Sunday, December 21, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

This is a beautiful song, often rendered by choirs in reverberating chapels with vaulted arches lost to sight high up in the darkness. This is a unpretentious and straightforward rendering by a woman with a simple but affecting manner.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I See Whether

Perhaps you heard about the ice storm that swept through NH last Thursday night.

Our power disappeared about 11:00 p.m. Thursday night and was not seen again for almost 3 days. It returned from it’s vacation around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. We are among the lucky ones. As of Monday morning almost 160,000 people were still without power. 

Ice storms are strange beasts. It’s is warm enough aloft to rain, cold enough below so that what water hit the surface soon freezes. The ice builds up layer on layer, coating everything: roads, rocks, cars, houses, grass and trees. When it collects on trees, it bends them, breaks them, and all that breaking and bending wreaks havoc with the power grid as the trees drop and lean on the power lines. Unless you have a wood burning stove, no electric power means no heat, as the furnaces all require electricity to operate. When the temps drop to the single digits, as they did Friday and Saturday night, you may see frozen and burst pipes, and all manner of other mayhem.

We managed the crisis by moving in temporarily with some friends who had an electric generator, and then moving the generator around to 4 different houses, just enough to run the furnace to heat the pipes and keep things from freezing. The girls thought it was all a lark, as they got to spend two days sleeping over with their friends. I guess that’s good. The grown ups spent some time drinking wine and chatting, but mostly just got by managing a merged household with 6 girls.

The photos here don't show it, but there were too many trees down to count, and that's just the ones that could be seen from the road -- or more correctly stated, the ones that were lying in, on, across or near the road. Oak branches broken and hanging akimbo. Birches leaning and draping themselves across that way as if much too tired. Shattered pine tops hanging from power lines, or the remains lying smashed on the ice covered pavement. Hard to imagine how much more deadfall litters the floor of the woods. I was listening to it come down Thursday morning, smashing and tinkling as the branches would break and careen to the ground along with their glassy coatings.

In just getting to our friend's house, I had to drive under at least 2 downed lines that were hanging diagonally across the road, not touching the road, but blocking off one side. It's remarkable that the damage wasn't worse. From what I've seen, our area got off fairly easy compared to the southwestern part of the state. 

Today (Monday) temps approached 50 degrees outside. Go figure.

There’s still over 100,000 people without power. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I am going to keep this brief this morning, though I expect I will post more on this later.

I received word this morning, about 3:45 a.m., that my Mom passed away. I had seen her yesterday, exchanged a few words (all she could manage), held her hand while she slept, and told her several times that I love her. She was 87 years old. Dementia had been stealing off with much of her memory for years, and the cancer that had started more than a decade ago has been raging through her for about a year now. In spite of this, because of the good work of faithful people she has been comfortable and content, and her passing was quiet.

It was time. I am thankful for her life, and the life she imparted to me. I am grateful for the love the she gave me and the love that she taught me.

I live in expectation of the resurrection. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Practial Ecclesiology 6 - Uncertainty

The following post is the text of a an email sent by Frank Harrison, a friend and fellow traveler at Concord Covenant Church. I have always valued Franks insight, and his ability to cut through clutter to determine the biblical heart of an issue. I believe the Holy Spirit has often used Frank to speak to me and so I value his comments highly. This is his response to some of the discussion taking place in our church about future direction. Frank hits squarely one of the points I have in mind to pick up at a future time, and he says it so well I got his permission to simply reproduce it here.

When we discuss church matters and "new direction", it can be intimidating for many because it leads to general uncertainty.  We don't know what is going to happen in the future (near or far), which is important to admit, yet unsettling at many levels (emotionally, financially, etc.)

We are uncomfortable (even terrified) with uncertain times because we have clear direction from the Lord to be confident in His plan.  However, listen to Paul's thought on this matter...

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory." (Ephesians 3: 7-12)
Note that Paul, as a church leader and missionary, was facing a rather uncertain future, yet he responded to this uncertainty by denying any worldly interpretation or response and claimed the peace of Christ and was not discouraged.  We also need to claim that Jesus Christ is the head of our church and that He is VERY interested in managing our affairs and providing new direction and fresh understanding of our role in his service.  Why would Jesus keep his purposes for our church a secret? 

Jesus said: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)

So, know that Christ is our CEO, our leader, our head, our counsellor, and we can come to him in confidence that He will lead us in the right direction.  We must pray and be patient to see and hear what He is doing among us, so that we may join Him in his work.  We may experience a Crisis in Belief that will require Major Adjustments, but this is according to God's plan to bring us One Step Closer into fellowship with Him and each other.
"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Practical Ecclesiology 5 - Accountability

Now let me speak for bit in defense of those who would call our little church “at risk.” 

First, I am entirely glad that our church is part of a denomination. Certainly there are dangers inherent in any sort of church polity or structure, and denominational structures are not immune from to those dangers. Nevertheless, I believe that the dangers of denominationalism are ultimately less worrisome than the dangers of a church going solo. “Independent” churches are sailing in dangerous waters – accountable to no one, disconnected both from the history of the Holy Spirit working through the ages and from the larger movement of the Spirit around the world at this point in time. If we are indeed the Body of Christ, then we had best be listening to some other parts of that body. If you saw a disattached hand that trying to crawl around on it's own, you would think that not just odd, but very very wrong. The church that tries to do the same with no attachment to the Church at all times in all places is just as perverse.

Second, I am glad that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, cares enough to watch for the condition of the churches that fall under the care and shepherding of the denomination. It is good that churches that are struggling in any number of ways should be identified and should be offered help. The Spirit works in ways that are both miraculous and ordinary. We may learn to forgive one another, or to humble ourselves in service to those who are ugly and hurting and wretched, or it may be in helping us to use our money and resources more wisely. Either way can be the examples of the God's Spirit in our midst. We should not spurn the help that God is sending us just because it doesn't look like the help we want.

We are not the only church that is in this group or process of evaluation. From what I understand, there are some other that are indeed literally on the verge of collapse, legally and/or financially. I believe it is good that someone is attempting to work with these churches to create a good outcome. More on that in a bit.

Third, the process of reflection, of looking at who we are, what we want, and where we want to go is always valuable. Let’s be clear about what gifts God has granted us. Then let us be clear about how we plan to use those gifts, as meager or as extravagant as they may be. And then let us be about the work given to us without apology that we are not doing some other work, but with joy that we are doing OUR work because we are confident that it is HIS work for us. 

Some of this process may involve recognizing our weaknesses, confronting brutal and harsh truths about gifts we have completely missed or misunderstood. This too is good. But let’s make sure again that these are indeed our gifts, our particular calling, according to the Word and the Spirit’s leading in our midst. Accountability should not mean that we are obligated to be in submission to studies, surveys, and theories that are founded on scientific method more than upon Biblical wisdom. 

