Romanian Grace

The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

16 May, 2008


Well.  It is getting to be that time.  I am nigh on two weeks from leaving Romania, and I am starting to wrap things up, say my good-byes, do all the stuff I have been meaning to do for two years.  Here's one of 'em.

In olden times, when a writer came to the end of his life and looked back over all of his work, he often feared the consequences of what he had written.  I guess they had a better idead of the meaning and significance of words in general back then.  Anyway, they would often write some kind of retraction there at the end that went something like this: 

I have written a lot of stuff in my life.  Some of it has been popular, and some of it not; some has been good, and some of it bad.  If anything I wrote has edified others and exalted Christ, then that should not be attributed to me but to the grace of God working in me through his Holy Spirit.  If, on the other hand, anything I have written has torn down that which is good and has dishonored the name of the Lord, then that's all me, and I therefore beg you to forgive and overlook those things as foolish drivel from an idiotic mind and I earnestly look to the Lord to save me from such foolish sin.  

So.  I would like to use the summary above as my own retraction regarding this website.  Much of what I have written has been silly, meaningless, and foolish; some of it has been sinful and offensive; some of it, by God's grace, has actually been good, true, and beautiful.  For that I am thankful.  

For those of you worried, I do not feel that I am at the end of my life, just at the end of the life of this blog.

More stuff and pictures to come, so my retraction, I hope, will also work in a forward direction.

Love and happiness to all. 

09 May, 2008

Engagement is...

Here's where I am right now, more or less.

Engagement is engagement is engagement is engage…. Like the first hour and twenty minutes of Rocky IV. All we really want to see is Ivan Drago bleeding and worn out and humped in his corner saying, “He is like iron. He bends but will not break” or “He is not a man. He is a machine.” But all the other stuff in the movie (like the context that tells us why he is fighting the Russian in the first place (I mean besides the whole cold war bit, which we are left to fill in ourselves, those of us who grew up in it)) they say is necessary and actually makes the fight itself better. For now I remain a skeptic on this point regarding both the movie and the engagement.

Of course, the philosopher and cultural critic, Avery Mixon, likens engagement to another movie, as follows: “Treat engagement like Groundhog day, get really good at communication and learn to play the piano.”

03 May, 2008


I realize that I have not updated in a while, but now is not time for that, so I have just one sentence to let all y'all know I'm not dead or nothing and to tell you a little of what I have been doing and reading lately, namely, Schaeffer's Art and the Bible, along with The God Who Is There, both of which I have been teaching to Katy, who is going to Ole Miss and who has also become a huge Flannery O'Connor fan this year, due to our reading her short stories and now Wise Blood, which I would consider one of the strangest and best novels I have read, far outdoing, in my opinion, As I Lay Dying, which we just finished and which always underwhelms me, even though I acknowledge it as good, but far less preferred than Luther's Bondage of the Will, say, which Abi and Daniel have been reading and which I have found to be both a delight and a challenge, like many of the books we have read this year, including Dante's Inferno, The Canterbury Tales, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, over which my ninth graders will be tested in a couple of weeks, as we end school for the year May 21, which will leave me a little over a week to dink around Romania and do all those things I want to do here and see all the things I have yet to see before I go home to my precious feeawnsy who will be awaiting me at the Atlanta airport on the evening of May 31 with eager anticipation and whom I cannot wait to marry on October 11, a date that cannot come soon enough except that we lack a little planning still, though we seem to have decided on a location and are getting closer to knowing what kind of food we will have there, and our photographer, whose blog you ought to visit, named Caleb Chancey, has been decided since before I proposed to Melissa, who would want me to use this space also to tell you that I am doing pretty well, all things considered and am happy here in Romania, spring fever and all, and will actually miss this place very very much, since it has been a place that the Lord has used mightily to shape me and grow me and even to break me, the kind of work I have needed for some time in my life and which I will need (and, doubtless, receive) in the weeks and years to come, not that I think the process is fun or even pleasant, but it is good, which I think could be said of most of the Holy Spirit's work, or most of Christ's redeeming work, as Bill Mallonee says, "redemption don't come easy, but somebody's got to foot the bill," which I know I could never do but for which I am more than thankful and not thankful enough.

04 February, 2008

ma feeawnsay

A few pictures...long overdue. No, I do not think that Ron Paul is more blog-worthy than Melissa least not in the long run.

This is one of those posed shots (I don't really like posed shots) where we are trying to serve the dual purpose of communicating great affection and including the ring in the picture.  She's not trying to push me away.  Honest.

I was looking over at my beautiful bride-to-be, and when I turned back around Isaac clocked me one.  A cheap shot if I've ever seen one.

These are the Hartmans, who hosted Melissa during her stay here and helped me immensely to get everything just right so my proposal would go off without a hitch.  Thanks, guys!

Kind of scary picture, if you think about it.

30 January, 2008

Ron Paul 08

Okay.  Look here, dear readers.  I am not going to clamber up on any political soapbox here, but I do need to put in a good word for my boy Ron Paul.  Has it occurred to you that the most important statement that has been made about Paul and his platforms is that he has received next to zero attention from the mass media.  Having realized that I possess a preternatural distaste for almost anything that carries the endorsement of the mass media, advertising agencies, networks, or the majority of our populous these days anyway, the fact that they pay no attention to him almost guarantees my support for him.  

