Our First Memorial Day

Let us not forget in these days of divided politics those who laid down their lives so that we might live in a nation united.  They died so that an exceptional idea might live.  That exceptional idea is that men are free and equal; that every man should have the freedom of life and liberty to pursue happiness owing nothing to merit.  It is an exceptional idea imperfectly pursued, imperfectly applied, fully agreed upon, nationally recognized as our guide.

In April 1865 this nation ended a war over that idea, a war caused by conflict between that idea and reality.  Our divided house was reconciled.  The path to reconciliation had begun without those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that their friends and neighbors might, once again, live alongside one another in states united.

These fallen soldiers were not forgotten.  Shortly after the war, in the town of Waterloo, New York, the loved ones left behind commemorated the sacrifice of their fallen comrades by decorating their graves with flowers and other ornaments.

Three years after the war, under the proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, May 30, 1868 was set aside as a day to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.  The purpose of this day, Decoration Day, was to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers in memory of their service and sacrifice.

In 1971, by a declaration of Congress, Decoration Day became Memorial Day, a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

At the first celebration of Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.   Before they decorated the graves, General James Garfield made a speech to the crowd gathered there.  In this speech he said,

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

I know of nothing more appropriate on this occasion than to inquire what brought these men here; what high motive led them to condense life into an hour, and to crown that hour by joyfully welcoming death? Let us consider.

Eight years ago this was the most unwarlike nation of the earth. For nearly fifty years no spot in any of these states had been the scene of battle. Thirty millions of people had an army of less than ten thousand men. The faith of our people in the stability and permanence of their institutions was like their faith in the eternal course of nature. Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons; and all sprang from a single source, the old American principle that all owe due submission and obedience to the lawfully expressed will of the majority. This is not one of the doctrines of our political system—it is the system itself. It is our political firmament, in which all other truths are set, as stars in Heaven. It is the encasing air, the breath of the Nation’s life. Against this principle the whole weight of the rebellion was thrown. Its overthrow would have brought such ruin as might follow in the physical universe, if the power of gravitation were destroyed, and

‘Nature’s concord broke,
Among the constellations war were sprung,
Two planets, rushing from aspect malign
Of fiercest opposition, in mid-sky
Should combat, and their jarring spheres confound.’

The Nation was summoned to arms by every high motive which can inspire men. Two centuries of freedom had made its people unfit for despotism. They must save their Government or miserably perish.

As a flash of lightning in a midnight tempest reveals the abysmal horrors of the sea, so did the flash of the first gun disclose the awful abyss into which rebellion was ready to plunge us. In a moment the fire was lighted in twenty million hearts. In a moment we were the most warlike Nation on the earth. In a moment we were not merely a people with an army—we were a people in arms. The Nation was in column—not all at the front, but all in the array.

I love to believe that no heroic sacrifice is ever lost; that the characters of men are molded and inspired by what their fathers have done; that treasured up in American souls are all the unconscious influences of the great deeds of the Anglo-Saxon race, from Agincourt to Bunker Hill. It was such an influence that led a young Greek, two thousand years ago, when musing on the battle of Marathon, to exclaim, ‘the trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep!’ Could these men be silent in 1861; these, whose ancestors had felt the inspiration of battle on every field where civilization had fought in the last thousand years? Read their answer in this green turf. Each for himself gathered up the cherished purposes of life—its aims and ambitions, its dearest affections—and flung all, with life itself, into the scale of battle.

And now consider this silent assembly of the dead. What does it represent? Nay, rather, what does it not represent? It is an epitome of the war. Here are sheaves reaped in the harvest of death, from every battlefield of Virginia. If each grave had a voice to tell us what its silent tenant last saw and heard on earth, we might stand, with uncovered heads, and hear the whole story of the war. We should hear that one perished when the first great drops of the crimson shower began to fall, when the darkness of that first disaster at Manassas fell like an eclipse on the Nation; that another died of disease while wearily waiting for winter to end; that this one fell on the field, in sight of the spires of Richmond, little dreaming that the flag must be carried through three more years of blood before it should be planted in that citadel of treason; and that one fell when the tide of war had swept us back till the roar of rebel guns shook the dome of yonder Capitol, and re-echoed in the chambers of the Executive Mansion. We should hear mingled voices from the Rappahannock, the Rapidan, the Chickahominy, and the James; solemn voices from the Wilderness, and triumphant shouts from the Shenandoah, from Petersburg, and the Five Forks, mingled with the wild acclaim of victory and the sweet chorus of returning peace. The voices of these dead will forever fill the land like holy benedictions.

