Sep 30 2011

My mother’s eulogy. Lois Leone Mumford Shackleton, 1915-2011

Category: family,loveharmonicminer @ 4:49 pm

My mom passed away on September 19, 2011.   This is the eulogy I gave at her funeral a few days ago.

Here is a photo of my folks with my first child, about 24 years ago.  That beautiful baby, Kira, has grown up, of course, and is about to give birth to my first grandchild in a couple of months.

My mom was born Lois Leone Mumford on July 4, 1915 in Clam Falls, Wisconsin, to Grace Harvey Mumford and Wellman Mumford. Rumor has it that in my mom’s earliest years, she thought the fireworks celebrations were in honor of her birthday on the 4th of July.

Lois was the second oldest of four children, with an older brother, Loyd, and two younger sisters, Elsie, and Lillian. Lillian is still living, in Wisconsin.

Lois loved music as a child, a very natural thing since her father was a violinist and her mother was a pianist. One of her favorite songs as a child was “Can A Little Child Like Me, ” which we’ll be hearing in a moment, sung by Elyse Shackleton, my mom’s youngest grandchild.

At the age of 14, Lois met her future husband, Loren Shackleton, age 17, at church.

Lois’s family lived 10 miles outside of town, and there was no school bus service in those days. In order to finish high school, Lois completed her junior and senior years by living in the home of a woman with two children who needed housework to be done, and help with her children, so that Lois could live in town and attend high school. She was obviously a very determined young lady.

Lois and Loren were married on October 26, 1934, by Pastor Paul Shrock, at the home of the Mumford family. The relationship of the Shackletons and the Shrocks lasted for decades. I recall staying in their home when I was a child.

Loren and Lois worked in ministry for many years, starting with Christian radio broadcasting in 1937 with Melvin Miller (I still have a “business card” of sorts showing the broadcasters), and then pastoring in Stanley, Wisconsin, starting in 1939. With an interruption for attending college, they pastored together until 1968, in Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and New Mexico.

My sister Mary Lou was born to them in 1940. My brother Tom arrived in 1947, and I broke into the proceedings in 1951.

For many years after moving to Arizona in my last year of high school, Lois was the organist for the Tempe Church of God.

It’s impossible, of course, to state all the ways that my mom impacted me. All I can offer for now are some snapshots.

She started my musical training with a few months of piano lessons in the 1st grade. I complained a lot about how much my upper back hurt when I had to sit at the piano bench, so she let me stop. But both parents encouraged me to start the trumpet in our school band in the fourth grade, and that decision set the, uh, tone of my life in many ways. She accompanied me in countless performances, patiently learning piano parts for all kinds of music for contests and other occasions.

I still remember a chocolate shake she bought for us in the train station in Chicago when I was a small child, just her and me, on the way to Wisconsin to see her mother. It’s amazing what memories we create for our small children, and how much they will remember little things.

When I was twelve or so, I began banging around on the piano again, just out of curiosity about how chords worked, counting the half steps between the notes that made different chords and so on. She noticed, and showed me something called a “dominant 7th chord.” I didn’t know it at the time, but she had given me an early music theory lesson, and I was off to the races learning about harmony and melody. I’ve spent nearly all my adult life teaching music theory, in one form or another, and it traces back to her. Both she and my dad were endlessly patient while I played the same chord progressions over and over, getting their sound and function into my ear.

In the Kansas City area, where we lived when I was 13 to about 16, I was an up and coming trumpet player, playing in all kinds of school groups, jazz bands drawn from the city’s high schools, and so on. In addition to continuing to accompany me, she and my dad drove me to dozens of rehearsals and performances all over town. They usually sat in the front row. I have the impression that my dad didn’t always like the music I played, but she genuinely did. Her tastes were always a bit broader than his. On more than one occasion they drove me half-way across the state, so I could play a 5 minute solo for some contest or other. She would accompany, and he would offer opinions on how well my trumpet was tuned up before the performance.

I recall one trip in particular across the Kansas City area to a performance of a jazz band I was in. My dad wasn’t along on that trip. There was a huge storm, complete with something that looked like ball-lightning on the light and power poles as we made our way through the downpour with almost no visibility. She just kept on going, determined that I would get there in time to perform.

I recall at about age 13 or 14 coming home from school one day, and finding her crying (and trying to hide it) over a letter from my brother Tom, then a soldier in Vietnam. My mom was a praying person, and I know that she and my dad always covered their children in prayer.

Because my folks pastored at relatively low wages up until my senior year in high school (when my dad got a job teaching 5th grade in Eloy, AZ), they didn’t have enough income to send me to college. Even after financial aid, there were still going to be costs, and my mom took a job as a proofreader in the local newspaper in Casa Grande, AZ. Her spelling and grammatical skills were excellent, and I’m sure she rescued countless verbally incompetent reporters from their just rhetorical desserts, while paying for me to go to college at Anderson University in Indiana.

During my dad’s last years, she did an amazing job of caring for him, finding ways to get healthful food into him, getting him to medical care, and generally supporting him. I have to say, I have rarely seen or heard of two people who seemed more made for each other. Yet they were very different people. I think that, with God’s help, they grew together in the mysterious way that couples do when both spouses are seeking God’s presence in their lives. A lot of marriage counselors might have been well served by throwing away their theories and interviewing my parents.

