A Christmas Carol

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From different perspectives.

When the Right is Right

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Nicholas Kristof has written some good words. Thus it was in times past and thus it shall be again it seems. Good stuff.

Remind me

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On which day of Christmas came the ten juncos on a cedar branch?

It’s that day today apparently.


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Something to wait for.

Something to aspire for.

Thoughts on prayer

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From Hannah More:

Prayer is the application of want to Him who only can relieve it, the voice of sin to Him who alone can pardon it. It is the urgency of poverty, the prostration of humility, the fervency of penitence, the confidence of trust. I It is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the felling of it; not figures of speech, but compunction of soul. It is the “Lord, save us, we perish”; of drowning Peter; the cry of faith to the ear of mercy.

Adoration is the noblest employment of created beings; confession, the natural language of guilty creatures; gratitude, the spontaneous expression of pardoned sinners. Prayer is desire; it is not a mere conception of the mind, nor a mere effort of the intellect, nor an act of the memory; but an elevation of the soul towards its maker; a pressing sense of our own ignorance and infirmity; a consciousness of the perfection of God, of His readiness to hear, of His power to help, of His willingness to save. It is not an emotion reduced in the sense, nor an effect wrought by the imagination; but a determination of the will, an effusion of the heart.

Prayer is the guide to self-knowledge, by prompting us to look after our sins in order to pray against them; a motive to vigilance, by teaching us to guard against those sins which, through self-examination, we have been enabled to detect.

Prayer is an act both of the understanding and of the heart. The understanding must apply itself to the knowledge of the Divine perfections, or the heart will not be led to the adorations of them. It would not be a reasonable service, if the mind was excluded. It must be rational worship, or the human worshipper would not bring to the service the distinguishing faculty of his nature, which is reason. It must be spiritual worship, or it would lack the distinctive quality to make it accetable to him who is a Spirit, and who has declared that he will be worshippped “in spirit and in truth.” Prayer is right in itself as the most powerful means of resisting sin and advancing in holiness. It is above all right, as everything is which has the authority of Scripture, the commmand of God, and the example of Christ.

It is a hackneyed objection to the use of prayer, that is is offending to the omnscience of God to suppose he requires information of our wants. But no objection can be more futile. We do not pray to inform God of our wants, but to express our sense of the wants which he already knows. As he has not so much made his promises to our necessities as to our requests, it is reaonsble that our requests should be made before we can hope that our necessities will be relieved. God does not promise to those who want, that they shall “have,” but to those who “ask”; nor to those who need, that they shall “find,’ but to those who “seek.” So far, therefore, from his previous knowledge of our wants being a ground of objection to prayer, it is in fact, the true ground itself for our application. Were he not knowledge itself, our information would be of as little use as our application would be were he not goodness itself.

We cannot atttain a just notion of prayer while we remain ignorant of our own nature, of the nature of God as revealed in Scripture, of our relation to him, and dependence on him. If, therefore, we do not live in the daily study of the Holy Scriptures, we shall want the highest motives to this duty and the best helps for performing it; if we do, the cogency of these motives, and the inestimable value of these helps, will render argument unnecessary, and exhortations superfluous.

One cause, therefore, of the dullness of so many Christians in prayer, is their slight acquaintance with the sacred volume. They hear it periodically, they read it occasionally, they are contented to know it historically, to consider it superficially; but they do not endavor to get their minds imbued with its spirit. If they store their memory with its facts, they do not impress their hearts with its truths. They do not regard it as the nutriment on which their spiritual life and growth depend. They do not pray over it; they do not consider all its doctrines as of practial application; they do not cultivate that spiritual discernment which alone can enable them judiciously to appropriate its promises and its denunciations to their own actual case. They do not apply it as an unerring line to ascertain their own rectitude or obliquity.

In our retirements we too often fritter away our precious moments–moments rescued from the world–in trivial, sometimes, it is to be feared, in corrupt thoughts. But if we must give the reins to our imagination, let us send this excursive faculty to range among great and noble objects. Let it stretch forward, under the sanction of faith and the anticipation of prophecy, to the acomplishment of those glorious promises and tremndous threatenings which will soon be realized in the eternal world. These are topics which, under the safe and sober guidance of Scripture, will fix its largest speculations and sustain its loftiest flights. The same Scripture, while it expands and elevates the mind, will keep it subject to the domnation of truth; while, at the same time it will teach it that its boldest excursion must fall infinitely short of the astonishing realitiies of a future state.

