Tuesday, September 30, 2008

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

No, the sky is not falling; but, if you are like me, watching your modest portfolio pitch and dive like a sailboat in a tempest can look like an incredible imitation of blue firmament careening toward you. Don't duck and cover -- whether it is a mere acorn or the fallout of dubious financial dealings from folks like ACORN that's bonked us on our heads, we'll all be just fine.

Now is the time when you realize where your treasure really is.

And that is why I have that surpassing peace and immeasurable good cheer. Every time the world and its mechanisms fail, another window is opened for Christ to reveal His sustaining glory. The same rock that can leave your vessel a water-logged wreck is also the one that, when you cling to it, will save your life.

I pray that we do not lose sight of the important things in this next period of belt-tightening and priority reassessments -- that we who are never outside of the realm of God's blessings do not forget to bless the Father with our worship, praise, and trust; and to bless Him, also, by blessing others in His name.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
-- 2 Timothy 1:7

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When It Rains . . .

It pours! Ugh, how clichéd a way to start a post.

Anyway, the world o' blogs has gone from a dearth of new material to read -- from old friends and new resources -- to a whirlwind again. From Carolyn Arends alone there is suddenly a wealth of musings o' life and song and story to read.

Now I'm overusing the whimsical "blank o' blank" device. Yikes! Someone stop this bad writing! (I blame Stephan Pastis.)

So, updated goes the old sidebar (I had to physically restrain myself from writing "old" as "ol'" -- see, I can get better.) (The parenthetical asides continue unabated, though.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Progression, Regression, and The Shack

I have been to The Shack. I read this surprise bestseller a couple of months ago at the beginning of the summer. While there are some moving parts, it is easily forgettable. In fact, in trying to write this right now, I have realized that there are only a few scenes from the book that have stayed with me. It's rather like the Chinese food of pop-Christian literature.

But, Eugene Peterson is quoted thus on its cover: "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good." Of course, Eugene Peterson also is responsible for giving us the dubious gift of The Message (the only "translation" of Biblical text about which I have been heard to say, "I hate it."), so, if I were author William Young, I'd have said, "Thanks, but no thanks on the endorsement, Gene, old boy."

Said cover blurb did, however, raise my curiosity. I decided to read, at long last, The Pilgrim's Progress, and see if this beloved allegory of Christendom were as insipid as Peterson had unintentionally implied. I love having a go at a classic, and Bunyan's a Brit, so he already had an advantage going in, to my Anglophilic way of thinking.

The Pilgrim's Progress certainly isn't banal -- there's not a bit of vapid fluff on its stark bones -- but it is arduous. I cannot remember the last time I had to work so hard to get through a book. Unlike The Shack, where there is, I believe, not one reference to Biblical text, PP is rife with scriptural citations. This is very good from a theologically defensive position (as Bunyan was always in trouble with the Church of England for his Puritan proclivities), but it is very distracting from a literary one.

The Pilgrim's Progress's greatest failing, in my opinion, is its utter lack of wit and humor. There is a sweet and imploring earnestness throughout the book that gives it some redeeming charm; but, in reading it, I finally understood what Chesterton was talking about when he dismissed the dour Puritans. It is a book that I am very grateful to have read after becoming a Christian, as I think its bleakness would have pushed my spiritual walk back a few steps. I believe it is doctrinally sound, but the delectable strain of exuberant joy that to me characterizes a life lived knowing Christ is, if not missing, then tragically subdued.

A confession: I only finished part one of The Pilgrim's Progress. I have heard tell that part two, wherein Christian's wife and children make their own journey, is a little lighter in tone and friendlier in spirit, so I will have to come back to it soon and rejoin Bunyan's allegorical adventure. In the meantime, I have decided to visit with Jack Lewis and read his own homage to PP, The Pilgrim's Regress.

At last I am in a familiar and congenial land. In structure alone, C.S. Lewis's book is easier on the eyes and mind. In style, of course, Lewis is a master. I have only read about five chapters, but, so far, it is an interesting journey. The Pilgrim's Regress was the first book that C.S. Lewis wrote after becoming a Christian, and the book has a sense of being a bit rough about the edges -- which makes it all the more accessible. As a reader, there is a sense of reality in the protagonist, John's, journey -- his yearning and struggles and questions and doubts and weaknesses make sense, because, in a way, it is the author himself who has begun something new.

Christian literature is much like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead -- when it is good, it is very, very good (read: transcendent, sublime); when it is bad, it is horrid. The Shack is not horrid, exactly, but, despite its being on the shelves of every bookstore across this nation, I cannot think that it will achieve immortality. There is simply not enough bite to it. Not to mention, you're hungry again an hour after finishing it.

September 11

Thank goodness for podcasting. I was in Chicago on September 11 this year, but, with the magic of digital archiving, I was able to get caught up on my favorite radio program, the Michael Medved Show, when I returned. And I just listened to his broadcast on Sept. 11 yesterday. Boy, did it bring back a flood of memories.

