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Children of Our Heavenly Father

Posted By on July 29, 2015

by Teri Ong

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In mid-June we attended the Christian Home Educators of Colorado statewide conference in Denver. We have attended all or part of every conference since 1993. We enjoy being together with a good contingent of “old timers,” some of whom even pre-date our participation. Because we see longevity of relationships as a blessing and gift of God, renewing old friendships is the best part of the conference every year.

One of our longstanding friendships is with the Bloom family, which runs a wonderful used book company called “Books Bloom.” Their business is NOT a second hand curriculum table; it is about what we in education technically call “real books” (No, I’m not being facetious!). And a lot of their books are vintage “real books.” You know which ones they are: they are the morally uplifting stories written in the first half of the last century that were greatly enjoyed by those of us who grew up in the second half of it.Speed Star 1.1530338  00

In a slack time in the vendor hall, several of us were perusing the books in the “Books Bloom” booth. We began discussing the favorite stories of our youth. After awhile Mrs. Bloom observed, “Isn’t it something that in many of our favorite stories, there isn’t much parental presence?”

I thought about my own favorites. Many of them, from the classics such as The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia to the kiddie pulp fiction favorites such as The Happy Hollisters and The Boxcar Children, fit with her observation. Much of the action in all of them does indeed take place apart from the watchful eyes of grown-ups. In fact, the series I am presently enjoying for the first time (thanks to the recommendation of a friend)– the “Swallows and Amazons” series by Arthur Ransome– is of the same genre.

The four principal characters in the Ransome series are siblings John, Susan, Roger, and Titty Walker. As the series unfolds, the children have many adventures as they sail, camp, hike, and explore during their holidays. Their imaginations are allowed a good workout as they create scenarios, make up names, and draw maps to go with their explorations and “discoveries.” They visit “Rio” and climb “Kachenjunga.” They have encounters with pirates (two sisters with their own sailboat) and do business with “natives,” all without ever leaving the English Lake District. Their mother, of course, is “the best of all natives.”

Their mother allows them a great deal of freedom to come and go as they please. They camp alone on an island, sail their boat around a large lake, cook their own meals, do their own washing up, etc. The prospect of allowing children that much latitude in today’s culture would give the average “helicopter” parent cold sweats. Mrs. Bloom asked us if we thought there ever was a time that was innocent enough for children to be on their own like that.

Speed Star 1.1493363  00  I thought of my own childhood. We lived in a neighborhood on a lake in Minnesota. Our house was half a block from the lake easement that was part of our property rights. Our mother routinely let us swim and fish with our friends and siblings without her presence. I spent hours riding bikes with the boys in the neighborhood who were my classmates. We often walked 3/4 of a mile to the nearest grocery store– on an active railroad track– across a trestle! By the time I was 17, I had a private pilot’s licence and had done solo flights all over the state. One summer, my brother and I tent camped our way from Denver, Colorado to a missionary camp near Dinorwic, Ontario, where we spent the summer as volunteers. I wasn’t allowed to do all of those things because I was perfectly mature in all ways before I did them; rather, each new experience helped me grow up in ways that might have taken much longer, or might not have happened at all, if I had not been allowed and even encouraged to do each new thing on my own.

Why do we like stories of youthful adventure? I believe we like the kind of stories that resonate harmoniously with the Great Story of the universe. And the best of these stories do just that. Let me illustrate with some examples from We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome.

The Walkers are in Ipswich awaiting a visit from their father, on furlough from the Royal Navy. They have met a mature young man who has his own seaworthy sailboat. He is well-thought of by all who know him, and Mrs. Walker gives the children permission to spend a day and a night on his vessel. Generally, Mrs. Walker, “the best of all natives,” makes sure they have all the provisions they need and that accounts are settled with other natives who have helped along the way. She also makes sure there is a line of communications open when they have a need. All is going well until the young man goes ashore to get some gasoline for the engine. The children are safely anchored and responsibly awaiting his return, just as they were told to do. But the young man is struck by a bus and ends up in the hospital with a head injury, unbeknownst to the children (no cell phones in the 1930’s!).

The tide comes in, lifts their boat and its anchor, and in time, the children are swept out to sea. For awhile, they battle to navigate in a dense

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fog, then a fierce storm comes up. This is every parent’s worst nightmare! But the children have been well trained by their sailor dad and their practical-minded mom. They make wise decisions and work out of each jam in a reasoned and sensible way.

