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July 2007

July 27, 2007

Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion
The atheistic literary pantheon is currently comprised of three men: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. All three men have written bestselling books and all three have published their most recent efforts in the past year. While I have no reason to believe that they have planned their books to coincide thematically or chronologically, their books do resemble each other in several ways. All three men believe that religion is a blight on society and all of them choose to deal most specifically with the evils of Christianity and its adherents. All three believe that religion harms far more than it hurts and all of them are angry and unwilling to be silent about all of this. Of these three, Dawkins is the most influential and we can rightly say that he is currently the most prominent atheist in the world.

July 26, 2007

Aileen and I were blessed, when we first began dating, to be members of a church where there were many elderly couples. They were couples who exemplified so many beautiful qualities. Christians for decades, they shone with the light of Christ and were living proof that, though physical beauty fades with the years, true inner beauty grows with every year spent in and through Christ. They had a life, a glow, a presence that drew us to them. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a church where the young people were so eager to spend time with the elderly. We loved them and wanted to be like them.

Even today Aileen and I remember these couples fondly and remember what a joy it was just to be with them and just to see them living their lives together, more in love with each other in old age than at any other time. As the years went by they grew increasingly dependent on each other and we could see that the two more and more became one.

I thought of these couples again when I recently bumped into “Dear Bobbie,” a song by the band Yellowcard. I really know nothing of the band beyond this one song, so if they are really militant fundamentalist Mormons, well, don’t take this as an endorsement of them or of any of their other music. The song is based on a letter from the singer’s grandfather that was addressed to his wife of 58 years. It is structured around three portions of the letter read by the now 87 year old man. He reads them in a trembly, distinctly ancient voice. But he speaks of days long gone by—“I remember pleated skirts, black and white saddle shoes.” He speaks of the things he remembers about the woman he loves; the woman who has shared his life. While I love the lyrics, they really are somewhat impotent without the accompanying music, so you may want to blow $0.99 at iTunes just to listen in.

Dear Bobbie,

Do you remember when you were young and very pretty? I do, I remember pleated skirts, black and white saddle shoes. Do you remember dancing half the night? I do, I still think of you when we dance, although we cant jitterbug as we did then.

Do you remember when
How long has it been
1945 you opened my blue eyes
To see a whole new life
Do you remember when
I told you this that night,
That if you’re by my side
When everyday begins
I’ll fall for you again
I made a promise when
I told you this that night

I’ll be fine
When I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
When I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

Do you remember the times we would give up on each other and get back together? We finally was married in 1949. We drove the yellow convertible on our honeymoon. Do you remember? I do.

Life has led us here
Together all these years
This house that we have made
Holds 20,000 days
And memories we’ve saved
Since life has led us here

And I’ll be fine
Cause when I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
Cause when I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

I’m coming home to you
Slipping off my shoes
Resting in my chair
See you standing there
The silver in your hair
I’m coming home to you
When I lay tonight, when I close my eyes
I know the sun will rise
Here or the next life
As long as you’re still mine, then its alright

I’ll be fine
Cause when I die, then I die loving you
It’s alright, I’ll be fine
Cause when I die then I die loving you
Loving you, loving you

You have gray hair now but you’re a beautiful women and the years have been good to both of us. We walk slow now, but we still have each other. The glue of love is still bonding us together. Love is what I remember. Do you remember?

There is something so haunting, so beautiful, about hearing a lifetime of memories shared between people that had been knit together for so long. This song captures well that beauty. It reminds me of those wonderful old men and women who invested in us when we were so young and just beginning the long journey together. It reminds me of the way they looked at each other, deep into each other’s eyes, seeing there so much that they loved and treasured. I can’t help but wonder what I’ll remember.

July 25, 2007

Barb needed help. In fact, she had asked our friends, her next door neighbors, to help her clean up her house a bit. She was having trouble with her finances and wanted to sell off some valuable items in her house, but first needed to tidy up a bit. I decided to pitch in. Our friends regarded Barb as more of a charity case than a friend. They did not truly enjoy her company but they did want to help her the best they could. They wanted to be good neighbors and, as recent professed converts to Christianity, good Christians. Barb looked perfectly normal. She took good care of herself, wore nice clothes and didn’t at all stand out from the crowd. Apparently a psychologist earlier in life, she now holed up in her house, only rarely leaving the property. With no car, no bus routes and few friends, she had little reason or ability to leave. No one knew how she made money, but the fact that she had been divorced a couple of times probably offered the best clue. Before we set out my friends mentioned that Barb had a clear addiction to catalog shopping and that her spending habits had gotten out of control. I wasn’t prepared for what that meant.

