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Archive for the ‘Cultural commentary’ Category

Over the weekend my neighbor came over to share a photo album of his recent vacation. Several relatives took him to the beach, a pier to fish, a battleship, and out to eat several times. He was very excited explaining in his broken, repetitive speech about the beach and waves, a fish he caught, the large shells and big guns of the ship, and pancakes he had. You see, my neighbor has an IQ of around 80. His experience of life is very simple and concrete. (He is also the best neighbor that I have ever had.) The thought occurred to me as he talked that his excitement sounded very similar to that of a young child. Subsequently, I considered that me or some very intelligent person is little different compared to God’s infinite intelligence, perception, and power. We are all enjoying the beach like young children in our level of perception compared to God. But are we all enjoying it with the simple excitement and thankfulness of this neighbor of mine? As I considered it further this morning, I thought about the 4 things our society values: riches, intelligence, beauty, and athletic ability. Those are gifts to be thankful for, but frequently they bring their own problems because we think these gifts somehow come from us. We would be best off without these gifts if we are going to misuse them. And we would be best off not alive if we don’t know God through His Son.

I’d rather be a bear of little brain
Thankful, content, and partially sane
Than one of high intellect and profane
Ungrateful, unbelieving and inane

I would rather be an ugly duckling
Humble and kind, always listening
Than one gorgeous, proud peacock strutting
Self-absorbed and manipulating

I’d rather be a spastic water boy
Team player, play maker, full of joy
Than the stud and star that’s all a ploy
To be in the lights, a lonely alloy

I would rather be poor and struggle hard
Thankful and content though often jarred
Than be filthy rich and on my guard
And by greed and retribution marred

I’d rather be a believer in God
A servant, humble though roughly shod
Than a skeptic agnostic, oh so mod
Separated eternally from God

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The following poem may be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made on this blog. It could draw some significant ire. However, if those who read it, read it carefully and understand its intent, it may help someone reconsider how they are doing things. The poem came as a result of a conversation I had with a decent young man who at present has no prospects for marriage. What he said could be interpreted as so much sour grapes, but I don’t think so. He wants to be a godly husband and is waiting for a godly spouse, but inside and outside the church, young women seem suspicious and disinterested in commitment to young men. (Switching gender in this statement is sometimes true as well.) One statement he made struck me as instructive: “The American Woman (I’ve decided to call her) expects that a man meet all of her emotional needs, but she sees it as optional to meet his physical needs.” I thought several things after he said this: 1) The full pendulum swing from the man as ruler of his house to the fully liberated woman has occurred.  2) Neither extreme is biblical and both are damaging to all parties involved. 3) This statement illustrates the age old difference and misunderstanding of differences in needs of the two genders.

This society belittles males as nothing more than animals, blathering, hormonal driven fools. What we expect and inspire is what we get. We need to change our expectations and encouragement of boys and men.

American woman why do you flounce?
Look on with disapproving eyes

Every male reject and renounce
Belittle in jest and despise

You practice no modesty before guys
In speech and action or in dress
Putting out honey will draw flies
Complicit are you in this mess

(Now it’s true that men should not lust for girls
Treat them as objects, as mere tools
But made in God’s image, real pearls
Honoring her, not acting like fools)

So build up young men; don’t tear them all down
Declare to them their great value
Help them step up to be renown
Sober of mind and always true

Thus the benefit for all and for you
Respect your man and serve him, too
Modest in dress says you are true
He will arise, protect, love you

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I shared thoughts about 9/11 last year that I think still ring true. If you are interested, see “Has the World Really Changed?”

9/11 was not even mentioned at my school today. We went on as if it never happened. My students were not born until 2003. Two major hurricanes just hit back to back in the continental US. Political wrangling is more contentious than it has perhaps ever been in my lifetime. North Korea makes ever more credible threats with each passing year. Racial tension has again reared its ugly head in these United States. The economy is better and life is good. In other words, life has rendered us forgetful. No, that is a way of saying we have an excuse because some outside influence caused us to do what we would not have otherwise. No, we have either willfully forgotten or passively allowed forgetfulness. We don’t want to think about that event because it demands of us introspection about how we should react and will react. We would have to consider the continuation of dangers in the world which we know no solution for. Even more disturbing, we would have to consider that because of our own complicity we are part of the problem. Not me you say. I in no way caused 9/11. What have you done to make this a better, purer, kinder, stronger nation? Have you cried out to God for mercy? Have you sown peace and goodness in the land? Have you taken heed to God’s law and sought after His grace? I include myself. What have I done to remember the lessons of 9/11 that were never learned by this nation and forgotten by the few that did know them? I have much work to do in my personal life, but tomorrow I will convey the sense of what happened to my students who see it as textbook history, before their time. Allow your memory to lapse no more on this subject.

