Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Epiphany Prayer

O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Spirit, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shaffer Family Expands!

There's exciting news in the Shaffer household. We are expecting a new family member...No, I am not "in the way of women." But this little girl will be moving into our home this weekend.

This is Riesa Kay Waggoner, born March 18. Riesa has been previously cared for by her mother, but needs a new home now. She was born with Down's Syndrome and probably some degree of autism as well.

The thing is...Riesa no longer looks like the photo above. She is my aunt and was born in 1958! At the present, she resembles the picture below much more than the one above.

I am blessed to have a husband and children who are happily sacrificing at least some degree of freedom and are actually looking forward to having her in our home. Though most of Riesa's personal care will fall to me, it will effect the whole family, and quite honestly, I don't know to what extent. There are many uncertainties surrounding this move.

Here are some FAQ's from friends and other family:

Does Riesa understand that she's coming to live with you permanently? I don't know...when I told her, she rubbed her hands together (her way of showing joy) and responded, "Oh, boy! I like that." But maybe she just thinks she's coming for a visit. I'm doing everything I can to make her room feel like "home"...utilizing her favorite colors, putting family pictures on the wall, tailoring it to her lifestyle, etc. Maybe I'll post pictures in a couple days.

How will she adjust to being away from her 85-year-old mother who has been her primary caretaker for 49 years now? I don't know...they are attached at the hip, but at times, Riesa seems to long for some independence. I'm more worried about my grandmother being lonely. She will be alone for the first time in her life, and she will have no one to take care of. Someday I'll post more about her and the way she has lived her life.

How much care does Riesa need? I think I know...she can complete most of her daily hygiene with minimal to moderate guidance. She needs help washing her hair and she needs reminders about most other self-care. She is mobile, although with age, she is becoming less so. She has fairly minor health issues: she is nearly blind - she sees the world through a rain-laden windshield - but she opts not to wear her glasses most of the time. Her hearing has faded somewhat, though some of us think she just hears "selectively" like the rest of us. Her main issue is pain in her feet, hips and back, which hinders her from moving freely or quickly.

Does Riesa work or attend any programs? Finally one I know...since "graduating" from high school at age 21, she has always been involved in some sort of workshop or day program. She is currently attending a program 3 days per week in Festus where she socializes and participates in community activities such as delivering "Meals on Wheels," visiting nursing homes and learning to function in public settings.

Fortunately, we have discovered a program right next door to the boys' school (.9 miles from our house!) which is incredibly similar to the one she's in now. It's small, they do similar activities, most of the "consumers" are older, they allow part-time, and it's pretty laid back.

How does she spend her time when she's not at the program? Riesa loves to watch game shows, especially The Price is Right, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. She sets her life by her watch and the time of these programs! She also loves music and owns quite a collection of LP's which she listens to fairly often. Riesa owns a very old, but well-loved ATARI, and plays Pac-Man and some hunting game. So, she's a lot like a teenager...TV, Music and Video Games. Sigh. Oh, yeah...and she absolutely loves to write. She goes through tons of notebooks each year. She'll write the names of all the family members (which is no small feat in this family), their ages and birthdays; she'll write whatever words she sees on TV too. Her writing has become less legible as her eyesight has diminished, but she still does it endlessly.

Can Riesa be left alone? Yes, but only for an hour or two at a time. Though she poses no danger to herself - she wouldn't get out the knives or matches or leave the house - she also wouldn't know what to do in case of emergency. She knows HOW to dial 911, but probably can't discern WHEN to call.

Is Riesa able to communicate? Somewhat. She learned to do simple reading and writing, we taught her the sign language alphabet which she loves to use, and she can talk plenty...just not usually to real people in space and time. When you ask her how she is doing, she may say, "She's fine," referring to herself in the third person; she might look off to the side and talk under her breath to an invisible person, after which she may or may not directly answer your question. If she is in pain, she will pat or rub the involved area and say, "It's's not hurting," but will NEVER say, "My leg hurts." Then if you ask her if her leg hurts, she tries to be tough and says, "It's's better." When asked to do something she either doesn't understand or doesn't want to do, Riesa will twist her foot and jamb her finger into her leg - a sort of minor "fit" - but can't tell you why she's upset.

Riesa has a good sense of humor and she loves to be silly...and boy can she be silly! She loves to laugh at others' silliness too. She loves hugs and kisses...IF she's in the mood. Sometimes touch that catches her off-guard is disconcerting, but she'll usually adjust.

So, this is where we are heading, by faith. Pray for all of us.

