12.24.2009

Christmas Eve

Great indeed, we confess,
is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifest in the flesh,

justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory.
I Timothy 3:16

Have a JOY-filled Christmas.

12.23.2009

Behold the Lamb of God

Here's what I would do, if I were you.  I would take about 30 minutes on Christmas Eve, grab a mug of hot cocoa, curl up, and listen to this.

In fact, I'll be doing it even though I'm not you.

It's a song cycle written by Andrew Peterson, and Christmas is at its heart. Take another look at "the Christmas story" you thought you knew so well.

God bless your quiet reflection on the old, old story of Redemption.  May it never lose its luster to you.

12.22.2009

Eye Candy...er, Cookies


There's nothing that says Merry Christmas like a Snellen Chart cookie. (That's a little optical industry humor. I can do that now that I'm an honest-to-goodness certified optician--woot!--see previous post.)

I broke out the cookie cutters and lard earlier this week and whipped up a big batch of cookies for a cookie exchange and a few gifts. The eye chart was for my boss. He's an optometrist, in case that's not obvious. In fact, that's him in the upper left corner. The resemblance is pretty remarkable if I do say so myself. But then I have an eye for that sort of thing (more optical humor).

12.21.2009

I PASSED!

A big thank you to all of you who prayed for me to pass the American Board of Opticianry National Opticianry Competency Examination!  Just a few minutes ago I found out I passed.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

12.19.2009

Wallenberg: Missing Hero

I am not in the habit of writing letters willy-nilly to foreign heads of state.

However, I just sent an e-mail to Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia.  It was mostly copied-and-pasted from a suggested letter I found online.  It begins:

Dear President,
It has been sixty years since Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands during World War II was captured by the Soviet army. His fate is still unknown. One thing is certain - he is still in your country.

To my shame, a few weeks ago, I didn't know the name Raoul Wallenberg.  Reading his biography by Kati Marton changed that forever.  Upon completing the book last night, I felt compelled to do something--hence the note addressed to the Kremlin.

Raoul Wallenberg led a fascinating life.  The son of Sweden's equivalent of the Rockefellers, he studied in America, travelled the world--and then found his calling as savior of the beleaguered Jews of Budapest.  Commissioned by neutral Sweden and the U.S., he moved to Hungary's capital city near the end of World War II, and began the seemingly-impossible task of pulling Jewish men, women, and children from the deadly jaws of Adolf Eichmann and the Third Reich.  He came up with a brilliant system of issuing Swedish "passports" to thousands of Budapest Jews.  They were essentially worthless, but he and his staff distributed them with such bold confidence that the occupying Nazis were set back on their heels in confused hesitation.  Thus he bought precious time as the Jews waited for the Allied liberation of their city.

Whenever a pogrom was organized, whenever another batch of starving Jews were rounded up for a march to the labor camps, whenever they were lined up along the Danube to be shot and drowned, the Swede would show up.  In his politely firm and quietly confident manner, he would elbow past the Nazi soldiers and announce, "I am Wallenberg."  And a ripple of hope would move through the masses of slump-shouldered people with ragged stars of David sewn to their thin coats.  Many of them would get to go home that night, clutching their "passports".  One more hellish day had been survived, thanks to Wallenberg.

There were assassination attempts, there were threatening letters from Nazi officials, there were exhausting weeks and months on end with little sleep.  Perhaps worst of all there was the constant knowledge that he couldn't possibly save everyone that needed him.  But Wallenberg never seemed to waver.  While much of the world turned a blind eye to Hitler's atrocities, Wallenberg did something about it.

Yes, Raoul Wallenberg's remarkable life perhaps can only be surpassed by the tragic mystery of his death.  Russia's "liberation" of Hungary in 1945 was just a violent transfer of power from one totalitarian regime to another.  Instead of being treated like the hero that he was, Wallenberg was taken prisoner by the Red Army and transported to Moscow, under the accusation that he was a spy for the capitalist West.  He was never to be seen a free man again.

The Gulag was a barely-survivable prison system at its best, but Wallenberg was treated even sterner than the usual prisoner.  He was a pawn the Russians could perhaps use as future leverage with their enemies.  Solitary confinement was the rule, therefore, likely with frequent interrogations and torture sessions.  He was denied a trial, forbidden any communication with his family or the outside world, refused anything close to proper nutrition or hygiene.

