The Lord’s a Shepherd I don’t want

When I was a little boy, I misunderstood the meaning of Psalm 23, verse one. When we read, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” I thought that we were saying that we did not want the Lord to be our Shepherd. Only later did I come to understand that the verse really means, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Rather than proclaiming the goodness of the Lord and the sufficiency of his blessings, I thought we were confessing the depravity of our own hearts, our likeliness to wander away from the Shepherd who is caring for us.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. We are not content with the blessings provided by our Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures, but to us the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. He leads us beside still waters, but we have more exciting beverages in mind. He leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake, but we want to strike out on our own and blaze a new trail for ourselves.

He teaches us to pray for daily bread, but we desire a larger supply and more variety; like the Israelites of old, we would soon grow tired even of the miracle of manna. He tells us to be content, forbidding us from coveting what he has given to our neighbors, but we covet all the same and try to keep up with their worldliness. He warns us against earthly treasures, vulnerable to rust and moths and thieves. He promises us heavenly treasures that cannot be stolen and will not spoil. When we talk to him, we tell him much more about the earthly treasures we want and say much less to him about the heavenly treasures he wants us to have.

Jesus describes the hired hand who abandons the flock. Undoubtedly, one of the temptations Satan offered the Lord was the opportunity to forsake the flock, to permit us to wander, to stop trying to care for rebellious and wayward sheep. Jesus said no to this temptation as he resisted all the devil’s temptations. He continually explores the wilderness, finding his straying sheep and carrying us back home. He even lays down his life for us, taking upon himself the penalty we deserve so we can belong to him forever.

If Jesus abandoned us in the wilderness, we would be lost forever. Instead, he provides for us in every way we need. He gathers us into his one flock, the Holy Christian Church. He guides us with his Word in the Bible and in the teachings of the Church. He blesses us in the Church, preparing a Table for us and blessing us with his anointing. He has blazed a trail for us across the valley of the shadow of death, assuring us that we are not alone even on that journey. Instead, we will dwell with him in his house forever. Meanwhile, his grace and mercy accompany us every day, for Jesus is our Shepherd, whether we want him or not. J.

Advertisements

The true beginning of spring

The beginning and end of the seasons are matters for some dispute. Makers of almanacs and calendars  proclaim changes of season on the equinoxes and the solstices. The spring equinox this year will take place at 11:55 a.m. Central Daylight-Saving Time. At that moment, the earth will tilt in such a way that the sunlight will strike directly upon the equator. As a result, on that day all parts of the earth will experience twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of nighttime—hence the term “equinox.”

Yet in the United States the social calendar does not reflect the calendar of equinoxes and solstices. Summer traditionally begins on Memorial Day weekend and traditionally ends on Labor Day weekend. A holiday season begins when stores start displaying their Christmas decorations and advertising their Christmas sales—recently, this has happened around the end of October. The same holiday season ends with the celebration of the New Year, and then comes a dark and dismal season punctuated by a series of minor holidays including Dr. King’s birthday, Super Bowl Sunday, St. Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day.

But when does winter end and spring begin? One theory holds that winter ends if the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2nd and does not see his shadow. If he sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow and we have six more weeks of winter (putting the start of spring shortly before the equinox). Still other people make the celebration of Easter the beginning of spring, putting the start of the season anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

For three reasons, I place the start of spring at the beginning of March. First, this division nicely breaks the year into two halves. From March to August we write the full names of months, using three to six letters. From Sept. to Feb. we abbreviate the names of the months, using three or four letters. In my opinion, that distinguishes the times of the year as well as any other measurement.

Moreover, this plan provides nearly three full months of spring before the summer social calendar kicks in on Memorial Day weekend. Following this pattern, summer ends on Labor Day weekend, and the start of winter can be placed around the beginning of December.

But the best way to identify the beginning of spring is to consult the lyrics of Lerner and Lowe’s classic Broadway musical Camelot. In this idealized world, as young King Arthur assures his future bride Guinevere, even the weather is subject to royal decree. Among the commands that the weather must follow are these stipulations: “The winter is forbidden ‘til December, and exits March the Second on the dot.” Following this command of the king, the Salvageable household invariably acknowledges the beginning of spring on the second day of March.

Blessings to you on all your spring activities. J.

Memories, like the corners of my head

My memory is not what it used to be.

Then, again, it never was.

Somehow this winter I’ve wandered the internet chasing through rabbit holes about memory. The news is not good. According to various studies, human memory as not as reliable as we would like to believe. In fact, our memories can be changed merely by the way people ask us questions about what we have seen or heard.

