Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Of Those Who Showed Us the Way

Pastor Ivan H. French of Winona Lake, Indiana passed away at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, 2013 at Grace Village Health Care Facility, Winona Lake, Indiana at the age of 88.

He was the Pastor of Pleasant View Bible Church of Warsaw, Indiana from 1975-1992. After serving three churches, Professor Ivan French, taught for over 20 years at Grace College & Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He was known for his warm heart and humorous stories (what he called “illustrative anecdotes”) he taught Bible, theology, and church history with both an academic knowledge and practical application. His teaching infused a heart and energy for Christ and the church in the seminary program. During this time he continued to be active in pastoral ministry, campus leadership, global missions, and Bible conferences, encouraging and strengthening the men and women he had helped to train.

He was a member of IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America), and was on the Board of Directors of Spanish World Ministries. Ivan also served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and was honorably discharged in May 1946.

Ivan was born on April 14, 1925 in Ontario, Oregon to Harry French and Anna Maude (Wright) French. On September 17, 1944 he was married to Arloeen Edith (Krause) French, who survives in Winona Lake, Indiana.

He also leaves behind his daughter: LaNita French (Warsaw, Indiana); three sons: John (wife Christine) French (Winona Lake, Indiana); David (wife Lori) French (Manila, Philippines); Douglas French (LaPorte, Indiana); and four grandchildren: Suzanne (husband Shawn) Osborne (Ft. Wayne, Indiana); John David French (Winona Lake, Indiana); Alexandra French (Manila, Philippines); Tobin French (Manila, Philippines). He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers, and four sisters.

There will be visitation on Thursday, December 19, 2013 from 2:00 p.m. 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at Redpath-Fruth Funeral Home, 225 Argonne Road, Warsaw, Indiana.

A graveside service will be conducted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. at Oakwood Cemetery of Warsaw. Those wishing to attend… please meet at the funeral home by 9:50 a.m. to go in procession to the cemetery.

His funeral service will be at 12:00 noon on Friday, December 20, 2013 at Pleasant View Bible Church, 2782 W. 200 N., Warsaw, Indiana and officiated by Pastor John French and Pastor Mike Hontz.

(Redpath-Fruth Funeral Home)

My grounding in the basics of the orthodox Christian faith came through the teaching of Professor Ivan French in our first year theology class at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Of all the seminary classes I took, that first year theology class was the most formative for me as we studied the nature, character and attributes of the Triune God. I still have the notes from those classes from Prof French.

It was also clear to us who benefited from his teaching that Ivan French's instruction came from a heart of genuine pastoral concern for us as students, and the people of God at large. Professor French left a positive mark on my life as well as the other countless number of students and congregational members who were under his ministry. He pointed out to us the way.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Rest in the peace of your Lord and Savior...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Passing Seasons

This day, December 5, has now become something of a double anniversary day for me.

One year ago today Mom passed away. A few short weeks later, Dad left us also.

Back in late December of last year, after my parents funerals, when I set the date for my then upcoming retirement, I didn't realize at the time that the day I picked was the 1 year anniversary of Mom's death. That realization did not hit me until about two months ago.

This day has come and one year after Mom's passing, after 34 years at my place of work I retired. It was time to go. There were some practical considerations in picking this day to retire, but it is also somewhat ironic. I think both Mom and Dad would be pleased if they knew.

This "retirement" thing is still a little surreal. Many years ago my Father in-law died of a massive heart attack about 7 months before his planned retirement, and 4 months before the birth of our oldest child. Back in March of last year (2012) a good friend of mine collapsed and died. He was three months from his own retirement.

Seeing things like that make you wonder, and as my wife and I approached this time of life, the thought in the back of our minds was , "Will we make it?" I found myself figuratively holding my breath until just before noon today, I walked out the office door for the last time. Some 9 hours later in this day, my mind has still not warped itself around the reality that I am now "retired". I don't know how many more years we will have, but of one thing I am very certain; each day is a gift; a gift from God; a gift of mercy and grace.

Even as last year at this time my life was unalterably changed with the death of my aged parents, so this year my life is again unalterably changed by the significant life event of retirement.

I am reminded of how much of Abraham's life as it has been recorded in Genesis was days, weeks, even years of mundane living. His revelatory encounters with God would occasionally break up that mundane regular cycle of life, but those times in Abraham's life were the exception and not the norm of his day to day living.

I have had enough of significant life events over the past year. I'm ready to enter a new pattern of day to day mundanes for a while. I want to concentrate on finishing up some writing projects. I have some genealogical research to return to and pick up on. I have retirement funds to manage and blog posts to write. I am ready for a sabbatical from the regular working world; a time to rest, recoup, and do some of the things that the 40 hour work week never really left me time for.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How the New Million Dollars is the Old One Hundred Thousand Dollars

Back in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s we would watch a TV program called “The Millionaire”. A very extremely wealthy man would somewhat randomly pick out a person and give that person a gift of $ 1,000,000. The story lines for the show revolved around how said person reacted to being the recipient of that gift and the impact of that gift upon their life. How many of us who watched that show way back when, would wish and think of what it would be like to be the recipient of such a largess. A Millionaire, someone who had a million dollars, was considered fabulously rich and set for life; like Jed Clampet, the mountain man who upon inadvertently finding oil on his land, became a Millionaire and moved to California to settle in the affluent Beverly Hills neighborhood as the “Beverly Hillbillies”.

