Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Art of Play

Jennifer Trafton is an author of children’s fiction. Her book, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, was read aloud by yours truly across many evenings with the Abell six. We laughed and enjoyed this unpredictable book, squealing with its silliness. She recently wrote an essay for The Rabbit Room, titled “The Art of Play,” which is worth a read...

That is what I mean by a holy silliness. Yes, there is a profound need for art that plumbs the depths of human depravity and suffering and shows that redemption is possible within that darkness. But there is also a profound need for art that creates spaces of innocence—innocent play, innocent joy, innocent beauty—in a world where innocence is violently stripped away from even the youngest children, and where adults have spent so long choking in the smog of corruption that they have forgotten what it is like to breathe pure fresh air. 
I will defend and defend the belief that the deepest reality of human life that we must impress upon children is not that life is hard and death is inevitable and they need to get used to sadness and darkness and make the best of it. The deepest reality is joy. The prize hidden under the scratch-and-win card of life is a beauty so big that no happy ending in a story can even come close to approximating it. War is a horrific stain on the floor of an extravagant ballroom. Tears are temporary; laughter is eternal.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Least Likely Things...

Alan Jacobs at More Than 95 Theses...
The least likely things in the world are Bach’s B Minor Mass and the Iliad. There are no plausible ways to account for that heart-piercing moment when Hector tries to console his beloved Andromache without denying that he will soon be killed and leave her widowed, after which he bends to pick up his infant son, only for the boy to be terrified by the great plume of his father’s war-helmet. (But whoever Homer was, he wasn’t an aristocrat.)
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This Morning's Encouragement

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Classical Education

The youngest four of the Abell Six are home schooled. We have attempted to teach them using what is commonly called “Classical Education.” Starting in 7th grade, they begin a curricula titled Omnibus.
The modern resurgence of classical and Christian education began with an essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” The operative word in that title is tools. Sayers was concerned that our approach to education had become one of stuffing facts into heads, and doing so in a way that left students poorly equipped to do anything creative on their own later on. Her point was that we ought to treat students less like carbon-based filing cabinets, and more like human beings with eternal souls. As future men and women, she argued, students needed to learn how to learn. They were not to be taught so that they would then be “taught.” They were to be taught how to teach themselves. They were to be taught in such a way that they could encounter a new situation, get oriented quickly, and do what a truly educated person ought to do.
Douglas Wilson wrote the above paragraph in the October 2011 online newsletter for Veritas Press, a classical Christian educational publishing group. Veritas Press publishes Omnibus, which integrates History, Theology, and Literature. Omnibus is integrated because all the topics it covers are woven together, not separate distinct courses. Doug concludes his article thusly,

So if an Omnibus student, for example, says that he doesn’t need to go to a liberal arts college because he “already read” Homer, then regardless of whatever good grades he got doing Omnibus, he nevertheless missed the whole point of it. (This doesn’t mean that he has to go to a liberal arts college. It means that he must not avoid it for the wrong reasons.) The world certainly needs more engineers, but it needs engineers who know how to think in an integrated way. Liberal arts training, whether in high school or college, is not vocational training for English teachers. Liberal arts instruction, as is contained in the Omnibus, is an education for living as a free man or woman in Christ, wherever God calls them. And when they are called to a particular place, they should be able to see how Jesus Christ is the integration point for all things (Col. 1:17-18). If they don’t know how to do that, wherever they are, then they did not receive a classical Christian education, whatever was offered to them. 
But let’s say we consider another student, one who didn’t get the best grades of all time while in high school. Not only was he integrating theology, history and literature, but also three-a-day football practices, a part time job at the mini-mart, and hunting trips with his dad, and he actually learned how to live an integrated life, with Christ at the center of it all. What should we think? We should think of him as a real success story. 
This is because the point of education is found in what the student does with it. Faith without works is dead.
Lord, may the Abell children lives such lives of faith, may their education not make them ready for one vocation, but enable them to think and live and work in whatever vocation and in whatever situation they find themselves. May they live Christlike lives, ever glorifying Him, and ever learning more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Go and Read: The Dragon's Tooth

Five of the Abell six have now completed N. D. Wilson’s latest fictional creation, The Dragon’s Tooth. Unanimous consensus is that this book is simply fantastic. Nate wrote, upon request from Amazon, a brief letter to potential readers. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here is a great paragraph:
Escapism in fiction can be a beautiful thing. But that’s not the only thing I hope to create. If kids around the world pass through The Dragon’s Tooth and become friends with Cyrus and Antigone Smith and form clubs and sit in circles to role-play with dice and wish they had more interesting lives, then I will have failed. But if they dream of learning to sail, to swim, to fly, if they dream of running faster than they’ve ever run and studying Latin (or Greek or Persian or Creole), if they walk outside and realize that their world is more wonderful, more surprising, more dangerous, and more exciting than anything I could ever create, if they discover that they themselves could become more interesting than any character I could ever shape, then I will have succeeded.
One of my daughters said that “Cyrus Smith, if he were real, was the kind of boy you could fall in love with...”

I love being a dad that gets to read the same great stuff his kids are reading. I love the excitement and fun we have discussing plots and characters and story lines. I love being a dad to my four and the head of the Abell six.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Considering I’m an Administrator...

The whole post by Douglas Wilson is about Missions, but the first two paragraphs seemed appropriate to my job description. Too much truth here...

Inside each capable administrator, there is a petty bureaucrat, yearning to get out. Inside each visionary, there is a wild antinomian, yearning to get out. Each one is suspicious of the inner other guy, when they ought to be suspicious of their own inner guy. 
Mission cannot be accomplished without visionary leadership. Mission cannot be accomplished without a supply corps, and working supply lines. Without the supply guys, the visionary is Napoleon marching on Moscow. Without the visionary, the administrator is an undersecretary for Garbonzo bean subsidies in eastern Washington, involved in a desperate turf war with the Chickpea guy for northern Alabama.
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


toes, originally uploaded by wenabell.

Wendy is fantastic. Can you guess whose toes are whose? Hint: I am not pictured and Wendy took the picture.

Chicken Involtini with Prosciutto and Basil

Life has been so busy that I haven’t grilled anything in a long time. Today, in the Lord’s kindness, I had an afternoon off. I finished a book I had been reading and then prepared the dinner pictured above.

Chicken Involtini with Prosciutto and Basil sounds really complicated. It is not. I simply took four chicken breast halves, hammered them between plastic wrap until they were thin, seasoned them with salt, garlic powder, and pepper, and rolled them up with a layer of thin-sliced prosciutto and provolone and a few fresh basil leaves. Once they were rolled, I carefully tied them up with baker’s twine and covered them with olive oil. I then grilled them over direct-medium heat on my Weber charcoal kettle grill for about 12 minutes, turning them about a quarter turn every few minutes.

