Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Did Jesus really die on the cross? And so what?

Have you heard anyone say, "Jesus didn't actually die on the cross"? I said that myself once or twice, before I really looked at the evidence. This passage describes what happened late Friday afternoon, after Jesus had been crucified.
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
John 19.33-34
That sudden flow of blood and water was a sure sign that Jesus was already dead. Chest cavity filled with fluid -- he literally drowned up there.

Now I have been thinking lately about the "So what?" question. By this I mean, so what if Jesus really was killed on the cross, or not? What difference does that make to the man in the street? How many people, if you or I walked up to them and said, "Hey, did you know Jesus was actually dead on the cross -- that the story isn't a fake?" would say, "yeah, whatever," and just walk (or run) away?

Just about 100 per cent, right?

So why should you or I care?

To me, it comes down to this. There are two stories prevalent in our culture, two explanations of where the world came from and what will happen in the future. Like I wrote the other day.

How can you tell which story is more likely? Well, if Jesus actually died, and actually was alive a few days later, that's pretty remarkable because it suggests that the mechanistic view of the world (story #1) is false. And if we can accept the gospel accounts of his sayings as more or less reasonable representations of what he said, that's even more remarkable because it means Jesus predicted his death and resurrection.

And if that's the case, it seems to me that just about everything else he said must have been true too. Which is a pretty good indication, not only that story #1 is false, but that story #2 is true.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Speaking of deceit...

David's son Absalom had taken over the palace, and David fled with a few hundred men. As he went, Ziba (a servant of the former king Saul) met him with donkeys loaded with provisions for the king's company.

The king then asked, "Where is your master's grandson?"

Ziba said to him, "He is staying in Jerusalem, becaue he thinks, 'Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather's kingdom.'"

Then the king said to Ziba, "All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours."

2 Sam 16.3-4

Ziba was the steward for the estate of Saul, the former king. When Saul and most of his male descendants were killed in battle, the estate was apparently in some sort of legal limbo, which essentially left Ziba as the sole authority. Back in chapter 9, David gave the estate to Mephibosheth, the son of his friend Jonathan.

Reading between the lines, I think Ziba resented this development. He had been in charge of the whole place and probably acted more as regent than servant. Perhaps he thought of Mephibosheth as his master's bratty grandson - I don't know.

It's now at least five years after Mephibosheth took over ownership of the estate, and now Ziba has his chance. He meets David with a pile of provisions - bread, fruit, wine - and donkeys. But that's not all! He also feeds David a story about Mephibosheth.

Since you and I are not running for our lives, we can take a minute to look at what Mephibosheth is supposed to have said. The chronicler doesn't even offer to debunk the story, as he considers it patently absurd.

Why is David fleeing, after all? Is it because people are screaming to bring back the family of Saul? No; it's because Absalom wants to rule. And if he's willing to kill his own father, what's the chance he'd be interested in sharing the throne with someone not even related to him?

Ziba apparently did not get understanding from the Lord's precepts; he did not hate every false way.

What's the false way facing you or me today? What resentment or envy might lead us down the wrong path? In a few days we'll see a much better example.

posted 5/31, based on 5/30's reading

Monday, May 29, 2006

How well do I hate duplicity?

"From thy precepts I get understanding / therefore I hate every false way." - Ps 119.104

Some years back, a friend shared this verse with me. There are a lot of great verses in Psalm 119, though there's a fair amount of repetition too.

But thinking about this... do I hate subterfuge, deceit?

The temptation is to talk about what happens when the nazis knock on your door to see if you're harboring anyone, but of course that's not the usual time I'm tempted to let a false impression linger, especially if it excuses me or is overly flattering to me or overly negative about someone I don't like.

So I don't hate every false way. I don't like false ways, but that's not the same as hating them. I guess that means I haven't got enough understanding from the Lord's precepts. Somehow the psalmist did... meditating upon Leviticus "all the day."


thoroughly [post]modern

The first time I read anything about the postmodern paradigm (or movement or whatever) was at a friend's house in the 1990s. Although I don't remember a lot of what I read at that time, I do remember feeling singularly unimpressed. Not because the next generation was discarding "traditional values" as the term is bandied about these days, but rather because they were discarding objective reality in favor of subjective "experience" -- which, now as I write this, seems exactly to be about the traditional value of rational inquiry as seen by a proponent of the modern view.

So when one of our pastors started talking about postmodernism, I reacted with the enthusiasm normally reserved for a skunk's arrival at a picnic. Now, a few years later, having read some of Adventures in Missing the Point and A New Kind of Christian, I have a bit more clue and appreciation for the postmodern "thing."

So here's one example I remember, maybe *the* one example I remember: how we evangelicals approach the Bible. Sometimes we approach the Bible as a biologist approaches a frog for dissection: we try to analyze it (where analyze -> "take apart") to find answers. But how else might we approach the Bible? Like two young people approaching each other on their first date (or their third, or their tenth). Like a cancer patient meeting an oncologist or therapist. That last one might be the most apt.

Who was it that said, "the point of the Bible isn't to make you smarter; it's to change your life"? I think s/he was pretty smart

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another power shortage

OK, so what am I going to complain about today regarding David? Consider this sequence of events:
  1. 2 Samuel 13.14: In year X, David's son Amnon rapes his (Amnon's) half-sister Tamar. David is furious but says and does nothing.
  2. 13.28: In year X+2, Absalom, Tamar's brother, kills Amnon. David is very sad, but he says and does nothing.
  3. 13.38-39: David "longed to go to Absalom" but again said and did nothing
2500 years later it's easy for me to say, "Why didn't he do anything?" I wonder if David's reluctance to pass judgment stemmed from the knowledge of his own evil behavior, the adultery and murder he committed in chapters 11-12.

