July 31, 2008

The ultimate red wine - Amarone

As I prepared these posts on wine, I tried to take pictures of the wine I would be discussing in each post. But I don't keep a whole lot of wine on hand and simply did not have much in the way of red wines. The wine shown in these photos is actually a standard, albeit very good, Cabernet Sauvignon vinted by Robert Mondavi.

I enjoy quite a few different red wines, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc topping my list of favored grape varietals. I'm also a fan of Syrah (Shiraz), but have a more narrow set of Syrahs that I like, whereas with Cab Sauv and Cab Franc I tend to like most of the ones I try.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon
Typical style: dry red
Aromas: dark berries, blackberry, currant, cassis, cedarwood
Mouthfeel: smooth, with a coarse finish
Acidity: high
Regions: France (Bordeaux: Médoc), Italy, California, Australia, Virginia
Accompanies: roast beef, venison, lamb, highly-fragrant (read: "stinky") cheeses)

Cabernet Sauvignon makes a powerful wine that becomes silky and elegant with time. It has been described as sharp and "introverted when young to full and highly flavorful after it has been aged for a good length of time. This grape is the skeleton of the great wines of Bordeaux (Mouton and Lafite Rothschild), providing the structure of the wine in the mouth.

Cabernet Sauvignon often has a spicy character, which I enjoy greatly. Sometimes the spice tastes like black pepper and sometimes a bit more like actual hot peppers. The effect is magnified if the wine is enjoyed along with a slightly spicy meal.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc
Typical style: dry red
Aromas: blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry, black plum
Mouthfeel: rather smooth
Acidity: high
Regions: Italy (Piedmont), Argentina, California, Virginia
Accompanies: poultry, pizza

According to The Little Black Book of Wine, "Cabernet Franc is a flavorful, rich wine popular for everyday consumption." I discovered Cabernet Franc quite by accident as a recommendation from the proprietor of one of our favorite wine shops. In Vino Veritas is a small wine shop just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the proprietors are wonderfully knowledgeable and helpful. The Latin phrase In Vino Veritas translates loosely, "In wine there is truth." This phrase has been used for many years to describe the fact that people tend to tell the truth a little bit more after a glass or two of wine because they begin to lower their defenses—to lower the masks that we all tend to wear to hide our true selves from each other. I think this is probably a good thing. We need to control our tongues, but honesty and truth are too be desired much more than the false presentation of ourselves that we so enjoy foisting upon others.

Cabernet Franc grapes grow very well in Central Virginia, especially among the rolling hills of this area. If you are able to find a Virginia Cabernet Franc, snap it up. You'll love it. Look for a winery from the Central Virginia area. My favorite is Barboursville Cabernet Franc. The initial grapes for this winery were given to Governor Barbour by Thomas Jefferson. I'd also recommend a visit to the Barboursville vineyard. It has an actual castle there. Quite delightful.

Syrah (Shiraz)
Syrah (Shiraz)
Typical style: dry red
Aromas: black pepper, blackberry
Mouthfeel: smooth, round
Acidity: medium to high
Regions: France (Rhône Valley), Australia, South Africa, Washington State, California
Accompanies: dark-meat poultry, red meats, venison, highly fragrant cheeses

Syrah is known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa. It is described as a virile, rustic, yet refined wine. I had read good things about Syrah but had not tried it yet.

Recently, my family visited the Porterhouse, a local Lynchburg, Virginia, restaurant that specializes in beef. The food and the service were far above par. In fact the food was out of this world, fantastic!

I ordered a blackened scallops dish and the waiter recommended a Shiraz from the Australian McWilliams Winery. The scallops were amazing, but the wine coupled with the food was an intense flavor experience. Simply delightful!

The McWilliams Shiraz perfectly accented the Cajun spices in the scallops and really made the meal. I would highly recommend this wine if you are planning a spicy meal sometime. You won't be disappointed.

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon

The glass you see in the photos below is part of a set of wine glasses we purchased at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest. I have mentioned Poplar Forest and how much I have grown to appreciate Thomas Jefferson from our visits to Poplar Forest. So I won't repeat the things I've already said, with the simple exception of encouraging you to visit Poplar Forest. It will bring history to life for you.

These wine glasses are fun. They have a laser etching of the words, "Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest" on one side of the glass and an etching of an artists rendering of the Poplar Forest home on the other side. The stem is an octagon shape, which was Thomas Jefferson's favorite geometric shape. His fondness for this shape is seen in both his Poplar Forest home and in his home at Monticello.

The remainder of this post, however, will not discuss Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson, or even Cabernet Sauvignon, but rather an outstanding wine that you should absolutely jump at the chance to sip, should that chance ever arise. I tasted one glass of this wine a while back and it was outstanding.

An extreme, emotional wine - Amarone

"Amarone is an extreme wine," Romano dal Forno warns, pausing as we descend the spiral staircase of his villa to the chilly depths of the wine cellar, where I'm suddenly struck by how much he looks like a weather-beaten version of James Gandolfini. "It's an emotional wine," he continues. For a moment, I wonder if he's implying that I may not be man enough for the job ahead. After sampling several vintages from the barrel, I'm indeed a little emotional—exhilarated and also saddened by the knowledge that, rare and expensive as it is, I will seldom taste dal Forno's radical juice again.

Amarone is an anomaly: a dry wine that mimics sweetness; a relatively modern creation that seems deeply primitive and rustic, like some kind of rich pagan nectar or the blood of a mythological beast. While Italians consider food and wine to be inseparable, Amarone overwhelms most dishes. "With Amarone, you don't think about food," dal Forno says. "Cheese, maybe."

Dal Forno is the most extreme proponent of this extreme red, made from dried grapes—mostly Corvina—in the Valpolicella hills outside Verona. His turbocharged Amarones, produced only in the better vintages, tip the scales above 15 percent alcohol and make most cult Cabernets seem dainty by comparison. In the past decade, thanks to Robert Parker, dal Forno's wines have become as revered as those of his mentor, Giuseppe Quintarelli, with whom he worked before assuming responsibility for his father's vineyards....

Just as its exact origins are obscure, Amarone remains a mysterious, almost schizophrenic wine. As Bastianich and Lynch suggest in Vino Italiano, "It behaves like a sweet wine without technically being sweet." The bouquet of dried fruits and the syrupy texture suggest port; it tends to trick the palate by seeming sweet in the beginning and finishing dry, even slightly bitter, like unsweetened chocolate.

When I get in the Amarone mood, I often look for Allegrini, one of the most innovative and exciting estates in Valpolicella, or Brigaldara, which excelled not only in the stellar '97 vintage but also in the less opulent '98 and '99 vintages. Bassola, Masi, and Tedeschi make powerhouse Amarones in the dal Forno mold, while Accordini, Bertani, Bolla (yup, that Bolla), and Speri produce slightly lighter, more approachable versions.

As complex as it is, I like to think of Amarone as the perfect primer wine for those who are suspicious of the cornucopia of flavor analogies that wine critics come up with. I'm often baffled myself when I read wine notes full of huckleberries and hawthorn blossoms. But give me a glass of Amarone and I'm the man! Step back, Bob Parker! Even the beginning taster can feel like a professional as he effortlessly identifies the intense flavors and aromas of the most extreme red wine on the planet. Cherries! Dates! Figs! Black licorice! Leather! Coffee! Bittersweet chocolate! Tobacco! Et cetera, et cetera.

