Archive for March, 2013
Good news saints. Physicists say they found the “God particle.”
Yes, that is right. In what will no doubt bring some nerdy scientist a Nobel Prize, scientists said that after a 50 year search they are confident that they have found a Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic aspect sometimes called the God particle.
And you thought God created the world in 7 days out of nothing. Silly you.
Not so you weary saints! Sagacious scientists tell us that they finally have discovered the definitive, ontological ground zero: the God particle. They suggest that the particle acts like molasses or snow. When other tiny basic building blocks pass through it, they stick together, slow down and form atoms.
Well that makes sense. Silly me—I thought God “spoke” matter into existence. What was I thinking?!?
A scientist states, “The discovery [of the God particle] explains what once seemed unexplainable and still is a big hard for the average person to comprehend.” You think???
Apparently this little God particle gathers a bunch of little baby atoms together, at random, by chance into an atom of oxygen, that sticks to some hydrogen, like my granddaughter’s Tootsie Roll Pop left by mistake on Christmas, next to the dry sink (don’t tell Karen—it has been my job to clean behind the darn thing), has gathered sundry lady bugs, stink bugs, dust particles, and a dime I dropped on President’s day.
This God particle gathers up stuff and shazzam—before you know it–life! Man I wondered how that happened—I am relieved that California Institute of Technology has unlocked the mysteries of the universe.
But wait? Pardon me, I am just a poor liberal arts major, but do I not remember from 7th grade earth science class that the best theory, the most plausible theory, is the simplest, most direct, commonsense theory? Right now I am having a really hard time understanding, much less believing the God particle Tootsie Roll theory. What do you think? The Word of God makes a lot more sense to me. But again I do not have the advantage of a Cal Tech degree . . .
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: “Light!” And light appeared (Genesis 1:1-3 The Message).
Shazzam! Makes sense to me . . .
George Gordon, Lord Byron was an English poet writing in the early nineteenth century. He’s one of the central figures in the literary movement called Romanticism, which began around the turn of the nineteenth century. The Romantic-era writers and poets thought that literature needed to be less about rationality and scientific empiricism, and more about human feelings and human experience. For George Byron this meant focusing on nature and the pathos, or spirit of a man. Byron was the poster child of the wunderkind of poets to take part in this movement. He was wildly popular, although some of his poetry (like his long narrative poem Don Juan) was considered too scandalous for respectable people to read. He was sort of the Paul MacCarthy of his age.
My favorite Byron poem is “The Prisoner of Chillon.” It is the story of a man who spent most of his adult life in prison. It’s about how we adjust to our surroundings: the prisoner is able to survive, even while watching his brothers die alongside him, because he believes in something greater than himself. No, we’re not talking about religion or spirituality – we’re talking about the prisoner’s political beliefs. He’s been thrown in prison for sharing his father’s belief in personal freedom and liberty. But I would say in this age of facileness and superficiality we could stand to be a little more Romantic.
Ultimately though, this troubling poem is about disillusionment, and failure. Lord Byron’s poetic work “The Prisoner of Chillon” explores the struggle between a person’s ending their suffering and accepting it rather than holding on to the hope of freedom. The author uses symbols to represent the immediate end of suffering, acceptance of defeat, and succumbing to torture in competition with hope, strength, and faith in eventual freedom.
My hair is gray, but not with years,
Nor grew it white
In a single night,
As men`s have grown from sudden fears;
My limbs are bow`d, though not with toil,
But rusted with a vile repose,
For they have been a dungeon`s spoil,
And mine has been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are bann`d, and barr`d – forbidden fare;
Have you ever been persecuted for something you didn’t do? Or for something you did do, but that you really and truly believed to be the right thing? Humans are able to survive almost anything, so long as they really and truly believe in the veracity of their cause. The trouble is, most secular Americans, and too many evangelical Americans, don’t have a cause worth dying for.
The unnamed “prisoner of Chillon” is alone in a cell by the banks of Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, where he has grown old as a prisoner. He says that his father was executed for his beliefs, and all six of his sons have suffered persecution for the same reason. Three of the six sons died outside of the prison: one was burnt at the stake and two died in battle.
The prisoner almost gives in to grief, but is revived when he hears the singing of a bird outside his window. It reminds him that there’s beauty and hope in the world. So he clings to that thought and survives. He survives but loses his ability to believe in the transcendent, to believe in God. When he regains his freedom, it is too late. “In quiet we had learn’d to dwell–/My very chains and I grew friends,/So much a long communion ends/To make us what we are:-even I/Regain’d my freedom with a sign.”
