Monday, July 17, 2017

Come to me… Is this the gospel?

This is not exactly a continuation of an earlier post… well, maybe it is. Or it could be. I’m using it to explore the idea of Matthew 11:28-30 as a gospel invitation.

What was I doing in this Bible lecture? Well, actually I know how I got here—I tried to get a date with Doreen, but she got me to go to “Alpha” with her, then I found myself reading the… the New Testament for crying out loud!

Then I was hooked—not just on her, but on the subject; I mean I really wanted to understand all this. So when she invited me to a talk about the Good News of Jesus for Today (approximately), it sounded interesting enough that I didn’t even mind when she couldn’t make it at the last minute. Anyway, the lecture was starting.

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ This invitation is the centerpiece and summary of Matthew’s gospel.”

That confused me. I mean, was that it? I heard several times in college and grad school that “All have sinned…” which I never liked much, but this guy was talking about a yoke?

“What makes us weary and burdened?” he went on. “What makes me weary is trying to manage other people’s opinions of me.” I could relate to that one.

“And what burdens do we carry?” he continued. “Jesus isn’t talking about rent and groceries. But there are burdens we really shouldn’t bear, things we worry about—things I worry about—that we need to set down,” he said. I started making a mental list, which to be honest didn’t include world peace or a cure for AIDS; the issues, I’m embarrassed to say, were mostly about me. Affording a house, the next round of layoffs in the rumor mill, this sort of thing.

“So what did you think, Ray?” Jeff asked over a beer. I’d met him at Alpha, and wasn’t sure if he was like me, or if he already believed most of this.

“It’s more appealing than ‘You’re all sinners,’” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, I don’t disagree with all that, but ‘Come to me’ is more, you know, inviting.”

OK, he did believe most of that. So I wondered aloud why he was here.

“I’ve been asking myself on and off the past few years, ‘What is the gospel?’ I mean, when Jesus preached the good news about 2,000 years ago, people were mostly really happy to hear it. What message would appeal that way to my friends and neighbors? Some years ago, I actually spent time knocking on people’s doors and asking them what they thought about Jesus. And if they let me, I’d explain the good news that although they were sinners, Jesus died for them. Results were, as they say, mixed.”

“Wow! You never struck me as one of them.” He chuckled a bit—he didn’t seem embarrassed at all. “So you still believe that, but you’re wondering how to market it better? I mean, ‘Come to me…’ and ‘All you guys are sinners’ sound like they came from different books.”

“Jesus did say ‘Come to me…’ but he also said that looking on a woman to lust after her was committing adultery in your heart. And that being angry at someone was like killing them. He also said to love your enemies. When I put all that together, I get the picture that we are all sinners. So he effectively said that ‘sinners’ thing too.

“Jesus healed a paralyzed man, but before he healed him, he said to him, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ This got him into some trouble with the religious authorities of his day. He definitely did it on purpose.”

I remembered that story. “Didn’t he say something like ‘So that you guys know I have authority to forgive sins’?”

“Yes he did! He made a big deal about having that power. Here’s how the thing about sinners ties in. If I don’t know that my sins are forgiven, I’ll be compelled to try to manage people’s opinions. I don’t think it’s possible to escape the addiction to ‘impression management’ unless we know our sins are forgiven.”

“Whoa. If I’m honest, I’d have to say I do a lot to give the impression that I’m cool or smart or whatever… though at the same time I try to tell myself that I shouldn’t care so much what everybody thinks. And it is tiring, like the guy said.”

“We like to think we’re too sophisticated for this, but we all have a kind of primitive fear of being found out. That’s why it’s good news that Jesus has the power to forgive sins.”

“So when Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke’ and ‘learn from me,’ he’s deliberately leaving some parts out—doing a kind of head fake?”

“Well, he doesn’t give the entire dissertation in every sound bite.” Did Jeff sound a little defensive? But he had a point.

“Fair enough. But if somebody hears the ‘summary and center-piece’ and tries to live like Jesus and learn from him, they’ll get frustrated that it’s not actually possible?” So much for all those guys who think religion is a crutch; this one at least was looking like a cast-iron bitch.

