Friday, December 19, 2014

Boxing Day (Recycled Post)

Link Here to Bloghop at DL Hammons

[I originally posted this during the A to Z Challenge in April 2013, but recently it has been getting some hits, so because people seem to be interested, here is a timely review of Boxing Day.]

December 26 is a national holiday known as Boxing Day in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada. Many people do not really understand the historical meaning of this holiday (kind-of like Christmas and Easter!), believing it to have arisen from the need to empty the house of empty gift boxes the day after Christmas. Rather, from what I can tell, December 25th was traditionally the date upon which people exchanged gifts with their equals – family and friends; while the 26th was a day for alms – when people gave gifts to those subservient to them, such as employees, servants, and the poor.

Honestly, I think Boxing Day has a more applicable meaning than our current translation of Christmas Day to the true spirit of Christmas. Christmas honors the historic moment when God became incarnate in human flesh, as the epitomic act of unearned favor, to live and die a human life in order to offer humanity true compassion and the gift of reconciliation with Him. As it plays out, though, Christmas is more often a time of exhaustion, overspending, and ungratefulness. (Don’t get me wrong – I actually really love the Christmas season!)

Wouldn’t it be better to honor God’s greatest gift…one which could not possibly ever be reciprocated…by giving with no strings attached to those less fortunate, as is the traditional habit on Boxing Day?

But then again…

During Easter I had a chance to partake of Communion. As I sat there holding my cup and cracker, I thought of how many people now and throughout the last two millennia have participated in this sacrament. I felt like God was saying to me, “Melody, you are a part of this. You’re included.” And really, isn’t that the whole point?

What did Jesus do for us? He changed our status. No longer do we receive our gifts on Boxing Day…no longer are we just the poor beggars down the street, mostly forgotten, but for this one time of the year…but we have been brought into the “in” group that exchanges its gifts on Christmas Day. Through Christ we have all been made equals. As Christ’s, we understand that each person is precious to Him, and all are invited to the same table of celebration.

I want to begin to recognize Boxing Day as an annual tradition, by volunteering in some service to my fellow humans. But more than that, I want to live each day in the attitude of Christmas – loving my neighbors as myself and, more importantly, as Christ.

“…For whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned], you did for Me” (--Jesus, in Matthew 25:40, NIV).
(When I went to save this picture to my files [found via Google images], I was going to call it simply “poor hands” but found it was already called “giving hands”. I think I like that better – giving hands, though often dirty, are beautiful, don’t you think?)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reading Through 2014; and Some Comments on Consolmagno's "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?"

After completing my graduate degree coursework in September 2013, I decided to use 2014 to catch up on my reading for fun (instead of primarily for assignments)!! One of my year-long goals was to read at least one book per two weeks. I am now in the midst of my twenty-sixth, so...CHECKMATE! ;) I even caught up on a few classics I'd never had time for. Overall, I'm very satisfied with my year of reading.

Here are the books I read this year:

1) The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson
2) A Better Atonement by Tony Jones
3) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
4) The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
5) Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories
6) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
7) Wicked by Gregory Maguire
8) Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
9) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
10) Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
11) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
12) Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
13) Southern Living: Easy Gardening (Spring 2010)
14) Russian Fairy Tales
15) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16) Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
17) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
18) World Systems Analysis (Okay...this one was for a class....) by Immanuel Wallerstein
19) Democracy and Social Ethics by Jane Addams
20) Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend
21) Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris
22) Hollow City (Miss Peregrine 2) by Ransom Riggs
23) The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Pat Rothfuss
24) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
25) Outlander... Diana Gabaldon
And the one I am reading now: 26) Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller

I linked to the ones I blogged about while reading - relatively few! I actually blogged twice, though, about both Anna Karenina and Mission at Nuremberg. I think Mission at Nuremberg was my favorite of all. The Miss Peregrine books were really cool, because they were inspired and illustrated by old black-and-white photos found at thrift shops. What a great writing prompt, eh?!

The one I'm reading right now is pretty great, too. Written by an American research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, it examines various questions by lay Christians regarding the intricacies of the relationship between faith and science.

Right now I am on page 56 of 286. The authors have been having a discussion about religious fundamentalists who insist on a literal interpretation of Scripture...and also scientific fundamentalists who also insist on a literal interpretation of Scripture, and dismiss it altogether based on its incongruity with scientific discoveries.
"After all, what is a 'fundamentalist' but someone who has a flattened, one-dimensional view of the subject, and who thinks that if his view of the universe is true, then necessarily all other views must be false? When you think that the 'fundamentals' are all that's important, or that knowing the 'fundamentals' is enough by itself, it's like seeing only the dots of paint in Seurat's [pointillistic] painting [Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte]." --Consolmagno
"And, what is worse, it leads you to try to use the 'fundamentals' of one topic to solve te issues of a different topic. You're using the wrong tools to try to answer questions they were never designed for. It's misguided to ask whether the Big Bang theory would provide evidence for or against a scriptural story of Creation; the Big Bank Theory is a scientific theory, concerned with physical causes that are proximate and contingent. And it's wrong to ask whether a scriptural story of Creation would provide evidence for or against the Big Bang theory; scriptural stories of Creation are concerned with ultimate origins and with humanity's personal relationship with God. Those are the wrong questions for the tools at hand." --Mueller

(The authors then begin a discussion of what are the right questions.) They have already talked about the progressive development of discovery, both in science and theology, and point out the necessity of living in tension knowing all things have not yet been discovered, and so Christians must have faith in the ultimate unity of truth. (I'm sure you've heard the saying "all truth is God's truth." This idea expresses the same sentiment.)

This semester in my Macroeconomics class I learned the fallacy of composition, which states that it is a fallacy to assume that something is true of the whole just because it is true of one or some of the individual parts. In other words, because an economist understands the microeconomics of a situation, he or she does not necessarily understand the macroeconomic picture. For instance, the real estate market in Iowa does not necessarily reflect the state of property values or trade in the nation as a whole.

