Longing for the Memories that Shaped Us.

Memory shapes us. When you ask why someone does something odd, the answer is that they picked the habit up when they were small. Perhaps they are afraid of worms, or have trouble looking into another person‘s eyes when they speak, or have a deathly fear of disapproval. I myself watch fearfully when I see someone playfully wrestle with a dog, because I was bitten by our retriever when I was young.

Bits and pieces of our past bond together to form a collective “wisdom” of sorts, and we apply that wisdom to daily circumstances. Often it is the primary or even sole thing we depend on to interpret surroundings and make predictions for the future. We learn to trust it, and when it fails we struggle with the disconnect. It is a checklist, giving us a range of possible outcomes based on the circumstances. When events or outcomes differ from what the checklist says will happen, we feel lost in uncertainty.

Our perspective on how to handle a bully, for instance, is probably shaped heavily (though perhaps unconsciously) by the unique combination of experiences we had with bullies growing up. I had the good fortune to be in a very safe environment, and that is part of the reason I view bullies as quite silly and harmless. My wife experienced bullying in a very different light, and so aggressive people make it hard for us to reconcile our two “wisdoms,” because they are so different from each other.

This personal wisdom needs to come under submission to the absolute truth of God’s wisdom in Scripture. It is the only true and unchanging standard, the only place where the vast array of personal experiences can find agreement and peace. Still, when our lives hit the “gray areas,” that Scripture does not clearly speak to, we tend to fall back to the wisdom born of experience.

This past weekend, I went home for my dad’s wedding. Everything about the wedding was excellent. His new wife is terrific, and a welcome addition to our family. The event went smoothly, and my dad was clear in expressing his love for his kids.

So why did the kids all feel an ugly and powerful sense of hurt and loss?

I’ve been struggling with this question because I don’t WANT to feel it. It seems sinful and mistrusting and unkind and petty. The worst part is that it feels like it is slamming a wedge of separation between my dad and his kids… a wedge we do not understand, cannot see, and do not know how to fight.

Strangely enough, it’s a quote from one of my “weirdo movies” (as my wife likes to call them) that has started me down what I hope will be a beneficial path. It’s from “Garden State,” and the hero is trying to come to terms with his feeling of separation from his family, especially his father.

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden, even though you have some place where you can put your stuff, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew: You'll see when you move out. It just sort of happens one day one and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

I think my dad’s remarriage has hit us at a funny time, when we are at different stages of leaving our old home and entering a new life. Actually, it’s not just his remarriage. It’s the changes. It’s cooking and dancing and organic foods and a larger house and new clothes and travel and defensiveness. The safety of stepping back into the home of our memory is gone. We can’t pull up to the old house, pop in the side door, and ask mom what she’s making (well, reheating) for dinner while dad wrestles with a sibling in the family room. We can't even tease him in the same way. Nearly every aspect of that place is gone, and my dad was the lifeline. And now he’s changing too, and we react with fear and uncertainty.

We try to put it into words, but it comes out wrong. We complain about going too fast, or being too physical, or spending too much, or seeming too yuppyish, but we don’t really mean those things. What we mean is that we miss who we were, and we don’t know how to hang on to the things we loved.

"Homesick for a place that doesn't exist," is a good way of putting it. The fact is, I just want the joy of what was, but it is gone. I wish I were better at coming to terms with that.

The Bible is not specific on this idea. I think I could combine some structured thoughts to describe how, “a man leaves his father and mother,” connects with, “blessed are those who mourn,” and, “God is disciplining you as sons,” to form a picture of God’s desires for us in this time. But I’m too tired today.

The thing is, God has given me great gifts of love and nurture and joy in my childhood. Those memories and experiences have been key to becoming who I am now, and have prepared me for God’s purposes. Still, they are gone. My goal must be to love and appreciate them for the way God used them, but they are not mine to grasp.

When my mom died, she was gone. I still cry when I see certain pictures or videos, and still miss her whenever something significant happens in my life. But letting go of her is something God has given me as part of my development, and the same is true of my childhood, the place I miss and long for that no longer exists.

It is time to create something new, armed with the character God has given through gifts of wonderful parents, a joyous childhood, and a flood of memories that contribute to my unique brand of personal wisdom. I will continue to mourn in certain ways, but I should also have joy as God completes his plans for me in my life.

Lord, I am desperately thankful for your gifts in my life. Teach me how to mourn with joy; and then move on. Teach me also to take up the responsibility of creating a new idea of home in humble submission to your plans, rather than holding on to a place that you have allowed to pass away. Teach me perseverance and joy.



Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate!

Recently, I wrote out a few thoughts to help a friend strengthen his papers. I thought I’d post them, so that anyone who wants me to edit for them will consider these things first!

My suggestions can be typified by three words: Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate.

Modulate- Imagine that you go to church, and the pastor begins his sermon. He has great points and insight, and clearly understands the passage well, but he speaks in a boring monotone voice, never changing, and the words come out at the exact same speed like one loooooong sentence.

Of course, the advice you would give him is to modulate his tone. Get excited for important parts, lower your voice for the reverent parts, and clearly state each point that you are making.

In a paper, the same effect is achieved by the way you organize. It is important that the reader naturally FEEL the organization behind your paper. To do this, keep paragraphs VERY short. When you move to a new point, clearly state that you are doing so. Use punctuation to add to the effect. Make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader.


