March 30, 2005

Future Plans

Oh, yeah. I should probably make an announcement of where Nikki and I will be going after I graduate. I've accepted an internship with Logos, a software company that specializes in producing Bible study libraries. I bought a fairly large package of software from them a year and a half ago and was delighted enough that I remembered them when I was starting to mull over where I'd like to work. I discovered that they needed a software development intern for three months or so, and that a full-time position might or might not be open at the end of that time. I've decided to take it, because of all the opportunities I have, it's the one that interests me most, the one I actually care about. Besides that, I like Washington state, and I could use the experience. Even if I don't wind up working for them permanently, Washington isn't a bad place to have to look for work in the software field.

Nikki and I are still working out the details of how we'll get up there and what we'll do when we do get up there. We've really wanted to take a second honeymoon after I graduate, but projected moving expenses have been higher than we thought and it probably won't work out :-(. Darn. However, the trip to Prince Edward Island has not be cancelled, merely delayed. We will make it before we die, never fear!

Now, to graduate ...

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

Randy Stonehill's "Christmas at Denny's"

When I was growing up, we really didn't have much to listen to. I don't remember ever listening to Mongolian radio, and I doubt there were more than a few stations. What we had, we wore dog-eared in the eight years we lived in Mongolia. Two Christian artists whose music we had a lot of were Randy Stonehill and Michael Card. Ever since then, I've found a special place in my heart for those two singers. When Mom and Dad visited Nikki and me last semester, they left behind a CD with some songs of Stonehill's that I hadn't heard in years. It was a tremendous delight to pore through them again ... they brought back a lot of memories.

This song, in particular, touched me. Both for its bitter, almost "unchristian" tone, and for the odd beauty of it. I've found a link to the lyrics here, so I won't type it this time. My life is nowhere near as painful as that of the singer of this song, but it still touches me. There's something in me that resonates to it, particularly its last verse. "The fools we've become ... the price that we've paid ... when I was a boy, I believed in Christmas, a miracle season to make a new start ... I don't need no miracle, sweet baby Jesus, just help me find some kind of hope in my heart."

"if only, if only, if only ... but somewhere down the road, I gave up that fight ..."

Hope ...

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:18 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 27, 2005

My Love Story, part 1

I want to start telling one of my favorite stories ... my love story. That story hasn't really finished yet (it's only just begun), and I can't say that I really understand all of it that has taken place yet, but I can try.

Nicole Terese Leatherwood (Den Bleyker for most of her life) and I go way back. We were friends in kindergarten and first grade. Both her parents and mine were on the mission field in the Philippines in the early 1980's, and when they returned to the states, they both lived in the tiny Christian community of Rehoboth, New Mexico (just a couple of miles outside Gallup). While they never met on the field, it's virtually impossible to live in Rehoboth and not meet everyone who lives there. Since our families had the Philippines in common, it seems natural that they would become friends. And that I would play with their little girl, who was at that time probably 5 or 6, and I was 4 or 5. I don't remember very much that far back. I remember that she had the most wonderful Superman cartoon videos that I loved to watch, and that she always wanted to play Monopoly (at which she always won). Not too promising a beginning. I can't even remember what she looked like back then, though I have pictures of it. But I do remember her.

In 1990, my family moved out of Rehoboth and into Phoenix, Arizona. We spent the next year and a half there, and I went finished the second and third grade while there. It seems that even that early, Nikki and I wrote one another occasionally - she has a letter from me dating from the third grade. I have no recollection of writing this letter - my next memory of her is several years later.

In 1992, my family moved to Mongolia. My father went back to the States for a few months in 1994. While he was in the States, he visited the Den Bleyker family. When he came back, he brought me a letter from a girl I still remembered, however vaguely. I wrote her back. Thus began an unbroken correspondence that would culminate in my marriage to her this last August.

Our letters were short and unromantic. The older I got, the more sanitary and careful I became in my relationships with girls (this, of course, has a reason, but it's not part of this story. It certainly wasn't Nikki's fault). I had not yet developed a garrulous quality in my letters - that was to come later. And yet ... I probably still had a crush on her. The more it grew, the more I kept it out of my letters (or tried to). I always felt enormously special in getting letters from her. I was always delighted when she signed her letters "love, Nikki" (and fiercely denied it as my siblings teased me). I played with romantic thoughts about her and daydreamed a few times about having a romantic relationship with her (even marrying her), but no more than I think every boy does about a girl he knows.

But we always kept writing each other. We never stopped. Oh, letters were rare (four or five a year, tops), but they were consistent. That, more than anything else, is why I'm married to her now. She always wrote back. She didn't always write what I wanted to, particularly as my letters grew more personal and loquacious, but she always wrote back. And I slowly fell in love with her without knowing it. I certainly suspected myself and my affections, but I was never sure and I certainly never admitted it to myself that I was falling in love with her. That would come later.

Posted by Leatherwood at 04:27 AM
This post has been classified as "Autobiography"

Dr. Andrew N. Woodring

It's about time that I published another eulogy. This one will be shorter and less personal than most of my others have been, mostly because my relationship with and feelings for Dr. Woodring are more professional and less personal.

That said, both I and the entire Honors program owes an enormous, unpayable debt to Dr. Andrew Woodring. He welded us together and gave us an inspiration for what we really wanted in this program. It was in his class that nearly all of us found a professor we loved and admired. It's no coincidence that Dr. Woodring would be an almost perfect member of the Shadow Council, sharing many of its attributes ... including one that most people don't see. Dr. Woodring can be extremely sarcastic and enormously funny and very cynical ... but he is also a marvelous professor, a deeply committed Christian, and a vastly wise man. He can speak gently as well as cuttingly, he can heal as well as wound, and he can build up as well as tear down.

