Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: The Selfless Gene by Charles Foster

The Selfless Gene: Living with God and Darwin is Charles Foster’s attempt to reconcile Creationists with the followers of Richard Dawkins. In the first line of the Preface, Mr. Foster declares he is angry and worried. That anger is evident throughout the book
Also in the Preface, Mr. Foster writes “The biologists will think that I have oversimplified the biology. The nonbiologists will justifiably moan that I have summarized too brutally some very big and complex ideas.” The author is correct on both these assumptions.
This book insults born-again Christians, condescending to those who can believe without an explanation written in stone. Personally, I don’t know how bridges are built, yet I drive over them everyday, believing they will hold me up.
The book is written in scientific language that makes it difficult to read. I have a Master’s Degree in Science Education and teach at university level, but I struggled with some of the passages.
For someone trying to believe in both creation and Darwin, I think this book would leave them more confused than satisfied.
In Chapter Two of the book, the author says: A single explanatory principle would be very nice. I agree. Unfortunately, it can’t be found in this book.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Dipping Snuff

My grandmother, Georgia, was totally addicted to nicotine, getting her regular fixes in the form of snuff. If she were alive today, she would deny that she had ever been addicted to anything harmful to her body. It was as common as eating for most of the women of her era.

Georgia, like most of the others, had a small aluminum can that she kept her snuff in, tucked in her apron pocket. All women wore aprons, since they didn't change their house dresses everyday. All aprons were homemade, and all had two large pockets in the front. One pocket was for a hanky, and whatever was needed that day--safety pins, clothes pins, coins, etc. The other pocket was reserved for the little can of snuff.

The small snuff can probably held an ounce or maybe two. It had to be refilled regularly from the large glass container that snuff was purchased in. These glasses, about eight ounces, were prized for water and milk glasses when empty. They are still being sold at antique auctions in the area where I live.

Georgia held the ludicrous notion that no one outside her family knew she dipped snuff. Dipping since she was six years old, her tongue and gums were blackened from its use, a fact that could rarely be hidden. She abstained when she went to church, but that was about the only time she denied herself her habit.

In her later years, Georgia loved to read True Story and True Romance magazines. There wasn't much money to spend on magazines, so when someone bought one and read it, it was passed around to other readers. Georgia, often interrupted in her reading, used a bit of snuff to mark her spot. All the ladies of the neighborhood could easily discern the ones Georgia had already read.

Before air conditioning, most people spent their time on their front or back porches(future blogs coming on this). Georgia sat in her favorite chair near the edge, and expertly spit her snuff juice (I don't know what else to call it) off the porch. Since she had been doing this for years, there was a brown spot in the dirt where grass wouldn't grow and the chickens steered clear of. In the winter, she spit into the open fireplace. She was not the kind of woman who would keep nasty spit cups around.

My peers in the Baby Boomer generation would be horrified to think about putting powdered tobacco in their mouths, then spitting it out at regular intervals. Georgia's generation would probably think some of our habits are just as disgusting, but I can't think of any.

Moral: It's okay to let go of some traditions. While I would love to see the return of people sitting on their front porches, I hope communal spitting is over forever!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hymn: Does Jesus Care?

Pastor Frank E. Graeff had gone through a period of despondency, doubt, and physical pain. Every day, his despair deepened, pushing him farther down into a seemingly insurmountable dark pit. In the midst of his suffering,he remembered Ephesians 5:19.

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Out of his black depression, Pastor Graeff began singing the old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus. His heart flooded with what he described as "joy unspeakable and full of glory." He realized that his Savior did care, and penned this amazing song.

Does Jesus Care?
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief there is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks—
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

More than 100 years later, it is still being sung, still bringing comfort and peace.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:2-3

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Art: The Gift of Music

One of the great blessings we enjoy everyday is music.

It surrounds us; bird songs, traffic humming, wind.
Our Ipods, MP3 players, and all the newest technologies allow us to hide music in our ears and our hearts. Our homes and cars are equipped with satellite radios that offer everything imaginable.

Why do we desire, crave, consume all this music?

Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at The Boston Conservatory, shares his insights in an address there on September 1, 2004.

Olivier Messiaen was 31 years old and a French composer when he was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Olivier was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose his music. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote a quartet with these specific players in mind. His composition was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp.

Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire and his Quartet for the End of Time is considered one of the most profound musical compositions of all time.

Why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music in a concentration camp? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music?

And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.


Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life.

The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art.

Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are.

Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive..."

It was years ago, a summer night. Our family had just heard that someone loved had been in a horrific automobile accident; his chances of survival were slim. We were overwhelmed; we couldn't talk, watch television, play games like we usually did. We all congregated on the front porch, in the soft darkness, silent for a while. Then, someone started singing an old hymn, and the rest of us joined in. We were not gifted singers, we were not especially spiritual, we were not trying to impress anyone. The singing was spontaneous, possibly an act of grieving. The joining of young and old, male and female voices, calmed us, gave us strength. We endured.

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise' Revelation 5: 11-12

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We all seek it.

No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is, he feels that happiness is his indisputable right.
Helen Keller

All of us think we are truly deserving to be blessed of God, while those around us may not be. With finite judgment, we assume that they haven't gone through fire, haven't suffered like we have, haven't known the pain that has molded us.

We can't control life that happens around us; life must be lived, won't stop for us to breathe, won't stop for us to get things in order. It insists on constant movement. Unwanted, unexpected things are thrown at us constantly. The only power we have is to choose to deal with it positively or negatively. We can choose the better way, the blessed way.

To be blessed is to be happy, to live in joy, to be covered with peace.

King David, full of wisdom, beloved of God, who struggled with flesh but sought the heart of his Father, gives us guidelines for being blessed in the very first song and the very first verses of his incomparable book of Psalms.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked (people who have chosen to turn their back on his Word; self-avowed and proud sinners who dare you to challenge them; some Christians invite them into their living rooms for amusement) or stand in the way of sinners (but it is much easier to go along with the crowd than to be different, peculiar) or sit in the seat of mockers ( I know he makes fun of Christians, but I have to go along with what he says if I ever expect to get that promotion, to be elected, to be a part of the cool crowd).

But his delight (his joy, his peace, his contentment, his happiness) is in the law of the LORD ( the Word, the sword, the living bread we can freely eat, stuff ourselves with, pig out on!) and on his law he meditates day and night (it is what we think about when we rise, while we are doing dishes, on the way to work, while we teach, exercise, run the machines, stock the shelves, when we lay tired on our beds).

Consume these verses like good bread; eat them slowly, enjoy every morsel, let the taste linger in your mouth.

You will be consumed with His blessings, His joy.

That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.
Willa Cather

Friday, February 12, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Unrequited Love

It started on Decoration Day.

There I was, sunburned and peeling, in my new dress my mom made and a brand new pair of white, stark white high heeled shoes. Rather, they were white when I left home that morning, but by the time I made it to the spring, they were dusty and scuffed. I had strolled all morning up and down the road that connected the church house and cemetery, letting everyone know that I was there, hoping to impress some of the cool guys lounging on car hoods looking at girls.

The small church house was built on a rolling Tennessee hill. Its only source of water at the time was a natural spring at the bottom of the hill. The church had been there many, many years, and a well-worn path led one to the bottom for a drink of water at the spring. Rainfall, seeking its easiest path to the sea, had eroded the path into a gully, and the actual path was now beside the red clay gully, and one had to walk very carefully if one was wearing high heels for the very first time.

The spring itself was a thing of beauty. Someone had cut the top out of a sapling, making a handy place to turn a cup upside down. Everyone drank from this cup; I don't remember being overly concerned about germs or snuff juice. A huge oak had grown on one side of the spring, growing larger than most because of the available moisture. Years of erosion had washed the soil away from the biggest roots near the truck of the trees, and spread out on the hillside, these roots made natural seats. So all over the hillside, under the tree, the cool guys sat and stared at everyone who came to get a drink of water.

After a long morning of walking and looking indirectly at guys, my cohorts and I decided we would attempt a trip to the spring at the bottom of the hill to get a drink. We arrived there without incident, taking our time and holding on to one another when we started to slide. Everything got real quiet when we walked up to the spring.

A fellow, Donnie Joe, was sitting on one of the exposed roots looking at me. Apparently, he had fallen in love with me at first sight. Before this gets to sounding like something really romantic, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I did not fall in love with him, at first sight or any other way. There was absolutely no desire to share any of my time or DNA with Donnie Joe.

He sat there, bug-eyed (it was a natural thing, not caused by love), staring at me until I was even redder than I had been before. He was about seven feet tall and weighed around eighty pounds. His knees, prominent in his jeans as he sat on a root, was as big as his head, and the first thing anyone saw. His oil-soaked hair was combed straight back, and massive zits covered his face; some appeared to be moving, like a volcano just before it erupts. All the other girls had heard about him and avoided him, and now, he had picked me. He looked kinda like a baby calf; dumbfounded, pitiful,and very hungry.

