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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Drop, drop, slow tears

Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet,
Which brought from heav'n the news and Prince of Peace.
Cease not, wet eyes, His mercies to entreat,
To cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears,
Nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears.

-- Phineas Fletcher (1584-1660)

(a little serendipity: this poem came to my mind for some reason; can't remember what prompted the recollection. Thinking to post it, I looked it up because I'd forgotten the author. This was just after I'd finished reading John Knowles' A Separate Peace, in which one of the protagonists is named...Phineas.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Kids need dads, not just fathers

Well, I guess I’ll have to take back what I said about columnist Kathleen Parker. She’s written a pretty good piece about the folly of assuming that kids don’t need dads in Deleting Dad.

She decries, as I do, the fact that many seem to think dads are superfluous, or, worse, not even necessary, or, worse yet, that sex itself isn’t even necessary for the creation of a child:

The cover story of the [New York] Times' Sunday Magazine, for instance, was headlined "Looking For Mr. Good Sperm" and featured women who have given up on Mr. Right and are searching instead for a good vial of sperm.

Another Times story was about "virtual visitation," which allows absent dads to stay in touch with their kids through instant messaging and webcams. A third told the plight of unwed fathers powerless to block the adoption of their babies.
Finally, the fourth was a first-person narrative by a woman who married and had a child with an incarcerated murderer, whom she later abandoned. The dad, not the baby.

While such distilled summaries can't tell the whole story, the unspoken essence is that women have all the power when it comes to children, and men are only as good as their sperm count.

Parker regrets the “embrace of superficiality” of those who are more interested in the traits that their children will have than in creating those children via consummation of a marital relationship. She rues those who are more interested in a “calculated, literally detached selection of a stranger's body fluids [than] the random matings that passion inspires.” Such calculation and detachment “feels as sterile as the vial containing the lucky specimen.”

Indeed, it’s worse than’s utilitarian in the most narcissistic of ways. It desecrates a sacred process. It dissects and misappropriates the process of sex, removing certain elements and leaving the rest as waste. It abstracts these elements from the context, the whole to which they belong, thereby robbing them of their intended significance. In a very real sense, it abolishes man in the way that C. S. Lewis spoke of.

Parker acknowledges the situational difficulties of infertile couples and “women who can't manage a relationship with men for whatever reason,” although I wouldn’t say that these conditions necessarily justify use of certain reproductive technologies, especially the latter. (If you can’t manage a relationship, then don’t create something that ought only be created within a relationship.)

She concludes aptly:
There's something terribly wrong with this picture, and it is this: These are sad stories that reveal symptoms of a diseased culture in which human relationships have no moral content and children are treated as accessories to adult lives. Yet, these trends are portrayed as the latest gosh-gee fashions.

A society in which women are alone, men are lonely, and children don't have fathers is nothing to celebrate. And a future world filled with fatherless children - bereft of half their identity and robbed of a father's love, discipline and authority - won't likely be a pleasant place to live.

Bravo, Kathleen, and thank you.

Although experience isn’t the final arbiter of truth and should not be required for obedience to it, I can say that experience has shown me the incredible importance of a strong and caring father to the inner (and outer) well-being of a girl. Actually, the experience (regardless of how good or bad it was) of everyone who’s ever been a child should be enough to teach him/her the importance of good parents (of both genders) to the well-being of a child. It’s one of those “can’t not know” things a la Romans 1:18-22. Sadly, though, many people disregard the lessons of life to their peril and especially the peril of those who depend upon them.

Personally, I have dealt and will deal with the consequences of the fathering deficiencies in my own life as long as I’m alive. This is not to say that difficulties cannot be overcome; God is our ultimate Father and indeed fathers us in a way that no earthly father can, no matter how good. But in my own life and psyche there will always be deficiency and pain in certain areas that remains as result of the lack in my own life. Yes, God can, does and will use this for good, of this I have no doubt. But I’m saying that no one should cause injury or lack in another’s life if they can at all help it.

This means that fathers need give themselves to to their children rather than just give children to someone else or to the world-at-large. This requires giving themselves to the relationship that ought to exist between the producers of the gametes involved in creating the children (i.e., a consummated marriage).* If a man is not prepared to do that, then he must reconsider his relationships and his actions. It also means that women should not assume that they can always have what they want or get it by whatever means happen to be available. We must be willing to submit to the conditions required in order to acquire those things properly, or do without if acquiring those things results in desecration. We must go without if having those things will necessarily damage them and others because of the circumstances involved in their acquisition and keep.

