Saturday, January 31, 2009

One Book Meme

I got this from Educating Petunia and thought it looked like fun, although it is harder than anything for me to narrow any answer down to only one book!

One book you’re currently reading: The Family Cloister by David Robinson -- about how to apply the wisdom of the Rule of Saint Benedict to family life, written by my friend Kitty's cousin

One book that changed your life: Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard, brother to Elisabeth Eliot. It opened my eyes to the beauty of liturgical worship and how it is centered on God's Word.

One book you’d want on a deserted island: Besides the Bible? Complete Works of William Shakespeare -- 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and several longer poems ought to keep me going for a while.

One book you’ve read more than once: Besides the Bible and just about every book in my library? (I adore rereading!) Hmmm..... I'll go with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I'd say that besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, I reread this book the most.

One book you’ve never been able to finish: Les Miserables. I've tried and tried and have never read beyond page 20 or so.

One book that made you laugh: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and in the silent reading room of the USD Library, no less. I had to leave before I burst an internal organ or two in my vain attempts to hold in my laughter.

One book that made you cry: Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. I was reading it in Hawaii in 1990 (halfway through grad school) and finished it around 2:00 AM by throwing it against the closet door of our condo and bursting into tears. Startled Keith a bit. Haven't read George Eliot since.

One book you keep rereading: The Psalms. Every month from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Showings of Julian of Norwich. I keep meaning to start it and something else always gets in the way. I want to examine her work if I ever pursue my doctorate -- I've only read snippets of this book in anthologies.

One book you believe everyone should read: The Bible, obviously. :)

Finally, grab the nearest book. Open it to page 56. Find the fifth sentence: From The Private Patient by PD James: [Rhoda speaking] "'I have an old portrait in the house where I live.'"

If you use this meme, let me know. I'd love to read your answers.

Sirius .... Seriously

I am thrilled to be writing this blog entry from a new laptop -- the Hp Pavilion dv-1140 Go Entertainment Notebook PC -- see image above from

You see, I've been limping along in cyberspace, using a seven-year-old dinosaur of a Toshiba laptop not-so-fondly named "Eeyore" for its slowness and reluctance to perform any function without severe complaints. A "good day" with Eeyore meant taking 20 minutes to get online while a "bad day" meant I was either on Keith's computer or using the PC's at our small town's library. Neither of these situations were helpful when attempting to teach online courses, especially when said courses were saved on Eeyore.

Our church's administrator, Veneta, took Eeyore home with her and managed to get the 13 viruses off Eeyore over a several day period. Then she had to drive all the way up the mountain to try to get him back online -- which took four hours of a lovely vacation day. Then as Eeyore kept getting stubborner and stubborner, I was calling her on a regular basis. On Thursday when I asked her what to do when Eeyore refused to load the antivirus software after four attempts, she told me to "Open jacuzzi lid. Insert Eeyore. Close jacuzzi lid. Turn on jacuzzi."

Keith took that as a sign that I really, really needed a new computer. He managed to find this new, sleek, shiny, sexy laptop for half-price because of sales, a rebate, and the fact that the box had been opened, although the computer was still wrapped tight. He surprised me by bringing it home last night (Friday), and I've been getting it online, getting AOL all set up, and moving my files over from the external hard drive. Good thing I backed Eeyore up just last weekend!

I still have a bit of a learning curve -- such as saving photos from online like the computer photo above. But I'll get it all worked out very soon. I love the way this keyboard feels as I type with it -- simply lovely. It's so much smaller and lighter than Eeyore ... and had a battery! Eeyore's battery lasted five to ten minutes, and this one should last about two hours, according to users. It's simply lovely.

The hard thing has been thinking up a name for it. My friend Carrie's family names all of their computers after theologians, but I'm not that sophisticated. I thought that since it's an HP, I must name it after a Harry Potter character, right? (After all, my '91 Corolla is named "Molly" after Mrs. Weasley because both have more spunk that one would think.) So since this computer is such a nice shiny black I've opted for ...

... Sirius. Yes, Sirius Black. The pun opportunities should be endless.

Seriously. :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

ER Season 15 ... the Last Season

I remember my excitement in 1994 when two new medical shows, both based in Chicago, went head to head on Thursday nights. Our favorite Northern Exposure had just finished, and the "Bubble Man" would be starring in one and "Adam" would be starring in the other. Well, despite Mandy Patinkin, Chicago Hope lasted only a few seasons while ER has gone the distance -- all the way to their 15th and final season.

I missed a season or so when Kerry "went gay" but otherwise we've watched ER pretty much for the entire 15 seasons. We watched Carol's suicide attempt on the very first episode, a result of her relationship with Doug (George Clooney), then their romance develop, his leaving Chicago, her giving birth to twins, and their life together in Seattle. We watched Mark's divorce from Jen and struggles with daughter Rachel, his romance with Elizabeth Corday, his brain tumor, and his death. We watched Carter grow from a terrified student to a resident to a doctor in Africa to a near-father, grieving at the death of his child. We watched Peter Benton's career develop, his relationship with Jeanne Boulet and his deaf son. We watched Susan Lewis come and go over the years, with and without Chloe and "little Susie." And over the years other doctors and nurses came and went: Kerry Weaver, "Rocket" Romano, Abby Lockhart, Luka Kovac, Jerry, and so many more.

This 15th season has many of past characters returning: as I type this I'm watching a rerun of the return of Anthony Edwards as Dr. Mark Green -- along with Kerry Weaver, Romano, and Jerry -- and we saw Elizabeth Corday come back a few weeks ago interviewing Neela for a position at Duke. Jerry has returned and asked for his old job back. And the grapevine tells us that Benton, Ross, and Hathaway are to return over the course of this last season as well, plus Carter, of course. Morganstern (William H. Macy) will be returning this next Thursday, a week from tonight.

We also think of those who have already left -- and who knows if they will return or not through death or other means -- Lucy Night (Kellie Martin), Michael Gallant, Cleo Finch, Malucci, Maggie Doyle (Jorja Fox), Jing-Mei/Deb, etc. Plus all the nurses who have come and gone.

And a few really amazing guest stars, like Susan Sarandon, are popping in for this last season, plus Angela Bassett is here for this 15th season as well. And looking back over the past 15 years, the guest stars have been spectacular: Bob Newhart, Don Cheadle, Forrest Whitaker, John Cullum (another Northern Exposure alumnus who played Mark's dad -- both were on the Alaskan show), Mariska Hargitay, Sally Field (as Abby's mom), Stanley Tucci, Kristen Johnston, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Gross (as Carter's dad), Red Buttons, Alan Alda, Rebecca DeMornay, Marg Helgenberger, Mary McDonnell (Carter's mom), Armand Assante, Danny Glover, Lucy Liu, Ed Asner, Chris Sarandon, Eileen Brennan, Rosemary Clooney, Hal Holbrook, Tom Bosley, and Tom Poston (thanks to IMDB).

So this 15th season is perhaps going to be one of the most remarkable. We've said our goodbyes to Pratt (who died), and Abby and Luka (who moved to Boston) at the beginning of the season and are seeing the faces of old friends through flashbacks and new story lines. We still see our regulars -- Sam, Neela, Dubenko, Gates, Ray, Archie -- yet I can't help but to wonder how the season will close, especially since NBC has ordered three more episodes. But it's still a story of humanity (despite its liberal political statements and sleazy sleeping around of the characters) -- of life and death, love and loss. I've laughed at times and I've sobbed quite often, especially when Mark Green died.

I think the stars of ER, though, are the screenwriters who create such amazing characters and dramatic events. They are the ones who have truly kept ER going, through life, love, and many, many deaths. But they are the ones who truly deserve the credit for keeping ER on the top for *15* years. I had absolutely no idea when I first started watching this medical drama in 1994 that it would end up being one of the longest-running TV shows of all time. We'll say our final farewells to Chicago's County General in May ... not too long from now. I remember the sense of history when I watched the last episode of M*A*S*H after eleven years on TV. The final episode of ER will truly be amazing. I'm simultaneously looking forward to the last episode to see what will happen and dreading it because I don't want to see it end.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Writing and the Teaching of Writing...