Jay McInerney, A Hedonist in the Cellar, pp. 50, 52-53, Vintage Books/Random House, New York

How to live a miserable Christian life

Self-help books are quite popular. So in standard antithetical style, the Irish Calvinist has presented How to Live a Miserable Christian Life.

What I'm reading today


Today's Bible Reading Isaiah 59-63

I'm also reading:
The Picture of Dorian Gray   Oscar Wilde
A Hedonist in the Cellar   Jay McInerney


Another quote from Lord Henry Wotton

I'm really enjoying The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a captivating story—well-written and deeply involving. Lord Henry Wotton is a true modernist whose modernist philosophy is fully developed even though the book was written during the early days of Modernism. Here's another quote from Lord Henry Wotton:

I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take toward life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do. If a personality fascinates me, whatever mode of expression that personality selects is absolutely delightful to me. Dorian Gray falls in love with a beautiful girl who acts Juliet, and proposes to marry her. Why not? If he wedded Messalina he would be none the less interesting. You know I am not a champion of marriage. The real drawback to marriage is that it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colorless. They lack individuality. Still, there are certain temperaments that marriage makes more complex. The retain their egotism, and add to it many other egos. They are forced to have more than one life. They become more highly organized, and to be highly organized is, I should fancy, the object of man's existence. Besides, every experience is of value, and, whatever one may say against marriage, it is certainly an experience. I hope that Dorian Gray will make this girl his wife, passionately adore her for six months, and then suddenly become fascinated by some one else. He would be a wonderful study.

Go out and get this book and find out why Lord Henry says such things. At my current point in the book he is heavily oppressing Dorian Gray's mind and mental state and has made Dorian greatly fearful of growing older.

July 30, 2008

Blog Header - July 31, 2008

This is my favorite of the headers I created in the "wine" category. So I saved it for last and will leave it up the longest. In addition to coffee and wine, I am also a great cheese lover (great cheese, not great me). There's a wonderful little cheese shop in Washington, D.C., just a block from my office there. Cowgirl Creamery is apparently one of three shops owned and operated by the same people. These cheese shops are all in the general vicinity of Washington, D.C.

The shop carries outstanding cheeses from all over the world including a wonderful super-aged gouda that defies description. It's fantastic stuff.

America's favorite white wine – Chardonnay

Yesterday I introduced you to a dessert wine (Port). I like Port wine, but am not a big fan of dessert wines. And I prefer reds to whites, so obviously I am beginning the wine introductions with my least favorites and moving toward my more favorites. But that is not to say that I don't enjoy dessert wines (Eis Wein is one of my all-time favorites) or white wines.

The wine shown here is America's number one selling wine: Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a more full-flavored white wine with typically less acidity than other whites such as Pinot Grigio or Gewürztraminer.

White wines grew steadily in popularity between 1970, when they accounted for only 24% of all American wine sales, and 1990 when white wine popularity peaked at 70% of all American wine sales. The "French Paradox" (explained in the callout box) is the main contributor to the returning popularity of red wines.

From the "Windows On the World: Complete Wine Course," an outstanding book on wine history and wine enjoyment:

Looking back at the American obsession with health and fitness in the 1970s and 1980s, many people switched from meat and potatoes to fish and vegetables—a lighter diet that called more for white wine than red. "Chardonnay" became the new buzzword that replaced the call for "a glass of white wine." Bars that never used to stock wine—nothing decent, anyway—began to carry an assortment of fine wines by the glass, with Chardonnay, by far, the best-selling wine. Today, steak is back and the new buzzwords are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah....

The French Paradox
In the early 1990s, the TV series 60 Minutes twice aired a report on a phenomenon known as the French Paradox—the fact that the French have a lower rate of heart disease than Americans, despite a diet that's higher in fat. Since the one thing the American diet lacks, in comparison to the French diet, is red wine, some researchers were looking for a link between the consumption of red wine and a decreased rate of heart disease. Not surprisingly, in the year following this report, Americans increased their purchases of red wines by 39 percent.

...Perhaps the most important reason that red wine consumption has increased in the United States is that California is producing a much better quality red wine than ever before. One of the reasons for improved quality is the replanting of vines over the last twenty years due to the phylloxera problem. Some analysts thought the replanting would be financially devastating to the California wine industry, but in reality it may have been a blessing in disguise, especially with regard to quality.

The opportunity to replant allowed vineyard owners to increase their red grape production. It enabled California grape growers to utilize the knowledge they have gained over the years with regard to soil, climate, microclimate, trellising, and other viticultural practices.

Bottom line: California reds are already some of the greatest in the world, with more and better to come.

Windows On the World: Complete Wine Course, Kevin Zraly, p. 125, Sterling Publishing, New York/London

It's interesting to me that the reason for the uptick in red wine sales has to do with the perceived health benefits of red wine. I remember a book highly favored among the fundamentalist people I grew up with. The name of the book was All of These Diseases and it dealt with famous diseases that decimated large numbers of people down through history and the fact that had folks paid attention to what the bible says and followed biblical mandates "none of these diseases" would have had the impact they had and may possibly have never existed at all. The diseases the book studied included the Black Death that practically wiped out Europe, scurvy, homosexual-related STDs, rampant infection, and various diseases caused by failure to dispose of waste properly.

Wine recommendation
As much as I love Virginia wines, Chardonnay grapes do not grow particularly well in the Virginia climate. I think the very best Chardonnays come from Chile and Argentina. Top recommendation: Catena Zapata Chardonnay

But I don't recall the book dealing with the many stomach diseases prevalent in our culture. Nor did it deal with heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. But scripture directly addresses something that the health experts have said can significantly reduce the incidents of these diseases.

Paul, in one of his letters to Pastor Timothy, said: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23).

White Star Line (Titanic) Wine Glass

By the way—you may have noticed that the wine glass in the above picture was from the White Star Line. A few years ago, our family had the privilege of visiting the Titanic Exhibit at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It was an amazing and moving exhibit—giving an incredible sense of what was lost (especially in human lives) that made a huge impact on me and my family.

After viewing the entire exhibit, we visited the gift shop and found loads of delightful and unusual items. We met the editor of a compilation of the hundreds of reports taken by the New York police from the survivors of the Titanic disaster when they finally disembarked from the Carpathia in New York City. The editor signed this book for us. We purchased a necklace for my wife that holds a small piece of coal—actually dredged from the Titanic wreckage. This coal is the only part of the wreckage that the authorities will allow to be sold to the general public.

Typical style: dry white
Aromas: tropical fruit, pineapple, apple, lemon; oak from barrel fermentation
Mouthfeel: smooth, creamy, full-bodied
Acidity: medium
Regions: France (Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, southern France), California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
Accompanies: seafood, salmon, fish, poultry

And we purchased a set of these wine glasses, which are reproductions of the actual wine glasses on the Titanic. My wife also purchased a recipe book a few years ago that has all the actual recipes that were served on the Titanic and tells what foods were served together. We recently observed the anniversary of the Titanic disaster by eating a meal each night that was served on the Titanic.

