Thursday, January 30, 2014

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN (Part 2)

(Scroll down below this post to read Part 1)

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah is commonly called “the weeping prophet.” The reason for this is that in his writings, he often expresses a deep sorrow that he feels.

It was Jeremiah who said, “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night!” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Jeremiah by Rembrandt
Why did Jeremiah weep? I could turn to multiple passages in his book that indicates why, but here is an example:


My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me.

Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land:

“Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?”

“Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign idols?”

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. (Jeremiah 8:18-21, ESV)



Jeremiah was not the only Old Testament prophet who mourned for his people. Daniel also felt this ache of heart. In fact, it was largely because of the writings of Jeremiah that Daniel experienced his own sorrow. Daniel wrote:


Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. (Daniel 9:3-6, ESV)



I am going to quote only one more prophet, although you can turn to almost any of the Old Testament prophets and find in their writings words of mourning and lamentation for their rebellious people. This time it is the words of Micah we read.

After summarizing the sins of his people Micah says, “For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable, and it has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem” (Micah 1:8-9, ESV).

In these cases and many others in the Old Testament, the true followers of God were in mourning for their people. They were a people who once knew the Lord but had strayed far away from him and held to other teachings - teachings of the world.



As we return to the New Testament, we see that this type of mourning also continued with these writers. The Apostle Paul was heart broken by the activities that were taking place within some of the churches that he had established.

The church that was in the city of Corinth was the worst example to what depths some of the churches had fallen so early after their establishment. Paul rebukes the people there, saying “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles.”

In this case, the immorality did not come in exactly the same form as the people for whom the Old Testament prophets mourned, but at the heart of the matter, it was the same. It was rebellion against their God.

Paul’s rebuke to the church was that they had just seemed to accept this new standard of morality. Paul scolded them for not taking action against it, but even before that, he reprimanded them because they did not mourn over the situation. “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” (1 Corinthians 5:2, ESV).

Paul later expressed a concern that he had for when he would eventually again visit them. “I fear that when I come again… I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced” (2 Corinthians 12:21, ESV).

I earlier spoke of James instructing us to mourn. When when he does so, it is not because of the sin that still may exist in our own lives. For these sins the proper response is that we repent and then are forgiven.
           Rather, James instructs us to mourn for the lost communion with God among the people of the church. Before calling us to mourn and to weep, he gives the reason for doing so:


What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel…You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4, ESV)



Today in our own nation, many are acting politically and socially to fight against a standard of morality that they see as going against the teachings of God. They are taking legal action, and acting in the media and otherwise to awaken people to return our culture to Godly standards.
          They may be correct in doing so. It may be needed. However, before all of this, we are first called to mourn over our situation.

We hear many calls for action. We are urged to write our government representatives, to sign petitions and to protest. Almost every day we are called to "repost" something on Facebook.
          All of this may be fine, but where is the call to mourn? This, before anything else, is the pattern given to us in Scripture. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”


Monday, January 27, 2014

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN (Part 1)


We have heard the words of Jesus. They are part of a portion of the New Testament that we call the Beatitudes. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

To mourn is to express sorrow or grief over the loss of something or someone. We think of mourning especially in the context of the death of someone that we love. When this one is gone, we mourn.

We weep, we feel empty inside, and the world to us has lost its color. This is what it is to mourn.

This teaching in the book of Matthew was given to the
Sermon on the Mount by Rossilli, Sinstine Chapel
disciples of Jesus and is still intended for his disciples. When Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are those who mourn,” the mourning over the death of someone is included in this blessing. Jesus put no conditions on the cause of our mourning, but only the promise that we shall be comforted.

But there are other types of mourning. In fact, the New Testament writer James even instructs us to mourn. He says, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom (James 4:9 NAS).

Why would James instruct us to mourn? It certainly cannot be in the context of mourning over the death of someone we love. Under normal circumstances, that type of mourning comes naturally. We do not have try to mourn.
It is true that there are times, when someone who has lost a person that they love, that they keep their feeling bottled up inside. These have to be encouraged to let their mourning be expressed outwardly. But this is not the type of mourning that James is talking about.