Writing is hard work. And often teaching writing seems even more difficult. In addition to teaching my own home-educated students, I teach online classes through Brave Writer and two high school writing courses (which I designed and wrote myself) at our private independent study program (PSP) co-op Class Days. The Brave Writer classes are a great deal of fun because I teach workshops in areas that are of special interest to me: grammar, poetry, and Shakespeare.

But the Intermediate (college prep) and Advanced (honors) Writing courses take a great deal of grading time. I only have fifteen students between the two classes, but grading their three-to-five page essays every two weeks is time-consuming and, at times, frustrating when they don't "get it." Grading essays for these co-op classes take approximately 25 hours per month, if not more. Plus I fill up my fountain pen every other day when grading; I think my students may end up with an abhorrence of sepia ink. ;) (Because of my rheumatoid arthritis, I use a fountain pen for all handwriting because I don't have to press down at all while writing so I can write for much longer than with another instrument.)

In addition to teaching at Brave Writer and Class Day, I also tutor four students, three of them weekly and one on alternate Thursdays with my own boys, J and T. Two are in tenth grade, one in eighth, and one in sixth (along with my 6th and 8th grade boys). All four are using the same curriculum: the Beginning Writing Course I helped Becky Winn, the founder of our homeschool PSP, revise from her original class notes. This course is also taught at Class Day for students in grades 7-12. All three of my weekly students are writing the typical five-paragraph essays while the writing class, meeting every other week, is finishing up process paragraphs before heading into five-paragraph territory.

Tutoring is enjoyable for me, but it's just hard to fit in our schoolwork before my tutoring students arrive. I need to get started earlier or do something to help us finish by 3:30 when they come as I'm really tired of starting school back up at 4:30 and continuing until 5:30 or 6:00 PM (often later) until we finish the day's work. Sometimes their growth as writers is painstakingly slow, a frustration for both them and me. I have to bolster and encourage all of my tutored students a great deal in order to keep them writing. Writing *is* very hard work, especially when they have either a first draft or a final draft of an essay due each week. That's a lot of writing.

But there are moments of joy as well. Yesterday one of my sophomores made a complete breakthrough. Over the course of the year, she had been discouraged as her younger sister (8th grade) received better grades and turned in more creative and descriptive work. But as we've started expository writing, the older sister has started to really bloom as a writer. And the second draft she turned in to me yesterday was every bit as good as final drafts I receive from sophomores and juniors in Intermediate Writing at Class Day. Her essay was well over two pages long (typewritten and double-spaced) and she developed her ideas very well with specific images. She also followed the block format of the compare/contrast essay perfectly. Her introduction was strong, starting with a clever title and a wonderful "hook" of an opening line, and her conclusion was very strong as well. I am so proud of her for breaking through! It was a result of her hard work and determination, and I just about bubbled over when telling her mother about it yesterday. And this sophomore who has rarely smiled during our sessions was glowing. I am so thrilled for her.

Yes, writing is hard work. And teaching writing is even more difficult. But when a student discovers her strength in writing and is able to write strong, expressive sentences, assert and support her points clearly, and cleverly entice her audience into both reading her essay and also leaves them with some "food for thought" at her closing, we have absolute success. She no longer writes like an early junior high student but at the level that a sophomore should be writing -- if not better. I am bustin' with pride and happiness at her successful essay. And such moments make all of the blood, sweat, and tears of writing worthwhile -- for both of us.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Conversion of Saint Paul

("The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Murillo)

Yesterday, January 25, marked the celebration of one of the most dramatic events in the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps in the entire New Testament. The story is told in the ninth chapter of St. Luke's account of the rise of the early Christian Church:

9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (English Standard Version)

The Collect for this day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer reads:

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessd Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; thriough Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From is a wonderful message about Saint Paul's conversion:

Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “...entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.
One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.

From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).

Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.

So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.
(Remember, this is from one of the premiere Catholic sites, and it seems quite clear that the doctrine of "salvation by works" is not being taught here. But I digress....)

St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus was indeed dramatic, but in some ways wasn't nearly as dramatic as the life Paul lived afterward. As one of our school devotionals, The Pocket Guide to the Bible by Jason Boyett remarks about Paul, straight from 2 Corinthians 11: "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten by rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea ... I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers." As Jason remarks at the end of the paragraph on St. Paul, "Christianity isn't for sissies."

Yet St. Paul remained joyful, using his time to write letters of love and admonition to the many churches he founded, letters that make up over half of our New Testament. Near the beginning of each epistle following his greeting, Paul tells each church body how he prays for them ceaselessly, how much he loves them, and how he is proud of them and of their growth in the faith. Yes, he sometimes has quite harsh messages for them in some areas, but he always "sandwiches" his reproving between praise and encouragement.

In my Divine Hours devotional by Phyllis Tickle are several prayers to mark this day. I couldn't decide whether I liked the Midday or the Vespers prayer best, so I'll just have to post both:

From the Midday Office: Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Paul to be a light in the world: Shine, I pray, in my heart that I also in my generation may show forth your praise, who called me out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

From the Vespers Office: Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Paul, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and I pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, I may by your grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Worship: Poetry vs. Prose

I have found another blogger I'm really starting to enjoy. I read one of his comments at Michael Spencer's Internet Monk blog and followed his link back to his own blog and have been reading his writings ever since. One of his posts so completely summarized how I have felt about worship that I want to share it with you:

Michael Mercer's Otium Sanctum

I like his idea (one that I've definitely noticed myself) that liturgical worship is more like poetry while evangelical worship can be likened to prose. Now, although I ADORE <3 poetry <3 there are definitely times when prose gets at the heart of the matter more quickly, more incisively. So it's not a metter of "poetry = good; prose = bad" at all. I happen to prefer poetry for worship although at times I can learn more from prose. Both have their places within the church. What I would like to see is a service with a bit of BOTH; they do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Part of Michael's post, besides a quote by Tozer, was a list of what he looks for in worship. I don't consider this list as exclusive of evangelical churches as I know of some (like mine) that do take the inherent weaknesses of "low church" worship (to use an awkward term) into account and attempt to balance them. But's a list to consider, to ponder:

A church with a worship space that puts God front and center, focusing attention on him. To put it bluntly, an altar not a stage.

A worship space that communicates both God's transcendence and immanence, lifting our faces and hearts upward and gathering us as one family together around the God to whom we look.

A worship space that is intentionally designed and decorated with elements of beauty that stimulate the imagination and delight the heart and mind.

A worship service that is personal, hospitable, and authentic, but not "chatty" or "casual."

A worship service that encourages the active participation of all worshipers, not one that reduces the congregation to an audience of spectators and listeners.

A worship service in which the leaders understand the power of words, and use them to lift us into a higher realm of thinking, imagining, and relating to others.

A worship service that is not just all about analysis and answers, but one that invites us into the mysteries of realities that transcend what our minds can comprehend.

A worship service that is filled with Scripture, along with time and space to meditate on what God is saying.

A worship service that honors the sacraments as well as the Scriptures.

A worship service that allows for holy silence.

A worship service that both reflects what the Holy Spirit has taught the church over the ages (history and tradition) and what the Spirit is saying to the church today (creativity, spontaneity, freshness).

A worship service that respects and includes people of all ages and backgrounds.

