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24/12: Our Mission

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
We are engaged in a conversation about American life through the lenses of history, culture, politics and religion.

The Okie Gardener and I envisioned this blog as an electronic salon where reasonable and earnest people might come and exchange beliefs and impressions regarding important issues. We understood that we would not agree with one another all the time nor would we always agree with the greater community we hoped to create. No matter, we envisioned ourselves arguing with conviction and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Language is an imperfect form of communication. For a conscientious historian, clarity is paramount. Notwithstanding, even with attention to detail, written communication provides endless opportunities for misunderstanding. In that regard, we have embarked on a journey fraught with risk. Truly, the essence of communication is not in what you say, it is in what people hear. For that reason, I ask my friends, family, and our reading community to hear us kindly.

This seems a fitting time to extend our thanks to all of you who participate in this discussion in that spirit. We appreciate the myriad gifts you bring to this table. We wish you the blessings of the Christmas season and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

May God bless our endeavor and protect us all in the coming year.

Note: I have modified this statement slightly since I originally posted it as a Christmas and New Year greeting.

23/12: Making Soil

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Yesterday was sunny and mild here in Southwest Oklahoma. Some of our hardy plants were greening a bit, after 3-4" of rain several days ago. December came in with sleet and 4" of snow followed by cold temperatures, but now we are mild again.

Late in the afternoon I turned my compost pile. Using my garden fork I moved the blackened, crumbly, hard-to-tell-what-it-was-before-rotting bottom of the heap to the top, and the leaves, grapefruit rinds, zinnia stems, coffee grounds to the bottom, with some mixing throughout.

I enjoy making compost. I get a deep satisfaction from improving the soil in my garden. Of the basic elements necessary for life--sunshine, water, air, soil--only rich, black soil can I make. When I work the compost into my garden early this spring, along with some manure, I'll feel like a partner in creation. (more below)

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Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
A great, great Hanukkah story from Natan Sharansky, courtesy of Powerline. May God bless us all.

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Farmer had an earlier post devoted to "America's Iron Lady." I would like to call your attention to this tribute by Bob Tyrrell on Jewish World Review. I especially was intrigued by this paragraph.

It was at Jeane Kirkpatrick's funeral this week that I finally heard of some good achieved by the United Nations amidst all its dithering and graft. According to Jeane's pastor, during her momentous tenure as our U.N. ambassador, Jeane was so wobbled by the international body's cynicism and moral emptiness that she forsook years of atheism and became a person of faith. Mind you, she had always had an abundance of secular faith before President Ronald Reagan tapped her for the United Nations. Her faith in the American way of life, its freedom, democracy and equality was as ardent as it was intelligently conceived. But after leaving the house of hustlers on the East River, she became deeply Christian; and religion gently informed all she thought and did thereafter.

I am reminded of others whose journeys of faith were undertaken because of rigorous intellectual honesty. ( Including the surgeon general Everett Koop, who finally agreed to attend a church one of the nurses kept inviting him to, just so she would stop the invitations. Attending this Presbyterian church he sat through the sermon disbelieving everything said. But, he could not figure out why he thought the sermon untrue. So, he went back, and back again, and eventually became a believer.)

Simone Weil, the French existentialist writer of the 1930s, wrote that to find God it is necessary to hold firmly to two disparate truths: the world does not make sense, and, we want the world to make sense. Both are true, but we tend to abandon one or the other. She wrote that by holding to both we create Space for God, into which he will come, if we wait. See her essay Waiting for God.

For more information on Weil, link from an admirer, and Susan Sontag's brilliant essay here.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The latest Peggy Noonan column is terrific. Speaking of George H. W. Bush (41) and his propensity for choking up, Noonan reports and speculates on a recent episode in which he was unable to hold back his tears:

"Barely more than a day after he spoke, the Iraq Study Group's report would be issued. It was chaired by his old friend, the one with whom he'd discussed serious things years ago only after the kids, George and Jeb and the others, left the room.

"Surely Mr. Bush knew--surely he was first on James Baker's call list--that the report would not, could not, offer a way out of a national calamity, but only suggestions, hopes, on ways through it. To know his son George had (with the best of intentions!) been wrong in the great decision of his presidency--stop at Afghanistan or move on to Iraq?--and was now suffering a defeat made clear by the report; to love that son, and love your country, to hold these thoughts, to have them collide and come together--this would bring not only tears, but more than tears."

On the emotional differences between Ronald Reagan and his successor:

"Afterwards I thought about the two presidents I had known. Ronald Reagan was emotionally moved by American history and the Founders, by the long sweep of history. Personal issues and relations left him more dry-eyed. His successor was enormously moved by personal relations, by his love for his children and parents and friends. But to him the sweep of history was more abstract; it didn't capture his imagination in the same way. It left him dry-eyed.

