Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ministry priorities for husbands

"Tom" and "Terri" met in Bible school, got married, and a few years later went to a foreign country to tell people about Jesus.

Tom taught in a language school, led students to Christ, and sent them to church. The kids hated the church services, though, and it wasn't long before Tom found himself leading worship on Sundays. These students needed a place to worship God on the weekends, and learn more about Him.

So Tom was busy with his thriving ministry, but life wasn't so nice for Terri. Whereas Tom had grown up in this country as a missionary kid, Terri's parents were missionaries in a different country. She missed her family and friends back in the USA, she missed being able to talk to people at church (NOT her husband's church -- she'd never wanted to be a pastor's wife!); she missed the life she'd left behind. And because Tom was so busy with his job and ministry, she missed her husband, too. They had so much less time as a couple than they used to.

But Terri loved it that people were meeting Jesus, so she didn't want to say anything. Tom knew something was up, though, and eventually Terri told him what was going on. Then Tom did something that convinced me of his faith and his brilliance.

"I have to finish out the semester at the language school," he told Terri, "but I don't have to renew the contract. Why don't you go back home and stay with your mom for a few weeks; when the term is over, I'll pack our stuff up and move back, and we can find some way to serve the Lord back in the States."

We met Tom and Terri in Japan, some years after all this happened. You guessed it -- after a few weeks with her mother, Terri was ready to go back overseas and rejoin Tom. It's not that she got tired of her mother and brothers; she needed time away from the pressures of overseas life to think about what was really important to her. You can be sure Tom was praying hard during those weeks.

Sam and Sally's story

"Sam" was also very interested in ministry. His wife "Sally" was fully supportive when he started seminary studies.

The first year was okay, but classes got harder and Sam was spending more and more time at the library. He was rarely home for dinner. Sally and the children missed him, but Sam was obsessed: he didn't just want to do well -- he wanted to graduate at the top of his class! Sally was increasingly frustrated, but Sam convinced himself he was doing God's will.

Sam was, of course, only feeding his own ego. His professors had only a vague inkling that things weren't 100% OK, but no suspicion strong enough to affect Tom's grades.

It was much clearer to Sally and the kids -- Sam hadn't talked to the kids in weeks; they were asleep when he got home and not awake when he left, and he lost interest in sex. Sally started divorce proceedings, which culminated the day after Sam graduated at the top of his class.

Sure, Sally could have talked to Sam's professors or to the dean; she could have confided in some other wives and they could have ganged up on Sam. I'm not saying Sally was blameless here, only that Sam's bad behavior was a big factor in what happened to him.

But it's not usually so clear-cut

I was going to write about a couple of specific unresolved situations, but perhaps it's best to mention a few principles.
  • A woman takes big risks when she marries a man; a man may be called upon to make big sacrifices when he marries a woman, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25-30. If they attend a church where the building has stairs but no elevator nor ramps, and the wife becomes crippled one day through accident or disease, then the husband must be willing to attend another place of worship, so that they can go together. If the wife finds one day that she cannot stand their church, for a reasonable cause, the husband must be willing to worship elsewhere, as in the wheelchair case. (Assuming, of course, this doesn't happen time after time....)

  • A man's got to do what a man's got to do, to coin a phrase. Bible teachers tell us that Abraham erred by listening to Sarah (Genesis 16:1-2); he probably would have done well to consult the Lord first. Solomon's wives led him astray (1 Kings 11:3-6); he should have listened to God. So if a husband has ministry gifts and passions, if the Lord is calling him to something and his wife objects, he has to find a way to answer his calling in consideration of his wife. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 that when we get married our interests are divided. He's not saying that a man should ignore his wife, but as Piper wrote:
    Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.
    Suppose a man has a gift of using his hands and tools to help those in need of home repairs. When he repairs things or improves their function, as Eric Liddell supposedly said, he "feel[s] His pleasure."

    Terrific! But his wife wants him home for dinner. The husband therefore should work with his wife and decide how to exercise his gifts and answer his calling to ministry, while not neglecting his call to be her husband. Can he do some of this work after supper, or on Saturdays -- though that's less convenient for him? Is she willing to stay her objection one evening every other week? One evening a month?

I don't have this all wired myself

Is it presumptuous to say that I feel these essays are part of my calling? I started this one Friday, and it was on my mind when I woke up Saturday morning. But it was nearly midnight Sunday (almost Monday morning) before I spent any more time on it. You may not believe this, but I sometimes have disagreements with the lovely Carol on this very topic: how much time I spend writing! So we need to work this out.

Why does this make me cry?

It's a song by Sara Groves, titled "What do I Know?" It's this part here that makes my face wet:
She lost her husband after sixty years
and as he slipped away she still had things to say
Those lines make me feel sad because of the losses, and the narrator's inability to fix anything. I suppose there's an aspect of wishful thinking that I indulge in myself -- that there's always tomorrow.

But of course one day will be your last; one day will be my last. So if there's some help I want to either give or get from you, then tomorrow might be too late. Probably not, but it might be.

Anyway, here's how the song starts.
I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight
and she just shared with me that she's afraid of dying.
I sit here years from her experience
and try to bring her comfort.
I try to bring her comfort
But what do I know? What do I know?
She grew up singing about the glory land,
and she would testify how Jesus changed her life.
It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four,
but now her friends are dying, and death is at her door.
Oh, and what do I know? Really, what do I know?

I don't know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of those things.
As I think about this, I see that much of what I do is aimed at avoiding things. I put on my seat belt to avoid grievous injury -- to avoid getting a ticket, too. I sock money away to avoid starving when I'm no longer fit for gainful employment. I lock the door because I don't want to come home to an empty house. Is that the wrong way to look at life?

