I recently finished reading Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s excellent little book, Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. And while I have neither the time nor the inclination to write a full review, I figured I would post more than a few excerpts here over the next few days and weeks.

Bell’s book isn’t perfect, and there are a few areas where I think we are left with more questions than answers, but overall it is a very good introduction to just war history, theory, and practice from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its benefits and usefulness far outweigh its flaws.

While Bell avoids partisan debates for the most part he pulls no punches in speaking straightforwardly about what justice demands in the Christian tradition as it developed from the Augustine and the fathers (modified from Plato and the Greeks) through to Aquinas, Vitoria, and Grotius in the early modern period.it is an excellent introduction to the Just War tradition from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its strengths are much more prominent than its weaknesses.

After a brief history of Just War thinking, and making an important distinction between modern, secular, just war theory, what he calls Just War as public policy checklist or Just War (PPC), and Just War as Christian discipleship or Just War (CD), Bell asks the question, “Has there ever been a just war?”

"Such is the history, in brief, of the just war tradition since its adoption and adaptation by Christianity. What the history reflects is that war is not one thing always and forever, that it is no necessarily and inevitably “hell” as Sherman and others would have it. To the contrary, it is a human practice and as such is capable of being waged in different ways, from the highly ritualized and almost game-like wars of medieval chivalry that were minimally lethal (my favorite example being a yearlong war involving one thousand knights in the 1127 CE during which five died, four of those being the result of accidents), to the limited wars of attrition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the total wars that characterized significant wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At the outset of this chapter, the question was raised as to whether war could ever be just. Both pacifists and realists suggest the answer is no. While the historical overview suggests that war need not be total, it does not provide an entirely satisfactory answer to the question of whether war can in fact be just. By itself it does not refute the skeptics. These skeptics sometimes pose the question of just war in a more pointed manner by asking, Has there ever been a just war?

Such a question threatens to plunge us into the midst of the culture wars and the ideological battles of the current moment. After all, there is no shortage of persons willing to proclaim this or that war just or unjust in a manner that appears to be driven more by the political fortunes of the moment than by any deep familiarity with the just war tradition. From the longer perspective of history, there are historians of war and of just war who have argue that there have indeed been just wars.

From a Christian theological perspective, however, the question of whether there has ever been a just war is largely beside the point. From the standpoint of the Christian moral life, it is the wrong question. After all, the Christian moral life does not depend on whether that life has ever been lived faithfully before or not. If Christians are called to be a just war people by God then the proper response to that call is not to step back and ask, Has anyone else done it before us? Rather, even if it means going forth like Abram and his family into the unknown and unprecedented (Heb. 11:8), the proper, faithful response is to discern how our life should be so ordered in response to that call that we might be a people who wage war or refrain from waging war in accord with the precepts of just war. In other words, the proper response to the call to just war is not, Has it been done before? but, How then should we order our live so that we might respond to the call faithfully?

Perhaps the misguided nature of the question will be clearer if we put a similar challenge to another facet of the Christian life. Take, for example, the Ten Commandments. We might ask if there has ever been a Christian community that has embodied them perfectly? Has there ever been a Christian church that has succeeded in living out even one of them perfectly? Or take the Great Commandment that we love God and our neighbor. Has there ever been a church that has followed that commandment without flaw or failure? That the answer to these questions is no does not in itself render the commandments invalid, irrelevant, or unrealistic. That the Christian church has displayed and in the course of its life continues to terrible failures with regard to both love of God and of neighbor does not abolish that calling or erase the reality of that love in its life. That we miss the mark, that we continue to struggle with sin, does not diminish either the high calling to or the reality of holiness and virtue in the life of the church. Our failure as a people does not disprove God’s call; neither does our repeated failure establish that we are not in fact capable of accepting and embodying that call. All of this means that even if one could definitively show that the church had never even once embodied the just war discipline in war, that in itself would not prove that just war was neither the church’s calling nor a real possibility in its life."