Just so, scientific discoveries can enlighten how we interpret Scripture, just as scriptural understanding can help us interpret scientific data to discover things about the God whom we believe created the universe. Advances in neither, however, cancel out the validity of the other discipline as a whole. If there are differences, we must hold our rationality and faith in tension and believe that ultimately, each will be fully revealed in such a way that neither conflicts with the other.

I trust in the ultimate unity of truth.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Advent Lesson on Loving the Not-Particularly-Lovable

There comes a limit to my compassion, my understanding, my love. Especially when it seems someone kicks and screams against it...or misuses or takes advantage of it.

In my entire life there have been MAYBE 10-12 people with whom I have particularly not meshed...people toward whom, for some reason or other, I found it difficult to live out the love of Christ. Or even just my own love. I'm a pretty loving person, after all...generally speaking.

But yeah, there have been times when, though I didn't not love someone, I chose to be selfish rather than giving...perhaps the person needed me and I chose to be lazy or self-serving rather than go the extra mile to do something for them. I have a couple of regrets in this area, in fact. But I'm talking about the people against whom I would rather take revenge. Someone from whom I would like to withhold love, in order to punish them, or at least in order to just "be done" with them in order to protect myself from more anger and/or hurt.

This Advent I am faced with a choice on how to act toward one such person.

My prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the love You have shown me, and continue to show me, even when I don't particularly warrant it. Thank You for Your patience, and Your example of Self-abasing love. In this season, please help me to be conscious of every person as a soul that is precious to You - and especially help me to regard this person with whom I am in conflict as someone YOU love. Help me, when my love and patience and goodwill grow thin or even completely run out, to love this person with Your love. Thank You for trusting me with this opportunity to grow.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7QT - Creepy (and not-so-creepy) Thrift Store Finds, Advent Reflections, and Endings

I have not done 7QT in so long...but I have been collecting snapshots for a little Take I've been planning on CREEPY THRIFT STORE FINDS:

Hunchback Santa or South Park Santa?

Take your pick here....

I thought the PeeWee Herman costume was the creepy thing
about this photo, but now that I see the ceiling, I think I was mistaken.

There is absolutely NO CHANCE this doll will come to life and
kill you in your sleep if you take it home. Money-back guarantee.

Glowing, smiling rabbits in a rusted-out amusement park ride cage.
The thrift shop people really are trying to give the children nightmares.
Speaking of thrift store finds (but non-creepy ones this time), I learned a little more about my icon egg.

I discovered (from the Cross on the back of the egg) that it is Russian Orthodox in origin, and through a little more digging found that it is Our Lady of Kazan, or Holy Protectress of Russia. One Internet source said it was a tradition for mothers to present this icon to their daughters when they became brides, as a Protectress for the new couple's home. It made me like it even more that I acquired it :).
I posted on Facebook a couple of months ago:
I realized it was about this time last year that I was struggling SO MUCH, and no one knew. I was trying to pay my bills and live, but I had been paying rent, car insurance, a ridiculous buy-here-pay-here car payment, phone, and utilities, and living on ramen lol, all on a barely-more-than-minimum wage. I had applied for jobs ALL SUMMER. Finally got hired about mid-July to be a s...ubstitute teacher, but because of training and the slow moving process of getting hired to work for a school district, the job didn't actually start until well into September. By then it was too late. I was 4 weeks late on my car payment, and they came and took the car. My phone was shut off, my electricity was shut off, and I consequently ended up losing the second job, all within a two-week period!! Things are so much better now. Thankful that though the hard times definitely come, they also go. So grateful for those easier seasons, and for a good friend or two who come along to help you through the rough ones!!
Along those lines...lately I have taken a step in the right direction to get back on track toward my future career goals (teaching), and gotten another position as a substitute teacher for a school district nearby. I am loving it. On my way out of one of the schools last week I saw this bell in the schoolyard:

It reminded me of another bell that used to sit on a base across the street from where I lived from ages 12 to 14 or 15 near Sycamore, Ohio. It marked an old cemetery, mostly from the late 1800s, and I think it was a remainder from a church that had once stood there. But we, being very respectful and awed by historical artifacts like kids often are, would crouch behind the septic tank in our front yard and aim our bb guns at the bell. (I was a pretty good shot for a girl and all ;).)
Speaking of Advent...
No, that is what we should be speaking of, isn't it?!
Okay. We will, then.
This poem by Luci Shaw was posted on Modern Mrs. Darcy this last Sunday, and it really struck a chord in me:
It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to, later, 
were those soft, inward 
and the remembered surprise
of a brief encounter – spirit
with flesh.
Who would think it
more than a dream wish?
An implausible, laughable 
And it may seem much
too much to ask me
to be part of the 
risky thing – 
God’s shocking, unconventional,
unheard-of Thing
- to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory. 

Much as I hate to admit it, I know precious little about Advent. Oh, but I know all kinds of stuff about God. And despite all that deep, theological stuff I know, sometimes I still have the audacity to wonder if He's really even real.

So this season, despite how little I know about liturgy and Advent, I decided to do a little bit of intentional observation. I tune into an online Lectio Divina practice on Wednesday nights when I can (called Thin Places, by Extravagance UCC). I read Advent-themed blog posts. I am even reading through a daily devotional (of course, I miss about as many days as I hit on this). I'm even keeping a brief little journal of my reflections each day this season.

And this poem.... " ask me to be a part". To ask me to believe and risk ridicule and head wagging because I as a reasonable individual dare believe and stake my hope on an archaic fairy tale....

