Wednesday, November 23, 2005

To children, snow is like having a giant sandbox.
--Jenny Ziegler

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hate evil or inequality?

An interesting analysis of the values behind political positions. My own position can at least be inferred by my selection of this column, but I will post and think about any decent counter perspectives, published or otherwise. I learn more from those I disagree with, and I would be afraid of the results to stop listening to others. Perhaps there is a middle position, asserting that the question itself is a false dilemma created by the opposing sides.
“Everyone loved the Turducken. It was a big hit. Even my wife, who had previously called the idea of a turducken 'an abomination,' was excited about it and enjoyed the flavor.”

What is a turducken? A chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, baked with alternating layers of sausage and shellfish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In its cool, objective portrayal, Capote didn’t leave me much to come away with on a personal level; I didn’t feel like I could relate to the characters. But it was as coherent a telling of the story of Truman Capote’s research and writing of In Cold Blood as I could imagine. And so by setting this unflinching look at that true story in a non-documentary movie, it becomes a beautiful mirror for the book it is based on, which is a nonfiction novel.

Capote has this in common with good journalism: it tells us about something other than ourselves, but doesn’t have to get us to relate in order to work. It just has to tell the story well and then be done. I have a friend who says that we go to movies to see ourselves translated into a fictional character on the screen. There’s truth in that, but like all human theories, it’s just one way of looking at movies. Capote serves as proof that there are others.

Even though I could not say I “liked” the movie in the normal sense, I was deeply effected by it. When the movie was over, I sat while the credits rolled, not to read them, but just to sit until they ended. Then I got up but wished there had been more credits; more time just to sit. I didn’t even realize how much I was effected by it until I left the theatre. For a long time afterward, I didn’t want to say anything. Even now, the movie is still with me, but I already want to see it again.

The weather had been cold and damp when I went in, and had turned crisp and snowy on the way out. I couldn’t have asked for a better meteorological backdrop for watching Capote.

“It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door while I went out the front.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Courage, Part 1: Physical Courage

3. Courage and fear are contagious.

I want you to listen to the very end of a speech given by Winston Churchill. This was delivered in the House of Commons after Germany had just rolled virtually unchecked through Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland and France. And if you were a betting man in the fight between Germany and Britain, you’d have to put your money on the Third Reich. On Hitler’s raw lust for power and control. But listen to what Churchill says to his countrymen.
[ What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour." ]
I tell you, when I hear this, I’m ready to follow Churchill.

On the other hand, fear is also contagious. One of the books I’ve been reading for this study is called The Anatomy of Courage, by Lord Moran, who served in WWI and won two medals for military valor. He talks of WWI soldiers who had no courage or who lost their courage, and mentions how they got traded off constantly among the regiments—no one wanted them around because of what they could do to morale.

We see the same thing in J. 7: 2, just before Gideon led his men to fight the Midianites:
1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' "
So God is reducing the size of the Israelite army, which wouldn’t impress men that that’s a brilliant military strategy. The first way that he reduces the size of the army was to announce that anyone who was fearful was free to leave. The normal restrictions against cowardice are lifted. This was a chance to walk away from a dangerous battle, and not get ‘court-martialed’ if you will for deserting your post or for conduct unbecoming a soldier. And 22,000 men out of 32,000 said, “See ya!” These men might have walked away patting themselves on the back, thinking that they just saved their own skins. But I just wonder when the men came back with the glory of a righteous victory if those men were left with that nagging feeling that they were weak.

The main thing God is doing here is to get the army down to a size where the men couldn’t boast in themselves about victory. But I think this first cutting of the numbers is using that principle of fear being contagious. It’s like that Lee Iacoca line: Lead follow, or get out of the way.

Morale is a fluid thing. There’s all kinds of factors that can influence it. Internal external, psychological, meteorological, inter-personal, etc.

By the way, if you want to see the best example I’ve ever seen in film of morale being visibly drained out of a person, rent Braveheart, and watch the scene where William Wallace realizes he was betrayed by a friend. I can’t think of a better visual depiction of the wound of betrayal. And if you watch it, think about how Jesus must have felt when Judas kissed him and he got arrested.

4. Courage doesn’t depend on having the advantage. We just saw the introduction to this one in Judges 7. God reduced the Israelite army to 300 people, and those 300 routed the entire Midianite army and caused them to flee in a holy terror so bad they were striking each other. This was God’s doing. That army was camped in a valley, by the way—I wonder if that was God’s doing too. It wasn’t exactly the smartest strategic place to be sleeping.

