Tuesday, October 31

Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483. He was descended from the peasantry, a fact in which he took great pride. His father was a copper miner in the mining area of Mansfield--but humble as he was, he determined to procure a sound education for his children. Thus, Luther received a classical Brethren of the Common Life education at Mansfield, Magdeburg, and Eisenach. In 1501, he enrolled at the University of Erfurt, receiving his undergraduate degree in 1502 and his Master's degree in 1505. He then intended to study law, as his father wished.

But in the summer of 1505, he suddenly abandoned his studies, sold his books, and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. The decision surprised his friends and appalled his father. Later in life, Luther explained it by recalling several brushes with death making him astutely aware of the fleeting character of life. Luther made his profession as a monk following year and was ordained as a priest the year after that.

After his ordination, Luther was asked to study theology in order to become a professor at one of the many new German universities. The following year he was assigned by Johann von Staupitz, vicar-general of the Augustinians and a friend and counselor, to the University of Wittenberg which had been founded just six years earlier. He was to give introductory lectures in Moral Philosophy and Theology. Two years later, he had the opportunity to visit Rome and was shocked by the worldliness of the Roman clergy.

Increasingly concerned about corruption within the church--both material and spiritual--Luther suddenly became a public and controversial figure when he published his Ninety-Five Theses, on this day in 1517. They were supremely academic in character--Latin propositions opposing the manner in which indulgences were being sold to raise money for the construction of Saint Peter's in Rome.

The Theses caused great excitement and were immediately translated into German and widely distributed. Luther's spirited defense and further development of his position through public university debates in Wittenberg and other cities resulted in an investigation by the Roman Curia that led to his condemnation three years later and his excommunication a year after that in 1521. Summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in April 1521, he was asked before the assembled secular and ecclesiastical rulers to recant. He refused firmly, asserting that he would have to be convinced by Scripture and clear reason in order to do so, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Condemned by the emperor, Luther was spirited away by his prince, the elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and kept in hiding at Wartburg Castle. There he began his translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into German, a seminal contribution to the development of a standard German language. Disorders in Wittenberg caused by some of his more extreme followers forced his return to the city in March 1521, and he restored peace through a series of sermons.

By that time, it was clear that the protesting churches, or "Protestants," would not succeed in reforming the whole Western and Catholic church as Luther had wished. Thus, they established a new ecclesiastical structure--focusing on reforming its worship as much as reforming its doctrine--rooted in the long-lost idea of Sola Scriptura, or "Scripture Alone."

Thus was born the Reformation.

All Hallow’s Eve

Many of the ancient peoples of Europe marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter by celebrating a holiday in late autumn. The most important of these holidays to influence later customs was Samhain, a holiday observed by the ancient Celts.

Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next. According to their tradition, the spirits of those who had died in the preceding year roamed the earth on Samhain evening. The Celts sought to ward off these spirits with offerings of food and drink. They also built bonfires at sacred hilltop sites and performed rituals, often involving human and animal sacrifices, to honor Druid deities.

When the Celts were absorbed into the Roman empire, many of their traditions were adapted by the conquerors as a part of their own celebrations. In Britain, Romans blended local Samhain customs with their own pagan harvest festival honoring Pomona, goddess of fruit trees--from which the game of bobbing for apples was derived.

In many places such as Scotland and Ireland, Samhain was abandoned only when the local people converted to Christianity during the early Middle Ages. But even then, pagan folk observances were linked to a number of Christian holidays. Thus, many of the old Samhain traditions thought to be incompatible with Christianity often became linked with Christian folk beliefs about evil spirits in the celebration of Halloween. Although such superstitions varied a great deal from place to place, many of the supernatural beings now associated with the holiday became fixed in the popular imagination during the Renaissance.

In British folklore, small magical beings known as fairies became associated with Halloween mischief. The jack-o’-lantern, originally carved from a large turnip rather than a pumpkin, originated in medieval Scotland. As belief in many of the old superstitions waned during the late 19th century, Halloween was increasingly regarded as a children’s holiday. Beginning in the 20th century, Halloween mischief gradually transformed into the modern ritual of trick-or-treating. Eventually, Halloween treats were plentiful while tricks became rare.

