Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who Was right: Plato or Aristotle?

Ink pen buried alive for 4 years
When this year's senior class were lowly freshmen, I was introducing them to some of the language and vocabulary they would be using in their essay analysis writing over the course of the years of their time studying at Covenant High School. As I was explaining to them Plato's ontology, his answer to the question what is real (only things that last are real, eternal things, things in the realm of ideas), and Aristotle's realism (only things that can be verified with the five senses are real), I snatched up a student's pen and asked the class if this pen was real.

Anne, whose crazy idea this all was, digging
"If we buried this ink pen in a landfill," I pressed them, "would it eventually decompose, dissolve into the dirt and no longer exist as an ink pen?"

"Yes," said one student. "Give it enough time, and it will eventually no longer exist."

"So does that mean that it isn't real?" I asked them. "Was Plato's ontology correct?"

As we continued to debate realism and idealism, one girl brightened and shot her hand up in the air. "Let's go dig a hole and bury it. Then when we're seniors we could dig for it and see if it disappeared."

The class thought this was an awesome idea, and so did I. So we mapped out where we would bury it, dug a hole, and committed a perfectly good green gel pen to the earth--for four years.

One of the students even wrote a sonnet to the pen
Today, the day before graduation, we set to work exhuming the ink pen. One of the students solemnly read out a sonnet that one of the other students had written to the buried ink pen. After some time of fruitless digging, I began to fear either that we had not pin-pointed (or is that pen-pointed?) where we had buried it four years ago, or that Plato was right, and the pen was not actually real.

Then they found it. And even wrote with it! It was restored to its rightful owner, "Recalled to Life" (as Dickens called it in Tale of Two Cities) after being buried alive for four years.

Now, one of these almost-graduates needs to pen a sonnet with the ink pen that has spent the last four years in subterranean darkness. Something along these lines for starters:

I once belonged to a lowly neophyte
Who dug a ditch and barred me from the light.
For four dark years I lived with slimy worms;
Engulfed was I by filth and grime and germs... (I'm out of time, so one of you has got to finish this)

CHS Writers Awarded at PLU Ceremony

Snarly (aka, Karli) Stevenson not pictured
In the regional Writing and Art contest, Our Own Expressions, sponsored by the Pierce County Library Foundation and the Morning News Tribune, with more than 1,000 entries, my writing students managed to win 6 of 12 awards in the short story and poetry categories. Including the Drawing category, CHS students won 9 of 18 high school cash prize awards (including sweeping the drawing category for 9th and 10th grades--way to go Eva Battle, CHS art teacher extraordinaire!). 
CHS students read their winning short stories and poetry and commented on their drawings and received their awards at Lagerquist Hall on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University last night (May 28, 2014). 
Note below that Hana Jang, 1st Place in the short story category, is writing fiction in English as a second language; special congratulations to you, Hana!
Highlighted winners are CHS students
Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Abbie Welch, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Noah Peever, Home School
3rd Place - Karli Stevenson, Covenant HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Hana Jang, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Jessi Pitts, Emerald Ridge HS
3rd Place - Casey Morrison, Covenant HS

Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Fiona Macdonald, Gig Harbor HS
2nd Place - Myles Moulton, Bellarmine Preparatory
3rd Place - Claudia Speakes, Kalles Junior HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Claire Summa, Gig Harbor HS
2nd Place - Matthew Pfefferle, Covenant HS
3rd Place - Christina Lyro, Covenant HS

Some of the CHS students with other winners
Grades 9 and 10
1st Place - Bao Nguyen, Covenant HS
2nd Place - Abbie Welch, Covenant HS
3rd Place - Nani Woodard, Covenant HS
Grades 11 and 12
1st Place - Chelsie Conroy, Bonney Lake HS
2nd Place - Hanbi Hyon, Lakes HS
3rd Place - Cole Maurmann, Home School

Friday, May 23, 2014

INKBLOTS--Guest Appearance tonight

Indian War 1855-1856
INKBLOTS May 22, 2014
A special evening here at 'Blots. My former student, Alisa and her husband Justin, have joined us for the evening. Alisa has written a number of full length fiction manuscripts but has yet to be published. Though she writes regularly for newspapers and journals, she continues to pursue her dream of  having one of her novels published--they deserved to be, in my opinion.

