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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


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Sunday, August 28, 2005


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Saturday, August 27, 2005

The old light car

My husband owns a '73 Saab 96 that we like to drive around town. The kids call it the "old light car."

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bits and pieces, 8/25/05

After being around for more than a year, this blog's hit counter has finally been bumped over the 10 000 mark. Actually, the count has almost doubled just in the last week, thanks to reaction to my last written post. 10 000 is just a drop in the bucket, though, for the source of most of those recent hits: Wonkette. The charming Wonkette gets some 46 500 hits per day. Yikes. Go read the blog to see why. Be sure & wash your hands afterwards.


Samantha at Uncle Tom’s Cabin is wondering what to do about a difficult situation. I appreciate her perspective; she’s asking the questions that a Christian ought to ask in every situation, even the apparently easy ones that sometimes shouldn't be as easy as we may think they are. Many of the decisions we make may be based more on cultural influence (or human-nature influence) than on a close and knowledgeable relationship with God. Anyway, Samantha's post resonates with me and I pray that God will honor her quest for wisdom and reward her for her humble heart.


Get your bid in - all other gadgets are now obsolete

Hot-air balloon

Forgot to post this one with the others.

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(I can't figure out why this shot does not publish in sharp focus, especially there between the purple and red colors on the balloon. The original is plenty sharp. The percentage of size reduction from the original photo doesn't seem to affect the published sharpness either. Anyone have any ideas?)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Clouds over Chautauqua lake

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Chautauqua flowers #8: more mandevilla

This is post #8 in a series featuring flowers that grow on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution where I work during the summer. As gardening is very important to Chautauquans, there is much spectacular plant life to be found.

Probably my favorite is the mandevilla. There are three vines gracing the entrance to the building my family stayed in during our time on the grounds. Many thanks to empressbarb and Allison for identifying it for me!

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I know that dewy flowers are a photographic cliche but oh well...they're purty :-)

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This shot is my favorite.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sex and the solitary person

I’ve been reading what some others in the Christian blogosphere have been saying about this subject and find it troubling. What's more, there doesn’t seem to be a clear, comprehensive popular guideline or apologetic on the issue, at least for non-Catholics. I would like, therefore, to offer a perspective that does not originate with the story of Onan, yet is Biblically-based. My intent is not to condemn nor vindicate, but to uphold a view that solitary sex (autoerotism) promotes a narcissistic view of sex and robs a person of what sex can and ought to be both for the self and for whomever the person may enter marital covenant with.

Fundamental to the morality of autoerotism are two issues: ownership of the body, and the purpose of sex. First, we must establish that, since one’s body and accompanying personhood have been created by God for God, then they belong to God. They are not one’s own. The body is a living temple to be used in service to Him – Romans 12:1-2 and I Corinthians 6:12-20.* And although sexuality is clearly God-given, it can be -- and is -- perverted in many ways, some of them subtle, as can the view and use of other functions of the body. Also, an awareness of one’s God-given sexuality is to be distinguished from exploration of and indulgence of it, especially in the wrong context. Such context would be anything outside of the sexual union of a man and wife.

It seems a popular rationale for exoneration of autoerotism merely addresses guilt. There’s a difference between guilt and condemnation, however. Human beings, whether accepting of redemption in Christ or not, are still and will always be guilty of many things. The one who has not accepted redemption stands condemned for this, while the redeemed individual, though guilty, does not. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” – Romans 8:1. This does not mean that we need not refrain from wrongdoing (Romans 6:1-2), but restraint should not be for the purpose of avoiding guilt. It should be based on trust and a desire to please our Maker and Sustainer and to do what is right.

It also is not possible to make something that belongs in darkness lighter merely by bringing it into the light. A dark thing remains dark even in the light – the Light reveals its darkness. Whether one is ashamed or open, secretive or flaunting, has nothing to do with whether something is right or wrong.

In the realm of cultural morality, to say that something dark is light is to say that morality is relative. When sexuality is relativized (when a merely personal view is taken, or one that confuses spirituality with intense feeling, both physical and emotional), values such as pleasure, gratification, and expression become higher purposes of sex than marital relationship and family-building. In our brave new world of the sexual free-for-all, emphasis is on the present, temporary situation in which adults and children may engage in sexual behavior unrestricted by anything except an absence of mutual consent. There is precious little attention paid to the importance of maturity or the value of continuity and long-term relationship (which usually involves the creating and long-term nurturing of a family, though obviously it will not in the case of infertility).