Then there was the time in one of my high school classes, when the teacher asked us to write a paper answering the question, “What would you do if you had $ 100,000?” Though I did not think of or recognize much of the deeper importance of the assignment at the time, I find it of interest to look back at what I put down in that little essay. In that writing assignment, I used the $100,000 to set myself up in farming. Out of the hundred thousand, based on prices of that time, there was enough to buy an eighty acre plot of land; equipment for a hog feeding operation and the needed field equipment. In today’s world that $100,000 would barely pay for the eighty acres, depending on the quantity of arable acres and general fertility of said land.

Some almost fifty years later, I find it of interest that in that high school assignment back in the mid 1960’s, I spent that money on something that would give me some kind of return on the investment. There may have been enough left for that Mustang I have for ever since regretted not buying, but though I did not deliberately look at it or think of it that way, my focus was on something I thought I would enjoy doing and that would also give me, if managed properly, a steady return and income over time. The other thing I find valuable in looking back on that high school assignment, is to realize just what could have been done with that $100,000 fifty years ago as compared to what can be done with $100,000 in today’s money.

Before I continue, I want to make some other comparisons between the prices of things in the mid to late 1960’s compared to today. This comparison will be given in an anecdotal way as a memoir. That said, the numbers quoted can be easily verified.

I remember when:

Regular gasoline was between 25¢ to 35¢ per gallon. Today it fluctuates, depending on where you live, from $3.00 to $4.00 per gallon. To make the math easy let me put it this way: The gallon of gas I paid 35¢ for now costs me $3.50; a tenfold increase in price.

A loaf of bread could be had for 25¢. Now days it is hard to find a decent loaf of bread for less than $2.50; another tenfold increase.

Hamburger/ground beef could be had for 24¢ per pound; now days expect to pay $2.50 or more depending on quality or if on sale; another tenfold increase.

A week’s wages of $70.00, based on $1.75 per hour over a 40 hour week, was considered a decent wage, and a family could make due and get by on it. Now days, I can easily spend $70.00 a week on groceries alone. Or if I didn’t want to eat, I could use $50 to $60 of it just to fill a gas tank that I use to fill for $3 to $4 in 1965 money, and just maybe I would have enough left over for the $12.00 haircut that fifty years ago I paid 75¢ for.

Do you get the picture?

I could go on and on, but don’t take my word for it. Go to Google or any other WWW search engine and do a search on “1965 prices”. You will find all the data you need and more to substantiate the observations I have made from memory.

The raw fact is that $1,000,000 in today’s money only has roughly the buying power of what $100,000 use to have back in the mid 1960’s. To have in today’s money the equivalent of what $1,000,000 was fifty years ago, you would need $10,000,000. “The Millionaire” TV program from that time period would have to be renamed “The Ten Millionaire”. The 1960’s game show called “The $100,000 Question” would have to be renamed “The Million Dollar Question” as we have found in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation know all this. We may not think about it much; we may and do ignore the evidence before our very eyes over the last fifty years. We may not think it matters that much, but my point is, if we thought about it seriously, the history we observed and lived through tells us something about the nature of money in our economy over time and how in that light we should view investments and savings.

To quote Ronald Baron in a recent Baron Funds Quarterly Report (September 30, 2013):

"Virtually all currencies either die or are devalued. That is why we believe currencies are useful to buy and sell things, not as a “store of value”."

The point Baron makes sheds a bright beam of light on the Achilles’ heel of how the vast majority of us still consciously or subconsciously think about money. Many of us handle our money as though money itself is still a “store of value”.

To help illustrate this, let’s go back to our $1,000,000 in today’s money which as we have illustrated above, is the $100,000 of fifty years ago.

If you put that $1,000,000 in a savings account at a bank or credit union, what interest would you get at today’s rates?

In my latest Credit Union statement, with regard to my savings account I was told my “Annual Percentage Yield Earned (APYE) is 0.05%...” Not much, is it?

A half percent on $1,000,000 is $5,000 per year. Not much, is it? Notice also that $5,000 would equal a 5% return on $100,000. Could you live in the U.S. or in any other developed country on only $5,000 a year? Also realize that over time the future value of your $1,000,000 will continue to shrink in comparison to the value it holds today.

Now do some simple math. If I can get 5% per year on $1,000,000, my gross annual yield on the $1,000,000 is $50,000. I dare say most of us could get by on $50,000 per year if we had to. We would also be better off than 98.5% of the rest of the world’s population. (Notice I am leaving Social Security out of the discussion at this point.)

That then begs the question, “What can I put my money into that will give me that 5% or more return per year, and at the same time maintain some semblance of current value over time through growth in so called “capital gains”?”

You see where this is headed don’t you?


More to come in later posts...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Makes One a Martyr?

In Dr. Erwin Lutzer's book,"Hitler's Cross", he summarizes four marks of martyr as taken from Eberhard Bethge's "Bonhoeffer: Exile and Martyr". Here is a brief overview of those four distinctive characteristics.

