". . . 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)

Friday, March 27, 2009

This & That

Blogging may be light for the next few days. A friend is coming to visit for the weekend. On the agenda is a trip to the fitness center and a soak in the whirpool; lunch at the Cheesecake Factory; some coffee and conversation; a drive through the Morton Arboretum; and, of course, church. Then on Monday my husband and I are sneaking away for an overnight to celebrate the anniversary that got lost in the mess that has been our life for the past month; our 16-year-old will be in charge at home. Good luck, honey! (We'll be in phone contact and less than 10 minutes from our house.)

I leave you, then, with this: if you are looking for something to do this weekend, go rent the movie Henry Poole Is Here. We saw it last weekend, and I highly recommend it. It's about a despondent young man who experiences a miracle in his back yard when the face of Christ appears in the stucco on the side of his house and people he knows start experiencing healing. To my confessional Lutheran friends: there is no decision theology here. The movie does not neatly wrap up with Henry deciding to believe and all being made well as a result (which would leave open the possibility that the change came from within). That's all I'll say, other than that there is a wonderful backyard water play scene that evokes baptism and that the movie is rated PG for a few bad words. There is a romantic storyline but there is no immoral behavior. It was refreshing.

Here's a trailer:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Six . . .

is how many repetitions I did on the abominal crunch machine at our community fitness center yesterday (10-pound setting). That may not sound like much, but considering that on my first try I couldn't do any at all, I'm feeling empowered. Yay for me!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When Your Hut Is On Fire

This came to me from a family member. I appreciated the message and thought I would share it here in case there's anyone reading who, like me, feels like there watching one or more fires they can't put out.

When Your Hut Is On Fire

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, 'God! How could you do this to me?

Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! 'How did you know I was here?' asked the weary man of his rescuers. 'We saw your smoke signal,' they replied.

The moral of this story: It's easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn't lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal summoning the Grace of God.

I missed it. Did you?

Why didn't anyone tell me about this? And I thought I had friends out there!

World Sleep Day, March 20, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Denker Champion!

I spent the weekend in Skokie, Illinois, watching my son compete in the 2009 Qualifying Tournament for the Denker National Tournament of High School Champions.

He won! He will now represent the state of Illinois at the national tournament in Indianapolis this summer.

The Denker tournament is an invitational tournament that pits the best high school chess players in each state against one another and then brings those state champions together to vie for a national title. In addition to the prestige of a national title, players are competing for scholarship money. Here's a link with a little more information.

This was Trevor's second time to play in the Denker. I wrote about last year's event here. Last year Trevor was ranked in the middle of the group; this year he was top seed. Obviously he's had quite a year!

Here are the first, second, and third place finishers. (For those who may not know, Trevor is on the right.)

Here are all eight competitors. We have been watching most of these young men play chess since they were 7 or 8 years old. They have been playing each other in competition for years. I can't believe they're almost grown up now. It's going to be a little sad when college comes and they each go their separate ways. But I have a feeling most will continue to play and they will have some more chances to face off in the years ahead.

Phew--it's all over. Time to blow off some steam. This is what chess players call "skittles"--playing for fun. One of the things I love about chess is how these young men can, in the blink of an eye, go from trying to annihilate one another on the chess board to shaking hands and putting the serious stuff behind them. A few moments ago it was "take no prisoners"; now in their mutual love for this game they're all on the same side. It's very cool to see.

Indianapolis, here we come!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Living Years

I've always liked this song. It speaks of regrets--of things said and not said, of painful memories and memories dreamed of but never made. It reflects upon how quickly the years pass and calls upon us to cherish our time with loved ones while we are yet able. The song was co-written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson, both of whom had recently lost their fathers when it was composed. Naturally, it calls to mind my own father, and now, my father-in-law. It saddens me that my children have no memory of my father--my oldest was not even two years old when he died, and my other children came years after. But more and more I realize that the "living years" are not these earthly ones. These seem to me more aptly called the "surviving years"--the ones during which all we can do is cling to the cross of Christ and hold on for dear life. Thanks be to God that we are not so much holding on to Him as He is holding on to us. And thanks be to Him that He has promised never to let go, bringing us one day to the true "living years," where there will be no more regrets and no more longing, but only a perfect present in the eternal presence of the Creator.

Mike And The Mechanics -The Living Years


The Presentation of Colors in Honor of Eddie Ray Magness, March 4, 2009

("Taps" played by Sparky Koerner, an old friend of my husband's from his "gigging" days.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What's Your Name? - A Funeral Homily

As you know if you're a regular reader of this blog, my father-in-law died several weeks ago. I lost my own father many years ago, in 1994. Like my father-in-law, he did not speak often of matters of faith, and when he died I worried about that a lot. But also like my father-in-law, he had God's name placed upon him in Holy Baptism in his childhood, and although I didn't often see him in church or hear him speaking about God, I do know that he never renounced that baptism. During one of my last visits with him, when he was days from death and unable to speak, I whispered in his ear of God's great love for Him and my certainty that his God was watching over and caring for him, and he nodded. That, and now these words from my husband, spoken at his own father's funeral, have given me much comfort. I hope they may bring you comfort, too.