My wife blogged about this each day and you may read her reports here. Be sure to read from the first post to the last as she followed the story of the Titanic's voyage as we progressed through the week.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - Trailer

I am not one of those who rejects Harry Potter books (or movies). In fact, I love them both. I can't wait for the final installment of the movies because the final book was one of my favorite books of all time.

It's getting close. Here's the trailer for the upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, due to hit movie theaters in November of this year.

What I'm reading today


Today's Bible Reading Isaiah 54–58

I'm also reading:
The Picture of Dorian Gray   Oscar Wilde
A Hedonist in the Cellar   Jay McInerney


Just a note on The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is a fabulous book. I can't imagine the uproar it must have caused when it was written. Lord Henry Wotton, one of the main characters, is a fountain of excellent quotes—some quite positive, some amusing, and some so terrible that I have found myself laughing in an uncomfortable way. Here's an example as Lord Henry is speaking to the young Dorian Gray about his newfound love interest (an actress who Dorian has said is a "genius"):

My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

If you have not read this classic book by Oscar Wilde, you need to. It really is a well-written and fantastic book. And Barnes & Noble has it in their classics section in hard cover for 30% off of the retail price—continually—which makes it just slightly over $7.00.

Roger Rabbit Update

World's cutest bunny

Okay, this is not really an update. It's just an excuse to post another picture of our rabbit, Roger. This morning he was very active and social—spending most of the morning at the front of his cage where he could interact with the family.

He was running around all over the place, moving his bed and his blankets, eating hay, running around, drinking water, running around, stretching, running around, cleaning his ears, running around....

So I grabbed my camera and, as soon as I raised it to my eye, Roger stopped running and posed for me. Here he is, the world's cutest bunny.

July 29, 2008

Port Wine

Portugal has been famous traditionally for its excellent dessert wine, Port, which is fortified with brandy. The country now produces top-quality dry reds as well, mostly from local grape varities. One of the best is from the same area (Douro) where Port is produced: the full-bodied Barca Velha. Douro produces numerous smooth, ripe-flavored red wines of excellent value. In the northwest corner of Portugal, winemakers of The Minho produce the slightly effervescent, highly acidic Vinho Verde (green wine), a refreshing white perfect for drinking during hot summer months.

True Port wine comes from the Douro region in northern Portugal. In recent years, to avoid the misuse of the name "Port" in other countries, the true Port wine from Portugal has been renamed "Porto" (for the name of Oporto, the port city from which it's shipped).

The bottle (and glass) of "Port" shown here is actually from an outstanding Virginia winery, Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery. This outstanding winery is situated along Route 29 about halfway between Lynchburg, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. I make this trip at least twice every week and try to stop at this vineyard at least a couple times each month as long as I leave Washington in time to make it to the winery before they close. You'll notice that the bottle in this photo was signed by the Prince Michel vintner.

Port is a fortified wine, which means that a neutral grape brandy is added to the wine to raise the wine's alcohol content. What sets Port apart from Sherry (the other most well-known fortified wine) is when the winemaker addes the neutral brandy. For Port it's added during the fermentation process. The extra alcohol kills the yeast in the wine and stops the fermentation, rendering Port relatively sweet.

"Port" dessert wine from
Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery

As I was growing up, I was told that fortified wine is intended simply to get people drunk more quickly and that it is the favored wine of winos. While some of that is true (fortified wine's higher alcohol content can cause you to get drunk more quickly than standard wine), if you drink responsibly, this is not an issue and Ports and Sherrys are still wines that you should try and enjoy.

The actual reason for the addition of the neutral grape brandy in the fortified wines is that the higher alcohol content renders the wine more stable and able to survive the long trips required when wines had to be shipped by boat. The early American settlers had significant problems making wine from the native grapes growing in the New World. So they had to rely on wines shipped from Europe. But these wines did not survive the shipping process very well. By the time they reached the New World, they had turned to bitter vinegar and were essentially undrinkable. The vintners found that if they added brandy to the wines, the resultant higher alcohol content allowed the wine bottles to survive the long shipping journey. So Ports and Sherrys became quite popular in the Americas. In fact, the fortified wine Madiera was a favorite of our first President George Washington and was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

Wine recommendation
For true Port wine, you must look to Portugal. But my favorite Port is the Port shown in this post from Prince Michel Vineyards and Winery of Virginia.

Edgar Allen Poe immortalized the fortified Sherry wine, Amontillado, in his tale "A Cask of Amontillado." And although I don't have a cask of Amontillado and am not particularly interested in walling up any of my enemies, I do have the glass of Prince Michel Port pictured above waiting for me. So I end this post now and am off to enjoy some Port.

Amazing Grace - Wintley Phipps

HT: Dick Gelina (my Dad)

Wait for God

Isaiah 49: 22-23
Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”

I have so much trouble waiting for God. In spite of the fact that I am terrible at orchestrating much of anything, for some reason I think I should be able to orchestrate my own life—and many times the lives of those around me. I just can't do it.

But God can ... and does. We just seem to live on a different time frame and want things to happen immediately. Especially when we're going through tough times. We just want those tough times to end. We don't want to wait for God to work things out. And we expect that the way God will work them out will be tremendously comforting and comfortable to us. That is not always the case.

Romans 8:28–30
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

But God is always working and he promises that all things will work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are called according to His purpose.

What I take from that is the need, during times of great stress and great distress to "work out my salvation with fear and trembling." In other words, instead of worrying and wondering when God will correct the bad things in my life, I need—especially during those times—to make sure that I am truly "called according to His purpose." I must see to it—especially during those times—that I truly love the Lord. Because if I love the Lord it means that I am one of those who have been called according to His purpose. And that means that all things will work together for good.

Photoshop fun

You might remember this photo from my recent pizza and friends post. I really liked this photo of our friend Abigail, who is currently pregnant with her first baby.

I love black & white and I love moody portraits. Abigail was actually not moody at all in this photo—she was actually preparing her pose and the photo I took after she got set shows her with a big smile on her face. But I snapped the shutter before she got set and really like the expression on her face in this photo. I think it fits best in black & white and the added grain shown here emphasizes the personal intimate nature of this portrait.

In fact, I like this final product so much I'm going to ask Abigail to pose for me again with the intention of getting a photo like this—but on purpose this time. With her permission, I'll post it when we get it done.

Blog Header - July 29, 2008

Today's blog header is a photograph of Thomas Jefferson's wine cellar at Poplar Forest. The sign in the lower right corner displays a quote from one of the letters Jefferson sent along with supplies he was having carried to his Poplar Forest home. The sign says, "And a box of wine to be placed in the cellar as it requires a cool place."

Thomas Jefferson had amazing influence on our nation—that is well-known by most Americans. But he also had tremendous impact on the sciences, architecture, philosophy, and many other things.

One of the things Jefferson impacted most in the state of Virginia is viticulture—vineyards and winemaking. Some of the best Virginia wines are directly descendant from Thomas' Jefferson in some way. Williamsburg Winery, Barboursville, Rivanna, and others all were owned by Jefferson or contain grape vines that were given to the owners by Jefferson.

