Monday, August 14

My Yukon Garden: August 14

Here's quick peek at the garden produce I picked yesterday afternoon. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and (saving the best for last!) raspberries. I just came in from outside, and the raspberries are ready to pick again.

And this will be the last garden post until September, when I'll show you some of the potatoes. It's also my last blog post for three weeks or so. I fill you in when I return to blogging, but don't worry, it's all good.

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Waving the White Flag

In what I expect to be the last of this year's wildflower series, let's go back and pick some of the little white flowers that got passed over for their more colourful friends. First up is the dwarf dogwood, pictured on the right. This little flower is almost circumpolar in the northern hemisphere (only Europe misses out), with it's range extending as far south as Colorado and New Mexico. If the name dwarf dogwood, is unfamiliar to you, it could be that you know it as the bunchberry instead. That name comes from the clusters of bright red berries that form in the center of the set of leaves after the flowers are gone.

This plant is just a little mysterious. For one thing, the white part we think of as it's flowers aren't flowers at all, but bracts* surrounding the flowers, which are the tiny green things you see in the center of the white bracts in the photo. In addition, the sources for wildflower facts give conflicting information about the dwarf dogwood. Are they native to North America? The answer is yes, they are native around the globe; or no, they were introduced to North America. Are they edible? Well, yes, you can eat the leaves as salad greens or a cooked vegie, and yes, the berries are edible, but they taste like cotton; or no, the Pilgrims made a pudding out of dogwood berries, and the berry pudding gave them all digestive problems. I guess that means we can conclude at least one thing for sure: either this plant is native to North America, or the Pilgrims brought it over on the Mayflower.

To the right is the little mountain avens. This flower is closely related to the yellow dryas featured earlier, and it develops a similar spritely seed plume that ranges in color from burgundy to gold.

This wildflower, too, is circumpolar, and follows the Cascade Range south to the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. It's the provincial flower of the Northwest Territories, and in some areas of Nunavut it has an important job helping hunters determine when to hunt caribou. When the little seed plumes begin to untwist, the time is right.

Next up is a wildflower you'll probably recognize right off the bat. Yep, the blossoms below are from the wild strawberry. We have a big patch of wild strawberries in the ditch in front of our house, and right now they're producing berries.

This is a good year for them, too. They have lots of berries, and they're large ones--large for the wild variety, that is. I've eaten a few of them, but mostly they've been eaten first by birds, or neighborhood kids, or our dog, who loves to sniff through the patch until she finds a sweet one.

And she isn't the only animal who loves to eat them. The wild strawberry provides food for a long list of wildlife. Besides many varieties of birds, there are skunks, squirrels and chipmunks, voles and mice, rabbits, deer, and even turtles, who all love to eat the leaves or berries of the strawberry plant.

The only distasteful thing about wild strawberry plants is the friends they keep. They like to hang out with my own arch enemy of the plant world--poison ivy. Not here in the Yukon, mind you, but that's only because we don't have poison ivy. In fact, it is its close association with the criminal plant element that earned the wild strawberry the wild part of its name. So if you live where there is poison ivy, and you like picking wild strawberries, you'll want to make sure you know what poison ivy looks like so you can avoid the misery that touching any part of that nasty plant can bring.

*Don't know what bracts are? They're just leaves that surround and protect the flowers of a plant.

Click on photos for larger view. You'll find all of the previous wildflower posts listed here.

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Sunday, August 13

Sunday's Hymn: Isaac Watts

Today's hymn is another one from Isaac Watts.
Join All The Glorious Names

Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That ever mortals knew,
That angels ever bore:
All are too mean to speak His worth,
To poor to set my Savior forth.

But O what gentle terms,
What condescending ways,
Doth our Redeemer use
To teach his heav’nly grace!
Mine eyes with joy and wonder see
What forms of love He bears for me.

Arrayed in mortal flesh,
He like an angel stands,
And holds the promises
And pardons in His hands;
Commissioned from His Father’s throne
To make His grace to mortals known.

Great Prophet of my God,
My tongue would bless Thy Name,
By Thee the joyful news
Of our salvation came,
The joyful news of sin forgiv’n
Of hell subdued, and peace with Heav’n.

