Monday, December 31, 2007

LaTeX for a resumé

So my buddy Amanda asked me if I knew how to use LaTeX. Having written a paper using it, I gamely claimed that I did. So she asked for help making a resumé using LaTeX.

So, having written a paper... I decided that Google was my friend and took a look at the first few links it gave me:
I just love this about the web -- people sharing their experiences, making their knowledge freely available to anybody with an internet connection (including however many OLPC kids).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who am I most interested in? Who is the Lord most interested in?

hurmpf; turns out I had already written an essay for 12/27 -- a few weeks ago -- and stuck it here (dated last year). But I didn't update my other page so I thought I still had a 12/27 gap. Getting older... anyway, here's what I wrote this morning

spare essay for 12/27—also from Psalm 146

At this time of year we remember the story of a pregnant teenager and her fiancé—not the father of her baby by the way. An oppressive government decreed that they must travel a long ways, and when they arrive in Bethlehem -- talk about rotten timing -- she has the baby and lays him down in a feeding trough (a manger). Nearby shepherds are told of this event; they find Mary and Joseph and the baby, and they are the first humans to spread the good news of Jesus.

In this story, angels appear to a teenage girl and to shepherds. I read somewhere that in those days, neither women nor shepherds were considered credible witnesses in a court of law. Do you get the impression that God is especially fond of low-status people? Hundreds of years earlier, this psalmist certainly had that impression:
He [the Lord] upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
Psalm 146:7-9
Who does the Lord seem to favor in this passage?
  • the oppressed
  • the hungry
  • prisoners
  • the blind
  • the oppressed
  • the righteous
  • the alien
  • the fatherless
  • the widow
And who today do we favor? Who do we celebrate? The headlines talk about the rich and famous; we don't read much about people at the lower end of the status scale. That's almost tautological.

More personally, who would I like to be seen with or noticed by? Who do I seek out?

Something nice about this time of year is that many of us do think about the poor and oppressed, and serve them in some way or another. This is a good thing. It would be even better if I thought about them and served them more all year long, but what I've got today is today.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church Programs!

Not "computer programs" or "television programs" -- but like and unlike them....

Programs are unavoidable I guess, but something interesting from this book, Reveal, by Hawkins and Parkinson, is a list of questions.

Questions? Yeah.

Something we always ask -- because we're Americans? -- is "How many?" In business, how many units sold, how many employees, how much income per employee, how much profit, how many inventory turns, etc. Something that ministers and missionaries ask is, "How many?" How many came to this or that event, how many are now doing this or that activity (or practice, or spiritual discipline), how many are donating (and how much)? The Reveal book suggests a few more questions, to be asked in various contexts:
  • How is your relationship with God? (A friend used to ask, "Are you encouraged in your walk with the Lord?" Another one would sometimes ask me, "How is it with the Lord?" Unfortunately the latter is no longer interested in the Lord, which fact makes me very sad.)
  • What is helping you to grow spiritually these days?
  • What ministry is making a difference in your life? How?
  • What could the church do differently that would help you grow more?
  • How does (this or that program) help someone grow?
These are all great questions, especially that last one. One of our pastors was talking with our old adult fellowship class (that's "old class" -- it's gone now -- rather than "old adults" -- we are not really that old). She drew a chart, with stages of spiritual growth going across and various areas -- it wasn't "the Word; Prayer; Fellowship; Witnessing" but something analogous -- going down. And the question was, where do our various programs fit on this chart? What parts of the chart have a thousand points of light, and which parts are kinda dark?

The book has a different take on that chart; it's more like this:
Impact of programs on people at various stages of growth
Men's Bible Study high high med. low
worship services high high high high

This seems like a real interesting way to think about these programs, and of course you can put more than hi/med/lo in the cells.

My next question, which is really for me more than for you, is, Given my opportunity to teach how and why to read/study the Bible: which stage of growth am I aiming at, what impact on growth of people at various stages of growth, and how will all that happen?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas, according to Buechner

Well, I was excited by Büchner's sermon on Emmanuel, and wanted to tell you about it. Then as I wrote, something came to me about what happened in my life (including my emotional life) just today. Perhaps I'll clean this up later; it's by far not my best writing....

This bit is from his Secrets in the Dark, a marvelous book of which I can only read maybe one chapter at a time.
Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell, which is Hebrew for "God with us." Who is this God? How is he with us? That's where the problem lies....

...[T]he answer to the second question... is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself....

...We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true. Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find. Christmas is commercialism. It is a pain in the neck. It is sentimentality. It is wishful thinking. With its account of the shepherds, the star, the three wise men, it smacks of a make-believe pathetically out of place in a world of energy and crisis and space exploration and economic malaise. Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound, because whereas to dismiss belief in God is to dismiss only an idea, a hypothesis, for which there are many alternatives (such as belief in no god at all or in any of the lesser gods we are always creating for ourselves like science or morality or the inevitability of human progress), to dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves.

For one thing it is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood andof the child who continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million... "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," the old hymn goes, and there was a time for most of us when it did.
excerpted from Secrets in the Dark, pp. 90-95
Buechner is hardly a romantic, starry-eyed or otherwise; he has what seems to me an unusually clear eye for what Christmas has to a large extent become.

He also remembers -- and brings to my remembrance -- the "sense of mystery and wonderment," as he says.

And he also points out that Christmas, "God with us," is every bit as objectionable to the unbeliever as Easter or Good Friday:
"We preach Christ crucified," the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). He could as well have written, "We preach Christ born" or "We preach Christmas," because the birth presents no fewer problems than the death does....
ibid., p. 90
I used to be fond of pointing out that Mark and John don't even talk about Christmas, and that Matthew and Luke hardly bother to mention the same events in the Christmas story. But the key point that they agree on, and that both the apostle Paul and the Apostles' Creed confirm, is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin.

We (the lovely Carol, and I) were talking with our north site pastor, who mentioned that the Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is just unbelievable to some people -- as it was to me for some years. But as Buechner points out, Christmas is no less astonishing.

What does all this mean to me?

One thing comes to mind, and I just put this together as I was writing this: Anything can happen! Tuesday, I got a rejection letter for a paper I submitted to a conference. This would have been an opportunity to tell other people about some great work we've done at Network Appliance in the area of software quality. But today, two days later, our pastor asked me if I'd like to teach a three-to-six week series on how to study the Bible.

Would I ever! What's more exciting, more meaningful, more important -- software quality, or "why and how to read the Bible"? (Ah, that was a rhetorical question.)

These days I have been singing, "He hath opened heaven's door / And man is blessed evermore" -- and "Now ye need not fear the grave / Jesus Christ was born to save."

Really, the good news (not just the offense) of Christ is here at Christmas, isn't it? Ha -- where is "good news" first mentioned in New Testament times? Is it not in Luke 2, "I bring you good news of great joy... to you is born in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord"?

And what came to me just now was this, from "O Little Town of Bethlehem":
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
Amen, in Jesus’ name.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Confronted by a "Moonie"

Somehow I managed to forget that I'd already written about this; following is today's revision, which will not go into my daily commentary site
When I was still quite young in the faith, a "Moonie" tried to persuade me that Sun Myung Moon might be Jesus Christ returned to earth, as his Unification Church taught, rather than the criminal leader of a corrupt cult.

The cult member read to me from Revelation chapter 12, which is in today's New Testament reading:
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.... The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
Revelation 12:1-4
He said this showed that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, it will (or may) be that he would be born of a woman.

This did not sound right to me, mainly because of passages that say otherwise (like Matthew 24:26-27 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16). It wasn't until a few days later that I saw why even this passage itself shows it can't be interpreted that way. A friend of mine made this simple statement: "If the woman is real (rather than metaphorical), then the dragon must also be real." Put differently, if the dragon isn't real, neither is the woman.

That is a very simple principle of interpretation that helped me confidently refute the cult regarding this passage. I'm not sure I could prove this, but I'd guess that some large portion of biblical misinterpretations could be traced to something just about this simple.

Something more interesting

Now here is something a little more uplifting. A few verses down, we see this:
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11
This feels uplifting, though I couldn't tell you exactly what I plan to do about it. The key thing I get from this is that Christ's sacrifice on the cross (i.e., the blood of the lamb) plus my willingness to talk about my experience with him -- probably about how I have found him true and good -- along with courage, enables us to overcome the evil one, just as we're promised elsewhere (1 John 4:4,5:4-5 for example).