I was up unusually early that Tuesday morning. I had to be at work by 7:30 AM. I was puttering around the kitchen at 6:00, making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast. The radio was on, and I was listening to the Kirby Wilbur Show on AM 570. He was talking about a local story -- a boy who had accidentally been killed by his father at a shooting range. About a quarter after the hour, the newscaster, Carleen Johnson, broke into his show and said, in a voice I'll never forget, "Kirby, I'm seeing reports that a plane has flown into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York."

Of course, at first, we thought it was a small, private plane that had lost its bearings and slammed into the building in a tragic accident. I could not conceive that it would be anything else. But, knowing that Jason has interest in both giant skyscrapers and airplanes, I shook him awake and told him to turn on the TV before I went into the shower. While in the shower, I was still listening to the radio when they reported that another airplane had crashed into the other WTC tower. I screamed out, "Terrorists!" Oh God! What a horrible day.

On my drive to work, I heard about the plane exploding into the side of the Pentagon. Soon afterward came news of a possibly unrelated jet crash in Pennsylvania. Driving, driving, driving. I heard that helicopters were trying to fly close enough to rescue people trapped in the top floors of the WTC towers. "They have to get those people out," I whispered to myself, "Because those towers are going to collapse." I don't know how I knew it, but I just had a terrible vision of the two proud structures tumbling to the ground in clouds of smoke and debris. When I saw the footage of the same later, it was hellish déjà vu.

At work it was pale faces, haunted eyes, and hushed voices all day. We kept the radio on in the office as each unfolding of wretched news held our tortured attention. When I returned home that afternoon, I did what I never do: Turned on the television and sat on the couch without moving. It takes a lot of time to ingest that level of evil. Jason came home, and we watched almost all night, praying for news of more rescues, more heroism, more hope. We wanted and needed to know that somehow, someway, our country would survive.

When I drove to work the next morning, I looked at the late summer glory surrounding me. There is no place on earth more beautiful to my eyes than Washington. And I tried to memorize it, because I was convinced that everything had changed forever. I looked to the future, and all I could see was attack after attack by a dispersed, determined, and diabolical enemy. And, admit it, that's what you saw on September 12, 2001, too.

And so, when I listened to Michael Medved last night, it all came rushing back to me -- that day of seven years ago. I started crying. And, when Mr. Medved played clips of President Bush's addressing the nation, whether from the Capitol or from a pile of rubble in Manhattan, I cried even harder. Damn it. You know what? I felt this overwhelming need to say, "Thank you, Mr. President." Because what I thought would be on September 12, 2001 is not my reality on September 24, 2008.

George W. Bush has been simultaneously vilified and dismissed over these past seven years. And, I'll confess, I did not agree that this current Iraq War was the best investment of American lives and taxpayers' dollars; but, here is the thing: I do not fear flying on an airplane. I do not hesitate to ride on public transportation or visit a shopping center. In the most important job that a U.S. President has -- protecting our country from attack; keeping citizens safe -- President Bush has done a remarkable job.

Thank you, Mr. President. You have this American's gratitude.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Art of Humorous Hyperbole

I'll admit: I am a big fan of the "Chuck Norris Facts" that have made their rounds 'round the world wide web. Now, Über-All-American-Girl, Sarah Palin, has her own little known facts site. Visit and have a chuckle.

Some of my favorites:
  • N. Alaska is sunny half the year and dark half the year because Sarah Palin needed the reading light, then wanted a nap.
  • Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience.
  • When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.
  • Sarah Palin can divide by zero.
  • Sarah Palin got Tom Brady pregnant, and then left him. (N.B. This explains his "injury" that put him out of play this season.)
  • Sarah Palin became governor because five children left her with too much spare energy.
  • Sarah Palin paid her way through school by hunting for yeti pelts with a slingshot.
  • Sarah Palin knows the location of D.B. Cooper’s body because she threw him from the plane.
  • Sarah Palin once bagged a caribou by staring it down until it died.
  • What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Sarah Palin.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stand Up and Fight!

This call to action that ended John McCain's acceptance speech at the RNC moves me to tears:

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.

Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what's right for our country.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America. Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America.

John McCain is the first Presidential nominee I can remember who has asked me to fight for what might be called "The Idea of America." Most politicians just rattle off a bunch of promises of things their administration will give you, never pausing to consider that those goodies are not theirs to give. But, this . . . this was even better than JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." This was heart-thumping, palm-sweating, spine-tingling, jump-up-off-the-couch-and-cheer-with-the-convention-crowd good.

Now, I'm finally excited about John McCain for who he is; not merely excited about the Sarahcuda (though, I am admittedly still very much stoked about her as well).

Senator McCain, I accept your challenge. I will fight with you.