BTW, since I don't completely know in what ways my life will change, I don't know if I'll find time to blog or not, but if I have dry spells, don't give up on me!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tagged - For the Very First Time

So my friend, Angie, over at Bloggin-Dazs, tagged me to answer some questions. Failure to comply will supposedly result in gloom, agitation, and confusion for 3 if that's something out of the ordinary? And even worse, I will notice a downward trend in blog hits from unique IP addresses. Well, not as long as Mark Horne keeps linking to me...HOLY COW! This guy drummed up hundreds of new hits for me last week. So, Angie, ya think ya got more power than Mark? Let's not find out. I'll cooperate.

Here we go:

1. Are you rooting for the Patriots or Giants?
a. Go Giants!
b. Go Patriots!
c. No strong feelings either way, but should be a good game
d. The what?

My answer: a & b! Although I'm a bit ahead of Angie in actually knowing this game is coming up on Sunday, truth is, I don't really care who wins. I know the names of exactly 2 players on each team: Peyton Manning & Michael Strahan for New York (just kidding...I know it's Eli), Tom Brady and Randy Moss for New England (each of whom has one foot in the grave, no?) That's it. I haven't watched one game this year. Clueless. That's me.

The picture below (from my old college days scrapbook) represents the last time I followed the NFL. You know, back before end-zone dances and "it's-all-about-me" guys like TO.

So, do you know who these guys in the picture are? Do ya? Huh? Do ya?

If you said "that's the great duo of Joe Montana (# 16 left) and Roger Craig ( #33 right)" then you would be right and you would move up a notch or two in my book for recognizing them. Quite frankly, the game of football just isn't as good as it used to be and thus provides little inducement to fit it into my schedule. There is no Joe Montana (and never will be), no Jerry Rice, no Roger Craig, and definitely no Bill Walsh; I'm not even sure there's a Ronnie Lott or Dwight Clark. (And no, Danny, neither my husband nor son had anything to do with this post!)

So may not be great, but it's still football...and there's always the half-time show, plus the food and company (25 at our house) will be great!!

2. Seven choices of vacation. Pick one:

a. Beach house, white sand, great waves

b. Condo in the mountains; view of snowy peaks

c. Nice hotel in NYC with tickets to the latest Broadway show

d. Historic tour of Greece and Italy

e. Bed and breakfast with time for antiquing

f. Home - sleeping in, hanging out, adn doing stuff you usually don't have time to do

g. I prefer not to take vacations.

I'm going with my instincts on this one. If I think about it too much, I'll never be able to choose! They're all appealing, except for "G"!!

My answer: a! Remember this house near Monterey? This is where I want to go and spend a week with the windows open, smelling the ocean, reading, writing, browsing through used book shops, eating great seafood and watching the sun set.

3. Coffee drinker? If no, why? If yes, sugar, cream, or neither?

My answer: Yes, yes and yes. I love a cup of bold tasting coffee, but I like to cut it with some heavy cream and, if it needs it, a little Sweet 'N Low.

4. What's the last book you read?

My answer: Nothing by Walker Percy, that's for sure! Of his books I have only read The Moviegoer, which I found quite dreadful. Maybe I'll have to consider Angie's recommendation for Love in the Ruins.

ANYWAY....on to what I HAVE read! In the last week or so I finished A Table in the Mist, a commentary on Ecclesiastes by Jeff Meyers; I quickly re-read What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton; and I am still finishing up The Kite Runner...which I had laid aside for a few days because, so far, the movie followed the book exactly, so I considered not finishing it...but I can't do it...I have to finish.

5. You're at the grocery store waiting in the check-out line with a cart full of stuff. You glance over your shoulder for a moment, wondering whether you should have picked up an extra package of waffles. When you turn back around, you notice that a lady has cut in front of you in line. Your eyes meet. She glowers and starts unloading her items on the belt. You...

a. Grumble to yourself but don't say anything out loud. You dislike scenes.

b. Say, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I was next in line." That's as far as you take it though.

c. March over to the belt, push her items onto the floor, and tell her that she and her cream of mushroom soup can go get in line like everybody else.

d. Grab your cell phone and snap a picture of the lady, thinking, "Yes! I've got something good to blog about!"

My answer: On a good day, when I've timed things right, it probably woundn't even phase me. I might even say something pleasant. HOWEVER, on a bad day, my answer is a. My grumble would go something like this: "No, please, go ahead. No...really. I'm sure you didn't see my ample body and heaping cartful of low-carb delights just standing here RIGHT OUT IN THE FREAKING OPEN NEXT TO THE CONVEYOR BELT!!! But please...go ahead. I'm in no hurry. Really...I'm just a stay-at-home mom, what the hell else do I have to do besides stand in line at the grocery store? Care to call a friend or two and see if they'd like to join you IN CUTTING ME OFF! It's fine...really. My kids don't care if I pick them up on time at school anyway. No, really...go ahead."

Then I would stand marveling at how such a little, tiny thoughtless act can arouse such hostility in me...where did THAT come from?

