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Archive for the ‘Cultural commentary’ Category

My son and I had a conversation nearly 2 months ago now about the most influential people in the world. I do not remember what precipitated the discussion, but it was not in a vacuum. When he was young our family had watched an A&E program named “The 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium”. It began with #100 and built up as they approached their #1 pick for the years 1000 to 2000 A.D. (If you want to see the list, click here. And if you are not really interested in my commentary but want to look at my list, scroll to the bottom.) After much discussion, my son suggested that we challenge the extended family, with whom we would be gathering in a little over a month for Thanksgiving, to make their own lists so we could discuss it after dinner. The A&E list is ranked and we said that each person could decide if they wanted to do that. Additionally, we purposely stated that each person should interpret what kind of influence, who was influenced, and when they were influenced, in making his/her list. I wrote these things in an e-mail to the family e-mail group, not mentioning the A&E list but admonishing participants to not confer with others so that the lists would be more varied and produce more discussion. When I saw the good-hearted discussion on the e-mail replies, I took the additional step of asking two colleagues at my work, who I knew to have different worldviews than my family, to make their lists for the purpose of contrast.

I am happy to say that the whole scheme brought about significant discussion. It was interesting to watch the phases of interaction. After a brief explanation on my part as to how the challenge had occurred, with inclusion of the A&E list, family members began comparing who was on most lists. Next there was a discussion of the rationale behind various member’s lists (more about that in a moment). Then we progressed into names we supposed to be possibly unique to our own lists, asking others if they included them, and if not, why not. It occurred to me that in order to make a really good list you would need a plethora of perspectives. I made the mistake of mentioning that this procedure would work best in a committee. There were some of the strongest opinions about the pitfalls of committees, like slow and argumentative, but they also have the advantage of collaboration and consensus. Since the whole of this blog entry is commentary, I would also add that collaboration is an overused buzz-word and politically correct requirement of public interaction these days. Frequently, isolated, deep contemplation, followed by sharing is more efficient and brings better results, but woe be unto the educational ‘facilitator’ who broaches that perspective.

The rationales for selecting candidates for the 100 lists varied with as many people as participated. My oldest son, who completed his list mostly in his head while working, stated that he did not know enough about the East and confined his list to people who influenced Western Culture. He also said that most lists would not sufficiently include the influence of Christians for now and eternity, so his list is heavy (not meant to imply too heavy necessarily) on Christians. He also said that he had trouble limiting his list to 100 people so his first list had 211. Actually it had more than that because in certain listings he put multiple names, for example the founding fathers of the U.S. His brother added accomplishments onto his list, persuaded him to reduce his list to 200, but then added 25 he thought his brother had left out. It was a collaboration within the individual lists.

I also found mulitple listing unavoidable on some subjects so that I have Watson and Crick for DNA, and Wilbur and Orville for the airplane. But I opted to try to find one revolutionary idea or execution of an idea as representative of a thought or influence, for example, Philo Farnsworth invented the scanning television. His was not the very first or the exact one that number in the millions by the time I was a child, but he broke ground toward a practical, modern TV. I also tried to include significant people from the East. I too am largely ignorant of the East, but I think that it helps tremendously that we were limited to 1000 to 2000 A.D., because many of the formative, significant names in the East are more ancient. For all of this, it is curious that we chose to emphasize what affected our culture, our time, and ourselves the most. Compared to the A&E list, I think we were more far-reaching and inclusive than they were. Some of their picks were simply politically correct, narrowly influencing idealogues and icons of cultural fad. It is good to realize that you are being narrowly focussed on what surrounds you, but be more inclusive tends to adding people that were not really influential, just an influence on some small group you don’t want to leave out.

The chore of ranking these people was the hardest part, and I gave up after #31, because it began to seem ridiculous to me. The whole exercise of ranking may be equally so. I did find it much easier to rank within groupings of types of influencers, for example, spiritual, inventors, scientists, leaders and politicians, literature and the arts, and philosophers. And this is the list I have included below.

