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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

The tradition in my family for about 30 years has been to gather at my oldest brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Numerous traditions grew up around this basic idea. One of the most enduring is the day after hike (see “Cascades and Escapades” and “Ebb and Flow of a Tradition” as two recent examples).

Of course, you can guess that this year was different. We didn’t meet at the elder brother’s house. His immediate family did. They also went on their hike. A good portion of my immediate family met at my house on Friday for thanksgiving reflections and a meal. There was plenty of good food prepared by numerous hands. We read psalms of thanksgiving and sang hymns and shared things we are thankful for.

On Saturday, prompted by two of my sons, we took a hike. My youngest and a young friend were beginning a one night backpacking trip, and the rest of us were along for the views and conversation. The slope had been burnt over twice about 15 years earlier and eliminated much of the topsoil. Regrowth has been slow, but the views are good.

The backlighting turned out OK, but since we did not know that at the time we shifted 180 degrees and posed again for the friendly hiker that I asked to record the images.

My son admitted that he was overly packed for a one nighter.

There are patches where it was not completely burned off and the younger trees come back faster here with the presence of more soil.

New growth is heartening.

The previous pictures show the relatively shallow slope the southeast face of the Shortoff Mountain. The next one shows where the trail comes along the edge of the vertical northwest facing precipice.

Table Mountain Pine predominates the stressed conditions of shallow soil, wind blown and otherwise drying conditions.

You wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this young friend is a tri-athlete. He stands upon metamorphized layers that are common to the Gorge.

Lake James actually dams three parallel streams, two of which are visible here. The South Mountains are visible in the background, being the last foothills before subsidence into the Piedmont region.

Wind is a creative and random sculptor of trees, imparting to this specimen a bonsai appearance.

There are many lone trees hanging onto the cliffs but the pine on this vertical section seems somehow “braver” or “more determined” as anthropomorphisms would have it.

Table Mountain Pine is also one of those species that require fire to open the cones and germinate the seeds. The cones appear to be fortresses against their time of opening.

Shortoff Mountain is amazingly flat on top as seen in this view along the Mountain to Sea Trail.

I know that fire is necessary and unavoidable, but I hate what it did to this little pond. First of all, it is amazing that a pond exists at the summit of a flat-topped mountain. It is not a mere wet weather pool. It used to have shade, open water, abundant frogs, small fish with only minimal vegetation in the water. Now the pond has eutrophied to such an extent as to hold no discernible animal life.

Not knowing that it was there, I had to point out to my young friends that we should stop and look at the best view of Linville Gorge available. Because the Gorge turns slightly at the mouth, you stand here on the rim looking straight up the majority of the length of the Gorge.

You can tell by the quality of the colors that this picture was not taken with my phone. I credit my daughter-in-law for this good picture.

And here she is with her husband.

Near the previous view is another one facing out of the mouth of the Gorge, revealing ridges more than 30 miles away.

I conclude with a picture of me contemplating the change and continuity of God’s nature. We can design our Biosphere 2 in an attempt to copy the real thing*, but our attempts cannot hold a candle to the ability of God’s designed Biosphere to absorb stress in the form of weather and natural disaster and human pollution and still recover and adapt. Man may have caused the fire that so affected this pond, but lightning could have just as well accomplished the same thing during drought. The pond may be changed for the duration of its existence or it may eventually recover its shaded, lively charm. Either way it is and will adapt well.

*If you don’t believe in design in nature, just consider the extent to which scientists go to design experiments like Biosphere 2 and they don’t even work that well.

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If you are reading this blog entry and have not read the prequel (“Basis of Civil Debate“), it will seem to lack context and may be confusing. Please read the previous blog entry first so that I may be truly heard in this one.

The debate itself was about the following subject:

Mr. L stated that he hated child labor laws because they represented an abrogation of family jurisdiction. The state does not have the right to tell the family how to function even if the family structure is severely compromised or clearly in the wrong. I pointed out that the reason such laws exist was because of Dickens’ writing about conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Those conditions were not right and needed to be stopped. At least two times, and I think more, I agreed in principle with Mr. L’s statement and Mr. F’s restatement of their point.

