Monday, October 31, 2011

Speaking Engagement

I will be speaking on creative fiction writing and my own writing journey at the Catoosa County Library on Sunday, November 13, at 2:00.  I will also read from my work and sign books.

Man on Side of the Road

Yesterday I experienced a searing case of cognitive dissonance.

I was driving to church for the 8:30 service.  To get to my church, I drive about 2.5 miles to get to the interstate.  Then I have to turn left at a light to get onto I-75.  Sitting at the light, I saw a man who was obvious cold and in need of something.  It was 32 or 33 degrees yesterday morning, with frost.  I locked my door.  As we sat there, he approached a man in a van who just shook his head, and then the car behind me.  The light turned and I went on.

Of course, the sermon I then heard was on giving.

If the man had approached me, I assure myself, I would have given him a fiver.  What can he do with a fiver?  It might buy a few beers, but it also might buy him enough gas to get home or a sandwich.  It wouldn't buy any high-priced drugs or pot.  But I didn't want him to approach me, I didn't want to deal with him.

The cognitive dissonance is not just about that man, who is one snowflake on the iceberg, not even the tip.  People are hurting, sometimes from their own bad choices, sometimes by no fault of their own whatsoever.  The pastor was talking about how few people in the church tithe; I do  and then some, (but not all to the church, despite what people say about storehouse tithing.  I don't consider tithing a New Testament responsibility; I consider careful stewardship to be one, with a tithe a minimal response to that responsibility.

Mallard Fillmore comic strip the other day, "I do support taxes . . . on people who buy Halloween costumes for their pets."  We can be so much more frugal than we are so that we can be so much more liberal.

All that doesn't get me off the hook.  Maybe we should have a roll of fives to give worthy panhandlers who might really be in need, not just panhandlers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eternity in our Hearts

One of my favorite verses in in Ecclesiastes:  3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.


"Eternity in their hearts."  I believe this is the reason behind most of the art, literature, music, religion, and accomplishments of human history.  

I believe it is what accounts for that most human of emotions, yearning.  We know, deep down, we will live forever.  Death will not finish us.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, "You have never spoken to a mere mortal."  But how we will live after death is what separates us in so many ways.  


The news reports about Steve Jobs said that he was thinking about the afterlife at the end of his life.  He said he was 50/50 about it.  Well, now he knows.  I think the value of Steve Jobs is that he teaches us that innovation and entrepreneurship creates wealth and is one of the best ways to save humanity.  I, however, have no interest in his products.  I am perfectly happy without apps and gadgets, but am of course in the minority.

Choice?

In the uneven movie Kingdom of Heaven, there is a memorable line:  Islam says submit, Christianity says choose.

I like that, and wish it could be presented as the end-all and be-all of the differences between the two faiths.  Of course, it can't.  For one thing, Christianity has quite a bit about submission to it. 

The question I would pose, though, is how much choice do we really have in life?  How much of "choice" is an illusion?

I bring this up because we heard the choir sing a song today with the words, "I choose to believe."  We enthrone choice:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We say that what makes us human is our ability to choose.  But what do we really choose?

Nothing genetic.  Nothing ethnic.  Nothing about our birth.  Nothing essentially about our looks.  Yes, we can change a lot of our looks, but not the bases.  Not our parents, and not how they raised us. Not the choices of other people who may have great influence on us.  Not terminal illnesses. 

No choice is absolute.  We can make choices about our actions but not about the consequences. And bad choices take away our power to make choices in the future.

All our choices are circumscribed by situations we can't control (see preceding paragraph). We choose daily actions, educational paths (if intelligent enough to pursue the educational path), careers (if we have made the right choices in the past.  We can choose our spouse, or we can choose not to choose the person who wants to be our spouse.   We can choose to leave jobs; sometimes we can choose to take jobs.  We can choose medical procedures or not.  We can choose to purchase things.  We can choose our place of worship.  We can choose our religion or its flavor. 

But do we choose--God?  How much do we choose--grace?  I have to say I did not.  It grabbed me, unexpectedly.  When I, at 15, became cognizant of my sin and need for salvation, I do not feel there was much choice in it, 40 years later.  I don't think I could have turned from grace at that point.  Perhaps some people can resist grace; I wasn't one of them.  However, I often feel that I am resisting it in my every day life. 

Are Dictators Better than Democracy?

This is of course a rhetorical question.  No, because dictators, no matter how benevolent they may become, or seem to (it's usually just a gloss, an appearance) got to their position by violent and corrupt, unethical, unrighteous means, or his ancestors did.  And of course the majority of dictators, 99/100, commit atrocities, violate human rights, and start unjust wars.  But I bring this question up because certain middle Eastern dictators have benevolently protected, or at least ignored, the Christian minorities in their countries, but the so-called Arab Spring threatens this protection of women and minority religious groups.

