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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Monday, July 31, 2006

red-orange daylily Posted by Picasa

yellow daylily Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Carry-on luggage: Psalm 150

(Why "carry-on luggage?" Because that's where we put our essentials when we're traveling. So much of blogging and any other Christian endeavor can become about the endeavor itself rather than the God it is supposedly for, at least for me, especially if the endeavor supplants what ought to root it, i.e., a relationship with God through prayer and meditation upon Scripture that is founded upon Christ. We must make sure that we "bring along," and rely on, the essentials of Christian faith when embarking upon any enterprise.

It is simple things that ground me: a Psalm, a great hymn, or other nugget that distills the gospel and draws me back to the Lord's bosom.)

Today I am inspired to simply praise my Father in heaven for everything that He is, much of which I can't begin to fathom. Yet what I can fathom absolutely blows my mind.

It is the summertime, a time when I do by far the most professional activity with my trumpet than any other time. This can become burdensome in many ways, especially if I lose focus on Who I am playing for first and foremost. So, today and always, may I (and you) give praise a la Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament.
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the harp and lyre;
Praise Him with timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes.
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

Note that the instruments to be used are the instruments of the times; there are no separate, "special" instruments set aside with which to praise Him. He gave all the instruments, for everyone's use; all are made according to the created properties that govern musical tonality, tambre, and rhythm.

Also note that we may praise Him with dance. Dance is a very deep-reaching expression (as is music); what better kind of expression to use in praising Him!

And, last but not least, there's no requirement for being exclusively quiet and subdued in praise. How many "quiet" congratulations have you ever witnessed, really? When your team wins, do you whisper, "Yessss!!! __________(insert name of team here) rock!!!"?

No! You make some noise! (A joyful noise :-) )

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Scooby-doo, the horse Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 28, 2006

under an old branch Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

If you're over 25...congrats for surviving!

A friend emailed this to me and I love it; I've had similar thoughts myself.

(Not that I advocate complete abandonment of common sense or caution, but let's not get carried away to the other extreme. For example, removing any apparatus from a playground that a kid could possibly injure themselves on. What would be left? NOTHING!)

Congratulations to all the kids who were born in the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms.........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't
had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

And YOU are one of them!


You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And, while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A T-shirt for bloggers

No, it's not "I Think, Therefore I Blog"...

I saw this at a department store:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted and then used against you.”

I almost bought one but they didn’t have my size.

(yes, this is another example of my ironic, vintage-cabernet style of humor)

Queen Anne's lace Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The story of the songbird

Our pastor told this story during his sermon last week (my paraphrase):

There once was a little songbird who was late flying South. His wings got wet and then they froze. Shivering, he fell to the ground, right in the middle of a field. As he lay there, cold and miserable, he thought, “Oh, what can I do? What will become of me? I’ll never sing again.”

No sooner had he nearly given up hope but a cow came along and deposited a large pile of manure right on top of him. “Oh!” thought the bird, “What’s this? I feel warm, and I can move again! Oh, this is wonderful!” And he began tweet-tweet-tweeting with joy.

Along came a cat, heard the tweeting, and said, “Hey, what are you doing in that manure pile? Let me give you a hand.” And he pulled the bird out. And he ate him.

Moral of the story:
Someone who dumps manure on you may not be your enemy.
The person who digs you out of the manure may not be your friend.
If you’re in a manure pile you may not want to sing about it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cartoon of the month

(yeah, so I'm a month behind :-) )

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by the meadow Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

Success 101 part 2

Tip #2

"Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to read, but more importantly, what's your plan to read?"

-- Jim Rohn

Is use of strategy always a good thing? Perhaps different situations call for different types of strategy. Might there also be situations in which strategy is not recommended?

My husband is very strategy-oriented (maybe it's a guy thing?) and is brilliant in using it, in sports and in working out plans for our family and for his work. My own strategy tends to be looser, either more big-picture or else closely focused on a single task. I'd also say I'm more adaptive and responsive than I am strategic. Not that I don't plan; I plan all the time. But a plan is not necessarily a strategy.