He paused a moment. “When Peter Drucker was a boy, his piano teacher told him, ‘You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does. But there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does.’ Drucker’s point was that a lot of practice is required. We can’t learn the Jesus way like we learn which sorting algorithm works best for which dataset. It’s a lifetime of walking with him. That’s why he said ‘yoke’; he didn’ say ‘teleprompter.’

“Jesus isn’t a textbook; he has a different way of teaching. Do you know the parable of the sower?” I didn’t. “Jesus says the kingdom of God is like this strange guy who throws seed everywhere.”

“Everywhere? Like not just in his field?”

“Right. On the road, on the rocks, in the weeds—very inefficient. The text says that some people came around him to ask what it meant, and Jesus said, ‘The secrets of the kingdom are given to you…’”

What? “Who’s the ‘you’ there?” I wanted to know.

“That’s exactly the point. Most of the audience said, ‘Great sermon, Rabbi,’ then went home and forgot all about it.”

“But the few who didn’t?” I asked…

“Right. The ones who said, ‘Uh, Rabbi, what did you mean?’ Those were the ones who heard the secrets of the kingdom.”

“So if you ask and keep asking, you’ll get it?” I think Jesus said something like that, too.

Jeff was nodding. “You know how every hotel room in America has a Bible in it?” I did, and not just in the USA either. “Probably 99% of the guests never even open it.”

I saw where he was going. “But anyone who reads it, and keeps reading to try and understand it and live it…”

“They get the secrets of the kingdom.”

Fascinating. The words of the parable say one thing… “So the parable is an invitation to do something, not just an explanation of interesting facts.”

“Exactly. He’s not giving us a dissertation or a topo map or a textbook. Instead he’s inviting us into a relationship. An apprenticeship.”

“So when he invites people to ‘learn from me,’ as he says,…”

“That’s apprenticeship,” Jeff completed the thought. The parable—well, its interpretation at least—also invites us to apprenticeship. But ‘learn from me…’ is more straightforward.

“So what do you think, Jeff?” I wanted to know. “You’ve been thinking about what the gospel is for today; do you think that’s it? That Jesus is taking apprentices, and if we sign up, we can get healing from our addictions and burdens?”

He was nodding. “Hey, that’s pretty good! Mind if I use that?”

Of course, the gospel is more than that (why is Romans 1:17 good news?). But as far as why it might be interesting to someone who doesn’t know Jesus, is it all that bad as a summary?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Adventures in Automotive Technology, Prius Edition

FRESNO, Friday 6pm: 150 miles from home, on our way back from a week in the mountains, we're on our way to meet our friend Sylvia for dinner, when warning indicators suddenly appear on our 2006 Prius. We bought it 15 months ago with 57,000 miles on it; now the odometer reads 80,000.

The icons include a scary red triangle with a bright "!" in the middle, and something that looks like a skinny doughnut. On the "Multi-Information Display" we see the red outline of a car profile with another red "!" superimposed.

The car drives just fine, so we drive another few miles to dinner, where we enjoy catching up with Sylvia. I inspect the instrument panel further. I find nothing, but a web search tells me that it's not safe to drive unless we know what the codes are. The Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) can't be read at any random auto repair shop; only the dealer knows how to get them and what to do with them.

Early Saturday morning, we get to a Toyota dealership, where a friendly service rep tells us that unfortunately, all the master technicians are at a Toyota sponsored event. Last year it was Disneyland; this year it's NASCAR. So probably nobody can actually read the codes, or knows what to do if they could. I thrust both arms in the air and cry: "Today must be my LUCKY DAY!" (I didn't say what kind of luck.) This got a smile out of "Ted" (name changed to protect the innocent).

I ask him, off the record, what he would do in my place: 150 miles from home, car full of camping stuff, gotta get to work Monday, all the master techs are out of town, etc. "I'm not gonna tell anyone, 'Ted at <dealership name> told me…'" I say.

He says he'd take a chance and head home. "I'm a risk taker," he says.

"So THAT'S why you work at a Toyota dealership!" I say. "Those guys that climb El Capitan without ropes—they're BORING. Life right here, now THAT'S livin' on the edge!"

That gets another chuckle out of Ted. And just in case I'm not a complete whack job, he adds: "But if you lose power" or any other hiccup, we should pull over and get towed, he says. Fine. I shake his hand and he gives me his card.