In part I may have not been heard because of my initial statement about Dickens. Why you may ask? It was immediately thrown back at me that poor conditions are no reason to lay aside the law of God. Again I agreed, but I was not allowed to state my case. The more I tried the louder the counter repetitions of the first point became.

What then was my point? I agree that it is wrong to lay aside the God-given jurisdiction of the family in favor of a mis-placed jurisdiction of government. However, I do not believe that, for instance, child labor laws are the problem or that eliminating them will solve the problem. In fact, I do not believe that under the present form of government, ruled mostly by emotion rather than law, that child labor laws, or many other family jurisdiction abrogating laws, will be rescinded until the real problem is solved. Why do I believe that? I believe that people will not allow abuse of women and children to continue even if the means of attempting to stop it is wrong and a failure* in practice.

So, what is the real problem and what is the solution? We the people, by and large have turned away from God and His Law. Until and unless we repent and turn back to His way we will not rescind these laws because we think we know better than God. And maybe we should not even try to change the laws and we definitely won’t, because there is too much travesty and hurt in a society where God’s rule is debased and ignored. Does that mean we can never go back to being a godly nation**? No, it does not, but there will need to be some deep repentance on the part of parents and employers and government officials, both bureaucratic and elected, and most notably those who claim to know God. The order of retracing our steps to godliness is more likely repentance, revival, renewal, then reformation of life and law. That does not mean that to have just, God honoring laws we must be a perfect nation, but we must first have a majority of the people acknowledging God and God’s Law.  When the travesties of child abuse in the home and the society at large are rarities rather than regular fare, then we will be more likely to correct our laws to reflect God’s Law.

To simplify this idea, let me summarize by saying the following: You don’t legislate morality; morality determines just law. Mr. L stated the first half of my statement at one point in his argument, and I believe he could agree with the second half of the statement if he had truly heard me. That might have involved me having a better handle on how to present it to him and Mr. F.

The Founding Fathers, by in large, got it right. They based our laws on God’s law. Even as we, they had influences that drew them away from the knowledge of God and His law. Therefore, unlike the Scriptures, the Constitution is a human document, which cannot be perfect. It is very likely the best document of its kind produced by humans, because it so largely reflects God’s law. And I agree with Washington when he said to Henry Lee, “Let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence.” (letter 10/31/1786) It has been and is being trampled upon because the basis for this document, God’s law, is trampled.

*Yes, child-labor laws stopped children from working in dangerous conditions, but it did not stop the abuse of children.

**I do not equate us with Israel, nor do I say that we have no heinous sins for which God will judge us. However, we have a system that is based on God’s laws with many past examples of godly people and building of God’s kingdom around the world.

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What is the way forward for our country in this time of crisis?

Awhile back I was having a discussion with two people, who we will call Mr. L and Mr. S, that turned into an argument. They were on one side of a position and I was on the other. I do not like to get drawn into arguments for reasons far deeper than the immediate discomfort, but I dislike even more when truth is being trampled. Well, from my perspective, things got worse, because I was no longer concerned about the statements being made. I agreed in principle with them, but I did not like the fact that I was never heard. Mr. L and Mr. S would tell you that they fully understood me and could see that I was patently wrong, but that is simply not true. The evidence I would give is that I was never allowed to state my point, so that I was never truly heard, and therefore, they could not have known if I was wrong or not.

And this is the reason for this blog entry*. The basis for civil debate is the requirement that the views of the parties** in the debate be heard, truly heard. If not, there has not been debate, but there has been monologue, haranguing, putdown, and dismissal. This does not mean that the two or more parties must come to agreement, though that would be a further needed step for legislative progress. But they must hear each other in such a way as to believe that the other party, at the very least, thinks that their position is reasonable. The end result will be some change in all of the parties. They will have seen, I mean really seen, that is heard, another perspective. The result may well be that they have more evidence for why they don’t agree, but it might also mean that they come to see a reason to modify their own position, even if ever so slightly.

This basic tenet of civil debate and discourse has another underlying prerequisite. In order to really hear someone, you must have some minimal respect for that person or party. When that is lacking then the monologue and so forth commences. I highly suspect from watching this scenario play out numerous times and being party to this mis-step myself, that the reason for the lack of respect, and therefore lack of listening, is essentially fear. If you believe that the other party holds some wicked position or intention that will undermine your worldview, status quo, or comfort, you are apt to attack it vociferously. But if you are confident that the truth will win out, either in the short-term or long-term, you may feel at ease enough to hear the other party out for the purpose of learning or modifying your own position.

