Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Is there anything more rare than a truly gentle man? Or more wonderful? He's the guy who could kick the door down - and has been sufficiently provoked to justify it - but he won't. Instead, he shoulders the provocateur aside with sublime indifference and holds that door open for his sister.

He refuses the temptation to pick petty quarrels. He scorns the invitation to scorn. His mind and heart leave mere self indulgence in the dust of his initiatives to serve and to build. He looks beyond each irritation or setback for the opportunity to rescue another - especially when no one is looking.

I've been considering how to recover this ideal concretely for my son. My pastor says that boys need to be filled with visions of what we want them to achieve. Lacking loads of examples in contemporary society, we turn to former ages, when they drew their portraits from life.

If your boys haven't read Beau Geste by P. Christopher Wren, run, don't walk to the library to get it! The four main characters, two orphaned upper-class English youths and two retired Texas Rangers, are just such gentlemen. They sacrifice their lives to protect the honor, peace and safety of an elderly aunt, a foolish girl, fallen comrades and the manor's poor. Sounds like a sentimental morality play, but you'll laugh till your face hurts. (Dickens would neither understand nor approve.)

Second-Hand Lions is a recent movie in the same vein. The two old brothers remind me poignantly of my Grandfather and great uncles. The brothers find new purpose at the worn-out end of life protecting a scrawny, un-promising boy from criminal neglect and teaching him how to be a real man.

So much for visions. I'm taking a page from my dear friend's book to give our sons a feel for taking care of others from a masculine perspective. She helps her son practice in public by giving him the father's role in the father's absence. For instance, she sends her son to the grocery register or restaurant counter with the money and everyone's order rather than doing it herself. She asks him to lead in prayer when Dad is not around, and encourages him to provide masculine comforts to the family, like lighting a fire or grilling the chicken or seeing what's broken and fixing it.

It has often been noted that Jesus was a gentleman, but it is not often enough understood to have been a radical posture. He treated women like real people. His expressed concern during His final extremity was for the welfare of His mother. He spent His life refusing the provocations of men, institutions and demonic powers, determined not to be diverted from doing all the good His Father sent Him to do. Sure, He could have kicked the door down, leveling the corrupt religious and political officials. But instead, He shouldered His provocateurs aside with sublime indifference and held the door to eternal life open for His Bride.

Share with us your best ideas for raising gentle men.

Monday, January 30, 2006

You're It!

Someone should do a sociological study about the games people invent to play on the internet. I'm not talking about the ubiquitous game sites that dot the ether like Las Vegas casinos. I'm talking about the virtual equivalents of Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek. Being tagged for a meme lets you know just which block you can play on, and reminds you not to take this blog stuff so seriously....

Carol at She Lives says its my turn to be IT.

Four Jobs You've Held
  1. Music teacher
  2. Crisis pregnancy counsellor
  3. International homeschool consultant
  4. Silversmith

Four Places You've Lived
  1. On my Great-Grandparents' Wyoming homestead (OK, only for a month in the summers when I was growing up, but it was deeply formative for me.)
  2. In a steamy Washington, DC suburb apartment
  3. At the foot of the Rockies in Colorado
  4. Narnia, Middle Earth, Trantor, Neverland, Athens, Troy, Jerusalem (No these were not vacations)

Four Vacations You've Taken
  1. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone Park
  2. Sailing up the Chesapeake Bay
  3. Visiting friends in Moscow, Russia
  4. Reading, hiking and Scottish Country Dancing in Estes Park

Four Vehicles You've Owned
  1. A 10-speed racing bicycle (the wonder of my 12th birthday)
  2. A 60's vintage VW bug (came with my husband)
  3. A remote control Lego stealth-robot (but I had to give it to my son for his birthday)
  4. An eccentric, elderly Taurus wagon

Four Blogs You Want to Visit and Tag
  1. Iris at Sting My Heart
  2. Deb at On the Vine
  3. Any of the artists at SoulperBlog
  4. Karen at Got Me A College Girl
Can you come out and play?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Resurrection of the Body

There is a macabre new exhibit en route to the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, BodyWorlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies. These are the plastic-infused bodies of people who donated their bodies to science, displayed in various stages of dissection.

