Obfuscation – the spiritual gift you can do without

Don’t be this guy:

ObfuscationObfuscation can’t be a real spiritual gift? It depends on which spirit you are talking about. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in Perelandra, “There are spirits and spirits you know.” Some spirits mislead people into rebellion.

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception … . (Titus 1:10.)

But the Holy Spirit does not obfuscate and deceive, but brings clarity:

God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33.)

Peace, not confusion. There is a true gift of the Spirit.


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Why Black History Month Matters – a pictorial display

Black History Month

Remember the former things, those of long ago … . (Isaiah 46:9.)


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A Short Note to Self – teaching and taking correction

[You] know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:1-2.)

Correct teaching

Even the most gentle correction can feel like blows:

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17.)

So we are to do it with all gentleness and humility:

[C]orrect, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2.)

I hope to receive and offer correction with the same desire Paul had:

What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

If given a choice, wouldn’t you take love and a gentle spirit over a rod of discipline any day? After all, sound doctrine is an encouragement, not a burden.

[Teachers] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so [they] can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9.)

While those who teach wrongly

… must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:11.)

Correcting wrong teaching is not optional. Doing it well requires patience and care, humility and love. And in all prayer, because it is the Spirit who is the true Counselor and Guide into the truth of God.

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

God is the source of all correction that leads to a right understanding of himself. He always loves you and wants the best for you, and he is always kind to you. Always.


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Called to the Principal’s Office

[From the archives.]


A Call from the Principal

Years ago I got an unexpected call at work from my son’s junior high principal. Not a good thing under most circumstances, and this was no exception to the rule. She wanted to tell me that my son might be upset and she called to let me know immediately rather than learn about it when I came home from work.

It turns out she had called him to her office to reprimand him. She said he was circulating an inappropriate petition concerning one of his teachers. I started to get an idea of the problem. He’d told us a few days before that some of the students were concerned with how this teacher was handling the class and we had talked about it with him in the days leading up to this phone call.

His idea of how best to handle it was to put the problem in writing and see if enough kids agreed so that he could then talk to her about it. He didn’t want to bother bringing it up with her if not many other kids were bothered by it. I didn’t know the details of his plan, but the general topic of a petition came up.

I listened incredulously as the principal told me that once she found out about it she pulled him out of class and into her office.

I listened in sorrow as she described him getting upset and teary at being reprimanded.

I listened in disbelief as she told me her main concern was for the teacher – the TEACHER, mind you – as she might get her feelings hurt at the petition being circulated.

I didn’t hear her say anything about students handling concerns in a creative and constructive manner. I didn’t hear her say anything about listening to my son’s intentions, or what he was concerned about in the first place. Nothing. The way she explained it, this conversation in her office was pretty one-sided. She spoke and my son sat there.

I said thanks, ended the conversation as quickly as I could, and prayed for my son.

The Bike Ride to Suspension

It’s been a while since I thought of that phone call. Then I read about a group of high school seniors in Michigan who decided to stage a massive bike ride to school as their senior prank on the last day of classes. Sounds innocent enough, constructive and creative even, right? Not to the principal. She told all sixty-four participants it was a dangerous stunt: traffic could have snarled and they might have been injured – “your brains could have ended up splattered,” she told them. She would not countenance it! They were prohibited from senior activities for the rest of the day and sent home. Some even missed a final exam.

Turns out the Seniors had more on the ball than she gave them credit for. They had contacted the authorities ahead of time to take care of safety concerns and rode with a police escort. Not only that, the Mayor even accompanied the students on their route to school that morning. The only ones not in the know were the school officials, but letting them in on it would have defeated the purpose of a rather creative – and rather responsible – senior prank, of course.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. The suspension was lifted, teachers offered make-up tests, and the school district issued an apology complete with a statement from the Principal.

Waiting for All the Evidence to Come In

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good practice – even if it is out of concern for the feelings of a junior high school teacher or the safety of a few dozen graduating seniors. And it really doesn’t work at my job.

One thing I tell jurors repeatedly throughout trial is not to form their final opinions or conclusions, but to wait until all the evidence is in, deliberate with all the other jurors, and then see if they can reach a verdict. In fact, this admonition has been adopted into a formal jury instruction that applies to all trials in my state. The wisdom underlying it goes back to a time long before California existed.

Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:12.)

Don’t presume. Seek counsel and talk things over with others. Then come to a reasoned conclusion. It’s so simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but I see people around me and then jump to conclusions about them all the time, thinking I know what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t. That might hurt only me, except there are times when I then act on this utter lack of knowledge, this lack of reasoned consideration. That can lead to mistakes, big mistakes. So what should I do?

God’s wisdom still applies: don’t presume; get the facts; find someone to talk things over with. So how do you do that? Please share your experiences here in the comments.

After all, none of us want to presume we have all the answers.


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Eleanor of Aquitaine – the queen who wouldn’t quit

This post is adapted from a class I co-taught at a judicial conference last year, marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.


