Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seeing Italy with New Eyes

As a son of Italian immigrants, my parents raised me to love and cherish Italy. I have lost count of how many times I have been blessed to visit, to see friends and relatives in Sicily and Genoa, and to enjoy the natural, artistic and historical beauty of everywhere in between.  At age 55, you would think that going to Italy would be old hat for me by now, but I can say without hesitation that my trip to Italy this year has been the most memorable by far.

Why?  Because it was the first time I got to share Italy with some dear American friends.  My wife Susan and I were joined by three other couples:  Gordon and Jean, Glenn and Donna, and Tommy and Jeanne.  We had been planning the trip for almost two years and everyone was excited, but no one as much as me, because I was looking forward to playing tour guide and showing off the land that I love.  Though I had seen many of the places before, I would vicariously be enjoying them for the first time as I saw Italy’s unmatched beauty through my friends’ eyes.

I was a little nervous at first, wanting more than anything for my friends to have the time of their lives.  The extended weather forecasts did not look promising, calling for unseasonably cool weather with the rainy season uncharacteristically lingering into late May and early June.  Wanting them to have a good impression from the start, I was also nervous about landing at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, which is not known to be traveler friendly.

Thankfully, when we landed, the sun was shining.  It was still May, and the chaos so characteristic of Fiumicino in July and August did not materialize.  Though we were exhausted from the trans-Atlantic journey and needing three or four more hours of sleep, it seemed to take very little time to make it through Controllo Passaporti [immigration], retrieve our baggage and rent a nine passenger van.  Before we knew it, we were on the Grande Raccordo Anulare (the Roman beltway) heading toward Highway A1- South.

After a good shot of espresso ristretto at the first Autogrill, I was all set to drive us to the Amalfi Coast while everyone else caught up on sleep.  Our destination was Praiano, a small town on the Gulf of Salerno side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, just past Positano.  The intention was to spend a couple of nights just to chill out and enjoy the scenery as we recovered from the jet lag.

Breathtaking views like this are all over the Amalfi Coast
By the time we took the exit at Castellamare di Stabia, everyone was awake and excited to get to our destination.  It was not long before the “ooh”s and “ah”s started as we hairpinned along the road that hugs the mountainside high above the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Of course we stopped at many of the scenic overlooks, taking way too many pictures of us smiling in front of the backdrop of the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius.

Driving the narrow, Sorrentine streets was not a new experience for me, but this was the first time I did so in a nine passenger van, so it took a little getting used to.  I eventually achieved a certain comfort level and was able to navigate without giving it much thought.  It was only later that I realized that my passengers were terrified.

“Did you realize that you only missed that wall by about two inches?” Tommy asked as he pulled in the passenger side view mirror to keep it from scraping.

“Well, I did miss it, did I not?”

The only other complication about the drive had to do with relying on a GPS for the first time.  It proved to be more trouble than it was worth, especially in mountainous areas like the Amalfi Coast, because it had trouble distinguishing the road we were on from the road 50 feet above us with almost identical coordinates.  At one point, we came to a dead end and the GPS squawked:  “Turn right onto pathway.”  Uh, no, I don’t think so, as that would send us careening down the mountainside.  With the help of a friendly resident guiding us through what seemed like a fifteen point turn, we somehow managed to turn the huge van around and get to our destination at the Hotel Holiday in Praiano.  We arrived exhausted, but we were jazzed by the new experience and the stunning views from our balconies.

The next morning, we wisely decided to leave the van parked at the hotel and took the bus to Positano.  Words cannot do justice to this lovely town of cobblestone streets, quaint shops with flowers everywhere, artisans showing off their handiwork, stone houses stairstepping up the mountainside, and the crystal clear waters of the Bay of Salerno.  We decided to have lunch at La Cambusa, relaxing at an outdoor table on a terrace overlooking the main beach.  I was skeptical at first, fearing it might be an overpriced tourist trap, but it turned out that the food was delicious and very reasonably priced.  We asked for their red house wine, and I was surprised when they brought out a couple of very good bottles of Aglianico. (I had only recently learned about Aglianico at the Italian Wine and Culture Seminars held at Casa Italiana in Washington, DC, that it was the prime grape of the Campania region and often called the “Barolo of the South.”  The wine lived up to its name, and we would enjoy many more bottles of Aglianico during our stay in Italy.)
Enjoying some appetizers and some Aglianico at La Cambusa. 

