Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 Top Book Reads

Here are a few of the what I consider some of the significant books I have read this past year. They are not in any particular order.

The Aeneid by Virgil:

A friend whose knowledge of literature I respect had recommended reading Virgil. Also one of my favorite quotes from Willa Cather's "My Antonia" mentions the poetry of Virgil. I picked up a copy of a reprint of a respected English translation at Barnes and Noble, and worked my way through it. Given the beauty of some of the passages in the English translation, I wish I had taken Latin so I could read it in its original language. It is an epic story and an exposure to classic literature is not complete without reading "The Aeneid".

O' Pioneers! by Willa Cather:

"O Pioneers" along with "My Antonia" and "The Song of the Lark" comprise a trilogy of Willa Cather's more prominent novels. I was captivated by Cather as an author a number of years ago when I read "My Antonia". I have seen the movie adaptation of "O' Pioneers", and for some time have had this on my list of "must read" books. I was not disappointed. Cather's description of the prairie and the interplay between the land and the immigrant pioneers that settled on it is exceptional. I am now looking forward at some point in this coming year to reading "Song of the Lark".

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson:

I consider this my most significant theological read of the year. It is a relatively short book, but in my mind of significant importance. Carson discusses how God's love becomes distorted, what it means in a Biblical context to say God is love, the issue of God's love and God's sovereignty, and concludes with a discussion of God's love and God's wrath. In that last chapter there is a very helpful section where Carson deals with the love of God and the intent of the atonement.

Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt(Kindle Edition) and Kingdom by Anderson O'Donnell (Kindle Edition):

The first dystopian novels I ever read were George Orwell's "1984" and A. Huxley's "Brave New World". There were a few others along the way, but it has been a number of years, even decades, since I have seriously revisited the dystopian genre.

A dystopian novel takes a specific trend or cultural current in society and follows that trend or current to a logical extreme. This challenges the reader to look at those trends and currents with a more properly critical scrutiny. To write a dystopian novel in a way that makes it "realistic" and "believable" takes some real writing skill. Both of the above titles meet the challenge.

"Prison Nation" will challenge your view of "law and order" issues. Of the two titles, it is the more Orwellian.

"Kingdom" challenges the governmental-industrial complex and the extremes of DNA research and DNA manipulation. It is in some respects reminiscent of "Brave New World". I need to warn you that "Kingdom" gets an "R" rating for language and sex. As such, I do not give it a full unqualified recommendation even though it is of a relatively high literary quality. Read at your own discretion.

The dystopian genre is not one I would ever want to fixate on. The genre by definition can be pretty dreary and bleak. Some dystopian writings such as "1984" don't leave the reader with any thought that there may someday be hope for positive change in the bleak new world order. "Prison Nation" and "Kingdom" in contrast do leave the reader with a faint glimmer of hope that something better will eventually come; think "V for Vendetta". Though the genre is not one to fixate on, it is a literary genre worth visiting every now and then.

The Aristotelian by Steve Poling (Kindle Edition):

I want to also mention my friend Steve Poling's first published work "The Aristotelian". In this short novel Poling explores the influence of Mycroft Holmes on his younger brother Sherlock. Steve has since also published a Sci-Fi collection titled "Finding Time" (available on Kindle) which is on my "to read" list for this next year.

The Troy of Eternity

"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what waits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dreams of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the balled they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

("Gilead"; Marilyanne Robinson; (Picador, 2004); pg 57)

Monday, December 24, 2012

O God Our Help in Ages Past

"O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting, thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last,
and our eternal home. "

~ Isaac Watts

This past month (December 2012) we have had occassion to bury both my mother and my father. Dad passed away two weeks and one day after mom did. As I contemplated what a major change this is going to be in my life, the above words of Isaac Watts came to mind.

(Cross posted to Poetry Particulars.)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Standing by the Grave

"UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our sister departed, and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

ALMIGHTY God, with whom do live the spirits of those who depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; We give thee hearty thanks for the good examples of all those thy servants, who, having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labours. And we beseech thee, that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

MOST merciful Father, who hast been pleased to take unto thyself the soul of this thy servant; Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that having served thee with constancy on earth, we may be joined hereafter with thy blessed saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

(Excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer (1928); "The Order for The Burial of the Dead".)

From time to time over the years, I have contemplated the fact that in the normal course of providence in a fallen and broken world, eventually we all become orphans. It is not about becoming orphans as children of miner age, though that does happen. It is about how we as adult grown children watch our parents age and weaken physically and sometimes mentally, and that even to the point of dependency on those who had one time been dependent on them, and then succumbing to the final enemy of death.

I have watched over the years as some of my cousins become orphans as my beloved and aged Aunts and Uncles passed on. Over those passing years I have seen friends and acquaintances of my own generation go through the valley of losing beloved mothers and fathers to the grave; to become motherless and fatherless; to become orphaned in this world.

As of this week I and my surviving siblings are half way there. We are now motherless. Today we watched our departed 92 year old mother be laid into the grave alongside of her daughter, our older sister, who left us about two and a half years ago. Our 95 year old father is now bereft of the wife and companion who had been at his side for over 69 years. My sister and brother and I know that eventually our father will also depart from us; that the day will come when we will be left among the orphans of the earth even as both our mother and father have been left orphans by the previous deaths of our grand-parents.

No, we did not use the Anglican liturgy at the memorial service or graveside. Anglicism is not our family church tradition or background, and in fact is some distance from it. But even then, I have just enough familiarity with the Prayer Book service for the burial of the dead that I found comfort and encouragement in its words as I have shared above.

Rather then expound further on the meaning and comfort to be taken from the words quoted above, I will leave it for you the reader to read them again and meditate on the Gospel truth and hope those words convey.

Kyrie, eleison.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

In the United States of America, it is officially Thanksgiving Day. Indeed, despite many serious chronic and systemic problems in our society, we have much to be thankful for. The challenge for all of us, and the Christian in particular, is to live a life of thankfulness; a thankfulness that is a part of the other 364 days of the year. May the spirit of this day be a reminder to do just that...

"Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever." ~Psalm 106:1

Saturday, November 10, 2012

With God on Our Side

"Sir, my greater concern is not whether God is on my side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

~ Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An Evening in Ada

We are in the van, on our way to pick up the grandsons to take them to the Wednesday night church activities. What's that sound? Why is the van driving weird? Do we have a flat tire?

