Friday, August 31, 2007
When Robin and I arrived at the Klahn farm outside of Brooklyn for our share of "The Day On the Farm" benefit to raise funds for Declan Johnson's medical expenses, the shindig was already in full swing. I knew this was going to be a success.
The band was playing some old croony tune by John Denver; kids were already stalking each other in the haybale maze. Tents were set up for button making, stuffed-animal making, ticket selling, snow-cones and popcorn. Inside the spacious old barn were racks of deer antlers displayed high above in the rafters, along with old tractor seats and farm tools. A large cross was leaning against the wall on the far side. In a corner to the right, a slide show of Declan and his amazing but short life was showing. A long table held the goodies: roast pork, beans, the fixin's of a good ole meal. To our left along the wall were the "silent auction" items. Down the middle of the barn was a line of tables holding desserts. Oh, just too much to take in all at once! Where to start?
Robin and I started with the silent auction, working our way down the line and occasionally writing our name and a bid on the sheets beside each item. Robin saw a stained-glass turtle night light that caught her fancy. It was priced at $20; she started the bidding at, I dunno, five bucks, I think. By the time that particular auction ended, she'd rebid seven times, and came up with the winning bid of $33. I kinda looked at her, since I was paying for it. "Well Dad! It's for a good CAUSE!" Yes, that it is.
For myself, I zeroed in on the set of deluxe Brewers tickets and the box of handy dandy MRE's (Meals Ready To Eat). Some friends can expect one of these in their stockings some time soon.
We chowed down, then did the maze. At one point Robin grabbed my camera and started snapping. At another point she disappeared, and I found her working the button stand. Scott Mikkelson from Faith Lutheran had nabbed her; put her to work.
It was a glorious day: not too hot with blue-skies; little puffs of white cloud. It had rained for forty days and forty nights just prior to this event, and relented just for the day, starting in again on Monday. A miracle? You make the call.
They tell me something like $20,000 was raised that day, a little dent in a family's medical bills. Toward the end of the afternoon, some of the bigger ticket items were sold in a live auction. Someone had donated a nice oak rocking chair. Joe Moll and another woman got into a serious bidding war over this, and eventually Joe won the rocker at a price of $350. And then he gave it to the lady bidding against him.
That was the kind of a day that it was.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device..."
This from a Wired article describing in some detail the extent and nature of the wire-tapping beast. It reads an awful lot like the technical part of the latest Bourne movie, Ultimatum. A little bit of life imitating the movies, it seems to me.
I only hope that the FBI isn't imitating the nasty, vindictive, self-serving not to mention incompetent meanies who made up the G-Men-types in the Bourne movies. I know I'm way behind the cutting-edge conspiracy theorists who are convinced the gummint is spying on them, and I really do want to give "us" a fighting chance in the war against civilian terrorists. But I admit to being just a little uncomfortable with the ease with which a wiretap can take place. We're in the "few taps of a keyboard" era of spying. But spies as ever are subject to boredom. And boredom is the mother of all sorts of nonsense.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
“You showed Your mercy before I could perceive it. You came to me with Your Kindness before I could long for it. Your generosity encompassed me before I could offer thanks for it. You not only marvelously formed me in my mother’s womb, but also drew me out from the womb. You have been my hope since I was at my mother’s breast. I was cast on you from birth. From my mother’s womb you have been my God.”— Johann Gerhard, “Thanksgiving for Life and Birth,” Meditations on Divine Mercy
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the Lutheran diva over at Get Religion
has been blessed with a baby girl. In their announcement, the Hemingways used this swwweeet Johann Gerhard quote.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Hot Air has an article discussing a recent Bloom County (Opus!) cartoon that got spiked due to its "questionable" Muslim content. Apparently, twenty five American papers refused to run this. Why?
Because they don't do Muslim-related humor.
Oh. And because it has questionable sexual content. That's the--wink, wink, nudge, nudge--real reason. We don't want to offfend anyone by any sexual innuendo in our cartoons. We don't DO sexual innuendo in cartoons (unless you ignore about half of the Doonesbury cartoons ever run, that is).
The real reason is the Muslim-related humor, of course. Danish cartoonists are still underground; American newspaper editors don't want the same fate.
Hot Air thinks we have a double standard running here. Frankly, double standards have been l' article de jour for quite awhile now.
But. Duly noted.
Friday, August 24, 2007
"Things have quieted down since the erection of the security fence. The number of successful attacks has been reduced by 90 percent — though the world (from the International Court of Justice to so-called human rights groups) has clucked its disapproval. Israelis are no longer living with the kind of gnawing daily anxiety they suffered between 2000 (when Arafat rejected 95 percent of the West Bank and launched the second intifada) and 2004. Not that life is normal. The first gift Israeli parents give their children continues to be a cell phone."
The rest of Mona Charon's story can be found here.
My friend Don Morrow has referred me to a book review of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a compilation of letters mostly to her confessors over a sixty year period.
You can read the review here.
What caught my eye was that these letters show a different side of Mother Teresa than the Nobel-Prize-winning, holy woman portrayed to the world. Some quotes from the review:
"...In a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."
Are you slogging through the vocations of your life? Is that happy Christian smile drooping just a little, when no one is looking? Do people NOT know you are a Christian by your love? Does sin cling to you like an old show tune that just won't go away?
"That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"Luther says, somewhere, that when a pagan looks inside herself, she sees glory, the goodness of her being. When a Christian looks within, he sees his sin. It is this dual condition we find ourselves in, of continuing and even deepening awareness of our own inadequacies and at the same time the outward promise of Christ's forgiveness and love found in scripture, that seems to have pervaded Teresa's life. It was all the more profound because, at what she believed to be Christ's call, she rejected the things in life that would have made it more comfortable, and instead lived "as the poor among the poor" inCalcutta.
