Monday, January 29

Review of 'Life without Lack'

What made Dallas Willard different? Why do we get the sense when we read what he wrote, listen to what he taught and most of all watch video of him, that he made progress in Christianity?

He did the work. He did the things he wrote and taught about, the things he recommended to us.

I'm glad to be part of the launch team for Dallas's new book (published posthumously), 'Life without Lack'. This book comes from teaching Dallas did in a church on Psalm 23 many years ago. His friend Larry Burtoft recorded the sessions and has edited them into this book along with Dallas's daughter, Becky Willard Heatley. I got to read an advance copy.

I was a little bit worried that this book would not 'sound' like Dallas's writing and speaking. But, happily, it does. It comes from his spoken teaching and it reads that way.

Listening to Dallas (and also reading his writing), I hear someone who practiced what he preached and grew in grace. He comes across as wise and humble. He is not afraid to sometimes suggest that he has done these things. He doesn't rush to disabuse us of the notion that he has been able to make progress. (And this is a form of humility.)

(I have developed a pretty comprehensive list of his talks that can be listened to here: The Wisdom of Dallas Willard.)

For example, on p82, Dallas writes 'To listen to his Word and nourish our whole beings with it is not a nice thing we might do occasionally. Our very lives depend upon it.' My sense is that Dallas lived this out. He teaches a lot about the importance of memorizing Scripture (including in this book) and he even shares (in some of his talks) his experience with it.

He talks some about of his own practice of spiritual disciplines, including disciplines he made up himself. Dallas teaches us to persevere when our attempts don't succeed. He teaches us to experiment. He obviously did these things himself.

This is a book that is meant to be applied. All of Dallas's books are, in a sense, but this one is especially. The material was first taught to a church group, so the emphasis is not on deep theological teaching for a more general audience. In contrast,  'The Divine Conspiracy', which also is very applicable, but can be hard for people without philosophical and theological background to get through.

Dallas teaches that grace is the gift of God and that it is worth all of our best effort. Some of us are so afraid of presuming on God's grace that we actually stay away from effort and teach others to do so!

Dallas has the best practical Christian psychology of anyone I know (rooted in profound philosophical knowledge). He intends for his teachings and suggestions to be realistic and not just a nice theory that may be completely impractical. Contrast this with the ultra-orthodox theological watchdogs who criticize him but whose teachings, for all intents and purposes, do not produce Christ-like change in people (and possibly only make them more Pharisaical).

It's encouraging to read his suggestions and know that he has tried them himself and found them helpful. We see and hear the evidence in his life.

All of this culminates in a very practical chapter about how to spend a day with Jesus, beginning with one day and laying the foundation for many in the spirit of Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach.

Maybe most of all, Dallas had the vision that we could be God's children and obey Him and be transformed by Him and live in His love. The vision helped him to continue in his determination to grow.

I expected this book to be more of an exposition of Psalm 23, but it is not. Rather, Dallas draws conclusions from Psalm 23 and then writes about how to experience them, including what the prerequisites are. In this way, 'Life without Lack' is somewhat systematic. You could think of it as a prequel to 'The Divine Conspiracy'.

Don't read this book casually. Don't read it like a typical book. Don't read it with no plans to change your life.

Read it with the expectation that God wants to challenge you and encourage you, through the writing of Dallas Willard, to experience more of the full life He wants you to have, as demonstrated in the great Shepherd Psalm.

Friday, September 8

Belated total eclipse links

A couple of links from the eclipse that I wanted to save:

2017 Eclipse over North America 4k

Black Hole Sun (a photo by my internet friend Bryan William Jones

Sunday, May 21

Old link: Memory

This old Wired article is called The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever. I'm not interested in the angle of the title. I think it would be a bad idea in most cases. But I'm interested in the model of memory presented in the article:
[T]he very act of remembering changes the memory itself. New research is showing that every time we recall an event, the structure of that memory in the brain is altered in light of the present moment, warped by our current feelings and knowledge. That’s why pushing to remember a traumatic event so soon after it occurs doesn’t unburden us; it reinforces the fear and stress that are part of the recollection.
One idea: praying through memories, including forgiveness as part of that process when necessary, could 'rewire' those memories, diminish pain and negative emotion. Interpreted in light of this theory, bitterness can reinforce painful memories and even make them worse.

Here's a quote for those of you interested in therapy:
LeDoux insists that these same principles have been used by good therapists for decades. “When therapy heals, when it helps reduce the impact of negative memories, it’s really because of reconsolidation,” he says. “Therapy allows people to rewrite their own memories while in a safe space, guided by trained professionals. The difference is that we finally understand the neural mechanism.”

Wednesday, May 17

Old link: Genius

I was doing some cleaning and found two old Wired articles that I saved from 2012. More importantly, they were articles that I have thought of multiple times since then.

