have force, sincerity, and truth. I miss that. Whoever invented the sermon fill-in-the-blank format? Insert verse here. Insert joke. Add story. Make point. Alliterate sub-points. More anecdotes. Are we truly so illiterate in the things of God that we need entertaining stories, quotes, references to sports stars, and comics to enable us to understand?

Now I'm not objecting to occasionally presenting an illustration from life. Just don't force it. Jokes? I'm pretty much against those in sermons. God and truth are a serious business. We can be seriously jubilant about God's grace and glory, but that's not the same as joking, is it? Telling a joke as part of a sermon seems like an appeal to our desire for entertainment, which most pastors would profess to be against. Church is not entertainment, they argue.

I've noticed that I have a longer attention span for the Jonathan Edwards style of teaching than for the modern light sermon. Don't get me wrong; I love my pastor, and am challenged by his heart to see change in people. But I get tired in his sermons, and wonder when they will be over. At a Bible conference, however, I can sit for an hour and more just soaking up truth, furiously taking notes on things I'll process later, saturated already with so many messages connecting and resonating inside of me.

Later this weekend a friend was inviting me to visit her church, sharing exactly what I have been craving, that this pastor jumps right into the Bible, so rich and full and relevant. And the other men of the church, who occasionally share Scriptures that God has laid on their hearts, are walking with God and you can tell. How? They share with boldness and humility, and they are sharing from the prophets, from parts of the Bible some people don't even know exist. These men were reading the Bible during the week, encountering God in the passages so many never set eyes or ears on. What a blessing!

So, free of responsibilities at my church this week, I'm going to practice church-straddling, and visit the congregation to which my friend invited me.

To God be all glory.

I Laugh at Myself

One of the good ways I’ve found to maintain a joyful attitude is to laugh. I laugh at myself. That way if anyone else laughs at me, I’ll be laughing first and won’t feel bad. Besides, I can’t help it. Sometimes I’m so ridiculous.

My family and friends help the ridiculousness. For example:

Saturday night I was making my own marinara sauce. I don’t eat marinara sauce, but wanted to bring some to serve with the strombolis I was making for a Christmas party. Why make it from scratch? First laugh track inserted here. My culinary skills had recently made me feel inferior, so I was trying to make up. No one knows if you have inherent skill, watch the food network all the time, borrowed your mom’s skill, or googled instructions on mincing garlic and chopping parsley. I did the latter.

While I was mincing garlic per instructions found on Google, my brother found a Youtube video of parsley preparation. Actually while peeling and slicing garlic, I improvised my own technique once, only to discover that garlic sliced the wrong direction can have the same effect as an onion. I cried. Anyway, the parsley video involved a large knife, a bunch of the parsley leaves (no stems required or desired) rolled into a “piece,” and a flat counter. I had a smaller dull knife and a counter that curves up on the edge. So I observed that, while the technique appeared simple on the video, the chef’s parsley stayed where he left it, meaning that the “piece” stayed in form while he chopped at it, which never happens when I slice something soft. (We need to sharpen our knives.) Unbeknownst to me, my siblings were all suppressing laughter at this comment, reason to be revealed later.

Finally I had enough garlic minced, and was ready to try the parsley. But when I looked at the counter to grab the parsley, it wasn’t there. I thought I’d left it on the counter. I didn’t throw it away with the garlic skin? “Where did I put my parsley?” I asked. “It didn’t stay where you put it?” my brothers taunted, the laughter finally bubbling over. And then my mom spotted it, like a child’s “what’s wrong with this picture” where the fish is in the tree: my parsley was on the couch in the other room. Before I even mentioned that parsley does not stay where I put it, my siblings had pilfered my greens.

We laughed so hard. I cried. Again.

Laugh at how hectic your life is, at the silly things you do or say, at a bad hair day or the irony of snow when you are going somewhere and fine weather when you want to go sledding. Laugh at the foolishness of playing a game you know sounds dangerous, Grounders:

On a playground near a friend’s house, we go at night. The game is like tag. It tries to tag non-it. It can be on the ground or the playground platforms. Non-it can become it if, while on the ground or platforms, It calls “grounders.” Oh – and It must have their eyes closed. So just as one of my compadres was commenting that my family was seldom It, I hit my stride, being rather constantly It. We were playing with pros at the game, people more familiar with the park, and Marines. I think I had a disadvantage. At least I wasn’t wearing a skirt this time; last time I played, I was. I believe I would be bad at this game even if my eyes were open. But with my eyes closed, I did something very foolish. Standing under the monkey bars just above my fingertips, I was trying to tag a non-it scooting on top of the monkey bars. I had to jump. So I did, jamming my thumb hard into the side of the monkey bars. It’s still swollen. But it had to be funny.

One of my friends who was there reassured me: This is the sort of game you only play if you don’t mind looking stupid. So maybe to lighten up your life, you should intentionally play games where you look stupid. Just don’t jump if you don’t know what’s over you.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why Doesn't My Computer Know Who's Boss?