What I'm reading today


Today's Bible Reading Isaiah 49-53

I'm also reading:
The Picture of Dorian Gray   Oscar Wilde
A Hedonist in the Cellar   Jay McInerney

July 28, 2008

After-church picnic

Last night our church had its biweekly fellowhip picnic after the Sunday evening service. These picnics are a lot of fun and a great time to get to know some of the other families in the church. It's an especially good time to get to know some of the new families that I tend not to notice during the church services.

The picnics are held in our church's playground/picnic area, so while the adults are talking and eating the kids get to play with other kids their age on the playground equipment. The little girl in this photo is climbing the dinosaur slide backwards.

It's also a nice informal time for all of us to relax and just enjoy each other. So since Joe's wife Abigail had to work last night, he brought their dog Jackson to the picnic. David, who loves all animals, hung with Joe from that point on.

David, Jackson, and Joe

David loves these picnics. It has been great for David to be part of a church where the people actually enjoy each other and enjoy fellowshiping.

What I'm reading


Today's bible reading 2 Kings 18:9 - 19:37; Psalm 46; Psalm 80, Psalm 135

I'm also reading:
The Picture of Dorian Gray   Oscar Wilde
A Hedonist in the Cellar   Jay McInerney

Why do you drink wine?

I was raised in a church that held an amazingly strong stance against alcohol. Among the crazier outworkings of of their extreme focus on the evils of alcohol were the following:

  • The church covenant, which was read aloud by the congregation regularly, included the promise to not use any alcohol as a beverage
  • Many of the families in the church would not use Nyquil when they had a cold because it had alcohol in it
  • One of the men in the church became a manager at a local corporation-run pharmacy. He was asked to leave this job immediately (without any other job prospects) because these large retail stores included wine among their products
  • One of our teenagers took a summer job at Pizza Hut and was asked to quit his job because Pizza Hut serves beer (even though he was not a server and had no contact with the alcohol at all)

Jesus Christ
[No one] puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” —Matt 9:17

It all seemed way overboard to my sister and me. We never were able to find anything in the bible that seemed to encourage total abstinence from alcohol consumption. And we were vocal about our observations, but were never shown anything that changed our minds on this. We were given many explanations about why the bible "seems" to encourage wine consumption in many cases. One of these arguments was brought into our church by a missionary to France that our church supported and it was his explanation that caused me to look into the whole matter when I found out how grapes become wine.

This missionary to France told our congregation that living in France with so much wine all around gave him the opportunity to find out some things that most people don't know. And he found out that the wine mentioned in the bible was not fermented, but was actually just like our grape juice today. They just called it wine back then and we no longer call it wine because sinful man has figured out a way to cause grape juice to turn into alcohol.

Proverbs 3:9-10
Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.

This was the trump card that was always pulled out any time anyone said that they didn't understand how wine consumption could be bad if Jesus' first miracle had been changing water into wine for the wedding feast. And I always thought something sounded fishy, but how do you answer such a claim? These folks said they had done research and had found this to be true.

A few years ago I read a simple scientific description of the fermentation process in an elementary school science book. It said:

Fermentation is the process by which the grape juice turns into wine. The simple formula for fermentation is:

Sugar + Yeast   =   Alcohol + Carbon Dioxide

This caused me to consider: What was God thinking when he made grapes?

The grape has an interesting composition considering the above equation. The grape has a high content of two things in the way God designed it. The fruit has a very high sugar content. And the skin has a high yeast content. So when you crush a grape you get ... wine. Not grape juice. Wine. In fact, grape juice was not even possible to make until the recent discovery of pasteurization. Prior to a couple hundred years ago, fermentation-free grape juice was simply not possible.

Psalm 104:14-15
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man.

And God created the grape that way on purpose. It seems to me that God's intention was for man to figure out quickly that if you crush grapes to access the juice without eating the fruit, you get wine. So it seems to me that wine is actually one of the beverages that God himself created—water and fruit juices being the others. But the fact that God made wine so obvious indicates to me that the many passages in the Bible describing wine as a gift from God are not to be intentionally misinterpreted in order to get around the simple fact that wine is good.

July 27, 2008

What if...?

In the movie "Back to the Future," Doc Brown explained to Marty that they had created an alternate present by going into the past and changing things. This change in the past had skewed the course of history and their new present was not the present they had left when they went into the future.

Yeah ... that's confusing. But still somehow this concept captured the daydreamer in me.

Yesterday we went into downtown Lynchburg so my son could play on the school bus at Amazement Square. It's a really cool conversion of a huge air conditioning unit into a school bus that the children can pretend they are driving. The body of the school bus is actually the air conditioning unit and the deafening roar of the air conditioner contributes to the realism of the school bus. Only the driver's portion of the school bus is accessible to the children and it has working blinkers, a horn, flashing school bus lights, and they can even work the door opener/closer. My son loves it.

But that has nothing to do with the photo here.

As Kim and I sat in the park bench outside the school bus waiting for our son to finish playing, I noticed the sign on this building across the street from the school bus. You can't read the sign in the photo but it says, "Lofts Available."

It made me think of how much I would have loved to own a loft like that when I was young and single and had time to explore my photography. In fact, I would still love to own a loft like that. And while I'm daydreaming ... now that I'm married to a fantastic photographer—I'd love to own a loft like that and convert it into a living area and a photography studio. And the bus is right across the street for my son to play at whenever the desire to drive a school bus arises.

Well ... I have to stop daydreaming now. It's time to get ready for church.

But it would be cool, wouldn't it? I wonder what parts of past history I'd have to change to make my present include one of those lofts.

July 26, 2008

Blog Header - July 27, 2008

The blog header today is simply some red grapes from the Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery. The glass of Pinot Grigio is obviously from a different type of grape, but my header needed some more color.

Pizza, movies, and friends

Ryan making pizza

Last night we had our good friends Joe, Abigail, and Ryan over for dinner and a movie. We made homemade pizzas (five of them), customized to our unique individual tastes. Homemade pizzas are better than you can even imagine and they are such fun to make.

In this photo, Ryan is spreading the sauce for one of the pizzas. Ryan is a wonderful and unusual person. He greeted us warmly the first week we visited the church here in Lynchburg. He asked about our son by name the next week and asked how we were doing emotionally with our 10-year-old son staying in the hospital rather than in our home. Ryan continued to show this very caring and loving friendship week after week, always asking about both David and our emotional condition.

Chowing down

It wasn't until at least three months later that we found out that Ryan was going through tremendous turmoil in his life at this very same time—in addition to being away from home and in his first year of college. Ryan is a deeply gifted person who has an obvious love for people and for the Lord. We are proud to name him among our friends.

I met Joe the first week we visited our church also. I love to do work on web sites and volunteered to help the church with their site. I was pointed toward the guitarist in the church's worship team. Joe, who is a fantastic guitarist and singer, was attending college at Liberty University, playing guitar and singing in the worship team, and developing a web site for the church. He told me that he would love to have my help with the site and then was very patient as over the next few months I changed all kinds of things on the site.

Abigail and her baby

We attended Joe and Abigail's wedding earlier this year and are delighted that they are now expecting a child (as you can see from this photo of Abigail). My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Joe and Abigail better. We have many similar interests and they are both wonderful conversationalists with a wide variety of interests and knowledge covering many topics.

