Friday, December 11, 2009

The Divine Deli

Back in the day, when I was deeply involved in the Transcendental Meditation program, some of those of us who were starting to look askance at where "the Movement" (as it was called by insiders) was taking us would sit around and talk about the Spiritual Rat Race. The SRR can be found in any number of New Age groups, and amounts to a sort of competition among True Believers (Robespierre comes to mind, but that's politics) for doing the right things, saying the right things, and being Spiritually Correct in all outward appearances. It had to do with keeping up with the latest thing, whether it be rudrash beads, yogic flying techniques, or just the right sort of incense you burned during the puja. When you come to realize that Cosmic Consciousness is just the first step on the path to getting off of the great mendalla; that God Consciousness is followed by Unity Consciousness and there's no way this foul sojourner will get there in this lifetime, its time to maybe rethink the path.
Well, I got out of there, thanks in part to a relationship with a woman who became a wife; the woman yearning to rediscover her Christian roots. The guy--me--sort of just tried to keep up. Little did I know that Americans would soon enough begin to practice a sort of spiritual rat race of their own, in imitation of that which I had fled.

Now comes an article in the Wall St. Journal by a Mr. Prothero, religion professor at Boston U. The article, entitled A HINT OF THIS, A PINCH OF THAT, reviews the latest Pew research into the strange habits of American Christians, among others. It seems we've rejected our first love, if we ever loved at all, in favor of picking and choosing the spiritual path that most appeals to us. Nothing new there. The good news is that Professor Prothero is bothered by it. Let's see why.

In a survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, it was concluded that the U.S. is a "nation of religious drifters". Prothero compares it well to the sort of serial monogamy that has become so widespread among American adults. But it gets worse:

"A new Pew study, released last week, shows that Americans are swingers as well as switchers, flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation. Catholic leaders have long denounced 'Cafeteria Catholics' for going down the line and picking and choosing the Catholic beliefs and practices they choose to uphold. According to this new study, Americans as a group are now bellying up to what my Boston University colleague John Berthrong has referred to as the 'divine deli.'"
Prothero asks, "Is mixing religous traditions a matter of heresy or ignorance?" I would answer, "It is a matter of lack of discipline, plus some heresy and ignorance."
He calls it "religious promiscuity" and I would agree with that. Americans have become spiritual Tiger Woods's (to jump on a certain bandwagon). We've got a problem with that.
"Once upon a time, Baptists and Lutherans and Disciples of Christ fought bitterly over such matters as when to baptize Christians and just how Jesus was present at the Eucharist. But that stuff is so last century. Today even the distinctions between Jews and Buddhists, or between Hindus and Christians, are starting to blur, not least because most Americans have almost no idea what these traditions stand for....contemporary Americans know almost nothing about their own religious traditions and even less about the traditions of others. Most Americans cannot name any of the Four Gospels, and an overwhelming majority admit to being wholly ignorant about Islam. So we shuffle from one to the other with little sense of what is being lost (or gained) in the process."
Prothero thinks this process of mix 'n' match is more akin to the marketplace than to education. "The store managers in our spiritual marketplace seem a bit too eager to sell us whatever they imagine we want."

Ouch. 'Tis too true. Everyone is doing what is right in his/her own eyes.

I think that it goes deeper than that, or actually, more shallow: we haven't done the grammar of the thing. We don't sit still long enough to know how to parse our own tradition, like an inexperienced, anxious young woodworker who is so eager to assemble a piece of furniture that he neglects to take the little steps that make the piece of furniture functional and beautiful. Maybe it is our penchant for emphasizing the rhetoric stage of education before we've ever slogged through the grammar and logic stages of anything. Let the little children clarify their values.

In any case, it is beginning to look like a spiritual rat race to me. As Prothero concludes:
"Absent a chain of memory that ties us to these religion's ancient truths, these visions are lost, and we are left to our own devices, searching for God with as much confusion as we search, in love, for the next new thing."
I naturally have a problem with all of these ancient traditions actually having spiritual truths--to say nothing of The Truth--but his point is nevertheless apropos to the sorts of things going on in Lutheran churches all over this land.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Deb's Kindness Cleansing Diet For Husbands

Or, her husband, at any rate.

Homemade almond milk, apples, cashews, beets, yellow beets, and greens,greens, greens.
That's what I'm talkin' about!

Every day a new version.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Obama, the New Rehoboam?

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, "How do you advise me to answer this people?" And they said to him, "If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever." But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, "What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, 'Lighten the yoke that your father put on us'? And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, "Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, 'Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,' thus shall you say to them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's thigh. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'"
I KINGS 12:6-11
Peggy Noonan, in her usual Saturday Wall Street Journal column, has some things to say about what people are saying about the new president that brought this quote to mind. I'd call Noonan a moderate, although she did work for Ronald Reagan and was a speechwriter in the first Bush presidency. Nevertheless, she has a more even hand than many conservative pundits these days.

In her column she makes two points, or rather points to two moderate-to-Democratic sources of concern for the way the administration is carrying on. The first is domestic: she quotes journalist Elizabeth Drew:

...[w]hile the president was in Asia last week, "a critical mass of influential people who once held big hopes for his presidency began to wonder whether they had misjudged the man."... They once held "an unromantically high opinion of Obama,"...but now they are concluding that the president isn't "the person of integrity and even classiness they had thought."
MY thought on this is: "On what basis did they come to their initial conclusions?" which has been my question from the time Obama arose out of the obscurity of the Illinois state senate. It seems that supporters from the beginning have ascribed to the man whatever their own hopes and aspirations are. The movie BEING THERE is a comical but close approximation of what I think went on. If they are now coming to different conclusions, then it is not Obama that is to blame, but their own delusions of who this man is. Bottom line: we are still finding out.