Pull off busy main highway into subdivision. Pull over and stop. Exit van and check right front tire. Flat! OK, first time I've had to change a tire on this van. Where is the jack? Hah! Why doesn't the jack come out of there? What's that wing nut? Okay jack is available for use. Where is the spare tire in this thing? Oh! Under the back of the van. Okay, How does it come down? It is hard to see because it is dark, and the only light is the street light and a feeble flashlight. I'm laying on the ground looking underneath trying to figure it out. Scratch head.

Get up and go get manual out of drawer under front passenger seat. Look in back appendix for "tire". "Changing tire - 222." Turn to page 222. Ah! Okay... Use jack handle wrench to turn do-giggy under the floor mat in the back to let spare tire down. Fumble around figuring out how to get tire off the lift do-wacky. Okay,now we can change the tire. Pop hubcap off. Look under van at frame trying to figure out where to set the jack. Hum... Get up and refer to page 222 in the car manual. Ah! Get back down and look under frame for the little thing-a-ma-jig the jack lift needs to fit into. Okay! We're on our way!

Crank jack up until there is a little lift. Slightly crack lugnuts... Crank on jack some more and van raises up. Wait a minute. That don't look right... As the jack is going up, it starts leaning... Not good at all! Visions of van crashing off jack flash before my eyes. Crank jack back down. Reset jack and then crank it up again. Much better! Finally flat front right tire starts to lift off the ground. Stop cranking and loosen lugnuts some more. Crank jack some more and flat right front tire clears the ground. Remove lugnuts. Try to take tire off and it doesn't budge. Rusted? Kick at tire. No movement. Look closer. Sigh... Remove remaining top lugnut I thought I had already removed. Flat right front tire comes off.

I grab spare tire and swing it into place.. Hum... This spare looks like it has seen better days... Probably has never been used. Oh well! Here goes. Spare is on and I put the lugnuts on snug. Crank jack down until spare touches ground. Snug lugnuts tighter, then reef on them hard to tighten. Crank jack rest of way down. Throw flat tire, hubcap and jack into back of the van. Finally we can go!

I get in van where wife and daughter have been patiently waiting. Start van and put it in gear and start moving. OH OH! That doesn't sound good. Stop van about ten feet from were it had been sitting when I had changed the flat right front tire. I get out and go around and look at the spare tire. Flat! We are going nowhere.

I get back in van. Find insurance paper in glove compartment with the 800 number to call for road service. Automated answering voice tells me to punch one number for hurricane Sandy related claims, and another number for "normal" claims. I punch "other number". Finally a live real human being is talking to me. Live real human being's first question, "Are you safe?" Yes, we are safe. Live human being asks for insurance info policy number and verifies I am who I am. Live human being asks what the nature of problem is. I explain to live human being I have a flat tire and a flat spare tire. Live human being asks where we are. Duh... What street is this? I had been so concerned about getting off the highway that I didn't see the name of the street I had turned on to. I walk back to street corner and verify name of street. I tell live human voice where I want van with flat tire and flat spare tire towed to. Live human voice verifies insurance will cover tow to that place, and informs me the tow truck will be at van location in about an hour or less... I will get voice messages or texts regarding ETA.

Wife calls next door neighbor to see if they would be able to come and pick up wife and daughter and give them a ride home. Kind neighbor friends says, "Sure!" We sit in van and wait. Kind neighbor friend arrives and takes wife and daughter home.

I sit in van and wait for tow truck. I listen to the radio. A few times I turn on van engine and warm van up. I finish off a partially filled bottle of water. I realize finishing off said bottle of water might end up being a mistake pending how long I may or may not have to wait for tow truck. Phone buzzes and I am told tow truck ETA is 15 minutes. Tow truck arrives about 40 minutes after taking to "live human being". Tow truck driver hooks up van with flat tire and flat spare tire. I get into tow truck cab. Tow truck driver tows van back to repair shop in Ada. Favorite youngest daughter and Charlie Brown are there with other van and and give me ride home...

I am home. There is no whiskey or other alcoholic spirits in the house. Probably a good thing at this point.

- The End -

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Resisting Evil

According to some comments made in the heat of the recent Presidential election campaign, I am suppose to stand up to "evil", and that apparently in a way and manner that would involve destroying a recently renewed and cherished friendship. I rather think the evil that needed to be resisted was the one that would destroy and deny me that cherished friendship,and that was the evil I choose to oppose.

Those who know me well at all have a pretty good idea which way my political opinions lean. I don't feel obligated to make those leanings a test of friendship or even Christian fellowship. And as I don't like it when other people shove their politics in my face, I am obligated to treat them as I wish to be treated. And with regard to the times when I have not done so, I confess my need for repentance.

I am very concerned and disturbed about the shrillness of political discourse these days from both sides of the political spectrum; a shrillness that lends itself to increased polarization, anger, and hatred for one another. Sixty second sound bites and media focused political campaigning does not lend itself to dispassionate and thoughtful political discussion.

If the principles of the Sermon on the Mount have any meaning at all, they have meaning for how we participate in political discussion. The implications of that was the focus of a previous post, so I will not repeat all of that here.

The questions remain for each of us in our conscience to answer before God. What is the evil in myself I need to stand up to and confront? Is it possible to stand up to and confront evil in an evil manner? What does the Gospel have to say about the manner and way of my political conversation, and for that matter, all areas of my conversation? In my focus on the political evil I see, am I forgetting my own need of repentance and forgiveness and subtly becoming smug in my self-righteousness?

It is true that we need to stand up to and confront evil. What is not always so clear is what evil it is we personally need to stand up to in a given moment. May God grant us the wisdom and discernment to see clearly what the real evil is that confronts us in our hearts.

Kyrie Eleison!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Assessing Election Campaign promises

"I promise you that by the next morning I will build a skyscraper in your backyard. You wake up in the morning and there is no skyscraper in your backyard. You then ask me why I did not keep my promise. Well, why did you believe me in the first place."

(My paraphrase of a conversation I heard on the radio this morning...)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

How to Vote in An Election

"I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy

2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against

3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side."

~ John Wesley 1774

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oct. 29, 2012: Hurricane Sandy Comes Ashore in NJ.

1954: I am in kindergarten and one day, for some reason which to this day I know not why, a classmate named Sandy starts kicking me...

Oct. 29, 2012: Sandy is slapping up NYC and Philadelphia. 100 MPH winds are reported in some places.

