". . . 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)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Charity

After reading the quotes from Walther and Luther yesterday, last night I read this, and it seemed a fine follow-up to yesterday's post. While neither quotation, of course, has anything to do with electronic communication (email, Facebook, blogs, etc.), seeing as how such things didn't exist when these words were written, I find it enlightening to consider both quotations in those terms. How much more we might gain in the long run if we more highly valued kindness, charity, and fraternal harmony. From C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 9, on "Charity":

First, as to the meaning of the word. 'Charity' now means simply what used to be called 'alms'--that is, giving to the poor. Originally it had a much wider meaning. . . . Charity means 'Love, in the Christian sense'. But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

I pointed out in the chapter on Forgiveness that our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good. In the same way Christian Love (or Charity) for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection. We 'like' or are 'fond of' some people, and not others. It is important to understand that this natural 'liking' is neither a sin nor a virtue, any more than your likes and dislikes in food are a sin or a virtue. It is just a fact. But, of course, what we do about it is either sinful or virtuous.

Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be 'charitable' towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections--to 'like' people as much as we can (just as it is often our duty to encourage our liking for exercise or wholesome food)--not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. . . .

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. . . .

Consequently, though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or 'likings' and the Christian has only 'charity'. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he 'likes' them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on--including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

Walther and Luther on Quarrels Among Christians

A blog I read has lately been the scene of a rather intense theological discussion that has at times been enlightening but has at other times been discouraging due to the behavior of some of the participants. A wise commenter posted this passage from C. F. W. Walther's Essays for the Church, Vol. 2 (Concordia Publishing House, 1992). It resonated with me for a whole host of reasons, and I thought I would share it here.

Alas, dear brethren, how often do we not get into arguments and quarrels! Therefore, when I notice that if I carry the fight out to its bitter end our whole communion will suffer as a result, then—unless God’s honor and the salvation of souls are at stake—I should say, “Let’s drop this subject. It is clear that we can’t reach any agreement. Let us not destroy our precious fraternal harmony.” Everyone must keep this in mind: When people get worked up at conferences or conventions, you must immediately ask yourself, “Where will this end?” Then the officials have to say, “This will never do; there will be no further discussion of this subject, because it is not only a matter of someone’s feelings getting hurt, but the devil is trying to rob Synod of its precious possession.”

When someone has gone too far but says, “Dear brother, I didn’t intend to be so mean,” I should immediately forgive him. But if I would respond, “Do you realize the full enormity of your conduct? Do you really repent of what you’ve done?” then I am being too legalistic (da wird die Goldwage genommen). That is wrong. We should not do that unless the offender has clearly demonstrated that he is a hardened and unrepentant sinner. In that case we must firmly inform him, “If you do not repent of your sin, you are lost.” That is the proper procedure.

Luther therefore says, commenting on the words [in John 15:9], “Abide in My love”:

“You cannot avoid offending another person at times, just as little as you can keep one foot or toe from touching the other or [as little as you can avoid] hurting yourself [occasionally]. You cannot avoid such bumps and bruises to another’s ego, especially in view of the fact that here on earth we live in the kingdom of Satan, who is constantly tempting us, and on top of that, because our flesh is still weak and full of sin. No doubt that is why the most saintly and dearest of friends will occasionally disagree and prick up their ears at one another, why the devil occasionally fills our hearts with suspicion and bitterness because of one statement or one glance, so that these former friends are filled with antagonism toward each other. He is a master at that trick, works hard at perfecting it, and often succeeds with it before we are even aware of what he is up to. That is what happened between Paul and Barnabas. Acts 15:39 tells us that ‘they had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.’

“Another example of this is the case of Jerome and Rufinus, who were the best of friends, as close as brothers. Yet they disagreed so bitterly about a preface that they never became friends again. No doubt the same thing would have happened between St. Augustine and Jerome if Augustine had not been wise enough [to avoid it]. Thus any little thing can create such quarreling and enmity that it does great harm to a whole group. Blood soon begins to boil, and the devil shoots his poisoned arrows into our hearts through evil tongues, so that neither one can say or think anything good about the other one. The devil fans that fire and tries to arouse people against one another in an attempt to create heartache and murder. . . .