What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this, under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!”

In the words of Schuyler Colfax, “The supporters of religion gave their lives for a principle. These martyrs of patriotism gave their lives for an idea.”

May God have mercy on us all; may we remember well those who have gone before us.

*Image from Civil War Buff*

Farewell to LOST

Epic.

That was the first thought that came to my mind after the finale of LOST. There was a lot of emotion, triumph, a few more questions answered, and ultimately, closure. Yes, I even had tears in my eyes during the last 10 minutes or so of the finale. While I can’t throw myself into the ultra-fan “Lostie” category, I did spend an entire evening attempting to crack the code on the Dharma Initiative website that went up during season two. So I might be close. There are lots of posts out there doing deep analysis on the finale. For those unfamiliar with LOST (yes there are those out there) you may wonder if it is worth putting the entire series in your Neflix/Hulu queue. I say “YES!” and here’s why.

All in all, LOST was excellent because:

1. The storyline was gripping through the entire series. I often spent the days after an episode trying to piece things together. The show was bold enough to include time travel and “alternate realities.” In most series, time travel indicates a poor taste in writing, or an attempt to reset a bad season by wiping it away. With an already complex storyline, LOST managed to pull off time travel in a very convincing manner.

2. The story focuses on the characters: past, present, and “sideways.” No matter how linear a plot or story can be, a person is far more enriching.  All of the characters, no matter how pleasant or otherwise on the island, had a back story that showed the influences or struggles of the character while on the island. All of the characters had a chance to better themselves, and I was always watching to see why, when, and how they came to this realization.

3. This was clearly a “thinking-man’s” show.  It raised questions of theology, philosophy, destiny vs. free will, religion vs. science, and more. I didn’t realize how much was packed in until I started reading the episode summaries by Jeff “Doc” Jensen at EW.com. Even if only half of the references found in these summaries are valid, it shows the creators and writers were intent on creating a complex and serious story. (Hint: Take a peek at the book “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” that Desmond is reading on the plane at the start of Season 6 and see what similarities you can find.)

4. There are still questions.  At first this aggravated me. I was appreciative of the long developing story and the continued twists, but I wanted more. I wanted an ultimate solution / mechanic / algorithm that explained all the minutiae of everything. Even as you stared into the “heart of the island” during the finale you still were presented with just an object. No sage or matrix architect to explain things to you. As the final season continued, you could see this kind of angst in the characters as well. Ultimately, it became apparent that you can’t know everything, in this life or the next.

Plenty of TV shows will allow you to see the last few episodes, or maybe the last season, and provide you with a minimally enriching experience. LOST is a show that needs to be seen and pondered in its entirety. Not all of the answers to life come quickly, and sometimes we must go through trials in order to find the proper answers.  LOST is a show that illustrates this profoundly well. I’m happy to discuss details of the series in the comment section, but LOST needs to be appreciated for its ability to tell a story that combines both science and myth into a well defined package.

Note: Spoilers may be discussed in the comment section.

Twenty | 28 May 2010

Twenty is a collection of apparently disparate images that have been thoughtfully selected to complement a great work of art (displayed first in the collection below).  Today’s featured image is Penelope Unravelling Her Web by Joseph Wright of Derby.

Every individual image may be contemplated in conjunction with the original one (as a diptych), by itself (as a distinct work of art), or the collection may be experienced as a single unit (as a visual poem, story, or piece of music – pick your metaphor).  All images link to their source and are either public domain or copyright that source.  Any image that is not so linked is my own.

33 Things: The Week’s Interesting & Intriguing Links

1. Google’s Demise.

2. Kung fu bear from Japan.  Seriously.

The obligatory ‘Lost’ links:
3. Unsatisfied by the LOST finale?  You’re not alone.

4. Wired: As Lost Ends, Creators Explain How They Did It, What’s Going On

5. Fill the Lost Shaped Hole in Your Life….With Friday Night Lights

6. How Lost should have ended.

7. Ken Burns get you ready to hit the national parks this summer?  The NPS is working hard to make sure they’re everything you hope they’ll be.

