". . . 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, October 29, 2010

How Times Have Changed

Me and Trevor in December, 2000, at a Young Naperville Singers choir concert for which he sang and I played

Me and Trevor in October, 2010, following a Chicago Blaze chess team match in which his win helped secure the team's berth in the 2010 United States Chess League playoffs

Can someone please tell me where the years have gone?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Update on Our House Restoration Project

Notice I called it a "restoration"--not remodeling--project. Remodeling is adding on, updating, contemporizing, making new. We are not doing that. We are reducing, not increasing our square footage. We are ripping off, not adding, a sunroom. We are not updating but returning our home to its original state, c. 1979.

Today the tree guys came. It's amazing how quickly they work, sawing off branches, feeding them into the chipper, grinding stumps until there is no indication a tree ever stood in those spots. We are two trees down (leaving one only) in the back yard: one extremely mature tree that was right next to the house, rudely pushing on the foundation, and another, a younger but still sizable apple tree whose dropping of sickly fruit and attracting of bees had resulted in my youngest not wanting to play in his own yard. We are all looking forward to being apple free next year. For Evan, no apple tree means no (or fewer) bees; for the rest of us, it means no more "Essence of Rotting Apple" wafting across our yard and no more having to pick up yucky, squishy apples just so we can mow the grass!

In addition to the tree removal, a few days ago our sunroom was gutted--all the inner paneling removed so as to expose the roof and attic.

When the sunroom was added, whoever did the work got "creative" with the wiring. So there is a mess of cords in the attic above the kitchen and family room (where the sunroom adjoins) coming from and leading to who knows where. Our electrical panel is outdated so in addition to cleaning up the wiring mess we will be getting a new panel. Once the electrical work is done the demolition and restoring of this end of the house will resume. The French doors at the far left end will be replaced with a sliding glass door, and to the left of that will be a doggy flap for our beagle, who drives us crazy with wanting in and out All Day Long. The glass on each side of the fireplace, which at one time was windows, will be walled up so that bookshelves can be placed on both sides of the fireplace on the other side. Yes, we will lose some light, but we need the wall space. The fireplace, currently a 2-way that opens into both family room and sunroom, will revert to being a 1-way opening into the family room. Ultimately this end of the house will be closed and insulated and sided and what you see will become the exterior back wall. The slab where the sunroom is right now will become a patio.

I'm told this will all be done by Thanksgiving. We'll see.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I just saw a segment on Fox News about the problem of kindergarten bullying. Yes, you read that right. We're talking about 5-year-olds. Instead of fighting over Legos, in many cases they are forming cliques for the purpose of ostracizing and tormenting selected individuals who don't dress the "right" way or possess the latest status symbols. Here's a recent New York Times article about the phenomenon.

But as disturbing as it is to hear about kindergarteners being so systematically cruel to their peers, that's not the part that I found unbelievable. Humans in their fallen, unredeemed state are nasty creatures. Hurting one another, unfortunately, is what we do. Children are no exception. So no great surprises there.

No, what I found mind-blowing was the mom who recounted her decision to let her 5-year-old daughter fight off the bullies herself so that she could learn "valuable" lessons about getting along with difficult people.


I was the target of bullies for most of my junior high years. When I was in sixth grade we moved to a rural area of Texas that was populated mostly by families that had lived there for generations. I was a buck-toothed, red-headed, fair-skinned, book-wormish outsider and that made me ripe for bullying. And it wasn't just the occasional, random comment. It was large groups of girls going out of their way to make my life miserable. I was called "bleached legs" and "rubber lips" (because of the way my protruding teeth made my lips look) and I don't know what else. I remember one particularly painful episode in home economics class when several girls in the class enacted my wedding day. They opined that instead of "Here Comes the Bride" the processional song would have to be "Here Come the Lips."

I don't know where the teacher was that day. It amazes me in retrospect how often it seems there was no teacher around.

I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, naturally shy, and the product of a family background that had already taught me the value of staying out of people's way. I was not able to defend myself against those girls, nor did I learn anything worthwhile about handling difficult people. What I learned was how to cocoon myself up into an even tighter little ball and put up a bunch more walls in an effort to keep from getting hurt again. Some of those walls are still there and I doubt they will ever come down.