"The more I want him — the less I am wanted," she wrote Périer in 1955. A year later she sounded desolate: "Such deep longing for God — and ... repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."What value for us is a book like this? For one thing, it is a stark reminder that seeking after religous experience does not necessarily lead to genuine religious experience. And genuine religious experience? It may be characterized more by loneliness, disaffection, and deep longing than by happy, clappy, emotional joy. If this describes your spiritual journey, well then. You seem to be in good company.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Friday nights, seven to eight. This is the end of the line before getting out for these guys. Very minimum security: many work regular jobs during the day, and get hauled back to spend the night.
Still, the guards treat it like it is prison. There is a kind of false toughness to their communications with the inmates: regularly reminding them who they are and where they came from. We still own you. And in all fairness, some of these guys come from some nasty crimes, and all of them have badly erred. Mostly, this isn't their first time around the block.
Friday nights we meet in one of the basement rooms, chat a bit about our week, and dig deeply into scripture. These are primarily African Americans, black guys. Sweet, sobered by the years behind bars and the apprehension of getting out, they have their own prison language that takes some getting used to. It isn't foul language; just specialized. I have to ask for translations often.
Our chats often have to do with former members of the Bible study who are out, and how they're doing. Too, too many times, it is about how they are back in again, and in a nastier climate than when they left. "He won't be coming back here again any time soon." Cocaine seems to be the common regret and challenge. Many of these guys come from strong church backgrounds but got into trouble with drugs. Many have families awaiting their release.
So it is the law which tends to hang on their consciences. And when confronted with God's Law, their instinct often is to try to fulfill it on their own. "If I just do this, and live this way, and don't screw up, maybe..." So we spend a lot of time and focus on just what primary purpose the Law has--how it kills any hope in ourselves we may have-- how we can't fulfill it. These guys understand total depravity, but some of them have failed a lot of times. When I get out, will I blow it again? I'm not getting any younger.
James and Alan--we call him Scaggs--were moved from Wisconsin's overcrowded prisons to Mississippi a few years ago, where they met. "We had us a reVIVal! We got saved in Mississippi!" cried James. Alan is a short, broad, intense man. Unredeemed and on the street, he'd scare me. Somewhere along the line he saw the movie JESUS OF NAZARETH; watched it forty times and memorized every line. He's referred to it a hundred times in the past year. Much of it is scripture, so it's good.
The challenge is for the pure gospel: that they hear it; receive it. Too often they mistake the law for the gospel. They aren't receiving the sacrament, which grieves me. And the chances when they get out of receiving it rightly aren't really very good. We talk about their getting out: finding a church and a group of friends who will support them in new ways; finding a Bible study to be in; staying in the Word. You can pray for these guys. Alan, James, Jeffrey, Julius, Mike.
There is a lot of turnover. I'll arrive and one of them will announce he's getting out Tuesday. Always Tuesdays. I ask him then about his situation: where he's going, if he's got a place to stay. A few times we've arranged for one or another to receive funds for food and clothing from Thrivent, the Lutheran insurer. I give them a business card and encourage them to call. This is not strictly kosher, but then what kind of friend have I been if I won't see them after they have left prison?
We end standing, hands clasped , in prayer. After the extemporaneous stuff, we recite together the Lord's Prayer. These guys get excited in prayer, with a lot of amens and thank you Lords. I've been trying to get them to slow down with the Lord's Prayer, to say and think of it meaningfully.
And so we meet weekly. Sometimes there is only one inmate that shows up. Often Alan will go off for five minutes, and return with two or three very sheepish inmates, Bibles in hand, clearly just off the basketball court or up from a nap. But their Bibles are always incredibly marked up, underlined, annotated.
Alan, the enforcer! From the picture above, I'll let you guess just which one he is!
Monday, August 20, 2007
Arthur was gruff; called me "Boy" rather than my real name for the better part of two years. A farmer can't afford to get too personal with the help, especially the young help. You never know when off they'll go, and all of that personal politeness and consideration would have been for naught. No. The way to handle a young pup is to put him at the end of the line, and occasionally yell at him. If the pup keeps a civil tongue in his head--that is to say, if he remains silent and follows orders to the letter--then eventually he'll be brought into the discussion. Believe me, it took years.
The orchard was called Ski Hi Fruit Farm; it was pronounced "sky high". Many a footloose visitor to the Baraboo hills and Devil's Lake State Park in the Fall of the year have stopped in to take in the view, visit with the friendly sales ladies--including Olga and Betty, the wife and daughter of the old orchardist-- have a slice of fresh apple pie, and buy some of the many varieties of apples for sale there.
I try to drop in for a visit at Ski Hi every year. I'll hunt squirrel in the several-hundred-acres wood above the orchard, and stop in at the sorting house afterward. Art is long gone, and Olga may be too, but Betty still runs the place. I'll make Betty stop and visit for a spell, along with her long-time sidekick Shoemaker, now relegated to a wheel chair. Shoe always tells people when I visit that I hold the record for the most apples picked in a day, something like 162 bushels. It is true, actually. I have no idea how I did that. My daily average was actually around 130 bushels, I think. This is not that hard to do if you are focused, systematic, and...and much younger!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Declan Johnson was the grandson of pastor Bill Mack of Faith Lutheran Church in Oregon, WI. He was born on March 11 and baptized soon after by his grandfather. It was found he had liver cancer and Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. He also had loving and dedicated parents and grandparents, and lots of friends who prayed for him. You can read about Declan's ordeal throughout his short life here.