When my mom was about 80 or so, she decided she wanted to learn how to use a computer. For the young people here, how many of you think that at the age of 80 you’re going to learn how to use a complex technology that wasn’t yet invented when you were 50 or so? But she brought typical Lois-style determination to the task, reading thick manuals and help screens, asking questions until she knew how to do what she wanted. Until her recent decline in health, when it got to be too difficult for her to get to her computer, we generally exchanged email five or six times per week. Some of these emails were closer in length to essays than text messages, if you get my drift. We discussed a great many topics.

After her stroke at age 87, she typed one handed, and the emails got a little shorter…. Though not always! As her vision got worse, her family gave her a larger monitor, and she kept on going. Since her hearing had deteriorated as well, and making phone calls was nearly impossible, email became our main way of staying in touch.

My mom dealt with her stroke in typical Lois fashion, with courage and determination. I used to say she was the “special forces” of retired people, as I saw her doing her exercises, trying to stay as independent as possible, doing as much for herself as she could. No Navy Seal works harder or is more determined to succeed in the mission. She did her best to manage every detail of her own life, even giving my sister Mary Lou advice to give to the hospice nurse near the end of her life on earth.

Mom was a voracious reader, and her granddaughter Tammy kept her well supplied with large print books. She watched C-Span, and knew more about the political controversies of the day than a lot of people.

My mom was what might be called the genuine article. She was trustworthy to a fault. More people than you might imagine found her to be a safe person to talk to. She simply did not betray confidences. She looked for the good in other people, again nearly to a fault. She found joy in many simple things, from ice cream to reading to table games. I never saw her put on an air (though a few times she did put on the dog, for a family celebration). If you needed to talk for a bit to someone who loved you and accepted you, a good strategy was to go visit my mom.

Galatians 5:22 says, The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As far as I was ever able to see, that described my mom pretty well.

Sep 29 2011

ET coming to eat us?

Category: humor,illegal alien,national security,science,technologyharmonicminer @ 9:55 am

If ET exists, we may or may not want to make contact.

Here’s more on the topic:

Hoping to Contact Extraterrestrials? Think Again

Astronomers who have been searching for extraterrestrial intelligence for decades are suddenly saying such an encounter might not be a happy one.

Aliens might destroy life on Earth or plan to eat or enslave humans if they sense our civilization was expanding too rapidly and could harm others, according to a latest study.

The scenario was brought up in a joint study by Seth Baum, Jacob Haqq-Misra and Shawn Domagal-Goldman.

Researchers say extraterrestrials might behave the way we humans have behaved whenever we have discovered other previously unknown intelligent beings on Earth, like unfamiliar humans or chimpanzees and gorillas.

“Just as we did to those beings, the extraterrestrials might proceed to kill, infect, dissect, conquer, displace or enslave us, stuff us as specimens for their museums or pickle our skulls and use us for medical research,” according to the study, which was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Why should we worry about aliens? The simple reason is that if they can find us, they would be more advanced than humans.

“A core concern is that ETI will learn of our presence and quickly travel to Earth to eat or enslave us,” the study says.

The authors speculate that extraterrestrials might try to spread their beliefs through evangelism or to use humans for entertainment.

Just because an ETI civilization holds universalist ethics does not mean that it would never seek our harm. This is because ETI may be quite different from us and could conclude that harming us would help maximize whatever they value intrinsically.

For example, if ETI place intrinsic value on lives, then perhaps they could bring about more lives by destroying us and using our resources more efficiently for other lives. Other forms of intrinsic value may cause a universalist ETI to seek our harm or destruction as long as more value is produced without us than with us.

Aliens also could harm or destroy us if they believe we are a threat to other civilizations. Rapidly expanding civilizations may have a tendency to destroy other civilizations in the process, just as humanity has already destroyed many species on Earth.

Though this scenario might seem unlikely given the likelihood of our technological inferiority relative to other civilizations, we would be at the receiving end if ET thinks that our resources could be used more efficiently to generate or retain other civilizations.

Perhaps ETI is observing rapid and destructive expansion on Earth and could become concerned at our trajectory.

ETI might prefer that our civilization change its ways to survive, but if it doubts that our course can be changed, it may seek to preemptively destroy us to protect other civilizations from us.

A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilization may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand.

“Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilizational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere (e.g. via greenhouse gas emissions), which therefore changes the spectral signature of Earth,” the study’s authors say,

Human civilization affects ecosystems so strongly that some ecologists have begun calling this epoch of Earth’s history the anthropocene, a new and unprecedented phase in the planet’s history.

If the goal is to maximize ecosystem health, then perhaps it would be better if humanity did not exist, or at least if it existed in significantly reduced form. Since at least some humans believe so, invoking universalist ethical principles, then it is likely that ETI might agree.

But since we don’t know what kind of aliens we will end up meeting, there are certain steps humans should take when making contact, the authors urge. Those steps include not sharing details of our biology and DNA structure, and not appearing as if we are rapidly expanding off the Earth.

Sep 27 2011

Propping up an evil regime

Category: economy,election 2012,energy,Islamharmonicminer @ 11:37 pm

Mr. President, could we please start drilling for our own oil so that in the future we won’t have to buy oil from Saudi Arabia?