1. "First, the risk of martyrdom is freely chosen... ...martyrs choose the path of suffering in the face of other options. They could have denied their convictions or remained silent. But they spoke out or acted, choosing to obey God rather than man. They understood the risks, but did it anyway."

2. "The second characteristic of a true martyr is that he does not seek to die, but is willing to accept death should it come. He might even greatly fear death, but he fears compromise much more. These people were not looking for death, hoping to be martyred for some noble deed. Most martyrs have a strong desire to live, and forfeit life only reluctantly."

3. "Third, martyrs have a fanatical commitment to a cause that they regard to be more important than life itself..."

4. "Finally, most martyrs believe that to remain silent is to comply with the enemy. They would agree with Abraham Lincoln that "silence makes cowards out of the best of men." This cowardice, martyrs affirm, is exactly what they labored to overcome. Even when given the option of silence, they are so overwhelmed by the greatness of the cause that they speak out or act as emissaries of justice."

("Hitler's Cross: How the Cross was used to promote the Nazi Agenda"; Erwin W. Lutzer; (Moody Publishers; 1995, 2012); pages 167-169)

Given what we see happening around us in our culture, the day may soon come when Christians will have to decide how important to them the Faith really is. May God grant us grace and mercy and fortitude to remain faithful to the end.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Over the years of my life there have been certain recurring themes or patterns to my dreams. These patterns have to do with places; certain sections of different roads or highways, particular rivers or a lake, a particular small town, a house filled with bookshelves loaded with books, and other such places. Over the years one gets used to seeing these particular places in our dreams, and we develop a comfortable familiarity with them.

In this past year I began to notice a shift which marked the fading away of those old familiar dream patterns. I woke up one day recently and realized it had been months since I had seen any of the old familiar places in my dreams.

I know when it changed, or it may be more accurate to say I think I know when it changed.

Last November we knew Mom was not doing well, and very well may not make it to the end of the year. The story of our last visit to see Mom while she was still living has been told in another place.

This particular dream happened around that time. In that dream, Mom was in what appeared to be a car. The car window was up, and though I did not clearly see him, Dad was in the drivers side. In my dream I yelled out, "Momma!" She turned her head and smiled at me through the window. Then the dream faded away.

A very short time after that dream, Mom died and a few short weeks after that, Dad was gone too. The two people who had been a central and vital part of the pattern of my life were gone. The whole pattern of my life was irrevocably changed. A link in the chain of the collective memory of my family has been cut off, and now it is my brother and sister and I who carry what we can of that collective memory.

My more recent dreams, the ones I can remember anything about, no longer have those familiar patterns of places, or events. It is if in the land of sleep, a certain degree of anarchy prevails in the universe of my dreams. Perhaps new patterns will eventually emerge, I do not know.

I do know that significant life events touch one 's being at many different levels. I am not one to spend a lot of time trying to understand dreams. I believe there is a reality to dreams that resists the prognostications of soothsayers and psychoanalyst alike. If He who is the giver of dreams wants me to understand a particular dream's meaning, He will make it clear in His own good way and time. I make no claim to prophetic dreams, and reserve a certain skepticism for any who claim so.

God has created us as complex beings. We often focus on the parts of our being and tend to lose sight of the interrelatedness of those parts. I am not so sure how well we as humans understand the fullness of the organic being of our humanness. I am coming to realize more and more just how deep and complex the patterns of our being and life really are. As the Psalmist put it, we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

"He is here..."

"The galaxies shout out, "He is here." The wildflowers sing together, "He is here." The rippling brooks join in, "He is here." The birds sing it, the lions roar it, the fish write it in the oceans--"He is here." All creation joins to sing His praise. The heavens declare it, the earth repeats it, and the wind whispers it--"He is here." The mighty sequoia tells it to the eagle who soars overhead, and the lamb and the wolf agree, "He is here." God has left His fingerprints all over the world. Every rock, every twig, every river, and every mountain bears His signature."

Credo; by Ray Pritchard; (Crossway Books, 2005); page 30

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Tradition and Authority

For these determined “Biblicists” had their contemporary philosophy in their heads, took it with them to the Bible and so most certainly read themselves into the Bible no less than Church Fathers and Scholastics. They were no doubt free of Church dogma but not of their own dogmas and conceptions.

Luther and Calvin did not go to work on the Bible in this way. Neither should we. It is in the Church that the Bible is read; it is by the Church that the Bible is heard. That means that in reading the Bible we should also hear what the Church, the Church that is distinguished from my person, has up to now read and heard from the Bible. Are we at liberty to ignore all that? Do the great teachers of the Church, do the Councils not possess a –certainly not heavenly—but, even so, earthly, human “authority”? We should not be too ready to say, "No."

To my mind the whole question of tradition falls under the Fifth Commandment: Honor father and mother! Certainly that is a limited authority; we have to obey God more than father and mother. But we have also to obey father and mother.

And so I should call to all those who get excited when they hear the words Orthodoxy, Council, Catechism: Dear friends, no excitement! There is no question of bondage and constraint. It is merely that in the Church the same kind of obedience as, I hope, you pay to your father and mother, is demanded of you towards the Church’s past, toward the “elders” of the Church.

