Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Highly Recommended

Our family has read lots of books together over the years. There are certainly some books that we can't wait to be done with, there are others that you wish would never end, and then there are the few and rare books that capture not only a moment and a story with drama and excitement, but also add insight to insight and prompt you to live life more richly. The Blue family gifted us with such a book at Christmas time: In Search of the Source.

In Search of the Source is a true account of a missionary family's work among the Folopa people in Papua New Guinea. Neal (author) and his wife, Carol, were among the first foreigners to learn the language of the Folopa and then translate the Bible into their native tongue. While the story line seems potentially mundane, this book is a story of the extraordinary and is quite simply fascinating. What would it would be like to have, once again, a first encounter with God's Word? This book does a swell job of answering that question.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning is Slow

My graduate school advisor gave me a piece of advice when I got close to my commencement, "As soon as you begin teaching," he said, "begin to learn something new."

It was good advice. I decided to try to learn piano, and, wow, it has sure kept me in touch with the difficulty of learning. I have just gotten to the end of my adult beginner piano book, and, boy, oh boy, it is not easy to learn! I respect pianists so much! This evening I performed (in my running clothes!) an impromptu piano recital and if you can even just faintly recognize the song, I'll consider it progress!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Becca and Her Babydolls

Rebecca made her selection today - two Miniature Babydoll Southdown lambs. The one in the picture above is named Curious George.
Introducing: Curious George, 1 week old.
Curious George again! Does he look curious?
This is the ewe and her name is Little Smudge. She is also 1 week old.
Little Smudge again! Isn't she cute? Even though Becca put a down-payment on her sheep today, Becca can't bring home her lambs until the end of May because they have to drink their mother's milk, but she is very excited for that date two months from now when she can welcome her lambs to their permanent home!

Think It's Funny?

From the 3/28/09 New York Times article: Puns for the Ages

"This is My Body, Given for You" (TOTB Part IV)

TOTB Intro; TOTB Part I; TOTB Part II; TOTB Part III

Our bodies are stamped with the purpose of our existence - to give ourselves away in love. God teaches us that His love is faithful, fruitful, free and total. We were thus created to love, given God's example of what our love should look like and yet the tragedy of human love is that we love selfishly – we struggle constantly to reverse the effects of the fall – to reverse the effects of the continual ease of choosing only to use others and receive love. Love is truly meant to be a mutual gifting of self. We must find our way back... And if it hasn't been clear so far as to why Theology of the Body is a perfect reflection for Lent, perhaps it will now become evident...

Finding our way back to a true understanding of love was not a trivial task. The body, the material reflection of a wonderful spiritual union, in our fallenness was incomplete. Restoration was our only hope. And in many times, in many ways, steps toward regaining a true understanding of love were taken - Abraham received the promise that would God never reject his people; Moses brought the law, to provide order to a society that loved only selfishly; the judges sought to arbitrate the justice of God fairly; but the people wanted a god whom they could see, and they asked for a king. Through all these times, and through all these years, the heart of God, as expressed by the prophets, never changed: "Oh that they would be my people and I would be their God." Humanity's purpose was loving communion, first with God and then with one another. We were still so, so far away.

But God, the faithful lover, the total lover, perceived that in all of our attempts to reunite with our created purpose, we were groping, as in the night, never perceiving, not understanding the cost of what it would take to be reconciled to true life, to abundant life, to a life of selfless love. And, so, enters the most glorious story ever told.

In the fullness of time, God the Son became a body. He became a whole person, just as we are, sharing in our humanity. God, in his body, became a new Adam. The old Adam had rejected his created purpose. The new Adam fulfilled his created purpose and, in so doing, provided a means whereby our bodies could be restored again to share in the abundance of their original intent. We had forgotten how to give ourselves away in love, but the new Adam, God in a body, reminded us. The new Adam lived only for God the Father and for us. He healed our diseases, he spoke comfort to the destitute, he loved the outcasts, he condemned injustice and, most wondrously, he provided a means for us to reengage the original intent of our lives. If the purpose of our lives was marred and clouded when the old Adam rejected his call to love in totality, the new Adam restored all that was lost by loving us completely and perfectly. The new Adam said that greater love had no man than to lay down his life. And the new Adam taught by example and thus laid down his life.

