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Friday, December 30, 2005

From the editorial page

(of the local newspaper): “Some second thoughts on merit of bloggers” (or Lord of the Blogs), by Kathleen Parker. Admittedly I don’t know much about Kathleen Parker, but after reading her piece I think I‘m OK with that.

Of all the stories leading America’s annual greatest-hits list, the one that subsumes the rest is the continuing evolution of information in the Age of Blogging.

Really? From whose perspective?

Not since the birth of the printing press

Please, stop stealing lines...
have our lives been so dramatically affected by the way we create and consume information

What about the millions of Americans who have no clue what a blog is?
-- both to our enormous benefit and, perhaps, to our growing peril.

I’m chewing my fingernails...
What is wonderful and miraculous about the Internet

needs little elaboration.

But frankly there’s something creepy about the explosion we now call the Blogosphere -- the big-bang “electroni-verse” where recently wired squatters set up new camps each day.

Creepy? Squatters?? Who’s camping? Are you camping? I’m not camping, I live here!

Although I’ve been a blog fan since the beginning,

and have written favorably about the value added to journalism and public knowledge thanks to the new “citizen journalist,”

*rolling eyes*
I’m also wary of power untempered by restraint and accountability.


I now jump up the editorial page to an essay by the inimitable and ubiquitous (don’t you just love those words?) Maureen Dowd: “Cheney’s a skulking menace.” (A restrained headline) Here's Dowd:

The vice-president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive…

Vice is literally a shadow president. He’s obsessive about privacy -- but, unfortunately, only his own.

What was that about restraint and accountability? Oh yeah. Now back to Parker’s, uh, camp:
Say what you will about the so-called mainstream media

There’s not really a mainstream media?
but no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities.

*cough, gag!* Oh, there’s a picture of Parker in my dictionary under “sanctimonious.”
Bloggers persist no matter their contributions or quality,

so do reporters and columnists
though most would have little to occupy their time were the mainstream media to disappear tomorrow.

Please. Oh, there's a picture of her under “sophomoric” too.
They hold the same megaphone as the adults

and enjoy perceived credibility owing to membership in the larger world of blog grownups.

These effete and often clever baby “bloggies” are rich in time and toys, but bereft of adult supervision.

Oh, puh-lease! But wait, it gets better...

by whom?
and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches,

The trenches?
but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.

That's all it takes??
What we’re witnessing as the Blogosphere’s offspring multiply -- is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves.

Yep, a three-pronged plug, WiFi, and there it is: unlimited POWER!!

Speaking of power, back to Maureen Dowd:

Rummy, a Ford chief of staff who became defense secretary, and his protégé, Cheney, who succeeded him as chief of staff, felt diminished by the post-Watergate laws and reforms that reduced the executive branch’s ability to be secretive and unilateral, tilting power back toward Congress.

The ‘70s were also a heady period for the press, which reached the zenith of its power when it swayed public opinion on Vietnam and exposed Watergate. Reporters got greater access to government secrets with a stronger Freedom of Information Act.

Chenrummy thought the press was running amok, that leaks should be plugged and that Congress was snatching power that rightfully belonged to the White House…

…Checks, balances, warrants, civil liberties -- they’re all so 20th century. Historians must now regard the light transitional tenure of Gerald Ford as the petri dish of this darkly transformational presidency.

Who's preoccupied with power?

Back to Parker:

Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement.

!!!! Unlike reporters or columnists, or anyone else.
I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there who also happen to blog

Sppplllffftt! There goes my Starbucks latte all over the page!
Again, they know who they are.

Again? (Do they?)
But we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction.

Good advice.
We can’t silence them,

And that's too bad…but just wait, Ms. Parker, it’s coming (is the ACLU reading?)
but for civilization’s sake

Sspffflllltttsssplllttt! There goes the rest of my latte!
--and the integrity of information by which we all live or die

live or die???
we can and should ignore them.

WOW! Am I glad I read that!

(I'm bad, aren't I? ;-) )

(Note, 1/1/06: I toned the original post down a bit. Really!)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Narnia movie, take 3

(takes 1 and 2 found below)

By following a link at Martin LaBar’s wonderful blog, I found an excellent review* of the Narnia film. It articulates the essence of my concerns in much greater detail than I was capable of, and has given me confidence in my initial misgivings. Steven D. Greydanus puts his finger spot on it. Here’s an excerpt (yes, this is just an excerpt! But read the whole review, it's worth it):

Change in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some of the film’s departures from the book honor or even enhance the story while adapting it to the needs of the screen. Some of the filmmakers’ better ideas include an unexpected glimpse of Aslan’s power in an early scene which provides a moment of grace for Lucy (and Tumnus), additional insight into why Edmund tells a particular lie in a way that makes perfect emotional and narrative sense, and a twist on a case of briefly mistaken identity which is merely suspenseful in the book but exciting in the film. Purists will object to a number of added action scenes where Lewis had only an uneventful forced march, though in themselves these don’t harm the essence of the story.

