Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Moon Rise

July 31, 2007

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Excerpted from "From Blossoms," Li-Young Lee


I have been doing more than just reading voraciously during vacation. I have also been eating things that I can only eat at my parents' home: bowls of tart cherries topped with whipped cream, my mother's raspberry jam on warm bread, peaches from my brother's orchard. And for the past three nights, my mother and I have sat up on the deck and watched the most spectacular moon rise. That fat orange moon rises slowly up as if it were pushing its way out of the water and then lazily drips its orange reflection on the black water.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Memory: The Corner Cabinet

July 30, 2007

I can't post pictures, so let me describe the Corner Cabinet. It is about 8 feet tall, made of dark wood. The family legend goes that old Samuel Cummins cut down a cherry tree from his home in Virginia in the early 1800s and made a wagon out of it, on which he and his wife, Lucinda, piled their belongings and moved to Southern Illinois. The wagon was then made into this same Corner Cabinet, which has been in our house in all of my memory.

It has always been our game cabinet, and I believe the games have never changed. Today my kids are thrilled all over again with Avalanche (a marble game), Cootie, and Chinese checkers. There are odds and ends of a dozen decks of cards, broken army guys, Matchbox cars, and the remnants of another dozen board games. The Quest for the Magic Ring was an early (1980s) Lord of the Ring game. Nobody would ever play it with Stephen because it was so complicated. Pit was my favorite all-family game. I loved the noise and yelling "Wheat-wheat-wheat-wheat" and the chance to ring that shiny orange bell.

The cabinet itself is perfect. My brother Peter and I taunt each other about who will claim it ultimately. The problem is that it's so big, no one can imagine how to move it out. Peter says we'll have to cut it in half, but like King Solomon with the mothers and the baby, I'll relent before a chainsaw massacres that beautiful cabinet. Maybe I'll win it after all...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Perfect Wedding

July 29, 2007

My brother got married yesterday. His wedding was absolutely perfect. I've never been to a wedding before which I could designate as perfect. Most of the weddings I've attended or been a part of, including my own, have a certain amount of compromise. Tradition or parental wishes or friends' suggestions often supplant the couples' own wedding vision. I know that Randy and I chose a traditional path because we were young and still under the guidance of our parents. Our true to desire was to marry in October on top of Round Bald, which is right up by Roan Mountain. If you've ever been to Round Bald, you know why it is the perfect place to get married. My other choice would have been at Beauty Spot on Unaka Mountain. But we were married in a beautiful stone church, and while we incorporated many of our own wishes into our ceremony--and while I did, without a doubt, marry the man of my dreams--I can't say that our wedding was exactly how I wanted it.

But my brother is 43 years old, and his wedding absolutely overflowed with quintessential Stephen. And although I don't know his wife (his wife!) well, I imagine that the wedding was also quintessential Jen. I can't post photos until I get home, but here is the scene.

The ceremony: An area has been cleared in the orchard for chairs, which face out upon the gently sloping orchard and a view of Cayuga Lake in the distance. The father of perhaps my brother's oldest friend presides. He is a judge and wears his black robes. Several people speak to Jen and Stephen--the friend who introduced them compares their love to a meeting of physics and farm, another friends reads Wordsworth, Jen's parents, and my father, who brings us all to tears. The vows: Jen speaks and reads a perfect poem to Stephen. Stephen tries to speak and has to stop periodically to keep himself from crying. Everyone else is in tears. And everyone cheers. The recessional: Alan picks Jen and Stephen up on a tractor rigged with a bench on a mower. Bubbles shoot out the back-end from some sort of bubble machine, and they release dozens of balloons across the orchard.

The reception: my brother has planted grass in his greenhouse and pulled up the sides, so that the greenhouse is open everywhere except the top. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The perimeter is lined with zinnias, and the wedding buffet is spread out on one end. A band plays. People eat, and talk. I see my brother's childhood friends--Rich, Jack, Carl, Mark, Erich, Mike, and Buzzy--and their families. Duncan and many boys belonging to these childhood friends run off to play in a manure pile. My friend Lisa and I--the tag-along little sisters--remember our shared childhood and wonder if it's really possible that we are now past 40. I have known her--and many of my brother's friends--for over 35 years.