Thus, this strange amalgamation of Pagan and Christian traditions known as All Hallow’s Eve.

Friday, October 27

King's Meadow Film Conference

Tonight, the second annual King's Meadow Film conference begins with a screening of Ang Lee's Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Tomorrow morning, I will lecture twice: first, on the ideas of feasting and festival in the Christian worldview, and then later, on film as a medium for worldview propogation. Greg Wilbur and Thomas Purfoy will both lecture during the day. We'll preview a new film produced by local artists. And of course, we'll enjoy good food, good fellowship, good discussion, and several more great flicks (including one of my all-time favorites, Babette's Feast) throughout the weekend. Join us in the downtown Franklin Chapel if you can possibly break away from the ever-present tyranny of the urgent. For more information, read our conference brochure or download our most recent ministry newsletter.

Wednesday, October 25

Jan Karon and Steve Green

Don't miss this extraordinary opportunity to meet best-selling author of the Mitford series, Jan Karon, and Dove Award winner, Steve Green, during a very special evening right here in Franklin. Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets online.

A Good Encyclopædia

A recent e-mail correspondent asked my opinion about the best encyclopædia to procure for her library. Her concern was that most modern projects seem to be rife with political-correctness, modernist ideology, and secularist bias. And of course, she is right about all that. But even worse, the material in the most recently published encyclopædias is often so dumbed-down by a least-common-denominator-brevity that the articles are really no longer academically reliable.

So, what would I recommend? Here is what I told my friend:

Alas, there have been no solid or substantive encyclopædia projects for many, many years. The last two really useful projects were the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, published by the Times of London and the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, published by the Cambridge University Press.

I have been talking to publishers for years about the need for an entirely new encyclopædia project, written by the world's foremost authorities in every discipline, but from a faithful Christian worldview perspective. But, as you can imagine, such an undertaking would require enormous resources of time, energy, and money. Alas, most publishers cannot justify that kind of a project given the financial restraints they face day in and day out.

Tuesday, October 24

Who Knew?

Who knew? Just a few weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks a relatively small, struggling computer company held a press conference to announce a new product. At the time, the whole affair seemed more than a little insignificant. But now in hindsight, it is evident that the new product, a little music storage and playback device, would have a stunning impact. Indeed, the Apple iPod has become one of the most recognizable products in the world. It has transformed Apple’s business and its public image--but, perhaps even more significantly, it has transformed the computer industry, the music industry, and perhaps very soon, the television and movie industries as well. All this, from a device smaller than a cigarette package. Who knew?

Well, apparently, Steve Jobs knew.

Admittedly, the Apple CEO’s carefully choreographed pronouncements are more often than not accompanied by cynical quips and murmurings about a “Reality Distortion Field” that always seems to surround him. But in the case of the iPod, on that particular October day in 2001, Jobs couldn’t have been more right. When his stood before a handful of media reps that day, his company had just reported quarterly revenues of $1.45 billion, down 22 percent. Profits had been cut in half, and many were wondering if Apple would be able to survive the onslaught of low-cost PC competitors like Compaq, Dell, Micron, and Gateway.

Oh how the iPod changed all that. This past week Apple reported that it shipped 8.7 million iPods during its fourth fiscal quarter, which ended September 30. In fact, Apple's $1.6 billion from iPod sales in the quarter was more than it generated as an entire company back in October 2001. Those iPod sales were also 35 percent more than the same period last year—far more than what Wall Street’s cautious financial analysts had been expecting. The halo effect for Apple's Mac computers has been nothing less than astonishing, boosting sales in just the last quarter 72 percent (and, oh yeah, of those low cost PC competitors, only Dell still exists in any form even beginning to resemble its former self).

It's hard to overstate the impact of the iPod in just five years on the wider culture. It’s not just the likes of Bono and Madonna who sport those ubiquitous white earbuds these days. The Pope and the President both have iPods. Lance Armstrong trains with his. Condoleza Rice travels to the world’s hot spots with hers. Yo Yo Ma has one. So does Stephen Hawking. So does Billy Graham. So does Brad Pitt. So do I (in fact, I have two--one to run with and one for my home stereo system).