So why does this song make me cry? Is it because the song shows the ultimate futility of all the octogenerian's planning (as if she lived her life trying to avoid the things that now confront her)? Is it because I know there are things coming my way that I can't avoid -- children leave home for months at a time -- as the elder then-teen did in 2007 and the remaining younger teen did last year -- and will do again this fall. The whole aging thing -- Eccl. 12:1-8 -- that's unavoidable, unless I die young. I'll lose my parents one day, if they get their wish and I outlive them.

But our life is not only the life we have in this world, as Jesus promised (John 3:16, John 5:24-26) and Paul affirms (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). So although we live prudently (trust God and fasten your seat belt), we have to live -- I have to remind myself to live -- in the knowledge that what we see isn't everything. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

started 2009-04-06

Putting the sexual genie back into the bottle

As a human male, I've been biologically programmed both to reproduce -- not just to procreate, but to get them launched; in other words, to maximize the probability that my genes survive me another generation or two. My wife and I are now closer to having an empty nest than we ever have been -- less than six months of runway remain for your younger daughter to head off to college, having become an "adult" in some sense (she's over 18).

And now I find biology asserting itself as strongly as it ever has. On a recent airplane trip, TV-like commercials appeared on the little seatback screens. In one, an ethnically ambiguous young woman was hawking a skin-care product, and I found myself drawn toward the back of seat 15C; I mean I was leaning forward so I could see the details on a digital image of this woman's face.
You've heard the phrase "reptilian brain"? I once held a gopher snake near a mirror, and she reacted to the mirror the way I reacted to the back of seat 15C: she extended her body toward that image. About half her body was cantilevered out toward the mirror! I didn't make quite as much of a spectacle of myself; I knew it was just a digital image, and my seat belt was securely fastened, low and tight across my lap.)
Then I realized what was happening. Here's how it appears to me: as my offspring need much less frequent involvement from me, there's some biological programming that wants to do the whole procreation thing again.

Some years ago, I heard and read about "The Jewish Sexual Revolution," which happened over three thousand years ago. This went along with the phrase "putting the sexual genie back into the bottle," which I understood to mean this: if men's biological (sexual) impulses are channeled/controlled (i.e., sublimated), all kinds of good things happen. Men provide for their children, rather than spreading STDs. They reason abstractly, they learn and think about the world, they write books, they teach moral precepts. (They also invent ways to abuse credit default swaps -- well, you can't have everything.)

So I'd heard the phrase, but I hadn't experienced it -- or hadn't realized it -- until now. Here's what I sense going through my head -- to the extent that I can know myself, that is. There's a resurgent desire to reproduce myself. That won't happen biologically, but I want my activities to have some meaning beyond myself.

I want so much for my life to count for something; I want to hear my Lord and Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Is it that the sex drive gets sublimated, and we engage in spiritual reproduction, philosophy, mentoring, and financial engineering out of a frustrated sexuality? Or is it more useful to think of the desire for impact and meaning as primal, with sexuality as an expression thereof?

Both may be true, but I believe the latter approach more useful, as it leads us to God for guidance.

Now I hate to disagree with Merton, but I think humans in society must follow God consciously in order to carry out his will (Ephesians 5:10, 5:17); I don't really think that "A man can live like a tree or an animal, doing the divine will all his life and never knowing anything about it" -- not for anyone reading this anyway.

Where am I going with this? I'm not sure, but something happened in my stomach lately and I wanted to tell you about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


From No Man Is an Island, p. 99:
The saint... is sanctified not only by fasting when he should fast but also by eating when he should eat. He is not only sanctified by his prayers in the darkness of the night, but by the sleep that he takes in obedience to God, Who made us what we are. Not only His solitude contributes to his union with God, but also his supernatural love for his friends and his relatives ....
So heavenly minded that he's no earthly good? Merton is not only brilliant; he has a lotta not-so-common sense as well.

Then on page 101:
Our self-denial is sterile and absurd if we practice it for the wrong reasons or, worse still, without any valid reason at all.
I resemble that remark! -- I have in the past, anyway. But as the Lord says, "Come, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18) -- in other words, be reasonable. Good idea.

Monday, April 20, 2009

address to latitude-longitude

So my buddy Chris at the church asked me about using google spreadsheets to map some addresses. After discussing some privacy concerns, it seemed OK (people had volunteered this information, and they'd already said we could tell interested people, "Here's a home group open to new members").

For some reason the google spreadsheets are like molasses in February on my box -- it's like a 2GHz P4 but my Linux distro is old enough that I'm running ffox2.16 -- i think there are other CPU-hogs on the box -- RAM-hogs too.) I told him that it looked pretty slick though....

He said yeah it is, but without latitude/longitude Google won't map locations from the spreadsheet. That seemed odd to me, but it also seemed to me that if you look for an address like "950 santa cruz, menlo park, ca 94025", the lat/lng are returned in the HTML that sends back.

Oooh, I thought, "lynx -dump -source" might be my friend here. Then use PERL or Python to extract the numbers... Then I had a better thought: use one language, one program, rather than lynx and shell and sed/perl/python.

So I hacked together a little Python script that looks basically like this:
#!/usr/bin/python -tt
# vim:sw=4:ts=8:et

import httplib
import re
import string
import sys


def main(argv):
"given an address in argv, give human-readable lat/long"

the_addr = re.sub('\s+', '+', string.join(argv))
map_html = ' ' + addr2page(the_addr)
print "latitude:", interp_coords(map_html, 'lat', 'south', 'north')
print "longitude:", interp_coords(map_html, 'lng', 'west', 'east')

def addr2page(the_addr):
"""given an address string, return a long html string from google maps.
address string should contain no whitespace."""