The first one was called Cultivating Genius. Mostly I think about this piece in the context of sports. Something I like about sports is the chance to see amazing things. The big money ruins it in a lot of ways. But the big money is also the way we identify and train talent and produce geniuses.
Bill James, the pioneer of Moneyball-style statistical baseball analysis, points out that modern America is already very good at generating geniuses. The problem is that the geniuses we’ve created are athletes. As James says, this is largely because we treat athletes differently. We encourage them when they’re young, chauffeuring our kids to practice and tournaments. We also have mechanisms for cultivating athletic talent at every step in the process, from Little League to the Majors. Lastly, professional teams are willing to take risks, betting big bucks on draft picks who never pan out. Because of these successful meta-ideas, even a small city like Topeka, Kansas—roughly the same size as Elizabethan London, James points out—can produce an athletic genius every few years.
We have done a lot of this in the US in the last 150 years or so. The US is great at creating entrepreneurs.

I wish we could do better, but I don't see it happening. What does the market want? Not smart people. The market wants amazing athletes. Thankfully, the market also produces entrepreneurs for the sake of consumer good and services. I don't want to be too gloomy, but given our current society, this is probably as good as it gets.

Saturday, November 12

Why Did You Vote for Trump?

Why did you vote for Trump?

Rationally, I think I know. Here's my rough, ordered list of why I think people voted for Trump:

1. They have tended to vote Republican anyway (including reasons like limited government and lower taxes)
2. They hated Hilary (lots of baggage)
3. They feel they've gotten a bad deal, especially in the last 8 years of Obama
4. They see Trump as fighting elitism
5. They're conventionally Pro Life

But how did you get over all of the awful things about him personally (including misogyny and racism)? Do you think Hillary is worse? How do you trust him with diplomacy and nuclear codes? Isn't he easy to manipulate?

I'd be interested to know, briefly. Feel free to also link longer-form posts or your own or from other people.

Please keep the discussion respectful of both sides and candidates.

I would prefer that people who voted against Trump or for Hillary (I draw a distinction) not comment on this post.

I want to understand better where my friends and family who voted for Trump are coming from.

Here are a few articles I've read to try to understand better:

Thursday, November 3

My Grandpa, the Cubs and Being a Fan

My maternal grandpa was a devoted Cubs fans for his whole life. He and Grandma were some of the earliest people I knew who had cable, and he watched most of the Cubs games on WGN. (He slept through a lot of the coverage.) They took us to at least two games at Wrigley. He never got to see much success.

I grew up a Cubs fan, but gave it up recently. It's a part of what I call My Bad Sports Life. In addition to the Cubs, I grew up a Vikings and Hawkeyes fan. Until yesterday, these teams had no major sports championships among them. (We also grew up Iowa wrestling fans, and there is a great history of championships there, but it's not the same.)

I realized a few years ago that being a sports fan was making me unhappy. Generally speaking, when my teams won, I felt nothing (beyond maybe relief). Usually those were games they were supposed to win. When they lost, especially games they should have won, I was disappointed. My negativity bias is just too strong. So I basically gave up being a fan. I followed the teams from a distance, but didn't pay close attention and stopped watching them.

And I have to say, I've been happier. I especially don't miss all the time I used to spend watching those games. (Don't worry: there is no posture of superiority here. I spend/waste time in other ways that also aren't particularly productive.)

The Cubs victory last night was great. I'm happy, especially for the true fans. But I didn't watch the game. I was sort of following the score and went to bed after the 9th inning. When I woke up and saw they had won, it seemed almost too good to be true.

I'm well aware that I have not earned this celebration the way true 'fanatics' have. It wasn't worth it to me to go through the lows, so this high is not as high.

That's ok. One of the teams I have rooted for won a championship. In a sense, My Bad Sports Life is over. But in a fuller sense, it ended when I gave up being a fan.

So I smile when I think about the Cubs. And I think about my grandpa.

I drank this glass of wine in his honor, too. :-)

Saturday, March 5

Thoughts about US politics, especially Trump

I see many of you on Facebook asking, especially, how people can support Trump. So I'm trying to look some at how smart, decent conservative friends of mine look at Trump. Below are some thoughts and some links I came across.

One big issue is elitism. Trump followers are fed up with the establishment/elites. They view the system as broken and they're willing to burn it down to get change.

Cruz: Brokered convention would spark 'a manifest revolt'
"Any time you hear someone talking about a brokered convention, it is the Washington establishment in a fevered frenzy," Cruz said during an appearance at CPAC on Friday. "And so they've seized on this master plan: We go to the brokered convention and the D.C. power-brokers will drop someone in who is exactly to the liking of the Washington establishment. If that were to happen, we will have a manifest revolt on our hands all across this country."
And this conclusion:
"If you want to beat Donald Trump, here's how you do it: You beat Donald Trump with the voters," he said.
I don't agree about the 'manifest revolution', but Cruz has a point here.

