Happy Reformation Day

On Halloween, 1517, Martin Luther changed the world.

Actually, that’s a pretty silly sentence. World-changing powers do not rely upon one person or one event (aside from the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ). What Luther did on October 31, 1517, was one step in the reformation of the Christian Church in western Europe, a reformation that would have enormous consequences in the Americas, in Africa, and in many parts of Asia and of the Pacific Ocean lands. His action that day was a response to a long-standing misunderstanding in European Christianity about God’s forgiveness. To explain that misunderstanding–involving repentance, penance, purgatory, and indulgences–would stretch this post far beyond one thousand words.

But Luther wanted to talk about forgiveness. As a university professor and an Augustinian monk, Luther wanted to bring about a debate among the scholars of the Church. He wrote ninety-five sentences (usually called “theses”) and posted them on the chapel door of the University of Wittenberg, where Luther taught theology. The ensuing discussion would bring about Luther’s excommunication (kicking him out of the Roman Catholic Church–in the opinion of the Roman Catholics, denying that Luther was a Christian) and his condemnation as a heretic and an outlaw. Those who agreed with Luther–labeled “Lutherans,” although Luther preferred the label “evangelical”–had sufficient strength in numbers and in political power, to survive these accusations of heresy. They presented a description and defense of their beliefs to the Emperor, Charles V, in 1530. Over the next century they survived two major wars which ended in treaties which allowed them to remain in the Empire (although, once again, the details of these wars and these treaties would stretch this post to unwieldly length).

Why did Luther choose to post his ninety-five sentences on Halloween? All Hallows Eve came just before All Saints’ Day, a day when many people would visit the chapel in Wittenberg to view the relics collected by the Elector, Frederick of Saxony. Viewing these holy items (which were said to include a twig from the burning bush wherein God spoke to Moses, a scrap from the clothes in which the newborn Jesus was swaddled and a wisp of straw from the manger, thirty-five fragments of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and one of the nails which held him to the cross, a thumb of Saint Anne the mother of Mary, a tooth of Saint Jerome, and numerous parts of other saints and mementos of other Biblical events) was said to reduce the time a Christian would spend in purgatory before rising to Paradise. Luther’s challenge to the system of penance and indulgences was timed to gather much attention to his ninety-five sentences for debate.

Luther began, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ he willed that the entire life of believers was to be one of repentance.” Luther thus distinguished between true repentance and acts of penance. Luther assumed that the pope, Leo X, would be shocked by the outrageous claims of the sellers of indulgences. Yet Luther’s sentences involved further shocking remarks, such as Number 82: “Why does the pope not empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there” rather than “for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”

Western European Christianity was ready for these kinds of challenges. Growing nationalism caused resentment against the political claims of the pope and of the Holy Roman Emperor. Preachers who were Biblically illiterate left their hearers hungry for the truth of God’s Word. Then as now, many Christians resented the appearance that the Christian Church was focused more on money and on political power than on rescuing sinners, healing broken lives, and establishing a genuine connection between God and his people. Luther cared little for the political implications of his sentences. He deeply cared about sinners who were being pushed away from God’s grace by the Church rather than reconciled to God through the Gospel.

Luther himself had faced turmoil in his earlier years. He hated God, thinking of God as a cruel judge who wanted to torture sinners and who demanded good deeds to pay for sins. Luther became an Augustinian monk because of his fear of God’s judgment and his hope to perform enough good deeds to please God. His superior in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz, encouraged Luther to believe the Bible’s message of God’s love and mercy. Staupitz wanted Luther to find comfort in the promise of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Knowing that we learn best the things we need to know by teaching others, Staupitz arranged for Luther to teach classes on the Bible. Had Staupitz been more open about his convictions, today there would be Staupitzian congregations instead of Lutheran congregations. Yet Staupitz was content to deal one-on-one with desperate men like Martin Luther. Luther was bold enough to challenge the authorities and the system for the good of the Church and for its eventual reformation.

Luther could have been killed for his beliefs. Other men were killed for preaching the same message they had learned from Luther. But Luther lived until 1546. He married a former nun, and they had six children. Luther wrote hymns that are still sung today, and he wrote teaching materials for children and for adults that are still used today. He wrote many significant theological essays during his career, and the notes of his university students have been preserved and published, as well as many of Luther’s sermons. Even though Luther is best remembered for ninety-five sentences, his bold action one Halloween pales in comparison to Luther’s entire contribution to Christianity. J.