But enough about me. I did not get the name of the mom on the Fox News program who was promoting letting 5-year-olds fight their own battles, but I searched online and found this recent column that sounds very similar to what I heard on television: "Sometimes It's OK to Let Your Kid Be Bullied." The author talks about not wanting to be "that" sort of mom: the one every teacher dreads because she is the ever-present "helicopter" hovering around, wanting to control and micro-manage every aspect of her child's life. Well, I've got news for you, lady: 5-year-olds need to micro-managed. They NEED their parents. No one else is going to look out for them the way we will. No one else cares that much. If we abandon them, they might as well be wandering alone in the forest, with a Big Bad Wolf hiding behind every tree.

The author of the "Sometimes It's OK" column says that when things finally got out of hand, she did step in. The verbal bullying finally turned into physical abuse on the next-to-last day of school. Nice going, Mom. But if you had done something sooner maybe your little girl wouldn't have had to go into her summer vacation with scratch marks.

Here's the deal. Children are little sinners. They are selfish and want their way. When you put several of them in a room together they are bound to have disputes. But a dispute between children who are on equal footing is one thing. The terrorizing of one who is weak by one (or more) who is more powerful, either physically or emotionally, is an altogether different thing. I don't care whether we're talking about children, or middle-aged men, or little old ladies. When the weak are being victimized, the strong are called to help. And when that happens, our children really do learn a valuable lesson.

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Think People Are Waking Up

Check out this video from a few nights ago. It was taken by an audience member at a League of Women Voters sponsored debate among the candidates for Illinois' 8th Congressional District. Running for the seat are Joe Walsh (R), incumbent Melissa Bean (D), and Bill Scheurer (Green Party).

As the debate was about to begin, a member of the audience stood up to ask the moderator if the Pledge of Allegiance would be recited prior to the start of the debate (that person is a little hard to hear on the video). The moderator said no. Watch what happened next.

What is stunning to me is to see the moderator take the audience to task by "disrespecting" her--HER!--by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. This woman obviously doesn't get it.

Here's a video the Walsh campagaign put out after the debate. It includes footage of the same incident closer to the stage, and in this video the questioner who asked for the Pledge can be heard loud and clear.

You can read more about the entire incident here and here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saying and Meaning

One of my favorite confessional Lutheran blogs, The Brothers of John the Steadfast, has in recent weeks criticized the decision of Concordia Seminary-St. Louis to replace weekday chapel with Small Group Bible study once per quarter. The criticism is due in part to the cancellation of chapel. What is one of our seminaries doing cancelling chapel for any reason? But it also arises out of concerns about the nature of Small Group Bible study. I capitalize the letters "Small" and "Group" because they are not mere adjectives: rather, they signify a certain approach to Bible study with which most confessional Lutherans are decidedly uncomfortable. Small Group Bible study is in practice centered not as much on the Word as it is on the people in the group. One of its primary emphases is the social component: building relationships and encouraging personal sharing and accountability. Often Small Groups are instituted in an attempt to break a large organization into smaller cells so that everyone feels "connected." It's a laudable goal. But the introduction of Bible study into the Small Group structure (instead of just focusing the groups purely on fellowship) means that more often than not the Bible study is led by a lay person rather than a pastor. That is a dangerous path to trod. In addition, the Small Group approach to Bible study is to read a passage and then ask for input from the group with questions such as "What does this mean to you?" and "How can you apply this passage to your own life?" Those questions may seem innocuous enough. After all, what is the Bible if not God's Word for me? Shouldn't I be not just reading but thinking about how that Word is significant in my own life?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say no. And here's why. I don't have to think about how God's Word speaks to me because I already know. It speaks to me exactly what it speaks to every other sinner. It either kills me with the Law or it saves me by the Gospel. When I start thinking that it means anything more than one of those things--that maybe it speaks to me a little differently in this verse than it speaks to someone else--then I am getting into very treacherous territory. Because in my experience, the more human beings try to overthink God's Word the more likely they are to get it all mixed up. I don't know if this is his own expression or one he borrowed from someone else, but my Pastor likes to say that we Christians are highly prone to either "legalize the Gospel" or "Gospelize the Law." We like to take the Gospel and turn it into some sort of guide for living ("What Would Jesus Do?) and conversely we like to take the Law and use it to make ourselves feel better ("I'm not as bad as that guy over there"). Neither is proper. Both are pitfalls that lead us into all sorts of trouble. And both are highly likely outcomes of Small Group Bible study.