It is undisputed that Wallenberg endured such conditions for at least two years.  Beyond that, his tracks are hard to trace.  Both Sweden and America were hesitant to confront Russia about the mistreatment of their diplomat. The Cold War was settling in; Stalin, and then his successor Khrushchev, were feared.  Thus months turned into years and years into decades, with no real pressure put on Russia to explain the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.

When the Kremlin was finally forced to give an explanation, they produced a document stating Wallenberg died of cardiac arrest in prison in 1947 and his body was cremated.  Why, then, do Gulag survivors report brief encounters with a Swedish diplomat named Wallenberg--as late as the mid-1970s?  In fact, there is the very slimmest of possibilities he is still alive today, tucked away in some forlorn cell.  He would now be 97 years old.

The Kremlin knows what really happened to Raoul Wallenberg.  Or, at least they could find out; there are records somewhere.  At this point, the motive is not to place blame, but to bring home a hero, to lay him to rest properly.  Shouldn't his story be told?  Shouldn't his life be honored and his death memorialized?

Words from a Budapest monument to Wallenberg (stolen before it could be unveiled, and never replaced):  "This monument is our silent and eternal gratitude to him and should always remind us of his eternally lasting humanity in an inhuman period."

That is why I have joined the other estimated 20,000 who have sent messages to Vladimir Putin.  You can, too.

Learn more about Raoul Wallenberg here.

12.18.2009

My brush with fame and fortune. Or at least Fabry.

Were you listening to Chris Fabry Live today?  Did you hear Chris read an e-mail from "Karissa in Provo, Utah"?  That was me!

Author and radio veteran Chris Fabry hosts a one-hour program every weekday afternoon; it is full of intelligent, balanced, compassionate discussion on a wide variety of topics that touch the Christian life.

So what was it about today's program that compelled me to fire off an excited e-mail which he read on the air a few minutes later?

The Statler Brothers.

If you missed it, and you're wondering why on earth a retired country music quartet is being talked about on Christian radio, and/or why I was so thrilled, you'll just have to listen for yourself here. ("Listen Now" or "Download Podcast", or look for Dec. 18 program.)

Of course, you can always listen live to future programs on KEYY.

12.03.2009

Color me delighted

Back when I was just getting into the whole iTunes thing (several years behind everyone else, it seems), one of the first songs I downloaded was Kristin Andreassen's "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes".  It's a clever, cheerful piece of songwriting, sung with delightful harmony and fabulous rhythm by her band Sometymes Why.  What a happy surprise today to find this music video.  Enjoy.

11.10.2009

It doesn't hurt to dream

"In an ideal world, we could use cellulite to power our cars."
-Roy Blount Jr.

11.09.2009

Some days are just peachy...

...and then there are days like today, when you come home after a long day of work, and discover you've been wearing your dressy trouser socks inside out, all day long.

10.09.2009

On the Biography Shelves

A few days ago I was browsing in the biography section of the Provo City Library, when I noticed a small section of biographies and autobiographies of Michael Jordan. Since this is the only part of a library that is organized alphabetically by subject, the very next book was an autobiography by a Pete Jordan. Yeah, I'd never heard of him either. Turns out, his claim to fame is washing dishes in all 50 states. A no-name dish washer--shoulder to shoulder (or spine to spine) with the greatest athlete in modern history. It was too much. I had to write a poem.


Forget the fiction stacks; truth is stranger

On the biography shelves.

Here strange bedfellows, ironic twists,

Are wrought by the English alphabet.


One can only imagine the conversations

Between neighbors Brad Pitt and Pius XII,

Steve Jobs and Joan of Arc,

Leonardo DiCaprio and Dickens.


Beethoven, if he were not deaf,

Would have two ears-full of Zionism,

Sandwiched as he is between

Menachem Begin and Ben-Gurion.


Houdini lends some tardy wisdom

To Sam Houston regarding the Alamo.

It was the perfect chance, he says,

For a disappearing act.


Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein

Swap conducting stories

While Yogi Berra sagely inserts:

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings."