Of course this kind of courage does not come naturally to people like (you and) me; we need help from the Holy Spirit. And I'm glad that the Holy Spirit is ready to fill us as we call out to God in our time of need (as Hebrews 4 tells us).

Okay, having written this, I think I now know what I'll do about this passage: live confidently! The dragon is not defeated by works of great power (which I can't do anyway); rather, it's defeated by simply telling the truth about the goodness and mercy of Jesus, what I have seen him do.

Wow & Ouch!

Over 30 years ago, a terse 2-sentence memo came from the Chairman of the Board to my former employer's computer division (back then, there was only one):
      I have seen some of our Model ____ literature.

      I hope you will impress upon all hands that in the future we are not to say we can do something unless we have demonstrated that we actually can do what we say we can do.

On the copy I saw, someone had hand-written: "WOW & OUCH!"

That's the phrase that came to mind when I saw this scathing indictment of the previous century:
We live in a dishearening century—“the worst so far,” as someone has said. There have never before been wars so destructive as the series of conflicts that erupted in 1914; never have tyrannies been so frenzied and all-consuming as those established by Nazism and communism. All great political causes have failed. Socialism has eventuated in the rule either of privileged ideological bureaucrats or of comfortable, listless masses; liberal reform in America has at least for a time passed away, leaving stubborn injustices and widespread cynicism; conservatism has come to stand for an illogical combination of market economics and truculent nationalism. Most of the human race lives in crushing poverty, and the privileged minority in societies where industrial abundance undergirds a preoccupation with material comfort and an atmosphere of spiritual inanity.
Glenn Tinder, "Can We Be Good Without God?"
The Atlantic 264:6 (December 1989); p. 85
Did I just hear you say, "wow and ouch" too? Eighteen years later, is there any indication that our century will be any better than the last? Evil idiots like Osama bin Ladin, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Kim Ill-something in North Korea, interacting with naive fools like Dubya and Rummy, have started the 21st century off with hatred and violence, with who-knows-what to follow....

Now I seem to remember something called the Human Potential movement, who said that progress was inevitable, that we are getting better and smarter and more ethical all the time? Have they at last gone back into the asylums they came from?

Sorry for sounding flip, but there is much to be worried about in the world today, and "Progress!" sounds rather like a bad joke. The world needs something better than Human Potential today -- haven't we seen enough of what humans are capable of?

We seriously need help from God -- and when I read words like "preoccupation with material comfort and an atmosphere of spiritual inanity" then, well, I have to include myself in the group of needy ones.
From subtle love of softening things, from easy choices, weakenings—
Not thus are spirits fortified; not this way went the Crucified!
From all that dims thy Calvary, O Lamb of God deliver me.
Let me not sink to be a clod.
Make me thy fuel, Flame of God.
(Who wrote that? -- ah, it was Amy Carmichael)

Monday, December 03, 2007

A visit to Bangalore

I went to Bangalore on business, leaving Monday and returning six days later.


A visa is required for US citizens to visit India; this process takes a few weeks. Since this was a business trip, my employer not only paid the fees, but arranged with Peninsula Visa Service to do the necessary.

"They" recommend visiting a travel clinic or something like this, at least two weeks before leaving. It sometimes takes a while to get an appointment. There you may get typhoid, polio, and maybe a tetanus vaccination. For malaria you have a choice of pills.

Travel outbound

It took about 24 hours to get there -- departure 4pm from SFO, arrival about 11am at LHR (Heathrow), a 3-hour layover then another 10-hour flight, arriving after 5am in Bangalore. Bangalore is on Indian Standard Time (IST), 5:30 ahead of GMT and thus 13:30 ahead of PST. That is, 4pm 11/27 in California is 5:30am 11/28 in India. British Airways was pretty nice; there was enough food and the service was fine, particularly on the lighter-loaded first leg of the trip. Both airplanes were Boeing 747-400 aircraft (BA fit them with Rolls-Royce engines so if you have a mechanical issue on a BA engine, there are parts-delivery challenges). Seating is 3-4-3; if you want to stow stuff under the seat in front of you, aisle seats C/H are better than aisle seats D/G; the electronics for the entertainment system take up some space. Reliability of the VOD system leaves something to be desired, but the broadcast stuff is OK. Much of the material is unsuitable for children (sex, drugs, and violence).

Baggage claim in Bangalore took quite a while. The belts (not carousel) cause an interesting flow of bags, with frequent jam-ups. The number of people on a B747-400 may have simply overwhelmed the system, too.


We stayed at the Leela Palace, a 5-star hotel that deserves that rating. I was told that it was a Big Hotel and impersonal, but when I entered the breakfast room I was greeted with a smile and the information that "they're outside" -- "they" being my two colleagues. I guess it was unusual for them to see a short Asian-looking American-accented male in jeans traveling with two more-obviously American women.


...are astonishing to western eyes. They are still developing. Yes, cows can be seen, particularly in town. I don't recall seeing crosswalks; pedestrians cross anywhere. I saw five vehicles abreast on a nominally two-lane road (alternately, the lane widths are variable depending on the amount and type of traffic); in either case, the painted lane markers are meaningless, except on the highway. Here, for example, is a nominally two-lane road:

The driving style is very cooperative, or if you prefer, Defensive (no, DEFENSIVE!); you have to constantly watch out for the other guy, who may be an auto-rickshaw cutting across 4 lanes of traffic without notice to pick up a fare. Horns are used often. Oh, and in heavy traffic situations, the oncoming lanes are sometimes treated as additional lanes in the forward direction when clear. Yes, I have personally experienced this; no, I was not driving. I couldn't drive there.

On the Hyderabad highway, where the lane markings did seem to mean something (at least when there's not much traffic), I was surprised to see traffic in all lanes suddenly coming to a near-stop. Speed-bumps! Apparently, traffic entering the highway from a side-road was frequently colliding with through traffic, so they slowed down the through traffic with these bumps.

And with all those small gasoline engines, air pollution is quite high also. Speaking of air pollution, at least our office has a backup generator to handle the frequent power outages. One of my colleagues mentioned that it used to rain a lot more than it does now. Can you say "climate change"?


The roads, which were rather in poor condition, are emblematic of the state of infrastructure. Cell-phones are everywhere, and private investment has brought thoroughly modern IT to Bangalore, but power failures are frequent (can you imagine 27 in a single day?) and you can't drink the water.


The time difference makes it feel like Bangalore is truly isolated. It's not just the distance, but the timezone difference, because it takes a lot to get someone on the phone. That's all I'm going to say here about that.


I'm not used to bargaining with shopkeepers; I just scowl and hope they'll drop their price. I got carried away when I saw some item that, well, I really wanted Carol to have. It's a surprise. No, I won't tell you what it is.

Team-building activity

We went to Club Cabana -- the analog of Raging Waters (I guess; I've never been there) for a day of team-building stuff. We drove out of the city at about 8:00am, arriving there just before 9:00, and enjoyed an Indian breakfast, some foosball, pool, bowling, games (getting-to-know you stuff, charades), then lunch, then some water play. Good times all around. I ate too much. Our trip back into town took about two hours. We had hired a minivan (driver + 6 passengers), and all the seat belts were functional in this vehicle!

Return trip

For British Airways, you have to check-in online within 24 hours of departure -- either that or take your chances with seat assignments once you arrive at the airport. I definitely recommend the former.

At Bangalore, they look at your passport and your printed itinerary, which you'd best have in hand if you don't have a boarding pass. Then they scan your checked bags. A friendly fellow offers to wrap your bags in shrinkwrap (INR150 apiece, about $4; I passed).

A nice lady in a BA uniform asked if I'd checked in online (yes) and directed me to the "fast bag drop," where my bags were taken. The man behind the counter also printed boarding passes for me. Then up the escalator to security: keep your shoes on and your laptop in its bag. Liquids? Is there a rule about liquids? Someone patted me down and I joined the herd in the (apparently) non-smoking section of the waiting "pen".

We had theoretically a 70-minute connection (arrive 12:15; gate closes at connecting flight 13:25), but because of ATC delays, we were circling east of London for 20-30 minutes. I made my way to the bus for terminals 1 and 2 -- no problem so far -- then through security (they invited me to the fast-track lane in view of the time) and I arrived in the terminal 1 gate area about 1:15pm. Unfortunately I had no idea where my gate was. Eventually I figured it out; I was in one of the terminal1 gate areas; I had taken a wrong turn about 5 minutes back! The map threw me off, too.