This raises some interesting ethical questions. In the past, people have carefully disposed with the bodies of their dead because they believed that there is something beyond the merely physical about a human being. We have collectively abhorred cultures and individuals which have discarded or eaten their dead. Even now, we recognize some ethical discomfort over displaying centuries-old mummies. The Christian West has even frowned upon cremation, looking forward in its funerary traditions, to the resurrection of the body. So what's up with this display, reported to be one of the world's most popular traveling exhibits?

Is this the ultimate declaration that a human being is exclusively a bag of chemicals? Nothing more than matter? Is it an invitation to understand and to marvel at the wonder of the workings of God's creation? Is it merely voyeuristic? How would one express respect for the people who inhabited these bodies in an exhibit of this kind?

I'd be interested in your thoughts...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Hungry Worshipper Part 3

To conclude this little study, let's consider how to get from here to there.

This aesthetic leaves a great deal of freedom. But it is largely subjective to the musically untrained. We as a people first need to be trained in worship, by being led and educated by those who have musical training and have studied worship specifically. When a bank wants to train its tellers to recognize counterfeits, they begin by having the tellers handle lots and lots of real cash. Then when the counterfeit passes, the trained hand feels the difference even if it cannot tell precisely which forging techniques were used. This is the same idea. Let people practice lots of thoughtfully and Biblically constructed worship under the direction of ministers who have wrestled with this, not in light of what pleases men, but in light of what pleases God. Then we will recognize the real thing and resist the counterfeit.

The goal is to have a NATION of priests, everyone understanding what is good and beautiful and acceptable in God’s sight, not to perpetuate a hierarchy of snobs.
1. Training in what to sing, how to worship
a. Learn God’s forms by singing Psalms and other songs recorded in Scripture. Not because nothing else is acceptable, but so that we can learn what delights God, and look for other things that have the same life, and even make them ourselves.
b. Study worship as a congregation, especially concentrating on the forms God established and embellished through history, including the glimpse of heavenly worship in Revelation.
2. Training in music itself.
a. Congregations need an accomplished, trained leader. (I Chron 15,16) Note the Davidic requirements for musicians serving the Lord.
1. Musicians were Levites (15: 16-24), i.e. paid members of the priestly tribe. In Nehemiah’s day, not paying the Temple musicians was a serious enough offense that the administrator who withheld their pay was deposed and publicly humiliated (Neh 13:4-13).
2. Chenaniah, the leader was skilled enough to be a teacher (15: 22).
3. They were full-time. (16:6, 37)
4. They were mature adults (I Chron, 23:3), numbered for service assignments from age 30.
5. They were purified and set apart for their work as any other Levite. (Num 8:5-14) And so must any of us purify our hearts if we expect to offer acceptable praise to the Lord.
c. Leader should be able to train others and to screen worship music. Apparently, even David submitted his poetry to the appointed Levite in charge of music before it was used in worship (see Ps headings).

I look forward to the day when Christians will join together gladly in glorious worship that is both pleasing to God and nourishing to men.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Falling on Our Own Spears

“If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Cor.14:8)

My thanks to Spunky for pointing me to the controversy surrounding The End of the Spear. Spunky wrote in a comment to my post:

I was all excited about seeing this movie until I heard that Chad Allan is gay
and an outspoken advocate for the gay lifestyle. He is using his noteriety from
this film to promote his gay lifestyle. I am now very conflicted. I want to see
this movie but the idea of watching him play Nate and Steve Saint clouds it for
me greatly. I don't know that I can sit through the movie without wondering what
Nate would be thinking about who played him.

It’s true. Far from giving Christians an opportunity to join together to celebrate the victory of Christ in the Waodani culture, and to make a statement concerning their preference for wholesome entertainment, Every Tribe Entertainment has handed us yet another opportunity to appear contentious and narrow-minded on the one hand or welcoming to the gay agenda on the other. (Of course there is always the clueless option, which was mine last week.)

In casting a gay actor to play Nate Saint and his grown son, Steve, Every Tribe Entertainment not only knew of the actor’s sexual preference, but also knew of his activism. So apparently, ETE wanted this controversy, mistakenly equating the reconciliation between the missionary families and the Waodani killers with a reconciliation between the Christian and the homosexual communities.

