Sunday, November 29, 2009

Japanese Bus Stop -- no relation to Inge. (bus schedule, actually)

We were moving some furniture around and the lovely Carol found this piece of nostalgia taped to the door of our shoe cabinet.

Shoe cabinet? Yes! As you may know, we don't wear shoes in the house in Japan, so it's nice to have shoes in the place where you're about to put 'em on before going out. And what else do you use the inside of the shoe cabinet door for?

So here's what it's about: Centered across the top, in big letters, it says "bus schedule". On the right is

  • Kashinodai 3cho-me ji-chi-kai ("3rd subdistrict of Kashinodai neighborhood association" -- Nelson's dictionary says "student council" -- probably the publisher); and
  • Heisei 9nen 5gatsu genzai (effective May 1997).
    Many dates in Japan have, instead of "1997" for the year, "the 9th year of the Heisei Emperor." To enter a date-of-birth on some Japanese forms, one must put both the emperor (sometimes indicated with T/S/H for Taisho, Showa, Heisei) and the year -- e.g., someone born in 1992 would be H.3
On the left, reading from top to bottom:
  • (bold letters) Kashinodai 2 cho-me
    This is the name of the bus stop. It doesn't say "Main and Jefferson" or something like this, because many (most) streets don't have names. The bus has recorded announcements for each bus stop.
  • a boxed 28 and a boxed 22. These are the route numbers. I think the ideograph next to the 22 means that it goes in a loop.
  • Ta-keh-no-dai kei-yu (via Take-no-dai district)
  • (bolder print) Sei-shin chuu-oh eki mae yuki -- i.e., destination: the bus stop in front of the "Sei-shin chuu-oh" (west Kobe central) station
You can see that we've written that the upper table is for buses going from the red mailbox (context is everything) to the "eki" -- the station. Also that the top "half" of that table is for Mon-Fri and the bottom for Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

The numbers are the hour and minute for when the bus is supposed to depart (I think) the bus stop in that direction. They were pretty much on time, except when there was a record-breaking snowfall. Then you were better off walking.

The bottom table (which was cut off) was "Nishi Tai-ik'kan yuki" meaning "to the West Gym" -- we never went there, but it told us about what time I could get off the #28 bus if I took that one from the station.

It's pleasant for me to recall some parts of our life in Japan, and to share them with you.

Power to change ourselves

Have you ever heard anything like this: "I used to be greedy, selfish, tormented, impatient, and cruel, but by studying psychology I've become generous, loving, kind, and peaceful"? Of course not! Psychology can certainly help us understand ourselves and others and thereby become more tolerant, and it's certainly provided models and techniques that have helped people overcome OCD, phobias, and other problems.

But we face problems far beyond psychology's reach: "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, spending our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another." (from Titus 3). As Karl Marx almost said: The psychologists have only interpreted the mind in various ways—the point however is to change it.

How can we address those problems? We can't do it on our own, but we can get help. Jesus Christ said that "the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). The word translated "repent" means to change our minds. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Practically, here are a couple of my earlier essays with "simple" 3-step programs to overcome anger and anxiety. They take 20-30 years and may need to be repeated. But they actually work:

I believe it is these practices -- the spiritual (or soul) disciplines, that will change us. Insights are helpful, yes, but knowledge alone isn't enough; we need the power of God to effect change in us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

“After church, I sometimes feel empty inside...”

If people say that, it a problem? Whose problem is it? And regardless of whose problem it is, what can or should we do about it?

A friend said something like that to me the other day, and it reminded me of another person's comment: "We try to have perfect signs, perfect music, perfect A-V, perfect coffee, but still people visit and don't come back. I don't know why.... When we traveled, we visited another church, where the music was led by a pastor who had to look for his guitar. He found it, and he didn't play all that well. But at the end of the service, we knew we'd had an encounter with the Lord."

My feeling was that these folks have a point. Not that we should get sloppy with the A-V or ruin the coffee on purpose. But what?