The old Adam's nature had so propagated in humanity that we became selfish enough to kill our Eternal Lover. We hung the new Adam, Jesus the Christ, on a cross and watched him suffer, bleed and die. But our Eternal Lover, now in the bodily form of the new Adam said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." We did not know what we were doing - we took our only hope of abundant life, the person of God himself, and killed him, thinking that if we could rob him of his body, we could continue to grope in the darkness without facing the truth that our lives had no meaning apart from their created purpose.

But what we did not understand, what we could not comprehend was that love is, as the Song of Solomon proclaims, stronger than death. Perfect love cannot die. Herein there is still hope.

For God so loved the world,
God's love is faithful
That He gave
God's love is free
His only Son
God's love is total - He gave everything
That whosoever believes in Him
God's love is for all people
Will not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God's love is fruitful - it brings forth new life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Becca's Farming Dream

Bentley Farm has seen very few sheep in its pastures over the past hundred years, but that may soon be changing if Becca's long-time dream comes true. Becca has gotten her skilled brothers to rewire the oxen pasture so that she can house sheep on our west lawn. She went to a friend's farm today to look into buying some lambs. She hasn't made the purchase yet, but she it getting quite ready!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Salt Lake City, Continued

My Uncle Steve confirmed that Truman Angell (the architect of the Mormon Temple) is a descendent of Thomas Angell (the man who settled Providence, Rhode Island) and since my great-grandmother, Alice Angel Angell, is also descended from Thomas Angell, we are all related! Now that we cleared that up, here's another fun fact: the girl who checked me in at my hotel is named Sarah Angell. How's that for a coincidence? I'm probably related to her too.

The Undergraduate Poster Session in Hall 5 at the Convention Center.
The undergraduate student at Fox who is working on the same research project that I worked on during the Summer of 2002 at Fox (synthesis of amphiphilic polyoxometalates).
The weather in Salt Lake City is officially strange. Today it snowed - almost all day!
Poor flowers!
The view of the mountains from outside my hotel.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

American Chemical Society Meeting: Salt Lake City, UT

Temple Hall at Temple Square.
The Mormon Temple. I learned yesterday that the architect of the temple was a man by the name of Truman O. Angell. I wonder if I am related?

Weather in SLC is quite unpredictable if my stay here so far is any indication. Yesterday it was about 70. Today it must have been about 40. This morning it was sunny. This evening it was raining. This is strange. Oh, and it's really windy and kind of dusty.

The SLC convention center is only one of the meeting sites for the ACS meetings! There are a ton of chemists here!

These, though, are my favorite chemists because they taught me chemistry at George Fox University. And...I got to meet some new undergraduate chemistry majors from Fox!

Botswana, Africa

Nathaniel, my ever-adventurous brother, spent his Spring Break in Botswana, Africa (due north of South Africa). He was working on research for his senior thesis which involves using ground penetrating radar to map tree root systems so as to gain insights into the savannah ecosystems of Botswana.

He was going to end his visit to Botswana with a safari, but his tire blew on the way, so he ended up investigating a crowd of crocodiles instead. The locals apparently loved Nate and were thrilled when he gave one of them his John Deere hat, and another of them an old Toyota truck t-shirt!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

John Steinbeck Off the Page

During times of economic recession there are definitely little mile markers that stand out as significant indicators of the hard times. I am not thinking of the day where a heightened unemployment rate is announced, or the day where the stock market passes a twelve-year low, or the day where the federal stimulus package is passed, or the day where the number of foreclosed homes reaches a news-breaking high. No, these signs are abstract, if you will, words off the radio, words on newspaper pages. My life continues on as it always did - this is all just news.

But there are other indicators of an economic depression that can't be ignored, that aren't just pieces of news, that aren't simply words announced by a journalist. I am thinking of the day a friend lost his job, the day Dad's client walked fifteen miles to his office because public transportation was no longer funded, the day the big yellow machinery left the farm's housing development project because funds had bottomed out, or the day the first hitchhiker in years was seen on a busy section of Poughkeepsie's arterial and picked up by an old jalopy reminiscent of Dust Bowl era locomotion. These signs are concrete indicators that times are changing, that life as we have known it is undergoing a fundamental shift.

I haven't exactly been collecting these evidences of change. Life proceeds, as busy as ever, and some of these changes only precipitate out of my memory when seeded by a significant event. And today, I suppose, a significant enough event occurred to make me cognizant of the changing scenery of life.

