Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Read Them Stories Because...

A former classmate, Nick Nowalk, wrote this post, which has much to do with all that I have been writing and thinking lately. The post is titled, “Why I Read Fantastical Stories Full of Make-Believe To My Kids.” Here is an excerpt...
Most of all, I read them stories because I desperately desire—insofar as it depends on me—to shape their consciousness and baptize their imagination with categories, experiences, and longings that will one day respond to the Gospel with the cry: “Yes! Of course this is what it was always about. What else could possibly account for the way things are in this world?” I want to ruin them early for cheap, disconnected sex and trivial ambitions (when they are ultimate) like going to Harvard, making millions, or becoming the president. I want to expand their souls and make them impossible to satisfy or stuff with creation alone. And I aim to to do all this damage because I want Jesus Christ crucified and risen to have the compelling ring of truth when they begin to think and choose for themselves as they leave home to find their own place in the Story. Every moment I spend reading aloud to them is subordinated to the hope that Jesus would be recognized as the ultimate source and inspiration of every late night chill, tear, laugh or inconsolable yearning as my fiction stories ring true once more in their bedroom. Because I want them to understand that all of the gallant virtues they have come to admire and love through these stories are summed up in the daily act of taking up their cross to follow this Jesus into a kingdom that will triumph over all evil and sadness, and which will reign forever and ever and ever in the happy ending to end all happy endings.
Nick was light years ahead of me in class. He is an excellent writer and thinker. I thank God for giving men like Nick the mind and ability that he has.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Washed and Waiting

A former classmate of mine, Wesley Hill, has written a book titled, Washed and Waiting.

Another former classmate of mine, Nick Nowalk, reviewed Wesley’s book on its Amazon page.
Washed and Waiting takes its title and cue from two biblical passages. I Corinthians 6:9-11 refers to the “washed” spiritual status of Christians, while Romans 8:23-25 reminds us that we are “waiting” and groaning for the future consummation of our redemption. This is the famous “already/not yet” schema (as dry academics like to put it) that pervades the New Testament, and Wesley rightly sees that it is essential to narrating one's own life well as a Christian. If only one side or the other of the contrast is taken up and accepted, either insanity or moral compromise will result. Within these two distinctly Christian images, Wesley has slowly learned to recognize the presence of Christ in his life through--not in spite of--his faltering yet faithful struggles with homosexuality.
Justin Taylor also wrote about the book here.

Correct me, O Lord

As I have written before, I am moody and prone to extremes. I have noticed over the years that my extremes can play havoc with the way that I see and understand the God of the Bible. I am not fully sure why one day the proverbial sun can be shining and birds singing and I can glory in the judgment of God upon his enemies, and the very next day, the storm clouds roll in and I question how God can deal so harshly with his people. Yes, they sinned, but the judgment is so, well, final.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that characters in the Bible were real, flesh and blood people who asked many of the same questions as I do. I often think that because they had a special revelatory relationship with God that they must never question him. Therefore, it is a comfort to me when I read Jeremiah questioning God…
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4:10).
At the same time, Jeremiah’s perspective rights itself. He is significantly more faithful than I am. Several chapters later Jeremiah again writes,
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing (Jeremiah 10:23–24).
My prayer, then, echoes Jeremiah. Lord, in my extremes, keep me seeing you correctly. I am prone to wander, prone to leave the one I love. Please, Father, be gentle and correct me, not in your anger, but in your mercy. I trust in your own words, that you practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24).

huge boots

huge boots, originally uploaded by wenabell.
Wendy's most popular (by views) photo from her flickr site.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Preferred Reality

I have spent the last four hours alone while Wendy and the kids were out. It is interesting that I can miss them so much when I love being alone as much as I do. Yet, it is clear that simply having them around, knowing they are in the next room, and having them bust in and ask questions or give me a hug is really the preferred reality.

The Recipe is to Spend Your Life Cooking

“Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook’s life. The recipe book always contains two things: news of how something is made, and assurance that there’s a way to make it, with the implicit belief that if I know how it is done I can show you how to do it. The premise of the recipe book is that these two things are naturally balanced; the secret of the recipe book is that they’re not. The space between learning the facts about how something is done and learning how to do it always turns out to be large, at times immense. What kids make depends on what moms know: skills, implicit knowledge, inherited craft, buried assumptions, finger know-how that no recipe can sum up. The recipe is a blueprint but also a red herring, a way to do something and a false summing up of a living process that can be handed on only by experience, a knack posing as a knowledge. We say “What’s the recipe?” when we mean “How do you do it?” And though we want the answer to be “Like this!” the honest answer is “Be me!” “What’s the recipe?” you ask the weary pro chef, and he gives you a weary-pro-chef look, since the recipe is the totality of the activity, the real work. The recipe is to spend your life cooking.”

What : The New Yorker

(RP: More Than 95 Theses)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Ham

Books Under the Tree

Very blessed.

