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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Work and Retirement, 2

I've been a bit ill, so not much of a post today.

My wife raised two points (bold) about yesterday's post, my admittedly idealized and unrealistic prescription for work in the US:
1) It was assembly lines, which is one type of work that may disconnect the worker from the end-product of labor, which made much of today's production and wealth possible.
My response: OK. Why didn't Henry Ford at least show the workers a few cars every week or so? She said that perhaps he did. Perhaps so.

2) Speculation may really be productive work. A speculator may at least be making a living.
Obviously, it depends on what is meant by productive. I don't understand day-trading, futures, and the like. I have a suspicion that most or all of these amount to a form of gambling, and don't really increase the value of anything, but I stand to be corrected.
This is probably oversimple, but one of the problems with Enron was that they weren't really producing anything.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Work and Retirement


Modified from Punch, May 16, 1917, as uploaded by Project Gutenberg
(for illustrative purposes only--I don't play golf--so far!)

Our Sunday School lesson for May 29th had this as part of the text:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat.
11
For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies.
12
Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. (ASV)

There's also this: 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you;

I told my University that I would not be available to work for the next academic year, except, possibly, on a part-time basis. My salary slot has been filled. My wife has already finished her work as a public school teacher. Her slot has, too. We are, in short, retiring.

What, if anything, does the Bible say about retirement? Does retirement violate this, and other, biblical commands to work?

I have found a few web pages on this matter. Here's one that gives some history of retirement as an idea in the U. S., and says that Social Security should be abolished, because it leads to violations of the 4th and 5th commandments. This page points out that Samuel gave a retirement speech, upon the selection of Saul to be king, and he promised to continue the work of prayer for Israel. (1 Samuel 12:23)

Here are a few thoughts:
>Humans are expected to work, and to contribute toward their own support. (There must be exceptions for young children and for infirmity.) This is not only fulfilled by working for pay, but by other work, which may not be paid, but is just as important, such as edifying others, housework, maintenance, and care for those unable to care for themselves.
>For many retired workers, retirement funds are a form of compensation for previous work. However, I don't believe that that entirely relieves retired persons from keeping busy, or from helping others.
>At least some work, of some types, is good for us. Physical effort, in moderation, is good for us.
>
Work should be satisfying, at least occasionally. A worker should be able to look back on a good job well done. There is something wrong with a society where some types of work are so disconnected from the final worthwhile product that workers can't get satisfaction out of their work.
>Work should not interfere with being able to worship (not necessarily on Sunday morning).
>The end product of work should be for the good of others. Some lines of work (prostitution, drug dealing, working to cheat others) are morally wrong. There is something terribly wrong with a society where some people can't seem to support themselves without making their bodies into sex objects. There is also something terribly wrong with a society where cutting corners (for example by illegally influencing legislation, violating legitimate regulations, mistreating employees, or cheating customers) is rewarded highly. (I am not sure that some kinds of speculation are really useful work.)
Study and learning are usually useful work.
>There is something fundamentally wrong with a society where the pay of supervisors is two or more orders of magnitude above that of those who are actually producing the product, especially if supervisor pay is not linked to wise management.
>We place too much value on entertainment. Entertainment is legitimate, in moderation, but retirement spent mainly in seeking entertainment is fundamentally wrong, as is a working life aimed at such a retirement. There is something seriously wrong in a society which compensates entertainers so highly, and doesn't compensate many of those who care for relatives at all, and those in caring and protective professions so poorly.
>There is no legitimate retirement from serving God, although the way we serve Him may change with changing circumstances.

I may post some more about this matter in the future. Let me close with an admonishment to younger readers: save for your retirement! It's never too early! I guess that this indicates that I expect, and hope, to find justification for what I have done, namely retired.


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Sunday, May 29, 2005

How Firm a Foundation

How Firm a Foundation

Words by John Rippon, 1787, hence public domain; tune most commonly used by Joseph Funk, 1832

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

She's done!

My wife's salaried life is over. She put in her last day of teaching yesterday.

We thank God that she was able to work this long. We also thank Him that the state retirement system exists, and He helped us to obtain full retirement compensation from them, even though she did not work when either of the girls were little.

There were some problems. All jobs have them. There were unreasonable regulations, co-workers (none part of her team) whose main goal seemed to be to avoid work, parents who didn't have a clue as to how to guide their children, and children who didn't cooperate. There were emotions because a child wasn't doing well, or had awful circumstances at home. There were discipline problems. There was an incident when a child hurt herself and tried to get my wife in trouble for it. She often wished that she and her team members had been closer.

On the other hand, there were good things, and good times. Many of them. There were kids who loved her, parents who appreciated her, kindnesses done by co-workers, kids who really learned, or who were really turned on, and other great experiences.

It's been, overall, a God-given career. On the whole, she liked it. Let's put it this way--she offered to come back and help her co-workers as a volunteer next year. Thanks, Lord, for allowing her to help others for these many years, and for all the other public school teachers who are your servants, and are coming back to work next year.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Women in the Old Testament: 5 Sisters

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah--they were the daughters of Zelophehad, and their story is told in Numbers 26:33, 27:1-7, 36:2-12, and Joshua 17:3-6. What was their story? They were the only children of their father. He had no sons. Since he had no sons, his family stood to lose any hope of possessions in his name in the Promised Land. The five sisters did something about this. They thrust themselves forward, appealing to Moses, and asked that they be given rights to land ownership, just as men were. It is possible that they presented their request to one or more underlings of Moses first. If so, the underling decided that this was a hard case, and passed the decision on up. Moses listened to their request, and passed it up, too. He asked God, and God said that they were right, and that they should be given an inheritance, so that Zelophehad's name would not be lost.

Numbers 36:6b is amazing: "Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married." (ASV) This gave these five women the privilege of selecting husbands for themselves. I don't believe there is another record of this in the Old Testament, unless it be Rebekah's choice whether or not to go with Abraham's servant, to marry Isaac. True, the privilege of choosing a spouse is tempered by a restriction, and a restriction not placed on men, but the privilege is still there.
God's people were willing to hear a request by women for treatment as full citizens, and God Himself made sure that the request was granted.

I have posted on Women in the Old Testament previously. Here's a post on Tamar. Here's the first in the series. I have also posted on Abishag, a particular woman. For a post on Athaliah, and links to posts on women in the OT, generally, see here.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sunspots 10

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Eye of Science contains a gallery of amazing photos of small things, taken with high-tech equipment.

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Here's a (fictional) humorous exchange of messages about an elephant and a circus.

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From Project Gutenberg: Old Testament Legends Being Stories out of Some of the Less-Known Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament by M. R. James, including stories about the death of Adam and Eve, the courtship of Joseph and Aseneth [sic], and others, is here.

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The Window in the Garden Wall, a daily C. S. Lewis quote blog, posted a quote on May 23rd about dull writing. I wonder what Lewis would have said about most blogs, including this one?

