February 28, 2005

Sarah Tucker

Miss Sarah Tucker ... now this'll be an interesting eulogy to write. It's always been hard to find words for what I think about her. I suppose I could begin by saying that I think that Sarah Tucker understands me better than just about anyone else in the world. She and I understand each other. Though on the outside, we're very different people; on the inside, we're remarkably similar. Similar enough that often we don't need words to express what we're feeling or thinking to each other.

Now, how did I discover such a rare phenomenon? Quite by accident, on my side anyway. I managed to get myself appointed as one of the two Themelios leaders in charge of the Honors class of 2003, the third cohort. In the summer before you meet your team, you're supposed to send them notes and other things to let them know you're excited at the chance to be their leader, welcoming them to LeTourneau - PR stuff like that. Being a rather lazy person, I pretty much launched my entire introduction with this letter. Apparently, that was enough to signal Miss Tucker that here at LeTourneau was a kindred spirit. Not that she responded to the message, at least, not to my memory. My next memory of specifically her happened shortly after the first orientation weekend. I happened to see Miss Tucker and forgot her name (I'm horrible with names. That year I worked and slaved to memorize every name, and I did a very good job), so I asked her for it. The young lady refused! Piqued, I ran back to my room, went through a process of elimination, and returned triumphantly (at a run) and informed her that she was Sarah Tucker.

From that whole first semester, that's about all that I remember. I introduced her to the Underground Forums (which were dying out at the time, but were not wholly decrepit) and her first post immediately snared my attention. I hope she doesn't mind if I indulge in a bit of necromancy:

Caution: the punctuation is atrocious.

Quiet dark and lonely, like dunking your head and ... no more like lifting it out of the fuzz and for once having it shocked clear ... the cold ... It is like being submerged it is like finally being allowed to emerge. there is nothing else like it on earth.

And that's how I feel tonight. Happy and lonely, dark clear and bright, like I have been spoiled, yet there is one thing I need - A keen edge to the wind, something like the night birds seen half in shadow half in white glint of wing ... always alone. Always flying away. Always this longing to fly.

Felt it before, feel it often, always, one word longings that do not fit brittle language yet are every language ... home. More than home, not to live, but belong, or would that be like death, I don't know I've never tried either. And this dream and this hope and this fear that somehow the dream could be less than it is. And I don't belong, but I like it that way I don't fit, but I'm not confined. Unexpected maybe not yet I feel as though I'm not ... Incongruity mocks me and my efforts if everything is selfish then why ? there is none. No reason for joy and certainly none for happiness and yet I feel both. I am pulled out of myself ... out of my petty intrigues and worries ... and forced for moments sometimes minutes sometimes hours on end to focus on something outside of myself and for a moment I am lost and belonging to myself doesn't count for anything anymore ... and this makes me happy.

To this day, I wonder if we actually read each others' minds or if we just supply each other with the words we've always been looking for. When I read this the first time (actually, when I just re-read it), I was struck by the feeling that I understood. I understood the feeling. I understood the thought. And I felt less alone.

I also made the discovery that semester that here was a woman who loved to swordfight. Heedless of bruises and refusing to retreat, she was a most formidable opponent. Now she's just lethal. It is a rare occurrence to find a female who enjoys the gentle sport of beating one with sticks, and I'm grateful to have experienced it (and to have run her through repeatedly).

We became closer friends over the break that semester. She asked my advice on whether or not she should take Batts courses the next semester. We began an odd sort of friendship which has lasted to this day. It's been really special.

How can I write a eulogy for Miss Tucker? To some extent, I feel as if all I'd have to do would be to look at her and all that needs to be said would be. But that wouldn't help the rest of you. Miss Sarah Tucker is a very rare person. She sees so many more things that most people. She notices when the flowers on campus come into bloom. She has cultivated the gift and blessing of gladness and joy. Sarah Tucker is probably the most joyful, happiest person I know. Not, of course, to say that she doesn't have extreme lows as well. But her heart is open to God, and seems to be always thanking Him. She is one of the most grateful people I know.

She has a marvelous gift for finding the right words. She can express thoughts and feelings and ideas that tie me in knots. As I've said before, Sarah understands in a way few people do. I remember thinking, when I first began to get to know her, that I could follow this person. It's odd to think of her as a leader, but she is one.

Sarah Tucker is a very special person. There are few like her anywhere. And she loved God with more of her heart than I've ever seen in a human before. It's a blessing to know her.

*to Sarah*

As I just said, it's been a blessing to know you, Miss Tucker. It's been a blessing to listen to you, to read what you've written, and to watch you. In the borrowed words of Emily of New Moon,

You aren't really very pretty, Star, but you make people think of beautiful things, which is a far rarer gift.

I really, really hope that my graduation is not goodbye. I'd really miss your friendship if it was. But, even if it is, we Christians will always see one another again. And I will look you up on the other side.


I love you, dear sister. God bless.

Posted by Leatherwood at 09:41 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

February 26, 2005

My Three Pillars

Dear friends:

I am a fool. At least, I have done a very foolish thing. My first class was canceled yesterday, so I returned home with some extra time on my hands. I discovered that my wife had acquired the second book in the Sword of Truth series from work. Having read the first one, I was intrigued. Since I had a little extra time, I figured I could spend fifteen minutes on it. It is now just after two in the morning. I have done practically nothing all day but read. I skipped chapel and two classes. I didn't do any of my homework, or the other things I probably ought to have done. The only things I've done this day which qualify as "constructive" would be washing the dishes, setting the table for dinner, and going to the Honors Bible study. Apart from that, I read, read, read. I have now finished the book, just under 1000 pages (979, to be exact). My average reading speed for good stories is about 60 pages an hour, and I started reading probably somewhere around 9:30-9:45ish this morning, so I was probably doing a little better than that average.

I love to read stories. I have a voracious, nearly insatiable appetite for them. At the moment, my mind feels delightfully stuffed, like Moore would if he'd been through a good seven-course meal. And I'm also free of my obsession, which is nice. It's an odd and rare feeling for me ... I could actually do something productive now and want to do it. I feel free and relaxed.

I am a fool because of the other things I've done in pursuit of this book. I skipped class. Twice. I didn't do homework. I didn't do anything. There was a time, not very long ago, when that would have been unthinkable to me. I am finding it harder and harder to discipline my appetites. I find it harder and harder to focus on studying, because every time I do, my thoughts say "you know that grades don't matter, that your coursework doesn't matter, and that you're only doing it out of a sense of need to prove yourself worth something."

My life, for probably the last 13 years (at least since around eight years old, possibly earlier) has revolved around three things. Well, it began around two, but the third was added. Excelling in school was one of them. Living in my imagination (with the help of books) was the other. For years of my life, I dedicated myself to these two things with an exclusive passion. Sure, I did other things. But I cared for nothing else. Then a third item was added ... a close relationship with God. That element has waxed and waned and fought ever since I added it to my life. I think it might be because God wants to be more than part of a balanced life, as if he were a breakfast cereal. God wants to be life to us.

In the last few years, my life has given me great things. I have come very, very close to shutting everything out of my life but those three things. But at the same time, doubt and cracks have formed in my basic pillars of life. My pillar of excellence in schoolwork is cracking to the core, because I now know that nobody cares, and that my grades don't mean a thing, and that pursuing academic perfection was a false way of trying to focus my life. My faith in this pillar is still very strong and seductive, and I always feel its power. I feel the need and the drive to excel academically. But I can't cast the germ of doubt out of my mind. I now doubt my motives, I doubt my core. And the doubt is killing my ability to focus, to sacrifice, to drive. It's weak enough now that my other desires are beginning to be able to defeat it. They never could before.

My relationship with God is also cracking to the core, again because of doubt. Basically, my entire relationship with God has been a long struggle of trying to get my devotional life exactly right. Trying to figure out how to pray, how to read the Bible, how do get the devotion thing down. I've accomplished things few people have - I've read the Bible through three or four times, I've prayed for hours and hours (Ok, I know neither of these two things is impressive at all next to anybody who's really anything in the faith. But compared to most Christians, I've excelled) ... and that ugly thought I just voiced eats away at me, undermining everything. I can't throw myself into my devotional life with my whole heart if I doubt my motivations. So my devotional life cracks and struggles, because I wonder if it matters to anyone. God is not impressed by my Bible reading, God is not impressed by my prayer, God is NOT IMPRESSED.

