Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bella Is Back!

It had been too long since we took the—what, three-mile drive?—to Bella/Arrivederci on Seaport, overlooking the waters of San Francisco Bay. It was just the two of us, the lovely Carol and I, enjoying a late celebration of our wedding anniversary. She was wearing a not-entirely-opaque dress, which was just short enough on my side that, sitting next to her, I could reach down and feel her thigh without being obvious. Fortunately the opaque white tablecloths hang low enough that nobody could see what I was doing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we arrived, there were colorful balloons and a big banner proclaiming "NOW OPEN!"

What's with the decorations, we asked. They had a fire several months ago, and just recently opened their doors. Smoke damage.

The place looked great. We arrived a little before six last night (a Saturday) and apparently the entire "front" section (facing the bay) downstairs was reserved for a banquet. So we had a rare chance to sit upstairs, right at the window. Before we climbed the steps, though, we noticed a special—chicken breast topped with eggplant (and some cheese?), in a sauce of Marsala wine, $17—which sounded like a winner.

Bread and butter, menus, and water all appeared. The lovely Carol chose salmon piccata (lemon and capers) and their homemade Minestrone soup. I opted for the chicken special.

She shared a spoonful of the soup with me, and it was great as usual. Our entrees came and they were great. Lots of garlic with the chicken—aw, I forgot to write down the ingredients! (You know, a man can never be too handsome, too rich, or have too much garlic.)

For dessert, we had cannoli at our waiter's recommendation ("Because it's fresh," he said). Terrific with a cup of strong decaf coffee.

Luckily for us, there was not a lot of traffic (word hasn't gotten out yet that Bella is back??) so we watched the sun go down and the waters of the bay turn silvery, then dark purple. We also read a chapter of Anne Perry's We Shall not Sleep as well as some articles from a recent "First Things."

Service was not all that quick, but then we were in absolutely no hurry either. (One waiter was covering the entire upstairs dining room.)

Great food, and we're planning to return soon, probably with the younger teen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Open letter to a friend of my daughter

Dear _______,

I'm not sure if any of this will be a surprise to you, and I'll be happy to clarify or answer any questions about what you read here. And I hope this doesn't come off as too weird or anything.

When you came over the other night to hang out with <my daughter>, I was frankly astonished at your transformation from an attractive and interesting girl into an absolutely stunning young woman. I am not kidding; women as attractive as you make me really glad that I'm old and married. Why? Because if I were single and 15 years younger, I'd probably become helpless, tongue-tied, hoping I could get to gaze into your eyes for an evening, and yet terrified of rejection. (I wrote something on this topic last year).

But since I am in fact an old married guy, and I want to stay that way, let me explain why I wrote that paragraph. I don't know what your experience has been with guys pestering you, but if it hasn't started already, you're in for a rude shock. By the way, those huge tips you've gotten? It's not just because those customers are rich; they're rich and they got a lot of enjoyment just from looking at you. (These were men, right?)

I believe that there are already dozens of young (meaning "under 40") men trying to think of ways to get a date -- or more :^( -- with you. Unfortunately, because you're so attractive, it's not only nice guys who're attracted; some of these guys are real creeps.

So my message is: You've been given a gift of great power, but it is decidedly a mixed blessing -- sorta like the power of white gold in Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane (if you've read that). Not to say you were unattractive before! -- do you remember "if I were 19 I'd be begging you to marry me"? What I mean is, over the past year you've truly become a "knockout." (Wait, the past few months maybe -- you came by earlier this summer? Maybe it's your hair?)

Guys that see you frequently (your dad for example) probably haven't noticed, because the change has been pretty gradual, but writing as a normal (yeah right) American male, I'm going to say that you'll take away the breath of any man meeting you for the first time. And as your friend and as a father of daughters, I say: Please be careful!

Jenny has a copy of Dateable, which (among other things) decodes what guys say. The book's translations are spot-on. When a guy says he'll love you forever, what he really means is, "I feel so attracted to you that I think these feelings will last forever." And when he says he's never felt this way about anyone else, what he really means is that he doesn't remember feeling exactly this way about the last girl he was with, or the one before or... And so on.

OK, this is long enough. Please let me know if you have any questions or want anything explained further. And if you want to tell me what kind of nut-case I am, that's OK too, as I've always wondered....


P.S. OK, not long enough after all. There was one other thing I want to pass along; it's something men know instinctively but isn't obvious to women: uneducated or unintelligent men are intimidated by educated, intelligent women. Educated/intelligent men are intimidated by very attractive women. This makes you scary on all fronts.

