Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vacation and the "New York Times"

We are in Chicago for the first part of a Christmas-New Year's road trip. We drove here Friday to see our son and his partner. So far we haven't done a whole lot. We went to the zoo last night and saw the Christmas lights they put there. I think we will go to a movie tonight or tomorrow, maybe The Life of Pi or The Hobbit. Otherwise we are watching season 4 of The West Wing, which Lynda and I haven't seen.

This morning my son a copy of the Sunday New York Time in front of me. I haven't read the Times since I quit traveling for business. I used to scoop them up in airport after people boarded a plan and left their newspapers in the waiting area.

But today I was the first to look at it. It has a lot of interesting articles for a writer. On the front page, below the fold, is the headline "Giving Mom's Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review" (by David Streitfeld). The article talks about the problem with fake reviews that Amazon is trying to figure out how to correct, as well as reviews by those related to the author, or even by other authors in a review trade. The article gave no conclusion, but did mention that in the process of trying to cull the related reviews an the review-for-fee reviews, Amazon has also deleted legitimate reviews by true and ultra-loyal fans of the author.

Then, of course, there's the Sunday book review section itself. The page 1 story there is "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?", an article by Paul Elie. The gist is that once upon a time Christianity was infused in fiction. He says it's been a half century since Christianity provided the background for the bulk of American fiction. He writers:
Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O'Connor called "Christian convictions," there would-be successors are thin on the ground.
I suspect he's right. But if that's the case, I want to stand up and shout, "I'm here! My novels are underpinned by a Christian worldview, by the importance of faith in a person's life. I gladly pick up the mantel dropped by American authors decades ago.

It appears, however, that Elie is either unaware of the vast body of overtly Christian works available, or he counts them as nothing in the world of literature. I know that much Christian fiction has been panned as being, shall we say, less than good. But I have also read how it has come a long way over the last twenty years. And, really, is the vast majority of general market fiction really that much better? Not based on my limited reading of it.

Also in the book review section is an interesting interview of Lee Child. I've not read any of his works, but I have been following news about him for a while, so the headline pulled me in. Another article reviewed two books by Eva LaPlante on Abigail May Alcott, the mother of Louisa May Alcott. An educated woman, and as accomplished as was possible for her as a married woman and mother in that era, her husband and celebrated daughter took the scissors to her journal and letters. Enough remains, however, that LaPlante was able to pull these two books together. I'll keep my eye out for these once they go on the remainders table. $26 and $15 are a little steep for me to spend on them.

I haven't yet reached the editorial section of the paper, nor the business section. I can tell that this is going to give me more hours of pleasure. Ah, to be on vacation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Good Time of Year

I used to come close to hating the Christmas season. The stress really got to me. Now, not so much. There's a number of things that have changed that.

Four of the last five years we have gone somewhere for Christmas. For two years we went to Meade Kansas and celebrated with Lynda's relatives there. Then we had a year at home. Last year we went to Chicago to be with Charles and Bis, and will do the same this year. So the "clean up the house" aspect of Christmas is off the schedule. Also, there's no pressure to decorate for Christmas. We can put up decorations or not to suit our energy level. Again this year, we decided not to. Except for the old Christmas tree in the basement, which actually hasn't come down since we put it up for the last Christmas at our house in 2010.

Gift buying isn't a factor any more. We just give the kids money to use as they see fit. Same for the grand kids, as really their parents know better if they need another toy or a bedroom furnishing or clothing. Since we won't be with the grand kids again this year, there's no pressure to have gifts that say "from Grandpa and Grandma Todd".

Parties aren't much of a factor. We had our church Life Group party on Dec 8 so that's out of the way. Since the company isn't profitable we aren't having a Christmas party this year, and there's no need to get gussied up for that. Tomorrow we'll have a pot luck for lunch, which is enough celebration for me. I'm not a member of any organizations or on any boards that have a party, so there's another item that has fallen away from the Christmas season doing.

Christmas cards are not much hassle. We used to send about 125 cards around 15 years ago. Too many places lived, lots of friends acquired, one time of year to keep in touch. That number has dwindled to where last year we sent just a little over 60, and received less than 30. So this year we decided to go mostly paperless. We are preparing our Christmas letter, same as always, but will send very few cards. We will mostly send our letter by e-mail to those on our mailing list. Those for whom we don't have e-mail and who sent us a card last year will get a card. Those who haven't been sending us a card and don't have e-mail won't get a card from us. Sorry about that.