I loved his class "Biblical Worldview." We all did. From the very first day, we enjoyed going to that class. It's hard to explain why (and it's been a few years now) ... one of the reasons we loved it is because Dr. Woodring was so different! He has a way of presenting his lectures that made us learn, made is interested and fascinated with the material. He shares with the SC a keen eye for BS, and cuts as much as possible out. I remember looking forward to his class more than anything other class my first semester.

I think his greatest gift to the Honors program was his style of conducting devotions and, most of all, the way he brought the entire class together in prayer. In his class, we all prayed for one another. We all shared prayer requests. There was a unity there that first year we've never had since (though we've approximated it). Not only members of the SC, but nearly everyone united in prayer. Through prayer requests, we discovered who we all were, what we cared about, and what was going on in one another's lives. Dr. Woodring deeply challenged all of us to think seriously about the Bible and a Christian Worldview. He was great.

I've had him in only one class since that first semester - for Only Inklings, which was team-taught by Dr. Woodring and Dr. Annie Olson. It was no coincidence that, to my knowledge, that class is the single most popular, well-thought-of class in the entire Honors program. We really learned in that class, we had so much fun in that class ... and presenting our papers the next semester was awesomely fun and cool. Getting to visit our professors' homes and hold class there and talk about the Inklings was delicious ... absolutely delicious. I thank God for that class.

Sadly, that's almost all I can say about Dr. Woodring. Unlike many of my wiser friends, I really haven't visited him many times in the intervening years. I really haven't talked with him very much. I think I've gone personally to see him (for any extended amount of time) only once. And I'm dreadfully poorer for that. Dr. Woodring and the classes he's taught have been the best single gift to the Honors program that I can think of.

Oh - I nearly forgot! On one occasion (that I was there, anyway), Dr. Woodring spoke in chapel. He gave an exegesis of a passage in Psalms (one I'm sorry to say I've forgotten). As he gave it, and ever afterwards, I've thought to myself that "this is exegesis." Remember what I said about Jonathan Wilson? It's much the same feeling, only about the Bible. He used the exegetical tools we studied to actually unearth something not easily seen from a passage - something that was actually legitimately there. Most of the uses I've seen of biblical exegesis have either uncovered nothing new, or engage in biblical sophistry that caters to whatever political persuasion the exegetor has in mind. I've gotten so sick of historical context and word studies, because most of the time I've seen them used have been in an attempt to weasel around an uncomfortable passage, something like a lawyer or a politician attempting to get a clearly guilty person off on a technicality. But Dr. Woodring did it right. He did it well. And it was delicious.

To Dr. Woodring:

Thank you so much, sir. You gave us in the Honors program a tremendously precious gift - each others' prayers. You taught us about the Bible in a wonderful way ... thanks. You helped teach us about the Inklings in just as wonderful a way ... thanks. I've appreciated what you did so much in these last few years. I wish I knew you better. Thanks for being a blessing. To me, to your classes, and to the Honors program as a whole. It's meant more than I can say. Thank you. Thank you so much. God bless you.

Sincerely yours,
~ Daniel Leatherwood

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:52 AM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

Some Interesting Things

Wow ... it's been a really long time since I've posted. I suppose the first flush of romance of my blog has passed now, and I'm having to figure out how to keep posting. I've definitely got a lot on my mind ... much of it depressing, since that's how I feel much of the time. But my last two posts (excluding the apology) have been very depressing, and I want to talk about something more encouraging ... you can all breathe a sigh of relief now.

I've been reading and thinking a lot in the past few days ... I've been researching TeX (and though I know it's supposed to be pronounced "tech," I can't help mentally pronouncing it "teks." I suppose Donald Knuth will shoot me now ...), and find it fascinating. Essentially, I'm very attracted to the idea of using a simple text editor (like Vim) to write all my papers and such in. Call it a quirk of my personality. HTML is a pretty decent markup language, but it's inferior to programs like Word in producing printed page material. I am acquiring an active distaste for using products like Word - I suppose the Linux-hacker world is seducing me. TeX, however, is heavily geared toward the production of very lengthy, mathematically intensive material. I believe it can be used for the purposes I have in mind, but it may be very painful.

I also want to learn Lisp, Perl, and maybe Python. I've never cracked into a new language on my own for fun; I've always been driven to do so for a class. I've seen some Lisp, but not enough to really count for anything. I'm thinking (rather devilishly) that when I get the chance, I'd like to delve deeply enough into Lisp to re-write my chess program in it. I imagine the exercise will teach me a great deal about the language. Part of my mind (the nerdy part) is rubbing its hands with glee at the thought of tackling all these new, wonderful subjects and learning something about them.

After spending about four days living and breathing WatchBlog over Spring Break, I got exhausted with the arguments and now I'm somewhat afraid to go back ... mostly because I don't have the energy right now to get sucked back in, but I also wonder if my opponents consider my absence proof that they've won and that conservative evangelicals are chickens who disappear once strongly confronted. I imagine that gives my words far too much credit - I doubt anyone seriously noted my departure. I'm still a little afraid to go back and see. As I think I've said before, I'm fascinated with arguments, but they exhaust, drain, discourage, and otherwise wear me out. When I argue, I am almost always arguing "from my heart" - it's not a game to me; it's deadly serious. As a result, losing an argument hurts a lot, and not knowing what to say or how to answer also hurts. I get too emotionally involved in them - they're less like fencing and more like full combat. That doesn't mean that I'm a brutal arguer - actually, I think I'm rather nice (too much so, possibly), but rather that I take arguments very seriously and invest a lot of myself and my energy into them.

