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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sunspots 258

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

I'm not a fan of The Simpsons, but a lot of other people are. Strange Maps shows that Marge Simpson's head is shaped like Europe.

Science:(or something) According to Wired (some of you know this very well, but I didn't) Fox News commentators routinely deny that there is any danger from global warming. But Fox News, the business, is working to become green, very green.

Wired tells us how to browse without leaving a footprint, almost.

Information on the National Broadband Plan is here.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why face lifts don't work very well

A recent report from National Public Radio tells us what many, especially some of us who are older, already know, mostly from watching aging celebrities, namely that face lifts don't work really well.

The reason, according to the report, is that the skin isn't the only part that ages. The underlying bones also change as we age, gradually withering away.

Oh, well. I wasn't going to get one anyway.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

As I have indicated previously, the first three of the Earthsea books, by Ursula K. Le Guin, are among my favorite works of fantastic literature, and Le Guin is perhaps the finest author of fantastic literature in the English language. See here, here, and here for the Wikipedia articles on these books. The last of these three, The Farthest Shore, was published in 1972. These books, written for young people, are equally attractive to adult readers. They are notable for their portrayal of some human societies, presented sparely, but with an eye to anthropological detail. They are also coming of age books, of the young mage, Ged, the young priestess, Tenar, and the young person who is to be the young king, Arren.

I recently re-read Tehanu, published in 1990. This work is meant as a sequel to the previous three books. In this, Le Guin re-visits an adult Tenar. Ged is also a character in the book, and so, for a briefer time, are Ogion, Ged's original teacher, and Arren, now king. (Tehanu is the name of a star, visible from the island of Gont, in Earthsea, where all the action takes place.)

As the Wikipedia article on Tehanu says, Le Guin seems to have written the book partly to address gender matters. The Mages that have power in Earthsea are exclusively male, trained by males, and living with males during their training. From all indications in the three previous books, and from Tehanu, they are celibate for life. In Tehanu, Tenar complains about male insensitivity. For example, she tells her son that he should wash up his own dishes, and not expect her to have his food on the table when he wants it. For another example, the Master Windkey, one of the Master Mages, does not really understand Tenar, because she is a woman. (Ged and Arren do listen, and do treat Tenar with full respect.)

Another theme of the book is aging. Ogion dies, of old age, and Ged has lost all powers as a mage.

The last theme I wish to address is the question of dragons. Dragons are important in Earthsea. They are intelligent, beautiful, and can be terribly destructive. They also speak the original language, used to create the world and its contents. (Mages learn part of this language during their training.) In this book (and there are also hints in other parts of the Earthsea novels, and in short stories written in that setting) it appears that the dragons and humans stemmed from one and the same source. They are kin.

This is my favorite quotation from the book:
". . . She obeys me, but only because she wants to."
"It's the only justification for obedience," Ged observed. Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, New York: Bantam, 1991, p. 209 (Tenar is first speaker, ellipsis in original). (Also New York: Simon Pulse, 2001, p. 233) This is in the chapter entitled "Winter."

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Song is Love Unknown, by Samuel Crossman

One of our daughters introduced me to this song:

My Song is Love Unknown
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from heaven's* throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men were lost*, and none
The matchless* Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

They shout* and want to* have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from death* might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

The words were written by Samuel Crossman. The Cyber Hymnal page for the song is here. That source says that the words were written in 1664, so the words are public domain, and I have modernized a few of them, as indicated by the asterisks. See the link for the original words, which include two more verses.

I was not familiar with the tune given by the Cyber Hymnal, but the words may also be sung to the tune known as Darwall, or Darwall's 148th. Here's a link to another hymn with that tune. It could also be sung to about 40 other tunes with, or meter.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Forgiveness and grace from a civil rights disturbance, 50 years later

National Public Radio reports on a powerful story. In 1960, a group of non-violent civil rights activists attempted to integrate a public facility in Rock Hill, SC. There were hecklers, and some beatings.