So I plan to read more of Michael's thoughts -- this series is so interesting to me as a student of worship, especially liturgical worship. So keep on writing, Michael -- I'll be reading.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Judgment of the Next Generation

One of my favorite Christian writers is Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Eastern Orthodox writer who used to be Episcopalian. I've read just about all of her books and have met her twice -- she's so lovely. She used to be a hardcore 70's feminist and then God spoke into her life ... and the life of her husband. Now he's an Orthodox priest and she writes about their little parish and about Orthodox with humor and wonderment. Her latest articles can be read at her website, along with her testimony and information about Orthodoxy -- and her list of wonderful, wonderful books: Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Frederica started her writing career with a book on the abortion debate, an attempt to get both sides to truly listen to each other and dialogue with each other in a non-confrontational manner. And her latest article in the National Review addresses the abortion debate again. The whole article can be read on her website: Judgment of the Next Generation.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

When I was a young fire-breathing college feminist in the early 70’s, we didn’t see abortion as a melancholy private decision—it was an act of liberation. By choosing abortion, a woman could show that she was the only person in charge of her life, and bowed to no one else’s control. But this formulation turned sour as the grief felt by post-abortion woman began to accumulate. The flip side of autonomy is loneliness, and for many women, their abortion decision was linked to emotional abandonment.

And then there was the advent of ultrasound technology, enabling live images of a baby moving in the womb. In 1989, word went round the pro-life movement to order the tape of pollster Harrison Hickman’s presentation at that year’s NARAL convention. On it he said, “Nothing has been as damaging to our cause as the advances in technology which have allowed pictures of the developing fetus, because people now talk about that fetus in much different terms than they did 15 years ago. They talk about it as a human being, which is not something that I have an easy answer how to cure.”

So there are some reasons to think that the abortion question has not been settled, but has merely gone underground. That might be a necessary step. It has to go away so that it can be rediscovered, and seen in a fresh light.

And another excerpt:

But the time is coming when a younger generation will be in charge, and they may well see abortion differently. They could see it, not as “a woman’s choice” but as a form of state-sanctioned violence inflicted on their generation. It was their brothers and sisters who died; anyone under the age of 36 could have been aborted (and somewhere around a fourth or a fifth of all pregnancies, in fact, are aborted). A younger generation might feel a strange kinship with the brothers and sisters, classmates and coworkers, who are missing.

And I’m afraid that, if they do see things that way, they aren’t going to go easy on my generation. Our acceptance of abortion is not going to look like an understandable goof. The next generation can fairly say, “It’s not like they didn’t know.” They’ll say, “After all, they had sonograms.” And they may judge us to be monsters.

Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe future generations won’t think twice about abortion. But even we who have grown sick of talking about it still harbor some doubts. In particular, people who think of themselves as defenders of the weak and the oppressed must have many a quiet moment when they wonder, “How, in this one issue, did I wind up on the side that’s defending death?”

Frederica's views after twenty-some years of working with both sides of the abortion debate have given her wisdom and insight into both the pro-life and pro-choice camps. There are certainly no easy answers, no clear-cut course to take. But thinking carefully without judging may be a way to finally make progress in a difficult, difficult problem that truly possesses life-and-death importance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Children of Hope

Last night at Lake Murray we enjoyed a wonderful choir made up completely of children from the Kampala region of Uganda. These kids, the Children of the World Choir, performed praise songs mostly in English but a few in their own language. I would love to have a tenth of their energy!

Yet these children who sang so joyfully about God's love have experienced great tragedy. Each child has lost at least one parent, if not both, to AIDS and have been either orphaned or abandoned by remaining family members who couldn't afford to feed them. These children have experienced grief, poverty, hunger, and hopelessness. And they certainly aren't alone. The brochure that we were handed by the children as we walked into the sanctuary contained a message from Bono:

"Imagine for a moment that 10 million children were going to lose their lives next year due to the earh's overheating. A state of emergency would be declared and you would be reading abou little else. Well, next year, more than 10 million children's lives will be lost unnecessarily to extreme poverty, and you'll hear very little about it. Nearly half will be on the continent of Africa, where HIV/AIDS is killing teachers faster than you can train them and where you can witness entire villages in which the children are the parents.

Will American Christians stand by as an entire continent dies?"

-- Bono, Singer in the Irish rock band U2 and leader in the global fight against AIDS.

The video we were shown halfway through the choir's presentation gave some alarming statistics that were not new to me but may be to some:
~ More than 15 million children in Africa have been orphaned by AIDS
~ By 2010, that number is expected to increase to 40 million
~ Of the 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 70% of them are in sub-Saharan Africa
~ Only 14% of born-again Christians said that they would help HIV/AIDS orphans overseas

World Help, the organization that brings the Children of the World Choir to the United States for concerts and educates churches as well as Christian schools and universities, has some goals to help these young children, striken by poverty across the globe.
~ Their Child Sponsorship Program ($30/month) has provided over 31,000 sponsorships in 22 countries between 1991 and 2007.
~ They are committed to building "Villages of Hope" in sub-Saharan Africa where up to 48 orphans will live in four small, family-like Homes of Hope headed by a caregiver. These Villages of Hope will not isolate the children from their culture but will be located near or in existing villages and thus will utilize local schools and medical clinics for the children. Older children will receive vocational skills and training. Churches can work together to build a Home of Hope ($25,000) or a Village of Hope ($100,000).
~ World Help's goal is to impact 1 million children affected by HIV/AIDS, and they are about 30% of the way to their goal.

The brochure states, "The children who live in the Homes of Hope will be bathed in God's love as they grow. They will see His love in action every day, and will grow up within their culture, rather than removed from it.

Our vision is to see hundreds of villages and homes, caring for thousands of children whose lives have been turned upside-down by HIV/AIDS!"

So while we enjoyed the concert, especially the end where the kids came down the different rows, hugging everyone, we also were educated about the urgent plight of poverty across the world, especially in Africa as a result of HIV/AIDS. When we saw the kids a year ago, E was really touched by them, and she was this year as well. Once Keith gets steadier work, we'd really like to sponsor a child through World Help.

For more information about World Help you may call 1-800-541-6691 or click here: World Help.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Little Bit About Me....

I wanted to write a little bit about myself since I seem to have some new readers who do not know me in real life (IRL). I may seem like a normal Christian homeschooling wife and mom, teaching my four kids, growing in love for Christ and others, facilitating online courses and tutoring four students, directing a writers' group and working with our local arts council. It's a busy life that sometimes drives me distracted, but it's a good life.

But most of you have little idea how much effort doing simple daily tasks cost me. Seven years ago this month I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and since then I have also received diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Within five months of my first diagnosis, I was having to use a wheelchair on a trip back east for a retreat with online friends. Within eight months I was pretty much wheelchair-bound outside of the house. Simple things like going to church, going to the grocery store, even homeschooling, were hugely challenging for me. Friends from church drove up the mountain once a week to clean our house (a task the kids have taken over now that they're older). Keith started cooking dinner each night which he continues to do as he's a far superior cook than I am, and E does the dishes nearly every night. A friend volunteered to drive up the mountain to homeschool our kids for an entire school year. I was basically either in bed or lying on the sofa all day for over two years.

The doctor who diagnosed me is a specialist in fibromyalgia, but even she was kerflummoxed by my case which didn't respond to any oral meds, including just about every antidepressant under the sun, muscle relaxants, even oral morphine. Most of the time the meds *increased* my pain rather than decreased it. I was in so much pain I simply couldn't function. I couldn't concentrate enough to read, much less write. I felt as though I couldn't even pray.

I started seeing a Christian osteopath, hoping that he had more answers than my HMO (Kaiser) did, as the specialist there gave up on me and recommended my seeing a psychiatrist as "they had more drugs to offer." But drugs weren't working. I was so relieved when my new doctor told me that my pain was NOT in my head; it was purely physical. We started trying different drugs combined natural supplements, and he worked in tandem with my Christian chiropractor who had noticed the symptoms that resulted in my first diagnosis. When they started a rheumatoid arthritis protocol that included fentanyl patches (usually for terminal cancer patients), I finally started getting some relief from the pain. Somehow my body just couldn't absorb oral medications. My osteopath also started me on chelation treatments for heavy metal poisoning, and I started improving. I could now walk with a four-pronged cane on short trips although I still needed the wheelchair for long shopping expeditions, days at the zoo or Disneyland, etc. (Still do.)

