18 December 2010

Strange Devotion

Tomorrow, it will be nine months since I met the little stranger who has become so dear to me. How close can one person grow to another in nine months? How permanent can such an affection be? What sort of bond grows this fierce this quickly?

I suppose there's really not much special about him yet. Yes, he makes cute noises and does cute things. No, he's never said a hurtful word or done a malicious thing, as far as I know. But in these respects, he is no different from any other infant. Or kitten, for that matter.

So why do I ache for his life to be beautiful? Why do I long for him to have his heart's desire? Why would I do literally anything in my power to spare him pain?

This morning, I sat on the couch reading Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (an excellent read, by the way). My little boy was standing on the floor, supported with his arms on the couch, making charmingly ineffective essays at walking.

When he stopped trying to walk and laid his tired little head against my left arm, the strangest feeling rushed through me. It was an overwhelming urge to protect, to sacrifice, to eliminate anything that might sadden this child. I think it's the closest I have ever been to wishing my soul could perish so another might live.

I'm sure there are many reasons why the Lord makes babies so attractive to parents. Probably the main one is for survival -- the cuter a baby is, the less likely we are to begrudge him the innumerable inconveniences he necessitates. But I'm convinced that another reason is the one I experienced this morning. Somehow, in some small way, this baby has taught me what it means to love my child so much that I would gladly sacrifice everything for his good.

And if I would sacrifice everything, then I will surely give him all the good things I can for as long as I am entrusted with his care. Sort of reminds me of something...

17 November 2010


And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;

To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,

Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,

To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.1

I'm sure I had read the benediction of Zacharias to his son John before. In fact, I'm reasonably sure I have read it at least three or four times. But for some reason, it has never leapt out at me. (Maybe because it is overpowered by Mary's Magnificat just a few lines up the page.)

This morning, though, it hit me like a boatload of rabid weasels:2 God's tender mercy, personified in Christ, is a sunrise.

It's a simple picture, but also a powerful one -- especially if you have ever had the joy of seeing the sun creep over the horizon after a long, dark, painful night. The renewed burst of warmth and light from that celestial body remind you that the world is actually a pretty wonderful place after all, despite its spots of scattered darkness. No matter how foul your mood, there is always some solace to be found in the cheery rays of sunlight dancing through the morning sky. If nothing else, there is always the hope that today will be better than the one that preceded it.

Sunrise always reminds me of the 900-mile trek from my former home in Northeast Arizona back home to Kansas. The drive is a long, exhausting one, over mountain passes and through seemingly endless stretches of desert.

We normally tried to have at least three drivers in the car, of whom two would be asleep at any given time. This allowed us to leave at 3 p.m. on a Friday and pull into our destination at about the time the sun was peeking up over the Kansas plains.

Without fail, the hardest stretch of the drive was between midnight and 5 a.m. Struggling to stay alert when it's way past bedtime, navigating confusing networks of backroads to shave a few minutes off the drive, and listening to whatever radio station was least staticky out in the middle of nowhere3 can certainly drain a person.

The worst part of driving in the dark is that it's hard to see your progress. You have no real evidence, other than your odometer, to indicate that you're actually going anywhere -- particularly when you're driving through Western Kansas, where there are very few landmarks and a lot of flat, open spaces.

So when you see that blessed glow on the horizon, you suddenly realize: "Hey! I'm almost home!" There's a feeling of relief that accompanies the sunrise. When you look back on the long night behind you, there's also a feeling of accomplishment. You realize that you have already done the most daunting part of the journey, and ahead of you is only brightness and joy.

For those of us sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, the Sunrise is a welcome sight indeed.


1 Luke 1:76-79 (New American Standard Bible)

2 I was going to say "like a ton of bricks," but that was just a little too cliché. I have high hopes of making "boatload of rabid weasels" the new "ton of bricks."

3 Normally the musical choices were reminiscent of the following exchange from Blues Brothers:
Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western.

28 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 14

The Trip

We got up for the boy's first feeding at about 6:00 a.m., had a continental breakfast, and hit the road. We had intended to stop at any roadside attractions that seemed interesting, but we didn't end up visiting any except the world's largest indoor Burger King play area somewhere in Missouri. We did that just so we could get a picture of the boy in a crown and "Future Whopper Eater" bib in front of the play area. Posterity, you know.

After a full day of driving, except for food / gas / nursing stops, we arrived home around 8:00 p.m. Central time, unpacked the car, and climbed happily into our own bed. It had been a great trip, but we were glad to be home again.

The Blessings

A Safe Journey. Two weeks, 12 states, and more than 2,000 miles, and no car problems or accidents. The Lord was our keeper and the shade on our right hands.

Getting Home Again. Dorothy was right when she clicked her heels and fervently chanted, "There's no place like home." No matter how comfortable other beds are, there's just something nice about being back in our own bed tonight. And, thanks to my clever wifey, we came back to a clean house! She made sure that we tidied up before leaving, which was a great idea. I can't imagine how discouraged I might have been to return to a messy home.

I like to think that coming home is a lot like our ultimate homecoming, when we finally see our Lord face to face and hear what He has to tell us and understand Him face to face, rather than through a dim glass. Until that time, though, I'm happy to be in my temporal sojourning place with my beautiful wifey and marvelous son.

27 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 13

The Trip

I did something really stupid last night: I stayed up all night playing Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. I can't remember the last time I did that -- it was probably with the first Starcraft. A very addictive game, as you would expect from the folks at Blizzard. And not a quick one to beat, by any means.

Unfortunately, morning always comes at the same time, and we had to leave this morning. I realized at about 5:30 that it was getting late -- er, early -- and decided to take a quick nap on the couch. About two hours later, I ate breakfast, then we played one last game of Bohnanza and headed out.

Our drive was a good one, and after passing through the Alleghenies, we stopped for the night in Dayton, OH. This time, our comparison shopping for hotel rooms was a little more successful, thanks to our previous practice.

We had been looking forward to exploring Dayton, but by the time we got there, all we wanted was takeout and TV shows on the wifey's laptop. We were satisfied in these desires by The Royal Wok and The Office. Om nom nom and LOL, respectively.

The Blessings

The Interstate System. Like many blessings, this one is a double-edged sword. Arguably, more than anything else in our culture, Interstates have promulgated chain stores and restaurants, contributed to urban sprawl, and killed the small town. But they are also very nice, safe roads to use, and they enable travel opportunities that would have been considered the stuff of science fiction in the recent past.

I could drive from coast to coast in two days for about a week and a half's worth of salary if I really had to. Contrast that with the months of life-threatening travel by wagon or stagecoach that were the norm a century and a half ago, and then tell me whether the Interstate is a benefit or a detriment. Or think of those long, dirty, dreary train rides that would have been necessary to accomplish the same feat 100 years ago.

Say what you will about the Interstate System or Dwight D. Eisenhower, its father, we certainly enjoyed using it on this trip.

Wi-Fi. I love how ubiquitous free wi-fi has become all over the place: hotels, coffee shops... even McDonald's restaurants! No matter where we go, we never have to be off the grid for more than a few hours. Of course, like the Interstate System, this can be a double-edged sword, but as long as we use it wisely, wi-fi is a fantastic tool.

