Sunday, November 25, 2007

That's My King!

In the church calendar, this day is commonly celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the cycle of the liturgical year, and is the gateway to Advent. It is eschatological, looking forward to the concrete establishment of Christ's rule. Like Advent, it also has a clear element of the here and now, for Christ does indeed rule right now.

I'd like to refer you to a video I discovered a while ago. It is video presentation based on a portion of a sermon by S.M. Lockridge. I'll let the video speak for itself except for this one comment: Amen!

Christ the King

People of God, Stand up!

You are now come together into the presence of the High King of Heaven.
He is the Most High God, the Almighty. Heaven and Earth are full of His glory.
He is the Rider of the Storm, whose eyes are lightning, and whose feet, thunder.
He is mighty in battle. He dwells with His people and guards His own with His right hand.
He is mercy to the humble, salvation to the lost, and hope for the dying.
He is the Hammer of Judgment to lawbreakers, Destroyer of the Proud, scourge of evildoers.
He provides for His people, and gives gifts to all who serve Him and love Him.
He is the wild Lion of Judah
, The Alpha and Omega, the Bright and Morning Star.

O, Exalt your King
For this same King is also our deliverer. He came to dwell with us, and rescue us.
He came as a baby, as a tiny newborn infant – wee, weak, and wailing.
He grew into a man, ate meat, drank wine, and cut wood with callused hands.
And as the prophets foretold, he was executed in humiliation and pain.
In his death he took our shame, our weakness, and our darkness into the Great Pit.
And when he burst the gates on his way out, he left them there, to be forgotten forever.

Shout in Triumph.
For although His kingdom seems incomplete now, His victory is assured.
On that day, He shall ride a white horse, in righteousness He will judge and make war.
Out of His mouth will go a sharp sword to shatter His enemies.
His fierceness and wrath shall crush them, like grapes in a winepress.
We shall see His title written boldly upon Him – King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
And He shall establish His dominion over all – and that dominion shall never end.

Prepare yourselves
For He returns to claim us as his own, to bring us to dwell with Him always.
He purchased us with a price, ransomed us from death by His own Godly Blood
His death shall cancel ours, remove its sting, and make it null and void.
His Life brings you together to worship Him. To live in him and love Him.
To Fear Him, to Serve him, to Proclaim his deeds, to obey his commands.
For it is right to do so. He is our King. He is our High King.

Let us Worship our King.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come!

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Words by Henry Alford. You can hear the tune usually associated with this hym here

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nothin' gonna Break My Stride...

I'm a sucker for inspiring stories of courage in the face of long odds. Here's a good one.

Found this over at

Casual Fridays Ad Absurdam?

Found this at Blog and Mablog:
The heroin addict "was under the influence of the idea that some aspects of reality are more real than others: that the seedy side of life is more genuine, more authentic, than the refined and cultured side—and certainly more glamorous than the bourgeois and respectable side. This idea could be said to be the fundamental premise of modern popular culture"
(from Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, p. 119).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Open {click}

I recently purchased a new pocketknife. I have a thing for pocketknives. I feel strongly that a well prepared man should carry with him a blade. Something sharp and utilitarian, available at a moment’s need for whatever task may be at hand. I have had a fair number of knives in my life, but I tend to favor cheap small blades that are easy to carry, have no gewgaws, and are easy to replace if lost or broken. A knife is simply a useful tool. Having one makes life easier, and in some cases, I really believe it can save a life. It’s one of those things that you may not need most of the time, but when you do, you really need it.

I tend to carry one of three different knives, depending on the occasion. When dressed for business, I have a lovely little 2-inch penknife with an imitation antler handle. The blade is narrow and the handle makes it look just a little bit classier than your standard working blade. It’s small size means that I can carry it discreetly while wearing suits and sport coats. For camping I carry a Camp King, the classic boy scout knife. It has a simple blade that is half way between a spey and a drop blade in shape (rounded with a slight point), an awl, screwdriver, can opener and bottle opener. It is a civilian version of the classic “Demo Knife” carried by soldiers since WWII. I like it’s basic utilitarian design, no frills. Tough simple and cheap. I carried this the entire time I walked the AT in 1996 and came to love it. It is, however, just a little bulky for carrying around when dressed up.

For casual use, I have carried several different knives. I recently purchased a nice little folding lock blade with a 2 inch modified clip blade. I was inspired to purchase this knife (for the extremely high price of $7.00 at Lowe’s ) by Chick Wetherbee, the instructor of my fire making class.

What’s so special? I can open it and close it with one hand.

That may not seem like a big deal, but I cannot stress to you how cool it feels to take a knife out of your pocket, open it with the same hand, use it, close it, and put it back all with the same hand. It feels cool, and it really makes the knife much more useful.