8. Bill Gates told Steve Jobs about the iPad in 2007.  Steve Jobs thought that PCs were the future.

9. Parents beware: What are the Disney Princesses really teaching your daughter?

10. Sex and the City: call it trendy, but don’t call it feminism.

11. Rebelling against adolescence

12. The Elephant and the Dragon: Of Republicans and Tea Parties

13. Confessions of a Hipster…

14. Beam me up, Scotty!

15. Before you are foreclosed on or before you file for bankruptcy, you should think about a short-sale of your home.  Here’s a helpful website to answer your questions about an important technique that might help you get out of your messy upside-down mortgage situation.

16. The reason using your phone while you travel costs so much money: “So what is it? Price fixing? Excessive regulation? Actual expenses? Why on earth does it cost 20 times more to visit a webpage on your smartphone on one part of the planet’s surface over another? The reasons are complicated, but don’t abandon all hope—yet.”

17. Afghanistan war costs are now outpacing costs of the Iraq war.

18. Anthony Esolen on Shakespeare as a Christian:

There is an abundance of evidence to show that Shakespeare was a profoundly Christian playwright—and far more thoroughly concerned with the theology of grace, repentance, and redemption than any of his contemporaries. Here I should like to note one characteristic of his view of the world that seems to spring from his Christian faith—for it certainly does not spring from any recrudescence of paganism in the Renaissance, nor from the worldly laxity that sets in with the fading of western man’s assurance of Christian dogma and morals. For Shakespeare, chastity is as near to an absolute value as it is possible for a virtue to be.

19. Apple overtakes Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.

20. 3 Facebook settings every user should check – now!

21. Your high school aged kid is smart, ambitious, and Christian.  Sign him or her up for Wheatstone this week – you’ll remember Wheatstone as one of the best decisions you ever made for your child’s education.  THIS IS THE FINAL WEEK TO REGISTER!

22. One woman’s tribute to (and confession of) everything she purchased for three years.

23. Google search as poetry.

24. Your parents don’t have to be well-read for you to be educated…they just have to keep books around (would this work with a kindle?)

25. The Info Ladies of Bangladesh

26. Phoenix Loses A Wing

27. Edible crayons!

28. Perfect for foodie fanboys (and fangirls!)

29. I Hate It When That Happens:  Today Show host Ann Curry Confuses Wheaton Colleges….in a Commencement Address

30. Abraham Piper is as Intrigued by Himself as We are With Him (Bonus points if you can follow all the layers of self-linking at work here)

31. The Society of American Law Teachers may be boycotting US News Law School Rankings- citing the weight given to LSAT scores as an inhibitor to diverse law school classes.

32. Facebook got the attention of Congress, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg is not too happy about it.

33. Is Hollywood whitewashing the film versions of popular fiction? You bet it is. ‘

The Scope of Lost: In Dialogue with Joe Carter

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the end of Lost)

To no one’s surprise, the final episode of this cultural behemoth has sparked a flurry of dialogue and theory-sharing. One such theory was recently put forth by Joe Carter at FirstThings.com. His opinion, however, expresses a dissatisfaction with plot holes, but this overlooks the primary objective of the show. Rather than creating a plot that moves characters along, Lost is about the characters that create a story. It is the fixation on these characters that gives the show its power and popularity. So, in order to frame the dialogue appropriately, it helps to remember a few key things:

1. Lost is NOT a Christian allegory.

A Christian viewer should not expect to find one-to-one correspondence between the characters and events of the show and the Christian narrative, much less with that viewer’s doctrinal iterations of the Christian narrative. The show makes allusions to components of the Christian narrative, but because it is merely referential and not allegorical, it is under no obligation to offer a modus operandi for the Christ-figure achieving any particular atonement model (e.g. Jack does not have to be Christ in order to possess traits that are similar to those of Christ). Lost is doing something different.

2. Lost is a post-modern narrative.

The show wields a compilation of mythic components or archetypes for the creation of a message that is not achieved through any of the individual myths from whence the elements are derived. In terms of the show, this technique is seen through the simultaneous operation of Egyptian, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, and scientific paradigms.  Lost is not trying to say that Jack’s character is the savior of the world, but that the development of his character obliges him to die for the cause to which he has pledged himself. It is this fixation on character development (the stated point of the show according to producers Cuse and Lindelhoff) that lends so much force to the show’s popularity. It moves away from abstract concepts and focuses on individual lives and the choices that direct them. In short, the dramatic effect of Lost is not reliant upon the plot as a framework, but about bringing characters to their fruition, which the show does marvelously.