A year ago I transitioned fully off the patches (which were mondo-expensive!) to oral methadone which works fairly well for my pain. My three older kids spent one year in school in 2004-2005 (my middle son two years), but we were back homeschooling after that year because it was simply easier on me than running tight schedules at two schools and dealing with homework that was glorified busywork. I've slowly regained strength so that I rarely need the wheelchair -- just for long days on my feet. I can walk short distances, but standing in one place, especially on concrete or a hard surface, is still quite painful. I soak every night in my special therapeutic jacuzzi to help me sleep at night, and I take 80 mg of methadone daily along with some supplements. I'm still in constant pain, but it's quite manageable now. I have occasional bad days after I've done too much, but I can power through them if I need to. Unfortunately, the steroids I started taking 18 months ago have put on an extra 50 pounds that I would far rather NOT have, but I no longer have to take them. They helped greatly and I certainly needed them. So I'm dealing with the weight issue, trying to get back to my normal size.

I am supposed to avoid stress, but that simply doesn't happen, so I try to relax through prayer, meditation, and creatively expressing myself. I am sloooowwwly trying to build up my exercise routine to help lose weight: I can walk to our Post Office and back home on most days (eight minutes), and on good days I can walk to the library and back (15-20 minutes all together, with a long rest before starting home). I also have been slowly increasing my time and distance on my recumbent stationary bike; I started at three minutes and am now up to 10-15, depending on how I'm doing that day. On some days my hands hurt so much I can't straighten them, and they stay curled most of the day. I write with a fountain pen as it requires practically no pressure to write -- I just allow it to glide across the page and don't have to press down. Mornings are the most difficult as I'm usually quite stiff after sleeping and my legs don't want to work. But I make myself get up and start moving around, and within 30-60 minutes I feel better. I'm nauseous most mornings from my meds but that clears up after I eat.

My solace during this difficult time (physically and *definitely* financially) has been my faith, especially the Anglican liturgy. Each Friday morning I attend an Anglican healing service in which we pray for doctors, nurses, and health care workers, for the sick, injured and disabled, and I am prayed for specifically, with a hand upon my head and anointed with oil. The prayer is simple yet profound:

Susanne, I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with His presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve Him both now and evermore. Amen.

Susanne, I anoint you with oil in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Several people have asked me why I am not fully healed after attending these weekly services for over five years. I just feel God's grace and strength filling me up when Father prays for me and anoints me with a small cross in oil upon my forehead -- grace and strength for another week of living in pain. God uses these quiet Friday mornings of Scripture, prayer, and Holy Communion to encourage me and help me get out of bed each day for the next week. I couldn't do it without Him, I can tell you that. No way.

So now our newer readers know a little more about me. It's not something I like to dwell on here, but I do want to give God the glory in enabling me to accomplish all He allows me to do. My physical condition is obviously a big part of my life, but it's far from all that I am.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Prayer for our New President

The kids and I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama today, and as I listened to his speech, I prayed. I pray that he can indeed keep our country safe from terrorist attacks. I pray that every decision will be in the best interest of the entire country. I pray that he will seek God with all humility. I hope he can succeed as president. I am concerned about his lack of experience and his views of the role of federal government that differs from my own. But I can only hope and pray.

And as I pray for him this prayer, cobbled together from two prayers from Morning Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant Barack, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way./ Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

This prayer here is the first time I have not prayed for "George, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and for Barack, THE PRESIDENT-ELECT" as I have been praying since November. I usually add prayers "for Arnold, our Governor, for the leaders in Congress and the State Legislatures, for the judges across our land, and for all in authority...."

I also sent out via e-mail the web address of the Presidential Prayer Team, an organization that started soon after September 11 with the aim of praying daily for our President. Each Thursday I receive a list of prayer requests for our President, for Congress, for other national and global concerns, and for our military, and I have found them quite helpful. They are starting a special push to pray for President Obama's first 100 Days in office.

The history of today was remarkable. I appreciated Rick Warren's prayer and seeing all of the living Presidents and Vice-Presidents. The peaceful transition of power from one President to another was astounding back in 1797, and it's still quite an incredible thing to watch, live on TV. And the election of the first African-American President was indeed wonderful -- even if I would have preferred to see a different African-American with his hand on the Lincoln Bible (such as Alan Keyes).

But we watched history happen today, with some real reservations and with a great deal of prayer. Our family volunteered quite a few hours for the other guy, but it's going to be a tough four years for whomever works in the Oval Office. And Mr. Obama is going to need our support and prayers in order to govern well in these troubled times, so we will do our part.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Legacy of George W. Bush

I just read a very important article about the legacy of our current president -- our president for at least one more day, at least. As regular readers of this blog know, I am quite an admirer of Dr. John H. Armstrong of Act 3 Ministries for his theological views of a "new" ecumenism. His balanced views of both Protestant evangelicals and for Roman Catholics and his willingness to dialogue with both sides fair-mindedly and with great wisdom attract me to his writings.

And his "take" on politics is also one I agree with. His belief that as Christians, we have the duty to support our new president in prayer whether we voted for him or not is one I also ascribe to. And his latest blog post about the legacy of our outgoing president outlines my frustrations with Bush as well as why I still hold a favorable opinion of his presidency. Armstrong's article can be read in its entirety by clicking here: The Legacy of George W. Bush.

Armstrong points out his frustrations with bush's inability to articulate his policies for the Middle East and for our domestic economy -- a point of frustration I also share. But Armstrong also notes two important positive effects of Bush's presidency: the fact that we have not experienced another terror attack on American soil, and his life-saving policies in Africa, mostly dealing with the availability of HIV drugs to millions of infected people.

Armstrong writes:
"George W. Bush has left a noble legacy in Africa. From South Africa to Rwanda, from Ethiopia to Kenya, Bush is appreciated, if not loved. He saved millions of lives and made a difference on this continent like no previous U. S. president. His work to save those suffering from HIV/AIDS is nothing short of remarkable....

Yet some critics, such as the rock star Bono and Bob Geldorf, have become open admirers of Bush's efforts in Africa. Geldorf, who accompanied Bush on his trip to Africa last February, wrote in Time magazine: 'The Bush regime has been divisive . . . created bitterness---but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.'"

Armstrong concludes his article:
"I pray for George and Laura Bush and their future work for peace and justice. I also pray for President-elect Barack Obama who has a task before him that few of us could possibly understand. I would guess that one of Obama's best intercessors will be George W. Bush. I would also make one simple prediction: contrary to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, this ex-president will not inject himself into direct and harsh criticism of his successor who enters the oval office with my prayer support this coming Tuesday."

I hope and pray that the Bush legacy will be much more than his detractors make it out to be. I think that as time passes, he will be recognized more for his successful defense of American soil after September 11 and for his "remarkable" legacy in Africa, than for his poor communication skills. I hope that the American people and especially the media, will see fit to applaud our outgoing president for his successes and not see him only for his failures.
The final paragraph above of Armstrong's piece resonates with me. I believe that he is correct about Bush being an excellent intercessor in prayer for Obama as he knows all the complexities and problems lined up for this young president. And I believe that Bush is the kind of man who really will lift up this country and our new Commander-in-Chief in prayer for the good of the United States. I think that George Bush has received a bit of a "bum rap" on many levels, and I do hope, perhaps while wearing rose-colored glasses, that history will recognize his strengths as much as his weaknesses. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inaugural Concert

(Photo of Bono courtesy of Access Hollywood)

The Inaugural Concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was really something. Really something.

