". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Avoiding the Issue

LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) President Gerald Kieschnick has now responded to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway's Wall Street Journal article (see sidebar) about the cancellation of Issues, Etc. You can read his entire letter here, but following is an excerpt:

More importantly, I wish to address the unfortunate comments in the column that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is deeply divided and that it is pushing “church marketing” over the historic confessions of the evangelical Lutheran Church.

In truth, last summer the LCMS had its most positive and unified convention in years. Our church remains faithful to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, an integral part of our identity as a church body. As stated in a resolution adopted last summer by the national Synod convention: “From the founding of our Synod 160 years ago, we have been blessed by unity in our common confession and the articles of our shared faith, such as the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, original sin, baptismal regeneration, the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, the inerrancy of Scripture and many others.”

I can't help but notice that while Reverend Kieschnick describes as "unfortunate" the article's description of our synod as divided, he does not specifically dispute it, because to do so would not be truthful. So he says that "the LCMS had its most positive and unified convention in years" because he can't say that we are a truly unified body, and he says that we are "blessed by unity in our common confession and the articles of our shared faith" but fails to mention the significant differences in the wide-ranging ways different LCMS congregations practice that faith.

I am glad that Reverend Kieschnick did not outright deny the fact that we are a divided synod, because to do so would have been disingenuous on his part. But in my opinion his answer is not fully forthcoming, and I would have had much more respect for his response if even while continuing to promote the "party line" on the Issues cancellation it had explicitly acknowledged that yes, we are a divided church body with some complex and vexing differences.

The first step in solving a problem is to get the truth--all of it--out on the table. And so far, that is still not being done.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Work in Progress

My previous post introducing Laymen, Etc. includes a test run of a graphic designed by a friend (I'll leave it to her to make her identity known in the comment box if she wants). Feedback is invited. What is your reaction to the graphic? The intent is to symbolically represent the idea of lay people working together to support the proclamation of the Gospel unencumbered by institutional trappings. What do you think? Does the graphic successfully communicate that idea, or do you get another message? Your thoughts are appreciated.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Introduction

In the last few weeks the confessional Lutheran blogosphere has been truly "ablaze" with activity as laity and clergy alike have been passionately studying, discussing and trying to understand the peremptory cancellation of the wildly popular theological talk radio program Issues, Etc. Not only have existing sites experienced a heightened level of traffic, but several new sites have cropped up, each earnestly attempting to fill what it sees as an urgent need. They are all doing excellent work, and I encourage you to check my sidebar for a sampling. But one in particular is especially near and dear to my heart, so I hope you'll drop by and take a look at Laymen, Etc., maybe post a comment, and consider linking or subscribing to their feed. New material is being added regularly, and while the catalyst for those launching this effort was the Issues, Etc. cancellation, their long-term vision is one that predates the events of the last two weeks and that hopes to be around long after Issues, Etc. is back on the air, supporting not only that program but other worthwhile and Biblically-based efforts to have a positive impact on our post-modern and anti-Biblical world.

Go ahead. Pay them a visit. And don't be a stranger.

On the Campaign Trail

Even if you aren't a Republican or a supporter of John McCain, this is fun. It's a blog written by Meghan McCain, the 23-year-old daughter of the presidential candidate and his wife Cindy. From what I can tell, Ms McCain's approach is much more personal than political, concerned less with issues than with sharing a behind-the-scenes peek at what it's like to watch your father run for president. There are extensive photos and candid insights about life on the campaign trail. I'll be linking the site in my sidebar and checking in from time to time when I need a break from the heavier stuff!

HT: Gene Veith

The Faith of a Child

This collection was recently forwarded to me by a friend. Whenever I get these things I always wonder whether they are completely true or if there is a bit of artistic license involved. Either way, they are hilarious. Enjoy!

1) Overheard prayers:

"Our Father Who art in heaven, Harold is His name."

"And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."

"Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."

2) After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys."

3) A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

4) A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Seeing the opportunity for a moral lesson, the mother remarked, "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'" Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

5) A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. "Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked. "He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"

6) A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Prediction

I have had this thought for some time now, but in light of recent events I am ready to go on the record: I predict that John McCain's running mate on the GOP ticket will be none other than his former rival Mitt Romney. Romney would provide a balance to McCain in many ways, balancing the ticket with his relative youth, his smooth-talking GQ looks and charm, his economic and business experience, and his conservative "cred." In addition, he already has national name recognition as well as the experience of being poked, prodded and investigated by the national media. It's doubtful there would be any October surprises as a result of his being put on the ticket. And his acceptance of the job would make a huge statement about the ability of the Republican party to come together in the general election.

I could be completely off the mark here. But for what it's worth, that's my prediction. Check back in a few months to see if I was right!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Not Going Away

In an effort to keep track of the continuing discussion on the Issues, Etc. cancellation as well as some of the wider-ranging synodical questions that it seems to be crystallizing, I have created a new link list in my sidebar. Although there are countless blogs (including this one) currently posting on this topic, those at right appear (for now, at least) to be devoted entirely to it. Of particular interest is the recently published Wall Street Journal article, which places the Issues, Etc. controversy within the context of a much broader and long-standing struggle within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. What happened last week in my church body was about a lot more than the cancellation of a radio program, and it's going to take a lot more than one belated and incomplete statement from the powers that be to satisfactorily respond to the questions, confusion, and anger that continue to fester.

Issues, Etc. Update

You may notice a new feature in my sidebar. It's an automatically updated widget from a new site devoted to providing up-to-the-minute news on the Issues, Etc. situation. Consider adding it to your blog as well!

Pastor Cwirla's Underground is still regularly posting on the topic, as are countless others around the blogosphere. The petition is nearing 5000 signers! From what I can glean from my conversations with others, both in person and in cyberspace, this "issue" is not going away. At this point I have come to accept that Issues, Etc. will not likely return to KFUO, but that is just fine, because I have a feeling that in time it will return on its own terms in a better venue that enables it to reach more listeners with the Gospel than ever before. Please continue to pray for this program, for Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz and their families, for the LCMS, and for those across the country who are working behind the scenes to right this wrong.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Triduum Tableaux

Triduum - The "great three days" of Jesus' Passion, death, and resurrection, beginning the evening of Maundy Thursday and continuing through the celebration of Easter Sunday.

Tableau - a vivid image, scene or picture.

As I reflect on the Triduum weekend, here are a few of the tableaux that come to mind:

The bittersweet lump in my throat while watching the stripping of the altar at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service as cantors and congregation responsively sang Psalm 136: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever."

Trying to warm up with the adult choir on Good Friday amidst a virtual forest of Easter lilies in my church's "Multi-Purpose Room" . . . it was like singing in a flower shop (not great for the more allergic among us)! It's not supposed to smell like Easter on Good Friday, but the lilies had arrived and needed a place to be. Multi-Purpose Room indeed! (It also serves as a meeting place and Sunday School classroom as well as the day school lunchroom.)

