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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fall Gardening

Well, another trip around the sun, and it’s almost October again. Have you ever thought how dull life would be if our earth did not tilt on its axis as it flew through the solar system? Well, maybe that’s not what your mind is on today. But because of that simple fact we are blessed with four diverse seasons. And now it’s fall. Ahhh.

School projects are piling high. Work is frantic. Football games beckon Saturdays and Sundays. But the fall is one of the nicest times of all to go outside and get your hands dirty – yes, it’s a great gardening season!

There is something mellow and calm in cleaning up the debris from this summer’s garden. And there is something fun and anticipatory about thinking about next year’s garden. That’s what fall provides for the gardener – closure for one season and planning (and planting) for the next.

First off there is the lawn. So how did yours do this year? You likely have some bare or thin spots here or there, and perhaps some areas where crabgrass or weeds took over. Did you cut your grass too short? So many do, and that just hinders these fescues and gives more space for the weeds and creeping grasses Be careful not to do that next season.

But for now, it is time for cutting the grass shorter as you plan for Spring. Yes, it’s time to cut, aerate, over seed, fertilize (with a slow release fertilizer), and lime your lawn. I say lime because most of the soils around here are acidic. But you can always have your soil tested to make sure. But go ahead and put out that seed now – this weekend – if you have not already. It’s good to let that seed get sprouted and set before you blow or rake the leaves later on. You don’t want to blow your seeds away too! Winter is an important growing season for lawn grasses. Those teeny grass seedling roots will grow right through the cold season, digging their little roots down into the soil, and then one warm day, maybe in late February or early March, your yard will explode in a wave of green. And you will smile.

Second, you may have some cleaning up to do. Because our heavy clay soil holds moisture so well, and our winters can be pretty wet, we always have to do battle with fungal diseases. So it is best to clean up old plant stalks and cart them off to the compost heap. Some perennials like peonies and butterfly bushes need to be cut way back, others just need a trim. Consult your garden book for specifics.

Third, while you are at it, find a space for composting leaves and a few late season grass clippings. One good way to get a head start on composting leaves is just to run your mower over small piles of them. Collect them in the bag or let them fall back to the ground, and then pile them in an out of the way space. You may wish to sprinkle a little nitrogen fertilizer over every three or four inches just to aid in the composting process. Just a little. Turn it all a couple of times over the winter and by March or April that pile should be well broken down and ready for using in your beds.

Fourth, fall is time to plant, but first drop the “t.” Plan first, plant second. I like to add one new flower or herd bed, and have at least one new garden adventure each season – just enough planning and planting to make each season new. Year after year this adds up to a great garden! Remember, gardening is a marathon, not a sprint! October all the way to early December provides a great time to plant shrubs, bulbs, and several perennials. Maybe you can just see in your mind a corner of daffodils brightening up your early spring. Plant a huge clump of them to get a brilliant show of yellow. Or maybe it’s time finally to that plant you’ve wanted to have– maybe that camellia that you remember from your grandmother’s garden. Well, this is shrub planting time! Your local nursery probably has or can get what you need, or you can order it on line.

Reflecting and anticipating – that’s what fall gardening is all about. No need to rush (except to reseed that lawn). Enjoy the cool air and the beauty to come.

If you need help we have an amazing extension office right here in Guilford County. You can call them at 375-5865, or just Google NC Extension, Guilford County Center. Or head on out and see what’s growing at their place on Burlington Road, which is just East Market extended out with a new name. The NC Extension is about 2-3 miles out of town on the left.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sweet, Sweeter, Sweetest

NC State 17 Boston College 15: SWEET

Wake Forest 27 Mississippi 3: SWEETER

Clemson 52 North Carolina 7: SWEETEST

Friday, September 22, 2006

Greensboro Theological School?

So, I was driving down Green Street yesterday on the way to Hagen Stone Park for a cross country meet, and I passed the old library, and noticed for the first time the new signs – "Elon Law School." I thought, how cool is that – we have our own law school right here in downtown Greensboro. Then on the way back I drove through the South Elm area – even at 6:15 it was hopping. Again, way cool. Thinking back to Elon (and given my “profession”) the thought came to me, “why don’t we have a first rate evangelical theological school right here in downtown Greensboro? We should. I know, we have Carolina Evangelical Divinity School, but that’s down in High Point. And then there is Duke to the east and Wake to the west. But apart from Carolina Divinity School, there is no reasonably conservative theological school conveniently located to all the evangelical churches in the Triad. None. We need one. We could call it the Greensboro Theological School, or Triad Divinity School, or Greensboro Center for Biblical Studies. Then all those folks from the myriad of more conservative churches called into the ministry (who won’t by the way go to Duke or Wake) can just drive downtown, or near to downtown, and not have to move away or drive to Charlotte or wherever. The we could raise our own pastors here – home grown. I don’t mean to steal Carolina Evangelical’s thunder. Maybe they could be it. But I am not sure. Anyway, seeing “Elon Law School” made me think of that.

My Passion

I have a friend who this past year interviewed for several jobs. He recounted to me the constant questions regarding “passion.” What is your passion?” he was asked over and over.

I suspect most guys interviewing for jobs would just want to say, “Can you please cut the BS and give me the job. I know my stuff and I’ll do a good job. But my passions, my real passions, lie elsewhere. This is a job.”

Jacques Ellul, the famous French sociologist and philosopher, said that one should follow one’s passions avocationally, not vocationally. He believed that this was psychologically best for most people, not to mix their work with the things they cared most deeply about.

We all have callings of different kinds – callings as spouses, callings as parents, callings as friends, callings as Christians if we are such. We should pursue faithfulness, integrity, commitment, and purpose in these callings. And most of those things rank higher than job.

