Tuesday, April 29, 2008

cinema review: Frontier House, PBS, 2002

Dear PBS
I'm not sure if I should thank you or complain to you for bringing to the viewing public the real life experience of The Lord of the Flies. Frontier House seems to embody everything William Goudling conveyed in fiction. Well, maybe not everything, but we saw plenty of flies and a pig was sacrificed though not idolized. We also didn't witness physical violence, but Jesus considered anger as bad as murder (Matt 5:21, 22). "Lyin', cheatin', hurtin'" were all writ large, it was like an extended video for the Led Zeppelin song, Your time is gonna come.

You gave us the wealthy Clune family, who demonstrate how to obey the letter of the law and ignore its spirit at the same time. Is this how the rich get richer? He is a CEO of a family aerospace manufacturing company, which sells many military products. They felt justified in going off the reservation for trade with modern families and acquisition of non-period luxuries such as a box spring. He also has his company manufacture for him a period still so he can make some home brew, which he teaches his teenaged daughter and niece to run. He also lets the adolescents smoke his pipe, since they worked hard. It seems he finds the appeal to 18th century morals convenient for some poor choices and the needs of 21st century life conveniences for other. Queerly he carries his extra large family Bible in at the beginning and out at the end acknowledging that he didn't open it much. While he was carrying it in his wife and children were bringing in their contraband. Nevertheless, this family seemed to hold together well over the 5 months. Perhaps the common opposition to the producers added a dimension to their bonding that the other family did not have.

The other family. I will complain that showing us a family breaking apart was wrong. The Glenn family needed its church. It needed clergy to step in and help them work through their control and jealousy and insecurity issues. Of course the most religious person was also the most bitter and dysfunctional on the show. One of my most favorite songs is "Jesus is for losers" by Steve Taylor, lyrics, video. Taylor sings,
If I was hoping/Hoping respect would make a sturdy footstool/I am a fool
Bone-weary every climb/ Blindsided every time
Just as I am/ I am needy and dry/ Jesus is for losers/ The self-made need not apply
Just as I am/In a desert crawl/Lord, I'm so thirsty/Take me to the waterfall
I don't consider them hypocrites, but works in progress and I'm glad to call tehm brotehr and sister. Karen and Mark embraced the rules but couldn't embrace each other. Mark was her second husband. After the show he was her second ex-husband. Were there no clergy visiting the pioneers in Montana in 1873. Yes divorce was commonplace then but so was disease and the show provided a doctor to assess Karen's tendinitis. She paid for that doctor but the wealthy Clune family didn't have to pay for their doctor visit to assess his dehydration, although that physician also saw the other families for free, but did Gordon Clune's agitation bring him in? Over and over again their attempts at the Golden Rule fell short or expired. They couldn't maintain life under that Rule. It's demise came at their show's festival at the end when they offered their pig for a community party, despite the pleas of their eight year old son Logan who had raised the pig for a few months. I'm not sure why one of the many lambs available were not offered by the third family, who had no children.

The third family had no bizarre quirks and hence didn't make good copy for the show in contrast to the Clunes and Glenns. Nate Brooks who built a cabin with his father in time for his wedding day grew up on a self-sufficient farm and had been an Outward Bound instructor. He took very easily to Frontier life. His wife, Kristen, had more culture shock but she was finally back in the arms of her lover after several months apart. Incidentally, their religion, if they had any, did not make an appearance.

I think, dear PBS Producers, you learned something from this experience as you included someone from the clergy in your subsequent show, Colonial House. The dysfunction of the participants was not as great an issue on that show, but was there. I found I enjoyed that show more than Frontier House. Shortly I will see Ranch House. I don't see any clergy in that lineup so my expectations are lower, but at least the population is greater. Perhaps you should subtitle these shows "Lord of the Flies 1, 2, and 3."

John Umland

In the rain...


No puddle would alter my stride now that my shoes were off. Between puddles cherry blossom petals on the ground would collect on my bare soles as I ran then wash off in a puddle. The cycle repeated over and over again as I enjoyed 3 and a half miles of barefoot running in the rain. It was a more blissful contrast than normal as I had kept my feet shod for a 3 mile hill interval workout. The particular hill we train on is a rough macadam, something my feet are not conditioned enough for yet. Getting to the hill required me to run around puddles. Running in wet shoes is very disagreeable to me.