"Different strokes, different folks."

Memory, emotion and growing old:

"Age exposes us, if we're lucky enough to be given it. Some say it makes you softer, some tougher, some a mix of both. Some say it just leaves you more so--whatever you were, you are, only more."

"[G]rowing older can leave you more exposed to the force of whatever it is you're feeling. Defenses erode like a fence worn by time. But what you feel can surprise you.

"You're thinking about what was, and suddenly apprehending for the first time how important it was. You think of your son, age 3, on the lawn when you drove up that time. Once that memory touched you in some way you don't fully understand, but now it makes your throat constrict because you realize that of all the things that ever happened to you, none was as important as how he looked on the lawn when you drove up that time.

"Age reorders. The order is expressed by the mysterious force of a fragment of a moment. And there you are at the podium, mugged by a memory."

An aside: the tag of the piece is much less charitable to the current President Bush. It pains me and alarms me that Peggy Noonan has given up on the President.

Read the piece in full (here).
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
“I saw the light I saw the light
no more darkness no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light.”
~Hank Williams

We are waiting in a world that often appears barren and devoid of light. In the anguish of our emptiness, we hunger for justice and peace. Awash in our imperfection, we cry out for forgiveness and healing. In the depths of our abject loneliness, we await God. Where are you beloved Savior? Emanuel?

We are not alone. We have seen the light, yet darkness and sorrow have not passed away. We are anticipating a more joyous time, but we are no longer expecting only bright glorious days in the Garden. We have been chastened by the black and lifeless night of the Cross. Nevertheless, we are assured that there is “a light that keeps shining in the darkness.” Even as the earth experiences nighttime, we understand that the sun continues to keep us in precise cosmic order and warm our world. God is with us during our long night.

Welcome darkness. In the coldness and darkness of life is truth. The dark of winter is a reminder of our limits and our need. The delicious hunger in our souls during the long night confirms our dependence on God. We are the created. We need not search for God. Even as we wait for God, we know that God is here. God has come already, and He has not abandoned us. God is with us in the midst of our sorrows.

Life is beautiful and rich and multi-layered, but we will not easily and painlessly solve the puzzles of our existence. Spring will come again; we will laugh again—but not tonight. Tonight we wait in the stillness. The promise of victory is real and assuring, but darkness is our present reality.

Welcome darkness. Winter is upon us. But welcome also a candle in the night (and another; and another). In the midst of the darkness, light and meaning are in us even as God was in the Christ. “We are truly blessed. The Lord is with us.”

Note: I originally wrote this meditation last Advent season for an internal publication at my church. My inclusion of Hank Williams's famous praise hymn to God struck many learned readers as a curious coupling with Advent. Undoubtedly, they were right. Blame my curiously organized mind. Here is what I was going for: Hank Williams, I suspect, was articulating a "holiness" theology, a tradition prominent in some denominations of Christianity in the American South. The holiness tradition teaches that Christians may reach a level of righteousness at which they are almost immune to sin or distress. Traditional Advent thinking, obviously, denies such a belief. Instead, the lesson of Advent is "light in the midst of darkness" as opposed to "no more darkness."
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
Our church had its first Christmas Program rehearsal this morning during the Sunday School time. Squirming kids, hyper kids, talkative kids. (I loved the blurted question part-way through from the 2nd grade girl who asked, if Jesus was born king, who was the queen?) 5th-grade Isaiah the prophet coming down the aisle to declaim his prophecies doing what I can only describe as a pimp-walk. The girl who can do Native American sign language absent. The high school narrator giving a very low-keyed reading of the miracle of the Incarnation. Mary not wanting to stand close enough to Joseph to touch him. The ranks of the heavenly host depleted by a few absences. 7th grade Elizabeth not sure she wanted to wear a costume that simulated a pregnant woman. The special-effects boy pretending to shine a flashlight at one point because the real one must have been elsewhere. In other words, a typical first rehearsal of a Sunday School Christmas program. Controlled chaos that by the end of the hour was beginning to take recognizable shape. I'm confident that on the night of the 17th we'll have a respectable presentation of "Three Gifts for Jesus," written by one of our members. And in the midst of this morning, God's grace. The 2nd-grader with the question giving me a piece of paper after the children's sermon to "give to Jesus:" a marker drawing of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus in the manger between them and all surrounded by red hearts. Nevermind that she had squabbled with another girl during the early part of the service over the markers. Somehow the reality of the miracle of God's love for us had touched her, prompting this response.

Paul said that God puts his treasure into earthen vessels, into clay pots. That's the church. That's us Christians, the people of God. Clay pots. Controlled chaos, AWOL Sunday School students, missing flashlights, and strutting prophets. Yet somehow, God's love comes through. Have a blessed Advent.