map_site = ''
map_query = '/maps?q=' + the_addr

print "DEBUG: if this were for real, we'd go to"
print "DEBUG: http://" + map_site + map_query
print "DEBUG: but it's not, so let's not and say we did"
return '<html> lng:-122.3456 lat:33.4567'
conn = httplib.HTTPConnection(map_site)
conn.request('GET', map_query)
r1 = conn.getresponse()
if r1.status != 200:
# Trouble in paradise
print >> sys.stderr, r1.status, r1.reason
the_page = # uselesss
# Got 'OK' so continue
the_page =
return the_page

def interp_coords(html_string, LL, if_neg, if_pos):
"""return a substring of the form '(west) -123.456' from html_string
given a prefix 'lat:' or 'lng:' (supplied in 'LL')
if_neg => what to put in parens if the string is (duh) negative
if_pos => what you would think"""

coord ='\W' + LL + ':([-+]?[.0-9]+)', html_string)
if coord is not None:
coord =
if coord.startswith('-'):
suf = if_neg # i.e., it was negative
suf = if_pos
return '(' + suf + ') ' + coord
return '??'

if __name__ == '__main__':
Python made it easy to throw that together. so this works great from the command line:
$ ./ 950 santa cruz, menlo park, ca 94025
latitude: (north) 37.449289999999998
longitude: (west) -122.187619
Of course, Chris isn't a command-line kind of guy. So I ended up making this into a CGI script. For doing this, I often turn to a site that explains the basics -- I just googled on "how CGI works" (no quotes) and found this site:, which was very helpful. I used the Python library "cgi" to handle parameters. Worked like a champ.

Then Chris told me about a list of addresses separated by tabs. Python made this a piece of cake. First, I took "tab-separated list of addresses" literally, and did this:
        addrs = form.getvalue(form_q)
if isinstance(addrs, list):
addr_list = addrs
# maybe a TAB-separated string
addr_list = addrs.split('\t')
for an_addr in addr_list:
an_addr = an_addr.strip()
if len(an_addr) > 0:
This actually includes the other thing: if you're typing in an HTML form and hit the TAB key, what usually happens? What happens to me is I end up going to the next field in the form. So I decided to just make an alternative page, which had maybe a couple dozen single-line input boxes with the same name (i.e., the very creative "q", for "query"). So i gave Chris a choice of a big text box (as "<textarea name="q" rows=16 cols=255> </textarea>") or a pile of single-line fields, as
  <br/><INPUT TYPE=text NAME=q SIZE=128 MAXLENGTH=255> 
<br/><INPUT TYPE=text NAME=q SIZE=128 MAXLENGTH=255>
<br/><INPUT TYPE=text NAME=q SIZE=128 MAXLENGTH=255>
So he can use the textarea version in case he has a tab-separated list of addresses in a Mi¢ro$oft Word® document; if he's typing and using the TAB key at the end of addresses, he can use the version that has multiple single-line text inputs.

I don't think I'd ever done that before. It sure was fun! I'm not going to tell you were everything is -- I don't want google maps to get a pile of traffic from my site and then blacklist me.

But Google + Python + that "How CGI works" site all made it easy to learn stuff and be productive in short order, even while on vacation. And hey, even Econo-Lodge has free wi-fi! (If you want it at Motel6, you need to pay $2.99/night, and it might be a little slow.)

Union College

The younger teen is considering Union College in Schenectady, New York. You don't know where Schenectady is? Think "Albany area." No flights available to Albany on the desired date; we took Delta to JFK, buying ourselves a three-hour drive....

We arrived in the Empire State about 9:30pm Saturday. While waiting for our luggage, I wondered, "Now why did i think it was a Good Idea to drive tonight to Schenectady?" I figured it out, by the way: I liked the idea of staying two nights in the same place.

It turned out fine -- I don't think we made any wrong turns even though we were driving at night. Google maps told us to go into New Jersey -- probably because I-87 takes a rather roundabout route. Next time I think I might just get onto I-87 earlier, because we had to look for a lot of signs and take a lot of turns to save a couple of miles. We had a couple of surprises driving and at our hotel -- nothing earth-shaking though.

After arriving at our hotel at about 2:00AM Sunday morning (eastern time), it wasn't a happy experience getting up. We eventually did, though, and found a "farmer's market" at an old theater downtown. We walked in, and Irish Dance music was being performed! We had a little breakfast at the Muddy Cup. We found the First Presbyterian Church in time for their 11:00 service. The parking lot was pretty full, a good sign. Inside, we found that the weekly bulletin had missionary names on the front, rather than the order of worship. The music appeals to the older generation (I loved it!) and the sermon was biblically sound.

We went back to the hotel, and the teen took a nap. I did a little web programming -- something to convert an address to latitude/longitude, using Google® maps. We went to campus about 2:30pm. The weather was gorgeous, and the folks at Union gave us a great sales pitch for the honors program ("Union Scholars", they call 'em). We took part of the tour, and had a terrific supper at Castelo's, very convenient to both the college and the Econo Lodge.

That was yesterday. Today my prospective Union-er went to a couple of classes, and we heard a presentation on "ethics throughout the curriculum" given by a philosophy prof and an engineering prof. Lunch with faculty/staff was great, and then we went over to the Visual Arts building and chatted with the acting chair, Prof Matthew. We left very impressed.

We drove to Saratoga Springs this afternoon, making just one wrong turn. It's quite wet here. We'll see about Skidmore tomorrow, and then home....

Surprises in New York

So you're driving along and there's a sign that a toll booth lies ahead. The man hands you a card, which has a big 15 written on it. It has a table showing how much you pay when exiting the toll-road at various exits.

Pretty cool, but I don't think we have those in California. So we drive along and there's a big "Exit 16" sign, and another sign that says "Next exit 17 miles"

"Oh," I say to myself, I guess that must be "Exit 33" -- thinking that, like California and Hawaii, that exit numbers and mileposts have some relationship.

Nope! Seventeen miles later is exit 17. Well, I guess that's another valid way of doing it. I wonder what they do if they add another exit between 17 and 18, say.