Be Thou my Counsellor,
My Pattern, and my Guide,
And through this desert land
Still keep me near thy side:
Nor let my feet e’er run astray
Nor rove nor seek the crooked way.

I love my Shepherd’s voice,
His watchful eyes shall keep
My wand’ring soul among
The thousands of His sheep:
He feeds His flock, He calls their names,
His bosom bears the tender lambs.

To this dear Surety’s hand
Will I commit my cause;
He answers and fulfils
His Father’s broken laws:
Behold my soul at freedom set!
My Surety paid the dreadful debt.

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered His blood, and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside:
His powerful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne.

My Advocate appears
For my defense on high;
The Father bows his ears,
And lays his thunder by:
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn his heart, his love away.

My dear almighty Lord,
My Conqueror and my King,
Thy scepter and Thy sword,
Thy reigning grace I sing:
Thine is the power; behold I sit
In willing bonds beneath Thy feet.

Now let my soul arise,
And tread the tempter down;
My Captain leads me forth
To conquest and a crown:
A feeble saint shall win the day,
Though death and hell obstruct the way.

Should all the hosts of death,
And powers of hell unknown,
Put their most dreadful forms
Of rage and mischief on,
I shall be safe, for Christ displays
Superior power, and guardian grace.
This is another hymn that's sung to Darwall's 148th.

Other hymns, worship songs, etc. posted this Sunday
Have you posted a hymn this Sunday, and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by emailing me at the address in the sidebar, and I'll add your post to the list.

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Saturday, August 12

Killer Instinct

I know her name is Taffy, and she looks harmless, but this girl is a real killer. Yesterday, 3/4 of the way into her 35k (22 mile) run in the Ibex Valley, she disappeared. When oldest son rode his bike back down the road to find her, she came running toward him with a big old grouse in her mouth--dead, but still warm.

Not wanting to waste the grouse--in this household, the rule is you kill it, you eat it*--the sons brought it home, cleaned it, and boiled it in broth for supper--her supper. She gobbled it down, and promptly stretched out and went to sleep. A 35k run with a side trip for a little hunting makes a girl hungry and tired.

And sore the next day, as well.

*We've yet to enforce this rule with the cat.

You can listen to a grouse drumming here.

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The "Child-like Reliance" of Susanna Moodie

The summer of '35 was very wet; a circumstance so unusual in Canada that I have seen no season like it during my sojourn in the country. Our wheat crop promised to be both excellent and abundant; and the clearing and seeding sixteen acres, one way or another, had cost us more than fifty pounds; still, we hoped to realise something handsome by the sale of the produce; and, as far as appearances went, all looked fair. The rain commenced about a week before the crop was fit for the sickle, and from that time until nearly the end of September was a mere succession of thunder showers; days of intense heat, succeeded by floods of rain. Our fine crop shared the fate of all other fine crops in the country; it was totally spoiled; the wheat grew in the sheaf, and we could scarcely save enough to supply us with bad, sticky bread; the rest was exchanged at the distillery for whiskey, which was the only produce which could be obtained for it. The storekeepers would not look at it, or give either money or goods for such a damaged article.

My husband and I had worked hard in the field; it was the first time I had ever tried my hand at field-labour, but our ready money was exhausted, and the steam-boat stock had not paid us one farthing; we could not hire, and there was no help for it. I had a hard struggle with my pride before I would consent to render the least assistance on the farm, but reflection convinced me that I was wrong–that Providence had placed me in a situation where I was called upon to work–that it was not only my duty to obey that call, but to exert myself to the utmost to assist my husband, and help to maintain my family.

Ah, glorious poverty! thou art a hard taskmaster, but in thy soul-ennobling school, I have received more godlike lessons, have learned more sublime truths, than ever I acquired in the smooth highways of the world!