Well, we didn't quite make it to Los Banos. The car lost power and I pulled over near some almond trees by the side of the road. At least it wasn't too hot. The lovely Carol called AAA for a tow, and was on hold for a while; I took over with her phone and waited... well, a while longer. I don't actually know how long we were on hold. Eventually, though, a wonderful lady came on and took our information. She arranged a tow, and said the driver ought to be to us about 11:27am.

At 11:26 (I am not kidding) I saw a tow truck on the opposite side of the highway. It made a legal U-turn and the driver pulled in front of us. He took my AAA membership number and towed us to the Toyota dealer in Merced, about 2 hours from home. I guess that means we drove 50–60 miles before crapping out.

We paid the driver for the extra mileage (AAA covers a 5-mile tow, but we went 21 miles), then I chatted with Kevin the service manager. When I told him what lit up, he said, "that's the indicator you don't want to get." Exactly. "90% of the time when you get that," he said, "it's the hybrid battery. The other 10% it's something else."

Oh, and all the master techs watching NASCAR races? "I have a master tech in here every Saturday." Wow! It really is my lucky day! He was out at lunch but would be back soon.

How much does it cost to replace the battery? Something like $3,500. But the other issue would be time. "It takes six hours to replace the hybrid battery," he said. "and we close at five." He could get us into a rental car before that and we could head home with the laundry and the perishable stuff anyway.

The master tech returned from lunch, and after a while Kevin asked us if we ran out of gas. "No, we filled it up in Visalia" (or was it Three Rivers?) "and drove about 200 miles." I said we had about half a tank. A short while later, it looked like we had a bad fuel level sending unit.

More time passed. Kevin came over. "I have some more information. You weren't that lucky. He did a test drive and found something else was wrong." It turns out that the Prius has a lot of sophisticated electronics. Those electronics must be kept from overheating. There is a pump for the coolant, and it had failed. It would set us back several hundred dollars to replace that. The good news was: it would be done by five.

Kevin was good as his word. We had been there about five hours, and spent about $500. The tow truck was about $100 and about another hour. So we got off easy this time.

So the end of our vacation week could have been a little better; it also could have been a whole lot worse.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Isaiah, Merton, Rob

When we lived in Kobe (Japan), our pastor frequently spoke on the theme of the way we live our lives. A big problem we have, he said, is something he called “My Way.” I was reminded of this recently when he posted a photo of a printed prayer, with the caption “If you pray this sincerely from your heart, you will be given eternal life!” (roughly translated).

I expect that Pastor Rob composed that prayer, which reads in part: “I've gotten so tired of doing things my own way” (roughly translated. Actually all my translations are rough, so this is the last time I'll say that). The prayer goes on to describe an earnest desire to live God's way from now on.

I'll include the entire prayer below, but this contrast between “My Way” vs. “God's way” reminds me of another prophet—the Old Testament prophet Isaiah actually. One of Isaiah's famous quotes is from chapter 53, which you may have heard in Handel's Messiah:

All we like sheep have gone astray.
We have turned every one to his own way.
And the Lord hath laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:6 (AV)
Isaiah writes about our ways vs. his ways a fair amount in these chapters. In chapter 55, for example, we read
Let the wicked forsake his way
    and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have marcy on him,
    and to our God, for he will surely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways“
                        declares the Lord.
Isaiah 55:6–8 (NIV 1984)
And what does that look like, to go my own way? Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk, writes very insightfully that
…I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time.
No Man Is an Island 3.1 (p. 25)

The prudence of the flesh is opposed to the will of God. The works of the flesh will bury us in hell. If we know and love and act only according to the flesh, that is to say, according to the impulses of our own nature, the things we do will rapidly corrupt and destroy our whole spiritual being.

op. cit., 8.3 (p. 134)
According to Merton, the antidote to “My Way” isn't necessarily to join the military or monastery, where we're no longer free to act as we like. On the contrary, he writes that
…we must remember the importance and the dignity of our own freedom. A man who fears to settle his future by a good act of his own free choice does not understand the love of God. For our freedom is a gift God has given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return.