Example #1: Show a film of two cars colliding to various individuals. Afterward, ask them several questions about the filmed collision. Ask them to judge how fast the cars were traveling when they collided. But ask other people who saw the same film how fast the cars were traveling when they crashed. Those who hear the word “crash” in the question generally will remember the cars moving faster than those who hear the word “collide.”

Example #2 is similar. Ask people to study a photograph of two cars that have collided. After taking away the photograph, ask them several questions about what they saw. Ask if they remember seeing broken glass by the cars. (There was no broken glass in the photograph.) Those who are asked about the cars that crashed are more likely to remember broken glass than those who are asked about the cars that collided.

Example #3: Show individuals a group of photographs of various people. Afterward, ask them questions about the photographs. When you ask how tall the basketball player was, the average answer will be several inches greater than when you ask others how short the basketball player was.

Can it be that we were both so simple then?

Most people are willing to admit that their memory is less than perfect. Some people go to great lengths to deny faults in their memory. Fiona Broome is an extreme example of this tendency. She was surprised to hear that Nelson Mandela was still alive in 2010 because she remembered his funeral taking place in the 1980s. When she asked other people about Nelson Mandela, a few others agreed that they thought he had died in the 1980s. Rather than confessing that their memories were wrong, Broome affirmed that they were remembering the death and burial of Nelson Mandela correctly—they had somehow traveled from an alternate reality to this reality while keeping a few memories of the former reality.

I am not making this up! The Mandela Effect is considered proof of alternate universes and jumps between them. Billy Graham’s funeral is remembered by some people as having already taken place in past years. They have vivid memories of television and internet coverage of his funeral, and they insist that this funeral must have happened in an alternate reality. In addition to funerals, people remember variant spellings of certain names and different corporate logos that have never existed. There’s nothing wrong with their memory, they say—they are merely victims of the Mandela Effect.

I remember noticing twenty years ago that most people misspelled the Berenstain Bears. But some people insist that, when they were younger, the name was spelled Berenstein. They insist that their bologna’s second name is M-E-Y-E-R, whereas I thought the commercial of the little boy singing about his bologna’s name would help people remember that it’s M-A-Y-E-R. There has always been a “k” in Chick-fil-A, no matter what people say they remember. And the United States has never had more than fifty states, even though some people remember learning that there are fifty-two.

Apparently the Mandela Effect has also relocated New Zealand, which some people claim used to be west of Australia. I have had the same experience with Japan, which I picture being much closer to Taiwan than to Korea. But I don’t believe in an alternate universe where island nations are relocated.

As if the Mandela Effect was not already far-fetched, some people go a step further and insist that the Mandela Effect is the result of CERN’s experiments to understand subatomic particles. If I follow the argument correctly, the work with high energy particles has either caused alternate worlds to begin existing or has increased unintended travel between alternate worlds. People really believe these theories, and somehow they also believe that the world of Berenstein Bears and New Zealand west of Australia is a better world than the one we live in now.

At least I think I remember someone making that claim. J.

Close My Eyes

I wrote yesterday that I’ve only addressed one Cathy by name in a song. I chose my words carefully. A person bearing one of the names in the first sentence of yesterday’s post has been the subject of a song I wrote, but the song does not include her name.

We were co-workers for a while—more than four years—but more days have passed since I last saw her than took place while we worked together. Both of us moved from desk to desk in the company for various reasons, but there was a long stretch of time when our desks were close enough for us to talk with each other (and for me to overhear her conversations with other people). Suffice it to say that she was (probably still is) a nice person, a thoroughly competent and efficient worker, a ray of sunlight in the workday. I was stunned when she announced to the company that she had taken a job with another employer. After she left, I missed her even more than I had expected. From that experience, though, I did come to write a song. It has a bouncy tune, reminiscent of Boyce and Hart. Without any further ado, here it is:

 

Late at night I’m lyin’ in bed/                                      And I close my eyes

Pictures of you crash through my head/                 And my heart cries; my heart cries

I can’t believe you left me here/                                Each day or night I dream of you, dear

And since you’ve gone, I only bring you near/      When I close my eyes; I close my eyes

 

I’m sitting outside on the ground/                            And I close my eyes

And thoughts of you crash all around/                     And my heart cries; my heart cries

The birds can flutter, chirp, and sing/                      And joyfully announce the spring

But thoughts of you block everything/                    When I close my eyes; I close my eyes