Now some might say, "But in the case you cite, the people in question are not laity but seminarians--pastors in training." Yes. And in this case Small Groups appear to have professors assigned to lead them. But I can't help wondering, what is the point? Aren't these seminarians in classrooms with those very same professors for hours each week? Aren't classes small groups? Why, then, the need to create another sort of Small Group structure?

I think the answer is two-fold. I think there is probably a sincere desire to offer an opportunity for the seminarians to support and encourage one another in the challenges of their various vocations. But I think this is the wrong way. It is a great example of the sort of legalism my pastor talks about. Something that should happen naturally--the mutual conversation and conversation of the brethren--is being prescribed. My guess is that there is already plenty of that conversation and consolation going on: between classes, in the library, in private homes, in local pubs, on the phone, or online. Why the need to systematize it? If there is concern that someone is being left out, why not just take steps to include that person and help him to feel more assimilated? The observant professor might invite the lonely seminarian over for a meal or perhaps encourage several of his students to invite him out for a beer. Why must there be an entirely new and sweeping structure put in place to achieve what a few caring souls could do on their own?

I think the answer brings us to the second likely purpose of Small Groups at the seminary. I think the second and perhaps primary goal has to do with pastoral formation. The desire is to give these pastors in training some Small Group experience in the hope that when they have their own parishes they will institute Small Groups. And therein lies the problem. If anyone can execute the Small Group model successfully, it is probably seminarians and their teachers. But when those seminarians become pastors who promote Small Groups in their parishes, I don't think there is any way they can possibly ward off the undesirable effects of the Small Group model. So why go there at all?

I think those who promote Small Groups probably have the best of intentions in most cases. They value Bible study and know that it is something that is sorely lacking in the lives of many Christians. They value people and long to bring God's comfort to hurting souls. Small Group Bible study seems a way to accomplish both. But if the outcome of Small Group Bible study is the tolerance of incorrect understandings of Scripture in the interest of not hurting feelings, or a harmful emphasis on subjective feelings rather than objective truth, or the turning of Gospel into Law through an emphasis on taking the day's learning and going out and doing something with it, or the establishment of small cells within a congregation in a way that may cause people to identify more strongly with their small groups than they do with their whole parish family, then there is a problem. And I think it is more likely than not that one or more of those problems is going to occur.

So what of the title of this post? I think when it comes to God's Word we might do well to focus less on what it means than what it says. Asking ourselves what that Word means rather than what it says seems to me an invitation to go down that familiar old path of "Did God really say . . . ?" And we all know where that leads. Don't we?

Final Group of Congo Videos

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Setting the Table

A few months ago, frustrated by the number of people who mistakenly refer to this blog as "A Round Unvarnished Table," I decided it was time to quit fighting them and to join them. I claimed the Blogger address "roundunvarnishedtable" as my own, figuring that if people went looking for me there, they would at least be able to find me and I could redirect them here. I also had in mind to actually do something with the new address. "A Round Unvarnished Table" was born, but it is only in the last few days that I have actually done something with it. Please consider this your official invitation to stop by and take a look and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two Must Reads

A solution to the problem of the national debt that just might work: "Can We Privatize the National Debt?"

The resignation letter of Harold Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, upon departing the American Physical Society after almost 70 years of membership. Why? Because the APS continues to promote the myth of global warming, which Dr. Lewis calls "the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life."

It's Coming!

And it doesn't get much better than this. Watch the video below to find out more about Reformation Week on Issues, Etc. Don't say you didn't know. I just told you! :-)

Also, if you would like inserts for your church bulletin, those can be found here. Note that there are four inserts for each time zone.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More Congo Videos

Célébrons l'Eternel (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty LSB 790)

O Merveilleux Amour (What Wondrous Love Is This LSB 543)

Jésus-Christ est le même hier, aujourd'hui, et éternellement HEB 13:8 (This one is not in LSB. ☺But my husband loves it so much I have a feeling it's going to show up stateside one of these days. Maybe in a Chicago burb near you.)

