Monday, January 30, 2006

OK, that was the policy statement

By "that" I mean Saturday night's posting. In other words, that was the purpose that I say I have. But what's the purpose that I live out?

Let's do the man-from-Mars thought-experiment: A Martian anthropologist plants a wire on me and cameras in my house, car, and office, to discover what actually drives me.

A finding

What does he find? One thing he'd find is a lot of activities that I feel I just sorta have to do. I don't really have to do them; I just kinda feel like I do. If he were very smart, he'd see that I really do want to do them, even though I might not feel like it. Take work for example. Sometimes I really don't feel like going to the office, and sometimes I whine about how my day job intrudes on my life. I could probably quit today if I wanted to, and we could retire comfortably [enough] on the proceeds of our rental. We'd have to give some things up, but I could do it.

I won't, though, at least not this year, so our hypothetical anthropologist could conclude, correctly, that there's something about the job that I like. There's the cameraderie of working on a task with people that have become friends, there's the feedback that comes from making something work and having others give me an "attaboy", there's the struggle against a common enemy (take that as you will), there's the identity that comes from being part of a high-tech organization.

Therefore, one aspect of the Martian Investigation Report into Human #447-3822 would be, "One of Subject's goals in life is to work with others in a way that makes him feel good about himself."

... which is Ouch! I don't like to think of myself as being quite so selfish. So here's my rationalization: I don't think this is all bad. Our likes and dislikes, our gifts and talents and inclinations, are part of the way we are made.

Financial Findings

Looking at my checkbook, our anthropologist would find a number of priorities: saving for my kids' college education, maxing out my 401(k), supporting my church, various missionaries, relief and development agencies, children in the developing world, insurance for long-term care/disability, life, cars, house. Magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

And at the credit card bills: gas, NPR support, internet access, entertainment. I bought a computer in December. Books. Clothing.

So human#447-3822 thinks about the present and the future, about providing for his family and for the needy. As far as relative priorities, the needy and unreached are definitely at a lower priority than his wife and children. Quite a lot is going to insurance and long-term savings.

>>> more excerpts from the Martian report <<<

His spiritual life

At church, mostly he shows up. He's on a committee that meets monthly. His wife drags him to various events. He goes to something he calls a "Sunday school class" or "fellowship group," where he talks with people and sometimes tries to sound profound.

He meets with a small group of friends a couple times a month, where he sometimes leads a Bible discussion. Sometimes he seems tired and reluctant to go out, but afterwards, he's always glad he went.

He meets with a few men regularly for breakfast or lunch. Some of these meetings he finds exciting; at some, he seems pleased and relaxed. At these meetings, each man will talk about some of his relationships - with God, with his wife, with his children. They seem to be concerned about each other's feelings and health and relationships.

He prays, sometimes with his wife. He doesn't pray as much as he seems to think he should.

He spends some time reading the Bible. When he rides the train, he sometimes writes in his notebook, or in some other book. He and his wife have a lot of Bible-related books on the shelf, but they don't look at them very often. Some authorities suggest that this is a sign that the books were used more in years past.

Relationships at home

Although he rarely works late and spends a lot of time at home, he also rides public transit, even though it takes longer. He says part of the reason is he hates to drive (independent observations confirm this) and that he wants to save the earth. (He is also cheap.) But another reason is he likes to read and write. Sometimes he does work from the office, too, but he hasn't been doing that recently.

His wife sometimes wishes, and says, that she'd prefer if he put priority on doing things with her, rather than for her. But sometimes he doesn't even do that -- he gets involved with his own projects and is sometimes very self-absorbed. He is not as kind and patient with his wife as he says he should be, but he seems genuinely remorseful when he realizes that he came up short. And even though they argue sometimes, he seems very committed to her.

With his children, he seems to think they'll soon go to someplace called "college", and to have mixed feelings about that. He rather dotes on them.

>>> end of excerpts from Martian report <<<

OK, so let's bag the thought experiment already. I think that the way I actually live reflects the purposes I stated before in only a limited way.

Well, I think I'll stop here before I quit making sense altogether.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What am I doing here?

No, not here at the computer, or here on the San Francisco peninsula, or in the United States -- I mean here on earth. I have been thinking about this question, which a friend raised the other day -- the other month actually. He was offered an early retirement package, which he declined.
What would I do? I might take some time to just loaf, but then I'd get bored and probably go do more of the same thing and end up right where I am now. So why not just stay here? Besides, there's the entertainment value.
The topic came up again this week, and as we discussed (very briefly -- the Caltrain segment of my commute is maybe 10 minutes) some alternative scenarios, he asked me this:
What's the cosmic significance of all this stuff I'm doing, anyway?
What, in other words, is the meaning of my life? The purpose? The point? What am I here for?
If you figure it out, you let me know, OK?
Well, as I think about it, I think I have an answer. It's the only one I have, and I hope it'll make sense to you -- if not now then someday not too long from now. It has to do with God.

What's God got to do with it?

A friend of ours gets annoyed when we bring God up in discussions about the meaning of life. Except for once. We were decrying the exploitation of human beings for purely economic ends, and I asked why. "Why is that so bad, to treat people purely in terms of their economic value? I mean, I know why I think it's so bad, but I don't know why you think it's so bad, or what the basis is that you use to determine that it's so bad."

I didn't get much of a response, but they did ask me to explain my thinking. Basically, I said, human beings were created in the image of God, and to treat them that way (i.e., in purely economic terms) is to miss what they're about and to dishonor their creator.