Finally, even my imagination is not completely immune to doubt. I now see how isolated I am from other people. I am the most self-centered person I know. LOOK AT THIS WHOLE BLOODY POST, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! The entire thing is about me, me, me, me. All my thoughts, all my attention, all my insight is directed at one person - MYSELF. Concern and care for others are surprises for me - all the habits of my mind focus on myself. And my imagination has done this, or at least has helped. I live so much in my thought world, in my imagination, that a huge chunk of what I live for and love is buried inside it.

All my affections are wrong. The problem with me is this - I want my life back! I want to rebuild my cracking world, dispel the doubts, retreat within the three pillars of my existence. No, that isn't all I want, but it's a huge part of it. The rest of it ... the other part of me ... I don't know what it wants, exactly. I don't know what I want, apart from these things, perhaps because my mind is so used to categorizing everything as relates to them. I guess I blindly, dumbly, want to be free. Even more than that, I want the truth. I want the truth about how I should live, what I should do, how to live in this crazy world without my pillars. And it's hard to get that other part of me to be helpful in any way. I can't use it to help me do schoolwork, because then I wonder if I'm trying to put the first pillar back together. I can't use it to help me have regular devotions (though I've tried), because I fear putting the second pillar back together. And I can't use it to build an imagination.

I feel trapped. Trapped because I see the pillars of my existence, and I know they ought to crashing down. Trapped because it seems like any move I make will only strengthen one of them. Trapped because I don't know what it is that I want, only that I want something real. Something true. Something that won't crack when I try to build a life on it. I guess I want God, but I don't know how to want Him. I don't know how to want Him without using Him to rebuild pillar number 2. My schoolwork presses at me, but I don't know how to do it without rebuilding pillar number 1. And all I want to do is escape into an endless stream of fantasy and thought, but then I cut myself off from the rest of the world, which isn't right either.

Fear not - stand firm, and witness the deliverance of the Lord.

That quotation pops out at me. I don't know if it's right or appropriate. I've been struggling with this seeming breakup and collapse of my pillars for about a year, maybe a year and a half now. It's driven me near madness at times. I still don't have an answer or way out. I've never been able to put it quite so clearly before. Some of you may be thinking that my thoughts are about as clear as mud, but its an improvement over what I have been thinking, let me tell you!

I know that I can't commit suicide - brought myself perilously close about a year ago, close enough to see that I can't. God has too firm a grip on me. I don't know if there is an answer, a way out - I'm not even sure I clearly know what I'm talking about when I say "answer" or "way out." I guess I'm looking for some principle, something firm to build my life on. I'm looking for a reason to do my homework, to have my devotions, to dream. I wonder if I'm just looking for a way back into the "golden years of yore" before the doubt came. I guess a fairly clear way of putting it is to say that I'm trying to answer the question of what to live for. And how to live it.

Yes, I know the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I know Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. I know those things. But I'm still waiting for something. I'm not even sure clearly what I'm waiting for. Maybe I'm waiting for some grand, new revelation for what they mean, some way to be unique and special and admirable. But I feel like I'm waiting to see God. If I imagine a chance to see Jesus, a chance to talk to Him, a chance to follow Him, my heart leaps for joy, as if that is the thing I'm waiting for. But Jesus already called me to follow him. Maybe I'm just stupidly waiting for some heavenly pyrotechnics, some miraculous occurrence to validate my miserable existence.

Or maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe this whole waiting thing is intellectual narcissism of the highest order. Maybe I just need to get a life and start doing the practical things of it. Maybe I should join something, do something, anything to get me in more contact with people. My heart screams at the thought. Imagining it feels like murdering my own heart, and marching off into my future as an automaton.

Or maybe I'm wrong again, and this depression and sense of internal collapse is going to be the state of affairs for the rest of my life. Maybe that's the whole (confusing) Christian idea of brokenness. After all, God can use me while I'm depressed. Maybe this past year hasn't been a journey, but a destination. Maybe there is no "answer." No "way out." Maybe its stupid or foolish or even wicked to try for one.

I feel like I've lost the things I gave my heart to ... or more precisely, I gained them and found they weren't what I wanted them to be, and now I'm looking for something, anything, worthy of giving my heart to, giving my all for. Yes, of course God is the answer; He always is. But how? For ten years, I've struggled with giving my heart to God and finding that I was only giving it to a system of devotions. That's not quite true - I love God. That's one thing I've learned for certain definite sure over the last year ... that, and God is good.

And yet, somehow, in the middle of all this, I still have to go on with life. I still have to do my homework. I still try to do my devotions. And I still love my imagination, my idea-realm. My idea-realm is a wonderful escape, to a place where people know what to do, know what is good and what is evil, and can devote their life to it. God is still generous. In all this internal struggle, my external affairs have proceeded fairly well. My GPA is still high. My devotions (when I have them) are still good. And I still love my books. But the only thing I feel like I have a heart for any more is the fantasy, the idea-world.

What a crazy, mixed-up guy. Yeah. Maybe even certifiable. But God is good, and has given me more than I could ever imagine or dream. He's given me you - my precious friends. He's given me my wife. He's given me Himself. I can't fault God, no questions there.

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:35 AM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

February 24, 2005

Misha Tseytlin's Blog

I discovered Misha's arguments on WatchBlog.com, and have been uniformly impressed by them. I have, therefore, added a link to his blog to my list over there. For those of you who are interested, I can highly recommend a look through his thoughts.
Posted by Leatherwood at 12:24 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

February 23, 2005

Truth and Debate

Perhaps some of you have noticed my link to WatchBlog.com. The political debate there covers left, right, center, and weird pretty well. I stumbled onto it because Shem has it linked on his blog. I enjoy reading the debates - there's something in me that loves a good argument, and they seem to mix it up fairly well, though it seems the leftist people outnumber the rightist.

I have, very foolishly, commented on various threads on that page. It's difficult for me to read the debate and not want to jump in with my own opinion. But I'm not sure whether my comments are helpful in any way; I always question my posts after I make them. I am trying to discipline myself to listen without commenting, at least until I'm more familiar with the people and positions.

The more I see of modern debate, the less I value it. Granted, it's important to be able to debate and fight and argue over things. I've tremendously glad that in this country, we yell and shout and scream and call each other names instead of knifing and killing each other. Free and open debate seems to be wonderfully cathartic, at least to some kinds of people. It lets you vent righteous anger, and keeps society together. That's the positive thing I see about debate.

However, I am increasingly convinced that no-one is listening. The sides do not listen to each other, except to find ammunition for their next post. Of course, this is not confined to WatchBlog (actually, they're far better than other things I've seen) - I've noticed it in most political commentary and theological debates. No-one is listening. They are yelling at each other, each armed with their own proofs and statistics and arguments and counter-arguments for the other side.

All I want is to know the truth. I want to know the truth about the war in Iraq; I want to know why we went to war and why it turned out the way it did. I want to know the truth about America - why we are the country we are and where we're going and why. I want to know the truth about God - does He exist, is the Bible reliable, what is this whole 'being a Christian' thing about. I want to know the truth - the whys behind it all. I want to know what is good and right and just and fair.

I don't think that most of the debate I've heard is asking those questions. It is answering those questions, or trying to. Different people have different answers, and they're shouting them at one another. I suppose that's a good thing - I mean, shouldn't people know the answers? I just wish there was a little more humility in their assertions, a little more graciousness towards the other side, and a respect for common ground.

On the other hand, I realize that truth is important enough to argue over. If you know the truth, it's worth fighting for, arguing for, and standing firm for. I wonder if I'm becoming so overwhelmed with the scale of the ideological battles going on that all my dismayed reaction boils down to is the platitude "Can't we all get along?" No, we cannot all get along. Truth matters.

