Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Latest Big Snow

Predictions For The New Year

  • The cardinal will hit the window.
  • It'll be Clinton/Richardson vs. Romney/McCain.
  • The boys will add a minimum of six new stamps to their passports.
  • The book club will finally read some serious poetry, while sipping Chartreuse.
  • Robin will see Ireland.
  • The Brewers will finally play in the postseason!
  • There will be at least one Al Queda attack on our homeland; a sort of "going away" present for the president.
  • The puppy Anke will wonder what happened to all of that lovely, cold, white wet fun fluffy stuff. She'll learn to run alongside a bicycle, and discover the proper place for a dog to take a dump. Goodness.
  • Or maybe it'll be Guiliani vs. Obama.
  • The earth will continue to warm up, while at the same time it will cool off. Weird, huh?
  • We may all have to learn how to cook a wolf.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

December 25

Christmas, of course.
A male Cardinal--a fat pesky intrepid bird--has taken a shine to our bathroom window. For over a month now, each morning we're awakened by the sound of it pecking the window. There is a large bush outside, so it has a perch from which to launch its attacks.

We don't know why he does this. We think he sees his reflection in the window in the mornings and attacks. Poor misguided creature.

A few days ago I went into the bathroom and found that Robin had pasted a print of a large lion, mouth agape, facing outward on the window where our Cardinal friend resides in the mornings. It didn't help.


In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window
So, another Christmas Day: Sunrise, the cardinal hits the window, I wake up, and Robin ("Up at 10, awake at noon") is already up, rifling through her stocking. There is some really good stuff in there: gift cards which set a girl's mind dreaming of craft stores and whole food markets. The puppy, and I use the term loosely, gets walked, into a stiff northeast wind and back. A beautiful morning. I meet a stranger on our country road, "Good morning!" I say. "Merry Christmas!" back at me.

Church at nine: I'd asked last week if we could Please! have communion on Christmas Day, which was granted! During church I found myself thinking of this:

Ahem. I mean, we get just a biblical glance at the Christ child, a conflation of time and event. Just another baby born in an overcrowded little town in Judah, his daddy having to register with the Roman overlords. Read Fred Buechner's THE MAGNIFICENT DEFEAT; he does this so well.

Just a glance, and then he's twelve, and then he's thirty three. It would be easy enough to leave it at that, no freaked out shepherds; no angelic choirs, magi bearing gifts, otherworldly treasures hidden away in a mother's heart--these things amplify a story that is just so commonplace. Ok, some bad luck, a lady ready to deliver and the local inns booked solid.

So I would sort of understand the skeptics who say: "Why add the glitz? Why the glory? Is it really necessary? What's the point?"
Then a carol, then a sermon, then we commune. These mid-week Christmas morning services: just a few of us there, huddled around the Word.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


THis is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

from On The Morning of Christ's Nativity by John Milton

John Milton's wonderful Christmas poem about Christ's birth, written in 1629, goes beyond the good news of our redemption to include the redemption of the universe and all that the Lord had created. And Nature so personified, recognizes this is "not the season" to "wanton with the sun her lusty paramour." Instead, she lays aside her "gawdy trim" in reflection of her Lord laying aside his dignity, to be born of a young maiden in a cave in a nowhere town in Judah.

Onely with speeches fair
She woo's the gentle Air
To hide her guilty front with innocent Snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinfull blame,
The Saintly Vail of Maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Makers eyes
Should look so neer upon her foul deformities.

She hides her breasts; her naked shame "pollute with sinfull blame": Nature knows of her fallenness, having received and now sharing it with the first mother and father. It is Winter, let it snow!--and by so doing attempt to cover her sinfulness, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden, and as all Old Men do.

But Christ the babe full of wisdom and comfort brings a Harbinger, Peace, to comfort the earth.

But he her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyd Peace,
She crown'd with Olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphear,
His ready Harbinger,
With Turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing,
And waving wide her mirtle wand,
She strikes a universall Peace through Sea and Land.

I first came across this poem in high school, when the choir I was a part of sang a musical setting of it. The setting was beautiful, and did what music can do: framed the poem in rich, subtle, sculpted harmonies that to this day always are in my head as I read Milton's lines.

Milton, of course, was bobbing in a sea of classical readings and allusions. Most of us read Milton like we read the Psalms: missing much of what the writer is trying to convey because we don't have the language (All of the punning that seems to be going on in Hebrew) or the familiarity with the classical stories (Ovid's Metamorphoses, Homer's The Iliad, or Virgil's The Annead, etc) to pick out the little winks and nods of his verse.