Once they were done, I set them aside to rest for a few minutes while I spread some warmed, quality tomato sauce on a plate. I cut the baker's twine off each of the rolled chicken pieces, cut a piece in half, and arranged it on the tomato sauce with a few ripped up basil leaves.

Very easy, attractive, and tasted great.

My Favorite Baseball Game Ever

In 1995, I attended Portland State University’s civil engineering school. I was friends with Alex and Tim, two of the most dedicated baseball fans I know. I was a huge hockey fan; I loved the Portland Winterhawks. But these guys wore on me. They hooked me, and I grew to love baseball.

The closest MLB team to our home was the Seattle Mariners, a measly 3 hours away. But Tim and Alex took me to see a game anyway. I was hooked. In the evenings after work, it was my joy to watch games on cable and then talk with Alex and Tim the next day about what had happened. I was a baseball fan.

On September 3, 1995, Mackenzie was born. I loved to hold her and stare at her beautiful face and smell her beautiful skin. One of the favorite things I did was sit with her asleep in my lap and watch baseball. I still remember my favorite spot on our blue couch.

Ken Griffey Jr. has broken his wrist that summer, but he was back and the M’s were making a run for the playoffs. Randy Johnson was throwing left-handed heat. The Mariners had to face the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, with the first three games in NY and the last two of the five game set in Seattle—if they made it that far.

They lost the first game 9-6. They lost the second game 7-5 in 15 innings. But they won the third game 7-4. Then back home to Seattle and a win in game four, 11-8.

On October 8, 1995, the Mariners faced the New York Yankees in game five to determine who would go to the ALCS. The Mariners were down 4-2 in the 6th. No score in the 7th. In the 8th they tied the game 4-4. No score in the 9th. Extra innings. In the top of the 10th inning, Lou Pinella brought Randy Johnson in to close the game. Amazing. The Mariners’ best starter on only a few days rest, coming in to finish the game. No score in the 10th. In the top of the 11th inning, NY scored after Randy Johnson gave a lead-off walk to Mike Stanley.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, facing black-jack McDowell, down by one run, the Mariners started off with their number two hitter, Joey Cora. Griffey would bat second, and Edgar Martinez ready to hit third.

My writing can’t do that moment justice. I remember sitting, standing, biting my nails, yelling at the TV, waiting and watching with anticipation as Joey Cora got on base with a weak bunt up the first base line. Imagine! Griffey could end the whole thing with one swing. Instead he hit a single in between the SS and 2B. Cora to third. Edgar Martinez, DH extraordinaire, was up to bat. A very young Alex Rodriguez was in the box.

Now, I must say, Edgar was one of my heroes. He was slower than molasses, but he could hit. He had an amazing inside-out swing that would drive balls into the left field. If I remember right Edgar had 52 doubles in 1995. So, what does Edgar do? He lines a double to left field. Cora scores from third. The left fielder retrieves the ball and throws as hard as he can for home, only to have Griffey, screaming around third from first base—on a double, slide into home plate just ahead of the throw.

Mariners win 5-4!

I have not since experienced such an exhilarating game. I hope to again some day, though.

This memory was re-awakened in my mind because on Friday night the Mariner’s unveiled a statue in honor of their former broadcaster, Dave Niehaus, who began broadcasting for the Mariners in their inaugural season in 1977. He died in November 2010 after working every year for the Mariners.

Here is how Dave Niehaus called the winning play that I just tried to describe....
“Right now, the Mariners looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball, they would love a base hit into the gap and they could win it with Junior's speed. The stretch... and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martínez swung on and LINED DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT! HERE COMES JOEY, HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE, THEY'RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN! THE THROW TO THE PLATE WILL BE ... LATE! THE MARINERS ARE GOING TO PLAY FOR THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! IT JUST CONTINUES! MY, OH MY!”
—Calling “The Double”, hit by Edgar Martínez, which scored Joey Cora and Ken Griffey, Jr. to win the 1995 American League Division Series in the 5th and final game.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Slay the Dragon

“G.K. Chesterton said somewhere that if a book does not have a wicked character in it, then it is a wicked book. One of the most pernicious errors that has gotten abroad in the Christian community is the error of sentimentalism—the view that evil is to be evaded, rather than the more robust Christian view that evil is to be conquered. The Christian believes that evil is there to be fought, the dragon is there to be slain. The sentimentalist believes that evil is to be resented.”

—Douglas Wilson, “Forward”, Omnibus IV, page IX.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Another Reason to Love Baseball

From Rob Neyer:
What single word could better summarize what Milwaukee Brewers catcher George Kottaras did, Saturday night in Houston?
Kottaras, the Brewers’ backup (and rarely used) catcher, entered the contest with 13 home runs and one triple in 454 career plate appearances.
In the second inning, Kottaras flied out. (Yawn.)
In the fourth inning, Kottaras hit a solo home run, a line drive that carried into the first row of right-field seats. (Well played, sir.)
In the sixth inning, Kottaras led off with a triple over the center fielder’s head and to the far reaches of Tal’s Hill. (Wait, what?)
In the seventh inning, Kottaras singled to right field. (Uh, guys? You might want to watch this...) 
In the ninth inning, Kottaras drove another ball past the center fielder ... and this one bounced over the wall for an automatic double. (Say what?) 
Kottaras thus became the first major leaguer with a cycle this season, as the last to accomplish the feat was Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez more than 13 months ago. And Kottaras now has hit for the cycle more often (1) than every San Diego Padre (0) and Florida Marlin (0) in major-league history. 
Of course, Kottaras probably isn’t the most unlikely cycler in history. He certainly isn’t the first slow catcher with just moderate power to hit for the cycle. If you’re making a list, though? Of the players who shocked the hell out of anyone paying attention? George Kottaras is within spitting distance of the top. 
Read the whole post and see a pic.

Watch more.

Fantastic Sentence

“Stanley Yelnats was the only passenger on the bus, not counting the driver or the guard.”

—Louis Sachar, Holes, pg. 6

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sara Groves, Invisible Empires, Available NOW

Sara’s brand new album, Invisible Empires, is available right now for pre-order and download. I love waking up to surprises like this.

Sara Groves has been a family favorite since the late nineties when her song, The Word, came out. Little did we know then that we would end up living in the Twin Cities, where she lives, see her at Bethlehem, and in multiple concerts. Her vocals and words and thoughts touch our family in deep ways. My daughters fall asleep listening to her music and my wife and I play her stuff throughout the year. She is perennially in our playlist.

