Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein--Executed

I just learned that Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging, just before ten p.m., Eastern time. I have mixed feelings about that.

While I realize that he was a murderous fellow and deserves punishment, I have a hard time believing that we are right in ratcheting up the violence constantly. It seems to me that more violence on our part just stirs up the Muslims to a higher level of violence. If we could somehow demonstrate Christian love to them, it seems their violence might dissipate. Jesus preached nonviolence. "Love your enemies," he said. "Pray for those who persecute you."

I tend to agree with Shane Claiborne, who said in The Irresistible Revolution, "Our arms are just not big enough to carry both the cross and the sword" (249).

Look at the results of the medieval Crusades. Claiborne says, " We can learn from the bloody pages of history. The more vigorously we try to root out evil by force, the more evil will escalate. For every Muslim extremist killed, another is created. Likewise, the more passionately we love our enemies, the more evil will diminish" (249).

He points out, "It is no surprise that statistics show Muslim people are less open to Christianity now than they were a year ago. Pharisaic extremists are alive today in every religion--in Islam, in Christianity, in Judaism" (250).

World Trade Center: The Movie

The second night after Christmas, my daughter and I put the children to bed early and watched a movie--World Trade Center. We cried, and we talked about it a lot the next day.

The tag line for the movie says it is “A true story of courage and survival.” Directed by Oliver Stone, it is the very moving and intense story of two of only twenty survivors rescued from the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings.

Will Jimeno, played by Michael Peña, was a rookie in a select group of New York City Port Authority policemen supervised by John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage). Clad in fire gear, they were headed into the first-hit building in a brave effort to save as many as they could. They did not know the second building had also been hit. When the first building began to collapse, they were in the concourse between buildings. They ran for the elevator shafts and were buried there for about 22 hours before being rescued. The other members of the group were killed in the collapse.

The movie shows the courage of the two men and their families in the face of this terrifying experience. McLoughlin’s and Jimeno’s thoughts were of their families, each other, and their partners who had been killed. The CBS News site at this link tells the true story and features a video of a “Sixty Minutes” interview on November 24, 2004, with McLoughlin, Jimeno, and several of the men who rescued them.

An important part of the film is the heroic story of then-former-Marine Staff Sergeant David Karnes who was largely responsible for their rescue, along with another Marine known only as “Sgt. Thomas.” A senior accountant in Wilton, Connecticut, Karnes felt called by God to don his Marine uniform, gather up his military rescue equipment, and go to New York City to help. His fascinating story is told in this linked article in the Wilton, Connecticut, newspaper, the Wilton Bulletin of August 10, 2006.

His part in the 9-11 rescues was clearly a “God thing,” and Stone portrayed it that way. Too often, Hollywood tries to gloss over “God things” or downplay them, but in this movie, we see it the way it probably was, not embellished in any way, no implied excuses or criticism for his following this heart-felt urge.

Stone’s film does not try to tell the whole story of September 11, 2001. But through the story of these two men, their families, and their rescuers, what comes clear is the universal feelings of fear and shock, as well as the uncommon courage and human love on that terrible day.

The picture of the Port Authority policemen in the movie comes from this web site:

Friday, December 22, 2006

“The Hand Warmer: A Christmas Story”

“The Hand Warmer: A Christmas Story” by my 6-year-old grandson, with a little typing help from his mother, my daughter-in-love…er…law. The story is based on a western painting by Tom Lovell—The Hand Warmer*.

Once upon a time I was with two people who were traveling. The second night a big snow storm came through, and in the morning there was snow all over the place. It was freezing cold.

- It may have been 30 degrees like when it was snowing at our house.-

But we saw that the snow was so high that it went onto the top of the roof! There was a smoking chimney at the top. We went up to it and put our hands over it to warm up. Then we heard a strange noise below the roof. We looked down and saw a person. When he saw that we were on his roof, he said, “Why are you on the roof and putting your hands over the chimney?”

We said, “Because it is so cold out here and we are warming our hands at the chimney.”

He said, “Come into my house. I have the heater on in there.”

We said, “Maybe for a little while.”

So we went into his house and warmed up by the fire place. Then we ate some dinner. We went back outside to keep on our journey.

We said thank you and good bye to the man who let us in his home. We lived happily ever after.

The End.

*On this web site, the artist profile says, "The quality of (Tom Lovell’s) contribution to contemporary western art, prints and posters is remarkable. In 1974, he won the National Academy of Western Arts Prix de West, was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and won the Franklin Mint gold medal for prints. Lovell has also been featured in Artists of the Rockies and Persimmon Hill."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Anne Rice--Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I just finished reading Anne Rice’s latest book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Here are thirteen things I’d like to say now.

1. Anne Rice used to write exclusively about vampires and such things as demons and devils.

2. I can’t write with knowledge about those earlier books because I’ve never read any of them. I have been aware of her reputation as a “vampire” writer, and I have avoided those books on purpose. But I have plenty to say about Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

3. It was a little ironic to read the list of books written “also by Anne Rice”—things like Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Mummy . . . –and then to consider this title, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt . I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about it.

4. This is an amazing book. It is a first-person narrative about Jesus, as the title says. It covers about a year in his life as a child, when his large family comes back to Nazareth to live after being in Egypt for the first seven years of his life.

5. In the “Introduction to the Paperback Edition,” Rice says, in part, that her story assumes that God “became human in the person of Jesus Christ and ‘dwelt among us.’ The magnificent mystery of the Incarnation is accepted and affirmed as fact.”

6. She says in the introduction that she used scripture to re-create the “emotions and powers of the Child Jesus.” In the author’s notes at the end of the book, she says that for a number of the incidents in the book, she used legends as set forth in the Apocrypha, stories and visions familiar to people for centuries.

7. The story seems very realistic as it presents the mind of the young Jesus. In the story, he is puzzled because he has miraculous powers—for example, the power to make living birds from clay, to heal sick people, to stop rain. He tries not to do these things, in obedience to Joseph and Mary, who discourage such acts. They don’t want to explain any of his beginnings to him until he is old enough to understand

8. We really have no early record in the Gospels of what Jesus was like as a child. I have wondered if he knew all along who he was or if he became aware of it gradually, and how that might have happened. To me, Rice’s interpretation makes sense; I believe that Jesus’ childhood could have been the way she portrays it. Some people would worry that her presentation of Jesus might be blasphemous, but she does it in a humble, loving, spiritual way.

9. The book won Beliefnet’s award for Best Spiritual Book of the Year—2005.

10. Just as amazing as the story itself is Rice’s story in the author’s notes of how she came back to faith. She grew up in the Catholic Church but she fell away from belief at the age of eighteen. She and her husband Stan Rice were avowed atheists for about thirty years.

11. She wrote that her first novel was a reflection of her misery and guilt “in being cut off from God and from salvation; . . . being lost in a world without light” (323). She said, “After that, I wrote many novels without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God” (323).

12. She read countless scholarly books in preparation for writing about the life of Jesus, including both skeptical and faith-based approaches to the New Testament, history, and philosophy. She read a number of works by N. T. Wright; she said “. . .his generosity in embracing the skeptics and commenting on their arguments is an inspiration. His faith is immense, and his knowledge vast” (335).