I found the whole process stretching, challenging, and enjoyable, with the discussion with family particularly so. If you have a few minutes, peruse my list and give some feedback on why you think certain people should or should not be on my list. Happy listing.

Leon’s Most Influential People of the 1000-2000 AD  (ranked within Groupings)

Spiritual Leaders

  1. Martin Luther (started the Reformation)
  2. John Calvin (Reformer and Theologian)
  3. William Tyndale (English Bible)
  4. Hudson Taylor (Missionary to China)
  5. Billy Graham (Worldwide Evangelist)
  6. George Whitfield (Early American Evangelist)
  7. Charles Spurgeon (Prince of Preachers)
  8. Luis Palau (Latin American Evangelist)
  9. John Wyclif (English Reformer)
  10. Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Holy Man)
  11. Ignatius Loyola (Jesuit founder)
  12. Mother Teresa (Nun to poor of India)

Inventors

  1. Johannes Gutenberg (Moveable Type Printing Press)
  2. James Watt (Inventor of the Steam Engine)
  3. Thomas Edison (Inventor)
  4. Guglielmo Marconi (Wireless)
  5. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (Internal Combustion Engine)
  6. Orville and Wilbur Wright (Airplane)
  7. Henry Ford (Assembly Line, affordable car)
  8. Werner von Braun (modern rockets)
  9. Henry Bessemer (economical steel process)
  10. Charles Goodyear (Vulcanized Rubber)
  11. Alfred Nobel (High Explosives; Nobel Prize)
  12. G. LeTourneau (Earth Moving Equipment)
  13. Christiaan Huygens (Pendulum Clock)
  14. Bartolomeo Cristofori (Piano)
  15. Jacques Cousteau (Aqualung, ocean preservation)
  16. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley (Transistor)
  17. Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone)
  18. William Cullen (Refrigeration)
  19. Theodore H. Maiman (LASER)
  20. Philo Farnsworth (Scanning TV)
  21. Bill Gates (Software Developer)
  22. Alexander Parkes (Thermoset Plastic)
  23. Daguerre (Photography)
  24. George Washington Carver (Agriculture)

Scientists

  1. Isaac Newton (Laws of Motion and Gravity)
  2. Michael Faraday (Electromagnetism: motor)
  3. Albert Einstein (Relativity)
  4. Charles Darwin (Evolution)
  5. Louis Pasteur (Germ Theory and Vaccination)
  6. Gregor Mendel (Genetics)
  7. James Watson/Francis Crick (DNA)
  8. James Clerk Maxwell (Electromagnetic Equations)
  9. Galileo Galilee (Motion and Astronomy)
  10. Johannes Kepler (Elliptical Orbits)
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus (Heliocentric Solar Sys)
  12. Rene Descartes (Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist)
  13. Roger Bacon (Sci.Method, gunpowder to West)
  14. Dmitri Mendeleev (Periodic Table of Elements)
  15. Niels Bohr (Atomic Model/Quantum Mech)
  16. Edward Jenner (vaccination)
  17. Alexander Fleming (Penicillin)
  18. Pierre and Marie Curie (Radioactivity)
  19. William Harvey (blood circulation)

Government/Political Leaders

  1. William the Conqueror (Conquered Britain)
  2. Mao Zedong (Chinese Communist Revolution)
  3. Suleiman The Magnificent (peak of Ottoman) 
  4. Gustav II Adolf (Supported Protestant States)
  5. George Washington (General/President)
  6. Genghis Khan (Mongol Empire)
  7. Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
  8. Simon Bolivar (Liberator of South America)
  9. Pol Pot (Mass murder in Cambodia)
  10. Queen Elizabeth I (Queen of England)
  11. William Wilberforce (Ended Slavery in Britain)
  12. Napoleon Bonaparte (Defeated Europe)
  13. Vladimir Lenin (Russian Revolution)
  14. Peter the Great (Modernized Russia)
  15. Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)
  16. Fredrick the Great of Prussia (Peak of Prussia)
  17. Mustafa Ataturk (Liberalization of Turkey)
  18. Abraham Lincoln (Civil War)
  19. Martin Luther King Jr. (Civil Rights Movement)