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Bonnie, at Off the Top, has completed her postings on Lewis' The Abolition of Man. Many people point to this book as prophetic about much related to technology. If you've never read it, read her eight posts.

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The Latest Christian Carnival is at this blog, and was posted on May 25th.

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Cameron (full disclosure--he's our nephew) continues describing his family's fascinating adventures with Russian culture, and, in separate posts, continues describing what missions should be like. He's a good writer, and I can say that, as he's from my wife's side of the family.

Things I'm thankful for, 1

The obvious:
You, whoever you are, who is reading any part of this posting--even if it's only to here. Thanks!
God, in all three persons
The Bible
My wife, daughters, sons-in-law, grandson, and other family
My church
The good job I have had
Freedom of worship, assembly, speech, press
The right to petition for redress of grievances
The right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure
Good neighbors, friends, and students

Now, some Internet entities I am thankful for:
Blogger, Bloglines, Google, MSN, and Earthlink (These all have the obvious URL--www.whatever.com, and, if you got this far, you probably know all this already.)
Flickr--same deal on the URL. My page is here.
Yahoo Yellow Pages (Here's the top-level page for Port Angeles, Washington state.)
The Wikipedia
Project Gutenberg (For instance, May 25th publications include The American Missionary, Volume 49, No. 3, March, 1895, apparently a publication of the Congregational Church, mostly about the work among Indians and African-Americans, and The Book of Mormon, in case anyone is looking for a digital edition.)
The ESV Bible's RSS feed
Arts & Letters Daily
ArtsJournal
Christianity Today Online

Some chemicals:
Oxygen
Water
Chlorophyll
DNA, and all the necessary forms of RNA
Amino Acids
ATP
Carbon, Nitrogen, Sulfur, Potassium, Phosphorus, Hydrogen, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Molybdenum and any other elements essential to my life
Digestive enzymes
Vitamins
Neurotransmitters
Hemoglobin
NADP and NADPH

People who do things:
Our honest auto mechanic
Grocery cashiers, waitresses, nurses, policemen and firemen
Teachers and librarians
The people who bring the news, and all the web entities listed above, to me

Will probably do this again

* * * *

Thanks, younger daughter (and who makes at least one reader) for telling me that I messed up a URL.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Vetch pod

Vetch pod2

This is a vetch pod, scanned. I posted about vetch a few days ago. Vetch is a member of the legume, or pea family. This vetch pod looks a lot like most types of bean or pea pods. It is about 2 inches, or about 5 centimeters, in length. If you look carefully, you can see the seeds pushing out the walls of the pod.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Frodo, Ged and Hazel: Flowers and Plants

As mentioned in previous posts, The Ring trilogy by Tolkien, the Earthsea books by Le Guin, and Watership Down by Richard Adams are my favorite works of fantastic literature. I pointed out that all three authors present amazing details in their sub-creations. In this post, I discuss some of what they do with flowering plants.

Tolkien wrote this, probably his most flower-strewn passage (but not the only one):

When his eyes were in turn uncovered, Frodo looked up and caught his breath. They were standing in an open space. To the left stood a great mound, covered with a sward of grass as green as Spring-time in the Elder days. Upon it, as a double crown, grew two circles of trees: the outer had bark of snowy white, and were leafless but beautiful in their shapely nakedness; the inner were mallorn-trees of great height, still arrayed in pale gold. . . . At the feet of the trees, and all about the green hillsides the grass was studded with small golden flowers shaped like stars. Among them, nodding on slender stalks, were other flowers, white and palest green: they glimmered as a mist amid the rich hue of the grass. Over all the sky was blue, and the sun of afternoon glowed upon the hill and cast long green shadows beneath the trees.

'Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth,' said Haldir, 'For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil. - J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, pp. 364-5. The remaining eight members of the Fellowship have come to the realm of Galadriel, after the fall of Gandalf in Moria, and are being escorted by Haldir, an elf in her service.

In case anyone needs reminding, grass and most trees are flowering plants.

Adams can be flowery, too. Here's an example:

June was moving toward July and high summer. Hedgerows and verges were at their rankest and thickest. The rabbits sheltered in dim green sun-flecked caves of grass, flowering marjoram and cow parsley; peered round spotted hairy-stemmed clumps of viper's bugloss, blooming red and bllue above their heads; pushed between towering stalks of yellow mullein. Sometimes they scuttled along open turf, colored like a tapestry meadow with self-heal, centaury and tormentil. . . .

Some time before ni-Frith, in the heat of the day, Silver paused in a little patch of thorn. There was no breeze and the air was full of the sweet, chrysanthemum-like smell of the flowering composite of dry uplands--corn chamomile, yarrow and tansy. -Richard Adams, Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1972. p. 273.

Le Guin's prose is less flowery, in the usual sense of that word, but she does, indeed, pay attention to plants:

He came to the path that led to the Immanent Grove, a path that led always straight and direct no matter how time and the world bent awry about it, and following it came soon into the shadow of the trees.

The trunks of some of these were vast. Seeing them one could believe at last that the Grove never moved; they were like immemorial towers grey with years; their roots were like the roots of mountains. Yet these, the most ancient, were some of them thin of leaf, with branches that had died. They were not immortal. Among the giants grew sapling trees, tall and vigorous with bright crowns of foliage, and seedlings, slight leafy wands no taller than a girl.

The ground beneath the trees was soft, rich with the rotten leaves of all the years. Ferns and small woodland plants grew in it, but there was no kind of tree but the one, which had no name in the Hardic tongue of Earthsea. Under the branches the air smelled earthy and fresh, and had a taste in the mouth like live spring water.

In a glade which had been made years before by the falling of an enormous tree, Ged met the Master Patterner, who lived within the Grove and seldom or never came forth from it. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore, New York: Bantam Books, 1972, p. 10.

At the edge of the Grove, where the leaves of the great trees reached out over ordinary ground, he sat with his back against a mighty root, his staff across his knees. He shut his eyes as if resting, and sent a sending of his spirit over the hills and fields of Roke, northward, to the sea-assaulted cape where the Isolate Tower stands.

"Kurremkarmerruk," he said in spirit, and the Master Namer looked up from the thick book of names of roots and herbs and leaves and seeds and petals that he was reading to his pupils and said, "I am here, my lord."

Then he listened, a big thin old man, white-haired under his dark hood; and the students at their writing-tables in the tower room looked up at him and glanced at one another.

"I will come," Kurremkarmerruk said, and bent his head to his book again, saying, "Now the petal of the flower of moly hath a name, which is iebera, and so also the sepal, which is partonath; and the stem and leaf and root hath each his name . . ."

