Sunday, June 29, 2008

new book!

So a bunch of people at our church got together and created a book called Women of the Bible. You can't see the pages that Sheri and I worked on in their preview, but ours is on Lydia. The lovely Carol worked on the text for Anna.

Believe it or not, we are not making any money off this. Apparently self-publishing is pretty expensive, especially since we don't think this is gonna be the next Hunt for Red October or The Notebook.

More reason to celebrate: running hot water

The sensation of hot water flowing over my head and down my back is one of the great luxuries (or blessings if you prefer) of modern civilization.

But this great luxury was interrupted Friday night by the unwelcome sensation of gradually cooling water. Uh-oh -- the last time this happened, the pilot light in our water heater had gone out. Yes, we have one of those old-fashioned gas-fired heaters with a 40-gallon tank.

And the last time that happened, neither the contractor nor the PG&E guy ("Joey" if memory serves) nor I (not to mention all the king's horses &c...) could get it re-lit.

But! Pat Glithero, aka The Man™, succeeded in getting it lit, in just a few minutes. Following his instructions, I got it re-lit this time. So I'm again enjoying that great luxury of modern civilization, with plenty of hot water to wash our dishes.

Yes, Pat is The Man, and he will fix whatever needs fixing in your house and not charge you an arm and a leg. BTW, this is not Pat from FEMA; The Man doesn't seem to have a web presence. If you want him, leave me a note and I'll see about putting you in touch with him.

Great food and a wonderful thought-provoking musical

The lovely Carol lured me out last night to Mountain View last night to see Snapshots in Mountain View. I'm not a big fan of musicals, unless they're good :), which this was. Can I summarize it?

Hmmm... a troubled marriage ("troubled" as defined by the wife) is saved (at least for now) through reflection (reviewing their history and remembering good times and bad), and risk-taking (he finally says how much she means to him) and confession (she finally admits that she chose this life too). We saw Judy Cronin and her husband and two of their daughters (all of whose names have escaped me, except "Libbe" -- "Libby"?) during the intermission -- the daughters said they were enjoying the musical even though it was about something still in their future.

I liked the musical because, well, of the truth and confession. I'm a big fan of truth, even though it sometimes gets rather close to home (this is how I get to grow -- and truth be told, I'm sometimes a little slow to embrace it).

So for example, as Susan and Dan are remembering their past, their younger selves come out on stage. The younger Dan asked the younger Susan to move in with him, and the older Susan says to her, "Don't give up your career in the arts to have a life with him; you'll wind up with neither!"

To which her younger self replies, "I don't want a career in the arts -- I want a life with him!"

"No you don't!"

And her younger prophetic self says: "Why didn't you go back (to art school) then?" -- leaving today's Susan nonplussed, face to face with the truth that she really was in love back then, that the choices were theirs, not just his.

What about the food?

Right. The lovely Carol was napping before we went out, and we got a bit of a late start. We parked near the theater and walked out to Castro and saw the Maru Ichi noodle shop. Reviews from yelp are here. Good food, served quickly, with the Big Four flavors found in Japan (iirc: miso, shio, shoyu, ton-kotsu (that is not a typo)). Kim chee is free! I had the "B" combo: ramen (I chose the pork-bone soup), California Roll, gyoza. Like some reviewers, I found the volume of noodles somewhat lacking. But the prices were very good, the food was great, it came out quickly (we didn't finish the Jumble™), and by the way the food was great.

It was also quick, so we moseyed over to the theater, picked up our will-call tickets, and had plenty of time to sit down in the theater café for a piece of strawberry Napoleon cake ($2.95) and a decaf coffee. Both were adequate, the setting was great, the staff were friendly, it was quick, and of course the location was stellar, being just a few steps away from the ticket window.

Friday, June 27, 2008

How to choose a church

The elder teen asked, "If someone wants to know how to find a good church, what would you tell them?" and I said that would depend on why that someone was interested in church.

But that made me wonder how I'd answer that question for myself. Why do I go regularly, what am I looking for, and so on?

One reason is to help me remember that God loves me, because when I forget that, all kinds of trouble follows. And not only his great love, but other things about him. How do I get reminded about this great and wonderful God and his marvelous love?

First, by words: words of the songs, the Scriptures, and the sermon.

Second, by the setting: going into a certain place, a place different from other places. If the place is very old and very big, like the cathedral at Chartres, I remember that I am very small and that my perspective is, too.