P.P.S. Yes, I was intimidated by the lovely Carol when I met her a quarter-century ago. And my daughters are the kind of girls I used to be terrified of when I was that age.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Giving customers what they really want

How do we find out what customers (or "clients" or "users" if you prefer) really want? This actually is a trick question, because the answer isn't "ask them what they want." I have two answers. The first is what I call the "laminating machine" story, which I heard some years decades ago, in a class called "Building Market-Focused Organizations." (Note: I'm making up some numbers here)
This consultant was working for a manufacturer of particle-board. The manufacturer was visiting one of his customers, a furniture maker.

The furniture-maker said his problem was that everything cost too much. The only thing he wanted the particle-board guy to do was lower his prices!

Then the consultant said, "What's that machine over there?"

Furniture guy: That's a laminating machine. We put 2-3 sheets of particle board and glue 'em together.

Consultant: why do you do that?

F: Because we need particle board 1¾" thick. Of course you can't buy board that thick, so we glue 2 sheets together under pressure, and heat, etc...

C: (to particle-board guy) Could you make particle board 1¾" thick?

Particle-board guy: Yes we can!

F: Whoa, could you really do that? I could save a lot of money...
The furniture guy never thought of "gotta laminate" as a problem. The particle-board guy asked what kind of problems they were facing, and the furniture guy would not have come up with "your board is too thin!" for a long, long time.

Of course the particle-board guy wouldn't have come up with "Offer them thicker particle board!" for a long time either. The rest of the story is that the particle-board vendor continued to work with the furniture guy to better understand how they could help his business. They captured this client for a long time; other particle-board guys could offer only lower prices, but this vendor knew the problems the furniture guy faced and able to offer things the other vendors couldn't even imagine.

How do we get people to look past what the customers complain about? How do we get them to figure out what the customers are trying to deliver to THEIR customers, and then figure out how to help them do that?

That's the $64,000 question. Or the $64×106 question as the case may be.

And the second answer?

The other thing that comes to mind is the Kano model of quality. Wikipedia's article is, surprisingly, not all that useful. This paper provides some examples ← No it doesn't; as of 2008-10-17 it's a 404. Hence...

Refer to the figure from the wikipedia article and let's talk cars for this example.

Let me describe a "basic" attribute: the car has doors that close securely. This is basic because if the doors don't work, you'll hate the car -- end of story. If the doors work perfectly, that gives a total "ho hum" kind of response, right? You expect the doors to work already! If the salesman talks about how well the doors close, you're gonna think he's got rocks in his head, right?

For "performance" attributes, one could imagine fuel economy, ease of handling, and a quiet ride for 3 examples. If someone offers a car that gets 300 miles per gallon, goes exactly where you want, and lets you drive on bumpy roads while being able to hear your wife whispering to you, those are all good things, correct? You'd be more interested in a car that did all that stuff, but a car with less of those could still be considered -- just not as avidly.

For "delight", imagine a car that could fly and also go underwater. Does the lack of such qualities concern you? No -- you never thought of them? But if it could do just one of those -- that would get your interest, would it not?

That's the basic(sic) idea anyway.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Creative  Life

From The Message: Galatians 6:1-3 begins "Live creatively, friends"

I posted a little essay on this here; I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nerd-vana in Menlo Park!

In Menlo Park (California) we used to have some serious nerd envy for the guys who live in Sunnyvale (they've got both Halted/HSC and Action Surplus -- not to mention Fry's. But no more envy -- we now have Techworld! They opened recently, and their inventory isn't all sorted out quite yet.

I was looking for a spare VGA cable I was sure I had around here somewhere; couldn't find it and figured I'd have to drive to Action or something (I have a hard time paying $20 for a cable I know I could get for a lot less elsewhere), but then I remembered... where the pet food place used to be right there on Oak Grove was... TechWorld!

"Come in we're OPEN" proclaimed the sign, so in I went. I could tell this was my kind of place. I asked the guy if he had a VGA cable. We looked for a bit, and he said if I could find it, he'd let me have it for (actual price deleted). I stumbled across a DVI cable; remembering that I had an adapter at home, I paid him and left. When I got home -- drat it, the adapter had the wrong gender!

I had to go out again a few hours later, so I stopped by. Sure, he was fine with me trading the DVI cable in for a VGA cable. He offered to refund my money if I couldn't find the needful, but after looking around a bit more -- ta-da! a five-foot (or longer?) VGA cable.

Eat too many chips?

The younger teen and I visited a "Chili's" restaurant in San Jose the other day, where we saw a major change in the menu -- lots of stuff was missing. The waitress asked if we wanted some chips and salsa while we were waiting for our meal.

What a big pile of chips! I thought. That's the bad news (from the American Nutrition Society's perspective). The good news (same perspective) is that they are no longer complimentary: $2.99 plus tax and tip.