One of the people beaten was US Congressman John Lewis. (Here is his Wikipedia entry, and here is his official Congressional web site.)

One of the men who beat the African-Americans in Rock Hill discovered that Representative Lewis was one of those beaten, and contacted Lewis to apologize. According to the NPR report, they hugged, and were reconciled. Elwin Wilson, aging and not in the best of health, "says he found the Lord and realized he was wrong." Lewis is quoted as saying that their meeting was a "moment of grace."

Whether Wilson and Lewis now agree on politics, I don't know. But that's not important. Repentance, grace, and forgiveness are important.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eternity, how long is it?

blogger i am grateful -- Kerry i am asked for a definition of forever.

This is not a definition, and it's not original with me. I don't know where I heard or read it, (probably in a sermon) but I think it bears repeating, so here goes.

Suppose that there is a ball of iron, as large as the earth.

Suppose that, every 100 years, a bird flies past this ball, and barely touches it with a wing tip.

When that bird has finally worn away the entire ball, eternity will have just begun.

Thanks for reading. Perhaps you have a better definition/example. If you know a source, I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Mountainous desert, from plane, between Salton Sea and San Diego (6)

This was taken from an airplane window, and shows part of a large desert, somewhere between the Salton Sea (which is an interesting example of how humans and nature interact) and San Diego, California, which is also an interesting example.

You should be able to access larger sizes of this photo, by right-clicking on it.

Psalm 24:1 (KJV) The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

God has given us some responsibility for nature, and we aren't handling it very well, although the area in the photo seems to be almost completely untouched.

Thanks for reading.

Sunspots 257

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

(or science, or humor) National Public Radio reports that Wisconsin, where I was born, is about to declare that Lactococcus lactus, a bacterium important in cheese-making, is its state microorganism.

The Arts:
Christianity Today Movies has selected their top movie sunrise scenes of all time.

He Lives says that "Free will, if it exists, is inherently supernatural."

Ken Schenck on the frequent use of the phrase, "What the Bible Says."

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Duriez on the fiction written by Tolkien and Lewis

My previous post was on Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, by Colin Duriez (Mahwah, New Jersey: HiddenSpring, an imprint of Paulist Press, 2003.)

I wish to summarize the book in this way: Both Tolkien and Lewis wrote as if they were convinced that the ways of the past were better than the ways of the present.

How does this show up? In many ways. There is no gunpowder, and there are no gasoline engines, in either Narnia or Middle-Earth. That's unless we count some of the machinery of Sauron and Saruman, both clearly evil characters. There are hereditary rulers. There's no newspaper, no radio, no electricity.

But the most fundamental way is that pagan, pre-Christian world-views (as in the Glome of Lewis's Till We Have Faces, or in Tolkien's Middle-Earth) are portrayed as leading up to Christianity, whereas modern views, like those of Saruman, or the NICE, are anti-God. As Duriez put it in his discussion of Till We Have Faces:

An important element in the story, therefore, is Psyche as an ancient anticipation of Christ. Psyche is able to see a glimpse of the true God himself, in all his beauty, and in his legitimate demand for a perfect sacrifice. . . . The novel explores the depths of insight possible within the limitations of the pagan imagination, which foreshadows the marriage of myth and fact in the Gospels. Till We Have Faces, therefore, reveals the imaginative and theological affinity between Lewis and Tolkien, perhaps  more than any other book by Lewis. It is ironic that the novel was written at a time when the two friends had grown apart. (163)

Thanks for reading. Read Lewis and Tolkien.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tolkien and Lewis, Lewis and Tolkien

I have recently read Tolkien and Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, by Colin Duriez. (Mahway, NJ:HiddenSpring, a Division of Paulist Press, 2003.) J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis should not need much introduction, but I have linked to the Wikipedia articles on each of them, at the beginning of this sentence. There is not much on Duriez on the Internet, but here's a link to a Wikipedia stub, and here's a link to the Amazon page listing the books he has authored.