Wendy has already listened to this new album all the way through. We heartily recommend it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO

I am sure this is not news to most now. I am not trying to break news. As an Apple fanboy, should I be worried? Maybe, maybe not. Here is a paragraph from John Gruber’s (of Daring Fireball) analysis:

Apple’s products are replete with Apple-like features and details, embedded in Apple-like apps, running on Apple-like devices, which come packaged in Apple-like boxes, are promoted in Apple-like ads, and sold in Apple-like stores. The company is a fractal design. Simplicity, elegance, beauty, cleverness, humility. Directness. Truth. Zoom out enough and you can see that the same things that define Apple’s products apply to Apple as a whole. The company itself is Apple-like. The same thought, care, and painstaking attention to detail that Steve Jobs brought to questions like “How should a computer work?”, “How should a phone work?”, “How should we buy music and apps in the digital age?” he also brought to the most important question: “How should a company that creates such things function?” 
Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.
Read the whole thing.

The Dragon’s Tooth

This book arrives at theAbellsix doorstep today. We can’t wait. Wendy and I listened as the author read the first chapter to us back in June and are so excited to read the rest. My kids have been fighting over who gets to read it first for months. First to the door wins!

From the RabbitRoom review...
Which brings us to choices. Cyrus and Antigone face the age-old choice of doing what is easy versus doing what is right. Turning away from the Order of Brendan would allow them to grieve for their family, remain safe, and stay together. But Dan has been given the Dragon’s Tooth, the Reaper’s Blade, with the power of death. Immortals can die and the dead can be raised with the tooth’s power. Enemies want it and will kill to get it. At one point Cyrus is offered his family in return for the tooth. Give the tooth (and all personal risk and responsibility) and save his family. Or keep the tooth (and the risk and responsibility toward a greater good) and possibly lose his loved ones. Easy? Or right?
Read the whole thing.

85 Million is More Than Enough

I know nothing about Jared Weaver other than he is in a race for the Cy Young this year. Based on this article I am rooting for him to win.

Rob Neyer reports:
Well, this is certainly refreshing (via ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon): 
Jered Weaver admits he had to go against the advice of agent Scott Boras before agreeing to the Los Angeles Angels' five-year, $85 million contract extension, but he said the lure of staying home outweighed the seduction of greater riches.
“If $85 (million) is not enough to take care of my family and other generations of families then I’m pretty stupid, but how much money do you really need in life?” Weaver said Tuesday. “I’ve never played this game for the money. I played it for the love and the competitive part of it. It just so happens that baseball’s going to be taking care of me for the rest of my life.” 
“How much more do you need?” Weaver asked about his deal. “Could have got more, whatever. Who cares?”
Read the whole thing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Hero Among Dragons

“This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure for ever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”

—G. K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy, The Project Gutenberg eBook, Apple iPod Touch, pp. 45–46 of 838.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Negative AL Central

Rob Neyer writes about the runs-scored differential in the AL Central...
[As of August 5,] The first-place Tigers have been outscored by seven runs. The second-place Indians have been outscored by seven runs. The third-place White Sox have been outscored by 30 runs. And the fourth-place Twins, you don't even wanna know about.
The whole thing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Congratulations Chase and the Raspberries!

Yes, you read that right. Raspberries. A group of 13 and 14 year old boys named their maroon-shirted soccer team the Raspberries. Well, I guess that is OK, since they not only won the regular season, but were champions in the playoffs as well. Way to go, son.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Farther Along

I heard about the new Josh Garrels album, Love & War & The Sea In Between, from The Rabbit Room, NoiseTrade, and a friend at nearly the same time. I have been listening to it constantly now for days. I love it.

Josh Garrels appears to be one of those radical Christians who trusts in God to the point of sacrifice. He is giving away the album for free—I guess that is what giving away means—for a year, both electronic and physical versions.

I highly encourage you to go and download this album. If you love it as much as I do, please donate (visit the store on his website). This is the kind of music that Christians should be listening to rather than the pop driven, mindless drivel played on so many other Christian outlets.

My favorite song so far is Farther Along:

Farther Along

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

So much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness alright


Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of god is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon


Thursday, July 14, 2011

It All Ends Tonight

w00t! We have tickets to the midnight show of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 for tonight at 12:01am.  Mackenzie, Chase, Kayleigh, Matt, and I will all arrive early at Carmike Wynnsong in Mounds View for the fun and festivities. Well, actually, we just want to see the other fans in costume and watch the final installment of a great story and a cultural phenomenon.

I know the Cherokee Hills subdivision pool boy will be there. What about you? Stop by the biggest screen and say hi if you go.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Power of Love in Little Things

This morning in the shower doubtful thoughts about Christianity were attempting to enter into my thinking like 10,000 Uruk-Hai trying to enter Helm’s Deep. Relentlessly. These thoughts made sense, at least it seemed like they did while bleary eyed under the warming spray. They breached the gate on multiple occasions with the only voice of true resistance being the thought that I knew I was tired, I knew I was still fighting post-vacation traumatic stress disorder, and I knew my prayer life and Bible time had suffered while visiting family and driving 5,000 miles. Therefore, even though I couldn’t fully refute these arguments right now, I would be able to later when I was more awake and less weary.

The strongest thought trying to gain entry was not that Jesus didn’t exist or that God wasn’t real, but that he wasn’t so much relevant now as he was 2,000 years ago. After all, we haven’t really heard from him since he ascended into heaven, and his book has been torn asunder by generations of exegetes (or eisegetes, as the case may be), many of whom have found far too many differences in one text. If thousands of scholars over centuries can’t agree on what one book says, how can it be true? How can we know Christianity is still real when our book is so old? How can we differentiate a real movement of the Holy Spirit from a simple event felt by a person who desperately wants to experience something? How do I know the Holy Spirit is real when it seems like most “movements of the Spirit” can be explained by a cynic? How do I really know that Jesus wanted me to sell my house and move from Washington to Minneapolis? How can I pray, even now, that he help me know whether we should buy a house here? Or that my career best matches my gifting? Or that I was meant to be an administrator rather than a pastor?

Jason, I whispered to myself, you are tired. These doubts only have strength because you are tired and weary and mildly depressed about coming home and re-entering the rat race. By God’s grace—and I don’t say that lightly—the doubts receded and I was able to get ready and head off to work, knowing that after this brief reprieve I would have to go out and face the horde of orcs, much like Aragorn and company rested briefly before counter attacking out of the inner keep.

But instead of charging into a renewed battle with gallant courage, knowing that I would face certain death, and then being rescued by Éomer, the Savior came to me sooner, before I even entered the battle again. He came in a couple of blog posts.

