Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ice Fog

The temperature this morning was in the mid-20's and fog had settled in during the night. It was perfectly calm. I was driving home after a frenetic rush hour had taken over an hour and a half to ferry my students from the first bus stop to the school. There were traffic jams all along the interstates and we crept along for so long that
the kids had finished all their homework that was due today.

So I get about a half-mile from home and find myself driving into a magical kingdom (sorry, Walt). It was as though God had sprayed all the vegetation with a fine mist - which then coated everything with the most delicate ice imaginable. Scenes which usually were ordinary now overwhelmed my eyes. I told Carole about it when I arrived home and she had to come see what I was having trouble describing. So we loaded up Macie, grabbed my camera, and drove two minutes from the house to this wonderland. Here are some pictures we took:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back at it

It had been a wonderful day. School called off because of ice. Slept late. Ran errands. Go upstairs to clean up a bedroom. Took a regular step, carrying nothing. Suddenly lower back goes into spasm. I pulled something, obviously. Now I'm walking like Walter Matthau. Evening plans shot. It had been a wonderful day. Being 60 is a daily adventure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Down is up...

It's a banner day for the baby-killers as Obama, by executive order, has lifted the ban on U.S. money funding international abortion centers. This is wrong on so many levels that I'll just let it stand on its own demerit. Again, I am so puzzled by the support this guy got from believers. Is the "change" that they found so appealing?

And, have any of you run into folks who are excited by Obama's wish to close Gitmo? Now this makes great sense. After all, we've been cruel to the prisoners there - the ones, you know, who are cold-blooded terrorists. Let's trot them over to the U. S. and put them on trial here (good luck rounding up witnesses to their crimes). If just one of these losers manages to be set free and then does something very Islamic, like murder 1000 innocents, won't we be so proud that we were so careful about their human rights?

Up is down, down is up these days.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Honoring MLK

When I was teaching at my urban middle school, there were always three occasions that drove me nuts: MLK day, Black History Month, and Cinco de Mayo. Here's why. Can we agree that we are all Americans? Should we agree that assigning ethnic labels to groups of Americans (like African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc.) does nothing in the way of improving our national pride and togetherness? I say "Yes" to both questions.

What I saw happening during these three occasions was a celebration of "look how we are different from you" mentality, further driving wedges among the varied groups within our great nation. I think Dr. King should be honored in a huge way. All celebration, however, should be about his courage and his message of non-violence. I attended assemblies at my school that were supposed to about MLK. What I heard from the black speakers brought in was a frightening message about how awful white folks are. Not "were", but "are". Once we trucked in John Wiley Price...and he refused to stand for the national anthem. I really wanted to do something, anything, at that point to change the way the message was going to come down. But I was badly out-numbered, so I kept my seat.

February is Black History Month, designed to honor significant black people and their contributions to society. The idea is to somehow make amends for the all of the history books written prior to 1970 that excluded black heroes and their amazing accomplishments. But the deal is that all the history books have not only been fixed but have become overloaded with pages honoring the contributions of minorities. What I'd like to see is a movement emphasizing our shared allegiance to our country. Aren't we all products of people who immigrated (one way or another, even forced) to this continent?

You may see where I'm headed. I'd love to replace these 3 occasions with programs that simply honor America. Bring in some wounded veterans and let them tell their stories...and try to give the kids a sense of the cost of freedom. Have a "Constitution Month", where every facet of this great document is heralded and all our wonderful freedoms are analyzed for their brilliance. And instead of treating all wars as bad, explain the terrible threats that forced us respond in wars past. Arrange field trips to cemeteries, where students can see the gravestones of those who perished so that we might be free.

Sadly, anyone brandishing ideas such as these within the educational realm is quickly branded as a racist. And trying to explain patriotism these days immediately gets shouted down. I sincerely hope that this is just a sign of the times, a cycle if you will, that the country must go through to get to a better place.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now that was cool...