Take note that those who least hold to what is true most vehemently avoid listening to their opponents. And be doubly aware of those who feign listening but never really hear what their opponents say.

What I have essentially just defined is open-mindedness. Some who claim to be the most open-minded, the kind who will not hold to one or any particular point of view, listen the least and are the most closed-minded. Why? Frequently they are unwilling to commit to a position, not because they don’t know (agnostic), but because they don’t want to know (stubborn). Other people wear closed-mindedness as a badge, thinking that they uphold the “real” truth. Their fear of straying from their understanding of the truth causes them to cling to a shallow truth at best. These two problems reign on both extremes of political and belief perspectives and in the middle as well. In reality, their close-mindedness is of no value to anyone, including themselves. And I do not ascribe to the definition of open-mindedness that believes that there is no truth, and therefore everyone has their own truth. That is counter to Western thought, logic, and any view of the society that works.***

A listening ear is not a rejection of truth, but a confidence that there is truth and that it appears in surprising places and can instruct and benefit the hearer from wherever or whomever it comes, and that it will win out in the end.

In summary, here are the points I made: 1) Civil Debate requires that all invested parties are really heard. 2) Really hearing someone requires a little respect for the person, even if not for their position, 3) Lack of kindly respect for your debate opponent points to fear that your position might be overcome, and 4) Open-mindedness is good and beneficial for debate.

I hope that you have heard me and benefited.

*What happened to Mr.s L and S? Stay tuned. That description will come soon, but I do not want to distract from my main point.

**Modern liberal thought that absent parties must be in the debate don’t work since that means that people no longer alive, non-citizens, non-vested interests, and others not party to the debate run the debate. Equity is not that non-parties to the debate rule the debate, but that they be allowed to become parties to the debate through involvement in the process and vested interest in the debate. That involves allowance to include other parties and commitment on the part of all parties to be involved and invested. Certain parties cannot be allowed into the conversation, because their purpose and presence is disruptive.

*** Why society without truth will not work is a topic for another day, but a worthy one.

 

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If ever I could hope that one of my blog entries would go viral, this would be the one!

What is the way forward in this time of crisis for our country? Is is sociological, psychological, judicial, political, philosophical? There is a Facebook post shared among some that is a Venn Diagram having four circles representing perspectives on our present troubles (You can see it here). Simply put, it says that a person may reasonably hold that murder, looting, and corruption are wrong and that lawful protests are legitimate responses. When my friend posted the diagram, I had an immediate two-fold reaction. Firstly, I agreed with the diagram. Secondly, I felt like it was incomplete and needed a fifth circle. I assumed at the time that the fifth circle would be a part of a five-circle Venn struggling to overlap in the middle. Later it occurred to me that the fifth circle should surround the other four, being both foundational and all encompassing. 

Circle Five: Until and unless we repent and forgive none of these other ideas or steps we may take will matter.

We will continue to deteriorate as a society. Fomenting elements will continue to stir up the crowds. Unreasoning anger will continue to prevail. Corruption will proceed unchecked and at length increase in various levels of government and in the streets. Fear and hatred will increase.

America, repent! Lord, begin with me. Cause me to love my fellow created beings regardless of culture, color, creed, or craft. Cause us to see our eternal and daily need of a savior, the Savior, Jesus, because we are full of hatred, selfishness, apathy, and unbelief. 

America, forgive! Lord, begin with me. Enable me to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Change us so that we do not suspect every neighbor of ill toward us, but desire and work for their good.

Church, pray! Lord, begin with me. Give me a persistent spirit of intercession for our nation and the Church. We are in dire and perilous times. If we don’t see it, it is because our enemy is not visible. The spiritual forces are stirring up trouble and trying to destroy our freedoms and blessings. God is calling on us to arise and call on Him for help. He will not continue to tolerate our evil and refusal to acknowledge Him. 

