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Archive for June, 2011

The Silmarillion

I recently started to listen to The Silmarillion on CD, Tolkien’s posthumously published mythic work which gives the origins of Middle-Earth. The following quote gave me chills in realizing that my painful sins, the adversaries’ means in my trials, and even death are all a part of accomplishing His purpose. Ponder this:

…thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. 

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Parenthood

I saw a shirt that I hope my kids don’t buy for me someday. It was black and had white writing and read, “Worst Father Ever.”

Speaking of parenthood, I read this post several weeks ago. It almost made my Diet Coke go through my nose as I laughed and saw myself in it. It also gave me some encouragement as a father in need of God’s grace.

Kevin DeYoung writes:

 

Does it seem like parenting has gotten more complicated? I mean, as far as I can tell, back in the day parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no wait, their tummies; no never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.

It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Kids can’t even eat sugar anymore. My parents were solid as a rock but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. Read on…

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I am in the midst of seminary in order to apply for chaplain candidacy in the National Guard. Reading Doris Bergen’s The Sword of the Lord is a fascinating adventure into the sometimes incongruous world of military chaplains. From the Latin root capellanus, the chaplain’s name originally stems from being designated the relic-carrier of St. Martin’s cape in battle. From deliverers of sacraments in medieval times to the modern counselor in our pluralistic age, chaplains have taken on various roles in the last 1500 years. One thing is sure: the prime mission for the chaplain comes down to interaction with men and women who are facing some of life’s hardest challenges–forsaken and desolate outposts away from family and facing hostility in combat and possibly death.

As an enlisted man going on two years now, I’ve come to understand that the most difficult toll as a father and husband is not being there (and I can’t speak with great authority as I’ve been separated only for stateside training stints none of which totaled more than eight months). Still, I understand the difficulty of limited communication when life back home goes on. Divorce, bankruptcy, earaches, betrayal, flooding, the death of the grandpa who raised the soldier–amidst all of the struggles these things back home still go on.

I learned more about God in those eight months than I believe I learned in the previous five years prior–His goodness and grace is indeed more than enough. I have an idea of what kind of chaplain I’d like to be, one whose “ministry of presence” goes where men go, sacrifices in the same ways, eats the same rations, lives the same life. You may have heard the story of the “immortal chaplains.” I had not prior to Bergen’s work. They exemplify the servant leadership of all that a chaplain might aspire to be.

It was their “great getttin’ up morning” when they could shine as heroes. Methodist minister George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling, and Roman Catholic priest John P. Washington were all relatively new chaplains and held the rank of lieutenant. They had met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard, and were sailing on the US Army Transport Ship, the Dorchester on February 3, 1943. Captain Danielsen had warned the men that Coast Guard radar had detected U-boat activity and ordered the men to sleep in their clothing with their life jackets on–due to this discomfort and the ship’s heat, many men had ignored the order. Our chaplains most likely followed it.

I would guess that George, Alexander, Clark, and John were asleep at 12:55 a.m. when the German torpedo from U-boat U-223 ripped through the Dorchester–it was a perfect hit which would cost the maximum number of lives. Why? It was in the early hours of the morning, and there was inadequate steam to sound the full 6-whistle signal to abandon ship. In twenty minutes time, the entire ship which had lost all boiler power would sink by the bow. Not one signal. Not one flare. Not even enough power to radio for help. 904 souls were aboard the ship, and the options were not good. Even if one had a life jacket, minutes in the nearly ice-cold water of 34 degrees left one unable to even grasp at a line thrown as hypothermia set in.

The ship was dark as electricity was knocked out, trapped men screamed below the decks, the wounded needed treatment, and death was imminent. Each man knew for a fact that the surface of the dark waves would soon be yards above his head and a watery, pitch-black suffocation impatiently beckoned. Thank God our chaplains had followed orders and worn their life jackets! As lieutenants, our chaplains’ arms and legs worked frantically to get as many men as possible into lifeboats and to cull some sense of order into chaos as life jackets were passed out until the makeshift, scrambling line that stretched realized a new horror: there were only four life jackets left. Dozens and dozens of men still in line. Maybe it was George who mentally counted, four Jump!, three Jump!, two Jump!, one Jump! And then maybe a young enlisted sailor from Kansas had his eyes meet George’s, twenty years old maybe, a fiancee back home, and there was no life jacket for him. Imagine the breath caught quick as George looked at him, shook his head, and pursed his lips.

Based on the eventual statistics, the chaplains who all had their life jackets on had a 25% chance of survival as 230 would find rescue. And then they made a decision to give themselves no chance so that other men might find theirs. George, Alexander, Clark, and John each took their arms, raised them above their heads, and pulled that life jacket off in order to hand it to another man. See the line was still there so that they could count four more. Didn’t matter who it was, probably didn’t try to find a friend or acquaintance, the first enlisted man nearby would do.

Grady Clark, who survived, says that he swam–imagine him feeling his arms slowing down as they went numb. He looked back and by providence, the flares finally lit up the night sky. He saw them. “The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.” Other survivors tell Ishmael-like of floating and being the witness now to tell us the story of the chaplains who stood arm-in-arm and singing. I would like to imagine the floating men, some of whom would survive, hearing the words to “Though I May Speak”:

Though I may speak with bravest fire and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain; as sounding brass, and hopeless gain. Though I may give all I possess, and striving so my love profess, but not be given by love within, the profit soon turns strangely thin. Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed; by this we worship and are freed.

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Sliming Herb Tea

[Disclaimer: Do not read before breakfast, lunch, or dinner.]