When you don’t have the upper hand, or the odds are against you, courage is even more necessary. It would not have been right for Joshua’s soldiers to say, “We will wait until we outnumber the enemy and have better equipment than them, before we go in and fight. If courage is called for, it’s never right to size up the odds from just looking at the physical statistics. And, it’s not even necessary for victory. In a battle, victory doesn’t come down to who has the most men. Training of course is a big part. But it comes down to things like who believes in their cause the most strongly. There’s been time and time again in history when a small force of men defeated a larger army. Read Henry V some time.

And one thing you learn about the wondrous way we’re made, when you hear about extraordinary displays of courage, is that our bodies and minds and hearts, working together, are capable of far more than we ever imagine. God has designed us so incredibly. There are reserves that we have available to us, even in this fallen flesh, that we seldom if ever tap into.

I read about an Olympic runner who said that only one time in every running season is he able to run the way necessary to win a medal or break a record. That’s hard for us to imagine. I mean, I could run a race every couple weeks. But he’s pushing so hard, to such an extent, using every fiber of his being—mental and physical—that he can only draw that from within once a year.

5. Trying to have courage and failing is better than playing it safe and not trying at all.

You know, none of us are ever going to have perfect courage. So that means that sometimes, we’re going to try to have courage and we’re going to fail. And we’re going to be cowardly to some extent. Because we’re not perfect in any of the virtues that should make up our character. But you know what we can at least do? We can at least be cowardly on the way. Going back to the Judges passage, those Israelites that walked away from the battle—they had control of that action. Even if they had deep-seated fear and terror about the mission, they should have had this attitude instead: I’m going to go. I may get there and faint, or I may not even be able to raise my weapon, or I may raise it so trembling that it’s of no use. But I’m going to go. I’m going to at least be there.

So we should never just give up before something even starts. We can at least try. And sometimes, that’s where courage is born. It’s when we say, I’m going to at least attempt this. I’m going to take the first step on the ledge. And if I reach a point when I can’t go any farther, or I don’t think I can—at least I’m on the ledge.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Courage, Part 1: Physical Courage

We might not face the demand for physical courage all that often. Maybe once in awhile. A couple of times when we’ve come home from a vacation, my wife will say, “Shhhhh. Something looks different in here, like someone has been in here. You go check it out.” And I kind of feel like saying, “No, how about let’s re-assess the division of roles for a few minutes here. Thank you very much for freaking me out and then saying, Go tour the dark house.” But, I grab whatever is handy, a butcher knife, or a bat, or a bright flashlight, because that’s my job, and off I go. I feel a little silly carrying something like that, but if there ever ends up being something I’m going to want one of those things in my hand.

So things like that happen. But usually —and there may be some of us who are exceptions—the moments like these where some situation calls for physical courage, they’re momentary, and not life threatening. Our lives, generally, I think, are more comfortable and safe, than probably almost any other time in the past.

And that may be changing. Maybe in this new world we find ourselves in, where we don’t know the next time that random strangers will try to kill a bunch of people, courage will make something of a comeback.

But you can’t sit around and wait for something bad to happen, and then think it’s a good time to seek after courage. When you’re faced with a situation calling for courage, it’s either going to be there or it’s not.

So it is worthwhile to look at some principles of courage. I want to look at some principles of courage. I thought of five different things about courage:

1. The first principle I could mention about courage is that our level of courage isn’t static. In every situation that calls for some measure of courage, your level is either growing or shrinking.

As a simple, concrete example, I discovered this tendency when as a boy I got over my fear of heights. I had a very big fear of heights, and I decided I wanted to try to get over it. At the church where I went, there was a set of stairs, and next to the stairs was a ledge extending out at the level of the top floor. So each step down, the distance between the ledge and the step increased.

Every Sunday I made myself go out a little farther on the ledge. I couldn’t do it all at once—there was always a point at which I froze from fear. But bit-by-bit, I made my way out farther. I discovered as I inched out on that ledge each Sunday that once I reached a new place on the ledge, the point at which the fear would stop my movement was farther out.

And I’ve seen in life that the line between courage and fear isn’t a stationary line. It’s always moving, although usually so gradually that the change isn’t noticeable in the immediate day-to-day.

So considering that, I don’t think the coward versus the brave man is someone who can run out to the end versus someone who can’t go even a foot on that ledge. The coward is the man who won’t act to confront his fear.

This is just a physical, non-moral example. there’s nothing directly spiritual or righteous about not fearing heights. I might sometime face a situation where my conquered fear would allow me to act more quickly and save myself or someone else. And it gives me a little bit more freedom of action—now I can do roofing that I couldn’t before. I do think there’s value in conquering fears like that. I think there’s even value for us to just go out into life with confidence and energy. To run a 5K or to take a walk out in the woods, or garden, or wrestle with your children, to pursue any number of things, within God’s will for us, with passion and heart.