But if it is not this, then what is it? Some have suggested that it should be mourning over our sinful condition, but neither do I think that this is primarily what James is talking about. Nor Jesus for that matter. Like Jesus, James was talking to believers – those who followed Jesus and who looked to him to deal with their sin. This does not seem to me to be a cause for mourning, but for celebration!

Rather, I think that Jesus and James were talking primarily about the kind of mourning that we should be doing in our society today. I refer to mourning over the condition that we have allowed our social order to sink. To be able to see this, it may first be helpful for us to look at the other places in the New Testament where this word, to mourn (Greek word pentheo), is used.

Jesus used the word two other times in the New Testament. The first use is in Matthew 9:15. He said to his listeners, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (ESV).

In this example, the mourning does not take place when the bridegroom is present, but when he is taken away. I should say that references in the New Testament to the bridegroom usually have a symbolic reference to Jesus himself, the Messiah. But the point that is important in this discussion is that the guests mourn (they fast) at their loss of the bridegroom.

The other time that Jesus used this word for mourn is in Luke 6:25. This is also in the context of the giving of the Beatitudes, but it is on a different occasion and this time was to not only the disciples of Jesus, but to a crowd of people, both believers and non-believers.

After talking about the blessings of God to this crowd, Jesus begins to recite the woes of those without God. Jesus said this: “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (ESV).

Here again we see that there is also a mourning, but in this case there is no promise of blessing. Instead, it is a mourning that is taking place because of the loss that the ungodly feel for all of their worldly possessions.

Mourning of this type will be vividly seen in the expressions of the “Kings of the Earth” in the future during the last days. This is recorded for us in the book of Revelation. These kings will witness the fall of the city of Babylon, which may or may not be a literal city, but with certainty, it is the representation of the pinnacle of the world economic system.
I am going to quote quite a long portion of scripture, but it is worth reading every word. I have underlined the three uses of the word mourn (pentheo).
In the passage of Revelation, the Kings of the Earth are looking at the fall of this great city. In their torment, here is what they cry:


“Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.


“The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”

The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?”


And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. (Revelation 18:10-19 ESV)


This is the mourning of the ungodly. This is the mourning of all who have placed, still do place, and will place their hopes of fulfillment in this world’s goods and economic system.

There is no promise of comfort here, no blessing. This is a type of mourning without blessing. This instead is the mourning included in the woes.

What then is the kind of mourning that Jesus said will be returned for blessing? What then is the kind of mourning that James instructs us to do? To learn that, we will look at a couple of Old Testament examples.

I will post this in a couple of days.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

SWEDES LOVE COFFEE

In my reading about Swedish history and culture relating to the novel that I am writing, I sometimes find myself following a rabbit off into the brush. Here is one of those rabbit trails...


Swedes love coffee. They always have, at least since the early 18th century. But coffee’s beginning in Sweden was small. At first, only about a pound of it was taken to Sweden in the year 1685. It did not even start out as a drink, but was instead sold in pharmacies of Göteborg for its medicinal benefits.
Its earliest popularity as a drink is Sweden really began in about 1700 when King Karl XII returned to the homeland after several years of waging war against the Russians. Much of his foreign stay was in Turkey, where he developed a liking for the Turkish drink. When he returned to Sweden, he brought with him as much coffee as his mounted entourage could bring with them. They had coffee every day in the Swedish royal court.

From this beginning, the popularity of coffee quickly spread, first among the wealthy class and then to all of the people. Coffee began to be imported and coffee houses started up in the larger towns. People started to meet for kafferep.
Not all Swedes were happy about the nation-wide consumption of coffee, however. In 1746 the national health authority warned against excessive use of not only coffee, but also of tea. The following year the government imposed a tax on these drinks, and soon there was a push in the parliament for the prohibition of coffee. The law passed, but the prohibition did little to stop the consumption of coffee; coffee beans now instead were smuggled into the country and secret coffee clubs opened. The prohibition ended in 1769.