As I thought about the parental role in these wonderful stories, it occurred to me that the parents, though not visible and personally micro-managing the details of life for their children, are truly omnipresent in spirit. The Walker children always attempt to honor their parents through their decision making and actions, when things are going well and when unexpected difficulties arise.

In We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the children figure out how to manage the larger vessel because they can apply the knowledge they gained from sailing their own smaller boat, and can recall advice and examples of good seamanship that came from their father. Always in the back of John’s mind is the goal of bringing them all with their vessel safe to harbor so that his father will be proud of him. Susan, the oldest sister, works very hard to keep the craft orderly, make sure all aboard have adequate meals on a proper schedule, and get the younger ones to bed on time. She even oversees bathing and toothbrushing. Standards of decency must not be allowed to slip!

There is no alternative plan of action– they must make their way across the Channel to the first landfall. As they handle each crisis that comes up, they are always thinking of what their mother or father would do or would want them to do. Eventually they make their way to Holland and unexpectedly meet up with their father, who is crossing the other direction on his way home. The children know that he wishes circumstances had not been as perilous for them as they were, but they are glad he is pleased with the way they handled themselves. John is especially pleased when his father gives his shoulder a squeeze and says, “You’ll be a seaman yet, my son.” (p. 286)

Our Father God is not always visible in our stories either, yet He is likewise omnipresent.

He has taken care of our provisions and makes sure accounts are settled. He has taught us skills along the way and has given us the best of all examples– Jesus Christ. We have everything we need to navigate through increasingly difficult circumstances. He guides us by His Spirit as we seek to honor Him in our decision making and in our actions. And we, like the youthful John Walker, will be ever so pleased when Father says to us, “You’ll be a Christian yet, my child.”



Ransome, Arthur. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. London: Jonathan Cape, 1988 printing.


Bloom, Jan. Who Should We Then Read? Cokato, Minnesota: Booksbloom, 2001. This is an excellent resource with lists of books, recommendations and warnings, and much biographical information about many popular authors.


Pictures of Lake Windermere, England, taken by Teri Ong in May, 2015.

Polar Bears in a Snowstorm

Posted By on March 31, 2015

One of the classes at Chambers College this semester is honing its skills in apologetics and persuasion. The students have been watching and analyzing master debaters on the Supreme Court and from the highest echelons of government and professional life as they tackle the sticky wickets of public policy. They have also watched Christian leaders debate with atheists the existence of God. They have read many sources that should help them sharpen their own thought processes and prepare them to engage their world about their worldview.

A sticking point that has popped up more than once is “the problem of pain.” In a nutshell, it goes something like this: if there is a gracious, loving, merciful, and all-powerful creator God in charge of the universe, how can He allow so much sickness, poverty, war, disaster, injustice, etc., to come upon the people He ostensibly cares for?

Much has been written during all the centuries of human history on this topic. One of the earliest pieces of literature, the book of Job in the Bible, is a lengthy exploration of the range of human suffering and man and God’s respective roles and responses in it. Pain as a consequence of human hubris, pain as a motivation for heroic action, pain as a revealer of character (either for good or evil), pain as an obstacle to overcome: these are all themes in the world’s great stories because they are part of our common experience as human beings.

But no matter what cases, religious or secular, are made for the positive aspects of pain and affliction, some people will not be persuaded that there might be a good or a righteous reason for allowing murder and mayhem to happen in the world of men. (Isn’t it ironic that we regularly find murder and mayhem so entertaining from the safety of an armchair?)

John Horgan, who has deeply considered all of the arguments for and against the existence of God, and who articulates his views in the public arena on a regular basis has said,

“If God is all-powerful, just and loving, why then is existence so painful and unfair for so many people? …I have never encountered a satisfying solution to the problem of evil (although a psychedelic trip more than 30 years ago briefly convinced me that I had solved it).” Horgan here has merged two distinct issues into one, the problem of pain and the problem of evil. Admittedly, the two overlap, but they do not fully coincide. I am going to address pain specifically.

I do not presume to be in his persuasive league; I am not even in his persuasive universe, nor am I likely to even appear on his persuasive radar screen. But these are some thoughts on the subject that come from my experiences in life and in the field of fine arts. If you are one of the handful of people who sometimes read this blog, perhaps these ideas will encourage you or help your neighbor someday.