Noonan then turns to another source, Leslie Gelb, writing in the Daily Beast. This centers on the Asian trip, and The Bow. Noonan, quoting Gelb:
...the president's Asia trip suggested "a disturbing amateurishness in managing America's power." The president's Afghanistan review has been "inexcusably clumsy," Mideast negotiations have been "fumbling." ...He added that rather than bowing to emperors--Mr. Obama "seems to do this stuff spontaneously and inexplicably"--he should begin to bow to "the voices of experience" in Washington.

When longtime political observers start calling for wise men, a president is in trouble.
Noonan's last comment is interesting, and is what made me think of the ancient king Rehoboam, the son of Solomon who took over the troubled kingdom at the death of his father. The fork in the road for the new king had to do with what advice he would abide by. History tells us that he took the wrong fork in the road, piling more financial woes on a people who had already been scoured by the cost of building Solomon's temple, and, according to the prophecy of Ahijah, ultimately losing 83% of his kingdom to the former servant Jeroboam. And here we have, perhaps, a parallel figure in Obama, replacing the "whips" of the past administrations with the "scorpions" of vastly expanded federal spending, the likes of which we may never get out from under.

Noonan, again quoting Drew:
She sco[u]red "the Chicago crowd" which she characterized as "a distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team." The White House, Ms. Drew says, needs adult supervision--"an older, wiser head, someone with a bit more detachment."
A few weeks ago after church, I stood next to a man I didn't quite know except I knew he fervently opposed Obama. To my delight and surprise, what he said was, "I find myself praying for this president more than any president we've ever had."

As Noonan writes, "Mr Obama is in a hard place."
We might start, or having started, continue, praying for the man.

UPDATE : It seems Der Spiegel has gotten on the BashObama bandwagon as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heroic Adventures In Oven Repair

The Critter

It's 3:59 in the afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving. My wife is upstairs, slaving away making pies, peeling potatoes, preparing all the fixin's for a Thanksgiving dinner she isn't going to enjoy because she has to work the next day.

I'm in the basement hiding.

Suddenly, out of the blue, comes the call:

"THE OVEN WON'T WORK! Can you come take a look at it?"

Deb and I stood before the gleaming but aging GE wonderoven, the second of our thirty-plus-year marriage, and thought about how to cook a turkey on a stick, over a fire in the firepit on the deck. The oven wouldn't turn on. I mean, what's THAT all about? I started to laugh. "Maybe Cindy next door will let us use her oven..."

Finally, the shock wore off and reality set in. I had to act--FAST! We were burning daylight. The Bartlett boys were coming to dinner tomorrow and they were not to be denied. The doggone BROILER worked, so why wouldn't that lower burner ignite when we pushed all the right buttons?? I suggested we try lighting it "by hand", a technical term my wife didn't like the sound of. That got her to dig out the oven operating instructions, which indicated in fairly strong terms that lighting the oven "by hand" was not recommended.

Ok. Get out the tools and start poking around. How do you take the door off an oven. I eyed the hinges and had a really bad vision: parts coming loose and sliding down inside the oven; having to remove side panels to reinstall; the works. Time enough to worry about the door later.

I managed to get the lower panel removed from the interior of the oven, turned on the oven light,and there before me was the critter pictured above, attached to the lower burner. I tried turning on the oven again, but the critter wouldn't heat up. I tried turning on the broiler, and the critter's brother, up there attached to the upper burner, lit up like a ceegar. So, thinking fast and furious, I concluded that maybe I had a burned out lower critter.

What to do? I called my appliance repair guys, hoping that I could buy my way out of this increasingly absurd situation. Of all the times for an oven to die. Egad. They were friendly--too friendly!--JOVIAL in fact. They just chuckled when I suggested that maybe they could, as a special favor to me, send out a techie guy. No, they're all home, preparing to enjoy the holiday. "Would Monday be ok?" They suggested I fix it myself. Somehow I knew that was the rabbit's hole I was going to dive down. I asked if they had the part. Yes, right here, and we close in twenty minutes. Just $76.95.

I didn't want to walk the dog anyway, which HAD BEEN the next item on my agenda. I drove up to get the part. By the time I got home Deb triumphantly declared she'd figured out how to remove the door. "Yeah, I know. Open it halfway and then lift. The parts guy told me all about it," I said.

The new critter came complete with handy instructions.

The first instruction read:
"Remove all parts necessary to provide access to defective igniter."
Sounds easy enough. Instructions, you gotta love them. And so began my odyssey into the layers-of-an-onion that is the nether regions of your modern oven. Good news? I needed just one tool to do the whole job, a quarter-inch bolt driver. So equipped, I began unscrewing this and unscrewing that, whipping out this chunk of sheet metal and that. Deb dutifully took them from me and opportunistically started washing them, as washerwomen are wont to do. And then scattering them around the kitchen in random order. What a team we are.

Five, six layers down, I finally unpuzzled my way to the floor. And there was my Precious, the little burned-out critter: my dead igniter: exposed for all the world to get at to remove the two obscure little screws that attached at an upward 45 degree angle rather than, more practically, downward where you could get at them without digging to China. It didn't matter: there were those two little white wires coming out of the back that had to be snipped, stripped, and rewired using the cute little ceramic wirenuts that came in the igniter kit. I snipped, dutifully. Then I read:
Instruction #5:
"Reattach the wires the same as the old igniter, using the ceramic wire connectors enclosed in kit."
Oops. Didn't quite notice which wire went where on the old igniter. Ah, doesn't matter, I'll just attach, and this....HERE. Good. Done. Daringly, without even reinstalling all of the scattered parts, I turned on the oven to see if the new critter worked. Nothing. I mean, nothing! Then, just as I was about to turn it off and do the ole switcheroo, bingo! Ceegar.
LIT ceegar! Damn. I'm good.