Explorers

  1. Christopher Columbus (rediscovery of New World)
  2. Marco Polo (European trade with China)
  3. Ferdinand Magellan (Explorer)
  4. Hernan Cortes (Conqueror of Aztec Mexico)
  5. James Cook (Explorer)

Literature, Music and the Arts

  1. William Shakespeare (Playwright, Writer)
  2. John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
  3. John Milton (Paradise Lost, Writer)
  4. Johann Sebastian Bach (Baroque Composer)
  5. Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy)
  6. Leonardo da Vinci (Inventor, Sculptor, Painter)
  7. Charles Dickens (Novelist)
  8. Michelangelo (Painter/Sculptor)
  9. Wolfgang Mozart (Composer)
  10. Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer)
  11. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Writer)
  12. Leo Tolstoy (Novelist)

Philosophers

  1. Thomas Aquinas (Christianity &Greek thought)
  2. Carl Marx (Marxism)
  3. John Locke (Social Contract)
  4. Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis)
  5. William Blackstone (Law)
  6. Immanuel Kant (Transcendentalism)
  7. Soren Kierkegaard (Existentialism)
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Political)
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche (Nihilism)
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“Happy Birthday to my first love, America,” the Facebook newsfeed read. Given the picture of the young man sitting in front of an American flag and it appearing on July 4th, there was context for the content. Still it sent a shiver up my spine.

Among countries, my first love. Among homelands, my first love. Sure. But just “my first love, America?” Where is the sense of priority? How about God and country, or even better, God, family, and country?

Politics and patriotism are not the solutions to our problems. Helping our fellowman and giving sacrificially are not the solutions to our problems. Raw moral courage and consistency are not the solutions to our problems. Environmental awareness and action are not the solutions to our problems. They are part of the solution, but America, in great pride and ungodliness, has cast God aside.

It is as in the time of Jeremiah: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13) Once this was a nation called to be a “city upon a hill” (Puritan John Winthrop, 1630), and declared to be “great because she is good.”, but the time has come for the rest of that quote to be fulfilled: “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (summation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”) Now I know that the naysayers out there will say that she never was good, and there is some truth to that (broken treaties, persecutions, immoral cities, environment abusing, etc), but there was a seeking after God and a general acknowledgement of God and His moral code, and many good things that were done, and God’s blessing upon us.

But the gig is up! Repent, America, before the judgment comes. It is determined and it will not delay if we continue to go on heedlessly. Now is the time to turn and plead with God for mercy, before He says no more and your future is sealed. Some will say, but God is always forgiving, how can you say that He will not forgive. Yes, He is, and He is also just and He hardens those who continue to refuse Him. Perhaps the atheists, agnostics, and amoralists will ignore me, but what of the church goers and spiritual crowd who claim a knowledge of God, but refuse to submit to the clear call of the Gospel and the simple moral absolutes of His Law. Repent or we are doomed.

Do you want to show allegiance to America on this 4th of July. Order your allegiance to God, Our Creator and Savior. Quit making excuses that you will take care of it later (which you probably won’t have), or it’s none of my business (more than that, my responsibility to declare the truth), or you have my own beliefs about God (not according to His Holy Word), or I don’t hurt anybody (but you offend God by keeping Him at arm’s length and sleep with your girlfriend as if that is OK since it is consensual), or I see no evidence that God exists (though the heavens declare His glory and all Creation points to His power and wisdom), or I’ve always been a good person and help everyone that I can (but refuse to turn to God in Jesus to rescue you from your coveting what belongs to others and disrespecting your parents and elders and those in authority).

God have mercy on us, as Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

God is merciful, and because He has still given us freedom, albeit dwindling, we have opportunity to turn to Him. Jesus, “He Himself  bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)  Don’t think that you can make it in your own goodness or by another way for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

And what does this have to do with the 4th of July? Our very survival as a country and a culture is dependent upon us turning back to God. Most of you likely to read this are my friends, many of whom agree with what I have said, though perhaps some of you think I should soften the delivery (to which I reply, “We are way too far down the road for tender pleading.”), but I plead with you to share this with others who may be in danger of ignoring the need to turn away from their wickedness to God.