To some extent, I wish I were more sure of the truth. I were I was so sure of myself and my position that I could take my place among the combatants and fight for my beliefs without listening to my enemies. I suppose it's my curse and my blessing - I listen. Or I try to. I always try to listen. And sometimes it feels like my head is going to split, because two rival ideas are inside, striving for victory. Most of the time, listening doesn't really faze my beliefs, but I become a little less certain of them every time I can't easily defeat an opponent's argument. Which is often. I wish I knew more! But then again, maybe it's a blessing to be so naive that all I can do is listen. Maybe I'll figure it out and become wise.

It's hard listening. And it makes those on my side nervous. I think they wonder about my loyalty; they wonder if I'll stick with them. I listen to atheists and to Planned Parenthood and Democrats and to Socialists (it's hard to find a good Communist these days) ... I listen to the enemy. That's always dangerous. I feel my certainty on things slipping away.

I can't help it - a person's first loyalty is to the truth. "But," they reply, "you know the truth. We know the truth. Those are the enemies of the truth!" But that's just what the enemies say, too. How can a person be sure of what is true? How can a person be certain? All the questions that really matter - why questions - are virtually intractable. It's almost enough to force a person to give up politics and philosophy and take up mathematics. But you're always dragged back to the questions, because they really do matter. What is right? What is good? What is true? Where are we going, and why?

I'm not going to try to answer those questions now; they've been talked to death over the last few thousand years, and they'll be talked over even more into the future. I'll just quickly summarize the common wisdom - Listen. Think. Read.

Here's an additional idea that has come to mind recently - criticize only that which you love. And a very old idea that easily gets lost ... love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you.

Now, I suppose my thoughts here make me sound awfully good and wise, at least to some ears. "How nice and noble!" people might say - "at last someone is willing to listen." I wonder if it just makes me a coward. The modern secular world seems to be hell-bent (in a disturbing way, literally) on making little skeptics everywhere - people who aren't sure of anything and won't commit to any idea. It's an attractive option, I must admit - the gunfire from the war subsides if you don't take any sides. If you pull off and take a seat, you don't catch nearly as much fire. It's the chicken way out. Perhaps the enemy capers about in joy, knowing one more person has landed on the fence.

Blast it, this war does matter! We cannot take the easy skeptic's way out, because then truth will be lost to those who don't care about it. The truth must be found and defended. The trouble is, it lies on all sides of the war. You catch fire from all directions seeking for it. And too often, once someone finds truth, they sit down and stop and fight over their piece of it. Truth must be defended, yes, but those who defend just a piece of it wind up defending their truth against someone else's. It's so hard to remember that truth is not on your side; you are (supposed to be) on truth's side!

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:28 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

February 22, 2005

Joshua Scholl

This is going to be one of my more difficult eulogies to write, because it's harder for me to find words to explain my affection and admiration for Josh Scholl. I certain do admire him, and I certainly have a great deal of affection for the man, but why it should be so is harder to put into words.

Josh Scholl is one of the people that it's almost impossible to forget, and almost impossible to be ambivalent about. You either like him a great deal or dislike him a lot. I met him for the first time at the Heritage Scholarship competition in February of 2001. I don't recall much about the meeting and doubt that he remembers it. If I recall, he was fairly dismissive of the competition. If my memory is correct, that fits in well with his character. I don't remember what my first reaction to the man was ... I think I dismissed him a cynical fool.

Fortunately for me, that was not my eventual reaction. When I met him again in the fall of 2001, my reaction was much different. I liked him then, and have liked him ever since. I think the difference may have been the way he talked during our Cornerstones (again, I still don't remember its real name) class. I'd never heard anyone like Josh Scholl. I still haven't heard anyone quite like him. I'd never heard someone so cheerfully cynical about everything! It's hard to imagine a personality more radically different from my own - to a large degree, it seemed to me that he dismissed the education system as irrelevant and pointless, whereas to me the educational system was the bedrock of my personal identity. It was the one area of my life in which I unquestionably excelled. Scholl excelled at the system too, but he didn't care about it. He dismissed "happy people" as fools, and cheerfully mocked hard work and dedication (Remember, I am only giving you my rough impression of him - he himself might have a very different perspective on his behavior and motivations).

Why was I drawn to him? Why am I drawn to him? I guess it might be because deep down, I knew he was telling the truth. Maybe not the whole truth, but a very significant part of it. And there's something in me that loves the truth and seeks after it. It is true that the majority of the educational system is a farce. For example, I have a better GPA than just about anyone here at school (there are people with better GPAs, don't get me wrong). But that only means that I'm better at multiple choice and essays (think "filibuster") than they are. It does not mean that I am intelligent or wise. Likewise, it is true that the happiness of most people is either temporary, changing with their environment, or idiotic, born out of an individuals refusal to look at life honestly.

So I guess I can say that what drew me (and draws me) to Scholl is that he tells the truth, and he tells the part of the truth I don't often hear from anyone else.

Let's see ... more about Scholl. Right from the beginning of our first semester here, I knew he could be our leader. I don't know how I knew it, but I did. He had the charisma for it, and even more, he attracted likeminded people to himself. Scholl has a gift for drawing out like-minded people. His gift was not enough to unite the Honors Program - there were and are many people who don't like him or are put off by his manner. Certainly his manners were (and, to a lesser degree, are) terrible. He does not give respect to things or people that do not deserve or earn it. His cynicism frightens a certain kind of person, repulses another kind of person, and draws a third kind. I still believe that together with Becky, Scholl could have united virtually the entire program. It didn't happen, for many different reasons. I'm not quite sure I regret it ... true, it would be nice to have united the program, but the other things that have come about instead, like the Mullets and the Shadow Council and other good things. I'm just glad that I'm not God and don't have to pick between the two. I can mourn what might have been and celebrate what is.

I should also mention that things like the Shadow Council and the uniting of a significant part of the Honors program needed another person ... well, several other people, but one another person in particular ... who will get his own eulogy is good time.

Back to Scholl. He's changed a lot in four years. He has abandoned none of the things that I've loved him for, but he has become a great deal less outrageous in promoting them. For example, he now accepts the limitations of cynicism as an explanation for all human behavior. He now is engaged to a lovely lady (who might also warrant a eulogy, time permitting ...). He rejected some of the excesses involved in the trouble between students and faculty a few years ago. For all these things, and also for remaining himself, I admire him even more.

I wish I knew the story of Scholl better than I do ... most of my readers will be much more familiar with it than I am ... remember what I said about my circle of immediate notice. I'm sure there's so much more to tell. Perhaps some of my readers will be inspired to tell some more of the story. But, in any case, now for the eulogy proper.

I've emphasized Scholl's cynicism, because it's true - the man is cynical. But he's more than cynical. In the years I've known him, and particularly seeing him in action during POD and various Council meetings, he has always been ... I'm not sure how to put it. He has always been fair to the people he's disliked. He has tried to be just in his criticism. And even more than that, he has a genuine heart for God. I might have been too put off by his personality if I had never heard the man pray. Thank God I have! He prays to a person he knows and trusts and loves. He has avoided the worst trap of cynicism in being willing to love others and love God. He has kept the wisdom of cynicism while remembering the love and wisdom of God. For that, I love and respect him.

I'm trying to figure out why his misanthropy and professed dislike of women have never bothered me. It would be partially correct to say that he's joking, or enjoys getting a rise out of people - he does. I guess it's because Scholl is never cruel. When he pokes at you, it isn't to hurt you; it's to surprise you. I find the man who claims to dislike all humanity to be a person who loves his friends. I find the man who claims to dislike all women to be a person who treats the women with whom he comes into contact with respect and affection. I find the man who hates the world to be one who loves his neighbor. Maybe when I'm older and wiser, I'll find better words to express it.

I ought to mention this, too - in a professional setting, I'd give him the highest recommendation any day (though probably not to the CIA). His skills with and knowledge of computers are awesome.

Scholl will be graduating this semester and getting married and heading off into the world, and I wish him the best luck in the world. If I am inclined to vote Becky "most likely to succeed," I'd probably vote Josh "most likely to be interesting." I want to know what happens in his life, and how God uses him. I want to know who he becomes and what he does. He's definitely near the top of the list of people I'll look up when I get to heaven.