I have read James Dobson’s thoughts on the subject and find them surprising and, frankly, disappointing . It is odd that someone so hardline on other issues of sexual morality can simply brush this one aside. His rationale essentially falls under the category outlined above, and I will address some of his arguments below (they are included generally in the list).

Looking at statements that justify sex by oneself:

1) The Bible doesn’t address the subject specifically; therefore, one cannot claim that it is sin.

response: The Bible doesn’t address it specifically, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that autoerotism is not sin. The Bible expresses the importance and exclusivity of the marital sexual union and of the heritage and blessing that children are, which sheds light on the purpose of sex. Sin is that which separates one from God. Can it truthfully be said that autoerotism brings one closer to God, or, at the very least, does not separate one from God, if it indeed represents a use of sex for which it was not designed?

2) Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I have no sexuality.

Of course not. But being a sexual being and having related thoughts is different from using that sexuality for oneself by exploring, developing, or otherwise using it on one’s own. Sexuality is meant to be shared. To whom is one making love when one manipulates oneself?

The married person’s body belongs to his/her spouse – I Corinthians 7:4. A person’s sexuality is not for him/herself, it’s for the spouse, and vice-versa. This is not to say that one’s own sexual satisfaction is not important, but such concern belongs to the spouse. It’s also not to say that a person may have no sexual life of mind outside of sex with his/her spouse; mental awareness is a major part of one’s sexuality. Yet it needn’t proceed into fantasy, nor serve/indulge the self.

3) Married people can have sex whenever they want.

Obviously not written by a married person ;-)

4) A married person has no business discussing autoeroticism and singleness.

Unless a person has gotten married before puberty, he/she certainly has had experience of being single in his/her sexuality.

5) Since most people, especially teenagers, are going to do it no matter what, there’s not much point in telling them not to, or in telling them there’s anything wrong with it.

Most people are going to act deceitfully at one time or another also. Should we just wink, shrug our shoulders, and say, “oh well”? Why not explain to young people, or any people, the kinds of things I am discussing in this post while at the same time respecting their personal privacy?

6) Autoerotism needn’t involve fantasy; it can just be a harmless physiological release.

Let’s assume that the mere physiological release part is true. I am still not convinced that the mind and emotions are not involved (outside of nocturnal emission, which a person is not conscious of). Humans are not schizo-experiential unless there is some problem; for the normal person, the mind, body, and emotions are (or ought to be) quite interconnected. Even if no fantasy is involved, there’s still a mental occupation with sensation and the source of the sensation – the self. There is a good feeling in more than one area of one’s being. To say that autoeroticism can merely be an insignificant, mindless physiological release is to ignore or deny certain aspects. What good would that kind of sexuality do a marriage? And if such release truly is insignificant and mindless, then it can’t be necessary, and should be easy to refrain from.

Mental and emotional release most likely occur along with the physiological release, though one or more of these may be more prominent at certain times than at others. It remains clear that sexual release is far too powerful a physiological, mental, and/or emotional phenomenon to be treated lightly. If it weren’t so intense, it surely wouldn't be so popular. The intensity matches the purpose of sex, which is to cement a married couple together and produce children.

Regarding the elements of the performance of a sexual act, it’s what these elements are connected to that’s most important. We are sensory beings, and sex is obviously very sensual. If one is unleashing one’s sexuality with and within oneself, there is sensual connection occurring with one’s thoughts, one’s environment, and one’s self. This is the problem, because sex is meant to be a duet, not a solo. The glories of sex are meant to be given and received through the spouse with the spouse. Sex is meant to be a language “spoken” between a man and women within the covenant of marriage.

Like anything else received from God, the true benefit and pleasure is realized when the thing is offered up first. The pleasure is the collateral and the reward. But it can’t be received unless the investment is made first.

7) Sexual release is a real need. If a person doesn’t have a spouse, then they must take care of their own needs, especially to avoid sinning with another person or indulging in p0rn.

How does one define a need and distinguish it from a want? Sometimes wants are needs, but this does not grant license for a person to satisfy a need inappropriately. If sex is for a spouse, then obviously one does not need to bestow it upon oneself.

Sexuality isn’t like hunger, despite the analogy. If one denies hunger long enough, one will die. Contrary to old-wives tales, though, no one has ever died or even become ill, from a purely physiological standpoint, by denying or delaying the gratification of his/her sexual urges. Like an itch, it might drive a person nuts for awhile, but eventually the itch fades. It takes great strength of character to withstand such a torment but it can be done, and practice helps. No one is hurt by delaying gratification of a want, and sexual dormancy is perfectly OK in the appropriate situation. Does every person need to gratify his/her sexuality? No. Does every married person need to express his/her sexuality in conjunction with his/her spouse? Yes.

