Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer Reading (Had Me a Blast)

The burning question on every mind this summer is, "What are the crazy libertarian types reading on the sandy shores of the countries where they keep their hidden bank accounts and sip Bahama Mamas?"

Well, I have at least a partial answer for you. Go and read what some contributors to Liberty magazine have slipped into their beachbags. Oh yeah, you'll see some recommendations from me there, too. Though, I do not have any off-shore accounts, I have been known to enjoy a drink or two containing tiny paper umbrellas in my time.


Mad Props for Mike

With Father's Day almost upon us, I would like to write a small tribute to one of my favorite dads.

Now, I could write a heap about my own dad. No one has had a better dad than I. He is King O' Dads -- a man who has unfailingly supported and cheered and loved me every step of my life. I have not left a footprint upon this earth that does not have the mark of his devotion upon it. He gave me wings and let me fly.

I could write volumes about the wonderful man I married, the father of our now and future children. He has been charged to love me as Christ loves the church -- that holy, sacrificial love nearly impossible to enact -- and he does a marvelous job of that. He loves his little girl, and my heart swells with gratitude to see them together. He gave me a nest where I can be safe.

The man I want to write about defies the bird metaphor. So, we're done with that.

One of my favorite people in all the world is my father-in-law, Mike.

Now, Mike and I have practically nothing in common. We've never shared a warm conversation over hot coffee. We've never compared notes on a book we've both read and enjoyed. We've never sat down and watched a movie together.

He thinks, I'm sure, that I am sort of a snob and rather spend-thrifty -- leading his son down a rose-strewn path of extravagance and away from those nose-to-the-grindstone Midwestern values. I think he's a gas; though, I cannot really relate to his interests or personality. He's about as opposite from my own treasured dad as can be; but he is beloved by me, nonetheless.

Mike has given me a gift so undeniably precious that I am forever in his debt. He has given me a husband who was raised by a father who cherished, respected, adored, protected, and delighted in his wife. By his example, he showed Jason what being a husband means -- in those real terms of sacrifice and love that too rarely are given more than lip-service. Because of Mike, I have a husband whose natural inclination is to cherish his wife.

It has been said that the greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother. And yet, there is much more at stake. The actions of parents have reverberations in eternity, as sins and sapience echo down through every subsequent generation. Because Mike loves Sheri well, I have a husband who loves me well. Because she had a father who loved her mother well, Sadie will (please God) choose a man who will love her well and show her children what that means. Should we have a son, he will have a model of a model of sacrificial love. These are the legacies that last.

So Mike -- lover of NASCAR and Wal-Mart -- is a gift, rightly treasured by his daughter-in-law -- lover of British literature and fine dining. What a man he raised! What a man I married! Blessed, blessed, undeservedly blessed am I! Thank you, Mike, and the happiest of Father's Days to you!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Take Two Advil, and Comment in the Morning


If you ever want to induce a headache, I have the means:

1. Go to Christian Book Distributors' website and type, "Calvinism," in the search engine.

2. Pick a book like Debating Calvinism or Chosen But Free.

3. Read the reviews.

4. When your eyeballs start to smoke from the reflective glare of the computer screen and the vitriol hurled thereon, it's time to stop.

I cannot believe how wretched Christians can be toward each other. Come, let us reason together. How important is it, really, to know how little or how much our own faith plays in our salvation? This whole debate reminds me of Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book: The important thing about being saved is that it is only through Jesus's sacrifice on the cross. The only proof of salvation through grace to us is our faith that is alive in Him. Our only proof to the world of His saving grace to us is the good works that we do in Him.

Once we have received the Holy Spirit in our belief, we are saved. Who cares how it came about? It is another paradox of a paradoxical God. God is sovereign. Period. Man has free will. Period. Embracing the mystical dance of mutually exclusive truths gloriously reconciled is one of the great joys of the Christian journey. Why muck it up?

Okay, so I just started reading up on Calvinism vs. Arminianism because of Brendt Waters of the Musings of Two-Sheds Gomer.

He is full of knowledge and interesting opinions, and maybe further reading will convince me that this back and forth of what seems to me now merely sophistry is actually the substantial issue that so many seem to find it. I cannot believe that brothers and sisters in Christ are calling other brethren heretics and unbelievers if they hold a point of view opposite to their own. How can their joy be full with this mindset?

Two-Sheds isn't like that. He mocks the mockers who would try to appropriate the Lord's job and read the hearts of men. But he's pretty passionate and committed to Calvinism. I worked once with a seminary student who was also a committed Calvinist. Predestination seems to me a cruel creed, though. Little babies marked from birth to spend eternity outside the loving arms of the Father? I cannot help but think that far too simplified and linear a way to view God's saving grace.

On the reviews of the books that I listed above, believers seemed unwilling to recognize the paradox of God's sovereignty and man's free will. Yet, I assure you they wholly accept other paradoxes of Christianity. Jesus's being fully man and fully God? God's presence both within and outside of time? One true God who is also triune? These they accept with alacrity, but then they stumble over this compulsive need to assert that divine sovereignty and human free will cannot be reconciled. Why?

I am not learned enough to comment further on this age-old debate of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. All I know is that once I stopped trying to view God through human eyes and logic and embraced the higher logic of the Divine Paradox, my world became -- ironically and paradoxically -- a clearer, more joyful place; my faith was strengthened and my heart was more full of compassion and peace. I will pray for my brothers and sisters who will let the evil one hold sway as they strive against each other in matters best left to Providence.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Writing in Paradox"

When I was hanging out with Flicka, the conversation shifted by design to my latest obsession: G.K. Chesterton.

