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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Color Me Grumpy


 
I am not an economist or political scientist or historian – or expert on anything except making it through each day. Neither am I a soccer mom. So, I may be missing the finer points of the blood sport known as the Presidential election campaign. I can identify a few problems, however – problems for which I am listening for answers, while my hearing holds.

·      Americans may outlive our resources.
·      We are spending too much while making too little, just like our government. 
·      Wanting to help the needy and oppressed, we have hamstrung ourselves and made a bunch of other people mad at us.

I want to know if the Republicans have a plan that describes how to revive our economy in the midst of the world economy.  I want to know if the Democrats have anything to add to the record they have made these past three years.

·      How will they reduce the waste government generates?  (US Waste)
·      Has anybody thought through what individuals must to do to be part of the solution?
·      Can the Republican Party point out some good things that the Democrats have done? Likewise, can the Democrats point to anything admirable their fellow Americans propose?
·      Can they simply say how they have the current ability (not just past record) to change the reach and cost of government, from local to national issues?
·      Can the Republican Party (and Democrat) come off its high horse and take the moral high ground on issues of defense, taxation, immigration, sanctity of life, the environment, education, and caring for those who have hit a rough patch of life? And tie this plan to what must happen on the local level!  What do the people have to do?  

Also, would the press in the United States report what the main issues are, and describe what the different political responses are without ascribing nefarious motives to the liberals and conservatives?  (It’s hard to remain a bright-eyed optimist about mankind when one side or the other is described as the devil’s handmaiden!)

Finally, would both parties promise, promise, promise – triple dog swear -- that when the next national election rolls around it is preceded by only one national primary – and that nobody can run for anything until the year of the election begins.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Mother’s Advice Remembered: Never talk about religion or politics.

But she liked arguing about the candidates, leaders and issues of her times – from the McCarthy hearings to impeachment trial of Mr. Clinton. She was a C-span junkie, and had she lived, she might have been an avid blogger.  She and my father taught me to read newspapers, Time, Life, and THINK, (IBM’s magazine). At dinner we often listed to Edward R Murrow, Patrick Swayze, and Eric Sevareid; later, we transferred our meals to trays, watching David Brinkley and Chet Huntley – and of course Walter Cronkite. So, when she spoke, held forth, she was well armed and passionate!


She rarely discussed religion privately or publicly.  

Shortly before she died in 1996, I asked her if things were as bad in her day as they were now – abortions, child murders, violence in marriage, cheating, embezzlements, fraud – Rwanda, Kosovo . . . Watching too much news, I was despairing. Coming through WWII, she’d known about the kinds of horrors that happened in Uganda, Rwanda and Kosovo, and she said that everybody knew somebody who beat their wives or kids – or who had had an abortion – or had stolen company funds. The difference to her was nobody back then was proud of it.

The unspoken restraint in her generation was “Nice people don’t talk about _________.”  Such reticence may have made for more civil discourse, but it forced many soul sores to fester.

My generation felt obliged to let it all hang out – giving rise to the current warning: TMI! TMI! (Too much information!)      

Television – network and cable – serves up a cornucopia of stuff – that makes alternative lifestyles as well known as Ozzie & Harriet were to my generation. Nothing is bleeped on cable TV; the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on regular television’s right to provide everything that traffic will allow. (Information on Supreme Court Hearing)  

But the networks are pushing the envelope:  On Modern Family, the adorable toddler   will use an expletive, “the bomb,” on a smash hit TV series – the audience will not hear it, but will see her saying it.  (See article)  The child actors on the series and the children who watch it may learn a good lesson on not repeating everything they hear – but they will also learn the power profanity has in getting laughs.

The series has won kudos for its realistic but amusing presentation of family life in 21st century America – primarily for the warm and accepting presentation of   a multiplicity of marriage styles, from traditional to same-sex marriage.  The characters are 3-dimensional, funny, and engaging; the writing on the episodes was excellent. 
 
A spoonful of sugar really does make the medicine go down.

When I realized I was laughing about stuff I know breaks God’s heart, and enjoying watching the folks who were caught up in it, I decided to go off the meds – the inoculation was working too well. 