Declan died on August 8, in California where his parents had taken him in an effort to find a way for him to receive further treatment for his cancer. What remains are wonderful memories of a little baby who briefly blessed the lives of his family and friends. The other things that remain are large medical bills.
Faith Lutheran Church in Oregon is organizing a fund raiser to try to help meet some of these expenses being born by Declan's parents, Luke and Christy Johnson. You can read about it here, and also find ways to donate on that site.
A memorial service for Declan will be held at Faith Lutheran in Oregon at 10:30 am on Saturday, August 25. The next day after church will be the fundraiser/farm day at the Klahn farm in Brooklyn. A silent auction will be held, as well as hay rides, a pork roast, and music by the Soggy Prairie Boys. Come if you can!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
You make the call. If I were to tell you that China has banned Buddhist monks from reincarnating without government approval, you KNOW that story had to come from The Onion, don't you?
I do. But TMatt at Get Religion has news for us both. We're wrong.
This isn't make believe, folks. This is China.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Moscow - A Russian region of Ulyanovsk has found a novel way to fight the nation's birth-rate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.
The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.
Several years ago I read that the average Russian woman of child-bearing age has had seven abortions. I'll say it again, when cultures get addicted to killing babies for whatever reason, and then belatedly realize they've KILLED ALL THEIR BABIES!--then we can naturally expect to see this sort of nonsense going on. If a country can do it in the name of nationalism--well!! All the better.
A whole day off to procreate...whew.
And then you leave all of this so that your mom, your uncles and brothers can get jobs carving turkeys at the huge Jenny-O plant run by Hormel in Barron, Wisconsin. Barron is a very small town in the northwestern woods of Wisconsin, and its ruling Fathers have managed to attract a turkey processing plant as a means of creating jobs and generating tax revenue. And now they need workers.
A typical man born and raised in Barron could be said to be white. He may like long underwear and .3030 deer rifles. He would cheer for the Packers, unless he's a pervert. Then he'd cheer for the Vikings. He doesn't see much colored skin, and when he does, he naturally reacts to it with the somewhat subtle but xenophobic training that is in his bones. That is to say, he doesn't necessarily roll out that proverbial welcome mat.
The Wisconsin State Journal ran an article August 9 about the influx of 500 Somalis into Barron in the late '90's, with another 300 on the way. The incongruity of cultures is stunning; I can only imagine the idea was dreamed up by a government committee meeting somewhere in air conditioned rooms in Washington D.C. or Madison, WI.
The two cultures, from appearances, have not immediately begun to merge. There are not mulatto Somarican babies being strolled down main street by a Bubba and his Somali wife colorfully wrapped in a shawl and chewing khat. There IS a new Somalian restaurant, Safari Cuisine, the first concrete sign of free enterprise among the small, close-knit community. I want to bet they don't serve the All American Breakfast with eggs over easy and mass-brewed coffee in the morning.
After Mogadishu, a fist fight with some pasty white kid from Barron shouldn't be much of a big deal, one would think. And police do report problems between the natives and the Somalis--fist fights; women complaining of having their buttocks pinched by Somali men (Hey, how are THEY supposed to know??). Cultural situations such as this do bring out the Redneck in some people. People remember Black Hawk Down; the fact that these are Muslims will chafe at the local imagination. There have been drug busts as the Somalis try to import the illegal-in-America, traditional stimulant khat into the town.
But like so many non-white ethnic groups that have moved into small-town America, they are hard-working and intent upon making the most of this glorious opportunity to get ahead. Compared to where they've come from, this has to seem like paradise.
The WSJ article quotes Kasi Ahmed, 43, late of the Somalian capital: "I like America. It's the land of opportunity." "And the weather....!"
Yeah. I'll bet he loves that weather.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
The Mother Teresa quote, of course, I found at one of the large evangelical churches. It was the sort of thing I expected to find. I love the quote. To associate poverty and selfishness is an example of the Law doing its best kind of humbling, attacking work. I don't know how effective it is.
I rather doubt the second bumper sticker is at all effective, but finding an Abbie Hoffman quote on a car in front of a Target store was too rich to pass up.
You remember Abbie, don't you? The Chicago Seven? Judge Julius Hoffman? Abbie was a well educated (Brandies U, UC Berkeley) young man growing up in the sixties. He started out as your typical, nice hippy boy: you grow out your hair, stop bathing, wear bellbottoms, paint We've Come For Your Daughters on the front of your VW minibus, and take a blue highway driving tour of small-town Kansas. When that fails to start the Revolution, you turn up the heat. In Abbie's case, among many other fine accomplishments, he went to Chicago and tried to undo the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hence the resulting trial overseen, ironically, by Judge Julius--no relation--Hoffman. Later, he organized a little performance art which involved throwing money from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange.
Now, I don't want to give you the impression that I condone this man's behavior. But I do want to point out just how flamboyant and interesting he was in his dissidence. The man had a sense of humor. And he used phrases like "assimilated conformists". I'm sitting here wondering what an unassimilated conformist would be like. Or, heck, an assimilated nonconformist. I suppose that is what happens when you've been a nonconformist so long you become the town joke.
Mother Teresa and Abbie Hoffman. Two people who spent a lot of their lives holding up a mirror to America and asking, "Do you like what you see?"
"Wealth regularly disappears when it is penalized, as do a nation’s most productive earners."Those with lots and lots of money can choose where they live. Like a disgruntled churchman moving down the street to the next church, they can take their money and run if a country's tax policies get too onerous.