The following day, we were headed back north.  After spending a few hours touring the ruins of Pompei, we were on our way to Rome for three nights.   Not that we didn’t enjoy it, but the time in Rome was almost obligatory.  One does not come to Italy without seeing the Coliseum, the Forum and the rest of Ancient Rome, as well as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican.  To bypass them would be--shall we say?--a sin.

In front of St. Peter's Basilica
After Rome, we were now ready for the main event.  We had reserved one week at a villa in the heart of Tuscany, where we intended to enjoy beautiful scenery, food and wine, rest and relaxation, peace and quiet, interrupted only by occasional day trips to Florence, Pisa, Lucca and the like.  But there was one more day before our reserved week, and I assured my friends that they absolutely must spend at least one day and night in Assisi.

A view of Assisi from the fortress of Rocca Maggiore
As we entered Umbria, it was raining, and my heart sank as I could barely make out the contours of Assisi shrouded in fog and rain.  This would not do.  But somehow, miraculously after we had checked into our hotel and had a light lunch, the rain abated and the sun started peeking through the clouds.  We dared to venture out on foot down the medieval cobblestone streets, and a few of us climbed the path to Rocca Maggiore, where we enjoyed a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of St. Francis’ home town and its beautiful churches, castles, and surrounding countryside.

The next morning, we were off to Villa Giardo, a spacious and elegant five bedroom villa nestled in the hills about halfway between the towns of Greve in Chianti and Figline Valdarno.  Here again the GPS  proved to be worthless, because Villa Giardo is so remote that the last mile is made up of unpaved “roads” that a GPS could only guess at.  The street address was “Via Case Sparse” (“scattered houses”), so you can imagine the setting.  The final mile ascending to the villa was somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying, but, having reached our destination, it was more than worth it.

The Villa is a restored stone building, parts of which date back to the year 1059.  The interior has every modern day comfort and convenience you could wish for, even while retaining an old world ambience.  It is surrounded by cultivated trees and gardens, vineyards and olive groves.  Many an evening was spent gazing at the stars and admiring the flora and fauna in this utterly peaceful setting while sipping on abundant wine, enjoying delicious food, and deepening friendships. 

Villa Giardo
All of us agreed it was the trip of a lifetime.  It was summed up most simply and eloquently when our friend Donna told me, “Leo, you have a beautiful country.”  I smiled with joy and satisfaction, so thrilled that our friends enjoyed Italy as much as I did.  Italy is indeed a beautiful country.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Special Lady

I write this post in honor of a very special lady who would have been 110 years old today were she still alive.  On February 10, 1903, Antonia Longo was born in the small town of Torre Faro, just outside of Messina in Sicily.  I am not sure what life in southern Italy was like back then, but I am told that Messina used to be a thriving city, certainly well positioned as a major seaport on the strait that bears its name.  That was before 1908, when a major earthquake leveled the city which, though since rebuilt, is nothing like its former self.

The earthquake had to have a lasting impression on Antonia, as it left her trapped in the rubble for a few days before help arrived.  I wonder how formative that traumatic experience must have been to her, as it seemed to set the tone for the many things through which she would have to persevere later in life.

She was around seventeen years old when she married Nicola Ruello who, born in 1886, was practically twice her age at the time.  Their marriage soon produced two children:  Joe was born in 1922 and Rose in 1927.   Nicola was not home much, as he often traveled to the United States in search of better opportunities, sending money home to his family.  This was not uncommon, and women like Antonia were often referred to as “American widows”. On one of his trips home in 1929, Nicola and Antonia conceived a third child, Angela.  They may not have known that Angela was on her way when Nicola departed again on a very ill timed trip to the United States.