God be merciful to us. Pour out the knowledge of Yourself and Your ways upon Your Church who is slack in their piety at best. Extend mercy in salvation to a lost nation which is satisfied in their self-righteous refusal to acknowledge their sin and need of You. We need a revival of the Church and renewal of our nation. May You be merciful to give us repentance and forgiveness.

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One of my principals came by the house today to place a sign in my front yard stating how proud we are that I teach. I retorted that I thought that I would not get a sign since I am retiring after this semester. No, she says, you should especially get one for all of your years of teaching. I met her husband, who is also a teacher and we began talking “teacher talk” (1). During this crazy time there is much talk about Earth shaking, or at least societal, changes coming to every area of life, education in particular. Both of them were congratulating me on my coming retirement, especially at such an opportune time. I related that it had occurred to me that this was a similar transition that my father had transversed in the late 1980’s as a 39 year veteran of drafting/designing. He said that it was the right time for him to go out because he was not interested in learning this new CAD drawing. He had spent a long career with paper and pencil, or pen on permanent drawings. And here I am, having made my decision to retire before the pandemic occurred, but all the more glad I am retiring once I realized that significant online schooling is coming. Actually, I am OK with the computer. I have some things to learn, but I’m not far from where I need to be. The problem is how to motivate, explain to, tell a story to, relate to, properly assess, or significantly influence students virtually. Suddenly I felt like a dinosaur when I had not felt that way two months ago. A new epoch of online strata had been added to a bed of the technology era. (2) It feels suddenly virtually impossible to teach students subject matter which was fluid such a short time ago. The Great Flood had come (3) and this terrible lizard was stuck in a mud bank.

In the same way that my father was useful to make corrections on line drawing in pen, so I may be helpful if the traditional classroom is a thing again. But as I told my principal, that’s someone else’s problem now. I see the kindness of the guiding hand of God’s Providence (4) in these circumstances. He is no less kind when we get stuck in the middle, for He has an eternal perspective. He is more concerned for our spiritual and eternal good than our temporal comfort. But from this poor man’s view, all is right at the moment with retirement.

1) Every group or profession has their jargon and shared experiences so that you can talk to a teacher from across the globe and laugh about the same tendencies among students and parents in both places, in the same way engineers or salesmen or carpenters can say others just don’t understand.

2) I hope someone understands my paleontological metaphor.

3) I guess some folks won’t catch my extended metaphor unless I say the great meteor rather than Great Flood, though I believe it to be the latter.

4) Notice that I did not say guiding hand of Providence as many of our Founding Fathers referenced, as if it were an impersonal force rather than a personal God.

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Just before the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, my wife and I went to my school district’s central office to meet with the retirement planner. After many questions I signed the papers to begin the process. I thought that I would be ambivalent about retiring, but my confidence that it was time to go grew as I filled out the paperwork and afterwards. That night I slept contentedly until around 4 AM, when I awoke thinking about retirement. I still had no hesitation, but a poem began to come explaining why I feel that it is time to go:

When the burning desire to teach
Is in its last throe
Gone the desire to grow and reach
Then it is time to go

Knowledge is sweet and learning is good
But when drive is low
To push another’s ought’s and should*
Then it is time to go

Against all odds some came to make
Understanding flow
But when each step uphill you take
Then it is time to go

Hard victories won, stories told
Wisdom you did sow
Delivery now stale and old
Then it is time to go

To new pursuits of love and life
Always change and grow
Putting aside the stress and strife
Then it is time to go

Now my long mission is complete
What good did I sow?
Confidence, ambivalence meet
Farewell, it’s time to go

 

Teaching is a stressful job, but I liked the interaction with students. For many years I felt that it was a calling. I have no regrets about teaching and I have no regrets about ending this stage of my life. I look forward to what God has in store for me. Now to start a new adventure.

*”Oughts and Shoulds” is phrase I have used over the years because it has significant meaning to me. But when I have voiced it, few others seem to understand what I mean. Legalism and compulsion say, “You ought to do this and you should do that,” or “You ought not and should not do that.” Grace says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify”, and “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:23,31) But as teachers we are often compelled to compel the student who does not want to learn or make effort at learning. We should drop compulsory learning. Let the parents decide and compel those who won’t do their work to go home.

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