*to Scholl specifically*

God bless you, Master Scholl. I've liked you from the second time I heard you speak (forgive my first impression), and I've loved you from the first time I heard you pray. Thanks so much for all you've given me (indirectly, of course ... :-) ) over the last few years. You've given me a large number of grins and laughs, and those can be rare and often precious. You've helped change the way I think about a lot of things. Listening to you for the last four years has been a pleasure and delight, and I plan to go on listening for a long time.

In particular, blessings on your marriage. Of course, I intend to be there (if possible and you permit), but I can say it now without harm. May you and Anna have all the blessings and happiness and quarrels and problems and babies and joy in the world ... and hold on through it all. I'd love to see what your kids turn out like ... hee, hee, hee. I imagine they'll earn an instant entry into the CIA's list of people it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on ... I pray and hope and expect that you two will make it to the very end ... and that your love for each other will be stronger then than it is now.

There's a strange thought I've often had regarding you ... and that is that I think you and God have a similar sense of humor. I think He honestly likes to watch you and listen to you ... just as I do. I suppose that might be a large part of why He made you.

God bless, brother. (I know it's a pain being related to me, and I will never forget the look on your face when you found out we were born in the same state ...)

Posted by Leatherwood at 06:03 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

February 20, 2005

Evil Overlord Advice

I know most of you have probably seen this before; if you have, I'm sorry. I hadn't, and I haven't laughed so hard in a very, very long time. If you're never read the top 100 tips for an evil overlord, they're posted here. Oh, that felt good to laugh so hard!

Thanks to Ardith, who posted a link to a site on destroying the earth, which in turn posted a link to the evil overlord list. Now I can sleep in peace. Good night!

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:52 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

State of My Thoughts

*Note regarding this post - I post it because it is part of my current state of mind. I post it for the odd person who may be feeling the same thing. I don't pretend that the thinking is clear, or good. I do not claim this as a good post ... I've just tried to make it an honest one. I intend to further some of my thoughts and introspection later, and I may be able to re-work the post into something better.*

I don't know what God's doing in my life. My depression is as deep as it's ever been (though at the moment, I have a brief respite since I've done my homework for tomorrow). My devotional and prayer life is flickering on again, off again. I don't know what it is I want anymore, and I've never hated myself as deeply. I've never felt so useless to the outside world, nor so consumed with my inner struggles. I've never felt so unsure of who I am or what I desire and what I should do. As my depression becomes more and more chronic, I'm think more and more seriously about seeing a psychiatrist.

But what in the world am I going to say? My only grounds for depression is my all-consuming sense of ... well, I usually say failure, but I'm not sure it's the right word. That's a huge part of the problem - I don't know what the problem is! I know bits and pieces of it, but nothing hard, nothing concrete, nothing sure. Depression overwhelms when I look at the long list of "oughts." I ought to do my homework. I ought to write my friends. I ought to look for work. I ought to do this. I ought to do that. Part of me wants to scream to the world I don't want to hear another "should" for the rest of my life!!!. What part of me wants more than anything else is for tomorrow to never come. I don't want to face it. I want it indefinitely prolonged, or even abrogated. If tomorrow never comes, I never have to face my "oughts".

One way out of the depression is simply to just stop whining and GO TO WORK!!!. But I don't want to do any bloody work! I'm sick of working. I'm sick of doing the things I should. I just want to kick back, relax, and do nothing again ever. I swear, when I get to heaven, I will do NOTHING FOREVER.

No, of course that isn't true. But since part of me wants to say that, I let it out, so that I can put it down and study it. I know that everybody gets tired of working, that everybody wants to quit at some time or other. But I don't want it to be that simple. I don't want to believe that all this pain and suffering and depression I'm going through is simply a standard case of laziness.

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:59 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

Becky Casselberry

Becky Casselberry falls into the category of people that I admire from a distance. We're on fairly friendly terms but have never really done anything together, so my evaluation of her character should be taken with a grain of salt.

After acknowledging those caveats, let me say that I think Becky Casselberry is one of the greatest treasures of the university. I met her for the first time in our Freshman Cornerstones class (it was called something else back then that I don't remember) with Dr. Dirk Nelson (to whom I also owe a eulogy that I'll have to get around to later). The first time I recall noticing her happened during our first debate as a class. We were supposed to debate the ethics of stem cell research. We argued for and against it (supposedly - if I recall, it was more complicated than this). Becky presented her arguments better than anyone else. I was awed at how well she debated. I was also struck by the devotions that she gave and the prayer requests she bought forward. I said to myself "this one could lead this class." And she could have ... she undoubtedly could have. She could have been an Honors leader on a par with Scholl, and I honestly expected that of her. It didn't work out that way; Becky chose to invest in other things. I don't say this with a sense of regret or any idea that she chose poorly - thanks to her and her first room-mate, the Mullets came into being (at least, that's how it seemed to me). After that first semester, Becky drifted away from the Honors program and out of my circle of immediate notice (I have a very small circle of immediate notice). I've run across her in several classes in the intervening years and, like everyone else, I've seen her as she has led worship in chapel. So it's from these experiences that I write ... not very much, is it? No. But I've seen enough to know I'm glad she's here.

From our first semester, Becky has struck me as the most spiritually mature person I know. She would undoubtedly deny this, which only provides another point in her favor. Becky has been though a lot ... even I, on the extreme periphery of her life, know that. She lost her father just a few weeks after school began. She lost her room-mate and close friend the first summer after coming. And so many more things I can only guess at. She's living proof that God can work through hard things to make a person who He wants her to be. Her persuasive skills have only increased over the years - she not only has a powerful mind, but (even rarer) a wisdom in how to speak that's beautiful (and humbling). Becky understands God's grace and faithfulness in a powerful and amazing way that I've envied.

Sidenote - Becky is one of the few people I've actually envied. I've since apologized and she's forgiven me. I envied her because she embodies so much of who I want to be - wise, humble, and eloquent. I envied her because I saw in her something that was better than me in things I cared deeply about.

If I had to name one thing above all the others that I admire in her, it would be her wisdom. She is probably the wisest person I know personally, certainly for her age.

In a more practical way, if I was asked by any company who my first choice would be if they were hiring out of my field (Computer Science), I would say "choose Becky." Hands down. She is not the most brilliant programmer at this university (that's a different eulogy), but she combines excellent skills as a programmer with ... I can't find the words ... the communications skills of a politician (in a good sense). Not only is she smart, she's savvy. And darn good looking, which never hurts, even in a profession setting.

*specifically to her*

May God continue to bless and guide you as you leave. May He continue to transform you into a truer and truer likeness of Himself. It's been a blessing going to school with you and watching you, even from a distance.

God bless, Miss Casselberry.

Posted by Leatherwood at 07:56 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

February 18, 2005

Daniel Wise

Here's my first attempt at a eulogy. We'll see how it goes.

I've known Daniel Wise for nearly four years now. I met him the first day I was here at college. Initially, he lived right across the hall from me when I lived on 3B. His room-mate never showed up, and my first room-mate and I had, shall we say, difficulties that led to his decision to leave. However, he couldn't find anywhere else on the floor to leave to, so he suggested that I move across the hall into Dan's room. Since Dan and I were becoming friends, I agreed to do this to avoid the conflict. I never regretted it.

At the end of the first year, Dan was offered a position as the RA of Thomas 1. He had not sought an RA's position; I think he was going to going Themelios, but Chad asked him. So he asked me what I thought about it. I told him I had no objections, as long as I could come with him. That's how Mr. Wise wound up being one of the few RAs on campus to have a room-mate.

As my first summer approached, I realized that I didn't know where to go or what to do. My parents were in Jordan and though I have family here in the States, I didn't know if I really wanted to move in with them during the summer. About six weeks before the semester ended, I mentioned this problem to Dan at one of the Prayer and Praise meetings. He invited me to come home with him over the summer. To my everlasting surprise, his parents agreed and even bought me a plane ticket from Longview to Alexandria, Virginia.

I guess I should digress just a little bit and extend this eulogy to his family. The Wise family comprises some of the most wonderful people I know. The verse that goes through my mind over and over again is

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.