Christ our Bridegroom

The Gospel story, wherein Jesus was incarnated, lived a sinless life, died a sin-filled death, was resurrected, and now sits at the right hand of God, is glorious. The incarnation is fantastic and worthy of celebration.

Yet this Christmas, it was not some new facet of Christ’s birth that grabbed my heart. I love the Christmas story, but it has not captured my thinking as it has in years past. Instead the thing that has rattled around in my brain has more to do with what Jesus became for us after his birth than at his birth.

I am enamored with Christ being our bridegroom as depicted by Martin Luther.

While this is not exactly a Christmas thought, it is an amazing reality that could have only happened because of Christmas. I can’t describe what Luther says better than he can, so I give it to you in his own words.
The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31–32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage—indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage—it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?
Here we have a most pleasing vision not only of communion but of a blessed struggle and victory and salvation and redemption. Christ is God and man in one person. He has neither sinned nor died, and is not condemned, and he cannot sin, die, or be condemned; his righteousness, life, and salvation are unconquerable, eternal, omnipotent. By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” [Cf. Eph. 5:26–27] of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way he marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2 [:19–20] says.
—Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” Career of the Reformer 1, Luther’s Works, Volume 31, p. 351–352.
Merry Christmas. The Christ is born, who has become our bridegroom. To him be the glory and honor and power forever.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Value of all the Foregone Alternatives Summed Together

2010 has been a big year. Wendy and I celebrated 20 years of marriage, I turned 40, and I entered fully into my second career. (The first career was in civil engineering, the second is in higher education.) As can be read in previous posts, I have been working through this major life transition for the last year or two and am quite surprised at where the Lord has placed me. Through this career shift, I have pondered many of the other things that I want to do or desire to accomplish in this life. Matt and I call this our pipe-dream list.

For example, today I saw an announcement of a new masters degree at another college that I would love to pursue. Yet, as I look around at my wife and kids and think through my various responsibilities—like loving my wife as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her, and providing food and education for these children—it is clear I won’t be packing my bags for Moscow (Idaho) anytime soon. Life-long learning is a good thing. I can’t wait to keep learning unfettered once we get to the next great life.

Alan Jacobs, who I increasingly admire and enjoy reading, quoted Robert Nozick in his essay, “Opportunity Costs,” from his book Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant.
As Robert Nozick once wrote, “Although [young people] would agree, if they thought about it, that they will realize only some of the (feasible) possibilities before them, none of these various possibilities is yet excluded in their minds. The young live in each of the futures open to them….Economists speak of the opportunity cost of something as the value of the best alternative forgone for it. For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one. When all the possibilities were yet still before us, it felt as if we would do them all” (Alan Jacobs, Wayfaring, p. 67).
The key sentence, and the one which has caused the most reflection is, “For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one.” Several points regarding the opportunity cost of my life have surfaced out of the pool of thinking over that sentence.

First, the opportunity cost is only getting higher with each passing day. Recently, Pastor Sam blogged
At this stage of my life, I must admit I am never going to be on the high school debate team, play on the college basketball team, pay off that mortgage in my forties, run that marathon in my fifties, and so on. For example, the evaporating number of days remaining in my life implies that I will have less and less time to read many of the great books.
Second, now that I have crossed the 40-yard line, I need to be ruthless about what things I spend my time doing. If with the passing of every day, the opportunity cost of my life keeps increasing, then the importance of using my remaining time wisely increases. If I ever want to accomplish any of the items on my pipe-dream list, I need to be ruthless in cutting out the things that are not on the list.

Third, I need to make the most of my career. There is no longer time to reboot—like we have done in the last six years—unless the next opportunity stands on the shoulders of this one. The time is past to start over (again). I do realize that the Lord will lead as he is pleased, but you know what I mean.

Fourth, Pastor Sam is right, I cannot grieve over the things that have passed; instead, I must be thankful that a sovereign God who ordains my steps loves me. If I am in Christ, God is 100% for me, and he has designed my life to display the glory of his son in me. I should be thankful, not regretful.

Fifth, as my inevitable death draws nearer, the importance of doing everything—whether it is eating or drinking—to the glory of God increases exponentially. I will face the Judge of the Universe in the relatively near future. I do not want to have wasted my life.

All of this, then, causes me to sincerely wonder what it means to not waste my life. This is not as simple as it seems. If you are familiar with the circles I run in, then please don’t write off this question. It is worth thinking about. More to follow.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Repugnant and Unnatural

From AyJay's "more than 95 theses"...
“There are many people – happy people, it usually appears – whose thoughts at Christmas always turn to books. The notion of a Christmas tree with no books under it is repugnant and unnatural to them.”
- (via wwnorton)

Questions from Harry

Now that our family’s friendship with Harry Potter is public knowledge, I can begin to move into what I really want to write about. In previous posts, I wrote the story of how we came to enjoy the Potter books, but my real point in doing this was so I can work through questions that have been rattling around in my head.