Once the bill came and we discovered the $2.99 charge, we asked for a bag to take the leftovers home. Especially after paying $3, we didn't want to waste the leftovers.

But rather than bringing us an empty bag, she brought us a full bag of chips!

People grow up differently, I guess; we were thinking about not throwing away perfectly good chips.

Our overall impression is that Chili's isn't much like a Mexican restaurant any more, and it's off my short list.

But on the good side, if you don't want the bad health effects of the chips, they're easy to resist: Just don't order 'em.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is the Marriott Corp. an enthusiastic vendor of “adult” entertainment?

If you ever wondered whether JW Marriott's religion (either Sr. or Jr.) influences the way they run their business, here's another piece of info for you. At the Downtown Anchorage Marriott, the in-room TV announces that the latest movies can be seen in your room: "Drama, suspense, adult—it's all here!" (emphasis mine) That is verbatim from the voice announcement.

And if you're concerned about getting into trouble with your wife or boss for watching smut, not to worry! "Titles do not appear on your bill" (that is verbatim) appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.
Well, I'm glad that the Marriott Corp. hasn't let
any pseudo-religious posturing influence the One
True Faith: $hort-term Profit$!

Pornography destroying families? Gimme a break!
Next you're going to tell me cigarettes cause cancer!

No, don't worry about Marriott Hotels’ image
as "family friendly" -- they're really
no different from any other Ameri¢an
¢apitli$t$ -- proud members of the One True Faith,
fellow-worshipers of the Almighty Dollar!
So what am I really saying? Here is my fond hope: that JW junior and senior are really not just two more pseudo-religious profit-minded hypocrites. I hope they simply have not been paying attention to what goes on in their hotels vis-a-vis  the sale and promotion of smut.

DISCLAIMER: I have not investigated the exact content of "adult" entertainment here. Oh, but why not? My wife is out at breakfast, and titles will not appear on my bill!

A modest proposal for the Marriott Corp.

Bill, you could institute the following policy at your properties:
No so-called “adult” entertainment
It could be like your no-smoking policy. There would be some short-term loss in profits because weak-willed men would not be watching whatever the hell you guys call "adult" entertainment (junior-high locker-room entertainment?). But imagine if family-minded Americans staying in Marriott Hotels could be assured that no smut would ever be seen in any of your rooms? How many family-oriented organizations (I don't just mean Mormon churches) would have yet another reason to prefer Marriott properties for their conferences?

Bill, I don't share your faith, but I do believe that American business can influence the future of our country. By taking a stand in favor of families over the short-term profit motive, you will help prevent decay in this great land of ours. Didn't Jesus Christ himself say, "You are the salt of the earth"? How about helping to halt the decay of American society in this small way, rather than accelerating it with that smut in your hotel rooms?

You might even come out ahead financially! But if not, you'll still have done the right thing by reducing the river of smut flowing into America's hotel rooms.

(What? You don't make all that much from the smut? Well, you'll hardly miss those profits then, will you?)

Sincerely (except for the “TONGUE_IN_CHEEK_MODE=on” part),

Collin Park

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Christian Science" as compared/contrasted to Christianity ("Scientific" or not)

One of my relatives asked the lovely Carol about this distinction. What is the distinction between Christianity and Christian Science?

Here's my whack at it. As I understand it, "Christian Science"—the quotes are bugging me; let me call it ChriSci instead—ChriSci teaches that sin and disease are illusions. If whenever you eat something you vomit it up, and your body temperature is over 39°C, then you don't have stomach flu or food poisoning; what you have is an error in your thinking. (This article in a blog authorized by the ChriSci church agrees with that; wikipedia's explanation is rather stark by comparison.)

I've only given a very small piece of ChriSci's teaching, and though I don't believe in ChriSci, I don't think I've misrepresented it.

In contrast, Jesus Christ talked a lot about something he called the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). It's the first thing Jesus preaches in Mark's gospel: "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15) The good news is simply that into this sorry dark world, a place with real disease and real evil and suffering, God's kingdom is coming. This Kingdom of God is a place where people willingly obey God in every aspect of our lives, where women are not abused, where slaves are set free, where the poor are respected rather than being exploited. Here is a passage Jesus quoted early in his ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed...
Luke 4:18 (quoting Isaiah 61:1)
That's why we call it "good news."

Note that a key distinction between ChriSci and Christianity is that Jesus talked about sin and disease and suffering as real. He never said they were illusions.

Now how is this kingdom coming? How close is it? Well, if it's where people willingly obey God in every aspect of our lives, then one part, my "sphere," is as close as my willingness to obey God in every aspect of my life. To the extent that I obey God willingly and completely, I welcome the kingdom into my life; to the extent that my obedience is grudging or incomplete, I reject this kingdom.

