31 December 2006

A New Year's Wish: U2's "40"

Happy New Year, everyone. I think this music video is most appropriate for this time of year, U2's "40." This song came out on their 2nd or 3rd album, New Year's Day, and it isn't recognized as one of their hits, but they have a tradition of ending every concert with it. The chorus is haunting: "How long to sing this song? How long to sing a new song?" If you make it to about minute 5 of the video, you will see how the crowd picks up the chorus. A friend of mine told me about a U2 concert he attended in Los Angeles where the crowd had continued singing this chorus for about 20 minutes after the band left the stage. They simply couldn't get enough of the wishes expressed in this song. You can see what an event it is to be at a U2 concert--almost a religious experience.

"40" is based on the 40th Psalm:
You set my feet upon a rock,
you make my footsteps firm,
You lifted me out of the pit
out of the muddy clay.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in You.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing a new song?

This song is transcendant. And for your new year of 2007, I look forward to new songs of faith and victory, despair and redemption, comfort and happiness that will be sung in your household, even as we look forward to a singing a new song in a new heaven and a new earth.


30 December 2006

Guest Blogger: A Poem from Jenny

JD asked me to write a guest entry for his blog, so I am putting up the poem I wrote last night. I was inspired by Phillip Yancey's book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?. in which Yancey states that prayer could be defined best as helplessness before God. Only in our helplessness, he believes, can God replace our worldview with his own and become a true source of power in our lives. As I was in prayer last night, the idea for the poem came into my head and I wrote it down right away. I include it in the hope that the ideas will bless someone as they blessed me!


If prayer is a state of helplessness
Let me constantly be praying.
I will recede to make way for Your
Of Light, Love
Healing, Hope,

I will shrink
So You can grow, flourish, occupy
The space inside my heart –
Pushing, Stretching, Reaching,
Till my heart,
Like Yours,
Has room to hold
the weakest,
Poorest, most un-loved . . .
Hold them tight until
That torrent-rush
Surrounds them, heals them,
Makes them Whole.

I will die
So, like a seed dropped in the ground,
My faith will burst, break, branch on branch,
Leaf on leaf,
A fully-riped, lovely tree
From whose topmost branches
I can glimpse where we are going:

A land of impossibles
That are real;
Of ugliest
Who are beautiful;
Of unloved
Who are precious, dear,
The apple of Your eye;
Of sickest, most in pain
Running, dancing, and in health -

A place we only find
When we are helpless.

-- Jenny

28 December 2006

All Creatures of Our God and King

David Crowder seems too cool to be a Christian musician. He looks like a 90s-era grunge rocker from Seattle with his fuzzy hair and his long goatee. But he makes some of the most compelling Christian music out there.

I find myself returning again and again to his version of "All Creatures of Our God and King." First, it's one of my favorite hymns of all time. Yet with Crowder, it seems really cool. We sing this version at my church pretty regularly, and it always brings me close to God in praise.


26 December 2006

One Christmas Tradition

I like to refer to my home as the "Ole Manse."
It's the place my family has always come home to.
When I was growing up, I would sing, "Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go," and I would picture this place: the driveway lined with tall pines, the quiet brook at the bottom of the hill, the smell of ivy growing on the walls. This was it.
Of course no time of the year brings back memories of my own childhood like Christmas. The Christmas decorations put up by the town of Portland don't seem to have changed in the 30 years since I first began to celebrate them. Our family always visited my Grandma & Grandpa Dittes right here at Christmas time (our summer vacation took us to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to visit my Grandpa Mooney). The city Christmas lights invariably emerged out of the gloom that followed the long, seven-hour drive from our home in the Magical Land of Ohio. By this time, Julie and I had exhausted ever known diversion from our places in the back seat of our Plymouth Satellite. The lights meant that Grandma's house was not far away--Christmas presents were waiting with our names on them!
When we entered Grandma's kitchen, I always noticed the cabinet doors (pictured above). She hung the Christmas cards she received there, and I always marveled at the names, the pictures, the artwork, the greetings--everything. My grandpa was a doctor, so they were on the mailing list of every Adventist charity known to mankind (and they sent them all donations no larger than $20 every year). Looking back, I think these made up half of the cards, probably.
This is one tradition that Jenny and I have proudly kept alive. Every year our Christmas card list gets bigger. We sent out 55 Christmas letters this year, and about 70 cards. Members of our new church in Bethpage overwhelmed us with Christmas cards (more than we had received in the previous five years combined at our old church at Highland).
I have treasured every one of them, and I'm posting this picture to share them with you--to say thank you (to those who sent them), and to wish everyone a very merry and sentimental Christmas.
(I got three more cards and letters in the mail today after I took this picture. I'll tape them up on the cabinets right after I'm done writing tonight.)