....The misfortunes that now crowded upon us were the result of no misconduct or extravagance on our part, but arose out of circumstances which we could not avert nor control. Finding too late the error into which we had fallen, in suffering ourselves to be cajoled and plundered out of our property by interested speculators, we braced our minds to bear the worst, and determined to meet our difficulties calmly and firmly, nor suffer our spirits to sink under calamities which energy and industry might eventually repair. Having once come to this resolution, we cheerfully shared together the labours of the field. One in heart and purpose, we dared remain true to ourselves, true to our high destiny as immortal creatures, in our conflict with temporal and physical wants.

We found that manual toil, however distasteful to those unaccustomed to it, was not after all such a dreadful hardship; that the wilderness was not without its rose, the hard face of poverty without its smile. If we occasionally suffered severe pain, we as often experienced great pleasure, and I have contemplated a well-hoed ridge of potatoes on that bush farm, with as much delight as in years long past I had experienced in examining a fine painting in some well-appointed drawing-room.

I can now look back with calm thankfulness on that long period of trial and exertion–with thankfulness that the dark clouds that hung over us, threatening to blot us from existence, when they did burst upon us, were full of blessings. When our situation appeared perfectly desperate, then were we on the threshold of a new state of things, which was born out of that very distress.

In order to more fully illustrate the necessity of a perfect and child-like reliance upon the mercies of God–who, I most firmly believe, never deserts those who have placed their trust in Him–I will give a brief sketch of our lives during the years 1836 and 1837....

From: Roughing It In The Bush by Susanna Moodie (1803-1884), Volume 2, Chapter 7: Disappointed Hopes. Yet another of my favorite books is available online. You can read the rest of the story in this chapter here.

Susanna Moodie, by the way, was the sister of Catherine Parr Traill.

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Friday, August 11

Live Salmon Action

I visited the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Ladder today. It's day 9 of the run, and there have been 166 salmon through the ladder so far. Here is a webcam showing the returning salmon swimming around near the entry to the fish ladder.

Are you wondering what in the world I'm talking about? I wrote a whole post explaining the fish ladder a couple of years ago. The webcam, by the way, is placed below the water at the opening to the fish ladder, shown in the third photo on that post.

More recent news on Yukon wild things: Bison and spruce beetles.

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Thursday, August 10

Round the Sphere Again


  • I've had compost worms, so I found this article interesting. One thing I can tell you from experience--the thousands of worms they mention is probably in the hundreds of thousands.
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Wednesday, August 9

No Post for Today

Noop, I've just been too busy with other things, like putting all your kid friendly hymn suggestions in the list, and responding to comments on this post.

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Tuesday, August 8

List: Kid-friendly Hymns

It's another cooperative list.

What hymns did you love as a child? What hymns do your kids like? I'll start the list, you add your favorites in the comments, and I'll add your suggestions to the list, linking back to your blog. Okay?

This post is inspired by Carla, who mentions a couple of hymns her kids like, so why don't I start with her suggestions, and then add a couple of my own?
  1. Carla says her kids like Victory in Jesus,
  2. He Leadeth Me,
  3. and Onward Christian Soldiers.
  4. I used to love To God Be the Glory, and I know a lot of children like that one. I was intrigued by the term "vilest offender," and had a picture in my mind of a guy who looked something like the Hamburglar. (Plus, Colleen Emery and I sang this together in the evening service at church when we were in third grade.)
  5. Oh, How I Love Jesus. This one is my suggestion, too. I taught this to the Pioneer Girls, when there used to be Pioneer Girls and when I used to lead them, and they really took to this one. It was their favorite, and the only actual hymn they sang.
  6. Kim of Hireath loved A Mighty Fortress is Our God. She tells you about it here. I loved that one, too. One year I remember it being our VBS theme song, and we had an illustrated version, with pictures of a fortress and a bulwark. Very cool.
  7. Kim in ON's daughter loved Wonderful Grace of Jesus because it's so lively. Yep, that's one that's got some very interesting stuff going on!
  8. Evers Ding's children enjoy Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,
  9. Rock of Ages,
  10. Holy Holy Holy,
  11. Immortal Invisible, and
  12. Be Thou My Vision.
  13. Julana liked Jesus Loves Even Me, and included some of the words for us.
    I am so glad that our Father in Heav’n
    Tells of His love in the Book He has giv’n;
    Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
    This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me.