After the pizza last night, we shared one of our favorite movies with our friends. "Dead Again" is a thriller/romance/mystery/sci-fi ... okay, it's essentially impossible to categorize. It's a fantastic movie starring two of our favorites: Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. We love sharing movies that we enjoy with friends. And last night was very enjoyable watching our friends react to the many unexpected twists and turns in this movie.

Kim cutting the pizza

This is another one of the things that we love about Lynchburg. There is time here to enjoy friends. In Northern Virginia, after a 10- to 14-hour day of work and then a 2- to 3-hour commute home through mean and angry motorists, no one wants to see or talk to anyone else after they get home. It is very hard to make and maintain friendships there.

There are wonderful people living here in Lynchburg and there is time and the inclination to enjoy them. And Joe, Abigail, and Ryan have brought a lot of sunshine into our lives.

July 25, 2008

Blog Header - July 25, 2008

Having been raised an Independent Fundamental Baptist, I am well aware that many of those who know me will be distressed that I have a photo of wine posted on my blog. I have never seen anything in scripture against wine (other than the admonition to not overindulge) and I do see many things in scripture that say that wine is a gift from God. And I really don't think that in our current culture the drinking of wine fits the "weaker brother" passage. So here it is—my wine blog header.

I may post a few wine-related tidbits if I have time to gather those. But for now—if any vintage puns jump to mind or if you really want to whine about my wine, feel free. Comments are open.

Morning devotions

As morning breaks I look to you, O God, to be my strength this day

Psalm 121:1-2

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
    From whence comes my help?

My help comes from the Lord,
    Who made heaven and earth.

What retired people do to fill their days

I got this from my father—a retired pastor/missionary/church planter who now lives a very active life (still ministering) in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day I went downtown and into a shop. I was only there for about 5 minutes, and when I came out, there was a cop writing out a parking ticket.

I said to him, 'Come on, man, how about giving a retired person a break'? He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a 'Nazi.' He glared at me and wrote another ticket for having worn tires. So I called him a 'doughnut eating Gestapo.' He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he wrote a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes. The more I abused him the more tickets he wrote.

Personally, I didn't care. I came downtown on the bus, and the car that he was putting the tickets on had a bumper sticker that said, Obama in '08.

I try to have a little fun each day now that I'm retired. It's important to my health.

It's the journey

They arrived late at night in a city they had never seen. It was hard to tell much from the windows of the taxi, but although everything about the lobby of the small hotel was unquestionably foreign, arriving there seemed oddly like coming home. They were too tired even to unpack, so they crawled into the high bed and fell asleep under a thick quilt. In the middle of the night he woke up to hear the sound of people singing as they walked by under the windows, and he got up and opened the shutters slightly. Groups of people were strolling by, laughing and talking, coming home very late from dinner. He woke a second time, much later, to hear the sound of rain falling lightly in the street.

The Italian word espresso means "express," which is usually defined as "fast" and thought to owe its origin to the speed with which espresso is made, a description of the sudden emergence of inky espresso spurting out of an espresso machine. But of course express also refers to an object or substance that has been "pressed out," as espresso is pressed by force out of the mixture of coffee grounds and hot water, and expressly means "particularly," as in a cup of espresso made expressly for one person.

The next morning they opened their eyes to find that the room already was filled with barred light coming in through the shutters. A bowl of white flowers was on a table next to the bed, and they could smell the closed, secret smell of the blossoms. She called for room service, speaking very slowly and clearly in her newly acquired language, then came back to bed. Both of them had drifted back to sleep by the time the knock came on the door. A young boy who seemed to have stepped out of a Renaissance painting came in carrying a tray of pastries and preserves ... fresh juice and a pot of strong, hot coffee. They ate breakfast sitting up in bed, listening to the sounds of scooters and small cars and people calling out to one another on the other side of the shutters.

They had nothing to do for days—nothing except to be with each other, to read and write, to explore the city, to sit outside little trattorias in the sun. They both got out of bed and walked over to the high windows and out onto the small balcony. In the narrow, winding stone-paged street, the morning light made an intricate pattern of sun and shade on the cornices and lintels and pilasters of ancient, honey-colored limestone buildings. The air had a fragrance that they couldn't quite identify, but after standing there a minute or two in the sunlight, they decided that it was a mixture of lemons, jasmine, and expresso.

Espresso: Culture and Cuisine, Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin

July 24, 2008

Encouraging one another

The quote from Thomas Jefferson in my sidebar talks about the need for us to share each other's burdens, and in doing this lightening the load each of us must carry.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

From the Jeffersonian bible and from many things Jefferson wrote it is apparent that he was not a believer in the blood of Jesus Christ. That means he did not have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to guide him into truth. And yet he understood and practiced a great many things that we Christians seem to miss the mark on by a long shot.

We are called to bear one another's burdens, to bring comfort to those who are hurting. We are even admonished that the trials and burdens we suffer in this life are intended to help us comfort others who go through those same trials later as is seen in the callout to the right.

As I read the bible this morning, I came across this passage that seems to directly address this concept.

Isaiah 35:3-7

Strengthen the weak hands,
  and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
  “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
  will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
  He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
  and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
  and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
  and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
  the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

May God give me the grace to recognize when others need to be comforted and may I do what needs to be done.

Italian coffee

The Italians know that everything in their country is ... imbued with their spirit. They know that there is no need, really, to distinguish or to choose between the smile on the face of a cameriere and Donatello's San Giorgio.... They are all works of art, the "great art of being happy" and of making other people happy, and art which embraces adn inspires all others in Italy, the only art worth learning, but which can never be really mastered, the art of inhabiting the earth.

Luigi Barzini, The Italians

July 23, 2008

Panera Bread?

One of my favorite coffee shops is Panera Bread. In fact, I really think it should be called Panera Coffee, but they didn't ask me when they named it.

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things I enjoy is simply sitting in a café, sipping coffee and watching the other patrons. Actually, watching is not all I do sometimes. As the regular readers of this blog know, I am never without my camera. And I love to take photos of coffee shop patrons.

One of my regular haunts for a while was a Panera Bread in Northern Virginia. Many evenings when I had to work late, I would work from this Panera Bread shop using their free wifi to access the internet.

Claudette, La Maison de Claudine
...The fire was already blazing, fed with dry wood. The milk was boiling on the blue-tiled charcoal stove. Nearby, a bar of chocolate was melting in a little water for my breakfast, and, seated squarely in her cane armchair, my mother was grinding the fragrant coffee, which she roasted herself.

I took the photo shown here one late afternoon when the sun was low enough to create a strong side-lighting. I was working on some documents, sipping some coffee, and watching the people around me. This young girl was enjoying the company of her sister and brother and they were all having a great time. I snapped this black & white photo.

The heavenly beverage

Coffee. It's one of a few of my simple but ardent pleasures. And I truly love (good) coffee.

I love the aroma of the coffee as it brews or is pressed; I love the tingle of the coffee on my tongue; I love the flavor that envelopes my taste sensors; I love the warmth of the liquid as I swallow. I love coffee.