Grace, peace, and mercy be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

"What's your name?”

That's a question asked of us often in our lives. The answer tells people who we are. It tells people Whose we are, too.

For a long time Dad ran from his given name--Eddie--preferring to go by the more dignified-sounding Edward or Ed. That's actually something a lot of us do, as we take on nicknames, alter-egos, and noms de plumes. I know I've played a little with my name over the years, and so did Dad.

But in the end, when he was suffering in the hospital, he came back to the name his parents gave him--the name he still claimed when he was baptized.

God's a great name-changer. In the Bible people often have their names changed when they are called to serve Him as prophets, apostles, or evangelists. In Holy Baptism, God, the great “name-changer” does something even more valuable with our identities: He gives us HIS name, and places it upon our hearts. Adopted as His sons and daughters, we get to have our Brother's name--that is, Jesus' name. That's why many Christians make the sign of the cross, by the way. It tells people who we are. It tells people whose we are.

Of course, Dad wasn't what we might call a "crosser." I doubt He ever physically made the sign of the cross. He was raised Baptist, and that's not their custom. In fact, as we all know, Dad ran not just from the name “Eddie” but also from his baptismal identity for many years. But God's name is a funny and wonderful thing: it doesn't go away. And wherever God's name is, There He is.

You see, God cannot evacuate His name. And so He is always there to be called upon. Yes, He can be disowned. For ceremonial reasons the Verse before the Gospel in the liturgy today glosses over God's Law that God does disown those who disown Him. And that is His word of warning for us today. But that doesn't mean He goes away or gives up on us. The Verse continues: “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” Even Peter disowned our Lord three times--only to be forgiven and restored just as Christians are each day when we remember our Baptisms and call upon God's Name.

I heard Dad call upon the Lord the last day I was with him. And as I left he thanked me for my prayers for him. He gave us all hope that just as he was returning to be called “Eddie” in the end, he was also returning to the Name that was placed upon His heart, and placing his hope in the one whose strong Word named him and claimed him so many years ago.

I chose our readings today to encourage us in this hope. The prophet Isaiah encourages us with God's promise that His Word “will not return empty, but accomplish the purposes for which I sent it.” The Psalmist is languishing with bones in anguish--just as Dad's bones were in anguish from the cancer that killed him--and yet rejoicing comes as the Lord hears the cry of his child, David, and the enemies are defeated.

That doesn't mean we don't die. The enemy is really not sickness and death. Think about it: all the people Jesus healed of their diseases ultimately got sick and died. No, as the catechism teaches us, the enemies are the devil, the world, and our own, sinful nature. For they think the justice of God's name is scandalous! They say, “How dare the Lord say to the thief on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in paradise'?"

Old Adam wants to justify himself by works, so that he can deceive himself with “I'm better than the that guy.” Ever notice than when it's up to the Adams, everyone is above average?! But in God's love His justice doesn't work that way. He doesn't draw the line somewhere in the middle, but draws it way at the top so that NONE of us measure up. The only one who measures up is the perfect one: Jesus Christ, the New Adam who died on the cross and paid the full sacrifice for all our sins. This way no one can boast. We all become beggars before God. This is the only way He can deal with us, and thanks be to God that He does. For if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And so God gives us His righteousness. It's what theologians call The Great Exchange. He doesn't see us according to the names the world gives us. He sees us according to the name HE give us, and hears His children when they call upon His name. It doesn't matter whether someone believes longer or believes stronger. Such thinking turns faith into work. But faith is not a work of man. Rather, it is a gift from God. And the gift we receive by the Holy Spirit, the gift we inherit in our baptisms, is a gift that keeps on giving. Even when WE are faithless, GOD remains faithful. He is the giver of faith. And just as He cannot evacuate His name; He cannot disown Himself.

And so that's our Good News for today. If you aren't calling upon God's Name today, what's stopping you? The devil, the world, your sinful nature? They are all defeated! Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

Call upon His name. Just as Eddie did.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


A Light in the Darkness

I promised a few weeks ago to share a bit about my father-in-law's funeral. My father-in-law did not have a church affiliation when he died. In fact, he had little to say at all about matters of faith or his own relationship with God, a fact which has troubled the hearts of those who loved him. Ironic it is, then, that one of those troubled hearts was also the voice through which came the comfort of God's Word. For it was my husband--a church cantor, not a pastor--who officiated at his own father's funeral, serving as organist, liturgist, and homilist.

