Learning to Speak

I’m learning to speak all over again.  I am enjoying learning a wee bit of the local dialect.

Here is a sample, from a blogger who now lives in Berkely but still calls Buckie home:

As we say in Buckie,

‘Better tae be oot the qweets, than oot the fashion!’

(‘Better to twist your ankle than be out of fashion!’)

Bit it’s nae me that ye’ll see on thon stilettos!

From http://berkeleyscot.wordpress.com/category/buckie/

Pictures tomorrow.

Travel Notes 1

Here I am at Gatwick International Airport in London where I am awaiting my flight to Aberdeen, whence I will proceed to Buckie.  I finished reading Last Girl in the wee hours (I can use that adjective here, right?) of the morning, and began reading Traveling Mercies.  I should have reviews on them shortly.

 I also will be posting some pictures of Rhinehold Niehbur street and Grant’s Tomb from NYC.

 It’s Saturday morning; and I haven’t heard the results of last night’s basketball game, but I have a friendly wager from Joe, our reporter/reviewer from Villanova–Alma cheese vs. maple syrup from New Hampshire (Joe’s home state).  I’m opposed to gambling, but it’s just a friendly gift exchange between friends.

Easter Wishes from Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes an Easter letter to his parents during his first month in prison. He is allowed to send one letter every ten days. He refers to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, who was about 19 at the time. He was about 37 when he wrote the letter.

Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943

Today the tenth day is finally here again, so that I may write to you. How glad I am to let you know that I am celebrating a happy Easter here. The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one’s thoughts turn far away from one’s personal fate toward the ultimate meaning of life, suffering, and everything that happens, and one clings to a great hope.

Since yesterday it has been amazingly quiet in this prison house. The only sound heard is “Happy Easter,” as everyone calls to each other with no envy, and no one begrudges the fulfillment of their Easter wishes to those who labor here in these difficult conditions.

Good Friday was Maria’s birthday. In the past year she bore the death of her father, her brother, and two especially beloved cousins with such a firm heart. If I didn’t know that, I would worry about her. Now Easter will console her, her large family will stand by her, and her work in the Red Cross will keep her completely occupied.

Greet her warmly, tell her that I long for her very much. Tell her not to be sad but brave as she has been til now. She is so very young! That is the hard part.

Christian and Heathen (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Here is the poem by Bonhoeffer that I promised earlier. It is a good meditation for Holy Week and Good Friday.

People go to God in their need,
plead for help, ask for happiness and bread,
for deliverance from sickness, guilt, and death.
So do we all, all of us, Christian and heathen.

People go to God in his need,
find him poor, abused, homeless, without bread,
see him entangled in sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand by God in his suffering.

God goes to all people in their need,
satisfies them body and soul with his bread,
dies for Christian and heathen on the cross of death,
and forgives them both.

What Does God Need?

The obvious answer would be that God needs nothing from us. It was the answer Epicurus gave: the gods are perfectly happy and their bliss is neither diminished nor enhanced by anything we do. Passages in the Bible also agree, that God in his eternal divinity is in need of nothing–certainly not sacrifices. As David says in the Psalms, speaking for God,

If I were hungry, would I ask you?

God has all the glory he needs as well. Our pitiful attempts to “give” him glory and praise do not supply any deficiency in God.

And yet that is not the whole story:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison a poem about Christians and Heathens. He said all people go to God in their need, but Christians stand by God in his need. (I will post the poem in a day or two.)

The message of Easter and Holy Week is that God so identified with our needs that he became one of us, taking on our guilt, death, sickness, and needs. When Jesus walked this earth, he needed food and shelter, friendship, and strength from his Father.

He also said,

“Inasmuch as you have done unto the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done to me.”

We could speak abstractly about God been self-sufficient, immutable, and almighty. We could suppose that God can do anything he wishes. What we know is that he has chosen to work through us to fulfill his work on earth, his work of love, compassion, and providing for the needs of his children. As long as there are hungry, suffering, abandoned, or lost people on earth God needs us.

Here She Is!

Ariana and Eric

Welcome to the World, Ariana

Our first granddaughter, Elijah’s little sister Ariana arrived Tuesday.  Stay tuned for pictures.

Winning the Cold War


Ronald Reagan won the cold war against the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union by forcing that empire into bankruptcy. There were other forces at work, not least the force of prayer, but I want to focus on the economic facts. First a little history:

In 1973 OPEC put an oil embargo on the US which resulted in an energy crisis. The price of gasoline shot up to 65 cents a gallon, more than double what we were used to paying. Richard Nixon was too preoccupied with his own political survival to do much about it.

But beginning in 1976 Jimmy Carter did. He went on TV wearing a sweater as a symbolic gesture, and he put solar collectors on top of the white house. We started driving smaller cars, we started car pooling, building earth contact homes with wood stoves for heat–we started doing lots of things to conserve energy. We even learned to drive 55 mph on the highways (although everyone hated it).

And something amazing happened. We showed OPEC we could do without them (in the same way we showed England, 200 years earlier, we could do without their tea). The price of oil plummeted. It went so low that a lot of oil men (including many in Texas) lost their fortunes.

Then we got complacent. Ronald Reagan removed those “ugly” solar collectors from the white house. Eventually the 55 mph speed limit was repealed, and Detroit found their cash cow in the SUV.