Online Map Services. Whether you prefer MapQuest, Google Maps, or some other service, these are a godsend. Where you used to have to spend hours poring over atlases and tables of city distances, you can now just plug your starting and ending addresses into the computer, and bada bing, you've got instant directions. Of course, the directions aren't any good if a highway doesn't actually exist in real life. But other than that, these are the next best thing to...

Global Positioning Systems (GPSes). In Virginia and Maryland, these are vital. Like, almost impossible to live without. Traffic volumes are so high, and construction is so frequent, that it is vital to have a GPS handy. This is especially true when you're going someplace you haven't been to very much before. Again, this is straight out of Sci-Fi. (In this case, literally! Arthur C. Clarke, author of such Sci-Fi works as 2001: A Space Odyssey, was also the originator of communications satellites, without which there would be no GPS.)

26 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 12

The Trip

Good morning, Baltimore! OK, so it wasn't technically morning when we got there. But I am also technically not Nikki Blonsky, so that's all right.

Today was fabulous from start to finish. We got up, played games, and then left for Del Ray, where we planned to enjoy some delicious food at Taqueria Poblano. Alas, it was Tuesday, and no estuvo abierto. Que pena. :-(

But we had no fear; Thai Peppers was near! They had a good Pad Thai and a passable curry, although not as spicy as the restaurant's name implies. Great lunch special, fast service, and very helpful people! Plus, they were open, which is always nice.

We were going to enjoy dessert at The Dairy Godmother, but it appears they copied off of Taqueria Poblano's schedule -- closed on Tuesdays.

Unfazed, we stopped by the Seven-Eleven for drinks and took off for scenic Baltimore. We spent all afternoon and evening at Fort McHenry and the Baltimore Inner Harbor, both of which are well worth visiting. We toured the USS Constellation, which was quite interesting though overpriced.

The Power Plant Live was interesting -- I'm not sure how to feel about it. On one hand, I love that the harbor development folks were able to keep some of the traditional structures more or less intact. On the other hand, I'm not sure that turning them into Hard Rock Cafes and Barnes and Noble Bookstores (with requisite Starbucks cafes inside) is much better than utter demolition.

Everywhere we went, it seemed like someone was after us to help retire the colors for the evening. I helped strike the big daytime flag at Fort McHenry, and two of our friends were asked to help lower the flag on the USS Constellation. This was a little bit ironic, considering that Baltimore was where "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written.

Dinner was at the devastatingly expensive but delectable Rusty Scupper. The crab cakes were worth dying for. Or at least worth killing someone for, since you wouldn't be able to taste them if you were dead. I think.

Finally, after our yumtastic dinner, we headed home. On the way back, we saw one of the most stunning night-time views I had ever seen: The six illuminated spires of the Washington D.C. Mormon Temple. It's kind of like the Sleeping Beauty Castle crossed with Orthanc. Quite pretty, but a little bit ominous. Out of place, too.

The Blessings

Food. I think we tend either to take food for granted or to take it much, much too seriously. Clearly, God intended food to be enjoyed; otherwise it wouldn't taste so good. But He also created it to be enjoyed without being completely abused as a feel-good panacea. This day was full of delicious foods in moderation -- a perfect blend of good things!

Freedom of Religion. I'm grateful to be in a country where all are free to worship as befits the dictates of their consciences. (Even the crazy Mormons.) It's nice not to have to worry about the secret police busting up our Sunday meetings.

America's Existence. As someone with a history degree, I have long tended toward scorn whenever someone tells me that God designed America's history and guided its founders and did all kinds of crazy miracles to set us up for a Bush-led theocracy.

The main reason I scoff is because my God is the same one whose son fled when people tried to force Him into the position of an earthly king. He is the one who proclaimed, "My Kingdom is not of this world." He is the one who rode into town on a donkey, not a war-horse.

And yet, when I look at the War of 1812, I am absolutely shocked to see the United States survive it. I see it as the one occasion when the flickering flame of our newborn nation was closest to being extinguished. And try as I might, I still can't see why it wasn't. How could the military might that overcame Napoleon's forces fail to crush a few upstart colonials who were whining about being pressed into naval service?

The answer: I have no clue. But I'm grateful they did fail, because it leaves me living in a free, prosperous country full of hope and civil liberties.

25 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 11

The Trip

In the morning, we went to the church to clean up. It went really quickly with my wife and me helping -- I was glad we'd decided to come.

Lots of games today. I find myself being really glad that our friends like games so much, because they give us all something to do together. I'm sure we haven't worn out our welcome here, and probably wouldn't for some time, but games make it a lot easier to spend a great deal of time together without feeling awkward or in the way.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading, and writing -- some of my favorite things.

The Blessings

Serving. One of the things I enjoy most is being useful. Back home, I am often too occupied to do a lot of physical serving in the church. So when I have the time and opportunity to do something like sweep and mop a fellowship hall, I genuinely appreciate it. It's great to see the work being done, and to know I am doing it for my Lord, and to know that others appreciate it as well.

In John 13, when Jesus washes his disciples' feet, it is tempting to think of it as Him laying a burden on them. In reality, though, I wonder if He isn't giving them another type of blessing.

Reading and Writing. These are things that get pushed to the back burner because they are important but not urgent. Meanwhile, other things that are less important but much more urgent vie for my attention when I'm not at work, engaged in church ministries, or otherwise occupied.

Vacation has been a great chance to get some things written and read. Of the things I read, the best was unquestionably Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which you need to read right this minute. Seriously, why are you still reading this? Please, for your own sake, go read Gilead right now. I mean it.

24 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 10

The Trip

Our college friends returned to Richmond last night, so our numbers were slightly diminished as we went to church this morning. The people there are very nice, and the teaching was pretty good too. I prefer the music back at our home church, but the songs were OK -- I just didn't know them too well.

After church, we had lunch at the Hard Times Cafe. It was yummy, but I probably ate too much, because all I wanted after that was to go home and take a nap.

In the evening, while our friends were at church, we went exploring in Burke, trying to find citric acid to make dishwasher detergent, as well as some other things. We ended up being disgusted at the Burke Wal-Mart's selection and pleasantly surprised with the Target that we went to as a last resort. They didn't have any citric acid, but they did have a fondue pot that we could use to make our special fried cheese cubes. We were quite pleased, and so were our friends when they came home and had the delightful cheese cubes for their bedtime snacks.

The Blessings

More Time With Wifey. One of the things I am realizing on this trip is that I simply don't get enough time with my wife. She is a lot of fun, and I love hanging out with her, but all too often, other things get in the way. I need to really be better at making dates with her a priority.

Chili. Is there a more perfect, more completely balanced food on earth than a well-made chili? I submit that there is not. And the Terlingua Red at Hard Times Cafe certainly counts as well-made.

Giving. Our friends had mentioned earlier that they wanted a fondue pot, so it was really enjoyable to be able to give them one -- and to give them something tasty along with it! There was a time when I sort of rolled my eyes any time I heard someone intone, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," but the more chances I have to give, the more I find myself loving it!

23 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 9

The Trip

In the morning, we went to the Alexandria Farmer's Market, whose Web site definitively claims that it "is thought to be one of the nation's oldest continually operating farmer's markets." It is unclear who is doing the thinking in this curiously passive statement, but I'm sure the sentiment still holds true.

