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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

GodBlogCon prayer blog

is here! Many thanks to John Schroeder for setting it up. The prayer blog is to serve as GodBlogCon Prayer Central, where all who plan to be involved in the conference can gather to pray in unity for its ministry. Choose how you would like to participate, whether to visit, read, and pray for what's listed in the posts; to email with prayer requests or reports; or contribute to the prayer community on your own blog.

It's amazing how quickly the GodBlogCon has taken shape. But then, it's only natural that those who are passionate about God-blogging would want to gather together to meet one another, discuss purpose both individually and corporately, and celebrate the opportunity we have to serve our Lord through the medium of blogging.

To be honest, I wish we didn't have to wait until October! But patience is a virtue.

I am inspired by the enthusiasm and vision put forth for what this conference can be. I love the idea of having facilitated discussion groups as opposed to a presenter/lecturer format, and of having a great big coffee-house experience in the evenings. The topics of discussion look fascinating, and should help us all define the purpose and vision of our own blogs.

My little prayer for the day: "Lord, we owe everything we have to You, and we offer it back to You in Your service. Take the mighty inspirations you've given to those of us who blog in Your name and mold them into a beautiful work that will stand as a witness to the world and help to bring about Your kingdom here on earth. Once again, thank you for the privilege of calling You 'Abba, Father,' and teach us to extend the same grace to those we influence that you extend to us. Amen."

Be sure to make the GBC prayer blog a daily stop!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Pray the GodBlogCon

The GodBlogCon is on! They were looking for 100+ God-bloggers to attend, and I think they've hit critical mass.

I’d like to contribute to the climate of prayer that will surround the preparation and lead-up to this sure-to-be-blockbuster event. I hope to post a prayer topic daily, or near-daily. I think there will be an actual, organized GBC prayer-center set up soon, which I hope to be a part of, but in the meantime I’ll do my own thing here.

To start, I just want to give thanks. I’m thankful for all the fantastic God-bloggers out there who aim to serve God in Christ through the gifts of thinking and writing that they’ve been given. The blogosphere runneth over. I think it’s safe to say that the common purpose of God-bloggers is to share their views with the masses (of Internet users, anyway), to influence readers toward a saving faith in God, to influence the cultural climate and thought of the day toward reform (and influence the political climate as well), and to connect with one another so as to truly function as the Body of Christ.

I’m thankful that my life affords me opportunity to blog. I’m thankful for the outlet blogging has given me, though my blog be humble in stature. I’m thankful for the other bloggers I’ve gotten to know, and for the mind-boggling array of posts there are to read and benefit from.

I’m thankful for my readers :-)

Please join me in praying the GodBlogCon!

Claire Barshied on sex, part 3

Barshied (in Novel Bioethics) continues,

Back in Being Human, though, I ran across a provocative poem by Galway Kinnell. Titled “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” it describes a small boy who sleeps through all nighttime disturbances except his parents’ quiet lovemaking, which wakes him and sends him running into their bed to snuggle and sleep. I wanted to affirm the poem’s warmth toward the “familiar touch of the long-married,” as Kinnell puts it.

But I was disturbed that the poet thought it sweet, even good, that “habit of memory” propelled the boy “to the ground of his making,” in between his parents. It seemed almost disgusting to think of a third person involved, even only proximately, with sex; making love is for two people, between two people. And yet, thinking further, I started to question my own reactions: Why wouldn’t there be a mysterious connection between making love and a child? [there is] That, after all, is the pattern of human reproduction—intimacy between two lovers becomes parental love. Babies follow sex.

Yes, this is true. But I’m sorry, the poem is wierd. Of course there’s a mysterious connection between making love and a child, but, talk about blurring lines! A young child cannot possibly understand what is going on between his parents (besides closeness) and should not be privy to his parents’ intimate act. Both the parents’ and the child’s privacy must be protected. “Habit of memory”? Do I sense new-age-consciousness here? The child can’t possibly have such a “memory,” even in his cells (I'm reminded of a RUSH tune, “High Water” about returning to the sea, to the memory of whence we came via evolution), though the parents may well remember the occasion of his origin.

It certainly is not “disgusting” for a very young child to show up during his parents’ lovemaking, but it’s also not something to encourage. If such an interruption happens, the child may be greeted graciously and accepted, of course, (and then perhaps put back in bed...), but the whole “habit of memory” thing is completely made up.

Let’s not be so eager to find an alternative to artificial contraception, or any other perceived problem, that we fall for every mystical-sounding idea that comes along. We must be shrewd to examine each and every idea for what it is. “Beloved, do no believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I John 4:1 Let’s not assume that something mystical is actually true, nor make mystery where there isn’t any.

What is more, I have begun to suspect that God’s design for procreation, as in so many other areas of life, might contain hidden blessings. In the poem, the parents’ lovemaking grows deeper, infused with new affection and wonder, with their son’s appearance: “In the half darkness we look at each other and smile and touch arms across his little, startlingly muscled body.” The son, too, benefits by the stability and love of his family, “his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.”

There is no normally-functioning parent alive who is not supremely, intensely aware of the connection between their bond with their spouse, as expressed in lovemaking, and their children as products of this. No parent needs their child to show up in the bedroom during lovemaking to be made aware of this. A child certainly does not need to do this to experience the stability and love of his family. If his face beams with satisfaction at being his parents’ child, it has nothing to do with an awareness of being a product of the act he has just witnessed/interrupted. And the expression of satisfaction at “being this very child” may result from any variety of familial activities, not including his parents’ lovemaking.

Is there something to be gained from assigning a lower priority to our individual, immediate desires? [Of course.] Perhaps sex is inherently about more than just two people, involving more than just pleasure and bonding. [Of course it is, and does, though clarity as far as exactly how must be maintained.] Reuniting sex and procreation would protect against the temptations of genetically screening for “acceptable” children and other kinds of surreptitious eugenics. Indeed, the poem’s son, regardless of his characteristics, is “this blessing love gives again into our arms.”

There are plenty of opportunities for a couple to embrace the blessings their marital love, literally and figuratively, as I’ve said; it does not need to be done in the midst of a private act. Though a child is, at his/her origin, privy (in a way) to one particular act of his/her parents’ love, this does not mean that the child must be privy to the rest of them. When parents produce a child as a result of lovemaking, it is not the child who is being embraced; it is the parents who are embracing each other, as well as embracing the possibility of creating a child. But the child him- or herself is the result of this.

You see, a child is not merely the result of a sex act. The sex act itself is the result of a relationship, a commitment -- a marriage. It is the culmination, the consummation, of this marriage relationship, and the product of that is a child. If a married couple has some sort of breach, this is as much a breach against their children as it is against one another and God. If my husband and I ever have such a breach (yes it happens, on occasion), I am, up until the time we reconcile (which we do), painfully, deeply, incontrovertably aware that in breaching our marriage, we are making our children a lie, and doing them a very serious disservice. It does not take interruption of lovemaking by a child to bring to one’s awareness the fact that said child is a result of one’s marriage, not just a result of the marital act. And it is the marriage, submitted to under and before God, that has as much to do with the proper nurture of children as the mere act of conceiving them.

To be cont...

We've adopted

...a cat.

Not big news, I know. But the process was symbolic for me. (Actually, everything’s symbolic for me ;-) )

It just kind of happened; no premeditation. The kids and I went on a field trip with our local homeschoolers’ group to the Humane Society. We went assuming it was just an informational visit, but seeing all of those animals cooped up in small cages (clean, but with only bare necessities) was disheartening.

Then the kids started begging, and wouldn’t stop. Now I don’t make a habit of giving in to them when they beg, but I started to wonder if God wasn’t speaking to me through their begging!

Most kids naturally love animals and my younger son, especially, adores them. He plays lovingly with his menagerie of stuffed animals every day, and at night, there’s barely room for him in his bed. He would’ve been absolutely crushed if we didn’t go home with something.