I think my position made some kind of sense to them. Not that they agreed with the entire system of thought, but I think they saw how it was at least somewhat self-consistent. I think they didn't like the part about the Creator. Because if there is a creator, there might be instructions that we have to follow. Think about all those labels that say "It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

Give me no orders

We were in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, on a volcano, when we happened to meet an older man who was a sort of caretaker for the place. We were on a more or less deserted trail, and he drove up on a service road. I think he was going around emptying the trash cans and such. We admired the beauty of the place, and asked him a little about the recent eruptions. I don't remember exactly how this came up, but he started complaining about people coming up there on motorcycles and going where they shouldn't. Not only did it mess up the landscape, he said, it was downright dangerous - they could lose a limb or their lives (parts of the crater rim were quite jagged, and there were some sheer drops). There are signs all over the place; why can't these clowns follow them? The signs are there to keep them alive, not to spoil their fun!

I replied that perhaps God feels the same way when he looks at us. He gives us instructions like to remain faithful to our spouses, not to drink too much, etc., and these are so we can have good lives; they're not there to spoil our fun!

He sure changed the subject quickly!

I think a lot of us are that way. We don't like to think that somebody else has a claim on our lives. I was that way myself, and I still want to think like that sometimes, truth be told.

OK, so what's the answer I'm thinking about? Well, it's like this.

What's the purpose of my life? Who can say what the purpose is besides the one who made us?

Time for a really bad analogy

What's the purpose of Drano? To unclog stuck drainpipes, right? That's what the manufacturer says it is. That's what the label says. And it's a violation of some law to use it in other ways (to poison someone, for example).

Yet a can of Drano can be used for lots of different things. If you wanted to draw a circle of a certain size and the can happened to be handy... if you were in the kitchen and saw a cockroach that you wanted to kill, the can might serve as a hammer (or maybe a temporary holding pen if, as I recall, the bottom is concave upward).

And there were a few years when, according to urban folklore, Drano would tell a woman whether her yet-unborn baby was a boy or a girl.

So what's the can of Drano for? Circle template (sorta), hammer, cage, fetus gender indicator -- those may be reasonable uses for the can, but the one that the product is judged by is the purpose on the label -- the purpose of its maker in making it.

Maybe the analogy wasn't so bad after all

A human being can have many objectives, many purposes. Dare I say it, many uses? Or maybe "jobs" or "roles". Engineer, politician, nurse, doctor, laborer, lawyer, accountant, heavy equipment operator, firefighter, ranger, pastor, counselor. But what does the Maker say that he made us for?
Let us make man in our own image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over... every living thing.
And soon afterwards
Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it
Now somebody might be thinking, "This is the part where he mentions the ten commandments." Well, I almost did. But I'd rather mention a few things Jesus said.
Come, you who are blessed by my father... for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, i was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
(from Matthew 25.34-40)
So surely, part of the purpose is to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (from John 6.29)

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17.3)
That's pretty abstract, but some of the outworkings are very practical.

Practical? Pretend I'm from Missouri...

As I ask myself, "What am I believing God for today? How can I believe in Jesus (the one God sent) today? How can I know God better today?" I come up with a couple of simple things.
  • First, and this may be just too obvious, is to trust. In some ways, this is very easy but in others it isn't. But when tempted to worry I can worry and brood and fret and pace and try to take control of too much. Or I can pray and decide to trust God instead. This morning my do-list included breakfast, repairing a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink, starting on the income taxes... the list expanded to incude unsticking a sliding door, diagnosing a furnace problem, washing the cookie sheets... I didn't think I'd get to blogging today (turns out that I did, though it's now after midnight as I write this).

    Today, the thing for me to to trust God for was that it's possible to please him while doing these "mundane" tasks.

  • Second, and this is the part that most of us don't like much, is to obey. Obedience brings further knowledge and insight about God. Here's Jesus again:
    If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (from John 14:23)
  • Third, well, it looks like love is it. Come to think of it, Jesus told one guy that the greatest command is this: Love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    Tonight at bedtime Sheri asked for something from Colossians, and I read chapter 3. Here's part of it:
    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.... you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.... [A]s God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (selected from Colossians 3.5-14)
    I said that this looks pretty elementary -- not much rocket science here. Sheri said, "But to do them..."

    Indeed. That's the hard part. But there's some good news in there too. This very important part: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved" -- chosen, holy, loved. That sounds pretty good. If I really believed that, how would my life be different? I guess I wrote about this a few weeks ago
That's it for now. Not really complete, but it's time for sleep.

is this really a blog?

Tomorrow morning, the lovely Carol is giving a talk in our Sunday school class, about how writing (journaling, poetry, etc) can be part of our relationship with God. She mentions using the computer (a blog in particular) as one way to keep a journal.

But I wonder if these things I write really qualify? Are they worthy of blog-hood?m

Some of my postings are, I guess. Like this one about the kids playing at marriage. But some of them are more than journal entries; I hope you will read them. I hope the Atheist friend of my daughter will read this one, but I don't want to put pressure on her, either.

Sunday (has it been a week already?) we heard about prayer as one of the streams of spiritual formation. A totally excellent sermon -- and here is a link to the audio stream. Anyway, we had communion, and as I was listening, I had the feeling I was supposed to meet with a couple more guys, for lunch or something, to listen to them and encourage them. The lovely Carol has been telling me this might be a way God wants to use me.

So what could I say? "Here I am, Lord."

I guess that's what it's about.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Heard about these kids on the radio

Less of a Lie

It wasn't love or even
sex she wanted; she already had
her lovers.

He didn't want
children. What he wanted was
the housing stipend
so he could move off the base.

What she wanted was the fabulous health plan.
So when he proposed
on bended knee (rum and Coke
in hand), she said Yes to
a connection of convenience.

Their only kiss
was in Las Vegas, after the ceremony. But
as he left for war, she asked,
"Are you afraid?"

"Can't be," he said.
"Or you'd be paralyzed."

