Monday, December 17, 2018

What I Wish God Would Do (and why what I wish doesn't matter)

16 December 2018

This morning’s sermon at Trinity featured Luke 3, John the Baptist’s preaching on the axe at the root of the trees, and branches being thrown into the fire. Our Rector noted that John was mistaken about what Jesus would do; we can tell because in Luke 7, John sends a delegation to ask, Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?

The point was made that if I think God’s will looks a lot like mine, I may have a problem. (If on the other hand my will has been conformed to look like his, there may be less of one.)

But this made me think of what I would like God to do in our world. I wish for an end to various kinds of corruption and injustice in our country and the world, and for perpetrators to be brought to justice. What came to me was this: When Jesus walked this world, many of his countrymen wished similar things. But Jesus didn’t throw off the yoke of the Roman oppressors, and most likely he won’t do anything sudden, violent or miraculous to current perpetrators of injustice and oppression either.

So what does Jesus want? What is he doing, and what does he want me to do? I know some of the things he wants me to do: love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul, love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12, Luke 10). “Come to me,” he says (Matthew 11), “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” so he can give me rest.

Of course we should pray for those in government to make just and wise decisions (1 Timothy 2), we should work for justice (Amos 5, Micah 6) and care for the poor, but it’s really important for me to remember the idea of serving the God who is Love and that we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth…” It’s not that I have an idea and want God to bring my idea of kingdom to earth.

May the Lord help us to see what’s his will and his kingdom, and not be blinded by our own idea of what Paradise should be

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Prepare the way?

I’m not a singer and certainly not much of a musician, but whenever I hear the opening words of Isaiah 40, my mind’s ear hears a tenor intoning, “Comfort ye my people,” and some strings, then “saith your God. Saith your God!” Then more strings, etc.

That was from yesterday’s passage on Pray-as-you-go. Then came the, ah, is it recitative?—“A voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Followed by “Every valley...and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all flesh shall see it together.”

Then it struck me: this isn’t talking about geography or geology. John the Baptizer said under questioning that he was the voice crying in the wilderness. Or maybe crying out to the wilderness.

And it occurred to me, the words of John also apply to me—that I’m invited (or summoned?) to prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness of my soul. To make a highway for our God in the desert of my heart. “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low—the crooked straight, and the rough places (a) plain,” as Isaiah (and the libretto) say.

What shall I do to participate in this? How do I prepare the way of the Lord, flatten the mountains, etc.?

Before reading the rest of the chapter (where the answer likely lies), I took a guess. Or a few. Today, if I hear his voice, I should remember not to harden my heart (Ps 95; Heb 3). Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks all the time, don’t put out the Spirit’s fire or despise prophecies; avoid all kinds of evil (1 Th 5). Love God and my neighbor (Mk 12).

OK, back to Isaiah 40, which talks about God’s holiness and power and faithfulness. These attributes are important to remember. “To whom will you compare me, or who is my equal?” it says. So his wisdom, too.

And it commends those who “wait upon” the Lord—trust him, and live our lives with reference to him.

So nothing breathtakingly new there; basically I should welcome the Lord into my heart and mind, and remember to think true thoughts about him. And base my life on him, doing what he says. Pretty basic, which is not to say easy.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Liturgy Good?

Is the liturgy a good thing? Does it draw people into a space of more self-awareness or God-awareness? I guess it depends on the person and their experiences. When I was a young boy, I was taken to church by my parents (Mom mostly) and heard for example “The Lord’s Prayer” weekly. It didn’t do much for me, mostly because I just wasn’t interested—not interested enough in God, or in my eternal destiny. Fast forward a half-century: Many Sundays at Trinity, we hear the “Collect for Purity”:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I really appreciate hearing this regularly, and though I suspect part of my appreciation stems from its novelty—I didn’t grow up hearing this regularly—I hope that it will continue to touch me in the years ahead. I hope these words never roll over me ineffectually, but always move me toward self-examination and self-awareness, and toward awareness of God’s loving presence.