Pennant? Yes. Championship? Probably not.

I’m sure every American has heard these numbers repeatedly, for what seems like thousands of times: until this month the Chicago Cubs have not won the National League pennant since 1945—that is 71 years—and they have not won the championship in the World Series since 1908—that is 108 years. No other professional sports team in the United States has existed for one hundred years or more without winning a championship. Those teams that have never won a championship have existed for only a few decades or less.

I am a Cubs fan. I have been watching every game they played in the play-offs this month, although I had to join some games late because of classes I teach. I have been wearing blue every day this month. The Cubs and baseball have been on my mind day and night, yet I have not written a word about them to anyone—not on this blog, not on Facebook, not even in an email to family or friends. Why this silence? I have not written about the Cubs because of a personal superstition.

I am not normally a superstitious person. I share my house with a black cat and we cross paths often. I treat Friday the 13th like any other Friday. Yet as a baseball fan, I do follow certain superstitions, and one of those involves the fact that, whenever I write something about the Cubs, they immediately begin losing.

Now superstitions are the scientific method gone wrong. The scientific method is observation, interpretation, and testing the interpretation with predictions. Biologists and chemists and sociologists all use this method to learn about what they are studying. Why did something happen? Can we observe it happening, interpret its cause, and make predictions based on that interpretation? If the predictions come to be, we believe that our interpretation is valid. Every superstition involves some sense of cause and effect that is mistaken. Superstitious people do certain things expecting certain results, but other observers can see no connection between the actions and the results.

Not every tradition or custom is a superstition. When driving on the highway, I always look over my shoulder before changing lanes. A person who knew nothing about traffic might call that action a superstition, but I know that looking over my shoulder reduces the chance that my car will collide with another car.

Baseball superstitions are based on observations that appear to be cause and effect. Two friends are attending a game and their favored team is losing. Late in the game they exchange seats, and their team pulls ahead and wins the game. If this happens a second time, they will probably exchange seats every time they are at a game and their team is losing.

It is considered bad luck to mention that the pitcher is pitching a no-hitter. Many announcers scorn this superstition because they believe that they have a duty to keep their audience informed. Many fans groan when an announcer mentions the no-hitter, because often the other team gets a hit right after the no-hitter is mentioned. My father says it is bad luck for a pitcher to strike out the first hitter of the game. I have heard no one else mention this superstition, but I have observed that the prediction came true twice this month for the Cubs—both times the pitcher for the Cubs struck out the first batter of the game, the Cubs lost that game.

Whenever I write about the Cubs, they begin losing. Therefore, I have not written about the Cubs all this year. They won 103 games, which is a very good record for the regular season. They beat the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers to earn the National League pennant. Now they are in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. But the Indians have won three of the four games played so far; to win the championship, the Cubs need to win three more games. If they lose just one more game, the World Series is over and the Indians have won.

A sage has said, “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” Like fans who exchange seats to try to reverse the luck of their team, I’ve tried to reverse the Cubs fortune. If I fly a Cubs flag and they win, I fly it again for the next game; but if they lose, I put it away. If they lose while the flag is away, I fly it again for the next game.

Researchers say that sports superstitions serve a purpose: they allow fans to feel as though they take part in the teams’ successes. Superstitions allow fans to say “we won!” instead of “they won!” after a game. Obviously, the reverse is true: when a team loses, the team’s fans might blame themselves. This is why it is also healthy for fans to remind themselves, “It’s only a game.” Fans root for their team, they celebrate the wins, and life goes on in spite of the losses.

My name is Salvageable, and I am a Cubs fan. J.

To fly or not to fly (the Confederate flag)

When people in the United States choose to display the Confederate flag, other people are offended. Those who defend the display of the flag say that they are celebrating the culture of a region; they say that there is nothing inherently racist or otherwise offensive about the flag. Those who are offended respond that the flag represents an attempt by some states to leave the Union so they could preserve the institution of slavery, an institution that (as practiced in the United States) was distinctly racist.