Antonia's three children, circa 1931, left to right, Joe, Angela and Rose. 

The stock market had just crashed.  The U.S. and much of the world were entering into the Great Depression.  Between the prolonged economic downturn and the subsequent hostilities of World War II, it would be sixteen years before Nicola and Antonia would see each other again, and sixteen years before Angela would meet her father for the first time.  During that time, Antonia endured even greater trials without the support of a husband.  In 1933, Rose became very ill and, due to a misdiagnosis, ended up dying in her mother’s arms at the tender age of six.  Antonia also lost her mother and her mother-in-law within a short span of time.  A few years later, her son Joe—now a young man--managed to join his father in the United States, only to end up serving in the U.S. army.  To add to her many other woes, Antonia now had to worry about her oldest son being in harm’s way. 

Aided only by a support network of extended family, Antonia was left to raise Angela by herself.  Above and beyond the relative poverty of southern Italy, they had to endure the shortages and rationing caused by the war.  As the war heated up around the Strait of Messina, Antonia, Angela and the extended family had to flee their homes up into the mountainous countryside.  Once it was clear that the Allies were in control of the area and had routed the Germans, they returned home, only to find it bombed, the second time in Antonia’s life that her home was leveled.  With no other choice but to carry on, Antonia and Angela persevered past the end of the war until 1946, when they were finally able to join the rest of their family in America.

As if to crown and reward Antonia for her faith and perseverance, the reunion in America produced yet a fourth child.  Born to Nicola and Antonia in their later years, Lillian was all the more precious to them, and they lovingly referred to her  as "a figghiola" (the little girl), even after she became an adult.

Antonia Longo Ruello is one of my heroes.  She was also my grandmother (and Angela was my mom).  Her perseverance and faithfulness through adversity have always been an inspiration to me.  She was also a very godly woman, and I have no doubt that her faithfulness and perseverance were the fruit of a genuine faith in the Savior.

In the Apostles’ Creed there is a reference to believing in “the communion of saints”, the idea that there is a mystical union among all  the saints of the church, both living and dead.  While Protestants and Catholics may have different ideas as to exactly what that means, I am feeling a special closeness to my Nonna Antonia today.  This is partly because  I loved her dearly and continue to be inspired by her, but also because I had the privilege of sharing a birthday with her, and today she would be exactly twice my age.    

Celebrating a birthday with my nonna.
Buon compleanno, Nonna.  Ti voglio tanto bene.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Funeral for a Friend

His name was Giuseppe. We met over thirty years ago in graduate school while  both pursuing a relatively useless Masters Degree in Spanish Language and Literature.  Though he was almost 20 years my senior, we had much in common in addition to our course of studies:  Like me, his parents were from Sicily.  In fact, his home town was only a few miles from my parents’ birthplace of Torre Faro, Messina.  We hit it off well, and I invited him over to dinner often, as both of us enjoyed having someone to speak Italian with, as well as talk about Sicily.   

There was also much that we did not have in common.  I was a young Christian, married for a couple of years with an infant daughter, attending a local church and doing my best to stay on the straight and narrow as best as I knew how.  He on the other hand, was an older, confirmed bachelor, and very much a man of the world.  I had some opportunities to share the Gospel with him and was thrilled when he prayed a prayer of faith and repentance, only to be disappointed that his profession of faith apparently did not result in an immediate change in lifestyle.

After we both completed our studies, we saw much less of each other, though we kept in occasional contact.  He eventually retired and moved to Florida, still a confirmed bachelor, but not like he used to be.  He started living a relatively solitary and quiet life, and his social contacts seemed to be limited to friends in a small prayer group at the church he attended in Florida.  His conversations with me seemed to be limited to two topics:  (1) his politics, which—believe it or not—were even further to the right than mine; and (2) the church, and he was particularly fond of talking about his prayer group.

