Candlemas (Groundhog Day)

The day began bright and sunny, which according to tradition signals six more weeks of winter. The birds, however, did not get the message. Their singing indicated their confidence that spring has already arrived. Today’s temperature, and the forecast for the coming days, seems to say that the birds are right and the groundhog is wrong.

Most people, whether believers or unbelievers, are familiar with the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Far fewer are aware of the minor festivals of the Christian calendar, such as Candlemas, which is observed every year on the second day of February.

As Christians in the Roman Empire chose to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus (that is to say, his birthday) at the same time that Romans and Celts and Germans were celebrating various Yuletide observances, so Christians also chose to celebrate the Presentation of Jesus at the same time that Celts were observing a holiday they called Imbolc. This holiday falls halfway between the winter solstice near the end of December and the spring equinox near the end of March. In Ireland, some of the old customs of Imbolc have been blended into St. Brigid’s Day on February 1, but for most other European Christians and their descendants around the world, Candlemas has received the attention formerly given to Imbolc.

The second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke describes the birth and childhood of Jesus. The familiar account of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, including the announcement by the angel to shepherds and their visit, comes from Luke. Luke also wrote that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day from his birth and was presented to God on the fortieth day from his birth. Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 puts the anniversary of his circumcision on January 1 and his presentation on February 2.

What is the significance of the presentation of Jesus? As at his circumcision, Jesus was fulfilling the Law for the benefit of all his people. The Law of God, given through Moses, required every firstborn son to be offered to God and purchased from God with a sacrifice. This presentation and purchase of the firstborn son reminded God’s people of the tenth plague upon Egypt, when God’s angel killed the firstborn son of every family in Egypt except for those who obeyed God, marking their houses with the blood of a lamb. The details of the plague, the Passover, and the remembrance are filled with images of Jesus and his sacrifice—the death of a firstborn son picturing the death on the cross of God’s only-begotten Son, the substitution of a lamb for some sons (and the use of the lamb’s blood to identify those who were protected) showing Jesus as the Lamb of God taking the place of sinners, and the purchase of the firstborn son in following generations showing the price Jesus paid on the cross to cover the debt of sinners. Because Jesus, on the fortieth day from his birth, was already obeying the commands of God, Christians are credited with his righteousness. We are free to approach the throne of God and even to call him our Father. Jesus took our place in this sinful world so we can take his place in God’s Kingdom.

Bonfires were lit in Europe on Imbolc night as part of the celebration of the holiday. Christian churches chose to replace the bonfires with many candles, filling the church with light to remember Jesus, the Light of the world. From that custom comes the name, Candlemas. I first encountered that name in the stories of King Arthur, for he and his knights would gather on Candlemas, as they did on Christmas and Easter, to celebrate and to await the beginning of new adventures. The king would not allow his court to eat the feast until some odd event had taken place, sending at least one knight off on a mission to rescue some victim or defeat some enemy.

Before the establishment of the National Weather Service or the invention of Doppler Radar, European Christians often trusted traditions about the holidays to make long-term forecasts of the coming weather. St. Swithin’s Day (July 15) in the British Isles was thought to set the pattern for the next forty days—either it would remain dry for forty days or it would rain for forty days, depending upon whether or not it rained that day. In Hungary the weather on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) predicted the kind of winter that was coming: “If St. Martin arrives on a white horse, it will be a mild winter—if he arrives on a brown horse, it will be a cold and snowy winter.” In other words, snow on November 11 promised a mild winter. So also, the weather on Candlemas was thought to predict the next forty days of weather: a clear and sunny Candlemas meant winter was only half over, but a cloud-filled sky on Candlemas morning meant that winter was over and spring was about to begin.

In Germany bears often took a break from hibernation around the beginning of February to check out conditions and get a bite to eat. The weather tradition for Candlemas became associated with the emergence of the bear and the question of whether it cast a shadow. German settlers in North America adapted the tradition to local wildlife, and thus began the tradition of Groundhog Day.

Ironically, more Americans are aware of Groundhog Day than of Candlemas. The fame of Groundhog Day increased in 1993 with the release of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. The movie has little connection to Christian beliefs. It is more suited to explaining the idea of samsara, found in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Samsara is the cycle of lifetimes in which one’s atman (roughly analogous to spirit or soul, but not exactly the same thing) keeps returning to this world until it has learned all it needs to know and is fully enlightened.

