Thursday, August 31, 2006

Religion and Russian Schools

This WorldWide Religious News article proclaims that religion enters Russian schools. It says religion will become a required subject in some schools and an elective one in others.

The BBC News writer says "Supporters say the move will help protect traditional spiritual values in Russia. Critics say it violates the constitution of the secular state.

In the Soviet Union the teaching of religion was strictly outlawed in schools and elsewhere.

Orthodox Christianity is Russia's main religion, but the country's Muslim community makes up more than 10% of the total population. There are 86 regions and republics in the Russian Federation.

Responding to the regions' move, the central educational watchdog body, Rosobraznadzor, said the Church was separate from the state, so the basics of Orthodox Christianity should only be taught as an optional subject. "

I believe all this arguing and sparring that we do over religion is an extreme distraction from the things we are called to concentrate on--loving God more than anything and our neighbors as much as we love ourselves; caring for the sick, poor, and hungry; taking good care of the earth.

Sleep: Who Needs It?

God invented sleep. It is a good and healthy thing. I don’t get enough of it. When I have less than about 7 hours of good, solid sleep, my head feels soggy.

Most people actually need around 8-9 hours of sleep, I have read. Jane E. Brody wrote, in a New York Times article, that

A hard-working man I know once read that the brain needs only four hours of sleep a night, so he trained himself to sleep no more than that. But while you can teach yourself to sleep less, you cannot teach yourself to need less sleep. A person's sleep needs are biologically determined. Some people need only six hours a night, others need 10, but for most adults, at least eight hours a night is required to function optimally.

In fact, before widespread use of the light bulb in the early 1900s and before distractions like television and the Internet, the average adult slept nine hours a night. And recent studies have shown that when all clues to time are removed and people are permitted to sleep as much as they choose, they sleep 10.3 hours out of every 24, just as monkeys and apes do.

I guess monkeys and apes know something we don’t. At least they won’t fall asleep at the wheel of their cars because of sleep deprivation. Perhaps we could learn from them.

Brody, Jane E. “Facing Up to the Realities of Sleep Deprivation.” New York Times. 31 Mar. 1998. 31 Aug. 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006

Evangelical Methodists

Methodist churches are often accused of being . . . less than charismatic, shall we say. I have a theory that we Methodists became so organized during the post-WWII decades that we organized out the evangelical part of us; I think we craved order, after such a chaotic beginning of the 1900s.

We used to be a pretty rowdy bunch, I'm told; now we're pretty staid, according to our denominational reputation--mostly Sunday Christians. John Wesley, founder of Methodism in the 1700s, was very much an evangelical.

I found this web site while googling for Evangelical Methodist Churches. An interesting feature on it is this list of questions by Wesley:

Wesley's Self-Examination Quiz:

Here is one set of nearly two dozen questions which John Wesley gave to members of his discipleship groups more than 200 years ago. The questions may have their origin in the spiritual accountability group started by Wesley when he was a student at Oxford -- a group that detractors called "The Holy Club." Please recall that the EMM is committed to mentoring and accountability among men in order to be all that Christ (means) for a man to become.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
3. Can I be trusted?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible believe in me today?
7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me?

"Encourage one another daily . . . so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." -- Hebrews 3:13

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Michael W. Smith -- Water of Life

Best song by Michael W. Smith: : “I Can Hear Your Voice,” in his Worship Again album.

The words of the song touch me deeply.

I’m in the river that flows from Your throne,
Water of life, water of life.
It covers me and I breathe again;
Your love is breath to my soul.
I can hear Your voice as You sing over me.
It’s Your song of love, breathing life into me.
I can feel Your touch as I come close to You.
And it heals my heart. You restore and renew.

It’s kind of a paradox—the living water that flows from the throne of God gives life, restores breath. The Bible tells us about a vision Ezekiel had (Ch. 47) of water flowing from under the temple. It started out as a small, ankle-deep stream, but it grew and grew until it became “a river that no once could cross.” Eventually, he saw “a great number of trees on each side of the river”; the man told him that when it emptied into the sea, it became fresh water. “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows.”