Love is perfect in proportion to its freedom. It is free in proportion to its purity. We act most freely when we act purely in response to the love of God. But the purest love of God is not servile, not blind, not limited by fear.

op. cit., 8.1–2 (pp. 132f)
So that's the thing: we act most freely by acting most purely in response to the love of God. This is a supernatural thing; it does not come naturally. Consequently, we need help.

Which brings me back to the prayer, which as I mentioned I believe is due to Pastor Rob.

God of heaven: I need you
Humbly now I call on you.
I've totally gotten so tired of going my own way.
Please help me to live life your way going forward.
I now open the door of my life to you.
Please be my Lord and Savior.
Please send the Holy Spirit to fill the hole that opened up in my heart, and make me a perfect person.
Lord, please help me somehow—to be able to trust you, to make me love you, to live my life for you.
Please help me to understand your grace and compassion and peace.
主よ、感謝します。 アーメン
Thank you Lord. Amen.
Thanks to my friend Shuji for checking my transcription, and for his suggestions on my translation. All remaining errors are mine.
Update Monday morning, May 22: It struck me that this prayer can be a response to Matthew 11:28–30, where Jesus says
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

LG 34UM58-P, Debian Jessie, nVidia NVC0

Short version: I run this script after logging in (runlevel 5):
# Extract from Xorg.0.log when monitor was connected via DVI/HDMI cable
# (II) NOUVEAU(0): Manufacturer: GSM  Model: 59f1  Serial#: 105956
# (II) NOUVEAU(0): Modeline "2560x1080"x60.0  185.58  2560 2624 2688 2784  1080 1083 1093 1111 -hsync -vsync (66.7 kHz eP)

/usr/bin/xrandr --newmode  "2560x1080_60.0"  185.58  2560 2624 2688 2784  1080 1083 1093 1111 -hsync -vsync
/usr/bin/xrandr --addmode HDMI-1 2560x1080_60.0                            
/usr/bin/xrandr --output HDMI-1 --mode 2560x1080_60.0 
Details follow.
Remember the bad old days of monitors on Linux? A new monitor meant trying to figure out the modeline, tweaking various configuration files, all the while hoping you didn't smoke your monitor?

It's been a long time since I've had to do anything like this, and so I was out of practice when my brand new LG monitor (2560x1080, 34" diagonal) didn't work "out of the box" with my computer.

I brought the monitor home from our neighborhood Costco, where I had been eyeing it for some time. Because of my temporal separation from the bad old days, I didn't even think of checking for compatibility until it didn't work. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First thing, I got home and noticed oops, it only has HDMI inputs, no DVI (even I didn't think it might have (S)VGA). No problem; I have a DVI/HDMI cable. Which the quick start guide warns against using. Well, what was I going to do about that? So I connected it up, and after the initial screen, nothing. Fortunately, my old monitor had started working again by then so I could look at /var/log/Xorg.0.log and such.

Eventually I noticed this in the logfile:

[    18.396] (II) NOUVEAU(0): Initializing outputs ...
[    18.424] (II) NOUVEAU(0): Output DVI-I-1 has no monitor section
[    18.480] (II) NOUVEAU(0): Output DVI-I-2 has no monitor section
[    18.482] (II) NOUVEAU(0): Output HDMI-1 has no monitor section
What do you mean, "HDMI-1"? Well, there was a mini-HDMI socket in the video card. I hadn't noticed it before. Keeping in mind that LG warned of (in)compatibility issues when using a DVI/HDMI cable, I sought a miniHDMI/HDMI cable.

With that cable, things started working better, but still I was getting 1920x1080 resolution, which looks ugly. Also not so useful. And the monitor whined about it. After some web searches, I came up with the script you see at the top of this post; I run it after login and it works fine.

There is a way to make Xorg just come up in this mode, but I don't have the motivation to figure out what it is... Just call me slacker.

Whirlpool cooktop repair GJC3634RP03

We've had this cooktop since we re-did the kitchen in 2008. A few months back it developed a crack. Recently, the front right burner stopped working.