After my friend’s wife drove Barb to the store to catch up on some grocery shopping, I walked through the door and had to pause for a few moments just to take in the scene. The house was a two bedroom bungalow, a typical post-war family home. Built on Lakeshore Drive in Oakville, it was on one of the most desirous properties in Canada’s wealthiest city. Already many of the neighborhood’s houses had been purchased and promptly flattened to make way for newer, bigger, more exclusive homes. Barb had held on to her property, perhaps waiting, as had many of the neighbors, for just the right offer. Our good friends lived next door to Barb, in a rented home that was also just waiting to be flattened. It was a nice enough house but we all knew it wouldn’t last long simply because it was too old, too small.

Barb’s house was an absolute disaster. Where the properties in that area were all well-groomed and showed that the owners took pride in ownership, Barb’s place was different. The house was just barely visible from the road, surrounded by uncut trees and untrimmed bushes. A strange odour came from the place and on a warm day when the wind blew north to south, the neighbors would complain that it made their yards smell too. A rickety fence ran along one side of the property where it joined with a brand new section and a locked gate. Cut into the gate was a hole and a note telling delivery services to simply push their packages through the hole. They were not welcome on the property. An old, old dog patrolled inside. Perhaps he was supposed to look angry and vicious, but in reality he was too old and friendly to make anyone afraid. The house showed signs of neglect. Windows were unwashed, walls were unpainted, gutters were rusty and cracked. As I walked through the front door I noticed that it did not fit properly on the hinges and that it did not open or close all the way.

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I paused in amazement. The house was packed, from floor to ceiling, from wall to wall, with stuff—stuff of all shapes and sizes. I could see only small glimpses of the floor, here and there. Even the portions of the carpet and hardwood that were visible were covered in the excrement of thousands of rodents. Immediately inside the front door was a wardrobe stuffed full of clothes. As I pushed beyond that into what must have been the living room I saw that it was filled with an assortment of things—an unassembled bedframe, still wrapped in its original cardboard and plastic; stacks upon stacks of shoe boxes, each of which held a pair of shoes or boots, apparently unworn; clothing boxes, many of which contained clothes, most of which were good brands, but all of which were unworn; statues and furniture, books and sealed boxes. Two narrow paths led from the front door and through the piles into the house. One pushed straight ahead towards the bedrooms while the other veered to the left where there was once the dining room. Barb slept in the dining room, on an old, beat-up, mouse-chewed leather couch surrounded on all sides by great piles of junk. The path led to the couch where she had to climb over the arm in order to get to it. Not a single piece of that floor was visible. Beside her bed/couch was a Rubbermaid container with several drawers, each of which contained an assortment of Hermes scarves. Each of these scarves, we later learned, had been bought for several hundred dollars and Barb had assembled them as a kind of savings account, convinced that each one was going to increase in value. She considered them an investment. Little wonder that she slept right beside them and always checked on them as soon as she came into the house.

We found our way to the bedrooms and noticed that one was so completely filled with junk that we could not even make it through the door. Boxes and clothes and other trash stretched from the doorframe all the way to the window beyond. A new mattress and box spring was piled hopefully in a corner and an umbrella hand from the ceiling. The other bedroom held a giant bird cage, the kind suitable for a parrot, and while there was no sign of the bird, the floor was littered with birdseed and bird droppings. It stank. A closet in that room was stuffed full of hats and winter clothing, most of which looked unworn. Many of the clothes had been chewed on by mice and rats and were completely destroyed. Though I did not step into the bathroom, I could clearly see a hole through the wall and could glimpse the yard beyond. We moved on to the kitchen and saw that Barb did not have a fridge and that she had obviously not used her stove for a very long time. A cooler on the counter contained rotting food that was the remnants of fresh chicken by the looks of it. The only food in the house appeared to be diet food, primarily milkshakes, and the remnants of fast food that had been delivered. Through the kitchen was a small landing where there were several bird cages filled with noisy, screaming birds. Bags of garbage spilled down the stairs and we had to walk outside and around to the back door to make our way into the basement. There was standing water on the floor down there and the whole basement, at least as far as I could see, was filled with clothes, empty bird cages and cardboard boxes. Needless to say, it smelled damp and disgusting. Barb had no working laundry facilities, choosing instead to wear her clothes until they were soiled, then stuff them in garbage bags and buy new ones.

My friend and I, having made our way around and having formed a plan of attack, began our work with gusto. With masks over our faces and a giant box of garbage bags, we began to separate the junk from the items that had value. We quickly filled bag after bag. What was good and had some value we organized carefully, placing the items in boxes, bins or bags. We worked for several hours, toiling in the dusty, dirty, vermin-infested house.

