Monday, May 29, 2006

The Road Winds Ever Onward

1800 miles later, we're in St. Louis getting ready to head over to a Cardinals game. It's warm... in the 90s with substantial humidity. A few notes on the ride over:

Montana gets the award for the most internet networks so far. As we were driving through, we couldn't really use them, but still, driving through mountains and valleys, it was astonishing how many networks my computer picked up.

South Dakota was really long.

Iowa wins the award for best rest stops: all equipped with free wireless internet service. Iowa also wins the award for worst roads so far. Iowa also has the distinction of having a couple of weird combinations. In one town there was a liquor store laundry mat. You know how stressful laundry can be, this one-stop shop makes washing clothes easy and fun and you'll never remember you did it. We also ate dinner at a burrito coffee shop. Yep.

Missouri wins the award for most meticulous, with mile markers every 2 tenths of a mile. That seems a little obsessive, but I'm sure they have their reasons.

On to Greenville. Cheers.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Armed with a flyswatter and a handful of rocks


Monday, May 22, 2006

Two Fairy Stories

Just finished working on an audio book project for Canon Press this week. I had the privilege of reading Peter Leithart’s book Wise Words. Having never read it before, I wasn’t entirely sure what the stories might be like, but as with all of Peter’s stuff, I must say that I am quite impressed. There are 18 fairy stories based in some way on the sort of thematic narrative of the book of Proverbs. But they are quite a bit more than that. In addition to the ‘proverb’ or moral of the story, he weaves traditional fairy tale elements together with biblical imagery and symbolism. Talking animals, damsels in distress, dragons, enchanted seeds, hidden kings, talking trees, and any number of other ordinary magical characters combine with his unassuming and subtle wit to make for a great read. One of the best titles is “Braxton Hicks,” the story of a young man who is quite good at fake labor.

Somewhat related is the fact that my wife and I watched Emma Thompson’s latest Nanny MacPhee on Saturday. Thompson wrote the screenplay and starred as Nanny herself. This was a simple delight to watch. Admittedly, it was not a great movie, but it was fun. It is perhaps one of the closest attempts I have seen in a while at an old fashioned fairy tale. Billed as the next “Mary Poppins” I was rather skeptical, but frankly I enjoyed it a bit more than MP even without the singing and dancing (ok, MP still has the edge in that regard: who can beat the chimney sweep song and dance routine?). Nevertheless, Nanny was effortless fun complete with a talking pig, magic spells, and a wedding at the end. As with all great fairy stories, it was an enjoyable imitation of the real magical world God made.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Here's River at Grandad's house last weekend.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Stubborn Gratitude

One of the most wonderful things I've learned here in Moscow is the importance of gratitude. I've been reading Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb recently (there'll be another post on it shortly), and one of the things I was struck by is how Capon exudes gratitude for the particular. He delights in onions, pocket knives, and gravy, and takes time to explore each in various ways. One of the other striking things about Capon is how opinionated he is. He is decidedly anti-margarine, anti-electric carving knife, and numerous other particular "quirky" convictions. To which many might respond, "who cares?" And we might also think that a nut with such "random" dogmas would be someone we might view rather warily. Of course I don't know Capon at all personally, and so I can't really make any substantiated claims. But let me at least speak to the principle. It strikes me that there are really only two kinds of stubborn opinionated personalities in the world: the bitter, jaded souls that smolder in their sin and the grateful hearts overflowing with thanksgiving to their Creator and Redeemer. Much has often been said about the stubbornness of the bitter and conceited. The proud and arrogant who can't change their minds about anything and refuse to be corrected. The "hell-no, I won't go" sorts who visibly burn with envy. But there is another kind stubbornness; there is another kind of opinionated person: the person who sees everything as a gift from God. If this particular house is a gift from God, why would I sell? If this community is a gift from God, why would I move? If these particular doctrinal formulations were gifts to me from God, why would I let them go? And the list goes on and on: from unexplainable family traditions to cultural expressions and celebrations. Why, I don't know why we eat seafood on New Year's Eve, but we'd never stop doing it because it's what God has given to us over the last 20 years! Our families, our communities, our community cultures, our history is a gift of God. They are particular gifts of God to particular people. Why would we give them up easily? Of course there are times for everything (e.g. selling, moving, etc.), as the wise man once said, but it occurs to me that our transient and novel culture rides on the back of a collective bitterness and covenantal disenfranchisement with the God of heaven.