I ordered a replacement burner, and thought to install it last Saturday. I'd done this before (with a different burner) and was overconfident; I removed the cooktop from its recess in the countertop and, long story short, it experienced sudden deceleration upon impact. Instead of one crack I now had, well…

7:15 AM
Right. I didn't replace the burner last weekend, because I discovered why it was dead: stuff had literally fallen through the crack, which now was a hole, and interacted unfavorably with the burner element. More on this below.

Anyway, the first thing to do is turn off the power:

7:43 AM
After flipping the breaker off, I ensured there was no juice by turning on a burner and verifying that the power indicator didn't illuminate.

Next, I pulled the cooktop from its recess in the countertop. I opened the drawer (knob(s) visible in the picture below) and pushed up on it, then manhandled it out of the hole, placing a piece of scrap wood under it. You can see in the photo that the crack is especially pronounced.

7:47 AM
The glass top is held on with eight (8) "Phillips" head screws, three on the long sides and two on the short sides. The picture below shows two of the screws (well, one hole and one screw) on the rear edge of the cooktop:
7:52 AM
Fortunately, the glass isn't all that heavy. I lifted it off and set it aside. Here's what the range looks like without the top. Note the small dish in the foreground, where I stashed the screws.
7:53 AM
Here are the two damaged burners. "Wait," you may be thinking, "you only mentioned one bad burner!"

You're right; we hadn't noticed the rear burner was bad. Well, it wasn't all bad; you see, the rear burner is a sort of dual burner; you can heat up only the center part, or you can turn on the whole thing. It was the outer, torus-shaped part that was damaged. Details of the damage are shown later on.

7:55 AM
Then I removed the front burner. Notice that no fewer than four wires are connected to this thing! That's because it has a temperature sensor in addition to the heater. When the surface is hot, an indicator lights up to warn you.

Anyway, I took a photo so I could be sure to put the wires on the right place when installing the new burner:

7:55 AM
Once the wires are disconnected, the burner basically lifts out; it's held in place by these, umm, brackets?

Anyway, here's the old one.

7:57 AM
And here's the new one, which doesn't come with its own brackets; I moved the old brackets onto the new one.

Since I moved them one at a time, a photo wasn't strictly necessary (as I thought it was for the wires), but still:

7:58 AM
The next two photos give some detail of the damage to the burners. The damage to the front burner is extensive.
8:00 AM
Damage to the outer part of the rear burner isn't quite so bad, but methinks it's enough to make the outer burner not work:
8:00 AM
The wiring for the rear burner is a little more complicated than for the front burner:
8:01 AM
Undersides of both rear burners. Same deal: the "brackets" need to be moved from the old burner to the new.
8:04 AM
Here's a pic of the two new burners, installed.
8:10 AM
The new glass top is black, for two reasons: first, I could find one in stock at appliance parts pros (I think also had one), whereas a white one would be back-ordered.

Second, as you might guess, the white glass top is very hard to keep clean-looking. Some stuff just doesn't come off. This one might not be any easier to keep clean, but it won't look as bad when it's not.

Here it is, before I screwed it on. Dad always told me to start all screws before fastening any, but I made an exception for the toughest-to-reach screw on the rear edge. From this picture, you can imagine how annoying it is; I only wanted to put the screwdriver in that position once. (I suppose I could have started the other 7 screws, and done that screw last, but I didn't think of that 'til now.)

8:12 AM
The new glass didn't come with the rubber grommets/washers/bushings/whatever for the control shafts. I transfered them from the old glass:
8:13 AM
It also didn't come with knobs. I could have bought new black knobs, but maybe the white-on-black look won't be so bad.
8:20 AM
Here it is, with knobs on and eased back into its recess in the counter. It doesn't look half bad, if I do say so myself:
8:22 AM
And now, turn the power back on:
8:23 AM

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Beating Loneliness

From “John Cacioppo on How to Combat Loneliness” in the Atlantic weekly:
Khazan: Is there something lonely people should be doing proactively, like going to a book club or soup kitchen?
Cacioppo: Do volunteer service in something that you enjoy. I've developed the acronym EASE—ease your way back into social connections. The first E stands for “extend yourself,” but extend yourself safely. Do a little bit at a time. The A is “have an action plan.” Recognize that it’s hard for you. Most people don’t need to like you, and most people won't. So deal with that, it's not a judgment of you, there's lots of things going on. Ask [other people] about themselves, get them talking about their interests. The S is “seek collectives.” People like similar others, people who have similar interests, activities, values. That makes it easier to find a synergy. And finally when you do those things, “Expect” the best. The reason for that is to try to counteract this hyper-vigilance for social threat.
Or as Isaiah wrote: If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will bless you continually and satisfy your desires with good things, and make your bones strong… (Isaiah 58)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Impressions - HIM 2017 conference Honolulu March 16

