Monday, February 27, 2006

WHAT is that thing in my bed?

I was gone for about five nights, but I came back Tuesday night. So last night, the lovely Carol had an out-of-time experience. She woke up, sure that it was one of those nights I was in Minnesota. And she saw, in the half-light, a... a thing next to her. She turned on the light.

"Wha...?" I said, in one of my more intelligent pronouncements.

"Oh, it's you!" she cried, relieved.

I didn't say much. Maybe I managed, "uh, yeah?"

But before I could even form the thought, "You were perhaps expecting the easter bunny?" I fell asleep.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

another happy sunday

So technically the sabbath isn't on Sunday, but work with me here, OK? Isaiah writes
...if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable,and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord... (from Isaiah 58.13-14)
but what exactly does that mean to someone living under the new covenant? Our teaching pastor says that once a week you ought to have a "joy day". Maybe I did that yesterday, but I decided to have some fun today. I made pancakes this morning. Another activity was the hour spent on my blog entry earlier today. Now after writing that, I did something joyless -- finding documents for the tax man. But I found what I needed, and that desire accomplished was sweet to my soul, so maybe that's an OK "joy day" activity.

The next fun thing was... going to the apartment of some dear friends from church. We looked at the study guide from our church -- today's sermon being about the Holy Spirit -- and had a wonderful time together. We talked about the question of how we follow the Holy Spirit more closely. Pastor Frank said this morning that we need to be good listeners. I told 'em that this is very hard for me, because the things I do to listen well to someone in front of me are -- lean forward, ask questions, empathize, etc. -- which I don't do when trying to listen to God, because nothing is visible, and usually nothing is audible. And how can we tell when God is talking anyway? It may be true that it's like a mother talking to her children, but I feel like I'm usually not sure. I ask for wisdom (which James tells us God will give, when or especially when in the midst of a trial), I try to make myself neutral if there's a decision to be made, I seek counsel -- but at the end I think we have to say, "Well, I asked for wisdom and sought it and as far as I can tell, God guided and this is OK."

I mentioned Abraham and Hagar and how maybe he was culpable, but that I have a real hard time blaming him. He had a promise from God, a common cultural means by which to participate in that promise, and... three thousand plus years later, preachers are saying he should have consulted God. I'm not so sure!

At some point in there I said that when we (the lovely Carol and I) pray together, I often say, "Lord, you are powerful and good, but I am weak and easily distracted." They were surprised -- they didn't think I was easily distracted.

Well, it might be nice to hear people think I'm such a saint, but it brings me more joy to share with them, no, we're alike in our weaknesses. I might know more (or fewer) Bible verses than you do, and maybe I've been at this longer (or shorter) than you have, but we've all got weaknesses and struggles. We all fail every day at something or another. Which reminds me of a prayer I read once:
Lord, I've done pretty good today.
I didn't get mad or impatient with anyone
I didn't covet or lust after anything
I've done pretty well.
But now I'm about to get out of bed, Lord, so please help me through the rest of the day.
I thought at first it was like the prayer of the proud Pharisee (Luke 18.10)... 'til I got to the last line!

Carol and Sheri were at an Irish dance performance, and I thought they'd be home before me... but no... so I called. Sheri was lobbying for some corn-bread to go with the chili. So I made some. That was fun too.

Well, I'm going to quit here. I had a wonderful day. I hope you did too.

Traveling daughters; traveling parents

I'm going to try not to write too much or spend too long here.

Our girls have been traveling. You already know I went with the elder teen, now almost (i-learned-the-truth-at-) seventeen, to look at colleges in Minnesota and Michigan. Here is my brief summary of that. You already know my impressions of the flight to Michigan, and our visit to Calvin College so I'll continue with...
  • Kalamazoo College, in (surprise) Kalamazoo, Michigan. (The aforementioned friendly midwesterner thought we were visiting Western Michigan University, also in Kalamazoo -- but no, it was Kalamazoo College itself, apparently not well-known in Detroit. It took just just about an hour to drive there from Grand Rapids. We stayed at the Red Roof Inn -- Kalamazoo West. A nice enough place, but if I do it again, I'll stay at the Baymont, which is nicer inside -- your door opens into an indoor hallway, not into the snow-covered parking lot (-11°F wind-chill, that's about -24°C, ouch!). Baymont also has free wi-fi, unlike the T-Mobile that's "on offer" at Red Roof: $7 per login under 60 minutes, or $10/day iirc. Kalamazoo has great language programs, internship and what they call "externship", great study-abroad programs.

