Update

If one watches the Star Wars movies in the order in which they were made, one sees the ‘droid R2-D2 gain additional abilities and features in each movie, as scriptwriters thought of more ways to use him in their stories. But if one watches the same movies in the order they are numbered, one sees that R2-D2 loses many abilities from his arsenal between episodes three and four. Many of the things he could do in the prequels were missing from his capabilities when we meet him again in Star Wars: A New Hope. The usual explanation for this change is, of course, a Microsoft update.

My desktop computer had a Microsoft update this week. I was editing my book when a pop-up informed me that an update needed to be installed, asking if I wanted to do the update now or schedule it for later. I scheduled it for 12:15 the next morning, and when I finished my editing for the day I made sure to save the file and close it, hoping that the update would not interfere with the book.

The only obvious change to the desktop computer since the update is that the ribbon across the bottom of the screen is pale blue, whereas before it was a darker color. But, as is always the case with Microsoft updates, I have faced other glitches along the way. Thursday, after the update, I composed nearly half of a three-page paper I would need this weekend. When I returned to the computer on Friday, that composition was missing; the computer had no recollection of any unsaved work. This morning, I had to recreate and then finish Thursday’s work. Fortunately, my outline and research were vivid enough that I was able to create the entire paper on deadline and suffer no consequences. But I then had to restart the computer to help it find the printer; before the restart, the computer sent the file somewhere, but the printer sat idle. During the restart, the printer found and printed the file.

My experiences bring to mind, not only R2-D2 of Star Wars, but also a story told by Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway had several unfinished works in his possession when he died in 1961. One of them, the novel Garden of Eden, was edited and published roughly 25 years later. It was then made into a movie. While looking at other things on the computer this month, I came across a description of the movie and decided to buy it. While I waited for it to arrive, I reread the novel. (Spoiler alert) The main character in the novel is recently married, and his bride is eccentric to the point of mental illness. She delights in the knowledge that he is writing memoirs about their honeymoon, but she resents any other writing on his part that does not include her. During that honeymoon, the character also writes a short story based on a hunting expedition he and his father shared years earlier in Africa. The key event of the novel is that the author’s wife burns the story he has written. At first he despairs, saying that once he writes a story, it has left his mind and cannot be recreated. (And he knows that this story was one of his better works.) But, at the end of the novel, he finds that he can write the story a second time, and the new writing is as good as the original, if not better.

This morning was not the first time I have needed to recreate something I had written. Years ago, when I was working with a much older computer (one of the two computers Noah had with him on the ark), I finished a three-page paper, reached out my hand to turn on the printer, and instead flipped off the power switch for the entire computer set-up. I switched it back on immediately, but the paper was gone, erased, completely forgotten by the computer because of that brief loss of power. I had to type it again from the beginning. Again, I was able to write essentially the same paper in less time; where it was different from the original, it was probably better.

Now it is time for me to return to my current book and see what, if anything, the Microsoft update has done to that file. J.

Stowaway

I picked up a stowaway on my way to work this morning. (Oddly, the word “stowaway” would not come to mind for the longest time. I thought of “hitchhiker,” but that didn’t fit the situation. Next I thought of “smuggler,” but that wasn’t right either. What is it called when one smuggles oneself? The word, I finally remembered, is “stowaway.”)

Last night and this morning conditions were cool enough for dew to develop. Therefore, before I could drive to work, I had to clean the windows of my car. I opened the door, set my lunch and phone and badge and mask on the seat, grabbed my squeegee, and went to work. I bought this squeegee at Walmart for two and a half dollars. It’s just like the ones they supply at gas stations for washing windows, and it is very handy for clearing the windows on a day like today.

I had driven more than a mile before the moth appeared. He was not a large insect, less than an inch long, and as soon as I made sure he was not a wasp, I relaxed. Clearly this month did not understand glass and windows, as he persistently tried to exit the car through the windshield. I perceived immediately that this could be a traffic hazard—being distracted by the motion of a moth, I might easily miss seeing something in the road or approaching the road while the car was moving. But I did not want to kill the moth. As he crawled on the windshield, I could see the details of his head and legs and wings. Had he been a mosquito, I might not have been so kind, but I preferred to let the moth escape alive. I knew that even if I tried to snatch him with my hands to toss him out a side window, I was likely to wound him—probably fatally. But I could not do much to help him out of the car while he explored the windshield in front of me.