On the whole, though, the filmmakers are safest sticking close to Lewis’s story, and tend to go awry when they depart from it, which they do more often and more seriously than they should. Take the depiction of Peter Pevensie, the eldest sibling, whom Lewis depicts as a natural leader who intuitively grasps the obligations the siblings have to Tumnus and to Narnia. In the film, Peter becomes a reluctant participant who is always trying to back out of Narnian affairs and get his siblings safely back to England. It’s the Aragorn Complex; the only good leader, Hollywood is sure, is a reluctant leader (cf. also Moses in The Prince of Egypt). Even in the climactic battle, as Aslan’s army clash with the forces of the Witch, Peter continues to be preoccupied with getting Edmund and the girls to abandon the conflict and return home to England.

This characterization makes no sense, dramatically or thematically. It makes no sense thematically because by now it’s been well established that the defeat of the Witch and the triumph of good requires all four children — two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve — to be enthroned at Cair Paravel. If three of them go home prematurely, the prophecy won’t be fulfilled. The filmmakers seem not to notice this conflict; even Mr. Beaver seems ready to go along with Peter’s plan to divide the children, even though he’s the one who taught them the prophecy.

...Other changes are even more ill-advised, and sap Lewis’s story of much of its underlying meaning and thematic richness. Most seriously, Aslan, the great and terrible Lion, is robbed of much of his awe-inspiring majesty — not by inherent limitations in translating the story to the screen, but by specific alterations in the screenplay that consistently eliminate references to Aslan’s power and his effect on others.

No longer do the children and the Beavers speak tremulously at the Beaver lodge about how intimidating it will be to meet a Lion, or hang back at Aslan’s camp before approaching him, nudging one another and trying not to be the first to step forward. No longer does Mr. Beaver utter what is arguably the single greatest, most resonant line in the entire book: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” (The “But he’s good” bit is revisited at the end in connection with Tumnus’s line about Aslan not being “like a tame lion,” but the crucial notion of Aslan not being “safe” has been jettisoned.)

No longer does the Witch find the mere mention of Aslan’s name unendurable and threaten to kill anyone who uses it. Nor do Aslan’s enemies repeatedly balk in terror before venturing to bind, muzzle and shave him at the Stone Table.

The screenplay systematically elevates the role of the children and the Witch herself at Aslan’s expense. In the book, when Father Christmas arrived, he said, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” In the film, a curiously un-festive, brown-clad Father Christmas (James Cosmo) offers a contrary explanation, attributing his arrival to the Pevensies rather than to Aslan: “The hope brought by Your Majesties is starting to weaken the Witch’s power.”

Perhaps the single gravest change to the story is one that greatly empowers the Witch at Aslan’s expense. It is simply the eradication of the whole motif of the Witch’s overt fear of Aslan. This is absolutely crucial to the book’s emphasis on the utter lack of parity between the omnipotent Aslan and the powerful but limited Witch. The whole vision of good and evil at work in the story turns on the fact that the Witch is never even close to being a rival or threat to Aslan, any more than Lucifer to Christ himself.

The filmmakers, perhaps motivated by a misguided dramatic notion of needing the villain to be a credible threat to the hero, eliminate practically every indication of the Witch’s fear of Aslan from the story — in the process jettisoning much of the point Lewis was making about the nature and relationship of good and evil.

Not that Lewis’s point is lost entirely. By the end, certainly, it’s unambiguously clear that Aslan’s power and understanding are far beyond the Witch’s. Lewis’s point is thus ultimately affirmed, though it isn’t clear throughout the story as Lewis intended it to be.

The problem of the apparent parity of Aslan and the Witch is nowhere more glaring than in the parley or summit meeting, which the film begins and ends very differently from the book. In the book, Lewis makes a point of having the Witch send her Dwarf to beg safe conduct from Aslan before she will dare to approach him. In the film, by contrast, we’re told that the Witch has “demanded” an audience with Aslan, with no mention of safe conduct requested or granted. In fact, the film depicts her fearlessly entering Aslan’s camp on a royal litter with her dwarf acting as herald proclaiming her arrival, rather than as emissary begging safe conduct.

The end of the parley scene, a highlight of the book, is even more glaringly changed. In the book, when the Witch expresses doubt whether Aslan will keep his word, he lets out a terrible roar, striking the Witch’s dumb with terror and causing her to flee abjectly for her life. In the film, since the Witch has come in a litter, she can’t very well pick up her skirts and head for the hills, as Lewis had it; instead, she merely looks a bit shaken and sits down kind of hard before being carried off. Lame.

Even during the parley, the film subtly undermines Aslan’s control of the situation. In the book, when the Witch brings up the Deep Magic, Aslan remains supremely calm, even toying with the Witch (“Let us say I have forgotten it. Tell us of this Deep Magic”), causing her to begin shrieking angrily about the Stone Table, the sceptre of Aslan’s father, the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, and the World Ash Tree.

In the film, on the other hand, it’s Aslan who gets angry, snarling, “Don’t tell me about the Deep Magic! I was there when it was written!” This is an interesting line, but Aslan now seems merely indignantly assertive, rather than supremely in control. (In interviews, Tilda Swinton has spoken of not wanting to portray the Witch getting angry and “hot under the collar,” which she felt would only diminish her character. Ironically, no one seems to have noticed or cared that Aslan was diminished in precisely this way.)

