- Flannery O' Connor
Today’s Kindle deals include titles by Joel and Mary Beeke (with whom I shared a delightful dinner just two days ago, as it happens).
(Yesterday on the blog: The Sofa Salesperson Who Did Everything Wrong)
Here’s Jared Wilson being wise again. “If you’re a restored church leader — or simply a church member walking in repentance after a fall — you may have some obvious boundaries in place to keep you from the explicit routes back to your old sins. But there are some ways your new life might make you vulnerable to new sins. The devil is cunning and is perfectly willing to cut you in the left side while you protect your right. How might this happen? What are some ways you might fall again? Here are four…”
This is a sweet reflection.
Brad Hambrick: “I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that the ideas of pursuing healthiness and pursuing holiness have become conceptual rivals.”
Keith Mathison takes on an important question.
This is worth thinking about. “We adore ambition and the ambitious. It’s here that the Bible gives us a serious word of caution. Not all ambition is good. In fact, there are some kinds of ambition that are really evil. There is such a thing as satanic ambition.”
Melissa writes, “Their ages: 94 and 84. They have been friends, Sunday school members, and sisters in the faith for years. And now they were saying goodbye.”
Much has been said lately about people losing their faith, but Randy Alcorn is still worth reading on the subject. “If I could share just one message in light of the high-profile Christians who have recently made public announcements renouncing their faith, it would be this: you should lose your faith…if it is in anyone other than Jesus. And you should forsake and reject any worldview, no matter how attractive and seductive and popular and affirming, that is not in concert with the worldview of God’s Word.”
I’ve observed that some sermons are actually Bible studies and some Bible studies are actually sermons…I find it helpful to force myself to distinguish between them, especially when I am asked to lead one or the other.
A stranger to the fear of God is a stranger to the living God himself. —Albert Martin
Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway
We now come to the end of our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Today is Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway. Beliefs have consequences. Jon says, “When beliefs involve such a core doctrine of Christianity as creation, they cannot fail to affect the life of the believer – and on the larger scale, of the church – profoundly”. Jon asserts that it makes a huge difference whether one believes the “traditional view” that the natural creation is fallen and corrupted or whether, as he has argued in the book, it retains the same “goodness” that was accorded it by God in the beginning. What you do not love, you will not value. If God values not only “Nature” as an abstract concept, but each creature, to the extent that “not one sparrow is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6) then there is a mismatch of values if we love them any less.
Jon says the first thing to be restored when the idea of fallenness is seen as unbiblical fiction the sheer sense of joy in natural things. He quotes Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) who saw that the creation stemmed from God’s insatiable desire to spread his love beyond himself into everything he made. Traherne said:
Till you see that the world is yours, you cannot weigh the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your redeemer’s love. One would think these should be motives sufficient to stir us up to the contemplation of God’s works, wherein all the riches of His Kingdom will appear. For the greatness of sin proceedeth from the greatness of His love whom we have offended, from the greatness of those obligations which were laid upon us, from the great blessedness and glory of the estate wherein we were placed, none of which can be seen, till Truth is seen, a great part of which is, that the World is ours. So that indeed the knowledge of this is the very real light, wherein all mysteries are evidenced to us. (Traherne, Centuries, p. 80)
Thanksgiving for creation. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Jon says God cannot work for good in all things unless he works in all things (“all things” in the passage being applied to everything in all creation). And if he is, indeed, working in all things created, they are his servants for our good, and worth of thanksgiving. The basic Christian prayer of thanksgiving, then, depends on belief in the goodness of God’s creation, or suffers the death of a thousand qualification.
Prayer within creation. Since thanksgiving requires the creation to be fully obedient to God’s purpose for it, then the very same applies to prayer on similar grounds. Jon says:
“If nature is in revolt against God, is it going to be any more submissive to him because we pray to him? If we pray for the bane of disease to be turned into the blessing of health, are we (in fact) asking God to pit his strength to oppose his own creature (the bacteria or whatever), or are we asking him to command his servants to spare us? If we cry out in distress from a ship foundering in a storm, are we whistling in the wind because storms are “just a natural phenomenon”? It is only the truth of God’s continued sovereignty within his universe that makes the discipline (and joy) of prayer that Jesus practiced and taught worthwhile, or even rational. What did Jesus teach about God in creation when he commanded us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”?
Worship on behalf of creation. One sign of the continuing goodness of creation is its own participation in the worship of God:
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul. Psalm 103:19-22
In itself the irrational creation is, metaphor apart, only capable of giving God praise by being what it is. That in itself, given that Scripture in many places says it does praise him, is firm evidence against its fallenness.
Relating science to creation. Jon says, “…the biblical belief that creation is both good and subject to God dethrones the still-common Enlightenment principle that the universe is a closed causal system, in which God cannot act and, by implication, on which only science has the final say concerning physical truth… Secondly it is claimed that God would be cheating the freedom and dignity of his own creation by ‘breaking its laws’… Thirdly, some people complain that were God to be actively involved, he would be deceiving scientists in their pursuit of predictable natural causes and laws.” Jon summarizes:
In summary, to recognize that science is just one useful source of provisional truth, rather than the arbiter of truth, even in the physical and material realm, is a necessary corrective for our scientistic age, and this is greatly encouraged by the knowledge that creation is not only good, but God’s servant for governing the world. This in no way denies any scientific evidence, though it may involve being skeptical about certain scientific theories in their metaphysical aspect – for one of the achievements of philosophy of science is the understanding that theories are the products of cultures and their largely unevidenced worldviews.
Care over creation. Some of us can very well remember when any talk of creation care in conservative and dispensational evangelical circles was frowned upon as “environmentalism” and associated with “liberalism” and a general state of unbelief that Jesus would return at any moment and rapture the RTCs away. “Environmentalism” was seen as a liberal plot or wedge to spread the big-government gospel of earth-worship and secular humanism… blah… blah… blah. You know the drill if you came from that sub-culture, and if you don’t know the drill… count yourself fortunate.
It does seem that attitude is changing and a more realistic idea of “stewardship” of God’s creation does seem to be spreading among evangelicals, or was until the retrenchment of Trumpism. Hopefully, that retrenchment will be short-lived. Jon says:
Care for creation, then is part of Christian mission – given the truth of Genesis 1:28, it is actually the original part of that mission. Fortunately this work has attracted the support of leading scientists as well as theologians and church leaders, which at the very least is a testimony to society that this is God’s world and that his people recognize it. It goes without saying that one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than it one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil.
But there is more to it than that, because the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ is the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement and, still less, a mass evacuation from earth to heaven prior to its annihilation.
Creation and resurrection. Jon notes that it was due to Gnostic dualism that infected Christianity in the second century, that matter is corrupt versus pure spirit, which led to the idea that our “souls” leave our bodies at death to “go to heaven”. He says the unique Jewish concept of resurrection arose in the context of the equally distinctive biblical belief in the goodness of God’s material creation.
Jesus’ resurrection endorsed this view as he was the “firstfruits” or deposit on the eventual complete renewal of the original physical creation. That what was naturally empowered (psuchikos) would at the coming of Christ be swallowed up by the “spiritually empowered (pneumatikos). But the very promise of that transformation affirmed that it had been “very good” from the beginning. The resurrection confirms God’s love for, and approval of, the human body.
Conclusion. Jon concludes:
I will just add a word of personal testimony. In the time since I began to suspect that what I had assumed about creation’s corruption all my life was mistaken, I’ve begun to see the world with new eyes. When I look out of my study window, I find I can admire the beauty of what I see without a subconscious “Yes but…” imposing itself on the view. I can love the freedom of a soaring buzzard without thinking, “Yes but it’s spoiled by the evil suffering that sustains it”. I can rejoice in a gorgeous metallic red and blue parasitic Chrysis was on the patio and leave its lifestyle in God’s wise hands, rather than accept uncritically Darwin’s jaundiced assessment. If I pick up an ammonite from the beach, or read about a newly discovered function for DNA, I find that what I see and experience leads me, in a new way, into expressing worship on the creation’s behalf; a role for which I myself was created. The more of nature I appreciate, the more of it I may bring into the sacred space of God’s temple of creation. Practically, I will be more its steward and less its exploiter. Finally, I will rejoice as much to see it new, yet familiar face, come the transformation of the end of the age, as I shall at the sight of my own face in the mirror.
That, in a very real sense, is to return to Eden, and to extend its borders.
Robert Crais switches off between books starring his private detective character, Elvis Cole, and books starring Joe Pike, Elvis’s associate, whose actual vocation is security and covert ops. The Elvis books are notable for the main character’s charm – he’s a laid back, slightly flippant character. Joe Pike is his dark shadow – grim and taciturn, physically conditioned and in perfect control of his body and reactions. He rarely speaks, wears sunglasses almost all the time, and lives an ascetic, squared-away life.
A Dangerous Man is (as you might have guessed) primarily a Joe Pike book. Joe is at the bank one morning when he witnesses the attempted abduction of one of the tellers, Isabel Roland (who has a secret crush on Joe). Joe intervenes and rescues the girl. Soon afterward the kidnappers are mysteriously released on bail and murdered. Then Isabel disappears again.
Nobody has hired Joe, but he makes it his case. He feels responsible. To locate Isabel, he needs to find out why a not very well-to-do bank teller would be kidnapped (this is Elvis’s job). The investigation will uncover old ties to Isabel’s parents, drug dealers, the witness protection program, and a whole lot of missing money.
The special delight of a Joe Pike novel is the moments when we peek behind his armor. Joe is so stolid that he almost counts as a type rather than a character. But that makes those rare human moments shine through like sunbeams.
A Dangerous Man was an extremely satisfying read. Highly recommended, with mild cautions for language and violence.