It all started with a 12th Century French Duchess.

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father fell ill when she was only 15. To protect her from ambitious noblemen, he named the King of France as her guardian, a role the King gladly accepted. As soon as the old Duke died, the gladly accepting King sent 500 men to Eleanor to protect her, sending his son Louis and an Archbishop with them. Then he protected Eleanor to the extent of marrying her off to his son on the contingent’s arrival. 500 soldiers make for a convincing wedding proposal.

That's them on the left getting hitched.

That’s them on the left getting hitched.

The old King died shortly after and Louis VII took the throne with control over 5 times the territory his father had.

12th C. France

12th C. France – Louis had direct control of the dark blue territory in the upper right. Eleanor added the salmon territory in the lower left.

Louis was a young king who had other vassal states to keep in check. There was one particularly troublesome fief that needed his attention and he attended to it by sending in the army, which promptly massacred hundreds of civilians.

Louis was faced with a single course of action. Show penance by going on Crusade. Accordingly, he met with a German king and the titular ruler of Jerusalem to organize the Second Crusade.

Louis plans a trip east

Louis plans a trip east

Queen Eleanor offered Abbe Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most powerful clergymen in Europe, thousands of Aquitanian vassal soldiers for the war effort, which he gladly accepted. He shouldn’t have been so quick. Eleanor then told him that she was coming too, along with 300 women, to tend the sick. The Abbe was not amused yet had no choice but to accept. After all, what clergyman in his right mind turns down thousands of vassal soldiers?

Eleanor and her women traveled east with the armies. By some reports they wore armor and carried spears like the men. There are no reports they actually used them. On reaching Asia Minor, Eleanor and Louis met with Raymond, Prince of Antioch, also known as Raymond, uncle of Eleanor. Only a few years older than she, he was by all reports exceedingly handsome, quite single and notably close to his niece.

Louis says hi to Raymond

Louis says hi to Raymond

Raymond advised a campaign against Edessa, and Eleanor sided with Uncle Raymond. Louis instead wanted to go all the way to Jerusalem to secure the area and got his way by demanding fealty from them both. The combined armies went to Jerusalem. They got creamed.

Louis and Eleanor decided to return to France but not before rumors started flying about an amorous connection between her and Uncle Raymond. In the ancient equivalent of sleeping in separate bedrooms, Eleanor and Louis took separate ships home. On the way, while in port in Sicily, Eleanor received word her beloved uncle had been killed in battle and his head delivered to the enemy. He likely wasn’t so exceedingly handsome any longer, but he was still quite single.

She and Louis patched things up enough to have two daughters. Louis needed a son, though, and eventually decided he consequently also needed a new wife. His advisors found a line of consanguinity between him and Eleanor sufficient to allow the Pope to declare the marriage annulled. Eleanor returned to Aquitaine a free woman.

She didn’t stay single for long. Eight weeks after leaving Louis she married Henry, Count of Anjou, a man 11 years younger than she.

Henry, a young man on the rise

Henry, a young man on the rise

Why marry a young man who isn’t even royalty? Because he was also the eldest son of the Duke of Normandy, and next in line for a plum job across the English Channel. Soon after their marriage Henry’s father died and Henry not only became the new Duke of Normandy but also succeeded to the throne of England as Henry II.

12th C. France

12th C. France – Henry had the land north of Eleanor’s and west of Louis’, plus all of England across the channel.

The combined lands of Eleanor and Henry were ten times the size of those controlled by Louis VII. As Duke of Normandy he made a show of fealty to Louis, but this may have been a power play to show his own English nobles that they better line up behind him as their king.

Remember Louis’ disappointment at having only two daughters with Eleanor? Eleanor had eight children with Henry, five sons and three daughters. If only Louis had been patient enough to wait.

Eleanor, Henry and the kids

Eleanor, Henry and the kids

The first son died as a toddler so the next, young Henry, also known as Hal, became the heir apparent. Henry II even took to calling little Hal “The Young King”. Hal put much stock into that label, so much so that at age 17 he plotted with his mother against his father in a bid to wrest the crown from Henry II.

They took advantage of the fact that Henry II spent so much time in his French realms and left Eleanor as the de facto regent in England. It didn’t work. Henry imprisoned Eleanor, moving her from castle to castle in what was probably an effort to keep her from staying anywhere long enough to build strength of numbers. Hal, bereft of the support of this Queen who was also the powerful Duchess of Aquitaine, came back under his father’s control. Poor young Hal never did become true king, dying before his father. On his deathbed he begged for his mother’s release, a wish which Henry (a surprisingly indulgent father, considering the grief Hal had given him) chose to grant. Eleanor refrained from further plots against her husband.

Henry II eventually died too, leaving the throne to his next son, Richard.

Richard is on the left. No idea who is on the right.

Richard is on the left. No idea who is on the right.