Visually, Adamson has obviously been influenced by Jackson’s trend-setting work in LOTR. As a storyteller, though, Adamson lacks the poetic and dramatic sensibilities that made Jackson’s films so effective. The visual and emotional impact of some of the most important sequences, which a more gifted or experienced storyteller would have played for maximum impact, has been muted or lost.

Take the transition from the Witch’s winter to Aslan’s spring, a major motif in the book. It wouldn’t be going too far to say that the changing of the seasons — a process of profound mythological significance — is one of the central organizing principles of the book; that in a word LWW is precisely a Christian mythopoeia of the end of winter (representing the fallen state of the world) and the coming of spring (representing redemption and the new creation). Lewis devotes pages and pages to melting snow, running water, the appearance of various varieties of flowers, and so on. The film, however, has no time for all this, and gets it out of the way with an action scene, a few brief effects shots, and a quick transition.

Or take Aslan’s agony-in-the-garden via-dolorosa walk to the Stone Table. In the book, the omnipotent Lion alarmingly stumbles, moans, and confesses to being sad and lonely, even asking Susan and Lucy to comfort him (as the angels did in Gethsemane) by placing their hands on his mane so he can feel them. A filmmaker like Peter Jackson would have zeroed in on the emotional impact of this scene like a heat-seeking missile. Alas, here Aslan seems merely somber as he walks to the Stone Table; of the pathos and the passion of Lewis’s scene, there is no hint. Why? Having diminished Aslan in so many other ways, why cheat on the one scene in which Lewis actually allows him to be emotionally vulnerable?

Perhaps most inexplicable is the film’s half-hearted approach to the reanimation of the enchanted statues in the Witch’s courtyard. So vividly does Lewis describe this scene that the last time I read the book to my kids, I actually had to interrupt the reading to take them outside and set fire to some crinkled-up newspaper to show them what it looked like (to see why, see this review of the 1988 BBC version of the story, which quotes the relevant passage). This is precisely the kind of scene for which God created special effects. One can hardly imagine a filmmaker coming across that scene and not yearning to linger over all those statues gradually coming to life. Why, then, does Adamson give us only one token onscreen reanimation, and consign the rest to off-camera action? What was he thinking?

These aren’t the objections of a purist unwilling to accept departures from the text. The problem is not the filmmakers’ depatures from the letter of the book, but their insensitivity to its spirit, not to mention the sometimes slapdash quality of their storytelling even on its own terms. I don’t mind early scenes establishing Lucy’s apprehension regarding the unseen Professor at whose country estate the children are staying. Yet, having established that dramatic tension, shouldn’t the film have somewhere to go with it? Didn’t anyone notice that it makes no sense to introduce the Professor by having Lucy actually cling to him for comfort during a quarrel with her siblings?

All these missteps add up to the difference between what could easily have been one of the greatest family films of all time, and what is, instead, merely a good one. Though the film misses greatness, even in this diminished form Lewis’s story is still well worth seeing, and the film adds enough to the experience to keep things fresh. [emphases added]

Greydanus' points are very well taken, especially the ones about the shift in emphasis from moral struggle to behavioral things (in a token-character kind of way). This is why I wanted more attention given to Edmund’s hike to the White Witch’s lair. He’s supposed to be fantasizing about what he will do and have when he’s king (as the Witch has promised) and how he will get back at his brother for being angry with him. He also rationalizes his thoughts and actions. In the movie, though, his spoken concerns over who or what is good or bad and who or what is to be trusted (when the children are just-arrived in Narnia) seem only manipulations to get his siblings into the Witch’s grasp. But in the book, it’s all about his inner struggle over what he wants to be true and good vs. what he knows or suspects to be really true and good, and how this all relates to his own thoughts and actions.

None of this is shown in the movie, however. Neither is the irresistible, corrupting appeal of the Witch’s Turkish delight. The T. D. is merely bait to get him to return to the Witch, not a true temptation. Edmund is shown merely as a traitor and a generally disagreeable boy (though still with a bit of sweetness and openness), not as someone struggling with issues of the heart (/mind). Not to mention that the whole point of his encounter with the stone lion inside the Witch’s courtyard is lost in the movie.

It’s also true that Peter isn’t quite the “threatened deserter” in the book that he is in the movie. He's portrayed as almost hapless, though in a sympathetic way. One also doesn't get much of a sense that use of the tools he and his siblings are given by Father Christmas is guided by Aslan; the children appear to just sort of use them on the fly.

In the face-off between Aslan and the White Witch and their respective armies, the real difference between good and evil is not evident. There are merely "nobles" pitted against "uglies." Nor is the Witch’s effect on creatures and people (as when everyone felt cold in her presence as she approached Aslan, in the book) shown…nor is Aslan’s, really. Allegiances are shown, but not explained.