Fourth, I am confident that the motives of our denominational shepherds and staff are good and upright. I believe that they seek to serve the Lord faithfully, and to assist us in our calling. Therefore any discussions like the one I am carrying on here should assume the highest and best motives. I do not see here any attempt to force us either in or out or up or down. I see no ulterior motives involving power grabs, theft of money or property, or 

As I understand it, the purpose behind the At Risk identification process is really about helping churches that are close to death to plan their demise in such a way as to allow the principle of resurrection to rule their thinking and actions going forward. In other words, the ECC seeks to encourage those churches to recognize their position, and act in such a way that when the end comes, any assets remaining after the dissolution can be used to fund church planting projects. In this way, the death of a church will mean the birth of several other churches. This is both biblical and poetic. 

It is biblical because it seems to be a principle built into the fabric of the universe that everything requires death and resurrection. The seed dies to sprout into the plant. The plant dies to create soil to nourish the seed. The star dies to create the planets. And of course the GodMan dies to raise us all in Himself. There is a beauty and symmetry to it that we all recognize for it is a picture of the home we all long for.

I think this is ultimately a wise approach. I hope those who need it take advantage of it. I don’t think that’s us. I just happen to believe that we have more in common Peter than we have with Lazarus.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 4 - Gifts

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
So says the Apostle Paul regarding spritual gifts. In our evangelical, american subculture we read this and we automatically assume this applies only to individuals. A spiritual gift is my gift, given to ME by the Holy Spirit. But what if the application of this idea is much much wider? In other words, when Paul says, " each one.." might he also be taken to mean each church? Cannot churches be gifted in the same way that a person might be?

I have been to way too many seminars and workshops that intended to help me determine what is my spiritual gift. As a rule, they have not been particularly helpful. But if I can borrow from them here, I will recall that they all agree that just because we have a particular gift, does not excuse us from practicing the other spiritual disciplines that are the specific domain of the gifted. For instance, just because I may not have a special gift for giving, I am not excused from dropping a check in the offering plate, or giving a dollar to the homeless guy who needs a meal. In the same way, do not churches -- who obviously have many people with a variety of gifts -- have a certain gift or emphasis? This does not excuse us from the other disciplines, but it recognizes that we have certain areas where God gives us special desires, talents, and abilities. 
One church may be all about reaping the harvest of evangelism. Another may stand strongly for justice in society. Another may be about teaching and training disciples, or donating time and money to the poor and needy. If this is true, then what does it say about how we should gauge and measure what we are doing? If this is true, then how should I feel if my church does not measure up to some other churches definition of what a church should do? If we are faithful to our gifts, but not to some other gift that is considered by some to be more important, what should I do with that?

The Glory of a Feast!

"Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers, why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry, or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half of earth's gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself -- and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We are given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great" 
 -- Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 189).

"I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at the table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men . . . The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it" 

(Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 180).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 3 - What's the Difference...

What is the difference between a CEO and a pastor?

What is the difference between making a sales presentation and preaching the gospel?

What is the difference between paying membership dues and placing a check in the offering plate?

What is the difference between targeting a market niche and drinking with sinners and tax collectors?

What is the difference between making a return on investment and caring for the fatherless and widows?

What is the difference between hiring a management consultant and calling a pastor?

What is the difference between tracking market trends and keeping Sunday attendance records?

What is the difference between a motivational workshop and a worship service?

What is the difference between a company mission statement and the Great Commission?

What is the difference between balancing a budget and the forgiveness of sins?

What is the difference between an annual report and the prayers of the people?

What is the difference between the Board of Directors and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

What is the difference between increasing market share and advancing the Kingdom of God?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 2 - Picture Frames

It occurred to me during a recent church meeting how much we think in pictures, and how much our pictures are affected by the dominant pictures of the culture around us. 

You can use any number of different images when you think of an organization – like a church. You could think of an army, a farm, an ant colony, a plant, a herd. You could picture a solar system, a single celled animal, a symbiote or a machine. The image you use will affect your expectations about the organization, how you structure it, and the decisions you make about and within that organization. 

During our recent conversation about the future of our church people continuously and unfailingly returned to ideas that related back to their image of our church as a business. This is the predominant organizational model of our culture, and it seems that it is difficult to picture an organization of any kind functioning any other way. This became especially apparent as we discussed what we should be on about in the coming year. The Church Chair wrote the items on the flip chart and as I looked at them I found that they all fell into basic categories that we normally apply to business, even if they did not use the strict terminology. People essentially were saying that we need to advertise, build our brand, target specific marketing niches, do market research, and clearly communicate the features and benefits our church offers. This pointed out to me how thinking in terms of business is natural to us, like breathing. It is simply the way we expect an organization to work 

The problem is that a church is fundamentally different from a business, both in purpose and structure. Therefore the metrics used to judge the success of a business are not the same as those used to judge the success of a church. Yet because in this country we live, eat and breath commerce, it has gotten into our blood. Instead we should be talking about faithfulness, ministry, suffering, joy, sacrifice, kingdom, community, love. 

These are more difficult to represent with numbers, and so they seem less real to those of us (all of us) who are so accustomed to balance sheets, controlled studies, statistical analysis, and management by spreadsheet. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology Introduction

My family belongs to a small church. Quite small. Historically, it was a new church plant about 14 years ago. Membership, attendance and involvement has gone up and down a bit since its establishment, but we have never approached medium size, never mind large. Rather than MegaChurch, you might refer to us a micro church – although that carries overtones of a house church structure – and we certainly aren’t that. Specifically we are running at approximately 36 active adult members in a very traditional congregational polity, with Worship on Sunday mornings, and a few other minsitry and fellowship opportunities throughout any given week.

This size is just about enough to sustain a small membership with a full time pastor and limited organized ministry. Part of the reason this works is that we rent space to meet from a local Seventh Day Adventist congregation. In some ways it works pretty well. They meet on Saturdays. We meet on Sundays. They have generally been very supportive of us, and our rent is very reasonable.

To paraphrase Daniel Webster’s famous quip about his Alma Mater, Dartmouth College, “It’s a small church, but there are those who love it.” We are very good at certain kinds of things. First and foremost, we are pretty good at being a church – as opposed to being merely a provider of religious goods and services. Our worship is a blend of liturgical and less formal styles that is definitely “churchy” and God centered, yet seeks to be reasonable accessible without being about performance or entertainment. (I see this as a strength, not everyone would agree) Our conversations after worship, whether informal talks around the coffee pot, or more structured discussions in our “Adult Formation” class have been very important shaping points for many of us. We are good at providing a place where your kids love to be. We are good at rising to meet various needs of our membership and community that come to us. One of our members summed it up by saying, “We are pretty good at swarming.” By this he meant that we are good at just throwing a lot of energy and resources (such as we have) at a challenge that presents itself to us. We are pretty good at providing a web of friendships and connections that support and nurture our connection to Jesus. Many of us can testify about how Christ is using our church to help us to grow spiritually as individuals and as a group. In general, I see us as a group of people who seek to follow Jesus and are busy working out how to do it together - knowing that we are far getting it down pat. 