When I arrived at gate 52, just past the theoretical closing time, I saw a lineup of maybe 100 people, waiting to get on. Needless to say, departure was delayed.

When we landed at SFIA a little over 10 hours later, I wondered if my bags had made it in view of the tight connection. I freshened up a bit (BA provide a toothbrush/toothpaste kit on these long flights) and went through passport control. Astonishingly enough, my bags were already on carousel#7 when I got to baggage claim.

My overall impression

Traveling to Bangalore is rather inconvenient, but it could certainly be a lot worse! Once you get there, the juxtaposition of high-tech IT, ubiquitous cellphones, five-star hotels along with canvas-sided auto-rickshaws, meaningless lane markings, a general lack of curbs and sidewalks, and undrinkable water is surprising. The tradeoffs they've made on motor vehicle and pedestrian safety are much different than what we have today in the United States, but I can remember a time when seat belts were not standard equipment in cars in the U.S.

Bangalore is a fascinating, dynamic city of astonishing contrasts.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What "reserve power" means on a 15" powerbook

Short answer: It means it'll run a 12V/200mA fan for about six hours before quitting.

So my 15" powerbook's battery has been misbehaving -- after charging, it didn't last as long as it used to. I heard from somebody the idea of hooking a fan up to it to give it a deep discharge, so I did that today.

The elder teen asked me, "Why does that work?" Well, I don't know, but I think what it does is convince the computer's charging circuit that when the battery is fully discharged, its output is like this rather than like that. Of course if it never gets fully discharged, then the computer might "think" it's completely outta gas when it actually has a lot more mAH left in it. And what would the harm be in that?
Well, if your battery has a lot more electrons that it can pump through your computer, but the computer says, "Goodness gracious me, the battery is out of electrons!" and refuses to work any more, you might feel a bit peeved. Like if your car refused to start once you got down to ¼ tank of gasoline. So this condition would be Highly Annoying, and if the technique works, it would be a Good Thing.
So here's how I did it: First, I removed the battery from the computer (turn the lock clockwise with a coin) and set it on the table. Here's a picture, proving that I cannot read:

The fine print says there's 10.8 volts DC. Unheeding, I took out a Sharpie® marker and wrote "12V" near the terminals so I'll know next time where to connect the wires:

The wires (red for +, black for –) are connected to a computer cooling fan. You might notice that the wires look a little hinky. I had to try to jam them into the slots that you see there. Eventually they stayed, and the fan ran. For about six hours. Here's a close-up of it. The fan was running when I shot this photo; the camera's flash stopped motion:

I replaced the battery in the computer and plugged the AC adapter in. It's charging now.

Theoretically, the computer will now run well over 3 hours (if I'm not watching a movie or something) on a charge. If not, I'll whine about it here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Prepare for action

How many times after some conversation have I thought to myself, "I wish I had said ____________!" Or "Next time I'm going to remember tell him ___________!"

And when I think that, am I wishing I had given some word of encouragement from the Lord? Am I thinking about a testimony of God's faithfulness or mercy that I want to tell them about next time?

Well... sometimes. I hope it's true more often as I get older, that my mind is more often focused on how to bless others, to bear witness to the Lord's goodness, to speak words from him, in keeping with today's New Testament reading:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13
Yesterday's reading tells us that angels long to look into the salvation that we have. Certainly we can rejoice in that, but that's not the whole point. Rather than just sitting on our laurels, Peter tells us here to "prepare our minds for action."

What might that look like? I'm not sure, but here are a few ideas that come to mind:
  • Let my mind dwell on whatever is true, noble, excellent, etc. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Pray and give thanks all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, Colossians 4:2-3, etc.)
  • Meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 119:11, Joshua 1:8, etc.)
Of course, those things aren't easy, but at least they're concrete.

Sound like a good idea? I'll give it a try.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This isn't for sissies

Today's New Testament reading is not for the faint of heart. Here's an excerpt:
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.
James 5:7-8
So I used to think that a lot of these passages were so many commands and exhortations stuck together in some random sort of order. Which this one is most certainly not. One clue is in its first three words: "Be patient, then, ...." If that's the "then," what's the "since"? Well, that's the tough part.

Verses 1-6 talk about how the rich are headed for trouble -- big trouble. He's talking to those who have become rich through oppression and injustice, and telling them that misery and retribution are coming their way: "weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you."

And that's why we should be patient; judgment is coming to the oppressors. A couple of things come to mind:
  • The rich have been oppressing the church, according to James chapter 2.
  • Some rejoice at the thought of judgment:
    ...let them sing before the Lord
    for he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.
    Psalm 98:9

So we can sing and rejoice because the Lord is coming to judge the earth, but that doesn't mean it's OK to gloat; as James says in the next verse, "Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9)

This is of a piece with what Paul says in Galatians 6: "Brothers, if one of you is caught in any sin, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, 'cause it could have been you."

It could have been you. Or me. Patience, then. And humility.

written 11/18

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It works!

My parents came in last night, and we had some nice visiting time. Took the day off today, and my dad had a device for the porch light: a photocell-controlled switch. Had to remove the fixture from the wall (I started by disassembling the fixture but that was a "D'oh!"); it was a few parts -- 470KΩ resistor, CdS photocell, triac, maybe one more -- after assembling it (including bolting the heat-sink to the fixture), made a quick check with the multimeter, then hooked it up. Success! Well, when we had the photocell pointed correctly it was successful, anyway. Some adjustment will be needed.

Next up was the dryer timer. I bought it a week and a half ago so it was just a matter of installing it. Unscrewed two screws to get the front panel disconnected from the top of the dryer, then a bunch of hex-head screws (¼" nutdrivers). The new timer was an exact match for the old one, thank goodness. (It can be a real pain if it's not.) I transferred the wires one at a time (the terminals were evan all labeled the same!), put everything back together, and plugged it in. I set the dryer timer for 10 minutes on air-fluff, and 5 minutes later, it had definitely moved.

A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul!

Mom and Dad took us out for dinner -- Su Hong. The food was terrific as usual.

Well, that was a great day off. Tomorrow it's back to work, and then we'll give thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Faith that works? Faith vs works?

It was Luther I think who said we are saved “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” That was a reaction to some practices and doctrines of the Catholic (in both senses) church of his day, and a key tenet that distinguishes our faith from other religions.

But Luther's statement seems at odds with this passage from today's New Testament reading:
18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.

James 2:18-19
Two points stand out to me here. In my typical fashion, let me start at the back of this passage, in verse 19.

James may be caricaturing the kind of faith that doesn't commit to anything but only affirms propositional truth. The Jews often recite the "Shema" from Deuteronomy 6, which begins like this:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5
I'm going to guess James was saying, "It's not enough to recite the ‘Shema’ you have to do the acts faith requires."

The second point is something I got from Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What, which says that becoming a Christian, that is deciding to follow Jesus, is more like getting married than joining an organization. Following that analogy, what would it be like if I told the lovely Carol I love her, but ignored her except when I wanted something? I might say I want a relationship with her, but if I don't listen when she talks to me, if I don't tell her what's on my mind, etc. what kind of relationship would that be? In what sense could it be said that I love her? I could even agree with certain truths about her -- that she's educated, spiritual, compassionate for example (which she is, and she is also cute and fine) -- but if that agreement, that belief, that assent (to those truths) isn't accompanied by deeds reflecting my love for her, then there's not much of a relationship there.

Our marriage is held together by love and commitment, not by some checklist of deeds. But what kind of love produces no visible signs? What kind of commitment?

So I agree with Luther that we're saved by grace alone through faith alone, and I also agree with James that without deeds, there can't be much faith. Of course it's not as simple as all that (you can be sure that Luther was smarter than I am) but this works for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

two ears, one mouth

I heard somewhere that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen more than we speak. That's not exactly in the Bible, but this is:
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
James 1:19-20
Have you ever noticed someone not really listening to you, but rather waiting for their turn to speak? Or have you ever been "listening" to someone, but actually formulating what you were going to say next, or wishing they would finish so you could get your turn?

For me it's yes on both counts. I can't do much about the first one, but I can about the second. It's not easy, though!

There's that prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, which includes this:
O, Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek ... to be understood as to understand...
Of course he prayed that because he needed help from the Lord; it's not an easy thing. If it were easy, why pray it -- and why would it resonate so much with us centuries later?