The real problem of pain is not that it causes us to cast doubt on the existence of a good God; the problem with pain is simply that we do not like pain. If it gets bad enough, we hate it. We especially eschew it for ourselves, but if we have an empathetic side to our nature, we hate it on behalf of others because it comes back on us in the form of reflected pain. The “fact” of pain is a “problem” because we want to get rid of it– all of it– when it is writ small in our life and when it is writ large, but usually we have little power to do so. But perhaps we can get rid of it by using it to coerce a “good God” into proving Himself by removing some of it– especially from ourselves. But as the wise old saint said to a young seeker named Cosmo, “What if God is not interested in you knowing Him in that way?” [in Warlock O’ Glenwarlock by G. MacDonald]

That we can imagine and desire an existence without pain is in itself an argument that we are created for that kind of existence. In the chapter called “Hope” in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” The desire to be “pain-free” is one of those cravings that can only be satisfied outside our present existence. We can have that longing fulfilled in heaven, when it is good for us, but not now, when it would not be good for us.

Right now, however, we still have such an aversion to pain that we become like little children whining, fussing, and throwing tantrums to twist the emotional arm of an uncooperative parent. Parenthood requires the infliction of pain for a child’s health and well-being; think of unpopular eating regimens, “unreasonable” bedtimes, unstylish apparel (like boots and mitts), potentially painful doctor and dentist visits, school! Not to mention various corrective disciplinary measures.

It is not hard to see how this is analogous to our relationship to our Father in heaven. And, just as many of us conspired to run away to escape some unpleasantness at home, humanity makes many attempts to run away from our Heavenly Father for the same reason. In the spirit of the humorous slogan, “When all else fails, ask Grandpa,” Lewis astutely observes,

“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven– a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”
This, however, is not the way of the universe. We do not have a Grandpa in the sky: we have a Father who is trying to help us grow up into the image of our perfect Older Brother.

Growing involves growing pains, and our Father is more, rather than less, loving because He allows us those pains. As Lewis further states, “…since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude my conception of love needs correction.”

A popular metaphor for life in Christian literature is the unfinished piece of artwork, particularly a tapestry. On this earth, we see God’s picture only from the backside, but God sees it on the side that will someday be finished and put on display for all to see for eternity. Indeed, He drew up the plan in eternity past. The finished work has been in the mind of God since before it was even begun, and soon, He will complete the task of working it out in time and space.

I want to take the analogy a little further. Not only do we see the tapestry from the underside, each of our lives is just a tiny square centimeter on a canvas that could fill the skies. (John 21:25) Often, we cannot even understand how our few stitches relate to the square meter around us, which is our generation. Nowadays, it would probably be more meaningful to put this in terms of pixels or DPI. You might say, each of us is only a single line in a very large program.

Any scene that comes before our eyes, natural or virtual, is a combination of light places and dark places. God made our eyes to appreciate the distinctions (remember “rods” and “cones” from third grade science?). The old Italian master painters called this “chiaroscuro,” which comes from the Latin roots from which we derive the English words “clear” and “obscure”, that is, light and dark.

The scene on our metaphoric tapestry is a historical depiction– like the famous Bayeux Tapestry– only it is infinitely bigger and more beautiful. Until it is finished, the Master Artist will necessarily be making more light and dark stitches. By “dark stitches” I do not mean that God is the source of anything evil; that is not possible. (James 1:13) But God regularly redeems difficult circumstances, including the results of evil choices, and uses them for good. (Gen. 50:20)

We have all laughed at the childish joke about the student who turned in a blank piece of white paper in art class. When asked to explain his lack of creativity, the student says that it is a picture of a polar bear in a snowstorm. Sadly, that is the kind of picture many people expect a “good God” to make of them– all lights and no darks. A study recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology concluded, “…happy people get joy from receiving; people leading meaningful lives get joy from giving to others. ‘Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed, or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.’” In other words, polar bears in a snowstorm might think they are happy, but their lives lack meaning.

1SnowA framed and matted “polar bear in a snowstorm” might be good for a quick laugh, but would quickly become dull and unsightly. It is, after all, the visible marks on a page that convey meaning. What is a life of all warmth and no cold, all sun and no clouds, all dry and no rain? We call it a desert– a nice place to visit, but a hard place to live.