What about pastors? Are pastors meant to be an exception to this rule? Are pastors meant to subsume and rate as second all other callings and passions to the one passion of the pastoral ministry? I don’t think so. The call to be a "minister" is a true calling, and one must be faithful to it. But about all those other interests and, well, passions? Where do they come in.

Are pastors, thinking along Ellul’s lines, to pursue their greatest passions avocationally? If one has a calling to be pastor can one have other, maybe even greater, passions.

I think so. I have come to that slowly, and it has been healthy.

But I write today confessionally. I cannot really believe that I am saying this to the world, to my neighbors, and friends, and family, my congregation, my employers.

Because after all these years I know what my real heart’s passion is. Does that mean it has to be my main job? No. Does it mean I know how to pursue it? No. But I know what it is. I have known for some time, but something the other night made me realize it yet again. It goes all the way back to childhood, into high school, and through college.

I was watching the tribute to the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. In the last bit of the tribute, Irwin expressed why he did what he did, why he was drawn toward revealing to us the wonderful world of animals that he loved so much, and wanted us to love as he did. I was moved to tears, not just because I will miss him, which I will, and not just because he was so eloquent, which he was, but because of something else.

He was speaking for me too. Here I am almost fifty years old, and I realize that when I stooped over ant hills as a young kid, when I watched that video of whales in tenth grade biology, when I studied plants and bugs in college, when I, still, marvel at watching ants build a nest, or a spider weaving its web, or a spring bud opening, that this too is my real life’s passion.

I care about so many issues. I will for the rest of my life fight for what I believe to be right and just. I deeply desire that God be loved, enjoyed, and glorified by all people.

But I think I know my place in the world now. I want the same thing Steve Irwin wanted. I want to love and cause others to love as much as possible God’s creation, in all of its complexity, beauty, and majesty. And I want to fight for the creatures that have no public voice, no rights, no guardian. I want to fight for their habitats and spaces. I want to create change. I want to learn, and I want to teach everything I learn. And, again, mostly, I want others to love the creatures of this world as much as I do, and if I may say so, as much as I believe God does.

Does this mean I must throw off my pastoral mantle? No, maybe, not necessarily. Does this mean I love people less? No. Human life is most sacrosanct because people are made in the image of God. So I want to help people. However, animals and plants and ecosystems have their place to in God’s heart too.

So I think this is the main thing for me, in addition to all the other things I am called to do and be in this life. I want the remaining twenty or thirty years, if I am given them, to be spent for the sake of caring for God’s world.

I don’t really know where to start. But as a symbolic act, I have requested to become a signatory of the Evangelical Environmental Network’s “On the Care of Creation: An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation” posted today also.

And it just may be, in that I am more or less a political and social conservative, that I am strategically placed. For ironically it is the political conservatives and evangelical Christians who need the most help in this area. I think there is a place for conservative historic orthodox Christians like me to make a difference, not just for the souls of humans beings or the spiritual care of local congregations, but for the very ongoing existence of God’s creatures. Following Ellul’s advice, I believe that I am to pursue this avocationally for now, but maybe not always. Maybe for me there will be a time for merging my vocation and my deepest passion.

There is so much yet for me to learn about the natural world, about our interactions with it, and about how to best save and preserve the remaining species of life that call home here.

I may need to take some courses, or pursue another degree on the side, or start an organization, or a camp. I really don’t know. But I know my passion. I am hungry to pursue it.

In this I have come full circle. My Christian person has finally come to peace with the natural interests and gifts God had given to me even as a child. It feels like I have become more whole.

From the reader’s side this may all sound trite or corny. I am OK with that. But I wish to say this to the world. This is my heart’s passion. I cannot be me, or who God wants me to be, apart from this. For this I have been made.

And in the end, if I can somehow make a difference, it will be for the glory of God and for the good of man. Let me ask you. How many times, when you wanted to take a spiritual or emotional rest, and get recalibrated so to speak – how many times did you do that at a mall, in a parking lot, in the middle of a crowded city?

We all need wilderness, open spaces, and wild places, so we can stay in touch with the Maker of all things and our truest selves. We all need these things even if we don’t know why. And inside of most of us there is the child - wide eyed and mouth agape at the beauty of God’s creatures and of His world. So, in pursuing my passion I believe I make it a better world for mankind, and for mankind’s soul.

Life will go on, and I will figure it out, I hope. I may need help. I may even need your help.

So there it is. My big confession right there for all the world to see. I have opened up my heart. Be gentle please.

Joel

Thursday, September 21, 2006

An Evangelical Declaration On the Care of Creation

An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation

The Earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof
- Psalm 24:1

As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.

Because we worship and honor the Creator, we seek to cherish and care for the creation.

Because we have sinned, we have failed in our stewardship of creation. Therefore we repent of the way we have polluted, distorted, or destroyed so much of the Creator's work.

Because in Christ God has healed our alienation from God and extended to us the first fruits of the reconciliation of all things, we commit ourselves to working in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the Good News of Christ in word and deed, to work for the reconciliation of all people in Christ, and to extend Christ's healing to suffering creation.

Because we await the time when even the groaning creation will be restored to wholeness, we commit ourselves to work vigorously to protect and heal that creation for the honor and glory of the Creator---whom we know dimly through creation, but meet fully through Scripture and in Christ. We and our children face a growing crisis in the health of the creation in which we are embedded, and through which, by God's grace, we are sustained. Yet we continue to degrade that creation.

These degradations of creation can be summed up as 1) land degradation; 2) deforestation; 3) species extinction; 4) water degradation; 5) global toxification; 6) the alteration of atmosphere; 7) human and cultural degradation.