Keeping up with the Joneses

Is no small task, what with

Marion's and Smarty's races,

And George's and John Paul's songs.


Lance, Louis and Neil hold a strong arm contest.

It takes muscle to cycle 2,000 miles, yes,

But also to make that trumpet sing,

And to plant a flag in the moon's surface.


The Jackson boys (Bo and Andrew,

Alan and Michael, Peter and Stonewall)

Spend quiet nights researching genealogy,

And find their common ancestor climbed a beanstalk.

10.06.2009

Aha!

Just the other day I had one of those "aha!" moments when a song lyric you have heard a hundred times suddenly makes sense.

I have listened to Johnny Cash since I was 6, and his song "One Piece at a Time" is a favorite. It's the humorous narrative of a guy who gradually builds his own car with parts he sneaks out of the automobile plant where he works. But it took 18 years for me to figure out that the words are "I've never considered myself a thief/But GM wouldn't miss just one little piece..." For some reason I'd always thought it was "But gee, they wouldn't miss just one little piece." The accurate rendering is so much better. I'm glad it hit me.

I remember singing " I Will Praise Him" as a young kid in church services, but I could never understand why we were glad that sinners were being put to death. It was a long time before I realized the prepositional phrase in the lyric "Praise the Lamb for sinners slain" was modifying the proper noun (i.e. Jesus), not the verb. Again, accurate interpretation: soooo much better.

The first misunderstanding was a result of faulty hearing, the second of faulty interpretation. Both cases illustrate the importance of a song's words.

"Enunciate, enunciate!" has been the cry of every choir director I've had since grade school. Funny, I never heard that from my band conductors. That's because words carry very specific meaning, and the job of the singer is to communicate that specific meaning to his audience. Yes, instrumental music can (and should) convey "feeling" and bring about an emotional response. But lyrics impart a message that appeals to our emotion and intelligence.

It is worth noting that when God desired to reveal Himself to mankind, He chose to use words--not the music of a song (or a dance or a painting, for that matter). He doesn't want us to just feel something, He wants us to know something.

That Something could be a whole post by itself. Or you can read a pretty good explanation of it here.

10.05.2009

By way of explanation

My spare time is occupied by two things: A Considerable Speck and A Big Exam.

The former is my new-ish apartment. It's taking me awhile to get settled. But the settling is almost finished and soon A Considerable Speck will be open for business. Business as in game nights, debates, jam sessions, movie screenings, pie eatings, and anything else that tickles the fancy in an edifying sort of way.

The big exam I mentioned is the ABO (American Board of Opticianry) National Certifying Exam for Spectacle Dispensers, on November 15. Some of the content is about how to straighten crooked glasses, for example. But a lot of it is more like this: F = Fcyl (SIN(I))2 . Yeah. Pray for me.

All of that to explain my recent absence from the world wide web. And in the immortal words of Douglas MacArthur: "I shall return."

8.21.2009

Go North! You(ng) Reader



The opening two words ("Toooothy cow!") of Book Two of the Wingfeather Saga immediately transported me back to Aerwiar, the fabulous land created by author (and amazing singer/songwriter/Christian/proprietor) Andrew Peterson. It had been a well over a year since my first visit in Book One, and I was more than ready to return. Ready to face those fearsome toothy cows roaming Glipwood Forest, ready to hear from the sea dragons again, ready to follow the young unlikely hero and his tight-knit family on their dangerous journey.

The official summary of North! Or Be Eaten:

Readers thrilled to the phantasmagorical adventures in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga. Now in Book Two, Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, mom Nia, ex-pirate grandfather Podo, Peet the Sock Man, and trusty dog Nugget flee north to rebel headquarters.

Their escape brings readers to the very brink of Fingap Falls , over the Stony Mountains , and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.

Andrew Peterson’s lovable characters create what FantasyBookCritic.com says made Book One “one of the best fantasy novels in a very long time,” and Book Two contains even more thrills, exploring “themes universal in nature, ranging from the classic good versus evil, to the importance of family, and burdens of responsibility.”