And my own family is there, my very own family and my parents and all but one of my brothers. A couple of nephews. And everywhere are friends of Jen's and Stephen's, and the bride and groom make their way through the crowds, smiling and looking so perfectly happy and at home. It was a very good day.

Post A Comment!.....


Comments

Monday, July 30, 2007 - It sounds..

Posted by partyoffive (65.6.27.35)

So wonderful! Mike and I were also real young when we got married, and I didn't know all I wanted in a wedding, so, I did much of what my sisters did. It would be fun to plan it all again, and put more of us into it...I am so glad it was such a great day.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 - Untitled Comment

Posted by StillHisGirl (216.249.75.230)

I had a few romantic dates on Roan Mountain myself. :) But my proposal was in the shadow of it, not on top.

The wedding sounds perfect! So happy for all of you. :)

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Monday, July 30, 2007 - I am SURE

Posted by QueenoftheHill (72.12.53.46)

You must be the only non-native who knows where Unaka is. That is where my dad's homeplace is, and where all my ancestors are buried.

I knew you were special.

Also, only you could write that Duncan was playing in a manure pile and still avoid using an exclamation point. :D

Permanent Link Edit

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday Simple Pleasure

July 28, 2007

This Saturday morning I got to experience a simple pleasure that only comes around once a year while I am visiting my parents in my hometown of Geneva, NY: sailing. Summer Saturdays around here on Seneca Lake nearly always included sailing. We've had the same little green Sunfish for decades. Sailing is exactly like riding a bike: once you know how, you can always pick it back up again. So my Saturday started with a wide expanse of silvery lake, a little green boat, and the wind.

This afternoon, my brother's wedding.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Quell the Churning

July 26, 2007

It's time to subdue that constant churning in the pit of my stomach since Randy's accident Saturday evening. The churning came first with the shock of what might have been and has continued with the uncertainty and frustration of dealing with the insurance companies. All we want, at this point, is a rental van.

My brother is getting married on Saturday, and that we get to New York for the wedding is not a priority for the insurance company. And now we are going to shed our prickly skins and just deal with things ourselves, for now.

And so we are off to New York tomorrow. My brother's wedding is something I would not miss for "neither rain nor snow nor dark of night" nor totaled vans.



Supple Cord

My brother, in his small white bed,
held one end.
I tugged the other
to signal I was still awake.
We could have spoken,
could have sung
to one another,
we were in the same room
for five years,
but the soft cord
with its little frayed ends
connected us
in the dark,
gave comfort
even if we had been bickering
all day.
When he fell asleep first
and his end of the cord
dropped to the floor,
I missed him terribly,
though I could hear his even breath
and we had such long and separate lives
ahead.

Reprinted from "A MAZE ME," Greenwillow, 2005, by permission of the author in American Life in Poetry. Copyright (c) Naomi Shihab Nye.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Memory: Elizabeth Grace

July 23, 2007

July 23: I knew today was somebody's birthday, and it struck me midway through my morning walk that this is Elizabeth's 14th birthday. Elizabeth is the daughter of two of our best friends from college in upper East Tennessee. Jesse was 4 months old when Elizabeth was born. In the picture above, she is six days old. We lived in Oxford, Ohio then and Robert and Debbie lived a couple hours away in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. I was working as an editorial assistant, Randy was a stay-at-home-dad and in graduate school at Miami University, Robert was working on his PhD at UK, and Debbie was a pastor at a local church.


This was Elizabeth's first trip to visit us, age six weeks. Jesse was just starting to pull himself along, infantry-man style. I remember being awed at how much difference there was in just four months of babyhood.


This is one of my favorites from their early days. We were hiking one day in November. Jesse is about 8 months old and Elizabeth is four months, and no doubt they toppled over after this picture in their marshmallow suits.

