Thursday, November 29, 2007

Biblical equality and Grudem's Systematic Theology

The winter wind is howling through the eves of the house, and my garden hibernates. In these days when the stems protruding from the earth are tan and cracked, when the dark is long and the sunlight weak, I begin to thirst for life and light. That thirst is met, in part, in the faith community to which I belong, Gun Lake Community Church, which has a theology class on Wednesday nights.

The teaching is excellent and the discussion is enlightening, but the main text is a challenge. It is not so much that the text, Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, is 1,291 pages . I enjoy books, the more the better. Rather the challenge is that I disagree with the author on a few important topics. He accurately categorizes only two of the three major streams of thought on creationism, for example. In this and subsequent posts, I digress for a time from the topic of gardening and will outline areas of agreement and disagreement regarding Chapter 22, Man as Male and Female. This is the discussion topic for the class on December 12.

I agree with the abstract or summary at the beginning of the chapter, with the exception of the last five words, "The creation of man as male and female shows God's image in... difference in role and authority." (Italics mine. I also might word the sentence differently because I disagree with Chapter 21, section A "The Use of the Word Man to Refer to the Human Race.")

Grudem begins his discussion of male and female (Chapter 22, section A) with a discussion of male and female as the image of God, the two becoming one in marriage, and the inexact parallel to the three in oneness of the Trinity. Here Grudem shows his gift of explaining complex theology in easy to read and understand English. To do this, he uses many words. Hence the 1,291 pages. However, a careful reading of the text and footnotes reveals that there is a good deal of good theology packed into a small space.

The discussion continues into a refreshing discourse on biblical equality. The section begins, "Just as the members of the Trinity are equal... so men and women have been created by God to be equal..." Beware the ellipsis. I intentionally misused those three periods ("...") to make a point. I can agree, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, with Grudem's discussion of equality - as long as it is not limited. However, Grudem intended that the equality he discusses so well be limited. The two phrases I excised are " their importance and in their full existence as distinct persons (see Chapter 14, above)... in their importance and personhood." Leaving Chapter 14 aside, I can agree with those phrases as well. The combination of the two phrases, however, limits equality to these two aspects of humanity as male and female.

It is in Section C Differences in Roles, that the real disagreement begins. No, that is not quite accurate. There are points of disagreement on the roles of men women spread throughout the 1,291 pages of Systematic Theology. Most can be traced from section C, but much of section C is dependent on Grudem's treatment of the Trinity in Chapter 14. Thus, I'll visit Chapter 14 in the next post, critique Chapter 22 section C, and then offer alternatives and resources, all in preparation for class on December 12, two weeks from yesterday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Today was a day of technicalities. I took the day off work to rest, fight a cold, and nurse two sick children (one with bronchitis and one with a double ear infection) and my sick wife.

I decided to delve into the hullabaloo surrounding "RSS." RSS is short for really simple syndication. I suppose compared to rocket science, it is simple, but it took me a while to learn. That you may learn from my mistakes, RSS is a way to let other internet surfer dudes to get a constantly updated list of the latest posts to a website, in this case, Peepers Pondering. Each time I post a new entry, my subscribers (right now, just me) will automatically get the latest post on their list of RSS feeds. I was skeptical at first, but it is pretty slick. It is also pretty easy. There are many ways to set up an RSS feed, and to really make it sing, you should learn programming. My fluency in programming languages ranges from grunting (HTML, VB, Arc) to pantomime and wild gesticulations (most other programming languages.) Thus, I took the shortcut and thank you to Feedburner for a painless and successful RSS.

I'll sign off with a photo from early day of the garden, July 2005, when many of the perennials were only 1 year old. From left to right, more or less, is purple coneflower, blazing star, coneflower again, cup plant, ox eye sunflower, Culver's root, bergemot, and cut-leaf coneflower.

Flora on the Half Acre

The foundation on which to build a successful restoration garden is floral biodiversity. If you have many different kinds of plants you will attract more kinds of butterflies, birds, and other visitors. You will build more living soil at a wider range of depths, providing niches for more kinds of beneficial bacteria and fungi. You will have more color, texture, and shape. In short, more biodiversity lends the garden more character. Biodiversity is the foundation; the rest is art and fun.