Third, through fellowship. As my friend Carole said, the principal way God shows his great love for us is through each other -- particularly friends who also know and love Him.

So I go to church to receive and be reminded of God's love. Which is what makes it church -- as distinct from a concert-hall or classroom.

I also go to church (and there is some overlap here) to serve and to become equipped to serve. This is really about serving God, but just as I receive God's love through others, serving God usually means serving others.

This can also be a source of joy, which I will try to illustrate by way of analogy.
Take a truck roaring down the highway, carrying food and supplies to people who need them, and imagine the joy the truck might feel when its engine is tuned up, fuel lines clear, transmission in adjustment, tires properly inflated. If the truck is well used, then it will be about on its mission most of the time, which is great. But it needs fuel on occasion, its tires must be checked, and so on.

The truck also needs a mission; it wants to pull real loads, not just an empty trailer. And carrying the load for a block or a mile won't satisfy its engine, which was built for longer trips. Hauling a real load over real distances will bring joy to the truck, to its maker, and to its owner.
Like the truck, I have joy when I'm healthy and working toward my purpose. (More on purpose in another essay.)

So that's why I go: to reconnect to God, to be equipped, to serve. So what do I think of as a good church? Well, a good church for me is one where these things can happen easily.

What if somebody doesn't have much of an idea of who God is, or whether God is even there? If that's you, and you're looking for church, first of all I want to say, "Great idea!" I hope your search brings you to a place where you come to meet Jesus, learn of his great love, and find joy in following and serving him. Then, here are a few questions I think you should ask yourself when you visit.
  1. Do the words in the songs and the scriptures and the sermon (I hope all three are present) give you a sense of God's great love, his generosity and mercy and justice and kindness and goodness?
  2. Is the place OK for you as you try to think about God? Not that it has to be beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if the sight or sound or smell of the place distracts you, perhaps you should seek God somewhere else where you won't be quite so distracted.
  3. Do at least some of the people reflect God's love? (I said "some" because every group of humans has grouches and hypocrites, so don't be surprised if you find some in whatever congregation you visit. Most congregations have at least a few people -- maybe as many as half -- who haven't met Jesus or aren't even trying to follow him.)
  4. Is there someone who can help you find out who God is, how much he loves you, what he wants from you, etc.? If you're interested in church because you want to get to know God, this might be the most important thing.
  5. Related to that, are there materials (tapes/CDs, books, pamphlets) available there that can help you learn about God?
That's what comes to my mind, anyway.

A great week!

Has it really been two weeks since my last post? Almost!

Well, I had a great week. In no particular order...
  • I found my sunglasses, which I couldn't find for a while (yeah, they were just $10 and they're over a year old and somewhat scratched, but it was still nice to find them);
  • I found my bifocals-with-a-line, which I couldn't find for a while (are you detecting an eyewear theme here?);
  • I found my contacts   ←just kidding. There was something else I thought might have been lost, and I found it (another repeating theme. btw I don't wear contacts);
  • At the office, I learned about completion in "bash" and implemented a whiz-bang feature for our build system;
  • figured out how to make applesauce out of smashed apples (as in "how do you like them...") -- regarding apparently unpredictable build times;
  • the elder teen asked me for a date (breakfast some time next week I think);
  • the younger teen read the JUMBLE™ to me while I did the dishes the other night, and we solved it together;
  • she also gave me a number of awards last night (in response to doing my fatherly duty of fixing her bicycle) -- these were hand-drawn pictures on Post-It™s;
  • the lovely Carol proposed some exciting time in the bedroom mid-week;
  • I got a raise;
  • I realized that I learned some wonderful things about God's love this year while teaching my class about the Bible;
  • I learned something about how to please God (it's not hard, either!);
  • We thought there was a problem with the new kitchen counters, but everything's going to be OK;
  • The head gasket in our Subaru was leaking, but we don't have to pay for all of it -- even though we're out of warranty, the factory is going to pay maybe 40% of the bill;
I am thinking I'm very fortunate.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How to Improve Your Marriage without talking about it

How's that for a provocative book title? I found this book at Kepler's when I was browsing there with the lovely Carol. This is a great date (at least in for me) because as we walk around and show each other stuff, we learn more about how the other thinks.

