Well, I finally thought of a better name than “Minich and Associates” – we are now presenting “The Quill and Nail“! Because we don’t really have large and devoted readership, we’re just going to go ahead and move the whole site over there. All the old posts will remain here, but also be accessible from the new wordpress site. I hope you will join us!


Boys Will Be Boys

Conn Iggulden, who has one of the coolest combinations of first and last names I’ve seen in a while and is one of the co-authors of the Dangerous Book for Boys, writes an article on boyhood in the Washington Post. Besides his great use of the word grubby, he makes a great point: boys are different than girls, people are noticing this, and its high time we stopped pretending this wasn’t the case.

One of the great tragedies of our age has been the lie that men and women are exactly the same, save for a few physical differences, and that we should treat them as such. One of the problems with this assumption is that it is not true. The schools in much of the west have operated on this assumption of complete equality for a long time: this is why it is seen as a negative to go to an all boys school, or to participate in activities that were seen as “boys” activities. By and large, the education approach that has been favored has been one that caters to girls. This has to do with the influence of feminism, although more practically, I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that woman teachers outnumber the men, and that they ended up writing the curriculum that was to replace that of the boys.

As a result of all of this, we have a crisis on our hands: boys are doing badly in school, because we’ve taken their favorite parts out of it.

I thought this paragraph particularly insightful:

We began with everything we had done as kids, then added things we didn’t want to see forgotten. History today is taught as a feeble thing, with all the adventure taken out of it. We wanted stories of courage because boys love those. We wanted stories about men like Royal Air Force fighter pilot Douglas Bader, Scott of the Antarctic, the Wright Brothers — boys like to read about daring men, always with the question: Would I be as brave or as resourceful? I sometimes wonder why people make fun of boys going to science fiction conventions without realizing that it shows a love of stories. Does every high school offer a class on adventure tales? No — and then we complain that boys don’t read anymore.

Why don’t we tell more stories of daring men, men who have done something adventurous and unique? The sad part is, most of the movers and shakers of history, those who have made the world what we know as today, had these types of stories. Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls, Einstein had a life filled with an escape from Germany, followed by working on the Manhattan Project. Columbus sailed the ocean to parts unknown, risking life and limb to figure out a new trade route to Orient, and instead found the Americas, publicizing them for the first time to the European world. I’m currently reading about pirates in the 18th century, and they are every bit as interesting as the legends make them out to be. Why don’t we tell history as stories, rather than a bunch of dates?

Finally, we chose our title — “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” It’s about remembering a time when danger wasn’t a dirty word. It’s safer to put a boy in front of a PlayStation for a while, but not in the long run. The irony of making boys’ lives too safe is that later they take worse risks on their own. You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his face light up. It’s not learned behavior — he’s hardwired to enjoy a little risk. Ask any man for a good memory from childhood and he’ll tell you about testing his courage or getting injured. No one wants to see a child get hurt, but we really did think the bumps and scratches were badges of honor, once.

I love summer camp, because some of this is still there. Danger? We’ve got that: try climbing up the climbing wall, or climbing down a slippery ravine with nothing on your feet but a pair of flip-flops. We swing off of ropes, play around in mudpits, and even play with guns, bows, and arrows. Even being the counselor, it is a lot of fun.

I love the idea of The Dangerous Book for Boys. In fact, I’m half tempted to pick it up myself. Strictly for the future, of course. Although, we are doing a camping trip with extended family this year . . . plus, camp could always use a copy.

Ahab Defeats Syria

The story of Elijah is a familiar one to many Christians, mostly because of the incident where he takes on the prophets of Baal. However, we usually don’t spend much time on Ahab, the wicked king who opposed Elijah. God worked in Isreal despite their wicked king – a king that the text calls more wicked than any of his predecessors.

Our story today takes place in 1 Kings 20, where Ahab is caught up in a war against Syria. God still defeats the superior army of Syria, but does so for the sake of his glory. I find the narrative of the second battle particularly interesting:

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so.

Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad Again

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” 29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

God is jealous for his name in the world, and at times he is willing to use sinful, rebellious people if it results in glorifying his name. The Syrians thought after their first battle that God was only a “god of the hills”, and because of this, God defended his name in the plains. God will do whatever it takes to defend his glory, which is both comforting and sobering.

