Russell and Duenes

Archive for December 2010

My Great-Grandfather: 1891-1989

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I’m going to tell you something very unusual about myself, but it won’t be what you might think.

My great-grandmother lived until I was 17. My great-grandfather lived until I was 19. My grandmother, born in 1916, is still very much alive and lucid today.

Why do I mention this? There are several reasons. My great-grandfather was born in 1891 and died in 1989. These could well be considered some of the most momentous 98 years in human history. When he was born, there was as yet no cars, no flight, no refrigerators, no spacecraft, no atomic weapons, no…you get the idea. And in his span of life all of these things and ten thousand more were invented. He had his mind to the end. I had the chance to spend plenty of time with him. I even spent several nights with him when he needed special nursing care toward the end.

And I couldn’t have cared less.

When I was 18, I was an idiot in many ways, but I can’t help thinking that the value of old people…well, there was no value. And I think there still is virtually no value to young Americans today. We worship youth, so what have the old to offer us?

My great-grandfather was middle-aged during the Depression. He could remember The Great War. He’d survived two strokes. He raised four children. He was born at the tail end of Reconstruction and lived through the Civil Rights Movement. If I had him back now, I’d want to just sit and videotape him talking for hours about all he could remember.

My grandmother is also very lucid and mentally sharp. She will not be around a lot longer, even if she lives to be 100. And yet there is a wealth of wisdom and insight in her. I love getting her started talking about old times when we’re all sitting around a table at Christmas or some such occasion. And there are others like her sitting in our churches every week, sitting there while our teenagers are sequestered off with each other in “youth group.”

What’s lost? What could be gained? I recently told a friend of mine to just start showing up at the 60 and older group at his large megachurch, that he might get to know some of the people there. We don’t have such a group at our church, but I’d like eventually to be at one where we do, or at least where we’ve got a few such people around. I don’t want my sons to have the attitude toward old people that I had.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 30, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

I Have No Top-Ten Best Books of 2010 List Because I Haven’t Read Ten Books This Year

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However, I have read a few, and I’d like to commend some of them to you.

Probably the most educational and thought-provoking (and emotion-provoking) book I read this year was Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. A couple of Wall Street Journal writers who have covered food-aid issues over the years expose the problem with western food-aid and why it keeps many in Africa who know how to farm dependent on it.

Another book I greatly enjoyed was by Christopher Hitchens’ less-well-known brother, Peter. The Rage Against God tells the story of how Peter, unlike his brother, turned from his hard-core atheism, and along the way describes why the church in England is so sparsely populated. I’m more of an anglophile than most, so I probably found it more stimulating than many American Christian’s would. But there’s a lot here to reflect on, it’s well-written, and not very long. Highly recommended.

Douglas Wilson’s The Case for Classical Christianity should be read by every Christian. Agree with it, disagree with it, doesn’t matter. The education of our children is far too important to just “follow the course of this world.” And legions of Christians are following it, being swept up in the tide, and then wondering why in the world our children go after the world. The arguments in this book are well-made, thoughtful, challenging, and urgent. Some chapters are worth reading dozens of times until they are almost memorized. The message of this book should be shouted from the rooftops, and I’m happy to be one of the evangelists.

Finally, I recommend a book I have not yet completed, though I’ve completed enough of it to know that I already love it. Again, my anglophilia may be coming out, but I think A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken is the most gripping book I’ve picked up in awhile, and it promises to become even more so as the plot thickens. Not light reading, but books that stay with us rarely are.

There you have it. I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to this year, but other matters were more pressing. We all have seasons. Some books that I’m greatly looking forward to reading this year are The Federalist Papers, The Anti-Federalist Papers, The Soul of the American University by George Marsden, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Churchill by Paul Johnson, A Matter of Interpretation by Antonin Scalia, and A Time to Speak by Robert Bork. This list will probably change, as it always does, according to my whims and professional responsibilities, but in any case, I thank God for books and for a mind to enjoy them. Hallelujah!


Written by Michael Duenes

December 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

Posted in Duenes, Literature

Leaving Parents is Getting Harder

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My family and I just left my parents’ house today, where we once again spent the Christmas holiday. It’s getting harder to leave with each passing year. It’s especially hard now that God has blessed them with grandchildren, and I can see how much my parents love and enjoy both our two boys and my wife. I remember well how quickly the years go by, knowing full well that a final earthly goodbye will come along in the blink of an eye. Does this sound depressing? Well then, what to make of Jesus’ words?

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt.10:37)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk.14:26)

“‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'” (Mt.8:21-22)

Hardly sentimental words. I can see now why so many people listened to Jesus and then walked away from him, convinced that his teaching was too stern. Yet how does one balance the above Scriptures with Jesus’ command to “honor your father and mother?” When I was younger and single, I had not realized how much I took my parents for granted. Nor did I ponder just how much I would miss them when they are gone (though in truth, I may perhaps go before them. God knows the extent of my days on this earth.). Feeling as I do, I can see why Jesus used such strong words. Truly we must become most satisfied with God in Christ, or else we will cling to that which we cannot own, including especially the presence and earthly love of our parents. We must learn to live upon God, that we might love and honor our parents the more.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 28, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Living in the Land of “Make-Believe”