Besides the date stuff, we were also going to a wedding (which was today), so we were in that section of the bookstore. There are lots of books by overtly Christian authors, and we figured the couple would get those from their church friends. So we thought of a couple of other books -- we saw The Dance of Anger by Lerner, which we've found useful, but I think you have to be over 35 to appreciate it (which these young people are not). Then we saw the gift we bought and I wrapped this afternoon: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I saw this book in 1994 at the public library near the 中目黒駅 (that would be in Tokyo). At first I thought it was science fiction, but then I realized it was about relationships. It sure was helpful for us in that it explained the Real Difference between men and women -- things that Dobson and other Christian authors had not mentioned (at least that I could recall). It seemed to me that Men Are From Mars... was the relationship book of the 1990s.

It seems to me that How to Improve... is the corresponding thing for this decade. Why do I say that? Well, it doesn't take much -- just a couple of insights that make me say, "All men know that intuitively, most women seem not to, but most of us guys couldn't put it into words like that."

The first thing in this category is implied by the title: men don't like to talk about Our Relationship, whereas women seem to. The promo page (uh, here) hints at why, but basically talking about the relationship feels like shaming him. The message he hears is "you're not doing it right" -- in other words, he's incompetent.

There's a lot of stuff there about what men and women find painful, which was news to both of us (though we'll be married 22 years pretty soon).

This is a GREAT book, but I don't recommend trying to read it all in one sitting; your head will explode.

A few links:

Friday, June 06, 2008

Got kids?

updated 2008-06-08
I was chatting with a recently-frocked manager the other day, and the subject of child-raising came up, since management and parenting have their points of similarity. "Got kids?" I asked. He did not; he asked me the same question. Without sounding too proud and insufferable (I hope), I announced that I have two teen-aged daughters.

He and his wife are still considering the "offspring" thing.

I encouraged him to go for the gusto. "The upside is far beyond anything I could have imagined," I told him, but I allowed as it was a risk.

Well, he knows some people who have experienced more heartbreak than anything they could have imagined. Which is certainly possible -- that's why we call it a risk.

So allowing that different people have different tastes, different propensities to take risks, different levels of empathy and so on, here's why I think they should do it.

If they take one path, they'll put away the contraceptive drugs and devices, and if all goes well they'll have a few kids in a few years. (Or they won't, and there will be heartbreak, and learning, in that.) Probably most things will go well, but they'll worry about someone other than themselves or each other; they'll see parts of their personalities they've so far been able to avoid seeing; they'll stretch and grow in ways they hadn't imagined.

Maybe some things won't go well, maybe there'll be heartbreak and misery beyond measure, and again they'll experience growth. Because they'll run into lots of things they can't control -- things that don't impinge as much on childless couples.

On the other path, maybe he'll get a vasectomy or she'll get her tubes tied, or she'll do the norplant thing. They won't adopt. Probably their chosen method of "permanent" contraception will work and they'll grow old with each other but without kids. On that path, what will they avoid?

Nothing is certain, but they'll likely have a more predictable, less emotionally risky life. And if things go well, they'll arrive, at the end, safely to... their deaths.
Re-reading this a few days later, I realized that I've made, well, a judgment—a guess without actual information. I don't actually know my colleague's personal situation. They may be caring for an elderly and/or disabled relative, maybe long distance, or some other heartbreak I haven't imagined may already be coloring every moment of their lives. So I must here beg forgiveness from my colleague (you know who you are). Please accept my apologies if these paragraphs offend you. But I'll be delighted if you find anything here useful.
Because ultimately, every one of us will die. And different people want to see different things when they look back. And although I'm generally a proponent of "staying safe until you die," I really did not want to miss out on having kids.

What is my point? Some single high-tech professionals suffer from the illusion that they control their own fates. Oh, they know that they'll die some day, there are people they love and sometimes worry about, but most of the time they imagine themselves masters of their fates (as some silly poets have written) or masters of the universe (as the silly main character in Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities imagined himself). I used to think that way myself.

Over time, as I became a husband (quite difficult to do) and a father, that illusion wore away, and I grew less foolish.

Now because I believe in a God who loves me, I believe he would have caused me to grow no matter what I did. But I think it was wise to, ah, in the words of Leonard McCoy (from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), "choose the danger."

Would I say the same thing if we tried unsuccessfully to procreate, or if we had multiple "special-needs" kids? I do not know. As Lewis's Aslan says, "Nobody is ever told what would have happened." But from where I sit, my advice to successful high-tech professionals is to marry and raise children -- natural or adopted -- because of the growth potential.