This truth is comforting because we know that God will defend his glory and his people the church. Indeed, God will never let his church fail, because that would profane his glory in the way that Syria defeating Israel would have. However, this should sober us as well, because God does not fail to defend his glory. In the next chapter, God pronounces judgement on Ahab’s house. He promises to kill Queen Jezebel and Ahab in disgrace, and to cut off Ahab’s line from the earth – judgments that he indeed carries out. If we are not furthering God’s glory, God will discipline us – because again, he will not allow his glory to be profaned.

iPhone Mania

This Friday, as has been drilled into every technology lover’s head, Apple’s iPhone will be released to an eagerly awaiting public. Now, I have no clue whether it is going to live up to the hype currently being generated for it, but the iPhone IS a great glimpse into our obsession with gadgets.

It is amazing to me that so many column inches have been devoted to this thing, and that so many people expect it to be the be all and end all of cell phones. The interesting part is that I see that push for satisfaction in this thing. It is a microcosm of our larger cultural movement to find satisfaction in material things. Have you ever seen someone take out their latest gadget, following by the drooling of all his friends? This type of culture promotes covetousness, a sense of pride (I’m better than you, I have an iPhone!), and ultimately, cannot satisfy. I find it sad how many people seemingly derrive their ultimate joy from a gadget, or a gadget company such as Apple.

Of course, I tend to fall into the same trap. My tendency is to worship at the altar of the Gadget, the newest technology thing. I have to admit, I’d love an iPhone myself. I’d get one if they were less expensive. However, I have to guard against the tendency of my heart to worship my stuff, particularly my gadgets. It is helpful to remember that it is all going to burn anyway – this world and all its stuff – and that putting too much time and energy into accumulating things is going to leave us empty and regretful. Material possessions cannot satisfy, cannot deliver me from sin, and cannot provide the kind of deep, lasting relationship God provides. I should spend much more time in studying God than I spend looking at the latest cool tech toy.

Just War Theory?

It seems like a lot of my thoughts on this blog are half-baked, and probably at least slightly controversial. This is not exactly on purpose. The half-bakedness of my thoughts is due to my limited life experience (at a mere 17 years on this Earth, and only 4 of those spent considering at some level a few of the issues I’ve been posting about).

I’m going to start off with a premise. You can disagree with my premise, but if you don’t, then the rest really doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination. Then I’m going to justify the premise a bit, but honestly, if you disagree with the premise, it’s going to be hard to convince you of anything further.

My premise: When a nation goes to war, it is just that: the nation. All of it. Some are more involved than others, but everyone is involved.

For example, in World War II, Americans at home who were not in direct combat situations were helping to make supplies, follow ration guildelines, and (at least) gave moral support to the soldiers fighting in the war–writing letters and such. On the lowest level, each citizen pays taxes to the government. Therefore, they support–albeit indirectly and occasionally unwillingly–the wars which the government wage.

Now, each of these people may be more or lessresponsible for the actions of the government, but each has some stake in the wars. It is not simply the soldiers (called “combatents” in the Geneva convention) who wage a war. There are politicians who authorize it, citizens who fund it and otherwise support it, and support systems (such as medics and supply workers) that are also responsible for the war.

If you agree with my premise, then you must agree with what I am going to say next: There can be no clear disticntion between a non-combatant and a combatant. If there is no distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant, then Geneva has some serious holes (as does Just War theory). Brandon mentioned that Just War theory has to say something about the idea of extra-national forces attacking a nation. I say that it is relatively impossible to make such changes, because of the nature of the non-combatant. Any changes in saying who constitutes a combatant is admitting that there is no clear distinction (which is what I am saying).

When the distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant crumble, other necessary questions arise. For example, under Just War Theory, the use of atomic weapons on Japan to end their resistance in World War II was arguably an unjust use of power. However, if one is to consider the lives that were lost in the number of island battles already fought, and then calculate the number of people who died in those two bombings, the bombings become much more justifiable. This has profound implications in how a Christian should view warfare. Obviously, the Japanese government reacted by ending the war. This most likely saved lives. This matches one of the Just War Theory’s principles that in war any nation must not kill any more people then necessary. Actually Brandon, I am in complete agreement with you. Human life is precious. In fact, it is so precious that the fewer people who die, the better (does it matter if they are a “combatant” or a “non-combatant?”).