Having read the Potter series, faced my own prejudices, and met some similar prejudices in others, I have the following questions…

1)  Why do so many Christians have such a negative view of Harry Potter, and is this view justified?

2)  Why does the magic in Harry Potter pose a problem for Christians, or does it? Should it?

3)  Is it OK for Christians to read Harry Potter?

4)  More broadly, is it OK for Christians to read non-Christian fiction? In other words, is it OK for Christians to read anything but Christian theology and other related Christian-living books? If yes, then why do those of us who do often get sideways glances from other Christians?

5)  What exactly is literature, and could Harry Potter be considered literature?

6)  What is escapist fiction and can it be read, too?

7)  What other questions should I be asking and thinking through?

40th Birthday Menu

Someone recently learned that I celebrated my 40th birthday in 2010 and asked if we had a big shindig. Yes, we did. Because I don’t like birthdays, nor do I like—for some irrational reason—having others celebrate my birthday, I thought it wisest to take things into my own hands and plan and orchestrate my own 40th birthday party.

It is not necessary to share a lot of details; however, because of my joy of grilling, I thought I would share the menu. I borrowed a buddy’s Weber, and used his and mine at the same time to cook all the main dishes. I spent the day before preparing and cooking dessert, and spent the big day grilling (oh, and I ran a half marathon in the morning). It was a blast and kept me busy enough not to think about the shindig being anything other than a get together of friends.

Of course, Wendy was my lovely assistant and was just as important to the cooking process as anyone else. I am a blessed man, indeed.

Wendy's homemade bruschetta
Barbecued teriyaki chicken wings
Mission tortilla strips with homemade fresh tomato salsa

Main Course
Barbecue hot dogs
Barbecue Hamburgers (with rub)
Barbecue Pizza (Homemade crust with Asiago, Parmesan, and Mozzarella cheeses)
2~Meat (pepperoni, canadian bacon, sausage)
2~Barbecue chicken and red onions
Barbecue Baja Burritos

Jello Oreo Dessert ($3.29)
Betty Crocker Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting ($2.85)
Jason's Homemade Silky Smooth Cheesecake with Fresh Peaches and Raspberries (Priceless)

Sweet Tea
Beer (international hand-picked choices from a connoisseur)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Layered Spices

layered spices, originally uploaded by wenabell.

This is a double mix of my favorite barbecue rub. After this shot, we mixed it up real good. One tablespoon per pound of ground Angus beef makes the best charcoal grilled burgers.

Candy Canes

candy canes, originally uploaded by wenabell.

Picture of the Day

Hooded Merganser pair, originally uploaded by wenabell.

I think my wife is awesome, so I want to highlight things she does well. I think photography is one of them. I will occasionally highlight some of her great shots.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More and more people’s jobs are made up of dozens or even hundreds of e-mails a day

“What you’ve probably discovered, at least at some level, is that a calendar, though important, can really effectively manage only a small portion of what you need to organize. And daily to-do lists and simplified priority coding have proven inadequate to deal with the volume and variable nature of the average professional’s workload. More and more people’s jobs are made up of dozens or even hundreds of e-mails a day, with no latitude left to ignore a single request, complaint, or order. There are a few people who can (or even should) expect to code everything an “A,” a “B,” or a “C” priority, or who can maintain some predetermined list of to-dos that the first telephone call or interruption from their boss won’t totally undo.”

—David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, p. 8

Simply Significant

I grew up with a stepfather who loved to barbecue. When seasons changed and I moved out in 1989, somehow I inherited his 22.5” Weber black porcelain grill. I was 19 when I first barbecued burgers and had no clue what I was doing. I have been barbecuing burgers and hot dogs for over 20 years now. Unfortunately, for most of those years I never learned much more than I knew when I was 19.

Despite my ignorance, somehow I rightly determined that charcoal—grilling with live-fire—is the only true and proper way to barbecue. Owning a fancy stainless steel gas barbecue, no matter how big, elaborate, or expensive, does not a griller make. No offense, but there really is only one way to barbecue. Convenience, schmenience.

My skills did increase a bit. I learned by trial and error and figured out a few things. I was able to cook some swell salmon when my sister sent some fresh chinook our way. Yet grilling was never more than a simple thing to do so that Wendy didn’t have to cook. I liked it, certainly, but it was mostly a summer thing to do.

About two years ago, I picked up a barbecue book and started reading in earnest. I tried a few recipes, changed the way I laid out the coals, and learned about rubs and marinade. I began to prepare foods differently, and I started cooking things that seemed strange to cook on a barbecue, like burritos and pizzas.

On Thanksgiving we barbecued a turkey which had sat in homemade brine for 21 hours. The temperature outside was 22 degrees F, but the turkey was fantastic and the friends were awesome. I think I will barbecue ham on Christmas. Seven days out, the weather prognosticators say it will be 15 degrees F, but that should be OK.

Funny thing, though. Now that I am actively trying to be good at grilling, I keep running into other men doing the same thing. Apparently both my brother’s-in-law are grilling (at least one is using gas, so he doesn’t really count). I also have a coworker who grills a bunch.