I seem to be learning a lot from Mary this Advent. From imagining the Nativity and her actions during the story, both told and what possibly went on that wasn't written word for word, to pondering on this poem and the things people must have thought and said about her, being pregnant and not married...and if she dared to tell anyone that she was a virgin. But she did it. She allowed God to use her in the most important of His acts toward humanity - giving us His Son. She faithfully obeyed. Maybe I can faithfully remain.
Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon I finished my last final for the semester! It was actually a 5-7 page essay for the class "History of the American South." Here was the essay question: "A variety of historians and other scholars have stressed the importance of the invention of the cotton gin, the Civil War, political reformers (Populists, Progressives, New Dealers), the invention of the air conditioner, and World War II to the history of the American South. Explain the importance of each of these items in terms of its impact on the South (economically, socially, culturally, politically, etc.). Rank them 1 through 5 and explain your choices." Whew! I really did like the class, but gosh, I'm glad it's over!
On Monday I had my World History 2 final. That professor did his exams in essay form, too, but the essays were shorter, and you didn't know what he was going to ask until you showed up (the American South was a one-week take-home paper). I didn't know half of what he asked about, so I filled in and wrote essays about other stuff we studied during the last half of the semester, hoping maybe he would give me some credit for learning, even though I apparently didn't learn the right stuff. We'll see.... :/
 So, in celebration of finishing the semester we went to dinner at the Whole Hog CafĂ© (inexpensive, good bbq), and then to the cheap movie theater to see Nightcrawler...which was good, but quite strange. And tonight we plan to finally put up the Christmas tree! I've been picking up a few Christmas ornaments here and there as I thrift shop. I'm happy with my little collection of classy, country-style decorations. They make me happy. :)
Jennifer, I must admit I was sad to see you relinquish the Quick Takes, but understand. You have so much on your plate. And really, this isn't good-bye, my invisible little Internet friend. I'll still follow your non-Quick Takes-hosting posts and continue to be inspired by the spectacularness of your life's mundanity :). Thank you for sharing it with us! And thank you for introducing us (or at least me) to Kelly! I believe this is the beginning of another beautiful virtual (imaginary? O.o) friendship!!
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Spell of Shattered Sight

I am a Once Upon a Time fan - it is one of the handful of television shows I keep up with on Hulu. It often makes me think theologically. In the most recent episode [season 4, episode 9], for instance, Ingrid casts the spell of shattered sight on Anna; the purpose of the spell has always been to distort people's perceptions of what they see. Theologically, it makes me second-guess myself. The literal rendering of the Bible passages that speak of God allowing people to "believe a lie and be damned" or "turning them over to a reprobate mind" has always caused me fear - would God actually allow me to be deceived because I dared think outside the box of legalistic religion?

I don't think so. But I still have a few remnants of that insecurity.

And then on the road searching for Emma, Mary Margaret and Regina have a conversation about whoever wrote the book in which their lives have been chronicled. Regina is convinced that the author decided Mary Margaret was a hero and she, Regina, was a villain, and irredeemably so. "Free will be damned," she says.

I have ruminated on free will know, as far as salvation and predestination and Calvinistic blah blah blah and all that. But I've never considered it in terms of the total outcome of "the story". Does free will have ultimate implications? Has God already decided, or foreseen, or whatever theological term you want to throw out there, how it all ends, and written the end of the book as destruction and punishment and cleansing...or is the book written in a choose-your-own-ending style? Maybe there is hope of redemption and reward and...and healing rather than purging. I don't know. Maybe it's time I delved back into the literature on free will and see if anyone has addressed this and how.

The episode also brings out the meaning of the song, Let It Go. Ingrid freezes Anna and Kristoff in the castle after declaring, "Sooner or later, everyone sees me as a monster. Maybe it's time to embrace it and be one." DUN-Dun-dun. The thing is...Ingrid had some choice all along. She let a few wrong people's wrong perceptions of her form her own expectations of all the people around her. She thought because a few misguided individuals saw her as a monster, so would everyone eventually. Perhaps it was even exacerbated because that is how she viewed herself. Classic case of psychological projection.

Allowing others' views of us to form our own self-perception is harmful. It's not a bad idea to take in feedback from others...but others can be very wrong. Every person is biased by their own worldview. I am in charge of who I want to be. I have to follow what I believe in - what I know in my heart I can live with.

The thrust of this episode is radical self-acceptance...and hope...and waiting patiently for a happy ending. I loved it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

7QT - Thrift Shop Icon Eggs and Solitaire-y Ne'er-Do-Wells.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading the two-book series of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. (I took a break this past week because I needed to focus on midterms.) But the books were inspired by old photographs found in bins at thrift stores and flea've probably seen them. I thought it was a great idea!! So today I went to a thrift store and finally found some here in town (I found some in the town I previously lived in, too, but these are the first I've come across here.) I found a few gems. I'll show you below!

This is the one I found the most striking.
I also found the following two intriguing.

What are they hiding behind their backs...?
And this one here?? Yeah. It looks all normal and everything....

But turn it around, and...
..."sort of a druggist" [druggist?]. Hmm.
The thrift store I went to was a new one to me, and I thought it was kind-of cool. They also had figurines of this Nigerian Santa:

And this obviously Pentecostal angel:
And this. I thought this was really cool and bought it. It is a wooden egg about the size of my hand. Are icons on wooden eggs a thing?

I tend to spend a little some an inordinate amount of time playing two-suit spider solitaire. I noticed the cards the other day...
Little Mister King looks angry. The Queen in turn looks worried.
And that ne'er-do-well Jack is just turning a blind eye, as usual....
Hope everyone has a great weekend!!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Late Ottoman Discussion Contrasting Science and Religion

Occaaaaasionally (read: often), I stalk my professors online...not so much in a scary way as to see where/what they studied, what they have written, etc. This semester I found some papers by one of my professors via One of the papers caught my attention as being right up my alley. It was an analysis of a debate between two Arabic intellectuals in the late Ottoman period, concerning whether science or religion was more likely to yield truth.

Note: I did not read the debate myself; I only read my professor's analysis. For the more in-depth and knowledgeable analysis of the debate, read his paper (linked above). Here, I will summarize the debate as he presented it and discuss it in my own way.