13. She fell in love with Jesus. She said she offers this book to Christians of all persuasions “in the hope that my embrace of more conservative doctrines will have some coherence for them in the here and now of the book” (337). She offers it “to scholars in the hope that they will perhaps enjoy seeing the evidence of the research that’s gone into it . . .” (338). She hopes that people who don’t know Jesus Christ “will see him in some form” in the book. And finally, she offers it to her faithful readers “in the hope that Jesus will be as real to you as any other character I’ve ever launched into the world we share” because in truth, Jesus is “the ultimate supernatural hero” (338).

Rice said in a Christianity Today interview: "This book means more to me than anything I've ever done. I'm not offering agnostic explanations. He is real. He worked miracles. He is the Son of God! And there is so much more to write."

It’s a wonderful story—read it! Here’s a link to her web site.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Thoughts after a Suicide

A young man committed suicide last weekend. He was a freshman student at our community college, a football player. I didn’t know him. Two of my good friends taught him in their classes. They say he appeared reasonably happy—maybe a little quiet. He came to class and did his schoolwork.

Other students liked him. One said to me, “He was crazy.”
Another told me, “It was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

It is too late now to talk to my students about it because the semester is over. But I would like to tell them some things, if I could. Maybe I'll tell the new ones next semester.

No matter what his reasons were, his death is tragic—a tragic waste. His family and all the other people who knew him must feel very upset about his death and guilty about not being able, ultimately, to help him.

No problem is ever worth committing suicide—nothing.

If at any time someone tells you he is thinking about killing himself, believe it. Know that this person is crying out for help, even if he appears to be kidding.

Take it seriously. An actual suicide attempt is a desperate cry for help.

Don’t just try to talk her out of it. She may agree with you and even promise not to hurt herself. But remember that suicidal people are unstable. She may mean to keep the promise—and then fall apart and shoot herself that very night. Therefore, tell somebody who can do something about it; don’t keep it a secret.

If you begin to feel depressed, overwhelmed, and unable to function, talk to someone you trust—a teacher, a parent, a good friend, a pastor. Don’t put it off.

Try to remember that whatever bad situation you are in, it isn’t the end of things. Time brings change. You won’t always feel this way.

God is the great healer of your heart. He wants to hear from you a heartfelt cry for help. The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). And Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

A good thing from the Bible to memorize is this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That means God created everything, including me; the things of the world are chaotic, but “in him,” I can make it through the chaos.

How does that happen? If I know him and go to him often and love him, my heart will know a deep, sweet peace, no matter what terrible problems may come my way. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Trees in Seattle

Last year at this time, we had the big debate over words. Was it better to say “Merry Christmas!” and risk appearing religious, or to say “Happy Holidays!” and be generic? People actually became hot under the collar about this non-issue. You no doubt remember that.

People are getting crazy again. This year it is over Christmas trees in an airport in Seattle—SEA-TAC. It seems a Jewish rabbi threatened to sue the airport if they didn’t add an 8-foot menorah in celebration of Hanukkah, near the largest Christmas tree. He thought it would be a nice addition.

The Seattle Times reports that the rabbi was horrified when the airport folks decided to take down their nine Christmas trees, rather than appear to be exclusive. They are too busy for litigation and don’t “have time to play cultural anthropologists.” They feared that putting up a menorah would only be the beginning, and they would eventually be forced to include symbols of all the religious persuasions in America.

Well . . . another non-issue. I’m sure the rabbi didn’t intend to start a blazing fire—and neither did the airport people, who were trying to avoid one.

Why can’t Christmas just be a time of love and peaceful co-existence? Surely we could manage that for a few weeks. Instead of fighting, we could be extra-concerned this season about orphans, widows, the homeless, the hungry.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Season of Advent

This is the season of Advent—the four Sundays preceding Christmas. “Advent” means “coming” or “coming into being or use.” It refers, in this case, of course, to the advent of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Of course, most people know that Jesus was not really born on Christmas day. The actual date of his birth cannot be established with any certainty. In a Google search, we can find numerous explanations, like the very good one linked here, of why his birth came to be celebrated on December 25.

In the early years of the Christian church, the date of his birth was considered to be insignificant; the important time was his death and resurrection. Now, we celebrate it in December probably because, as the New Life web site tells us, “In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first ‘Christ mass’ was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day.”

At any rate, here we are in the sixth year of the 21st century, preparing for Christmas, the season of hope and love. Two things happened this weekend that have touched my heart with Christmas spirit.

Yesterday, I ran into a friend of mine whom I’ll call “Cora”—that’s not really her name. I heard a few weeks ago that she has been diagnosed with bone cancer, and I’ve been in a state of denial about it. She is one of the world’s best people. She was in the grocery store, getting ready to feed 35 family members next weekend. So yesterday, in the canned goods aisle, I asked her if it is true.

Cora said, “Well, yes, and no.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes. She explained that tests show she has the cells in her blood, but it has not caused any symptoms. As she told me about possible treatments and outcomes, I began to cry—I couldn’t help it, right there in the grocery store.

Cora comforted me. She said, “We know that everything is in God’s hands.” I agreed with her, through my tears. She said, “There might be some pain and yucky stuff on the way, but then—just to be with God—that couldn’t be bad!” I agreed, still crying.

Then, this morning in church, my young friend “Crystal” and her four-year-old daughter “Eva” lit the second Advent candle; they were both wearing red sweaters. Crystal helped Eva light it, and then Crystal read a piece about opening our hearts to Christ. As Crystal read, she held Eva’s hand. Eva leaned lightly against Crystal’s arm and gazed up at her the whole time she read, her blonde curls falling back. She smiled while she listened, and her blue eyes told how she adores her mother. Her father died of cancer during this past year. Crystal has been strong and cheerful, as she has been both father and mother for Eva.

It is a time of hope, light, love, giving—because of Jesus, whose date of birth we don’t really know. I feel the glow of Advent.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thursday Thirteen Thoughts about the First Snowfall

Snow doesn’t happen very often down here in the Southwest. We see snow two or three times during the winter, and it usually starts right after Christmas. It is early this year; our first snowfall was last night when the huge cold front moved in on us.

I’ve noticed that people speak differently about snow, depending on where they live. When we Southwesterners speak of this event, we say “the first snow was early this year.” We know it won’t stay long, and it may or may not happen again this year. My son who lives in the Frozen North has adopted the habit, like other Frozen-Northerners, of saying he hopes to get something done, like bringing in the firewood to the basement, “before the snow flies.”

Thirteen thoughts about snow, whether it “falls” or “flies”:

1. First, it rained hard yesterday for about an hour and a half—a good ol’-fashioned, all-out thunderstorm. (But, actually, I wrote this last Thursday.)

2. Thank you, Lord! It has been very dry for several months, and our trees and bushes will be more protected against the freezing weather. Also, people here are still nervous about fires, after what happened last year—an unusual number of huge brushfires that destroyed many crops and homes.

3. All day, in anticipation of the cold, I had been trying to water my mother’s yard as much as possible. I couldn’t get back to her house to turn off the water before the rain began, so three sprinklers were going full blast in the rain. I got pretty wet slogging around the house to turn them off. And I feared being struck by lightening, with my metal-handled umbrella in my hand! It was crashing all around.

4. During the night, a couple of inches of snow fell, and it has continued snowing most of the day—big, fluffy flakes. School was called off, so I am staying home. (Yea!)