I wonder if there is something to hitting the late-30s, early-40s that causes us all to do something similar, or are we all seeking something simple, yet significant that ends up similar? Are we simply products of American suburban life, or do we just appreciate preparing good food? Maybe a bit of both. I don’t work on cars, or build houses. I live in a townhouse community, so I don’t even mow the lawn anymore. Grilling meat well and delighting in God’s gift of food sounds simply significant. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV).

I’m running now, too.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


My son’s definition of hypothetical: Really pathetic.

Don't Judge a Man by His Books (Or Arrangement Thereof)

I have been writing quite a few posts regarding books, reading, and specifically Harry Potter. Since our family started reading Potter, we have encountered strange looks from people we love and respect. There is in many Christian circles a derision of these books. My aim, as I write these posts, is to get at the falsity of this derision, to understand in my own family why it is OK to read Potter, and to strengthen my children’s faith and ability to discern what they can or can’t do in the world. I want them to think for themselves regarding what they should read, and not simply be beholden to what those around them think.

So, my purpose in posting about Harry Potter is to work through these things thoughtfully.

Meanwhile, I want to collect other people’s wisdom about reading. My amazingly talented missionary friend reposted Sean Lucas today. Click through to read the whole quote, but here is a key part...
“But I, for one, would not want to live in a world or a church where the thought police scanned my book shelf and told me what I could or could not read. I would not want to live in a world or a church that mirrored George Orwell’s 1984. And I suspect most of my friends, regardless of theological position, feel the same way. We need the freedom to explore the world in which God has placed us; we need to trust our brothers are guided by Word and Spirit, confession and polity; and we need to believe that neither we nor our church is threatened by such exploration.”
If you are wondering about being criticized for arranging books, check this out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reading for Pleasure

Alan Jacobs quotes the following in his recent post. As he says, it is a “wonderful passage from Edward Mendelson’s book The Things That Matter.” I re-quote it here because it pertains to much I have been writing about.
Anyone, I think, who reads a novel for pleasure or instruction takes an interest both in the closed fictional world of that novel and in the ways the book provides models of examples of the kinds of life that a reader might or might not choose to live. Most novels of the past two centuries that are still worth reading were written to respond to both of those interests. They were not written to be read objectively or dispassionately, as if by some nonhuman intelligence, and they can be understood most fully if they are interpreted and understood from a personal point of view, not only from historical, thematic, or analytical perspectives. A reader who identifies with the characters in a novel is not reacting in a naïve way that ought to be outgrown or transcended, but is performing one of the central acts of literary understanding.

(HT: Alan Jacobs)

More Questions Than Answers

 Biblical theology indicates that God has progressively revealed himself to his people. God revealed more of himself to Moses than Abraham, and more to Paul than to Moses. That seems reasonable. Certainly, being on this side of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection is much more revealing than being on the other side.

Therefore, we must remember to read Jeremiah with this sort of progressive understanding in view. Jeremiah did not see redemptive history in the same way we do. Yet, Jeremiah was a prophet called by God from before he was born. We have not had such direct revelation. Jeremiah wrote about the new covenant before Jesus was born. He prophesied about the glorious way in which God would—eventually—deal with his people.

The picture in Jeremiah 7:1–8:3 is rather bleak. It is so bad that God tells Jeremiah not to even bother interceding for the people because God will not hear him. Ouch. “Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 7:20). Bleak indeed.

What do we make of this? Obviously, being this side of the cross, we know that God sends Jesus, born of a virgin, as the supreme sacrifice, the new covenant in his blood, to grant mercy and forgiveness to those who believe. This wasn’t so clear in Jeremiah’s world, nor is it always so clear in Jeremiah’s words. Instead, Jeremiah’s continual refrain is “Repent! Turn around!”

Again, Jeremiah quotes God, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (Jeremiah 7:5–7).

This quote seems to be the only positive thing in the passage 7:1–8:3. My immediate question is why the focus is on doing social justice rather than having faith? From the New Testament teaching we understand that the “righteous shall live by faith.” We know that faith is the only way to God. Yet, it is passages like this that cause people to think that good deeds are what saves us. If I only go and take care of the widows and orphans, then God will be happy with me. This type of thinking leads some in Reformed circles to be critical of those who express only a desire to care for the sojourner, fatherless, and widow who do not express the gospel clear enough.

Without the rest of Jeremiah, and indeed, the Bible, we might end up spending all of our time doing in an attempt to be right with God—as if we didn’t already. We need the rest of Scripture, though. We need the rest of the Bible, the teaching of Paul and Peter and Jesus himself to see that what underlies these good deeds is a complete and utter trust in the true God. Verse 8 helps us understand that the problem is ultimately one of misplaced trust, “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.”