Saudi woman sentenced to 10 lashes for driving car

A Saudi woman was sentenced Tuesday to be lashed 10 times with a whip for defying the kingdom’s prohibition on female drivers, the first time a legal punishment has been handed down for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Making Tuesday’s sentence all the more upsetting to activists is that it came just two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

The mixed signals highlight the challenge for Abdullah, known as a reformer, in pushing gently for change without antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

Abdullah said he had the backing of the official clerical council. But activists saw Tuesday’s sentencing as a retaliation of sorts from the hard-line Saudi religious establishment that controls the courts and oversees the intrusive religious police.

“Our king doesn’t deserve that,” said Sohila Zein el-Abydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights. She burst into tears in a phone interview and said, “The verdict is shocking to me, but we were expecting this kind of reaction.”

The driver, Shaima Jastaina, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission, activist Samar Badawi said. The punishment is usually carried out within a month. It was not possible to reach Jastaina, but Badawi, in touch with Jastaina’s family, said she appealed the verdict.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women—both Saudi and foreign—from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Activists say the religious justification is irrelevant.

“How come women get flogged for driving while the maximum penalty for a traffic violation is a fine, not lashes?” Zein el-Abydeen said. “Even the Prophet (Muhammad’s) wives were riding camels and horses because these were the only means of transportation.”

Since June, dozens of women have led a campaign to try to break the taboo and impose a new status quo. The campaign’s founder, Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on Facebook, was detained for more than 10 days. She was released after signing a pledge not to drive or speak to media.

Since then, women have been appearing in the streets driving their cars once or twice a week.

Until Tuesday, none had been sentenced by the courts. But recently, several women have been summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general and referred to trial.

One of them, housewife Najalaa al-Harriri, drove only two times, not out of defiance, but out of need, she says.

“I don’t have a driver. I needed to drop my son off at school and pick up my daughter from work,” she said over the phone from the western port city of Jeddah.

“The day the king gave his speech, I was sitting at the prosecutor’s office and was asked why I needed to drive, how many times I drove and where,” she said. She is to stand trial in a month.

After the king’s announcement about voting rights for women, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz Al Sheik blessed the move and said, “It’s for women’s good.”

Al-Harriri, who is one of the founders of a women’s rights campaign called “My Right My Dignity,” said, “It is strange that I was questioned at a time the mufti himself blessed the king’s move.”

Asked if the sentencing will stop women from driving, Maha al-Qahtani, another female activist, said, “This is our right, whether they like it or not.”

Sep 21 2011

Rick Perry’s cannon shot across Obama’s bow

Category: election 2012harmonicminer @ 12:40 pm

This is one powerful ad by the Rick Perry campaign.

Sep 19 2011

The Gentle Jesus Myth

Category: humor,theologyharmonicminer @ 5:55 pm

Not that Jesus isn’t gentle.   He certainly is.  But He isn’t ONLY gentle.

My latest post at Renewing American Leadership is up.

It’s called “The Gentle Jesus Myth.”

There is a little humor in the situation regarding the photo they put up.  It isn’t me.  Instead, it’s this guy.

This is not harmonicminer

Who is this guy, you may reasonably ask?  Well, he’s one of the stars of the original Jurassic Park movie, in the role of the mad scientist, if memory serves.

Oy vey…..  I’ll be trying to get them to change the photo to reflect my own inestimable physical beauty.

This is harmonicminer

I suppose I can understand the confusion.


It’s possible that the ReAL website will have changed the photo by the time you read this.  I’m sure it was a practical joke or something.

And I’m laughing about it.


UPDATE:  as of Sept. 20, ReAL fixed their post to show the correct photo.  I’m almost sad about it.  It was really pretty funny.

Sep 13 2011

961 days in, Obama becomes sick and tired of someone dawdling about jobs

Category: election 2012,Obamaamuzikman @ 8:55 am

The emperor’s new clothes are starting to look a little bedraggled.  Great opinion piece from the Los Angeles Times (of all places)

Speaking on behalf of millions of Americans who’ve grown angry and frustrated over the president’s 32-month ineffective inactivity on the job creation front, President Obama on Thursday told members of Congress they really have to do something about the crummy employment situation — and do it quickly.

Citing the plight of millions of struggling Americans whose wishes for jobs Obama ignored for most of the 961 days he’s been in office while chasing shinier healthcare and financial reforms, Obama said it was time that Congress stop blaming others. He said it was time members take responsibility for their inaction and halt their phony partisan games and political circus acts that pervade Washington culture

Because the Americans Obama hasn’t been listening to are really hurting now. And — who’s counting? — but it’s only 424 days until Nov. 6, 2012. No plan yet to pay for Obama’s ideas. But he wants immediate passage of his American Jobs Act anyway

Obama, whose Democratic spending priorities have pushed the national debt beyond $14,000,000,000,000, said it was important to curb spending and keep to the deficit reduction plan agreed to earlier this summer while also investing in, you know, many important things

He then provided a joint session of Congress with a broadly ambitious list of goals that sounded to many people very much like a lot more spending, like, say, the $787 billion economic stimulus bill of 2009 that didn’t stimulate much of anything except that national debt

With the national debt already increasing $3 million every minute of every day, Obama wants to repair and modernize 35,000 schools. Obama wants $35 billion to go toward salaries for teachers, firefighters and police.

Obama wants $140 billion largely to update roads and bridges. Obama wants another $245 billion in business and individual tax relief. Obama also wants to extend unemployment benefits.

And Obama wants it all right now. Seriously. Now that his Martha’s Vineyard vacation is over, this situation is urgent.