Previously, I ran the last mile back to my office with liberated feet. But this week I need to increase my sole conditioning. I needed a few more miles. The rain had held off for the hill workout but as I deposited my shoes in a dry spot, the next wave of showers commenced. If I weren't running, 50 degree Fahrenheit would be uncomfortable on those exposed toes. The mild numbing enabled me to not notice some of the debris that might have bothered me last week. The highlight was finding puddles to plunge my feet into, washing them off and making the world come more alive to me through all my senses.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Passionate Preggers Song of Songs 7:7-13

I have jumped ahead to chapter 7 of the Song of Songs and am still using the NET for the English translation. I have included their subsection headings in bold type.

See the series so far. In the previous blog post in this series I concluded that Beloved is now pregnant, but the passion hasn't ebbed between the two.

The Lover to His Beloved:

7:7 Your stature is like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like clusters of grapes.
7:8 I want to climb the palm tree,
and take hold of its fruit stalks.
May your breasts be like the clusters of grapes,
and may the fragrance of your breath be like apricots!
7:9 May your mouth be like the best wine,
flowing smoothly for my beloved,
gliding gently over our lips as we sleep together.

The background information provided in the NET notes are extremely helpful for those of us far removed from Ancient Near East culture. For example, even Homer compared a beautiful woman to a palm tree. In my interpretive slant, that of assuming she is pregnant, he has sensitively affirmed her beauty as her figure changes. Despite the mound of wheat growing on her belly, (7:2), he sees the slim beauty he married. The NET suggests in their notes that while grapes would be the normal translation choice for the end of v.7, dates would make more sense with the extended palm metaphor. Date palms were an essential part of their agriculture.

Nevertheless, those of us who don't eat dates can appreciate the sweet refreshment of grapes. He affirms her figure in verse 7 by description and by her effect on him in verse 8. When he sees her he wants to grab her in a way permitted and appreciated in the sexual communication of their marriage. His designs don't make her uncomfortable but aroused, as her response in verses 11-13 show. The date palm metaphor extends to the date palm farmer who climbs the trees for their fruit as well as hastening pollination, as there are male and female trees.

Over and over again I am impressed with the depth of their poetic metaphors. However, I consider verse 9 a home run. The RSV lets the poetry speak and translates it this way, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. Literally, "kisses" should be mouth or palate, but those don't compare to wine. But kisses intoxicate. The smoothness of a drink corresponds to the disguise of the alcohol content. Grape juice goes down smooth because no alcohol is decontaminating the throat concurrently. Dessert wines, on the other hand, have high alcohol content and, therefore, produce a burning sensation down the throat and a warmth in the belly. A smooth wine is more dangerous. Only a hint of the alcohol results in frequent refills of the glass and unexpected drunkenness. Her kisses seduce him so easily. He is putty in her hands. Her kisses melt his heart. In my opinion, the suggestion of alcohol makes sense of the optional translation of "sleep" in the NET (gliding gently over our lips as we sleep) instead of "teeth," in other translations such as the RSV.

Beloved responds with a modified refrain from earlier in the poem.

7:10 I am my beloved’s, and he desires me!

This is the refrain of security. It appears in varied forms a couple times in the poem. In 2:16 she owns him and in 6:3 they belong to each other. Here, she focuses on her lover. She belongs to him and is blessed with his affections. She is most vulnerable in her pregnancy. He is still marrying other maidens yet comes back to her. The progression of claims shows her increasing trust in him. First, he is her prize. Then she sees herself as his prize. Now she is at her most vulnerable with him. Bodies change with time as the years pass in a marriage, but this is more than compensated by the emotional entangling, the process of oneness, that gets stronger and stronger. Even with the ease of divorce in our culture, the security that the "piece of paper," the marriage certificate, brings makes the damage of insecurity so less fatal than co-habitating. (See excursus* below.)

She continues
7:11 Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside;
let us spend the night in the villages.
7:12 Let us rise early to go to the vineyards,
to see if the vines have budded,
to see if their blossoms have opened,
if the pomegranates are in bloom –
there I will give you my love.
7:13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance;
over our door is every delicacy,
both new and old, which I have stored up for you, my lover.

