Man, I don’t know why I waited until now to buy a chainsaw. Our yard has a bunch of trees that need to be removed or trimmed, so I bought a 14 inch “Worx” electric chainsaw at WalMart the other day. It was under fifty bucks and had a three year warranty, so I figured it was worth the gamble. I put in the chain oil and plugged it in and the first weekend I took down a huge pear tree that extended from a 24″ trunk out to two 12″ branches – one of which was dying, hollow, etc. Then cut that all up and put the limbs on the street. Then I tackled a long, spindly holly that had seen better days. I essentially took down a full sized tree and medium sized tree and the chainsaw worked great. No fuss with the engine either. The (cheap, stock) chain was duller at this point so I got a higher-quality chain this week and changed it out. During the snowstorm this week, the two junipers that stand to either side of our front door like large bonsai trees were covered in a lot of heavy snow. Unfortunately one of the trained branches broke from the weight of the snow, so I had to kind of clean that up today. I really hope that we can save that tree – there is a split that I think will make the rest of it a lot weaker. Very sad because this tree was obviously trained with a lot of love over the years by the previous homeowners. But the chainsaw performed admirably, and it was nice to have a new blade for this kind of surgical stuff. Then, I cut down another strange holly “tree” that was crowding a gigantic wisteria vine. I also cut down a few other dead or nearly-dead smaller trees in the yard. It’s 10:30 and I’m enjoying the obligatory, celebratory brew before I start grouting the tub surround I finished tiling last week. I’ll try to put up some pictures of all this stuff at some point. You can follow me on instragram – see the left side of this blog for my feed – and I tend to post photos there once in a while.

I hope you’re having a productive Saturday, dear readers.


This was a helpful interview with Andrew Wakefield, the allegedly discredited gastroenterologist from England who took seriously the issue of vaccine safety:

I know you’ve heard, in the press, that he is wrong, but if you haven’t looked into this yourself, then you’re probably working with a caricature both of him and of his findings.

Snow Afternoon

Well, it’s not quite a show *day* but it is pretty cool to get a snow afternoon. They closed Mississippi State University at 2:00, which means that 20,000+ students and a huge number of staff and faculty now have a snow afternoon. Then the elementary and high schools in town all let out as well. Of course, there’s no snow yet, but the radar looks pretty promising (or threatening depending upon your tolerance for snow.)

I wonder how they closed schools early in the old days… Word of mouth? I guess enough people listened to the same radio or television stations so that the word spread pretty quickly. Or maybe everyone just planned a little better than they do now. Nowadays, no one agrees to meet at location X at time Y. They say “let’s have lunch tomorrow” and then 15 minutes before noon they begin to correlate their respective intentions, hankerings, etc. via SMS.

Well, I’m going to go suck the marrow out of this snow afternoon. Adios, dear reader.

Kindle Problems

Here’s a copy of the chat transcript you requested:

Initial Question: Hi – my kindle is showing an ad for “fifty shades of grey” on the screen when it sleeps. Dude, this is not what I want people / my kids / my dogs to see on the screen of my kindle. Please help me get some other kind of advertising.

07:26 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): Hello, my name is Sunder. I’m here to help you today.
07:26 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: Hey Sunder – cool name!
07:27 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): Thank you, Jonathan. Is this the only ad which appears on your Kindle in Sleep mode?
07:27 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: Yes – it’s full screen
and there are small banner ads for it at the bottom of my home screen
07:28 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): Once unlock the screen and lock it again to check if any other ad displays or not.
07:28 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: Woo hoo – now it has something more appropriate
07:29 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: thank you so much
07:29 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): You’re welcome, Jonathan. Do you have any other questions for me?
07:29 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: will this ad come back?
07:30 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): There might be 4-5 ads which appear on Kindle, so when you see the same ad, just unlock and lock the screen. It will change.
07:30 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: ok – thanks so much – it came back twice today so I thought maybe it would stay there forever. Have a great evening!
Or morning!
07:31 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: I’m going to drink a beer now and watch some Amazon Prime. Have a great week.
07:31 PM PST Sunder(Amazon): Ads will change on daily basis, so same ad will not repeat for 2-3 days. Have a great week :)
07:31 PM PST Jonathan H Barlow: Bye

It’s Hard Out Here for a Crank

Man, the news lately has been pointing at me like one of those big, tacky, portable signs that you see throughout the south with the blinking arrow. The marquee says, “this man is worthy of ridicule.” I would be embarrassed to list my beliefs here about the topics that have consumed the press lately; what is there to gain? But I feel a bit like I’m in bizarro world and superman has that square-shaped head. If I could talk myself out of my beliefs, I would have done it already. It’s no use. Perhaps this is payback for making fun of snake handlers.