I'll tell you: I don't know. Here are a couple more questions I can't answer either. First, what "actual" need (as distinct from "felt need") brings congregants to us on Sunday morning? Is it a need for social interaction? Do they need a touch of transcendance in their lives? Are they too apt to sleepwalk through life, hence they need a reminder of God's presence in the world and in their lives?

Here's the other: What does "success" mean for us on Sunday morning? That is, at 12:45, when we're more or less closing the doors, how do we decide how well we've done today? A few things that come to mind:

  • We had more people come than last week (or last month's average, or last quarter's average)
    • Alternately: we've had increasing attendance for the past ___ weeks
  • No glitches in the video presentation, missed cues for lighting or song lyrics, etc.
  • Every visitor was met with a smile
  • Every attendee who wanted it had a caring personal interaction with someone.
  • Of the ____ people who asked for prayer about particular issues the previous week, over 80% of them were asked by someone else, "How is your ________?" (job situation, health problem, injured/ill relative, relationship issue, whatever they mentioned last week).
  • Music was an appropriate balance (traditional/contemporary, etc.) and was connected to the sermon's main point
  • No logistical goof-ups -- signage, doors, snacks, coffee, chairs, etc. all met guidelines.
  • Each volunteer and staff member carried out their tasks with love and grace
  • Participants in the worship center felt a strong sense that "God was with me every day last week, he's here and cares for me now, and he will be with me, guiding and caring for me, every day in the coming week."
  • All congregants felt after the service "I've had an encounter with the Lord."
  • A significant portion of the worship service (___% of the minutes) was spent in prayer.
Well, there are a few anyway.

What do we think our answer should be? What do we think it actually is? That is, as we look back on the service, what makes us say, "Good day today"?

I don't know the answer to either, but I suspect the answers aren't the same.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why I shop at our neighborhood Key Market

Last week, the lovely Carol ordered a turkey for today's big gathering -- about 25 folks will be coming today for a sorta-pot-luck. These are people without family nearby, many of them from another country. A few are students; most aren't.

Rather than picking up our turkey on Thursday (with bazillions of other shoppers), we decided to pick it up this morning. That way, we could just bring it home, stuff it, and pop it into the oven -- no need to make room for it in the 'fridge, etc.

Yesterday, while we were out hiking at Rancho San Antonio, someone called from the meat department at Key to tell us that there was only one ordered-but-not-picked-up turkey left -- ours. "We'll be here 'til one o'clock." They had called maybe 11:30; we got home about 1:30.

Wasn't that nice? They knew we ordered a turkey (I guess they didn't notice we ordered it for today rather than yesterday), and they called to remind us about it. Think you'd get a call like that from one of the big guys? Ha!

So I dropped by this morning and inched the door open over in the meat department. Pete came over to help me. "We ordered a turkey?" I said.


I told him, and yes, it was the last one. "Thanks for calling us!" I told him. We did a little more shopping, paid, and left happy.

But when I opened the wrapper, I wasn't so happy any more. I called the number that they'd left yesterday. "Meat department, Pete speaking."

"Hi, Collin Park, I picked up a turkey, oh, half an hour ago?" He remembered -- it's not real busy over there today. I went on, "I opened it up and it don't smell so good."

Pete told me to bring it in, and he'd give me another one and open it up and we could make sure this one was okay. This sounded good to me. "You can sanity-check me too," I told him.

So I zipped on down there, and Pete took a whiff. "It's a little sour all right," he said. Then he pointed out a change in the coloration on the drumstick ends; they were a little yellow. It's been five years, he said, since he'd had anything like this happen. "Too bad it happened to you," he added. He got another bird out of about the same weight, and slit the wrapper with his box cutter. We both took a whiff and it smelled a lot better.

Pete wrapped it up for me, then walked out with me, past the cashier. I thanked him and came on home.