The war
isn't so far away from her now.

She asked the doctor for
But everybody at the base hospital knows her husband
is overseas.

She hadn't realized
she would feel so... so...

I heard about them on the radio,
these children with no idea
about marriage
or partnership.

But to be honest, did I know
what I was getting into, 19 years ago?
Did she?
We both wanted love
and sex,
affection and passion,
togetherness and

Back then we were mostly ignorant of
each other; now we are
less ignorant.

She had a long day yesterday
and was sitting up in bed
but I wanted sleep.
I put my head on her lap
and dozed.

I will not write what happened next
(it's not what you think)
but this morning, I felt sad about those
children. I hope
their convenient arrangement
will become more real, that
the wisps of marriage
that only haunt them now
will become solid,
that their vows will change them, that
their lives will overlap and intertwine.

That their marriage will become
Less of a lie.

And for all our marriages


I didn't want to sound holier-than-they. I wanted to give the feeling of being what I hope is the same journey toward oneness, that although we had a bit of a headstart in that direction we are not there yet.
Well, what can you do on a 20-minute train ride, especially if you have a day job?

("Probably better than that" is not what I was looking for)

As a friend of mine put it tactfully, "you're a good programmer."

And so to work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

the burden of choice

"I have good news and bad news," the doctor says. "The good news is, you have enough money for the rest of your life."

"And the bad news, Doc?"

"You only have 5 minutes left."

I suppose I heard that somewhere, or maybe I just made it up. The hypothetical patient has one advantage: He doesn't have to decide much. He doesn't have to think about what to do next, how soon to retire, whether they can afford to send the kids to a private college. He doesn't even have to decide what kind of estate planning he's going to do.

But given the choice, most of us would hold on to those decisions. We want to make them, not leave them to someone else (or to outside forces). We want to make things happen, not just watch things happen (or, as the old joke says, "wonder what happened").

That said, there's a part of me that takes some comfort in not having to decide everything; part of me feels a little nostalgia for the days when more decisions were made for me. When I started at my first job, I was given assignments, told what to do. Come to think of it, when I started at my "new" job, now over 3 years ago, I was given assignments too. Take this class; fix this bug (here's how you do it); help these guys build that product. For most of my life, I've followed a path that seemed natural.

Jenny asked me the other day about my career. I told her that I decided maybe a half-dozen times to make a change of some kind. In 1981 or 1982 I told them I didn't want to be a manager. Later I was recruited by (not assigned to) a former boss. Around 1990 I asked to follow a former boss to her new group. In 1993 I initiated a transfer to Japan. There were a couple more, but otherwise my going-on-30 years have been just following along what came naturally.

A few months ago, I was recruited to a "quality team". I said I thought I might qualify for the "mediocre" team, but nobody was forming one of those -- at least they weren't calling it that. But I signed up for it - we are trying to improve the quality of our software products. Especially in this job, I have to decide more what I think ought to be done, and what in particular I want to do. And there is the question of what to do next (this is a 12-month stint).

And at home, I sometimes miss the days when life was simpler. I'd look at the paper and see an ad for a European vacation. "Someday I might be able to afford that," I thought. And that was it! I didn't have to think about it any more. I didn't have to trade it off against what else we might use that money for, because "that money" simply wasn't there -- I didn't have to worry about it.

Here's a dream/nightmare: what if I woke up one morning and decided, or could decide, that I didn't want to go to the office any more? What if the choice wasn't "rent or groceries" -- nor "tuna or chicken"? What if it was, "retire now, or pay estate taxes"?

There is a part of me that would love to leave real estate to our children. We would both love to have the kids near us, and if we can help 'em with housing, that increases the likelihood that they'll be able to live in the bay area when they have families of their own.

But there's another part of me that cries, "Folly! Why burden them with excessive choice? Besides, even if they do live around here (just 15 minutes away, say), they'll have their own lives." When they want their parents' time is now, not after they graduate from college. Well, they'll want us then, too, but not in the same way. It is probably a better idea to give the lovely Carol a new kitchen.

As I think about it, there are many things I want to do, but I don't have time. Some of them require a lot of money; many don't. Besides home improvement projects (some of which require big bucks), there are volunteer opportunities I'd like to take. I want to meet with the brothers in my church family for coffee or lunch, listen to them, help them through their struggles. As you know, I sometimes miss being on the receiving end of this sort of thing; but now it's my turn to give more. What if everything up to our 40s was just warmups? Well, I can't use that excuse any more.

Our church is holding a "Men's Summit" in a couple of months - it's a weekend retreat. I have never gone, because life has been too busy. If I didn't have to go to the office....

Part 3 of my "Why Not Python" series is late getting to the linuxjournal web editor.

Another article -- on how a thinking Christian deals with books like The Nurture Assumption or The Mind and the Brain or The Blank Slate -- is stagnating.

Nearby there is a home for kids aging out of foster care -- they could use some electrical work, maybe some computer work.

Our kids require a lot of shuttling around.

I think I've just about talked myself into it. I'll let you know.

And if you have any advice or insights for me, please leave a comment. Or email me if you have my address.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Becoming like a little child?

Our church's current sermon series is on spiritual formation, and we have a fabulous study guide authored by one of our pastors. Although it's supposed to be for home groups, I've also been using it for my own devotions, and I sometimes discuss them with the kids.

Last night I read part of the section labeled "Growing Deeper" (or is that "Going deeper"?) that mentions Matthew 18.3, one of the few places Jesus talks about change:
And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
One daughter remarked, "I remember being a small child and being very possessive and materialistic and selfish." The other one added, "And I thought I never did anything wrong."