And here all this time I thought my computer was my tool, serving me, doing as I told it. But like a rebellious teenager, it thinks itself smarter than me, stronger, and more willful. If it just puts off my instructions long enough, while it does its own thing, maybe just maybe bossy owner of laptop will go away and leave it alone.

Alone to do what, you ask (as do the parents of metaphorical teenagers). It might just want to be lazy. The battery has already decided to barely do its job, as long as constantly fed energy from a wall. Half the time my computer isn’t doing what I said, it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

I’ve tried all the things I can think of: defrag, updates, restarting my computer, adjusting my internet connection, scanning for spy-, ad-, or mal- ware, running Windows Task Manager to see if my computer will give up the secret obsession its hard drive has with unauthorized activity.

Aside from being slow, online or offline, the other really annoying thing is that in the midst of its procrastination, I may switch to another window. Exactly when I am most engrossed in reading or typing or filling out important online forms with passwords, the slow-loading window superimposes itself on my screen, interrupting and even hijacking any keyboard or mouse input. What on earth is it thinking?

My brother says the next big thing to be invented on a computer is a button that suspends the activity. See, for some reason we both think that we should be able to tell an internet page to stop loading if it’s so long it’s virtually frozen. But being frozen, the whole window, including the stop button, is also frozen.

Is my problem my web browser? Am I suffering from hardware? My computer reports that it has plenty of memory and spends most of its thought on ‘idle processes.’ Maybe my wireless modem and my laptop are not getting along. I’m certainly not getting along with this self-absorbed block of technology.

Perhaps my problem is software? I could have the wrong browser, the wrong network connections driver, something amiss in my security software, or even windows itself.

My dad taught me to be loyal to PC’s, and I still hate Mac’s (do they have a thing for treating intelligent people who just want to word process and blog like children with cute bubbles and code names for basic functions?). Is there a better option for me? What’s Linux about? Do I have to be a nerd to use or appreciate it? Did I just prove I’m not a nerd by spelling it wrong? Does everyone have these sorts of difficulties?

(Dad works at a helpdesk, and often brings home stories of silly customers who had no idea what they’d done to their computers. Not so with us. Our computers produce the hardest of brainteasers to our expert sleuthing father. We only have hard questions for him about our computer difficulties.)

Any hints? Commiseration? Solutions? Recommendations?

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

All I Want

Our church sang a song yesterday: “You’re all I want…” One line of the chorus. And I wrestled. All I need? Of course. Enough. He says so, and I believe. But He is not all I want. He is more precious than anything I want, and I would trade all I have and want for my Jesus. I won’t do life without Him.

Should He be all I want? I can’t sing it if it isn’t true. But worship, this sacrifice of praise, doesn’t mean anything if I’m not challenged by it. Maybe God delights to give me what I want – not always, but the good gifts. Fathers know how to give hungry sons bread. So my Heavenly Father knows how to give me great gifts, those that I ask for and those that I don’t.

I think of the gifts. I breathe them, see them, hear them. GK Chesterton wrote, ““Here dies another day, During which I have had eyes, ears, hands, And the great world around me;; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?”

My heart leans back to rejoice again.

This year I made my Christmas cards, and they say Joy! Glorious joy. Blessing is joy. Grace is joy. Suffering even is joy. And Jesus was all of that. Those things are all in the Christmas story. Everywhere I go there is Christmas. I’m way beyond ready for it. And everywhere I look for joy. If I had my own tree, I would fill it with joy. The word. Other words for joy; I have a list.

There is more joy in me this year, irrepressible joy, than I’ve ever felt. Nothing is new in my life: same family, same house, same job, same car, same church, same ministries, same face in the mirror, same singleness. I even have the same God. He’s just showing me His joy.

Our family drew names for Christmas. I still don’t have a wish list published. Usually my list is very long, because I admire beauty and truth wherever I find it, and wish to possess it – and I want to be surprised by gifts, not certain of receiving any seven of the eight items I request. But surprise is just it. I see beauty and truth all over the place, and possess in sharing the experience more than I ever could by stashing it on my shelf. I want to receive gifts of presence.

You’re all I want? For Christmas, you’s are all I want. People. Relationship. Love and the chance to give.

To God be all glory.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Companion Notes on Remains of the Day

The following is a sort of running commentary on the movie, Remains of the Day. I wrote it while watching the movie. The movie is subtle and deep. I don’t get poems. I like them if they are clever or rhyme, but not if they’re too deep. So when I do really start to catch on, I get excited. This movie is like a poem. If you can grasp the meaning by just watching, you might not be too entertained by this blog post. It’s full of spoilers and observations about the plot. Another aspect of this essay is that because I wrote it during the movie, it alternates tenses. If I speak in past tense, I’m referring to something that happened earlier in the movie, but which I was just pulling together later. If it’s in the present tense I am either making a point about the theme of the story or discussing events unfolding before my eyes on the screen. Rather than making the tone consistent throughout, I have preserved the original, hoping that the natural flow will communicate more about how my thoughts were developing. I’m essentially inviting you to view the movie with me.