You'd think that would be really obvious. But I guess it isn't. Read on.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Evangelical Christians in Madison do not.
Hopping on my trusty 1982 Yamaha 750 motorcycle this morning, eschewing church-- per se--for the morning, I drove around Madison viewing the cars in the parking lots of the larger evangelical churches. What did I see?
I saw large, shiny new vehicles. But no bumper stickers. Well, just one (See this post). I didn't count the likes of Memorial High School Cross Country .
Then I drove just about anywhere, desperate for a bumper sticker. I wandered through a Panera's lot; a Comp USA. I broke down completely and checked out the local Menards (Oh, my standards!!).
I saw large, shiny new vehicles, but very few bumper stickers. (Well, there was the Abbie Hoffman one in front of a Target store, but see this post for that one also).
Based upon my experience, I'm forced to make several broad, sweeping generalizations:
- People who drive large, shiny new vehicles don't want the resale value to go down because of some spur-of-the-moment slap-dash bumper sticker reading Eat At Luigi's hanging on their rear bumper.
- Only liberals wear bumper stickers. And only if they are driving 1985 Datsuns.
- Only Crunchies wear bumper stickers. That is apparent from the bumper stickers I photographed on mostly-perfect vehicles parked outside the local WF.
- It was an absolutely beautiful morning for a motorcycle ride. The fact I got very few shots of bumper stickers did not take away at all from the total joy of plogging through church parking lots on my bike.
- Conservatives don't wear bumper stickers. Evangelical churches are filled with conservatives, right?
- Conservatives also don't wear loud, message-heavy t-shirts. Except the likes of the Bartlett boys and my second son (who might deny the conservative thing.) But if bumper sticker social commentary has been replaced with worn-on-your-back social commentary--which is my working thesis--then it would follow. Right?
- I'm rethinkng my investment in Lulu's Bump R Stick stock. Whew. And a few days ago it looked like such a winner!
- I don't know what kind of money people are making these days in Madison, WI, but it is obvious they are spending like a people owning fat portfolios and with serious discretionary income. All those shiny new vehicles!
- The dearth in bumper stickers on conservatives' cars--my friend Tim Gies' being the notable exception--has me wondering: Are conservative Christians apathetic? Are they iconoclastic? Or are they just ho hum blahzey? Or, do they do their talkin' in other ways? Is Conservative Talk Radio the new conservative bumper sticker?
- The Gee's vehicles have no bumper stickers on them. You are free to draw your own conclusions, but you'll be wrong.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The Rock Garden on May first
The Rock Garden on May 19.
The Rock Garden on August 11
Whose garden is it?
Not the one who hauled the rock.
Not the one who planted the little plants.
Not the one who spread the mulch.
The garden belongs to the one who weeds.
So. I guess this is Deb's garden!
My wife Debby, my daughter Robin and I visited the new Sundance Theatre in Madison for Deb's birthday.
This is the first of a chain of upscale theatres issuing from Robert Redford's Sundance Group. This is not the first effort by Redford to create a string of art cinemas. I gather some of the past efforts have been badly managed. A new, experienced management team seems to have sorted that out. The focus of these cinemas is going to be to give exposure to the sorts of indie films which have been featured at his annual film fest in Utah.
“Anything which helps new and interesting voices in the cultural realm reach more people can only enrich the experience of artists, audiences and communities and this makes the effort worth it,” said Robert Redford."The cinema in Madison is tastefully done. I teased the ladies at the concession stand because they had popcorn: the stand looks a lot more like a Starbucks than a Star Cinema. Gourmet coffee, exotic natural sodas, delicious (to look at. I gained a pound just ogling) pastries. The hallway leading to the six theatres is lined with birch saplings. It felt like a scene from Macbeth.
When purchasing your ticket, you are asked to select your seats from a touch-screen computer monitor. No more staring into the dark of a half-filled theatre looking for three seats in a row!
What to make of this new effort? This is the part of being in a postmodern society that I truly appreciate. Technology and these new venues have made it possible for artists to distribute their work without having to "strike it rich" by signing with a major distributor. This in turn has resulted in a mixed bag of art, to be sure. One must pick and choose, and sometimes the experience can be not so nice. On the other hand, one is often richly rewarded for the effort. Out of the Sundance Film Fest we've recently seen Primer, Memento, and a few years ago The Spitfire Grill. As we left Sundance on Thursday, Deb commented, "This is great! Now I have a place to come to watch good movies! It's about time...!" Next week we hope to see Into Great Silence.
Thursday we saw the comedy Waitress, and enjoyed it. It is another of those movies that does not back down from telling a painful, graphic story but which ends well. I guess after a lifetime of exposure to movies which denigrate traditional moral values, I'm often surprised by this new trend of having characters making, eventually, the RIGHT choice in their lives(See The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knock'd Up, or go back to Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall to see what I mean) .
(And then contrast with Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, or Minghella's The English Patient , two achingly well-done movies that'll break your heart. )
Andy Griffith plays Old Joe in the movie:
Old Joe: Are you with child?
Old Joe: I saw that look on a woman's face before. Her name was Anette. I made sweet sweet love to her all through the summer of 1948, and she had that look on her face all through the fall.
Friday, August 10, 2007
"Trying not to think" about the tsunami called the next presidential election and its onset, I've been struck by the apparent shrinking support the two-party system has. There seem to be more and more people unwilling to be associated with one or the other. Oh, they may vote that way, but that is because in the end there are seldom more than two choices.