I think this must have been a hard thing, as it is today. What pastor, having seen sin in the congregation, could as it were cast the first stone? One thing that occurs to me is that discipline is not necessarily judgment. In the case of rape (Amnon) and murder (Absalom) I'm not sure how discipline could/should have been administered in David's time, but I am sure David blew it by saying and doing nothing.

Today our objectives are different. As Galatians 6 says, "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourselves, because that could have been you."

Doing nothing (can you say "analysis paralysis"?) is in some ways the easy thing, but disaster may follow, as it did in David's case. In a church, in a small group, in a family, sometimes overanalysis (and paralysis) is exactly the wrong thing.

So what am I called to do today? And how about you?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Two stories

The elder teen is in a book group for high schoolers at our church, where they are discussing McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. Tonight the ladies are watching Bridget Carpenter's Up, which, now that I just read the synopsis, seems like a totally exasperating story.

What I really wanted to tell you about, though, was something I just read from the book. The narrator in the story is a pastor, whose views of spirituality are much like mine. He meets a high-school teacher who, as it turns out, had been a pastor for 17 years before getting a PhD and starting his high-school teaching career. This part struck me -- from the former pastor's sermon on Death:
There are two dominant stories alive in our culture today

Story one goes like this: Once upon a time, the universe banged into being for no apparent reason and with no apparent purpose. Someday it will end and there will be no one left to remember it.

(McLaren, p.86)
Sound like what people around you think? I used to think like that before becoming a Christian. He continues:
Story two begins with a Creator who designs the universe to produce life. The Creator cares about everything he has made, including us. The Creator reaches out to us in many ways, constantly inviting us into a relationship of trust. When we die, we enter into the Creator's presence so that in some sense this life that we now live is a prelude to a dimension of life that never dies.

Now at least one of these stories is false, and if you believe the second story is false, then no wonder you fear death.

Now this is interesting! I think this is a lot better than my essay on the meaning of life. Anyway, McLaren's fictional sermon (which may be real for all I know) goes on, saying what if the first story is true, you've got big problems. You can grab for all the gusto you can in this life, you can try to get the most toys, but "not only can you not take the toys with you, you're not going anywhere you can take them to anyway, and there's no you left and nowhere to go." It continues:
But what if the second story is true? What if, in broad outline, it describes the situation in which we find ourselves? I'm not just talking what if we pretend it's true to help us make it through the night. I'm asking you to consider, what if it is actually, really, accurately, substantially, profoundly, powerfully, definitely, unambiguously, factually, fully, and finally true?

If that's the case, then we can stop fearing death. Because the fear of death takes a terrible toll on life, but when we overcome the fear of death through believing and living by that second story, the reality of death actually yields many gifts.

He goes on to compare the consequences of living by the first story with the consequences of living by the second. You should read it yourself, page 87 of the book. It's basically an expansion of what I quoted above about gusto and dying with toys. "[I]f I am the only one living this way, it's bad enough, but if more and more people are living this way, it's not hard to imagine that you get a world very much like the one ours is fast becoming...."

Reading that reminded me of "the Starbucks Effect" (June 2006 issue of Fast Company -- you might be able to access it here in a few days). Here's the short version: In Dublin, take-out coffee could be gotten only in very small cups and only after about 9am. When Starbucks rolled into town, though, you could get all those varieties, in large, extra large, and gigantic sizes any time after, say, six A.M. It's nice to be able to get that, but the staff has to get up at what, 5:00? 4:30 in the morning? Is that a good tradeoff? We Americans tend to feel like we have no choice, that we have to stay connected 24x7 with our "crackberries" etc. This is the fruit of believing and living by story #1.

But what if I really believe and live by story #2? I'll list some of the things he says: focusing on things that will have value in this life and also in the next; I can maximize the joys of life; I'm grateful for everything; I see hardships in a new perspective. And "[I]f I live this way, it's good for me, but if I can influence more and more people to live this way, then the world will become a very different kind of place, so that in some real way we can say we are entering and experiencing the kingdom of God."

And that reminds me of something that our pastor John has been talking about over the past several months -- that the gospel is about bringing about the kingdom of God; it is not only or mostly about minimum entrance requirements for an individual to get into heaven.

Two stories. Which one do I really believe? Which one do I really live?

Bus Stop

So we're in Ashland at the Shakespeare festival, seeing only one play by Will. This afternoon we saw Inge's Bus Stop, a totally excellent production of a profound play. With all its sexual innuendo, I can hardly believe it was written and performed in the 1950s. My high school psychology teacher had referred to this play to illustrate a concept psycholgists call negative transfer of training. Bo, a 21-year old cowboy from Montana, saw a cow and roped it. He saw a woman and he roped her, too. Bad idea.

But the play was about a lot more than that. There are insecurities all around. There is learning and growth. The cowboy from Montana grows up a lot, and the chanteuse, who sings to a bunch of drunken men at the nightclub "down by the stockyards"...

Well, you really should see it. Or at least read it.


Ever hear a preacher suggest that if you become a Christian, you'll get rich or find the perfect mate or all your problems will disappear? Where do they get these ideas from? Not from today's reading:

"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word" -- Psalm 119.67
"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" -- Psalm 119.71
"...In this world you will have tribulation." -- John 16.33

I quoted that last verse and the elder teen said, "That's a great promise." Well, of course that's not the whole story. The rest of the verse says:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

The "trouble" part isn't particularly great news, but it's a great corrective in case you've been sold a bill of goods on what the Christian life is like. I think Peter says somewhere, "Don't be surprised if you get a lot of hassles, as though some strange thing were happening to you."

I heard a sermon on this passage some years ago. Sometimes people say, "If God lets me down this time, it'll be the first time," but some others feel like God has let them down. The sermon talked about various kinds of troubles people have had. Someone going in for surgery, and the anaesthesiologist stepped out to take a phone call, and the guy never woke up. At the men's retreat earlier this year, a man talked about how his son has debilitating physical and mental problems. There are real troubles out there.