As for the Professor, the cinematic version is too much of a kid himself, or else too much on the same “level” as the children -- perhaps reflecting the way that generations have been sort of equalized in modern society. There is a fear of him in the beginning, as if he’s some eccentric bogeyman, but later when the children learn they have nothing to fear from him he is just sort of a quirky old man. He is not shown as being particularly learned or wise nor as keeping a proper distance/mystique, and the children do not show him reverence and respect as such. There is too much familiarity between him and the children.

As Greydanus says, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is just a great action/adventure family flick rather than a morality play as it should be. I still think it’s a wonderful movie, but it's not really true to Lewis’ intent for the story.

Lewis’ brilliance in storytelling lay not merely in his ability to incarnate moral truths in fanciful yet plausible (in a fairy-tale sort of way) narrative, but also in his ability to illustrate the motivations of the human heart and their consequences. It is self- and moral recognition mirrored in Lewis’ writings that highly influenced my own conversion. What a shame that most of this aspect of Lewis’ story is lost in the movie.

*I was late to finding this review because I purposely didn’t read any reviews before seeing the film. I wanted to see it with only the book in mind.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie, take 2

Well, the whole fam-da- uh, extended family went to see the “Narnia” movie together yesterday, which means I got to see it again. Noticed a few details I missed the first time (even though I had to step out to take my daughter to the bathroom!) A few thoughts:

1) I got into the cinematic version itself a little more this time; last time I was too busy having my “preconceived notions” confronted.

2) There are, in fact, a few weak moments in the Pevensies’ portrayal of emotion. But then, there’s an awful lot of heavy stuff going on, and perhaps some of the rather half-committed (or less than powerfully acted) expressions are actually more realistic than more profound expressions would be. In real life, there are often long moments of processing, or shock, or what-have-you before a full reaction to something profound takes place. But then also, they’re kids!

3) Some have criticized Aslan as not being fierce enough, but I really had no problem with the way he was portrayed. I thought he was beautiful.

4) I am still bothered by departures from the book. I’ve been driving myself nuts trying to get both the cinematic- and book-versions straight; it leads to too much confusion! (ah, the limits of my feeble brain…) I even re-read the book a few days ago. *sigh* Too many details to remember.

5) In the movie, the Professor seemed to act as if he’d been to Narnia himself (though he didn’t so much as say so), and even tried to get in near the end of the movie. Yet my impression of him from the book is that he was less concerned with Narnia itself than with the childrens’ treatment of each other, their faculties of logic, and their belief or lack thereof in “other worlds.” (other dimensions to life than the "obvious")

6) Both the Professor and Tumnus are given larger roles in the movie than they have in the book. Not sure what to think about that.

7) I am less bothered by the White Witch than I was at first viewing; guess I got used to her. Though she was portrayed differently than I would’ve imagined, I noticed a lot more nuance this time and could appreciate her, uh, coldness, and vacuity. There are still aspects of her that seemed too human. Another thought I had as she was entering Aslan’s pavilion was that she looked like some sort of odd bride. Ugh! Too weird.

8) I wish that the scene from the book in which Edmund is almost killed by the Witch had been put in the movie. The whole traitor/blood requirement/sacrifice idea was made quite clear, but that particular scene was turned into a vignette on the exploitative falseness (is there a word for that?) of the Witch’s favor (in her treatment of the Dwarf as she unbound him).

9) The special effects, while spectacular, are perhaps slightly overdone. But many of them are very effective.

10) The soundtrack is good.

11) This is a great movie. Very well-done. I’d like to think that Lewis would’ve been OK with it, but honestly have no conviction that he would’ve because of subtleties of difference from the book. Some of these are Americanizations of his British-isms and Lewis-isms, which are probably justifiable, but others are subtle reinterpretations of the characters and events.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My favorite Christmas music

(It’s probably too late to be writing about this now that Christmas Day is almost over, but…)

Being that I’m a professional musician, it’s natural that music play an important role in my celebration of Christmas. I’ve played trumpet for Christmas services every year for years and years, except for the past few; this year my sole performance was an unaccompanied intro to the hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” at my church at the beginning of Advent. So to say that I miss playing all the great hymns, arrangements, and works with “real” trumpet parts such as excerpts from Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is an understatement.

But I’ve enjoyed the wonderful programming of our local classical radio station, which is thankfully a very good one. I’ve heard various performances of Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (from the ballet), including a transcription by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet that is truly spectacular. I’ve heard superb choral renditions of “Lo, How a Rose,” “Carol of the Bells,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” “Shepherd’s Carol,” “Coventry Carol,” “Patapan,” “Fum, Fum, Fum,” “I Wonder As I Wander,” and “Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" as well as uplifting performances of the Messiah, the Christmas Oratorio, and Bach’s Magnificat (all of which have great trumpet parts that can be enjoyed vicariously even when I'm not able to perform them!).