KING GUSTAV III
But that was not the end of it. Gustav III became king of Sweden in 1771, and he was adamantly against the drinking of coffee. The king took to heart the warnings of the national health authority, and believed consumption of coffee and tea to be detrimental to the health of the people. To prove his belief, he ordered a scientific experiment.
The opportunity for the experiment came when he was told of the criminal trials of two identical twins. Both were tried in the court, found guilty of their crimes, and both sentenced to death. King Gustav commuted their death sentence to one of life imprisonment, under the condition that one of the prisoners drink three pots of coffee every day, and the other three pots of tea. Two physicians were appointed by Gustav III to oversee the experiment and report their findings to the king. His expectation was that in drinking this much of the caffeinated beverages, they would surely die soon, or in the least become very ill.
However, the experiment was never concluded. The two doctors died of natural causes before the coffee and tea drinkers succumbed to the brew. The tea drinker finally did die at the age of 83, and the coffee drinker some years after that. Gustav III was assassinated in the year 1792, so neither did he get to see the end of the experiment.

CARL LINNAEUS
Neither did Carl Linnaeus see the end of this scientific experiment. Carl Linnaeus, you may remember, was one of the more famous Swedes of late history. Linnaeus was the botanist who developed the genus and species system of the biological naming of living organisms, the system that we still use today. Linnaeus knew of this coffee experiment, but like Gustav III, he died before it was concluded.
Linnaeus did not dismiss the warnings against coffee drinking, but still he considered coffee as a healthy drink, "as long as it was not taken too close to bedtime," he said. In fact, Linnaeus seemed to enjoy the entire coffee culture of the Turks. While he was in the Royal Swedish Court, he realized that he needed to conduct himself with a certain decorum, like a Frenchman. However, while at home, he followed a different standard.
This standard was, the way Linnaeus put it, “When we are at home, we live like Turks: a long and wide dressing gown, loose slippers, a big and white cap, we smoke our tobacco just like Turks; so that the Turks have taught us to dress at home and to drink coffee.”
The health effects of coffee consumption were long debated in the Sweden of the 1700’s, and numerous bans against coffee were attempted even until the 1820’s. But in the end, the coffee culture prevailed. After the last ban was lifted, coffee quickly established itself as the national drink of Sweden. Since that time, Sweden has been among the countries with the highest per capita coffee consumption in the world. They drink even more coffee than the Turks, the friends of King Karl XII and the relaxation mentors of Carl Linnaeus.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

THE NEIGHBOR NYMAN



(...picking up the story just after I talked about the hunger years that afflicted Sweden and Finland in the 1860's. Any advice on my use of the Swedish language and culture are very welcome)


These were realities from that time that Anders remembered well, but in his younger years, as he was growing up, those things never entered his mind. Anders’ home province of Värmland is a land of hills and forests, rivers and lakes.

As a lad, he had spent many hours and even days wandering through the forests around his home area, discovering secret spots that he was sure had never before been seen by any man. It was a place that gave a boy the room and the time to think. It was a place for an imaginative mind. It was a place that not only allowed one to dream, it encouraged it. Anders considered himself fortunate to be raised in such a beautiful place of nature.

However, despite the natural beauties of the province, it was not one of the wealthier areas of Sweden. The soil was not as fertile as it is in some other parts of the country, and every year it was a challenge to wrench a crop out of the fields. Farms were small, and the people were poor.

 As his old neighbor Nyman once told Anders when he was a boy, “The hills may be beautiful, but you cannot eat them.”

That was the pragmatic side of Nyman. He was a farmer who lived just about two miles away from Anders’ family’s torp. Anders used to go and see Nyman often as a boy – almost every day. Nyman would always have a glint in his eye when Anders walked into his yard. “So, it is you then, Andri” he would say, pretending to be stern. Andri was the name he always called Anders. Anders did not know why and never asked him.

But the boy knew Nyman better than to be frightened by his feigned sternness. The old man was really a rather cheerful and contented fellow who enjoyed life. That was the larger part of his personality.