5. Sometimes I can’t tell if it is still snowing because clouds of snow blow off the roof.

6. The ground is still very warm, so it melts slowly, underneath. The roads are passable. But toward the end of the day, ice will form, making driving dangerous. It is a good thing schools are cancelled, because people here in the Southwest don’t know how to drive on ice and snow—even in rain, in some places.

7. Our 6-year-old grandson, who has gotten very good at reading lately, called last night and read us the weather report for the week, here and in the Frozen North where his uncle and aunt live. He likes to keep an eye on the weather for everybody.

8. Little bits of green grass poke up here and there in the snow; soon they’ll turn brown.

9. Bright red cardinals and their tan ladies show up to eat the cat food and to scratch around in the snow under the trees and bushes. A red cardinal in the snow reminds me of a Christmas card we got last year.

10. Blue birds with orange breasts forage, along with the cardinals. Maybe these are migratory birds; I don’t know what kind they are, although I have seen them before. I have a bird book, but right now, I am too lazy to open it. Next time I go out, I must buy some sunflower seeds and put out the bird feeder.

11. I remember that when I was four years old, my father helped me build a snowman for the first time. We used a wooden Coke box as a base, to make him taller. I chattered away like a happy little bird; he didn’t say much, but he smiled a lot.

12. When my daughter was about three, she and I built a snowman. We put a toboggan and a heavy scarf on him, to keep him warm. She loved it. Her little button nose and chubby cheeks were red with the cold, and her dark eyes sparkled. When her brothers came along, we all built snowmen every year.

13. A few years after my father died, my mother and her next-door neighbor built a huge snow-woman. She had big bosoms, a wide-brimmed hat, an apron, and a shawl.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Predestination? Choice?

I have a question.

Do you believe in predestination?

In places in the Bible, we are told that everything is pretty well wrapped up from the very beginning of time. God has chosen whom he will redeem.

On the other hand, in other places in the Bible, we are told that we should choose life—that we should choose the right way and spurn Satan. We are told to seek God while he may be found. Seek him and he will hear and answer.

Which is it? Is this one of those things we will not know until one day when we are with him in eternal life and can ask him questions? Maybe it’s one of those things we can’t know now.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Education: Laptops for All Children

A laptop computer for every child—when I first heard that, I said, “Oh, good grief! A laptop!? What lots of children need is nutritious food—coats and shoes—a bed.” And I promptly dismissed it as another bad idea.

Eventually, I ran across this web site— This has been in the news for awhile, but I haven’t paid much attention to it until now. Amazing!! I now realize that laptops could soon be available for children in developing countries. I also see that they could have a tremendous impact in third world countries—and in our country, too.

This small laptop, developed at MIT, will work even in the most primitive areas because it can operate on hand-cranked power. The monitor is designed to work on very low power, with half of its elements (whatever those things are called) made to reflect existing light; it can show up in color or, using reflected light, black and white. This “wiki” tells a great deal about the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project and provides opportunity for discussion and feedback from interested readers.

When the project is ready, if we turned loose of a few billion dollars here and there, we could take a big step toward helping. I believe some of the best assistance for the desperately needy is to enable them to find ways to help themselves. We can see such results in areas where missionary groups and government agencies like the Peace Corps have taught people how to build and operate simple machinery for much benefit—for water purification, farm irrigation, crop management.

We are called to help the needy. In fact, taking care of the poor and seeing that justice is done are ways of worshipping God through obedience. He doesn’t want us just to fast and bow our heads, but to live a “fasting” kind of life. God tells us in Isaiah 58 that the kind of fasting he really wants involves some action on our parts:

Here is the way I want you to fast.
Set free those who are held by chains without any reason.
Untie the ropes that hold people as slaves.
Set free those who are crushed.
Break every evil chain.
Share your food with hungry people.
Provide homeless people with a place to stay.
Give naked people clothes to wear.

When people are oppressed and we see it, we’re supposed to do something about it. We are supposed to feed them and clothe them. I believe the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project should be considered as we look for ways to help. Education is vital in the set of keys to escaping from the “mind-forged manacles”* of poverty.

*These are the words of the British poet William Blake, who wrote in the late 1700s of the dreadful oppression of poverty that he saw in London.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bible Translations--What's the Difference?

I work with an interdenominational college students’ Bible study that meets once a week. My job is to arrange the food—we always feed them dinner. That’s very important to a college student who is away from Mama’s cooking! I assure you, they are HUNGRY. Different churches in our community help out by providing food.

They are hungry in other ways, too. They need spiritual food. Four of our leaders take turns teaching from the Bible once a week. They need more help than that, so we decided to send out a mid-week something with devotional thoughts. My friend Janet has the job of group communications; she writes weekly devotionals for them. She takes this job seriously and does it prayerfully. I asked her to let me share last week’s mid-week devotional with you because it talks about some important things:

Janet wrote:

"Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself." Can you guess who said that? Dr. Phil? Oprah? Nice sentiment. But who said it? What? Matthew 16:25? You’re kidding. I don’t remember Jesus saying ANYthing about finding yourself.

These were my thoughts when I first encountered this verse from The Message. No, it is not a bible. It is a paraphrase. But it has been used liberally by writers, most notably Rick Warren, to establish the authority of their viewpoints. Paraphrases should never be used as a substitute for the Bible, but used like a commentary along with it as an aid.

But what aid? Can you trust a paraphrase that turns this: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.—Matt 16:25 NASB--into a self-actualization message? We are talking about eternal life, here, not finding your groove or getting the most out of this life!

The plethora of translations and paraphrases can cause confusion, especially to outsiders who gleefully conclude that the Bible is too “tampered with” to have any relevance to their lives. But what are believers to make of all of it?

I believe that we can say with confidence that the original manuscripts are the inerrant word of God. There have been enough manuscripts found to give us additional confidence that we are dealing with inspired words divinely preserved for us. There is much evidence to confirm the Scriptures as divine. But what of translations? There is no assurance that they are divinely inspired, thus each believer has to exercise some discernment. Each translation (not paraphrase) has a body of scholars who undertake their assignment with a set of underlying assumptions. The NASB, for example, attempts to be faithful on a word by word basis to the original text, while the NIV uses the meaning of the word from the original text to find a common English equivalent in order to make the text more modern and understandable.

Both approaches have merit, and you will benefit from reading both when you study. Just as we are not supposed to form our doctrinal beliefs upon only one verse from the Bible (called proof-texting), we should not ignore the fact that translations include biases from the people who labored over them, and so consult other translations (including also the NKJ and NEV) frequently.

The Scriptures themselves warn us not to take God’s word lightly (Rev 22:18-19). Your faithful attendance to a weekly Bible study shows how much you value God’s word. Pray for continued guidance and discernment as the Word is attacked by those who would deny its power. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12 NKJV

The worst attacks are the subtle ones from within. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.—2 Timothy 4:3 NIV

The more you know your Bible, the less likely it will be that you will be misled. Difficult verses often have to be interpreted in light of what the rest of the Bible says. Not surprisingly, we recommend the hard work of daily Bible study as a remedy for itching ears!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thursday Thirteen--Smells

Our ability to smell is amazing, if you think about it. God created us with a complicated system of nerves, including the olfactory nerves, which are “the first pair of cranial nerves that arise in the mucous membranes within the upper part of the nose and transmit impulses concerned with the sense of smell to the forebrain” (Webster)! In a less technical sense, odors and fragrances can bring us many pleasant sensations and even trigger memories.