I have more questions than answers. I wonder why God didn’t make faith more explicit in passages like this. I wonder why he chose to write it this way when people’s tendencies are towards working out their own salvation. Yet, I am thankful that he did not leave us without the faithful remnant. I am thankful that he did not leave us without Paul and Peter and most importantly, Jesus. I am thankful that he did not leave us without clear passages that help us understand God’s progressive revelation.

What must I do to be saved? Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fears of the Father: Harry Potter

My children began complaining about having nothing to read in early summer 2010. Please try to understand how painful this is. Mackenzie and Chase had just finished 9 months of Omnibus. They had read thousands of pages for school and suddenly had nothing to read. They have read everything in the house, and had been to the library repeatedly. Kayleigh had read her entire fifth grade reading list by February and had spent the last four months writing her own 45-page story about a princess kidnapped by a neighboring kingdom and rescued by the blacksmith’s son. “Dad, I am so sad. We don’t have anything to read,” was the continual refrain.

Now, granted, this statement wasn’t entirely true. I often pointed out Dostoevsky, Dumas, and Dickens to name a few. No takers. They wanted something fun to read. Hah.

If you were a father, looking at two more months of summer, what would you have done? Probably not what I did. Yes, I did it. I told them to read Harry Potter. It was, after all, a big fat juicy fantastical story. It was seven books with 4,100 (exactly) pages. It could keep them busy for at least a week! Not only this, but men who I trusted biblically, spiritually, and theologically really enjoyed these books. So, given these considerations, I did it, I told the kids to read the Potter series.

To my amazement, the kids had imbibed my fear and contempt toward the Potter books. At first they said no; they were not going to read it. However, Chase, being the brave one, started in on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sometime in July. Mackenzie couldn’t hold out and started reading book one after Chase was in book two. Kenz is a faster reader, so she was on Chase’s tail in no time. I did not allow her to start a book until he finished, to which great complaining arose. Finally, in book four somewhere around Task Two, Chase couldn’t handle the pressure anymore and let her pass him. She finished book seven before he finished book five. Kayleigh finished the series shortly after Chase and then Wendy and I started.

When we learned that the seventh movie would be out in November, they all begged me to get the series read so that we could go to the movie together. They did not believe they could go without me, so they pushed hard. I finished book one on August 30 and book seven on November 7. I started book seven on November 5. Yes, I went into a hole on Friday and didn’t come out until I was done. It was wondrous.

The Abell Six are now Harry Potter fans.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ripe for the Picking

Between the Voice of Prophecy broadcast and 2004, nothing happened to change my mind from a negative view of Potter. Once we arrived in Minneapolis several events occurred that caused our family to take a dramatic turn.

First, we learned that my pastor and mentor’s family loved Harry Potter. They read the books and saw the movies. In fact, while on sabbatical in Cambridge, they stood in line at the London premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. This was shocking to me. How could such an amazing man of God allow a book about sorcery into his home?

Second, I developed an increasingly close friendship with a brilliant theologian and would-be missionary to Finland. I looked up to this devotee of the Reformation and realized quickly that I had little chance of ever grasping the deep things of God like he did. At some point I learned that he had read all seven Potter books in a month-long binge. He loved them.

I was still contemptuous of Harry Potter, just much more quiet about it. Clearly, as brilliant as these men are, they had some disconnect when it came to popular culture.

Third, our family began reading the 100 Cupboards series by N. D. Wilson. Not only was this series written by a solid evangelical, but the story had been compared to the Chronicles of Narnia and was very popular within the home school movement. Clearly these were reason enough to make them acceptable. Since I love fantastical books, and my children were raving about them, I began reading them and was instantly entranced. They were awesome. (I quoted from them here, here, here, and here. I explain why I loved the third book, The Chestnut King, here and here.) Oh yeah, magic and wizards are central to the story.

Fourth, I read On Stories, a collection of essays about stories and literature by C. S. Lewis, finished The Lord of the Rings a second time, and began reading Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” Then in June 2010, as a family we read aloud Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga, which was similar to 100 Cupboards but much more zany. On Stories argues, in many ways, for the enjoyment of science fiction and fantasy stories. The Rings trilogy does not shy away from an acute depiction of evil, along with strange creatures and magic. Finally, “On Fairy Stories” is Tolkien’s treatise on, well, fairy stories. Much to my liking.

Clearly there is irony in this retelling. How could a person who loves fantasy and heroic fiction so much be contemptuous about fantasy and heroic fiction? I was now ripe, as they say, for the picking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be Thankful

A little over a week ago, our hot water heater died. It simply went kaput and stopped working. No gas flame, and rusty water all over the floor. We actually had to face a night and morning without showers. Instead we went to the community center, played in the pool and took showers. Less than 21 hours later, we had a brand new, bigger hot water heater installed.

Yesterday morning, in the middle of the largest Minnesota snow since 1991, we woke up to no heat. The exhaust blower on the furnace was no longer working, thereby not allowing the furnace to turn on. Wendy then informed me that the cabinet under the kitchen sink was soaked. The faucet, one of those single handled all in one kitchen faucets was leaking like a sieve.

