Monday, May 30, 2011

Gorgeous Adirondacks

We just got back from the "Beaver Pond Lodge," about 11 miles off I-87 near Brant Lake, New York. It's beautiful up there -- lots of green, and various shades of green: the evergreen leaves are darker I think than the leaves that came out in the past few weeks. It's wet -- thunderstorms every day we stayed there and we got hail a few times too -- which I guess goes along with the green. The lodge is maybe a quarter-mile up an unpaved road. The stream setting at right is across the street from the lodge, no more than 50 yards up a trail. We went out in the evening and, in a tiny pool of water alongside the road, Jenny spotted the frog you see at left.

At the corner of Beaver Pond Road and North Beaver Pond Road is a path leading to a little floating dock with views of what I suppose is Beaver Pond, shown below.

These photos give an idea of how peaceful and quiet it is -- when the hail isn't falling and the thunder isn't thundering that is. One of these days I might match the exposures and stitch the photos together...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dressing without vinegar (almost)
and what to do with half an eggplant

It's not camping, but when you're vacationing in a cabin and a trip to the store is an expedition, it almost feels like it. So on our way here we stopped in town and bought eggs, lettuce, cucumbers, olive oil, egglant, tomato, peppers, zucchini, tofu, sausage, ice cream, oranges, grapefruit, bananas, chips, spaghetti sauce, garlic... We already had soy sauce and rice and pasta in the car -- and, we thought, balsamic vinegar.

The first surprise came when we realized that there was already a nearly-full bottle of olive oil in the house. No problem! But the second, that we had no vinegar (balsamic or otherwise) in the car or house, was not greeted with much enthusiasm; how would we make salad dressing? Fortunately, there was some spicy brown prepared mustard (which already had some vinegar in it -- yay!) so, remembering back some 30 years and adapting it, we had

Low-vinegar vinaigrette

Put into a small bowl (no larger than a cereal bowl and preferably smaller):
  • 2 tsp spicy brown prepared mustard
  • ½ clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
and beat with a small spoon. (I used a table teaspoon -- not a precise measuring teaspoon.) You could use a small wire whisk, but this house ("cabin" doesn't do it justice; the rental agent calls it "Beaver Pond Lodge") doesn't have one

When you have what looks like rather a soupy version of spicy brown mustard, add olive oil, a little (no more than ½ tsp) at a time, and each time stir until thoroughly mixed, nearly homogeneous. But add no more than 1 Tbsp of oil beyond the original 2 tsp.

If what you have turns into mustard-colored bubbles in clear oil, you've added too much oil. Don't fret, but try to remember how much you added, and add a little less next time. A little pepper and salt won't hurt.

Leftover Pseudo-Italian Eggplant &c

Today, I contemplated what to do with a package of chicken sausage and half an eggplant. Roasting eggplant cubes in the oven worked well before, so here's a serviceable lunch entree.
  • Slice thinly:
    • ½ eggplant
    By "thinly" I mean maybe ¼ inch or so. 8mm wouldn't be too thick but I guess 1cm might be.
  • Dump the slices onto a baking sheet or some ovenproof dish. The lodge has a glass pie-pan so I used it. If you like, you can drizzle it with
    • olive oil
    and/or sprinkle with
    • salt.
  • Set oven for 450°F and insert the eggplant slices. (You can preheat the oven if you like but that seems overly diligent). Turn the slices every 5-10 minutes, and cook for about 30 minutes total.
  • While the eggplant is baking, slice thinly (about ¼ inch):
    • some sausage
    We have sweet Italian sausage made from chicken, and I used two links from the package. These are fully cooked, so I added them to the eggplant slices for the last 10 minutes or so.

    If your sausage isn't pre-cooked, you might add them to the oven earlier -- e.g., slice and add as soon as you put the eggplant in.

  • When done, top with
    • leftover marinara sauce
    if you have some. If you don't have any, no worries.

Forgiven, or just excused?

Have you ever known someone who was never wrong? "Henry" was an engineer I used to know. If his program didn't work, it was someone else's fault; if something he said wasn't true, it was because somebody mis-informed him. But he personally never made a mistake.