 

You didn’t have to leave, you know/                        My love for you would only grow

And ever since you went away/                                 I fight to make it through the day

And night or day I always seem/                                 To picture you as in a dream

I reach for you and my soul tries/                              To draw you near when I close my                                                                                                       eyes; I close my eyes

 

I’m driving down the road, you see/                        And I close my eyes

I crash my car into a tree/                                          And sirens cry; I hear sirens cry

I should have kept them open wide/                        And paid attention to the ride

Instead of wanting you by my side/                          To close my eyes. Please close my eyes

I should have kept them open wide/                        And paid attention to the ride

Instead of wanting you by my side/                          To close my eyes. Close my eyes

 

J.

 

Cathy: the musical

I’ve known many Cathys over the years—Catherine, Katherine, Kathryn, and Kathleen, among others—but I’ve only addressed one of them by name in a song. Oddly, she’s probably the Cathy I’ve known the least well.

I was a graduate student, and I had taken an evening job as a security guard at a local business. My assigned duty was to sit in a guard shack at the entrance to a parking lot, checking vehicles in and out. How I spent my time in that shack when no vehicle needed my attention was up to me. I did most of my schoolwork in that shack: reading and research, writing rough drafts of papers I would then type back on campus, even some writing of fiction. The day I accepted the job, I signed a paper saying that anything I produced on company time belonged to the company. Fortunately, they never asked for copies of my school papers or my short stories. They remain in my private collection to this day.

Even though the job was not stressful, the company was required to give me a break every evening. I spent my break in the main building, often buying a snack at the company canteen. I spent time visiting other workers also taking a break at the canteen. One of them was a young petite blonde named Cathy. I only met her three or four times. I don’t know her last name, her position with the company, or anything else about her. All I learned from her was that she had an abusive boyfriend who didn’t deserve her love or her attention. She’d given him one last chance more than once, and she knew he shouldn’t get any more chances. Yet, for some reason she couldn’t identify, she was still with him.

Back on campus, I wrote a song about her situation. I wrote it from her boyfriend’s point of view. From what she had said, I believed that he was a jerk and a loser, yet somehow I was able to put myself in his shoes. Somehow, that song has become a signature song in my repertoire. When I entertain myself in the evenings by strumming my guitar and caterwauling, “Cathy” is usually my closing number. It requires a bit more energy than my other songs, and the melody challenges my range. For years, though, the song about a man I never met based on the little his girlfriend said about him has become one of my favorite songs. At one time, I even changed the words of the chorus to make it a Pepsi commercial.

Here are the lyrics: the chorus first, and then both of the verses. The chorus repeats between the verses and at the end of the song, and there is also a long instrumental interlude.

CATHY

Cathy, don’t be afraid;

Don’t give up quite so soon.

Cathy, stay one more day

Before you leave on your own.

We still have a chance;

Please don’t throw it away.

Cathy, stay one more day

Before we go it alone.

 

I know that I’ve been a fool.

I’ve made it hard on us both.

When you needed me, I was cruel.

Why that was, I still don’t know.

All I know is I’m sorry now

If you’ll give me a chance to prove it;

And if you want to know how,

Just give me a chance, and I’ll do it.

 

 

The first time you went away

I thought it was a joke.

I barely lived ‘til the day

You came back to renew my hope.

I swore it wouldn’t happen again;

Time has made me a liar.

Give me one more chance and then

I’ll set your heart on fire.

 

J.

 

Three unrelated thoughts

Much of my spare time this week has been spent proof-reading (or “copy-editing,” as they say in The Biz) my book about the parables Jesus told. I am hoping for a March 1 publication deadline. Because I have updated to Word 2016 since my last big project, I am receiving more editing suggestions from Word. Some of them meet with my approval; in other cases I disagree with Word.

Word does not like the phrase “whether or not.” After further review, I agree with Word that “whether” is sufficient in most cases.

Word suggests a comma after introductory words or phrases such as “therefore,” “of course,” and “so.” Those pauses seem unnatural to me, so I am largely ignoring those suggestions. I find it helpful, though, that Word is underlining them for me; it helps me to see where I have used such phrases too frequently and should remove them or rephrase sentences to make them unnecessary.

As in previous editions, Word 2016 dislikes the passive voice and suggests shifting to an active voice. While this shift might be appropriate in most literature, it can be very inappropriate in theology. A redeemed sinner is entirely passive when it comes to salvation; a sinner’s actions contribute nothing to salvation before being saved, or while being saved, or after being saved. God does all the work to rescue sinners. Until Word produces an edition that is free from heretical tendencies, I plan to continue ignoring its suggestions about eliminating the passive voice.