    We had a nice conversation with a Mr. Tavares in the admissions office, who graciously worked that Saturday to talk to us (or any other inquisitive visitors) about the college. He told us that the merit scholarships are renewable if you maintain a 2.5GPA. "Why do you suppose we make it so low?" he asked.

    Supposedly my girl is the first student in 3 years to come up with the right answer. Of course I think it's because she's a genius, but she says "they probably didn't go to the Reed [College] presentation before coming here."

    We took a plane (without incident) to MSP and spent three nights with Jan and Britton and their kids. I went to junior high with Jan, who I hasten to tell you is not as old as I am. She skipped at least one grade and so is at least one year younger than I am. I wouldn't want you to think she's as old as me 8^>

  • Monday February 20 we drove to down to Northfield in plenty of time for the free food, I mean, for the opening session of "Junior day" at St Olaf College. A record crowd was there. Their academics, including the language and study-abroad programs, looked really good. The director of admissions is a great entertainer, but I don't hold that against the school, really I don't. Since our visit, I heard positive things about St. Olaf from at least 3 people -- mostly concerning the music program there.

    The chapel service was nice and the address by the president was good if rather liberal. Apparently St Olaf is Lutheran.... I asked an admissions staffer about how welcome God is in the classroom. The answer? Basically it depends on the professor.

    The financial aid seminar was well-attended and worthwhile. We were encouraged to grab a box lunch before heading to our next visit across the river, viz.,

  • Carleton College, where we snuck into the info session after it had started. They don't have "merit aid" at Carleton -- they don't need it. I feel a little guilty thinking like that, but well, we're talking about a lot of money here. The academics at Carleton are definitely top-notch. Many (most?) graduates leave Carleton as published authors (I assume " peer-reviewed journals," but our tour guides did not say). We sat in on a history lecture with a professor who took his citizenship exams in Redwood City, California! Now I wish I'd had a history teacher like him when I was in junior high -- when "don't know much about hiss-toe-ree" could've been my middle name. Later, I could not remember seeing anyone non-white at the school, besides the assistant director of admissions who gave the presentation.

    That was it for Northfield; we drove back to the twin cities and had dinner with Jan, Britton, and a few of the kids (the ones who weren't fencing) at what's in effect a Chinese restaurant with a Vietnamese name. Our last evening in Minnesota.

  • Tuesday morning 2/21 we packed up and got to Macalester college in time to not be totally left behind by the tour group. The language program is excellent there -- there are language houses where if you live there, you speak the language there. (Not sure how many hrs/day that applies or is enforced.) The 4-year grad rate is supposedly over 90% -- this would be a year-on-year retention of over 97.5%. The students are brilliant -- median SATs are 720 verbal, 710 math. The setting is really urban, I mean the campus borders on Snelling (a main drag), students don't need cars because they can take city buses -- this sort of thing. They gave us lunch tickets and I'll tell you, their cafeteria food is totally excellent.

    We sat in on a creative writing class with a prof who was very engaging/engaged with the students... the most enjoyable class we saw on this tour. I think it was 90 minutes but he had no problem keeping our attention. I don't know if they cherry-picked this class but there was an Egyptian lady, an African man, an African or Afro-American woman, at least one Asian-American - in a class of 16.
That was it basically. Our return flight home was basically without incident; we left MSP late but arrived at SFO a little early. But some of the gate hardware (jetway maybe?) was broken so they had to tow us to another gate -- so we got off the plane on-time rather than early.

So where will she go to school? Well, Calvin and Macalester were on her A-list before we started, and those are the ones still on her A-list afterwards. Now, about St John's College...

the younger teen's travels

I wasn't there on the younger teen's travels to Southeastern North America so I won't be able to give you as much of a report. But it was a Sojourn to the Past tour -- one of the Little Rock Nine traveled with them on this 9-day visit to some major sites of the Civil Rights movement. Near the end of her trip, our younger teen heard Rev. Shuttlesworth speak, and afterwards he sat at the table where she was. She asked, "How do you know when God is speaking to you?"

What a great question! And he answered, "It's like a mother, talking to her children." Wow.

The Parents' Travels

Yesterday the lovely Carol and I went to visit her mom. We left the house at about 8:30 and drove to Turlock. About 10:00 I gave her a call. "Hi Charlsey, it's Collin."