It was too late. The idealist, the revolutionary, had been beaten, had been tamed by time, by torture, by neglect, by imprisonment, by discouragement. In effect, he could never escape the chains that his captors had placed on him. He was doomed to be in “chains,” defeated, for the rest of his life. In that sense, his captors, his enemies had won.
I think, in a way, the home school movement is like that. We have been fighting, and struggling, for so many years, for a worthy, laudable cause. Will we be able to take the next step? Will we lose our idealism? My point is evangelical Christians, after fighting so many courageous fights, after sacrificing and suffering so long, will we tire out? Will “my very chains and I grew friends?” Will we “learn’d to love despair?”
Mom and dad, parent, let’s give these kids a cause worth dying for. Let’s equip them for the long haul. There is no longer any doubt: this generation will experience excruciating persecution. They can be hopeless prisoners of Chillon or Overcomers by the Blood of the Lamb.
In Revelation 12 the intensely persecuted John, himself a possible prisoner of Chillon, writes:
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
That is the way we do it! We will be overcomers by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and being willing to die for the cause!
Let us go forth, let us send this generation forth, so that we/they will never give up, will never lose their idealism and faith!
My adopted, six week old African-American daughter Rachel clung to her new mother as she suspiciously surveyed her new father. I was uncomfortably Caucasian.
While my wife Karen has several adopted siblings of sundry nationalities and racial mixtures, I had never know anyone who was adopted–of any race. Now I was the father of a child who looked very much like a group of people whom I had been taught to hate.
I grew up in the segregated South. Racism was an old acquaintance of mine. A sepulcher from whose shadow I could not escape, whose curse even a love for my new daughter could not seem to extinguish.
As surely as all people have been affected by racism, racial reconciliation is a task for all people. No one in American can escape the consequences of racism. It is about people with hopes and dreams and visions that are never realized. Racial reconciliation also is a dream and vision that we must all cast.
My friend Thomas was a victim of racism. He was told that black boys do not go to white colleges. My friend Dwight dropped his head in shame when an elder blocked his path and told him n—– were not welcome at our church. My friend, Craig, however, was also a victim of racism. He threatened to castrate a young black man who vacated the balcony in the Malco Theater and sought a better seat in the back of the white only lower section. Craig and I were perpetrators and victims, however, Dwight and Thomas were only victims.
But I knew the first time I met Rachel, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, that it was time that part of my history was changed. It was time that racism in my life died.
Rachel was my promised land. She was my new time, my new land, my new chance. She was more than my daughter: she was God’s invitation to me to experience wholeness and new life.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis argues that Abraham, when he accepted God’s call, entered a new history. Racial reconciliation calls us all to a new history. The new history is without link to the old. The new history begins with a call for all of us to repent and a summons to leave old comfort zones and to go somewhere we are not to become someone who I once was not. In my life this new call was a second call. A new birth.
Homeschooling is like that. A call to a new life. A new history. An alternative track.
Through Rachel God called me to an alternative life, a life that is the antithesis to the cold, barren one based on hatred and mistrust. My first destination was the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of diminished resources and manna but it offers greater possibilities than the comforts and the garlic of Egypt. We who live Ur and seek the Promised Land will–as I have found–experience some obstacles. We too will have our faith tested, our memory of God’s deeds questioned.
In my case, Rachel was engrafted into my genus, into my family line. My great-great-great Uncle Howeard was a slaveowning Confederate soldier. His great-great-granddaughter is an ancestor of slaves. Progress.
When I grasped Rachel in my arms I rewrote history. I ended a curse too. From that time, to forever, my family has an African-American in its history.
When I look at my youngest son, a Stobaugh with all his Caucasian tint, I see a better version of myself. Peter, my son, has three older African-American siblings. He was homeschooled with, he lived his life with, his siblings are, African-Americans. There is not a hint of racism in my white boy. The curse is ended. Progress.
Perhaps, saints, that is the best we can do in our home schooling—write a new history for our children. End those curses. Give them a new history of hope.