The bird's in the oven now, and it's about time to go baste it again. But I wanted to share this experience with you. Could we have gotten a bigger bird at Costco for the same amount of money? Well, maybe. But a pleasant shopping experience -- that's worth something to us too. Don't get me wrong -- I like Costco and buy things there I can't get easily elsewhere. But the neighborhood grocery store has a lot going for it too.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for... a ten-minute exercise

Well, it's the 4th Thursday in November, and though it's trite, here's a list of things that come to mind that I'm thankful for:
  • The lovely Carol, who's put up with me over 23 years
  • Our children, who really are young women now, and following the Lord
  • ... and who are here with us for Thanksgiving!
  • Our little dog: though vexing at times, brings us much joy
  • A roof and four solid walls
  • Gainful employment
  • Being already forgiven, by the blood of Jesus
  • The promise of heaven
  • Friends to spend Thanksgiving evening with
  • Money to give to the poor, and to help spread the good news of the Kingdom of God
  • DVDs of Star Trek TNG
  • The ability to host a pot-luck tomorrow for 25 internationals at our house :)
  • A place of worship -- MPPC -- and Open Door Church San Mateo, a campus thereof
  • People we know who honor the Lord by taking steps of faith -- some big and spectacular and some not so visible
  • The work of the Holy Spirit around the world in bringing many people to faith in Jesus
Oops, time's up. PUBLISH POST...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dad: Here's how to be a breakfast hero

There it was on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News: there was an Eggo deficit, which threatens to put breakfast in the deep freeze. Huh? The inventor would have been dumbfounded.

But this gives you, Dad, a chance to be a breakfast hero: "No, kids, no Eggos were found in the store, but I, your father, a heretofore unsung maitre de cuisine (pardon my French; that's master of [the] kitchen), will save the day!" Here's how.

First, ascertain whether you have a working waffle iron. If yes, you're all set. Start the waffle iron preheating and spray it with "Pam" or similar. To mix the batter, follow the instructions either

  • here (but no butter; use 1/4-1/3 cup of vegetable oil instead) or
  • on the Bisquick box (if you have the latter in the kitchen)
and you'll be a hero. Allow yourself 45-60 minutes the first time you do this, even after ensuring you have all the ingredients on hand. The good news is, with practice you can have this down to less than 20 minutes from "Let's have waffles!" to the first plateful -- even without a baking mix.

If you don't have a working waffle iron on hand, then it's pancakes. Make sure your griddle is in good shape: the manly task of surface prep may have just fallen to you. Use either my recipe (to make from scratch) or the one on the Bisquick box, if you've got some. Dealing with a griddle takes considerably more practice than an automatic electric waffle iron, but you'll get used to it. The main thing is to have the right amount of heat (my recipe above gives some hints, but a more professional set is here -- oooh, but you might want to turn the heat down once you get the griddle to the right temperature -- and also to PAY ATTENTION while doing the pancakes.

When your first plateful turns out perfect, don't get cocky and think you can fire up the coffeepot between pouring the batter and flipping the 'cakes! Well, you CAN fill the kettle (and remember the 'cakes), and you can put it on another burner (fire up the correct burner, and check the 'cakes). And maybe you can even find the coffee (check the 'cakes) and then find a paper filter (and check the cakes), then measure the coffee grounds (check....)

You get the idea. You probably don't want to do this every day, but you can do it once a week. There is NO SHAME in using a mix like Bisquick or Jiffy -- or better, Krusteaz, which requires only water instead of eggs+milk! In fact, I think I'll tell you here that if you're going to do this, go out and get yourself a box. That way you have just one bowl and one "real" ingredient. Whoever has to do the dishes (maybe you) will be happy about that. It's also better not to have to fish eggshell fragments out of the batter, or out of your pancakes.

You can do this once a week and you'll get proficient pretty quickly. If there are some blueberries or strawberries in the 'fridge, they can be added -- probably on top (you don't have to plan in advance; you can just open the fridge to look for butter, and -- hey, strawberries! -- slice a few up and it's a gourmet breakfast). My younger daughter liked to add chocolate chips to the batter when I was about half-way through (some of us don't like chocolate-chip pancakes). There's all kinds of fun stuff you can do. Your wife will think you're a genius, too.

Did Christianity Cause the Collapse?

I read the title of Hanna Rosin's piece in the Atlantic, and was immediately annoyed. "That's like asking of Islam caused 9/11!" I said to myself.