So I’ve been practicing. Open it. {click} Close it. Open it.{click} Close it. I’ll sit in front of the TV or talk on the phone and practice opening and closing my knife until it’s second nature. You never know when I may have to rush over to a car wreck and reach inside to cut the seat belt to free the poor slob who just crashed. One wants to be ready. Life could depend on it.
I like my new knife.

The Living Oxymoron

Ok, I know this is old news, but....

Rudy Giuliani and Pat Robertson? <choking and gagging noises>

What <more noises>....what IS that, exactly?

Dumb oxes? Complete morons? Separately they are what they are. But put them together? The resulting reaction could undo the very fabric of the universe. might just do nothing, and that may be what they both deserve for foisting this charade on...well...whoever.

Ya Gotta have Goals

I have a new goal in life.

Apparently, some hacker named Kozo Haraguchi now holds the world record for the 100 meter sprint for the division for men age 99-95. He ran it in 22.o4 seconds.

Yeah. Whatever. I'm going to beat that when I get to his age.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I Make Fire


If you were dropped in the middle of the White Mountains of NH, deep in the wilderness, with nothing but the clothes you had on, and whatever was in your pockets, which of those four items would be your top priority?

This is the question that we began with last Friday night. Along with my friend Frank, I was taking part in a class on Primitive Firemaking at the Amoskeag Fishway in Manchester NH. We were to learn the rudiments of making fire with materials that we could scavenge in the wilderness. Our instructor’s name was Chick Wetherbee, and for the first hour we discussed basic philosophy and techniques of wilderness survival. After that, Chick showed us how to construct a basic bow drill, he demonstrated the technique, then lets us at it. What a terrific experience!

Chick is apparently a PhD (field unkown), owner of Earthward Natural Foods in Amherst NH, a Naturopathic healer, and student of Tom Brown, the world renowned tracker and author of many highly regarded texts on wilderness survival and tracking. He is a compact, sturdy looking man, with a good natured face, a slightly coarse voice, and the manner of one who knows what he is talking about. In the course of the evening, he showed himself also to be a skilled teacher. Although not every student was able to coax fire out of the wood before the evening was over, a significant cross section did so and that had much to do with Chick’s constant oversight, coaching, direction and assistance.

A bow drill is an ancient tool for making fire. The drill itself consists of 4 basic parts; the baseplate, the hand plate, the spindle and the bow. The two plates have indentations into which the ends of the spindle fit. The spindle has wrapped around it the string of the bow. The spindle is then placed so that the ends of the spindle fit into the sockets made in the plates. As the bow is moved back and forth, it causes the spindle to spin in the sockets. By pressing down lightly on the handplate, you can create just the right level of friction so that the wood becomes quite hot. It also generates a fair amount of smoke and dark brown dust as the spindle is literally drilling down into the base plate. When done with proper skill, the wood becomes hot enough that the little pile of dust actually ignites and forms a small glowing coal in the notch cut into the wood on the base plate. This small coal is then carefully transferred into a bed of tinder, where it is nurtured and coaxed, until the everything is ready. Then just a small puff of air will cause the tinder to burst into flame. You can see detailed demonstrations with pictures here.

The best wood seems to be softwood other than pine. Pine has too much sap that tends to seal up the pores in the wood and reduce the friction. Cedar, hemlock, spruce are good. Many hardwoods are also good as long as they are dry. For tinder we use jute twine that we picked apart to form a fuzzy bundle. Other recommended tinders would include milkweed down, crumbled dry leaves, cattail down, anything that can be broken down to a fuzzy mass with lots of surface area to burn.

Chick also showed us how to make cord from the stems of milkweed or day lily leaves. I’m sure there are other plants that would do as well. You just need to find a plant stem of leaf with long fibres that can be twisted and wrapped into a cord. According to Chick, a cord like this would probably serve to make one or two fires, and then have to be replaced. I tried twisting a little bit of the cord as he recommended and was surprised at the strength of it. Even so, our drills used parachute cord, just to make the learning process simpler.

Knowing the mechanics is one thing. Feeling the technique is another thing altogether. In native peoples, the making of fire was a sacred task. It is no wonder, as the ability to make fire was necessary to survival. And yet the making of fire requires a fairly light touch. Chick explained the most common mistake for men is to bear down too hard. A heavy hand is not desirable, for the making for fire does not depend so much on strength as on sheer technique. One must learn how to feel the right pressure and the right speed. For these reasons, it seems that some tribes allocated the duty of firemaking to 10 year old girls. They were seen to be strong enough, but were patient and able to sustain the lighter touch that the young boys did not seem to master as easily.