Today a complete stranger, polite and well-built, obviously a man who knew the value of a good day's labor, stopped at our home and asked, "Do you have any work?" In my entire life, as far back as my imagination lets me traverse, I do not remember any similar event. The only thing I could dredge up in my memory turned out not to be a memory of my own creating, but an emotion formed while reading a Steinbeck novel.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And I Think to Myself, "What a Wonderful World"

I don't know if I have ever been happier for the arrival of warm breezes, chirping birds, budding tulips, muddy fields and longer daylight hours than I am right now. I guess I must think this every spring, but it sure feels true! Today was the first time in months where I went outside and felt so comfortable, as if the outdoors were my home instead of a fierce enemy that I was quickly trying to escape.

The only trouble was that other small creatures, namely gnats, also found the weather very agreeable. I convince myself in bitter winter months that there is no way possible for these creatures to survive the cold. The first true day of warmth and sunshine never ceases to prove me wrong.

Yes, but, even these small annoyances shall be accepted as a very light burden to bear for all of the glorious advantages of the fast-approaching vernal equinox!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Do You See What I See?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Tragic Nature of Human Love: Shattered Communion (TOTB Part III)

TOTB Intro; TOTB Part I; TOTB Part II

In order to have a truly loving relationship, the lover must be the beloved and the beloved must be the lover. In other words, loving relationship always walks a two way street. That is why we call a person who loves without reciprocation a stalker. This is also why we call a person who only receives love, never giving it, a leach. Any truly loving relationship functions as a dance – a perfect union of receiving and of giving. The female and male bodies point to this mutualism – this perfect exchange of gift and receipt.

The purpose of life is stamped on our bodies – we were made to give ourselves away in love so that we can perfectly enter a shared communion with another that begins to model and point to the union of love that has existed before all time between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Love, true love, is the communion of the total gift of self and the grace to receive the total gift of another. Tragically, though, this purpose of life, to which our created bodies point, is so often not experienced. A satisfying, holistic communion of love tends to approach the idealistic, the world of fairy land.


We shattered perfect beauty. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, love was breached. God’s love toward Adam and Eve was total – it had given everything – life itself. God’s love invited Adam and Eve to enter into the union that had existed eternally. Adam and Eve, recipients of the totality of the gift of God’s love, did not reciprocate total love in return. That ruined everything. The parents of our race received God’s total gift of Himself and yet, in the freedom provided by the nature of love, did not return the totalness of love. Loving communion just doesn’t work where the gift being received is not reciprocated with a gift given.

Everything fell apart. Adam and Eve, male and female, possessing bodies that modeled the very nature of divine love hid themselves from each other because they were naked! The body, that which physically modeled the most wonderful of stories, the story of God’s fruitful, faithful, free and total love, was seen to be a thing of shame. Adam and Eve hid their bodies! The naked body – that which spoke so clearly of union, of communion, of a total and mutual gift of self – was hid.

The naked body, before the fall, prompted in Adam the desire to give the gift of himself to Eve. But after Adam chose to only receive the gift of God’s love and not reciprocate love to God in its totality, when he looked at Eve, he could only see her selfishly, he could only see her for what she could give to him. This is a shameful thing! It is a desperately tragic thing for the symbol in our bodies of perfect union and gift to only be seen by another for their own selfish pleasure. Christopher West classically concludes at this point that a woman changing in a closed room who receives a knock on the door with the question, "Are you decent?" should not answer, "No," but, "Yes, I am decent, but you could not behold me in decency." It is shameful to see, in nakedness, only the gift to be received and not the gift to be given. Nakedness is not shameful, the body is not shameful, but to be looked on by another only as an object for their pleasure is shameful. This is why we wear clothes!

This is the tragedy of human love. We love selfishly – we struggle constantly to reverse the effects of the fall – to reverse the effects of the continual ease of choosing only to use others and receive love.

Love is truly meant to be a mutual gifting of self. We must find our way back.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Nature of God’s Love (TOTB Part II)

TOTB Intro; TOTB Part I

Paul prays for the Ephesian church to know the height and depth and width of God’s love. In a certain sense, Paul may be conveying that God’s love is limitless and that words will never be enough to fully characterize the nature of God’s love. But, while God’s love can hardly be described within bounds, Theology of the Body recognizes four key characteristics of the love of God. These characteristics are by no means exhaustive, but they are instructive, and very true.

