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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Horizontal grace

Chuck Swindoll is focusing on the subject of grace for nearly 6 weeks of broadcasting and in his monthly newletter, Insights. He opens the lead article of the August 2004 issue, "It's Time to Embrace Grace by Embracing the Unlovely," with this:

Is horizontal grace missing in your life? You may have embraced God's vertical grace to you, but missed its all-important connection in your relationships. Allow me to probe under your skin with a few penetrating questions: Do you free people or do you hold them hostage? Do you relieve them of guilt and shame, or do you increase their load? Do you encourage others or do you discourage them? Do you find yourself participating in the world of construction or the world of destruction?

Good questions.

In an accompanying note, Swindoll says:

The liberating truth about our freedom in Christ flies in the face of do-it-yourself religion and challenges Christ's followers who are enslaved to man-made rules and regulations to break free. At the same time, grace promotes a powerful devotion to Christ and obedience to His Word, not to someone's guilt-giving list of do's and don'ts. Count on it, church bosses who want to play king of the mountain won't like it. Modern-day Pharisees can only see grace as a threat. Never doubt it, modern-day Diotrepheses still live (3 John 1:9-10)

I hope to discuss this further when I'm finally home and not forced to use a clunky library computer...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Abide with me

Every so often I get a migraine headache that requires lying down in a quiet room. Unfortunately, with three young children at home, I am rarely able to indulge in such luxury.

This morning, however, was one of those rarities. Oh, beauty! I crawled back into bed after greeting my children. My 2-1/2-year old daughter wanted to join me so I let her, figuring she wouldn’t stay.

Almost three hours later, guess who was still there? No, she hadn’t lain still the whole time, nor even stayed in the bed the whole time, but – she refused to go eat breakfast with her Daddy (and he made eggs, her favorite), and didn’t want to play with her brothers either, which is very unusual.

That little girl stayed with me, playing gently and whispering to herself as I dozed off and on. When finally I had to get up, she was all over me for “eggies!” And I did feel better.

I am deeply moved by my daughter’s devotion. I pray that this trait will be nurtured in her throughout her life, not only for her sake but also because I am sure there will be times when I’m saddled with more than a migraine and really in need of someone to stick with me.

I am also inspired to examine my own life’s “devotion quotient.”

Friday, August 20, 2004

Rocky Chickens, anyone?

My son bought some “Mad Libs” word game pads today at a yard sale. We worked on one in the car. Each family member had to think of a word to fill in a blank. Without reading the given text first, Sam told us what kind of word was needed, i.e., plural noun, adjective, part of the body, etc, and then wrote the word in. Here’s what we came up with:

Good vacations are worth their weight in tractors. A tired summer vacation for you and your happy family is to visit the Rocky Chickens in Colorado. The first time you see these smelly mountains, your nose will thump a lot.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Spong's latest...

I should stop reading Bishop Spong’s Q & A column because it makes me so mad. In his latest, Spong touts the heroism of Governor McGreevey and decries the presumed fact that homosexuals can’t be comfortably out & open about their sexuality. At the same time, he claims that the way McGreevey will handle the fact that he’s married and has children is a personal matter and not the business of the public.


OK, let’s see if I get it: it’s OK to be public about what ought to be a guarded and private affair, i.e., one’s sex life, but when it comes to honoring a spouse and raising one’s children, well, we just shouldn’t talk about those things because they’re private.

Excuse me??

Of course, how McGreevey handles it is his business, but there is certainly nothing wrong with public concern for wives and children. Nor is there anything wrong with public concern for sexuality; it's the relationships themselves that ought to stay private.

Oh, but don’t forget that homosexual relationships are “often unwise and exploitative” merely because they must be entered into in a “clandestine manner” due to society’s intolerance! Because of society’s “fear and ignorance,” homosexuals “believe themselves forced to hide, to lie, to act inappropriately and consequently to live in dishonesty.” In other words, if homosexuals weren’t forced to live “in dark corners of deceit and fear,” they’d be paragons of virtue!

If only McGreevey could've been out & open about being gay, he wouldn't have felt the need to "use the public payroll to support (his) partner in secrecy." Spong states that this act of McGreevey's is "finally not excusable," yet blames society and not McGreevey for it!

Spong, of course, doesn't bother to explain why deceit and adultery and other “clandestine” heterosexual behaviours occur with such frequency despite the fact that heterosexuality is the cultural norm.

How can anyone possibly believe Spong’s statement, or take him seriously? How has he become such a leading representative of supposedly reasonable, rational, contemporary "Christianity"? It's more like "if-you-don’t-think-like-I-do-you’re-a-hopelessly-ignorant-old-fashioned-schmuck" Christianity. He doesn’t even try to hide his haughtiness and patronizing disdain.