Winter is come

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Drifts of snow have lined the street and have melted away. The air has been chilled, exposing breath, hiding skin. We have gone from shorts and t shirts, wasps and moths to eagles and juncos, coats and boots. Ice has formed thick on roofs and cars. Thick clothes were cleaned and now need cleaning once more. Intricate flakes haved drifted languidly to earth, gathering together to hide the colors of the earth, gathering all the colors of the spectrum together to fill the land with white beauty.

Summer has passed and with it the lazy hot afternoons. Fall came and the trees changed colors while the animals gathered food. Spring awaits, new life even now buries itself in ground or hollow to re-emerge once the sun decides to stick around just a little longer. Orion has passed by bright overhead, the master of the sky, his slow journey across the heavens portending the season and giving delight to those who are lost in body or soul. The Great Bear now sits above, holding court over the season’s change.

All this in the waning light of fall. All this has been an anticipation of descent. Each day has less and less, each night more and more. The dark rules the light, but the light is not overcome.

For the journey now renews, declining vigor is restored. Winter has come, it has come in this moment, in the wee hours of the longest night.

The solstice is come, where the earth is closest to the sun, yet the sun is least seen. Until right now. Right now the sun shines to the south, as far south as it will ever shine, it has reached its limit and so now shall rise north.

We celebrate the journey of the sun in this moment which is part of the song of the seasons, the vital rhythm of our souls that even in this technological bubble still resonates if we pause and let our spirits speak.

All of humanity has seen this moment as a cause for such a pause. We wait, we watch, we anticipate with concern and hope with faith that God will again restore the earth to light, and restore our souls to light, and restore our lives to the fullness of day.

The season of cold has come. Winter has arrived at this very minute. It is 4:42 am. The dawn is distant and the sun is distant, the day is short and the night is long. Give glory to God for all things are renewed and are being renewed. Give thanks to the great Giving God, and to the Spirit who arranges the song of creation. May we dance today in the divine rhythms and sing along with the voices of the cosmos. The sun has gone and the sun comes again. Maranantha.

Have a joyous solstice.

Happy, uh… Merry, no… Joyous Solstice?

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There’s a bit of an uproar in society today about what to wish others during this, um, festive season. Merry Christmas is good for about 90% of people I suppose, Happy Hanukkah suffices for a good number of others, especially in urban areas. I refuse to consider Happy Kwanza until I can determine whether or not anyone besides the media celebrates this 1960s holiday. I think Muslims must have some holiday around this time so as not to feel left out. And then there is the joyous solstice. We all are slaves to the calendar so the shortest day of the year and the recovery of the sun for yet another half year seems a worthy celebration no matter one’s sensibilities.

I’m a little bemused by it all really. Especially the hardline Christian defense of Christmas. I understand it, and might somewhat support it, more because Christmas is indeed around, has a theme and it’s silly to try and deny what it is. Christmas is a federal holiday. If it shouldn’t be then folks need to go change that at the highest levels, not throw out Christmas carols from kindergarten productions. Activist cowardice is what it is.

But still. Christmas is a commercial holiday. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Christmas is a commercial holiday. The reason Christmas is big today has nothing to do with the Christ child and much to do with Fisher Price and the industrial revolution. We are very cautious about our inherent and overwhelming greed so we tack on religious sentiment so as to encourage some part of our divine likeness to come out. Sometimes we get so good at this it may even sway the initial source back towards something good. But it doesn’t change the fact. Christmas is a commercial holiday, the king of Hallmark holidays.

Why do I say this, and seem to suggest a bit of humbug during this festive week? One of the peculiarities of the current outrage is the fact that the most conservative Christians of the 19th century refused to celebrate Christmas at all, calling it a pagan holiday. I went to Wheaton College, where the founding President was passionately against several things in the 1860s. He was an ardent abolitionist, he was an ardent anti-mason, and he was against Christmas.

In fact he refused to close down the school for the holiday until some professors encouraged the need for a “winter” break. Some students celebrated it, many didn’t. It was a mark of a conservative faith not to celebrate the winter solstice even with redefined meaning.

