Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Ethical Danger of "Co-Parenting"

Apparently the "hot" new thing when it comes to raising kids is something called co-parenting.  It used to refer to divorced or separated parents trying to amicably work together to ensure that their child was raised well.  (As a a kid from a divorced family, I know a lot about this.)  Now, using sites like, people are coming together to have children outside of any formalized relationship or commitment.  

It may sound like a convenient solution to some, but, as someone who grew up in a household touched by divorce, I can't in my wildest imagination understand why parents would willingly wish this upon their children.  If they want a pet, go get a dog or a cat.  A child is not a pet, and a child deserves two parents devoted to each other in a loving, committed, and formalized relationship.  

In essence, this practice is using the tragedy of divorce and of children being shuttled between parents like luggage as its operational model.  Talk about self-centered.  How about considering for a moment the best interest of the child instead of yourself.  It will be interesting (and profoundly sad) t o see how dysfunctional and cynical the children of these imaginary relationships become as young adults.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Karl's Famous Pretzels (Encore Post)

I’ve been perfecting this recipe for several years now, and I think you will enjoy it. One word of advice is not to skip the quick immersion in the boiling water! This step makes all the difference in their final texture, creating pretzels that are moist yet crisp. I don't go into a lot of detail here about forming the pretzels, but just do your best. It takes a little practice. Even if they look odd, they should still taste great!

Ingredients and Preparation
1 1/2 cup water (1/4 cup of it warm for the yeast)
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 1/2 tsp of dry yeast
2 tbsp softened butter (optional)
1-4 tbsp of sourdough sponge
1 or two beaten eggs
course salt
sesame seeds
1/2 stick of butter
Activate the yeast separately by adding it to the water and sugar. If you have a bread machine, try using this to prepare and knead the dough. (It helps if you add the water first.) If it’s too large a batch for the machine, try cutting the recipe in half. Otherwise, prepare the dough as you would for an ordinary loaf of homemade bread.
Neither the butter nor the sourdough is a required ingredient, but I think both help make a better finished product. The sourdough enhances the depth and richness of flavor. The butter not only improves both the texture and flavor, but it also seems to help when it comes time to form the pretzels. (You may also want to try adding one tablespoon corn meal and letting the bread "rest" before rising.  Also, cooking sprays work well on one's hands.)
Watch the dough’s progress in the bread machine (or food processor) carefully. It often requires a little fine-tuning with additional water and/or flour in order to achieve a proper ball of dough. You will want the dough to rise for several hours, and, depending on the size and habits of your bread machine, you may decide to transfer before long to a bread pan inside a barely heated oven and cover with a moist towel. (I pre-heat to a couple hundred degrees, put the bread in, then turn off the oven.) As an alternative, you may also want to form the pretzels now, then place in the oven under the towel to rise.
When it looks like it’s done rising, it’s time to get everything else ready. Beat your eggs for the wash and set aside. Get a deep pan and fill it halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Begin forming the pretzels by making eight-inch ropes. Once they're formed into their classic shape, carefully pick each up and dip in the boiling water for ten seconds before returning to the greased baking sheet.
When this step is complete and they’ve all had their hot bath, then brush the egg wash over each and season with the course salt and sesame seeds. Bake until lightly browned for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Enjoy with melted butter.

Some Quick Pretzel History
Pretzels are said to have had their origin in Europe in the 600s, and were used by monks to reward children for memorizing their prayers and studies. The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, describe their invention by a monk " a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")". Pretzels were also used as a teaching tool for the mysterious three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity.

A Short Analogy for the Christian Journey

A simple analogy occurred to me recently for the Christian walk.  As believers, I think we sometimes fail to fathom the real depths of harm arising from our daily temptations.  Their very ordinary nature lulls us to a spiritual complacency.  Our free will, our choice is a frightening thing indeed when we fail to recognize the foolishness and harm arising from our own choices.  There is, after all, no such thing as a victimless sin.

The analogy that came to mind was of people trying to stay afloat in an ocean storm.  Their arms and legs are moving, but they are close to going under.  Someone (representing temptation) offers them something, and their eyes light up.  Their hands reach eagerly up and out of the water towards what's offered--temptation becoming sin--and the weight of the sin draws them even lower in the water, but their eyes continually to hungrily eye new temptations to sink their souls down to the depths of despair.

No temptation has seized you except which is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.  

1 Corinthians 10:13

Friday, January 13, 2012

When Did Corpse Desecration Become a Military Tactic?

By now, everyone has undoubtedly heard the news of the Marines urinating on the dead taliban.  What began on YouTube, has now hit all the news media.