If you do not know anything about Dr. Paul, I think it is at least your duty as a voting American to expose yourself to the radical principles behind which he stands (and has been standing for years in Congress).  I have been particularly impressed with his aversion to getting caught up in much of the rhetoric of this election and focusing what all of our serious candidates ought to be focusing on: the Constitutionality of our current government, its wars, its financial irresponsibility, its treaties, its tolerance....  So, I would recommend that you peruse his site at least to get an idea of what a candidate might say that is different from Hillary and Obama and Romney and Huckabee and McCain (who, with little exception, are all saying about the same thing...what?'ve noticed that, too?).  Just as Flannery (you thought I forgot about her for a little bit, didn't you?) defended her writing the grotesque by saying, "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures," Paul's message has to be far out, and even offensive, if it is even going to begin to indicate the many obvious reasons that our country ain't what it used to be.  But why is considering that the government should look more like what the Constitution proposes a radical and startling and unthinkable notion in our country today?

You might be thinking that, because you have not heard of him, he is a nobody with no chance of succeeding.  I would like to point out that he beat Huckabee in Nevada and received over 50,000 votes in Michigan, again, with no media support, not even being allowed on a Fox News forum with the other presidential candidates (including Rudy, and Thompson, whom he has beaten in every state so far).  He has a chance.

Vote for Ron Paul.  Seriously. 

29 January, 2008

the lecture

Here is a link to an excellent lecture on Flannery by Dr. Wood, given at the McLaurin Institute.  I would recommend browsing the other lectures archived on the McLaurin site ( as well.  There are some good ones.  After Dr. Wood gives his lecture, a professor from the University of Minnesota (with which the Institute is affiliated) offers a response that I think is not really worth listening to.  But don't let that keep you from listening to the first 45 minutes.  You ought to be able to download the mp3 file from the site by right-clicking (if you still haven't bought a Mac) or my holding ctrl while you click (if you are enlightened and liberated).

The Christ-Haunted South II

So.  I am continuing to read from this book I have been mentioning and will be quoting from periodically, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, by Ralph C. Wood.  In his essay on Flannery's personal favorite story, "The Artificial Nigger," Wood writes, "The staggering paradox is that God imprisons us, said Karl Barth, by flinging wide our cell door: the gospel 'accuses [mankind] by showing that all the charges against him have been dropped.  It threatens him by showing him that he is out of danger.'  Barth liked to tell of a Swiss horseman who became lost in a snowstorm and crossed frozen Lake Konstanz at full gallop before finally making it safely home.  When told of the daring deed he had consciously done, the man broke down in horror and fright.  Only after he was saved did he recognize his dire danger (emphasis mine)."  That is the essential fact of the gospel, and the essential difference between knowing Christ and merely being a Christian (or the religion of your choice).  The one looks back on what was done and lives accordingly: gratefully, graciously, humbly; the other does and looks forward to being repaid accordingly, which is a system doomed to fall flat on its face.  In the story at hand, both the characters are a disaster to themselves and each other because each is only concerned with being entirely self-sufficient and with proving himself to be better than his companion.  Read the story.  

Oh.  And here is a bonus Barth quote that I find absurdly confusing, but probably profound: "The Yes cannot be heard unless the No is also heard.  But the No is said for the sake of the Yes and not for its own sake.  In substance, therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No."  Try that one on for size.

One last word.  I am not posting any pictures these days because my camera went kaput.  Sadly.  Devastatingly.    

26 January, 2008

The Christ-Haunted South

OK.  So Flannery O'Connor is having a huge impact on my life right now as I am teaching her work to Katy.  I have been reading and enjoying her for years, but I realize now that I have never really scratched the surface of her stories.  Anyway, one thing that has been really useful has been Dr. Ralph Wood's recent book, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ Haunted South, which he recently sent me a copy of (long, but very cool, story, and one of the landmarks of my academic life).  In one footnote, we have Flannery saying of not-liberal theologian Karl Barth, "I distrust people who have ugly things to say about Karl Barth.  I like old Barth.  He throws the furniture around the room."  I could say much the same for Miss O'Connor right now.  She is throwing the furniture all about what I have tried to keep as neat an intellectual space as possible.  She is redefining Grace, or at least casting it in its intended light.  She has overturned my understanding of what redemption looks like, the use of mercy, and the beauty of the fundamentalist South (she herself was a Christian Catholic).  I just realized the other day that it is killing me not to have anyone to share this with (I think I tire Katy out sometimes, so I try to hold back), so y'all might be the (willing or not) recipients of occasional thoughts on Flannery.  

22 January, 2008

A good question

I love it when I have a whole lesson planned (or even when I don't) and we wind up spending almost the whole class discussing the first question that I ask.  When I taught eighth grade civics a few years back, we called those tangents, and I had a designated tangent-caller whose duty was to get us back on track.  Any readers of my blog will believe that I have an affinity for such tangents.  Anyway, here is the question we discussed for about an hour today:

Is it usually wrong for a 13 year-old boy to cry?