Here are thirteen of the most delightful smells I can think of:

1. lilacs—When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing under a huge lilac bush, and I have always loved the fragrance of the blooms.

2. gardenias—My father bought my mother a corsage of gardenias when they got married; my brother and I bought a big bouquet of gardenias for our parents’ fiftieth wedding celebration.

3. honeysuckle—During my growing-up years, there was a big honeysuckle vine outside my bedroom window, and I could smell it at night during the summer; those were pre-air-conditioner days, and the windows were always open.

4. dill pickles—Yum! They are the best on sandwiches.

5. fresh mint—I love fresh mint in iced tea.

6. garlic—I’m trying to learn to cook with fresh garlic; it is so much better than canned garlic.

7. vanilla—We have a twenty-year-old Christmas ornament, a bird made from vanilla beans from South America. During the year, it lives in a can. When we open the can, the whole room smells like vanilla for a little bit. We let our 7-year-old grandson open it this year; his eyes grew big, and he said, “Wow! Smell this bird!”

8. cinnamon—It makes chocolate chip cookies smell and taste even better.

9. the air just before it rains—There’s a dusty-leafy smell in the air. Sometimes the tap water in our small town smells and tastes this way.

10. coffee—Ah, yes! A steaming, hot cup, as I curl up on the couch to read my Bible early in the morning.

11. pine cones and all evergreen trees

12. a fire in a fireplace

13. compost—leaf mould—dirt

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lectio Divina

A few weeks ago, Carolyn, a good friend of mine, went on a Saturday “retreat of silence” with a group of friends from her church. They spent the day apart from each other--alone, in meditation, contemplation, and prayer. There were no organized lessons, lectures, or exercises. They had only their Bibles and pen and paper. It would be important to listen for God’s soft voice, speaking to them.

Carolyn said it was a little daunting at first. People are so used to constant noise—talking, music, television, traffic, cell phones. She wondered how she would get through the time. But it turned out to be a surprising time of closeness to God, of intimacy with his Spirit. The hours passed quickly.

What they were doing sounds loosely like lectio divina, an ancient technique of reading, meditating, and praying scripture; I just stumbled across a web site about it. According to an article by Father Luke Dysinger, lectio divina was “practiced at one time by all Christians.” Father Dysinger explains that this art involves

a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. Together with the Liturgy and daily manual labor, time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.

I have loosely done this myself, I realize, but I didn’t know to call it lectio divina; I always called it “praying the scriptures.” The Psalms, the book of John, the letters of John, and some of Paul’s letters especially lead me to read slowly, contemplating, praying, listening for God’s voice. Sometimes I use the references in daily devotionals by Oswald Chambers.

As my friend Carolyn said, “We’re always in such a hurry, even with our Bible reading.” Surely we can slow down and allow our hearts and minds to open to our God, who is always there when we seek him.

The Bible tells us that God says to the Israelites, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). He says the same thing to us, through the scriptures—we can hear his heart speaking to ours if we listen.

This note was attached at the bottom of the web site about lectio divina:

“The author considers this article to be in the Public Domain. This article may therefore be downloaded, reproduced and distributed without special permission from the author. It was first published in the Spring, 1990 (vol.1, no.1) edition of Valyermo Benedictine. It has subsequently been reprinted as (1) “Appendix 2” in The Art and Vocation of Caring for People in Pain by Karl A. Schultz (Paulist Press, 1993), pp. 98-110; and in (2) An Invitation to Centering Prayer with and Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Basil Pennington and Luke Dysinger (Liguori/Triumph, 2001)”

Monday, November 27, 2006


I am in love with words. I am amazed at how the human mind can wrap itself around ideas and express them.

My college English students like to think that nobody writes poetry any more and that nobody can understand it. That’s not true, I always tell them. People everywhere are closet poets; they write down their lives in private ways, telling their emotions. I can see by their eyes that many of the students do it too, but peer-fear keeps them from admitting the truth! Here’s a link to a lot of poetry, if you’d like to sample it.

I can identify with what Tim Challies wrote about poetry, in his blog:

As I've thought about words, I've thought about the power of words used in poetry (and song, for what is song but verse set to music?). While I love prose and spend some time out of every day engaged in creating it, there is something about poetry that grabs my soul. There is quality in poetry that allows so much to be said in so few words. So often I can hold onto a line of a word or a poem in a way that just is not possible with prose. A memorable piece of prose may be several sentences or paragraphs. A memorable piece of poetry may be only a few scant words. And yet often the poetry seems to say so much more. John Wain said "Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking." Something in poetry just stirs the soul in a way prose cannot, just as there is a beauty inherent in dancing that is missing in walking.

I love a poem with ideas clothed in beautiful images. One of my favorites is “The Passing of Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The best part is near the end of the long poem (469 lines) when Sir Bedivere sees that he will be the only survivor of the “last weird battle in the west”—even King Arthur has been mortally wounded and is being taken away to the Isle of Avilion. The old way of life when people lived by their ideals is passing away. Bedivere is alarmed; he cries out,

Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight. . . .”

Arthur struggles to answer him:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. . . .

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God. . . .”

I think Tennyson, through King Arthur, was exhorting the people of Victorian England not to fall away from their faith in God. It was a time of great change—not only because of industrialization, but also because of the proclamations of science and the writings of Charles Darwin. I believe these ideas are applicable to our lives today. More things are accomplished by prayer than we can imagine; therefore, we must keep a fountain of prayer rising to God always.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thirteen: I Am Thankful . . .

I am thankful . . .

For my family, not in any particular order:
1. My two sons and my daughter, who grew up to be good, kind, loving people, in spite of us.

2. My two daughters-in-law and my son-in-law; they are loving and dedicated in marriage and parenthood. They are sweet and good to us.

3. My eight grandchildren, who are these ages: 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 18 months, 18 months, and three weeks. (No, the “18 months, 18 months” is not a mistake. They were born two days and 200 miles apart. That was a wild time!)

4. My husband, who is loyal, loving, and generous. And as one of my college students (a girl!) once said, “He’s a cute older guy.” He liked that, but didn’t like it at the same time.

5. My mother, who is 90 years old now. She is sweet and precious and needs my help a lot now-- I gladly give it. She took care of me for years while I was growing up and helped me endlessly all the rest of these years. She and my father taught my brother and me about unconditional love by living it.

6. My father, who died 18 years ago. He was quiet and shy, loving and generous beyond imagination. I never stop missing him.

7. My brother and his family. He is a good, sweet man, surrounded by his large family-- my three nieces and my nephew and all their children. He is ahead of us in the Grandchildren Count—he has ten.

8. I’m thankful for good friends. What would I ever do without them?

9. I’m thankful for God’s wonderful creation—

10. and for his gift of his son Jesus to the world

For people like . . .

11. Martin Luther, who was courageous enough to stand up against oppressive religious practices like the sale of indulgences and pardons. He insisted that the church recognize that we are saved by grace through faith and that we can have a direct relationship with God through Christ. We can’t earn or buy forgiveness.