Accompanying my husband on piano while he sang "Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage Together?" (Psalm 2) from Handel's Messiah and wondering how anyone's fingers could possibly play all those notes at such a raging and furious tempo (I will admit that thanks to some carefully planned edits, these fingers didn't).

The Litany (prayers) sung in a darkened sanctuary at the conclusion of the Good Friday Tenebrae, followed by the congregation's whispered Lord's Prayer, the final crying out of Jesus ("Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?") and taking away of the Christ candle, the drum roll and strepitus signifying the closing of Jesus' tomb (as I tried to reassure my nervous 4-year-old), and the return of the Christ candle (signifying Jesus' impending resurrection) while the sweet voice of a child (in this case, my own little girl) sang a cappella the words of Paul Gerhardt: "O wondrous Love, what have You done! The Father offers up His Son, Desiring our salvation. O Love, how strong You are to save! You lay the One into the grave Who built the earth's foundation."

Rejoicing in the adult baptism that took place at our Easter Vigil service, and then hearing the amazing news that Pope Benedict baptized a Muslim man at the Easter Vigil in Rome. Read more about it here.

Waking up at 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning and not minding one bit because it's Easter and Christ is risen! . . . then hurrying to put on the crock pot and fill the Easter basket before leaving for sunrise service.

Driving to church with my children at 5:45 a.m. and noting with wonder the full moon that due to atmospheric conditions (or something else?) was exhibiting a most unusual glow this day, resulting in vertical and horizontal beams of light emanating from it so as to create a cross shape in the sky . . . the vertical beam was highly pronounced, the horizontal beam less so, but nevertheless, the cross was there, shining in the darkness and leaving me speechless. I stopped at an intersection and tried to take a photo, but time was short and conditions didn't cooperate, so this picture in words will have to suffice. Wow.

Warming up with the adult choir once again on Sunday morning in the Multi-Purpose Room, this time while shivering with cold because the outside door had been left open to help dissipate the haze of smoke wafting in from whatever had burned next door in the kitchen as the youth prepared Easter breakfast.

Enjoying that mouth-watering Easter breakfast (eggs, pancakes, Canadian bacon, pastries, coffee and orange juice) served restaurant, not buffet style, in peace with my husband and two older children while the youngest slumbered at home with Grandma (I picked them both up for a later service).

Thinking to myself during communion that one of the reasons I prefer male lay ministers (aside from its being Biblical) is that there is nothing so touching as seeing those big, strong, tall men humbly serving their brothers and sisters in Christ as, with the utmost care, they carry the very blood of the Saviour and carefully bend down to lift that life-giving chalice to waiting lips while gently gazing into the communicant's face and pronouncing the gift of Christ's blood, "shed for you."

Preparing to accompany the youth choir on organ while my husband (the cantor) and friend (assistant cantor) nervously double-checked stops and pedals for me . . . . I say this not with resentment but with appreciation for their care . . . I am not an organist and need all the help I can get on the rare occasions I lower myself on that bench!

Playing percussion on the Tanzanian hymn "Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia!" (LSB 466) with my two older children as well as the same friend mentioned in the previous line while my husband played piano . . . it was joyful, and all we needed to complete the picture was some of these.

Playing the piano while my daughter's choir sang the Gerhardt hymn "Awake My Heart with Gladness" (full text here) to music by an especially gifted contemporary composer (see more of his stuff here and here).

Listening to my husband play and sing his way through eight liturgies in four days and realizing that having never had another cantor during my 20-plus years in the LCMS I am one blessed Lutheran indeed.

Helping my 4-year-old look for his "Ow-We-Woo-Ya" (Alleluia) butterfly (photo below).




Noting with satisfaction the "Closed" status of many of the retail businesses in our neighborhood as we drove home after services . . . though not as many were closed as on Christmas Day.

Coming home to a waiting crock pot full of this lady's ham and potato casserole (thanks for the recipe, Glenda!)

Returning from taking my mother home Easter evening to discover my four-year-old bleeding from the forehead . . . . a closer look revealed a deep cut in need of more than a bandage. . . . so off to the ER we went. Five stitches and a couple of days later he is doing just fine, but we still can't figure out exactly how one gets a cut on the forehead from running into the refrigerator (no one saw it happen, so we have to rely on his version of events, and all we know is that he was chasing the dog, or vice versa, and somehow the refrigerator attacked him!)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Orwellian Actions

Those who have been following the Issues, Etc. debacle will want to check out this new blog from Pastor Cwirla. He has named it the "Underground" and designated it as his "bunker in case of synodical terrorism." And indeed, what we have seen this past week strikes me as akin to terrorism in the abrupt, arbitrary, cold and ruthless way in which it was carried out. But I have been encouraged by the flood of denunciations that have been appearing throughout the blogosphere and in the comments section of the online petition to reinstate the program. Issues, Etc. fans are not sitting by quietly, resigning themselves to the status quo, but are uniting around the noble cause of saving this treasure of the Gospel. And I for one think we're going to succeed.

On his blog (linked above), Pastor Cwirla has posted a letter that he wrote to his own congregation on this matter. I hope he doesn't mind my reproducing it in part here. I found the following passage to be of particular note:

"The official statement from KFUO reads: For programmatic and business reasons, the decision was made this week to discontinue the “Issues, Etc.” program on KFUO-AM. We look forward to bringing you new programming in this time slot in the near future. Also, we thank “Issues” host Rev. Todd Wilken and producer Mr. Jeff Schwarz for their years of service on behalf of the station. Those interested may still download past “Issues, Etc.” programs from the “Issues” archive on this website. Thank you sincerely for your continued support of KFUO's radio ministry.

"Those of you familiar with the evasive language of bureaucracies and institutions will recognize that this statement says nothing at all except that they still want your money. This is not an explanation but an evasion. We are assured that this had nothing to do with the show’s content or its host. Issues, Etc. was the most popular show on KFUO-AM, whose other programming is hardly on the cutting edge. Admittedly, Issues, Etc. was controversial, but it was Christianity for the hard-headed thinking person with a huge internet following worldwide. I can personally attest that these two men are among the finest spokesmen and advocates for Lutheran orthodoxy today. They are respected across denominational lines.

"At a time when the synod is pushing hard to bring the Gospel to the unevangelized world, it defies all common sense why it would pull the plug on a show that reached out to millions of people throughout the world. If anything, the show should have been given even more air time and support. The evasiveness of synodical officials is even more disturbing. For a few hours, the archives of the show had been taken down from the KFUO web site, as though the show never existed. Only persistent pressure caused them to restore the archive, though the Issues Etc. site remains down. This is precisely the way repressive, totalitarian regimes operate, not church bodies."

I have emphasized that last sentence because it reflects exactly my thought last week when these events transpired. As I sat Tuesday looking at the computer screen as all traces of Issues, Etc. slowly disappeared from existence, I was reminded of George Orwell's masterpiece 1984 (which for various reasons I seem to be citing a lot these days). Early in the book the main character Winston is introduced as a man whose job it is to rewrite history so that it is in line with the government's official version of things. In order to achieve that purpose, Winston spends his days searching out and destroying any evidence that does not fit into the prescribed narrative. Those bits of evidence are then stuffed down the "memory hole," never again to see the light of day:

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record."