I love my country; I love my family more, but my first love is and must be my God, my Savior, to whom all allegiance is due.

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Over the weekend my neighbor came over to share a photo album of his recent vacation. Several relatives took him to the beach, a pier to fish, a battleship, and out to eat several times. He was very excited explaining in his broken, repetitive speech about the beach and waves, a fish he caught, the large shells and big guns of the ship, and pancakes he had. You see, my neighbor has an IQ of around 80. His experience of life is very simple and concrete. (He is also the best neighbor that I have ever had.) The thought occurred to me as he talked that his excitement sounded very similar to that of a young child. Subsequently, I considered that me or some very intelligent person is little different compared to God’s infinite intelligence, perception, and power. We are all enjoying the beach like young children in our level of perception compared to God. But are we all enjoying it with the simple excitement and thankfulness of this neighbor of mine? As I considered it further this morning, I thought about the 4 things our society values: riches, intelligence, beauty, and athletic ability. Those are gifts to be thankful for, but frequently they bring their own problems because we think these gifts somehow come from us. We would be best off without these gifts if we are going to misuse them. And we would be best off not alive if we don’t know God through His Son.

I’d rather be a bear of little brain
Thankful, content, and partially sane
Than one of high intellect and profane
Ungrateful, unbelieving and inane

I would rather be an ugly duckling
Humble and kind, always listening
Than one gorgeous, proud peacock strutting
Self-absorbed and manipulating

I’d rather be a spastic water boy
Team player, play maker, full of joy
Than the stud and star that’s all a ploy
To be in the lights, a lonely alloy

I would rather be poor and struggle hard
Thankful and content though often jarred
Than be filthy rich and on my guard
And by greed and retribution marred

I’d rather be a believer in God
A servant, humble though roughly shod
Than a skeptic agnostic, oh so mod
Separated eternally from God

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The following poem may be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made on this blog. It could draw some significant ire. However, if those who read it, read it carefully and understand its intent, it may help someone reconsider how they are doing things. The poem came as a result of a conversation I had with a decent young man who at present has no prospects for marriage. What he said could be interpreted as so much sour grapes, but I don’t think so. He wants to be a godly husband and is waiting for a godly spouse, but inside and outside the church, young women seem suspicious and disinterested in commitment to young men. (Switching gender in this statement is sometimes true as well.) One statement he made struck me as instructive: “The American Woman (I’ve decided to call her) expects that a man meet all of her emotional needs, but she sees it as optional to meet his physical needs.” I thought several things after he said this: 1) The full pendulum swing from the man as ruler of his house to the fully liberated woman has occurred.  2) Neither extreme is biblical and both are damaging to all parties involved. 3) This statement illustrates the age old difference and misunderstanding of differences in needs of the two genders.

This society belittles males as nothing more than animals, blathering, hormonal driven fools. What we expect and inspire is what we get. We need to change our expectations and encouragement of boys and men.

American woman why do you flounce?
Look on with disapproving eyes

Every male reject and renounce
Belittle in jest and despise

You practice no modesty before guys
In speech and action or in dress
Putting out honey will draw flies
Complicit are you in this mess

(Now it’s true that men should not lust for girls
Treat them as objects, as mere tools
But made in God’s image, real pearls
Honoring her, not acting like fools)

So build up young men; don’t tear them all down
Declare to them their great value
Help them step up to be renown
Sober of mind and always true

Thus the benefit for all and for you
Respect your man and serve him, too
Modest in dress says you are true
He will arise, protect, love you

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I shared thoughts about 9/11 last year that I think still ring true. If you are interested, see “Has the World Really Changed?”