As to the memory of the events, I think that my daughter does them more justice than I am able just now. Here is what she said:

“My 8th grade English class was in the computer lab typing papers one Tuesday morning, when another teacher came in and told Mrs Ball (my teacher) to turn on the TV. Less than 10 minutes later, I watched in real time with shocked disbelief and trembling sadness as the Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower. Reports of the Pentagon being hit and speculation of other targets followed soon after. I saw the towers crumble. I saw the people running, covered in dust. I saw the NY police and firefighters. I saw the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. I saw the hysteria. I silently cried for those lost and prayed for our president.
The next day was so quiet. All planes were grounded.
In the following weeks however, the burst of nationalism was heard echoing across the country. “United We Stand!” “God bless America!” So many US flags appeared. So many people came together to grieve and hold each other up.
I still grieve. When I think of how easily we forget. When I consider the short lived community support. When I contemplate how quickly the crying out to God for help changed to reliance, expectation, and blame on the government.
September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era in our world. Ideas were shaken. Securities were questioned. Fear is the new normal.

So now what? Trust God.
The only way I have found to deal with truth and reality is to take all to Him who created it and me. Do I still feel the impact? Yes, but I don’t try to carry the burden.”

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It’s a pity when life gets in the way of blogging (just kidding!). But I have so many thoughts and experiences from the summer that I could blog for quite some time. It is not likely to happen as I see more things happening soon, but that’s OK.

I did want to share a few thoughts and pictures. I don’t often suggest books for several reasons. I do more technical reading than reading for pleasure, and frankly many books don’t meet my high standard of what I would unreservedly pass on to those I call friends, or enemies for that matter since I want them to one day be friends. A book that I can enthusiastically suggest is “The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi. Because of his culture and his faith he simultaneously looks at the West as an outsider and insider at the same time. I keep having the feeling that he is correcting much error from lies our culture has fed us about how we got to where we are. He uses personal experiences and copious quotes to show the deep imprint of the Bible on western culture. I think that you will hear more about it here once I am finished with it.

My friend, colleague, and climbing partner, CC, took me to two boulders I’d never been to before. In fact, he had only been there a few days before with another climbing buddy for the first time cleaning about ten problems, laying a thick base of branches in a wet spot, and clearing part of a large fallen tree. I was privileged to try out the new rock. I like to go back to old familiar routes, but there is a particular excitement about trying new routes, and particularly ones that haven’t been climbed before. I was definitely not climbing at the top of my game, only topping out on a V1 and 3 V2’s. I tried two V4 and got shut down. Both problems involved a gaston with my left hand that I could not stick. It has challenged me to train that weakness. On the second one I discovered that if I did a side pull with my right hand instead, I could top out to the left much easier. We both agreed that it would rate as a V2. I decided to name it “Easy Out”. The two pictures are of me on the right sidepull and the topout. We saw several Cardinal Flowers in the wet, rich spots by the creek. I definitely want to go back, and hopefully clean some problems on new rock myself. (Photo credit: CC with his phone)

KIMG1043

Lobelia cardinalis

KIMG1051

Taking it “Easy..”

KIMG1054

“Easy Out”

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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Bibles and spiritual discussion involving Christianity have largely been expunged from public discourse, politely ignored at best or ridiculed as archaic. So we as a society try to convince ourselves of how enlightened we are by studying various religions and philosophies, all the while being open only to human autonomous naturalism. Even many church-goers acknowledge God as no more than a concept of good behind the scenes rather than a personal, involved, just and loving Sovereign Creator, a real person to whom we are responsible. It is quite ironic that the most Bibles are to be found where the least acceptance of its content is given. In just such a room I stood recently, silent, considering the lack of Bibles elsewhere in the building and the multitude of them here.

Comparative Religion and Philosophy Class

Deep irony in our midst
The most Bibles in a room
On a shelf with all the rest
Equal texts as they assume
Thoughts of men believed the best
Ridicule of God will bloom
Putting God's Word to the test
Sweep away truth with a broom
Of poor logic or mere jest
Scoffers conceived in this womb
Birth unbelief in this nest
Many young skeptics to groom
And others their faith arrest
Sending belief to its tomb
Extract self from this class lest
You take part in death and doom
Instead, set out on a quest
In each context truth exhume
That society be blest

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Early in 2001 my father passed on to the next life after a slow decline resulting from many and various ailments. I believe that it was a grace that he passed without knowing of 9/11. He fought in WWII receiving a bullet and multiple pieces of shrapnel near the German border. Every 4th of July he would hang a copy of the Declaration of Independence and an American flag on the living room mantle. As the years went on he added more evidence of his love of America and its freedoms, things like a small Statue of Liberty. I used to think how much the world changed during his lifetime. Afterall, TV had not been invented when he was born in 1922. Polio was a major killer; the War to End All Wars was a fresh scar; the roaring twenties had not succumbed to the Great Depression. During my formative years airplanes, bridges, skyscrappers, atomic energy, and space travel were among the top of the list of items and ideas that he talked about and learned about and visited. How the space race had resulted in a handheld calculator was amazing to him. The world had changed so much in one lifetime.