'Trump is not winning because is a perfect candidate. He is winning because he is the only candidate who recognizes and shares the priorities of millions of voters.'

Some of you have said 'unfriend me if you support Trump'. I think this is a bad mistake that only contributes to further political polarization in our country. I think you should try more to understand why your neighbors are willing to look past some of Trump's big failings.

Go to this link [] and look at the faces. Are you willing to write all of these people off? Are they all totally and completely wrong? Are any of them smart and decent?

We all excuse faults in people on our side. If you like the Patriots, you excuse the ball pressure issue. If you like Peyton Manning, you probably excuse some of the recent allegations. If you like Cam Newton, you excuse the poor sportsmanship.

If you like Trump's willingness to confront the establishment, you excuse some of his 'excesses'. If you like Hilary, you excuse her lifetime of political baggage and questionable financial behaviors and her personal email server as SECSTATE. If you like Bernie, you excuse the unreal economics and impossible political agenda. If you like Cruz, you excuse what others find distasteful for the Libertarian philosophy.
I've been very lucky in life. I've made it into the outer fringes of the protected class. But I'm one generation out of the unprotected class and my heart is still with them. I share their values and, perhaps most important, their religious beliefs. The secularism and "progressive" values of the new elites have no appeal for me. So I get why Trump emerged.
Obviously, the support for Sanders is similar to Trump on terms of being a rejection of the establishment. And who could blame them? I consider voting against all incumbents/establishment politicians to be a perfectly rational strategy.
We are depriving the white working classes of their means to give. As we export manufacturing jobs internationally and as we streamline labor with technology, we start moving people to the sidelines. It’s not just that they have less money, it’s that their identity as providers is being threatened. This is why they are often so against welfare. Even if it would fix their financial situation, it would not fix their identity problems. It would hurt their dignity.
And, America is terrible at giving its citizens dignity and meaning. We have, with the internet, the power for more people to be appreciated than ever before, yet we use it primarily to shame each other. Shaming Trump supporters for being “ignorant bigots” is the worst thing you can do, because their entire motivation in voting for Trump is to alleviate the shame they are already carrying. If you add to their shame, they will dig in further.
Why didn't Romney and the rest of the GOP fight this hard against Obama? Because Obama didn't threaten anything they value. If Obama won, the world of favors and lobbyists and rent seeking would not change. Trump is a threat to that system, hence they are fighting him to the end. Perversely, The way they are fighting Trump makes me believe that he is in fact a threat to them, which makes me look at him far more favorably. If these attacks from the establishment GOP were less frenzied, I would be inclined to agree with many of my friends that Trump is a phony. GOPe panic is a signal that Trump really is the battering ram he claims to be.
There are people who would vote for anyone running against Hillary. There are people who would vote for anyone running against Trump. Do you really think, if you're in one of these camps, that you're that different from those in the other. Don't you just have different principles? Are they inarguably the right ones? Are there decent, intelligent people in the other camp?

And now, since I'm in danger of this becoming a total rabbit hole and my desire to research it more and to be more systematic, I'm just going to fire it and get on with my life. :-)

Sunday, December 13

Repentance: A Selection from George MacDonald's 'Lilith'

Spoiler alert: Don't read this if you don't want to know where the story ends up.