8) Persons can often best learn about how their bodies “work” by figuring it out on their own.

Why on earth not have a spouse along on the journey?

9) A person whose spouse will not do for them “what they want” must find another outlet.

Scripture does not tell us to delight in, ahem, ourselves. Lovers (spouses) are to delight in one another! Note to whom the attention is directed, and note the reciprocity. (I am not in any way condoning or promoting sexual slavery, even in marriage.) In Proverbs 5:15 it is written, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” Note that the cistern and the well are one’s spouse, not one’s own body, mind, or emotions. The passage is referring to adultery, yet the person to whom it is addressed is directed away from the “other woman” (or man) and back to the spouse, not to the self, or to the spouse and/or the self.

10) What one does by oneself sexually need have no effect on one’s spouse or future spouse; indeed, it may help him or her, and help the relationship.

This sounds a bit like the argument that sleeping with others before (or besides) one’s spouse makes one better in bed. Eeesh. Is the goal to be a better lover via experience, knowledge, and technique, or via cultivation of a specific relationship with the person to whom one has given all aspects of one’s life (in marriage)? If sex is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to another person, why squander it on some other person or even on oneself? The latter is the definition of narcissism; it’s akin to being planted in front of a mirror. Regarding the former, taking the sexuality of another into oneself means that it will remain there, in part, forever. It becomes a kind of impurity in one’s covenant sexual relationship that may be blended in or covered over but never completely removed. Likewise, there will always be a part of oneself in the other person/people.

Sexuality is a valuable treasure, a great gift. As Christians, we give our very best gifts – our figurative gold, frankincense, and myrrh – to God, and in so doing, give our sexual treasures to our spouse. We do not “spread the wealth” around; to do so is to cheapen its worth and dilute its significance as well as to make a mockery of the gift itself and the covenant of marriage. Adultery isn’t referred to as “cheating” for no reason; adultery cheats a spouse of what ought to be theirs and theirs alone. Autoerotism also cheats one’s spouse (current or future) out of a portion of one’s sexuality.

11) Autoerotism does not have any bearing on one’s relationship to God.

If God is Lord of everything, then this cannot be true. If He is Lord of everything, then that means everything. Especially something as important to a person as sexuality -- a part of his or her being that was created and bestowed by God in the first place. Especially if it's so important that he or she is driven to act on it in some way. This and every other aspect of a person’s being are resources, and require proper stewardship as such. The heart, mind, and body must be guarded against anything that would steal, corrupt, or destroy, in whatever way.

*I am aware that the passage in I Corinthians 6 refers to sex with a prostitute, but I believe that the principles apply to autoerotism as well, as I will explain.

Note: Comments are welcome, but I ask that they be civil and on-topic.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A step taken

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Friday, August 19, 2005

The Mozart effect

Received this in an email from a symphony colleague.


A new report now says that the Mozart effect is only part of the story. For you hip urban professionals: yes, playing Mozart for your designer baby will improve his/her IQ and help him/her get into that exclusive preschool. And of course, we're all better off for listening to Mozart purely for the pleasure of it.

However, one wonders: if playing Mozart for little Hillary or Jason could boost their intelligence, what would happen if other composers were played during their developmental time?

LISZT EFFECT: Child speaks rapidly and extravagantly, but never really says anything important.

BRUCKNER EFFECT: Child speaks very slowly and repeats himself frequently. Gains reputation for profundity.

WAGNER EFFECT: Child becomes a megalomaniac. May eventually marry his sister.

MAHLER EFFECT: Child continually screams -- at great length and volume -- that he's dying.

SCHOENBERG EFFECT: Child never repeats a word until he's used all the other words in his vocabulary. Sometimes talks backwards. Eventually, people stop listening to him. Child blames them for their inability to understand him.

BABBITT EFFECT: Child gibbers nonsense all the time. Eventually, people stop listening to him. Child doesn't care because all his playmates think he's cool.

IVES EFFECT: Child develops a remarkable ability to carry on several separate conversations at once.

GLASS EFFECT: Child tends to repeat himself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

STRAVINSKY EFFECT: Child is prone to savage, guttural and profane outbursts that often lead to fighting and pandemonium in the preschool.