Shades of psalm 51:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
I told the kids that children have good characteristics, too. For one thing, they know there's a lot of stuff they can't do -- they know they need help and they know where to ask for it. When we become adults, the temptation is to think we are the captains of our own lives, the masters of our fates, blah blah blah. I read on from Matthew:
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
So I guess we need to acknowledge our own weaknesses, know that we don't have it all figured out, and turn to Someone Who Can when we need help?

Sunday night when I was looking for that quote about spiritual disciplines, google led me to this article, which seems a hit piece. The spiritual disciplines are not a method of earning our way to heaven, or "substituting works for grace." Paul told Timothy, "discipline thyself unto godliness," or in the NIV, "train yourself to be godly." Training sounds like work, hard work -- but surely Paul wasn't confused about works vs grace!

No, we don't just sit there sipping champagne and eating peeled grapes; we have to do something -- but the thing we have to do is not Try Harder to do good (which some of the Pharisees did); rather, as Hebrews says, to "Make every effort to enter that rest."

Related to this is the strange concept of what God's work is.
Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
Which sounds easy. But! When I worry about the future, am I believing in Jesus? When I worry about what other people think of me, am I believing in Jesus? When I brood over stooopid things I've done in the past, am I believing in Jesus? So it's hard to do.

And if I want to train myself for believing in Jesus, one approach would be the standard toppling-of-the-idols one. If I think too much about money, so that money is my master, I topple it over by... giving it away. If I worry about having enough time for tasks, so that time is my master, I topple it by choosing to use some of it on high priority things. Meeting with a colleague for lunch even though we've got a lot of pressure at work. Giving time to serve at a youth camp, or to serve on a committee. That sort of thing.

But now it's time for bed -- way past it. But I enjoyed writing this.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Sunday

Laura says she didn't write that song. I googled on some of the lyrics, and found them on the Higher Praise website, which asserts copyright on the song. However, the site makes my browser mad so I'll point you at this one instead.

I wanted to tell you about the great day I had yesterday. I helped out a special-needs boy in his Sunday School class. His dad had called and I agreed to fill in for his usual helper. "It's been a while since I've spent much time with you, buddy," I said to him as we walked down the steps. He doesn't talk much, but I think he got most of what I said to him. He did the activity with the stickers and seemed to enjoy it. It didn't take a lot of energy from me, nor a huge chunk of time, and I know it was a blessing to his dad.

It sure feels good to be a blessing to someone.

After church, we had lunch at Chili's with three other families. It was nice to catch up and just to enjoy the fellowship. We talked briefly about the sermon, about visiting colleges, etc.

After lunch, I was going to prepare for our home group Bible study and also set up the Weber. Sheri would start it at 5:30, then I'd grill some salmon steaks after our group (which meets in Menlo Park). Preparing for our home group would take as much time as I could give it, so I set up the Weber first. As I was just about done, Jenny came out to tell me they wanted to go for a bike ride with me.

Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I hoped I could get back in time to do at least a little preparation before going to Menlo Park. But even if I couldn't, days of bike riding with the kids are probably more limited than days of preparing Bible study. So, following our pastor's example, we biked over to Long's to pick up some photos I uploaded the night before.

All went well, except that our noses started running and nobody had any Kleenex. So once we got to Long's, the girls went to look for tissue packets while I went to the photo desk, where everything was in order. We got back home just in time to head off to Menlo Park.

I get a big charge out of our home group -- the members are so eager to learn and grow and to share their lives. It didn't bother me (much) that I didn't prepare much for the study. We all learned and shared and had a good time.

We got home and the fire was going great. The lovely Carol had put the salmon steaks into the "Soy Vey" sauce. I slid 'em onto the grill. Delicious.

After dinner, we played a little bit of Scattergories and did a little writing.

Too bad I had to go to work today.

He had a dream

One component of that dream was that 11:00am Sunday would not be the most segregated hour of the week.
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Can you believe it? I learned this song in a public elementary school in these United States in the early 1960s.

I wonder what Martin would say today if he saw my church. Or yours.

I wonder what Jesus would say.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Spiritual Transformation: N steps forward, M steps back

As we sat down in church this morning, one of our vocalists was singing something like:
Every day with Jesus
Is sweeter than the day before.
I wasn't sure about the words (still not) so I googled on those words and this blog entry came up. It doesn't mirror my feelings, but I sometimes think songs like this don't do a lot of good. I mean, if you don't feel that "every day in every way I'm feeling better and better," does that mean you aren't spiritual, or that you don't really know Jesus? How about that night Jesus spent in Gethsemane, when he was sweating drops of blood, when he told his friends, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death"? Was that sweeter than the day before? I wonder if some of these songs aren't like some of the wicked shepherds that the prophets talked about. OK, I'm getting in touch with my inner anger now.

Meanwhile, at a more mundane level, how about for you or me? To me, spiritual transformation feels more like Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back -- and some days it's more like 1-2 forward and 3-4 back.

During the sermon, which I thought was terrific, we heard a quote from Dallas Willard, relating real spiritual transformation to the practices Jesus followed. Google pointed me at, which includes this:
True transformation is possible in our lives. We can experience an “eternal (kind of) life” while living here on earth.
How? Mimicking Jesus' activities
What did Jesus do? He arranged his life around certain activities and practices
Looking back at my walk with the Lord over the past quarter-century, I can say confidently that this can work. (It's useful and available but not sufficient.) I can also say confidently that it takes a long time -- longer than those "every day... is sweeter" songs suggest. To me, a truer picture of spiritual transformation was written by a friend maybe a quarter century ago:
He's changing me --
My precious Jesus.
I'm not the same
Person that I used to be
Sometimes it's slow going
But there's a knowing
That one day
Perfect I will be

Little by little bit every day
Little by little in every way
Jesus is changing me (you know he's changin' me)
Since I made a turn about face
I've been walking by his grace.
Jesus is changing me.
-Laura Turner (now Gomez)
UPDATE: Laura says she didn't write it; google finds over 100 pages with these words but I haven't found the author.
Sometimes it is slow going, but there are enough promises in the Scriptures about how it's God's work to complete the work he began, to change us to want to do his will (etc.) that I feel confident asserting that he's going to do it. And because of that confidence we can and should press on and work our our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that God is going to strengthen us with all power according to his glorious might (as Paul prayed) that we may have great endurance and patience, etc.