Christians do not have to worry about the trap of samsara. We have one life now, and a resurrection to eternal life on a Day known only to the Lord. Our place in that new creation is earned, not by our good deeds, but by the sinless life of Christ lived in our place, and by his sacrifice on the cross which pays for all our sins. While we do not know how many days or years remain before the Day of the Lord and the new creation, we have every day between now and then to rejoice in the Lord’s promises and to imitate his goodness.

There may be six more weeks of winter. Or perhaps spring has already arrived. Either way, a new world is coming according to the Lord’s plan and on his schedule. His people can hardly wait. J.

This is a slightly revised version of a post first published on February 2, 2016, and then reposted a year ago.

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Cold in the Heartland

The blast of Arctic air that has moved across the Heartland this week brings me memories of other winters. Growing up in the Heartland, I was accustomed to a few days some years when the high temperature of the day was below zero degrees F. I was also accustomed to a few days some years when the high temperature of the day was above one hundred degrees F. We learned to live with such extremes, although central heating and air conditioning made the living far easier.

When I was a boy, I watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the moon. When winter came, I chose to imitate their excursion in our back yard. The temperature was five degrees below zero, so it was important to leave no skin exposed; but that was just the point. I was dressing up as an astronaut, putting on double layers of shirt and pants, thick socks, black boots (which had five buckles each), mittens on my hands, a heavy coat with a hood, a stocking cap under the hood, and a scarf across my face. Dressed in that fashion, I went through the back door and backwards down the steps, making a giant leap for mankind. I observed the scenery, took samples of the snow, and played astronaut to my heart’s content. For the next couple of years, whenever the weather gave me the opportunity, I repeated the experience, leaving footprints that would never fade, since there is no atmosphere—and hence no wind or rain—on the moon.

It’s hard to describe the difference of a day below zero to people who are miserable when the temperature falls below forty degrees F. Snow has a different sound when you walk on it in the deep cold of winter—instead of crunching, it squeaks. Frozen fog is a sight to see—ice crystals hanging in the air, not falling as flakes. The coldest days come with clear skies, as the snow reflects the light and heat of the sun back into space. That sunlight glaring off the snow can almost blind a person, especially a person wearing glasses that have just become coated with frost when they hit the cold air.

Heartlanders in general, and Chicagoans in particular, are proud of our ability to face all kinds of weather calmly and stoically. We laugh at dwellers of the desert who come to visit in August and wilt, even though the temperature is only ninety degrees, because the relative humidity is also ninety. We laugh at the foreigners who bundle into their heaviest coats when the first snow falls in October and then take pictures of themselves and each other. We know how to drive in the snow, and we sneer at those who slide off the road. Harsh weather makes us strong, able to face any difficulty, unlikely to be overcome by adversity.

The story is told of a Heartlander who died a couple of years ago; he was sent to the devil’s prison for his sins. The devil knew this Heartlander to be a tough man, so he tried his best to make him miserable. He cranked the thermostat up high, but the Heartlander simply relaxed and said, “Feels like a July day back home.” Annoyed, the devil turned the temperature even higher, but all he heard was, “Feels like the middle of August back home.” The devil decided to try the opposite extreme and turned the air conditioner on full blast. Soon fog was swirling, icicles were forming, and even the devil himself begin to shiver. Satan smiled, though, as he heard the man running around in the fog shouting at the top of his voice. Strangely, though, the man did not sound unhappy. Satan lost his smile when he heard what the man was shouting: “The Cubs won the World Series! The Cubs won the World Series!” J.

Jesus has this covered

On his blog, Wally Fry asks the rhetorical question, “The weatherman says, ‘a storm is coming,’ and everyone panics. The preacher says, ‘Jesus is coming,’ and no one cares.” OK, that’s not a question, but it’s still a rhetorical statement. “Everyone” and “no one” are exaggerations, but the point remains that people react more strongly to a little winter weather than they do to the warnings and promises of the Bible.

So I commented, “I suppose it wouldn’t make much sense to rush to the store and buy bread and milk and eggs and a shovel because Jesus is coming. J.” That was merely a quick and casual reaction. Now that I’ve had a few more hours to think about Wally’s quip, I find that I have more to say.