And something very special about this kingdom is that even for incomplete, not-always-competent subjects (like me) of the kingdom, the King is crazy in love with us. He promises to forgive all our sins and to make us clean. Sometimes it seems like a really slow process, though of course that is not his fault.

When I was younger I thought of the gospel as "You and I have a chance to escape the eternal condemnation we so richly deserve." I still believe that! But when the gospel enters my life, the good news shouldn't be only for me; it should be good news for everybody that has to put up with me.

As I believe it was, now over 30 years ago. And to the extent that I walk more closely to Jesus, obey him more completely—in other words, to the extent the gospel is fully in my life—it's still good news to the people who have to put up with me today. And for that, well,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Collin's northbound Alaska cruise guide
... through the inside passage on Celebrity's GTS Millennium

(And if you believed that title, I've got a bridge to sell you.)

Here are a few things I'm happy we did, and a few things I wished I'd known before. To be specific, we took the Millennium departing from Ballantyne Pier in Vancouver (BC) 2008-08-08 and arriving, umm, somewhere near Seward 2008-08-15.

Selecting your stateroom

If you can afford it, get a room with a balcony on the starboard side. We were on deck 6, the lowest such level. If you can get a stateroom near the middle of the ship, you'll experience less pitching and so forth in case of rough seas.


They tell you to bring a ton of outfits, which is really unnecessary. The dining room supposedly has a "no jeans" policy, but they don't get 100% compliance and the policy isn't enforced. Gentlemen, one suit will be sufficient. As far as comfortable (or grubby) outfits are concerned, you'll want a spare one or two if you take a hiking excursion or visit the dog musher's camp out of Skagway. (There is mud in the summer.) It is sometimes cold on deck, but in Juneau it was maybe 55°F. So far a sweatshirt and a waterproof windbreaker are all we've needed ashore.


If you're driving to Vancouver, then I guess you'll need to park your car. There are two logical places -- at the pier or at the airport. If you park "at the pier," well, you don't. You park near the pier and they provide a shuttle to get you to your ship.

But if you fly back to Vancouver at the end of your cruise, you'll need to get from the airport to your car! If you're like me, once off the plane you'll want to get to your car right away. So my suggestion is to park at the airport. Go to the YVR website and find the discount parking coupon.


You can board starting at about noon. Jenny and I flew into YVR (which has free wi-fi!), arriving about 8:30am. We flew through Canadian customs (nobody else is arriving around 9am), picked up our bags, and hung around. The lovely Carol parked her car in the airport's long-term parking, then endured some abuse from the shuttle driver for the volume of luggage. So be prepared.

From YVR we took a cab -- a minivan actually -- to the Ballantyne Pier. This cost us about $50; the driver took US dollars. Next time we might take a limo.

Another option, if everybody is flying in from the US, is to use the US-Direct service, booked through the cruise operator. You get off the airplane and do not "enter Canada" -- instead you follow the signs to US-Direct and they take you and your bags directly to the pier. You bypass customs entirely (I guess the ship is considered US territory?) and it's a smoother deal. Don't do it if your flight arrives at 8:30am though -- US Direct wasn't open then.


The food in the buffet isn't bad, but the Metropolitan Restaurant is better. We were put into the "late seating" which means 8;30pm. You don't start eating 'til about nine. The "main seating" is at six, but if you can't get into the main seating, there's a fair chance that there will be enough empty seats (or empty tables)... arrive in the Metropolitan Restaurant 6:35-6:45pm and look around. Probably you'll get a seat but nothing is guaranteed.

Day 2 -- cruising up the Canadian coast

Check out the films and lectures described in your daily schedule/bulletin.

Day 3 -- Ketchikan

I recommend the walking tour (free maps at the pier). We bought a case of salmon at 322 Main St., on someone's recommendation; they're shipping it to our home, timed to arrive a couple days after we do.

Also on the walking tour, the guided tour of the hatchery and eagle habitat is well worth the $12/person. Near the entrance, you may see some thimbleberry bushes. (Some call these salmon-berries??) If you're lucky, there will be some bright red ones -- very sweet. Back at the pier, the halibut and chips we got from a street vendor were fresh, hot and delicious.

Day 4 -- Juneau

Capt. Chris and his "Rum Runner Charters" get a "thumbs up" from me. Be the first off your ship so that he can get you out on the water early and avoid the "cattle-maran"s. The shuttle driver that takes you out to the Rum Runner may not be the driver that takes you back -- so if you plan to tip him, do it when you get off! Capt. Chris has binoculars so you don't need to bring yours. He also has an AED on board in case you get way too excited about the wildlife. We took the 2–2½-hour tour, which was sufficient for me. We saw seals, whales, eagles. Educational, interesting, memorable.