I used to have so much fight in me. Taking on the absurdities that are passing for conventional wisdom right now would have thrilled me. And it still bugs me, as the cartoon says, that “someone is wrong on the Internet.” But opening and sorting the bag of spitting raccoons that is the American mind these days seems too daunting a task. I don’t trust myself, in a way, to do it without being judgmental or angry or even just despairing.

At the same time, so many things are heading in the right direction. For example, maternal mortality is lower than at any point in human history. Childbirth and its difficulties, one of the main curses of the fall, is getting less and less fatal. And this is the result of 2000 years of the yeast of Jesus working through the dough of the world.

One thing that has been standing out to me starkly lately is the approach that Jesus and Paul took to the government. I think a phrase that best describes how they approach the government is something like “ironic plundering.” Paul uses his Roman citizenship the way that Joseph used his authority in Egypt. He makes the guards terrified that they’re mistreating a citizen. He uses his citizenship to escape the injustice of the Jewish courts. Paul is more like Pilate than he is like his own Sandhedrin (both ‘wash their hands’ of guilt). Paul embraces the benefits of his citizenship to prolong his life, to protect his ministry, to save others, and to travel. He plunders the resources of Rome, its soldiers, its roads, and its courts to spread the gospel. He never once evinces any libertarian guilt for being the benefactor of government’s plundering of taxpayers. And Jesus’s approach to taxation is almost like a condescending patting of the head of lesser kings. He laughs about taxation. In Matthew, we see Jesus’s mockery of the temple tax (Jewish authorities) and in Luke we see his mockery of the Roman tax (whose image is on the coin?). He pays these taxes as a way to keep people off of his back so that he can complete his mission. Jesus compares the striving for position by his own disciples with the way of gentile government – the way of ‘lording it over them’ and of exercising undue authority. There are basically just two kinds of government in the bible and no, democracy vs. monarchy is not the distinction. The distinction is between government that recognizes Jesus as King and everything else, founded on the delusion that he is not. We have a king, right now. He doesn’t need to be elected, he has no laurels to earn, no funds to raise, no positions to triangulate, and no votes to get. He owns the whole world, every nation-state under heaven, and the heart of every ruler, judge, and circuit clerk. His law is the only law in the universe, and it is a light law – it is a light yoke compared to the congressional record. There is no reason why Christians cannot simply, naively walk forward with the belief that this is Yahweh’s world. When we come into conflict with authority, we can ironically take advantage of our positions or our “rights.” Otherwise, we can boldly pursue the naive agenda of making this world a world of love.

If you’re a Christian circuit clerk in Alabama, then you’ve got a lot to think about before you go to work tomorrow. A greater magistrate has said “do x” and your local magistrate has said “don’t do x.” You have legitimate authorities giving you opposite instructions so that Romans 13 is not so easy to apply. But nullifying an unjust law, refusing to enforce it, puts your career at risk. You’re an alien from another kingdom – you’re working in Alabama but you’re more fundamentally loyal to the embassy of Christ (your church) than you are to the great seal of Alabama or the federal government that has the pretension to indivisibility. What are you going to do? Is it time to “tell no one” or is it time to “present yourself?” Many Christians will have to lose their jobs, let older institutions like the Boy Scouts or the United Way die on the vine, form parallel institutions that alienate friends, and simply be willing to have that portable sign pointed at them for a while. What will really help is if we can cultivate that ironic detachment that Paul and Jesus maintain with regard to the government. That sign has to be pointing at people who are having a great time–smiling, feasting, and serving others. I hope I can learn this–to be more concerned that my neighbors feel welcome at the feast than to spend even a second worrying about the federal deficit that I can’t control.