Tuesday as not only the Issues, Etc. program but also its website and archives disappeared I couldn't help thinking that synod officials were behaving in much the same way as the Party of 1984--rewriting history so as to control it. Since the cancellation of the program--one unmatched in quality and popularity among the KFUO lineup--the erasing of all evidence of its existence struck me as an effort to deny that popularity and perhaps speed up the pace at which people would forget about it and move on to other programs. Clearly that strategy backfired, and perhaps as a result of the outcry, the powers that be have shown some sense in returning the archives to online availability.

In 1984, Winston begins to question his job and the society in which he lives and he is ultimately searched out and imprisoned by his government for the crime of "doublethink" (questioning the Party's version of the truth). While imprisoned, he meets up with one of the Party leaders, named O'Brien, who has been put in charge of bringing Winston around to proper thinking. Before O'Brien commences with Winston's "reprogramming" he gives him a peek into the Party's philosophy and goals, all of which culminate ultimately in one word: power.

"The party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested in power. . . . Power is not a means; it is an end. . . . The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men. . . . How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"

Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.

"Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. . . . Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. . . . Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. . . . But always--do not forget this, Winston--always there will be intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on the an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever."

Now, I don't mean to suggest that our synodical leaders are taking pleasure in causing pain to others. But I do think that the way they have handled this entire affair has been an exercise in power without regard for those they are hurting in the process. I also see in their actions a desire for control that is so paramount that they are willing to turn their backs on a large percentage of the people they claim to serve, making those people feel marginalized, uncared for, and yes, even trampled upon.

If you care about Issues, Etc. and haven't signed the petition yet, what are you waiting for? Sign here. It's the right thing to do even if you aren't a regular listener to the program, because by doing so you will be speaking volumes to your brothers and sisters in Christ as well as to those who would make the exertion of power more important than the welfare of their fellow human beings.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Great Vigil of Easter

This is the night when You brought our fathers,, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground.

This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and are restored to life and immortality.

This is the night when Christ, the Life, arose from the dead. The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night.

Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is your mercy toward us, O God, that to redeem a slave you gave your Son.

How holy is the night when all wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away.

How holy is the night when innocence is restored to the fallen and joy is given to those downcast.

How blessed is this night when man is reconciled to God in Christ.

Holy Father, accept now the evening sacrifices of our thanksgiving and praise.

Let Christ, the true light and morning star, shine in our hearts, He who gives light to all creation, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
none else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint.
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer.
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
"All this I gladly suffer."

"This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior,
Whom God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father said,
"And free My children from their dread
Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Your passion they will share
The fruit of Your salvation."

"Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
I'll bear what You command Me.
My will conforms to Your decree,
I'll do what You have asked Me."
O wondrous Love, what have You done!
The Father offers up His Son,
Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave
Who built the earth's foundation.

(Lutheran Service Book #438, "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth," Text by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Isaiah 55:6-11


Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our GOD, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Black Tuesday

I predict that Tuesday, March 18, 2008, will go down in the history of my church body--the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod--as one of two things: either a wake-up call and rallying cry for the confessional wing of the church, leading to a more organized and concerted effort to take back their church; or the day the co-opting powers-that-be kicked off their final battle in the war for this denomination.

For those of my readers who know not of what I speak, here's the short version: yesterday, the incredibly popular and long-standing Lutheran call-in talk radio program Issues, Etc. was pulled off the air with no opportunity to say good-bye to their listeners and no notice or reason given, and the show's host and producer (Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, respectively) summarily fired. (If you are not familiar with Issues, Etc. and would like to read more about the program, see their listing in my sidebar under "Labels.") I first heard of this travesty early yesterday afternoon. As I repeatedly tried to access the Issues, Etc. website, I felt like I was looking at Alice's Cheshire Cat. First the link to the KFUO station which broadcasts the program quit working. In short order the archives disappeared. Then the pictures on the site were gone. Then finally, there was only a white screen with a short but devastating message: "Issues, Etc. is no longer available."

Questions come to mind. What kind of synod do we belong to, that would treat its own in this way, firing two faithful workers with families during Holy Week, no less? Where's the consideration for the myriad listeners of the program, for whom it is a regular part of their day or week? What does this action say to them regarding how they are esteemed (or not) by their church body? And what does it say about the value our synod places on spreading the pure Gospel to the churched and unchurched alike? Because if ever a program did that, surely this one did. Within my own congregation there are several members for whom Issues, Etc. played an integral role in bringing them to faith in Christ and specifically to my church.

This narrative--a tragedy of epic proportions--has only just begun. I believe the implications and repercussions will echo throughout my church body for months and years to come. If you are so inclined, please pray for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod--that God would protect it from those who would sacrifice it to their own purposes--and please pray for the Wilken and Schwarz families, that they would be sustained not only by their Lord but by their friends and supporters through this blackest of times.

Finally, if you want to help, gifts of support may sent to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Box 247, Hamel, IL 62046. Be sure to mark your contribution for the Wilken/Schwarz Fund. And for information on where you can register your disapproval of this act, watch the short video below.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Speak for Yourself, Mr. Obama

A recent column on Barack Obama by Mark Steyn reminded me of one of the Clinton-Obama debates I watched some months ago on CNN. During this portion of the debate, the topic at hand was health care. Of course, both Clinton and Obama are in favor of nationalizing and socializing this country's health care system and paying for it in part by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. At one point Obama was asked how if nominated he would counter the Republican charge--sure to come in the general election--that he is just another tax and spend liberal. He essentially acknowledged that fact--for which I respect his honesty--but then went on to argue that because it is "the right thing to do" he is willing to spend the money. According to Obama, the Bush tax cuts mostly benefited wealthy people who can afford to pay more to support such a good cause.

In promoting his plan to raise taxes, Candidate Obama then looked around the audience and remarked on the fine apparel of those present, suggesting that they and he could certainly pay a little more to help provide health care for those who need it. And considering some of the faces I saw in the audience, I'm sure he's right. But I would submit that when it comes to Americans' ability to afford a tax increase, Mr. Obama should speak only for himself, because the Obamas' $480,000 per year income (not counting book royalties) is a far cry from mine and my husband's annual income, and for us the Bush tax cuts & credits have made a huge difference in our bottom line over the past few years. I am panicked at the thought of losing them.

The $480,000 figure comes from Mark Steyn's recent column on "Obama's Pastor Disaster"--it is worth a complete read, and I encourage you to do so by clicking here. But if time is short, at least read the excerpt below:

The song the Rev. Wright won't sing is by Irving Berlin, a contemporary of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Lorenz Hart, all the sophisticated rhymesters. But only Berlin could have written without embarrassment "God Bless America." He said it directly, unaffectedly, unashamedly – in seven words:

"God Bless America
Land that I love."