A popular fact-checking, myth-busting website has been in something of a stare-down with a popular Christian satire site over everyone’s favorite topic since 2016–fake news. Worries flare over the possibility that readers will take headlines like this, “Portland Police: ‘We Wish There Were Some Kind Of Organized, Armed Force That Could Fight Back Against Antifa’,” as actual reporting.
Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast interviewed an editor of the biggest Christian satire and humor magazine in our lifetime on that topic and what Christians should expect from satire.
The Wittenberg Door and other Christian satire at its best would be like the little boy in the old fable who was the only one who would say the king is buck naked. Everybody else was just nodding about how well-dressed the king was. Well, good satire is sometimes that little boy who points out what we’re all either afraid to say or just overlooking.
What I wanted was a sofa. What I got was a tale of woe. As I stood in awkward silence, listening to her talk about everything but sofas, I realized she was illustrating a lesson I need to learn as much as she does. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I have been struggling with this ongoing medical issue and the pain that comes along with it. I do not intend to make this a regular theme on the blog, but so often the Lord uses our real-world circumstances to teach us important truths, and this seems to be one of those times.
I need a new sofa. I need something I can sit on or lounge in and be comfortable. That sofa will need to have at least one key feature—it will need to have a high back that offers adjustable neck support. As we walked into the nearby furniture store, and as the saleswoman approached, I thought it would make sense to get that one feature on the table right away. Why look at all the couches when only a few could fit the bill?
But then it happened. The moment she heard “neck support,” a look came over her face, and I could tell she had something she wanted to talk about. And, sure enough, for the next several minutes, she told me how to fix my condition. Because she has experienced neck pain in the past, she knew what was going on with me, she knew all I had done wrong in my attempts to treat it, she knew why the doctors had failed in their attempts to treat it, and she knew exactly the solution—hydrotherapy, a course of true Eastern-style acupuncture, and a diet free from all gluten and processed sugars. I stood and listened patiently like a polite Canadian ought to do. Then another potential customer caught her eye, so she waved us in the vague direction of the few sofas that would meet our criteria, and hustled off to help someone else. We meandered for a few minutes then slipped away and went elsewhere.
It’s just a silly and harmless situation, but it’s one I understood as God’s helpful way of illustrating where I can go just as wrong. After all, I am often asked to provide counsel to friends, family, and fellow church members, and know I am prone to making many of the same mistakes.
The first is the most obvious: She did not ask any questions. The sum total of her data was “neck support,” but from that starting point, and without knowing the least detail of my condition, she talked for a solid few minutes. She assumed so much, but knew so little. And it reminds me that in order speak helpfully, I need to diagnose accurately. And in order to diagnose accurately, I need to ask good questions. There’s not only one kind of neck pain. There is not only one kind of emotional trauma. There is not only one kind of spiritual pain. I need to patiently and carefully draw people out before attempting to recommend even the least action. To quote Solomon, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
The second thing that stands out is she somehow made my problem all about her. She herself had experienced neck pain, and the great majority of what she said in our brief interaction was a description of all she had endured. Her problem was of a completely different nature than mine, but she didn’t know that because, as I said, she asked no questions. And I know this is a temptation in any interaction—to make a subtle switch from listening to speaking, from attentively listening to someone else to proudly speaking about myself. It’s too easy to make any conversation all about me.
And then there’s this: She failed to offer the help she could uniquely offer. I did not need a doctor or a counselor. I needed a sofa salesperson. What she had the unique ability to do for me, she failed to do. Instead of solving the problem she could solve, she attempted to solve a problem she could not solve. She missed the opportunity to sell a sofa and earn a commission, but even more so, she missed the opportunity to put her unique knowledge and ability to work. And I know I’ve too often done the same—instead of being who God has called me to be (and, therefore, admitting the many limitations of my knowledge and abilities) I’ve tried to be something else. Where God has gifted me, I can and should offer those gifts for the benefit others. But I serve best when I serve within my gifts and abilities, not outside them.
It’s not that difficult, is it? Listen. Draw out. Empathize. Listen some more. Then take action or make recommendations only as I am equipped and in a way consistent with my vocation.
At Westminster Books you’ll find a great sale on lots of hand-picked Zondervan resources. It includes a number of my books if you’ve been waiting for a sale!
It was a joy to meet so many of you at Sing! 2019 and to hear such kind encouragement. I am heading home this morning, but leave blessed and encouraged. (Special thanks to the Averys.) If you’d like to watch the final morning of the conference, you can catch it on livestream.
John Piper shares a set of principles related to personal productivity.
I never reading of how different cultures grapple with different applications of the same biblical truths. “The practice of lobola is deeply rooted in African culture. When done properly, it has many benefits, and in no way goes against the biblical emphasis of love within marriage (Genesis 2:24). It is not the culture or practise that is inherently wrong, but the people who are involved in it. To restore lobola to its primary purpose requires an understanding that God is above all cultures.”
Kimberly Wagner: “This strange season, that began more than two years ago now, has moved beyond calling it a ‘season.’ It is more like a new life. Normally when I think of ‘new life’ it is something exciting, filled with hope and promise—but this ‘new life’ is very hard.”
CT has an interesting one: “Our team of communication researchers has spent years studying misinformation, satire, and social media. Over the last several months, we’ve surveyed Americans’ beliefs about dozens of high-profile political issues. We identified news stories—both true and false—that were being shared widely on social media. We discovered that many of the false stories weren’t the kind that were trying to intentionally deceive their readers; they actually came from satirical sites, and many people seemed to believe them.”
The title of this one may slightly overstate the case, but it does make some very valid points. “Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.”
“In ancient times, your name carried tremendous meaning. It was, essentially, the sum and substance of who you were. It represented the entirety of your character. So, what is our name synonymous with? What is the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear our name? What is identified with our name at work, at church, or at home?”
There’s a new episode of the 9Marks Journal available, and it’s all about penal substitutionary atonement. There’s tons of great stuff to read!
Celebrating the Legacy of Martyn Lloyd Jones (SPONSORED LINK)
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones came to Westminster Theological Seminary and delivered addresses on Preaching and Preachers that mobilized and molded a whole generation of pastors to preach the Word. This year Westminster’s conference on preaching and preachers is honored to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of those addresses by dedicating our conference on preaching to celebrating the legacy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. We invite you to join us on Westminster’s campus from Oct. 22-23, 2019, for an event that will refresh and re-equip you in the priority, practice, and power of preaching. Speakers include Kevin DeYoung, Stafford Carson, Jason Meyer, and Harry Reeder.
Many people—even Christians—offer reasons to divorce that are not sanctioned by God…Here are 10 common but illegitimate reasons to divorce.
If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead. —William Law
I read this book partly to see if it would be appropriate for the young adults who patronize my library and partly just to see if I liked L’Amour’s fiction as much as I did his autobiography, The Education of a Wandering Man. I found two instances of mildly bad language (h— and d–n), not that I’m into counting. And there was a romance, but rather chaste even though the guy is an outlaw gunslinger and the girl is the daughter of an outlaw. I think it would be perfectly good for anyone fourteen or fifteen and up.
I don’t read many Westerns, but I can see how L’Amour’s books became so popular. This story of an attractive outlaw and a young but strong girl who falls for him has more going for it than just the romance. There’s male-bonding, a bit of bromance, and a lots of fighting and honor among thieves and standing up for what’s right even when it looks hopeless.
L’Amour’s characters are flawed, but likable. The peril they find themselves in is partly due to their own bad decisions, but partly just the luck of the draw. The idea is that everybody eventually has to choose to do the right thing or be a self-seeking coward, even those who have chosen the wrong side of the law in the past. And it’s not whether you follow the law that makes you a good man, rather it’s whether or not you follow your own internal compass of right and wrong and make the hard right choice when the crisis comes. I would argue that if you haven’t built up those muscles of choosing right in the minor issues you are unlikely to choose right when a really big choice requiring self denial comes along, but L’Amour’s characters don’t have that much nuance.
Considine, the hero of the novel, is a man who “had a way of getting to where he wanted to be without being seen.” “[T]he big, quiet man was very sure of himself, and was known to be a dangerous man with a gun.’ “Considine did not seem like an outlaw. He had the air of a gentleman and there was something undefined in his manner that set him apart.” “Nor were they free of the images their own minds held of themselves. The man on horseback, the lone-riding man, the lone-thinking man, possessed an image of himself that was in part his own, in part a piece of all the dime novels he had read, for no man is free of the image his literature imposes upon him. And the dime novel made the western hero a knight-errant.”
I’m casting, of course, John Wayne, in my mind’s eye as Considine. If you like that kind of movie or book or if you like dime novel western heroes, High Lonesome should be just the ticket. No irony here, just straight up shootin’ and ridin’ and honor and heroism with a little bit of bank robbing thrown in.
Today’s Kindle deals include some titles that may be of interest.
(Yesterday on the blog: These Have Been Good Days, But Hard Times)
What a sweet letter!
Should you read more books or less (fewer?)? Both, kind of. “Books have had a profound impact on my life. I’ve always enjoyed reading but there was something about high school and being ‘forced’ to read that I didn’t like. Later, though, I rediscovered my joy for reading and haven’t looked back. I wouldn’t consider myself a fast reader really — I wish I could read faster actually. But that hasn’t stopped me from consuming a few books over the years. And what I want to do in this post is to encourage you to read more (and less) books…”
Wyatt Graham: “Have you ever wondered how to make a theological argument? While many tools can help us make arguments, there are four main steps to making a theological argument. Here they are…”
You’ll enjoy this.
This is good: “I get it. There are a lot of cautions and concerns we might justifiably have about people giving testimonies. Nonetheless, we should consider implementing personal testimonies, that is, the practice of remembering God’s wondrous works and celebrating his mighty deeds in our lives and churches.”
If you’re into podcasts (or interviews) you may enjoy this one I did for the Every Day a Monday podcast. I enjoyed it, at least!
R.C. Sproul wisely tells how and how not to handle the book of Proverbs.