Our family has kicked around the idea of getting a new pet, on occasion. We’ve owned three cats in the past. But all three of them had problems, and I became resentful. With babies and toddlers to care for, I really didn’t want anything else to have to look after, thank you very much. But those three cats either died or went to another home, so we’ve been pet-less ever since (except for a few goldfish.)

But the kids are getting older...

As they were milling around trying to decide which dog or cat they wanted to adopt, or all of them (at this point I hadn’t acquiesced to anything), I noticed a black cat rubbing up against the side of his cage. This was noteworthy, since nearly all of the other cats, even kittens, seemed uninterested in doing much of anything except staring dully or sleeping. Poor things. Anyway, I asked to take this cat into the “get acquainted room” (or whatever they call it), and though a bit edgy, he was quite affectionate, and didn’t seem to mind too much being cooped up with three excited children and a mom. He had a nice, bright expression on his face, not that dull glassy look of so many of the others.

We took him home. I spent money that wasn’t in the budget. Oh well.

We gave a nice cat a home, and the kids are THRILLED! My husband got a nice surprise when he got home :-).

I know that animals are on a different plane than people, but there’s something about seeing a need and doing some small thing to meet it, even if doing so extends the resources a bit. I think it’ll be worth it. :-)

Anyone have a good name for a nice black cat?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Claire Barshied on sex, part 2

Claire Barshied, in “Novel Bioethics,” continues:

Still in my mid-twenties, I do not anticipate needing fertility aids any time soon. In fact, since I am newly married, contraception is a much more pressing concern. If severing the connection between sex and babies can create so many moral quandaries, and if it can upset social relationships so profoundly, I cannot help but wonder what effect it has on the sexual relationship itself. I have had to reconsider the implications of one of the most common biotechnologies in our society: the eminently respectable use of contraception.

First of all, (ignoring the “eminently respectable” comment for the moment), I question the characterization of contraception as a biotechnology. Second of all, in a culture of life, why would contraception even be a “pressing concern” to a newly-married individual? Why would he/she not be eager to embrace the natural consequence of his/her marital relationship?

Barshied appears to find similarity between the separation-of-babies-from-sex characteristic of biotechnology and separation between sex and babies afforded by contraception. I believe there are differences, however: the ethics of biotechnology concerns manipulation of a natural process as well as substitution (of the petri dish for the sex act) in order to produce an individual, or a certain type of individual; it also brings up issues of sanctity of life of the embryo. While it can be said that contraception involves a manipulation of the sex act (although I think it’s more accurate to call it an interference rather than a manipulation), the interference occurs before conception takes place, and involves no substitutions.

If a couple contracepts to avoid conception yet creates babies artificially, there is definitely a separation of sex and procreation. Is this on par with the separation of sex from babies afforded by contraception alone, which seeks to prevent creation of a baby altogether (and does so 95% or so of the time)? Perhaps -- if there is no intent for the contracepting marriage to produce any children at all. Yet, if separating sex and babies is the issue, how is abstaining (as with natural family planning, which is the option Barshied says she is pursuing) in order to avoid creating babies any different from contracepting in order to avoid creating babies? Does having sex only during a non-fertile period not separate sex and procreation as well? Why, in a culture of life, would a married person want to avoid creating babies by any means?

Barshied continues,
It is not difficult to see the social effects of the mainstreaming of contraception in the last fifty years. By removing the responsibility of parenting from the sexual act [strange choice of words – contraception certainly doesn’t remove the “responsibility of parenting” from those who already have children], it opened the door to the Sexual Revolution: When there was a decent chance of pregnancy every time a couple engaged in sex [there isn’t – the window of fertility is about 5-9 days; it’s possible for a woman to determine this fairly closely], individuals thought longer about their partners and their promiscuity.

I can also see the influence of birth control’s acceptability in myself: Like nearly all other Americans, I feel that I have a right to have sex without the ever-present possibility of conception. [#1, the possibility isn’t ever-present, and #2, feeling one “has a right to have sex” misses the point of sex, which exists to serve and celebrate the marriage, and, therefore, God.] Most churches I have attended highlight the role of sex in maintaining healthy, loving marriages, but they emphasize the bonding features of sexuality almost to the exclusion of the child-bearing aspects. [I don’t know which churches she’s attended, but I wouldn’t say they are representative of all churches] And I have always assumed the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception was simply medieval—a stubborn dogma that resigned poor people to ungovernably large families. [I wouldn’t say that either]

To be cont...

Blog & roll

There seems to be an explosion in the blogosphere as of late: blog alliances, blogrolls, aggregators, carnivals, contests, etc. are popping up all over. What a wonderful thing! Especially for a little bitty blog like mine. What a great way to meet the neighbors!

I was planning to do a write-up on some of these new blog associations but then I saw Proverbial Wife’s report. Marla's done such a good job, I’ll take the lazy route and direct you to her!

One additional thing I’d like to mention is Dr. Andrew Jackson’s soon-to-be-established website/blog for homeschooled kids. I wish my kids were old enough to take advantage of this opportunity, but in the meantime I will be referring some of my friends!

*edited 1/27/05

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Claire Barshied on sex, part I (Contraception, Part VIII)

Claire Barshied has written a piece for Touchstone magazine (January/February 2005 issue) entitled “Novel Bioethics -- “How a Book Taught Her to Reimagine Sex.”

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a subtitle like that? Barshied does indeed bring up some very good points in her article, but what surprised me was that her whole point of view comes from “just the beginning...of a long and unexpected journey.” This seems to characterize the entire tenor of, if not the bioethics debate, then the contraception debate among non-Catholics. Why, I wonder, is this “pioneer” perspective the only one, besides the Catholic one, we are hearing from? Is it because the Age of Contraceptives is doomed? Will it, in the long run, have no defense whatsoever? Will it be looked upon, a century or so down the road, as a huge historical mistake?

Says Barshied,
It is a good bet that many Americans view bioethics as the exclusive province of academic specialists with prestigious degrees in philosophy, law, cell biology, embryology, and similar fields. Their esoteric debates over stem-cell harvesting methods and clinical trial review procedures seem removed from the real-world experiences of most people.

She tells us that, according to Leon Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, “bioethics as currently conceived by professional bioethicists is much too narrow,” in that it ignores “the full range of human goods that we should be trying to promote or protect.” This is the goal of Being Human, a 600-page anthology of literature released by the PCOB. Says Barshied,
Guarding that fuller range of goods requires a better grasp of what it means to be human and what good things humans prize. Our best sources on these questions are not scientists, but the writers and thinkers of the aptly named humanities.

While I agree that a full range of perspective is necessary for proper apprehension of certain complex issues, I don’t believe that writers and thinkers necessarily have the corner on “what it means to be human and what good things humans prize.” Writers and thinkers can be just as confused or mistaken as anyone else. They can lead us astray as easily as the cool, clinical scientists can, and goodness knows they have: there is a mysterious “spiritual” appeal to literary esoterica.

Says Barshied:
Being Human’s editors hope that reading great literature can make bioethical arguments accessible. Stories embody the consequences of our choices, the tension between our aspirations and imperfections, what it means to love unconditionally, how we face sickness, loss, and death. And subjects such as these—“matters close to the core of our humanity,” as Kass puts it—can be profoundly changed by new technologies.

My comments above aside, I agree with these statements except for the last one – do new technologies really have the power to change matters close to the core of our humanity? Perhaps they may tempt us further from this core (or, as C. S. Lewis would say, from the Tao), but I question whether they would truly change these matters. Are technologies not simply tools in our hands, subservient to whatever philosophies determine their use? (There is nothing new under the sun – Ecclesiastes)

(For a different perspective on this question, see Joe Carter’s post, “Technopoly: Culture, Technology, and The New Atlantis")

To be cont... Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

From Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain is a children’s historical novel by Esther Forbes and winner of the 1943 Newbery Medal. It tells the story of events leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Consider the ideas in this excerpt:
Sam and John Adams were standing and the other members [of the Observers] were crowding about them...Paul Revere and Joseph Warren were apart a little, making plans for that spy system which was needed badly. They called Johnny to them, but he could hear one of the men standing about the two Adamses saying, ‘But there must be some hope we can still patch up our differences with England. Sir, you will work for peace?’