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:18 AM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

Update ... still depressed

My schoolwork continues to decline. My failure at the Phoenix project eats at me continually - I wish I'd never joined. I know it's all my fault; that only makes it worse. If I could blame anything else for my trouble, it would be a lot easier to bear. "I can bear anything as long as I can blame someone else for it." :-) I don't know what to do. I guess the obvious thing to do, as I've been advised, is to work like the devil and try to catch up. I can't ... or rather, I won't. I don't want to. Which only makes it worse.

My relationship with God is hard to describe. Certainly, my devotional life is on the rocks, mostly due to the fact that I've picked up a nasty habit (which I'm indulging right now) of staying up to all hours of the night. This makes it quite impossible to rise early the next day, which makes it nigh impossible to keep my devotional life together. To some extent, I can't help it at this point ... my sleeping schedule is so far off I can't sleep normally (which is why I'm here instead of sleeping right now). But for all that, I talk to God more than anyone else, though most of what I say is whining and pleading and repenting and musing and then repeating the cycle over again.

Despair and pain are near-constant now, beginning the moment I open my eyes. Sleep is a delicious refuge from it, making it even more difficult to get up in the morning. I always dream, and my dreams are always interesting, and the dreadful ache is never present, so I prefer to sleep as long as possible. I also deal with the ache by wasting my time reading and playing games ... my imagination and interest can push it away for a time. Of course, since it wastes time, when it ends, there's more guilt and pain and the rock is heavier, so it isn't a good trade. But it's a trade I've grown well accustomed to making in the past few months.

Every time when people greet me and ask me how I'm doing, I wonder what to say. I always say "fine" or some derivative - I don't want people to worry about me, and it's hard to explain to them why a more truthful answer would be "like hell." I don't even want you to worry about me, but it is something of a release just to say what's on my mind. It's when I'm alone that the danger and despair close in - when I'm with others, I can push it away and smile and carry on a normal conversation. That's generally what I do with my wife - try to push it away and deal with her the way I should. She sees more of my depression than most, and we certainly talk about it, but you can't always be depressed around everyone.

As I said in my previous post, what I usually want to say to people who ask me how I'm doing is, "Please, help me!" I never say this, not to anyone (not out loud, anyway), because what else would I say after that? Help me how? From what? They can't help, other than to tell me the obvious "just get to work!" That hurts most of all, because it's what I'm always saying to myself and not doing.

But God is good. He is faithful. He always listens to me, no matter how much I bore Him with my whining. I know He's working in me, and I know He hasn't given up on me, and I know He loves me. I don't feel any of those things, but I'm certain of them. Particularly the first ... that God is good.

I thought that I'd found part of the answer to my problem when I realized that I've never forgiven myself for my mistakes. For a lot of things, actually. It's natural to my mind to seek forgiveness for sin ... but mistakes (like not getting my homework done) are something it's very hard for me to forgive myself. I then tried my very hardest to forgive myself - my conscientious self forgave me for slacking and failing the Phoenix project. I forgave my conscientious self for hurting me and killing me and torturing me for those things. For a while, things felt peachy, and I was encouraged. Then I slacked again, and I'm back where I started, with my conscience condemning me more strongly and painfully than ever. For my part, I just want to tell my conscience "go to hell. You don't care about me - you never have. All you care about is your precious homework, your precious image, your sacred word. You are an arrogant, selfish, cruel master and I won't serve you another instant. You can wither and die ... you need me in order to get anything done, and I won't do anything for you. Ever."

I've got an appointment with a psychiatrist about mid-April. He may perhaps prescribe some medication I can use to quell my discouragement and despair. I have no idea. I have little hope, and even if it does work, that only means that I've taken the easy way out.

So what good news do I have? That God is good. That He listens. That He does not abandon His children. That's about it.

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:17 AM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 22, 2005

An apology

I'm sorry I've been so remiss in posting. It's not for lack of thoughts to share ... and I'll try to be more regular. Thanks for coming back.

Posted by Leatherwood at 02:05 AM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

The Song

The young husband cradled his wife's head in his arms and gently stroked her hair, watching her face as she settled down to sleep. He cast about for a song, intending to sing her a lullaby as she drifted off to sleep. He settled on his favorite Christmas song, "What Child Is This?" He began to sing softy, his voice catching and breaking as it wavered on the edge of whisper and song:

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste! to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Suddenly he realized that he meant this song ... meant it more than anything else in the world. It swept over him in a rushing wave how much he loved the Child the song sang of, how much he missed Him, and how very lonely he felt. His song continued on, strengthened by a heart the young man had almost forgotten he had:

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and lamb are feeding?
Good Christian, fear for sinners dear,
The silent Word is pleading.

For this, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste! to bring Him laud,
The babe, the Son of Mary.

Pain swept over him ... a pain so delicious he gasped inwardly. For a moment, he "passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness." He felt like saying this is who I am ... this is who I love. This is who I really am on the inside ... and I feel so very far from home. But, for a moment, he remembered his home and who he was.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasants, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Yes, this, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste! to bring Him laud,
The babe the Son of Mary.

More songs he sang, joy filling his heat for the first time in entirely too long. He stroked his wife's hair and poured out all the pain and hurt he felt into his songs. How he missed this! The terrible ache in his heart was lit up as with a brilliant light - his heart hurt more than ever before, but this pain was better by far than the ache and numbness that had been his lot. He was a prisoner free for a moment. But all moments pass, and he laid his wife's head down.