The pleasures of this present world are pleasurable indeed. But the greatest of them must pale in comparison to the least pleasures of the world to come.
The fear of consequences may keep us from committing the outward acts of murder or adultery, but only love will keep us from committing murder or adultery in our hearts. —Jerry Bridges
Court realized that people here in the U.S. were nicer to strangers than in the other places he’d traveled in the past five years–when they weren’t shooting you in the ribs, that was. And while Court had no problem with politeness, for a man who lived his life moving through society without leaving a trace, this was problematic.
In a fictional series, it seems to me, the reader expects a certain familiarity. The story ought to be the same kind of story as those that preceded it. But it can’t be too familiar. Mark Greaney does a very good job rejiggering the formula in his Gray Man novels, starring white hat international assassin Courtland Gentry, formerly of the CIA, now hunted by them.
Back Blast provides a dramatic new wrinkle — Court is finally back in the US. For five years, he’s been a man without a country, living in the shadows on several continents, taking contract hit jobs (but only against bad guys). He’s a consummate martial artist, a dead shot, and a master of camouflage — even in urban environments. But now, thanks to a grateful friend in Mossad, Court is back home. He’s in the Washington DC area, and he’s identified his target — Denny Carmichael, operations chief of the CIA. Denny put the kill order out on Court, and Court wants to know why. He wants it fixed. He wants to come home.
But Denny has deep and dark secrets to protect. His resources are almost unlimited. He has a plan — a devious and ruthless one — not only to kill or capture Court, but to make Court the scapegoat for his own crimes. It’s a David and Goliath fight — but this David is no simple shepherd boy. He does, however, have a big shock in store for him.
Lots of fun. Very satisfying. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief, of course, and enjoy the ride.
Cautions for language and violence, but not too bad. Recommended, like the whole series.
Iris and her identical twin sister Lark take care of each other. Well, Iris, the practical twin, takes care of Lark, the dreamy one. And Lark, the imaginative, creative sister, helps Iris deal with her nightmares and anxieties. They “have better outcomes when they’re together.” It’s a workable and loving relationship until the girls’ parents decide that they need to be in separate classrooms for fifth grade. Then Iris loses her confidence, even her sense of identity. Who is Iris without Lark beside her? Lark loses things, as various objects around the house and around town begin to disappear. Iris and Lark are afraid of losing each other, and their fear becomes identified with a strange new antique shop that just opened up across the street from the library. How can the twins make everyone else understand that they need to be together? Or do they need to grow apart?
This book might be profound in a psychological way, but I’m not sure I’m a deep enough thinker to get it. The twins are sort of co-dependent? Maybe co-dependent in a bad way, but by the end of the book they learn to help each other in good ways? It’s sort of dark, and there are some strong feminist girl-power themes and preachiness, but you-go-girl feminism wasn’t overwhelming to the point of being annoying. I did find the story fascinating and compelling. I read it in one day.
This book might win some awards. The last third of the book is particularly creepy and unsettling, but you can reassure frightened readers (yourself?) that the story does end well. And the writing is magical, both literally and figuratively speaking.
Not so well, actually, though I’m truly grateful you asked. I’m not sure if it’s pride or privacy that usually compels me to say “Fine” or “Good” when asked that question, but today I’ll just level with you. “Not so good.” These have been hard days—or maybe better, hard times lived upon lots of good days.
I don’t wish to make my life sound tragic. We are just wrapping up our summer, and we enjoyed some tremendous times as family. My son was back from school for the summer, so the family was complete. We got to enjoy a wonderful vacation together and build some precious memories. We enjoyed so many of God’s blessings as individuals and as a family. In many ways, it was a banner summer and I am so thankful for it.
In another way though, it was a difficult summer. You probably know by now that over the past few years I’ve been struggling with pain. More properly, I’ve been struggling with pain in my neck, my arms, my hands, and my fingers. It’s pain—usually low-grade—that manifests itself most of the time, but flares immediately when I write or tap on a keyboard or device. In other words, it’s pain that manifests itself especially when I do what I believe I’ve been called to do and what I most love to do. And over time, this pain has increased. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to sit comfortably to simply read a book. It has been a longer time still since I’ve been able to sit comfortably and write a book, or even an article for that. Pain has somehow become part of the background of my life. So even while life is so good and so beautiful, I can’t deny that the last few days, the last few weeks, and even the last few months have been especially hard. I see it in my work. I see it in my demeanor. I see it in Aileen’s eyes.
A couple of days ago I decided to tidy up my office and do some basic renovations. The walls are getting a little beat up, the paint is getting a little tired, and it could all use a little freshening. Not only that, but I need to clear some space so I can bring in furniture that will allow me to sit comfortably. One thing led to another, and I was soon emptying and reorganizing my bookcases and cupboards. And inside I found the detritus of so many attempts to ease or address the pain I’ve been dealing with. There were mice and keyboards, braces and splints, and evidence of various treatments and medications. It was strange and more than a little sad to see them all laid out like that. Each one represented a moment of hope—if I just wear this for a little while the pain will ease, if I just change this behavior I’ll get some relief, if I just follow this course of treatment I’ll be able to get back to doing what I love to do at the pace I want to do it. But laid out on the floor, each one actually represented a moment of failure. All were attempted, but none made any great difference.
I haven’t given up, of course. I remain under the guidance and treatment of a wonderful Christian doctor who is helping me essentially start over, to look holistically for cause and cure. Most times I’m optimistic. But the only way to go about the process is to try things. That sounds easy enough, but each attempt involves some kind of cost or pain or discomfort or disruption. It involves a new diet, or a new specialist, or a new treatment, or a new medication. It is always a process of trial and error, of attempts and elimination. These end up taking their toll, and I think this may be what I’m feeling most pointedly right now. I am feeling the weariness of so many different attempts and the disappointment of so many failures. This pain nestles on top of the physical pain, somehow making it even harder to bear.
Most recently, I’ve been on a new course of medications to see what information we can gain through them. But, as is so often the case, these treatments have both positive and negative consequences. They treat a symptom, but they leave me lying awake at night. They address a physical issue, but they mess with my mind. The process is necessary and each part fills in a small piece of a bigger puzzle, but there’s nothing simple or easy about it. It’s rare that I feel like I’m working at more than forty or fifty percent of my capacity. It’s rare that my mind is in much better shape than my body. I agonize about the quality of blog I’m writing these days and the quality of father, husband, elder, and churchman I’m being. I distrust what I’m thinking. I am suspicious of my emotions.
But I both feel and know this: God is good. Though I have had some moments of self-pity, I don’t think I’ve had as much as one moment of doubting God’s goodness or kindness or noble plan. Though I can’t say I have any idea why I am going through this, I have never doubted that it is God’s will and that somehow it is good, even if I cannot quite see it. I have never doubted that somehow it is better than the alternative, even if I never see it on this side of eternity.
Do know that I’m very thankful for those who pray for me. And maybe through this article you will have a better idea of the kind of prayer I need. I both want and need prayer for healing, but even more so, I want and need prayer for endurance. I believe in God. I believe in a sovereign God. I believe I’m in exactly the state he has deemed best for me. And I desperately want to live it well.
Today’s Kindle deals include a nice collection of deals that spans several genres and publishers. Have at it!
(Yesterday on the blog: On Preparing Your Hands for Church)
Me too! “I am a false prophet. I am constantly predicting things that don’t come true.” There’s lots of insight on worrying here.
I rather enjoyed this video on In-N-Out and why they’ve been so deliberate to grow slowly.
If gratitude leads to joy, it means joy is never out of our reach!
Celebrating the Legacy of Martyn Lloyd Jones (SPONSORED LINK)
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones came to Westminster Theological Seminary and delivered addresses on Preaching and Preachers that mobilized and molded a whole generation of pastors to preach the Word. This year Westminster’s conference on preaching and preachers is honored to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of those addresses by dedicating our conference on preaching to celebrating the legacy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. We invite you to join us on Westminster’s campus from Oct. 22-23, 2019, for an event that will refresh and re-equip you in the priority, practice, and power of preaching. Speakers include Kevin DeYoung, Stafford Carson, Jason Meyer, and Harry Reeder.
“The moment we hear the word ‘rhythm’ related to our spiritual life, we probably think about balancing work and rest, maintaining certain tempos in life, or perhaps liturgical practices. We think about balancing two compartmentalized aspects of the Christian life instead of infusing each aspect with the other. While all of those things are good to consider, there is still a more basic need for us to understand and take seriously: the rhythm of the Christian life.”
Iain Duguid explains how to pray in times of spiritual warfare. Of course, “According to Paul in Ephesians 6, all of life is spiritual warfare. In that conflict, he reminds the Ephesians that—important though it is—the Christian armor is not enough. You and I also need to be in constant contact with God, and the means by which we stay in contact is by prayer.”
“Peer Pressure is not something that only middle and high school kids face. Adults are still facing the choice of obeying God rather than men in several areas of life.” It’s so true.
I have never been to Paris, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen each of these scams in at least one other major city. (I’m mostly looking at you, Rome!)
What do we, as Christians, stand to lose if so many of our young men continue to spend their teens and twenties in the pursuit of pornographic pleasure?
In the judgment day, the inquiry will be made not into our opinions or professions alone, but into our deeds, as proving the correctness of our faith and the sincerity of our professions. —George Washington Bethune
Alone by Edgar Allan Poe
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
I came across this poem by one of my favorite poets today after I finished reading the middle grade fiction novel Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse, and it seemed to be serendipitous. Me and Sam-Sam is a book about characters who are “neuro-divergent” —or “autistic” or “on the spectrum” or whatever term you prefer. The narrator of the story, Jesse Broadview, is a middle school age girl who lives with her teacher father and her great-aunt Gustine while Jesse’s mom is deployed in Iraq, the handler for a bomb-sniffing dog. Much like the narrator of the poem, Jesse doesn’t see as others see and doesn’t act as others act and doesn’t feel the same things that others feel. She has meltdowns. She sometimes comes across as rude because she doesn’t understand the rules for social interactions that other seem to apply without effort. She doesn’t like to be touched unexpectedly or without permission. She’s just not neurotypical, although she is smart, intelligent enough to worry that her differences are somehow bad and that her difficulties in understanding the way others think might mean that her brain is broken.