The first was by Andrew Peterson about Harry Potter:
I couldn’t get Harry’s story out of my head. I doubled over in the back of the auditorium and sobbed with gratitude to Jesus for allowing his body to be ruined, for facing the enemy alone, for laying down his life for his friends—Jesus, my friend, brother, hero, and king—Jesus, the Lord of Life, who triumphed o’er the grave—who lives that death may die! Even now, writing those words, my heart catches in my throat. In that moment I was able, because of these books, to worship Christ in a way I never had.
Let me be clear: Harry Potter is NOT Jesus. This story isn’t inspired, at least not in the sense that Scripture is inspired; but because I believe that all truth is God’s truth, that the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian story, and the main character of the Christian story is Christ, because I believe in God the Father, almighty maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ his only begotten son—and because I believe that he inhabits my heart and has adopted me as his son, into his family, his kingdom, his church—I have the freedom to rejoice in the Harry Potter story, because even there, Christ is King. Wherever we see beauty, light, truth, goodness, we see Christ. Do we think him so small that he couldn’t invade a series of books about a boy wizard? Do we think him cut off from a story like this, as if he were afraid, or weak, or worried? Remember when Santa Claus shows up (incongruously) in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It’s a strange moment, but to my great surprise I’ve been moved by it. Lewis reminds me that even Father Christmas is subject to Jesus, just as in Prince Caspian the hosts of mythology are subject to him. The Harry Potter story is subject to him, too, and Jesus can use it however he wants. In my case, Jesus used it to help me long for heaven, to remind me of the invisible world, to keep my imagination active and young, and he used it to show me his holy bravery in his triumph over the grave.
I think it fairly obvious how this passage by Andrew began to fight back the hordes that had been standing outside my mind’s door all morning.

Continuing down the Rabbit Room blog, I read the following about U2, written by Stephen Lamb:
Crawling into bed that night, I picked up the book on my bedside table, Ian Cron’s Chasing Francis, a biography of sorts in which a man documents his spiritual journey through journal entries addressed to St. Francis. I opened the book to the page where I had stopped reading two nights earlier and picked up where I left off. Here’s the first thing I read:
Dear Francis,

A few years ago I went to a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, just three months after 9/11. Most of us in the arena that night probably knew someone who’d died in the Twin Towers; we’d lost three people in our church alone. I’ll never forget the end of the concert. As the band played the song “Walk On,” the names of all those who had died were projected onto the arena walls and slowly scrolled up over us, and then up toward the ceiling. At that moment the presence of God descended on that room in a way I will never forget. There we were, twenty-five thousand people standing, weeping, and singing with the band. It suddenly became a worship service; we were pushing against the darkness together. I walked out dazed, asking myself, “What on earth just happened?” Of course, it was the music. For a brief moment, the veil between this world and the world to come had been made thin by melody and lyric. If only for a brief few minutes, we were all believers.
This brief excerpt is not all that caused the next thing to happen. I suggest you read the whole post, but as I completed these two blog posts, an overwhelming feeling of God’s goodness, the Holy Spirit’s presence, and the saving work of Jesus Christ washed over me. My eyes were hot with tears, and I slid my chair back and leaned over my knees and cried. I was not thinking about Harry Potter or U2 at that point. I was worshipping my savior who would deign to take the time to reach out of heaven and touch me, as if to say, “Yes, Jason, I am real and powerful and here 2,000 years later. I don’t always come riding to the rescue like Éomer and Gandalf charging the orcs with 2,000 Rhorrihim at their back. Instead I work through little things, through foolish things, through love and word and deed and art and music and small cold glasses of water. I am even present enough to meet you, right now, through two blog posts. I can touch you and show you, through the written word, that I exist.”

It only lasted a minute, but it was real. I realize that many cynics can, at this point, say I simply had an emotional response to two emotionally charged blog posts. But I don’t think so. I am a doctrinally solid believer in Jesus Christ and his written word. I believe that God speaks primarily through that word. I have a working understanding of proper hermeneutics and theology. I don’t think it is normative for God to touch people like this. Yet, I don’t doubt that in many cases this happens. I am not so naive that I don’t think I will ever doubt again. After all, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields happened after the Battle at Helm’s Deep.

But for now, I am content. Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Visual Reasons We Miss Home


Kell’s Irish Pub

lucky ceiling @ Kell's, originally uploaded by wenabell.


big fir, originally uploaded by wenabell.


Mt. Hood, originally uploaded by wenabell.

Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, originally uploaded by wenabell.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just for the record...

Throwing frozen hamburger patties on a gas grill is not true grilling. It does require a lot of skill in flare-up management though. Think on the bright side.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Humility Stands Out Because It is So Rare

I was happy to see Derek Jeter gain his 3,000th hit with a home run. I have always appreciated his clutch skill when watching him during the playoffs against my favorite teams. It seems that the Yankees always did my Mariners in during the first round years ago, and now do the same thing to the Twins. Jeter always got his hits in the clutch.

The following paragraphs are what stood out to me when reading the article about his success. O for more outward actions like this...

But even more impressive, to me anyway, was the way Jeter reacted to it. Surely, he knew as soon as he made contact that the 3,000th hit was finally his. Quite possibly he knew it was leaving the ballpark, his first home run over the fence at this stadium in more than a year.
But there was no bat-flipping, no jumping up and down, no Cadillac-ing around the bases. Jeter left the batter’s box as if he had dribbled one down the third-base line and needed to run like hell to beat it out. And when it was obvious that no one was catching this one, he settled into a respectful trot. He did not leap onto home plate, or pump a fist, or do anything to embarrass the opposing pitcher or himself. He simply continued running into the embrace of the first of 24 teammates rushing out to meet him at home, who happened to be Jorge Posada, perhaps his closest friend on the team.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Friday, July 01, 2011

Things I am thankful for...

the mischievous grin of my 13-year old son … a sudden hug from my 10-year old daughter … Burgerville cheeseburgers with extra spread … a hot shower at the end of a cold day … a steaming mug of freshly ground Sumatra … worship led by Dan Holst with all of Bethlehem singing exultantly … the warmth of my wife’s hand in mine … Kayleigh’s happy declaration of the number of books read this year … the sizzle of perfectly seasoned ground chuck on a charcoal grill … a sharp intellectual argument from my oldest daughter … a long conversation about literature with a close friend … the “But God” in Ephesians 2:4 … praying before every meeting … the silence of a fresh snow … twenty-one years of marriage to my best friend … the solidity of the safety net of God’s sovereignty … hearing my children pray with intensity and emotion … the generosity of strangers …

Friday, June 10, 2011

First Half Marathon

Speaking of running, Wendy successfully completed her first half marathon on Sunday. She ran it with her running buddy Cara. For those of you on Facebook, you know this already. I am so proud of my bride. She ran it in 2:13:27.