Alisa leads off with a reading about a girl who is out of round with her sisters and the rest of the family, a bit of a rebel, who isn't interested in the social life of the well to do family, doesn't care about all that. It's set in the 1940s. Jessany is resentful of her older sister who is pregnant out of wedlock, with a naval officer Jessany does not like. Good job setting the tension, but maybe a bit of overwriting, too much telling about the tension. You created it already, so no need to tell us there was tension. We had trouble seeing the room this scene was set in but that was described in a previous section. This is a big family saga, spanning thirty years or more. Four hundred pages, single spaced. Big. Is this two books, or three?

We talked about showing and not telling, and how easy it is to paste on a telling because we're not sure if we actually showed effectively enough. We also talked about creating longing for redemption in the reader, not everything perfect fantasy, but a deep desire for things to be put to rights. Mary Lynn Robertson's Gilead and Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken came up; those who had read Gilead say it is awesome, no dialogue, all inside the character's head. John absolutely loved this book, best book he's ever read (that's the end of our friendship). Alisa likes the music of the 1940s and listens to the era as she writes.  Alisa's manuscript The Emblem (set in Rosaline, WA) about African Americans in the 30s, she became fascinated with this mining town and its troubled history (called Nigger Hill, WA back in the day--tragic).

John reads next. Russian revolution era novel, Huguenot governess, named Viret. Hung her head ever so slightly—can you show us this more than tell it to us? This is a bit too cliché, predictable, what we expect to hear, which makes it less effective. How about another mannerism that conveys this; she has the habit of twirling a lock of her hair tightly in her index finger, pulling until it brought the water to her eyes. Prayer just bounces off the barn roof, good image. Enter a puppy, with names that has some significance to the big story? Or not. I find it helpful to ask myself with every episode I write, is this essential to the story; does it add to my big picture, allude to future plot movement, help develop my character or the larger theme of the whole? This helps me to know if what I am writing is needed or am I just filling space with some clever or exciting episode but one that is not really moving the plot forward.

I read from chapter eight of my Indian War novel. A chapter wherein my protagonist listens in to the conversation of two privates at Ft Steilacoom, speculating on the mounting tension to war with the Nisquallys and Puyallups, and the likelihood of widespread blood shed if it comes to war. The regular army soldier doesn't think much of the militia, which William Tidd will join in the next few chapters. 

Alisa is going to read another passage from a new manuscript she has just gotten launched into. We asked her to read twice so we could hear the wider range of what you are writing these days. This from a manuscript idea that is super fresh, just started in the last days, based on a soldier who had just returned from war, PTSD feature. The Stronghold. Story begins as the plane touches down on the tarmac, seeing the American flag, a can of Coors snatched up and guzzled. Hugh not entering into the bravado and celebration, withdrawn, something pressing on him, jabbing him in the ribcage. Good description of the rolling hills and the rest. His recollection of the carnage of the battlefield in snatches, effective. Surprised at the water standing in his eyes. We learn in flashbacks of maimed comrades, and of shrapnel tearing into his own flesh. You do a great job of describing place. What did the high pitched chatter remind him of? Could it flash him back to something from the war, the chatter of villagers moments before the air strike, or something like that? You really have drawn us in. I stopped typing for a stretch, when you were having your protagonist meet the woman who is guarding him from his younger brother. Intriguing encounter. Put her nighttime instruction to the children in actual dialogue. Just written two days ago. Wow.

Give him a mannerism that connects to his wound, twitch in his leg, breaking into a cold sweat, door slams and he has the overwhelming urge to dive under a table. Start the story with his encounter with the attractive young woman. Maybe he watches her for an hour, sitting in the corner of the waiting area, with flashbacks to his combat episodes, ones that weave into the waiting room, the shouting of children, and always the woman, her voice, the way she walks, his fascination with her, and her growing discomfort at this solitary war vet sitting in her waiting room. This is an intriguing beginning and you need to keep writing on it. Great having you with us tonight.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Magnifying or Mangling the Word of Truth: A Tale of Two Preachers

Same Text Different Message
Summer Vacation and Visiting Churches
This post is an excerpt from author Douglas Bond's forthcoming book, GRACE WORKS (And Ways We Think It Doesn't), (P&R, 2014)

VISITING DIFFERENT CHURCHES on summer vacation can be both a healthy rebuke and a rich blessing. When we encounter joyful reverence in worship and a Christ-centered ministry where we did not expect it, the monster of our pride is confronted; we’re not the only ones who get it right after all. Getting out of our cave and enjoying fellowship with God’s people in a different community, in a different denomination, can help correct our tendency to think that we are members of an exclusive club, that we alone rank as initiates.