Last week I was reading the New York Times and, being somewhat bored, I visited the “dining” section. I love to compare the culinary offerings in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to New York City, New York. Of course, we don’t have the Red Rooster Harlem, serving gourmet Southern cuisine — what an oxymoron! — but we do have Hong Kong Buffet that lovingly serves amuse-bouche fried cheese sticks, a Johnstown favorite.
I remember attending my son’s wedding reception, so wonderfully hosted by his Indianapolis in-laws. There was a nice man with white gloves standing next to me. Not sure why he was there, I tried to shake his hand which he politely did but kept standing there. I was handed a warm cloth by a man wearing white gloves. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do with it — I am embarrassed to tell you what I do with small white clothes—but I saw that most folks were wiping their hands, and some pioneering souls were even wiping their faces. I, being a real trailblazer, went further. I wiped my hands, my face, nose, and when I was moving on to my ears my wife Karen stopped me with a glaring frown. I guess those things are not for ears.
Next, the nice man with a towel on his arm offered me one little bread roll that he parsimoniously placed on a plate that swallowed the pathetic thing. The nice man, no doubt discerning my disappointment, asked me if I wanted a couple more rolls, but my sweet wife, who occasionally helps me out this way, with somewhat too much enthusiasm replied, “No.” Next the waiter — what was he really? — gave me something that looked a lot like a salad except that it had all kinds of red stuff, allegedly lettuce. It looked nothing like my personal favorite — an iceberg wedge smothered in real blue cheese dressing. I gratuitously gave my salad to my wife, hoping she would reciprocate by giving me her pigs in a blanket and rigatoni that every Johnstown wedding sports — but do you know what? Apparently these poor Indiana people have not yet discovered these foods of the gods. There were no pigs in a blanket and rigatoni at this Indianapolis wedding. I suppose nobody told these poor folks that wedding cuisine always includes these two items. In fact, if food has two motifs, if life is full of motifs, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, one fills one’s wedding reception and life with simple, tasty metaphors.
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. After that inaugural advent, I never had fried chicken again! Broccoli, southern style, was cooked longer than it took General Grant to capture Vicksburg, 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 as were the next 33,000 or so she has cooked for me — my expanding waistline is a testament to my thorough conversion to Nouveau Yankee cuisine. Yummy good!
Well, anyway, the New York Times 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 languish 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? Hmm. . . .
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 be 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 Tolstoy 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.”
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” ~ John 14:6
In Newsweek recently there was an article called “I Can’t Think.” It is about the fact that we are overloaded by information. “The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionalized our lives, but with an unintended consequence — our overloaded brains freeze when we make decisions,” journalist Sharon Begley writes. Begley warns us that we are overloaded with information, choices, and alternatives. When we have so many choices, we are unable to make any choice at all. As a result, when we finally do respond “the ceaseless influx trains us to respond instantly, sacrificing accuracy and thoughtfulness to the false god of immediacy.”1
In other words, we respond out of exigency and expediency and not out of thoughtfulness and care. We choose the quick not the right, the convenient not the just.
George Loewen of Carnegie Mellon University warns that “getting 30 texts per hour up to the moment when you make a decision means that the first 28 or 29 have virtually no meaning.”2 Immediacy dooms thoughtful deliberation.
Another casualty is creativity. Creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem, rather than going at it in a full-frontal, analytical assault. So much for making decisions in the shower or on a quiet walk. We swamp ourselves with text messages and twitter and IMs. We don’t need to reflect on a problem — we can google our crisis away with 100s of hits.
Oh, that it were so! No one, my friend, can put humpty together again but the Maker. Yes, God. Unless we can Twitter our way to the Holy Spirit or text God we might be in trouble. We will not be able to send an SOS out on Facebook to solve our sorry lives — we need a direct, old-fashioned touch of God. In the midst of so much information the thing that really matters, we discover, is WHO we know and not WHAT we know. Well, all this information is only information, after all. Aha! Our epistemology will take us no further than our metaphysics.
How can you protect yourself from having your decisions warped by excess information? Ms. Begley suggests we take our e-mails in limited fashion, like a glass of wine before bedtime. She wants us to control our access to Facebook — only twice a day.
Silly me. May I suggest an alternative? Why not turn off the computer. And pick up your Bible. And read it.“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” ~ Hebrews 4:12
In Eudora Welty’s short story “Worn Path,” the elderly African-American grandmother protagonist, Phoenix, has come to the doctor to obtain medicine for her grandson. But, because of senility, she cannot remember why she came!