1,000 Miles and Counting

Wendy and I ran a casual 4 mile run this morning. Casual until the last half-mile when we ran up a hill we strive normally to avoid. Amazingly, we ran up with little extra effort. Two years ago, I would have stopped after 100 feet and puked. God is kind to give us bodies that can strengthen with effort.

Speaking of effort, while Wendy started running in April 2009, I didn’t start until September 14, 2009. With this morning’s run, my personal odometer crossed the 1,000 mile threshold. That sounds pretty cool, until I realize that I ran 1,000 miles in 22 months. That averages out to only 45.5 miles per month.

My goal for the calendar year 2011 is 750 miles. I am stating this publicly because it is a tough goal. In order to reach it, I need to run an average of 74 miles per month for the rest of 2011.

Pray for me.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Intellectual Danger of Sexual Sin

Nick Nowalk, whose quotes have graced this site before, writes a frightening essay on the significance of sexual sin for the right thinking of individuals, and likely, even modernity. Here is his conclusion:
So perhaps one sense in which sexual sin is more terrible (ala 1 Corinthians 6) is not that it constitutes a more heinous offense against God than, say, pride or gossip or selfishness do.  Rather, might it not be that sexual sin is singled out because it is more dangerous to those who choose to participate in it? Jones has put forth a daring piece of argumentation, based on much indisputable evidence, for just such an interpretation. What if sexual sin was especially liable to blind us from honest self-examination, and to harden us to the point that we are unable any longer to perceive and approve of the most beautiful moral goods in the universe? What if it is in fact that case that only the pure in heart will see God? Then it would seem that we can never be too hasty to listen to Paul’s recommendation: “Flee from sexual immorality, for every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” The danger in delaying from obedience here is more serious than we can ever possibly imagine.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

spring moss

spring moss, originally uploaded by wenabell.
This picture, again taken by my talented and godly wife, reminds me of the Pacific Northwest. It was taken at the UofM Arboretum in Chaska, MN, but I can imagine looking at these rocks near a gurgling mountain stream in the Cascades.

Memorial Day Burritos

The menu for today’s Memorial Day barbecue included grilled burritos as part of the main course.

We started by grilling chicken breasts seasoned with olive oil, cumin, kosher salt, and black pepper, as well as poblano chile peppers over direct medium heat. Both the chicken and peppers were used in the burrito filling.

After the chicken and peppers were removed from the grill to be diced in the kitchen, we sauteed onions with butter in a cast iron dutch oven over the live coals.

We added minced garlic, neufchatel cream cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, and the chicken and peppers.

Then we filled eight 10-inch tortillas with grated Monterey Jack cheese and the filling, wrapped them up, and placed them back on the grill, which was by this time at low heat.

Once the burritos were grilled lightly on both sides—melting the cheese and sealing the burritos—we served them warm with green chile sauce, salsa, and sour cream.

Memorial Day Freedom

We spent today, Memorial Day, with our dear friends, the Crutchmers, who are longing to help provide theological education to pastors in Finland. We played soccer, barbecued, ate, laughed, and generally enjoyed a pleasant, if a tad too warm, day.

We thanked the Lord Jesus Christ for his many blessing to us, including our freedom, earned for us by those who have fought and died so that we could enjoy a day like today. It was not lost on us, however, that our greatest freedom was gained through Jesus’ birth by a virgin, his perfectly obedient life, his cursed death on our behalf, and his victorious resurrection.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shall, Will, and Drowning

In formal writing, the future tense requires shall for the first person, will for the second and third. The formula to express the speaker’s belief regarding his future action or state is I shall; I will expresses his determination or his consent. A swimmer in distress cries, “I shall drown; no one will save me!” A suicide puts it the other way, “I will drown; no one shall save me!” In relaxed speech, however, the words shall and will are seldom used precisely—our ear guides us, or fails to guide us, as the case may be, and we are quite likely to drown when we want to survive, and survive when we want to drown.

—Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 1959 ed., pp. 45–46.

Feeling it

I ran a half marathon this morning. Not an actual race, but the same distance. 13.11 miles in 2:05:00. I am very thankful that it was still in the mid-fifties.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Statistically Speaking

For as far back as my early college years I have always had a strange notion that when I get to heaven I would be able to ask strange statistical questions and get answers. For instance, at precisely 7:36pm, Friday, May 27, how many people in the world are sleeping? How many are eating? How many are eating salmon? How many leaves are blowing in the wind? Of course, these are totally inconsequential statistics, but God knows the answers. I mean, he knows how many hairs are on my head, and has to adjust his tally every time one falls out or a new one grows. Why not strange statistics? Wouldn't it be cool to know how many people actually enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov?

In today's world, with more powerful computers and a lot more people thinking about how to display information, we could expand my strange fascination by taking my question through time. How many people actually enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov over time? Can I see an infographic showing the total worldwide population of people who enjoyed that book since it was published to the present day?

Now, provide a graph comparing this number, over time, to the number of people who disliked it.

21 years ago

21 years ago, originally uploaded by wenabell.
Can you guess what this is?

Monday, May 23, 2011


“The use of like for as has its defenders; they argue that any usage that achieves currency becomes valid automatically. This, they say, is the way the language is formed. It is and it isn’t. An expression sometimes merely enjoys a vogue, much as an article of apparel does. Like has always been widely misused by the illiterate; lately it has been taken up by the knowing and the well-informed, who find it catchy, or liberating, and who use it as though they were slumming. If every word or device that achieved currency were immediately authenticated, simply on the grounds of popularity, the language would be as chaotic as a ball game with no foul lines. For the student, perhaps the most useful thing to know about like is that most carefully edited publications regard its use before phrases and clauses as simple error.”

—Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 1959 ed., pp. 41–42.

Cursed Be the Day on Which I Was Born

I am very thankful that the Bible does not sugarcoat anything. Even the greatest of prophets hated their life and the work to which they were called. Just before Jeremiah poured out the following cry he described how hard it was to be a prophet. He did not want to declare the coming destruction of Jerusalem, but when he tried to be quiet and keep his mouth shut, his bones burned within him. He had to declare the horrible prophesies. In pure, honest, heartbreak he cries out:

14   Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
16 Let that man be like the cities
that the LORD overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
17 because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
18 Why did I come out from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?

—Jeremiah 20:14–18 (ESV)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Are an Indissoluble Union of the Two

“Here Tolkien enables Andreth to remain profoundly faithful to both the Bible and Christian tradition. Genesis’s second creation account envisions our humanity as an inseparable unity of body and soul, with death coming as an utterly unnatural intrusion into God’s good creation, once Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. So in the New Testament as well is death explicitly called “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). The all-important Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body also confirms Andreth’s case that we have no souls that exist apart from our bodies, but that we are an indissoluble union of the two. Neither is meant to tyrannize the other; rather are both to be joined in joy and peace.”

—Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp. 159–160.


rhododendron, originally uploaded by wenabell.

I love that Wendy has such talent with nature shots. She captures things I usually just walk by. This picture has NOT been adjusted digitally for color or otherwise. It is this beautiful just as God created it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Few Bearers of His Cross

“Jesus has many lovers of his kingdom of heaven, but he has few bearers of his cross. Many desire his consolation, but few desire his tribulation. He finds many comrades in eating and drinking, but he finds few who will be with him in his abstinence and fasting. All men would joy with Christ, but few will suffer anything for Christ. Many follow him to the breaking of his bread, for their bodily refreshment, but few will follow him to drink a draft of the chalice of his passion. Many honor the miracles, but few will follow the shame of his cross and his other ignominies. Many love Jesus as long as no adversity befalls them, and can praise and bless him whenever they receive any benefits from him, but if Jesus withdraws a little from them and forsakes them a bit, they soon fall into some great grumbling or excessive dejection or into open despair. But those who love Jesus purely for himself, and not for their own profit or convenience, bless him as heartily in temptation and tribulation and in all other adversities as they do in time of consolation.” (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter 11)

—Repost from my old classmate Nick Nowalk's blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thrown Away a Better Intro

Christopher Hitchens with advice to writers in a recent Vanity Fair article:
“Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro.”
I am currently reading The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White...
Rule 7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject. Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition, nouns in apposition, adjectives, and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin a sentence.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Gorgeous Insanity of it All

I snoop around the Rabbit Room because I like its proprietor.

There are two beautiful paragraphs in an excellent article written by Lanier Ivester that I am going to repost here. If you have any desire to create art in you—of whatever kind—read the whole thing.
I don’t want to fail. I want to sing the songs of Eden to a tired and homesick world. I want to write of beauty and truth and goodness, unashamed; I want to spin words and weave stories that will make other people know they are not alone. But even this ambition, sweet as it is, comes short of the mark. For if I truly believe that in attempting to write a book I am being obedient to something that God has placed within me, then His pleasure is the final word. It will not matter in the least whether I succeed in the temporal sense or fail utterly. In the words of the immortal Rumpole, it will be “a matter of indifference bordering on the supernatural”. Supernatural, indeed. For only faith’s vision can incite a recklessness of that ilk, that caliber of abandon that has made the disciples of Christ stand out from their kin like stark raving lunatics from the first Year of our Lord until now. God help me to be among them.
The Apostle Paul called us ‘fools for Christ’, and I’ve always imagined he said it with a lopsided grin, a little dazed by the gorgeous insanity of it all. We are ordinary men and women aflame with immortality and moonstruck mad by a grace we can scarcely fathom. We believe crazy things and we do crazy things as a result. We are loved outrageously, beyond all wisdom and reason, and we can’t keep the joy of the joke to ourselves. The love of God has wrung all manner of impossible things from of the hearts of His people since the world began. And how much lovelier is the world because of it.
I hope I can write like that when I grow up.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Questioning Azazel

In Leviticus 16, the word Azazel is used four times. In fact, Azazel is only used four times in the entire Bible, all in Leviticus 16. This wouldn’t be too big a deal, except that this chapter describes the ritual process surrounding the Day of Atonement. Yes, that Day of Atonement, the one that Jesus ultimately fulfills once and for all on the cross.

On the Day of Atonement, two goats are selected. The high priest casts lots and one goat is set aside for the Lord, and the other goat is set aside for Azazel. Huh? Who or what is Azazel?

It turns out that there are three or four major options. The first option takes the original Hebrew word and breaks it up into parts, one part meaning “goat” or “goats,” and the other part meaning “to go away.” This is where the idea of scapegoat comes from, the Goat that Went Away. The second major option is that Azazel is the proper name for a demon of the wilderness, maybe even the Devil himself. Apparently, an increasing number of scholars today are leaning toward the second option, which is why the ESV Bible renders the proper noun Azazel rather than using the generic word scapegoat as the NASB or KJV does.

This brings to light one of the most difficult things I have faced as I have gone through the last six years of theological education, namely, the Bible often seems to create more questions than it answers. Most certainly, the Bible asks more questions than the average church attendee wants to think it does. The Bible is not a bunch of pithy sayings used to comfort people or bang people over the head with. It is the written word, the revelation of the Living God, who is infinite, and therefore infinitely complex.

I am not advocating some pomo idea that the Bible can hold contradictory truths and that be OK. Instead, I am recognizing that we look through a glass darkly and there is much we don’t understand. God is infinite and explodes all the boxes we try to put him in. His Bible, his word is the same way. It reveals an infinite God and exposes a bunch of questions along the way.

So, what to do? How do we handle all these questions? Some days I attack them with relish, believing wholeheartedly what my friend loves to say, “Apparent contradictions are theological goldmines.” Other days, I can waver in my faith and wonder how there can be so many disparate views and understandings of the same passage.

It is at those times that I have to stop and center myself on the truths in the Bible that are rock solid, the truths that are the core of my faith and are so solid no question can assail their walls.

The Resurrection.

Paul understood the crux of this when wrote to the Corinthians, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” A few paragraphs later he added the oft quoted, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”

The core reality that I hold on to is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no other truth like this truth. There is no other defining reality that separates the sheep from the goats like this reality. There is no other historical event upon which belief determines the eternal destiny of souls. That Jesus Christ be raised is the defining moment in history upon which everything balances.

So, while I still question Azazel, I remember that my faith is not dependent on who or what that term refers to. I can worship a God who is complex and deep, whose words are wrought with layers of meaning, and rejoice in both the complexity and the simplicity of who he is.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Evident Wonder of God's Great Provision

“Sometimes it’s books or songs that tear away at the carefully crafted shackles we have allowed around our wrists, the bonds that blind us to the evident wonder of God’s great provision. Sometimes it’s a holy encounter with a saint. Sometimes it’s math, basketball, corn dogs, Victoria Falls, making love, babies, adoption, a painting, a person failing well, a fancy car, poetry, or water, or bread, or wine.”

I’M FINITE, HOW ARE YOU?, by S. D. Smith

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Congratulations! Your First 10k!

My godly bride took up running two years ago. I have been chasing her around the house for over twenty years; now I have to actually get outside to try and catch her!

She ran her first 10k race this last Saturday. I am so proud of all her hard work. She finished in the top 32 percent in her age bracket. Don’t let that fool you. She also finished in the top 32 percent of women 10 years younger. She rocks.