Berlin was a Jew, and he suffered slights: He grew up in the poverty of New York's Lower East Side. When he made his name and fortune, his marriage to a Park Avenue heiress resulted in her expulsion from the Social Register. In the Thirties, her sister moved in with a Nazi diplomat and proudly flaunted her diamond swastika to Irving. But Berlin spent his infancy in Temun, Siberia (until the Cossacks rode in and razed his village), and he understood the great gift he'd been given:

"God Bless America
Land that I love."


The Rev. Wright can't say those words. His shtick is:

"God d*** America
Land that I loathe.


I understand the Ellis Island experience of Russian Jews was denied to blacks. But not to Obama. His experience surely isn't so different to Berlin's – except that Barack got to go to Harvard. Obama's father was a Kenyan, he spent his childhood in Indonesia, and he ought to thank his lucky stars that he's running for office in Washington rather than Nairobi or Jakarta.

Instead, his whiny wife, Michelle, says that her husband's election as president would be the first reason to have "pride" in America, and complains that this country is "downright mean" and that she's having difficulty finding money for their daughters' piano lessons and summer camp. Between them, Mr. and Mrs. Obama earn $480,000 a year (not including book royalties from "The Audacity Of Hype," but they're whining about how tough they have it to couples who earn 48 grand – or less. Yes, we can. But not on a lousy half-million bucks a year.

God has blessed America, and blessed the Obamas in America, and even blessed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose bashing of his own country would be far less lucrative anywhere else on the planet. The "racist" here is not Geraldine Ferraro but the Rev. Wright, whose appeals to racial bitterness are supposed to be everything President Obama will transcend. Right now, it sounds more like the same-old same-old.

"God Bless America
Land that I love."


Take it away, Michelle.
--Mark Steyn

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Matthew Passion

Yesterday the Church celebrated Palm Sunday, the occasion of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey amidst people shouting "hosanna" and waving palm branches. Within days those very same people would nail him to a cross.

Among liturgical churches, Palm Sunday is often also known as Passion Sunday because it begins the week of observances recounting the trial, suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus. This year for Passion Sunday, following many weeks of rehearsal dating back to last fall, the adult choir at my LCMS congregation presented Henrich Schutz's St. Matthew Passion in its entirety.

One of our choir members, who is an alto extraordinaire and unpaid choir librarian and organizer (as well as mom to this cool chick), wrote some excellent program notes to enhance the congregation's appreciation of this musical event. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will simply reproduce some of her enlightening observations below (hope you don't mind, Mrs. G.).

"Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) is generally regarded as the most important German composer before J. S. Bach and is considered to be one of the most notable of the 17th century. He brought new musical ideas to Germany from Italy, exerting a large influence on the German music which was to follow. These musical ideas brought new depth to the liturgical practice of 'text painting,' and listeners today still delight in how effectively Schutz brings words alive through the art of music. His expressive and lyric style extended into his organ music, making him one of the most influential composers of the famed north German organ school--a genre that was to culminate 100 years later in the work of another Lutheran cantor, J.S. Bach.

"The time in which Schutz lived was marked politically by the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). In the context of Lutheranism, the 17th century is known as the Orthodox Period of Lutheran Scholasticism. In this period, congregations maintained the fullness of historic Christian rituals in their normal worship, especially in the cities and universities. Holy Communion was celebrated on each Sunday and the traditional parts of the service were retained. Church music flourished, and this era is considered as a 'golden age' of Lutheran music and hymnody. Besides Schutz, prominent church musicians and composers of the era included Michael Praetorius, Johann Cruger, and Dietrich Buxtehude.

"Schutz's best known works are sacred pieces, including his three books of Symphoniae sacrae, the Psalms of David, and his three Passion settings--St. Luke (1664), St. John (1665), and St. Matthew (1666). Schutz's early music demonstrated the most progressive styles, but grew eventually into a simple and almost austere style, culminating with his Passion settings, written when he was an elderly man. Responsibility for this return to austerity can be partially laid to the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War: the music infrastructure was devastated, making it difficult, if not impossible, to put on the gigantic, Venetian style works of his earlier period. Additionally, Schutz may have been maintaining the tradition of no instrumental activity in Holy Week.

"The Passion is the theological term for the suffering of Jesus in the hours prior to and including His trial and crucifixion. Musically, the Passion is the setting of the Crucifixion story as recorded in the Gospels. The reading of the Passion during Holy Week dates back to the fourth century. It began to be chanted or sung by the eighth century. By the 1200's different singers were used for different characters in the narrative, and by the fifteenth century, polyphonic settings of the turba passages (crowd parts) began to appear.

"The three Passions of Schutz look back to the much earlier tradition of the dramatic Passion in which three singers and choir presented the Gospel narrative during the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week. In that tradition, the Evangelist (middle voice range), Christus (low voice range), and the Synogoga (Peter, Pilate, Caiphas, et. al.) together with the Turba recounted the story of the suffering and death of Christ. Schutz's Passions are 'oratorio passions,' having the entire text sung, with no additional arias.

"We are singing the English edition of Schutz's St. Matthew Passion by Stephen Rosolack. It is interesting to note that, except for the opening and closing choruses, the choir generally does not portray very likable people. Most choruses express anger, impatience and fear. Directions to the choir include words like 'arrogantly,' 'pompously,' 'derisively,' and 'mockingly.' Noteworthy as well is the concluding chorus. It begins majestically then takes on the regal nature of a fanfare. The chorus concludes prayerfully with the Kyrie Eleison: Lord, have mercy."

The text of the Passion, which was printed in the program for listeners to follow, can be found here. (Thank you, Hannah!) Because of the length of the Passion, the usual order of service was somewhat abbreviated and consisted of the following:

Prelude: "Herzlich tut mich verlangen" (Anton Wilhelm Leupold)

Venite and Gloria Patri

Office Hymn: "Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle"

The Passion

Offering and Voluntary

Offertory: "On My Heart Imprint Your Image"

Prayers

Benedicamus and Benediction

Recessional: "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth"

Dismissal

Postlude: "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig" (J.S. Bach)

As mentioned, our choir (named Proclaim) began its preparations for this undertaking last fall. As we were laying the foundation for this piece throughout the year, there was still much other music to be learned (including a Bach cantata during Advent!). But due to a phenomenal cantor/choir director (truly, in my biased opinion, the best in our synod) and the committed, hard work of a dedicated choir, it all came together. The day before the performance, we gathered for a final Saturday-morning run-through. Here are a few photos (you may recognize that handsome choir director, who also sang the part of the narrator, from my previous post):


(Please note the three high school students in the front row of the above photo. They represent just a fraction of the youth that sing in our adult choir. Who says young people today don't appreciate good music?)



Here is a wide shot, providing a better view of our sanctuary and altar. Seated in the middle and dressed in white is our school band director, who portrayed and sang the part of Jesus.

Now, a few photos from warm-up on Sunday morning. Seated from left to right are "Judas," "Pontius Pilate," "Pilate's Wife," and "Peter." If I may say so, the young man who sang the part of Peter has a beautiful tenor voice and carried off his part with a conviction and passion quite noteworthy in one so young. (By the way, "Peter" lives in my house.)