She wants to return to their familiar locations with the new options that experience generates. They enjoy returning to nature. She wants him to leave Jerusalem and the official duties he must tend to. She wants him to come back to her roots, and ultimately his own. His father David tended sheep in good and bad conditions and fought off bears and lions. Solomon's experience was one of ease in a palace. He almost literally was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He knew his plants though. She knew he would unwind with her out in the country. She also enticed him with the promise of her love. Mandrakes were accepted as the default aphrodisiac in the ancient near East. The best NET note concerns the practice of drying fruit over the doorway. As the fruit dried its sweetness intensified. She has been preparing something for him. Her creativity has been directed to her Lover and only him.

The intensity of their passion is beyond anything Shakespeare can convey or imagine. But their relationship doesn't jump from mountain top to mountain top. Chapter 5 showed a dark valley. Intense pain goes hand in hand with intense love. In fact, God loved the world so intensely that he sent his only Son, to die a tragic, unjust death, so that anyone who would believe in Jesus would not die but have life abundant and eternal, see the Apostle John's Gospel chapter 3, verse 16. Our God models that intensity of love. Marriage can show it also. 

Co-habitating is not marriage preparation but rather divorce preparation. This interview in NRO should make any unmarried adult reconsider their unbiblical options. Two important paragraphs follow, thanks for the link to Joe Carter. Notice how vulnerability and emotional intimacy are diminished outside of marriage.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s so bad about living together? 

Michael McManus: Couples who live together are gambling and losing in 85 percent of the cases. Many believe the myth that they are in a “trial marriage.” Actually it is more like a “trial divorce,” in which more than eight out of ten couples will break up either before the wedding or afterwards in divorce. First, about 45 percent of those who begin cohabiting, do not marry. Those who undergo “premarital divorce” often discover it is as painful as the real thing. Another 5-10 percent continue living together and do not marry. These two trends are the major reason the marriage rate has plunged 50 percent since 1970. Couples who cohabit are likely to find that it is a paultry substitute for the real thing, marriage.

Of the 45 percent or so who do marry after living together, they are 50 percent more likely to divorce than those who remained separate before the wedding. So instead of 22 of the 45 couples divorcing (the 50 percent divorce rate) about 33 will divorce. That leaves just 12 couples who have begun their relationship with cohabitation who end up with a marriage lasting 10 years. 
Isn’t it practical sometimes? 

McManus: No, never. A Penn State study reports that even a month’s cohabitation decreases the quality of the couple’s relationship. Cameras were placed in living rooms, which recorded that couples who began their relationship living together were more negative when they discussed an issue, more demeaning, more flippant, more likely to deride the other person. Couples who had never cohabited, by contrast, have much more respect for one another, and settled issues more amicably. Thus, negative patterns of behavior learned in cohabitation came into the marriages and destroyed a higher percentage of them.
Lopez: You’re against cohabitation. What about premarital sex? Is that inviting problems too?

McManus:Yes, even though most people see nothing wrong with premarital sex, research shows they are wrong. Those couples who married in the 1960s who were virgins were much less likely to divorce than the sexually active — only 30 percent of virgins divorced, while 50 percent of the sexually active divorced. The same pattern can be seen of those who married in the early 1980s. By 1988, 14 percent of virgins had divorced, but 24 percent of the sexually active. That’s 71 percent higher. 

Thursday, April 24, 2008

book report part 2: Hitler, A Study in Tyranny

I found this analysis of Hitler's rise to power timeless, from Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Abridged Edition, Alan Bullock, Harper Perennial, 1991, originally written in 1962.

Hitler was made chancellor with some self-serving negotiations between the various parties, including the Catholic Centre and the Conservative Right, who both opposed the Communists. They overlooked Hitler's gross faults hoping to maximize the things they saw positively.

Blinded by interest and prejudice, the Right forsook the role of a true conservatism, abandoned its own traditions and made the gross mistake of supposing that in Hitler they had found a man who would enable them to achieve their ends. A large section of the German middle class, powerfully attracted by Hitler’s nationalism, and many of the German Officer Corps followed their lead. (p.139)

It's the danger of all political parties whose need for power becomes more important than the original reason they sought power.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

book report: Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, Bullock

I am finally ready to continue my genocide and tyrant reading by touching the 3rd rail of Nazi Germany and Hitler. At the library I picked up the abridged version of this classic, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Abridged Edition, Alan Bullock, Harper Perennial, 1991, originally written in 1962.

