Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for April 2005

The Sweetest Thing

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first shotOn Saturday night the two boys of the couple hosting the joint birthday party for Charity and I clamored up to me with wrapped presents and hand-drawn cards in their hands.

As they offered them up to me their Mom brushed back the hair of the five-year-old and asked Why are you giving this to Andy?

He looked confused and looked at his feet for a moment. Suddenly he brightened, looked up at us with a beaming smile and said Because hes a great friend!”

Sniff, sniff. I think that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I love having kids for friends.
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April 28, 2005 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Church

Would the Real Image Please Stand Up

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Graven Images!As I downloaded some photos from my camera today I came across these greeting cards, which are, obviously, “of Jesus.” Mom keeps a basket of cards and encouragements that people have sent her as she goes through her cancer treatments. While reading through them these two cards became a brief topic of conversation for our family one evening.

The cards were encouraging for the kind words written inside but the outsides were encouraging for different reasons than were probably intended. They brought much laughter to our dinner table as we speculated as to what the next one in the series might look like.

As I look back on the picture, I wonder about the cards with their clean, deep colors surrounding a man with clean hair, hands and clothes positioned in an earnest posture. I wonder if the popular images of Jesus are anything like what the historical figure looked like. I wonder what the people who created, stocked and sent these cards think about who Jesus was. I wonder: if you asked an African or Chinese Christian who read the gospels to draw Jesus, what would she surround Jesus with?

I think it is interesting that this artist tries to capture the essence of Jesus by abstracting him from a particular context. The backgrounds and framing remind me of the styles used for the family portraits Americans use. This takes Jesus out of the details. In contrast, although Ive never seen The Passion or The Jesus Film , I assume they take the opposite approach: surrounding an actor portraying Jesus with minute and particular details: a landscape full of people, animals, and shops that flowed out into a countryside of olive groves.

In the end I’m a Presbyterian at heart, suspect of any graven images, though more for reasons of literary purity than Old Testament purity. I suspect I would dislike both movies for the same reasons I disliked the Lord of the Rings movies. I think the gospel authors omitted most visual details for a reason. But since visual portrayals of Jesus exist, I wonder about what they tell us about the people who create them and the underlying assumptions they have about how spirituality works.

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April 26, 2005 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Pictures, Reflections

A Bit of Wisdom

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We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” — Mark Twain.

I recently heard this quoted at the end of a lecture on the lessons of the First and Second World Wars. I mentioned it in recitation yesterday as we discussed whether or not the US should further involve itself in the Darfur region of Sudan in an effort to halt the ethnic cleansing taking place against the black Africans of the region. We speculated that after watching the bodies of US soldier being dragged through the streets in Somalia in 1993 the US public might be disinclined to become militarily embroiled in the affairs of another African state.

Since then I have been thinking about the Twain quote off and on. It seems applicable in other areas of life with a caution against drawing faulty lessons from our experiences. There are times when it might be quite useful to “sit on the cold stove” if you will.

As an international politics teacher I wonder a good bit about how useful what I teach the students is to them. The closest most of them will get to international affairs is the occasional story in the newspaper or on CNN. I do think it is valuable to give them the context to understand what is on the TV screen but I have serious doubts about their ability to influence it. So instead I often wonder if the thinking we make them do makes strengthens their reasoning skills and if those reasoning skills transfer to other arenas of their lives. I hope so.

I think thats why I like the nugget above. While its applicable to international relations specifically, its also generally insightful about the process of how we go about understanding our world and our experiences.

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April 21, 2005 at 9:37 am

Posted in Political Science

Means of Ascent

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Last night I finally finished The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent by Robert Caro. This 425 page book is the second installment of four-part biography of Lyndon Johnson with the fourth part yet to be published. Means of Ascent details Johnson’s second bid to become the US senator from Texas. More than once as I read into the wee hours of the morning, I was sickened by the details of the 1948 election of “Landslide Lyndon,” nicknamed thus because he was declared the winner of the statewide election by 87 votes.

While much of the later part of story is dedicated to the legal battle concerning Box 13 and the 200 voter signatures that were added to the voting list in Precinct 13 after the polls closed (in alphabetical order and in identical handwriting!), Caro points out that the larger story is that Johnson purchased tens of thousands of votes across Texas to bring himself within that range of his opponent.

Volume Four, which will tell the story of Johnsons presidency, has yet to be written but I am curious what will come of it. The first two books have portrayed an arrogant, cunning, bully of a politician who is driven by the pursuit and use of power. What will this look like when Johnson is a president? How will the election of this one person effect history?

Im curious how reading the final two biographies will shape my view of the Vietnam War, the War on Poverty, and, more generally, what I think of government. Reading this book has sobered me considerably about the functioning of American democracy. While I still admire and respect our democracy, the provision by our legal system of justice, and the leaders I have met, this book has shown how one politician, Lyndon Johnson, browbeat, bribed and manipulated his way into the Senate. Reading about Johnson makes me wonder if my general trust of government is as grounded as I think.