As the story progresses, Jesse makes a friend, Springer, who may or may not be neuro-divergent himself, and she learns that her differences can be strengths even though they sometimes make it difficult for her to navigate the world she lives in. The novel is part detective story, part experiment in understanding diversity, and part adventure story about facing up to bullies and natural disasters and one’s own inner demons. Jesse’s dad is accused of a crime, and Jesse and Springer are the only ones who really see a need to exonerate him. Jesse and her new friend have to contend with Jerkface and his two cockroaches, the bullies that make Jesse’s and Springer’s lives miserable. And some really bad weather is headed their way.
I found the story fascinating, especially as I worked to understand Jesse’s mindset and her perspective on all of the events in the novel. I really wanted someone to tell Jesse that calling people “jerkface” and “cockroach” is not a good way to deal with your—justifiable—hostility and enmity toward them. Nor is violence the answer. Instead, Jesse’s mother engages in name-calling herself, via Skype, and the violence and threats continue, even among the adults in the story. I sometimes struggled to understand Jesse and sympathize with her because, let’s face it, I’m pretty neuro-typical.
And yet, all of us have felt the feeling in the poem, the feeling of aloneness. The feeling that maybe my brain is broken, maybe I just don’t feel what other people feel or think the same way other people think. Books and poetry are good ways to start to understand the commonalities in human experience and the differences that define us as individuals. I thought Me and Sam-Sam was a decent attempt, not preachy but illuminating, to show what it is like to be neuro-divergent and somewhat immature and still valuable and growing as a person.
Years ago, author Randy Alcorn was a pastor, participating with his church in some resistance work at the local abortion clinic. For that work the courts penalized him and other members of the team thousands of dollars to be paid to the clinics. They would not pay. More court hearings came with more penalties, eventually landing the group in a jury trial before an angry judge.
“On February 11, 1991, nine of the twelve jurors agreed to award the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars, averaging about $250,000 per defendant. It was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. “
But Alcorn has not paid the clinics anything; instead, he has given away over $8.2 million in book royalties to various charities. He wrote about all of this on his blog last month.
Sorry about the lack of a post last night. I actually posted one, and WordPress disappeared it. It vanished into the ether, like a childhood friend of Stalin. I don’t know what my sin was.
Let’s see if this one stays up.
Last night’s post wasn’t anything you’ll miss much, just a reminiscence from my childhood. Not even very dramatic. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.
One of today’s big news stories is that President Trump, apparently, would like the US to purchase Greenland.
It ain’t gonna happen, according to the Danes. They have no need, or wish, to part with one of the very few remnants of their once-extensive empire.
And after all, people live in Greenland. I would hope they’d have a say in the matter.
Still, it’s an intriguing thought. It occurs to me that Donald Trump and Erik the Red, settler of Greenland, are kindred souls.
Both are larger-than-life characters, combative, practiced in self-promotion. The saga famously says that Erik called his country Greenland “because people would be more inclined to move there if it had a pleasant name.”
Thus he’s been called the first real estate developer.
I like to think that if Erik and Donald could meet, they’d take to one another right off. Sit down over some mead (though I understand Pres. Trump doesn’t drink) and talk deals.
I suspect Erik could have been talked out of Greenland, for a sweet enough offer.
Most books don’t have titles that end in a question mark. None of the other books in the Swallows and Amazons series have questioning titles. But this one, appropriately, does because in this installment of the adventures of the intrepid children who make up the Swallows and Amazons and their friends, Dick, the resident naturalist and birder, is looking for and hoping he has found a pair of Great Northern Divers in the Hebrides islands where the children are sailing with their uncle and enabler, Captain Flint.
“The Great Northern Diver nests abroad . . . usually seen solitary.”
“. . . nests in eastern North America, Greenland, and Iceland.”
“. . . may nest in the Shetlands, as it is often round these islands all summer, but this has never been proved.”
When Dick finds this rare bird, or at least thinks he has found it, in the Scottish Hebrides, he and his friends compete to protect the divers with other birdwatchers who want to exploit the birds for fame and fortune. This exciting story will delight all Swallows and Amazons fans.
I only have three more Swallows and Amazons books to enjoy for the first time now: Missee Lee, The Picts and the Martyrs, and The Big Six. I found a copy of this book Great Northern? while Engineer Husband and I were in Oxford, England in a small Oxfam bookstore. It will always hold a special place in my heart because of the good story, but also because of where I found it.
One of the things about Ransome’s stories that should make them popular nowadays is their concern with nature and its preservation and protection. The children in these stories are careful to observe birds and other flora and fauna without disturbing them or destroying their habitats. I won’t say that Ransome was ahead of his time because many naturalists, if not most, have always been concerned with protecting the creatures they study and with protecting habitats. However, the general tone and themes of the books is perfect for today’s environmentalist mindset.
A multitude of stories of courage and endurance come out of World War II. Surely one of the most remarkable is that of Jan Baalsrud (pronounced “Yon Bowls-rood”), the subject of the book, The 12th Man by Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug. (If you see a book called Defiant Courage, it’s the same book. They changed the title to go with the release of a 12th Man movie a couple years back.)
Jan Baalsrud was one of a team of 12 saboteurs who sailed to Norway from Scotland in a fishing boat as part of a “Shetland Bus” operation in 1943. They were to deliver arms, munitions and supplies to the Resistance, and to attack some air bases. Tragically, a missed connection led to their betrayal, and a German patrol ship attacked them. They managed to blow their boat up, but the whole team except for Baalsrud were either killed on the spot or captured, tortured, and executed. Baalsrud himself escaped into the mountains with one foot bare and wounded.
Then followed months of working his way eastward toward the Swedish border through some of the roughest terrain in the world. He endured an avalanche, starvation, frostbite, gangrene (he amputated his own toes) and snow blindness. He received help and supplies from scattered farms along the way, but when he finally came to the great mountains around Manndalen he was unable to go further under his own power. He then became dependent on a team of Resistance sympathizers in the area who – in spite of killing weather and repeated missed appointments – refused to let this brave man die.
Unfortunately (the authors report) Howarth didn’t get the whole story. Apparently, the Norwegians he interviewed were suspicious of him, and did not tell him everything they knew. Authors Scott and Haug spent five years interviewing surviving participants and combing the records, in order to provide what they believe to be an accurate account.
Sadly, their book isn’t very well written. Ms. Scott and Dr. Haug describe themselves as co-authors, but to me The 12th Man reads exactly like a bad translation (and I know bad translations). The phrasing is consistently Norwegian (hence awkward in English), the word choice poor. I wish I could say otherwise, but the book needed a good editor badly. I’m not quite satisfied with a few passages in Viking Legacy, but I felt better after reading this.
But if you can deal with the clumsy writing, it’s one heck of a story. Cautions for intense situations.
This morning I was working on an article, “What is Reformed and Covenantal Theology?” I wanted to do a quick check on the wording in a question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and tumbled down a theological rabbit hole. At the bottom, I discovered a treasure — Fisher’s Catechism.
“Fisher’s Catechism” was originally called “The Synod’s Catechism” and was written by Scottish pastors Ebenezer Erskine and his son-in-law, James Fisher. It is a catechism of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in a question-and-answer format and laced with Scripture. It led my heart to worship this morning!
For example, see this exposition on the Trinity. The first part is from the WSC.
QUESTION 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
ANSWER: There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Q. 1. Whence is it, that this article of our holy religion has been so much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?
A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John 2:23, — “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.”
Q. 2. Is this doctrine of the Trinity, then; a fundamental article, upon the belief of which our salvation depends?
A. Beyond all doubt it is: because without the knowledge and belief of the Trinity of persons, we would remain ignorant of the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, in the purchase and application of redemption; without which there could be no salvation, John 17:3, — “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics hosts the online version of Fisher’s Catechism, and is a wealth of historic documents that has been serving the online Christian community for probably two decades (I remember accessing it in the late 90s.)
‘That’s why the trade has a reputation for being a bit more easy-going than the proper navy. You’ll have heard it and you’ll hear it again. But only from those that don’t understand. There isn’t less discipline in the trade, Mr. Gilmour. If anything, the discipline here is the hardest of all. Self-discipline….’
I don’t generally read novels about World War II, but Gone To Sea In a Bucket by David Black starts in Norway, and so I noticed it. Not a bad book, either.
It opens during the Battle of Narvik, in 1940. Sub Lieutenant Harry Gilmour is experiencing his first naval battle, but it’s not much of an experience. Guided by aerial spotters, the ship he’s on is lobbing cannon shells over the mountains from one fjord to another. They can’t even see the enemy.
Harry Gilmour is making a poor start to his naval career. He was brought in as part of a Navy program to increase the officer pool, outside traditional training sources. But that doesn’t make him welcome to the “old navy” hands. Harry’s not quite their sort.
But a compassionate senior officer intervenes. He informs Harry of openings in the submarine service (known to its members as “the trade”). It’s a different world there. The small crews and tight spaces make traditional navy discipline and separation of ranks impossible. Submarine service is dauntingly dangerous and physically demanding, but it gives Harry the best possible opportunity to develop his personal qualities – he discovers he’s hard-working, brave, and fiercely loyal. His service will bring him near death, and take his “boat” into a secret mission to the edge of the world.
I was not much impressed at the start of Gone To Sea In a Bucket. I thought the writing muddy and wordy, and I caught some grammar lapses. But it grew on me as I read. Once I got used to the author’s style it seemed to get better and better, until I found myself admiring various passages.
