Archive for April, 2014

Wrestling With God Part 2

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

“Mallard ducks were worth it, “ I kept telling myself, although truly, I never liked eating wild ducks. The meat was too rich and dark and perilous for this southern boy who liked anodyne, fried chicken, and domestication, cornbread.

It was so dark in the Devil’s Den. And on those mornings, most mornings now, when I awaken at 4:30 AM, alone in the silence, I remember the Den. The only light we enjoyed was the North Star on the tail of the Big Dipper full of radiant repartee and iridescent chatter.

Genesis 32: 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Every morning I struggle. I struggle with what could have been. Other friends, in other places, even family members, are awakening in this darkness but their worlds are full of certainty, of jobs, and of pensions. They are tired, as I am, but not conflicted. They are at peace with their repertoire. They may not know the drama in which they play a role, but they know their role, and they play it well.

In these early, disquieting mornings, I know my role, but do not know the play in which I perform. I do not even know my next line. I feel lost.

John Barth, in his novel The Floating Opera compares life to a floating opera. This opera is being performed on a floating barge that is slowly moving up and down the Hudson River. Spectators are standing on the bank looking at the drama unfold. As long as the floating opera is in their sight, they grasp the meaning of the play. They may even join in a chorus or two. Life is unambiguous and consequential and full of beans. But then the barge moves on and the spectators are left in quiet uncertainty.

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

The barge returns again and leaves again and so forth.

To me, the barge is absent at 4:30 A.M. I am not sure what the story is. I don’t know what my place is in the drama unfolding. By 10AM I am regaining some élan. By 2PM I am completely confident; the play is right before me. By 10 PM I am asleep . . . but again, at 4:30 A. M., the struggle begins again.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

But it is 4:30 A. M. again. “James,” in Hebrew, is “Jacob,” “the deceiver,” “the one who struggles.” It is my Peniel. It is where I meet God face to face. It is a time when, again, I decide, “Whom will you serve today? If God is God serve Him! If Baal is God, serve him! (1 Kings 18:21)

4:30 AM lying next to my gray haired campaigner, is my Peniel, my time of struggle, but it is also my Mt. Carmel. Each day I go up to Mt. Carmel to challenge the gods of this age. With my pen, with my prayers, I dare the cacophonic sirens of this discordant land to challenge my God to a duel.

Mt. Moriah each morning and I meet again a God who loves me so, so much, but who has no hyperbole in His portfolio, who literally demands everything from me. Whether I see all the drama unfolding before me on the river or not, whether I fully understand what the outcome will be, God demands, in great love, in only the way a Savior can, that I give Him my all, my everything again. Especially at 4:30 AM.

It is 6:30 AM and my sugar plum, whose transcendent beautiful will soon belong to Clinique and Origin, but whose raw courage and fortitude is mine, and mine alone, for this new day, for this moment, for this new Genesis.

I see the wrinkles, the circles under her eyes, but I will not insult the ambiance, the chronicle, the time that I know put them there by pretending they are not. No there is no histrionics in my Karen and I will have none either. Not right now. Not for this moment when we kiss and bask in the dawn again. She is more beautiful than Cleopatra, more exotic Bathsheba, for surely Mark Antony and Solomon would feel cheated if they could have known my exquisite life companion.

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

“Hi, honey. What is for breakfast?”

And I limp again, down the stairs, to my country kitchen for my oatmeal . . . and then I battle the gods of the ages again . . .

Wrestling With God Part I

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Genesis 32: 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”  But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Almost every morning around 4:30 AM I wake up. I have tried everything I know to stay asleep until dawn at least. Tylenol PM, even some things that are stronger, but nothing works. Like clockwork, at 4:30 AM I wake up.
I look over at my wife hoping that she is awake. But she never is. The soft, flannel sheet grace her beautiful freckled shoulders cashiering into my dark world the late moon light luminosity glimmering and dancing through our upstairs bedroom window. For 36 years I have awakened next to this woman and it still takes my breath away. “As winter strips the leaves from around us, so that we may see the distant regions they formerly concealed, so old age takes away our enjoyments only to enlarge the prospect of the coming eternity.” (Jean Paul)

The silence is surreal and disorienting. This is the silence of a winter country mountain farm. There is no hint of a sound.