We spent a minute stopped at a red light, as the moth continued exploring and I continued observing him. Then the light changed and I started forward. The motion of the car startled him off the windshield to my left. Quickly, I pressed the button to open the side window. The moth flew out, and in the next instant I had closed the window again.

In all, this stowaway probably traveled three or four miles by car—probably farther than it ever would travel in a normal lifetime. Its sudden appearance in a new neighborhood could conceivably lead to biological changes in the population that might have results as soon as next summer. Little creatures travel great distances all the time, thanks to human transportation. Sometimes the results can be earthshattering. In this case, though, I think my friendly little moth stowaway will be relatively harmless. J.

Salvageable photobomb

A few years ago, I photobombed a street scene—not intentionally, but just by being at the right place at the right time.

I had given a presentation that morning, so I was dressed nicely—suitcoat, tie, and all that goes with them. I drove back downtown and was walking on the sidewalk toward my office. A car stopped on the street and three young women emerged—high school or college aged. Two of them posed on the sidewalk. Putting their feet close together, holding hands, arcing their arms over their heads, and leaning away from each other, they made the shape of a heart. The third young women snapped their picture, and then they entered a clothing store.

A professional photographer would have spent considerable time arranging the photograph, putting me in the right place to be framed by the heart, making sure the distances were perfect. But it happened so quickly that I could not duck out of the picture, and so I was centered in their heart. I’m sure they had a good laugh when they saw the picture. I wish I could have a copy of it… but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. Maybe they saved the picture; maybe they posted it online; maybe they discarded it. For me, it is merely a memory, the lunchtime when I did a photobomb. J.

Arkansas food traditions

The land now called Arkansas has been inhabited for many generations, and a good number of ways to study and examine the past help to cast light on life in Arkansas then and now. One of the newest subjects to be studied is foodways: what did people eat, how did they obtain it, how did they prepare it, and how did they preserve it? Contemporary Arkansas festivals feature some of the most interesting foodway traditions in the modern world.

Corn (maize), beans, and squash were the primary foods of the earliest dwellers of Arkansas, although they occasionally added meat to their diet. The first European explorers to enter Arkansas were led by Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in 1541 and died in Arkansas the following year. After de Soto came Jacque Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. These French explorers were responsible for the name of the state of Arkansas. After asking the Illini of the Mississippi River valley who they would meet in their travels south, Marquette and Joliet were told to expect the Ar-kan-saw, which was merely the Illini word for “people who live to the south.” Encountering the Quapaw villages where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi, Marquette and Joliet applied the Illini’s label to the Quapaw, and the name went on to designate the river, the territory (once a county of Missouri Territory), and the state. The first permanent European settlement in the region was Arkansas Post, located near the Arkansas River not far from its confluence with the Mississippi. Arkansas is included in the land acquired by the United States by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and American settlers began to join the Quapaw, Caddo, Osage, French, and Spanish families who already lived on the land.

While some settlers established large cotton plantations in the flatlands of southern and eastern Arkansas, others took to the hills where they lived off the land as best they could. (This is called subsistence farming.) They planted various crops and raised chickens and hogs, but they also gathered berries and fruits from the forests and hunted deer, bear, and anything else that moved and might be edible. The hillbilly image of the Ozark Arkansan is largely shaped by stories (many highly exaggerated) told by travelers who met these hardy pioneers.

Even as Arkansas developed as a territory and then a state, memories remained of the early foods eaten by Arkansas settlers. Among the annual festivals still celebrated in Arkansas today are the Trumann Wild Duck Festival, the Gillett ‘Coon Supper, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival, the Dermott Crawfish Festival, the Arkansas Rice Festival, the Hope Watermelon Festival, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, the Camden Daffodil Festival, and the Malvern Brickfest, not to mention Conway’s Toad Suck Daze.