Matthew 10:42, ASV

The Wise family gave me so much more than a cup of water. They treated me as if I were their own son. They moved around to give me my own room. They helped me find work my first summer on my own. They fed me. They talked with me. They were a blessing of the highest order. They taught me so much about my faith and about what it means to be a Christian. If I was asked to give one example of who Christians are and should be, I would give my room-mates family.

But back to my room-mate. We worked together on a construction site for the NIH over the summer, basically as lackeys for the plumbers. Daniel is one of the most hardworking, conscientious people I know. He always had a good attitude, was always willing to go an extra mile, and never complained. He drove us forty miles every day from Alexandria up to Maryland where the facility was.

To try to keep it short, I'll curtail the long list of things we've done together. We roomed together the next year at LeTourneau and faced the challenge of being a couple of the very few upper classmen on the new floor dramatically overwhelmed by freshmen. We worked together to try to make something of our floor. The next summer, once again I was invited back to Virginia, and once again I went. I stayed with him one more year when we got back. This past summer (2004) was the longest time I hadn't seen Mr. Wise in three years. One of the saddest parts of getting married was losing him as a room-mate.

Now for the eulogy proper. I've watched Daniel Wise over the last near-four years. He's changed a lot and remained the same in other ways. He remains one of the gentlest, kindest people I know. And also one of the sleepiest. Whenever he gets a chance, the man sleeps and sleeps. The longest stretch I've seen him pull was 18 hours. I was hoping he'd make 24 while I roomed with him, but it didn't happen. I've noticed him become a real leader in the last few years. When something needs to be done, he takes responsibility to see to it. He's conquered his fear of people (even, to some degree, the opposite sex) and the result is beautiful to see. He's one of the finest men I know. I miss him, and as I graduate, I'll miss him more. He's a good man and a fine friend, and "even I know you don't find one of those every day."

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:32 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

Nice try

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You've got to hand it to them; they keep coming up with new ideas. Hats (but not heads) off to the worldwide producers of malware!
Posted by Leatherwood at 07:27 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

My quiz results

Hmmmm ... that's a pretty decent quiz!


You're a Ravenpuff!: You are a very analytical and ingenius person, someone that likes to invent new things. The way you look at life is with wonder, and sometimes you're even a little naive. But people love you for that trait and they feel the need to protect you from the harsh facts of life so that you can retain your innocence. You are very capable person and when there is trouble people turn to you because you're able to stay calm and collected. You like balance in your life and you try not to make many waves. Even still, if there is something that you believe strongly in, you will commit yourself totally to that cause. Your weakness is that sometimes you can be indecisive and perfectionist, especially about little details and you drive people crazy sometimes with these traits. With the innocence of a Hufflepuff and the calm of a Ravenclaw you will be loved in life!

Which Mix of the Hogwarts Houses are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by Leatherwood at 06:18 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

Forthcoming Eulogies

I've got an idea and I want to put it out there to see what you all think.

I'm graduating soon. No surprise to anyone here. And before I graduate, there are a number of people I want to eulogize. I want to say how much they've meant to me over the last four years, how much I admire them, and essentially praise and thank them for the blessing they've been to me over the last four years. What I'm still puzzling over is exactly how to go about doing this. I will write something for all of these people, but I have a few options in about how I go about doing this. I guess my best (current) plan is to write the eulogy and give the particular person three options:

  1. Allow me to publish the eulogy, in which case I'll blog it
  2. Keep the eulogy private; I'll send them a copy but won't share it with anyone else.
  3. Keep the eulogy private; save a copy on my computer but never let it see the light of day.

What do you all think? Be careful; this is not an academic question for many of you; you're on the list :-)! The following are the people on the list as I can think of them off-hand, and in no particular order:

After second thoughts, I decided to remove the list.

Not all of these people know me really well; some hardly at all. And there are some I'll probably kick myself for forgetting. Some of these people I'll probably mention only briefly, because I haven't had much of a chance to get to know them. But all of these people are people I admire and have a certain affection for. I don't want to leave without them knowing, in some form or another, that I have been blessed by them and want to acknowledge and thank them for that.

Even though I'm sure I'm leaving people off the list who deserve to be on it, there are still a lot of people there (at least, it looks that way to me) and I probably won't get around to all of them. At the moment, I imagine my procedure will go something like this: I'll write the eulogy. If it's long enough to matter very much, I'll send it to the person (if possible; it will not be possible in every case) first and ask their permission to post it. Then I'll post it. Thoughts, anyone?

Posted by Leatherwood at 07:31 AM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

February 17, 2005

Career Banquet and Related Thoughts

I got to go to the career banquet tonight. I arrived late, which wasn't a good idea. I missed the opening acts and wound up standing for several minutes in the dining hall looking for a seat that wasn't taken. So, if you ever get a chance to go to one of those meetings, arrive early! But it was really, really worth it ... though it clearly demonstrated to me that I have the manners of a Mongolian barbarian :-). I did quite a number of things completely wrong. It made me wish that I'd been going to those banquets since I was a freshman - it would be a neat game to try to get through the entire dinner without making a single etiquette mistake. Probably an impossible dream, but it would have been an interesting challenge!

It was fascinating to be introduced the world of etiquette intricacies. Some people put a great deal of thought into designing the rules of etiquette, and there are reasons for almost all of them. It was a game to try my best not to forget anything, and the food was pretty good. We had "student models" demonstrate how to dress for both formal and informal days, and we were given a lot of advice on what to do and not do our first year on the job, as well as the etiquette tips I've mentioned before.

But intermittently throughout the evening, as we were instructed into how to act and how to behave, I thought to myself that this professional world isn't one that I particularly like ... let me see if I can make myself more clear. The repeated point made during the discussion was that your focus is to look professional. To always be ready to represent the company. To always strive to present yourself well. It seems that the mindset that is being promoted is very focused and concentrated, always seeking to appear competent and put together. Every move you make, you're sending a message, and you always want that message to be positive. Every moment you have, you should be improving your value to the company. You're in something of a constant competition to prove yourself worthy, competent, professional, in control ... a constant competition to be what the business wants you to be. And if you aren't willing to go all out ... well, there are other people who are, and companies would prefer to hire them.

I think there's something missing in me as I look towards this future in the professional world. There's some fundamental drive to succeed and excel that I'm not sure I have. I guess the word I'm looking for is ambition. I'm not sure I have any. If I had to answer the question, "What do you want most in life?" I'm not sure how I'd answer.

In a more fundamental way, I'm not sure what I want from life. I'll go to work in the professional world and I'll do my best because that's what I ought to do, but as long as I can take care of my family, I'm not sure I care about anything more. I'm not sure that it matters to me if I'm ever promoted. I'm not sure I have professional goals. And because I seem to lack this drive, I'm not sure I'll make it once I leave here.

What do I want out of life? Why am I here? Before any of you quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism to me, I already know that my primary purpose is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." But what does that mean? One thing that strikes me as I look back over the last few years is that my ambitions seem to have all died. When I was back in high school, I used to dream about being an engineer or wonderful programmer or some career! I had it mapped out and I had a dream! Now I'm not sure anymore. If you asked me what kind of life sounds good, the following idea has a lot of appeal to me (or would if I weren't married and didn't know that I'm supposed to do more with my life) - drop out of college, find a job as a janitor somewhere, get a library card and an old computer, and spend the rest of my life cleaning floors and picking up trash by day and reading and programming and writing by night. The "Parable of the Talents" stabs at me.

I guess there's something in me that doesn't want to dream anymore. My dreams of life and career faded away and were replaced ... I guess by a desire be somebody spiritual. But it is so arrogant of me to I could ever think of being anyone spiritually. When I compare my life to the giants of our faith, I'm nobody and I know it. When I look at professional goals, my heart says "None of that stuff matters." When I look at spiritual goals, my heart whispers "You'll never be anything that matters." So I feel lost ... cut adrift. To some degree, the "dream" I talked about last paragraph is tantamount to suicide. It would be pulling myself out of life and sitting the rest of it out. I won't deny that thoughts of suicide have crossed my mind for the last couple of years now. As I give up hope of ever meaning anything, I find less and less ambition and drive to do anything.