I'll now remove my tongue from cheek and recall that "we all stumble in various ways," as James tells us, and these failures aren't always private. When a failing obviously and undeniably injures someone, my initial reaction is often to make excuses -- whether I'm perpetrator, victim or observer.

But even when I'm the perpetrator, is that what I really want? Excuses for my screw-up, whether a moral failure (cold-heartedness, impatience, unkindness) or mental error (forgotten appointment, miscalculation) or manual slip-up (spilt milk, shattered glassware)? Excuses minimize either the magnitude of the failure or its impact on others; they're unsatisfying because they're false.

Oh, an excuse may be factually true: maybe I really was under a lot of stress when I snapped at someone, and it could very well be true that "worse things have happened" to the one I hurt by a thoughtless remark. But the intent, the import, of the excuse is wrong. My stress doesn't give me license to snap at my victim. And that "worse things have happened" to them doesn't make the damage I've inflicted any less real.

No, what I need in such a case is to be forgiven. Forgiveness doesn't minimize the perpetrator's failure or the victim's pain; it offers authentic grace and sincere truth where an excuse has only half-truths and counterfeit grace.

And if I'm the victim, I need to forgive, not make excuses or pretend I wasn't hurt. Now an excuse is more comfortable because it papers over inconvenient truths -- that the perpetrator did actually fail and the victim was actually hurt. I don't like thinking I was actually hurt, and I don't like thinking that people I trusted have failed—especially if it's someone in a position of leadership. It hurts less, at least in the short term, to just deny both the pain and the failure. Indeed, forgiveness is very uncomfortable precisely because it acknowledges real failure and real pain. Yet ultimately only forgiveness brings real growth and real healing.

If there's been a real failure and real hurt, pretending otherwise is just denying the truth, and no good will come from that. Forgiveness is costly, but it may bring reconciliation. On the other hand, no good thing comes from denying reality, as Jeremiah reminds us:

They dress the wound of my people 
     as though it were not serious. 
"Peace, peace," they say,
     when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 6:14

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A scary thought

What if... you could only use one programming language for the rest of your life, and that language had to be either java or C++?

My future son-in-law asked me that. I think he has a future as a horror-film writer/director.

What is Spiritual Formation? Part 3: Intention and Method

The whole Vision/Intention/Method thing is better explained in Dallas Willard's own words at (I stumbled upon it while looking for a concentric circle diagram). So the rest of this post will be a few things that stood out from our spiritual formation retreat.
Some key assumptions behind Christian spiritual formation:
  1. that we are "homesick for Eden" (to borrow the title of a book by Gary W. Moon); that is, deep inside we long for a state of open fellowship with God and authentic community with each other;
  2. that God longs for us and weeps at the petty obsessions and distractions that take our attention away from him;
  3. that salvation is our journey toward union with God.
Eden had two trees (among others): the tree of life (eating from that tree represents our willingness to engage with God and follow him) and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (eating from that tree represents our willfulness to turn away from God and to live life on our own) -- the willingness/willfulness language apparently comes from Gerald May (Rollo's younger brother).

In looking at some practices to further our union of God, it may be useful to consider the progress of a romantic relationship, which may include:

  • Conversation
    To advance our conversation with God, Premack's principle may be useful: pairing a desired action (e.g., prayer) with a frequent action (e.g., swallowing coffee). So if I can remember to thank God (or reflect upon him, or whatever) each time I enjoy a sip of coffee, then I'll tend to pray more than I currently do.
  • Communion
    This has to do with being intentional about my willingness to engage with God and to follow him. To further this, I'll need to embrace the pain of withdrawal from my most cherished idols.
  • Consummation
    I think this corresponds to the part where we go to heaven and are fully united with God after we leave this earth.
The fact that we have disciplines for spiritual formation (or "spiritual growth" or "discipleship"), and that they take effort on our part, doesn't contradict the fact that salvation (our journey toward union with God) is by grace. As Dallas Willard wrote in The Great Omission, grace is not opposed to effort, but only to earning... ah, or in a more complete version found here: "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone."

Here's a story that may be useful in considering one's vision. Though neither God nor prayer is mentioned (Hello Esther!), I thought it terrific. Is this the kind of man I'd like to be?