      At last…Lilith’s hour has been long on the way, but it is come! Everything comes. Thousands of years have I waited—and not in vain…This woman would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must do what I can to make her repent…
      “Will you hurt her very much?”…
      “Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me…It would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done again, only worse…She loves no one, therefore she cannot be with any one. There is One who will be with her, but she will not be with Him…
      “Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?’ …
      “I will not,” she said. “I will be myself and not another!”
      “Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?’”…
       “I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires.’”…
      “Then, alas, your hour is come!”
      “I care not. I am what I am…Another shall not make me!”
      “But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you…”
      “No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman! …You may be able to torture me…but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!”
      “Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another’s… Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!…—See your own self!”…
      A soundless presence as of roaring flame possessed the house…I turned to the hearth: its fire was a still small moveless glow. But I saw [a] worm-thing come creeping out, white-hot, vivid as incandescent silver, the live heart of essential fire. Along the floor it crawled…going very slow…The shining thing crawled on to a bare bony foot…Slowly, very slowly, it crept along her robe until it reached her bosom, where it disappeared among the folds.
      The face…lay stonily calm, the eyelids closed as over dead eyes; and for some minutes nothing followed. At length, on the dry, parchment-like skin, began to appear drops as of the finest dew: in a moment they were as large as seed-pearls, ran together, and began to pour down in streams…from the poor withered bosom…But…no serpent was there—no searing trail; the creature had passed in…and was piercing through the joints and marrow to the thoughts and intents of the heart. [She] gave one writhing, contorted shudder, and I knew the worm was in her secret chamber…
       [She] bent her body upward in an arch, then sprang to the floor, and stood erect. The horror in her face made me tremble lest her eyes should open, and the sight of them overwhelm me. Her bosom heaved and sank, but no breath issued. Her hair hung and dripped…and poured the sweat of her torture on the floor…
      “She is far away from us, afar in the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is…No gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch.”
      It may have been five minutes or five years that she stood thus—I cannot tell; but at last she flung herself on her face…
      “Will you change your way?”
      “Why did he make me such?” gasped Lilith…
      “But he did not make you such. You have made yourself what you are.—Be of better cheer: he can remake you.’
      “I will not be remade!”
      “He will not change you; he will only restore you to what you were…Are you not willing to have that set right which you have set wrong?”
      She lay silent…
      The strife of thought, accusing and excusing, began afresh, and gathered fierceness. The soul of Lilith lay naked to the torture of pure interpenetrating inward light. She began to moan, and sigh deep sighs…
      “Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance…The true tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father’s arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account. It will be so with her.”…
      Gradually my soul grew aware of an invisible darkness, a something more terrible than aught that had yet made itself felt. A horrible Nothingness, a Negation positive infolded her…
      With that there fell upon her, and upon us also who watched with her, the perfect calm as of a summer night. Suffering had all but reached the brim of her life’s cup…—What was she seeing?
      I looked, and saw: before her, cast from unseen heavenly mirror, stood the reflection of herself, and beside it a form of splendent beauty. She trembled, and sank again on the floor helpless. She knew the one what God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself…
      She rose…and said, in prideful humility,
      “You have conquered. Let me go into the wilderness…”
      “Begin, then, and set right in the place of wrong.”
      “I know not how,” she replied with the look of one who foresaw and feared the answer…
      A fierce refusal seemed to struggle for passage, but she kept it prisoned.
      “I cannot,” she said…
      “You must…”
      “I have told you I cannot!”
      “You can if you will—not indeed at once, but by persistent effort. What you have done, you do not yet wish undone…”
       “I will not try what I know impossible. It would be the part of a fool!”
      “Which you have been playing all your life! Oh, you are hard to teach!”
      Defiance reappeared on [her] face…
      “I know what you have been tormenting me for! You have not succeeded, nor shall you succeed! You shall yet find me stronger than you think! I will yet be mistress of myself! I am still what I have always known myself—queen of Hell, and mistress of the worlds!”
      Then came the most fearful thing of all…I knew only that if it came near me I should die of terror! I now know that it was Life in Death—life dead, yet existent…
      She stood rigid…I gazed on the face of one who knew existence but not love—knew nor life, nor joy, nor good; with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived…She had killed her life, and was dead—and knew it… Her bodily eyes stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential—her own indestructible evil…
      “I yield,” [she] said… “I am defeated…”
      “I will take you to my father. You have wronged him worst of the created, therefore he best of the created can help you.”
      “How can he help me?”
      “He will forgive you.”
      “Ah, if he would but help me to cease…I am a slave! I acknowledge it. Let me die.’
      “A slave thou art that shall one day be a child…Verily, thou shalt die, but not as thou thinkest. Thou shalt die out of death into life…”
      Lilith lay and wept…
      Morn, with the Spring in her arms, waited outside. Softly they stole in at the opened door, with a gentle wind in the skirts of their garments. It flowed and flowed about Lilith, rippling the unknown, upwaking sea of her life eternal…She answered the morning wind with reviving breath, and began to listen. For in the skirts of the wind had come the rain—the soft rain that heals the mown, the many-wounded grass—soothing it with the sweetness of all music, the hush that lives between music and silence. It bedewed the desert places…and the sands of Lilith’s heart heard it, and drank it in…
      When we reached the door, Adam welcomed us…
      “We have long waited for thee, Lilith!” he said.
      She returned him no answer….
      “She consents to…restore: will not the great Father restore her to inheritance with His other children?”
      “I do not know Him!” murmured Lilith, in a voice of fear and doubt.
      “Therefore it is that thou art miserable,” said Adam…“Come and see the place where thou shalt lie in peace….And now Death shall be the atonemaker; you shall sleep…” 
      “I shall dream…?”
      “You will dream.”
      “What dreams?”
      “That I cannot tell, but none he can enter into. When the Shadow comes here, it will be to lie down and sleep also.—His hour will come, and he knows it will.”
      “How long shall I sleep?”
      “You and he will be the last to wake in the morning of the universe.”