Many years later, when Jesse and Elizabeth were six, we were all back down in Tennessee but two hours apart. For the first several years, we continued to Elizabeth and her family every couple of months. Jesse and Elizabeth were wired exactly the same way. Both outrageously creative, they were a formidable team. We never knew what they would come up with. They were perfectly matched and perfectly at ease with one another. And then the busyness of our lives hit. I'm sad to say that it's been nearly three years since we have seen our wonderful friends (and we live just two hours apart). Jesse's now taller than I am, and I imagine Elizabeth is, as well. If I was astounded at the difference between four months and six weeks, I can hardly imagine the difference between age 11 (the last time we were all together) and age 14.

And so, Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Grace. May this be the year we reconnect.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Man and His Car

July 22, 2007


Psalm 91:4
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.




I love this man. I love him with every fiber of my being, and today I am weak with gratitude. Once again, God formed a perfect hedge of protection around this man, so that when Windstar #2 was totaled, he was not. Right now Dr. H. and Jesse are at the junk yard, retrieving our sunglasses, cooler, CDS, chairs, and other miscellany from the van before it's made into a cube of metal. Perhaps they can pull that brand new transmission out as well.

Last night after a perfect evening seeing The Tempest at Shakespeare on the Square, we took home Jesse's first friend; Randy dropped the rest of our family off, and then took home Jesse's second friend. (Jesse opted to get dropped off with us because he had one last chapter of Harry Potter to finish.) It was after taking home Everett that a guy ran a stop sign and smashed into Randy. A guy impaired enough that he "didn't know what happened" and with a pocketful of pills who had already been in one accident that day.

And there is my sweet husband, with scratches and bruises and beautifully alive and vibrant. And our 15-year-old Toyota Tercel has now outlasted 2 Ford Windstars. (The other one was totaled four years ago when a guy ran a stop sign and plowed into Randy, who apparently has a sign on him that says, "Hit me! I'm driving a Ford Windstar that is begging to be totaled!")

Those wings were spread wide last night.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summer's Over?

July 21, 2007


From the great trees the locusts cry
In quavering ecstatic duo--a boy
Shouts a wild call--a mourning dove
In the blue distance sobs--the wind
Wanders by, heavy with odors
Of corn and wheat and melon vines;
The trees tremble with delirious joy as the breeze
Greets them, one by one--now the oak
Now the great sycamore, now the elm.
- Hamlin Garland

So yesterday on a local radio station I heard the depressing news that summer is pretty much over. Schools in our city start on July 26, and neighboring cities are slated to begin August 6. I'm pretty sure that's criminal. August is the quintessential summer month, the month when the heat rises from the asphalt and the grass crackles beneath your feet. In the North, you can start to taste autumn around the end of August; but here in the South the days retain their stifling heat and you can be earnestly ready for fall by mid-September.

But I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready to relinquish summertime because somebody said school should start and summer should be over. I've still got lots to do on my list, including more camping, more swimming, more getting together with friends, and more afternoons of sheer laziness. Next week we head for our annual week in upstate New York, during which I intend to read several books, swim, sail, and eat. That will all take place after my brother's wedding on the 28th. And when we return, I intend to bask in August's hot stillness just a little longer.


August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval
Expected,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a matchflame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
A moment,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.
- Elizabeth Maua Taylor

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Being Offensive

July 17, 2007



Our support group had a meeting last night to go over dress code issues, so you can imagine that the boys (i.e., Jesse and a friend) have only one thing they want to talk about today: what exactly is offensive--and why? The problem is, I don't have the answers to that. Go the the Scriptures, I told the boys. I like how The Message translates this passage from Romans 14:1-9:

(1) Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (2-4) For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. ...(7-9) None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It's God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.


T-shirts have been the big issue around here today. They want to know, as if I have the answers, why some t-shirts are offensive and others aren't. Where do we draw that line? It's a slippery slope, for sure. These are issues that make me want to run away, perhaps to Australia. I did a google shirt for "offensive t-shirt" and came across all sorts of candidates--including lots of ones I wouldn't post here. (Interesting that no band t-shirts were on the first 10 pages--after that I stopped looking.)



So are these band t-shirts offensive?


What about this?