I love that part: "strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, so that you may..."

May what? May have wisdom and spiritual insight? May speak the word with great boldness? May live the "victorious" (ugh!) life? No, it's this:

"... have great endurance and patience." Colossians 1.9-12.

In other words, we've been warned that these things can take a long time. Maybe a very long time. Moses had maybe 40 years of preparation (starting at age 40) for a ministry that lasted another 40. How many years between when Abraham said Sarah was his sister... and when he journeyed to the land of Moriah? And do we think we can grow or be transformed any quicker than these giants of the faith? But God will accomplish his purpose.

We don't always know exactly how or when God will fulfill his promises, but can be sure that he will.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What I miss

Thursday morning, after dropping the kids at school, I drove up the peninsula to Susan's office where we talked about an important issue, which I'll describe briefly before I tell you about something I miss.
I hate to use generalizations like "the difference between men and women" but she described this as being a classic male/female communication, ah, issue. In the archetypal scenario (which I've shamelessly stolen from the Mayhalls' Marriage Takes More than Love -- NavPress, some time in the '70s or '80s I think), the couple is about to go somewhere.
The wife says something like, "I think I'll change into something else."

The husband was ready to go 15 minutes ago, so he just says, "OK," and goes back to reading the paper or whatever.

She stands there looking at him. He notices her and says, "I thought you were going to change?"

She says, "Don't you like what I'm wearing?"
OK, I probably have that wrong, but the basic idea illustrated here is that sometimes the words do not mean what they say. The husband was responding to what the words said, but what the wife wanted was a response to the feeling that produced the words.

So this is something I need to apply to my life. Not just with my wife, but in any relationship that's not strictly functional. First, mirror the feeling, maybe something like this: "I'm wondering if..." or "It sounds like that was frustrating for you," or whatever the feeling might be. The husband in the above example, if he was a genius, might have looked at her and said, "I think you look beautiful in what you're wearing right now." This isn't really mirroring the feeling, but he's responding to the feeling that produced the words. Or maybe he could have just said, "Oh?" in an inviting way. Then she might have said, "I'm not sure that what I'm wearing will be..." and the husband might say, "Sounds like you're worried that..." In just a few seconds, she will be thinking "I'm so glad my husband understands me!" I'll leave it to your imagination what might happen later that night at home, after they come back from wherever they were going.

Second, if my, umm, drat it, how do you say "相手" in English? "interlocutor"?? Anyway, if my interlocutor (the lovely Carol, or whoever else I'm talking to) describes an incident that frustrated him/her, I should say, "What do you think you might do next time?" I should say this even if -- especially if -- I'm thinking, "No wonder it blew up in your face; you should have...." Because until s/he is ready to hear the advice, there is no profit in offering it. None. This is not a case of "pearls before swine," but about offering "a word aptly spoken."

Third, only after my 相手 has shared her/his feelings, I can say, "Would you like to hear my perspective on that?" Or, "...a suggestion?" If they say yes, only then give the suggestion. Even if they start the conversation with, "X happened; what would you have done?" I should not answer the question! Not until I say, "It sounds like/I'm wondering if that was frustrating for you" and probably not until after I ask, "What do you think you might do next time?"

Anyway, I wrote those steps down in my notebook, and I hope I can remember them when needed
Now, about what I miss. Susan prayed for me, asking the Lord to show me what I needed to see or work on. At first I came out blank, and then an incident from the past came to mind. I must have been a teen-ager, because I was still living at home, and my dad and I were adjusting or overhauling the brakes on my mom's '71 VW. I can picture it now -- 4x4s or maybe bricks behind the front tires, the left rear wheel off. We had one of those things you attach to an electric drill to rough up the inside of the brake cylinder, and Dad was there with me, walking me through the process of inserting the device into the cylinder, then running the drill slowly while moving the device over the length of the cylinder. He told me what to be careful of, then I think I reassembled the cylinder, piston, etc. Then the brake drum went back on and he told me how to move the adjuster with a screwdriver -- tighten it, make sure the wheel spins freely, tighten it again, until the wheel just barely doesn't spin freely -- then back the adjuster off one notch. Somewhere in there we bled the brakes, which is always a 2-man job. When we were done, Dad told Mom that we fixed her brakes. I felt both proud of having done it, yet a little nervous because of the great responsibility. But Dad had supervised the whole process so I knew it was right.

It seems like a long time since someone has walked me through a process like that -- something I didn't know how to do, wasn't sure I could do, maybe wasn't even sure I wanted to do, and yet something significant, something important, something I felt proud of having learned and done afterwards. I wonder if that's why those adult ed classes are so popular.

At home and especially at work, it falls upon me to be the mentor and teacher.

Susan asked me if there as an area of life in which I felt tired. That's easy -- creating and executing the budget! She suggested I call Crown Ministries and talk to them about a budget coach. I think I will.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What do we all want?

Crabb talks about how we all seek security and significance (love that alliteration). Miller talks about how we all seek redemption. We sometimes seek it (and find it) from the Lord, but often we instead look to those around us, with disastrous consequences.

Oddly enough, we who know the Lord are guilty of this too. How many Christian parents pressure their daughters into getting abortions to avoid the shame and disgrace? Too damned many. Well, they're not really damned; they just act that way.