It was true that Nyman struggled as a farmer, as did most who farmed in the area. He and his wife had two girls, both much older than Anders, and no sons. It was likely for that reason that Nyman liked when Anders came to see him. And for Anders, who was growing up without a father, Nyman also played a special role in his life.

The two never consciously considered their friendship one of a surrogate father and a surrogate son. The thought of that would not have been agreeable to them. In their eyes, they were just friends, an old man and a young boy who shared an interest in life.

Nyman was poor, but at least he owned his land. Anders’ father had not. He instead was a torpare, meaning that he did not own the small amount of land that he worked. When Anders’ father and mother first lived there, when they were first married, they did not even own their little house, their torp.

In order to pay the rent on their land, Anders’ father had worked three days per week for the landowner. The landowner had several properties, and Anders’ father worked in one of these. He also worked an extra day to begin to buy the land that he, himself cultivated for his family. At the point when Anders’ father had died, he had managed to buy the little cabin. However, though he had been a hard worker, he had not yet managed to buy any of the land.

Then, when his father died, the hopes of eventually purchasing a bit of land for a farm also vanished. The family still needed a little land available to them in order to raise food for their family. For this, Anders’ oldest brother Carl then went to work for the landowner. Carl was fourteen years old at that time. He did not have to work three days a week, as did their father, but since the land they were leasing was less, he usually only worked two days a week. Anders had just turned five at the time of his father’s death.

Nyman’s family had been very kind to Anders’ family through this whole anguishing event. The kindness continued. Though they also were poor, Nyman and his family were very generous. They often brought Anna Kristina bread and eggs, and milk from their cow. At harvest time, they would bring some potatoes and rye flour.

One harvest season there was a party in the village where people would bring some of their crops and have a feast. Nyman’s two daughters went, bringing some of their eggs and potatoes. However, they soon left the party to return home, instead bringing the food over to Anders’ family’s house. “None of those people in the village needed the food as much as Anna Kristina’s children,” they told their parents.

Nyman was a religious man. He spoke often of how God had provided all of their needs. One evening, he and Anders were watching the sun sending its final rays on the trees to the east of Nyman’s farm. The sun was in the west, but as it sent the last of the day’s light across the sky, it lit up the trees in the east.

Haying at Vik in Stange, Hedmark (1884)
Gerhard Munthe (1849-1929)

The two friends were lying with their back against a rack of hay that Nyman and he had hung to dry. The racks were special ones that were assembled each year in the field at haying time. They kept the hay off of the ground to let the air circulate around it so that it would dry quicker.  They called these racks “höhäckar.”

The man and the boy sat in silence for some time, just watching the sky and the slowly changing light on the tops of the trees. Then Nyman spoke. He was not speaking to Anders, necessarily, but it was just that his thoughts found a voice.

“God is so good,” Nyman said in a voice that sounded rather far away.

Anders did not know whether or not he should respond, but he finally turned to his old friend and said, “Why do you say that Herr Nyman?”

At these words, Nyman almost acted surprised, as if he had forgotten that Anders was sitting beside him. “Well,” the older man answered, “God has given me the best life that I could ever imagine.”

“What do you mean?” Anders responded. “Certainly there are things in your life that could be better. There are times when you do not have enough money to do the things that you should do.”

“Oh, that is not important,” Nyman said in a rather dismissive voice. “It is true that from what we see today, there are things that we would do differently. But look at us now, you and me, Andri. We sit here with our backs against this freshly cut hay. We smell the sweetness of the grasses and the flowers and watch the sun in the tops of the trees while we rest our muscles. The air is fresh and the birds are singing their evening songs. Can you imagine anything better than this?”

Nyman chewed on a piece of grass, slowly moving it from one side of his mouth to the other as he spoke. Anders pulled another piece of grass from the hay against which they were leaning and, putting it in his own mouth, turned again to watch the sun in the trees.

They both sat silently again for a few moments, then Nyman spoke. This time he was talking to Anders. “When God made the first man, he put him in his garden to dress it and to keep it. I should think that it would have been a most satisfying work for Adam. It is the highest of a calling to be a farmer.”