So then, to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, as James says -- this is a good thing, but we need help -- which calls for prayer. Besides praying, we can also try to be aware. (We can pray for help in that, too: "Lord, help me to be aware of it when I'm not really listening." He is delighted to help with that!) And suppose I do become aware of when I'm not really listening... what then? I've got to surrender my desire to be understood. I've got to crucify the demand that others listen to me. I've got to become less selfish, in other words.

Yow -- yet more prayer needed for that one! Fortunately, what's impossible for a man is no problem for our Lord.

Sweet hour of prayer

So after dinner, Carol asked me to play the piano while she worked on the dishes. After a couple dozen songs, mostly hymns (which I played one-handed 'cause I really cannot sight-read) I came upon this one. The 2nd verse in our book (the 3rd one here) is:
Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!
Reading those words, I was, as they say, convicted. I don't pray as much as I "want to" or should. Because after spending some time in prayer, I often say, "Why didn't I do that earlier?"

I think it's because I'm just too silly most of the time.

joy day

I was looking for my long lost Apple® iPod Shuffle this morning, and I found it in my briefcase. This was a great relief because I'm going to India in a few weeks, and there will be two 12-hour flights. So the day was off to a good start.

The younger teen and I drove to our church's north campus. I had an assignment to fill in for someone in the "connections center" who called in sick. We heard a great sermon, then I stood behind the table at the connections center....

"Is there anything here about the Guatemala missions trip?" someone asked. I knew I'd seen something like that...

"Ah-HA!" I cried, pouncing upon the stack of information sheets. "When somebody asks something and I actually know the answer, well, I tell ya, that's a good day," I said. We had a nice if brief chat.

A familiar face appeared. John, our senior pastor, was traveling almost-incognito. Well, he didn't have a mask or anything, but he wasn't wearing a tie -- not even long sleeves.

"Are you new here?" I asked.

He gave me a grin. "I'm new here," he said. Usually he hangs out at the main campus in Menlo Park.

"We've got a great sermon for you today," I told him. "I think you'll like it."

"I know there's a great one this week!" he replied. (John's wife, Nancy, gave the sermon this weekend.)

Carol was teaching something at the "main campus" (which is why she didn't come with us to the north campus). Anyway, we drove down to the main campus -- the younger teen drove (we are making good progress toward however many hours she needs in order to get licensed). She went to her strive group, and I went to hear Carol's training thing.

I sat with Carol on a couch while the first speaker did her part. It was about listening, and though she did talk a little about techniques, she first talked about how you have to have the DESIRE to listen, the COMMITMENT to do so whether you feel like it or not, and the PATIENCE not to jump in too soon with advice or whatever. We were supposed to do an exercise. The speaker wanted us to pair up, but she looked at us and said, "I see you snuggling over there; you can't be partners for this."

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

After a while, it was time to pick up the younger teen from her Strive group. We stopped by the store, where I picked up some meat. Last night we had 20-25 people over for an event. I put lots of rice (LOTS of rice) into the rice cooker, so I'm feeling the urge to use up the left-over rice.

We got home, and I cut up sausage, sliced some cabbage really thin, and made some fried rice for a snack. Here's the deal.
  • Shred
    • ¼ head of cabbage
    and set aside.
  • Take about
    • ½ a hot dog's worth of sausage
    and slice/dice/whatever. Make little pieces out of it.
  • Pour
    • oil
    into a wok on high heat, then stir-fry
    • the shredded cabbage
    reserved above.
  • Add the
    • chopped sausage
    and continue stir-frying.
  • Break
    • an egg
    into the wok and continue stir frying.
  • Add
    • cooked rice to taste
    (maybe a cup or two) and continue stir-frying.
  • Sprinkle
    • soy sauce
    sparingly and continue stir frying until the fried rice is warmed throughout.
That makes 1-2 servings. Of course you can add whatever else you want. (You could use ½ head of cabbage if it's a small one.)

I ate some, and offered some to the younger teen. We finished it off quite nicely, thank you. I put some chili on, following two different recipes (I'm not going to reproduce them here; too lazy). Chili+rice is a favorite Hawaiian treat.

I can smell the chili from the kitchen. I have a beer in the fridge, my younger teen is here in the den with me, the lovely Carol is home (taking a nap), the older teen is coming home Wednesday evening, and my parents are coming tomorrow evening.

Happy day!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

a hard-headed woman... and special topics in calamity physics

Part of what I'm doing this weekend when the lovely Carol is gone... is something she's been after me to do: transfer the content of old vinyl records into digital form so we can burn CDs. The sound quality of a 128kb/s MP3 file is adequate, given the quality of most of these originals, which we left behind in 1993 when we went to Japan and for the most part haven't played since.

One of the records, "Tea for the Tillerman," has "Hard-Headed Woman," and I especially like this part:
I'm looking for a hard-headed woman
One who will make me do my best
And if I find a hard-headed woman
I know my life will be blessed
Proverbs 18:22 (sort of)
as paraphrased by Cat Stevens
That is something about being married to the lovely Carol: she spurs me to growth. Hearing this song, and thinking about his rendition of "Morning Has Broken," I wonder if Cat Stevens was a Christian -- oh, I see from this article in Wikipedia that he converted to Islam in 1977; wonder if he was before.

This afternoon I decided to prepare some food for the next few days. I bought and quartered a chicken, browned it, then added saké, shoyu, ginger, garlic, green onions, sesame oil and simmered for a while. In a separate vessel (a wok) I stir-fried (sorta) a heap of baby bok choy, added some oyster sauce and some shiitake , then some cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Very nice if I do say so myself.

I picked up Special Topics in Calamity Physics at the library -- I'm not sure why. The title was intriguing for sure. I quickly ran out of interest and skipped toward the back. Whoa -- there is a BIG surprise there, and something really surprising about the relationship between the protagonist and her father. Now I see I will have to return to the beginning (basically the whole book is a flashback) but I've got to see how it turns out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bodily fluids. Retail therapy.

"Wow! People with high hemoglobin like you should consider donating double red cells."

Though I only had snacks for dinner last night and just a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, my numbers apparently impressed the nurse at the blood center. (Now that I'm over 50, married with teen-agers... only now do I discover these little secrets of How To Impress Women.) She explained that if someone needs two units' worth of red cells, it's better to get it from one person than from two, as it reduces the risk of (literal) bad blood. Better, in other words, to get those cells from me than from me and from someone else.

OK, that sounds pretty good. I can only do this every 16 weeks (rather than every 8 as with "regular" donations), but let's face it, I'm not going in every 8 weeks. I had a little anxiety about plasma going back into my bloodstream after some red cells were filtered out. I read their literature and it seemed reasonable. I was getting ready to sign up.

But then came the big disappointment: I'm underweight. That's right, even at 120 pounds, I wouldn't qualify; I'm (literally) a lightweight. I have to get up to 130 pounds, which is not something I'm ever planning to do. Too bad, because they supply you with a movie while they filter your blood (or I could bring my own). Multitasking opportunity!

Hurmpf. Underweight introverts get no respect.
I stopped by the parts store afterwards. It was on Old County, not on Industrial as I had thought. I got there about 5 minutes before closing time (noon), and talked to the guy. He was very excited about the idea of being done for the day. "Hey, lock the doors up, dude!" he called.

The phone rang. The clock showed 11:58, and he put the caller on hold. "Are you gonna put him on hold for 2 minutes and then tell him you're closed?" I asked. He gave me a grin -- I could tell the idea intrigued him, but he was a nice guy; he wouldn't do that.

I was buying a timer for my clothes dryer. "About a hundred bucks?" I asked him.

"A hundred, and ninety-one," he said.

I was alarmed. "191 bucks??" I was not quite in the soprano range.

"A hundred dollars and ninety-one cents," he said. Okay, that's cool.

He offered me a lifetime warranty for another $15. Well, maybe not. "It'll be here Tuesday."
Though I'm an introvert (afterwards I went to the library to pick up a movie or book -- ended up getting one of each), it's more important to me than I'd thought it was to talk to someone once in a while. Yeah, there's email and facebook -- but electronically mediated interactions are just not the same as face-to-face.

So I am developing a little sympathy or at least understanding around the concept of "retail therapy." Giving blood you get to talk to someone. Talking to the guy at the parts counter, ditto. Going to Costco -- ah, methinks that wouldn't fall into the same category.