I don’t have much to say about this except that if you voted for Obama how can you do so again.  The man made openness, the end of strong arm techniques, the closing of GITMO, transparency, and the protection of whistleblowers hallmarks of his campaign.  Yet he has cracked down on secrecy, created a kill list of individuals (including U.S. citizens) that can and have been assassinated apart from judge or jury, kept GITMO open, refused CSPAN access to major decision making events (including health care which was explicity promised to be open to the public), and most relevant to this article cracked down on whistleblowers who tried to expose torture and illegal behavior.  This man is convicted of a crime because Barack Obama and his administration have chosen to prosecute whistleblowers rather than act on their information incriminating those who participated in torture and other illegal activities.
I recently had a discussion with a friend about what patriotism would mean for someone like me, particularly after noting my disgust with Romney’s messianic claim that “this nation is the hope of the Earth.” As anyone who follows me on Facebook or knows me personally will know, I frequently pass along and comment on information very critical of the United States government, particularly with regards to foreign relations, civil liberties, and economics.

The question this friend raised was, even if I agree with you, where if anywhere then is there a place for patriotism?

My initial responses were a little scattered. It’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit, but never known quite how to come to terms with. At first I cataloged a list of America’s sins that often go unnamed and unaccounted for, as evidence that perhaps patriotism is misplaced. But then when lightly rebuffed by my friend I realized that that didn’t really answer the question.

So I talked some about how patriotism has shifted in the course of history especially with the advent of modernism from love of a culture and a people to loyalty to a system of power and coercion.

I also talked about how love of a smaller body of people that one truly felt connected to, like a city seemed to come more naturally to me, and how we don’t owe unconditional love to a nation-state as such (or if we do only inasmuch as we want to see them restored, using the examples of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

But I wasn’t really satisfied with my answer, and as I began to talk about the conversation with my wife I realized why.

I think that my frequent and vociferous criticisms of the U.S. government are in fact themselves born out of patriotism. Patriotism has everything to do with love of neighbor, and love of those who you share the camaraderie of citizenship with. To be a patriotic American is to love and have concern for your fellow Americans. That is precisely the reason that I am so vocal about the actions of the United States government.

I believe that our Constitution, as the enshrinement of the rule of law for the nation matters; not that it is perfect or sacred, but it is what we have and it is the final rule of law for this nation. And so when I see it trampled, my concern for my fellow man is piqued. When I see the United States government engaged in undeclared and illegal wars, when I see them invading countries on false pretenses, causing the deaths of half a million children in Iraq via sanctions, destroying the economy and thus starving millions of Iranians, killing innocent civilians, men, women and children in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere via drone bombs operated by men with joysticks in California or Missouri, my love of country and countrymen compels me to cry out against such injustice and brutality so that others will not willingly soak their hands in the blood of a corrupt government. I love my country enough to recoil at the thought of her engaging in such evil.

It is because I love my country and my countrymen that I speak out against their disenfranchisement and loss of civil liberties through things like the TSA, the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the President’s kill list which allows for the assassination of American citizens without trial or due process.

It is because I do love my country and thus my neighbors, whether across the street, across the state, or across the nation that I speak out against police brutality, the so-called war on drugs, the use of para-military and SWAT teams on non-violent civilians, the disarmament of the citizenry, warrantless wiretaps, the domestic use of drones and cameras, etc.

I could go on and on, but that would be to belabor the point, which is that it is precisely my love of country, defined as the people that make up this nation, that impels me to care about the destruction of liberty, the betrayal of the rule of law, the trampling of the Constitution and the principles (however imperfect) upon which the founders of our country intended to establish this nation.

To be clear, I am not some sort of golden-age perfectionist. I am not calling for the repristination of a formerly ideal America. I understand that this country was founded with institutional sin embedded in the form of legal chattel slavery among other things.