The moment lingered on for a little while. His mind soon recovered and began to analyze the experience, putting it into words and crafting a description of it. He determined to seize the moment before it escaped. He grabbed a jacket and left the house, determined to sing alone beneath the night sky with all his heart, determined to recapture what he had lost. It was too late ... or perhaps it was the desperate attempt to hold on that lost him the moment. His mind had seized it and analyzed it and the moment was gone. His mind ruled again, analyzing, directing, judging. His song died on his lips as he realized that the moment was gone, crushed like a delicate flower beneath a combat boot. Fury and terrible despair rose up again to reclaim the prisoner they had so briefly released. He struggled in his chains for a minute, cursing himself for losing the moment. Then the chains were secure again, and his heart resumed its usual heavy ache.

How he longed to cry for help! "Help me, please!" had been the silent words on his heart for months. But there was no help; there was no escape. He was bound to his despair with chains forged of discouragement and self-loathing. No one seemed able to help him, not even those who loved him. He didn't even clearly know what it was he meant in saying "Help me!" More than anything else, he felt like Prince Rillian, struggling against an enchantment, saying "Let me go back! Let me see the stars and the sky and feel the wind of my face!" He longed to go back, to feel the majesty of the stars and the glory of the sunset, to feel close and loved by God. But though the stars still shone in the sky, and the sun still set brilliantly, his heart was nearly deaf, struggling under some enchantment he felt powerless to break, even as he struggled vainly against it.

It struck him that his song sounded, more than anything else, like the desperately sad song of a child who missed his Father very much.

I would rather live the sadness a thousand times over than the ache of despair.

Help me ... please

I know you can't help, but you can ask the One who can.

Posted by Leatherwood at 02:03 AM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 16, 2005

My Civil War

Dear friends:

It's difficult to describe how I feel right now. It is not a pleasant place to be. However, it is Spring Break, and I do have this week off, and it is wonderful (or it ought to be) to have that much free time at my fingertips. However, I am in the process of wasting my break, for the most part. I've read one book, watched a movie, gotten very involved for three or four days in arguments on WatchBlog (for which I've currently lost my steam), and I'm trying to get interested in beating Legend of Zelda again, with a few more challenges and twists.

I am also flat-out running from my sense of duty and the ominous knowledge that I really ought to be working like mad to catch up. In most of my classes, my falling behind hasn't been that severe yet. The most dangerous place I'm falling behind is the Phoenix project. I honestly have contributed virtually nothing to the project all semester, have spent virtually no time on it, and am almost as clueless today as I was when I first joined the project last January. It's eating me alive, as I try to avoid the fact that I have done nothing. It cannot go on like this; there will be a price to pay. More than that, this is probably the most important thing I'm doing this semester; it's not some class where the professor doesn't really honestly care if you turn the paper in or not, it is a project in which the lack of involvement of one of its members creates a very real hole. Thank God, the Phoenix project does not actually need me. But I am failing it. And something has to be done about it.

I feel now like I'm always carrying the weight of my shame and guilt for the mistakes I'm making, particularly those in schoolwork. It's eating at me, day and night. I try to escape, try to find things to do that can ease the pain or make me forget. I throw myself into reading various ideas, I play video games, I read books, I try to quiet the pain. It hurts.

Why? Why don't I stop running, turn around, pick up the slack, and work? What has happened to my strength and will to do my homework? Why won't I just do it? I don't know. I really don't know for sure why. I can conjecture, I can guess, but I'm not sure. I suppose I could simply say that I don't want to. I don't want to turn around and work like mad. I don't want to dedicate myself to filling in the pit I've dug. Why not? I don't know.

Part of it is the fact that I've spent so many years of my life under the lash of my own academic expectations. I have been pushed so long and so hard by my relentless desire for academic glory. And now I'm saying to myself No! I don't want to be like this anymore. I don't want to be driven by a desire for perfect grades. Maybe what's happening to me is my attempt to force myself to change. I wonder if what is happening is something of a deliberate effort on my part to fail, to humiliate myself, to kill the part of me that so longs for perfection. I wonder if I'm trying to perform surgery on myself to remove the tumor of academic perfection. If so, the effort is probably doomed to failure - as I've said, half-jokingly, no man has root access to his soul. I cannot change motivations and desires. I can alter my own behavior, but I cannot directly change myself from the inside out.

Part of me longs to put my life back together. To live by the rules that I lived by for so long - get up early, have devotions, get your homework done on time, never miss an assignment or a class ... so many simple rules I lived by to near perfection. Part of me wants very much to live by those rules again. Part of me doesn't. I don't want to dedicate myself to living by the rules because I don't want to be obsessed by them. I don't want the Pharisee in me to come back to power. I don't want the arrogance welling up inside me that thinks I'm doing pretty well for myself, thank you kindly! No one can live without discipline.

Finally, part of me wonders what God is doing in all this. I wonder if He Himself is using this period of struggle and despair to root out the weeds in my soul that compete with my longing for Him. Part of me wonders if He's the one holding my life at a crisis point until something inside my stubborn heart gives way and lets Him in. I wonder if it's Him that has put such a monkey wrench into the gears of my life. I hope it is, because then I know that I can trust Him to finish His work and to use it for good.