But wait, we asked that question a lot, didn't we? And many thought "yes" even if they didn't articulate that explicitly. Which brings up the question, "What is 'Christianity'? What is 'Islam'?" Or, put differently, "Who is a 'Christian'? Who is a 'Muslim'?" How you answer that question (either one) determines what you'll think about whether those religions caused recent events.

One possible answer to "Who is a ______": "Whoever I think is one!" This had disastrous consequences for an Coptic Christian, from Egypt, who was shot by some idiot here in the US, because said idiot thought the guy was a Muslim and therefore affiliated with whatever group flew airplanes into the World Trade Center.

Of course, there are people who think everyone from North America is a Christian. Britney Spears, Hugh Hefner (if anyone remembers him anymore), those pro wrestlers on WWF, and Carrie Prejean -- all Christians, right? Oh, and Adolf Hitler was a Christian too, right?

Is a "real" Christian one who does what Jesus taught, and a "real" Muslim one who does what Muhammad taught? What documents are used to determine what these prophets said, and who gets to decide? For Jesus, is it the four gospels? For Muhammad, is it the Qur'an only, or is some Hadith (which?) included?

Let me short-circuit the next thing: there is nobody that follows all Jesus said: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Some do some of that more than others, but nobody does it all.

Here's another alternative: we could say "A Christian is anyone who says they're one." and the same for Muslims, Jews, etc. But that brings some disagreement into the mix. There are some Christians who would claim that <some_unfavored_person> isn't one, because of this or that. Again, same for Muslims, Jews, etc. OK, so here's one answer to Ms. Rosin:

If by "Christianity" you mean "what Jesus taught" then the answer is "Absolutely not!" Jesus said his kingdom isn't of this world. There's no record that he ever owned any property. When people asked him about paying taxes, he even borrowed a coin to make his point. He had, by his own account "no place to lay his head."

But if "Christianity" means "whatever was taught in any building labeled 'church' by someone with the title 'pastor'," then sure it caused the crash. It also caused the Jonestown massacre, the Branch Davidian disaster, and all kinds of other awful stuff. That definition of Christianity isn't too different from what some people in the Muslim world call Christianity -- viz., anything coming out of North America.

But let's see if I can clarify that a bit.

To answer “Did Christianity cause...” we need to know...

... what's uniquely Christian. In other words, if the crash resulted from some teaching X, then it only makes sense to blame the crash on Christianity if:
  • X is taught by Christians and not by others; and further if
  • X is a significant contributor or a deciding factor in the crash's occurrence.
So it seems to me that to answer Ms. Rosin's question we have to decide what's uniquely Christian -- i.e., stuff typically taught by pastors in churches but not taught much outside of churches by people who aren't pastors. I just made this definition up, but in a pluralistic society I think it may be a helpful way to talk about what's unique to Christianity as practiced in the US, but without getting into theology, hermeneutics, the authorship of Mark 16, or other rather esoteric issues. Here are a few things with my shot as to whether they're unique to Christianity:
  • You can and should be rich: NO
    • It's taught a lot outside churches
    • Though it's taught in some churches, it's not something that a majority of churches would agree with
  • You can have your sins forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: YES
    • Taught in most churches, not taught much outside churches
  • You should handle poisonous snakes and drink poison: NO
    • Though not taught much (if at all) outside churches...
    • it's not taught much in churches outside a very small subset in a certain geographical area (see Salvation on Sand Mountain)
  • You should give money to the poor: NO by this definition
    • Taught both inside and outside the church: it's taught in Mosques/Masjids and synagogues as well as by some non-religious non-profits.
      (Side note: according to this article by Jonathan Haidt, religious people tend give more money -- and blood -- than secular folks do.)
  • It's OK to lie, kill, steal from people outside your group: NO
    • Taught by a minority of churches but not by most.
    • Taught by organizations outside the church.
  • God is holy, and man is not: NO by this definition
    • Taught by churches, but...
    • ALSO taught in other religious traditions, notably Islam and Judaism
    In other words we could say this is part of Christianity but it's not uniquely Christian.

So here's my final answer: No, nothing caused the crash that's uniquely taught by Christianity. Greed is taught in many places outside the church, and is not universally or generally taught inside the church.