A nation goes to war. If the cause is for evil and it is defeated, the nation suffers. Not the army primarily. The nation will suffer economically–as World Wars I and II have shown. there will be social upheaval, as the class in power that brought about the war will be judged. There will be unrest, as new power structures are enacted. All of this would happen primarily to the citizens, not the army. How does Just War theory account for this? The non-combatants are suffering as the aftermath of a war. Is it the obligation of the winning, Just nation to cut down all the ill effects of war for the non-combatants? It all gets irrationally odd if the standard of Just War theory is applied (though you might argue that is post war, and thus all Just War doesn’t apply).

Brandon, taking a life is a weighty matter. A nation must consider whether the war is just or not before it thinks to engage, and during the war it must be careful not to take the life of more human beings than is necessary. Where I differ with you is this: I think that fewer lives have to be taken if–occasionally and with great care–sometimes civilians are involved in warfare. This has been the case historically, and will most likely continue to be the case as we enter the age of extra-national warfare in earnest (that is an issue that I cannot touch on now, but Just War theory fails miserably against the present wave of terrorist warfare, simply because no one is prepared to possibly kill/detain civilians (and the terrorists exploit this and hide as if they were civilians).

Here is the one concession that I will make Brando (from our previous discussion when you were here in Lancaster): some are clearly more responsible than others. The man who orders the combat (the rulers of the nation) have the majority of responsibility, as do the generals. The next responsibility lies with those who are on the front lines and those in supply roles. After them are the civilians supplying the nation’s armies and paying the taxes that make such wars possible.

Just War Theory

A while back, when I was visiting Lancaster, my most esteemed brother was discussing just war theory, and what he saw as a major problem with it. In his view (let me know if this is fair, Chris), the prohibition on harming non-combatants was an issue, mostly because in his view, there is really no such thing as a non-combatant. His argument is that by virtue of being a citizen of a country at war, you are in the war, and should have no reasonable expectation of protection.

I was not comfortable with this, but wasn’t sure why. After some thought, I think I figured out the reason behind my uneasiness. Here is my main argument as to why we should spare non-combatants in any conflict: everyone has been created in the image of God. While it is necessary to wage war at times to protect human life, or to defend our own nation, the taking of lives is always a weighty matter. God created man in his image – we bear his likeness. When we see other human beings, we aren’t just seeing people – we are seeing a reflection of God. I believe that this basic dignity is the reason we should be careful to not wantonly kill those who do not take up arms against us, even if they are in a country where arms are being taken up – their lives are too precious for us to discount.

I will admit that in our modern age of warfare, the lines between civilian and military populations are much more blurred than they used to be. Because of this, many aspects of just war theory need to be looked at and adjusted, and there may be circumstances where the killing of someone once considered a civilian, while regrettable, is necessary because of who we are fighting. However, we should make every effort to spare those who are not involved in the conflict because we respect human life, and want to give those we are fighting every chance at repentance.

Children of Hurin

I just finished the new Tolkien book (yes, new – the story was written a while ago, but it hasn’t been published as a single book until now), Children of Hurin. I loved the book. I had read the story before, but I never realized what an epic story Turin Turambar is until now.

One of the interesting things about this story is how Anglo-Saxon this story is. You have the idea of the Hall as a foreshadowing of the story. At one part, Turin returns to the home of his youth. He finds the Hall, from which his family ruled, in an oppressed state, beset by evil. His arrival sets into motion a chain of events that gets it burned down – foreshadowing the destruction that his family’s house is going to suffer only a short time later – a complete destruction of his family line. You have the idea of honor – those who died defending their lands are looked upon as true heroes, and running away in cowardice is sure to come back around to you in the end. I love these Old English elements of the story.

I read somewhere that Tolkien wrote this story because he was tired of every dragon slayer being a heroic character with no flaws whatsoever. Think St. George and his slaying of the dragon – nothing was wrong whatsoever with George – he was basically a cookie cutter good guy to beat a dragon. Tolkien wanted to see a flawed dragon slayer, and so he goes about creating a tragic character, Turin, and he puts this character under the active curse of Morgoth, the powerful Dark Lord of the time. As Turin ages, he tries desperately to escape the curse of Morgoth. He ends up leading a nomadic existence, running from one city to another, spending time with outlaws, and generally trying to defeat Morgoth’s curse on his life. In the end, he is unable to do so, and ends up betraying his friends and family and following the wishes of the very dragon he slays.

Wow, does that sound like the human condition before we are saved. In any event, I highly recommend the Children of Hurin.