I just don't know anything for sure. I feel as close to miserable as I have ever been, not knowing what the right course is. Should I strive to put my life back in order? Part of me screams "YES!" and part of me shouts back "NO!" Part of me is convinced that I am pushing myself toward the brink in some suicidal frenzy like Captain Ahab, and that the solution is to fling myself back from the edge and try to live the way I used to. Part of me is convinced that something deep and ugly is being exorcized from within, and that the call I feel to order is a siren call from Satan, who wants me to get off the operating table before the tumor is excised.

This I can see for pretty much sure - if nothing changes, this will be my worst semester ever. I will fail the Phoenix project. That, at least, is not acceptable. Something has to change. I just wish I was sure what.

One thing I am going to do - go to bed now. Good night!

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:30 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 10, 2005

In Defense of Doing Nothing

Well, now I'm going to post something that has been quietly ruminating in my mind for a very long time and has actively been ruminating there for a couple of days now. I'm going to try to write quickly, because midnight is less than half an hour away, and I want to post this before midnight. The real reason for that is rather silly - I like the current design of hyperlinks on my calendar, and if I miss posting today, the design will be screwed up. Besides, posting every other day seems to be a pretty good idea.

As the title of this post says, I am posting in defense of doing nothing. I feel the need to make this post because I think that our society and culture and world puts an enormous, insupportable amount of pressure on us to perform and to do. As I said recently in our Capstone II course, I feel a pressure to justify every waking minute. I feel a constant, subtle urging to always be working. And it isn't just from our secular world, either. No, our Christian world is just as bad, if not worse! They bring guilt into the equation, where you're failing God if you're not earnestly urgently serving Him every single moment of every single day.

Yes, I know that life and time is precious. I've read the warnings against slacking and the praise of the hardworking. But I don't think I want to live in a world that has no place for reading Calvin and Hobbes, or for devouring science fiction for the pleasure of it, or for doing nothing at all. Granted, all of us engage in these activities, whether or not they're sanctioned by our culture. But whenever I do these things, I always feel the pressure from the back of my mind that I really shouldn't be doing these things, that I should always be about work that matters. And I am fed up with slavery to things that matter.

God and the universe can get along quite well without me. God is not standing up in heaven, wringing his hands and saying that "Daniel isn't working right now, what am I going to do?" Most of the activity that people engage in is worthless. Almost nothing they do matters, seen from a long view. So why sweat? Why run around like a little ant, ceaselessly laboring, when there's nothing permanent gained in it?

This world would be happier if we relaxed and had more fun. Part of me has never grown up - I've never grown out of a desire to have fun. I suppose it always seemed to me that the grown-up world piles on demands upon demands of responsibility and effort, and gives precious little in return. The idea of returning to kindergarten and going back through twelve years of being a child again seems rather attractive.

To some degree, this is an angry post against a world that seems to me to be demanding more effort from me. My reply to the world is "why do you care about my effort? What have I ever gotten from you? What is my reward for working, except more work and survival for another day?"

I think I've said this at least once before, but the idea of doing nothing forever is highly attractive. It's more than that. I guess what I really want is peace. Peace and rest from the constant pressure and reminders of every area of my life that I'm not doing as I should. And I suppose that my refusal to work isn't really going to give me any peace of mind, either. But it is one way of saying to the world "Screw you!" Which is, oddly enough, a great part of what I want to say.

Good night.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:48 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 08, 2005

Jesse McDonald

Jesse McDonald is one of the many people I want to eulogize, but don't have the right to. I simply don't know enough about the man to do him anything even approximating justice, and that lack of knowledge is my own fault. After all, he's been at LeTourneau as long as I have. I've had three and a half years to get to know him, but I haven't. But even while acknowledging I don't know him well enough to do this properly, I also admire him enough to do it anyway. After all, as Chesterton said, "Anything worth doing at all is worth doing badly."

As I said, Jesse entered LeTourneau the same year I did, the fall of 2001. He was part of our first "Honors" class. Jesse is one of the most inconspicuous people I know, and one of the quietest. His habit (that I've seen anyway) is to sit in the back of the classroom, never speaking, watching everything that goes on with a unique intensity. Jesse has the brightest eyes of anyone I know. As soon as I saw those eyes, I knew that I wanted to know this man. Why didn't I? Lots of reasons ... just check normal apathy and life at the top of them. I mean, what are you doing to say, "You have the most fascinating eyes, and that makes me suspect that what you're thinking inside is something amazing and special that I want to know."? Jesse is also the reason I use Linux now - not only did he actually loan me the Debian DVDs, but it was his interest in Linux that first brought my attention to the operating system. It was him giving me an account on his computer and teaching me how to reach it that opened my eyes up to the power and glory of the Linux/Unix command prompt. Jesse was never as pushy or self-righteous about Linux as many of its defenders are, but he was always willing to make a reasoned defense of it against any charge anyone could bring. He loves Linux instead of hating Windows.

Jesse is a genius, plain and simple. Geniuses are not as common as one might think, but every school has a few, and Jesse is one of them. His mastery of computers is unparalleled at our school. There are many good programmers and computer-knowledgeable people here at this school, but Jesse exceeds them all. Jesse is our very best in the field of Computer Science - I'm not aware of anyone even being close to his level of mastery.

Several times over the years, he's shown me the programs he's working on. I've never ceased to be amazed. I remember his showing me is project for using neural networks to conquer the game "Go", and his program again using those networks to guide tanks. His work has always been fascinating to me. I often had the strange sense when he showed me those things that he was looking for a friend. Someone to appreciate what he was doing. Someone who could understand what went into it. I don't know, that's just the thought I had at the time. I wish I'd taken him up on that offer. Most of the time I would gape in amazement and them politely excuse myself and go tell my room-mate (or my future wife-to-be) what awesome projects he was working on. He is probably the smartest person person I know. He is also the most humble. And his humility isn't the publically self-effacing kind, but the quiet, reserved kind. He doesn't see the need to prove his knowledge. He's perfectly willing to let himself be unnoticed. His humility is the real kind, because it's the kind that isn't quite aware that it's humble.