12. Mother Theresa, who lived among and cared for the poor, sick and dying in India. She was a living example of what a Christian should be like.

13. Shane Claiborne, who went and spent the summer with Mother Theresa to find out what real Christianity is.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chocolate: No More Guilt

I knew it! God invented chocolate for a good reason!

My favorite food no longer makes me feel guilty. According to a recent study, dark chocolate is full of healthy antioxidants that will help my blood to flow freely. I must eat some every day. I can handle this new assignment; I am sure of it. This BBC article says its flavanols even will help me not have high blood pressure or diabetes. the way....Ghirardelli makes the world's best chocolate.

Here is part of a Web MD report on the study by a group of European doctors; an article about it appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dark chocolate -- but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk -- is a potent antioxidant, report Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.

"Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate ... and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate."

Translation: Say "Dark, please," when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don't even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word "moderate" as you nibble.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Anne Rice, Christian

We flew up to the Frozen North yesterday. During a layover in the airport at Salt Lake City, we entertained ourselves by browsing through books. I bought a paperback by Anne Rice--Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt.

I remembered reading a few months ago that Rice had shocked the vampire lovers of the world by becoming a Christian. She spent a couple of years reading and researching, and the Christ the Lord novel is the result. The Christianity Today web site tells a little about this.

The novel is at least partially based on the Gospel of Thomas. I will report on it when I finish reading the book!

(By the way, we came up here to meet my new granddaughter. She is very sweet and precious--mellow and peaceful. I would like to take her home with me, but they decline to let me.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Problem Stuff

Thirteen things I have a hard time getting rid of:

1. fire ants

2. gray hair

3. ten pounds

4. impulsiveness

5. a fear of spiders

6. love of chocolate

7. lack of muscle tone

8. the habit of being almost late

9. my habit of letting stacks of paper grow

10. a tendency to wake up just before the alarm does

11. the idea that I always have to be busy doing something

12. the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the papers I need to grade

13. a sneaking suspicion that people don’t care as much about the doings of Britney and “Fed-Ex,” Angie and Brad, and Tom and Katie as the news media seem to think they do

14. my tendency to be intimidated sometimes, rather than speaking up about things, even though I fully believe what Paul wrote: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-8).

Well, okay, I see that's fourteen! Oh, well!

jesUSAves T-Shirts--Hmmmm.

And in addition to the Bush fish, here’s something else disturbing. These images are on T-shirts you can buy.

“Jesus saves” is there, to be sure. But “USA” is dominant. Are we being a bit self-absorbed here—a little self-glorification going on, perhaps?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bush Fish . . .

I believe the focus here might be a bit skewed. Who saves?

In his book Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne points out this car sign. He comments, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

He says, “It is a dangerous day when we can take the cross out of the church more easily than the flag. No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays. It’s difficult to know where Christianity ends and America begins."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Speaking in Tongues

I myself have never spoken in tongues, although I believe that I very often feel intensely the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that speaking in tongues is a valid way of communicating with God on the spirit level. It is certainly Biblical. I know a number of people who do speak in tongues on a regular basis, and I have been in services in evangelical churches when they did, both in the United States and in Mexico.

In the church I belong to (Methodist), we don’t speak in tongues, although officially, the church has nothing against it, as far as I know. Recently, the Southern Baptists have decreed that they will not encourage the speaking of tongues. I feel fairly sure that people in my church would not encourage it. I think many of them might be shocked if somebody began speaking in tongues in a service.

According to the web site “Religious Tolerance,” "’Speaking in tongues’ forms a major part of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christian life. This behavior is linked to an individual's salvation, and subsequent ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit.’

Although the phenomenon of ‘tongues’ plays a large role in the lives of many tens of millions of conservative Christians, little attention has been paid to it by the scientific community. It is also essentially ignored or looked upon with suspicion by many other Christians.”

My friend TS wrote an interesting entry in his blog, “Wayfaring Stranger,” about this phenomenon. He quotes a New York Times article that describes a scientific study done at the University of Pennsylvania about brain activity during the singing of spiritual songs and speaking in tongues.

The study found that when people are engaged in these activities, the blood flow in the brain measures higher. The frontal lobes of the brain, which control language use and willful thinking, appear to be fairly calm, and this spiritual activity is driven by some other area of the brain that is hard to pinpoint.

Too, the area of the brain that controls motor and emotional activity appears not to be active, the study showed. The author of the study said, “It may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.” In other words, deep within their brains, they somehow give over control.

How does that work? The thing is, it seems pretty clear that the Holy Spirit has the controls, doesn’t it? I can understand that, and it happens to me pretty often. But not in tongues. I feel a little bit . . . left out? Incomplete? Am I somehow missing the boat, so to speak?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: What Is Love?

It sounds like kind of a corny question: What is love?

Real love is different from the usual, common ol’ ordinary, everyday love. It is different from “luv” that we see splayed out in movies and on TV. It is not the same thing as desire—or sex. In a time when half of all marriages end in divorce, we could use some real love.

How do I know what real love is? I learned it from First Corinthians 13, which has thirteen verses. The writer is Paul, who understood love because he learned it from God, who is love. Here’s what he says, in the modern-day language of The New International Readers Version:

(1) Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings and of angels. If I don't have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal. (2) Suppose I have the gift of prophecy. Suppose I can understand all the secret things of God and know everything about him. And suppose I have enough faith to move mountains. If I don't have love, I am nothing at all. (3) Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And suppose I give my body to be burned. If I don't have love, I get nothing at all.

(4) Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not want what belongs to others. It does not brag. It is not proud. (5) It is not rude. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people's wrongs.

(6) Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. (7) It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up.

(8) Love never fails. But prophecy will pass away. Speaking in languages that had not been known before will end. And knowledge will pass away.

(9) What we know now is not complete. What we prophesy now is not perfect. (10) But when what is perfect comes, the things that are not perfect will pass away.

(11) When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

(12) Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely.

(13) The three most important things to have are faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.

That's what real love is. Is your love like that? Is mine?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ted Haggard: More Thoughts

While I wrote this entry about Ted Haggard a few days ago, I had a hard time with one part. I said,

I hate when things like this happen. It is a tragedy for all of us. Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. When a Christian is shown to have clay feet—especially a prominent one—the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation.

But at first, I wrote this: Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. We all have darkness in our hearts. We all have secrets in our lives that we hope won’t come to the light. That’s because we are humans and therefore fallen creatures. We all would be entirely without hope if it were not for the mercy and gracious forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.

I took out the last three sentences before I posted the entry—I don’t know why; I shouldn’t have.

When I said “the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation” when something like this happens, I meant that some people who are nonbelievers like to point out the hypocrisy. They say, see, here’s what you people are really like. And they use that as one more excuse for not believing in God. They form their clouded perceptions of God from their perceptions of his people, and when his people are exposed as sinners, they have what they think is ammunition against God. I know, because I know some people who do this.

The truth is, yes, we are really like that. Everybody is.

A friend sent me a link to this blog article by Tim Challies. In describing his changing emotions in the Ted Haggard situation, Challies says, “I went from wanting to know details, to feeling pity to feeling terror to pleading with God to continue to extend His grace to me that I would not fall.”