“I’m not leaving. I’ve nowhere to go. I have no family. I’m a coward… I’m frightened of leaving and that’s the truth. All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me. That’s all my high principles are worth. I’m ashamed of myself.” Emma Thompson plays the housekeeper in Remains of the Day, opposite butler Anthony Hopkins. She’s not afraid of confessing who she is. In fact, I’d say she’s more afraid of not telling who she is.

It’s a movie all about loneliness: on one side about trying to feel nothing or at least to show no feelings. Actions and words went together to prove dignity, the hallmark of British society. The main characters never talked, then encountered people who do. How do you adjust to the demise of aristocracy as a philosophy? What the butler, Mr. Stevens, had always known as abstract turned out to be affecting personal lives.

(Mr. Lewis is an interesting thread to follow. He’s an American way ahead of the gentlemen in the democracy and equality world. The way he uses rhetoric is too direct for them. Initially he makes enemies everywhere. People think he doesn’t care about England or Europe. In the end his view of politics is proven right, and he also turns out to be very fond of England for its real value. It is he who preserves Darlington Hall. He represents America, I think, across nearly a century of its history.)

It isn’t that the butler can’t express himself or can’t feel anything. He just exercises self-control. His loyalty was misplaced. He chose self-control because his goal was dignity. By the end of his life, he’s second-guessing the direction he chose.

In the movie Lord Darlington explains why he wants to help Germany. He had a friend who fought on the side of Germany in the First World War, and afterwards was so devastated by its effect on his country that he committed suicide. Mr. Stevens watched a similar thing happen to his boss over the course of the movie. He feels obligated to honor the memory of his former employer and helps do as a free man what he couldn’t do as Lord Darlington’s servant.

Near the beginning of the movie, Miss Kenton the housekeeper comes into Mr. Stevens’ parlor bringing flowers and representing passion and life. She does her job well and respectfully, but offers a whole different approach to dignity, one that is more open and faithful to herself. She represents the other side of loneliness, the kind that feels alone even when she’s with other people.

Mr. Stevens never says what he means, following the example described by his father: the butler in India shot a tiger in the kitchen and entered the parlor a moment later to say dinner would be served at the usual hour, by which time there would be no discernible traces of the incident. All this calm, polite conversation to convey the death of a ferocious animal in the dining room.

So when Miss Kenton enters his room, he says that he prefers his room private, unchanged, and (seeming to refer to flowers but actually not) free of distraction. The relationship between the butler and housekeeper is reminiscent of Elizabeth and Darcy’s conversations in Pride and Prejudice. Until she got to know Darcy, he seemed rude and unfeeling. Once Miss Kenton likewise makes the patient and attentive habit of knowing Mr. Stevens’ character and tastes, she can, rather on faith, begin to interpret what he says or doesn’t say as a sort of code for his true meaning. Given her openness, he has the great advantage over her: the comfort of knowing when she agrees, security of being aware when she doesn’t, and even delight when her position entertains – all while, at first, safely hidden in his own opinions.

But she begins to see through him, utilizing Plato’s “plot is everything” to observe his life. She notices he doesn’t like pretty women on staff, and speculates, “Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction?” She has an excellent memory, and so no doubt began to understand what he had thought of her when she first entered his study with flowers years earlier. He didn’t trust himself.

Passion is a distraction from duty. Or is the other way around?

“Please leave me alone, Miss Kenton.” He wants to be alone, at least partly. And he wants her to physically pry the book from his hands, to talk and guess and look into his face for the answers he dare not show but can’t hide. He freezes, utterly conflicted for a moment, craving and fearing her closeness.
“We have each other. That’s all anyone can ever need.”
– Miss Hull on marrying without money.

Miss Kenton finds that being together in the same house isn’t enough. She might content herself with friendship, but he can’t. He must have formality or surrender to love, but he doesn’t know how to do the latter. She can’t bear the rejection, which is worse than loneliness.

She hurt him. She loved him and she hurt him. Maybe that’s why she left.

He didn’t owe her anything. She knew he didn’t, but she hoped anyway. That made her tears all the more bitter and self-reproaching when he couldn’t let himself admit he was in love.

Why does Miss Kenton do these things? She sees the outside world as lonely, in contrast to the house and servants (though Mr. Stevens sees the house as lonely). She above all fears loneliness, and works and sacrifices so that she won’t feel alone. This is why she eventually leaves. Though Mr. Stevens knows she is not alone, he makes the mistake of not telling her so. And she flees to what seems a sure thing, an offer of marriage to a man who says he loves her.

She is too needy for a marriage, and her husband didn’t always say what he meant, either – even when he first said “I love you.” The movie ends with the question of loneliness still hanging.
To God be all glory.

Feasting on Daily Bread

I’ve been thinking this week about how I want passion and importance out of life: experience rather than growth. I do marathon moments getting all my fellowship in at long parties. But who do I do life with? Am I getting fellowship (with people or God) like sugar highs from which I crash?

I’m afraid of peace. Turmoil and battle seem so much more serious and important. I want to be serious about important things; that’s good. But can I be light-hearted and simple about everyday things?

What about the Bible? Do I demand that it inspire me, that my reading be passion-awaking and significant? Can I accept that sometimes my reading is ‘just’ daily bread instead of the Passover feast? Isn’t that what I’ve been learning in Psalms, that God calls us to do the walk, the daily movement with Him?