God’s Love is Fruitful

The Nicene Creed recognizes that even before time began, the love of God was fruitful, “The Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father.” The very power of love is that it is generative. Where there was nothingness, love creates. The act of our creation is a further indication that God’s love is fruitful. Love seeks to multiply. Humanity was offered, in creation, an invitation to the eternal union that was originally known between the Father and the Son; in acceptance of this gift, love grows. Love, by nature, cannot be stagnant. It is, rather, fully life giving. When God creates Adam and Eve, He recognizes within them the power to share in this, the fruitfulness of love, and commands them, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God’s Love is Free

When God created male and female, He created them with an invitation to share in the nature of love. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and provided love on the availability of choice. “You are free to eat from any tree,” God instructed the father of the human race, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God loved humanity of His own accord, freely without coercion. Adam and Eve were thus invited to reciprocate God’s free love. They were given an invitation to enter into the union of love that was eternal. But that was it – an invitation. Love cannot be love without being given freely.

God’s Love is Faithful

In creation we see that man and woman, created in their union to bear the image of God, are invited to share in the union of love that existed in the Godhead from the beginning of time. Tragically, man and woman, taking advantage of the freedom of love, choose not to fully trust the goodness of God’s love. But the fullness and richness of God’s love toward us is shown in His very faithfulness, even when that very love is rejected.

After Adam and Eve are willingly unfaithful, God shows the perfection of real love – it is utterly faithful. Adam and Eve take the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they eat it, and yet, beauty of all beauties, God pursues them in faithfulness calling to the man, even in his shame, asking, “Where are you?” God’s love is faithful.

God’s Love is Total

If Genesis 1 -3 is an indication of God’s fruitful, free and faithful love, then the rest of Scriptures, in its entirety, is a testament to the fact that the gift of God’s love is a gift of totality. God’s love, in fruitfulness created; love to be love included freedom; Adam and Eve were unfaithful to the love of God, God was still faithful to them.

From Genesis 3 to the end of Scripture, the heart of God is simple, “Oh, that they would be my people and I would be their God.” The longing of God’s love would require totality – the total gift of His Body. Eventually the story will again begin here. But before it does, Theology of the Body would have us consider the problem in our bodily nature and the reason for our frequent inability to experience and give true love.

Theology of the Body Resources

During my Lenten summary of Theology of the Body, I am synthesizing many ideas and thoughts that I have gleaned while reading (sometimes skimming!) a solid list of books on the topic. The posts on the BFG are my own writing, and while I seek to be just a faithful messenger of the good news that I have read and learned, I dare say that any failing in the organization and clear communication of the message is not Pope John Paul II's fault, but my own!

In other words, the real stuff, unedited and "un-sifted" through the patterns and workings of my mind, can be purchased through Amazon, read and enjoyed in great detail. Some recommended resources on Theology of the Body are exhibited below.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spring Company

This weekend was a busy one at Bentley as we enjoyed the company of friends new and old. A fun new family in the neighborhood joined us Friday evening for supper; Saturday morning it was a delight to see Alice and Katherine and Adeleide who is growing so quickly; the Latz family (who live in my great-grandmother's home in Carthage, Indiana) joined us early Saturday as well, and stayed through Sunday's pancake breakfast, keeping us enthralled with stories of our family history that they had discovered through dedicated research; the Ouellette family completed the weekend company for a Sunday brunch. Mom somehow did an amazing job of keeping the most wonderful spread of fresh food available. Mom, you're my hero!

(Pictures of some of the weekend events are above. Other times we were too busy for a camera!)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What is Mercy?

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God....Though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

- The Apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 5:20-21; 8:9

Bentley Farm

This humble gazette bears the name of the special place where I was born, raised and reside. Logically a newspaper about a place, would periodically carry news of the place. But this place, Bentley Farm, has not generated a lot of news recently.

Bentley Farm is in an unspoken hiatus of sorts. Its only real claim to life right now is a flock of about fifteen chickens that employ Caleb and give him a small wage. The economy has certainly affected all of us, but to Bentley Farm it has brought a season of deep hibernation. The bustle of activity that was building homes and roads and sewer systems is completely silenced. Nature alone is controlling the landscape of this place for the present time - perhaps nature even so much as favors a suffering economy.