Nonetheless, my heart is almost always nearly breaking and I there are screams in my soul that I cannot drown out.

I wistfully reach out and gently touch her shoulder. I dare now wake her up. God knows she works so hard. Loves me so much. Cares for me. I know I am a high maintenance husband. She needs all the sleep she can get. Especially that deep sleep that I know longer enjoy, that sleep between 2-6 AM, that deep nocturnal slumber that serendipitously visits so very rarely to my soul.

In high school I remember my high school teacher, Mr. Watson, asking, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, is it sound?” The trees were falling in my forest and the sounds were deafening but I wondered if anyone was around to hear it. And if no one heard my trees fall, was it really sound?

The darkness spoke only silence to my soul. The shadows of trees moving in the wind were my only companions this early morning.

This is, I assure you, the darkest time of every day. The time when night is almost over but daylight has not come.

When I was a boy my dad would take us into the Devil Den swamps near Montrose, Arkansas, to ambush unwary green headed Mallard Ducks at daybreak. Like trolling mine sweepers, dragging our red ball hip books along through antediluvian mud, we would push through down tree limbs, avoiding jutting cypress knees. The swamp had the sweet smell of death. It was rumored that there was an old escaped slave den nearby, a place where runaway slaves would run and hide from cruel slave owners. More than once I thought I saw their shiny black bodies run from tree to tree through the swamp. It was so dark. It was even too dark to look at our compasses that probed into the frenzied quagmire that surrounding us and would have at least told us where North was if we could see it. But we could not.


Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Admission to competitive universities has been the subject of numerous movies, including Risky Business, Paper Chase, Love Story, and, a movie my wife Karen and I saw this weekend, Admissions. While I do not recommend any of the aforementioned movies (especially Risky Business ( : ), they offer highlight some of the difficulties connected with college admission.

In the movie — starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd — Princeton University’s admissions office seems woefully behind the times when it comes to technology, with applicant records kept in folders (orange of course). Admission or rejection is accompanied by a dramatic checking of a box (or in one case where an admissions officer is angry at an applicant’s false claim, stamping the rejection twice on the folder). Princeton’s admissions dean (played by Wallace Shawn) is traumatized by a drop from No. 1 to No. 2 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings (when the only rankings indignity real-life Princeton suffers is being tied for the top spot with Harvard University).

Of course very few of us are going to go to Harvard or Princeton—although it is not as hard as you might think—both universities favor homeschool students and offer generous financial aid packages—but I want to highlight a few things I observed in the movie that are true.

  1. While I would never denigrate the ACT, it is not as prestigious a college admission exam as the SAT. Prestigious colleges prefer the SAT and ordinary/good colleges give larger financial aid packages to students who take the SAT and score high. My advice: Take both.
  2. Consider accumulating AP credits instead of CLEP credits. The former are far more prestigious. I still have openings in my AP classes. Visit and click on “Distance Learning.”
  3. If you opt to ignore the SAT and ACT—which is the only legitimate college admission test for the best colleges– and do something like College Plus, you jeopardize your financial possibilities and admission to prestigious graduate schools. Pray about it.
  4. College admission officers look at the essay portion of the ACT & SAT in lieu or in addition to the college admission essay. You should really, then, give a lot of attention to both.
  5. Choose the 5 colleges you would attend and apply. I recommend having 2 “long shot” choices, 2 “possible,” and two “in the bag” choices. Visit all 5 if you can. Arrange for interviews.
  6. Do not think about financial aid until you are accepted. Apply to a college—any college you feel God is calling you to—and then apply for financial aid if you are accepted. NEVER pay an independent agency to find financial aid or scholarships for you. The admitting college will help you gratis.

To Be the Lord of The New

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

In September, 1976 I sat in Harvard University Chapel and heard Pastor Peter Gomes, the Harvard University Chaplain, tell us that we were the best of the best. The hope of America and the world. He told us to look around and see who the next president, governor, great author, and theologian would be. As one professor quipped, “there are those who go to Harvard, and those who don’t.” Why, on that day, should I, a born again, evangelical, be greatly concerned?