But there's lots good happening this time of year. Just three days before winter solstice, I drive to work in the dark. People's Christmas displays are still lit, brightening the night. I drive home in the dark, or near dark. Again, the Christmas lights are on at businesses and homes. Some of these displays are gaudy and really over the top, but most are tasteful displays. I realize these aren't religious symbols, but I don't worry about that. They are reminders for me as to why we have a Christmas season in the first place.

We are reading in a Christmas devotional, part of an all-church study tying together sermons, life group lessons, and at home reading. I enjoy going of the story of Christmas again, as well as linking it to various Old Testament passages in a way not usually considered. Lynda and I are a few days behind, so we are doing two days each day to catch up. Hopefully we'll make time to complete this when we're in Chicago.

So there's much less stress this year compared to previous years. We have a lot to do these next three days, but not enough to put a lot of stress on us. It should be a good Christmas again this year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

If One More Thing Breaks...

...I may lose it.

First, sometime earlier this year, the DVD player in the basement broke. So we bought a new one at a great sale price. We installed that on the TV upstairs, however, rather than on the one in the family room downstairs.

Then the console TV upstairs went out. It's an old analog one which needs to be replaced with a digital, but I didn't feel like we had the money to do so. So we grabbed an old TV that wasn't hooked up, set it on top of the console and kept going. I hooked the DVD player to the console and it plays fine, so it appears the receiver for that console is what's bad. When our daughter was back for Thanksgiving and saw the old TV on top of the big TV, both analog, she said something about it being a redneck type set-up.

Then the water line started leaking between the meter and the house. That cost $350 + $295 to isolate and fix, and probably $250 in extra water charges.

Then the fridge went out, which I chronicled in another post.

Before that the oven went out, or rather partially out. The broiler element works but not the lower one. Since it's a built in oven replacing it is complicated and expensive. I'm thinking about having it fixed.

Before that the microwave started to act up. It's not heating on full power, though we're limping along with it.

Now the counter-top TV in the kitchen has decided to not give us any video. The audio comes through fine, but it gives no video.

Before that our 25 year old mattress told us to replace it, which we did two weeks ago.

So I wonder, what's next?

I started writing this two days ago, had to put it aside, and just now came back to it. I'm happy to say that in the last 48 hours no appliance, major or minor, has ceased to function in my house. That's good. I guess I won't lose it. Of course, I got to the office today to find no Internet service or e-mail, which happens two or three times a year, but I can live with that. And the arm on my work reading glasses broke off an hour ago. Never mind; I have an old pair I keep here for just such emergencies. And a new pair is only $6 at Dollar General.

Maybe my string of appliance breakdowns is coming to an end.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Respond to the Election Results – Part 2

My last post began my exploration of how I should respond to the election results. Although my predictions were mostly correct, the election results were not what I wanted. My first thought is to withdraw from most political activities.

As stated in my last post, my main concern is not really for the United States of America, but for the kingdom of God. My first goal is to see that kingdom expanded and strengthened by helping to make more and better Christians. My first goal isn't to make the USA stronger by making better citizens.

Yet I have strong stands on issues, both social and financial issues. The debt Congress is piling up, with the Administration's encouragement and blessing, is simply unsustainable, and will eventually bring the generations of my children and grandchildren to their knees, or force them to repudiate the debt and sink to the status of a second-class republic. This to me is the key issue of the present time, not social issues. If I were going to spend time on politics, this would be the right place to spend it.

That's not to say that I don't have strong opinions on social issues. I hate abortion, the killing of innocent babies while still in their mother's womb. I will always vote against abortion. But abortion is legal, and has been legal long enough now that judges consider it "settled law." It isn't going away. We lost that battle over the last forty years. Lynda and I are beyond the child bearing years. But when we were still in them, having abortion legal made no difference in our choices. And it would make no difference today. Abortion would not have been an option. In this regard, how beautiful is the choice that Todd and Sarah Palin made not to abort their Down syndrome fetus, even though they legally could and even though some 90 percent of such fetuses are aborted. Their ethical, moral act shines like a beacon on a hill.