We know one of the reasons for this: the Dark Side of each party. The Dems traditionally promised to fight for the little guy, the underprivileged. But they seem to have morphed into a party dependent upon top-down solutions, government-only programs. The Elephant Party on the other hand has traditionally favored small-government, laissez-faire economics, and a citizen-oriented social agenda, but have a sitting president who has looked more like a Democrat in his spending record.
Imitation, not competition, has dominated the two parties' practices, if not agendas. And the more they imitate each other, the less compelling the two parties have become. It just goes to show it is impossible to rule according to the latest poll. Add to this that strange phenomena--Postmodernism--and you have a challenging, almost unworkable political situation.
Much has been made of Postmodernism's absolute denial of absolute truth: all claims to it are reduced to metanarratives--manmade philosophies to which only individual opinion can appeal; science unable to prove an absolute, therefore there can be none, etc. However, there is a distinction to be made between postmodernism and postmodern. One is described just above: it is the pernicious leaven in the dough. Postmodern refers to the culture in which Postmodernism is having its way. One is a philosophy; the other is a way of life characterized by choice, a kind of freedom, a rediscovery of old things and a melding of old and new. We love strange bedfellows.
We do live in an era when the breakdown in linear, modernist thinking has given way to a somewhat winsome cultural and political national life. One of the vestigial hallmarks of the Old Way of modernism was loyalty to institutions and political parties. This is less and less the case, and one wonders if we'll ever recover the stability of a two party system again.
Some say our Postmodern society is winsome, because this is the internal experience of the postmodern age. We delight in choosing. in individualizing, in finetuning to our specific tastes everything in our lives. It starts with our cell phones but doesn't end there. It has grown to include our political candidates. We want to be able to choose the degree to which our candidate is green. or isolationist, or interventionist. Pro-life but pro civil-unions? Good! But adjust the dial a bit upward on immigration. If you think your candidates aren't paying attention to this, then you aren't watching the debates. We don't have candidates any more, we have marionettes. Well, perhaps I embellish.
This brings us to the electorates' fickle quality. Winsome we may be in our internal lives, but externally we are fickle. This may in part be simply a collective, short attention span. It may be because we spend too much money. It seems that fickleness is the external charactieristc of a postmodern society. It is the opposite of loyalty. To try to rule such a people is to try to "catch a wave upon the sand", as the nuns sang in The Sound of Music.
Enter the emerging third party. We've tried calling it Independent, but it just doesn't suffice. Green isn't quite the thing. Neither is Crunchy, Libertarian, or Social Democrat. But there IS a name that describes the ultimate non-party, a school of fish darting in every which direction. I give you
TRY winning an election by ignoring this bloc! TRY figuring out what this bloc WANTS! Appealing to The Postmodern Party is a political game of Twister. And that is why no one knows where anyone really stands on the "issues". The guys and gal who are running for President are playing the Breaking the Fourth Wall game with the audience: speaking directly to them and asking: "WHAT DO YOU WAANNNT???".
Short answer: We want it all.
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you solve a problem like Maria...?
A flibertygibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp,...a clown....
Thursday, August 9, 2007
My next project will be to photograph bumper stickers on cars outside a large evangelical church. We'll see if bumper stickers on cars in particular, well-defined locations have any thing particular to say.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
First Things' ON THE SQUARE has a really timely, funny article here, about a game one family is playing called "Blame It On W".
Here in Madison, this game has often been played as a not-game, a serious take on the issues of the day. The other day, grabbing a sandwich at Mildred's Sandwich Shop, in the very heart of the regentrified near east side of MadTown, I heard coming from the radio in the kitchen, an AirAmerica (or what have you) commentator ranting: "Why CAN'T we blame Bush for the collapse of that bridge in Minneapolis??!! After all...." Lots of folks here take this stuff as gospel. I'm having a lot of conversations that are very surreal about our current president.
The list of possibilities is almost endless. See what rationales you can come up with for the following scenarios:
- Bush caused the space shuttle Columbia disaster because....
- W and his minions were behind the Utah mine collapse. Did you know...?
- The low birth rate in Korea was caused by Bush's....
- We're eating more beets! But if it were up to Bush....
Bush caricature by Ken Roberts.
I remember reading Carl Sandburg's biography of Abe Lincoln. In it he described a late night: Lincoln not yet elected to the presidency, but deep in thought about this republic he was a part of. He stared into a dying fire, thinking about democracy.
In the latest National Review, Jonah Goldberg writes ("PUT 'EM TO THE TEST", NR, August 13, '07, pp. 30-31) about the problem with low voter turnout in America. He relates the story of an activist in Arizona last year who had a scheme to bribe Americans into voting by having ballots double as lottery tickets. Aiyee. Wrong approach. Goldberg points out that the expectations among left-leaning scholars and most journalists is that if more people voted, it would pay huge dividends for the Dems. He writes,
"Rock the Vote and its various sister organizations are simply dishonest when they say they want people to vote. What they really want is for people to vote for a prepackaged 'youth' ideology that includes the usual wish-list of liberal policies..."
While Goldberg argues that getting out the vote wouldn't necessarily play into the Democrat's hands, he also asks the surprising question, "If more voters isn't the answer, how about fewer?" If it is true that left-wing activism is geared toward expanding the numbers of voters to include the illiterate, the uninvolved, the ignorant, the lazy--wouldn't a good counter move be to raise the standards by which you are allowed the vote? Horrors!
Goldberg argues that the voting standards of today are arbitrary. For example, there are plenty of teenagers out there who are more informed and savvy about government than masses of registered and "qualified" voters. He points out that people are very savvy about things they care about, and otherwise pretty ignorant. He asks, "So why should those who don't care about voting be harangued to vote? I don't get to vote on who should make it into the Rose Bowl, so why are we so desperate to get the input of people who know less about government than I do about football?"