There had never been a successful water landing of a commercial airliner...until yesterday. The more we find out about this amazing incident, the more one thing becomes boldly apparent...the pilots did something that borders on impossible. Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles represent the incredible skill that sits up there in the front of the plane. Sullenberger is himself a "check pilot". All pilots have a semi-annual "check" flight in which they are graded by someone who could be called a master pilot. Fail the flight and you are pulled off the line for more training.

The fortunate passengers had perhaps the best pilot possible for what happened to them. Not only is Sully a check pilot, he owns a company devoted to airline safety. A former F-4 Phantom fighter jock. And a very cool customer. The Hudson River appears wide but from where the plane was when all this came down (so to speak), it must have looked like a dirty silver ribbon. Sully made this "landing" as gentle as snow falling on a calm wintry day. Had either wing been tilted down a bit, it no doubt would have sheared off and the enormous load of fuel would have exploded. Didn't happen. The relatively calm manner in which the passengers exited the fuselage is a credit to the whole crew of five. Skiles, the co-pilot, even gave one of the passengers the shirt off his back.

Since I'm an aviation geek and a frustrated pilot wanna-be, I've always held these men and women in high esteem - right up there with brain surgeons and missionaries to Burkina Fasso. One of the highlights of my life was a tour given me of a privately owned Saudi 747. I had been invited by the owner's publicist to photograph the takeoff of the plane at Love Field, where it had been idle for 17 months having an $80 million refurbishing. Yeah, $80 million. There was an amazing amount of gold the bathroom sinks, along the walls, and even the seat-belt buckles. My tour guides were the two pilots, both retired 747 captains from United Airlines. What blew me away was how deferential and obsequious their treatment toward me was. They acted like I were the cool person, not them. When the tour was over (20 minutes worth), I thanked them profusely.

Yeah, they are the really cool ones. Thank you Sully and Jeff for reinforcing what I already believed - pilots are as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So, what about Paradise?

I've been reading Surprised by Hope by imminent theologian N.T. Wright. It is an extremely tough read since Wright writes a lot like Paul...lots of extra long sentences filled with long words and references to people and things with which he thinks I'm familiar. But I love what he says about the afterlife, not only because it makes me really anticipate what God has in store for us, but because there is strong scriptural basis for his beliefs.

I may use several blog entries to shine the light on Wright's views of heaven. If you think we are destined to float among the clouds in an endless, spirit-like, nebulous way for eternity, you'll be thrilled with what he says.

There's not room in a blog entry to fully develop what Wright says about paradise. So instead, let me drop some random statements he makes on the subject:

All departed Christians are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. Though this is sometimes described as sleep, we shouldn't take this to mean that it is a state of unconsciousness. Rather "sleep" here means that the body is "asleep" in the sense of "dead", while the real person - however we want to describe him or her - continues.

This state is not, clearly, the final destiny for which the Christian dead are bound, which is the bodily resurrection. But it is a state in which the dead are held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while they await that day.

I do not, however, find in the New Testament or in the earliest Christian fathers any suggestion that those at present in heaven or (if you prefer) paradise are actively engaged in praying for those of us in the present life. Nor do I find any suggestion that Christians who are still alive should pray to the saints to intercede to the Father on their behalf.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dealing with history...

It's been a mellow exercise, this business of sifting through the lives of our parents, both of whom are denizens of paradise at the moment. The boxes and scrapbooks may be dusty on the outside, but inside there is gold. So many black-and-white photos have seemingly appeared out of thin air...since none of us has ever seen them before. So many of them show a terribly young couple, he - sharp and spiffy in his military uniform, the one that had the belt around the middle of the coat...she - tall, statuesque, proper...both smiling like there's no tomorrow; and for all they knew, what with a war going on, there might not be...

