Pulling a Scarlet

There’s a lot of really bad thing going on in the world right now. Frightening things, heartbreaking things, things that make you want to smack some sense in people.

But I won’t think about that right now. I’ll think about that tomorrow. The world is often an ugly place, but there is joy. So I share my go-to joy video. (And meanwhile, pray for . . . everybody. Many of whom are featured in this video.)

Mixed messages

I’ve become something of a podcast junkie lately, and recently my sister turned me on to Hardcore History. (Thanks, sis!)

If you’re at all interested in history, you should check it out. The host, Dan Carlin, says he’s not a historian but a history fan. As such, he puts together shows of varied topics that cover all sorts of interesting aspects that are broader than a typical historian might cover. I started out listening to his current series on World War I (appropriately!). Ten hours of podcast, and he’s only up to the end of 1915. Have I mentioned they’re unusually lengthy for podcasts? They really are.

Anyway, after catching up on WWI, I went back and started with “Thor’s Angels” a program on the Christianization of the Germanic tribes, or one might even say the Germanization of Christianity. When the Germani encountered Christianity, they–like many or even most people before and after them engaged in syncretism, or the blending of their traditional religions and customs with Christianity.

Clovis

Clovis, the Christian* king who united the Franks.

Syncretism is the process by which aspects of one religion are assimilated into, or blended with, another religion. In his (very handy and comprehensive, every Christian should have a copy) book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, R.C. Sproul explains:

In the Old Testament, God was deeply concerned with the pressure and temptation toward syncretism. As the people of God moved into the Promised Land they were confronted with pagan religions. The Canaanite gods, Baal and Asherah, became objects of Israelite devotion. Later, God’s people worshiped the national gods of Assyria and Babylon. The law of God clearly warned Israel not only against abandoning Yahweh for other gods, but against worshiping other gods in addition to the true God. The prophets warned of coming judgments as the people modified their faith to accommodate foreign doctrines and practices.

The New Testament period was one of widespread syncretism. As the Greek Empire expanded, her gods mingled with the indigenous gods of conquered nations. The Roman Empire also welcomed all manner of cults and mystery religions. Christianity was not left untouched. The church fathers not only spread the gospel but labored to protect its integrity. Manichaeism (a dualistic philosophy that saw the physical as evil) crept into some doctrines. Docetism (a teaching that denied Jesus had a physical body) was a problem even as the New Testament was being written. Many forms of Neoplatonism made a conscious effort to combine elements of Christian religion with Platonic philosophy and oriental dualism. The history of God’s people seeking to separate themselves from the snares of foreign religions and philosophies.

The problem is still with the church today. Non-Christian philosophies such as Marxism or existentialism seek the power of Christianity while giving up what is uniquely Christian. Syncretism continues to be a powerful tool to separate God from His people.

Carlin is struck by the message of Jesus–the Prince of Peace–and the reality the brutality of the likes of Charlemange, the “Hammer.” He notes how Christianity was co-opted to justify and even sanctify a conquering mission. But the reality is that syncretism wasn’t invented by Thor worshippers. The church has always had to be on guard–and has long been tainted—by syncretism and accepting as gospel those things that are not. For example, the church’s whole-hearted embrace of Aristotilean logic and Ptyolymic astronomy as though they were gospel has led to some interesting church doctrines and actions. *cough* Galileo *cough*

What’s interesting isn’t that Carlin is shocked by the blood-thirsty version of Frankish Christianity, it’s the fact that Christians often don’t notice, or explain it away.

As Dr. Sproul says:

Every generation of Christians faces the temptations of syncretism. In our desire to be “with it” or contemporary in our practices and beliefs, we yield to the temptation of being conformed to the patterns of this world. We accept pagan practices and ideas and seek to “baptize them.” Even when we confront and engage alien religions and philosophies we have a tendency to be influenced by them. Every foreign element that creeps into Christian faith and practice is an element  that weakens the purity of faith.

I think it’s a careful line that the church must always walk: how to translate the gospel to the culture without polluting the gospel with cultural values that go against the gospel. And furthermore, we have to realize that Christian virtues may look different walked out in different cultures, but at their heart are all fruits of the same spirit. (One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all–regardless of various cultures in which we live.) For example, generosity may look differently in the lives of Christians in America or Cameroon or Mongolia, but all Christians are suppose to be generous, or kind or seek justice or whatever.

But at the same time, we ought to be alert to the ways in which syncretism is prevalent in our culture. We can see how Clovis and Charlemagne mixed the gods of their age–the Germanic version of Thor, in this instance–with the gospel to create a conquering religion. The questions we should ask ourselves are what are the gods of our age, and how have we mixed them with the gospel? Just throwing out the first thing that comes to mind, but our particular culture worships progress and image and success, among other things. Some of us have political positions we can mistake for gospel truth. How have those values and beliefs been mixed with gospel in our own hearts?