Defenders of the flag say that the Civil War was not really about slavery. They say it was really about the rights of states to make their own rules without interference from the national government. Slavery happened to be the issue wherein interference was perceived, but (they say) southerners were not so much fighting to retain slavery as they were fighting to retain independence promised to them (they say) in the United States Constitution.

Abraham Lincoln was opposed personally to slavery. However, he said that the Civil War was not about slavery–it was about keeping the country united. Lincoln said he would be willing to tolerate the continuing reality of slavery if it would hold the country together; and Lincoln said that he was sending soldiers into rebellious states to preserve the Union. Contrary to popular opinion, Lincoln did not free the slaves. His Emancipation Proclamation applied only to slaves in states that were members of the Confederacy and thus (from Lincoln’s point of view) in opposition to their national government. Four slave states remained in the Union during the Civil War, and Lincoln’s Proclamation did not affect slaves in those states. Slavery was ended in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was proposed in Congress while Lincoln was alive, but was not ratified until after he had died.

If Lincoln said that he was not fighting against slavery, does that mean that the southerners were not fighting to keep slavery? To answer that question, one must research the reasons given by southern leaders when they chose to secede from the Union and to fight, if necessary, for a new nation, the Confederate States. Because I have family and friends living in Arkansas, and because the history of Arkansas’s secession is rather interesting, I will use that state’s secession as a model for this research.

When Lincoln was elected and some southern states chose to secede from the United States and form the Confederate States, Arkansas had been a state for only twenty-five years. Residents were divided over the issue of secession. While slaves were found in every county of the state, most of the slaves in Arkansas were in the southeastern half of the state, which had flat land suitable for large cotton plantations. The northwest half of the state–featuring the Ozark and Ouachita mountains–held many citizens who favored remaining in the United States rather than joining the Confederate States. Accordingly, the state government decided to hold a convention, with delegates chosen by the voters of the state, to decide whether to secede or to remain.

When they gathered in Little Rock in March, 1861, the number of delegates supporting secession and the number of delegates supporting the Union were roughly equal. The convention conducted its regular business, electing officers and the like, while observers tried to guess what the final vote would decide. On March 11, those favoring secession gave their reasons. They listed six objections to remaining in the Union. These were:

  • In the northern states, a new political party had recently formed, and its central and controlling idea was hostility to the institution of “African slavery.” The newly elected President and Vice President were members of this party.
  • The government of the United States was threatening to deny the southern states protection to “slave property” by declaring that any states added to the Union would not allow slavery. (Up to this time, the country had carefully added one slave state and one free state around the same time, keeping the United States Senate balanced between the two positions. Michigan became a state shortly after Arkansas did so.)
  • Northern politicians claimed that Congress had the power to abolish slavery in the territories, in the District of Columbia, and in forts, arsenals, and dock yards owned by the government, even in southern states.
  • The United States government obstructed faithful execution of its own fugitive slave laws (which required the return of an escaped slave to his or her owner, even if he or she had reached a free state).
  • The United States government denied citizens of southern states the right of transit through free states with their slaves and the right to hold those slaves while sojourning temporarily in free states.
  • The United States government “degraded American citizens” by allowing “equality with Negroes at the ballot box.”

Directly or indirectly, all six of these reasons are connected to slavery.

As the convention continued to meet, it remained clear that the delegates were almost equally divided. After several more days, the convention decided to schedule an election for August in which all the voters of Arkansas could choose between secession or remaining in the Union. With this accomplished, the convention adjourned and the delegates returned home.

The next month, the Civil War began, as shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. President Lincoln sent out a message calling for soldiers from each of the states that had not seceded to join the United States Army. The governor of Arkansas refused to provide a single soldier to fight against fellow southerners. Instead, he called the convention back into session. Meeting on May 6, the delegates called for a vote the proposal that had been made on March 11. Perhaps some of them had forgotten the reasons given on March 11; more likely they didn’t care. The vote in favor of the motion to secede was 65 to five. Four of the delegates who voted no then changed their vote, seeking unanimity. Only one of the seventy refused to support leaving the United States and joining the Confederacy.