Strategy as a focus reduces a plan to a set of calculations. Sometimes this is necessary in order to accomplish a goal. Yet perhaps an "un-strategy" is better in other endeavors. What kind of strategy, if any, ought to be involved in Christian witness? Is love a strategy?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

red petunias by shed Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Success 101

Tip #1:

"Success is the study of the obvious. Everyone should take Obvious I and Obvious II in school."

-- Jim Rohn

bindweed 2 Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 17, 2006

bindweed Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

hollyhocks 2 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A very long ramble on the status of my blogging

It figures that just as I was getting used to the fact that hardly anyone reads this blog, Joe Carter posted The “How To Start a Blog” Series: Tips and Suggestions for Launching a Successful Blog and got me wondering all over again, “Why does hardly anyone read this blog?” (What I mean is, why does hardly anyone besides a few dear faithful friends read this blog?)

Here are my guesses:

1) I’m not “consistent.” I blog about too many miscellaneous things and plaster the surroundings with photos. Sometimes I go for long periods without posting anything but photos.

2) My writing isn’t so engaging or interesting.

3) I don’t blog about things that many people are interested in, or, if they are, there are others writing more excitingly and consistently about them than I am.

4) I have no niche. Except the “has no niche” niche.

5) My blog layout is pretty boring. I don’t know how to improve it without ignoring the rest of my life completely.

6) There are a ton of blogs out there.

7) My ship has yet to come in.

8) I own a black cat.

I’ve also considered the fact that Intellectuelle, despite having a stellar cast (plus an extra from off the street – me), isn’t exactly a blockbuster either. True, it almost died awhile back, and no one wants to be around a dying corpse. No wait, a corpse is already dead. But I thought its readership and dialogue might pick back up after the blog was resuscitated. It hasn’t, though. Perhaps the reason is inconsistency of posting (timing especially), but there are other blogs that update much less frequently yet maintain a respectable (in number, not in character necessarily. NO, I mean in number of readers, all of whom of course are respectable) readership. Why? Niche, perhaps. Loyal following. Colleagues, etc. Big names. Major affiliations.

Intellectuelle has a niche, or so I thought, not to mention a heavy-duty sponsor, so the fact that its readership isn’t greater is a little puzzling to me. I thought that its attempted ecumenical character might be a draw, but then it’s not fully ecumenical, which perhaps has some people wondering what it really is. Mostly Reformed, a little Catholic and a little Not-sure, I guess. (OK, I’ll be honest: a little Doesn’t Want the Label).

Yes, I am largely responsible for the present team (inviting them, anyway), but theological bent was not one of my criteria. I invited women who had demonstrated that they were Bible-believing, thoughtful, analytical, and wicked smart. And glory be, they accepted the offer. There have been some fantastic posts, I think, and terrific discussion, but not enough people are reading and commenting to carry the discussion further. It’s also hard to hook up with others in the blogosphere who are discussing the same things – there are several different conversations going on at once but they’re all at different tables. "So?" you might say, but I think it shows that, rather than enhancing communication, the blogosphere in some ways serves to dissipate it. I don't mean to sound emergent or anything, but I think that conversation is important, and the more people participate in the same conversations, the better those conversations will be.

I would think that people would want to seek out what others have to say about the topics they blog about, because I do, but maybe not everyone is like me. Imagine that. A few exceptions I can think of are Joe Carter, John Schroeder, and David Wayne. Maybe Andrew Jackson too. I’m sure there are others. Hey, maybe I should look up all the relevant posts on certain topics and post a list of links!

The other thing that has me scratching my head is all the theological camps. It seems that people are quite self-conscious about them. Yet for all some seem to resent “labels” and misunderstandings, I’m not sure how much effort is made to do more about it than complain or pontificate. Then there’s me, idiot quasi-Arminian (who had no idea what an Arminian was until several months ago) who found a bunch of Reformed-types’ blogs, thought they were awesome, and got totally hooked before even realizing they were Reformed! And do I care? No. I love these people. I love the way they think. I find that they are intellectually rigorous in ways that other “Bible-believing” Christians (accepting some form of inerrancy of the Scriptures) are not.