What the good news is, though, is the stuff that came earlier in chapter 16. Take for example verse 24: "Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." And the part at the end of 33: "I have overcome the world."

The good news seems to me that he is with us. He has overcome the world, he knows, he cares, he will help us. He is with us always. He will never leave us or forsake us. It will not be easy all the time. Sometimes there will be heartbreak -- and some of us get more than others.

But he is with us.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Greed; obedience

Incline my heart to thy testimonies
and not to dishonest gain
Psalm 119.36

I'd like to think I'm not greedy, and in fact there's not much I want. Well... there's a Sara Groves song, "All I need". It starts out with a couple newly married, maybe they can buy a garbage can next month. Then pretty soon, "all I need" is your next bonus for a walrus carved from driftwood, custom-made cabinets for the home theater system....

Greed somehow grows on me. Not that I don't feed it.

But what do I meditate on? Do I think about God's testimonies all day long, like the psalmist? "O how I love thy law; it is my meditation all the day." Yeah, sure. I don't even meditate on the gospels or the psalms; this guy meditated on... Leviticus! And not because he had to -- because he liked to!

Here's something else I read this morning:

He who has my commandments and keeps them -- he it is that loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.
John 14.21
I don't remember how many years I memorized this verse, but it has probably been a quarter century. The idea here (and it's all over the place, especially in John's gospel) is this: if I want to know Jesus, I have to do what he says. As I do what he says, he shows me more of himself. So it's not "be good in order to meet Jesus" but "now that I've met Jesus, I have to do what he says (or to "be good" in other words) in order to really get close to him.

What am I lacking in my obedience?

I'll tell you.

The other day, the lovely Carol called me at the office. She was in tears, because an unreasonable person chewed her out over the phone, saying that she only thinks about herself, and all kinds of other nonsense. This person thought it was all right to bite my wife's head off (this is not the first time!) but my wife is not ever allowed to answer anything back.

So I have two issues. First, I'm still angry with this person. I can tell because as I think about this incident I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I know I'm supposed to forgive this person. I am having a real hard time doing it. Now the Bible says, "Consider him who endured suffering at the hands of sinners, that you may not grow weary and lose heart." And I can consider how much my own sinful attitudes have injured the heart of my Lord and Savior.

OK, I'll continue praying about that.

The second issue is this: What to do about it?

More later.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

an inconvenient truth

I'd like to write today about something I saw in John chapter 14.
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me"
John 14.6
This is one of these verses I sometimes wish weren't there. You know how your friends say christians are so dogmatic or exclusive or whatever. But the truth is exclusive. AIDS is caused by a virus which is transmitted between humans in certain ways; it's not caused by evil bushes planted by white people.

Jesus said unpopular things like "No one comes to the Father but by me". It would be a lot more convenient in this modern world if he'd said something different. Or the disciples. Peter says inconvenient things like "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved." Very inconvenient for modern (or post-modern) people living in this post-modern age.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Power shortage, or just a perceived shortage

Before David became king over all the tribes of Israel, he had only a small part of the nation under his control. Saul's son ruled the rest of it, assisted by Abner, the general of his father's army. But after a falling out, Abner defected to David's side. David met with him and Abner departed in peace. There was bad blood between Abner and Joab (David's general).
So Joab went to the king and said, "What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone!"
2 Samuel 3.24
I have often wondered why David didn't do something about this. Why didn't he say, "Don't mess with him - he's helping me unify the kingdom!" Or something. And after Joab killed Abner, shedding his blood "in peacetime as if in battle" (1 Kings 2.1), why didn't David do anything about it? Why did he wait nearly forty years to punish Joab? (As he was dying, David left instructions for his son Solomon to take care of business.)

I cannot figure it out. Although he says Joab and his brother are too strong for him, that just doesn't seem credible today, over 2500 years after the fact. Did he have a blind spot? Was he stuck with an outdated mental image of Joab and his brothers, an image formed in his mind years before?

It must be very difficult for heads of state (or corporations, or even large teams) to see beyond impressions from the past, to tell when their advisors aren't being objective (or honest), and so on. I can't even blithely say "Oh, he should have prayed more." This is David, writer of the psalms, the man after God's own heart!

Now that I think of it, parents are often blind to what's going on with their children. My kids have sometimes surprised me, and sometimes I've taken a position I wasn't sure I could. Sometimes I have more influence than I thought I had, if I just take the step of exercising it.

more about the evidence

"...for they loved praise from men more than praise from God."

Last night, one of my teen-agers asked me if it's wrong to like praise from other people. I didn't think so, because Jesus tells a parable where he tells people to do thus and such. "Then," he says, "you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests." (Luke 14.10)

That is, Jesus seems to assume that we all want to be honored and praised by others, and he doesn't rebuke that desire. He is realistic about who we are and what we want, and he'll work with that.

My teen-ager's next question was this: "How can you tell if you love praise from men more than praise from God?"

One sign, I thought, was if we hid our faith from others. Do our friends and neighbors and co-workers and fellow-students know that we are christians? Because it's not really all that cool to be known as a christian these days.

There was another question, about how to tell if you're seeking the praise of others, versus whether it just comes to you.

I just thought of this answer now, but it's based on something we heard in a sermon. Here it is: if you're afraid that the praise of others is an idol in your life (or if I'm afraid of it), then we should deliberately hide some good deed that we did. Leave a tip in the jar when nobody's looking. That sort of thing. Jesus said something about this too, come to think of it:
Sowhen you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Matthew 6.2

Monday, May 22, 2006

E is for Evidence

I have sometimes wondered what it would take to convince some of my friends about Jesus. People have even told me they'd believe, "if I saw a miracle." or "if I saw God appear right here in front of me." It turns out, of course, that Jesus tried that:
Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
John 12.37-38
God had also tried it in the desert -- six days a week for forty years, he provided food for a couple of million escaped slaves, the children of Israel. Some of them believed in him, but others wanted to kill Moses and go back into slavery!