Saturday, September 12

I Passed the CAPM Exam

I'm typing an infrequent interact post to share the good news that I passed my CAPM examination yesterday!

CAPM stands for Certified Associate in Project Management. It is the introductory certification for Project Managers from the Project Management Institute.

The exam is 150 questions and you are allowed 3 hours. I took 2.5.

PMI does not publish what percentage you have to get right to pass, but the estimate around the internet is 65%.

The subject matter is all contained in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition. This book is written like a reference book and it is really hard to read for information. I tried to read all of the non-appendix part, but I confess that sometimes I kept moving even though I wasn't paying attention very well. There were many times I read over a paragraph and could not remember what I had read at all.

My best study method was to use practice quizzes and then follow up well on the ones I got wrong or was unsure of. I also paid $10 for an app with 300 questions. The questions were a little uneven in quality, but good enough to help me study.

I put in about 51 hours of study in the last 10 weeks or so.

Lest you think I'm claiming mastery, I was anxious before and during the exam. I was not confident at any time that I would pass. I was hopeful because I had prepared diligently.

The major PMI credential is Project Management Professional (PMP). I can apply for that in about 2 years when I am getting close to 4500 hours of project management experience.

One thing I really like about my new career is how many possibilities there are. There are a lot more jobs for project managers than there are for web editors. :-)

Saturday, January 3

Songs from the Psalms

Ok: here's the project: What songs do I know with lyrics from the Psalms?

I put a bunch of them in a Spotify playlist in addition to typing all of the songs out. If it's not in the Spotify playlist, I couldn't find a decent version (sometimes the versions I did find were too cheesy to include). If you can find a decent version of any of those, I'll happily add them.

In cases where I didn't know the writer or artist (and I often didn't look very hard), I just put down the place I know it from.

1. Psalm 1, Kim Hill
2. Why do the nations, Handel
    While The Nations Rage, Rich Mullins
3. Thou, O Lord, Art A Shield About Me (Forest Hill)
8. How Majestic Is Your Name, Sandi Patty
9. Blessed Be Your Name, Matt Redman
    I Will Sing Praise To Your Name, O Most High (Grace Community Church)
13. How Long, Michael Card
18. I Will Call Upon The Lord (ETC)
19. The heavens are telling the glory of God, Haydn
      Their sound is gone out, Handel
      Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
20. We Trust In The Name Of The Lord, Steve Green
22. Death Of A Son, Michael Card
23. My Shepherd, Michael Card
      The King Of Love My Shepherd Is (hymn)
      The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want (hymn)
24. Lift up your heads, Handel
      King Of Glory, Third Day
      The King of Glory (me)
25. My Hope Is You, Third Day
27. There's One Thing I Ask Of The Lord, John Michael Talbot
30. Trading My Sorrows, Darrell Evans
32. You Are My Hiding Place (ETC)
34. I Will Bless The Lord At All Times, John Michael Talbot
      O Magnify The Lord With Me (SpiritSong?)
36. Your Love, Oh Lord, Third Day
      Herr, deine Güte reicht, soweit der Himmel ist ...
37. O rest in the Lord, Mendelssohn
40. 40, U2
42. As The Deer (ETC)
46. A Mighty Fortress, Luther
47. Clap Your Hands (Breakaway)
51. Create In Me A Clean Heart, Keith Green
      Create In Me A Clean Heart, Mary Rice Hopkins
61. Lead Me To The Rock (Forest Hill)
63. Sometimes By Step, Rich Mullins (this is a little bit of a stretch)
66. Make A Joyful Noise Unto God, Wartburg Choir
68. The Lord gave the word, Handel
69. Death Of A Son, Michael Card
74. God Is The Strength Of My Heart (Forest Hill)
84. Better Is One Day, Matt Redman
      Even The Sparrow (me)
87. Born In Zion, Wayne Watson
90. O God Our Help In Ages Past (hymn)
92. Das ist ein köstlich ding
95. Come, Let Us Sing With Joy To The Lord (Wartburg Choir)
      Come Let Us Worship And Bow Down (Forest Hill)
96. Sing To The Lord A New Song (Wartburg Choir)
      Cantate Domino (Swider, Wartburg Choir)
      Singet Dem Herrn Ein Neues Lied (Wartburg Choir)
      Chantez A Dieu Chanson Nouvelle (Wartburg Choir)
      All that hath life and breath
97. We Exalt Thee (ETC)
100. All people that on earth do dwell (The Old Hundredth), Ralph Vaughan Williams
        Make A Joyful Noise Unto The Lord (ETC)
103. Canon of Praise (Pachelbel/Hopson)
        Bless The Lord, Crouch
        As The East Is From The West (Forest Hill)
104. May The Glory Of The Lord Endure Forever (ETC)
106. Blessed Be The Lord The God Of Israel (ETC)
113. Sing Your Praise To The Lord (1996), Rich Mullins
115. Non nobis domine, Patrick Doyle
        Not Unto Us (Urbana 03)
118. This Is The Day That The Lord Hath Made
119. Beati quorum via, Stanford
        Thy Word, Amy Grant
121. My Help, Michael Card
        I Will Lift Up My Eyes, John Michael Talbot
122. I was glad when they said unto me, Parry
124. If The Lord Had Not Been On Our Side (Forest Hill)
125. Those Who Trust, Waterdeep
134. Behold, Bless The Lord (The Pittsburgh Project)
136. Your Love Endures Forever, Third Day
        Forever, Chris Tomlin
        Give Thanks (ETC?)
137. By the Waters of Babylon
139. Search And Know Me, Michael Card
        Nothing Is Beyond You, Rich Mullins (performed by Amy Grant)
141. Let my prayer rise up, Marty Haugen
147. Ad astra per aspera (Wartburg Choir)
150. Let Everything That Has Breath, Matt Redman