Now we hear that the world was forever changed by 9/11. In one sense, of course it was! We collectively look over our shoulder as a nation, wondering when or if it will happen again. But did it really change the world? Hasn’t every generation had at least one event that so penetrated the minds and hearts of the populace such that each person knows where they were when it happened? If you are old enough, do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? For my father’s generation the event that riveted their attention was Pearl Harbor. News traveled much slower the further back you go but there were terrors and plagues and perplexities for centuries. In 79 A.D. when Pliny the Younger described the flaming bombs of Vesuvius sinking ships in the harbor off Herculaneum while Pompeii was covered in noxious gases and pyroclastic flows, the world must have seemed to be at an end.

Do I attempt to diminish the severity and pain of 9/11? Do I not see the ways in which it changed how we do freedom in our land? By no means. But the cause of terror and pain has not changed. Because of sin there is stark evil and natural disaster in the world as there has been since the Fall of Adam. These adversities should call us as a nation back to God. We deteriorate; our nation’s demise is at hand, yet we see 9/11 and Antietam and Hurricane Katrina and Pearl Harbor as totally disconnected from our spiritual condition and God’s call to repent. Evil exists in the world because there have been and are evil people in the world. We must confront the evil in ourselves so that our enemies have no excuse for their evil acts against us and we have no compunction about attacking it when it comes.

I remember where I was on 9/11, watching the screen in my classroom as the first building hit earlier was burning and as the subsequent one was hit and the towers collapsed and students came into my room who wanted someone to make sense out of the chaos. In those first moments during my planning period before that screen I prayed that God would have mercy upon us as a nation. In many respects He has and He is but we must cry for it and act in ways commensurate with receiving mercy now more than ever because we drone on in our mundane, garden variety evils as if 9/11 never happened. God have mercy on us!

The world has changed but not so much.

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The nature versus nurture debate is a longstanding argument over whether physical and behavioral characteristics we observe in an organism have resulted from genetic gifting (nature) or environmental influence (nurture). Most informed science observers realize that outcomes in an organism are the result of both. Still the argument persists because we want to know which of the two influences has the most effect on a particular characteristic of an organism. Genes affect the outcome of the organism; environment affects the outcome of the organism; environments pressure genes to turn on or off, producing outcomes in an organism (epigenetics). But does the force of genes and environment decide how a person must act? If you or I say that we cannot help act in a certain way because this is the way we are made or you and I act this way because that is how our parents or culture taught us to be, are we excused to act in that way? No, neither nature nor nurture is an excuse for how a person acts. To see why I say so let us assume for the sake of argument that our actions are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.1 Are we excused for our actions? I have a tendency to lie, which I believe all people have (Jeremiah 17:9; I John 1:6,8,10). Does that excuse me to lie? No, it does not anymore than being pressed into a gang and having a genetically predisposed tendency toward anger gives me an excuse for murdering someone.

Most people will admit to the truth of these statements but what if the subject is more controversial? Chelsea Kensington writes, “Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. In recent decades, biologically based theories have been favored by experts… Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.” Many similar quotes may be obtained off of the internet with ease. Again let us assume that this statement is true1, namely that there is a strong genetic predisposition toward homosexuality coupled with certain undetermined environmental factors. Does that make it acceptable in God’s sight? Does that make it right? Does that give us an excuse or reason? No, it does not. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” An abomination is “a thing that causes disgust or hatred,” but to whom? God hates it. If you are still reading this article you are probably either agreeing with me or very angry, but you must realize that if you vehemently disagree that you are not arguing with me, but God. When God hates something, then it is not right and “all unrighteousness is sin” (I John 5:17). The result is sure: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10). The solution for all these sinners listed, murderers and liars, too, is the same. Do not blame genetic nature or poor nurturing. Instead, admit that you have the spiritual nature of your father, Adam, a tendency to rebel against God, and that you have acted in self-willed reliance upon that nature in your rebellion against God. Plead with God to rescue you from your sinfulness based on what Jesus did on the cross to take away sins and what He accomplished when He rose from the dead to defeat death. (Acts 2:21; 4:12; John 3:14-20; I Corinthians 15:12-26; Ephesian 2:8-9) Nature and nurture have no ability to restrain you from the outcome of joy and peace you will experience.

1I do not agree with the statements but assume them true to show it makes no difference in responsibility.

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Culture is an odd and interesting phenomenon. Though the word has now been co-opted to refer to interaction in a business office, the more traditional definition looks more like the http://www.merriam-webster.com first entry: “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time”. Therein is the oddity and interest. That is a very broad definition trying to capture all that goes into a culture. You can mix and match the first three terms (and the “etc’s” for that matter) with any combination of the “particular” last four terms. Try for instances this combination that helps to explore a situation our tour explored in Peru: ‘art of a particular society in transition through time‘.