You may have one or two other ships in port when yours is there -- this means some 6,000 passengers coming ashore and some of the crew also!

There is high-speed internet access in Juneau, but don't even think about the free wifi in the library. It feels like the old 110-baud modems of the 1980s, only slower—whenever a cruise ship is in port, that is. Instead, visit Seaport at 175 South Franklin #211, which has a lot of bandwidth. Wifi is $6/hour or two hours for $11. If you don't have a computer and just want to use his to check your Yahoo! or gmail account, you can use his computers (I didn't ask his rates for that).

There are glaciers -- the rest of my family went on an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier, which they recommend.

Day 5 -- Skagway

Take the White Pass Summit & Historical City Tour from Skaguay Tour Co, not the White Pass railway tour. It's a 2½-hour deal. Aha, I have their sheet: "" or 866-983-2168. Their bus tour is $45/head, vs $112 for the rail tour if booked on board (maybe $90 if booked on shore). Our bus guide, Matt, was very entertaining. Bring your photo ID on shore; since this tour goes into Canada, you might be stopped by US Customs and Border Protection services on the way back. "The alpine tundra changes color every day, and sometimes it looks like a giant Persian carpet rising into the clouds." You'll want to step out of the bus to see this and walk around some.

We took the musher's camp excursion too -- for this you want a grubby outfit (it'll get muddy). You might see a bear, so keep your camera handy -- and be ready to board the bus immediately at your driver's direction.

The lovely Carol took a nature-walk excursion and got thoroughly soaked. So it sounds like Sno-Seal on the boots is recommended, as is a waterproof poncho. This amount of rain is reportedly unusual, but it was very very wet.

Skagway gets about 10,000 tourists a day, four days a week. It looks like it, too.

Day 6 -- Icy Strait Point

This is basically a visit to the village of Hoonah. I recommend getting off the boat and looking at the weather before booking any excursions. There were bikers but they looked quite wet.

The premier attraction at ISP is the zip line, $92 a pop. Take your camera up there but make sure you've got your wrist-strap secured! If I do this again I'll take a video camera for sure (I was spooked this time and kept my camera in my pocket). I found myself turning sideways a lot -- to steer I used one hand or the other. It is definitely a kick in the pants!

There is an ATM in Hoonah, about a half-hour's walk in from the pier. The shuttle into town is $5.00 round-trip (or $5.00 one-way; this is not a typo). To find the ATM, walk into town on the road, past the old cemetery, and up to a red barn-like structure. A side-street branches off to your left, and on its right-hand side is a bank. An ATM lies within. Transaction fee is $2.00. It took a few minutes and I wasn't sure if it was going to work, but I entered my PIN and the amount I wanted, and waited... then I okayed the transaction fee and waited... then the screen said to take my cash and I waited. The cash eventually came out.

Day 7 -- Hubbard Glacier

The schedule says arrive 7am depart 11am, but this is wrong; they only hang around there for an hour or two. Don't laze around in bed past 9am like we did and miss seeing it!


If you can manage to get to the seating of your choice and actually eat there most nights, you might just go with their credit-card gratuity system. This works out to $73.50/person for the 7-night cruise. There is a small annoyance if you want to have more say in how your tips are allocated (I like tipping the waiter and housekeeper, but sending a tip to the assistant chief housekeeper? I'm not crazy about that.)

If you want to leave tips in cash for your various servers, bring plenty on board. You can break your $20s &c at the cashier inside the "Fortunes" casino. (They can also give you quarters, should you desire to donate at the various machines.))

Geek section

The Millennium displaces about 91,000 tons (I don't know or care whether these are metric tons). Passenger capacity is about 2000 and crew is another 1000 or so -- about two passengers per crew membrer. No wonder we feel so pampered!

Internet access costs over a penny a second on board (in bulk, as little as about $23/hour) -- which is why I investigated other options in Juneau. Cell phones worked "most" of the time, but walkie-talkies are definitely an asset.


Well, that's a valid question. About $5000 for a couple, for about a week -- that's not cheap. It's definitely not something I'd want to do every year, but maybe in a few more years -- for our 25th anniversary -- maybe! Is it immoral? I'll say that compared to other things we could spend money on, no. But it does feel strange.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Faith-based feet

Where is your faith -- or mine? How is it visible? Paul says it's in your mouth and heart (Romans 10), which it surely is. Yet I've heard more than one sermon saying that your faith -- your true priorities -- are shown in your Day-Timer® and your checkbook.