Hotel soap

So we checked into the Econo Lodge in Schenectady. In the bathroom were the usual -- some lotion or shampoo or something, and two bars of soap. I unwrapped one: it was in a dozen pieces! Hurmpf, bottom of the stack or something. This is OK for a quick swipe of the hand, but I wouldn't want to shower with it. The other bar was fine though.

By the way that Econo Lodge is a bargain: if you have an AAA card, or you're over fifty, it's like $62/night, plus the usual taxes.

We spent two nights there. The breakfast is nothing to write home about, but you can have a really nice breakfast -- and dinner too -- on the money you save there vs. some of the alternatives.

Anyway, we drove to Saratoga Springs, making just one wrong turn, and checked into the Comfort Inn on Old Gick Road. This is a step up from the Econo Lodge, both in accommodations (pool, fitness center, indoor hallways, etc.) and in price (not quite 50% higher). I went into the bathroom and unwrapped the first bar of soap. You got it -- a dozen pieces. The second one (which we used for showering) was fine.

So what is it with soap in Albany-area hotels?

Easter and 401(k) accounts

Yes, I know it's more than a week past Easter, but I just posted this article on waywords and thought you might enjoy it.

I'm bemused (or maybe amused) by how Paul talks about "his incomparably great power... which is like the working of his mighty strength". Now when I took English, I was told that when you say this thing is like that thing, you're comparing them. Maybe Paul had a different teacher for high school English?

In chapter 3, he talks about knowing the love of God, which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). I wonder what that's about...

Anyway, because of Easter, a fall in the "not yet retirement" account is nothing to fret about. Think about, plan around -- maybe. Worry about -- no.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday reflections

The lovely Carol is away for a few days; it's just me and our remaining teenager at home. I got up this morning and ran a comb through my remaining hair -- and I saw a white one!

The younger teen was reviewing her statistics (for today's exam) over breakfast, and asked me about binomial coefficients. She put rice on for おにぎり, which she'll take to a friend's house for a pot-luck supper.

We left the house at the same time -- I drove to the office so I could get home in time to see her before tonight's prom. As I pulled out of the driveway, I saw her in the other car, driving confidently off to school. Wasn't it just the other day I rocked her to sleep over my shoulder?

When I got home, the rice-balls had been formed and loaded into the Japanese picnic-boxes. My daughter had a coat of clear polish on her nails and her face was made up. It made her look more grown-up than I'm ready for her to be. We chatted away as she worked on her hair, then she disappeared to put on her dress.

Then she came out. Wow! We snapped a few pictures, and then her date arrived.

There is great joy in watching the kids grow up, a sense of fulfillment -- mixed of course with loss, as I've written before -- whoa, exactly a year ago!

And tomorrow we fly to the east coast to visit colleges, underlining yet again that I'm losing my baby.

Every day is a gift to be enjoyed. We get into all kinds of trouble, though, when we try to hold onto those gifts, try to recapture past moments -- fortunately, at least some of us realize this is impossible. As the Bible tells us, there is a time for everything -- a time to raise children, and a time to let them go.

And if I believe that God will bring me new joys in the future as he has in the past, I too can laugh at the days to come. May he help me do so!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunday report

We had a pretty good day Easter Sunday. We went to the early (9:30) service at church; during the next hour I ran a few coffee drinks to where everybody was. If you're interested in a church with great coffee, you really should try us out. We also got a great sermon, explaining why Jesus' resurrection is meaningful for us today. Our younger teenager worked with the kids, and afterwards we took off for the beach -- Montara State Beach.

The beach was lovely. The lovely Carol had baked a birthday cake for a church friend, and while she was at it baked one for us too. We had some of it after eating our bagels. The kids got their feet wet. Many photos were taken. If you're a facebook "friend" with our girls, you can see some.

We came home, and I played some Scrabble with the ex-teenager. I was doing really well -- I mean I was significantly ahead of her (it was pure dumb luck) until she did "BUBBLING" -- arrgh!

That used up all seven of her tiles (one was a blank), and you can be sure there was some colored square (double word or triple letter or something). One of the letters was already there (maybe the "L"). As you know, using all seven letters gives you a 50-point bonus. I never caught up; pure dumb luck was insufficient to compensate for my lack of insight (given "ADZE" on the board, I shoulda put my "S" on the end of it, rather than on whatever dumb place I actually used it in).

Dinner was the stew I'd made the day before. The only sad part was taking the ex-teenager to the airport. It had been so nice having both girls home.

Well, that's what we raise them for, is to send them off. So why does it feel so sad?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Anaheim to San Francisco via 101 and a happy Sunday

The ex-teenager is on spring break; she flew to Orange County last week and stayed with a friend. We spent the night at my cousin's place in Anaheim, and left about 8:39am (what are you laughing about?) -- our plan was to meet the lovely Carol, and the remaining teenager, in San Francisco by 5 or 6pm. The quick route (I-5 to either 152 or 580) would have given us a lot of time, but we decided that nine hours should be ample time, even taking 101. I took the wheel for the first couple of hours, taking 91 west
what's with that btw? Odd numbers like 57, 55, 5, 101 are supposed to be north-south; east-west routes should be even numbers like 60, 10, 22
to 5N to 101. We stopped at a beach in Ventura County -- Bonaventura maybe? -- to use their facilities and stretch our legs.

We made a few more stops -- a rest stop somewhere, and she took the wheel. It was a lovely drive -- gorgeous scenery and of course great conversations with my college sophomore. We talked about optimality theory; the value of a 2nd major (linguistics and computer science?) vs a semester abroad; boy-girl relationships (now what are you laughing about?) and whether "autonomy" means "the power to name oneself."

About 3:30 or so, we were not yet at the southern 85/101 junction. I predicted that we wouldn't get to Redwood City by 4:15 (i.e., in time to take showers and get changed and still get to SF by 5:30). Often wrong, seldom in doubt, yep....