Many of these degradations are signs that we are pressing against the finite limits God has set for creation. With continued population growth, these degradations will become more severe. Our responsibility is not only to bear and nurture children, but to nurture their home on earth. We respect the institution of marriage as the way God has given to insure thoughtful procreation of children and their nurture to the glory of God.

We recognize that human poverty is both a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation.

Many concerned people, convinced that environmental problems are more spiritual than technological, are exploring the world's ideologies and religions in search of non-Christian spiritual resources for the healing of the earth. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that the Bible calls us to respond in four ways:

First, God calls us to confess and repent of attitudes which devalue creation, and which twist or ignore biblical revelation to support our misuse of it. Forgetting that "the earth is the Lord's," we have often simply used creation and forgotten our responsibility to care for it.

Second, our actions and attitudes toward the earth need to proceed from the center of our faith, and be rooted in the fullness of God's revelation in Christ and the Scriptures. We resist both ideologies which would presume the Gospel has nothing to do with the care of non-human creation and also ideologies which would reduce the Gospel to nothing more than the care of that creation.

Third, we seek carefully to learn all that the Bible tells us about the Creator, creation, and the human task. In our life and words we declare that full good news for all creation which is still waiting "with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God," (Rom. 8:19).

Fourth, we seek to understand what creation reveals about God's divinity, sustaining presence, and everlasting power, and what creation teaches us of its God-given order and the principles by which it works.

Thus we call on all those who are committed to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to affirm the following principles of biblical faith, and to seek ways of living out these principles in our personal lives, our churches, and society.

The cosmos, in all its beauty, wildness, and life-giving bounty, is the work of our personal and loving Creator.

Our creating God is prior to and other than creation, yet intimately involved with it, upholding each thing in its freedom, and all things in relationships of intricate complexity. God is transcendent, while lovingly sustaining each creature; and immanent, while wholly other than creation and not to be confused with it.

God the Creator is relational in very nature, revealed as three persons in One. Likewise, the creation which God intended is a symphony of individual creatures in harmonious relationship.

The Creator's concern is for all creatures. God declares all creation "good" (Gen. 1:31); promises care in a covenant with all creatures (Gen. 9:9-17); delights in creatures which have no human apparent usefulness (Job 39-41); and wills, in Christ, "to reconcile all things to himself" (Col.1:20).

Men, women, and children, have a unique responsibility to the Creator; at the same time we are creatures, shaped by the same processes and embedded in the same systems of physical, chemical, and biological interconnections which sustain other creatures.


Men, women, and children
, created in God's image, also have a unique responsibility for creation. Our actions should both sustain creation's fruitfulness and preserve creation's powerful testimony to its Creator.


Our God-given
, stewardly talents have often been warped from their intended purpose: that we know, name, keep and delight in God's creatures; that we nourish civilization in love, creativity and obedience to God; and that we offer creation and civilization back in praise to the Creator. We have ignored our creaturely limits and have used the earth with greed, rather than care.


The earthly result
of human sin has been a perverted stewardship, a patchwork of garden and wasteland in which the waste is increasing. "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land...Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away" (Hosea 4:1,3). Thus, one consequence of our misuse of the earth is an unjust denial of God's created bounty to other human beings, both now and in the future.

God's purpose in Christ is to heal and bring to wholeness not only persons but the entire created order. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20).

In Jesus Christ, believers are forgiven, transformed and brought into God's kingdom. "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" (II Cor. 5:17). The presence of the kingdom of God is marked not only by renewed fellowship with God, but also by renewed harmony and justice between people, and by renewed harmony and justice between people and the rest of the created world. "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isa. 55:12).

We believe that in Christ there is hope, not only for men, women and children, but also for the rest of creation which is suffering from the consequences of human sin.

Therefore we call upon all Christians to reaffirm that all creation is God's; that God created it good; and that God is renewing it in Christ.

We encourage deeper reflection on the substantial biblical and theological teaching which speaks of God's work of redemption in terms of the renewal and completion of God's purpose in creation.

We seek a deeper reflection on the wonders of God's creation and the principles by which creation works. We also urge a careful consideration of how our corporate and individual actions respect and comply with God's ordinances for creation.

We encourage Christians to incorporate the extravagant creativity of God into their lives by increasing the nurturing role of beauty and the arts in their personal, ecclesiastical, and social patterns.

We urge individual Christians and churches to be centers of creation's care and renewal, both delighting in creation as God's gift, and enjoying it as God's provision, in ways which sustain and heal the damaged fabric of the creation which God has entrusted to us.

We recall Jesus' words that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, and therefore we urge followers of Jesus to resist the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal lifestyle choices that express humility, forbearance, self restraint and frugality.

We call on all Christians to work for godly, just, and sustainable economies which reflect God's sovereign economy and enable men, women and children to flourish along with all the diversity of creation. We recognize that poverty forces people to degrade creation in order to survive; therefore we support the development of just, free economies which empower the poor and create abundance without diminishing creation's bounty.

We commit ourselves to work for responsible public policies which embody the principles of biblical stewardship of creation.


We invite Christians
--individuals, congregations and organizations--to join with us in this evangelical declaration on the environment, becoming a covenant people in an ever-widening circle of biblical care for creation.


We call upon Christians
to listen to and work with all those who are concerned about the healing of creation, with an eagerness both to learn from them and also to share with them our conviction that the God whom all people sense in creation (Acts 17:27) is known fully only in the Word made flesh in Christ the living God who made and sustains all things.