The debate took place between Celal Nuri and Sehbenderzade Ahmed Hilmi in 1913. Nuri, a prominent public intellectual, posited (through a whole book!) that nothing metaphysical exists, so any philosophy not founded on scientific revelation is basically nothing more than an abstract logical exercise and ultimately meaningless (though perhaps useful as a social construct). Hilmi responded to Nuri's book and reasoned that since science works with hypotheses and theories, perpetually revising them according to new discoveries, it is in fact false to refer to scientific exploration as truth.

I am using my own words here to summarize what my professor summarized (O.o), but it seemed to Hilmi that science is almost equivocal to religion (in a philosophical way) in that both are avenues along which people walk with an intention to find the truth (and in this way, both deal with metaphysical subjects). Neither is truth itself, but more of a direction or path along which to potentially reach the truth. It seems to me that he also indicated, though, that metaphysical religion and materialistic science can neither one be based upon the other, because they by nature are wholly different.

...I don't think I have a whole lot to add to these ideas at the moment, but I found the debate intriguing and wanted to mention it here. As always, interactions are welcome! :)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Judgment With Grace for a Mass Murderer

I'm still reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. It follows Army Chaplains Gerecke and O'Connor as they minister to the major Nazi war criminals on trial at Nuremberg after World War II. I'm about 250 pages in, and so far it has described each chaplain's trek to enstationment at Nuremberg, as well as each criminal's activities to warrant his position in a cell on the first floor of the Palace of Justice. The trials have been examined in brief, as well as the criminals' past and present relations to Hitler, the Nazi Party, and their own families. The verdicts and sentences have been given, with major prison stints and 11 orders of "death by hanging" in the midst. And now Townsend talks a little theology, particularly having to do with the Brand of Cain from Genesis 4.

Photo: Anonymous. A detail from the "Ghent Altarpiece" by Jan van Eyck, 1432.

Following is an excerpt:
            “The [writer in Genesis 4] brings murder into the primeval history pretty quickly, and things go badly for people from there onward. Cain is a farmer who is jealous of God’s preference for his brother Abel [a shepherd] because Abel can afford to offer ‘the fat portions’ of his first-born sheep in sacrifice to God. Cain, on the other hand, can only offer ‘the fruits of the ground’ [vegetables]. Though God warns Cain not to give in to his anger over this slight, Cain can’t help himself, and so he takes Abel into the field and kills him. In return, God banishes Cain from his own land to wander the earth, but he marks Cain to protect him from those who might avenge Abel’s murder. Anyone who takes Cain’s life, God says, ‘will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’
            “…[The writer] wanted to connect the history to the lives of his audience. In [his] eyes, every human being is Cain and Abel, and committing sin is a universal human flaw. Cain was capable of overcoming sin, and yet he didn’t just choose, of his own free will, to sin.
            “‘The logic of sin proves stronger than the injunction to do good,’ writes theologian Miroslav Volf. ‘This is exactly what we should expect, for the logic of sin was originally designed for the very purpose of overcoming the obligation to do good.’ Committing a sin is not just making a wrong choice, but rather it is succumbing ‘to an evil power’. Before he killed Abel, Cain had the ability to conquer sin or be conquered by it. He murdered his brother, according to Volf ‘because he fell prey to what he refused to master’.
            “Volf, one of the world’s preeminent thinkers on the Christian theology of reconciliation and forgiveness, has pointed out that traditional mythology often tells stories from the perspective of the perpetrator so as to legitimize the sinner’s actions and render sympathy toward him. The story of Cain and Abel condemns Cain, and though the [writer] engenders sympathy for Abel, he twists tradition by making the story really about Cain, and by pointing the finger at his audience in doing so.
            “‘The story about a murderous “them” is a story about a murderous “us”,’ Volf writes. ‘Cain is “them” and Cain is “us”.’ The story’s great feat is that it combines ‘a clear judgment against the perpetrator with the commitment to protect him from the rage of the “innocent” victim.’ In the story, God questions Cain again and again, asking him, why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? Where is your brother Abel? What have you done?
            “God’s constant questioning of Cain suggests a parental presence – God is someone who cares deeply about Cain’s actions and their consequences. God an Cain’s relationship makes God’s decision to banish Cain from His presence all the more poignant. And this is not an unfamiliar trope in the Bible. For instance, Jesus’ suffering on the cross didn’t tear His heart, Volf suggests, but rather it was the abandonment of everyone around Him, including His Father: ‘“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”’
            “From God’s perspective, the story of Cain and Abel could not have gone worse – God loses both brothers to death and banishment. Yet, according to Volf, God’s mark of protection on Cain represents both armor to protect him from victimization as well as God’s grace. ‘The same God who did not regard Cain’s scanty offering, bestowed kindness upon the murderer whose life was in danger,’ Volf writes. God did not abandon Cain. He claimed Cain as His own by marking and protecting him, even as he sent Cain ‘away from the presence of the Lord.’”

Two things.

1) About the theology portrayed here concerning Cain and Abel and God's subsequent dealing with Cain (and, by proxy, all of sinful humanity)....

Cain sinned. And he didn't just tell a little white lie or snag a grape at the grocery store without paying for it. He murdered an innocent person.

Focusing on the emphasis in the excerpt that God banished Cain from His presence while still marking him as His own and promising him protection, I'd like to dwell for a minute on the significance of this act in light of the doctrine of eternal punishment. In fact, instead of offering answers here, let me just throw out a few questions.