“Therefore we Christians must constantly be on our guard against the devil’s skill and trickery. We must so conduct ourselves that we do not allow such poison to grow up in our hearts. Even though we are tempted to become bitter and hateful, we must suppress such feelings and remind ourselves not to let our mutual love die, but firmly cling to it. And even if resentment or disunity does arise, we must re-establish and strengthen our mutual love. For, to begin to love is not very difficult, but as Christ says in this passage, abiding in love is truly an art and a virtue. Even though, when they are first married, many couples are so madly in love that they virtually eat each other up, later on they become mortal enemies. Now, the same thing also happens among Christian brethren. Some trivial incident destroys their mutual love, and those who should cling to one another in love with all their might allow themselves to be torn apart and become the most bitter enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the time of the apostles, when the devil raised up his troublemakers (Rottengeister) and heretics, so that bishops and pastors burned with hatred against one another and consequently the people, too, were divided into all kinds of sects and parties. As a result of that, Christianity suffered mortal harm, for where there is no love, there doctrine cannot remain pure."

Friday, May 27, 2011


My firstborn is going to college in the fall. Away to college, that is. Eight hours away. It's hard to believe the day is almost here--that day that as parents you know is going to come, because it comes to everyone, but still, like dying, you don't really believe will ever happen to you.

So, some things are going to change. Our house will still be Trevor's home, but in a few months he will no longer spend the majority of his time here. He will have a home away from home, and whereas for over 18 years I have known just about every move he has made (even moreso than some parents by virtue of the fact that we homeschool our kids), starting this fall he will make most of his moves without me. I will no longer know when he wakes up, eats, practices the piano, or goes on a bike ride. He will lead a whole separate life in a whole different place and we his family will only be privy to what he feels motivated to share.

This is all as it should be, but still, it is hard. Next week Trevor will be giving his senior piano recital (you're all invited!). Last night after choir practice he and my husband (his piano teacher) stayed at church (where the recital will be) so that Trevor could play through his program on the grand piano there. Between the Chicago Open chess tournament this weekend and company coming and other stuff next week this was the last chance Phillip had to work with Trevor before the recital. Meanwhile, also yesterday, Trevor received a list of repertoire from his new piano teacher at UNL so that he can get started on it after his recital. (Aside: I got a kick out of the fact that one of his pieces is Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27, No. 2, which I also played my freshman year in college.)

Anyway, when Phillip and Trevor got home last night, my husband came in to the bedroom and observed, "I just gave Trevor the last piano lesson I'll ever give him." Mind you, my husband has been teaching our son piano since Trevor was 4.

I told him, "Oh, you'll give him some coaching on his new stuff this summer" to which Phillip answered, "Yeah, I know I'll still help him, but from now it will only be when he asks me."

I guess that's what it means to let your children grow up. As parents we are called to move from a mindset of constantly directing and helping to one in which we do so only when asked. For over 18 years my husband and I have been not only Trevor's primary caretakers but also his primary teachers. That's about to change, as he learns to take care of himself and as other people take over teaching him.

There are a lot of "lasts" in a parent-child relationship. The last diaper. The last jar of baby food. The last time you help with a bath. The last time you actually pick him up or tie his shoes for him or he sits on your lap in the rocking chair. Most of the time you don't realize it's going to be the last time. It just happens, and then it doesn't happen anymore. It's something of a gut-check moment when one of those "lasts" occurs and you are able to stop and say, "This is the last time."

I'm glad the last night in his bed as a high school student is still a few months away.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Back Yard Progress

I'm sure you're probably getting tired of all the boring "this is my life" stuff, but that's about all I have for you right now. Maybe one of these days my brain will kick back in.

Anyway, here was the view of our patio last month (complete with freshly planted grass seed and levitating beagle):

Here it is today.

Yep, it needs mowing. Trevor's on that. The plants you see at the front right corner of the patio will get transplanted today. Yay! Fresh vegetables and herbs are coming!

The nice thing about our house is that it faces east. So we get the morning sun, but in the evening the patio is naturally shaded. We are becoming very fond of our new patio for morning coffee and evening glasses of wine!

Here's a closer look. It needs more flowers, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

International Center Chapel

My husband and I were in St. Louis Sunday and Monday. We visited the headquarters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, also known as the International Center (IC for short). The occasion was the dedication of a new Boston grand piano recently donated to the IC chapel. Phillip was invited to serve as the musician and choir/instrumental director for the special chapel service, after which there was a reception followed by a short recital of classical piano music intended to showcase the new instrument. Then Phillip and I were honored to attend lunch with our synodical president Rev. Matt Harrison and several members of his office as well as the guest recitalist, the Boston-Steinway representative who facilitated the sale (herself a good LCMS Lutheran), and the family who donated the piano (who are friends of ours and members of our congregation).