You can check out the wear and tear on her shoes over the last two years here.

I love you, my bride. Way to go!

Yikes! Gas Prices Too High!

I am thankful that a I have the opportunity to work from home a day or two per week. In January an average fill-up at the gas station ran me $53. Today it is running $72 per tank.

We have noticed a similar increase in food prices. Prices have increased somewhat dramatically from week to week, while we are purchasing the same set of staple foods. Between food and gas, our family of six is feeling the pinch. What choices do I have to save money?

1. Drive less. Plan trips accordingly. Work from home.
2. Buy a more gas efficient vehicle. Hmmm. Not very practical.
3. Ride a bike. It’s cold 9 months out of 12.
4. Eat less. Don’t let my 13-year old son have free reign over the fridge.
5. Use more coupons. Lots of work; could be helpful.
6. Charge my kids rent. Child labor laws?
7. Get a second job. Not realistic.
8. ????

What are you doing to fend off higher prices at the grocery store and the gas pump?

301 Posts

The post just before this one, titled “Your Help is Found in Christ,” was the 300th post on this blog.

I didn’t think about it or plan it, but it is fitting that a milestone, small or big, be accented by the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Your Help is Found in Christ

I have a very dear friend who has suffered much. He is the most joyful man I know. I am reposting his blog entry from today because his quote of Spurgeon is so good. You should subscribe to his blog and see a man who knows what it means to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
I do not know what you need, but I do know Christ has it. I do not know the full of your disease, but I do know Christ is the physician who can meet it. I do not know how hard and stubborn and stolid and ignorant and blind and dead your nature may be, but I do know that “Christ is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Him.” What you are has nothing to do with the question, except that it is the mischief to be undone. The true answer to the question of how you are to be saved lies yonder in the bleeding body of the immaculate Lamb of God! Christ has all salvation in Himself. He is Alpha, He is Omega. He does not begin to save and leave you to perish, nor does He offer to complete what you must first begin. . .
If I might only have it to utter one sentence, it would be this one, “Your help is found in Christ.” As for you, there never can be found anything hopeful in your human nature. It is death itself! It is rottenness and corruption. Turn, turn your eyes away from this despairing mass of black depravity and look to Christ! He is the sacrifice for human guilt. His is the righteousness that covers men and makes them acceptable before the Lord!
—Charles H. Spurgeon, Memory: The Handmaid of Hope, delivered October 15, 1865.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Lesson Learned

This is a repost from Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds:
From an interview with with Albert Mohler in TableTalk magazine:
Although there are many, is there one lesson the Lord has taught you that you would care to share with us?
I think the one great lesson the Lord has taught me over these years is that the importance of the family and the local congregation supersedes every other relationship to which the Christian is called. Christians demonstrate the glory of God and the power of the gospel by the way we marry and stay married, by the way we raise our children, by the way we love each other, and by the way we live faithfully in the congregation of believers. In the end, I fear that far too much energy is devoted to and far too many hopes are invested in institutions, programs, and projects that will not last. The centrality of Christ’s purpose to glorify himself in His church and the blessings of God that are directed to the precious gift of the family — these far exceed our other allegiances.
(HT: JT)

The Incredibles Sequel

Did you hear that they were casting for the live action version of The Incredibles?

Friday, April 22, 2011


“A paradoxical noun because it means beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adjectival form pulchritudinous. They’re part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the very opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutive, big, foreign, fancy (adjective), colloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for things and very real things themselves.”

I found this brief, interesting paragraph in the Mac OS X Dictionary program when I looked up “Beauty” in the Thesaurus. It was cool enough to post. I love the thought that words are “both symbols for things and very real things themselves.”


visitor, originally uploaded by wenabell.

Wendy caught this bird on the deck yesterday. The snow had melted and the birds were out.

Does anyone know what kind of bird this is? We couldn't find our bird book today....

Grilling Equipment Recommendations

Recently, a buddy of mine told me that he wanted to buy a grill and asked me what he should get and if there were any accessories he should look for. The following were my recommendations for him.

The Grill

To begin with, there is only one charcoal grill: Weber. The line of Kettle style grills has various flavors, but the classic is the 22.5" Kettle Grill, which can be purchased at HomeDepot, Target, or most hardware stores. This is the same grill that I have had for the last ten years.

If money is less of a problem, the next step up the line is nice because the ash holder is cleaner to use. It is the same grill, but with a few extra features. There are Weber charcoal grills with more features than, but the price keeps going up. Really, the bottom of the line grill is perfectly acceptable for almost all home grilling.

However, lately, I have been dreaming of getting a different style grill, mostly because I like cooking for larger groups, and my beloved Weber is not big enough, even if I got the biggest (26.6" diameter, ash holder, and thermometer), which is too expensive. I would like to explore longer, slower, smokier, cooking, so I have my eyes on something new.

Accessories: A few essentials

Chimney Starter. This is an essential tool for starting a fire without lighter fluid. Never use lighter fluid. This is way better and it will last for years. Just add newspaper, charcoal, and fire. 

Regarding charcoal, you can get some at any grocery store. The best brand is Kingsford, in the blue bag. Don’t get any charcoal with lighter fluid built in—it is not needed and it screws up the taste.

Get a good grate brush and simple food tools. There are fancier and more expensive tool sets, and there are cheaper sets, but these have been my favorite. They are light-weight, which makes them easy to use and clean. They are sold by Target for Weber (already on the shelves), but you can see them at this Amazon link.

Grilling book. This is a great book to start with. It helps you understand how to start a fire, tell when the fire is hot enough, judge the cooking heat, and gives you tips on cooking, as well as a bunch of great recipes. Basically, you can not go wrong if you get a grilling cookbook by Jamie Purviance.

And of course, an Apple fanboy like me can’t live without a Weber iPhone app, which is only $4.99 and all the recipes are from Jamie’s books.
Finally, at least one glove is necessary. Cooking with live fire can get hot, and it is nice not to worry about burning your arm hairs. A glove is not essential, but handy. I have this one, but I want this one.

I use this stuff day in and day out (tonight were more barbecued buffalo wings; new recipe, super hot). Don’t be fooled by the weekend warrior grillers who have all the fanciest gadgets. Simple, light, clean, and easy so you put more energy into great food.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Douglas Wilson points his acerbic wit towards “seven memes for keeping Christians in their place” in a post today. All of them are good and worth thinking through. But, I found number six to be particularly humorous:
6. Biblical faith stifles and deadens the aesthetic soul. 
I will not say much here, except to note that I do not believe that the builders of Salisbury Cathedral, the composer of the Brandenburg concertos, the painter of The Night Watch, or the writer of Paradise Lost, have anything to apologize for in the thin shade of Kanye West, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, Walter Gropius, or Barry Manilow.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

As he deals with us.

