Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Well the invasion has begun. Mice are coming in from the cold - and finding they like it here. Ugh! Winston thinks they're cute, and wants one for a pet, but he's willing to set the traps anyway. I have been able to restrain myself from shrieking every time I see one. I try to limit my outbursts to sensible requests for help: "Clean-up on aisle 3!" or "Incoming!"
I'm not convinced that Winston's and Dear Hubby's hearts are really in the effort, however. Last night, for instance, DH brought home a whole bag full of traps - three different kinds. He and Winston set about baiting, arming and setting them, but there was clearly more of locker-room than man-against-nature about the whole process.
It all started when DH's trap went off in his hand. (No fingers were harmed- permanently - in the making of this story, so feel free to continue, dear reader) Winston, not to be out-done, baited his with peanut butter before trying his luck. Soon it was unclear whether the object was catching mice or competing for the bait-flinging trophy: prizes for Farthest-Flung, Largest Gob, and Widest Coverage.
There was also a good deal of shouting and swearing - at the traps, rather than at the mice. It seemed wrong-headed to me somehow. In the end, the bait-flingers were declared to be environmentally toxic and hopelessly design-flawed. All of those ended up in the trashcan without ever seeing the dark of the under-cupboard. Sigh!
The boys did manage to set all the other kinds, and I thoughtfully provided them with clean-up rags for their target-practice range. They plan to walk their trap line three times a day. So far no luck. Where are those magical toy soldiers and Nutcracker generals when you really need them?
I don't know....Christmas is coming. I'm locking down the marzipan and keeping a pair of large, clunky shoes close at hand.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
So here is a series of our very own Blog Awards for the Transitional Family:
Best Trail-Blazer: Chloe
Chloe never met a door she didn't want to open. As we speak, she is opening doors in Russia. And she never fails to hold it open for those coming behind her. People love to follow her: "Anything for Chloe!" is their battle-cry.
Best Fanfare: Petra
Need a boost for doing the next hard thing? Check with Petra; her music can make you proof against lions. Empathetic and insightful, Petra composes the sound track that leads you from mourning to dancing.
Best Comic Relief: Robert
Thank God that Robert is the last one at home! Self-pity absolutely withers as we laugh together. Robert has the dry wit and the bracing hug that helps you find terra firma in the changes of life.
Check out the other family blog awards on Homeschool Memoirs!
Launch-proof your family with traditions that will call your adult children home. Start with Kim's Celebration Starters. This Christmas try the Magi Treasure Hunt: a Christmas Bible Study Game.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Now that my two eldest are studying in parts distant for the present - one in music conservatory in California, and one in St Petersburg, Russia - I am especially delighted that my at-home student wants to study wherever I am. Our favorite spots therefore, have to have room for at least two.
So, the kitchen table...Especially for the last couple of weeks, when I have been teaching, discussing and dispensing aid while stirring up fresh bruschetta, freezing green chili sauce, drying tomatoes and herbs, and baking zucchini herb bread. The harvest not only of garden gems, but of camaraderie has been bountiful.
Though our girls are gone, we are still a productive family.
And since autumn has come in with darkling rain and frosty mornings, we curl up with our books and cups of hot mocha before the fireplace. We revel in the delicious warmth of fellowship with great minds - some of them in our books, some of them right there by the fire in the flesh.
Our tech den is really more of a wired library. Desks tucked between bookshelves lit with Tiffany lamps and softened with a futon where we can both settle with laptops to get down to business. Witness to our labors are the beautiful paintings and photographs the children have created over the years. We remember there that the works of our hands will endure, so we should labor to craft them well.
And finally, we love to study with our speech and debate club, Counterpoint Cultural Alliance. We explore the interface between philosophy and theology and find ways to speak to those around us who are still lost in a closed universe where God doesn't burst through the brazen heavens. We make history come to life in documentary films and inspirational one-acts. We make opportunities to bring our book-learning into real world impact today. So our study spot might be the classroom, but it might just as easily be pounding the pavement promoting the Denver Rebelution Tour or questioning defendants in Teen Court, or jolting a jaded church youth group out of their rut with hilarious and searching dramatic presentations.
Most of all, we love to study wherever our Lord places us. We are everywhere He wants to be (apologies to VISA).
Alasandra's Homeschool Blog Awards: Don't miss your chance to nominate your favourite blog ~ The Nominees
You'll find lots of information and inspiration. And, naturally, if you like THIS blog, you can nominate it until Oct 17!