"Oh, are you coming to see me?" I told her we were, and that we'd visit for a bit, then go to a nursery and then to lunch. She thought that sounded fine.

"We'll be there in about half an hour," I told her. Twenty minutes later, we signed in and walked over to her room. She recognized us and remembered my name. After a while in her room, we headed off to the nursery, where she enjoyed looking at the flowers. Carol bought some flowers for our garden at home. Charlsey had a pretty good time. We left about 1pm, which was probably about long enough for all concerned. Although she probably forgot about the visit 15 minutes after we left, I know she enjoyed seeing the flowers, having a burger off-campus, and gettng that attention from us. Oh -- we also showed her some old photos and read some stuff from her travel journal, and a letter her sister had sent in 1958.

the following section rated PG

Afterwards, Carol and I went for a drive. We had a tent and a thermarest® pad in the car. The map showed a national wildlife refuge off highway 132, but when we got there, the signs were emphatic that nobody was allowed in! We drove on to some "S.V.R.A." which we found out, unhappily, means "where dirt bikes roar" -- not a place to pitch a tent for a peak kid-free outdoor afternoon experience. After some more driving, we came to Del Valle Regional Park, where the $6 entrance fee is far lower than any hourly motel rate. We pitched the tent in an unauthorized campsite under the shade of some beautiful trees, and....

Ah, Del Valle.

We drove to Palo Alto to look for the Apple Store -- which we found after much wandering around. I asked my question, then it was time to pick Jenny up from church. She had ridden her bike there to help with the K-1 class. We drove home, where Jenny asked me the embarrassing question of why there was a thermarest pad in the car. I tap-danced my way out of that one, mostly by not giving much of an answer. Luckily she didn't notice the tent I was putting away.

Well, that was probably more detail than you wanted. But it was fun for me to write anyway.

Even though I did spend over an hour on it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Academic Freedom and Calvin College

We have been traveling, the elder teen and I, seeing colleges where she she may attend 18 months from now. Our first campus visit was to Calvin College (as in "John ...", not "... and Hobbes"). They have this "Fridays at Calvin" program for prospective students.

The lovely Carol wasn't really sure about the idea of a Christian college. "You could take along a copy of GENDER & GRACE (Mary van Leeuwen, IVP, 1990) and see if anyone raises an eyebrow," she suggested. I took it, but left it in the car.

But there at Calvin, in a parent/student/staff "small group," a professor of Communications said she loved the academic freedom.

My ears perked up. That's not what I was expecting.

This prof had previously taught at another college, where she was told not to talk about nor publish anything based on her faith or on her feminism. But at Calvin she is free to do both from her perspective as a Christian feminist.

(Note to any readers on the Far Right: What she meant by "feminism" is probably not what you think.)

I gamely asked if evolution was taught at Calvin, and if so, how. (It is.)

Later, we visited a psychology class, where we saw a copy of -- you guessed it, GENDER & GRACE -- near the lectern. (By the way, there were 4 or 5 non-white faces in this class of 21. In Grand Rapids, Michigan! )

The instructor handed out a list of psychology professionals. Students were expected to select someone to interview, and the prof explained the diversity of backgrounds among the professionals. "You might select someone with a background and tradition similar to yours" as a sort of role model. "But I would encourage some of you to interview..." and he pointed out two people on his list who don't even believe in God. These people, he said, would challenge you on your faith, and you'll have to think about why you believe what you do.

He then went on to review someone's theory of the origin of ethics, which was a speculation based on principles of evolutionary biology. This would be standard fare in any college psych class. But then he picked up GENDER & GRACE and referred to van Leeuwen's interpretation of Genesis 1.27, invoking the technique of parallelism in Hebrew literature.

Can you tell I was impressed? My conclusions:

  1. You get the whole story, not just the politically correct parts -- as mentioned above, both biblical and naturalistic explanations of the origin of ethics.

    I can already hear you: "You don't teach junk social science (or biological science) in a college classroom!" Yeah, right. I have one word for you: Semmelweis. People love to talk about how open-minded they are, unless they disagree with you. Then YOU're the one who's backward, or closed-minded, or teaching junk science, or whatever. End of rant.

  2. It's not a cocoon either -- note the psych prof's exhortation to interview professionals from different traditions and different faiths. (I don't say "no faith" because you really gotta believe it if you say there's no God.)