After examining the various wares at the farmer's market, we window-shopped our way through Old Town and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. For lunch, we stopped at a Five Guys Burger, which was excessive and quite tasty, although the deliciousness was tainted with the knowledge that every bite of that greasy, greasy food was lowering my life expectancy by at least a few hours.

After lunch, we were off to Mount Vernon to see George Washington's ridiculously overpriced tourist trap home. It was lovely, but I'm not at all sure it was worth the $15 admission fee. Plus, I was excited about making a corn-husk doll, but the ladies at the corn-husk doll booth made it seem like it was just for little girls and not balding, overweight nearly-30-year-olds. So that was disappointing.

My favorite part of Mount Vernon was sitting on Washington's back porch and watching the Potomac roll by. The day was lovely -- just warm enough, with a gentle breeze to carry the chatter of passersby someplace far away. There was a sort of hushed stillness over the river as the sun crept across that clear blue October sky. I wonder if George and Martha sat out here a lot in the evenings. I know I would if it were my place.

The Blessings

Money. We don't have a lot, but we did budget some for this trip, and it's been nice not to worry about pinching pennies while we're on the road. The trip has also made me realize that money is great, but it's only useful if you spend it. The way I see it, there is very little value in letting your money sit around and make more money, unless you're able to enjoy some of it along the way.

Rivers. They're amazing things, aren't they? There is so much wonderful information about rivers that I don't even know where to begin being thankful for them. They prevent stagnation, enable transport, supply water to thirsty people, and look very pretty as the sun sets over them. They invoke images of adventure and excitement and wanderlust and peaceful resignation toward life's rolling waves washing over you.

Babysitters. One very nice thing about visiting far-away friends when you have a new baby: they are happy to take care of the little guy for you while you get some quality wifey time. This whole trip has been much more enjoyable because of their willingness to help us with our little one! It's another reason to be extremely thankful that these people are our friends.

22 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 8

The Trip

In the morning, we trekked out to Manassas, where the first and second battles of Bull Run were waged. It was a fascinating site, but also a little bit depressing, as Civil War memorials tend to be. War is hell, as William Tecumseh Sherman famously said. And as hellish as it must be to kill humans of any nation or culture, it seems even sadder, somehow, for countrymen to line up against countrymen. The bayonet charges, the volleys of rifle balls, the cannon shells and sabers cutting through soft flesh -- every bit of the violence seems infinitely more monstrous when brothers perpetrate it on each other.

In the afternoon and evening, my old college friend's wife arrived, and we took my baby boy into the District so we could take his picture in front of famous buildings. We got the capitol, the supreme court, the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson edifices, and the Smithsonian.

At the end of it all, the boy was pretty tired, and so were we, so we returned home to have a nice rest and to look forward to the day ahead.

The Blessings

My Son. His face fairly glows with curiosity and happiness. He is so easily entertained, and yet also so eager for knowledge and achievements. He is full of limitless hope and easy joy. He is at peace in his father's arms; he doesn't know yet that there is anything I can't protect him from.

There's a lot I want to teach him, but he has even more to teach me, if I pay attention.

Peace. Yes, we have been at war with someone or another for roughly the past nine years. Yes, between Bush I and Bush II, we have been engaged in conflicts in Iraq for more years than we were engaged in the First and Second World Wars. And yet, I am not fighting against my brother. I have not been conscripted, and I pray my son won't be either. There are still things to be thankful for, and the wars haven't touched us very closely.

The Bible says peacemakers who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness. I think one reason that is true is because we weren't made to war. It is an outgrowth of selfishness, of covetousness, of selfish ambition. In short, it is an outgrowth of ungratefulness for blessings and of rebellion toward the One who made us to live in peace.

I know there will be trouble in this world, especially for followers of Christ. But nonetheless, with St. Francis, I pray, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace." And I pray that the peace will be both political and personal, as people become reconciled with the One who designed them to love one another.

21 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 7

The Trip

A very good college friend of mine joined us today. Together with our hosts, we went to Old Town Alexandria for lunch at Gadsby's Tavern and a tour of Christ Church, where George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended.

In the evening, we played games, including Hearts (with Jack of Diamonds as -10, Ace of Diamonds as 5, and trickless as -5 -- best. variation. evar.) and Bohnanza.

The Blessings

Historical Stuff. As a history nerd, I absolutely loved seeing Old Town, and especially Gadsby's and Christ Church. It always fires my imagination to realize that I am occupying the same physical space that has been occupied by people I admire. Of those, Washington and Lee are both near the top of the list. Washington's undying commitment to the good of others and Lee's loyalty to his commitments, even in the face of disagreement with the South's ideological position, are the sort of legacy I would like to leave.

Games. Playing games with friends is one of my favorite pastimes. It's great to match wits with each other in a friendly, low-risk way. I think it really helps me to grow closer to my friends and learn to admire them more. Games also allow a social circle to become stronger and more stable. And, especially significantly for me, games teach you how to be happy with losing. They also teach you that losing isn't the end; it's just an opportunity to learn and improve.

Seeing Old Friends. They remind me that God works differently in each of His children. While we all long for the same heavenly city and for its Lord, Jesus Christ, He tailors our situations and journeys to maximize our growth and usefulness. For a long time, it bothered me that my friends all had to take separate paths from me. More recently, I have come to understand and accept that it is God's way of weaving a more diverse, more wondrous tapestry. I guess you could say I've stopped obsessing over His technique and started enjoying His artistry more fully.

20 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 6

The Trip

We just sat around the house in Burke, enjoying the company of our friends, blogging, and relaxing. In my mind, this is the sweetest part of any vacation. I enjoy seeing things and visiting new places, but sometimes you just need a sabbath rest.

In the evening, we walked to a grocery store and a nearby Caribou Coffee for a date while our hosts were at prayer meeting.

The Blessings

Great Friends. We love spending time with these people. They're the best kind of friends: the kind who you can pick up your relationship with at any time, no matter how long it's been since you last saw them or spoke with them.

Being Comfortable. It's not just anyone who can make you feel completely at home, so we are really blessed to feel that way right now. Our rest here has been rest indeed! We don't have to worry about intruding or outstaying our welcome or any of the other things that come along with visiting. We know they love us and want us here, and we know that we belong.

Fellowship and Encouragement. One of the nicest things of all is knowing that our friends share our values, our sense of humor, and most importantly, our love for Christ. Being with them is a constant strengthening for us. And it delights us to know that we encourage them, too.

Date Night! I always love spending time with my wife and baby. It's really fun to be able to go out for coffee and a walk together. And the umbrella stroller we're borrowing from my mother-in-law works great!

19 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 5

The Trip

Today was a sightseeing day. In the morning, we went into the District to see Ford's Theatre and visit the National Building Museum. Then, after a brief afternoon rest at home, we went back into the city for a tour of the West Wing.

Ford's Theatre was very interesting. we enjoyed their very nice museum, as well as a visit to the theater itself. While we were there, we watched a one-act play called One Destiny, which deals with the Lincoln Assassination from the perspective of the actors and managers at the theater. Not a bad show, though I have seen better.

The National Building Museum was gorgeous. The decor and architecture were quite impressive, as were the exhibits. The boy liked crawling around the enormous central room, which has been the home to many events from architectural continuing education classes to presidential inaugural balls. His mother and I perused the exhibits and were amused by the many offerings of the museum's outrageously expensive giftshop.