As I sometimes do, truth be told. You do, too.

There must be a part of me that really doesn't "get" salvation. I mean, I've sometimes thought something like this:
Jesus loves me. But he loves everybody (he's got no taste).
Now I'm sure you never have these kinds of thoughts, but sometimes the idea of being saved just doesn't seem very exciting here and now.

In Kent Haruf's Eventide, when 19-year old Victoria moves into a college dormitory, she tells another student how the McPherson brothers, these 60-something bachelor farmers, "saved me." The other student talks about religion and wants to know if the brothers are preachers. But it's not about that at all; when she was 17, pregnant, and homeless, they took her in like a granddaughter, and treated her with respect and affection. They brought a sort of earthly salvation to her in the here and now by believing in her goodness, her dignity, her value.

They believed in her future, and in doing so, gave that future to her.

For Haruf, heaven seems to be a kind of pie in the sky, bye and bye, with not much connection to earth. It shouldn't be that way, but we mess it up somehow.

Here's something else that maybe I'll write more about next time. In Searching for God Knows What, Miller writes about how we in the church are sometimes like those Paul describes, "whose god is their belly, whose glory is their shame, with minds set on earthly things." This example is particularly painful: at your typical record store, it doesn't take a minute to find an album with an ugly person's picture on the front. I mean, they're not hideous, but they're not good-looking by any stretch.

He repeated the experiment in a Christian bookstore, looking for over 20 minutes to find a picture of someone who wasn't beautiful on an album cover. They never did find one.

What does that say about us and our values? Is it we who focus too much on the appearance rather than the heart?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spelunking; redemption

We spent yesterday preparing for, driving to, descending into, crawling around in, and recovering from Moaning Cavern, near Angels Camp. I was too cheap to pay $40 more to rappel down the main chamber, so I took pictures from the 144-step spiral staircase instead. From then on, though, we slid, crawled, wiggled, and climbed through the cave's passages together. Jenny's friend from school, the instigator/catalyst, came with our family. At the tour, we were joined by two young men: a Marine who had done four tours in Iraq, and his buddy.

This "Adventure Tour" was wonderful; I think everyone should try it once.

At one particularly narrow point, we asked our guide about large people who made it through the "meat grinder" passage. A 270-pound man had crawled through it! A 300-pound fellow did not fit, and ended up taking the "panic escape" back to the main chamber. The oldest tourist was 89 years old, and she rappelled down the 165-foot drop and did the whole crawling tour. Wow!

Next time I think I would like to try rappelling into the main chamber. As for the crawling wriggling [etc] part, though -- once was enough. It's like what the Japanese say about climbing Mt. Fuji: you should do it once, but only a fool does it twice.

But that's not what I mainly wanted to tell you about.

I was reading a couple days ago in Searching for God Knows What, and came across a thought, which, while not exactly new, was well put:
Imagine how much a man's life would be changed if he trusted that he was loved by God? He would interact with the poor and would not show partiality, he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake.... (p. 176)
A good word. It's like the standard Bible study question, "If I really believed what says, how would my life be different?" -- applied to something as simple (or profound) as "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Or "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God."

But that whole discussion brought to mind the perplexing verse from the book of Hebrews. Talking about priests, probably the high priest, it says:
He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
This perplexes because, for the most part, my weaknesses tend to make me impatient and insecure and... ungentle. (It's certainly not my strengths that make me that way.) What is the difference between the high priest, even a merely human high priest, and me? As I thought about it again, two differences came to mind.

First, what the priest does lots of and I do too little of: talking to God about men (to quote E.M. Bounds). He talks to God about men, bringing their hurts and joys and wants and weaknesses to God. As he does this, bearing men's burdens (thus fulfilling the law of Christ) and spending time in the presence of God, he is changed, as Moses was, and reflects more of God's glory.

Come to think of it, as he talks to God about men, he also shares in the sufferings of Christ. After the Mien Youth Camp two summers back, one of the counselors talked about the boys in his group. They knew what they should do but they weren't doing it. He got kinda choked up about them -- the way Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.

Second, and this may be a by-product of the first, he thinks about his own weaknesses; he's conscious of them. He's in the habit of bringing man's weaknesses to God, so he brings his own too. As he draws near to God, God draws near to him and the devil flees (as James says).

And as he approaches the throne of grace, he receives mercy and finds grace to help in time of need (as it says just a few verses earlier). Because as you and I are priests (as Peter says we are), we ourselves have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. So as priests (including you and me) draw near to the throne and receive help, he fills us, so that we need not be mastered by our needs and weaknesses.

Because if I'm not paying attention and just do what comes naturally, i.e., what the flesh naturally does, I'm controlled by my needs and I sin without thinking. But if I can be aware -- aware of (some of) my sins and weaknesses, I don't think myself superior to my brothers (male and female) and I receive encouragement/comfort/help.

Then, as Paul says to the Corinthians, because we receive comfort (or encouragement) from God, we can -- and should! -- comfort/encourage others with that same comfort we have received from God.

So does that sound like a way that God might want to work in us? In me?


Friday, January 06, 2006

Apple, MySQL, Blessings, Memoirs of a Geisha

At the office, I have been using a now-venerable Toshiba laptop. During the cold war era, the Toshiba folks helped the Evil Empire with the design of silent propulsion (I mean machining propellers, not Red October-style science fiction stuff) and were thus disliked. But now that the Russians are our friends, I like Toshiba and I like their laptops because they work well for me -- better than the other laptops I've used. However, the office laptop (an 8100) is acting up; it's old and out of warranty and I got approval to order a new one. The new standard corporate machine (not a Toshiba anyway) runs micro$oft virusware (my inner feelings about MS are leaking out now), but the Powerbook alternative runs Unix and is cheaper besides, even with the 3-year AppleCare that everybody tells me to buy. ("Are you guys telling me the hardware is a piece of junk?" I asked.) I feel better not running 'doze and also not having to do the installation of whatever flavour of GNU/Linux I would have decided to put on the Standard Corporate Machine.