In this way, and for these reasons, Arkansas entered the Civil War. Next week, I will describe how the Civil War nearly began in Arkansas rather than at Fort Sumter. J.

Christ in Genesis: the Tower of Babel

Like the account of Noah, the account of the Tower of Babel seems at first glance to indicate nothing more than God’s wrath and punishment. Yet Christ is present even in this short section of the Bible. We perceive the wisdom of God’s judgment, and we also pick up a clue about the final reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ from this account.

The descendants of Noah gathered on the plain of Shinar, which is now in modern Iraq. Here they decided to bake bricks and build a city which would include a tower with its top in the heavens. These actions violated no specific commands of God, nor does God frown on our modern cities with their many towers and skyscrapers. The purpose of the builders, however, contradicted the will of God. They said, “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” God had said, “You, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7).

The people who wanted to make a name for themselves said, “Come, let us build.” God said, “Come, let us go down.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit investigated the city and the tower and the hearts of the builders. God said, “Nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” In my opinion, this statement of God was meant as irony. He was echoing what the builders believed, not what God knew to be true.

God’s response to their pride was to cause them to speak a variety of languages so they could no longer understand each other. Not only did each of them hear the others speaking other languages; each of them was convinced that he or she was speaking the right language while the others were speaking the wrong languages. Humble people learn how to communicate with one another in spite of language barriers. Proud people, even today, insist that they are speaking the right language; they say that other people should learn their language if they have anything to say to them. Because these people were proud, they were unable to work together. They abandoned the city and the tower and were dispersed over the face of the earth. This dispersal was exactly what God had wanted, and it was exactly what the builders had hoped to avoid.

Judgment and punishment are one answer to sin. Forgiveness and reconciliation are another answer to sin. God prefers the second answer. Therefore he sent his Son, the Word made flesh, to atone for sin and to reconcile the world to God. When the time was right, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice. He died and was buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He spent time with his disciples, explaining what he had done and why. Then, forty days after his resurrection, he ascended into heaven to fill the universe in every way.

Fifty days after his resurrection, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his Church. Everyone in the city heard the sound of a rushing wind—a signature event, since in the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) the same word means both wind and spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were marked with tongues of fire. They began to talk about Jesus, and the various people from various parts of the world all heard the Christians sharing the good news of Jesus in different languages—each listener heard the Gospel in his or her own language.

With this miracle, God showed that sins were forgiven and reconciliation had happened. The results of sin—including the judgment which resulted in many languages—were reversed by the work of Jesus. God dispersed the many nations, but from those many nations he has assembled one Kingdom, which is the Holy Christian Church. In this Church, the work of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit continues to be accomplished all over the world. When God gathers his people, they come from every tribe and nation and language, united by one Savior and by one Holy Spirit. J.

A creek ran past it

A creek formed the northern boundary of the property where I spent my childhood. Years before I was born, the creek had been fed by springs, but the growth of the village led to increased use of well-water, so the water had dropped and the springs disappeared.

Of course when I was little I was not supposed to play in or near the creek, and of course I did. When water was flowing down the creek, my friends and I would launch large leaves or slabs of bark in the creek, then pelt them with small stones from the shore, trying to sink or destroy our toy ships. Many summers the creek bed became dry, forming an irresistible playground. I gathered aluminum cans other people had tossed into the creek and built cities from them, then attacked the cities with rocks. Those rocks had originally been placed on the banks of the creek to prevent erosion, but many of them had tumbled or been pushed into the creek bed. One year I thought that I would pull the rocks out of the creek and build a fort, but the walls of the fort never grew more than two layers high. When I was older, I spent several afternoons of one summer rebuilding the stone reinforcement of the banks.

In the winter the creek usually froze. Generally the water level dropped during the gradual freezing process. Schoolchildren found endless satisfaction breaking the shelves of ice on the banks of the creek on their way home from school. They used their feet to break the ice or threw rocks at shelves on the other side. During the spring thaws, children again attacked the ice in the creek. When conditions were right, the creek would freeze into a smooth surface suitable for ice skating. I owned a pair of skates and would go out on the creek on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for an hour or two of exercise. I never had the ability or the room to learn any skills other than skating forward, but I enjoyed the time spent outdoors all the same.