Or this?


Or this?


Surely nobody would be offended by this shirt, right? Aren't we all in agreement that clowns are a little creepy? No? You mean some of you actually like clowns?


Surely we can all agree that we did the Native Americans wrong, right? So this shirt shouldn't offend anybody. Well, unless, you think something else...



And then there's this one: great saying, right? But--hmm. Didn't Jimi Hendrix die of a drug overdose? So probably he couldn't have said anything important...


I'm thinking Rick needs this on his blog. His brother and Mike have been pretty dangerous over there lately with all their thinking...


And, well, this is my personal favorite. Anyone offended?


I'm not making light of this issue. I want my children to rise above and "treat others gently." I don't want them to "cross people off the guest list" because they wear their shirts tucked in and pants too high. Somehow it is difficult for them to make the connection that the fact that they are being judged--based on the length of their hair and the band on their t-shirt--is no different than them judging their peers because they are "preps" or whatever.

Phew. It's exhausting to be a parent, especially when we are stilling figuring all this out ourselves.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Boys and Mud

July 13, 2007



"If you want to play this game, just put mud on you." So says Jacob, first boy on the left, to another boy at the lake today. It's so simple! I mean, who wouldn't want to play this game: smear your body with good Tennessee red clay and then run into the lake, yelling at the top of your lungs. Jacob and his brother Philip, on the other end, look positively joyful. Patrick looks happy and a little sheepish. And Duncan looks frighteningly like a frat boy. What does his future hold?

And yes. Duncan started this. But the others were very quick to follow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

If You Water, It Will Rain

July 11, 2007



I am skimpy about watering the flowerbeds. I see money leaking out of the hose. I tend to think, "It's got to rain soon!" But this is a drought year for Tennessee, and we who don't depend on rain for our livelihood are less likely to acknowledge the true significance of drought. So the other day I broke down and let Duncan spend a long time watering the flowers (and eventually, of course, he watered himself). And sure enough, we've had a huge downpour and two smaller rains since then, including a nice 20-minute shower today.



There's not much that these two enjoy more than playing in a hard downpour like we had today. Now the sky has cleared, leaving thankful flowers and a steam-bath atmosphere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Monday Memory: Scouting

September 10, 2007



This week begins our the first of our many Scouting weeks. Every 2nd and 4th Thursday and Friday of each month we dedicate to scouting in SmallWorld. Thursday afternoons, our American Heritage Girls troop and Cub Scout pack meet; Friday nights are Boy Scout meetings.

I don't remember ever making a decision that we would be a Scouting family. My own father and brothers were big into Boy Scouts and my mother was a Den Mother. I did my own stint in Brownies and Girls Scouts for a couple of years. Randy spent a few years in Boy Scouts. I guess it was just natural that Scouting would be a priority in our family life, so we signed Jesse up for Tiger Cubs as soon as he was eligible.

We are blessed to have our Cub Scout pack (and Boy Scout troop) chartered through our homeschooling support group. Homeschooling parents show a tremendous dedication to Scouting. Randy was the Cubmaster of our pack for three of Jesse's four years as a Cub. He then passed the torch and became an assistant scoutmaster in Jesse's Boy Scout troop. And now he is picking back up again as Duncan begins his journey in Scouting. It seems like a long, long time ago that Duncan was that little toddler in Randy's arms and that Jesse was a Cub Scout.

And it also seems like a long time ago that we began American Heritage Girls troop, the first in Tennessee, in 2003. You can read all about our Scouting journey here and more extensively in the Summer 2007 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. My little first-grader in the photo above is now a 5th grader (and my hair is way shorter!). These past four years have been absolutely amazing, and I anticipate that our fifth year will be just as sensational in so many ways.

Jesse has been in Scouts (Cub and Boy) now for nine years (lots of pics here), and he has just two ranks left to earn to be an Eagle Scout. I can't even begin to calculate the number of hours he and Randy have devoted to Scouts. And the experiences they've had together and with the troop--incredible! From this past weekend's rafting trip to the 34--mile Virginia Creeper bike trip to sweaty weeks at camp to rain-swamped camporees--they have created a lifetime of father/son memories through Scouts.