I only recently became aware of the grammatical suggestion that strings of prepositional phrases be avoided. (The amusing wording of this rule is to ignore them except when one is being led “through the valley of the shadow of death.”) Word 2016 underlines cases where it thinks prepositions are too close together. Unfortunately, this tendency singles out entirely appropriate phrases including “in spite of.”

 

I used some Christmas gift money to buy a DVD of the movie 500 Days of Summer. I did so for two reasons: I enjoy Zooey Deschanel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and thought I would like to see her star in a romantic comedy; and IMDB recommended 500 Days of Summer to people who liked Ruby Sparks. The movie is enjoyable as it covers a relationship between a young man and a young woman in a nonlinear fashion, more the way he might remember the episodes from a distance rather than experiencing them in order. As a narrator intones at the very beginning of the movie, it is “not a love story.” In fact, it is far more realistic than most love stories. Unfortunately, both 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks seem incapable of depicting a romance without suggesting physical intimacy beginning very early in the relationship. I’d like to see a romantic comedy in which the main characters do not go beyond holding hands and an occasional brief kiss. Maybe Hollywood writers believe that such romances no longer happen in the twenty-first century. (If so, they’re wrong.) Maybe Hollywood writers are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to undermine marriage and family. (It seems that way sometimes, but I suspect their motivations are more financial than centered on social engineering.) I hesitate to recommend any movie that I would be reluctant to show to my parents or my children, but I confess to enjoying 500 Days of Summer and expect to watch it again soon, to catch the details I missed at the first viewing.

 

This morning while I was driving to work, I saw a delivery truck (painted with the 7-UP logo) in the left lane of the street, signaling an attempt to merge into the right lane. Traffic was tight and other drivers were ignoring the truck driver’s signal, but I held back and made a space for the truck to change lanes. As a result, I missed out on a green light and had to wait through the entire cycle of lights at a busy intersection. Later, I left room for a car to enter the street from a side street. It seems as though such courtesies toward other drivers ought to be rewarded with an extra green light or two, but I guess things like that happen only in the karmic pages.

The Consolation of Philosophy

Within the space of a few days, one of my close relatives turned eighteen, another turned fifty-five, and a third turned ninety. The last celebration in particular brought the extended family together around the close of the Christmas season, having a Christmas gift exchange one evening followed by a lavish meal, then assembling in a restaurant the following night, culminated by an open house the next afternoon for friends from the neighborhood and the congregation.

This, then, was how I spent my Christmas vacation, sleeping in the house of a relative and eating food cooked by that same relative. Vacation schedules are always out of step with regular life—especially at this relative’s house, where breakfast is served late in the morning, lunch is served well after noon, and dinner might not reach the table until nine o’clock at night. (At home I usually eat breakfast around seven a.m., lunch at 11:30 or noon, and dinner at 5:30 or 6 p.m.) My reading pattern adjusts to fit the new schedule. When I wake up at this relative’s house, I get dressed and grab a cup of coffee, then start the day reading from the Bible and from some devotional book. (At home I often don’t do that reading until after dinner.)

My devotional reading for 2018 is selected portions from the Christian writers of medieval Europe. Many Christians today neglect the medieval writers, skipping from Augustine to Luther, with perhaps a nod toward secular writers like Chaucer. I delight in the literature of the Middle Ages, from the Authurian legends to the songs of the Niebelung (the source material for Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle operas), Beowulf, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The theologian/philosophers of that time are equally awesome, from the mystics to the scholastics, with many beneficial teachings about the Bible and about Christian living.

So it happened one morning that I was sipping coffee and reading Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy (written in the year 524) while my host studied the morning paper and my hostess was at work in her kitchen. The coming open house was intended to be a stunning display of her home itself, but also of her culinary skills. She was preparing more than a dozen finger foods, from fruit skewered on a stick to fancy hors d’oeuvres like her mother used to make. I had already sifted through family photographs to select dozens of images of the birthday guest at various stages of life, and these were also scattered around the house. Various family members were enlisted at various times to help prepare the food and the house. Furniture had to be rearranged to accommodate the guests and to hold all the food that would be served.