6. Please share 2 or 3 links of things that made you laugh. Out loud.

My answer: This video of women falling down cracks me up! My friend, April, tells of a humiliating moment here (I guess this is funny even if you don't know her...but it's REALLY funny if you do!) And finally....I'm really not a brown-noser, but this post at Bloggin-Dazs is more than a little entertaining! (I should warn: it also contains some serious content, but the opening and the opthamology suggestions are a hoot!)

LOL...I did!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bold Yet Sensible

Today, as in every day and age, there is no shortage of bold voices...just turn on talk radio...or any news network. What is often lacking in the loud exchange of ideas today is a dose of good common sense and depth of thought. The spirit of our day is tethered to political correctness and a hearty long as the opinions expressed meet these two criteria and potentially evoke outrage in some quarter of society (preferably Christianity), then bring on the microphones, baby!

G.K. Chesterton was one of those bold voices in his era whose thoughts were simultaneously counter-culture, provocative, deep, logical and...mostly right! In his book, What's Wrong with the World, he critiques the culture that he sees emerging from the "zeitgeist" of his own day. As the book's title implies, he is decidedly unimpressed, primarily because he anticipates the consequences of these ideas.

Chesterton addresses the "Mistake About..." the Man, the Woman and the Child, bookended by sections titled "The Homelessness of Man" and "The Home of Man." Admittedly, there are moments when I don't understand Chesterton...I could attribute that to his superior intellect, or any number of deficiencies on my behalf, but quite frankly, I think maleness, coupled with a consumption of copious amounts of cigar smoke and beer in the public houses, are prerequisites for full understanding. Therefore, I will be content with a modest apprehension of his ideas!

In a chapter titled, Folly and Female Education, he writes:

"I am often solemnly asked what I think of the new ideas about female education. But there are no new ideas about female education. There never has been even the vestige of a new idea. All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls. What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place. Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football; boys have school-colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors; boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't girls go to Oxford - in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't girls grow mustaches - that is about their notion of a new idea. There is no brain-work in the thing at all....There is nothing but plodding, elaborate and elephantine imitation. Even a savage could see that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal, which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls. It is all part of a silly subjugation; there must be a hard stick-up collar round the neck of a woman, because it is already a nuisance round the neck of a man."

When asked if he preferred to revert to the "elegant" female of the Victorian age, he replies, "Emphatically, yes. I am by no means sure that even in point of practical fact that elegant female would not have been more than a match for most of the inelegant females. I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man."

Chesterton believed that the fight for woman's equality was really a destruction of true femininity, and extracted from society a delightful necessity...the universalist (which I'll explain in another post).

"That she may be a queen of life, she must not be a private soldier in it....The elegant female still feels faintly the fundamental difference between herself and her husband: that he must be Something in the City, that she may be everything in the country...This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity."

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Table in the Mist II

"God," we are told in I Kings 4, "gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand of the seashore...he was wiser than all other men..."
I confess I have often been puzzled when reading Ecclesiastes under some of the common interpretive models. A Table in the Mist provides a great service to the people of God who want to hear, and maybe even understand, God's message as delivered through Solomon. Here is what I gleaned from the Shepherd-King, Solomon, under the tutelage of under-shepherd, Pastor Jeff Meyers.

1. We are not in control.
Who among us doesn't already know this...philosophically? One of the great tenants of the Reformed faith, to which we proudly cling, is the Sovereignty of God. Although I acknowledge his control in daily life as well as in death or great calamity, my expectations and disappointments in matters of smaller import reveal that I really believe some things are in MY hand.

But the truth is, no matter how hard I work, or to what noble ends, this work is eventually left to another and I have no control over what happens to it. It may be discarded, squandered, misused, misunderstood, dismantled, ignored or even used against me.

I cannot always "fix" that which is broken and continual efforts to do so, with the expectation that my efforts must be fruitful, is as frustrating as trying to corral the wind.

Solomon's conclusion: DO IT ANYWAY, leaving the outcome in God's hand.

2. Life doesn't always make sense.
The young die. The wicked prosper and are happy. Justice is withheld. Rulers oppress the lowly. Children are abused. The righteous man sins.

Bottom line: we live under a curse and frequently experience life as judgment, injustice and death. Life is beyond our ability to comprehend. We cannot make sense of circumstances, events, people, even our own selves! Mankind is mysterious and depraved..."bent hnau" (as Lewis brilliantly tags us) and that which is crooked cannot be made straight. Solomon tells us repeatedly that "you do not know" and "you cannot find it out." No matter how diligently we seek to bring about change or to understand life, it will elude us.

Solomon's conclusion: DO IT ANYWAY, looking to God for final and faithful judgments.