In spite of these positive qualities, and many other good things I could write about, our denominational bureaucracy (Evangelical Covenant Church) has recently identified us as an “At Risk” church. By this the denomination means that on paper we manifest a number of qualities that indicate that we are likely to fold within a few years. These qualities include, but are not limited to, small membership, declining membership, small budget, able to support only a part time pastor, etc. While not all of those risk factors strictly apply to us, enough do so that we have been flagged for special attention. We are small. We have not grown much in numbers. We have not brought in any converts in some time. We have had some close calls financially in the last few years, but are currently stable.

So for the past 12 months, we have been engaging in a process to determine what should be done about this. Today, we had a discussion amongst the membership about exactly these questions. What do we need to do to intentionally lift us out of the “at risk” category into something more “viable.” As you might imagine, this was a lively discussion. Some of us vehemently object to the characterization, and for some very good reasons that are worth discussing. Where people land on these issues says a great deal about their theology of church. 

As you might guess, I have some thought about what church is and how God wants us to do it. Rather than post one long post on some of the key ideas rising out of this conversation, I will be posting several shorter articles outlining a few of my thoughts on the matter. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pride and Joy

(I wrote this several months ago, and it got lost in my files. I discovered it and decided it might be worth putting up here)

I suspect that there is no way to predict with certainty the outcome of raising a child. Just look around you. There are untold examples of children of decent parents with lousy kids. It is the stuff of proverbs. Of course there are proverbs that say differently - that parents shape children, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

A chip off the old block.

Yet, if you look around you, the truth of these other proverbs is also apparent. You can look at a child and every once in a while, the veil falls away and you can see the parent -- in a gesture, in a turn of phrase, in an approach to a problem. Of course, this cuts both ways. Bad apples fall as close to the tree as good ones. 

The outcome of child rearing is not predictable but I am pretty sure that that how a child is raised has some effect. The interplay between nature and nurture is complex, and very far from being a straight line thing. It isn't so much an simple expression ( 2+2 = 4) as a complex equation with many variables.

Much (perhaps even a majority) of the influence is unintentional and below consciousness. I'm not sure how it works, but it is really something to watch. Every once in a while I see something in my girls that just amazes me.

Today, my Bride took our youngest to her Girl Scout meeting. This included a trip to the library -- a big treat. I was home when they arrived. After kissing everyone hello, I noticed that Little Bright Eyes was not in the house. "Where is she?" I asked. "In the car reading some of her new books from the library" I was told. I looked out the door and sure enough, she's still sitting in the car, happy as a clam in the sand, looking through her new stack of nice fresh books. I watched her for a second, thinking, "That's my girl! Brought her up RIGHT. Yes I did." 

You see, I love books. Books are among the greatest joys of my life. I was truly excited to see that joy transferred to her. It was a little moment of pride.

But I fear such pride is misplaced. Really. There must be thousands of examples of parents who read and read to their kids, and yet the kids grow up to hate reading. And just as many examples of brave and prolific readers who rise out of families who don't even own books. The transfer of such things from one generation to the next is neither sure or predictable. I believe that I did influence my girls' love of books, but my influence alone is insufficient as to be thought of as a primary cause. It's all just too complex to be reduced to any kind of "just that" or "merely this."

So I can't take pride in it really. But I can take joy in it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Your Mama...

Your mama is so fat, when her beeper goes off, people think she's backing up.
Your mama is so fat, when she goes to the movie, she sits next to everyone.
Your mama is so fat, when she goes in a resturant, she looks at the menu and says," Okay ".
Your mama is so fat, she has to iron her pants on the driveway.
Your mama is so fat, she puts her lipstick on with a paint roller.
Your mama is so fat, she has to pull down her pants to get in her pocket.
Your mama is so fat, you have to take a train and two buses, just to get on her good side.
Your mama is so fat, she has to wake up in sections.
Your mama's so fat, she sat on a quarter and a boogger popped out of George Washington's nose.
Your mama is so fat, she put on some BVD's and by the time she got them on, they spelled boulevard.
Your mama is so fat, the National Weather Service gives a name for each one of her farts.
Your mama is so ugly, they're going to move Halloween to her birthday.
Your mama is so ugly, she makes onions cry.
Your mama is so ugly, she went to the beauty shop and it took three hours, for an estimate.
Your mama is so ugly, when she goes to the beach, cats try to put sand on her.
Your mama is so old, when she was in school, they didn't have history.
Your mama is so old, when I told her to act her own age, she died.
Your mama's so fat, when she's standing on the corner, police drive by and say, "Hey! Break it up!"


In a desperate effort to garner more readers for this drivel, I've gone and created a profile on Facebook and linked this blog to it. So now whatever I write here will also appear there. Now I will be second guessing myself even more.

Should I publish this? Should I not publish this?

When there are only 3 or 4 readers, who cares? But when I already have 50 friends (WOW!) and they all get notified every time I publish something new...and these are people that know me...the stakes just seem higher.

We'll see how it goes. Even the illusion of anonymity has it's comforts.

Meanwhile, I appreciate those of you who trouble to comment. The rest of you, feel free to at least grunt periodically. Even if your comment lacks coherence, wit, or style, just seeing that someone commented gives me an inordinate thrill.

I don't know about you, but I could use a few more inordinate thrills.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Sides of a Coin

I’ve learned that it takes a lot to get me exercised about politics. Mostly, I just like to sit on the outside and watch other people jump up and down and get all histrionic. I’m not above throwing a comment or question in just to instigate more fireworks. I’m really more of a spectator, although I do enjoy a good show.

Other people find certainty much easier to come by. I am simply not convinced that Obama is going to turn the U.S. into a socialist state all by himself. I’m pretty sure that we won’t all be muslims by 2012. I doubt that some kind of government sponsored health care plan will be a complete and utter disaster for our nation -- and I suspect that a good one might actually help.

Although I love to listen to Mr. Obama speak, and I am a sucker for powerful oratory and poetic, majestic themes, I don’t mistake those for the day to day grind of running a government, and I simply am waiting to see how he manages that.

On the other hand, although I voted for McCain, I was not convinced that his plans to lower taxes, offer health care rebates, and appoint “conservative” justices would usher in the New Jerusalem either. Nor would he launch the country into a tyrannical police state.

The peculiar thing is that although the President wields tremendous influence on the shape of future events, that manner in which their actions actually shape those events is much more difficult to predict. It must be a corollary to Murphy’s Law that if any unintended consequences to a decision, regulation, or law is possible, it will almost certainly come to pass. I suspect that in the long run, most consequences are unintended, most blessing unlooked for and most disaster will take us by surprise.