Am I saying that a childless life will be boring or meaningless? Absolutely not! But I will say that without children, many of us would choose lives of comfort, amusement and distraction, rather than lives of growth and challenge.

Art Hoppe wrote a memorable column a few decades ago where a rich guy and a middle-class guy both appeared at the pearly gates. Now Hoppe's theology is Eclectic, but his point is a word to the wise-wannabes: the guy whose life was filled with boats and other expensive toys -- that guy had missed the point of life; he hadn't learned anything worth knowing, hadn't grown in patience, tolerance, compassion. The middle-class guy in the story was welcomed into the next life, having seen it all: late nights in the hospital wondering if his kid would make it, the joy of seeing his child graduate, etc.

By the way, any successful high-tech professional, especially a childless one, would meet Hoppe's definition of "rich." Mine too.

I don't think Teddy Roosevelt was speaking of children when he wrote these words, but I think they are apt:
preach, not the doctrine of the life of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.
Or in the words of my friend Carl: "Parenting isn't for sissies."

To which I would add as a corollary: If you want to remain a sissy, don't become a parent.
And again, just because you aren't a parent (or haven't tried), that doesn't necessarily make you a sissy. But if your goal is the life of ignoble ease, well, then the old adage about shoes fitting may apply....

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A relatively excellent dad to your (little) girl

Our society's expectations for fathers aren't very high. This makes it easy to look pretty good! If you want to be a Super-Dad, you can buy books full of wisdom and sage advice, like the Clarks' Daughters and Dads, but here I'll just share a few quotes from real daughters, and make a few observations.
My dad is a hero because he pays attention to me.
—words on a paper-cup "trophy" in a father's study

I was home from my first semester of college, and I had so much I wanted to tell my parents—about the people I'd encountered, the things I'd learned, the experiences I'd had. But my dad hid behind his newspaper--he even lifted it higher. He didn't seem to want to know me. I felt invisible and so hurt.
—remembering a long-ago morning
Your little girl will be gone soon. So will mine. We've got them for such a short time; I hope our little girls will be like the first one above.
Dad, from now on (sniff), when I'm crying (sniff, sniff), would you please not say anything that's logical.
—a grade-school girl, in response to Dad's simple 4-step plan to solve her problem

I am stressing over my test tomorrow.... I pace around the house and practically wail. And my dad knows. I go to him and sit on his lap and hold his hands and feel the calluses on them. I feel the stubble on his chin like I used to do.... I place his big hands on mine and that choking sensation in the back of my throat settles down.
—a high school student
Every little girl has problems now and then, and we want to solve them for her. But sometimes advice (logical or otherwise) is the last thing she wants; sometimes she just needs to know that we believe in her.
I wish [my dad] would have been protective like that.

My Dad isn't really someone that give much insight into how to apply situations to my faith etc.
— a college student
She still wants protection from us, and our wisdom and guidance for her spiritual journey. Offering those to her without giving advice is tricky, but as you know, being a dad isn't for wimps!

Every morning when I rise sleepy-eyed, dull brain, messy hair and over sized t-shirt, my father finds me and smiles as I am the most beautiful thing in the world, gives me a hug. "Good morning", he says.
— a high-school student
I hope every little girl can feel that Dad is a fan.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A role model

The lovely Carol and I went out on a date last night, hanging out at Cafe Borrone and then browsing at Kepler's. While enjoying our decaf borgias, we read an article from the April'08 Christianity Today, whence come these musings.

I'm not quite sure I want to say Philip Yancey is my role model, because that might have a, you know, implication for my life. But I'll say that he's a role model, as described here by Tim Stafford (Christianity Today, April 2008). Two phrases from that article that struck me:
His general stance is, "I didn't understand this [prayer, pain, the seeming absence of God], it was a problem to me, so I decided to try to learn from it. And now as a fellow pilgrim, I am going to offer you what I learned, to see if it helps you too." Make no mistake: Philip remains a missionary at heart. He wants to change lives.
He writes to heal. He has reclaimed the original kernel of his fundamentalist past—Good News to suffering and lost people—and is determined to get the message across.
Here is a calling I might aspire to. Does it mean I would quit my day job? Or that I should?

Well, maybe not quite yet. But I want my writing to be a joy to read, or to help people take their next step closer to God, to healing, to life.