I started backing out of the cave feet first: attach the cigar to the mounting bracket, then the bottom most sheet, attached with two screws at the front underside, then the mounting brackets at the back, then the next two sheets, then the two funny weird ones in front, which fit sort of tightly and screwed into the sides, then reattach the front of the burner, then....a few extra screws here, hm....then finish it all up and get the hell out.

Some serious cat toy equipment was found on the floor at the bottom of the oven. No loose change. But five minutes after completion, we had lift-off!

I glanced at the Igniter Kit instruction sheet one more time, and happened to notice a
WARNING! "Electrical Shock Hazard. Disconnect power supply before servicing!"

The Happy Results

Victor Davis Hanson on Our New Superstitious Age

If Postmodernism was the taking away of rational thought without replacing it with anything, then the next, er, logical step would be the Age of Superstition.

Hanson argues that's what we've now entered. I've had an on-again, off-again conversation going with Ed Veith for ten years about how Postmodernism was a "transitional" stage, mostly reacting to modernism. We've noted how it had its good sides: rediscovery of things that were not "modern", and a balancing out of our over-reliance on "scientific thinking" and rationalism as a panacea for all mankind. But it still remained, to me, an unstable way of thinking, like a cleaned house awaiting what came next. Hanson still calls it postmodernism, but I think we've gone beyond that vacuum into the Hereafter. Here are snippets from Hanson's very political take on what's come next:

Barack Obama promised us not only transparency, but also a new respect for science. In soothing tones, he asserted that his administration was “restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.”

In our new Enlightenment of Ivy League Guardians, we were to return to the rule of reason and logic. Obama would lead us away from the superstitious world of Bush’s evangelical Christianity, “intelligent design,” and Neanderthal moral opposition to human-embryo stem-cell research.

Instead, we are seeing an unprecedented distortion of science — indeed, an attack on the inductive method itself. Facts and reason are trumped by Chicago-style politics, politically correct dogma, and postmodern relativism.
He then goes on to count the many ways we are no longer being led to think logically about the world, including this:
Western inductive thinking used to teach us to look at facts and collate symptoms. (E.g., we have observed a number of killers evoking Islam, yelling out “Allahu Akbar!” at the moment of their murdering, or post facto, bragging unrepentantly of murdering Jews and infidels.)

Then one makes a diagnosis based on such empirical findings. (E.g., unlike the case with radical anti-abortionists or violent environmentalists, in the last eight years we have witnessed a series of unhinged Muslim males who have justified their violent actions through affinities with, or promotion of, radical Islam.)

All those data lead to a scientific conclusion and prognosis. (E.g., while only a small proportion of Muslims have committed violent attacks, over the past eight years there have been dozens of cases in which angry Muslim males have attacked Jewish centers or U.S. military personnel, and have shot or deliberately run over individual Americans. Therefore, there is a danger that a subset of young Muslims is disproportionately committing terrorist acts. Furthermore, the combination of disaffected Muslim males and ubiquitous jihadist propaganda, together with Western denial, will logically lead both to more formal plots and to more lone-wolf attacks.)

But not so fast: Remember, we are now in an age of superstition, not rationalism, in which utopian ends justify unscientific means.
The new Age of Superstition. Embrace it, live it, enjoy it. It may be with us for awhile.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FEYNMAN On Scientific Honesty

This quote probably should apply to Business, Government, the Media, as well as its intended subject, Science. It comes from the Nobel Physicist's Caltech speech in 1974.

In light of the apparent rise of politics in science (It has always been there, but the damaging effects can hurt more people now), I offer you a quote from the author of What Do YOU Care What Other People Think? and other delightful books.

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty – a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked – to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can – if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong – to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Spitting, your mother told you, is gross. She may have said uncouth, but probably not. She may have told you, if you had to spit, to spit outside.

Here's a little email interchange between me and an anonymous pastor friend, I'll call him, er, say, Jesse. I had some questions for him.

ME: I've been thinking about incarnational theology again.

JESSE: An excellent pasttime.

ME: I've been wondering if you have any insight into, or can point me to

someone with insight into Jesus' acts of spitting to cure the deaf

and the blind men in Mark?

I'm thinking about it in terms of baptism and the Lord's Supper: is this somehow connected: the desire of the Lord to connect the physical world with the spiritual in forgiveness and healing? I'm thinking also about the Fall, how creation itself is broken. When Jesus spit, was part of the message that he was healing, or

promising to heal, Creation?

JESSE: I haven't seen anything about healing creation, but the connection to the means of grace is something I've used before. Asking why He healed the senses through spit is like asking why He washes sins away and bestows spiritual life with water.

ME: Well, actually, most questions from the reformed have to do with that, so I am looking to connect as broadly as possible the incarnation and the work of the Incarnation. When people say, "Oh, baptism is just symbolic", with the implication that the sign points elsewhere and therefore we shouldn't put too much emphasis on the sign, then I think, "So we shouldn't put too much emphasis on the incarnation of Christ, should we?" That often stops 'em.

As to why, not sure I care. You are right: answer one part of it, we answer it all. "why did Jesus spit?" "Why did Jesus condescend to be born a man?" There HAS to be a connection.