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Middle-Class Self

A hundred and fifty years ago, Matthew Arnold, British poet and diagnostician of social ills, wrote a poem called “The Buried Life.” He said that we have a hard time communicating with each other. We bury the true self deep within, where it can never be seen. The face we put on for the world is a sincere effort at communication—but it isn’t real.

Love is the only key, he says, to true communication. Sometimes it happens, through love. When it does, we catch a glimpse of the direction of our lives—the buried stream—and we understand then where it’s headed as it winds along through meadows and hills toward the sea.

Arnold had some other pretty universal ideas. He said, for example, that the world of the future would be dominated by the middle class, a trend he was seeing already. He said that was good, except he thought the people would suffer from dullness in their lives because they would have little concept of the nature of beauty through music, art, philosophy, history, or literature.

Frankly, I think he had us pegged.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Best Books

What are the best books? There are so many!!! I was "tagged" to do this by TS, whose list is interesting.

One book that changed your life: The Gospel of John because it showed me God’s gospel of love through Jesus.

One book that you’ve read more than once: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Secret of Santa Vittoria by Robert Crichton; The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen (I know that’s more than one! What can I say?)

One book you’d want on a desert island: The Bible; Les Miserables by Victor Hugo; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (I know, I know, it’s more than one.)

One book that made you laugh: Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston

One book that made you cry [or feel really sad]: Night by Elie Wiesel; Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally; The Pearl by John Steinbeck; Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams (not always sad, just sad in spots, touching in others)

One book that you wish had been written: My father wanted to write a book about his experiences, but he never got very far with it.

One book that you wish had never been written: No such thing exists!

One book you’re currently reading: Trail of Feathers by Robert Rivard, the true story of the murder of American journalist Philip True in Mexico, and the difficult road to justice; all proceeds from the sale of this book go to True’s son. I bought the book at a conference for literary nonfiction, where Rivard was speaking.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: New Perspectives on Paul by N. T. Wright

I'm supposed to tag five people to do a list of their own. Hmmm, do I have five regular readers? I don't know. I'm going to tag some who don't have blogs of their own; they can do their lists and send them to me to be posted here, if they want to. I hereby tag RLC, Kansas Bob, Karen, Angela, and Debra.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Into Narnia

This morning I went through the wardrobe into Narnia.

My new plan is that every morning I will get up at 6:00, make coffee, and then read my Bible. Then at 6:45, I will go for a walk down the hill and back. That is what I did this morning. The air was cool—it rained last night--a “different” experience for this part of the country in August. The sky was dark blue with pink and gold streaks as the sun was beginning to rise. I could hear the whitewing doves’ song.

I had read Oswald Chambers’ "My Utmost For His Highest" devotional for today just before I walked. He talks about praying in secret, as the Bible says we should, rather than being show-offish about it. It made me think of going into C. S. Lewis’ Narnia through the secret opening in the back of the wardrobe. Narnia is symbolic of a life in Christ--closeness to God. As I walked, I prayed, and it seemed God was everywhere.

Chambers says, “Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Day Elvis Presley Came to Town

On August 16th, America observed the 29th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

I saw him once. In 1958, Elvis was drafted into the Army. At that time, I was a sophomore in high school, wearing full skirts with big petticoats, bobby socks, and loafers. During our morning break, someone burst out on the schoolground yelling, "Elvis Presley is goin' through town on the train in twenty minutes! He's on his way to the Army! We've gotta get down there!"

About fifteen of us piled into three or four cars and barrelled down to the train station. The train was there already. Somebody directed us: "He's down at the end, on the caboose!" Breathless, we ran as fast as we could go over the rocks in the track bed, to the caboose. Sure enough, there he was, standing on the back portico (or whatever it was called), grinning at us. We huddled in a group, wide-eyed, speechless, and panting from all that exertion.

He was smaller than I thought he would be, somehow. He had longish hair that appeared to be dyed black and slightly greasy, hanging in his face. His eyes were friendly but shy, and he had a nice, crooked smile. He didn't really match what we considered to be the best "All-American boy" image; the young man in that picture sported a very short flat-top, never greasy. Nevertheless, he was THE idol of the moment, and there he was in our town.

We looked at him, and some of us murmured things like "Hi." Mostly, we couldn't say a word.