But under his tree the Archmage Ged, who knew all the names of moly, withdrew his sending and, stretching out his legs more comfortably and keeping his eyes shut, presently fell asleep in the leaf-spotted sunlight. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore, New York: Bantam Books, 1972, p. 12.

Tolkien and Le Guin not only mention flowering plants, but each makes a specific area, remarkable for its plants, to be in some sense the center of their fantastic sub-creation. The hill of Cerin Amroth is the heart of elvendom. It was there that Aragorn first saw Arwen. It will be there that Arwen lies down alone when Aragorn has passed away. The Immanent Grove is the center of Roke Island, which is, in turn, the center of meaning of Earthsea.

Previous posts in this series were on April 11th and 18th, 2005, and also on May 2nd.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Star Wars: Christian or not?

A Christian doesn't have to see only movies, or read only books, that have a Christian world-view. Christians should be careful what they put in their minds. Being careful may mean that we don't intentionally watch, listen to, or read, some material with a Christian world-view which is of poor quality. We should also avoid material with a Christian world-view which is false. (Is that an oxymoron? Lying for Christ . . .) I may have done myself, or the series, a disservice, but I have not read any of the Left Behind books. I understand that the material is of poor quality, and pushes a particular view of eschatology as if it were certain. (I also understand that some people I love and admire have read and enjoyed the series, and I am not qualified to make a first-hand evaluation of them. I'm just trying to illustrate a point.) I try to watch what I watch on TV.

Here's what Paul said about this subject:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8, ASV)

He didn't say, but implied, that things which are dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely and bad report are to be avoided.

I have not yet seen Revenge of the Sith. We may or may not see it. I did see episodes 1 and 2, and wished that I had spent my time and money in other ways--they were not well done. Episodes 4, 5, and 6 of Star Wars were, in my opinion, worth seeing, and I may see them again.

Clearly, there are some differences of opinion about the world view of the series. (See here and here for articles on the concept of world view--both written from a Christian world view!)

Marla Swoffer has lived near George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, and has thoughts on him and his company based on that experience. Steven J. Rosen, apparently a Hindu himself, finds themes from Hindu literature in the Star Wars movies. Christianity Today Online just published a four part series which finds Christian themes there. (This is the fourth) Peter Chattaway and Jeffrey Overstreet, Christian film critics, speculate that the current crop of such were inspired by George Lucas. Here's one of (probably many) posts claiming that Lucas just wanted to raise questions about spirituality. Who is right?

I'm guessing that there are also Buddhist and Taoist themes in Star Wars. If there are, it wouldn't have surprised C. S. Lewis:
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic--there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. p. 43.
I suppose that the Star Wars movies do contain some part of the truth. There are honorable acts and noble sacrifices portrayed. There is beauty in the scenery. There is good music in the score. Are they "Christian"? I'm not sure.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pro Basketball's First Family?

There are, no doubt, several good candidates for this non-existent title. The Van Gundy brothers, Jeff and Stan, are both NBA head coaches. Another candidate is the Miller family. Only two of the five siblings have been connected with professional basketball in important ways, but those two are significant.

Cheryl Miller is a basketball hall of famer. She received that honor in 1995. She had been an outstanding high school, college, and Olympic player and gold medal winner, and a winning college coach, by that time. Since then, she became a Women's NBA coach, and a broadcaster. She was the first woman to call a men's professional basketball game for a television broadcast. I am not sure, but I believe that she was the first woman to call a televised game in any men's professional team sport, and also, that she has been, so far, the only one to do it. She has been called the "greatest female basketball player of all time."

Her brother, Reggie, is retiring from the Indiana Pacers after this season. Miller is 12th in career NBA scoring, 6th in career minutes played, and 7th in career games played. This would be striking enough, but perhaps even more striking is the fact that Miller has played his entire career, beginning with the 1987-88 season, with the same team.

In 2005, that is rare. Most professional athletes change franchises several times. The Pacers, and Miller, were able to adjust to Reggie Miller's reduced scoring role in the last few seasons, with Miller setting an example of genuine professionalism, coming off the bench when asked to, working hard for his team, even though others had become the stars. I am sure that he has an ego--most people do--but he subordinated his own glorification for the good of the team. Many highly paid athletes haven't even tried to do this--it's a foreign concept. For example, there are rumors that Chris Webber doesn't want to play with Allen Iverson, claiming that Iverson doesn't allow him the chance to score enough.

On May 19th, Reggie Miller played his last game. The Pacers lost to the Detroit Pistons, who go on to face Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, Stan Van Gundy and the rest of the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs. Miller was high scorer for his team in his last game. His coach took him out with a few seconds to go. The crowd, including his opponents, gave Miller a standing ovation, which resumed after the game ended, and clearly would have lasted long after Miller walked down the tunnel to the locker room. A referee, his teammates, and most or all of the Pistons personally acknowledged his achievements. The Detroit coach called a time out to allow for extended applause. This was especially remarkable, as these two teams got into a fight that turned into a mini-riot in November. One of the Pacers, Ron Artest, was suspended for the season. There was no sign of any remaining rancor between the teams on the 19th. Pro athletes can be good sports!

Professional athletes, like other entertainers, are role models, whether they want to be or not, and whether they are good ones or not (Some professional entertainers are not good models). Reggie and Cheryl Miller have set examples of excellence in sport, working hard to take long-term advantage of their tremendous talent. I do not know if either of them are believers. I hope so.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Green Plants

We are absolutely dependent on green plants. Without them, we would have almost nothing to eat, because either we eat them directly, or we eat animals that eat them, or we eat the products (milk and eggs) of animals that eat them.

There is a common misconception that we depend on green plants for Oxygen. It is true that they give off Oxygen, and that we breathe it, but there is enough Oxygen in the atmosphere already to supply our needs for centuries. We would starve to death in much less time, if there were no plants.

But it's not just food. They provide us with fabrics and paper, and with chemicals like turpentine, building materials, fuel, medicines, shade, and, of course, beauty. That list is not exhaustive.

Here's what a psalmist had to say about plants:

Psalm 104:14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, And herb for the service of man; That he may bring forth food out of the earth, 15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, [And] oil to make his face to shine, And bread that strengtheneth man's heart. 16 The trees of Jehovah are filled [with moisture], The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: As for the stork, the fir-trees are her house. (ASV)

They do a lot of things.

The same writer also said, of all of God's creations: Psalm 104:24 O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. (ASV)

We don't often recognize the "riches" that plants make available to us.