This equation cheapens Christ’s victory in the Waodani tribe, because while homosexuals take pride in flauting God’s ways, the Waodani had repented and renounced their destructive ways. So the reconciliation between Steve Saint and Mincayani was a reflection of their true reconciliation to God. But a “reconciliation” between Christians and unrepentant homosexuals would only be an accommodation of sin.

The message is not the messenger. If we insist on only considering art produced by stainless artists, we will have to live in the wilderness. However, from this vantage point, I am very conflicted about recommending this movie. It is a powerful story of the triumph of God’s love over a savage, hopeless people. And it is beautifully, intriguingly executed. But ETE has courted this controversy rather than fleeing unnecessary conflict.

If you need more information to make your own decision, try these links:
Albert Mohler

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Hungry Worshipper Part 2

Today, I'm continuing my meditation on worship and music. I'll conclude in the next post.

What is your belief concerning worshipping in spirit & mind? (I Cor 14:14-17) Does this verse apply to music? If so, how?
A. I Cor 14:14-17 Paul’s admonition
1. Paul addresses the Corinthian’s practice of using the techniques of the pagans to arrive at a spiritual/emotional state of excitement in worship, which leaves behind understanding. We observe the same techniques today in use among the cults. Use of same chanted or spoken phrase over & over until a trance-like state is induced.
2. The same effect is observed when in Christian worship, a short chorus is repeated over & over to produce elevated emotional responses. The emotion isn’t the problem. The lack of content/understanding, according to Paul, is. God’s Holy Spirit isn’t truly manifested unless our spirits, minds and emotions are fully engaged. Worship ought to be one of the most intense emotional experiences of life, but the emotional aspect isn’t the focus of worship, it is a side-effect of worshipping well.
B. Application to music
1. God has included in His word a hymnal – the Psalms. If we want to learn how God likes to be praised, we ought to look at the songs He wrote Himself. (not advocating only Psalm –singing. But we ought at least to be familiar enough with the Psalms to model our praises on them)
2. Characteristics of Psalms
a. Complex ideas (Ps 136) even when repetition is used.
b. Deep emotions: pain, sorrow (Ps 137, 130), wonder (Ps 8), exultation (Ps 46). Not surface, smiley-faced ditties. Not merely sentimental.
c. Focus on God’s character, work, & intervention rather than our goodness, works, our feelings at the moment, etc. It’s an education in Who God is.
3. These Ps engage the whole person. They do not appeal to any one aspect of our psyches at the expense of any other. In true praise, we offer our whole beings to God as a “living sacrifice.”(Rom 12:1-3)
4. Surely this is part of what is meant by, ”they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth”(Jn 4:23), that is, with mind, spirit, and heart in balance. Jesus said this in answer to the woman at the well, who asked Him to choose between the dead tradition of then-current Jewish worship and the pagan syncretistic worship of the Samarians. We are in a similar position. Much of traditional conservative worship is simply dead, but much of more charismatic worship is a syncretistic blend of modern Hollywood, pagan methodology and Christian lyrics. Jesus refused to choose either, but instead pointed her to the character of God, the truth of His Word, and His work in men’s behalf. (Jn 4:21-24) We would do well to use the same standard.