But the best treat of all was an unexpected one. Last evening (Christmas Eve), my family attended a small, friendly service at a relative’s church where the program consisted mainly of children singing, playing instruments, and reading poetry. My niece and nephew were among the performers. Imagine my surprise when one of my favorite secular Christmas songs was first on the program -- “Christmastime is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It was done quite well, I must say, in a gentle 4/4 shuffle (the original is in 3). My niece sang the very nice contemporary song, “Mary, Did You Know?” and I found myself in tears as I beheld this poised young lady who only yesterday, it seems, was a baby herself. As it seems with my own fast-growing children. No, we don’t really know what our babies will grow up to be and do (though we may have an inkling), but it is breathtaking to watch unfold! Even my little nephew bravely sang "Go Tell it on the Mountain," not terribly melodiously but definitely in the right spirit, illustrating the truism well: "God uses the humble to confound the wise."

Also sung was another of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs, Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven." To close the worship time, we all sang familiar carols together after a brief message from the pastor. It was a simple yet truly meaningful preparation for the day ahead.

(I had plans to see what grand service was being broadcast on TV late, but found myself curled up with a book instead, listening for hoof beats on the roof ;-) )

Friday, December 23, 2005

Which Narnia personality are you?

As Jill, you are confident, respectful, and a little bit bossy! You have an acquired taste for adventure, and love any challenge that you have to face.

Hmmm, on the “confidence” question, I put myself in the middle. Go figure! I do enjoy a challenge, though wouldn’t say that I love any or all challenges. Not sure that any taste for adventure that I have is acquired, either. Actually, I’d put it more as a taste for exploration than for adventure. But...well, can’t think about these things too much! LOL

Oh, and apparently, before I was born, my name was almost Jill instead of Bonnie. I think I'm glad for the name I got :-).

HT: Catez Stevens

BTW, my family and I went to see “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the other night. We all enjoyed it, including my almost-four-year-old daughter! (She’s seen the BBC version so’s familiar with the story.) I was a little disappointed by the departures from the book, minor though they were (call me a purist :-) ), but was glad to see the major themes clearly set out.

I concur with everyone else that Lucy was great, as was Edmund. And I couldn't help but adore the beavers. Peter was a doll, maybe too much of one, but that made the idea of an ordinary, “nice” teen rising to the occasion and doing extraordinary, courageous things work. Wasn’t so impressed with the White Witch, except for her part in the battle scene (she was fierce, and tough!) – she didn’t seem evil enough! Maybe it was the make-up. Tumnus was almost too familiar-acting to Lucy, but I guess that was the point. I also kinda wanted the professor to be more veiled in a sage-like sort of way. But no biggie.

The battle scene was great. However, I would’ve rather that less of the movie be taken up with that and more time spent on Edmund’s trek to the White Witch’s palace and on other things that were given more time in the book. The opening scene with the Pevensy children leaving London was effective, though, and actually maybe the most moving part of the film, except for the girls' mourning over Aslan’s body.

Which reminds me: perhaps there is more than mere allegory to Jesus and the Marys in Lewis’ having the girls witness Aslan’s slaughter (though not the actual moment itself -- they didn't look) and be, not traumatized or revolted, but deeply grieved. The emphasis is not on the slaughter and death itself, but on what it means. I think there could be a lesson in this for our societal view of these things and for the way we handle them with children, as well as with each other, for that matter. (Although Aslan’s slaughter in the film was mysteriously bloodless...)

It’s funny, I was glad, for C. S. Lewis’ sake, that the movie was made and made so well, because of the propagation of his contributions to mankind that it represents. But then I was reminded that Lewis himself disdained film because it didn’t properly represent books nor allow the viewer’s imagination to blossom as the reader's of a book might. Someone somewhere (sorry, can’t remember who or where) thought that Lewis would not have approved nor liked the current movie.

Well, perhaps not. But insofar as it introduces people to his stories and to the allegories in his stories, and insofar as one of his purposes for writing was to bring Christianity to the masses in an accessible and authentic way, I myself have trouble believing that he would reject the movie altogether.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

winter spruce Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas cookies

Every December, our church's preschool puts on a “cookie frost” for the preschoolers and their special guests. This year, my daughter’s guests were her brothers.

Older brother decorated a Christmas tree cookie, and younger brother (true American that he is) made a holiday Liberty Bell.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Christians and mental illness, part I

This post and the one to come owe their inspiration to internetmonk’s recent series on the Christian and mental illness. Of long and abiding concern to me, this subject has prompted many a private meditation of mine. I recently posted some thoughts "on addiction” at Intellectuelle (before learning of iMonk’s series via Martin LaBar’s blog), which came about partly due to my ponderings on the heart/mind dichotomy/connection. This dichotomy itself is seemingly troublesome for some Christians, if not Christians in general. Upon reading various opinions on it I have repeatedly been taken back to thoughts on mental/emotional/spiritual health that I’ve wanted to publish, pending the right moment to do so. Whether the “right moment” has arrived I do not know, but nevertheless I shall write (or share my comments on Spencer's series, anyway).

I appreciate the series very much because of Spencer's basic thesis that mental (or emotional) illness is real, it is sin, and that those who suffer from it deserve truthful and compassionate treatment. (I believe this is the case whether the “ill” person is Christian or not, though some aspects of treatment will necessarily differ between the two types of person.) At the same time, Spencer raises and addresses the most important questions pertinent to the issue while also allowing them to somewhat remain questions, which I think is reasonable and fair.