The fact that there are other times he doesn't use matter in healing doesn't undermine these examples, I think. But it does confuse the issue just a bit. Was it Jesus' mood at the time? :)

JESSE: Actually, I don't have a satisfying answer, unless it's satisfying to know that He has redeemed our bodies as well as our souls for eternal life. Yet that still doesn't tell us "why." Why did Naaman have to dip seven times in the Jordan? When we have the answer to one of these questions, I think we'll have the answer to all of them. Part of the problem may be the disconnect that we assume between the physical and the spiritual. There are not two creations, but one. Easily overlooked physical events may have spiritual implications, consequences, or causes: a good reason to use the liturgy and pay attention to our posture and movements in worship.

Incarnational, indeed.


If anyone has anything to add to the discussion, jump right in. Why did Jesus spit?

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I just ran across an old journal I kept when I was a 19 year old kid traveling in Europe for the first time. About a week into the trip , while in Munich, West Germany, I visited the Dachau concentration camp museum. My notes:

January 7--Munich-Dachau:
A concentration camp, I have found, looks quite similar to an army barracks--that is--twenty-five years after being used...Dachau was the scene, from 1933 through 1945, of 31,591--or more--deaths: mainly Jews, Russians, or German resisters. I walked to the gate with a South African acquaintance, who was in the midst of a two-week whirlwind tour of Europe...
We first entered the museum, which resides in the main building at the head of an area that used to be barracks. In front of these stands the "roll-call" area, where prisoners used to be tortured--after anyone managed to escape--by being forced to stand at attention for one night and half a day.
The museum mainly consists of documents and pictures that have been blown up and posted within two or three large rooms, rooms that were used for storage. In a pinch, when there was a scarcity of room, these were torture chambers. The pictures digress from the original building of Dachau through the first prisoners in 1933, to 1938. They finally end in some photos of starving, bony men cheering as they are freed, and the aftermath when American soldiers find "the morgue" full of hundreds of dead bodies.
My friend and I walk down the rows of barracks, all gone now except for two or three; we walked where thousands of hungry, tired prisoners walked, or trudged, or crawled. At the end of the lane, to the left and through a gate, stands a statue of a hungry, dirty POW. Behind it is The Building. We walked in through an empty room to the Ovens. A sign hanging from a large wooden support read, "Prisoners were hung here." This was directly in front of the third of five ovens. There were open, showing what amounted to a great baker's oven, seven feet long and two feet wide. Walking through this room into the next, I felt something akin to depression as I tried to imagine the attitudes and consciousness of men accustomed to seeing others being tortured and hung. I couldn't imagine it.
We entered "The Showers" which were never used at Dachau (the showers at the Hartheim Castle, near Linz Austrian, were apparently "much better"). These are actually gas chambers, disguised so that prisoners wouldn't kick up a fuss while being taken there, etc. It is just an empty room with several holes in the ceiling, from which gas would have come.
And that was all. It didn't impress one, all clean and tidy, as being a dangerous unusual place. But the story behind it all makes one imagine that one sees machine guns and Nazis in the towers, and that one hears trudging footsteps, and a voice crying out in total, frustrated despair. I left quietly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obamacare, The House, and the Senate

From The Federalists Papers, article 73:

The oftener the measure is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of due deliberation, or of those missteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest. It is far less probable, that culpable views of any kind should infect all the parts of the government at the same moment and in relation to the same object, than that they should by turns govern and mislead every one of them.
The populist, rash House has passed a travesty of a bill: emotional, power-hungry, the dream of any decent far leftist. Well, with the exception of federal funding for abortion for any female of any species. Things should not go so well in the Senate, where a "greater diversity" of situations and opinions should help bring some sanity to what is a crazy bad piece of legislation.

This is a great teaching moment in the history of the United States. Did the founders understand how treacherous simple democracies could be, and did they take steps to anticipate effective ways to stymie mob rule? The sedate, royal, sophisticated state of affairs in the Senate--all in comparison to the mob rule tendencies at the moment in the House--may be about to tell us something about the wisdom and greatness of the founder's vision.

As Abe Lincoln is known to have said: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but..."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Attention CORMAC MCCARTHY fans

There is a really good interview with the author of THE ROAD in today's Wall Street Journal. A few snippets:

WSJ: Does [the] issue of length [of a movie] apply to books, too? Is a 1,000 page book somehow too much?

McCarthy: "For modern readers, yeah. People apparently only read mystery stories of any length. With mysteries, the longer the better and people will read any damn thing. But the indulgent, 800-page books that were written a hundred years ago are just not going to be written anymore and people need to get used to that. If you think you're gong to write something like 'The Brother's Karamazov' or 'Moby Dick', go ahead. Nobody will read it. I don't care how good it is, or how smart the readers are. Their intentions, their brains are different."

WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things with a large, all-encompassing work?

McCarthy: "I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."

WSJ: You grew up Irish Catholic.

McCarthy: "I did, a bit. It wasn't a big issue. We went to church on Sunday. I don't even remember religion ever even being discussed."

WSJ: Is the God that you grew up with in church every Sunday the same God that the man in "The Road" questions and curses?

McCarthy: "It may be. I have a great sympathy for the spiritual view of life, and I think that it's meaningful. But am I a spiritual person? I would like to be. Not that I am thinking about some afterlife that I want to go to, but just in terms of being a better person. I have friends at the [Sante Fe] Institute. They're just really bright guys who do really difficult work solving difficult problems, who say, 'It's really more important to be good than it is to be smart.' And I agree it is more important to be good that it is to be smart. That is all I can offer you."