In previous posts, which were on flowers currently on display, in their quiet way, in upstate South Carolina, I have highlighted three families of plants. There are many more flowering plants that could have been mentioned--plants that provide us with rubber, with coffee and tea, with melons and peppers, with flour and pasta, with cranberries and carrots, with mustard, ketchup and potatoes. There are many with leaves, roots, stems and flowers that enrich us and delight us. There are "manifold," no doubt, that are just as remarkable, but are unfamiliar to us.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Small aster/composite

Composite small sunflower

This flower is a member of the Aster, or composite, family, a family of flowering plants with many species. Most of this family are weeds (see also a blog post on spiritual weeds). The reason that these are sometimes called composites is that what seems to be a single flower is a composite of many. The many flowers are often of two types, ray and disc flowers. Ray flowers are larger and showier, and are around the outside of the "flower." You can see a ring of ray flowers in the picture above. If you are familiar with sunflowers, you should be able to visualize what ray flowers look like. The disc flowers are in the center. They make sunflower seeds. (Some composites have only ray flowers, or only disc flowers.)

The particular plant in the photo is currently very common in upstate South Carolina, especially along roadsides, and in yards that haven't been mowed for several days.

I'm too lazy to do a lot of research to identify this plant. The closest I can come to a common name for it is colts-foot, or colts foot or, possibly, catsear. Don't ask me why it (may) have either one of those names. The plant, nor its flower, seem to resemble a colt's foot, or a cat's ear. Perhaps it did to someone.

Scientific names are important, because they identify plants so that there is (usually-sometimes there is controversy between scientists on how to classify something) no ambiguity over the identification. However, common names are important, too.

During my first year of teaching in South Carolina, when I, no doubt, had some arrogance, due to my recent Ph. D., and also some arrogance due to my midwestern origin, I rebuked a student for calling an animal a "toad-frog." I had never heard that term. I have come to realize that, if he knew what he meant by a toad-frog, and his audience did, too, he was communicating as well as if he had called it Rana pipiens, or, as I would have, simply a frog. Common names are fine for communicating within your own culture. They can cause problems when trying to communicate between cultures. That's one reason why we know so little about the exact identification of living things in the Bible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sunspots 9

Two posts on the Trilemma, posed by C. S. Lewis: either Christ was God's son, or crazy. One post here, another here. They come to somewhat different conclusions about the validity of Lewis' logic.

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Five U. S. Senators, from both parties, introduced a bill, on April 21, 2005, that would allow some kinds of somatic cell nuclear transfer, under these, and other conditions: human eggs used in such research must be unfertilized; egg donations must be voluntary, with no financial reward for egg donors, nuclear transfer may not be undertaken in labs doing in vitro fertilization. There is a House bill, introduced in May, that would also attempt to control embryonic stem cell research, thus, in effect, relaxing some of the restrictions on such research.

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Article in Wired, discussing guidelines produced by the National Academies of Science to regulate the possible production of human-animal chimeras.

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Cameron, at points to ponder, has commented a second time about communication, and also posted about Russian seasons, and his infant son.

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If you are sick, be careful--it may not be a good idea to look for information on the web!

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Wittenberg Gate has some posts on what the influence of Biblical belief in government should be.

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Science & Spirit is an on-line periodical that may be of interest to some of you. I was particularly interested in (and read) the articles "Curtain Call" and "The Next Philosophy."

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See today's Christian Carnival. I'm glad I did. I found a former student's blog, two reviews of an author I like, and a discussion of the chronology of part of 1st Samuel that I had seen, but couldn't re-locate.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Vetch flowers

Vetch flowers

Another member of the legume, or pea, family (see previous post) is vetch. Vetch flowers are small, and the plant isn't nearly as large as kudzu (see previous post). But the plants do have root nodules, where there are bacteria that are able to take Nitrogen, a gas which we can't put to use with our own body chemistry, and make it available to vetch, and then, when vetch is eaten, to other living things.

Vetch will climb over other plants, and up man-made objects. On a recent trip to a nearby town, my wife and I recognized it by the little patches of blue in fields, on in bushes. There are many varieties of vetch, and I am not certain which one this is. Some species are not native to North America, and some are.

One definition of a weed is a plant growing where you don't want it to. Vetch can be a weed, by this definition. It can also be useful as cattle forage, or as a way to build up the soil.

Vetch is the name of Ged's best friend, in Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. (See here, here, and here for previous posts on that book.)

After a Google search, and about 20 links, I have concluded that there probably isn't a really good general web page on this plant. There should be.

More on kudzu: a report says that an extract of kudzu can cause people to cut back on alcohol consumption.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Kudzu, stealth invader

Yesterday's post showed a photo of a kudzu leaf, and remarked that the plant is not native to the Southeastern U. S., even though it sometimes seems that it covers that section of the world.

Apparently kudzu was brought here by Japanese exhibitors. As a flourishing plant, with fragrant flowers, it attracted attention, and it wasn't long before it was being grown here.

There's a biological lesson in this. It often happens that organisms brought in to a new area thrive, and change the environment significantly, because there are no animals present in the new area whose role in life is to eat them, or parasitize them. That doesn't always happen, but it happens too often. I am aware of a few examples, including rabbits and other animals in Australia, kudzu, starlings, English sparrows, Russian thistles, giant Salvinia, lampreys, nutria and water hyacinths. No doubt there are many more. Some might say that the introduction of Old World humans into the New World from the East is another example of this!

Like kudzu, often the introductions have been deliberate, and probably never with the intention of radically changing the biological community, but for aesthetic reasons, or even to control other organisms.

The biological lesson is that we should be very careful what we are doing, and probably, in most cases, let things be as they are.

There's a spiritual lesson, too, of course. Some things don't belong in our brains. They may be brought there because they look or sound good, or just without thinking carefully about what we are doing, but end up destroying or displacing that which is good. See Philippians 4:8, which describes the things which we should put in our brains, and, by implication, what we should not. See also James 1:13-15, which tells of the consequences of letting sin into our lives. Like kudzu, it isn't supposed to be there. Like kudzu, it can flourish, and destroy the good that is there.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8, ASV.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Kudzu leaves

kudzu tendril
The picture above is of some kudzu leaves. Kudzu is not yet in bloom in upstate South Carolina, but, as you can see from yesterday's post, it is, as usual, thriving. Kudzu is one of the last plants to put forth new growth in the Spring. It is quite sensitive to frost. There will be blooms later. It grows rapidly, and I have never had a student from the Northeast or Midwest who didn't notice the ubiquity of kudzu during the season when it grows, as I did. I am still amazed at it, after four decades of living near it. If unchecked, it covers acres of land, and will cover buildings, trees, and other plants. The name is Japanese, apparently. It grows so well because there are few, or no, natural enemies of kudzu here. It is rare to find insect holes in kudzu leaves.
Woodchucks often live in holes in banks where kudzu is growing.
Kudzu is a member of the legume, or pea family of flowering plants. (Legume is a fancy name for pod.) This family is one of the most important families of plants, because they can fix Nitrogen, thus making it available for use in proteins, nucleic acids, and other essential molecules of living things. Vegetarians generally eat one or more legumes regularly.
Kudzu flowers, leaves and roots are edible (links go to recipes). The kudzu root apparently resembles jicama, or yam bean, root. Jicama (not kudzu) is available in some grocery stores in the area. I have grown to like it over the last year or so. I have yet to eat kudzu. Maybe someday.
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Addendum, January 19, 2006: Over the last few days, our Flickr photo of kudzu, which is the photo above, has experienced some 260 views. If you have been assigned this page for a school assignment, or have assigned it, good (although I'd be pleased to find out, if this is true). If you see any needed improvements, or have suggestions, please comment or contact me otherwise. Thanks.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Cherokee rose

Cherokee rose with kudzu

And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:28-29, ASV. (Similar language is used in Luke 12:27)

Yesterday's post featured blackberry flowers. Today's features another flower currently blooming in upstate South Carolina. This, like the blackberry, is a member of the rose family. I don't have a name for this one that I'm confident of, other than rose.