So what does Duriez have to say? The book includes enough information to make it a good brief biography of both authors. As would be expected from the title, it specializes on the influence that the two men had on each other, which was considerable.

To summarize, Tolkien, a lifelong Roman Catholic, was one of the main influences in the conversion of Lewis to Christianity. (Lewis became an Anglican believer.) Tolkien was also one of the main influences in the appointment of Lewis to a chair at Cambridge, late in his life -- Lewis, although an important influence at Oxford, was never given a chair there. Lewis published several important books about English Literature while occupying his chair at Cambridge. Lewis read much, perhaps all, of the works Tolkien had published during his lifetime, and was a great encouragement to Tolkien. It is possible that, if Lewis had not done this, The Lord of the Rings would never have been published, and not many people would have ever heard of Tolkien. (Tolkien's son, Christopher, put together The Silmarillion, and other works, from his father's notes after the father's death. Tolkien outlived Lewis by about ten years. He and Christopher Tolkien attended Lewis's funeral.) Tolkien likewise encouraged Lewis, although he thought that the elements of myth in the Narnia books were put in somewhat carelessly, and he also thought that the work in Christian apologetics that Lewis did would have been better done by an ordained cleric, rather than a lay person. History, and the marketplace, have largely supported Lewis, not Tolkien, in these differences between them, but Tolkien had a point, especially about Narnia.

For much of their working lives, Tolkien and Lewis were good friends. Lewis, apparently more outgoing, added other friends to his circle, and eventually Tolkien felt left out, later in their lives. Even more important, Lewis married Joy Davidman, and this also caused some strain on the relationship. She had been previously divorced, and Tolkien felt that any marriage to her would be wrong, and apparently had told Lewis so.

One area where Tolkien and Lewis supported each other, and were, together, able to have considerable influence, was in the teaching of English Literature in Britain. They both felt that there was not enough attention given to the roots of English Literature, and to the roots of the English language. They, in fact, believed that they lived in a time that largely ignored its roots, in English, and in other ways. I believe that they were correct, and that we are worse off for this, but that's another sermon.

The only thing I found wrong with the book is that Duriez inexplicably claims that Jill Pole, who came to Lewis's Narnia with Eustace Scrubb in The Silver Chair, was a cousin of the Pevensie children (p. 137), who first entered Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The Silver Chair, and subsequent Narnia books, don't mention this.

The book is a good read, and anyone wanted to read about either, or both, of these giants, would find it a good choice.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We don't know all the answers!

Surely the Christian pastor ought to acknowledge that this is a matter upon which Evangelicals can and do hold widely divergent views? And it’s an abuse, not a fulfilment, of the pastoral calling to behave as if it were otherwise. Here the truth is “we don’t know all the answers”—even if, perhaps, we think we should. (Emphasis added.)

The above quotation was taken from a blog post about origins. But you could substitute a lot of things for "this," such as speaking in tongues, use of alcohol, women in the ministry, eternal security, church government, the Trinity, and interpretation of end-times prophecy. The author goes on to speak about a case where Paul, himself, didn't really answer a question -- an important question -- for the Corinthian church, and takes that as justification for not always knowing all the answers, or even expecting to. I agree.

Thanks for reading. Read the original post.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sunspots 256

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

Science:NPR reports that a new species of lizard, over six feet (2 meters) long, has been discovered.

Wired reports that the Arctic icecap may not be as strongly affected by global warming as once believed, but that the Antarctic icecap is in trouble.

Sports Illustrated reports that a woman will be pitching for a minor league US baseball team. There hasn't been a female minor leaguer for 10 years, they say.

Henry Neufeld reflects on Intelligent Design, and the charge that it is blasphemous.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pirate Freedom, by Gene Wolfe

I recently read Gene Wolfe's Pirate Freedom. Wolfe is a much-honored writer of fantastic literature.