The following is a list of plants in my garden. Most of these are species native to Michigan, and may not be appropriate for you. In fact, I recently read a book on wildlife gardening that was published in England, which recommended several species that are invasive exotics on on this sie of the Puddle.

I'll post more on the individual characters of each species that I have come to know over the last few years.

Columbine (native)
Prairie Smoke
Hairy Beardstongue
Foxglove Beardstongue*
Purple Coneflower*
Bee Balm*
Spotted Mint
Cup Plant
Compass Plant
Culver's Root
Black-eyed Susan
Showy Black-eyed Susan*
Tall Yellow Coneflower*
Gray-headed Coneflower
Western Sunflower
Ox-eye Sunflower
Big Bluestem
Little Bluestem
Side-oats Grama
Common Three-awn Grass
Switchgrass (*?)
Lance-leaf Coreopsis
Tall Coreopsis
Showy Goldenrod
Gray Goldenrod
Stiff Goldenrod
Grass-leaved Goldenrod
Tall Goldenrod
Blue Lupine
White Prairie Clover
Swamp Red Milkweed
Joe-pye Weed*
False Blue Indigo*
Velcro Tick-trefoil
Golden Alexanders
Interrupted Fern
Rough Blazing Star
True Solomon Seal
Calico Aster
Heath Aster
New England Aster
Rattlesnake Master
Hairy Hawkweed
New Jersey Tea
Wild Ginger
Red-osier Dogwood
High Bush Cranberry
Blackhaw Vibernum
Wild Grape
Virginia Creeper (not planted)
Burr Oak
Carolina Rose
Blue-eye Grass
Sugar Maple
*probable cultivars

Columbine (short and showy cultivars)
Bleeding heart
Traditional Tulips
Species Tulips
Early Stardrift
Yellow Geranium
Sage (the herb)
Thyme (English, Lemon, and Lime)
Butterfly Bush
Yarrow (cultivated, red variety)
Borage (reseeding itself)
Snapdragons (reseeding itself)
Concord Grape
Crab Apple
Rose of Sharon

Vegetable Garden
Potatoes (reseeding)
Fennel (reseeding)
Tomatoes (reseeding)
Carrots (going to seed next year)
Swiss Chard (going to seed next year)
(5 + several that will be planted next May)

Lawn and True Weeds
Lawn Grass
Creeping Charlie
Lawn Clover
Crab Grass
Nut Sedge
Common Plantain
Rattlesnake Plantain
Queen Anne's Lace
Weedy Thorn Berry (Rubus sp.)
Black Walnut
Silver Maple

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Garden Tour - Compost and Brush Pile

I suppose I should start my tour with the pretty flowers, but well, it's November. I don't have any pretty flowers. My prairie smoke is budding, which is just plain wrong, but I'll rant on climate change another time.

Fall is for composting. My sugar maple lost most of its leaves a few weeks ago, but the Norway maples were just no shedding. We had some very cold temperatures Wednesday night (mid 20s F) and the leaves on the Norway maples in the neighbors' yards finally let go. Today the weather moderated enough to rake. (Ever tried to rake frozen leaves? It doesn't work very well.) I was afraid my compost area was no large enough for the leaves, but I climbed onto the heap and stomped the leaves down, just like making wine. I filled them to the top of my 4' chain link fence three times!

Next fall I will have all the fertilizer that I need, thanks to the worms, slugs, insects, bacteria, and fungi in the compost heap. No petroleum used to make the fertilizer (in contrast to the stuff at the store). No petroleum used to make the trash bags. No petroleum used by the trash truck to pick up the bags of leaves. My yard is a closed nutrient cycle.