I also think about my own faith journey, and what took me so long to come to faith. Of course it wasn't a problem of evidence; I just wasn't interested in having someone else be in charge of my life, of giving an account to someone else. You see, if I had believed Jesus really was the son of God, I'd have to call him "Lord," and I wanted to be my own boss.

Was that silly? Of course it was! What did I give up by calling Jesus "Lord"? A sense of independence (I was as independent as a wanderer in a trackless waste), loneliness, futility. I could do just what I wanted! But again, though I could choose my actions, I couldn't then also choose the consequences.

God was offering me a gold bar, while I preferred to clutch a rusty slug.

Turns out I hadn't invented anything new:
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
He has blinded their eyes
and deadened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn--and I would heal them.
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
John 12.39-43
OK, so some of them were blinded (there's another passage I don't quite get). Others believed, though, but wouldn't tell anybody. They wanted to be like Jesus's secret friends or something. They would rather not get thrown out of the synagogue than to be able to look Jesus in the face and call him "Lord" in front of others.

How about you and me? Do people around us know we're Christians, that we follow Jesus? If being a christian suddenly became a crime, would our neighbors and co-workers have enough evidence to lock us up? I sure hope so!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dedication, Focus, Joy

In this passage, Jesus and his disciples are at least a day's journey away from Bethany (which is in Judea), and Jesus decides to go there:
Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea"
"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?"
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
John 11.7-8,16
I love this guy! He would rather die with Jesus than live without him. What a great example!

I sometimes wish I had that kind of focus
, that kind of loyalty and dedication.

How did Thomas develop that? How could you or I develop it? I think spending a lot of time with Jesus has to be at least part of the answer.

Last night, after I read a little of the Bible, one of my girls asked, "What does it mean to be a disciple?"

In Jesus's time, the definition was very clear. You went where your rabbi went, did what he did, ate what he ate, and so on. You spent a lot of time physically close to your rabbi. Oh, and when he said, "Go into town and untie a certain donkey, and if anyone asks you why you're untying the donkey, tell them this", then you went into town, untied a certain donkey, etc.

Today it's not quite so clear. We can read a lot of what Jesus said, but most of the instructions we get are very general. Love one another. Pray in secret. Don't announce your good deeds. The real specific ones, like "Hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today," or "Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then follow me," things like that, are aimed at specific people, and it's not clear that you and I are supposed to obey all of them.

But what I think it means to be a disciple today is to read these things, think about them in the presence of God and other disciples, try to do them, ask God for help, and so on. And today, being Sunday, we gather with others to worship the Lord, to hear a message that will help us follow him more closely.

That's a wonderful thing to do. A joyous occasion. I wish you a good one.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Saved by grouches and nay-sayers

King Saul was disobedient and the Lord said he was going to be replaced by David.

But Saul thought he could out-smart God, and kept trying to kill David. This is like when a bank robber is being chased by 3 or 4 cops and thinks he can outrun them -- only worse.

David kept running from Saul, and eventually he went to live and work for the Philistines. Now the Philistines were Israel's enemies, so David found himself working for the king of the Bad Guys. Sure enough, the day came when the Philistine army was going to attack Israel. What would David do?
Achish said to David, "You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army."

David said, "Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do."

1 Samuel 27.1-2
I'm sure David was either anxious or praying real hard or both.

Because when Achish ordered him to attack some Israelite town, what would he do?

But then the grouches spoke up.
The commanders of the Philistines asked, "What about these Hebrews? .... Send the man back, that he may return to the plaace you assigned him. He must not go with us into battle, or he will turn against us during the fighting. How better could he regain his master's favor than by taking the heads of our own men? Isn't this the David they sang about in their dances:
'Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands'?"
from 1 Samuel 29.2-5
Whew! So he didn't have to fight against his own people. The text doesn't say so, but I am sure that God's hand was in this.

Sometimes people that are actually our enemies can do things that benefit us, or get us out of a jam, and sometimes that's because God is helping us out. Something to think about when I feel like I've gotten a raw deal at work or whatever...

Friday, May 19, 2006

the No-Slip Grip® :^)

If you belong to Jesus, can he ever lose track of you?
"And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."
- John 10.28-29
Well, I guess not. A friend of mine referred to this as the "no-slip grip," an phrase from a decades-old TV ad.

He also pointed out that if you receive salvation and then lose it, then the "eternal" life wasn't very eternal; it only lasted a few years or whatever.

Which is puzzling, because there are some people -- like Templeton, described in Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ -- who used to be, or seemed to be, ardent believers, but who now disavow any connection with Christ. I don't know what to make of this; perhaps we'll find out in heaven.

"I and the Father are one."

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him....

"We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

- John 10.30-31,33
I always find it annoying when people say, "Jesus never claimed to be God."

This is just one of the places where Jesus says he is God.
Some say that means that he and the Father are united in purpose,
but that just doesn't wash. Everyone around him at the time knew
what he was claiming.

Jesus had a way of polarizing people. Some followed him and some
wanted to kill him, but I don't think many were indifferent.

How different from today, when so many people think they already know
all they care to know about Him!

So are we seeking him today? Am I?

(written yesterday 5/19, posted today 5/20)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Security and Significance

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep."
John 10.14-15

Security and significance -- those are the two crucial longings of humanity. In other words, we want to feel loved and to feel important. In this passage, Jesus addresses both longings.