There was minimal staging, but when a particular soloist's character became an element in the narrative, he or she stood up, as did the choir. In addition to the four pictured above, various choir members sang the parts of Caiaphas, the false witnesses, and the maids. For me one of the most riveting moments was Peter's denial of Jesus, when the two altos playing the parts of the maids stood up at their seats and pointed their fingers at Peter, identifying him as a follower of Jesus and meeting with his denunciation: "I do not know the man."

At the point of the story when Jesus is crucified, an acolyte bearing the processional cross came to stand behind Jesus at the center of the chancel; when Jesus died, the soloist portraying him departed the chancel.



One of the best things about this performance was I was actually able to enjoy it purely as a listener! (As choir accompanist I am usually playing along on the piano, but although I accompanied the many rehearsals of this work, the performance itself was a cappella--no instruments.) One of the disappointing aspects of the day was that my daughter, who loves Palm Sunday and who was very much looking forward to this service, ended up sick at home with strep throat. :-( Luckily, I videotaped the entire performance, so once she is feeling better she will get to see the whole thing on tape. In addition, an audio recording was made with the goal of eventually making it available for online listening. I will keep you posted!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetry in Motion

I am not a "horse person." But I have family members and friends (and at least a few readers) who are. The video below was sent by one of them. Believe me, you don't have to know horses to appreciate it, because what it conveys goes far beyond what you see on the screen. It is truly a work of art, and well worth the six minutes it will take you to watch it. If you don't have time now, come back when you do. Treat yourself to a little beauty today. (Please note: the ride that you will see--which in my opinion is more like a dance than a horseback ride--is a miracle of training, accomplished without saddle, bridle, or anything except the bodies of the horse and rider. Click on the arrow at left bottom to start playback.)



I Needed a Quiz to Tell Me This?






Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Martin Luther

The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.


Martin Luther


87%

Karl Barth


80%

Anselm


80%

John Calvin


73%

Augustine


67%

Jonathan Edwards


53%

Paul Tillich


27%

Friedrich Schleiermacher


20%

J├╝rgen Moltmann


13%

Charles Finney


13%


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More Anagrams

My children and I have had no end of laughs this morning since discovering the anagram site mentioned in the last few posts (thanks again, Susan). My son did a little more exploring of the site and discovered the "Anagram Hall of Fame." Here are just a few of the treasures you will find there:

dormitory = dirty room

Clint Eastwood = Old West action

Madame Curie = Radium came

The Morse Code = Here come dots

Conversation = Voices rant on

Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler

The United States of America = Attaineth its cause, freedom

Statue of Liberty = Built to Stay Free

Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one

William Jefferson Clinton = Jail Mrs Clinton: felon wife
(by Ward Hardman)

George Bush = He bugs Gore
(by Mike Morton)

Ronald Wilson Reagan = No, darlings, no ERA law
(by Mike Morton)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea = Huge water tale stuns. End had you tense.
(by E.L. Benfer)

To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. = In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.
(by Cory Calhoun)

Sorry, Honey, I Couldn't Resist

And then there are these anagrams (just a small sample of the over 22,000 the site generated) for my husband's name:

Hapless Limping
Lashing Pimples
Smallish Pigpen
Mishap Spelling
A Schlepping Slim
A Smell Shipping
Legman Hips Lips
Ah Smell Sipping
Ah Smells Piping
Ample Sling Hips

This is a Riot

My friend Susan posted a link to a site that generates anagrams (words created by rearranging the letters of other words). Wanna have some fun? Try typing in your name and seeing what comes back. My name generated 1752 anagrams. Here are a few of the most memorable (with commentary):

Graceless Hymns (Well, okay, I suppose if you're talking about playing hymns on the organ, I am pretty graceless. An organist I'm not!)

Scaly Germ Hymns (But I'm not that bad!)

Glances Rhymes (I guess that's my inner poet wanting to come out.)

Chasms Greenly (And I suppose that would be my inner gardener?)

Slangy Schemer (No comment.)

Clean Germs Shy (Hmmm, that's fitting. I do like things clean. And I am pretty shy.)

Cleans Her Gyms (Not so fitting. I'm not at all athletic, and I don't have a gym.)

Calms Grey Hens (That has a nice ring to it! I would like to live where I could have some chickens. If I did, I would be very nice to them.)

Learn Chess Gym (Is someone trying to tell me something?)

And then there is Clang Her Messy, A Lynchers Gems, Charges Men Sly, and Slash Clergymen. Please be assured, these don't suit me at all!!




Animal Farm - Week One

A few people have expressed an interest in hearing about my homeschool literature class's study of Animal Farm. So over the next few weeks I am going to try to do weekly posts on that topic.

For this week the students were assigned the first two chapters to read. In class today, we will do the following things:

1) Briefly review the life of Eric Blair (pen name: George Orwell).

2) Define the terms fable, satire, and allegory.

3) Place the book in historical context (and prepare for the discussion of allegory) by identifying significant people & events: Karl Marx, Czar Nicholas, the Russian Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Bolsheviks, socialism, communism, fascism.

4) Note that Orwell subtitled the book "A Fairy Story." Discuss the features of the typical fairy tale and keep this subtitle in mind as you read, trying to judge why Orwell might have considered his book a fairy tale.

5) Discuss the first two chapters of the book. Here are a few topics to consider:

a. Identify the main characters and their attributes. Among the animals, who are the leaders and who are the followers? Consider why Orwell might have chosen certain animals to represent certain characters.

b. Analyze the animals' meeting. Take note of how the animals position themselves for the meeting. What might this suggest about their status in the group?

c. How does Major inspire the animals to attempt a rebellion? What techniques of persuasion does he use?

d. Analyze the song "Beasts of England." Why do the animals embrace it so? To what emotions/needs does it appeal? What kind of imagery does it use?

e. Start looking for possible allegorical interpretations: Major & the other animals, Sugarcandy Mountain, the farmhouse.

f. Discuss the overthrow of the humans. What event brings it about? How is it accomplished?

g. With whom do you find yourself sympathizing at this point in the story? The animals or the humans?

h. What do you think became of the milk?

A great site for finding material to support the teaching of literature is Web English Teacher. You can find the listing for Orwell and his works here. The resources I found most helpful were the second and the twelfth--both are multi-page teacher's guides with extensive background material, discussion questions, and suggestions for activities.

Assignment for next week: chapters 3, 4, & 5. If you decide to join us, please feel free to post questions, thoughts or reflections on the book in the comment box. Happy reading!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oops

Last week I posted about my pastor's upcoming appearance on the Lutheran talk radio program Issues, Etc. But the date I gave--March 4--was incorrect. The correct date is tomorrow, March 11. So if you wanted to listen last week but thought you missed it, you didn't! Just click here at 4:00 p.m. CST tomorrow to hear a discussion of the role of elders as spiritual leaders in the congregation.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Getting Out of the Box

One of the more enjoyable aspects of our family's homeschooling routine is the family "readaloud"--a book that I select for its literary, cultural, or historical value and then spend time reading to and discussing with my children. Whereas in some families the practice of reading together wanes as the children learn to read on their own, we are similar to many other homeschooling families I know in that we have continued reading together even as our oldest children have become teenagers. Lately, though, I must admit that we have been struggling more and more to find time for this most cherished activity. It seems that in the face of overloaded schedules and tired minds and bodies, the readaloud, with its more abstract benefits, has often been neglected in favor of more obviously necessary pursuits such as math lessons and piano practicing. So for months now we have been on the same book--Marjorie Rawlings' The Yearling--trying to finish it not for lack of interest but for lack of time. And now with two chapters remaining (of 33 total--it's a long book!), I think I can finally say the end is in sight.