It is not the rich upper crust Wall Street people I think about. It is the average person on all the other streets; the immigrant family running the deli in the Bronx, the mom in the tenement trying to raise her young children without dad being there.... The working poor just getting by with both parents working two or even three jobs, the homeless people; the kids living in the rundown projects. Catastrophic events seems to hit the helpless, the weak, the poor much more then the latte sipping Wall Street Yuppies and $ 500,000 penthouse upper-crusters.... May God have mercy on them all... Praying for NYC - Philly-Newark and all the other places Sandy is aiming at....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Wondrous Exchange

This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, Section 2) (Kindle Edition).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Kindle Edition of Calvin's Institutes

The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Kindle edition) by John Calvin.

This edition of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is from the translation made by Henry Beveridge in 1845 for the Calvin Translation Society. It also includes a Forward by John Murray, who was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

I wanted an electronic edition of the Institutes to use as a reference. I did look at some other Kindle editions of the Institutes and found them lacking the interactive table of contents necessary for a usable reference work. This Kindle edition more the adequately makes up that deficiency. I really appreciate the quick navigation and browsing capability, and am very satisfied with this purchase. At $ 0.99, the price was right.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Courage

October 14, 2012: Felix Baumgartner makes a record-breaking skydive from space.

Yes, there were all the calculations and scientific studies and gear and equipment construction and modifications and preparations; wind and weather analysis, etc., etc., etc. But all that would have been in vain if in face of all the calculated and uncalculated risks, Felix Baumgartner had not had the courage to step out of the capsule more than 24 miles above the earth.

As I watched this video, I had a sense of watching something very important. It may be a little much to rank Baumgartner's jump up there with walking on the moon, but it is of similar importance. I could not help sense there was way much more here then just a daredevil's stunt. There was the pushing back of a boundary; the opening up of an opportunity; the pioneering of a frontier.

This event is one of those things in our history that may be another step along the way to possibilities not yet imagined or thought of. I may not see those things in my lifetime, but if mankind does not self-disintegrate the possibilities are there. And if we don't realize them in this cosmic order, we may realize them in that new heavens and new earth yet to come.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

When we ask "Why?"...

Did you ever have something bad happen to you, or see something bad happen to someone you know, or read about some disaster or tragedy happening to someone someplace in the world and find yourself asking the age old question?

"Why?"

If you say you have never asked that question, I have to wonder if you ever really lived. Young children from an early age ask their parents or teachers or whoever, "Why?", and sometimes to the point of beyond annoying.

The question becomes especially acute and personal when bad things happen specifically to us and we are brought face to face with the question, "If God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen in peoples lives, and more personal and specifically in my life?"

It is not my purpose here to answer that broader question, but to examine how we may respond to it.

One response to the question is to stoically "stuff it". We can do this as Christians when we think we dare not ever ask "Why?", and to do so is arrogant wickedness and unbelief. Who is mere man to ask God why? This kind of response does have a legitimate concern, but I'm not so sure this response is wise or spiritually healthy.

The fallacy to the stoic approach is we try to deny the reality that there are times when things happen and the very core of our heart and soul screams out the question. Can we or dare deny what we really think? Is God so ignorant He doesn't know those inner most thoughts and feelings? Can we come before Him and pretend we don't have those thoughts and questions? Of course not!

Another way to respond to the question "Why?" is with angry bitterness that colors our view of God as being an arbitrary capricious tyrant who can never be fully trusted. Of course that kind of "god" would not be worthy of our worship and praise, so the end of that road is unbelief.

So how should we respond to the question of why? My focus is not so much what we say to others who are asking the question, but how do we deal with it in ourselves when in the very core of our being the questions screams in our mind, "Why?".

To start with, and in a sense to also end with,we need to be honest with ourselves and with God regarding our feelings and thoughts. As was noted before, God already knows what we are thinking and we need to openly acknowledge that before Him. Our example for doing so is found in the Scriptures. For our purpose I want to focus primarily on the Psalms, Job,and the life of Christ as recorded in the Gospels.

Regarding the Psalms, we could go through the whole book of the Psalms and underline all the times we see phrases like "How long O LORD..." or "Why O LORD..." For example:

"How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages,my precious life from these lions. (Psalm 35:17)

"Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1)

The point is that in these passages and many others that could be cited from the Psalms, the Psalmist is open and honest before the LORD with his questions. If inspired Psalmists can be open and honest before God, then we ought to follow their example. It should be clear that asking the question in and of itself is not wrong or sinful.

The next example is Job. How many of us could have endured what Job went through; loss of property, loss of all his children, and loss of his health. It is in this context Job in Job 3 says, “Why did I not perish at birth,and die as I came from the womb?" What is of interest is that in God's dealing with Job in chapter 38 - 42, Job is not condemned for asking the question even though God does not ever answer his question. Job could ask God the question. What he could not do is presume God owes him an answer. In God's response, Job's asking the question is not taken as a reflection on the integrity of Job's godliness.

And then there are the words of Jesus from the cross:

"From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)" (Matthew 27:45-46)

Did Jesus at this point doubt God's goodness and purpose? We know He did not. Was this a cry of unbelief? We know it was not. Was this a real honest cry from the heart of the One who is fully God and fully man? Yes it was. Most important of all, was this cry the end of the story? It most certainly was not! The Resurrection and Ascension were yet to come.

So what should we do when we face those things in a fallen world that cause our very heart and soul to ask why? Be honest before God about your thoughts and feelings. He knows what those thoughts and feelings are and you can not hide them from Him. In light of that omniscient knowledge, we need to be brutally honest before the LORD regarding our thoughts and feelings. But we dare not stop there.

We also need to know and affirm that the present circumstance is not the final end to the story; resurrection and glory are yet to come and it is faith that clings to that promised hope. Every tear WILL be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime, in your questioning be humble and remember even the Apostle Thomas had his doubts. Do not let evil circumstance drive you from the promises of God into unbelief. Do not let those circumstances cause you to doubt the character of your God and Savior.