It wasn't just watching U2 singing "In the Name of Love" -- about Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial (not to mention E's favorite "City of Blinding Light" -- although that was truly a high point. It wasn't just Bono finishing the latter song sitting under a row of American flags. It wasn't just Garth Brooks belting out my favorite non-U2 song, "American Pie," which was followed by an energetic version of the great dance classic "Shout" (we were singing and raising our arms from the couch). It wasn't just watching Bruce Springsteen growling "The Rising," backed by a full robed choir. It wasn't just tearing up with Beyonce's soulful "America," joined by all the performers and speakers at the very close of the concert. It wasn't just hearing Josh Groban, Mary K. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Usher, Shakira, Sheryl Crow, John Legend, etc. It just wasn't our President-Elect's speech, hopeful though it was. It wasn't just the speakers like Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Queen Latifah, although Tom Hank's reading of Lincoln's words including the Gettysburg Address, was poignant.

It was sense of history. It was the words of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., the words of the latter read by his son. It was the words of past presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, FDR, and others. It was the fact that a peaceful transfer of power will be happening on Tuesday -- the 43rd time it has happened in our nation's history.

We've been studying the presidency of George Washington in our home school. The first time that a president willingly stepped down to allow another to take his place occurred in 1797 when John Adams became the second President of the United States. The world was astounded that Washington graciously handed over the reins of the country, preferring to allow the Constitution rather than a single man to rule the United States. In fact, when Washington walked away from the power of the presidency, something no European king would ever do, King George III of England marveled, "[He is] the greatest character of the age!" (Story of the World Volume 3, page 226).

So, no, I didn't vote for Obama; I voted for a different African-American candidate in a different party -- Alan Keyes. But I am willing to respect Obama as my President and to pray for his success as leader of our country. And the fact that in another day George W. Bush will willingly turn over the most powerful job in the country to not only another man but also a man of the opposite political party is the best thing about this country. A peaceful transfer of power is the most astounding thing about America. Our country was the first to do so in modern history, and although it is a common action in much of the world now, America was the pioneer of peaceful transfer of power from one president to another, astounding the world at that time.

It's easy to take this inauguration, or any inauguration, for granted; after all, it's been occurring for over 200 years. But this inauguration, and all inaugurations, show the United States for what we truly are: the pioneers of a republic that truly is, as Lincoln stated, "of the people, by the people, for the people." And that's the extraordinary thing about the concert today that celebrates our history as a people who peacefully transfer power between people as well as between political parties.

It's mind-blowing when we truly consider it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Writers' Workshop News

I am quite excited about recent developments in our town's little writers' workshop. About eighteen months ago, I spotted a simple notice on the community bulletin board outside our post office -- which is where all of the important town news always is posted as our town is too small for home mail delivery. So basically, everyone in our town troops into the post office each week and the bulletin board just outside the entrance door is where it's "at." This notice was very plain ... just a large black font on white paper, stating that if anyone was interested in starting a writing group, come to the library on such-and-such an evening. I was excited and called Judith, our town's resident writer who has published several volumes of poetry and is co-editor of our monthly newspaper. She was enthusiastic, too, and off we went on a Tuesday night to see what it was all about.

Dave, one of the high school English teachers, was the one starting the group, and we also had a retired junior high teacher, Jess, plus about seven others that first night including Judith and myself. I turned out to be the only non-fiction writer. Dave wrote novels, Jess short stories, Teresa fanciful children's books that she also illustrated. Rachel wrote animal stories, and Judith was working on a three-generational novel as well as poetry and a play. Somehow we "gelled" and settled into monthly meetings in which we took turns reading our work and receiving helpful feedback, noting what we felt was strong but also taking notice of what Jess calls "the speed bumps" that interfered with the piece of writing.

But over time, our numbers dwindled. Dave, Jess, and myself remained constant, but Judith was concentrating on her play and receiving feedback from a playwright. Other people came and went, like Josh and his friend who wrote some amazing sci-fi stories, Jennie who wrote sketches, etc. The idea came up to write a sci-fi novel set in our town and dealing with the huge wildfires that have plagued San Diego County in the past and recently, but unfortunately, it ended up taking too much time from everyone else's projects. I hope that Josh can finish it himself; it's a brilliant premise. Somehow just Dave, Jess, and I were attending, with an occasional extra person now and then. Then Dave wanted to devote more time to his novel, and I offered to keep facilitating the group.

But now we have three recent occurrences that I hope will bring back some who have drifted away and will also draw out other writers or people who would like to learn more about writing. First of all, we officially came under the auspices of the
Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council (MECAC). So now we have the support of the full art council, directed by Judith, behind us which makes it far easier to draw in speakers, run workshops, etc.

Secondly, we have a blog just for our Mountain Empire Writers. I hope to be putting up pieces of writing once a week to share with each other, and we can also send our friends and family to the site to read our work. If you also would like to read the work of some local writers, then feel free to check out the blog by clicking here:
MECAC Writers' Workshop. Since I am mistress of both the MECAC and the Writers' Workshop, it's easy to keep them updated and on task.

Thirdly, our writing group, with the support of MECAC, is hosting an all-day writing workshop at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center. Dr. Dean Nelson, director of the journalism department at Point Loma Nazarene University, author or co-author of eleven books, and well-published journalist, will be leading us in developing our passion for writing. The workshop will be in February, and you may check either the MECAC or the Writers' Workshop links above if you would like more information. Judith has known Dean for years, and he was my creative writing professor at PLNU. Plus, when I was an adjunct there, he allowed me to share his office since I had early morning classes and his were later. He also facilitates the amazing
Writers Symposium by the Sea at PLNU each February which brings in some very well-known Christian writers like Donald Miller, Amy Tan, Philip Yancey, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, etc. Next month Judith and I are going to see Brian McLaren and Christopher Buckley (son of William F. Buckley). So I'm really excited to have Dean come up the mountain and inspire us in our writing.

So I am praying that our little writers' workshop will start to re-blossom, to grow and stretch, and that we will improve as writers and find venues in which to share and publish our work. We'll see how it all goes, but I am thrilled that we have a few happenings going on that may boost us to the next level.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Becoming a Writer

I'm not really a fan of books on writing. Most of them seem as dry as sawdust, if not drier. I've tried Writing with Power by Peter Elbow who is Julie's writing guru but not mine. I've tried Strunk and White's famous Elements of Style -- a no-go. I've checked out other books on writing, and I just haven't been enthused. Yes, they were somewhat helpful, but their main points just didn't seem to make a difference in how I saw myself as a fledgling writer: a wannabe.
Then my dear friend Kitty lent me a little pink book published waaaay back in 1934, far before the advent of the computer. Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer seemed to be written especially for me ... especially to me.

The foreward by John Gardner let me know immediately that this slim volume was a gem-in-the-making. He pointed out that she saw that "the root problems of the writer are personality problems." Aha! On the next page, Gardner explains more fully: "The root problems [of the writer] are problems of confidence, self-respect, freedom: The writer's demon is imprisoned by the various ghosts in the unconscious."

Now we're talking. My not seeing myself as a writer stemmed from a real lack of confidence and self-respect. And I have rarely allowed myself the freedom to really let go and just write, at least until NaNoWriMo.

Then as I read Brande's book itself, I really began to understand a great deal about writing that I had truly never considered. She discussed the four problems of writers: the difficulty of writing at all; the "one-book author," the occasional writer; and the uneven writer, before telling us about what writers are really like: their dual personalities or "two persons" of the writer.

What really helped me was her advice on "writing on schedule" each day. Not that I've been able to take her advice with my crazy-busy schedule since NaNoWriMo. But even more than that very practical advice was her chapter on "Learning to See Again." In her opinion, a "dullness of apprehension to which we all submit spinelessly is a real danger to a writer." We are to "recapture a childlike 'innocence of eye" that will enable us to see our world with "wide-eyed interest" that will enable us to "gather stores of new material in a short time." If we turn ourselves "into a stranger in our own streets," our writing will gain a freshness, a vividness, an "intense awareness" in our morning pages that will be "fuller and better" than ever before. She mentioned, "one reason for the inexhaustible resources of the true genius. Everything that ever happened to him is his to use." The chapter concludes, "By the simple means of refusing to let yourself fall into indifference and boredom, you can reach and revive for your writing every aspect of your life."