I am really impressed. They've got something special going there. Or maybe they did a great sales job. Or maybe both.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

NW892 Thursday 16 Feb 2006

Our Northwest flight to Detroit was delayed about 20 minutes. Not a problem for us because we had a 2-hour wait there anyway. So we walk down the Gate 47 ramp and there's a traffic jam. Jammed because people with rolling suitcases have been commanded to surrender their bags to the check-in crew. I try to get past but no, She Who Must Be Obeyed says my bag is too big. I protest that it fit within their size gauge... but to no avail. In haste I pull out my briefcase, my toilet kit, scarf, hat. I should have grabbed socks and underwear too, but I was suffering from Wishful Thinking.

"You're not going to lose this for me, are you?" I ask.

She is not amused. "I don't check in bags to lose them. Where are you going?"

I tell her, she tags it; resigned, we enter the airplane.

About half way to our seats, I behold gaping empty bins. A friendly midwesterner points them out. "Your bag coulda fit here!" he says. A few seconds later, he calls out "Or here!"

Our seats are 20 B-C. There is a young woman in 20A who is very unhappy about having had to check in her carry-on bag (she'd borrowed it from her roommate specifically to avoid the baggage-claim annoyance). She mentioned this to a flight attendant, who remarked that she was the third passenger to mention this to her. "Could I be the fourth?" I asked.

Jenny suddenly remembers that she left her purse in the now-checked bag. A quick prayer to protect her purse, and, well, that's all to be done for it. There is all kinds of space here, and because this airplane doesn't have life jackets under the seats, both my briefcase and my computer bag can fit, standing up, under the seat in front of me. This is my grumpy way of saying that my bag would definitely have fit there!

After a while, I get up to go to the restroom. There are two in the back of the plane, but one of them is inoperative, taped shut.

A four-hour flight, and just one restroom for all of coach. Well, things could be worse, and perhaps I've been spoiled, but I've come to expect better performance.

The line for the restroom remained long, but at some point the flight attendants started escorting some of us "gate freight" to one of the first-class restrooms.

The flight wore on, and pretty soon it started getting dark. The young woman in 20A tried to turn on her light -- it didn't work. She said for the third or fourth time that she'll never fly Northwest again. I think it was around this time she said she'd discourage everyone she knew from flying Northwest.

I told her she probably would, because the risk of a screwup -- or in this case multiple screwups (making her check her bag when there was plenty of space; a broken light; a busted toilet) probably did not outweigh the annoyance of changing planes in Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City (scratch that, no TWA) and the extra money, etc. At least this is how I look at it. These guys are effectively aiming at the low end -- getting people to put up with substandard service by low-balling the price.

This does not lead to happy employees or happy customers.

The landing in Detroit was bumpy. Two barf bags were used.

The flight to Grand Rapids was OK, except another barf bag was used. And my bag didn't get there. I will go back to the airport some time today,perhaps this evening, to see if my underwear made it to Grand Rapids.

Northwest, there are about a half-dozen people very annoyed with the agent (gate agent? flight attendant?) who insisted their bags be checked when there were empty luggage bins all over the rear half of the airplane.

Friday Evening Update -- 2/17

We stopped at the GRR airport about 4 or 5pm Friday, and my bag was there. Jenny's purse was still in it, with all her cash. Hooray!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nothing worthwhile is easy

So: following the golden rule is Hard. Especially if I take it as it really is, e.g., to give the love my wife wants to receive.

Some years ago (some 30 years ago), when I was in college, I read Rilke's comment that nothing worthwhile is easy. At the time I wondered if we automatically devalue anything that's easy, and if that's all there was to it.

I think we do devalue anything that's easy. "Wow, what a cool ____ you made/wrote/did!"

"Nah -- it was easy."

Almost a tautology: nothing worthwhile is easy....

But here's something else that's not tautological:

Nothing really important is fully in my control.

For example,
  • I want my marriage to last forever.
  • I want my children to come out OK
  • I want my life to have meaning
The good news though is in knowing the One who has a handle on all these things.

she liked it

Basically I printed out this spreadsheet on some decorative stationery (US-letter size) then folded it twice. It wants customization (your sweetheart's name, and your own poem or message). will help you read and print it.

After picking up the kids today, we are going out for lunch and otherwise neglecting them most of the afternoon.

