Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Get the Hell Out of Here, 2006! or Counting My Blessings

All in all, this has been a year to forget, punctuated by moments of sublimity.

It's hard even to bring myself to the point of complaining, since the abundant blessings that flood my world far outweigh the multiplicity of headaches that pounded us from every direction this miserable year. So, I will not complain. Instead, for my own sanity and perspective, I'm going to remember the good stuff. There was plenty of that.

Sadie: This is the truest and best blessing of my life -- my daughter and the privilege of mothering her, teaching her, and learning from her. This year, I got to hear Sadie speak her first German words ("Ich heiße Sadie.") and see her dance in her first ballet recital. I got to tickle her, poke her, nuzzle her, kiss her, and rub her soft little downy head far more than she appreciated. I got to store a veritable treasure trove of funny memories as Sadie explored expressing herself in English. I got to have what Sadie calls our "pow-wows" late at night when sensible parents would have long had their children sleeping -- free-ranging conversations about whatever comes to mind. Watching her become the person that God imagined her to be is thrilling beyond compare. She rocks my world.

Jason: I have the best husband in the world. Protest all you want, fellow lady bloggers -- my man is the best; at least he is certainly the best for me. He is passionate, grouchy, funnier than anyone, works damn hard for our family and only complains a wee bit. He is a man, and he lets me be a woman. He loves his little Bug. He loves the Lord. He has made me laugh for the past 12 1/2 years, and he protects me and loves me and would kill anyone who hurt me. He's my biggest fan, and I am his. Whenever anyone asks me why I went to college in South Dakota, I always answer, "Why, to meet Jason, of course."

Shelter, Food, Medicine, The Basics: Okay, the rats almost got the better of us on the first front, but do not think that it has escaped me how very blessed we are to have a roof over our heads at all. We have food in abundance, beyond subsistence -- way beyond. We have great medical care -- the best in the world -- as was certainly driven home in a pointed way when Sadie made her Emergency Room trip in August. We do not worry from day-to-day about how we will survive. It may not always be so, but I'd be an ungrateful wretch, indeed, were I not to acknowledge what a supreme gift that is right now.

The Freedom to Worship: All over the world, Christians are persecuted for worshipping the Lord. In America, we are free to worship Him. That is a blessing not to be taken lightly, though too often I take it for granted.

Teaching Sunday School: Not only to I get to hang out with a sweet group of four and five-year-olds every Sunday morning, I get to share with them my love for the Lord. Wow!

Books: It will surprise no one who has ever read this blog before that I thank the Lord for wonderful books in my daily prayers. While this was a crappy year for debt and household issues, it was a remarkable year for books. In the interest of economizing space, I will write of the highlights

Music: Although my dad once called me "musically illiterate" (a label with which I will not quibble), the music I love is very important to me. I was blessed this year with attending a few more Carolyn Arends/Spencer Capier concerts, starting in January with the Carolyn Arends Forum International Round-Up (C.A.F.I.R.) in Ottawa, ON. This brought the doubly sweet blessing of good music combined with good fellowship. Carolyn also released a new album this year, which is always a treat, and she released some amazing "download-only" songs via her website. Any year that contains new Carolyn Arends music cannot be a total downer.

Friendship: My best friend, Sabina, moved back to Washington in July. This would make it a stellar year for friendship in my life without anything else added. BUT, I also got to meet, at last, a kindred spirit, vermonster, at the aforementioned C.A.F.I.R., and my blogging friends, Joelle and Andrea. Add to that the opportunities to chill out with my dear friends Kadie and Holly. The friendship of other women becomes more and more precious as the years wear on.

G.K. Chesterton: Although he ought, technically, to go under the "Books" heading, my discovery this year of the life and works of the amazing Gilbert Keith Chesterton towers above the other excellent books I read as a separate cause for celebration. I have tried repeatedly to write of Chesterton, but so far words elude me. He was a singular personality and mind: Quirky, witty, exuberant, confrontational, fearless, and a hell of a lot of fun. Reading him is akin to eating a perfect, ripe peach: He is juicy and messy and delicious -- he will get all over your face and drip down your chin onto your blouse, but there is nothing more satisfying.

Well, there is the shortlist of gratitude. There are myriad other notes of sweetness in the symphony of grace that infuses my world, but I shan't bore the reader by listing them. How grateful I am, most of all, that the love of the Lord keeps me from despair! He is so good to me.

Happy 2007 to All!

The Best Christmas Gift

Okay, the BEST Christmas gift is the best gift, period: The Birth of the Baby King.

But, I want to write a little about the best gift I've ever received in a purely secular sense on the holiday of Christmas. This is the gift that my memory recalls when people ask -- and people do sometimes ask -- me what present stands out most in my mind from my childhood. It was, by far, the most special, most surprising, most delightful cadeau that my tiny fingers ever unwrapped. But, first, a wee background story:

Shouldn't everyone have a groovy aunt? Every girl, at least, ought to have an aunt who is fun and generous and warm-hearted and intuitive and gives that little girl a relationship with an adult woman other than her mother and younger than her grandmother. I am a firm believer in the power of aunts. I had a groovy aunt, briefly. Her name was Linda.

Linda loved my uncle. And, I suppose in his way, my uncle loved Linda. One thing is for certain: Everyone else in the family certainly loved her. I remember well her constant inclusion in all things loud and chaotic and Italian that happened when my mother's family gathered in groups of two or more. There would be Linda -- beautiful, serene, laughing and wholesome. As far as I knew, she was my aunt. And a groovy aunt she was, indeed.

Now, for little children, the often ephemeral nature of pre-marital (and, far too commonly, marital), adult coupling is unfathomable. That two people could be so close -- share a house, a library, a bed together -- without that union's being permanent is not easily understood by children who long, more than anything, for the stable structure of family relationships that anchors them safely while they explore the astonishingly exciting and discomfiting greater world. But, that sad afterword is for later. First I must describe the gift that Linda gave me one Christmas years ago.

It was the day after Christmas. Were I a Canadian, I would tell you it was Boxing Day. But, since I am an American, I'll just use that woebegone term, "day after Christmas," which reeks of dropping fir needles and crumpled-up wrapping paper. My mother revealed a most curious item to me, telling me that it was my gift from Linda. It consisted of twelve pouches sewn onto a silken cord. The pouches were all that was interesting and gorgeous. What promise! What intrigue! My mother explained that it was a "12 Days of Christmas" gift. I was to open one pouch every day for the next twelve days. Now, here was an exciting concept, and one that was just so Linda to conceive. What could be a more suitable present for a child than to find a way to extend the magic of Christmas for twelve more days?

I do not remember much of what was in those pouches. My memory -- grousing and harrumphing in reluctance at being asked to perform such a difficult dredging -- brings up some chocolate coins and small toys of little lasting value or importance. Because, you see, the gift was not the contents of the pouches, but rather the very existence of those beautiful, exquisite pouches themselves. I remember staring with no little awe at the intricacies of the sewing and the patterns of the pouch material -- no two alike. At a Christmas where I can pretty much assume that most toys were popped out of a plastic mold in a distant land, to behold such thoughtfulness evident in every stitch and fabric selection was humbling and edifying. The beauty of a mind that could invent such a present was not lost to me, even in my grubby, self-centered kid-ness. "Linda" she was, indeed.

Well, soon after this Christmas, I lost my groovy aunt. She -- remarkable and sensible woman -- desired marriage and children. My uncle did not. And so, in his stubbornness and indolence, he paved paradise and lost her. And he lost her for me. My beautiful, kind-hearted Aunt Linda was gone from my life, taking a bit of the magic of my childhood with her. With preparation like this, there was a deadened sense of resignation for me when my parents divorced a few years later. This is what happens, I guess, I thought. Adults pair up and separate and nothing is lasting or true really at all. Had I not found the never-failing Father of Life in my early twenties, I shudder to imagine what my own history of relationships would look like. I thank God that He showed me what faithfulness was and is and ever shall be.

Linda found a marriage-minded man and, I believe, had children. I've lost track of her, of course. What can a child do to sustain relationships? The last I saw of her was after my parents had divorced and she had opened up a travel agency. As for where she is today, I can only guess. But, I pray that she is happy and healthy and some lucky young woman's groovy aunt. Maybe, someday, our paths will cross again, and I will be able to let her know how much her gift of love and consideration over twenty-five years ago meant to me.