Sometimes in the springtime fish would swim upstream in the creek. Some of the neighborhood children attempted spear fishing, but they had no success. The creek also attracted mallard ducks, and–two years–a large snapping turtle. When the water was low, crayfish could be found under the rocks. My friends and I captured them and released them; it never occurred to us that people might cook and eat crayfish. Trees lined the bank of the river, mostly boxelder and mulberry trees. Phlox and other wildflowers bloomed in the spring. When I was in the fourth grade, I picked a handful of phlox to give to the new girl at school, because I thought she was nice.

Floods from the creek several times covered the property and entered the basement. My father believes that the flooding increased because of construction in the area that reduced natural drainage into the ground. A few years ago, he successfully led a battle of village residents to deny rezoning that would have allowed construction of a megastore (with a large parking lot, of course) next to the creek about a mile upstream. That one victory did not prevent the eventual razing of the house because of its location in the floodplain. J.

Noah, the ark, and the Flood

Noah, the ark, and the Flood are familiar to almost every person living in western culture. Efforts to recreate this account for movies inevitably bring new details into the story; the description in the Bible does not provide nearly enough material for a feature-length movie. Many people probably think that they know about Noah, the ark, and the Flood, but much of what they know might be fiction that has been added to the Bible’s account.

Noah is easily seen as a picture of Jesus. Noah is a savior, obeying the commands of God and—through his obedience—rescuing and preserving lives from God’s wrath and judgment. From the time Noah began building the ark until the time rain began to fall, 120 years passed, according to the usual understanding of Genesis 6:3. During this time, by his words and by his actions, Noah was able to warn his neighbors of the coming destruction, warning them to repent before it was too late. By the same token, Jesus spent about three years teaching in Galilee and Judea and the surrounding area, calling upon people to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The structure which Noah built to save lives was made of wood; the cross where Jesus suffered and died to bestow eternal life was also made of wood. Those who were to be saved entered the ark through an opening in its side, faintly echoing the Bride of Christ coming from his side as Eve came from the rib of Adam.

Those who accept the premise, based on John 1:18, that God the Father is revealed only through Jesus—and that, when God speaks or is seen in Genesis, Jesus is present among his people—will picture Jesus visiting Noah and giving him detailed instructions about how to build the ark. We are told that Noah was righteous and blameless, but we also know that only Jesus is without sin. Noah was made righteous and blameless through his faith in the promised Savior. All believers, from Adam and Eve until the glorious appearing of Christ, are saved in the same way—by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus.

Often the Flood is seen only as an act of wrath, God’s judgment on a sinful world. The water of the Flood also had a cleansing action, washing away sinners and the consequences of their sins. The apostle Peter wrote about the time “when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you….” (I Peter 3:20-21). The water of the Flood lifted Noah and his family out of a sinful world and carried them safely in the ark until they landed in a new world, a world which had been washed clean by water. Likewise, Christians are carried through this sinful world by the work of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit until we land safely in the new world God has promised us—a world won for us by the work of Christ.

Peter stresses that eight persons were saved by the Flood and by the ark. He stresses this number, so it must be significant. God created the world in seven days, establishing the length of the week. Sets of seven in the Bible often represent completeness. The eighth day is the beginning of a new week. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on the eighth day, Easter Sunday—the day that Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate his victory over sin and death, the day that promises his people new life in a new creation. Like Peter, early Christian writers often associated the number eight with a new beginning, as they also associated Baptism with a new beginning. The apostle Paul wrote, ”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

When Noah and his family exited the ark, Noah offered sacrifices to God, continuing the tradition of “pre-enacting” the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Afterward, he planted a garden. This garden is no minor detail; it reinforces the concept of a new beginning, since Adam and Eve began in a garden. Yet, as Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from the garden, so Noah’s garden also became his downfall.  He drank wine, made from the grapes of his vineyard, became drunk, and lay naked, uncovered in his tent. In spite of his new beginning, Noah was no longer clothed in righteousness. One son laughed at Noah’s nakedness, bringing trouble upon himself and his family. The other two sons covered Noah’s nakedness, bringing blessing upon themselves and their families. In the same way, Christians today should not rejoice in the wrongdoing of others, but instead should seek to share the good news of Jesus with sinners, hoping to clothe them in his righteousness by the power of his Word. We do not desire to humiliate them over their sins or condemn them, but we hope instead to call them to repentance and faith.