Jesse has a lot of surprising sides. He attends praise and worship regularly, though I don't know if I've ever heard his voice there. I imagine he sings, but quietly. He does everything quietly. He is an awesome sword-fighter - I've had the chance to cross blades with him a time or two. Jesse is one of the rarest people I know of.

To some degree, I wonder whether or not I should even call attention to him in this way. I want to tell you about him because I think he's an awesome, special person, but I'm not sure what he would think (which is why, of course, I'll send this to him before I post it). Jesse McDonald makes me want to stop, to watch, to listen, the way he does. He makes me wish my eyes were as bright and interested as his are. He makes me want to be like him, and our personalities are almost totally different.

I admire him for a lot of things. I admire his skill with computers - they're nothing short of phenomenal. I admire the quiet way he lives his life - there's something beautiful and attractive and powerful in it. I admire his thoughts when I've heard them. The man does speak, just seldom. And when he does, it's worth listening to. It's worth remembering. He, at least, is one of the people who know the value of silence. I admire the way he walks, politely bowing his head to the people he meets, the way he smiles when he sees me, and his funny moustache. Jesse McDonald is a special person, and I like him.

Posted by Leatherwood at 08:56 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"

March 06, 2005

BS and Intellectual Snobbery

Well, as I imagine just about all of you know, this last week has been "Family Life Week" at LeTourneau, and LeTourneau brought in a special speaker from Focus on the Family to talk to us about self-esteem, relationships, etc. All told, she spoke at five chapels, of which I attended four. I was very impressed and liked it very much. However, many of my friends of the SC were not ... the only post I've seen on the subject is by Master Ross, but I've talked to a number of others who expressed varying levels of disdain for the entire series.

My reaction to this is mixed. One of the things I appreciate and receive from my friends on the SC is a certain BS detection. It seems to have (largely) been left out in my mental makeup. I am becoming a more critical, discerning person, but my instinct is to uncritically approve any and all utterances of people who meet certain basic criteria. In other words, I tend to be a sheep. It's a recurring theme in these last few years - I listen to a speaker or idea and get all fired up about it ... and then I listen to my friends and they start to make me think and I come to the grudging conclusion that what I thought was so good was mere babble.

But, on the other hand, merely transferring my mental allegiance from one group of people to another is no answer, even if it is my first reaction. The ideas of the SC are no more inspired than any of those they critique, even though they are usually more rigorous. Unfortunately, I have to think in order to sort out what is what. Bother.

There's also a certain angry reaction in me that wants to ask my friends if there is anything on this whole bloody planet that does meet with their approval. This is, of course, not entirely (or even remotely) fair. One of the things I admire about them is that they not only criticize most things, but approve of a few. The Longview Symphony, John Fischer, certain professors, and other things come to mind. However, to some degree, they remind me of the dwarves in The Last Battle of the Chronicles of Narnia that "refuse to be taken in." It seems to me that they approve of very few things, and that a certain elitism has crept in, in which nothing that the "unwashed masses" approve of can be considered good. This is, of course, a common trap among intellectuals and not, by any means, isolated to the SC. In summary, they are swift to criticize, slow to approve, and mistrustful of popular opinion or emotional appeals.

That said, now I have to decide what it is that I think about the recent series. My first reaction was enormously positive. To some degree, I hung on every word she uttered. I was genuinely moved and thought that the series made several good points. Very little new or innovative was said, but it was good to be reminded of the truth. I found it genuinely useful to me as I thought about my own self-esteem and family-of-origin issues that have become apparent in the last few weeks and months of my life. Perhaps the reason it meant much to me and little to them was that I found it so applicable and relevant to my life where they did not.

But, reflecting back on it in the light of some of my friends' comments, she did rely more on emotional appeal and connection that hard fact. She made several factual errors and blunders. She argued more from an emotional basis than an intellectual basis, and much of what she said can be boiled down and condensed into the realizations that a person's self-esteem is a critical part of himself or herself, that a person's self-esteem is profoundly influenced by our upbringing, and that a true self-image is found in seeing yourself as God sees you. Good thoughts, yes, but trite. At least, so my friends found them, and I understand why (or I think I do, anyway).

Their reactions could be similar to the writer of Hebrews, frustrated that we are still learning and struggling with the elemental things, rather than moving on to more mature ideas.

Concerning him [Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14, NASB95

In seen in the light of this passage, I agree with my friends that a great part of the modern American church (including our campus chapel) struggles with mastering and moving beyond the basics. So much time seems to be spent belaboring the simple, elemental things, and minds like those of my friends starve for something more substantial. Their minds and attention were meant for more than what they usually hear. Their intellect is simply not challenged or sharpened at all, and this frustrates them. And it should. In writing this, I'm starting to be concerned because it is to easy for me to be content with the "milk" I get without longing after meat. Too much of me is content to let my mind be lazy.

And yet there is a horrible risk of arrogance and pride setting in. This is always dangerous as people grow, because they start to feel superior to the poor wretches who aren't as mature as they are. Just think of our reaction to a five-year-old boy talking about when he was a little kid. Nikki and I have only been married seven months, and when we talk about how much we've learned and how far we've come since we were married, it's hard for older married couples not to break out laughing. I still remember (ruefully), when the wife of a pastor at a church I was attending explained that she didn't teach men - she only taught women and "little baby married couples who don't know anything."

