After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hide and Seek

Over time, I have learned two things about my religious quest: First of all, that it is God who is seeking me, and who has myriad ways of finding me. Second, that my most substantial changes, in terms of religious conversion come through other people. Even when I become convinced that God is absent from my life, others have a way of suddenly revealing God's presence.
    —Kathleen Norris, in Amazing Grace, a Vocabulary of Faith

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on Sincere Faith

Christopher Hitchens is a renowned author, journalist and atheist apologist. He is currently featured in the documentary Collision, a record of a series of cross-country debates with Pastor Douglas Wilson, senior fellow at New St. Andrews College. Just as all evangelicals are not nosy hypocrites, not all atheists are grouchy critics. In an article in Slate, it will be surprising to some what Hitchens finds praiseworthy of his debate partner:   

"Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just 'metaphors.' He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he 'allows' it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Story

My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually."
—Frederick Buechner, in Telling Secrets

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Theology or truth?

Far from any individual's theology being The Right One, in one sense all theologies are heresies. For theologies, like heresies, are major or minor distortions of the truth.

We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

In other words, what you believe may be partly correct, but it is certainly not completely correct. The point? We must always be open to further insights that will give us fuller understanding of what God is all about.
   Let us get one thing straight: the One Thing. The one certainty against which all our theologies are guesswork. "This one thing I know," the apostle Paul wrote: Jesus, and how his crucifixion delivered us from sin, and how his resurrection assures us of eternal life.
   I believe these are unquestionable absolutes for all Christians, and perhaps the only absolutes. In the end, God's truth is not a theology but a person. Our faith is not about Jesus Christ, not based on Jesus Christ—it is Jesus Christ.
Tony Campolo, from Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-controlled Church Neutered the Gospel.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Click image to enlarge.

"Goodness," from Journey: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999, by Kathleen Norris. Photo collage image by Wayne S.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Use it or lose it

I have forgotten how to write.
Not in the authorial sense (although I'll leave it to others to determine my ability there). No, I mean in the physical, the manual sense.
Being left-handed, I've always struggled with penmanship. My explanation is that we left-handers always had to write around the metal rings in the middle of our notebooks, requiring digital Jujitzu. I haven't written in cursive since middle school. Attending college in the early 70s, before personal computers, I usually turned in papers with reasonably neat printed characters. When the computer age arrived, I began typing with two fingers. I am now up to four, occasionally five.
In the interim, my handwriting has deteriorated even further. At some point along the line, I gave up lower-case letters. Lately I seem to have abandoned all forms of neatness, and my notes, or forms I fill out, look like the work of an architect on LSD—all caps, but so haphazard and irregular that sometimes even I cannot read them.
I have also found a way to even avoid typing. Many of my longer pieces I create using voice-recognition software. It works very well, once I trained it to recognize my Southern drawl. It does occasionally come up with a howler, like when it hears me say "call doctor" instead of "Golgotha."
It makes me wonder what's next to wither from disuse, at least as pertains to my craft. Will my mind end up as dull as a broken pencil? My vision is corrected, my hearing is fair to good if I concentrate. But what about that vision which sees concepts and truths? Or the hearing that hears beyond the sound? I pray I do not lose these. That is why I exercize them, with disciplines like this blog. As far as I can tell, I only have the occasional visitor (even my wife must be cajoled). So consider this my exercise. Like an overweight guy doing Tai Chi, it may not be pretty, but I believe it is good for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All OK

Thumbs up from my granddaughter, Adeline Grace.
Letting us know she's on schedule for a mid-March debut.


Click photo to enlarge. Photo by Wayne S.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Gospel According to my iPod

I love music.

Way back when (and I mean way back, in the early 70s) I even played music, dragging my guitar and my own songs (as well as Cat Stevens's and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s) all around.

I like all kinds of music. I know, that sort of comment usually prompts a rolling of the eyes, and a suspicion that whoever is speaking really doesn’t know all that much about music. But my Ipod has over 14,500 songs, from over 5200 albums, representing over 3800 artists (from ABBA to Zappa, as I like to say), and I can tell you something about each one of them. I have songs in Latin, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian. as well as a lot of jazz and classical, which have no words. I think music is the soundtrack of life, and a world without music would be far less rich.

One of the nice things about portable music players is the ability to shuffle music. In shuffle mode, the player simply plays the songs in random order. For someone with a lot of music, this affords me the chance to hear tracks that I haven’t chosen lately. It’s always a treat to hear something that I haven’t heard in a while.

Occasionally, there is a sublime juxtaposition of two songs which, taken separately, might say one thing but, taken together, say something else altogether. Recently, I heard something like that.