Actually, the ‘Possum Festival has a spotted history. Beginning in 1915 as a challenge to neighboring communities, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival had a long and honorable history through the first half of the twentieth century. However, during World War II, when much of the male population was out of state serving in the armed forces, remaining citizens re-established Prohibition, forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although the festival was attempted in 1945 and 1946, it was cancelled in 1947. A brief attempt to restart the festival occurred from 1995 through 2001, but with little success. Evidently for a ‘Possum festival to succeed, more than the meat needed to be marinated. J.

We used to home school

After twenty-five years of service, the Salvageable Family Home School has closed its doors. That’s not bad news—we celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest child and the successful educational paths they all have chosen.

All have been accepted into colleges. All who are not currently enrolled have completed their Bachelor’s degrees in four years or less. They graduated with honors. Two went on to complete Master’s degrees. All of them are currently employed, even during the virus crisis.

Our decision to home school was not made lightly, but in a sense we were led into it. At the time, I was associated with a church that had a private school, and our children were aware of school children outside the house at various times. They were interested in school, and they were mentally ready, but their birthdays put them just past the starting age as set by the state. I knew that schools sometimes made exceptions regarding those dates, but the school leaders said, “If we make an exception for you, we have to make an exception for anyone else who asks.” They did offer a compromise—two years of half-day kindergarten meant for four-year-olds before entering the full day kindergarten meant for five-year-olds. We declined.

We knew a family in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Two of their daughters sometimes watched our children. They were doing well, and we took advice from them. We agreed that we would evaluate the situation year by year and not commit to home schooling all the way through high school. Little did we know that we would be educating our children for the next twenty-five years.

Starting with a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, we began to assemble a home school library.  Saxon Math met our needs in that department, and we found other books that did the job. The summer after we started home schooling I had a job offer and we moved, so there was no pressure to put our children into the church’s school. From time to time we participated in home school cooperatives, but it often seemed that we could accomplish as much at home as we could gain from a cooperative.

One advantage of home schooling is being able to work at the child’s pace. Students who pick up a concept easily do not have to wait for their classmates before moving on to something new; students struggling with a concept can have extra explaining and practice before moving on without hampering anyone else’s education. Also, no time is consumed traveling to and from school or waiting for a bus; that gain in time allows more instruction, more leisure time, or more time to contribute to family chores. Life skills such as cooking and laundry become part of the educational plan. Interesting conversations at mealtime are part of home schooling, and field trips are easy to arrange with little or no planning required.

One concern some people have about home schooling is “socialization”: how will home schooled children learn to make friends among their peers? Home school cooperatives are one answer, church activities are another, and organized athletic events are a third. Several of my daughters took up Irish dancing and have reached the championship level. Moreover, not only in my family but in other home school families I have known, the children are more natural at socializing with people of different ages. They have not spent their days in a room with one adult and a couple dozen children their age.

Not every family should home school. Doing so requires a massive commitment of time as well as a financial investment. Public schools and private schools provide a valuable service for our communities. The irony has not escaped me that we finished home schooling at a time when many families are having their first experience of home schooling. Most will return their children to the public or private schools as soon as they open, but some families—including the students—may be finding value in home schooling. They may be considering continuing the home school experience even when schools reopen. For those in that position, I offer encouragement and best wishes. J.

Explaining cousins

From time to time I’ve noticed fellow bloggers expressing confusion about distant cousins. They will write something like “my second cousin twice removed (whatever that means).” As a professional historian who also assists with genealogical research, I am here to end your confusion.

People who share the same mother and/or father are brothers and sisters. People who do not share a parent but share at least one grandparent are first cousins. (Often, when we say “cousins,” we are referring to first cousins.) People who do not share any grandparents but share at least one great-grandparent are second cousins. People who do not share any great-grandparents but share at least one great-great-grandparent are third cousins. Tracing the human line back to Adam and Eve (or at least as far back as Noah), all people on earth are cousins to some degree, whether they are first cousins or thousandth cousins.

As for the distinction of “once removed” and so on: my first cousins’ children are my first cousins once removed. My first cousins’ grandchildren are my first cousins twice removed. My second cousins’ children are my second cousins once removed. My second cousins’ grandchildren are my second cousins twice removed. And so on. In other words, the levels of removal are differences in generation, even if (as is the case with me) you are closer in age to your first cousins once removed than you are to their parents, your first cousins.