Do Unto Others

So we heard yet another great sermon the other day, this one on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. This is a very hard thing, but what makes it even harder is when the kind of thing the other wants is different from what I want. For example, if 2 or 3 nights a week, the lovely Carol started pawing at me at 8:30 or so, insisting that I drop whatever dumb thing I'm doing to go to bed with her, desiring me only for my body and ignoring my "finer qualities" (?), well, let's just say I wouldn't mind that at all.

You can be sure, though, that if I did that to her, it would not meet with the same reception.

So we come to Valentine's day, the single day of the year creating a local peak of angst among American husbands and profit among florists. (What about the florist's husband? What if the florist is a husband? As Bob the dinosaur says, I'll leave that to the philosophers.)

Oh, the pressure to come up with something romantic! It makes my head hurt and my bones creak! So yesterday I wrote a poem -- that plus a translation of "Im Zimmer" (Indoors) by Schlaf went into a simple homemade card.

Which is doing unto others as they would have me do unto them. Or something.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

That your joy may be full... and bearing fruit

So I've been thinking about this idea and the other day found this phrase used by Jesus in three places in the New Testament -- in John 15-16-17 -- which all took place during/after the Last Supper. In John 15, Jesus talks about remaining in him, bearing fruit, love and joy.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
What would the disciples have thought when they heard this? Today, "fruit" might bring to mind Paul's list -- love, joy, peace, patience, etc. But Paul hadn't even started persecuting the church when Jesus was having this discussion. Would they have remembered the warning that "every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire"? Perhaps. Probably they would have remembered that "every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." But here Jesus doesn't seem to be talking about good fruit vs bad fruit; he seems to be talking about bearing fruit vs no fruit.

Here's something else the disciples would have remembered: He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither, from Psalm 1. And of course there was the fruitless fig tree which Jesus encountered on the way to Jerusalem.

So here's what I think "fruit" meant to the disciples here: Results. What kind of results? Meaningful results, eternal results. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to
be my disciples. (15.8). You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. (15.16) I think what he means is that unless I stay connected to Jesus, my life will have no lasting results.

Peter apparently remembered this discussion, as he later wrote "But if these [qualities] are yours and increasing, they will render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1.8, NAS, approximately)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Financial Planners, Stock Pickers, and Coin Flippers

Started January 21 and left in abeyance for a couple weeks...
There has been a discussion about financial planners on the "hp alumni" mailing list lately, triggered by someone wanting a fee-based financial planner. There's a lot of discussion about how to pick an advisor, how to pick investments, how to think about investments, etc. Someone talked about how financial planning isn't only about investments.

Here's a bit of our journey.

First, like many couples, we have somewhat disparate views about money. One of us would like to spend more, the other is never quite sure we're saving enough. Words like "deprived" and "paupers" have been used, blood pressure has risen. We love each other a lot, but that doesn't mean we don't have conflicts. How much is enough? What is our vision for what we're going to do when I really don't want to do any more of the high-tech thing, the commuting, the political stuff in the office, and all that? (Not to imply I'm unhappy with my job, for any of my colleagues reading this -- but there are some days I would rather catch up with things around the house, or at least away from the office.) We have no disagreement that we are saving proportionally more than our friends are and living more simply. That said, we have been to Europe three times since 1999 (twice including the kids), etc

Anyway, one thing we needed was some clarity about how much saving is enough. Another thing we wanted was some advice about how to invest the "retirement" funds. I wasn't sure if we needed ongoing help (I figured we could just consult the guy once a year for rebalancing, etc.), but we ended up opting for it.

So, although our planner does a bunch of financial stuff, a significant part of what he did for us was... getting us to talk about our visions for the future. What are the top 3 things we want to see happen before we die? If you were to die tomorrow, what would be your regrets? If you knew you were going to die some time between 5-10 years from now, if you had some oracular way to actually know that (but also that you'd feel fine up until the day you dropped dead), what would you change? He got us to talk about all this, to get closer to what a shared goal might look like for us.