So I’m reading Romans 16 for my devotions. Vernon McGee described this chapter, "Paul has left the mountain peaks of doctrine to come down to the pavements of Rome." Chapter 15 ends with a blessing: “Now may the God of peace be with you all.” Peace. Quietness. Contentment. Simplicity. And then the great apostle moves into common greetings of common friends.

One of the reasons I’m afraid to prioritize the little things and the constant relationships is that I don’t think I can be content if I give up the heights and the passion, if I blend the sacred with the normal. I don’t want to lose something good. But if I live as God calls, my life won’t be my dreaded version of simplicity; it will be better, more fulfilling.

What if by letting go we gain both passion and simplicity in abundance?

To God be all glory.

Tough Questions for Calvinists

In the few years I’ve been studying Calvinism, I’ve come across four major questions that are the hard ones for Calvinism to answer:

1. Did God create sin?

2. Does God choose some men to be damned? (or the reverse: Is unconditional election for salvation true?)

3. Does God ordain each moment, thought, and action (not just “big” things, “sacred” things, or salvation)?

4. Am I responsible to seek God’s one will for my life, instead of just seeking and choosing ‘good’ options?

Here are some of my response questions:

1. What is goodness, and where does it come from?

2. What is life, and where does it come from?

3. What is love, and where does it come from?

To God be all glory.

The Demise of Media Power

In recent years outcry has been growing against the biased mainstream media. This generally encompasses newspapers, broadcast television, and cable news channels, who have been shown to favor a political candidate in their reporting over his opponent, or to spin coverage of wars and international relations. We should not be surprised at how easy it is to sway an audience. The tone of an article, inclusion or omission of certain facts, the way questions are asked to acquire facts, and even the use or frequency of positive or negative buzz words all contribute to manipulating an audience. And we must admit that it is impossible to prevent bias from appearing in our media. Some gross abuses may be avoidable; news coverage should not be fabricating stories, and ought to check that they have reliable sources. What bothers most people is the apparent monopoly in the media by one side of American culture, namely, the more liberal side.

This is not a new phenomenon. During the Revolutionary War underground printing presses published pamphlets, propaganda for the masses who were otherwise uninformed about the masses of people discontented with British oppression. Media has been used in such ways, then, for centuries. 100 years ago the newspaper moguls such large and influential cities as New York and Chicago, far from being true competitors, met in the legendary smoke-filled rooms to agree on policies to support, on news to cover, that would best protect their power and influence. For my purposes today I cannot describe how these men gained their power. Yet they had it, and motive to keep their power.

But how could their power be threatened? One threat that goes deeper than we may at first imagine is the possibility of real competition. Suppose an enterprising young reporter had started his own printers, and published his own version of the news. More than likely he would have started small. Such a man could have made certain news available that was not to be found in any other papers. And so he could gain an audience. There is obvious economic pressure on the established media to maintain their audience. The nature of free markets dictates that larger corporations can afford to have lower prices. They have the advantage of an incumbent, brand recognition and loyalty already strong among their patrons. With more reporters, they can cover more territory, and produce more writing. And, of course, they have the ear of the people, and can tell them what they will about their opponent’s or the facts the other news sources report.

This competitive atmosphere is a familiar fixture in the market. And media giants have the advantage in every respect. Why would they be worried? Power. The more this different voice gains the respect of the people, the more power is taken from the others. The new voice creates few new readers, garnering the majority of its business by persuading the subscribers to the other papers to transfer their interest and attention. There are only so many news consumers to go around. And if readership falls below a certain level, the influence of that paper is strikingly less. In a democratic society, the majority rules. If one news source ceases to control the majority, they are in danger of losing everything.

Risk goes beyond that simple math. The more media is divided, and choice is required of the consumer, the less power is wielded by the media as a whole. Think of a large room. If one strong voice is projecting its speech in an otherwise silent room, the people will hear him. They are more likely to believe him. Many voices in chorus produce the same effect. If the whole room erupts in conversation, not only will you scarcely be able to hear the person right next to you; you will not be able to hear the one large voice, either. You will have to make a choice. Who do you wish to hear? The friend next to you, or the intelligent man across the aisle? The woman discussing a topic of interest, or the man with the microphone? Are you going to heed the voice on the stage or the voice by the door? How do you know if these people are even telling the truth? Suddenly no one has power to manipulate you, and once more you are an individual with private responsibility.

Today we have just such a room full of voices. The traditional media is losing large portions of its audience. Technology has made it possible for thousands of people to broadcast their thoughts and information. Newspapers proliferate. Old radio companies moved into television and cable. Conservative talk radio now has a strong following of people dissatisfied or bored with the traditional “mainstream” media. News magazines are published weekly. Millions have access to the internet, with free host services for blogs that can be searched and linked.

Acquiring information on which to report is a much broader road today. Rather than waiting for the communication carried by a single ship, months delayed, as was nearly the case during the Revolutionary War, we now have satellites and long distance telephones, cell phones, email, airmail, etc. If I were to witness a robbery, a friend in another state could know of it in minutes. Google and similar search engines have made it possible to search for the information you wish to share, eliminating part of the need to filter the competing voices on the overwhelmingly large and loud media stage.