He quotes Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” And he applies Edwards’ thoughts to this situation. He says, “What is true of eternity, is equally true of the temporal. Just as nothing but God's hand keeps both Christian and non-Christian from death at any given moment, the same hand is all that restrains any of us from falling into sin as dreadful as Haggard's, or sin that is far worse.”

We should examine our own hearts before we get too tangled up in criticizing Haggard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Baby Arrival!

Here’s our precious new grandbaby I wrote about last week! She weighs 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and is 18 ¾ inches long. She was born Friday morning, and she and her mommy are both in great shape, thank God. Her name is Alaina.

Look at that sweet little rosebud mouth!

I get to fly up to the Frozen Wastelands next week to see her—I can’t wait.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Fall of Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard was a well-known evangelist, the pastor of a mega-church, and a politically influential opponent of same-sex marriage—until a few days ago when it was revealed that he had been involved in drugs and homosexual activity. He fell, in disgrace.

I hate when things like this happen. It is a tragedy for all of us. Nobody is perfect, and when one suffers, we all do. When a Christian is shown to have clay feet—especially a prominent one—the whole body of Christ suffers a tarnished reputation. I fear this is one of the consequences of “the Church” becoming so deeply involved in politics and social battling. I hope we (“the Church”) will handle this in a loving way that will glorify God, as that should be the aim of all that we do and say. Forgiveness comes through the grace and mercy of God, through Jesus.

Here is a Yahoo article that comes from Reuters:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - Disgraced U.S. evangelist Ted Haggard, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, said on Sunday that he was guilty of "sexual immorality" and that he had long battled with a "repulsive" side of his life.

"I am guilty of sexual immorality, I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark and I've been warring against it my entire adult life," Haggard said in a letter that was read to his New Life Church in Colorado Springs by a church overseer.

Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday after being accused by a male escort of having had a sexual relationship with him. He also agreed to step down as senior pastor of the New Life Church on Saturday."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thursday Thirteen--Classy Insults

Here are thirteen ways to insult somebody in really classy language taken from Shakespeare’s plays. This comes from an article by Jerry Maguire, called “Create Your Own Shakespearean Insults.”

Here’s how to do it: “Combine one word from each of the columns below, preface with ‘Thou . . . ,” and thus shalt thou have the perfect insult. Let thyself go—mix and match to find a barb worthy of the Bard!”

Example: Thou gorbellied fool-born lewdster!

gorbellied~~~~~~~fool-born ~~~~~~~lewdster
Puking ~~~~~~~~~hell-hated~~~~~~~moldwarp
Weedy ~~~~~~~~~folly-fallen~~~~~~jolthead

Monday, October 30, 2006

Evangelists against Religion

While I was looking around online, I came across an article about evangelists—but they are of a different sort altogether from the usual sense of the word. They think the world needs to be saved from religion.

The Wired News article linked here, “The Crusade against Religion,” tells all about it (in a 8-page article) from the viewpoint of author Gary Wolf, who says,

My friends, I must ask you an important question today: Where do you stand on God?

It's a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I'm afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

Wolf continues: This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith . . . .

Three writers have sounded this call to arms,
Wolf states. They are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. A few months ago, I set out to talk with them. I wanted to find out what it would mean to enlist in the war against faith.

Throughout the article, Wolf tells how these three men decry the behavior of Christians, the fight over evolution, religious people’s social struggles, their fundraising, their violence—definitions, falsehoods, and possible scenarios in a world without religion (among other things—8 pages, after all).

What is his conclusion? Here it is:

Wolf says: Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.

I would like to point out this one important thing. In this vast study and effort at spreading atheism, these people have examined mankind from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Don't reject God because of people. If you want to find out whether or not God is real, don’t study mankind. Study God. If you truly want to know if God is real, ask him to show you. He will.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A New Baby

Ooooooooooooo, yikes!!!! We are expecting our eighth grandchild at any moment! It’s a little girl, whose name will be Alaina—unless, of course, they change their minds. They live far away from us, and that’s sad. A couple of us have tickets to fly up to the frozen wastelands to meet her in a few weeks. I feel bad about not being there for her birth. This will be the first one I’ve missed!

A baby is a miracle, a gift from God. We all love her already.

To me, it is amazing that we can know the sex of an unborn child. Then, on top of that, the latest sonogram, yesterday, shows that she has lots of hair, chubby cheeks, and big lips. (All our babies seem to have big lips.) And yesterday, she was estimated to weigh about six pounds, fifteen ounces. The blood flow to her brain is good; her heart is doing fine. Her bladder functions well, and her stomach is full of amniotic fluid. Her head is firmly nestled in the birth canal, but still, yesterday, even with her head in a vise, she seemed interested in putting her hand on her foot.

When I was having babies, there was no way to know all this. Maybe in our skeptical generation, God has enabled us to figure out how to see these things so that we would have even more evidence of his awesome power!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Teenagers and God

I’ve been very concerned about this:

In my last Thursday Thirteen, number 7 said that George Barna’s studies show that

“Although 2/3 of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings... of the Christian faith, 2/3 reject the existence of Satan, 3/5 reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and 1/2 believe that Jesus sinned....”

So this Thirteen is an examination of teenagers and God.

1. From “the Science of Religion,” a feature story from the University of Texas at Austin, comes information about studies by Dr. Mark Regnerus about the influence of religion on American teenagers, “including sexual behavior, school performance and family relations.” He found that teens are more rebellious when parents are more religious than they are.

2. But when the teenagers are more religious than the parents, “it tends to boost family relations in the eyes of the child—even more so than when the parent and child are at the same religious level, whether that is low or high.”

3. Lynn Schofield Clark wrote an article called “Popular Culture: Replacing Religion for Today’s Teens?” in which she speculates about the influence of movies and TV on kids’ religious beliefs. She says some teens told her that they were very drawn to films about the supernatural—things that are weird, the paranormal, aliens, and ghoulish critters.

4. Apparently, they don’t usually just say they believe in such things, but they believe “it is possible.”

5. They find appealing the idea that the universe might be controlled by a great force. Maybe it could be God. Or maybe not, they say. Anything's possible.

6. Clark says they “don’t seem to be very interested in learning about ultimate truths from authoritative sources like the Bible or religious traditions.”

7. Clark says they are cynical about these institutions, history, and cultural “truths,” “just as their parents, the children of the 1960s,” were. Let's see . . . this article was written in 1999.

8. Uh-oh, there’s where the knife twists. That means people like me and . . . you? I know that somehow my generation fell down as parents, as far as teaching the children to love God—I include myself here.

9. I wrote about that not-so-little problem in September—about the effects of growing up without religion.

10. Now that we know better, our churches don’t really know what to do about kids. The old ways of teaching children (obviously) didn’t work so well—if I’m an example. They want to know the fiery truth, if there is any. We can't teach it to them if we don't have it ourselves. They believe it if they see in us a consuming love for God and a passionate commitment to his ways.

11. I teach English in a community college, so I spend a lot of time around young adults. They are different from the way I was, and even from the way teens were ten or fifteen years ago. They are hungry for meaning and purpose, and they are on the prowl to find it.

12. The ones who haven’t found it don't know the hope that God offers, and they are scared about facing the world. That’s because they do know that evil is real, whether or not they know to call him Satan. He breathes right down their necks every day.