Surely, even the ever optimistic Jobs could not have forseen this.

Friday, October 20

No Lowly Callings

The pioneering African American scientist, George Washington Carver, developed a keen interest in plants at an early age. Growing up in post-emancipation Missouri under the care of his parents' former owners, Carver collected a variety of wild plants and flowers, which he planted in a garden. At the age of ten, he left home of his own volition to attend a school for freed slaves in the nearby community of Neosho, where he did chores for an African American family in exchange for food and a place to sleep. He maintained his interest in plants while putting himself through high school in Minneapolis, Kansas, and during his first and only year at Simpson College in Iowa. During this period, he made many sketches of plants and flowers. He made the study of plants his focus in 1891, the year he enrolled at Iowa State College.

After graduating in 1894 with an degree in botany and agriculture, he spent two additional years at Iowa State to complete a master's degree in the same fields. During this time, he taught botany to undergraduate students and conducted extensive experiments on plants while managing the university's greenhouse. These experiences served him well during the first few years after he joined the faculty of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute.

Carver used scientific means to tackle the widespread poverty and malnutrition among the local African American farmers in south Alabama. Year after year, farmers had planted cotton on the same plots of land and thereby exhausted the topsoil's nutrients. By testing the soil, he discovered that a lack of nitrogen in particular accounted for consistently low harvests. While at Iowa State, Carver had learned that certain plants in the pea family extracted nitrogen from the air and deposited it in the soil. To maintain the topsoil's balance of nutrients, Carver advised farmers to alternate planting cotton and peanuts. This farming method proved effective and within a few years, farmers saw a dramatic increase in their crop production. Carver then created an outreach program in which he would travel once a month to rural parts of Alabama to give hands-on instruction to farmers in this and other innovative farming techniques.

Because of Carver's emphasis on the cultivation of the peanut, peanuts flooded the market and their prices dropped. This predicament presented Carver with yet another challenge--how to prevent farmers from resorting to the exclusive cultivation of cotton, which had a higher market value. Carver began to explore alternative uses for the peanut that would increase its market value. He developed over three hundred peanut products that included peanut butter, cheeses, flours, ice creams, and stains. Then, on this day in 1921, he helped the United Peanuts Growers Association persuade Congress to pass a bill calling for a protective tariff on imported peanuts.

The development of the peanut also helped Carver resolve the problem of malnutrition in the rural south. He stressed that the peanut was a valuable source of protein that could enrich farmers' diets and improve their health. As part of his extension program, Carver taught farmers' wives how to preserve food and prepare tasty, well-balanced meals. For many African American southerners who had never given thought to eating a tomato, which were once widely believed to be poisonous, Carver explained its nutritional value and demonstrated several recipes in which it could be used. Carver was also innovative with the sweet potato and the pecan, introducing approximately 100 uses for each of those two foods.

Carver translated his life-long love of plants into a powerful tool for economic, social, and cultural transformation. As he often told his Tuskegee students, "Every calling is a means for good. There are therefore no lowly callings."

Saturday, October 14

Mission Accomplished

The first annual running of the Uttermost was a roaring success. We did it. Every mile, every day, every event. I'll be posting photos and final tallies on our fundraising totals this next week on my run blog. Right now though, I am going to rest--at least for a little while!

Wednesday, October 11

Three Days; One Goal

It starts tomorrow. 175 miles, 100 students, 12 events, 9 sponsors, 7 ministries, 3 days, 1 goal. The Uttermost. Together, we can make a difference. Won't you help us? Listen to our radio spot and then, pledge your support at our website. Our kids will never be the same. You will never be the same. Our world will never be the same--from here to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Tuesday, October 10

Just 2 More Days!

Make a difference. Have an impact. Use your influence, your gifts, and your opportunities. That's what I tell my students almost every day. With such heady imperatives, it is important that I steer those idealistic young men and women in the right direction when it comes to practical application. I can't just encourage them to change the world and then leave it at that. I need to give them some sense of how. I need to let them see that they don't have to wait until they're grown before they can excercise their influence for good.