British writer Virginia Woolf’s assertion that “on or about December 1910, human character changed” is all so true. About that time, Modernism emerged as the primary social and world view in human history. Modernism aims at that radical transformation of human thought in relation to God, man, the world, and life, and death, which was presaged by humanism and 17th century philosophy (e.g., Immanuel Kant), and violently practiced in the French Revolution. French philosopher J.J. Rousseau, was the first to use the term but it will not blossom fully until the 20th century.

If the world view deism suggested that God was out to lunch, Modernism, a cousin of naturalism, suggested that God was absent altogether.

Modernism, in its broadest definition, is cultural tendencies originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The world, including America, had rapidly changed from an agrarian to an urban society in one short generation.

Modernism fervently believed in science and technology. It was an optimistic vision of the future. It was also a revolt against the conservative values of limitation and pragmatism. The trademark of Modernism was its rejection of tradition. Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment epistemology and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator God in favor of human progress. The first casualty of this Quixotic thinking was Judeo-Christian morality.

Modernism was universal in its rejection of everything conventional. Literature, art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were all targets of this surprisingly arrogant movement. Perhaps no social movement has been so confident in its moral ambiguity, as Modernism was.

The poet Ezra Pound‘s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was paradigmatic of the movement’s approach towards the obsolete. And Pound is a good example of the paradoxes inherent in Modernism. On one hand, Pound embraced a new understanding of human liberty and free expression while embracing nascent totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. Pound, like so many Modernists, felt he could separate his ethics from his world view. This delusion would have disastrous consequences. Adolf Eichmann had a similar view in Nazi Germany and designed and implemented the Holocaust.

The Modernist movement, at the beginning of the 20th century, marked the first time that the term “avant-garde“, with which the movement was labeled until the word “Modernism” prevailed, was used for the arts. Surrealism was the “the avant-garde of Modernism”.

Art historian Clement Greenberg states, “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. The philosopher Immanuel Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic, and while he withdrew much from its old jurisdiction, logic was left all the more secure in what there remained to it.” Modernism, in its attempt to attack everything traditional, created an autocratic liberalism.

In 2014 we live with the consequences of this liberalism. We presume to know more than we know; to solve problems we cannot solve. Along the way we have lost perspective on what time it is.

Where is Dante When we Need Him?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Where is Dante when we need him? Faust: A Tragedy is indeed a tragedy, but neither Goethe or Faust know it. The tragedy is that this Romantic tale lacks a tragic ending. We Christians earnestly, fervently hope that it does. The notion that there is no moral universe with no consequences, no cause and effect, invites inevitable chaos and nihilism that is so much a part of our Post-Modern world. Faust’s yearning for experience and knowledge created a type for the Modern (1900-1990) and Post-Modern (1990-Present) ages still known as the Faustian hero, though in reality Goethe’s Faust is more a villain than a hero; and the purported villain–Mephistopheles–is one of the most likable characters in the play. His yearnings draw him toward the heavens, yet he is also powerfully attracted to the physical world. Ultimately the tragedy of Goethe’s tragedy, is that mankind cannot have his cake and eat it too: we cannot reject Christ as Savior and suppose that we will spend eternity in his presence. The fact that Goethe thinks otherwise is remarkable in its presumptuousness.

Faust is a very learned professor, who is dissatisfied with human knowledge, which by its nature is limited. Using magic, he conjures up the Earth Spirit in his darkened study. Regarding himself as more than mortal, he tries to claim the Earth Spirit as a colleague, but the Spirit rejects him scornfully and disappears. Despairing, Faust contemplates suicide. He is saved by the sound of the bells welcoming Easter morning. He and his research assistant, Wagner, go out into the sunlight and enjoy the greetings of the crowd, which remembers the medical attention given to the people by Faust and his father. Faust is still depressed, denying the value of medicine and feeling torn between the two souls in him, one longing for earthly pleasures, the other seeking the highest spiritual knowledge. A dog follows Faust and Wagner home. The dog, of course, is Mephistopheles! The overall theme of this work is the struggle mankind undertakes to overcome evil and to discriminate between good and evil.

