Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday morsel: turtle on a fence post

Just last week I posted about "Rejection" and my so-far unsuccessful attempts to have my stories and poems published.  Then this past Saturday in the newspaper, a local United Church minister, Bob Ripley, had a column on the very same subject of literary rejections.  He gave some great insights about the more general benefits that can be gleaned from something that feels so negative.  One benefit he mentioned was humility -- particularly the need to acknowledge that the success we do enjoy isn't all our own doing.  I liked this paragraph so much that I've decided to use it as today's Monday Morsel:

"Humble people remember their roots and avoid the heady intoxication of prestige.  They know that accolades should not be hoarded, that applause should be deflected.  If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help."
- Rev. Bob Ripley, "In Other Words" column - Kingston Whig-Standard, May 25, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

"When The Judge Gets Cross-Examined": guest post by Tim Fall

Today I'm very pleased to have a guest post from my online friend Tim Fall, who blogs at Just One Train Wreck After Another.  

To quote from his blog's "About" section:  "Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for 25 years with two kids (one in college and one just graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California."  

What this description doesn't tell you is that he's also a witty person with a love for the Bible and a gift for encouraging others.  I've been following his blog for several months now; I hope you'll take the time to check it out too.  If post titles like "Break Like the Wind, People!" and "Partying With Hookers -- Bring It On!" don't attract your interest, I don't know what will.

When I asked him to be my guest, I suggested he might participate in a Q&A with me about issues related to justice.  Not only did he readily agree, but he sent me the answers to my questions within about six hours of my asking them!  I hope you enjoy this interview (it includes some links to other posts Tim's written on related issues as well).

When The Judge Gets Cross-Examined

How would you define justice in legal terms and in God's terms?

Legally, justice is the pursuit of the best decision allowed under the law. If there’s a better result but the law does not allow it, then the law governs the result and we consider it just even if not ideal. (I wrote a bit on this here.)

God’s justice is complex because it cannot be viewed standing by itself. It must be considered as intertwined with humility and mercy (Micah 6:8), and as leading to the vindication of the few even if it means letting the multitudes off the hook. (Genesis 18:16-33.) Ultimately, that’s what Jesus did. He humbly performed an act of supreme mercy (Philippians 2:8), and did so in order to justify – or vindicate – some. (Luke 13:22-30.)

We hear people refer (sometimes disparagingly, sometimes admiringly) to "American-style justice." As a Canadian I'm wondering:  is there a unique American style of justice?

If we do have one, it is a product of our shared heritage with many other countries that benefit from the English Common Law tradition. This gives rise to many attributes of American-style justice, such as: a commitment to the rule of law and not rule by the whim of those in power; trial by jury for any charge that can lead to jail; public trials in open courtrooms.

You don’t need a vivid imagination to think of countries where these are not the norm. In fact, in some countries if you told people on the street that here in America judges asked citizens to come to the courthouse and make decisions for them, some people in foreign lands wouldn’t even understand the concept. They live in countries where the government doesn’t ask its people anything; the government tells its people what to do.

I’ll take American-style justice. (Here’s something I wrote on this a while back.)

Do you think the general public has appropriate expectations of what the justice system can accomplish? For example, we often hear people refer to victims' desire to "find closure" or "learn what really happened" through the justice process. Are these expectations realistic? What do you think the justice system is intended to accomplish, ultimately?

When I speak to civic groups and in school classrooms I try to get the point across that we have a legal system, not a justice system. If someone thinks that a court case will bring closure, I don’t think that’s any more realistic an expectation from the courts than some other part of life. And if they think they will find all the answers in a trial, I have to say that has never happened in my courtroom; I always know that there is more going on than has come out at trial. I think these shortcomings are functions of the fact that only God knows everything (Hebrews 4:13), including what is in a person’s heart. (Psalm 44:21.)

The legal system is designed to provide a neutral forum for the resolution of disputes, whether civil or criminal. Anything else is beyond its abilities.

I recently heard a speaker talk about punitive vs. restorative justice: as she saw it, the former asks "What crime was committed? Who did it? What punishment should they receive?" while the latter asks "Who was hurt? What do they need? Who is responsible for helping them get that need met?" Do you think this is a helpful distinction, and do you think the justice system has room for both of these perspectives?

Punitive justice is not only aimed at punishing the wrongdoing, but also preventing it by showing others what will happen when a crime is committed. (See Romans 13:5 for Paul’s insights on it.) Likewise, restorative justice has a broader aim than restoring the victim. It looks to restore the criminal to society as well. The truth and justice commissions in post-apartheid South Africa are a good example of how to do this right. (Here’s a piece on fairness from my archives.)

Do we have room for both restorative and punitive justice models? Probably, but I’m not sure society is willing to pay for both. Neither comes cheap separately, and together they would present a whopper of a tax bill.

Can you explain a little bit about the court you're involved with and what its place, and your place, is in the larger legal system?

In California the trial courts are courts of general jurisdiction. That means every kind of case you can think of under state law is filed in my courthouse: criminal, civil, family, juvenile, probate, etc. I’ve handled them all, but right now my case-load is criminal. I hear felonies, from the early stages through trial and on to post trial hearings like sentencing or probation violations. People who don’t like my decisions can appeal them, and above the Court of Appeal is the state Supreme Court. I’ve had cases go all the way up and then come all the way back down to me.

Mine is a small courthouse, by California standards. We have ten judges, and I am the second most senior. When I first started back in 1995, I would spend a lot of time on the phone calling other judges – either here or those I’d met from around the state – for advice on cases. A few years ago I noticed I was getting a bunch of phone calls from judges who wanted to run their cases by me, and I asked myself, “Why are they all calling me?” Then it hit me: “Because you’re an old guy, Tim!”

One of the things I do as a judge besides preside over cases is in the field of judicial ethics and education. I’ve been on a statewide ethics committee for a dozen years now, and teaching judicial ethics almost as long. Our committee operates a hotline for judges with ethics questions under our state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, and we get better than 400 calls a year. In the classes I teach (and I’ve taught hundreds of judges across the state over the years), we cover the types of issues judges face both on and off the bench (because those ethical regulations don’t stop applying when I walk down the courthouse steps). I am glad to serve in a state where judges have such a high commitment to acting right. (I wrote this on judges and ethical conduct.)

Do the people you see day in, day out seem to respect the legal system? Presumably you respect it, but are there ever times you get cynical? If so, how do you deal with that; and if not, why do you think that is?

Most of the people I see in and out of court seem to respect the system. Sure there are those who try to get out of jury duty because they think it’s a waste of time, or others who see the courts as just another way that those in power take advantage of those on the margins. But for the most part I think people get that the courts are part of what makes our society so much better than it would be without a robust judicial system.

I keep myself grounded in my job by staying focused on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2.) Of course, there are times when my gaze shifts elsewhere. I’m glad for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring me back on track. I can’t imagine allowing cynicism to rule when I can serve God in my job.


For another Q&A Tim has done on Michelle Van Loon's blog Pilgrim's Road Trip (looking at his work from a slightly different angle), go here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I've been writing short stories and poetry for a few years now, and while the process of writing and editing is enjoyable and fulfilling in itself, I can't help hoping that other people might like to read my work, too.  So I've been sending pieces out to various literary journals in hopes of getting published.

The result of these attempts is NOT a growing portfolio of published work ... but an ever-lengthening list of rejections.  Many are polite but impersonal:  "This piece isn't what we're looking for."  Some more recent ones have been polite and encouraging:  "This piece isn't what we're looking for, but please send us more work in the future."  Then a couple of months ago, nearly a year after sending a particular story to a journal I liked, I got a polite rejection that went even further.  It specified some difficulties the editor had with the story I'd sent, and ended with  "Please send us more stories, or a revision of this one."

I discussed this message with my writer's group, then went to work revising the story.  My group looked at it two more times.  By now the story was 400 words shorter and, I thought, much better.  I sent it back to the same journal in an optimistic spirit.  But a few weeks later I received a second rejection:  although they would welcome my sending more stories, this one still wasn't what they were looking for.

Now that's discouraging!  I know I'm biased, but I love this story.  The characters, though they aren't based on actual people, are almost as real to me as people I do know personally.  What happens to them, while low-key, seems (to me) believable and important.  Furthermore, those aspects were made even stronger and clearer in my revision.  But ... it's still not good enough.

I have to remind myself of a few things in light of this setback:

1.  The story may still not be what that journal is looking for, but it might be just the thing for another one.

2.  I strengthened my writing skills by revising the story:  I learned how to portray a character's emotional state more believably and clearly.

3.  I showed myself that I can incorporate criticism of my work to good effect.  That makes me feel confident that when I face another writing challenge, I may be able to meet that one, too.

4.  The editor did me a huge favour by not just rejecting the story the first time, but taking the time to give me specific feedback.  Now if I send it elsewhere, I can do so with greater confidence knowing it's a better piece of writing than it was three months ago.

5.  Rejection of my work is not rejection of me as a writer or as a person.  I have not (yet) received a rejection message that said, "Stop annoying us with your irritating attempts to make us publish your excruciatingly bad writing."

I'm going to try to remember these points in the future as I write and send work out.  More importantly, I'm going to try to remember them in relation to life in general.  We all have something to offer this world, and while it's scary to put ourselves out there and risk being told that we're "not what they're looking for," there are rewards as well.

It's also true that while there's rejection that's constructive and beneficial (like the kind I've discussed here), there's also rejection that's unfair and hurtful.  We need to be able to distinguish between the two and know when it's time to let something go and when it's time to protest on our own behalf or someone else's.  Maybe receiving constructive rejections can itself be a help to us in making those important distinctions.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday morsel: "to wait for morning"

Right now I'm re-reading (among other things) Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist as part of Classical Quest's synchro-read.  I read this book for a course back in university and am enjoying the opportuntiy to revisit it.  Dickens is so over-the-top in some of his satire that I sometimes find myself amused by his characters but not necessarily deeply touched by the plight of the poor in his novel.  But there are some very moving passages as well. I think this scene -- in which Oliver prepares to escape the undertaker's shop where he has been apprenticed -- is wonderful both at showing Oliver's suffering and at creating a vivid atmosphere.

It was not until he was left alone in the silence and stillness of the gloomy workshop of the undertaker, that Oliver gave way to the feelings which the day's treatment may be supposed likely to have awakened in a mere child.  He had listened to their taunts with a look of contempt; he had borne the lash without a cry:  for he felt that pride swelling in his heart which would have kept down a shriek to the last, though they had roasted him alive.  But now, when there were none to see or hear him, he fell upon his knees on the floor; and, hiding his face in his hands, wept such tears as, God send for the credit of our nature, few so young may ever have cause to pour out before him.

For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude.  The candle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet.  Having gazed cautiously around him, and listened intently, he gently undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad.


It was a cold, dark night.  The stars seemed, to the boy's eyes, farther from the earth than he had ever seen them before; there was no wind; and the sombre shadows thrown by the trees upon the ground, looked sepulchral and deathlike, from being so still.  He softly reclosed the door.  Having availed himself of the expiring light of the candle to tie up in a handkerchief the few articles of wearing apparel he had, sat himself down upon a bench, to wait for morning.

With the first ray of light that struggled through the crevices in the shutters, Oliver arose, and again unbarred the door.  One timid look around -- one moment's pause of hesitation -- he had closed it behind him, and was in the open street.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"No power of hell, no scheme of man"

This has been a sad week here in Ontario, and all of Canada, as we heard the news of the death of Tim Bosma.  Bosma, a 32-year-old husband and father, went out one evening with two men who wanted to test-drive the pickup truck he had for sale.  He never returned.  Several days later the truck was found and an arrest made.  Soon after, Bosma's burned body was found as well, and the suspect has been charged with first-degree murder.

The Bosma family attended Ancaster Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ontario.  Heidi De Jonge of Westside CRC here in Kingston (our former church) has asked all CRC churches to sing "In Christ Alone" today, May 19, as a way to stand in solidarity with Bosma's family, friends, and church.  I contacted our church's music leader as well to ask if we might do the same.  Today thousands of people across North America will be singing this song.

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song:
This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh:  fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied,
For every sin on Him was laid; here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory, sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine - bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death:  this is the power of Christ in me.
From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand.
Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

 (lyrics Stuart Townend, Keith Getty)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"We're not all the same"

Yesterday I spent a leisurely morning with a friend in her living room.  She had tea; I had coffee.  I had a muffin with raisins; she had one without.

These simple facts seemed to symbolize our entire conversation, which started before I'd even had a chance to sit down.  She had just listened to a radio interview with Alex Jamieson (wife of Morgan Spurlock of "Supersize Me" fame), who has chosen -- primarily for health reasons -- to begin eating some animal products after 12 years of veganism.  Jamieson wasn't suggesting that others should do what she's doing; the decision just seemed right for her.  "This tells me," my friend said, in her thoughtful, smiling way, "that we're not all the same."

We talked about how Jamieson is getting a huge backlash from vegans who feel that she's betrayed them or that she couldn't have been a "real" vegan after all.  And we commented on how we sometimes hold so tightly to our own views of right-and-wrong, black-and-white, that we feel threatened by anyone who suggests (1) maybe my right is your wrong; or (2) maybe there is some gray in there among the black and white extremes.

We moved on to other topics, but the incredibly freeing concept of "we're not all the same" informed everything we talked about for the next hour and a half:  books we'd read, choices we had made or were yet to make, our children's life paths, and more.

I don't want to sound like we were advocating some airy-fairy "create your own truth" perspective.  Both of us are Christians, and we believe in absolutes.  After our time together I thought about what my absolutes as a Christian might be, and the first thing that came to mind was Micah 6:8:

"He has shown you ... what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

That's a statement I know my friend and I would wholeheartedly agree on.  But for each of us to dictate the details of exactly what that has to look like in the other's life just isn't possible or even desirable.  We don't create our own truth, but we do respond differently to the truth we see and hear.  Perhaps if we could allow others the same freedom we would want for ourselves, we might become more accepting and loving people, better able to trust God's ability to speak into the other person's life and be heard and obeyed by that person.  And maybe we'd have more courage to do what seems difficult ourselves because we'd be listening to the One Voice that speaks into our hearts, not worrying about whether our choices are different from what another person might have done.

So what might have seemed like just a conversation over different beverages ended up being a celebration of freedom and friendship.  And like most celebrations, it was over all too soon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Who am I?

Apparently, this is who I am.  At least Jonathan thinks so.  He worked on this very special Mother's Day card for the last two weeks at school with his educational assistant, Mr. O.  Jonathan was also able to read the entire card aloud to me, and he wrote his name at the bottom in very readable letters.

This card tells me who I am, who Jonathan is -- and more than that, who we are together.  We do the same simple things over and over, day after day.  Those things are boring at times (I wouldn't miss "yellow-blue-red" if I didn't do it for, say, a few years), but they bring a sense of joy and security.   

Jonathan's secret to happiness seems to be doing the things he loves with the people he loves.  

Not a bad way to live.

Monday morsel: "the light of Truth"

I just finished reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (having heard so much about it from Adriana at Classical Quest and because it was one of those biggies I'd never read).  It's an amazing book in many ways.  The story of the doomed Anna is quite heartbreaking, but I had much more of an emotional connection to the plot line about Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shcherbatsky.

Levin (a kind man but a bit of a cranky-pants) has proposed to his beloved Kitty (a sweet, loving young woman) and been accepted -- but before he marries her he must make confession and take communion.  This makes him extremely uncomfortable because he sees himself as a doubter and an unbeliever and hates the idea of pretending to be something he is not.  This scene is from his confession, where he has just admitted his doubts.

[The priest] said to him:

"You are about to enter into matrimony, and it may be that God will reward you with offspring, is it not so?  Well, then, what sort of upbringing can you give your little ones, if you don't overcome in yourself the temptation of the devil who is drawing you into unbelief?"  he said in mild reproach.  "If you love your child, then, being a good father, you will not desire only wealth, luxury and honour for him; you will desire his salvation, his spiritual enlightenment with the light of Truth.  Is it not so?  What answer will you give when an innocent child asks you:  'Papa!  Who created everything that delights me in this world -- the earth, the waters, the sun, the flowers, the grass?'  Will you really say to him, 'I don't know'?  You cannot not know, since the Lord God in His great mercy has revealed it to you.  Or else your little one will ask you:  'What awaits me in the life beyond the grave?'  What will you tell him, if you don't know anything?  How will you answer him?  Will you leave him to the temptation of the world and the devil?  That's not good!"  he said and stopped, inclining his head to one side and looking at Levin with meek, kindly eyes.

 Levin made no reply, now not because he did not want to get into an argument with a priest, but because no one had ever asked him such questions; and before his little ones asked him such questions, there was still time to think how to answer.

"You are entering upon a time of life," the priest went on, "when one must choose a path and keep to it.  Pray to God that in His goodness He may help you and have mercy on you," he concluded.  "May our Lord and God Jesus Christ, through the grace and bounties of His love for mankind, forgive you, child..." and, having finished the prayer of absolution, the priest blessed and dismissed him.

On returning home that day, Levin experienced the joyful feeling of having ended his awkward situation and ended it in such a way that he had not needed to lie.  Apart from that, he was left with the vague recollection that what this kindly and nice old man had said was not at all as stupid as it had seemed to him at first, and that there was something in it that needed to be grasped.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

I've had the privilege of spending Mother's Day 2013 
with my daughter, and my mom, ...


and my mother-in-law.

I feel blessed to have these special women in my life.

(top photo Ray Vos, July 2010; bottom photo Jeannie Prinsen, June 2012)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday morsel, birthday edition

Happy birthday to my husband.  Rich, you look as good today as you did 49 years ago.  
God bless you today and always -- with love from me and the kids!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. 
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,   
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."
Hebrews 12:1-2

Today's Monday morsel consists of the words from Doug and the Slugs' song "Day By Day" -- 
which I think gives a good picture of how Richard lives his life.

Bad news don't ruin my appetite; don't let the papers tell me if it's wrong or right.
I just do what I do and I do it day by day by day by day.
I live life, might take it slow; make mistakes but oh, that's the way it goes.
I just know what I know and I know it day by day by day by day

Day by day I'm feeling stronger
Day by day I'm lasting longer
Day by day you help me make my way.

I speak up when I feel it's right; I jump up when I know that I've got to fight.
Until then, I just take it day by day by day by day

Day by day I'm feeling stronger
Day by day I'm lasting longer
Day by day you help me make my way.

(With you) don't worry about it
Day by day by day by day

Sometimes, late at night, I feel strangely blue,
Sometimes, late at night, I need what I get from you,

Day by day, you show me a better way; day by day, you help me to find a place.
Day by day, you help me make it day by day by day by day by

Day by day I'm feeling stronger
Day by day I'm lasting longer
Day by day you help me make my way.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

"It may or may not happen again"

I may as well get this confession out of the way first:  our family is not perfect.

Richard has this joking comment he often makes to Allison when he's handed her the wrong thing at supper, or bumped into her, or mis-heard her, or committed some other minor infraction:  "I'm sorry; it may or may not happen again."  It's become a common remark in our house to the point that if I say it, Allison replies wryly, "You sound like Dad." It's a really apt comment, though; after all, it would be ridiculous to rashly promise that we'll never make a mistake like that again when, in all likelihood, we will.

I was reminded of that yesterday morning when I got embroiled in a conversation that sounded all too familiar:


Jonathan was yelling.

I told him to stop.

Allison said, "It's all right."

I asked her why she was joining in the discussion.

She replied, "Because I want to make everything all right and make everybody happy!"

I told her it wasn't her responsibility to do that.

She got upset and cried.

After she came back from getting dressed, I asked if I could give her a hug, which she reluctantly agreed to.  I said, "You know I love you, right?"


"And you know we all love each other in this family, right?"

"Yeah ... but the same thing is just going to happen again next time."

And she's probably right.  Jonathan will yell, I'll reprimand him, she'll try to make everything okay again, and I'll tell her not to get involved.  Why should I assume that something that's happened a hundred times before will never happen again?

Still, it got me thinking about this pattern and wondering what I can do to change it even a little bit.  I feel sad that she feels responsible to smooth things over, especially when these types of exchanges are bound to occur in the future; that's a lot of weight to carry around.  Maybe I need to have a conversation with her about how we all might better respond to Jonathan's challenging behaviour.  She might have some good ideas about what would make her more comfortable.  And maybe I need to remind her again that she's not expected to make everything better.  And that I love her ... And that I love Jonathan ...  And that it may or may not happen again ...