We took the requisite photos of the boy with several prominent landmarks, then went home to rest up. Wifey and I did get some rest, but the boy seemed quite out of sorts and cried a lot. We were afraid he would make a bad impression on our friend who was planning on giving us the tour.

We had pizza for dinner, then dressed in business casual and headed back into D.C. We took a little walking tour along Pennsylvania Avenue with Momma and Poppa and then met our friend at the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania around 8:20.

The West Wing was great, but it was even more fun to connect with an old friend and see how her life is going. We got some good pictures of the boy in front of the Press Room at the White House -- will enjoy those a lot when he's older.

In all, it was a wonderful day, but it left us pretty tired. We went home, cuddled up with a little bit of good-night Gilmore Girls, and went to bed quite happy.

The Blessings

Delay Averted. On the way into the city in the morning, Momma was driving. The GPS told her to take the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane on the beltway, but she decided to go on the main highway instead. About two minutes later, we passed a several-mile-long line of cars at a dead stop in the HOV lane. We later found that they had been stopped so police could investigate shots fired at the Pentagon. Momma's split-second decision saved hours of our day and let us visit the theater and museum before heading home.

Getting to See the West Wing. As I mentioned in my last post, we had thought we wouldn't be able to visit the West Wing. So it was both unexpected and welcome when our friend was able to get us in after all.

Having a Happy Baby. I was afraid the boy would be cranky all evening, but after a good feeding and a nice nap, he was all smiles. It was great to have him with us and get to see his little eyes widen at the cars zooming by on Pennsylvania Ave.

Seeing an Old Friend. It's always a delight to me to see what God has been doing in the lives of friends I've spent time with in the past. I guess I find it so encouraging because it bears out the truth of Philippians 1:6 - "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

18 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 4

The Trip

One of the places my sweet wifey was most excited about visiting during this trip: IKEA. We had heard it was HUGE, so we decided to devote an entire day to visiting it. So that's what we did today.

We went to the Woodbridge IKEA, though there are others nearby, including one in Baltimore. At first, I wasn't sure what to expect. My wifey was certainly looking forward to it, but I was undecided. From the moment we walked into the store, though, I was hooked.

There was so much to love that I hardly know where to begin. Maybe a bulleted list would come closest to doing it justice:

  • The shopping lists. At the entrance of the store, there are shopping lists with little pencils for keeping track of all the items that interest you. Then, when you are done, you can go to a big warehouse on the bottom floor and pick out the box(es) of the items(s) that interest(s) you. This makes so much more sense than the you-are-at-the-mercy-of-a-capricious-salesperson ordering method used by most furniture stores! Plus, it cuts overhead and allows shoppers to move along at their own pace.
  • The merchandise transportation options. You can choose between a shopping cart, a yellow canvas bag (with a handy little dolly to wheel it along as it gets fuller and fuller), or a flatbed cart for moving large objects. And the shopping carts are especially amazing -- they are perfectly smooth, with plenty of bearings in each wheel assembly, and each wheel pivoting 360 degrees, with a zero-turn radius for easy maneuvering in cramped spaces.
  • The selection. There is a huge variety of well-designed and well-manufactured products for the home. Sort of like a cross between a furniture store and a Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
  • The food. We had lunch at the in-store cafeteria, where I had a shrimp-and-boiled egg sandwich and a vegetarian crepe... for like $4.00. And the desserts were buy one, get one free! Yummerz.
  • The toys. Found a really fun wooden train set just like the ones I used to love playing with as a child! It will be for the boy's second or third Christmas, I think. Also got him a plush soccer ball so he can start practicing now to be the next Pele.
  • The prices. Everything seemed really affordable -- and certainly more so than I have seen in a furniture store. In almost every department, I found something that knocked my socks off with its great value.
In short, IKEA is my new favorite. I'm so glad we don't have one near us, because it ranks right up there with used bookstores as the sort of place where it would be very easy for me to spend WAY too much money. Not much else to report for the day -- but I think this was plenty for us all.

The Blessings

Time With my Sweet Wife and Baby. I love being able to spend all day with my little family. They are really enjoyable! I especially enjoyed toting the boy around in our Moby wrap. It lets me cuddle him hands-free and allows him look around all he wants to, if he is facing forward. When he gets tired, I can turn him toward me, tuck his head into the wrap, and let him sleep while I continue walking. It's really fun being so close to him.

Time With Our "Momma." Our hostess is great -- it was very nice to be able to catch up with her as we made our way through IKEA's halls of wonder.

Good News From an Old Friend. One of our friends who works for the White House Office of Management and Budget had tried (alas, unsuccessfully) to get us scheduled for a tour of the West Wing. We weren't too depressed about missing it, but it would have been really neat to see the WW. And then, as we were moving through the bedroom section of IKEA, I got a call from her saying that she was able to set a tour up for us after all. What a nice favor from the Lord! :-)

Comfort. We talked a lot with our "Momma" about a recent death in our church back home. It was sweet to be able to comfort and be comforted by her in our mutual grief for the family. Even in times of grief, it is encouraging to know that God is using the situation to bring His folk closer to each other.

17 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 3

The Trip

It was time for the long haul. The last two days were really just practice for this true, all-day road trip. We left from Corinth at about 6:45, after grabbing a bowl of cereal, a couple of bagels, and a pocketful of granola bars. As we left the building, I think I may have heard a sigh of relief emanating from Room 102.

We drove through northern Mississippi, then through Alabama and up to Chattanooga, TN. We dipped briefly through Georgia, then headed through Tennessee toward Virginia. We had originally planned on stopping for lunch in Chattanooga, but as we drove, we became more and more anxious to get to Virginia before 1 a.m., so we elected to spend as little time as possible outside the car.

As we drove, we finished up our marriage study, looked for license tags from various states, and listened to a lot of Caedmon's Call.

We made very good time on this drive, and finally rolled into Burke, VA at about 10:30 EDT (which would have been 9:30 CDT). We visited for a little while with our dear friends, then, exhausted, climbed into bed. The boy woke up a few times in the night because he had slept so much in the car, but overall, we had a great sleep.

It was good to be there at last.

The Blessings

More Safe Driving. About 13-14 hours on the road, and no major incidents. God was certainly protecting us and keeping us from having car trouble.

No Emotional Explosions. Traveling can be a very difficult time for us -- particularly me. There's something about giving directions and deciding travel routes that makes me very defensive. That didn't happen a single time on this drive -- thanks in part, I'm sure, to Dr. Eggerichs.

Seeing Our Friends. They have been very influential in our lives. Their son and daughter were our best friends when we were growing up. Much of our courtship was conducted either at their home or near it. They encouraged us, did our marriage counseling, and had us over for lunch almost every week.

It's an amazing feeling to come home again, even when that home is halfway across the country from where it used to be.

16 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 2

The Trip

After the boy's first feeding (around 0530), we grabbed a continental breakfast at the Discomfort Inn (no bagels - par for the course, I suppose) and hit the road.

Outside, much to our respective reliefs, we found that our carseat had not been stolen. When my sweetie and boy were safely nestled in the car, I went back inside to grab some coffee and was hit on by two late middle-aged ladies who complimented my M&M pajama pants. One of them asked if I liked her nightshirt, which said, "Do Not Disturb."

No danger of that, I said to myself. To her, I said with a polite laugh, "Oh yes, it's quite clever; bye!"