The snow shut Minneapolis down so that our furnace guy, Joe, couldn’t make it until Sunday morning. Our home temperature got down to 64 degrees Saturday evening and we wore sweatshirts. Chase and I helped three other neighbors shovel their driveways. I tried to drive to Target to get a couple space heaters but couldn’t get the van 10 feet down the street. We decided to just tough it out.

When we woke up on Sunday morning the house was 53 degrees and the plow truck had plowed about five feet of snow into everyone’s driveway. Chase and I worked again for several hours helping several neighbors get clear. Joe the furnace guy came and replaced the blower. I drove to Home Depot with Wendy (Chipotle date while we were at it) and got a new faucet.

So, here I sit, in the favorite corner of my couch, while my family bustles around me, in a warm 69 degree home, listening to Wendy wash her hands in the kitchen sink with warm water...

...and give thanks.

At what point in the last two weeks did I face hardship? Everything that failed was fixed within 24 hours. We were inconvenienced, but those inconveniences turned into fun adventures. What an amazing country we live in.

Yes, failing appliances are a product of the Fall. Appliances repaired within 24 hours when 16.5 inches of snow are falling is not. That is a product of mercy.

Tonight, my overwhelming emotion is thanksgiving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Times They Are A Changin

One of my children has—for the first time ever—seen a first run film before me, on opening day, no less. A travesty.

Dawn Treader, in her words, is “not like the book at all, but still a good movie.”

How Many Verizon iPhones Will Apple Sell Next Year?

John Gruber, in response to Philip Elmer-DeWitt’s analysis:

“That’s crazy. If Verizon gets the iPhone next year, they’ll sell a million on the first day.”

Read Daring Fireball.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

Apparently the post at Hogwarts has recently been filled.

(HT: AyJay and litfolksarehip)

Starting “The Freedom of a Christian”

In 2004, when we moved to Minnesota, I was convinced that I was coming to train to be a pastor. It is difficult to explain how convinced I was of this. Not only was I personally convinced, but I felt that God had specifically called me to this new vocation.

Now, over six years later, I don’t believe this anymore. I do not believe that I was called to pastor a church. This significant transition in my thought is a long story, and if you have an afternoon and like coffee I would be happy to recount it in great detail. Suffice it to say that there has been emotional pain and family turmoil around this shift in vocational direction. Ultimately, God is sovereign and he will do what he will do; we trust him. But the realization that we moved here for a dream that was ultimately not to be reality has been most difficult.

Out of this pain has slowly emerged the realization that God is much wiser than I am. However it was that I came to believe I was called to pastor, God has revealed that it was not the wisest course of action given my personality. I am moody and prone to extremes, as much of this blog will attest, which is a perfect example of God’s infinite wisdom. It is precisely these traits—moodiness and a penchant to go to extremes—that disincline me from pastoring a flock of imperfect people.

So, now what? Well, by God’s providence I am currently employed by Bethlehem College and Seminary as the Vice President of Administration. In this strange and unique position I can play to my strengths. It really is a tailor-made position for me. God is good indeed. But what about the Bible and my once strongly held opinion (whether a true and correct opinion remains to be seen) that once embarking on the trail into full-time ministry one should never leave it? I used to think less of people who went into a “normal” vocation after spending years training for ministerial work. The irony of God’s providence is that I am now in that precise position. I look upon those situations with significantly more patience and understanding. O what a hypocrite.

As usual, I turn to a book for answers to these questions. In this case, I am turning to Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian. I have often heard this treatise quoted, usually something about the worthy role of changing diapers. My uninformed assumption was that this treatise by Luther was all about Christian vocation. Maybe it is, maybe not.

My experience in the pages penned by Luther so far is not one of vocation, but of justification. Because I am a bit brain-cell challenged, it takes me 20 minutes to get through each densely packed paragraph. The going is slow, to say the least, but having read the first three or four pages of Luther’s 30-page work, it seems he is spending all his time on the doctrine of justification.
“It is evident that no external thing has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or freedom, or in producing unrighteousness or servitude. A simple argument will furnish the proof of this statement. What can it profit the soul if the body is well, free, and active, and eats, drinks, and does as it pleases? For in these respects even the most godless slaves of vice may prosper. On the other hand, how will poor health or imprisonment or hunger or thirst or any other external misfortune harm the soul? Even the most godly men, and those who are free because of clear consciences, are afflicted with these things. None of these things touch either the freedom or the servitude of the soul. It does not help the soul if the body is adorned with the sacred robes of priests or dwells in sacred places or is occupied with sacred duties or prays, fasts, abstains from certain kinds of food, or does any work that can be done by the body and in the body. The righteousness and the freedom of the soul require something far different since the things which have been mentioned could be done by any wicked person. Such works produce nothing but hypocrites. On the other hand, it will not harm the soul if the body is clothed in secular dress, dwells in unconsecrated places, eats and drinks as others do, does not pray aloud, and neglects to do all the above-mentioned things which hypocrites can do.”
Luther’s argument is astonishing. Read the last italicized sentence again. How often do you cluck your tongue at other Christians for the way they dress or drink or eat or pray? Yet, Luther is arguing that these things have nothing to do with producing Christian righteousness or freedom, unrighteousness or servitude.

