Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Forgotten Epic

On a Friday the 13th in 1307, Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested all over Europe.  Many of them were later burned at the stake.  Years later they were exonerated of all charges lodged against them.  Some people say this is why we think a Friday that falls on the 13th is unlucky.  It was certainly an unlucky day in France yesterday.  Like our own 9/11, few of us will forget November 13, 2015.  The western world reels once more from jihadists' brutal attacks, and reports of this atrocity consume the news cycle.  From all reports, about 150 people are dead and 200 or more are injured.  Last night France was under its version of marshall law, and its borders were closed.  We don't yet know much about the jihadists who committed these acts.  It is said that one of them had a Syrian passport.  We don't know if they were all middle easterners or if some were western converts to jihad.

Peggy Noonan, who was a speech writer for Ronald Reagan, was on FOX News this morning.  The discussion turned to the phenomenon of western youth turning against their own people and culture to join jihad.  She said our leaders are puzzled about this because they do not understand the power of religious purpose.  Her statement is profoundly accurate.  America as a whole has abandoned the idea of religious purpose.  Our culture has become so materialistic that anyone who believes anything that cannot be seen and touched and proven by science (or what passes for science) is viewed as backward and ignorant.  

Our American colleges have taught our children that there is no God.  The earth and its inhabitants came into being by accident - a fluke of nature.  We have no purpose.  Life is insignificant.  There is no objective good and evil.  There is no objective truth.  We all live out our lives as aimless individuals whose only occupation is to seek pleasure.  And when we die, it doesn't matter what kind of life we led because there is no such thing as eternity.  Sadly, Europe abandoned God before we did.  European culture is sophisticated, cosmopolitan, smart, and worldly - aloof from any idea of God, bored by religion.  

The human spirit longs to have a purpose, to be a part of something larger than itself.  No wonder some of our western youth are drawn to Islam and jihad where they are indeed part of something larger than themselves and have a purpose - even if it's blowing themselves up.  What does this say about the condition of western Christian culture - that some of our young people long so desparately to be a part of something larger than themselves, that they are willing to commit suicide in its service?

I think this is symptomatic of the impoverished condition of Christianity - what's left of it - in western culture.  Few churches tell us about the grand epic that we Christians are part of.  Some churches reduce Christianity to a rigid list of dos and don'ts with little background as to the wisdom of the dos and don't or how they fit in the grand epic.  Some churches are nothing but social clubs that indulge in as much pop culture as possible.  Their services entertain rather than teach.  Far from being a refuge from the world, they are a magnification of the world.  And some Christians, in all churches, just go through the motions for an hour on Sunday, and resume their life of premeditated sin as soon as they leave the parking lot.

We Christians can moan about the world all we want to, but we are part of the problem.  Many so-called Christians, including some of the clergy, have reduced Christianity to a myth - just one of many religions - no better or worse than any of the others.  But Christianity is not a myth.  It is a true story God is telling.  Like Sam in Lord of the Rings, we should be asking "I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?"  

If we Christians don't wake up and acknowledge the grand epic in which we live and teach it to our children, we will not only miss salvation in the hereafter, we will miss the most exciting, exhilarating purpose for existence in the here and now.  And we will see our children abandon Christianity for empty, meaningless, materialistic lives.  We might even see them blow themselves up in the service of Islam and its false god.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

High Summer

It's high summer in southern Louisiana - high humidity and temperatures in the 9os.   I envy my British penpals who occasionally comment in a letter that they're having a "chilly summer."  We hardly have chilly winters.  We've had a lot of rain this year, so everything is lush and green.  It means frequent mowing for Jerry, but I can't help but appreciate the beautiful green when we've had recent years of draught when everything was parched and brown.

I'm sitting on the backporch.  It's an enclosed, air-conditioned porch with windows to observe nature - the best of both worlds.  The porch looks out on the deck and the bayou beyond.  A maple tree hangs over the deck, and it's a gathering place for the birds as they go to and from the bird bath and feeders on the deck - doves, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and mockingbirds.  

Recently Jerry installed and squirrel feeder and some squirrel corn on the deck since we had noticed a fiesty young squirrel coming to eat the birds' seed.  We named the rascal "Watters," after Jesse Watters of FOX News fame.  Watters, the squirrel, seemed to be pretty confident that our deck was "his world." One morning, just as Watters was discovering the corn, two mockingbirds attacked him and ran him off.  We didn't see him for a long time.  I thought maybe a whole gang of mockingbirds had committed squirrelicide.

Earlier this week I cleaned out the flower pots on the deck.  The pansies and dianthus that I planted last fall were beautiful through the winter and spring, but they finally succumbed to the heat and humidity of summer.  The only plants left that tolerate the heat are a young bay tree, a spearmint plant, moss rose volunteers from last year, and a pretty little plant called wooly thyme.  

I filled a box with dead plants and went to discard them along the fenceline.  And there was Watters, sitting on his hind legs, eating an acorn.  I said "hello" and told him we had missed seeing him on the deck, and that I didn't think any self-respecting squirrel would let two mockingbirds run him off.  His chewing paused as if he was listening.  He was just a few feet from me and didn't run up a tree until I started tossing dead plants.  This morning he was back on the deck, eating the birds' sunflower seeds.  Just call me Dr. Doolittle.