How have we–how have I–syncretized the gospel?

45 years ago

This month marks two remarkable anniversaries in American history, although remarkable for quite different reasons.

The first (or second chronologically, but first in our hearts and minds) is the anniversary of the moon landing. On July 20, 1969 Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins were the first of the most elite group of humans: those who have walked on the moon. It was a triumph of human innovation, drive, and courage. Moreover, it inspired one of my favorite ass kickings of all time, and was instrumental in a favorite Doctor Who plot line. (No I won’t spoil it, but it’s season 6 of the reboot if you’re interested.)

buzz-aldrin-moon-apollo-11

The second anniversary is remarkable, but for quite a different reason. It is remarkable in that the idea of rule of law and that all men are equal under the law was completely abandoned by both the government and the media, A.K.A. “the fourth estate”. (Or was it merely the pretense of the idea that we’re all equal under the law? Perhaps the mask merely slipped showing the hideous true face of our system.)

In order to protect a member of America’s so-called royal family, he murder–or at minimum man-slaughter–of a young woman was completely ignored. Ted Kennedy, the so-called Lion of the Senate, drove off a bridge and left Mary Jo Kopechne to die–in fact to suffocate over the course of several hours. If you’ve never familiarized yourself with the details of this heartless crime, you should read the account keeping in mind that Kennedy was a sitting U.S. Senator and served for another 40 years, even running for president.

45 years ago, two anniversaries that have marked and shaped our culture. But which has had the greater impact? An interesting question.

Happy anniversary.

Fine Arts Friday: the end of folksongs?

As we’ve been studying American history, I’ve been choosing folksongs to go along with the era studied. Right now we’re in the 30s, and while it’s still possible to find folksongs that go with the era, the type of folk song is changing.

Last month, I chose a popular song that was adopted by the soldiers of World War I. For this months selection, I’ve chosen a song is a parody of a very popular American Classic, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” My mom use to sing this to me, and I think she learned it from her grandparents.

As near as I can tell, this first appeared on a radio show during the thirties. I’m not sure if it was written for the show or just adopted for it. In that way, this song is much like a traditional folk song: the tune is adapted from a popular song and the origins of the lyrics are a bit fuzzy. But with copyright laws and better record keeping, those factors are probably fading, if not complete gone.

I think both last month and this month illustrate the switch from folk songs to popular songs, which may just be semantics. Whether talking about the folk or the population, it’s really all the same thing. And of course the nature of folk songs or popular music, whatever you want to call it, will change as the culture changes. Still, I don’t think we’ll be learning “Walk Like an Egyptian” when we get to the 80′s.

What do you think? Are folk songs dead?

Being neighborly

*A caveat: this post is as much as a “preaching to myself” challenge as it is a complaint about the current state of affairs. I need to be a better neighbor as much as anyone.

neighbor

Single mom Debra Harrell let’s her nine year old daughter play in a nearby park while she worked her shifts at McDonalds and wound up in jail.

A widow left her kids at home while she pursued a college education. A neighbor called the cops, which lead to the kids being put into the foster care system and years of state supervision. Allegations that they were abused–including sexual abuse–while in foster care weren’t investigated.

The “neighborly” reaction to people in less than ideal circumstances is not to ask questions, and certainly not to get involved in their neighbors (most likely messy) lives, but to call the authorities–whose reactions always seem to be the blunt hammer of force.

These aren’t situations where a child is being abused, but where families are trying to do the best they can with inadequate resources. How, exactly, is an arrest record and countless meetings with government officials going to help the first woman provide for her daughter? What did months in state custody do for children already grieving the loss of their father?

Like the “slackivism” of liking a Facebook status or signing an online petition, these neighbors probably thought they’d done their part and are could pat themselves on the back for being good citizens. But the problems those families faced remained and are even exacerbated by the “helpful” reporters, who interestingly didn’t seem reluctant to talk to the media.

A concerned mom who hung around the park to talk to Ms. Harrell and offered to help would never have been quoted in the local paper. A neighbor who asked the widow if everything was okay (surely he knew she was recently widowed) might have felt compelled to do more than pick up a phone. We  never learn the Good Samaritans name, but we know he gave his sweat and treasure to care for a waylaid stranger. We also know that he was the true neighbor.