In her honor, I do my best to try to be a groovy aunt to my own niece. Aunts rule! (Ask Jane Austen.)
Happy 12 Days of Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

15 Simple Ideas for Making Christmastime a Little Merrier

Now and future ways we try to make Christmas a little holier, sweeter, and merrier at our house:

1) Never leave a shopping cart in some random area of the parking lot. Take it back to the store -- who couldn't use that little bit of exercise? -- or, at least, put it in the cart return. Wandering shopping carts, whether in herds or solo ramblers, are a pain to other shoppers and the store's employees. (Okay, I do this all year long -- but if more people did it a Christmastime, wouldn't that be great?)
2) Buy a Salvation Army bell-ringer a hot cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Thank them for volunteering (most of them are volunteers out there in the freezing cold). Give them some money -- it doesn't have to be a lot.
3) Shop neatly. Put books back on the shelves at bookstores. Refold sweaters at department stores. Never, for crying out loud, leave refrigerated items that you've changed your mind on in the middle of dry-good aisles at the grocery store! Busy employees really notice and appreciate this.
4) Donate to Toys for Tots, or some other organization that puts toys in the hands of disadvantaged children at Christmas. If you have kids, let them pick out what toys to donate.
5) Go to candlelit Christmas Eve services at church.
6) Go caroling in your neighborhood. Invite your neighbors to come along as you progress. (I've never tried this one before, but I plan on giving it a go this year.)
7) Read aloud the Christmas chapters from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Remember a time when kids were thrilled to get mittens, an orange and two pieces of candy for Christmas.
8) Bake cookies. Eat lots of cookie dough.
9) Wear red and green together as much as possible in December. Wear a Santa hat!
10) Tip people who do not normally get tips; e.g. fast food workers, retail employees, your UPS and USPS delivery men, etc.
11) Volunteer in some way at your local Union Gospel Mission. (I have yet to do this, too; but, I really want to do it next year, instead of simply making a monetary donation.)
12) Tell everyone, "Merry Christmas!" Avoid the insipid, "Happy Holidays!" as much as possible.
13) Watch Christmas movies: A Christmas Story, Christmas in Connecticut, The Shop Around the Corner, The Ref, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, etc. . . . whatever floats your flying sleigh!
14) Listen to the following Christmas music: The Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Tchaikovsky, The Messiah by Handel, A Christmas Album by Amy Grant, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald, Christmas: An Irrational Season by Carolyn Arends, A Very Veggie Christmas by VeggieTales.
15) Never let the gladsome tidings of the angel chorus two thousand years ago fade from your memory. Never lose sight of the star. Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

How do you make your Christmases a little more merry?

We celebrate the Baby King
And everything He came to bring
Everytime we give goodwill to men
So, on December 25
Or in the middle of July
Anytime we do what pleases Him
Then it's Christmas . . .
Merry Christmas . . .
This is Christmas -- Now in flesh appearing
-- Carolyn Arends, "Now in Flesh Appearing," from Christmas: An Irrational Season (2004)

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Richness of the Written Word: My 2006 Reading Highlights

This is how persnickety I am: I am sneaking this list of my favorite books of 2006 into November, simply so that I can have an uninterrupted archive list on my blog for every month of every year. I'm really writing this in December, but it will be our little secret. So far as the archive list knows, this was penned in November (a month spent in reading Chesterton, and not in writing at all).

Some of the highlights of my 2006 reading list (in no particular order):

· The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis -- Have you ever something that just sucked the air out of your lungs with its insight and perfection? Read "Men without Chests," from this C.S. Lewis trilogy of essays, and you'll read something that almost made me faint with its splendor. Lewis is writing about the modern methods and philosophy in education (this was in 1944, and it has only gotten worse since then): The Chest -- Magnanimity -- Sentiment -- these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. . . . And all the time -- such is the tragi-comedy of our situation -- we continue to clamour for . . . qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more "drive," or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or "creativity." In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996) p. 36-37)

· America Alone by Mark Steyn -- I read this in October while I was at the Liberty Editors' Conference and it elicited simultaneously chortling laughter and shuddering chills. Steyn combines three socio-economic issues into one horrific vision of the future. I must remember to add Mark Steyn to my reasons for loving Canada (near the bottom of this blog).

· The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo -- This book is so whimsical and romantic and charming, that it matters not that it was written for elementary school children. It was one of the best books I read this year, because the story was so compelling and odd and other-worldly. Reviewers at either loved it or hated it. Mark my vote in the "loved it" column.

· New Mercies by Sandra Dallas -- Although not as good as what I consider Dallas's best novel to date -- The Chili Queen -- this book was certainly an enjoyable read. Dallas knows how to spin a good story, and it's nice to see her leaving behind some of her earlier repeated themes and striking out in new directions.

· The New Testament and Literature: A Guide to Literary Patterns by Stephen Cox -- How I just revel in the writings of Stephen Cox! I love the way he uses words. The fact that what was written certainly to be a text book is one of my best reads of the year just speaks to his skill. Of course, the subject matter was of particular interest to me, as Dr. Cox maps the "genome" of the New Testament and provides a accessible guide to that canon's DNA. I'd never before looked at Biblical writing in that way. He then applies this "genetic code" to Christian and post-Christian literature with illuminating results. One of the best things about The New Testament and Literature is that it led me to discover the novels of Thornton Wilder and Harold Frederic, both of whom are coming on this list.

· The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Heaven's My Destination by Thornton Wilder -- These novels are very different from each other, but they are alike in excellence. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is set in 18th Century Peru, and it has an almost dreamlike quality in its telling of the intertwining of lives of people who plummeted to death in the collapse of the namesake bridge. Heaven's My Destination is firmly placed in 1930's America, and in a modern, humorous way it spins the yarn of traveling salesman and self-professed evangelist, George Brush. I would recommend both.

· The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic -- Harold Frederic is a subtle observer of human character who trusts his readers' intelligence enough to allow them to fill in the finer points of his novel's story. This book will not be read passively. It is brilliant and wry and vaguely disturbing, and it is a story that will stand many re-readings, each time with new insights.

· A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole -- After repeated badgering by my father, I read this book over the summer. Thank you, Dad! This is one of the great novels of character written in the 20th Century. A more extensive (but by no means exhaustive) review of this book can be found here.

· Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter -- I know, I know. Ann Coulter is one of my guilty pleasures. She is so abrasive and can certainly be . . . well . . . mean, but I find so much of what she writes quite funny. She throws all the right people into a fit of rage. To paraphrase what someone once said of Grover Cleveland, "I love [her] for the enemies [s]he has made." Godless was both a riot and a heartbreaker. My favorite chapter was, "The Holiest Sacrament: Abortion." Coulter hits her mark so well. Flame away if you want, but I'll keep Godless on the list.

· The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs -- This book is a unique twist on the traditional biography. Jacobs writes a story of the internal life of C.S. Lewis, with the external facts mentioned more for contextual clarity than exploration. What a page-turner! This book inspired my plan to read every book that Lewis wrote in the course of a year.

· Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle -- Carolyn Arends recommended this book during a live, on-line chat with her fans (to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of her first album's release). Having just been burned by the unspeakably foul waste of paper, A Prayer for Owen Meany,* that I had read because of her enthusiasm, I picked up this L'Engle offering with a bit of trepidation. What a delightful surprise awaited me! Madeleine L'Engle has a way of writing in which every word is touched by magic. There is an aura of holiness that surrounds this compact work. If you enjoy any sort of artistic endeavor, whether as a creator or observer, then this book will edify and fulfill you.

· Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton -- Above and apart from these other wonderful books and writers that have enriched my life this past year stands the discovery of G.K. Chesterton. Where have you been all my life, Gilbert Keith? The first of his books that I read was Orthodoxy. I have tried repeatedly to write of this book and the others of his that I have subsequently read, but words fail me. He is almost too important to me to bear examination. The thing that I have learned most of all in my infancy of Chesterton fan-dom is to expect the unexpected (as he himself wrote of in Heretics). He astounds me -- always running ahead of me, beckoning to me to join him on the next level; then, when I catch up to where he was, gasping for breath, my legs quivering with exertion, he is already far up into the next leg gesturing wildly and encouraging me with a jolly wink and a broad smile -- and how can I resist joining him, though my lungs are on fire and my mind near exhaustion? Nothing can prepare you for reading G.K. Chesterton -- he must be experienced to be believed (and even then he remains almost beyond belief).

So, there are some of my most enjoyable and enlightening reads of 2006. I hope that by listing them out I have sparked some interest in one or more of these titles in you, dear Reader.

Happy Reading in 2007!