I was sick for almost a month with what the doctor called walking pneumonia.  I hope I never have it again.  I had a cough that made my rib cage sore.  I seem to be over it now and groomed horses this morning for the first time in quite a while.  Jerry always sees to their feed, hay, and water, but grooming has been neglected.  I was glad to see that there are no skin problems - no pesky funguses - and no hoof problems.  I groomed Fay and Tesoro this morning.  By the time I finished with them, it was too hot to move.  Giving a horse a good, brisk brushing will work up a sweat even in cooler weather.  I'll get to Rocky tomorrow.  His long, luxurious mane is so knotted, a trim might be the only remedy.

We had an Irish meal for lunch yesterday - corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.  There's enough left over for lunch today so I can skip cooking.  I'm glad we like leftovers.  The local spring tomatoes have played out and it's too early for fall tomatoes, so we'll be eating store-bought tomatoes for a while.  Sometimes they hardly taste like tomatoes at all.

The only good thing about being sick was that I had lots of guilt-free time to work in my watercolor journal.  I've had some experience in oil and acrylic painting, but didn't venture into watercolor until last summer.  Watercolor is the hardest to control, and I found it very frustrating at first.  Now that I've given up the idea of total control and just let it do its thing, I think I like it best.  It has a fresh, spontaneous quality about it.  So now I'm off to do a little watercoloring while the leftovers heat up.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Is That It?

I attended the Service of Shadows at First Presbyterian last night.  The church was bare of any decoration or flowers.  At the beginning of the service, candles were lit for each of the disciples. Scriptures about the Last Supper and Jesus' arrest in the garden and his crucifixion were read.  A member of the choir with a voice like an angel sang "The Lamb of God." We partook of Holy Communion. Then at the end of the service, just as Jesus' closest followers deserted him, the candles were extinguished, one by one.  

We were then instructed to go in silent procession outside to the terraced courtyard.  There we found a replica of Jesus' tomb guarded by two young men dressed as Roman soldiers.  The moon, already high in the sky, drifted in and out of the clouds as we sang "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" When we finished the last stanza, the soldiers rolled the stone across the entrance to the tomb.  As we all departed in solemn silence, I heard a little girl's small, disappointed voice say, "Is that it?" followed by a quiet "Shush" from her mother.  

Priceless! How fitting was that sweet child's remark! I'm sure that's exactly what Jesus' scattered followers thought that night.  Is that it? Does it really end like this? We had such high hopes, and it has come to this - the shadow of a cross and a stone, sealing our Lord's tomb.  We must have misunderstood.  How can this be?

to be continued . . .

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Wordy Rant

The word "campus" used to mean the grounds of a school, college, or university.  In recent years "campus" is used to refer to the grounds of a church or hospital or office complex, too, which annoys my overly word-sensitive brain.  It's hard enough for us to understand each other under the best of circumstances.  Why do we keep muddying the language?

I've been told by some, "Language evolves.  Get over it."  But it seems to me that there's a fine line between evolution and corruption.  Just when did the corruption of the word "campus" begin?  I heaved Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary off the shelf.  I purchased it for occasions like this.  I was shocked to find that "campus" does not appear in this dictionary.  Wait.  Surely I just overlooked it.  Sit tight.  I'm going to check again. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- No.  It's just not there - unless the order of the alphabet has been changed since 1828.  (Maybe it has been, the way we tinker with the language.)  At any rate, the last word listed that begins with "camp" is "campion" - which, by the way, means "A plant, the popular name of the lychnis" - at least that's what it meant in 1828, but I digress.

The latest, up-to-date online dictionary says that "campus" refers to the grounds of a school, college, or university in its first definition.  Below that, it gives this definition - "grounds that resemble a campus."  So in our modern world, it appears that "resembling" and "being" are now interchangeable.  I object.  Sometimes I resemble a donkey, but I am not one.

I started to wonder just exactly when the word "campus" became corrupted.  How did we go from "campus" not appearing in the dictionary at all to it referring to the grounds of an educational institution to it referring to the grounds of just about anything?  How did this happen?  I searched the house for old dictionaries that were more recent that 1828.  After all, I'm old, the house is old, there must be several old dictionaries around here.  Then I remembered that a few years ago - when they cut the ribbon to the information highway - I got rid of a lot of old reference books.  Who needs reference books when you have the internet at your fingertips?

I finally put my hands on a 1993 dictionary that escaped the purge and found that even then anything that resembled a campus was a campus - so the corruption set in before 1993.  After doing some online googling, I found that "campus" was first used in America in the 1700s to refer to the grounds of a school, college, or university - period.  Nothing said about grounds that just resemble a campus.  But it couldn't have been in very wide useage or Noah would have put it in his 1828 dictionary.  According to internet sources, it was sometime in the 1900s that the definition expanded to include anything that resembles a campus.

You might be interest to know that "campus" comes from a Latin word that means "field."  Thanks to modern word-abusers, it now means just about any piece of ground.  If you'll excuse me, I've got to go now.  There's some weeding to be done on the Landry campus (i.e. the back yard).