Friday, December 26

St. George and St. Michael by George MacDonald

I'm writing this post because there really should be a Wikipedia page for this book, but I don't want to go to the trouble of creating one.

St. George and St. Michael is a historical novel by George MacDonald and I wish he had written more like this. It includes prominent people from the English civil war in a story of a pretty typical MacDonald-ian hero and heroine. If you like MacDonald, I recommend it.

Here's a link to the free Kindle edition.

Some pertinent Wikipedia links:,_1st_Marquess_of_Worcester,_2nd_Marquess_of_Worcester

Sunday, November 30

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down

Advent devotional thoughts


Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.

As I read these words, the first thing I think of is the situation in Ferguson, Missouri after the recent grand jury decision and subsequent unrest. Our world is broken, badly broken. It makes perfect sense to wish that God would tear open our space and time Himself. Who are the Lord’s adversaries that we think He should make His name known to? Think back to Isaiah’s time when Israel faced enemies all around. They longed for God to show Himself. Think, too, of the time of Jesus’ birth. God seemed far away. The Romans and their gods were seeming conquerors over Israel and its God. Throughout the Gospels we meet people who are waiting, both patiently and impatiently, for God to show Himself.

Through the next few verses, we might disagree with Isaiah. I’m inclined to disagree when I think of the injustice in the world through the thousands of years since then. Many times it seems like God does not act for those who wait for Him, that He does not meet those who joyfully work righteousness. Then again, how many are there of those? How many remember God in their ways?

Isaiah brings his message home in the second half of verse 5. We are the problem. We have sinned. We have been in our sins a long time, as individuals and even longer as societies. Shall we still be saved?

Here, at the beginning of Advent, let’s take a good look at ourselves. Let’s confess our sins before God as Isaiah does, not only for himself, but for his whole people and nation.

The problems we see in Ferguson, Missouri are incredibly complex. Simplistic opinions posted on Facebook will not help us understand the problems, much less begin to address them. There was a tragic precipitating event that we cannot know the details of. There are significant issues around what it’s like to be black and what it’s like to be white in this country. When is power abused? Do those of us with comparative privilege really understand those without? Some people complicate matters by looting. Can we really untangle this thing? Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down.

Don’t jump to conclusions and fixes. We all need to think about our part in sin. We need to stop and consider the log in our own eye before we try to help others get the specks out of their eyes.

To complicate matters, in the case of the first Advent, God did not rend the heavens and show Himself. He came as a poor little baby far away from any center of wealth or power. However, the life of the man that child grew into began to open people’s eyes to what God was doing. God was indeed making His name known.

It has still been in a way that people could discount or utterly reject. Those who call themselves Christians have often misrepresented Jesus and given people more reason to turn from God.

Part of the good news is that in the Second Advent, when Jesus comes again, there will be no more ignoring God or hurting our neighbor. Justice will finally come in perfection. As we read in Revelation and other places in the New Testament, it will be very like God rending the heavens and showing Himself once and for all.

We should look for that day with hope and humility. We want to be God’s people then and now. We know that God does not remember our iniquity forever thanks to Jesus’ redeeming work. Let’s take account of our sins in confession and receive God’s forgiveness. And then let’s join Him in His Kingdom work now.

Saturday, August 2

Recent Tolkienalia

I read two Tolkien books this week, coincidentally in their original editions: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo (from USC's Thomas Cooper Library) and The Road Goes Ever On (from the Lexington County Public Library).

Sir Gawain... was printed in 11pt Garamond type, which looks to me like the typeface I first read The Lord of the Rings in back around 1980. I should try to use it more often ;-)

I'm back into Tolkien these days after reading his translation of Beowulf and thinking I should go back and read some of the stuff I haven't read before and maybe reviewing some things.