(I would here recommend Philip Jenkins work on the history of Christianity in the Middle East.  It's very enlightening as to how the region of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia became so predominantly Islamic when it was so thoroughly Christianized by the 7th century, even to India and China.  He is a reputable scholar, not some Christian hack writer.)

Unfortunately, democracy is risky.  It is particularly risky for minorities.

Democracy must be rooted in a constitution and rule of law, and strong central authorities must enforce the law.  This is the only way that minorities can be protected in a "democracy."

Republics are best, because they inherently create levels to slow down the power of the majority, which can sometimes be a mob and oftentimes is not right, just big, the power of emotion.

The Democratic party is no longer truly democratic except in the sense that since the 1960s, they have wanted to extend voting and other rights to minorities.  And that is a good thing, of course.  But they do not want a majority rule if it goes against what they wanted.  Then they resort to the Supreme Court.  Case in point, abortion.   If it had been put to a referendum, abortion would never have passed as nationwide legislation. 

I think of November as the month that is set aside for prayer for the persecuted church.  We should be particularly aware of it this year with these seismic changes in so many countries--Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria--where dictators are being ousted, understandably, but are possibly going to be replaced by something worse.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Zero Sum Game

I think this word sums up what is wrong with a lot of people's thinking.

The economy is not a zero sum game.  It is not one big pie that has to be cut up into more and more smaller pieces.  We create more pies; we can create more and more pies to feed more and more people.

Now, I know the response--this is capitalism, and capitalism exploits the environment by using up resources.  But capitalism as a way of thinking can find ways not to use resources and still create wealth.  It happens all the time.  Capitalism frees people to use their creativity and innovation to create wealth and by doing so create jobs.

Learning is not a zero sum game.  My students think their brains are only so big and that they must protect their brain capacity.   But neuroscience has proven that learning creates more synapses.  However, as capitalism creates wealth through hard work, learning creates more "brain capacity" for knowledge through hard work.   Learning takes effort, something no one wants to admit to; "LEARNING SHOULD BE FUN!" (where did that come from?  Disney, the people who have used capitalism to sell fun.)

Life is not a zero sum game.  If the land is too small to grow crops, either find a way to produce more crops from seed or start using towers to grow food.  I think if we see life as a zero sum game, we only fear want when it doesn't have to exist.

As an addendum (it's so wonderful to be able to edit posts), it all depends if you believe we live in an open system or closed system.  I believe we are in an open system.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My secret addiction: Film Noir

I love film noir.  I don't know why; they just fascinate me.  When I get a chance to see a new one, I take it; I'll watch some of them over and over.  It appeals to the pessimist in me, I guess. 

What makes film noir?

  • Black and white.  So much better than technicolor.  
  • A female who is "complex" and usually in control and ready to let the male protagonist suffer if he needs to.  She's not a good girl.
  • The male star usually dies at the end, or doesn't really get what he wants.
  • Always about crime.
  • There are lots of plot twists and turns.
  • They exude the post WWII urban landscape.
The problem is, I often forget the name of the films afterward, even though I remember what happened! 

Brokenness

I have in the last week been introduced to the video teaching ministry of Angela Thomas.  I like her.  She is funny but not silly; her stories are relevant and don't go on for twenty minutes; she doesn't act like she's got a seminary degree even though she actually does (I'm way impressed by that), and her segments are short, about 30 minutes long.  She's also a good- sized woman and admits to using Jenny Craig.

The segment that I listened to this morning (in a SS class) was on brokenness, and she used Ruth as the text.  She kept it general, referencing her own brokenness due to a divorce when she had four young children and apparently was ostracized in her teaching ministry.  That does not surprise me.  Regardless of how one thinks about divorce, there are those forced into it who don't want it, and they are treated very badly by churches, especially by women in the churches.  The married women act like the newly divorced woman is going to steal their husbands.  (Actually, this does happen, so some level of care is warranted, but that should not affect how women treat other women in private.)

I got to thinking about brokenness.  I remember my former pastor, Ben Haden, advising the congregation when he left to find a pastor who had been broken.  I had never thought about that, but it makes sense that someone would not have a heart for pastoring if they did not know real sorrow.  Of course, some people are so overwhelmed by their own brokenness that they are in no position to minister, but I don't see how someone without pain in their life could avoid judgmentalism.  I don't usually appreciate speakers who act as if they have been broken when they essentially just went through a rough patch, usually due to their own addiction to affluence or choices.

What breaks us?
Tragedy--deaths of close loved ones, grief
Devastating illness--cancer, ALS, Parkinsons
Long-term abuse
Victimization--rape, mugging, beating
Unexpected broken relationship--divorce, estranged children.
Grief over our own sins and bad decisions--criminal activity, imprisonment, bankruptcy

I imagine it would make a difference what the cause of the brokenness is.  So much of our brokenness is due to the sin of others, either a singular event or long-term.  We have family members who deny God's control over their lives, and they cause indirect and direct pain to us.  We pray for them for 10, 20, 30 or more years.  They do not repent of what enslaves them, and despite rehab, large sums of money being paid to "bail them out," their own theft of our resources, they go on in their behavior.  These people become our masters if we let them break us.  There is a difference between concern and control.  Sometimes these people should be freed to their own devices.  There is enough brokenness from what God wants to do in our lives to let other people cause undue brokenness.  I do not say this to minimize the pain these people bring--I know it well.  But how we respond would have to be different.