Suzanne Vega, an English major turned pop storyteller, has many interesting songs to her credit, some bright and optimistic, but many dark and mysterious. One that falls in-between is the song Caramel, from her album Nine Objects of Desire.

The song is pretty straightforward. The singer is telling someone that, for reasons unknown, she must refuse a love relationship.

It won't do
to dream of caramel,
to think of cinnamon
and long for you.

It won't do
to stir a deep desire,
to fan a hidden fire
that can never burn true.

I like how the reason for her decision is never revealed. What is it? Race? Religion? Age? Most likely, most people’s thought goes to adultery—either she, the other person or both are married to someone else.

But whatever the story, she has made a decision, although the song’s tone seems to give the listener reason to believe her resolve is perhaps not exactly rock-solid. Nevertheless, she has made a good choice—for now at least—although it was obviously a hard one.

I like Suzanne Vega’s voice. I like the song, too, so it was a treat to hear it. No less a treat was the next song in the shuffle. Lari White is the daughter of a rock-and-roll guitarist and the granddaughter of a Primitive Baptist preacher (which curiously, allowed no musical instruments in church) and she draws deeply upon both men with her gutsy, gospel-choir powered version of There is Power in the Blood from the soundtrack of the movie The Apostle. You know the words:

Would you be free
from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood,
power in the blood;
Would you o'er evil
a victory win?
There's wonderful
power in the blood.

It occurred to me the proximity of these two songs was providential. Every day, we make choices. Some are easy. Some, like the one described by Ms. Vega, are harder. Some seem impossible. It is then that followers of Christ have something extra. The power of the blood. Simply put, it is a power, a gift given of God and within us, that lifts us higher than we can go on our own, and allows us to do, or do without. And to discover that a hard choice can be more than loss, but gain.

It's grace. It's growing. It's being saved all over again every day (not positionally, but practically). And it's part of the real, warty you in this real, rocky world. Grace is not needed in a sinless world.

Here are performances of the two songs. I would encourage you, if you like them, to buy the studio versions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Take up your cross

"My children, when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening. In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise. 

"Your Father."

-- Whittaker Chambers, in the foreword to Witness, written in the form of a letter to his children.

Yes, this passage seems anything but joyous. But it prefaces a book that was anything but joyous—Chambers's tale of leaving the Communist Party in the late 1930s and taking his family into hiding. Then, at great personal sacrifice, he testified against his former co-conspirators (most notably Alger Hiss) and was shunned and reviled by many for suspicion of lying, although declassified Russian documents in the 1990s vindicated him, albeit three decades after his death.
While he fully understood the hardness of the world and the difficulty in doing right, and carried around those scars, he was sure of his salvation and grateful to God. In the same foreword, he says this:

"I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself—tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave—could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith."


Thursday, October 15, 2009

A picture a day... for eighteen years

  It is a simple, unadorned website. On a black background, a list of years, spanning 1979 to 1997, runs down the left side of the page. Click on one of the years, and you will see a Polaroid photo taken every day of that year (beginning March 31, 1979). Most of them are presumably pictures of friends. Most are unremarkable to the casual viewer. Yet it is most remarkable the dedication with which the photographer took to his task. Rarely there will be a photograph of just a slip of paper with the date. This was not because the photographer didn't take a picture. It was because the archivist could not locate the picture for that day, presumably in a pile of daily photographs.
  Yes, I said archivist. The pictures abruptly stop on October 25, 1997. In fact, the last few pictures were probably taken by friends. They show a man in a hospital room, dying. Eighteen days earlier, a photo seems to show him getting married. But he had been sick for some time. He had lost his hair to chemotherapy, but then his hair grew back, perhaps signalling that he had abandoned the chemo.
  Who was the photographer? The website is called "Jamie Livingston's Photo of the Day." But that only gives us a name, not a person. We are left to wonder.
  And I am left in wonder.
--W. S.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

O. Hallesby: Prayer

I need not exert myself and try to force myself to believe, or try to chase doubt out of my heart. Both are equally useless. It begins to dawn on me that I can bring everything to Jesus, no matter how difficult it is; and I need not be frightened away by my doubts or my weak faith, but only tell Jesus how weak my faith is. I have let Jesus into my heart. And He will fulfill my heart’s desire. —O. Hallesby in Prayer.

Friday, October 09, 2009


A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences.
Whittaker Chambers, Witness

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009


The company is selling a security product that will protect you from someone stealing the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) from items like cell phones and laptop computers. But if you stare at it long enough, it gets creepy, or funny. Mobile prostate exams?

Friday, October 02, 2009

A new perspective

"Pointing out that stuff sucks is not edgy or dangerous anymore. Everyone knows what sucks. What's better is to find the stuff that's amazing and hold it up."
— Comedian Patton Oswalt, quoted in Paste Magazine, September 2009