(Me again...) All but gone are the hilarious but distracting footnotes employed in Book One. In North! Or Be Eaten, Peterson seems to settle in to the story and tell it in earnest. Janner Igiby, the protagonist, finds himself alone for much of the story, and the character development during that stretch is superb. Action scenes were painfully slow at certain points; still, the story drew me in and kept me up long after my normal bedtime. I am counting the days till Book Three is released.

Bottom line: read it!

Thanks to Staci and company at Waterbrook Press for a pre-release copy of the book to read and one to give away. That's right, I said give away. Leave a comment, any comment, and you may just be the happy recipient. Of course, you can purchase it for yourself here. But beware the toothy cows!

8.20.2009

Peace Activist

The following is a short article I wrote for a local magazine, fleshed out a bit since I'm not under word-length constraints on my own blog (although that's not a bad idea now is it?).

Peace. What comes to mind when you read that word? Hippies and Woodstock? The Middle East? A quiet mountain scene?

Defining it is like nailing Jello to the ceiling. Peace is more than the absence of war, and it is not simply a synonym for silence. It can be a feeling but it is also a state. Influenced by circumstances but not dependent upon them, "peace of mind" is possible in the hardest of situations.

However you describe it, this much is certain: everyone wants peace. We crave it in our world, our nation, our relationships, and our own hearts.

But how? How can we find peace?

Good thing God has so much to say about it. The word "peace" is mentioned 420 times in the King James Version. Of special importance are the passages about peace between God and man.

Now, the Bible speaks the painful truth that man (both collectively and individually) in his natural state is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10). By breaking His laws, we have set ourselves against Him.

God doesn't grade on a curve: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). Nor does He allow exceptions: "For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). And His punishment is sure: "He reserveth wrath for His enemies" (Nahum 1:2).

How do you make peace with someone you have irreversibly wronged, someone who has declared you The Enemy? An apology is a good start, followed by a change in behavior. But your efforts accomplish nothing if the wronged party does not extend grace, forgiveness, reconciliation. And peace.

That's just what God did. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10) "And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself... And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled. In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight" (Colossians 1:20-23).

The cost of peace is high—just ask our military veterans. In offering you eternal peace, God did not spare His own Son. Forget Woodstock; He is the ultimate peace activist.

Do you know God's peace?

7.11.2009

The Greater Glory

Okay, okay, I admit it: I am a lazy blogger.  But when you find a quotation this great, why spend the effort needed to be all original and witty?

From Dr. Kevin T. Bauder:

Indeed, the righteousness of the law presents a vague and hazy picture that snaps into crystal clarity in the person of Christ. Now that Christ has come, I find that He is the fulfillment of the law. All of the beauties that I see dimly in the law are disclosed with brilliant precision in Jesus Christ. It is not that the law has become less glorious. Instead, its glory has been eclipsed by the greater glory of Christ. If the law is like a travel brochure with little, grainy pictures, Christ is Himself the destination. 
            
All that I love about the law, I love about Christ to an exponentially greater degree. My delight in the law feeds directly into a delight in Christ. In a manner of speaking, Christ has taken over the place of the law for me, in the fullest, most forgiving, and most enabling sense. He himself has become my law insofar as reflecting His person and character has become my rule of life. This “
law of Christ” (take that as apposition) has displaced the law of commandments and rendered them inoperative, not by canceling them, but by fulfilling them and enabling the righteousness to which they point.
            
In sum, I cannot despise God’s law because it offers a preliminary (if somewhat obscure) picture of Christ. I love the law for His sake. At the same time, to be fascinated with the picture rather than the person would not honor either one. Christ offers me the beauties of the law without its terrors because He has endured its terrors for me. Ultimately, He is my law (not as a different law, but as the fulfillment of all 
divine law). As the Holy Spirit transforms my character to resemble His, I hope for my practice to take on the majestic contours of a life that truly honors the law.

Read the entire article here.

6.24.2009

Can't spell "flaunt" without "aunt"!

I can contain my auntie-pride no longer.  Introducing...Marianna!
And here's big brother Aaron keeping her entertained...

6.20.2009

7 Things I Learned from My Dad

The importance of regular oil changes.

The art of the pun.

The merits of Exedrin, Gordon Lightfoot, and The Far Side.

The value of silence and solitude.

The joy of learning.

The dignity of hard work.

The preeminence of God's Word.