My argument, like that of the civil rights leaders is that one can be a patriot while decrying in the starkest terms the actions of one’s government. One can be a patriot while being ashamed of the evil one’s government perpetrates. Patriotism is defined as the love of one’s country. I love the United States. In fact I love it enough to be honest, and to say that we are sinking into a moral quagmire. I love it enough to decry corruption, collusion and evil on both sides of the dominant political aisle. I love it enough to rail against injustice and evil for the sake of my fellow countrymen who consciously or unconsciously suffer from the debasement of their culture, government and civilization. I do not apologize for speaking the most harsh and direct truths about our moral failures, our injustices, our evils... but that does not mean I do not love the country. Jeremiah loved the Israel he lambasted. I love my country and my countrymen, and I hope that by being willing to speak prophetically to her I am showing the kind of tough love that is necessary amidst such moral turpitude.

Finally, above all I love Christ and his Church which knows no borders, which means that my patriotism can never sink into mere nationalism. I will always love the Church first, and subjugate my love of country to my love of Christ and His Church. So, as I said in my comments in the initial Facebook thread that prompted this post, there may be a time to not love one’s country if it comes to a choice between love of country and love of God. Similarly there may be times to take sides with other nations if one’s country is engaged in unjust actions against them. But that is another subject, and would require a great deal more unpacking.

For now I will say, that perhaps the proposed distinction between critique of government and patriotism is simply a false distinction. I critique the government of the country I love, for the sake of the people of that country.

Here are my initial answers to the question from the Facebook discussion which I was ultimately unsatisfied with but which may fill in some gaps for any who would like context:

Justin Donathan Yeah, I think I just find it hard to feel a lot of patriotism at this moment in history when so much evil is being perpetuated by our government and it is largely going unacknowledged and uncriticized by both major parties, the media, the Church, seemingly everyone. I find our current foreign policy reprehensible and I fully expect that we as a society are storing up God's wrath for our combination of hubris and brutality. God hates bullies, and I see no other way to view much of what we are doing with drones in Pakistan, Yemen and who knows where else, or the birth defects of thousands of Iraqi children due to the types of munitions we used when we invaded their country, etc. And this isn't new. Most people (myself included although I've tried to learn as much as I can) don't even know about things like the carpet bombing and invasion of Panama's slums in the late 80's, and the mass graves they are still uncovering there, or the secret wars and CIA actions in Laos and Cambodia where thousands still die every year from unexploded munitions, or the horrific things we've done all over South America simultaneously funding and fighting various narco-cartels and terrorist groups, and that's not to even mention us being the only country to drop nuclear bombs, and on civilian populations at that, and being one of a limited few that has firebombed cities full of civilians to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths of men, women and children.

When this is combined with our major candidates bragging about destroying the economies of other nations through the most crippling sanctions ever imposed, and competing over who can be more vociferous in their promise of a trade war with China and promises that neither of them is so radical as to really try to stop the killing of our unborn here in America to the tune of over 3,000 a day... it's just all a little too much.

I love my country in the sense that it's mine as X says, and I love it in the sense that I pray for it and its leaders, and I love it in the sense that, bracketing out the government as an abstraction, I love the people of this country, but I'm not sure about calling us a force for good. I think we often think that because we are taught a version of history, or at least historical events, that wouldn't be recognized by many in other parts of the world. I'm also not sure that having the most powerful military in the history of the world is a blessing. I think that in many ways it has proven to be a liability and a temptation, although of course there are historical instances where it has proven very valuable in curtailing evil to some degree.

So, to answer your question there is nothing that either candidate could have said instead of the comment about us being the hope of the Earth that would have been in any way politically acceptable, because what I think ought to be said is a word of chastisement, and a sober call for repentance and a recognition that we are in a moral quagmire that is going to require much diligence, honesty and humility to get out of. But politicians don't say things like that, except maybe Ron Paul, which is why I like him so much. The Church used to, but it seems that we see less of it today than in the past.

Justin Donathan Put another way, the last few years of reading about American history and politics from various sources and perspectives has been a little like finding out that your father was a murderer and you had no idea. Do you still love your family, yes, but it changes things.

Justin Donathan Sorry, I guess I didn't answer your question well.