Sam Adams said nothing for a moment. He trusted these men about him as he trusted no one else in the world.

‘No. That time is past. I will work for war: the complete freedom of these colonies from any European power. We can have that freedom only by fighting for it...For ten years we’ve tried this and we’ve tried that. We’ve tried to placate them and they to placate us. Gentlemen, you know it has not worked. I will not work for peace. “Peace, peace – and there is no peace.” But I will, in Philadelphia [at the Continental Congress], play a cautious part – not throw all my cards on the table – oh, no. But nevertheless I will work for but one thing. War – bloody and terrible death and destruction. But out of it shall come such a country as was never seen on this earth before...’

(Enter James Otis):
‘For what will we fight?’

‘To free Boston from these infernal redcoats and...’

‘No,’ said Otis. ‘...that’s not enough reason for going into a war...I hate those infernal British troops spread all over my town as much as you do. Can’t move these days without stepping on a soldier. But we are not going off into a civil war merely to get them out of Boston. Why are we going to fight? Why? Why?’

There was an embarrassed silence. Sam Adams was the acknowledged ringleader. It was for him to speak now.

‘We will fight for the rights of Americans. England cannot take our money away by taxes.’

‘No, no. For something more important than the pocketbooks of our American citizens.’

(Enter Rab): ‘For the rights of Englishmen – everywhere.’

‘Why stop with Englishmen?’ Otis was warming up. ...’For men and women and children all over the world,’ he said. ‘You were right, [Rab], for even as we shoot down the British soldiers we are fighting for rights such as they will be enjoying a hundred years from now.
‘...there shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him.
‘...the peasants of France, the serfs of Russia. Hardly more than animals now. But because we fight, they shall see freedom like a new sun rising in the west. Those natural rights God has given to every man, no matter how humble...’ He smiled suddenly and said, ...’or crazy,’...
‘...The battle we win over the worst in England shall benefit the best in England. How well are they over there represented by taxes? Not very well. It will be better for them when we have won this war.
‘Will French peasants go on forever pulling off their caps and saying, “Oui, Monsieur,” when the gold coaches run down their children? They will not. Italy. And all those German states. Are they nothing but soldiers? Will no one show them the rights of good citizens? So we hold up our torch – and do not forget it was lighted upon the fires of England – and we will set it up as a new sun to lighten the world...’

(Enter James Warren): ‘We are lucky men,’ he murmured, ‘for we have a cause worth dying for. This honor is not given to every generation.’

(Discussion among the men concerning what they will give in war -- the best things they have.)

Otis: ...’It is all so much simpler than you think,’ he said...’We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills...we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.’ [on his feet, like a man]

Pp. 187-192

No picnic on the deck today

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Shhh, Hillary's praying...

“Dear Lord, bless my maneuvers to gain the political upper hand...”

OK, shame on me. But I can’t help it. On the surface, her support of faith-based initiatives looks like a good thing. But why the sudden interest? Hmm?

edited 1/25/04

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Is in-vitro fertilization justifiable?

Tomorrow is Sanctity of Life Sunday, which culminates Sanctity of Life Week. It was established to encourage recognition of the fact that human life, from conception on, is to be protected. This year it falls one day past the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

The following is from a letter (edited) I recently sent to Focus on the Family.

Dear Focus on the Family,

I applaud you for speaking out on “life” issues and am encouraged by your support of the sanctity of life.

However, I am disturbed by something in the January issue of Focus on the Family magazine, in the “special feature” article by Carrie Gordon Earll entitled, “The Life Ethic.”

To begin her article, Earll lists examples of recent alarming news stories representative of the new biotechnical revolution. She follows with an assertion that human life is sacred. Says Earll, “A good baseline for testing the morality of bioethics is the sanctity of human life ethic, a non-negotiable view that human life, from fertilization to natural death, has intrinsic dignity and eternal worth.” (bold emphasis added) With this I wholeheartedly agree.

However, shortly thereafter, Earll brings up the subject of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). She calls it a “more complex example” (of a current life issue than abortion) and says, “while IVF may raise other ethical concerns, the goal is to enable couples to conceive a baby, not to destroy a human life.” She does not mention what these “other ethical concerns” may be.

While I do not contest that the goal of IVF is to conceive and not destroy, the fact remains that some of the created embryos, i.e., conceived babies, do not survive the process. Therefore, I must ask: Does the end (goal) justify the means?

It is a known fact that IVF results in embryonic demise, whether from failure to culture, failure to implant in the womb, or failure to survive cryo-preservation. Earll states that “The life ethic demands that no human embryo be intentionally destroyed or tampered with, so creating only the number of embryos that you intend to implant and allowing those to develop without manipulation reduces the risk that the life ethic will be violated.” (bold emphasis added)

The latter statement concedes that there is still a risk of violating the life ethic through IVF – if this is so, then how can IVF be justified? What is the risk? Is the risk acceptable?

If the life ethic demands that no human embryo be intentionally destroyed or tampered with, then IVF does not comply. IVF involves the intentional creation of embryos with the knowledge that some will likely perish in the IVF process. Though the embryonic deaths are inadvertent, they would not occur if the embryos had not been created in the first place. With IVF, the natural process of conception and implantation is artificially tampered with and manipulated to produce a pregnancy where one cannot naturally occur. This would not be a problem except that the process incurs a probability of embryonic demise greater than the naturally-occurring probability, since it adds man-made perils to naturally-occurring ones.

Surely then, during the IVF process, the non-negotiable view of the sanctity of human life is being negotiated. A couple who elects to undergo IVF does so with awareness of the fact that some of the embryos they help to create will perish.

Earll’s words appear to be evidence of compromise and rationalization.

Please note that I am in no way callous to the grief of couples who long to conceive children but are not able to do so naturally. However, personal desires and feelings should not determine ethics.

Obviously, any child born as result of IVF is every bit as valuable and precious as any other child. The problem is, those tiny lives which perish as a result of IVF are too.

I have no desire whatsoever to judge anyone who has undergone IVF, or who defends it. But I do think the issue should be discussed thoroughly, honestly, and consistently by those who claim, as I do, that human life begins at conception.

I welcome discussion.

O the weather outside is frightful...

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but the fire...

I couldn’t for the life of me get the car windshield defrosted this morning. My son was 15 minutes late for gymnastics because of it. I had forgotten that the car was parked outside since the garage door is malfunctioning, and, in this cold, we don’t dare leave the door open. So, after sweeping off the snow with a broom since I couldn’t find the scraper, I tried to get the frost off. The wiper fluid jets were plugged with ice so there was no wiper fluid, and it took at least 10 minutes for the defroster, blasting full, to have any effect at all.

I finally got some of the frost off by pouring a bottle of isopropyl alcohol on it (I didn’t see a bottle of wiper fluid in the garage, and I tried Windex first but that did nothing except make more frost). Never mind that once there was actually liquid instead of frost on the windshield, the supposed winter wiper blades did a beautiful job of smearing snow back over it again. Which promptly turned into frost. Though I kept cleaning the wipers off with my (gloved) hands, they kept smearing everything up.

And then there was the frost on the inside of the windshield. I ran back into the house, wet a small towel with hot water, and tried to wipe down the inside while drying it quickly with another towel before it frosted again, but you can imagine how that worked.

Finally, though, the defroster made a nice little hole near the bottom of the windshield that I could see out of well enough to get my son to class, sort of. It was close to white-out driving conditions and the plows hadn’t done much for the roads yet...