Well. Those of us who already knew McCarthy's work knew not to go to him for spiritual advice. He seems above all very talented at posing all of the hard questions, unflinchingly, but leaves the answers to others. There are times in his novels when he probably should have stopped typing, gone have a cup of coffee, and looked out the window. But I think he is the best writer in America today. And posing the hard questions is an important vocation.

My son Jeremy gave me a copy of THE ROAD for Christmas last year. It's time I read it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"I was sick of it, too."

I got a nice note from my son Colin, living in deepest darkest Mexico.
But within reach of an internet connection, thankfully. One of his comments:

How are you all doing? Glad to see the blog continues. Got sick of seeing that stupid tray every time I clicked on the link.

Very cool tray btw, no joke.



Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heroin and Confession

The Friday night prison Bible study continues apace. There has been a complete turnover of men from a few months ago, when for perhaps six months only two showed up regularly. We now pretty regularly seat seven. Not a huge group, but perhaps a start toward interesting a few of the shyer, or harder-core inmates in maybe sitting down with us. I've finally given up on finding anyone to help out, so I've made a commitment to go every Friday night myself.

A large, black, sweet ex-con has been returned to prison, and is back in the Friday night group. "I did pretty well for about ten months, but then I just started selling those narcotics again, and here I am back again." I told my old friend I was glad to see him again, but not there. "You're hurting people by selling that stuff, you know that don't you?" Yeah, he knows. How hard it is to find a new way when you're black and poor and the old ways have worked, financially speaking, in the past.

Last Friday, we started a scriptural word study on forgiveness. I'm not sure that's the best way to go about it, but they asked to do thematic studies rather than just reading consecutively through books of the Bible, which we'd been doing for years.
I realized once we got started I needed to back up though, and talk about the doctrine of sin. We found ourselves puzzling our way through the latter parts of Romans 7, and it was helpful! Then, back into the OT to discover what it has to say about forgiveness. Interestingly, the overwhelming number of passages regarding "forgive others" are NT. In the old testament, the writers are begging God for forgiveness. As Daniel said in his prayer, "not because of our righteousness, but because of your mercy."

Anyway. One of the guys started talking: "When I was doing heroin, I tried to hide the fact from God. Heroin was all I wanted to do; it consumed my every thought. God didn't look all that attractive to me. I was hiding from God. At some point, I finally got around to telling God, in prayer, that what I really, really wanted was more junk, to get high. It seemed when I finally honestly just told him that, then He started to answer my prayers."

I thought that was marvelous. I kept coming back to this with the others at the Bible study: his honest confession removed the obstacles to the Holy Spirit: heaven opened and he found help; he was delivered from his bondage to this terrible drug.. And then, later, we ran across this about forgiveness:

"I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to
the Lord,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Psalm 32:5

I had the man who had struggled with heroin addiction read this passage aloud, and bam. It really seemed to hit home. We then went on to talk about the relationship between confession and forgiveness, which I harp on all the time anyway. A few things are starting to gel, perhaps.

These guys keep running into one another. It is like a brotherhood of the jailed. Most have been serial offenders, and have been in Bible studies together in various institutions around the state. I have always suspected that for some of them, it is easier to be in than out. Three squares a day, a warm and safe bed, and they have friends in there. Many of them, at this level, are working on the outside during the day: menial jobs, assembly line jobs; one guy's job is to drive them to their workplaces and pick them up again.. And they run into familiar cons and ex-cons at their workplaces as well.

For others, time hangs heavy and they can't wait to be released. These are the ones with families awaiting their return.


Now I have found the ground wherein
Sure, my soul's anchor may remain--
The wounds of Jesus, for my sin,
Before the world's foundation slain;
Whose mercy shall unshaken stay
When heaven and earth are fled away.

Father, Thine everlasting love
Our scanty thought surpasses far,
Thy heart still melts with tenderness,
Thy arms of love still open are;
Returning sinners to receive
That mercy they may taste and live.

O Love, Thou bottomless abyss,
My sins are swallowed up in thee!
Covered is my unrighteousness,
Nor spot of guilt remains on me,
While Jesus blood, through earth and skies
Mercy, free, boundless mercy cries!

With faith I plunge me in this sea,
Here is my hope, my joy, my rest.
Hither, when hell assails, I flee,
I look into my Savior's breast.
Away, sad doubt and anxious fear!
Mercy is all that's written there.

Mercy is all that's written there.

J. A. Rothe, trans. by John Wesley.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Decorative Tray

This is a decorative tray, in bookmatched Curly Maple, Wenge, and Brazilian Cherry,
made for one of Deb's co-workers.


New additions to the Beaudet collection, by Heartland Furniture
In Cherry, SoftMmaple, Purple Heart, Curly Maple, and Brazilian Cherry

Luther, On His Daily Life

I do not know how strong in spirit others may be, but I cannot make myself so holy, even if I were so learned and Spirit-filled as some fancy themselves to be. But my experience is always that when I am without the Word, when I do not think about it or occupy myself with it, then no Christ is present nor indeed are any spiritual desires. But as soon as I take up a psalm or a passage of Scripture, it so shines and burns in my heart that I gain a different mood and mind. And I know that everyone will daily epxerience this for himself.
Martin Luther, Luthers Works 69, P. 18

That's what I love about Luther: he so well and honestly expresses my own daily experience. Try this with Calvin, and you always end up feeling inadequate.