Then there is brokenness from watching other people suffer from undeserved occurrences.  There is the brokenness of children of divorce, of caregivers of very ill family members.   There is the brokenness of having possessions and safety taken away from one's life.  There is the brokenness of those with long-term conditions. In those unchosen brokenness situations, God can heal; he has brought them into our lives to cause us to heal and then to bring healing to others.  However, that is an easy thing for me to write.

It is one thing to admit to brokenness and another to identify oneself as broken.  Brokenness is meant to be fixed, not embraced and held on to indefinitely.  Angela Thomas said, "If I find a bitter woman, I find a woman who does not believe God."  Simple, but true.  I could be broken, and have been, but I do not think of myself that way now or on an everyday basis.  Lots of "breaking" things have happened to me, as with others, and maybe it will take a life time to own it all and see God working in it.  But I prefer to be whole than in pieces, not because of me, but because of grace.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Concern for the Day

I hope I'm not breaking a copyright regulation here.  This is from Charles Colson.  

Let me say that I, like all fair-minded conservatives, tried to give Obama and his administration the benefit of the doubt.  It became apparent that we could not do that.  Please, if you are reading this and voted for Mr. Obama because you thought he was young, fresh, energetic, and hopeful, or if you just voted for him because he is of African descent, or you just voted for him because he is a good public speaker,  please study what he has done objectively and reconsider your vote.  He wanted to fundamentally transform American--why?  If you voted for him because you sincerely believe in what he advocates, then that is your right and we live in a free society.  All I am saying is know who and what you are voting for.

Freedom, Schmeedom
Religious Liberty on Trial

October 21, 2011
“That is extraordinary,” proclaimed Justice Scalia. “I, too, find that amazing,” Justice Kagan chimed in.
As reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, The conservative Scalia and the liberal Kagan seemed bewildered by the Obama Administration’s unbelievable assertion that there should be no “ministerial exemption” for churches when it comes to hiring.
That’s the issue at stake in the case Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Who, in the end, decides who is a minister and who is not?  A church, or the government?
In his excellent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Stanford’s Michael McConnell, a former federal judge, notes that for “40 years lower courts have applied a ‘ministerial exception,’ which bars the government from any role in deciding who should be a minister.
“But,” McConnell continues, “the Obama Justice Department has now asked the court to disavow the ministerial exception altogether. This would mean that, in every future case, a court — and not the church — would decide whether the church's reasons for firing or not hiring a minister were good enough.”
Folks this is frightening. And I can’t but help wonder if there’s not a deliberate pattern here by the Obama Administration to restrict religious freedom.
Now, I’m not given to conspiracy theories, but how else do we interpret the Administration’s actions over the past couple of years?
Remember last year, I warned something was up when Hillary Clinton proclaimed that “freedom of worship” was a top U. S. priority. As I explained then, “freedom of worship” and “freedom of religion” are not interchangeable. One allows you to worship any way you want in private  — even Chinese citizens enjoy such so-called “freedom of worship.” Freedom of religion, however, means the right to live out your faith in private and in public.
Well, not long after Clinton’s speech at Georgetown, the Administration said it would no longer defend or enforce the Defense of Marriage Act — that’s a federal statute!
Earlier this month, the administration announced it would not renew a $19 million contract with Conference of Catholic Bishops to help sex trafficking victims. Why not? Well, we do know the ACLU sued the government to terminate the contract because the Bishops Conference wouldn’t help sex-trade victims obtain abortions!
And recently, the Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations that would force all employers — religious or otherwise — to purchase insurance that covered contraception and other “preventative care.” Could that be true? True enough that the President chirped “Darn Tootin’” at a political rally.
What is the Administration up to? The Catholic Bishops are alarmed enough that they are forming a committee to press the Administration on its overtly hostile approach to religious freedom.
This is why everybody listening to me today has got to read and sign and get friends to sign the Manhattan Declaration. If you have read it already, go and read it again. We’ll have a link for you at BreakPoint.org.
I think there’s good reason to fear that if we fail to raise our voices now, we will be forced into civil disobedience. It’s time to rally our forces. Christians should not have to compromise their faith to remain free and equal citizens.
Again and again, we must make clear, as the Manhattan Declaration states, we will under no circumstances ever render to Caesar what belongs to God.

