Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading a little Scripture

I teach technology. It’s a great job. I didn’t want to teach technology. I wanted to teach English.

I love to read. I love to write. (This blog is pushing 80,000 words!)

I took many courses in literature and writing. Poetry, prose, speeches. Research writing and creative writing. Linguistics and language development. American lit, British Lit, Medieval Lit. Oral literature, speculative literature, the Bible as Literature.

The earliest memories I have of the Bible is the large black family tome on a shelf, and the one on my mother’s lap. At that age it was a mysterious object of ancient wisdom.

Other Bibles came and went.

There was a children’s Bible, full of cute pictures of animals and heroic deeds. I don’t remember any dark passages about seductions and murder, rape and pillaging. Perhaps they were cleaned up for the small of stature and tender of heart.

There was the Bible I had as a teen. The one which garnered me a gentle admonishment from a passing adult at church when he saw me sitting on it while I waited for my mother and stepfather to pick us up.

There was Good News for Modern Man, my high school (New Testament) Bible. That was the first Bible I read voraciously. 1972. Good year. I was a freak. A Jesus Freak.

Right after high school was the time I moved into a small sandstone cave to get some peace and quiet while I tried to understand what God was all about. I had a King James Bible with me then. Along with a copy of The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishad, The Katopanishad, Patangali’s How to know God, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Koran, The Book of Mormon, Sayings of the Buddha, Mao’s Red Book, The Lost Books of Eden, The Book of the Hopi, Journey to Ixtlan, and Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus (a guy has gotta eat). I stayed there until I read them all, nearly three months working though a dozen large candles and really needing a good bath (the creek could only provide so much).

All that reading left me confused and sent me on a side journey from the path I should have taken. But it did give me an appreciation of the beauty of the English language at the time of King James. The English language was never more beautiful.

The course I took on Oral literature (given by a very sweet, very kindly and gentle soul who was the worst lecturer of all time) dovetailed surprisingly well into the course on the Bible as literature (given by another sweet, if chain-smoking and slightly odd soul). The Bible for that course was the Oxford Bible.

It’s a good Bible, even if some believers are a little suspicious of it. It is edited by a series of great scholars who did their very best to understand the context of the books and carefully translate their words into the closest literal meanings of modern English. I still use this Bible. It is my primary source of personal reading.

I bought a copy of The Bishop’s Bible and used it for research (it is the version Shakespeare probably used), and finally gave it to my pastor as a gift. (I enjoyed that one a great deal.)

For my blog I usually use the online version of The New Intenational Version found at Bible Gateway.

This is just my life. Lots of Bibles. All for different purposes, different times, different seasons of my life. I have books to help me interpret them, and understand them, and see them in new lights. I have The Jerusalem Bible, and Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. I have The Testimony of the Evangelists (by Simon Greenleaf!), and The Amplified Bible. I have so many books on it that it would be a tedious and unfair list to place here.

So many Bibles. Does the quantity and variety of all of them make us complacent about their value? Perhaps a little. I think I take it for granted.

I read them in many ways also. I read them for inspiration. I read them for answers. I read them as a duty, and I read them as tools for writing.

I enjoy reading them as literature, noting the clever phrase, the subtle humor, the context of authors and how they reflect the changing world view of human history.

I have grown through a myriad of ways to read and interpret them. And the strange thing is, with all of the reading I have done, there is once again a simple truth about how I view scripture.

For me, even today, it is still a mysterious object of ancient wisdom.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

She Ain't June, But You Ain't Ward Neither

We had another Moon howlin’ last week. That’s when some friends and I get together and talk about faith, families, politics, music, about anything at all.

We build a fire out near this old barn/shed thingie and plug an iPod into speakers. It is a time for holding each other accountable, a time for talking of things of great import and of no importance at all. Sometimes the moon is up (hence my silly little name for this gathering), sometimes it rains.

When a tough question is asked it is convenient to have a fire to poke, to toss another log on (yes, there are other types of logging on!), grab a moment to gather our thoughts before answering.

Today I’m inviting you to pull a chair close to the fire (try to stay out of the smoke) while I poke the embers, kick unburnt portions in, and deliver a rambling soliloquy about marriage and life.

About once a week someone finds my blog by googling something like:

“Job’s wife” or “How do I make my wife be obedient?” or “Woman’s tongue scriptural reproof”.

Well... let me see if I can answer that sort of question, all in the spirit of sitting around a fire you know... Just some guys talking.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
--Ephesians 5:22

Ah... I see some of you have squirmed a little. Hang in there. I see a few others out there have smiled, and a couple of you puffed up a little, pleased with where this might be going.

It’s that last group I wish to address.