My chore on those mornings when I remember to read from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, is to find a passage or two that catches my eye and heart. Then I 'm good to go. Bonhoeffer suggested studying, meditating on and praying only one short passage per week. Gobbling up a whole chapter of holy scripture in a morning's devotion is all well and good, but more often than not I find more food for thought and depth of understanding and enrichment, when I hit upon even a short verse that for whatever reason for the first time strikes a deep chord. Sometimes I have to read a chapter of scripture just to find the verse. But the hidden treasure is well worth the search. The rest of my day resonates well.

It is interesting to me to think of Luther NOT with his nose in scripture. How often did that happen? Often enough, it seems, for him to comment on it in a sermon on the 17th chapter of the gospel of John. Then again, dig through his Table Talks and you get an idea there were times when he'd spent a little too much time with his onion, sausage, and beer--especially the beer-- and not enough time in the Word. He did have a coarseness about him you would not have found, I think, in the refined John Calvin.

That's another thing I like about Luther...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quote du Jour

Necessity is the mother of several other things besides invention.
Flannery O'Connor

I found this in a hilarious short story by the author entitled THE KING OF THE BIRDS, which is about peacocks. While it bodes of something deep and profound, it was just about peacocks. And peahens.

Quote du Jour for Ethan Bartlett

Flannery O'Connor is perhaps best when she is just writing anything, not necessarily when she is formally writing a story. A quote on Southern Writers:

Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners [She speaks of the South here], we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers. In the South there are more amateur authors than there are rivers and streams. It's not an activity that waits upon talent. In almost every hamlet you'll find at least one lady writing epics in Negro dialect and probably two or three old gentlemen who have impossible historical novels on the way. The woods are full of regional writers, and it is the great horror of every serious Southern writer that he will become one of them.
Ha! How long and deep is the list that could fit under the rubric "It's not an activity that waits upon talent"! I'm duly humbled, and you should be too. But is there really such a thing as "no manners at all"? I'm trying still to wrap my mind around that concept.

No manners at all. Would that be like "no taste"? I've been accused of that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


STRATFOR, which is an intelligence gathering, evaluating, and disseminating business organization, has put together a cogent, fascinating, and a little frightening evaluation of the mounting stakes in the Israel-Iran-Russia-USA-Germany-Planetary conflaconfusion* that is percolating based upon Israel's sense that the US no longer has its back, Iran's sense that Russia has its, Obama's sense that no major international player believes he has a spine, the problem of oil and the Hormuz Strait, and the perceived slow progress toward's Iranian nuclear weaponry. Egad. Check it out.

*I. uh, I made that up.


I'm reading--desultorily--Jude Wanniski's THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS. I ran across a quote that more than caught my eye, from the little frenchman himself:

Writing to his brother Lucien on Christmas Day, 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote:

"Whilst an individual owner, with a personal interest in his property, is always wide awake, and brings his plans to fruition, communal interest is inherently sleepy and unproductive, because individual enterprise is a matter of instinct, and communal enterprise is a matter of public spirit, which is rare."
A big AMEN to that. The recurring problem I have with a massive takeover of anything by government is that gummint, by nature, is sleepy and unproductive. Its real success lies in the absolute need for its workers to be dedicated and devoted, in a way that is supplied naturally to owners and private operators by, hate to say it, the motive of profit and pride. That is difficult to sustain year after year when one has no PERSONAL interest in the stewardship to which he/she is called. When an entire bureaucracy is asked to sustain it, the results are going to be much much worse than the fettered capitalism we now enjoy.

With Apologies to Ambrose Bearce

The WSJ has a very humorous piece in its Currents section entitled:

The Devil's Dictionary--Financial Edition

Bearce published the original Devil's Dictionary as "The Cynic's Word Book" in 1906; a guide to the code language which permeated the cultural landscape of the day.

The Journal's version is an attempt to humorously update and focus on the devolution of terms during this endless financial mess we are in. A few examples:

TARP,n. acronym. 1. A synthetic device designed to cover up an unsightly mess, or to protect perishable goods (firewood, banks) from the ravages of the elements, typically costing somewhere between $12.99 and $700 billion.
2. Prime example of how governments use otherwise anodyne acronyms, abbreviations and sports metaphors to disguise matters of controversy. See also TALF, TLGP, TURF, FHFA, BACKSTOP, WRAP, OFHEO, and SPECTRE.

CREDIT-DEFAULT SWAP, n. loose translation from the original Latin "ubi mel ibi apes," or "where there's honey there are bees".
1. A complex financial instrument vital to the functioning of a modern economy in the way it spreads risk among consenting parties (Greenspan, A., pre-Sept. 2008).
2. A complex financial instrument that nearly destroyed modern capitalism (Greenspan, A., post-Sept. 2008).
GREEN SHOOTS,n. 1. The first signs of spring, often clobbered by summer's heat and autumn's rain. 2. A sign the economy is falling apart more slowly than previously tought. Related: DAISIES, PUSHING UP. See also THINKING, WISHFUL.
DEFICIT,n. For the party in power, at worst a minor irritant and at best a precondition for economic growth. For the minority, the gravest threat to the stability of the Republic.

Methinks the Journal has grown cynical in its old age.

Monday, August 31, 2009

CIA and the Justice Dept

The WSJ Saturday ran a long article by a former CIA clandestine operative, Reuel Marc Gerecht, expressing deep concern about the decision by the Obama justice department to go after CIA interrogators. He argues that this arguably unnecessary move--undertaken for political reasons alone--will completely undermine the agency's ability to do its job.