The nurse tries to tease out of Phoenix her reason for coming.
“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’
At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.
“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”
“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”
After coming so far, after working so hard, have we home schoolers forgotten why we came? Do you know why you are starting? Are we at the place where we can get the solution to our problems, but have we forgotten why we came?
My wife Karen and I, while we were home schooling our four children, rarely thought of grand things. We wanted to teach math and English and maybe science (every other day?) and still get to soccer practice on time! We always wanted to teach Spanish too, but, I confess, that “Spanish” was more a kiss and a promise than a reality. I am not extolling my failure, nor am I making excuses, the thing is, we had too many good things to do!
The truth is, our success in home schooling will be more about what we don’t do, than what we do. Our bookshelves are full of curricula, nature kits, and thinking games that we did not have time to do. I am glad we bought them though. A fleeting memory teases my psyche when I look at them, for they are still grace our bookshelves. We hope to use them yet with our grandchildren.
I have some regrets.
I would have climbed more hills with my children.
I live on a farm nestled in the foothills of the Laurel Highlands. The Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands go north up to Lake Erie, South to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. My farm lies halfway between both.
My farm is one of the few in the area that still uses spring water. Seven springs feed a generous cauldron of water above my rambling 1880 Pennsylvania farmhouse, built by practical Mennonites who had no use for inefficient fireplaces and ornate porches.
Next to my springhouse is a hill. I started to climb that hill yesterday. I turned back.
On this hill twenty years ago my children danced up this hill pulling their scratched, plastic sleds behind them. I would join them on top. On that hill we would welcome the moon, say good-bye to the sun. We dodged barbed wire and the angry stares of my wife Karen as we flew down the hill on plastic chariots. We defied fate, relying on gravity and our unmoved neighbor’s pasture to stop us before we crashed into a diminutive pond.
I looked at that hill today but I did not climb it. My children are gone and the springhouse is secure in concrete. Why should I climb that hill?
In our home school we could read about West Virginia. From that hill we could see West Virginia. From that hill, farmers allegedly saw the Flight 93 Crash. It is a place of discovery, wonder, and to me memory. But I have no reason to see West Virginia, 9-11 is in the ancient past. I will not climb that hill. I have no children, no laughter, no unsecured flights into chaos.
I will not climb that hill today.
My children loved that hill. It was a respite from Shakespeare and Milton. They thought it was a ticket to everywhere. Our hill promised unlimited possibility. It was the abode of trophy bucks, soaring bald eagles, and my children’s dreams. In their dreams I found my own. It was Mount Olympus, the home of the gods.
Homeschooling is over at my house. The hill is quiet and serene. And lonely. As I am. It provides a look at what was, what is no more. What will not be again. I will not climb that hill again. Not as long as I live.
This Christmas I will urge my grandchildren to climb that hill. It is time. They are old enough to pull the same sleds as their parents, to the top of that hill, to believe that all is possible, to defy fate and zoom down the hill, into the brush piles that nurture and protect the intrepid and foolish alike.
But I will not join them. Not this year. Never. I no longer believe in unlimited possibilities. But I am glad that there are those who do. I want them to climb the hill, for me, this year. New home schooling families, I want you to climb that hill.
Home schooling is unlimited possibility. Do not lose the joy, the possibilities, that home schooling will unleash. Do not neglect to take a break from calculus to climb that hill.
We often forget why we started doing this thing called home schooling: we wanted to raise a generation of offspring that would advance the Kingdom of God in this time and in this place. Like Granny Phoenix we must not arrive at our destination but forget why we came!
Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”
As I reflect on those years, I wonder how often I forgot about why I came. Oh, God, how I wish I had more hills to climb with my children.
It is in the coming that we release our children to go. Do not forget your purpose of this great calling.
We need to remind ourselves about why we are doing what we are doing, why we will do what we will do, in the years ahead. It is a noble and grand vocation, this home schooling of our kids. Too sacred to trust to anyone else. Let’s do it! Let’s gather around our kitchen tables, in our dingy basements, and let us pause to remember where we are going and why we are doing.
“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”
And while you are remembering why you are doing what you are doing, don’t forget to build a few windmills with the kids. Climb those hills and look at West Virginia. While you can. And when you do, think of me, and the thousands of home school friends who have come before you. Know that we pray for you, we believe in you. Find your way to those hills again. And climb them for all of us.