Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy birthday, Jonathan!

My little brother was born 29 years ago today. Happy birthday! He was a fun growing up. I remember dumpster-jumping together, making "clubhouses" from the treasures we found. We would play school together and make up stories with our stuffed animals. We both liked to sing and read. I remember Jonathan sharing tidbits of information that he gleaned from reading the encyclopedia (for fun!)

We got a bit closer when I was a senior and he a freshman in high school. My parents and sister lived in the U.S. for 5 months without us, while Jonathan and I lived with a missionary family in Nigeria. He says now that he was encouraged by having me there with him, at a time that was scary and lonely for both of us.

I'll never forget the way he starred in "Journey to Oz" that year at Hillcrest. He was the Scarecrow who not only sang fantastically, but did delightfully flexible and funny movements as he came to life (not always standing very well since he was made of straw)! I was so proud of him! After I left for college, he continued his acting and musical efforts, and I always enjoyed hearing recordings of him.

Now we're both parents. He married my wonderful sister-in-law Lori in August 2002, and now they have two cute little boys. As an , I've enjoyed visits with him, playing board games, talking about all sorts of things, hiking, reminiscing, singnig in my sister's wedding together, hearing him read aloud (his specialty is "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). He visited us right before we moved to Scotland and helped me sort and pack my bedroom clutter. I visited him after the births of both his boys. It's fun seeing him be a dad!

So here's to you, Jonathan! I love you and wish we lived closer. Happy birthday!

Discipline - 10 PM 1/30/08

I reached a point of being disgusted with myself yet again. I'd stopped exercising and doing Bible study for months. So for the past few weeks, I've been jogging and having quiet times regularly. I'm using an InterVarsity Press book to guide my Bible reading, which is helping me by having defined passages and specific questions to answer after each reading. I'm getting more interested in the Word again.

The jogging is going so-so. I'd been doing it daily, but then didn't get to it yesterday and today . I could be doing it right now, but feel I really need to go to bed instead.

Which brings me to my next area of discipline that I'd like to improve: my sleep! I've been terrible about going to bed late and then being sleepy during the day. When given the chance, I can easily take a 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon. I feel like my lack of discipline in sleeping, keeping a schedule, and cleaning, all work together to make my life much less pleasant than it could be! It's a downward spiral, so I'm trying to make some upward changes.

Thus, enough talk. I'm going to bed. But first I'm reading my passage in Luke 8. Goodnight...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I spoke with a friend "Molly" recently about the nature of "temporary" friendships. She was describing to me how she had become really close to a neighbor, to the point of sharing meals and calling daily. She felt like they were almost sisters. Then Molly's friend told her that because Molly was planning to live in her present home only temporarily (a few years, due to husband's grad school) she did not want to be close friends with her anymore. She and her husband had decided they wanted to pursue friendships only with people who were going to settle down permanently in their town. Molly didn't qualify. This has been heartbreaking for her, and it baffled me.

I've been "temporary" all my life, and the truth is that each of us is "temporary" since we actually don't know what the future holds. We can't tell ahead of time when life circumstances will be such that we need to move. We might think we've settled, but it's never for sure.

And then there are people like me. Eleven years (with some 6-12 month gaps) is the longest I've lived in one area. I've lived on three continents, and even now, do not know what my address will be in 5 months. To think that I would be rejected from friendship because of this makes me very sad. I understand the fears and sorrows involved, but think that the love is worth it.

Right now I'm in a place where I sense that possible friends are purposely avoiding getting to know me. But this is the first time I've ever really felt this kind of resistance. For the most part, I've made friends quickly and they've stayed good friends for life.

A special case in point was the year I lived in Scotland. We knew we were only going to be there for twelve months. We found a church right away and told them we'd be there for a year. Yet people still reached out to us in an amazing way and blessed us with their genuine friendship. Dear women opened up to me without waiting the prerequisite months of "getting acquainted." I now have forever friends in Scotland -- all because they loved me despite my being temporary.

It's actually a benefit in my eyes. I have friends all over the world. I have people to visit when I travel. I have many who I can talk with at length, praying for each other and laughing as we catch up. Thank you, God, for the gift of good friends.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

December family pics

Naomi loves wearing her Little Mermaid crown so much that sometimes we wonder if it's actually attached to her head!