What's prompted me to write a few words is the way in which many of my fellow conservatives have taken the position that this is acceptable behavior.  They make arguments which may make for a good soundbite, but their reasoning is spurious and misleading.  They say for instance that radical Islamic terrorists are killing people everyday in horrible and obscene ways--e.g. young suicide bombers or beheadings.
Yet, as I pointed out to Dana Loesch on Twitter yesterday, that argument is really irrelevant to this discussion.  Military is all about chain of command and order.  The only thing this action shows on the part of those Marines is a feeble attempt at male bravado and a willingness to break the rules and conduct expectations of military personnel.  
While I was considering a law enforcement career, I spent a lot of time with veterans as a young man, and they were some of the most wonderful people around--for the most part.  Every once in a while, though, I would observe an officer (usually a former military man) who was really more of a bully at heart.  In the late 1980s in Yakima, for instance, I remember an officer who especially liked to pull over Hispanics for any traffic offense he could find.  No matter the traffic contact, his hand always hovered over his sidearm in a nice, friendly way.  He's gone on now (to the great Lieutenant in the sky?), but that was a chilling shift indeed.  Another time while taking a civil service exam in the Seattle area, I remember a veteran remarking to a friend that he wanted to pursue law enforcement because he liked to push people around--not help them.
Those people are the exception to the rule, but they are out there nonetheless.  We need to do a better job screening our prospective soldiers to keep the ones like this out of the uniform.
Returning to the central issue, then, these particular Marines are simply bullies with exceedingly poor judgement.  To support their action is to be blind to the serious loss of the moral high ground it gives us in our dealings with the enemy.  Really, I'd also argue that failure to hold those Marines accountable also ignores fundamental lessons of western civilization and decency.  Maybe we should all read Sophocles' Antigone again.  As I tweeted yesterday, "Since when did corpse desecration become a favored tactic? Are we to become as they (Taliban) already are?"

As an aside here, there's been an idea put forward with regards to dealing with militant Islam which suggests that terrorists killed by US troops should be buried with parts of "unclean" animals--e.g. pigs--as a means to discourage further acts of terrorism.  It's an interesting suggestion, and one that may warrant serious consideration.  It is not, however, the place of the frontline soldier to take it upon himself to perform such an action.  If this were going to be undertaken, its purpose would be to discourage terrorists, a warning.  If you act before you warn, you lose any value from what's being proposed.  It changes it from a measured strategy to a soldier's foolish impulse.
For Christians, I thought I'd conclude my reflections today with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy;92 it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eternal Truth & Reflections Upon Coming Home

Oregon Coast (not Whidbey Island)
Below, is a reprint from an essay which was published a few years ago by Episcopal Church News.  (For another perspective upon returning home, see On Coming Home.)

When we recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at Seattle Pacific University’s Camp Casey, situated on the Admiralty Inlet side of Whidbey Island across the choppy strait from Port Townsend, it reminded me of some experiences I had working there as a college student during the summer of 1988.

I decided to take my daughter Sarah on a walk one cool afternoon along some of the forest trails to the north of the conference center grounds. The path wound its familiar way up among the wind-swept evergreens and the occasional madrona. We paused to explore an old fort from the 1890s; its once busy walkways and concrete bunkers now quiet and much overgrown with blackberry bushes and tall weeds, and its stories and pictures slowly fading from collective memory. (Fort Casey State Park itself lies a mile or two to the south.)

We then proceeded on along the needle-lined trail, heading up a gradually leveling incline with the forest on our right and a cliff overlooking the crashing surf some twenty feet off to our left. Making certain that Sarah was safely standing on the trail, I carefully stepped towards the left, searching for the place where I recalled having devotions from time to time during the summer of 1988.

I found what appeared to be the right location, but its look was quite different now. Instead of the broad sandy cliff face with a fairly clear path to its center that I remembered, the cliff now seemed much higher and closer to the trail. Not being particularly comfortable with heights (just try to get me on the 4-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge again!), I returned to the path, and we resumed our trek to the north for a time until the trail faded and then disappeared entirely among the grass and trees. We plodded back to Camp Casey to watch and wait for the late afternoon’s arrival of the grazing deer.

It occurred to me recently that this experience was instructional in a spiritual sense. When we return to places from our past, they frequently seem smaller--not more expansive. It’s something akin to visiting your hometown for the first time after being away in college (depending on where you're from). This homecoming is reminiscent of times long gone and the community may stand smaller than recalled.
So, this experience of returning to a place I held close from younger days was odd in that it did not conform to the usual and comfortable perceptions. The vantage point from which I recalled reading and gazing upon the gray heaving waves below had changed a great deal over the past decade. Considering the winter storms that lash Whidbey Island, that alteration of scenery and environment should not have been so surprising.

What it does remind one of, however, is that while much concerning us personally, and the landscape surrounding us for a time, undergoes a continual "sea change" or evolution, our God "does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). Instead, He is the same yesterday as He will be tomorrow. In a time of national crisis and an uneasy future, there is something comforting in acknowledging this simple, yet profound, attribute of our God. No matter what changes here, we hold that what is most important stands eternal, and that we need not be pulled-down by the continual disintegration and moral entropy sweeping in our lives from all sides.