6.19.2009

20,001 Reasons to Know the 10 Commandments

Reason #1: Because they come directly from the mind and heart of your Creator and Judge.

Not that we should need any more motivation than that, but here are 20,000 more reasons:


Ten and Win

6.17.2009

Uninsured... And Loving It.

I have news for Mr. Obama: I am uninsured and I like it that way.

I've been a member of Samaritan Ministries' Christian Health Care Newsletter program for almost 2 years now, and I will never go back to health insurance.  Let me rephrase that: I will never go back to health insurance... unless the government makes me.

The concept of the Christian Health Care Newsletter is refreshingly simple (funny how biblical concepts often are): every month I receive the name/address/medical concern of another member.  I send a card with a personal note and a check directly to him/her.  I pray for complete healing, as well as patience and peace in the midst of suffering.  If I were to wind up with medical bills, the same would be done for me by other members.

Because every applicant must pledge Christian conduct, including no smoking or illicit relationships, and supply written approval from his/her pastor and another Christian, my checks do not go to support health problems that are the result of unbiblical behavior.  I love that.  A lot.

Since I've never had to be on the receiving end, my membership in the CHN was somewhat abstract--until this past February.  My assigned need for the month was a woman who had lost her husband to a heart attack, and now had piles of hospital bills.  I sent my share and prayed for her, but it wasn't till a couple weeks later that I got a note from an old college friend... it was her dad who had passed away.  She had been helping her mom sort through the 600 (yes, 600!) cards from praying Christians, when she saw my name, as well as another college classmate's.  Helping a friend's family through such a deep loss--that's priceless.

"Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."  Galatians 6:2

6.08.2009

Titus Got Me Thinking...

The Book of Titus has captured my attention recently.  Specifically, the emphasis on "good deeds"--in only three chapters, they are referenced six times.  While Paul makes it crystal-clear that good deeds have nothing to do with salvation (see Titus 3:5), he is emphatic that good deeds are the high and non-negotiable calling of those who have experienced spiritual re-birth.  His instruction to "be careful to engage in good deeds" (3:8) implies far more forethought and intention than I usually put in.

Anyway, last night as I was spending some time in Titus, I started recalling different instances when I have been on the receiving end of a good deed.  The list would be endless if I were to recount every nice thing that someone has done for me.  However, some memories stick out, and they all have a common denominator: the good deed was from a stranger.

Elsewhere I have recounted a woman's kindness on a Greyhound bus headed to Minnesota, and how it influenced me to turn around and (grudgingly at first) express the same sort of generosity on another Greyhound barreling down I-70, years later.  I don't remember that woman's name, but through our conversation I learned she had a personal relationship with God, too.  She was returning home from one of many visits to her father, who lay slowly wasting away in a cancer hospital.  Despite her personal pain, she had made a point of packing extra blankets to share with fellow travelers.  That's what I call "being careful to engage in good deeds."

Last summer, when I went to pay for a tankful of gas with a gift card that the cashier rejected, the young man behind me in line offered to take care of my bill.  I could have paid with a credit card, or even cash, but by this point in my life I had learned a valuable lesson: let a man be chivalrous.  I asked his name and thanked him sincerely as the cashier ran his card for both our bills.  He accepted my gratitude quietly and immediately left after signing the receipt.  As he drove away, the cashier informed me that my quiet benefactor was a soldier on leave.  Two minutes ago I had been steaming mad at this coarse woman with greasy hair, for rejecting my gift card.  But at that moment, we were drawn together in appreciation for a good deed.  "God bless him," she muttered as we stood watching the soldier's pick-up drive out of sight.  Yes, God bless him--whoever he is.

Then there was the scholarship from an anonymous donor while in Bible college.  And the self-sacrificing way an upper-classman I didn't know from Adam sat down and took the time to get to know me, when I was previewing the college.  (This one didn't stay a stranger; I count her among my closest friends today.)  And the compliment a toll-booth worker paid me on a long, lonely drive.  "Has anyone ever told you you have gorgeous eyes?" from a high school-age boy is a good deed that will perk up a tired female traveler for a good many mile.

This is just a sampling.

Here's to good deeds.  Here's to strangers who--perhaps without realizing it--are agents of God's grace in our lives.