So at the Vietnamese market, I found something called “Sliming Herb Tea,” which given the slim silhouette of a woman among poppy fields (?) leads me to believe that it’s supposed to be “slimming.” If you have ever lived abroad, you may have seen these “Englishisms” (I’m sure there’s a better term). I’m talking not just about seeing “Cavlin Klein” hats but translations like “Dentist: Toothy Doctor” underneath the Chinese characters. So, the “sliming” tea says on the back “German Herb (Thai) & Co.,” which leads me to believe this is produced on the cheap in Thailand but overseen by some big beefy guys named Klaus and Friedrich. So Klaus and Friedrich probably get the idea to pack every henna, ginger, spice, and herb with names like ragweed, and spindlewax, and hurtsobad, into a tea. And then the store owner slaps an advertisement above the shelf: “For those who wish to overeat and lose weight.” Well, that’s me, and I’m not sure as I pick up the box and walk to the front of the story why I seemingly have learned nothing in my life: the pyramid scheme of sending a $1 to everyone in the mail, the Shamwow, the SuperChop, all of those things that I thought would revolutionize life the easy way.

Fast forward to 3:45 on a late afternoon after having the tea. If you have a weak imagination, grab a bit of tree bark and dip it in water, stir it with your toe, and wait three weeks–same taste. Only there’s one problem, I am out mowing, and my stomach is literally on fire. Now, I’m talking about the Dumb and Dumber laxative scene times ten with near panicky tears as the mower is left dying as I climb the stairs. I will spare you the details except that I learned three things: they really probably did mean “sliming,” Klaus and Friedrich are probably sipping Bailey’s Irish Cream in Chiang Mai with big fat contented stomachs, and some moron in the Midwest is hurrying to a bathroom and wondering how in this deal he got the short end of the stick.

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I forget which writer was being described by a critic, but s/he used the term “the perfect fit of metaphor,” which I like quite a bit. My suspicion is that the object of the compliment was G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis, but today I thought I’d share one from I.K. Taylor– that’s my daughter. Now, I’m not one of those annoying parents who thinks that everything that my daughter writes is wonderful, and I’m already guilty of posting a violin piece being played on the blog this week. So here’s my rule…I won’t become like the parents who brought their 5 and 7 year-old kids to my Long Island college’s rendition of Brecht’s Antigone and then left thinking the kids were somehow three times smarter. (Kids looked bored and I still think I heard one whisper, I’m a little dumber for that experience). So, before gushing about my kid’s interesting metaphor, I’ll publicly put her down for every subsequent compliment in a 3:1 ratio. Well, not really, but at any rate…

Last night the clock had struck 10:36 (yes, that’s a healthy and normal bedtime as we prefer being on California time here in Sioux City, thank you very much). It was after my son had just informed me that he did not need to flush because “it hadn’t changed colors and he had only gone a few inches,” which leads me to believe the bottle of Powerade before bedtime’s probably not a good idea. And then my seven-year-old daughter looks up from the bed and says, “You know that Satan’s blanket is hard?” I looked sideways with the creeped-out stare that wonders a) how my daughter knows this and b) if I’m trapped in the never-produced sequel of The Shining.

And then she explains: I think his blanket would be full of jewels and so it would look really nice and beautiful but be really hard, but Jesus’ blanket would be really plain but soft and really cozy, like made out of grass and wool.

Sigh. Why is it sometimes that amidst all of our language and learning, our children can humble us by saying it best? Here it is. The deceitful allure of something shiny, bedazzling, disguised as the wonder blanket which leads to pain and discomfort. And then there’s the plain, ol’ dirt and cream colored thing left like the forgotten play bear of yesteryear’s nursery, the reality of something warm, familiar, and of true comfort. And that’s what she was getting at, the life provided by one of two fathers, described in a perfect fit of metaphor.

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If you read below about the “wanderlust” of escaping into the forest and how it’s healthy to laugh at one’s past foibles, consider the following from Justin Taylor’s “The Gospel Coalition” blog. My wiser brother gave another take and that is the substitution of fulfillment with something other than God. From my ruminations to Justin’s blog citing Ray Ortlund, quoting C.S. Lewis, we have struck the heart of the matter–there is a God-shaped vacuum which can be filled only by God alone (see Pascal’s Pensees). Watching Chariots of Fire the other night was an excellent reminder of this searching, especially when Harold Abrahams takes the ultimate prize he so fought for through training and many years. After winning, his teammates seem to imply that life will be lesser now and almost commiserate about his plight. Sure enough, the next scene shows an emptying bar with Abrahams and his trainer reminiscing in front a few people who already seem not to know what’s happened, the pathetic cliche of the high school quarterback at 50 years old who nobody wants to hear recite the glory game yet again.

Caveat: let’s not fall into the other ditch of NOT seeking goodness in nature, food, art, and music lest we think ourselves the derision of that scallywag journalist H.L. Mencken who claimed Puritanism is the “haunting fear that someone somewhere is having fun.” No, rather we glorify God in recognizing that all our earthly joys are from him and to him! Here’s the quote about attempting to find another goodness or excitement apart from God:

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God, some other country into which he forbids us to trespass, some kind of delight which he ‘doesn’t appreciate’ or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as he can, or else a false picture of what he is trying to give us, a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . . He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts. He is longing to give it to us. . . .

The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. . . . You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

—C. S. Lewis, They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), ed. Walter Hooper (New York, 1979), p. 465. Italics original.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for teaching this good lesson today, Isabella!

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