Believing today that marriage is between a man and a woman because God said so may be evidence of a phobia. Believing in chastity before and after marriage may be evidence of a delusion. Believing the church can rise above sexual temptations, and make a difference in this culture may also be a stretch of rational thinking

The topic of what’s fair game for family hour TV series might not be any quieter a dialogue if I brought up a discussion of Modern Family  at the dinner table than the ones my mom used to ignite when she didn’t follow her own advice. But I am glad for the opportunity to write about what I think – and if you read this to the end, dear reader, thank you. 

"Elucidate, when one can, rather than advocate." Eric Serareid. 
*Photo:    BOB D'AMICO/ABC

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Ways of Saying Old Things –Part I

  . . . I have a problem with religion or anything that says, “We have all the answers,” because there’s no such thing as “the answers.” We’re complex. We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity. (Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, Parade, January 8, 2012.)

In my twenties, I wanted to have answers – answers to racism, poverty, and war. I seriously thought my generation could and would end all the pain.  So much for not knowing what God said about man and his complexities. (See Ecclesiastes, or Proverbs 30.)

Religion seemed impotent – having  no answers to human complexities I saw: the riots and Vietnam war – or the fall-out from “Free-love.”  Of  course I couldn’t say for sure how irrelevant it was, for I rarely attended any church. But when I did, I heard an Episcopal priest in Union South Carolina, a former IBM executive who had recently been ordained, speak of preparing for life after life.  That’s all I heard. 

Human complexity, meet death. 

Slowly, I came to grips with my mortality. Having read Dante, I knew about Hell and Purgatory. Was there no “Get Out of Jail” card?  Which religion offered the best price for such a card?

I attended the Episcopal Church again – even though its search of relevancy drove me nuts. Who in their right mind thought the General Confession needed a contemporary rendition?
A General Confession.
¶ To be said by the whole Congregation. after the Minister, all kneeling.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer 1928)


What I needed to hear in plain language was The Declaration of Absolution, or Remission of Sins.

So, I wandered on – looking for a connection to religion and my life. But keeping it all to myself, lest I demonstrate ignorance on matters that never seemed to bother all those complex people in my life.

Because of family issues, I wound up in Al-Anon, and there met folks for whom a higher power was real, and operated quite apart from organized religion. This higher power, the god of their understanding, had no trouble sorting out the complex problems these folks faced. My new friends suggested I borrow their higher power until I found one for myself. 

Later I screwed up the courage to go to Bible Study Fellowship, looking for answers to questions my “complex” life generated. I still wanted to know what would happen after death – and how could I help our son avoid the snares into which I stumbled as a young person: drugs, sex and rock & roll. The Bible had the same answer the program did: I can’t, God can.

Maybe that kind of simplicity answer exasperates Mr. Radcliffe? It annoyed me when I did my first Fourth Step.  It still bothers me. But like Peter, where else could I go, but to God? (John 6:68)

 Solomon and Agur  -- (Ecclesiastes and Proverbs 30 and 31) -- didn’t pretend they had all the answers. But they had a few -- their simplicity explained many of the complex issues of the 1960’s, and a few of the personal issues that upset my family:

  “ . . . If you play the fool and exalt yourself,
               or if you plan evil,
                           clap your hand over your mouth!
For as churning cream produces butter,
               and as twisting the nose produces blood,
                           so stirring up anger produces strife.”  (Proverbs 30:32-33)

  • ·      Whenever a man talks loudly against religion,-always suspect that it is not his reason, but his passions which have got the better of his creed.--- Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy.
  • ·      Most people are bothered by those passages in scriptures which they cannot understand. But for me, I always notice that the passages in scripture which trouble me the most are those that I do understand. (Mark Twain)
Artwork  by Jim Sutton

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Good Friend -- Jane Levitt

 
In 2003, when Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian church sponsored fellowship dinners in each other’s homes, we got to know two couples better: Jim and Jane Levitt, and Paul and Lori Crawford.   Jane and I were acquaintances for a decade, and then dinner companions for three memorable meals. She had employed our son, and other youth group members to wash the windows, an act that began our relationship and introduced Jane Levitt as a kind and creative sister in Christ, who never missed an opportunity to invite others on her journey of faith – a rare gift in the church, and to the church.