9/11 was not even mentioned at my school today. We went on as if it never happened. My students were not born until 2003. Two major hurricanes just hit back to back in the continental US. Political wrangling is more contentious than it has perhaps ever been in my lifetime. North Korea makes ever more credible threats with each passing year. Racial tension has again reared its ugly head in these United States. The economy is better and life is good. In other words, life has rendered us forgetful. No, that is a way of saying we have an excuse because some outside influence caused us to do what we would not have otherwise. No, we have either willfully forgotten or passively allowed forgetfulness. We don’t want to think about that event because it demands of us introspection about how we should react and will react. We would have to consider the continuation of dangers in the world which we know no solution for. Even more disturbing, we would have to consider that because of our on complicity we are part of the problem. Not me you say. I in no way caused 9/11. What have you done to make this a better, purer, kinder, stronger nation? Have you cried out to God for mercy? Have you sown peace and goodness in the land? Have you taken heed to God’s law and sought after His grace? I include myself. What have I done to remember the lessons of 9/11 that were never learned by this nation and forgotten by the few that did know them? I have much work to do in my personal life, but tomorrow I will convey the sense of what happened to my students who see it as textbook history, before their time. Allow your memory to lapse no more on this subject.

As to the memory of the events, I think that my daughter does them more justice than I am able just now. Here is what she said:

“My 8th grade English class was in the computer lab typing papers one Tuesday morning, when another teacher came in and told Mrs Ball (my teacher) to turn on the TV. Less than 10 minutes later, I watched in real time with shocked disbelief and trembling sadness as the Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower. Reports of the Pentagon being hit and speculation of other targets followed soon after. I saw the towers crumble. I saw the people running, covered in dust. I saw the NY police and firefighters. I saw the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. I saw the hysteria. I silently cried for those lost and prayed for our president.
The next day was so quiet. All planes were grounded.
In the following weeks however, the burst of nationalism was heard echoing across the country. “United We Stand!” “God bless America!” So many US flags appeared. So many people came together to grieve and hold each other up.
I still grieve. When I think of how easily we forget. When I consider the short lived community support. When I contemplate how quickly the crying out to God for help changed to reliance, expectation, and blame on the government.
September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era in our world. Ideas were shaken. Securities were questioned. Fear is the new normal.

So now what? Trust God.
The only way I have found to deal with truth and reality is to take all to Him who created it and me. Do I still feel the impact? Yes, but I don’t try to carry the burden.”

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It’s a pity when life gets in the way of blogging (just kidding!). But I have so many thoughts and experiences from the summer that I could blog for quite some time. It is not likely to happen as I see more things happening soon, but that’s OK.

I did want to share a few thoughts and pictures. I don’t often suggest books for several reasons. I do more technical reading than reading for pleasure, and frankly many books don’t meet my high standard of what I would unreservedly pass on to those I call friends, or enemies for that matter since I want them to one day be friends. A book that I can enthusiastically suggest is “The Book That Made Your World, How the Bible Created the soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi. Because of his culture and his faith he simultaneously looks at the West as an outsider and insider at the same time. I keep having the feeling that he is correcting much error from lies our culture has fed us about how we got to where we are. He uses personal experiences and copious quotes to show the deep imprint of the Bible on western culture. I think that you will hear more about it here once I am finished with it.

My friend, colleague, and climbing partner, CC, took me to two boulders I’d never been to before. In fact, he had only been there a few days before with another climbing buddy for the first time cleaning about ten problems, laying a thick base of branches in a wet spot, and clearing part of a large fallen tree. I was privileged to try out the new rock. I like to go back to old familiar routes, but there is a particular excitement about trying new routes, and particularly ones that haven’t been climbed before. I was definitely not climbing at the top of my game, only topping out on a V1 and 3 V2’s. I tried two V4 and got shut down. Both problems involved a gaston with my left hand that I could not stick. It has challenged me to train that weakness. On the second one I discovered that if I did a side pull with my right hand instead, I could top out to the left much easier. We both agreed that it would rate as a V2. I decided to name it “Easy Out”. The two pictures are of me on the right sidepull and the topout. We saw several Cardinal Flowers in the wet, rich spots by the creek. I definitely want to go back, and hopefully clean some problems on new rock myself. (Photo credit: CC with his phone)

KIMG1043

Lobelia cardinalis

KIMG1051

Taking it “Easy..”

KIMG1054

“Easy Out”

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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