I got to see him about once a year, inviting him over to the house when he periodically traveled back north, but otherwise our contact was limited to an occasional phone call and exchanges of Christmas greetings.  I was surprised this year when the Christmas letter I sent him was returned with no forwarding address.  I had not heard from him, and it would not be like him to not let me know that he had moved.  When I called his number and got a recording that the number was no longer in service, I assumed the worst--  “googling” his name and the word “obituary”--but the search did not yield any relevant results.  When I searched exclusively on the address and found some real estate records listing him as the owner, I clicked on his name and learned that he died sometime in 2012 at the age of 73.  There were no other details.

Given the lack of an obituary on the internet, I wonder if there was even a funeral.  As far as I knew, his only living relatives were a sister and some nieces and nephews in Sicily.  Though his absence will not have a major impact on my life, I am taken aback that a friend of mine is no longer here, and I am particularly saddened by the possibility that he may have died alone.  And yet, by God’s mercy, I have reason to hope that he did not die alone.  So long, paisano.  May you receive a rich welcome in God’s Kingdom, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An Epiphany

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
*          *          *
The look on Herod’s face confirmed to Melchior that perhaps the long trip to Jerusalem was not such a good idea after all.  He had doubts ever since the day he left Persia.

It started as kind of a lark or adventure, maybe even a dare.   Melchior was well read, a scholar—some would say a nerd—well versed in the sciences, mathematics, philosophy, history, literature and religion.  His studies in the latter discipline were more of a hobby, and he really was not sure what he believed.  Yet all of his reading and studies seemed to be drawing him to the conclusion that something special was going to be happening in the land of the Hebrews… or what was left of it.  As he knew well from his studies, they were once a great kingdom before they got done in by the Babylonians, to be followed by Melchior’s own Persian ancestors, then the Greeks, and now the Romans.

Yes, the land of Israel, once a mighty nation of great kings like David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah, was now a two-bit backwater colony.  According to their sacred writings they were hoping a new king would arise and restore their former glory.  Good luck with that!  Anyway, it was all very interesting, and Melchior had always wanted to travel there, so off he went. The trip to Jerusalem was quite an adventure, starting with the caravan he ran into out in the middle of the desert.  The ensuing conversation was interesting, to say the least.

“Who are you?  And where are you going?”

“Perhaps I should ask you the same thing!  My name is Balthazar.  I left Arabia three days ago and am on my way to Jerusalem.  Don’t ask me why—it’s a long story—but I believe something special is going to happen there, perhaps the birth of a great king.”

“You’re joking, right?  Are you some kind of wise guy?”

“Oh, some people back home think I am wise.  I’ve certainly read a lot, but I’m not certain that makes me wiser than anyone else.  In fact, I’ve wondered for the past few days how wise it was to venture on this journey, really based on nothing but a hunch.”

Melchior and Balthazar continued to compare notes when they noticed yet another caravan approaching. The riders were dressed rather strangely, their turbans quite distinctive, definitely not from Arabia or Persia.  The head rider dismounted and approached.

“Allow me to introduce myself.   My name is Caspar, and I left India two weeks ago.  I am on my way to…”

“Jerusalem?” Melchior interrupted. 

“How did you know?”

“Oh, just a hunch, I guess.”

Caspar continued.  “I have been reading the ancient writings of the people of Judea.  I could not put them down.  They speak of one God who made the heavens and the earth and created mankind.  They recount how this God dealt graciously with His people despite their rebellion, and how He promised to send them a special King.  I am not sure why, but these words ring true.  That is why I am on my way to Jerusalem.  Stranger still, and don’t ask me how I know, I have this strange feeling that this special King has already been born.  I just wish I had something to go on other than this feeling in my gut.  Some kind of sign perhaps would help, maybe something in the heavens.”

“Like that star?” Melchior interrupted. 

The three travelers gasped in simultaneous astonishment.  It was brighter than a typical star, and it stood out in the night sky.