          -   Why did God bother to protect Cain after he murdered his own brother in cold blood? Why not let him reap what he had sown - eye for an eye - karma? What obligation did God still feel to Cain in this story?
          -   I've heard many people pinpoint eternal separation from God as the crux of hell's torment. Between God sending Cain from His presence while not completely abandoning him, and the statement that "God loses both brothers to death and banishment," including righteous Abel, there seems to be something in the mix here hinting that separation from God is not irredeemable, even for Cain.
          -   I consider myself a progressive Christian. I like a lot of the progressive Christian thought out there. But I have not yet come to completely reject the idea of substitutionary atonement. Or, at least, I think something happened when Christ died on the cross...something that helped determine our eternal destinies. Is it akin to the Brand of Cain? Though the sinfulness and evil of the world separate humanity from God, does the cross symbolize His promise of protection and grace? If so, is it for all - the Cains and the Abels - or just for the Abels, or those who in some way "accept the gift"?

2) About the practicality of ministering to mass murderers (or others whom most people would say surely have no place in the family or care of God)....

I still think about going into some sort of chaplaincy, like at a hospital or hospice. Pastoral care/counseling has been near and dear to my heart for several years now, and I always mentally apply situations to this role of ministry in my mind. So...if I were ministering to mass murderers, and even holding services for them like Gerecke and O'Connor did for Hitler's right-hand mob, what biblical comfort would I offer them?

          -   Obviously, the above rendition of Cain and Abel seems to fit the bill very nicely.
          -   Perhaps the "cities of refuge" in Exodus 21:12-14. (These were for refuge for unintentional murderers, but it could be, and indeed was, argued that many of the defendants at Nuremberg acted on military orders, believing, however misguidedly, that Jewish extermination was necessary to preserve the posterity of the German people.)
          -   And the most applicable example in Scripture that comes to my mind is that of the Apostle Paul, who in his zeal to honor God relentlessly persecuted and slaughtered Christians until Christ met him on the road and changed his heart. He seems to be a prime example that a murderer can both show remorse and be rehabilitated.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Robin Williams Was a Coward and Is Probably in Hell"

Okay, so I know this is "old news" already, but I need to say something concerning Robin Williams. Most of what I read/heard about his death was nothing short of loving, compassionate, and sorrowful to learn of the deep despair he experienced. But those views that were critical were really grating to me - to use a cliche, like nails on a chalkboard. I'm not going to link to any of those critical viewpoints here, because I don't wish to give them any more publicity; but you know what I'm talking about - Rush Limbaugh, the news anchor dude who referred to Williams as a coward and then apologized because people expressed disapproval of his viewpoint, and Matt Walsh, among others.

First, the reason I even felt the need to address it here is that all this harmful noise reminds us that there is still a rampant disregard and stigmatism out there for the legitimacy of mental illness (including depression), even in the mainstream. Second, I just can't understand sometimes how people can hold so tightly to their own rigid stance against compassion!

When I think about Williams' last moments, I think of the weight he carried, knowing full well what headlines would be made if he ended his own life - he knew the people he cared about would experience enormous ignorant backlash, and still he didn't manage to overcome his despair that evening. He knew what it was to care about others and devote one's energies to bringing multitudes happiness and friendship - yet still he couldn't find the strength to cling to life for one more day.

It's because when a person is suicidal, he or she is not thinking rationally. I say this from experience. In fact, it is almost as if all feeling ceases at this lowest moment of all. No meaning can be found in anything - not in all the blessings one has in this life, not in all the things/people that have brought one joy, and not even in the faith one deeply holds in the Good News of Jesus Christ. The next day a suicidal person may not feel suicidal at all; he or she may go about life as if the previous night's desperation had never occurred...but then it always comes again, and then those "good" moments cannot be grasped. It's like they never were, just like when things are good, it is as if the low moments never were.

It is not a matter of strength of will.

Are there spiritual aspects to depression? Probably. But there are aslo VERY REAL biological, emotional, and physiological aspects as well. Something is broken.

If you can't understand it, that is okay. I'm so glad you have never experienced it before!! But PLEASE stop talking in judgment against those who have, and those who have succumbed. Leave it to God to decide those people's eternal fate. Yes, continue to preach hope and love to those who desperately need it; but please do so without heaping upon them shame and guilt and fear of Divine Retribution for their weakness.

Judgmental Christian, I ask you this: What kind of God do you worship? Are you okay with that?!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Redemption for a Nazi?

I'm reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. In the opening chapter he describes Chaplain Gerecke's moments in prayer with Nazi Keitel in the moments before he was hanged for his war crimes against humanity. Townsend describes Keitel's soldier-like demeanor throughout his trial and emprisonment, but how he broke into uncontrollable sobs while Gerecke prayed with him in his cell. At the hour of his death his mask of pride crumbled. I would assume the illusion fell before the realization that he would imminently face spiritual judgment for his sins.
In the debate over the morality of capital punishment, I know traditionally the Conservatives are for the death penalty, while Liberals are against it. I am unsure where I fall on the spectrum, but I know I am glad I don't have to make the decision for someone to die; that in itself might weigh on my conscience as indirect murder.
But in thinking of this description of Keitel's last moments, and knowing that most religious folk believe in some sort of post-death divine retribution for sins, or at the very least purging before eternal rest, I wondered if some comfort might be found in the idea of paying the ultimate (earthly) price for one's sins. It might cut one's stint in Purgatory shorter than it would be otherwise, for example.
In the DeNiro movie The Mission, the Jesuit missionary who used to persecute the natives climbs a mountain carrying a heavy load of armor(? it's been a while since I watched the movie, and I can't remember the details) in penance and to prove he has since changed. The spiritual leader of the group allows him to do so and refuses to help when he struggles, not because the leader is horrid and judging, as we find out at the top of the mountain, but, as he says to the penitent man (again, I'm not sure if my words are exact, but they are close and convey the gist), "You did not do this so God would forgive you, but so you could forgive yourself." The man had to do something in order for himself to let go of the guilt he held against himself.
I wonder if the death penalty would serve the same purpose to a repentant person who had committed a truly heinous crime(s) (i.e. those convicted at Nuremberg). If there is no one who cannot be redeemed by God, then these, too, could conceivably have felt remorse for the part they played in the Holocaust. But how, in the face of such immense evil, could one ever forgive oneself for such crimes?! I wonder if the knowledge that they would soon give their own lives in payment would do anything at all to alleviate the heavy, mortally unbearable, load of guilt that must weigh on them (actually, I think it must surely have weighed on them whether they admitted to remorse or not).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

7QT - Green Things, Fun Things, and New Things!