I think maybe a part of it could be loving the culture and the people without necessarily loving the government and the actions of government. That's thorny for many reasons in the U.S. because we have an ostensibly representative democracy making it hard to separate government from people (although I think it is pretty clear that that system is rather far from working as purported given the prevalence of special interest groups/lobbyists/etc.), and we have an incredibly diverse culture made up of a huge number of subcultures from geographic to ethnic to socioeconomic, etc. So it's hard to identify with "American culture" broadly, but I don't think it's impossible. I think that is the sense in which patriotism can be appropriate. But it's also important I think to consider the question historically, and ask whether the institution of the modern nation state is the proper object of such feelings. In some sense the nation-state as a totalizing institution is an invention of modernism that replaces the cultural glue that identifies a people with a power structure based on coercion and force as the definer of people groups. So now to be patriotic isn't to love Americans so much as it is to love America as a system of governance... or at least that's often how it's presented with symbols of patriotism like flyovers by fighter jets and the continual demand for a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the civil government. 

One thing I have noticed is that I find it much easier or more natural to have a feeling like patriotism toward my city than toward my country. It is less abstract and much more clear that in doing so I am talking about love for a particular people and particular cultural institutions and shared values and experiences, than is the case with regard to the country as a whole.

Finally, I don't think that we owe our country unqualified love. There are times and places where it is one's duty not to love country, if the country is evil (presuming we're thinking of the country as is typically meant in modern discussions of patriotism, with reference particularly to the civil governance aspect, rather than as a collection of individuals or cultural institutions as I mentioned above). I'm assuming that Dietrich Bonhoeffer ceased to feel patriotism for Germany, or at least felt it in a longing sense, as in, loving what Germany had once been and loving that ideal enough to wish for its return. I would guess Solzhenitsyn felt the same. 

I don't remember much about the details, but C.S. Lewis has a discussion of patriotism in "The Four Loves" that I remember at the time I read it (a few years ago) I found pretty helpful.

Sorry, this is somewhat stream of consciousness. I find it a hard question to get my mind around too.
As an abstainer from the two party system (at least as relates to the upcoming presidential election) one of the arguments I frequently here is that I am expecting too much from a president. I frequently here that I’m a perfectionist, that politics just is what it is, and that you can’t expect too much from it.  A political race is always about choosing the lesser of two evils, not about changing the world, or perfecting the system of governance.

So when I was bothered by the kinds of shenanigans that went on at the RNC, and the way the rules were changed over the vote of the delegates, and the way certain delegates were unseated, or kept from voting I was told to relax. It’s politics. This is just the way it is. It may not be right, but you can’t expect much.

And when I object to just holding my nose and pulling the lever for Romney and lament the fact that there isn’t a candidate that I feel comfortable voting for I’m told that it’s not about voting for an ideal candidate, but looking at the options in front of us and putting my modicum of support toward the better of the two options.

Relax, I’m told. This isn’t about solving everything. It’s just politics. It’s a pragmatic choice for what will be slightly better. Change is incremental at best. We work with what we have. We can’t be perfectionists. We just do the best we can with what we have and trust that Jesus is in charge and that ultimately politics isn’t the end-all-be-all of the Christian hope.

So far okay, perhaps.

But then the other shoe drops.

I look at all of the above and think, ‘okay, fair enough. Maybe I’m putting too many of my marbles into political aspirations. But I’m still not comfortable giving consent to either candidate for various reasons, so I just won’t vote, or I’ll vote third party or maybe write in a candidate. After all, our hope isn’t in the political process but in Jesus’ sovereign kingship over all the earth, right. I can’t expect too much from politics, so I don’t have to fret too much over how I vote, I’ll just vote my conscience.’

But then the tables turn. Suddenly my vote is imperative, and my decision very important. Suddenly it becomes incredibly important that we get Obama out, and my non-vote or non-Romney vote is a very big deal. Suddenly I’m helping Obama advance towards another term wherein weeping and gnashing of teeth will be the order of the day. At this point I am called a perfectionist as before, but now my perfectionism is not mere naivete, but tantamount to support for cataclysmic destruction. Now I am not told to calm down and not expect so much, but to expect hellfire and brimstone if I don’t just hold my nose and vote for that lesser of two evils.