Pressing out the air bubbles

Pressing out the air bubbles

Painted, glazed, kiln dried, sun drying

Glazed and painted and drying in the sun in readiness for the second firing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We toured the Seminario Ceramicas in Urubamba of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The head potter, Pablo Seminario, along with his wife the head painter, Merilu Behar, developed a style of glazed and decorated pottery that has elements of ancient Peruvian cultures and modern stylistic exploration. The style was further developed by the isolation necessary for survival during the Shining Path insurgence of the 1980’s. One motif that the potter declared to me that he finds ever new is the shape of the arrowhead. As he said, “It was a tool for gathering food…is similar to the water drop or a leaf”. So Pablo continues to explore splashes of modern creativity mixed with hints of ancient continuity.

Moderno-ancient mix

Moderno-paleo creations

   I was temporarily separated from my tour    group because I was taking some pictures in this gallery of creations of the artist. When I exited the room outdoors I didn’t see anyone. I assumed a whole group could not have gone far in a minute so I went to the nearest doorway. When I entered, there was Pablo wielding a small carving tool on a large arrowhead. Realizing I had entered his private studio, I began to back out but he waved me forward, not even slowing the pace of his work. 

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

 

  For the next 10-12 minutes we amicably discussed the creative process. He seemed to be quite interested in talking with me because I had brought students to tour Peru and because I talked intelligently about art and science. I asked several questions about how he begins a concept and carries it out. One question involved the arrowhead, “You obviously like to make arrowheads. Why did you start with it and why do you continue with it now?” He related the request from an art exhibit many years ago that he combine modern and ancient elements of design. This request caused him to reflect on the usefulness and ubiquitousness of the arrowhead shape he noticed in nature as quoted above. He continues to see new things in the shape and strives to continue to grow and so pursues more content in the arrowhead. This discussion led to me commenting on how one should be thankful to the Creator for instilling the gift of creativity. He retorted that it was far more work than creativity. I countered that the work is necessary but without merit if the person lacks the creative ability; each of us should work to develop the gift we have. The waste of potential that he sees as an artist and I see as a science teacher consumed some of our interaction. We also interacted over the similarities in science and art, how each involves elements of the other, and how both center around the abilities to think and work hard. It was one of those moments when we both knew that we had connected in a meaningful way even though before that moment we had been total strangers from different cultures pursuing different vocations and avocations, separated by different worldviews. Our connection was musing on life, its processes, and its meaning.

His life had been one sufficiently isolated from the insanity of the violent culture around him in order to survive and thrive, and yet not isolated from creative interaction, as his collaboration with his wife and 50 potters and painters in training attests. 

Decorating the forms

Decorating the forms with Inca symbols

Main Gallery

Main Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that in this discussion and on this trip I discovered a more complete reason for why I like to travel. It extends my musing on life through observation of diversity in nature, culture, thinking, history, distance, science, people, God’s work in the world, and a host of other providential allowances given by a good Creator. We want to see beauty and substance and understand its meaning and purpose. But many are not willing to wade through the meaning of ugliness and triviality to reach the beauty and substance that does not lend to their preconceived ideas of what it should mean. I agree with Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Don’t be afraid to examine yours and others and risk having to change what you hold dear for what is true and good and beautiful and full of substance.

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Courtyard Beauty

Courtyard Beauty of Seminario

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For 8 days four of my students, a mother, a grandfather, and I learned about culture and history, and observed wonderful beauty of the unique and diverse country of Peru. 

Launch Complex 39 Assembly Building

Launch Complex 39 Assembly Building

   But first we had to get   there. The flight from Charlotte to Miami flew right over Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Looking out the window for a glimpse of the coast now and then, I looked at just the right time to see Launch Pads 39A and B. At 36,000 feet the 10 story Assembly Building and trackway to the launch pads look like diminutive LEGO constructions. I was surprised by the airport code for Miami-Dade International – MIA. That means something else to me, but I must confess that layovers in airports can feel just like what I thought that codes means.

Stain Glass in Lima

Stain Glass in Lima

Because of clouds I did not see land again until we turned to make our approach on Lima. I must confess that big cities are a bit intimidating, stressful, and dirty to me. I like people but not so many at once. Lima has its own differences. At 10 million people, it constitutes a full 1/3 of the population of Peru. One native told me that this proportion was largely a result of people escaping the Shining Path during the 1980’s and 90’s. Because of cold ocean currents offshore Fall and Winter are almost entirely cloudy and rainless. This combination results in a dreary, humid, polluted, pleasantly cool climate with very little variation at night. How so many people have enough water from rivers flowing from the mountains is amazing to me. Downtown Lima has numerous churches. Most of the ones I went into on this trip disallow pictures, but I did get some in a basilica near our hotel.