    I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
    Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me.
    I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
    Jesus loves even me.
  14. Waterfall liked Just As I Am,
  15. At Calvary,
  16. The Old Rugged Cross. These three, she says, were some of the first songs she taught herself by ear on the piano.
  17. Scott McClare liked two already mentioned hymns: To God Be the Glory and Holy, Holy, Holy. To those, he adds All Things Bright and Beautiful and
  18. This is My Father's World. (This was one of my favorites, as well.)
  19. Karen seconds the choice of Holy, Holy, Holy, and says that she sang it at her sister's baptism when she was 6. She also adds a list of her children's favorites.
  20. Be Thou My Vision for the 17 year old.
  21. Crown Him with Many Crowns for her 8 year old.
  22. O the Deep, Deep love of Jesus for the 18 year old.
  23. How Great Thou Art for the 12 year old. (I think this is another one veryt commonly liked by children.)
  24. Jesus Loves Me--her five year old.
  25. Ian McKenzie liked Dare to Be a Daniel.
    I suspect it was because we would shout out the letters b-a-n-d as loudly as possible at the end of each stanza.
    My youngest son liked this one, too, because his name is Daniel. I found out, however, that he thought Daniel's band was of the musical sort. Julana seconds this choice, pointing out that "children can imagine themselves in a heroic role with that one."

  26. Terry Stauffer's kids like Joyful, Joyful and
  27. Come Thou Fount, and his seven-year old daughter sings the last one around the house. His wife's favorites as a child were
  28. Give Me That Old Time Religion and
  29. Precious Jewels. I have the distinct impression that Terry isn't all that impressed with his wife's choice of Give Me That Old Time Religion.
  30. Anne's son loves Holy, Holy, Holy, too, but she once heard him sing "God in three purses, Blessed Trinity".
  31. Anne's daughter loved Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise, and
  32. as a child, Anne loved O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,
  33. Rejoice the Lord Is King, and
  34. Blessed Assurance.
  35. Columbine says
    It is Well with My Soul has always been a favorite because of the harmonies of the chorus. The background of the song makes it that much more precious.
  36. She also liked Surely Goodness and Mercy.
    It was fun to sing, and as a teen I had a good friend named Shirley and my brother always called her Shirley Goodness and Mercy.
    She adds:
    As I think back to my childhood, some 40+ years ago, one of the things I enjoyed the most was the Sunday evening singing. We could chose our favorites and the song leader would call on children as well as adults. Some services were only times of singing - song services. I think that in today's world, our children miss out on this. Learning to sing harmony, having a hymn book to leaf through, trying to find a song no one has chosen yet, and so forth.
  37. Island Sparrow adds Amazing Grace and
  38. Softly and Tenderly to the list.
  39. Suz says that her three-year-old loves I'll Fly Away, and "sings the refrain with great gusto."
  40. Her six-year old likes Jesus Loves Me.
  41. Theresa Shirkie adds There is a Fountain,
  42. Only a Sinner Saved by Grace,
  43. When We Reach Our Peaceful Dwelling, and
  44. It Is Well With My Soul.
  45. Rey's son likes to sing 2 Timothy 1:7 to On Calvary We've Adoring Stood.
  46. Elizabeth says that her favorite song when she was young was I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, and she was very inspired by it as a child and teenager. She leaves some of the words for us:
    I sing a song of the saints of God
    Patient and brave and true,
    Who toiled and fought and lived and died
    For the Lord they loved and knew.
    And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
    And one was a shepherdess on the green:
    They were all of them saints of God
    And I mean - God helping - to be one too.

    Verse three:
    They lived not only in ages past,
    There are hundreds and thousands still,
    The world is bright with the joyous saints
    Who love to do Jesus' will.
    You can meet them at school, or in lanes, or at sea,
    In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
    For the saints of God are just folk like me,
    And I mean to be one too.
  47. Sierra and her sisters like Lord of the Dance, and thought it should be sung every Sunday instead of just on Easter.

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My Yukon Garden: August 7

I'm posting this a day late, but there she is--my garden. It rained most of the day yesterday, so I had to wait until late to snap the picture, and at that point I'd lost my enthusiasm for posting. But the photo was taken yesterday, so the photo is on time. It's only the post that's late.