Bentley Farm, despite its widened roads and half-inserted pipelines is still a beautiful place. But for now it is a quiet place, a place at rest that doesn't generate a whole lot of news. Bentley Farm has seen sleepless days: days where the plow didn't rest from dawn to dusk, days where the kicker of the John Deere baler thrusted on end, days where the chug-a-chug-a-chug of the old vacuum pump for the milk line ran incessantly. Maybe one day these sleepless days will return.

But, for now, as all things must eventually do, Bentley Farm sleeps.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bone of My Bone, Flesh of My Flesh: The Call of our Bodies is to Communion (TOTB Part I)

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us... so God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

"God is love," the apostle John assures us, and love, in order to be love, must have an object, a beloved. When God creates humankind, He says, "let us make human beings to be like us" for even God is not singular, but a perfect union of three, bound in unity with love. Human beings were made to be like God, to enter into a communion of love. This is established in our creation as male and female. Thus we see the insight of Pope John Paul II's statement, "Man becomes the image of God, not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion."

In case we ever were to question the purpose of our existence, God gave us a roadmap that is no more distant than the body in which we dwell. Our bodies tell us that we were not meant to be alone. In union we are completed, in union we are whole. We were made, rightly so, with an intense craving for communion. God, the eternal communion of love, made us, according to Genesis 1:26, to be like Him, to share in the richness of love that existed before all time. So, lest we forget this, the call of humanity, the very call of our creation, was stamped on our body.

And, if the magazine rack by the grocery check-out line is any indication, our bodies have not forgotten their call. Yet, for all the many forms of sexual expression that are flaunted in our times, there is still an evident and powerful craving for the richness of an eternal communion of love. Something is wrong - we have traded something costly for something cheap - we have traded love for lust. (To be continued next time.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Competing with Playboy to Advertise the Better Body: Introduction to "Theology of the Body"

I am absolutely convinced that the Christian life is the ultimate life; it is the life of greatest meaning, of greatest happiness and of greatest joy. This ultimate life is not just "a spiritual thing" or "pie in the sky."

No, in fact, our very physical bodies (which are very good and will be resurrected) with all their cravings are most satisfied in the fullness of the Christian life. I don't think anyone has understood this in recent times more than Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II dedicated an enormous portion of his papacy to teaching the theology of the body. The first time I heard a lecture (two years ago now) dedicated to the theology of the body, I left in tears - this was not an emotional lecture, it was a lecture of theology! Never before had I encountered an idea, a theology that so deeply moved me.

As I have continued to learn and read more, I am left convinced that this theology is not only a tool of enlightening those who believe, but it is an incredible tool of evangelization. I teach in a high school with 3700 students, and it is plainly obvious that our culture has succombed to massive confusion regarding the cravings and hungers of the body. As I have gotten to know and treasure these students, and especially my female students, I have come to see and taste the reality of their pain, of an inner longing that runs so deep and often backfires to hurt them, just when they think their deepest longings have been satisfied. The beautiful reality is that what the Christian gospel has to offer is not just some rules to obey in order to avoid offending a distant and far-off God, but the answer to the very craving, not just of our souls, but of our bodies.

Our bodies are real and beautiful and good, the yearnings of our bodies are very real and beautiful and good. The church has a unique call to reclaim the advertisement of the body - to do a much, much, much better job of advertising the body than any Playboy magazine could ever do. Standing on this truth, during his papacy, Pope John Paul II ordered the removal of the loin cloths that had been painted in Puritan times on the naked bodies of Michelangelo's masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel. Why?

The naked body, completely unveiled and beheld in purity, speaks more to the purpose of our life on this earth than perhaps any other sacrament. Why?

The naked body reveals one of life's most blessed truths - we were not meant to be alone. We were made for a communion of love. The male body does not make sense alone. The female body does not make sense alone. Stamped into our very physical bodies, and into the deepest cravings of our heart, is the first major clue that the very meaning of life is to give ourselves away in love. This is where theology of the body begins.

As the season of lent is officially upon us, and as we anticipate Easter, I am dedicating a large portion of this blog space during the course of the these forty days to twelve important aspects of theology of the body. I will be summarizing and sharing from what I have found to be one of the best resources published by Ascension Press on this subject. What does this have to do with the season of lent? Just wait and see!

(And in case you are worried that this blog will become too risque, do not fear because modesty, in context, is one of the key components of theology of the body - stay tuned!)