A few observations about the day . . . .

The International Center chapel is quite a lovely room, made lovelier now with the addition of this fine new instrument. The chapel service was beautiful. Synodical President Rev. Matt Harrison was the liturgist and preacher. The instrumentalists and choir were excellent. Musical selections included Phillip's piano arrangement of Lamb of God as a prelude, which in its use of a broad harmonic, tonal and dynamic palette provided a great showcase for the new piano. Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God" was the psalm, Phillip's recently composed concertato on "Father Welcomes" (which in its use of instruments and choir turns that simple song into something quite special) was the hymn, and his CPH published arrangement of "Our Paschal Lamb That Sets Us Free" for flute and piano served as postlude. The service was videotaped and I hope will be made available at some point. I'll let you know if it is.

Our Synodical President is a warm, humble, fun-loving, pastoral man. I knew that before, but each time I see him I am reminded of it again. We are so blessed to have him in that office. I pray his tenure there is long.

My husband looks really good behind a piano (see below). :-)

The International Center is the quietest place I have been in a long time, quieter even than a library or a dentist's waiting room. I had to spend a couple of hours after lunch waiting for my husband as he attended a meeting in the President's office, and merely coughing or typing on my laptop seemed to intrude upon the silence. But the quiet is not a reflection of the activity that is going on there. Those people work HARD. I rode back from lunch with several of the administrative assistants in the President's office, and that short car ride impressed me with two things: those ladies are amazing, and I am so glad I am not a career woman. I would not be able to handle the pace or the pressure.

Here are a few photos from the day. I fell down on the job and got no pictures at the reception, the tour of the President's office, or lunch (I must have been suffering from celebrity awe), but here are some shots of the warm-up before chapel.

Be still, my heart.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Cutest Cinderella You Ever Saw

My daughter singing Stephen Sondheim's "On the Steps of the Palace" from Into the Woods for her voice recital yesterday. I love her flirty, playful take on what Cinderella was thinking as she fled the palace after the ball.

"On the Steps of the Palace" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

From Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods
Performed by Caitlin Magness
May 15, 2011

He's a very smart Prince,
He's a Prince who prepares.
Knowing this time I'd run from him,
He spread pitch on the stairs.
I was caught unawares.
And I thought: Well, he cares-
This is more than just malice.
Better stop and take stock
While you're standing here stuck
On the steps of the palace.

You think, what do you want?
You think, make a decision.
Why not stay and be caught?
You think, well, it's a thought,
What would be his response?
But then what if he knew
Who you were when you know
That you're not what he thinks
That he wants?

And then what if you are?
What a Prince would envision?
Although how can you know
Who you are till you know
What you want, which you don't?
So then which do you pick:
Where you're safe, out of sight,
And yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right
And you know that you'll never belong?

And whichever you pick,
Do it quick,
'Cause you're starting to stick
To the steps of the palace.

It's your first big decision,
The choice isn't easy to make.
To arrive at a ball
Is exciting and all-
Once you're there, though, it's scary.
And it's fun to deceive
When you know you can leave,
But you have to be wary.
There's a lot that's at stake,
But you've stalled long enough,
'Cause you're still standing stuck
In the stuff on the steps...

Better run along home
And avoid the collision.
Even though they don't care,
You'll be better off there
Where there's nothing to choose,
So there's nothing to lose.
So you pry up your shoes.
Then from out of the blue,
And without any guide,
You know what your decision is,
Which is not to decide.
You'll leave him a clue:
For example, a shoe.
And then see what he'll do.

Now it's he and not you
Who is stuck with a shoe,
In a stew, in the goo,
And you've learned something, too,
Something you never knew,
On the steps of the palace.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

My first Wordless Wednesday post ever! Oops, I guess I just broke the rules by writing something. (It's very hard for me to not write something.) But I think this is a great photo of Evan and his friend Evan. What do you think they're talking about?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Life Update

It's been a while since I've done one of these. And since I can't think of anything else on which to bloviate right now, it seems like the perfect time.

I can't remember if I have already shared this here. My oldest is going to college this fall! He will major in piano at University of Nebraska, studying with American virtuoso Dr. Paul Barnes while taking as many classes as he can manage in all the other areas he's interested in (math, history, and economics, to name a few). This course of action is made possible by University of Nebraska, which is recognizing Trevor's National Merit finalist status to the tune of about $25,000 per year. We are so very proud and thankful. The National Merit Corporation itself has awarded some additional funding to Trevor, leaving me and my husband to joke that we may actually save money on this deal (although that is now in doubt considering the price of fuel and the many trips we expect to make to Lincoln over the next four years).