We make this declaration knowing that until Christ returns to reconcile all things, we are called to be faithful stewards of God's good garden, our earthly home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Little Willies

Being a fan of Norah Jones I noticed the CD entitled The Little Willies in a Starbucks a couple of months ago, and in a moment of weakness after looking it over, bought it! Am I glad I did!

The Little Willies are a group of musical friends who like to get together in NY and play music. You can read all about at their web site, The Little Willies.

They are Lee Alexander (bass), Jim Campilongo (electric guitar), Norah Jones (piano, vocals), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals) and Dan Rieser (drums).

Some people call it country. I don’t know – it’s more an eclectic mix of swing, jazz, honky tonk, and a little old-time country. Mostly The Little Willies are covering songs of others, including Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Townes van Zandt, and Red Rose, though there are some originals too.

Vocals are shared about evenly between Norah Jones and Richard Julian. I had not known previously of Richard Julian, but I like his voice, and it works on this music. And it’s hard to beat Norah Jones in the singing department. Despite the eclectic mix of songs, her piano work and vocals place her familiar stamp on all the songs she sings. It “feels” like Norah Jones music, though it could not be more different than her other work.

This is fun music – nothing real deep here, though I think Van Zandt’s No Place to Fall is achingly lovely and poignant, sung by Richard Julian. It’s my favorite song of this season.

Bass player Lee Alexander’s Roll On, sung by Norah Jones, is another just a plain great song of the familiar Norah Jones variety.

The Little Willies collaborated in writing the last song, entitled simply Lou Reed. It’s a pretty hilarious song, though if it has some hidden meaning I’m clueless. It’s about cow-tipping, and just in case there was not some deep dark perverted weird or strange thing about that, I looked it up on Wikipedia of all places. Reading about cow tipping just makes the song about Lou Reed cow tipping all the funnier.

Again, this is generally fast-paced excellently played good time music for kicking back on a long drive, or doing the dishes, or sitting out on the deck on a nice fall evening . It makes you smile even when it’s about getting drunk (Willie Nelson’s I Gotta Get Drunk) which is pretty funny, or death (I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive), or the generally devil may care craziness of this world (Kris Kristofferson’s Best of All Possible Worlds).

Anyway, pick up a copy. If you need to preview a few songs go to their MySpace site.

Here’s the line up which I stole from an Amazon reviewer S. Heyworth.

Roly Poly (Fred Rose cover, Hank Williams popularized)
I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive (Fred Rose cover, Hank Williams popularized)
Love Me (Leiber/Stoller cover Elvis Presley popularized)
It's Not You It's Me (original by Richard Julian)
Best of All Possible Worlds (Kris Kristofferson cover)
No Place To Fall (Townes Van Zand cover)
Roll On (original by Lee Alexander)
I Gotta Get Drunk (Willie Nelson cover)
Streets of Baltimore (Gram Parsons cover)
Easy as the Rain (original by Richard Julian and Jim Campilongo)
Tennessee Stud (Jimmy Driftwood cover)
Night Life (Breeland/Buskirk/Nelson cover, Willie Nelson popularized)
Lou Reed (original by Alexander/Julian/Jones)

The Bind: On Being a Christian in a Politically Charged World

Inspired to think by Billy's Meme question # 10, I wanted to write today about the bind I always feel that I am in being a Christian in a representative democracy with the political right to say whatever I please. How this bears upon others is not for me to say. For those not bound by Christian teaching, I quote the Apostle Paul who said, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders." By outsiders he simply means those who are not professing Christians.

This is the dilemma: I live in a secular country which allows me many freedoms, including the freedom to speak in ways that I should not. This country allows me, and my religion I believe requires me (as an extension of the command to love my neighbor), to be engaged, to care, and to thus participate in the political process at some level. The voices of the weak and helpless crying out for justive demand it if nothing else does.

And there is no engagement in our process without critique, debate, and hearty discussion.

But such hearty participation does not allow me as a Christian to cast of my Lord's requirements of me.

Jesus and the Apostles said much that impacts my attitude and my speech as I engage in the political process. Jesus said to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."

The Apostle Paul said, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice" as well as "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."

The Apostle Peter said, "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

I doubt any of our Presidents are worse characters than the Roman emporers, and they, as well as their office, requires the honor of the Christian.

And again, Paul says, "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people."

Add to that the general admonition from the Torah regarding protecting the reputation of my neighbor in my speech, and I consider myself bound to speak a certain way and not another about and to others.

This can be very frustrating because I graduated from life with a Ph. D. in Slice and Dice (with snideness and sarcasm thrown in if at all possible). I have done more than my fair share of rabble rousing, shouting down elected officials, and the like, to last me a life time.

So, how to engage in the process, even critically if I must, without resorting to disrespecting those in office and those in authority over me?

Should I call the Central Office of GSC "The Gestapo."? Probably not. Should I call Bush a fool or Clinton a joke? For me, no, I should not.

But I cannot lay my head in the sand. Love of neighbor in a free country like ours demands that I participate in the process which so impacts my neighbor's well being. Not to do that, or to be silent, is to be responsible for the outcome which may harm my neighbor.

But the man or woman in office, even if I disagree with him or her, is both my neighbor and a human being made in the image of God. As James says, regarding the use of the tongue, "with it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."

I do not believe that that admonition stops where the political process begins. So, how do I offer critique of one person's views while honoring that person's person? I must do that. Anything less is, for me, disobedience to my Lord and Master.

It takes much self control. There is within me such scorn and sarcasm and ridicule ready to leak out. O Lord, change me! But I also have a brain, and I have a voice, and I must use both for the good of my neighbor and to the glory of God.

But I must do so honorably. I should not call people names; I should not be condescending or snide; I should not write whole groups of people off with a critical wave of the tongue.