Meanwhile, back in the 80s, the Soviet Union had gotten bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and Reagan ratcheted up the arms race. It seemed like a dangerous escalation at the time. Jonathan Schell had to write The Fate of the Earth to explain why the total annihilation of all life on the earth would be a bad thing. But Reagan’s plan must have worked–we are still here to talk about it. (More on Jonathan Schell here.)

The Soviet Union went broke. They couldn’t keep up. We outspent them. They tried a few modest reforms, hoping that a little openness and a light taste of freedom might stimulate some economic growth. But a little freedom is hard to contain–and the rest is history.

Where are we now? We are in a multi-trillion dollar war in Iraq that is sucking the national economy into a recession–some are even beginning to whisper the D-word. It may have been a noble experiment, this venture to bring democratic enlightenment to the middle east, but evidently we can’t afford it.

Could some of it be waste? Maybe. I think the small college where I teach could use the $132,000.00 per month that is being spent on “runway snow removal” for the airport in Baghdad. I’ve never been there myself, but surely there must be at least a couple months a year when it doesn’t snow in Baghdad. (On the cost of the war, click here.)

But those smart bombs are expensive, as are the private contractors–Blackwater employees are paid up to ten times the salary of U.S. military personnel–but we have to showed those Iraqi’s how free enterprise works.

Meanwhile back at the Kremlin: it turns out democracy and freedom weren’t so hot after all. The Russians love Putin (whose method of solving a hostage crisis is to kill the hostages), and they are no doubt comforted to know that even though he is no longer president, he will be pulling strings from behind the scenes.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, there was a little talk of some kind of Marshal Plan for the former Soviet Union, but no checks were ever written.

But we did find another way to help them. Russia is swimming in oil, and our insatiable thirst along with the, uh, instability in the Persian Gulf, is keeping oil above $100.00 per barrel, and we are getting used to the idea of paying $4.00 per gallon.

So, here we are making Putin’s empire rich and bankrupting ourselves. It’s like someone had taken a videotape of history, and starting around 1991, put it on rewind.

Next time you fill up your tank, just imagine those icy blue eyes watching.

Urban Legends

(Pictures from Snopes.com) Kennedy with hat

You gotta’ love urban legends. They make life so much more interesting. The problem is that most of them turn out to be false. Urban legends show how easily we accept as true anything we have heard–as long as it makes an interesting story and explains something.

Another habit many of us have is repeating a word or phrase without ever thinking about what it actually means. I have heard of the “hat trick” in hockey all my life, but I never gave much thought to what one was. I have to admit, though that I’m not much of a hockey fan.

Still, when my wife asked me, I said–“uh, mmm, —- uh, I don’t know.” So I looked it up.

(A hat trick is when a player scores three goals in one game–the fans throw their hats on the ice in tribute; a natural hat trick is when the same player scores three goals in a row in one game with no one else scoring an intervening goal.)

There are various legends about the etymology and origins of the name and the custom. Some of them sounded a bit fishy, so I turned to the famous debunking site Snopes.com.

I didn’t find hat trick–but I did find an interesting article about a “hat” urban legend. The legend–which I admit, up until a few minutes ago, I believed–is that President Kennedy destroyed the men’s hat industry when he became the first president to show up for his inauguration hatless.

Snopes disproved this legend very easily and convincingly: The article showed photographs and quoted newspaper articles from the time that described the event. The photograph above is one of the many that show the president wearing his top hat on inauguration day. The photograph below shows him giving the speech, with his hat removed (as was the custom) just before speaking; it is visible on the seat behind him.

The Greek historian Thucydides complained at “how averse people are to taking pains” to research history to find out what really happened in the past. So Thucydides became the first “modern, objective, scientific” historian–or so we are told. Actually very few take the effort to check the facts of Thucydides history.

Jostein Gaarder, in the book Sophies World mentions that for over two-thousand years everyone excepted it as a proven fact, on the authority of Aristotle, that women have fewer teeth than men. Gaarder suggested, “Aristotle could have easily learned the truth by asking Mrs. Aristotle to open her mouth and counting her teeth.” Any reader of Aristotle could have done the same thing.

Without bothering to check on what Christians actually believe, there are a lot of people out there who give the definition of faith as “believing something for which there is absolutely no evidence.” That’s not what faith is, and I don’t know many believers who believe that’s what it is.

Kennedy hatless

The Real Beowulf


Beowulf is one of the epics I will be teaching in Lithuania. In brushing up and getting ready, I’ve found that there is a lot of good information online–so if you can’t go with me to Klaipeda but are interested in learning about the old Dane, here are some places you can go for a virtual class:

Evidently the movie with Angelina Jolie contains several distortions of the original story. Christian Movie Reviews writes about the ugliness of the new Beowulf movie. A friend who saw the movie referred to what he called “Barbie-doll porn,” i.e., an animated version of Angelina Jolie doing nude scenes.

On the other  side of the river, though, the reviewer says the 3-D animation is technically not disappointing. I don’t think I will be using the movie in my course.

Some of the best things on the web are labors of love by amateurs, or at least individuals who are willing to donate their expertise. Syd Allen has collected excerpts from 100 translations of Beowulf here. Benjamin Slade’s site has an amazing wealth of material here.

On the other hand, Pace University offers an interdisciplinary course here, and the photo above comes from the University of Nevada, Reno’s wealth of “Resources for the study of Beowulf.”