Brande's ideas on the source of both genius and originality are simple yet profound. I never would have thought that originality stems from honesty and the willingness to trust oneself as a writer. She writes, "... there is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors." Zing! Wow. She concludes this particular section with "... there is no triteness where there is a good, clear, honest mind at work." And her last thought in the chapter also is thought-provoking: "The best books emerge from the strongest convictions."

Her ideas on what writers do in their free time are also intriguing -- that we should have "wordless recreation." Kitty and I discussed this very idea recently: her hobby is singing which isn't exactly wordless but is quite different from writing as she sings in several choirs, including our church choir and the Point Loma Master Chorale, among others while mine is gardening. Digging my fingers into damp soil, planning and planting, weeding and trimming, makes me feel as though I am taking a little part in the amazing work of our Creator. I know of others who quilt and sew, or draw and paint, just to get away from writing. Brande claims that wordless recreation allows time for ideas to be bubbling on the back of the stove, so to say. And I can attest to its effectiveness.

If you would like to become a writer, or would like to learn more about how writers think, create, and write, then this little book is a real gem. And if you already consider yourself a writer: congratulations. And get this book ASAP. It's practically worth its weight in gold, if you will pardon a very bad cliche. The final chapter about composing straight into the typewriter can easily be translated into writing on a computer. So with the exception of one or two names of writers current in the 1930's, Brande's book is completely contemporary and useful for the modern writer or wannabe. So truly -- Becoming a Writer is completely worthwhile, even necessary, to all who are writers or who would like to find out if they truly are writers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fruits of Confession

I have a wonderful online homeschooling friend who goes by the name of Sister Spitfire; she used to belong to the Evangelical Free Church denomination and converted to the Roman Catholic Church several years ago. She is a wonderful apologist for Catholicism, and I find her writings very interesting and well-done. Sister Spitfire's amazing post on The Fruits of Confession is a must-read for every Christian whether Catholic or not. Don't miss the hyperlinked text on "Making a Good Confession" and read that article of hers, too.

I have found such an amazing working of the Holy Spirit through sacramental confession. It requires a willingness to be transparent and humble in order to not only search one's conscience and listen to God's promptings regarding the sin in one's life, much less repeating those sins to another human being! It's very good in bringing one's ego down to its proper size. :) And as Sister Spitfire mentions, I also have not been able to walk away from confession without tears -- tears of regret at grieving the heart of God and tears of thankfulness for His amazing forgiveness.

Anglicans do not require sacramental confession the way Catholics do, but it is still practiced if one so desires. As was summarized for me, "All May. None must. Some should." I usually meet with Father during Lent, often the week before Holy Week, with Kleenexes at the ready. But one great benefit I had not been expecting was gaining Father Acker's wisdom and advice regarding conquering my "besetting sins." It was so helpful to talk about the sins that I feel (at times) that I cannot shake and to gain a new perspective as well as ideas for getting the upper hand. It was cool and comforting at the same time.

In addition to sacramental confession, I find that congregational or public confession is extremely helpful as well. At times in Lake Murray we are given a moment or two of silence in which to examine ourselves before Communion, but that's not what I'm talking about. Within the 1928 Book of Common Prayer are several congregational prayers that are prayed in unison. A General Confession can be found in both Morning and Evening Prayers, and there is also another General Confession prayed together before Holy Communion:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Note: the capital letters signal a quick breath taken before continuing so that the congregation stays in unison as they read aloud.)

The power of having an entire church full of people praying this prayer from the heart is amazing. But when one considers that *millions* of Anglicans in thousands of parishes around the world as part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, prays this prayer each Sunday is mind blowing. How the enemy hold is weakened by the confessions and humility of God's people and God's forgiveness flowing through church after church after church across the face of the earth. "Powerful" seems like a totally inadequate word to describe it.

Aside from putting up a confession on the PowerPoint at Lake Murray, the closest we can come to such a congregational prayer is to read Psalm 51 together which is a responsive reading selection in the back of our English Standard Version (ESV) pew Bibles -- Selection 17, in fact. We wouldn't have the worldwide numbers praying the same prayer as the Anglicans do (the second largest Christian tradition behind Roman Catholicism), but even the unity that would arise from praying Scripture in unison in a single congregation would be remarkable.

When God's people humble themselves and seek His face and His forgiveness together, God is pleased; Satan is vanquished; and we are conformed more and more into the image of our blessed Christ the Lord: the goal of every believer. So enjoy Sister Spitfire's posts and consider confessing more often. The Book of Common Prayer specifically states that one does not have to confess to a priest but to any fellow Christian. So find a person whom you trust if you are not of a tradition that offers sacramental confession, and give it a try. That cleansed, free feeling that I feel when I walk out of confession is one I truly want to share with you. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Disappointment in Pittsburgh

The excitement has been building all week after the Charger's win last week. The Bolts came back from a 4-8 season to make it into the Wildcard slot, and the fact they won last week without L.T. encouraged the fans as the Bolts went to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. The Chargers paraphernalia has been all over the city, and the blue and gold and lightning bolts were scattered all over jerseys and t-shirts at church this morning. In fact, the church business meeting tonight had a TV on hand, just in case the game went late so that people could watch the game during the potluck before the meeting.

But a win was not to be. Despite an excellent start, the third and fourth quarters were a huge disappointment. But the one time I sit down to watch a Chargers football game all season, we lose. It happens every darn time. So I am officially removing myself from watching any and all Charger games in the future so that their path to the Superbowl in 2010 may be completely unimpeded. Who am I to get in the way of success? The happiness of all of Southern California (as Los Angeles does not have a team anymore) will rest on MY shoulders next fall, so I pledge to ignore every single game and thus assure the Chargers of a Superbowl berth next January. It's a huge sacrifice, but I'm willing to do my part for the team.

Besides, I get so into Chargers games that I scream at the TV and terrify my children. I did it once today and decided to go outside to garden on a glorious winter day rather than watch the Chargers (lose, oops, I mean) play. The photo above was the final play in which the Chargers were ahead. Good memories, that score.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Books Read in 2008

I am quite astonished at how few books I read in 2008. I usually read twice as many, easily. But it has been a busy year with working much more for BraveWriter and tutoring an average of three afternoons a week. And I've been writing more which automatically means reading less. In fact, most of my reading takes place in my therapeutic spa before bed each night. If it hadn't been for our Logos Reading and Discussion group at Lake Murray, I doubt that I would have read even this many books.

I somehow have never counted the book I read aloud to the kids, mostly because they're juvenile literature, but I think that I'm going to start adding them. I also haven't counted the billions of times we've listened to each and every of the Harry Potter books on our long drives down the hill and back -- half an hour to El Cajon, then however long from there. But now that my tape player in my car broke, listening to books on tape is no longer a possibility. We prefer them over books on CD or iPod because wherever we stop listening, we started back at the same spot. Very handy.