Our drive to Corinth, MS was fairly uneventful, except that Google Maps advised us to take Highway 20 south out of Dyersburg, TN, despite the fact that Highway 20 does not exist there. This caused us some consternation, but also amused us and enabled us to learn more about the geography of beautiful western Tennessee.

We arrived in Corinth at about 2:30 and checked into Room 100 of the Econolodge, which was a good deal nicer than the Discomfort Inn we had stayed in the night before. After settling in, we went to visit Grandma at her retirement home. It was a beautiful building where she seemed to be fairly comfortable, and we talked with her for about 3 and a half hours.

After we were done visiting with grandma (it was getting close to her bedtime), we went with Aunt Mary and Uncle Phil to Pizza Grocery, where they had the shrimp and grits and we split a much more prosaic pizza. It was great to have some time with them, especially since Magen had only met Aunt Mary once and I hadn't seen Uncle Phil for about 18 years.

The night was a good one, except that the boy awoke several times. We tried to get him quickly each time so our anonymous neighbors in Room 102 wouldn't curse us unnecessarily.

The Blessings

Another day of Safe Driving -- hours and hours in the car, but no crashes or near-crashes.

Making It. Despite the best efforts of the Google Maps gremlins, we made it to Corinth ahead of schedule.

Happy Baby. The boy has been quite impressive on this trip. He hasn't fussed very much at all, and he has been a pure joy to me when I've gotten to hold him on our rest / fill-up stops.

Seeing Grandma. I haven't seen Grandma since before Grandpa died, and the boy had never met her. She loved having us visit; her joy more than rewarded our drive. It's sad to see her in so much pain, but nice to know that she is in a nice place surrounded by caring people.

Spending time with Aunt + Uncle. It was great to see my aunt and uncle. It was also really sweet of them to remember my birthday and have a birthday pizza come out afterwards. We really enjoyed visiting with them.

15 October 2010

Vacation Blessings: Day 1

Blogger's Note: This is the inaugural post in my series of Vacation Blessings. I have obtained two weeks of paid leave from my place of gainful employment to relax, refresh, and reinvigorate. My wife, sweet son, and I are therefore road-tripping to see my Grandmother and Aunt in Corinth, MS, and then headed out to Burke, VA to see some dear friends.

The Trip

Got off work and headed west on I- 70. Drove a while and then stopped for the night at a Super 8 in Kingdom City, MO. We had initially thought of stopping at the Comfort Inn across the highway, but we intended to do some shopping around to ensure we weren't missing any fantastic hotel deals in the vicinity.

Our good intentions lasted through the second hotel we hit, Super 8. They offered us a room for $9 less than the Comfort Inn, and when I returned to the car to discuss the matter with Wifey, I found her tired and the baby cranky for lack of milk, so I took Super 8's offer.

Subsequently, we found out why it was $9 less. The room wasn't great, and Wifey was afraid to leave the boy's carseat outside for fear that someone would break into our car to steal it. We affectionately nicknamed the hotel the "Discomfort Inn." It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't nearly as nice-looking as the Comfort Inn had been. Overall, not a bad night, but nothing to tweet @Mom about.

The Blessings

Where do I start? Oh, yes: Paid Vacation. It is so nice to have three weeks (plus a day or two) of paid vacation / sick leave per year. I especially like that it is all combined into one lump of paid time off so I'm not tempted to be dishonest in order to use sick leave as vacation time. On top of that, I get to come back to a job I genuinely enjoy after my vacation is done.

Date Time. On the way to Kingdom City, we discussed our marriage, our relationship, our communication, and our attitudes with the help of a marriage workbook from Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I don't agree with the man in some areas (such as his fundamental concept of gender and his belief that God designed marriages to have conflict), but I have found his ideas very useful in facilitating communication about our values, assumptions, and needs. His concept of "The Crazy Cycle" is especially enlightening.

We've only been looking at the material for a couple of weeks, but I already feel like I have grown a lot closer to Wifey and learned a great deal about what she needs in our relationship.

Reliable Vehicle. No breakdowns, overheating, bad brakes, or any other issues so far. We are so happy to have a paid-for vehicle that can reliably transport us and our stuff halfway across the country and back!

Anticipation. The beginning of a journey is always filled with hope, expectations, and happy thoughts about what lies ahead. Proverbs 13:12 says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I think about this verse about each time something goes differently than I had wanted. I think this concept is also what made it so hard when a seven-week-old baby in our church died a couple of weeks ago. But the verse also contains the flip-side of that truth: A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Here's hoping that this trip fulfills our longings!

10 September 2010

Open Note to Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville

For background, look here, here, and here.

Dear Rev. Jones,

Thank you for (maybe) canceling your burning of the Qur'an.

That was your attaboy; now for your beatdown.

You should probably re-read Matthew 10:16 - "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."

Rev. Jones, what on earth were you thinking? Your plan to burn the Qur'an on 9/11 (or possibly try to blackmail someone into moving the site of the "Ground Zero" mosque) was neither shrewd nor harmless.

I agree with you that the Bible is God's word and is powerful and can change people. But think about it -- how does burning someone else's holy book make yours any more potent? In fact, doesn't it betray a lack of confidence in the efficacy of yours?

Throughout this whole series of events, you took advantage of the freedom you have in the United States and used it to threaten the lives of Christians all over the globe. Yes, you have the right to burn the Qur'an. But what in Heaven's name made you think "Gee, that sure would be a good idea"?

The God you and I profess is not glorified when we tear down other people's idols. Now, when we cast down our own, that might do something. How about if you attack the idol of your hunger for publicity, I attack the idol of my foolish self-righteousness, and we call each other in the morning?

Praying for you. Your fellow failure,


06 August 2010

My Best-Laid Plans... And the Better Things That Come

I'm not supposed to be home this weekend.

I had fully intended to be at Hutchmoot 2010 right now. I had dreamed, schemed, planned, and budgeted for it. I had even gotten my boss's permission to take the day off even though we would be understaffed without me.

All that remained, in short, was to actually buy the tickets, and maybe check out some of the recommended reading material from my local library. Annie Dillard, C. S. Lewis, Flannery O'Connor, Walt Wangerin, Jr., and many others were to be there in printed form, and Wangerin was also slated to show up in person. And, of course, the icing on the cake: Andrew Peterson, Ben Shive, Andy Gullahorn, and other great musicians. Literature, music, and late-night desserts and coffee with some of the most interesting people one could wish to meet.

So why am I sitting at home this evening instead of being spiritually, aesthetically, and intellectually fed at Hutchmoot 2010? Honestly, I'm not quite sure. Maybe bad luck, maybe poor planning, maybe my no-good pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.

Here's how it happened:

May 5, 2010
I learn about Hutchmoot 2010 on The Rabbit Room, which has recently become one of my must-read blogs. It sounds great: Discussions about art and aesthetics with other Christians who care about those things. And not only that, but also a chance for really good seats at the release concert for Andrew Peterson's Counting Stars album. And not only that, but an opportunity to meet some of the people whose writing I have admired for some time.

Awesome, right? I start to align the stars in my mini-firmament: planning, scheming, crunching the numbers to figure out how I will pay for the expedition to Nashville, and even obtaining a co-conspirator to go with me.