Faust Part One is a complex story. It takes place in multiple settings, the first of which is heaven. Mephistopheles makes a bet with God. He says that he can deflect God’s favorite human being (Faust), who is striving to learn everything that can be known, away from righteous pursuits. The next scene takes place in Faust’s study where Faust, despairing at the vanity of scientific, humanitarian and religious learning, turns to magic for the revelation of ultimate knowledge. He suspects, however, that his attempts are failing. Frustrated, he ponders suicide, but rejects it as he hears the echo of nearby Easter celebrations begin. He goes for a walk with his assistant Wagner and is followed home by a stray poodle. God is only one among equals—epistemology is more important than faith, truth is subjective, not objective. We are no longer enjoying sunsets with William Wordsworth and speculating on their origins—we are looking into Hell itself, the New Age, Modernism, what Nietzsche calls “the vacuum.”

With Goethe, we move forward four hundred years through the Reformation, through the Renaissance, and into the Enlightenment. The period of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, the greatest epoch in German literature, fell within the lifetime of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The age of Goethe went beyond the Enlightenment’s substitution of science for religion, inasmuch as it ascribed to science only a peripheral position in relation to the ultimate questions of life. It insisted upon the value of feeling in face of the limitations of reason. Impulse, instinct, emotion, and intuition acquired a quasi-religious significance as being the links that connected man with divine nature—one way to define Romanticism. The ideal of the classical age was that of the fully developed personality in which intellect and feeling should be harmoniously balanced. We see the enigmatic Doctor Faust representing all three movements. Three phases may be distinguished in the evolution of this new outlook: Sturm und Drang (storm and stress), Classicism, and Romanticism. Goethe belonged to and profoundly affected the Sturm und Drang movement, which aimed at overthrowing rationalism. There is, however, something that is modern: the emphasis on an amoral vision. We see the beginning of a Friedrich Nietzsche’s “survival of the fittest” mentality.

The Sound of Music

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

In 2012 Agathe von Trapp, eldest of the Trapp Family Singers (as of Sound of Music fame), died. Ms. Von Trapp was the oldest daughter of Capt. Georg Ritter von Trapp, an Austrian naval officer. She performed with her brothers and sisters as the Trapp Family singers. Their story, of course, was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music. We 1960 boomers grew up singing “the hills are alive . . .” This beautiful musical was a needed foil to the hedonism, nihilism of the 1960s. Unflappable, Godly, Maria gave us a viable alternative to obnoxious Hanoi Jane (Jane Fonda) who shamed us all with her fraternization with the North Vietnamese enemy. The problem is, though, according to Agahe von Trapp, was that the musical was patently untrue. In 2003 Ms. Von Trapp published a book, Memoires Before and after ‘The Sound of Music.’ She apparently wrote the book because she saw the movie and thought it was “a very nice story, but it is not our story.”

“If they hadn’t used our name,” she added, “I would probably have enjoyed it.”

In 2014, how sad, this reader feels, that I was encouraged by a story that really did not happen. This harried youngster, like millions of my peers, needed a story that celebrated goodness, virtue, honesty, and patriotism. But now Ms. Von Trapp tells us that it was not true.

Then, I thought, author Kurt Vonnegut, jr., who wrote science fiction classics, remarked, “My science fiction is so real that it is not fiction at all. It just seems like it.” Perhaps The Sound of Music was the real thing, and all the other frenetic immorality was fiction. I hope so.

Chinese Christian martyr Watchman Nee in his class The Normal Christian Life warns us that the normal Christian life is so different from what we see in real life that it appears radical, even fictional. But it isn’t. I would like to think that The Sound of Music was real and everything else in the 1960s was fanciful. At least I hope so.