We pulled off the freeway in Redwood City a few minutes past 4pm -- so my daughter got a shower while I unpacked, changed into clothing that would please the lovely Carol, and wrapped a present for the teenager that I knew would be a big hit. (How did I know this? Simplicity itself: we were at the bookstore some weeks ago, and she pulled this book off the shelf and cooed about the beauty of the images.)

Half an hour later, we were back in the car for the drive to SF. We made only one wrong turn, and got to Pellegrini's within a few minutes of 5:30 -- well before our 6pm goal. A happy reunion. The pasta at this place was great, and the bread... well, they had great pasta.

We emerged and found someone else getting settled in the parking lot. "What space?" I heard, followed by "Number five!"

I pulled the slip off my own dashboard. "If you park in #3," I called out, "you won't have to pay." I handed the slip to a tall young (taller and younger than I am, anyway) fellow. These folks were very happy -- one of them handed Carol a $10 bill, and another one gave me a box labeled "eau de toilette." This was the latest stuff, he said. "This is really good shit."

I didn't feel too bad about depriving the parking-lot operator; we really hadn't got fifteen dollars' value from two hours' parking.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

toyota 38.2mpg -- no, it's not a prius

"Sophie," our 1996 camry, carried me to orange county via fresno, San Luis Obispo, etc. I filled her up in Santa Barbara, having gone like 480 miles on its previous fill-up. I drove to Orange, then Costa Mesa, Anaheim and back again, then from Anaheim up the coast. 528 miles later, I filled the tank again. 13.81 gallons (don't you love electronic gas pumps?) and... yow, over 38 miles per gallon. Of course it's highway.

And yes, I'm back.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Retreat summary

So I originally wanted to take a directed retreat at Mount Calvary, which my buddy Carlos told me about, but it burned down last November; I found Holy Resurrection Monastery, and their schedule seemed to match mine. But a couple of weeks ago I discovered, almost by accident, that they are now in the process of moving to Valyermo, so my visit with them was not going to work.

After some fruitless inquiries elsewhere, I eventually decided to just spend days at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which has quiet, pretty grounds and of course a church building. Motel6 is not far away.

So I drove to SLO and found the mission at the corner of Palm and Chorro; took a left onto Palm and parked in a municipal lot. I walked to the mission and found noontime mass in full swing. I didn't participate in their Communion (I'm not Catholic and I don't believe that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ) but I could sincerely join in the rest of the mass.

I have the current issue of Conversations -- which among other things describes the Stations of the Cross. The mission building has fourteen corresponding paintings on its walls, and I spent some time contemplating Christ's walk down the road of sadness. I went out into the warm afternoon, and after a bit of walking discovered Louisa's Place, where I enjoyed their bottomless bowl of chili. The place always seems to be rather busy.

Some notes:
  • As long as I secretly adore myself, my own deficiencies will remain to torture me with an apparent defilement (Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. xxi)
  • The meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ (p. xxii)
  • May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me (p. 10)
    What it means to be a good friend (as I desire to be): willing to rebuke but not only to rebuke. The above points strangely(?) relate to some of my thoughts en route.
  • Jesus had very few close friends when he was on earth (p. 12), yet "Love one another as I have loved you."
  • All desires but one can fail. The only desire that is infallibly fulfilled is the desire to be loved by God (p. 17)
  • Bodily agitation agitates the soul (p. 108)
It was around this time that a homeless fellow came up to me, asking about getting something to eat. At first I didn't understand him -- or perhaps I didn't want to understand him. But fortunately I came to my senses (aided by God?) so I offered to buy him something... he suggested 7-eleven and a hot dog combo (chips, and a 32-oz soft drink). I didn't know he was homeless, but as we walked there, I asked him if he lived nearby... then he told me. "Bummer, dude," I said, and asked him how long? A year and a half! He told me about some mistakes he'd made in the past (as we all have).

Afterward I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to tell him. Or something I'm supposed to say to the next guy. Lord, help me know what to do about that.

I called the motel for directions. When I got there, I read a little of Bolles's What Color Is Your Parachute? -- found a 2003 edition in the "free" pile at the library (2009: link). Bolles talks about a person's unique mission: to use the gifts God gave me, the gifts I enjoy and delight to use, in the places God has caused to appeal to me, for the purposes God wants to accomplish in the world. And as an imaginative exercise to clarify my values (not identical with, but related to that), what would I want people to say at my imaginary surprise testimonial dinner (as Covey's Seven Habits)? Probably something about how I helped and encouraged them.

Friday April 3

I woke early and did some more reading and writing and thinking and praying. I thought about that young homeless guy, and stopped by Food4Less on Higuera St. on the way into town. I bought apples and oranges, in case I should run into him again (I didn't). I parked at the mission and went into the sanctuary -- empty. Mass was at 7:00am, not 8:00 -- ah.... I sat for a while and read some from the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Whle thinking about Adam and Eve's sin, it struck me that MacBeth was an antitype of Adam/Eve. Motivated by what was essentially a lie, he set his life on a course toward hell. I moved the car and walked to breakfast -- again at Louisa's. One thing about being in town, rather than being at a monastery, is the choices to be made. Eat at the same place or somewhere else? What's on the menu? My toilet kit is almost out of floss... should I stop and buy some?

