Friday, January 28, 2005

     My blog and I aren’t getting along.

It devours all of my thoughts and quickly relegates them to the obscurity of Archives. It is demanding and needy, and is jealous of all the time I spend doing other things. It nags me about how many days it has been since my last post. It forces me to think of self in the light of a different medium.

Sometimes we fight. I have threatened to kill the blog, and it regularly laughs at my attempts to be interesting. I have thought of holding down my Q key until the blog is bloated with incoherency. I’ve considered kidnapping parts of other blogs and passing them off as my own children.

The brain forms a thought, the thought is encoded into words, the fingers translate the words into characters, and with a flash of electricity, that original thought enters an ethereal world I do not fully understand, do not fully trust, whose influence on human existence I can’t fully account for, and whose forward direction is hard to determine.

So I wake up each morning and ask myself, “What do I think of the world today?” What do I want to communicate to people? What opinions or news are worthy of note? And most of the answers that come are quickly rejected, because
     my blog and I aren’t getting along.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

24 January 2004

My daughter's birthday was today; she turned three.

She didn't even want a birthday at first. She doesn't like change and so she did not like the idea of her age changing, and dismissed any discussion of it with a firm, "No." Sometimes I try to reason things out as the only way to solve a problem, and so I listed for my daughter all of the benefits of having a birthday. It wasn't a hard sell but it was a good sell, only she wasn't buying.

She's exactly like my wife in her desire for constancy. For the both of them, I think it's a way to make sure that the whole huge world isn't going to fall away into some unknown.

With time, she came around to the idea of a birthday. Two days ago she was riding in the car, and her brother was next to her in the back seat. He asked her when her birthday was and she said, "I don't have a birthday." But then they both laughed, and I knew she would enjoy her tomorrow birthday.

She had to get used to her new bed too. That was one of her gifts, a little regular bed. After a birthday meal of Chinese food—which is a great birthday meal choice if I can compliment my daughter—I drove both kids to the library while my wife took her crib down and put up her new bed. When we got back home, we showed her the new bed, and she was surprised and happy. But then she realized what it would mean and she cried. She missed her crib.

You know I don't mind change so much, but if I were three and had slept in the same crib every night that I could remember, and someone took the crib away and gave me a new bed I'd never seen, picked out, or slept in, I might cry too.

I think it's a cool little bed. It isn't shaped like a car or a castle or a boat. It's just a very small oak bed with a nice headboard. But I really like it.

And by the end of the day, after we read the kids stories and my wife asked what her favorite gift was, my daughter said, "My bed." Lying in it with the covers pulled up, she looked like she'd grown smaller, not older.

Happy birthday Abby. You're the most enjoyable and fascinating three-year-old kid I know, and it's a privilege to be your father.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

They fired this guy for a typo, and yet the reporters (people paid to avoid typos) telling us about it couldn't avoid mistakes either.
"The data that the employee was the ground water and the surface water mixture. He took the two numbers and flipped them and was putting too much of the well water into the system," Veolia Water spokesman David Gadis said.
That's just sic and wrong.

Although granted, it was an expensive typo.

Monday, January 17, 2005

          Jonathan Edwards: A Defensive Analysis           3/3

But what about that beastly, hopeless sermon of Edwards? Even when reread it still stands as a sadistic picture of God, overly sensational, and manipulative. Or does it?

To understand this sermon, and others like it, we first have to understand his motive. Jonathan Edwards' purpose was not to somehow frighten his congregation into becoming Christians, but to awaken apathetic sinners, and to move them to consider their standing before God more seriously (Gerstner). People in Edwards' day, as in our own, were very indifferent towards spiritual matters, and Edwards wanted to disturb them out of their lethargy.

He made it clear to them, however, that coming to Christ out of fear alone, if not combined with true love for God, was hypocrisy. This distinction stands out in the statement that, "The spirit of a true convert is a spirit of true love to God..." (Works 73). Edwards also demonstrated in a sermon on James 2.19 that having fear of God by itself is really no better than the demons who also believe in and are fearful of hell.

Reading Edwards' sermons on God's wrath and eternal punishment may seem repulsive to us today, but perhaps we have over-emphasized God's love and resultantly obscured the Bible's teachings on the justice and holiness of God. The question to consider before criticizing Edwards' stronger writings is whether he is unduly harsh, or whether he merely reflects the harshness of the scriptures himself. If his exposition of hell is radical, it may simply be that the concept is radical.