There are so few examples to follow. Around here I look to Joe Guarino as the best example of how I want to speak. In recent history I may look to Martin Luther King Jr. Despite his personal issues, I admire greatly his manner of political engagement. He fought the fight, peacefully, and inspiringly, and without personal vilification of his opponents, generally.

So, to be passionate, to be good, to fight injustice without committing injustice, to argue an issue without denigrating those who hold the opposite view on the issue, well, sometimes it just seems more than this bag of flesh and bones, with so much that is not yet as it should be, is capable of. But I must try.

So, you're all free to hold me accountable to my own stated values.

And by the way, I know that Jesus called Herod a fox, and I know that the prophets could be pretty hard on the Kings and people of Israel, but I am neither Jesus, nor Amos, nor Jeremiah. If I must speak words that have to do with "covenant breaking" it is an "in house" thing. America is not in covenant with the God of Israel.

And by the way (II), each person entering into political discourse brings or drags values with him or her. They may get these values from his or her religion, parents, or from aliens as far as I know. But everyone has them, and everyone, to some degree or another, seeks to impose them on others. Ultimately for all human beings the fight for justice is a fight that is undergirded by certain beliefs or values about those for whom justice is needed or required. The fact that this is so with me, a Christian citizen, does not make me a theocrat, any more than it makes a non Christian a theocrat. Yes, there are some people (I wanted to say "kooks" - see how hard it is to be good) out there representing a variety of viewpoints who would hold all of us hostage to their value system. As for me, I am glad I live in a secular nation where I am protected from such, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, or whatever.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Twenty Questions

I received an e-mail from Billy the Blogging Poet about answering the following questions. Since he posted his answers, I’ll post mine.

The title of his post is When Is A Meme Not A Meme? What the heck is a meme? Anyway, here we go.

1: Do you like the look and the contents of your blog?

I am never at rest as regards the look and content of the blog, thinking I want to do more, wishing I had more ability. I am so thankful for Cara Michelle and Jesse Wesselink for keeping my blogs looking decent. As to content, I want to add podcasts, more pictures, and I want to find the time to write more about the natural world.

2: Does your family know about your blog?

Absolutely, as well as every single person in the world who knows me. Just look at the bottom of my e-mails. Also, in my job as a pastor, I have asked permission from our elders to do some blogging while at work and they think it a worthwhile endeavor.

3: Can you tell your friends about your blog? Do you consider it a private thing?

I tell as many friends as I can without seeming to be too self promoting. But almost every person I know knows that I do this.

4: Do you just read the blogs of those who comment on your blog? O do you try to discover new blogs?

I do, on the first, and I try on the second, time permitting. It comes in fits and pieces. There are weeks when I just don’t have time.

5: Did your blog positively affect your mind? Give an example.

Usually, though there are certain dynamics in the local blogging scene that frustrate me sometimes. Mostly people are affirming however, even the ones who don’t buy what I’m selling. I get great satisfaction in writing. I feel like a volcano ready to explode with a thousand things to write. Blogging gives me a place to express myself. If I don’t have an audience I just won’t write. Plus, the interaction, the debating, has really helped me understand other people better and has helped my preaching as a pastor. I tend to gravitate toward reading the blogs of people I generally don’t agree with!

6: What does the number of visitors to your blog mean? Do you use a traffic counter?

I want to increase traffic. It is somewhat important because I want the writing to be accessible. It is not just a private me and God thing.

7: Did you imagine how other bloggers look like?

Yeah, actually I do, especially the anonymous ones! I’ve emailed back and forth with people I don’t know who help keep me straight in my blogging, and I think of them as friends, even though we have never met.

8: Do you think blogging has any real benefit?

Yeah, it gives people a venue for self expression. That’s important. It allows the mainstream media not to control what people read and listen to. It enables people to think through issues by debate and discourse. It impacts political decisions I think. I would like to think that non bloggers read my blog. The thing I worry about is bloggers just being an elite little club.

9: Do you think that the Blogsphere is a stand alone community separated from the real world?

In once sense, yes, because it is not representative. In another sense it helps being some community between bloggers. I also think local politicians use bloggers a trial balloons for ideas.

10: Do some political blogs scare you? Do you avoid them?

I hate blog arguing (not debating) and too many of the political blogs are just shouting or insult matches.

11. Do you think that criticizing your blog is useful?

I appreciate the input of people who care about me and what I say. That impacts what I do or don’t do. I have some blogging friends, whom I have never met, and we have taken a liking to each other despite big social/political differences, and they help keep my blogging in line.

12: Have you ever thought about what happen to your blog in case you died?

Never

13: Which blogger had the greatest impression on you?

Probably Roch, just because he has helped me so much. As to examples, I want to most be like Joe (Guarino). I think I’ll start a “Be Like Joe” button campaign. I like to read Mr. Sun and wish I had a tenth of his talent.

14: Which blogger you think is the most similar to you?

This guy in Australia who used to comment on my site. Around here, maybe Joe Guarino, except that he is nicer than me.

15: Name a song you want to listen to.

I’m on a Beatles kick right now. I have been buying too much music this year and have had to cut back for the sake of the budget. Lately, given all the unrest in the Islamic world over the Pope’s remark, I keep thinking about Dylan “Only a Pawn in Their Game.”

I will send an e-mail to each of these:

Matt
PotatoStew
Fecund Stench
Mickey
Joe

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More Fire, More Smoke

More fire and smoke today...

Here is the Pope's speech. He is making a worthwhile philosophical/theological point in an address about reason and faith. It's worth a read. He ends by talking about constructuive dialogue between Christians and Muslims. One point is that you can't have dialogue and jihad. Duh.