The funeral was held in a free-standing chapel at a Houston funeral home and cemetery. The assembly was small--just a few friends and family. When we entered the chapel and took our seat, my five-year-old's first question was, "Where are the hymnals?" (I guess you can tell he's Lutheran.) His next question, as he saw his father preparing to lead the service was, "Is Daddy going to be the pastor?" I responded, "Yes, honey, Daddy's going to be the pastor today" to which he replied, worried, "But I don't think Daddy knows how to be a pastor yet." (You can see he also has a proper respect for the office of the ministry.) I smiled and said, "Don't worry, honey; God will help him."

Evan also expressed concern when he realized his big brother would be assisting with the liturgy. ("But I don't think Trevor knows how to be a cantor yet.") Guess he has a healthy regard for church musicians, too! I assured him that Trevor had already had a lot of practice with the liturgy and would be just fine.

The service began with an invocation and the words of St. Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)

Next came the hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," followed by the Kyrie, Salutation and Collect. The Old Testament reading came from Isaiah:

"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." (55: 6-11)

Then followed Psalm 6, read by granddaughters Sophie and Caitlin:

"O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment."

The epistle was Ephesians 2:1-10:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

And the Gospel, Luke 23:26-43:

"And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!' The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!' There was also an inscription over him, 'This is the King of the Jews.'
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.' And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'

Then followed the Apostles' Creed, Homily, Hymn ("Jesus Loves Me"), Prayer of the Church, the Lord's Prayer, the Canticle of Commendation, the Benidicamus & Benediction, the Presentation of Colors, and the Dismissal. The Canticle of Commendation, a combination of John 11:25-26 ("I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die") and the Nunc Dimittis from Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon, was sung in four-part harmony by my husband, oldest son, daughter, and myself:

"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face all all people.
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

Fixated as I was on the hymnal while simultaneously trying to sing the alto line and maintain my composure, I did not notice what my husband and several others observed: that when we began the Gloria Patri (the final two lines above), the room suddenly became brighter as the sun chose that moment to break from behind the clouds and shine through the windows of the chapel. Coincidence? If you like. I think otherwise.

In my next post I'll share some of my husband's thoughts as he preached a homily of Law and Gospel that would make any Lutheran pastor nod in approval and that filled me with a wife's pride, a laywoman's awe, and a sinner's comfort.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thinking About What to Read and When

I saw this on my friend Indiana Jane's blog. It's a list of 101 books/stories that the College Board recommends college-bound students read before leaving high school.


I am a lover of classic literature. I have Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English and have taught at the high school and college levels, but I have not read everything on this list. I have always loved to read, and I (unlike many) actually enjoyed my high school English classes, but I didn't read most of these selections until college or beyond, and there are quite a few I don't think I could have gotten through in high school.

Following Jane's lead, I have highlighted the list with the books I have read in red. If I counted correctly, there are 57 of them (woo-hoo! I beat Jane the book queen!) :-) I have also indicated when I first read them, and made occasional comments.

Beowulf - high school
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Death in the Family by James Agee
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - in college, because they made me. (Sorry, Austen lovers.)
Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett - college
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - high school, by choice. Loved it.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - college. Hated it. Jane Eyre is so much better.
The Stranger by Albert Camus - college. Dreary.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (I saw the movie; does that count?)
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer - both. But I'm not sure if I've read them all.
The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov - college.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin - college. Suicide as feminist statement. This is not high school material.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - college. Yuck.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper - college. Cooper is not my cup of tea.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane - high school.
Inferno by Dante - college.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - both.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - college. Hard, but worth it.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass - college, but recommended for high school. Very easy and worthwhile read.
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser - no, but I did read Sister Carrie. Great classic soap opera.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson - both.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner - how did I miss both of these Faulkner novels?
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - college.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - college. More soap opera.
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Lord of the Flies by William Golding - when I taught it to students.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy - college. Yet more soap opera.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - both.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - college, recommended by a professor (thank you, Dr. Warde!). One of the best books I have ever read.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - don't remember.
The Iliad by Homer - both.
The Odyssey by Homer - both.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - as an adult, because I thought I should. But I didn't like it much. Dreary and hard to get through.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen - don't remember.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James - college. For some reason I took an entire semester of James in grad school. This was the first and best of the assigned novels. But I can't imagine assigning it to a high school student.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - college.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce - college.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - don't remember.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - as an adult, by choice. Great high school material.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
The Call of the Wild by Jack London - high school.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville - high school. Hated it. But as an adult I get it. Why put high school students through this?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville - college.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller - college.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor - college.
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Animal Farm, by George Orwell - high school. (What? No 1984?)
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Selected Tales by Edgar Allen Poe - both.
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Call it Sleep by Henry Roth
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - don't remember.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare - both.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare - both.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare - college.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - both.
(Note on Shakespeare: I didn't really learn to read him until college. It takes a while to get one's Shakespeare "legs" and it only comes with a lot of reading. I think throwing Romeo and Juliet in its original form at high school freshman just sets them up for a lifetime of Shakespeare loathing. Better to read some of the abridged/simplified/side-by-side versions and watch some plays to get their feet wet, doing a little more each year of high school until they're ready to read a play without the training wheels.)
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw - when I taught it to high school students. Great play, and fun to follow up by watching My Fair Lady.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn - college.
Antigone by Sophocles - both.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles - college.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - as an adult, because I thought I should. So glad I did.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift - both. But I'm not sure if I've read the whole thing.
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
Walden by Henry David Thoreau - part in high school, the whole thing in college.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I tried, years ago, along with Anna Karenina; couldn't get through either.)
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev - college.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - countless times as a student and teacher.
Candide by Voltaire - in college because I wanted to. Highly recommended, but R-rated. One of the funniest things I have ever read in my life.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Collected Stories by Eudora Welty - not sure if I've ever read any of her stuff.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman - both.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams - in high school and again when I taught it. Very accessible for high school students.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Native Son by Richard Wright