Statue and Hotel of Bolivar on the Main Square

Statue and Hotel of Bolivar on the Main Square

The two heroes of independence in Peru, Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar, figure in numerous statues and place names in Lima. San Martin proffered partial independence in 1821 and Bolivar completed the task in 1824. Two other tumultuous periods figure largely in the abbreviated Peruvian history that I received: The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) and The Shining Path Insurgence (1980-~2000). During the former, Chile seized territory from both Peru and Bolivia over a mining treaty dispute via naval and desert battles. Peru lost three ports and Bolivia lost access to the ocean. A tour guide explained that the most northerly port city was returned after 10 years by referendum. The Communist Party militant arm, The Shining Path, committed many atrocities in an attempt to gain control of the government. Desperate times require desperate measures, so that President Fujimori from 1990 to 2000 committed atrocities of equal if not greater intensity to rid the country of this scourge. He succeeded and failed; he is now in jail in Peru.

Kennedy Park ("Park of the Cats")

Kennedy Park (“Park of the Cats”)

After hostilities calmed down I am told that Peru experienced a period of phenomenal economic growth, the best in South America until a few years ago. One reason may be the large number of government employees. Every park and sidewalk has workers who sweep, wash, plant, water, weed, in a word, beautify, and the same spaces have provincial and national police.

Peruvian National Police

Peruvian National Police

Beautification Committee

Beautification Committee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction and Prosperity

Construction and Prosperity

Shine and Decline

Shine and Decline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from our hotel window told a variable story of economic stability. Even in the downtown area many building are in decline while others shine.

Franciscan Monastery

Franciscan Monastery

 

A Franciscan Monastery that we toured was more interesting to us for what was under it than what was in it. When the archeologists were allowed to survey the catacombs in the 1990’s they carefully estimated that 25,000 people had been buried there. Bones and skulls in every compartment and such superior structure as has survived several major earthquakes. The tour guide pointed out a “well” said to be 10 meters deep in bones. Everyone wanted to be buried under the church. Believing in the invisible church as the actual body of Christ, many of these bones will not arise at the resurrection, but the magnitude of this scene gave new meaning to the excitement on resurrection day- bring it quickly, Lord Jesus.

Next time I want to discuss the Larco Museum of Archeology in Lima and the flight and first impressions of Cusco. (Note: I find it nearly impossible to orient the text and pictures just as I want them. Oh well, hope you enjoyed my discoveries anyway.)

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We must have a reason to learn

To foster judgment and discern

For thinking is very hard work

With little immediate perk

 

Many think good jobs are enough

Or just persist when things get tough

Make it more relevant they say

Or guided self-learning and play

 

No doubt these have some benefit

But why do many tend to quit

Lose interest and totally bored

Wild speculation, truth ignored

 

Learning is a moral issue

It must be based on what is true

All for God’s glory to pursue

Seeking righteousness to renew

 

Then can learners not get enough

Persisting long and hanging tough

Pursuing what is right and good

And helping others as they should

 

Even short of this lofty goal

All people need food for their soul

Orient learning as you should

Teach what is true and right and good

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Worked, played, napped, read, ran, and just now I sat on this cool, exceptionally clear summer night listening to the distant fireworks of my small town. How could freedom not come to mind, but I’m concerned. As the rockets burst 10 blocks away my thoughts went to how freedom is abused and misused:

Always free to do what is right

In dungeon dark or Main Street bright

Don’t take license and act the fool

For righteousness use God’s gracious tool

Or else He’ll take it from us all

And great will be this nation’s fall

Which once so brightly shone for good

Frequently for justice it once stood

Not without fault or blemish there

But most citizens gave a care

Whereas now we say right is wrong

Parade evil in our law and song

Oh, once free land turn back to God

Give freedom more than a yearly nod

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Oh, America
  Not in praise of thee
Not the replica
  Sea to shining sea
 
Morally bankrupt
  No basis for law
Justice you corrupt
  From evil you draw
 
Death you promote
  And promiscuity
Truth is all but banned
  Scant integrity
 
Self-esteem the rule
  Less accomplishment
Spur acting the fool
  Spurn real achievement
 
Destroy family
  Children rule the roost
Dad the enemy
  Immodesty boost
 
Many a problem
  I’ll not mention here
Prosperity trim
  For the future fear
 
How fell this great land
  City on a hill?
Hear this reprimand
  If a conscience still
 
God is rejected
  Acknowledged no more
His law ejected
  Truth dismissed as lore
 
Time and chance create
  Says the scientist
God’s people berate
  Tolerate the rest
 
Turn from foolishness
  Acknowledge God now
Receive God’s kindness
  Before Jesus bow
 
Then dispense justice
  Teach the truth to all
Before the great crisis
  When this land will fall