III. Does biblical worship demand a certain aesthetic in worship music? If so, what are its characteristics? How can we insure that we accomplish this aesthetic norm?
A. Check biblical examples of worship – (I Chron.15,16; Rev) We aren’t bound to some outdated, legalistic reenactment of ancient forms of worship. However, if we want a biblical basis for what we do, “proof-texting” won’t help. We must study the forms God laid out for us and apply the principles of those models to modern life.
1. Biblical songs use great variety of musical forms: antiphony (Ps 136; Neh. 12: 31-43, 2 choruses on each side of the city atop the wall), unison (2Chron. 5:13 musicians played as one at dedication of Solomon’s Temple), processional chanting ( 1 Sam 10:5, Ps 68: 24-26), sonata (Rev 4:8-5:14 exposition, 4:8-11; development 5:9-11; recapitulation, 5:12-13).
2. The Bible records the use of a great variety of musical ensembles: whole congregation accompanied by instruments (I Chron. 15, 16; 2 Chron. 5, Rev 5: 11,12), men’s chorus with instruments (Rev. 5:8-10), men’s & women’s chorus answering antiphonally (Ex 15:20), duet (Judges 5 Deborah & Barak, this was informal worship).
3. Bible is largely silent about music theory, however, there are a number of musical types which are censured. These tend to be described in a manner which is accessible to all kinds of readers, both those who are musically trained and those who are musically illiterate, namely they are described by their effect on the worshippers.
a. Ex 32 – Israelites’ orgy around the golden calf. Music produced chaos, breakdown of morals, frenzy, “noise of war” (v. 17 &18)
b. Amos 5:21-6:6 – Israel offered worship offensive to God including music that encouraged sensuality, selfishness, and self-sufficiency; and suppressed the passion for justice for the afflicted and for righteousness in general. The particular focus seems to be the actual music, rather than the words.
B. Application to modern worship aesthetics
1. As the Bible records with commendation a great variety of musical ensembles, including both vocal and instrumental musicians, and both men and women, we must do likewise.
2. As the Bible records a great variety of musical forms without any pejorative, we must also take care to admit a variety which will musically carry all the themes appropriate to worship. As the Bible also records some kinds of music that are actually offensive to God, we must be careful to discern and exclude those types of music as well.
a. Music, like the entire worship experience, must draw attention to God, not to the performers or worshippers. (See the biblical lyrics we have just studied.) This is why traditionally, choir lofts have been above, behind or screened off from the congregation, and the communion table, cross & Bible have held the center of the sanctuary, with the pulpit for man’s commentary to the side.
b. Music itself must carry the words. Majestic words, majestic music. Sad, disturbing music for mourning over sin, etc. Complex ideas, deep emotions not well suited to simplistic, overly repetitive, or sentimental musical phrases. The music as well as the words must reflect the character and work of God.
c. Just as biblical worshippers had to bring the most perfect offering they could find, so we must bring only the most well-written music we can find, led by the most skilled musicians we can find. Good writing is characterized by
1. Distinctive melodies, without excessive repetition
2. Rich harmonies, without excessive predictability
3. Subtle rhythms, subordinate to and supportive of the melody & harmony

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cutting Edge Culture

Chloe over at CatchWord has a good suggestion for this weekend: go see a movie. Actually, go see a particular movie, one that was produced and promoted completely outside of Hollywood, but promises to be a Christian blockbuster.

End of the Spear is the feature film about the Jim Elliot/Nate Saint effect among the Waodani Indians of the Amazon. It focuses on the incredible personal and cultural reconciliation brought about by the missionaries' sacrifice on the banks of the Amazon. See the preview trailers here.

The issues of nudity and violence have been tastefully handled, but the story is quite intense, so the film deserves its PG-13 rating. Your young teens will be inspired, but your younger ones may be overwhelmed.

So thumb your nose at Hollywood. Go see End of the Spear this weekend. Show the Hollywood establishment that a HUGE population of movie-goers would rather see a powerfully wholesome film made by wholesome folks. But, most of all - Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Hungry Worshipper

Deb over at On the Vine has been doing some interesting work on worship. She writes of her longing for an intensity and nourishment in worship that has been largely lost in our day. I can certainly sympathize!

Evangelical Christianity's current passion for meeting unbelievers where they are and serving their needs has some disturbing repercussions for worship. Believers like me (and Deb) feel starved even after a full Sunday of worship. So, where to turn when men fail you? I'm looking in the Scripture for guidance, and invite you to come along.

Some Thoughts on Music in Worship

I. Why do we sing in worship? What is accomplished?
A. Why do we sing?
1. Short answer: Because it is commanded. (Ps 33:1-4, 47:1-7, 81:1-4, 100) If we believe that first & foremost we must honor God in our worship, and not merely please ourselves, then His commands regarding worship must come first in our consideration. Before what it does for us, before understanding how it fits in…. It would be enough for us that He commands singing, but it is not an unreasonable requirement.
2. Why is it commanded?
a. Worship is to be a time when God’s people gather before His Throne to remember, to celebrate and to renew His covenant with them. It is a formal occasion for us as a body to joyfully say ‘Amen’ to His gifts and to rededicate ourselves to His service. It is the primary time when we come together as a family and He comes to us as King. It is not an ordinary event. (Yes, we ought to have more intimate times with God as our Father, but those ought to be daily. Every king’s son must sometime come before his father’s throne and treat him as a king as well as a father. Sunday morning worship is that time for us.) Therefore, it is appropriate that we should use extraordinary means of communicating our response to God. We should not only SAY, ‘How nice!’ We should SING, ‘Alleluia!’
b. Notice in the Ps we just saw, the commands to sing praise are connected either to the fact that singing is the response appropriate to God’s people because of who we are (Ps 33:1 “praise is comely for the upright”..), or it is appropriate because of who God is (Ps 47:1,2 “For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.”), or yet again, it is appropriate because of what He has done (Ps 47 continues with His ruling all the earth.. Ps 100 He is our creator, our shepherd. Ps 34 David calls, “O magnify the Lord with me, & let us exalt his name together,” and rehearses how God delivered him from his enemies..)