3. The wisdom we do acquire along the way is limited and vulnerable.
Any measure of success - money, notoriety, influence, faithful children, etc. - can dissipate in a moment. Even wisdom itself is easily overcome by folly. No matter how healthy, wealthy or wise you are; no matter how hard you work; no matter how heartily you seek for and gain wisdom; it is all easily destroyed by another man's sin or even your own sin or death.

Solomon's conclusion: DO IT ANYWAY, giving generously of your time, love, money and wisdom while you have it.

In his long and diligent search to know what is good for man, Solomon's ultimate conclusion is this:

1. Fear, trust and rest in God.
2. Work vigorously.
3. Enjoy and share His good gifts (food, wine, love & laughter).

This great oversimplification of Ecclesiastes (mine, not JJM's), represents the truths and conclusions which I hope will transform my own heart.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Theology for Children

Pauline Baynes, Lewis' original illustrator, beautifully captured the essence of his stories, but I really love the more-recent, lush illustrations which Deborah Maze created for an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (I'm not crazy about the adaptation itself...although it is not badly done, I simply view it as superfluous. Any child who can hear and understand the adaptation, can hear and understand the original in all its depth and delight.)

Here are a few of Maze's illustrations, paired with passages from the book and from Scripture. I continue to be amazed at the extensive theology which Lewis incorporated into all his fictional works. Even though he often downplayed the intentionality of it, the fact remains that nearly every detail is saturated with biblical truth.
The evil Queen of Narnia, clothed in white garments, is disguised as an angel of light, who tempts Edmund through food, flattery and the promise to rule. Echoes of the serpent in the Garden as well as Solomon's portrayal of Lady Folly are inescapable.

"It is a lovely place, my house," said the Queen. "I am sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what's more, I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I am gone. While he was Prince he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delight all day long; and you are much the cleverest and handsomest young man I've ever met. I think I would like to make you Prince - some day, when you bring the others to visit me." (Chapter 4, Turkish Delight) 

With her many persuasions she entices him, with her flattering lips she seduces him. He follows her as an ox to the slaughter, until an arrow pierces through his liver; so he does not know that it will cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:21-23) 

In this section, we see what happens when a new king comes to rule...he sends gifts to his loyal subjects...that's what kings do! Father Christmas, as Aslan's ambassador, distributes gifts "to each one individually just as He wills." He equips each of them to fulfill their purpose in restoring the kingdom. "When Christ ascended on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men." Upon his ascension to the throne, Christ, by his Spirit, distributes various gifts: " each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (I Corinthians 12)

"Come on!" cried Mr Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. "Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. Didn't I tell you that she'd made it always winter and never Christmas? Well, just come and see!"

And then they did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness...and on the sledge sat...a huge man in a bright red robe...Father Christmas.

"I've come at last,' said he. "She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening." (Chapter 10)

Father Christmas gives the children their gifts, instructs them in their proper use, and advises them to "Bear them well."

(This illustration is Baynes')
"Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down onto the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree tops. The sky became bluer and bluer, and now there were white clouds hurrying across it from time to time. In the wide glade were primroses. A light breeze sprang up and carried cool, delicious scents. A bee buzzed across their path. "This is not a thaw," said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. "This is Spring!" (Chapter 11)

He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a desolate land into springs of water...give thanks to Yahweh for His lovingkindness. Psalm 107:35
Edmund, through his treachery and betrayal, has become the Queen's "lawful prey" whom she has a "right to kill." "His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property." Aslan offers his blood and life as a substitute...the Queen is filled with fierce joy.

"And now who has won? Fool! Did you think by all of this that you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him. But when you are dead, what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? You have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die." (The White Witch in Chapter 14)

And while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to the One who judges his wounds you were healed. (I Peter 2:23-25)
[Aslan] bounded up to the stone lion and breathed on him...Everywhere statues were coming to life. The courtyard no longer looked like a museum; it looked more like a zoo...and instead of the deadly silence, the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings...songs and laughter. (Chapter 16)

Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am Yahweh." (Ezekiel 37:5-6)
When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.

Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.
Bear it well, Sons of Adam!
Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!

And there shall no longer be any curse...and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp not the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign with him forever and ever. (Revelation 22: 3-5)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'Course He Isn't Safe

The following excerpt from A Table in the Mist, reminded me of a favorite passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which follows it.

"God cannot be manipulated by our behavior. He is not to be coddled or possessed or used. He is to be feared....God is not safe. He is not manageable. His ways are not your ways, his thoughts not your thoughts. He does not follow your rationalizations.

"...It is important to realize that fear means fear. Even though it is reverential fear and even though you also love and trust God, you may not evacuate the word 'fear' of the element of terror, trepidation, alarm, or dread. You cannot collapse fear into faith or love. Fear is a crucial element of the believer's personal response to the living God.

"...Subtract fear from a Christian's response to God and what remains is a faithless Christian."

"Who is Aslan?" asked Susan.