Ethan playing with some flour (while I cook). I thought he'd enjoy feeling it, but didn't anticipate it being dumped so quickly!

Grandpa and Ethan at Wendy's in Charlotte. The Sunday after-church wait at Cracker Barrel was WAY too long. We gave up and did fast food instead.

Naomi, Lisa, Grandma, Grandpa with Ethan, Steve, Josiah
on our last morning together Dec 28

Josiah with his face painted. The kids got face paints for Christmas and I loved doing them up!

Friday, January 18, 2008

A World Without Islam? --An Article Review by Steve

In a fascinating exercise of journalistic creativity, Graham Fuller’s “A World Without Islam” (Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb 2008) argues that the Middle East would be just as violent a place without Islam as it is with it. Yet Fuller does what every historian knows he or she shouldn’t do—make unwarranted assumptions. Writing alternative histories is always risky, since it’s extremely difficult to know whether an event or conflict would definitely have happened if the situation had been different. Fuller’s repeated assertion that the Middle East would still be riven by ethnic and political strife is an interesting argument, but impossible to really defend. His thesis is too rigid and dogmatic, and makes claims about history that are unsupportable.

Take, for example, his argument that Western powers would have colonized the Middle East regardless of religion. He bases this argument on the assumption that medieval Europe was politically expansionist and that the Crusaders were adventurers “driven by political, social, and economic needs.” It’s true that some Crusaders settled in Palestine as nobles, though many did not. Contrary to today’s popular image of the greedy Crusader, however, crusading for most people was not a lucrative proposition—most Crusaders were self-supporting and expended enormous amounts of personal capital to go to Jerusalem. Many, if not all Crusaders went as pilgrims desiring to see the sacred places of the Bible at the same time they were fighting for ‘Christendom.’ Fuller simply does not do justice to the religious motivation of many Crusaders. Would medieval Europe really have colonized the Middle East without the threat of Islam? Remember that Pope Urban II only called for the Crusades after the Byzantine empire appealed for Western help in the face of a Turkish assault in Anatolia.

It’s assuming a lot even to say that modern Western imperialism was inevitable in the Middle East. Fuller argues that Eastern Christians would have resented Western dominance as much as Muslims did. It’s true that even before the advent of Islam, tensions existed between the eastern and western branches of Christendom. But who is to say whether Westerners would have attained political and military dominance over Eastern Christians had it not been for the steady pounding Muslims gave the Byzantine empire over centuries? Moreover, Western power derives from the technological advancement made during the Enlightenment, which itself was only made possible by the Reformation’s challenge to certain dogmas and practices of the Catholic Church. But would the Reformation have survived had the Catholic Church not been squeezed by the advance of Muslims Turks on their eastern frontier during the sixteenth century? Were it not for the siege of Vienna in 1529, there might have been no Reformation, and therefore no Enlightenment, and therefore no Western military dominance. You see how the kind of exercise Fuller engages in must ultimately be inconclusive. Which makes his certainty about his argument, however journalistically attractive, dishonest.

Fuller also does not take belligerence within Islam seriously enough; he too easily dismisses passages in the Qur’an that provide some key to understanding why so many Muslims hate the West. However one wants to interpret chapter nine of the Qur’an, this “sword” chapter, as Muslims themselves call it, was one of the last to be revealed to Muhammad and is extremely important for how Muslims should think about non-Muslims. Of course one should not look only at the Qur’an to explain Muslim antipathy for the West. Certainly Western imperialism in the past and the modern nation of Israel are flashpoints with Muslims. But these are recent phenomena, and Muslim opposition to the West goes back much further than this. The 14th century Arab Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, for example, wrote condescendingly of northern Europeans as barbarians and of Africans as having a “disposition and character similar to that of dumb animals.” Obviously 19th and early 20th century European imperialists were not alone in their cultural arrogance.

All this considered, Fuller might be right that the Middle East would still be a fractured, dangerously unstable place today without Islam. But his lack of scholarly modesty is most unbecoming.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hitch -- a review

If you need a good laugh at the end of a hard week, this is the film for you! Hitch is a remarkable combination of humor and sensitivity, enjoyable for both men and women. I have never seen Steve laugh harder than in this movie!