But I think the thing I love the most about coffee is sharing it with other coffee lovers. There is nothing like sitting down on the back patio with a friend, sharing cappuccino or espresso. And one of my favorite things to do when I drink my first cup of coffee in the morning is to sit down in a quiet spot, read the letter that my best Friend gave to me, and reflect on His love and care for me and my family.

Ernest Hemingay, A Moveable Feast
It was a a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a caffé au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.

Some of my friends don't like espresso. They think it's too strong, too dark. They think espresso is too rich (how could anything be too "Rich"?) and too bitter, and they don't want to drink coffee out of little cups. But my friends who don't like espresso do like espresso drinks—caffé latte, caffé, mocha—when the intensity of the espresso has been soothed by hot steamed milk, sweetened with sugar and topped with chocolate or spice.

I love it all: a latte or cappuccino in the morning to wake me up and keep me awake until noon; a demitasse of espresso or a cup of double espresso after lunch (depending on the day's workload); an espresso or an espressso drink mid-afternoon as a break in my day; a stop in a café at the end of the afternoon to read or write or just sit and watch the other patrons; an espresso after dinner as the finishing touch to a good meal; a macchiato or a mocha with friends at the coffeehouse in the evening, perhaps after a movie.

As the saying goes—"It's all good."

And so it goes

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

And every time I've held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It's just as well for all I've seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows

So I would choose to be with you
That's if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows.

Billy Joel

July 22, 2008

The longings of our hearts

The Longings of Our Hearts Must Be Examined and Moderated

The Voice of Christ

My child, it is necessary for you to learn many things which you have not yet learned well.

The Disciple

What are they, Lord?

The Voice of Christ

That you conform your desires entirely according to My good pleasure, and be not a lover of self but an earnest doer of My will. Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage. If I am the cause, you will be well content with whatever I ordain. If, on the other hand, any self-seeking lurk in you, it troubles you and weighs you down. Take care, then, that you do not rely too much on preconceived desire that has no reference to Me, lest you repent later on and be displeased with what at first pleased you and which you desired as being for the best. Not every desire which seems good should be followed immediately, nor, on the other hand, should every contrary affection be at once rejected.

It is sometimes well to use a little restraint even in good desires and inclinations, lest through too much eagerness you bring upon yourself distraction of mind; lest through your lack of discipline you create scandal for others; or lest you be suddenly upset and fall because of resistance from others. Sometimes, however, you must use violence and resist your sensual appetite bravely. You must pay no attention to what the flesh does or does not desire, taking pains that it be subjected, even by force, to the spirit. And it should be chastised and forced to remain in subjection until it is prepared for anything and is taught to be satisfied with little, to take pleasure in simple things, and not to murmur against inconveniences.

The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis

July 21, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

And as I turned to make my way back home,
The snow turned into rain

Another Auld Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg

Greater platitudes

We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement.

Mayor Richard J. Daley - Chicago

July 20, 2008

More comfy bunny

For those of you who have followed the story of our pet Roger Rabbit. Here is the now chubby comfy bunny enjoying his ferret bed. Notice the little paw sticking out just under Roger's face.

This is by far the best pet we've ever had. He's adorable and has the most wonderful personality. Who would have thought a wild jack rabbit could be such a great pet.

July 19, 2008

Blog Header - July 19, 2008

Yesterday I posted about a coffee shop in Arlington, Virginia. So today I have decided to post the a header that is a photo of an espresso machine. What can I say? I love good coffee.

July 18, 2008

Coffee, rudeness, blogs - what else?

This week a little bit of strangeness happened in the blogging world. Yes - my last post covered some craziness being spouted on blogs—but that's not what I'm talking about. This one involves coffee. And I take coffee very seriously.

A man walked into the Murky Coffee shop in Arlington, Va., and ordered a triple espresso on ice. Now this is just not right. Espresso is concentrated coffee for a reason. If you want cold coffee, order cold coffee—don't kill an espresso. But that's what happened.

The customer wanted three shots of espresso poured over ice. The barista refused, citing store policy and a desire to maintain the quality of the brew. Barbs and counterpunches and comments have been posted by the customer and the store owner on their individual blogs. This is from the coffee shop owner's most recent post:

Being snarky, confrontational, parsing words, and personal attacks, are all common practice in the online world of blogs and forums. God knows, I've engaged in a healthy amount of online b.s., and I know for a fact that Mr. andiamnotlying.com has too. The hard part is dealing with what happens when the online world creeps into the real world, and being able to clearly differentiate between the two. Movies like "Enchanted" or "Cool World" aside, some things are supposed to be separate. Sometimes, it's not up to you though.

I think I agree with this guy. And I think I may have to make a stop in Arlington when I head into town next time.

July 17, 2008

Vituperative theology

I've recently followed an interesting theological discussion on the Doctrines of Grace at a blog that seems to attract a very interesting group of people (mostly women, but a few men as well). The topic of Calvinism came up in a comment thread quite by accident but then the discussion turned to a full blown debate on the merits (or lack thereof) of the theological system known as Calvinism.

Many of the participants in the debate became quite heated. Many times I have heard the claim that Calvinists are mean-spirited and present their case in an overly heated manner showing disdain for those who hold a differing view. But I have not typically found this to be the case. I found the discussion of Calvinism to be particularly revealing at this blog. Here are a few quotes:

  • "If you ever succeeded in convincing me that Calvinism’s right, you would lose me forever as a Christian. My heart would permanetly die."
  • "If possible, I’ve come to hate Calvinism with the passion of a thousand angels, even more than I did before today. I can’t tell you how much I hate it and how much pain it gives me; I hate it almost more than Satan, because it came from a person."
  • "That’s a loving God? Either He loves all, or He doesn’t. If he does not, than He is a foul liar and His book is more corrupt than Satan’s tongue."
  • "Let me blaspheme the lying and selective god, [snip - to remove identifying name]. If I’m to burn for it, then I’m to burn and it’s what He wants anyway."

As vitriolic as all this was, I didn't see any responses from those who hold to the doctrines of grace that held anywhere near this degree of vituperation. And I think the heart of the reason for the strong statements is seen in the following quote. This is something I have suspected from the anti-Calvinist crowd for some time, but this was the first time I've seen it stated. I will provide italics on the phrase I'm referring to.

  • "Maybe this is blasphemy, I don’t know, but when I see amazing people or those who live in unbearable sorrow and pain, I don’t think they deserve hell; I think they deserve a chance to know God, at least. Please don’t try to argue this point with me by Scripture; I’ve seen the argument and I don’t care, whis [sic] is just how I feel."

Please don't try to argue this point with me by Scripture; I've seen the argument and I don't care. Wow! What an admission. What a frightening and dangerous position to hold. I hope that if I ever take such a stance on any issue against the Word of God that it will be brought to my attention quickly.

You may read the complete discussion here.

July 16, 2008

Parents acting childish

I've never been much of a sports fan. In fact, I tend to get pretty uncomfortable with any sort of competition. Even in things I excel in, I would much prefer to work together with people rather than against them.

My wife and I have discussed this and we agree that my view of competitive things is in large part prompted by the things I've seen done by overly competitive people.

But the bravado and machismo demonstrated by sports fanatics when I was young don't even compare to the stupidity shown at young people's sporting events these days.