The point of the disciplines is to bring us freedom to live in the right way, to enable me to receive power from God to live a holy life. For example, I'd love it if my careless words (Matthew 12:36-37) -- that is, the words that just pop out when I'm not thinking -- are words that bring life and encouragement and healing, rather than corrupted, useless words (Ephesians 4:29) that serve only to justify or defend myself.

By the way, this is the difference between magic vs following Christ; in magic or sorcery, we try to get power over others; in following Christ, we try to get the power to surrender ourselves to God.

A few disciplines

There are disciplines of engagement and disciplines of abstinence. This is a good thing: people who are sometimes rather manic and subject to sins of commission may need abstinence; those who tend toward sins of omission may need disciplines of engagement. Disciplines of abstinence include
  • silence (this one is easy: just don't make any sounds and don't listen to any sounds and don't read or write anything. "You can't do it wrong")
  • fasting
  • solitude (this would be easier for extroverts if they could take a few friends along)
  • slowing (e.g., spend 5 minutes to eat a raisin).
Disciplines of engagement include
  • celebration because it's really good to remember the many blessings we receive;
  • examen, enjoying God's presence, looking back on the day (or the morning) and considering my attitudes, those points where I was most/least grateful, etc. A fuller treatment is here
  • confession
  • study
  • worship
  • servanthood.
It's helpful (for me anyway) to think of these disciplines like training for a marathon or to work a ropes course (as described in another post) -- training being a set of activities which I can do, which will give me the power to do the things I cannot do by direct effort.

I hope that was helpful, and I hope you read Dallas's article, which is certainly more complete. My other posts on this topic are:

What Is Spiritual Formation? Part 2: Vision

So if Christian spiritual formation is the process of shaping one's character (spirit, will, heart) to be more like Christ, what does Joe or Jane Believer actually do to promote their own Christian spiritual formation? As previously noted, the will isn't very good at carrying out decisions like "I will not take another drink for the rest of the month" or "I'll run 26.2 miles tomorrow (though I've never run more than a 10K before)." But it is pretty good at decisions like, "I'll go to tonight's AA meeting" or "I'll jog a half-mile today."

In the same way, willpower alone isn't enough to transform someone like me (or you?) into the loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, benevolent, compassionate, steadfast, gentle, courageous honest person that I want to be. So what does it take? Three words:

  1. Vision:
    a vision of God, yes, but also a vision of what life with God could be like for me;
  2. Intention:
    a desire -- a decision -- to move toward that vision;
  3. Method (or means):
    concrete actions, tools, practices to get us there.
So if I want to learn a language -- Italian, say -- then I'll need a vision: maybe a mental image of spending a month in Siena or Venice or Florence or Rome, seeing beautiful things, enjoying delicious food, chatting with the natives and so on.

Then I must form an intention to pursue that vision. Otherwise, like Walter Mitty, I can spend my life daydreaming and never realize the vision. I also need a method to progress toward the goal. I might take classes, buy a book with CDs, get some software for my computer, find a conversation partner. I need all three -- vision, intention, method -- to learn Italian.

But it all starts with a vision. Without a vision and intention, the books will sit on the shelf, the lessons will be skipped, the conversation partner will be abandoned.

It's the same way with spiritual formation, or discipleship, or growth: without a vision of life with God, without an intention to follow God all my life, the methods (means, disciplines, practices) are useless to me. Either I'll abandon them, or they'll turn me into a Pharisee.

So the vision is really important. What would I like my life with God to be like? How does God want my life to look? What aspects of that are attractive to me? I don't want to say "envision your future and God will give it to you," but if what God wants for your life doesn't attract you, it won't form a useful vision for your spiritual growth.

Please don't short-circuit this step! Otherwise you may find yourself, like me, doing some "spiritual" practices for the wrong reason, or for no reason. I suggest taking half an hour or more to write down what you'd like your life with God to be like. You may want to read through Matthew 5-7, John 14-17, or some other Scriptures to give you some confidence around the content of your vision. At a retreat we each took 15-20 minutes to write down "what I'd wish for in my life with God" -- after which I saw that I really want a lot of things in my life to be different, and that I had merely scratched the surface.

