Archive for September, 2011

Masters of Disguise

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Masters of Disguise

I am an inveterate Johnstown cuisine lover. My love affair, my wife Karen would say, has put 80 pounds on me in the last 21 years, but she is being ungenerous since I mostly eat her wonderful cooking. And what fine cooking it is! I remember the first meal Karen cooked for me in 1977. It was broiled chicken seasoned with salad dressing and boiled broccoli seasoned with lemon pepper. Until then, I had never eaten broiled chicken—my chicken was always fried—unless Big Momma served her famous chicken and dumplings. Broccoli, southern style, was cooked longer than it took General Grant to capture Vicksburg, MS, and I had heard of pepper (and used it liberally after I coated everything with salt) and lemons (which I put in my sweetened ice tea)—but never both together. Actually, my first meal was pretty good and the next 33,000 or so she has cooked me—my expanding waistline is a testament to my thorough conversion to Nouveau Yankee cuisine. Yummy good!

Well anyway the New York Time’s article argues that finally—finally—there is a vegetarian burger that rivals the most delicious Whopper or Quarter Pounder. Apparently, while the rest of us languished in the throes of the new Angus Quarter Pounder, inventive New York chefs have been working tirelessly to create the penultimate veggie burger. Food reviewer Jeff Gordinier is veritably overcome with joy when he writes “Veggie burgers . . . have explored into countless variations of good, and in doing so they’ve begun to look like a bellwether for the American appetite.”

Bellwether for the American appetite. Excuse me, but I doubt it.

Can you imagine cruising through the MacDonald’s drive through and asking for a veggie burger with fries and milk shake? Hum . . .

But excuse me. I respect vegetarians. More power to you. But, why do you want to copy my food? Do I try to copy yours? Respectfully, I doubt, even in NYC, that one can find broccoli and asparagus that will match the effervescence of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Nonetheless, “There is something very satisfying about holding one’s dinner in one’s hand.” Indeed. But it can’t be done. Not really. A meatless burger is an oxymoron and it can never b e a dinner.

And here is another oxymoron—and this is where I am taking this—our society is desperate to emulate the Christian life. The Christian life, like the hamburger, is genuine, real, juicy, and full of protein. Lived in the right way, it can bring great life to a person and to his world. And it cannot be replaced by good feelings, good intentions, or other existential offerings. As Tolstoi writes in War and Peace, “Let us be persuaded that the less we let our feeble human minds roam, the better we shall please God, who rejects all knowledge that does not come from Him; and the less we seek to fathom what He has been pleased to conceal from us, the sooner will he vouchsafe its revelation to us through His divine Spirit.”

Guess What is Under My Bed

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

You should see what is under our 1977 queen size, cherry stained, bed with bent metal stays that are quietly testimony to the fact that this old boy weighed 148 in 1977 but—well, anyway, don’t tell my wife I shared this.

Stashed in disheveled piles are my World War II history books and other treasures.

Inevitably Karen (my wife) will spend eons of time preparing for bed. While she is brushing her teeth, washing her face, and performing other necessary hygienic penultimate mysteries, I grab a book from my under-the-bed library and I read about the German U Boat campaign in the North Atlantic.

I have several libraries in other places in the house. There is the academic library—full of Bible commentaries and useless graduate school books I never read but I cannot do without. That one is stashed in the basement next to my desktop computer. The one with Windows 98—the last Microsoft software program I fully comprehended. Next, there is the classical library in the family room. This is the library that is full of “pretty books.” No one touches that library; it is there for show. But across the room is the “grandchildren library” full of children’s classics that Karen reads to our cherubic grandchildren, ample evidence that we were exemplary parents if our children could produce such offspring.

But my favorite library is the library under my bed.

Under my bed, safe and clear, are my treasured reading books. Their diverse title names are appropriate metaphors for my anachronistic, never-ending education.

