An Arrow Through the Air

I’m slowly reading the letters of John Wesley. I found these on line at The Wesley Center. I have downloaded the first two volumes and formatted them for a maximization of trade-off between easy reading and concise printing, and printed them. I’m thus reading them from my printed copy. I found this interesting piece today.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!

Wesley wrote this on 27 September 1730 to Miss Ann Granville. This is part of the “Cyrus-Aspasia” letters, not printed in most early collections of his letters, which are believed to be coded affectionate (if not love) letters between Wesley and the young widow Mary Granville Pendarves. Ann was Mary’s younger sister, and Wesley wrote her as well. In these words by the founder of Methodism and, more importantly, the driving force behind the 18th Century revival in England, I find much to think about and much to inspire. I may take a few days to discuss this.

First up is his thought “Strange to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark….” Is that not a perfect description of the average person’s life? Oh, we all leave marks behind us. As a genealogy hobbyist who has found lots of these marks left by otherwise unknown ancestors, I know this. But for the most part most people have no impact beyond their immediate family and perhaps a few close acquaintances. How apt Wesley’s metaphor is. An arrow moves through the air at great speed and for great distances. It has an effect at the end of its journey, but the territory it passes through is not affected except for a momentary disturbance of unseen gases.

So could any of us look back on years passed and wonder, “What have I accomplished in the last [X years, or Y decades]? Has that much time really passed? They seemed full at the time. Why do I have such a sense of non-accomplishment?” Many people want to have an impact on our world: help someone, teach someone, train-up someone, create something, discover something, improve something. Yet, many more people don’t give a thought to any of this, worrying instead about eight hours work, dinner on the table, and television all evening. Quite a dichotomy. Unfortunately there are likely many more people who fit the latter description than the former. And many of the former devise no game plan for doing more than momentarily disturbing unseen gases

For those who, like Wesley, want to accomplish so much that they wish “the wheels of life stand still”, a game plan for accomplishing influence is necessary. I pray that God would help me to develop that game plan, and have that influence.

Leisure and I…

One of John Wesley’s most famous quotes is, “Leisure and I have taken leave of one another.” I found this quote in his letter to his older brother, Samuel Wesley Jun. The letter was written 5 December 1726. Those familiar with the chronology of Wesley’s life will recognize this as very early, during the Oxford Holy Club days, long before the Wesleyan revival, long before his missionary time in America, long before doctrines developed that would become the foundations of one of the greatest Christian movements of all times. Wesley was just twenty-three years old when he wrote this. Sixty-four years of fruitful ministry lay ahead.

I don’t know if Wesley might have written this many times in his works, rather than just this once. Possibly this was sort of a life motto for him, possibly this shows up regularly in his writings (which I will find out over the years as I read more of them). But I find it most interesting he wrote this so early in his life, and that he seemed to have done what he said. Even a cursory biography shows that he was not a man of leisure, and seldom did what we would consider leisurely things. I don’t know that he ever took vacations. His occupation caused him to have to work on the Sabbath, so did he take another day of the week as a day of rest, or did he just plow right on with his work? Did he have any sort of a weekend as we know it? Of course, the times he lived in were much more work oriented than ours. The four day work week was unheard of—actually, the five day work week was unheard of. Six days a week was the norm, and I imagine some workers found themselves working all seven just to make ends meet. The European concept of a month-long vacation was unthinkable. Even the American concept of two weeks of vacation, with a trip to the beach or the mountains, was something maybe the idle rich could afford, but no one else. Yes, Wesley’s taking leave of leisure was quite a bit different than it would be today.

So how does this affect us now? If Wesley gave up so much leisure and accomplished so much, what of us, who in the 21st century have much we want to accomplish? If we take leave of leisure, we will be branded “type A personality”, whatever that is, and looked down upon by most of those we encounter. But so what? Most of them have nothing they want to accomplish beyond a good bracket in the NCAA tournament, or calling the automated tee-time reservation system the very second reservations for a new day become available. If they don’t want to accomplish much, why should that deter me?

I am impressed that Wesley established this pattern of intensive ministry long before he accomplished most of his life goals. Aldersgate Street is about twelve years in the future. The revival followed that. Fifty years of fruitful ministry accompanied the revival. But those twelve years of having taken leave of leisure must have somehow been essential for that to happen. Again, Wesley was twenty-three when he made that statement. I seem to be thirty-three years behind him. Yet the need to accomplish much outside my chosen profession didn’t hit me until somewhat late in life. Have I time to take leave of leisure and accomplish something? And how does this mesh with what I wrote of Emerson’s words, “There is time enough for all that I must do”?