Friday, January 21, 2005

Temptations during times of stress

Not long after the devastating tsunamis occurred, an article appeared in Christianity Today entitled “Temptations in Disaster.” It describes struggles that challenge rescue workers. These are concerns we should all add to our prayer lists, and I appreciate the article’s honesty very much.

From the article:
During times of disaster, we push ourselves beyond what is healthy for us. That is inevitable. But there is a limit to what our bodies and minds can tolerate. We need to take care and don't neglect the basics of life, physical or spiritual.

– Sleep is a basic human need, and if we deprive ourselves of it for too long there will be serious long-term consequences.

– During emergency times, how easy it is to neglect our families. It must not be done for too long. Family ties are such that they need constant nurture. They must never be taken for granted. It is no secret that a high percentage of married emergency aid workers have (or had) stormy marriages. This is a discipline to cultivate: To be busy, but never to give our families the hint that they are not important to us. Families need to meet and talk about the challenges they face. (emphasis added)

– Closely related to care of family is the chaos caused within our emotional lives by trauma.

I realized, as I read this article, that the temptations listed are ones faced by anyone in a high-stress or traumatic situation, whether outwardly- or self-imposed. Anything that shakes us up causes some degree of chaos within our emotional lives. Many of us push ourselves beyond what is healthy even when not dealing with disaster in one form or another; this also sets us up for temptation.

Disaster rescue workers aren’t the only individuals whose temptations are underappreciated; all of us, at some point in our lives, go through periods of extreme trial. During these times, we need help to stay grounded. We need the help of family members, friends, and perhaps also our churches and our neighbors.

Note that the help needed in these situations goes beyond basic physical needs to needs of the mind, heart, soul, and spirit (or to both together). How can we, the Body of Christ both inside and outside of the Church, minister to these needs? Obviously, the first step is to get to know one another, really and truly. This involves both reaching out and willingness to be open with one another. The extent of this sort of closeness will vary, of course, depending on many factors. But that deeply caring, accountability relationship is the kind that is needed.

The other necessity is a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Women, are you willing to take your friend’s baby all night so she can get some desperately-needed sleep (that is, if you’re able)? Men, are you willing to readjust personal priorities in order to help someone?

People like Mother Teresa have shown us that anyone who wants to do crisis ministry long term must have a healthy devotional life...God has built into our systems a rhythm of life that we must not violate: output and input; work and rest (Sabbath, vacation); service and worship; community activity, family activity, and solitude. Yet it is so easy at a time like this to neglect some of the less active disciplines in this list.

This is something that I personally need to be reminded of. It’s easy to think that when an overwhelming burden is upon us, we must “rise to the occasion.” That if our Lord does not give us more than we can bear, then we will get the “Holy Spirit power” we need to perform the seemingly extra-human simply by choosing the proper attitude . I’m not sure this is how it’s supposed to work, however.

I do not know why it is, but it seems that absorption in social emergencies often reduces one's cutting edge in personal morality. Otherwise good aid workers will use aid money indiscriminately and commit fraud...Does absorption with social morality often result in the neglect of personal morality? It seems to be so...Perhaps, because we find it so difficult to be rounded individuals, when we concentrate on one aspect of life we tend neglect the other. Lethargy often hits busy people and they neglect their personal life.

Absorption in any concern or cause, no matter how noble, obviously must never consume to the point of neglect of one’s more immediate responsibilities, including responsibility to one’s own “house.” But, are we always clear on where to draw the line? How can we gain clarity? Yes we can read Scripture, pray, and listen to conscience, but sometimes we also need people who are close enough to us to have a picture of our lives to pray for us/advise us accordingly.
We should follow the same principles of personal spiritual and financial accountability that we adopt in ordinary life during emergency situations too...How sad that many Christians today have no one to whom they are spiritually accountable. No one who asks them about their family life, their professional life, their devotional life, their money spending and their sexual purity...May those on the field be checked by the knowledge that they will have to report about their behavior to someone.

How sad that for many of us, the humiliation of sharing with another human being is a greater deterrent to sin that the knowledge that the absolutely holy God sees what we do.

The trouble is, in many of these areas, it goes beyond humiliation, or shyness, to privacy/boundary issues. There are some things you just don’t talk to other people about...or do you? There are as many different opinions on what’s appropriate to share as there are people. This can be a real obstacle to accountability, however.

Why is it that people who are under duress become more lax morally? Might it be related to the fact that one’s sense of security, or set of beliefs upon which one has built one’s sense of security, gets rocked in an extreme situation? Might it seem like all the “rules” have gone out the window? Might desperation cause confusion and recklessness? Might it seem like morality doesn’t matter in the face of a situation that may lead one to feel as though one’s desires, hopes, loves, concerns don’t matter? (I.e., if what matters to me doesn’t matter, then nothing else really matters) Yes, this is a self-centered view, but then extreme situations rouse the survival instinct, which is naturally an inwardly-focused thing.

Let's face it. We are weak people who often act like idiots. May we find ways of keeping our lives pure that takes into account our folly and irrationality. If we are such fools as to act as if exposure to humans is scarier than exposure to God, at least may the prospect of exposure to humans keep us from sin.

Obviously, we need solid individuals to not only help us meet our basic human needs but to help draw us out of ourselves and remind us of the eternal truths upon which our existence is based. Temptation focuses us on ourselves and our own gratification (or salvation); redemption reminds us of where salvation truly lies and gives us strength to rely on and trust in God Himself.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Critical thinking 101

Another point made in the below-mentioned article, “Begging to disagree”, was that "disagreements have often produced deeper understandings than either side had before confronting each other's arguments."


Says Sowell,
Where an argument starts is far less important than where it finishes because the logic and evidence in between is crucial. Unfortunately, our educational system not only doesn't teach critical thinking, it is often itself a source of confused rhetoric and emotional venting in place of systematic reasoning.

It is hard to think of a stronger argument for teaching people to examine arguments critically than the tragic history of 20th century totalitarianism and its horrors in peace and war. Dictators often gained total power over a whole nation by their ability to arouse emotions and evade thought.

Watch old newsreels of Adolf Hitler and watch the adoring and enraptured look on the faces in his audience. Then read what he said and see if it makes any sense whatever. Yet he convinced others — and himself — that he had a great message and a great mission.

Instead of trying to propagandize children to hug trees and recycle garbage, our schools would be put to better use teaching them how to analyze and test what is said by people who advocate tree-hugging, recycling and innumerable other causes across the political spectrum.

The point is not to teach them correct conclusions but to teach them to be able to use their own minds to analyze the issues that will come up in the years ahead, which may have nothing to do with recycling or any of the other issues of our time.

I’m sure not going to argue with Sowell on this one. I couldn’t agree with him more. It's one of the principal reasons we homeschool our children.

Note: Keep Sowell’s statements in mind for the next installment of my review of The Abolition of Man...tie-ins to come.

Argue with me, please

I found mention at Mere Comments of an excellent article by Thomas Sowell, "Begging to Disagree.” I couldn’t agree with it more!

I practically live for discussion. Ask my husband :-) I can’t get enough information about what people think, why they think it, the facts related to what they think, etc. etc. Trouble is, I’ve found it hard to get these things from people themselves, directly. I’ve found what Sowell says to be true: people think that disagreement = nasty, or that they’re right and you’re wrong and so one of us must be sinning. Or, out of desire to maintain cordiality, people refrain from sharing dissenting opinions. Sometimes, of course, this is highly advisable.

But I’ve always wondered, how can we truly be the Body of Christ if we don’t aid one another by sharpening each other’s minds as well as helping in outward ways?

There are a few essentials to good discussion/debate: a truly charitable attitude, humility, and perhaps also confidence – confidence in one’s worth apart from one’s opinions, and in one’s abilities. A discussion that lacks any of these elements can turn ugly and unedifying in a hurry. But an argument doesn’t have to be a fight.