With Trevor soon to give his senior recital and graduate from our home school, we are trying to cram in a few educational goals that still remain. He and Caitlin are feverishly working to complete Apologia Biology. They're in the final, dissection portion of the course. Our kitchen is going to be the scene of some serious mutilation over the next few weeks.

We are also working to get a research paper under our belt--you know, note cards, bibliography, the whole bit. Having taught this skill to many reluctant high school and college students over the years, my heart has been warmed by my current students' enthusiasm for the project. A few nights ago, as we practiced writing note cards at the kitchen table, Caitlin raised her head and announced, "This is fun!" I love homeschooling.

The summer is filling up faster than any summer I can remember. In May and June are the Chicago Open chess tournament, Trevor's senior recital and home school graduation, a trip to Nebraska to register Trevor for fall classes and a one-week music camp at our church. In July our niece is coming for a week and we will enjoy that family time with a trip to Warren Dunes in Michigan. Immediately thereafter is our Vacation Bible School & Creation Camp followed by my husband's departing for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's national worship conference in Minnesota and my daughter's departing for Higher Things (a Lutheran youth conference) in Atlanta. Trevor will not be attending Higher Things this year as he will be intensely preparing at that time to represent the state of Illinois at the national Denker high school chess championship in Orlando in early August. About a week after he and Phillip return from Orlando, we will pack up Trevor and his belongings in the van and move him to his new home away from home in Lincoln. Shortly thereafter Phillip and Caitlin will travel to Montreal (!) so that Phillip can do some teaching of hymns and liturgy to French-speaking Lutherans there (Caitlin will accompany him as his assistant and will get a real life opportunity to put her own French study to good use!). Finally, in September, Phillip returns to Congo for a second round of similar teaching there. Have passport, will travel! He is very much looking forward to seeing his friends in Africa once again.

As for me, in between facilitating everyone else's activities I hope to spend a little more time getting our house in order (we are still recovering from the construction--or was it destruction?--project that dominated our year) and preparing for what I hope will be a more organized homeschool year. Much of my 7-year-old's schooling this year was unschooling-by-default, which seemed to work pretty well as he is fluently reading and computing at at least a third grade level. The one area in which he is not excelling is writing, so that will be our main focus entering second grade. He and I will also launch into a multi-year study of world history using Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World series, and I'm hoping to do more in the way of field trips to some of our incredibly rich and educational Chicago-area destinations.

Back to summer plans. I imagine that the care of our little back yard vegetable & herb garden will fall mostly to me this summer, since my husband will be too busy to do it (he also has three Doxology conferences, for which he serves as musician, sprinkled throughout the summer). Other than that, it sure would be nice to actually finish a book or two and get some exercise. I started out the year well, attending an aqua aerobics class faithfully for a number of weeks, but then weather and illness and schedule craziness took their toll. I know--excuses, excuses. I think I'll stop making them now and go outside. Why don't you join me, wherever you are? See you under the sun!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Faith of a Child

Today at church I was visiting with a friend whose 87-year-old mother has been in the hospital. I asked my friend about his mother's condition and we talked for a little while as he filled me in on her health situation: pneumonia, erratic blood pressure, and degenerative heart disease. Evan, my 7-year-old, waited while we talked, but as we were wrapping up the conversation and my friend was starting to walk away it became clear that Evan had something he wanted to say.

"Mommy, Mommy!"

"Yes, Evan?"

"Does Mr. C_____ know about Honey-Nut Cheerios?"

"Um, I don't know, Evan. What about them?"

"They reduce the risk of heart disease!"

Wow. Evan hadn't just been waiting; he had been listening. My friend smiled at Evan, who was brimming with excitement to have this news to share (he knows the gentleman in question pretty well).

"Why, thank you, Evan! That is great to know!"

As my friend walked away, Evan smiled at me happily and said, "Maybe Mr. C_____'s mother will get better now!"

Sigh. If only it were so simple. And yet, when it comes to the thing that most ails us, it is. Honey-Nut Cheerios may not cure heart disease, but Jesus does cure sin. And we who are fed by Him have the great blessing of being able to share that Good News with others. May we do so with the faith and enthusiasm of a child, unquestioningly trusting in God's Word as a little boy trusts the label on his box of cereal.

Pass the Cheerios, please.