Chick provided the pieces, and we set to with a will. I drilled completely through my board once, producing prodigious amounts of smoke and dust (and a tremendously loud and constant squeaking noise that would certainly scare away any animals I may have been hoping to snack on later, had I actually been in the wilderness), but no coal. I drilled a second hole and got to work on it. About this time, my friend Frank managed to get his fire going. I fumbled with my camera, but was too late to catch the spark. 10 minutes later, as I was gamely churning away, Chick came over, put his hands on mine and started coaching me through it. “More pressure,” he would say. “Lighten up…ok now go a little faster. Faster. Good. Keep going. Lighten up a little…” After a few minutes of this he said, “Ok, stop.” I sat back and saw that the smoke this time was not coming from the hole, but from the little pile of dust. I gave slightest puff (one must treat a new coal very gently or it is likely to go out) and it glowed red in response. It was a most gratifying moment. I had set my rig up so that the coal would easily fall onto a small piece of tinder. I gently prized the dusty ember onto the tinder, picked it up and placed it on the tinder bundle. Chick showed me how to cradle it as we walked outside, not wanting to things to burst into full flame inside the building. When everything was ready, Chick told me to give one good puff. I did, and the whole bundle burst into flame in my hands. I held it for a second or two, until it was about to scorch me, and then dropped it on the sidewalk. I had given my camera to Frank, and he fumbled too, so I have no picture of the actual flame. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

It will take some practice to master this craft, for sure. I managed to do with some very direct assistance from Chick, which was good, but I found it hard to see for myself what I was doing, as his hands were in the way. I need to manage it myself at least a few more times before I’ll be comfortable with the technique.

I asked Chick how long it took him to make his first fire with a bow drill. He said it took six months. That was 17 years ago. He seems to have got it figured out now, as in his initial demonstration to us, he got a coal in less than 30 seconds, and full flame in about a minute.

After both Frank and I had gotten our fire made, we looked at each other and decided it was time to eat. We cleaned up, said goodbye and made our way to Shaheen’s Irish Pub downtown, where good fresh beer, delicious fish and chips, and good conversation rounded out the evening nicely. I think I might make fire-making a Friday night ritual.

In case you were wondering, fire is not first on your survival priority list. The first item should be shelter, followed by water, then fire and food. Hypothermia is the greatest and most immediate danger to the unprepared, therefore one has to construct a warm dry shelter as soon as possible. Thirst will get you, but you have a couple of days before it becomes dangerous. You can manage reasonable well without food for about two weeks before it becomes a real problem. One could argue that food would come before fire, since it is important to cook any food you can catch to avoid the possibility of sickness from parasites or bacteria.

So what did I do last Friday? I pulled a bit of the power of the sun out from a tree with my hands. What did you do?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Perelandra and the Music of God

I have just read C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra again for probably the 4th time, but the first in about 20 years. As before, it leaves me feeling a little breathless, a bit dazed, but this time for different reasons. I recall when I first read it, I found it interesting in the way one finds a puzzle interesting. In fact, large sections I did not care for at all. It is not a book of fast moving and exciting plot developments. It contains long sections of expository dialog. It even has rather extensive pieces of pretty florid oratory. Much of the action is not action at all but descriptive passages of Ransom’s (the main character) observations of Perelandra (or Venus). But within all that is woven some astounding theology. Strangely enough, this theology, and the way Lewis expresses it, is what makes it so compelling, forceful and ultimately heartening to me.

The novel is essentially a thin veneer of narrative, covering over and holding together a fairly wide ranging essay on metaphysics and theology. In it he performs a sort of theological thought experiment. What would happen if God created another world and placed another Adam and Eve in it? Would they be tempted? Would they fall? And what happens if they do not fall? And what could it all mean anyways?

In Lewis’ own spiritual autobiography (Surpised by Joy) he talks about his first experiences with Joy when he heard the old Norse Sagas and was transported by this feeling of “Northerness” that came out of those tales. Much of the power of Lewis’ work for me arises from his ability to transmit that feeling to me in his writing. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about his writing that sets up a powerful vibration deep inside. It’s like the best sermon, the one you go to church on Sunday morning hoping to hear every Sunday. It’s the sermon that opens up the Word in ways that not only help you to understand it in new ways, but to feel it.

I have known people that are hard core theology wonks. I like to read their blogs, in fact. They revel in tightly constructed argument (in the philosophical sense), the minutiae of sources, and mastery of the subtle shades terminology. I am not one of those. I just don’t have the patience for it.

I also have known people who don’t have the chops to be a true wonk, but they sure like to play with it, for the sheer joy of it. These I call the theology geeks. Like a kid with a video game they can banter about the “big questions” forever nonstop. I am closer to being a geek than a wonk, because there is at least a bit of joy and fun in it. But I’m not really a geek either. I like answers more than questions.

I am more like a musician. No…that’s not right either. I am more like the educated and appreciative audience. I am the one who sits in the mezzanine and cries for the beauty of the aria. I am the one who stands at the end of the concert, not because everyone stands, but because my heart is about to explode for the joy inside me. For I think that what I really want out of theology is not knowledge or mastery…it is beauty.