3. Lost is ultimately about finding the unknown beloved.

The show’s final season reveals that the arduous paths the characters follow is directed toward their finding the thing they are looking for, and that is different for each character. While Christians see this journey as ultimately leading to God made possible by the work of Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit, the show’s scope does not encompass such a claim. Rather, Lost depicts the struggle of character development as centering on the obstacles to finding what is true and the choices we make to overcome those obstacles. To argue about the sufficiency of the extent to which the show provides conclusive statements about reality is moot, because the development of the characters does not necessarily require them.

At its core, the show gives its viewers a meticulous study of the choices people make and the wide-reaching effects of those decisions. The drama of the show, the reason why so many people are drawn to it, is found in characters with whom the viewer can relate and struggle alongside. If looked at in terms of the narrative framework alone, then the show makes little sense. It is the people involved that give the show life. To watch the show well, then, we should avoid dwelling on conceptual matters and remember that Lost ventures to portray the compelling struggle of characters traversing the human journey. ‘

Minimalist Contemplation

“I once taught art to adults in a night course. I had a woman who painted her back yard, and she said it was the first time she had ever really looked at it. I think everyone sees beauty. Art is a way to respond.”
—Agnes Martin

As a painter, I understand a number of paintings more readily than most museum visitors. Yet there are still some that are challenging to appreciate. I’ll be honest: Agnes Martin’s work is hard for me to access. She paints and draws in a minimalist style, invoking meditation, repetition, and concepts of the infinite. I’ve never been very good at meditation, but I think that we miss something if we dismiss challenging pieces without trying to understand them. So bear with me while I relay to you the results of my grappling with Martin’s painting, ‘Leaf in the Wind‘ (graphite and acrylic on canvas, 72″ x 72″, 1963).

'Leaf in the Wind', Agnes Martin

The 1950s-70s were a period in art history steeped in theory. Many artists wrote to explain their theory of art, or to provide a frame of reference for the viewer. While she does not present a robust philosophy of aesthetics, Agnes Martin’s writings and comments are still helpful as a starting point. Her work is clearly non-representational; she means for it to evoke a response, not to image some foreign object or setting. When questioned about her work, Martin explained,

“When people go to the ocean, they like to see it all day. . . . There’s nobody living who couldn’t stand all afternoon in front of a waterfall. It’s a simple experience, you become lighter and lighter in weight, and you wouldn’t want anything else. Anyone who can sit on a stone in a field awhile can see my painting. Nature is like a curtain; you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this. . . . Not a specific response but that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature– an experience of simple joy. . . the simple, direct going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.”

Detail of the graphite grid

Seeing Leaf in the Wind is a carefully controlled experience. You cannot look at it from across the room: the lines melt away, and all you behold is a blank white square. It is difficult to view it just inches away: you see the ridges of brush marks, the erasures, the unevenness in the pencil lines–but you cannot see the whole image. To actually see the whole piece, you have to stand between one foot and five feet back. Within this narrow window you may move around, examining the workmanship. Seven feet back the image begins to blur; if you have already seen it, you can meditate on the piece from this distance. The piece is difficult to photograph; it demands your physical presence.

Why is it white? Because of the purity and humility of the color. White is unassuming. Why is the grid drawn in with pencil? Because of the shimmering and fragile quality of a graphite line. Why is it a grid? Definitely not because grids are systematic, removed, or in any way mechanistic. Martin clearly uses a ruler, but just as clearly draws every line by hand, leaving them wavering slightly, sometimes not quite straight, sometimes drawn in and erased again where the line would break the pattern of the grid. These erasures are my favorite parts of the painting- traces of the artist’s hand, carefully, thoughtfully, slowly creating the image.

Why name it ‘Leaf in the Wind’? The title certainly recommends a meditative visual experience. Have you ever watched a leaf twisting in the wind? There is a graceful repetition, a motion apparently infinite, a twisting and returning. Martin particularly liked the veins and interwoven lines visible in the back of leaves. She writes:

“The underside of the leaf, cool in shadow, sublimely unemphatic, smiling of innocence. The frailest stems quiver in light, bend and break in silence. … [T]he paintings [are] not really about nature. It is not what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind.”

Is the painting successful? Perhaps. I do not think it my duty to approve of everything simply because it is in a museum. After you have considered it carefully, after you have done due diligence to understand a piece, after you have seen it in person and grappled with it–if it still fails to move you, then it did not succeed. Painters with lofty aims do at times fail to achieve them. Personally, I am still unsure about Martin’s work. I am inclined to approve, but I need to spend more time in front of the painting before rendering a decision.