GWB certainly was a man of decision. He was very clear in his own mind. His world is a very simple place, a matter of black and white, yes and no. No compromise, and no wavering. This was his great strength, and turned out to be his downfall. It is common for a man’s weakness to be the obverse of his greatest strength -- 2 sides of a coin. I can only imagine how surprised he has been by the consequences of his actions. I don’t think this has turned out at all the way he expected.

So now we will get to see what Obama’s greatest strengths are, and in time how they also reveal his great weaknesses. When 4 years (or eight) are past, we will see whether it all played out as Mr. Obama expected…and all his supporters as well.

Personally, I hope it all works out great, and all the most noble visions of Mr. Obama come to pass. We’ll see how noble are the outcomes the grow from his ideals.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, November, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor Mississippi's stream:
This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still small voice vibrating -America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland - Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's): the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

by Walt Whitman

Monday, November 3, 2008


So----the preacher was dissatisfied with how little his congregation put in the collection plates on Sunday, so he learned hypnosis. He preached the sermon in a monotone and he swung a watch slowly in front of the lectern and at the end of the sermon he said, "Give!" and the collection plate was full of twenty dollar bills. It worked for weeks. The congregation sat mesmerized during the sermon, staring at the watch swinging, and when he said, "Give!" they gave everything they had, and then one Sunday, at the end of the sermon, the chain on the watch broke, and the preacher said, "Crap!"

Purists, Coalitions and Tin-Foil Hats

This is just too good not to share. Still along the theme of voting/not voting/third party voting, etc. 

When told that he is throwing his vote away, the third party purist often says that he wants to take theprincipled approach instead of the pragmatic one. But pragmatism always needs to build coalitions in order to get something done (and that something can be much smaller than winning the election), and so this coalition building is not something that disappears when you leave the mainstream parties. I left the Republican Party many years ago because I didn't like a lot of the company -- suits, haircuts, PR-meisters, pollsters, liars, liberals, charlatans, and clowns. Great . . . that's a good reason to leave. But in the world of third parties, you soon discover, if you have kept your wits about you have haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, that . . . you don't like a lot of the company. In the third-party world, pragmatism places certain people in charge of state organizations who couldn't organize a two-car funeral. On top of that, you have your racialists, your whackos, your tin-foil hat people, and your conspiracy nuts. Now of course, the fact one is paranoid doesn't mean that "they" are not after him, but still, there it is. Just because you have separated yourself from the corruption does not necessarily mean that you have become a noble member of the Council of Elrond. But mixed all through this you have intelligent people who really love God and their nation, and who really understand how corrupt the mainline parties are. Just like back in the Republican party -- there are people there who understand all this as well. We are all in the hands of God, and so those who see the crisis accurately should strike hands gladly, regardless of how we believe God would have us respond to it in the polling booth. I exclude from this broad call for political charity anyone who votes for Obama, or who would secretly like to in his heart. Every Christian who votes for Obama is part of the problem. Most Christians who vote for McCain are part of the problem. And most Christians who vote for the "pure" third part candidate are part of the problem also. But there is no reason for despair. Every Christian who gathers on the Lord's Day to worship the Father in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, in order to renew covenant with Him, is part of the coming inevitable restoration.

Borrowed from Doug Wilson at Blog and Mablog. Read the entire post here. This is the best of it, but it's still worth reading it all.

Two Differing Opinions

Giving the recent lively exchange between myself and my good friend Ron (I do not mean that ironically – he is a good friend. If he was not, I would not have been willing to utilize quite the level of rhetoric that I did) I thought it might be useful to publish a few comments I ran across at The post is titled Election Day 2008: Wine and Sheesh Party. In it, Imonk explains his discontent with McCain and his aversion to Obama. Way down the comments, I came across a very well reasoned explanation by a commentor named Kirk on why he thinks not voting is a manly-- and more importantly, a christian -- option.

I’d like to suggest that not voting is very much an option. And not just because there isn’t a candidate you are happy about. The Bible never addressed appropriate Christian responsibilities in a republic, but Jesus did say not to lord it over other people like the Gentiles do. He was offered the kingdoms of the world and he turned them down. He subverted political systems with something better and more powerful–the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

Since God is our king, perhaps it would make sense to confine our methodology for effecting change to reliance on his power and his Spirit. I don’t trust princes or horses or chariots anyway. Shouldn’t we believe that God in his church can do more than any human being to bless this world, bring peace and care for the poor?

I’m nearer every day to deciding that I don’t want to be invested in this system at all. I don’t want worldly power, even the fairly minimal power of casting a ballot. I don’t want to be deluded into thinking that I’ve made a difference by checking a box besides someone’s name. I don’t want to be tempted to start believing that if we get just the right person into office, that suddenly it will make a difference.

A humble book recommendation: I would love to see your response to “Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting,” edited by Ted Lewis. You might find it persuasive.

Rich Mullins once said something like “Democracy is the belief that a million people are less corrupt than one. That’s not bad theology; it’s bad math.”

In this case, he is not  talking about not voting in THIS election, but about not voting ever...on principle. Of course, this puts him in very good company with millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who practice an assiduous neutrality regarding this “world system.” I can respect this approach, but I do not agree with it. It at least has a consistency that is lacking for someone who is simply fed up with this election, or who doesn't care for the current names on the ballot.

On the other hand, Michael Spencer, the Imonk himself, followed up with this comment.

I believe that not voting is a violation of the stewardship we have received as citizens of this country. It is in effect saying we don’t believe God has a common grace will or that there are any moral issues at stake. Render unto Caesar, and my fellow Americans have purchased my participation in this process with their blood. I am not a non-citizen. I am a citizen of two Kingdoms.

This is closer to my sentiment. I'm not sure that voting has the same weight as paying taxes, but at a moral level, I'm not sure it doesn't. If Jesus hadn't done his little trick with the coin in the fish's mouth, and then said his thing about rendering unto Caesar, would JW's abstain from paying taxes as a matter of neutrality? It's merely hypothetical of course -- Jesus said nary a word about voting.  

Personally, I’m still going to vote, but I will almost certainly walk out of the polling place praying, “God have mercy on us all.”





Friday, October 31, 2008

Fly Science

You know, it's stuff like this that makes me wish that I had become a "scientist." I love the idea that people actually get paid to think about stuff like this.

BTW - I got pretty good at swatting flies with my bare hands during study halls in high school. You have to stalk them, and get in just the right position, but it most certainly can be done. On the other hand, I never was able to consistently catch a fly in flight with a pair of chopsticks.

Obama Skills Assessment

Another post on politics. Tis the season I guess.

James Fallows does a nice job of summarizing what we have seen from Barak Obama in terms of his skills. These relate to my choice matrix somewhat. The notes that we have yet to see how this would actually play out in office. 