In trying to explain why I admire his writing so very much, I used the phrase, "he writes in paradox." Because Flicka is a writer who understands that words -- in order to have any relevance or impact -- must actually mean things, she pounced on this throwaway expression and demanded an explanation. "How does one write in paradox?" she asked, "It is surely more of a literary device than a style."

This pop quiz flummoxed me, and I racked my brain, trying to get a handle on exactly what I was trying to say. Of course, in situations like this, my brain impishly takes a vacation and mocks me from the beach, Mai Tai in hand. Since no examples came to mind, Flicka kindly let me off the hook, and we continued onward.

On the airplane coming home, I turned again to the wonderful Chesterton novel, The Ball and the Cross, and immediately wanted to bang my head on the seatback tray table all the way to Seattle. For, The Ball and the Cross is written of almost pure philosophy and in almost pure paradox. How ridiculous of me not to think of it!

Now, I do not know if the phrase "writes in paradox" was ever a true match for my meaning; but, the way in which Chesterton is so comfortable using paradox goes far beyond a literary device. His mind is so well able to work a paradox into a just analogy and nimbly stretch and mold a paradox into such an illuminating truth, that it is rather inadequate simply to point out that he uses paradox well. He has embraced the vital paradoxes within the human situation -- and within Christianity specifically -- so wholly that it suits to say that his style is one of paradox.

For instance, the premise of The Ball and the Cross is the struggle to enact a sworn duel to the death between an avowed atheist, James Turnbull, and a devout Catholic, Evan MacIan. So far, a plot set-up rich with possibilities, but not breathtaking in scope. For, one would expect, this is the age-old battle between good and evil, darkness and light -- and the sympathies of the author could go in either direction, depending upon his personal philosophical bent. However, Chesterton makes a complete departure from the ordinary by binding the two arch enemies together with something greater than their epistemological differences, so that they become "in the oddest and most exact sense of the term, brothers -- in arms" (p. 35).

And here is where the master of paradox takes the reader on a fascinating divergence. A new antagonist is added to the plot that drives the two opponents increasingly together: A world caught up in moral ambiguity and plodding apathy toward the biggest issues -- those of light and dark and good and evil. In other words, lightness and darkness must battle the enveloping grayness, before they can battle each other. As Turnbull and MacIan roam across the countryside, trying to find a place to duel, they are continually met by others who would thwart them -- either through preventing their fight or belittling their cause.

Now, I am only about half way through this book, because I've been trying to read up on Chesterton's non-fiction, so I do not know how this will end. But, I can say that the title of the novel, The Ball and the Cross, refers to the decorative spire of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which is a cross atop a globe. The ball represents the world, and the cross -- well, we all know what that represents. Are the two symbols irreconcilable or amenable? Can they coexist? Does one replace the other? Who deserves prominence? Which is more real? These are the issues that are at stake -- and these are the questions Chesterton dares to explore. And he does it in the way he knows best -- through the paradox of two men diametrically opposed and undeniably united. That is his particular genius.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Five Days of Bad Hair or My Kind of Town

Chicago skyline from the Ferris wheel on the Navy Pier.I do not know what it is about the Midwest. Any further east than the Rockies, and my hair goes pffft. Other than coiffure anxiety, though, my trip to Chicago last week was delightful. Thanks for asking.

Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was "[his] kind of town," and I'm rather convinced that it is mine, too. More imbued with a feeling of history and significance than Seattle, more congenial and intimate than New York, Chicago has a lot to offer -- far more, in fact, than our five days of touring could encompass. But we tried our best, and we saw a bit, and it was all good.

Jason and my dad went to Wrigley Field.  Gum has brought much good to the world.  I was at Flicka's.It helped, I think, that the weather took a turn for the cooler when we finally hit the tarmac of O'Hare. Being as web-footed as we are, temps in the 70's were a trial for our packed wardrobes (which had anticipated a much higher degree on the thermostat), but a boon for our psyches. If you're going to be walking around outside the tender arms of air conditioning, an unseasonal cold front helps immensely.

I think my favorite thing about the city was the public transportation. I know; who chooses that? Well, for someone who hates to drive as much as I, getting around by walking and on the subway and the El and the buses was a fantastic dream come true. If there were a way to get into Seattle without a car from the 'burbs, I'd do it all the time. But, West Coast public transportation sucks.

The Museum of Science and Industry -- the only building left from the 1893 World's Fair.We saw some cool places, such as the Field Museum, the Navy Pier, and the Children's Museum. We ate cool food -- deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno and Chicago-style dogs from a vendor. Jason and my parents got to see more in the city than Sadie and I, because, as I hinted before, we went on a train out of town for a side trip to go visit Flicka Spumoni. That was the highlight of my vacation. And, yes, she's every bit as amazing in person as you would expect from her fabulous writing.

The Ferris wheel described to the right.Look at this picture Jason took of a Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier! Did you know that the Ferris wheel was invented for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, Chicago World's Fair? The original was far bigger than this one. Surprisingly, we saw a lot of U.S. Navy servicemen at the Navy Pier. I had thought that that was just an historical name.

All good things must come to an end -- except the best thing, which will never end. But this trip was not built for eternity, so we came home on Tuesday. It's just as well, for the treacherous weather was making another turn-around and getting rather St. Louis-y (i.e. hot and humid and double-dose-of-deodoranty). So, we're back in my lovely, homey, wonderful Pacific Northwest, and my hair is back to normal, and Sadie's sleep schedule is back to normal, and Rylee is here, and life is good.

Sadie: Homeschooled and Wild.For, as Frank Sinatra also sang, "It's very nice to go traveling, but it's so much nicer, yes it's oh so nice, to come home."