And then Barb got home. She was angry; really angry. As soon as she saw her stuff, her precious stuff, she began to babble and to mutter about how we weren’t being careful enough. After running inside to count her Hermes scarves to ensure that we hadn’t stolen any of them (she washed her hands before touching them), she began sorting through the garbage bags, looking to make sure we hadn’t thrown away anything of value. She also rummaged through the boxes of clothes we had marked as “sell,” remarking that she simply couldn’t get rid of those things, even though they were far too small for her. Barb was quite a big woman but wanted to lose weight. To motivate her weight loss program she had purchased an entire designer wardrobe in her desired size. I realize now that she probably learned the idea from Oprah or some other positive thinker. A long time had elapsed since she had purchased her size six wardrobe and, though she had made no progress, she just knew that she would before long. Eventually she agreed to allow us to sell a very few pairs of shoes and boots on her behalf (though upon later inspection we found that several of these, even though never worn, had been chewed upon by mice and were, thus, valueless).

At the end of the day we were tired and dirty but felt that we had done something to help Barb’s plight. The house was still a disgusting disaster, but we had brought some order to the chaos, at least in one of the rooms, and felt that the house was just a bit more livable than when we had arrived. I guess Barb disagreed because she never allowed us to return. In fact, she thanked our friends by beginning to throw trash over her fence and into their yard. One time she came over a brought them a gift of some rotten chicken. We eventually sold the items she had allowed us to sell and brought her the money. She was livid and threatened to call the police, saying we had ripped her off. She was insistent that the clothes were worth more now than when she had purchased them—that clothes appreciated in value. She decided she was going to hold on to the rest of her things. Perhaps her money problems had eased by then.

I don’t know what happened to Barb. A year later, or so, her house went on the market and quickly sold. We knew that a developer must have bought the property only for the land as the house was far beyond saving. But Barb reneged on the deal. A few months later it was on the market again and, as far as I know, she must have moved. Our friends moved a year or two ago after a developer bought all of the surrounding properties, planning to build a series of retirement condos. Barb must have left shortly after they did. I have not been back to the neighborhood since then but I do think that Barb has gone. I’ve often wondered how she moved. Did she take all of her stuff with her? Or did she leave it all behind? What did she do with all of the money (since I’m sure her property must have fetched at least half a million dollars)? Did moving from her house help her break free of what was clearly a serious addiction and a serious mental problem? Or is she, even right now, sleeping on a couch with her Hermes scarves and other treasures piled all around her? Somehow I’m inclined to think she is.

July 24, 2007

In 2000, when she was only twenty-three, Wendy Shalit published A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, a book in which she argued that the sexual revolution may not have been entirely beneficial for women. She decried the lack of modesty this revolution has brought about and, according to TIME defended “compellingly, shame, privacy, gallantry, and sexual reticence.” Of course many people, and feminists in particular, were disgusted with the book and ruthlessly mocked her.

July 23, 2007

I’m on vacation this week. Aileen and I are perched in a nice little cottage just over a dune from a beautiful beach. The cottage is great. It has electricity and all kinds of good amenities, but no phone and no access to the internet. There is a television but it is useful only as a means of playing DVDs and receives no channels. My cell phone only picks up a roaming signal out of the U.S.(which we can see just across the lake) so I’m not about to call anyone. All-in-all it’s a beautiful thing. The only way of getting on the Internet is to drive a few minutes to a nearby town and visit the public library (or, I suppose, drive around looking for a wireless internet conection at a cafe or hotel). Since we’ve been here I’ve spent a maximum of fifteen minutes a day wired in to the world, this in comparison to the usual ten or twelve hours a day when I’m at home. I check my email, make sure my site is alive and well, see how badly the Blue Jays got beaten the day before, and make a brief check of the important news feeds at my Netvibes account. Then I shut down and return to my isolated existence.

It has been a good experience. I don’t miss the internet nearly as much as I might have thought had I known long in advance that there would be no access here. In fact, I’ve felt a certain freedom here. Some time ago I told Aileen that lately I’ve felt something of a captive to technology. I’ve been unable to get away from the phone, the cell phone, email, the internet and all the other forms of communication. This is a problem inherent, I suppose, when both my job (web design) and my hobby (blogging) depend upon the internet. Much of my communication with friends and family also takes place through the Net. Thus it’s very easy for work to intrude into leisure and leisure to intrude into work. My workdays can quickly become wrapped up in all kinds of person concerns as I respond to emails and blog posts while I should be working. My evenings are rarely quite as relaxing as I’d like as it seems that there is always something popping up, something I need to head online to solve. I told Aileen that I had decided not to check email in the evenings (or not as often at any rate) and that I had to try to separate work from the rest of life, something that isn’t always easy to do when a person works from home as I do. This vacation has forced this upon me and I’ve found that I like it.

Technology is largely a good thing, I’m sure. I’m convinced that part of our mandate for this world includes creating and enjoying new kinds of technology. But while these technological advancements can certainly do a lot to make life easier and better, they also have a way of making life more complicated. They extend our work days and worm their way into our leisure, at least if we allow them to. I’ve found that it is important to create boundaries between work and leisure and the only way of doing this, I think, at least in my case, is to be deliberate about creating space and time where technology does not intrude.