I've always wanted to be unique. To be special. To be different from everyone else. And I keep finding to my everlasting pain that there is simply no comparison I can make where I measure up. I'm an intelligent person, but in every class there's someone more intelligent. I have a good memory, but there are people with better memories. I can program a computer, but I don't measure up against other programmers. I know a bit of history, but there are so many people who put me to shame. In every possible category of comparison, I'm always one of many. Yes, I know that I'm unique in one sense ... but so is everybody else. I want so desperately to be somebody special. In one sense, nobody is special; in another sense, everybody is. And either way, my pride is unsatisfied.

It's so hard to give up the human idea of worth by comparison. It's so hard to accept worth by God's say-so. I know that I am a child of God, but my pride isn't satisfied by that. My pride can only be satisfied by seeing others lower than myself. I hope that what I feel is my pride dying, but it feels more like my self dying.

What am I to do? How can I change from wanting to be somebody to wanting to love somebody? How can I give up my quest to matter and accept that I matter to God by His grace? How can I satisfy my heart with the acceptance of God when what my heart desires is the admiration of others? How can a heart be changed?

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:49 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

February 16, 2005

My crazy brothers and sisters

I have spent the last couple of hours in a rather foolish fashion, hopping from blog to blog and entry to entry. Then I followed one of Cynic's links to an old post he made regarding idiots, whereupon I was ensnared for more than an hour by what I would describe as the "lunatic fringe" of the Protestant faith. I read arguments against Harry Potter, The Passion, and wine, among others. I then followed links to a supported site and read on the debate about the King James Bible being inspired. Following that rather length period, I have some thoughts on the whole thing some of you might find interesting.

First, after checking their salvation page and reading it carefully, I've come to the conclusion that these are, in fact, my brothers. They may represent a part of the family I don't acknowledge too often (like those weird uncles), but they're family. I'm not sure whether or they they'd see me that way, but I don't think they'd be very pleased with me.

I must confess that they're pretty awesome debaters. They're pretty detailed in their denunciation of Harry Potter and The Passion, and their arguments for the "wine" at the Last Supper actually being "grape juice" are very involved. What struck me was the awesomeness of the task I would be confronted with if I had to try to argue any of them out of their position through reason. I don't think I'd get anywhere; they're dug in pretty deep and would fiercely resent it. It would be an interesting exercise, and might be good for me, but it would likely result in hurt and angry feelings on both sides. I have to admit that their worldview seems to be pretty airtight, their doctrines pretty bulletproof. I imagine holes might be poked in them, but I don't get the impression these people are easy to argue with.

When I was trying to explain the depth of my vexation to my wife, I began to realize that there is a spendid passage in Orthodoxy that applies in a wonderful way. By the way, I'm positive that they would consider Chesteron an agent of the Anti-Christ.

And if great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners ... Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connection of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable ... Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it is quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing itis to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle ...

A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut ...

Such is the madman of experience; he is commonly a reasoner, frequently a sucessful reasoner. Doubtless he could be vanquished in mere reason, and the case against him put logically. But it can be put much more precisely in more general and even aesthetic terms. He is in the clean and well-lit prision of one idea: he is sharpened to one painful point. He is without healthy hesitation and complexity.

GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 18-22

Well, Chesterton said it so well I can hardly add anything to it, except to soften the tone in case my fanatical brothers or sisters read this. *Addressing them* Yes, dear brother and sister, I do consider you partially insane on a large part of your worldview. Your quest for certainty and avoidance of grey areas has led you astray. And if you can no longer hear me, I'm sorry. If you still can, then I do want to say that though I think you're a little crazy, you're still family and still welcome in my home. I recognize you have good points (to some extent, your problem is that you have too many good points and not enough good lines) and that I do not have a corner on truth. When we get to heaven, I may discover that you were right all along. In such a case, I present my apologies in advance for the pain I cause you now. We serve the same God, and we are both cracked pots in His service.

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:15 AM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

February 15, 2005

THE Story

I've had a recurring thought and inclination in the past few months. I've wanted to go to a friend and ask them to tell me about Jesus. In some ways, it seems like an odd request, because I already know about Jesus. I've been a Christian for nearly fifteen years now, and I've absorbed a slightly higher-than-normal (among Christians) dose of Sunday School, and I've read the Bible through a few times. But still the inclination persists. Why?

I want to hear the story again afresh. I wish I could hear it for the first time again, without any of the baggage that I've picked up in my sixteen years of being a Christian. I want to be astonished again at the idea of God becoming man. I want to feel the agony of His death and the rapture of His resurrection. I want to see Him again. This reminds me of something GK Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has neverr got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

GK Chesteron, Orthodoxy, p. 60

We get tired of things, and it is a great sadness. We have such good food, yet don't enjoy it. We sleep in such nice beds, but forget about it. We wear such awesome clothing, but don't notice. And we serve God Himself, but rarely find it awesome.

But getting back to my original question, my strange inclination to ask people to tell me the story of Jesus. I still send that request to each person who reads this - please, tell me the story of Jesus. Let me hear it afresh and anew. However, in order to be fair, I will try to tell the story myself.

I will try to tell it simply and concisely, because I know I tend to go on and on and on. However, I have long suspected that any truth worth knowing can be expressed simply ... I suspect that the most important truths and the best stories are ones that children can understand and remember, but ones deep enough that anyone can spend their entire life telling and retelling the story without exhausting it. I will try to be true to that conviction now.

God made the beginning. He was before the beginning. Of all that exists, only God has no beginning. God made the beginning because He wanted others like Him. God did not make the beginning because He was lonely, but because He was full to overflowing. God is what we call a Trinity, which means that He is three persons in one. It's hard to understand, but there are things like it everywhere. A triangle has three sides but is one triangle. To be wise, a person needs knowledge and understanding and experience. You yourself have a heart and soul and mind, yet are one person.

God made everything else that exists. He made angels, which are spirits like Himself. A spirit is another hard thing to explain (there are lots of hard things to explain about God). A spirit is an invisible, nonphysical person. Your body cannot see it or feel it or touch it. Basically, a spirit is a person without a body.

Now, when God made beings like Himself, He did something fearsome and awesome. He made them free beings like Himself, who could choose what to believe and who to love. He did this so that He would have someone else to talk to and love, someone who would talk back and love back, someone who would be different from Himself.

One of these angels was called Lucifer, which means "angel of light," I think. Lucifer loved himself more than he loved God. Lucifer thought that he should be god. Lucifer chose not to submit to God, and to be his own boss instead. Many angels followed him, preferring to serve themselves rather than God. There was war in heaven, and Lucifer and all his angels were flung out of heaven into hell.

Heaven is what we call the place where God lives and rules. Hell is what we call the place He is not. Lucifer and his followers rejected God, perferring a life without God to one with God. Because of this, God created hell as a place where He would never go, where His spirit would never enter. He gave hell to those rebelling angels who wanted a world without Him.

Now, I'm not sure exactly when all this happened. I know it was a very long time ago. I don't know if this was before God created our world or not. Maybe someone else does.

But I do know that a very long time ago, God made the whole world. He made the stars and the sky and the oceans and the land and the plants and the animals and the birds and everything. It's hard to know exactly how long ago God made the world. Many people believe it was about eight thousand years ago. I believe that it was much, much longer ago ... somewhere between twelve and fifteen billion years ago. You'll have to make up your own mind about that, and study the Bible and science. But the important thing is that God made it all very carefully.

I don't know if God made any other intelligent creatures like us, creatures like Him but with bodies. The Bible doesn't say anything about them, and we haven't found any evidence for sure one way or another. I think He might have, just for fun, but I'm not sure. Maybe we'll find out some day.

Anyway, God made us - humans - probably around eight to ten thousand years ago. At least, that's what I believe. He made two people - a man and a woman, who are our oldest ancestors. The man's name was Adam, and the woman's name was Eve. And God gave them a beautiful garden in which to live, and told them to take care of it. You see, God made us masters of this world. We are in charge of everything - the animals, plants, rocks, oceans - everything. We are the masters, by right, and we are to take good care of the wonderful world God gave us.