This is the point where you might not see much change from week to week. Most things are not growing as fast as before. Instead, they're putting all their energy into producing fruit. The potatoes and carrots look visibly larger, however, and the spinach has gone to seed. (Yes, I should get out there and pull it up, and when the garden dries out a bit, I will.)

Things are a little behind schedule, I'd say. There hasn't been all that much sun this year. Lots of rain, so that I haven't had to water since way back in June. But a garden needs sun, too.

And yesterday morning, at 6:15AM, I looked at the thermometer right outside my dining room window and it said 0C. Thankfully, the temperature only remained at 0 for a few minutes, so there was no frost damage, but it was a sober reminder that the end of the gardening season is coming soon.

We ate our first head of broccoli on Sunday night. We've eaten another head of cabbage as well. If you lived here, I'd give you a head of cabbage for free. What was I thinking when I planted so many?

More garden posting:

Previous photos of my garden:
  1. June 5
  2. June 12
  3. June 19
  4. June 26
  5. July 3
  6. July 10
  7. July 17
  8. July 24
  9. July 31
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Sunday, August 6

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Irrational!

Most rational people turn tail and run when they hear the term irrational numbers. They figure if they can't understand the rational numbers, how are they going to understand those crazy numbers that fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. But there's no reason to be on tenterhooks while in the presence of an irrational number. While it is true that irrational numbers are a tad difficult to pin down, the term irrational when applied to numbers has nothing to do with their unreasonableness, but rather, it tells us that these are numbers that can't be represented as a ratio of two integers.

We've known about rational numbers almost as long as we've known that the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse, which you probably recognize as the pythagorean theorem. (And I'm using the word we in the last sentence to refer to humanity collectively, so that means around 2500 years ago, since the time of the Pythagoreans, rather than since the time you were in 5th grade.)

The story of the discovery of rational numbers goes something like this: Mr. Pythagoras loved numbers. He loved numbers a whole lot. He loved them because he thought they were beautiful and perfect and pure and tidy, so perfect and pure and tidy that every single number could be represented as a ratio of two whole numbers. So perfect that the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle was exactly equal to the square of the hypotenuse. And isn't that just the nicest, tidiest thing you've ever heard?

Unfortunately, Pythagorus had a smart aleck student who began fooling around with the pythagorean theorum, starting, as was the perfectly rational thing to do, with a right triangle with sides of one unit, just like the one in the picture above. After a bit of calculation, he discovered--ta da!--that the hypotenuse was exactly √2 units in length. And as any good student of Pythagorus would do, he decided to put √2 in the form of a ratio of two whole numbers.

He worked things out something like this:

  • √2 = m/n, in which m/n is a fraction in lowest terms.

This much was assumed by definition, since the Pythagoreans assumed that all numbers could be expressed by a ratio of two whole numbers. Next, he squared both sides, and came up with this:

  • 2 = m2/n2

Then he multiplied both sides by n2 (and reversed sides) and got:

  • m2 = 2n2

This told him that m must be a multiple of 2, because we know that the square of an even number is even, and since 2n2 is even, m must be even. This means we can substitue 2q in the equation for m, since m is a multiple of 2:

  • 4q2 = 2n2

And then he divided both sides by 2:

  • 2q2 = n2

Which showed him that n must be a multiple of 2 as well. (See the reasoning regarding squares of even numbers above.)

And therein lies the rub. Remember, the student started out with the assumption that that m/n was a fraction in lowest terms. If both m and n are multiples of two, then m/n can't be a fraction in lowest terms, so there's no way to represent √2 as a fraction in lowest terms. Meaning, of course, that √2 is not a rational number, but an irrational one.

Now let's leave the math behind and get back to the story. Mr. Pythagorus's student did what any student would do. He said, "Hey Teach! Look at this!" Unfortunately for the student, his proof undermined the entire belief system of his famous teacher, and as the story goes, Pythagorus did what any perfectly rational person would do, he had the student executed rather than take the chance the secret of irrational numbers would get out to the rest of the world. He also insisted that the rest of the class take an oath of secrecy, with the threat of death for any tattletale.