But it’s really when there’s more at stake when courage is the most crucial. So when you come to those times where you intuition or just your five senses tell you that something isn’t right…tell your husband to go check it out. No. Don’t back away. Push yourself. When those spies came back to report to the Israelites, all of them, however scared they might have been by the prospect of attacking their enemies, could have pushed themselves to say, “We need to attempt this.”

Now sometimes we may find ourselves right on that line where courage is used up, and we start to freeze up. When I worked at the Frederick Meijer Gardens as a security guard, there were times on Saturday and Sunday when I was the only one left on the premises. Every Sunday from 8:00 pm to 3:00 am, I was the only one there. That in itself was a little creepy at times. And back then there was construction going on for the new wing, and going through the half-constructed area at midnight or later was not what I could call fun. One night it was stormy and raining, and as I was walking through the construction area—and this was indoors—I heard the sound of someone walking. I knew that there was no reason that anyone should be walking through that part. And it so caught me off guard, I froze. I couldn’t get my feet to move. I just stood, listening to that sound. After some moments, I gathered myself a little bit, and was able to walk forward to see what the sound was. And I realized that it was just a trick of the rain or the wind.

But even in a situation like that, we can push ourselves more. If I could experience a similar thing tonight, after going through this study, I bet I could get my feet moving faster.

2. Fear can be controlled. If I counted right using my Strong’s Concordance, 35 times in the Bible, the command is given to us or someone to not be afraid. 83 times it says to not fear. Now if all that we can do is push a little harder each time we fear something and gradually become brave and courageous, this command couldn’t be given. It would be like giving the command, “Stop your heart from beating.” But moral courage doesn’t come from within and physical courage somehow just comes right out of our muscles or our knuckles. Both stem from within, and drive us to action. So we need to not let fear run wild, we need to do everything we can to keep it at bay.

Friday, November 11, 2005

For the next little while, I am going to post the notes from some teaching I did at my church. For each lesson, I wrote out what I wanted to say, and then used that as a springboard for being a little more improvisational, so I wasn't just reading text.


Courage, Part 1: Physical courage 1/3

In every age, there are some things that are over-emphasized and some things that get slighted. Every generation has its own strengths and its own weaknesses or blind spots. It seems to me that one quality that doesn’t get mentioned a whole lot today is courage. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on courage? Or browse the shelves of a Christian bookstore. There’s any number of books on other moral issues, but as I have been studying this topic, the references I can draw from besides the Bible have been pretty sparse. In fact, on the practical topic of how to have more courage, I haven’t been able to find a single book. The closest I’ve found so far is how to be assertive, which in many if not all cases could be translated: How to look out for me.

Courage could be split into two different kinds, physical and moral. To put physical courage in a nutshell, I would describe it as the determination and strength to face physical danger. Moral courage is more generally, the determination and strength to do what is right and good. I want to start with physical courage, and then look at moral courage the next week.

If any of us were asked where the Bible deals with courage, probably the answer that would come up most often would be Joshua. You’re probably familiar with the passage in chapter one. Moses has died, and now Joshua is his successor in leading the people. They have come near the boundary of Canaan, which has been promised to them. And Israel is about to initiate a war. In this case, with Israel being a theocracy, receiving direct instruction from God, this was going to be a holy war.

And in verses 2-10, God is speaking to Joshua. He is preparing Joshua for battle, like a general prepares his troops. And he tells him:
Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
This is a rousing and emphatic speech meant to fortify Joshua for the battles to come. Three times he tells him “be strong and courageous.” After he says it the first time, he says it stronger. Be strong and very courageous. He also states it in the negative: “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.” He’s bolstering Joshua’s confidence with these strong words.

And after Joshua heard this, I believe he went to his men and in turn gave them a speech to prepare them for battle. Maybe he gave them a speech that was based on what God told him, or maybe he told them word-for-word what God said. Now, the text doesn’t specifically tell us that Joshua did this; I’m only guessing. But there’s two reasons why I suppose this.

First of all, the men echo back to Joshua the essence of the speech. In verses 10 to the end of the chapter, Joshua is giving instructions to the soldiers. I get the feel that this was almost an inspection of the troops. And in verse 16, after he gives them instructions, you see that the soldiers reply to him. And at the end of their reply they say: “Only be strong and courageous.” So they are aware of at least part of what God told Joshua.

Secondly, the men needed it. Do you remember what the conclusion of the spies was after returning from their survey of the Promised Land? Only Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report. It took the death of those who had come back and spread fear and pessimism among the people to wake them up. So these men probably still had some reluctance in the back of their minds. They needed to be moved to “screw their courage to the sticking point” as Shakespeare said.