The Apostle Thomas, one of my faith heroes, showed faith with his feet. When Jesus wanted to go to Bethany, it was Thomas who said, "Let us go also, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). How much faith was he showing there? He seemed to think they were headed for death, but he still went with Jesus.

Nine chapters later, Thomas says, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands... I will not believe" that the others had seen Jesus alive again (John 20:25). His mouth claims he hasn't much faith. But as Yancey points out in Reaching for the Invisible God, Thomas is hanging out with the others when he says this! His mouth may doubt, but when he votes "with his feet," we see that he is solidly with Jesus and with His followers.

Thomas followed Jesus to Bethany, thinking he might be walking into death. He followed Jesus to Jerusalem. He kept company with the disciples, though he claimed he didn't believe.

Were his feet a leading indicator of where his heart was truly headed? A few verses later, Thomas confesses Jesus as "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).

And how about us? If a man says he's not sure about Jesus, but he goes to church, thinks about the sermons, gives to the poor and to missions, reads the Bible -- is this a man of faith? How about a man who says he believes in Jesus but does none of those things? How real is either man's faith?

I thank God it's not my job to decide such things. What is my job, though, is to "walk the talk." If I say I believe in Jesus, do I worry? Do I pray? Do I give to the poor? Do I read and think about his words?

slight revision posted here

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday in Juneau

which probably should have been combined with some other post, but laziness rules...

Our boat docked at Juneau, which we learned was named after Joe Juneau, a reluctant explorer who discovered gold here in Alaska but drank his fortune away, dying penniless. We took a shuttle to meet Capt. Chris, a marine biologist with a 31-foot cabin cruiser, the "Rum Runner." This is a gorgeous craft, equipped with several pairs of binoculars to see exciting stuff and an AED in case you get way too excited from seeing all that wildlife. Chris is a terrific guide. He wants to give you the best possible tour; to avoid the cattle-marans you should do your best to be the first off your cruise ship.

We pulled out of Auka Bay and came up to a buoy. I thought there was some odd-looking trash piled upon it, but Chris slowed our boat down and told us these were Stellar's Seals. Or maybe Stollar Seals, I'm not sure. Rare seals, except here. There were maybe 8-10 of these guys lazing around on the buoy.

Chris's dog tried to rouse them from their nap, but only one even bothered to look at us.

We motored out to where a pair of humpbacks were feeding (we think), blowing and diving shallowly and blowing again. After some time looking at these guys, Capt. Chris spotted a larger blow, where about three humpbacks were diving; they would blow a little and then show their tails as they dove. The dog called out to the whales, but they paid her no mind.

We were pacing the whales, and right behind us was a huge double-hulled tourist boat, which Capt. Chris refers to as a cattle-maran.

It was really something, seeing these semi-trucks of the sea (weighing some 50 tons) diving down, then surfacing and blowing. At one point, they decided to get a move on for some reason, moving maybe 7 kts. This is only the second time Captain Chris has seen these beasts moving so fast. At one point, Capt. Chris called out because the whales were doing something unusual. The dog, who had been relaxing on the floor, charged out of the cabin to bark at whatever Capt. Chris was telling us about.

We saw bald eagles -- some in the trees swooped down to feed as we watched. Outstanding! Capt. Chris took us to where a pair of eagles had their nest.

The ladies went to Mendenhall glacier and did some hiking. More on that in another post.

Meanwhile, I decided to look for internet access. The Juneau Public Library has free wi-fi, but it slows to a crawl as soon as the cruise ships come in. Better bandwidth may be had at the Senate Mall Building on Franklin St.... Seaport Cyber, 175 South Franklin #211. It's in a shopping mall. They do moneygrams as well as sell wifi access and rent their computers. Wifi is $6 for an hour or $11 for two. Bandwidth is fine. Latency to California... well, they haven't cracked that speed-of-light thing yet. Nick had recently burned an Ubuntu CD, which he announced was downloaded in less than ten minutes. When I arrived, he was installing it onto an Asus sub-notebook. I was happy to give my business to this penguinista.

Three Perfect Hours in Ketchikan ... and some remarks on Skagway

without apology to the "Three Perfect Days..." series from whatever airline magazine...

Our cruise ship docked several hours in Ketchikan, but having been up late the previous night, we didn't all want to go charging out as soon as we got there. So here are a few highlights from our visit.

First, we stopped by the tourist info booth and picked up a map for a walking tour. Numbered signs on the street correspond to the sites on the tour map -- very convenient.

Near the start of the walking tour is a salmon outfit, I believe at 322 Main Street. A tour book writer was so impressed with the salmon here that he ordered a case and had it shipped home. We did the same.

We continued on the tour, where our next highlight was the hatchery. This is an elaborate setup which releases 300,000 fish into the river every year. The hathery also includes a bald eagle habitat. Very educational and definitely worth the $12 fee.