Lewis always claimed that he was no philosopher or theologian. Perhaps he was right. Although to my ear his work seems plenty rigorous (meaning his essays like The Abolition of Man, or Miracles), I am not an especially good judge of what is the most rigorous argument. Lewis was perhaps more of a theological musician. He found a way to express truth about the One True and Living God in words, but musically. The scales of his music came straight from the Word. He played his melodies on pen and paper.

The wonks and the geeks tend to be too much in love with the mechanics of the thing. A music wonk would want to know how to tune the instrument to the perfect 800 mhz pitch. The geek would want to see how fast he could play just to show he could do it. My love of music is much more childish and earthy. I simply love the music the way it makes me feel. I love music for what it does for my heart. It lifts me, it carries me. It touches my heart, and opens me up. It lights my world differently. I can see better by it.

When I read Lewis I know the mechanics and structure of good theology are there, but that’s not what appeals to me. When I read Lewis, he helps me to love God more. I hear God more clearly. I see him more vividly. And I want to give myself to Him more completely.

To put it another way, Lewis’ writings are like the sermon you always hope to hear on Sunday morning. That sermon (that ideal of sermons) leaves you not only seeing and understanding God more, but loving Him more. When we love more truly and more deeply, we surrender more truly and more deeply. It is not with our minds alone the we comprehend God. As it is written:

“thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wings of a Dove

On a recently aired episode of A Prairie Home Companion, they featured the old gospel tune On the Wings of a Dove. They did a bit of a sendup on the old standard, coming up with variations using different birds.

Sing these to the Tune of On the Wings of a Dove . You can hear the original bit, including the tune here (the singing starts about 8:20 into segment 4).

On the wings of a large gray goose
He sets your spirit loose
He will introduce
You to Hera and Zeus.

On the wings of a chickadee
He sets your spirit free.
For eternity
You'll be glad as can be.

On the wings of an albatross
He takes our souls across
And comforts our loss
With horseradish sauce.

On the wings of a great white swan
We rise to meet the dawn
Then we will be gone
To the beauty salon.

On the wings of a great horned owl
We will join other fowl
Let the timberwolves howl
We'll throw in the towel.

These got me thinking, so I came up with a few additional choruses of my own.

On the back of a big ostrich
I see a time in which
I’ll climb out of the ditch
And be (spiritually) rich.

On the wings of a great penguin
I will feel quite sanguine.
He’s forgiven my sin.
I have peace deep within.

On the beak of a singing lark
Morning shall chase the dark.
I can hear the dogs bark
Heaven is a nice park.

On the song of a sweet brown thrush
My heart feels such a rush.
I cannot say hush
To a song that’s so lush.

On the wings of a woodpecker
Your debt is a deal breaker.
They will bring a wrecker.
It will haul off your car.

On the wings of a flying duck
I fly high off the muck
I shot a big buck
He has given me luck.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Gazing into the Abyss

Just read an fascinating essay "Gazing into the Abyss." by Christian Wiman. The Hound of Heaven is indeed active, and working, and we cannot predict His way of tracking and following and finding those whom He seeks. Here is a portion:

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Francophone Boys

Tonite I had the chance to just hang out for a few hours. I chose to go to a bookstore and read. I selected one book, not a serious book, but a novel that I knew I would enjoy, I chose a seat and just gave myself over to the story for a few hours. I knew that I would not be able to complete the book in the time I had, but I’ve never really been that bothered by coming and going in the middle of stories. This is something I think I’ve cultivated watching TV. I can come in at the middle of a movie I know little or nothing about, and quickly pick up what’s going on and watch it to the end. I have more trouble, if the story is any good, leaving it in the middle, but I can do it.

The best part of the evening, though, was not the book. Near me sat 5 old guys, mostly in their late 50’s to 60’s, white haired, balding, wrinkly, fat and skinny, conversing most amiably…in French. I would guess by their ages, and their comfort with the language that these were not students just finding their way through the gallic conjugations. My guess is that they probably grew up speaking French, and this was a chance to simply get together with a bunch of other guys from the “old neighborhood” and talk like the old days. It’s not altogether uncommon around here. My mother grew up speaking French exclusively until about age 8. She can still recall the nuns in Catholic schools in Manchester teaching in French. After she moved out of Manchester (arguably the center of francophone New Hampshire) she lost her French language very quickly. Apparently, not everyone left it behind as completely as my mother.

I myself know very little French language, but know they talked a little politics (this is New Hampshire after all), a little about the movie Papillon, and just about general guy stuff – as if it was a barber shop in Montreal. It was a beautiful just to be around the spirit of their gathering. It made me want to speak French just to be half as cool as they were.