It could be fair to ask how someone could be guilty of preaching hellfire and damnation if this will be the very real and frightful end of the majority of mankind? We would have to blame not Edwards, but God. One student of Edwards stated that under his preaching, concepts like heaven and hell "lost their vague outlines and became visible, imminent realities" (Winslow 143).

It must also be realized that Edwards' sermons on hell form only a portion of the body of his works and that he "made just as drooling a picture of heaven as he [did] a horrible picture of hell" (Gerstner). One editor of Edwards' works states that his preaching on the duties and privileges of being a child of God, which form over half of his total sermons, are "set forth in positive, joyous, tender, rhapsodic, and even rapt language" (Selections cxi).

Finally, it could be noted that Edwards' strong preaching has had an effect, even in our day in which the fires of hell have long been put out. John Gerstner shared one of the conversations he had with a well-known secular scholar (name witheld) who was studying Edwards' works at the Yale library at the same time as Gerstner. Having become friends, the man expressed to Gerstner his utter fascination with Edwards' powerful metaphorical language, like the vivid image of the drawn bow aimed at the sinner's heart. Gerstner pointed out that if Edwards was right, that arrow was aimed at the man's own heart, and confessed he did not know how the man could sleep at night. To this the man replied soberly, "Sometimes I don't."

It is because of Edwards' influence on the reader, combined with the current, intense interest among the scholarly world in his writing that Gerstner has marked Edwards as currently the greatest opportunity for the conversion of academic souls.

Even on the little campus of [Cornerstone College], some testified to the strong effects the sermon made. Dr. David Landrum, associate professor of English, spoke of the deep impression "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" made in his life when he read it. Several others polled also testified to have been impacted by Edwards.

In realizing the distorting effects time and biases can make on historical research and documentation, the real need for accurate and impartial reporting becomes painstakingly obvious. It is relatively easy to paint a person, idea, or historical event any way one wants, depending on what is emphasized or obscured, what is considered and left out, and what varying degrees of prejudice and misunderstanding lie in the observations of the researcher.

Perhaps someday the records will be set straight, and the influence of all the study of Edwards' life and writings will lend a more balanced view of who he was. Perhaps a greater proportion of people will realize the great heritage Edwards left to those who come after him. Perhaps they will avail themselves of the wisdom to be gained from his works.

Indeed there is much to be gained from familiarizing ourselves with lives lived greatly and boldly. They invite us to their level, to experience life above the plane of a mere, routine, day-to-day existence. They challenge us, and hold us accountable for what we will do with what they have sacrificed to share. Their failures mark the common pitfalls which lay before all of us. Their achievements root us on. They have given too much to each successive generation for us to sit idle, and to bring to a standstill that which they have started.

Works Cited [unformatted]
The Bible. New American Standard.
Davidson, Edward H. Jonathan Edwards: The Narrative of a Puritan Mind. Boston: Houghton, 1966.
Dodds, Elisabeth D. Marriage to a Difficult Man: The "Uncommon Union" of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971.
Edwards, Jonathan. Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes. Eds. Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Hill, 1962.
---. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M. 2 vols. London: Ball, 1840.
Fried Green Tomatoes. MCA, 1991.
Gerstner, John. Jonathan Edwards. Three-part lecture series, Audio tape.
Lloyd-Jones, D.M. The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors. Carlisle, PA: Banner, 1987.
Mead, Frank S. The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations. Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1965.
Miller, Perry. Jonathan Edwards. New York: Morrow, 1949.
Murray, Iain H. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Carlisle, PA: Banner, 1987.
Ryken, Leland. Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.
Scheick, William J. Critical Essays on Jonathan Edwards. Boston: Hall, 1980.
Turnbull, Ralph G. Jonathan Edwards the Preacher. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958.
Winslow, Elizabeth Ola. Jonathan Edwards. New York: MacMillan, 1940.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I'd like to see the Republican party's virtual monopoly (at least in the realm of politics) on standing against abortion to be taken away.

Whatever your views on politics, no one side has all the answers. But the available voting choices are cut in half for those who see legalized abortion as the biggest civil rights abuse since slavery. Being able to count on that pro-life vote, along with their impressive string of victories, reduces the accountability of the Republicans, and there's few things uglier in life than political power cut off from accountability.

It looks like the Democrats might be starting to recognize these concerns. Read more about it here.

          Jonathan Edwards: A Defensive Analysis           2/3

It was not only because of his mind that Jonathan Edwards is to be admired, but equally for the life he lived. Though the Puritans have customarily been painted as over-pious, more careful examination reveals that much could be learned from them, and that Edwards himself had a zeal for life and Godliness.