Scot McKnight, One.Life and More about Empathy

I finished my first reading of Scot McKnight's book, One.Life.  It is in the vein of some recent books, like David Platt's, calling Christian's to think more radically and "gospel-ishly" about their spiritually lives.  I like the book and recommend it, although all these books cost too much.  If someone wants to borrow it from me and lives nearby, let me know.  Interestingly, he uses Bonhoeffer at the end and I just finished one of Bonhoeffer's books this week also.  I hope to start Cost of Discipleship

Making these truths practical in one's life, especially at my age, however, is difficult.  I am seriously contemplating returning to doctoral work at 56, with the hope I'll be done by 60.  Is this what God wants me to do?  Should I not see my.life, or what is really Christ's.life (not sure how I feel about McKnight's cute punctuation) as only one of service and not one of preparation?  Will having the doctorate help the kingdom?  If I don't do it, will I look back and sixty and feel I had wasted those three or four years and an opportunity?  What if my mother gets very sick or my husband, or one of them dies?  It's hard to know at my age what might happen in the future, but does uncertainty keep one from making plans?

However, I appreciate that the members of this generation, who have been coddled but also neglected in some ways, are being called to sacrifice, just as we were 30 years ago, but in a different way.  Ours was to evangelize; today it is to relieve suffering and evangelize, to do both because both are right, not just to relieve suffering so you get to evangelize.

On another note, he writes elegantly about repentance, which relates to the previous post about empathy.  People confuse repentance with feeling bad.  Feeling bad about your sin may accompany repentance, and probably should, but it's not repentance.  Repentance is 180 degree turn, living in light of knowing you did wrong and knowing there is a right way to do it.  Morality is not so gray as people want to make it.  I can feel sorry about how my mouth might hurt another, but until my words are sweet and refreshing and no longer bitter and hurtful, my feeling sorry about them only keeps me feeling bad, and it becomes all about feelings.  I can be as emotional as the next person, but in some ways I am a behaviorist.  What one does ultimately is what matters, not what one feels.   Commitment is action, not intention.   I intend to eat healthy and drop 20 lbs.  I haven't yet. 

Yes, God knows our hearts; we are always assured of that, and that at the last judgment our motivation will be what matters.  But come on, let's stop kidding ourselves.  We ultimately do what we want to do. 

I'll never forget the news report of a woman who was being reunited with her child whom she had abandoned 20 years before.  She had left the child in a basket at the grocery store and just disappeared.  The child was about two, was taken into custody, lived in the system, and was eventually adopted and raised.  The abandoning mother said, "I love my child."  Yeah, right.  Now I know that some will respond to me and say, "You don't understand, she probably just couldn't afford to raise the child,  she was desperate, blah blah blah."  Very true, but abandonment to strangers and the dangers that might befall a child (who could easily have been kidnapped or murdered) is hardly love, and if she had loved, she would have repented.  Biblical Love is a verb, not a feeling. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Limits of Empathy

Below is the link to an excellent article by David Brooks about empathy. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/opinion/brooks-the-limits-of-empathy.html

Years ago I took a test that said I did not have a lot of empathy.  It really made me mad, until I learned that empathy had nothing to do with really caring or acting on your caring.  As Brooks points out, our caring and acts of kindness come from a moral code more than from the ability to feel what another is feeling.  We can get so involved in the emotions (including our  own) that we don't have time or energy for actions.

On an only slightly related note, people talk about dogs giving us unconditional love.  I would rather have loyalty from my dog.  Loyalty results in loyal actions.  I'm not sure what unconditional love from a dog would result in.

 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Decision

From now on, all profits from my novels will go to World Vision to dig wells in Africa.

Wasting Away Again in Lauren Alaina-ville

I live in the same county that the runner up from last year's American Idol, Lauren Alaina Suddeth, lives.  She went (or still technical still goes) to one of the three high schools in our county (not the one my son did.)  Many of my students know her.  She is truly the local celebrity.

So I should have figured it out myself when I went to by the weekly groceries at, UHMMMM, Walmart, and there was a long line of mostly women stretching out of the store.  It was about 12:15 when I got there and she was supposed to appear, I assume to sign CDs, at 1:00.  The store P.A. system was blasting her songs.  It was a bit overwhelming.

So, the wasting away part is not targeted at her, because I'm sure she's a sweet girl.  It was my common feeling of being at Walmart period.

Explanation

The picture to the side that says me, October 11, is one that comes from the photographer who did pictures for the college's website.  A friend looked at it and said I looked 25.  I was suspicious about how good I looked in that picture (except for my wildly crooked teeth).  I asked--it was touched up.  Sorry.  I never looked that good, but like all women have enough vanity to wish I did.  He didn't make me look any thinner, though.

Mental Illness and Morality

I am often hurt, deeply hurt, when people with mental illness and mental or developmental disabilities are used as plot devices in movies and TV shows. The nature of those media precludes these folks being portrayed in all their complexity.  One of the most egregious "mistakes" is how those with mental illness, bipolar disorder especially, are portrayed as immoral people.  What do these people do, normally?  They steal credit cards, or use their own, and go on shopping sprees they can't pay for.  They demand sex 20 hours a day (Kaye Gibbons has a character doing that in one of her books).  They hurt and kill people.  Apparently, they have no moral center and no guilt after their breaking moral boundaries.