Haven't posted in forever, but I've been up to all kinds of stuff! Planted a lot of things, in the front flower beds and in containers on the back deck. I did a fairy garden, too!

I planted a few succelents in it and left them a little room to grow. One or two of them are doing good, but the neighborhood stray cats have dug up one or two of the others....  (I think the fairies are not doing their job very well.)
We planted tomatoes and cucumbers in the back. The cucumbers don't seem to be doing well at all. The tomatoes are doing a little better. We have harvested four and seem to have two or three more growing, as well as a lot of flowering. We'll see...! (The plants are quite a lot taller now; this was when we first planted.)
These were the first two tomatoes.
  One of the front flower beds:
Includes lavender, c...I can't remember this one, but it starts with a c, blue mirror delphinium (which have since died), and ivy in the planter. I've always wanted some ivy! The other bed has a rose bush (which is not blooming right now because it was severely cut back early in the spring), a planter of marigolds, and my fairy garden.
And I did this. Let me tell you about this.

I read somewhere that you could put down newspaper around your plants to keep weeds from growing up, and the newspaper just turns into fertilizer, and yada yada yada. Now, there's a good chance I did it wrong. I am no green thumb. But I don't recommend it. The top soil moves and the now-brown newspaper shows through, and, worst of all, the weeds still come up. Those boogers find their way through the cracks and all around. But I tried. Bless my heart, I tried.
Another tip I picked up along the way was to plant marigolds to keep the bugs at bay. Maybe it works if you plant a lot of them, but I only planted a few, and I think the bugs have not deterred one bit. However, the butterflies like the marigolds, so it was worth it :). 
Speaking of green stuff, this is my new favorite salad recipe:
I chopped up some spinach and bok choy (just the leafy part of the bok choy; the rest I put in the freezer with some stir fry veggies). Added those little cherub tomatoes from the grocery store that are delicious, and some dried cranberries and sliced almonds. These almonds happen to be coconut flavored, but they would be fine unflavored, too, I'm sure. For the dressing I drizzle a little olive oil and a capfull of apple cider vinegar, with salt and pepper to taste. It is so good!!
We also moved, into a house G's brother bought and remodeled for us. It's a small two-bedroom. We're finally getting to the last remnants of the unpacking (basically, the office). We built shelves in both closets over the weekend. Measured and went to Lowes and got the wood cut and proud! We're using those instead of dressers to save room. I think I like it.  
Been keeping up with my 2014 Life List reading goal of at least one book per two weeks. Did a couple other things on the list, too, like attend a play (at Missouri State University's Tent Theatre; Fiddler on the Roof, and it was fantastic!),

and attend a Springfield Cardinals (minor league) baseball game. 


Shared cotton candy with the dogs when we got home.

The following week we let them try roasted marshmallows. :)
Both of these activities took place outside, and I swear they both just so happened to fall on the most beautiful nights of the summer so far! Luck. And next weekend we're going to a monster truck show, which happens to be another item on my list! Soooo excited....!!
 Started a second job this week as a preschool assistant at the local developmental center. I love it!! Aaaand my plans for the future have changed. I am going to go to Missouri State University through the post baccalaureate department and become a high school history teacher. I'm excited about it!! And I'll be starting next month.
Have a great week, everyone!! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Something Other Than God

Minutes ago I finished reading Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book, Something Other Than God. I began following her blog somewhere around 2007 or 2008 and still eagerly await each post, so of course I got the book (Kindle version) as soon after publication as I could. And rather than write a post here, I thought about writing a review on Amazon along the lines of the following:

“If you have ever asked yourself questions like, ‘What kind of people might be recruited to help a wounded yeti safely through a metropolitan area?’ or ‘How might I be able to really sock it to that smug-looking stuffed animal over there?’ or ‘I wonder if there is a way to make my ear canals a little sexier?’…well…you may have written this book. But if any of these questions piques your interest, you just might want to at least check it out….”

But I decided against it, because honestly, this book is just too weighty to sum up in a few humorous (and slightly stretched…?) sentences. While it made me laugh a few times, there were also many points where I was on the verge of tears (especially the last several chapters). I found the reasonable thought processes and the practicality appealing. The writing style kept me riveted and I read through the entire book rather quickly and without getting bored ever. But even more than all that, I was drawn to the ways in which God revealed Himself to this inadvertent seeker.

Jennifer struggled with vivid and valid questions about injustice and suffering. She deeply questioned the apparent inconsistency of God in terms of whose prayers He answered and whose He didn’t…why He sustained and/or protected some people and allowed great sorrow and suffering in other cases…why death, in all its unpredictability and sorrow and tragedy, hovered as the backdrop of each person’s life, more conspicuously present and vivid for some than for others.

I have had my own internal battles to understand suffering and injustice and death. One of my poignant memories in this area occurred probably four years ago after a long-term off-and-on battle with depression and hopelessness. I felt such unalleviable angst that I found myself driving to a cemetery on the edge of town, where I wandered from one crumbling gravestone to the next, weeping with sorrow over the life thereby represented, and over the fact of that last marker of someone’s existence now decaying into impending oblivion.

After a lot of grappling on these subjects, on page 227 Jennifer states, “I’d always heard the ticking of the clock that counts down the seconds as we all get closer to death; now I should see its ticking as a countdown to the end of unjust suffering.” She does not reference simply death here, and a complete end of one’s existence, but to God’s intervention in human history and suffering to establish a way to enter an existence as He had originally planned for humanity – one free of sin and its consequences of evil and injustice and sorrow: in short, heaven.