I will add that I have been quite impressed by Obama's organizational skills, as demonstrated by his campaign. I think we can say that he has passed the test on the question of whether he can organize a large nationwide undertaking involving thousands of people. 

When my wife and I first met, we had the usual college student conversation about "what's your major." When I expressed that my major is communication, she gave me this stinky cheese face, rolled her eyes, and said, "What do you do with that?" I responded, "Well, we're communicating right now, aren't we?" And she said (without missing a beat), "Yes...but I didn't need to go to school for four years to learn how to do it." 

All this to say that all we don't hear too much sniggering about the job description for "community organizer" now, do we?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Choice Matrix

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to codify and quantify my decision making process regarding my vote for POTUS. Being President seems to require a complex matrix of skills, temperament, philosophy and habits. I’ve tried to lump these qualities into set of meta-qualities, and then assign each a value weight. Then I evaluate the candidate, and give each a score for each meta-quality that ranges from 1 to 10.

This takes into account such fuzzy things as speaking ability, or appearing presidential, and even weighs tougher questions like can he get legislation passed.

Here are the meta-quality groupings I devised.

Personal Style – This encompasses speaking style, appearance, communication skill, energy level, posture and so on. All those things that go into making people like you, or not like you. They are not terribly important, but they are important to a certain degree. Therefore I give them a relative weight of 3 out of 10.

Organizational Effectiveness – The simple question here is can this candidate run an administration that is both efficient and effective? This involves execution of tasks and goals, creative thinking, bold action, and all within budget and time constraints. Obama seems to have taken the lead on this one, proving his ability by running on heckuva campaign.

Political Philosophy – this is the first one most people think of. I’m assuming that policy flows out of philosophy, so if you agree with a candidate on philosophy, the policy will work for you too. In the case of this year’s election, one must be very careful as the candidate each try to define the philosophy of the other. Of course, distortion is really what they seek, not definition.

Legislative Mojo – This is closely related to Organizational Effectiveness, but with a much narrower focus. Basically, will the candidate propose legislation and will he be able to get it passed into law? One’s philosophy may be great, but without the ability to actually persuade and move the lawmakers, you got nothing.

So here is what I came up with when I did my evaluation. This is a thin slice approach to the question. My numbers are just made up from gut feelings. I think the matrix is self-explanatory. McCain comes out the winner by a slight margin. 

Other factors I considered, but did not include in the matrix are 

Decisional Philosophy - Essentially this is a measure of where the candidate falls on the Pragmatic/Ideological continuum. Are decisions based on an idealogy that may or may not be connected with real conditions in a real world? Or are decisions based on available data, analyzed to make value determinations regarding courses of action, or pursuit of goals.

Conceptual Agility - How good is the candidate at seeking and using new ideas. Does he foster an atmosphere of creativity. Does he himself seek unorthodox positions, and is he willing to champion them if they are good for the country. This is closely related to Decisional Philosophy.

Still thinking this through. May need to adjust the matrix.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tantrums at the Table

I’ve heard more than my share of friends who, disenchanted with the current state of politics and government in our United States, have made noises about not voting in the general election. For the most part, they are people who abhor Mr. Obama, but can’t bring themselves to vote for McCain either. So, like the child throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t like the options presented for lunch, they plan to sit in their seats at the dining table, arms crossed, and just let the election lunch proceed without them.

What bothers me most about this stance is that they seem to think this is a principled and scrupulous way to solve the dilemma. It isn’t. It is childish.

Life presents options. We must then choose and live with our choices. Our options may not be all that we wished, but they are the options we have. Either option presents problems, but that does not mean we can get away without choosing. NOT voting, NOT choosing is not really a responsible option. It is a coward’s way out. I say Man Up. Make your choice. Life is tough and we don't always like it so eat your peanut butter and move on. 

I can at least feel some respect for someone who votes for a third party candidate on principle. That is at least making a choice, even if it is off the main menu. A third party voter is much like the diner who must give the waiter all manner of special instructions for whatever sandwich he is ordering. “Could I get that with mayonnaise on the side, and can you trim all the extra fat from the roast beef, and while you are at it, can you substitute steamed vegetables for French fries?” As annoying as this is, at least it constitutes a taking positive action toward a perceived good, rather than a reactive shrinking away from (or worse, and resigned acceptance of) a perceived evil.

At any rate, I have said all along that we get the president we deserve, whoever that may be. For good or for bad, we as a nation have had the President we deserve for the last 8 years, and we will deserve the next one just as much. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Three Old Men Throwing Olives

You are going to have to suffer through my Capon period for a while yet. Here is another quote, this one from his book The Third Peacock: The Problem of God and Evil. Stick this one in your pipe and smoke it.

Let me tell you why God made the world.
One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things—new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff. Why don’t I go out and mix us up a batch?” And God the Holy Ghost said, “Terrific, I’ll help you.” So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Ghost put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses. There were mushrooms and grapes, horseradishes and tigers—and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and he said, “Wonderful! Just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!” And all God the Son and God the Holy Ghost could think of to say was the same thing. “Tov! Tov! Tov!” So they shouted together “Tov meod!” and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for things to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing. And forever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the Son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeulorum. Amen.
It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a Trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.

One slight elucidation, however. It is very easy, when talking about creation, to conceive of God’s part in it as simply getting the ball rolling—as if he were a kind of divine billiard cue, after whose action inexorable laws took over and excused him from further involvement with the balls. But that won’t work. This world is fundamentally unnecessary. Nothing has to be. It needs a creator, not only for its beginning, but for every moment of its being. Accordingly, the Trinitarian bash doesn’t really come before creation; what actually happens is that all of creation, from start to finish, occurs within the bash—that the raucousness of the divine party is simultaneous with the being of everything that ever was or will be. If you like paradoxes, it means that God is the eternal contemporary of all of the events and beings in time.

Charlie Mops and Ipod

I'm so close to being lucky it's a pity.

On one of my recent sojourns to the Commonwealth to the south of us, I came upon a sad little ipod, dented, scarred and obviously lost. I picked it up and stuffed it in my briefcase for examination later. I finally got to it today, and imagine my amazement to find that it worked!

To make a long story short, I probably have located the owner by finding her name recorded in the software. A quick Google reveals that she is an athlete in a local community college located about 10 miles from where I found the ipod. Her name is all over the local papers. Since the only other person with her name that Google brings up is in Australia, it's a safe bet that the athlete is the owner. I sent an indirect message to her coach, since I could not get her address and I figured it best for security purposes to work through an intermediary. I expect to hear from the owner and make arrangements to return the wayward device.

But....until then, I'm pillaging the playlist to see what new music I can find. So far, I kind of like a lot of what I'm hearing. There is a fair amount of irish influence, including irish rock and roll, some live recordings of bar bands. Surprising little rap, hip hop or so-called dance music. And then, like a jewel, I discovered this one beautiful standout among them all...