Why is that??? It seems that most of the “major” bloggers are Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist, or emergent. (Maybe a few Orthodox?) Where are the Lutherans? Where are the Methodists? Where are the Covenanters? I know they’re out there, but why aren’t their heavies in the arena with the others?

I haven’t really been able to connect with the few other non-Reformed bloggers I know of except for Charlie Lehardy, but then he’s a fellow Covenanter and Covenanters are the coolest people on earth. (Yes, I realize what I just said.) Then there’s the wonderful Jan Lynn, and Martin LaBar. I’m not really sure what his exact theological “persuasion” is, nor do I care. I have no idea of the denominational affiliation of some of my other readers. Theology hasn’t been my concern in that regard; I’m more interested in thought as it relates to living out the faith, i.e., evangelical concerns. I'm appreciative of anyone who reads my blog. And let’s face it, I’ve been smitten with the bloggers I started reading to begin with.

Have I been barking up the wrong tree? I don’t know. I’ve made some pretty great friends, and they mean more to me than lots of readers.

I just wonder about the readership thing. I am sure that mine is the least-read/most-linked blog in the TTLB ecosystem. My link ranking is currently #1049. The highest I got was in the 800s, I think, about a year ago. I was a Large Mammal then. Currently I’m a Marauding Marsupial. Yet on average I get a mere 15 hits/day, not all unique and usually a couple of my own! (Surreptitious glances, hand over mouth, pretend to look elsewhere.) I did some research and discovered that several Christian blogs with less than 10 inbound links, ranked in the 20 000s or lower, have 30-60 readers/day! Others didn’t list traffic data, but, based on comment activity, I’d guess they probably get more than 15 hits per day. The lowest readership of any other blog that I checked was still above 20 hits/day. (Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be nosey; I was merely collecting data on readership and linkage among Christian blogs.)

Oh and yes, it’s possible that some read my blog via Bloglines without ever actually “hitting” it. It’s possible.

Have I considered quitting? Yes I have, as anyone who reads this blog knows, though actually I’ve considered it more frequently than I let on. A few times I almost made the announcement (the draft is still sitting in WordPerfect). But I just can’t do it.

I love to blog. I really do. I would blog even if no one read this blog. I would. The only reason I’d quit would be because I spend too much time at it. But then I’d spend way too much time reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, so why quit?

Well, if you’ve made it this far in this post (and even if you haven’t), have a wonderful nap. And thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

hollyhock Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Let the children learn

At Intellectuelle I wrote an essay on the absolute nature of human nature. It was prompted by a quote I read in the Buffalo Sunday News by young author Ned Vizzini:
I learned at Stuy [elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City] about competition and kind of the absolute nature of life. There are winners and losers...High school was a brutal social arena where you learned the way the world really works.

Vizzini “acknowledges that his frame of reference is narrow, limited to elite, highly driven students in New York City,” yet I find that his frame of reference isn’t terribly different from mine, a relatively small school district in a relatively rural area of the Northeast. Nor is it terribly different from what can be observed in nearly every arena of life. Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, is “ an indictment of zero-sum cultures,” he says.

I would like for things to be a little bit different. I would like for people to be able to explore their interests a little bit more as young people, as opposed to be thrown into a cutthroat social environment from the time they’re 8 or 9.

Or from the time they’re 4 or 5....