God promised Noah that he would never again flood the world to destroy it. He established the rainbow as a sign of that promise—a reminder to God of the promise he had made. Rainbows mean different things to different people today, but they remain to God a reminder of his mercy upon his creation. Light shines through the clouds, and through the drops of water they produce, to display a rainbow upon the earth. God’s light comes through water to his people to display God’s promise of new and eternal life for all those who trust his promises.

 

Neighborhood games

Those who read my previous post about playing outside may have assumed that I always played alone. It is true that I often played alone–from solo baseball to solo croquet–but I was also part of a neighborhood cadre of eight children, from three families, who played together. Often our group expanded to include children from other families further down the street.

Our favorite game was “kick the can.” For the can we used a plastic ball filled with air. One player (who was It) guarded the can while the rest of us tried to kick the can. Those of us who were not It had to be hidden, though, because when we were spotted, It would touch the can and announce, “one-two-three on [name] who is hiding [location].” If the person who was It could spot the rest of us before any of us kicked the can, he or she remained It for another round. If one of us did manage to kick the can, he or she would then be It for the next round. No cumulative score was kept; each round counted as its own game. Success required darting from one hiding place to another, approaching the can; it often involved teamwork to approach from different sides, forcing It to choose which side to guard. It could wander anywhere to discover hidden players, but if It strayed too far from the can, one of the players was sure to kick the can and end the round.

We also played a game we called Army, which essentially involved splitting into two teams and reenacting unspecified military events from World War II. Half of us would be Germans and the other half Americans. Most of our loose scripting was based on what we had learned about the war from television shows and movies. Each of us carried a stick to represent a rifle. In this game also, the goal was to remain hidden from the opposite side while trying to sneak up upon them to shoot them. A clear sight of someone on the other team led to raising and aiming the stick and shouting “bang,” or, sometimes, “I got you.” A certain amount of honor was involved in agreeing to be shot and to die upon these announcements. If someone insisted, “you missed,” or, “you only got me in the leg,” the game was effectively over. Unlike kick the can, our desire in Army was to prolong the game and enjoy the maneuvers. I remember that the game fizzled, though, once one boy from down the street brought a new plastic replica of a gun that even produced sound effects when used.

I cannot remember ever playing Cowboys and Indians. Once we were all accomplished bicyclists one summer came to pass in which we designed a Cops and Robbers game, but I no longer remember the rules to that game. We did not try to split into teams for sports such as baseball or basketball. One boy in the group, who was in Little League, introduced us to a baseball-based game he had learned called Stealing Bases. There were two bases, fifty to sixty feet apart, and two fielders with mitts. They threw the ball back and forth. The rest of us (generally five or six, as I recall) would be on-base until someone thought that the throwing and catching might be challenged by a sprint. The hope was to inspire an off-target throw or a dropped ball, since a thrown ball is much faster than a human runner. I was more daring than the others, but I was also tagged out more often than the others.

Most of these games were played in the summer when school was out. Eventually we became too busy even to play in the summer, by which time we had friends at school who outranked our neighborhood friendships. I do not know the location of any of these childhood playmates. I doubt we would recognize each other any more if two of us happened to be in the same room (aside, of course, those who were siblings). As with the house in which I lived, all that remains of those times are memories. J.

The New Social Order in America

An interesting document has recently crossed my desk at work: a booklet titled The New Social Order in America. Here is a selection of statements from the front cover:

“IN THE PRESENT SOCIAL CRISIS

“When old social and economic institutions are being abandoned;

“When government control of industry has been carried to an unprecedented degree;

“When legal regulation of wages and prices is being swiftly extended;

“When taxation of incomes, profits, inheritances, and luxuries is being immensely increased

“When organized labor has acquired unprecedented influence;

“When capitalists of the Charles M. Schwab type predict the approaching domination of America by the manual workers;

“In such a crisis, every thinking person wants to know the rudiments of the great issues up for decision, to think these issues through for himself, and to encourage others to face the social reconstruction with equal frankness….”