OK, it's now 2/5. So here's a comment about stock pickers. I have not done the research myself, but to me it seems credible. Supposedly if you look at how well stock pickers do over time, most of them (not all) do no better than chance. (This kind of story comes out from time to time in the press.) There are exceptions! Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett come to mind. But it's too late to ride Peter Lynch's wave - he quit managing Magellan years ago. The other thing about people like Peter Lynch is that in order to have made a bunch of money with him, you would've had to have picked him out from the crowd before he began his 18-year (or however long it was) streak.
An illustration that made a lot of sense to us was the coin-flipper analogy. Imagine if you had hundreds of guys flipping coins daily for some years, and you reward them for flipping "heads". The vast majority of coin-flippers get results that statistics says are within a range attributable to chance, although for short periods some of these guys look like geniuses and others like idiots. A few, like Peter Lynch, consistently flip more "heads" over a long period of time than statistics would predict -- that is, they get results that are so good that it's not reasonable to say they just got lucky.

I just remembered a guy who retired from my former employer. He decided to go to the racetrack, and claimed he could beat the house. I found it astonishing that someone could actually believe something like that, but he said that by looking at the horses, etc., he could get better results than chance would forecast. Maybe he was right; I don't know. I suppose I'm less willing than some (most?) to believe this scheme could work, and maybe that's why we chose a planner over a stock picker. More on this below.

The proposed alternative, which made sense to us, was to diversify, picking a basket of stocks slightly overweighted in small-caps. The other thing is to watch the asset allocation. Which brings me to the Fisher Investments thing. We got the mailings, responded to one, and ended up talking with one of their sales guys in our home. He was very convincing. The essence of his pitch was that they have very smart people who correctly guessed when the bubble was going to burst. Oops -- I mean "correctly forecasted" when the bubble was going to pop, and got their clients out of the market before the big slide. The conclusion (although everyone says past results are no guarantee of future performance) that we were supposed to reach is that the very smart people at Fisher will predict future trends as well as they did in the past.

I think this is one of those personality-related or maybe temperament-related things. Do you want to base your investments on a group of very smart people who correctly forecast big movements in the past, or do you want to instead follow a system that doesn't rely as much on "very smart" people being right (or lucky, to take the opposite view) in their forecasting the markets?

Basically, there are two ways to do well when the stock market has big fluctuations. One is to guess or forecast when things are about to head downhill, and move a lot of money out of equities into cash for example. Then you have to forecast when stocks are going to move up again, and start buying.

The other way I'm aware of is to rebalance often enough to take care of things. So if we were hypothetically 70% in equities, 15% in bonds, 10% in real estate, 5% in cash, and stocks suddenly doubled, we'd rebalance the account to 70-15-10-5. When the market crashed, we'd rebalance it again and take advantage of rising stock prices that way.

This system requires insight and intelligence up front (and discipline in execution), but it does not require a bunch of very smart people to be right about when the market is going to soar or crash. You might make a little less money this way than by betting on very smart people, but you might lose a little (or a lot?) less money this way if the very smart people (think LTCM) turn out to be wrong.

That's essentially how we chose a financial planner over an investment company. No, it wasn't completely rational or logical. But what decisions do you make that are completely logical or rational? Only trivial ones! The really important ones -- who you will marry, whether to make a career move, how to handle the kids -- those are all made with the heart and the stomach. The head, too, but not only the head.

So we believe more in systems than in the ability of individuals to forecast the market.

Now, how do the accounts work? They're held in our name at Schwab. All the statements come to us. (they go to the investment advisor, too.) The investment advisor has the power to make certain trades, to withdraw their management fee, and to sell stuff and send the proceeds to us. Schwab doesn't let 'em sell stuff and keep the proceeds. This is all written on forms from Schwab. I don't know much about this industry, but it sure seems like a smart move on their part to provide this kind of account structure.


This morning, before the sermon started, I jotted down a couple of things in my notebook under the heading of "What I Want." Don't look so shocked -- you want things, too! Jesus knows and doesn't disapprove.
When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(from Luke 14)

See, Jesus doesn't say, "Don't want that; it's not holy." He assumes -- rather, he knows that we want to be honored and wants to help us get it.

Back to what I want. I think you want it too. The first thing I wrote is for my joy to be complete. As I wrote yesterday, Jesus ties "full joy" to our connection with him. The other thing I want is to know I've done well. What came to my mind was this prayer: "that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work" &c.

Pretty soon the sermon started, and the point of it was Confession, which I guess means telling the truth about my own failings and folly and foul-ups. He made the point that "sin keeps us from abiding in Jesus." We don't use that word "abide" much any more, but the idea is that it's hard to stay connected to Jesus if we aren't willing to 'fess up to our failures. To God at least, but also to each other. He quoted someone (was it Bonhoffer?) who said that "he who is alone with his sin is alone indeed."