I am not in favor of the homosexual agenda, including such things as same-sex marriage. I will always vote against such measures. But, should it be legalized, how does it affect me? I will continue with the same moral stand I've always had. When questioned about my beliefs, I will give them without apology, and will always vote against such measures. But I won't be advocating concerning them.

This election we voted in Arkansas on whether to legalize medical marijuana. I voted against it, joining the 55 percent of the state who voted it down. But had it passed, how would that affect me? I suppose some potheads will fake illnesses and get it for non-medical purposes. They might even smoke and drive. The roads may become more dangerous. My chances of being killed or hurt in an auto accident may go up from one in a million to one in 990,000 (or whatever the right statistic is). But I'm not going to smoke an hallucinogenic substance, any more than I would drink liquor, just because it's legal. And I would think that not taking part in these legal activities because of an ethical stand would work in favor of influencing people for the kingdom of God.

What I'm trying to say is that to legislate a number of these social issues so that they align with the dominant evangelical Christian position is to make my commitments someone else's obligations. It is to force Christian behavior on someone. That doesn't strengthen the kingdom of God, in my opinion. It actually dilutes it. How much better it is to have Christians behaving in these moral and ethical ways, and to let those good deeds shine as lights in a dark world. The more evil the world, the more brightly will shine those deeds of righteousness and moral stands.

So my response to this election will be to return to having the kingdom of God as my main concern. I won't shed any political opinions, but if the USA wants to move into a post-Christian or anti-Christian era, knock themselves out. The church and the kingdom will be strengthened. I will not be diminished or moved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Respond to the Election Results

It's hard to believe the election is already a month behind us. Harder still to believe I'm just now getting around to this post, the last in my post-election series.

To recap what I've already written: Based on the analysis I did in The Candy Store Generation, I made election outcome predictions for the House, Senate, and Presidency that were mostly spot on. I based these predictions on 1) the Baby Boomers were not going to vote for those who would close the candy store on them, and 2) the Had Enough Generation, whoever they are and whether they were going to show or not, were not strong enough to overcome the Boomers. I was wrong in the Senate, where personalities seemed to reign more than ideology, and idiotic statements by two candidates pulled others down. At least that's my view from flyover country.

One other conclusion I draw, which I posted about, is that the true divide in this country is not by party or ideology, but by urban vs. non-urban. Or maybe that should be location drives ideology.

Now, how do I respond to this? My predictions were not in my self-interest, nor did they reflect who I wanted to win. I called it as I saw it, based on my generational theory and the data I pulled in from various news sources. By the day after the election I was so sick of politics I didn't want to hear it any more, and felt like withdrawing, and hoping the Had Enoughs show up in my lifetime, in time to turn the country around.

But is withdrawal the right response? Is it the Christian response. Part of the debate that's going on, not so much in the mainstream media but among individuals I know, is how does the devout Christian respond to this? How does the devout Christian engage in politics?

My first thought is that I'm not a salesman for any political party, nor for any ideology. As an evangelical Christian I am a salesman for Jesus Christ. My main job is to see the greatest possible number of people get to heaven, and to get there marching triumphantly, not limping along. Anything I would do that would lessen my ability to do that is counter-productive, and something that I shouldn't do.

But meanwhile I'm in the world, working a full time job, a member of a community, resident of a state, citizen of a country. I live in a land where any individual citizen has a voice through the ballot box and through the First Amendment. I should always avail myself of those opportunities to have my voice heard, rejoicing in what country I live in, and using my voice in a way that glorifies my Savior.

But that doesn't mean I should be an outspoken advocate for a specific cause or policy. For example, in Arkansas we voted on legalizing medical marijuana. Believing this action doesn't glorify Christ, I voted against it. But I did not advocate against it. The reason: my life is not affected, so far as I can tell, if some patients smoke it and some potheads pretend to be sick so they can smoke it. I will continue to refrain from using such drugs, and will work to convince others, as individual opportunities arrive, that they shouldn't use them either.

In fact, most of the policies that seem to unite evangelical Christians against other groups are the sort of things that, in my opinion, will be harmful to society but won't really affect me. Why should I be outspoken about them, when to do so will only alienate someone who I might be able to influence positively for the kingdom of God?

This post is too long and I'm only half done. Look for more in another post.