Our lives become crazier and more chaotic now as our various scouting activities kick into high speed, but I wouldn't trade these days for anything. Now if only I could get Jesse to cooperate so we could get our family picture with all of us in our uniforms (now WHY would a 14-year-old be horrified by that thought?)!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A “What Should I Use for Writing” Post: The Five-Paragraph Essay

July 7, 2007

I get asked this question about twice each week, I really do, and my answer always sounds inadequate because the homeschooling curriculum world boasts dozens of writing programs, most of which are probably quite good and quite similar. It's hard to say that one is better than another because format preference largely depends on the student's own learning style.

The goal of any writing program should be that the student can organize her thoughts efficiently and translate thoughts to sentences. In order to do this, the student needs a structure on which to attach these sentences, and the most common structure is the 5-paragraph essay.

By the time a student finishes high school, he should (if I were a “must” kind of person, I would say “must” here) be able to write a fluent 5-paragraph essay. I am not, by any means, saying that this is all he should be able to write, but…the 5-paragraph essay is the foundation of all composition. If she can master this type of essay, she can master a research paper and ultimately her dissertation.

The five paragraph essay follows a specific format. The introduction (first paragraph) introduces the thesis (topic sentence) of the essay and its three main supporting subtopics. The body (second through fourth) paragraphs individually restate the subtopics, one in each paragraph, and provide supporting details. The concluding paragraph restates the thesis and reminds the reader of the three main supporting ideas that were developed.

You don’t have to buy a book to teach the 5-paragraph essay. The internet has abundant resources. You can take any one of these websites and take a semester to teach focus on writing good, solid essays of various types: expository, narrative, persuasive (teens love this kind especially). Start with writing the introduction and work on that introduction until your student can quickly churn out the three subtopics. Then begin working on the body paragraphs, making sure that they see the clear connection between the three subtopics listed in the introduction and the three body paragraphs. Following are some excellent resources that teach the whole process (or wait for my e-book, which is one of my Projects):

The Five Paragraph Essay

Five Paragraph Essay

Essay Writing Center (be sure to look on the sidebar for links to different types of essays)

Guide to Writing a Basic Essay

Education World (has SAT specific information)

Brain Pop (goofy but contains a cartoon that kids might get a kick out of)

English Comp (gives you an idea of just how much focus is given to basic essay writing at the freshman college level)

If you spend a whole year perfecting the 5-paragraph essay and its various types (descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive, etc.), you'll have accomplished much of what is covered in a basic freshman composition class. Imagine how far ahead your student will be if he is familiar with this format in middle school and fluent by high school!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again (or Something Like That)

August 6, 2007

Oh, the joy of transportation! First there was this episode, and then there was this episode (here, too), and then there was the night the little red car stopped saying "I think I can" and now today, we present ...

HIS



and HERS



Blessings abound. Thank you, friends, for your help and your prayers and for laughing with us and calling to check with us and offering us your second vehicles to borrow and for picking us up over the mountains and hills and for fixing us up and for being our friends. Life is good.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Field Trip: Children's Museum of Oak Ridge

July 4, 2007

Yesterday we visited The Children's Museum of Oak Ridge. One of the great things about this museum is that they have a Traveling Trunk program. For just a $25 refundable deposit, you can borrow a trunk that contains various items pertaining to a certain topic, including Men, Women, and Children of Appalachia; Insects; Africa; Rainforest; Early Oak Ridge; and several more. (To check out a trunk, contact the Museum’s Education Director, Joyce Gralak (865) 482-1074 Ex. 106.) We had borrowed the Native American trunk for American Heritage Girls camp, and I needed to return that to the museum. It's been a couple of years since we last visited the museum, so Duncan and Laurel were excited for a chance to go.

From the outside, the museum doesn't look like much. The building is plain and in off-the-beaten-path location in Oak Ridge. But the inside of the museum contains room after room of hands-on activities (and a few hands-off displays).