Life shouldn’t be a polar bear picture, but neither is it a grizzly bear at midnight– unbroken blackness. Unless we choose to live in a dark cave of sinful choices, we can expect blue skies when the clouds roll on, warm Chinooks as well as cold north winds, flowers after rain, even new channels and dramatic landscapes after floods. As King David said at the end of his earthly life,1night

“And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” 2 Sam 23:4
God’s tapestry is the expression of who He is, the fleshing out of all that is in His infinitely wise and creative mind. Each one of us is being crafted in His image. God serves all of His creation. How can we learn to serve if no one needs to be served? He gave up heaven to meet our eternal need. How can we learn to meet needs if no one has any needs? He suffered ultimate pain to demonstrate ultimate love. How can we learn to love sacrificially if no one needs our loving sacrifice? If God Himself had to suffer unjust pain to be experientially perfect (Heb. 5:8), how can we think we are above it?

In heaven, we will no longer be concerned about the knots, crossed threads, and loose ends of the underside of the tapestry. We won’t mind if our square centimeter had a high percentage of dark stitches. We will see them in the context of God’s beautiful design. We will live forever in awe of the completed work and the skill of the Artist, and rejoice that the few, small stitches of our lives are part of it.

I am not being flippant or cavalier in what I am saying. In many ways, this has been one of the hardest years of my life– a multi-front battle involving the deepest emotional struggles of my life, eclipsing even my year of cancer surgery and treatments 27 years ago. I cannot wave away my experience with a magic theological wand. I understand, better now than ever, what Oswald Chambers was trying to communicate in his wartime commentary on the book of Job,

“Always remain true to the facts and to the intuitive certainty that God must be just, and do not try to justify Him too quickly. The ‘juggling trick’ tries to justify God for allowing sin and war. Sin and war are absolutely unjustifiable, and yet the instinct of every Christian is– ‘I know that in the end God will justify Himself.’ Meantime you can justify Him only by a venture of faith which cannot be logically demonstrated.”

How willing was Jesus to die,

That we rebel sinners might live!

The life they could not take away,

How ready was Jesus to give.

They pierced through His hands and His feet,

His body He freely resigned;

The pains of His flesh were so great!

But greater the pangs of His mind!

No nearer we venture to gaze

On sorrow so deep, so profound;

But tread with amazement and praise

And reverence such hallowed ground.

–Joseph Swain, 1761-1796 (vs. 1,2,5)


Chambers, Oswald. Baffled to Fight Better. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1990 ed.) p. 69.

Horgan, John. “Can Faith and Science Coexist?” February 23, 2015 Scientific American accessed through http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2015/02/23/can-faith-and-science-coexist/

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. (London: Fontana Books, 1960) “Hope”, p. 116-119.

_____ The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994) “The Business of Heaven” January 10, p. 300.

Smith, Emily Esfahani. “Happiness: It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be” Reader’s Digest, April 2015, p. 37.

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

Posted By on February 28, 2015

The lamp is readied, the wick trimmed,

Filled with oil, the chimney placed.

A burning reed transfers the flame,

Lights the lamp and in turn the room.


The light shines well, but eyes adjust,

And crave brighter ‘til gloom is past.

Boldly, our hand turns up the wick

To get the full effect we seek.


Immediately, flame now bright,

We bask in artificial light;

But see now, black soot in excess

Darks the glass, defeats our purpose.


Obscured, the flame reduced in power

Is dimmer than in former hour.

The oil still burns, but smoke is thick

Because it burns with too much wick.


So cut the wick and set it low,

Polish the glass and let it glow.

This is the ancient remedy:

Less of my wick and more of Thee.


Teri Ong – February 2015

Posted By on January 22, 2015

Being born smack in the middle of the “Boomer” generation, I am realizing more and more every day that all booms go bust eventually. As with every generation before and after ours, we grew up (or not!) together, graduated together, got married together, hadboats cramped cropped children together, watched our children marry and have children together, and now we are superintending the death of our parents together. In some popular media outlets, we are called the “Sandwich” generation, squeezed between cleaning up after grandchildren and cleaning up after infirm parents. But I don’t feel like something plump between two tasty pieces of bread. I feel like a sailboat on which the sail has become so threadbare and tattered it won’t catch enough wind to tack any more, and I am headed for the rocky shores of mortality.