What do I think is so great about this prayer?

First, it reminds me that God indeed knows me, as Psalm 139 and Hebrews 4 testify, the latter more emphatically: “And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and naked to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

How do I feel about God knowing my thoughts and even my subconscious desires and intentions? On one hand, it’s intimidating (which isn’t completely bad; as we read in Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”). On the other hand, it’s also a great comfort; I need never worry, “What if God finds out?” He already knows, and loves me anyway.

It’s important that I be reminded of this, because forgetting it leads to all kinds of evil: vain, unkind, envious or unforgiving thoughts; reckless words that pierce like a sword (Proverbs 12); and so on.

After the acknowledgment of God’s omniscience, we’re offered the opportunity to agree with the request to God: “Cleanse the thougts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.” We want to breathe in the Holy Spirit (whose name also means “breath”) and thereby be cleansed.

About whether my thoughts need cleansing: do I agree with Psalm 19, “May …the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you”? Meaning they often are not? Yep.

Breathing in the Holy Spirit—how does that cleanse my thoughts? If I’m aware of the Spirit in me, if I allow the Spirit to remind me of God’s love for me, I won’t be so focused on wealth or status. I’ll have more power to clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I’ll be better able to forgive others and more willing to serve them. My thoughts will be cleansed and will be more pleasing to God, who loves me more than I deserve.

And the point of this transformation, this growth? A life so filled and driven by the knowledge that God loves me that it’s also filled and driven by my love for God in return. And if I love him and think about his love for me, I’ll have a better chance of being my best self.

And as I become my best self, I magnify God’s name in my life.

A worthy goal.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Mom is dying.

She’s been declining for the past 4 years or more, but in the past month or so she’s really taken a nosedive. Last year she lost 28 pounds; by this October, she’d lost another 20. Since then, she lost the next 15. The big C (diagnosed in November) has been part of this, as has vascular dementia, but she’s also lived over nine decades; statistically she wouldn’t be long for this world, even without those ailments.

How am I dealing with all this? Well, I came out for a few days last month, after learning of the diagnosis. And I’m here again today. Yesterday I sat next to her as she dozed on the couch. I tried to get her to drink something, but she wasn’t much interested. Not interested at all in food.

We talked about her memorial service, and I asked her if she had any thoughts about what she wanted read or sung. A favorite psalm perhaps? I quoted the first half-dozen verses of Psalm 139; she shook her head No.

After a while, when I thought she’d forgotten the question, she turned her head toward me and whispered, “Last song, ‘God Be With You’.” I wrote that down.

I brought the fall 2018 issue of the Hedgehog Review with me; its theme is “The Evening of Life.” One article mentions the way we deal with aging in our impoverished (but materially rich) society. It struck me that it’s similar to how we deal with obesity: we pretend that if only you would do this or that, you could age “successfully…” by which we mean you could postpone old age, or cover it up, or compensate for it. But of course it catches up to every one of us, unless we die first.

All this reflects how I deal with big issues: I read, I think. Sometimes, when I remember, I pray. I think about the good times, but more than anything what I do is avoid it. I have a pending code review; even though I’m officially not at work, I nag people to have a look. I return email from someone who’s looking at a defect report I filed. I think about what to work on next.

And I prepare for an interview at a prospective new employer. Forty-two years of history says I’ll never switch employers voluntarily, but if it’s ever going to happen it’ll have to be soon.

This hasn’t been very coherent. But there’s a reason this is called a “blog.”

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Letter to Dad: the door and some news

Dear Dad,

Do you remember a few years back, you had me work on the closer for your bedroom door? No, it still works fine, but yesterday the girls (well, they're close to 60 now) noticed that the door wasn't closing all that well. I don't think it's the closer; the door needed some planing I thought.

I had a heck of a time getting into the cabinet where you keep it; had to step over a bunch of stuff; several sheets of plywood make it hard to fully open the doors. Anyway, I fished out the plane and cranked the adjuster clockwise a little. Man, did it bite into the door! I tried to back it off, and pretty soon I couldn't turn it at all.