What to throw away, what to keep. Will there be a great-great-grandchild who digs history and draws family trees in quiet moments? Someone who would savor these pictures and other things, the letters we've found, the cards to each other, the tangible evidences of commitment in an age when that was the norm, not that love-it-and-leave-it mentality which pervades our society. Is the attic really a suitable place for a scrapbook with pictures of their early parenthood, beaming ear-to-ear while holding their firstborn, or do you make sure that every great-grandchild gets to memorize each page, each circumstance? Do you dishonor in them in any way by putting a small portion of their memories in the trash? Or do you realize that this world is...not...our...home and know that if they could render advice on this matter, they'd say chunk it, chunk all of it! That's not what matters!

Ah, decisions, decisions.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Deep Diary Delving

Yesterday evening, Carole made the mistake of handing me one of my granny's old diaries. This particular one dealt with years 1947 and 1948. Needless to say, the next two hours were spent in total absorption of the day-by-day events of those two years in her life. Here are some revelations I uncovered:

1. During the summer of '48, Granny got her first phone. Needless to say, this changed her life much like computers changed our home lives back in the '90's. She proudly noted that she made numerous calls and received bunches of calls in return.

2. She married her second husband in 1928, a wonderful fellow named Pat Fenn. BTW, my father was the product of her first marriage, having been born in 1915. Pat Fenn was never called by his name in our family; he was always "T". I guess it had something to do with the last letter of his first name. Anyway, I always wondered about how spiritual he was. Since he died when I was but a lad, I never knew much about his church life. But the diary revealed an extremely religious guy. He never missed a church service and was often used as a speaker at "prayer meetings". And, one of the posts, in big letters, reveals that he baptized his mother! I plan to look up "T" when I get to where he is.

3. The Texas City explosion happened during this span and Granny was devastated by the news. She heard about it over the radio and mentioned that the rumblings were felt as far north as Palestine! She was deeply troubled by the hundreds who died and the thousands who were seriously injured.

4. The most startling revelation to me was the use of leisure time back then. Remember, this was prior to television, computers, and air-conditioning. Granny and T spent nearly every evening (and many afternoons) either visiting friends and relatives or hosting those folks in their home. Interaction with others was so important that if two or three days went by without hearing from someone close to her, Granny would start fretting. They assembled in others' houses to sing church hymns, to play "42", or simply talk.

I couldn't help but conclude that we aren't that way anymore. Our toys (laptops, tv's, etc.) work like magnets to pull us indoors and hold us there, isolating us from others. Now I'm something of an ascetic anyway and I love quiet evenings at home with my wife. But I fully admit that I should be more involved in the lives of others. Granny and T leave me a strong example of "authentic community" and I would do well to follow their lead.

I will likely have more to say on Granny's life as I explore more of her diaries. They are so fascinating!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Delicious anticipation...

When I was growing up back in the '50's, one of the highlights of my life was Dad taking me to the public library. Once inside the door, we would separate for a couple of hours. I generally would start perusing the card catalog (gone forever, now) for books on dinosaurs, volcanoes, trains, or bees. Those were my main interests at the time, and I would always check out an armload of pertinent books on these fascinating subjects.

Since we didn't have much in the way of television entertainment and since video games and computers were still a long way off, I found myself on the couch a lot, eagerly diving into these books, learning all I could and enjoying every second of it. One of the saddest commentaries on kids today is their lack of interest in books. Instead, their time goes to stuff that runs on electricity or batteries. I wish I could explain to them just how delicious it is to have in hand a couple of books that will give you hours and hours of intellectual stimulation. It's the academic equivalent of having the waitress tell you that the cobbler of the day is cherry.

So I've got a couple of books to savor at the moment - that's where this whole soliloquy got started. One was given me by Brooke for Christmas...Let Me Finish by Roger Angell. Angell may be my favorite author. He's an absolute craftsman with words, and people who make writing look easy are heroes of mine. Angell will write about anything, even sports, but he's getting old and I fear that his pen might be laid down for the final time sometime soon. The other is Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright. I'm fascinated by eschatology topics and this book delves into popular misconceptions about paradise, heaven, and dying. I'm 20 pages into it and already know that Wright agrees with Randy Alcorn about God's renewed earth as our final destination. Oh, it's gonna be rich reading!