For my vision, I read through parts of Colossians 3 and came up with a few of the ways that I'm not there yet. For example, it says "As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience" (Col. 3:12) so I wrote down that I want always to be aware that I'm dearly loved by God. That I want to be less selfish, less self-absorbed, more compassionate. That I would remember that my worth is not measured by accomplishments, and to be more patient as a result.

By even just this one verse of Scripture, it's obvious that my current life with God is "not OK" -- but the other thing is to remember that that's OK! That is, God loves me as I am, even though he's still got more work to do on me. If, when I die some decades from now (Lord willing), I haven't grown or changed at all, then, well, that would be sad.

But it was exciting to me to think that one day I could actually be like what the Scriptures say. And for the people who know me, it's even more exciting because then I'd be a lot easier to work with and live with and be with.

A lot of what Jesus did in his preaching was to correct people's vision. "You have heard... but I tell you..." Jesus said over and over in Matthew 5:21-43. Jesus says in Matthew 13:44 that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who found a treasure in a field, and in his joy went and sold all he had. So again, if the idea of life with god doesn't bring joy, it's not going to be very useful.

The problem with a life apart from Jesus is that any soul is damaged by sin. When Jesus talked about gaining the whole world but losing my soul (Mark 8:36), he wasn't saying primarily that I'd go to hell after I die; his point was that my spirit will be out of whack with my mind, my mind with my body with my social relationships, and so on. I'll be confused because I won't know why I do things, my feelings won't make any sense, my soul will be cast down and fragmented.

So that's "the vision thing." It's really important. I used to hang out with a group called The Navigators, and they gave me some really clear detailed explanations on the methods -- I learned a lot about how to do Bible study, how to memorize Scripture, and so on. But I think that many of us took the practices as something you just do.

Nobody said, "God will love you more if you memorize more verses," but some of us got to feeling that our worth was tied in somehow with how many verses we memorized, how accurately we could quote them, and so on.

So the vision must come before anything else. Can the practices reinforce the vision? Certainly! That's why I'm trying to memorize the first part of Colossians 3: to solidify the vision in my mind.

And may the Lord help us to be transformed, and not to lose sight of the vision for why we do all these things.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What is Spiritual Formation? Digression: Models of a Person

Dallas Willard's model of a whole person is diagrammed as a series of concentric circles, as shown below (from
In the center is the will (because it makes decisions) or the heart (i.e., the center of things) or spirit (non-physical).

Surrounding the will in this model is a concentric ring representing the mind -- this includes the thoughts and feelings. The spirit, or will, can decide to forgive someone, but when that person appears, unhappy memories, hurt feelings and vengeful thoughts may arise unbidden--thus the distinction between spirit/heart/will on one hand and the mind on the other.

Next is the body, which is one's own kingdom ("kingdom" being the range of one's effective will). The body has habits, not all of which are under the full control of the mind. For example, some youth camps have a "ropes course," which includes platforms 30' or more off the ground. When you go there, the kids running the course give you a safety lecture so your mind knows that you're safe: the ropes are strong enough, and all the hardware they put on you is secure enough to stop you from falling. But when you get up on that platform, your palms, your armpits, and your feet may not know this.

Surrounding the body in this model is the set of social interactions. I'm a little fuzzy on this, but the soul is the integration of all these human functions. The psalms have in more than one place "O my soul" e.g., "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" or "Bless the Lord O my soul" -- but the spirit isn't addressed in this way.

Someone has observed that the will is not very good at making decisions like "I will not drink the rest of the year" and following through on that. The will can, however, make a decision like "I will go to tonight's AA meeting" and get the body there. For most of us non-marathoners, the will can't carry out a decision to run 26.2 miles, but the will can decide to get up today and run a mile or two... and after some days to decide to run three or four....

There is another model featuring circles -- this one due to Larry Crabb Jr. and diagrammed at left -- but as I recently figured out, it's more of a diagnostic model--focused on psychological (from the Greek ψυχὴ/psuche, soul) problems. Anyway, in this one, the innermost circle refers to a one's Personal needs; it's full to the extent that someone feels their needs for security and significance have been met. These are two crucial longings that every human being has.

The next circle, the Rational one, has to do with models and beliefs; it's full to the extent that those models and beliefs in fact match reality.

