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.