That is why I launched the Uttermost. We are just two days away from a titanic effort to run and cycle 175 miles, raising funds for some of the most vital missions organizations in the world today--providing medical care for the poorest of the urban poor, raising up the next generation of leaders in benighted refugee camps and slums, educating young minds in war-torn Iraq, and digging fresh water wells in AIDS-ravaged communities in Africa.

So far we have raised just over $14,000. That is wonderful. My goal however is to top $20,000. We have two more days to get there. Will you help?

Won't you take time to listen to a brief audio message describing what the Uttermost is all about? Or, visit the websites of each of the ministries to which we are commited. And then, pledge your support--won't you?

Our kids will never be the same. You will never be the same. Our world will never be the same--from here to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Sunday, October 8

An A-1 Time in Life

At a campaign stop in Milwaukee on this day in 1912, a deranged, out-of-work bartender emerged from a crowd and shot Theodore Roosevelt in the chest at point-blank range. Staggered by the impact of the bullet and the shock of the injury, the great man nevertheless righted himself. As the crowd converged on the man, the wounded former president cried, "Stand back! Don't hurt the man! Bring him to me!" After examining his would-be assassin with a dismissive glare, he told his aides to get him to the rally.

"This may be the last speech I deliver," he admitted. Seeing that he was bleeding heavily, several doctors in Roosevelt's party wanted to rush him to the hospital at once, but he waved them aside. "You just stay where you are," he ordered. "I am going to make this speech and you might as well compose yourselves." When they persisted, he said, "Get an ambulance or a carriage or anything you like at ten o'clock and I'll go to the hospital, but I won't go until I've finished my speech." He then demanded that his driver proceed to the auditorium.

The crowd was told what had happened. But as Roosevelt appeared on the platform, the familiar figure smiled and waved weakly to the awestruck crowd. "It is true," he whispered in a hoarse voice, "I have just been shot. But it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Now beginning to gain his composure, he said, "Friends, I should ask you to be as quiet as possible. And please excuse me from making a long speech. I'll do the best I can." He then took his manuscript from his jacket; it had been pierced through by the bullet and was soaked with blood. "It is nothing,” he said as the people gasped. "I am not hurt badly. I have a message to deliver and will deliver it as long as there is life in my body." The audience became deathly still as he went on to say, "I have had an A-1 time in life and I am having it now."

He always had the ability to cast an intoxicating spell over crowds. Even now, his physical presence was dominating. Though he was bleeding profusely, he went on to speak for an hour and a half. By the end he had almost completely regained his typical stump fervor--rousing the crowd to several extended ovations. When at last he allowed his concerned party to take him to the hospital, the audience reached a near frenzy chanting "Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!"

At the hospital he joked and talked politics with his attendants. But his condition was hardly a joking matter. The surgeons found that the bullet had fractured his fourth rib and lodged close to his right lung. "It is largely due to the fact that he is a physical marvel that he was not mortally wounded," observed one of them later. "He is one of the most powerful men I have ever seen on an operating table."

Nevertheless, he was no longer a young buck at the age of fifty-four. He was required, against his quite considerable will, to sit out the remainder of the campaign. Later, his biographers would view the incident as quintessential Roosevelt: imposing the sheer force of his will upon a seemingly impossible circumstance, and yet prevailing.

Friday, October 6

A New Chalmers Book

One of my favorite Thomas Chalmers books is back in print for the first time in over a century. Thanks to the good folks at Solid Ground Christian Books, Sabbath Scripture Readings is now available in a fine trade paperback edition. With a brief introduction by Ligon Duncan, adjunct professor at Reformed Seminary and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, these very brief meditations on every chapter in the New Testament afford us a rare glimpse into the heart of Chalmers’ gospel vision. Written during the tumultuous years between 1841 an 1845, the meditations were originally used for the traditional explanation of the Scripture reading during the Sunday morning services of the Scottish churches in which Chalmers ministered. They are thus less expositional and more devotional in character--largely written in the form and language of prayer. But, do not let their brevity fool you--they are quite substantive theologically and practically. This is a volume you will not want to be without.