I also dragged the mulberry brush from one corner of the yard to the compost heap area. I could have left the brush where it was, but I expect rabbits to e one of the many wildlife species to use the brush pile, and I would like them to be as far as possible from my vegetable garden.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fuss over Native Plants

Native plants are the best things since sliced bread, in fact, they predate bread, modern wheat, and human settlement on this Continent. You may wonder, "What is the fuss?" You may wonder why the garden here at Harold's End (Hastings, King Harold, 1066, get it? No, me neither...) is well over 75% native plants. Many of the plants now growing in my garden are the same plants that were growing on this spot in 1066, when the Normans invaded England. You may even be wondering, as I am, what native plants have to do with the Norman invasion of 1066.
The greatest benefit to native plants, to me, is their spiritual value. I believe in a God that is at his very core in love with his creation, constantly breathing life into to it, and working with us to restore it to its former glory. From particle physics to the emergent properties of cellular organization, you are mind-bogglingly and fantastically created. Life is a miracle. So are plants, native and not native. However, God in his infinite wisdom, organized communities of species that live and work together. They are not super-organisms, but healthy natural communities are similarly complex, similarly mind-boggling and fantastic. And they are almost entirely extinct. You have probably never seen a healthy natural community in all its biologically diverse splendor. If God has revealed his eternal qualities, his goodness and glory, in his creation, then this revelation, this Holy Word, has been almost entirely destroyed.
Natural communities are not threatened by one evil force that we can define, design a solution, and solve. Instead they die by a thousand cuts. Poorly planed development, poorly enforced endangered species regulations, changes to the scale in time and place of natural processes like flooding, fire, frost, and grazing. Invasive exotic species of fungi, insect, fish, mussels, and plants crowd out natives, or kill them outright.
Aldo Leopold once said, "Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree—and there will be one.If his back be strong and his shovel sharp, there may eventually be ten thousand." The same is true of any native plant. If your back is good, you can restore a natural community in your own backyard. (And if your back is poor, like mine, it just takes a little longer.)
Some other benefits of native plants over non-native plants:
  • Gardening is good for the soul.
  • Native plants are not invasive exotic plants and will not harm the ecosystem.
  • Native plants are usually sold by a local small business. Restoring you natural community is part of restoring your local economy, and vice versa.
  • Native plants attract more local wildlife. (Like they were designed for each other.)
  • Native bees do not sting. European bees do. Native plants attract native bees. European plants attract European bees.
  • A diverse native garden attracts butterflies not seen at less diverse, less native gardens.
  • Networks of native gardens can provide important rest areas for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and butterflies that migrate hundreds of yards or thousands of miles through or over your property.
  • Once established, a native garden needs less weeding and little to no watering.
  • A native garden needs no fertilizer.
  • Native plants are host to native enemies to garden pests. Not only do you not need to spray chemicals on native plants. The native thrips and hoverflies will clean aphids and other pests off your non-native garden plants.
  • Many (not all) native plants are easier to grow than many non-native plants.

So why would anyone even consider buying non-native plants? Well, there are a few minor inconveniences.
  • Garden vegetables and herbs do not generally grow on native plants.
  • Native plants do not dominate the shelves at Mal-Wart or most large greenhouses and nurseries. You need to search them out. (Michiganders can find local sources here.)
  • Many native plants are perennials. They come back year and after year, but take a few years to establish. Year 1 sleep, year 2 creep, year 3 leap as the perennial saying goes. (Because I lack patience, I plant marigolds and petunias with my perennials in new beds to brighten things up a bit that first year.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mulberry Be Gone

Like more and more Americans, the house next door was foreclosed and is now vacant. Several weeks ago I got permission to do some much needed landscaping. My motivations were mostly selfish: concern over property values, the desire to see fewer "for sale" signs in the neighborhood, invasive shrubs on the property line, and so forth.

The invasive shrubs were red mulberry, an introduced pest from Eurasia. They have a purple berry that stains feet, cars, and kids. It grows quickly along every fence where the mower does not reach. Within 10 years they can be 25' tall. I know because that was the height of the shrubs I cut today and I counted the rings.

Now the neighbor's yard looks larger, neater, is less an ecological hazard, and is no longer shading the veggie garden, the prairie plant nursery, or native shrub hedge that I planted this last year.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Killing Frost

Our first killing frost was two weeks ago, on October 28. The average first frost for my part of Michigan is mid-September. I checked Victory Seeds to see how far off our climate is geographically. Many climate models predict that global warming will result in Michigan climate similar to that of Arkansas or Tennessee. Indeed, Little Rock has an average first frost of October 27. Other cities with similar first frost dates: Tallahassee, FL (10/28) and Dallas, TX (10/24).

I listened to another great podcast by the Wiggly Wigglers. This one was devoted almost entirely to gardening for wildlife.