First he says he knows you and me. This is a bigger deal than if some CEO or movie star or president knows you. When we lived in Japan, our pastor Rob told us about something that happened when he was a little boy. He was on the beach, looking at shells and such, when a man walked up to him and started talking to him about sea life - plants and animals and shells.

At one point, Rob looked up and saw a bunch of other men standing a little ways off. Rob later learned that he had been talking to the Showa Emperor.

Whenever people hear about this, they get very excited and ask Rob all about it. Imagine - talking to a big-shot like the Emperor!

But you and I know a bigger shot than that. We know the ruler of the universe. We can talk to him any time we want, about whatever we want, and he always listens! He knows you and me by name, and he knows our joys, our longings, our sorrows.

How about the security then? Jesus is the good shepherd. Even if a sheep sometimes feels lonely, knowing that the shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep must give those sheep a sense of being cared for and loved unconditionally.

And that's the case for us -- Jesus not only would but did lay down his life for us his sheep.

Unfortunately I don't just read that and believe it and live my life according to it; I somehow make it complicated. I want other people to love me, not just Jesus. I want other people to know me, know about my accomplishments, tell me I'm great - not "just" Jesus.

He is the only one who will love me without conditions, no matter what. Everyone around me will die one day (so will I, come to think of it), but he lives forever.

So why is it that I still long for other people's love and approval?

A wise friend once told me that part of it is because the way Jesus shows his love for me is often through other people -- that's how I experience his love and acceptance. So it's natural to get confused sometimes.

I guess I need help from him to keep my vision clear.

"everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, just as he is pure"


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blame the victim!

Even at the time of Jesus, this was an old philosophy. It went back at least as far as the book of Job, which I once heard was the oldest book in the Bible. But that doesn't make it right; it's not humane, and it doesn't explain the world correctly.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
- John 9.1-2
You've said things like this in your heart; so have I. These disciples did it out loud, right in front of the poor guy. Jesus straightens them out: sin's got nothing to do with this man's condition.

Why do we do it? Why do we blame the victim in our hearts, even if we don't say it out loud?

Part of why I blame the victim is that I'd like to believe that what befell him will never happen to me. If I can find a reason he was born blind or is dying from cancer, understand how her financial situation got bad enough she had to file for bankruptcy, figure out why their kids turned out like that (etc), then I can imagine that I can avoid heartache in this world.

But that's hogwash. Sure, we can control our spending, watch our diet, get enough exercise, pray for our kids. But there are no guarantees except for God's presence with us, whatever our circumstances.

And if that's so, then we shouldn't dwell too much on "why"; we shouldn't try to handle our own nervousness by trying to blame the victim. Rather:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
- James 1.27
Compassion for his suffering, rather than pseudo-analysis about why that won't happen to me, is what pleases God and will bring us joy.

So if we find ourselves thinking that someone managed his life incorrectly or whatever, let's stop and ask God what our role should/could be in helping someone. Let's look to him, rather than to cleverly devised schemes, for protection and provision.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The truth will set you free

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
- John 8.31-32

Now that's interesting. Why is John writing about "the Jews"? Aren't most of these people Jews? Jesus, Peter, James, and so on? Isn't this taking place in or around Jerusalem? Well, of course John knew that. I read somewhere (don't make me get up and find it) that John uses this word to mean the religious authorities.

So at this point, Jesus is telling some of the religious leaders -- ones who believed him! -- to hold to his teaching. That's the mark of a disciple... or maybe a prerequisite? Anyway, it's a Good Thing to do. Now what's that mean? Well, I'm thinking "out loud" here, but I think it means to believe, as our pastor said a while back, "that Jesus is smart." That when Jesus says something, I think it's important.

It means at least that, but it also means means more than that. In particular, it means I have to be willing to do what Jesus says. I have to obey him. He knows sometimes it's hard, but I have to give it a try, I have to ask him for help. I can't just give up and say, "Oh, Jesus must have been kidding."

And the benefits he offers -- he's not a despot, but a loving father -- are that truth is within reach! With truth comes freedom... freedom from what? From lies. Lies, especially unacknowledged lies that we believe, have power to keep us in prison. I'll write more on that later, but it suddenly hit me that the "release of captives" includes both physical captivity (as in kidnap victims, like all those women and children around the world forced into various kinds of slavery) but also captivity to lies. Lies like "I'll never amount to anything." Or "I'll never make a difference in the world." Or "God doesn't care about me at all."

Sometimes you think that, don't you? I sometimes do, so I think you might sometimes, too.

But God says something different. He is willing to fill us with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we can live a life worthy of him -- imagine that! -- and please him in every way -- wow! -- and that he'll give us strength to be patient.

Monday, May 15, 2006

David (as in Goliath) the Instigator

David the instigator (1 Samuel 17)

You've probably heard the story, if not all the details: Goliath, this 9-foot Philistine warrior, taunts the Israelites, daring them to appoint a man to face him in one-to-one combat. David the shepherd boy volunteers to go up against him, and nails the giant with a stone to the forehead.

There are a lot of lessons here. David's language shows his faith in God, a faith that everyone else seems to have abandoned. He is not foolhardy, but his eyes are open to the spiritual dimension of the conflict; he sees the objectives and the power of God, not just the size of the enemy. This is a good lesson for me when I'm feeling grouchy about committee meetings at church (only there the enemy is my own laziness and impatience, rather than other people); God wants to accomplish things through these committees. That doesn't mean that I have to join every committee, but I need to remember that these are part of God's plan, God's mission.

David wants to do good, but faces opposition from his own brother. Come to think of it, Jesus faced opposition from his own brothers, too. Have you ever found resistance from other Christians when trying to do something good and worthwhile for the kingdom? We shouldn't be surprised to see some opposition to just about anything we feel God leading us toward. Sometimes, of course, oppoosition comes because we mis-read what the Lord wants to do with us. But sometimes people are grouchy or envious, as was the case with Eliab.