If you are interested in reading more about Agnes Martin, the Guggenheim has an excellent introductory page. If you want to read a more sophisticated art-critical discussion of Martin’s approach to drawing/painting, I recommend the book ‘3x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing (Hilma of Klint, Emma Kunz, Agnes Martin)‘, edited by Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher.

Women, Mermaids, and Mystique: Why We Don’t Really Want to Be Part of Your World

“I want to have fins”, she sighed, gazing longingly at an advertisement for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

I could hardly have been more relieved; for a moment I’d thought I’d walked in on every modern mother’s nightmare – a preschooler who longs to be thin.  It’s not healthy for a four year old to fret about her weight, but it is normal for today’s youngest females to love mermaids.

Believe me, I know.  I’m terrifically popular with the local 7-and-under crowd, probably because of my daughter’s absurdly well stocked play room.  I’ve watched the girls spend countless hours in mermaid-centered play—mermaid coloring pages, mermaid dolls, mermaid bath toys, mermaid movies, mermaid costumes—you name it, they love it.  The advertising industry has more than adequately cashed in on this nearly universal girlish desire for great hair paired with amphibious appendages, and it’s easy to see why girls respond so eagerly. From Disney’s Ariel to Barbie’s Merliah, today’s mermaids are young, glamorous alpha females whose beauty and courage are admired by all.  Every girl wants to be like them.

But isn’t that a little strange?  Mermaids are an odd sort of symbol.  Attach fish parts to a woman, and suddenly you have an unfailingly captivating new creature whose place in the imaginations of the next generation of wives and mothers is nearly unchallenged.  Fish parts? Really?

Mermaids have always fascinated us, though they have not always been as positively portrayed as they are in today’s children’s programs.  Tales of the unlikely creatures have captivated men and women alike since at least 1000 B.C., with myths springing from such disparate places as ancient Assyria and 14th century Warsaw.

As usual, J.K. Rowling got her mythology right when she described the merfolk who live in the water near Hogwarts:

“The merpeople had greyish skins and long, wild, dark green hair. Their eyes were yellow, as were their broken teeth, and they wore thick ropes of pebbles around their necks. They leered at Harry as he swam past; one or two of them emerged from their caves to watch him better, their powerful, silver fishtails beating the water, spears clutched in their hands.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 432)

Mermaids have usually been depicted as dangerous, unlucky creatures whose appearance bodes ill.  They are, traditionally, a far cry from Ariel or Mermaid Dora.  Many are even ugly.  How on earth did we make the jump from sirens to sweethearts?  And what is it about the image that has captivated the imaginations of so many men and women for so many centuries?

The most important source of modern western conceptions of merfolk is Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. This 19th century tale describes a young mermaid’s desperate attempts to gain an immortal soul and true love in one fell swoop.  Though her beloved Prince marries someone else and the mermaid commits suicide, she is ultimately granted a sort of soul because of the good deeds she did while on land.

Ensoulment, it seems, is good for one’s image.  Especially when Disney gets involved.  Disney’s 1989 animated interpretation of Anderson’s sympathetic tale sealed the western mermaid’s fate: no longer an undead harbinger of death and destruction, today’s mermaid is a kinder, gentler being with great hair and nothing more threatening than a desire to be “part of your world.”

On the surface, it appears to be a sign of progress that the old monstrous image has been baptized into the sort of harmless plaything that delights millions.  But this is actually a sign of our regression—and it says a thing or two about the flaws in our preferred feminine archetypes.

Mermaids myths are found all over the globe, and they vary wildly.  All the stories agree, however, that the creatures have fins instead of legs, and are able to attract human men.  This attraction is necessarily unproductive, however, as men can’t live under water and sex is physically impossible for mer-women.  A mermaid has all the power that comes with being desired by men, without the need or ability to ever submit herself to that desire.  This is especially true of modern mermaids, whom I have already compared to socially dominant women.  They are beautiful, but unattainable.  A man may love a mermaid, but he can never have her.  She may enjoy being desired for as long as she likes while never having to submit to the demands that love and sexual desire require.

In a way, then, today’s mermaids are even more insidious than the fierce old sirens.  C.S. Lewis described the danger in That Hideous Strength:

The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male, and it is no accident that the goddess of Love is older and stronger than the god. To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the vanity of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve, and to both it is in the lover that the beloved tastes her own delightfulness.