First, it’s true, at least in Wally’s part of the country (Arkansas), the threat of a little snow or (worse) ice sends everyone to the store to buy milk and bread and eggs. Toss in a little sugar and cinnamon and you could make French Toast. Why people want French Toast with their ice and snow, I don’t know. Of course, they also buy shovels to move snow off the sidewalks and driveways and salt to melt the ice. The city and county and state governments invest very little money in snow removal equipment, since most of the time the snow is gone in twenty-four hours without any human effort. There is always a risk, though, of a longer freeze, possibly with the electricity out, so people in Arkansas have learned to be prepared. And by “prepared,” I mean that they rush to the store to buy milk and bread and eggs.

Jesus told a parable (found in Matthew 25:1-13) about ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive so the wedding celebration could begin. Five were wise and brought extra olive oil for their lamps; the other five were foolish and had no extra oil. When the bridegroom’s imminent arrival was announced, they saw that they had no oil and begged to borrow some oil from the first five, but there was not enough oil for the wise ones to share. Instead, the foolish bridesmaids went to find a store open all night where they could buy some oil. The bridegroom arrived, the doors were locked, and the party started. When the foolish bridesmaids found themselves locked outside of the party, they knocked on the door, but the bridegroom did not recognize them and left the door locked.

Bible interpreters sometimes chase the rabbit of “what does the oil represent?” The olive oil could be almost anything, and the parable still makes sense. Anyone who feels a need to rush out and purchase supplies because Jesus is coming is in danger of missing the party. Like the wedding guests who thought that their own interests and possessions were more important than the wedding of the king’s son (Matthew 22:1-14), these bridesmaids found something to be more important to them than the arrival of the bridegroom. As a result, they missed the party.

Why would you need to run to the store when you know Jesus is coming? Do you need milk? Jesus brought the Israelites to the Promised Land, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17); he can certainly supply us with all the milk that we need. As for bread, we know that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3), but still Jesus says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he that has no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself with rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2). He who fed crowds of thousands with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish also promises that when he comes, he “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isaiah 25:6). Do you need to buy eggs? Jesus says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12). Believe me, or believe his own words: Jesus has this covered.

Jesus can even provide the shovel. We know that he is our Great High Priest (Hebrews 8:1-7), and we read in the Old Testament that shovels were part of the equipment given to every high priest (Exodus 27:3). They were used for clearing ashes from the altar, but still we know that Jesus has his own shovel. And what of salt? Jesus says to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). So Jesus is prepared for any bad weather. No storm can defeat him.

Jesus has this covered. We do not need to run to the store because Jesus is coming. Instead, we prepare to welcome him joyfully, knowing that when he arrives, the biggest party ever is going to begin. J.

Childhood injuries

I had a mostly-healthy childhood, except for the summer I turned six. That’s when I fell off the basement steps and hit my head, and a short time later I was wrongly diagnosed with asthma.

My family lived in a ranch house that had a largely unfinished basement. The top of the steps faced the back door of the house: to reach the basement, one took four steps down facing west, stopped at a landing and turned, and took eight steps down facing north. The first four steps were enclosed by walls, but the other eight steps had only a handrail, with open space on either side. That is why, when I fell, I did not fall down the stairs. I fell off the stairs, landing head-first on the cement floor.

I do not remember the fall, so I don’t know what I was doing that caused me to fall off the steps. My mother was in the basement and heard me cry when I hit the floor. She feared a concussion and raced me to the hospital after leaving a note for my father. My sister rode to the hospital with us, and she remembers talking with me, making sure I stayed awake, because of a common misperception at that time that a person with a concussion would slip into a coma if he or she fell asleep.

I remember being in the hospital. I was in a ward for children, one with several crib-like beds. I must have been there several days, because I remember that my bed had become a rat’s nest including a few toys from home, hand-made get-well cards from my sister, and coins from well-wishers who I no longer remember. Across the room was a girl named Rosie. One day I scrawled a message to her and tried to toss it to her, but it fell short. She cried, but I remained calm. I pressed the call button and asked the nurse to pick up the message and hand it to Rosie. I remember her name because I named a toy for her, a pale blue rabbit with a rose atop its head.