I agree with Spencer that a great portion of the science of psychology is valid, and that it is helpful toward diagnosis and treatment of mental illness for anyone who has it. I do think that a spiritual dimension ought to be added to such diagnoses, however; often there is a spiritual issue underlying or contributing to an issue of mental or emotional health. (The same can be said for physical health to some extent as well.)

I also agree that sometimes the actual definition of mental or spiritual health can be evasive and rather controversial. It’s well known that giftedness and mental/emotional disturbance often go hand in hand (though not always, of course), and who’s to say where giftedness leaves off and disturbance takes over, or vice-versa? Certainly giftedness can be corrupted, but disturbance can also be beautiful if it reveals some profound insight into the humanity that all of us share. As Spencer states: in some cases, “‘normal’ is a kind of social/behavioral conformity forced upon the young by experts and educators...The wonderfully diverse and non-conformist side of human beings is the enemy in this definition of normal.”

We all learn to conform in order to live and interact successfully with our environment. We must. But some have more difficulty with it than others; I truly believe that a great portion of mental/emotional illness is due to a lack of ability or willingness to “learn the language of society,” so to speak. This can have both legitimate and illegitimate components.

Spencer also asks, “Is the Christian view of mental illness to categorize mental illness as the activity of demons and/or the result of sin?” (The Christian and Mental Illness part III) He makes the case that the ancients, being pre-scientific, had a different interpretation of reality than we do, and therefore credited many things to demons and such that today are diagnosed as having a physical cause. I agree with him to an extent on this. However, he does not seem to allow for much of a spiritual component to mental/emotional illness at all. Perhaps he is reacting against a philosophy that ignores the physical completely in favor of spiritual causes, which is certainly legitimate, though to my mind he may be swinging too far in the other direction. But more on that later.

Spencer does, in Part IV, state the difficulty in disentangling mental/emotional illness and sin. He speaks of depressed feelings, saying, “These feelings are so much a part of our fallen condition, so involved in our fallen perspective, that we can’t fail to see both our true humanity and our fallen humanity at the same time.” “Fear, anger, unforgiveness: all of these things are the stuff of depression, and they are failures to trust God.” On the one hand, I see his point here, but on the other hand, some of the reasons many people are depressed are based on truth: we are sinful, fallen creatures. Yet depression may ignore the fact that we are made in the imago dei and are deeply loved by God. Also, I wonder whether depression is made up primarily of fear, anger, and unforgiveness; I tend to think of these things as being secondary to (or resultant from) feelings of hopelessness, failure, and unlovable-ness, or lack of feeling loved.

Says Spencer, “I have seen many people helped when they moved from seeing themselves as a psychiatric diagnosis and became a person operating in the categories of Christianity and Christian community. I believe that a change of perspective often has dramatic results on our human problems.” I give a hearty “amen” to this and personally can’t stress it enough. In my own life, it’s been through people showing the true love of God (agape’) to me and allowing me to see a different way of being viewed – often truly incarnating what I had learned to be true but couldn’t quite conceive of, experientially – that I have gained any shred of social understanding and happiness in this world. It is this sort of “treatment” that has enabled, equipped, and emboldened me to practice what I already knew via conscience and the Golden Rule even before I gained any depth of understanding of Christianity.

All I want for Chrith-muth...

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‘til then, a way to cope:

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

storm on the horizon

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Do you recognize that tree?

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Thursday, December 15, 2005


You can’t live here and stay here if you’re a wuss.

–- Bill Clinton, speaking in Buffalo, NY yesterday

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(actual unretouched photo from

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


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The weather here's been brutal lately. With natural gas prices skyrocketing, we keep the thermostat set on "refrigerate" (at least it feels like it). It sure is nice to have a fireplace...

Monday, December 12, 2005

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

winter sunrise

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In about five months, the tree directly behind the big oak will look like this:

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A C. S. Lewis-loving misfit who can’t play chess

Well that would be me.

(Should’ve put chess in my seven sevens “can’t do” list)

Not that I haven’t talked about myself enough lately or that anyone wants to read any more about moi, but this is a weblog after all so here it is:

Although motherhood forces me to multi-task, I still tend to focus rather narrowly on whatever I’m working on at the moment. Case in point: my 6-1/2-year-old beats me at chess. Really. Granted, he’s got more experience playing chess than I do, and I’ve got an aggravating habit of doing really stupid things like mistaking a king for a queen (it’s those cheap tiny plastic playing pieces, sheesh...okay, so I have a knack for missing the obvious!) But apparently he can assess the entire board better, as a general rule, than I can.

*Sigh.* With a capital “S.”


I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady and have been reminded of the reason I admire, respect and, okay, love Lewis so much. (It’s allright to say that, isn’t it?) In the letters, Lewis is so...nice, so sympathetic, so gracious. He always expresses concern for the lady’s well-being and comments on what she writes, speaking of his own concerns that may relate. He doesn’t ignore or posture either over what he doesn’t understand in her letters – he tells her of it, though ever so graciously and with a bit of wry, self-effacing wit. Lewis is wonderfully honest about human weakness, including his own, yet appears comfortable confessing his ordinary thoughts and feelings with not a shred of gossip nor manipulation nor excuse. Very refreshing! And very real.