Obama didn’t have room in his 4,021 word speech to mention how he intended to pay for all this new sounds-an-awful-like-increased-new-stimulus-spending-but-we’re-not-using-that-word-anymore.

Aides said Americans should trust the president and sometime soon he would be outlining the finances that would not increase the national debt by one dime, honest.

Today in Virginia and next week in Ohio, Obama begins an aggressive autumn of travels selling his sounds-like-new-spending plans by day and fundraising by evening, bashing guess who for not solving the job crisis long ago.

Because like pretty much every sentient American, he knows full well there isn’t one chance in Haiti of the divided Congress approving this package.

In fact, Obama’s counting on that because grandiose program-proposing like this costs nothing-zero-nada, except the limo gas to the Capitol. Yet it gives perpetual candidate Obama tons of swell-sounding details to talk about during the 2011-12 reelection campaign.

Because he can’t blame his mother-in-law for the nation’s economic mess. When’s the last time you heard a Harvard grad say, “Boy, did I blow that!” So, the only culprits left are in Congress, especially those Repugnicans.

But here’s the catch that Obama and his Windy City wizards missed: Most Americans are not politically obedient machine Chicagoans. Like a linebacker reading the quarterback’s eyes, they’ve already figured out this South Sider’s game.

This week’s ABC News/Washington Post Poll found that, based on their 961 days’ experience with the current White House crowd, 47% say Obama’s new economic program will have zero effect on the economy.

Worse politically, twice as many — 34% vs 17% — say Obama’s plan will actually make matters worse, instead of better.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll the other day found 73% of Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track. That’s 23 points more than felt that way at the beginning of summer.

Funny coincidence. The last time the revealing wrong track number was this high (78%) was in the autumn of 2008, just two weeks before Americans bought Obama’s “Change to Believe In” line.

And they have the pink slips to prove it.

Sep 12 2011

What do you get when you mix Evil Kenevil and Kenny G?

Category: funny but sad,humoramuzikman @ 8:55 am

Finn  Martin in a 'Vertigo' performance in Paris

Swedish artist plunges to his death in Germany

A Swedish musician plummeted 20 metres to his death at the weekend during a performance at a street festival in Leipzig, Germany.

The man, Finn Martin, was supposed to use a rope to help him vertically slide down the façade of a building while playing a saxophone before dozens of cheering fans late Friday evening. But during the attempt, the harness apparently broke and Martin plunged to his death before the shocked audience.
A doctor quickly determined that the 49-year-old performer had died from the impact.
Police said they were investigating the incident under the assumption that safety devices had failed and were also looking into whether participants had been under the influence of alcohol.
The performer was scheduled to do his 15-minute act four times while video images were displayed onto the building façade.
“He was a world-class artist, one of the top-ten saxophone players in the world, but almost unknown in Sweden,” Martin’s cousin Peter Martin, told the Aftonbladet newspaper. Finn Martin had carried out similar dare-devil performances, which he called ‘Vertigo’, many times in recent years.
In 2005 he played on the façade of a tower in Cologne that was nearly 150 metres tall.
On his website, Martin referred to Vertigo as “an unusually emotional music aerial performance”.
While he was born in Sweden, Martin has lived abroad for most of his career.
According to his cousin, Martin’s dare-devil performances were used to help him finance musical projects in West Africa.
“Finn had a passion for African music,” his cousin Peter Martin told Aftonbladet. “His art was his life and he was an artist and musician from every pore of his body.”
I want to feel bad for this poor chap, I really do.  But there’s only just so much sympathy one can muster for an obvious Darwin Award finalist.
Do you suppose the last thing this guy heard was the bridge to “Over the Rainbow”? (very inside musician’s joke)
I can just hear all the sax players cringing right now, praying he wasn’t playing a Mark VI
I suppose now we’ll start seeing a lot of “Don’t drink and play the sax hanging from the side of a tall building” stickers on public vehicles.
And how about that doctor!  Imagine being able to make such a difficult determination so quickly.  I suppose the fact that he had an Otto Link sax mouthpiece protruding from the back of his head provided some key evidence.
Well at least it’s a good day for the formerly eleventh-best sax player in the world…

Sep 10 2011

Just ignore Yahoo “News”

Category: election 2012,media,politics,societyharmonicminer @ 12:55 pm

Yahoo “NEWS” lies again, with what is surely one of the most misleading headlines they’ve ever used, in Rick Perry Sex Tape Video Scandal: A Five-Second Exposure

You knew it was bound to happen. You knew that someone so emphatically moralistic had to have a skeleton or two in the closet. But is it true that another family-values demagogue made a sex tape and because of a little digging by Politico’s Ben Smith, said sex tape will see the light of day? And is it true that the video involves none other than Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry?

Well, it isn’t as bad as all that. In fact, by today’s standards it might not even be rated as much of a scandal. But, still, schoolchildren were involved…

To explain: Back in 1986, when then state representative Perry was trying to educate Texas teens about the horrors of drugs, his office disseminated a video to the high schools in his district. At the end of the video there was a thirty-second gap. Then there was five seconds of a scene from the movie “1984.” A sex scene.

According to the Associated Press, one account from an assistant coach at Baird High School recalled that it was very difficult trying to instruct a bunch of snickering and laughing teenagers after the video was turned off.