David goes down to the stream and selects five smooth stones. He only uses one, but he takes five. He's not faithless here; he's being prudent. What if the first stone missed? He had plans B, C, D and E in his shepherd's bag.

Something else I noticed here.
David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" ....

He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
- 1 Samuel 17.26, 30-31
David seemed to know how to get a hearing with the boss. So David could not be described as "so heavenly minded that he was no earthly good"! He knew how the system worked, but as we have seen above, he was not a mere politician; he was a practical man of faith. A man with a practical (not just theoretical) faith.

Now that's how I'd like to be remembered. What will I do today to move in that direction?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Better criteria for choosing leaders; a confusing passage

So earlier I mentioned that when you're selecting a king or a leader, there might be better criteria than "How tall is he?" In the following passage, we see Samuel learning about this:
Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord"

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height.... Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

- 1 Samuel 16.7
So it's not necessarily how clever a guy seems, it's not how tall or good-looking he is, but it's something else, something about the man's character that we should look for in a leader.

Is this what we look for in a plumber, a doctor, a carpenter, an engineer, an accountant, an attorney? I guess those things are a mixture. A man of integrity can still write lousy code. You want both ability and integrity. You have to stay in business, besides running the business ethically. But I think the current American practice of completely ignoring character (think Enron, Microsoft, Worldcom) is somewhat out of kilter.

Now as I read through the rest of 1 Samuel chapter 16, I came to this passage:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better."
- 1 Samuel 16.14-16
Now is that weird or what? First, how can there be an evil spirit from the Lord? Then, doesn't that seem unfair, to send something like that to poor old Saul? Then what's with the harp? The whole thing seems a little like magic spells and stuff.

Well, I don't have this all sewn up, but I do have a couple of thoughts.
  • About the harp and the evil spirit (some translations say an "unclean" spirit): from passages like this I get the impression that a lot of knowledge ("lore" if you prefer) has been lost over the centuries.

    Now don't look at me cockeyed - it's not so far-fetched. Within our lifetimes technological knowhedge has simply disappeared. Where did I read about this -- some huge guns on the USS Iowa (iirc), built maybe 50 years ago, cannot be repaired or replaced today. Or violin-making: Stradivarius did things that we can't do today.

    So when the Philistine lords are told, "if the cart goes to Israel, we'll know that this disaster is from the Lord", I don't think those guys were just making stuff up. Not that everything these guys said was true; the Scriptures give us lots of cases where people made stuff up, and sure enough it turned out to be wrong. But the Bible seems to take for granted that spiritual phenomena can be discerned by humans.

    It may seem strange to think that a computer professional believes some of these things, but, well, what's the alternative? A long time ago I just discarded the Bible entirely, and that didn't get me very far along the path to righteousness.

  • About God's sending an evil spirit to Saul: I don't fully get that. It's like those passages about how "God hardened Pharoah's heart." Or when Isaiah is sent to "[m]ake the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes" (Isaiah 6.10).

    What bothers me about passages like this is that it seems unfair. Pharoah is made stubborn, then punished for his stubborn refusal to let the children of Israel go. And when Isaiah preaches and people's hearts become calloused etc., won't people suffer for having calloused hearts, dull ears, blind eyes, etc.?

    So one important thing that I have to remember when thinking about these things is that God is not unfair. I'm not sure how many times it says this in the Bible, but right off the top of my head I remember Hebrews 6.something "God is not unjust", and there's a verse somewhere in Romans that says, "for there is no partiality with God." So I need to remember that.

    Second, considering the life of Saul, in 1 Samuel 15.23 it says "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king." So the Lord has already rejected Saul as king by this point in the story. Could it be that when the evil spirit is sent to Saul in 1 Samuel 16.14, that this is part of God's judgment?

    That's just a possibility, and it may not even be the right one. But even if it isn't, the Bible does say clearly that God is fair and just and full of compassion, grace and mercy besides. So whatever the explanation for these things is, it's not that God is unfair.

    By the way, I think the reason some of these things are so hard to understand is that we cannot understand ourselves. I'm not sure, but this may be related to Gödel's incompleteness theorem (about which more later).
Thassit for tonight.

Russian Ridge

Yesterday the lovely Carol and I went for a hike at Russian Ridge. All the directions tell you to go up Page Mill Road, but in our view, it's better, especially if you're coming from Redwood City, Woodside, or points "north", to take Woodside Road (CA 84) "west" (toward La Honda and San Gregorio), then turn left onto Skyline. This drive is a lot easier on the stomach. You can park at a vista point near Cloud's Rest (it'll be on your left) and hike from there if you like.

But we went up Page Mill, arriving at Skyline at about 10:30. The parking lot was full, and just after we parked on the shoulder of Alpine Road, a couple of cars left the lot. We took the ridge trail, which gave us some great views (here are 4 views, taken left to right, which might best be viewed in a new window: 1 2 3 4)

And here are some gorgeous flowers we saw, I think on the way to the Ancient Oaks trail (a detour well worth the extra short walk). Unfortunately the photo's a little overexposed so the highlights are washed out.

wildflowers, purple and yellow

(Clicking on it will lead you to the full-sized image.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

the words of Sheri (and her friend)

(insert words from Wordsworth's "Daffodil")

Daffodil, by Sheri and her friend Michele
with apologies to William Wordsworth. (Except he's dead)
Copyright © 2006
All rights reserved

We wandr'd social as the birds
That fly so high o'er vales and hills
When all at once we saw just one
A single tiny daffodil
Far from the lake, far from the trees
Swaying and sighing in the breeze

All alone, just like the moon
That twinkles in the nighttime sky
It stood alone without a friend
Would it survive the long stormy nigh?
It stood there like a single chopstick
Unnoticed, it was stepped on and kicked.