"Aslan?" said Mr Beaver. "Why, don't you know? He's the King. He's the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand...He is in Narnia at this moment. He'll settle the White Queen all right..."

"She won't turn him into stone too?" said Edmund.

"Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!" answered Mr Beaver with a great laugh. "Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it'll be the most she can do and more than I can expect of her. No, no. He'll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

"You'll understand when you see him...I'm to lead you where you shall meet him."

"Is - is he a man?" asked Lucy.

"Aslan a man!" said Mr Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emporer-beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion."

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

"...they shall seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, because they did not choose the fear of Yahweh...their waywardness shall kill them and their complacency shall destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil." Proverbs 1: 28-33

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Bidding Prayer

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Good Christian People, I bid your prayers for Christ's holy catholic church, the blessed company of all faithful people; that it may please God to confirm and strengthen it in purity of faith, in holiness of life, and in perfectness of love, and to restore to it the witness of visible unity; and more especially for that branch of the same planted by God in this land, whereof we are members; that in all things it may work according to God's will, serve him faithfully, and worship him acceptably.

Ye shall pray for the President of these United States, and for the Governor of this State, and for all that are in authority; that all, and everyone of them, may serve truly in their several callings to the glory of God, and the edifying and well-governing of the people, remembering the account they shall be called upon to give at the last great day.

Ye shall also pray for the ministers of God's Holy Word and Sacraments; for Bishops, that they may minister faithfully and wisely the discipline of Christ; likewise for all Priests and Deacons, that they may shine as lights in the world, and in all things may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.

And ye shall pray for a due supply of persons fitted to serve God in the Ministry and in the State; and to that end, as well as for the good education of all the youth of this land, ye shall pray for all schools, colleges and seminaries of sound and godly learning, and for all whose hands are open for their maintenance; that whatsoever tends to the advancement of true religion and useful learning may forever flourish and abound.

Ye shall pray for all the people of these United States, that they may live in the true faith and fear of God, and in brotherly charity one towards another.

Ye shall pray also for all who travel by land, sea, or air; for all prisoners and captives; for all who are in sickness or in sorrow; for all who have fallen into grievous sin; for all who, through temptation, ignorance, helplessness, grief, trouble, dread, or the near approach of death, especially need our prayers.

Ye shall also praise God for rain and sunshine; for the fruits of all the earth; for the products of all honest industry; and for all his good gifts, temporal and spiritual, to us and to all men.

Finally, ye shall yield unto God most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all his saints, who have been the choice vessels of his grace and the lights of the world in their several generations; and pray unto God, that we may have grace to direct our lives after their good examples; that, this life ended, we may be partakers with them of the glorious resurrection, and the life everlasting.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

At Least We Still Have Yadi!

Jocketty...Edmonds...Eckstein...Rolen. See ya', boys. There's a new sheriff in town and he's takin' 'em by one. Mr. Mozeliak, I hope you know what you're doing. 'Cause Jocketty did.

I know it was time for Edmonds to go, but he had an incredible run as a Cardinal and it's hard to sever the attachment to "Jimmy Baseball." It just won't be the same without him. I would have liked to see him retire as a Cardinal.

Eckstein was everything a Cardinal should be, and won us all over with his energy, work ethic and talent. Who can forget the way he sprinted out to his position every inning, vaulting himself across the pristine baseline so as not to spoil it?

Before he was "tackled" on the baseline a couple of years ago, destroying his shoulder, Rolen was as near perfect a player as I've ever seen. Remember his 2003 and especially his 2004? Nothing short of incredible. I wonder if he'll ever fully recapture his former range, agility and power...I hope so. Nothing against Tony, but I would've picked "Scooter" over him anyday!

Yeah, I'm waxing a bit sentimental about losing these guys who formed a sturdy core for the last several years. 26-year-old Yadi prepared to be a senior player and leader for the Cards? He has shown a penchant for leadership since he first entered the big league 3 years ago. Of course, I attribute much of this to his mentor, Mike Matheny, but I'm not sure anyone can create a leader. Innate qualities must be present before they can be refined and matured. It appears that Molina has those qualities plus he strikes a well-balanced blend of confidence and humility.

The Cardinals organization has prepared an offer for Yadi that doesn't seem to reflect a full appreciation for the combination of his impact as a leader on the field and his stellar stats. Though I'm not often crazy about MLB's exhorbitant salaries, in this case, I hope the judge favors Molina in arbitration! He's worth every penny.

Who do we have left?

Well, there's always Albert. It feels like he had a "down" year, but his numbers are still remarkably consistent with previous years and there's no denying he is a phenomenon. Although I sometimes read arrogance into his baseball disposition, I can't help but admire his and Deidre's commendable work on behalf of folks with Down's Syndrome.

Rick Ankiel has signed...that's a good thing. How can you not respect the long, difficult road this guy has traversed to get back here? Plus, he's downright exciting to watch!