I used to believe strongly in a canon, but as I look at this list there are very few things that I would say one absolutely MUST read. I'll think about that question and maybe turn it into a future post. I will say that as a homeschool mom, I have totally changed my approaching to teaching literature. I used to be one of those nasty English teachers who stamped the love of literature out of my students by picking works apart. I didn't mean to; I just didn't know any better. I had these kids, day in and day out for 50-minute stretches, and I had to do something with them, you know? And I had to come up with some sort of way of "measuring" their "learning." The school wouldn't have looked too kindly on my just turning in a list of books that we had read and discussed over the course of the semester along with the assurance that the students had actually enjoyed some of them. But that's where I am with my own kids and the few additional students I now teach literature to. All I really want is for them to read and think and--at least some of the time--enjoy. Oh, we do some writing, too. But I have gotten far away from the "beat it to a pulp" approach to literature: the lists of vocabulary words, the endless answering of questions at the end of the story, the dissecting of the work down to the most obscure details. It took a while for me to decide all of that wasn't necessary. But now that I'm at that point, I don't know if I can ever teach in a "regular" classroom again. because I don't know if I can ever go back to that.

The way we do "school" in this country, by and large, kills the love of learning and turns it from gospel into law. It's a travesty. And to think that year after year, the government tells us that they need more money so they can do more of the same. Don't even get me started on that soapbox.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Give This Man a Bonus

I saw this Studio B segment live on Fox News this afternoon, and it had me standing up, clapping and cheering out loud in my empty bedroom. Mississippi boy Shephard Smith, one of my favorite Fox anchors, lays out the facts of the mortgage scandal, the bailouts, and the current "financial crisis" in one of the most succinct summaries I have ever seen, nailing Democrats like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd for their complicity as well as their current hypocrisy in daring to feign outrage at a situation they created.

I wish everyone in America could see this. Shep's comments begin just as today's congressional hearing on the AIG bailout was ending. The video is about seven minutes long, but the part you mustn't miss is the three-minute rant that kicks it off. If you're not already hopping mad about what's going on in Washington these days, you will be after watching this.

Hope? I beg your pardon. We haven't seen any such thing from this crew. And the change, in my opinion, has all been for the worse. But if we had a national press that was actually interested in reporting the facts, and if more Americans took the time to understand and learn such facts as are presented here, maybe we would finally start to see some positive change and a genuine basis for feeling hopeful about the future of this country.

But I'm not holding my breath.

1984 . . . Again

As long as I'm sharing links, here's another from Victor David Hanson:

"The 'Depression' for Us Idiots"

An excerpt in case you don't have time for more:

"I feel like Winston Smith in Oceania, confused about all the doublethink coming out of Washington. Great Depression—no Great Depression. Recession for years; its end at the end of this year. Signing statements bad; signing statements good. Fundamentals hardly strong; fundamentals really sound. Earmarks terrible; 8,000 wonderful. Bush’s $500 billion deficit reckless; Obama’s $1.7 sober and judicious; Iraq horrific and the worst whatever; Iraq suddenly quiet, democratic, and hopeful; highest ethical bar in an administration ever—Richardson, Daschle, Killefer, Solis, etc. cannot meet the lowest; Guantanamo a Stalag; Guantanamo open for a year, pending the recommendations of a “task force”; Guantanamo a torture place for unlawful combatants; Guantanamo a nice place without unlawful combatants; Obama not to be blamed for massive collapse of stock prices since November; Obama to be praised for modest gains last week. At some point, someone in the media must be getting embarrassed that they are all working at the Ministry of Truth."