*To Flicka and Kadie: I know you both love this book. And I love you, anyway.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending The Liberty Editors' Conference in Las Vegas, NV. It was a double boon, not only to spend some time with some of the preeminent libertarian minds in the country, but to spend some time in one of my favorite cities in a really delightful hotel and casino, The Mirage. It was an altogether good time, and a welcome break from the unremitting gloom I've found myself enveloped in lately due to the general state of the world. Las Vegas always seems so removed from the real world -- a glittering, neon-ladened, hedonistic tribute to excess and debauchery that normally would disgust my Austenian sensibilities, but that somehow, on that little strip of sin in the Nevada desert, works. It is easy to lose one's self there.

I highly recommend that anyone who is in love with the concept of liberty attend a Liberty Editors' Conference or, as is coming up next year,
FreedomFest. It is refreshing and restorative to find a brotherhood of ideas and good will within the fiercely individualistic and diverse members of libertarian thought.

I could write a score of pages about the conference, but I want to write about the session that has haunted me the most. I attended a panel discussion on "Libertarianism and Religion." It seemed to me that the only topic worth discussing in this forum was answered within the first few minutes: Are libertarianism and religion compatible? Can one be both a libertarian philosophically and a devout practitioner of a certain theology without dire conflict? The answer is: Of course! So, where do we go from there?

I was hanging out with my friend,
Joelle, a few months back, and I happened to mention that I had just discovered that a libertarian writer I had always loved, Stephen Cox, was also a Christian. I expressed my surprise at this to her because, I pointed out matter-of-factly, I had always assumed most libertarians were atheists. Joelle replied in her honey-tinged Southern drawl, "Well, I didn't know that. All the libertarians I've ever met were Christians." Reflecting on our shared circle of libertarians, I realized she was correct. The libertarians she and I run with are all Christians. Of course, this is a very narrow group -- all drawn together by the wonders of the Internet and blogosphere -- and I still believe that a parity, if not a majority, of libertarians is atheist.

Now, the panel at the conference was interestingly made up of two Christians, one agnostic, and one amusingly outspoken atheist. The audience, however, was mostly comprised of atheists -- or at least those were the ones who asked the most questions and made the most proclamations. My favorite moment of the session was when the first panelist, Jo Ann Skousen, introduced herself as a religious Christian (to the point of being *gasp* a Sunday school teacher) and gloomily predicted that she was the only religious libertarian on the panel. The next panelist, Stephen Cox, then introduced himself as a Christian, and Mrs. Skousen caught her breath in surprise. She exclaimed incredulously, "I had no clue! I've worked with him for three years on the magazine, and I had no idea!" It was funny and poignant and real -- we Christian libertarians have a long road to journey into the heart of a skeptical and humanistically rational political philosophy, but it is heartening always to find fellow travelers.

Now, the reason that this session sticks in my mind so decidedly is not because of what was said, but, rather, what was not. It is no surprise that religious people -- at least Judeo-Christian religious people -- can be libertarians without any compromise to their faith. In fact, as a devout Christian (to the point of also being *gasp* a Sunday school teacher), it is impossible for me to reconcile my understanding of who Jesus is and why He came and died and my freedom in Him without embracing libertarianism. As Libertarian Party members used to have to sign a "non-initiation of force" pledge upon joining, I have always held to that ideal in my political beliefs. I read in another's blog once that the church can and should do things that the government can not and ought not do. That makes a lot of sense to me. I will only refer to Christian libertarians for the rest of this post, since, as Ann Coulter once wrote, "I am a Christian, and I have a fairly good idea what they believe." Ann Coulter annoys both many libertarians and many Christians, so it is fun to quote her here.

After the session, my father and I were taking refreshment and discussing the, er, discussion. My dad said, "Did you notice how no one wanted to bring up the 800-pound gorilla in the room?" I was confused and asked, "What 800-pound gorilla?" My dad replied, "Well, no one brought up the main political breaking point between libertarians and Christians -- abortion." I was surprised my dad thought about this, since he has never been particularly concerned about abortion. But, my dad knows that I am, and what bothers me concerns him, I suppose. I had actually not thought about abortion during that session, and so I quickly began to think of what he had said.

The Libertarian Party platform contains an endorsement of unrestricted, privately-funded, legal abortion. In a party radically committed to "choice" of all kinds -- most of which I heartily agree with -- it is not surprising that people of that mindset would be seduced by the deceptive idea of a "woman's right to choose." On the other hand, there is a small, but growing, minority within our political philosophy that recognizes the faulty reasoning and inexcusable irrationality behind viewing abortion as a right rather than a violation of rights. The most prominent of these proponents of the pro-life point-of-view is Doris Gordon, the atheistic founder of
Libertarians for Life. Her rationales against abortion are entirely scientific and philosophical. There is also James Matthew Wallace, aka the Compleat Heretic, whose conservative economics trend him libertarian, but whose abortion stance is strongly pro-life.

After reflecting upon those two good, pro-life atheists, and scummy pro-abortion "Christian" churches like the Methodists, I said, "Well, I do not think that abortion is the dividing line for libertarians and Christians. You can certainly be pro-life without being religious." And I mentioned Libertarians for Life. "Yes," my dad acknowledged, "But it is mostly Christians who hold to the whole reverence for life thing -- a gift from God -- human at creation, and so on." "I'm not too certain about that, " I replied. "It seems to me that atheists have a good reason to hold life sacred, since they believe that this life is all they have." "'Sacred' implies a religious outlook," my dad insisted. "No," I said, "I don't think so. I think most of the people at this conference would hold the concept of individuality 'sacred' without referring to God. 'Sacred' can simply mean something incorruptible and of the highest esteem." My dad ceded my point.

I think that the line that divides atheist libertarians from Christian libertarians is our epistemology. Most Christians believe that rational explorations are best examined in light of the perfect knowledge of God. Most atheistic libertarians would probably subscribe to Ayn Rand's belief in secular human reason. While this philosophical difference is a sticking point, I do not think that it is a breaking point. While atheistic and secular libertarians may subscribe to the ethics of enlightened self-interest, and Christians hopefully cling to the ethics of enlightened God-interest, neither of us wants to be ruled by rampant gov'ment-interest. And, surely, both of us can agree, in general, to the non-initiation of force. And I think -- I truly hope and believe -- that this belief in the non-initiation of force will soon lead even secular libertarians of all stripes away from one of the most egregious modern examples of unjustifiable initiation of force: abortion.

Abortion was only mentioned once at the conference that I heard, and then only by its socially acceptable euphemism of "choice." It was mentioned by Liberty's founder Bill Bradford's sister, Barbara, when asserting her concern with the "religious right's" influence on the Republican party. The two examples she brought up were their being anti-pornography in public libraries and their being anti-choice. I would think that, as a libertarian, she would be more concerned with the idea of public, tax-supported libraries than a group's wanting to keep pornography out of them (which would not be an issue in private libraries). To her worry about "choice," I could only hope to persuade her that, in a just and civilized society, no persons should be held as sub-human, no matter where on the life continuum they fall, and that no one should have the ability to murder another human, no matter how little they want that person around. Part of libertarian feminism ought to be a vociferous opposition to abortion, as abortion is essentially an admission of women's inability to shoulder responsibility for their actions. But, I do not think that this would be a breaking point between us. We would still most likely agree on 90% of the issues at hand, and those commonalities would be a gateway to persuasion.

I am a former radically "pro-choice" woman, and I do not doubt that all reasonable, ethical, clear-thinking people will eventually turn away from the great lie of abortion and toward respect for human life at every stage of its development. Libertarians, especially, will become the great standard-bearers of the pro-life movement, precisely because we do not believe in the initiation of force, whether by governments or individuals, and we do believe in the extreme importance of the individual -- a sacredness that cannot be corrupted by another's desire to see that individual annihilated. That is one of my great hopes for the movement.

Maybe Dad's 800-pound gorilla was there, but maybe it was more of a 130-pound chimpanzee. To turn a phrase of Thomas Jefferson's upon its head, "I tremble with anticipation for my political philosophy when I reflect that libertarians long to be just -- that their sense of justice cannot sleep forever." Libertarians are a relentlessly decent lot, and this decency will turn them increasingly toward the pro-life point-of-view. The view that one person can ever be another's property to be disposed of as the "owner" sees fit is so unsupportable within libertarian principles that it will give way inexorably to the shining ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I Hate Halloween!

And not for the reasons that most Christians do. In fact, I hate it not for any religious reason at all.

My daughter is fearless and curious. This year, with the proliferation of Halloween decorations everywhere we go, Sadie has been exposed to some very frightful images. Since she is curious, she examines and is fascinated by every single one. And, in the daytime, she is fearless. BUT, for the past month, she's been waking up every night, sometimes in tears, because of nightmares. I am convinced that this is due, in large part, to the Halloween decorations. There are gruesome, blood-covered, disembodied heads and arms meeting us at every retail turn. There are jack-o'-lanterns with vicious, vacuous smiles and adult-sized mummies with creepy eyes peering between the wrappings that lunge toward the unsuspecting when triggered by motion sensors. There are vampires and witches and I even saw some sort of flying skeleton ghoul at Albertson's last night.