It takes me a couple of weeks to obtain buyoff from all the stakeholders (especially my sweet spouse and my boss), but soon, I am ready.

May 14, 2010
I am over at a friend's house for the evening. I have finalized my plans and am ready to register. I am on my friend's computer, just about to pay the registration fee, when my phone rings.

It's my wife, calling to see if I spent several hundred dollars at iPath Footwear. I haven't.

I also haven't spent a hundred dollars at HomeShoppingNetwork.com or a couple hundred to purchase a subscription to a scholarly journal.

Needless to say, I do not register for Hutchmoot 2010 this evening. Instead, I spend quite a bit of time checking my bank account and cancelling my debit card.

May 17, 2010
After using my lunch and breaks to get things straightened out with my debit card, I come home from work and prepare to register for the event. Then, I see this:
Update 3:40pm: The Hutchmoot is now full. If you missed your chance this year, we hope to see you in 2011.
Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." That's about how I was feeling after coming home to that announcement on May 17.

And if that had been the end of the story, I can imagine myself being a little bit bitter, angry that someone else's sinful behavior had made me miss something I was really looking forward to.

But fortunately, there's more (as there always is). Romans 8:28-30 says,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
In other words, no matter how I feel about what's happening, I can rest assured that I will benefit from it. The work described in verses 29-30 is not always pleasant, but nonetheless, it's exciting to know that almighty God is working on ME. He has a goal for me and is using every single thing that happens in my life to move me closer to that goal.

So that's the first good thing that comes from this event: I can be sure that, one way or another, this is leading me closer to glorification with Christ. But there are so many other blessings that have come from this weekend at home:
  • A co-worker of mine got to leave early when he needed to on Friday, since I wasn't going to be gone after all
  • I had a delightful date with my wife and baby at various art galleries, followed by a delicious dinner and cuddling at home
  • We had a great time at a good friend's daughter's first birthday party in Kansas City on Saturday
  • On our way home, we stopped through our old college town for shopping and sushi
  • We got to see my brother's wonderful family Saturday night since they came over to our house for baths (their tub was being painted)

In short, it was a great weekend of growing closer to my wife and son and enjoying our family and the blessings God has given us. And if my debit card information hadn't been stolen on May 14, I would have missed out on all this great stuff!

All of this just demonsrates once again a lesson that I have had a very hard time learning: my disappointment isn't the end of good things. In fact, it seems like what comes after the disappointment is even better than what I had planned for myself.

To the person who thwarted my dreams of Hutchmoot 2010 by obtaining my card information and using it to buy fancy shoes and scholarly journals: I forgive you. If I may paraphrase Joseph in Genesis 50:20, you may have meant this thing for evil, but God meant it for good.

05 August 2010

The Boy and the Cars

There are some advantages to living by a busy street. For instance, the street can entertain my son when I don't feel like it...

28 July 2010

Review: Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis"

I won't lie: I was somewhat hesitant to read Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis. I had heard many disturbing things about the author. For example:
  • He is a heretic
  • He denies the inerrancy of scripture
  • He denies the immutability of scripture
  • He denies the immaculate conception of Christ
  • He denies Christ's substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world
  • He secretly devours the souls of small children
Since I do not normally enjoy the company of heretics or baby-soul-eaters, I had my doubts about reading anything by this man. However, I also believe in giving people a chance to speak for themselves. Also, my friend Joseph Lynch generously offered to lend me Velvet Elvis, so I didn't even have to check it out at the library or purchase it in order to peruse Mr. Bell's ideas.

I knew Bell's ideas have been labeled as revolutionary, so I was ready for some new concepts in his writing. Prepared though I was, what I found in this book shocked me. More on that later; first, let me summarize the book so you can be ready to make a semi-informed snap decision about how heretical it is.

Bell's project is an ambitious one. His main premise is that modern Christianity (and, in particular, Evangelical Christian ecclesiology, exegesis, and theology proper) is fair game for review, rethinking, and revision. He writes,
As part of [the Protestant] tradition, I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming. By this I do not mean cosmetic, superficial changes ... I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained."1
Right now, if you're anything like me, you're thinking, "Them is some mighty big britches for one man to fill."

But big britches or no, Bell does an admirable job of creating an accessible, interesting, and even compelling case for his postmodern Christian credo. He uses powerful metaphors to build his approach, and, rhetorically, his use of scripture to support his assertions is masterful (especially since his arguments are fairly certain to face vocal opposition from the "sola scriptura" crowd).

Despite Bell's implication that he will be shaking the very underpinnings of the Christian faith, his project is not one of overturning orthodoxy. Rather, he wants to shift the focus of what he sees as a dry, dull Christianity back to the things that made the teachings of Jesus so compelling:
  • His offer of access to an otherwise unknowable God
  • His promise to be our Way -- our only Way
  • His love for marginalized people
  • His genuine humanity (as seen in His anguished cry, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?")
  • The transcendent love and joy He offers to those who follow Him2

After the first chapter (or "movement"), Bell does a series of close readings that interpret various teachings of Christ through a sociohistorical lens. In short, he brings historical knowledge to bear in his readings of Christ as one who consciously chose to teach within his own people's tradition: that of the Jewish rabbis.

For example, Bell reads the "yoke" of Christ in Matthew 11:30 as a technical rabbinical term referring to a rabbi's body of teaching. The "binding and loosing" of Matt. 16:19, again, is a technical rabbinical term referring to the strictness of a given rabbi's interpretation of the Torah. Again, these interpretations rely on extrabiblical knowledge, but Bell sees them as having a great deal to do with how Christians should read and apply Biblical truth. They also lead him to conclude that scriptural interpretation -- the binding and loosing and wrestling that are involved in exegesis -- are, or should be, a community-oriented endeavor. (The individualistic founders of the Reformation may now begin barrel-rolling in their respective Papally desecrated graves.)3

Bell goes on to argue that:

  • The world is full of God's truth -- even outside of Scripture and the lives of believers -- wherever there is Good or Right or Beauty (Movement Three)
  • The Bible teaches invaluable lessons for modern life, such as the practice of the Sabbath and the need for leaders to draw strength from the source they point everyone else toward (Movement Four)
  • God has a much higher opinion of people than we do of ourselves or of others (Movement Five)
  • God's work in our lives is to take the old us -- the real, old us, that was made in His image and then fell away -- and remake us. In essence, to repair us (Movement Six)
  • The Church's role is to be an agent of change and a conduit of God's Goodness to the world (Movement Seven)
So, then -- I'll answer the questions I raised earlier, since you're probably getting tired of my rambling and would like me to cut to the chase.

Is Rob Bell a heretic? Does he deny inerrancy, immutability, immaculate conception, and substitutionary atonement? In short, is this book teaching a new gospel?

The answer: no, not that I could see. In some areas, he dances toward the boundaries of orthodoxy, perhaps, but after prayer and close reading, I must say I did not find any false teaching in this book.

So what shocking thing did I find in this book? It was really, really encouraging to me. It made me love God more deeply and think about His word in new ways. In short, it is probably the most invigorating set of new ideas that my spirit has experienced in the past three years. I especially loved the way that Bell tries to reclaim the good things in the world -- the things which, after all, come from the unchanging Father of lights.