"A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilledby his boss. That's not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-trash paperwork, who don't mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials."
While Obama has retained the practice of rendition, and while we are likely in a period--unlike the years 2001 to 2003--when interrogation will be less frequent, what Gerecht most deplores is the removal of the tools of the trade for interrogators.

"...With enhanced interrogation off-limits, CIA operatives could easily find themselves face-to-face with a jihadist who tells them to bugger off. What are they then to do? Will their superiors be professionally sensitive to their inability to make further progress? Could they get promoted after they pass suspected jihadists to the FBI? Would the FBI even take them, knowing that they might have to be rendered to an unsavory foreign power and thereby quite possibly compromise the bureau's more pristine image?..."
The CIA "hardly did a superlative job.." in its fight against Islamic militarism. Nevertheless, I have to believe we're back on the clock again, awaiting the next major strike. Thanks to the Obama justice department, America is once again much less safe.


Wafting my way through a local Cracker Barrel store, floating on waves of perfumed candles and other inedibles, my eye caught this little hand painted plaque. It wasn't till I got out to my van and was about to start the engine that it registered, and I found myself wandering back in to take a picture. "My wife may be interested in this," I sorta lied to the lady behind the counter, "But I always take a picture first." Well, it wasn't technically a lie, although if I were to present this to Deb as a gift I'd be greeted by a disbelieving goggle, followed by a chuckle, followed by its being tossed into the recyclables.

It is the theology behind it that intrigued me, motivating me to slog back in to the C Barrel, make my excuse, and snap the picture. Have we finally found the succinct, theological summary of neo-evangelicalism? C'mon, confessional Lutherans, expound!

Or is it just too obvious?

Come to mull on it, this plaque describes the starting point of Roman Catholicism as well, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quote du jour

"Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them."
- Jim Davis

dary quote du jour:

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea."
- Unknown

A Man and his Bike

My Dad, who died in '05, and his beloved Beamer.

Truthfully, though, you really didn't want him to take you for a ride. The guy had a tendency to show off. Plus, he'd had a few accidents. His first BMW pretty much died one Father's Day, when my wife and I went riding with him--Deb and I riding my old Yamaha 500 with its dented gas tank. We'd pretty much safely made it up into the Baraboo hills, when Dad suddenly went swooshing past us, up over a hill and soaring down into a valley, on one of the Hills' famous little windy roads. Two things happened at the bottom of the hill: the road veered right. And it turned to gravel. Sort of hard to see from the top of the hill, or while going 60 on a motorcycle.
Dad didn't quite make the veer, and disappeared in a cloud of dust into a rapidly narrowing gully. By the time we caught up to him, he was standing next to a smoking motorcycle. Bloodied but unbowed.
End of ride.

He had a new bike three days later. Some guys just never learn.

Or is it....?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Georgia Guidestones

Wired Magazine has a fascinating retelling of the quarter-century existence of the Georgia Guidestones, a post-apocalyptic kiosk for enlightened survivors.

The article begins:

The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.

Definitely worth the read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The New Fundamentalists

The Secretary of the UN, Korean Ban Ki-Moon, has this to say about the future of the world:

"We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet."
This is in reference to a UN environmental conference in Copenhagen in December.
However, it smacks of the sorts of dire predictions--based in my opinion upon about the same quality of data--that religious fundies often spout.

Check out this website for a list of recent end-of-world predictions
. Do we have two disparate types of fanatics now, each predicting similar things? And gosh. Is one of them the head of the United Nations?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Church Softball Leagues and Bad Theology

The Wisconsin State Journal ran an article on its opinion page, back on August 5, about church softball leagues. I thought, "Hm. Ok, good move!" Then I read further. The writer, presumably a Christian, had a nasty collision with another member of his team, both scrambling for a popped up ball. He stopped me cold with this little zinger, though:

"Some might point out, correctly, that the softball gods were merely punishing me for committing the cardinal sin of failing to call off the shortstop..."
Grrrrr. I have no sense of humor about this sort of little gaffe.

Faith and Sexual Identity

The Wall Street Journal had an article this week entitled


For years there has been a serious wall erected by the American Psychological Association and other groups, insisting (based upon what many consider questionable science, or soft science, or just plain anecdotal evidence) that sexual orientation is fixed and unalterable. The direction this position tended to take was to tell people who are struggling with being homosexual that there was and should be no way to change, and that gays should embrace their identity.

This provoked a lot of conflict within some people vis a vis their faith. If the shrinks were right, did this mean their faith teachings were wrong? For many, this was the conclusion they came to, and then went about reshaping their doctrinal positions to accomodate the teachings of the psychologists and psychiatrists and gay activists. For others, the conflict just kept getting deeper, with many men and women unable to reconcile their sexual feelings with their beliefs.

To the credit of the association, there are new APA guidelines that have amended the longstanding practices of counselors somewhat. It came about as a result of a task force, initially formed to respond to the increasing numbers of "change therapists" out there--presumably mostly Christian--who were claiming that arousal patterns could be changed. The article goes on:

"But the task force also gained an appreciaiton for the pain some men and women feel in trying to reconcile their sexual attractions with their faith...The task force acknowledged that for those from conservative faiths, affirming a gay identity could feel very much like renouncing their religious identity..."
The new guidelines aren't without many glass walls.
"...The therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.
"But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God."
Well. Progress. Gay rights activists aren't necessarily thrilled about the new guidelines. Some call them incredibly misguided, likely to cause great suffering. They make statements like, "People have their lives destroyed." I personally think too many experts are telling too many people they are having their lives destroyed, usually because these poor sops aren't lining up behind the experts' agendas. These people also don't understand the import of faith, and how faith shapes lives.

