Saturday, June 29, 2013

My toast at Elena's graduation party

Today, we are celebrating the successful completion of twelve years of schooling by Miss Elena Umland. She has had the privilege of enjoying most of her education tutored mostly by her mother. Her education fit her well, as she drew most of it's lessons from literature. She was born to reading parents, educated in a literary curriculum, yet still finds pleasure in books.

But she's not just a bookworm. She's an artist as well. She dances. She plays two instruments. She sings. She acts. She pursues the creative life, seeking to contribute to the world's beauty. Yet, there's this deep, deep well inside her that has only just been tapped. She was born a mature soul.

Before she was even a year old, Elena could give a "thousand yard stare." Sixteen years ago our friends at church would come up to us and try to get a baby fix, but Elena would not play their game. Tickles from strangers? "No thank you," her stare would say. If she wasn't into you, she was totally not into you. But if she liked you, she really liked you. She would lay on a particular friend's lap during church and play with her braids. It's as if she already knew who she was, what she like, and what she wanted.

It's never been chores.

Elena can be quiet, and somewhat distracted, but it's hard to focus when there is so much going on inside her head. Sometimes she sees colors when she hears music. She writes stories. And when she's not creating or juggling thoughts, she is a passionate friend.

Pretty soon, she'll take off for a new phase in her life, sleep-away college. We will all miss her presence, but will be able to keep up with her Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook accounts. I also expect that her ability to find an eclectic group of friends as this party attests too, will be a great strength for her at school.

Elena, we raise our cups here to celebrate a job well done. We also seek to bless your endeavour into the future. May you be blessed with increasing joy and beauty and love.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA is a don'a

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) revealed today their majority opinion on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996. In particular, section 3 of the act prevented homosexual spouses from receiving federal marriage benefits. The SCOTUS found this section violated the 5th Amendment's Due Process clause, which made the law unconstitutional. I support the effect, although I don't understand the legal methodology, see the court's opinion in PDF.

I support this ruling because I'm proudest of my country when it helps minorities. I'm also terribly ashamed of it when it hurts minorities, see yesterday's ruling on the Voting Rights Act.

I believe, and I used to believe differently about this, that wanting my gay neighbors, friends, and co-workers to be treated fairly under the rule of law, to not have any fewer benefits than I do for no crime on their part, aligns with Jesus' Golden Rule. Treating others the way I want to be treated. See Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31 and Galatians 5:14.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

book response: The Quest for the Creed by Longenecker (2012)

Sometimes, when I drive to work, that familiar route is driven by my subconscious auto-pilot and I'm not even aware of the scenery. It's as if I teleported from my house. The same thing happens to those of us who use the Lord's Prayer or the Apostles Creed regularly. These are gifts to aid us in worship, to get us from earth to heaven, but the familiarity with them actually hinders their utility. Father Dwight Longenecker invites us to look at the scenery in the Apostles Creed behind every phrase. The tour guide makes the difference on the tour, and he is a rambunctious, hilarious docent who brings the creed to life.

How can you not expect a fun ride from a guy who graduated from Bob Jones University then became an Anglican priest and is now a Roman Catholic priest. He knows how to make fun of himself and fellow believers and church while keeping all his love and devotion to God. I enjoyed his presentation of church history as it relates to one line of the creed, "...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit...", with a chapter titled Arians, Apollinarians and One Eyed Pirates. He manages to talk about Jesus as fully God and fully man without bogging down in the theological terms. He refers to the Arians and Apollinarians as pirates. "The truth, therefore, is always stereoscopic. Error, on the other hand, has single vision. That is why pirates always wear eye patches." p.56 He continues, "In other words, if I am seeing like a pirate, I may end up behaving like a pirate." p. 57 He draws out the impact on the world of the incarnation. "Christianity was revolutionary because it taught that in Jesus Christ there was a stunning new relationship between all things visible and invisible." p.59 He also shows the impact on the Christian's life. "Through the reconciliation of heaven and earth, the Christian constantly realizes that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined. It is as if the heavenly lady and the earthly gentleman were forever spinning like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers." p. 60 His words zoom out cosmically and zoom into his own heart in one sentence. "As it conceived a fusion of earth and heaven in the godman, so the same Spirit writhes and wrestles to reconcile earth and heaven in me." p.61

I have many underlines and notes in this book. Sometimes I disagree with him, but usually I am emotionally moved. Longenecker knows Jesus loves him. He wants his readers to know that profoundly as well.

I received this book for free in exchange for this review from Speakeasy.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

book response: Stalin's Curse by Gellately (2013)

When I was in high school in the late 1980's, I worried about Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.). The commies in Reagan's 2nd term were the bogeymen, and  our very real fear had to do with our proximity to a nuclear attack submarine base in Groton, Conn. I trace my fascination with Russia back to an elective class I took when I was a high school senior called Modern Russia. I keep coming back to this fascinating nation. It's history is full of horribleness. Stalin contribution to the horror is unmatched. His paranoid war against his own people, in pursuit of a utopian communist world, cost as many Russian lives as his war with Nazi Germany, 25 million each. It's this body count in World War 2 that has also attracted my attention.

As I've read more World War 2 history, and as Russian archives have been opened to Western historians, my understanding with the war's center of gravity has shifted east. The Nazi Reich's defeat came on the Russian front. The war in western Europe, although horrific in itself, was dwarfed by the scale on the eastern front. Both demagogues fought as amateurs, and crashed waves upon waves of soldiers against each other to their deaths. Fortunately for the world, Hitler ran out of soldiers before Stalin did. It's not that the United States did nothing, we supplied Stalin with tons of war matériel. But Stalin was convinced that the U.S. wanted the U.S.S.R. as exhausted as Germany by the end of the war. The author of Stalin's Curse, Robert Gellately, does not believe Stalin correct in such an assumption. It's hard to determine what Stalin believed to be true, other than the world needed to become Communist.

Gellately believes the documentation is sufficient to assert that Stalin always had his eye on the long game of world-wide Communism. Even as his troops were battling the Nazis to a bloody draw, he was gaining Roosevelt's confidence, circumventing Churchill's caution. Eventually, even Churchill negotiated a losing bargain on Eastern Europe with Stalin. It could be an especially Russian/Georgian ability to bargain hard and inefficiently to slow things down so much as to wear the other side down. For Stalin and his staff, this glacial negotiating pace, even to the side effect of greater loss of innocent lives, was their strong suit. They had no difficulty letting their own people starve to death while making their utopia. Likewise they had no difficulty letting Eastern Europeans also die while they slowed post-war negotiations on sphere's of influence. Utopia had to be grasped at all costs, contrary to all facts on the ground.

Stalin's curse is his devotion to his communist fantasy no matter what it cost. Twenty-five million of his own citizens was only part of the price in blood as the Soviet satellite states implemented his vision on their devastated countries. Gellately's book is another well-supported indictment of Communism.

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