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April 16, 2005 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Reviews

As Seen in Lincoln

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Charity pointed this car out to me last weekend as we walked out of the grocery store. I circled around the parking lot to get a picture.

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April 15, 2005 at 8:32 am

Posted in Pictures

A Month to the Day

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Invitations in the Afternoon Sun Last weekend Charity and I spent an evening assembling invitations. The invitations themselves are way cool and having gorgeous spring flowers for stamps was a nice final touch.

Perhaps this is true of most guys, but I didn’t anticipate being excited about the details of my wedding. Contrary to my expectations planning the wedding has given me a chance to occasionally throw cool and creative ideas into the mix to add additional spice to Charity’s general plans. All this in addition to the very cool reality of getting to marry Charity.

When you have cool invitations, are getting married outdoors and get to have a say in how to decorate the port-a-potties how can you not be excited?








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April 14, 2005 at 9:10 am

Posted in Pictures

Continuing Education

Continuing on the theme of things I’m learning about language for the first time at the ripe old age of 26 . . .

In a recent email, Charity asked me that if by writing “The rest of the afternoon will be filled with taking care of some odds and ins” I had made a spelling error. No, her suspicions were correct. Until her email I was unaware that “odds and ins” is actually “odds and ends.”

I wondered why Microsoft Word put that pesky green line under “ins.” I thought perhaps it needed an apostrophe. What other nuances of the English language I will learn before I turn 27?

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April 12, 2005 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Laughter

Communication, Communication, Communication

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Charity and I have been attending premarital counseling sessions with her pastor, Stu, during my visits to Lincoln. We’ve discussed family, finances and a myriad of other issues. Throughout the sessions Stu has tried to impress upon us the importance of communication about our assumptions, feelings and preferences. This seems like good advice and we have tried to put this into practice.

In pursuing the twin goals of becoming a more self-aware person and setting a firm foundation for our marriage I have been reflecting on various aspects of my current lifestyle, thinking about how I live and why I live that way.

Then, at some point in late March, I realized that I have a lifestyle issue that if not properly communicated could cause conflict: if the toilet paper is replaced in such a way that it pulls out from underneath the roll it will bother me.

You see, on my frequent visits to Nebraska I noticed that Charity and her roommates haphazardly replace rolls of toilet paper. Following Stu�s instructions I communicated my concerns about this important point of housekeeping to Charity. The problem with this was that Charity didn’t think I could seriously care about this issue.

My position is that the toilet paper should come off the top of the roll. That this is the efficient, right and natural way is almost self-evident to me. Charity�s position is that taking the time to notice which the paper is put on the roll is ridiculous.

Now I should say that I am willing to accept that this may be the case and that this is simply my suppressed, inner control-freak finally emerging. But, in my defense, on Thursday Stu brought this topic (without my prodding) as a one-time source of conflict in his marriage. At which point I leapt out off the couch and Charity alternated between laughter and dismay at the two of us.

So my question to blogland is this: what do you think about the legitimacy of proper toilet paper alignment?

A. Finally! Somebody else who understands me!
B. It�s probably just an issue for boys because they spend so much time in there.
C. Life has more important issues.
D. Just don�t replace the roll and you won�t have any problems!
E. I can�t believe I just read a whole entry on toilet paper alignment.

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April 11, 2005 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Laughter

The Best We Can

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I’ve spent much of this early afternoon composing a semi-solicited email to a friend. We had a long talk the other day and in my email I have been working out some of my thoughts about our recent discussion.

As I write I find that I am constantly qualifying the things that I write. When I write blog entries the initial draft has the phrase “I think that” scattered throughout it. For example I think that I use this phrase to qualify my statements. Usually I edit out the “I-think-that”s as they detract from the readability but today Im wondering, Why do I do put this phrase in my writings?

One answer is that I am trying to qualify my comments, in effect tacking on “and this is thought comes from a fallible, limited Andy; my opinions are not truth.” (And I know all you readers out there would think they are unless I reminded you.) My advice comes from the experiences I have first-hand, read about, heard about, and thought about. None of these experiences are universal. How can I give advice about based on limited experience?

One of my friends refuses to give advice when asked for it. I wonder sometimes if this comes from being burned by well-intentioned but bad advice he received in the past. But I still have problems to deal with that I dont understand and cant find the answers to and so does my friend whose email is sitting in my inbox; life continues.

Perhaps my struggle with giving advice comes from the same overblown opinion of my wisdom as before. The friend Im emailing is a smart enough fellow, if my advice is useful he should take it, if not he should be able to discern where it is not useful. Therefore the burden of the decisions he makes based on my advice falls on him and not on me.

Given that, perhaps honesty is the best policy: honest questions when they are relevant, honest answers when Im asked for them and honest silence when I dont have a clue.

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April 7, 2005 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Reflections