B. What is accomplished?
1. We please God by offering praise & honor in the way that He commanded.
2. We engage with God and His gifts to us as participants in His command performance, rather than as spectators at an entertainment event in our honor (congregational singing).
3. We engage our whole selves in response to God’s person & works – body, mind, emotion, spirit.
4. We engage as a body rather than as individuals, i.e. we respond to God’s covenant as a covenant body. It unites us in praise. (congregational singing)
5. We are assisted to lift fallen, resisting hearts to the task of worship (‘special’ music).
6. We are given God’s word on the tips of our tongues, assuming we sing Scripture and right doctrine. Music is a memory aid.
7. We are trained in courtesy and beauty, not only to give honor to God, but also to give honor outside worship to whom honor is due.
8. We are given a glimpse of the glory of the King and His Kingdom. This strengthens us to go out into the everyday world and do the works of our Father.

Monday, January 16, 2006


We could spend hours looking for mentors, comrades and encouragement in the blogosphere - or you could just check out some of these creative, Christian digests.

Mark over at the
Best God Blogs combs the blogosphere for the best Christian posts in any category. He posts his digest several times a week, with little teasers about the articles to which he links. He also takes recommendations from readers.

Every Sunday,
The Rebelution selects their "post of the week" for your weekend delight.

And then there are the Carnivals. These moveable feasts are hosted from week to week by different bloggers, but their traveling location can always be found at their instigators' site. The Carnivals usually post a weekly digest of the most fascinating articles on a focused set of subjects. Carnivals usually post on the midweek internet doldrum day: Wednesday.

For a respite from the ugly and frenetic, try the
Carnival of Beauty sponsored by Two Talent Living. Dying for some advice or company as a homeschooler? Try the Carnival of Homeschooling intitiated by Why Homeschool. And then there is the Barnum & Bailey of internet carnivals, the Christian Carnival organized by the Wittenberg Gate (look in the sidebar for carnival information). This enormous forum sports Christian opinion from across the theological spectrum.

So bring your appetite and try some of these digests. There's plenty to chew on.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Crack of Dawn

Things looked black. (Of course, at mid-life the easiest color to see is black. Something about the hormones.) We were praying around the breakfast table and I was wondering what more I could say to God after 25-30 years of no answer while difficulties escalate about the things that trouble me most. (on a scale of "peace-be-still" to the Apocalypse, we are now somewhere around Noah's Flood. Think fast! The children are watching.)

It was my son's turn. "Lord, thank you because you never destroy something unless you are going to build it up again better than before," he prayed, echoing something my husband had said some months ago at our family Bible study. I realized that this was not the first time my son had prayed this way. He really believes it, even though he has observed that some of these painful things have only gotten worse.

And the sun rose.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Homeschool for Socialization

"You're homeschooling? Do you ever let Johnny out of the closet? Does Jane have any friends? What about socialization?"

Wanna peek at homeschool socialization? The real inside story...

My teens and I (plus an honorary-Anderson-for-the-week) traveled to an out of state debate tournament. During the flight, the young people traded evidence and expertise, testing each other's reasoning, even though they knew they would likely face off against each other sometime during the tournament.

We roomed, not in a scantily-chaperoned hotel, but in the homes of perfect (and I do mean perfect) strangers from the San Diego homeschool community. But we quickly grew to be perfect friends. Our hosts were an extended family of grown-up homeschoolers, siblings and their spouses, whose infants were too young to benefit (except for the cuddles and dances with my debaters) from hosting a bunch of teenagers.