He said, "Hi," and waved at us. The train began to pull away, and he stood there waving. We all waved and waved until the train went around the bend and he was gone. That day gave us a story to tell from then on.

When I saw this story on ABC News, Elvis Fans Mark Anniversary of Death, I thought about how he changed and how we changed through the years, and about how short life is.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Watering Peace

Some days when I’m very busy, I don’t want to go outside and water my flowerbeds and pot plants. It takes too much time, I grumble to myself. But then, if I don’t, they will wilt and die, especially during the summer heat. So I make myself do it. Oh, okay. But I’m feeling stressed.

Then as I move around the yard, I see the flowers in bloom—the bright pink hibiscus, the geraniums, the mandevilla vines, the vinca and purslane. I can’t persuade the mandevilla vines to live through the winter, so I get new ones every summer. This year I have two of them; they have perfect dark wine-colored flowers with orange cupped centers. Only in nature would wine and orange go together well. They are magnificent works of art by God. I think about how God has put me in charge of seeing that they have water, and how they depend on me. Their beauty soothes me.

In the shade, I feel a breeze—not cool, but at least not unbearably hot. I hear birds in the trees around us, mostly beautiful white-wing doves that have been in our part of the Southwest for only a few years, moving up from Mexico. Their shape is graceful; they are white and the color of cream. Their soft cooing is not mournful to me, as many people say. To me, it speaks of a deep-seated peace.

By the time I am finished watering, my stress is gone, even though it took all that time, and I feel a satisfaction and peace that my spirit needed. My anxiety is gone. I think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

. . . . See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Wayfaring Stranger--Not Lost

Read TS's Saturday night blog entry called Tomorrow's sermon--it is a very powerful appeal for total commitment to God.

He says, ". . . we must realize that we cannot choose who our partners in the gospel will be, who we will reach out to, or even where we will go. We can’t predetermine what our ministry is going to be like. God will likely use us in some way that we never expected. Are you ready to do something you haven’t anticipated or wanted? If God calls you, are you going to listen or ignore His call?"

Too often we "commit our lives" to God, and then proceed to make all the plans ourselves, not really following him. We like to know what is going to happen.

My young friend Angel told me today that she and her husband try to do whatever God leads them to do. Sometimes, she said, they wind up in surprising places, doing things they never would have imagined for themselves. Sometimes, it is kind of shocking to see what happens. But it is always fulfilling, beyond words.

Most people get nervous when they can't see ahead--a little like driving through thick fog. But that's the way God is. He shapes and molds us, if we are willing and trusting, and leads us into the most amazing works for him. His plans, as we see when the fog lifts, are absolutely the most incredible thing that could ever be. We shouldn't be stubborn and refuse to go along with him just because we can't see around the corner to the outcome. But think how it would be--with all our senses jingling and clicking along--just to reach out and take his hand.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lifeline of Love

His life is full of depression, bitterness, resentment, and anger. I suspect, too, that fear has a large place in his heart, although he would never admit it. He has been a close friend of mine for a long time.

Even though many people esteem him and care for him, he has feelings of not belonging anywhere and of not doing anything worthwhile in the long run. He feels that he has lost control over most of the people in his life; as a result, he hangs onto control over himself with a joyless determination that is daunting. It is a living death.

When we let the love of Jesus Christ into our lives, he turns us into a new creation, filling us with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. From that point on, we come alive with Christ. We can tap into his great resurrection power if we will just give ourselves up to him. We no longer have to live a non-life.

I want to let God use his awesome power of love through me. Through this love and in this love, maybe I can throw a lifeline to my friend. I will have to pray hard to give myself up completely to God--I find my friend a little intimidating, even though I know that God’s perfect love drives out all fear.

Ephesians 2:4 says, "It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ."

**Quotes are from The Message.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On People Connection

Amy Scott's blog "Humble Musings" has an entry a few days old called "Friendship. " It started me thinking about the ties between people, in connection with blogging, which I've been mulling over these past few days.

I feel several different ways about blogging.

--Sometimes when I write something and put it on my blog, I feel as if I am throwing a needle out into a giant haystack. At these times, it seems like an effort that goes nowhere, to be seen by no one.