I am aware that roses aren't lilies. I also know that there is little certainty about what particular plants the Bible is referring to, when specific plants are mentioned. Even so, I don't propose that Jesus was talking about roses here. I am assuming that Jesus' statement applied to more than lilies.

I said I wasn't confident of the name, but this may be a Cherokee Rose. May not, too. I'm not sure. I expect to deal with common names in a future post.

This simple rose has a beauty of its own. So, of course, do showier ones, with more color and more petals.

The green thing going from the lower right to behind the flower is, for those not from here, a kudzu stem. I know what that is. I have to admit that even kudzu has beauty, if you can look at it with an unprejudiced eye. More on that later.

My blog description says that it's "Musings on science . . ." I haven't lived up to that part lately, and this series on what's happening around us here is an attempt to make up for that.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Wild blackberry flowers

blackberry flowers

It's never a bad idea to stop thinking about whatever is bothering you and think about flowers.

Blackberries are members of the rose family. There are several species of blackberry, and I have no idea which one this is. Roses generally have petals in multiples of five, which are not attached to each other, hence can fall separately. In the picture above, you can see these petals. Several plants that bear fruit that we eat are members of this family, including strawberries, peaches, and apples. Roses are also members of the family, of course. The rose family is one of the largest families of plants.

Blackberries have aggregate fruits, called drupelets. That is, each of the little globes on a blackberry fruit is actually a separate fruit. Drupes have a hard seed in the center, and a fleshy outside, which is good to eat. The seed of blackberries is small enough that it can be ignored, unless it gets stuck in one's teeth. You shouldn't ignore the seed of apricots, peaches, and plums, which are also drupes. Raspberries have drupelets.

Blackberries, in South Carolina and Wisconsin, anyway (places I am most familiar with) often grow in abandoned fields after a year or two since the last cultivation, or along roadsides. They are a part of ecological succession, a fairly early stage thereof. They generally won't grow year after year in the same place, if that place is undisturbed. Since roadsides are disturbed, by mowing, blackberries will grow in the same place year after year.

Blackberries have thorns on their stems, or brambles, which can hurt. The fruit is usually good enough that they are worth picking, in spite of the thorns, although not many people pick. It's usually hot, with pesky insects, always scratchy, and the berries growing near roads are probably polluted. However, I sometimes get a picking or two.

It looks like a good blackberry crop in upstate South Carolina this year. There are blackberry plants in bloom all over the place.

Sunspots 8

THANKS TO GOD! I didn't say that explicitly at the retirement luncheon for me and several others, held at my institution this week, and I surely should have. Not thanks that I am retiring, but thanks for 41 good--no, great--years. Thanks also to a lot of other people, who will never read this, but who made the arrangements, and said various nice things, and to my wife, daughters, and grandson, for showing up, and acting like they enjoyed it. Daughters, that was great. Thanks again.

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I began teaching a class the day after the luncheon. . .

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The latest Christian Carnival is here. For anyone interested in Women in the Church, there is a link to a post by that title, about 2/3 of the way down the Carnival's listing of posts. I'd link to it directly, but that might deprive someone of seeing a mention of another post that they really should read.

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Google Guide gives good tips on using Google, but is not affiliated with that service/site/behemoth/whatever.

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Suggestions from Project Gutenberg, which posts public domain books--lots of them:
Christopher Morley's Plum Pudding of divers Ingredients, Discreetly Blended & Seasoned, a book of essays published in 1921, includes two gems on writing as a profession, "The Perfect Reader" and "The Rudeness of Poets." (There are more gems, on other subjects, that I didn't get around to reading, I'm sure.)
Kate Greenway's A Apple Pie is an alphabet book with color illustrations done in 1886. I suggest downloading the zipped version.

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For anyone interested in my basketball post, yesterday, here's more on Kwame Brown.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Kwame Brown

Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player I've ever seen. Not the greatest person, the greatest basketball player. Why do I say that? He had great skills. He made the players around him better. He had great desire. I remember watching a game in the playoffs where Jordan had the flu. Scottie Pippen had to help him off the court when time-outs were called, but when the game started back up, Jordan wanted to play, and did, and did well. Another reason Jordan was great is that, although he left college for the NBA draft, he did finish his degree.

Jordan hasn't fared as well in other pursuits. He wasn't great in baseball, when he left basketball to try it for a year. He is reputed to gamble a lot. He served as an executive for the Washington Wizards NBA team for a while. No doubt he did some things well, but some not so well. One decision he made hasn't worked out. He selected Kwame Brown as the first player taken in the 2001 draft--not just by the Wizards, but the first player in the entire draft. Last week, several years, and several million dollars later, the Wizards told Brown that he wasn't going to be part of the rest of their playoff season. He hadn't been a team player. He didn't really help his team. The team won their first playoff series in many years, beating Jordan's old team, the Chicago Bulls, with Brown absent during the last few games. Somebody failed.

The Wizards could use another big man. They are playing the Miami Heat, who have Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning, two really good big men, in the middle.

Kwame Brown was the first number one draft pick drafted straight out of high school. Other players had been drafted out of high school, without going to college, but none were the very first player taken.

This story has several lessons in it.

One lesson is that talent and potential aren't all that it takes to be successful. Dedication is more important. Unselfishness is more important.

Another lesson is that maturity matters. There have been players who never went to college who have been successful. Kevin Garnett is one such. But there have been some other flops. It has been suggested that the NBA shouldn't draft players who are too young to have finished college. As a society, we emphasize youth way too much. They're our future, sure, but they shouldn't be the ones telling us how to act and what to do, or, rather, we, as a society, shouldn't be as dependent on them for leadership.

Another lesson is that we, as a society, have our priorities messed up, worse than Kwame Brown has messed up his basketball career. When we pay people who take care of our kids, and try to fix the messes we make, like teachers, social workers, and policemen, so little, and so much to people who entertain us, there's something wrong. Kwame Brown made more in a year or two than a social worker, or a policeman, a day care worker, or a public school teacher, will make in a lifetime. Of course, it isn't just athletes, or just other kinds of entertainers, but we also pay many of our CEO's more than anyone could possibly deserve. We have our priorities messed up, and we idolize big paychecks. These are serious problems.