Izzy's still here. Whoo-hoo. He did a pretty darn good job last year, but I still lack the confidence I had in him during his first season or two as the Cardinal closer.

I admire fan favorites Aaron Miles, So Taguchi, and recording-artist, Scott Spiezio. They are all consistent contributors to the team and we need them back. (Spezio's band, Sandfrog, is releasing a new album called "Off Season" chronicling his struggle with depression and addiction...I strongly prefer his baseball performances to his musical ones!)

I'll be interested to watch newcomer, Glaus, whose skills and attitude I have admired in the past (through admittedly-limited exposure). But c' bad can a guy be whose baseball idol is the venerable Cal Ripken?

As for we even HAVE any pitchers? I mean, besides #29 who won't be back until July. Seriously. Do we?

Regardless of the team's make-up, the STL tradition of baseball is inescapable and transcends a particular player, roster or season, so the inevitable has arrived. It's almost time to report to Spring Training and....


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I went to Blockbuster last night looking for a couple of old flicks which have been recommended to me but I've never seen. They were unavailable, so I reached for an old favorite, Meet Joe Black, then chanced upon an obscure New Release - 2 copies only - called once. (yes, I know its uncapitalized...)

At least I thought it was in unheard-of-by-anyone-but-myself. I was going to introduce the world to this completely original and beautiful movie...alas, in reading Annie Barlow's blog today, I found that both she and Jandy had already discovered this gem and already blogged about it...long ago, in Jandy's case. Well, well, well. Usurped again. Someday I'll get used to it, I suppose. In the meantime, I shall declare my opinion anyway (whad'ya mean you're not surprised?).

The music in this film is written and performed by its "stars" who of all things - imagine this - are musicians and not actors! And it shows. In a good way, that is. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova write, play, sing, perform and act flawlessly together. Visually, the film resembles a documentary, and possesses a certain raw quality which lends it credibility. Annie B. is spot on to call it "sweet and real" if we can only increase her appreciation for music that is "slow and thoughtful." :-) The permanently endearing aspect of the movie, for me, was the characters' retention of honor. A rare find in any cinematic era, I'd say.

To get a taste of Glen and Marketa's musical style, check out this video. (No, I still can't imbed YouTube videos...I thought I had learned how, but I just tried and the site says they are currently undergoing maintenance. Just my luck.) After you rent and watch the movie, do a web search on Glen or Marketa and learn more about them...I wouldn't do it beforehand. I'm glad I knew nothing when I first saw it, but their real-life stories are fascinating.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Hound of the Baskervilles

In keeping with my resolution to read all the books my boys are reading at school, I picked up The Hound on Sunday evening...I could hardly put it down, except to throw in a few loads of laundry, and I finished it last evening (Monday).

One benefit of this resolution is that it "forces" me to read works I would otherwise mysteries. Well, maybe "avoid" is too strong, but I certainly am not drawn to them. I gravitate toward classic literature, theology, biography and memoirs while ignoring Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, Chesterton's Father Brown, or Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Maybe I'll have to change, because I thoroughly enjoyed The Hound of the Baskervilles.

New words I learned from this 6th grade Literature book:

dolichocephalic - having a long head

foolscap - writing paper

Phrases to remember: "a scientific use of the imagination" and "an inheritance with a vengeance." I think they represent a clever use of words and ideas.

My favorite quotes: "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." And...

When Watson confidently provides Holmes with an analysis of the clues they have obtained, Holmes responds, "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it." I paused, thinking, "Yes, maybe that's what I am...absent of genius, but a conductor of light...." Watson feels quite proud of himself as well ...but only momentarily until Holmes bursts both our bubbles; "When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth." :-)

Doyle is a master of mood setting and description, making this an excellent pick for the classroom, providing choice material for stylistic and literary elements as well as critical thinking skills. Besides's simply an intriguing and well-told story!

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Table in the Mist I

Control, leverage, insight into acts of Providence...none of these are gained by the acquisition of wisdom.

As Pastor Meyers lays out early in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, "The godly wise man will humbly concede that God has hidden from us almost everything we should like to know about his providential purposes...The wise man learns to walk by faith and not by sight. Ecclesiastes is the book about faith in the Old Testament. It tells us how a man of faith looks at the world."

Pastor Meyers demonstrates the significance of these opening words; "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem." Hereby the words of Ecclesiastes are commended to us as pastoral words from Solomon in fulfillment of his office as shepherd king of Israel. Solomon lays out for us the Christian's proper perspective on life: "Enjoy God's gifts of life while fearing him and keeping his commandments. God is in control. He will bring everything to a fitting and just conclusion. Faith will be satisfied with that."