I was home and convalescing when I had my next medical episode. I was playing with a toy called Rig-a-jig. (see image below) The plastic shapes could be connected in a number of ways, either by putting them sideways tab to tab, or by connecting two tabs with red plastic tubes, the shortest of which was about half an inch long. An almost endless list of projects could be produced by attaching the pieces together. But sometimes the plastic pieces got stuck to one another and were hard to separate. That was the case that day—one of the short plastic tubes was stuck on the tab of one of the colored shapes. Being six, I had the bad judgment to try to loosen the tube with my teeth. I succeeded, but the tube went down my throat. Once again, my mother rushed me to the hospital, where I was X-rayed. The plastic tube did not appear on the X-ray, so the doctor decided that it had gone into my stomach and would pass through my digestive tract without causing any harm.

No one connected that event with the fact that I almost immediately developed symptoms of asthma—the characteristic wheezing sound of asthma when I breathed, which worsened when I exerted myself and had to breathe more deeply. I was not allowed to play outdoors—even my first-grade recess times were spent in the classroom. I came home from school as quickly as possible, which meant that I was always wheezing strongly when I came in the front door. Tests were scheduled to determine which allergens were responsible for my symptoms. Only a couple days before the scheduled tests, I coughed out the plastic tube, and my symptoms disappeared.

When I brought the phlegm-coated tube to my mother, she at first accused me of swallowing a second tube. When I insisted that I was not holding a second tube, but that it was the first one that had disappeared down my throat earlier, and when she noticed that I was no longer wheezing, she called the doctor and canceled the tests. He asked if he could have the tube to show his colleagues. Evidently, I had inhaled the tube and it had lodged in a bronchus, from where it produced the noises that sounded like asthma when I breathed.

Children sometimes do foolish or careless things that cause them harm. I’ve been to the emergency room with my own children more than once. But none of them has ever inhaled a piece of a toy, I am glad to say. Repeating their father’s mistake would be doubly foolish. J.

 

rigajig

Maikeeng Spelcek unesisairee

English is a difficult language. Not only does it have a large vocabulary and many exceptions to most grammatical rules, but English spelling is wildly unpredictable. Consider, for example, the words “tough,” “though,” “through,” and “thought.” Add to the list “threw” and “taught.” Various efforts have been made to standardize English spelling, and few of them have succeeded. With some extra time to play around with ideas on a long weekend, here I present the Salvageable seven-year plan to reform spelling in the English language.

These suggested changes would be made, two a year, looking at consonants in January and vowels in July. Spreading the changes over seven years would make it easier for people to adjust, rather than throwing what appears to be a foreign language into their laps all at once. People and places would be allowed to keep their current spelling if they chose, just as the post office allowed Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to keep its final “h” while smaller communities with similar names were urged to drop the “h.” All other written communication would be gradually reformed until English spelling finally made sense.

The change made on the first January would be to drop silent consonants from the language. “Psychology” would become “sychology,” and the book of Psalms would henceforth be known as Salms. This initial change would go almost unnoticed, but it will be already a step in the rite direction, the direction of consistency and predictability.

In July a bigger step would be taken by standardizing the letter “a.” From now on, when someone wanted to rite the sound “a as in pan,” that sound would be represented by the letter “a.” When someone wanted to rite the sound “ai as in pain,” that sound would be represented by the letters “ai.” This step would remove a lot of silent “e”s from the ends of words, and people would find it helpful to know alwais how to pronounce their “a”s.

The next Januairy we would stop doubling consonants and would use, for example, only one “t” in the word “litle.” This smal refinement would saiv time for riters and for readers, maiking English more and more acesible to al.

In July the time would hav come to standardize the leter “e.” From now on, when someone wanted to rite the sound “e as in bet,” that sound would be represented by the leter “e.” When someone wanted to rite the sound “ee as in beet,” that sound would be represented by a double “e.” Once agen, the geseeng gaim about how to pronounce certen werds would bee ended.

A tinee change would bee introduced in the next Januairee. A sound that has no consistent speleeng would get a new rule. The sound represented by the leter “s” in the midle of the werd “mesure” would now bee speld “jh,” chaengeeng the werd to “mejhure.” This smal change helps to set up a biger change that wil come the foloweeng Januairee.