I don't agree with everything Bell writes, by any means. I'm not sure I buy his sociohistorical readings of the "yoke" and "binding and loosing" concepts. I'm also a little uncomfortable with the fact that he mentions atonement, sin, judgment, and redemption only in passing. Nonetheless, Bell has a refreshing perspective and a lot of important ideas. If you are a spiritually mature believer in Christ Jesus, read this book. At the very least, it'll give you something to think about.

(P.S.: No, he doesn't eat the souls of small children.)

1 Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005, p. 12.
2 Ibid., pp. 20-36  
3 Ibid., pp. 66-69

06 July 2010

Writing and WRITING and Insurance, Oh My.

Disclaimer: All situations described in this post are purely hypothetical and/or fictional. They have no bearing on any real person(s), company(ies), or letter(s). Any resemblance to any actual person(s), company(ies), or letter(s) is strictly coincidental.

I read this rather fine essay / blogpost yesterday, and it made me want to write. A lot. So, as I sometimes do, I resolved to write more. And as usually happens, that resolve was crushed into a very fine powder this morning by the inexorable, repetitive pounding of my index finger on the snooze button of my alarm clock.

After getting to work late, I worked like a madman all day because we were a person short and had a killer backlog in the wake of the three-day weekend. I worked through my scheduled shift as well as an hour of thoroughly frustrating unpaid overtime, then returned home and began to mow my jungle of a lawn.

As I mowed, I pondered the question of why my writing resolutions always come to nothing. The following Compelling And Pithy Answer came to me: Those who write for a living have a difficult time writing for the love of it. Like it or not, I am one of the former. Until that changes, I will always have difficulty forcing myself to write for the love of writing.

This line of thought led me to reflect further on my Other Writing -- the Writing I don't normally discuss with others because it is part of my daily capitalistic transactions with The Man. And, quite frankly, writing doesn't get much duller and drier than Life Insurance Letters. My first instinct was to consider this whole written genre inferior, simplistic, and much too common to be worthy of any kind of extended cogitation. Life insurance company employees write things like:

Dear Mr. Smith:

We are sorry to learn of Harriet Smith. Please accept our sincere condolences and extend them to the family.

Our records indicate the policy's beneficiary is Bill Smith, husband of the insured. In order to pay the claim against this life insurance policy, we require the following:

  • An original certified death certificate indicating Ms. Smith's cause and manner of death. The certificate will be returned upon request, as we are unable to accept a photocopy.
  • A Claim Form completed by you as beneficiary.

For your convenience, a self-addressed return envelope has been enclosed. If you have any questions, please contact our claim representatives at 1-800-LIFE-INS.

Life Claims

Pretty prosaic, right? Bulleted, straightforward, written for the Lowest Common Denominator of readers. Certainly nothing my college English teachers would have given gold stars to.

But don't sell Life Insurance Letter-Writers short. They can be pretty suave and even artsy, in their own way, when the situation calls for it. For instance:

Dear Mr. Smith:

We value you as a customer and strive to provide you with exceptional customer service each and every time we do business with you. Please accept our sincere apologies for the problem that occurred with your policy's surrender check.

During a recent audit, it was discovered that you were inadvertently overpaid for the surrender of your policy. On June 1, 2010, a check in the amount of $20,000.00 was issued to you. According to our audit records, the correct surrender amount was $2,000.00.

We ask that the overpayment of $18,000.00 be returned to us. For your convenience, a self-addressed return envelope has been enclosed. If we do not hear from you within 30 days, this matter will be sent to our legal department for additional action.

Again, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this problem may have caused. We also apologize for any incorrect information you previously may have received regarding this overpayment. If you have any questions, please contact our service representatives at 1-800-LIFE-INS.

Policyholder Services

Pretty straightforward, huh? You'd have to be pretty good at reading between the lines to guess that our hero(ine) is putting a brave face on the following facts:

  • The "audit" was just one of the guys in Finance who finally caught up on his suspense reconciliations and realized that an error had happened
  • The "inadvertent overpayment" occurred when a careless employee who had already given his two-week notice didn't stop to double-check the figures on a check he had requested (what a shock!)
  • The error should have been caught by Finance but never was because the ridiculously Byzantine approval process fosters a fiesta of feverish clicking rather than a rational review of each case
  • The customer had called in two weeks earlier to ask about the check and was assured that "everything is fine"
  • A week after that, a letter was sent informing the customer that he owed $1,800.00 for this overpayment
  • The letter-writer, having just spent an hour sorting out this issue and figuring out what the correct overpayment amount was, is tearing out his/her hair trying to leave his/her emotions out of this communiqué
  • There is no Legal Department, and if there was, they wouldn't touch this issue because they'd be afraid of complaints filed with the state insurance commission
  • The company doesn't utilize a collections agency for any overpayments under $20,000.00, so basically the letter-writer's only weapons are politeness and persistence

I hope you begin to see some of the artfulness and zeal that goes into this type of letter. They may not be pretty, but they can at least be functional.

In closing, I put the question to you, dear reader: With all the effort and emotional energy expended on cases like the one above, is it any wonder that people who have to write for a living have trouble writing simply for the love of it?

I thought not.

10 May 2010

Good Gracious, NY Times!

The New York Times has really slipped of late. Once a paragon of journalistic integrity, it now regularly runs items that mislead -- if not downright lie to -- its credulous readers.

The latest example I have seen:
Mr. Scott is frequently damned and praised as a stylist, a genre-driven filmmaker whose aesthetic — the steampunk look of “Alien” and “Blade Runner” is now aped in the décor of various boutique hotels — is often seen as more influential than his films.
No, no, no, a thousand times no. This is not steampunk:

This is steampunk:

Yet another case of a second-rate journalist picking up a buzzword and running with it.  This is what happens when the copy editor of the student-run university newspaper does not possess the killer instinct of a ravenous wolverine: the mediocre reporters survive (and even thrive).  Even worse, the copy editors themselves become lazy, lethargic, and forgetful of their responsibility to be faithful fact-checkers rather than just picky punctuation police or stolid syntacticians.

While the survival of the mediocre is not an obvious evil, it does contain an insidious threat.  Survival allows these poor benighted souls, blind to their own inadequacies, to spread their terminal plague of near-competence to every corner of the journalistic world.  Regrettably, this includes even the ivory tower that, once upon a time, was the New York Times.

02 April 2010

Human Sacrifice, Cannibalism, and Good Friday

It’s like a scene from a horror film.
A terrified young man struggles against the ropes that cut into his flesh, keeping him stationary on the cold stones of the altar.  Meanwhile, a wizened old man in his twilight years, crazed eyes full of pious resignation, takes a deadly dagger from his belt and holds it shakily over the boy’s throat. 

All the man has to do is cut.  He is very good at this.  He’s done it thousands of times to sheep, to cattle, but never to a human.  Certainly never to his only son.

His eyes tear up, and his soul is anguished within, but this thing must be done.  He blinks several times, rapidly, and steels himself to do it.  He tries not to hear his son’s fearful, pleading cries for mercy.  One keen thrust, one quick pull, and it will be finished.

You know the rest of the story, no doubt.  If you don’t, it’s in Genesis 22: A voice from Heaven, a divinely appointed ram in the thicket, and a blessing from God before father and son descended together from Mount Moriah.

But what if the scene had ended differently? 

What if the knife had plunged, the blood had gushed, and the stench of burning hair and meat and bone that afternoon had come from Isaac’s body instead of from some hapless ram? 