Guess it's been too long, because I'd forgotten about the left-handed threads. Ended up jamming the adjuster so I couldn't turn it, and then used the hammer-and-screwdriver trick you showed me. Unfortunately, that only made it worse because I turned it the wrong way!

I opened the other cabinet and found an almost-empty can of oil, and got some on the threads. That's when I discovered they're left-handed. But turning the adjuster the other way (which would back it off the jammed position) would force the blade further out. Not the way I wanted it to go!

First I got the adjuster to a place where I could turn it. Then I noticed that the blade didn't move freely with the adjuster. So I took it apart further and found two screws that held the blade-holder to the body of the plane. Apparently the plane had suffered some trauma that forced the blade in an always-out position.

With the blade-holder in a better position and with some oil on the blade assembly (sorry, the oilcan is even closer to empty now), the blade moves well and tracks the adjuster.

I planed the door a little, remembering with some fondness the operations done on it a few years ago. It's better now, but it still needs a yank or a thump to get latched. I wonder if loosening the, umm, strike plate would work? In any case, it's better now than before I started.

And the plane is working better.

Oh, I think you would be happy to see the little platform I made for the door the last time I was here. (Neil was a big part of the process.) When I took Mom to the doctor in January, she mentioned to him that she fell on her 'okole going out the door. The platform is the same height as the floor in the bedroom, so she walks straight out through the door. We also put a handrail. Keith drove most of the screws for that.

After I installed the platform, Neil and I think Jana remarked it would be nice if it was moved about 6" to the right. Neil did that operation and I think it was a good change.

About Keith: You would be happy to know that he passed FAA school and is working now at the Oakland ARTC center. I'm sure you remember visiting there many years ago. He lives near Sheri and Peter.

Oh, and I've been thinking about changing jobs. Yes, I remember you told me to find a job with a good company and stay there. Well, that worked for the first 26 years, and it's worked well enough for the next 16. But after 42 years, I'm thinking to maybe try something else.

I expect to be visiting Apple to see if it's a good fit for me. The guy hasn't given me a date yet, but it's OK because I'm in no hurry (there's something I'd like to finish at NetApp before I go, if I go). There's another place that I visited, a small company that would be exciting to work at because it's still in its early stages.

Dad, I still miss you terribly sometimes. You know that a lot of the time I try to do what I think you would do, or would want me to. I always think of you when I give blood, which I did a couple weeks ago. Next year I think I'll hit 8 gallons.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Retribution or restoration?

My buddy “Homer” was in the men’s recovery program at Cityteam San Jose. We have a weekly appointment, but he called to say he couldn’t meet me; triggered by a big disappointment, he’d yielded to the siren song of the bottle.

The lovely Carol was packing for a road trip, and our little dog was skittish. Showing her anxiety or her displeasure or maybe both, she also displayed a regression in her, ah, continence—once on our bedspread, and once on a bathmat we had near the patio door.

I heard a loud crash in the parking lot. Turning around, I saw the crumpled front end of an expensive European sedan. Behind the wheel of a white SUV that had smashed into it, the teen-aged driver looked stunned.

The model of retributive justice would jail or fine Homer, shoot the dog, and somehow punish the student driver. I have to think there’s a better way.

It’s probably because I’ve been thinking about restoration and retribution that I noticed these events, which occurred within a week; we all of us make mistakes, choose poorly, lose control from time to time. We hope to have fewer and milder such episodes as we get older and, we hope, wiser. And yet the only way to stop completely is to also stop breathing.