But we spent an extra $5/person to get a package deal which included the totem heritage center, a stone's throw away. There we learned that totem poles aren't worshiped; they're more or less analogous to some stained-glass windows, telling a story or honoring someone. Another reason a totem pole was constructed was to proclaim bad behavior -- a "shame" or "ridicule" pole. If amends were made, the pole would be torn down and destroyed.

We continued back to the pier and wanted some fish and chips -- which could be had from a street vendor. A large halibut and fries (6 pieces of fish) was about $13. Everything was fresh and hot and delicious. I wanted a beer but they weren't licensed for that.

Two days later -- Tuesday in Skagway

Important things learned here:
  • the yarn emporium is near the corner of 3rd and Broadway. One shuttle driver and a passenger said it was on 5th; a sales guy from a jewelry shop said it was on 4th. But 3rd is correct.
  • If you're considering the train tour to White Pass: This costs at least $90 a pop ($112 and up if booked through the cruise line) and I'm sure it's fabulous. Our tour was $45 per person and was conducted in a shuttle-style van, 18 passengers. If you're on a cruise ship and stop in Skagway (or Skaguay), I can tell you this is a much better deal. Our driver, Matt, gave us a quick tour of downtown before we stopped at the old cemetery where Soapy Smith and Frank Reed were both buried. We made multiple stops and got some terrific views. The train doesn't make any of those stops, and they cannot possibly have a more entertaining or informative tour guide.
  • Dogs can be seen on the musher's camp excursion -- the camp being in Dyea, about a 45-minute drive from the Broadway dock. If you go on this trip, you should wear stuff you don't mind getting dirty, as the road will likely be muddy. (The dogs pull a wheeled vehicle -- they love to run! -- and some mud inevitably gets kicked up onto the forward passengers in the sled.)
I believe the price for the dog musher's camp is about the same whether booked through your cruise line or independently (i.e., by wandering into town). But if I have this right, the bus tour was only available in town. Get a tour with Matt as your driver if you can.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Would it matter to anyone if I never came back?"

Yesterday the elder teen and I were discussing this question in the context of church. Some people feel that if one day they just stopped coming to church, it wouldn't matter to anyone else -- and they may be right. My daughter pointed out that someone's presence has to be noticeable in order to be missed when they're gone. This means they have to show up consistently -- and so do some others -- otherwise no one could possibly know when anyone else stops coming.

What else? Well, let me turn the question around: Who would I miss, and why? The preacher of course. The greeters and the ushers. Aha -- people with roles. That doesn't mean they have to have an actual job (paid or unpaid); I'd also miss people who don't have any "official" role -- people who know my name, or remember what I told them last week and ask about it, this sort of thing.

So, putting myself into the question of who hypothetically would miss me, here are some questions that come to mind:
  • Do I attend consistently?
  • What "job" or role do I have here? What team have I joined?
  • Who do I recognize and greet by name?
  • Whose concerns do I remember? Whose job or health or children or project have I asked about or prayed for?
  • In other words, who have I been a friend to?
If I contribute only money, if I don't have a role in anyone's life and haven't been a friend to anyone, then why on earth would anyone miss me if I quit showing up?

Let me now replace my "Republican" hat with a "Democratic" one.

Suppose "Robin" shows up a before the 9:30 service. What does Robin see? Everybody's rushing around, dropping their kids off or trying to get a good seat. Robin shrugs and goes in. After the 9:30 service? More rushing around, picking their kids up or dropping them off or trying to get a good seat for the 11:00 service. Robin tries a fellowship class, but it seems that people are either rushing around or focused on people they already know.

What happens next depends on Robin's external appearance, internal strength, or both. If Robin is physically attractive, wears the right kind of clothes, has no obvious quirks, and appears interesting and interested, people might initiate a conversation, invite Robin to lunch, or whatever. Otherwise Robin might feel shut out.

If Robin has enough inner strength, she or he might find someone in the room that seems to need a friend, and strike up a conversation there.

Well, isn't that the way it is at a cocktail party or singles' bar? Exactly the problem! If only the attractive and strong can "break in" to an existing group, where does that leave the rest of us? Doesn't that say that the church needs to change somehow?

I'm afraid it does, if we believe that the church should operate differently from a singles' bar. And that means each regular attender should make it a priority to welcome the newcomer. And not just "Hi, how are you doing, may the Lord bless you... NEXT!" But it's important that a lot of us reach out to the newcomer, and let some of them be our friends.
I'm not a big Steinbeck fan, but I think it might have been in Sweet Thursday that one of his characters is told, "Let people do things for you" -- so as not to be (seen as) aloof. This is an important way that we can honor people: if they want to pray for me, if they want to hear my story -- if they want to be a friend, then I ought to let them, at least sometimes. In other words, give them a chance to become important in my life so that I will miss them.
Of course we need to be willing to do that for them, too -- to pray for them and bear their burdens (as Paul tells us in Galatians 6), but if it's only one-sided then they'll start to miss us but nobody will miss them.