Karl Barth, Credo, “Appendix: Answers to Questions”

Saturday, August 03, 2013

This Temporal Cycle of life and the Cosmic

It was a simple wedding; nothing very elaborate at all. As we sat there witnessing the simplicity of the setting and of the ceremony, I found myself with a sense that something of momentus cosmic consequence was happening. Yes, that is true of all weddings, but for some reason I felt it more keenly at this one.

Of course what that cosmic consequence will be will not be fully known in this life. But this I know and believe; the mundane things and cycles of this life in some way or fashion will echo into eternity. The story of Ruth comes to mind as a classic Biblical example. We are all part of a much bigger story. Our story ’s threads will and are being intricately woven into the fabric of that much greater Story.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Odds & Ends

"In a age of relativism, orthodoxy is the only possible rebellion left." ~ Peter Kreeft

Living With the Mystery of Unanswered Prayer by Mark Daniels..

A little update on my trek through Credo by Karl Barth: I am through the chapter on the remission of sins. I can only read a page or two at a time and then my brain circuits are at the point of blowing a breaker... I find it odd that reading Barth's Credo has done more to confirm me in orthodox faith then anything I've read since my time in seminary. I find myself loving and embracing the Apostles Creed as a true statement of basic Christian belief and doctrine... It is odd that Barth can come across more orthodox then some of those in the broad tent of Evangelicalism.

It is hot; getting up in the low 90's which for our part of Michigan is hot. Back in May we got a central air conditioner to replace our window AC. It is getting a work out, and we are thankful to have it.

Other books in my reading pile: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury; All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren; War In Heaven (Kindle) by Charles Williams..

About ten days ago we did our annual pilgrimage through Ionia County, Michigan on the David Hwy. This year's field crops look so, so much better then they did on last year's pilgrimage; an indication of the abundance of rain we have had compared to last year's severe drought... We followed the road east past Westphalia where it becomes Price Rd. Supper was at the Big Boy in St. John's and then we came west on M-21. A nice evening with good friends for company...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Far Above the Tree Tops

I was in the church parking lot after this morning's services, waiting for my wife and daughter. It was one of those days when the sun was shining, but over in the west the clouds were high and giving a hint of possible weather to come. It was warm but not overly humid, and a nice breeze was blowing; the kind of breeze that makes for good kite flying if one was so inclined.

As I looked up off to the west, I saw them. Vultures or hawks or eagles, I do not know; they were to far away to tell, but there they were, high in the sky riding the air currants as such birds are wont to do. I watched as they circled and spun and drifted seemingly effortless on the wind way, way up high above the earth. I wondered just how high their altitude was, but could not begin to even give a good guess. I could only imagine what their view was of the river valley over which they were soaring.

I imagine most people at one time or another in there sleeping dreams have dreamed about being able to fly like a bird. As I watch these birds far off in the distance riding the currants of air far above the earth, I thought of how it was in my own dreams of flying, I never could get above the tree tops or clear that tall building in the way. In those dreams there was always a certain frustration that I could only go so high, when I really wanted to go so much higher, way, way up; up where these birds were soaring adrift on the wind; to have that unencumbered view of the earth below; to escape the bonds of gravity and fly way up high and far, far away.

I suppose such dreams could be psychoanalyzed and all sorts of conclusions be drawn from such analysis. Or, if Daniel or Joseph were around, one of them could give me a reliable interpretation of such dreams. But I do believe such dreams reflect some yearning, conscious or not, for a view of a bigger reality then what is encompassed in our finite creational boundaries. Isaiah talks about "mounting up like eagles..." Figurative language? Yes... But also perhaps a hint of something wonderful yet to come; a day when we see a bigger reality then we ever knew existed before; when we soar up high above the tree tops adrift on the wind with all creation opened up below to our view.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Easter and The Day of the Lord

"On a final and comprehensive Easter Day the exultation of the Lord will be repeated. The interim period is running towards that Easter as the Day of the Lord. The church with all creatures in their sighing is, in this interim period, waiting and watching joyfully for that day."

~ Karl Barth, Credo, "Inde Ventures Est Judicare Vivos Et Mortuos"

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Strike Three!

He was a young Freshman pitcher from Flint. He came to Michigan State University to get an education with a major in history, and to see if he could get on the baseball team as a walk-on. If he could make the team, the prospect of an athletic scholarship could become a reality. He could very probably have gotten a scholarship at another school, but family tradition and the prospect of studying Civil War history under a noted professor among other things, brought him to Michigan State. This young hurler also happened to be by the cast of chance or design of providence, my dorm roommate.

So it was in that Spring of our Freshman year, one afternoon between classes, I went over to the ball-field where the University Freshman team was playing a game against the baseball team from a local community college. It was the bottom of the inning and the Spartan's turn at bat. It also happened Dave was coming up to bat.

It is a maxim of baseball that pitchers do not get very much batting practice. A pitcher's batting average will usually be one of the lowest on the teams. I don't remember what the exact count was; there may have been a ball or two, but Dave was quickly behind with two strikes. It also bothers me to this day that I do not remember if they were called strikes or came on a swing and a miss. But now the fun was about begin.