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The passage of the banking bailout is profoundly troubling. When men play God, their plans soon go awry and other men suffer. And when men manipulate a fiat currency, they declare that they can change the standards of measure without reference to any higher authority or any stable measure of value. They imply that they themselves are the standard of value. That is playing God.
The God who rules from on high will not be mocked. I think this will turn out badly. However, that is not the end of the story.
Ancient Israel was destroyed by God in response to Israel’s perversion of His law, particularly for oppressing the poor economically and judicially (see Amos). Judah, the southern kingdom was sent into exile for oppressing widows and orphans. It looked like the end for them. But the prophets never said so. Wherever they predicted death, they also predicted resurrection for those who would devote themselves to God anew. The judgments were designed to remove oppressors and to promote those who served God to wider influence.
Consider Daniel and his three friends. They were torn from their families, displaced from their homes, shoved into a rehabilitation program designed to produce good little Babylonian yes-men. But, drawing on the pastoral training of Ezekiel, they refused to despair. They dared to look to God as a deliverer, even as they knew Him to be the avenger of wrongs. They purposed to follow Him, come what might, and to throw themselves on His mercy rather than on Nebuchadnezzar’s. Essentially, they determined to be on the right side of God’s vengeance the next time.
God did become their protector, and more. He became their promoter. Though they had been princes in little, backwater Judah, God promoted them in exile to the highest influence and direct authority in the greatest power of their time. Death and resurrection. A purge and then promotion.
I don’t pretend to know how this will work out precisely for us in this situation. But I do know that the response of the faithful will look something like Daniel. We should not hope in the banking bailout; neither should we despair as it produces more oppression. We should imitate Daniel and his friends.
What did they do?
1. They confessed the sins of their nation, acknowledging God’s justice in judging those transgressions.
2. They asked for God’s mercy, not because of any righteousness in Judah, but because Judah represented God to the nations and Judah’s demise would bring God’s reputation into question among the heathen.
3. They purposed to follow God regardless of men’s demands, determining that they would rather fall into the hand of God than into the hand of man.
4. They hoped in God’s deliverance, and depended on His goodness. But they did not expect an easy time.
5. They looked for opportunities to serve God and to spread His rule to those among whom they found themselves.
All this we can do in our situation. Despite the assumption by the Federal Reserve and other economic bigwigs that they are in control, we must depend on the One who owns every asset in the universe.
My favorite commentary on Daniel: Handwriting on the Wall by James B. Jordan. It's inspiring, encouraging, practical, and soul-searching. Available at Biblical Horizons or American Vision.
Friday, October 03, 2008
The beauty of the Sabbath and Jubiliee is that it is a reliable 50-year cycle, which limits government manipulation of the economy, limits the expansion of the rich at the expense of the poor, and acknowledges the Providential power of God in the affairs of men.
God’s Providence would be evident to the people in the lush crop God promised in the sixth year, which could sustain them until the harvest after Sabbath. His care for the poor was evident in his provision for the return of the lands of their ancestral inheritance every 50 years, and the required liberation of all Israelite slaves (A man could sell his labor until the Jubilee in order to pay his debts – hence Biblical slavery). So a poor family had a real chance to return to mainstream socio-economic life. All this without Government intervention.
In this case, less is infinitely more. No Government intervention means no Government manipulation. It also means that the local community took responsibility to care and to provide for its own poor. The welfare of the poor could not become a political issue as long as local people looked after their impoverished brothers. Under our current Government-centered impersonal welfare system, we no longer even think of the poor among us as brothers. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, in a speech honoring former Fed Chairman, Milton Friedman, explained that one of the aggravating factors in the Great Depression was the impersonalization that the creation of the Federal Reserve brought to the banking crisis of the early 1930s. With the creation of the Fed, Bernanke observes, the larger banks which in former times would have aided smaller banks, no longer felt obligated to do so. The resulting rash of small bank failures deepened that financial crisis.
The Jubilee cycle carries with it a 2-3 year recovery period. No one plants in the Sabbath year, so there is no crop until the harvest in the year following the Sabbath year – not quite two years. When the Jubilee rolls around, the new harvest comes in the third year. It is a very limited time. It is predictable and therefore even your average guy could plan and prepare. Nobody panics.
Contrast this with the recovery from the Great Depression. Milton Friedman’s new book, A Monetary History of the United States, estimates the recovery at a minimum of ten years, and lays blame for the depth of the correction and its nearly interminable length at the door of the Federal Reserve. While it seems intuitively obvious that Government intervention exacerbated the problem, Friedman maintains (incredibly) that more intervention in the form of an increased money supply, would have solved it.