Now, in the middle of the garden, God planted two trees - one was the Tree of Life, and one was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the whole garden, except for the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and He warned them that if they ate of that tree, they would die. God gave this command to test them. Later, when Jesus came into the world, He would say that the way to know if you love God is to see if you keep his commands. The way Adam and Eve could show their love and faithfulness to God was to not eat of that one tree.

Now, remember Lucifer? Well, another name for him is Satan - the enemy. Satan entered the garden and possessed a snake, which means he could control the snake as if it was his own body. He came to Adam and Eve and talked to Eve. He lied to her and told her that she would not die from eating the fruit, and that it would make her like God, knowing good and evil. Eve believed Satan and ate the fruit and gave some to Adam, who was there with her but didn't say anything. He ate, too.

As soon as Adam ate the fruit, the humans felt guilty for the first time. When God came to the garden to walk and talk with them, they hid from Him. God knew what they had done, and He was very angry. He cursed Satan and promised that humans and Satan would always be at war. He cursed the woman, making it very painful to have children. He cursed the man, making work burdensome and difficult and painful. But He also made a promise that one day one of their children would crush Satan, and He provided clothes for them. God is always like that - He hates sin and punishes it ruthlessly, but He always has mercy, too. He always makes a way for people to turn from sin and be forgiven and made right.

Adam and Eve's sin is very important. Because of it, all their children (which is every human being in the world) is born twisted, with a corrupt nature. Every human is born in rebellion against God and with a sinful desire to defy Him. Every human has the same choice that every creature made in the image of God does - a choice to serve God or to make your own way. But now every human is born into the enemies-of-God camp, with a nature that always wants to make its own way. This is because of our ancestor's sin.

God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to keep them from eating from the tree of Life and living forever. Adam and Eve had children, and their children had children, and so the human race began to grow. A long time after that, but still many years ago, God spoke to a man named Abram and told him to leave his home and his family and to go to a country God would show him. God promised that if Abram did this, God would bless his descendents forever, and make them a blessing to the whole world. Abram believed God and did as He said. Because of this, we still remember Abram with great honor these thousands of years later. He was a good man who believed God and did what God told him.

God led Abram to a place in the Middle East called Canaan. Now it is the region of Israel and Jordan and Lebanon. He gave him a new name that we remember better - Abraham. And God miraculously gave Abraham and his wife Sarah a boy of their own, long after the time when they should have been able to have kids. This boy was named Isaac, and he had two sons. One's name was Jacob, and the other's was Esau. It is through Jacob that the nation of Israel comes ... Jacob's name was later changed to Israel. Jacob had twelve sons, whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. God brought Jacob and his family down to Egypt to escape a dreadful famine in the ancient world. They lived there for hundreds of years, and the descendents of Israel became numerous.

They became so powerful that the ruler of Egypt was afraid they would help an enemy destroy the country. Because he was afraid of them, he made them slaves and forced them to work very hard. But even in those harsh conditions, the children of Israel still multiplied and the ruler of Egypt became even more afraid. He ordered that every male child of an Israelite be drowned. At this time, a baby was born to the Levite tribe. Though his parents tried to hide him from the Egyptians, he eventually got too big. They set him afloat in the river in a little basket, hoping that someone kind would find him. The daughter of the ruler of Egypt found him! But she treated him well and brought him up as her own son, a prince of Egypt, and she called him Moses.

When Moses grew up, he saw how badly the Egyptians were treating this Israelites. He saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite man one day and got so angry that he murdered the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. However, other people found out about the murder, and Moses was afraid that he would be arrested by the ruler. He fled Egypt into the desert, and became a sheepherder. For forty years, he stayed in the desert.

Then God set a bush on fire with a magical flame that did not consume the bush. Moses thought that was really weird, so he went to take a closer look. Then God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and told him that He was fed up with how the Israelites were being treated. He told Moses that He was going to send him back to Egypt to set the slaves free, and that He (God) would give Moses the power to do this. Moses didn't want to. He tried and tried to get out of it, and God got very angry. But in the end, Moses agreed to do what God had told him to do. Moses believed God, and went back to Egypt.

The ruler of Egypt didn't want to let the Israelites go, but God made him do it! He sent ten plagues on the whole country, awful plagues that devasted the land. The last plague God sent was a special plague. He first warned everyone that He was going to send the plague, and that any house whose door was not covered with the blood would lose its firstborn. Then God sent the angel of Death through the whole land of Egypt, killing every firstborn of every family in the country, unless that family had put blood over the door of their house. Then the Egyptians let the Israelites go; actually, they drove them out!

God led the Israelites through the desert to Mount Sinai, where He gave them His law. That's where we get the Ten Commandments. All the people agreed to follow the law, and to teach it to their children. But they failed. They didn't trust God, and they complained constantly. It drove Moses (and God) crazy. The people simply would not obey God, even when they saw His miracles and power. A lot of people today say that they would believe in and follow God if only He showed Himself more clearly. The story of the children of Israel shows us that it just isn't true. People naturally rebel against God, even when they're faced to face with proof of His love and power. And don't look down on the Israelites! You and I also rebel against God. Our hearts are also turned against Him.

But God had made a promise to Abraham. He did not break it; he brought the Israelites back to Canaan and gave them the power to conquer the whole land! He fought for them so they were able to drive out and annihilate the people who were living there, although the Israelites were badly outnumbered. But even when God had brought them out of the desert and into the land He had promised, the people still wouldn't follow Him. They would follow Him for a while, maybe even for a whole generation! But then their children would rebel against God, and God would let them be conquered by some powerful country. Then they would repent and cry out for deliverance, and God would rescue them. Then the cycle would start again.

Finally, the people said that they wanted to be ruled by a king, instead of by God. And God gave them their wish. Their first king was a very tall, powerful, handsome man with great leadership abilities. When he was young, he followed God for the most part, and God gave him great success in fighting against Israel's enemies. But his heart was always more interested in serving himself than serving God, and God eventually abandoned him and chose another to be king. He promised a young shepherd named David that he would one day be king. It took a long time, but God eventually brought it about. David is a very special man - he is remembered as being a man after God's own heart. He wrote some of the most beautiful parts of the Bible, and he followed God carefully and well. He was the greatest king of Israel. His son, Solomon, was also a great king, the wisest who ever lived. However, his son did not follow in his father's footsteps and was drawn away from serving God wholeheartedly. The whole history just gets bad from that point on. Sometimes a good king would come to the throne and follow God and God would bless the country, but most of the kings were bad and a few were terrible. The nation spun deeper and deeper into sin, and God eventually destroyed the country and scattered the people throughout the ancient world.

But God never forgot His promise, and He regathered the people back into their land. He had shown that it would take more than miracles to save the sad world, that it would take more than a good man. He was about to show that it would take a sacrifice.

A little more than two thousand years ago, God sent an angel to a young woman in Israel named Mary. He told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit - that God himself would be the father of her child. Mary was amazed and didn't understand how it was possible, but she submitted to the will of God. Don't you see the pattern? These people who we remember, these people who make a difference for God, they are people who BELIEVE God and OBEY him. God did just what He said (He has a habit of doing that) - He made her pregnant through the Holy Spirit with a son. His Son. Jesus.

How I wish I could tell you more about Jesus' life! I only know what the Bible says, and it doesn't say everything that I want to know. I can't tell you what He looked like or how tall He was or much of the story of His childhood. When I see Him one day, you'd better believe I'll ask Him!

Mary was a common girl, and Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, a tiny town in Judea. God sent angels to tell shepherds about His birth, and set a star in the sky that guided wise men from the East to where Mary and her husband lived.

Jesus was a special boy from the beginning. When he was twelve years old and taken to the temple, he stayed behind after his parents left and talked for three days with the teachers of the law there! They were amazed that anyone that young could have the knowledge of God that Jesus did. When Joseph and Mary returned to find him and asked why he had left them and stayed behind without telling them. He answered that He had to be about His Father's business. He always knew who His Father really was.

When Jesus was thirty years old, he left his hometown and began preaching what we call the gospel - the good news. He preached the kingdom of God was near! He preached a whole new way of living - he said

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are you when people say all kinds of evil against you on account of me ...