Note to retailers: This stuff really isn't "fun," people!

It seems like this is a lot worse than when I was a kid. I was a cowardly child who had nightmares about the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, but the decorations in everyday settings around Halloween nowadays seem to go beyond the silly Disney frights and into the realm of real terror. I could understand these realistic depictions of our subconscious bugaboos in adult settings, but these truly horrifying "decorations" have found their way into kid-friendly places like The Little Gym, Sam's Club, and, as before stated, the grocery store.

I can hardly wait until November 1 and another ten-month respite from the ubiquity of annoying and frightening Halloweenisms. Bring on the Christmas decorations!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Birthday, Flicka!

I have good reason to believe that Flicka Spumoni's birthday is occuring today. A happy, blessed birthday to her! As fine a writer as she is, of course, ageless -- existing on a separate parallel outside of time where every mark with keyboard or pen leaves an indelible stamp on eternity.

I do not know much about Flicka, but everything I do know makes me wish to know more.

She is as gifted a writer as you could hope to find and I trust that we'll all soon be saying to our local newspapers, "Why, (Flicka Spumoni)? Of course! Well, you see, I've known her since the blogging days . . ." as we bask a bit in her reflected authorial glory.

Check out the "placeholder" page that I made for her at 43 People. It's nice to have someone on my list there who is still alive and kickin'. (I tend to like far too many people from the past, but, really, looking at so many of the people of today, can you blame me? All dear readers of Musings are excluded from that general censure.)

Happy B-Day, Lower Great Lakes Lady!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My New Wallpaper

Jason put up a new wallpaper on our computer's desktop -- a fact that interests no one but me; however, this picture is too cool to remain veiled from the world at large so I am posting it here for the general edification of the masses (my five remaining stalwart blog readers -- I love you guys!).

Behold! Here are two of the world's finest music makers, and one very accomplished general noise maker at a CPC fundraising dinner on September 23, 2006 in Coquitlam, BC. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Carolyn Arends, Spencer Capier, and that Meck Creature of a Child herself, Sadie Bug:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

If I Were Queen of the World . . .

. . . you would all be reading The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs, which is as enchanting a biography as I've read since The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America by Stephen Cox. Because, you see, that is where my tyranny and absolute authority would bubble to the surface. I do not want the tiaras and palaces and courtiers -- I want a bookclub draft, wherein I decide what gets read, and then people have to sit with me (I'll serve tea and some sort of delectable -- it will be a benevolent dictatorship) and discuss the books with me until I get them out of my system. That would save me a heck of a lot of writing, since the only way I can get these books off of the brain is to sit and write out long-winded reviews.

I am so much more the reader than the writer. I jump from one lovely book to the next, with scarcely a breath drawn between. Of course, this rampant bibliophily means that too few of the books that feed my soul get their own "writing out" day in the sun. For instance, I have lately been enamored of the books of Thornton Wilder. I read a trio of his that inspired awe in me for their sheer divergency and, yet, uniform excellence. I wanted to shout out to the world that these three novels were worthy of resurfacing in public acclaim, and I desired to ignite a discussion of how one author could write in so varied a manner; but, even so, they have gone unreviewed, unacknowledged and unseen in the archives of my many blogs. Now, they won't leave me alone -- they are like little ghost children hanging about me, tugging on my sleeves and hems, crying plaintively for a "writing out." But, I have read too many books since then, that I could not do them justice right now. (They are, for those of piqued interest, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Heaven's My Destination, and The Ides of March.)

The same could be said for Stephen Cox's more recent book, The New Testament and Literature, which is a rich, satisfying journey through literary patterns that unite the writings of the New Testament with much of the subsequent literature produced by Western Civilization, both by Christian and non-Christian writers. This book filled me so full by the end of the first read, that I had to let it sink in a bit and read its cited sources before attempting a second read-through. I'm currently in that second read-through (concurrently with The Narnian), and I'm getting even more out of the text this time. Yet, I somehow know that at the end of it all, it too will fade before its just written examination, because I'll be off and running on another literary quest.

It is the frustration of my life that I cannot find just one person with whom I can read all things at the same time. Someone with similar tastes and a well-informed mind who can, at the same time, bring a diverse history of digested literature to the table that complements but does not copy mine would be ideal and lead to lively discussion and an enhanced reading experience. My poor husband has to hear an earful about books he'll never even want to read every night, simply because I cannot keep my mouth from yammering out all of the thoughts that are racing through my head. I've been in bookclubs before, but the tyrant in me cannot abide by some of the lame choices I've wallowed through when it was another member's turn to choose the title.

Okay, I'm not such a prig as that previous paragraph makes me out to be. As I was reading it over, I felt, all of a sudden, like Kim Jong Il in Team America, singing, "I'm Ronery." The thing is not that I cannot find people who are well-read and highly informed and far more intelligent (or, as Kim Jong Il might say, "interrigent") than I. Frankly, that describes most of my friends. It's just that no one has the time or inclination to ride with me on this wild, breathless journey -- hopping from book to book like a two-bit whore. Hmmm . . . the imagery there went from epic to vulgar in 2.5 seconds. This is what happens when it is 2 AM and you're sitting in front of your computer, lamenting the fact that you just read an amazing insight in a C.S. Lewis biography and have no one at all with whom you can revel in its artistry.

I apologize for the rambling. Back to The Narnian for me! Maybe I'll write about it later. Maybe not. So far, it is excellent.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Walk4US: September 23, 2006

I'm so excited about a new opportunity to help unborn children that I just learned about at church on Sunday. It's called Ride4Us (Ride For Ultrasound), and it is a day where people can choose to ride bicycles, run, or walk to raise money to put an ultrasound machine in a local crisis pregnancy center. This year's beneficiary is the Gig Harbor Care Net Pregnancy Center.

Jason and I no longer have our bikes, and I certainly cannot run fives miles straight(not to mention Sadie), so we're going to be "trekking 4 toddlers." I'm hoping we can raise a few hundred dollars in pledges to help this group reach their goal of $40,000. This is such a practical way to give help and show love for unborn babies and their mothers.

Here is a paragraph from Ride4US's site that explains the importance of getting ultrasounds into crisis pregnancy centers:

The life-giving and life-changing impact of ultrasounds are astonishing: in 2005, CPC of Pierce County performed 530 first-trimester ultrasounds for women considering their options. Upon seeing tiny, little fingers and toes, 507 women (96%) chose to bring a baby into the world surrounded by Care Net's loving network of support (counseling, medical care, maternity homes, daycare and adoption services). CPC's network provides care for as long as support is needed.

What's more, should we finish our walk in a timely manner, I'm hoping to run across the northern border (in our car, that is) and attend
a benefit concert for a crisis pregnancy center in British Columbia that night. So, September 23, 2006 will be a day for the babies.

Any prayers you could throw our way would be greatly appreciated. The walk won't be difficult physically to complete, but we need prayers to help us raise pledge money, considering we found out about this on such short notice. Thank you!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pesky Possessives

Today on Comcast's home page I saw this headline:

Paris' DUI Pinch a Boost to Party Image
By SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment Writer

Now, leave alone the fact that this is a headline about that great icon of inanity, Paris Hilton, and consider for a moment the indication of possessiveness. Ms. (Mr.?) Cohen saw fit to alert us to the fact that the DUI belonged to Paris by simply adding an apostrophe to the end of that bird-brained socialite's 's-ending' name. Is the AP Entertainment Writer correct?

Possessives certainly are pesky. My friend, Sabina, and I went to see the movie Bridget Jones's Diary. Our enjoyment of this film was marred by the punctuation quandary in which we were mired. Both of us recalled (whether correctly or not) from our formative years of English language instruction that in order to indicate possessiveness of a name or noun ending in 's' we were merely to place an apostrophe at the end, regardless of whether the noun were singular or plural. We were very confused as to why the title of the film (and book) contained what we saw as a superfluous 's.' Like Sandy Cohen, we would have given Miss Jones only an apostrophe to give her possession of that diary.