Yesterday, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, an off-duty police officer attending his daughter's soccer game got into a fight with another one of the fathers. Their sideline fight became so involved that the referees on the soccer field had to call a stop to the gameplay so they could break up the fight between the fathers.

After the men were ejected from the park, the fight continued at the vehicles where one of the men allegedly ran over the other man's foot with his car. Simply amazing.

You can read the whole story here.

July 15, 2008

Transforming our nation

A good friend of ours visited today. She was bearing gifts: some wonderful flowers for my wife to plant in our flower garden and a fantastic dessert salad made with cottage cheese, blueberries, and other delightful tasting things. The dessert was in a bag along with a piece of paper published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I thought the thoughts on the paper were so good, I wanted to share them with you:

Billy Graham
Who knows what God might do if His people began to pray fervently for spiritual revival? Perhaps one reason Satan has gained such a hold on so many lives is because we don't pray enough.

Transforming Our Nation, One Prayer at a Time

Pray for our nation's youth, including young people you know personally, that God will raise up a generation of young men and women to stand boldly for Jesus Christ.

Pray for our nation's leaders, including government and business leaders in your own city and state, that God will direct their decisions and through them influence the nation.

Habakkuk 3:2
Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Pray for our nation's pastors, including your own pastor, that God would give them a shepherd's heart and empower them with zeal and boldness to declare the truth of God's Word.

Pray for the people around you who need Jesus.

July 14, 2008

Monty Python's "The Philosopher's Song"

A good education is not to be missed. Whether or not we agree with them, we should all be aware of the contributions of the major historical philosophers.

If you have not yet benefitted from a solid liberal arts education in Western Philosophy, perhaps this will help:

July 13, 2008

Blog Header - July 14, 2008

This header photo was taken in the house of one of the partners of the firm I work for. I was there to photograph a fund raising event and noticed this beautiful flower arrangement in the equally beautiful living room. So I stepped into the living room to take this photo.

Blog Header - July 13, 2008

This blog header photo is of the port of Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee in Virginia's Northern Neck. Stratford Hall is a beautiful old plantation home situated on thousands of acres well away from the hustle and bustle of Virginia's major thoroughfares. It's a great place to get away from it all and learn a little more about Virginia's history and her huge impact on the formation and development of our nation.

The Lees were a highly influential family for generations prior to Robert E Lee's well-known impact as the highest ranking general of the Confederate forces during the War Between the States. Stratford Hall is a good place to learn this history because it is brought to life by those presenting it through period garb and various demonstrations of Colonial life through Civil War-era life. Tours are offered of the mansion and the grounds as well.

If you visit Stratford Hall on a family outing sometime, be sure to set aside time to visit Westmoreland Berry Farm on your way home. Pick some berries, enjoy some of their delightful ice cream concoctions, watch their pet goat walk across tiny 2x4 boards 20 feet above the ground, and if you're able to visit on the Fourth of July, enjoy the live bluegrass band as you sip tea or soda on the veranda. It's loads of fun and the berries are oh so good.

July 12, 2008

The politics of disrespect

Our nation has become so polarized that disrespecting the opposite ideology (opposite party affiliation) is now seen as a virture rather than a vice. Although my parents were solidly grounded in the Republican Party, I was taught to show respect to Democrats in office, whether that be as high ranking as the president or toward the bottom of the totem pole as a local township representative or even a campaign leader.

I remember that those on either side of the political spectrum showed the respect due to our political leaders even when the disagreements with their ideals were profound. But such is the case no more. In this story, Mr. L.F. Eason III, a 29-year veteran of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, instructed his staff not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half-staff, defying a directive sent to all state agencies. When a superior ordered Eason to follow the directive, he decided to retire rather than pay tribute to Senator Jesse Helms by flying the flags of his state-run department at half mast by in compliance with official state orders.

July 11, 2008

Another reason to love Lynchburg - no traffic

OK - this post should probably be titled "Another of the myriad reasons to hate Washington, D.C., with a passion." But since that title is too long and since my point of comparison is Lynchburg, I'm going to use this to lay out another reason why we love Lynchburg (and not D.C.).

The D.C. Beltway in typical stand-still

I normally try to work from home on Fridays because it is so difficult to get out of Washington, D.C., on a Friday. The roads are in pretty good shape until about 10:00 am, when seemingly everyone traveling up and down the entire East Coast begins to drive through the D.C. Metro area. If you thought grid-lock in D.C. referred only to the government, think again. The roads are essentially unusable beginning on Friday late-morning and stay that way until late Sunday night.

In defense of the D.C. area roads, the pictures I took as I attempted to drive home today were clogged by an accident. This was one of four major accidents that I heard about in the traffic reports. All four accidents required Medevac helicopters and all four of them completely shut down every single lane of the four-lane and five-lane highways they happened on for more than two hours each.

These photos are from the beltway, which had two of the four accidents—one on the western side of the beltway near Tysons Corner (Gallows Road, to be exact) and the other on the opposite side just before the Woodrow Wilson bridge. One was on the inner loop and the other was on the outer loop. So the traffic was brought to a stand-still with all four lanes being blocked both clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time of day, just before the heavy part of the terrible Washington rush hour.

Note the two sleeping occupants of this car

So I haven't talked about the traffic in Lynchburg yet. That's because there is none. The folks here complain about how bad the traffic is with such phrases as "I had to wait for the light to change twice before I got through," or "There were five cars in front of me at the light" or "it took me more than 10 minutes to get to the other side of town!" We never even left our house on Saturdays when we lived in DC because a trip to the local pharmacy took four to five hours in commute time. And the pharmacy was less than four miles from our house.

So - I encourage everyone to visit Washington. Make sure you take your car. And please don't visit Lynchburg. We want to make sure we make it through the light the first time it changes.

Dogbert strikes again

July 10, 2008

Important information on local church polity

Contemporary American Evangelical churches are slipping fast. The fads, the lack of leadership, and the obvious neglect and abuse of the flock is appalling and seems to be increasing with a rapidity that outpaces the number of new seminary graduates each year. I have been pondering the cause of this apparent disaster-in-the-making for some time now.

This post on church structure is an outstanding analysis of current trends and of biblical teaching on church polity/heirarchy.

July 09, 2008

What an outstanding hymn!

There are a few hymns that stand out above all the others ever written. My favorites have remained essentially the same for most of my life, but two recent discoveries have become my two favorite hymns of all time. Keith Getty's hymn "In Christ Alone" is my all-time favorite. The hymn below has just taken second place. I don't know the author or the tune of this hymn, but I found it at a very interesting blog. I hope you appreciate this hymn as much as I do:

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.

You took the sin that stained me,
You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me,
That I should live in You.

Unless Your grace had called me
And taught my op’ning mind,
The world would have enthralled me,
To heav’nly glories blind.

My heart knows none above You;
For Your rich grace I thirst;
I know that if I love You,
You must have loved me first.

Oh for the good ol' hip-hugger days

I'm getting old ... obviously. I remember that when I was in my teens my parents were quite distraught about the hip hugger jeans that many of my friends wore. My sister was forbidden to wear them. I remember thinking that my parents' objection to that style of pants was because they thought it was immodest. But I also remember them telling me that it simply looked bad.