So my question is, which is it? Is it the case that my voting isn’t really that big a deal and that I should just vote for the lesser of two evils because pragmatically it may make the situation a little better, even if there are things about him that we all agree are pretty awful. Or is it that not voting for said lesser of two evils and voting (or not) according to my conscience is tacit support for the apocalypse?

I am obviously being somewhat hyperbolic here, but the point stands. If wanting to vote for someone one believes to actually be a good candidate and that one can honestly give the consent of the governed to, regardless of party affiliation or likelihood of winning, is simply expecting too much of the process and taking it a bit too seriously, then how can doing the same also be not taking the process seriously enough and not recognizing that one is tacitly empowering tremendous evil and shirking one’s responsibility to save us from going over the ubiquitous cliff?

I've been working on coming up with a good model for family devotions for some time, and after much experimenting and many failures this is something that we have found works quite well, especially with small children.  It's almost directly taken from Concordia Publishing House's The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism, with only slight changes here and there.  Many of the other models we've tried, while good, have just proven to burdensome and at times bordered on violating the command not to exasperate one's children.  I like this because it is fairly short and simple, yet incorporates a number of things I value and wish to teach my children including call and response, some simple prayers to be memorized, Biblical collects, sung or chanted Psalms, Bible reading, and a time of prayer for specific needs and thanksgivings.  Further, it allows for growth as children mature, having a place for more singing through moving from the simple Song of Simeon to working through the Psalms, and allowing for longer Scripture readings or the addition of readings from a Bible study book or devotional work.  It's not perfect and I'd appreciate feedback or suggestions as I continue to work on it, but we've been more faithful to do devotions somewhat regularly with this model than any other we've tried.  


The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their baptism. (1, 2)

In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to Your name, O Most High;
To herald Your love in the morning,
Your truth at the close of the day.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Other readings: Micah 7:18-20; Matthew 18:15-35; Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 11:1-13; Luke 12:13-34; Romans 8: 31-39; II Corinthians 4:16-18; Revelation 21:22-22:5

Alternatively, a longer passage may be worked through night by night, one or two short section(s) at a time.  Examples include, the Creation account, the Ten Commandments, selections from the Wisdom Literature of Solomon, the Sermon on the Mount, the Crucifixion (particularly during Lent or Holy Week), or even an entire book of Scripture such as one of the epistles.

Depending on the age of the children this may be followed (or preceded) by a reading from a devotional or Bible study book and/or discussion. (3)

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word,
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
a light to lighten the Gentiles
and the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.  
(Luke 2: 29-32, The Song of Simeon or Nunc Dimittis) (4)

Alternatively, here may be sung or chanted another canticle such as the Magnificat (Song of Mary), or a Psalm. (5)

  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Prayers for others and ourselves
  • Concluding collect:
We thank You, our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ , Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept us this day; and we pray that you would forgive us all our sins where we have done wrong, and graciously keep us this night.  For into your hands we commend ourselves, our bodies and souls, and all things.  Let Your holy angels be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.  Amen.  (Adapted from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism)
  • Threefold Amen.
Then go to sleep in good cheer!

1. Bold type indicates read by all,
Regular type indicates read by one, Italicized type indicates instructions.
2. Adapted from the Close of the Day prayer (p. 474) in The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism published by Concordia Publishing House.
3. E.g. "A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament," Peter J. Leithart.
4. A good tune for this canticle is that used by the Lutheran Church, a sample of which may be seen here.
5. Concordia Publishing House has also provided the Church with an excellent resource for chanting the Psalter using the ESV translation in their small volume, "Reading the Psalms with Luther," which includes among other helpful things a set of chant tones and the Psalter pointed for chanting.  It is available here.