That being the case, and this being now not then, I like Christmas. I also have fond feelings for halloween. I dislike the various religions of theist or atheist types which reject the celebration of a holiday. Our Jewish sources embraced fasting and feasting to celebrate great or terrible events. It’s good for the soul to let the rhythms of time interact with our worship and to give ourselves points in which days are set aside for a memorial. If it’s against our core values, change the holiday to reflect something we can celebrate and turn it towards good. That’s the Christian path, embrace everything within the framework of Christ, and only reject something which cannot at its core be restored to the light. All things, even holidays, are able to taste of the fruits of salvation, methinks.

So, I like Christmas, what it stands for in the hearts of those who are eager for good, and for the chance to celebrate together as a family and community. It just makes me laugh when folks take it all so serious and get in an uproar when the foundations of this holiday expose themselves.

The Christ Mass is a holy day worth our consideration and should prompt us to worship the Christ. Christmas is a commercial holiday, built up by toy stores and advertising which creates a whole season out of celebrating wanton materialism, which is the true American religion. I think Joyous Solstice is a good way of acknowledging this latter holy day.

Both celebrations are fine, I think. Just so long as we don’t take it so seriously and make a season of peace, whatever the bond, into yet another cause for conflict.

So, Merry Christmas to you all, and Joyous Solstice to everyone.

The Problem of Prayer

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Here we are, then, we Christians, looked upon as believers, as obedient servants and as such faced with a new problem: that of prayer. Is it really a new problem? beyond faith and obedience? So it would seem. Calvin says that prayer deals with our life and our relation to the exigencies of this world. The question is as follows: I, who am a Christian, can I really live according to the word of the gospel and of the law, according to my faith and in obedience? Shall I be able to live thus in the midst of the necessities of my existence? –Yes, according to the gospel it is possible in the holiness of obedience, to live that which is given us to live, that which we must live. In order to do this, we must listen to what is told us about prayer and ask God himself to come to our aid, to instruct us, to give us the possibility of walking in this path. Such a quest must be made in order that we may live. Prayer is this quest.

On the other hand, there is our inward life, that of weak and wily human beings. On the other hand, there is our outward life in this world, with all its enigmas and difficulties. There is also the judgment of God, who encounters us and says to us at every moment, “This is not enough.” I may even reach the point of asking myself, “Underneath it all, am I a Christian? My faith being small and my obedience slight, of what meaning are these words: ‘I believe, I obey’?” Deep is the abyss. The core of our being is put to question at every moment we believe and obey as well as we can. In this situation (which is the same for every Christian ) prayer means going toward God, asking him to give us what we lack–strength, courage, serenity, prudence–asking him to teach us how to obey the law and accomplish the commandments, and then that God may instruct us how to continue in believing and believing yet more, and that he may renew our faith.

Prayer means that we address ourselves to God, who has already spoken to us in the gospel and in the law. We find ourselves face to face with him when we are tormented by the imperfection of our obedience and the discontinuity of our faith. Because of God we are in distress. God alone is able to heal us of it. In order to ask him to do so, we pray… Thus for the Reformers everything was reduced to this question: How is it possible for me to have an encounter with God? I have heard his word, I wish sincerely to listen to it, and yet here I am in my insufficiency. The Reformers were not unaware of other difficulties, but they knew that such hindrances are all implicit in the following reality: I stand before God with my desires, my thoughts, my misery; I must live with him, for to live means nothing other than to live with God. Here I am, caught between the exigencies of life, both small and great, and the necessity of prayer. The Reformers tell us the first thing is to pray.

–Karl Barth

The vapors

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So yesterday my mom’s computer decided not to start up. Media failure, exiting broadcom and the like. It was the no operating system found comment which caused a fair bit of consternation. She’s writing a lot, for herself, for others, all on that computer.

I thought I fixed this a while back but that was merely a bandage fix. It was time for something more substantial. So, my Friday night in the mountains was spent with a sickly laptop on one side and my computer on the other, as my experience has found google to be a lot better tech support than the real tech support. Type in the error and generally a good response will turn up.

I spent a while doing the various scans, updating all the software, doing a ritual dance under the light of the stars, and whatever else I could think of. Through my various trials and steps I found I should update the BIOS at the heart of the computer. Now, this means delving into the depths of Dell computer support to find the right update, then scratching one’s head when the update they assured me is right for the computer starts and yells “not compatible with this system!”

Oh, bother.