“Increasing the money supply” is a euphemism for Government theft. The government simply prints more money. The traditional way of viewing this is as a debasement of currency, the equivalent of shaving a few grains of silver off of a coin or of mixing increasing amounts of lead into the silver when minting the coins. There are indeed more coins, but they are worth less and less.
A more modern way to view it is to see money as a measure of productivity. All that means is that printing more money is printing more promises of future work. Literally, we are selling the labor of our children when we increase the money supply. A $700 billion bank bailout means agreeing not only to become slaves to this debt ourselves, but to agree to enslave our children and grandchildren pretty much in perpetuity.
What to do? Come back tomorrow for some hopeful recommendations.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Most Christians understand the Bible to teach that God built cycles of death and rebirth into the natural world: winter then spring, decay enriching new growth. What most of us don’t realize is that He built the same cycle into the social and economic systems of man.
God’s Old Testament model of society, ancient Israel, included an economic reset button that must have felt very much like a self-imposed mini-recession. It was the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year. Every seven years, Israel was to allow the fields to lay fallow and to subsist on their stockpiled goods. The poor, who had no stockpiles, could glean from the fields that which grew up “volunteer”. On that seventh year, they were to cancel debts within the nation; the debts they owed to each other. They were also to free those Israelites whose debts had brought them into slavery. And after seven cycles of seven years, they were to observe a second year of Sabbath rest called the Jubilee, so that the complete economic cycle encompassed 50 years. (See Lev. 25)
The gracious purpose of God was to give the land rest and rejuvenation, as well as to limit both debt and tyranny. Though a man could be enslaved for repayment of huge debts, no one could obligate himself for longer than seven years. Only God owned the land, and He had granted it to certain families. A family might lease the use of the land to another family for a few years, but on the Sabbath year, the rights to the land returned to the original family. Under those circumstances, no rich man could enslave or oppress a fellow without restraint. No government redistribution plan could encumber a generation’s children or manipulate the redistribution for political gain.
The only exception to this radical freedom and personal responsibility was the man who refused the risks of freedom and preferred the security of being kept. Such men were allowed to choose permanent slavery. He was marked by having an ear pierced to signify that permanent subjection (Ex.21: 5-7). But his children were free.
This model has several implications pertinent to our current banking crisis in America, which I’d like to discuss over the next few days.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Ps 27; Lamentations 2:8-19; 2 Corinthians 1:8-22; Mark 11:27-33
Discussion & Study
- Do you think the leaders who questioned Jesus’ authority really couldn’t tell where John’s authority came from?
- Why do you think they questioned Jesus on this point at this time?
- At whose behest did Paul change his plans according to the 2 Corinthians passage? For what reason(s) did the Corinthians believe Paul made his plans and his message?
- According to Ps 27, when one purposes to seek God’s face, what can that one expect?
- What does the Lamentations passage say is the result of following human “prophets” rather than God?
Have you ever noticed that when you are dealing with difficult realities by laboring to respond only to God’s leading rather than to present provocations that you are often criticized for circumventing present authority? Israel’s spiritual leaders were doing precisely that when they confronted Jesus in the Temple the day after He cleansed it. Essentially, they were requiring Jesus to live in the reality they had created rather than in the Reality of the Father. Their reality placed their own authority squarely in the center, allowing them to redefine worship, to regulate the people’s behavior, and (most importantly) to ignore God’s assessment of their leadership.
This was nothing new. False prophets in Jeremiah’s day had redefined reality for Israel, comforting her cheaply and pandering to her sins, so that she could not respond to God’s correction. Nor would it be the last time that self-interested leaders would try it. Paul faced similar criticism when concern that a second visit to Corinth would only pain the Christians there rather than encourage them, caused Paul to change his travel plans. The leaders at Corinth apparently accused Paul of being worldly and unreliable, because he thwarted their plans.
Interestingly, both Paul and Jeremiah seek to comfort those who have been deceived by false redefinitions of reality by directing the focus of God’s people back to His utter constancy of purpose. ‘He has done what He said he would do,’ says Jeremiah. ‘I will continue to do whatever benefits you most,’ says Paul. God’s reality is the only comfort, the only cure. Jesus’ response to the leaders of His day was an invitation to consider a reality that they could not escape. ‘God has spoken by John the Baptist, who confirmed My divine appointment, and everyone knows it.’