To be fair, Spong acknowledges that McGreevey’s wives were “poorly served by his cover-up activities,” yet he claims that the real tragedy is that McGreevey felt the need to try to deny his homosexuality by getting married. Twice. I guess the wives and daughters are just collateral damage...


addendum: I'm seeing now that Spong means that if gays could openly partner and "marry," their relationships wouldn't get scandalous, gossipy attention. But would complete societal acceptance of homosexual relationships completely eliminate sexuality confusion? I doubt it; there'd probably be even more confused marriages if this were the case. Besides, whatever happened to respect for marital vows and protection of children?

Great bumper sticker

Saw this today: "How sad. Kids run wild, and dogs are sent to obedience school."

Monday, August 16, 2004

Does creativity evolve?

I was thinking about this as I sat listening to the “Adagietto” movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 during a concert I played tonight. I don’t play this movement so it’s nice to sit on stage and listen as it goes on around me. Mahler’s 5th is an expansive and difficult work, a staple of the repertoire. The Adagietto is the slow movement and it's beautiful -- at times tender, sometimes brooding, always poignantly expressive. I thought, how could anyone possibly improve on this? Some may say it's too stagnant, or have some other complaint, but no one can deny its inherent quality.

And what of that? When you think about it, the modern symphony orchestra isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of societal evolution, to quote Rush Limbaugh. Yes, there’s still quality music being written for the orchestra (and awful music too), but it still basically exists as a museum to showcase “old” music. (Never mind Pops concerts -- that’s a whole 'nother animal.)

It seems that the concept of evolution has pervaded every aspect of American thinking. If something changes, it evolves; if something develops or improves, it evolves, etc. We’re on a continual quest to “improve” everything: our lives, our houses, our tennis games, our bank accounts, etc. Not that improvement is always a bad thing, but as a goal it defines us culturally.

Does the fact that a creative artist’s work develops in a certain direction mean that only their later work is their best work? I think not. Mahler’s later works can be said to be overdone. They are probably more difficult to pull off successfully in performance.

Anyone who’s ever worked at a skill or created art knows that “progress” can ebb and flow, or, more specifically, certain elements are stronger at some times and other elements at other times. The creative process has its own sort of “punctuated equilibrium.”

The symphony orchestra itself is a creative phenomenon. Music is conceived and written for a range of musical instruments, each a unique invention in itself that utilizes the physics of sound. These instruments must then be mastered so that living music can be recreated from written notation, and all individual instrumental parts need to be played together properly to recreate the original conception of the composer. Amazing.

The Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony is unique. It is unique in history, unique in personality. There never will be another "Adagietto," nor does there need to be. It cannot be improved upon.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Camp Crystal Lake?

Today we dropped off our son at church camp. This is his first time away at camp. I’ll admit I’m a little concerned. Not about my son – he’s outgoing & resilient & will do just fine. I have (or thought I had) complete confidence in the camp; it’s affiliated with our church, my husband went there as a kid, we know the people who run the camp, etc.

It’s "Dan" I’m worried about. My son’s counselor. As we approached Cabin #14, we were greeted by a black sign that read, “Dan’s Dungeon.” *blink* It did have the requisite token cross on it but somehow that cross didn’t seem to belong there. We entered the cabin and beheld a 250 lb. 18-year-old in a camp T-shirt and counselor badge. He looked back at us, sort of, and uttered not a word of greeting. As we helped our son set up his bunk, Dan popped a CD into the stereo next to his bunk (the instructions for campers said no radios, no walkmen, no boomboxes, etc...hmmm). Jagged strains of heavy metal music, "Christian," I’m sure, shattered our afternoon reverie. Wow.

In an attempt to see if Dan could talk, we asked him what the evening activities would be. “Swimming test,” he said. “To see how well they can swim.” At least, I think that’s what he said, it was kind of garbled.

We got the heck out of Dan’s Dungeon and bade our son farewell as he joined a game of nerf football with other campers.

Should I be worried??

Thursday, August 12, 2004


I was at a park recently when I noticed a gorgeous little Chinese toddler girl in a pretty ruffled dress. She was having a great time playing with a stocky woman wearing a loose, “outdoorsy” T-shirt, khaki shorts, socks, athletic shoes, and a short haircut.

I glanced back after a few minutes and sure enough, another woman had joined the scene. Her appearance was very similar to the first woman's.

I drew the hopefully-not-too-far-off-base conclusion that the little girl was the adopted daughter of a lesbian couple.

But I have a question: why wasn’t the little girl wearing a T-shirt and khaki shorts?

Play with your food

I'm just too tired to deal with all the heavy philosophical discussions I've gotten myself into on other blogs, so I thought I'd amuse myself by rearranging my electronic photo albums. I found these photos of my son's "food sculpture" inspired by Joost Elffers' book, Play With Your Food (which I highly recommend).