I go back to google and ask it why it would say that. A friendly post of a year ago details a conversation one man had with the Dell support. He had a long unhelpful conversation online, and a helpful phone call. Who you talk to matters. He listed both conversations, which described my problem rather exactly. I had to first update to a file which was a year old before I could update to the new one.


So I did, from A04 made by phoenix technologies to A22 made by Dell, and now to the brand new A32 flashBIOS.

Did a scan disk which took an hour, to check the hard drive. It was fine. Two months ago that had been the problem, for which Dell support told me we needed a new hard drive.


Didn’t need that. Just needed to fix some errors. This time I needed to update the core software. Did the checking, updated the files, started it up and all was well. The screen was even brighter and it seemed to run twice as fast. There had been a long lag which I variously attributed to viruses, spyware, or particularly focused little demons.

All was well. So I went to bed. The computer ran great, I was so proud. Showed it to my mother this morning, it ran great. We launched fireworks and invited the neighborhood over for a feast.


Well, around noon I went to look at it again. This time it was off, with an orange battery light shining, mocking my every attempt to turn it on. Ah, I said, I’ll remove the battery. The orange light stayed on. An odd thing as this was the battery light. No worries. I unplugged it and had it run only on battery. No change. The orange light stared at my like the eye of Sauron from the front of the computer. A google search told me nothing, except that the BIOS a32 was prone to running hot.


Nothing else, so I went to Dell tech support. Didn’t call though. I used online live chat. Which is neat because while I’m waiting I can still listen to Mambo Italiano by Dean Martin and otherwise entertain myself online. Kevin comes on, asks me the basic questions making sure I’m not really dull, and we get to the tech supporting. Take out the battery. Done, the orange light is still on. Are you sure you took out the battery? Yes. The one on the side of the computer? Yes. The orange light shouldn’t be on if the battery is out. Yes, that means I have a problem.

Well, we proceeded to take out the battery, the hard drive, the memory, the modem, the dvd player, hold the power button down, check the power cord, and have a lot of going back and forth about the fact that only the orange light was showing. Nothing changed. I was feeling silly and got into the responses. Saying “excellent idea” and the like, feeling like I was flirting with the tech guy, which because Dell has Marie Oden listed was to him something natural and to me something silly… since I am not Marie Oden at all. Well, nothing worked and he said it was the motherboard.

The motherboard.

I learned a long time ago when I had a Toshiba laptop with 32mb of memory and a 350 mHz processor that when a tech person says it’s the motherboard it may be. Or it may not be. It might be the power source, and a simple fix. Tech people cannot legally say they haven’t a clue what’s wrong and we should go ask someone who really knows. Falling back to the motherboard is the computer equivalent of blaming “the vapors”. When a computer person mentions the motherboard it’s best to end the conversation, because you’ve come to the end. I thanked Kevin for his time, and forgot to turn off the chat. Meanwhile he kept saying you are welcome, and then bye. I realized I had to shut the screen.

So I was left with the computer suffering from the vapors, feeling bad because my recent update seemed to be a cause of its consternation. I figured it wasn’t the motherboard but something else in the innards.

Being the solution for and cause of a set of problems is not a source for self-congratulations.

I thought I would let it lie a bit, and do something more, well, interesting. First, I thought I would have a chat with it. I also put the battery back in and tried once more. Nothing.


I pulled the battery out, jiggled the battery, and put it back in. Switched the power. A green light flashed, looking for all the world like a car when it decides whether or not to turn over. The computer came on, works great and even the power cord seems to work fine.

Jiggle it. The first thing a person should do, especially when they or their object of concern is suffering from the vapors.

God Hates Shrimp

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God Hates Shrimp. Well, at least he hates for people to eat shrimp. Personally, I’d say that means God likes shrimp just doesn’t think they should be part of a regular diet.

Well, didn’t. While I’m certain this is convincing for the kosher among us, I suspect most folks could come back with the old story in Acts, where Peter was given a dream. Then, those behind this campaign would argue didn’t that mean that God called all things he made good, and used this dream to call Peter to accept gentiles?

Well, yes, but later on after this the same folks who went to the gentiles and cast off the dietary laws still had harsh words to say about some types of behavior which meant that God allows some things but not everything, and what we have in our hearts isn’t necessarily because of what God put there… the whole point of the message to begin with.

Ethics are a complicated business it seems.