The lovely Carol went with me to the Hawaiian Islands Ministries 2017 conference. The conference started Thursday evening 3/16, which felt like drinking from a fire hose. I took a couple hours Friday morning to digest Thursday evening's notes...

Thursday's general session and the Jeff Vanderstelt "Gospel Fluency" session reinforced the centrality of the gospel in the life of the church, both for leaders/teachers/preachers but for every disciple.

So I've read Romans 1:16 (I'm not ashamed of the gospel, for it's the power of God...) and 1 Corinthians 2 (I was determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ crucified) and 1 Corinthians 15 (gospel that saves you... that Christ lived and died and was raised according to the Scriptures... OK, it's 1 Cor 15:1-5), but I think yesterday's sessions (particularly David Choi and Jeff Vanderstelt) gave me a clearer understanding of Paul's mindset than I'd had before. Or reminded me of it.

In other words, I was somewhat surprised that we'd need a conference focused on a concept so basic to the faith, but upon reflection it shouldn't be surprising at all, because the idea of mercy is one that repels the mind. It crucifies pride and vainglory, and this is hard for flesh and blood to bear (with apologies to E.M. Bounds, but the idea's the same).

A video from Thailand, "Giving is the best communication," illustrates the theme of mercy. Here's the link: That was shown Friday morning.

EXTREMELY long notes follow. You have been warned. Editorial comments shown like this

Dan Chun: Today's youth see Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, anti-homosexual [etc.], unfortunately for good reason. Indeed, would Jesus say Mt 23:23 to us today? How much like Jesus are we in his outreach to the Gestapo of his day (the centurion), the Syrian refugees of his day (the Syro-Phoenician woman), the AIDS patients of his day (lepers), etc.?

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
-- Matthew 23:23, NIV [1984]
We must remember what we've forgotten: that we've been shown mercy and we must show it to others (1 Ti 1:16).
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
-- 1 Timothy 1:16, NIV [1984]
David Choi: The Greatest Challenge. It's not evangelism, prayer, or Bible study, or even loving our neighbor. The greatest challenge is to believe that I'm truly the beloved of God, and that for only one reason: the finished work of Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection.
(Reminds me of John 6:27)
"What must we do, to do the work God requires?"

Jesus answered, "This is the work of God: to believe in the one he has sent." [vaguely reconstructed from memory.]

The point is not: To do the work, you must believe. Rather, the point is: Believing is the work itself.
We want someone to know us with all our mess, and love us anyway, like Beauty loved the Beast. This makes it uncomfortable, so when Beauty comes to us, we push her away
Thus do smart women make foolish choices wrt nice guys. (Reminds me of the verse that says the gospel is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.)
Therefore, we we try to earn love. We are driven by the desire to earn applause: by getting good (perfect?) grades, by being funny and athletic, by having correct doctrine and preaching well. But unbelievers can do ministry: Matthew 7, Lord, Lord, didn't we drive out demons and prophesy and work many miracles in your name? Why does Jesus call them evildoers? Because they tried to justify themselves by their works.
(I want to check this interpretation with commentaries.)

Antidote: the prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21. Power is mentioned 3x. Is it power to prophesy, to evangelize, to do miracles? No, it's power to believe in Christ and be rooted in love and know his love.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV [1984]
(Reminds me of Col. 1:9-12, power to have endurance and patience)

Jeff Vanderstelt, Gospel Fluency (see the 2017 book): Big point here is that the good news of Jesus (cf. the greatest challenge) has something to say about everything in life. So when we talk about premarital sex, we shouldn't use purely hedonistic or public-health arguments; instead we should talk about the groom who pursued his filthy bride for years, who by his blood purchased a perfect wedding dress for her, and still waits for her.