Anders had to agree. Yet, even at this young age, he knew that he was not to be a farmer, at least, not right away. Perhaps some day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WE CAN LEARN A LOT - FROM LOT (2)

(Continued from previous post. Scroll down to read part 1)

Of course, we cannot enter into the mind of Lot to see all of his thinking, but there are a couple of events in his life that may show us some of the things that caused Lot to find himself in such an unfortunate state of affairs.
          Lot was Abraham’s nephew, being the son of Haran, the brother of Abraham. Haran had died back in the family’s home area of Mesopotamia, and Abraham and Sarah took Lot into their household to care for him (Genesis 11:27-28). When God spoke to Abraham about leaving Mesopotamia and journeying to a distant land that God was to show him, Lot also went with the family.
          We do not know if Abraham and family were wealthy when they left their home area, but if not, they soon did acquire great wealth in livestock, silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). However, even though he was rich, having possessions never seemed to be a priority to Abraham. Abraham’s greatest wealth had always been in his walk with God.
          With Lot, however, worldly wealth seemed to play a larger role in his personality. He also had large herds of animals, along with the herdsmen to take care of them. In fact, Lot’s herds and Abraham’s herds were both so large that there began to be opposition between the herds of the two men for grazing lands. Strife arose between the herdsmen of the two.
          Abraham saw this situation as being entirely unnecessary, since there was no shortage of land if they would just separate from one another a little. He gave Lot the opportunity to choose first where he wanted to go. Speaking strictly from the perspective of a livestock person, the best land to be found was in the Jordan Valley. It was well watered and green everywhere, “Like the garden of the Lord,” it was said.
          However, also in that valley lie the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This was before they were destroyed. But even at that time they were known for the wicked lifestyles of their inhabitants.
          This seemed to be not so troubling to Lot, however. The potential to increase his flocks apparently was more important. In fact, we are told that he pitched his tents even as far as Sodom, perhaps sensing a good market for his livestock produce.
          Now, when the two angels arrive at Sodom, we see Lot living right in town and even sitting at the gate along with the rulers of the city. Somehow, Lot must have rationalized his presence in the midst of such wickedness.
          To his credit, I believe that part of his rationalization was that he might have a positive effect on the life of the city dwellers. The apostle Peter has an interesting commentary concerning Lot. Peter was making the point that God will rescue the godly people from extreme trials. In this context, Peter speaks of Lot. It is interesting that Peter goes out of his way to declare the righteousness of Lot, calling him righteous three separate times in a single sentence:


He [God] rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. (2 Peter 2 7-10 ESV)


          However, it would be a mistake to say that Lot was unaffected in his own life by what went on around him. His act of offering his virgin daughters in order to appease the demands of the men of the city is a clear indication of that. Appeasement is the correct word to describe Lot’s attitude toward the men.
          “I beg you, my brothers,” Lot had said to them. His attitude was clearly one of conciliation.
          Lot’s attitude may have been one of conciliation, but that desire was certainly not reciprocated by the Sodomites. “Stand back!” They said to him. “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”
          If indeed Lot was in a position of leadership in the city, in his better moments, he perhaps thought that he was beginning to have a positive influence on the citizens. He may have even thought that he was introducing the concept of righteousness. It is clear that in calling them his brothers, he identified with them and hoped to persuade them to act in a more righteous manner.
Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin

But Lot was only deluding himself. Even his own future sons-in-law, the fiancés of his two daughters, thought that he was jesting when he later warned them to flee the city before it was destroyed. In the city of Sodom, conciliation with wickedness did not work.
The apostle Peter, in the same passage where he called Lot, “righteous,” also had something to say about the Sodomites. It is quite an indictment. He calls them...