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I had a few random, funny and profound things happen in public school today:

1) As I was coming into my second school I overheard the chemistry teacher telling his AP students about very energetic reactions. I came to the door and said, “Like it not, Mr. V, you are going to get a reaction out of me,” to which he replied, “That was spontaneous!” I reiterated, “Yeh, that was totally spontaneous.” The students just stared in stunned silence. I went across the hall and opened up my room and settled in. Meantime, Mr. V was continuing on about changes in energy of these reactions he was describing. I came back in a few minutes to the doorway, pointing to my brain case and said, “Mr. V, I just wanted your students know that since my spontaneous reaction I am much more stable.” Again the students just stared, though two muffled laughter. Later Mr. V reported that as soon as I left the whole class broke out in laughter because they thought that I am crazy. Maybe, but I’m stable.

2) Later in the day as I was teaching, my teacher’s assistant (TA) brought a bellwork paper to me from one of my students. Bellwork is questions that student answer as review for previous day’s learning and hand in at the end of the week. Early in the week this girl had written on the bellwork, “You look nice today.” The next day she wrote, “You are looking good.” By this time I am a little embarrassed, but my TA pointed to one more entry on a bellwork at the end of the week, “I don’t understand this question,” alongside which my TA had written in red ink, “What’s wrong, is my beauty distracting you?” Oh, my goodness, I wonder what kind of reaction I’ll get out of that one? I guess I’ll have to at least explain that I have a TA.

3) The third occurrence which actually happened first is a bit more serious. I have a girl in my first period class who almost daily greets me with a question about how I am feeling. She is frighteningly perceptive about my emotional state, predicting how I feel by the way she asks about it: “Are you frustrated, Mr. F?” “Are you having a good day, Mr. F?” “Are you angry about something?” “Why do you seem so happy?” “What is bothering you?” “Are you sad?” “Things are going real well today, aren’t they?” “Are you tired?” Now I will be the first to admit that my emotions are easy to read- wear them on my sleeve, as the saying goes- but sometimes I try to hide them because I have a job to do, or I don’t want to upset my students, or because I don’t want to talk about it, or sometimes I don’t think they are even showing. She is almost always right or at least leaning in the right direction in her perceptions. It caused me to think about the saying that we should be thermostats rather than thermometers. That is, we should affect the emotional, moral, and intellectual temperature by our attitudes and actions rather than just reflect it by indicating and becoming the temperature of, giving in to, the surroundings. But I thought, thermostats are also thermometers, for if you don’t know what the temperature is, you can not affect it in a positive way for good. You may be heating things up when they should be cooled down, and vise versa. So I decided that this girl has a very notable talent that she probably acquired from a less than comfortable surroundings where she needs to read the temperature to stay out of trouble. If she uses her readings carefully, both in terms of not insisting that she is always right when she may not be and using the information to better her reaction to it rather than copying peer pressures, she may help herself and others move toward more profitable responses. For my part, I have decided to stop being annoyed at the perceptions and use them as checks on both my emotional state and how I am coming across to those I am supposed to be serving. That is humbling and challenging. And I’ve decided to give this girl the nickname, Thelma (“Thermometer Lady”). It almost works; it is a mash up after all.

4) I’m on a roll now, so here is a “foot in mouth disease” story from several weeks ago. My Physics students were discussing problems they had attempted for homework in a whiteboard session. Students collaborate in small groups to write answers to problems on 2′ x 3′ dry erase boards. Then they defend their answer before the rest of the class. Properly facilitated and fully engaged participation on the part of students makes this possibly the most fruitful form of group thinking. One of the groups had a particularly confusing problem for them that had precipitated much heated debated among the three group members. In fact, one of the students had gone so far as to prepare his own whiteboard with an alternative answer. The two other students somewhat disdainfully commented that A had drawn up his own answer. Realizing that A, who is an Asian student, had the right answer and that the whole set up had a teachable moment, I quieted the other students by saying, “Listen up, A has a minority report!” The class went totally silent and African-American Miss S looked totally shocked. I went on about how we should listen to A because sometimes the Minority Report was the correct one and that he should be heard. I could hear S mutter, “But, Mr. F…” My students just stared (or glared?) at me. Now all this while I had been thinking Majority and Minority decisions of the Supreme Court and the minority reports that the fewer justices give when they vehemently disagree with the majority. Suddenly it occurred to me how my students were perceiving what I was saying. I laughed rather uncontrollably for a few moments which further horrified my students until I explained that I had not meant at all what they had heard. We now wait for the “Minority Report” with a chuckle.