And I guess that's what's behind the coffee/tea-house outreach concept. I think that's something worth giving my time to at some point. Maybe once the nest is empty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Growth hurts

For most of my life, I have avoided confrontation. Rather than confront burglars in the house, isn't it better to lock the door? Of course, not all confrontations are quite so clear-cut. The burglar knows he's doing something wrong, or if he doesn't, he at least knows he could be caught by the police or by an unexpected homeowner.

I don't like telling people they're doing something wrong; I'd rather they pay attention and not mess things up in the first place. On the other hand, when I mess things up, and if I'm liable to keep doing so, I want my friends and family to tell me.

So why am I afraid to tell people stuff -- the kind of stuff I wish they'd tell me when I need it? Probably it's for the same reason people are afraid to tell me; they're afraid I won't take it well, that I'll give them a bunch of guff. And of course sometimes they're right, although I hope I do that less often, now that I'm less young and less foolish than I used to be.

I have two things to think about now:
  1. I need to
    • be willing to accept corrective feedback, and
    • invite people to give me that corrective feedback
  2. I need to offer such feedback appropriately

Which reminds me of Ezra 7:10, which says:
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
My tendency has been to do a little of the first, and less of the second.

Well, what's the problem with that, anyway? It's not that I won't get to heaven; rather, it's that I won't grow as much as I can and should. Will it hurt? Golly, it hurts my stomach already just thinking about a conversation I have to have soon.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What does the gospel promise?

We had dinner last night with some friends, including a couple who don't share our faith. At one point, I mentioned something I read in Yancey's Reaching for the Invisible God: the good news that I'm already forgiven and that I will one day be made perfect.

This caught the ear of the non-Christian husband, who asked me to explain about being made perfect, and for a brief second I wished I'd been reviewing my Scriptures more frequently. I came up immediately with Philippians 1:6, the one about how the one who began working in "you" (which I take to include me) will complete it. As I was talking, verses from Romans 8 came to mind -- those ones that talk about how those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, i.e., predestined to become like Jesus (how's that for good news?) and how God will use everything to accomplish that goal. I explained about how I want to be a better person, kinder, more patient, courageous, tolerant, gentle, etc., and how there is this huge gap, but God has promised....

The Christian husband reinforced this, mentioning that whatever God starts, he's obviously going to complete (an intuitively appealing concept), and pretty soon offered to lend a copy of Wright's Simply Christian... which was accepted.

I was recounting this to the younger teen, and I remembered a passage from 1 Thessalonians 5 -- may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus; he who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Yes!

Oddly enough, contrary to what I sometimes hear about, there is no guarantee that God will give us tons of money, a big house, or a fancy car. But all that stuff, versus becoming the kind of person that God wants me to be? No contest!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Joy Day / Happy Sunday

That's today. What's a Sabbath supposed to be about? I've heard or read a bunch of different concepts: to be silent and think only about God; not to drive anywhere or turn on the lights or cook; to do things that bring joy. Here's what Isaiah says:
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
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,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
Isaiah 58:13-14
So I think I'm doing part of that, but certainly not all. If I were in the desert during those forty years, I would certainly be stoned, but we're not living back then; as Paul says, One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5). Here's my Sunday:
  • Went to church last night, and heard John's excellent (if pre-recorded) sermon, "It all goes back in the box" (I think he has a book of the same title... yep). So I don't actually have to go out of the house at all this morning in order to have heard a sermon this weekend, or worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • In what I hope isn't excessive vanity, I looked at the November lineup from my essay collection and found this essay (not a bad one IMO), which reminded me of some important things and made me feel happy.
  • Friends are coming for lunch to help me celebrate my birthday. I turned 33 (hex), and I enjoyed preparing the food. In a few minutes I'll throw my marinated beef onto the Weber -- it'll take some time to cook, because it's cut into such small pieces.
  • I opened a bottle of French wine, about 7 years old. Very nice stuff.
  • and yes, we do have a jar of kim chee (that's how we spelled it when I was growing up in Hawaii)
So there has already been some joy today, thinking about the love of Jesus, the pleasure of friends' company, and sensual delights to come. I'm not sure how this matches with what Isaiah said about the sabbath (particularly the part about going my own way), but a joy and a delight? I think yes to that part.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Now it can be told: mouse removal

I wrote about mice the other day. The lovely Carol sent a hardcopy note to the elder teen, forbidding the rest of us from divulging the details. Like a spoiler. Well, the note arrived so there is no danger of spoilage. Hence the title of today's post.

So the mouse jumped out of the trap and disappeared into the pantry. Furious, I determined to find this thing and suck it into the vacuum cleaner. I pulled one thing after another from the pantry. No mouse! Then I spied a roll of shelf paper. I wondered if, inside the roll... sho'nuff, a pair of eyes looking out at me! The end of the roll met the end of the vacuum cleaner hose. I left it there for maybe 20-30 seconds (I did not want to be fooled again). When I inspected the roll afterward, ther was no mouse.

I turned off the vacuum cleaner and very quickly put it outside, with the door closed. I found my shoes and carried the canister across the street, figuring the rodent could take a trip into the storm drain or whatever. Opening it, I found a pile of household dust, obscuring what looked like a dead mouse. Well, I consoled myself with the thought that it had probably happened quickly. I emptied the vacuum cleaner into a sturdy plastic bag (which formerly held redwood compost or something). I put it into the trash can after ensuring that the mouse was truly dead.

What a relief!

Monday, September 24, 2007

i love it when technology works

A few minutes ago, the younger teen called me on the cellphone. In-network calling is "free" (i.e., included), so she was using her cellphone rather than the landline. Anyway, internet (both desktop and wifi) were failing at home. I described to her how to cycle power on the DSL modem and the switch/router/firewall.

This just came:
To: Collin Park 
Subject: it worked!
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 15:23:51 -0700

thanks! :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

are mice evil? flix

So the week of 9/9 we had a fantastic week. I picked up two grad students from the airport (SFO) and gave them a lift to grad-student housing. We had a great conversation on the way -- time management and work/life balance, what do people do at church (and why), where people go when they die (these guys asked GREAT questions!), this sort of thing.

Carol invited a new friend to go hiking with her, and on their drive they had a great conversation, where this new friend asked Jesus into her heart.

This sort of thing does not happen very often with us, so it was very exciting. But another thing happened that week: mouse problems! What a distraction! Wire mesh and concrete mix and plywood, poisons and traps were involved. We trapped one mouse in one of those no-kill traps, after much fuss and bother (mouse had gotten into all kinds of stuff). At that time we thought the mouse was some sort of spiritual interference. Don't laugh! The Egyptian sorcerers could do all kinds of tricks (Exodus 7:11-12 for example).

Things were quiet for a while, but we weren't sure the mice were completely gone. Then on Saturday (i.e., yesterday) we drove to Santa Cruz and met Peggy and some of the international students (all from China as it turns out). We enjoyed our time, and Carol found out that one of them had already invited Jesus into her heart. How cool is that?

You'll never guess what happened Sunday morning -- or maybe you already have. Yep, Carol found a mouse in the pantry! A messenger of Satan, or maybe just a coincidence. Anyway I set a trap for it -- the no-kill kind, and we went to church. A few hours later, I looked in the pantry, and the trap appeared to have sprung. Was there a mouse inside? I picked the trap up, and probably because of the way I was holding it, the accursed thing opened up! I saw the mouse inside, but before I could close it again, the thing sprang out of the trap and back into the pantry. Furious, I tracked it down and killed it; I will tell you how later.


Meanwhile, the lovely Carol had asked me on Friday to pick up a DVD titled "Love Comes Softly," which was supposedly waiting for me at the desk. I went up to said desk, and... no joy. Well, I wandered around a bit and saw one titled "Sliding Doors" -- Gwyneth Paltrow. The description reminded me of "Run Lola Run," a film I'd heard about years ago but had never seen. So I found that one, and picked it up, and the Paltrow one, and headed out of Blockbuster.

Then I noticed another Blockbuster employee heading back to the store. "Are you returning from break... been working since 3?" Yes he was. He helped me track down the DVD of desire, which was buried under some miscellaneous papers or something. Friday night we watched it. Halmi (Is he the guy behind the recent remake of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"?) was involved in the production of Love Comes Softly, which had spotty dialogue and some fantastic (as in "this is fantasy") scenes. Like moments after a baby is born, the new mother looks like she's had a shower and already powdered her face. The baby shows absolutely no interest in nursing.

But it doesn't take much imagination to empathize with the depths of grief and the magnitude of risks taken by some of these pioneer folks. My rating: 2½ stars. 'Cause it's true; love can come softly rather than with fireworks, and that doesn't make it any less real or powerful.