Pretty cute, huh? (Yeah, I let my 8-year-old play with sharp knives. *gasp*) Note that both photos are of the same apple, top and bottom. The "eyes" are peppercorns and the "teeth" are rice.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Isn't that clever (not)

Is anyone else besides me (fellow evangelical Christians, that is) annoyed by cutesy phrases that show up on church signs? Like this one: “God answers ‘knee-mail.’” Or this: “Down in the mouth? Come in for a faith lift.”


Sure, I believe God answers prayer (in His sovereign way), and that faith in Jesus can lift a person up, but these slogans actually inspire anyone?

Oh, Susannah!

I recently had opportunity to see a very fine production of the American opera “Susannah" from a great seat. The only problem with the performance was balance; the orchestral score is heavy and sometimes the orchestra covered the singing.

“Susannah” was written by Carlisle Floyd in the 1950's. This two-act opera is a poignant social/religious commentary based on the Apocryphal story “Susannah and the Elders.” Susannah, a nice young orphan woman, lives with her brother, a hunter, in rural Tennessee. Her harmless admirer, Little Bat, is the “slow” son of the chief town gossip. Mrs. McLean and her friends are sure that Susannah will come to no good; she’s so pretty, she must be evil. While looking for a place to hold baptisms for the upcoming revival, the church elders spot her bathing nude in a creek. They are scandalized but cannot keep their eyes away.

When the itinerant preacher comes to town for the revival, he notices Susannah. The others quickly fill him in on her supposed character. They shun her at the pot-luck the night before the revival. Confused by the way everyone has turned on her, she does not attend the first meeting. The Reverend Blitch comes calling and beseeches her to repent on behalf of her soul. Suddenly he realizes he's a lonely man...and he advances upon her. (Susannah’s brother is out hunting). Susannah is too wearied to fight him off.

Blitch realizes that Susannah is not the hussy everyone has made her out to be. He calls a special meeting of the elders and gossips to try to clear her name. When they ask him how he knows, he says the Lord told him in prayer. He is truly repentant for what he’s done, but fails to confess. The townspeople, of course, don’t believe him, and Susannah is ruined (she is not strong enough in her faith to withstand the cruelty and personal violation).

The revival scenes, complete with folks being “slain in the Spirit,” are a subtle mockery and therefore uncomfortable (for me) to watch. No doubt much supposed Holy Spirit charisma is a sham, but there was no representation of authentic spiritual experience. The point of these scenes however is that the people do not truly change as a result of the revival, but are reinforced in their self-righteousness.

When he finds out what happened, Susannah’s brother Sam storms off to the baptismal creek in a drunken rage and shoots Reverend Blitch. The townspeople descend upon Susannah’s house to run her out of town, but she merely laughs them away. As the opera ends, Susannah loudly mocks and slaps Little Bat. It’s pretty awful to see what she’s become.

The ending sure is a downer, but “Susannah” is brilliant in its incisiveness and subtle irony. There are some exquisite arias too (not the German screaming kind ;-) ). If you get a chance to see it, by all means go.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Hershey's, the Great American Overkill

While traveling recently, the kids and I stopped at Hershey’s Chocolate World. (Actually, we were on our way to Boalsburg to see the Columbus Chapel museum but got sidetracked :-) ) I wasn’t prepared for what I saw: a Disney/Vegas version of what had been there about three years ago at our last visit. Chocolate World was still being developed then so many of the “attractions” were not yet installed. At that time they had a nice gift shop, a good restaurant, and, of course, the simulated factory tour ride.

It’s the ride we stopped for (and the free chocolate bars). I’ll admit we didn’t have time to check out the 3-D theater show or the Factory Works, which maybe aren’t so bad after all, but it’s the principle of the thing. To get to the ride entrance, you have to walk past both of those attractions. The ride itself is great, very educational. But they take your picture at the end and if you decide to purchase, prices are $10 for a 4x6 and $20 for a 5x7! Geez! (Did I purchase a photo? Absolutely...the last shot (out of three) was mighty cute; I got it for the kids.) Of course they make you walk all the way through the gift shop to pick up your photo, and all the way through the other side of the shop to exit. It worked, I bought a mug for a friend. Considered getting a ball cap for my husband too but he has enough already :-)

The gift shop itself is an extravaganza: there’s clothing, stuffed Hershey’s kisses & chocolate bars, fresh chocolate-chip cookies, and all sorts of candy gift packs and other memorabilia piled to the ceiling. And a small “rain forest” in the middle. It’s all rather overwhelming. Or maybe it’s just that my memory of Hershey’s from childhood, i.e., just the chocolate and the factory, has been sullied...

Anyway, the kids loved the ride (we did it 3 times). But I’m kinda afraid to go back there in the future. I might find an arcade, or a chorus line of ladies in silver lame’ bodysuits, pointy silver hats, and brown tights...