I have perennial classics—Run Silent, Run Deep. Occasionally other favorites sneak in—Milton’s Paradise Lost—which I re-read bi-annually—is propped up next to Operation Barbarossa. John Keegan’s World War II is a great read and can keep me awake through Karen’s most extensive post-day, pre-sleep preparations.

I hope you have things you treasure and that you keep them close at hand.

I keep one special book under the bed: my dad’s Bible. It is an old leather black Bible, expensive leather, worn now, with the edges exhibiting light brown cow leather intruding out of the faded black. The cover has “Holy Bible” and “Billy Stobaugh” written in gold letters.

Inside the Bible in my Mammaw’s handwriting is “1939. To Billy from Mother and Daddy, 8 years.” My dad was born in 1932 and apparently this was his 8th birthday present. When my dad died on Father’s Day in 1982, when he was only 49, my mom gave me this Bible.

I imagine Dad got other things for his birthday. Toy soldiers? A pop gun? I will never know. But I know he got this Bible. If you found your deceased dad’s Bible what would you do? I immediately looked for evidence that he read it. I looked for a mark, any mark, that would evidence that he read it, studied it, applied it to his life. Nothing.

Nothing. Nothing in the family register. Nothing next to John 3:16. I know my dad knew God loved him. I heard him say it a few hours before he died. But no marks in his Bible.

I know I have lots of marks in my Bible. I can’t keep up with Karen though. She is the “master marker.” Her Bible is full of underlines. Her Bible underlines are straight and neat. I can’t do it. My lines inevitably invade other verses. I gave up drawing straight lines under verses—I now put squiggly lines. I once asked Karen to show me how she made straight lines under her Bible verses—sometimes without even a straight edge. She ignored my question.

I don’t have my dad anymore but I have his Bible. And there is nothing written in it.

I wish my dad wrote in his Bible, the Bible I keep under my bed. I would like something—anything—that reminds me of him. I am 56 now and it is 28 years since he died. I can hardly remember what he looks like now.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.” My dad’s life is written on my heart. It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible! Even if you use squiggly lines. Your kids will thank you someday! But more important, write your lives on their hearts. That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

And who knows, they might stash it under their beds!

A Moment of Transcedence

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

The Lion King

Monday, September 26th, 2011

USA Today (Sept. 19, 2011) informs us that the new 3D LION KING movie ruled the box office. It made $29.3 million. Imagine—Lion King wannabes lined up to shell out $11.50 to see a movie they have on video and have seen a zillion times. But it is 3 D you tell me. A Communist plot. I saw a 3 D movie once. I hated the thing. They charged you $7.50 extra for some dime store (are there any dime stores left?) plastic glasses. The problem is I put the dang things on during the parts that were not 3D and it was blurry. Couldn’t find the glasses during the part I needed them. My son, sitting next to me, was disgusted. So I don’t like 3 D movies. But Americans do. Or they like the storyline. Maybe they identify with the separation motif where Simba experiences separation anxiety from poor Mufasa. Or maybe it is the lostness motif where Simba is lost, but then found. Or maybe it is “What will be will be” Pumba and Timon. Now those are cool people. Or maybe it is the forgiveness and redemption that Simba felt. Whatever it is, millions of Americans are willing to pay a fortune to experience something that I experience everyday. I have known great grief, separation, and sadness. My dad died when he was 49, my mom when she was 68. But know that my Redeemer liveth. And I live in a wilderness, journeying to the Promised land, but I have no needs, and I am never lost. I know where I am heading. And I have known forgiveness. In the woman I love, the only one I have ever been intimate with, I have known forgiveness. And I rest at ease in the knowledge that my loving God is in complete control of my life. And, most of all, I have known love from the Father who loved me so much to send His only Begotten Son to die for my sins. On second thought—to be reminded of the real thing not the cinema version—maybe I will see LION KING again. And give those 3 D glasses another chance.

The Truth About Zombies

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

An obsession with zombies is feeding a frenzy of books, movies, and television shoes. In fact, Americans are in a love affair with “the living dead.” Why?

A Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman writes:

The construct of the zombie—the mindless stumbling about—feels increasingly like our world. It feels like going to the DMV or like sitting on hold with your HMO and talking to a machine. What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly disconnected and disembodied. It feels zombie-like.

Now that is sad!

Modernity, with its emphasize on mindless therapy and shallow existentialism is creating a “living dead.” The pervasive pessimism of our culture invites Americans to fear a time when there is a “horrible pandemic and the markets plunge.”

It is never about the zombies, Dr. Schlozman argues, it is about the way people respond to the Zombies.

Amen. How do you respond to the zombies? We ignore them.

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,/to the one who seeks him (Lamentations 3:25). We are not “mindlessly stumbling about” through life. Our lives have purposes and hope.

Let’s review a lengthy passage that refutes the hopelessness of this age:

Psalm 139
1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you (NIV).

Take that you silly zombies!

Crossing the Creepy Line

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Google CEO Eric Schmidt made the now infamous remark about Google’s practice of getting very close to the “creepy line” but not going over. With the decision to release an update to Google Goggles that will allow cell phone owner to identify human faces Google has arguably crossed “the creepy line.”
What this would effectively permit is the identification of people on the street or in a public place by simply pointing your phone camera at them.
Now that is creepy.
The need to control one privacy is basic. We like to remain unknown in a crowd, or, at least we deserve the privilege to reveal ourselves to whomever we please. If we commit a crime, perhaps, that right is abrogated. We may be, even should be, identified and apprehended. But the notion than an innocent bystander be identified by perfect strangers, gratuitously, randomly, is creepy.
Human beings are created in the image of God and do not deserved to be mishandled by Mr. Schmidt. Only God deserves to peer into our soul, or metaphorically, to focus his cell phone on us and identify us. Joseph Conrad, in Lord Jim warns, “There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.” Zip! With the focus of an I-Phone the mystery disappears.
Many people “are rightfully scared of it,” one journalist said. You think. “In particular, women say, ‘Oh my God. Imagine this guy takes a picture of me, and then he knows my address just because somewhere on the Web there is an association of my address with my photo.’ That’s a scary thought. So I think there is merit in finding a good route that makes the power of this technology available in a good way.”
In a good way. Use this technology in a good way. Interesting thought. We dare not STOP using the creepy thing—we have to find a laudable reason to use it. I am sure Eichmann appreciated that irony when he realized that the technology was there to murder 6 million Jews so he might as well do it. Surely, if the technology is there, we have to use it.
I like Google’s response—a typical Post-Modern response–“I think we are taking a sort of cautious route with this,” Google said. “It’s a sensitive area, and it’s kind of a subjective call on how you would do it.”
Another signature mark of the times: “Each person decides for himself if he uses a certain thing.”
No, not this time. I don’t want perverts to identify and to visit my grandchildren whenever they like! I don’t care if the technology is there or not. Get rid of it.
Now that is a novel idea—get rid of it. That is exactly what I am saying. Get rid of the technology. Not only do we want never to use it, we need to erase our footsteps and get rid of our ability to do the thing. There is no good, no possible good, in a perfect stranger being able to identify another private human being without his knowledge or content.
Can we deal with that? Giving up bad technology? I doubt it.
It is coming folks. Apparently Google got over its concerns and has decided to roll facial recognition out in a mobile context. Science and technology have their own logic and momentum. Because something is possible there’s an impulse to see it realized or implemented in the world. Perhaps there’s such identification at Google with “innovation” that it was “culturally” impossible for Google not to roll this out.
Creepy I tell you, creepy.
Ok. I can and do turn off the television. I show discipline in what internet sites I visit. I try to put boundaries on myself and help others do the same. But this is different. This is another person, perhaps a stranger, focusing his cell phone camera on me and revealing my private affairs. This stranger presumes to know me intimately without my consent. It is a form of abuse.
Don’t get me wrong, there are those whose cameras are welcome to focus on me. There is one power, one power who does know me. Always has, always will. Knows my next thought, predestined my next action. Someone who is in absolute control of everything—Almighty God. But He alone deserves this sort of power. He loves me, He cares for me, He died on the cross at Calvary for me.
I do not fear His perusal, but my friend, if you swing your Motorola to my grandchildren and I think you are identifying them, not merely taking a picture, I am going to smack you.
Not really. But I am going to think you and Google are creepy. Take that.