Still, there is much to enjoy and wonder at in his poetry. On The Morning is a very fine place to start.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Sunday, December 15, 2007

Up at sunrise, stretching before taking the puppy for her first long walk of the day. I took this picture through our living room window, out over the deck and past the tornado-ravaged trees, slowly making their way back from that harrowing storm.

Studying Hebrews chapter four in adult Bible class this morning, we came across these words:
And later, "He again fixes a certain day, 'Today...'"

What is meant by "Today"? The millenium, as Lutherans understand it? I think so. It is the time alotted to "enter God's rest". "Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it." (Heb.4:1)
I think what also is meant is what is expressed in the Collect for Matins:
"Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.
Abide with us and with Your whole Church.
Abide with us in the end of the day,
In the end of our life,
And in the end of the world..."
We live our lives in the end times. "Today" is such a reminder that we live in the promises and rest of the Lord, with fulfillment and a greater rest to come.

The Collect prayer concludes:
"Abide with us with Your grace and goodness,
with Your holy Word and Sacrament,
with Your strength and blessing.
Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us,
the night of fear and despair when death shall come.
Abide with us and with all the faithful through time and eternity."
We sometimes lightly refer to ourselves as "Dark Lutherans". I think this prayer expresses what that means, and also what it means to live Today, each day. We don't pretend that death is something wonderful. We don't pretend that we aren't weak and fearful at the approach of death. Still, we keep death in our sights, and in its proper perspective. What follows death is the Greater Rest of heaven, and we pray that we will die well.

It is well to daily remember that we live in the "Today".

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Over-representation of facts"??

See previous post/rant.

Here's a sample of having to check and correct "facts", when your opponent is using emotionalism to gloss the story.
(Ok, sure. It is written by the other side. But this just points out the need for another side in these "Is It Science?" debates).

Al Gore admits that he "over-represented" the facts in his Oscar winning movie An Inconvenient Truth. Which makes me wonder: Is it truth? Is it inconvenient?

A few snippets from the article in NRO entitled Convenient Untruths by Deroy Murdock.

“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem,” Gore told Grist in the May 9, 2006 Grist Magazine. “Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.”
Murdock rightly asks: um, is "over-representation" the same as mis-representation? I'm sure the term is too nuanced for most of us to grasp.

"The alarmists who trumpeted recent years as ‘warmest ever!!!’ in the United States (by a mere tenth of a degree) now dismiss this reversal — 2000 and subsequent years being cooler than 1900 — as just being a tenth of a degree or so,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Horner. “Well, either that’s a big deal whichever direction it falls, or it isn’t. Which time are you lying?”
NASA has placed some of its temperature sensors in inappropriate locations (near parking lots, above barbecue grills!) and since 1970 has painted its previously white-washed temperature sites semi-gloss latex. Both of these things will artificially raise temperature readings. One wonders if there is a felt need at NASA to over-represent the facts in order to (you choose):
1. Get people off their duffs to fix this inevitable man-made global warming disaster.
2. Bolster its reputation as a cutting-edge and necessary publicly-funded organization.
3. Build careers for some of its people.

I don't know. But one wonders. Norman Teigen (see previous post: comments) is probably right. We ought to be grabbing for our wallets.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"The research shows that..."

Grrr, my heart's abhorrence...

My pet peeve phrase is: "We now know that...", followed by whatever is being pimped by the sour science of the day. We now know that all of history is a sham created by white, male, homophobic, right-wing power brokers. Or some variation on the theme. This is a game of Cry Wolf that is causing all sorts of problems in society. And the reason for that is, society in general is not as well equipped to think logically and clearly about new ideas and problems. Instead, the Emotion card is regularly played.

One aspect of the Emotion Card is the de rigeur phrase, "The research shows that..." or, "We now know that...". Both are red flag phrases, and ought to be. Too often the "research" is agenda driven and hasn't been rigourously challenged. And too often, when it is rigorously challenged, we find that the "research" did not prove what we are told it proves. Read here for an example of questionable research in the service of an agenda, in the emotion-laden field of child rearing.

Back in the day, the phrase meant something, although even Then, one hoped to have someone checking the data. But it has now become worse than a meaningless phrase--indeed, invoking the research now suggests an agenda. We now have in place hundreds of organizations who "check" the research and grade it.