So I very much enjoy the blogosphere -- a literal treasure trove of fascinating opinion and discussion. A virtual Starbucks. Care to join me for coffee?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Nothin' but a hedgehog

I learned everything I know about hedgehogs from Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. That is, until a hedgehog found my blog. Read about why he calls himself a hedgehog; I think I'd like to be one too :-).

Handel's soulful Messiah

This is one of my all-time favorite recordings. It features idiomatic renditions of arias, recitatives, and choruses from the famous oratorio based on black musical forms and traditions. Many fine artists collaborated on this exuberant musical project, including Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Take 6, the boys choir of Harlem, Patti Austin, and Gary Hines.

There are three reasons (at least) that I like "A Soulful Celebration" so well:

1) It is fantastically creative and well-performed.

2) It illustrates that musical forms are inherently representative of all that it means to be human. They can be offered in praise to God or not, but none are “holy” or “secular” (or “evil”) in and of themselves, nor should they be limited in their applications.

3) it ROCKS

“Every Valley Shall be Exalted” is almost an epiphany, and Al Jarreau does an intense be-bop/shout rendition of “Why Do the Nations Rage” that really cooks.

Why am I bringing this up, when the season so often associated with Handel’s Messiah is past? Because the message is applicable any day or season of the year. And I listened to it today :-)

The recording (CD or cassette) doesn't appear to be readily available but I found it at They even provide listening samples (too short!)* – check it out!

*(Strange – I got a different impression listening to the samples than from the disc itself – maybe because of the puny little tin-can-sounding speakers on my computer. Some of the samples almost sound ridiculous separated from the context of the album. Nah, it’s gotta be the speakers...)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rolling bandages

Though the world is rightly focused upon helping tsunami victims, there are, of course, others in the world in need of aid also.

Today the kids and I spent 3+ hours helping to rip up old sheets and roll them into bandages. We joined the womens’ ministry group at our church in this endeavor, and together we rolled three boxes worth of bandages to be sent to hospitals in the Congo.

I figured the kids would last for maybe an hour, but they really got into it. They were awesome. Participation in this ministry was the bulk of their homeschooling for the day.

It’s easy to take for granted those sterilized gauze rolls, etc. that can be picked up easily at the local drug store, grocery store, or discount store. But hospitals in the Congo depend upon rolled cloth bandages, made from sheets such as the ones I cleaned out of my linen closet this morning, that are brought in from outside.

Apparently our denomination considered cancelling this ministry, but were begged not to! The bandages will be shipped in bulk and distributed by our denomination’s missionaries in the Congo.

Cold but clear

So what if it was -1 degrees F this morning when I got up -- the sun was shining! (rare around here this time of year)

Image Hosted by

It’s actually quite toasty compared to Minnesota...

Monday, January 17, 2005

The ultimate measure of a man (or woman)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values -- that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?
Expediency asks the question - is it politic?
Vanity asks the question - is it popular?
But conscience asks the question - is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.

-– Martin Luther King, Jr.
US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929-1968)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

C. S. Lewis and “The Way”: abandoning the concept of value

Can the concept of value be abandoned altogether if we abandon the Tao, which, as C. S. Lewis shows in this chapter from The Abolition of Man, is the only source that value itself can possibly have?

I suppose I should have set up these posts as a series from the beginning. Oh well. In this post I will conclude my presentation of the chapter.

(The Way refers to “the Tao, or Natural Law, or Traditional Morality, or the First Principles of Practical Reason,” the Tao being the term Lewis uses “for convenience” to represent what is referred to by these terms.)

At this point, Lewis has established that there is no way to arrive at “the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity” outside of the Tao, and asks where the Innovator gets the authority to “select bits [of the Tao] for acceptance and reject others.” Indeed! (See post #1 and post #2 of this series for the process by which Lewis arrives at the conclusion that the Tao is “the sole source of all value judgements.”)

If he [the Innovator] had really started from scratch, from right outside the human tradition of value, no jugglery could have advanced him an inch toward the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it. Not one of them can claim any authority other than that of the Tao. Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled even to attack it.”

What purport to be new systems or “ideologies” all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.

(Oh, oh, oh! I can’t help but go nuts over this statement for its brilliance, its truth, its stupendousness of expression. OK that’s out of my system now – sorry about that)

But there’s more:

The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree...The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

Lewis asks, “Does this mean, then, that no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place?” He maintains that it can, and that there is place for criticism, but such criticism must stay within its own language. “There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation.” “From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao.” “In particular instances it may, no doubt, be a matter of some delicacy to decide where the legitimate internal criticism ends and the fatal external kind begins,” but legitimate criticism is not that which places burden of proof upon the Tao. Legitimate reform may show that a certain precept conflicts with another more fundamental precept, or that “it does not really embody the judgment of value it professes to embody,” and proceed from there.

In Lewis’ words, “You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao."

Says Lewis, we can abandon the Tao “...only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgments at all.

It is the difference between a man who says to us: “You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?” and a man who says, “Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.”


Lewis then asks the premier evangelical question: “Yet how can the modern mind be expected to embrace the conclusion we have reached?” For the modern, pluralistic mind views the Tao as “simply a phenomenon like any other” – the primal consciousness passed down from our ancestors through the gene pool. (My assessment) “We know already in principle how such things are produced: soon we shall know in detail: eventually we shall be able to produce them at will.” Indeed -- that day has arrived.

“But many things in nature which were once our masters have become our servants.” And why not the conscience of man as well? He imagines the “modern mind” to say,

“You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao. Very well: we shall probably find that we can get on quite comfortably without them. Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as an interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that...having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.” (emphasis mine)

As Lewis says, those who hold this position “cannot be accused of self-contradiction like the half-hearted skeptics who still hope to find ‘real’ values when they have debunked the traditional ones. This is the rejection of the concept of value altogether.” (emphasis mine)

Next installment, I will present Lewis’ consideration of this proposition, which he takes up in the final chapter of TAOM, of the same title.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Carl Sagan on abortion

OMF Serge has written a wonderfully astute analysis of Carl Sagan’s thoughts on abortion at Imago Dei.

His analysis is valuable because it demonstrates the philosophy behind Sagan’s science, at least as it applies to this issue. It’s actually rather surprising, to me, that Sagan was so “simple” about his philosophy; he made no attempt to obfuscate his actual opinions by making them sound, well, noble. Or maybe he thought they did sound noble. Anyway, this is the basis of Sagan's rationale:
...if there is to be a law on this matter [abortion], and it is to effect some useful compromise between the two absolutist positions,...

Apparently Sagan thought that any resolution of law, or of right and wrong for that matter, is to be determined "somewhere in the middle," and the value of finding the mean between men's opinions is greater than the value of human life!

As Serge points out, this shows the limitation of science as demonstrated by Sagan himself: his "science" serves a mean of opinion. It also demonstrates how one can be blinded by holding to the wrong ideology...why else would a really smart person have such trouble understanding something so basic and obvious as the point at which human life begins?

Has anyone ever wondered when a chimp becomes a chimp? Or a fish a fish? Or a worm a worm? In science books, isn't the entire life cycle of an organism presented as being of that organism? Doesn’t the life of any organism begin at conception? Have folks forgotten Pasteur's law of biogenesis? (thanks, Serge, I'd forgotten about that law myself, though not the principle, obviously; it's been awhile since I took a biology class :-) )

And isn’t it incredible that the issue of when a life begins wouldn’t even be relevant unless someone had thoughts to end that life??

As someone who’s conceived a few humans myself, I can think of a couple more questions for Sagan (too late, I know): if the zygote/blastocyst/etc. is not human, why are women who aren’t even pregnant yet but desire to become pregnant advised to up their intake of folic acid, specifically, and to keep their bodies in good shape, generally? Why the need to insure the health of a potential human being if it’s not going to be human for a least a few weeks? Or is the “conceptus’” value as a potential human worth taking care of, at least until the mother decides to kill it? Or, worth taking care of only as long as the mother values it, as a person would value and care for a pet?