Gratitude deep down in the bones for the particular gifts of God isn't easily distracted and those particular gifts are not easily replaced. This also indicates that one New Englander's fiercely held opinion about chicken broth can be accepted cheerfully and charitably disagreed with by a South American's gastronomic dogma. Each have been given many different things, why do we feel the necessity to be the great Grinches of the world counting gifts, comparing values and insisting that everyone have the same opinions, concerns, or doctrinal heritage? There's of course a kind of gratitude that just wants others to share our own joy, but there's another kind of ingratitude that resents the way God has told the story of the world.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hothouse Extremism

The following excerpt is from The Screwtape Letters. Remember it is Screwtape (a devil) who is writing his young apprentice devil, advising him how to tempt, muddle and discourage his "patient", a recent convert to the Christian faith.

"All extremes except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the "Cause" is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the group exists originally for the Enemy's own purposes, this remains true. We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique. The Church herself is, of course, heavily defended, and we have never yet quite succeeded in giving her all the characteristics of a faction; but subordinate factions within her have often produced admirable results, from the parties of Paul and of Apollos at Corinth down to the High and Low parties in the Church of England."

The Screwtape Letters
Letter VII
CS Lewis

And in our own day, these words of wisdom apply in numerous ways: Some in our local context seize upon extremes, ideals, the "Cause", banding together heaping mutual admiration upon one another, all the while sequestering themselves from the rest of the Church, the rest of humanity, the rest of God's claims on their lives. In a broader light, these words apply to some of the controversies within the Reformed world in regard to justification, covenant theology, ordo salutis, etc. And the point isn't just a plea for everyone to just get along. The point is that Lewis's insight is on the demonic nature of factionalism and sectarianism and the motivations often involved.

But this cuts both ways: the individuals with martyr syndromes, who think they've been squished by the big kahunas at the top of the ecclesiastical dog pile are just as responsible for protecting the spirit of unity in the bond of peace as the gurus at the top. No one gets to ignore their own responsibilities just because some other party neglected theirs.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Baby Horse

This evening after dinner, I began telling my son about the story of Adam and Eve. I began by explaining about the garden, all the sorts of things that would likely have been there, finishing up with of course, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I also explained that Adam and Eve were 'nakey buns' which of course is Toddler Speak for "naked and without shame." He was pleased with that and listened eagerly as I told him about how God said that the Tree in the middle was a "no." They were not allowed to eat any of the fruit of the Tree. Although God had given them many other trees to eat from. But, I told him, they did not obey God. (When I first told him this story a few weeks ago, River immediately responded by saying "need spankings.") Since they disobeyed God, they should have been punished. They deserved to get a "spanking". But God had mercy on them-- here my son quickly picked up on the Kyrie we say in Church and began saying "have mercy on us"-- but I continued, explaining that this means that God killed an animal and gave Adam and Eve clothes. Here my son asked what animal God killed. I suggested maybe it was a cow or a bull or an ox, but my son looked up at me and said, "a baby horse." And that's about as far as we made it tonight. We'll try again soon.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Screwtape Wisdom

I have been reading The Screwtape Letters by Lewis this week with my students. In an early part of the book, Screwtape (a devil character) writes about what he calls the Law of Undulation. This is the ordinary way God sanctifies His people, through ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Screwtape writes that it is necessary to keep humans unaware of this cycle in order to always catch them off guard, not expecting anything. But the faithful and mature know that God is a faithful Father who disciplines the sons and daughters that He loves. The weak and unbelieving arrive at the bottom of the valley surprised, dumbfounded, doubting their families, their churches, and their savior. Whereas the Christian responds in faith and joy, knowing that this is the way of holiness, the Law of Undulation. I would highly recommend the book if you have never read it before, and even if you have.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stayin' Alive

The fact of the matter is that I've just been too busy. As many of you know, we're moving across the country in less than four weeks. School is busy, as I'm trying to do as much as possible to ensure a smooth transition in my absence, and well you know... things.

I'll try to post something more substantive later this week.