Finally he asks,
"What would be so awful about a simple test of civic knowledge?...I'd suggest the test immigrants must answer in order to become U.S. citizens."
What indeed? A test would raise the bar, and in doing so would restore to the right to vote its place as an esteemed, civic activity.
I have an idea that it was the conundrum of offering power to the people--an irresponsible, distracted populace--that worried a sleepless Abe Lincoln on more than one night.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
...they are shrinking.
An article at Mercatornet.com indicates that no country 's birth rate has ever recovered if the birth rate drops below 1.5 children per woman. In Korea, the rate is already 1.16.
On the face of it, it makes plenty of sense, really. If you kill your babies, you're going to have fewer people. But what happens if you become culturally addicted to killing your babies? And add to that the strange modern trend of higher rates of infertility. After awhile the aging population cannot be supported by the much smaller younger population. If this were your problem, what would you do?
Some of the things being tried in Europe and Japan: In Portugal they are debating making those with fewer children pay more into their retirement accounts, a sensible idea. At the other end of the practical spectrum, some local governments in Japan are subsidizing speed dating. Speed dating. Do they, I mean really, think that if they speed up the time it takes to line up a date they'll speed up the rate of population increase? I suppppppose that might work. I guess I'd like to see the studies.
Suffice it to say this is a real problem, particularly among Europe's relatively "small" countries. The latest, hippest idea is IVF--in vitro fertilization. See the article cited above to read about that.
For a map showing birthrates worldwide, see this
What is that German word meaning "pleasure deriving from someone else's misfortune"? Schadenfreud. I'm tempted, but I'm not going there.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
The famous photograph "Grace", by Robert Enstrom (and hand-colored by his daughter Rhoda Nyberg)-- prints of which have adorned American homes since the 1920's --will be a familiar one to many.
Some years ago, my sister Rebecca invited our father to her home and hired a photographer to try to duplicate somewhat the famous print.
How'd they do?
How very interesting it is to look into these sermons of my grandfather and find little pearls. This snippet was in an envelope (See my introduction here) with a return address printed as follows:
The Morrow Memorial Home For The Aged
R. Harold Gee, President
711 Division St., La Crosse, Wisconsin
As was his habit, he'd listed on this envelope all of the locations and dates on which the sermon had been given. This was first given in "Salzer. La x" [LaCrosse] on Feb. 28, 1943. It was given fifteen more times (!) in 1944, and was last given the year I was born, 1953. It was given in Sparta, Soldiers Grove, Red Mound, Liberty Pole, Necedah, New Lisbon, Arkansaw, Durand, Neillsville, Reedsburg, North Freedom, and Baraboo, among many others. I do believe that by this time he had district responsibilities which explains the frequent repetition of the sermon in so short a time.
Here is that snippet:
John 17,19 "For their sakes I sanctify myself"
I was born and raised in a small town. I suspect I give some indications of it, for only last week a chicago street car conductor, with a look of disgust, asked me if I did not know which end of a street to get on. For some things however I am still thankful-- for the place of my birth [He was born in the midlands, England]. We knew nearly everybody in our town, and pretty near everything about them. We had a few "Characters". You know what I mean. One was Stephen ART. Not Hart. Everybody called him STIVVY. He was a dirty, Smelly, old batchelor when I was a boy. He made his living by ratcatching. He lived alone--with his dogs and ferrets--in an alley across the tracks. He had but few friends among NICE people--poor fellow. But with his sack on his back and his dogs at his heels he was interesting to boys. One night three or four of us lads went over by his little place, and attracted by the candlelight thro the window decided to peek in. He was kneeling by his bedside saying "Goodnight" to God. I caught the words "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I tell you that was a great thing for a boy to see and hear. A man reveals his soul when he prays for only God to hear."
For some reason, except for a few handwritten notes, the sermon stops there. On the next page he rewrote the sermon, and it is clearly written for the particular time he lived in, for he refers to the war and to the suffering of Christians in China and Europe. At a later time I'll transcribe this sermon in full for you. Stay tuned.
Friday, August 3, 2007
A few days ago I wrote an introduction here to the topic of a large collection of sermons written and given by my Grandfather Gee, who rose to be a district superintendent of the Methodist Church in Wisconsin in the first half of the last century.
I am a convert to Lutheranism, and as such have had much to think about regarding my religious upbringing. That in itself shouldn't be of much interest to anyone else. But what may be of interest is the history of Christianity in America in the past century. I thought quoting sections of some of my father's father's sermons might give some insight--anecdotally of course--into the life and direction of the church as it fought its way through the bloodiest century in history.
This sermon was first given on December 31, 1910, was given nine more times and last given on January 2, 1943. I've edited for typos. Your mind's ear should be filled with a strong English brogue while reading, for best effect. Be patient: there is more Christ here than I've found in many other of his sermons.
When I first read this, having already read a number of his sermons, I was a bit shocked and disappointed that the great lead-in would end with "I must see Rome". This was Paul's persistent hope? C'mon, grandpa! Who are you kidding? But, as I discovered, grandpa had something else in mind.
A NEW YEAR MESSAGE
Acts 19.21; Phil. 1.21
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
No apostle of Christianity has made a greater contribution to the establishment of its principles or served with more devotion its wondrous leader than the man who utterd these words. To most of us it is of interest to know and to analyse the peculiar capabilities and endowments and opportunities that have carried men through and made them great. The study of these elements in the life of Paul is always interesting. I can imagine no more profitable a meditation now that we are in the midst of the formation of new resolutions and plans than a study of the most noble resolutions and in fact the all absorbing passions which led to a glorious end, this great apostle to the Gentiles.