I wish Kwame Brown all the best. I hope that he is signed by another team, and experiences a fresh lease on life, working hard and unselfishly for his team, and to entertain the fans who pay so that he gets paid. I also hope that he has a change of heart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Be spontaneous!

I received this e-mail from one of my favorite students on the last class day of my last semester:

BE SPONTANEOUS. I hope that you and your wife have a wonderful retirement and that you do many things that you have always wished to do. Go places you have never gone and do things you have never done . . .like rock climbing or bungee jumping or taking a trek across the Sahara Desert or taming wild lions or joining a traveling circus!! Those are just a few things I would like to do. :) I hope that whatever you do, God will bless you and your family tremendously. (excerpt from personal e-mail, May 5, 2005.)

A reminder, which I didn't need--I already knew it--that I am perceived as a little dull.

There are worse things than being dull. Spontaneity can get you into big trouble. But, on the other hand, doing daring, spontaneous things is part of what the Christian life is supposed to be about, and, I think, she is right. I haven't been as spontaneous as I should have been. I haven't stood up for the right in unpopular ways as often, or as forcefully, as I should have.

Rahab spontaneously decided to protect the spies. David spontaneously decided to go against Goliath. Mary heard news that was going to change her life radically, and accepted it, apparently on the spot. Years later, Mary told Jesus to do something a little rash, and his first miracle was performed. The Twelve left their jobs and families behind, just dropping their nets, or walking away from the cashbox, and followed Jesus. Paul couldn't restrain himself, and stood up and made a speech at Mars Hill. Spontaneity can be good. No, great!

Thanks for the advice! We do plan to go some places we have never gone, and will do some things we have never done, I hope. (Don't hold your breath till we bungee jump or tame wild lions!) I also hope we have the courage, if God calls, to do some things for Him that we have never done. His church could use some real sanctified spontaneity.

I don't name private persons on this blog, but the person who wrote the above quote knows who she is, and if she reads this, and I hope she does, I am letting her know that I will try to pray that she will do some wonderful things, too, some just for the fun of it, and some of them just for Him.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day

I'm not going to name my mother, my wife, or my older daughter--see guideline 3. I'm not going to tell you where they live, for the same reason. But I am grateful to all three of them.

My mother's 95th birthday was on the 4th, 4 days ago. She needs some help, but she still lives alone, and mostly takes care of herself. She still teaches other people to make rugs, of a kind she invented herself, using castoff coats, and makes them herself. Here is a sample, made during 1999:

Wheel rugs made by Mom Christmas 1999 edited

She and her husband, my father, (See Feb 27, 2005 post) raised four sons. She did her best to care for my father, until it was necessary to place him in a nursing home. She went to see him nearly every day, until he passed away, in 1991. She still goes to the nursing home, when she can get someone to take her (which she usually can) to play the piano and read Bible stories to the people who live there. She also does Bible study in her home.

My wife (See Feb 27, 2005 post) is the mother of our two children. She quit work when both of them were born, and took care of them both for the first few years of their lives. She, like me, is retiring this year. Her retirement would have been at a higher pay level if she hadn't kept the girls at home. She is still very concerned about them, prays for them, and talks to them on the phone, and e-mails. She took time off to fly to another state to help our older daughter take care of our grandchild, for the first few days after his birth.

Our older daughter is a good mother. She has a job, and can't quit it to stay home. This concerns her deeply, as she wants to do her best, as a mother, and on the job. Many women are like her. It's a tough balancing act. She loves our grandchild. She and her husband are doing a good job of caring for him. She also tries to do lots of other things. I don't think, for example, that she has ever missed recognizing a birthday for anyone closer than a second cousin.

Thank God for all three of these women. Without one, I wouldn't be here. Without one, my life would be much different, and much worse. Without the other, my life would have been much less interesting.

I also honor our younger daughter (see April 8, 2005 post) who is not a mother. She may be someday. She may not. Either way, that's fine.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

SWU Graduation, May 5, 1974

The graduation exercises, 31 years ago, at the institution where I have been working for four decades, were memorable for several reasons. I have a copy of the program--it's the only one I have kept, except the one where I spoke. It shows all of the following, except the first, which is not indicated:

1) First graduation as a regionally accredited institution.

2) First graduation class which included African-Americans. There were two of them. One of these, a biology major I knew well, had several firsts to his name:
first African-American admitted and entering (Not the first black--there was an African student before him)
being on our first intercollegiate athletic team, men's basketball, in our initial year of competition, as a freshman
being on the men's soccer team, in our initial year of competition, as a senior--he had gotten kicked off the basketball team, as I understand it, for growing a beard (How things have changed!)
first African-American graduating--he was afraid that the other person, whose name came before his in the alphabet, would be the first, but the graduates were in order of major, then name, and biology came before English

He went on to teach high school for a year, to work for a utility company in a technical capacity, and, eventually, to obtain a Master's degree in science from a state university. I was happy to have him speak to a class once when he came back for a visit, and he did a good job. Talked about some things I didn't know.

This individual was a remarkable young man. He had graduated from the last all African-American high school in the state. He lived with his grandparents, who could not read or write, and signed his own school documents for them. He did get some scholarships, but also worked, cleaning a bank, and probably on other local jobs, as a way to pay for his education. I have lost track of him, and I suspect that he has died.

3) First African-American graduation speaker

4) One of the two marshals was a quadriplegic

There were 81 graduates, and five of these graduated with honors. I expect about 30% of our graduates this year will graduate with honors. Grades have, indeed, inflated in 31 years.

A new reader pointed out that I have been posting memories. So I have, recently. I expect to get back to the present and the future soon. May not post for a day or two. We have family with us!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Proverbs 31 in verse

Oh, who can find a virtuous wife,
worth more than lands and gold?
Her husband puts his trust in her,
her value is untold.

She works throughout the day and night
to help her family.
She cares for other people, too--
She hears the poor one's plea.

Her children stand and bless her name,
and hear her father call,
"Of all the women in the world,
you are the best of all!"

Great beauty vanishes with time
and youth will fade away,
but she who fears and worships God
has honor all her days.

I know, it isn't Mother's Day yet. When I was younger, Mother's Day songs were often sung in church. They were mostly pretty sappy. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, or, rather, to put what King Lemuel said to verse. This setting of Proverbs 31:10-31 may be sung to St. Peter, or other common meter tunes.

This describes a high standard, but I have found a virtuous wife. My father, and my late father-in-law, did, too. I believe that my sons-in-law have, too. So have some other relatives and acquaintances, and, I think, the husbands of some of the bloggers I read.

I'll try to get the Creative Commons license to work later, but, in case anyone wants to use this, you are free to do so, but no one should be able to restrict others from using it.