This may have a lot more to do with vocation than I thought. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reading Jeremiah

It appears that certain traits are just part of being a fallen human. For instance, forgetting something previously learned and having to learn it again is human. By human, I mean “common to man.” It is common to man to learn something, forget it, and then have to relearn it. Furthermore, it is also common to man to know something about God, doubt what you know over time, and then have to relearn it again.

A major example of this is the history of Israel recounted in the Old Testament. They would walk uprightly, fully relying on God, and all would be well. Then they would drift away, give God lip-service and face judgment. They would repent, call out to God for mercy, he would relent and they would walk uprightly again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Why do we do this? Maybe a simple answer is our fallen nature; we are sinners. That seems too simple an answer, but I think it is probably an honest one. We are fallen creatures and we tend to forget the goodness of God when we see the shiny trinket. We are prone to wander.

I started reading Jeremiah again for my personal devotions. If I have time, I might post my thoughts as I move through this book. It has been a few years since I really concentrated my way through this book, but I remember how much I liked it. At one point I called Jeremiah my favorite Old Testament book.

It was around 2002–2003 when I first read Jeremiah and decided it was my favorite. The seeds of our move to Minnesota and my career change toward ministry were being sown. I was younger and on fire for the Lord. I was zealous for his glory and holiness. I reveled in his judgment of Israel and Judah for their turning away from him.

Today, in late 2010, I am a bit older, a bit more experienced. I believe I have a deeper, stronger faith than I did then, one tested by fire, one with less dross, mostly because we have suffered more. As a family, we have experience deeper depths of emotional pain, and felt the silence of God more profoundly. We have asked, “Why do you hide your face from me, O Lord?” Yet, we are still here. We still trust God. We still look to Jesus as our hope.

Because of this difference in life experience, I am approaching Jeremiah a bit differently. The earlier zeal is tempered. The camaraderie with Jeremiah is more acute when he cries, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4:10).

I finished chapter five, and started writing this post. Blogging is silly, and I have a tendency to expose too much of my soul. I am a fallen, melancholy, introspective git (used to be dork, but I have been influenced by Carl Trueman). Oh well. Writing these posts helps me process and learn. Writing helps me think and pray and hope in God. It helps me see his goodness in his Word.

I can’t promise much; well, actually, I can promise real questions. Let’s see if I can find any answers. (Let’s see if I can post on Jeremiah beyond this one....)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Books Read

I know of a prominent Christian pastor/speaker/blogger/writer that has been reading about one book per week for decades. The wife of one of my pastors set a goal this year to read 52 books, again the one book a week thing.

I, however, set my sights a bit lower. The old cliché says to aim for the moon, and you will at least hit a star. I just went for the stars immediately.

With the dawn of 2008 I determined to try and finish a minimum of 12 books a year, or a measly one book per month. Mostly, I have accomplished this. Here are my lists of finished books for 2008 and 2009.

Books completed in 2008

That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis
The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
The Chronicles of Amber, Volume 1, by Roger Zelazny
The Chronicles of Amber, Volume 2, by Roger Zelazny
Trumps of Doom, by Roger Zelazny
Blood of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
Sign of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny
Knight of Shadows, by Roger Zelazny
Prince of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny
Recalling the Hope of Glory, by Allen P. Ross
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, by Steve Krug
Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide, by Ellen Lupton

Books completed in 2009

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
100 Cupboards, by N. D. Wilson
Dandelion Fire, by N. D. Wilson
The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien
On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, by C. S. Lewis
The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, by Patrick Lencioni
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin
Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N. D. Wilson
The Key-Lock Man, by Louis L’Amour
The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien

2010 has been a much more successful year in terms of total books read, but who’s counting? I will post that list in early January, since I am still reading.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Rabbit Trail

Following a rabbit trail turning off of the previous post….

In 1997, when the Bible suddenly became real to me in a new way, I swept my bookshelves clean of all fiction collected since 1984 and started to refill them with theology, Christian living, and other Bible related books. Almost my entire reading life began to revolve around nonfiction religious works. I looked contemptuously on my previous love of fiction, and determined that all that reading was a waste of life. After all, my hero wrote a book called Don’t Waste Your Life.

Now, however, having home-schooled four children for seven years following the classical education model—as well as my insufferable love of being lost in a fantastical world, which I remembered in August 2008 when I dug out my tattered copy of The Chronicles of Amber—the importance of literature and fiction has resurrected itself in my life.