My family and I had an uncanny experience while on a recent summer vacation. Two consecutive weeks we visited two different churches, many miles apart and neither from the same denomination. Two very different preachers (neither knew the other), with different gifts, different levels of public speaking skill—and here is the uncanny part—both preaching from the exact same text of Scripture!

Two Kinds of Preachers

Unbeknown to either preacher, that experience was a remarkable demonstration of how the Bible can be disastrously mishandled. These two men represented in flesh and blood the two kinds of preachers: one zealous for finding and elucidating what we must do; the other zealous for discovering and adoring Christ for what he has already done and continues to do in us by the free grace of the gospel.

Hearing those two sermons back-to-back cemented the problem in my mind. Consider with me briefly 2 Peter 1:1–11, the biblical text from which both preachers preached two very different sermons: "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called
us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort . . ." (1:1–5)

An engaging speaker, the preacher of the first sermon on this text was witty, relational, a fellow who clearly wanted to connect with his flock.

Same Text, Different Message

The first preacher read out the text and then spent two or three minutes hastily summarizing the opening four verses, as if Peter were just giving perfunctory, introductory chatter, “Hi, folks, how’s it going?” sort of material. We heard nothing about Christ’s righteousness (1:1) being the means of obtaining faith, nothing about grace being multiplied to us (1:2), or God’s “divine power” granting to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1:3), nothing about God “call[ing] us to his own glory and excellence” (1:3). And nothing about God granting us in Christ “his precious and very great promises, so that through them” we are being made holy like Christ and so we will escape the corruptions of sinful desire (1:4).

It is no exaggeration to say that this misguided pastor spent virtually no time at all expounding the meaning of these magisterial proclamations. Eager to get on to the word effort (1:5), he settled into the important part of his sermon, where Peter was saying what we must do. It was as if Peter had not grounded what followed in verses 5–11 in the phrase, “For this very reason” (1:5), thereby rooting everything that follows in the doctrinal indicatives that the preacher just skipped over.

The sermon that followed fell somewhere between the relational and the therapeutic, often on the menu of the broad evangelical pulpit, and the covenant moralism gaining steam in some reformational pulpits. This well-intentioned preacher did what so many preachers do when they open their Bibles. They latch onto what they can urge their congregations to be up and doing. But he neglected the glorious foundation: what God has already done in Christ. It was tragic but, alas, all too common.

Godliness Grounded in Christ

One week later, many miles away, we listened as the second preacher invited us to turn to 2 Peter 1:1–11, the exact same text as the week before. I passed the word to my wife and children for us all to sit up and pay particular attention. Clearly God our Father in his kind providence wanted us to learn something particular from this passage of his Holy Word. "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (1:1–2).

There was nothing perfunctory about what followed. To this preacher Peter’s opening words were not to be skimmed over lightly. They were the foundation on which not only the next paragraphs were built, but also the remainder of the epistle. He took pains to root the coming imperatives in the gift of
faith and the “righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:1). He proceeded to unpack the riches of this phrase, just how glorious the righteousness of Jesus actually is, to thrill us with the wonder of imputed righteousness. And then he developed what Peter was getting at when he addressed his readers with those words, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2). With wonder at saving mercy, he further rooted what followed in grace, given and overflowing in the saving knowledge of Christ secured and promised in the gospel.

By this time in the sermon we had heard the previous week, the minister all about works was elucidating what self-control looked like in marriage, in parenting, in the workplace, in politics, in cultural engagement. And then he really warmed to his address when he launched into the need to diligently “confirm [our] calling and election” (1:10), because it’s all contingent on us fulfilling our part and doing all that Peter is warning us we’d better be up and doing—or else. Listeners to this kind of preaching are left bewildered: election must just be a broad-sweeping covenantal thing for the group, but as far as the individual is concerned, it’s so uncertain that we’d better try harder or we may in the end forfeit the whole enchilada.