"A wise man will resonate to Solomon's frustration with the ephemeral character of life under the sun. The superficially pious man calls for positive attitudes and cheery one-dimensional slogans about life and the world, but the wise man knows better. He has experienced Solomon's theme: 'Everything is vapor.' And armed with this, therefore, the wise man is ready by faith to rule the world."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Born Standing Up

I found Steve Martin's autobiography to be a quick and pleasant read. The smashing success of his career, makes it difficult to imagine that he experienced decades of very minor successes and episodic failures, but that was certainly the case.

The tone of the story was surprisingly serious. I don't recommend reading the final pages in a public place...I was using it as a distraction from an unendurably long and silly girls' basketball game while waiting for Grant's game to begin; however, a particularly moving moment elicited an unexpected emotional response, during which I had to hide! For me, that moment made the entire story worth reading.

Martin's writing style was somewhat MTVish. At times, he jumped quickly and wildly from one unrelated topic to another; maybe that's the result of thinking like a stand-up comedian. I have heard that at least one of his novels is worth reading, so I'll add it to the bottom of my very long list and see if my opinion of his style changes! Knowing Martin's story makes me want to rent some of his early movies and comedy routines...I think they'll come across differently after knowing what it took for him to get there.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wisdom & Eloquence

A few days ago I finished reading Wisdom & Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans. One of their primary assertions, with which I heartily agree, is that while we DO want to create a learning environment that fosters wisdom, we must simultaneously train our students to use that wisdom for the benefit of society. "An education for wisdom is only half the formula. Without the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively, wisdom's benefit is singular to its possessor....Teaching them to think, to discern, and to behave wisely should be coupled with instilling in them a sense of obligation to contend for those same values throughout society."

The authors provide helpful insights on creating a desirable "ethos" in the school, which they suggest is primarily influenced by the "integrity of relationships" between students-students, students-teachers, teachers-teachers, and parents-teachers. "Facilitating a biblical pattern of confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation should always be our goal." Other influences on "ethos" are the development of whole-school traditions, purpose-driven co-curricular activities, student deportment, staff professionalism and physical surroundings.

"There is no excuse for schools that purport to teach the absolute values of truth, goodness and beauty not to make their students' surroundings beautiful." Amen.

Though I don't agree with all suggestions and ideas that these authors espouse, I found some of their most helpful work to be in their discussion of curriculum. They recommend thinking of the school as 12-K, rather than K-12. What difference does that make? Well, you begin by asking what you want your graduating seniors to be, do and know, then work backwards to ensure that the goal is met and the means to reaching that goal are purposefully designed. "The desired ends will determine the architecture of your school's curriculum." Yes! A significant portion of the book is dedicated to planning a thoughtful curriculum and avoiding time-wasting activities.

I also heartily endorse their view of academic rigor. They are FOR it, but wisely state, "the emphasis of the rigor ought to be on the quality of the work required of students rather than on quantity." Also, "...out-of-class assignments must only be assigned if the same educational benefit cannot be gained without their being assigned." And about Honors classes, "The important thing is that Honors should be deeper, not harder."

One of their consistent criticisms of the current classical education movement is that we have taken Dorothy Sayer's essay too seriously. They spend a fair amount of energy disclaiming her assertion that the various stages of the Trivium correspond to stages of development, yet later in the book they seem to acknowledge that it's true, asserting that her ideas have been over-applied.

They believe that the 7 disciplines comprising the Trivium and Quadrivium should be taught simultaneously from beginning to end. I don't disagree completely, yet I remain convinced that the natural bent, interests, abilities and cognitive development of children at various ages call for changing EMPHASIS. Who can deny that younger children soak up data, or that 11-14 year olds love to dispute, or that teenagers love to express their ideas, beliefs and opinions? On the other hand, who among educators utilizes memory EXCLUSIVELY with young ones, while abandoning all memorization after 6th grade? None that I know.

One of Littlejohn and Evans recommendations that needs careful attention among classical schools today, is that of ensuring that teachers are educated in the liberal arts disciplines. A teacher who has never learned Logic or skills of Rhetoric cannot apply those disciplines to their student's learning in a meaningful way. Following a pre-packaged curriculum alone is insufficient for teaching classically...and since few, if any, of us were educated this way ourselves, schools must hire gifted teachers and systematically educate them in the liberal arts tradition. "Ideally, teachers should be working through a measured, purposeful study of all three language arts, so that they have a more accurate picture of the goal toward which their students are headed...the more familiar we teachers are with these disciplines, the more capable we are of teaching in ways that promote the goals of wisdom and eloquence."

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Pink Project

While in New Orleans, our mission team drove over to the Ninth Ward - the area most devastated by flooding. This area of town was exceedingly poor before the storm, and whole sections of the neighborhood were literally swept away. Houses were lifted from their foundations and floated away...some landed "intact" on top of cars and trucks, while the pressure caused others to fall to pieces. Most residents were left without any means to rebuild their lives.