After breakfast (a double portion of oatmeal -- they even had soy milk!), I went outside; it was still cold! And I thought it was supposed to warm up today. I found a place in the sun and did a little more reading, then went to Peet's and got some coffee. It was definitely warmer inside. A few more notes...
  • we... have to learn to see life as if it were something more than a hypnotizing telecast. (Merton, p. 33)
  • As a man is, so he prays. We make ourselves what we are by the way we address God.... All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on the Lord of life and death (pp. 42-43)
  • (speaking about the mount of transfiguration)... here a great change takes place in our spirit. All our love for God appears for us to have been full of imperfection, as indeed it has. (p. 47)
    Indeed! I feel my love for God is full of pollution -- it's polluted by my selfishness.
  • A pure intention sees that the will of God is always good. An impure intention, without doubting in theory... practically doubts that he can always will what is best for me.
    Lord, change my heart to really truly believe that your will is best for me in practice; perfect my love
  • The secret of pure intention is not to be sought in the renunciation of all advantage for ourselves. Our intentions are pure when we identify our advantage with God's glory and see that our happiness consists in doing His will becaue His will is right and good. (p. 54)
    Considering this in the light of Ignatius Loyola's exercises, (pp. 36ff, 2nd week, 1st day, 1st contemplation) what was it like for Mary -- to accept humiliation and shame and mortal danger -- Lord, help me to be like her! The Catholics may put rather much emphasis upon Mary, but they are right to recognize the severity of the sacrifice she made to become the mother of our Lord.
  • A man can live like a tree or an animal, doing the divine will all his life and never knowing anything about it (p. 57)
    Sometimes this is appealing! But comparing with Ephesians 5 -- "find out what pleases the Lord... do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" -- apparently this is not the right way to live!
  • He does not need our sacrifices; he asks for our selves ... (obedience) is only the beginning. Charity, divine union; transformation in Christ: these are the end (p. 63)
I made it back to the Mission about a half-hour before the 12:10pm mass. Different preacher this time, and he talked about Christ's having come to the world to reconcile us to him. There is quite a lot of ritual in the mass, but the congregation participates in the prayer -- people praying for things they feel moved to: a man praying for help for the unemployed, someone praying for the rights of the unborn to be respected. I felt about ready for a nap....

Back to Louisa's for lunch, I had the chili. I picked up Conversations and read someone's remark that everyone sits next to his own pool of tears, because there is plenty to groan about in this life (Romans 8:22-27).

Of course I woke right up, sorta, after eating. Then I decided to declare my retreat over. I called the lovely Carol, drove back to the motel, and bought the $2.99 card for 24-hour wireless access. I posted these recent blog entries (setting the dates so they would almost make sense).

Oh, I packed a grocery sack for that homeless fellow -- a couple of apples, an orange, and a water bottle. As I got off 101 at Los Osos Valley Rd., I saw another homeless fellow. I pulled off the road and walked the bag over to him. He was pretty happy about it.

I do not know how to teach these guys to fish.

What I'll do next time

If I can't find a monastery, I will definitely try to find a motel within walking distance of whatever place I plan to hang out (even if travelodge wants $89 for one night, whereas I'm paying $94 for two nights at motel6, it might be worth it -- since i'm trying to do this, better to spend more and get the benefit, than to spend less and not get it. if i'm not gonna get the benefit, maybe better to stay home). I'll bring too much clothing rather than missing something. (Who woulda thought that I'd be freezing, 200 miles south/southeast from my home? The high temp is supposed to be 73°F today in SLO, but the weather service also warns of patchy frost tonight!)

But better to be in a place away from town, where there are not so many choices to be made, and where the car need never be started.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What is the Sabbath?

We heard a great message on "freedom from hurry" which asked, among other things, "What is the Sabbath?" Several definitions were offered, which I'll recap briefly, and then offer my current view. Here's a list:
  1. Sunset Friday to sunset Saturday;
  2. A day for religious stuff;
  3. A period when certain specified practices should not be done
    One of the old "blue laws," in some jurisdiction or other, prohibited the sale of soda water on Sundays. Apparently the ice cream parlors, not wanting to lose a whole lot of business, created something which had the ingredients of an ice cream soda, but without the soda; they called it an "ice cream sundae."
My own view is something like parts of #2 and #3, with some changes.
  • First, following Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16, a sabbath day is something you can observe or not. It's a good idea, even a great idea, to take a day off every week, but as Paul says, you don't have to.
  • It's a time to cease from our own work. A weekly day of ceasing is a picture of the lasting sabbath-rest mentioned in Hebrews 4:9-11: "anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his." Was God finished with creation when he rested on the seventh day in Genesis 2? Of course not! But on the seventh day he stopped: "Done for now."
I'd like to expand a little more on that one. At a recent men's retreat, we heard this brilliant and heretofore unpublished paraphrase of the first several commandments.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery--you are no longer slaves and your identity is no longer rooted in productivity, but in your relationship to me. Therefore, worship only me. Do not worship idols, Do not misuse my name. And to remind you that your work does not define you, I command you not to work one day a week. It will be for you a weekly reminder that you are no longer a slave. It will be a reminder that you are mine, you are made in my image, in the image of the one who rested secure in my own identity. It will be for you a protest against the world which wishes to measure your worth by your productivity. I am the basis of your identity, your work can never define you.
Chris James, 15 March 2009
And if the point is to remind ourselves of our identity in God (and not in our work) and to say, "work is done for now," it makes sense to say, if you're going to take a sabbath, why not have an ice cream soda, or a glass of wine? Why not listen to music you enjoy, take a long drive, or whatever else is aimed at enjoying blessings from God rather than being "productive"?

I think part of the controversy in modern times about what mustn't be done on the sabbath may be related to Isaiah 58:13-14, where God promises a reward
[i]f 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
This makes it sound like we should not just do what we feel like -- have an ice cream soda or glass of wine, listen to music we like, take a long drive or whatever. If that's so, how to reconcile that with what I wrote above? Do we say, "Old Testament, we can ignore it"? I don't think it's quite that simple, but more to the point here, I don't think that's what the passage is saying.

First, and you probably knew I was going to say this, let's look around that passage and see what the main point is he's trying to make. If we read the whole chapter, we see God complaining about people who follow religious rituals but do all sorts of evil: exploit their workers(3), quarrel(4), punch each other(4), do injustice(6), ignore the hungry and homeless(7), oppression and gossip(9), this sort of thing. That's the theme of the whole chapter.