No answers, only questions to be pondered and hopefully answered in the next couple of months.

It’s been a bad week

I know a blog of a professional person is supposed to be about a brand of some kind, not a diary of all that life throws at you. The fact is, though, I’ve been down in the dumps this week–big time, so I’m going to give you a diary entry. The problem is not that anything is actually going bad. A problem or two has arisen at work, but solutions have also developed and other things have worked well. Nothing has broken at the house, the bills are paid, and my weight is even dropping a little (agonizingly slowly, though without exercise) as I ate well and avoided snacks. I didn’t get a ticket; the truck and van didn’t break down; and I bought gas this time the day before an 8 cents price hike. I have come within one calculation of completing my Federal income taxes, subject to mathematical quality control of course, and I’m a week ahead on preparing my Sunday School lesson–oops, they call them Life Groups now. Even the rain on three days, which usually perks me up, didn’t. So, you ask what’s wrong? What would put me in the dumps?

It’s writing, specifically the lack of time to get to it, and another dose of reality at the almost impossible odds of becoming published. I did plenty of writing this week, mostly business letters via e-mail, and a few via snail mail or its semi-electronic cousin, the fax. I also wrote that one Life Group lesson and started on the second, it being well along. I had to study a lot for those, but it was good study and my mind was engaged. But none of that (except possibly the Life Group lesson) takes me an inch closer to being published. Every day filled with life–life to the full, as Jesus wants it to be–is a day further away from the dream. I’m at that point in life where each day is a precious commodity as it relates to fulfilling a dream. Youth is gone, and I have only so many days left.

Writing as a dream looks to be something that will cause an emotional roller coaster in life. I’ve experienced that before, first in my days as an expatriate and later in my days as a foster parent. The swing of emotions are energy sapping, leaving the brain little ability to create, even little ability for normal function. It requires considerable toughening to keep going. This week, I didn’t have it. What will next week hold? If I finish my Federal taxes this weekend, get another Life Group lesson prepared to put me one week ahead, and maybe have time for a blog post for three days in a row, maybe I’ll approach next week as a dynamo of brain-power. At least I can hope.

In addition to which, for those loyal readers who remember my posts a while back about capturing ideas for future writing, I did manage to capture two this week: one could be an article or a book; the other could be a Life Group series, which could later be a book.

The Ides of April Constrain Me

Yes, I’m working on my taxes, working on preparing my weekly Sunday School lesson which includes writing a handout as well as teaching notes, and have found almost no time to write except for that. Also, the class my wife and I are taking Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the community college is cutting into all things avocational and leisurely. The good news is the taxes are well along. I might finish the Federal tonight, though will take a couple of days to perfect it. I actually finished the lesson for this coming Sunday last night also, so I might be able to prepare another one this week and be a week ahead. I’d like to be two weeks ahead, if I can.

So, in the place of writing a new post here, I’ll be lazy and copy in a post I made at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, in the poetry discussion forum. This is the first of several posts I’ll be making in the thread on poetry craft.

Quote: “A few weeks ago, I was asked to judge a chapbook contest, partly because I enjoy a little recognition locally and partly because it’s hard as hell to get someone to judge these things. I just finished going through the stack of pocketfolders that cradled the entries.YUK! After I finished, I almost wanted to cry. Most of the “poets” who entered this contest knew nothing about the craft….

Okay, after saying I wouldn’t get to this for a while, I decided to use my lunch hour to do this instead of planned things. The wind at 30 mph and the threatening rain are excellent excuses to not take my noon walk.

Concerning the quality of the poems submitted to the contest, I would like to know to whom the contest was opened. The general public who might have seen a contest notice? High school students? University students? Members of a local poetry society? That’s important to know, because for each group we would expect a different aggregate quality of the entries. If entrants are people who responded to a notice posted in the library and in a newspaper, we would expect pretty poor quality. If these are English majors in college, we would expect something better. Since these are chapbooks and not individual poems, that tells me the entrants are more serious poets than the population at large, in which case the lack of quality is more disturbing.