I also liked the treatment of the characters. Author Black likes to give us a bad first impression of a character, and then gradually reveal his or her story until we come to admire – or at least sympathize with – them.
The Harry Gilmour series seems to be sort of a modern Horatio Hornblower saga. I probably won’t be continuing with it, because I find submarine stories kind of… claustrophobic. But if this is your kind of epic, I would recommend it. Minor cautions for language and intense violence.
We are reading through James in family worship, and read this the other day:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
The little kids are 4 and 7. It made me sad to define “widow” and “orphan.”
“An orphan is someone who doesn’t have a mommy or a daddy.”
“So, Grandma is a widow and you are an orphan?” said A7.
“Yes, Grandma is a widow, but I’m only half orphan — and usually orphan refers to a child. When the Bible talks about widows and orphans, it is talking about the most vulnerable people.” Said Hubby.
We take turns praying, when we close in prayer.
H4 prayed for orphans. “Please, God, help the children with no mommies or daddies. Please let them have big brothers to take care of them.”
So thankful that God gave my little girl big brothers to take care of her.
For a few days I was a rock star. Granted, I was a rock star with “selective appeal,” but a couple hundred people in Alexandria, Minnesota treated me like a celebrity.
The event was the Tre Lag Stevne. The Bygdelags (as I explained last week) are organizations composed of descendants of immigrants from various Norwegian regions. The three “lags” who met for the stevne (gathering) were groups from Gudbrandsdal, Hedemark, and Trondelag. They invited me to lecture twice on Thursday – once on the Lindisfarne raid in 793 AD, and again on the book Viking Legacy (which I translated; might not have mentioned that to you before).
The audience was attentive, smart (they laughed at my jokes) and appreciative. They descended on my book table like a flock of seagulls and snatched up every copy of Viking Legacy I brought. On top of the sales, I got an honorarium which was generous by my standards.
I have no complaints.
The next day I had to be in a meeting in Fergus Falls, just a little up the road, so I stayed a second night. I had some free time – and when Walker has free time in Alexandria, he can’t resist visiting the Kensington Rune Stone Museum. I’ve been there before, but I heard they’d made some changes.
This is the stone itself. I have grave reservations about its authenticity, but you can’t deny it’s become a part of history in its own right.
This display is the main thing I came to see. They did an upgrade to the museum a few years back, and decided to include a tableau about the real Vikings (even if the stone is genuine, it’s not a Viking artifact. Its date is 14th Century, long after the Viking Age ended). The person the museum hired to make costumes for the Viking family was my friend Kelsey Patton – who also made the Viking trousers and summer tunic I’m wearing in the top picture.
Here’s a surprise – the museum has a Viking ship, in a barn outside. It’s a ¾ scale replica of a Viking knarr (a cargo ship), which was built as a project some years ago by the American Museum of Natural History. Somehow it ended up here.
An interesting and profitable few days. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.
Hubby’s reading up on Kosovo before the move.
Me: “What’s the latest?”
Him: “Elections coming up soon.”
Me: “Not long after we arrive, right?”
Him: “About three weeks.”
Me: “Better keep my Go-Bag packed.”
Discovered that a case of organic coconut oil was overlooked during the consumables pack-out. And that’s one of the things that I REALLY wanted to have shipped, use all the time, and don’t know whether I can easily get at our next post.
We packed out our consumables shipment last week. This is a “bonus” shipment for places where it can be hard to buy normal groceries and household supplies. We haven’t been at a post that is authorized a consumables shipment before this, so it is all trial-and-error for me.
A girlfriend who lived in Nassau at the same time we did visited as we prepped for the consumables shipment. She overheard T21 say, “Who needs THIS much almond butter?!” as he carried it in the house.
She laughed. I only have one case of almond butter and three cases of peanut butter. She thinks I didn’t buy enough!
Moms understand. . .
I’ve been thinking to write a thoughtful something about the third season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones. When I started watching it a few weeks ago, I noticed I had forgotten the big storyline from season two, but I remembered that I did not blog about it. Something wasn’t there. Maybe I wasn’t provoked enough (or maybe the sexual aspects of it held me back).
The third season continued to lean into that part of the story. Though Hogarth’s struggle was compelling, it was also awful and fairly ugly. The first season felt like Jessica’s gritty origin story, but now that season three is over, the whole series feels like her protracted story of coming into hero work. She needs Edna Mode to smack her around to help her find her destiny.
But I was talking about something else.
I have watched Stranger Things 3 more recently and may write something about the Upside Down, but Brooke Clark says pretending a TV series is a mature work of thoughtful deliberation does not redeem our interest in it.
Although we are trained to believe in books, we find ourselves watching shows about dragons, criminals, and covens. This leads to cultural status anxiety—a feeling that we aren’t really as sophisticated as we think, because when given the choice, we’d rather flip on HBO than pick up Middlemarch.
There are two ways out of this cognitive dissonance: we can admit our tastes aren’t really as elevated as we like to believe, or we can convince ourselves that television is actually an example of high culture.
We may not have gotten away from what W. H. Auden said decades ago in “The Poet & The City” : “What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.” (via Prufrock News)
We want them to have an intuitive experience of these things, so that when they learn the vocabulary and theories, they have the same lightbulb moment Hubby had of “So THIS is why it works that way. . .”
I’m in a FB group with Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit. I remember reading their “Ten Things to do with Your Child Before Age Ten” in 1996. That was the year that my oldest was born and I was helping my mother-in-law homeschool her two youngest while she ran the business. We were both impacted by that list and it shaped much of what we did that year (and many future years with my kids.)
Laurie posted the article “The Right Brain Develops First ~ Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning” recently which reminded me of the conversation with Hubby and why I want to keep focusing on play and experiences for my 4yo and 7yo.
Today I was a rock star. A rock star for a very small public, I’ll grant you, but I’ve rarely faced such an appreciative crowd as the people at the Lag Stevne at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria, Minnesota today.
The Bygdelags, as I explained yesterday, are groups of people whose ancestors came from various regions of Norway. Genealogy is one of their primary interests. So they like history, and they were primed and ready for a morning lecture on the 793 AD Lindisfarne raid, and an afternoon lecture on the book Viking Legacy and its themes.
They ate it up. They listened with rapt attention, laughed at my jokes, and asked good questions afterwards.
And then they bought up my entire stock of Viking Legacy, plus a good number of West Oversea.
I am a happier, and more prosperous, man today.
Thanks to all the Lag folks.
We were reading in James last night and I was so struck by this. . .
“…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:3
I have four young adult sons and this cut to my heart. My prayer is that the testing of my children’s faith will produce steadfastness.
I see so many ways it is tested. . . challenged by the world, by their own struggles with sin, by the suffering they experience and observe. Praying for this testing to build their faith and produce steadfast endurance in them.
And, honestly, this is my prayer for myself as well.
Former fifth grade teacher Andrew Clements, according to the author blurb in this book, has written over eighty books for children, mostly fiction and mostly set in school classrooms. He’s the master of the “school story”, and his most famous book, Frindle, has sold over six million copies to date. The Friendship War, Clements’ newest novel, is about friendship, but also about how a fad, like pet rocks or cootie catchers, gets started and how it grows. Strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely, Frindle is also about trend-setting and how an idea, or a fad, gets started and grows and becomes uncontrollable.
The story begins with Grace and her grandfather who discover a stash of thousands of buttons in an old mill that Grampa is rehabbing. Grace wants the buttons, and Grampa gives them to her. Then, it’s back to school and Grace’s longstanding friendship with the popular Ellie, a friendship that is about to be tested by the accidental beginning of a fad—a fad for buttons.
This story about friendship and about buttons is Clements’ best since Frindle. Grace is a great character, something of a collector, a thinker, and as her new friend Hank calls her, a catalyst. And these sixth graders are just at the age where a new fad in school can show them important things about themselves and about their friendships, if they are paying attention. Clements handles the dynamics of sixth grade friendships well. Grace’s new friend Hank doesn’t turn into a boyfriend or a crush, although there’s some very mild teasing about that from Grace’s grandfather, which seems perfectly in character. There’s a conversation about life after death between Grace and her mother that gives food for thought without being didactic. And the whole story is just deftly handled and insightful in regard to friendships and social groups and the life cycle of a fad or trend.
Middle grade readers will enjoy this story and probably make connections to fads and trends in their own experience. There is also a lot of wisdom in the book about friendships: how to initiate them, how to sustain them, how to repair broken friendships, what makes a friendship worth working for.This book is one I would like to add to my library, and that’s high praise since my shelf space is limited to only the cream of the crop.
Born on this date:
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, b. 1809. Tennyson became Poet Laureate of Britain in 1851, but long before his appointment to that post and long before he became even a famous poet, Tennyson made friends with another poet, Arthur Henry Hallam, whose sudden death at the very young age of twenty-two became the inspiration for many of Tennyson’s most famous poems. Poems such as “Break, Break, Break”, “Ulysses”, “Tithonus”, “Tiresias”, “Morte d’Arthur”, “Oh that it ’twere possible”, “Crossing the Bar”, and “In Memoriam” were all elegies “connected overtly or implicitly with the loss of his friend.” Tennyson wrote about death, and mental illness, and strong emotion, and the healing power of nature because he experienced all of these things in his tumultuous lifetime.
To whom is the poet or narrator speaking? Without having read the excerpt in context (it’s part of a longer poem, In Memoriam), I think he’s talking to God.
Gerald W. Johnson, b. 1890. Author of America Is Born, America Moves Forward, and America Grows Up, all history books for children subtitled A History for Peter. Johnson wrote the books for his grandson, Peter, to give him an appreciation for his heritage as an American. The books are popular with homeschoolers who are attempting to do the same with their own children and grandchildren.