This vacation has shown me that surviving without internet and without being always-available isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem. It is more a matter of willpower than necessity. I’ve found that I like being away from the internet for a time and that it gives me more time to do things that somehow seem less important but are, in reality, more so.

July 22, 2007

I found Letter to a Christian Nation a difficult book to read. It is, after all, a book whose purpose is to criticize one of the things I hold most dear—the church of Jesus Christ. While certainly deliberate and measured as these things go, it is still something of a rant against religion in general, Christianity in particular, and, at its narrowest focus, those who call themselves by the name of Christ (and hence, the one they call themselves after).

July 21, 2007

Around here we know John Ensor as the author of a couple of books I’ve reviewed: The Great Work of the Gospel and Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart. But there’s more to him than his books. Last year he took the position of Executive Director of the Urban Initiative Program of Heartbeat International. He is now leading an initiative in Miami, Florida called Heartbeat of Miami, working in an area that has no fewer than 37 abortion clinics. Previously he served for fourteen years as President of A Woman’s Concern Pregnancy Health Centers.

Heartbeat of Miami recently opened their first Pregnancy Help Medical Clinic in Hialeah. Tragically, just days after opening the clinic, thieves broke in and stole the new $35,000 ultrasound machine that had been loaned to them by a partnering clinic. Ultrasound machines are, for obvious reasons, on the front lines of the battle against abortion because once women see a living child inside of them they are much less likely to destroy that life. Their latest newsletter shows a staff member standing joyfully beside the new equipment on July 9, and then shows an ominous photograph of a broken window on July 13.

The newsletter says, “Police are treating it as a targeted attack. Someone/group wants to stop us. They may also have had a plan to fence the machine, but most likely they came here because they heard what we were doing and targeted us. Nothing was taken except the machine.”

You can read about the crime in this newsletter or look at an article in the local news that has a summary of the story. Do pray for John and his staff members and for the important work they are doing in the Miami area and beyond.

July 20, 2007

Featuring…You?

Way back near the end of 2005 I began the feature I called “King for a Week,” where I highlight another person’s blog for a week or two (perhaps the name was not the best choice, but it’s too late to change it now). I’m glad I did this and, though I’ve pretty well exhausted my list of long-time regular reads, I plan to continue with it. But I realize that there are many readers who do not have blogs (or who have a life beyond their blogs) and I thought it would be fun to find a way of featuring some of your contributions to the kingdom. Thus I’m interested in connecting with people who are involved in some kind of creative endeavor—perhaps music, art, photography, short stories, poetry or the like. I think even of landscaping or fashion or any other pursuit that involves creating things for the glory of God. If you fit the bill (or know someone who does), why don’t you send me an email and we can talk about this feature. I’d love to have the opportunity to showcase your creations and the ways you serve the Lord with your talents.

A New Look

Every now and again, I guess it is about once per year on average, I update the look of this site. I do this for various reasons, but usually because a) I am easily bored with my designs, b) the sites serves, in part, as a gateway to my web design company and it is important to keep it looking fresh or c) the nature of the site changes a bit over time and there is something I wish to emphasize that cannot easily be done with the current design. I guess all of these reasons have come together this time. Especially, though, I’ve had to prepare for the lead-up to the book, knowing that I’ll need to make the book available through the site and begin to “promote” it in some way. I think the new design lends itself to that task a little better. I am also considering integrating my company site with the blog. Put all of that together, and it makes sense to move to a new design, I think.

I’ve been tossing around this new design for a while, bouncing it off Facebook friends and just about anyone else who cares to give it a look. On the whole it has been positively received and I hope to move to it about a week from now. Half of you will probably hate it (half always do when I change designs) but you’ll just have to trust it’s for a good cause! Even if you don’t like the look quite as much, I think you’ll agree that the functionality is improved.

Commenting

If you are one of the readers who comments on occasion you’ll know that the commenting system is running a bit slowly. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I think I may be maxing out the server the site is on, though I don’t really know how this could be. I can’t figure out why else things would be running slowly. A new version of Movabletype (my blogging software) is expected soon and I will upgrade and hope it helps solve the problems. If not I may consider changing hosts or potentially moving to Wordpress or something similar. Either way, I don’t like waiting 45 seconds for comments to appear any more than you do. And, while that is annoying, what is worse is when people figure nothing has happened and hit the button a couple more times! So I’ll see what I can do.

Less Fun

I think it is time to drop the “Putting the fun in fundamentalism” tag that has accompanied this site since its infancy. That tag actually followed me to the blog from an online community I used to be involved with. I took it on before I really understand the connotations of defining myself as a fundamentalist. It’s not that I’m scared or ashamed of the word, but I’m not sure that I want the book to be associated with it! So if you have alternate suggestions, feel free to send them along!