And oft, when on the couch I lie
In vacant or a pensive mood
It flashes upon that inward eye
Which is the pain of solitude
And then my heart with sadness fills
And withers with the daffodil.

Want more like this? Post a comment. -Sheri

Smarter than the average temple guard?

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.... Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"
"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.

(At this point I always wish the Pharisees replied, "Oh, the crowd, the guards... maybe they're right and we've been wrong!" But no matter how many times I read it, these clowns always say the same thing.)
"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law--there is a curse on them."
John 7.32, 45-49

These guys are really something. They think they're smarter than the average temple guard, the average person. They think they're right and everybody else is wrong. They're not entirely without reason in thinking this -- they later manipulate Pilate into crucifying Jesus (and the crowd into asking for that) so they do have some skills -- but their arrogance, their hubris, is an error I want to avoid. And sometimes I'm even successful.

Not that I usually assume I'm wrong, but I hope I don't often think I'm the only one who sees things correctly, when everyone else has an opinion at variance with mine.

Which probably means I'm not all that smart, but that's OK if it also means I'm not as wrong as the Pharisees were in this case.

Friday, May 12, 2006

God isn't just like us...

"Do not be afraid," Samuel replied. "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart."
- 1 Samuel 12.20

What is this passage saying to us? Having done "all this evil," why might the people of Israel turn away from the Lord?

Here's my take on it: They thought of the Lord as being just like them. If a servant had betrayed his master, what master would want him back?

But the Lord is not like that. A few hundred years later, Isaiah will urge the people of Israel to return to the Lord to receive mercy "and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord, neither are your ways my ways."

Sometimes we think God is just like us, hoping that he has the same faults and will wink at evil. Other times we fear he is just like us, and will reject us when he finds us out.

But both views are wrong. And that's actually good news.

(mostly written 5/12; actually posted 5/13)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Taller Is Better?? An unbiased perspective

"[A]s he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others."
- 1 Samuel 10.23

What qualifies a man to be king of Israel? Of course he must be chosen by God, but the thing that impresses everybody about Saul is his height. Does a tall man lead more effectively than a short man? Napoleon Bonaparte's men didn't think so.

So there was a bias at that time in favor of tall men as leaders; American presidential elections show the same bias. To be sure, some tall men turn out to be great leaders, but Saul's case turns out poorly, as we'll see in the coming days.

Have you ever met someone and formed a snap judgment about him? Sure you have; so have I. Are your judgments always correct? Saying "yes" suggests that your perceptions of the guy were forever colored by your initial impressions.

In a few weeks, we'll see some better criteria for evaluating leaders.

(mostly written 5/11; posted 5/13)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Speaking of resignation...

... the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. "We're in trouble! .... Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert.
1 Samuel 4.7-8
What did these Philistines do right after this? Any guesses? Did they run and hide?

Nope. They encouraged each other, "Be strong, Philistines! .... Be men, and fight!" (1 Samuel 4.9)

They beat the tar out of the Israelites, proving (so they thought) that the Ark of the Covenant was just like one of their gods -- it didn't really protect the Israelites from military defeat.

So they took it home -- a Really Bad Idea because wherever the Ark went in Philistia there was trouble. Their god (a statue of Dagon) was trashed. The people were afflicted with tumors.

So I see two, maybe three things here.

First, in contrast to Eli, who supposedly knew the Lord, these Philistines didn't just give up when they thought they were in trouble; they strengthened themselves and went for the gusto. I think the Philistines had the exemplary behavior whereas Eli contented himself with just sounding pious.

Second, the Israelites put too much faith in religion and not enough in the Lord himself. What does he say, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" and "what does the Lord require of you but that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God"? Eli's sons were corrupt and unrepentant; in the face of that, religious objects were meaningless.

Third, the Lord wanted the Philistines to understand that his Ark was not like one of their dumb gods, to be carried here and there and placed in some other god's temple. He wanted them to understand that He was in a different category even from their gods, and used the Ark to show it.

So how about me? Unless I change my heart, any amount of pious behavior is valueless. And if I think the Lord is comparable to the minor gods (or what should be minor gods) in my life, like money and toys and job satisfaction, then I'm asking for trouble.

May the Lord help us to take the next step in His direction, to make our paths a little less crooked.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Passive or Proactive?

1 Samuel 3.14, 18
Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, "The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering."
Then Eli said, "He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes."
Eli is a strange character. I don't much like him, because I resemble him too much in his passivity.

Eli's sons were corrupt priests. Eli didn't do anything about their evil deeds (or character) except whine at them. And when God tells him that Bad Stuff is going to happen, Eli continues on his course of doing absolutely nothing. His resignation sounds pious, but his inaction shows his apathy -- or unbelief.

Just about everybody else I can think of responds more intelligently to these decrees than Eli does (the Pharoah of Egypt in Moses's time being one notable exception): Abimelech in Genesis 20, Ahab in 1 Kings 21.27, the Ninevites in Jonah 3. When these people hear disaster is about to happen, they pay attention and try to change God's mind. And in these cases at least, they succeed! I can only think of one place where this failed (King David, 2 Samuel 12). So the percentage is with repenting and trying to change God's mind. Even the Ninevites, those enemies of Israel, succeeded!

So what about you and me? What are we in denial about? Cholesterol and a sedentary life? The cost of college? Global warming? Neglecting the poor? Financing retirement? And what are we going to do?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

And that really bothers me...

So what does it mean to be a friend of the world? Does it mean you can't be rich?

Look, Abraham was rich. Job was rich.

But the fact that I'm even asking that question shows how far my heart is from the heart of God. I'm looking for a formula, an action plan. I want something I can execute and still be all right, but God is looking for transformation. He wants a relationship. He doesn't need tasks executed -- he could do that himself.