Thankfully, there is an accessible authority on grammar to which to turn that can relieve the minds of the linguistically pure (and those who want to be). It is Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner (Riverhead Books, 1996). She unravels the riddle of possessives as such:
  • If the word is singular, always add 's, regardless of its ending. (This is true even if the ending is s, z, or x -- whether sounded or silent.) The waiter spilled red wine on Demi's dress, which came from Kansas's finest shop. The dress's skirt, which resembled a tutu from one of Degas's paintings, was ruined. Etc.
  • If the word is plural and doesn't already end in s, add 's: The children's menu was a rip-off, and the men's room was painted fuchsia.
  • If the word is plural and ends in an s, add just the apostrophe: The Willises' car was stolen . . . The cops' attitude was surly. The victims' evening was now demolished. (p. 38-39)

Here is an added plea from a concerned citizen: Please, please do not indicate a couple or family by adding an apostrophe or an 's. For instance, I pass by on my walks to and from our neighborhood park a house whose mailbox contains the following designation: The Lewis'. This is wrong all around. I think that the residents meant to indicate that this was where you could find a family called The Lewises. Or, perhaps, they were looking for a short way to indicate that this mailbox is the place to deposit what is The Lewises' mail. One of these long winter nights I may have to enact some vigilante grammatical repairs with stick-on letters and fix that travesty.

Anyway, back to Ms. (Mr.?) Sandy Cohen. You do not want to be harsh on someone whose life must hold little in the way of reward, considering her line of work necessarily includes writing articles on that walking advertisement for the inheritance tax, Paris Hilton. Add to that, should Sandy be a man, he then has the whole androgynous name issue to deal with. So, I'm not meaning to pound on this poor reporter of the unimportant and uninspiring. However, it can not be denied that this writer should have added an ''s' to Ol' Drunky's name instead of a lonely apostrophe.

And I'm glad we've had the opportunity to clear up this pressing concern. Carry on, carry on.

The Great Problem

Isabel Paterson, one of the most amazing people that America has ever had the privilege of calling her own, once wrote: The great problem of the writer is that if you do anything else you have no time to write, and, if you don't, you have nothing to write about.

Alas, I have been in that cycle of insanity lo these many months. Life is joyfully busy, intensely productive, brimmingly full. And that is good, indeed. Every day, I think of a number of topics on which to write, but at the end of the day -- in the wee sma's when I used to get it all out, finger-to-keyboard -- I fall into bed in a state of happy exhaustion. I guess that Evelyn Waugh would note that I am in the process of saving up writer's capital, to be hoarded and spent on future work. I hope that is true. I'm trying to get notes down, at the very least, to bolster and refresh my memory when at last life slows to its normal pace of hectic tranquility.

For those of you who read Andrea's blog, she and her family are up here, safe and sound. I think they are enjoying a respite from the late summer heat that would have engulfed them in sultry Texas. It's been HOT for us web-footed Western Washingtonians, but she and her husband laugh at our discomfort in temps that hit the low 80's and declare that we would spontaneously combust should we ever step foot into the Land O' Longhorns. It's nice to meet a cyber-friend face-to-face and connect in a deeper way. I'm very glad that they took the chance on moving up north.

I can truly say that I am ready for autumn. This time last year found me sad in the midst of my autumn bliss, because I thought that it was my last in Washington. This year, with our decision to stay, I can face my favorite season with unmitigated joy. I can hardly wait to get the sweaters out of storage and feel the tingle of rain on my face and crave hot cocoa and cider and watch the leaves turning red and gold.

All joy and blessings to you, blogworld friends!

Monday, August 14, 2006

My Little Monkey Who Wants To Be A Bird

Sadie went to the emergency room yesterday afternoon. She gashed her forehead open after an ill-fated bounce on the couch in our family room led to a bloody encounter with the edge of our coffee table. Here is the conversation we had not two minutes before the accident:

Mom: Sadie, stop jumping on the couch.
Sadie: I want to fly!
Mom: You cannot fly, and couches are for sitting. Sit down on your tush!
Sadie: I need to bounce so I can fly.
Mom: No flying! Sit on the couch
Sadie (sitting on her tush and frowning): I want to fly.

Then, Jason called me into the bathroom to see his progress on painting the walls, and we both heard a loud, "BAM!" not thirty seconds after I left the room. We rushed into the hallway to see Sadie in that silent cry mode (you parents know how gut-wrenching that non-sound is). She caught her breath and started saying, "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" I picked her up and sat on the couch to examine her. That's when I saw the blood start flowing down in sickening streams.

"Oh! Jesus!" I gasped, in a prayer of desperation. Jason and I rushed her up the stairs, into the bathroom, where we could apply some pressure and look more closely. The gaping wound on her forehead, right at her hairline, gave me a ghastly smile.

"We have to get her to the emergency room!" I rasped. Jason was halfway to the car before I finished the sentence. I yelled for him to grab my shoes and purse, while I hastily threw some ice cubes in a kitchen towel. Sadie was sobbing quietly.

I sat in the back seat, keeping pressure on her cut with the ice pack, while Sadie complained bitterly through the whole journey.

"This is too cold!"
"I don't want to go to the hospital!"
"I wanted to fly like a bird!"
"This is too cold!"
"I hate this!"

On and on and on. I was so grateful that she hadn't lasped into unconsciousness. The entire trip, while she listed her grievances, I prayed those short, silent, naked prayers that flood a mother's mind and soul when her intestines are twisted into a knot and her breath catches in her throat. Please, holy Lord, protect my baby. Please, oh Jesus, make it not too bad.

Thank God for American medicine. And thank God for Valley Medical Center. The triage nurse was wonderful. She immediately brought us comfort, while she spoke in reassuring tones and wrapped a gauze bandage about Sadie's head. Sadie remained alert and talkative. Her daddy admired her new injured-Civil-War-veteran look, and I commented that she looked rather like a flapper. Sadie's spirits returned, as buoyant as ever. She chattered away, commenting on the human scene around her. Nothing is more delightful than to see your child acting normally, especially after a head wound.

She ended up getting four stitches. The doctors think that her cut won't scar too much. She was a brave little soldier during the stitching. Sadie-like, she kept the doctors talking and laughing throughout the procedure, and I just stood there watching it all, so filled with gratitude at another full measure of grace from the Lord. After we were cleared to go, the doctor turned to us and said, "How did you get that little girl to be so smart and sweet? You must be doing something right." I could have replied easily and assuredly with the answer that Sadie always gives about the reasons she is smart or pretty or sweet (or talkative): Because the Lord made her that way. I just smiled gratefully and thanked him profusely.

Once in the car, Sadie immediately demanded the chocolate bar she had been promised. She ate heartily last night, and has continued acting in her normal monkeyshines ways today. She still is disappointed that she cannot fly like a birdie, but she's promised only to use couches for sitting in the future. My little monkey. Lord, I am so grateful.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A New Site

Thank you for visiting "The Musings of Justine."
I have a new site that I would like to invite you to visit. It is called "The Singing Sparrow."

I'm still keeping "Musings" up, but I'll probably be posting more personal stuff here, while the reviews, etc. will move over to "Sparrow."

"The Singing Sparrow" takes its name from several of my favorite quotes. One is from Carolyn Arends's song "Dance Like No One's Watching" wherein she sings: I want to sing just like the sparrow, 'cause the sparrow knows that Your eye will be upon her everywhere that she goes. I love when Jesus points out that not one sparrow, which can be purchased at the price of two for one copper coin, can fall to the ground without the Father's knowing. He then proclaims: The very hairs of your head are numbered; do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31). So, if even the sparrow can sing in the confidence of the Lord's loving mercy, how much more should I?

I also thought of one of my favorite poems -- this translation of a Victor Hugo verse:
Be like the bird who,
Resting in flight
On a twig too slight,
Feels it bend beneath him
Yet sings,
Knowing he has wings.

I hope you'll visit there and return here, too.

Peace to all!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Spicing Up My Blog Life

In combating blogging ennui and Langeweile, I am updating the template to Blogger's Jellyfish.

Of course, since nothing with computers is ever easy, the template is being temperamental about accepting my customizations. I need desperately to get out of the house today, so I'm calling it quits for this afternoon. But I will be back to struggle onward with it another day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Boring Old Internet

Is it just me, or has the Internet gotten, well, boring all of a sudden?

There was a time when I thought that the Internet never could be boring. Every day brought some new site to explore and new people with whom to interact. It was so vast and meandering and surprising and stimulating. But, lately, it has just become dull.

The blog world, too, has shrunk considerably. Almost everyone I visit regularly is posting less frequently. The rush of putting our thoughts out into the world seems to have perhaps gone stale. At least, that's been my experience. I find myself less interested in posting at all about anything. Either the things that I am interested in are too ponderous to undertake at this time in my life, or my thoughts are too dark to dwell upon them for any length of time, or it's just too exhausting to put so much energy into something with so little in the way of returns. I know others have felt like this, too, and I'm just a slowpoke on the blog ennui front.