It seems the 1984 references are abounding these days. It's a seminal 20th-century work, and considering its publication on the heels of World War II it's no wonder it has continued to hold a vaulted position in our modern literary canon. But here we are in 2009 and it seems the number of writers and thinkers alluding to it is only on the rise. Hmmm . . . wonder why?


My literature students read the Jonathan Swift classic "A Modest Proposal" last week. So imagine my pleasure at stumbling upon this essay a few days ago:

"A Modest Proposal to Prevent the Pernicious Warming of Our Fair Globe" - by "Jonathan Swift"

It's modeled on the original both stylistically and structurally, and it's excellent. Take a look.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cool Church Sign

I like this one, seen as I was driving in my town yesterday:

"Beat the Easter rush! Come to church this Sunday!"

Back in Business!

Our home computer crashed several weeks ago (before my father-in-law's death). We're not sure what led to its demise. For months it had been getting slower and increasingly temperamental. Finally the day came that it just wouldn't boot up anymore. A computer savvy friend took a stab at repairing it and found it to be a lost cause. Luckily in the waning days of our old friend's life we were able to back up the most important data. Our computer has now been reincarnated, scrubbed clean and returned to our possession. All that remains is for us to mess, uh, load it up with programs and data again.

It has been a character-building couple of weeks. With only one computer (my husband's laptop) with internet access, we have all had to go on something of a computer diet. I have had limited opportunties for email, blogging, and surfing the net. It's actually been a good thing, as there were plenty of other things demanding my attention. But I think we will all be glad to return to the status quo!

What's Happening

It's been one of those weeks.

First, no sooner was I starting to get over one cold than I came down with another, this time losing my voice for several days. The timing couldn't have been worse, as my husband and son were out of town for a chess tournament and my mom took a surprise trip to the hospital. It's hard to converse with one's family on the phone or have discussions with doctors and nurses when one has no voice.

The reason for my mom's hospital trip was numbness in her hand and face. When she told me of her symptoms Saturday morning I called her doctor, who said to get her to the ER immediately. She was admitted for observation and tests. The working diagnosis is a small stroke, although we can't be sure because there are no obvious traces of one. She is still in the hospital, as the doctors wait for her blood pressure to go down, but we are hoping she will go home today.

We are about to wrap up Solo & Ensemble season for the year. My church's day school is hosting its own event this week because the area school event conflicted with our Lutheran school system's basketball schedule. I was supposed to serve as one of the accompanists, but due to my mom's hospitalization and my laryngitis my dear husband offered to take over my portion of the accompanying. So he now has about three days to work in two rehearsals with each of about 15 instrumentalists. Thank you, honey.

Speaking of my husband, Sunday was our 22nd wedding anniversary! Circumstances prevented our spending it together. We are hoping to make up for it by getting away for an overnight in a few weeks.

There is still much to do with regard to my father-in-law's sudden death several weeks ago: legal matters, resolving my mother-in-law's long-term care plan, and more. There are many complicating factors. Our family has taken great strength from the support of our sisters and brothers in Christ these past few weeks. There have been cards, food, monetary gifts, acts of love, and many caring words and prayers. I have taken great personal encouragement from my online Lutheran homeschooling friends, who always seem to be "there."

Note to Elephant's Child and Boots on the Ground: the house is getting a little messy again. When can you come back? (JUST KIDDING!) By the way, it's been two weeks and the flowers you left still look gorgeous!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Scary Thought

I saw Dick Morris on Bill O'Reilly last night, and he proposed that President Obama may actually be what a lot of people say they want: a leader who truly puts principle above politics. In other words, he cares not about reelection, but looks at this term as his best opportunity to put his permanent stamp on the country by enacting as much of his agenda as he possibly can before he has to run again. If that's the case, there's really no check on him, unless Democrats in Congress decide to cool his jets to protect their own reelection hopes.

"Politics" has become a bad word these days. We hear that we should put "politics" aside and work together to "get things done." Yet I always thought that's what politics was: people--citizens--functioning as a group to accomplish group goals. Sometimes it's a messy process, but it's not inherently bad (except for the fact that people are inherently bad). The etymology of the word is Latin ("politicus") and Greek ("politikos"), both meaning "of citizens and the state." The Greek word is rooted in "polites"--citizen, and "polis"--city. Politics is simply citizens working together to run the city (or organization, church, synod, state or country). So saying that we are going to eschew politics so that we can work together is like saying we are going to stop working together so that we can work together. It makes no sense. (But it sure makes a good campaign slogan.)