Many are taking advantage of this new world of information. Some who have escaped the education system able to think for themselves have been creating these competing voices and sustaining them for decades until we reached this point. They investigate sources and find them reliable or not. Combining information offered by various outlets, an individual can draw his own conclusions and just as easily share them with others. Nevertheless, the majority of people remain addicted to the single voice. Unpracticed in discernment and logic, many people embark on an increasingly difficult course of clinging to the familiar one voice. It won’t last long. Market forces are at work. A house divided against itself will fall.

I’m not saying that radio will cease to exist, or that TV will go out of business, or even that the blog and web news fads will blow over. The influence is what is crashing in on itself. There is a possibility that it won’t. More on that in a moment. If it does, however, there seem to be two choices: either the people who don’t want to choose will wake up and think for themselves anyway, or a new power will come in and control them. Humanity craves leadership. It has found leadership without media in the past, and can persevere in its quest once again in a world where media is weak.

Recall those newspaper editors in that room, drinking and smoking cigars. They don’t want to lose their power. They don’t want the media empire to fall. These men know that strong competition, especially when faced on more than one front, reduces their power and eventually destroys it for all of them. What do they do?

The only chance of survival for the entrenched media is to fight back so hard that opposition is silenced. In this global technological age, I’m not sure that is possible. China is finding censorship a difficult problem to conquer. News businesses may strong arm their competition out of existence through economic competition, or they could if the internet weren’t essentially free. They can resort to sabotage, eliminating their foes with violence and vandalism and threats. Some of these new voices might be enticed into joining the club, the chorus. Or they can utilize their still-strong voices to change the laws. Laws are changed by wealthy special-interest groups all the time, and markets are controlled by big business using little laws to regulate small business into insignificance. So with media.

Do not doubt it: the powerful in the media have already begun to work. Using the government, members of which they helped to their election (and can slander out of power just as easily), they have begun to censor the freedom of speech.

- Broadcast TV, beginning this January, will be a thing of the past in January. Everything will be published in High Definition, and the government will take control of the airwaves for their own uses.
- Cable and Satellite TV, though offering many stations, are ultimately controlled by a select few established companies.
- In the 70’s and 80’s there was a law in effect endearingly called the “Fairness Doctrine,” requiring that radio stations offer all sides of an issue in their programming. This is both impossible and economically suicidal, as there is not an equal audience for all opinions. If reinstated, which the upcoming administration has considered, talk radio would be gone. (It is the nature of laws that they are not always evenly enforced. Though there may be a law against protesting on public property, the police and district attorneys decide who will be held accountable for violations. Therefore though the “fairness doctrine” may apply to all radio stations or even other media, enforcement can be targeted at specific stations or genres.)

I don’t know of any plans to censor the printed press or the internet, but watch for it. You will either see increased censorship or the demise of media as a superpower.

Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee free speech? Of course! But how is the government to be held accountable for trespass of the Constitution? How will you even know they have done so if no one tells you? Does the government own the airwaves? Broadcast equipment? Your TV or radio? In principle, they don’t. In practice, they absolutely do. And if you’re like me, you’re starting to think you’ve heard of other countries where there was one national media, publishing at the will of the government. Independent media entrepreneurs are not the only ones in history who have noticed that a single voice signifies singular power.

To God be all glory.

Reformation Weekend Pigfest

Though less attended than my previous two experiences, the conversation at this Pigfest was a unique blend of casual debate and fervent openness. We also enjoyed a good natural variety of topics. And we had plenty of sugar.

Idealism should be the motivating factor over pragmatism, in the presidential election. Why do we have a two-party system, and how does it work? Do we like it? How would we change the system? How does a third party become established? Could a third party gain a following by rising to power in one state? What if we campaign for and financially support and advertise a third-party but actually vote for the lesser of two evils? Is the time ripe for a shift in American political parties? When is it ok or safe to vote for a third party? When is it mandatory (how bad must the mainstream options be)? What if we die because we “wasted our vote” and an irresponsible candidate gets elected? Is the Electoral College good or does it restrict the will of the American people and possibility for change? Due to the nature of our presidential election laws, couldn’t there be more than two well-established parties? Is stability the goal?

The sole source for dreams is the experience of the dreamer, including thoughts but excluding any outside or supernatural force. Some people may have only experienced this kind of dream, but that doesn’t exclude other experiences. Freud taught this dream doctrine. In the Bible, God used dreams to communicate His will to people, and even the future. Are dreams different from visions? Does the proposition include only past experiences of the dreamer, or can future experiences fit in this explanation? My experience is that dreams process or reveal my emotions. Maybe supernatural forces impact daily experiences, which fuel our dreams. Can angels visit us in dreams? Can demons? What if you are demon-possessed? Are Christian’s capable of being demon-possessed? Can demons appear to Christians in dreams, or influence their dreams? Can they influence a Christian’s waking life? What about the oppression sometimes felt by Christians in a spiritually charged anti-God atmosphere? Can’t that translate into dreams? Because of the mysterious nature of the source of dreams, and the doubtful sources (heart, fallen angels, experiences and imagination, or God), there is danger in putting too much trust in dreams.