Those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones…These, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. (2 Peter 2:10-12 ESV)


          Despite what Lot may have done to convinced himself otherwise, the men of Sodom were not gradually coming around to his way of thinking. With their decline of moral absolutes, they had also gradually lost all sense of spiritual life.
          In most cases in the Bible, when men are confronted by an angelic being, they either prostrate themselves completely to the ground in a sign of humility before such power (as did Lot), or else faint on the spot, falling to the ground like dead men (Matthew 28:3-4).
          But the men of the city had instead become like “irrational animals and creatures of instinct.” They did not even recognize the great power that they were confronting in the angels. Like fools, they did not even tremble as they blasphemed the glorious ones.


They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you [As they had done with Lot]. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! (2 Peter 2:13-14 (ESV)                                  

          We underestimate the power of the sexual drive. When a society gives in to any kind of sexual perversion, it will begin to mark a decline in its spiritual life. The quest for pleasure becomes the focus of desire, not the quest for God. Much sooner than we may believe it could happen, all sense of the spiritual is lost in the thoughts of depraved sex. This includes any type of perversion from what should be the true intimacy between a man and a woman in marriage, such as God has intended from the beginning of time.
          A few weeks ago on this blog site, I spoke of the sanctity of the marriage relationship (The Sixth Day, parts 6 and 7). In a way that we do not fully comprehend, this relationship of a husband and wife illustrates and typifies the relationship Christ is building with his church, that is, with his people.
Since this is the case, it is no wonder that this marriage relationship, one that is to be pure between a husband and a wife, should be attacked at every level by Satan and the workers of iniquity. If we think that appeasement in any way to this attitude will bring lasting harmony, like Lot, we are only deluding ourselves.
In the end, the angels at Lot’s doorway struck the men with blindness. So driven were these men of the city driven by their sexual instincts, even this would not have stopped them, except for the fact that they could not find the door.
The physical blindness with which the Sodomites were struck was only emblematic of the spiritual blindness that had already come to them. That blindness very soon led to their complete destruction.

Friday, January 10, 2014

ANNA KRISTINA


(Continued from previous two posts - scroll down to see them)
As Anders was making the wood ready in the fireplace in order to light the match, yet another memory came plummeting in from nowhere. He remembered his mother, a poor widow trying to raise seven children by herself. Her name was Anna Kristina. People always addressed her by both names. He never heard anyone call her any shortened version of this. It was always Anna Kristina.
She was a small woman with dark hair. Even though her circumstances were difficult, she seemed always to be happy and thankful for every blessing. She would often talk about how she was so thankful for her children. She would say, “No one has such good children as I do. The Lord must love me very much.”
Actually, the remembrance of his mom did not come from nowhere at all; it was the thought of matches that had triggered it. His mother only rarely had matches for their fire when he was growing up. The last thing that she would do at night was to scrape some hot, glowing coals into the corner of the fireplace and cover them deeply with ashes. If the coals were hot enough and the ashes were deep enough, the embers would still be quite hot in the morning.
Since his mother usually had no matches, she had to rely upon this in order to make a fire in the morning. She would always be the first to rise, long before any of the children. The very first thing that she would do in the morning was to rearrange the embers into a small pile, put some kindling on top of them, and blow them into a flame. She called this tinder “fnöske.”
If the coals from the night before had burned away too much to be able to do this, she had a few dry sticks which had been dipped in some molten sulfur. One of these pushed into some embers produced a quick flame and made lighting the fire a little easier.
Life for a poor family was very difficult in every way, and forethought needed to put into every small task. There was no room for error, since any error that may occur could have very serious consequences. Tomorrow’s heat for the cabin not only meant preparing the coals tonight, but also the preparation of fire wood months ahead of the time when it would actually be burned.