I understand your frustration. Ever since the (mythic) bra burnings of the 60s, the rants of Bella Abzug, and the rise of a myriad of feminist magazines, it seems that the place a man has held in society, perhaps even in his home, has been under attack.

It seems unfair you can’t follow Ward Cleaver’s footsteps into the kitchen to see what June has cooking for dinner. After all, you work hard, you sacrifice your time away from your family, your home, your favorite chair, and dang it, there ought to be some tangible rewards for being forced out of your bear’s den to go and hunt down the proverbial game and fling the bloody carcass on the dining room table.

There is that admonition to your wife for her to submit:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
--Ephesians 5:22-24

It seems pretty clear.

Wait a moment...

What was that last part? “ the church submits to Christ...” That passage isn’t just talking about wives. It’s saying we are all supposed to be submitting. Are you a Christ-follower? Do you submit? Do you yield to the authority of the Church (Christ)? Do you recognize the authority of our Lord over you and are you obedient? Check out the plank in your eye, brother. It is pretty easy to say your wife needs to yield, but do you? Do you back down? Cave in? Capitulate? Surrender? Knuckle under?

“Woah! Hey Curious Servant! Where do you get off talking like this? Why don’t you just go back to telling us about your skin problems, or the angst of raising special needs kids, or, ah heck, I can even handle the stuff about your dead kid, but let’s lay off the submit to the church stuff, ok?”

Hmmm... OK. Fair enough. I can move on, but remember, this is just a little chat around a fire, and the rules are that I can say what is on my heart. I can say what is real, in my view, and you can poke the coals, or drop another log into the fire, or go get a beer out of the fridge in the shed, or even make some noises about it getting late and jump in your pickup and go home.

It won’t hurt my feelings. We’re big boys here.

The passage under discussion implies that being the head of the household is a God-given right. There is the view women should just suck it up and do their duty. If they would just be obedient then everything would be fine.

Well, first of all my friend, my brother, she is probably more likely to be obedient to that scriptural admonition if you are truly doing your part.

You see, there is more to that passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
--Ephesians 5:25-27

Let’s let the fire crackle a bit...

A bit more...

Love your wife... Make her important. Hold her up, hold her close, hold her dear.

Love your wife.

Love her.

And it doesn’t stop there. Make her holy. Make her clean. Wash her in scripture. Wash her in prayer. Care for her.

Listen, if you owned a horse you would take care of it! You would curry the snarls in its coat, you would clean its hooves. Treat your wife tenderly. Love her. Don't you think that the person you swore to love until death you do part deserves at least as much?

Love her.

How much?

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—
--Ephesians 5:28-29

Love her as much as you love your body. How much did Christ love the Church? Enough to be tortured to death for it. Do you love your wife that much?
Love her more than you love your body.

Bottom line: You want your wife to submit?


Lead and follow. Lead your family by submitting to the Lord and doing your part.

Enough said. I’m going to grab a beer. Can I get you one?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

The boys were in bed, each received a kiss on the head, and each had a prayer from dad spoken over them. I asked them about their first week back at school (both thought it great), and we talked about whatever was on their minds.

Jeremiah asked me if I had ever been an astronaut (he had just watched Apollo 13). Cute. The kid thinks I have done just about everything! Isaac asked if we could pray for Grampa Denny.

Grampa Denny, as mentioned in the previous post, is a little ornery sometimes, and is now headed south toward his home near Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.

Brenda and I are a little concerned about his safety, health, and salvation. But we had the important conversations with him, and wished him well. The ornery and frightened little guy is now headed south.

After crawling into bed and chatting for a while, we prayed for him.

I love those chats at bedtime.

We snuggle up close, and tenderly talk to each other. We review our day, we share our concerns, we tell each other how we feel. We pray and fall asleep.

It wasn’t always that way. There has been some rough times this past quarter century. Yup, this November we will have been married 25 years! Hard to believe.

Last night we talked a little about this past summer. It was a busy one. We were juggling counseling sessions for Jeremiah (strongly requested by the county district attorney), Special Olympics events, went on a road trip to Wyoming, replaced floors, painted rooms, fixed a little of this, a lot of that, dealt with my mother in law (who used to live with us but now lives in her own apartment, with help from Brenda), and dealt with my father in law (who lives with wife #4 [who was also wife #2] in Mexico). (Wow! FOUR parenthetical statements in one sentence! Do I expect a lot from my readers or what?!!!)

We talked about the difficult times this past 25 years and how those challenges have helped us grow.