The point Parker makes about identity is salient as well – kids need to know who they are because of whom (and where) they came from; they ought to learn it every day by growing up with these people (if this is possible). Such identity can be idolized, of course, but at the same time the yearning to know who one is and to be encouraged and trained in this runs deep. People often spend their entire lives looking for and never finding important aspects of their ancestral identity, or even trying to avoid these things or the circumstances surrounding them, or else making up whatever identities they fancy because of fault in passing these things down. This is a very sad thing indeed.

It’s a bizarre shuffling of cards that results when people ignore heritage, or try to seek after some sort of perfection that in the end is an illusion anyway, whether it be designer children or a “perfect” ancestry. We are who we are, and God has promised a redemption that represents the real perfection of which earthly perfection is a sham. Let’s let Him do the redeeming instead of us trying to do it ourselves, by following the natural order of things.

*I’d even go so far as to say that the procedures involved in “harvesting” gametes represent a sort of unfaithfulness, especially in cases of “anonymous” donation, but I won’t get into that now. :-)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The view out back

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This was the view out back of our property late this afternoon.* The snow from yesterday melted and the grass can be seen starting to grow again in the field. (It was chilly, though; low 40s and windy.)

I love coming home to this. It’s what I see as I pull up in front of the house. The view is always beautiful and the colors vary depending on weather and time of day. There is usually a unique, sometimes stark color contrast between the sky and field, set off by the trees.

Here’s a past post that shows variations of this same view.

(I’d like to get rid of that old chicken coop, but it’s gotten so weathered that it sort of fits into the view. Besides that, it’s good storage :-) )

*The trees & coop don’t actually lean, and the horizon isn’t perfectly straight...I didn’t get a straight shot.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Intellectuelle update

There’s some great discussion going on at Intellectuelle, a group blog authored by Christian women interested in exploring the life of the mind together, of which I am the new steward. We are in the process of bringing new members on board, including Ilona of truegrit, Atlantic from the UK, and other excellent women who shall be revealed in time.

Intellectuelle seeks to be a forum for Inkling-type discussion. Although so far not much literature has been discussed, just about everything else has. Intellectuelle demonstrates that many women – young, older, student, working woman, or mother at home – have minds just as active as many men’s, and are concerned about more than just “girl” things and parenting techniques, housekeeping tips, or recipes. (Not that those things aren’t important in their own sphere.) There is a certain dimension that women (perhaps even those you might never suspect) can bring to the general atmosphere of Christian and cultural thought.*

Thanks to Joe Carter for sponsoring this venture and recognizing the value of the female mind.

(* Is this a feminist thing? Well, maybe. Is it a sexist thing? Well, let me ask: is it sexist for a man to be a man? Is it sexist for a woman to be a woman? Is it sexist to recognize the characteristics a person has as a member of one gender or the other?)

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

On why I take pictures

Long-time reader and commenter Elena has asked me to write about my photographic hobby. She’s interested to know what sort of camera I use, what inspires me, etc. I wrote a little about that in the opening post of my “doorway” series, but will try to give a more thorough answer here. Thanks for asking, Elena :-).

I use a camera that my husband bought me as a surprise Christmas gift two years ago, an Olympus C-50 zoom 5.0 megapixel point-and-shoot. For a point-and-shoot, it is a very good camera, combining many features of a multi-mode SLR (single-lens reflex) camera with the size and convenience of an “instamatic.” Prior to going digital I used a Canon A-1 35mm SLR. The Canon was my photographic companion for nearly 20 years. I still have it, but the flash units began giving me trouble and the camera-plus-accessories became inconvenient (if not impossible) to lug around along with my very young children and their accoutrements. Besides, I wanted to be able to put photos directly to the computer. My plan was to do some research on digital SLRs before purchasing a digicam, but the sheer daunting nature of the task (not to mention the price of a good digital SLR) prevented me from executing such a plan. That’s where my husband, unbeknownst to me, stepped in. He wanted me to be able to enjoy my hobby and continue taking pictures of the kids, so he got me the Olympus.