Getting approval was one thing -- ordering it was another. The first shot was... the IT folks didn't want to touch this order, so maybe just pull out my personal credit card and get a reimbursement? But is this capital vs an expensed item? Then I heard that somebody successfully ordered one of these (a more expensive one, actually) through the corporate ordering system (but not through the IT department), and so we tried that for a while. But I didn't want the bigger, heavier, more expensive PowerBook; I want the smaller, lighter, cheaper one. It turns out that this machine is below the capital threshold, so it's a credit card purchase with company reimbursement after all. Whew! There are hurdles, but they can be overcome.
So in a few days it'll be sitting on my desk. I hope the security cable fits.

Yesterday at the office, I was distracted with a lot of interesting technical issues and didn't get around to the work I was supposed to do. What I'm supposed to do is influence people. Convince and sell and nag and "evangelize" and negotiate. Exert Influence Without Authority (a great book by the way) to help move the organization where we really want to go. So I was very happy to accomplish something in the service of that goal, but something that would also nourish my inner geek. I used MySQL to create a couple of tables, populate them with some data, and crank out a few charts. The charts will be used to nag managers. I think MySQL is really cool. The documentation is easy to understand and you can come up to speed really fast on it and simple things are really simple to do. And it's all free (in both 'free speech' and 'free beer' senses).

In this job I don't do as much coding in C; it's more a staff role. But coming up to speed on MySQL, gluing a web interface onto it (that's next week), adding graphs, etc., is enough coding-like that it keeps me sane. The code isn't directly for products, but the impact is supposed to include better products and more predictable schedules. So as I think about it (as I write this now) I think I am having a pretty good time. Another blessing to be thankful for.

Yet another: my article is now up on -- part 1 of a 3-part series on how an old C hacker drags himself into the 1990s by learning Python.

This afternoon the lovely Carol told me she wanted to see Memoirs of a Geisha instead of going bowling. So we abandoned our teen-agers for the local multi-plex, and I gained points for going without complaints. And also for having enough cash on hand (ATM + cash back this morning - the conveniences of modern life!) for tickets. But on the way home I lost my hard-won points. Carol was talking about some smart young guy (the son of someone she met recently) who wanted to succeed in business but didn't think he had to go to college; I remarked off-the-cuff that "he's not as smart as he thinks he is." That was the wrong thing to say to her at this time about this guy. I'm not even sure why I made such a judgmental remark. And it's not necessarily true; Bill Gates never finished college, and he's arguably very successful in business.

Stupid hierarchies; romance; bills

Yesterday I was reading in Searching for God Knows What again, where he talks about the circus literally -- how in this one show the weirdest guy is like the rock star or the mayor of the show because he has the most crowd-drawing power. Then he talks about the circus as metaphor for our lives -- who's the "mayor" or "rock star" in the classroom, on the playground, at the office -- and how things are all upside down. Who was it that was talking about how the price tags in this world are all goofed up -- how things that are ultimately worthless (like "being extremely smart" in Wit) are accounted of high value, and fond memories of friends and family, which are probably all you or I will have left at the end, are not accounted of much worth in this world?

I had lunch with my friend Tom, who I haven't seen for a while, and he mentioned the idea that God isn't so much interested in my character development as he is in wanting to romance me. That is a good word, and reminds me of a song by Denise, a friend of ours, who sings:
No, there's nothing more important than remembering
He loves me

But last night my head was full of bills and Quicken... 'til nearly 11pm. What's the romance in that? Well, I'd better go and pick up some pills at the pharmacy then off to work.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Wit" and what it's all about

The other day, we rented the DVD of Wit, and we finished watching it tonight. What a beautiful movie -- a spiritual movie -- from "HBO Films" of all places! As the professor, this brilliant scholar, is dying from cancer, she has this touching conversation with the nurse. Afterwards she says:
I can't believe my life has become so... corny.
Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness.
I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see that I have been found out.
Being "extremely smart" doesn't count for a whole lot at the end.

I've continued to read through Searching for God Knows What, and the author talks a lot about the lifeboat theory of life.

Remember the exercise in school (in my case it was a high school psych class; other people had this exercise like in 3rd grade or something), where there are N+1 men and women all wanting to get into a lifeboat that can only hold N of them? If you stuff N+1 people in, they all die, but if only N are there, they can hold out 'til help comes.

His point, Miller's point in the parts I've been reading, is that much (most?) of the things people do, the things you and I do, are based on this theory -- that only so many of us can live, or only so many of us can feel good about ourselves. It's a mentality of scarcity. And we do things to try to stay above others in some stupid imaginary hierarchy, which, even though we hate it, we still obey.

I am trying to digest this, and trying not to push other people out of the imaginary lifeboat. And I'm continuing to read the book in light of what the Bible says, and finding that he's really on to something.

Here in the US, we have -- no, we are -- a very productive economic machine, which is very good for producing goods and services. It's not very good for producing a better life, though. On NPR's Talk of the Nation the other day, someone mentioned that the sort of average level of happiness in a country does not correlate positively with the level of economic development. That's right; having the basic needs met for most of a country's population doesn't mean that people in that country are happier. I'm not saying that we ought to live in poverty, but we somehow sign up for this competitive system, this unwinnable rat race, and don't seem able or even willing to give it up, even though it makes us no happier and maybe no healthier.

But, as Paul says, we are not called to the rat race; instead, he writes:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Peter talks about how we were redeemed from "the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers" and so what we ought to do is "love one another deeply, from the heart."