The generational removal can go the other direction as well, but only if the kinship is not closer. For example, the parents of my first cousins are my uncle and my aunt, not my first cousins once removed. But, since the grandchildren of my first cousins are my first cousins twice removed, I am also their first cousin twice removed.

I hope this information is helpful. J.

Coronamageddon?

Is the worldwide pandemic called Coronavirus a sign of the impending end of the world? A complete answer would include both “yes” and “no”… or to be more accurate, “Yes, but not in the way most people understand it.”

Addressing a question about the sign of his coming and the close of the age, Jesus responded, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:4-8).

To the list of wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes, we could add many other events: terrorist attacks, powerful storms, raging fires, and the spread of diseases. All these tragedies indicate that the world faces judgment, and they remind us that a final reckoning is coming. But these events are not a countdown to the Last Day. Nowhere does Jesus say—or do the apostles and prophets say—that such events will be more common as the Last Day approaches. They remind us that the Day of the Lord will come—it is seven days closer than it was a week ago. But we cannot make any assumptions about how soon that Day will be. “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), or even the year, decade, or century. False teachers have predicted the End on a certain date, and so far they have all been wrong.

Instead, we see creation “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). It seems presumptuous for two men—unmarried men at that—to speak of birth pains and childbirth as if they knew what they were describing. But God created all that exists; he has been present during every pregnancy and every birth. God knows how the female body prepares to give birth to a baby, making internal adjustments that are sometimes called “false labor.” The time for the baby to be born has not yet arrived, but the mother’s body is preparing for that great event. In the same way, wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and widespread diseases remind us that a Great Event is coming. Jesus will be seen in the clouds, all the dead will be raised, God’s faithful people will be welcomed into a new creation, and those who refused his grace will be sent away. Every violent and tragic event in history speaks to us of that final Day when the entire earth will be shaken and everything will be changed. Today sinners battle sinners, and all creation works against the sinners who occupy its dwellings. In a sense, we sinners are the infection and viruses are the antibodies trying to protect the world from our harmful presence. But Jesus is the great Physician who will heal creation and also who heals sinners, making us fit to live in the new world without pain and sorrow and death.

Every crisis is an opportunity. As we strive to protect our health and the health of our neighbors, we can be servants of love rather than isolated selfish sinners. We can bring groceries and other supplies to those who are quarantined for their own safety or to keep the rest of us safe. We can support those who are losing income to the shut-downs of society. (Every canceled concert, sports event, and gathering means loss of income, not merely to the performers and athletes, but to the many other people whose careers depend upon these happenings—most of whom do not have savings to carry them through this time of hardship.) We can pray to the Lord to strengthen the healers, support the suffering, comfort the sorrowing, and relieve the fears of ourselves and our neighbors. We can be shining examples of faith and love in a world that easily loses hope and gives way to fear and worry. God remains in control, and his promises never fail. Between today and the Day of the Lord, we have countless opportunities to do the work of his kingdom. Through all that happens, God’s plan will be accomplished. J.

Church and state and God’s wrath

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1-5).

Americans sometimes speak as if we invented the separation between church and state. That separation already exists in the Bible. Early Israel—under Moses, Joshua, and the judges, including Samuel—was a theocracy; God was ruler over Israel. But already in his farewell sermon (the book of Deuteronomy), Moses guided by the Holy Spirit anticipated the time when Israel would be ruled by a king. The ultimate king is, of course, Jesus, but the kings of Israel and Judah were pictures of Jesus, preparing the way for his coming as surely as priests and prophets prepared the way of the Lord.

Only Jesus is permitted to hold the two positions of priest and king. Saul and Uzziah were both punished by God when they attempted to do tasks assigned to the priests. Likewise in the New Testament, God’s work is done by church leaders and by human governments, but the work they do is carefully distinguished.

Church leaders proclaim the commands of God largely to diagnose sin, to call for repentance, and to offer forgiveness to sinners. Preachers must speak of the wrath of God, but they do not exercise the wrath of God. Human governments pass laws that regulate behavior to protect citizens from sinners. Governments enforce penalties for murder, robbery, false witness, and other sins, declaring them crimes against the state and punishing people convicted of such crimes.