I am amazed at what the Olympus can do. I do miss the focal-length choices I had with my Canon A-1 lenses (telephoto, wide-angle, and macro – wide-angle especially) and ability to precisely compose a shot (I crop many of my digital photos in a photo-editing program to make up for that). I also miss having control of depth-of-field and of exposure to the extent that I did with the Canon. But I’ve adapted to the Olympus’ limitations and have had great fun with it.

As to what inspires me, well...basically, anything that strikes me as interesting, clever, and/or beautiful. I notice the way light falls on surfaces and objects. I see patterns, colors and the way they interact; shapes, form, and lines and their interactions; the beauty of things natural and otherwise; and suggestions of symbolic or meaningful things. Usually things strike me in a way that goes deeper than the purely visual.

In many ways I find photography to be like music: a photograph has rhythm, form, movement, pattern, and interplay; it depicts things, it is emotive, and it has beauty. It is expressive on many levels. Composing a photograph is like shaping a phrase – it must follow certain rules and have the right balance in order to succeed, but those rules are themselves dependent on the nature of what’s being depicted. In other words, a photo (or phrase/piece of music) must make sense within itself according to the medium, the subject, and the concept. Often I feel I cannot capture the right balance in a photograph (or in a phrase of music!), though. Sometimes this is due to the fact that I haven’t the time necessary to make a “perfect” shot – I generally grab shots on the fly. But someday I hope to have opportunity to be more studied and careful, as well as technically more accomplished.

(Classical) music recreates/interprets a concept that’s been “frozen,” i.e., notated on a page, whereas photography freezes a moment and records something in that moment. I like to capture what I see, to photo-journalize my environment and my life. Perhaps, in a way, I also try to defy time. If you want to get psychological about it, photography is probably a way for me to try to verify, portray, and preserve goodness in the world and in life, as well as explore just what is good and beautiful. To do this in depth, however, takes time and inspiration that I don’t have much of at this stage in my life. Maybe someday.

Photography helps me learn things about myself, positive and negative. It’s both a window and a mirror. Like a good friend, though, it reveals and reflects without condemnation. It confronts with kindness.

It is also a means of connecting with others. I like to share what I see so that others may appreciate what’s around them and maybe see things in a different light ( ;-) ) than they would otherwise. I love it when someone else’s photos do this for me.

Ultimately, a great photograph is like a great performance: it expands one’s world, informs, edifies, inspires, awes, helps one process things, and maybe takes one’s breath away. It makes one thankful.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

sweetness tinged

...and at the
moment, some strange melodious bird took up its song, and sang,
not an ordinary bird-song, with constant repetitions of the same
melody, but what sounded like a continuous strain, in which one
thought was expressed, deepening in intensity as evolved in
progress. It sounded like a welcome already overshadowed with
the coming farewell. As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the
pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy
cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be
deepest joy.

-- George MacDonald, in Phantastes, a Faerie Romance

Monday, March 20, 2006

Maple Weekend

My family and I enjoyed a taste of an area tradition yesterday during the 11th annual Maple Weekend. "Sugar shacks" all over New York State opened their operations to the public, offering tours of the sugaring process and passing on their love of a great tradition and a great product. (Sorry, Aunt Jemima -- you weren't included :-) ). Maple Weekend occurs every third weekend in March, regardless of the weather.

At Gustafson’s Maple Country USA in Falconer, NY (Chautauqua County), we dined in a charming, newly-built restaurant/Christmas shoppe where pancakes are served hot off the griddle all day long, with piping-hot syrup fresh from the evaporator!

Join me in a photo walk-through of Gustafson's:

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First, we sampled various spreads sold in the shop, including maple cream, maple pumpkin butter, and spicy maple mustard. Note the spectacular display case – personalized syrup bottles are available by order.

Then we got in line for breakfast.

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Makin’ cakes

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Hotcakes with butter and fresh (and I mean fresh) syrup, sausages, and homemade applesauce.

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Mmm, mmm.

Next we toured the sugar house itself, where the syrup is made.

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Bath, anyone?

Apparently the sap isn’t always this cloudy or dark. Sap ranges from 2-4% syrup; at 2% the maple odor can barely be detected; it becomes noticeable above 3-1/2%.