And Christians, we've got some work to do.  Let's get busy.

What's your story of a stranger's good deed?

Marianna Joy Clark

What a beautiful name, don't you think?  My first niece was born early this morning.  Lord willing, I'll get to meet her at Labor Day.  Welcome, Marianna!

6.02.2009

Ready or not?

Let's review today's top news stories:
>> Our President proclaims this month "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month."
>> An anti-abortion activist is charged with murdering abortionist Dr. George Tiller at his church yesterday.
>> A plane is confirmed to have crashed in the Atlantic, killing 228 people.

Still, God's grace endures.

So take a deep breath.
Read Lamentations 3 and maybe Daniel 9.
And bring to mind Jesus' words, still crackling with life, still ringing with hope and truth and promise:
"Yes, I am coming quickly."

Are you ready?

5.20.2009

In Praise of Homesteaders, Prairies, and all things Midwestern

Today's entry of "The Writer's Almanac" included this bit of history trivia:

"It was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. Settlers who paid a filing fee of 10 dollars and agreed to live on a piece of land for at least five consecutive years were given 160 acres for free. By 1900, homesteaders had filed 600,000 claims for 80 million acres. Willa Cather's parents set out to homestead in Nebraska, Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents in South Dakota, Lawrence Welk's family in North Dakota, and George Washington Carver in Kansas."

As a lover of history, a lover of America, and especially a lover of the Great Plains, I tip my metaphorical hat to the Cathers, the Ingallses, the Welks, the Carvers, and the other 600,000+ homesteaders.  My own grandfather, who I sadly never had the chance to meet, was one of those who rode a covered wagon west with his family, post-Homestead Act, to the young state of South Dakota.

It was an almost sacred quest for land.  Until the Homestead Act, land ownership the world over had pretty much only been for the wealthy and well-bred, or for those who were willing to fight tooth and nail for it.  And now: ten dollars for a square quarter-mile of rich soil?  A tenspot for the chance to start over, make something of yourself, do what your parents had only dreamt of doing in the Old Country?  Inconceivable.

Hollywood would have us believe it was just as much a quest for freedom, adventure, and that soul-longing to watch the sun set over unpeopled hills.  Maybe it was for some.  But I wonder if most homesteaders wouldn't have identified more with the fright Willa Cather felt upon reaching the untamed, eerily quiet prairie which was to be her home.  She wrote this about the wagon journey she made as a young girl from Virginia to Nebraska:

"As we drove further and further out into the country, I felt a good deal as if we had come to the end of everything--it was a kind of erasure of personality.  I would not know how much a child's life is bound up in the woods and hills and meadows around it, if I had not been thrown out into a country as bare as a piece of sheet iron."

The land grew on her, though.  Later she wrote: "We come and go, but the land is always here.  And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it--for a little while."  Cather loved and understood better than most this land and its people.  Her books O Pioneers! and My Antonia are poignant portraits of homesteading life on "the divide" of south-central Nebraska.  Another deeply moving book I came across along these lines is Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag.  Of course, there's also the timeless Little House on the Prairie series.  And right now I'm savoring each page of The Dry Divide by Ralph Moody, which takes place around Oberlin, Kansas a good deal after homesteading days, but tells the same story: working the land as a means of survival--and falling in love with it in the process.

If I had a dime for every complaint I've heard from easterners (or westerners too, for that matter) about the topography of the rural Midwest--well, I'd have just about enough to buy a ranch there myself.  "It's so flat...there's nothing to look at...I got bored out of my mind driving across Nebraska...when I finally saw the Rockies ahead I promised myself I would never make that drive down I-70 again..."

Mindless complaining--we Americans have become experts at this.  I think such remarks do a disservice to both the pioneers and homesteaders of yesterday, and the farmers and ranchers of today.  Remember, one Kansas farmer feeds 129 people plus you.  And though $50,000 combines have replaced teams of horses pulling headers and binders, the love for the land is still alive and well.  If that love is beyond your understanding, read Cather.  Or at the very least, shut up.  My goodness, it felt good to write that.