If I were you, I'd be a little sceptical of this story, since there are about a million different versions of it floating around, proving that mathematicians can embellish with the best of them. What we do know for sure is this: The Pythagoreans discovered irrational numbers*, and they used the proof given above to prove that √2 was irrational. That means their confidential info leaked out anyway, proving that mathematicians can't keep a secret, either.
*Although the Egyptians may have beaten them to the punch.


Sunday's Hymn: Isaac Watts

I've decided to feature hymns by Isaac Watts for a few Sundays. The Cyber Hymnal lists 500 of them, but don't worry, I won't feature them all.
Am I A Soldier of the Cross

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through skies,
The glory shall be Thine.
Isaac Watts wrote this hymn to accompany a sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:13. (Listen.)
Other hymns, worship songs, etc. posted this Sunday
Have you posted a hymn this Sunday, and I missed it? Let me know by leaving a link in the comments or by emailing me at the address in the sidebar, and I'll add your post to the list.

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Friday, August 4

In the Yellow Palette

In the comment section of one of the other wildflower posts, Candyinsierras asked if we have Indian paintbrushes in the Yukon. The Indian paintbrushes that I grew familiar with while growing up in Minnesota had large bright scarlett heads, and we don't have that sort of showy paintbrush here. Ours are mostly yellow, a few are orange, and some call the orangy ones Indian paintbrushes. Perhaps they're right when they call them that, but they're not the same paintbrushes Minnesotans call Indian paintbrushes.

This is not to say that the less showy paintbrushes of the Yukon aren't perfectly nice. You can see how lovely the yellow paintbrush is in the photo from oldest son above. They are very nice, but they don't say, "Hey look at me! Aren't I spectacular?" the way those big red Minnesota paintbrushes do.

In defense of my ignorance of the proper names for the varieties of Yukon paintbrushes, let me explain that there are over 200 species of paintbrushes, and the majority of those species grow in western North America. That's a lot of species to keep straight, and if you've done any perusing of paintbrush photos, you know there isn't much difference in the look of the different types of paintbrushes. And just to make things even more confusing, paintbrushes of the same species like to mix it up with their characteristics to keep the expert wildflower identifier on his/her toes. One plant of a particular paintbrush species will have a hairy stem, for instance, while it's supposedly identical twin living right next door will have a smooth, freshly shaven stem. Don't you love it when flowers get tricky like that?

Paintbrushes are members of the figwort family, and the colored tips that we admire aren't really flowers at all, but leafish bits. Leafish bits is a technical term, by the way, for something or other. So paintbrushes are not flowers, but flower wannabes that make a pretty good show anyway, and get an A for effort from me.

What you won't see on their report card is "plays well with others." It's not that paintbrushes don't like being with others, but that they like being with others too much. They are like clinging vines in their relationships with other plants, or even more accurately, like the mosquitoes or lice of the plant world. Yes, pretty as they are, they are parasites. They attach their roots to the roots of nearby plants and suck nourishment from them, and they'll die if you remove them from the life blood of their next-door neighbor. That means that if you decide you want paintbrushes in your wildflower garden, it's a mistake to dig up a single paintbrush plant for transplant. No, you must dig up the whole neighborhood with it, so that the paintbrush has the plants it likes to parasitize living closeby.

I've transplanted paintbrushes, and I knew enough to bring the grasses around it along with it, and my paintbrushes did fine for a couple of years, but then died out. What I didn't know is that it's only once a whole colony of paintbrushes is established that you can count on natural reseeding to keep the colony going. With the number of plants I had--three or four altogether--I needed to help nature out a little by reseeding or replanting every year if I wanted to keep paintbrushes in my garden.
Click on photo for larger view. You'll find all of the previous wildflower posts here.

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Thursday, August 3

The Authoring of Sin

Last week I looked at one of the standard rebuttal phrases in theological discussion. This week I'm moving on to another one of these phrases--the old stand-by accusation that a particular view of God's relation to sin makes God the author of sin. This phrase, too, is meant to be an automatic discussion stopper. The phrase is seen as a whole argument in and of itself, so that once the author of sin bomb is dropped, no additional argumentation is needed.