I see “character battles” being waged by supporters of various prominent or historical theologians as though the theologian about whom the most nice things are said must be the most correct. Certainly, personal character is important, and we should all strive to eradicate our own sin. But don’t tell me that (insert your favorite theologian’s name here) never blew/blows his/her top or struggles/d with sinful attitude of some kind. It seems to me that humility about their own sin is more the mark of a saint than a supposedly perfect or near-perfect record (as related by supporters) is.

But back to Lewis. He maintained correspondence with Mary (among others) for ten years, through his relationship with Joy Davidman and right up until he was no longer able to correspond at all (about three months before his death). I found this record of their prolonged, genuine, and truly caring friendship most inspiring; his last few letters to her (one dictated to Walter Hooper) are very moving. This is the last:

The Kilns etc
30 Aug 63

Dear Mary
Thanks for yours of the 27. I am quite comfortable but very easily tired. B. B. [brother Warnie] is still away so I have all the mail to do. So you must expect my letters to be very few and very short. More of a wave of a hand than a letter.



When I first found the blogosphere and started commenting and then blogging, I thought I had at last found a place where I “fit.” Well...though I’m not yet convinced that I was altogether wrong, I do wonder if I was right. I feel like Herbie in “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” I belong to no specific blogging category whatsoever, only general ones: “Christian,” “pro-life,” and “woman blogger.” Otherwise I’m in the “doesn’t fit any other category” category. I’m not on the rolls of any of the current hot blogging “clubs.” As a writer I’m not so imaginative or profound. I hardly ever review books. I don’t write (much of any value, anyway) on theology. I barely blog anything political. I have a great interest in “intellectual” stuff but am not able to delve deeply enough nor understand well enough (nor muster an IQ high enough) to be a viable part of those conversations. Besides that, I’m not (yet?) Reformed. Woe is me!

I’m a homeschooler who blogs about homeschooling maybe 2% of the time. As a professional musician I blog music 0.5% of the time. I post photos but am not in the photoblog circle because my blog isn't exclusively a photoblog (my choice, I know). I’m a mom who hardly ever writes about “mommy” stuff. I love the outdoors and have an interest in science too, but big woop. There is no one particular thing that I write about with much substance except contraception and, um, never mind, and that doesn’t exactly win me friends either. Even my C. S. Lewis posts are not consistent nor academic enough to qualify for any C. S. Lewis clubs.


Maybe I’ll just wander north & look for elves who pull teeth, or choo-choos with square wheels, or water pistols that squirt jelly, or un-matched socks, or...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Neptune: god of time?

Has anyone heard the radio advertisement for the Maytag Neptune front-loading washing machine? This guy introduces it as the largest front-loading washing machine and then touts its ability to free up all kinds of time for the laundry-doer.

Well, who knew. I thought the main benefit of front-loading machines was that they use less water and energy than top-loaders (and, I’ve heard, get clothes cleaner.)

So, does the Neptune eat some of the clothes, so that a family therefore has less clothes to wear so that they therefore wear less clothing, or wear their clothing longer in-between washings so that there are therefore less clothes to wash, so that some member(s) of the family doesn’t have to spend as much time doing laundry? Does the Neptune dry clothes too, or fold them, or put them away?

I guess I just can’t figure out how use of a Neptune as opposed to your average larger-capacity washer could result in substantial time savings. Sure, you’d spend a few less seconds putting detergent in if you’re doing larger loads (because you’d be doing less loads). And I suppose you’d spend a few less minutes (plus avoid the hassle of) making trips back and forth to the laundry room if your machine is larger rather than smaller. Oh, and I guess you could just stuff your comforters and other large items into your Neptune instead of having to drag them to the laundromat. That might be the biggest advantage!

But this guy in the commercial says that since getting a Neptune, his wife has time to sit through entire football games rather than just peek her head in at halftime. This year she even had time to go along with the guys on their annual fishing trip! So he’s really glad they got the Neptune.

OK, the wife having time to be “one of the guys” is cute (my apologies to all you wives who accompany your husband & his buds on fishing trips or watch ballgames with them) but...all because of the Neptune?

Am I really missing out on life because of my Kenmore Super-Capacity top-loader?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Snow day

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It snowed a little today. OK it snowed a lot today -- 16". First big one of the year (unless you count last week's but that was only 12"). Our activities got cancelled so I thought great, I can get a couple errands done, but...we can't get out the driveway! (Plow hasn't come yet.)

So, I'll just sit here & post pictures :-)

Both shots are in color (obvious in the 2nd one). Tried to get them looking less grey but hey, it was a grey day.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

C. S. Lewis on contraception, part II

In C. S. Lewis on contraception, I wrote that I didn't know of any statement of Lewis' that would indicate a clear position against contraception. I had forgotten about his statements in Mere Christianity. On page ix of the Preface, he writes,

In Book III [of Mere Christianity], which deals with morals, I have also passed over some things in silence, but for a different reason [than controversy over doctrine]. Ever since I served as an infantryman in the first world war I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed. No man, I suppose, is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by lacking some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion. I therefore did not feel myself qualified to give advice about permissable and impermissable gambling: if there is any permissable, for I do not claim to know even that. I have also said nothing about birth control. I am not a woman, nor even a married man, nor am I a priest. I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected; having no pastoral office which obliged me to do so.