I'm no agriculture guru; I didn't even grow up on a farm, which is what everyone assumes when they hear my roots are in South Dakota/Minnesota/Kansas.  But I do know the reserved, stalwart people of the Great Plains have a special place in my heart.  I know America is the better for its vast middle-section and its people who stick out tornadoes and drought and the lure of an easier life in the city.  And I know that right now I would give anything to hear the music of wind in wheat and see 180 degrees of blue sky--the same sky that greeted the courageous homesteaders 150 years ago.

4.10.2009

Good Thoughts for Good Friday, Part II


Upon that cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears
Two wonders I confess,—
The wonders of His glorious love
And my unworthiness.

Elizabeth C. Clephane
"Beneath the Cross of Jesus"

4.09.2009

Good Thoughts for Good Friday


This is an academic look at the doctrinal implications of the death and resurrection of Christ, i.e. "the gospel." It is an excerpt from an
article written by Dr. Kevin Bauder. It's lengthy but worth the read.

The gospel is not primarily about the amelioration of social, economic, cultural, or environmental evils. It may entail these things, but it is about the forgiveness of personal sins, of individual transgressions of divine law. Because God cannot overlook our sins, He has provided a substitute to bear His wrath in our place. Therefore, the gospel affirms that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen of many witnesses. [See I Corinthians 5:1-7]

The gospel deals with historical events: the death of Jesus on the cross, and the subsequent resurrection of His body from the tomb. The gospel is not an ethical code, a moral philosophy, a liturgical ceremony, or a system for self-improvement. Rather, it deals with historical events, real happenings that occurred in space and time.

The gospel, however, does not merely narrate these events. It explains them, and the explanation is what makes the difference. That Jesus died on the cross, by itself, is not even a particularly interesting fact. Thousands died on Roman crosses whose names we do not care to know. What matters is not merely that Christ died, but that He died for our sins. When this explanation is attached to the event, it constitutes a doctrine.

The same is true of Jesus’ resurrection. That a corpse might be resuscitated is certainly a scientific curiosity, but not necessarily a matter of any spiritual interest. What grips us about Jesus’ resurrection is that “Christ is risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” We understand that “since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” With Paul we affirm that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have confidence that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” These affirmations explain the significance of Christ’s resurrection. Attached to the event of Christ’s resurrection, they are doctrine.

The foregoing implies that the gospel is irreducibly doctrinal. Without doctrine, we have no gospel. In some sense, doctrine does save, because the gospel itself is doctrinal.

Moreover, the doctrines do more than simply repeat the core affirmations of the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. The proposition, “Christ died for our sins,” implies that we had sins, that eternal judgment for sins is approaching, that our sins required condemnation, that we could not deliver ourselves from that condemnation. The same proposition implies that Christ was a qualified sin bearer, which implies both His deity and His humanity, which in turn necessitates the virgin birth. The fact that we know these things “according to the Scriptures” implies both the authority and the veracity of the written Word of God.

These doctrines [...] are essential to the gospel. [They] must be guarded as a precious heritage.

4.02.2009

Taking the "blah" out of "blog"

Notice anything different?  Yep, I'm in the midst of overhauling the ol' Utah Journal.  After all, even the Mona Lisa needs dusted and hung in a new spot every now and again.  It's all part of a series of blogging classes I'm taking at the library.  Stay tuned, esteemed reader(s).

3.14.2009

Cularious!

I was wondering if I could figure out how to post a video; turns out to be easy as pie.  Easy as eating pie, that is.  Making pie is a different story.  Anyhow, I know I'm biased and all, but I find this little video of my nephew, Aaron, cularious (cute + hilarious).  Notice how the kid always has to have music going and has come up with his own makeshift boombox (a musical truck my folks gave him for Christmas).  He has a very bright future as a deejay like his aunt or perhaps a musician; probably, he's not going to win any coordination awards (again, like his aunt).

video

2.15.2009

Up next: a tongue stud?

My facial hardware has increased by 200% during the last few months. The braces were very painful for the first few days, but I'm seeing huge improvements already and I'm so excited about the end result. Meanwhile, I don't eat popcorn, I carry a toothbrush with me everywhere, and I spend 15 minutes every evening flossing. I make it fun by listening to CDs I borrow from the library.