I'm not the world's greatest poet. If you have suggestions for improvement, please leave a comment.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

End of year goodbyes

Saying "good-bye" is hard to do. Some people won't say it. Working as a college professor, where every end of semester means the end of some relationships, is probably no different than, say, being a librarian or a truck driver, but I've never been either of them, and it seems like there are a lot of goodbyes that go with this job. I check several blogs by students, and one by an employee, of my university, and most of them are writing about the emotional difficulties of ending a year, or their college years.

Looking back, I remember a large number of events, and people, fondly. Not enough--I know I've forgotten a lot, based on what other people remember that I don't.

I arrived on the campus on September 3, 1964. I had never been within 500 or more miles of the place before I showed up. (We interview candidates now!) Claude Rickman, now deceased (as are almost all of my co-workers from my first year) was the Academic Dean, and, I am sure, eager to see exactly who it was that he had signed up. He came to my residence and told me that another faculty member, the late Marling Elliott, had a rare flower that he was sure I would want to see. I went to see it, and Dr. Rickman got to talk to another rare flower, as we went to see the one with roots. I wonder what he thought? Too late to ask him. (I don't normally mention the names of living people in this blog, unless they are public figures, or have posted their names themselves.)

I always went to chapel when on campus. I wasn't always on campus. I got sick a few times. I had some appointments, but I always went when I wasn't away, with one exception. In my first year, some students and I were doing some experiments with rabbits. One of them didn't survive the experiment, for some reason--I hope we weren't cruel to it, I'm much more sensitive to that now than then. So someone, most likely the one who is now a funeral director, suggested that we dissect the rabbit. So we did, and the dissection took us through the chapel period. I had never dissected one, and they hadn't either. It was a most interesting experience.

We weren't accredited when I first came, and we weren't very big. Physical education was one of the areas that we couldn't do as much with as we'd like to have. We did have athletic activities, for those interested. They included football, basketball, and softball. There was a field. There was no gym. A psychology student graduated, and was hired to teach physical education. I don't remember who did it before he did. He was resourceful, and he had to be. I knew, because I attended his physical education classes--I wanted the activity. It also helped me to know the students outside of classes. We learned "square ball," a sport/activity that could be played on a sidewalk with a large ball that bounced, and a lot of other things that didn't take elaborate equipment, or a gymnasium. He did a great job.

Later, when we did get a gym, but before my knee went bad, and before computers came along to take up so much of my time, I used to play basketball with whoever would, in our gym, which was often open for such activity. I had some great times. I played against some really good players, and some not so good. I wish I could remember them all, but I don't. Thanks to all of you for giving me a good time.

I used to teach ecology. I got bold enough to hold a field trip. We went all the way to the ocean, to Huntington Beach State Park, about 225 miles away. It was a great experience, in many ways. On one trip, a student got out and ran along the road when we went through Columbia. On another, or maybe the same one, there was one student who had never seen the ocean. She was, obviously, awestruck, as she should have been. (I had never seen it, either, until a month or more after I took the job.) Once I managed to back the college's van into a live oak tree in a restaurant parking lot. The business manager was very understanding, and at least one student was very helpful.

Every now and then I meet a former student in a grocery store, or some such, and I'm always glad to see them, even if I can't remember all their names. I hope I didn't treat any of them unfairly, and I hope I did some of them some good.

Two days ago, I had some more experiences. A couple of students threatened to have a retirement party for me, during our last class together. Considering the pressures of exam week, I didn't know what, if anything, to expect, but they came in with cookies, which they distributed to the class, and I got the leftovers. The whole semester with that class was super. There was a diverse mix, including three retirees, in the class, and they all got along very well. I'll miss them all. A student I haven't had for a year or so wanted to come by and say goodbye that afternoon. She had never been to my office, but found it, with some help. She said that she thought good teachers weren't appreciated as much as they should be. I pointed out to her that she was planning to become a teacher, herself. I'm sure she'll be a good one, and I'm sure that not enough people will say "Thanks!" I was glad she came.

Goodbye to all of you, those mentioned above, and those not. Having had good experiences makes it easier, and harder, to say it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sunspots 7

Tabletalk: Christianity and Culture has been posting on the Narnia books, and does lots of Lewis work.

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A first-term missionary to Russia, with a wife and baby, has started a blog, and is posting about every other day or so. So far, he has written about being asked to arrange a marriage, how Russians and US Southerners dress for the cold (it isn't what you might think), global missions strategy, what Russians think of Stalin, and other things. (Full disclosure: he's our nephew)

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The New Yorker has a wonderful factual article, "Capturing the Unicorn," about trying to create accurate digital images of the Unicorn Tapestries. The article involves art, computing, digital photography, history, medieval religion, and human interest. The leading characters are two brothers who prefer to be known as one single mathematician. (Warning: this is a full-length article, longer than a post, even longer than my posts)

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A seminary student has posted a draft (or maybe the final version) of a term paper, on "The Arts and the Church." (Warning: this is a full-length paper, longer than a post, even longer than my posts)

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Web pages on the Causes of Colors (I posted a series, beginning with Red on Valentine's Day, and ending with Black.)

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Joe Carter gets seriously theological, in a post (first of more than one) explaining what "free will" means.

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Spiked survey, "If you could teach the world just one thing," of 250 scientists. Sample response, by Paul Davies: The essence of the scientific method is that there is an actually existing world out there, which is ordered in an intelligible way. The job of the scientist is to describe that order, in the best possible manner. Science is not about right and wrong, about truth, or even about reality. It is about providing reliable descriptions of the world that enable us to make new discoveries.

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Orson Scott Card, no less, is not sorry that "Star Trek" is ending.

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The Boston Globe has a review of an new book by Michael Ruse, one of the very few important philosophers who write about science. Ruse, no Christian, and a convinced believer in naturalistic evolution, claims that Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson, among others, are making worldview claims not supported by science, and polarizing the discussion about origins unnecessarily. (See previous mention of Dawkins in this blog)

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Bonnie writes about the issues of how we deal with the aged, in a poignant and personal way, yet deals with the issues themselves, in a typically (for her) good post.

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This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Women in the Old Testament: Tamar

In a previous post, I commented on the subordinate status of women in much of the first part of Genesis. Things changed as time went on. Sarah told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, and Abraham did so. Rebekah was given a choice--did she want to stay home, or go far away to be the wife of Isaac, a man she had never seen? It was her choice (Genesis 24). Later, perhaps at God's direction, she interfered with Isaac's plans for Esau, so that Jacob, her favorite, got the blessing, and had to leave home, which is how he found Leah and Rachel, his wives. Clearly, Rebekah was a strong woman, and one who had the chance to play a part.