Besides the castle, this room contains a rocketship play area and a few other things. Duncan and Laurel had a great game of Rapunzel here. I should mention, too, that there are no other people in these pictures because there were only 2-3 other families in the whole museum. I had a similar experience the other two times we were there, which leads me to conclude the this museum is not well known. But we love having museums all to ourselves!

This little room is called "Grandma's Attic." It's filled with dress-up clothes and other items that my mother would say in wonder, "THIS is an antique?"

I am fascinated with the strange history of Oak Ridge, the Secret City, so I loved this room full of Ed Westcott photographs that portray life in Oak Ridge during the 1940s and 50s.

Duncan and Laurel are much more interested, however, in the WaterWorks room, which demonstrates the lock system on the Tennessee River. This is Duncan's favorite room.

Not surprisingly, Laurel's favorite room contains a 2-story dollhouse that is just the right size for kids. Since hardly anyone else was in the whole museum, the kids had the dollhouse all to themselves for quite a long time.

Other exhibits include the rainforest room, a model train exhibit and train play area, a bird room, nature hallway, and several displays of life in our area in various time periods and Native American Life. While the museum is certainly not on the scale of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, it is a great place to explore for a few hours for kids up to age 12. Cost is $6/adults and $4/kids 3 and up, or you can go in a group of 10 or more for just $3/each.

Another One Bites the Dust


Does this picture look familiar? Remember that little red car that keeps on ticking? Fortunately, Randy and I are not lacking in the good-sense-of-humor department. We are laughing all the way to the bank as we now seek to purchase not one, but TWO VEHICLES.

Who remembers me saying quite recently that Randy should not be out driving after 9 p.m.? The Tercel sputtering and dying by a gas station, of course, is much, much, much less traumatic than the van being totaled two weeks ago. And so we can laugh and be thankful, once again, for God's watchcare and for good friends who are there to help. I'm thinking Dad2Three, who at this moment is retrieving Randy and Jesse from the side of the road in Oak Ridge, has Superman costume somewhere in his closet...


Think he's got any vehicles under that cape?

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Fourth of July in Church

July 2, 2007

“We need not hate or condemn our country to avoid worshiping it. We can honor veterans, celebrate our freedoms, and advocate democracy without insisting our nation is somehow favored by God. We can participate in politics without believing political solutions speak to the deepest human needs. We can praise America while honoring the feelings of many in other nations who prefer, instead, the land of their birth. We can celebrate the Fourth of July while acknowledging that patriotism is not a Christian principle.”
—Mark A. Taylor, “Our Greatest Hope”

Okay, go ahead and get out the rotten tomatoes, but I’m going to say it anyway: singing patriotic songs in church gives me the heebie-jeebies. I actually shrivel up inside when our worship service includes such songs as “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong—I am happy to live in the United States. I appreciate tremendously our military and the fact that our founding fathers were devoted Christians. Good grief, I’m a leader in our American Heritage Girls troop! But I still don’t like singing patriotic songs as the focus of our worship service. Give me a night of fireworks and flag-waving, a parade on a hot July day, and a concert in the park like Partyoffive describes and I’ll have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes; but please don’t make me sing “America” in church.

So upon arriving home from church yesterday, Dr. H asked me how the service was (he skipped out to help Jesse finish getting ready for camp). I told him that our minister’s sermon was outstanding, as usual, but, well. He knows those patriotic services all too well. “What is wrong with me?” I asked him. “Why do I have this aversion to singing about [read: glorifying] America in church?” I was vaguely troubled and disappointed all day. This morning I pulled out this week’s Christian Standard, the flagstaff magazine of the Independent Christian Churches, which we can pick up each Sunday at church. The articles are always excellent and thought-provoking, dealing with issues in the church today from worship styles to, well, this week’s theme: Christian Nationalism—Two Views from Two Continents. The first is written from the perspective of a European professor of theology and the second from a pastor in Maryland.