Even the briefest analysis of his success will suffice to show us that although many things in the makeup of the man--his keen and cultured intellect, his resolute will, his unfailing devotion, his social standing--all these things stood him good in the struggle. Yet all that was attempted and all that was achieved was the outcome of ONE or TWO persistent hopes that filled his heart and one all absorbing passion that filled his life. Paul's soul was possessed of one passion and not a thousand. He had ONE clear vision and not a dozen hazy, indefinite outlooks. At the outset of his Christian life he came to know what he was after and he bent all that came his way to acheive THAT. And I venture to suggest to you that all that he did to help establish the kingdom was due to the fact that his life, year in and year out, was in the grip of a great desire.
I must see ROME. That was the desire and dream of his life. The one thing he YEARNED to do. For me to live is Christ. That is the one thing he COULD do. The living of the life of the Christ was the practical thing that occupied his soul as he saw his beloved city afar off..."
"...But Paul loved Rome because experience had taught him the wisdom of getting to the great centres of Roman life and rule. With his passionate zeal for the spread of the gospel, and his keen eye for true and great opportunities, with his splendid courage that would face freely the perils of the faith, the apostle felt that if he could gain a foothold in the metropolis of the world it would be one of the greatest opportunities that ever man had handled. He longed to preach in those spacious portals the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.
And the years of splendid patience and heroic toil passed away, and the old man's hair grew grey and it may be that he thought the the opportunity would never come.
BUT IT DID--AND OH THE PATHOS OF IT.
He entered the city in the charge of a soldier. He was tried after two years and then acquitted, and then after two or three years of liberty Rome seized him again. This time her temper was changed. Paul was held in close captivity until the heedless cruelty of Nero sent this great hero of the cross to martyrdom. THAT WAS HOW PAUL SAW ROME . That was the way in which the dream of the years was realized. And here and now as we stand on the threshold of another year, I want you to bring the desire of your heart and life to the judgement of this noble story.
We have to be devoutly thankful that all our lives are not measured by our experiences. That dull and irksome toil do not interpret the whole of life. A part of life--and a great part--is the unrealized. All we could never be--that to which we have not attained--the place and the condition that is ahead to which we hope to attain: THE DREAMS OF LIFE.
If we are frank with ourselves and with one another we shall confess that as we feel our limitations and the irksomeness of our toil that we all whisper in our heart, "I would see ROME."
And the FIRST thing that I want you to let Saint Paul teach you is this: that [it is] only the religion of Jesus Christ that makes your dreams of Rome worth the dreaming. What is Rome to you???? ALAS to most people it is not far off. It is the place of a thousand pleasures, the scene of unceasing variety, and change, the whirl of new sensations. Rome was the world's great marketplace, its streets like the streets of all great cities were paved with GOLD to the man who had never seen them. If the city of your dreams for 1911 [This is scratched out and"1920" penned in; in a typed copy of this sermon, he has "1915" written] is a city of gaiety, of pleasure, of wealth, of personal self advancement alone, with no desire to reach onto his habitation [both copies say this; I'm not familiar with the phrase] then I do not hesitate to tell you whoever you may be that the desire of your life is unworthy of the heart that contains it. You may say to me, 'Surely if I do my duty nothing else matters.' My time and my resources and my strength may belong to others but surely my dreams are my own. It is true my friends that if you do your duty nothing else does matter, but that is because your dream, your desire, your affections, and hope, your arm and your character all go to the doing of your duty. And so my friends the hopes & plans & dreams of the future must be in the hands of [G]od. And the Rome of your dream must be the habitation 'Jehovah'. We make a mistake of trying to isolate some parts of life. Life is one. Etc.Etc. [He actually wrote this! Remember these are sermon notes, not polished papers. More on that later.]
You cannot give the world some of your hopes and the Saviour all of your service. WHY? ---Because the dream[s] of the future are stamping an impression on the conduct of today. Thanks be to God, that Christianity's great offer to the world is not a splendid ideal, not a perfect ethic, it is a CLEANSED HEART, an INSPIRED WILL, a SURE & CERTAIN HOPE, a new life. If we want to know how St Paul entered Rome we must remember how Saul of Tarsus entered Damascus. "Saul, Saul, why Persecutest thou me?" The eternal love broke this man's heart, slew then and there his selfishness, and turned all his masterful wilfulness into a tender love & obediance. And do you see after that: One fact & only one shone thro his dreams; one voice, and only one spoke to his duties, life was unified. For it was the face & the voice of the Saviour of the world. We praise God for this that when any man, MARK YOU, ANYMAN thus gives himself to JC everything in his life, from his most distant dream to his nearest duty become righted and controlled. .."
Finally we come to it: the sermon is about the cross, and the cross in vocation. He even gives a nod to unlimited atonement! Here is a snippet of the end of the sermon:
"...May we all know that no man can find anything higher than the will of God for him just here & now. Paul reached Rome at last in chains, as a prisoner. If you want to render the greatest service, don't clutch at the crown, but be ready to wear the fetters.