Yes, those who suffer from mental illness often do things that violate moral standards, but it is not because they have no morality in their own lives.  I live with someone with depression, and he has been told he has bipolar disorder (I think it's the lesser form, though.)  He is a very moral person.  He won't sell a motorcycle we have because he's afraid someone will be killed on it (and he felt this way before his nephew died on a motorcycle about five years ago).  He is discouraged about church, but we read the Bible and prayed every morning when our son was in middle school and high school.  He is scrupulously honest, and feels deeply for people.

Further, my brother is autistic, along with other developmental problems.  Autistic people do not all fit the "Rainman" pattern.  People with Asperger's are not just socially awkward and mean (Roger Ebert, shame on him, said that Mark Zuckerberg must have Asperger's, based on how he is portrayed in the movie about him.)  There are various levels of ASD, these folks have personalities, they can learn.  They do not just exist to teach us something about ourselves.  If nothing else, that belief shows how narcissistic we are.  

Another example is the movie A Beautiful Mind.  It is a good movie, and my husband so identified with it he was crying in the theater.  I, on the other hand, was watching it analytically, like a literary critic, so who's the person with the empathy problem here?  However, schizophrenics (include John Nash) do not "see" people, they hear voices, so the movie was inaccurate (also because apparently he was anti-semitic). 

I know mental illness is complex, but I resent the portrayal of these folks as plot foils who have no control over their behavior whatsoever and don't care who they hurt or if they hurt.  It's simply not so.  What is worse is that  because most people do not come into much contact with mental illness, they think the movie portrayals are true. 

I would appreciate comments here, as with all my posts.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Manifesto: Why I am a Conservative


Claiming to be a conservative makes you a target, in some ways.  By claiming that label you are vilified by some, and misunderstood by others who use the word to describe themselves.  In both cases, the person doesn’t understand the meaning of the word, really, not historically.  In some ways I could also call myself a liberal, and would of course be misunderstood.  People tend to confuse these words with ideological positions on certain issues today rather than what they really stand for.

By conservative, I mean I value the past and believe we should be slow to enact new policies just for the sake of change and so-called “progress.”  That doesn’t mean I want to go back to any time in the past.  I love history, but from a distant.  There is no ideal time before now that I would want to live in.  I’ve lived long enough to know that.  Were the ‘60s good, when I was growing up and understanding the world and everyone was questioning the status quo with abandon and without a solid world view?  The ‘70s, when Christians were getting lost in political causes?  The ‘80s, when we became so materialistic?  The ‘50s, when African Americans were finally making their voices heard and experiencing retaliation? 
Chesterton said that conservatism was the democracy of the dead.  Reagan once said, quoting someone else I think, that conservatism was the worship of dead liberal.  I like that.  The great minds of the past have something to say to us, and what they say is change, but do it slowly.  Respect the values that have gotten us here.  Dance with the one who brought you, so to speak. 

And some of those values are old.  I value the physical world God created—a value that goes back to Genesis.  I don’t value it and want us to clean up pollution and toxins because I worship mother earth or want people to diminish.  I do it because it’s God’s world, our children will have to live in it, and we have raped the world and poisoned it.   

I value absolute truth and clear right and wrong.  Morality is not as fuzzy and gray as people want to make it.

I value human beings, because we are all in the image of God.  Abortion makes absolutely no sense to me.  I experienced infertility and wanted more children, for one thing, but the concept of purposefully killing one’s child is, forgive the pun, inconceivable. 

I value people having freedom to believe, express, associate, gather, and print whatever they feel is right and for the good of the community.  That is not what is happening today with freedoms, but it should be.  True conservatism is not focused on the individual, but on the res publica, the community, because true conservatives know that we live with others and need each other, past, present, and future. 

I value our human bodies, so abuse with drugs, sex, food, is wrong.  Dualism is a scourge on our bodies and souls.  Obesity is a problem of this progressive age, not the past.  It comes from government fiddling with the food supply, making us eat more corn products, which we should not.  Government programs have done some good things—I would point to the G.I. bill as probably the best of them, since it rewarded men and women who were willing to give their lives for their country with a college education.   Some environmental policies have been useful.  But most of them have only made the problems worse, only given short-term good results with long-term bad unintended consequences.  I would point to ethanol (again with the corn) and cash for clunkers and Solyndra. 

True conservatives eschew conspicuous consumption, because most of it is debt-based anyway.  True conservatives are tight with their money; they don’t drink Starbucks, paying four dollars for a cup of coffee that costs five cents at home. 