13. Most of the ones I know who have found God will talk about him openly; they want to write their essays about the works of great, dedicated Christians and about what God means in their lives. They wear Jesus T-shirts and jewelry. They have found that they can stand up with him in the hard choices that face them. They have fire in their eyes and in their hearts, and I am encouraged by them.

God is doing a new thing. Do you see it?

If you’d like to leave a comment, please use the “Mr. Linky” comment link. You can do that by clicking the word comment in this rectangular box. It has a way to add you to the list, and you'll be linked. Thanks!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Obama for President?

Hmmm. Here’s an interesting thought. Maybe Senator Barak Obama, Democratic senator from Illinois, will run for President next time.

He is against the war in Iraq—that’s good. But he is a supporter of abortion, and that’s not good. I believe I’ll think about him and pay attention to news. This is most of an article, “Obama, Obama, Obama” by Brian Montopoli that appeared today on the CBS News site.

The press corps has spent the last year or so speculating about – and building buzz for – possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidates who are not named Hillary Clinton. It looked for a while like Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner would take the anti-Hillary role, something that would both satisfy a press corps eager for a storyline and party activists worried Clinton couldn't win. The New York Times Magazine even gave Warner, who is little known nationally, its cover in March.
But then Warner said he wouldn't run, and the press corps turned to Barak Obama, the freshman Illinois Senator who gave 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address. Obama has less than two years experience in the Senate, and he had insisted he had no plans to run for president – until yesterday. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said he will "consider" running after the midterm elections.
What changed his mind? In part, the evolving political landscape – it's hard to imagine Obama making the jump with Warner in the race. But he's also well aware of the boost he's gotten from the press. Obama is presently the most talked about first-term Senator in the land, with the exception of a certain former first lady. He has landed on the cover of Time magazine ("Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President") and has been featured in countless other media outlets, from the Washington Post to Men's Vogue. This morning, put his "Meet the Press" comments among its top stories.
Media critic Howard Kurtz has characterized press coverage of Obama as "unbelievable puffy." He asked on CNN's "Reliable Sources": "[W]hy are journalists…practically trying to draft the guy into a presidential race when he's been a senator for just under two years?"
The answer to that question is complex – it has to do with Obama's genuine likeability, his largely unblemished resume which offers few negatives outside his relative lack of experience, and the press' aforementioned need for a nifty storyline. It also might have something to do with a desire amongst the press corps for a viable black presidential candidate. The last time we saw the press pushing a candidate to this degree was prior to the 1996 election, when Colin Powell flirted with running.
Something of a backlash has already begun – including in the pages of the New York Times, where Bob Herbert is cautioning against Obamamania. And there is also talk that Obama is leveraging all the attention for other reasons – everything from book sales to a chance at a vice presidential slot. We'll see how it plays out, but Obama has certainly been living a charmed political life so far – his opponents in his Senate primary and the general election stumbled thanks to personal issues, his party gave him a prime opportunity to make a national name for himself at its 2004 convention, and the media seems to have (for the most part) fallen in love with him. (And so has Oprah!) It's perhaps no surprise he's thinking about running sooner rather than later – in American politics, the only thing harder than generating Obama-level buzz is sustaining it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Adopting a Baby--Enlarging a Heart

When love takes you in, your life is changed. Love has the power to do amazing things in anybody’s life. Love enlarges your heart and soothes your spirit.

I found a perfect example of this truth when I discovered Amy’s blog, “When Love Takes You In.” Amy and Michael are in the process of adopting a baby from China. Read about their preparations and feelings, and be touched!

My husband and I asked about adopting a Vietnamese baby years ago. But they wouldn't consider us, because we already had three children of our own. They had a long list of people who had no other children.

God creates life--and love.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Here are 13 interesting things about world religions:

1. According to the web site “Religious,” , Christianity has grown tremendously since 1900—from about 558 million to about 2 billion (by 2002).

2. Currently, the largest religious groups in the world are in this order: Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

3. The same site says that in spite of this growth, Christianity is in a slow decline, as compared to the growth of the world’s population; it was estimated that by 2002, Christianity would be the religion of 33.1% of the world’s people, down from 34.5% in 1900.

4. The site also says that Islam is growing rapidly, but it is not as large, percentage-wise, as Christianity. However, at its current growth rate, the estimate is that it will overtake Christianity “later in the 21st century.”

5. According to the web site “Statistics for the Changing Church,” some good news is that George Barna’s research shows that recently, " there has been a rise in the proportion of adults who read the Bible..."

6. But some bad news, Barna says, is that Christians spend much more money on entertainment than on any spiritual activities.

7. And even worse, Barna’s studies show that “Although 2/3 of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings... of the Christian faith, 2/3 reject the existence of Satan, 3/5 reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and 1/2 believe that Jesus sinned....”

8. And, going along with those facts, we should know that witchcraft is growing, particularly Wicca. According to an article which may or may not be accurate, the lack of organization among Wiccans makes it difficult to track them statistically, so there are no dependable numbers. But this article might be from a more research-friendly source, and its author agrees.

9. A number of bloggers write about witchcraft, for example, “Tinkerbell,” a witch who lives in the Netherlands. She says that witches do not believe in Satan. Here is a web site maintained by “Ex-Witch Ministries,” where witches can exchange ideas with Christians without being pursued or criticized by them.

10. And with all this in mind, here is something Christians should pay attention to: Barna’s research shows that "Half of all unchurched and non-Christian adults admit that they are seeking meaning and purpose in their life - providing a meaningful entry point for evangelizers."

11. If at least half of non-Christians admit that they are on a search for meaning and purpose, then most of the rest of them are, too. In fact, I believe that this search has always been one of people’s most urgent needs—possibly the most important after survival needs are met.

12. A committed Christian should be aware of this need and be able to discern it in conversation with other people. I think God programmed us in the beginning to search for meaning so that we would seek him.

13. Christians should know with all their hearts that God, through Jesus Christ, is the only fountain of real love and therefore of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. They should be eager to share this understanding.

AND here is an interesting site for the rational seeker of meaning in life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Difficult Words of Jesus

My blog-o-friend TS wrote that he was reading his Bible—the sixth chapter of John--on the bus recently when he began to question “whether Jesus actually spoke the exact words quoted in John or not.” He says, “This posed a problem, because I believe any real Christian has to believe in the inerrancy of scripture simply because it can't be inspired if it's not accurate. And if it's not inspired, then why are you believing it?”

Through Jesus, God was trying to establish a “new covenant”—a new way of understanding the people-God relationship—a new way of relating. He wants us to be totally committed to him, to be filled with delight in him, to be open to all the riches of his love. He offers a relationship grounded in personal, passionate oneness with him; in fact, he longs for such a relationship with us. We long for it, too, whether we realize it or not, and we have a large, empty space that can be filled only by God.

In the Bible are many images of physical closeness. These illustrate, I believe, how close we can be to God. After I had read these things about 98 times, prayed a lot, and puzzled until my puzzler was sore, I realized that God was trying to show people through these images--especially in images of eating and drinking—how complete oneness with him can be.

In Ezekiel 3, Ezekiel had a vision in which God told him to eat a scroll. He did, and it tasted “as sweet as honey,” and it filled his stomach, so that then, he could go out and talk to the people about God.