Somewhere in 2002, I read Douglas Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, which has changed our entire view of education and caused us to embark on a homeschooling voyage that neither Wendy or I could have ever envisioned. Once our children hit seventh grade, they begin the Omnibus program, which is a curriculum combining theology, history, and literature. Three years into this program, our shelves are filled with classic Western literature. Our family is a reading machine. Every one of us consumes books. We read the hard stuff for school and the lighter stuff for fun. Rarely are our kids without a book.

As a family we have read aloud Huckleberry Finn, The Lord of the Rings, the Wingfeather Saga, and the entire 13-volumes of Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Obviously, my earlier knee jerk reaction about fiction has changed. The main reason for the change is that we know inherently it isn’t wrong to read stories. It helps, though, to find others who agree and argue for us.

Peter Leithart recently did this for us very well. Read his short essay series on Why Read? here and here. He begins his Why Read? essay...
For Christians, the question at a certain level answers itself. We read because we are people of the book, the people of Moses, David, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Matthew, Paul, and John. We read because in reading we encounter the God who is Word. Christians extend this argument easily to “edifying” reading. If we must read the Bible, then we also, it seems, have all good reason to read theology, church history, lives of the saints, devotional guides, Bunyan, always Bunyan. No one raises a protest when a Christian sits down with a serious tome (and, frankly, are tomes ever frivolous?).

It’s sometimes a different story when the question “Why read?” means “Why should we read poetry, or fiction, or drama, or screenplays?” Ask that question, and you may get, at best, a blank stare, and at worst a harangue on the dangers of imagination. The more orthodox your interlocutor, the more likely you’ll get the harangue rather than the stare.
Please read it all (here and here) and help me think through why we should not feel guilty reading fiction.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Little Back-story

As I continue with my posts on literature and Harry Potter, I think it helpful to give a bit of back-story. I have been reading fiction my entire life, beginning with my mother and father who read to me faithfully, as well as my sixth grade teacher who read to our class every day, and this reading endeared him to me deeply.

I read the Chronicles of Narnia in third grade, and the rest was history, so to speak; I read a ton of sci-fi / fantasy in high school. I was immersed in all things fanciful. Looking back on my life, it seems my favorite stories have almost always been fantasy (not a bad thing, read this). Furthermore, I love the hero. Whether the hero was a cowboy, a swordsman, or a spy, I love the guy who saves the day and gets the girl.

So, for me to sit in my van and shake my head knowingly as Lonnie Melashenko from Voice of Prophecy criticized J. K. Rowling for her work on the Harry Potter series was overtly hypocritical.

It gets worse, not only did I read a ton of fiction without discernment, but by this time I had not yet completed The Lord of the Rings. Not that I hadn’t tried of course, for I had picked up The Fellowship of the Ring two or three times and only gotten fifty or so pages in before becoming bored. The escapist fiction that I had been saturated in was simpler, easier, and seemingly more exciting.

Now, of course, I know better. I have read through The Lord of the Rings multiple times and have found it deeper, wiser, and more emotionally compelling with each reading. The point I am trying to make is that my understanding of literature and story was very immature back in 1998. It was infantile, which made my unthinking agreement with the radio broadcaster that much worse.

So, not only did I frown on Harry Potter, but I was hypocritical about it as well….

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Frowning on Harry

I remember the moment quite vividly. It was sometime in the late 1990s, probably late 1998. I was driving into the garage of our first home, listening to the Voice of Prophecy broadcast on the local Christian radio station. At the time, I did not know that this brief radio program was presented by the Seventh Day Adventists, all I knew is that the guy was a good speaker and his words made sense; he was compelling. (I later parted ways with this broadcaster when he espoused Annihilation.)

It was dark outside, and I was particularly interested in the broadcast because the topic was Harry Potter, who was all the rage in the United States. Of course, I hadn’t read Harry Potter, but had certainly heard about him through the media. The books were wildly popular to say the least.

What I remember is that the speaker, Lonnie Melashenko, was chastising J. K. Rowling for not doing as Tolkien had done, namely, including a Christ figure in her books. Since at this time, only a few (maybe two or three) of the Harry Potter books were published in the US, Lonnie acknowledged that Rowling still had time to get her story right and include the Gandalf-like character who would help redeem the books. The gist of the broadcast (at least how I remember it 11 years later) was that Rowling will not have gotten her story right unless she has a redeeming Christ figure in it.

This broadcast, along with the general Christian milieu in which I lived, reinforced a negative view of Harry Potter that I have carried for years. I was attending a good, gospel-preaching church at the time, yet as I look back, I realize that the theological and intellectual level there was much different than what I am used to now. There was a fundamentalist bent at our church which was afraid of both Halloween and Harry Potter. Whether or not a good Christian family should let their kids out on Halloween was a significant point of discussion. Likewise, reading Harry Potter was frowned on.

The point, then, is that I have carried a negative view of Harry Potter for years….

This post is the first in what I hope will be multiple posts on the subject of literature in general, and Harry Potter in specific (and maybe even a little epistemology thrown in for fun). I want to construct my story/argument carefully, so I will try not to give too much away too soon. Stay tuned for more.