The pitcher wound up and threw the next pitch. Dave watched the ball go by.

"Strike three!" called the Umpire.

But as he was calling the 3rd strike, the ball hit the catcher's mitt, dropped and rolled a few feet away. Dave saw the muffed catch, dropped the bat and ran for first. The catcher was caught off guard by Dave's movement, but then recovering, grabbed the ball to throw to first to insure the out. He over threw the 1st baseman's glove, and there was Dave, safe at first!

What a whoop and holler erupted from his teammates! What would have been a strikeout, was by application of the 3rd strike rule and the catcher's error, a man on base. It was a real heads up play on Dave's part that turned a negative into a positive.

I don't remember anything else about that game, and as it was, it was the only game I saw Dave play in. He never did get that athletic scholarship and a year or so later, dropped baseball and concentrated on his studies. After those undergraduate days at Michigan State, he eventually went on to get a Masters and then a Doctorate in history with emphasis on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

If you are ever in New Haven, Connecticut, and wandering around the campus of Yale University, you might peer into a classroom and see David delivering a lecture on some aspect of the Civil War or Reconstruction. I don't know how much the Doctor remembers of his undergrad baseball days, but that one memory remains forever etched in his old roommate's memory.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Being Sacked on 3rd and Long

It is easy to be thankful and praise God when you go into the end-zone and score a touchdown, and at those times you should be thankful and give Him praise..

But what about when you are deep in your own end of the field and it is 3rd and long, and you get sacked for a loss? Do you still give thanks and praise to God?

Is most of the reality of life's daily struggle for the masses of humanity around the world lived in the end zone, or is it in facing being sacked for a loss on 3rd and long?

This is the issue I have with the fixation some evangelicals have on the "super star Christian". Yes, the Tim Tebow mania comes to mind, but that is only one example among many over the years. The idea is that a person of pop-culture fame, be it sports, movie actor/actress, etc, who is a professing Christian somehow has a platform to "be a witness for Jesus" in a very public way. Of course when another famous pop-culture idol uses their platform of fame to expound on some latest left-wing wacko silliness, these same people find that offensive.

These thoughts have come from further reflection on issues and ideas I dealt with earlier in a post on God & The Super Bowl. The more fundamental problem behind that post and this one is the issue of how we allow pop-culture to influence what we view as important in the work of the Kingdom of God. It also assumes things about God and what the Christian life is about that do not line up with reality or the Word of God. But then a superficial "pop-evangelicalism" always has that foundational flaw; a disconnect from the reality of a fallen world and a fogginess regarding what God's Word actually does tell us about the life of the redeemed in that fallen and not fully redeemed world.

Frankly that is not really much of a "faith" to live by for the vast overwhelming mass of humanity all around the globe. Nor is it a "faith" I want to stake my hope on.

If I don't have a faith that helps me to live when I am facing being sacked on 3rd and long as well as when I am in the end zone, then frankly, I'd rather have no faith at all.

#justwondering #nittygrittyliving #yourgodistoosmall

Friday, May 10, 2013

For Love of A Mother

"What's the story with these chickens?"

"I don't know... We came down to visit Mom and Dad one time and they were here..."

Such was the reply I gave the dear little elderly gray haired lady standing next to me.

"I'd like to have those chickens. I really like them. They remind me of when we use to have chickens..."

The two fowl in question sat there on the lawn motionless as most lawn and garden ornaments and figurines are. They were part of all the accumulation of a marriage of almost seventy years that had reached its conclusion when my Mom passed away in early December, and Dad followed her a short two weeks latter.

Here we were four months later. All the odds and ends and household stuff to be sold off in the estate auction had been scattered around the yard, the garage, and the barn waiting to be bid off to new owners by the auctioneer. It was getting on into the afternoon, and the majority of stuff and already been sold off to whatever bidder was willing to dig deeper into their pocket then the other bidders.

"I really would like to get those chickens." the elderly lady said again. "I wonder if anyone else will bid on them?"

"Mom, if you really want those chickens, there is nobody here who is going to be able to outbid you for them..."

Those words of assurance came from the younger man standing with us; the elderly lady's son who was a friend of mine going way back to another lifetime ages ago when we had been in high school together.

It was going to be another ten to fifteen minutes before the auctioneer got around to bidding off the chickens. A few more times in that interval the conversation was repeated. The mom expressed her desire to get the chickens and also her fear someone would outbid her for them. The son again quietly assured her that if she wanted those chickens, no one was going to have enough to outbid her.

Finally it came time to auction off the chickens. I expected that at most they might bring twenty or thirty dollars. The bidding started. The son was bidding for his mother. I don't know how many bidders there were initially, but very quickly the bids were much higher then ever expected.

At that point the two remaining bidders were the son and another woman who I did not recognize. The woman would make a bid and the without batting an eye, the elderly lady's son would immediately raise the bid. The bids continued on up past all reasonable expectation. The other bidder stared over at my friend in frustration, then finally gave it up.

I smiled in my heart. Mom and Dad's chickens were going to a good home where they would be loved and appreciated by a kind elderly gray haired lady who has a son who demonstrated that you do not and can not put a price tag on love for a mother.