Richard the Lionheart, Coeur de Lion, spoke French better than he spoke English. He also sought adventure and left England to lead the Third Crusade, fighting Saladin in the east. After spending enough time in the east to know it was time to go home, he found himself shipwrecked and taken prisoner by the Duke of Austria. The Duke handed him over to the Holy Roman Emperor who, not being impressed by the fact Henry went on a Crusade, promptly held him for ransom to raise some ready cash. He demanded a sum equal to three times the annual revenue of the English realm.

Eleanor once again showed her stuff. She confiscated the gold and silver treasuries of the churches and levied a 25% tax on all property of the nobility. Not on its income; on the property’s full value.

The next son in line, meanwhile, was enjoying an England without Richard. John even went so far as to offer the Holy Roman Emperor a stipend to hold Henry a bit longer. The Emperor declined.

John frolicking

John frolicking in England

Still, John eventually came into his own when Richard died in 1199.

Some say that John was Eleanor’s favorite. He was also rumored to be favored over Richard by the barons since Richard, like his father Henry II, was said to spend a lot of time in France – so much that he never did speak English like a native. John did, so the Barons were all right with him at least initially.

What of Eleanor, though? In her later years she left the management of her French holdings to her sons, retiring to the Abbey of Fontrevaud to live as a woman of the church where she died in 1204.

Eleanor's tomb

Eleanor’s final rest

She is depicted on her tomb with a Bible in her hand. With modern cynical sensibilities a person might wonder if this was merely convention, showing the queen to be pious whether she was or not. But by all accounts she actually was. And by the time of her death she had been married to two kings and the mother of two more.

John did not fare as well in the years that followed. Disillusioned with their king, the barons called a meeting at Runnymede in 1215 (n.b. – Runny comes from the Anglo-Saxon “meeting” and Mede is for “meadow”; this had been a place for royal conferences for centuries). The barons demanded more from John, and got it.

A little meeting at Runnymede in 1215

A little meeting at Runnymede in 1215

By the time they were done with their little meeting John signed the Magna Carta and set in place the beginning of the guarantee of government by rule of law rather than by monarchic whim.

Magna Carta. I saw the original in the British Museum in 1983. Yes I'm old. But I'm not as old as the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta. I saw the original in the British Museum in 1983. Yes I’m old. But I’m not as old as the Magna Carta.

The result was the development of the English Common Law tradition, a tradition that has influenced countries in every hemisphere up to the present.

And as I said at the beginning, it all started with a 12th Century French Duchess.


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Sailing to a Distant Shore

Distant Shore 3


I looked above and saw full moon
It played my heart the mooncalf’s tune*
Shadowed gray and silvered bright
Held in thrall and in its swoon

I looked below and saw sea deep
The ocean’s lapping lulling sleep
The windborne salt rose in the night
Above the well, the blacky keep

The ship I sailed tracked one lone Star
Brilliant, plain, above the spar
The journey fast held to that Light
Through day and night and near and far

At journey’s end I’ll see the shore
The welcoming arms I’ve long longed for
And held within their loving might
I’ll rest and worship and adore


*Mooncalf: “a person who spends time idly daydreaming.” (Dictionary.com.)

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A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Googley Interwebz

The Google is an Interwebz thingy that tells

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Strong Women and Confident Men

Confidence and Strength

“One of the most underrated revealers of a man’s confidence and character is how he responds to a strong, intelligent woman.” Sharon Hodde Miller

If anyone is threatened by the strength God has given his people – women or men – it might indicate they lack confidence in him as well.

Those who belong to Jesus, though, are children of the Living God. Be confident in him because of that. He makes you stronger than you could ever imagine.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. … But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. … Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27, 31.)

People might not understand it, they might even think you are foolish or weak, but God’s wisdom and strength are yours.


[Why have Sharon Hodde Miller quotes shown up twice in less than a week on this blog? Because she has been killing it on Facebook.]


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Rejecting and Embracing the Bible, Rejecting and Embracing the Love

If you read a passage that records God’s people doing awful things, realize it is not a revelation that God is awful. Rather, it is a passage that reveals God is willing and wanting to work with people no matter how awful they are.

That includes me.

That includes you.

Jesus is God and he said he came to fulfill. God is love, and this love is greater than all faith (which may be full of doubt) and hope (which may be buried in despair). Jesus’ fulfillment of all that came before is a fulfillment of God’s love in God’s people.

That includes me.

That includes you.

This is what the Bible records, and this is what the Bible reveals. He wants his people to become more and more like Jesus, the one revealed in scripture from beginning to end. The Bible is God’s gift, a record to guide his people in knowing him and growing in him.

That includes me.

That includes you.

The Bible is a record and a revelation. To understand it requires reading the whole of scripture, not bits here and there in isolation. Don’t reject as unscriptural those Bible passages you find distasteful, but rather wrestle with them as they reveal God and people.


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God’s Presence in Your Pain

hard times


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