I value our ability to make money by our own efforts, by making wise and sometimes sacrificial decisions about education, where we live, and what we want to do.  I do not believe the government owes me anything, but it is hard not to fall for that when we have to give the government so much of our money.  I have so many people in my family living on social security that I feel like I am supporting them!  I never got a dime of Pell Grant or student loans when I was an undergrad or graduate student (two masters programs).  (I did take one out for my doomed doctoral work, and regret it).    Too many people on the dole or social security, and I count some family members in this, mostly use the money to buy cigs and beer and play the lottery. 

I value civil debate, where raised voices do not count for arguments, where calumny, no matter how funny, does not count for logic.  I also value truth in a debate, not made up stuff that has no relevance, such as animals are “gay” or lots of other civilizations in history have had same-sex marriage.

I value that marriage has been, for all time, between a man and a woman, and with due respect to some fine human beings, they don't get to redefine thousands of years of civilization.
 
It’s hard for conservatives like me not to be scolds, because we see so much that flies in the face of true conservative values, even among those who also call themselves conservatives.   The tax code should be fair and just, and it shouldn’t make it possibility for ultra rich to avoid their responsibility for living in this country—neither should it let 50% of the population off the hook for taxes.  It should not penalize people who saved for their families.

The federal government should not tell us how to eat.  How’s that working out for everybody? 

There is an African-American man from New York who was running, I think, for Congress there, whose campaign slogan is “The rent is too damn high.”  I would say, “The federal government is too damn big, and intrusive, and nosy.  All our economic problems can be traced to the government trying to solve a problem we would be better off solving at the state or personal level.  We often hear, “You can’t legislate morality,” but the government tries to do it all the time.  I don’t count abortion in this, because it’s an equal protection issue.   The best government is limited government, and government as close to the people as possible.

Morning shows


On mornings when I am home, and when my husband is here, he inevitably turns on ESPN.  I hear the sonorous voice of Dan Patrick as I walk through the house, catch a glimpse of Dana Jacobsen and cannot keep from remarking on how fat and horsey she is, and then hear snatches of Skip Bayless whining about something.  If my husband is not here, my son turns them on.  This morning, I hear above all other sounds, even though I am int he back of the house, "I'm sick and tired of talking about Tony Romo."  This from Skip, who I am assured is really very knowledgeable about sports even though he looks as far from a jock as he can.

Me:  What is he going on about?  Gosh, these guys get on my nerves.

My husband:  The Skip Bayless show on ESPN in the morning is like the View, only with less testosterone. 

Me:  Don’t you mean estrogen?

Husband:  No, there’s more testosterone on the View than with these guys.

In all fairness, I detest the View as much as whatever the name of this show on ESPN is.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Truth

I am wondering if there is propositional truth (as in theology), factual truth (as in science), emotional truth (as in true statement of our inner workings of mind and heart), and narrative truth.

I have lived in a world of propositional truth, but I think the last two might have more power for people.  Especially narrative truth.  That is why I want to write stories.

Christian Thinkers

In the last two days, I have heard the expression "Christian thinkers" twice--well, I read it once, in Scot McKnight's book, in reference to Andy Crouch, and from Charles Colson, in reference to the people who work with him at Breakpoint.  Now, I would not want to counter anything these gentlemen say, especially Colson, who is one of my heroes, but what in the world is a "Christian thinker?"

Aren't we all supposed to be Christian thinkers?  what qualifies one as a Christian thinker?

I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard gives the scarecrow a diploma in "thinkology," so he will believe he has a brain. 

I know, I know, you get to be called a Christian thinker if you write books and porbably if you have a certain number of academic degreees.  Hey, I've done that, does that make me a Christian thinker?

We are all Christian thinkers if we are Christians and if we think.  Of course, not a lot of us do.  We feel, we act, we emote, we opionionate, but I'm not sure how much we truly think

It occurred to me the other day that we have freedom of belief in this country (not in the constitution, but the Supreme Court has defined it as such) and we have freedom of expression, but do we have freedom of "feeling?"  Often we preface our statements with "I feel."  I really wish we wouldn't do that. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

World's Worst Movie(s)

I am trying to make titles on these posts that will get attention.  That one probably should.

Now, I generally try to watch the best movies, not the worst.  But sometimes you end up watching a stinker so bad you just have to write about it.  I don't have a "bottom ten," just a few.  Now, it has to be understood that a movie is a worst movie if it was supposed to be a serious one.  Not some trash a film student made, but something played in theaters and advertised to the public.  A feature film we are supposed to pay money to see!

Plan Nine from Outer Space sinks to the bottom.  It is wonderfully bad, everything about it, that Hollywood made a movie about how bad it was.  Ed Wood shows the director as so sincere and misguided; that is my favorite Johnny Depp performance.