Picnic roast smoked on the grill with fat cap visible on top.
I've been grilling for years, and have always loved it, but recently I've found myself more and more preferring, long, low-and-slow, indirect heat cooking, and even more recently have found myself wanting to actually smoke my meats.  After doing a pork picnic shoulder for the first time a few weeks ago I was fully hooked.  It was a 12-14 hour project, which gave me plenty of time to make my own home-made potato salad and a couple of barbecue sauces (a mustard and vinegar based, spicy South Carolina style, and a thin, tangy, St. Louis style for those who don't appreciate the heat).  It was a blast, and I had a great time serving it to family and friends.  But it was also a pain, because I did it on my Char-Broil gas grill, using ultra low settings and aluminum pans of wood chips.  Not ideal.  

The meat came out delicious, smoky, and falling off the bone; but keeping the temperature low and steady, and keeping the wood smoking was a constant chore.  So I decided then I need to get my hands on a smoker, the only problem being that the budget isn't exactly brimming with play money.  So I started watching Cragislist and Freecycle.  At the same time I started doing some further research and after initially thinking that I really wanted one of those cool looking big offset smokers I came to the conclusion that in my price-range those were not the way to go.  (This guy was really helpful in convincing me of this and also just helping me get my bearings on what I was looking for.)  So I started looking for a vertical water smoker (i.e. a smoker that has the fire directly below the meat with a pan of liquid above it to moderate the temperature and keep the meat moist.  

Eventually I found what you see below for a steal.  It's a nearly brand new Char-Broil H2O smoker (though missing the decal).  This is a budget smoker, big time.  But not to worry, I had already planned to modify whatever I found.  Many thanks to ~day_trippr for steering me in the right direction with his detailed modification plans from his Brinkmann Gourmet project.  Due to a lack of skill, patience, and tools, my finished product isn't nearly as pretty or professional looking as his, but his ideas and experience were invaluable.

The first thing I did is what everyone will tell you to do first.  I added a real thermometer.  The one that comes on the smoker is kind of a joke, with no degree markers, just zones for cool, ideal, and hot.  The new thermometer you see pictured below is not the one that ended up on the grill, because after installing it I read several negative reviews regarding it's accuracy and I wasn't really satisfied with the temperature markings anyway.  It went up to 700° which meant that the range I'd be working with (200-250) was very small and hard to read.  So, after finding a much better one, with a 400° range, handy color coding, and a 2 1/2" stem (longer than the original one) for about the same price (~$10) at Cabella's I returned this one to Home Depot and replaced it.  As you can see I mounted it just below the top rack, which I think will give me a fairly accurate read for both racks.  I decided to leave the original in place as removing it would just leave me with about a 2" inch hole to fill.

The next step was a little trickier, and one that I was a little more hesitant about.  Nevertheless I couldn't see having no exhaust control, so I forged on.  After several failed attempts, and probably my first use of a compass since 7th grade geometry, I fabricated an exhaust damper out of a $.65 aluminum shingle, with three 1" holes in it.  It was originally supposed to have three tabs, but I cut one off in the process : ).  I then used that to mark the holes on the lid, and using the same 1" hole saw bored the exhaust holes themselves.  From there it was just a matter of drilling my center hole, working the aluminum into a slight dome shape to fit the curvature of the lid, and attaching it with a stainless steel bolt.  I will say that after the initial design, molding the piece to fit that curvature was the most difficult part.  It's still not perfect, but it fits fairly snug when the exhaust is fully closed and it's not going to be often that I'm going to need a completely tight exhaust seal, other than if I'm just trying to shut the fire down after a smoke.  Plus, I can always take it off and work it a little more to try to get a better seat on the lid.
The final few steps are where I really lucked out.  The original smoker had no sealed bottom pan, just a fire pan at the bottom with a good 1-2" gap all the way around.  I really wanted to find a way to seal that area off and then add dampers so that I could easily control airflow to the fire, and thus temperature.  Well, as I said I lucked out.  As it turns out, just like with the Brinkmanns (the Smoke 'n Grill and the Gourmet) there is an upgraded model of this same smoker, the Char-Broil Deluxe H2O, that comes equipped with a sealed bottom pan, and I found a guy willing to practically give one away that was a little more heavily used, but still in operable condition (see the first picture below).  So not only did I get my bottom pan, but I got a whole slew of spare parts to mix and match as things wear out.  