Yet Another B'er St'er

Friday, July 31, 2009

"Hello! Do you have a blog?"

Deer Valley Golf Course, just past Barneveld on Highway 151 in southern Wisconsin, is a beautiful, daunting, textured course, a great pleasure to play if your game is under control; a great source of misery if not. It resides in the highlands and deep vales of that particular part of the world, a parcel of land that must have been terribly hard to farm, when once it was farmed. Colin and I played it again today.

Teeing off on the first hole, one dives down into a sharp crease of a valley, and then descends up a wide ski slope of a hill to--somewhere up there--a green. We duly teed off, with Colin's long drive getting pulled into the rough between the outward bound first fairway and the inward bound, parallel ninth fairway. I hit my second shot, from much further back from where Colin's drive landed, and drove the golfcart up to where he was comparing golfballs with the couple who were headed downward on the ninth fairway.

The woman peered at me, then said,

"Hello! Do you have a blog?"


"Yes, I guess I do."

"Is your name Bruce?" Ohoh.

"Yyyyeah..." Who would this be? Perfect strangers, these two. Yes I am Bruce, yes I have a blog. Why am I being asked this on a hillside on a golfcourse near Barneveld?

"My name is Mary; I spent last week with your wife at the Higher Things conference! I recognized you from your blog photo!"

Too weird. Later, alone, I asked Colin if I was that recognizable across a span of golfcourse rough.

"Yeah. The goatee, the robust grey hair...You're pretty recognizable."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vocation and the Sedir Bed

It has been a cool July; sky blue and the large shop windows opened inward to allow a breeze. Inside, the sedir bed has taken shape, a long low platform with drawers, nothing fancy, the work of a week. A Turkish quilt and imported pillows will flesh out the decor. My job is to simply give them a resting place.

I'm counting out the final things in my mind, the little project minutiae that do not make it onto the flat scripted plan but are there to be done: pilot holes counter sunk in pine planks; maple pulls turned and installed; drawer front edges veneered; drawer fronts fitted and installed,; exposed surfaces sanded. Finally, the marking of parts, and disassembly and then off to the finishing room.

My client I've had for many years. Our relationship started with refinishing a formal dining room of furniture, and has grown to the point where, when I drop by for a project, I get coffee, talk politics and culture, and take a tour of their rock garden. They've just returned from Cappodoccia, Turkey, where a niece lives in a cave, something in that dry country that is actually as interesting and comfortable as the image is strange . A land of caves. Deep in the cave home is a sedir bed, a low platform upon which sit sumptuous and comfortable mattress and pillows. Being smitten with it, and thinking of a little room in their home back home, they have purchased and shipped the requisite, floral, black and red Turkish pillows, and only require the platform itself, modified for American tastes. And so the email came to me, asking if I might be interested in building the platform, the Sedir bed.

The shop has recently been cleaned. Piles of wood cut-offs, neglected since last Summer's building projects (these furniture-making sprees seem to be a Summer occurence, going back years); a pile of wood chips behind the planer; table saw and post sander and jointer and bandsaw surfaces needing a good cleaning and lubrication. I had the son of a friend over to help with the project, a day's work of hauling wood chips out to the raspberry patch, cutting and stacking fireplace wood, and dragging the plywood cutoffs out to the burn-pile. So, some semblance of order, like a clean kitchen before the creation of a feast. Everything works better, tools are where they are meant to be, the mind is more orderly and at ease.

A lithe, dangerous orange and white teenaged cat wanders in, chasing his fancy and the hopes of little things to bat around, things to climb on, things to nibble. He gets promptly turned around and sent back out the door. He is not yet shop cat. I'll let some of that young feline energy dissipate before letting him loose among the fresh finishes, fine wood furniture pieces, and power tools.

A bit of lathe work. Turning drawer pulls goes like this: the first one is spontaneous and creative, following a pattern developed over many years but always with a little variation. All of the subsequent pulls are laborious, an effort of copying closely the first, spontaneous effort. Squares of maple are cross-cut on the table saw, diagonal lines drawn on one face to find center, then corners band-sawn off before a center pilot hole is drill-pressed, and finally onto the lathe, one at a time. I select four or five lathe tools from a motley collection of an unmatched dozen or so, sharpen them quickly on the vertical sanding belt, and get to work. When doing lathe work, you cut or you scrape. The cutting action takes more skill but is cleaner and very much more satisfying, a laying of the bevel of the tool against the wood and slowing rotating the cutting edge into the work. It is something like that satisfaction of learning to ski: first the [scraping] laborious snowplow, and later the slow evolution into [cutting] parallel skiing, culminating in perfect, blissful, controlled floating down a mountain. With lathe work, there are occasional very nervous events as one learns how to apply the tool to this swiftly rotating spindle or chunk of wood. The two maple pulls turn out well, and I'm off to the next little thing.

This shop and I have been together for 23 years. I built it after working out of a garage for two years,. Like all relationships, after awhile we have taken each other for granted. The shop was mine before I was the shop's. Some part of the angst of
difficult, sleep-denying problem jobs has rubbed off on this place, so that at times I haven't liked it at all. There is also this other thing: a deepening sense of attachment. So many pieces have come through here, to be mended, sanded, color matched, finished. And many furniture pieces have had their origin here, taking a shape from ideas, plans, rough boards, plywood. Perhaps it is a growing sense, finally, that I know what I am doing and can relax a little, trusting my experience and the vocational guidance of the holy spirit.

The Sedir bed, stained and finished, will go out at the end of next week, making room for the next collection of broken furniture in need of mending.

Sedir Bed, installed.