The outline of those shores is coming more into focus as I help my mother’s craft navigate toward them, and I realize I am close behind her. I don’t dread those rocky shores because they are the way into a beautiful land. But the approach is uncertain, sometimes veiled in fogs and mists, sometimes treacherous with stormy winds and hidden currents.

Mom has no more power left; she can only be carried along by whatever wind or current takes her.

expansive boats croppedHere my analogy has to change a little. From her perspective, my role in her life is more like a deck hand polishing the proverbial brass on the sinking ship. And there is a lot of brass to keep up.

I recently read a book on caring for people with dementia. The first part of the book dealt with signs and symptoms, medical aids, advice for care givers, etc. Toward the end of the book, several writers shared their personal stories. Many of them wrote in glowing, sentimental terms. The days, weeks, months, years were “precious,” “sweet,” “healing.”

Mom has been with us for five years now. Her decline was relatively slow at the beginning, faster the last two years, and astonishing in the last two months. And I cannot say the time has been precious, sweet, or healing. It has been tiring, frustrating, and painful, both physically and emotionally. I know it has been that way for her too, as her grip on the earth has been loosed one painful finger hold after another. She is looking forward to the Beautiful Land ahead, but she sometimes loses sight of it, being so close to the rocky shore. The landing there is the last act of faith for a Christian.Speed Star 1.1535338  00

Helping her make it is a duty of love– not of sentimental love, not of touchy-feely love, not of emotional love at all. If I let my feelings take control for one minute, I would abandon ship. A swim in the sea is, after all, more refreshing and enjoyable than the futile pursuit of polished brass.

The blessing of this week has come from reflections (maybe they bounced off the polished brass!) on need-love and gift-love, a concept explored in The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. Humans are entirely “need-love” and God is entirely “gift-love.” How could it be otherwise? We are totally dependent creatures: He is the only all self-sufficient Creator.

In my relationship with my dying mother, she is all need-love and I am all gift-love. The only thing she can do for me is appreciate what I do for her. The only thing we can do for God is express appreciation for what He does for us.

boats croppeeBut on a practical level, does Mother demonstrate appreciation? I know she loves me. She sometimes says “thank you.” But usually she is resentful that I clean up her messes in front of her, put pills into her hand to take, give her plates of food to eat that she doesn’t feel like eating. She cries because she is so weak and accuses me of not giving her any meat for a whole week. She does not remember all of the meals I served that she would not eat. She cries because she “doesn’t have any friends,” though I and members of my family and church congregation spend time (frequently hours a day) every day with her, even when she has often rebuffed our efforts. She tells all of my friends that I neglect her and leave her to sit all alone with nothing to do but look out the window.

What is the “blessing” in all of this? It has opened my eyes to the many times I have complained and rebuffed the gift-love of my gracious Giver. How often have I cried because I thought I wasn’t getting what I needed? How often have I forgotten His best efforts on my behalf? How often have I complained to others of my sad condition? How often have I been resentful that I couldn’t do or have things my own way?

I hope I learn and remember these crucial life lessons. It might make my approach to the shore a little less rocky. I pray it does.


Oh God, that madest earth and sky, the darkness and the day,

Give ear to this Thy family, and help as when we pray!

For wide the waves of bitterness around our vessel roar,

And heavy grows the pilot’s heart to view the rocky shore!

The cross our Master bore for us, for Him we fain would bear,

But mortal strength to weakness turn, and courage to despair!

Then mercy on our failings, Lord! Our sinking strength renew!

And when Thy sorrows visit us, oh send They patience too!

— Reginald Heber

Posted By on October 31, 2014

The wood is dead; the tree is downed,

So worthless lying on the ground.

But Love is a consuming fire

Who lights the log upon its pyre.

The fire blazes bright and hot,

But left alone the flame dies out.

The blazing fire soon burns low;

The flicker of the flame is slow.

When almost all the fuel is spent,

The heat reduced, the light grows faint.

The log is shrunken, cracked and gray,

Almost spent, life’s little day.

What good is smoke in darkest night?

What good to smoulder without light?

So smash and bash with iron rod;

Now lift and poke and move and prod.

Remove the char and break apart,

Expose the fresh and unburned heart.

Fan it up and give it air

‘Til once again the light is there.

The log decrease, the Flame increase,

Ensure the light will never cease,

‘Til there’s nothing left the prod,

And all my heat has risen to God.