Of course, one of the roots of the problem is that we’ve surrendered the role of active neighbor to the government. Not only do we not consider it our business to know about our neighbors, we think it’s the governments role to intervene in bad circumstances. But the government’s tool is force, and its “help” often feels like–and can be–punishment. That’s not a criticism, just a definition. The government isn’t a neighbor, it’s the legitimate use of force, which force is perfectly proper used against thieves and and murderers, not so much a neighbor going through a hard time.

We are increasingly strangers in our communities, and the fact that these women didn’t have reliable help to turn to is evidence of that.  And of course, actually getting involved in our neighbors lives is challenging, requires our time and effort, and may result in long-term entanglements. We may even *gasp* grow to care about them! Nah, better to pick up the phone and report them to the proper authorities.

Mid-July garden update

First the good news: this is by far the most product my Texas garden has ever been. By a great deal.  We’ve had a steady harvest of wax beans and grape tomatoes and a few jalapeños. My herb garden is doing very well, too.

The bad news: I seem to be the only would-be gardener who can’t grow squash. Isn’t squash suppose to be the easiest of all vegetables? Not for me. I’ve also got one flourishing tomato plant that refuses to produce any fruit and another that’s produced a total of six to this date, only one of those has ripened. Some jerky bug took a bite of it. Actually, I’ve got a lot of really healthy looking plants: tomatoes, peppers, okra, that just aren’t producing much at all.

Most of my vines haven’t grown much, aren’t producing, or didn’t germinate at all. I do have this one tiny watermelon that is slowly but steadily growing. So that’s something.

watermelon

The most closely observed watermelon in the country.

What I’ve learned thus far:

My timing stinks.  I’ve got to do better at getting the plants in the ground at the proper time. I wonder if there’s an app for that.  It isn’t so bad this summer, because it’s been milder than usual. Still, I’ve got to have my plants in the ground much earlier if I want to have a decent harvest.

The vast majority of my melons and squash didn’t germinate the first time, which meant I had to replant, which meant bad timing. So I’ve got to do better with the whole germination thing.

About half of our ollas have come undone. I can’t dig them out to fix them without uprooting the entire beds, so we’ll have to wait till the end of August when we’re preparing the fall beds to fix those. It does change our watering strategy, although they still do help, if only to funnel the water to the roots of the plants. But I need to find a better adhesive for the ollas.

And finally, I need to learn more about vegetable gardening. I may look into an online or community course to take over the winter, because by the time spring comes around, it’s too late.

Even if my little garden were producing full steam, I don’t think I’d have an over-abundance of fresh produce. Not enough to can, for example. Still, I think with a little tweaking, these beds could produce enough for us to be well-supplied through the summer at least.

Do you have a garden? What have you learned this season? Any advice for this novice?

Terrible Tuesday: breathing room

After last week (and the week before that, and the week before that), I need a break. We’re doing a whole lot of nothing this week. Well, not nothing. I’ve got a project, and homeschool planning, and we still have to do our summer school schedule. We’re doing a whole lot of going nowhere. Well, a couple of places. Listen, it’s a lot less hectic than it has been.

Take a breath links!

All the Mr. Smiths on June 30 becomes Dr. Smiths on July 1. Don’t get sick in July.

You don’t give kids keys to the car without teaching them how to drive, you shouldn’t give them the keys to social media without teaching them how to navigate those highways either. Why kids crash on social media.

Beautiful and challenging C.S. Lewis quote, animated.

Here’s hoping your summer vacation plans keep you southerly.

gas price by state

Potter fans got a special treat with updates from the Quidditch World Cup from Ginny Potter and a delightfully catty gossip column from Rita Skeeter. (You need a free Pottermore account to access the fun. Or kids with one.)

More Potter fun: a field guide to unusual patronuses. (Patroni?)

If you missed the supermoon last weekend, there are two more this year. I was disappointed it didn’t have a cape. But this is anything but disappointing.

A struggling introvert

introvert

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I don’t struggle with introversion, I quite enjoy it. Rather, I’m struggling to find a place to serve as a Christian as an introvert.

For quite a while I’ve used the excuse that my season of life as a mother of children, especially a homeschool mom, is my mission field. But frankly, that excuse is wearing thin. Yes, tiny people take a lot of time and energy, but they’re getting older and less dependent. Not only does this allow me the ability to serve elsewhere, I need to be giving them opportunities to serve and be involved in the church community as well.

The problem is that the church–especially the American Protestant Church–is optimized for extroverts. It’s all about activities and various groups and loud, loud music. There is no place for quiet contemplation in our churches, and the vast majority of the activities have to do with getting chatty with passing acquaintances. Some of that is just our share everything culture, but I don’t share a lot of intimate details of my life with people I know well, why would I tell a stranger? Our church had a thing a while back called “Dinners for 8″ where they assigned you to share a meal with 7 (or 6 if you’re married) other people you may or may not know. Let’s save gas and just jab a hot poker in my eye, okay? The American evangelical church culture is geared toward extroverts, but it’s important to realize those particular cultural practices aren’t gospel.