It sounds as though They (whoever They are) are threatening America’s liberties and its very survival. Patriots need to be informed of Their agenda to prevent Them from succeeding in Their nefarious schemes. And I think we all know who They are—government types, some of them elected, but many of them appointed and not accountable to the People; agitators, threatening violence in their efforts to reshape our society according to their own mistaken values; liberals, who do not trust liberty and capitalism, but who instead want to play Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. They trust big government to have the answer to all society’s problems. They discourage productivity and thrift, rewarding bad decisions with largesse taken out of the hands of those who have earned what they hold.

But before we get too excited at this document, guaranteed to help us beat back the New Social Order, I want to fill in the gaps that I left in the above quote.

First gap: “When millions of men are being summoned to service by the government;”

Second gap: “…by war necessity;

“When equal suffrage seems imminent;

“When prohibition of the liquor traffic is impending;”

Third gap: “When extreme radicals are the controlling native force in Russia;

“When the British Labor Party is uniting hand and brain workers on a program of fundamental economic reconstruction….”

Have you put those pieces together? A nation at war, sending millions of men into the conflict; equal suffrage imminent; probation impending; radicals in Russia—the date of this document is October, 1918.

And yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The radicals taking over Russia in 1918 were finally kicked out of the government in 1991, but Vladimir Putin was trained by the last generation of those radicals. Hardly anyone in the United States is opposed to women being allowed to vote, or in favor of the prohibition of alcohol, but questions of equal access to the ballot box and discussion of the use or prohibition of other substances are still burning issues. We have volunteers serving in our armed forces, and we are not sending millions of men to the conflicts in western Asia, but the reality of war and the cost of that war still concern us today.

Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. We have a social crisis today in which taxation, regulation, and abandonment of traditional institutions remain symptomatic of our problems. I haven’t had time to read the rest of the booklet, but the cover intrigues me. Here are the concluding words on the cover:

“As an aid to these ends, this study syllabus has been prepared as the cooperative product of a number of liberal thinkers.

“Copies may be secured at 15 cents each, eight for one dollar, or $12 per hundred, from Hornell Hart, 807 Neave Bldg., Cincinnati.”

If you should try to contact Mr. Hart, please let me know if you receive a reply. J.

Sunshine blogger award, part two

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”. Or so I’m told. The awesome, amazing, astounding, and always adorable “Authentically Aurora” nominated me for this award a few days ago, and I am pleased to accept. Thank you, Aurora, from the bottom of my heart.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same number of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

On Sunday I accepted the award, thanked Aurora (as I have just done again), and answered her eleven questions. Today I am going to nominate eight bloggers. I wanted to recognize other bloggers than those I recently nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, although each of them is worthy of the Sunshine Blogger Award as well.

Here are my nominees:

https://depressionistheenemy.com/ who has many thoughtful posts on a number of topics (including mental health issues, as the name suggests);

Tricia at https://freedomthroughempowerment.wordpress.com/ who also has great insight into life;

SLIMJIM at https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ whose posts on the Bible and Christian living are both readable and helpful;

Mary O Green at https://threemeangreens.com/ who hasn’t posted in a few months—I hope she will start again soon!;

Sweet aroma at https://onetahayes.com/ who is recovering from a bad fall (literally and figuratively) and I hope she gets better quickly;

A Christian Worldview of Fiction at https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/ which includes far more than you might expect from the title;

Citizen Tom at https://citizentom.com/ whose political insights are always valuable;

and Makayla at https://scrubsandstuff.wordpress.com/ who posts a reading each day from “The Message,” a broad paraphrase of the Bible. I don’t recommend such paraphrases for serious Bible study, but it is fascinating to see a new spin on familiar verses. I recommend this blog to all of you.

And here are eight questions for each of you (although I would welcome answers to these questions from any other readers as well):

Why did you decide to create your blog?

What kind of reader are you imagining as you write a post?

Which of your posts is your favorite?

For what are you most thankful?

What is your favorite memory from childhood?

If you could enroll in exactly one class for the next year, what would you choose to study?

If you won or inherited millions of dollars, what is the first thing you would buy?

What do you hope you will be doing ten years from today?

I am looking forward to reading your answers. J.