“Supposing we find this Special King,” Melchior wondered out loud, “I guess we should be bringing Him some sort of gift to pay Him homage.  All I have is some extra gold.  I admittedly did bring plenty more than I needed for the journey.”

“All I have is some incense,” Balthazar chimed in.  “I wasn’t even sure why I brought it, but now I guess I will have some use for it.”

“Same here,” Caspar continued.  “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this myrrh. “
*          *          *
These conversations kept playing through Melchior’s mind as he tried to interpret the hostile and fearful look on Herod’s face.  Whether or not it was wise to make this journey, it definitely was not very bright to ask the regent in Jerusalem where they could find the newly born King of the Jews.  He saw right through Herod’s feigned interest in finding and worshiping the child himself.

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" 
*          *          *
Having been unceremoniously dispatched by Herod and his court, the three travelers set out. It was not until they had cleared the city gates of Jerusalem and left them far back in the distance that Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar finally breathed a sigh of relief.  The audience with “King” Herod had been neither pleasant nor friendly, and they were thankful that they made it out alive.  As they approached the humble village of Bethlehem, a far cry from the pomp of the Jerusalem court, their fears subsided.  As the sky darkened, they noticed the same unusual star that had left them astonished just a few nights prior.
 *          *          *
…and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
*          *          *
As they approached the house, Melchior and his companions had to wonder whether they had the right place. Granted, it wasn’t the royal palace in Jerusalem, but beyond being several cuts below a king’s residence, the place was downright plain and inconspicuous.  It was a tiny house in an agricultural setting, with a stable for farm animals attached.  His doubts about the wisdom of this journey began to return.  “This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever done!”

All three of them conferred as to what to do next.  The place looked desolate.  Was anybody home? Should they knock?  Supposing someone answered, what would they say?  Those questions all became moot as the door opened and a man exited, apparently on his way to run an errand.  The man was understandably startled to see the three strangers at his front door.  Both the quality and the style of their dress indicated that they were not from anywhere near Bethlehem.

“Hello friends!  My name is Joseph.  May I help you?”

The three travelers stammered for words, not having a clue what to say.  Caspar finally decided to cut to the chase.

“We have come from far away, each from a different land, but all of us have been led here.  We seek the One who has been born king of the Jews.”  Caspar immediately sensed how awkward and bizarre his words must have sounded.  Melchior and Balthazar were visibly uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, Melchior managed to add:

“The bright star that has been in the night sky over the last several nights seems to have led us here.  Forgive us for disturbing you, but perhaps we have come to the wrong place.”

“Perhaps not.  Please come in.”
*          *          *
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.
*          *          *
Nothing or no one in the house seemed particularly noteworthy.  There was just a lowly mother nursing her child, nothing indicative of royalty.  Like the surrounding village and the house itself, both mother and child seemed to be plainness personified.  There was nothing in the least bit extraordinary about them, much less anything regal—which made the reaction of the three travelers all the more inexplicable.  

Suddenly, each one sensed in the core of their being that they had indeed found the One they were looking for.  Had they been asked how they knew, they would have been at a loss for words.  They just knew.
*          *          *
And they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
*          *          *
As they presented the gifts, each traveler sensed how paltry and pathetic they were.  What good would gold be to this child? Perhaps his parents could use it.  But frankincense and myrrh?   At best, they could be sold and put to the same use as the gold.  Furthermore, each was painfully aware that they could have given so much more out of their vast treasures at home.  Had they known they would find the One they were seeking, perhaps they would have brought more.  But then again, if this Child was indeed the One that their hearts seemed to be telling them, the entirety of their treasures and possessions would not be sufficient. 

Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar rose from their reverent posture, bid farewell to Mary and Joseph, and simply left.  Thinking again about the utter inadequacy of their gifts, they nonetheless felt a strange sensation that their gifts were nonetheless accepted, not because they were worthy or had any value, but simply because the Child somehow accepted them.  