Here is a sample of what I was reading that morning: “Wealth cannot give a man everything and make him entirely self-sufficient, even though this is what money seems to promise. But I think it most important to observe that there is nothing in the nature of wealth to prevent it being taken from those who have it…Therefore, a man needs the help of others to protect his money…But he wouldn’t need it, if he had no money to lose… The situation is upside down, for riches, which are supposed to make men self-sufficient, actually make them dependent on the help of others… Don’t the wealthy become hungry and thirsty; don’t they feel cold in the winter? You may argue that they have the means to satisfy their hunger and thirst and to protect themselves against the cold. Nevertheless, the needs remain, and riches can only minimize them. For if needs are always present and making demands that must be met by spending money, clearly there will always be some need which is unsatisfied… Though the rich man has a flowing torrent of gold, his avarice can never be fully satisfied. He may decorate his neck with oriental pearls and plow his fertile lands with a hundred oxen, but biting care will not leave him during life, and when he dies his wealth cannot go with him.”

A call from the kitchen reminded us that help was needed, certain tasks still needed to be accomplished. My host sighed, set down his Wall Street Journal, and left the room to pull a serving table out of storage. I also set aside my reading for a more opportune time and checked to see how I could be of service. J.

Update and season’s greetings

I cannot predict my WordPress status for the next several days.

My home computer and WordPress are not interfacing well. When I go to my Reader page and try to scroll, the screen alternates between freezing and rolling uncontrollably, making it hard for me to click on a visit button before it escapes my pointer. Since I will not be able to use my work computer for the next few days, I may have problems visiting all the blogs I love and enjoy.

I have a project in mind, though, that I will try to post over the twelve days of Christmas. It involves picking up where I left off with Martin Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. The next topic will be prayer.

If I don’t have the opportunity to visit your site and wish you a Merry Christmas, please accept my best wishes all that same. May the Lord bless your celebration of His holy days. To Jesus be the glory. J.

Christmas tree past

With apologies to the late Tom Petty… and to my son:

 

He’s a good boy, but sometimes curious,

Can’t help touching what he sees.

It’s a blue spruce, but make of plastic

With ornaments of ceramic and glass.

It’s got colored lights and shiny tinsel.

It’s wobbly, won’t stand up straight.

He’s a good boy, but sometimes curious,

Can’t help touching what he sees:

Now the tree—

Tree falling!

The tree–

Tree falling!

J.

Writing about writing

I was hoping to publish a new story a week ago for First Friday Fiction, but the writing is not going well. This short story is meant to accompany Alibi or Lie, Tom Haven Takes a Leap, and The Mystery of the Yellow MustangIt takes place during the holiday season of Thanksgiving through Christmas. So far, though, I have not been able to develop the dramatic tension that the other three stories possess. I hoped that, once I started writing, additional ideas would occur to me. So far that has not happened.

On the other hand, I have managed to publish my novella through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace. I will leave it available for free on this site for another week or two before withdrawing it; for those who are interested, the book will sell for six dollars. I had one disappointment while creating the book: none of the stock images available for the cover match the story. I ended up using an image of theatrical masks, which can loosely be associated with the story. I would have preferred either a single rose or a romantic couple in silhouette, but neither of those images was offered. (By the way, more than two hundred people have clicked on my novella page and presumably read at least some of it; two have indicated that they like it.)

Last month I took part in a book signing and sale. Forty self-published authors paid for the privilege of spending four hours in a room at the public library with copies of their books to sign and sell. More than half the people who came to the event had a single author to visit, went straight to that author, and left without interacting with the other thirty-nine. I cannot complain: five of the six books I sold were to one person who came only to see me. Other people cruised the room to see what was available. Two of those visitors made a deliberate effort to visit with each author and to ask questions about our books. Other people were interested only in certain topics, not in everything available. As I mentioned to another author near me after the first hour, “They look at my table and see ‘Jesus’ and ‘Bible,’ and they look away as fast as they can. Then they look at your table and see ‘God’s plan,’ and again they look away as fast as they can.” In the future I think I will aim to have shorter book signings with more targeted audiences, but it was interested to try the library’s event one time.

My family has not sent Christmas cards for several years, but I thought we would send cards this year to the cousins and college friends who have kept in touch in this way. In shameless self-promotion, I will include a note telling what each member of the household is doing and mentioning the books I have published this year. I also have a canvas bag in my car with several copies of each of those books, but I never have the courage to tell people that I have books for sale. The fun is in the writing, not in the advertising and promotion. So far I’ve given away more copies of my books than I’ve sold. But at least I’ve achieved my life-long dream to be an author. J.