The story of Tamar (Genesis 38) is, if anything, even more remarkable. She, too, was a woman who took things into her own hands, perhaps at God's direction, to right a wrong. Judah's first son, her husband, was evil, and God killed him. In those days, a surviving wife was supposed to produce an heir for her dead husband, with the help of one of his close male relatives. Onan, her husband's brother, did not do what custom required. He practiced coitus interruptus, getting pleasure out of his sister-in-law without the chance of her becoming pregnant. So God killed Onan, too. (As I understand it, Catholics use this story as one justification of their rejection of birth control methods. Some Protestants believe that Onan was killed because he was selfish, and used his sister-in-law as a sex object, not because he practiced birth control.)
Judah didn't send his third son to Tamar, blaming her falsely for the death of his first two sons. She then dressed herself as a prostitute, and placed herself on a route that Judah would travel. Judah took the bait, used her, and she became pregnant, which was her intention. This sexual activity took place without Judah recognizing the voice, or anything else, about the woman who had married his son. Judah, if not chaste, was just. When he wanted to have his daughter-in-law stoned to death for her adultery, (Even though he had, at least once, coupled with a woman not his wife--double standard) Tamar proved to him that he had been the father. He did not have her stoned. Her twin sons were born, and he accepted them as his own.

It is difficult to know for sure (previous post) but I'm guessing that Tamar was one of those who went into Egypt with Judah and Jacob, during the famine that Joseph saved his own people from. The Bible makes it clear that this strong woman was one of the ancestors of David, hence of Jesus, through one of those twins. Sarah and Rebekah were also ancestors, of course.

For links to some other posts on women in the Old Testament, see here.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Frodo, Ged and Hazel: sub-creations

Tolkien called good writing of fantastic literature, or "Fairy-stories," sub-creation. He meant that there is a real creation, but that writers also have the power to create within that creation, in their imagination, and that of their readers. Here is a good short introduction to Tolkien's ideas, and to the themes I touch on in this post.

The three works I am considering in this series (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, by Tolkien, The Earthsea trilogy, by Le Guin, and Watership Down, by Adams --see here and here for previous posts) are all works of sub-creation. Why do I say so? All three have a plot, and characters, like most books. They also have a setting. The setting of all three is deep. Tolkien's was the product of decades of imagining, and writing. His son, Christopher, edited several books worth of material, much of it setting for the Rings trilogy. Le Guin's setting includes references to legends, or maybe history, of Earthsea from long before the time of Ged. Adam's setting includes legends of El-ahrairah, the trickster rabbit. All three works include maps, and they are almost required, for a good understanding of the plot.

All three works include an invented language. Tolkien includes parts of several such. The most obvious example is the inscription on the ring. A linguist, he had worked out many details of these languages. Earthsea had a "language of the making," spoken by dragons and wizards. Wizards in training learned the names of all sorts of plants, and their parts, and of many other things, in this language. A few fragments occur in the books. There are also suggestions of at least two languages spoken by humans. Rabbits speak lapine, and there are some fragments. Apparently each animal species has its own language, but there is a common lingua franca, as Adams calls it, so that seagulls and rats have some communication with rabbits.

All three works have a natural history. There are stars, and trees, and flowers, and healing plants, in Tolkien's world. There are rivers. In Earthsea, there are stars and named constellations (see below). There is the otak, a small mammal. There are birds and domestic animals. There are trees. The Immanent Grove is, in a sense, the heart of Earthsea, and it is a place where you can watch a spider spin a web. Adam's world has, especially, plants. Most of the rabbits are named for some plant. Adams frequently describes the rabbits' surroundings, with special attention paid to the plants and the birds.

All three sub-creations have some sort of spirit world, parallel to the world the characters usually inhabit. In Tolkien, the ringwraiths inhabit this spirit world. So does Gandalf. So does Glorfindel. So does Sauron. Frodo himself, and Sam, enter that world when they put on the Ring. In Earthsea, there is a world of the dead, but the wizards, including Ged, can go there, while still alive, and return.

He lay dying. But the death of a great mage, who has many times in his life walked on the dry steep hillsides of death's kingdom, is a strange matter: for the dying man goes not blindly, but surely, knowing the way. When Nemmerle looked up through the leaves of the tree, those with him did not know if he watched the stars of summer fading in daybreak, or those other stars, which never set above the hills that see no dawn. (A Wizard of Earthsea, New York: Ace, 1968, p. 78)

Ged, himself, goes to the world of the dead, early in his life as a wizard:

Summoning his power all at once and with no thought for himself, he sent his spirit out after the child's spirit, to bring it back home. . . . Then he saw the little boy running fast and far ahead of him down a dark slope, the side of some vast hill. There was no sound. The stars above the hill were no stars his eyes had ever seen. Yet he know the constellations by name: the Sheaf, the Door, the One Who Turns, the Tree. They were those stars that do not set, that are not paled by the coming of any day. He had followed the dying child too far. (A Wizard of Earthsea, New York: Ace, 1968, p. 96)

In the final book, Ged has to enter the world of the dead, with a young companion, to heal a breach in the fabric of the world. They succeed, and come back to the world of the living, where their bodies have remained.

In Watership Down, Fiver enters an alternate world, and returns with guidance for Hazel, his brother, and their companions:

"Hrairoo," said Hazel one evening, "what would we have done without you? We'd none of us be here, would we?"
"You're sure we are here?" answered Fiver.
"That's too mysterious for me," replied Hazel. "What do you mean?"
"Well, there's another place--another country, isn't there? We go there when we sleep; at other times, too; and when we die. El-ahrairah comes and goes between the two as he wants, I suppose, but I could never quite make that out, from the tales. Some rabbits will tell you it's all easy there, compared with the waking dangers that they understand. But I think that only shows they don't know much about it. It's a wild place, and very unsafe. And where are we really--there or here?"
"Our bodies stay here--that's good enough for me. . . "
-Richard Adams, Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1972. pp. 258-9

As C. S. Lewis once said, there is good death in the Ring books. Boromir dies, trying to protect Merry and Pippin, and having repented of his lust for the Ring. Théoden dies, having restored the honor of his house by destroying the Lord of the Nazgûl. Gandalf dies, so that the Fellowship can escape Moria (He returns again). In Earthsea, death is not exactly good, but it is a necessary part of life. The plot of the third book revolves around rejection of death, which, in Earthsea, leads to a life of less than wholeness. In Watership Down, Hazel dies a good death, after leading his followers to safety, and living a long life.

The rich settings of these works by Tolkien, Le Guin and Adams add much to the appeal of the stories. They are not just a narrative. They are narratives set in complex and wonderful sub-creations.

This is the fourth, and last, post in the series. The first post is here, and the second is here.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Refrain: I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

Refrain

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s Name,
Salvation through His blood.

Refrain

My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed,
For me His life He gave.

Refrain

Eliza Hewitt, 1881 (hence public domain)

For more information, including a midi file, go here.