Bye-bye, Deck

Tree Freedom!

This is for Elephant's Child, who wanted to see the slope of the ground under there.

Piece of deck grown into the tree.

Who is that guy and why does he keep showing up in my pictures?

In the photos the piece of deck that runs alongside the sunroom next to the sliding glass door is still there. It's gone now, along with the opossum that was living under it. There is nothing but dirt and rock outside our back door. I'm not looking forward to next week's rain.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Too Soon

I have never been one of those who complains about Christmas merchandise popping up in stores this time of year. I get it. It's fall, after all. People are starting to make their Christmas shopping lists and think about their holiday activities with family. Some of my OVERACHIEVING friends are already working on Christmas cards. And it takes retailers time to transition from one season to the next. They can't change their store inventories and decorating themes overnight. So I get it.

But come on. This morning on my walk I saw a house in my neighborhood with one of those electric, light-up Christmas trees already placed in the yard. REALLY? ARE YOU SERIOUS? I'm not big on Halloween. But whatever happened to pumpkins and mums and scarecrows? I'll even put up with your witches and ghosts (although I personally dislike spooky/creepy Halloween decorations). But please, can we hold off on the Yuletide decking of the halls (and yards) until, say, at least November?

Pumpkin Farm

Evan climbing up the slide
Evan coming down the slide. He was going so fast, and my camera is so slow, that I only managed to get the top of his head!

Caitlin going up.

Hay ride!

Friends Evan and Evan (my Evan is on the right). The other Evan was in my Evan's preschool class a few years ago. They were Evan T. and Evan M. His parents have decided to homeschool him now, so we are looking forward to a lot of play dates and field trips!

Caitlin, Evan M. and Evan T.

Green Acres is the life for me!


Corn Maze

Petting Zoo - Two Cute Chicks

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The End of an Era

Today we start the process of saying farewell to our aging solarium. We grieve its passing not at all. It has been a source of nothing but grief for the almost eleven (!) years we have lived in this house.

Our house is about 30 years old. The sunroom was added by the previous owners about 15 years ago. When we first bought the house the sunroom still held some charm. The previous owners had also installed a hot tub, and for the first few years of living here we did enjoy saying words we never expected to say: "Do you want to go out to the sunroom and sit in the hot tub?" But in time the hot tub lost its appeal--my husband is sensitive to the chemicals and I was not motivated to maintain it for solo soaking--and shortly after we moved in we also discovered that the sunroom leaked. (Do you have any idea how slippery ceramic tile becomes when water is sitting on top of it?) The leaking was minimal at that time but has only grown worse over the years (you can can read more about that here) and now has started to compromise the part of the house to which the sunroom is attached. It was time for the whole mess to go (the hot tub quit working--and we got over our infatuation with it--years ago).

Here are a few exterior shots of the sunroom and deck taken last month:

Here's our handyman, general contractor, and friend, Mr. "D," beginning to remove the deck.

The bunnies under the deck have driven Shiloh (our dog) crazy for years. Today is her day! Of course, the bunnies have made for the hills. But she's gonna make sure there are no stragglers.

I plan to continue taking pictures as the process unfolds, so if you're into this sort of thing, keep checking back!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hymn Singing in Brazzaville

Pastor May recently made these available on YouTube. I think Phillip will be offering some reflections on them in due time, but I can't wait until then to share them with you. Aren't they wonderful? And isn't it incredible to think of our brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world singing with such joy and enthusiasm the same hymns and liturgy that we do here in the USA? (Would that all of our churches always sang these songs with the energy and gusto you see here. And without an organ, no less. Imagine that.)

You will notice that Phillip is not leading the singing in these videos. That is because once his teaching was done it was important that others take over as songleaders. He was only there for 9 days, after all (of which there were only about 7 days of actual teaching). The goal was to help our fellow Lutherans in Brazzaville embrace these songs long after he and Pastor May left. I don't think that's going to be a problem, do you?

C'est un Rempart que Notre Dieu (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)

Ecoute l'appel de Dieu (Listen, God Is Calling)

Je suis un enfant du Père (God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It)

And here's a short video of Phillip teaching some harmony parts on "Il est né"