We tend to think that there is more dreck being passed off as poetry today than at times past in history. I wonder, however, if that is true. Dissemination is so easy today, due to technological advances not available to poets in a ruder era, that more people see the dreck. But maybe, as a percentage of all poetry written in any given era, we have no more today than in eras past. Mercifully only the best of those eras survive; we don’t see the dreck that was written simultaneously as Keats’ odes, or Shakespeare’s sonnets, or Chaucer’s epics.This might not be true when one factors in the expansion of literacy, as Haskins said. More literate people, as a percentage of the population, might indeed produce a higher percentage of crap than did a people in the past. Either way, sponsor a chapbook contest in 1800, and I’ll be you’d get plenty of chapbooks at which you’d want to gag. Again, all those chapbooks were destroyed by knowledgeable heirs who found them tucked away in chests and realized the judges were correct in writing on it, “Foresooth, these stinketh.”

Other parts of your post will have to wait for a later time.

I guess there’s something to be said for lack of notoriety; no one is asking for me to judge anything. May it ever be so.

I have only…

My absence, either in total or in part, these last two weeks, stems from a combination of things that either must or do take precedence over this blog. The last week has been consumed by getting ready to teach a series in my adult Sunday School class (new style life groups). Titled “The Dynamic Duo: Lessons from the Lives of Elijah and Elisha“, this is a class I developed myself, not ex nihilo, but sans a study guide. So, from the pages of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, I pulled together ten lessons, more or less chronological through the lives of these prophets. I could have had about 14 lessons, but decided ten was a good number, and so skipped the better known events and the very minor events. The work to get ready to teach, after the basic lesson series was outlined, was to 1) intensely study the scripture, including cross references where I could find some; 2) prepare a specific outline for the class; 3) prepare a handout for the class; 4) prepare my own teaching notes; and 5) go through it all well enough that I would barely have to refer to my teaching notes. I finished this for the first week on Saturday morning, and so was able to avoid the last minute rush that often happens with these things.

But to my main point: This week’s lesson was about the widow at Zarephath, and how she responded to Elijah’s requests, first that she give him some water, then that she give him some bread. She responded well to the first, at once leaving what she was doing to get the water. The second, however, gave her trouble, as she could not see how she could deny herself and her son their last meal and feed this foreigner, this prophet of a foreign God. So she focussed on what she had [I…have…only…a little]. She seemed not to think that feeding this foreigner man of God meant, from her limited perspective, the difference of one day in her life span–one day. By focussing on the little she had, she was not able to grasp the blessings of service or the blessings of God.

Fortunately for the widow, she believed Elijah’s explanation, and did what he asked. And “the rest of the story” is well-known, for the little she had, though it remained little (for I doublt the jar and jug ever filled to overflowing), was sufficient to keep three people alive and allow God’s timing for Israel to play out.

As I said in a previous post, there’s a lesson in this for us.

The Hard Work of Evil

[Sorry for my absence of late. As I said in my last post, work was particularly busy, but I have just passed that time. Plenty to do at home, but maybe I can be more regular in posting. But hey, this week I have “captured” three writing ideas, put them on paper, and put them in the notebook.]

On CNBC, Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM Central Time is a show American Greed. I don’t know how long it’s been running. I’ve seen three or four episode, each one about someone in the corporate/financial world who got ahead by cheating/milking their company, but who were eventually was taken down. Tonight was the CEO of Tyco, Kovlowski.

Last week was the founder/chairman of CyberNet Engineering Group, a Grand Rapids, MI company. I don’t remember his name, though I might look it up and edit it in. He had earlier in his career embezzled money from his own companies or otherwise cheated investors out of much money. He dodged prison, plea-bargained down, moved to a new city and set up his evil shop again. He did this three times, ending up in Grand Rapids. There, he co-founded CEG, a value-added reseller of computing systems. In the 1990s the business was perfectly positioned to make money from the burgeoning computer market. What did he do? He set up a small legitimate business, and a huge fake business, complete with fake invoices for fake inventory for fake customers. The deception was an incredible web of deceit. Moreover, the deception must have taken just as much work as a legitimate business would. The work of doing evil was not less than the work of doing right, and might have been more. So why did he do it?

For now, evil pays more than doing right–most of the time. I believe doing right–i.e. doing good does pay well compared to doing evil, especially if you take a wall-to-wall view of costs and benefits. However, those who are evil have trouble seeing it. It appears the internal evil blinds them to the good, the right. They see the apparent huge payoff for doing evil, and they go there.

Somewhere there is a lesson in this for us.

To my loyal reader(s)

Sorry for my absence these few days. I’ve been extremely busy at work. A couple of projects in the city where I serve part time as city engineer have demanded much attention, taking more than half the day today.