Then there's that phrase "your own way." When Isaiah writes about someone's "own way", what does he mean? Have you heard the chorus in Handel's Messiah that begins, "All we like sheep"? It's from (no surprise) Isaiah, the 53rd chapter. People involved with the Navigators memorize Isaiah 53:6 as part of their "basic training." It says: "All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him" (New American Standard, approximately). The NIV has:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)
When each of us turns to "his own way", that's pretty clearly talking about sin. Here are the other places I could find where Isaiah used the phrase "own way":
  • They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain
  • They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread.
The way Isaiah uses that phrase elsewhere suggests, but doesn't prove, that "going your own way" means "sin". But that plus the rest of the chapter is a pretty strong indication that it really does mean that here.

One more indicator, that came to mind as I wrote this: in another passage quoted by John the Baptist (and by Handel in The Messiah) Isaiah writes:
A voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Isaiah 40:3 (NKJV)
Here again, looking at all of chapter 40 (or NIV), the theme is a contrast between God and man. All flesh is like grass; the grass withers, but the word of our God endures forever (6-8). God is the master of the universe (12) with wisdom and justice (14), but men worship idols (18-20). God never tires (28) but men grow weary (30).

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that the contrast between the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3, RSV, NKJV) vs our "own way" (53:6, 58:14, etc.) is the major theme of chapters 40-66.

And so when Isaiah talks about not going your "own way" on the Sabbath, he means "not sinning"; he doesn't mean we can't have an ice cream soda! The important thing is to take time off of "work" -- and don't sin (and be especially careful not to abuse or oppress people).

So if you take a Sabbath, enjoy it! You really can celebrate and take a "joy day"! In Jesus' name.

Thoughts on retreat (en route actually)

I pulled out of the parking lot in Sunnyvale at 2:30pm Wednesday, and experienced traffic congestion without even having to wait 'til Friday. Or even having to wait 'til 3:00! Well, it wasn't quite as bad as 4pm Friday; I was on 152E within an hour. The hills were a beautiful green -- I think I came this way last July, and they looked quite different then. The 152E flyover at 156 is now complete -- also much different from last July when we had the stop-and-go while a CHPer directed traffic there. Not fun with the 5-speed (I don't remember if I was driving at that point, or the younger teen). This flyover is really really nice, and I'm sure many lives will be saved.

I stopped at Casa de Fruta briefly and had a brief telephone chat with the ex-teenager. Was it really over two decades ago that we brought her home from the hospital? It seems like just the other day. Within an hour I was driving past a small park that rekindled a memory for me. We had been on our way to Sequoia, and she was a toddler I think. She could not stand being in the car, and she emphatically let us know about it! We stopped at a park -- maybe this very same one? -- so she could run around a little.

I thought about the joy Carol and I have received from our children and this phrase came to mind: "We are the luckiest creatures in the universe!"

From Fresno to San Luis Obispo

I turned on the radio, thinking "I'm not on retreat yet." I heard some nice songs on a station doing their pledge drive (sounded like "K-dove" but don't know exactly....) and part of a sermon. Those got me thinking about my own sins: pride and selfishness.

In my heart I sometimes think of myself as superior, which is dumb. There's a verse... 1 Corinthians 4:7 "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" So I've been successful in life... maybe 90% has to do with being in the right place at the right time -- starting with being born where and when I was, living in the school district I lived in so I got those teachers... Another 9% comes from that 90% -- opportunities to learn, great parents and teachers, mentors and managers, friends and connections. The last 1% has to do with other gifts I've been given: genes (oh, a repeat of some other part), a way with numbers and code. Maybe it's not 90/9/1 but everything I have is actually received; I'm not self-sufficient like God is; there really is nothing I have that I haven't received.

And selfishness. Why don't I ever confront anyone? Why don't I tell more people about the possibilities of a joy-filled life with Jesus? Why do I care more about my own comfort than I do about whether my friends spend their lives pursuing vanity or misery?

May the Lord speak to me in the next few days, and may I listen well to him.

D-Link DIR628,, Knoppix, "out of range" etc.

ALERT: severe jargon ahead
You have been warned

I was heading for southern California -- taking a personal retreat and then picking up the ex-teenager. The lovely Carol prevailed upon me to leave the day before and see our friend Sylvia to help her with some computer issues. I chatted with her a few times, and we decided that, among other things, I'd set her up with a wireless router (and firewall), and transfer data from the rather small (5Gbyte) hard disk drive on her WinXP box to her new Mac.

The Monday before I left, we had breakfast with our buddy Neil, who volunteered to pray for the router setup. My initial thought was, "it'll be a piece of cake," but then I remembered something about pride going before a fall -- and also that things are often more difficult than we thought they'd be.

And so it was. I got to Sylvia's, and before doing anything with the router, connected my laptop directly to her DSL modem. DHCP said my IP address was 64.x.x.x, but my one and only nameserver would be unroutable, (a typical rfc1918 address) -- a little weird, given the "normal" IP address the DHCP gave me, but no big deal, right?

Except that the router, a D-Link DIR628 -- the same model I have at my house iirc -- comes up thinking that it should be and that it should have authority over the entire 192.168.0.* space. My first attempt, which was rather shortsighted, accounted for that first fact but not the second: I assigned the D-Link to be, reminiscent of some default I remembered from long ago -- maybe the LRP?

As I mentioned, this didn't account for the D-Link's opinion that it owned the entire 192.168.0.* space, and so it would not route any packets from the "inside" (i.e., the computers on the "safe" side of the firewall) to any 192.168.0.* address on the "outside" -- thus any attempts to talk to the nameserver on the DSL modem would fail. (And have I mentioned that it's weird for a DSL modem to run a [caching?] nameserver with an unroutable IP address? I think it's weird.)