If my mental model of the world says I'd be happy if only he did more of this, or she did less of that--if I believe all my problems are somebody else's fault--I can be quite sure my rational circle isn't full.

The next circle, the "Volitional" one, is full to the extent that one's goals are acknowledged. Suppose my father built a multi-million dollar business, and as he lies dying he tells me, "I have no doubt you will drive my company into the ground and destroy all I've built" (none of which is true by the way). Do you think I might develop a desire to show him he was wrong? And if I did, how likely is it that I'd say that to anyone -- even myself? Lots of people have lots of unacknowledged goals -- many of them not as extreme as that -- and to the extent they're not acknowledged, the volitional circle is empty.

The last circle in this model is the Emotional one. When an event impinges upon me, my feelings depend not just upon the substance of the event, but upon my goals (acknowledged or unacknowledged) which in turn are based upon my beliefs (rational circle) about where Life with a capital L comes from. My emotional circle is full to the extent that I consciously experience my feelings.

Someone with a non-full emotional circle may habitually yell, “I'm not shouting!!” Or if you ask how they feel about something, might reply "You sound like my daughter. Do you mean, ‘What are my thoughts on that?&rsquo"

There are lots of reasons why any of these circles may not be full, but as you've probably surmised, a healthy person has all four circles close to full.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Is Spiritual Formation? Part 1: Definitions and Goals

It is not
...a set of practices favored by contemplative, academically-oriented white males who like to read Nouwen and Merton.
(name redacted)
What is body formation? It's the shaping of the human body, and it goes on all the time, whether I want it to or not. If I sit on the couch all day eating hot dogs, chips, and onion dip, that will shape my body a certain way. If I do a lot of aerobic exercise, drink lots of water and eat leafy greens, that shapes my body another way.

Similarly, spiritual formation -- the shaping of my character, my spirit, my will -- goes on all the time, whether I want it to or not. Consciously or unconsciously, my spirit is being formed continuously. (Since when we talk about spiritual formation we usually include habits of thought and speech and action, "soul formation" may be a more accurate term. But we'll stick with "spiritual formation" here to avoid confusion.)

What kind of spiritual formation goes on in my life when I watch "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" or meditate upon the photos in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? How about when I spend time thinking about the many ways my wife forgives my self-absorption and the ways my friends accept me with my quirks? Or when I consider how fortunate I am to be able to attend church every week without fear, and to be able to afford brown sugar and milk and frozen organic berries with my oatmeal every single day? When I take time away from my own "important" pursuits to serve the poor and the lost, to feed the homeless, or help someone build a house for their family?

Anyway, if spiritual formation is the shaping of the human will or character or spirit, what is Christian spiritual formation but the shaping of the human character, will, spirit, heart to be more like Christ?

By the way, Christ's #1 teaching point, the gospel, was that you can enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) -- that place where God's will and your will are in perfect alignment. Paul's #1 teaching point, the mystery "which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27) was another side of the same coin: "I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatans 4:19). Indeed Jesus told his disciples to remain in him "and I will remain in you" (John 15) and Paul wrote that God chose us "in him (Christ)" (Ephesians 1).
With Christian spiritual formation thus defined, its primary goals should be:
  1. To dearly love the Heavenly Father and delight in him, in order to:
  2. Remove my automatic anti-kingdom responses/reactions, so that I can:
  3. Fully experience life with God.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Love my neighbor?

From The Great Omission, by Dallas Willard:
Some time ago I came to realize that I did not love the people next door. They were, by any standards, dangerous and unpleasant people—ex-bikers who made their living selling drugs.

They had never tried to harm my family, but the constant traffic of people buying drugs, a number of whom sat in the yard while shooting up, began to wear down my patience. As I brooded over them one day, indulging my irritation, the Lord helped me see that I really had no love for them at all, that after “suffering” from them for several years I would secretly be happy if they died so that we could just be rid of them. I realized how little I truly cared for nearly all the people I dealt with through the day, even when on “religious business.” (23)

Ow, owowow. I actually like our next-door neighbors, but I remember some run-ins I had about 20 years ago with a woman who lived a few blocks away. She fed a half-dozen stray cats -- filling a paper plate with cat food and leaving it in my front yard -- thus effectively filling my wife's vegetable garden with cat-poop. When I heard my then 3-year-old refer to her as "the stupid cat-lady" (words she could have heard only from me), I knew I really was not loving my neighbor.