Lori and I were among the first to hear when Jane received the news she was in fight with cancer.  And the Crawfords and the Smiths were blessed to hear how God had preserved the Levitt’s’ marriage through rocky times. Their candor and conviction were refreshing in times when too many times Christians whitewash problems, or pretend they aren’t stumbling in sin.

Jane modeled commonsense faith -- her knowledge of God, her steadfast belief and humble trust in His provision were practical and persuasive. She was the embodiment of Psalm 33, especially verse one:

Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright. (NASU)

Early in her treatment, Jane wrote to her friends via e-mail, requesting prayer and sharing more praises as she went into battle.  Her prevailing request was to be a useful witness – no matter what; and her recurring praises described God’s answers. She did not sugarcoat her prognosis, ever. Nor did she permit the cost of her battle to outshine her purpose:  


That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead.   It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going.   Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

 But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.  Sooner or later we'll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what's coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10 from THE MESSAGE)

Early in her treatment, Jane wrote to her friends via e-mail, requesting prayer and sharing more praises as she went into battle.  Her prevailing request was to be a useful witness – no matter what; and her recurring praises described God’s answers.    
Her last email of December 12 was typical:  

Dear Friends & Family,
I have good news from my doctor's visit today. The tumors in my lungs have remained the same. They have neither increased nor decreased in size so we will continue with the same chemo this coming Thursday, Dec. 15th. Also, my visit to Concentra was encouraging.  The doctor who evaluates whether or not to grant my leave bank has decided to give me two more months to improve my health. God is good! It's great to be able to share this good news. Of course we have the great news of Jesus' birth coming up very soon! Hope you are all preparing to accept this good news!!
Love,
Jane  

Christ came, and He changed Jane Levitt into a powerful teacher,  gentle friend and a stalwart witness. She showed me how to walk through valleys, in His company, without fear or self-pity, even the scariest one. (Psalm 23:4 )

Charm can be deceptive and beauty doesn't last, but a woman who fears and reverences God shall be greatly praised.  Praise her for the many fine things she does. These good deeds of hers shall bring her honor and recognition from people of importance. (Proverbs 31:30-31 TLB)

So long, for a while dear Jane -- my deepest sympathy to Jim her husband, and Dan and Liz.
Jane's FACEBOOK page 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

News Coverage of Presidential Primaries


May I yell?
No?

Okay then I will speak sweetly, but in seething tones. If I hear one more group of talking heads – my guys and others, prognosticating, pontificating, and predicating on these caucuses and primaries I am going to . . .  lose my charm!

The pundits love  talking about their point of view but only rarely could discuss more than quoting who said what about whom. The interviewers seemed oblivious to what is going on in the world – and only rarely, imho, pressed those running to explain what they understood about stuff

The press sets traps, and the candidates can’t seem to avoid them; then they both fall into them -- Even the folks I trust have devolved into “gottcha.”

The greater the technology that the press uses to cover the candidates hasn’t made for better presentation of political ideas – or maybe, nobody ever thought any further than their ratings.

  • There are always too many Democratic congressmen, too many Republican congressmen, and never enough U.S. congressmen.  ~Author Unknown
  • Mankind will never see an end of trouble until... lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power... become lovers of wisdom.  ~Plato, The Republic
  • Great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, small minds talk about people!

Please, candidates focus! You aren’t running for the votes of the press, but to present your assessment of what our country’s problems are, and how we can all solve them.  

A great quote by Saul Bellow still sums up my thinking:
Take our politicians:  they're a bunch of yo-yos.  The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clich├ęs the first prize.  

I am grateful for the debates – watched every one – for I saw much about the candidates and the newscasters.

My favorite is no longer in the race, Mr. Cain. But I saw Barbara Walters interview him, and I saw and heard him sing to her his favorite hymn. ( See This Link!)


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Proverb for Today


 
“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one.”
 
So true! However I’ve gotten to the part of my book that has more daunting ordeals than amiable adventures – I’ve read enough to know I don’t know how solve the puzzles I might face. And I fear that even if I had the wisdom, I lack the wherewithal to pull it off.  Sometimes rehearsing the gaffes, disappointments and debacles is a frustrating default mode – I go there instead of stepping out in the hope of touching solid ground. It’s a variant on “I live in my own little world – but they know me there.”