My favorite part of Beowulf was the commentary, which was essentially Tolkien's lecture notes on Beowulf. In the same way, his notes on Sir Gawain... were my favorite part of that work.

Having read through The Road Goes Ever On I wondered if it was on YouTube. Of course:

I enjoyed listening with the score in hand.

Tuesday, January 21

Willard Notes: Commencement 2011: May 7, 2011

YouTube video: Commencement 2011: Dr. Dallas Willard, May 7, 2011
Duration: 19:07

eternal life is eternal living. replace in Scripture, if helpful
our lives are caught up in God's life, what God is doing where we are
we can make our lives and moments eternal by making sure we are acting in the presence, character and power of God
we acknowledge His presence where we are and expect Him to be involved
Paul: Phil 3: foundation on Christ and then building with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble
very few of us end up where we expected to be
the three little pigs made it to brick, but we have an opportunity to go far beyond that
fire will test qualities of each man's work
I believe the fire is God Himself
morning discipline (and throughout day): God is here
the great danger is not knowing we are building eternal structures and we will only build in the visible world
we're likely to be overwhelmed by sufferings and disappointments, by what others do. you may give up and build with wood, hay and stubble
Jacob wound up in a ditch. he turned to the visible. his mother helped him. built with a lot of wood, hay and stubble
surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it
Heidegger. geworfenheit: thrown-ness
life can be unexpected
but God is still with us
as you go into the world, people will say your faith is baloney, and you will be challenged to say i have spiritual knowledge
I know Whom I have believed
not just faith, but faith with knowledge
God will be with you and will manifest Himself in ways that cannot be denied by those who are willing to know
knowledge just not jump down people's throats. you have to want it and seek it.
expect God's presence and action
have to keep and guard heart
Prov 4.23: keep your heart with all diligence. what your life amounts to comes out of your heart
heart is direct connection with God and His kingdom. you must learn to keep your heart present to God
He is the way. not a map. a person.
have to seek Him, call upon Him, lean upon Him, cling to Him
that's the secret of the spiritual life
hope may be some time coming
watch and wait in knowledge of future to which present sufferings are not worth being compared, the glory that is to be revealed
patiently put into practice right where you are the things that Jesus teaches us to do
the key is to do it, even if you don't know what's going to happen
you will fail some, but you will learn and gradually your life will be one with the life of Christ
you know the truth and the reality of the life that sets us free by putting into practice the words of Jesus and the companionship with Jesus
you become assured of who you are as God's creature, child and co-laborer. nearly everything you meet will try to turn you away from that knowledge
being with Him and Him with us becomes a tangible fact as our life progresses
I am an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God's great universe.

Saturday, January 4

My 2013 in Review

Thanks to the teaching of Dallas Willard, this was my best year of following Jesus. I have a ton to learn and a long way to go. I won't stop needing to learn and grow. But I've been able to often keep a different mindset and experience more peace of mind. More on this topic: I have decided to follow Jesus.

I lost 30 pounds this year. Last year at this time, losing 30 pounds would have seemed like a miracle, so I am giving credit to God for helping me, for changing my mind, for guiding me into the right change of habits for me.

Christine and I celebrated our 20th anniversary and, in my opinion, our marriage is as good as ever.

One sign of growth was my approach to Christmas and my birthday. I did not have a long or expensive wishlist. This made gift-getting a little harder, especially for Christine, but it was a good sign. I got and enjoyed a number of things I absolutely would not have wanted last year. (Annual gift post to come later). And I didn't want my actual birthday to be as focused on me as I sometimes have in the past. (It was still pretty focused on me ;-)

Finally, without getting into specifics, work went well this year, from my perspective.

I wrote a lot more in my journal that is private and doesn't come into this writeup, so this is a little shorter than I imagined.

I don't really do resolutions, but if I had one, it would be to seek God's Kingdom more this year. And I would like to lose about 10 more pounds, but maybe not until the spring. :-)

Wednesday, October 9

Review: The Annotated Northanger Abbey

The Annotated Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books

Northanger Abbey (NA) falls outside of what I consider to be Jane Austen's Big Four novels (for the mixture of their quality and the enjoyment I get from them): Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma and Sense and Sensibility. However, having taken on writing this review, I am grateful for the opportunity to re-read NA after more than 20 years. Though much of it is very silly (intentionally so on the author's part), Austen's clever humor shines through, making re-reading worthwhile.

However, there is really no call for me to review NA as a novel. That is well-covered territory. What could be valuable is a review of David Shapard's annotations in this new edition. Perhaps the first thing to say is that there are many annotations. As the publisher's description describes it, the complete text of the novel is bound with 'more than 1,200 annotations on facing pages'. In fact, I concluded early on that if I had read all of the annotations, I would never have had time to complete the book, much less this review.