Crossing the Creepy Line

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

A Conspiracy

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

There is a conspiracy being inflicted on this weary television viewer.  Rarely do I watch television on my 24 inch 1992 Panasonic  but, lately, when I do, a nefarious olive green perimeter is intruding on the right and left of  Paula Deen, whose 5:30 cooking show, redolent of my deceased mom and her butter/lard filled cuisine, is slowly losing out to malevolent interlopers seeking to steal Paula, with whom I am secretly in love,  and my tranquil 30 minutes before the evening news inflicts maelstrom on my normally halcyon life. My son Peter tells me it is because I don’t have HD.  What the heck is that?  “Harass Dad?” Or what.  He tells me that I have a choice in high resolution technology—HD or Blue Ray.  Is that like the sting ray I see on the Discovery Channel?  That thing killed that Australian loud mouth guy didn’t it?  Why would I want Blue Ray?  I would get HD, I am not the Philistine,  or stick in the mud my loving wife accuses me of being—you were acting 80 at 24, Jim, she iconic observes—but neither do I wish to lose this fight.  I like watching Paula.  The problem is, and my kids tell me this, is I don’t want to replace something that still works.  I don’t care if it is out of date. It works. I can’t see it very well and I can’t hear it very well—but it has closed caption—and a great volume button–but it does fit into the television cabinet.  Even if I bought a wide screen television—stupid thing looks like the square pancakes that Karen (my wife) used to make the kids for Christmas—and have you seen how thin these things are? How do they get all those gizmos in ¾ inch?—even if I bought a wide screen television, what would I do with the television cabinet?  The high resolution thing will not fit into the cabinet.  One must keep one’s priorities straight.

Evangelical Rage

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

The Truth About Evangelicals

In a recent U.S.A. Today (Sept., 19, 2011) editorial liberal journalist Mark I. Pinsky, a former religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote a conciliatory article where he extended an olive branch to us evangelicals.
The article begins well enough. He quotes the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megachurch evangelical pastor in Orlando, Florida. “Our part of the faith community is, on the whole, intelligent, accepting of diversity, and wanting the best practical solutions for the common good.” Mr. Pinsky, invites us evangelicals to be “polite” and “conciliatory” “for the common good.” “Evangelicals in the main want the same kind of common-sense solutions and moral integrity as other Americans,” Pinsky, quoting Hunter, concludes.
No, Mr. Pinsky, I do not merely advocate “common-sense solutions and moral integrity.” I advocate the Word of God.
Mr. Pinsky sounds a lot like our president, God bless him, and I mean that, who is completely bewildered by the refusal of our obdurate evangelical community to explore some compromise on abortion. It seems so “impolite” to Mr. Obama.
Now, Mr. Pinsky and President Obama, if you want me to “compromise” about tax reform, I might do it. But if you ask me to support a pro-choice—any pro-choice position—I will, I fear, be burdened with the appellation of “intransigent.” I know that in the world of Mr. Pinsky and President Obama, compromise (a euphemism for “giving up your principles”) is sacrosanct. But in my universe abortion is murder. Period.
Furthermore, on other issues, likewise, I am a little old fashioned, and stubborn too. For instance, Mr. Pinsky, forgive me, but fornication is fornication. I don’t care how much each person “likes each other.” I also did not have “warm and fuzzy feelings” when I saw same sex military couples, at the announcement that homosexuals will be welcome in the armed forces, hug and kiss each other on national television. It is touching that same sex relationships engender feelings of “mutual affection, fidelity, and commitment.” But, in my universe, homosexuality is s-i-n.
On second thought, Mr. Pinsky, I am mad as hell. And you and your liberal platitudes have made me into an old grouch. I must break the olive branch that you hand me, Mr. Pinsky, President Obama, at least for now.