We saw "Run Lola Run" last night. It was very entertaining, and asked some interesting questions. The original is apparently German; I switched the soundtrack to English and also turned on the English subtitles. The dubbing was fine and not distracting. But the dubbed dialogue often didn't match the subtitles. This movie is definitely not for the pre-teen set. I'll give this one 3 stars. Its message is less clear and not as obviously edifying, but the dialogue was IMO way less hokey. The plot is ingenious, and it has a happy ending.

There was another movie I wanted to tell you about... oh yeah -- Two Days in Paris, which we saw last week. For the first half-hour or so I kept banging my head against the wall, because the boyfriend was such an awful character. But Julie Delpy's character's point at the end was I thought worthwhile: though someone may annoy you some % of the time, that is not a reason to split up; there is another % of the time that's irreplaceable. I didn't say that right, but you get the idea. So, although this clown was annoying in the extreme (maybe 60% of the time, says Julie's character), if they were to split up, she would miss the 40% of the time that she really really likes being around him. Apparently Delpy's real-life parents play her parents in the film. The photography in Paris is fun. It's an artsy kind of film.

That said, the flick has those truly annoying parts, so I give it ½ stars.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Basking in God's Love; Adventure

A couple of points from recent sermons have hit me in an unusual way, and I wanted to comment on them.

First, from the 9/9 sermon, the idea of loving God, and rejoicing, basking in the love he has for me. This is not the direction that my mind naturally tends to go, partly of course because of Satan. But to help with this concept, this picture was offered:
When I was in high school, a friend of mine told me about a girl who, my friend said, liked me. And I could not believe it, because I knew this girl, and she was way out of my league. You know what it is when someone is way out of your league? She was way out of my league. And I said, "This can't be true."

And my friend said, "It is true." My friend said, "I don't understand it either, but it's true."

And that night, my mind just kept delighting in this thought: "She likes me." I just couldn't stop my mind from going there; it just went there and delighted in it. She liked me. And the next day, although I could hardly believe it was true, I called her up and asked her out. And it turned out it wasn't true. But I had one really good night, just thinking about it, okay?
This is a great picture. The point, of course, is that God is way out of my league; I'm in the Sinner league, and he's in the Perfection league; how many huge steps below God are people like me?

But it doesn't help me much with rejoicing in God's love. And why not? Because God's love isn't scarce; it's not rare. In one sense, God's love is astonishing; in another, it's expected! (Does not the Bible say, "God is love"?) So that picture doesn't help me a lot to appreciate God's love. Here is something that is just a bit more helpful for me: the idea of being his workmanship, and of pleasing him.

One of my favorite passages talks about pleasing him:
we pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of his will... in order that you
  • may live a life worthy of the Lord and
  • may please him in every way,
    • bearing fruit in every good work,
    • growing in the knowledge of God,
    • being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, in order that you may have great endurance and patience, and
    • joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you (us?) to share in the inheritance of the saints....
from Colossians 1
(bullets added)
Another passage that talks about pleasing God is this one:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
from Hebrews 11
And then there is this one:
we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared for us beforehand, that we should walk in them.
from Ephesians 2
Maybe other people like the illustration of the girl who's way out of my league, but these passages here are more helpful to me.

I'll bet part of it is because when I make something, typically some software, if I do a good job on it, then it pleases me. So the idea of being God's workmanship, and of pleasing God, is something I can identify with to some extent. (We are created in his image, right?) Now part of what pleases me about stuff that I build well is that it behaves as it's supposed to. From this I extrapolate the idea that part of pleasing God is doing certain kinds of things:
  • bearing fruit (having a life with meaning) in every good work
  • growing in the knowledge of God
  • being strengthened ... to have endurance and patience
  • joyfully giving thanks
  • trust God to reward us
  • do the good things God prepared for us
And though part of me says, "No, no, no; it's not what we do that matters--because we are saved by grace through faith, not by deeds," yet I also know that Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in terms of actions: "You have been faithful with little, you will be entrusted with much; come, enter into the joy of your master." Right? And doesn't Paul pray God's blessing on us for every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1)?

The second point

The 9/16 sermon talked about the idea of adventure. "God will give us as much adventure as we are open to receiving," but when I heard that I must confess that I thought, "Bleah."

I don't think I'm the only one profoundly uninterested in adventure, at least at some times on some days. There are just so many things to do -- some of them good things to do to be a blessing to others (giving blood for example, or inviting new people over for dinner, or going to some large-group event to help them feel welcomed into the church community), not to mention just keeping the balls in the air -- home and auto maintenance for example, periodic physicals, dental check-ups, eye exams, exercise.

What's the way out? One thing is, we need to be reminded of Dallas Willard's admonition to carve out a satisfying life... so that sin won't look so good. And just remembering that may not be enough; some of us (some of me?) need instruction on how to do that. Cut out the TV? I think the DVD I watch with my wife and daughter once or twice a month isn't what's killing me. We had a sermon on this some months back, and perhaps I ought to practice that more. Like taking time more frequently (daily?) to reflect on God's goodness. Making a list, maybe, of blessings?
  • Good sleep.
  • A kiss from the lovely Carol while still in bed.
  • A phone call from the elder teen this morning.
  • Brown sugar to put in my oatmeal.
  • A vehicle that works.
  • Pleasant chat with the younger teen en route to school.
  • Monthly train pass.
  • Sunshine this morning while waiting for the train.
  • Free jacket (!) from the office (the red fleece with the "Anchor Steam" logo, because it's cool outside.
  • But not too cold.
  • A folding umbrella for the possible showers this afternoon.
  • Pleasant relationships with colleagues and my boss.
  • Mostly nearly on-time rail transit.
  • Leftovers to take for lunch.
Well, maybe that's enough for now.


I started writing this a few days ago, and last night I saw some missionary friends in Mountain View, where I heard about some of their current adventures. Some amazing things are happening in the mideast, even at this very desperate point in history. There's an attorney, grieved at the sectarian violence in his country; he recruits young people from the 15 or so ethnic/religious groups in the country, forms them into a team to lead youth camps, and then persuades parents from various groups to send their children to these youth camps. These missionary friends are working to help him manage growth, even as a third of his team emigrated (everyone who can get out does get out because of the desperate security/economic situation).

There's a medical doctor in another country, who "made it" in the US but returned to help her people. Finding two problems--a shortage of hospice care (and assisted living facilities), and high unemployment--she started an organization to train unemployed/unemployable youth in cooking, mobility assistance, feeding etc. She's addressing both problems at once! This movement has caught on, and these missionary friends are working with her team to preserve the culture (sharing Christ's love even as very practical needs are being met) she's developed so far as the organization expands into other cities.

These friends are living the adventure, a life which is attractive and yet strikes me as an obvious mismatch for me. A paradox? On one hand, to feel on the brink of disaster--where if God doesn't come through for me I'm in really big trouble--that would tend to focus and invigorate me. For a little while, anyway. After that, it would not really work for me. At least that's what I think now.

Yet I've often been very glad I did something, though I'd initially meant to skip it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A neglected command -- two of them actually

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4
Be joyful always
1 Thessalonians 5:16
Notice how it says "always"? As my friend Jim says, the proof that this isn't natural is that it's written here. If it were natural, we wouldn't need a command.

So what's the deal? How do we execute this? I notice that in both cases (and also in Philippians 3:1--Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!), the command comes at what Paul apparently thinks is near the end of the letter. It seems to be something Paul wants to make sure he communicates. In Philippians 4, the command comes right after he pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to agree. Had they been quarreling? Might continual rejoicing make for a less contentious life? In 1 Thessalonians 5, it comes immediately after an exhortation to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

The last thing I want to write here before I go swimming is that Philippians 4:8 (which tells us to dwell upon whatever is true, honorable, pure, lovely etc.) and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (May God himself... sanctify you through and through) probably are helpful to us as we try to carry out that command to rejoice. I'll think about that. Time for a swim now!