New Republic’s Reconsideration of its Approach to Race

Though there’s a lot of cynicism about New Republic’s lengthy consideration of its past approach to race, it is an interesting article.

It’s a sustained examination/confession of a single publication’s history of commenting on and participating in the United State’s changing racial climate. Is this the kind of confession and apology that scholars like Anthony Bradley would like the PCA to create? It will be interesting to see what kind of response the article generates, especially from African American public intellectuals.

Burns Night on Sunday!

Address to a Haggis
by Robert Burns

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

MLK Day Doings

This was MLK day and I began in the attic trying to figure out why the fan I tried to install yesterday didn’t work. It required cutting a 11 x 11 inch hole in the ceiling, attaching the fan to the joist, wiring it up, etc. Three big pieces of wire met at this outlet, so I had to put some thought into the proper wiring. I listened to the NPR special about King’s last days on a tiny radio up there in the attic while I worked through it. Long story short, the fan/light combo is now installed and working in the bathroom:


It’s cool how the light and fan are together; the fan is really quiet. I’m pitiful–we purchased this fan/light back in the summer and I’ve just gotten to the point of installing it. It was just as difficult as I expected. I made one small trip to Family Dollar this morning to get some small candelabra sized bulbs for the light and saw this hilarity:


No, your eyes are not deceiving you, these are 38 watt incandescent light bulbs. All the 40W and 60W bulbs are now halogen, but in similar looking packaging to the old incandescent ones and at 4 times the price. I’m not even going to look up why they are selling 38 watt incandescents because I know the answer likely has something to do with government regulation. This wattage probably flies under the wire of some new standard designed to make everyone feel good while filling our landfills with mercury.

One thing I found in the attic was a 1945 issue of House Beautiful.

After getting the fan finished, I got back to work on the stairs. I tackled the lower stair that kind of wraps around the top one. Again, I’m using that cool oak that Ann spotted at a salvage store. I’m gluing in place in this photo:


I then weighed it down with a bunch of boxes of tile.

After this, I started working on the molding and finishing work in the bathroom where I installed the fan. Ann primed it all for me over the past few weeks. I nailed in place the door molding, the baseboards, finished up the molding under the window sill, and then I set all the nails in preparation for filler and caulk, etc.

To finish the bathroom, I still need to finish tiling the tub, grouting it, then putting in corner moldings and ceiling molding.

I’m pretty tired. Now I’m sitting here and all three of my sons who are home are talking to themselves in various parts of the house… sigh.

Making Christianity Weird Again

There are quite a few quotable bits in this piece from Dreher:

“we may be looking at a European-style collapse in Christian faith within a generation or two, in part because so many young Americans raised in Christian homes, in a Christian milieu, do not know what it means to think and to live as a Christian. They don’t even have the conceptual vocabulary to articulate their thoughts or to frame their understanding.”


“we need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead to ‘be a lot stranger.’ His [Bo Bonner’s] point is that if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? Because that is not historic Christianity. The real thing is wild, and weird; it is not a set of ideas, but a way of life. There will always be some people — young, middle-aged, and old — haunted by the sense that there is something else there, a longing that cannot be anesthetized away. If the church stands true to itself, and doesn’t apologize for itself, then they will come.”

Evangelicalism has few tools to give the world an embodied Christianity. It thrives on an adoration of spontaneity. Changing up the liturgy each week is actually seen by many evangelicals as a way to get people to pay *more* attention to its content, rather than less. Anything that doesn’t need to be done the same way twice isn’t something that has much weight or importance. Why would we leave something as important as the gospel up to spontaneity? Things that are important to us, like dance or swimming or mathematics, have a curriculum that we follow. We use repetition to gain mastery, to let it seep inside us so that we no longer dance, but become dancers. The best way to become weird, and thus preserve Christianity as a way of life, is to start from the Lord’s supper and work outward until the whole weekly worship service makes the same kind of sense the gospel makes. Then, when you invite a non-Christian friend to worship, you’ll know what you’re getting them into, and they can hear the same thing each week as a drumbeat – the same message of creation, fall, redemption. That kind of foundation creates a world of wonder. Spontaneous evangelicalism too often creates a world of tchotchkes.