--Sometimes I feel very convicted in my belief that God wants me (and every other Christian) to use whatever means we have to spread his word. The Internet is a perfect way to do that, since it goes everywhere. In a way, it is like the intricate system of roads that were built during the time of the Roman Empire. In addition to making travel easier for the conquering soldiers, those roads were conducive to the spreading of the gospel of Jesus.

--Sometimes I feel that it is an amazing way to learn about all kinds of people. But I believe it is very important to have real, live friends. My closest friends live in other cities, unfortunately. I do have a number of good friends here, too, but I miss Karen and Lynn, especially. Karen has been my "best friend" since we were in the first grade. Lynn grew up next door to me and has always been like my sister. These friends complete me.

--I love writing, and blogging is a way to do a lot of it. In another entry, Amy talks about needing silence, about the time she spends writing. Writing is a way for a mind to discover itself, to express itself, to keep itself from becoming buried in the everyday hurry-scurry of modern life.

People need people. Staying glued to a computer is not a live people connection in the truest sense, and I think many lonely people try to use it as a substitute. Read what Amy quotes from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

God--The Pilot, Not the Co-Pilot

It’s not about us. It is about God. He is holy, awesome, and amazing. He loves us intensely, and he wants us to have lives that are orderly, peaceful, and joyful. But that is not his main purpose—to make us happy.

We’ve all seen the saying “God is my co-pilot.” The thing is, if we are the pilot and he is only the co-pilot, our plane is doomed to crash. We had best let him be the pilot because he is the only one who knows how and where to fly it. It isn't that he helps us achieve our plans and goals. It is that we will have the best life possible by following him wherever he leads.

In Pauly’s blog, Beer, Barbecue and Bible study, he says God's plans are the best possible things that could happen to us, because he wants the best for us--and he knows what is best. So we should be following, not leading. We don't know the way, but God does.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Atrocities, Past and Present

I read an article in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram called Vietnam atrocities come to light. It was shocking, but not surprising, based on what I’ve heard through the years from Vietnam veterans and their friends and relatives.

Authors Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson write that some recently declassified Army files show that “confirmed atrocities by U. S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.” These files, they say, “are part of a once secret archive assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s.”

According to the documents, there were “320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators—not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.” The facts revealed are based upon “investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.”

Turse and Nelson state: “The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese—families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders described a violent minority who killed, raped and tortured with impunity.

“Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units . . . .” but were “uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.” The records show, specifically, 7 “massacres . . . in which at least 137 civilians died”; 78 “other attacks on noncombatants in which at least 57 were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted”; and 141 “instances in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees or prisoners of war with fists, sticks, bats, water or electric shock.”

When soldiers tried to report atrocities they had witnessed, they were often branded “traitors and fabricators.” They were accused of being unpatriotic. (This sounds like some things happening today, doesn’t it?)

These disturbing facts make me think that the few incidents we hear of today as occurring in Iraq are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Nobody wants to hear of such things. We don’t want to believe that such meanness exists in the human heart—especially the American heart. So we look the other way, deliberately.

Star-Telegram 08/06/2006 Vietnam atrocities come to light

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Look at my little cutie grandchildren! One of the babies was asleep. We were celebrating my husband's birthday--he's the one in the birthday cake hat, in case you couldn't tell.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

End of Languishing

Well, this blog has languished for a long period, since July 3, and I feel bad about that! When my spring semester of college teaching ended, everything seemed to just go haywire as far as having an organized life goes.

Then, too, I’ve been very busy with
--a summer online class
--various trips to see my children and grandchildren and visits from them
--trying to straighten the house between trips and visits
--writing about letters my dad wrote in 1944 and 1945 from the Pacific (which we found this summer)
--trying to keep my poor flowers from burning to a crisp in this horrible heat

Maybe autumn will come soon.

Another thing. I read a couple of articles (can’t remember what, now) about blogging, and I got a distinct feeling that I do it all wrong.

These articles said that successful bloggers read dozens of other people’s blogs and keep “conversations” going with all of them through the comments. I don’t have time to read more than three or four others, not every day. Sometimes I make comments.

My question is this: how does anybody who halfway has a “life” have time to do that? If I spend very much time blogging, I feel like a zombie when I finish, and my actual life is clamoring for my attention.