I found a delightful version on youtube.

I remember watching Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers on NH Public Television when I was but a lad. I loved that music. I was so surprised to see the Clancy Brothers on the Ipod of a young woman. Of course, the subject matter may have influenced her choice.

The battery is almost dead. We'll see what else I can find.

UPDATE: 10/23/08
I have since located the young woman who owns the ipod and made arrangements to sent it to her in the mail. More's the pity. I thought for a minute there that God was providing me with an ipod. Nope. Just using me to return someone else's. I hope this is important to some vast eternal plan.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sola Gratia

I recently finished reading Between Noon and Three: Law, Romance and the Outrage of Grace by Robert Farrar Capon. The book has set me spinning, but unfortunately, since I had to return it to the library, I no longer have it with me. So I’m going to wing it.

The central touchstone is indeed the outrage of grace. Capon attempts to lead us to a visceral confrontation with this outrage by engaging in a parable of a couple caught up in an extramarital affair. He does this knowing full well that it will offend our sense of rightness and justice unless the narrative somehow punishes the two parties for their waywardness. You know, someone dies as a result, or catches a disease, or one partner finds out and slays them both, or whatever scenario could invent that would balance the moral scales. He does this simply because that he knows the we all love to be moral accountants, tallying up the sin beans, so we can balance the books in the end.

Then he goes a step further. In the parable, the man (whose name is Paul) realizes that philandering is simply part of who he is. It is an ingrained mental and emotional habit. He is, in fact, tired of it. He would like to stop. He has come to despise himself for the deceit, and ultimately for the lack that such behaviour creates in his life. He wants to stop, and he would like to convince himself that he could, but realizes that in fact he is virtually powerless to do so. The taste of the moment is too sweet, even though he knows full well the bitterness that engulfs it. He is, to his own mind, dead. He can no more stop philandering than a dead man can stop being dead.

Outrageous indeed. But wait. There is more.

What if the woman (whose name is Laura) knows all this about him. What if, knowing that he will cheat on her also, she simply accepts this, and loves him completely and without reservation. What if this acceptance, this loving is no mere acquiescence of a woman who is really a doormat, but an active engaged choice by one who, in so doing could redeem Paul and all his cheating philandering deadness, and accept him as a real lover. What if, because of this, no matter what he did in the past, or does in the future, they remain complete in their happiness because she wills it so, and allows it to be so.

Do you see where this is headed? No? OK, look at it this way. Paul is us. Laura is Jesus. Now do you see it? It’s a parable. Compare it now to the parable we commonly call The Prodigal Son.

Now THAT’S outrageous.

The rest of Capons book, about two thirds of it, is dedicated to answering all the questions that this scenario raises. As our internal moral theologians scream for some sort of justice, Capon repeatedly returns to one word: Grace.

He is not squishy about it. He fully recognizes and embraces the outrage of it all. He makes what I feel to be a reasonably solid case from scripture. He actually answers many questions that have been rising up in my heart for a few years. And do not mistake this for some sort of pan-universalist soteriology. He grapples with the hard issues. What about hell? What about damnation? What about Romans 6? It’s all included.

We want to rage about cheap grace. The challenge is that for us, the recipients it is cheap. It was expensive for the One Who Gives Grace, but He has done ALL the work. Indeed, He has only ever been the only one who could do any of the work. Ultimately, nothing we could do, good or bad, affects God’s will to redeem us. Dead people can do nothing to change their deadness. Even if we could do something, it would not change our deadness. But as when Jesus called the quite dead Lazarus out of the tomb, like Lazarus we can do nothing except rise and come forth as commanded. We are raised from the dead, in Christ, because God has willed it so.

The outrage comes because we have allowed or inner Moral Theologian/Sin Bean Counter to dominate our conversation about what Jesus has really done. The discussion has too long been listing to the side of Grace Plus. Capon states very clearly that if he seems to be going too far to the Grace Alone side of things, then it is merely a long overdue counterbalance.

I won’t recapitulate the entire book here. I recommend reading it, and I would delight in discussing it. It may be joining my Most Influential List if it holds up after a few more readings and some lively discussion. I’m sure I raised more questions than I answered here. I am still wrestling with some of them myself. Expect more on this.




Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elekshun Blues

My head it is aching. I got them ole election blues
Oh my head it’s aching. I got them ole election blues.
Got to pick one now and don’t know what to do.

It seemed so clear just a few short weeks gone by.
It all seemed clear just a few short weeks gone by.
Now I just sit and shake my head and sigh.

There’s one I liked but he ain’t there no mo.
They’s one I liked, but he just ain’t they no mo.
Someone locked him up and boarded up the door.

There’s one I don’t but he starts looking nice.
They’s one I don’t, but he starts looking nice.
A starving man don’t mind rocks in his rice.

I can’t trust any, I’m sho full up with doubt.
I don’t trust non, and I’m shot full up with doubt
You vote ‘em in, and they flip all inside out.

In the long run then it don’t mean no hill of beans.
In the long run then it don’t mean no hill of beans.
Who we ‘lect, or whichaway I leans.

It’s an awful thing to get the ‘lection blues.
Sho’ it’s a terrbul thing to have them ‘lection blues.
You can jus' pick one cuz you can’t elect no deuce. 

What is Good Law?

What is the government's proper role? This is really the pivotal question defining this election.

Ron Jung put it well in an earlier comment on the debate. It was so well put that I want to bring it out here into the light of day.

The Feds should make good law and be the enforcer of the laws. Once the Feds are the ones in charge, who regulates them? What accountability do they have? We need a WALL OF SEPERATION between the business/education/medical world and the government. The Gov. should be the bad guy heavies enforcing good law PERIOD.

Making the laws that channel the activity of the people is not the same thing as making laws the do things for the people. Good law, well enforced, makes a strong civilization.


So how do we define what is GOOD LAW?

Pod Person or Orator in Chief?

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the debate, and the candidates.

I am haunted by this sense that I am not seeing the real John McCain. It seems instead that John has been kidnapped and replaced by some kind of pod person. There is no straight talk express. All we get is some kind of loop recording of the words “Maverick” and “Reformer” as though just saying the words makes them true. I believe that there is more to McCain than what we are seeing and hearing. I suspect that he is listening to his staff way too much, rather than simply being John McCain. He seems to afraid to just let it fly, but that’s what people want and expect from a Maverick. People could forgive him excesses of rhetoric if we felt that they were authentic. It wouldn’t matter so much if they weren’t polite or proper or politically correct, as long as they pointed to what McCain really thinks and will really do.

The trouble is, if McCain wins the presidency, I don’t know if it will be the real John McCain, or the pod person.