Alex Hitchins is a private, secretive consultant who helps timid or awkward men find the courage and grace to meet and court the women they’ve been longing to know. Hitch is challenged when an accountant hires him in order to get to know a millionaire celebrity. But it turns out that Hitch’s biggest challenge is letting down his own barriers when he himself falls in love.

There are many moments of male/female humor in Hitch, poking fun at the different ways we communicate and understand. There is also good old slapstick and laughing at our own human foibles and weaknesses. Thankfully the humor is clean, even though the movie has its share of sexual innuendo and God’s name misused. If you’re sensitive about innuendo and language, this movie might bother you a bit. But I was really impressed by the emphasis on honorable, respectful behavior in Hitch.

For example, the mission of Alex Hitchins is expressly not sexual. When one potential client admits that he just wants to “bang” the girl he likes, Hitch goes through the roof. His job is to help people have the time to talk and listen to each other, growing in passion because of common interests. He has no sympathy for sleazy men who only want their own “needs” met. He refuses to work with this customer.

Also there are moments when Alex himself could have compromised his ideals for his own gratification, but instead pursued friendship. Throughout the story, he is shown to be mature and concerned about who women really are.

Hitch is not just a fairy tale movie. Hitch discovers the difficulty that past betrayal causes in present relationships. He is confronted with the choice between loving and risking, and staying “safe” but never loving. Friends of his are willing to speak candidly with him, challenging his assumptions about love and life.

I highly recommend this movie as one of my top romantic comedies, finding the innuendoes and language the only major drawbacks.

Munich – a review

I enjoy thriller/action movies and Munich looked like it would be an interesting one. In some ways, it was much better than a typical action movie, and in other ways worse.

At the very outset, a Palestinian terrorist group kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli Olympians as the Olympics were beginning in Munich. The movie then tells of Israel hiring special agents and their efforts to hunt down Palestinians in vengeance.

The unfortunate thing about Munich is how graphic and violent it is. With the story of assassins and Israeli/Palestinian conflict, violence is not surprising, but in my opinion, they could have filmed just as effective a movie without as much detail. For this reason, I would have to strongly caution people who do not like graphic films. On the other hand, it does not trivialize death. And it also tries to show how traumatic and haunting these events are, even months later, to “hardened” men like assassins.

The wonderful and amazing thing about Munich is how philosophical it is. Unlike many thriller movies that have a good guy and bad guys and thus a black and white conflict, this film shows the complexity of human thought and motivation and the complexity of conflict. The characters are shown as family men, working men, men who care about relationships and life, men who find their new assignment distasteful though necessary.

The conflict is highly complex. Various characters throughout the movie question what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Is it right to be assassinating these chosen men without proof of their involvement in Munich? Is it right to trust their employer? They’ve been told to kill only the specified Palestinians, but what happens when their own teammate is murdered? Is it okay to then kill that colleague’s murderer? What does it mean to be a Jew? Does it mean only that one is loyal to Israel? Or does it mean that one is righteous before God, obeying the Law more than the government?

Usually the end of a movie has definition and resolution, but Munich does not. The lead character is less sure of himself and his work than ever before in the movie. Through the course of his assignment, he had gradually become callous and vengeful. But as he saw violence only beget more violence, he questioned Israel’s methods and his own loyalty to them. We are left with questions and doubts rather than a feeling of success or determination. This is a refreshing, more accurate portrayal of a world that is indeed not black and white.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Small Encouragements

Yesterday it warmed up to 45 degrees, so my kids decided to have a "picnic" outside on the "big hill" in our yard. They gathered together their favorite stuffed animals, a doll stroller, a blanket, plates, cups, and then asked me for food. I gave them oyster crackers and one cookie each.

They asked if they could eat their entire lunch outside at their picnic, so I said "Sure!" I made peanut butter and graham cracker "sandwiches," washed some apples and peeled one for Ethan. We loved being outside!

Ethan had a hard time sitting and walking on the hill. He kept tipping over! But I stuck by him and helped him walk on the slant. He loved seeing our cows and tasting dirt and grass again.

The older kids climbed fences, ran around, and collected dried up seed pods. I was grateful they could use their energy and noise outside instead of driving me crazy inside!

And I used my free weekend minutes to call some dear friends from Illinois and Scotland. I talked with five wonderful women and felt so refreshed by catching up with them and hearing their voices. Thank you, God, for small encouragements like "warm" weather and friends!