So for those of us wanting to facilitate growth and improve 'retention" -- we need to create an environment where people can become valuable to each other. We need to encourage and remind and prod our members to welcome the alien and the stranger. We need training -- but more than just training on skills; we need discipleship to help our members grow in Christlikeness.

And if I'm going to church and trying to break out of "permanent visitor" status, I've got to do those things above -- attend regularly and consistently, remember people's names, have real concern and show real concern for them, pray for them. Be their friend.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Where your treasure is, hey, what's this about eyes?

One of the pitfalls of memorizing Scriptures in bits of just 1-2 verses is the temptation to look at those 1-2 verses without understanding their context. I memorized Matthew 6:22, and on a different occasion memorized Matthew 6:19-21. I memorized them separately, thought about them separately, reviewed them separately, and until recently didn't connect them. To figure out how they were connected, though, I needed most of the chapter, i.e., verses 1-25. Here's how it happened.

In a recent sermon, we read a passage of Scripture together. Matthew chapter 6 verse 19, verse 20, 21, 24... hey, what happened to 22-23? Here's the passage as I remember it:
19Do not store up treasures for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where no thief comes near. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22The eye is the lamp of the body. If therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Matthew 6:19-24
The passage is sensible as shown here, but if you want to see the blacked-out text, you can "select" it with the mouse, or type ctrl-A (or Apple-A on your Mac).

What's that about? It wasn't obvious to me, so I looked a little bit before and after this passage. Verse 25 begins: "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life". H'm... as Ray Stedman used to say, "When you see a therefore, find out what it's there for."

What is that "therefore" doing there? Look at verses 24-25:
No one can serve two masters... you cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore do not worry about your life.

But verses 17-18 are more helpful; they talk about getting a reward from our heavenly father. Actually, if we go back to the beginning of chapter 6, things start to make more sense. Here's my take on it:
  • (1) Don't do your 'acts of righteousness' to be seen by men, or you'll have no reward from your father in heaven
    • (4) if you give to the needy in secret and get no praise from men, your father in heaven will reward you
    • (6) your father will reward prayer done in secret
    • (8) Your father knows what you need before you ask
    • (14-15) your father will forgive as you forgive others
    • (18) your father will reward fasting done without theatrics
  • (19-21) Treasures on earth (the praise/esteem of men, and material things) will dissipate; they'll dilute your attention.
  • (22-24) Be careful of where your focus is! It's impossible to have your focus on multiple goals
  • (25) Therefore, because your father will reward you for all these things, do not worry
As you can see, I think verses 19-21 are a sort of wrapup to verses 1-18; they're not exclusively about money as such, but as one of many "treasures" that might distract us and obscure our focus.

What then do we do? We have to put feet on our faith -- we have to walk, move, whatever, in a direction consistent with faith. That's how we keep our eyes clear. So when we pray, we do it alone; when we give to the poor, we don't announce it; when someone wrongs us, we forgive. And we do all this with confidence that God has a reward for us in heaven -- where our true treasure awaits.
... our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly await a savior, Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power he has even to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:20-21, approximately

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Spiritual Mentoring: no one size fits all

I love this passage from Spiritual Mentoring, about which I've written before: "Then don't pray."

I might not have that verbatim (I believe our copy is in the lovely Carol's possession) but the basic idea was that someone was praying multiple times a day as a matter of duty, and finding it rather empty. After some reflection, the mentor suggested, "Then don't pray."


Specifically, "Don't pray until you feel you absolutely have to." It worked wonders -- this person went for just a few days and then really felt drawn to prayer -- not from habit or duty, but from a hunger and thirst for fellowship with God.

Now most of us don't need this particular discipline (i.e., "Don't pray until ...) -- rather for most of us it's the reverse -- but taking another step toward Jesus can look very different for different people.

So as a student, first of the Lord Jesus Christ and then of whatever pastors, teachers, mentors &c, I have to remember that what person X did to take their next step closer to Christ isn't necessarily what I should do to take my next step closer to Christ.

And as I hope to help others take their next steps closer to Christ I must remember that what it looked like for me won't necessarily what it'll look like for them.

Except, of course, that everybody should memorize the verses in the TMS (Yes, I'm kidding about "everybody should" — but the TMS is a great way for some of us to start memorizing Scriptures.)