(This is a valuable perspective, but I'm not 100% on board with it. When Jesus saw people jockeying for the best seats at a banquet, what did he say? Not some theological paradigm; his appeal was directly about avoiding embarrassment. In other words, it was practical/hedonistic... Luke 14:7-11)

When someone complains about being underpaid and unrecognized and poorly treated at work, we mustn't just empathize; we must also remind each other of Romans 6:23 and Paul's exhortation to work "as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Col. 3:23f, NIV [1984])

(Key words above are "just" and "also": we must show love by truly listening and understanding, validating their feelings. But we must not stop there.)
What must we do to be able to do this?
  1. Know and believe the gospel for all of my life. Do I love the gospel? Do I love Jesus? Has the gospel changed my life?
  2. Regularly take thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5) When a stray thought comes, give it the Acts 17:11 treatment. Four helpful questions:
    • Who is God (what am I believing about who God is)?
    • What has he done (what am I believing about...)
    • Who am I? (ditto)
    • What do I do?
    The answer to the last reveals my thoughts about the first three. If I'm anxious, it might be because I think I should be in control but I'm not. And I think I should be, because I think God has lost control or isn't watching. And *that* I think because he's uncaring or inattentive.

    I may need someone to help me overcome my blind spots here. We must gain a hearing and show we understand (James 1:19f) but we must also speak Jesus and the gospel into their lives (Acts 20:26f, "I am innocent of the blood of all men, for I haven't hesitated to proclaim the whole will of God.", cf. Pr. 24:11f)

    It's not enough to say "God loves you," because that could be any old god, and besides what's love anyway? But if we say Romans 5:8, that's more definitive. Likewise, "God is powerful" isn't nearly as good as remarking on the resurrection of Jesus (Romans 1? yeah, 1:4). Or "God is present" isn't as good as saying that he's present in the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3..., ah, Romans 5:4).

  3. Immerse myself in a gospel-saturated community, where in every testimony we should ask ourselves, "Is Jesus the hero?" and after every meeting we should ask ourselves, "Was Christ proclaimed?"
  4. Tell it to each other regularly
Those are steps toward gospel fluency.

Following are questions to ask myself... ourselves.

  1. What about the gospel do we not know or are we unaware of?
  2. What about the gospel have we forgotten?
  3. What about the gospel don't we believe
  4. How does the gospel speak to this situation?
If somebody cuts me off on the freeway and acts like I'm cheating, and I want to yell at him that I just came from the on-ramp and therefore was just doing what I'm supposed to... why am I so excited about that? I'm pursuing a righteousness that's predicated on this random guy's opinion of my driving? There's a lot about the gospel I'm forgetting!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Can counseling actually help a marriage?

Some marriages, yes. If you love each other (as Carol and I do), and if you genuinely want your marriage to work better (ditto), and you’re willing to ’fess up to your own shortcomings so that you can learn and grow (which we do, somewhat), then yes. I’ll give an example of how this can work, from the life of an anonymous young couple:
The couple loved each other very much. Yet, when the wife spent a weekend at a women’s retreat (away from her new husband) she realized that she felt freer and happier at the retreat; she did not look forward to returning home. Her husband wanted/expected her to do XYZ (or so she thought), and although she didn’t like it much, and he knew it (or so she thought), she felt she should.

(XYZ isn’t relevant, though it’s not anything you couldn’t tell your kids.)

How much did the husband want his wife to XYZ? How aware was he of her feelings about it? There were other issues, but as I heard the story, someone at their church recommended a certain counselor, and they went for a series of visits. There they learned a technique for resolving an issue; it worked like this:

You agree on some object—this salt-shaker, say. One person, say the wife, goes first: while holding the salt-shaker, she is allowed to share her perception of events, her feelings, etc. As long as it’s the wife’s turn, her husband is not allowed to speak, except to clarify and confirm his understanding of what his wife said, for example:
So you’re saying that when I spend $_____ on a new ________ without discussing that with you first, you feel ________—is that right?
Once the wife is satisfied that her husband understands her concern, she places the salt-shaker back on the table, and their roles are reversed.
The technique brought better mutual understanding, peace, and happiness to this couple. Could they have read about the technique in a book or magazine, or on a blog? Sure they could have, but there are about 30,000 such techniques out there. The counselor didn’t give them 300 or 30 or even 10 techniques; they got one technique to try, and it worked well for them.
Several years later, their marriage is much stronger and happier. Whether they use that particular technique today I have no idea, but I’m certain they could, should the need arise.