I had been reluctant to begin this book, because I had a hard time figuring out that it could be a Wolfe-like book with that title. I shouldn't have worried. It's Wolfe, all right.

I don't want to give away much of the plot -- if you want a plot summary, click on the first link in the first line -- but I'll say this much. It's Wolfe, because you are never quite sure who is who. The main character may turn out to re-appear as another one. Also, the main character does a lot of thinking for our benefit. Seemingly unimportant characters drop out early, only to show up as important ones later. These are all characteristics of Wolfe's work. This book is more directly Christian than any other Wolfe volume I have read. No, it isn't Faith Fiction -- the leading character isn't a woman who falls in love with a bad guy, who is converted at the end. But the world-view is Christian, and there are at least four passages where there is an explicit Christian message. I'll indicate each of those. There is also some less direct Christianity, such as the main character's name, Chris, or Christofero.

I read whenever I can, the lives of good and decent men and women who sought God and found Him.
I am not like that -- either I have never lost Him or I have never sought Him. When you read this, you can say which. (Gene Wolfe, Pirate Freedom, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2007, p. 17) These sentences are early in the first paragraph of the first, and the beginning of the next paragraph, after a brief preface. At the end, I think we can say that the main character, who spends most of the book as a pirate in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, about three centuries ago, did seek God, but not in an orthodox way. He also was a priest, and definitely a believing priest.

on p. 193, Chris hears God speaking to him, as a voice. Others around him heard something at the same time. It is not clear whether they heard words, but Chris did. The voice came in response to a prayer of forgiveness by Chris, who was a pirate at the time.

On p. 242, as a priest, instructing young people, Father Chris tells them that God has given us humans free will, and that He has died for us.

On page 264, Father Chris indicates another experience of God:
I bundled up in my sweater, my overcoat, and so on, and unlocked the church so I could go in and say my mass. (We have to say mass every day, whether anybody comes or not.) The furnace had been turned down the night before, and the church was so cold that there was a skin of ice on the fonts. But the warm presence of God was waiting, and He and I were alone in there together.

Wolfe is a very good writer. He throws in Christianity in an unobtrusive, but unmistakable way in this book, which was published and marketed by a standard publisher of fantastic literature. That is more likely to reach non-believers than a direct approach, or a book published and marketed for a Christian audience. 

Thanks for reading. If you want to try Wolfe, this book is probably the best place to start, as most of Wolfe's works go on for 2 or more volumes. This one is relatively short, and self-contained.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to treat aliens

I have been enjoying the Bible Search on-line tool from the American Bible Society, which allows me to search for a word in nine versions at once, then expand particular verses so that I can see what other translations do with it.

I recently searched for the word, alien, this way. I discovered that that word seems to be more common in the NIV than in other versions, which may use stranger, sojourner, foreigner, and outsider. I take it that each of these words refers to the same thing, namely a non-Israelite living in, or passing through, Israel. The Blueletter Bible indicates that the transliterated Hebrew word is ger.

I wish to quote some of those passages, using the ESV, which allows such extensive quotation on-line.

Exodus 22:21 gives the Israelites the approach that they were to use in dealing with aliens among them: 21 "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. . . ." Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:19 and Leviticus 19:33-34 say the same thing. The Leviticus passage indicates that the Jews were to love aliens. I checked, and all nine versions use love. This is all the more remarkable, considering that, for the last part of their sojourn, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The command sounds a lot like the Golden Rule.

Leviticus 17:10-16 demonstrates that there were guidelines for aliens, too. This passage says that they were, even though non-Jewish, expected to obey the restrictions on eating blood. There are other passages about the law and aliens. However, my main emphasis is on how the Israelites were to be generous to them.

The Jews were commanded to harvest their crops in such a manner that some would be left for the poor and aliens to pick up, in Leviticus 19:9-10. This is how Ruth, a non-Jew, got food for herself and her mother-in-law.