So here are my books read in 2008, in reverse order: (Books marked with an asterisk were read for Logos)

30. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling (2007)
29. The Lovely Bones, Sebold(2002)*
28. Eagle of the Ninth, Sutcliff (1954)
27. Beowulf (c.800, 2000 Seamus Heaney translation)*
26. Seven Dials, Perry (2003)
25. Murder on Bank Street, Thompson (2008)
24. Murder in Chinatown, Thompson (2007)
23. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather (1927)*
22. Long Spoon Lane, Perry (2007)
21. All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare (c. 1603)*
20. Buckingham Palace Gardens, Perry (2008)
19. Where Are You Now?, Clark (2008)
18. Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, James (2008)
17. The Celtic Riddle, Anderson (2000)
16. Life of Pi, Martel (2001)*
15. Austenland, Hale (2007)
14. Blue Like Jazz, Miller (2002)*
13. Suspense and Sensibility, Bebris(2005)
12. Pride and Prescience, Bebris (2004)
11. North by Northanger, Bebris (2006)
10. HP and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling (2005)
9. Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, Konisberg (1973)
8. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde (1891)*
7. Screwtape Letters, Lewis (1942)*
6. HP and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling (2007)
5. Home to Holly Springs, Karon (2007)
4. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston (1937)*
3. HP and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling (2003)
2. Great Expectations, Dickens (1860)*
1. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (c. 530 AD)

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Laws on the Distribution of Children's Books and Products

As I perused my Yahoo Groups Digests this morning, I was appalled to read that apparently as of February 10, it will become ILLEGAL to distribute (sell or give away) any book, clothing, toy -- anything intended for children 12 years old or younger, unless it has been tested for lead by an independent laboratory and has the paperwork to prove it. The fine is to be $100,000 per infraction.

I quickly Googled around and found an article dated today on Publisher's Weekly, the top publication for the publishing trade, that confirmed my fears. Their link to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)didn't work, but I trust PW to get their facts straight. This law was passed in August, but only in November was the publishing industry made aware that books were included in the scope of the law.

A paragraph from the PW article states, "The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, enacted in August 2008 as a response to the high-profile 2007 recalls involving Chinese-made toys containing lead, covers not just playthings but all consumer products intended for use by children 12 and under. That includes books, audiobooks and sidelines, no matter where they are manufactured, even though most books have lead levels that are well below the Act’s most stringent safety standards. The industry is fighting to have most books exempted, but there may not be a resolution by the time the Act kicks in on February 10, so publishers and retailers are proceeding as if books will be included."

So how does this affect used bookstores, especially the ones that specialize in children's books, like San Diego's Prince and the Pauper? What about thrift stores and children's consignment stores? What about garage sales? Homeschool used curriculum sales? Libraries, both public and in schools? And it's the "distribution" of these products, which includes donations, not just sales.

I looked on the CPSC's website and saw that they released a statement yesterday saying that "this law does not apply to thrift and consignment stores," yet when I read through the law itself, I saw no such exemption. The law was crystal clear: "distribution" after February 10, 2009, of ALL products intended for children must be tested by a third party lab (of which there are only two to three in the whole US) and labeled as such.

I can understand if this law was covering toys (as was the original intent of the law) in the wake of the many toys imported from China that were recalled due to toxic lead levels. But books? Clothing?

And what about those small-operations that make handmade toys, like my own husband who used to have his "Wood Toy Company" for which he handmade beautiful toys. He used nontoxic dyes and finishes, but no longer would his word be sufficient. Each type of toy would have to be tested (at a cost varying from a few hundred dollars to $1500 per toy) and paperwork or labels attesting to that fact. It could shut down many artists on Etsy and other artistic/crafts sites, as well as E-Bay. Plus, what about places like Game Stop that sell used computer games?

This law, going into effect a month from tomorrow, is already creating a *HUGE* problem for book publishers who are already hurting financially. it seems to me like one more example of the government gone overboard. As usual.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Passionate Love Affair ... with Grammar

This week I started teaching Julie's One Thing: Grammar course for Brave Writer. Julie wrote the class last winter, and it's sheer brilliance. I would never, ever, in a million years, think about approaching grammar the way she does. My boys are doing the class while I'm facilitating it, and they are LOVING it.

Julie approaches grammar as a love affair with words. We started out this week making lists of our favorite words, then playing with them: writing them on cards and playing games with them, putting words together in unusual ways without being concerned with meaning. We had 3X5 cards flying everywhere last night, playing the games and laughing hilariously at the downright WEIRD combinations of words we came up with while I took notes furiously, capturing every strange and stranger combination. Our favorite was "Holy tobogganing ferret, Elf Lord!" (Those of us who are old enough to remember the old Adam West Batman TV show will remember Robin's wonderful exclamations on which this combo is based.)

Today we grouped words together and wrote rules for the groups. These "rules" like "Star Wars words" or "words associated with animals" or "words that describe stuff" will be our link to how grammar really works. As Julie says, "Grammar is simply the architecture of language," and words are the bricks, or on the kids' level, the Legos. Words fit together in certain ways according to their function: they show action (verbs), name things (nouns), describe things (adjectives), show emotion (interjections), link words together (conjunctions), show relationships with other words (prepositions), etc.

Next week we're going to make "fictionaries" -- dictionaries of fictional words, complete with our own definitions, parts of speech, pronunciations, etc. We'll use these "fictionaries" when we write our own version of Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense poem,
"Jabberwocky," which we will be studying in-depth. Grammar is what makes "Jabberwocky" make a strange sort of sense and demonstrates how nonsense words work together.

So grammar can be a complete joy. My three boys, who usually do their Daily Grams and Easy Grammar assignments dutifully but without excitement, begged me to do grammar first this morning. And we shelved our usual schedule and did grammar. And they loved every second of it. Boys demanding to do grammar is simply a miracle.

My hat is off to Julie -- the sheer brilliance of this approach is mindboggling. Even I, who have always loved grammar, am positively entranced by her manner of teaching grammar. My love of grammar has blossomed into a passionate love affair ... and I am thrilled to be able to share it with other homeschooling families on BraveWriter. I simply have the perfect job.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What Have You Done?

I saw this on my friend Nicole's blog and on Beth’s blog as well as another friend at Living Deliberately and decided to join in, too....

So, What Have You Done?

01. Start your own blog — Yes
02. Sleep under the stars — Yes
03. Play in a band — No
04. Visit Hawaii — Yes
05. Watch a meteor shower — Yes
06. Give more than you can afford to charity — Yes
07. Go to Disneyworld — No
08. Climb a mountain — Yes, but not a very high one....
09. Hold a praying mantis — Yes
10. Sing a solo — Nevah!
11. Bungee jump — Nevah!
12. Visit Paris — No
13. Watch a lightning storm at sea — No
14. Teach yourself an art technique — Yes
15. Adopt a child — No
16. Eat sushi — Nope
17. Walk to the top of the Statue of Liberty — No, but I was on a ferry from which I got some great photos!
18. Grow your own vegetables — Yes
19. See the Mona Lisa in France — No
20. Sleep on an overnight train — No
21. Have a pillow fight — Yes
22. Hitch hike — Nevah!
23. Look at the rings of Saturn through a telescope — Yes
24. Build a snow fort — Yes
25. Hold a lamb — Yes
26. Climb to the top of a lighthouse — Yes
27. Run a Marathon — No
28. Ride in a gondola in Venice — No
29. See a total eclipse — Yes
30. Watch a sunrise or sunset — Yes
31. Hit a home run — Nevah!
32. Go on a cruise — No
33. See Niagara Falls in person — Yes
34. Visit the birthplace of your ancestors — Yes
35. Visit an Amish community — Yes ... also the birthplace of my ancestors!
36. Teach yourself a new language — Yes
37. Have enough money to be truly satisfied — Not at the moment
38. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person –No
39. Go rock climbing — No
40. See Michelangelo’s David — No
41. Sing karaoke in public — Nevah!
42. See Old Faithful geyser erupt in person — Yes
43. Buy a stranger a meal at a restaurant — No
44. Visit Africa — No
45. Walk on a beach by moonlight — Yes
46. Ride in a helicopter — No
47. Have your portrait painted — Yes
48. Go deep sea fishing — No
49. See the Sistine Chapel in person — No
50. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris — No
51. Go scuba diving or snorkeling — Yes, snorkeling
52. Kiss in the rain — Yes
53. Play in the mud — Yes
54. Watch a movie at a drive-in theater — Yes
55. Be in a movie — No
56. Visit the Great Wall of China — No
57. Start a business — No
58. Take a martial arts class — No
59. Visit Russia — No
60. Serve meals at a soup kitchen — Yes
61. Sell Girl Scout cookies — Yes
62. Go whale watching — Only from the shore
63. Get or send flowers for no reason — Yes
64. Donate blood, platelets or plasma — Not with my health issues
65. Go sky diving — Nevah!
66. Visit a Nazi Concentration Camp — No
67. Adopt a pet from a rescue shelter — No
68. Pilot an airplane — Yes, for a tiny moment with my brother the REAL pilot right there
69. Save a favorite childhood toy — Yes, my "Camel with the Wrinkled Knees" named Camelot
70. Visit the Lincoln Memorial — Yes
71. Eat Caviar — Yuck, yes
72. Make a quilt — no, started a couple but never finished one
73. Stand in Times Square — Yes
74. Tour the Everglades — No
75. Visit the Viet Nam Memorial — Yes
76. See the Changing of the Guard in London — Yes
77. Drive a race car — No
78. Ride on a speeding motorcycle — Yes
79. See the Grand Canyon in person — Yes
80. Publish a book — Yes
81. Visit the Vatican — No
82. Buy a brand new car — Yes
83. Walk in Jerusalem — No
84. Have your picture in the newspaper — Yes
85. Read the entire Bible — Yes
86. Visit the White House — Yes, West Wing even, thanks to Vera's dh
87. Kill and prepare an animal for eating — No
88. Hike the Appalachian Trail — No
89. Save someone’s life — No
90. Sit on a jury — Yes
91. Meet someone famous — Yes, John Chancellor, Oliver North - book signings where I worked
92. Join a book club –Yes
93. Own an iPod — Yes
94. Have a Facebook page — Yes
95. See the Alamo in person — Yes
96. Swim in the Great Salt Lake — No
97. Cross country snow ski — Yes
98. Hold a snake — Yes
99. See DaVinci’s Starry Night in person — Haven’t seen Van Gogh’s Starry Night and have never heard of DaVinci’s Starry Night
100. Read an entire book in one day — Yes

