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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One of the Only

Word confusion on the cover of Parade Magazine.

   It's the cover story; an article about Natalie Randolph, the football coach at Coolidge High School in Washington, D. C. The article is assumed to be of interest to Parade readers because there aren't a lot of female football coaches. And it is an interesting article, and Coach Randolph is quite a person.
   But I couldn't help but get tickled at the subhead on the cover. After the heading, "A League of Her Own," the subhead reads "At Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., Natalie Randolph is making history—as one of the nation's only female football coaches."
   Read it again. According to the editor of this edition, Coach Randolph stands out not because she is female, but she is an only female football coach. This is to be contrasted with what I assume are partially female, or even mostly female coaches, which evidently are more numerous, or at least less unusual.
   Of course, the correct description (which is used in the inside article) is "one of the nation's few female football coaches." It's comforting to know that even the big boys (or girls) miss one every now and then.
—Wayne S.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Well, if you put it THAT way

   My favorite atheist, Christopher Hitchens, is extremely confident in his atheism. Would that I were so confident in my theism! He does pose some interesting questions, such as this:

Would we have adopted monotheism in the first place if we had known:

That our species is at most 200,000 years old, and very nearly joined the 98.9 percent of all other species on our planet by becoming extinct, in Africa, 60,000 years ago, when our numbers seemingly fell below 2,000 before we embarked on our true "exodus" from the savannah?

That the universe, originally discovered by Edwin Hubble to be expanding away from itself in a flash of red light, is now known to be expanding away from itself even more rapidly, so that soon even the evidence of the original "big bang" will be unobservable?

That the Andromeda galaxy is on a direct collision course with our own, the ominous but beautiful premonition of which can already be seen with a naked eye in the night sky?

These are very recent examples, post-Darwinian and post-Einsteinian, and they make pathetic nonsense of any idea that our presence on this planet, let alone in this of so many billion galaxies, is part of a plan. Which design, or designer, made so sure that absolutely nothing (see above) will come out of our fragile current "something"? What plan, or planner, determined that millions of humans would die without even a grave marker, for our first 200,000 years of struggling and desperate existence, and that there would only then at last be a "revelation" to save us, about 3,000 years ago, but disclosed only to gaping peasants in remote and violent and illiterate areas of the Middle East?
   Well done, sir! The only answer I can think of, and I know it will not satisfy, is this: That the invitation to a spiritual life with and in the God of this chaotic universe is available as a limited-time offer. It is not intrinsically unfair that at some point something new is offered to those who may have been hitherto unable to acquire it. The issue is not what of the millions who came before, but what of Christopher and Wayne. One perceives a blessing, the other does not.
   For now, we have both made our choices.
Wayne S.
   Quotation is from the Big Questions Essay Series at