My paper to be presented at a conference in Orlando FL in August is due on Monday, and I’ve been working evenings trying to complete that. I finished the basic paper last night, and will be editing it this weekend. The conference is StormCon08, and the title of my paper is “A Water and Wastewater Engineer Retools for Storm Water”.

Then, this coming Tuesday, March 18, I will take part as one of three trainers in a Lorman training in nearby Springdale, Arkansas. The other two on the panel are attorneys. The subject of the seminar is “What to do when construction projects go bad”. I think it it tailor-made for me.

I will return as soon as I can, possibly this weekend for a post, but not too much before next Wednesday.

Disagreeing with the Scholars, Part 2

Well, after having upset all the scholars yesterday (see how many made negative posts in response?), here I am with part 2.

Continuing in Bart D. Ehrman’s The New Testament, I want to look at Jesus’ return to Nazareth during his adult ministry. In the Gospel of Mark, this occurs in Chapter 6, after the woman with bleeding is healed and before the sending of the Twelve and the death of John the Baptist. In Matthew, this occurs in Chapter 13, long after the woman is healed of bleeding but before John the Baptist is beheaded. John doesn’t cover this. Luke describes a trip Jesus made to Nazareth in Chapter 4, long before the woman with bleeding is healed and the Twelve are sent out. I’ve thought long and hard about this discrepancy, and come up with a conclusion. But first, let’s see what Ehrman has to say about it.

For Luke, the message of God’s salvation comes first to the Jews…Luke’s Gospel…is oriented toward showing how this salvation comes largely to be rejected in the city of God by the people of God, the Jews themselves…[and] leads to its dissemination elsewhere…among the non-Jews, the Gentiles. In Luke, Jesus’ ministry begins with a sermon in the synagogue that infuriates his fellow Jews, who then make an attempt on his life…In order to begin Jesus’ ministry in this way, Luke narrates a story that does not occur until nearly halfway through both Mark’s and Matthew’s account of the ministry…. This is the famous narrative narrative of Jesus’ sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, a story that is much longer and more detailed in Luke than in the other Gospels and that, as the opening account, set the stage for Luke’s overall portrayal of Jesus…”

So according to Ehrman, Luke changed the story from what Mark and Matthew said in order to make his point about Jesus’ ministry.

Does anyone besides me see something wrong with this? If Ehrman is correct, and Luke is changing stories to suit his purpose, then his whole gospel is called into question. We can’t believe anything he tells us, because he is not revealing history; he is just making points according to what he wants us to believe. And if we can’t believe him, we surely don’t have to listen to him.

But I see another possibility, one not even mentioned by the scholar, or by any other scholarly work that covers this. The simple explanation is Jesus made two trips to Nazareth. The first is documented in Luke, and the second is documented in Mark and Matthew. The activities that took place, and the general tenor of the accounts are so different it seems somewhat obvious these are two separate visits. If I, as a layman who has no formal training in the scriptures (except what I’ve picked up from sermons and my own intense readings), can figure this out, why can’t they? It’s so obvious.

Why can’t they? They don’t want to. If they did, they might have to believe the gospels and respond to their message, instead of tearing them apart.

Disagreeing with the Scholars

I just lost a long post, once again technologically challenged. All I was doing was copying text to save it to the clipboard to prevent losing it, and in that process I deleted it all. Madness, madness, all technology is madness. I’ll try again, but don’t know if I have the strength and time.
You know you’re in trouble, as a layman, when the books you are reading have heavy doses of words like docetism, ascetecism, gnosticism, redaction, etc. Recently I have been reading various scholarly books about the formation of the New Testament. I began doing this about three years ago as research for my book Doctor Luke’s Assistant. And, it proof of Frost’s contention that “way leads on to way,” I’ve gone way beyond that to looking at other books of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, thinking of sequel upon sequel. But I digress.