Though they live scattered across the city, the clan C still function like an old-fashioned family. Two generations now work together, re-investing in the community that launched these young parents. They find themselves gathering at Mom and Dad's place to cheer their favorite football teams or to plot their next service project. The whole family turned up to help with judging the tournament.

We girls stayed with Emily and Andy in their freshly remodeled bungalow carved into a suburban hillside with a glittering view across a morning-side valley. Emily is a vivacious young mother, designing House-Beautiful kitchen make-overs and women's Bible studies with equal aplomb. Andy is a wickedly funny gentleman, who rose early every morning to escort us safely down his vertiginous driveway, and stayed up late to shuttle our boys to their digs across town so that the girls could get a little extra rest.

They showed us land-locked mountain-dwellers the near-by beaches where we could explore sea caves and laugh at the lolling seals, or simply dream over the rainbow crowned surf exploding over the cliffs at our feet. Emily kept tucking extra treats into the debaters' lunches, and Andy initiated us into the mysteries of their gourmet coffee maker so that we could have brewed-to-taste coffee no matter what time it was.

The boys reported similar hospitality tucked into David and Joli's condo hidden among the rhodedendrons. David, armed with board games to dispel the boys' pre-tournament jitters, was chagrined to find our guys already sleeping the sleep of the just, shirts ironed for morning efficiency and showers done. Joli, not a morning person, was nevertheless found in the dark of the morning turning out creamy-crisp french toast from her belgian waffle iron.

The tournament itself was a hubbub of two hundred-plus homeschool students from all over the country. There were squeals of delight as old friends collided into orbital hugs. And online acquaintances lit up as they recognized digital sparring partners, "So it's you - in the flesh! I thought you'd be taller."

Unlike the fully-socialized debate squad of my public high school youth, these teams met between rounds to encourage, to strategize and to fortify each other with throat lozenges and Jamba Juice. That done, they could be found hunched over tables with teams from other states, discussing theology, current events and how to take over the world, while swilling coffee. For stress relief, they teach each other their newest swing steps or how to play Whist like Jane Austin. And whenever a piano can be found, someone will sit down to improvise some hot jazz or to gather the singers of Broadway hits and classic hymns.

When the eliminations are announced, winners turn to thank losers for helping them to hone their skills and solicit their losing teammates' advice about their upcoming finals rounds. Losers graciously congratulate winners and race to find the brief that will trounce the case their teammate will face. Sure, there are the abusive louts who think they made it to the top on their own, and who don't care who they crushed to get there. But those are the exception rather than the rule. And nobody is fooled when those debaters ostentatiously ask their opponents to pray with them before the round - as long as the judge sees it.

After the trophies were handed around, everybody went out to celebrate over a communal meal at a quickly-overcrowed local restaurant. Alumni of the program, returning as judges and administrators, congregated in one section, reminiscing and trading recommendations about life after homeschool. They were planning their next cultural initiative, coordinating across state borders and denominational lines. It may qualify as a conspiracy.

Winter of the Mind


Stripped bare, all twigs and bark,
Sap slow,
Primal essetials shed leafy ephemera.
Pride pruned,
I bank fire for full-bloomed Spring.

(Kim Anderson 2006. All rights reserved.)

Gardeners prefer to prune in fall and winter when the sap is sluggish and a cut won't bleed the tree to death. They prune when leafless summetry is displayed without distractions, in time to allow the tree to hoard its strength for spring's opportunities.

Then there are the bonfires, the last glory of withered Christmas greens and misshapen garden limbs alike.

God is a patient Gardener, One who knows the value of gathering winter. This snow-banked pause at the turn of the year crystallizes God's invitation to cooperate with His pruning. What stays? What goes? And will I dance in the firelight as the things that sap my strength go up in smoke?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Season Begins

We have just returned from the first speech and debate tournament of the season. We find that involving the children in competition provides a healthy dose of accountability (The speech has to be ready in time for the tournament.) and an incentive to progress quickly up the steep learning curve of communication excellence (If I do well on this, I don't just get an A, I get a trophy - in front of my friends!).

But the very best things that come out of competing in the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association, are the character development and the relationships. Our children have the opportunity to practice saying what needs to be said, even at some personal cost, and build a network of comrades who will stand with them when the boom falls.