Barbara Cooney, b. 1917. Author and/or illustrator of many lovely picture books, including The Little Juggler,, Miss Rumphius, Eleanor, Hattie and the Wild Waves, Island Boy, and Chanticleer and Fox (by Geoffrey Chaucer).
I’ve also been thinking about justice and injustice and neurodivergence and the difficulties of knowing the truth about any event or person in history, even recent history and differing perspectives and negativity and aloneness. Lots of thoughts on an August day.
You used to be such a better writer, kid,
Back before your skin had turned to steel,
Before the world had thrown its punches
Straight into your guts and left bruises
That hardened into armor.
You used to plant flowers for the sheer
Vicariousness of it; it seems now that,
Having grown older, you have traded them
For perfect brown boxes, the contents of which you know
Down to the molecule. There is nothing of
The ghosts of your past in your words anymore,
Only the straightened spine, the metal of
The capital-T Truth.
There is still grace setting the world
On fire. Take off your shoes and feel its heat.
Today is my son-in-law’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Brandon!
Other birthdays today:
Ruth Sawyer (Durand), b. 1880, d. 1970. Ruth Sawyer was first and foremost a storyteller. She wrote several children’s books, including the Newbery award-winning Roller Skates, but her forte was collecting and telling stories derived from folklore from around the world. I have her book The Way of the Storyteller, a sort of manual/inspiration for storytellers, and I need to review it to refresh my own storytelling skills.
Maud Petersham, b. 1890. Maud was the female half of the storytelling, book writing duo of Maud and Miska Petersham. She was born Maud Fuller, the daughter of a Baptist minister, graduated from Vassar College, and met Miska Petersham, a Hungarian immigrant, when they were both working at a advertising agency in New York. The couple went on to collaborate on more than fifty books, and they contributed illustrations for numerous anthologies and collections of stories and poems for children. Their collection of American poems and songs, The Rooster Crows, won the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1946.
Robert Bright, b. 1902. Bright wrote Georgie, a picture book about “a friendly and shy little ghost who lives in Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker’s attic.” But my favorite book by Bright is My Red Umbrella, in which a little girl shares her red umbrella even as it grows bigger and bigger to shelter all of the animals that come to get out of the rain, including a great big bear.
I’m also thinking and praying today about weddings (about to celebrate one this weekend), gun violence and the people who were injured and traumatized by violent men in Dayton and in El Paso, Abraham Lincoln and the violence he caused, endured, and ended (still reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin), Hiroshima and the violence there (tomorrow is the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima). Since Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, we humans are a violent race. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but I can’t see why legislation to ban the use by civilians of certain military-style weapons or to limit the size of magazines would be an infringement on the Constitution or on anyone’s freedom or rights under that Constitution.
To be honest, I am tired of reading children’s books about the Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. I know that it’s important to remember the injustice that was done to Japanese Americans during that time. I know that the story and the information are new to new generations of children. I know that everyone’s story deserves to be told, either fictionalized for the sake of privacy or as biography or memoir, and I know that survivors of injustice deserve to be heard. Nevertheless, I’ve read this book by Sandra Dallas and this one by Kirby Larson and Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata and Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Houston and Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida and Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp by Barry Denenberg and . . . many more. I thought that this new middle grade fiction book by Cynthia Kadohata would have nothing new to say about this disgraceful episode in American history, but I expected it to be well written by Newbery award-winning author Kadohata.
And it was, well written and surprisingly engaging and informative. I knew that many Japanese internees decided to prove their loyalty to the United States, despite the way they had been treated, by enlisting and serving in the U.S. military. I didn’t know that up to six thousand others decided that there was no place for them in the United States immediately after the war, and so they renounced their U.S. citizenship and were returned to Japan. A Place To Belong is the story of one family who “went back” to a country that most of them had never visited in the first place.
The story is told from the perspective of twelve year old Hanako. She and her father and mother and her little brother Akira are on a boat bound for Japan. There they plan to stay with Hanako’s father’s parents, her grandparents, on a farm near Hiroshima. First, however, the train that they board in Japan goes through the ruins of Hiroshima itself, and that’s a tragic and sobering scene that sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Post-war Japan really has no place for Hanako’s family either, even though Hanako’s grandparents turn out to be the most gracious and loving grandparents a girl could want.
The grandparents, Hanako’s parents, Hanako herself, Akira who is “a strange little creature” (maybe autistic?), and the other characters who enter into the story are all drawn with loving care by a talented author. I learned a lot about Japanese history and culture, and I never felt as if I were being taught a lesson or preached a sermon on the evils of imperialistic racist America. Kadohata lets the story unfold its own lessons, lessons about justice, and forgiveness, and second chances, and forming new dreams. I was charmed by the wisdom and perseverance of Hanako’s grandparents and filled with compassion for Hanako’s family and for all the families and individuals who were faced with impossible choices during and after World War II.
I think there might also be certain parallels between the story of A Place To Belong and the current refugee/immigrant crisis at the Mexican/American border, but I haven’t completely teased those out in my mind. Suffice it to say that today’s refugees are often looking for a place to belong, too. And Americans would do well to look at their situation from their perspective if possible and show compassion for people making hard choices.
Today is the birthday of Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, which seems to be a rather polarizing book. One person on Facebook who was reading it asked, “Does it ever move beyond unhappy people causing misery to themselves and others?” Someone else said, “Anyone who says they love Wuthering Heights is lying to sound smart.” But yet another reader said, “The prose just wraps me up and sweeps me away and I can’t help but love it. My relationship with that book is such a mess.”
I’m not lying when I say that I liked the story, even though I found almost all of the characters unsympathetic and sadly unlikeable, especially Heathcliff and Cathy. I’m not sure what that opinion says about me as a reader or as a person, but nevertheless I recommend you form your own opinion by reading Wuthering Heights. If you get fifty pages in and you hate it, I give you permission to quit and go read Jan Karon or P.G. Wodehouse to get the taste out of your palate. (Or you could try Diary of a Nobody. See below.)
Allan Wesley Eckert (not born on this date), author of Incident at Hawk’s Hill, a Newbery Honor book in 1972, “spent much of his youth hitchhiking around the country, living off the land and learning about wildlife from direct observation.” He was born in 1931, so this hitchhiking would have taken place in the late forties/early fifties. I wonder what his family thought about his choice to wander about and live off the land. This was before the era of the hippies and free-spirited sixties peaceniks. He wrote a lot of books. I wonder if he wrote one about his youthful experiences hitchhiking about the country.
I read the first couple of chapters of Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith, a book I picked up while Engineer Husband and I were in Oxford. It’s a fictionalized diary of an ordinary man in the late nineteenth century who lives in a small house outside the City (London?) with his wife Carrie. The man’s name is Charles Pooter, and he’s a perfectly ordinary little man who takes himself quite seriously, which makes the book quite funny. The humor is dry and unassuming, but definite. For example, it begins:
“Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’—why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.”
George Grossmith went on to become a famous comic actor, starring in many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous operas: as The Sorcerer, The First Lord in H.M.S. Pinafore, Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore, Bunthorne in Patience, and Jack Point in The Yeoman of the Guard. George’s brother, Weedon, illustrated Diary of a Nobody, and the illustrations are a great part of the charm of the book. I’m looking forward to savoring it over a period of several days.
This post is probably the first time that Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff and Cathy and George Grossmith’s Mr. Pooter have been referenced in the same piece of writing, but perhaps there will be connections as I continue reading Diary of a Nobody.
We just returned to Houston from the trip of a lifetime, ten days in Ireland and England. We began the journey with three days in southern Ireland, near Cork. We were able to stay with some friends of my daughter in a small Christian community there, and we were blessed to worship with the church there on Sunday. Engineer Husband accidentally carried the two hymn books out of the church with him, and when he tried to give them back one of the leaders there asked if we would like to take the two hymnals with us. I was delighted to say yes since I wanted a chance to study the hymns in these Irish/UK hymn books more closely.
This hymn is the first one in the book Songs of Victory. The book is undated, and this first hymn by “W. Leslie” is, I think, probably written by William Leslie, for whom hymnary.org has a brief biography. Mr. Leslie was a Scottish Methodist lay preacher and “proprietor of a drapery shop”, and he wrote several hymns. This particular hymn is not listed at Hymnary, nor can I find it anywhere else online. And the hymn book only gives the lyrics for the hymns, no tunes, so I have no way to sing it.
Still, the words of of this poem/hymn spoke to me this mornings I was reading it, echoing some of the thoughts I have had lately about myself, my country, my children, and others.
LORD, Thou has with favour
Smiled upon our land,
Yet the powers of darkness
Press on every hand;
And the hearts that love Thee
Often cry in pain—
“Wilt Thou not revive us,
Revive us again?”
Wilt Thou not revive us,
Revive us again?
For our nation’s sake
And for Jesus’ sake,
Revive us again!
2. Precious, guileless children
To our homes are given,
That our love might win them
To the life of Heaven.
Yet what snares and pitfalls
Make our labor vain!
Oh, to save the children,
Revive us again!
3. Kindly friends and neighbors,
Kindred, near and far,
Learn the love of Jesus
Just by what we are;
Make our daily witness
Patient, pure and plain!
By Thy love o’erflowing,
Revive us again!
4. Deep in heathen darkness
Blood-bought millions wait
For a voice to tell them
Of their ransomed state;
Break the spell that binds us
But to selfish gain!
By Thine own compassion,
Revive us again!
Don’t we need daily, even hourly revival? And the lives of the children, the friends, the neighbors, the kindred, and the millions, all depend on the reviving power of the Holy Spirit at work in us and in them. For Jesus’ sake, revive us again!
As the oldest son, my husband was the one to deliver the eulogy for my father-in-law, John Bush. This is what he shared.
My father passed away this week after a long, brave fight with cancer. He was an amazing father, and taught me what it means to be a good man. For those who knew him, but missed the memorial service, his eulogy is copied below. No matter how many books I go on to write, this is the most important thing I’ll ever pen.