There is a biblical mandate for Christians to belong to fellowship groups. This proposition goes beyond church attendance, at least the kind where you come and sit in an audience for a sermon or “worship service.” The words are “belong” not visit. How often should these groups meet? Is there a biblical mandate for the exact frequency? Ought a single Christian belong to more than one fellowship group? Different demographical groups? How big is too big, and how small is too small? What kind of people are healthy to fellowship with? Are we looking for a good mix or separate interest groups? Is it ok, or even good to attend two or more churches, if for example one excels in worship and another in teaching?

We should give no business to institutions that make money through interest-bearing loans. This includes credit card companies, excluding even possessing a credit card which you pay off monthly or a debit card (because the loan company profits from your use of their service through the commission they receive from a business that accepts their card). Home loans would be excluded as well, meaning that you are left to save for such large purchases or never buy something large like a home. Should someone in my situation, if this plan were adopted, also decline use of a home or building that is mortgaged? Since banks are one of the biggest sources for interest-charging loans, we would have to keep our money elsewhere. Is there a ‘bank’ that uses your money for investments (NOT loans), thereby profiting, but still allows you to write checks on the account, etc? Charles Schwab was suggested. The purpose of this proposition is to adjust the economic system to true value, and to correct the mindset of people who are used to living beyond or ahead of their means. Would this suggestion accomplish that purpose? How much impact would it have, and how long would it take to gain a following? Are there alternative courses of action that would accomplish the same purpose, such as changing the system from within? How far does the biblical command to be in the world go? How far does “but not of” go? Is it acceptable for Christians to offer loans? What about no-interest loans?

The United States should not be involved (as a government) in international charity. Is international charity effective? Doesn’t a lot of it get intercepted by corrupt governments or warlords? Is it the government’s responsibility to help people in other countries with food and health and shelter? Does the international community have expectations from the US? Are they justified? Is such international activity constitutionally legal? What is the motive of the US in this charity? Is it fair to take this offer off the table in diplomatic negotiations or to build the image and respect of the US in the eyes of other countries? Are there private alternatives, and are these more effective? Is domestic welfare ok or legal or effective? What does that say about foreign aid? What is church and individual responsibility? What impact does government involvement have in encouraging, enabling, or deterring church and individual responsibility? Is it possible to effectively provide aid to foreign countries without military accompaniment/enforcement? Can we go through the United Nations?

We should not elect a wife and mother of 4 children to the United States Presidency. Break down the specifications: Wife) Why is it important that she’s married? Are we saying that as a wife she should have other priorities or that such a position as President precludes the biblical mandate to submit to your husband? Mother) Is there a special role of a mother that she would not be able to fulfill as President? How is this different from a father’s role? Is it more important for moms to spend a lot of time with their kids than dads? Can a dad be the stay-at-home parent without any detrimental effect on the children? 4) If there were more or less children, would the situation be changed? Is the age of the children significant? If the children were all over 13, or over 18, would it be ok? President) How is this different than being a mayor, vice president, CEO, or just working woman? The presidency is inherently a busy job, too busy for a family woman. It is a given in this instance, and in other instances where a woman would be too busy to spend time with her kids, it would be equally unacceptable, but requires us to make a case by case determination. Voting for a president is similar to being responsible for hiring for a private business. However, it was mentioned there are discrimination laws prohibiting employers from hiring based on the number of children a woman has, or her marital status. Is it appropriate for a woman to be in a secular position of authority? The Bible gives the example of Deborah, who was a married woman who served Israel as a secular judge. Aren’t there disadvantages (emotional, physical, relational) to having a female president? Women have different capabilities not as suited to the strenuous leadership role of a President.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg

A couple years ago I heard a radio interview with an author who wrote novels based on Bible prophecy and current events. He had the uncanny knack of predicting world events. The first chapter of his first book, written before 9/11 (and published right after) described an airplane hijacked by terrorists to fly kamikaze into a target in the US. So when I remembered his name long enough to find his newest book, Ezekiel Option, I grabbed it. And then I read a fascinating intersection of prophecy and foreseeable world events.

The scientific method requires a scientist to make a hypothesis and then to conduct a series of tests. If x is true, then y. If x is false, then no y or z instead… Joel Rosenberg is a sort of scientist. His hypothesis is that the Bible is true, and that certain of its prophecies are next on the prophetic timeline. His test is that if this were so, international politics would be moving in a certain direction. I don’t regret picking up in the middle of his series. The first two books describe an attack on America that leads to a war with Sadaam Hussein, which at its conclusion produces an increasingly prosperous Iraq. Ezekiel Option picks up about where we actually are in world events, and predicts a Russian alliance particularly with Iran, but with other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries as well.