Johnny Guitar.  This was on TCM last night, but I couldn't bear to watch it; I had done so before, and once is more than enough.  There is no way to describe this movie.  Mercedes McCambridge is, for no other word, a dike (sorry) wearing black and bossing men around, and Joan Crawford wears a white dress and pretends to play the piano.  The accents are awful, and all over the place.  An actor starts a line with a Southern accent and ends it with an Irish.  And Ernest Borgnine is in it--a cowboy with a Bronx accent!  (He's usually very good, but this choice was insane).  Sterling Hayden looks like he wants to laugh--or go to sleep--throughout the whole thing.   In one scene, he and Joan Crawford are supposed to be in a carriage and the scenery passing behind them is washed out, like it was superimposed on a much older movie.  The odd thing is that it was directed by Nicholas Ray, who did one of my favorite movies, In a Lonely Place.

Can anyone add to this list?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Late Night

Since I was off for five days straight, I was able to hunker down and finish the second draft of my fourth novel, Abundance Coming.  It's 66,000 words now; I need to insert three more scenes that I believe will balance it all out.  My goal is 75,000, but only if they are good words.  I think this book, which has no religious themes in it, will be popular.

However, if you want to read some of my other fiction, go to Amazon or any of the online booksellers and put B Barbara G. Tucker in the search engine. 

Novel Non-Recommendation

I picked up a novel at the public library and read it the last few days.  I couldn't put it down, mainly because it was trashy and cliche-ridden but had a lot of action and short chapters.  It was Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace.  The lady knows the White House, so that part was interesting.  The concept of the first woman president, and what she would be like, was interesting, too. (In this case, she's Republican).  But she could have used a better editor.  Phrases like "she melted into his embrace" and "she loved him with every fiber of her being" seem amateurish.  Actually, I wasn't innocent of cliches in my first novel, but mine wasn't published by a big house.  So I can't recommend it for its great writing or literary value, but I can as a beach read or a plane-trip read or a "put yourself to sleep at night" read.

People Before ....... ?

When I was younger a saying that "changed my life" was "There are only two things in this world that are eternal.  The Word of God, and people."

That has led me for many years.  We can all get bogged down in work, in blogging, in hobbies, in keeping up the house.  My garden, for all the work I put into it, is now a mess.  I wanted to work in it today but it's raining hard (which is ok, we need rain).  I wish I had back the time I spent in hobbies.  I like to think this blog is a ministry, but sometimes it's just an exercise in vanity.  No, the two things that I'll be able to know mattered in eternity is how much I taught (myself and others) the Word, how much I lived it, and how much I touched other people's lives.

Not that the second part of that equation is easy for me.  I am incredibly task-oriented, and a little introverted.  I am very frugal about my discretionary time.  I have learned that I must schedule my people time, not to keep me from giving too much of it but to keep me from not giving enough.  I am the Martha of the bunch; I would rather my guests, or students, or committee members, have their needs met than be there partying with them, and unfortunately would rather be "accomplishing" something than sitting and listening to the Lord.

On top of that, as an academic, I, like my colleagues, like to think we are on a search for truth (we obviously suffer from delusions of grandeur), and that search may come before time with people.  And on top of that, as a fiction writer, I run the risk of people being fodder for characters in a future novel.  I do put my friends in my novels--I just hope they don't notice!  Finally, as a Christian, I wonder about those times when a person's feelings, or my relationship to them, collides with a principal of truth.  It happens.

So when I see signs that say "People above profits," I am sympathetic.  People should come before money.  However, for me, the question is "people before principles."  Where do we draw the line between relationship and rightness, and righteousness?  For some people, that is not even a question; for some of us, it is a main question.

Protesters and Protesters

As I alluded to in the post about Occupy Wall Street (where I tried to be fair, really, I did), I think there are two kinds of protesters.  One just raises hell for themselves; they want things better for their own little group.  The other raises hell for others; the protesters may or may not benefit from their activism, but their sights are set on achieving change for others  or for the long term.

Now, I'll let you figure out which movement belongs in which category.  But trying to achieve change for others does not preclude one from receiving some benefits from the change itself.  People who protest for the sake of their children and what their lives will be like fall into the second category.  Black people protesting in the '60s fit into the second.  People who protest for pro-life aren't going to benefit themselves from changes to abortion laws, so they fit in the second.

But this is just me.  Conservative that I am, I still appreciate people who put themselves out there to derision for standing up for a cause they truly believe in, but diffuse and disorganized mobs get us nowhere. 

Better Wisdom from Bonhoeffer

Yesterday I quoted Woody Allen, for laughs.  Now I'll quote someone with real wisdom, who achieved immortality by dying.  This quote is from Life Together, p. 110-111.

"The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.  The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says:  You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you.  He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. "My son, give me thine heart" (Prov. 23:26).  God has come to you to save the sinner.  Be glad!  This message is liberation through truth.  You can hide nothing from God.  The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.  He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you.  You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner.  Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates the sin. 

Christ became our Brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in him.  In him the love of God came to the sinner.  Through him men could be sinners and only so could they be helped.  All shame was ended in the presence of Christ.  The misery of the sinner and the mercy of God--this was the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ.  It was in this truth that his Church was to live.  Therefore, he gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in his name.  John 20:23.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Woody Allen Wisdom

I am always conflicted about Woody Allen.  He has made some truly great movies (and some stinkers) but he is a pervert and ungodly.  My Franky Planner had this as the quote of the day yesterday.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work.  I want to achieve it through not dying.