Aristotle got it right: "Man is by nature a political animal." We can't escape it, and we shouldn't try. It's how we interact to accomplish things. Otto Von Bismarck said, "Politics is the art of the possible." I think that's a pretty good definition. But considering the human capacity for messing things up, I think I like this one even better, from John Kenneth Galbraith: "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."

Oh, that we had choosen the latter in this last election cycle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books That Stay With Me

I was "tagged" for this by a few people on Facebook, and I'm going to write my answers here rather than there. I still haven't gotten into the Facebook habit (I check it maybe once a week or when I get a note from someone). Guess I'm just a blog girl. Or a diehard conservative who thinks Facebook is for young whippersnappers (you know, people like Elephant's Child and Renaissance Biologist), not old fuddy-duddies like me.

The instructions were to brainstorm, in no more than 15 minutes, ten books that "stay with you." These were the first ones that came to mind. Shakespeare and Milton are not on my list because they wrote poetry, not books. And the Bible is not on the list because it doesn't belong here. It's in its own category set apart.

There are more than ten books here, but I'm leaving the list as is (one of the rules of brainstorming). When I think of books that left a lasting mark on me, these are the ones that jump out. There are a lot of books that I know I have read, but I can't remember where or when (is everyone humming now? Did I succeed in giving you an ear worm?). But when I think of these books--even if I am fuzzy on the plot because it's been such a long time since I read them--I can actually picture myself reading the book at a certain time or place. I can remember where I was, the occasion of my reading (for example, whether the book was assigned for a class or recommended to me and who recommended it), and often the look and feel of the book itself. I can remember how the book captured my attention and imagination and the way I felt while lost in it.

Enough exposition. Here's my list. For the most part, they're the same books that are in my Blogger profile. A few have enjoyed repeat visits (mostly because I have read them with students), but the majority have commanded my gaze only once (there are so many books out there--who has time for re-reads?). But once was enough to make them stay with me for a lifetime.

Huckleberry Finn - Twain
The Screwtape Letters - Lewis
Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
Jane Eyre - C. Bronte
The Fountainhead - Rand
The Spirituality of the Cross - Veith
Catch-22 - Heller
Candide - Voltaire
The Elements of Style - Strunk & White
1984 - Orwell
Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Gold Braid - Hofstadter
You Can Teach Your Child Successfully - Beechick
A Different Kind of Teacher - Gatto
Cultural Literacy - Hirsch

If you want to play, consider yourself tagged! Or feel free to post your own list in Comments!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great Quote on the Liturgy

"The blessing of the liturgy is that it wipes out self."--Rumer Godden

I found this quotation in an excellent column by the Anchoress (go read if you can--it's both funny and profound). It reminds me of a post I wrote a little while back on a different but related topic. And it calls to mind my own experience, especially as I get older, of relying more and more on the liturgy in my own prayer life. These days it seems like it's all I can do to compose a prayer in my head. I do best with intercessory prayer and confession of sins (there are always people to pray for and sins to confess), but beyond that I find myself floundering. My mind wanders; I fall asleep; or the words just won't come. Thanks be to God for the words He has given in the liturgy. When I can't pray, I can count on them to pray for me. And even if my mind wanders during my feeble "repetitions" I can trust that God's word does what it says and that my prayers are not in vain.

Stress Eating

Speaking of food, I have been consuming too much of it lately. And it's not just the result of friends cooking for us the last few days--this has been going on for weeks. I am attributing my growing appetite (and waistline) to stress, but this is a shift for me. In recent years my tendency when stressed is to stop eating. I look at food and it just turns my stomach--the appetite is not there. But lately the opposite has been happening. I want to eat all the time, everything in sight (the sweeter and doughier the better).

As much as I don't like the result (5 or 6 pounds at last check), I think my eating frenzy is a good sign. It's the result of stress, but not depression (which, as I have entered middle age and premenopause, has come knocking forcefully on my door the last few years). It would appear that when I'm depressed, I stop eating; when I'm merely stressed, I eat more.

I'm glad that in the midst of all that life has wrought of late I have not succumbed to a depressive episode. But as I search my closet each day for something I can squeeze my flesh into, I realize I have to stop this free eating. I can't afford to buy all new clothes! Especially not with the hyper-inflation that is just around the corner!

Hmmm--maybe that's part of what's fueling my eating frenzy. I'm instinctively fattening myself up for the coming economic (not emotional) Depression!

Monday, March 9, 2009

To the Manner Born*

For the last few days we have been blessed with meals cooked and delivered to our home by church members wishing to help out in the wake of my father-in-law's death. The food has been delicious, and the freedom from having to plan and cook meals for a few days upon our return a great relief.

Today upon waking up my five-year old, Evan (a. k. a. "Little Prince"), looked at me and expectantly asked, "Who's bringing us supper today, Mommy?"