Many a young man in the glamour of his morning time, many a great Roman at the zenith of his power, passed thro the gates of Rome, but the joy they found and the fame they won are forgotten. But still the world remembers one who, after years of toil passed along thro its gates, with the thought in his heart and the fruit of it in his life, "For me to live is Christ"
"Yea, thro life, thro death, thro sorrow, and thro sinning
He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed;
Christ is the end, for the Christ was the beggining,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ"
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Here, a snippet from the fifteen-something-year-old, precocious, confessional Lutheran. He uses the third person "bob" to refer to his very own self:
High on God Part IYou know, that third person "Bob" thing still works for me, isn't it strange? And yes, I'll be speaking to him about his unionistic practices. He'll claim he doesn't inhale, you watch.
Wow, Bob must be one serious masochist. For the second time I went to the Calvary Chapel "retreat" (of which I have previously written) to have people do their utmost to brainwash me and turn me into a mindless happyzombie swaying and mumbling to repetitive praise music. Now of course I enjoyed it as I did before, all but the horrible theologyless preachin' and soul-sucking music.
I arrived and threw my things in a tent, hoping that it was the correct one. I spent the next half hour or so wandering around finding people I knew and meeting people I didn't. After a bit we started a game of football and all the testosterone pumped boys ran about tackling each other to the ground, half the time not even caring if that particular person under them had the ball. Of course true, clean fun could not last. Within fifteen minutes the controlling half-adults decided that we couldn't do anything that would help turn us into not-weenies so it declined into girlish touch football.
Eventually we were herded like cattle to the slaughter from the field to the barn/church. There a band (which to them is almost as holy as "pastor dude" himself) began playing horrible, contentless repetitive crap they call "praise music." the sad thing about this particular setting is that the band was actually pretty good. The bass and drums especially were great, taking the occasional flourish to show that they had actually skill and didn't belong with these idiots. At long last we finished and a guy in a pony tail wandered up on stage. He spewed some crap; we prayed the Prayer of the Just ("Lord, we just want to thank you and, just ask your presence here and just...") and then were free to, once again, light things on fire with gasoline.
Zeke's blog also is in the running for one of the coolest names: MENTAL LLAMA
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Before my father passed away in 2005, he gave over to me the curatorship--he wouldn't have called it that--of my grandfather's sermons.
Grandpa Gee came over to America from England in the very early years of the last century--he began attending the University of Wisconsin in 1905, majoring in Philosophy. A tradition in our family has it that he wore a top-hat upon disembarking in the New World, not knowing that they were out of fashion here.
While at the university, he began his vocation as a Methodist pastor. This was a mentored vocation: no seminary was expected, available, or required. During the university years, upon a Sunday morning, he would ride the train to Mazomanie, Wisconsin, and conduct the service and preach the sermon in the tiny Methodist church in that sleepy river town. I do not know the content of his theological education, apart from the sermons that I have in my care. But the sermons have provided me with some important insights into my own father's understanding of what Christianity amounted to, and it has been with deeply mixed emotions that I have browsed through them.
The reason for this is the complete lack of the gospel. I have read in vain looking for Christ and salvation in his sermons. The occasional mention of Jesus is almost always in the context of his being a great teacher. But this has given me some insight into my own father's tendency to sum up his faith in the words, "What the hell. I've made mistakes. But I'm basically a good man." Grandpa's sermons have helped me to understand why Dad didn't really understand his faith until he was facing death and coming to realize that being a "good man" was an illusion, a disease for which there is a cure.
And so I read my grandfather's sermons with an historian's eye rather than a grandson's, at least most of the time. I need a little objective distance in my study of them. In the near future, I'll share some of his sermons with you.
There are a few hundred sermons in this collection. Each sermon is housed in an old, yellowing envelope. On the back of the envelope, Grandpa listed the sermon topic at the top, and then the location and date of the many times he gave that particular sermon. For example, under the title New Year's Sermon, Acts 19.21, are the following locations and dates (transcribed as clearly as I can read them):
- Whig Dec 31, 1910
- Elk Grove Jan 15, 1911
- Revised whig [?] E G Dec 29, 12
- Blue River }Basswood Feb. 7, 1915
- Cumberland Jan 2, '16
- Barron 12/28/19
- Glenwood City Jan 19, 21
- Mondovi Dec. 30, 1922
- Trempeleau-Centerville- 1.2.1943
My son Jeremy flew from Detroit to Seoul, Korea last Thursday. He said he counted 27 Harry Potter books being read on the trip.
"The thing that makes that number [300 wins] so great is that you think about guys winning 15-20 games a year, that's the top pitcher in baseball," former Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre says. "You have to win 15 games 20 times. My God. When you break it down like that, man alive, that would make anybody's arm hurt."Winning 300 games is the big news, and Glavine is being spoken of as the latest (barring an injury) and perhaps LAST pitcher to reach this Hall of Fame goal. I happen to know he'll win his 300th game in his next start against the Cubs, but that isn't what I want to tell you about.
What is really interesting is speculation that he may be the last to reach 300. There is talk that the new wins bar is 250. Read this to get the in-depth scoop on why that is.
Why are modern day pitchers not likely to win 300 games in their careers?
The article cites these reasons:
- Five man rotations, which take starts away from pitchers.
- Large, specialized bullpens so that starters don't go as deeply into games as they once did.
- Big salaries, which may dull the competitive edge. Mike Mussina, the great pitcher for the Yanks, thinks this has quite an impact.
- The development of the disabled list. Some old timers observe that pitchers in the past would pitch through pain rather than getting benched.
- You can't ignore the steroid era. Hitters are stronger, with better reflexes, etc. The causes of this are debatable, but only just.
What active pitchers have a shot at 300 wins? Here is the list; tell me what you think their chances are:
- Randy Johnson 284 wins
- Pedro Martinez 206 wins
- Andy Pettite 192 wins
- Curt Schilling 213 wins
- Mike Mussina 244 wins