All these things my hand has made and so all these things are mine, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: to him who is humble and contrite in heart, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Is that a verse, or did I conflate two or more of them?)

Gaaa, even when I think I memorize a verse, what it says still surprises me.

Transformation, not tasks; relationship, not ritual. Come to think of it, that's what the lovely Carol wants from me too.

Me, an enemy of God?

Yeah, we talked about this today in Sunday school. It is a hard teaching to hear and an even harder one to deliver. The consequence, i.e., that we rarely hear about it, is tragic. But here it is:

Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God - from James 4.4 (NIV)

Earlier in his letter, James tells us that God wants us "to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (1.27)

Reading verses like this makes the monastic movement easier to understand. And yet I don't believe withdrawing from the world completely is necessarily a good thing either. God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and in John 17 Jesus prays for us, not that God would take us out of the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one (17.14).

I told Sheri (15) about this as we were driving, and she asked me what that meant. What we heard in class is that we need to re-order our loves. Is it OK to enjoy doing a good job? To enjoy having a good job? To enjoy making a good living?

Probably, but these should come after loving what God loves.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another paradox

Some folks at the office have (very) young children, and I've remarked that raising those kids is one of the most important enterprises we can be involved in.

I really believe that.

But we're not in control, except for a very brief time near the beginning, when they're dependent on us for everything. Even then, though, we can't control when they sleep or when they smile. We can't control their values.

I was reading about Manoah (Judges 13) the other day and I was impressed by the guy. You don't remember who Manoah was? Samson's father.

You probably remember that Samson's character left something to be desired. He was violent and impulsive. God's laws didn't seem to mean much to him. So where did his parents go wrong?

I haven't been able to figure it out. The guy seemed to be the opposite of his father. The text doesn't tell us about any massive parenting failures; rather, we learn
  1. When the angel meets his mother, she believes him (13.6)
  2. Manoah believes his wife, and he prays for instructions so they can be equipped for their mission (13.8)
  3. The text doesn't give us any hint that they failed to follow the angel's instructions
So whereas Manoah respects his wife (if I have this right, the testimony of a woman wasn't admissible in a court in those days), Samson seems to treat women as objects (14.2, 16.1). In many ways, Samson is a study in unfulfilled potential.

So what happened? I sure don't know.

I was telling someone about our children. I am really very proud of them, and I wish I could take more credit for how they're turning out. But I can't take much! Yeah, we did some things right. We pray for them. We love them and do our best to raise them well. But other people do some things right, pray for their children, love them and do their best to raise them well too -- but some of them get drastically different results.

As our friend Pete says, we cannot raise Christian children; we can only be Christian parents.

Some years ago, I discovered something very important: the things in life that matter most to us are not within our control. The corollary is that the things we can control aren't the things that really matter.

United, outsourced

The lovely Carol was trying last night to book flights to Santa Fe so she and Jenny could visit St John's College. She tried using a few websites, and then some idiot wondered out loud whether we had enough United miles to get free flights for them. Well, that started a treadmill.

They wanted to get there by 2pm Monday, then stay til 4pm on Tuesday. Eventually she found an itinerary that would do that by arriving about 4pm Sunday. Free flight, too! But she only had enough miles for one ticket.

I, however (the aforementioned idiot), had enough miles to cover another ticket, so I tried to get tickets for the same itinerary. Things were looking good, so she hit PURCHASE and got her ticket. I hit PURCHASE for Jenny's ticket and... Sorry, we just sold out. Gaaaaa! I opened another browser window and tried to PAY for a ticket on the same itinerary. No joy.

So the lovely Carol got on the phone and started fighting with United's automated voice denial-of-service system. She got frustrated with it and eventually got a real person. Unfortunately she couldn't understand him. Then her phone ran out of juice and powered itself off.

I got onto the landline and called 1-800-8648331 or whatever it was. The website says "800-UNITED1" but the buttons on my phone don't have digits. Why don't they put numbers on the website? I mean, it looks cute to have your name as the number, but at least some of us want NUMBERS too. It's the windows attitude: 90% of people have letters AND numbers, so who cares about the remaining 10%?

OK, where was I? Right, I pressed 3 for domestic reservations and immediately started saying "I want to talk to a real person". I said it 3 times and then it said, "Domestic or international?" I said domestic and got a person. Hooray!

The agent I talked to understood me right away, and informed me that we would have to change the outbound routing. Get on at San Jose 7am, off at Albequerque 3:45pm or something like this. OK, I said, let's... hello?

We got cut off somehow. Since they have ANI, I hoped they might call me back, but after 5-10 minutes I figured it wouldn't happen. I repeated the procedure and got an agent who spoke a little more slowly (she was evidently new on the job). I am sure that all these people at the call center were in India.

It took quite a while, maybe half an hour, during which I heard the itinerary in detail (flight 9876, departing San Jose at x minutes past y in the morning, arriving at HUB x minutes past y in the afternoon, operated by united express/skywest; then flight 5432, departing HUB at x minutes past y in the afternoon, arriving at Albequerque x minutes past y in the evening... and so on for the return) at least three times. I heard the conditions (not transferable; changes incur $100 fee; but if you call us within 24 hours you can get a refund) at least twice.

We did get a ticket on the original itinerary (11am-4pm, much better than 7am-3:45pm). It cost about $525.

I have a mixed reaction to the experience. I thought about these poor people, for whom a call center is a dream job, struggling to understand foreigners half a world away, facing their impatience and wrath, trying their best to improve life for themselves and their families. I thought about the hundreds of my fellow Americans who had jobs at call centers, but have them no longer.

And how about the customers? How much more would they be willing to pay, per ticket, to talk to someone they could communicate with more easily?

And the shareholders? United spent how many months in bankruptcy proceedings?

It sure is a complicated world.