For anyone who is not familiar with the story, it relates one year in the life of a farming family in the backwoods of Florida during the early 20th century. The main character is Jody Baxter, a 12-year-old boy who turns an orphaned fawn into a pet. As the fawn--named Flag--grows, it begins to threaten the Baxters' crops, and in spite of the family's efforts to thwart its mischief it repeatedly causes damage to the young plants that are to provide the Baxters' sustenance and livelihood in the coming year. Jody, faced with telling his father that Flag has destroyed the young corn shoots that were just beginning to break through the soil, finds himself panicking because he knows that the family is running out of options for dealing with this problem. Yet he knows he has no choice but to go to his father with the bad news. As I read this passage to my children a few days ago, these words resonated with me in a way I didn't expect:

Jody was frightened. He dawdled about the field, hoping to have a miracle happen and the corn appear again when his back was turned. Perhaps he was having a nightmare in which Flag had eaten the corn crop, and when he awakened he would go out and find it growing, green and tender. He pushed a stick into one arm to make sure. The dull misery he felt was that of a bad dream, but the pain in his arm was as real as the destruction of the corn. He dragged back to the house with slow and heavy feet. He sat down in the kitchen and did not go to his father. Penny called him. He went to the bedroom.

"Well, boy? How's the crops?"

"The cotton's up. Hit looks like okry, don't it?" His enthusiasm was spurious. "The cow-peas is breakin' the ground."

He spread the toes of his bare feet and wriggled them. He was absorbed in them, as though they had developed an interesting new function.

"And the corn, Jody?"

His heart beat as fast as a humming-bird's wings. He swallowed and took the plunge.

"Somethin's et off most of it."

So--to the point of this post. A few weeks ago I became convicted of the need to see my pastor for personal confession & absolution. I take part in corporate confession every week as part of the liturgy, but due to certain circumstances in my own life of late I have found myself desperately needing to hear those words of absolution spoken not just to the assembly but personally to me. Having been confirmed Roman Catholic, I went to confession years ago as a teenager, but since joining the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in my young adulthood have not found individual confession encouraged to the same degree, although that is changing in some congregations (and I should clarify that in the Catholic church it is not merely encouraged but required at certain times in the believer's life).

So having made the decision to see my pastor and having called him to set up an appointment, I found myself having to wait for several days due to our conflicting schedules. And oh, the waiting--it was awful. I was desperate to go to confession--to speak to my pastor the truth of my sin--and yet I was dreading it. Could I really say those words out loud? And what was he--not just my pastor, but my friend--going to think of me? I felt just like Jody in the above excerpt from The Yearling, looking for ways to avoid the inevitable, hoping it was all just a dream, heart beating "fast as a humming-bird's wings."

But sin is very real, as are the deadly consequences it has on one's life and soul. And it was eating away at me in the same way Jody's fawn was eating away at those corn plants. And similar to Jody's father calling him to report on the plants, my Father had been calling me, and calling me, and calling me again, and finally I went to Him in the person of my pastor, took a big deep breath, and laid it all out there:

"I, a poor sinner, plead gulty before God of all sins.
I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.
My Lord's name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered.
I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.
There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help.
My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin." (Lutheran Service Book, p. 292)

And Pastor's words came back to me, as he placed his hand on my head:

"In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

And suddenly it was clear that it mattered not what Pastor thought of me but only what my Lord thought of me, and He had known all along--and still knows--my sinful condition and yet for the sake of His Son and my Saviour had forgiven me all those sins and made me new in Christ.

In The Yearling, after Jody informs his father of Flag's devastating action, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter confer to decide what to do. Mrs. Baxter has long been "down" on Flag and Jody fears this most recent event might be the last straw. But when his parents call him to share their verdict, it turns out that Mr. Baxter--full of sympathy and compassion for his son--has prevailed upon his wife and talked her into trying one more time to manage the misbehaving fawn. A reprieve is granted: Jody will be allowed to attempt the building of a fence to keep Flag away from the vulnerable plants. At this news, Jody feels as though he has gotten his very life back:

It seemed to Jody that he had been shut up in a small black box and now the lid was off, and the sun and light and air came in across him, and he was free.

I can think of no better words to describe the way I felt after hearing my pastor's granting of my Lord's absolution. It was indeed like being let out of a tiny, suffocating black box--a tomb of condemnation--and finding myself once again able to live and breathe again.

As I mentioned earlier, I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and so have some memory of personal confession and absolution. But as a Catholic the experience was somewhat different: once the penitent has confessed, he or she is instructed to perform some sort of "penance"--perhaps an act of prayer, fasting, or good works--to demonstrate his remorse and make up for the harm that his sin has done. Now, I don't mean to argue against any of these things--they each have value, and prayer in particular seems to me a natural outgrowth of true repentance. But to have a priest prescribe that I say three "Our Father's" or two "Hail Mary's" or that I engage in some specific act to make up for my sin seems to me to fly in the face of true forgiveness, which is granted without any strings attached. For if the penitent is truly sorry, the joy and gratitude that are experienced upon receiving absolution will doubtless lead to prayers of thanksgiving and acts of Gospel joy.

If you are finding yourself weighed down by sin, I encourage you this Lenten season to see a pastor, preferably a confessional Lutheran one with a Biblical understanding of Law and Gospel, and relieve yourself of that burden. Then find yourself a Lutheran Service Book, turn to hymn #611, and sing or speak these words, not as an act of penance but as a celebration of the absolution that has just been granted you by your Father and of the reconciliation you now have with Him--a reconciliation that was obtained not by any work of yours but rather once and for all by Jesus on the cross:

Oh, the height of Jesus' love,

Higher than the heav'ns above,

Deeper than the depths of sea,

Lasting as eternity!

Love that found me--wondrous thought!

Found me when I sought Him not.

(Stanza 2, "Chief of Sinners Though I Be")

Friday, March 7, 2008

Blogger Blues

Warning: if you are not a fellow blogger (and even if you are), you may find the following post to be quite high on the boredom/confusion scale, in which case you are welcome to skim or skip and leave me to my venting!