After getting it home I set to work cleaning up the parts I needed and prepping my modifications.  The first order of business was to take the legs off of my original unit so that it could be seated on the new pan.  That was easy enough. 

The bottom pan on the deluxe model comes from the factory with three 2" holes in the bottom, but again, no way to regulate the air flow.  So I took my trusty aluminum shingles and cut out three tab type dampers, molded them to fit the curvature of the bottom pan, drilled my holes and attached them with over-sized washers on the inside to avoid pulling out of the soft, slightly rusted metal.  Then I bent the ends over and voila!, dampers.  I made a small mark with a sharpie to indicate, fully closed, but at some point, I'll probably go over that with white paint and make a few more for half and full open.  

Next, I put three small bolts through the sides of the inner fire pan about 1 1/2 - 2" inches from the bottom to stabilize an 11" grate that I picked up from Ace the other day (~$10).  This will keep the coals off of the bottom of the pan and allow the ash to fall through so that the fire doesn't smother itself as it burns down.  Then I took my largest metal bit, a 3/8" and drilled 9 holes around the sides of the pan, just above the level of the grate, and 5 in the bottom to allow air flow around the base of the coals and wood.  I may need to add more, but I figured I'd start with this and see how I do keeping my temps where I want them.  You can always drill more holes.  

Finally, because the deluxe model is literally made from the same parts, just with a few extras I was able to move the tabs that hold the grates and water pan in place around, and add the bolts from the older smoker that allow you to lock the body onto the base pan at the botom.  This gave me my locking bolts, tabs for the water pan, and two grates for smoking meat.  I may at some point add another set of bolts to allow for three racks of meat and/or greater flexibility in the height level at which I place different meats, but for now I think this will work.  
So, there you have it.  This is the finished product except for one minor modification I still have planned, and one that I've considered, but I'm not sure is necessary.  I've got a flat oven gasket from Rultand Inc. ordered that I'm going to put around the lid just below the lip to seal off the gaps between lid and body (the body is not perfectly round, especially at the joint), so that I can have full control of the exhaust via the damper on the lid.  If there is enough of the high temp sealant leftover I may use a little around the inside of the door as well.

The second modification that I'm not sure is necessary, but I may do just for grins, is to remove the side handles from the leftover smoker and add them to the base pan.  This would allow you to easily pick up and move the base pan even while it was hot.  I'm not sure how necessary that would be, but it might be nice to have the option.
It's been a fun little project and I'm hoping to burn a good hot empty fire in the morning just to condition it a bit (can't promise I won't throw some sausages on) and then give it a test run with a bunch of chicken legs.  If all goes well I'm hoping to do another pork shoulder/picnic roast soon.  Happy barbecuing!
  • 1 whole rabbit (sans head)
  • Olive oil
  • 3-4 strips of bacon
  • 2 tspns ground sage
  • 2 tspns ground thyme
  • 2 tspns salt
  • 2 tspns black pepper
  • 1 tspn paprika
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 cup table salt or 1/4 cup kosher/sea salt
  • Wood chips