Here is an example of the response.

I think his point is being made. No wonder he won't fully totally retract and apologize. I wouldn't either.

As a Christian I am glad I live in a secular nation.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hey, Can We have a Riot?

Good grief, if we had huge protests and riots every single time people cast aspersions on Jesus Christ and Christianity, like every third Hollywood movie, and most every statement coming from radical Islam, it would be non stop rioting around here. Muslims rebuke/deny/offend the Christian view of Jesus every day. Hey, we need to get over it. So they don't go for it. So they don't think Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, was God the Son. Fine. Jews aren't crazy about all that either. In fact the Jews of his day thought Jesus was either subversive, dangerous, blasphemous, or just plain nuts. I probably would have thought so too. But I don't see Jews waging holy war or wanting to wage Holy War against Christians. And I don't think they would if they could. Yes I am deeply sorry for what has happened in history in the reverse. I think the Pope's timing could have been better, but maybe, just maybe, 9/11 and the aftermath, including the bombings in Spain and England and the other foiled "let's blow-up-some-airplanes-and get-to-heaven" attempts, plus the announcement of Jihad over and over, gives the Pope a little more material to work with than his predecessor. If Muslims will not renounce the physical violence - the murderous aspects of Jihad, and renounce those who murder and kill non cambatants on purpose, and renounce the intense persecutions of converts to Judaism or Christianity all over the world, then what are we to say. Hey, this is great, why don't you come and blow up my city while you're at it; it's getting boring around here. It's a marketplace of ideas. A marketplace of beliefs. Muslims are good at arguing for their beliefs. Very good. That's fine. I wish them well. Just stop killing people who don't buy it OK. Time to see the civilized and mature Muslims stand up and put an end to this nonsense. People are going to criticize you, and your holy prophet, and your culture, just like they do mine. Hello! Deal with it. Peacefully. Maybe in the end it is a clash of civilizations. But I'd like it think it possible to have a world where folks can worship as they will, knowing that God, however understood, will work as He will. The best of Christianity, the best of Judaism, and the best of Islam calls for men to be men, as in gentlemen, and women gentlewomen, and all civil, civil men and women who are good and kind to their neighbors whatever they believe. That's what I think.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Into the Spider's Web

Night before last (or was it Monday night), I was given a lovely gift. I had gone outside to take the trash to the big green bin, and on the way back in noticed her walking, as if in mid air, a foot or two off the trunk of the birch tree. I had to go closer and look at a certain angle to see what she was up to. She was weaving her web.

I love spiders. I don't mean "love" as in "like, thinks cool, appreciates." I mean I have a deep human affection for them as creatures. CS Lewis talks about this kind of affection in his "The Four Loves." Great book by the way. As to spiders, I think they are beyond cool.

Well, the gift I was given was this: I got to watch this spider make her web. The web I could only see by looking at it along its plane. I was tranfixed at how wafer thin a spider's web is. It was like looking at the rings of Saturn not from above but from the side. They are wafer thin too. As to a spider's web, how such a thin and fragile piece of biological engineering produces such results is amazing.

Well, my spider friend had already fixed the main structural lines. One went from the birch tree over to a limb of the crab apple tree. I used to wonder how they ever did this until the one other time I got to see a spider build a web from scratch. This spider would have hooked a line of web onto one or the other tree, dropped to the ground, walked the distance to the other tree, climbed it, all the while letting out non sticky silk, risen to the new point of attachment, and then pulled in the line until it was taught. From what I could tell of this web, there was the one main structural line, then, about a third way across, another main line that angled down to a lower point on the birch tree. For that she would have had to walk back out on the main line, drop to the ground, climb the tree (again), and attach it at that secondary point.

These two lines seemed to be enough to contain the web within. By the time I saw her working she had already laid down the main diameter lines, establishing a center, and then the main radial lines. That too requires attachment, walking around the structural line to the opposite point, attachment there, pulling in line, etc.

I mainly got to see her weaving the more circular bits, which of course are really just straight threads between the radial lines. I coud not tell if they were spiral or concentric. I watched for maybe half an hour. By that time she was mostly done and I went in.

Spiders work very hard. The orb weavers have to do this every day or two. It's work or die for these guys.

I did see a few victims the next morning as I headed out to work. They appeared mostly to be moths.

We do have a fair number of black widows around here, and they are pretty easy to identify. Brown recluses are quite rare, and all those brown spiders you see running around hunting that you think are brown recluses, well, they aren't. They don't call them recluses for nothing.

My point is that if you see a circular web (or if you see a hungry tank-like spider running across your floor), well, these guys are your friends. You don't even have to know what species they are. Just enjoy their work. They are doing you a favor by the way.

This is spider season, so it's a good time to learn to enjoy them.

As to my birch tree spider, she was a very light, almost translucent, brown and about an inch across including legs. But I was more intent on her work. Absolutely amazing. I was mesmerized.

Such a rare event evokes many kinds of emotions. For me, it brought forth delight and joy. And yes, it alos brought forth the words of a Psalmist:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (from Psalm 104)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mickey Mclean is Famous

I wrote last week about reading Bob Spitz's most excellent biography of the Beatles, entitled simply "The Beatles." It's a long book, but worth the read. I am totally on a Beatles kick right now, except that I don't have many Beatle's CD's. I mean, I would not OBJECT if anyone wanted to LOAN me a burned copy of The White Album or any number of their records. It's would be for research purposes of course, and would be returned.

Anyway, so I am reading the "Acknowledgments" at the end of the book and what do I read, but...