On the other hand, I am just a little bothered by how much I am starting to like Barak Obama. I am fully aware that I am a man easily swayed by eloquence. I admire physical poise and clarity of speech when talking to groups. I do believe that a leader, certainly the President, absolutely should be capable of delivering a solid speech. It does not have to be flowery, but a certain amount of oratory, in a style suitable to the candidates personality is a good thing.

I have heard several people complain that Obama is an empty suit. I did not see that last night. I saw more hot air coming out of McCain, while Obama keep driving things back toward the question, the thread of the discussion. I don’t want to like him, but Obama is charming me. This bothers me because I think that McCain is right that government should do less for people and people should do more for themselves. I’m not sure McCain’s policies will help people do more for themselves, but I’m afraid that Obama will move government toward doing things it ought not. The irony of course, is that under a so-called conservative administration, government is now breaking entirely new ground in terms of interference.

The trouble is that if Obama wins the presidency I don’t know if he can accomplish any of what he says he will do, and I’m not sure if it will work.

I know some of you out there would love to set me straight. I invite all three of you to comment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate Play by Play

I never liked political debates. No. Let me restate that. I have never seen a political debate. What happened a few weeks ago was not a debate. There was no argument. An argument presupposes that each party actually listens to the points put forth by the opponent and responds with counterpoints related to the argument. The last debate was mostly just two guys yelling at each other while pretending to talk to other people. Stump speech sound bits overcame reasoned speech, and the signal to noise ratio was unacceptably high.

I didn't want to watch tonite's debate, figuring it would not help me one bit. But somewhere deep in my reptile brain, I felt that I should. And then my wife wanted to. So, taking an idea from Jon over at AVI, and Ben over at 10-4 Good Buddy, I thought I would try live-blogging it. As I watched I typed some of my thoughts.

I'm not sure this post is worth the electrons I'm burning by putting it up here. I'm pretty sure my thoughts aren't that valuable, but such as they are, here they are.

9:05 Will Obama’s stated tax plan work? I don’t know how to judge this. It sounds good.

9: 06 McCain’s use of the plumbers last name is disingenuous. Notice how they call him Joe the Plumber after McCain takes that one impressive shot at the barely pronouncable name.

9:10 Obama name drops “his friend” Warren Buffet. His friend?

9:12 I don’t mind paying a little more.” Says Obama. I guess I don’t mind paying either. But for what? I just realized that I really don’t know what McCain is planning to do regarding taxes. Obama has done a much better job of getting his message out to me.

9:14 We are living beyond our means says Obama. Good turn of phrase.

9:17 McCain needs to be brought back to the question. What would I cut. Across the board spending freeze. “I know how to save billions.”

9:18 McCain hammers the overhead prjector again. A perfect example of the kind of distortion that these “debate” lean on.

9:20 I have never thought that McCain is president Bush redux, but he has not done a very good job during this campaign of coming across as someone else. Too much rhetoric and too little substance. You can cry maverick all you want, but we aren’t seeing it. Glad to see he is finally going to the record and trmping his record. He has never refuted the 90 percent bush vote thing. If it’s true, then what’s the story? How does it relate to obama’s?

9:23 Damn. Obama is so clear in his speech. Ohhhh he just admitted that Mcain has demonstrated tremendous independence on some issues. But McCain is on the defensive, trying to justify himself. From a competitive viewpoint, it’s not a good position.

9:27 McCain says that Obama has not repudiated charges of racism against McCain. I know what he’s trying to do but it sound whiny. Then says he lied about taking public money. I’m pretty sure McCain would have done the same thing if he felt he could raise the dough.

9:30 several times tonite either candidate has made statements about independent observers. That’s an easy thing to say. Who are they?

9:32 Obama: the American people have become so cynical about our politics because all they see is tit for tat. That’s very true. Most of what I’ve heard I feel that I cannot trust. Now McCain takes exception and jumps to defend the “people who come to my rallies.” He is playing heartstrings, but not really addressing Obama’s larger point.

9:35 Obama brings it back to what he is defining at core issues again. He is really good and focused at this. The issue isn’t really the campaign. It is how to govern the country. McCain is still on the attack.

9:37 Obama goes after the Ayers controversy. He says that this has become the centerpiece of the McCain campaign. I’d have to agree. It rings hollow though. Obama looks solid, strong and he doesn’t even appear to be breaking a sweat as he dismantles McCains allegations.

9:38 Let me tell you who I associate with…says Obama. Brilliant!

9:39 McCain says different. They simply disagree on the plain facts of the case. Who tells the truth? I don’t know. I guess you believe whichever you are predisposed to believe.

9:42 McCain says Palin is a Reformer. A favorite buzzword. Bresh of Freth air. His defense of her makes her sound nice, but not presidential. And why does he invoke the fact of her husband being a tough guy? That’s a red herring.

9:45 McCain strongly criticized Biden’s policies. Strong.

9:46 We get 60% of our oil from foreign sources? We need to annex Iraq.

9:47 McCain goes nuclear. I like it. It’s clear and direct. How long will it take? How much will it take? Where will the funding come from? 7-10 years McCain thinks we can get independent. Wow. Obama says in 10 years. Expand domestic production. Offshore drilling. But we can’t drill our way out of the problem. Lists other options but avoids nuclear, a tested and available technology. Why?

9:51 McCain admires Obama’s eloquence implying that he is hedging or lying, or hiding the truth. Shades of Clinton. My wife agrees with McCain that Obama does say, “We’ll look into….” A lot. I’m not sure if this is bad, but Mc is implying that this is a hedge rather than a clear statement of policy.

9:55 Mc accuses O of giving away the farm to Chavez. I can’t see that. Again he is directly opposing what O says. Who do I believe.

9:58 O is very clear about his health care plan. Can he pull this off? I don’t know. But his statements about this being an investment, rather than merely and expense is right on. McCain’s response has a rather blowsy start before he gets to the meat. He gives a long list of “We should haves…” but how do we get there? A $5000 tax credit seems too indirect to me.

10:00 Mc says O is planning a single payer system. I didn’t hear that. He just raise it as if it’s a boogy man. Again, Mc is more about attacking O’s plan than explaining his own. O, wait…Obama is explaining it for us.

10:03 Mc invoke the government as thief motif. Is this true about O’s health care plan?

10:05 Mc stops his tirade. O says…”you just heard my plan…” So reasonable. So clear. Looks in control.

10:10 did O just say that the US Constitution has a right to privacy in it? That’s a pretty crazy claim as such. O names Louie ledbetter. Another name drop, but easier to pronounce than Joe the plumber’s.

10:12 I get up to get a snack. I’m hungry.

10:18 O invokes bill cosby. Parents must be involved. Gutsy. The education version of Carter’s malaise speech – almost.

10:20 Mc draws the line again. O wants Govmnt to do it. Mc wants the people to do it for themselves. O attacks unfunded mandates. Agrees with charter schools. States that his position is the fed gov should help local schools do what they want.