Ancient merfolk were thought to lure men to watery graves through their songs and spells.  Though modern merwomen are, by contrast, known for being playful and affectionate, they can do just as much harm as their fiercer ancestors—and more.  Women naturally long to be admired, and it’s normal for girls to gravitate towards feminine images which inspire such admiration.  This desire for admiration must be tempered, however, by the kind of humility that Lewis describes above.

While Mermaid Dora isn’t likely to lead many young girls down the path of destruction anytime soon, the temptations contemporary mermaids embody may ultimately rob young women of the joys that come with humility and of the virtues one cultivates only through submission to something outside of oneself.  Nothing can compare to the freedom and peace this submission brings—not even fins. ‘

PtW XIV: A New Hope

Welcome to the final episode of Picturing the Word!

Our curriculum this week was themed “Redemption.”

We watched:

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)

Offret (The Sacrifice) (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)

The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)

Mildly adhering to the theme of Redemption, John and I explore the topics of both loyalty and hope as they relate to the lives of heroes and saviors in this curriculum. We wonder about the importance of loyalty, particularly the occasional conflict of loyalty to people and loyalty to ideas. We then begin thinking about the necessity of hope for a hero, and finally reflect upon the object of a hero’s hope.

This episode concludes a 14-week project that John and I are privileged to have been a part. With the conclusion of the podcast also comes the conclusion of our wonderful class and of both John’s and my undergraduate education. We are simultaneous ready to go and yet quite sad to leave, and through it all, overwhelmingly thankful for the excellent education we have both received at the Torrey Honors Institute and Biola University.

As always, we would love your comments and questions. Comment below or email John and I at picturingtheword@gmail.com .

Happy listening! ‘

To My Seniors, Whom I Love

I blinked, and I missed it.  Our last month together.  We’ve been slogging through government and politics for a year now, and our last class period is here.  

For some of us, it’s been four years.  When you were freshmen, you intimidated me.  There were more days than I’d like to admit to when I laid in bed, hoping for a scratchy throat so I wouldn’t have to face you again.  You asked so many questions!  You never took what I said for the truth until you’d grilled me over it, and sent me scrambling to my books after school to make sure I was right.  I didn’t realize at the time you were teaching me how to be the teacher I should have been all along.

Emboldened by your curiosity, we explored the tombs of Egypt, rode into battle with the mighty Persian Empire, mourned the Crusades, and marveled at the storm that swept the Mongolian fleet from Japan.  By year’s end I was exhausted, but I knew you’d be something to watch.

The next few years proved me right.  I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we teachers fall just a little bit in love with all of you, like parents do their toddlers.  We get excited to see you in plays, dance shows, games, and tournaments.  Somewhere in the back of our minds, we think we might have had something to do with helping you on your way to success.  Maybe that debate we had over the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire got your interested in debate, or maybe you’re channeling Alexander the Great as you run for that touchdown.  

You’ve been long-suffering, my friends.  You’ve endured AP classes in every subject imaginable, electives that demand the dedication due to major academic work, coaches who screamed and pushed and showed you that you can do much more than you thought you could.  You stayed up late, got up far too early, and smiled through your day anyway.  Well, sometimes..  Sometimes you nodded off during my lectures.  Hey, it was the end of the day.  I understood.  Sometimes.

You sat through chapel after chapel where the speaker assumed he knew you (which he didn’t) and lectured, or worse, pandered to you like you were small children.  You were superhuman in your capacity for polite patience on those days.  You ran, played, sang, danced, studied, debated, and stood in long lunch lines.  You filled the halls of our school for four years, and you dazzled us.  But now, it’s time to leave.

Mr. Oliphaunt has the best analogy for a time like this.  He uses the example of an Apollo rocket.  You’ve been sitting on the launch pad for thirteen long years, while your teachers and your parents, your counselors, pastors, priests, scout masters, and everyone else have been prepping you for launch, refining your mind to fuel you, making sure you’re equipped with the skills you need to go on.  Sure, the centrifuge of the classroom might sometimes have made you puke, but now the weightless vastness of space won’t faze you.  It’s ignition time.  On Saturday, you’ll fire up those engines.  As you walk across the stage, snag that diploma and shake the principal’s hand the restraints will fall away, the booster rockets will kick in, and we’ll become nothing but specks on the ground behind you, with nothing but the universe in all its splendor on your horizon.