But next, in July, wee could standardize the leter “i.” The sound of “i as in bit” would alwais be riten with an “i,” wiel the sound of “ie as in biet” would alwais bee speld “ie.” You can see wair this is goeeng. In the comeeng yeers, wee wil bee takeeng up “o” and “u” as wel.

Now the excietment bilds as wee comit ourselvs  to cleer phonetic speleeng. “Phonograph,” for egzampel, would beecome “fonograf.” Everee tiem wee wanted a “k” sound, wee would riet the leter “k.” This big step asures us ov a Januairee to reemember.

In Julie wee fienalee come to terms with the leter “o.” Frum now on, the sound uv “o as in hop” wil alwaes bee riten “o,” wiel the sound uv “o as in hoep” wil alwees bee riten “oe.” Wee ar moer than half-wai throo the proses, and wee ar maekeeng good progres.

A yeer after maekeeng al the consonants foenetik, wee wil hav noetisd that wee skarslee need the leter “c.” It now oenlee apeers in kombinaishun with the leter “h” in werds such as “cherch.” Wee need simplee to drop the “h” and let the leter “c” maik the “ch” sound, and wee ar wel on our wai to beter Inglish.

Cum Juelie wee kan deel with the leter “u.” If wee want the sound “u as in cut,” wee simplee need to riet “u,” wiel if wee want “ue as in cuet,” wee would riet “ue.” The manee tiems wen the “ue” sound is speld “oo” can bee canjd, soe a dubel “o” wood now alwees sound liek “oo as in book.”

Haveeng canjd “ch” intue “c,” wee ar now free tue taik the uesles leter “x” and let it repreesent the sound foermerlee represented bie “sh.” “Xut the doer” miet seem stranj tue our ies at ferst, but wee wil get uesd tue it oever tiem. Alredee transliteraixun frum Cieneez to Inglix uezez the leter “x” this wai.

Bie theez ruelz wee hav eeliminaeted the need to uez the leters “w” and “y” as vouls. Frum nou on, the “au” sound wil alwais bee riten “au,” never “aw,” and soe on.

Bie the fienel Janueairee uv this proses, wee ar redee foer the last big canj: wee wil replais everee “th” wiq the leter “q.” But beekauz the leters “th” repreesent tue diferent sounds, wee wil hav tue distinguix “q as in qeeng” frum “qh as in quis.” (In unrefoermd Inglix, that wood bee “th as in thing and th as in this.”)   Frum qhis tiem on, Inglix wil maik perfekt sens tue everee reeder, and the spelcek funkxun on our kompueter proegrams wil bee entierlee unesisairee.

Bie the wai, quis iedeeu did not begin wiq Salvajibel. Kredit iz due tue Dolton Edwards, hue roet “Meihem in ce Klasrum” in 1949. Ie enkounterd it in a book kald “The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology,” publixd in 1951. J.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Thyatira (and to Christians today)

“Only hold fast to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25—read Revelation 2:18-29).

Like the congregation in Pergamum, the congregation in Thyatira was too tolerant. In this case, they were tolerating a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was queen of Israel, the northern kingdom. She was married to King Ahab, but she was not an Israelite. She came from Lebanon (Phoenicia) and was devoted to the Canaanite gods, especially Baal. The showdown Elijah prompted between the Lord and Baal involved Jezebel, who vowed to kill Elijah after he humiliated and destroyed the priests of Baal.

The Jezebel in Thyatira, according to Jesus, was seducing his servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul addressed the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians. On the one hand, food is food, and the fact that it had passed through a pagan temple made no difference to the Christian whose faith in God was secure. On the other hand, some Christians are insecure in their faith. Seeing fellow Christians appearing to conform to pagan beliefs could damage their relationship with Christ. Therefore, Paul resolved—and advised others—to do nothing that would damage the faith of the weak. A Christian was free to eat food offered to idols privately. Out of love for others, the same Christian would not eat such food in the presence of someone whose Christian faith might be damaged by such eating.

The applications for today are numerous. A loving Christian would not drink beer in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, let alone offer that person a beer. Certain kinds of music trouble the consciences of some Christians, as do certain entertainments such as dancing or playing cards. Each Christian makes up his or her own mind about whether to do these things privately or to give them up as a sacrifice to the Lord. To encourage a Christian to change his or her personal rules, to end a voluntary sacrifice, neither honors God nor shows love for that fellow Christian.