The glasses are my first pair ever, and I wouldn't even have them except that I work for an eye doctor. It's good advertising. In case in you're into such things, as I am, they're designer frames--"Ambrosia" by BCBGMAXAZRIA, with polycarbonate, anti-reflective lenses. I love them! Even though my prescription is pretty slight, it's amazing how colors "pop" and everything seems that much more brilliant when I'm wearing my glasses.


So what's next, a tongue stud? An eyebrow ring? Alas, the magnets on my fridge already slide toward me whenever I come near. I'd better call it quits on the metal for now.

1.26.2009

The Loft

Several people have asked what my apartment looks like. I humbly present... The Loft. Come visit!





1.24.2009

Oswald, A.W. and George

Three great excerpts from three great writer-thinkers:

Our Lord [...] was never suspicious, never bitter, never in despair about any man, because He put God first in trust; He trusted absolutely in what God's grace could do for any man. If I put my trust in human beings first, I will end in despairing of everyone; I will become bitter, because I have insisted on man being what no man can ever be--absolutely right. Never trust anything but the grace of God in yourself or in anyone else.
--Oswald Chambers

What is generally overlooked is that truth as set forth in the Christian Scriptures is a moral thing; it is not addressed to the intellect only, but to the will also. It addresses itself to the total man, and its obligations cannot be discharged by grasping it mentally. Truth engages the citadel of the human heart and is not satisfied until it has conquered everything there. The will must come forth and surrender its sword. It must stand at attention to receive orders, and those orders it must joyfully obey. Short of this any knowledge of Christian truth is inadequate and unavailing.
--A.W. Tozer

There is a great difference between "I wish I were" and "I would like to be." To be content is not to be satisfied. No one ought to be satisfied with the imperfect. It is God's will that we should contentedly bear what He gives us. But at the same time, we can look forward with hope to the redemption of the body.
--George MacDonald's character "Polwarth" in The Curate's Awakening

1.04.2009

Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight

It's a privilege to participate in blog tours of newly-released books from WaterBrook/Multnomah. When this book was introduced, I leapt at the chance to review it, for two reasons:
1. I have some bad habits that I despise, and I want to be free. (And if you think I'm going to bare my soul with the specifics here, you've got another thing coming.)

2. If there's one thing I love in this fallen world, it's the clever, humorous usage of the English language. The book's title is precisely that--as are the chapter titles (e.g. "What if the Hokey Pokey Really IS What It's All About?").

What I missed in the hurried sign-up process was the subtitle: "52 Amazing Ways to Master the Art of Personal Change." But I figured it out quickly when the book arrived and I began reading: this book was not going to change my bad habits, it was going to tell me how to change them.

Rats! That takes work. And time. And painful honesty with myself. And failure before success. And more work. And lots and lots more time.
OK, I'll admit one (and only one!) of the bad habits I'm aching to change: procrastination.
Yet, here it is, January 4... and the book review was supposed to be posted by January 2. I would laugh at the irony, except I'm too sick of this habit to laugh.

The thing is, I don't procrastinate everything. And I didn't used to be that way...it started in college. And I bet I could change if I really tried. Besides, it's never gotten me in too much trouble, so how bad of a habit can it be?

OK... Rationalizing my mistakes. That's another bad habit I have, I admit. (But seriously, this is the last admission you people are dragging out of me.)

But since it's already obvious, I may as well come to terms with my awful habit of rambling when I write, and using excessive punctuation and sentence fragments. And then there's my addiction to limericks...

I am only on #20 of the 52 Ways to Master the Art of Personal Change (did I mention the habit of reading too slowly?), but I'm ready to recommend it if you, like I, are ready to change. Just get ready to roll your eyes at the author's corny humor along the way. The 52 suggestions Karen Scalf Linamen offers vary from so-simple-I-can't-believe-you're-getting-paid-to-write-that, to agonizingly difficult. I've done a couple and they work. Oh, they don't miraculously make you brush your teeth after every meal like you've always meant to...or stop judging others by appearances...or start praying for God's will and meaning it... but they do get you re-evaluating your habits and beginning the process of change.

Thank you, Mrs. Linamen, for writing the book I need. I just wish you would do the work of changing my habits.

Sigh. Yes, laziness is another bad habit I have...

Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400074002