But living in the past, though tempting, is not living. Nor is  [my] fearing the future, living. I can’t remake what happened; I can learn from it. I can’t prevent tomorrow’s surprises; I can prepare. Reading other peoples’ chapters can be an antidote to rereading my former chapters, and an elixir of courage for the uncertain times ahead. 

Billy Graham once said, "I had been taught all of my life how to die, but no one had ever taught me how to grow old." So at age 92, he wrote Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well, which I started reading this week. And after the depressing trip to the Smithsonian, I began Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith and How We Make Sense of Things by Alistair McGrath.

“How do we make looms that weave threads of facts into tapestries that show patterns,” asks Alister McGrath – especially in an age that generates more “facts” than we can sanely assimilate into any of our “books?”  

·      Is faith, like that of Billy Graham’s, merely a human invention to bear the regret and grief that is often life’s crushing load?

·      Where did we, then, get the idea a Person had the power to bear our griefs, and make sense of the senseless pain that can overwhelm us. (Matthew 11:25-28 )

These are questions for which looking back makes sense – almost as one may glance in a rearview mirror before changing lanes.  As I read Dr. Graham’s and Dr. McGrath’s books, I am hoping for the courage and good sense to stay put in the present even as I change life's confusing lanes!  

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, 
you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. 
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”(Isaiah 46:3-5)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Turning a New Leaf . . . What Potential?


January 1, 2012 – Dallas

We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day. 
Edith Lovejoy Pierce, an English poet whose life and work has been condensed on the Internet with this one quote, is a kindred spirit. Her sketch of New Year’s Day is how I feel starting a new journal -- and I am about to begin the twenty-fifth year of journaling. This year could be a big change again (Opportunity) perhaps like the 1st of January 2005  was: a time of an unforeseen relocation, and uprooting. 


I’ve selected this year a small yellow leather calendar diary – a “desk journal” -- that will accompany me everywhere.  Its part is to remind me of the years, months, and days and keep track of all I hope to do. It will be  a companion when I wait alone in restaurants for friends; an aide memoire to what I am learning – and with its world maps, a concise tutor showing me how slight I am on this wonder-full planet!  Seven years ago, I began using these elegant little volumes, replacing the colorful spiral-bound notebooks that had been my companions. Whether spiral or leather bond, the first page – crisp and unstained with coffee, tears, or sly squiggles made by my children or grandchildren, each promised a fresh start.  

The birds are molting. If only man could molt also -- his mind once a year its errors, his heart once a year its useless passions. - James Allen (British philosophical thinker, author of As a Man Thinketh.

Maybe that’s the reason for resolutions?

I start 2012 with no resolutions – Oscar Wilde described them as checks “that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” But I start with a few regrets – as some once kvetched: “It wouldn’t be New Year’s Day with no regrets!” The journals remind me – when I write honestly – how my regrets are better goads to good judgment than highfalutin promises!  

But today, as of now, no scribbling accuses me.    Today, I feel as Harold Acton, a British author in mid -20th century wryly observed:   

So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it. 

The sheer beauty of this day in Dallas – brimming with sparkly sunshine and cool air – fills the senses with hope. The trees, now leaf-less, don’t seem barren, as they might seem on a gray chilly day. (Vivaldi’s WINTER ) No, they seem like a mom in the early stages of pregnancy – shyly announcing a time when new LIFE will delight and enchant, driving away despair and worry that the news of this day foretells -- coming economic woes, political and religious battles; plus the knowledge that friends are coping with unexpected stuff. 

Today, the glass is half full! A day of small beginnings is nothing to despise! (Zechariah 4:10 )

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room-by-room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives . . . not looking for flaws, but for potential.  ~Ellen Goodman   

The HOPE of potential!

Oh – the amaryllis survived our separation – and has yet to bloom – Maybe another week before the natural Christmas decoration will come forth?

  So, dear reader -- May all [our] troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions! ~Joey Adams – comedian. And may the memory of God's gift in Christ be a comfort and help -- much more than any journal could be -- and as fresh and lovely as the amaryllis promises to be.