At the same time, no Christian should confuse his or her sacrifices to the Lord with the sacrifice of Christ. Only Christ’s sacrifice removes sin and reconciles a sinner to God. The sacrifices we offer the Lord are only thank-offerings. They earn neither God’s forgiveness nor our place in heaven. The Christian who gives up drinking or dancing in the belief that such a sacrifice earns forgiveness of sins should be gently and lovingly corrected.

Sexual immorality is always wrong. God created us male and female so we could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Also, we are male and female so we can be loving partners, supporting and upholding one another. Every marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people; he is a husband to us all. Every thought, word, or deed that tarnishes marriage is an insult to God as well as a sin.

Christians today are being asked to tolerate many insults to marriage. The spirit of Jezebel is as active today as it was in ancient Thyatira. Jesus knew many good things about the Christians in Thyatira. He mentioned their good works, their love and service and patient endurance, and the fact that their latter works exceeded the first. They had not lost their first love, as the Christians in Ephesus had lost. But tolerating Jezebel and her seduction of the saints was a blot on the record of this congregation. Jezebel was drawing them into what she called “the deep things of Satan.” Jesus does not want us to blend truth with falsehood. He does not want us to try to please both the Lord and Baal, both Christ and the sinful world.

Therefore, Jesus says that he has no additional burden for them. They are to hold fast to what they have until he comes. Jesus will come in judgment to strike down false religion and to punish all those who pervert his teachings. We do our best to warn others against the corrupting influences of the world, but we cannot defeat evil. Only Jesus can overcome and provide the victory. Because Jesus has already won this victory, we rest securely in his arms, finding strength in him to do what is right and knowing with confidence that we belong to his eternal kingdom.

From “Unveiling Revelation,” a work in progress. J.

A watched pot/making ragout

They say that a watched pot never boils.

That is, of course, a figure of speech. Set on a working burner that is turned on, a watched pot of water will eventually come to a boil. In fact, two pots of water—one closely observed and the other ignored—will come to a boil at the same time, given that all the variables—amount of water, starting temperature, and so on—are identical.

But the meaning of the expression is this: when you are waiting for a change to occur and you are paying attention to the process and watching for the change, it seems to take a lot longer than if you keep yourself busy with other matters and do not focus all your attention on the change you anticipate.

But that literal statement is far less poetic than, “A watched pot never boils.”

When I was a boy, I used to love to watch a pot of water come to a boil. First come the wisps of steam that indicate that the water is getting hotter. Then small bubbles begin to form on the bottom and sides of the pot. They grow bigger, until some of them rise to the surface and pop. More and more bubbles form, bigger and bigger bubbles, coming faster and faster, until finally the entire pot of water is at a roiling boil.

As a man, I don’t generally have time to watch water come to a boil. Usually other tasks need to be done—tend to the sauce, put away the spices, set the table—so when the water is boiling, I can drop in the pasta and know that the meal is just a few minutes away from being served.

Last night I made ragout. (For those who don’t know, “ragout” rhymes with Magoo.) Like goulash, ragout is a hearty stew which can be prepared in hundreds of different ways, from a planned recipe to “clean out the refrigerator and use whatever hasn’t spoiled.” My ragout recipe has developed over time and resembles spaghetti sauce, but with lots of vegetables as well as meat. I start with onions, garlic, green pepper, celery, and carrots, chopping each ingredient and then tossing the pieces into a skillet which has been heating a little vegetable oil. I add them in that order, so that the onions cook the longest and the carrots the shortest amount of time, keeping them crisp. Next I empty the skillet into a bowl and place 1 ½ pounds of meat in the skillet. I use a mixture of ground beef and pork sausage, but 1 ½ pounds of either would work too. When the meat is browned, I drain the grease and immediately add a cup of burgundy and a small can of tomato paste. I stir the mixture until the meat is coated, then add the spices: a bay leaf, a tablespoon of Italian Seasoning (a blend of oregano, thyme, and parsley), a teaspoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of Worchester sauce. Then I open and drain a can of mushroom pieces and add it to the sauce; also a large can of diced tomatoes. All this takes about forty-five minutes. Stir thoroughly, bring to a simmer, and leave at a simmer for another half an hour, stirring occasionally. During that half hour, I boil the pasta. I prefer egg noodles, but elbow macaroni or just about any other pasta would do as well.