I’m going to miss you.  All of you.  Yes, Justin, even you, though you might think I missed you, sitting silent in the back of the room.  I’ll miss you helping us understand economic theory by drawing charts on the board.  I’ll miss Eddie’s never-ending font of knowledge of all things National Geographic; Laura’s smirk when class debate amuses her because I know she’s’ thinking grander thoughts than the rest of us but she smiles anyway; Chelsea’s spectacular powerpoints and crisp, clear arguments , like shards of colored glass; the way Natasha almost tears up every time we talk of human tragedy; the way Steven can’t sit still when he’s thinking great thoughts.  I’ll miss Kiley’s musical laugh and biting wit; Katherine’s calm certainty and determination; Liz’s ability to ask a question so smart it makes us all shut up; Kelly’s courage to say what she’s thinking even though she thinks it’s stupid (which it never is); Kristina’s grace in questioning everyone’s arguments without arrogance or judgment; and Andrew’s determination to never stop asking questions.

I’ll miss all of it.  But I’ve taught you all I can, and I’ve told all my jokes and shared all my funny anecdotes.  And to be honest, I just need the room.  You see, there’s this bullheaded class of juniors just chomping at the bit to get in here.  I have to have somewhere to put them while they sort out what they think.  And you have an adventure dragging you out the door by the scruff of the neck.

So I’ll leave you with one last bit of advice.  You already know the unexamined life is not worth living.  And you know faith’s only worth having if you know what you believe and why you believe it.  Others have told you to dance like no one’s watching, wear sunscreen, and never settle for less than excellence.  I’ll add this to the mix.  It’s the best advice I ever received.

Have fun.  Get messy.  Take some risks.  Make mistakes.  See the world… but guard your heart, for in it is the wellspring of life. ‘

Re: Kindle-ing

Three years spent repairing old books in the basement of a university library can’t help but leave a girl like me with a definite bias.  I love books–and I don’t just love reading them.  I love the smell of leather, I love the texture of fine paper, and I love the way a well-bound volume falls open in my hands.

I was less than entranced when I first heard of Amazon.com’s electronic reader, the Kindle. No paper?  No binding?  No thanks.  Turns out, though, that 600 page hardbacks are a lot more difficult to carry when you’re not in college.  You can only wear a backpack for so long—pair that with the unfathomable number of toys, snacks, and other necessaries that inevitably accumulate in every mother’s purse, and I needed a change.

Or a bookmobile.  That might have worked, too.

Given the price of gas, it’s probably good that my friends and family didn’t go for the bookmobile idea.  They got me a Kindle instead.  And I love it.

The newest version of Amazon’s portable sales platform is slim, sleek, and satisfying to even an accomplished book snob aficionado like myself.  It will never replace the book’s traditional form, but it has some definite advantages that I’ve quickly come to rely on.

The Kindle is as easy to read as Amazon claims, and yes, you can read it in bright sunlight.  It’s easy to underline passages and to take notes, though unfortunately you can’t draw cartoon commentary in the margins.  (Come on, I know I’m not the only person who does that.)

The Kindle’s massive storage capabilities are an obvious advantage, and as I said it’s easy to read.  It’s not ideal for serious study of a complicated text, however.  Difficult books often require that you flip forward and backward in the text multiple times, and it’s much easier to do this in a book than on a Kindle.  The problem of flipping pages to find a specific passage is partially addressed by the fact that the Kindle stores all highlighted blocks in their own section which can be accessed from the main menu.  This does not solve the whole problem, however, because, if you read like I do, you must click through page upon page of these clips.  The clips are searchable, which helps, especially if you are comfortable bringing your google habits with you to your books—but if you prefer to treat google and great books separately, you’re out of luck.

I used to think the Kindle would change the way we read books in the way that changing the medium so often changes a message.  I’m not so concerned about that anymore, as I think the Kindle is basically a book with buttons instead of binding, pixels instead of pages.  My eyes do not tire from reading the Kindle in the same way that they do from staring at a computer screen, and the paperback-sized volume fits comfortably in either hand.   My comprehension of what I have read has always been lower when I’ve read from a computer screen instead of from a book, so I usually have to print online articles that I really care about reading.  I have no similar troubles with the Kindle.

There’s still something about the solid feel of a good book that simply cannot and should not be replaced—though the Kindle comes close.  Closer, at least, than most bookmobiles. ‘