We talked about how things have gotten so sweet between us. . . how we are gentle with each other. We spoke about how our home is suddenly free from any big disasters. No deaths in the family. No family members staying with us. No overwhelming issues with our kids. No huge health problems. I have just had the best first week of school I can remember. (It was just FANTASTIC at work this week.)

We wondered if it would last. Such stability in our lives is not the way we have spent most of the last two and a half decades.

When I view the dusty crushed debris of our church I feel twinges of emotions that are difficult to articulate. I drive past it each day on my way home.

There are small projects I still need to complete from the big projects of the summer (Honey, if you are reading this, I promise I’ll get to the door trim soon, and that stuff in the back yard is nearly picked up!).

So how is it that we are getting along so well? Many couples divorce. Many folks have marriages filled with loneliness. What are we doing differently?

I think it is the way we have learned to handle crisis that has helped our marriage. When we were young we seemed to let the small things turn into big things.

Then the big things came.

We didn’t always handle those well either. Our marriage went through some really tough patches. We have learned to try to lift each other up when the other needs it. I say “try” because it didn’t always work out that way.

But now we are eager for that time of night when the phone has stopped ringing, the kids are asleep, and we can retreat to the refuge of our bed.

This afternoon we had our annual church picnic. It was good to get together with our church family. There were ten people baptized in the local river!

Our parents, Brenda and mine, seemed to move fairly frequently, and grew up always changing schools. Both of us had school years where we were in three different schools.

Not our kids. Since their adoption we have not moved at all.

We’ve been married for almost 25 years. We have lived in the same house for over 15. Our children have come out of terrible conditions to have a stable home in a community which includes friends at school and a close spiritual family at church.

Why is life so good? To tell the truth it spooks us a little. We have the feeling of waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” But I think there are some things I can point to as why life is good.

Because I love my wife. (One of these days I want to write a post about that... explain my take on that vastly misunderstood passage from Paul regarding wives and husbands).

Because I have grown through difficult times and rely on Him.

And maybe because He feels we just need a little break before we do anymore growing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Sidenote: The videos regarding September 11 in the previous post have been pretty popular, judging from the number of times they have been viewed. I want all to know that they are free to do what they wish with them (as is true of all I place in this blog).

Now for today's post.

Sometimes when folks ask how I am, I answer: "Old and fat!"

It's not all that true. I'm a little over weight, I weigh 230 pounds, but that isn't too bad for someone five foot 11 inches. And though I'm 50, that isn't really all that old (except to the middle schoolers I teach).

That's the flippant answer. The truth is today has been one of ups and downs. It was the first day of school at our middle school and it went so well! I think I haven't been this happy and excited since I first became a teacher. There was an assembly in which we presented the history of the events of 9/11 and the Peace Garden, and things went so well!

But I am set in my ways a little bit and it is difficult to always be patient and loving. True confessions here:

My father in law has been here about a week and he is... hmmmmm... what's a tactful way to put it?... ah yes, ornery.

The MRIs have shown some brain damage and slight shrinkage from all his drinking, and I try to keep that in mind. (But he has always been domineering.) When he gets verbally abusive to Brenda or even to his own wife, I try, as gently as possible, to defuse the situation.

But he has been
talking consistently for about a week now how it was drugs from the surgery which caused his delirium tremons and not alchohol withdrawal. He tries to get me to agree and I have, until this afternoon, successfully dodged being pigeon-holed into his set of rationalizations.

Today I told him that his trying to intimidate me wasn't working and that I knew what was real, what was true, and no matter how much he ranted, I wasn't going to change my opinion of what I believe his doctors are trying to tell him.

It's uncomfortable to be called a fool and nuts in my home by my guest, but that does not mean I shouldn't continue to show him love and compassion.

I've been thinking about him quite a bit lately. In fact I have been doing a lot of praying about it, which helps.

And two things seem clear to me (caution, abrupt mental tangent ahead):

1. Zacchaeus was a jerk.
2. Zacchaeus was loved by Jesus.

This tiny little man (a trait shared by my father in law) loved money (another shared trait) and apparently was an important wealthy tax collector (who didn't mind a little shady accounting as the middle man between Jericho and Rome).

Though his neighbors and fellow jews hated him, Jesus loved him.

Jesus was like that.

Jesus loved all sorts of people. I don't know any prostitutes, but Jesus did. In fact Jesus didn't spend a lot of time with the sorts of people I surround myself with, such as people of faith, upstanding citizens, politicians and police officers and fire chiefs. Jesus spent His time with people other folks found difficult to be near.

It is not to my credit that I get frustrated by his, uh, lack of accuracy in the bathroom. And it is definately not to my credit that I allow an edge to my voice when tell him that I am not in agreement with all of his positions on issues.