I have previously whined about certain frustrations I am having with my blog these days, namely the spacing at the bottom of my posts (I don't like how the footer material is crowded up against the last sentence of my posts) and the lack of a "quick edit" pencil icon (which I have toggled "on" in my settings but which is not showing up as it should when I am logged in to my blog). Now I have another complaint to add to the growing list: for about a week now, I have been unable to scroll more than about halfway down my layout settings page because the scroll bar is so large that it hits "bottom" before I do. What this means is that I am currently unable to edit anything in my sidebar lower than the "Family & Friends" link list. So if, for example, I wanted to change or add or (banish the thought!) delete one of my "Lutheran Homeschoolers" links, I would be unable to do so.

Because I am not paying the Blogger folks anything for the privilege of hosting my blog, there is not a lot I can do but wait and hope that this problem will eventually be resolved. I have searched the Blogger Help menu and joined the Help discussion group, and it appears my most recent problem (the scrolling issue) is a known bug that is currently being worked on. But after a week with no improvement, I am starting to have concerns about whether or not it will ever be fixed. So if in the days ahead you drop in at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale to discover a different look it is not because I wanted to change anything (I really like the way my blog looks and have no desire to go tinkering with it) but rather because I switched templates in the desperate hope that doing so might make these problems go away.

So is anyone else out there experiencing any of these problems? Or is it just me and this rose-colored template? Thoughts, suggestions, advice or just plain old commiseration are warmly welcomed!

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Just in case you missed it, here's Barack Obama's foreign policy advisor commenting on the Democratic candidates' readiness to answer that infamous 3:00 a.m. phone call. It's short--all of about 10 seconds--and not to be missed. Take a listen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Teaching Short Stories

All year long I have been teaching an introductory literature course to a small group of homeschoolers. I am organizing our study by genre (fiction, drama, poetry, etc.) so as to enable an analytical approach to the major elements of each.

In December the class completed a unit on short stories. For any of my readers who might be interested, here are the stories we used. Some are slightly more challenging than others, but I would recommend them all as high-interest, enjoyable "reads" suitable for the average junior high or high school student. After each story, I have included a brief annotation highlighting a significant element of the story.

Frank Stockton, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (lots of good vocabulary and an indeterminate ending that provides a great writing prompt!)
Shirley Jackson, "Charles" (fun, easy story with a surprise ending about an incorrigible kindergartener)
Guy Maupassant, "The Necklace" (another surprise ending; great for studying symbolism)
William Saroyan, "An Ornery Kind of Kid" (excellent growing up story about a father & son; postive portrait of family life; good story for teaching characterization)
Ray Bradbury, "All Summer in a Day" (short, riveting sci-fi with another unexpected ending)
Richard Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game" (Gothic suspense with a twist; especially useful for teaching setting and irony)
O Henry, "The Last Leaf" (not too long, extremely touching with another surprise ending, good for teaching theme and irony), "The Ransom of Red Chief" (just a lot of fun), & "The Gift of the Magi" (a classic, great for irony and theme)
Katherine Mansfield, "The Garden Party" (thought-provoking story about class stratification & caring for others; has an admirable and interesting main female character)
W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw" (a touch of horror with another indeterminate ending--lends itself well to "what would you do" discussion)
Somerset Maugham, "The Verger" (interesting story about a humble church janitor who dares to "buck" the system--includes some all-too familiar "church politics" commentary--also great for teaching irony)
Jack London, "To Build a Fire" (setting & descriptive language, naturalistic philosophy, theme of fate)

Many (but not all) of these stories can be found online at ClassicShorts.com. In addition to the stories themselves, I have used as a general reference Laurence Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense (HBJ, Fifth Edition, 1988). If you can put your hands on a copy of this or another of Perrine's books you will have an invaluable aid to understanding and teaching the reading and appreciation of literature.

In addition to reading the stories, students were required to keep a journal in which they recorded their responses to the stories as well as unfamiliar vocabulary words. At the conclusion of the unit they wrote an analytical essay and took a test on their understanding of literary terms. I don't believe in testing on minor details of plot--heck, I can't even remember them all!--because I just don't think it serves any useful purpose other than to test for reading, and I know these students are doing the reading (unlike many in the public school classes I used to teach).

Our class is currently wrapping up a study of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and preparing to move on to Orwell's Animal Farm and then a unit on poetry. In the future, I hope to be able to include some comments on our experience with those texts as well.

"Get Over It"

So said radio talk show host Mark Davis as he sat in for Rush Limbaugh yesterday. To whom was he speaking? His fellow conservative Republicans who are still smarting about the nomination of John McCain. Hayes, first a Duncan Hunter and then a Mitt Romney supporter, specifically addressed Republicans who are considering staying home rather than voting for John McCain with several pointed pleas. First, he begged them not to "stab our troops in the back" by taking action that might contribute to the likelihood of their having Obama or Clinton as their commander-in-chief. Second, he cited the Constitution-honoring direction that the Supreme Court has started to take and asserted that with the appointees that would come out of a McCain presidency, "We will overturn Roe v. Wade." Third, while acknowledging that he had hoped to finally have a Republican candidate that mirrored the bulk of his conservative principles, he said he doesn't remember any time he "batted 1000" with a president. Case in point: President George W. Bush, who also supported campaign finance reform, but whom Davis says nevertheless has his undying gratitude and respect for keeping the country safe for the last seven years.

Amen. Mr. Davis, you can fill in for Rush anytime. I think I'll tune in again today just in case you're still at the microphone.

Who Would Have Thought . . .

. . . that Super Tuesday #2 would have found me--a committed Republican who cast my vote for John McCain--sitting on the edge of my seat in front of my television set waiting in breathless anticipation not for McCain's "I've clinched the nomination" victory speech but instead for election results in the Ohio and Texas Democratic primaries? And who would have thought that when those results came in I would have found myself cheering for Mrs. Clinton and chanting along with her supporters in the crowd, "Hil-lar-y, Hil-lar-y" and "Yes, she can; yes, she can"?

You go, girl. Because as long as you and Mr. Obama are battling each other, you are spending less energy going after John McCain. And if by chance you can win this nomination, I will be a little more optimistic about GOP presidential prospects as well as about the fate of the country should we have a Democrat president. And finally, as much as I hate to agree with your husband, I have to say he's right--you are more entitled to this than Mr. Obama. You have worked longer and harder to get here and--darn it!--it just wouldn't be fair for that young, smooth-talking whippersnapper to slither in and take it away from you. So hang in there, Hillary--I'm behind you all the way (well, maybe not all the way).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Spengler on Obama

A writer for the Asia Times Online who publishes under the pseudonym "Spengler" (there has been much musing about his/her identity, but no one apparently knows the truth) has offered up a frighteningly insightful analysis of what makes Mr. Obama "tick" and why the American public is so enthusiastically embracing him. A fairly lengthy excerpt (and the conclusion to the piece) is quoted below; you can read the entire article here.

Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother's milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.

There is nothing mysterious about Obama's methods. "A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is," wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world's biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture. Listening to Obama speak, Sinclair Lewis' cynical tent-revivalist Elmer Gantry comes to mind, or, even better, Tyrone Power's portrayal of a carnival mentalist in the 1947 film noire Nightmare Alley. The latter is available for instant viewing at Netflix, and highly recommended as an antidote to having felt uplifted by an Obama speech.