Erich Goldhagen, Ph. D.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

I don’t just see myself as an author, exhibitor, entrepreneur, etc. I see myself a a saboteur of the culture of hopelessness pervading our nation, guerilla fighter against secular religion (very similar to Baal worship). I see myself as a soldier in the army of the Lord combating mediocrity and so-called toleration which is anything but, masquerading as enlightened candor. My friend, although I was never his peer, and professor at Harvard, Erich Goldhagen, a survivor of the Holocaust told me something I will never forget. “Stobaugh,” Professor Goldhagen said, “Do not think that the Nazis were immoral. On the contrarily. They were veritable Puritans!” Of course Dr. G did not mean the “Puritans” in New England but “Puritans” as in religious, moral people. Committed Nazis in fact practiced all sorts of moral, religious, behavior: sobriety, chastity, honesty, and courage. “The problem is,” Dr. G explained, “the worst sort of people are those who are moral but whose ethics stem from some cause or world view connected to a political agenda.” The Nazis’ morality was divorced from Judeo-Christianity. Again, this week, I see a nation motivated by a cause whose god is a foreign, alien presence to my pantheon and, again, I find myself moving farther away from the Asherah poles. It is with you and our God, the Christian home school community, that I place my heraldry.

In Alice’s Wonderland

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

It feels like America has fallen into Alice’s rabbit hole described by Lewis Carroll in his classic Alice in Wonderland. Wonderland was full of improbabilities: the rules of time, space, and orderly sequence, and cause and effect were reversed. In such a world, consciousness is adrift, unable to anchor itself to any universal ground of justice, truth or reason. Consciousness itself is thus “decentered”: no longer an agent of action in the world, but a function through which impersonal forces pass and intersect. When a justice system is committed to serving political agendas and when it becomes the instrument of personal gain we are in trouble. We have fallen into the rabbit hole and lost our way.

As I listen to CNN, it feels like I am entering the Caterpillar’s living room. “Who are you?” the Caterpillar asked Alice.

I hardly know,” she said. . . . “I know who I was when I woke up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

As I watch sincerely wrong people of the same sex saying marriage vows, I feel that I am following the white rabbit into a surrealistic rabbit hole of unreality. But it is too real, unfortunately.

Tell me,” Alice asked the Duchess, “why does your cat always grin?
He is a Cheshire cat and Cheshire cats always grin!” the Duchess answered.

I know what is true and what is real.

To those who threaten, who bully, who malign the innocent, who violate the Word of God, let me remind them of a truth that will never change, a truth as painful as the squeaking of the Lizard’s slate pencil, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Gals. 6:7) Think of that, shrill Queen, as you rule in the rabbit hole.

Family Chatter

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Today, more than ever, Christians are called to write apologetic literature.  The first three hundred years of Church history were also the age of Apologists, and these Apologists engaged in warfare on two fronts. First, there was the allure of pagan society. Because of its strict moral code the church was popularly suspected of sheltering all sorts of immoralities and thus of threatening the established order. At the same time, the pagan world sought to draw Christians away from the faith by offering all sorts of enticement. The greatest enticement was intellectual.  The Christian faith was accused of being anti-intellectual and old-fashioned (even when it was only a few decades old!). The Platonist thinker Celsus, who followed the religiously inclined form of Platonism that flourished from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, were only two among many “cultured despisers.”  Celsus was the Carl Sagan of his age.  But, second, orthodoxy had to take issue with distorting tendencies within, whether these took the form of Gnosticism or of other heresies, such as the so-called semi-Gnostic Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament revelation or the claim of the ecstatic prophet from Phrygia, Montanus, to be the vehicle of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Christianity had also to define exactly where it stood in relation to Hellenistic culture. Hellenistic culture was as ubiquitous in its day as American culture is today.  Likewise, the greatest threat today is a form of Gnosticism that worships knowledge over everything.  It is interesting to note, for instance, that the most prominent feature of the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennysylvania, is aptly named “the Cathedral of Learning!”  We worship at our Gnostic shrines (i.e., the university) all over our country.  The most famous Apologist, however, was Justin (later called Justin Martyr), who was converted to Christianity after trying various philosophical schools, paid lengthy visits to Rome, and was martyred there (165). Justin’s two Apologies are skillful presentations of the Christian case to the pagan critics; and his Dialogue with Trypho is an elaborate defense of Christianity against Judaism.   In a real sense the first two generations of apologists were  the first Christian theologians.  Theology originally was written to persuade the outside world to convert to Christ.  Today it seems most Christians talk only with other Christians!