Just thinking these things makes me shudder...oh, the rocks do cry out!

Friday, January 14, 2005

What it's all about

While the world rallies to aid the tsunami victims, there are people in need of aid on our own soil as well.

Greg Ray survived the California mudslide but his friends didn’t. Another man, Jimmie Wallett, lost his wife and three of his daughters. Wallett dug for hours in the rain around where he thought his family might be. He helped rescue two people before the bodies of his family members were found Wednesday. According to the AP news report, “A distraught Wallet returned to La Conchita late Wednesday even after his family was recovered, saying he wanted to continue helping with the search. He was turned away by officers who said they feared for his safety.”

Dear Lord, comfort this man.

Ray was quoted as saying that he was devastated by the loss, yet cheered by the way La Conchita and rescue workers pulled together in crisis. "They made a really good situation - how they helped each other," he said. "Everyone involved was just like angels."

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:34-36

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The ACLU strikes again

This time it’s in Georgia. The offense being whistle-blown? A sticker placed in Cobb County School District science textbooks that says that evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” What’s wrong with that? Yeah, I know, the whole a-scientific-theory-is-different-than-other-kinds-of-theory thing. Still, there is nothing non-factual about that statement. And nothing there at all about belief or religion.

Yet District Court Judge Clarence Cooper wrote in today’s decision that, "the sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders."

What?! Since when is the law concerned with political favoritism? Since when does political favoritism, or assumed political favoritism, have anything to do with “separation of church and state?” Oh, I forgot, we’ve fallen through the looking-glass. And I guess the political climate hasn’t been so threatening the last two-and-a-half years -- why else the delay in filing suit?

Says Rabbi Scott Saulson, a board member of the ACLU of Georgia, "People who wish faith to compete with science are asking faith to be judged by the same standards as theory, which is a standard of reasonable proof. Faith is unique in that it is not predicated upon proof. To continue to mask religious belief as science will sooner or later besmirch both faith and religion."

Huh? Was there something on that sticker about faith? Once again we have someone failing to understand that, philosophically, religious faith and the underpinnings of interpretation of scientific data are in the same realm. (which was discussed in this comment thread)

*sigh* I’m afraid it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better...

Freedom to homeschool

must never be taken for granted. From the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA):

Seven homeschool families in Northwest Germany are being forced to enroll their children in public school. The Paderborn County school board has levied fines against these families and ordered the children to attend school by Monday, January 10, or the police will forcibly take them to school. Any resistance by the parents will result in the removal of these thirteen elementary age children from their homes and into state custody!

Despite the lack of state recognition in Germany for homeschooling, these families pulled their children out of public school earlier this year to begin teaching them at home. Their primary reason, as Christians, was to protect their children from the humanistic and godless values being taught to their children in the public school.

While the school district responded by stating that homeschooling is illegal, the parents' maintained that their fundamental rights as parents would be violated if they were forced to return the children to public school. All of the families obtained excellent packaged curriculums from German correspondence schools, and demonstrated to school officials that their children were receiving a proper education.

Heinz Kohler, the county education director, dismissed the families' beliefs, stating, "you and your children are not living in isolation on some island but rather in an environment posing intra- and extracurricular situations where you'll have to accept that your world view will be curtailed." Mr. Kohler further explained that homeschooling could not be allowed as "children should not be encapsulated or kept apart from the outside world. In these cases, the parents' rights to personally educate their children would prevent the children from growing up to be responsible individuals within society..."

It’s not too late to contact the German Embassy and local German officials involved in the case on behalf of these families:

Wolfgang Ischinger
German Embassy4645 Reservoir Road NW
Washington, DC, 20007-1998
(202) 298-4000

The embassy can be emailed from its website.

Local German officials involved in the case:

Landrat Paderborn: Mr. Manfred Mueller – (County official)

President Nordrhein - Westfalen: Mr. Peer Steinbrueck – local media – – CC

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

From The Abolition of Man: All value derives from the Tao

I presented excerpts from Chapter 1 of The Abolition of Man, “Men Without Chests,” in this post. Lewis continues to discuss the function of his schoolbook-example’s method in Chapter 2, “The Way,” a portion of which I will look at now.

Please forgive the book-report style of this and related posts. I want to share the Lewis I’m reading because his ideas are shatteringly relevant to the current culture wars. However, it is very difficult to paraphrase or summarize because Lewis' writing is so distilled.

He begins the chapter:

“The practical result of education in the spirit of [the school book] must be the destruction of the society which accepts it. But this is not necessarily a refutation of subjectivism about values as a theory. The true doctrine might be a doctrine which if we accept we die. No one who speaks from within the Tao could reject it on that account...But it has not yet come to that. There are theoretical difficulties in the philosophy of [the writers of the school book].”

Lewis rightly states that, though the textbook’s writers may be subjective about traditional values, they have shown, by the act of writing their book, that they must indeed hold some other values “about which they are not subjective at all.” They must be writing in order to produce certain states of mind in those they hope to influence, namely, those of the next generation, because they think that these values are “the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable.” There must be an end, or purpose, to what they are doing, else there would be no purpose for their book, and, as a corollary, they must feel that the purpose of their book is good, yet, since they have debunked sentiment as a reason to value anything, they cannot support the purpose of their book on those grounds.

As Lewis points out,
“In actual fact [the schoolbook’s writers] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.”


Lewis goes on to examine what happens if a serious attempt is made to cut away “the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that the ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge.” Where can the “Innovator in values” find “realistic” or “basic” ground for such values? Lewis shows that any attempt to find such ground is no more or less rational than the values the Innovator is attempting to supercede. In his words,

“The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premises in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible.”

Therefore, Reason must be extended to include Practical Reason and confess that any judgments which appear to be rational are actually based upon sentiment, which is not merely sentiment but rationality itself (I think I got that right), or else “the attempt to find a core of ‘rational’ value behind all the sentiments we have debunked” must be given up."

“The Innovator will not take the first alternative, for practical principles known to all men by Reason are simply the Tao which he has set forth to supercede.” (We have nothing else to work with, thus the Tao is something we “can’t not know,” as per Professor Budziszewski.) Therefore, according to Lewis, the Innovator is likely to find his “more basic and realistic ground” in Instinct. “The preservation of society, and of the species itself, are ends that do not hang on the precarious thread of Reason: they are given by Instinct.”

Ah ha:
“the scruples of justice and humanity – in fact, the Tao -- can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want.

(Lewis has demonstrated that the Innovator has an interest toward posterity, indicating the Innovator's belief in preservation of the species as our real end.)

Lewis’ definition of instinct: “an unreflective or spontaneous impulse widely felt by the members of a given species.” He asks, “In what way does Instinct, thus conceived, help us to find “real” values? Is it maintained that we must obey instinct, that we cannot do otherwise? And the obvious question: “But if so, why are [the school book] and the like written? Why this stream of exhortation to drive us where we cannot help going?” (Pardon me while I gush: I absolutely love Lewis’ style!) “Why such praise for those who have submitted to the inevitable? Or is it maintained that if we do obey instinct we shall be happy and satisfied?”

He shows that this can’t be the case, then suggests that the Innovator “would have to say...that we ought to obey instinct.” Yet, as he shows, our instincts are at war. How, then, can a rule of precedence be derived? Lewis explains that value judgment, as separate from instinct, is inescapable.

He asks, finally, whether there actually “is any instinct to care for posterity or preserve the species.” He confesses that he fails to find it in himself; neither can he imagine that “the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity.” No, he says, "neither in any proposition with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values...All the practical principles behind the Innovator’s case for posterity, or society, or the species, are there from time immemorial in the Tao. But they are nowhere else.”