How did they know? They could not say.  They just knew.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Unless you have been a hermit living in a cave, you are aware that according to some ancient Mayan prophecy, the end of the world as we know it may occur on December 21, 2012. Just in case the Mayans were on to something, I figured I should try to post a Christmas related message a little earlier than usual this year.

Last year a well meaning but misguided evangelical Christian by the name of Harold Camping made his umpteenth prediction about the return of Christ and the end of the world, which according to his calculations was supposed to occur on May 21, 2011.  When that did not happen he said he miscalculated and it would actually occur on October 21.    The rest is history. 

Jesus Himself said that no one knew the day or the hour of His return.  The unfortunate obsession of people like Camping to predict the date was not only wrong-headed but justifiably mocked by the world.  I myself joined in the fun and had a few good laughs. But the sad part about such end-times and doomsday obsession is that it distracts from the main message of the Gospel

Having said all that, I have been thinking a lot about the supposed Mayan calculation of December 21, 2012.  The possibility does make me kind of pensive in a funny sort of way.  Wouldn’t it be just like God to not reveal such things to Christians, who would ostensibly be interested—even eager—to know the day of Christ’s return, but instead reveal it to those whom you would least expect?  Sometimes God in His grace gives supernatural wisdom even to pagans. After all, how did the three wise men (pagan astrologers at best) know to follow the star to Bethlehem?

At Christmas we celebrate when Jesus came the first time.  No one seemed to be expecting Him, save for the precious few to whom God had revealed it.  The world was in turmoil, and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were once again a captive people without much hope.  The Romans had taken over.  All of “God’s chosen people” were suffering under oppression, except for those who had sold themselves out or had been co-opted by the Romans; such as tax-collectors, corrupted religious leaders and, last but not least,  “King” Herod.  Needless to say, the latter was not thrilled when the wise men inquired:  "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."  Everyone desperately needed for such a Savior to be born, but not everyone knew it, nor did they have a full appreciation of what they needed to be saved from.

Two thousand-plus years later, the more things change, the more they remain the same.  The world is in turmoil.  The regions surrounding the birthplace of Jesus look frighteningly like a powder keg ready to explode.  The great democracies of the western world, which for the most part have been a force for good, seem ready to collapse under the weight of their own excesses.  We sense that there is something fundamentally wrong, but we may not have a full appreciation or understanding of exactly what ails us.

Against this backdrop, we live our daily lives.  I personally am truly blessed and have much to be grateful for.  Life is good. I have been married to the same lovely lady for more than 33 years, taking great delight in her and being amazed that she apparently delights in me. We have been blessed with three children, the oldest of which is married to a godly man, and they have given us two beautiful grandchildren.  Our other two children have special needs and we continue to pray for them, but they are otherwise healthy, content and provided for, and we love them dearly.  We also take joy in our extended family and a circle of friends, particularly those with whom we fellowship at Solid Rock Church, where we have attended for more than 33 years.

These are little slices of heaven on earth.  And yet there is a longing in my heart for something more.  Part of it is because of the pain and disappointments that stand in contrast to the blessings:  mourning over lost loved ones, disappointment in myself over sins and shortcomings I have not yet been able to overcome, and the aches and pains of life, both figurative and literal.  And a quick glimpse at the newspaper on any given day feeds my fears that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  But even if life were presently a bed of roses, I know it is all fleeting.  We all eventually grow old and die, and everything we worked so hard for and everything that seems so important eventually comes to nothing, except…

… except it does not come to nothing.  I said earlier that the sad part about doomsday obsessions is that they distract us from the main message of the Gospel, The Gospel in a nutshell is this:  Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh and lived the perfect sinless life that we could never live, died the death that we deserve, and rose again to offer us forgiveness and eternal life. One day--and we don't know when--He will indeed return.   