Although our mental image of the Puritans is usually not a positive one, research has for some time been revealing that prevailing notions are mistaken. C. S. Lewis described the Puritans as "young, fierce, progressive intellectuals, very fashionable and up-to-date" (qtd. in Ryken 4). Martin Lloyd-Jones has this to say of them: "Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers" (22).

Probably one of the main sources of contemporary bias towards the Puritans comes from the well-known classic The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who paints them as the smug moralists we envision. Yet Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton college, defends them against the novel, saying, "The Scarlet Letter is not a historically accurate picture of the Puritans...Furthermore, Hawthorne used the Puritans in his story for satiric purposes, and it is a convention of satire to exaggerate the negative features of the thing being attacked" (189; italics not mine).

Edwards himself reveals this same excellence of life, exhibited in great tenderness, godliness, and zeal for life. Gerstner remarked, "If you ever study the man's life, there seems to be an incredible symmetry between this penetrating, powerful, prodigious, genius of a brain, with a heart that is equally aflame and in perfect harmony."

Edwards spoke of his own conversion experience by stating that it was like being "alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and rapt and swallowed up in God" (Scheick 56).

Even in the face of cruel treatment he was gentle and meek. When pastoring his church in Northampton, Massachusetts, an opposition rose up against him over a doctrinal issue which ultimately removed Edwards as pastor from the church. To one of his opponents who heartlessly exploited the controversy, he responded by expressing his desire to treat him "with true candour and Christian charity" (Murray 348). As a note, the stand that Edwards took that was so vehemently opposed by some was his requirement of a visible profession of faith in Christ before a person could be admitted to partake of the Lord's supper.

He sometimes exhibited a subtle, witty sense of humor as in his essay "Of Being" in which he demonstrates the complete impossibility of conceiving of absolute nothing by defining it as "the same that sleeping rocks dream of" (Selections 20).

He also greatly enjoyed nature and spent a good part of his early life outdoors observing it, resulting in keen observations such as his essay on spiders, where he correctly identified the flying spider and its actions. Later in life he did not have the time for spending hours of the day outdoors, but still confessed, "Sometimes on fair days I find myself more particularly disposed to regard the glories of the world then to betake myself to the study of serious religion" (Dodds 22).

Yet he was in no sense lazy or undisciplined. Striving to spend every minute profitably, he used to pin little, white pieces of blank paper to his coat while traveling, each of which reminded him of something that had occurred to him while deep in thought (Dodds 67-68). Through this practice he found extra time to spend thinking, and he never forgot any important discoveries he made. In a list he made of 70 resolutions, he writes, "Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live...Resolved, Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life" (Selections 38).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Today I got up at 5:00 A.M. in order to go to work at 6:00 A.M., so I can work the overtime I want to and still be able to see my kids before they go to bed. Previously, I had been coming in at 9:00 A.M.

So I'm eagerly hoping to take advantage of the "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" maxim. The only problem is that I don't feel at all healthy, I'm certainly not wealthy, and I'm a little dubious on the wise part. I picture the group of people who function at this hour—particularly if they're smiling—as a group of ascetics who take satisfaction from incorporating Spartan details into their lives.

I wonder how much of the idea of "morning people" is nature, and how much is nurture. Do people learn to greet the dawn from what I consider the wrong end, or is it inherent? If I had been a dairy farmer, would there have been a small part of me still revolting internally against such a cruel waking schedule? And who put cows onto this pattern? Couldn't we get their agreement to all sleep in a little?

Hopefully I'll adjust to this better as I go along.

I was looking over some of the writing I've done in the past, and came across this paper on Jonathan Edwards that I wrote in 1993.

          Jonathan Edwards: A Defensive Analysis           1/3

A contemporary trend of the media, entertainment world, and in scholarly circles is to reinterpret historical persons, events, ideas, and cultures along contemporary lines. A recent, highly regarded film, Fried Green Tomatoes aptly illustrates this tendency with its thoroughly revisionistic painting of an historical era. Christopher Columbus is now portrayed by historians as a bigot who was injurious to the North American world, and yet Malcolm X, who applauded the death of white persons up until the very end of his life, is cast as an admirable hero. These examples have to stand in line, however, when we come across a person who has suffered from misrepresentation for years.