And how am I doing today? I hope I've made some progress since then, as the Lord has helped me and I've been willing. And as he continues to help me and I continue to be willing, in the next 20 years I'll be less selfish and self-absorbed, less cold and intolerant, than I am today. Which is good news for everyone who knows me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A certain kind of sanity

Just back from a retreat, where the rules of a Wesleyan Band (a small group, not a big collection of musicians) were mentioned. I looked them up and found this posting that describes a really high level of commitment. Here's an excerpt (the poster at says these are in the public domain):
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may be to this effect: –
  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
  6. Do you desire to be told of your faults?
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
  11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?

Contrast that with a certain kind of madness described in Roxburgh and Boren's Introducing the Missional Church:

... where the focus has been on our rights, our needs, our freedom to choose as we please, our freedom to cut and run whenever we get bored or it gets sticky and tough or things aren't quite working the way we expect. It is assumed that the appropriate means of living in a tolerant and open society is to create an environment that does not step on or over any specific set of personal rights, feelings, or desires. (71)

Ouch! The idea of a high-commitment Wesleyan band is like a polar opposite to the "needs-centered, seeker-driven mentality that has shaped so much of the church in North America" (loc. cit.) and is thus a certain kind of sanity.

Is it a sanity you or I would sign up for? Or are we -- am I -- unwilling to forsake "our freedom to cut and run whenever we get bored or it gets sticky and tough or things aren't quite working the way we expect"?

Vent stuck open on GE JVM3670SF08 over-counter microwave oven

We have one of these -- installed in 2008. It's a pretty nice appliance, easy to use. It has a vent fan that blows steam (etc) from the stove to an exhaust vent outside the house, and when the fan (or the microwave oven) is running, a vent above the microwave door angles open to draw steam/fumes/etc that drift up past the front of the microwave. The other day I noticed that the upper vent was stuck open, as seen in the photo on the right. I climbed up and saw the problem -- a broken plastic part (photo below). See the piece my finger's on, with the screw in it? It's supposed to be rotated back 90° or so away from you -- that is, what's nearly horizontal should instead be vertical. It's like the spring just pulled too hard and tore that whole part loose. And a look on top of the appliance showed more cracks -- a screw at upper right looks like maybe it was over-tightened, too.

To take it off, I undid 3 downward-pointing screws, then shoved the grille assembly slightly to the left. It then came straight out, except for one piece that simply fell to the floor, and another that had broken off completely and was still wedged. The whole grille sub-assembly had a thin coating of grease.

Well, I thought, guess I'll go looking for the part. I found the model number -- JVM3670WF08 -- on the inside of the microwave oven, and did a web search on that plus the word "parts".

Some websites offered parts for JVM3670WF06 or something like this, apparently a countertop model. But one site,, had the right model number, and this picture gave me enough information to order the grille sub-assembly confidently. Just for kicks, I searched on the part number (WB07X10444) once I had that info. Sure enough, some other websites had it at a lower price. But since the guys showed me what the part was, I went ahead and ordered from them. I want that website to be around the next time I need a part.

Meanwhile, I used some spray cleaner to get rid of the grease, and krazy glue™ or similar to put 3 or 4 of the cracks back together. That's probably enough to hold 'til the new part arrives.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

If your clipper card has a monthly pass, how can VTA cite you?

Yesterday I got chewed out by a fare inspector on the VTA light rail for not tapping (tagging, swiping, scanning) my clipper card before boarding the train, as their FAQ says I must.

I confess, I'm cranky and have a Bad Attitude about this and am thus disobeying both Philippians 4:4 and 1 Peter 2:13. How much money do Caltrain and VTA (and thus the taxpayers) spend on all the fancy electronic equipment to load, read [etc] these cards? They still need ticket machines at each station, at which by the way you cannot buy a monthly pass or load it onto the clipper card.

And why do VTA insist that you tag on every time you board, even if you have a monthly pass? If they cite you, what kind of fine can legally be imposed? I googled "fare violation santa clara county" (no quotes) and first up was California Public Utilities Code section 99580, which says that agencies can pass ordinances to fine you for activities defined in subdivision (b), among which is (aha!)