May it be soon.  Come, Lord Jesus.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Sexagenarian Brother

I am the youngest of three baby-boomer brothers.    When we were growing up, the Smothers Brothers were popular, and we would occasionally joke about one of their routines in which the younger Tommy Smothers would lament to the older Dick, “Mom always liked you best!”   In our case, the mantle of “favored-one” fell not to my oldest brother Pete, but to the next in line, Nick.

In stark contrast to Tommy Smothers, we say this about Nick  with not even a hint of bitterness or jealousy.  It was simply a fact.  After all, what’s not to like?  Nick was always the best behaved and the most compliant.  He cleaned up after himself, did his chores, never left things half-done, and was always ready to serve his parents.  He was most likely the one who started the practice of serving our mother coffee and toast in bed on weekend mornings, which kind of obligated the rest of us the follow suit.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finding Hope in Babylon

I’ll cut to the chase by stating the obvious. I am deeply disappointed at the results of the election on November 6.  I find little or no comfort in any of the results.  Beyond disappointed, I am frightened.

I was just as frightened, albeit prayerfully hopeful, in the months preceding the election, as I watched our continually deteriorating and weakened nation losing its way.  Our economic woes, exacerbated by profligate spending of money we do not have, have us careening toward a fiscal cliff, yet we continue to speed pedal to the metal as if the laws of basic economics—or even basic math—did not exist.  Like the law of gravity, they are pretty non-negotiable.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Clinging to the Rock of Ages

Augustus Toplady was an Anglican priest who lived a relatively short time in the eighteenth century (1740-1778).  By his own account he became a committed Christian at the age of 15.  He was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1762 and served the rest of his life in various ecclesiastical capacities. 

He also wrote a number of hymns, and even if you have never heard the name Augustus Toplady, you are probably familiar with his most famous hymn:
Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Let the water and the blood
From Thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure

Saturday, September 15, 2012

“Let Baal Contend”

The odd title for this post needs an explanation.  It is a somewhat obscure quote from the otherwise familiar Old Testament account of Gideon.  Most Sunday school children know Gideon as the guy with the fleece.  The Israelites had been overrun and ruled by the Midianites, who ravaged their crops and held them in servitude.  When an angel of God appeared to Gideon, a humble wheat farmer, and instructed him to lead a rebellion against the Midianites, he was naturally incredulous and wanted to see a sign that would convince him it was really God speaking to him, so he “laid out a fleece” (Sunday school kids know the rest of the story; if you are not familiar with it, you can read it in the Book of Judges, Chapter 6.)

The first thing Gideon did after the divine visitation was to smash down the altar of Baal, the deity of the idol worshiping Midianites.  As expected, this caused no small amount of commotion, and when the Midianites learned that Gideon was the culprit, they surrounded the house of his father (Joash) and demanded that Gideon pay for the deed with his life. 
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? … If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar…. Let Baal contend with him.”
I often think of this story whenever  I hear of yet another episode of Muslim’s rising up in anger whenever they feel their religion or their prophet Mohammed has been insulted.  This happens all too often, with the most recent episode playing out at U.S. embassies across the Middle East, as angry mobs have been stirred up into violent and homicidal protests over some amateur YouTube video that allegedly insults the prophet Mohammed.  The reaction is typical and predictable, as demonstrated by countless similar episodes, from the death threats against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses to the frenzied mobs rising up over some Danish cartoons that supposedly insulted Mohammed. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Of God and Dice

When Albert Einstein was first presented with Max Plank’s theory of quantum mechanics—that the behavior of particles at the subatomic level is not completely predictable—he rejected the idea out of hand.  Before the quantum theory was postulated, the underlying assumption behind science and the scientific method was that the universe and everything contained therein was completely orderly and predictable, which caused Einstein to quip: “God does not throw dice!”

I don’t claim to know much about quantum mechanics, but I can draw one conclusion from Einstein’s reaction, together with many other things he said:  Einstein believed in God.  To be sure he was more of a deist—not believing in a personal God who involves Himself in the affairs of men—but there was no question in his mind that there was an intelligent deity behind the creation of the universe.