"Too harsh and shouty," "shallow and pointless," has "an emphasis on hellfire and damnation," "his writings are offensive to me." Ask someone how they perceive Jonathan Edwards, the well known Puritan preacher of Colonial America, and this is how they are likely to respond. According to a survey taken among college students at Grand Rapids Baptist College, around 50% of those familiar with Edwards expressed negative or critical opinions of him. And although he is accused of these things, and of course as a Puritan seen as pietistic, legalistic, backwards, self-righteous, and smug; when we cut through the criticism and begin to study the man in depth, a contrasting picture begins to emerge. We begin to see Jonathan Edwards as someone gifted with beauty of expression and intellectual genius, someone who exhibited a glorious, admirable life; and we start to understand the basis and context for some of his stronger writings. While the scope is not in any sense an extensive analysis, it is at least a call to reexamine our notions of Jonathan Edwards, over and against the prevailing opinions and colorings of his life and thoughts.

If we were to endeavor to set aside any prejudices or preconceived notions that we may have gained about Jonathan Edwards, to pretend that we had never heard of him, and from that perspective to plunge into the body of his works, one of the first things that would most likely strike us would be the beauty of his soul and passion, which is carried over skillfully into his writing. We might begin to wonder whether we had prematurely judged Edwards in light of his best known sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and the fact that he was a Puritan.

Beautiful, expressive writing begins to arrest our minds as we come across passages such as the following:
How they can sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of his giving his infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, and holy, and tender Lamb of God, manifested in his dying agonies, his bloody sweat, his loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for his enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory; and yet be cold, and heavy, insensible and regardless! (Selections 225).
How could we come across such a passage and still remain aloof and convinced that Edwards has nothing to say to our generation?

It is interesting that although we picture Pastor Edwards with congregation swooning and crying, under agony of ruthless utterances about destruction and wrath, that the bulk of his writings reveal the exact opposite, if anything. The noun that appears more frequently in the body of his works than any other is "sweetness," revealing a soul which savored the experience of God (Dodds 69).

John Gerstner, a brilliant theologian who has meticulously researched and analyzed Edwards, revealed in a series of lectures that one of the great strengths of his writing was his skillful use of vivid, picturesque language. Edwards once depicted the Christian soul as "a little white flower standing peacefully and lovingly in midst of other flowers round about" (Scheick 56). He described the human heart as being "like a viper, hissing, and spitting poison at God" (Mead 212).

Another scholar of Edwards reveals that his sermons have, "a literary quality appealing to mind and heart...a poetic element pervading the prose which gives it high moments of thought and feeling" (Turnbull 66). Another writer agrees that he "wrote in prose...yet had the exquisite sensitivity of a poet" (Davidson vii).

Probably the quality of Edwards, next to his deeply emotional nature, that enabled his writing to rise to eloquence was his genius. Martin Lloyd-Jones has labeled Jonathan Edwards "America's greatest philosopher" (352). Perry Miller, former professor of American Literature at Harvard University, in the foreword to his biography of Edwards says that he is "one of America's five or six major artists." He asserts that if one can get past Edwards' tendency towards technical language, "he discovers an intelligence which, as much as Emerson's, Melville's or Mark Twain's is both an index of American society and a comment about it" (251).

When we consider that Edwards spent his entire life in Colonial America, for the most part without any of the advantages of an elite education and culture that other areas of the world would have offered, his genius becomes even more amazing. And when we consider that some of his greatest works were written while living amongst uneducated Indians and that he often cut up his books to write in the margins for lack of paper, it becomes almost ludicrous.

Early on Edwards exhibited a brilliant, inquisitive mind, and while still in his teens he began to write about nature and philosophy. One of his most famous natural essays is entitled, "Of Insects," and the editors of this essay state that "no one who has concerned himself with Edwards' writings has failed to marvel at this precocious exhibition of detailed and accurate observation, with its startling mixture of childlike naivete and mature analysis" (Edwards, Selections 417).

Other essays produced in his youth were "The Soul," in which he attacks the concept of a material soul which dies with the body of man; "Of Being," a defense for the existence of God; and two scientific studies into the nature and properties of light, "Of the Rainbow" and "Colours" (Edwards, Selections 13-26). Gerstner in his lectures on Edwards notes that some people have said that the philosophical knowledge that Edwards demonstrated at fifteen years of age is quite likely unequalled in the entire realm of history. Henry Rogers, in an essay to the set of Edwards' complete works, allows for the same possibility by comparing him to Descartes, one of the great philosophers: "It must be remembered, however, that what were the speculations of Descartes' maturer age, were only the amusements of Edwards' most precocious youth" (Edwards, Works vi).