  1. Boil a small amount of water with salt in it. Then add enough more water to cover rabbit and soak rabbit for a 1-3 hours.  If brining longer put in sealable bag or container and refrigerate.  You can also use this time to defrost a frozen rabbit as it brines.
  2. Rinse rabbit and pat dry.  
  3. Begin soaking wood chips.
  4. Break the back/ribs to lay the rabbit out flat on a cookie sheet or roasting pan.
  5. Puncture rabbit all over the meaty areas with a skewer or some other sharp  object to allow the juices and seasonings to penetrate the thin membrane on the outside.
  6. Pour olive oil on both sides of the rabbit and rub it in.
  7. Mix together in an old spice jar the sage, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper and then sprinkle over rabbit on both sides patting it onto the flesh.
  8. Finely chop fresh rosemary and sprinkle over both sides of the rabbit.
  9. Place pieces of raw bacon all over the back and meaty portions of the rabbit to prevent drying it out (and so that you can have bacon with your rabbit : ).
  10. Place wood chips on the grill directly over burners either in a smoke box or wrapped in tin foil with holes punched in the top and turn the grill on high on one side under the wood chips.
  11. When the grill is hot and the chips are smoking place the rabbit (still on the cookie sheet/roasting pan) on the grill on the side with the burners off (i.e. cook with indirect heat).
  12. Keep the grill between 240 and 300 degrees and rotate the pan as necessary for even cooking.  (Note: the hind legs will need more cooking than any other part because of the thickness, so start with them closest to the heat source).
  13. Timing varies.  Probably 2-4 hours depending on temperature consistency, but after an hour or so check the temp.  When you get to 155-160 degrees throughout you can turn the grill off.  
  14. Let the meat sit as the grill cools a bit and you prepare sides, etc. so that it can rest for 10 minuts or so.
  15. Cut the rabbit up, serve and enjoy.

Well it should have been interesting and Alicia and I were both really looking forward to it.  The subject matter was perfect, Thatcher is a fascinating character, and honestly I think you have to work pretty hard to make a bad movie with Meryl Streep in the lead.  But it was just very poorly executed.  The director simply didn't go deep enough with any aspect of Thatcher's life and so the results are very superficial.  At times it felt like she was going to really delve into the psychological and emotional aspects of her character and explore what made her tick as well as how she is handling the early stages of dementia/alzheimer's.  Then at other times it felt like she was going to do a "straight history" and just focus on the events of her (very eventful) life.  Then finally at times I thought (or maybe hoped) that she was going to get into some of the details of her politics and really explore the ideological tensions between herself and her political rivals.  Alas, she did none of those things.  

Instead she gave a nod to the emotional aspects through brief glimpses executed via a very awkward continual back and forth flashback scheme (imagine the first scene of Titanic with the flashback from the elderly Rose recurring over and over throughout the movie while contributing very little to the plot).  The dementia aspects while sad were mostly a distraction, and we saw only the barest glimpses of the emotional life of they younger Thatcher and her family.

She gave a nod to the "straight history" element as well, but again, it was so chopped up by the returns to the present, and so sparse on detail that the results were very superficial.  You could learn significantly more about Thatcher's life by reading the Wikipedia entry.  

Finally, the political element of her life was perhaps the most poorly and insultingly treated.  The director seems to have thought it sufficient to note that she was very controversial, imply that she was single-handedly responsible for everything from a decade of mass riots to winning a war, and then fill in all the gaps with emotional filler about how hard it was to be the first female head of party and Prime Minister.  Granted that is a significant matter and worth being treated, but it wasn't treated so much as exploited to make up for a very thin story otherwise.  

The whole thing was just trite and relatively boring.  There was no forward momentum (the flashback mechanism saw to that) and there was no substantive character development.  In a comic book movie that's a faux pas.  In a biopic it's a fatal flaw, a failure.  It's sad to say, but I think that despite great plot material and a great cast (particularly Streep of course) the movie is just a flop due to poor execution and lack of skill and imagination on the director's part.  (I note that she was also at least minimally involved in an ABBA concert film.  That probably explains a lot.)

If there is one thing the Radical Orthodoxy crowd gets right it is the insight that what passes for postmodernism is nothing of the sort. Popular postmodernism is simply hyper-modernism. Modernity came along and proffered a world in which there could be an autonomous self; a world in which there was a space (or perhaps all space) outside of the transcendent which was neutral, unhooked, unhinged from anything beyond itself. Postmodernity has done nothing to question this narrative. Indeed it has taken it to its end and said that it is proof that we are all atomistic, unrelated, and perhaps unrelatable selves. Postmodernity is simply the embracing of the ends of modernity. Modernity’s children have recognized that if all is simply what it is then all is nothing, and my nothingness is all. The postmodernity that fashions itself as some radical break with modernity is really just a realization of the divisiveness of a philosophy that fails to unite all created reality in contingency on uncreated divinity.