My father was a man. He was a true man.
Not in the way our world defines it now—a swaggering, cocky guy with gym muscles and romantic conquests. Instead, he was the sort of honest, hardworking man who built America up from the wilderness.
He was the type of man we see extolled in the Bible.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this manly ideal in his essay, “The Necessity of Chivalry.”
Chivalry taught that a man should be brave in battle, but in peace be gentle and kind. This sort of true man was independent, protective, and a fighter—but also loving, honorable, good-humored, and faithful.
That was my father. John Bush—the toughest man I ever knew, with the kindest heart.
Before I praise my father, let me emphasize that he wasn’t a saint except in the way that all true Christians are saints. He had plenty of weak points – bull-headedness, moodiness, and a quick temper that moderated with age.
But his virtues far outweighed these weaknesses.
What were those virtues?
First of all, Dad was tough. No one who watched my father work could ever doubt his strength. At 66 he was still slinging furniture around with the strength of a 20-year-old, while standing out in Massachusetts snow storms in a pair of shorts. We all thought he was immortal.
But of course he wasn’t. He worked for years with all sorts of aches and pains, complaining good-naturedly, but never slowing down.
He was also mentally tough. Sometimes, perhaps overly so. . . Once he set his mind to a belief or goal, there was no swaying him. He had grit.
Dad was independent in every sense of the word. He lived within his means, could fix just about anything, and he always wanted to be his own boss.
He was always there to help others, whether with time or money, but he rarely depended on others. Whether it was building a house or repairing a truck, he could do anything. Dad always said he could fix anything except airplanes and electrical work.
Though, he admitted, the only thing he knew about plumbing was that poop flows downhill. (This is a eulogy for John Bush. You knew poop was going to show up in this speech somewhere.)
He spent most of his life working for himself: as a mechanic, a welder, a mushroom farmer, and in several other trades.
But he really loved the open road. He drove during the Golden Age of independent trucker and he loved that independence. It was just him, a trucking dog, and sometimes one of us.
Over the last 20+ years Dad and Mom built up a successful specialty moving business through honest, hard work. “Bush Dependable Delivery” wasn’t just a name – but it also reflected his independent and yet dependable spirit.
Dad was a great protector and provider. Dad worked tirelessly to provide for us and it was literally etched on his body. His right arm was that of a 68-year-old man, while the left was gnarled like a burn victim, after spending three million miles propped up on the window sill of his truck.
As we entered the teen years, he realized we needed him home more. It was a mark of how much he loved the family that he left the open road and became a local driver for Arkansas Best Freight here in Sarasota.
Even with a big family, he provided well for us. After working a full week with plenty of overtime, he would spend Saturdays mowing lawns or servicing tractor trailers for extra money. And he spent little on himself – it was for us. He even named his company J&M Truck Services – for John and Mike.
He protected us, too. Not only from the bad things of the world, but from ourselves as well. He was always there, strong and steady—to back us up or to kick our butts when we did something stupid.
He made Mike, Andrew, and I into the men we are today—and he showed Amanda what a good man is like.
It’s easy to see how Dad exemplified the strong ideals of chivalry, of the Biblical man – toughness, independence, protecting and providing. What about the softer virtues?
He was also honorable, as a man should be. If Dad made a commitment, he always kept it. You knew you could count on him. Honesty was the secret of his business’s success (that and Mom working miracles with the paperwork.) If something was damaged, Dad was always quick to make things right. Customers were willing to wait weeks or months for his services, because they knew he could be trusted.
Dad was loving. He really loved his family and friends. In his earlier years, he showed it most of all through acts of service – doing things for others and working hard for his family. As he got older he was more apt tell you how much he loved you.
Dad was kind-hearted – especially as he matured through the years. You always knew he was glad to see you. Yeats’s old saying applied to him. No one was a stranger to my father – they were just friends he hadn’t met yet. He could meet a fellow in line at the gas station and they would be buddies by the time they reached the cashier.
He was a peacemaker, too. All he wanted in life was for his family to get along, and to love each other, as he loved us.
Some of his kids were difficult teenagers. Well, just me, actually. I was such an angry, mixed-up kid. And he just took it. He just kept on loving me, being a rock against which my anger could break. He never gave up on me.
I entered the Army at 17, because I didn’t know what else to do. He wrote me the kindest, most humble letter while I was in Basic Training. It apologized for his mistakes in raising me, making no mention of my much, much larger sins. It was exactly what I needed. I cried like a baby in front of 50 other GIs, but didn’t care. I realized then exactly how much my father loved me.
Any description of John Bush has to include his sense of humor. Someone once said the key to life was to “Die young as late as possible.” That was my Dad. Even at 68, he still had an ornery, boyish side that loved mischief and a good joke.
Even when racked with cancer, he was always patient and kind, and quick with a joke, enduring the pain and misery with manly good-humor.
He never called anyone by their actual name. As my Uncle Barry said when my father died, “People in heaven are about to get a lot of new nicknames.”
He had a million funny sayings and made-up words. Mom even collected them into a book – “Poop My Dupes – the Wit and Wisdom of John Bush.” To this day I have no idea where his sense of humor came from. Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop Bush were many things, but they weren’t exactly Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Dad’s humor was all his own.
And it was like a virus. Anyone who spent time with him would end up talking like him. Which is kind of nice. As long as there are people in this world still calling unknown objects a “wigwam for a duck’s butt,” John Bush will never truly be gone.
Lastly, my Dad was a man of faith. This wasn’t as obvious as his other virtues, and it became more evident later in life. But he had genuine faith and trust in Christ. My mother’s faith is incredibly vibrant and dynamic, and I think my Dad sometimes deferred to her on spiritual things because of it.
But his faith was genuine, and we watched it grow over the years. When he prayed publicly, it was no longer with a sheepish tone of voice. He began to actively participate in church, attending men’s Bible study even when cancer had robbed him of energy and strength. Most of all, we saw the true fruit of the Spirit grow in his life.
Mom’s schoolteachers had actively warned her against marrying my ornery, motor-head father. How shocked they would have been to see the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control he developed as the Spirit sanctified him through the years.
We saw his faith in his final days – not only in his lack of fear of death, but in his confident expectation that God awaited him. Twice he told us he was ready to go – God had projects waiting for him in the next life, things to work on.
That was John Bush in a nutshell. The rest of us would focus on release from pain and sickness, or the wedding feast with Christ, or the streets of gold. My Dad wanted to get back to work.
Once Christ returns, we will have a new Heaven and a new Earth. We will have new bodies free from sin and sickness. There will be plenty of work for my Dad to do – good, rewarding work.
Until then, he gets to do something he missed out on in this life – retirement. As we gather here today, Dad is resting from his labors, reunited with lost loved ones and happy in the presence of the Savior.
I know that we’re all hurting today. We all miss him terribly. But we can also be grateful for the many years we had with him, and take comfort knowing that if we share his faith, we will see him again.
In closing, my father was the best man I’ve ever known. He worked hard and sacrificed for his family his entire life, and did it with kindness, humor, and a workingman’s dignity.
His was a life well-lived.
Pop died last night, about 8 pm.
After all of our watching at his bedside for the past nearly two weeks, it still came as a shock. Perhaps it was more of a shock because he was finally sleeping, finally not struggling for every breath, finally we no longer holding our collective breath.
Then. . . while everyone was together, eating shrimp & grits made by Michael and Shelly (who reminded me of Mom and Pop cooking in their kitchen), laughing over stories of Pop, someone called Mom in to Pop’s room. Was he no longer breathing?
The little kids had just left with the big kids and Aunt Sherry to go feed the turtles. They were called back, everyone confused. Was he dead? Was he not?
I called John. He wasn’t home at the moment. I called Johnny who was heading over to see John. They needed to come home.
“We didn’t feed the turtles because Grandpa died,” said one of the little kids.
I had three of them on the couch with me in the living room while everyone else was at the bedside. We read the last chapter of the Jesus Storybook Bible, all about John’s vision of heaven and the return of Jesus and how this is our story, too, when we believe and are God’s children.
We all stood together around the hospice bed where his body lay. How someone can deny the soul once they have seen a dead body is beyond me. Pop was no longer there.
We sang “Amazing Grace.” My brother-in-law’s first wife was next to me. She was there in support of her children and the parents who still welcomed her in to the family, even after the marriage ended. She sang clearly the words of every verse.
Then we all prayed together. Many were too sad (shocked? upset?) to pray aloud. But my 7yo’s sweet, clear voice earnestly thanked the Lord for Grandpa and asked for us to be comforted. I wish I could remember the words.
Q. 18. What did God give Adam and Eve besides bodies?
A. He gave them souls that could never die.
Q. 19. Have you a soul as well as a body?
A. Yes; I have a soul that can never die.
Q. 20. How do you know that you have a soul?
A. Because the Bible tells me so.
From the Catechism for Young Children
Sunday evening my father-in-law entered into his eternal Sabbath rest, just as my mother-in-law prayed that morning.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide:
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes:
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
— Henry F. Lyte, 1847
When I was a punitive parent, I had a “script” of sort. When child did X then I said or did Y.
Leaving that behind was hard because all of a sudden I didn’t know what TO do, just what I did NOT want to do.
We DO want to get to the heart of the child, the struggles behind the behavior, and when there is sin, confront it gently and appropriately. But that is complex and in the midst of energy and chaos and several different kids having different needs. . . well, it’s hard to not have an automatic response!
While there is no one-size-fits-all response to every situation in parenting, I found that it really helped to collect tools and scripts — and write them down or post them on the fridge or make a mantra of sorts, like “Connection before Correction.”
One of the “mantras” that helped me most especially right as we were leaving behind punitive parenting was “Hug & Pray.”