And those are just the ones I can easily remember! He said so many wonderful things, and I can't repeat them all!

Oh, and Jesus didn't just say amazing things! He did amazing things! He healed the sick and cast out demons and raised the dead! There wasn't any sickness He could not heal, not any suffering He could not alleviate.

But not everyone loved Jesus. His worst enemies were called the Pharisees. It seems odd that they would be his worst enemies, because they were the most religious people around! They hated Jesus for a lot of reasons. He broke their customs by healing people on the Sabbath. He challenged their beliefs by claiming to be the Son of God. He challenged their power when He claimed that serving God was more important that serving men. He challenged them by being so popular amongst the people, and they were afraid that He would start a rebellion against the Romans, who ruled their country at that time, and that the Romans would kill them all and take away their authority. But the most important reason they hated him wasn't found in reason - you see, Satan controlled them, as he does everyone who isn't a follower of Christ. They hated Jesus because they did not love God and they did not accept Jesus. He wasn't the God they expected.

They conspired against him and arrested him and piled false accusations on His head. When He continued to claim that He was the Son of God, they decided to kill Him. But because they couldn't put anyone to death on their own authority, they brought him to the Romans and accused Him of plotting to overthrow the Roman government. When the Romans questioned him closely, they couldn't find any cause for accusation against him. They wanted to release Jesus, but the enemies of Jesus stirred up the crowds against Him, to demand His death. The Romans, out of fear of the crowd, gave in and executed Jesus by crucifying Him. That means that they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and raised the cross upright and let him die.

But Jesus, even on the cross, said and did the most amazing things. He prayed to God, saying "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." He was being crucified next to two thieves. While one of them mocked him, saying that if he were really God, he would come down from the cross, the other defended him, saying that although they deserved death for their crimes, Jesus was innocent. And then he looked at Jesus and said "Remember me when you come into Your kingdom." He, too, believed God. And Jesus replied "I tell you the truth, today You will be in paradise."

Then Jesus said the more horrible, frightening, awesome words for a Son of God to say - "Father! Why have You forsaken me?" A little while later, He said His last words: "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." Then he died.

Why did Jesus die? Why did He let Himself die, when He could have flung Himself off the cross, incinerated the mocking Pharisees and guards, and shown Himself to be truly miraculous? Why did Jesus die? Remember what I said earlier, that God hates sin and always punishes it ruthlessly? You and I, and every other human being, has committed sin worthy of eternal damnation and death. We have all preferred in our hearts eternal death apart from God rather than eternal life with God. When Jesus died, He was innocent. He had never sinned in His life. Because of that, His death was able to substitute for ours. We didn't have to die anymore. Our sin was paid for by His death. Because He paid the price for our sin, we have a choice now about where we spend eternity. God still leaves us free to choose life or death, but He has made a way for us to choose life.

Now for the best part of the story. Jesus was buried in a tomb. His enemies, afraid that His disciples would steal the body and claim He'd come back to life, set a strong watch on the tomb and rolled a huge stone over the door of the tomb, to keep anyone from going inside. Three days later, some women who loved Jesus came to the tomb to anoint his body with special perfumes. But when they got to the tomb, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty! An angel sat on the stone and told them that Jesus had come back to life again, and that He would be seeing them again, soon.

Later, Jesus friends and disciples were gathered in a locked room, trying to decide what to do. Suddenly, there He was among them! He wasn't a ghost - some of the people were afraid of that and touched him to make sure he was real. He ate real food with them, to prove he was there, flesh and blood. Then he was gone.

Jesus made several appearances to His diciples and to others in the next few days and weeks. More than five hundred people saw Him. Some of his last words to his followers were these -

Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them everything I have taught you.

And, through the long years since, we Christians have told each other the wonderful story, and compiled the Bible together, which contains copies of the writings of the disciples and prophets of the old times before Christ. We've copied and copied and copied that book, and translated it into thousands of langauges ... including into English (several times). That's how I heard the story - from others and from the book. So I tell it again now, begging forgiveness of those who know the book and know all that I'm leaving out. Let me sum up - this is the story of Jesus - this is the gospel.

We are all sinners from birth and have turned away from God. God in His justice punished our sin by sacrificing His Son. God in His mercy raised His Son back to life again, just as He raises us to life again when we become a Christian. For now and for ever, anyone who believes God and trusts in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation will be saved from hell and begins a new life. A Christian is anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, meaning that one believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He came into the world and took away our sins throug His death, that He was raised from the dead, just as we are raised from death, and furthermore accepts the rightful lordship of God over his life. Any Christians, anywhere, anytime, are siblings in the family and church of God. Which makes me your brother, if you are one of us. Glad to have you in the family.

Posted by Leatherwood at 06:15 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

First Real Post

Now to post for real ... but how shall I begin? How does one begin a blog, anyway? I imagine it's fairly common to begin with an introduction, but most people who will read this will know me quite well already.

Or will they? Well, at least now I know what to make my first post on. In the last couple of years, another facet of my character has been coming to my attention. Undoubtedly, it was obvious to my friends years before that, but it was the first time I'd seen it clearly myself. And I see it more clearly now than ever - I hold people at a distance.

I have for years. Tracing back through my memory, I certainly have had friends (and have more friends now than I've ever had before), but never very many, and rarely very close. Moving to Mongolia drove the trend even deeper, and competing with my brothers for the affections of the few friends I did have probably also had something to do with it. Regardless, I have withdrawn into myself. I have become oddly antisocial. I have tried very hard, and very nearly succeeded, at not needing anyone. That may sound odd for a married person to say, but it's also hard for me to admit that I need my wife. I love her, certainly. I'd miss her, absolutely. But need her? Well, actually, of course I do, but it doesn't often feel that way.

I stand alone. I love my friends, but I hold myself apart from them. One of the first times I noticed this was a couple of years ago when I went to one of our Bible studies. I realized that unlike most of the people there, I came alone. I left alone. I always do that. I am welcome among them, but I do not really belong there. I'm not sure where I really belong. Maybe part of holding myself aloof has kept me from belonging anywhere. I do not depend on people. One of the weird parts of my personality is that I never blame anyone but myself for anything that affects my life. I have shields upon shields protecting me from other people. Perhaps that's why I can be so publically blunt about myself, because I've prepared myself mentally for rejection all my life. That sounds so odd and ridiculous, but if I try to imagine what it would be like if all my friends betrayed me, turned their backs on me, and refused to acknowledge they ever knew me (of course, I can't imagine that, but I try), there really isn't any pang in my heart, other than the thought I always knew I was alone. And I wouldn't even blame my friends. To a large degree (in my imagination), it wouldn't hurt. I wouldn't hurt because as much as I enjoy others' company, I don't need it. I don't count on it. I don't depend on it.

How much am I this way? I don't know. I imagine my friends know better than me how much of this is in my own mind and how much is real.

Does it bother me to be like this? Yes ... and no. It bothers me because I know it isn't quite right. I may love my friends but I don't trust them. And not based on any evidence of falsity, but based on some inner psychological problem. It bothers me because I love my friends and I'm ashamed at how little I'm involved in their lives. How little I know of what goes on. I'm ashamed at what a lousy friend I am. It also bothers me that it doesn't bother me, if you understand the thought. I bothers me that I love my loneliness, that I love my isolation, that I resist all attempts by others to draw me close, to draw me in. I am the ultimate spectator ... I wish to sit back and watch life. I love to watch. I love to see. But get involved? Heavens, no!

Why do I sit back and watch? Why am I more content to observe? Why does the thought of actually doing anything disturb me? Questions for another day, I guess. Good-night all.

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:09 AM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

February 14, 2005

Short Greetings

Hmm ... well, I think I've got it. I've been fiddling with it a while, and I'm reasonably satisfied with the look of the page ... for now, at any rate. Comments on and criticisms of my design are welcome; I've had to learn quite a few new tricks today to make it look even this good, and there are a number of issues I don't understand yet.

Oh ... and thanks to the Shadow Council for letting me join. I appreciate it. It's good to be posting at last.

Posted by Leatherwood at 08:25 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"
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