Our team had a particular interest in visiting the area, because several of us are familiar with and have supported Desire Street Ministries which, pre-Katrina, worked in the Upper Ninth Ward establishing a church and school. In this area where the greatest number of casualties occurred, those who survived were scattered to the four winds. For the time being, Desire Street has relocated to Baton Rouge, though they are simultaneously working to restore property and homes in New Orleans. Their website is worth visiting...

It is easy for us to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in a ministry effort such as Desire Street, which sets out deliberately serving in the name of Jesus Christ. However, there is another work taking place across the canal in the Lower Ninth Ward, which does not immediately appear to be the work of Christ.

During our tour of the area, as we crossed the Canal which divides the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, our eyes fell upon a sight which demanded our attention...dozens of hot pink shapes rose from the ground in what appeared to be an empty field. As we drove nearer and entered the area, we realized that this empty field once held hundreds of houses which were obliterated by Katrina. Driving through the streets, we saw one concrete slab after another, some with lone staircases leading to the nothingness which used to be a home. It was a remarkably sobering sight.

We kept driving toward these pink tent-like structures known as The Pink Project. These hot pink monstrosities represent pieces of the first 150 houses which Hollywood celebrity, Brad Pitt, hopes to help build in this neighborhood. For every $150,000 in donations, pieces of these pink tents are assembled into the shape of a house, symbolic of the real home to come.

The website to which I have linked above details the goals of the project, but the site has a very different "feel" to it than the project had in person. The bottom line is that Mr. Pitt visited this area, met with its former residents and local politicians (who had no intention of rebuilding the Ninth Ward), and he was moved with compassion for the utter devastation and inability of these folks to rebuild their lives.

So far, he has sunk at least $5,000,000 of his own money into the project, and his name has drawn a great deal of attention to and participation in restoring this hard-hit area.

I admit that my initial reaction to hearing about this was to Pitt's motivation, at how small a sacrifice this probably was for him, at his pretention of caring. After visiting the site, my mind was changed.

First of all, I was convicted of my arrogance - often my own motivations for doing what is right are not pure and are even self-serving, but that doesn't make what I'm doing any less right in itself. And thankfully, the Lord uses me in spite of myself.

Secondly, I became convinced that what Brad Pitt is doing in New Orleans, whether or not he realizes or acknowledges it, is nothing less than God's redemptive work. He is an instrument in God's hands, bringing hope and blessing to hundreds of people. Every good gift comes from above, and Mr. Pitt is a distributor of those good gifts which ultimately originate from Our Father's hand. He is an agent of God's restorative work in the world...think about it.

Remember all the times in the Scriptures when God uses men for His own purposes even though they are wholly unaware of it. The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it wherever He wills...likewise, Brad Pitt's heart is in the hand of the Lord and He has turned it toward compassion for these people.

May the Lord continue to prosper HIS OWN work through His servant, Brad Pitt.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Book Burning at PCA

We arrived at school this morning to find all the Upper Schoolers on the back parking lot in a large circle. My son, Grant, informed me that there was a book burning taking place. Weird? Well, here is an article written last year by our Upper School Dean, Brandon Booth, explaining this practice.

"Last semester the upper school instituted a new tradition at Providence: The Black Book. The name is intentionally scary. In substance, it is simply a black notebook sitting in my office. In practice, it is a running record of all the minor wrongs students commit over the course of a semester.

"Chew gum in class, run in the hallway, violate the dress code and you are likely to get a discipline citation. Get one of those and you have to visit my office and inscribe your name and the details of the infraction in The Black Book. It's not a pleasant experience. And what's worse is that if you get 5 citations you find yourself with an automatic office visit. Then you have to explain why there is an indisputable record of your misdeeds. Your own handwriting literally condemns you.

"Now, before you get too worried about the strictness of this system, let me tell you about another tradition we instituted this year. The Burning of the Black Book. Yep, you read that right. The entire upper school body went out to the parking lot one day during the last week of classes and set the notebook to flame.

"Now, should anyone come and ask me for some student's record of last semester's misdeeds, I can truly say that no such record exists. In fact, stop by and ask me - I'll deny its existence with a great big smile!

"The parallels should be obvious. As we burned The Black Book we read Psalm 103 ( far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our trangressions from us...) and Romans 8 (There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death...)

"God, in his grace, keeps no record of wrongs done. That is a fantastic promise and a wonderful gift of freedom. The Black Book will be a continual object lesson. Something the students can look forward to at the end of every semester. Each time they see it burn, they will experience in a small way God's gracious forgiveness which works in a big way.

"So, despite the scary sounding name, The Black Book is really just another little way that students at Providence can experience the grace of Jesus Christ."

Kind of a neat tradition, if you ask me.