21 December 2006

Christmas with the Ditteses

Jonah is full of the Christmas spirit this year, and it has been contagious.

At three years old, Jonah is "with-it" enough this year to understand what's going on. (The last few years he hasn't really known what was going on.) Now he cannot wait.

Today (my first full day off from school), he spent the morning playing with the wrapped presents under our Christmas tree. He puts half of them on one chair, the other half on the couch. He stacks them carefully, knocks them down, and then stacks them carefully again.

Of course, all this reminds me of when my sister and I were growing up. We carefully counted the presents to make sure everything was equal. Then we would stack them up and pretend they were trains, pipe organs, and any other items we could imagine. Christmas was fun, fun, fun!

It's fun again this year, thanks to Jo-Jo.

15 December 2006

Georgia Aquarium

For the past three years we have zipped down to Atlanta two weeks before Christmas for a weekend get-together with Ana Hardy, Jenny's roommate from P.A. school. Ana and Jenny shared a passion for running and remarkable study skills. Ana named her daughter, Jennifer, after Jenny, and her children are just weeks older than Ellie and Owen.

Ana lives in Southern California now, but her family are in Florida. Every year, then, she drops by Atlanta, which is about halfway between our home and her family.

We've spent the last few years in Stone Mountain, which is frighteningly cold on most December Saturdays. This year we splurged and grabbed tickets to the new Georgia Aquarium.
In many ways, the Georgia Aquarium symbolizes so much of what makes the city of Atlanta both fascinating and infuriating. It is massive--the largest aquarium in the world--but it lacks the coherence and focus that could make it a real educational colossus. It sits in downtown Atlanta, across from Centennial Olympic Park and just down the street from the Georgia Dome, yet one wonders what these gleaming wonders have to do with each other.
(Right next door, they are building the new World of Coca-Cola. No doubt someday an Atlanta will create a species of fish that can survive swimming in Coke, and they will be able to combine the museums!)
Consider other aquariums. The aquarium in Chattanooga sits next to the river, and the architecture compliments the natural surroundings. Aquariums I've visited in Monterrey, Baltimore and Boston all sit just off the harbor, tied to their natural surroundings.
There is no river in Atlanta (one can drive north and west of town to reach the Chattahoochie). There is no harbor for obvious reasons. So why did they build the world's largest aquarium there? Why did they have the Centennial Olympic Games there in 1996?! Because it could be done and it was done to show that Atlanta was one of the Great Cities. Sorry, but I'm a little sceptical when cities try this hard to be something--anything that will be great. Why, just a generation ago, Atlanta was still all about Scarlett O'Hara and Civil War nostalgia!
Criticism of Atlanta aside, the aquarium was a real treat. Divided into five distinct wings, it is really five different aquariums sharing the same roof. One wing deals with aquaculture unique to Georgia's waters. It included a real shrimp boat and a right whale which doubled as a slide, down which the kids got from the 2nd floor back to the ground. There were plenty of hands-on activities with horseshoe crabs, starfish, and rays.
The river scene is the most eclectic exhibit, which also makes it one of the more confusing. The displays are poorly labeled (I'm sure this will come along later), so sometimes it's hard to connect the fish with any names or habitats. I did like the electric eels, as well as two exhibits where the fish swam above us. This was cool, but I couldn't really get the point because of the lack of information. The river otters had plenty of toys and a really cool, and they put on a show for us.
The kids really loved the arctic area and its divine belugas. They had a neat seating area where we could take our time watching the beluga whales swim for us. Belugas have such unique smiles and personable expressions, that they are easy to make friends with through the glass. This wing also featured sea otters--the below scene was more interesting than the above view; an octopus (sleeping when we visited), sea lions, and a penguin exhibit into which the kids could peer through a glass bubble in the middle of the colony.
The aquarium's most renowned feature is the HUGE tank that holds, among an array of ocean fish, THREE whale sharks. I enjoyed the sea life theater at the end: a glass wall twice the size of a movie screen through which we could view hundreds of different fish. Jonah and I liked the hammerheads, but there were also sun fish and groupers, too.
The Dittes family loves aquariums--loves them. Owen used to call the Chattanooga Aquarium, "Owen's Aquarium." "Ava's Aquarium" was the one in Gatlinburg, TN. I guess we'll give this one to Jonah--who now insists every day, "I want to go back to the Georgia Aquarium with Jacob and Josh" (his cousins who live in Savannah, GA).
Still, I'm left scratching my head critically. It's an awesome place with every imaginable fish, technology and innovation on display. But what's the point? Aren't we supposed to learn more on our visit than "this aquarium is awesome--the biggest in the world"? That's the only thing I was missing. Maybe I just haven't drunk enough Coca-Cola to care less about these details and revel in yet one more of Atlanta, Georgia's impressive accomplishments.