Sap generally runs from the middle of February through early April. As long as temperatures drop below freezing at night and warm up considerably during the day, the sap will run. Sap is collected via tubing nowadays; few operations still use metal buckets. A large tree (larger than 12" diameter) can have more than one tap.

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The evaporator

It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. 3000 30-40-year-old trees are needed to have a year-round business.

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The fire must be frequently stoked.

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Drawing the syrup

When the syrup reaches 219 degrees Farenheit, the evaporation process is finished. At this point it has a sugar (syrup) content of at least 66%. After it is filtered, it is ready to be bottled.

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The pride is inside

Syrup is generally produced in two grades, A and B, with grade A being divided into light amber, medium amber, and dark amber sub-grades. The lighter syrup is generally preferred. Darker grades are made later in the season and have a stronger maple flavor.

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Syrup is evaporated further and poured into molds to make maple sugar candy.

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“Jack wax,” or thickened syrup on snow, is a favorite treat.

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Served with a pickle, it’s sweet-n-sour jack wax :-)

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And if that's not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s maple fluff too.

Some sugar houses offer wagon tours of the sugar bush (the area where the trees grow), but, in case of mud, provide road excursions instead. We enjoyed a tour of the lovely local woodland despite bitter cold winds. Our hosts graciously supplied us with blankets!

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View from the wagon

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Chautauqua Gold!

additional note: This outing is representative of our family's homeschooling philosophy in that we favor "whole-life" learning together as a family unit. Just about everything we do is a learning experience of some kind. Our tour experience was supplemented with books on maple sugaring (like the beautifully illustrated Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall) and a booklet picked up at Gustafson's.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

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(my husband thought I should caption this, "whealy muddy" :-P )

Mine Irish nails are smiling

In the wake of St. Patrick’s Day, my kids and I were having a breakfast-table conversation about things Irish. Here's a snippet:

Son #1: Do we have any Irish in us?

Me: No. (Well, maybe a little; you never know.)

Son #2: Maybe our fingernails are Irish.

Friday, March 17, 2006

How much?

How much of what we think (or say) we are doing in the name of the Lord are we really doing from either a mistaken sense of calling or justification of sin?

(I could get into this much deeper but won’t for the present; I’m too tired and have other things to tend to. Just want to throw it out there, for discussion or introspection, or both, or neither.)

How many deeds have mixed impetus, i.e., spring from pure and impure motives operative at the same time? (Probably just about all of them!) What do we justify as sacrifice for a greater cause that we ought rather tend, sacrificing the cause instead? What do we foster that we ought to walk away from? What do we walk away from that we ought to foster?

How do we decide?

Do we measure the effect on others? When does effect on others matter, and when doesn’t it? How do we decide when loyalty is due? How do we decide which causes or people to honor, and which to forsake?

How much of ourselves are we willing to put into things, or preserve from certain things, and at what cost?

(Am I asking too many questions? :-) )

A religion of "luv"?

Check out my latest entry at Intellectuelle titled A religion of love? I share a comment I left at Jollyblogger, suggesting that the problem with American evangelical Christianity isn't that it preaches too much about God's love and not enough about God's other attributes, as Pastor Wayne suggests, but that perhaps it doesn't preach a complete and accurate picture of God's love, which necessarily includes all those other things.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Quote for the day

Citizen magazine reviews Pamela R. Winnick’s A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion, in which Winnick quotes a Chinese paleontologist:

In China, we can criticize Darwin, but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Pecorino, the peripatetic photographer’s pet

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At first I thought, Oh, why can’t the dog get out of my picture? And then I thought, Oh, maybe he’ll enliven it

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Indeed. Toni Anzenberger’s adopted dog, Pecorino, is the strangely congruent foil for his stunning photos of Europe's sites and sights. Smithsonian magazine tells the story in Bone Voyage:

“One day eight years ago, a young landscape photographer from Vienna was visiting a farm near Verona, Italy, when he learned about a spotted puppy with black ears that no one wanted. [He] adopted the dog and named him Pecorino, thinking it meant ‘little sheep’ in Italian. Only later did [he] learn that he’d named his new best friend after a cheese. ‘At least Pecorino sounds cute in German, like a clown’s name,’ Anzenberger says. ‘It’s not like calling your dog Gorgonzola.’”