"Among the many people to whom I am indebted, I must thank Tally Gentry, whose research was of great assistance; Neal Gabler, for exchanging war stories; Jim and Michelle Ford, in whose good hands Lily often resided so that I could work through the weekends; and my great friends at Pace: Nancy Oakley, Mickey McLean, Brian Cook and especially Duncan Christy, whose friendship and generous support will never be taken for granted."

Mickey McLean you say? Our Mickey Mclean? I mean, how many Mickey McLean's could there be?

Well, turns out Mickey McLean and Bob Spitz have worked together for some time in the same publishing company, which kept Mr. Spitz going with enough paying work to keep him alive all the years he worked on this book.

Spitz's acknowledgement section explains clearly enough what goes into a book of this magnitude.

Plus, as if it were not enough, Mickey has been to Liverpool AND inside of Studio 2 at Abbey Road. Wow!
Anyway, here's to Mickey, my hero.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Is the Baby Boomer Generation Up for This War?

OK, this is one of those posts where I don’t think I will win many friends, but I want to write it anyway. My basic question is this: are baby boomers up to leading this war on terror?

I was born in 1957. That was the pinnacle year of the baby boom. More children were born that year than in any other year in our history.

I was too young for Vietnam. I was too young for Vietnam protests for the most part too. Most of that was carried out by my slightly older fellow baby boomers. I was even too young to be a real hippie, though I tried for a while.

Most bloggers and readers of blogs around here (it seems to me) are baby boomers or younger. Many are pacifists, whether from religious or general hippie-ish make-love-not-war convictions. The majority (I think) think that we don’t belong in Iraq.

I would maintain the following: Whether we should have gone to war in Iraq or not, whether Iraq and terrorism were connected enough to justify going in in the first place, I I don’t know, but what I do know is that now that we are there, Iraq and terrorism are related. If we leave Iraq, it will become an even greater training ground for terrorists.

But my concern is the greater war. Yes, I believe it is a war. I don’t like Bush’s use of words ("Islamofascists" – what does that mean?). How about Islamowhacko’s? We’re talking about a freaked out whacko sector of radical Islam bent on destruction of our power and influence, on Israel’s total demise, and on world domination by way of violence and oil blackmail ultimately. We’re talking about people who think they go on to heavenly bliss by murdering men, women, and children. I think that is whacko. You can call it what you like. But make no mistake - they want to kill us, any and all of us, as many as they can – men, women, and children, white, black, Hispanic, or asian, Christian Hindu or Muslim. They don’t care. Being nice to them for a few months isn’t going to change that.

My generation has been riding on the sacrifices of previous generations for a very long time. Those generations fought and won WWI, WWII, and the Cold War, despite the debacle of Vietnam. They handed us unprecedented freedom and prosperity. So, what are we going to hand to our children?

Are we as a generation going to be able to take up the mantle of leadership and make the sacrifices that need to be made to win this war? I wish Bush and others would quit telling us just to go shop. This is a REAL war, and we all need to make REAL sacrifices. We do in fact need to get over our addiction to foreign oil. I would add oil in general. We need temporarily to start accepting some intrusion into our precious civil liberties. Some people’s phones just need to be tapped. We need to think hard about the culture that we’re exporting overseas – the smut, the garbage, the crass materialism, the greed. No wonder so many religious people hate us. We need to think about the ways we do or do not help with the problem of millions of jobless dispirited humiliated Arab youth. We aren’t rich enough to start a world wide welfare program, but maybe some of our rich Arab allies could do better than they are doing sharing the wealth so to speak.

We need to forget the UN. The UN is worthless. The UN is worse than worthless. The UN, as far as I can see, is on the other side in this war. But we do need to work harder at building coalitions wherever we can.

We need to see this as a global long term war, much like the cold war, but more subtle, more dangerous in my mind. Do we have the will to fight it?

Some may say, well, we baby boomer’s aren’t fighting it. Our children are fighting it. This has always been the case. The people who make the decisions about war send their sons and daughters off to fight the war. Losing a child itself is a great sacrifice. Are we willing to make it?

An army recruiter called my daughter a few months ago. She was not home. I asked him if he would take me. He asked how old I was. I told him. There was a pause. “Uh, no sir” he said. And he has no idea how many push ups I can do.

No matter what we think about Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the current administration in general, are we Baby Boomers going to have the will to see this war through? I have my doubts. And because of that I worry greatly for my children, and my children’s children.

Double Digging - Very Very Dangerous Content

I wanted to write a little ditty about a secret of mine called double digging, but I fear after Monday's insights into the blog cencorship it may play right into the GCS Gestapo’s hands, having so many possible subversive and double meanings known only to rebellious or perverted adolescents.

Well, at least I know they won’t be able to read this. That is some relief. I guess I can cuss and swear too while I’m at it.

But I did want to write about my tomatoes. We are having a bumper crop, a practical explosion of red in my back yard this year. We have had NO blossom end rot, and I even stopped picking out the suckers - so even despite that the tomatoes keep coming.

This has been a summer for bad tomatoes – long periods of no rain followed by a day or two of several inches. I suppose it’s been good to keep away fungi, but generally tomatoes don’t do too well with uneven soil moisture.

This year I sucked (Oh dear, will that word get by the censors) it up and tried an old trick called double digging. It’s easy where I am from where the soil is mostly sand, but terribly difficult here. So this is what I did. I dug a trench about a foot wide and maybe twelve feet long and 10 inches or so deep. After evening out the bottom I jumped in and dug it twice as deep. I used shovel, pick ax, and tiller to break the red clay under-soil. It was hard but eventually I got it done.