14 December 2006


For the final project for the year, I'm having my seniors dramatize a British poem from the 19th or 20th Centuries. Several groups are planning videos or slide shows, and I have opened a YouTube account, hoping to eventually post some of my students' work.

As I was researching poem-related videos, I came across this gem, entitled "Ozymandias."

The words aren't included in the video, so I'll post them below. Enjoy.
I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings."
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

America's Team, American Trauma

There are things that make me truly proud to be an American: driving along lost, desert highways and being swallowed by the sky; knowing you can buy anything you need at any time of any day of the year; living among people who are loving and compassionate. I count my blessings often.

There are other things that make me cringe. The latest is plans for a new football stadium for the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. This baby costs a whopping $1 billion. It will seat 80,000 people, and it features the following luxuries: a massive dining room from which people can gorge themselves (if they have room after tailgating) while watching the game on big-screen TVs, a massive 60-yard-wide, 50-foot-high, four-sided, basketball-style scoreboard that will hang from the middle of the stadium and broadcast replays and a healthy share of advertisements; and a locker room for the 53 football players that is as big as a WalMart Supercenter!

Let's review, shall we?
  • WalMart-sized locker room
  • 180 X 50-foot scoreboards
  • $1 billion
I should add that the Cowboys will play EIGHT games a year in this monstrosity. Okay, okay, there are two preseason games and as many as two playoff games that could be played there, too. Maximum number of games: 12.

What is it going to do the other 353 days of the year? I guess it will shine really nicely. They might even play a Super Bowl there or a college bowl game!

I remember traveling through Germany in 1996 and realizing how public works reveal the values of a society. In the Dark Ages, vast proportions of the economy were utilized to build castles and fortifications for societies that valued security. In the Middle Ages, vast sums went into building churches across Europe, again emphasizing the piety of the populace. Other ages have been devoted to transport, space, and public buildings.

From 1994 to the present day, America has indulged itself in an orgy of stadium-building. Every city now has one or two new, shining arenas or stadiums. You can't miss them in places like Nashville, Oklahoma City or Phoenix. And why? Is this what ages that are to come will judge us by? Are they going to say, "America was a great nation that invested in its sports teams"?

The last thing our country (or our planet) needs is a football stadium like this. It is a colossal waste of money, and I consider it to be a national embarrassment.

13 December 2006

Profound Thoughts

We had pizza for supper tonight. Jenny was home. We were talking about our day, just like any other family would do.

Owen had the comment of the night. Out of the blue he said, "I don't think they have pizza delivery in Antarctica."

What do you do with a statement like that? We were speechless for the next few minutes until Jonah was finally able to bring the conversation around again.

07 December 2006

Christmas Idea

I'm getting into the music of the season this year.

I downloaded a CD of Christmas Carols from the Stuttgart Boys Choir for my Grandma. He is in a nursing home, and I felt that playing German carols might light up some parts of his mind that haven't been used since he was a child, growing up in a German home in Brooklyn, NY.

Of course, I love them, too.

I want to emphasize Andrew Peterson's place on my Christmas listening list, too. Three years ago, he came out with a Christmas CD called Behold the Lamb of God. I love it, because throughout each, original song, he iterweaves the story of Christ's coming to redeem us with God's own redemption of the Children of Israel. By clicking this link, you can go to his web site. If you click, Open Player, you will go to the album, so you can listen to whichever song you like (you'll have to buy it, however, to download any songs for yourself).

I recommend "Deliver Us" and "Behold the Lamb of God." If you want to hear unbridled, brilliant songwriting, check out "Matthew's Begats." Amazing.

Merry Christmas!

05 December 2006

Andrew Peterson - Holy is the Lord

This is my second try with this. I was trying to edit the text in my blog, but apparently I can't do that. This is the one post on my blog that I just can't get enough of. Andrew Peterson, folks, he is my absolute favorite Christian singer, bar none!

The Mouths of Babes

I was walking back to the van Sunday night, and Jonah just took off. He ran forward and touched the door of the van and triumphantly shouted, "I beat you!"

I didn't notice that he had slurred the words together until he also announced. "I beach Owen too!"

"Did you beach me?" I protested.

Jonah grinned. "Yeah!!!!"

Jonah beached the Whale, alas.