* in pausing to reflect over what I just wrote, I realize that I'm wandering from my first subject. Now I have to decide whether or not to permit this wandering or bring myself back to the main thread. I'm enjoying this train of thought, but I liked my original track as well ... I've decided to indulge this rabbit trail for a while longer. *

Arrogance and inferiority are inevitable results of comparison with others. You will always be advanced beyond some and always hopelessly behind others, on virtually any measuring stick. It is particularly dangerous to talk of levels of Christian maturity and spirituality ... dangerous and stupid. Every Christian stands or falls before God alone ... and God is able to make us stand. The more a Christian grows, the more any comparison is null and void, because the only measuring stick that matters is Christ. And yet at the same time, there really are Christians who are more mature than others. There really are levels of maturity, and it really is good to progress. I just wish that admitting to levels of maturity didn't give Satan such an easy way to divide us and stick some Christians' noses in the air and others in the dirt. Yes. And now I'm being trite.

In another way, to speak of growing up beyond the essentials of the faith is completely wrong. I hope none of us ever become "more advanced" than simple grace. No one should stick their nose up at concepts of Christian self-esteem. The realization that God loves you unconditionally, and that His acceptance is the rock of your own identity and worth, is absolutely vital and too few people actually believe it.

So how in the world do we as Christians (and thinkers in general) deal with this conundrum? How do we contrive to be ever progressing, learning more and more and fully engaging our minds, but at the same time never losing our love of and fascination with the most basic, beautiful things?

I suppose it's rather like the saying "a little science will challenge a Christian's faith. A lot of science will strengthen it." The deeper and more complete and clearer our understanding of the mind of God becomes, the more wonderful and awesome the thought becomes: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."

Posted by Leatherwood at 08:40 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 04, 2005

Thoughts of Kids

* to those of you who might wonder, no, to the best of my knowledge, Nikki and I are not expecting at this time *

It is so incredibly weird to think of myself as possibly being a father. Last year, when I was talking with Daniel McBride and trying to get some insight into the whole marriage thing I was about to plunge into, the topic of kids came up. His reaction to the whole subject was strong and negative enough that it made me worry. He most certainly did not want to have kids - possibly ever, and certainly not for a while. I wasn't surprised that he felt that way, but I was surprised at how strongly he felt that way. It seemed a little wrong to me ... part of getting married is accepting responsibility for any children you might have, and to express so much distaste for that seemed ... wrong, I guess. Certainly, for Nikki to become pregnant would be difficult for us - a lot of plans would have to change. But it would be ok. God would help us adjust and provide what we needed so we could greet our little one.

At the moment, we don't plan on having kids for at least another two and a half years or so. It would be hard having kids at this point, when so much moving is on the horizon and when we really don't have very much money at all. I intend to enjoy to the fullest the days of young married life without the distractions of kids. It is nice. The very thought of becoming a father isn't a part of my imagination I've often touched. It's an odd and wonderful thought. And more than a little scary. How in the world am I supposed to help raise a child in this world? Our culture is poisonous to kids. How could I take responsibility for training and loving and caring for a little one in a world like this? I'd be tempted to flee to the farthest deserts of Mongolia, where at least I don't always have to worry about the corrosive effect of the environment. Another part of me is altogether excited, even at imagining the thought. Talk about a perfect artificial intelligence experiment! When we do have kids, I think that a recurrent theme in my mind is going to be awe ... that this little bundle of carbon atoms has something in him that I can never add to my most powerful programs. It'll be so much fun to watch the little kid learn! To look and realize that my child is seeing the world for the very first time. What an exciting thought, seeing the world for the first time! Seeing the grass and marvelling that it is green, gazing into the sky and not recognizing clouds ... think of the wonders of this world that we've become so callous to that my little child will see for the first time. It's fascinating thinking of what it will be like to watch a real live person grow and learn and figure things out. At the moment, my nearest analog is my pride in producing a computer program that works. But imagine watching a kid learn to walk! To steal cookies! To smile! To talk! To do all these wonderful things that I can't even figure out how it is possible! Amazing! A real person! Different from Nikki or me, yet part of both of us! And our solemn responsibility to teach and instruct and love.

To love, love, love. To love unconditionally, making absolutely sure that the child understands that he or she is valuable for who they are, not for what they do. To pour out affection, appreciation, applause, acceptance ... all the wonderful things that God does for us. Imagine how much I'll learn about God and His love as I struggle to love my little one the same way my Father loves me.

Of course, there's the whole discipline issue. I have to make sure that no matter how much I love the kid that he or she has to realize that there are rules and boundaries, and that crossing them will result in immediate and certain pain. The kid is not going to be a little bundle of happiness all the time (though he or she will always be a little bundle of joy). I'll have to discipline my temper - I never, never want my children to be afraid of me. I don't want them to ever fear meeting my eyes, or barging in to talk to me. Already, I guess that'll be a struggle for me, because I hate being interrupted while I'm in the middle of things. How in the world am I going to curb my impatience and frustration so I can give them the attention they need. And how am I going to make sure that I give them not only soft, tender love but discipline and dependability harder than steel? How can I at once shower affection and sternly direct? It is, of course, not my job to be the kid's friend, it is my task to be their father, which is more. It is our task as parents to protect our children, to teach them, to train them, to love them ... and to enjoy them.

Yes, I know this post is terribly scatter-brained and loose-jointed and repetitive. I'm simply typing the ideas as they occur to me. How wonderful, how terrible, how awesome, how humbling, how glorious, how fascinating it will be to have kids!