What if Abraham had knelt down and lapped up the pools of his son’s blood?  What if he had sliced off chunks of the boy’s flesh and devoured them greedily, hoping to gain life and forgiveness of sins from the young man’s vitality and innocence?

I hope that image is disturbing to you; I know it is to me.  And yet, as a Christian, my salvation from sin and death depends on an even grimmer scene.

A man who loved all – especially the weak, the outcasts, and the misfits – is betrayed by one of his closest friends into the hands of his enemies.  He is spat on, mocked, and abused at the hands of his captors.  He is stripped naked; strangers gamble for his clothing.

A man who did no wrong – and, indeed, who spoke out against corruption and hypocrisy – is falsely accused before the civil and religious authorities.  The only charge they can prove against him is that he claims to be the son of God – a claim that his teachings and miracles seem to support.

A man who brought wholeness and joy – healing the sick, making the lame walk and the blind see, even casting out demons and raising the dead – is beaten, tortured, and crucified.  The skin of his back is torn to ribbons from repeated scourging, a crown of thorns is pressed down onto his head, and he is nailed to a cross to die the slow, painful, humiliating death of a criminal.

The very son of God —the one who left a heavenly throne for an earthly life of trouble and tears – has the full wrath of his Father poured out on him as he suffers on the cross.  He who despises sin with every part of his being becomes the very thing he hates so God can punish him on our behalf.

Somehow, surrounded by the filth and stench and buzzing flies of the town refuse heap, dripping blood and overwhelmed by the pain of the cross, my salvation was born from Christ’s suffering.  My life was wrought from his death. My darkness was suddenly flooded with a light I could not have known without the cross.

It is a fearful mystery, and one beyond my comprehension.  I don’t pretend to understand God’s motivation or why he worked it out the way He did.  I think the best explanation is probably in the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
         Yet He did not open His mouth;
         Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
         And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
         So He did not open His mouth.
    By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
         And as for His generation, who considered
         That He was cut off out of the land of the living
         For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
    His grave was assigned with wicked men,
         Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
         Because He had done no violence,
         Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
    But the LORD was pleased
         To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
         If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
         He will see His offspring,
         He will prolong His days,
         And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
    As a result of the anguish of His soul,
         He will see it and be satisfied;
         By His knowledge the Righteous One,
         My Servant, will justify the many,
         As He will bear their iniquities.

So that’s the human sacrifice: almighty God, in human form, gave himself up as a guilt offering for my sins and yours.  But don’t go yet; I also promised you cannibalism! 

In John 6, Christ says:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.

 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.

 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.

 "This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever."

This saying was a mysterious one, and it turned off a lot of his fair-weather followers (some of whom simply saw how Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and wanted to get more free food out of him).  Many of his followers turned away after this teaching – and who can blame them?  Cannibalism is repulsive.  Yet, in a sense, when we come to Christ, it is what we practice.  By believing him and accepting his sacrifice on our behalf, we admit that our very sustenance comes from his broken body, and that our forgiveness comes from his shed blood.

In Mark 14, we see more elaboration of what Christ meant when he talked about eating his body and drinking his blood:

While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body."

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

"Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

Here, Christ isn’t literally slicing off pieces of himself and passing them around as snacks.  Nor is he draining a vein and passing his literal blood around in juice cups.  Rather, he is instituting a symbol to help his followers remember who they are – and, just as importantly, whose they are and what they believe. He knows that, in the future, as often as they replicate this ceremony, they will do so in remembrance of him and of the sacrifice he made on their behalf. 

The horrors of what we remember on Good Friday are indeed strong.  In fact, when I initially began contemplating what this day means, I was a little indignant at its name.  How can such inexpressible pain and suffering be called good?  How can we call a day “good” on which the only perfect one was brutally murdered for sins he did not commit?

Then I remembered that, although this day wasn’t good for the one who died, it also brought hope to the whole world.  Upon reflection, I must conclude that my own life would be hollow and bereft of meaning if Good Friday had never occurred. Because of the suffering that occurred on that cross about two millennia ago, I have life, hope, and peace that are not my own. 

And that is reason enough for me to agree that, despite the human sacrifice and the cannibalism, it remains a very Good Friday indeed.

31 January 2010


ERROR: timeout

each print job a unique piece
of correspondence,
informing welathy businessmen
and penniless widows alike
of "important information
regarding your life insurance policy" --
beneficiary designations,
policy changes,
requests Not In Good Order --
a trove of life-or-death information

frozen in a digital limbo,


too many, too fast,
print device not ready:
error printouts
instead of carefully crafted letters,
the opposite of useful on this busiest day
of the tax season,
when recently bereaved lovers

and cranky old retirees
queue up telephonically,
dozens deep,

for policy information
and claim forms,
a day when it is all you can do
to hit "print" between calls.


and now, all those hurried "prints"
add up to something
whose sum is less than nothing,
a timeout
on a day when there simply is

no more time

07 January 2010

What Have I Done?

You can't see this, O my faithful reader(s), but I have been reasonably busy since last you heard from me. In the waning months of 2009, I:

* Read some books
* Felt my little baby trying to kick his/her way out of my wife's womb
* Worked like a madman
* Sang some songs
* Got to see Andrew Peterson and the wonderful musicians who were with him on the Lamb of God tour
* Dealt daily with my fleshly desires and sinful tendencies
* Led a kids' club for church
* Met some wonderful new friends
* Enjoyed some wonderful old ones
* Had an unforgettable campout with men from my small group
* Got stuck in a snowy parking lot
* Wrassled with my pride
* Spent almost a week living with my in-laws because of inclement weather and holidays
* Broke my lawnmower, but right before it snowed, so it's ok
* Started writing a novel
* Struggled writing a novel
* Stopped writing a novel
* Applied for some new jobs
* Didn't get them
* Was very ok with that -- the process taught me how great my current job is
* And a host of other things

Life, in other words, has been proceeding apace. I get up in the morning, run if I'm not too sleepy (in other words, run VERY occasionally), grab a string cheese for breakfast, go to work, drink some coffee, do my best to be productive and competent for about nine hours, go home, have dinner, do stuff with my wife or friends or brothers and sisters from church, maybe play a game or watch an episode of Numb3rs or The Office, read a little bit, pray, and sleep.

Today at lunch, I was talking with the 1:00 p.m. lunch crew about LeBron James, the 25-year-old phenom who plays for the Cavs and whose monster ego nearly matches his impressive feats on the hardwood. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that nothing could compel me to trade places with him.

I have a rewarding job, enough money to meet my obligations, a beautiful wife, an energetic baby on the way, a very satisfying relationship with God, many friends, a great family, and, in general, an exceptionally nice life. Things happen to remind me of my proper place in the universe and to make me very glad that I'm in it.

Why on earth would I want to trade this for the pressure-filled, performance-demanding life of a superstar who makes too much money, is surrounded by hangers-on, and has entirely too high an opinion of himself? If anything, I pity the man. He's never known a moment of normalcy, and he's been pushed to do too much, too early.

My friends at lunch think I'm crazy. "I'd take his life in a heartbeat," one of them told me. "I could sure find a way to use that money, and who wouldn't want to be famous and amazingly good at sports like that?"

Me, that's who. I guess when you're satisfied with what you have, it's hard to imagine wanting to move.