I'm not making any grand exits from the scene. I have no plans to go anywhere. I know that the fire will return. But the world just seems so sad and pitiful and crazy right now. I used to care about politics, but now I don't, much. I still care about the travesty of abortion, but I cannot bear to write about it now, because it is such a depressing topic. I still care about exploring Christianity, but I have nothing to add right now, other than that I am in a season of gritted-teeth trust and determined belief. Other things fly by my radar, and for a fleeting moment I consider posting about them, but it is so draining.

This state of listlessness is unusual for me, but it really is only in relation to the Internet. Everything else in my life is fairly positive and forward-moving right now. It is only when posting to a blog that I have to confront just how disturbing things are, in general. I suppose that it is good, in a sense, to confront the yucky stuff, but maybe I can put it off a little while longer.

So, I guess I need some novelty -- some new sites to tickle my fancy. Some really hopping places to read the views of interesting folks. Hopefully something funny and not politically driven . . . any suggestions?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Get 'Em Out!

I hate the Seattle Sonics (it's not personal, I just dislike all professional basketball and college basketball and high school basketball and pick-up games in the park basketball), so I ignore anything I see in the newspaper with "Sonics" in the headline. Granted, this is sometimes difficult to do, especially when big stuff happens like happened a couple days ago. But I persevere, because my contempt for basketball runs so deep. So, Jason mentioned this morning that the Sonics had been sold to a group of Oklahoman businessmen, and he was incredulous at my ignorance of this fateful transaction. I thought I couldn't be more thrilled by any piece of basketball news, but then Jason mentioned that the Seattle Storm was included in the sale. My cup runneth over! More than even basketball, I despise women's basketball, and the Storm is particularly obnoxious, because they actually managed to do something rarely done by Seattle pro sports teams -- they made it to some sort of play-off or championship or something (I didn't really pay attention, though it was annoying just to hear in passing) sometime recently (last year? two years ago?).

Anyway, it would be SO AWESOMELY COOL if professional basketball left Seattle forever!! Apparently the big fuss is now whether this purchasing group will keep the teams here, or move them to OK, where, supposedly, the Okies yearn for a public display of this silly sport. The Sonics have been whining all year about needing a new, taxpayer-funded basketball court, and they were DENIED by the Seattle city council (perhaps the only instance of that particular body's having ever seen fit to withhold taxpayer monies from any boondoggle).


Please! Yes! Take the Sonics and the Storm to Oklahoma! Whoo-hoo!

Monday, July 17, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

What songs do you think will play on the soundtrack of Hell?

Here are some of my top contenders:
"Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears
"The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby
"The Captain of Her Heart" by Double*

And, if songs purportedly about God can be played in Hell, these ones too:
"Soul Tattoo" by Plus One
"Now and Forever" by True Vibe
Anything by Jump5

*The only problem with playing "The Captain of Her Heart" in Hell is how much amusement this song has provided me and Jason in our endless, creative mocking of the lyrics; which, of course, would bring pleasure to the Realm of Darkness, thus, perhaps, disqualifying it from the endless, looping soundtrack. If you were not fortunate enough to be with a kindred spirit in Hell to make you laugh, though, this wretched song would be appropriate.

God Doesn't Give Neckties or What I Learned at Barnabas, Part 2

We spent a restorative week up north at Barnabas from July 2 - July 7. The speakers during the week we attended were Mark Warren, a pastor in Bellingham, WA, and Carolyn Arends, a singer/songwriter from British Columbia. Their theme was "Understanding Spiritual Gifts."

Please keep this in mind when I write of Camp Barnabas: Barnabas was Paul's mentor Joses's nickname. It means "son of encouragement."

We spent four days at Barnabas looking at Spiritual gifting from every conceivable angle. Mark Warren came armed with handouts -- packets, really -- over twenty pages thick. There were diagrams and fill-in-the-blanks and group discussions. There was a 125-question survey, designed to help the believer zero in on his or her Spiritual gifts. We read Scripture in-depth, looking at what Paul and Peter wrote about the gifts of the Spirit. After these intensive four days, Mark Warren concluded with this statement:

I'm wondering what Paul, who wrote the most about Spritual gifting, would say about these sessions. What would he say about the survey we took? Well, I think he would be both amused and baffled by our striving. He might say, "Why are you worrying about these things? Go and live out the love of the Gospel in your faith communities, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent."


And that was what I took away from four days. Again, man tries to gussy up the simplicity of God, and God sweeps away our frills and lace and brings us back to His sublime purity.

Mark Warren had spoken a lot about how the church should be a grand laboratory, wherein each congregant can experiment in various capacities, until they find their niche. He seemed to say that most church-goers do not feel comfortable trying different roles in the body to find their fit. I guess that I was unusually blessed by the Lord, because I have never felt confined or pigeon-holed in my church. Calvary Chapel's roots are in the hippie, Jesus Movement of the 1970's, and it is an open, casual body of love and acceptance. I have tried out service roles and teaching roles and exhortation roles in our church, and have been blessed in every one, though some have been more comfortable than others. I had never really worried about Spiritual gifting until I attended these sessions at Barnabas. I had never felt that God would put me into a trap or give me a Spiritual necktie every Christmas. If my parents never gave me a stone when I asked for bread, I always believed, ever since I had believed, that my Heavenly Father would do better than that. So, from the bliss of ignorance, I began to feel the burden of knowledge as we dug further into Spiritual gifting.

Goodness me, I began to worry, I have no overarching theme in my Christian life. I'm a Spiritual jack-of-all-trades, master of none, I thought. I was feeling pretty low; in fact, I was loath even to take the gifting survey. I did take it, and "scored" highly in hospitality and mercy, which was nice, but kind of boring. So, I went into the last session, feeling out-of-sorts and weird. Then, the goodness of the Lord shone through in Mark Warren's contemplation of Paul's reaction, and my heart sang.

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.

Of course.

Why do we, who believe that the Lord knew the days of our lives when as yet there were none, think for a moment that He would let us languish outside the blessings of our gifts? Why wouldn't obedience to Him necessarily put us in the way of using our gifts? Obedience is simply living out the love we were given by the only Giver of good things. Why would we need to add to this by making man-oriented, hubris-inducing surveys and curricula to learn what should be apparent in a life of Christian love? Why pigeon-hole ourselves, when the Lord will love us enough to use our lives for His glory in many different capacities?

So, I'm back to bliss, except now it is bliss grounded in knowledge and freedom instead of mere ignorance. It was almost as if Mark Warren went through all the hoopla to get us to the point where we would accept in gratitude the simplest message. It is kind of like the relief of Christ's grace when you realize the impossibility of living in perfection God's law. Again and again, the Lord will strip it down to the bare essentials: His grace, His love, our need, our sin, our opportunity to know Him, our imperative to live His love and share His grace, our failure, our redemption -- the same themes, over and over and over. And yet, we still want to make Him complicated and, paradoxically, less overwhelming. We still want, at some level, the control that comes from surveys and rituals and extra-Biblical doctrines and seminars. That imagined control of making Him something that can be understood and categorized must frustrate (and amuse) Him to no end. As Clive wrote, "He's not a tame lion."

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.


Turn, Turn, Turn or What I Learned At Barnabas, Part 1

I originally started a really long post about this year's family retreat on Keats Island, BC at Camp Barnabas. Then, I realized that I had about four or five different ideas that I wanted to expand upon, and I know that the super-long posts can get tedious. So, I'm breaking what I took away from camp this year into multiple, shorter sections, which, hopefully, will encourage more people to read them (and not run screaming from this site, as the scrollbar continues its descent seemingly without end).

We spent a restorative week up north at Barnabas from July 2 - July 7. The speakers during the week we attended were Mark Warren, a pastor in Bellingham, WA, and Carolyn Arends, a singer/songwriter from British Columbia. Their theme was "Understanding Spiritual Gifts."

Please keep this in mind when I write of Camp Barnabas: Barnabas was Paul's mentor Joses's nickname. It means "son of encouragement."

One day, back when I worked for Barnes & Noble, I was shelving some books when my boss approached me. She glanced at my left wrist and commented, "I see you wear a watch."
"Yes," I smiled back, a bit perplexed as to why she would make such a pointed remark.
"Why?" she replied with an ironic twist to her mouth. And I knew that she had just thrown me a zinger. I was almost always late to work.
"Well," I answered in the spirit of the ribbing, "I like to know how late I am. If it is less than 15 minutes, I can breeze in and get to work. If it is more than 15 minutes, I know that I'd better be ready to grovel."
She chuckled and turned away. This was, after all, the Pacific Northwest, and being late is a way of life to most of the Latte Set.