I love the hope that emanates from this memoir. I am so thankful Jennifer worked so long to produce this account of her initial process of encountering God. Truth be told, in the last few years I have in some ways moved in the opposite direction, occasionally even questioning the existence of the God in whom I have believed for most of my life (though even as a child I harbored some cynical questions about the validity of the Bible and its message). I have craved a more personal interaction with Him – that revealing that is so obvious in Something Other Than God. Perhaps I’ll take a page from Jennifer’s book and concentrate on getting myself in the right condition to hear from God and then see what he says.

If you don’t believe in God, and you have very good scientific reasoning for it, I think you would like this read. The logic is fascinating. If you do believe in God, but you have doubts, or even just a yearning for His presence, I think you would like the book, too. I found it spiritually uplifting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Glory of the Blood

I reread Mathew 27 today in honor of Good Friday. Afterward I had a song in my head I haven't heard in years, Avalon's "The Glory of the Blood." In it, there is a line that refers to, "the heart of the story: the glory of the blood."

Lately I'm rethinking my stance on the Atonement and substitutionary sacrifice and all that, but haven't come to a firm conclusion yet. But I was trying to think of the theology of this lyric in harmony with a more liberal view of atonement.

There is undeniably a bloody thread of salvation through Scripture. In the Old Testament animals paid the price to temporarily "buy" forgiveness for people's sins against God and each other. Then, of course, there was Jesus, about whom Scripture says He gave "His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6, etc.)

Interestingly, there is reference in Revelation, too, to the blood of saints/prophets/martyrs (chapters 16, 17, 18). The Early Church Farther Tertullian said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," by which he alluded to the fact that the more the early Christians were persecuted, the more broadly their message spread.

So, if, as conservative theology usually posits, Christ's sacrifice did away with the need for temporary, insufficient animal sacrifices, why is there any importance placed on the shedding of a "lesser" person's blood after the ultimate gift of Jesus' blood?

I think in order to answer this question it is imperative to look again at Christ's example. Mother Teresa said the following in her book No Greater Love (pp 95-96):

Jesus indeed gave all. In my reading of Mathew 27 today I noticed it more than usual. He gave His dignity when they took His clothes and mocked and beat Him. He gave away His rights when He chose to remain silent in the face of the priests' accusations of Him before Pilate. He gave up the last material things He owned as the soldiers gambled for His clothes. He gave His life. The extent of His voluntary poverty in death is capped by His being laid to rest in a tomb that wasn't even His own. He gave all.

So with the martyrs praised in Revelation. In their witness for Christ and service in His name for humanity, they gave all. This is the crowning significance, the glory, of the blood. How am I to love my God and my neighbor? With ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. With ALL.

Love is not shallow, nor does it cling to fair weather.
The glory of the blood is not in the shedding, but in the giving. It is the love that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On The Origin of Species

Let us reexamine that profoundly fascinating question of old, shall we?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Did the primordial goo spring up into a chicken, or did it spring up into separate specimens (for every species) of an egg and a sperm that somehow found each other, got all mingled up and incubated in the right way, and lived happily ever after as one little feathery clucker? And how is it that more chickens came after the first - was that first chicken already successfully equipped, without the evolutionary wait, with a functioning reproductive system? How else did successive, evolving numbers of chickens (as well as every other species) appear?

These thoughts sprang to my mind the other day as I pondered the rare treasure of the double-yolked egg. That got me wondering if twins skip a generation in chickens, too, so one of the egg's grandchickens may have been a twin, too. :)

As I've previously mentioned, I have a reading goal this year of st last one book every two weeks. Who better to answer my questions to than Mr. Darwin himself? So, I have downloaded  On the Origin of Species  on my Kindle and plan to make it my next read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning an Art (or, Learning AND Art?)

I'm still reading Anna Karenina, but now I am closer to 700 pages in. I just finished reading one of the two more poignant scenes to me so far. This scene, like the earlier one that struck me, is a vivid illustration of a philosophical idea Tolstoy apparently believes in and expresses through his characters and their conversations.
The earlier situation involved, through the evolution of more than one chapter/scene, the character Levin's development of his theory of how Russian agriculture might be improved. Through various interactions with people, witnessing of strangers' reactions to the work, and ideas clicking during conversation, Tolstoy outlines Levin's progression of thought on the subject. The more recent scene that moved me involves the inner workings of a natural-born artist (Mihailov) as compared with one who admires and studies and attempts through "technique" to, well, mimic, this unteachable instinct (Vronsky). Mihailov's creative process unfolds in the scene, from an attempt at a sketch, to a remembrance of a stranger's facial features, to the deep feeling of an emotion the artist was trying to convey. Then, when visitors come to admire his most recent painting, on which he has been working for three years, the artist agonizes over the expectation of their critiques as though the work were his child. Tolstoy writes from an obvious understanding of the artist's inner instinct (I noticed it because it not only describes how the creative one absorbs and "files away" things noticed for future paintings, but I have experienced the same kind of unintentional absorption of ideas for future writing. Tolstoy's description of it is perfect!)
After I read the scene, I was pondering the process and the author and the role of his knowledge and beliefs in his writing. It caused me to wonder, is one of the (primary?) objectives of writing fiction the goal of presenting a visual of one's personal philosophy/ies? I decided to root around and see what others thought of this question, which I found has of course been asked before: Can a writer use a novel to express philosophical views? (In my opinion, Tolstoy certainly seems to do exactly this, and to do it masterfully.)
In this New York Times article, James Ryerson points out the differences between the two disciplines: "Philosophy is written for the few; literature for the many. Philosophy is concerned with the general and abstract; literature with the specific and particular. Philosophy dispels illusions; literature creates them." He then summarizes that many answer the question at the beginning of this paragraph with no, including such novelists who have degrees in philosophy and seem to express it in their novels (like Iris Murdoch).
Others (like David Foster Wallace) answer yes. Still others (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein) admit to intentionally addressing philosophical issues in their novels. Of Goldstein, Ryerson writes, "Still, she says that part of her empathizes with Murdoch’s wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel at a safe remove from the philosopher’s search for hard truth." I agree; one's philosophical search for hard truth is, after all, fluid and progressively matures (similar to the theological idea of progressive sanctification). For this reason, I think a novel is perhaps a perfect medium for expressing one's philosophical process and leanings.
[Just for the fun of it and because it touches on an area of personal interest, I'll include here how Ryerson continued regarding Ms. Goldstein: "But she has become convinced over the years of what you might call the psychology of philosophy: that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who we are as individuals, and is as much a function of temperament as cognition. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don’t just understand a conceptual problem, she says: 'You feel the problem.'"]
However, in my philosophizing, I don't want to forget another undeniable and more important (?) aspect of creativity - that of the natural-born artist...the one who is unconsciously and unintentionally inspired with the idea and the creative ability (trainable, perhaps, but I wonder if it is truly teachable...?) to birth a classic work of fiction. What comes forth is beautiful and admired (even if posthumously) and studied by those who would learn "technique".... Like Tolstoy's artist Mihailov, I would guess the fiction-producing masters of old did not care to set down their words by a learned technique, but simply to express the thing that came to life inside them of its own accord.
But what about when a master endeavors to use technique, too? Take for example Picasso, who studied and perfected cubism in his art that was already original and masterful. I think perhaps Tolstoy exemplifies this quality in the writing of fiction embued with philosophy. I think I read one other (lesser known and much shorter!) of his novels quite a few years ago, but I've never read anything about the author himself. I will have to see what others have said about him (if anything) on this subject.
But what do you think (especially you writers)? Is one of your aims in writing fiction to express your philosophical views? Or is this just a consequence of the writing? Or...something else?