Copyright May 2013, J. William Newcomer, all rights reserved.

Monday, April 22, 2013

History, Memory, & Connection

A few reflections on Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Gilead”

John Ames was dying. Of course in this life we are all terminal the moment we exit the womb. So many heartbeats; so many breathes in and breathes out; so many seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. Then we will be gone. Grim prospect that is, but it is what happens between that first and last breath that defines, for better or for worse, what our life is.

John Ames, the Congregational pastor in Gilead, Iowa was dying. At the time Marilynne Robinson writes his story in her somewhat strange but moving novel titled “Gilead”, he is in his mid-seventies. He is writing a chronicle for his young seven year old son; the son of his old age birthed by his much younger bride who had brought solace to him so many, many years after his first wife had died in childbirth. John Ames wants to leave his young son something through which after his death, his son can connect to his father and to the heritage that is his through his father. It is that epistle of the dying John Ames to his son that is the content of “Gilead”.

There are a number of story threads woven throughout “Gilead”, but perhaps among the more compelling ones is that relating to John Ames’ abolitionist grandfather; the Congregational minister from New England who was a Kansas Jayhawker and friend of John Brown of “moldering in his grave” fame, as well as acquaintance of that grim chieftain, Jim Lane; the grandfather who went marching off to the war as a Union soldier and came home minus an eye as a result.

John Ames’ grandfather was gripped by a cause; a cause which to him involved the righting of the wrong of a grave and malevolent injustice to fellow human beings created in the image of Almighty God. It was a cause that so gripped him that he engaged in activity that, in reflection, horrified his son for its extremeness; that son who was to become John Ames’ father.

So the stage was set for that Ames family play in which in the second act, the son and grandson watch in horror as World War I unfolds and challenges their pacifist preferences; a pacifism rooted in John Ames’ father’s aversion to what he had witnessed of the grandfather’s involvement in Bloody Kansas and the Civil War.

It is here we come to the matter of history, memory, and connection. John Ames’ seven year old son was entering a life further and further disconnected by time from the tumultuous events leading up to and including the Civil War. He was connected to a great-grandfather who had participated in some momentous historical events. That participation was coming down to him through the filter of his grandfather and the further reflection of his father, John Ames. It would remain to be seen how that young seven year old lad growing up some hundred years after those events, would process and understand his great-grandfather’s involvement in those events.

In the area of history, and the history of the Civil War in particular, there has been in recent decades, a focus in historical studies not just on the events of history, but also a study on how, over time, those events have been understood and remembered not just in history books or Memorial Day speeches, as important as they can be, but in the popular psych of a culture over time. A case in point is how the Civil War is remembered in literature that is not so much about the events themselves, but how the memory of those past events affect the characters involved in the story taking place. It was this history, memory, and connection that made this particular story thread in “Gilead” compelling. It also hit me in a very personal way.

My Great-Grandfather was a Union veteran of the Civil War. He served three enlistments in three different Ohio regiments for varying lengths of service. He died in 1931, when his grandson, my Father, was thirteen years old.

My Dad was old enough to have had some kind of meaningful relationship with his Grandfather. I don’t know if such was the case for the simple reason I never thought to ask him about the nature of his relationship with his Civil War Grandfather. Now my father is gone and what memories he may have had are gone with him. He did not leave my siblings and I any kind of “Gilead” chronicle. Dad never spoke much about his Grandfather. But it is also true that I never really asked him what he could tell me about my Great-Grandfather. Now it is to late.

History, memory, and connection… Don’t take them for granted. This tri-fold composite has not only to do with the very public historical events, but also with the more private events of a family history.

In “Gilead” we are made privy to that relationship of John Ames to the son of his best friend, that son Jack Boughton, whose full given name is John Ames Boughton, so named by the Reverend Boughton of the Gilead Presbyterian church; this Jack Boughton who is Robinson’s portrayal of the classic prodigal son.

This is a thread of the novel that most clearly holds out the hope of redemption, however faint it might seem to be. And it is such a story that John Ames dare not keep it from his son, even though he struggles with the argument in his soul over the telling or not telling of it. In the end that soul argument is laid to rest in a revelation Jack confesses to his namesake, and John Ames with clear conscience gives Jack his blessing. The hope of redemption has not totally been lost.

So it will be that in the future the son of John Ames will read his Father’s account of Jack Boughton, and perhaps make sense of things he saw and heard back when he was too young to understand the import thereof. But when understood at that future time, young Ames will have an understanding and insight into his then deceased father’s character that will be a precious memory. Of such are history, memory, and connection.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord.

Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

The Didache; Chapter 16;(Kindle Edition)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Virgil on Suffering & Hope

Oh friends, who greater sufferings still have borne,
(For not unknown to us are former griefs,)
The deity will also give an end,
To These, You have approached the furious rage
Of Scylla and her hoarse resounding cliffs.
You the Cyclopean rocks have known full well.
Recall your courage; banish gloomy fears.
Someday perhaps the memory of these things
Shall yield delight. Through various accidents,
Through many a strait of fortune, we are bound
For Latium, where our fates point out to us
A quiet resting place. There its decreed
Troy's kingdom shall rise again. Be firm,
And keep your hearts in hope of brighter days.