Now, on this evening and in his own fireplace, Anders set the match to the kindling that he had prepared. He watched the flame as it began small, then grew as it moved its way up the small stick and caught on some others. Usually he had some curly pieces of dry bark from the birch tree for kindling, but this evening he did not. Nevertheless, the flame quickly caught on the smaller sticks and then began to burn on the larger pieces of firewood. He had dry wood, so it caught the flame easily.
There is nothing that stimulates thought so well as gazing at a fireplace fire as it begins to burn. Anders actually looked forward to this time every day. The day’s work was done, and for the first time all day, he finally had a chance to sit and relax. Anders kept his outdoor clothes on while the fire began to burn. As soon as there was a pretty good blaze, he began heating some water for coffee. He was also very hungry, but he would not begin to prepare his meal just yet. He just wanted to sit in front of the blaze and drink his coffee first.
Not all of his memories were about the difficulties of the time of his childhood. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Most of the things he remembered about his growing up years were pleasant. Like most children growing up in poverty, Anders did not realize just how difficult it must have been for his mother. It was only now, after he had been on his own for a few years, when he began to see that part of it.
As a child, however, he was immune to much of the worry and concern that his mother bore. Since he knew of no better standard of living than their own family had, he assumed that the way they grew up was normal.
Their cabin was a small one room cabin, a torp, they called it. It was much like the one he lived in now. The difference, of course, was that in their little torp, they had eight people living together. Actually, before his father died there were nine.
They had bunks to sleep in. There was rye straw for a mattress, covered with a sheet. The pillows were likewise rye straw stuffed into cloth bags. For coverings, they did not have much, but because there were either three or four children in each bunk, they kept each other warm most of the night. It was only toward morning on cold nights when they got so cold that it was difficult to sleep. Then they would just lie on their straw mats and wait for the fire to be lit in the hearth.
Now that he looked back on it, he had to say that this living situation of his childhood seemed a little challenging. At the time, however, he and his siblings just considered it as the way that life was.
Actually, life was like that for most families of his area. But children have the ability to have fun even in the most difficult of circumstances, at least they do if they do not consider their experience as unusual. Sometimes, being unaware of some of the luxuries of life is more of a blessing than having them. Acquiring luxuries rarely increases ones happiness.
As Anders sat before the fireplace watching the flames grow and begin to consume the wood, he began to warm up. His stretched out his legs to relieve some of his tired muscles. Even though his mother had been a small woman, Anders was tall and had very long legs. He got these characteristics from his father. Anders’ head began to hang a little low as a slow wave of drowsiness came over him in the warmth of the fire…
Suddenly the pot in which Anders was heating the water for his coffee boiled over. Water splashed from the pot and spilled into the flames of the fire. The sound startled Anders and made him jump. He had been lost in thought and weariness as he watched the flame and did not realize that his pot was getting so hot.
Now that he had been snapped out of his thoughts, he realized to that he also was beginning to get a little hot. He had not yet taken off his coat and boots, and he could feel the sweat starting to form under his shirt. He rose from his chair, took off his coat and walked over to get his can of coffee. He would make a couple of cups and allow himself to sit a little longer in his chair while he drank it. The evenings were long in the winter, and he was in no hurry to begin his evening meal.
Anders was given to contemplation. He tossed thoughts around in his head, examining every aspect of them. It was much like he did when he was choosing a rock to be placed in an important part of the structure he was building. He would turn to stone over and over in his hands, examining its soundness and looking for its natural grain of cleavage. He tried to imagine how the face of it would look when placed in the building, perhaps in an arch for a doorway. This is what he did with his own thoughts.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

THE STONECUTTER

(Continued from previous post)