Easy enough to say; hard to do. People like me (I know some of you are out there) tend to get more into doing stuff. It's more, umm, natural, to focus on doing things than on living a life of love. As my friend Jim says, "that's why it's a command; it's not natural." Or easy, either.

Which is why I need help from Jesus.

Disaster Relief and the Evil Empire

Yesterday afternoon, Mike stopped by my office and we talked about laptops. A PowerBook(tm) is several hundred dollars less than the Standard Corporate Laptop, but Mike pointed out that after you buy the software, meaning Microsoft Office, and add in the wireless card, you might be looking at more money. I said "OpenOffice" and he said Bill Gates has done a lot of good in Africa through philanthropy.

Well, that's a point. Suppose the convicted monopoly had to give back all the money it took through illegal means (the illegality wasn't disputed by the appeals court) -- what would happen? Would those people donate some amount - any amount - to relief efforts in Africa? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't -- but probably they wouldn't. Generous people don't become more generous when Office costs 20% or 80% less.

Effectively Microsoft is like a government in that it extracts money and redistributes it -- some money goes to lawyers who help it maintain its illegal practices and intimidate people; some money goes to relief and development efforts in Africa.

Overall it's probably no worse than the U.S. Government -- I'll bet Bill Gates never started a land war in Asia, or tested biological weapons on its own constituents, or scattered radioactive dust to see how many people got cancer.

Does our household donate more for tsunami, hurricane, or earthquake relief because we use Free Software? Probably not. But we probably do spend more at local merchants.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

paragraphs written on the train this morning

The lovely Carol gave me a book for Christmas. Actually she gave me several books, but I'm going to tell you about only one of them this time: "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller (author of "Blue Like Jazz"). He starts out with a sort of dry wit, and at first I wasn't sure if he was ever going to get serious. He does pretty soon, and it's worth waiting for, and it's pleasant too, especially if you enjoy dry humor.

In the first chapter, he describes a Christian writer's seminar where he learns a couple of magic formulas that will make your book a best-seller. Both formulas involve taking three or four easy steps to go from crisis to confidence, or from misery to joy. But he notices that the Bible doesn't have these formulas - that God himself seems rather the opposite of formulas.

Here is my favorite quote from the chapter:
The truth is there are a million steps, and we don't even know what the steps are, and worse, at any given moment we may not be willing or even able to take them; and still worse, they are different for you and me and they are always changing.
Ain't that the truth?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Carol's blog

The lovely Carol has started her own blog at She recorded one of yesterday's events there: a rainbow sighting right here in Redwood City.

Except for forgetting the kim chee...

... dinner was almost perfectly executed. Sheri and I went shopping on Saturday (12/31) -- first, we went to get her plate from Color Me Mine in Menlo Park, then stopped at Kragen's for a replacement bulb for the lovely Carol's car. The Movie Groove had "Wit" with Emma Thompson, which we rented 'til Thursday. Then on to Safeway, but it was dark! "No produce, no meat, no dairy, no frozen," said the man at the door. Gaaa! We drove to the other Safeway, along with everybody else on the Peninsula. Apparently two or three other Safeways were closed due to "teiden", uh, power failure. I have never seen the parking lot so crowded. Beef, squid, green onions, Japanese eggplant, Martinelli's (for the festival aspect), pseudo-eggs (for our cholesterol), spinach. Maybe something else. Success!

Thankfully, that was the last stop for that outing. After loading the groceries into the 'fridge, we had lunch, and there was time to clean the bathtub before heading off to a friend's house, where the kids played Set and other games, and the adults had a great time talking about cross-cultural experiences. A great way to spend the new year's eve afternoon. We went to church together (5pm service) and then back home for dinner. I spent maybe an hour or so cleaning 3 pounds of frozen squid and par-boiling it. We watched a half-hour of "Wit" and called it a night.

Whew -- just writing that made me tired! On New Year's Day, I chopped up the green onions and made some marinade for the squid and the beef. The nice man at Safeway had sliced the beef already, so all I had to do was get it "mixed" with the marinade before cooking. The lovely Carol made an alternate sauce (for some of the squid), and we refrigerated the works. Jenny and Sheri had previously agreed to fry the eggplant, and they set about slicing it up, breading, and cooking it. Meanwhile, because of the grey sky, I set up the trusty Weber in the garage and started the charcoal going. The lovely Carol prepared the spinach and started the rice. While cooking the meat I took a look at a few magazines I had in my car. (if I were more spiritual, I would have prayed or meditated, but well, ...) With the beef finished, I headed back into the house to find the eggplant and spinach all done, and one of our guests already here... and that I had forgotten the kim chee (here in California, people seem to spell it "kimchi" but old habits die hard). We accumulated a few other items for the list and headed off. Soy sauce, ice cream, kimchi (that's how they spell it at the store).... When we got back, our other "yes" guests had arrived. Ken and Cindy brought a nice green salad, and Lillian brought potato salad. We talked about aging parents, serving, encouragement, dog logistics. A good time was had by all.

Then I somehow succeeded in figuring out CUPS so we can now print on the "new" used computer (which the kids are now using to create their own website), and getting sound to work (it sure helps to turn the volume up in YaST). Also last night, Jenny found a Prize Certificate, issued by Sheri. So early this morning, Sheri made chocolate muffins. I had part of one; it was delicious.

As soon as I post this, I'm going for a swim with the lovely Carol. Then we will go shopping for a new hot pot, so the old one does not burn our house down. (The problem with living in the US is that you can't find parts for not-for-export Japanese appliances.) Tonight we are playing games with some other friends.

Quite a busy weekend for an introvert like me, but so far I've had a lot of fun.