But does it really work that way? Does that argument carry any weight at all, let alone the whole weight of an argument?

First off, let me point out that this phrase, though often used in theological discussions, is not a phrase used in scripture. There is no verse that says, "God is not the author of sin." Don't tell anyone, but I think I once had a vague notion that this was actually a quote from scripture. We can, of course, know a few things from scripture about the nots of God's relationship to sin. To name two nots from James 1, we know that God cannot be tempted with evil, and that God himself does not tempt anyone. So, then, if you define the phrase author of sin to mean "the one who tempts", then it is quite true to say that God isn't the author of sin. The phrase, however, isn't a scriptural proof text, and if all you mean by author of sin is "one who tempts," then you'd probably be better off using the scriptural word tempt instead of the word author, because not only would everyone understand what you meant, you'd also be quoting right from scripture, and who could argue with that?

Of course, that makes the phrase not nearly so useful, because almost no one argues that God is in the business of tempting people. Nope, part of the reason the phrase author of sin is so useful is that there is no agreed upon definition. It sounds really, really bad, but it's also really, really difficult to nail down a definition, so it doesn't require that the opponent's viewpoint meet any specific criteria before the author of sin rebuttal can be used. As long as our opponent's statements about God's relationship to sinful acts of men sounds too direct to us, we can use the this accusation and feel it applies.

What does author of sin mean, anyway? I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the absolutely correct definition. I can't find the definition in any dictionaries. I can find lots of statements saying that this statement or that statement "makes God the author of sin," and lots of affirmations of the truth that "God is not the author of sin," all without explanations of what that means. We can learn a little bit about what people mean by terms, however, by examining how they use them.

The phrase author of sin is used in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, Section 1.
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin....
So whatever the Westminster divines meant by the term author of sin, it doesn't include unchangeably ordaining every single thing that happens in human history, including sinful acts of men. Unchangeably ordaining something, then, is not authoring it according to those who authored the Westminster Confession.

When it comes to Adam and Eve's action in the fall, the Westminster Confession tells us that
their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. (Chapter VI, Section 1)
This is more evidence that as far as the authors of the WCF were concerned, for God to purpose a sinful act for a good result was not authoring it. You'll notice that they use the word permit in relation to God's role in our first parent's sin--he purposed or ordained this particular event, but he accomplished it by means of permission. I'm guessing that this is where the authors of the WCF draw the line in their definition of author of sin. If God had worked to convince Adam and Eve to sin, or, to put it another way, if he had actually tempted them, then God would be the author of sin; but as long as God ordained their action, having purposed it for good purposes, and then permitted it to occur according to his plan, he was not the author of sin.

I'm not sure the phrase ever had an agreed upon definition. Jonathan Edwards, a man you'd think would know the correct definition if there were one, has this to say about the phrase:
They who object, that this doctrine makes God the Author of Sin, ought distinctly to explain what they mean by that phrase, The Author of Sin. I know the phrase, as it is commonly used, signifies something very ill. (On the Freedom of the Will, Part 4, Section 9)
He gives two possible definitions. The first is that it means that God is
the Sinner, the Agent, or Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing.
This definition seems to be pretty close to how the Westminster Confession uses the phrase. If someone defines the term this way, and understands their opponent's viewpoint, most likely they'll never have a chance to use it in an argument, because people to whom you'd be able to define the term this way and still say, "You're making God the author of sin" are few and far between.

The second definition suggested by Jonathan Edwards is more likely closer to the way most people who use the phrase define it. By author of sin they mean
the permitter, or not a hinderer of Sin; and, at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that Sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow.
The particular part of this definition that makes God the author of sin, in the eyes of those who define the term this way, cannot be the permission of sin, since anyone who believes God is all-powerful and all-knowing must necessarily believe that he permits sin; nor can it be that God knows that if he permits sin, it will certainly follow, since this, too, must be true for an all-knowing God.