The dirt I pulled out I spread onto one side in a large shallow pile. To that pile I added lots of organic matter – mostly decomposed leaves, lime, some well composted cow manure, and a few bags of fine mulch. Then I mixed all that up with my tiller. Then it rained and the trench filled with water so I had to wait, but after it dried out I added a little more lime and filled in the trench. Of course it ended up being somewhat of a long hill, which I turned into circular hills for planting. I like to plant a little above ground with a circular wall to keep in water. I planted my young tomatoes extra deep, added mulch, and voilá, I was done.

I did not do the same for the squash, watermelon, or all the flowers I planted. Much of the garden struggled this summer through the periods of drought, so much that the abundant rain when it came did not make things all better.

But the tomatoes never seemed to lack for moisture. They hardly ever wilted, but neither did they suffer from the effects of fungal problems due to over watering. I think the double digging caused their roots to grow extra deep, and the extra organic matter helped retain moisture during the dry times, and helped keep the soil from being overly soggy during the wet times. The steady moisture pattern plus the extra lime seems to have done the trick as to blossom end rot. It’s been tomato city this summer.

So, if you want good tomatoes in this horrid red stuff – I’d try double digging.

Please don't let any of your chldren know that I wrote about double digging. I have a reputation to protect, and they may kick my daughter out of the schools if they find out.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Beatles Bio

I am just finishing Bob Spitz’s new biography of the Beatles, entitled simply The Beatles. It’s 900+ pages plus notes, and is a real eye opener. Reviewers have labeled it as “dark.” I found it to be realistic and well informed. He goes well into the backgrounds of all the key players in their story, though the fulcrum of the book is John Lennon. Right now, with this book in mind, I want to go back and listen to every Beatles recording again, with “new eyes” and “new ears.” A dozen off the top observations…


1. John was one complex, dark, cynical, bohemian, sick dude, but in the context of his upbringing, his childhood, his father, mother, and aunt, he comes off sympathetically in his humanity.
2. These guys worked their butts off. They paid their dues. Spitz spends some 300 pages on their lives and their unceasing gig playing in Liverpool and Hamburg before their first record even comes out.
3. Once the roll started, he captures the Beatlemania, the frenzied pace, the almost superhuman creativity in light of the lack of sleep and excess of drugs. These guys hardly had a chance to breathe. I am amazed they lasted as long as they did.
4. The Beatles were truly ripped off by bad management, and then messed it up even worse trying to manage themselves.
5. The portraits of how individual songs were written is priceless. John and Paul face to face, guitar to guitar, just had a thing going musically that is rare in the anals of history.
6. The Beatles were absolute incredibly unspeakably decadent. I can’t really see what good they brought to the cultural table, much as I like their music.
7. And they did all this in their late teens and twenties! Unbelievable.
8. Ringo was and is the most normal of the lot.
9. Yoko Ono was really weird.
10. One can lose the impact of their wild in your face on-stage energy. They blew people away.
11. Despite the moral decadence, the drugs, the unfaithfulness to their wives, and all the rest, Spitz has me excited when their records start to sell, when they start to make it. I’m pulling for them. This is a true rags to riches story about four guys (and a few more) who were totally committed to their craft, who worked as hard as anyone could work playing live for years, who learned as well as wrote new songs and tried new things and created new recording techniques with abandon. No record company boys-band were these guys.
12. Thirty five years later I still haven’t gotten over that they broke up. Maybe this book will help me.

The Physiological Error of Migraine

I was reading a review of Joan Didion’s new book Magical Thinking and came across these quotes, actually from an essay in an earlier work called The White Album wherein she reflects on the migraine headaches that have plagued her throughout her life. Reading this, well, it’s like what I wish I could say if I could really write…

“The physiological error called migraine is…central to the given of my life….The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing, I count my blessings.”

Wow. Is she me? No. A better me.

As to the physiological error, yes, that is what it is exactly, a neurological disorder in the brain. And as gruesome and agonizing and debilitating as a bad migraine can be, I’d rather have them than be subject to the hundred herbal cures and flip comments thrown my way.

Also, as to the physiological error, see my Cracked and Crumbling.

Discover Newt

I know that to many he’s a mere conservative political hack, but check out the interview with Newt Gingrich in this month’s Discover magazine. Here is Newt at his science-geek, policy-wonk history-grounded best, and I for one think he has a lot of good things to say. I’ve tried to find an online version, but Discover does not put up their articles until the magazine’s been out there a while. It’s very interesting…Newt on Darwin….Newt on Global Warming….Newt on Stem Cell Research….Newt on Science Education….Newt on Scientific Discovery….Newt on Health Care….It may not all be what you’d expect.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hey Music Buffs! What About September Music?

I can’t believe it’s September already. So my mind was drifting to music trivia – to songs with September in the lyrics. It’s not terribly hard to come up with some songs with “September” in the title. The following come to mind off the top, and there are probably dozens more…

Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
September by Earth Wind and Fire
September Morn by Neil Diamond
September Grass by James Taylor
September by Jimmy Durante (Frank Sinatra?)

But I am more interested in songs that have September buried in the lyrics somewhere. I’ve heard one or two in the last week, in the car, and then I forget what…

Iris Dement’s mention of September in her song "My Life" has been on my mind. It sounds like a downer, but I read it, hear it, sort of in the spirit of the book of Ecclesiastes. Here is the verse where she mentions September:

My life, it don't count for nothing.
When I look at this world, I feel so small.
My life, it's only a season:
A passing September that no one will recall.
But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting.
And I can make it seem better for a while.

So, can any of you think of “September Songs,” whether it be title or lyrics buried in the song.

Oh, here’s a funny one. One friend said, "didn’t U-2 do an album called September?"

OK, well I thought that was funny.