Reorienting towards God’s purpose does not remove the tension or danger. However, it does offer a way to look beyond the present difficulty. The Psalmist urges himself to “wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage…” Ultimately, the Lord’s reality breaks through the comfortable illusions and the one who has insisted upon living in the Lord’s reality will find himself sheltered in the day of trouble.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Ps 41; Lamentations 1:1-12a; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-26
Discussion & Study
- Lamentation’s author writes during the exile period, while the horrific events of the fall of Jerusalem are within living memory. Verse 12 asks, “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?” Do you think that the exiles’ grief was unique in history?
- Compare Ps 41 and the Lamentations passage. What are the sources of the writers’ afflictions? Are the afflictions deserved?
- According to the 2 Corinthians passage, what bearing does the guilt or innocence of the believer have upon God’s purposes for the suffering of believers?
How shall we make sense of Christ’s sufferings? How shall we make sense of our own? He, who deserved only blessing and glory, endured the most devastating losses, the most hideous sufferings imaginable. We, who deserve punishment, receive forgiveness, release from retribution, but often we suffer where we have given no offense.
What does it mean? God’s Word indicates that, as believers, our sufferings have less to do with punishing us for our misdeeds and more to do with expanding our usefulness in Christ’s Kingdom. Christ’s sufferings were categorically undeserved. Yet He expected to suffer, indeed it was his purpose to suffer. Why? In order to become more useful to His Father. By suffering, Jesus opened fellowship between sinful humans and God. He satisfied the just penalty for all His people’s transgressions of God’s righteous law. Having experienced sorrows Himself, He became able to sympathize with ours. He became our comfort, and offers a dignity and a purpose for our own suffering.
Today’s Lamentations passage gives us a perplexing example. In Jeremiah’s time (the author of Lamentations), Jerusalem fell to Babylon. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and invaded by foreign pagans. The imagery here compares the Temple to a virgin forcibly taken. Yet it was through Israel’s disobedience that the entrance of Gentiles into the Temple was a violent, shameful thing, a rape rather than a wedding. Israel’s commission from God was to disciple the nations, to bring them into God’s presence properly, not simply to exclude everyone born outside of Israel. Jesus’ words as he cursed the fig tree symbolic of Israel bear this out: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.” By Jeremiah’s day, Israel had rejected God’s commission by mixing the true worship of YHWH with the religions of the Canaanite nations around them. Allowing the destruction of the Temple was God bringing physical reality to reflect the spiritual reality that Judah’s worship had already been corrupted.
By Jesus’ time, the Jews no longer mixed their worship with pagan rites. Instead they had invented their own regulations, which were not intended to disciple the nations, but were designed to keep Gentiles out. They had substituted their ways for God’s ways, their purposes for God’s purposes. They looked like a fruitful tree. A fig tree puts out leaves after its fruit is ripe, so even though "it was not the season for figs”, Jesus reasonably expected to find fruit there. But the tree, like Israel in Jesus’ day, had perverted the order of their Creator. At the crucifixion, the Temple was forcibly opened to the whole world, the separating veil ripped, not by invading pagans, but by the mighty hands of the God who will not be thwarted by man’s pettiness or sin. Jesus’ suffering ushered the Gentiles into the Temple on the arm of the tender Bridegroom who knows what it is to be rejected.
We are called to imitate Christ. It is clear that we must expect to suffer in a fallen world. So we ought to learn to view our afflictions as we view His. Having experienced our Lord’s comfort in trouble, we suffer so that we may become comforters. Enduring trials as He did, we earn not justification, but glory which reflects upon Christ’s worthiness.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
As promised, a taste of the Bible study I'm working on. To get the most out of it, read what God has to say before you take a look at what I have to say. Use the questions to help yourself to focus on some of the themes in the readings. Then take a look at my comments.
I aim to make these as accessible as possible, so your comments will help me to refine these studies. Enjoy!
Ps 38, 65, 150; Romans 12:9-21; Deuteronomy 31:9-13
Discussion & Study
- How do Paul’s specific injunctions in the last half of chapter 12 fit with the command in 12: 1 & 2?
- Why do you think it would be important for the Law to be read aloud to Israel regularly? (Deut. 31:9-13)
- David’s dedication of Ps 38 specifies that it is to be sung during the Memorial Offering (Lev. 2). What imagery does he use in the Psalm that helps the worshipper identify with the offering?
The grain has been crushed beyond recognition. It’s powder. The altar shimmers with the heat of its internal fire. The priest thrusts his hand into the sack and, flour and salt in one hand, frankincense in the other, flings them all on the snapping altar. The flour goes up in a flash of glory. The frankincense glows and sizzles into perfumed curls of smoke that swirl up and up. “Remember!” whispers the priest.