BRAHMS EFFECT: Child is able to speak beautifully as long as his sentences contain a multiple of three words (3, 6, 9, 12, etc). However, his sentences containing 4 or 8 words are strangely uninspired.

CAGE EFFECT: Child says absolutely nothing for 4 minutes, 33 seconds. Preferred by 9 out of 10 classroom teachers.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Yellow daylily

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Update, 8/17/05

Here’s the short version: I’ve been really, really busy. (Who cares, I know ;-) ) Been too busy & tired to blog (though not too tired to read blogs!) But life is good.

Have enjoyed our many houseguests these past few weeks as well as lots of picnics with friends from the Chautauqua Symphony. We’re not talking your basic boring hot-dogs-in-the-park kind of picnics, we’re talking volleyball at homes out in the country and gatherings at docks by the lake that include swimming, fishing, jet-skiing, boat riding, ping-pong, pool, you name it. Not to mention great company plus amazing food and wine :-). And sitting by the campfire when it gets dark. The symphony is like family in many ways and since we’re only together for eight weeks out of the year, we make the most of it! The rehearsal/concert schedule is rough – three concerts per week plus operas for full-timers - so hang time is important.


Had a chance to hear Martin E. Marty speak last week. There was an overflow crowd at his lecture. What he said was interesting, though (surprisingly) nothing struck me as particularly insightful or profound. Rev. Marty is an agile speaker; his words barely have a chance to alight let alone sink in. He spoke about the importance of children and the way that children learn morality, which was quite encouraging. Marty noted the lack of attention and dearth of time given in thought and writing to the cause of children among scholars and academics.

Rev. Marty spoke the next day about absolutism and relativism but I was unable to attend that lecture. I read the summary in the Chautauquan Daily newspaper, though. More food for thought and blogging.


We took the kids to hear Michael W. Smith in concert last Friday (at Chautauqua). It was a nice show, rather mellow overall. Smith has a great natural voice and sings very well live; the majority of songs he chose showcased the unique quality of his voice. His music is a totally different genre and much less complicated in nature than what I work in, which was refreshing and enjoyable to listen to - a kind of musical diversion. Smith’s presentation seems heartfelt and the concert unfolded as a kind of worship experience.

We have a CD from way back, I 2eye, that we played in the car for several days before the concert to familiarize the kids with what they’d be hearing. We told them not to expect to hear anything from the album at the concert though. Surprise –- the 2nd tune of the show was “Secret Ambition," much to the kids’ delight.


Ruth Graham (daughter of Billy Graham) spoke at Chautauqua last night but my baby-sitting fell through so I missed that one.


Have been playing more than usual with the symphony and some good parts too. (Sometimes fourth trumpet doesn’t have much to do, though the $$-to-note ratio can be good ;-) ). It’s been great fun. It's much easier to stay in good playing shape when work is fairly regular. Am trying not to think about my last concert of the season being in a few days and after that I will have to wait more than ten months to do it again – WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

OK I’m fine. I’m excited about a piece the symphony will be performing this weekend, the Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski. It’s just great music. My part is great too, it’s got it all: loud playing, soft playing, high stuff, low stuff, sustained notes, short notes, muted passages, and tricky technical stuff. The meter changes a lot so you've got to be on your toes.

I love music that is interesting and intelligent and clever and fun to play and to listen to. There’s a lot of symphonic music that doesn’t necessarily fit that description. The Concerto for Orchestra does, though; it's innovative and creative yet still very listenable. The Concerto, one of Lutoslawski’s earlier works (written in 1954), is constructed according to classical (actually, Baroque) forms, yet harmonically and melodically inventive. Overall, the musical sense is still tonal though there are many colorful atonal elements throughout.

Y’all come on down to the concert!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Red-orange daylilies

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Can you believe the intensity of these lilies? And they say there is no God...

Sunday, August 14, 2005


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Saturday, August 13, 2005

After the rain

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Sherman, NY

Friday, August 12, 2005

Chautauqua flowers #7: pink composite

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Is this some type of dahlia?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Chautauqua flowers #6: hosta flowers

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Chautauqua flowers #5: shades of white

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Monday, August 08, 2005


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Saturday, August 06, 2005


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Last evening I took the kids to the county airport to watch the initial launch of hot air balloons for SkyJam 2005. Some 16 or so balloons went up. We followed several in the car and had the thrill of the chase plus the fun of watching balloons land and be dismantled.

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Overheard seconds before this shot was taken: "May we land on your property?"

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