Since that winter of the past, Anders had learned the trade of stone mason; a “stonecutter” (stenhuggare) they called him. This is normally a skill one learns through apprenticeship of several years, but Anders had picked up his knowledge in a somewhat unorthodoxed way. He had worked for about a year and a half with an older man who had been making footings for several new train rail bridges.
The man’s name was Lars. He had been a friend of Anders’ father, who had died several years before that time, even before the starvation winter. Anders was quite small at the time of his father’s death, but he remembered it well. In fact, it was one of the memories that kept coming back to him this winter. It was not long before Christmas in that year of long ago that his father had died.
The stonemason Lars had also been a friend to the entire family for years, and, although he lived in a different province, he tried to help out the best that he could after the death of Anders’ father. To be honest, this no doubt was one of the reasons that Lars had taken on young Anders to help him on the bridge footings.
But the other part was that Lars did need help with this project. He really was getting quite old, and should not have still been doing this work. Stonemasonry is a very physically demanding job, and because of his age, Lars now cut and set the stones only with the greatest of difficulty.
Despite the name of stonecutter, there is no actual
cutting of the stone involved, as with a saw of some kind. The basic tools of a stonecutter are the mallet and the chisel. Some variety of these two tools, along with a metal straightedge, is what the stonecutter uses more than any other.
There are some other necessary tools of the trade, of course. Among these are the steel plugs and the likewise steel feathers that are used for splitting a rock along its line of cleavage. But all of the tools are all hand tools. They are physically demanding tools. Added to this difficulty is the very great weight of the stone itself. It all adds up to work that will make a man dead tired by nightfall, even if the days are the short winter days.
This demanding physical aspect of the work was the reason that Lars had Anders do as much of it as the lad was able. It was because of all of this hands-on practice that Anders had picked up the skill so quickly. However, it must also be said that Anders had the inclination for this type of work. He was more or less of a perfectionist by nature; and doing things accurately is a necessity in cutting and laying stone.
This is especially true when it came to laying up stone without using mortar. Much of the work of a stonecutter was of this type. Stone set with mortar is a much simpler task, and requires much less accuracy in cutting and in setting. What gaps still exist between the stones are simply filled up with the mortar.
However, Lars was mostly intent of teaching Anders how to build with stones without the use of mortar. Lars thought this important for at least a couple of reasons.
The first of these reasons is the climate, especially in the more northern regions of the country. Stone masonry using mortar requires temperatures that remain above freezing until the mortar is completely cured. If the wet mortar should freeze, it weakens to the point where the mortar will completely fail, thus ruining the bond between the stones that it is supposed to create. This will eventually cause the building to crumble. The use of mortar was fine in the summer months, but if the stone mason would confine himself only to those months, he would never have enough work.
The other point was even more important to Lars. Lars basically mistrusted mortar. He said that he has seen too many building projects fail because of poor mortar. Mortar is meant to bind the stone together, but he said that it often tends to weather and deteriorate with the passing of time, leaving the rocks to loosen.
Besides this, the mortar-laid stone are much more

Stone bridge. Helgeån, Kornberga, Sweden

sensitive to vibrations. This is especially important for railroad bridges and trestles. The greater the vibration to which the stones are subjected, the more that they will tend to loosen. If the bridge had been made using mortar, there will be much more continual maintenance required to keep it sound and strong.
Lars believed that fitted stones that are accurately laid are much less sensitive to vibration. In fact, if the stone is laid correctly, the vibrations will actually gradually work the stones to fit tighter and tighter through the years. Some of the tightest fitted stones are ones that had been laid decades before.

Medieval dry stone bridge in Alby, Sweden
Anders found himself agreeing with Lars in this, although he realized that his teacher may have formed too strong of an opinion based on a few poorly made stone and mortar structures. But stone masons tend to be hard-headed, and if you add to this a stubborn Swedish heritage, you might find it difficult to change a mind. It was said that, with the passing of the years, stonecutters become more and more like the rocks they work with. Anders decided not to press the point with Lars.
Besides this, Anders respected his mentor too much to argue with him. And, he thought, perhaps after he had as much experience as Lars, he too might have the same opinion.
          Anders took the role of student very seriously, deciding to learn as much as he could from his father’s friend. Any further knowledge and skills learned will be done in the years that Anders thought that he would continue with stone work. Now was the time to dedicate himself to listening and learning.
And there was so much to learn. Young Anders learned the many practical skills needed to cut the stone accurately and to lay them tightly together. He learned the different kinds of rock and how to read them in order to see the cleavage lines where they would cleanly split.
Lars showed the lad how to read the plans for a building project, and to shape the rocks correctly to make a strong arch or a footing. He taught him how to lift the rocks into place by the use of a simple, home-made crane.
Anders saw the importance of keeping his tools sharp, and to take care of them so that they would continue to serve him well. He was a quick learner, but a careful one. Accuracy in shaping the stone was of paramount importance to Lars, and it became that also for Anders.
 The boy owed much to his father’s friend, and had grown to love him almost like a father.