Among the annotations are:
-Explanations of historical context
-Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
-Definitions and clarifications
-Literary comments and analysis
-Maps of places in the novel
-An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
-225 informative illustrations
I found many of the annotations helpful or interesting. Many of them I flew right by. Some of the 'definitions and clarifications', especially, are very minute, bordering on the obvious. That's okay; they could be useful for some readers. Next in order of usefulness were the 'explanations of historical context' and 'literary comments and analysis'. Again, some were fairly obvious, while others provided new information. Confession: I found myself reading some of the 'literary analysis' just for the fun of thinking more about the characters.

Mostly I enjoyed the maps and many of the illustrations. I particularly liked the floor plans and architectural pictures that helped to give a better sense of the setting, especially Bath which, unfortunately, I have not visited. There were more illustrations of style of dress than I cared for, but, again, they would certainly be enjoyed by some people, to say nothing of the comparative importance of clothing in Austen's novels. The editor included many caricatures from the period that didn't do much for me.

The chronology of events could be helpful to some people. The pages-long bibliography certainly looked exhaustive from my standpoint. The introduction was okay, but uncritical of Austen in any way, further strengthening my sense of the target audience of The Annotated NA.

I think the people who would most enjoy this book and want to own it are Austen fans who are true period devotees. For those of us who are simply Austen fans, borrowing or owning the novel by itself would probably suffice. That said, this series of editions of Austen's books by Shapard would be very valuable additions to the collection of any public or academic library. They would be especially useful for people who want to read Austen with understanding but feel a little in over their heads. It is certainly easy to imagine many high school book reports being improved if the student had access to the appropriate one of these books.

One more personal note: It was funny to read and enjoy this book again, even entering somewhat into the problems of the present and future happiness of the 17 year-old 'heroine' and the 26 year-old young man she admires, considering that I am now almost 20 years older that all of the young people in the book, my twin 14 year-olds, in fact, being much closer to them in age.

Saturday, October 5

I have decided to follow Jesus

This post is an attempt to detail the next step I am taking in being a disciple/apprentice of Jesus.

I have immersed myself in the teaching of Dallas Willard for about the last nine months. One of the important things that he teaches is that we have to decide to be followers of Jesus. So here are some notes I took from The Divine Conspiracy (p.295ff):
1. Ask
Emphatically and repeatedly express to Jesus our desire to see him more fully as he really is. 
We should make our expression of desire a solemn occasion, giving at least a number of quiet hours or day to it. It will also be good to write down our prayer for his help in seeing him. 
2. Dwell
Use every means at our disposal to come to see him more fully. 
'If you dwell in my word, you really are my apprentices. And you will know the truth, the truth will make you free.' John 8. 31-32 
We will fill our souls with the written Gospels.
We will refuse to devote our mental space and energy to the fruitless, even stupefying and degrading, stuff that constantly clamors for our attention.
Read through the four Gospels repeatedly, jotting down notes and thoughts on a pad as we go.
Put them into practice.
If over the course of several days or weeks we were to read the Gospels through as many times as we can, consistent with sensible rest and relaxation, that alone would enable us to see Jesus with the clarity that can make the transition into full discipleship possible. We can count on him to meet us in the transition and not leave us to struggle with it on our own, for he is far more interested in it then we can ever be.
Seriously look at the lives of others who truly have apprenticed themselves to him. For example, Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, David Brainerd, Albert Schweitzer or one of many well-known Theresas. 
3. Decide
We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn moment and we should let those around us know that we have done so.
I tried to do this for about five weeks. Recently I completed my third read-through of the Gospels in that time. Before that, I asked some friends to pray with me to see God's Kingdom more as it is. My guiding text there was the treasure hidden in the field (Mt 13.44-46): If I found out $100 million was buried in a vacant lot, but it would take my entire net worth (and maybe some debt) to buy it, I would totally do that. But I don't give up everything to seek the Kingdom. So I need to close that gap.

This is Dallas' direction that I did the least well with: 'We will refuse to devote our mental space and energy to the fruitless, even stupefying and degrading, stuff that constantly clamors for our attention.' I didn't read the Gospels as much as I could have in the past five or six weeks.

Still, I think it's time to take the next step, #3 above. I am apprenticing myself to Jesus in a way I have not before. I'm making official my desire to learn from Him to be like Him, to do the things that He did and said to do.

Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus (Mt 16.24) means, among other things, giving up the need to have our own way. Taking His yoke upon us (Mt 11.28-30) means learning to live life with Him and letting Him do most of the work. He said this is the easy way, and it is in comparison to trying to do things our way.