Well... what do you think?

09 January, 2008

All's well that ends well

The following is the most complete account of my proposal and Melissa's astonishing acceptance minutes in to the new year. There is a picture. I will post it when I determine if my camera is actually dead dead or only mostly dead.

It was perfect. New Year's Eve, about 11PM, snow all over the place, and a nice spot under the stars on a hilltop overlooking a number of small Romanian towns. I had carried up my big backpack containing the following items: my silver Christmas tree and ornaments, two wine glasses, a bottle of champagne, two coffee mugs, a thermos full of hot cocoa, my pipe (just in case) and some good black cavendish that Melissa brought over from Dothan. I also had toted up a box of kindling and firewood. In my pockets was all the essential gear: a firestarter packet, a grill lighter, flashlight, and a diamond ring (which Melissa also brought with her from Dothan, unbeknownst to her).

By just after 11, we had ascended the hill and had worked up a little heat, which would last us long until, with luck, we got the fire started. So I dumped out the box of firewood, got the lighter out of my pocket, and searched for the firestarter. I continued searching for the firestarter. And I kept searching, now repeated times in the same four pockets and all over the ground. Nowhere. So I decided that we would go ahead and get the Christmas tree set up (for a picture), then go down after another firestarter (Ed, my boss, and his family were all watching movies down at the bottom of the hill). So we set up the tree, hiked back down the hill (probably a couple hundred yards and fairly steep) and in to where the Hartmans were. They, knowing my plans, were a little surprised to see us so soon.

Having obtained a firestarter, we went back up the hill, finding the original starter along the way, and found our spot (demarcated by the silver decorated tree). By now we were sufficiently warm in spite of the 20 or less degree weather, which was good, because I built the fire quickly, set the starters in their appropriate places, pulled the trigger on the lighter, and nothing happened. Just a click. It is hard to light even a firestarter with just a blue electric click. So I kept clicking, kept pulling the trigger, and nothing kept happening. Click. This was getting ridiculous. It was after 11:30, and time was running short in the year. Clickclickclickclickclick. Incredible.

My previous reluctance to leave my future fiancee in the dark cold on the hilltop while I went back down to the house vanished. I handed her a stick of firewood and told her to protect herself if any gypsies came up. I ran down to the house and asked for another lighter. Then I got smart. Matches. I was not going back up there without matches. Matches never fail (except for the guy in London's story To Build a Fire, but we did not want to think about that, now, did we?). So I ascended yet again with another lighter and some matches. Melissa was cold. I could tell, and I was a little late on this fire business. I felt a little like cavemen must have felt back in the day when they had this big dead animal they had dragged into their cave and eagerly anticipating hungry wife and kids and such, only to find they had already used the last of their birchbark or flint or whatever. Anyway, I think that kind of thought was going through my head, along with the one that said, this is not going very well, is it, Nicholas?

I clicked the new lighter a few times and was immediately proud of my matches epiphany. This lighter wasn't working either. Must have been the cold, but that did not matter now. I had matches, and matches always work. And these did. Of course, it takes a while for a fire to get going, and Melissa, as I said, was cold from sitting up there waiting for my sorry self to get back up the hill and light the fire. So I suggested that we sit on the crate I had hauled the wood up in and sip our hot chocolate to warm ourselves a bit. The temperature was probably in the teens, anyway, especially with the light wind that occasionally kicked up. I had gotten a very mild frostbite on my fingers a few weeks ago, so I was really interested in keeping my fingers warm. We were sitting nice and close on that little crate, and I poured up the cocoa with the words, "This is going to hit the spot."

I want you to know that when I say it was tooth-crackin' cold, I mean the cocoa in the thermos had retained no heat at all. That was disappointing, but we laughed and drank it down anyway. It was doing something besides just sitting around being cold. By now the fire was putting off a little heat, so we moved over next to it. Fireworks were beginning to be fired off from our own town, and we could see several nearby displays. As the fire picked up, I set up the tripod to take a picture of us, the fire, the snow, and the silver tree. Midnight was approaching. So I took that one shot, then, I went back to the camera under the pretense of taking one more shot, but I was going to put it on video and capture the whole thing like that. When I looked at the picture we had just taken, however, the message: battery low flashed onto the screen, then the screen blipped to black. It was dead.

In summation up to this point: dropped firestarter, lighter did not work, second lighter did not work, hot cocoa was cold, we were cold, camera was dead, I didn't mention that we had broken one of the wine glasses as our first act of the evening. This was well on its way to disaster. If not there already.

But, of course the nice thing about being with a cold girl you love is all the more reason to snuggle, and that was nice. And I guess I could say it all got better from there. The new year rolled around, more fireworks (to be expected), and I, with frozen fingers attempted to dig around unperceived in my jacket's chest pocket and procure the ring without dropping it into the snow or fire and without being noticed my Melissa. And then I asked her to be my wife.
And then she paused just long enough to make me feel uncomfortable.
And then she said yes.
And then I was sufficiently happy.

So. That's about it. All's well that ends well.