(This was re-printed from the April 2003 issue of Oregon's Episcopal Church News.  Some editorial changes by the magazine's editor have been reversed, and the writer has made other slight editorial adjustments.)

Blog Happenings & Interview Update

I've really enjoyed the opportunity to bring some fresh interviews to my blog over the last six months.  From Sean Astin and Lino Rulli to Raymond Arroyo and Donna Cori Gibson, I had a blast doing these interviews, and the positive reader feedback was greatly appreciated.  Opening a dialogue with such engaging people continues to be a rich experience indeed.

For the next year, or so, I will be curtailing the frequency of featured interviews from monthly to quarterly.  This should help me concentrate more on my upcoming book, Toupee Mice, as well as the new novel I'm writing--not to mention the ol' day job for the State of Oregon.  (Yes, I'm a busy guy...)

Speaking of the novel, here's a little photographic teaser for The Blood Cries Out.  Can you guess where I took this shot?

PS.  I hope you can drop by my new author page!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Solemnity of Mary, Theotokos

Given today's special feast day in the Catholic Church, I compiled some of my past writings (both published and unpublished) concerning Mary and revised them for you into a single short essay.  It highlights some of the changes in our own thinking which began to take place after our good saviour took our hands, leading us safely across the Tiber.

I hope you enjoy today's offering, and I pray that you all have a wonderful New Year!  Special thanks to Catholic Answers' This Rock as well as Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong for recently sharing this essay's accompanying artwork, Madonna Del Granduca by Raphael, within his lovely Christmas card.

When my wife and I were studying in preparation to join the Catholic Church some years ago, the concept of Mary was one of the hardest ideas to get our minds around.  Coming from the Evangelical tradition, most of the new concepts we learned were simply a result of a more logical and consistent interpretation of Scripture—e.g. the sixth chapter of John.  Understanding Mary, however, required something beyond mere Biblical interpretation.

It required trust, and it all felt very foreign to us at first.  Once it finally made sense and the pieces began to fit together, I was profoundly grateful for the opportunity to see Mary for who she was and is today.  This Catholic understanding of Mary hinges on an acceptance of her as the new Eve.  Where Eve disobeyed God’s call, Mary listened wholeheartedly and obeyed in a spirit of selfless love.  

While Protestants usually declare that many of our Marian beliefs represent meaningless and extra-biblical concepts which have no value when applied to our faith, there are core beliefs we share which are likewise not clearly defined or articulated in the Bible.  The Trinity, for instance, is never spelled out in so many words, but its truth is made abundantly clear through a careful reading of the Bible and the wisdom of the saints who came before us (tradition).  

In conversations with skeptical Protestants, I often explain the Catholic perspective this way.  The Protestant tradition is like an artist's canvas which contains all the necessary artistic elements in the foreground. The background, however, lies bare of color or shape, simply white canvas awaiting the painter's brush.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is represented by a canvas of rich and vibrant colors which seem to leap forth from the painting. Every inch of the canvas is used and it is filled seemingly to the point of bursting with color, textures, motion, and deep meaning.  It’s one of those pictures from which you can actually imagine catching the scent of roses or pine.  

The mainline Evangelical, for example, arguably has access to the minimum elements necessary for salvation in Christ, but he's missing that bigger picture. His understanding could be so enriched if he caught sight of the second picture and drank in its rich meaning.  Sadly, he's content to limit his understanding of the nature of God and man to an unfinished painting reflecting an essentially identical truth.  It is by God’s grace that Catholics have access to this larger picture, a perfect dovetailing of faith and reason.

As we are reminded in Romans 14:21, we should avoid creating roadblocks to Protestants who desire to come home to the Catholic Church—such as the author, who arrived from the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions. Some accuse the Catholic Church as being lukewarm to evangelization and prone to following politically correct issues while ignoring some of the more weighty social problems. Are we doing all that we can to obey the Great Commission, or are we making it harder to convert new believers? Pope John Paul II reminded all of us that a "constant awareness of Christ’s will to offer salvation to all cannot fail to inspire us with fresh missionary fervor" (This Rock, Holy Thursday letter to priests, March 13, 2005).

If we truly understand who Mary is, she will become the most powerful aid in our evangelical efforts, but that understanding is critical.  The Catholic Church has not always done a good job in educating new and young Catholics as to their faith. Knowledge without understanding creates more problems than it solves—from witnessing to addressing the moral tragedies of the day.  If we have a sure foundation of knowledge and understanding, though, I wholeheartedly agree that understanding Mary as both the Mediatrix and as the New Eve will be the spiritual meat that will nourish and sustain our walk with Christ.