So I am going to confess something here that will not shock anyone, and it's probably obvious, but it's probably important to say it.

OK, here it is.

Sometimes the lovely Carol and I have arguments. Tony, that night you saw me in Kepler's and asked me if everything was OK -- you could probably tell I was unhappy about something, but I didn't want to say what it was. I'll tell you now: we were in the middle of a disagreement. OK, an argument (I won't call it an "enthusiastically aggressive discussion"). We are working things out and we are committed to making them work.

What's the problem? Basically, that neither of us is perfect. Also, though I'm somewhat resigned to the fact that I'll never be perfect on this earth, I wish I were a little wiser and stronger than I actually am.

Dilemma! And solution

It's a pain, I told Sheri, "to have to peel the shells off the shrimp (before cooking them)." I had found some jumbo prawns in the freezer, and was contemplating the finer points of dinner preparation as I drove her to a friend's house. "But it's also a pain to have to peel them yourself when you're eating them." Sheri nodded. A dilemma for serious consideration. Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? "What shall we do?" I asked.

Sheri paused about 500 milliseconds and gave me her solution. "Have Jenny peel them?"

Somehow I managed to stay on the road...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

That your joy may be full...

Shortly after I met Jesus, I memorized what the Navigators called "Beginning with Christ" pack, five Bible passages about assurance: Assurance of salvation (I John 5.11-12), of answered prayer (John 16.24), of help in temptation (1 Corinthians 10.13), of guidance (Proverbs 3.5-6), and one more I can't remember.

One verse in particular made a big impression on a friend of mine. In the New American Standard Bible, John 16.24 reads:

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.

After some meditation, he asked himself, "What of my prayers would, if God answered it, make my joy full?"

In other words, why bother praying for something, unless it would make my joy full?

This morning, a quarter-century later, it occurred to me to look for other places in the Bible where someone's joy is full -- or, as the NIV has it, "complete."

What Jesus says about complete joy

I started by looking for other places where Jesus uses this word near the word "joy", and I found just two places, both in John's gospel.

In John 15.11, Jesus says "I have told you this so that... your joy may be complete."

In John 17.13, Jesus says that the words he says "while I am still in the world" so that his followers may have the full measure of his joy in them.

So besides answered prayer, Jesus seems to think his words have something to do with making our joy complete -- in particular the words to his disciples about "abiding" or "remaining" in him, and the words to his Father about the things to come in what we now call "the church age."

So what does this mean to me? I should think about staying connected to Jesus (like a branch stays connected to the vine) and I should think about Jesus's encouragements and warnings for our age.

More later...

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Best

This morning I was thinking about some of the best things in life.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. He became a Christian in the past year or so, and wanted to understand the Bible better. We talked about the goal of understanding the Bible -- that is, to know Jesus, not just to gain information -- and I showed him an illustration for "getting hold" of the Bible -- hear, read, study, memorize, meditate. These five ways correspond to the five fingers on a hand, with meditation going with the thumb. With meditation, any of the others will help you "grab onto" the Bible, but without it -- well, try picking up a book without using your thumb. This made sense to him, and he proposed starting to read from Matthew and meeting again in a few weeks to discuss what he read.

Talk about putting a spring in my step! What could be more exciting than helping a friend grow in faith and in his relationship with Jesus? It was a high point of my week.

Another of the best things in life: a couple of summers ago, Carol brought home a box of mangoes - the kind that we used to call "Hayden" (spelling?) when we were kids. The pleasurable sensations had an intensity to rival... you know what.

Speaking of you-know-what, a peak outdoor experience that we had in Japan, ah, nevermind, you never can tell who's reading this.

Here's a G-rated one: On a trail leading to Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park, there is a rock formation called The Watchtower. If you look on a topo-map, this is a place where lots of contour lines bunch together. It really cannot be captured on film, but you can try.

Why do human beings write? The combination of disciplined thought and the application of creative energy toward an achievable goal -- that is one of the enjoyable activities of life. As Brooks says in "The Mythical Man-Month," it's a reflection of our Creator's character, the creativity that can be seen "in every leaf and every snowflake." Brooks was talking about computer programs, but really any creative impulse is an expression of our Father's creative nature, which he gave to us when he made us. Making a delicious meal is like that too. Music, architecture, mathematics.