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Based upon a true story!!

dramatis personæ

  • J, a hiring manager
  • L, an engineer in another group, who was drafted to interview the candidate
  • M, a manager who reports to J; M also interviewed the candidate
  • C, the author

Scene I: a conference room

J: Okay, L, how was your interview with her?
L: We had a long, rambling conversation...
J: Brilliant interviewing technique!
J: Not sure what else I could say to that.
C: How about, "No more interviewing any of my people ever again!"?
J: That would play right into his hands.
C [struck with a flash of insight]: Ah-HA! Nice try, L, but it didn't work!
J: What did you think of her technical skills?
L: Very good software skills.
J: Ah, which software skills?
M [helpfully]: the ones that had to do with, ah... programming?
L: Yes! The ones that had to do with programming!
C [laughing hysterically]: You guys are killing me!
J [indicating me]: If he needs mouth-to-mouth, one of you guys will have to do it.

What it all means

After someone comes in for interviews, we get the interviewers together and compare notes. When such a meeting is held on Friday afternoon, something like the above may ensue.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Vision of the Lord

I don't know how many times I've read this famous passage before, or heard others teach about it, but the lovely Carol said something about this passage I hadn't heard before:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted...."
from Isaiah 6:1
Isaiah sees six-winged seraphs; he cries, "Woe is me" (6.5); he is cleansed by a live coal (6.7); and receives a commission (6.9) from the Lord to preach incomprehension to the people of Israel. The chapter has inspired many sermons and much puzzlement, but I want to focus on that first verse.

Here's what Carol said: "What was it like for Isaiah when his boss, King Uzziah, died? What was he feeling?"

Uzziah was the first king Isaiah worked for, according to Isaiah 1:1. Why was it at that time that the Lord gave him this vision? (By the way, whether it was 11 months separated from Uzziah's death or just a few days, and whatever else happened that year, the vision struck Isaiah in such a way that he referred to its timing with "In the year that King Uzziah died.")

And was the king more than just a boss to Isaiah? There was surely a transition in Isaiah's life. I am going to guess that this was a time when Isaiah really "needed" a vision from the Lord, to the extent that any of us does -- and that's why the Lord sent it to him at this time.

I'm not ignoring the other stuff in the vision -- Isaiah's consciousness of his own sin (you can be sure he obeyed the ceremonial laws but he must have known that these did not perfect him), his commission, and so on -- but as far as "why now"? -- well, those are my thoughts on that.

Now that I think of it, I had a (former) boss die about a dozen years ago. I had worked for her about five years, and though by then I was living and working in Japan, I felt abandoned. (I'm not sure she ever forgave me for going to Japan in the first place.) I guess I needed a vision from the Lord then, too, though I wasn't exactly in a transition in my own life -- Jean's death didn't disrupt my day-to-day life the way Uzziah's disrupted Isaiah's. And maybe I got one.

I still remember a day, I think around that time, when I was walking to take the bus to work, and I was overwhelmed with the sense of being where I belonged -- for that time anyway. And though I didn't see or hear anything, I guess the Lord knew that sense -- the assurance of being in the right place -- was what I needed at the time.

May the Lord give you and me what we need today -- the intersection of "Give us this day our daily bread" with "Man does not live on bread alone."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

costco like a government institution

The words of Judy.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I warned you: I'm a boring guy

Many years ago, when I was still single, I used to warn people, particularly women, that I was not a very interesting guy. Maybe it wasn't true, strictly speaking, but it was mostly true: most of the time, special events (films, ice skating, concerts, theatre) seemed to me too much trouble. I'll do them if they delight my family, and usually once I'm there I'm glad I went, but when I'm alone it's just not my thing to do that sort of thing. I might go to a film to escape boredom, but usually I'd rather find an interesting book to read -- or something to write. Maybe something at home, but reading and writing are more my favorite activities these days.

So here I am in Stony Brook. The elder teen is now safely installed in her dormitory. My flight isn't until something like 6pm tomorrow. (I was originally planning to attend church with the elder teen this morning, but we have since found out that her orientation is tomorrow rather than today -- there are activities she must attend Sunday from about 10am to about 5pm.) A little while ago, the younger teen called me on the cell phone, commanding me to do something fun in New York City. I told her I'd consider it (when translated into Japanese, this is "kangaete okimasu", which Japanese people would understand to actually mean "No").

Because I've already bought a ticket from Stony Brook to Jamaica, i.e., the station that gets me to the "airtrain" for JFK. I'd have to do some kind of fare adjustment at the other end, drag my baggage around, worry about getting back to the airport, etc. etc. etc. My wife and younger daughter (probably the elder one would say the same thing too) want me to do something fun, but changing the plans and complicating the logistics -- that's sufficiently unpleasant to me (yes I admit that I may be a highly sensitive person) that I probably won't do it.

So in spite of what I wrote earlier about this, I'll probably be spending some hours at JFK, reading or writing something.

Sorry for being so boring, but I warned you -- well maybe not you specifically, but at least some readers of this blog....

Thoughts about the elder teen

... who is now in a dorm in Stony Brook. We will not see her ’til Thanksgiving.


We rode our bicycles "down" the hill from Skyline/Woodside to the beach at San Gregorio (Highways 84 & 1), hung around for a while, and then rode back "up" the hill—those directions are in quotes because the road does a lot of up-and-down from mile marker 0 up to, say, about 9&mdash then back down and home. We left the beach at 12:45, and went up to mile marker 8 in under 40 minutes. We stopped for 2-3 minutes for a break, then did the next 7 miles (to mile marker 15) in the next 50 minutes. Boy, was it hot! We stopped at "my favorite store in the world" (the words of the elder teen) for frozen bars (mine was berry; hers was coconut) and a pint of "honest ade", which we split. Jenny went back in and got another pint of... pomegranate something-or-other. Then we zipped home.

We each took showers, then I went to the bank to pick up my sunglesses, then picked up the younger teen from a friend's house. She asked me what was for dinner. Pre-fab "bool ko-gi" from Trader Joe's, which I grilled. Zucchini and eggplant "juhn" lovingly fried up by the lovely Carol. Some other veggies brushed with olive oil and spices grilled over the coals. She sure was happy about that.

At dinner, she suggested we share some of our favorite memories of the elder teen.

Well, that was a great time of celebration. Mourning, too, since she was about to leave us.

Some of my memories of the new freshman:
  • Getting off the bus one day in Kobe. I was complaining (again) about the idiotic payment system -- it took 3 times as long to empty the bus as it used to -- and she said, "Daddy, I think you complain too much about the bus fare system." She was right! So I stopped. But it really was bad. I think city official's brother-in-law was the sha-chou of the company that made those glacially slow card-readers. It really did take three times as long to empty out the bus....
  • Recently we have been reading Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Many times we have both paused to reflect that "This guy is really brilliant!" The way he combined ideas from those various disciplines -- it is really something.
  • Some years ago, there was a parent meeting at the middle school, following an outburst from an incompetent and verbally abusive math teacher. The principal met with a whole pile of parents, and after he tried to smooth things over, asked for questions. My daughter, then 13, raised her hand and said, "I want to know what's going to be done about what happened in class today." The principal was stunned. I just about popped a button! He mumbled something and asked what more should be done. My daughter said, "She should apologize to us, and some of us should apologize to her." I about popped another couple of buttons. What a powerful girl! I would hate to be cross-examined by her -- at any age.


Pretty uneventful. We took a JetBlue nonstop SFO→JFK, then a cab to the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook. After we turned out the lights, we somehow got onto -- oh, I remember, I mentioned an article in a recent New Yorker written by a guy with Asperger's. He's a couple years older than I am. She had read it, she said. I think I was an "Aspey" (however it's spelt) as a child, though perhaps not quite as extreme as the author. I am mostly grown out of it I hope. Anyway, one characteristic she used to have was she'd get a picture in her mind and was upset if things did not turn out that way -- when plans changed at the last minute for example. One of my memories of this was a vacation somewhere -- I want to say the Izu Peninsula (when we were living in Kobe, so she would have been in elementary school) -- when we went on a boat ride. Basically this was a tour of "the bay" (whichever bay it was), which went more or less in a circle. When we got off the boat and she realized that we had not gotten anywhere, she was really unhappy.

She had thought we were going to some exciting and cool place; this would have made up for the queasiness she experienced on the boat. When we went through all that unpleasantness and didn't even get to see some cool new place, well, that was bad news.

Listening to me recount it, she said, "I must have been difficult" or something like this. She was at times, "but you brought us a lot of joy and delight too," I said. "Still do."


She asked me for parting advice. I didn't have anything to say to her that she hadn't heard already, but I said something like this
  • Be safe, but don't live a boring life.
  • Make friends with people in the IV group.
  • Watch out for boys.
  • Stay away from sex and drugs.
  • You're a great student so I'm not worried at all about your classes.
  • I think I should have taken more classes outside my major, but I didn't want to at the time and I didn't have to, so....
I think she'll make better use of her college years than I did.