I pay attention to these parts of world news like a scientist testing a theory. Joel Rosenberg, who, it turns out, doesn’t just see these things in visions but actually does a huge amount of research through personal interviews and worldwide newspapers and Bible study, helps me to stay up to date on potentially prophecy-related news items through his weblog. Last night scrolling across the bottom of Hannity and Colmes or the O’Reilly Factor (late repeats of both) was the casual report: Russia, Iran & Qatar move towards oil cartel, would force EU to rethink energy policies. Russia has sold arms to Iran. Putin is moving more and more to be the strong central leader of his country, a requirement of the Ezekiel prophecies.

Anyway, all of that is preliminary to this actual review of Joel Rosenberg’s fifth novel, Dead Heat. When I first picked this book up from the library, my dad read it. He said a lot of people died, and was mum about the rest. So I wasn’t really in the mood to read about people dying. After the elections last week, however, I remembered a quote on Joel Rosenberg’s weblog from this book, “What Bennett had never really considered carefully until now was the possibility that something else might devastate the American people, rendering them ineffective heading into the last of the last days. A financial downturn on Wall Street. The sudden collapse of the dollar. The beginning of another Great Depression. A series of devastating earthquakes. Or hurricanes. Or other natural disasters, like a tsunami… None of it was clearly prophesied in the Scriptures. Not that he could find. But perhaps he should have foreseen the neutralization of America by more carefully reading between the lines. If so, what else was he missing? What exactly was coming next?”(edited for spoilers) Since it looks to me like this is happening to America, this economic depression and weak leadership essentially neutralizing us as a Superpower, I figured now would be the time to pick up Dead Heat. I was in the mood for a depressing book.

Except we hadn’t purchased the book like I thought. Our collection of secondhand Joel Rosenberg novels had an empty spot at the end. So I couldn’t just pick it up and read it last Tuesday night. I read Lady Susan instead, a much more cheerful response, I must say. But Mom found Dead Heat at a thrift store over the weekend, so I set about reading it.

374 fast-paced pages led me from a close presidential election to the rapture and beginning of the tribulation. No book I’ve ever read has made me feel more vulnerable. Waking up after dreams (casual dreams, not nightmares) continuing the book in my imagination, and as I read, I had to keep telling myself that there is no safer place than where God wants me. There’s this temptation when I read Joel’s books to pack up and move either to Israel or some place safe like Antarctica. God has given no guarantees on my life either way. I could die, or I could suffer pain, or I could have a peaceful life like many have experienced in the past. To be honest I don’t think I could run. I like to be a part of things going on, even if they’re dangerous.

Spoiler: The book essentially opens with five nuclear bombs taking out four major American cities and the President and at least half the government. No one knows who is responsible for the attacks. Like the movie Crimson Tide (whose plot fascinates me), ignorance could be fatal for most of the world. And in Dead Heat, there are virtually no voices urging caution.

How do you know which world leaders to believe? Are the more aggressive ones just equally afraid, or are the opportunistic, or are they part of a mega-conspiracy to destroy you? Why is this happening? What are the motives of the world leaders, or of the people sitting next to you? Who has the answers? How does one make such huge decisions when you haven’t had any sleep and you’re grieving the loss of millions of lives?

Once again the book weaves the stories of fictional world leaders with that of the main character, Jon Bennett. He and his wife have cashed in their portfolios to help an exponentially needy world. And convinced that time is running short, they invest their lives in helping others and spreading Jesus’ love one encounter at a time. This book is filled with references to salvation, to the love of God and the peace of accepting His provision for our sinfulness. When any character asks, “what should I do?” the answer is always something Jesus says. The answer is what Jon and his new wife Erin did: love people and tell them about Jesus.

A theme of Jon Bennett’s story is responsibility. Is he responsible for things that happen or don’t happen? He asks a lot of if-only’s, and other people point blame-filled fingers at him. Should he have stayed involved in politics, shared what he knew? Should he have taken his wife to the infirmary sooner? What about the choices facing him in the future? What’s his responsibility? How on earth do you decide? The answer, of course, is to do the right thing, including loving even your enemies. And God had blessed Jon with the answers when he sought Him.

Near the end of the book, Jon has a revelation: his whole life he’s chased after measurable results. He’s wanted to be a part of important things. He wanted control. And spending months in a refugee camp helping the poor wasn’t so measurable. People weren’t responsive to the gospel like he thought they should be. What difference was he making? Was it worth it? Could he have done something more productive? What about now, when he was helpless as the world slipped into war and there was no one even to talk to about Jesus. What is God’s purpose in that?

Isn’t it our responsibility to do something? Didn’t God put us here to get results? Isn’t he to blame if his wife isn’t safe? Isn’t that his job? Jon’s to-do list had two columns: done or to-be-done. But he learned something through his helplessness, a miniature of the helplessness felt by all the world at such a time. Erin said God wanted her to “do the loving; I’ll do the converting.” Love is not measurable. People are not ever checked off your list as done. And grace isn’t about accomplishments or blame. Jesus says well done because we’ve been good and faithful, not competent and productive. Jesus isn’t a CEO or a president. He knows the end result, and He knows how He’s getting it there.