(2) Misuse of a transfer, pass, ticket, or token with the intent to evade the payment of a fare.
So they couldn't get me on that one, because I've already paid for the monthly pass. If I engage in an argument with the fare inspector, they could presumably get me under
(6) Willfully disturbing others on or in a system facility or vehicle by engaging in boisterous or unruly behavior.
But if I get off the train at the next station with the fare inspector and tag my card at that time (the reader will confirm the pass is good to the end of the month) then 99580 doesn't apply, right?

Am I missing something here? Besides having a bad attitude I mean?

Update 2011-06-06: sent to VTA

Sent this morning, after I had to run like heck from caltrain, to get onto the light rail:
From the faq
Do I need to tag my card even if I have a monthly pass?

Yes, regardless of whether you use cash or a monthly pass, you must tag your card to a card reader every time you board a bus or before you board light rail. Your tag is your proof of payment.
This is disingenuous. the "tag" machines know that I have a monthly pass, and the fare inspectors would know that too, if their machines were programmed to recognize monthly pass holders (as the caltrain fare inspectors' machines are).

Can you help me understand why it's reasonable for VTA to impose this additional burden on monthly pass holders? I don't believe that citing for failure to tag on would be supported by either spirit or letter of CPUC 99580(b)(2) (or any other part of (b), (c), or (d) for that matter -- since by failing to tag on I would not be evading payment of fare).

Why does VTA program the fare inspectors' machines to reject valid paid monthly passes on Clipper?
I'll see what they say, if anything.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jesus the Logician?

That's a chapter title from Dallas Willard's The Great Omission. Our pastor has said in at least one sermon that if we believe "Jesus is Lord" then we must also believe Jesus is smart -- that is, if Jesus says one thing but I think another thing, guess who's wrong?

But Willard explains this point further: it's not just that Jesus is smart about moral issues or what we call "wisdom"; he also is smart in those areas we normally call "skill" or "expertise" or "technology." In the book he mentions an experience Catherine Marshall had, wherein she was trying to design something. She prayed, and several ideas came to her about how to proceed.

A former housemate told me some years ago about something even more unusual (in my view anyway) than that. His computer program was not working -- something was not quite right about it for some days. He prayed and complained, and one night, he had a dream. In the dream, he heard a voice: "Do you trust me, or not?" And there in front of him was a printout of his computer program (this was some years ago) and a finger indicated a particular line of Fortran.

You see where this is going -- that was the defective line, as my former housemate confirmed the next day. Jesus the Programming and Computational Fluid Dynamics Expert? Hey, why not? For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1).

And speaking of "hold together," he knows how the Strong force works; he knows why a moving electron creates a magnetic field; he knows not only why software has so many mistakes, but he knows what each one is. He knows which books will become best-sellers, and which ones will be 99% remaindered. He knows (and I mean knows) to what extent our changing climate is the result of human activity, and of increasing CO2 concentration in particular.

Jesus is Lord. And Jesus is smart. It's true.

Spiritual formation -- what doesn't work

From Dallas Willard's The Great Omission:
Bible study, prayer, and church attendance... generally have little effect for soul transformation, as is obvious to any observer. If all the people doing them were transformed to health and righteousness by them, the world would be vastly changed. Their failure to bring about the change is precisely because the body and soul are so exhausted, fragmented, and conflicted that the prescribed activities cannot be appropriately engaged in and and by and large degenerate into legalistic and ineffectual rituals. Lengthy solitude and silence, including rest, can make them very powerful. (153-154)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Capellini farce

The other day I got a hankering for angel hair with marinara, so when I saw some of this stuff at the store I jumped at it. But I didn't read the directions at right until the water was already boiling.

Does it look to you the way it looks to me? Boil water, add the pasta, then after water returns to a boil, cook 2 or 3 minutes? I tasted it every few minutes, and I'll tell you, it was more like 10 minutes.

Maybe if I'd had the stove on medium-low, so it would take almost 10 minutes to get it back to boiling... and cook 2-3 minutes after that? SO WEIRD.

But it was delicious, with sauce from a bottle.