As I read these scholarly works, I can’t get away from the feeling that the purpose of these scholars is to denigrate the New Testament and, by extension, Christianity. It seems like the scholarship is done with an end in mind, to prove something harmful to the acceptance of the book. For example, these scholars seem determined to prove that certain books could not have been written by the apostles to whom they were attributed. Why is that important? Because as the canon of the New Testament was being agreed to over a period of a few centuries, one criteria was that the books in the canon had to be written by an apostle or by one who knew Jesus or by one like Paul, to whom God spoke directly in the era of the apostles. So, if the scholars can prove the apostles didn’t write the books attributed to them, they prove the canon was criteria was not adhered to, the canon is thus flawed, the New Testament is flawed, and the foundation of Christianity is brought down a couple of notches. To me, the scholarship seems structured toward that specific conclusion, either purposely or as part of a mob mentality, a conclusion that will not help Christianity. I say this realizing I don’t have the credentials, have not read all the manuscript fragments, have not read many of the attestations of the early church writers. Possibly I’m discerning this in my spirit, or possibly it’s pseudo scholarship on my part. Nevertheless, this is my impression, so I’ll write about it. This will take me several posts to get through and, hopefully, make my point.

Case in point: The book I have at hand is The New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman, a professor at the University of North Carolina. Oops, if he’s a professor, I probably should call him Doctor Ehrman–although nowhere in the book is he called Doctor, so maybe not. Ehrman seems determined to bring down the New Testament. An example is how he treats Jesus’ use of “Son of Man”. Ehrman would ask, when Jesus said, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven,” to whom was he referring? Here’s a quote from the book.

“It appears that Jesus expected the kingdom to be brought by one whom he called the Son of Man. Scholars have engaged in long and acrimonious debates about how to understand this designation. Is it a title for a figure that Jews would generally understand…? Is it a general description of “a human-like being”? Is it a self-reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I”? Moreover, did Jesus actually use the term? Or did the Christians come up with it and attribute it to Jesus? If Jesus did use it, did he actually refer to himself as the Son of Man?”

I’m sorry the debate of the scholars has been so long and acrimonious. The laymen haven’t had any problem understanding that Jesus was talking about himself.

This is just an example. I have at least two others in mind to discuss. I’ll use Ehrman’s book, and perhaps a library book if I can get to the post before it’s due. I’ll probably make the scholars angry, but since they are not likely to be flocking to this blog, I don’t really care.

Stay tuned.

Capturing the Idea

Over at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, my current Internet writing hangout, a recent threadbrought up the subject of documenting ideas. As I wrote previously, Carlyle didn’t worry about capturing the many ideas that went march-marching through his head. Maybe his writing list was enough to last a lifetime without trying to capture those stray thoughts.

I have to capture them, however. How do I know but that a stray idea will be the one that gives me a magazine article writing credit? Or that possibly one might be a better novel or non-fiction book than the one I’m currently working on? That happened to me recently. I’d been working mostly on getting ready to market Documenting America, and writing for this blog, when an idea for a non-fiction book hit me. This idea was strong enough that no documentation was required. After a week, I discussed it with my wife and she encouraged me to write it. So all other writing projects are dropped, save for the sporadic posting to this blog, so as to get four chapters, a table of content, and a proposal done before the May conference. I’ve completed the four chapters in first draft, and will tonight begin the editing process. I’ve begun working on the proposal, but only barely. The TOC will come in due course during the proposal.

Monday night another non-fiction book idea came to me, I think it was as I was driving home. The idea was in response to something someone said on a news or talk program. An idea for a book loosely related to that came to my mind. By the time I was home, the idea was gone, lost behind a nuked baked potato and veggies. Yesterday it came back, so I decided I’d better do something with it. I took a sheet of re-use paper and wrote a single line: a proposed book title. Tonight I’ll take a few minutes to hand-write a short paragraph, discussing what the book will be about, and will stick it in my newly created Writing Ideas notebook. When will I get to this idea for actually developing an outline, and maybe writing it? I don’t know. It will take some research to write, for it’s something I have strong opinions on but am not familiar with historical details that I’ll need. So this might not be any time soon. But who knows? Maybe my current non-fiction book will sell in May. If so, a follow-up book might be needed at some point. This one doesn’t follow that one in subject matter; the following is only that they are both non-fiction. But, since non-fiction outsells fiction something like 8 to 1, perhaps that is the way to go.

Then again, it might be years before I get to this idea—or never. I might get into the research and realize it was a stupid idea (the word “stupid” is in the title), and not worthy of a book. Maybe it’s just magazine article length, not book length. Or maybe the idea is valid, but I have many better ideas to pursue. Or maybe my fiction takes off, and I abandon non-fiction for a long time.

Whatever, for once I have correctly documented the idea, in a three stage process (or, if you want to say “remembering” the idea was a step, then it’s a four stage process). Either way, I feel I’ve come a long way.

Author | Engineer