God knows how the world is going to come to the last days. Joel Rosenberg’s hypotheses aren’t all right. He’s waiting like the rest of us. It is possible that the time between the Ezekiel prophecies and the classic end times events (world government, temple in Israel, rapture) is longer than a book series will allow. The rapture could come earlier than these devastating wars. Or later. Or the wars may not happen at all. Given his reputation for correctly predicting the future, Joel opens his book with a sort of disclaimer: “I pray to God the novel you hold in your hands never comes true.”

The idea of prophecy is an interesting one. For centuries if a man sought to unite the world, he failed. He was doomed to do so, because the time was not fulfilled. Other elements of prophecy were not in place. But at some point things are going to happen, and nothing will be able to stop them. There will be that one-world government. Any superpower or leader or ministry that stands in the way will be removed. We put off disaster, continue peace negotiations about Israel, etc. One day none of that will work. Will it be that no one is left who wants anything different, or will God remove them from power? Is there any difference?

I (Lisa of Longbourn) am willing to say plainly that I think Obama’s presidency (based on the Dead Heat quote above) weakens the prophetic necessity of a violent neutralization of America. But it increases other likelihoods. When our enemies think we are weak, those who want us destroyed because they hate us (not because we’re in their way) are emboldened to attack. Persecution may arise from inside, as it has in other countries that drifted toward socialism as we are doing. Obama is ardently pro-abortion, and the longer our country massacres its innocents, the more likely we are to incur natural consequences (economic, military manpower) and supernatural judgment. Dead Heat makes my final point, that it is possible America is prosperous because it supports Israel. If we stop being their ally, we remove from ourselves the Genesis 12 blessing of God. And if we ally ourselves with Israel’s enemies, we incur the curse of Genesis 12. So we might be asking for bad things to come to America.

I’m having a hard time shaking my mind free of the story. I look out my window and wonder why people are so casual. Why is my church doing ministry as usual? Why am I sitting at my desk reading or writing when people are dying and, truly, millions could die at any minute? Shouldn’t I say something? Doesn’t the whole lost world (of which I’m increasingly aware) need to hear the gospel? I watch the news and have to remind myself they won’t mention President MacPherson or UN Secretary Lucente or Iraqi leader Al-Hassani. So this is a vivid piece of writing. But I pray that its impact has more to do with my character and less to do with my imagination.

This book challenges me to be urgent about the Father’s business, and to live out love, ministry, and faith all the more radically. The more I feel helpless, and am humbled by my lack of control, the more I need God. I need His direction and His peace. I need to believe in His goodness. And I need to lean on His instructions.

To God be all glory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can't or Won't? Is there a Difference?

It’s an interesting question. In the book it makes a vivid point. The Christian and the other man are driving together. The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable. But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God. After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it.

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross.

“I know, I know.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I can’t; I just can’t.”

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?”

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?”

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot. You should read his books. Latest review coming later this week.)

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now. Can’t or won’t; is there a difference? Christians have been debating this for centuries. I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.” If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t. We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness. Calvinists call this Total Depravity. So how does anyone choose Christ? He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith. That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament.

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair. Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them. Take James. If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands. But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying. He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof. I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class. We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point. I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there. This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6. We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines.

Can’t or won’t? Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t. God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t. I think this is rather illogical. There’s no cause. The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will?

Can or will? When people talk about free will, what do they mean? Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free? What does will mean? I see it as the ability to choose. If you have a will, you can make a decision. Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision? Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth? Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions? Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil? “There is none righteous, no, not one.” I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2. (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!)

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil. After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God. But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own. This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works. Why did God leave us with that choice? And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will? Doesn’t God still have control? Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong? If so, why didn’t we? If not, why can’t we?

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way. Right now I don’t have answers. I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save. The details? Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world? Is God in control of our choices now? Does God ordain my sin and rebellion? Does He ordain the rebellion of nations? Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them? Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated? I don’t have answers to these. Some days I think that I know. Other days I’m in doubt. Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not.

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about. I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth. Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination. Just now I can’t say what I believe.

Can’t or won’t? I’m pretty sure it’s can’t. I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached. At least that’s settled.

To God be all glory.

The Matrix Review

I watched the Matrix for the second time last night. Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug). This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school. Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it.

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand. Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new. Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant. I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie.

The Matrix is about fate and choice. For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do?” The answer is nothing. Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not.

In the story, there is an Oracle. She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know. This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix. There is a strong idea of fate in this. Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power.

The mind is important in the story. Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix. And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are. Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive.

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story. (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.) At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix. Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too. The body cannot live without the mind. And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it. Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will. There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses. Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix.

That’s the framework. But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact. One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good. All of the questions represent a belief about truth. How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie? How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again? What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you?

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off. Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures? The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus. The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo. Whose will wins? Why? While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is. His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind.

Neo makes decisions based on what is right. He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do. We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right. He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well. And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will.

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy. However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a façade, an intimidation tactic. No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice. It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race.

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers. The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot. The second brother dies. Greater love has no man than this… Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man…

The story isn’t all that new. A pure heart sacrifices itself for love. The will is superior to the feelings. Love conquers all. Truth and love are inseparably connected. It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie.

To God be all glory.