Now go and answer these on your own blogs!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord

January 6 marks the Epiphany of Our Lord, also called The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

Dennis Bratcher of CRI (from PLNU) has a wonderful article on Epiphany that you can read by clicking here:
The Season of Epiphany The article closes with an Epiphany Prayer and contains a link to an Epiphany devotional. The following is a short excerpt from his article, but I encourage you to read the entire page, especially if you are not familiar with the celebration of Epiphany:

The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas.

Following is the Collect (collective prayer) for this Holy Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Scripture readings for today are both very helpful in understanding why we celebrate this day.

The Epistle: Ephesians 3:1-12 (English Standard Version):

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is [1] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in [2] God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

The Gospel is the one we'd expect for the day we celebrate the wise men worshiping the Christ Child: Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV):

2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [1] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose [2] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

I wish you and yours a blessed Epiphanytide. May we also be wise in seeking out the Christ, willing to go any distance to find and worship Him.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Feast of the Holy Name

John H. Armstrong of Act 3 Ministries has written another brilliant post about liturgy, this time on the Feast of the Holy Name, also called The Circumcision of Christ which is celebrated on January 1. His article is a wonderful introduction for those who aren't familiar with living by the liturgical calendar, and it's thought-provoking to those of us who do.

Feast of the Holy Name


Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas!

So today is the twelfth and final day of Christmastide. E and I had planned to take down the tree and other Christmas decorations yesterday, but we just didn't have time. I had much school planning and work on my online class to do, and E had a chemistry experiment to make up, so we'll take everything down this coming Saturday instead. I would rather keep our Christmas things up through Twelfth Night, anyway, so our postponement works well.

Tonight we'll be having an early dinner before joining the Anglicans at the Ackers' home for a Twelfth Night bonfire and party, complete with the traditional treats of sherry and trifle. The boys love the bonfire (little pyros!), and Alice always has hot chocolate on hand for them -- which scares me to death because their living room has lovely and pristine white carpet.

The Collect for the Second Sunday After Christmas is:

Almighty God, who has poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With Christmas ending tonight, we have Epiphany -- the day we celebrate the Magi traveling to see the Christ Child -- beginning tomorrow. In past years, we gave the kids a big family present on Epiphany. One year it was their X-Box. Another year it was all six of the Star Wars videos. This year we'll be more subdued, thankful that with Keith out of work, we were able to have a nice Christmas, thanks to family and friends who helped to make 2008 a lovely Christmas indeed. You know who you are. :)

So we wish you a Merry 12th Day of Christmas and a most blessed New Year of 2009!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My "Rule of Life"

The first book I read in 2008 was The Rule of Saint Benedict, which is the "classic" rule that so many others have been based upon. So, what is a "rule"?

I found this wonderful explanation of a "Rule of Life" from S. Paul's Anglican Church in Riverside, Illinois:

A rule of life is simply a structure in which spiritual formation is facilitated. The Latin term is regula, which does not have some of the negative connotations of the English word "rule." Your own rule regulates your life the way you want it. It should be something you yearn to do. It is a tool for growth, not a pair of iron pants.

Religious orders and groups commonly have a rule that must be adhered to for membership. A personal rule is entirely your own. Many people already have a personal rule and don't even know it. Coming to church on Sundays and holy days is a rule. Daily prayer is a rule. Saying grace at meals is a rule. A rule is simply a way of bringing God into your life in a regular way.

The Rule of Benedict is the most famous formal rule for good reason. Written in the 7th Century, it had -- and continues to have -- a profound effect on Anglicanism. The Anglican Church is much more Benedictine than either our cousins in the Roman Church or the Orthodox Church. In modern times, the Rule of Benedict has been getting more popular with Christians of every denomination. St. Benedict's balanced and practical approach is well suited to Christians living outside of monasteries and seeking to make a place for God even while they are dealing with the demands of modern times.

After reading Benedict's Rule last year, I formulated my own personal Rule of Life last year. I kept parts of it well and other parts not so well. This year I decided to simplify my Rule a little and focus in on two main items: time spent with God and time spent on developing the talents He has given me.

So here is my 2009 Rule of Life:

Follow the Liturgy of the Hours

--- 7 AM Morning Prayer:
~Divine Hours Morning Prayer
~1928 Book of Common Prayer Morning Prayer, including Psalms and Lectionary Readings (Old and New Testament)
~Diary of Private Prayer: Morning Prayer

--- Noon Prayer:
~Divine Hours Midday Prayer
~Anglican Prayer Beads

--- 5 PM Evening Prayer:
~Divine Hours Vespers Prayer
~Daily Book of Common Prayer (Prayer and/or Scripture Readings)

--- 10 PM Compline:
~Divine Hours Compline Prayer
~1928 Book of Common Prayer Evening Prayer, including Psalms
~Diary of Private Prayer: Evening Prayer
~Anglican Prayer Beads

Weekly Church Services

-- Attend Friday Morning Prayer and Holy Communion (Healing Service) at Victoria Chapel, Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, plus Holy Day Observances

-- Attend Sunday School and Sunday Worship at Lake Murray Community Church

Bodily Discipline

-- Gluten-free and sugar-free eating with one exception per week

-- Daily exercise, six days/week, building up to 30 minutes per day

-- Awake at 6:30-7:00 AM; Bedtime by 11:00 PM, six days/week

Intellectual Discipline

-- 30 minutes of writing (not counting blogging/journaling), six days/week

-- Mini-retreats for writing/journaling/prayer at least monthly

-- Logos Reading and Discussion Group monthly

-- 30 minutes of study time (not devotional), six days/week

With the aid of Christ Jesus my Lord and Saviour, I intend to keep this Rule of Life in the Year of our Lord 2009. Signed this 29th Day of December, 2008. Susanne Barrett


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