[P.S., if you do want to learn more about including philosophy in fiction, here is a handy-dandy guide I found that is pretty informative on the technique. ;)]

Friday, April 11, 2014


I love symmetry and color and art. When I was a kid I was enthralled by kaleidoscopes. We even made them a couple of times, maybe in school or girl scouts or project ever! As a teenager I listened a lot to dcTalk, who sang about racial harmony with the lyrics, "My God's design / We are a skin kaleidoscope." To me that said all that needed said: diversity = beauty.

One form of kaleidoscopic art that enthralls me as an adult is the mural mosaic. There are a few websites out there devoted to these, including and Here are a few of my favorites I found from a quick image search:

I even found a brief tutorial from Lewis Lavoie on how to make them:

I think it would be really cool to take all the photographs oneself of things relevant to the "big picture" and make one of these. I might just make it a long-term project!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

7QT: reJuvenations, Jams, and Jokes

Junk to Jewels!
Okay, well, not junk exactly. But definitely a refurbishment! Today I took a couple of barstools we had and turned them into some sleek little end tables for the little house we will be moving into next month. Trying to save space, and I think these do the trick!

In the process of drying (the color is grey, and I made my own chalk paint by mixing
2 parts paint, 1 part powdered/dry plaster of paris, and 1/2 part water).

Found some little "wood plugs" for 59 cents each at Sutherlands and painted them, too.
Dry(ish) paint
Had some molding adhesive lying around, and it is clear, so that's what I used to attach
both the plugs and the glass tops (below).
I had two glass tops lying around from a couple of old, cheap three-legged plywood stands that
I don't even have anymore (just threw the last one out last week because the flimsy legs were skewed and
it toppled over all the time).
Side view: Ta-da! :)

...I can't even think of a proper "J" title for this Take...except maybe "jeez!!" 
"Is that biscuits and gravy mixed in with the dogs' food?" you ask.
"Yes," I answer.
I didn't do it.
They are becoming so spoiled they rarely will eat their food without
table scraps mixed in.
I don't think I like this arrangement....
But I sure do love my dogs :).

I had a phone interview last week for the graduate program I have been looking at for a couple of years now. I was accepted, and will be moving to Maryland, close to both DC and Baltimore, for school at the beginning of 2015! I'm going to work on my second master's degree, this one a Master of Thanatology. There are only two graduate degree programs in Thanatology in the country, one in Wisconsin (I think?) and this one in Maryland. I decided it was time I ventured out of the Midwest, so I'm very excited about this new opportunity! This second master's will only be half the credit hours of the degree I just finished, so I should be able to finish it in a couple of years, and with it raise my GPA for a better prospect at getting into the doctoral program I'm looking at in Berkeley. So...plans, plans, plans! And they are working out! Now to save money for the move.... O.o
For that I'm going to need another...

I looked in the thesaurus (online, of course) and could find no synonym for "graduation" starting with "J".
But. Speaking of degrees, I will be walking in this year's commencement exercises for the degree I earned in September. So...May 3rd. I always get extremely nervous about big events with lots of people, but I decided today that it is my degree, I worked long and hard and paid a whole lot financially and earned this degree, so I'm going to my graduation. I'm hoping it will be a really good experience. Besides, it's always good to face the things that seem daunting, right...? 
It's the second week of the A to Z Challenge and I'm several days behind. I meant to stay with it, but if I'm going to finish I'll either have to write a few make-up posts over the next couple of days, or just pick up right now and keep going with a few missing. But I'm not quitting! I'm grateful for all the visitors who keep coming by and leaving comments. I'm doing my best to visit everyone back! 
I don't know if anyone else will find this as funny as I find it, but I'm going to let you in on an inside joke at my house. Several weeks ago I posted a picture of me on Facebook when I woke up in the morning after a haircut and commented something about how I forgot how messy short hair gets after a night of sleep! My new-to-social-media mother commented with my first and middle name: "Melody Sharon!!"
My dog (my male dog) is named Albie. Well, now whenever Albie does something and we have to get onto him, Glenda exclaims, "Albie Sharon!!"
It makes me laugh every time. :)
For more jolly Quick Takes, visit Jennifer at Conversion Diary!