Naturally, I ignore my children’s own breakfast needs so that I can read what these two have to say. First, Patrick Nullens gives a European perspective:

"You can blend vanilla ice cream with Coca-Cola and call it a float. So why not blend religion with patriotism? After all, the founding fathers were devoted Christians and the puritan pillars of American society. Why should we be against being a Christian American nationalist? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines nationalism as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” But Christian nationalism is a form of consciousness that stresses Christian roots and promotes a blend of Christian subculture with the interests of the nation. Patriotism is slightly different, referring to devotion to one’s country. But Christian patriotism blends devotion to the country with devotion to God. Is this a good blend? Well, my answer is yes and no."

He goes on to address the concept of being a Christian American nationalist, considers nationalism from a kingdom perspective, and discusses the dangers of mixing nationalism with missions. This quote below is the essence, I think, of why I’m uncomfortable singing about America during worship:

"What does Scripture teach us? Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The church is a manifestation of his kingdom and it does this by being intrinsically diverse or multicultural. Being a people of all nations is not just an accident; it is part of the essence of the church. … Our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), and only secondarily do we belong to a nation. We are wandering pilgrims with brothers and sisters all over the world."

The next article, written by Ethan Magness, is from an American perspective. (In a SmallWorld sighting, this author is the son of Dr. Lee Magness, who is a professor Bible at my alma mater, Milligan College. Besides my father, Dr. Magness is the most brilliant and spiritually insightful man I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. And Ethan writes as powerfully as his Dad.) He writes: “One of the transformational marks of Jesus’ ministry was his universal love for all people. His contemporaries seem to have forgotten the prophecy of Isaiah that God’s good purposes would include all people (Isaiah 2:2). The scandal of the parable of the Good Samaritan is precisely that he is a Samaritan.” In his article he discusses the dangers of confusing being a follower of Christ with national loyalty and the challenge of knowing the proper place for “tribalism”:

“God Bless America” makes a good bumper sticker, but as a prayer it is rather incomplete. God desires to bless all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. It would look less catchy on a bumper sticker, but perhaps we should pray, “God bless America, and our allies, and especially our enemies, and everyone else in between.” It is not the prayer I want to pray, but I think it is what Jesus would have prayed.”

Aah. By my second cup of coffee I was feeling relaxed. Validated. Singing America’s praises in church sets my teeth on edge because, well, shouldn’t we be singing God’s praises? Always? God is so much bigger than America. How dare we try to reign him in and put him on a podium in Washington? I shudder to think of a member of our large Japanese population visiting on a Sunday morning to see what Christ’s church is all about, only to find a slideshow depicting the White House and a robust singing of all four verses of “My Country 'Tis of Thee.” And what if Neal and Kristina, our Canadians, had visited our church this past Sunday? They might not be coming back in October.

And so, Patrick Nullens and Ethan Magness, I thank you for your perspectives. I’ll end with one more quote from Magness:

“The nation is not the church, and we must expect nations will continue to glorify themselves. Politicians around the globe will continue to proclaim their nation the greatest. In particular, as Americans, we have taken some minor losses over the years, but in general our history is one of success after success. For the last 20 years, we have enjoyed the role of sole superpower. In such a situation, national arrogance is easy. But the church must be the church, and Christians must proclaim through their lives that it is service and sacrifice that make one great. It is the meek who will inherit the earth.”

Monday Memory: Boy Scout

July 2, 2007

It seems only appropriate this week that my Monday Memory should be about Jesse and Boy Scouts. The photo above was taken at Jesse's crossing-over ceremony (from Cub Scout to Boy Scout), a little over 4 years ago. It's not the clearest photo, but I was struck especially by this one because of how small he looks. Now he is as tall as the two boys (both Eagle Scouts now) who are escorting him and a few inches taller than me.

Yesterday he left for a week at Camp Buck Toms. This is his fourth year at camp but the first that Randy has not been able to attend with him. I know Jesse will have a great time. I know he knows the schedule of things and what to expect. But still. It doesn't seem that long ago that Jesse was one of the brand-new Scouts. What amazed Randy when he dropped Jesse off at camp yesterday is that now he is one of the oldest ones, with just Life and Eagle ranks yet to go. I wonder how much he'll tower over me at his Eagle ceremony...