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Perhaps the reason I don’t have a very big following for my blog is that I mostly write for my own posterity and the comfort of getting my burning thoughts down in “black and white”, or whatever other colors I choose. I thought it was humorous and somewhat gratifying the other day when a student said to me about midway through a monologue I was giving in class, “Mr. [Leon], I could listen to you rant all day!” “That’s and interesting comment,” said I, “why do you feel that way?” “You are not afraid to be honest about what you think and always do it without being profane. There is alot of truth in what you say” Wow, so perhaps others are not so honest or insightful and are profane?

So, you might well guess that we are preparing for a rant, though this one is quite mild in delivery compared to the sarcastic and cutting version the student heard about the real deficiencies of public education (Perhaps that one will serve for another day. Oh, no, not another prescriptive education rant!). No, this one is about a significant blind spot that is preventing science education and political action from moving forward and it is not being caused by the uninformed. If after all of that you are still up for it, click on  Stop Writing Us Off    I look forward to some rousing comments.

 

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I’ll try to refrain from too much well worn cultural commentary on this one, but it is amazing how easy and prevalent “throw away” is in this culture. I was reminded of it again today. I come home to my wife wanting me to look at the Kirby vacuum cleaner. What in the world am I doing with a Kirby vacuum cleaner, you ask? Once upon a time I was stuck in credit limbo. I had no credit, not having chosen for many years to have a credit card, so I couldn’t get credit. It is similar to being unemployed or under employed because you are over qualified for any menial job. They figure you will leave soon since you have a college degree so they won’t give you a job. Or it is even more like trying to get a job and being told that you must have two years experience but you can’t get experience without a job. Anyway, the carpet brush attachment activates a clutch that may either be turned on to drive the vacuum forward and back or shifted into neutral so you get a better workout. If it is broken throw it away, right?

This reminds me of ever so many appliances that are or once were in my places of residence. Take for instance the dryer we still use. The temperature selection switch “tore up”. I don’t know why since my wife, as far as I knew, never used that switch. Without it the dryer didn’t dry. I went to the parts store of the local appliance dealer. “That part is no longer available.” You mean to say that I have to buy a new dryer for $300+ for a $7.99 switch that only cost the manufacturer $0.87 to make? That reminds me (We’ll never get through this story if I keep regressing.) of when I used to rebuild aircraft alternators, generators, starters, and magnetos. Did you know that most of the time an alternator that has quit functioning only needs less than $10 in parts to fix it but about 20 years ago the manufacturers disallowed any but the licensed manufacturer re-builders to get the parts so that they could charge customers anywhere from $80 to $200+ for re-manufactured alternators? Back to the dryer. I am a scrapper and scrounger from way back. Call it a survival technique if you like. I began asking around and calling every yellow page appliance repairman in my county and the next. I found a retired (figures) appliance repairman who has a shed out back of his house with 50+ washers and dryers that he sells the parts off of. After some friendly talk and a few pointers as to where the appropriate models reside, I crawled into the shed and sampled 6-8 dryers for temperature switches. As you might imagine, several were missing, probably due to failures of dryer switches on other dryers of that make. I used my adjustable jaw wrench to extract several switches only to find out from the owner when I crawled back out that part number switch would not work, a fact I suspected with four electrical connection prongs instead of three (I love talking trash in run-on sentences.) Undaunted, I crawled back in and extracted that last switch (of course it was; I wasn’t going to keep taking them out after I found the one I needed.). But when I brought it out and checked the resistance, it operated backwards. The owner said it didn’t matter. To this day the switch sits pretty much unused with a paper label reversing the original markings and attached by clear packing tape. The dryer works fine. We call that jury rigging (Look it up.).

I guess I was desperate to write a blog entry this month and didn’t want to expend the energy of thinking about some of the deeper and more difficult issues going on at the moment. I hope you relate to this desire to fix things and not waste money and material. It is not always possible, but it feels good when you can. For me it is a matter of stewardship and finances. Maybe I’ll tell how I’ve revamped the dishwasher 3 times with small parts for less than $35, or recently replaced a broken coupling on the clothes washer. Actually, it isn’t fun when you are troubleshooting the problem of replacing the part in an awkward spot, but it sure is satisfying afterwards. Did I say that already?

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A student “set me off” thinkin’ about old sayings yesterday in class when she arrived, sat down and ask me how I was doin’. “Fair to midland”, I replied, “I’m tired from running and not sleeping.” She laughed, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that other than my grandfather.” (Regretfully, I’m old enough to be her grandfather, but I left that out of the conversation.) “So is that good?” she inquired. “It’s OK, I reckon.” “Well,” I began, “I don’t wish my life away, but everybody needs a Friday now and then.”