A technician at House Technical Services took full responsibility for the scene be added, mistakenly placed on the video while copies were being made. Perry, of whom it was said had no knowledge of the sex scene prior to the video’s distribution, asked that all 26 of the videos be returned to his office. He admitted to being shocked that the scene was included.

What can you say about a “news” organization (yes this is only “commentary”, but most people who don’t actually read the story won’t know the difference) that runs a story where the body of the story specifically contradicts the implication of the headline?  That is, there is not and never was a “Rick Perry Sex Tape,”  whatever scandal there was had nothing to do with anything Rick Perry did, except to try to ameliorate its effects, and the “five second skin” exposure was not Rick Perry’s or anyone associated with Rick Perry, or anyone who even knew Rick Perry.

But the Yahoo people know that many people get their news from headlines, and don’t read the story.  So there are now people walking around the USA who think there is a “sex tape video scandal” involving Rick Perry.

Thanks, Yahoo.  You’re behaving true to form.  Again.

Sep 08 2011

Ã…re the independents really this stupid and short sighted? Based on past performance…. just maybe

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 10:55 pm

This one is from Redstate, and I’d be proud to have written it: Yep, “Social Conservatives” need to Sit Down and Shut Up. Maybe “FiCon Moderates” have a Solution Here…

New York, Thursday:

Patience Boyd, 2, was shot in the head and is fighting for her life at New York-Presbyterian Medical Center and Jayla Rodriguez 6, was grazed in the neck. The intended target, Ricky Rodriguez, 20, (not related) was wounded in the torso. All three were rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital.

Chicago, Friday:

A 27-year-old man was ordered held without bond Sunday, charged with fatally stabbing his 3-year-old son and raping and stabbing the boy’s mother Friday morning in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. The boy, identified by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office as Jaivon Sandifer, was pronounced dead at 12:18 p.m. Friday at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. A Saturday autopsy determined he died of multiple stab and incise wounds and the death was ruled a homicide.

Detroit, Friday:

Detroit police say three men were shot, two fatally, as they were walking on the southwest side Friday afternoon. The men were at Cabot and Vernor about 1 p.m. when three men in a vehicle pulled up and fired shots, Detroit Police Officer Samuel Balogun said. Two of the men were found dead at the scene, Balogun said. The third was hospitalized in critical condition, police said.A total of 238 homicides had occurred in the city this year as of Sunday, a 22.7% increase over the same period in 2010.

Camden, Wednesday

“I don’t want to question you God, but I keep asking. Why her? Why Madison?” Dentsy said today as she stood over a tiny pink casket which held the body of 10-month-old Madison Marie Spearman. The toddler was beaten to death in Irvington last week. She died because she was crying, authorities say, and her mother’s 15-year-old boyfriend didn’t want to hear it anymore.

Cleveland, Saturday

Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person who fatally shot 15-year-old Danica “Tugga” Nelson. Danica was shot in the head Saturday at East 39th Street and Longwood Avenue, where more than 100 people gathered Monday evening for a candlelight vigil. “She was a bright and popular sophomore at Jane Addams High School in their Design Lab and a student at Tri-C’s Early College Program,” community activist Khalid Samad said Sunday in a news release.

Los Angeles, Saturday

Deshon Rasberry was with about twenty people in the 2100 block of East 103rd Street. A lone Black male suspect walked up to Rasberry and fired several shots at him. Rasberry collapsed to the ground and Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) personnel transported him to a local hospital, where he died a short time later. This murder was gang related.

Philadelphia, Thursday

The grieving women knelt on a floor scrubbed of blood, praying the children’s souls to heaven. In life, the children were Savanna Mao, 12, who wore stylish purple glasses to match her personality, and her brother, Savann, 8, who at night prayed for a guitar and a drum so he could form a rock band. Their mother killed them in this tiny bedroom Wednesday evening.

Atlanta, Friday

A killing in broad daylight Friday has Carrollton police on the lookout for a suspect they say is armed and dangerous.Police said three men were in a vehicle around 3:20 p.m. at the Chateau Apartments at 460 Hays Mill Road when a man identified as Evan Winston came up to the car and fatally shot one of its occupants.

East Saint Louis, Wednesday

East Saint Louis Authorities say Smith, 25, shot her daughter, Yokela Smith, 4, and son Levada Brown, 5, in their heads with a shotgun Wednesday evening at their East St. Louis home in the 3000 block of Lincoln Avenue. Another son, 8, was not harmed. Authorities said only that he was able to escape. Smith fled to St. Louis in a vehicle while several calls brought police to the apartment, authorities said. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said the crime scene they found there was horrific and that “officers don’t get paid enough to do this.”

Our society is crumbling.

The pictures are haunting: The children, usually cherubic little toddlers, oftentimes black, with names like Yokela and Levada and Jayla are frozen in the amber of permanent newsprint, smiling for all eternity at a reading public that skips past the latest horrific murders and moves onto the box-scores.

There is a low level and gruesome war occurring in our cities, with new victims each day.

Those I’ve highlighted above have all occurred in only the last four or five days. There is usually some accompanying narrative in the newspaper coverage, complete with pictures, of a grieving aunt, or grandmother, clutching the stuffed animal that the latest child-victim once hugged in life, wailing: We must stop the violence, we must take back our streets, why, why, why did the have to die in such a cruel, unspeakably tragic way?

The questions are bellowed in hysterical grief, but are met only with stone cold silence of the next days calamitous murders– There will be more tomorrow.