Sanctification Rooted in the Redeemer

Meanwhile, in the second sermon, the one rooted in the imputed righteousness of Christ and the grace of the gospel, we were hearing that “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3–4).

In other words, the pastor who cared about grace was actually expounding the text, taking Peter’s inspired words seriously and thereby rooting sanctification in what the divine power of God has already accomplished in the gospel. As he rounded up on his conclusion, he pointed to the larger context of Peter’s letter; the apostle would end the book as he began it, in an inclusio of grace, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (3:18).

Some are hasty to claim that preachers who care so much about grace will go light on holiness and sanctification. But a faithful preacher of grace knows that his flock will never be able to fulfill the imperative commands of the Bible without enabling grace. Precisely because he’s so committed to the sanctification of his flock, he will never, never want his congregation to hear imperatives disconnected from their doctrinal foundation in the power of God by the grace of Christ in the gospel.

The best theologians and preachers always get this right. They are careful to be like the apostles, never diminishing the power of God and the grace of God when they preach holiness and sanctification. In a sermon, Sinclair Ferguson put it better and more succinctly than most: "We must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual . . . but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness."

I am confident that the first preacher, the one who skipped over the Benefactor to get to the benefits, had the best of intentions. He probably wanted to see more holiness, more piety in his congregation, perhaps especially among the young people. And so he exhorted with zeal their need to grow in self-control, in virtue. But he skipped over the foundation; he failed to dazzle his congregation with Jesus the Benefactor, the source of self-control, virtue, and the rest. Ironically, inverting the priority never produces the desired result: true godliness.

Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on our spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about ourselves and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.2

Which One Are You?

That unexpected episode in our summer vacation demonstrates the two kinds of preachers: one hones in on what we must do (the benefits of grace), while the other grounds the benefits and motivates his congregation to godliness by placarding Jesus Christ the Benefactor.

Which one of these men are you? Which one of these men is your pastor? Which one of these men do you resemble when counseling the wayward, when disciplining your children, when engaging culture, when nurturing loved ones in the Word of God? When confronting sin in your own heart?

This post is an excerpt from Bond's forthcoming book, GRACE WORKS (And Ways We Think It Doesn't)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Face for Radio--Interview, Knowing the Truth

Author radio interview with Dog

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts [Listen to interview in archive at]
TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014Posted by: Knowing The Truth Radio Program | more..1,050+ views | 60+ clicks
"Knowing The Truth" with Pastor Kevin Boling is a live, call-in radio program providing Doctrinal Dialog, Cultural Commentary and Insightful Interviews with some of today's foremost Christian authors and leaders.
To listen live go to
In an age of simplistic and repetitive choruses, many churches are rediscovering the blessing of theologically rich and biblically informed songs. In the latest addition to our A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series, Douglas Bond introduces us to Isaac Watts, “the father of English hymnody.” Douglas Bond urges Christians to delight in the grandeur, beauty, and joy of Watts’ poetry. We pray that you would regain a sense of God’s majesty as we celebrate the God-given poetic wonder of Isaac Watts.

My guest on the program today will be Douglas Bond.

Douglas Bond is the head of the English Department at Covenant High School in Tacoma, Wash., where he teaches literature, writing, and history. He has written numerous works of fiction, many of them for young people, including the Crown & Covenant trilogy and the Faith & Freedom trilogy. Among his nonfiction titles are Fathers and Sons Stand Fast in the Way of Truth and Fathers and Sons Hold Fast in a Broken World.

The “Knowing The Truth” Radio Program, originates in Greenville, SC on a 50,000 watt station covering all of South Carolina as well as parts of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. The program airs live on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11:00am – 12 noon EST on Christian Talk 660AM and 92.9FM. Additionally, the program is broadcast live nationally via video webcast on

The host, Pastor Kevin Boling, has conducted over 500 interviews with some of today’s foremost Christian authors and leaders. His guests have also included presidential candidates, ambassadors, senators, congressmen, governors and other political and social leaders.
A Toll-Free Number (1.888.660.9535) is open during the program to take your questions or comments.
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