If they felt free to speak about their underlying hesitation or fear, they might have said to Joshua, “Um, Joshua? I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but…those guys down there, they’re taller than us. And…they have these big ah, stone walls around their cities. No doors that open to the outside. These guys wear armor. And what are we? A bunch of rag-tag, wandering around lost in the desert, escaped from Egypt as slaves, tent-dwelling bunch of sheepherders.”
“Maybe when you went into the Promised Land and saw those huge grapes, you got greedy. I mean, c’mon. We didn’t have it so bad in the desert. We had the tabernacle with us, and we could worship God whenever we wanted. If they found out where the women and children are camped and chase us back there, they might destroy the tabernacle. And then where would our faith be? I think we could do just fine as we are now. As a matter of fact, on Martha Stewart’s show today, she had recipes for manna, and showed how to decorate tents.”

Okay, maybe they wouldn’t have said that part. But they may have wanted to stress to Joshua, “Joshua, this is a suicide mission! You’ve been out in the sun too long, without something over your head. We’re going to walk out there in plain sight, up to the walls, and they’re going to shoot their stuff down at us, and that’ll be end of story. We’ll just become a byword for futile, misplaced faith.”

I’m making up this speech, but it might have been close to what was on their hearts. We’re even told that the reluctance might be there. In Deuteronomy 7:17 when Moses is speaking to the people about the future, when they would drive the nations out of the promised land, he says, “You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out. But do not be afraid of them…” Moses knew his people well, and he foresaw that their spirits might quail before the mighty task assigned them.

And Joshua would have had to remind them of their history and their reality, like Moses did in Deuteronomy. He might have said to them:

Do you remember what God said in Deuteronomy if we follow Him? A hundred of us will chase ten thousand of them. Even the bees will be attacking them. You know who they have behind them? Some chunks of wood, carved into crude and hideous faces. Blocks of stone, that their own people carved and then turned around and called them Gods. Poles stuck in the ground that they worship.

And who do we have behind us? The one, true God, who descended on Egypt with blood, and hail, and disease and darkness, who sent an angel of death that entered their unprotected doorways and struck down their firstborn sons to a man. And after that, when they thought they could chase us and we were trapped against the Red Sea, God just parted the waters in half so we could walk across on the seabed. And you didn’t even get muddy. We have a God who dwelt on the mountain, and you would have thought the mountain was coming down. Moses came down from that mountain so charged that he had to cover up his face just so you could look at him.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

My friend Matt credited me with having the idea for coffee beer before it arrived. Actually, he’s being far too kind.

It wasn’t one of those cases where you have an idea that you actually think is marketable. Instead, it was the odd and perhaps pitiable case of once having had both coffee and beer in front of me, wanting to drink them both, and mixing them together in one convenient beverage.

It wasn’t even one of those cases where by accident you realized that you’ve really stumbled onto something. The coffee and beer both tasted decent, but I remember being shocked at how astonishingly bad the mixture was. It was almost hard to finish, but I did it, which is also somewhat pitiable. I later mentioned the experience to Matt, and he couldn’t give up on the idea so easily; he suggested that the ingredients and proportions just had to be adjusted.

Matt, there’s still room to capitalize. We now have the caffeinated beer and the de-alcoholized coffee, but there’s still no true mix: a tasty beer that provides the buzz and the kick with an underlying coffee flavor.
An alternate opinion.

Don't Fear Google

Friday, November 04, 2005

Does a copyright mean anything? And should it matter who is asking?

Reining in Google

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Autumn is an excellent time in which to observe God's basic goodness to us. We understand that God not only desired that trees should be given a beautiful color, He also wanted variety.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In losing a woman, the court with Alito would feature seven white men, one white woman and a black man, who deserves an asterisk because he arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

My response:

-----Original Message-----
From: Ziegler, David
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2005 4:59 PM
Subject: People now come with asterisks

"...The court with Alito would feature...a black man, who deserves an asterisk because he arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America."

To whom it may concern:

I find it absolutely reprehensible that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel requires a black man to hold certain ideological views in order to truly count as a black man. While white people can hold views that completely span the spectrum, apparently the Sentinel feels it is necessary for black people to kowtow to the opinions and whims of the Democratic party or else receive an asterisk and be counted as something less than what they are.

By this same logic, in December of 1955 Rosa Parks would have had to receive an asterisk, because she was the only black person at that time who felt it was unnecessary to give up a seat to a white man. Yet how grateful we all are that she did not see "black America" in such monolothic tones.

The editorial entitled "A nomination that will divide" should never have been printed as written, regardless of the paper's viewpoint, and the paper should apologize to all blacks who do not fall in line with the paper's prejudiced ideologues.


David Ziegler

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