That gave me a good laugh, but it's sad, too.  He knows he is going to die.  And even though he claims to be an atheist, that doesn't mean he is emotionally ready to believe that death is the end.  Humor is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't change the facts. 

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Distraction

We say we are too busy.  That is the mantra of our lives.  What we are is distracted.  Why don't we just admit it and quit fooling ourselves, quit massaging our egos and excusing ourselves with the excuse we are too busy to do what matters? 

Occupy Wall Street


Like many, I have been watching, with bemusement, the protesters known as, or for, “Occupy Wall Street.”  A student of mine asked me the other day if going to it would earn her some extra credit points.  She said she wanted to take her children.  I just smiled and said yes, figuring that it was as reasonable to give her points for ending a social activist meeting as it would be to give extra points for attending a workshop on test-taking.   

I have read some reports in the paper and watched some on TV, but those sources don’t seem to go into much depth, perhaps because there isn’t much depth there.  The news reports focus on what they do, not what they want, perhaps because that isn’t clear.  If you Google (can a verb be capitalized?) “occupy Wall Street demands” you get this link http://occupywallst.org/forum/proposed-list-of-demands-for-occupy-wall-st-moveme/ , but it says it is not the official list of demands and that there is no official list of demands.  That is probably a good idea, because if this is what the persons want, they are even more deluded than we are being led to believe. 

Below I respond to what I know about this movement, without any reference to the “tea party” comparisons, which seem irrelevant, really.
  1.  I respect anyone who exercises his/her freedom of speech.  Rights are designed to be used.  No reason to have rights that our military personnel have died for and not utilize them to better the country.
  2. I understand the frustration of the young people.  I have a recent college graduate living in my home who has had quite a time finding a job—it’s still touch and go as all he has is a part-time job and a couple of leads after close to five months.   Many of them have crushing debt from college and believed that pursuing a degree would settle their futures, career-wise.
  3. I appreciate the arguments of some against the way capitalism as we practice it degrades the environment with an ever-increasing desire for more and more.  I applaud those who truly want to make materialism less a part of our lives.  Any Christian would share the same.
  4. I agree with their belief—or contention, at least—that the rich and big corporations probably have more political power than they should.  But whose fault is that?  Is it not the result of years of big government, which the protesters also want?
  5. I don't want to denigrate fellow Americans as "far left loons."  So I wouldn't call them names like that.  They do seem ideologically confused.  
  6. These folks seem to be anti-capitalism.  That is unfortunate, because it's had to tell what the alternative would be.  But it seems like you can look at capitalism two ways.  It's the innovative creation of wealth by providing and marketing products and services that people want, or it's creating more and more stuff that abuses and wastes our resources and only leaves people wanting more and unsatisfied.  I'll go with the first.  NPR had a great interview with the entrepreneur behind Terracycle www.terracycle.net/    This young man is using capitalism to help the planet. 
However,
  1.  I deny the right to protest to those who use violence and destruction, including destruction of the public health by urinating in public, and by wasting the taxpayers’ money by tying up the streets and police and cleanup personnel. 
  2. I am mystified by their message, or lack thereof.  What are they for?  Against?  One demand has to do with free college education.  Are you kidding me?  Are these the same young people (and granted, not all are young) who wanted to go to Ivies and second-tier colleges and universities with $40,000 a year tuition so that they could have the elitist reputation and enjoy the perks?  Why don’t they come to Dalton State College?   Or Local Community College?  I am proud of my college, and we charge next to nothing, literally.  You can get a four-year degree for less than $10,000, not counting books and expenses.
Another demand is total loan forgiveness—all debts.  And they claim it will create more jobs, so many that an open-border policy will be needed to fill the jobs.  What planet are they living on?  Don’t they know that people not paying their debts is what got us into this mess in the first place?

  1. I laugh at their slackerhood.  I just made that word up.  They like to smoke pot, that is clear.  They don’t have jobs, most of them, or they’d be at them.  
  2. I despise their sense of entitlement.  There are jobs out there.  Why are we too good to pick crops, if it means not living on the dole?  I can say without hesitation that I worked at whatever job I had to to get through school, and I’ve done a lot to keep a roof over my head and pay the bills.  I cleaned toilets in college, sometimes, and waited tables.  I have two graduate degrees and worked at four part-time jobs during one part of my life. 
  3. Finally, I really don’t take them seriously.  People who protest only for themselves aren’t really protesters.  These people are misguided, maybe sincere, maybe wasting time, but many are just concerned about number one, as is probably true of some Tea Party-ites. 

Incarnation


In becoming human, Jesus took the biggest risk.  To be misunderstood.  To be transcendent is to be above reproach.  Jesus took on reproach.  He took on the ability to be accused of something. 

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...