There was some snickering, some snorting, some hiding of faces behind hands. I was quickly overcome with that sense we get when we know we are in a bad place and need to get out fast! Drinks forgotten, we struggled back up the hill, out of sight, and I thought that was the end of it. I was very wrong.

Donnie Joe hounded me for years. Everywhere I went, he was there. I stopped going to church completely, choosing to risk falling into the devil's arms rather than Donnie Joe's. The school bus was an hour of torture every school day. After boarding, I would quickly get on the front seat, surrounded by first-graders, where I was reasonably safe from having to talk to him, although I felt his piercing eyes on the back of my head. I could imagine my long stringy hair smoldering and igniting from the heat of those eyes!

After he started to drive, he would come to our house, pretending he wanted to visit with my older brother. My sweet brother, finding the whole thing hilarious and loving the power it gave him, consistently encouraged Donnie Joe. They speculated that I would come out of the house and join them sooner or later. It never happened. Trust me, it NEVER happened.

I fear that somewhere along the way, someone had erroneously suggested to Donnie Joe that he could have anything he wanted if he prayed for it long enough. Of course, God hears our prayers, but He chooses what is best for our lives. God had made plans for me to marry a tall, dark sweetie from Alabama long before I was born, and no amount of whining from Donnie Joe was going to change that (thank you, Lord)!

There is no doubt that Donnie Joe should have been rewarded for perseverance in impossible situations. He continued his quest to win my love, eternally optimistic, until that tall, dark sweetie started accompanying me everywhere I went. Before long, it became obvious to me, Donnie Joe, and the whole world that I had found my soul-mate, and nothing was going to change that.

After Hub and I were married, Donnie Joe finally realized that all hope was lost. He started dating someone, and soon married. I'm sure they lived happily ever after.

All these years later, I still think about Donnie Joe sometimes. My more mature mind can come up with scenarios that might have solved the situation in a kinder way. I realize I might have caused him some sadness and disappointment. However, it was his choice, and a smarter creature would have moved on long before Donnie Joe did. Sometimes I feel a little twinge of guilt, but I always get over it very quickly.

Moral of the Story: Sometimes its okay to let it go when it just was not meant to be. Give it up! Move on!

OR: Don't pray selfishly; our loving Father is not Santa Claus.

OR: Never walk to the spring in high heels.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Snowstorm


We have a snowstorm; unpredicted, no one had time to buy six gallons of milk!

The weather people said we had a slight chance of rain mixing with sleet before the temps got above freezing.

When I got up before seven, I was surprised to see a light coating on the deck. Next time I looked out, it was snowing unlike anything we are accustomed to seeing here in North Alabama.

First born granddaughter will be 14 in a few days, and it is the biggest snow she has ever seen! Almost four inches the last time I measured. We are loving it!

My apologies to you readers who are buried under huge accumulations of snow!
It will warm up later and melt; that's okay. It has been a special morning.

I am the Lord thy God,which brought ye out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 KJV

Friday, February 5, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Getting Ready for Decoration Day

By the late fifties, my grandmother's West Tennessee community had began to see some changes toward modernization. Some of her neighbors had been able to buy cars and telephones, and many had found employment outside of farming. For Grandma, life remained basically the same as it had for decades. She cooked, cleaned, and cared for her family using what the good earth and her husband, Charlie, could provide. Summer months were exhausting for her, with a huge vegetable garden that needed tending, producing abundant vegetables that had to be canned for the winter.

Grandma and her family attended the small Baptist church in the community. When it had been organized about a hundred years ago, the church charter had set aside the fourth Sunday in July for Decoration Day. Its stated purpose was for honoring the deceased and decorating their graves, but the real purpose was a special time to socialize and see people that only attended that one day of the year. It was the highlight of Grandma's year.

Like many of her generation, Grandma had been raised with very little material comforts, and knew how to be frugal. She believed that one new dress a year should be enough for anyone, and she sewed her new dress to be worn on decoration day. Usually a somber navy or black, the dress was made from looking at the pictures in the Sears catalog. Grandma knew it would eventually be recycled to a house dress, and purchased durable fabric that would last for years. The dresses deviated little from the basic design of button front with pockets. She conceded to short sleeves, more comfortable in the sweltering church house, knowing she could always add an extension to the sleeves for the colder months. Sometimes, if Charlie were able to find steady work, she got a new black hat to add to the finery.

Making the dress was secondary to the real job, which was creating loads of colorful crepe-paper flowers to cover the graves. The merchants in town stocked their shelves with every color available in crepe paper, but often, the more popular reds and greens sold out, leaving the procrastinators with blue roses with brown stems. That never happened to Grandma; she had her priorities straight and bought the crepe paper early in the spring, when it first appeared in the stores.

In early July, flower construction began in earnest. Every petal had to be cut out, then scraped with open scissors to make it curl just right. This step required copious amounts of time that Grandma could not spare from the gathering of vegetables, canning, and picking blackberries, so her grandchildren were allowed to participate in this process. The hundreds of petals had to be wired together on a stem of stronger wire, that had been wrapped in green crepe paper. No one could be trusted to do this properly, so Grandma had to do this part herself. She spent every spare minute she could find to make these flowers perfect. All the crepe-paper creations had to be finished by Friday night, leaving Saturday and Sunday morning for preparing food for the immense communal dinner.

In an era where housewives received little recognition for their talents, Decoration Day dinner was an opportunity to demonstrate domestic skills, especially cooking. All the ladies "showed off" by bringing their very best recipes.

The lemonade, chocolate cake, apple pies, and oatmeal cookies could be prepared on Saturday and packed in baskets to get a head start on Sunday's chores. Rising with Sunday's sun, Grandma caught, killed, dressed, and fried three chickens. She boiled green beans and peas, both fresh from the garden. She fried squash with onions, then a bowl of battered okra slices. Corn, both creamed and on the cob, were wrapped and packed with corn bread and biscuits. Her overflowing baskets and cardboard boxes were neatly covered with starched, embroidered tablecloths that would be spread on the tables.

During this frenzy of cooking, Grandma fed her family breakfast, packed the car with the food and flowers, then bathed and dressed. Grandma knew someone with a camera, and always asked that they come by and take a picture of her and Charlie in front of their prized flower garden. Charlie, tall and thin, in a new shirt that looked exactly like all his other shirts, stood soberly beside the smiling Georgia for the photograph.

The short, dusty ride to the church and cemetery seemed longer than it should have. Upon arrival, Grandma rushed to the job of decorating the graves. She had made large clusters of flowers for the special graves; two daughters, her parents, a good friend. Single stems were pushed down on the graves of others. Grandma always made extra flowers for graves that were neglected. After everyone else had finished decorating, she walked around, sticking a red one here, a yellow one there, not satisfied until every mound had been remembered. The small cemetery would be transformed into a colorful garden, and that brought immense joy to the gentle heart of my Grandma.

And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Winter Dreaming: Seed Catalogs

There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry. Benjamin Franklin

I love gardening.

Even as a child, I loved digging in the dirt, seeing seeds sprout, and watching plants grow to maturity and bear fruit. It is the best thing I have found to relieve stress.

We are an impatient lot here in the winter. Sometimes, warm autumn days will last until Thanksgiving, and daffodils are blooming by early March. Compared to others, out winter is relatively short. It is way too long for me.

Early in January, after the holidays are over and things are looking dark and bleak, there is a bright spot in my mailbox. Seed catalogs start arriving. I pour over them, devour them, like a good novel. They are a wealth of information, and they are free.

My absolute favorite is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( and I buy seeds from them every year.

For herbs, Richters ( the most complete source I have found. After I have ordered the seeds or plants I want, the catalog is kept as a reference tool.

I am not affiliated with either of these companies except as a grateful customer.

My gardening is limited to a small sunny spot in a city backyard; I have to be very choosy about what I plant. If I had an acre, it would all be full. Even in this small space, I am able to enjoy and share green beans, tomatoes, squash, several kinds of peppers, okra, and lettuce. Some years, I am able to add other things. I always grow many kinds of herbs, some in pots on the deck.

My granddaughters always help with what is growing. They love to pick green beans, as long as they don't have to eat them. In addition to learning traditional ways, they have learned to identify plants and insects. One astounded a crowd of people at Disney World who were mystified about a group of fragrant landscape plants; the six-year-old nonchalantly identified it as basil.

While we are wearing our heavy coats, surrounded by naked trees, I plan and dream.

Won't be long now.

And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.' Genesis 1:29