Finally we need to humbly recognize that though we may ask the question, God may in His sovereign prerogative as He did with Job choose to not give us an answer. Job's question was swallowed up in the declaration of who God is as Creator whose creation declares His glory and attributes. It was in view of the person of that revealed God that Job put his hand to his mouth and was satisfied even though his question was not answered.1

As Christians we are redeemed creatures not yet fully redeemed, and living in a fallen and yet to be redeemed world. This is the context of the existential angst we feel in this life that causes us to cry out, "How long O Lord?" Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Recommended reading:

How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil(2nd Edit.); D.A. Carson; (Baker Academic, 2006)

1I have thought perhaps God's dealing with Job should be seen in the light of our Savior's words in Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Job asked for an answer and God's answer was to give Job Himself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Time for the Law and a Time for Grace

Accordingly each Christian continues to experience in his heart times of the Law and times of the Gospel. The times of the Law are discernible by heaviness of heart, by a lively sense of sin, and a feeling of despair brought on by the Law. These periods of the Law will come again and again as long as we live. To mention my own case. There are many times when I find fault with God and am impatient with Him. The wrath and the judgment of God displease me, my wrath and impatience displease Him. Then is the season of the Law, when "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."

The time of grace returns when the heart is enlivened by the promise of God's mercy. It soliloquizes: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Can you see nothing but law, sin, death, and hell? Is there no grace, no forgiveness, no joy, peace, life, heaven, no Christ and God? Trouble me no more, my soul. Hope in God who has not spared His own dear Son but has given Him into death for thy sins." When the Law carries things too far, say: "Mister Law, you are not the whole show. There are other and better things than you. They tell me to trust in the Lord."

There is a time for the Law and a time for grace. Let us study to be good timekeepers. It is not easy. Law and grace may be miles apart in essence, but in the heart, they are pretty close together. In the heart fear and trust, sin and grace, Law and Gospel cross paths continually.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians; (Vs. 3:23);(Kindle Edition).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Pre-Civil War Slavery Controversy

"Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States?"

Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech

Why did Lincoln express concern that slavery would overrun the Free States? What was the historical context for that statement? What did Lincoln see as the path leading to slavery overrunning the Free States?

Yes, I have done some study on what the answers to those questions are. At this point, I will just refer you to the Lincoln/Douglas debates

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

#Joy

Driving down the highway, windows down, wind blowing in face, and the radio cranked up real loud to a Felix Mendelssohn score.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on John 3:16

Pr. Lou Hesse, Pastor at Living Word Lutheran Church, Moses Lake, Washington speaks on John 3:14-21. The video is not that great, but the audio is clear and the message is worth the effort.

Luther on The Law and The Gospel

We want it understood that we do not reject the Law as our opponents claim. On the contrary, we uphold the Law. We say the Law is good if it is used for the purposes for which it was designed, to check civil transgression, and to magnify spiritual transgressions. The Law is also a light like the Gospel. But instead of revealing the grace of God, righteousness, and life, the Law brings sin, death, and the wrath of God to light. This is the business of the Law, and here the business of the Law ends, and should go no further.

The business of the Gospel, on the other hand, is to quicken, to comfort, to raise the fallen. The Gospel carries the news that God for Christ's sake is merciful to the most unworthy sinners, if they will only believe that Christ by His death has delivered them from sin and everlasting death unto grace, forgiveness, and everlasting life. By keeping in mind the difference between the Law and the Gospel we let each perform its special task. Of this difference between the Law and the Gospel nothing can be discovered in the writings of the monks or scholastics, nor for that matter in the writings of the ancient fathers. Augustine understood the difference somewhat. Jerome and others knew nothing of it. The silence in the Church concerning the difference between the Law and the Gospel has resulted in untold harm. Unless a sharp distinction is maintained between the purpose and function of the Law and the Gospel, the Christian doctrine cannot be kept free from error.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Kindle Locations 1659-1669). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Excerpts from Luther's Commentary on Galations

The following sample of quotes are taken from: Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Kindle Edition).

"By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory."

"We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace."

"True Christian theology does not inquire into the nature of God, but into God's purpose and will in Christ, whom God incorporated in our flesh to live and to die for our sins. There is nothing more dangerous than to speculate about the incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty of God when the conscience is in turmoil over sin. To do so is to lose God altogether because God becomes intolerable when we seek to measure and to comprehend His infinite majesty."

"To bestow peace and grace lies in the province of God, who alone can create these blessings. The angels cannot. The apostles could only distribute these blessings by the preaching of the Gospel. In attributing to Christ the divine power of creating and giving grace, peace, everlasting life, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins, the conclusion is inevitable that Christ is truly God."

"For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts."

"The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words "who gave himself for our sins." So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin."

"The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins" as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience."

"The article of justification is fragile. Not in itself, of course, but in us. I know how quickly a person can forfeit the joy of the Gospel. I know in what slippery places even those stand who seem to have a good footing in the matters of faith. In the midst of the conflict when we should be consoling ourselves with the Gospel, the Law rears up and begins to rage all over our conscience. I say the Gospel is frail because we are frail."

"Therefore we teach that to know Christ and to believe in Him is no achievement of man, but the gift of God. God alone can create and preserve faith in us. God creates faith in us through the Word. He increases, strengthens and confirms faith in us through His word. Hence the best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God's Word."

"When I first took over the defense of the Gospel, I remembered what Doctor Staupitz said to me. "I like it well," he said, "that the doctrine which you proclaim gives glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness, and mercy be ascribed unto God." These words of the worthy Doctor comforted and confirmed me. The Gospel is true because it deprives men of all glory, wisdom, and righteousness and turns over all honor to the Creator alone. It is safer to attribute too much glory unto God than unto man."

"True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone."

"On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises."

"The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent. The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for Christ's sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That is the praise and glory of His mercy."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Imagination on a Magic Moonlight Night

As a young lad, I grew up on a farm in rural southern Michigan. Our farmhouse stood on the north side of a country road. We lived in that house from the time I was five years old until the summer I turned fifteen. During those childhood and early teen years, my brother and I shared a bedroom in the southwest part of the upstairs of that house. I still remember the Davy Crockett wallpaper that was on the walls of that room.

Our bedroom had a window which faced south, and out of which we could look across the road to the neighbor's fields. The general geographic nature of those fields was the long ridge of a hill about 100 yards or so off of the road, and running more or less parallel to the road. Along the top of that ridge was a fence row. It was the fence row that provided the stage for the magic that I saw there, and of which I now share with you.

The other necessary ingredient of the magic I wish to speak of, was those clear nights, preferably during the time from late spring to early fall when the window would be open, when the moon was full or nearly so; those nights when the moonlight shines so bright that things stand out quite clearly, especially in open spaces such as our neighbor's fields.