But we all will miss her and we look forward to seeing her at Thanksgiving.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Epson CX5400 printing blank pages

Like some others, I've had trouble with an Epson CX5400's printing blank pages. We had some problems with this printer before, but they were always taken care of without hardware repair. But this time, we had a real problem of some kind.

So I found the above site, which led me to the Dura-Brite ink information page; this in turn pointed me to some disassembly instructions. When I looked at these, I said, golly, do I really have to remove the scanner part, the front housing, the middle housing, etc., to get to the print head?

Basically, yes. This guy (who has clearer photos) says so too. Now if you follow the above disassembly instructions, you want to remove the scanner unit, the upper and middle housings, but do not actually remove the printer head. Paradoxically you should push the carriage lock lever forward and slide the print head left (step#4). The puzzling part is that, if you just turned off the printer "normally", then the cartridge-holders will be stuck on the far right of the printer (as you face the printer), and the carriage-lock lever will be to the LEFT of the cartridge-holder/print-head thingie.

Now that I know that, the photo here (figure 4-37) makes sense to me, but until then, I was totally puzzled. It was not only because I'm dyslexic (or dysphotic) but also because I had the wrong mental map of what was going on.

The other thing that happened here is that there was a rogue piece of paper stuck on the right-hand side of the Carriage Unit. I suspect that this stray piece of paper might have had something to do with ink misbehavior, but I don't know for sure.

Well, I just wanted to write that stuff down before putting the printer all the way back together. Here's hoping it all works.

(half an hour later)
Well, it didn't. Not sure what's next.

Time to buy a new printer :^(

Friday, August 24, 2007

What do I want from God?

We were discussing this last night in our home group, where our church is encouraging us to "take up permanent residence in a life of love" (from 1 John 4 in The Message (Peterson)). We agreed that we would like to live more of our lives more aware of God. I read something this morning along those lines and wanted to share that with you.
The Spirit may bring that jolt of Recognition to the most ordinary things: a baby's grin, snow falling on a frozen lake, a field of lavender in the morning dew, a worship ritual that unexpectedly becomes more than ritual. Suddenly we see these momentary pleasures as gifts from a God who is worthy of praise.
That word "Recognition" with a capital R is credited to Dorothy Sayers. I have also been thinking about Mailis’s study#36 in Luke and the greatness of God's love, which I wrote a little about the other day.

To take up permanent residence in a life of love. Sounds good to me, and the good news is that the Spirit of God wants to help us. How cool is that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Glad to be alive, and a few thoughts about evangelism

I thought I'd jot down a few reasons I'm glad to be alive today.
  • 7:16 I started getting my bike out, 7:29 I had my bike locked up at the Caltrain station -- ooops, my watch is ahead; make that 7:12 and 7:25 -- in plenty of time to make my train.
  • I'm already forgiven, and I have the promise of someday being perfected.
  • A solid house with roof, walls, locking windows and doors.
  • A loving wife and family to return to tonight.
  • A new bike seat -- received for my birthday, or was it Christmas last year? -- my first in 25? years. Much nicer than the old one (which wasn't uncomfortable, but it was starting to tear).
  • An empty 4-seater on the train.
  • An good job with people I enjoy, that pays well and offers challenges and opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Fellowship at a church where the Bible is taught.
  • A working DVD player so we could watch Casino Royale (the 21st century version) last night.
  • An 18-year-old(?), 20” television set, lest we waste too much time watching it.
  • Opportunities (the latest was on Sunday) to talk with people who want to know more about Jesus.
  • Terrific Bible study guides from
    • The Gates of Paradise opened (See study #36 in Luke from the above)
  • A chance to submit a paper to ICSE 2008, and the hope of visiting Germany next year
Well, that's about 15 minutes’ worth, anyway.

I had a few thoughts on evangelism -- triggered, of course, by experience. A young couple came to our church, and they somehow got in touch with one of our pastors, who I'll call "U". They were from Japan; knowing that we had lived nearly six years there, "U" told us about them; we've met with them twice. At our first meeting, we found out that they were interested in learning more about God, Jesus, the Bible, what Christians believe, and so on. We also learned that they enjoyed the teaching at our church, but sometimes couldn't quite follow the sermons -- especially from one of our pastors, who speaks veryveryfast.

We sent them a pointer to the church's website, where MP3 versions of the sermons, and usually transcripts, can be downloaded. This is very cool for people with limited-speed English listening capability, because they can listen repeatedly to all or part of it, or read the text. At our second meeting, we went through the aforementioned study#36 in Luke, which stimulated a great discussion -- and not only on the study's topics.

One piece of good news from the study was that, though one of the robbers had (humanly speaking) ruined his life, yet in the last few hours of his life he found forgiveness. "Remember me," he asked Jesus, "when you come into your kingdom."

Can you imagine the joy that filled his heart when Jesus replied to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise"? How wonderful would that have been? And it's even better for those of us who can meet Jesus months or years before the end, because we can follow him and serve him and enjoy his presence and help here on earth for more than just a few hours.

Yet another reason it's good to be alive, and good to know Jesus.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

No Two Alike, by Harris

I've been working on a paper for ICSE 2008 lately. Since I've never done a conference paper before, I feel a little (or more than a little) anxious about style, format, etc. So it's been a while since I've posted here.

Lately I've been reading the subject book, No Two Alike, and mentioned something at our home-group the other night.

Rich talked about how children grow to become more like their parents -- which is true, if "parents" means "biological parents." The studies seem to show:
  • twins raised together are no more similar than twins raised apart
  • siblings raised together are no more different than siblings raised apart
  • unrelated adopted children raised in the same home turn out no more similar than two people picked randomly off the street
Now by "similar" and "different" here they mean as adults, and in particular " measured by psychological tests." Those tests include all sorts of things: tendency to laugh, introversion, etc. They do not, however, include things like what mechanical skills, recipes, languages, or card games they know.

Do parents matter? Of course they do -- but just not in the way many of us like to think. Is that so bad? Think of it this way -- as Harris put it in The Nurture Assumption (1998): who will your husband or wife be after being married to you for 20, 30, 50 years? Do you influence what his/her personality will be like then? No? But that doesn't mean you should neglect, ignore, or abuse them! The same applies to your kids -- you may not be able to change the results that would appear on psychological tests 20,30,50 years hence, but you want them to be your friends -- as you want your spouse to be a good friend -- don't you?

One more thing that psychological tests don't measure, besides what they know: it's who they know. Do they know Jesus? Have they found forgiveness for their sins? Is their eternal destiny secure? As parents, we can't guarantee anything, but we can introduce our kids to Someone they need to know. And that's more important than personality, budgeting skills, or even car repair skills.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't waste your time

Ray wasn't sure if he wanted to meet with these church people. He was a mentor to the pastor of our church in Japan and had come a long ways to see him, so when these others wanted to talk, Ray asked a few questions. Were they doing things while seeking improvements in the church, or did they just want to complain? Once he figured out that they were just complaining, he told them he was reserving his time for people actually doing things to advance the kingdom of God.

That all happened maybe ten years ago, but it came to mind when we heard a sermon a couple of weeks ago on Nehemiah -- particularly this passage:
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it -- though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates -- Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: "Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono."

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

Nehemiah 6.1-4
The point our pastor made from this passage was this: Don't waste time trying to placate people who will not be placated.

Recently I've talked with people who are unhappy about certain things at our church. Was I wasting my time? I don't think so, because:
  • they're doing things to advance the kingdom of God -- they are not whiners; and
  • they're seeking solutions, not looking for things to complain about.
So it occurs to me that there are two kinds of mistakes we can make in these situations. The first class of mistakes, which both Nehemiah and "Ray" avoided, is to treat whiners as though they're really seeking solutions. I think people with the "priest" personality might tend to err in this direction.
If I haven't mentioned this before, a priest talks about men to God; a prophet talks about God to men.
The second class of mistake would of course be to treat kingdom laborers having suggestions as though they were merely whiners. I suspect those with the more prophetic kind of personality would tend to err in this direction.

So my prayer for today is: Lord, help me to be like Nehemiah by working for you, by avoiding whiners and enemies, and by working together with laborers seeking solutions. And give me wisdom and humility to see the difference (between whiners and laborers).

posted 2006-08-15. Revised 2007-08-25 with some helpful hints from the lovely Carol