Like the rainbow (Gen. 9:12 – 17), the grain offering is a memorial to God’s mercy. God in His mercy, does not allow the crushing and the fire we encounter in life to destroy us. Instead, we become glorious; we ascend to commune with Him in prayer and, ultimately, in person.
David describes himself as crushed by his sin and his enemies. He dreads the gleeful fire of his enemies’ gloating. He acknowledges that the only way he will escape is through God’s mercy. Like flour thrown above the altar, he will never languish in those flames. God will make haste to save him, to snatch him up gloriously into His company.
Paul gives us a sort of slow-motion view of the sacrifice. What does it look like to become a “living sacrifice”? Bless your persecutors. Love your enemies. Live in harmony. Pray. Hope. Rejoice. All of these are painful in a fallen world. But, contrary to our expectations, they will not destroy us; instead, by God’s mercy they will make us glorious. We will ascend into mysterious fellowship with Him even while we walk this earth. This is not intuitively obvious to the fallen mind.
As Moses prepared to die, he wanted God’s people to have the keys to the mysteries of God’s working. So he instructed that the Law, including the detailed descriptions of the sacrifices and their purposes be read aloud to the congregated people on a regular basis, so that they could remember.
These images will comfort and sustain us, too, when we feel the crushing of life, smell the smoke of destruction and sense the scorn of encircling enemies. Because of these God-given clues, we can face these fears with dignity, even with triumph, for as we pass through the fire, we will rise to His embrace, singing with David, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Often Lent is viewed as a time to put away luxuries of life for a little while or to put aside self-indulgence - but not too seriously. Chocolate goes for a few weeks, but is back again permanently after Easter. Seems to me this does us little real benefit.
Lent is a good time to consider our ways and to form new habits more conformed to the image of Christ. Prune back the thorns that choke out your productive branches. If you want to lose weight, don't just fast frequently during Lent. Form a habit of eating less, and remind yourself when the hunger pangs come, that your strength for the day comes from God, not simply from the food you eat.
One of my Lenten observances this year is to become more regular in my communications with you. I'd like to begin by offering a preview of the Lenten series of devotions I'm writing. So here's installment one, a little background on Lent and the use of the Lectionary on which these Bible Studies are based.
My writing will improve if you comment. Perhaps that could be one of your Lenten observances: cease lurking and speak up!
Beauty for Ashes
Daily Devotions for the Lenten Season
These devotional meditations are based on the readings organized in the lectionary found at www.oremus.org. The lectionary is perhaps the first Christian Bible study manual, compiling parallel and thematically related passages of Scripture from the Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament in a daily reading regimen that covers the entire Bible in a three-year cycle. This tradition of readings stretches all the way back to the ancient synagogues’ practice of reading through the Torah, so as to acquaint the people with as much of the Scripture as possible.
Hearing the antiphonal voices of Old Testament echoing New Testament themes gives extraordinary richness to familiar passages. We are enabled to capture the reverberations of Old Testament stories in the nuances of those densely-packed New Testament narratives and analyses. Seeing what those Old Testament events foreshadowed in the New Testament helps to make sense of some of the odd consequences of seemingly minor events in those first events (For instance, why was it so important for Moses not to strike the rock that poured out water for Israel in the wilderness, so important that because he disobeyed, he was barred from entering the Promised Land?).
This particular series of readings is from Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary, which pairs Luke’s Gospel with the Old Testament prophets. The Revised Common Lectionary is used by Protestant churches across the English-speaking world.
Monday, February 25, 2008
You really might get it. In October, I began to pray for God's direction for the phase of life I'll be entering in a big way as my second daughter graduates this spring, leaving only my son at home and decades of Empty Nest stretching out before me. By the time the 40-day season of prayer was over, God had completely wrecked and rebuilt my life.
I feel like the burned-over field ready for new spring growth. Still smoking.
But instead of heavy (& gorgeous) administrative offices, God has given a wind-&-fire public-speaking and writing ministry. And instead of the glad frenzy of keeping everybody's balls in the air, God is giving me the joy of going deep with the last phases of my son's education. Instead of me initiating projects in which I'd involve my children, my children are initiating projects in which they involve me!
I am moving from effecting change by the strength of my hands to effecting change by the strength of my word. It is a subtle and profound promotion. A new way of imitating Christ.
At the end of the day, I see. He has only burned my bonds.