– Teri Ong –


The Spark

Posted By on September 26, 2014

SparkAll flames flame out in the end.

The ember that once was fanned,

Flamed up insistent and wild,

Burning fuel so deftly piled,

Leaping, dancing– what a sight!

Warming and cheering with light.

But now it fades, the fuel burned,

And what remains must be turned;

The darkened coals need a prod–

A stir with an iron rod.

Once again the flame revives,

But fuel spent, it short survives.

In ignominy it dies;

Even smoke no longer flies.

Nothing but gray dust is left,

The gold gone, its place bereft.

All flames flame out in the end:

It’s a law that does not bend.

Remember, the Flame of Flames,

In darkness flamed out self-same.

But He, no ignis fatuus,

Fanned Himself to full brightness;

Ignited, dark death defeats,

So draw closer to His heat.

All flames flame out in the end,

But lone sparks may still ascend.

– Teri Ong –


On Seeing a Mountain Waterfall

Posted By on August 22, 2014


Water catches my eye

Coming down the valley,

Fascinating with its

Endless gleams and sparkles.

Pure and clear it cascades,

Broken on the boulders,

Squeezing through the cracks as

Shards of liquid crystal.

1CKhiking_16Broken off the stream, a

Pool lies darkly silent.

Peaceful? No, I think not.

Lifeless, gloomy, brackish.

Turning now, I trace the

Stream up to its source, and

Find the going rocky,

Slippery, steep and hard.

Fear of falling grips, but1HikeFalls_19

Beauty lures me upwards.

Thunderous sound assaults me,

Speaking to my terror.

“Broken is my body;

Poured out is its water,

Falling far from heaven

For the thirsty sinner.

1Camping_191“Poured out from the belly

Of God’s lovingkindness,

Living Water broken,

Gleaming with His brightness.

“Poured out on earth’s hardness,

Willingly surrendered,

Thundering down, refreshing,

Cold, clear, and life-giving.”

His life, my life, must flow

Over rocky courses,

Falling ragged, broken,

Misty, gleaming and bright—

Catching now the eye of

Someone on the bankside,

With the hope and promise–

His endless life and light.

TLO August 2014

On Seeing a Mountain Fog

Posted By on July 26, 2014


Mysteriously creep

Over rough terrain–

Now lingering,

Now moving,

Sinking in crevasses,


Now hanging low.


Dark, vaporous beauty.

So what is your life?

Vapor passes,


Rising up

On the wings of the wind–

Very breath of God;

And then it parts


Clear shining after rain,

As seen from above–

Brightest whiteness


A Literary Tour of England

Posted By on June 25, 2014

by Teri OngSpeed Star 1.1414444  00

England2014_56I am typing this as I sit on a train heading to the North. We are riding today just for the fun of riding. Later we will catch a southbound train and head  back into London so we can be with our friends at the Metropolitan Tabernacle this Sunday. We have used our four train days to see England coast to coast (Ravenglass to Sunderland) and border to coast (Carlisle to Penzance). We have had some rain and cool temperatures everyday for the first nine days of our trip, but the weather has only added to the atmospheric qualities of what we have seen and done.

Speed Star 1.1509357  00Sitting at the bay window in the breakfast room at Hollins Hall, which is old-style elegant with evident patina, one can imagine Chuffy Chuffnell negotiating with an American to sell his precious but expensive Chuffnell Hall for a hotel. And indeed, the grounds are large enough for a golf course! Then again, looking at some of the expensive cars in the car park, one could imagine the motor car fever rampant at Toad Hall. This is especially true when sitting outside enjoying the wind in the willows.

Visiting the harbour towns along the west coast, we almost were persuaded that we might hear a conversation between Captains Wentworth, Harville, and Benwick as they longingly looked out to sea from the quay. Having a bowl of soup in the Long Boat Inn or enjoying the carvery at the Williams Arms made me think members of the Pickwick Club might be just in the next room in the comfortable chairs next to the hearth.Speed Star 1.1502393  00

Passing through Haltwhistle made me think the Hanbury Estate must be nearby. Seeing the sign for Lothwithiel made me think there must be a mystical valley over the next ridge.

Traveling from south to north, I was struck by the stark contrasts between the living hedgerows of the south and the dark slate walls of the north. The white plastered walls of the south and the gray stone block houses of the north. The thickly thatched roofs of the south and the moss-crusted tile roofs of the north. Fishing villages and market towns of the south and the large industrial powerhouses of the north. But there are still roses in the hedge, if you look hard enough.