When my kids (especially toddlers or preschoolers, but also older kids) are not complying or start having a meltdown, I like to pull them onto my lap and hug them. The hug helps calm me and calm them. It gives us a moment to reconnect and have that physical affection that helps put the big emotions into context. And I pray for wisdom. . . sometimes silently, sometimes out loud with them, so they see that I am not perfect but want to do the best thing. We both calm down usually, and then can address whatever situation brought up all the big feelings or disobedience.
I can remember so vividly the first time I used this with a 3yo (who is now 18!) and just how peace washed over me as I prayed. I needed to connect with my son and with the Lord. I don’t always have the peaceful response, but it is still one of my primary parenting tools.
My father-in-law is in hospice care at home. We know he is trusting Jesus and that his time to leave this broken world will be soon.
Needless to say, it’s been an intense week. We’ve all be at the grandparents house for parts of each day. The little kids have been playing quietly in Grandma’s room (she has the best toys!) and sometimes running around outside. It’s been good that we have all been there. But it still is a lot.
On our drive home last night, H4 let me know in no uncertain terms that she was tired of listening to Mommy’s podcasts. Frankly, so was I. I turned on the radio and started surfing through the radio stations. At the first one she said, “Stop! I love this!”
It was the classical station and the Name Day Overture by Beethoven was playing. (Not that I would have known that had not the digital radio had the title showing.)
We listened together as we drove.
“This makes me feel happy!” H4 exclaimed.
Making: Still working on the afghan–I have a September deadline, so I’ve got to get a move on it.
Cooking: Made chicken soup, which is surprisingly good for today’s Houston weather (overcast, in the 70s, probably going to pour down raining here in a second)
Drinking: A cortado at A 2nd Cup (whose wifi I’m using right now)
Reading: The Color of Compromise, Bowlaway, and Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance.
Wanting: I keep meaning to sit down and play the song “Redemption Day” all the way through, just haven’t done it yet.
Looking: At tickets to New York City or Nashville for Labor Day weekend, maybe.
Playing: This really stupid game I got because of an Instagram ad, but it’s really addictive; it’s called Color Road and I’ve gotten weirdly good at it.
Deciding: On a five-year plan, maybe. Not anything formal yet, but I have the framework of an idea.
Wishing: I could get the motivation to go to the gym.
Enjoying: The podcast Ologies, which is interviews with people who do the ologies–one of my favorite eps is the one on oology, which is the study of eggs.
Waiting: For the 4th of July (which is bringing me a four-day weekend).
Wondering: Who I should invite over for dinner next; what to take my friends who just had a baby
Loving: The song “Cumbia de Donde” by Calexico; Avengers: Endgame (I think I need to go see it again)
Pondering: How to get myself to start reading more again (I’m severely behind in my reading challenge on Goodreads)
Considering: Buying some camping gear (I wanna go do that more)
Buying: This dress (I wore it to church a couple of Sundays ago and got called Miss Frizzle)
Watching: The Marvel movies I skipped on my blitz toward Endgame (namely, the Ant-Man movies and Spider-Man: Homecoming, especially in prep for Far From Home next week)
Hoping: I don’t get a ton of people at quiz tonight…I started doing trivia at a local bar and it’s been a lot of fun, but occasionally I’ll get more than 15 teams and I’m just not feeling it tonight.
Needing: To do something with all the junk that’s currently on my bedroom floor–it had been hanging out on a bookshelf that’s been falling apart and I am trying to organize it into other places in my apartment so I can get rid of the bookshelf.
Smelling: Everybody else’s drinks at this coffee shop.
Wearing: Blue shorts, green and white tank top, brown gladiator sandals, these earrings.
Admiring: The coloring sheet they have magneted to the fridge at 2nd Cup (I’m sitting at the counter and can see all of the kitchen).
Giggling: At this ridiculous Twitter thread.
Hearing: Another podcast I recently discovered (thanks to Ologies, actually) called Smart Mouth, which is a food historian talking with people she knows about the history of their favorite foods.
There are days–weeks, months, years, lifetimes–
when all of hope that you can stomach
is one spoonful at a time.
Any more of it and it hurts to swallow.
And sometimes it’s something
that someone else has to hold to your lips
and pour down your throat,
or you chase it with ginger ale so
you only taste its sweetness, not its sting.
Either way, it’s better than
trying not to feel the pain at all.
Making: Still working on the afghan. I’ve got a post in my drafts that’s a big list of book recommendations, so stay tuned for that!
Drinking: The cherry flavor from Houston Cider Co. (it’s local and delicious)
Reading: In the middle of The Epic of Eden and An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.
Wanting: A new swimsuit!
Looking: At dining room sets, because my table and chairs are kind of falling apart…
Playing: Lots of Sporcle quizzes of late.
Deciding: Whether or not I can take a vacation to New York this fall.
Wishing: It wasn’t about to get blaringly hot here in Houston any minute now…
Enjoying: The Bible study I’m doing with some folks from church that’s led by one of our pastors–it’s been really rich so far and I’m glad we still have until November.
Waiting: For it to stop thundering and start actually raining outside.
Wondering: How I let my calendar for May get so full!
Loving: My church is about to start a series on the emotions and this enneagram 4 is HERE FOR IT
Pondering: How to better stick to my budget and why I’m not reading as much as I used to.
Considering: Future plans–I’ve got the bones of a plan to finally start a second master’s degree in the fall of 2020, which isn’t as far off as it seems. I need to work out details (especially the financial ones), but yeah, I have concrete plans to make it happen now, which is exciting.
Buying: Some anti-frizz serum which really does work well but is impossible to wash out
Watching: Started The West Wing! I’m also on a quest to finish watching all the Marvel movies before I go watch Endgame–it probably won’t be for a couple of weeks, so NO SPOILERS!
Hoping: I don’t eat it on this bike ride/scavenger hunt my friend is doing for his birthday on Saturday! (I haven’t ridden a bike in literally ten years.)
Needing: To clean my apartment and fold all my laundry and put it away…
Smelling: Grapefruit candle from Trader Joe’s! It’s very grapefruity and smells really good.
Wearing: Thrift store t-shirt, plaid pajama pants.
Admiring: This poem by Robert Pinsky.
Giggling: At this Instagram post from one of the cast members of the Hamilton Philip tour.
Hearing: Church Clothes by Lecrae! And the cars driving by on the road on the other side of the bayou.
The temple torn down
The curtain rent
The slain lamb
The offering priest
The pleasing sacrifice
Clothed in white linen
Anointed with fragrant oils
The suspended bridge over
The valley of death
The king in his beauty enthroned
You were torn down,
Crushed and poured out
As a sign of the new promise
Of God that makes all the old ones come true
All our rocks and thorns
Breaking Your body
So that we could drink deep
Of Your goodness to us
Tonight it seems the roles are reversed:
We prepared a table for You just down
The road from your enemies
Fragrant oil for Your head
Salt water for Your feet
Right before You throw Yourself
Headlong into the valley of death
To rescue all of Your lost sheep
And bring them home rejoicing
They had stood in the doorways
And blocked up the halls
With stacks on stacks of regulations
Meant to keep out the riff raff
You cleared out the clutter
And tore yourself in two
A rending of time and matter and space
A new entrance to the new temple
Why keep the light
Inside of these four walls
When there are folks outside in the dark
Clear out the clutter
And let them come in and see
Glory where there was none
Tear open the veil
Take the fire outside
Let the people come near
And see the presence of God
Descend once again to His temple
To shine on us again
“Save us” they prayed
They wanted a king that would give them bread
That would fill their hunger
That would break the cycle of their poverty
That would break the cycles of their oppression
Here comes Jesus, the Son of David
And the city’s stones shout underneath the people
That their rightful King has returned
To come into His kingdom at last
He will fill them at last
With the tearing of His flesh
He will rule the world
From a splintered throne
While the city watches
His blood spill outside its gates
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7–11 ESV)
So many things are going on. So many of them are good. Actually, biblically speaking, all of them are good (because I think that’s how all things work out in the end). I’m blessed to be able to do ministry at the local community college, to be working at an interesting (albeit stressful) job that provides a good, regular paycheck, to be married to a wonderful (and getting younger-looking and fitter every year, somehow) woman, to have four children, five grandchildren. I belong to a great church, have great friends, I get to teach at church, I am attending seminary, and I have so many etceteras to add to all that.
But I need joy. This need has become acute.
I need joy. This is not a circumstantial problem: there is so much in my life that offers joy. I have no excuse. This is a me-problem. I find it hard to receive joy, to give up anxiety, to live in the moment. A thought hit me the other day: failure dogs my steps. I think about failing all the time. Failing at my job, failing in ministry – and by that I don’t mean disqualifying myself somehow, but just flat failing. Not being good enough. I fear failure in providing for my family, Failing socially. Failing spiritually. Failing physically (because this old body is starting to break down a bit). I ran-walked a half marathon a week ago and I still feel this way.
So, it’s been established. I’m kind of a mess. None of what I wrote above makes rational sense. On paper, I’m doing very well. My internal landscape is darker, though.
Failure dogs my steps.
Yet Jesus writes “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” I think that ultimately what’s going on in me stems from a seeming inability to really believe Jesus loves me. Yet he writes here that He loves me in the same way God loves Him. How does God love Jesus, the sinless Son with whom He is well pleased? Beyond my comprehension.
Jesus loves me.
There’s great joy in believing that. May I learn to believe it without effort.
The result of believing it, I think, is deeper obedience to Jesus. There is a beautiful feedback loop here: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
As I obey, I abide, which leads to more obedience and more abiding. Which leads to joy. Fullness of joy!
This is the talk I shared at the St. Paul Women's Retreat yesterday. “For consider your calling, sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God...
We're celebrating Christmas quietly this year -- no travel, no visiting family, no big pile of presents under the tree. I've gathered in many of our favorite foods to celebrate this long holiday weekend: spiral-sliced ham, little sausages in crescent...