Wednesday, October 4

To the Uttermost in Seven Days

We're just one week away from the start of the Uttermost. All the last minute logistics, training, and sponsorship gathering are now in full-frenzy-mode. It is a little crazy, but lots and lots of fun. Even our radio spot for the Bott Radio Network has begun to get heavy rotation. For all this I am extremely grateful.

Character and Characters

Edward Stratemeyer was born on this day in 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was arguably among the most prolific and influential American authors. Indeed, he wrote more and sold more than almost any other writer who has ever lived anywhere at any time--some 1,300 novels selling in excess of 500 million copies. He created more than 125 different series--many of them familiar and beloved American cultural icons. You say you’ve never heard of him? Well maybe you know him by one of his many pseudonyms: Franklin W. Dixon, Victor Appleton, Carolyn Keene, Roy Rockwood, Laura Lee Hope, or Ralph Bonehill. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Surely you’re familiar with his famous characters: the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Jack Ranger, Bomba the Jungle Boy, the Dana Girls, the Bobsey Twins, Dave Dashaway, and Don Sturdy. All were invented by this lone writer: Edward Stratemeyer.

At the height of his career during the first two decades of the twentieth century, he employed an entire syndicate of editors, copy-writers, stenographers, co-authors, and secretaries just to keep up with his prodigious creativity. With their assistance he was able to produce an astonishing literary legacy, practically inventing an entirely new genre of juvenile fiction.

According to Stratemeyer all of his books had a single uniting theme: the vital importance of moral character. He attributed all his success and the enduring popularity of the series he created to the fact that he never wavered in this regard. “The history of the world, the outcome of great events, and the establishment of true heroism will always entirely depend upon this,” he said.

“Every story worth retelling,” he asserted, “is the fruit of internal uprightness at work in the external world. Whenever any mystery appears, its solution will depend upon the exercise of ethics, first and foremost. Whenever any adventure arises, its resolution will depend upon the exertion of morals. Whenever any question emerges, its outcome will depend upon the establishment of standards. In every circumstance, character is the issue. It is the issue which underlies all other issues.”

When the destiny of men and nations hangs in the balance it is not the Dow Jones Industrial Average that matters most. It is not the International Balance of Trade that matters the most. It is not the Gross National Product that matters the most. It is not the State of the Union that matters most. When push comes to shove what matters most is not so much what we do as who we are. Character is the issue. Whether we are writing a story for boys and girls, giving direction to a family or a community, or establishing standards for an entire nation, character is always the issue that supercedes all other issues. At least that was the theory Stratemeyer operated by in his writing and publishing career--which may be why his stories and characters have endured so remarkably well to this day.

Tuesday, October 3

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

Amy, the King's Meadow office manager, asked for permission to post a blog about our upcoming UTTERMOST project (see below). I'm so glad she did--precisely because she is able to say what I probably would never have said, but most assuredly should have!

A Message from Amy

Uttermost Link

Eat, sleep, breathe, repeat. That seems to be what I'm doing with the Uttermost now that it's October. It's not that I'm expressly busy with the planning and coordinating at this point so much as wracking my brain to figure out who else I can tell, where else I can post a flyer, what other creative things I can come up with to get people to GIVE MONEY! Especially on-line. I was so excited about getting an on-line giving feature up on the UTTERMOSTrace.com website, and you know how many people have donated...TWO! Come on folks! I love y'all with all my heart, but we can do better than this.

This week begins mega planning for me on the financial end of things. I'm in charge of keeping track of the financial donations that come in from around the country to help support organizations such as Blood:Water Mission and African Leadership, digging fresh wells and nurturing both the physical and spiritual needs of our indigenous brethren in Africa. Money to keep Mercy Children’s Clinic a thriving and vital part of our community, enabling them to give medical attention to a wide variety of children with varying needs and means. And then there's Servant Group International--what better way to bring the peace of the gospel to the Middle East, minister to our persecuted brethren, and raise up the next generation of Iraqi politicians, business men, and spiritual leaders than from within the country itself. I want desperately to be so busy this month that it takes me weeks to calculate how much money we've raised for these great missions groups!

These are exciting times. These ministries are doing exciting things. Won't you join us in encouraging them in their Kingdom calling? So please, visit the Uttermost site and pledge your support today.