On those magical nights I would lay in my bed and look out the window across to the ridge where I would see the magic happen. It was on those nights when a low solitary tree in the fence row on the ridge of that hill would magically come alive; the moonlight bringing it alive as its outline could be clearly seen against the backdrop of the night sky behind it.

I would look out the window and gaze at the image of the outline of that low tree up on the far hill. In its shape I saw an Arab riding over the crest of the hill on his magnificent Arabian horse; Lawrence of Arabia riding across the desert sands.

Another image that would sometimes come to mind is that of the tragic highwayman riding across the English countryside.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

In the course of life's changes, we moved from that house. Though the hill with its ridge is still where it always has been, the fence row and that solitary low tree are long gone. Those nights when I looked out that window and watched the magic of the moonlight on the ridge are a lifetime ago, but still cherished and not forgotten.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A House Divided - Lincoln's Concern

"—I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the States, north as well as south."

Lincoln, Abraham (2011-03-24). The Writings of Abraham Lincoln — Volume 3 The Lincoln-Douglas debates (Kindle Locations 248-251). . Kindle Edition.

The above quote from Abraham Lincoln sets forth a concern in pre-Civil War America that doesn't get much play in popular history. As you read Lincoln's statements from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, the concern being expressed is that the Nebraska=Kansas Act of 1854 in conjunction with the Dred Scott decision of 1857 had created a legal-political climate where free states would be eventually forced to accept slavery within their respective borders.

In the words of Lincoln:

"We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State."

Lincoln, Abraham (2011-03-24). The Writings of Abraham Lincoln — Volume 3 The Lincoln-Douglas debates (Kindle Locations 113-115). . Kindle Edition.

All of this illustrates the complexity of the issues leading up to the American Civil War; that things were not as black and white as either the "lost cause" crowd, or others wants to make it.

Consider for example the hollowness of the "states rights" mantra in relation to the Civil War. The "states rights" mantra is oft opined in relation to the rights of the slave states, but where in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and in the Dred Scott decision was the respect for the "states rights" of the free states to indeed truly be free states?

I believe one of the reasons for the current lack of popular understanding and knowledge of those six critical years before the Civil War has much to do with how the country choose to popularly remember the Civil War in the immediate aftermath of its ending in 1865; that selective remembering driven by the desire to foster an understanding of the war that would encourage national reconciliation. But sadly, that lack of understanding fails to bring to light some of the real concerns and issues leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861.

We may be unable to fully avoid selective historical memory. But as much as we are able, we need to tell the full story. Concern for truth and accuracy will not allow us to do otherwise.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Of This and That

It has been very hot and dry in our part of Michigan. We have not seen a good rain since back in June somewhere. Lawns are brown. My water bill will be going through the roof from watering all the flower gardens. We have had several stretches where temperatures have been in the 90 - 100 plus F range.

Farmers are being hit hard by the drought. Over half the country is experiencing drought, and in more then a few places there will be no crop to harvest. I know some people that farm, and my prayers go out for them. It is going to be a rough year.

Reading:

"The little town behind them had vanished as if it had never been, had fallen behind the swell of the prairie, and the stern frozen country received them into its bosom. The homesteads were few and far apart; here and there a windmill gaunt against the sky, a sod house crouching in a hollow. But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. " ~ Willa Cather "Oh Pioneers!"

I am reading "Oh Pioneers". Willa Cather was a great writer. I am in awe of how she makes the land an integral part of the story. There is a sense in which "Oh Pioneers" is as much about the land as it is about the people. A Number of years ago I read "My Antonia" and when done with "Oh Pioneers", I have "The Song of the Lark" on my "to read" list.

Note to the Detroit Tigers: With this year's All Star game in the history books, we are now in the second part of the season, and it is time for you guys to put it all together and take this division. You may also want to think about winning enough games to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. Just say'n...

Regarding the SBC and Lifeway Bookstores and the movie "Blindside": Way to much has already been said by both sides, so I choose to mind my own business and avoid adding to the pontifical pronouncements profusely proliferating pompously over cyber-space.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Viewing Politics in Light Of The Christian Gospel

A few questions about how I view politics in light of the Christian Gospel; a self-examination:

1. Are my political views getting in the way of the Gospel? Am I defining the Gospel by my political views? Am I looking for a political "salvation" that obscures Gospel salvation?

2. Do we live in “Israel” or “Babylon”? Are we living in “a city upon a hill” or in a nation that has had some rather glaring inconsistencies between its high ideals and some rather blatant moral scandals in its history? Do I really want to, or should I even dare use Gospel Kingdom language to describe my nation's heritage?

3. Am I judging another person’s Christianity by their political views? Do I love a Christian brother or sister enough to respectfully give them room to disagree with me on particular political issues, and give their spirituality the benefit of the doubt, especially when they demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in their life?

4. Is the Constitution of my country in its “original intent” or in any other sense, the equivalent of Scripture? Can we as Christians engage our particular political world on the basis of "real-politic"; as it is, in contrast to what we think it should be, and do so in a way that reflects the gospel?

5. Does the way and manner I talk about and discuss my political views reflect Christian humility and basic respect for those who may have an opposing view? Does my conversation reflect the spirit of Christ and demonstrate Christ-likeness? Do I speak in a way that the manner of my speaking adorns the Gospel?

6. Do I dare be so partisan that I take up every view coming out of my political leanings without thoughtful analysis and critical reflection? Am I humble enough to admit that in specific cases or instances, my "party" is wrong and the other "party" is right? Is "being right" more important to me then truth and justice?

7. Can I engage in the political realm of life in a way consistent with loving God with all my heart and soul and might, and loving my neighbor as myself? Dare I do else?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kindle for the PC

Last week I downloaded Kindle for the PC from Amazon.

My laptop came with Toshiba Book Place (TBP) already loaded. I used it to download some of the free e-books at Google Books. TBP was okay, though somewhat clumsy. Then a few months ago I downloaded an upgrade to TBP, and did not like at all what the "upgrade" did to the appearance of my TBP library.

I really like what I am seeing with the Kindle for PC. TBP had a few minor features Kindle does not have, but the Kindle functionality and appearance wins hands down.

Up to this point all I've downloaded for my Kindle library has been free stuff such as this The English Standard Version of the Bible. There are a number of $ 0.99 collections available at Amazon, and I am looking forward to expanding my e-book Kindle library in the future.

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Happy Endings?

"There are no happy endings..."