I like horses. They are big. A big horse is a lot of fun, and horses also have nice tails. The tail of a horse can be three feet long. Do you think horses smell? I want a horse when I get older. A horse runs very fast through the fields on a beautiful day. Horses can be your best friends if you let them although I know that dogs are also nice. The problem with dogs is that you can't ride them and they are also much smaller.


I want a horse when I get older. I like horses! They are big, beautiful, and fast.

Horses are big, and I have always appreciated large animals.

They also are quite beautiful, especially their tails. Did you know a horse’s tail can be up to three feet long? For some reason their beauty captures me.

Finally, and most importantly, horses run very fast. I love to ride my horse through the fields on a beautiful day, because it seems like I am flying.

Keep your arguments clear!

Sharpen- This is one that everybody struggles with. It's a key part of how your paper comes across to a grader.

The key here is to be extremely exacting. It is important to say things simply, in as few words as possible. Ruthlessly cut away prepositions, and use the word "that" as little as possible.


The conceptual framework that Ware takes time to explain to us is supported by the Scriptural outlook.


The framework Ware teaches is supported by Scripture.


The Bible supports Ware's framework.

Remember to say everything that you can in the shortest sentences possible!
(Whoops! I mean, "Say everything as shortly as possible!")

Restate- This one is simple. If a sentence or paragraph seems uneasy or strange or just doesn't feel quite right- restate it! People have a habit of being committed to their first attempt at articulating a concept, and no matter how hard they try it just comes off wrong.


The economic ideal that capitalism is built on greed coincides with the middle age ideal that property begins with the divine right of kings because it allows risk taking and pulling up your own bootstraps.


Capitalism is built on greed. It encourages risk taking and seeking your fortune. This is opposed to the middle age ideal, in which property is divinely given to and distributed by the king.

Remember to Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate- it will give your paper a huge boost!


Harry Potter: The Boy Who Should have Died... or at least Matured!

Well, I finally sat down and read the last Harry Potter book. I am an odd mix of too-cool and too-geeky. I was too cool to buy or read the book when it came out, but I was too geeky to stop reading it when Rich let me borrow it!

In true Harry Potter fashion, it was a fun read. J.K. Rowling is enormously creative, and I enjoyed seeing the story come to its somewhat convoluted conclusion.

However, they certainly are not excellent books.

First, the number of key “coincidences” was ridiculous. The kids would be camping in some random woods for months, and then key characters would just HAPPEN to be fishing in a nearby stream, and would just HAPPEN to be having an important conversation about exactly what the kids needed to know. Rowling did not even bother to disguise the deus ex machina… she just dropped it in there multiple times.

Second, the flow of the stories (in all the books together) did not add anything to the characters. Think back to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” What were Ron’s main issues? Well, he was jealous of Harry and wanted to be the hero. And guess what happens in this book? Or consider the description of Hermione from way back then, when she was a bit prissy at times but would break the rules when need be for the good of the group. Anybody want to guess what she’s like in the final installment?

To be honest, even Harry does not change much. He still has (we are told) powerful emotional reactions to anything regarding his friends or parents. Actually, though, it’s a good thing Rowling blatantly TELLS us this is the case… I never actually felt it through the story.

I think this gets at my third complaint… J.K. Rowling seems to have only one method of story advancement- to make the story darker. So, in the beginning everything ends happily; but eventually things get darker and more painful, and then she finally kills a key character, and then it snowballs into multiple key deaths by books 6 and 7. Or the various plots need to be more epic, so larger and larger numbers of people become involved: which, of course, means that suddenly hundreds of students and teachers and warriors and creatures are all together at one time and place to fight hundreds of bad guys and massive creatures and the like. There’s nothing wrong with that type of plot advancement per se, but there is if it’s the only way in which the story gets better.

By contrast, as I mentioned, the characters do not get deeper, few serious twists are involved, people remain idiotic (spending MONTHS camping in the woods before they come to realizations the reader figured out with the same set of clues in less time than it took to finish the chapter), situations remain implausible (like Harry and Hermione living together for weeks in a tent trying to think of new plans and NEVER accidentally saying the name Voldemort), and we remain dependent on the timing always working out because…well, because that’s just how it goes.

Finally, the writing is cheesy. Rowling insists on telling us everything (such as “Ron said this darkly” or “Hermione pleaded, with a pained look on her face” or “Harry felt exactly the way he felt five years earlier waiting to hear if he would be kicked out of Gryffindor”). As I always complain, you can read 2 out of every ten words in the entire book and still get all the important stuff. The difference between Rowling’s book and true classic literature is like the difference between watching Gone with the Wind and The Little Mermaid. Sure, The Little Mermaid is exciting, lots of fun, and enormously creative. But at the end of the day, it is just a fast-paced cartoon, and does not include a serious, insightful, and deep look at life in the way The Once and Future King or Danny the Champion of the World do.

To put it simply, Harry Potter is a large bag of cotton candy in the grocery store of literature. It looks great and tastes sweet, but people seeking to enrich their lives and to grow in wisdom while reading escapist novels should look elsewhere.

Try books like The Once and Future King, Captains Courageous, Ender’s Game, Lord of the Rings, The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman, or The Chosen.

If you are looking for kids books (though my sense is that adults defend HP more vigorously than kids do), stick to the Chronicles of Narnia, Maniac Magee, Roald Dahl books, Robin Hood, or other Newbery Award winners.

Rowling’s creativity is fun for a time, but as far as good literature goes it falls quite short.