Stephen Altrogge wrote a very encouraging article about extroverts and introverts in church.

I would humbly suggest that many activities that take place in church tend to be biased toward extroverts. Talking to lots of people on a Sunday, cold contact evangelism with complete strangers, loud worship, and small groups are all activities that are much better suited for someone with an extroverted personality. And these things aren’t necessarily wrong, but I think we need to make sure we don’t assume someone is more spiritual based on their participation in these things.

And that is an encouragement, as far as it goes. But there has to be a second part of this. If not in these areas, how does an introvert be an active part of her local church?

Sunday worship can frankly be tiring. Parts of it, anyway. Actually, any event or gathering where there’s small talk and lots of personal interaction is a bit much. I can do it, I just find it challenging and I need a nice long break from people afterwards. I’m pretty sure Sunday naps were invented for introverted Christians who just needed everyone–family included–to shut up for a while. (A reminder: introvert doesn’t mean shy; it just means you people are exhausting.)

Actually, I can listen to (non-fluffy) sermons or have lively discussions about weighty matters all day. I love to debate, talk about current events, or explore topics history or science or philosophy. I actually find that invigorating. What drains me is small talk or a great deal of talk about emotions. So small group, for example, can be great or it can be a struggle, depending on whether we’re delving into scripture or talking about our feelings.

Perhaps you can see why I’ve never felt at home in any women’s bible study. There’s usually a whole lot of emoting going on and chit-chatting to a lot of people. Small talk is not a skill I’ve ever mastered. It’s also why I tend to gravitate toward situations and people where we discuss politics and intellectual topics. There may be a lot of trolling, but little emoting. I love it.

Okay, I got off track there. The point is that while it can be difficult being an introvert in an extrovert’s church, my introverty-ness doesn’t preclude my call to be an ambassador of Christ. The typical diplomatic missions, however, give me hives. The gospel call in most churches seems to be to gush all over people, which frankly I can’t do. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. I’m actually pretty good at doing stuff, and I’m not too shabby at giving practical advice. I’m a fairly efficient, competent person. I’m just not a people person.

It’s a good start to say that those activities most comfortable to extroverts aren’t the only way to serve the in the Kingdom of God. But that’s only the first step. The struggle–or the challenge–is this: how does an introvert serve the body of Christ and her community? Because introvert or extrovert, the call to love one another, serve one another, and take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people is for us all.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you serve in your church or community?

It’s just a number

This is my 500th post since the Great Blog Project began last year. On one hand, 500 days in a row is pretty impressive for a casual blogger. (i.e. someone with a small audience and who doesn’t make money from the effort.) On the other hand, that’s just a few months past a year; not a huge time in the scheme of things and certainly not long compared to some bloggers who’ve blogged every day for years. (Althouse and Challies come to mind.)

I hate to think when it’s hot. That’s one reason we don’t return to full school mode till September. So during the random scheduled and overly warm summer, I have no new big goals or plans.  (Does a minimum two days a week at the pool constitute a plan? What about finding all the library books?) I am looking at a couple of things to improve my blogging like the HEDUA free blogging course, among other things. (Suggestions welcomed!)

Of course, the biggest challenge to my blogging is my life. I’ll have a *gulp* high school kid next year with two “off-campus” classes (read: classes at a local private school). The other kiddos will be participating in a co-op where I’ll be teaching. And of course, the extracurricular activities like sports. And this is why we have the rule one activity per child at a time.

So until the next big milestone, I give you a song appropriate for this occasion. Sort of appropriate. It has 500 in it. I take what I can get.

That brings back memories. Awkward, junior high school memories. Good times! See you in another 500 days! Or hopefully, tomorrow.

Hamster wheel!

Or “No rest for the weary.”

This past week the kids and I spent at our church’s vacation bible school, which was  a lot of fun but exhausting. Today MTG got up early to mow the lawn and I did some clean up on our poor neglected garden beds because our neighbors just put their house on the market. We don’t want to be those neighbors.

I also have a big project for my mom and I really need to get to our homeschool planning so I can order the rest of our books in time for September. Did I mention we still have to finish history and geography? And we have a couple more trips planned this summer? Let’s not even talk about the state of the house or the neglected chores that fell to the wayside over the past few weeks of travel and VBS.

We’re busy. And I’m tired. I kinda feel like these guys:

 

Can you relate?

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