In Book III, however, he does mention contraceptives, though not to state a “yea” or “nay” position (p. 76 in the chapter on sexual morality):

...before accepting sexual starvation as the cause of the strip-tease, we should have to look for evidence that there is in fact more sexual abstinence in our age than in those ages when things like the strip-tease were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence. Contraceptives have made sexual indulgence far less costly within marriage and far safer outside it than ever before, and public opinion is less hostile to illicit unions and even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times. Nor is the hypothesis of “starvation” the only one we can imagine. Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

Lewis' mention of contraception here differs on three points from statements in his other works:
1. He does not present contraceptives in light of natural law, as in The Abolition of Man, or of eugenics, population control, or any other manipulation of human reproduction

2. He presents the idea that sex (or some sex) within marriage is an indulgence

3. He mentions the “cost” of procreation

A few comments:

Lewis' statement on contraception here comes from a practical angle more than a philosophical one.

The suggestion that marital sex, in general, is an indulgence may be a bit careless on Lewis’ part; I think (though of course I don’t know) that if one had asked him, Lewis would’ve granted that God didn’t give married people sex merely for indulgence and children (“the biological purpose of sex is children”) and nothing else. Certainly the nature of sex within marriage is different from that of sex outside of marriage in major underlying ways, although in other ways it is the same, as are many of the effects. But I think that the purpose of Lewis’ statement is 1) to allude to the idea of separating the major biological consequence of sex from the pleasure of sex, which is a common dissension, and 2) even more than that, to merely state that there is probably more sex occurring within marriages because of contraceptives than there would be without them.

It is interesting, though, that Lewis states that the sexual appetite, in general, grows by indulgence. Applied to marriage, this is a curious statement. Surely he means that the sexual appetite as a primary driving force grows by indulgence; not the appetite in context of and in service to a marriage.

Lewis does acknowledge, both in the Preface and in the later chapter of Mere Christianity, that there is a cost involved in procreation. This cost is often regarded as irrelevant or unworthy of consideration by supporters of natural family planning or those who eschew family planning altogether. However, I think that the issue of cost involves a myriad of aspects with varying degrees of legitimacy. (what is legitimate and what isn’t being itself a matter of dispute) The cost will be different for each family, though many points of cost will be the same among families if to differing degrees. Cost in itself is certainly not something to be avoided (at all costs...), but the nature of each cost certainly must be considered and dealt with. I believe that this matter belongs in the category in which Lewis puts it, namely, of minding one’s own business and not assuming one knows someone else’s.

The issue of faith also plays in, insofar as saying that if one obeys God, one will find oneself provided for. But, alas, for every story “proving” this, there is another that disproves it. (Anecdotal evidence, i.e., “testimony,” is plentiful, but more reliable evidence is hard to come by.) This is not to say that God does not provide, but God has made us stewards and caretakers, not just of the earth but of those things He gives us. He may not “rescue” us if we are irresponsible. He may not even rescue us if we are responsible. He gives us freedom to make decisions that affect the well-being of our families. Some may say that the only decisions we can make are ones either of faith or from lack of faith, and this may be true. But if that’s the case, and if God is the giver of faith, then where does that leave us? How does faith relate to obedience? Do we need a certain amount of faith in order to obey? It seems to me that sorting out issues of obedience vs. faith on the subject of contraception is a very complicated, not to mention personal, matter.

I include this discussion of Lewis’ statements and views from Mere Christianity because, awhile back, I wrote a series on The Abolition of Man, in which Lewis mentions contraception, as well as a series on contraception itself (of which this post is the latest installment), in which I saw fit to include what Lewis said about contraception in TAOM. Part of the context of the debate over contraception relates to the point of TAOM, which was to suggest the effects of technology upon mankind and his future in relation to his essence as a natural and spiritual creature (natural law). This led to focus upon Lewis’ opinion on contraception in general, for whatever instructive purpose it may serve.

On a tangential but related note, I think that Lewis' views on contraception ought to be taken into account when, as seems to be happening of late (as has happened before), one considers questions as to the integrity of his own sexual practices and how they correlate with his writings and the way his writings ought to be considered. Either he was inconsistent, and led the dual (or multiple) life that some suggest, or, he wasn't, and he didn’t. This is not to say that he may not have committed, at some times, things that he believed were morally wrong, but it is different from saying that he consistently lived a lifestyle inconsistent with his stated moral beliefs.

(update/clarification: Lewis's standards and conduct in the sexual arena were quite different prior to his conversion to Christianity than after it; it would be improper to discount this when considering his post-conversion writing on the subject. I daresay that in comparing his behavior and thinking from both before and after his conversion, he was able to see the difference in stark contrast and appreciate that much more keenly the truth of what he was saying about sexual morality in Mere Christianity.)