All value will be sentimental [emphasis added]; and you must confess...that all sentiment is not ‘merely’ subjective,” and an ought can be entirely rational. “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly, if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”

The summary: all the values which can be used to attack the Tao or used as substitute claims “are themselves derived from the Tao.

More about the Tao and value to come soon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Those poor, lagging, homeschooled students...

Why, if homeschooled students perform as well if not better than their public-schooled counterparts on standardized tests, does the idea that they are “behind” them persist?

We had an bad day homeschooling recently. I'm sorry to confess that we truly did. It was so bad that I called the administrative offices of the local school district to inquire into enrolling one particular child in public school. I left a message on an answering machine. The woman who returned my call advised me to go to the school my child would attend and give evidence of work he has completed, so it could be determined whether he is “up where he should be or not.”

>:-( ...growling and mumbling under my breath...

Anyway, the postscript: after the crisis, the dust settled and said child is, at the present moment, still being homeschooled :-)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Ellen Goodman and God

Says Goodman in her column of today, "The unifying force of catastrophe":

“The stories [from the tsunami], singular in their pain, were universal in their common human denominator. The unimaginable horror of children snatched from their parents by a wave. The dazed survivors counting their losses up to a collective 150, 000. The disappearance of whole known worlds, villages, families.

So too, the search for understanding was as universal, if perhaps as futile, as the search for bodies. Some survivors talked about the tsunami as an ‘act of God’ – as it God were the fine print on an insurance policy. Others, like the woman whose daughter rode out the tsunami on a tourist boat off Phuket, talked about that too as an act of God – as if He’d rolled the dice in their favor.

Indeed, survivors described “miracles” until that word sounded like nothing but a synonym for incomprehensible, random luck. Or perhaps miracle is the answer when you run down the list of possibilities and hit “none of the above.”

Once again, unified in the face of catastrophe, we hit the pause button on our own man-made conflicts. We were caught up short in the midst of endless squabbling over our own differences.

She gives examples of how the world has rallied to aid victims, yet observes,

But I also watch us inch back to ‘normal.’ On Page 1, the fury of nature shares space again with the folly of humanity. The victims of nature make room for the victims of man-made conflict.

Now, to comment: It’s too bad that Goodman feels that a search for understanding is “futile.” Perhaps she’s looking in the wrong place. But I think she also misunderstands “acts of God” (not that I don't, but I acknowledge that they exist and that they are indeed incomprehensible, as we are humans, and God is God. Yet they are certainly not "random."

Goodman’s observations about the universal human condition are salient, yet it is unfortunate that she comes up empty in search of understanding. Her words:

I am no theologian. In my business we prefer to avoid questions without answers. [Perhaps that’s a problem?] We are shy about inquiries that lurch between the profound and the naive. We set aside the sort of wondering that sets us wandering.

Are those in her profession really so similar in ilk? Wait, don’t answer that. What I’m asking is, is Goodman couching her own questions in the comfort of numbers in her rank? Perhaps, but she does ask a question that I find greatly encouraging:

But it’s impossible to watch this unfold and not wonder why people need tragedy to remind us of our humanity. And why we manufacture disaster when nature provides quite enough of its own...Is it only from the Olympian heights of outer space or the geological depths of an undersea earthquake that we feel our connection? Is it only during an ‘act of God’ that religious wars seem absurd and suicide bombs redundant?

Indeed, very good questions. In many ways we are insulated by our comfortable lives here in America.

Yet she concludes her piece:

Even now in the wake of the tsunami, we know more about tectonic plates buried under the ocean than we do about our own heart of darkness. Where on earth is the early warning system for man-made disasters?

Oh, Ellen, I can answer that question: the “early warning system” has been in place since the time of Genesis! There is plenty in the Good Book that describes hearts of darkness and what to do about them. (Somebody, please tell her!)

Endnote: If one lives day-to-day with knowledge and understanding of the human heart of darkness, then events like 9-11, genocide in Rwanda, and Iraqi car-bombings – shocking and unspeakably horrific as they are -- do not really give “pause.” Unfortunately, they are to be expected in an unregenerate world. As are large-scale natural disasters. This is why we must put our hope in something Beyond it all, Something that teaches us the truth about ourselves and others, and offers us all a way out.

Branching out

 Posted by Hello

More on Terri

I didn’t say enough in my last post on Terri Schiavo, so I will rectify that now. I mentioned her appearance as evidence that she’s not so vegetative as to, well, look it, but what’s more noteworthy is what attorney Barbara Weller describes as clear signs of Terri’s consciousness. I find this absolutely remarkable in light of what Michael Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, had to say to Larry King in an interview on Larry King Live, aired October 27, 2003:

SCHIAVO: Terri is in a chronic, persistent vegetative state.

KING: Meaning she has...

SCHIAVO: She has no awareness, no consciousness. She's in a contracted state. Her hands, her arms, her legs are contracted.

KING: We see now there, we see the eyes open. A smile. It looks like a smile.

SCHIAVO: Now, you've got to remember here, too, when the Schindlers show their little snippets of Terri, there's four and a half hours of tape. OK?

KING: This is edited?

SCHIAVO: This is edited. This is a tape where they snuck in against a court order after the judge said, do not photograph her.

KING: But she looks like -- right, she's not in a coma

SCHIAVO: Right. But you're missing half -- you're missing three-quarters of the other tape where her mother does the same thing, and she does nothing. Now, Terri makes the same noises for the last 14 years. She's made the same facial expressions. She blinks her eyes. She has normal sleep/wake cycles.

Now, the nurses have even testified in the trial that Terri makes those noises when nobody's in the room.

KING: I see.

FELOS: Larry, that's one of the controversies in this case, that people see these videos and say, oh my God, here's a person that's aware. Terri has the classic symptoms of a patient in a vegetative state. If I can have just a couple of seconds. There is the article, the seminal article on that is "The Medical Aspects of the Persistent Vegetative State." And what it says here is: "Patients in a vegetative state are usually not immobile. They may move their trunk and limbs in meaningless ways. They may even occasionally smile, and a few may even shed tears. Some utter grunts, or on rare occasions moan or scream. These motor activities may misleadingly suggest purposeful movements." And that's the case with Terri.

From later in the interview:

KING: Do you think that the thing that hurt your side the most, frankly, is that she looks aware? In other words, if you look at her, she looks like...

SCHIAVO: Sure, if you look at her. To a layperson, yes. That's what she looks like. But like I said, they show snippets of a four and a half hour tape. I can show you portions of tape, tapes that Terri does nothing.

FELOS: You know, Larry, this is the simplest way to explain it. Terri opens her eyes and closes her eyes. If her eyes are closed, and you say, Terri, open your eyes, nothing will happen. But if you say it enough times, maybe on the 50th time and you say, Terri, open your eyes and her eyes will open. If you take a little tape and just show the 50th time, someone would look at that and say, oh, my God, she's aware. But those tapes doesn't show the other 49 times.


KING: Can pictures gone in. Could CNN send in cameras and video her for a while? I mean, she's...

SCHIAVO: I mean, you can get the court tapes and watch those if you like.

KING: Could we go tomorrow?

FELOS: Terri has a right to privacy. Michael has tried to protect that. SCHIAVO: I have fought so long to keep her out of the public eye. I mean, I cannot believe that her parents would...

FELOS: We asked the judge not to release the four hours of videotapes. The last thing in the world Terri would have wanted is to have people see her in her -- in this condition.

SCHIAVO: Can you imagine? In this condition, everybody sitting looking at her?

Now, clearly, somebody isn’t telling the truth. I'd like to know who made the videotape and when. What exactly were the circumstances of the taping? What part or parts of the tape were watched in the courtroom?

If Terri's so clearly vegetative, then why are Michael & Felos so adamant that folks not see her or videotape her? To protect her dignity?! Puh-lease!

KING: Are the parents lying or wishful thinking?

SCHIAVO: I just think they're grasping at straws. I think they're being fed information that...