By necessity, Pecorino traveled with Anzenberger on assignment. Trouble is, he tried to hog (or, rather, dog) the scene. What did Anzenberger do? “...he soon realized that Pecorino added character to the pictures. So he began photographing the dog everywhere, on the streets of London and the shores of Greece, next to windmills in the Netherlands and the statues in Rome.”

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Travelling with Pecorino was and is not without its challenges, but the photogenic pup more than makes up for this with his proficient posing. “The pooch often chooses his own poses, and look left and right on command, Anzenberger says. Cats or female dogs don’t distract him. Once he hears the camera shutter stop clicking, he strikes a new pose. When he has finished his work, he demands to be petted. He prefers being petted even to eating, though he does like fresh bread and spaghetti.”

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Toni Anzenberger’s photographs may be viewed at his website.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Say what?

The news on a local radio station today reported the murder of Christian aid worker Tom Fox, whose tortured body sustained multiple gunshot wounds:

His body showed signs of maltreatment.

Yeah, I guess so.


separation of church and state?

In Born Again, the cover story for this week’s issue of WORLD magazine, Lynn Vincent outlines the Democratic Party’s attempts to re-connect with “religious” voters. DNC committee chairman Howard Dean, “who once said his favorite New Testament book is Job and last June slammed the GOP as ‘pretty much a white, Christian party,’ now says the Bible should be taught as literature in the public schools.”

(Yet we can’t talk about intelligent design in the public schools...)

Darrell Thompson, senior advisor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, told WORLD: “Democrats have always embraced religious faith, just not so publicly, and ‘we’re right to talk about it now.’”

(Gotta hand it to Ellen Goodman; she saw it coming.)


The front-page headline of today’s Jamestown (NY) Post-Journal tells us that local school districts are “Taking a Closer Look” at teacher-student relationships. Why?

Due to [X] and [X] school district sex scandals, the issue of unappropriate relationships between students and school district employees has received an abundant amount of attention from the media of late. [as well it should] However, what doesn’t receive attention from the media is the bond formed between teachers and students that is a necessity for the education process to work. The issue of forming an appropriate working connection with students is an issue all school district address on an annual basis [sic].

(the point being...?)

Sherman schools superintendent Dr. Howard Ferguson “said state law mandates all new teachers go through a mentoring program with a tenure teacher.”
We discuss the proper rapport that should be displayed around students for any position...Our staff and faculty shows the necessary respect toward students to give quality instruction.

They need to “study,” and hold mentoring programs, in order to help teachers not have sex with students??

(Maybe what they’re getting at is discussing ways to observe proper boundaries in student-teacher relationships, but, really, do teachers need to be told what these are? If so, perhaps they’re in the wrong profession.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bits and pieces, 3/10/06

(This installment is brought to you courtesy of WorldMagBlog)

what wives want

The most thorough study ever undertaken to inquire into what makes wives happy reveals that working outside the home isn’t #1. The study found that

Having an affectionate and understanding husband was by far the most important predictor of a woman’s satisfaction with her marriage.

Equal division of labor didn’t necessarily cut it either.

The happiest wives in their study were the ones who said that housework was divided fairly between them and their husbands. But those same happy wives also did more of the work at home while their husbands did more work outside home.

...A woman wants equity...That’s not necessarily the same as equality.

(Gee, they nailed me, and I didn’t even take the survey!)


what relationships need

See Life Differently is singing the same tune I’ve been singing in my blogging, in Getting Naked Relationally. (OK, maybe I haven't sung it quite that way, but the lyrics are basically the same).

There is something about getting naked with someone - once the clothes come off, you see everything, in all its glorious splendor and its embarrassing imperfection. There is something deeply satisfying in being fully seen by someone, warts and all, and to still be loved. I suspect many of us go through our entire lives without ever experiencing that kind of intimacy.

Christian quotes Paul Tripp in Instruments:

I realized that the most personal and important parts of our lives fly under the radar of our typical relationships in the body of Christ. We live frenetically busy lives with activity-based friendships, punctuated only by brief conversations with each other. Now I was sitting across from a friend I did not know. ...