“Even so, we must face the fact that God’s interaction with his creation is not always constructive and restorative but is often shockingly destructive. It is true that the destruction always precedes some kind of renewal, but it is destruction all the same, and while we can come up with the comforting scenarios in which we do the same kind of thing — controlled burns in forest management and farming, for instance — it would be best not to allegorize too readily. God loves his creation, but he deals with it in ways that, to us, are sometimes indistinguishable from hatred. As he deals with us.”

— Alan Jacobs, “Blessed Are the Green of Heart,” in Wayfaring, p. 126

Sunday, April 10, 2011

We're bookish

OK, so if I were a cool artistic hipster type who had my own website and domain, I might create my own logotype. If I did that, I might try to come up with a tag line for our family, like “we’re bookish.” That seems like it would work for us. Just to see, I polled the family to see what books they currently were reading...

The Holy Bible, by the Holy Spirit through various authors
The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme

Oldest Daughter
The Holy Bible, by the Holy Spirit through various authors
The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
The Treaty of Versailles
Emily Climbs, by L. M. Montgomery
Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen
The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, by William Arden
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

The Holy Bible, by the Holy Spirit through various authors
The Penultimate Peril, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12, by Lemony Snicket
Sir Gawain and the Greek Knight, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien
Henry V, by Shakespeare
The Chestnut King, by N. D. Wilson (again)
A Soldier’s Story, by Omar N. Bradley

Middle Daughter
The Holy Bible, by the Holy Spirit through various authors
The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan
Emily of New Moon, by L. M. Montgomery
My Upmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers
Think, by John Piper

Youngest Daughter
The Holy Bible, by the Holy Spirit through various authors
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling
Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Grilled Chicken, Smoked Gouda, and Arugula Panini

There is a delightful pleasure derived when serving a meal that is really enjoyed by those eating it. After last week’s rookie but successful run at a barbecued chicken cordon bleu sandwich, tonight we attempted a chicken sandwich that required a bit more finesse. It was fantastic.

I am not trying to overly spiritualize making a meal, but there is something right about Christians gathered together for fellowship over well cooked food; and not just the eating part, but spending the afternoon lighting the fire, preparing the ingredients, cooking and serving the food, all of which works together—in the ebb and flow of conversation—to be a Christian joy. OK, enough said.

Since last Saturday’s chicken sandwiches were a success, we thought we would try something new tonight with company: Grill chicken panini with smoked gouda and arugula. Preparing the food was amazingly simple, but the grilling did require a few techniques beyond slamming some meat on and flipping it over high heat with barbecue sauce until it’s burned.

Sorry, that sounds terribly derogatory. But, I have learned that the majority of grilling well is managing the fire. Learning to use just the right amount of briquettes, placing them to create zones of heat, and being patient for the amount of heat to raise (or lower) to the correct temperature zone is critical. Oh, and keep the lid on and don’t flip the food more than once or twice.

I pounded down the chicken breasts to less than 1/2" thick (smacking chicken with a cast iron pan is kind of fun), smeared them with olive oil, chili powder, kosher salt, and black pepper, and then grilled them over direct high heat for 3–5 minutes per side, lid closed as much as possible, and flipping them only once if possible. After taking the finished chicken inside, and while the fire burned itself towards low heat, I smeared olive oil on one side of a slice of tuscan bread, placed the chicken breasts, smoked gouda, and arugula on the bread, spread a mixture of mayonnaise and dijon mustard on the second slice of bread, and put the sandwiches together. I smeared more olive oil on the top of the second piece of bread and headed back out to the grill.

Once the fire was at low heat, I placed the sandwiches on the grill and covered them with a baking sheet and placed a large, heavy object (I used an empty cast iron dutch oven) on top of the baking sheet, squishing the sandwiches panini style. After about 3 minutes, I uncovered them, flipped the sandwiches, replaced the baking sheet and weight, and toasted the other side.

Frankly, they were fabulous. These are definitely going in the “we should do these again department.”

Oh, and did I say that because we had special friends over tonight, we topped off the evening with homemade cheesecake?

Heavenly, indeed.

Last Saturday's Barbecue

I was hungry last Saturday. Usually when I’m hungry that means I want to make something that would taste good. Well, that has turned out to be the main reason I grill. The solution for last Saturday’s problem was a grilled chicken sandwich concoction.

Since I was really hungry, I decided to grill two things at the same time. One was the buffalo wings I have mentioned before. The other was what I call chicken cordon bleu, but I have no idea if that is an accurate title.

I prepared 25 chicken wings with olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and a bit of cayenne pepper and put them in the fridge. I got the barbecue out, set it up, and lit the chimney with only about 3/4 the normal amount of briquettes. I knew that I needed only a medium heat fire, so no sense in using more Kingsford than needed.

While the fire was getting ready, I prepared the chicken breasts. I was hungry for wings and my chicken sandwich, but Wendy informed me that she wanted caesar salad with chicken. Three completely separate dinners? How to do that?

The wings were already started and easy enough to do. I decided to do double duty for the caesar salad and sandwiches by preparing the chicken breasts the same for each. I made a paste by mixing equal parts dijon mustard with olive oil, then added chili powder and black pepper. I smothered this paste all over eight chicken breasts and let them sit until the fire was ready.

I poured out the briquettes from the chimney and arranged the fire in the grill for two-zone heat. Then I grilled all the wings and breasts over medium heat with the lid closed as much as possible and only turning everything once.

I wrapped a bunch of bacon in foil and threw it on the grill when I pulled off the chicken. By this time the grill was at low heat, but it was enough to cook the bacon while I made the wings sauce. Wendy cut up a bunch of romaine lettuce and Chase set the table.

Once the bacon was done, we all prayed and began adding food to our plates. Wendy cut up some of the dijon-mustardy chicken into her caesar salad. Amazingly the hint of dijon on the chicken added a subtle taste to the caesar salad. Quite good.

For my chicken cordon bleu sandwich, I put a chicken breast on some tuscan bread, added bacon and swiss cheese. Then I slathered some dijon mustard on one side of the bread and toasted it all in the oven.

It was excellent. Sorry I don't have any pictures. You will just have to trust me.

By the way, if you are an astute reader, you will notice how much dijon mustard I used in preparing last Saturday's dinner. I am really enjoying dijon mustard lately and have found it be a very tasty ingredient.

If you read this far, you are either my mother, or a very nice person. Or both, of course. Hi, mom! But your main reward for reading this far, is to understand why I attempted to barbecue what we had tonight. Since my concocted sandwiches last week were a success, we tried to make panini sandwiches worthy of competition with Paneras.