Then I began thinking of some of the sayings I learned from my mother, but I got “bumfuzzled” tryin’. Oh, well, “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other”. My mother was not much for sayings involving “outlandish” people like “faster than a one armed paper hanger” but she could “teach an old dog new tricks”. I wish I could remember more of her sayings; “one will come to me” “every once in a blue moon”. When they do and I voice them, my students think that they are funny or they just look at me “sigogglin'” like I’m “a few bricks minus a load.” My father-in-law was a good one for sayings. He’d “treed more than a few pole cats” “in his day”, been “up the creek without a paddle” on a few occasions, and gone a whole day with “narey a bite to eat” “more times than he cared to remember.” That was because his father was known to “not hit a lick”, working “narey abit” for “as long as he could remember”, better than “a month of Sundays.” 

Youth have sayings, too, but for the most part they lack the richness of the old sayings. I suppose that is because language is far less isolated to regions, changes faster, and is abbreviated electronically down to acronyms and buzz words, the sayings of the day that “I can’t make hide nor hair of.”I wish I could remember a few more of my mother’s sayings but “for the life of me” I can’t think of another one “even if my life depended on it.” I wish you’d “help me out” and suggest a few you know in the comments. “Whewee!” I guess I did remember one more “by the skin of my teeth”. Let’s hear a few of your sayings.

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The end of the school year is upon us. It is time for a little reflection and cultural commentary. Caution and disclaimer: This poem might make you mad, or conversely, you might shake your head sadly and say, ‘yes, it’s true’. If we do not take part in the last verse I fear we will not be tolerated very much longer. As one teacher said to me yesterday unprovoked, “We are not approaching crisis; we are in crisis.”

It is a moral issue
Lack of motivation
Rejecting what is true
Rules retaliation
Tolerance the only view

It is a moral issue
Say neither bad nor good
Be careful what you do
Even watch thoughts you should
Or we will certainly sue

It is a moral issue
Immodesty of dress
Crudeness of speech in lieu
Of more polite address
What I want to say and do

It is a moral issue
Lack of hygiene and care
Knowledge, no want or clue
All perversion laid bare
Gratification my due

It is a moral issue
Stealing what is not yours
Cheating and lying too
Coveting brings detours
Not earn what belongs to you

It is a moral issue
With rank and uniform
And age and gender too
Disrespect is the norm
Not even give God His due

It is a moral issue
Death is the focus now
Black the favorite hue
To dark stories they bow
Tattoos and piercings not few

It is a moral issue
Cry out to God, repent
Trust Christ the Savior Who
By grace from wraths relent
Our hope and nation renew

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Americans are getting both what they want and what they deserve. Unless there is a widespread and deep repentance whereby we acknowledge God and obey His commands the United States will continue to slide toward immorality, infamy, impotence, and instability. The immorality is obvious in all that we vote to support and ignore and participate in that is clearly contrary to the Word of God. Infamy comes in the form of hatred from more and more countries of the world, self-hatred over increased oppression of rights and helpless people, and a growing history of blasphemy toward God. We think we are surely not impotent since we still have a strong military, but small troops of bandits are frustrating our every move worldwide, we can’t solve economic problems, natural catastrophe problems are on the increase threatening our personal security and economic viability, and the world will soon ditch our currency since we are so far in debt we can most likely never pay it off. Our instability shows in the aforementioned problems but really manifests itself in our increased suicide rates and divorce rates, debt, disregard of human life inside and outside the womb, educational lethargy, and lawlessness. It occurs to me that slide may not be the correct term for what is happening. Sliding assumes some small degree of frictional force opposing the direction of motion. We seem instead to be free-falling toward a morally corrupt, hating, powerless, unsustainable existence and loving the trip. There are brakes that can be applied but they are not in “how to”, Herculean efforts or renewed resolve. The only opposing force that could overcome this fall and the sudden stop at the bottom is found in God’s grace gained by agreeing with God we are rebelling against Him and receiving the payment Jesus made for those sins when He died on the cross.

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Without a trace of homophobia and not a rant in sight, Rick Perry simply conveyed his beliefs about an example of where this country has gone wrong. The result should have been anticipated. He is not ashamed to call himself a Christian but many others are and more still hate the name of the God they try to live for. If you speak of a God of love but never challenge anyone with what is right or wrong you are not truly showing love. Instead you are condemning people to a hell that exists because they live on in the ignorance and defiance of their wickedness. You are in fact clinging to an idol or your own making, a god quite contrary to the God of the Bible.  Are there other sins that secure a place for sinners in hell? Yes, all of them, but such ones as prostitution and murder are still generally recognized as wrong. Mr. Perry is simply pointing out a sin that has been forcibly deemed as acceptable in our society, even desirable. The “viral” response and hatred of such public discussion assures that such wickedness will persist and grow. Our nation is already paying the consequences of this denial of God’s truth along with many others. We are weakened by this and many other hatreds of God and His Law. Unless we repent as a nation and a large number turn to Christ as Savior, our days are numbered. I do not believe Mr. Perry is so ignorant as to not anticipate such a reaction, but he does know and hopes that the many who agree with him will stand up and say so before our nation is overrun with more wickedness than God will tolerate. The time is short.

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