I must admit that I, too, could get used to this!

*New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wal-Mart Nation

I know a lot of people who despise Wal-Mart. I have a love-hate relationship with the store. But over the course of my shopping lifetime, there has been more to love than hate. So I appreciated this recent story in the New York Post:

"Undercover at Wal-Mart: the Heartland Store That May Save the Economy"

The author, Charles Platt, applied and got a job at Wal-Mart so as to get an inside employee view of how the chain operates. His experience puts the lie to a lot of the common Wal-Mart wisdom.

Here's a quote:

"With more than 7,000 facilities worldwide, coordinating more than 2 million employees in its fanatical mission to maintain an inventory from more than 60,000 American suppliers, it has become a system containing more components than the Space Shuttle - yet it runs as reliably as a Timex watch."

My thought after reading this article is that Wal-Mart puts our government to shame. The feds would do well to run as efficiently as Wal-Mart. I am reminded that in the aftermath of Katrina, the response of Wal-Mart was more timely and effective than FEMA's. It could be that a day will come when the USA will be such a disorganized, catastrophic mess that we will thank our lucky stars (and our Lord) for the infrastructure and inter-connectedness that Wal-Mart provides, benefitting more from our status as "Walmartians" than as "Americans."

A few more quotes from the article in case you don't have time for the whole thing:

"Merchandise from Wal-Mart has become as ubiquitous as the water supply. Yet still the company is rebuked and reviled by anyone claiming a social conscience, and is lambasted by legislators as if its bad behavior places it somewhere between investment bankers and the Taliban. . . . Considering this is a company that is helping families ride out the economic downturn, which is providing jobs and stimulus while Congress bickers, which had sales growth of 2% this last quarter while other companies struggled, you have to wonder why."

"To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn't pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?
In fact, the deal at Wal-Mart is better than at many other employers. The company states that its regular full-time hourly associates in the US average $10.86 per hour, while the mean hourly wage for retail sales associates in department stores generally is $8.67. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. Also every Wal-Mart employee gets a 10% store discount, while an additional 4% of wages go into profit-sharing and 401(k) plans."

"You have to wonder, then, why the store has such a terrible reputation, and I have to tell you that so far as I can determine, trade unions have done most of the mudslinging."

"Anti-growth activists are the other primary source of anti-Wal-Mart sentiment. In the town where I worked, I was told that activists even opposed a new Barnes & Noble because it was 'too big.' If they're offended by a large bookstore, you can imagine how they feel about a discount retailer.
The argument, of course, is that smaller enterprises cannot compete. My outlook on this is hardcore: I think that many of the 'mom-and-pop' stores so beloved by activists don't deserve to remain in business.
When I first ventured from New York City to the American heartland, I did my best to patronize quaint little places on Main Street and quickly discovered the penalties for doing so. At a small appliance store, I wasn't allowed to buy a microwave oven on display. I had to place an order and wait a couple of weeks for delivery. At a stationery store where I tried to buy a file cabinet, I found the same problem. Think back, if you are old enough to do so, and you may recall that this is how small-town retailing used to function in the 1960s.
As a customer, I don't see why I should protect a business from the harsh realities of commerce if it can't maintain a good inventory at a competitive price. And as an employee, I see no advantage in working at a small place where I am subject to the quixotic moods of a sole proprietor, and can never appeal to his superior, because there isn't one.
By the same logic, I see no reason for legislators to protect Safeway supermarkets with ploys such as zoning restrictions, which just happen to allow a supermarket-sized building while outlawing a Wal-Mart SuperCenter that's a few thousand square feet bigger."

This is sad.

The latest issue of World magazine features an interview with Bill Moyers, former White House press secretary to LBJ and host of several PBS news programs and series. Moyers talks about his degree in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his original intention to became a preacher, which eventually gave way to a career in politics and journalism.

Towards the end of the article, the interviewer asks Moyers if he believes Christ was truly crucified and raised from the dead. Moyers in effect says it doesn't matter--he says he has a "strong suspicion" Jesus was crucified but "there's no empirical evidence about it" and goes on to state: "You can't take the resurrection by fact--you have to take it on faith. You appropriate the story for what it means to you and what it says to you . . . If it means something to you, that's very important."

The article ends with this quote: "Someone recently asked me what the moment was when I became a Christian. And I told them, I never did become a Christian. I can't turn the other cheek. I can't sell all my possessions and give them away. I can't love my enemy. I am not a Christian because I can't do what Jesus asks. But, I care deeply about that figure. He has instructed my faith; He looms large in my life. But I can't do what He asks me to do, so I can't legitimately claim to be a Christian."

I could say all those same things about the things Jesus wants me to do that I can't. And yet for me, that is the very reason I AM a Christian.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Back Home

Wow--almost a week without a blog post. I think that's a record for me.