This particular quote stood out to me in light of the all the press Ben Stein's documentary, Expelled is generating. Not only does Stein embarrass the Darwinian thought police of academia, but he also draws a connection between Darwinism and Hitler's "final solution". I don't know if anyone bloviating over this accusation has actually read Hitler's propaganda piece, My Struggle, or Mein Kampf. I haven't either. but this biography quotes from it not knowing that a documentary in 2008 would make such accusations. So consider this quote in the context of Hitler's anti-Semitism.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “The idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other living things perish through struggle. … In this struggle, the stronger, the more able, win, while the less able, the weak, lose. Struggle is the father of all things. … It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle…. If you do not fight for life, then life will never be won.” (pp.11-12)
He sounds Darwinian to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Evil are shoes

No, not evil, but not necessary all the time either. For example, I run barefoot, but I work in a lab with icky stuff that wouldn't be good if spilled on my feet. Here is a great article on the non-necessity of shoes, called You Walk Wrong in New York Magazine. One great comment pointed to Soft Star Shoes for those times when society requires shodding. At the article comments a barefoot runner I know from a Yahoo group comments as well as a few lifetime barefooters and some really offended people. It's great fun to be barefoot. Your feet will acclimate. Last week I resumed running barefoot. I only went out for a mile and a half each time. This week I'm out for 2 miles at a time. I'm getting little nicks and blisters as I acclimate again. Life is never pain free anyway, but these little sacrifices now pay bigger dividends later on. Enjoy God's equipment!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cinema review: Tess (1980)

What do you get if you mix great cinematography with fine acting and wonderful direction combined with a depressing story? Roman Polanski's Tess, a great summary here. The young Tess gets seduced/raped/exploited by a rich guy whom she had hoped would help her family as a kinsman. She flees, pregnant. The baby dies. The local vicar won't give the baby a Christian burial. He had previously informed her father that he comes from an ancient family line that were originally pagans. She baptizes her son and buries him with proper prayers then flees her village. She finds work as a milkmaid and falls in love with another vicar's prodigal son, Angel. She doesn't reveal her sordid past until after the wedding when he had revealed his past affair. He rejects her and flees to Brazil. She ends up back with the rapist as a means of support for her and her family. Angel returns and confesses he's wrong. So she kills her oppressor and together she and Angel flee to the North. Eventually they are caught at Stonehenge, or something similar, a pagan shrine, where she acquires peace to face justice. She is led off to a trial and the gallows.

That is so lame. Perhaps much more is left out from the novel, Tess of the D'Urvervilles. I did enjoy Hardy's Return of the Native, which I read twice. As a Christian reader a couple themes jump out to me. Hardy lays blame at the feet of the church. It failed to help the needy and blamed the victim. However, I think Hardy found no hope at all in any religion. The pagan past and conclusion offer nothing either. A wiki article about him agree with my thoughts on his religious leanings. The article says the problem of evil was too great a one for him to reconcile with the God of Christianity. It selects one quote from Tess, "The inherent will to enjoy and the circumstantial will against enjoyment." 

However, Tess does make poor moral choices. Rape is not her fault, but murder and lies will not improve anything either.

The movie won 3 Oscars, but the story stinks and is almost 3 hours of pain. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

book report: The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston

I encountered this history on display in a local library among other books related to China in response to the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing, also known in 1900 as Peking. Peasants across China were being displaced by modern technology brought in by the Europeans and Japan. Railroads were making camel trains obsolete and the telegraph prevented secrets being kept in the countryside. As resentment built a longing for the past rose up and found expression in the practice of martial arts, which looked like boxing to the Europeans, who named the practitioners "Boxers." The Boxers were work themselves into a frenzy and claim possession by local spirits. Their demonstrations attracted large crowds of Chinese as well as their xenophobic message. The foreigners were to be expelled. The spirits had showed their displeasure by bringing a drought which brought shortages to the rice crop. The Boxers reasoned and proclaimed that once the foreigners were expelled, the spirits would approve and send the rain averting famine and restoring work to the displaced. The white missionaries deep in the country saw trouble coming and warned their political ambassadors in Peking, who ignored them.