We tend to have permanently casual relationships that never grow into real intimacy. There are things we know about each other, but they fool us into thinking that we know the human beings who live within the borders of those details.

He asks, what are the barriers to such intimacy? What would it take to create a community where we can be transparent about our struggles, where we can really get to know one another? A great post, and great comments to it as well.


what theology needs:

Removal of The stumbling block of the average systematic theology. At Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength:

Logic is a good thing, but the logical process does not necessarily lead to truth. If you do not start with the right premises, you do not get the right conclusion, logically enough. "Garbage in, garbage out" as they say in my line of work. If you want your logical results to be true, your starting point must be true.

Or, as I would say, all of the factors/addends/what-have-yous in your equation must belong there and be themselves correct, or your equation will not, um, equate.

Jesus challenges us to understand God through him, to begin our systematic theologies with him, to start with him as our premise and end with him as our aim. Our natural thinking hardly knows where to begin with a venture like that. So we take an easier road -- but that road is not the way we were meant to travel.

I am not against systematic theology. But if we assume that Christ is the truth, then the best theology would begin and end with Christ; the best theology would center around Christ. The best "systematic theology" might very well be a biography. In the Bible, God has given us the right kind of book. Our systematic theologies are like a child's notebook, where we copy down pieces we do not yet fully understand. The more fully we understand, the more closely our systematic theologies resemble the Bible.

We are meant to be relational, and not just to each other, I believe. Our theology must be informed by the relationship with God, Son, and Holy Spirit that we enter into when we repent and believe the gospel. What is prayer if not communication/communion – relationship – with God? Why do we cry, “Abba, Father”?

Are we relational to one another merely because it’s a creature-thing? Or is it part of the imago dei? God speaks to us; this is relational. We are to love Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sounds pretty relational to me.

Not that our relationship to God is completely analogous to our relationship with persons; God is not human. Many crave to find in other persons things that can be found only in God, but this the error of sin in general -- putting "god", or looking for “God,” in all the wrong places. It’s not creature-relationships vs. some sort of position or ranking in a spiritual hierarchy (although that aspect is present in a relationship with God as well); it’s relationship with “other” (Satan, the “flesh”) vs. relationship with God.

HT: Mark Olson at WorldMag Blog Blogwatch

Thursday, March 09, 2006

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Crowned with lovingkindness and compassion

Another Psalm for Lent.

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

The Lord performs righteous deeds,
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His way to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us;
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more;
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep His covenant,
And who remember His precepts to do them.

The Lord has established His throne in the heavens;
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103, NASB

We are but dust; our days are like grass. We are sinful and iniquitous. Yet the Lord’s lovingkindness is from everlasting to everlasting to those who fear Him, who keep His covenant, and remember His precepts to do them. He crowns us with lovingkindness and compassion. Bless His holy name!

I have been in situations in which I felt very unsure of myself, very aware of my faults and weaknesses. I have been in (many) situations in which I did or said something wrongful to someone. When this happens (and I am aware of it), I feel quite low. Indeed, our sin and weakness puts us rather low in status when measured according to righteousness or worthiness of esteem. Yet in some of these situations, I have been shown mercy and esteem in spite of myself. I have been treated with respect and dignity.

The effect: I was able to comprehend my redemption. I felt “crowned” with lovingkindness and compassion!

I confess that I spend most of my life more aware of my faults than my strengths. I am pretty good at turning even my strengths into faults. But when I am aware of and am experiencing the status of being crowned with mercy and lovingkindness, I am able to see myself in a different light. I don’t forget about my faults, but I apprehend the fact that they are pardonable, even redeemable. I apprehend the fact that I am redeemable, in spite of my ever-present sinfulness. I become able to see that my strengths and weaknesses can and do have a good purpose, in His everlasting and ever-righteous economy.

Bless His holy name!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Why am I so fond of my goldfish?

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This isn’t a joke. Really, it's a serious question!

Earlier this evening I gave our little goldfish her nightly pinch of food. I watched her wiggle with “excitement” (she does, really!) as she saw me approach. After I fed her, I watched her swim about and eat. I admired how her body and fins moved and marveled at how she exists, day after day (for over two years now? ...we are not her original owners), just swimming around or resting in her small tank, all by herself, with nothing much to look at or do for hours on end. How does she go on and on like that? It amazes me.