True, children should be guided through the perils of society rather than sheltered from them entirely, yet at the same time, why throw a kid into such peril before they’ve had a chance to grow, learn, and mature in a loving, supportive environment? There are ways to buffer and ease a child into learning the ways of the world while at the same time teaching them what it all means, so that they may become “wise as serpents yet harmless as doves.” Not that this is impossible with involved parenting and good teachers in a school setting, but by separating social challenges from the general learning environment (other than sibling and parenting issues, of course) as occurs with homeschooling, a child is free to learn, unencumbered by social issues. Social understanding can then be gained in a social environment. Certainly a homeschooled child may also take public classes such as Sunday school, sports, music, and workshops, or attend any number of other public events, so that s/he gains group experience as well.

Such an environment is a prime one for fostering what I’d like to emphasize here, which is that children be allowed, even encouraged, to discover and explore their interests. Their interests will likely be where their giftings are, which is why children ought be given opportunity to pursue them, within reason. Other types of skills and knowledge can be gained around or through them. For example, a child can write a report on something of great interest to him/her, so as to learn the art of writing unencumbered by the burden of writing about something they are uninspired by. (Doing that can come later!) They can learn the mathematical or scientific principles behind what they like as part of their schooling.

I suppose such an approach might be called “unschooling.” Not that I believe that a structured, methodical approach should be forsaken, for there is great, even necessary, value in this as well. But I think it’s great when a child can be shown how the structure or method, or content of same, applies or relates to their area of interest. In this way a child can be motivated to study the nuts and bolts in a structured and methodical way. Their education may then be truly relevant (concrete rather than an abstract) to where their minds and gifts are, and they may be prepared to make proper use those gifts in this world. (Their minds and gifts can be made relevant to where the world is as well.) This is practicality of a sort that truly honors all involved, minus the type of contrived or abstract social engineering and occupational training that may be attempted in other educational environments.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What a week

It’s been crazy. Lots of family came to visit plus the Chautauqua Symphony season opened. The kids spent every afternoon at the children’s beach with their cousins while my husband and I attended symphony rehearsals.

This is always such a weird time of year for us – we shift gears big-time from the life we live during the rest of the year. The advent of summer and all the accompanying activities plus major shift in occupation and getting reacquainted with all the friends and colleagues we haven't seen since the previous summer has us scrambling to find our sea legs. We wait all year to play (trumpet) at this level professionally but the schedule is brutal – work hard, play hard, collapse into bed at night.

But there’s great music to be made and wonderful productions to see. Due to a no-show, I was able to attend the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro by the Chautauqua Opera Company last night. The quality is top-level; you won’t hear these leading roles sung any better anywhere. Great staging and costumes too.

Tonight we took part in the orchestra’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s first symphony, the Titan. A standard of the repertoire, it’s well-crafted, expressive, and dramatic, with great brass parts. You gotta love it when everyone’s playing so loud that you can barely hear yourself cranking. But it’s great to sit on stage with world-class musicians and experience their artistry and mastery up-close.

There are many intriguing lectures being given at Chautauqua (Institution) too though I've barely had time to check into that. Lots of hot-button issues being discussed. Tony Campolo will be here next week; if I can't get to any lectures I'll at least try to post some excerpts from reports in the Chautauqua Daily newspaper.

Meanwhile, don’t know when I’ll get this house picked up or get the clothes washed or any food in the fridge, but hey, life is good.

Friday, July 07, 2006

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pink rose 2 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

pink rose Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 03, 2006

thoughts on Christian singleness

(subtitle: Christian singles and fantasy*)

There have been several articles of late addressing singleness and the Christian; apparently there is a greater percentage of Christians who are single now than ever before. Some have even gone so far as to say that God does not intend for anyone to be single. I don’t think a biblical case can be made for that, however. At the same time, it’s probably true that relatively few are “called” to singleness and celibacy, and in general it cannot be used as an excuse to avoid marital commitment. Especially since people don’t seem to care to wait for marriage to indulge in certain marital-type activities. But marriage is of course much more than domestic companionship and sex.

Marriage, in a nutshell, is about mutual purpose, and usually children, and intimate support and care of another person (of the opposite sex) for the long haul. It is about a meshing of lives in a way that demands loving accommodation, adjustment, sacrifice, and compromise; it is two becoming one in all the wonderfully mysterious and difficult ways that is manifest.