10:23 O says“I don’t think Americas youth are interest groups.” That’s quotable.

10:24 McCain loves to dig O. “I’m surprise you didn’t pay more attention to that example.” He also manages to drag Sarah Palin into his answer. It feels like badly planned product placement.

10:28 Mc says you have to trust us. That’s the key. That’s true. I think regardless of the policies put forth – which are often too tangled for many of us to sort – people will vote for the one they trust.

I think Obama will be out next president. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, but I think that’s what will happen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tim Sample Sample

I spent many hours hanging out with friends retelling "Bert and I" stories. Tim Sample is the latter day embodiment of the spirit of Downeast comedy. The most amazing thing about this is I grew up listening to real people that really talked much like this. This of course, is how Maine sounds - and Maine sounds slightly different from New Hampshire, Vermont, or Massachusetts, etc. The differences are subtle but clear for those who have the ear. Today it all runs together

To me these speech patterns are musical, the turns of phrase poetic. My girls don't understand why every once in a while (okay...more like at any given moment) I will lapse into my version of some form of New England brogue.

All I can say is that it amuses me.

Shrinking Life

Spent time visiting my Mom yesterday. According to the nurse she had been sitting up in her chair for a few hours earlier in the day. When I got there, she was in bed, and the nurse was helping her drink some water using little sponges to transfer the water from the cup to her mouth. She seemed happy to see me, and my oldest daughter, who was with me. About 10 minutes after I arrived she fell asleep and stayed asleep through most of the time I was there.

Five days ago, I sat through a care meeting with the staff at Havenwood and one of my brothers. The meeting reaffirmed what we understood to be the prognosis. I was struck by how personally the staff took her situation. The genuinely care about her as they are caring for her. Needless to say, this is heartening. The entire goal at this point is to make sure that Mom is as comfortable and content as possible to ease her passing.

My brother handed me an envelope with some papers she had written up some time ago with her instructions regarding her funeral. Some of this was actually pretty funny. A few items that stood out to me included her instruction that we use a “CHEAP coffin.” Any music played during the memorial service should be “PIANO ONLY. NO ORGAN.” And we are instructed that there should be no crying, “although if that cannot be avoided, it is understandable.” These things are funny because they are predictable, knowing my Mom.

Later, I think I may post some information about her life and accomplishments. She may not consider herself to have accomplished much as the world mostly counts accomplishments, but as I reflect on her life, I think that she has accomplished much.

So yesterday I mostly just sat with her, observing and being with her. In a previous post, I mentioned that it seems as though she is dissipating. A friend of mine described the process, as he observed his Grandfather in his last days, as one of shrinking. I think that adjective is also apt. It is remarkable how small and frail she looks. She was never very big, or to my recollection especially strong of body. But now her body is significantly diminished. In my life I have also seen her spirit and energy wax and wane, and now it is waning in a way that I have not seen before. It is indeed shrinking, diminishing, withdrawing. For much of the rest of the day I felt simply quiet and sad. Not depressed, but feeling a subdued sorrow. To watch someone dying is really a rather awesome thing. 

I am reminded that all life is grass. The only permanent thing is resurrection. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Better Living Through Me

Watching the trajectory of this campaign, and the candidates, has me wishing for a guy Brain. If I knew his last name, maybe I could write him in.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Lord of Plumbing and the God of the Pipe

Water has lately been spied leaking from around the base of the toilet in our downstairs bathroom. The diagnosis indicated a leaking wax seal. Since I have a record of extending household projects beyond any reasonable time frame, beyond the tolerance of most mortal men, I planned accordingly. When I planned my day, I allowed 6 hours minimum to complete the project, figuring to start around 6:00 pm and finish somewhere around midnight, although to go later would not have surprised me. 

I studied the instructions available online. I purchased the necessary parts at the hardware store. I started a little before 6:00 and was finished about 8:00. And that included going to a friend's house to pick up my youngest daughter, and stopping to eat dinner. 2 hours.

Whoa! Surely the LORD has done a great thing.

And so...A Psalm for Plumbing

God has blessed me greatly. 
He hath given success into my hands. 
The pipe and the wrench do my bidding 
For the LORD has given wisdom to my fingers, 
And skill into the palms of my hands. 
The porcelain obeys me, 
The water goes only where I tell it, 
For the Lord of All Water has taught me the way.
The Lord of All Water has shown me the path.

The throne it leaketh not. 
Even the Great White Seat no longer seeps. 
And peace dwells in the land.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Winding Down

My Mom is 87 years old, deep in dementia, and has been living in a home for several years, moving from independent to assisted living, and about 2 years ago into the nursing care section. She is very well cared for considering the depth of her condition, and we are fortunate that the home’s endowment has helped her even after her money was long gone.

Her memory has been steadily deteriorating for several years. It is frustrating for my two girls to visit her. Although they love their Grammie, a conversation with her pretty much runs on a 2-3 minute loop which comes back on itself several times in the course of a visit. Even so, although she may not know what day it is, or remember who visited the day before (or a half hour before), when I go to see her she recognizes me, and is glad to see me.

I visited last Sunday and found her to be in very bad shape, barely able to communicate. Not in pain I think, but more muddled and confused. She seemed to recognize me, but I don’t think she could come up with my name. A week before, she was bright and cheery – as she has been for about the last 6 months. The recent decline is dramatic.

I received this email from one of my older brothers today. He holds power of attorney for my Mother and so does most of the interfacing with her caregivers.

I have been on the phone with havenwood every couple of days. We have a conference for anyone who can attended next Tuesday.7 October at 2 pm to discuss care of mother. They have asked me to go thru her wishes . She is losing weight  her Brest cancer has gone into her lungs. and she is not eating. She has oxygen now some of the time. she is restricted to her chair. they do not feel she is strong enough to move around on her own. I will email anyone who is not there next week to update them. She is getting the best of care. the people at havenwood are great.

Ron we should get together soon and discuss your plots. I know that she wants to be buried beside grandpa Rowell, and I think we have discussed that long ago, But it would be easier to discuss that again, now,if you can .  Bob ,and Diane, Aunt Sue, or anyone who would like to come, you are welcome to come and stay with us anytime you wish.

I will have a better time frame of things after the conference.

I am the youngest of 6 boys. Mom has lived an amazing life full of trouble and triumph. She was born a French citizen and brought to the US by her adoptive father at age 6, after her own mother died. She outlived 4 husbands in all. My father, her second husband, died when I was only 5 leaving her with 4 boys at home. I can’t imagine the strength it took her to bring us up, but she did, and I guess she did a passable job. I look at her and try to see that strength that is still in her. I can almost see her winding down.

Now it sounds like she may be nearing her end here. Mostly, I’m thinking that she will finally be Home Free.