When I do choose poorly, lose my head, or just slip up, how do I want to be treated? Do I need to be jailed, fined, shot or something? I don’t think most of us want that for ourselves, though we may wish we could do that to someone else. What I want is help and restoration, and so I must offer that to those in my world. I thanked Homer for calling me, and told him about naltrexone. I am now more diligent to let the dog out first thing in the morning, and also whenever she indicates to me that she needs it—and also to give her enough cuddles. And I told the teen-ager that it’s very important to get behind the wheel again as soon as he reasonably could.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as that. If the undesirable behavior were to continue, and it became evident that it sprang from disregard for oneself or others, we would want to take some other action, but ultimately our aim would be recovery, restoration of trust, rehabilitation. In the dog’s case, some consultation with a trainer would probably be indicated.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6, “Beloved, if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourselves, because it could have been you.” Actually I think in the NASB it reads “yourselves, lest you too be tempted,” but my old friend’s paraphrase is more striking.

Because it really could have been me. Why did that boy’s car, rather than mine (when I was learning to drive decades ago), hit the late-model Mercedes sedan? Because I was so much more skillful? Ha! I’ve made many many mistakes in my life, and things could have gone horribly wrong. In Hebrews 5 we read that a high priest “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” Since we are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2), we do well to remember that we are in fact beset with weakness, and as our Lord said, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged.” (Matthew 7 I think, AV)

This attitude of humility is important to remember, which does not make it always easy to remember. Do I sometimes say to myself, “How awful! I would never...”? Of course I do; so do you. But I like to think I remember soon afterward that “there but for the grace of God go I”: given a different set of parents, a different set of strengths and weaknesses, different experiences growing up, then I could very easily end up being just like that guy I think is so terrible.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Norwegian Air experience: short-haul and long-haul

Short version: We took Norwegian Air OAK-ARN-AMS (Oakland California, Stockholm/Arlanda, Amsterdam/Schiphol), and HEL-LGW (Helsinki-Vantaa to London Gatwick). There was a lot to like and I have few complaints.

You may have heard about Norwegian Air's astonishingly low prices on transatlantic flights. We flew them for the first time in April 2018. Our first flight was Oakland (California) to Stockholm. Of course the price for a checked bag is higher than you might expect, and meals, "free" on legacy carriers, are extra. We chose "low fare plus" or something like this, and pre-ordered meals. The total was a bit higher than the sensational prices you may have seen in ads, but it was still an excellent deal.

Seating was comfortable. I think the transatlantic flight was in a 787, hence a new airplane. How about the room? Though I'm short (5'3" on a good day), I have felt cramped on other airlines -cough-United-cough-; no problem on Norwegian. The first surprise was that the seat-belt sign was turned off pretty soon after take-off.

It seems to me that other airlines want to keep you immobilized as long as possible; Norwegian's philosophy seems to prioritize comfort. The first meal was also served pretty soon after take-off.

There was a power outlet at every seat—a US-style grounded outlet (maybe more but I didn't care), which we used for Carol's laptop; a USB jack for smaller electronics.

The meal was served on cardboard, rather than plastic, trays. It was a little surprising, but the trays worked well enough. They made me feel less ecologically evil, too.

As we approached our destination, the seat belt sign was left off longer than I remember from other airlines. Again, it seemed to me that Norwegian prioritized passenger comfort over immobilization (I'm guessing that other carriers keep passengers in seats longer to facilitate flight-attendant operations).

We were about 5 hours in Stockholm. I don't remember anything about the ARN-AMS flight.

Our next Norwegian flight was HEL-LGW. The departure gate was something like "50C", in Terminal 2. Seating near that gate (all the bus gates, really) was sparse in my view. Yes, I said "bus gates" -- we were loaded into buses, which took us out to where the aircraft awaited.

Bus gates aren't my favorite, but that may just be part of the package when taking a low-cost carrier. On this particular occasion, there was a delay once we got out to the airplane. I rather wished that they'd delayed getting us onto the buses, rather than loading us on and having us sit (or stand) on the tarmac in a rather overstuffed and under-ventilated bus. It felt like half an hour but was probably 15-20 minutes.

Anyway, we got onto our airplane and we had the same short-term confinement to our seats (this was 26 April 2018, i.e., after the Southwest engine explosion on April 17); we took off and pretty soon the seat-belt sign went off.

I was delighted to discover that we had free wi-fi aboard. It wasn't fast, but I could read and send email.