 

sunshine-blogger-award

Playing outdoors

When my parents had their house built, they asked the builders to be careful not to hurt the two old juniper trees in the front yard. When construction was finished, the trees beautifully framed the house as seen from the street. I hope that the crew that demolished the house this year was careful to leave the trees there. It’s odd, though, to think that those trees could outlive the entire history of the house.

Juniper trees drop clusters of short, sharp needles, so the front lawn was not a place to walk with bare feet. The grass in the back yard was soft and hazard free, perfect for bare feet, but when a family member forgot that the front lawn was different, he or she received a rude reminder. The needles didn’t shake out, either–one had to sit down and pull them out of one’s feet.

My parents raised an oak tree from an acorn in front of the house, closer to the street. Nearer the house, they planted a spruce tree. In December, my father would string Christmas lights on the spruce tree. Some years I would make ornaments for the tree from the Styrofoam trays that came under meat from the grocery store. I would trace around my mother’s cookie cutters, cut the ornaments from the Styrofoam, and color them with crayons. My mother helped me to string yarn through each ornament so I could hang it on the tree. I remember December afternoons when I sat at the dining room table to trace and cut and color while she made Christmas cookies or other holiday treats in the kitchen, accompanied by Christmas songs on the record player. I think the making of outdoor ornaments was a ruse to keep me quiet while she did her baking.

The two junipers, the oak, and the spruce made a perfect baseball diamond for my summers. I had a plastic ball and a plastic bat. I would toss the ball in the air, swing the bat, and run the bases. The trees represented not only bases, but also fielders. Later, when I was bigger and stronger, the storm drain became first base and the second juniper became third base, while the oak tree switched from first baseman to pitcher. Of course all of right field was now across the street, so I learned to pull the ball to left field. Any ball that landed on my grandparents’ property was a home run.

Mowing the grass and raking the leaves became my chore at my parents’ home and at my grandparents’ home. I liked mowing for my grandparents better because they let me use their mower, which had an electric starter instead of a rope to pull. My parents did not burn autumn leaves, nor did they bag them to be taken to the landfill. They used the leaves as mulch in their flowerbeds and strawberry patch. Raking, then, meant creating leaf piles, loading them into a wheelbarrow, taking them behind the house, and dumping them where they belonged for the winter.

Aside from baseball, I did not play much in the front yard. In addition to having softer grass, the back yard was more sheltered. My father built a sandbox for me, bringing in new sand every spring. He also erected a metal swing set. Some years he would install a wading pool for the summer. My family had a croquet set; some days I would set up a course and play all four colors on my own.

On laundry day, my mother liked to dry clothes and bedsheets in the back yard when the weather permitted. At first we had a standard clothes line strung between two poles. Later, my father bought a clothes line that attached to the side of the garage. It retracted into a case, and the pole for the opposite end could be pulled out of its hole and put in the garage. My mother often sent me outside on laundry day to set up the clothesline while she began the first load of washing.

A large church two blocks away provided a soundtrack for my summers outdoors. The church had a three-bell carillon which I can still hear in my imagination. Because they rang at different speeds, they created a tune which went something like this: ding, dang, dong, ding-dang, dong-ding, ding-dong (repeats).  The “dong” was the tonic (or “do”), the “dang” was the third (or “mi”), and the ding was the fifth (or “sol”).

I learned to love some summer insects, such as cicadas that sang in the trees, and fireflies that entertained during summer evenings. I did not, however, like wasps and bees. In my childhood, I was stung about once per summer. Although the reaction was mild–pain and swelling the day of the sting, itching for two or three days afterward–I had a fear of stinging insects that bordered on phobia. If I could see a wasp or a bee, or if I could hear an insect buzzing, I was very much afraid.

Aside from that, most of my childhood memories are pleasant. I loved to ride my bicycle around the neighborhood, or swing on the swing set, or create new worlds in the sandbox (often using twigs and pine cones to create forests, or using toy trucks to build roads and excavate hills). In the winters I built snowmen and snow forts. On very cold winter days, I put on all my winter clothing–knit stocking cap, hooded coat, scarf, knit mittens, and boots–and explored the yard as if I were an astronaut on the moon. Playing outdoors allowed me to exercise imagination and creativity, as well as benefiting from fresh air and sunshine. J.