When the church tries to punish sinners, it steps on the government’s feet. Aside from excluding obviously unrepentant sinners from the blessings of the church, Christian leaders can do little with churchly power to overturn evil in the world. We call upon Christians to do good works, to imitate Christ, but we do not convey God’s wrath when Christians fail. Instead, we continue to call for repentance and continue to promise forgiveness through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When the government tries to forgive sinners, it steps on the church’s feet. Governors and Presidents have power to pardon criminals, but a governmental pardon is not forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the cross of Christ through the work of the Church.

Christians have a dual citizenship. We are loyal to human government and take part in its actions. We also belong to the kingdom of God, and our first loyalty is to Jesus. When the government opposes God’s ways, we follow God’s ways, as Daniel did in Babylon and as Peter and John did in Jerusalem. But—even though Christians are called to reach out to their neighbors with the good news of forgiveness through Christ—it is right and not sinful for Christians to report a crime to the police. It is right and not sinful for Christians to testify truthfully in court about crimes they have witnessed. Christians may serve as police officers, jurors, judges, and even executioners. When these actions bring punishment to sinners, the wrath of God is being exercised. The final wrath of God will be expressed on the Day of the Lord, but his wrath works through human government today to limit sin and evil in the world and to protect all people from sin and evil.

Faith in Christ spares sinners from the wrath of God on the Day of the Lord. Faith in Christ does not spare sinners from the wrath of God exercised by human government. Prison officials do not witness to prisoners, but they permit Christians to enter the prisons and witness to prisoners. If a criminal comes to faith in prison, that criminal is a forgiven sinner spared God’s wrath on the Last Day, but that prisoner must continue to serve his or her sentence in the world under the authority of human government.

Human governments consist of sinful humans. They sometimes make mistakes and do what is wrong. In a democracy, Christians are free to vote for the leaders they expect to make the fewest mistakes. They are free to send messages to their leaders, advising them to do what those Christians, informed by the Bible, believe to be right for the government to do. Christians even have freedom to gather together and protest wrong decisions made by the government. Christians remain subject to human government, which represents the authority of God. We owe our leaders honor and respect, even when we feel that they are mistaken—even sinful—in what they say and do.

Church leaders describe the wrath of God to warn sinners of the coming Day of the Lord, the punishment that will be dealt to sinners. But we do so to call for repentance. Rather than constantly preaching fire and brimstone and the wrath of God, Christians should be known for pointing to the cross, showing how Christ consumed the wrath of God to spare us the punishment we deserve. Christian leaders should be known for proclaiming the love and mercy and grace of God, not only his wrath.

Church leaders often call believers to discipleship or to holiness. We remind people why we were made—to love God and to love our neighbors—and we encourage one another to do good works. But the commandments of God do not cause sinners to do good works. The commandments do not create discipleship or holiness. The commandments describe what Christians should do, but the forgiveness of God gives Christians power to do good things. The commandments describe the perfection of Jesus, but the forgiveness of God transforms us into the image of Christ, changing sinners into saints. Knowledge of the wrath of God does not, by itself, redeem sinners; knowledge of the wrath of God moves sinners to repentance, opening their minds and hearts to hear and believe the good news of redemption through Christ.

In this way the Bible distinguishes between the functions of God’s wrath under human governments and in the Christian Church. J.

Keep Flying High

(chorus)  Reach up your hand and touch the sky. Look around you and wonder why.

Take the worst in the world and try not to cry, and keep flying high.

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.

 

Take a journey far away. We love you so.

Tomorrow’s dreams begin today. You’re our hero.

You carry our desire in all you do

And wherever you fly, we all go too.        Chorus

 

Smile and look around you now. Keep flying high.

The work you’ve done is over now, up in the sky.

You’ve been training for so long, so keep flying high.

We salute you in song. You’ll never die. Chorus

 

When you leave this surly sphere, reach out and touch God’s face.

Confide in him and have no fear. He suffered in your place. (instrumental interlude)

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.        Chorus, two times