While writing this post I have gone for two walks, one alone, one with my son Isaac.

We walked by the burned out church, which is nearly gone now. Some people came by while we were looking at it (I was explaining parts of the structure and history of the building to him). They had questions about it, which I answered. Afterwards Isaac said he was glad I didn't say anything about who started the fire. I told him we don't need to tell everyone everything.

I sensed he is uncomfortable with our familial connection to that fire. I told him I think Jeremiah is sorry about what happened, and that we will always love him, no matter what.

There was a pensive silence.

I looked at him for a moment.

"I hope this is something you learn from my life, buddy. I will always love him no matter what he does. I will always love you. I may not always agree with what you or Jeremiah do, but I will always love you.

"That goes for Grampa too.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

September 11, 2001

Susan Miszkowicz, age 37.

Place killed: World Trade Center. Resident of New York, N.Y. (USA).

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of those who perished on September 11th, 2001. The videos here are to honor the memories of those people.


On that morning, as I was headed off to work, my wife called out to me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I shrugged it off. It sounded like the time a small plane had hit the Empire State Building.

I was preparing for my day of teaching English to middle schoolers. Then someone said a second plane had hit the other building. Suddenly everything was different. The world stood still.

The world has stood still for me before. There was a day in November, 1963 when my third grade teacher was called out into the hallway and suddenly we were all sent out to play and there was no more lessons that day.

There was the July day in 1969 when I watched intently as my hero, Neil Armstrong, stepped onto the surface of the moon (and my brother stepped on my finger, popping out the nail, resulting in the misshapen nail I carry today).

There was the November 1981 day when I married my wife in my father's backyard.

And there was that morning in September five years ago.

The best way I can express what I saw, thought, and felt that day might be in this video I put together about it:

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I am greatly moved at the thought of those who raced into that building, again and again, until...

One habit I began was to stop and thank every fireman, police officer, and veteran I encounter. Every one.

I made this video because something in my heart stirred at the song... something made me feel I had to express myself somehow.

I thought my students might want to also do something. And they did.

We talked about creating a memorial to 9/11... We wanted a place to reflect on what had happened, and a place where students could sit quietly, peacefully. We dreamed up the Peace Garden at Ackerman Middle School.

As the central feature of the garden we wanted to obtain a piece of the World Trade Center (depicted in the video).

As a writing assignment for my class we started a letter writing campaign. I taught them how to write a formal letter, and required they write six letters each. Most wrote many more. And many other teachers also began asking their students to contribute.

They wrote letters to senators, and representatives; they wrote to the mayor of New York, and the President, and to members of all sorts of organizations. In the end they sent out over 1,800 letters.

Congresswoman Darlene Hooley responded. She managed to grant our wish.

That was a proud day for our school. On September 5th, 2002 a piece of the World Trade Center arrived in our town to much reverent fanfare. On September 11th we brought it from its place of respect at the fire hall to our middle school. There was a time capsule (to be opend September 11, 2021). Here is a video of that day when our dream of bringing a relic of heroism over terrorism to our school came true:

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This year, to mark the fifth anniversary we are retiring the flag which flies over the Peace Garden and replacing it with one that once flew over our nation's capitol. There will be a ceremeony at the fire hall, moments of silence, speeches by local politicians, an open mic time, and that flag will be brought via fire trucks and a police procession to our Peace Garden, where we will teach a new group of kids about the events of that day.

Now I try to keep this blog apolitical. And I am not going to take sides in the debate on our current difficulties here. But I do wish to say this.

My Lord has asked me to love everyone, to show that love to everyone, and in the end, His kingdom is based on that premise alone.

If I can help you to understand that love in anyway, please contact me. I am at your service always.


Heavenly Father, Bless those who love You, and draw close to those who do not. Please send someone to those who are lost, those wandering in the dark. Lord, I ask that Your will be done today, just as it is done in Heaven. Forgive us for our inability to be obedient. Lord there are those suffering right now. There are mothers crying over the missing children, and I pray for Your comfort for them. From the victims of that terrible day, to the sorrows of today, I pray that Your grace and love and compassion will shine through this present darkness. Protect those who place themselves in harm's way. --Amen.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It Makes Me a Little Sad

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They started tearing down our old burned out church yesterday. So many memories there... so many people had so many important events happen there... We had a dedication for the parenting of our children there, Jeremiah, Isaac, and two years earlier, Willy. We had Willy's memorial service there. My sons were baptised in that baptistry. Brenda and I renewed our wedding vows there. My friends had their children married and their parents buried through services held there. And my son, playing with a candle, burned it all up in an evening that nearly hurt or killed a half dozen people.

And it is coming down.