But now I'm old a decrepit—apparently. And I see things around me that drive me nuts with the way the young people dress. I'm especially concerned with the inane saggy pants look that my son seems to love so much. We regularly have to tell him to pull his pants up so that we don't have to look at his underwear. And, just like my parents used to say, it is not because it is immodest or sensual or anything like that. It just looks STUPID!! (Did I yell that loud enough?)

Finally I see that some people are doing something about this. I hate to say it, but I fully applaud the fact that the Flint Police are cracking down on saggy pants. I truly hope that this fad goes away soon. Although I hate to think what the next fad will be. If it's much worse than this I may need to start my own fad—eyeball piercing.

Blog Header - July 9, 2008

This header photo shows the front door and entrance of Thomas Jefferson's retreat home, Poplar Forest. Jefferson described this home, which is a miniature of his more well-known Monticello home, as a place where he could get away from the demands of public life and commit himself to reading and thinking. More than 1,500 of the surviving documents written by Jefferson's own hand originated from this location.

Because of the immense impact Thomas Jefferson had on our nation as our third president and as the author of the Declaration of Independence, not much is taught about Jefferson the man. We, the people of the United States, seem to only know Jefferson the politician.

Growing up very close to Monticello, I benefited from getting to know a little more about Thomas Jefferson than the typical things found in grade school history books. But I didn't notice very much more than Jefferson's architectural genius when I visited Monticello.

But at Poplar Forest, less than five miles from my home now, I learned about Thomas Jefferson's private life—and his genius did not stop at his philosophy of government or his understanding of architectural design. He was centuries ahead of his time in architectural design, but also a true Renaissance man in matters of landscaping, botany, and even society's social responsibility.

God has blessed our nation greatly with some amazing leaders. I highly recommend a visit to Poplar Forest for your next family outing if you are within driving distance. It is inspiring at a level that defies description.

July 07, 2008

Another reason to love Lynchburg!

So - if I haven't bored you enough by bragging on what a great place Lynchburg, Virginia, is—now my claims have been vindicated.

National Geographic Adventure magazine has named Lynchburg, Virginia, one of the "31 Best Places to Live and Play" in the United States of America.

It really is a wonderful place to live!

July 06, 2008

Dividing our burdens

In the gift shop at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's retreat home, I saw a small sign placed in front of a book. I don't think the sign was meant to help sell the book as there was no indication that they were related. But it caught my attention.

The sign had a wonderful quote from Thomas Jefferson written on it. In the quote, Jefferson reveals a depth of character that I don't think is very common today. I think our society would be well-served to develop the worldview that gave rise to this quote:

What more sublime delight than to mingle tears with one whom the hand of heaven hath smitten! To watch over the bed of sickness, and to beguile its tedious and its painful moments! To share our bread with one whom misfortune has left none! This world abounds indeed with misery; to enlighten its burden we must divide it with one another.

Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. Cosway — Paris, 1786

It's interesting to note that in the above quote, Thomas Jefferson reveals that he believes in the sovereignty of God ("whom the hand of heaven hath smitten"). This is not the typical religious belief attributed to Jefferson. I think he may have been a greater man than I was ever taught. The statement from the sign in front of his Poplar Forest home (shown above left) says a lot about the man as well. "A place of inspiration to live a life of curiosity and creativity." How wonderful!

July 05, 2008

Blog Header - July 5, 2008

This blog header photo was taken on the grounds of Thomas Road Baptist Church. This display of flags was placed soon after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had produced 3,000 death among the American miliatary.

You will notice a small yellow ribbon attached to each flag. The yellow ribbons each had the name of one of those who had given their life in the service of this country. There were just over 3,000 flags in total. Among those who were searching for the flags dedicated to their loved ones, there were a handful of active duty military. It was a very somber event and the tone was reverent and subdued. It was quite a tribute to our nation's military men and women.

The woman taking the photograph in the picture is my wife.

Roger Rabbit update

I don't normally blog about pets, but I took this picture a couple days ago and just had to share it with you.

Roger has got to be the most comfortable bunny in history. He loves this ferret bed my wife got for him. Quite often we see him resting his chin on the little fluffy edge of the bed. A couple days ago he was cleaning his hind leg, so it was stretched way out in front of him. In a show of amazing laziness for a wild bunny, when he completed cleaning his leg he simply rested his chin on top of his leg and stayed in that position for about 20 minutes (until I grabbed my camera to get a picture of it).

Roger has even begun to give my wife kisses when she greets him in the morning. Kim goes over the cage and leans toward the edge of the upper floor and makes "kissy" noises. Roger runs to the upper floor and puts his nose very close to her face and bobs his head up and down each time she makes the kissy noise. It's very cute.

July 04, 2008

Another reason to love Lynchburg - Poplar Forest

Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest home

We weren't able to leave town for our typical Independence Day jaunt this year, so we decided to visit a place just down the road from our house. A mere five miles from our house is the retreat home of Thomas Jefferson, Poplar Forest.

Poplar Forest is a beautiful place with rolling hills, wide open spaces, lots of trees, and Thomas Jefferson's unique architectural stamp on the house that he built there. It looks like a smaller version of Monticello. The large open field behind the house is expansive and was where the Fourth of July festivities took place.

An American Legion honor guard marched down the center of the field toward the house with the flags. They presented the colors just below the rear porch of the Poplar Forest house. A man sang a fantastic rendition of the National Anthem. And then a woman dressed in period garb read the Declaration of Independence after providing some context by way of interesting anecdotes and historical analysis.

There were many period-people scattered around the property showing the visitors how things were done in our nation 200 years ago. The woman pictured here had a delightful presentation style and was very entertaining as she explained to those gathering around how the people worked flax to make material. She had a wealth of stories about Thomas Jefferson, Captain John Smith, and other American heroes. Her whole family was there in their period garb. Her son played a military drum and marched with the color guard when they presented the colors.

We love the festivities here in Lynchburg because they are not so overrun with people that it becomes dangerous and unpleasant. In Washinton, DC, it is so hard to get into the city and then out again that whatever enjoyment you may have when you're actually there tends to be overshadowed by the aggravation of the commute. There are usually many drunks and other unpleasant people to deal with at the big city events as well.

But in Lynchburg, there are always enough people to make it festive, but few enough that they don't get mad at each other and become unpleasant. In fact, David loves to meet the other kids and play with them. He always runs up to us, tells us the name of the person he's just met, and declares, "this is my new best friend." And then the other child beams.

Being photographers, my wife and I have also noticed that the people here in Lynchburg doing something a little different when you point the camera in their direction—they smile. In Washington, DC, people are so afraid of each other that they suspect that you're some sort of stalker if you try to take their picture. Sometimes they get downright nasty about it. And heaven forbid that you try to take a photo of one of their children. If you do, you're likely to end up showing your photos to a police officer and explaining that you're a photographer and are just documenting the event.

As I strolled around the Independence Day event at Poplar Forest, many folks actually directed their children to smile at me when I pointed the camera their way. It makes for some nice photos.

Then we drove home. We didn't wait in any traffic. We didn't get stuck behind accidents or massive merges of too many vehicles. We didn't even get flipped off. Not one time! And we were home within about 10 minutes.

Lynchburg is such a wonderful place. Did I mention I love Lynchburg?