But I thought, this is just a tiny little goldfish; one creature among gazillions in this world of ours. What makes her so special? Why should I feel such attachment to her?

Well, I think it’s natural to be fond of something that is a part of one’s life, especially something that one cares for. But what I find most powerful is that this little fish! Big deal, right? But to me, it is. Life is an awesome mystery. We have it all around us in overwhelming abundance, yet not one of us can create it, though we can be party to perpetuating, harming, or ending it. This tiny creature is beautiful. She is elegant and supple of movement with her long, graceful fins. She has a brain that recognizes when someone walks by, and she “begs” (wiggles mightily) when hungry. She plays little games with the net when it is time to change the water in her tank. She is beautiful because she is...alive. She doesn’t do much except swim, rest, eat, breathe, and excrete, yet...she lives, and lives beautifully.

I know that one day she will die, as all living things do. She will die and I will be sad, yet I know it’s just the cycle of life. Just one little fish, back to unanimated matter. Yet how amazing that she now, as all organisms do, functions as a living creature -- something that doesn’t need winding up, or new batteries...only food and fresh water. Her “batteries” have gone for a long time already yet she is much more than mechanical; she has a sort of character, a personality. Really, she does! As do all creatures. There is just something about this, this “character” of life of hers, that moves me.

There is something about the tininess, delicacy, and elegance of a small goldfish, so dependent on me (and my family) for the essentials of her life, that reminds me of life's preciousness and of the vulnerability of all of us who are alive. Life can change in an instant; it can end in an instant. It will end for all of us inevitably. So I am moved for a little goldfish, and I am moved for the life that is mine and that animates every person and living creature that inhabits this earth.

Cherish this life; cherish your life and the lives you see all around you – respect it, and nurture it!

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(It's too bad this shot is so blurry but I thought it was too cool not to post!)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Chadaquoin riverwalk

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down by the river...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Roundup on righteousness

A few days ago I linked to a fine post by Catez Stevens titled Share the Love: City on a Hill or Salt of the Earth? Catez thoughtfully commented on ways in which Christians deport themselves in the world, i.e., the way they conduct themselves among others, both Christian and not. I stated that I hoped to write commentary of my own on this subject and am still hoping to do so in some depth; it is an issue I am working through myself. In the meantime, though, I would like to call attention to some other posts that I’ve seen related to the topic and offer a few general thoughts.

The first thought is that proper behavior and speech flow from a proper attitude of heart and mind, that of utter dependence upon God for one’s sense of well-being. Not terribly easy to achieve for any of us, which is why we must constantly be turning our hearts and minds toward Him – not for our salvation but for the working out of our salvation, our service to Him, and our pleasing of Him. We must not require the proper behavior of others such that, without it, our sense of well-being is threatened; we should not require it in order to feel a sense of our own worth, or power, or authority. Nor is the righting of every wrong up to us – if the world is going to h*ll in a handbasket...let it! God is omnipotent. We need to make sure that we ourselves are not in that handbasket, that’s all.

This requires honesty in heart, mind, and dealings with others. Our initial motivations may be pure, yet when it comes to expressing our concerns we may take a less than transparent approach. This lack of sincerity, which is really a form of pride, may not result in a message that communicates our real concern or the godly truth that we hope to communicate. Yet of course communication is racked with human foibles – it can be difficult to express clearly what we really mean. It may be difficult for the receiver to understand what’s being communicated, either due to the means or his/her own differences in use and understanding of language. But we must try for honest and forthright, yet gracious, communication.

(Do I consistently do the good I speak of in these two paragraphs? No, I don't. But please pray for me and I’ll pray for you, ‘K?)

Now for the roundup:

1) Alan at Thinklings asks, Was There Any Compassion in the Church Before Brian McLaren? He quotes David Chilton:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
This means that true religion, as well as showing compassion, must demonstrate a firm commitment to biblical standards. We must now allow ourselves to capitulate to pagan ways of thinking and acting. [my emphasis]

as well as George Grant and Mark Horne, who say:

It is the sad tendency of modern men to either do the right thing in the wrong way or to do the wrong thing in the right way. We either hold to the truth obnoxiously or we hold to a lie graciously. We are either a rude angel or a polite devil. Often what poses as a cruel orthodoxy is defeated by what poses as a kind heresy.