KING: And what, Michael, is their motive?

SCHIAVO: What their motive is?

KING: In order to keep their daughter alive. They don't have a motive, do they?

SCHIAVO: Probably just to make my life hell, I guess.

Sheesh! He thinks it’s all about him?! Well, yes, it is, to him, but I mean, to the Schindler’s? Of course he knows that’s not the case, but admitting so would screw up his story. He can’t admit that the Schindlers may actually – can you imagine -- love their daughter, because then he’s admitting that there’s some humanity in Terri worth loving enough to honor the fact that she’s alive. Which would amount to changing his story.

I’m thinking Michael’s mad because though there’s nothing left in it for him except his idea of (personal) honor, he still has to maintain his story. Things have been dragging out for him and he’s resentful.

Michael Schiavo, George Felos, and Judge Greer all rate way up there in Creep Factor. I suppose they need as much prayer as Terri does.

**edited for clarity

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Hope for Terri?

I’d like to think so, but things aren’t looking good. Except for Terri herself, says attorney Barbara Weller. She describes Terri's appearance during a recent visit:

I would have expected to see someone with a sallow and gray complexion and a sick looking countenance. Instead, I saw a very pretty woman with a peaches and cream complexion and a lovely smile, which she even politely extended to me as I introduced myself to her.

Check Media Culpa for more info and continual updates on Terri Schiavo’s plight. And keep praying.

Snow day

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Men without chests

Have I got your attention? LOL I'm referring to the first chapter of C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, a very interesting read.

In this chapter, which apparently was intended as a lecture, Lewis discusses a certain English textbook that he claims exerts an unfortunate type of educational influence. He speaks of the subtle insinuations in the book’s manner of instruction concerning the value or lack thereof of sentiment, and of the effect this can have on young, impressionable students. I found this fascinating, especially in looking back over my own education. I wonder whether it is just a certain type of student that is more susceptible to this sort of influence (one that leads the student to doubt or abandon previous sentiments), but Lewis does not suggest this. He generalizes students into one susceptible group. At any rate, I appreciate the implied admonition to teachers regarding the moral weight that rests upon them to teach with great care, integrity, and wisdom.

In considering the school-masters who wrote the textbook, and others like them, Lewis first suggests that they “do not fully realize what they are doing and do not intend the far-reaching consequences [their manner of instruction] will actually have.” Then he suggests another possibility: “They really may hold that...ordinary human feelings...are contrary to reason and contemptible and ought to be eradicated. They may be intending to make a clean sweep of traditional values and start with a new set.” (p. 25) The end result for students is that “Some pleasure in their own [thing they appreciate and have affection for] they will have lost: some incentive to cruelty or neglect they will have received: some pleasure in their own knowingness will have entered their mind.” (emphasis added.) All this from a textbook purporting to teach English composition.

As Lewis states, if this “is the position which [the writers] are holding, I must...[point] out that it is a philosophical and not a literary position.” (p. 26) In other words, the writers are not really teaching what they profess to be teaching. (Keep in mind that this book was first published in 1944) Lewis goes on to say that perhaps the writers “see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda...and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion.” (pp. 26-27) He responds:

The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head. (p. 27)


Lewis suggests that such an “educational predicament” as faces the writers of the textbook “is quite different from that of all their predecessors,” whose teaching was based in natural law as it relates to the heart: “Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it – believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.” "'Can you be righteous,’ asks Traherne, ‘unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem?’” (pp. 27-28)

Lewis invokes Augustine, who “defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it.” And Aristotle: “the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible...” And Plato, who said the same thing before Aristotle. And early Hinduism: “conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta – that great ritual or pattern of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order; the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality.” And the Chinese Tao – “the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator himself.” (pp. 28-31)

Says Lewis, “what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” This lends an ability “to recognize a quality that demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.” (p. 31) “No emotion is, in and of itself, a judgment: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.” (pp. 31-32)

I would agree, as long as the heart has been properly trained, as per what Lewis says.

Going on with the ramifications of the school book’s method, Lewis says that, rather than replace old sentiment with new, which would merely “condition” and be “propaganda,” it serves to “debunk” sentiment entirely. (p. 34) Says Lewis, “this course, though less inhuman, is not less disastrous...Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat,' than against an irreproachable moral philosopher, who had been brought up among sharpers.” (p. 35)

He then describes men without chests: “The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest – Magnanimity – Sentiment – these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man...The operation of [the school book] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.”(pp. 35-36)

“...And all the time– such is the tragi-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible.” (p. 36) “...We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” (p. 37) (emphasis added)

When considering Lewis’ words in light of our culture today, I find that what has developed is not a society devoid of sentiment entirely, but of the type Lewis says his school-book does not embrace*: the replacement of “old” sentiments with “new” ones, which “condition” rather than “initiate,” and serve “propaganda” rather than “propagation.” (p. 34) Ones that which, rather than “remove all sentiments, as far as possible, from the pupil’s mind, encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their intrinsic ‘justness’ or ‘ordinacy.’” As Lewis suggests, this course involves "the questionable process of creating in others by ‘suggestion’ or incantation a mirage which their own reason has successfully dissipated.” (p. 33)

I hold that such individuals are a type of Men without Chests.

(Is this an indictment of our times or what?)

I hope to comment on chapter 2, “The Way,” soon.

*Update: Actually, I don't think this is exactly what he meant, which is made clearer by the 2nd chapter. He was speaking of a merely cynical type of propaganda.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A bad sign

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There, that's more like it


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Serving a national God?

The denomination our church belongs to prints a monthly publication, the Covenant Companion, that consistently runs thought-provoking articles. One of the magazine's offerings is a column by John E. Phelan, Jr., president and dean of North Park Theological Seminary, called "Markings". Phelan always has something of depth to say, whether I agree with him or not. (Unfortunately his column is not available online)

In the latest issue, Phelan quotes Daniel Lazare from an article in The Nation, stating that "Lazare implies that the Christian God is much more pliable and agreeable to cooperating with the national cult [than is the Islamic God]. He was a usable God, as far as Eisenhower (and many before and after him) was concerned."

I'm not convinced that the Islamic God isn't a national God, but agree with what he says about the Christian God: "God stands in judgment on all peoples and states, all parties and politicians."

He follows, "God will not be used as the ground of American democracy and power." I agree about the power part, but, as far as democracy goes, I'm not sure what would be a preferable ground.

On distinguishing between the God of Islam and the Christian God, Phelan quotes John Ashcroft: "God sends his son to die for you" whereas the God of Islam requires you "to send your son to die for him." Not to say that European and American politicians have never "used the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus to get people to send their sons and daughters to die, not so much for him, as for the nation state." I don't think the two need be mutually exclusive, however.

He states that the Christian God "rejects our efforts to drape him in the flag." Perhaps, but I think He'd like us to drape our fellow American citizens, as well as citizens of the world, in Him.

Phelan quotes William Willimon from The Christian Century: "Frankly, I think the Muslims have got it right when they say that Christians in the West appear to have produced, or at least acquiesced to a pagan, sex-saturated, violent, materialistic society. Muslims seem to despise us not because we're so free (wrong, G. W. Bush) or because we're so very Christian (wrong, Jerry Falwell) but because we're so awfully pagan." I think there's truth to this, at least as part of the reason we are despised.

Says Phelan, "It is the pagan that uses God for their own purposes." An interesting statement, but I'm not sure it's true. A pagan isn't necessarily turned toward self. But I appreciate Phelan's distinction between the person who seeks after God and the one who tries to adopt Him as a pet.

He continues, "The Christian follows the God of Jesus by living the Jesus-life regardless of the siren call of money, power, sex, or even the nation state." I agree, obviously, except that I believe there's a difference between serving the nation state itself and serving it through serving God, as a parent serves their family.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Watering hole

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Erie Canal, Pittsford, NY