The Lord’s Supper is a time of eating the bread (Christ’s body broken for you) and drinking the wine (his blood shed for you). It's a time when we remember him and open our hearts to him.

Jesus offered a Samaritan woman living water in John 4:8-26 . We can find many other “living water” references.

In the part TS was reading, John 6, Jesus said he is the living bread—the bread that gives eternal life. He said, “I am the bread of life. . . . if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then he said, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Some people were horrified because they thought he was talking about cannibalism.

I don’t think that is what he meant at all.

If you think about it, when you eat something, it becomes so much part of you that you can no longer separate it from yourself—it nourishes you, gives you strength, keeps you alive. In a very real sense, what you eat and drink creates you, giving you life. In a physical way, your body cannot live without food and drink. In a spiritual way, you cannot live without “eating” the bread of life—Jesus Christ—taking him into yourself completely so that he is part of you.

“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Forgiveness and Love

Gattina wrote a comment on my entry "Love Others..." a few days ago. She said,

I really admire these people having such a faith in god. But I think even people without any believe also could do that. In my opinion you don't have to be a christian and believe in god to be a good and selfishless human. It depends on your character. I think nobody would know himself enough to know the way he would react in such a situation.

Gattina—I think you are right, in some ways.

I think it is entirely possible for people who don’t necessarily believe in God to be good, generous, compassionate, and forgiving. And it is true that no one knows how he would react in a situation like this. But I believe the circumstances here are unusual—the Amish families' forgiveness and the older girl’s self-sacrifice, both. In both, I see great acts of love, beyond what the usual person could give.

I believe average people, believers or not, would have a very difficult time forgiving a man who murdered their children. Believers and nonbelievers both struggle with the need to forgive.

We have a fairly easy time forgiving people when they cheat us in games, when they cut in front of us in traffic, if they talk behind our backs, and maybe even if they are unfaithful in marriage. But the death of a child is one of the very hardest things to deal with—we are supposed to die before our children do. We are not supposed to have to outlive them, especially because of murder. When they forgave Charles Carl Roberts, they sacrificed their self-serving desire to lash out at his family, to hate him. That's what most people would have done.

And the thirteen-year-old girl who offered herself, in hopes that the younger girls might be saved—I believe such acts of selfless sacrifice come from the heart of God. It reminds me of the self-sacrifice of the character Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in exchange for the life of Charles Darnay, for the love of his family. It reminds me of God’s sacrifice of Jesus, in exchange for our deserved punishment, for love of us.

First John 3:20 says, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” And verse 23 says, “this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us." Chapter 4, verse 10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And verse 12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Unconditional, sacrificial love is powerful. To be able to love like that takes great faith in God and comprehension of his love. We are called to love the way God does—to love people regardless of the return, regardless of how we are treated.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things about Judy

Here are thirteen things NOT involving technology that I love to do with my grandchildren. (There are, of course, others that do involve technology, but I wanted to exclude that today.)

1. color pictures

2. play with Play-Doh--We like to make “animals” and “food,” especially.

3. watch birds--Last summer, we watched a swallow family that had a nest at the edge of their porch;we imagined what their birdy conversations were.

4. throw the tennis ball for our dog Taz, who is obsessed with this activity

5. make cookies and birthday cakes

6. draw with sidewalk chalk

7. go for walks and pick up interesting leaves and rocks

8. talk in bed at bedtime

9. water the flowers

10. make tents and “live” in them

11. swing

12. pick tomatoes

13. build Thomas the Train tracks

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. My 2 Cents

2. Amy

3. Scribbit

4. TS

5. Tink

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Love Others . . .

Sacrificial love has for some years been a concern of mine. Exactly what does it mean? What does it require of us?

I wrote a series of posts about sacrificial love back in January, in case you wish to read them. I will write about it again, I am sure! I am deeply touched by the Amish people's reaction to the murder of some of their little girls a little over a week ago.

On the “Beta” version of Blogger, we can’t do “blog this” yet; maybe we will soon be able to do it. So in the meantime, I want you to read this excellent piece written by Andrew Thompson, who writes the blog “Gen-X Rising.”

Greater Love Has No One Than This . . .
posted Monday, Oct. 9, by Andrew Thompson

It was one week ago today that a milk truck driver named Charles Carl Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and shot 10 Amish schoolgirls between the ages of 6 and 13. He killed 5 of them and himself. The horrifying and senseless nature of the crime has been placed in bold relief by the reaction of the Amish community, which has both forgiven Roberts and reached out to his widow and children.

Those terrible few minutes in the schoolhouse were also witness to an incredibly powerful act of Christian self-giving. A recent CNN story reports that Marian Fisher, one of the murdered schoolgirls, asked Roberts that she be shot first because she thought it might serve to save some of the younger girls. Her younger sister Barbie, who was seriously wounded but survived, has related the story to adults.

Think about that for a second. Could you make such a sacrifice? Could I?

That 13-year old girl could, and she did. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

This is love as Jesus taught it. It wastes no energy on sentimentality or ephemeral "feelings." It is grounded in a disposition of self-giving and expressed in acts of self-sacrifice. It is the love that all Christians are called to receive and express, however imperfectly.

Faced with monstrous evil, Marian Fisher responded in the most sublime way possible for a Christian - she offered her life for the lives of her sisters.

Monday, October 09, 2006


"I’m not comfortable with fear.” I read this in a comment on another blog; it was written by a blogger called “Peppylady.” I am not comfortable with fear, either.

I decided that fear is very big and nasty and is responsible for much more than we realize.

Here are some things fear does to us:

It stands between us and our self-expression. It keeps us from saying things we want to say or that we feel we should or could say. That covers any number of situations, from when we should stand up for ourselves to when we should ask for help or try to explain something or find out about something we need to know. We don’t know what to say, and so we often say nothing. We often find it is easier to complain or express anger than to say something complimentary, kind, or loving. We have trouble saying, “I love you.”

Therefore, it stands between people, preventing good relationships. When we hold out a tender part of ourselves to another, offering love, risk is involved. A little voice says to us, “What if he doesn’t say he loves me, too?” We find it more comforting to stay safe and just not make the offer.

Because fear prevents good relationships, it keeps us from showing love to our children and our spouses and other family members. We build walls—protective covers to keep ourselves from being hurt. We are afraid to take the risk of loving. We listen to that mean little voice saying “Don’t let him hurt you.” Our children grow up angry and resentful—and full of fear, themselves. It is less risky-feeling to lash out in anger than to speak of love. We cannot forgive, and so hurts may build up for years.

Then when we get thick walls built around ourselves, we can’t let ourselves feel emotion. And we can’t, therefore, feel other people’s hurts. We are too preoccupied with being sure we are treated right to be able to reach out to help someone in need—even people we love.

The Bible says, “There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away. Fear has to do with being punished. The one who fears does not have perfect love” (First John 4:18).

I used to think that meant when people loved each other perfectly, there would be no fear. I thought if people could just get to that point of loving unselfishly, fear and intimidation would be gone.

But I found out not many years ago through praying, reading the Bible, and studying that, instead, it is talking about the perfect love of God. God is love. And when his Spirit lives in us, his love is what sends fear away. We don’t have to fear anything. He is God of peace, understanding, and love—not darkness and fear.

He is real. And he is powerful—more powerful than forces of darkness—and very loving.

The picture is from this web site: