October 14, 2019

Monday with Michael Spencer: Trusting the Father?


Monday with Michael Spencer: October 14, 2019
Trusting the Father?

Yesterday, I experienced the great part of being a teacher; one of those experiences that make all the others worth it.

It was in my advanced placement English IV class. Our brightest seniors. I’m fortunate to be able to work with them.

A few days before we’d taken our final exam, and with two days left in the quarter, I decided to show the 1989 Peter Weir movie, Dead Poet’s Society, featuring Robin Williams in one of his finest performances, and then write an essay.

It’s the late 1950s, and conformity is in the air at little Welton Academy, a college prepatory boarding school where Mr. Keating has been hired to teach senior English. Keating tosses the boys some high-grade existentialism and budding beat philosophy along with an adolescent love of romantic literature. The effect of Keating’s mentoring on his young charges is explosive, with results varying from the revelatory to the tragic.

If you haven’t seen the film in the last twenty years, then prepare for a spoiler. One of the boys, Neil Perry, has been ordered by his compulsively authoritarian father to become a doctor. Neil has little reason to resist until the acting bug bites and, against his father’s express wishes, he plays the part of Puck in a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His father is furious and pulls Neil out of Welton with the intention of sending him to military school.

His first night home, Neil commits suicide.

I asked my students to write Neil a letter, assuming that he would read it before killing himself. I’ve done this assignment before, but this time I asked the students to read their letters before the class, with one student designated as a responder.

Predictably, all of the students advised Neil, among other things, to wait till he was 18, then do whatever he wanted to do, no matter what his father wanted for him. The point was getting out from under the authoritarian father and doing whatever you most wanted to do in life.

It was a good assignment and we had a good discussion. Then I asked Kim Kwan, one of my Korean students, to read his letter.

We have a lot of Korean students. They are, in the main, some of our hard-working and most successful students. I’m fascinated by the process they are part of as they bridge two cultures. This is particularly obvious on the subject of the value of education, as we were about to learn.

Kim very matter of factly told the class that Neil should obey his parents and become a doctor. Kim said that Neil’s parents had sacrificed for him and they loved him. His greatest happiness should be in doing what they wanted him to do in life.

My American students were stunned, to say the least.

Further, Kim said he related to Neil because he had wanted to be in the hotel industry, but his family wanted him to be a dentist. Without any of the expected bribery, his parents simply told him that he should be a dentist, and he changed his mind and vocational direction. His parents, he said, were willing to work hard and sacrifice so he could become a dentist, and he beleived their wisdom was best for him. He could make many persons’ lives better as a dentist, and he might even make enough money to buy a hotel. It might be difficult sometimes to make this choice, but it was the right decision and the way to the most happiness.

He trusted his parents, and he wanted to honor them.

The reaction of our students — and my own — was fairly predictable. We simply would never go this far. In fact, I have doubts, as a Christian, that anyone should go this far, though I have no problem with using as much influence as possible to keep a student in school and in a position to make a choice of careers based on a degree and an education.

But deciding for them? Like an arranged marriage? Believing that I know what my son or daughter should do with the rest of their lives? I’m not that competent. My own feelings about freedom are mixed in with my desire to be a good parent. In the end, I support my children’s decisions about vocation.

But I’m also an American. I’ve never believed that self-sacrifice was all that great an idea. My students and I are hard-wired to avoid difficult choices that might be less than what we wanted at the time. Why can’t we all do what we want as much of the time as possible? Why trust anyone when you can follow your own dreams and desires?

Kim was telling us that, in his worldview, doing what he wanted was not the way to happiness. Trusting his parents was the way to happiness, even if it meant sacrifice, suffering, an uphill struggle in a career that wasn’t his first choice.

Honoring his parents was more important to him than doing what he wanted to do.

We wanted his parents to make their happiness dependent on letting Kim do whatever he wanted to do.

Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s where I’m going.

I thought about it all day.

I should trust and honor God. I should trust his choices that are not my first choices. I should trust the sacrifice he has made for me. What further proof do I need that he is for me and wants what is best for me?

Why do I assume that the Gospel is all about a God who makes my happiness and a guarantee of my choices his greatest concern? Why do I assume that discipleship is a process where I will always get what I want, the way I want it, when I want it?

Why do I think that the way chosen for me by a loving Father can’t possibly be that path of sacrifice; that path of difficulty?

Why does what Kim Kwan is saying sound so strange to me? Why does it sound so unlike the way I want God to be?

Why does it irritate me that he trusts his parents so much?

Today, I was the student and my Korean friend was the teacher. I’m not signing up for the superiority of this way of being family, but I see the beauty of it as well as the weaknesses. What I see most clearly of all is what Ravi Zacharias called “the imprint of the Father” on the human soul; the deeply imprinted fingerprints of a time when we trusted God more than we trusted ourselves. The deep imprint of what it means to be made in such a way that you know your happiness and your own choices are not the ultimate path to joy.

The shadow of the cross that lies at the heart of the Father’s love; the cross that made Paul say “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

Dispatch — Homeward Bound: October 13, 2019

Pienza, silhouetted against the setting sun

Dispatch — Homeward Bound: October 13, 2019

I am not one of those Christians who feels skittish about using the words “lucky” or “fortunate.” Some people I know feel compelled to say they are “blessed” when something good happens in their lives, and that’s okay I guess. However, it tends to raise questions of theodicy — If I am blessed, what about those times when things go wrong or even horribly wrong? Am I then cursed? What about those who do not have all the privileges, advantages, and “blessings” that I have? Am I more blessed than them? Why would that be?

So, “lucky” and “fortunate” work fine for me. From my limited human perspective, there is no accessible metaphysical reason why I should have been allowed, for example, to have taken this three-week trip to Switzerland and Italy with my wife and enjoy it to the full. And though there are increasing concerns about the impact of “over-tourism” as populations and prosperity increase, I still can’t help but feel we are among the 1% when it comes to our good fortune in being able to travel like this.

Monticchiello by lamplight

I am aware that it is due to many people in our lives. Our parents, who have supported us and provided for us generously. Our children and grandchildren, who watched over our home while we were away. Our colleagues at work and at church, who took over duties in our absence. Pastor Dan and the other writers who went the extra mile and pitched in here at Internet Monk. And a host of others.

As we fly home today, then, I am feeling both blessed and lucky. I am thankful to God, the source of all blessings in Christ through the Holy Spirit. And I am awed at what a lucky man I am. I can’t explain it all, but there it is.

I wish with all my heart that all people would be as blessed and lucky as I am.

St. Benedict blessing pilgrims who leave the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Saturday Brunch, October 12, 2019

Hello friends, and welcome to the weekend? Better have some brunch before your big plans for the day.

Regular commentator Ted said on Tuesday that I should include cats in my column this week. I always obey Ted; he has some rich blackmail material on me. So I will be throwing in some random cat videos of cats. Hope you enjoy. Let’s start now.


When Paul Gilmore was 13 his family emigrated from England to Australia. Paul got a little bored on the long boat ride, so wrote a letter asking someone to be his penpal, put it in a bottle, and threw it overboard. Last week the bottle was found by nine-year-old Jyah Elliott — FIFTY YEARS later. Jyah found the bottle on a beach in South Australia, and wrote back on Tuesday.

It was a cold-blooded crime. Reptile breeder Brian Gundy had just given a talk and animal presentation Saturday at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in downtown San Jose. While going to get his car parked on the second level of the Fourth and San Fernando Street garage about 4:30 p.m., he left his his snakes and lizards in boxes and a bag in a no-parking zone.

When he returned for his critters, he made a grim discovery.

“As I was loading up my gear, I realized the bag that had my four pythons and blue skink lizard inside was gone and they were just there seconds ago.”

I feel really bad for the snakes, but I would LOVE to see the thief’s reaction when he opened that bag—hopefully in really small car.



Well, this is interesting: A new experiment proves that giant molecules can exist in two places at once: “Giant molecules can be in two places at once . . . That’s something that scientists have long known is theoretically true based on a few facts: Every particle or group of particles in the universe is also a wave—even large particles, even bacteria, even human beings, even planets and stars. And waves occupy multiple places in space at once. So any chunk of matter can also occupy two places at once. Physicists call this phenomenon ‘quantum superposition,’ and for decades, they have demonstrated it using small particles. But in recent years, physicists have scaled up their experiments, demonstrating quantum superposition using larger and larger particles. Now, in a paper published Sept. 23 in the journal Nature Physics, an international team of researchers has caused molecule made up of up to 2,000 atoms to occupy two places at the same time.”

We’re gonna need more cream cheese: A semi-trailer hauling 38,000 pounds of bagels erupted into flames Sunday night in Northwest Indiana.

On the plus side, now they’re already toasted!

Why do zebras have stripes? Japanese researchers had a theory that they wanted to test out: that the stripes confused flies, who then bit the zebras less often than they would if they had no stripes. But how to test this? Well, why not paint some stripes on cows? 

Sure enough, the striped bovines had 50 percent less flea bites than their plain-jane sisters.

What is the oldest restaurant in the world? “A tiny trattoria in Rome that specialises in tripe and boasts Caravaggio, Goethe and Keith Richards among its past customers has laid claim to being the world’s oldest restaurant and hopes to knock a Spanish rival out of the record books.”



Apple removes app: The company took down HKmap.live, which let protesters in Hong Kong track the police, after intense criticism from China.

Alex Cameron is no fan of street art. In fact, he argues that street art is a crime and should be punished not celebrated:

“Street art is an individual act that speaks of a chronic lack of consideration for anyone else. Its creators think they know best. They decide what, when and where. The people who live there, and must live with it, don’t have a say. There is no ‘demand’ for street art from ordinary people, and there is no consensual or participatory impulse on the part of the artist. It is only one person’s view of what should be and what is good for ordinary people. It is the act of an entitled, middle-class narcissist.”



Dominic Green laments the decline of American arts: “Everything is derivative and nostalgic. Nothing of note happened in painting or dance — or criticism, because the task of the American critic is to write obituaries and rewrite press releases. In music, Taylor Swift, once the Great White Hope of a dying industry, emitted a scrupulously bland album by committee. The jazz album of the year was, as it was last year, a studio off cut from John Coltrane, who died in 1967. The show, or what remained of it, was stolen by Lizzo, an obese but self-affirming squawker who, befitting an age of irony and multi-tasking, is the first person to twerk and play the flute at the same time. Meanwhile at the Alamo of high culture, 87-year-old John Williams marked the Tanglewood Festival’s 80th anniversary by perpetrating selections from Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan for an audience of equally geriatric and tasteless boomers.”

Do you agree?


When did the universe stop making sense? That’s the question LiveScience asked this week:

We’re getting something wrong about the universe.

It might be something small: a measurement issue that makes certain stars looks closer or farther away than they are, something astrophysicists could fix with a few tweaks to how they measure distances across space. It might be something big: an error — or series of errors — in  cosmology, or our understanding of the universe’s origin and evolution. If that’s the case, our entire history of space and time may be messed up. But whatever the issue is, it’s making key observations of the universe disagree with each other: Measured one way, the universe appears to be expanding at a certain rate; measured another way, the universe appears to be expanding at a different rate. And, as a new paper shows, those discrepancies have gotten larger in recent years, even as the measurements have gotten more precise.

They also gave us this really cool illustration of the problem. To understand it go here: 

Related question: How likely is it that our brains — part of the physical universe — will ever fully be able to understand the physical universe?

Here is Alex Noel who won the New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off with a  2,294.5 pounds gourd:


Hmmm…this doesn’t seem right: a study claims that one American in four has NEVER eaten vegetables? How is that possible?

Best and worst candies? As soon as October hits, debates on hot-button political issues take a backseat to what might be the most important discussion of all time: Which Halloween candy is the best, and which is the worst? To find out, CandyStore.com aggregated data from several best and worst lists from sources like Business Insider, Bon Appétit, and BuzzFeed, and combined its findings with surveys from more than 30,000 of its customers. The results are about as close to a definitive answer as we can maybe ever hope to get.

10 Best Halloween Candies

  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  2. Snickers
  3. Twix
  4. Kit Kat
  5. M&Ms
  6. Nerds
  7. Butterfinger
  8. Sour Patch Kids
  9. Skittles
  10. Hershey Bar

10 Worst Halloween Candies

  1. Candy Corn
  2. Circus Peanuts
  3. Peanut Butter Kisses
  4. Wax Coke Bottles
  5. Necco Wafers
  6. Tootsie Rolls
  7. Smarties
  8. Licorice
  9. Good & Plenty
  10. Bit-O-Honey

In case you don’t recognize the name of some of these, here is a visual

Worst Halloween Candy Top Ten

This part surprised me. How can anyone think candy corn is worse than those nasty, chalky necco wafers, or those peanut butter kisses with the consistency of wet cement? How would you vote?


Well, that’s it for this week. Chaplain Mike will be back at the con next week. See ya!

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