I took my old fence posts down today.

Monday, September 12th, 2011

I took my old fence posts down today.

These were not store bought posts.  They had be cut from my 10 acre farm, shaped by an axe. Sturdy and strong as they were the day that they were placed in the ground in 1965 (so I was told by my farmer), they have guarded my farm property for 50 years. Like Christmas tree lights they hung wire around my farm, humming with electricity and promise.  Warning coyotes and bears and little boys to be weary of this land, my fences could not kill, could only injure the weary traveler who could not see its tendril, wispy strains snuggly holding this land of mine. But the fences reminded us all that some things hurt a lot, but are fatal.  This is a good hurt.  We learn not to touch that bad choice, that fence wire, again. 

The fences, though, on my sturdy posts, were not so much to keep bad things out, but to keep good things in.  More than once my precocious children, and now, my robust grandchildren, have paused on the perimeter of this land before they ventured into incognitus . My study fence posts impeded their wanderings.  This is a good thing.

Not all were stopped.  20 years ago, Cupcake, our weary goat, jumped the fences almost everyday and ate my patient wife’s azalea bushes.  Finally, Cupcake was banned to Dorsey’s farm, my neighbor, whose menagerie welcomed almost any wayward traveler. But Cupcake jumped Dorsey’s fences too and ended up as dog food.

The fence posts are still around, as I said, until I took them down today, but there was no live wire.  No need of it.  No sheep to hold in, no children to weed whack over three miles of wire. Just lonely posts, sentries in the snow, blocking my children, now my grandchildren, from coasting down my farm hills and into Ben Creek (we call it “Crick”).

I took my posts down not because they were insect ridden—they were not.  No termite would hazard the arduous task of digesting these sturdy oak poles. Nor were they rotten.  Even the wood in the ground was pure, virginal, and strong.  No neighbor wants my posts.  They prefer shinny metal posts that drive easily in the ground.  They only last five or so years but they are easy to drive in the ground. A farmer can mark and fence his whole 10 acres in one day.  It too my farmer with his wooden fence posts at least a month.  But 50 years later my fence posts are still here.

The problem is I have no reason to keep them.  The old posts were executed because I like utilitarian John Stuart Mill more than the dreamer Henry David Thoreau. Mill reminded me that one does not hold on to what is not useful. I am too old to run new wire seductively along its tops.  I cannot afford the electricity to have the old boys hum even if I did.  They are no good to me, they have no use in the world. Alas, my little fence posts, my immutable friends, your time was up. “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time (Shakespeare, Macbeth).”

I nearly kept them.  Black bears hate electric fences.  But my fence wires lie two and fro, like discarded World War I defenses, and they make my farm look like the Somme in 1916. This year two black bears rudely attacked my undefended woodpile to obtain grub worms.  It is not that I mind sharing my grub worms, but, while black bears are very adept at tearing down my skillfully constructed wood piles, they refuse to rebuild them.

I took my old fence posts down today.  My children haven’t visited my farm, their own home, for years.  And when they come, they stay diurnally a day or two.  My grandchildren come.  They dance around the old fence posts now. 

I fear I am not in as good a shape as my fence posts.  I have cracked pieces torn from my origin.  I cannot stand so well in the snow that blows over my north field.  I need my fire.  I cannot pretend to stand strong when I know that I am weak.  I cannot ignore time.  Unlike my fence posts, my feet ache, and I am lonely some days.  I wonder what could have been, what might be.  Not like my fence posts.

I took my old fence posts down today.  I laid them lovingly across the road on John Unger’s land.  Now, like fallen warriors, they lie.  Rusty wire, gentle shadows, golden dreams.  They lie.