(The Aeneid, Virgil, Book I)

This quote is from the speech of Aeneas to his companions after being swept by a storm upon the coast of Africa near the city of Carthage.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Of This and That...

I have not written much here as of late. Frankly a lot of that has to do with still dealing with the loss of Mom & Dad back in December. I find myself really missing Dad. I miss Mom too, but for some reason feel the loss of my father more keenly... That may have something to do with how Mom had noticeably declined so much over the last few years, whereas Dad was pretty alert mentally right up to the end. Dealing with it all has sparked a number of thoughts that may yet someday find their way into a blog post. But right now the emotional energy nor the time is there to do it.

The matter of time may find itself resolved by the end of this year. Even before Mom & Dad's passing, there were a number of things coming together indicating it was time to start movement toward retirement. I would like to walk away while I am still a little on top of my game; to walk away before being asked to go away; to leave when I still had a little bit left to do some of the other things in life I have wanted to do. I have often thought over the past number of years that I really could use a sabbatical, but given the business world I work in, that was not in the cards. I am really looking forward to taking a month or so after retirement to just "do nothing". No, I will not "do nothing at all", but I really would like some down time from the everyday hectic pressure of work and provision.

What am I reading these days? A Kindle version of The Book of Concord which is the extended statement of Lutheran belief and theology. Robert Penn Warren's All The Kings Men. An English translation of Credo which is Karl Barth's exposition of the Apostles Creed. Set aside for now, but waiting to be read is Marilynne Robinson's Home which is a companion book to her novel Gilead. I did finish Gilead earlier this year. Many other books beckon to be read. I did get a few books from Mom & Dad's library which are among those calling to be read, but more on those at another time.

There is a world of study available on YouTube. Yale University has a number of classroom lecture series available on YouTube. One series of lectures I am currently working through is Dr. David Blight's class sessions on the American Civil War. I knew David Blight in his undergraduate years at Michigan State University, and it was David who introduced me to the Civil war battlefields of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Antietam as well as others. Yale has some other series available on YouTube that have caught my eye. Going through some of those is on my list of things to do when I retire.

That's all for now...


Christ as the Foundation of Christian Faith

“…Christian faith stands or falls once and for all with the fact that God and God alone is its object. If one rejects the Biblical doctrine that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and indeed God’s only Son, and that therefore the whole revelation of God and all reconciliation between God and man is contained in Him—and if one then, in spite of that speaks of “faith” in Jesus Christ, then one believes in an intermediate being, and then consequently one is really pursuing metaphysics and has already secretly lapsed from the Christian faith into a polytheism which will forthwith mature into further fruits in the setting up of a special God-Father faith, and a special Creator faith, and in the assertion of special spiritual revelations. The proclamation of this polytheism can most certainly be a brilliant and a pleasant affair. But real consolation and real instruction, the Gospel of God and the Law of God, will find a small and ever-diminishing place in the proclamation. The Church of Jesus Christ as the assembly of lost and rescued sinners will come less and less to be built by this proclamation. How could it be otherwise than that error at a critical point makes it utterly impotent? It is just here that a circumspect Dogmatics will give warning. It will have to ask the whole Church to consider that ground out of which it has sprung and out of which alone is it able to live, is the admittedly rigid and uncompromising recognition that no one knows the Son, but the Father, and no one knows the Father, save the Son, and He to whom the Son will reveal Him (Matt. XI. 27).”

Karl Barth, Credo, ”Et in Jesum Christum”

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Faith That Justifies

"...But that faith which justifies is not merely a knowledge of history, [not merely this, that I know the stories of Christ's birth, suffering, etc. (that even the devils know,)] but it is to assent to the promise of God, in which, for Christ's sake, the remission of sins and justification are freely offered. [It is the certainty or the certain trust in the heart, when, with my whole heart, I regard the promises of God as certain and true, through which there are offered me, without my merit, the forgiveness of sins, grace, and all salvation, through Christ the Mediator.] And that no one may suppose that it is mere knowledge, we will add further: it is to wish and to receive the offered promise of the remission of sins and of justification."

The Book of Concord - Concordia Triglotta Edition, "Apology of the Confession: Of Justification"; (Kindle Edition).

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Margin of Mystery and Collapse

"Not that I much blame Duffy. Duffy was face to face with the margin of mystery where all our calculations collapse, where the stream of time dwindles into the sands of eternity, where the formula fails in the test tube, where chaos and old night hold sway and we hear the laughter in the ether dream. But he didn't know he was, and so he said, "Yeah.""

"All The King's Men", Robert Penn Warren

Sunday, February 03, 2013

God & the Super Bowl

Scott McKnight posted on The Jesus Creed a note titled God and Sports which reported on a new survey that "...finds more than a quarter of Americans believe that God “plays a role in determining which team wins" at sports events." The following is an expansion of some comments I left on that post.

What do you think of that statement? Does God really play a role in determining which team wins the Super Bowl? Does God favor athletes on the basis of their faith or lack of faith?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, God does determine, in the words of one catechism, “the course and outcome of all events” including sporting events. What then? That assertion says nothing about WHY He has one team win or lose a game with another team.

