Trees of Life

When I said that I would be spending last week in a little cabin in the big woods, I meant really big woods.

We helped our daughter and her family move to California, and then we did something that I have always wanted to do.  We went to Sequoia National Park, home of the giant redwoods.  How big are they?  Well, the one named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing in the world.  It’s 35 feet in diameter and is as tall as a football field.  And, even more astounding to me, is that it’s 2,200 years old.  It was a sapling two centuries before Jesus was born.  And it’s still alive, still growing.  It adds the equivalent mass of a regular 60 foot tree every year.

And there are whole groves of these giant trees up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I treasure things that are sublime–overwhelming, awe-inspiring, so vast that you can’t take them all in–like the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and these trees.

What intrigues me most about them is that they are virtually immortal.  They can be killed, of course, cut down as many stupidly have been and sometimes they get so tall that they topple, but they don’t die of old age.  I wonder how that can be.   Every other earthly creature, whether plant or animal or human,  lives for awhile but eventually its cells get exhausted, entropy sets in, aging manifests its symptoms, and eventually the organism dies.

Why don’t the giant redwoods?  General Sherman is not even the oldest of these trees.  Some are 3,000 years old, from the time of the Trojan War and King David.  And redwoods are not even the oldest species.  A bristlewood pine in the White Mountains of California–somewhere else I want to go–is 4,700 years old.  A young earth creationist would put that as being right after the Flood!  Perhaps these evergreen trees are somehow not implicated in the Fall.  Perhaps they are some kind of remnant or sign of the Tree of Life.

What are some other sublime sights and experiences?  A tornado, the ocean, the Rocky Mountains–I’ve seen those.  I’ve seen Mt. St. Helens, but I think I need to see an active volcano.  Outer Space.  And God, of course, and the things of God.  The sublimities of nature and of art–Paradise Lost, Bach’s music, Michaelangelo’s paintings and sculptures–give us pleasure, according to Ruskin, because they point to Him.

More than two parents

A bill before the California legislature would let children have more than two parents:

State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing legislation to allow a child to have multiple parents.

“The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today,” the San Francisco Democrat said.

Surrogate births, same-sex parenthood and assisted reproduction are changing society by creating new possibilities for nontraditional households and relationships. . . .

Under Leno’s bill, if three or more people who acted as parents could not agree on custody, visitation and child support, a judge could split those things up among them.

SB 1476 is not meant to expand the definition of who can qualify as a parent, only to eliminate the limit of two per child.

Under current law, a parent can be a man who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, for example. It also can be a man who was married and living with a child’s mother, or who took a baby into his home and represented the infant as his own.

Leno’s bill, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, would apply equally to men or women, and to straight or gay couples.

Examples of three-parent relationships that could be affected by SB 1476 include:

• A family in which a man began dating a woman while she was pregnant, then raised that child with her for seven years. The youth also had a parental relationship with the biological father.

• A same-sex couple who asked a close male friend to help them conceive, then decided that all three would raise the child.

• A divorce in which a woman and her second husband were the legal parents of a child, but the biological father maintained close ties as well.

SB 1476 stemmed from an appellate court case last year involving a child’s biological mother, her same-sex partner, and a man who had an affair with the biological mother and impregnated her while she was separated temporarily from her female lover.

via California bill would allow a child to have more than two parents – State Politics – The Sacramento Bee.

Love that bears burdens

Jim Rademaker passed along this quotation from Luther from the collection Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional (June 20).  It’s a meditation on Galatians 6:2:  “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  It relates to the purpose of every vocation, to love and serve one’s neighbor, which entails bearing other people’s burdens:

 EVERYWHERE LOVE TURNS it finds burdens to carry and ways to help. Love is the teaching of Christ. To love means to wish another person good from the heart. It means to seek what is best for the other person. What if there were no one who made a mistake? What if no one fell? What if no one needed someone to help him to whom would you show love? To whom could you show favor? Whose best could you seek? Love would not be able to exist if there were no people who made mistakes and sinned. The philosophers say that each of these people is the appropriate and adequate “object” of love or the “material” with which love has to work.

The corrupt nature – or the kind of love that is really lust – wants others to wish it well and to give it what it desires. In other words, it seeks its own interests. The “material” it works with is a righteous, holy, godly, and good person. People who follow this corrupt nature completely reverse God’s teaching. They want others to bear their burdens, serve them, and carry them. These are the kind of people who despise having uneducated, useless, angry, foolish, troublesome, and gloomy people as their life companions. Instead, they look for friendly, charming, good-natured, quiet, and holy people. They don’t want to live on earth but in paradise, not among sinners but among angels, not in the world but in heaven. We should feel sorry for these people because they are receiving their reward here on earth and possessing their heaven in this life.

This is priceless.  We are quite willing to love “friendly, charming, good-natured, quiet, and holy people.”  But we are called to love “uneducated, useless, angry, foolish, troublesome, and gloomy people.”  That is, people with burdens.