It took some head-banging to figure this out. I finally decided to have the D-Link manage some other space, but didn't remember all the other rfc1918 unroutable ranges. I knew about the 10.*.*.* space, and I suspected there was a 172.16.*.* space (with 20 free bits), but couldn't remember the address exactly. Probably I could have used and set the netmask to ffffff80 (or left the netmask alone and used 192.168.1.*, but I didn't think of that 'til later). Therefore, I chose 10.11.12.* (because it seemed less trite and more, uh, zany and madcap than 10.0.0.*). And with that, we could talk to the outside world!

Now, to get the data off the old whitebox. It booted into WinXP (funny about that) and very soon a "virus warning" popped up. My personal opinion is that the so-called warning was itself a virus, but since I don't do windows.... Sylvia assured me that this "virus warning" would log you out from windows shortly after you tried to do anything, so I pulled out my brand new Knoppix 5.1.1 CD. After a few futile attempts to boot it, I figured out how to get the BIOS to boot from CD. Up came the Knoppix boot screen, and oops, there it went. I got an "out of range" message on the monitor. Oh joy. Setting "vsync" and/or "hsync" didn't do any good; neither did saying "knoppix 2" (where "2" is the runlevel -- text mode only).

But since we had networking up to the outside world, I used my own laptop to search the web for knoppix + "out of range" and finally hit on using "knoppix vga=0 2"

That did it. The first surprise, after "fdisk -l /dev/hda", was that her HDD had 5GB all right... and about 55GB more on the same platter! This was a 60GB HDD, all in one 'vfat' partition. Yow. I mounted it readonly.

Now Sylvia had an (external) USB HDD -- with over 600GB of space on it. OK, cool. I found a power outlet, plugged it in, and connected the USB cable to the hub. Knoppix recognized it right away, scanned it, and created a symlink for me from /mnt/sdb1→/media/sdb1. Yippee! I blithely (et naïvement) tried "mount /media/sdb1"

The bad news is that the USB drive had previously been unmounted uncleanly; Knoppix refused to mount it. The good news is that Knoppix told me what to do: "ntfsfix" or something like this. (What I really should have done was "mkfs.msdos" but I'm not sure that works on a 600+GB HDD -- also, I wasn't sure if Sylvia might someday want to use all the "features" of NTFS. Sheesh, I wonder if Mac OSX can read/write ext2 filesystems.)

But the ntfsfix worked well enough. I figured out that the data of interest resided under Documents and Settings and proceeded to cp -a /mnt/hda1/Documents\ and\ Settings /media/sdb1/from-windows in the background.

For some reason, Knoppix didn't understand that Alt-F2 was my way of saying "chvt 2" so after a while, I just typed in "chvt 2" and did a little "df -k; sleep 20; df -k" to see how fast we were getting data across.

Well, the "df -k" on the NTFS USB drive took a couple of seconds; I decided we were getting about 28Mbytes moved in about 22 seconds. Not stellar; this meant it would take about 14 hours, as of my (literal) midnight calculations.

But in the morning I had another idea. How fast does the 'N' wireless move data? 100 Mbits/second would be not quite 10X as fast.

I told Knoppix to "/etc/init.d ssh start" and it dutifully started sshd. And Knoppix could ssh to my laptop.

But my laptop couldn't ssh into Knoppix. I asked Knoppix, "netstat -tln and it gave me this:
tcp       *.*.*.*
tcp     :::22            *.*.*.*

Wha...? That 68 thing was listening on tcp4 but sshd was only doing tcp6?

A quick "ps wwwx|grep ssh" told me that /usr/sbin/sshd was running with no parameters, so I said "/etc/init.d/ssh stop" and (thank you manpage) "/usr/sbin/sshd -4" to turn on sshd/tcp4. Yippee!
Meanwhile, I noticed that the fancy NTFS formatting on the external USB HDD prevented several filenames from being created. Most of these filenames had accented characters like "ñ" -- yet another reason I should have just reformatted the drive. Oh, and top(1) on Knoppix told me that some NTFS-related program was consuming some 20% of the CPU. That probably wasn't making the data copy any faster!
Back on my laptop, I said "ssh root@" and... no joy. Harrumpf, I thought. "ssh -v root@" gave me something about how it didn't like the numeric IP address (but maybe that was just a warning). Anyway I created an entry in /etc/hosts for a machine called "doze"; now "ssh -v root@doze" got me to a "Password:" prompt. It took maybe a minute -- no doubt paging some stuff in from that CD drive.

After copying my into root's authorized_keys file on Knoppix, I tried rsync -av -e ssh root@doze:/media/hda1/DOCUME~1/ALLUSE~1/MYDOCU~1/MYPICT~1 tmp and things started moving.
What's with the DOCUME~1 stuff? I seemed to remember rsync having issues when a remote pathname contains whitespace, and since the vfat filesystem contains these alternate names, I decided to take advantage of them.
Cool, I thought, and then did the "df -k; sleep 20; df -k" thing. It seemed 2½-3 times as fast as the wired USB drive.

Well, that's cool, I thought. Sylvia brought her mac over to me, and I did the ssh-keygen thing and sent one of her public keys to Knoppix. then I created a directory on her Desktop called "From Windows" or something like this, cd'd into it, and kicked off an "rsync -a root@ ." Once the file list got created, we were transferring data a lot faster (I also did ^C on the aforementioned cp -a and "eject /media/sdb1").

I left Sylvia's about 9:30am, and I think something like 28 Gbytes had already been transferred (out of maybe 48 total wanting to be). I'm sure we didn't start before 6:30am so I felt pretty confident it would all be done by lunch time.

The best thing is, Sylvia can just click on the "From Windows" folder on the Desktop on her Mac, and click, click, click to whatever pictures or music she wants to import into iPhoto or iTunes Library....

Guess I'd better tell her about Carbon Copy Cloner, which people on our mac mailing-list say is great; hopefully it won't object to running on that huge external USB HDD.... but some backup is probably in order.

I should probably suggest that she buy some DVD+RW media; she could probably burn a few optical backups of her photos. (If I said 'no pun intended,' would you believe me? Thought not.)