The Chinese who had converted to Christianity had also irritated the spirits and they needed to be purged or reconverted. Converts suffered persecution to the point of death. But that wasn't enough. Converts were killed, then two British missionaries were murdered. England's ambassador appealed to the Chinese court for justice and the suppression of the fanatics, but the court found popular support by letting the Boxers do as they would. Killing Christians wasn't enough. Railroad lines and stations were torn up and burned. Telegraph lines were cut. Boxers entered the the capital city itself and incited the brazen murders of a Japanese and a German official in the street. The British army was called to come to the rescue but the Chinese army opposed them. Then the city rose up against the quarter of the city that held all the ambassadorial legations. The quarter survived for 2 months with only 400 troops. The Catholic cathedral and school and convent property, Pei T'ang, survived with fewer troops and more at risk Chinese converts.

After 2 months a much larger international force made its way from the coast into Beijing and invested the city with sporadic resistance. The cathedral and legations survived on horse meat and moldy rice while putting out fires set by Boxers and trying to cut off mines of sappers and avoiding the thousands of bullets daily fired into the compounds. The army as well as the Boxers were ill trained, poorly coordinated, and possibly sabotaged by cooler heads who hid many field artillery pieces in their crates in warehouses. The Boxers believed their possession rituals made them impervious to bullets. As more of them died from European lead, the victims were blamed for not having enough faith or practice. I find it very interesting that other cultures confronting and resisting modern weaponry have made similar claims including rebels in the recent Liberian civil war as well as Plains Indians who believed the Ghost Dance would likewise protect them. Unfortunately, it never proved true.

After the European and Japanese troops seized the city as well as the royal court complex, the Forbidden City which the court had fled, order was restored. The army melted away. Eventually the court claimed the inability to control the rebellion and agreed to reparations as well as executions of Boxers.

Diana Preston does an excellent job with letters and diaries and oral histories as well as official histories to describe this tragedy in an engaging manner. She finds fault with most of the whites but mostly has kind words for the Americans who didn't have expansionist designs on China, although they were engaging in that very sin in the Philippines. I highly recommend this historical treatment.

barefoot running 2008

Yesterday I went out for my first barefoot run of 2008. I kept it short, just a mile, so I could break my feet in gently. I wore my Nike Free's for a hill interval workout today, but took them off for the last mile of the run back. Last week was also the first week of 2008 that I bicycle commuted every day. This week is looking good as well for cycling.

Friday, April 11, 2008

death penalty?

C. Michael Patton, whose blog I enjoy regularly, makes a simplistic apology for Christian support of the death penalty. The argument follows the path of here are the Bible verses that advocate it and here are the verses that tell us we need to obey our government. Fortunately, we are blessed with a government that is supposedly of the people and by the people and for the people. We can seek to change its laws, which we as Christians are trying to do regarding abortion. It is the issue of abortion that made me switch from being a death penalty advocate to an opponent. I believe abortion is murder. It's the murder of the most innocent and the most helpless. However, I do not believe justice would be served by demanding the death penalty for those who abort their babies. Nor do I want that fear of legal consequences from legal abortions to prevent people from supporting its restriction.

Additionally, the death penalty has been used as a racist weapon. Hence I oppose the death penalty for all in the hope that all will come to repentance before the Lord ends their lives.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The flu...

has wiped me out, either with me having it or taking care of the kids with it. I sat on the couch for the entire weekend and read 2 books. Only one is worth a book report, sometime this week I hope.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Obama and the UCC vision of theocracy

John Mark Reynolds asks

In short, for Senator Obama’s chosen church the theological is the political. I can['t jpu], in reading about it, find any reason to separate the two. With Mormonism, traditional Christianity, or with other monotheistic and supernatural faiths (such as mainstream Islam or religious Judaism), there is a realm that is “not of this world” central to the theology. Those required metaphysical beliefs are extremely minimal in Obama’s chosen religious home.

The kingdom of God is not just coming for the UCC, they long to bring it in. Weirdly in a media where the slightest whiff of “theocracy” on the right brings rumbles of worry, this desire to bring Christ’s kingdom to the United States using an ugly blend of socialism and sixties morality causes hardly a worry. Perhaps it is because secularists recognize in it a functionally secular vision tricked out with religious language.

The bottom line is that the UCC has so many positions on matters of government that Senator Obama would need far more than one speech to cover them all. Yet as an adult convert to this church, he owes an explanation of how far he is willing to go to bring Christ’s justice to the city of man using the power of the government. Is Senator Obama a Christian Democrat on the European model? There would be nothing odd about this from a UCC point of view.