America has the great misfortune to have encountered Obama at the peak of his powers at its worst moment of vulnerability in a generation. With malice aforethought, he has sought out their sore point.

Since the Ronald Reagan boom began in 1984, the year the American stock market doubled, Americans have enjoyed a quarter-century of rising wealth. Even the collapse of the Internet bubble in 2000 did not interrupt the upward trajectory of household assets, as the housing price boom eclipsed the effect of equity market weakness. America's success made it a magnet for the world's savings, and Americans came to believe that they were riding a boom that would last forever, as I wrote recently [1].

Americans regard upward mobility as a God-given right. America had a double founding, as David Hackett Fischer showed in his 1989 study, Albion's Seed. Two kinds of immigrants founded America: religious dissidents seeking a new Promised Land, and economic opportunists looking to get rich quick. Both elements still are present, but the course of the past quarter-century has made wealth-creation the sine qua non of American life. Now for the first time in a generation Americans have become poorer, and many of them have become much poorer due to the collapse of home prices. Unlike the Reagan years, when cutting the top tax rate from a punitive 70% to a more tolerable 40% was sufficient to start an economic boom, no lever of economic policy is available to fix the problem. Americans have no choice but to work harder, retire later, save more and retrench.

This reversal has provoked a national mood of existential crisis. In Europe, economic downturns do not inspire this kind of soul-searching, for richer are poorer, remain what they always have been. But Americans are what they make of themselves, and the slim makings of 2008 shake their sense of identity. Americans have no institutionalized culture to fall back on. Their national religion has consisted of waves of enthusiasm - "Great Awakenings" – every second generation or so, followed by an interim of apathy. In times of stress they have a baleful susceptibility to hucksters and conmen.

Be afraid - be very afraid. America is at a low point in its fortunes, and feeling sorry for itself. When Barack utters the word "hope", they instead hear, "handout". A cynic might translate the national motto, E pluribus unum, as "something for nothing". Now that the stock market and the housing market have failed to give Americans something for nothing, they want something for nothing from the government. The trouble is that he who gets something for nothing will earn every penny of it, twice over.

The George W Bush administration has squandered a great strategic advantage in a sorry lampoon of nation-building in the Muslim world, and has made enemies out of countries that might have been friendly rivals, notably Russia. Americans question the premise of America's standing as a global superpower, and of the promise of upward mobility and wealth-creation. If elected, Barack Obama will do his utmost to destroy the dual premises of America's standing. It might take the country another generation to recover.

"Evil will oft evil mars", J R R Tolkien wrote. It is conceivable that Barack Obama, if elected, will destroy himself before he destroys the country. Hatred is a toxic diet even for someone with as strong a stomach as Obama. As he recalled in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, Obama idealized the Kenyan economist who had married and dumped his mother, and was saddened to learn that Barack Hussein Obama, Sr, was a sullen, drunken polygamist. The elder Obama became a senior official of the government of Kenya after earning a PhD at Harvard. He was an abusive drunk and philanderer whose temper soured his career.

The senior Obama died in a 1982 car crash. Kenyan government officials in those days normally spent their nights drinking themselves stupid at the Pan-Afrique Hotel. Two or three of them would be found with their Mercedes wrapped around a palm tree every morning. During the 1970s I came to know a number of them, mostly British-educated hollow men dying inside of their own hypocrisy and corruption.

Both Obama and the American public should be very careful of what they wish for. As the horrible example of Obama's father shows, there is nothing worse for an embittered outsider manipulating the system from within than to achieve his goals - and nothing can be more terrible for the system. Even those who despise America for its blunders of the past few years should ask themselves whether the world will be a safer place if America retreats into a self-pitying shell.

Issues, Etc.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) at 4:00 p.m., my pastor, Reverend Timothy Rossow, will be the guest on the Lutheran radio call-in show Issues, Etc., discussing the role of elders in the church. Pastor Rossow has conducted elder training seminars for a number of congregations in our area and his approach (and that of our congregation) has received attention for its emphasis on the elder's role as a spiritual leader in the congregation. If you are interested in hearing more on this topic, tune in tomorrow. The program is broadcast daily on local St. Louis radio, but you can also listen online by clicking here.

Doxology

Reverend Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren is currently promoting a new retreat and study center devoted to strengthening and equipping pastors in the art of caring for the souls that have been entrusted to them. The program, entitled Doxology, will be hosting its first pastoral retreat this summer, and none other than my own dear husband will be providing music for those in attendance. To find out more about this noble effort to minister to pastors so they can better minister to others, click here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Parental Pride

Several times over the past few weeks as my two older children have met with some satisfying personal achievements, I have expressed to them how proud I am of what they have accomplished. And indeed I am proud! They are such awesome kids! But as I reflect on that sentence--"I'm so proud of you!"--it occurs to me that perhaps the best time to speak it is not following a successful outcome. Because what I am most proud of is in fact not the outcome, but the effort, dedication and diligence that preceded it. And even if the outcome were not quite so impressive, I would still look with pride upon these fine young people who live in my house and whom I have the privilege of watching--day in and day out--as they work, learn, and grow.

So tonight as that familiar phrase started once again to form on my lips, I caught myself short, changing the word "proud" to "happy": "Honey, I am so very happy for you!" The pride was there before, has been there all along, and I daresay will continue to be. What I felt tonight was not so much pride as it was happiness--the happiness of watching someone I love experience the pleasure that comes of effort acknowledged and rewarded.

Why am I so happy? Well, just in case you're wondering, here's a quick summary of what these very cool kids have been up to:

Caitlin participated in the IGSMA (Illinois Grade School Music Association) Solo & Ensemble competition last weekend, earning Division 1 (superior) ratings for both vocal and piano performance.

Trevor went undefeated this weekend in the open (highest) division of the Mid-America Chess Tournament in St. Louis, ending up with two wins and three draws, placing fourth overall and bringing home a nice ratings boost as well as a sizeable cash prize (think one President McKinley and two Franklins and you're in the ballpark).

I'll say it again: I am one happy mom!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Day Brightener . . . Sort Of

With my apologies, Mom.

Yesterday I picked up my mom at her senior citizen apartment building to bring her to our house overnight. As we were leaving, another resident greeted us and asked of my mom, "Is this your granddaughter?" to which my mom replied, "Oh, no, this is my daughter."

The other lady responded, "My, but you have a young daughter!" and looking at me said, "I'm guessing you're in your thirties, right?"

I could have hugged the dear lady. Shaking my head, I disclosed the dirty truth--I am 43. But as my mom and I walked across the parking lot to my van, I felt a little extra spring creep into my step. Until it dawned on me that the sun was going down, preventing this lady from getting a really good look at me . . . that she is quite elderly and so is probably losing her vision as well as her perspective . . . that I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and looking youthfully casual . . . and that not so long ago I used to get mistaken for being in my twenties. In the last decade, I even have a few distant memories of being carded.

Boy, how times have changed. And to think the day is coming when I'll be glad for someone to think I'm in my forties, and fifties, and sixties . . . .