The Gospel tells us the rain, coming from the hand of God, falls on both the just and the unjust. We are not necessarily told why the rain falls on the just in contrast to the unjust, or why it falls on the unjust in contrast to the just. The secret things belong to God and as C. S. Lewis wisely reminded us, God is not a “tame lion” we can manipulate or in some fashion “buy off”. I believe God's determining the outcome of a sporting event falls in the same category as where the rain falls.

In my life time there have been a number of great and successful athletes in both team and individual sports. Some modeled Christian virtue. Others modeled much the opposite. The good guys won some games and lost some games. The bad guys won some games and lost some games. With our presupposition stated above, all those, both wins and losses, come from the sovereign providence of God.

Related to the issue of God's sovereignty in relation to the outcome of sporting events, is how we view Christian athletes. We really need to be wary of a pop-evangelical tendency to view the Christian sport superstar with a sub-biblical pop-theology that has little to do with the hard realities of life in a fallen and broken world. God gives the the Christian athlete the losses as well as the wins.

Most of the world is not living in the atmosphere of success and winning, but of loss, failure, struggle, poverty, and the brokenness of a fallen world. I need a God and theology that helps me live in that reality, not a pseudo-god and pop-theology of an American materialistic view of value and worth as sometimes exhibited in our popular view of sports and athletes.

In the words of the Apostle John, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

(Some further reflections on this can be found in one of my other posts Being Sacked on 3rd and Long.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Heroes, Saints, & Martyrs

There have been heroes here, and saints and martyrs, and I want you to know that. Because that is the truth, even if no one remembers it. To look at this place, it's just a cluster of houses strung along a few roads, and a little row of brick buildings with stores in them, and a grain elevator and a water tower with Gilead written on its side, and the post office and the schools and the playing fields and the old train station, which is pretty well gone to weeds now. But what must Galilee have looked like? You can't tell so much from the appearance of a place.

(Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (Picador, 2004)pg. 173)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Last Ride

A little ritual had kind of developed between Dad and I over the last several years before his passing. We would go down to visit Mom and Dad. Sometime during the visit, I would take Dad for a ride. Usually those rides were around the more immediate rural area of the Michigan-Ohio border where they lived. The trips were of varying length, but served several purposes. It was a chance for Dad to get out of the house. It was a chance for us to talk about things; to have a father-son time. It was also an opportunity for me to see what was going on around the stomping grounds of my youth; to see how so many things had changed and how a few things had stayed the same; a way of reconnecting with my roots.

Those rides became more important as Mom's health and mind began to fail. On those rides Dad would tell me how Mom was doing. I could get first hand from him what was going on as the two of them aged and that aging slowly sapped their strength and vitality. We would discuss what some of their options were. It was a chance for me to reinforce some of the concerns and issues my sister had discussed with me regarding Mom and Dad's health and care. Dad needed the time out of and away from the house. He needed the respite from the care and worry over his now invalid wife.

It was this past November (2012) and the Thanksgiving Holiday was coming up. It had been more then a few months since our last visit to Mom and Dad, and I knew we really needed to make that two and half hour trip down to see them. The Friday after Thanksgiving would be the best time to go, and so it was the plans were made. That Friday morning my wife and I made the trip down to see Mom and Dad.

Mom was laying in the hospital bed set up in the living room. She was not able to stand at all. She was at the point where an aid was coming in just about every day , and Hospice was checking in a couple of times a week. She was not fully "there" in her mind though able to carry on limited conversation. She was still at the point where someone would move her to a wheelchair and bring her into the dining room to eat at the table with the rest of us. As it was, we would have to help her eat.

At some point in the afternoon, Dad and I went for our drive. As usual, I would drive and dad would sit there in the front passenger seat. We went to town and drove around the village. Dad had me drive around by the grain elevator so he could see the new office and scales, and the new grain silo bin that had recently been erected. We went through the cemetery by the stone marking my oldest sister's grave, and the stone with Mom and Dad's names on it, but at that time with only the years of birth.

We drove out north of town, swung east a mile then north again to the other near by village in the area that was also part of the local school district. In that small village we passed by the old school building where I had gone to kindergarten. The decrepit condition of that abandoned school building was an indicative statement of how the whole area of that broader rural community had changed. We turned west at the main corner and wandered through the country side until we found ourselves back at Mom and Dad's house.

I played the memory game with Momma. "Do you remember when we would go to the Britton reunions at the old Grange hall?" "Do you remember when we would go up north to the lake for vacation?" Yes, she remembered, and she remembered those things happened a long time ago.

My last meal with my mother was that evening's supper. I sat there and was spoon feeding her, much like she had done to me so many years ago when I was the baby. After supper my wife and I left for the two and half hour trip back to our home. A week and a half later we got the phone call. Momma had died at the age of 92. That Thanksgiving Friday had been my last visit with her.

Two weeks and one day after Momma died, Daddy died at the age of 95. I got to see him two days before he died and that was good. But then he was invalid and there was no thought of going for our ritual ride together. It dawned on me today, some few weeks later, that the Thanksgiving Friday was not only the last time I saw Momma alive, but it was also when Daddy and I went on our last ride together.

RIP Mom and Dad...

(Cross posted to The Neukomment Files.)