And yet, we are told to stay away from the moral causes, don’t talk about social issues. Keep your mouth shut about the violence of abortion. Don’t drone on about the baggy pants, the foul-mouthed rap– after all, we’ve got a Federal Government with mutli-trillion dollar deficits to fix. Nobody cares about the devaluation of life, the senseless violence. Shhhhhh….. Independents get turned off by all the social issue crap.

Recently, I pulled up to a gas-station-and-convenience-store in a remote hamlet in Northern Michigan– the kind of place that advertizes “Homemade Jerkey!” outside, and is fifteen miles from anything resembling a town. I was pumping gas, and my little 8-year-old boy was helping– in the manner that 8-year-olds “help”. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon, and we were both anticipating a tall fountain soda-pop, and maybe some hunter sausage.

The ground and air started to thump and shake with a ferocity that seemed to portend an earthquake, or worse. The noise grew louder, until we realized the obnoxious din was emanating from a 1990′s vintage Saturn tooling along the rural road, evidently equipped with mammoth bass speakers that verily shook the ground as it proceeded. A young man with a tailored baseball cap, and wife-beater tank top debauched from the car as it came to a stop in front of the store, but the hideously loud “rap” music continued. We couldn’t hide from it. The tender lyrics of the song went:





I’ve not bothered to look up the lyricist, but I’m sure I’ll find their biography right next to Jerome Kern’s in the annals of the Great American Songbook.

So, I’m standing there, trying to fill up my tank and simultaneously seem unconcerned with the auditory assault being leveled at my 8-year old boy. What should I do? At the moment, the idiot playing the music from his car couldn’t have heard me if I’d had George Bush’s bullhorn at hand, yelling epithets. It was a teachable moment, to be sure, but shouting lessons would be useless. I did corner the young twerp in the store, and asked him to turn down his stereo. He looked at me like I was from Lichtenstein.

Nope, the culture is just fine. No problems, at least none big enough to have our Presidential candidates address, that’s for darned sure. We don’t want to scare off the independents.

I would like to posit a theory that perhaps you “FiCons” might want to consider: Our fiscal house is a disaster because our culture is a disaster. And the one can’t be fixed without the other, at least in a meaningful, long-term way. A society that doesn’t care about the deadly toxic nature of its culture, where two-year-old children of 15-year-old mothers are routinely slain by their 16-year-old “boyfriends”, or where the most deadly crime in our inner cities is “disrespect”, is a culture that really doesn’t care that it is saddling its children with debt. Long-term, multi-trillion dollar deficits are a form of child abuse, writ large. It’s just a normalized, institutional form of that hideous crime, but much less gruesome than all the sensational news stories about rape and murder. But, it’s quite plain now: Here in America, children are quite clearly disposable, and have been for a long, long time.

Since about, oh, January, 1973. But, whatever you do, don’t bring it up. It scares the independents.

Sep 06 2011

An Open Letter to a College Freshman (but it really works for any university or college student, at any kind of school)

Category: church,higher education,religion,societyharmonicminer @ 10:56 am

In Timothy Dalrymple’s An Open Letter to a College Freshman, he gives advice that is good for Christian students entering secular colleges and universities. Surprisingly, however, much of this advice is likely to apply to incoming students at Christian colleges and universities, too, where it isn’t always so clear who is and who is not teaching from a Christian world-view, nor who really believes and practices the faith that presumably underlies the institution’s mission.


At last your time has come.  Leaving behind the old world and the deep ruts you carved in the corner of that world that belonged to you, you’re off to explore undiscovered countries, to join a new and ever-replenishing society of fascinating people and learned scholars and impassioned artists and driven achievers, off to a place where the world is new and so are you.  Whether or not your college years will be “the best years of your life,” they will almost certainly be among the most transformative.

The question is whether that transformation will be for the better.  Unmoored from the people and places that once defined you, you’ll feel a fluidity in your identity that’s both thrilling and frightening.  You may feel as though you can be anyone and become anything.  I pray that you will become who you are — the individual you most truly and deeply are, the one God dreamt of when he made you — and not the person that you or your parents or your friends think you should be.  In service to that end, I thought I would offer seven pieces of advice.  Though it feels churlish to say so, I offer this advice on the basis of some personal experience — more than many and less than some, with four undergraduate years at Stanford, three at Princeton Seminary and seven at Harvard for my Ph.D.  I did a fair amount of teaching, came to know many professors well, and spent time too at universities overseas.  So, on the basis of those experiences, here are my thoughts:

1.  Seek wisdom, not merely intelligence. My father shared this advice with me before my departure for Stanford, and he was precisely right.  On a university campus, intelligence is common.  Wisdom is rare.  Intelligence is cheap, because it’s inherited freely; wisdom is of inestimable value because it’s gained through suffering and sacrifice and years of hard study and experience.  Every night at Stanford I watched the most intelligent people doing the most foolish of deeds, chasing after the most worthless of goals, and believing the most baseless of things.  Their intelligence did nothing to make them more loving or joyful or genuine.  In fact, in many cases it led them astray, as they came to worship their own intellectual powers along with the admiration and accolades and material consolations they could win.  They became immune to criticism, self-indulgent, and chasers of intellectual fashions.  When you love the reputation of intelligence, then you will do and believe those things that will sustain that reputation.  Intelligence does not make you more likely to do what is right or believe what is true.  This is why it’s important to…