In some instances it may be good that a person remain single for an extended period of time; it may mean that he/she is unwilling to marry for the wrong reasons. In other instances it may mean that a person is uncertain or fearful, or has personal problems that must be overcome. These are things that can be dealt with in prayer and with the help of family and friends.

In other instances, though, a person may be single for idolatrous or lustful reasons. I have seen evidence that some single Christians are looking for certain fleshly characteristics in a spouse, not so much in place of godly character but in addition to it, which seems like wanting to have their cake and eat it too, or rather, searching down two different paths at the same time.

(Of course, a person may also be single for more than one of the above-listed reasons.)

Many singles, including myself way back when, are looking for someone to fulfil them emotionally rather than someone who will actually be a good spouse. This emotional desire often involves sexual fantasy. People look for the Harlequin-romance or Playboy-type lover, or barring that, look to outer beauty as if it represents inner beauty. Some admit this and proudly defend it, others don’t want to admit it. But it must be reckoned with. Not that outer beauty or even personality characteristics are of no account, but they don’t make a person you can live with ‘til death do you part. Neither do they automatically make a good lover.

When people find this out, they may think that they merely chose the wrong wonderful person, or they "outgrew" one another or something similar. But the entire basis for judging such a thing is pleasure, or "dream" fulfillment. The pleasure of marriage, however, is of an entirely different sort, though it may very well (and usually does) involve the enjoyable kind as well.

People who persist in singleness for reasons of avoiding “settling down” or committing to a marriage rather than to a career or a lifestyle involving certain types of freedom also invariably deny fulfilment found in life with a spouse, and not just sexual either. In such a situation, and even in one in which a person doesn’t wish to be single, it is very hard to avoid developing a fantasy life. This fantasy life may actually attempt to substitute for marriage in terms of wish fulfillment, not to mention indulgence in various types of inappropriate substitutionary gratification. That’s the easy road. The road less traveled involves living a life of purity in thought and in deed. Relating to others in an upright way actually makes it easier to recognize a good marriage candidate when the signs appear.

fantasy, n.
1. Imagination or fancy; especially, wild, visionary fantasy
2. An unreal mental image; illusion; phantasm
3. A whim; queer notion; caprice
4. In psychology, a mental image, as in a daydream, usually pleasant and
with some vague continuity.

In developing fantasies, or trying to fulfil oneself through them, a person failes to deal with reality and also sets him/herself up for an unrealistic view of marriage. Fantasy-based conceptualization is then brought into a marriage. This necessitates a huge adjustment in approach in order to honor the actual marriage. Adjustment to marriage can be challenging enough without bringing in further complications. Then there's the fact that fantasy may involve activity that, were it to be indulged, would be inappropriate. Even in cases in which a person hasn’t or would never commit said activity there is no excuse; the sin has already occurred in the heart and mind. Provocation is no excuse either.

Not that a person can’t have hopes, dreams, wishes, and other thoughts toward marriage (including the sexual), which can be had with purity and uprightness of thought. But these general imaginings are to be distinguished from specific and explicit fantasy of the covetous or exploitative type.

I must add that susceptibility to fantasy-driven living isn’t limited to the single person; it can be found in married persons as well. The same cautions about pursuing fantasy as opposed to a pure and trustworthy approach to reality apply to the married as well as the single.

To cap off this discussion, I offer a prayer for all of us, single and married, that our lives might find their sustenance first and foremost in God the Father through Christ Jesus. May we serve Him and one another rather than ourselves and so fulfil our purpose in Him, whether in singleness or marriage.

*or fantasizing. The trouble is, some types of fantasy and fantasizing are healthy, and some are sinful. The trick is being able to recognize and acknowledge the difference.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

under the Pepsi tent 2

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

under the Pepsi tent

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I snuck a couple photos today during the warm-up period before a concert. (Who needs to warm up? ;-) )