Do these laws of the ancient Jews have validity for today? Perhaps, perhaps not. But they indicate that some of us might consider whether our indignation at illegal aliens has Biblical justification. Perhaps there are implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Jesus, Socialist?

The Free Dictionary gives these as the first two definitions of socialism:

1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved.
The Wikipedia says much the same thing about socialism.

Recently, President Obama has been called a Socialist. Quadrilateral Thoughts says that calling someone a Socialist when they really aren't is "labelism," a good term, and one which describes a phenomenon that is all too common. (The post is about other labels, too, not just socialism.)

It is sometimes said that the early church practiced socialism, or communism. See Acts 4:32. Was this socialism? Very close, or really socialism, if you allow that there was some central church government (which isn't clear, at least to me -- maybe there was, and maybe there wasn't). I have heard, and even taught, that this is not binding on Christians today, because Acts 4 is describing a special circumstance, when many new Christians, who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, become converted, and stayed on, were away from their normal means of making a living, in Galilee, or in other countries which were several days travel from Judea. At any rate, I don't practice Acts 4:32 fully, and neither does my church, or my denomination, nor am I aware of any congregation that does. And many conservative Christians are strongly opposed to socialism, or anything even close to it.

Acts 4:32 is apparently the fulfillment of Luke 12:33 (I have linked to the Blueletter Bible. Scroll down to see verse 33, which is shown in more than one translation, so as to present as clear a picture of the meaning as possible.) I confess that, in spite of reading the Bible many times, I hadn't paid attention to that verse, which says, in the ESV:
33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (See here for information on quoting the ESV.) I have often heard sermons on verse 34, and the last part of verse 33, but I don't recall one on the first part of verse 33. Why not? Perhaps because of the objections, valid or not, by conservative Christians to socialism. Perhaps because I, or the churches I've been in, just don't want to do this. Perhaps because someone preached on it and I didn't want to listen. Have I followed Christ's commands here, as fully as I should have? I'm not sure.

What do you think? Thanks for any comments.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Addendum, April 9, 2010

As Weekend Fisher points out in a comment, Peter seems to have kept his boat and fishing equipment. It occurred to me, after writing this, that some members of the early church kept their homes, because Paul or Peter stayed in them, or a new church began meeting in them. So either Christ wasn't demanding that all of us sell all of our possessions and give the result to charity, or the early church didn't follow His commandment.

Nonetheless, I'm afraid that I, and most Christians, take having things too seriously, and Christ's command to help the poor not seriously enough.

Sunspots 255

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

Humor:(or insanity) Wired reports that a man has created a model of San Francisco out of toothpicks. 

Literature:The New York Times has an essay on how parents often come of as unimportant, or evil, in literature for "young adults."

Complexity can trouble evangelicals, who expect scriptural things to be simple.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Are the ideas of the past always wrong? Chronological snobbery

I was reading a book about C. S. Lewis and Tolkien, and came across a discussion of an idea that was common to these two literary giants. That idea is that, just because an idea was held in the past, that, by itself, does not mean that it was false. In fact, it may still be valid, but have been discarded, like the fashions in apparel or hair styles of 40 years ago. The Wikipedia article on Chronological Snobbery gives a quotation from Lewis. In it, he says that we should ask if an idea was ever shown to be wrong, or did it just fade away?

We live too much in the present, and assume that all our ideas are fresh and new, until they quickly fade, into our past.

Read Lewis, and don't practice Chronological Snobbery.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday gap

The sermon I heard on Sunday used the Palm Sunday story from Luke, and also Philippians 2:5-11, as its basis. You would, of course, expect a Palm Sunday sermon on Palm Sunday.

But the speaker went past Palm Sunday. He pointed out that there is a gap between verses 8 and 9:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (ESV. See here for more information on use.)

That gap is because verse 8 ends at Christ's death, on Good Friday, but verse 9 begins with His resurrection, on Easter morning. I hadn't looked at it like that before, but should have.

Thanks for reading.