And, who among us has not felt the tyranny of time? Whether it is the ticking of the mighty minder of minutes upon our wrists, or the larger, despairing boom of our biological clocks, or the ridiculous, self-imposed pressure cooker of a five-year-plan, we find ourselves slaves to this earthly time. We need everything we want NOW. We push off everything we don't want until an unspecified LATER. And we watch another calendar year pass by feeling stretched to the max and unfulfilled. That is why one of my favorite ideas that I took from Barnabas this year is speaking of time in terms of seasons.

This is perhaps one of the most freeing notions that has ever been introduced in my Christian walk. Mark Warren would use the term "seasons" and eschew those finite terms of days, weeks, months and years. What a blessing! In his use of that word, I caught a glimpse of how the Lord views time. To think in seasons, divorced from the notion of weather patterns or the earth's tilting toward or away from the sun, is to find peace in the midst of disruption. "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." We've read the words in Ecclesiastes -- or, at least, we've heard the song by The Byrds -- yet how hard it is to live by that precept.

I once asked Jason how long he thought Adam and Eve were in the Garden before they blew it. He laughed and said that he was always under the impression that they blew it immediately. We'll never know how many days, weeks or years they were there, because they were in a season of trust and obedience before the Fall. We know that Sarah was counting the years, because she laughed when the Lord told her that it was her season to become a mother -- incredulous that such a season should come to her when she was probably in her nineties. How many people whose stories we read in the Bible have had to wait upon seasons outside of earthly time! Their frustrations have been chronicled for our edification and comfort. As Carolyn Arends said in her presentation about Spiritual gifting, part of understanding our calling is to learn to wait upon the Lord.

I know that I've found myself fretting about periods of time in my life that seem to have no relation to hours or days, but have been, in retrospect, definable with a start and a finish. I have made up my mind for certain spans of time to be devoted to this or that goal, with a start date chosen and circled in red on my calendar. Then, I failed to achieve that goal, and I lost heart. Strangely, that goal would resurface without my realizing it at a later date, and it would be fulfilled almost without effort. Now I see that the goal, if it is worthy and of the Lord, will be neither lost nor gained by my effort or timetable. He will not plant out of season, nor will He reap. When the season begins to start something anew, He will effect it. All I need is a softened heart and the strength of Spirit to wait for the right season. What a liberating idea!

I think one example of trying to do something out of season is our entire journey with this house. Jason and I were convinced that life should somehow be easier at this point; that we should have a stash of cash and very little stress. So, we thought we'd sell our house and move to less expensive digs, and life would be great. As the house began to fall apart on us, ever more each day, we saw it as a definite calling to pull up stakes and flee. Then, as we planned and prayed and listened, we heard this idea come through: Life is not meant to be smooth coasting. When you're in your early thirties, life is still in the building season. That was the lesson we needed to learn, because, even without dealing with our house, we needed to know that it wasn't meant to be easy right now. And it is freeing to live with the knowledge that this season in our lives is one of (moderate) struggle and stress. How funny to see that as liberating! But it is, somehow.

I have come away from Barnabas with a new, exciting outlook on my life's span. That is not to say that I'm going to throw away my watch and burn my calendar. That is only to say that I'm not going to be oppressed in my view of time anymore (or, at least, I'm going to try not to be). I'm still going to be at my haircut appointment at such-and-such a time on that particular day; and church service and Sadie's gymnastics will march on at their appointed start times in and out of every season; but, I'm going to try for the eternal viewpoint and not get so frustrated by my failures in the time of man. This clay will try to stop hassling the Potter, and simply learn to trust that He who began a good work in her will be faithful to complete it, in His perfect time.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I don't usually get too worked up about animal issues. I love animals -- I've had countless pets over the years -- but, every time I get a little sad about an abused animal or a lost animal or a sick animal, I just think about the 1.2 million human babies that are cavalierly dismembered and vacuumed from their womb homes every year in America, against which so few cry out; I think of the children across the world who face every day the realities of war and famine and oppression, against which so few cry out; I recall that certain darkened souls plot and enact acts of unspeakable evil against innocents, about which we have gotten too calloused; and I find myself a lot less worried about the animals. Animals are nice, and we humans ought to be kind to them and be good stewards of this beautiful earth and the inhabitants herein, but it's been made clear that He who knits us together in our mothers' wombs, and He who planned out the days of our lives when as yet there were none, finds us far more valuable than sparrows (and I think we can bet more valuable than cats, dogs, spotted wood owls, etc.).

Ah, but horses. I shall always have that special concern for those of the equine persuasion. And that mushy part in my heart gets even more soft when I think of Thoroughbred racehorses. And so, I cry over Barbaro, that lion-hearted colt who is hovering on the brink of death. His case is so painful to me because I once had an ex-racehorse (tattooed lip and all), and I know the nobility of these athletes; also, I lost a horse to laminitis when I was younger, and Barbaro's case is renewing memories of that loss.

Laminitis is an insidious disease that is nigh impossible to cure. My beautiful dressage champion, Inverness Heather, slowly declined with that hoof ailment until she had to be euthanized. It is a wretched thing to witness the pitiful sight of your glorious horse lying on her side in her stall because it is too painful to stand. The last night of her life, I lay down in the stall next to her and rested my head on her belly. Echoing throughout her body was the beat of that noble heart -- the heart of a grand dancer whose precision and elegance were responsible for almost all of the show ribbons in my collection.

Am I anthropomorphizing my horses? Of course! But -- and I think that anyone who has spent time hands-on with horses will tell you the same thing -- horses are different. I suppose that people will say that dogs are different, too. I've never been much of a dog person. Many will declare that cats are also capable of having those inter-species bonds. I guess so, but I still insist that with horses it is different. As I stated, I've had many, many pets over the years. But, the only "pets" that haunt my dreams are my horses -- especially my ex-racehorse, Spirit. I still have heart-wrenching dreams about when I gave him up to go to college in 1994. Twelve years later, I still haven't recovered completely. If he is still alive out there, he would be 25. I'm guessing that he is in greener pastures by now. Is it wrong to hope that the God of Creation will have set aside a corner of eternity for those friends that somehow managed to transcend the barrier of dumb beasts and capture a bit of our souls to claim as their own? Oh maybe, but that's not going to stop me from praying for Barbaro, and my own long-lost equine friends. As always, God's grace is far bigger than my heresy.

My mom and I often didn't "get" each other, especially when it came to my riding. But, when the trailer came and took my last horse, Spirit, to his new home on the brink of my leaving for college, my mom saw my stricken face and wracked soul and made this observation:

Your horses were your friends when you felt all alone. They were your parents when we didn't understand you. They were the school where you learned your toughest lessons. They were your sounding board for all of your fears and hopes and frustrations. They were the biggest part of your life for many years. It is okay to miss them terribly.

That was a very freeing statement from my mom, who, I had always thought, viewed my horse obsession with contempt and disgust. I bless her for that, because it allowed me to go into my childhood bedroom and cry my eyes out. And it still lets me do that today, as I tear up while typing this out. And I bless my dad, without whom I never would have had the joy of owning horses.

I'm hoping for a miracle for Barbaro.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Booknotes and Summer Reading Ambitions

I would love to write a review of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but I fear that I may never actually finish the book. It is seriously dense. But it is so lively and conversational in tone that it never seems to drag on. This book may be the quintessential Victorian English novel, as Thackeray seems bound and determined that his readers would get the full worth of the eight shillings or so that they spent on this tome. But do not by any means let its length deter you from a heck of a lot of fun. These characters are so vivid, and the omniscient authorial interventions are so amusing and biting and insightful, that it may just be the perfect summer read. Thackeray was obviously a keen observer of human nature and was able to translate every quirk and foible and perversity and those rare snatches of nobility into highly realized human beings that breathe and live in his story (unlike, say, John Irving, who writes erractic, detached characters that never seem fully to come to life). Somebody, read this book! I want a fellow traveler in this tour of Vanity Fair.

Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat ride with that old sly boots, John Wilkes Booth, as he plots, executes, and escapes the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, he does not escape for long, but the story of what happens after the bloody scene at Ford's Theater almost seems incredible -- I had to keep reminding myself that every word in this book was truth; every line of dialogue was taken from court records and correspondence and journals. I know that the author has said that John Wilkes Booth was not written to be the hero of this story -- that Swanson finds Booth and his actions despicable. But, I dare you to read this book and not develop a grudging admiration for the sheer audacity and éclat of this most notorious of American villains. I'm no Rebel sympathizer by nature, but a large part of me was rooting for Booth to find that oh-too-impossible method of escape during the final shootout and continue his daring, desperate journey back into the heart of Dixie.

Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Poet Laureate of Light Verse by Douglas M. Parker is a long-overdue biographical tribute to my favorite poet in any genre. When I was twelve years old, my dad gave me a collection of Ogden Nash's animal poems for Christmas; thus began my love affair with this master of wordplay and irreverent interpreter of meter and rhythm. Most joyful to discover was that Ogden Nash was as delightful a man in his personal and professional lives as ever you would assume him to be from his delightful verse. If you've never treated yourself to his poetry, find a collection in your local library or bookstore and drink in his sly observations, understated witticisms, and the unexpectedly keen social commentary that permeate his work. After your interest is piqued by his verse, you will want to read this biography and learn more about the man. He will not disappoint.

If you get as much of a kick out of language as I do, you may want to check out the Latin series by Henry Beard (Henricus Barbatus), published by Villard. Much like the unwilling peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Latin is "not dead yet," and "does not want to go in the cart." At least, that is what Beard wants us to believe. So he has compiled three books of useful, humorous, everyday expressions in Caesar's tongue. Latin for All Occasions, Latin for Even More Occasions, and X-Treme Latin are damned funny and should be read by all those who want a taste of what a time-warped gladiator might spout out at parties or sporting events. Here is a sample of the hilarity from Latin for Even More Occasions:

An All-Purpose Get Well Note
I just wanted you to know that I have sacrificed a good-sized she-goat to Mercury on your behalf in order to hasten your recovery.
P.S. The entrails were auspicious!
P.P.S. Get well soon!
Volo te scire me capram magnam Mercurio sacrificavisse pro salute tuo celerius restituendo.
P.S. Exta fausta fuerunt!
P.P.S. Convalesce velociter!

Also helpful is the handy pronunciation guide that tells you that everything you intuitively know about pronouncing Latin is incorrect. Veni, vidi vici? Try saying it as "weni, weedi, weeki," and you'll feel a lot less emperor-ish and much more Hawaiian. But, apparently, that's the way those crazy Romans spoke. Go figure!

Well, we're off to Canada again for a week at Camp Barnabas on Keats Island, BC. Another Independence Day spent in a foreign land, away from the Americana my red, white, and blue soul craves. I think that next year we will forego Barnabas, at least when Carolyn Arends is speaking, to give Sadie her first, real taste of an all-American Fourth of July celebration. Light a few fireworks for us, will you? See a parade, watch a baseball game, eat some hot dogs. Go to church, kneel in your closet, bow your head around the picnic table with your loved ones and thank the Lord for this amazing country we share -- I will be doing likewise, up in Canada.

Here are the books I'm taking to camp, though I suspect that I won't even get close to reading all of them. The ones I don't finish this coming week will comprise most of my rest-of-summer reading list:
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, of course -- oh, who will join me on this adventure?
Ann Coulter's book, Godless, has inspired me to read: Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe; The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth by Jonathan Wells; Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson
Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich -- though I am starting to get really sick of Stephanie Plum and her dysfunctional, incompetent ways
In Our Hands by Charles Murray -- I've had this for a while now, but have yet to give it more than the cursory once-over
Instead of Education by John Holt -- I love the way this man respected and nourished the individuality of children with his educational philosophies. I treasure his insights.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Little Ogden To Cheer Up Your Day

As a public service from a very civic-minded chick, I hereby reproduce (without permission -- sorry, Little, Brown & Co.) one of my favorite Ogden Nash poems to add a little sunshine to the day of anyone who comes across this blog o' mine:

Where There's a Will, There's Velleity
Seated one day at the dictionary I was pretty weary and also pretty ill at ease,
Because a word I had always liked turned out not to be a word at all, and suddenly I found myself among the v's.
And suddenly among the v's I came across a new word which was a word called velleity,
So the new word I found was better than the old word I lost, for which I thank my tutelary deity,
Because velleity is a word which gives me great satisfaction,
Because do you know what it means, it means low degree of volition not prompting to action,
And I always knew I had something holding me back but I didn't know what,
And it's quite a relief to know it isn't a conspiracy, it's only velleity that I've got,
Because to be wonderful at everything has always been my ambition,
Yes, indeed, I am simply teeming with volition,
So why I was never wonderful at anything was something I couldn't see
While all the time, of course, my volition was merely volition of a low degree,
Which is the kind of volition that you are better off without it,
Because it puts an idea in your head but doesn't prompt you to do anything about it.
So you think it would be nice to be a great pianist but why bother with practising for hours at the keyboard,
Or you would like to be the romantic captain of a romantic ship but can't find time to study navigation of charts of the ocean of the seaboard;
You want a lot of money but you are not prepared to work for it,
Or a book to read in bed but you do not care to go into the nocturnal cold and murk for it;
And now if you have any such symptoms you can identify your malady with accurate spontaneity:
It's velleity,
So, don't forget to remember that you're velleitous, and if anybody says you're just lazy,
Why, they're crazy.

Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971) -- greatest American poet of light verse -- from I'm a Stranger Here Myself (Little, Brown & Company, 1938).

When Life Gives You Lemons . . .

. . . Lie down on the ground and throw a fit!

At least that was what Sadie did at Safeco the other night. But, I'll tell you the story, and you will understand:

For Jason's birthday last week, we went to see the Seattle Mariners play the San Francisco Giants at Safeco Field. My favorite player, Randy Winn, was back in town with the Giants. Jason bought tickets in the first row of the outfield seats, so that I could watch my boy in right field. These were sweet seats, and Randy Winn was as beautiful as ever.

So, at Safeco there is a kids' play area with all the things that would delight the heart of a child with even less monkey in her than mine has. Sadie zeroed in on that play area immediately, and asked to go inside forthwith. I wanted to get to our seats and gaze upon Randy for the first few innings, so I promised her that I'd bring her back there later.

We ate hot dogs and garlic fries and drank tons of pop. Sadie was having a good time, watching the game, coloring in her coloring book, yelling out to Randy Winn; but she never forgot the play area. At the beginning of the eighth inning, she asked if it was time yet to go to the kids' area. I agreed that it was time indeed, and I complimented her on her patience. So, we went to the play area just as a new session was going in. We got our passes for the following session that would start in 20 minutes. Sadie was cool with that.

To pass the time, we lurked about in the Mariners store, where Sadie tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade me to purchase a large foam finger that declared that the M's are #1. I cannot bring myself to advertise a sentiment so patently false. I mean, I love my Mariners, but come on! I tried to convince her that she needed a Mariners sweatshirt, but she didn't bite. So, 20 minutes passed on by, and it was time at last to enter through those pearly gates of Safeco fun -- the longed-for kids' play area.

We went up with our pass to the man at the entrance, and he dropped the bomb upon us: The play area had had to close early, since a little boy had peed inside one of the play tunnels. They would not re-open that night, because the game was so near its end. I looked down and saw Sadie's face -- wide-eyed with incredulity -- crumple in disappointment. When the bad news had sufficiently sunk in, she promptly took the course of action she felt was called for and threw herself on the ground, yelling and crying. It was a miserable moment, indeed.

I scooped her up off of the ground and carried her broken, sobbing form back to her daddy. He cuddled her in his arms as she spilled the whole sordid tale. Jason reacted promptly in his daddish way, declaring that he'd go find that kid and give him a real reason to wet his pants. He was so sad for her, and I was too. It's really, really tough to see your kid play by the rules and then get screwed over. But that's just one of the harder lessons of life, isn't it?

If only working hard and playing by the rules were the guarantors of the good life! The fact that they aren't is probably one of the reasons that so many people find it hard to finish the race. I've spoken with people who thought that, once they surrendered their hearts in faith to Christ, they would lose the struggles and lose the disappointment and lose the pain. I've been one of those people myself, sometimes. It's like: Lord, why is it still so hard? And yet, He never promised us a life without heartaches and betrayals and sorrows; He simply, beautifully, reassuringly promised us a life in which we would no longer have to face those trials alone.

So, Sadie's daddy dried her tears, snuggled her up in his arms, and bought her some cotton candy. He explained that that situation with the play area was a bummer and completely unfair, but sometimes life is like that. Sometimes locked cars get broken into. Sometimes the worse man gets the promotion. Sometimes the teacher doesn't stop the other kid from taking your toy. Sometimes a boy pees in a play area tunnel, right before it's your turn to play. But, that's okay in the end, and you'll be just fine, Baby Girl, because you are never alone. Daddy will always be here to dry your tears and comfort you.

I also promised that, on our next trip to Safeco, I'd take her to the play area during the first few innings.

By the way, the Mariners won that night. And Randy Winn hit a home run for the Giants. So, it was the best of both worlds.