School Supply List: The Next Level

It’s always a jolt remembering that the school year starts at different times depending on tradition and philosophy.  Sometimes it feels like the kids in Frazz spend most of the hot summer days in the classroom.  The kids in Peanuts And then you’ve got the Fox family who, as of this past Sunday, stiff had some school supply shopping to do.  Jason always makes school stuff a little more interesting than the average student.

FoxTrot School Supplies(image from gocomics.com)

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Birnam, Fangorn, and Ephraim

RivendellThese last few days I’ve been thinking how this time of year, this time of life, would be a great time for a nice visit to Rivendell, the Last Homely House East of the Sea.  Something about deep rest, I think.  Fireside and song and a kind of leisure often not found in the day-to-day.  As I was thinking about it, I looked back to The Hobbit to see what all had to be said of the place in Tolkien’s first published work: there really isn’t much, mostly just moon runes.  The House of Elrond gets a much fuller rendering in The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Something else Lord of the Rings came to mind this morning during my Bible reading.  It actually traces from Shakespeare’s Birnam Wood to Tolkien’s Fangorn Forest to a moment in the story of David from 2 Samuel 18.  At this point in the story, David has been exiled from Jerusalem.  Absalom is seeking to take over the kingdom fully and has decided to bring an end to his father.  Then this happens:

So the king stood beside the gate while all his men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

You just kind of want to imagine that the forest was more than just a location . . . that some kind of long-traveling band of Ents showed up in the shadows of the story of David bringing justice with their branches.  Ah well.

(Rivendell image from Tolkien himself)

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Sunday’s Best: Summer’s Fade

Today’s Sunday Frazz is a nice visual with an almost-universal sentiment.  Even as the temperatures stay high and the sun burns bright, summer itself continues its slow fade.

Frazz Summer's End(image from gocomics.com)

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Entertainment Culture, A Warning

While tracking down a short piece by A. W. Tozer to use for the faculty in a future meeting, I came across his piece titled “The Great God Entertainment.”  The piece, written in the 1950s, feels utterly appropriate for our current moment.  How the piece begins:

A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man.

Tozer would be appalled out our modern industrial entertainment complex.  And he would find too many Christians (myself included) enmeshed in it.

This doesn’t mean that Tozer didn’t understand the good role entertainment of a kind could play in the life of the believer as

No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil.  Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way.  That is one thing.  The all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live is definitely something else again.

What’s the church to do about it, one might wonder.  Even more than a handle of decades ago, Tozer saw the writing on the wall:

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was– a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.  For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world.  But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has gotten over the struggle.  She appearts to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.

Tozer points out that stories, the method of entertainment, is something significant to childhood that has negative, debilitating effects on mature faith.  Written in the years following World War II, he asserts:

Is it not a strange thing and a wonder that, with the shadow of atomic destruction hanging over the world and with the coming of Christ drawing near, the professed followers of the Lord should be giving themselves up to religious amusement?  That in an hour when mature saints are so desperately needed vast numbers of believers should revert to spiritual childhood and clamor for religious toys?

A sobering thing to reflect on when your life is surrounded by stories (the movies, the television shows, the novels, the comics).  Everything is “story-fied” these days, too.  Everything is distraction, some would argue.  And that’s a dangerous place to be.

You can read more of “The Great God Distraction” in Tozer’s The Root of the Righteous.

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A Simple Code

This past week I spoke to some students about the importance of having some kind of code (or what others would call a rule).  The context was the realization that a lot of things were being thrown at them (which is true of all, regardless of academic standing), and that they would benefit from having something personal to serve as some kind of filter.  I also showed this nifty “trailer” for The Kid Who Would Be King, which brought together the threads of “the knights’ code” from the movie.

What I didn’t share during the short talk (because there was so much other stuff to cover) was my own short list that could act as a kind of code.  Here’s what it boiled down to:

  1.  Use tools, not people.  I’ve been thinking about the instrumentalization of people (often by organizations) for some time now.  It came back to me this summer while rereading Augustine.  It’s something we are all at least a little guilty of.  But people are meant to be loved, not used as pawns or parts of some mechanism.
  2. Take up your cross daily . . . and don’t forget to follow Jesus.  This, of course, comes straight from the Gospels.  It’s too easy for me to do the hard work of taking up my cross and going my own way with it.  That way leads to disconnect and despair (and seeing God as someone guilty of breaking #1 above).  Taking up your cross only makes sense when you follow along with Jesus, the author and perfector of the way we are walking.
  3. When in doubt, go for a walk.  This has been something for me for years, really.  Some places are easier to get a good walk in than others, of course.  But it’s a great way to pray, clear the mind, and imagine things differently.  It’s good because it’s tactile.  It’s a version of what I  learned a few years ago on my first trip to England, where our tour guide told us that the best thing to do when you’re stuck or in a quandary is to make a cuppa tea.

I might get around to sharing this with the students next week. Maybe the adult leaders?  We’ll see.  Either way, it was a good exercise to do before giving the challenge to others.

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Sunday’s Best: FoxTrot on Fire

While it’s unfortunate that we don’t get new FoxTrot strips throughout the week, I’m glad that we at least get something new from the mind and pen of Bill Amend on Sundays.  Here’s today’s FoxTrot strip from GoComics.com.

FoxTrot MarshmallowsIt’s fun seeing Paige one-up her brothers.  Which also happened in a last-panel turn last Sunday.

FoxTrot WishesI always like season-inspired strips.  And Sunday strips help bring out the sense of the season at its best.

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We’re just over one week into the new school year (at least class-wise).  Things haven’t quite settled into a rhythm, but that will happen eventually.  It’s always interesting to see the personalities of each class, how the same course content (and even the same jokes) get a different response based on time of day and mix of students.  Not having the chapel piece has been nice for me, has opened up some mental space and kept Monday’s from being overly-packed.  We’re gearing up for our final England trip evening meeting, which is exciting.  I got more of the itinerary in from the tour company Friday, which was great.

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I’ve obviously been struggling with consistency with this site lately.  Blame it on the summer, I suppose.  I’ve also been spending good time with great friends, which is a more-than-decent trade-off.  My reading has also slowed down dramatically.  At this rate, I hope to finish Broken Homes by the end of the month.  I’ve got one essay left in Cavadini’s Augustine collection to annotate.  I just started reading a book that goes a good distance in repudiating some of Augustine’s weakest theological points.  Will be a good contrast for me, I think.

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Sunday’s Best: Better Than a Security Blanket

There were a couple of great comic strips today.  But by nature of it being a Chuck and Patty under the tree talking, the classic Peanuts wins the day.  As is often the case, Charles Schulz captures something so simple and profound about childhood while reminding us of the sadness that comes from loss.

Peanuts Back Seat(image from gocomics.com)

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