I'd say that rather the crash was brought about by greed. Subprime loans, the excesses of the credit default swap market, the stock bubble -- all those things were only symptoms; the real cause was greed. My opinion.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This one was from Pakistan for sure

Some years ago, when "Kirk" and his wife were starting out in Pakistan, they lived in a neighborhood with other missionaries. There was a boy from a refugee camp, maybe 15-16, hired by another missionary couple to do the gardening for them.

Through interactions with that missionary couple, "Ahmed" became interested in Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah) and gave his life to Isa. The couple gave Ahmed a copy of the Injil (Gospel) in Arabic, which Ahmed carried around in his bag during the week. However, when he rejoined his family in the refugee camp on weekends, Ahmed left the Gospel behind at the missionary couple's home. (Side note: Nowhere in the Qur'an does it say that the Bible is corrupt; indeed the Qur'an itself says a lot of very positive things about Isa al-Masih, and indeed many Muslims have a lot of respect for him. However, some Muslims -- Ahmed's family in particular -- consider that the injil is bad news, and anyone who reads it may no longer be a Muslim.)

One weekend, Ahmed forgot to censor his bag. His mother found the gospel, and, seeing what it was, told Ahmed, "Wait 'til your father gets home." Ahmed's family was from Afghanistan, and his father was a mujahideen commander. He wasn't home at this point because he was back in Afghanistan fighting Russians.

Ahmed returned to the missionaries and told them what had happened. There was much concern, especially when the rumor mill picked up the story that Ahmed's father was coming back soon. Here's what happened: the father heard that Ahmed had become an apostate, or was about to become one, etc. So, in order to save his son's soul (as the father thought), he was going to put Ahmed in the front line. According to the Mujahideen view, when he died in battle, would go straight to Paradise. This would be much preferable to living to be 80 or 90 and going to hell.

The missionaries understandably felt it was important to pray for Ahmed. For some reason, Kirk and his wife were involved in praying for Ahmed. So while he slept, Kirk and his wife prayed. As he describes it, "We grew up Lutheran; for us it was rather a strain to pray for an hour, but praying all night was way beyond us. But we alternately prayed and slept, and nothing happened to Ahmed."

EXCEPT that the next morning, Ahmed woke up with a big smile on his face. He'd had a dream -- the same dream many times, actually. He was holding a candle, and some men (his father's men?) put his candle out, and Ahmed didn't like that. He was about to stand up, but The Man in White (apparently, Isa al-Masih usually doesn't speak in these dreams) put his hand on Ahmed's shoulder and wouldn't let him stand up. Ahmed was given to understand that The Man in White would take care of the situation. This whole thing repeated many times.

Something else happened that night, but Kirk and the other missionaries didn't learn about it 'til later. Meanwhile, they prayed for Ahmed over the next few days, and as far as they knew, nothing happened.

Some time later, they found out. Ahmed's father did indeed return, on that first night. He knew where Ahmed was sleeping, and he came in a jeep with his men, everybody packing AK-47s. When he got to Kirk's house, where Ahmed was sleeping (aha--that's why Kirk and his wife were praying for Ahmed!), he saw four men standing over and in front of the adobe structure.

Ahmed's father, and his men, understood that these were not four ordinary men; they were angelic beings. The AK-47s were useless. They fled in their jeep and never came back.

Nobody knows why things like that happen sometimes, and at other times people just get killed. But it was clear to me that something pretty important happened there. In an "insignificant" little village, an "insignificant" boy from an "insignificant" refugee camp somehow got some very significant divine intervention on his behalf. You can be quite sure that "Ahmed" will remember this incident the rest of his life. As Kirk did, these decades after it all happened.

An incident in Pakistan... waitaminute

The other night, our teacher told us about an experience he had in Pakistan. At least I thought so, but the incident involves Shi'a Muslims, which makes me think it must have been closer to Iran? Well, here's the story, which I found rather astonishing.

Our speaker, let's call him "Kirk", was a photographer. There was a ceremony, a rite, wherein many young Shi'a men flagellate themselves (there are real razor-blades and real blood), and Kirk was taking lots of pictures. This ceremony commemorates the death of two of the Prophet's grandons. At one point, Kirk got down off the roof or wall or whatever and headed into the street, where he was swept along with the crowd.