This emotionalism which is rampant in our midst is causing real problems in any number of fields. My wife just finished a week of jury duty. The case she was called to hear had to do with a disorderly conduct charge against a man that should never--even the judge admitted it afterward--have come to court. But the man was being unjustly accused of DC and insisted on a jury trial, even though the fine would have been $100. Setting aside the gross investment of human time for 13 jurors to sit and hear this case--and acknowledging the man's right to attempt to clear his name when he was convinced he was innocent--what is newsworthy here is the response of the majority of the jurors upon hearing the five hours of testimony. They were convinced that the "he said, she said" testimony amounted to "facts", when in fact it was a balance of conflicting opinion. My wife Deb was one of two people who took a lot of extreme heat from the rest of the jurors by refusing to bow to the emotional appeal of the prosecution. She simply insisted that there was not enough clear, unbiased information to make a decision. "But we have these FACTS!" she was told (in emotional tones of voice, I might add). "Those aren't facts! We have two sets of conflicting opinions based upon these people's feelings! Are you sure you want to set a precedent here?" So said my obstinate wife.

One of the interesting aspects of the case is, the accused had a gun in his trunk, and just mentioned, in the course of what he felt were threats to his person, that he "didn't want to be forced to use it." The gun, turns out, was a BB gun, still in its package, that he was planning to return to the store. But the invocation of the word "gun", for several of the jurors, immediately meant he was assaulting the other party. "What if it turned out he had no gun?" asked my wife. That didn't matter, using the word was assault.

In the end, they were a hung jury, and were excused by the judge. But for two stubborn jurors, the man would have been convicted.

Ok. Rant over.

Monday, December 3, 2007


Meet Army Of One
(and Anke, grazing in the grass in September).
Army is Anke's daddy.
I'll let Anke's daddy's breeder, Jane Kerner, describe more about Army's bona fides:

There is a Grand Victor and a Grand Victrix title awarded each year by a very respected judge voted by the membership to judge the German Shepherd Dog Club's National Specialty Show Best of Breed Class.
There are many judges in all the venues, but just one judges the Best of Breed competition.
This year the annual show was held in Loveland, Colorado, October 14-20.
This year the entry was large. There were 493 dogs entered with a total of 528 Entries including the 72 Futurity/Maturity Entries and the 72 Rally entries. One dog can compete in several venues.)
The already Champion titled dogs and bitches are eligible to compete in the Best of Breed Class by virtue of their Champion title bestowed by the American Kennel Club. There were 113 Champions present.
Hundreds of Breeders come from all over the United States and Canada to present their very best and as spectators.
The event was held at the Ford Park Events Center.
The title of Grand Victor is the highest honor which can be bestowed by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America in conformation competition on a male.
In the final competition for Best of Breed, the Grand Victor competes with the Grand Victrix, the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, for the Best of Breed title.

Army is US Grand Victor and Best of Breed.

What a wonderful animal.

Into Great Silence

On a snowy weekend in early December we settled down with hot tea and snacks to watch this fascinating movie about Carthusian monks in the French Alps. It is a gorgeous movie. The stark beauty of the setting; the stark simplicity of the lives of the men; the stony silence of their lifestyle: these things create a setting in which little events become extraordinary: a weekly walk and chat session, a sledding party, a monk chirping away at a collection of ruddy barn cats.

Yet one wonders. Behind the scenes, is it all this silent, this perfect? As a Lutheran having inherited a certain distrust of the type, I want to peer beyond the camera's scope to find the human sin. Having read Ellis Peter's The Father Cadfael Mysteries, and the wonderful children's novels by Penelope Wilcock, not to mention Robert Browning (see below) and Martin Luther himself (De votis monasticis, 1521), I bring a certain burden of suspicion to the topic. By their obedience and faithful study and prayer, the monks expect to storm heaven, and to know God in some mystical fashion. There is definitely an implication that they are First Class Christians. Do they have a deeper sense of their sin as time goes by? And what is to be found in this Silence they ardently seek over a lifetime? I note that they are the maker's and distributors of Chartreuse, a fiery and sweet liquor of ancient recipe. 130 herbs and flowers! It's gotta be good for you. At one time it was considered an healthful elixir, before it became known as just a really good booze. Do the holy monks sample their own wares? Are they like British sailors of yore (In many other ways they are: the routine, the solitude, the deprivation; the communing with the natural world) who received their daily cup of rum?

One other thing: this movie won a host of awards, including one at the Sundance Film Festival. Was this for the beauty of the cinematography? The otherworldly worthiness of the monks' lives? Were they praiseworthy because of their minimal carbon footprint? Certainly it wasn't that they worshipped Christ?

My Buddhist chiropractor pipes Gregorian chant into her adjustment rooms. I've often wondered if the language were English and not Latin, if she'd still do so. The content would certainly offend her and her clientele.

Anway, a snippet of the promised Robert Browning poem: Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister. Here is the "other view" of monastic life.


Gr-r-r---there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims---
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!


At the meal we sit together:
_Salve tibi!_ I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
Sort of season, time of year:
_Not a plenteous cork-crop: scarcely
Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt:
What's the Latin name for ``parsley''?_
What's the Greek name for Swine's Snout?