We live in a pessimistic culture. We see much pain and trauma in the world. People die of hunger, disease, violence and war. Death does not discriminate between young and old, rich or poor, innocent or guilty. Injustice and oppression reign in many places unchecked. In this world it is very easy to conclude that there are no "happy endings".

Is it really true? As Christians, let's take a brief look at this question using the Biblical framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

1. In the original creation was there a happy ending?

"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."

2. What happened to "happy endings" in the fall as recorded in Genesis?

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

In a fallen world there are no real "happy endings". In time we all experience physical death. Life is hard. People die of hunger, disease, violence and war. Death does not discriminate between young and old, rich or poor, innocent or guilty. The conclusion is that "happy endings" were lost in the fall.

But is that all there is to the story?

3. What does Redemption have to do with "happy endings"?

"...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3b)

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

" But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt: 1:20-21)

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)

The whole point of the story of redemption is that in Jesus Christ, we who put our faith in Him will in the end, have a happy ending.

This brings us face to face with being redeemed, yet not fully redeemed creatures in a fallen and not yet fully redeemed world. The happy ending we look for is promised, but yet to come.

" And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:32-40)

4. It is in the final consummation that believers in Christ will fully realize and enter into their happy ending. We will truly live happily ever after.

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." (Hebrews 12:22-24)

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Christian hope is focused on the future as seen through the promises of God in His word, the Bible. A vital part of that hope is that in the end there will be a happy ending; that in Jesus Christ we will live happily ever after.

We will see glimpses of that happy ending in the good things we see and experiences in this mortal life. In those glimpses and experiences, that future hope throws faint rays of light through the cracks of time back into this present fallen age. We see those brief flashes of light through the eyes of faith in Christ based on His word of promise.

Yes... There will be a happy ending. We may not see much in this world that points to that happy ending, and we may even despair that such a happy ending will ever come at all.

But come it will. That is our Christian hope.

"For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:16-20)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fredrick Douglass On Decoration Day 1871

Andy Hall at Dead Confederates posted a short speech by Fredrick Douglass On Decoration day 1871. That speech is worth pondering and I encourage you to go to Mr. Hall's page and read it...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

When a deal goes wrong...

Note to Johnny Blaze: The devil is not to be trusted when it comes to his making promises.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

~ footprints

I looked at the picture... I turned it over to see what had been written on the back. The handwriting was neat and precise; easy to read. She had given me this wallet size copy of her high school senior picture forty six years ago; her senior year which had been my junior year. I had forgotten I had it. It was a bittersweet moment in seeing her image on the one side and reading the note on the backside.

She was gone. She died this past February. The last time I saw her was so long ago, just a few years after high school, and then nothing for over 40 years. Some things had happened back then. She had experienced a crushing loss. Then there was no contact. Now she was gone.

I did not realize way back then the footprint she had left in my life. We had worked together on the high school newspaper. We had been casual friends. I thought about that as I read the note she had written to me on the back of that picture. I realized, yes, she had been a casual friend, but she also had been a good friend to me.

She had a part in sharpening my mind; exposing some of my naivete and provincialism. In our own peculiar way we had affirmed one another's existence and worth at an awkward time in each of our lives.

I had thought about her over the years; wondering how she was doing; praying that where ever she was, that she would "live happily ever after."

Now she is gone. As I looked at the picture, I felt a grief and sadness. I don't know if she ever realized the impression for good she had left on my life. In a way, for that time we had known one another, she had been a friend; as a sister.

So as I mourn, I also ask myself a question.

What kind of footprints have I left in the lives of those I have encountered, even ever so briefly,through my life?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of This & That.

~ "Don't grow old..." said my 97 year old mother in-law.

~ How many Christian women over the past 2,000 years have been in a position to be a "Proverbs 31" woman? The Proverbs 31 woman had servants, and her husband was on the town council. I dare say 95% of the virtuous Christian women over the past 2,000 years were not in the socio-economic class of the Proverbs 31 woman. Commentators and writers need to be VERY careful how they apply that passage to the general population of Christian women around the world.

~ At least I can have some assurance that a Mormon will have some degree of a common sense of decency. That is more then can be said for a cold blooded secular materialist.

~ Has anyone written an opera based on the story of Aeneas and Dido in book 4 of the Aeneid? Lovers torn apart by fate and the gods. The wrath of a woman scorned... Thwarted love and suicide... The answer is yes: Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, Didone abbandonata by Niccolò Piccinni, Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz, among others.

~ Yes, I am becoming a soccer fan. I don't have a favorite MLS team yet, but the Seattle Sounders are in the running. Not having a personal history in the sport, I'm not tied to any of the Midwest teams.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thoughts Upon Seeing "Red Dawn

This movie is "believable". By that I mean it comes across as something that could really happen.

What I was sensitive to was how the kids involved came face to face with and had to deal with the realities of war. Comrades get killed. There are the retaliatory executions of civilians by the enemy occupiers. There is betrayal by one of their own, and the resulting justice on the betrayer. And there was the issue of how the violence of war tended at points to make the kids the same as the enemy in terms of the ruthlessness with which war is waged.

When I was in school, our education was not suddenly interrupted in a way that thrust us as 15 or 16 year old kids into fighting enemy troops. We got to go to our Sr. Prom, and walk across the stage and get our diploma and for the most part, go on with the rest of our lives. The kids in "Red Dawn" didn't get to do that. War stole it from them... They had to grow up before their time.

It was the loss of innocence and childhood that was the saddest thing about "Red Dawn".

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Images of War: Passchendaele

"Listen to me. Forests burn 'cos they have to. And oceans, they go up and down 'cos they have to. I don't think we're that different. If you want to get through this you have to start seeing it for what it is. It's something we do all the time because we're good at it. And we're good at it because we're used to it. And we're used to it because we do it all the time."

~ Michael Dunne, in the movie "Passchendaele"

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Work of Writing


Anyone who has ever tried to do serious writing knows it is not easy. I've had occasion to reflect on that truth in the past few weeks as I have sat at the laptop, working on a couple of stories.

If I have a serious hobby at all, it is writing. At one point in my life I entertained the idea of writing the next great American novel. In assessing my desire to write, I came to a point where I realized that if I was to ever do any good writing, I needed to practice. I needed to sit down and write. I still have the notebook containing the pages pounded out out on the old mechanical typewriter that had been in my possession since high school days. Then came the PC, and now the laptop.