They were chanting, and Kirk was shooting embedded in the crowd and surrounded by these six-foot guys, and somebody near the front starts shouting "Death to America!" Now Kirk isn't a real large guy, maybe 5"5' and 150. As the wave of "Death to America!" rolled toward Kirk's location, his cultural guide said, "Let's get you out of here."

But there was no getting anywhere; this was a real mob scene. Right next to Kirk, this huge guy was waving an arm in rhythm with the chanting. It went like this: (arm waving) "Death to America!
Death to America!
You there -- where are you from?
Death to America!"

Kirk wondered briefly whether he could do a convincing French accent while speaking the local language. But then he thought to himself (you know he doesn't get killed, because we're hearing his story), "Well, I've had a lot of adventures, it's been a good life." He turned to this huge guy and replied that he was from the US.

The guy keeps chanting, waving his arm "Death to America!
-- Really?--
Death to America!
--Hey, my brother is in Chicago--
Death to America!
--can you help me get there?--
Death to America!
Death to America!"

Whew! The only damage Kirk suffered from this incident was when one of the guys was getting ready to scourge himself, and nicked the barrel of Kirk's wide-angle lens.

"And your point was...?"

Well, there really was one. I mean, besides the fact that things are not always what they seem. Here it is: Why do these guys hit themselves with these metallic things (Kirk said they were razor blades, and from the scars on these fellows' backs in photos Kirk shot, I believe it)?

They believe that Allah sees the blood of their sacrifice (though generally they don't bleed to death) and forgives their sins.

Don't look so shocked -- don't we say that the blood of Jesus our Lord washes our sins away? And didn't the Israelites sacrifice sheep and goats and bulls?

Kirk told us that it's a lot easier to talk with these folks than with typical American materialist/atheists. I believe it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Why did God put that tree in the garden?

where "that tree" is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil -- which as it turns out was intended to give Adam knowledge by his NOT eating the fruit!

Just posted over on waywords, with my thoughts on that.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Visiting the kids

"Your kids will start giving you trouble at that age, unless they're like Collin's perfect children."

I heard that remark some months back, and it made me wonder what I'd been saying about the kids to my colleagues. Whatever it was, I guess it reflects my view of them.

The lovely Carol and I have been visiting the kids, now that they are both away at college, and seeing them in their new environs makes me even more aware that they are, well -- they are not "girls" any more; they really are young women. They have their own campuses, their own friends, their own rooms. We don't hear them coming home after class or after meetings or.... They really are "away"; they've left the nest. You might imagine that this has created a lot of complicated feelings in both parents, and you'd be right.

This morning, I picked up Merton and opened to his chapter on "Sincerity", which I don't recall reading before. Here I found this:

Your idea of me is fabricated with materials you have borrowed from other people and from yourself. What you think of me depends on what you think of yourself. Perhaps you create your idea of me out of material that you would like to eliminate from your own idea of yourself. Perhaps your idea of me is a reflection of what other people think of you. Or perhaps what you think of me is simply what you think I think of you.
I suppose I "knew" -- in a manner of speaking -- that how I think of the kids is affected by my view of myself. But which of Merton's distortions is operating when I look at the kids? Or is there yet another one? There are ways in which I wish I were different -- more understanding, less inept socially; I wish I were a better friend, less of a procrastinator -- am I projecting the person I wish I were -- dumping that onto my poor kids? I hope not! I know they are better students than I ever was (as their grades attest) -- so I'm not making that part up. They have nice friends -- for the most part, nicer friends than I had in high school. And they do sometimes procrastinate, though not as badly as I did in college.

Well, as I've said before, "Every father thinks his kids are geniuses, and I'm no exception." I know that the lovely Carol has something to do with them, as do I, but Harris's The Nurture Assumption makes me hesitate to take too much credit.

So I don't have this all figured out, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. It sure is complicated being a dad -- not just stuff that a dad "does," but the personal growth that comes with it. It's definitely not for wimps.