My father-in-law's funeral was Wednesday morning. After lunch with family and friends, we took to the road, making it almost to Little Rock Wednesday night. Thursday we finished the drive and arrived home in Chicagoland a little after midnight.

It has been a week for the record books. We got the news of my father-in-law's death Ash Wednesday at about 11:00 a.m. We were on the road for Texas by 4:30 that afternoon. The list of things that had to be cancelled or rescheduled or postponed was jaw-dropping. My son was playing in a chess tournament: the tournament director had to be notified that he could not continue. He had also been practicing in order to serve as pianist for our church school's elementary musical: another accompanist had to be found. My husband was preparing to lead a hymn festival to benefit Lutheran Child and Family Services: it was decided that his role was too essential for the hymn festival to proceed without him, so it was postponed. He was also scheduled to take his junior high choir to contest (with my son accompanying); the contest director had to be notified that they would not be attending after all.

The list goes on: piano students, choir practices, worship services, literature class, someone to check in on my mother, assorted details at my husband's office, not to mention packing. By the grace of God we got it all done.

In the meantime, our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ have been angels of mercy in the many ways they have offered assistance this week. Our senior pastor gave us cash for traveling money and his wife checked in on my mom in our absence. My husband's assistant cantor filled in not only for him, playing for services and directing choir practice, but also for me, stepping in as accompanist for a local junior high that I play for. Another pianist that I found to fill in for the community choir I play for--a woman I have never met--offered words of encouragement and promised her prayers on the phone. While we were gone, dear friends came to clean our mess of a house (which was even worse than usual because of several prior weeks of neglect and the huge rush in which we had to depart). They not only cleaned but also made sure there was fresh milk in the refrigerator, fresh flowers on the table, and welcome home treats on our pillows. We are not worthy of such treatment.

Finally, on our first day back, friends from church brought us supper, and we are told two more meals are coming our way. A blessing indeed, because upon our return we hit the ground running. I had rehearsals all day yesterday for yet another school music competition today.

Thank you to all who have prayed for our family during this trying week. We would appreciate the continued prayers, particularly for my mother-in-law as she mourns the loss of her husband while facing her own serious health issues; for my sister-in-law, who has taken a leave of absence from her job and will be caring for her mother for the foreseeable future; and for my husband, who along with his sister still has much to do moving forward to ensure the best interests and care of his mother.

In the next few days I'll share a bit about my father-in-law's funeral. He was not a "religious" man so did not have a church home. In the absence of a pastor, my husband officiated at his own father's funeral, something several people have observed to me that a man should not have to do. After all, it was his father who died. He should be the one getting comforted, not the one comforting others.

Agreed. But if you had been there . . . if you had been there, you would be thinking, like me, that there was no one else who could have risen to the occasion as he did, no one else who could have comforted those assembled as he, with the Word, managed to do.

More on that later.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Family Update

We are still in Houston. My mother-in-law's heart surgery was actually a heart catheterization to assess her heart function, with the possibility of inserting a stint if the situation merited. Thankfully, although the doctor thought that a high probability, her heart function turned out to be within acceptable parameters for a woman her age. We did, however, have a major scare the evening of the catheterization as she went into severe breathing distress and was almost intubated. The rapid response team worked on her for over an hour before she stabilized. She is still hospitalized, but her condition is improving and we are hoping for her release in the near future. Funeral plans for my father-in-law are underway.

Sinning sinner that I am, my thoughts these last few days have at times turned inward. What does the future hold for my husband and me? Am I getting a peek at where we will be in 30 or 40 years, assuming God blesses us with that many more? My mother-in-law said as much to me a day or two ago: "Cheryl, some day Phil will be gone and this will be you lying in a hospital bed. When you first get married you think you have all the time in the world; then you realize 50 years have gone by and it's all over."

What worries me most, though, is not the thought of my husband or myself getting sick or dying. I know that's going to happen--it's the way of the flesh. Not that I like it! But what I most hate to think about is my children having to to some day go through times like this. As a mother one of my deepest wishes is to protect my babies from pain and harm. And yet I know with each passing day my ability to do so diminishes, as they get older and so do I. Some day I will not care for them as much as they will care for me. And there will be all kinds of challenges and difficulties in their lives between now and then that I will not be able to shield them from. As a friend of mine likes to say, "Such is life this side of heaven." I know that whatever happens in their lives, God will sustain them. But the part of me that wants to be God desires to continue managing and directing my children's lives and has a hard time entrusting them into His care. Thanks be to God that He doesn't need me to get out of His way in order to do His thing! While I fumble along with my pitiful little efforts, I know He has the future in hand and that all will be done according to His good and gracious will.

So why am I still afraid?