"Are you going to be all right?" Lauren's flaming hair swinging off her shoulder curtained this private concern as a cacophony of self-congratulations and farewells swirled around the still center of the two friends. Elizabeth looked at her folded ballots, considering.
Roughly roused babies fussed. Toddlers, too long confined under their mothers' command to silence, wailed their relief. Teens in stage make-up and skewed wigs wrestled cardboard castles and desert sunsets into dusty oblivion in the family pickup.
The county junior-senior high talent competition had featured everything from MTV-style dance routines to classic melodramas, monologues to fully-staged casts-of-thousands. But the only time during the five-hour spectacle when the entire surging, shushing sea of spectators had preserved a rapt silence, had been when Elizabeth took the stage.
It had been an exquisitely executed original monologue detailing the young woman's struggle to find an identity of uniquely feminine power and maturity. She spoke from the maiden's yearnings, from the loving admonitions of mothers, and finally, she spoke with the voices of women millennia-old, upon whose courage and sacrifice the golden age of Greece had been built. Her conclusion? To aspire to motherhood is to seize on the secret dynamo of human society. As she took her bow, there was a long moment of perfect quiet. Next to me, a woman hiccoughed and buried her face against her swaddled infant. A sighing tide had shuddered through the room, swelling into breakers of applause.
Elizabeth unfolded her judges' evaluations. Blazoned in red: "choose a more age-appropriate theme, like dating," "Perhaps your costume could be more matronly," and in sum, "fair to average performance."
Anne, Elizabeth's younger sister, had joined the two. Fresh from her delightful performance of a Kipling story, she clutched the first trophy of her own forensics career: Best Actress. "I don't understand," Anne put in loyally, reading over Elizabeth's shoulder, "You deserve this more than I do."
"Are you going to be all right?" repeated Lauren, whose wickedly funny rendition of C.S. Lewis' ditsy Tarkheena Lazaralene had received equally ignominious treatment.
"Oh, yes," Elizabeth's eyes were over-bright. "If I had just wanted to win, I would have given my humorous speech. But this was my first chance to speak to a secular audience, and I thought that this was something they needed to hear."
The three girls clung together. Branded by the county's scorn they might be. But they wore their crowns of compassion, courage, and humility undimmed.

Kim Anderson
April 2002. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Limiting Chaos

I have been relishing the challenge of this week's Carnival of Beauty topic: the Beauty of Limits. Have you noticed how often beauty arises within limits, where none was visible before? Ordinary life crowds in all around us, and we seldom notice anything spectacular, but a visionary with a camera imposes the limits of a tiny frame on reality and suddenly - beauty!

Moderns have forgotten this. We tend to think that good only rises from natural chaos. (I believe we have Darwin to thank for this nonsense. The Ancients knew better.) Our art reflects it from John Cage's experiments in musical chaos to the midden-heap of random poetry.

Moderns have particularly forgotten that limits create forms, and that forms themselves carry meaning. Deliberately formless expression can only carry a couple of meanings:
"I, as a human being, refuse to "replenish the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28); or
"Look, randomness is actually impossible."

Limits actually make possible multi-layered delights; beauty within beauty. Watch. C.S. Lewis' little verse imbedded in his Pilgrim's Regress describes Hell:
God in His mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.
That misery might be
God in His mercy made
Eternal bounds and bade
Its waves no
further swell.
God in his mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.

Lewis argues that Hell is like a "tourniquet on the wound through which the lost soul else would bleed to a death she never reached. It is the Landlord's last service to those who will let him do nothing better for them." And his poem is shaped like a tourniquet: the couplet "God in His mercy made/The fixed pains of Hell", binds up the poem at beginning and end. The rigid rhyme scheme and rhythm emphasise the strength of the bounds God places on misery. And, in the tradition of the ancient chaiastic poets (like David of Israel), Lewis places the most important point at the center of the poem, "God in His mercy made", framed by balancing ideas on either side like pairs of parentheses working out to the edges of the poem.

You just can't get that much meaning, that much beauty into such a small package without using limits. Limits are the antidote to ennui, as poetic forms are the antidote to grey prose. When life seems flat, an undistinguished sequence of hours and days, perhaps it is because we have too few limits.


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