2.  Seek mentors, not merely teachers. Intelligent people are dazzling and engaging — and a dime a dozen.  The fascination wears off.  Colleges and universities are replete with intelligent fools, because academia worships the intelligent.  You should know better.  Seek out people of wisdom.  The wise are harder to find because they are fewer and they do not advertise their wisdom (they may not recognize it as such).  Intelligence, like physical strength, is a morally neutral capacity that can be bent in any direction, and it’s most often bent in the direction of personal advancement.  Wisdom’s native movement is toward the true, the good and the beautiful.  So darken the doors of many professors, and return most often to those professors — whether or not they’re the most renowned or powerful — who have true wisdom to impart.  But bear in mind that those who teach you the most, your true mentors, may not be professors at all.  They may be staff, coaches, campus ministers, and especially your friends.  Invest in these relationships.  These are the people who will guide you through the many — and there will be many — difficult and consequential decisions you’ll face in these years.  For pragmatic, social and spiritual reasons, invest deeply in a handful of relationships that you will intentionally pursue for the rest of your life.  It’s better to come away from college with five true friends and mentors than with fifty playmates you’ll barely recognize at the tenth reunion.  In this way you will…

3.  Seek the truth, not merely prevailing opinion. All too often, universities, especially elite research institutions, reward intelligence more than wisdom and the fashionable argument over the solid one.  The reasons are simple — and important to understand.  Publication is the route to academic prestige.  Hiring and tenure decisions at research universities are overwhelmingly influenced by publications.  Yet publishers are not looking for what’s true; they’re looking for what sells.  If you want to publish in the most respected journals and presses, if you want to become a shining academic celebrity, then the question is not whether your contention is true — the truth is old, boring and probably oppressive — but whether your contention is new, provocative, and flattering to the vanities and affirming of the politics of the academic establishment.  The problem is, most true things have already been explained and defended well; but in order to make your name as a scholar, you have to publish and push the envelope, which means you have to explain and defend new theses.  So there’s an intrinsic bias within the academic system toward the novel and the sensational, toward that which challenges tradition.  While young scholars do have to marshal the evidence and argumentation, the truth is that the arguments that tear down the outmoded and ‘oppressive’ — the arguments that lead to the politically correct conclusions — are held to a far lesser standard.  Older, more established scholars scarcely have to advance an argument at all; they coast on the reputations they established in their youth and they’re rarely challenged as long as they fight on the side of the preferred causes.

Appreciate your professors and learn what you can from them, but do not venerate them and do not view them as the tribunes of the truth.  Sadly, the better I came to know my professors, the less their opinions swayed me.  For some I still have the utmost respect.  Yet it became clear that some were constructing elaborate defenses for the things they had long ago determined to believe and do.  More than a few had left their faith in their youth, and had devoted their scholarly careers to justifying that decision.  Many were world-renowned for their intelligence and learning; many were wonderful human beings; some were wise.  Yet academics, no less than other human beings, are swayed by their desires, their fears, their biases, and especially the latest trends sweeping through the halls of academe.  The best professors are no smarter than the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best business executives, and so on.  Many have led sheltered lives with limited forms of social interaction, and they can be, at times, astonishingly insecure and socially under-developed.  So as any true academic should tell you: listen to your professors’ views, take them seriously, but never take their word for gospel.  They, like the rest of us, are limited, biased, sometimes immature, often selfish, fallible creatures.

4.  Seek answers, not merely questions. You may hear the opposite in the freshman orientation process.  ”It’s not the answers but the questions that matter,” they might say, “not the verities but the inquiries, not the destination but the journey.”  Yes and no.  The faculty certainly want you to question the views with which you were raised, especially when they do not agree with those views.  When I was teaching, it was commonly said amongst my colleagues that the purpose of our instruction is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.  Our aim, in other words, is to cause young people to see how dubious and arbitrary are the moral, political and religious beliefs with which they were raised, and how sensible and compelling the beliefs of others could be.  Of course, this was not applied evenly.  If you were a liberal pluralist, then you had no oppressive, exclusivist, intolerant and irrational beliefs from which you had to be disabused.  And if you were a conservative Muslim, then the religious studies faculty would stumble all over themselves to defend your perspective.  If you are a conservative (white) Christian, however, then your parents are a part of the problem, and, for your sake and the sake of the world around you, you have to be liberated from the bonds of prejudice and ignorance.  Thus we had professors who promised the students at the outset of a year-long course that any Christians in the lecture hall would lose their faith by the end of the year, or who scoffed that “God is dead beneath my feet,” or who verbally high-fived their fellow faculty when they provoked evangelicals into crises of faith.  This is important to remember: if you are a conservative Christian of one stripe or another, many professors will view your loss of faith as a good thing for you, and an accomplishment for them.