The leftovers warm nicely in a microwave for lunches the rest of the week.

While the sauce simmered, and after the table was set, I got to watch the water come to a boil. It was just like being a boy again in my mother’s kitchen. J.

Rumor control, continued

After I posted about Facebook this morning, some new information came to me which needs to be added to the previous post:

  • The name “Facebook,” said backwards, sounds like, “Kubsafe.”
  • Kubsafe was a goat-headed god worshiped by some of the indigenous people of West Africa, as well as by some of their descendants in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is said that if a person walks into a dark room, faces a mirror, and says the name of Kubsafe three times in a row without pausing, the face of the god will appear in the mirror. Under certain circumstances, that figure in the mirror may try to harm the person who has invoked him.
  • People of a certain age (or a certain level of maturity), having read this information, will try that very experiment tonight.

You have been warned. J.

Rumor control

I received an urgent Facebook message from my cousin this week. She had received a friend request from me which she knew was spurious, since we are already Facebook friends. She proceeded to instruct me how to warn all my Facebook contacts not to accept a new friend request from me, since someone is obviously using my name and picture for no good purpose.

I thanked my cousin for her warning and told her not to worry—most Facebook users are savvy enough not to refriend someone who is already a Facebook friend. When she repeated her warning, I sent her a link to a Snopes page about Facebook pirates, and she then told me that she felt better and less worried.

When I was in high school and college we did not yet have Snopes. We had to rely on something which we called common sense. Mimeographed sheets were passed around schools, churches, workplaces, and the neighborhood with warnings about sinister plots in the world. The Procter & Gamble company, maker of soaps and toothpastes and many other household items, was actually a satanic organization, which could be proved by studying their corporate logo. Rock musicians were hiding nefarious messages in their popular songs by recording the messages backwards. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had persuaded members of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all Christian broadcasting from American radio and television. None of these messages was true, but without Snopes to discredit them, these messages continued to be shared and believed.

Somehow in the twenty-first century Facebook has become the target of these kinds of rumors. Facebook is going to start charging users for its services. Facebook has claimed ownership and intellectual control of anything its users have ever posted, even if they have deleted those posts. Facebook pirates are using the identities of Facebook users to hack into other users’ accounts and cause terrible harm and destruction.

Snopes has addressed all of these rumors and found them to be incorrect. (Of course if you Google the phrase “Snopes tool Illuminati,” you will receive nearly 42,000 hits in less than half a second.) Facebook users shouldn’t have to check with Snopes before accessing their accounts. Some old-fashioned common sense should dispel any rumors about Facebook, as I will now try to demonstrate:

  • Facebook makes a lot of money providing its free services to its users. If it was not profitable, Facebook would not continue to exist. But it’s not your money that Facebook is earning, so why should you even care?
  • Facebook does not claim ownership of the material its users post. On the other hand, everything posted on Facebook is available all over the Internet to every kind of user. Stalkers and other creepy people can see what you post on Facebook. So can people who have a more legitimate reason to care what you post. Never post anything on Facebook that you would not want seen by your parents, your children, your neighbors, your current employer, or any possible future employer. Use Instagram for those embarrassing posts.
  • Some of the people you encounter on Facebook will have beliefs and opinions that differ from yours. These people include relatives, old high school friends, and even members of your church. They will post statements that you believe to be wrong. They will disagree with things that you post. They will sometimes be rude about these differences. Life happens.
  • If you do not read the things you post before you send them to Facebook, you will sometimes be guilty of silly and embarrassing typos, misspelled words, and improper grammar. A quick run through what you have written will help you catch those mistakes, and this can affect the opinion other people have of you. Save your typos and other mistakes for Twitter.
  • Facebook is not the world. It does not deserve more of your attention than your job, your household, or your relationship with the Lord. It is possible to turn off Facebook and step away from the computer. It is possible to go an entire day without looking at Facebook. Some people live normal and happy lives without even having a Facebook account.

I hope this information has been helpful. J.