The author of sin accusation, then, must accompany the idea that God disposes of those events for his purposes; or, to put it another way, that he has reasons for choosing to allow sin; or yet again, that his permission of sin is a piece of a purposeful plan on his part. It's not the permission that's the problem, but the purpose. If God had reason for permitting sin, then he's the author of sin. And, supposedly, that's bad. Really, really, bad. Or as Jonathan Edwards puts it, "something very ill."

This last idea is one that boggles me. Somehow, for those who argue that it's the purposeful nature of God's permission of sin that makes him the author of sin, a supreme being who permits sin for no reason is better than one who permits it for a reason. When it comes to the permission of sin, in their view, arbitrary is better than purposeful.

There's yet another possibility, and I believe this to be the most common way people use the phrase author of sin. In this usage, it's not the purposefulness of God's permission of sin itself that is seen as making God the author of sin, but the particular reason for which he permits it. For instance, someone might argue that if God permits sin for the ultimate purpose of his own glory, then he is the author of sin; but if his ultimiate purpose for the permission of sin is the free will of humankind, then he is not the author of sin. That would mean that the term author of sin applies to the specific purpose, rather than the means or the purposefulness of the means.

This is yet another idea that confounds me, because the only way I can see this distinction being reasonable is if the purpose for permitting sin is of itself a sinful one. So, for example, if someone makes the distinction that it is the specific purpose for permitting sin that makes God the author of sin, and they believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith makes God the author of sin, they would be arguing that "to His own glory" is a sinful purpose. This is not to say that most (or even any) people who argue this way mean to argue that, but that is, in effect, what they are arguing.

To sum up, I'd say that if you feel the urge to say, "You're making God the author of sin" in a discussion with someone, you might want to do these things first.
  1. Know exactly what you mean by authoring sin.
  2. Make sure you understand their view so that you're positive that what they are arguing falls under authoring sin according to your definition of the term.
  3. Define the term so they understand what you mean when you use it, because chances are, they don't.
  4. Make sure you understand everything you're saying about your own view of God's relation to sin when you define authoring sin the way you do. You may be inadvertently supporting ideas you don't agree with.
Better yet, strike it off your list of rebuttal phrases altogether. Use more scriptural and easy to understand terms instead, like tempting to sin, or sinning, or commiting sin. And if none of those more specific terms apply to their view, you might want to consider that your opponent could be right.

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Wednesday, August 2

Round the Sphere Again

Memes, Carnivals, Doodads, Etc.
Marriage, Family, Church, Etc.
Impeccability, Incarnation, Representative Headship, Etc.
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Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death;[1] give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession;[2] and to satisfy God's justice,[3] procure his favor,[4] purchase a peculiar people,[5] give his Spirit to them,[6] conquer all their enemies,[7] and bring them to everlasting salvation.[8]
  1. Acts. 2:24-25
    God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

    “‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken...' "

    Rom. 1:4
    ....and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord....

    Rom. 4:25
    ....who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for ourjustification.

    Heb. 9:14 much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

  2. Acts 20:28
    Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

    Heb. 7:25-28
    Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

    For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

    Heb. 9:14
    how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

  3. Rom. 3:24-26
    ....and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

  4. Eph. 1:6 the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

    Matt. 3:17
    "....and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

  5. Titus. 2:13-14
    ....waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

  6. Gal. 4:6
    And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

  7. Luke 1:68-69, 71, 74
    “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
    and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David....

    ....that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us....

    ....that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
    might serve him without fear...."

  8. Heb. 5:8-9
    Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him....

    Heb. 9:11-15
    But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

    Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Question 38, Westminster Larger Catechism.

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Tuesday, August 1

This Day in History

Because I thought you should know. On this day
[i]n 1964, outhouses were outlawed in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, as all residences were required to connect to city water and sewer lines.
From the Juneau Empire (registration required).

When we moved here in 1977, however, there was still one section of the city that had no water or sewer. I guess everyone there was living illegally.

And I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that the back third of my back yard--the part where the veggie garden is now--was a horse corral before we moved in. The older lady who used to lived next door was mighty happy to see those horses move elsewhere.

I'm happy as long as they don't outlaw my clothesline.

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