If the Lord gives them to us, of course.

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:19 AM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

March 02, 2005

Jonathan W. Wilson

In reading Mr Wilson's blog today, I noticed his recent entry has attracted quite a few comments. In reading them, I was reminded of why I admire Jonathan Wilson so much. It isn't that I always agree with him - I remember arguing with him myself two years ago as we moved towards war with Iraq, and I'm still not sure I agree with him now. At least, if I do agree with him, it's with a great deal of regret. I feel a great deal of loyalty and affection for our president, and I hate to admit that something as important to his administration as the war in Iraq was done badly. But Mr. Wilson's points are correct, and what's more, he's been saying them for two years or more. But this isn't intended to be a post on my beliefs about our war in Iraq. It's intended to be a post expressing how much I respect and appreciate Jonathan Wilson.

I've known Mr. Wilson since the fall of 2002, when he entered LeTourneau. I'm pretty sure he visited the preceding spring semester as a Heritage scholar, but I just don't recall seeing him before that fall. I became involved with the second cohort very slowly (which may help to explain why they turned out so well ...). My first memory of Mr. Wilson is meeting him after POD classes. I don't remember how he got there; he wasn't a part of those classes, but he would often come after them. Together, he and I would roam around campus and talk. I don't think Mr. Wilson had met Mr. Scholl yet at that point; at least, I don't think they were close friends yet. I loved talking with Mr. Wilson, though I was always amazed at how much the man knew about history and politics and philosophy in general. I'm still amazed, and I've had years to get used to it! I miss those times; in the intervening years, we've seldom talked together quite the way we did that first semester. He met Mr. Scholl, for one thing, and POD ended, and life went on as it has a marked tendency to do. In the years since then, we've stayed friends; we talk every now and then as we get the chance ... I've always had the odd sense that Mr. Wilson wants to talk to me ... which is a rare and pleasant sensation. I've had him in several classes, and I've seen and read his work. Mr. Wilson is, to put it bluntly, the best student I've ever seen. His work is always done and well done (very well done). His thoughts are always polished, as is his appearance, except when he's extremely sleep-deprived. He is always polite and (it seems to me, anyway) charming in a dry sense. Mr. Wilson is a gentleman.

He's a fairly reserved man, and one who has learned to control his tongue - he doesn't talk very much. (For which he has my undying admiration and envy - the silence is something I frequently laud but rarely practice.) When he does talk, listen up! It is always valuable to listen to Jonathan Wilson.

There's so much more to the man than this, though! It's hard to put it into words. Jonathan Wilson is the reason we have any unity at all in this Honors Program. That might be a little extreme, and certainly, other people have played a strong role in it, and he doesn't even lead it exactly (leave that to Scholl), but Wilson is the reason we have a Shadow Council. It is his friendship with Josh Scholl that made Honors unity possible. Wilson is not as laid back as Scholl - he's much more willing to work to get things done. If it wasn't for Jonathan Wilson's determination to make the Honors program more than it was and his ingenious persistence towards that end, we wouldn't be here.

Part of me wants to call Mr. Wilson the wisest person I know. That isn't quite right, though. He's probably one of the most practical people I know, as well as the one who thinks clearest. I guess I could put it this way: Jonathan Wilson is the ultimate apologetic for a Christian intellectual. In listening to and reading him, I'm reminded of some of what I feel when reading CS Lewis or GK Chesterton - a sigh of contentment and the thought now this is the reason God made intellectuals. Intellectuals are a source of enormous pain, suffering, and stupidity in this world. Their ivory towers have wrought the dumbest, most awful ideologies ever to afflict mankind. In general, reading the works of intellectuals is like panning for gold - you've got to sift and sift and sift their words to find anything useful. Intellectuals use the vaguest, most imprecise language because (to an unhealthy, unholy extent) none of them know what they're talking about, and all of them are dead set on making sure nobody finds out how little they know. But I'm willing to put up with the Nietzsche's and the Freud's and the Darwin's and the all the pseudo-intellectuals spouting politically correct, multisyllabic babble in exchange for one Lewis, one Chesterton ... and one Wilson. A true intellectual is a rare thing. A precious thing. A valuable thing. A man who can think and does think and loves to think is worth his weight in antimatter, and can be just as powerful.

I should also make a note that Wilson's thinking on theological issues is as sharp as his on political issues. The man is not just a thinker, he is a doer. And I've heard him pray and listened to him not only debate, but also quell debates about the Bible. He knows when to argue and when to be silent. The man loves God. I've heard him. I've seen him. I honor him.

* to Mr. Wilson *

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you. How much I admire you. You're one of the smartest people I know. I don't know of anyone who can think and reason more clearly than you. I've seen and read your work - it's remarkable, and well done. As I said, you're the best student I've ever known. I wish you all the success in the world, and hope and trust that the mind God has given you will always be used to defend and pursue the truth that you love so much.

In all your wisdom and thinking, never neglect humility or a sense of humor. To that bit of advice, I suppose you might reply in the words of Aragorn:

'When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years?' said Aragorn.

'Never yet. Do not then stumble at the end of the road,' answered Gandalf.

JRR Tolkien, The Treason of Isengard, p. 244

This is far from the end of the road. There is so much left before you. Do not stumble into the traps by which the Enemy has snared so many of our best minds.

I love you, Mr. Wilson. You're one of the best men I know. I'm very fortunate to know you, and to call you friend.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:54 PM
This post has been classified as "Eulogy"
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