But life goes on. My father in law is threatening to sleep in the truck because I won't say that it wasn't alcohol that caused his problems. I have to move furniture and set up computers today to prepare for students next week. There is a 9/11 memorial service I am working on, and an assembly about it the following day. I have lessons to write, handouts to type up...

I haven't much to say... except that I wish I was as strong and wise and gentle and giving as everyone thinks I am. I wish I was half the man my dog thinks I am.

Gotta go!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


A few weeks ago the fair was in town. A steady stream of animal trailers slowed in front of our house so they could make they turn into the fair ground’s livestock entrance; the RVs and buses carrying cowboys and rodeo clowns paused as they negotiated the corner, and my kids stood in the yard soaking it up.

Brenda is a trooper. Even though she had a lot going on in her life (more about that in a moment) she took the time to go with us to the fair (My Fair Lady!).

First, it has been a stressful year for her (read the last 100 posts or so). We went on a road trip to Wyoming (a week together in the van can be a lot of fun, but... well at least the dog didn't get sprayed by a skunk this year). We got new floors in four rooms (and therefore felt the need to fix cabinets, fixtures, windows, and repaint).

She’s going to college, and this summer s she made the same mistake I made once. I took a nine week chemistry course in an accelerated 3.5 weeks, only she’s doing biology. She is maintaining her 4.0 GPA while washing clothes and dishes, cooking meals, and dealing with... family.

Her sister was staying with us with a teen daughter, and her other sister was having a baby. We went through wrapping up elements of Jeremiah’s informal probation.

The biggest issue is her father is in the hospital. He’s been there about three weeks and we have been worried.

He lives near Puerta Vallarta. He served in the Navy in the late 50s and so comes up to Portland to go to the V.A. hospital when he needs surgery. He needed surgery, and came up in March.

He argued, and threatened and pushed, and the doctors to work on him. They finally did, three weeks ago. They did bypass surgery for the arteries carrying blood to his legs. The operation was completely successful. His legs are getting enough blood now and he’s no longer in danger of losing them. In fact his feet are warm and pink and no longer tingle.

But he didn’t tell his doctors how much he drank. Three days after his operation he started having delirium tremens. He pulled out his IVs, and his catheter, and his stitches. So they restrained and sedated him.

He was so angry. He tried to fight them, bite them. Hs blood pressure shot up. He had a stroke.

We agreed to take him in, help his recovery. I asked you to pray.

So it has been nearly a week and I’m here to let you know where we are at, where he is at. (Even though I’m a trained English teacher, I find ending a sentence in a preposition satisfying sometimes, but I digress, which is also a comfortable thing to do sometimes, even when blogging.)

His stroke slurred his speech, his delusions increased. He had trouble remembering things, we worried.

And he started to get better. His speech improved. The slack side of his face began to tighten up a little. I tossed in a comment thanking you for your prayers and asked for patience.

His doctors told us his prognosis today. He has Alzheimer's, forgetting many things important to him. He has deliriums also, imaging things that do not exist. He cannot go home. He cannot stay in the hospital. A care facility will cost about $3,300 a month, which is apparently a bargain because of his VA benefits. Hmmm.

He has been a jerk for much of his life. He has been mean, and worse, to his wife. He has been self-centered, and opinionated to the point of exclusion of almost all other ideas.

Hey, I love him. Odd... He isn’t my father, but I still love him. I suppose love isn’t about blood or what someone has done for you. Hmmm. That was an obvious thing to say, coming from a man who has adopted three children and loves them more than his own life (now I’m talking about myself in the third person! I’m in a very strange mood today...).

Anyway, I love him and want to do what I can for him. He can’t stay here... He sees turtles under his bed and hummingbirds over it. And though he says that he owns the land the V.A. hospital sits on, that doesn’t mean he should be living in my home.

What I am more concerned about is his soul.

When I was visiting him yesterday I thought a lot about who he is. Though he hasn’t been the sort of person who loves others easily, I wonder if that can change.

I asked such a question of my friend and pastor.

“Do you think some people can’t be saved?”

“Oh no!” he said. “It’s never too late.”

He had an experience this past year, of praying and watching for someone close to him who rejected God throughout his life. And just before this person my friend loved died, he accepted the Lord.

He had kept putting it off because he felt he needed to change, to get his life in order, before he could go to God, go to church, before he could go to his knees.

My friend told him that he didn’t have to change at all. All he had to do was accept the gift that was being offered, salvation.

My friend told him that the changing would happen later.

And he’s right.

For this person who was so important to my friend the change came, a change of the heart. The change made him smile bright and often, for the short time he was still mortal.

My father in law can know that change too.