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I asked myself recently: “Why does the superficiality of the Christmas season bother me so much?”  The more I thought about it, the more I wandered into a self-discussion about the “pretend life” we have here in the U.S.  Most of us in the U.S. have the luxury to pretend.  Many get paid for it, in fact if you are a professional actor you can get paid generously for pretending. We have phony friendships that we call “acquaintances” and a phony connection to the world that we call TV.  As I thought about Santa Claus and Rudolph and presents given to co-workers out of obligation, I kept coming back to the same answer: The superficiality of Christmas bothers me so much because it celebrates our tendency to love that which is not authentic.  Christmas isn’t real to us.  We have fake trees and fake birds with  fake cranberries on fake wreaths.  We have a pretend man who comes down our chimneys and gives us toys about superheroes and baby dolls- all of which is not genuine.  At my home growing up we didn’t have a fireplace, but did have some sort of chimney that went nowhere (I don’t know why).  So when I asked my parents how Santa got into our house, they told me they gave him a key to our garage and he came up the basement steps.  Clever on my parents part, but fake nonetheless.

The more I consider the “fakeness” of the Holidays, the more it continually draws me to reflect on the make believe world in which we live.  Much of our financial spending: credit, margin buying, gambling, is all based on money we don’t have or money we won’t get.  Our social mediums create a false sense of relationships. We have homes that we don’t own, cars we lease, re-circulated air and food that is created in labs.  No wonder we are so at home with our current holiday season.  And this brings me to the true meaning of Christmas- the birth of Jesus.  Do we treat this reality any differently than we do the rest of our lives?  Is the Savior of the world entering our realm to save us from the reality of hell “real” to us?  Is Christ the reality and desire of our hearts?  Or do we treat Jesus like we treat Santa Claus?  Is He another mythic being in the pantheon of the holidays?  Do we laud Him for a time of need and when we get our presents from Him we move on to the next thing?  Is our church acting in the reality of the Holy Spirit living inside our bodies?  It seems like, for many of us, the Land of Make-believe (circa Mr. Rodgers about 1978) is our reality;  In our holidays, in our homes and in our church.  I want the “real life,” a true and authentic existence that is dynamic in me and with me all of the time.  And I want it now during the holidays and I want it in the years to come.  I can only hope you do too.  May we live in the reality of Christ during the reality of His birth… and may the reality of His life be- As Mr. Rodgers mailman used to say- a “speedy delivery, speedy delivery.”  And yes, I know, he was fake too.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

Posted in Reflections, Russell

Christmas and Money

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So much is written about “consumerism” at Christmas that I’m certain we are fairly well innoculated against the warnings. That’s more than a shame. I won’t add anything further on that topic specifically, but I do want to throw out some questions about money. I was discussing money with someone the other day and said that I was not at all sure what Christians are supposed to do with respect to it. When it comes to dealing with money, what I seem to come across in Christians, both in myself and others, is this: Tell yourself that as long as money is not your God, you can still have nice stuff, which all too often probably amounts to “whatever I want and can reasonably afford.” We convince ourselves that, in our hearts, money is not our God; we are not worshipping it; and feeling this to be true, it becomes easier to justify our spending habits.

Now clearly Jesus has not laid down some super-detailed plan that believers are supposed to follow when it comes to money. Perhaps that would have been easier. Rather, he said things like, “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” and “You cannot serve both God and money,” and “Whoever does not give up all that he has cannot be my disciple,” and “Watch out! Be on guard against all forms of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The apostle James says, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”

In light of these, how is one supposed to think about such things are owning a home, saving for retirement, buying flat-screen TV’s, building a business, being fashionable with clothes, showing hospitality, dining out, supporting missionaries, taking trips, and on and on? How does one balance short and long-term generosity and giving? Is it better to support missionaries now or create significant wealth and support even more Christian endeavors down the road? At what level of economic comfort can I be considered to have “provided for my family” or have failed to do so?

Again, I’m not in any way suggesting that there is one definitive answer to this and other myriad issues related to money, and that’s the point. If there’s no definitive answers, then what are we to make of the Bible’s teaching on this? Is it the case that the more in tune we are with God and what He reveals in Scripture, the more we will have discernment and godly desires about these matters? I have to think the answer is “yes.” What is the role of the believing community in shaping our material desires and the ways we think about using money? I certainly want to provide for my family. I think it’d be nice if my boys had a backyard to play in one day. Having a home would also be enjoyable and useful in many ways, and I’d like for us to drive something other than a jalopy. Having computers, TV’s, and other gizmos is also something I partake in, as well as eating out with my family. I want to have medical insurance and some money for retirement, or some for my family in case I die sooner rather than later. Yet I want to give generously to my church, other ministries, missions, and hospitality. And I don’t want to wait until I’m “rich” to do it. So how does all this comport with, “Whoever does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple?” Is this supposed to be theoretical, or something like, “I’m ready to give it all up if that’s what God wants (though of course I can’t imagine He’d ever want such a thing)?”

I’m tremendously grateful for the ways God has provided for me materially throughout my life. He has been generous beyond explanation, and has helped me to have peace about financial matters in the process. But I often find myself torn, wondering what to do with Scriptures like, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” other than to write a check and congratulate myself on having given to the poor. Obviously this is a huge issue, and I don’t expect you to respond with a treatise, but I’d love to know if any of you have been wrestling with this topic and what provisional conclusions you’ve come to. And there doesn’t seem like a better time to consider these things than the Christmas season, when we’d rather not do so.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics, Ethics