. . . Those that hold to the Biblical standard are often anything but the picture of Christian decorum. While those that play fast and free with the moral tenor of the faith are often generous to a fault.

2) Pastor David Wayne, the Jollyblogger, whom I respect immensely, addresses the manner in which Christian disagreement sometimes takes place, i.e., with a view towards utter depravity, as well as the manner in which it ought to take place, i.e., with a view toward total depravity, in Depravity and Disagreements.
Total depravity means that sin has permeated every aspect of our being. Utter depravity means that sin has so permeated us that everything we do is fully evil, we are always as bad as we can possibly be.

...(paraphrase)“It never occurs to anyone that those on 'the other side' of the theological divide, or of the issue of the moment, are merely wrong, they must be evil, stupid, apostate or some combination of these.”

...Using utter depravity as an evaluative lens is easy. You can deem a particular error or set of errors to be so serious that you can write the person in question [or their view – my insertion] off forever (this is what people want to do with N. T. Wright). This way you can move on and never have to deal with them again.

Or you can acknowledge total depravity - recognize that sin is present in everyone on their best days, while realizing the image of God and common grace remain. This means you have to do the often long and laborious work of addressing issues on a case by case basis. It also means that you will sometimes be thought to be speaking out of both side of your mouth because you may be pointing out flaws one day and praising a person the next. But I do think that is a better way.


I’d like to add that I think that Christians can sometimes view their fellow believers in a “Jekyll & Hyde” sort of way. If they are in agreement, then total depravity (or maybe even temporary-suspension-of-any-kind-of-depravity) may reign in their attitude. However, if they are in disagreement, “wrong” may indeed equate with “utterly depraved,” and not necessarily of the person but of their view.

3) On the WorldMagBlog, we read of Brokeback backlash for star. Michelle Williams plays the wife of one of the main characters in Brokeback Mountain. Says the headmaster of Santa Fe Christian school, which Williams attended,

We don’t want to have anything to do with her in relation to that movie. Michelle doesn’t represent the values of this institution...We’d like not to be tied to Brokeback Mountain.

The headmaster, Jim Hopson, could’ve perhaps chosen his words better (said something like, “We admire her acting ability and achievements but don’t support her decision to star in ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and Brokeback Mountain; these shows are not representative of our values.”) But there is nothing wrong with making clear where the school stands, while not condemning Williams herself.

Was Hopson wrong to turn down “a request from a Union-Tribune reporter to visit the school and chat with students about the movies and one of their own being up for an Academy Award?” Yes, perhaps. The school could’ve been hospitable, discussing and expressing support for acting careers and acting success while still making a statement about the importance of choosing roles in a morally upright manner. I’m sure that such dialogue is or should be happening among Christians both associated with the school and aware of Williams’ activity, and it wouldn’t have hurt to involve the reporter in that either.

The news article linked in the post quotes Williams’ mother as saying that some Santa Fe Christian staff and faculty members have called to congratulate her and Michelle. Is this appropriate or necessary? Probably not. However, were one to run into Michelle in person, it would be rude not to congratulate her on her acting success.

One might equate this with, say, running into an old friend who happens to be gay and has just gotten “married.” What would be the appropriate response, were he/she to inform you of that fact? To ignore, or condemn it right then and there? I think not. Would congratulating your friend in a polite way communicate approval of the marriage? I don’t think so necessarily. And why put up a wall where there needn’t be one by failing to acknowledge it? I don’t think doing so would accomplish anything for the kingdom of God.

A closing thought:

We must not curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness, with the same tongue (or heart, or mind) with which we praise our Lord and Father. (James 3:9).

Likewise, we must never revel in the downfall of someone who has fallen because of their sin. Is it right for another person to revel when we ourselves reap what we sow? Isn't the reaping itself enough reproach? None of us owns our own righteousness; it is imputed to us by God alone. It is His transforming work within us that grants us any rightness we have, else, as the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Righteousness does not merely consist of not committing the “big sins,” i.e., cheating, lying, stealing, killing, abusing, being sexually immoral, etc.; it consists of right attitudes towards God, ourselves, and others.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Psalm 51

For the season of Lent.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
So that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost places.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.


Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe the gospel.

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