As this prodigy grew older, his writings continue to reflect this same depth of reason, and the crowning achievement of Edwards' scholarly works would unquestionably be his massive essay "The Freedom of the Will." Some have asserted that this easily takes its place as one of the greatest philosophical essay ever written in the United States, if not the greatest. (Edwards, Selections 425; Gerstner, Miller 251).

Friday, January 07, 2005

I have this theory about alcohol and its ability to fight common illnesses like the flu.

I have no proof of this theory whatsoever, but it sure has been fun testing it.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Movie notes

Door in the Floor: The soundtrack stops one note short of resolution.

Finding Neverland: Contains a scene that makes a wonderful depiction of Jesus' statement, "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Harmony House

          Two ladies fighting over whether Cole Porter wrote “So In Love” or not. This is my Christmas Eve.
          Please allow me this foolish disclosure. Employed at a retail record store—Harmony House—provides me with experiences that should not be left inward and isolated, for they are experiences with our fellow human beings.

          My awareness of the job as an observation post to view humanity, with all its poignancy and degradation, began with a certain upper-class gentleman, definitely out of place at our location. It hit me in a flash of brilliance the first time he came in and made a purchase. I am not here as some young counter person to sell records. I am here to steal from men their secrets, the passions in their hearts that make them wake up in the morning and go to bed at night.
          That inspiration occurred at this precise moment in time: a CD, dropped onto the counter, clattering a slow-motion dance to a stop directly in front of me. It was Wagner. Big and thick of course, something from the Ring cycle. Looking up, this gentleman sort of sneering at me, watching me. And then I said it.
          “Wagner?” I mis-pronounced this, knowing he would not expect me to recognize it as a German name. The gleam in his eyes demonstrated he fell for it, and spoke to me in their sparkle: “I am taking satisfaction by your very ignorance.” This established me as his favorite place to buy CDs, and I rarely fail to find some occasion to humor him. Concerto, pronounced like “concert” with an O. Stupid questions like, “Do you suffer from stress?” What I long to scream to his peers someday is that he’s a closet Barry Manilow fan. I saw him browsing through Easy Listening from my counter, and recognized the album covers from twenty feet. Ugh, show a little taste, I would say to him then.
          Actually, most of the patrons provide little material to probe the depths of men’s natures. Teenagers wanting whatever was banging out of the speakers across America. When they come in I gave them what they want. Intense stuff, and turned up loud if no one seems bothered. They never tire of it. I on the other hand, never fail to see the comedy. “Rock and roll will never die” can be getting screamed from the sound system, while this same pop as an entertainment form is dying a thousand top-40, three-minute, fade-out-on-the-chorus-deaths every year. Sometimes I want to ask these babes in rebellion if they figure the current artist they are purchasing could possibly drop off the charts and thereby from existence some day. Hell no.
          My thieves are perhaps my favorite. We are undergoing an experiment in sociology, an attempt at reform, and to them I give my biggest smiles when I recognize them at the door, or discover a new one wandering around nervously. If I notice one casting quick, furtive glances at me from the corners of their eyes, I wander over. Engage them in conversation, pat them on the back, affirm their worth. I will mother them.
          What I call the crazies are my least favorite. Deviants, misfits—not the kind that defy parental authority with posters of some guy breaking his guitar over a band member's head, but the kind who show by their very erratic behavior or dark appearance that they are on the verge of terrible things at every moment. A self-protective instinct and too many episodes of Highway Patrolmen guide me in watching for a bulge in the coat or a sudden movement, so I can quickly heave at them whatever is closest. Probably my price gun.
          And then there’s my bully with the diminutive stature. His domain is staked out by physical intimidation. He has a wolfish smile but his eyes sometimes reveal an I'm-as-afraid-of-you-as-you-are-of-me cast.
          There is always variety. So many groups of people to be studied, and my manager thinks I am here to benefit the company, or try to make a sale. He is too shallow too appreciate my mission.

          Yes, these are the days of retail wonder, and me the courtesy clerk with self-appointed role as Sovereign over all these vagabonds visiting my palace. I realize I have not left room to ridicule myself, but I will leave that to you. I too, I know, must take my turn.
          The ladies, pausing from their argument to seek outside authority, approach me with their question. I sing a line from “Anything Goes” with a two-step, hand flourish, big finish. I look up at them and say flatly, “I have no idea.”
          Two more hours to close, and then the wall-to-wall, pushing, selfish shoppers have to be entreated to make their last selections until the following Yuletide headache when we can do it all again, with new faces on the albums. Harmony. House. Ironic, huh?

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