I remember someone saying that if you wanted to write, write about the things you know; the things that come from your own life experiences. So it is I have written a number of short memoirs; recalling incidents and happenings from my life. I have tried my hand at poetry and on the left of this page you will find a link to my poetry blog. I've also written a few more lengthy essay type pieces which are found here on the Billy Goat Blog. And yes, blogging itself provides opportunity for practicing the art of writing.

None of what I have written has ever been formally published, but has been self-published in some forum or other on the internet. Irrational as it may be, my greatest fear is the fear of what some editor might do to the things I have written. The stories, essays, and poetry are my life, the revelation of some intimate corners of my soul, and as such are sacred ground.

There have been only a few times that I have tried my hand at writing an original fiction piece. The two projects in the works at this time are both fictional. My inspiration for trying my hand at fiction came about a year or so go when I re-read Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric and Other Stories" along with "The Martian Chronicles".

Through his writings, Bradbury taught me that what makes fiction work is in how it pictures the human condition. What made his stories memorable were not the mechanics of projecting the advanced science of science fiction, as interesting as that may be, but the human condition that remained the same in Sci-Fi, historical novels, or any other kind of genre, fictional or real life.

And so I write. I wrestle with words and sentence structure and paragraphing. You struggle with writing in a way so that the story the reader is reading is the story you are telling. You go over what you wrote, asking yourself if a first time reader is getting the same message you think you are telling. It is classic communications class 101 all over again. Life demands its priorities. You have to work a paying job, and there are family responsibilities, and the opportunities to spend any lengthy time on a writing project is limited.

As a writer, I do not "make up" a story. A writer does not create the story; the writer tells the story that he or she discovers is already there. It is not always clear how the story is going to develop. The basic story line is there, but as you fill in the details, you find the development is not going where you thought it was.

Other stories intersect the story you are telling. The one story I am working on could lend itself to a trilogy, but I'm not sure it has been given to me to tell the other two intersecting stories.

In writing, one story develops in a relatively straight forward somewhat logical manner. The other story develops in bits and pieces that are not in any logical chronological order.

How many times through the years I have thought about writing, and than sat down to read a favorite established author, and conclude that in comparison to that author I don't know how to write at all.

But I keep practicing. I keep writing. And if any of my writing is ever formally published or not, I would still write. I would tell the stories, and leave them for my children's children.

I do not want to write for the "Christian market". If I can't write a story that touches all kinds of people, Christian or otherwise, I would rather not write at all. Yes, a Christian view of life gives philosophical foundation for my writing, but I loathe and resist a pop Christian cultural concept of Christian writing. I resist being bound to that mediocrity. True Christian writing should be much, much better then that.

So I write, and as long as I am able, will continue to write. And just maybe, God helping me, I might possibly write something that actually has some literary value for the ages.

Shalom...

(Here is a link to a list of my writings that are published on Scribd. )

Monday, March 26, 2012

Political Theater as Propaganda


The idea of "political theater" is a concept I observed in action many years ago during the university campus anti-war protests of the late 1960's and early 1970's. Over the years it has become much more sophisticated and today is used by all sides of the political spectrum, right as well as left. I see it constantly in the news. I see it on Youtube. I see it in the blogosphere. I see it on Facebook.

It is both amusing and also scary to see how political theater is accepted at face value and without critical scrutiny. (And this observation has nothing at all to do with your agreeing with me about this or that or anything at all.) The unfortunate thing is that political theater has a habit of fogging truth and reality. It encourages a rush to judgement that condemns and executes without regard to waiting for all the facts so the full truth and genuine justice can prevail.

What drives political theater is the agenda of the group or parties directing and producing the carefully calculated acts of the play orchestrated as opportunity gives occasion, to move that agenda forward..

By the way, another way of spelling "political theater" is

"p-r-o-p-a-g-a-n-d-a".

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Images of War: The Fall of Troy

We rush to no uncertain death, and hold
Our way into the city's midst. Black night
Hovers around us with her hollow shade.
Who can describe the carnage of that night?
Down falls the ancient city, having ruled
So many years: and everywhere struck down
Lay many an unresisting corpse along
The streets and through the houses, and beside
The sacred thresholds of the deities.
Not only do the Trojans suffer death.
Courage returns even to our vanquished hearts,
And in their turn the conquering Greeks are slain.
And everywhere are the sounds of bitter grief,
And terror everywhere, and shapes of death.

~ The Aeneid, Book 2, Virgil
"This candle too gives little light,
And does not make the darkness bright.
But keep it lit and you will find:
Far better this than being blind.
One little flame when all is night,
Proves there is such a thing as light.
One answered prayer when all is gone,
Will give you hope to wait for dawn."

~ John Piper "Job"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mickey Mouse is seeking to become the Elephant Lodge’s Head Elephant Poobah. Depending on which poll you listen to, he is running 2nd behind Scooby Doo. Other sources have him running 3rd with Scooby Doo 1st and Bullwinkle in 2nd. And then there is Elmer Fudd lingering behind in a distant 4th place….

Meanwhile at the Fraternal Order of Odd-Donkeys, Daffy Duck is unopposed in his quest for another term as Royal Odd-Donkey Emperoral Potentate...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A New Colonialism


“I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.”

~ C.S. Lewis in Sherewood Wirt's interview of Lewis in May of 1963.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A STRANGER TO HIS OWN CHILD

There never was a war so prolific of personal incident in every shade of experience possible to human life. The devastated provinces of France offer perhaps more of these happenings than any other part of the steel-swept, shell- wrecked fronts of all Europe. An Associated Press correspondent tells one that is especially touching.

He was motoring toward Denaen, one of the cities the Germans had occupied through four hard years, when a French officer going in the same direction asked him for a lift, explaining that he had lived there but had neither seen nor heard from his wife during all that time.

Entering the city and turning into his street the officer saw the first house was in ruins. He gave a nervous start. A few doors farther on was his home. The officer climbed out with an effort, his eyes fixed on the place.

There was no sign of life. The windows were shuttered and on the door was a sign showing German officers had been living there. The officer pulled the bell with shaking hand. No one answered. He backed away like a man in a trance and leaned against the car, trembling.

Suddenly the door opened and an aged servant appeared, leading a beautiful baby girl with a wealth of golden curls. The officer took one step toward the child and halted. He was a stranger to his own flesh and blood. The child hid behind the nurse, peering out in fright.

The half blind eyes of the old nurse had recognized her master and she held out her hands, repeating, "Monsieur! Monsieur!" in ecstasy. He crossed the road and grasped her hands, but the baby drew back.