Tramping around in a little northern town, we saw some imposing stone walls that enclosed old, dark manor houses that might be worthy of the name Thornfield or Mistlethwaite. One could even imagine them enclosing a secret garden with an ancient gnarled tree.

Speed Star 1.1539331  00One day the train ran for miles beside a beautiful river– sometimes deep and placid and sometimes bubbling with life. Several fishermen in their waders realized it was a river worthy of a complete angler or perhaps even of Dr. Watson on holiday. We were far enough north that my imagination ran to little Sir Gibbie making his pilgrimage up Daurside.

I am sure the day I saw the little engine that could, I also took a walk in the Hundred Acre Woods. Then I saw the farm where Shaun the Sheep lives. I know that because I recognized the farmer by his jacket and his rubber boots, and by the faithful sheep dog at his side.

When we went through many of the towns, we saw a lot of “the backs.” Almost all of them had little conservatories or green houses. The ones that didn’t usually had a garden at least. Some of the towns had property set aside for gardeners who don’t have their own land. They have little plots roped off and are full of little makeshift potting sheds and greenhouses. I wondered which one Bertie Wooster might be sleeping in, and I had this urge to push the beeper and arm the security system to protect the precious veg for Lady Tottington’s Giant Vegetable Competition.Speed Star 1.1451396  00

I wrote most of this blog while sitting at a table on a grassy terrace in front of the old section of Hollins Hall. As I sat there overlooking the valley, I was not sure if I should expect Mr. Knightley to ride up for an afternoon visit or call for Jeeves to bring me another cup of tea.

TTFN! (Ta Ta For Now)

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Take a Break on “The Church Porch”

Posted By on May 24, 2014

Verse One

Thou, whose sweet youth and early hopes enhance
Thy rate and price, and mark thee for a treasure;
Hearken unto a Verser, who may chance
Rhyme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
A verse may find him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.

English poet George Herbert seems very far removed from evangelicalism in the 21st century. He was born in 1594 and died young, age 39, in 1633. He was well-born and well-educated. His destiny seemed to be a life of relative ease and political influence. But here is where the distance between Herbert and us closes– God grabbed hold of him and would not let go, as He does with all His chosen saints of all eras.

He was a man who knew experientially of a “sweet youth and early hopes.” His aristocratic family heritage and education at Trinity College, Cambridge seemed to suit him for “doing good by winning a place at the source of [political] power,” as men like John Winthrop and William Wilberforce were to do in their own times. But Herbert was grabbed and given what Scottish author George MacDonald would have called “a rough shaking.” He struggled with loss of friends and health and the dashing of his hopes for “usefulness.” [p. xvii]

Toward the end of his short life he was ordained as an Anglican minister and served in a small, struggling parish. It was there he wrote most of his rich and deservedly well-loved poetry– much of which was not published until after his death.

Biographer Isaak Walton, writing 40 years after Herbert’s death, recorded that Herbert on his deathbed sent “The Temple” to his friend Nicholas Ferrar. He said it contained “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts which have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master: in whose service I have now found perfect freedom.” [p. xvi] His personal desire for his poetic work, of which “The Church Porch” is a part, was in the Augustinian ideal of teaching and delighting. “If he [Ferrar] can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor Soul, let it be made publick: if not, let him burn it: for I and it are less than the least of God’s mercies.” [p. xvi]

“The Church Porch” is symbolically the way in, the beginning of being the fully consecrated temple of God’s Holy Spirit. In order to begin to be what God wants us to be once we have believed in the redemptive work of our Savior Jesus Christ, there are many steps to take in putting off the old man and putting on the new (Eph. 4). The seventy-seven verses of “The Church Porch” challenge us to turn our delight in Herbert’s crisp and often witty verses into a “living sacrifice which is our spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) What is that sacrifice? The presentation of our bodies– faulty and frail as they may be– to do always and only the will of God.

When Herbert was dying, a friend sought to comfort him by reminding him of all the good works he had done in his short lifetime. Herbert replied, “It is a good work, if it be sprinkled with the blood of Christ.”

It is with that understanding that we can be God’s treasure, “His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has foreordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) Let us walk up the steps of the church porch together.

Steps to Virtue

Watch for this book at Chambers College Press coming soon this summer.