And there is value, to be sure, in critically examining the beliefs with which you were raised.  Your faith may never truly be your own otherwise.  However, you should resist the advice simply to “rest with the questions” and “grow comfortable with ambiguity.”  Grow comfortable with complexity, yes, and with a proper humility over the things we can know and the things we cannot.  But compelling, reasonable answers are out there.  When I began what became a decade-long study of atheism, my faith was cast into question.  I believed that I had been initiated into mysteries that other Christians had not, that I had come across criticisms of the Christian faith that few if any Christians had heard or addressed.  After all, no one at my home church had read Hume or Voltaire, Nietzsche or Russell.  Yet this, of course, was rubbish.  The more I investigated the matter, the more I discovered that, of course, countless thousands of exceptionally intelligent Christians have read Feuerbach and Freud and Russell and Rorty — and not only read them, but developed very satisfying responses to their critiques of Christianity.  The problem arises when you pit a university course criticizing Christian beliefs against an immature, unlearned, Sunday School faith.  Just as you educate yourself (if and when you do) on the criticisms of your beliefs, you should educate yourself on how your faith community has responded to those criticisms.  Men and women of profound Christian faith and extraordinary intelligence and wisdom have been responding to criticisms of Christian belief for as long as the Christian church has been in existence.  Today there is no field — from biology and physics to philosophy and biblical studies — where there are not committed believers who stand amongst the most accomplished in their fields and stand ready to explain how they see their faith in light of their expertise.

This deserves stress for students at Christian universities, as well, who are often being taught be faculty whose own experiences at secular institutions have damaged their faith.  There ARE excellent answers to the most penetrating criticisms of Christian faith, and it’s unfortunate that many Christian university faculty members do not know them.  So if you, as student at a Christian college or university, have the impression that some faculty are trying harder to move you out of your Sunday School ways of thinking than they are trying to point you to deep Christian thinkers who don’t need to take an intellectual backseat to anybody, you should do your own research into the subject.  Don’t assume that your professor (who may well have been taught a post-modern perspective on truth in a grad program somewhere) is the fount of all wisdom, just because his vocabulary may be larger than yours, or because he can quote obscure (to you) authors who challenge orthodox Christianity.  Be assured: there are plenty of brilliant people, widely and deeply read, careful and honest thinkers, who have answers to the toughest questions anyone can throw at them about the faith.  Seek those writers out.

5.  Seek betterment, not merely achievement. On the one hand, it’s never quite true that you can “reinvent yourself”; you do, after all, bring yourself with you wherever you go, along with your habits and predispositions, your wounds and weaknesses.  But the transition to college offers extraordinary opportunities to improve your character and enrich your personality.  Commit, for your first year, to try something new every week.  Go to a Taiko concert, write a piece for the school newspaper, watch an obscure foreign film, sign up for that sailing (or golf or Swahili or classical guitar) class, attend that public lecture (public lectures are among the most powerful and the most underutilized resources you can tap at college), go bungee jumping or apply for overseas study in Europe or a research trip to the Amazon.  Countless students can attest that the most important things they did in college took place outside the classroom.  If you’re faithful with your classes, you’ll receive your education and training.  But if you’re faithful with the other opportunities college affords you, your horizons, your sensibilities, your sense of yourself and your world will expand exponentially.

The important corollary here is that you should not do those things that diminish you or enslave you to addictions.  No decision is isolated.  The decisions you make in these years will form patterns and momentum for the decisions you’ll make for decades to come.  If you throw yourself into drinking or drugs or even the addictive pursuit of love and sex, you may awaken four years later and find that you’ve squandered your opportunities and wasted your potential.  Envision the person you want to be, the person you believe you are called to be, and start being that person.  And start now.  One of the biggest mistakes college students make is thinking that their college years are a pause from “real life” or a waiting room set apart from “the real world.”  Your older friends or siblings do you no favors when they act as though you do not inhabit the real world.  Yes, you inhabit a particular sphere with its own rules and protections, but you are called to be who you are today, to begin today the habits you want to keep tomorrow — for who you are in the next four years will have an immense impact on who you are for the next four decades.

6.  Seek fellowship, not merely friends. I’ll keep this short.  The best and most important part of my Stanford experience, by far, was the Christian fellowship to which I belonged.  It’s a great joy to be surrounded by people your age, people like yourself, who love God and seek to live their lives according to his Word.  The most significant training I’ve ever received for ministry or for Christian living came through that fellowship world.  The friendships I’ve maintained in the thirteen years since graduation are virtually all from that fellowship.  We played and worked, prayed and worshipped, served and ministered shoulder to shoulder — on campus, in the inner cities, around the country and around the world.  The fellowships also introduced me to remarkable Christian women.  One beautiful relationship ended with pain and regret.  Another led to a beautiful marriage.

7.  Finally, seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God. Plunge deeply into the life of the mind, and savor the beauty and the rhythms and richness of the scholarly life.  Immerse yourself in friendship and fellowship and commit to learn from one another.  Enjoy the sports contests and the public lectures and study abroad.  Explore all the idiosyncrasies of your school and community, the traditions and hidden treasures.  And learn how to love and be loved by a significant other.  You will change majors and change jobs and change careers many times before your professional life is through.  That’s fine.  And you will go through your romantic ups and downs.  That’s fine too.

Just make sure you major in the majors and minor in the minors.  Remember your first love, remember who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, seek him, and the rest will work itself out.  ”Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).  ”In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).  Whether your college years bring you hardship and misfortune or flourishing and joy, or more likely both, seek God through it all.  Probably the most important thing I learned in my college years came when I broke my neck in a gymnastics accident, and I learned in truth that nothing could separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).  God’s gracious communion is the one thing needful.  No matter what else might be taken from you, if you have that, then you have enough and more than enough.  The goods of the world will come and go.  Yet the peace and the joy of your fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will endure forever.

Live for that fellowship, live in it, and live out of it.  In the end, the rest are details.


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