A door opened and a comely young matron came to see what was going on. She caught sight of her husband, then stopped. Her hands flew to her breast. She swayed for a second. "With a sob of joy she hurled herself into his arms.

The correspondent moved away. And thus they were left, the nurse beaming on the happy couple and the curly headed youngster looking with troubled eyes at this strong man who had appropriated her mother so completely without a word.

Taken from "The Great War", published by The Christian Herald, (1919).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aliens and Strangers in this World


I voted in the Michigan Presidential Primary today.

I knew I would not be voting for Scooby-Doo. There was a part of me that wanted to vote for Bullwinkle, but in the end it was Mickey Mouse that got my vote. It is not like I have a lot of enthusiasm or expectations for this one. This is just another election cycle that is proving once again that we live in a culture that is incapable of producing real leadership... We are seeing the fruit of over a century of the influence of secular materialistic thought.

I was thinking today about the contrast of a capitalistic economic system working in a culture still dominated by a Judeo-Christian ethic, versus a capitalistic economy working in a culture dominated by a secular materialistic ethic. The contemplation of that should give us pause regarding blanket uncritical support for such secular materialistic capitalism.

The dirty little "secret" about secular materialism is that it provides no constraint upon the pursuit of a Darwinian survival of the fittest. In fact it feeds and idolizes the survival of the fittest. Forget the Humanist Manifesto! Or any and all altruistic concepts of the greater good.

Like the Jack London character of Wolf Larson, it becomes one's purpose, even duty, to live and squeeze every juicy marrow one can out of one's own life and any who happen to get in the way of that be damned. In the London story, Humphrey Van Weyden's altruistic liberalism paled and wilted in face of the onslaught of Wolf's inexorable unrelenting materialistic hedonistic logic.

This is the world we face. This is the world we as Christians have been called to bear witness to the truth that God is, and He is not silent. A world that loves the darkness because it hides their evil deeds. A world that will not have this Man to rule over them.

That thought should drive us to our knees in earnest prayer. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

~ The Billy Goat ~

Monday, February 20, 2012


Requiem for Ronnie


It is now February, 2012, some twenty years after this story first began to gestate in my mind. Another chapter has unfolded. I found out that this past week Marilyn passed away. She too is now gone. I never had an opportunity to talk to her again; to tell her that if she wanted to, I would dance with her one more time; to tell her that her life had meaning and purpose; that she would not be forgotten... May she indeed finally rest in peace...

It has taken me a number of years to write this story, as over the years revisions would be made and the story continued to unfold. One of those earlier revisions can be found on this blog. This past week the final chapter unfolded and fell into place so that now there is a sense of closure that before, the story did not have. I also included in this revision a separate but related story published here earlier.

So it is gentle reader I now present it to you in what I believe will be the final form. Click on the link above for the full story. Read and handle with care the baring of another's soul...

Shalom...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just When You Think You Have Written The Last Chapter


There are times when you think you have written the last chapter of a particular story, but then you find another chapter is unfolding itself before your very eyes... The story when first written may lay dormant for years at a time, but then events and people coming together in a way you had not thought or expected. Along with that unfolding of another chapter, information comes to light that makes you go back and edit previous chapters.

This week I found myself in the midst of one of those times. A comment a friend made on Facebook. A quick Google search that oh so quickly found a story that is vitally connected and intertwined to the larger story you thought you had finished. Then the realization that for the story to be complete, another chapter needs to added, and previous chapters will need some minor editing.

I could go on about how this corresponds to the unfolding of the story of redemption as found in the Bible. To be honest, I don't really want to pursue that line of thought at this time, though it would be legitimate to do so.

I will comment though on how stories nest within larger stories and how all stories nest within and are encompassed by the Story. You see that in the Bible too, especially in stories like those of Ruth and Esther to name a few.

And it is also true that within that meta-Story, from our perspective, the final chapter is yet to come.

Come quickly Lord Jesus...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Evangelicalism: Warts, Wrinkles, and All

“Some of my friends believe we should abandon the word evangelical. I do not. I simply yearn for us to live up to the meaning of our name.” ~ Philip Yancey

If only we would live up to the meaning of our name…

Sadly many with the label of "Evangelical" do not. So we have within the broader tent of Evangelicalism those with the "clowns and dancing bears wearing tutus" mentality towards worship.

But should that stop us individually or corporatly as a church from striving to actually live up to the best of the meaning of the label "Evangelical, minus the accouterments of cultural evangelicalism such as "clowns and dancing bears wearing tutus" that we can very well do without?

One of the bright spots in my own experience has been in rediscovering over the past 10 years a vibrant Evangelical Biblical theology, (Russell Moore, D.A. Carson, Walter Kaiser and others,) that flamed a fire in my soul that had been deadened by previous involvement in a narrow theologically self-focused reformed puritanism…

Let popular Evangelicalism go the way of all flesh. That does not at all mean I or anyone else will have to give up the core Evangelical theology we find in the Bible. It does mean we may find a better, more positive way of expressing it.

I am driven back to the personal historical fact that, warts, wrinkles and all, the Evangelical church was in the providence of God my spiritual mother, that church He used to bring me to faith in Himself…

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Glory & Love


February 1, 2012 by Mike Wittmer


"Last evening a student asked if I have any insight on whether God is primarily a God of glory or love...."

I found Dr, Wittmer's response to his student's inquiry to be helpful on several counts. His response illustrates the importance of holding to both the "oneness" and "trinity" of God, and how doing so impacts how we view and speak of God.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

‎"Answers are easy. It's asking the right questions which is hard."

(The Fourth Doctor, Dr. Who, "The Face of Evil", 1977)

Are you and I asking the right questions?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

First Post of 2012


Well you have to start off the 2012 blogging year sometime, so here we are.

We've had a relatively mild Winter here in our part of Michigan; not a lot of snow and no hard cold spells yet.


The Detroit Lions lost to New Orleans yesterday in the wild card playoff. Even with that, this Lions team has had the best season then we've seen in Detroit for a mighty long time.

My Michigan State Spartans beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. That was pretty neat.

Someday maybe I'll tell the story about the garage door opener. (sigh...)

Work has been busy and no sign it will let up in let up with all the projects coming down the line.

I have been exploring the world of E-books, especially free E-books... The Toshiba laptop came with a Toshiba reader installed. I also see Amazon is offering a free copy of the kindle reader for PC. I am thinking about giving it a try too.