Sunday, August 15, 2010

In Vino Veritas

"When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe.  When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself.  When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily.  You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant.  After that, watch out... ." —Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking
   It will be easier for me to write about wine, since I neither know enough about it, nor have the vocabulary, to be pretentious. But I know a bit more about it that I used to.
   Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with my best friend from my sophomore and junior year of high school. It was only two years, but the friendship was held fast by a common love of music, and especially guitars.
   We were pleased to find ourselves easing into our relationship as if the 38 intervening years were but a few. We even did some songs together (he plays piano now, and I cannot hit the high notes that were so easy in the day).
   Tim is a winemaker, and a vintner. Two years ago, he retired from thirty-seven years with the U.S. Navy, both active duty and civilian. He built a house on some old family land near Crossville, Tennessee (and far from cell service). There he planted a vineyard.
   While the vineyard is his first, he has been making wine for several years. And every one of his wines has won awards—many firsts, many blue ribbons. The only prize to elude him is Best of Show. But it is only a matter of time.
   Spending nearly two days with him, I drank more wine than I ever have in so short a span (five bottles between us), ate like a king (he cooks like Emeril) and learned a little about winemaking.
   Malcolm Dunn, a gardener to royalty, once said grapes are "the most noble and challenging of fruits." A vintner/winemaker is a person of many talents. He is of course a gardener. And a very patient one. Most vines spend two years of growing and pruning before they are ready to bear wine-worthy fruit. Then they are trained to hang uncrowded and orderly on the trellises. As the fruit matures in the late summer or early fall, the vintner becomes a chemist, frequently checking the acidity, pH and sugar content of the grapes. Once the numbers line up, the grape clusters are cut off the vine (the one act that takes very little time). White grapes are pressed immediately and the juice is left to ferment in large bins. Red grapes are crushed along with their seeds, skin and stems, and go through primary fermentation as a mush. Then it is strained and put into oaken casks, where it ages. I did not know that red wine gets its color from those seeds and skin, since all grape juice is white.
   Seeing the process first-hand, passages such as John 15 come alive:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
   It is Tim's careful tending that makes the difference between a fruitful vineyard and a field full of weeds. So it is with me—it is God's faithful, meticulous caring and pruning that makes my life fruitful, and a testimony to the Master Vintner. 
   The Romans had a saying: In Vino Veritas. In wine, there is truth. 
[UPDATE-01/03/11]: My friend Tim recently got high-speed internet (I told you it was waaaay out in the sticks), and as such, looked at Words of Wayne for the first time. After reading the above post he wrote with some comments and corrections, which I am posting in a separate post on this day—1/3/11. I do so because it points out the incorrect info was my fault (and the five bottles of wine, of course). And it's fascinating.

Friday, August 13, 2010

International Left-Handers Day

   A friend wrote today to wish me Happy International Left-Handers Day. I had no idea such a holiday existed. We beleaguered lefties need it.
   I am old enough to remember when left-handedness was thought to be "correctable" and schools would discourage it. Obviously, I was not a compliant student.
   Left-handedness, for me at least, has always been a bit of an impediment. Aside from the lack of left-handed appurtenances, such as desks, scissors and the like, I have pretty much adapted myself to a right-handed world. I play guitar right-handed (alas, could I have been another Hendrix?), golf (putt-putt only) shoot a rifle and bat also with my recessive hand.
   I believe the reason why most left-handers (at least from my generation, the Boomers) have such atrocious handwriting is this: In school, we were always having to write around the pesky rings in a three-ring notebook, and we were always having to be sure we didn't smear the ink or smudge the pencil of what we just wrote— whereas right-handers always led what they were writing, the heel of our palm always trailed our work.
   Interestingly, four of the last five presidents have been left-handed: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Evidently, nothing can be gleaned from that factoid, other than it is outside the norm.
   Left-handedness is most desired in the arena of sports, since most pitchers, hitters, quarterbacks and basketball and hockey forwards are right-handed.
  I am glad I am left-handed, as is my eldest son (left-handedness is genetic, rather than learned). But I am not sure what it gets me, other than another day to celebrate.
— Wayne S.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Can a person without faith be healed?

   This question came up in a weekly reading group I attend. (I call it that, although the only book we read is the Bible. But that's all we do—read a chapter and then comment on it. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but although we have a diverse group of young and old Christians, Orthodox and Messianic Jews, and the occasional seeker or unbeliever, the comments are uniformly rich, encouraging and challenging. Must be God or something.)
   The general consensus was that yes, a person without faith can be healed. Among the reasons cited:
  • God is God. He can do whatever he pleases. He is not a God of formula.
  • Often it is only the faith of others, not the ill person, which precedes healing.
  • People have been healed who were comatose or dead. (See Luke 8)
   The same question was revived in real-time this week when Christopher Hitchens, my favorite atheist, was interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic. Hitchens, the author of God Is Not Great, was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. When Goldberg asked him if he were insulted by people praying for him, Hitchens, in typical wry humor, replied:
"No, no, I take it kindly, on the assumption that they are praying for my recovery."
   Hitchens makes it clear that such a result will not sway his unbelief. If gratitude were a requirement for healing, Hitchens might have a point. Yet in Luke 17, when ten lepers were healed, only one came back to say thanks. And we know that, every day, hundreds of things come into our lives which should make us grateful, but we fail to even see them.
   But I will be praying for him. He sees it as late in his story. But perhaps it is finally just beginning.