Coming back to the power outage

When we came into our house after our vacation, we found that our technology fast was continuing.  We had no electricity.   We came back to the great power outage of 2012.

We had heard people talking in the airport before our connecting flight about the big storm–the straight winds of over 80 miles an hour known as a derecho  (Spanish for “straight,” as opposed to a tornado, meaning “turning”) that hit the country, knocking out power for millions in the D.C. area.  When we drove into the small town where we live, the first stop light was out, but then the others seemed to be working, as were the lights in shops and the loudspeaker at the Little League park near our home.  But when we unlocked the door and walked into our house, we stepped into a blast furnace.  No air conditioning, no lights, no kitchen appliances, no internet.  The landline didn’t work either, which usually doesn’t happen when the electricity goes, and our cell batteries were running low.

What to do?  We were weary of hotels, but surely many of them would be without power too, and the ones that were functioning were surely full.  We called our power company to report our problem and see how the repairs were coming, but the animated message could give no estimate of when electricity might be restored.   I got on my smart phone and learned that repairs could take not hours but days.   We resolved to just try to get some sleep in the sauna that was our room.  We sat out on the porch until it got dark.  Finally, we got sleepy and went inside.  To cooler air!  To the humming of the refrigerator!  The lights came on!

Our electricity was out for only about 24 hours, and we missed most of it.  We lost some food, but we had drawn our supplies down anyway for our two weeks of vacation, so that wasn’t so bad.  There are  about 600,000 people in the area–one out of three electricity company customers–who still don’t have power, so I both sympathize and empathize with them.

So now, despite our fun time in the woods, I now hail the electronic era as a great blessing and have learned not to take it for granted.

 

Power outages drag on in D.C. region; officials fuming at utility companies – The Washington Post.

Obamacare punishments as a tax

Thanks to Todd, who helps me with the technical side of this blog, for stepping in with the news emergencies while I was away.  You’ve discussed how the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in its insurance purchase mandate.  Litigation on other Obamacare issues is getting under way.  (There are now 23 lawsuits against the contraception and abortifacient mandate.)

What do you think about conservative Chief Justice Robert putting the best construction on Obamacare by construing its penalties as a tax?  The reasoning was that people who refuse to buy health insurance will face a penalty, but it is being collected not by a court, as with a fine, but by the Internal Revenue Service.  Therefore, it is as if a tax has been imposed, which you can get out of if you buy health insurance.

The bill itself never calls the penalties a tax, nor did its authors or President Obama himself (who specifically said it was not a tax).

Is this logical?  Is this a proper function of a court opinion, to construe a bill despite its wording so that it can pass constitutional muster?

Some people are praising Justice Robert for his Solomonic compromise.  Some conservatives are saying that at least he ruled against the overly-broad application of the Commerce Clause, which can subject just about everything to government supervision since just about everything has economic implications.  This was, in fact, the basis of the administration’s defense of Obamacare, that Congress can make laws regarding interstate commerce.  The court ruled that forcing people to buy something is not commerce, as such.  But since that argument was found specious, Justice Robert kindly supplied an argument of his own that he could accept, even though the administration’s lawyers didn’t make it.   Some Republicans are saying that, at least, defining Obamacare as a tax can allow them to score political points by attacking President Obama and the Democrats as having raised taxes.

But this strikes me as a very dangerous ruling.  What other behavior could the Executive Branch require using the tax code to enforce fines apart from the safeguards of the Judicial Branch?  Could General Motors get bailed out by imposing a tax on everyone who does not buy a Chevy?

Also, does anyone know whether the Affordable Health Care Act was initiated in the House of Representatives, rather than the Senate?  Tax bills have to begin in the House.  Maybe this bill did, coincidentally, have that origin, even though it was never presented as a tax bill.  If not, since the Supreme Court declared it a tax bill, I’d think it would have to have been.

At any rate, this strikes me as a crisis not only with the Constitution–with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all mixed up and infringing on each other–but with language itself, creating new meanings (“tax”) for existing words (“penalty”).

The Wall Street Journal: A Vast New Taxing Power – WSJ.com.

An architect’s vocation

World Magazine has a  profile of architect David Greusel, who specializes in designing baseball stadiums.  In addition to a fascinating discussion of ball parks, focusing on the one hailed as the best in baseball–Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, which Greusel designed–the article by Janie Cheaney highlights the architect’s Christian faith and his sense of vocation.  This excerpt has wide-ranging implications:

Integrating work with family and faith shouldn’t be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called “God’s Trailer,” Greusel boldly states that “bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design”—meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that “form follows function,” seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God’s glory.

Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: “First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the “creation mandate” (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God’s work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man—whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.

via WORLDmag.com | All-star architecture | Janie B. Cheaney | Jun 30, 12.

Read Greusel’s entire essay God’s Trailer.  The contradiction he cites–“fundamentalists” buying into the dogmas of the “modernists”– is very telling.  By the same token, some of the biggest critics of pop culture are insisting on pop music in their worship.  And theological “conservatives” are arguing that the church must conform to the culture, the textbook definition of theological liberalism.


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