Another example comes from our own lives, and I’ll try to summarize. Carol and I got into a huge fight. It was hurtful and demoralizing for both of us. She felt hurt by something I said, then she said something that made me crazy, and I said things I should not have said… we saw our counselor a couple days later.

Penny asked me to explain what happened from my perspective, to share my perceptions. So I said how we had decided upon something a few weeks earlier, and on Saturday Carol said something related to it, and I answered thus and so (based on our earlier decision).

It later came out that she felt unhappy about this, for other reasons that I didn’t understand. But when she expressed her feelings to me early Monday morning, I felt sorely vexed and said things that were unhelpful, and she felt even unhappier. I was getting more and more upset, I said, and I saw this was going nowhere, so I apologized loudly and repeatedly, and fled to work. En route, I listened to the daily prayer from and asked God for help. (As I recall, the reading was from Genesis 1, including “Let there be light,” and I prayed for light to shine in my dark heart.) There’s more, but I think that’s enough to give a general idea of the conflict.

How does a counselor help? The first thing is that we were under adult supervision, and we also wanted to make the session as productive as possible. Consequently, we did our best to be calm and rational. After I recounted my perception of events, Carol explained a few things. (When at Penny’s, we try especially hard not to interrupt each other.) Penny suggested some changes in the way we say certain things. Carol asked if a particular wording change would help, and I said it probably would. I requested that certain things not be said, and Carol agreed. (She really had no idea of the effect some phrases have on me.)

Penny encouraged me to tell Carol that I never intend to push her out of her comfort zone. When I did that, I added, “and I know, when I remember to think of it, that you never intend to do that to me.”

It’s important for Carol that she hear those things; it’s also important for me that I say them. As Merton writes, “we become real by telling the truth.”

We left Penny’s office with hopeful hearts, and have got along more smoothly since then.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 20:5 that The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (2011 NIV)

So a trained counselor has insight that can illuminate what’s going on. She or he may have techniques that can be conveyed. The office provides an environment where all parties do their best to be calm and rational (the clock is ticking and money is being spent). Another thing about the office is this: once you have a few successful talks there, your mind will think of it as a place of hope and calm.

For all those reasons, a counselor can indeed be very helpful for a couple who desire to love and understand each other better.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

a disturbing parable

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
What do you think? A man had two sons. One son said, "Biggest crowd in school history at my speech today!"

The other son said, "How could that be? A third of the students were home sick with the flu."

The first son said, "And as soon as I started speaking, the rain stopped!"

The second son replied, "But I saw the video; rain continued to fall during your speech."

If these were your boys, what would you do? If one of them were running for political office, would you vote for him? If he won the election, what would you think and feel?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

We have sinned, and the world suffers

Today's “This American Life” portrayed life at a transit center in Kenya shortly after Donald T signed his travel ban but before it was put on hold. “George” was leading what Ira Glass referred to as “the worst town hall meeting ever” because each person would stand up, say something horrible, and George would have to acknowledge that it is a bitter pill but the boss changed in the US, and the boss decided this, and that's “final for me, final for IOM (the refugee agency), final for you. We cannot do anything about it,” George says.

What kind of horrible things? One man had been in the refugee camp for 26 years, and within the past few weeks finally got his approval to come to the United States. He bought clothes on credit (how much credit? Over a month’s pay for the most highly-paid person in camp!) and now how can he repay the shopkeeper? This man’s travel permission will expire well before the initial 120-day period, and he would have to reapply, putting his dream on hold for perhaps years. Another man declined offers to settle in Canada and Germany(?) because he was set on coming to the United States. Full citizenship was on offer from Canada, I think. How he must rue his faith in us!

I listened to George as he addressed these refugees. He told the debtor that he would have to talk to the shopkeeper and explain what happened, and tell him that he would work to repay him. “That is something explainable to anyone,” he said. I thought about how terrible it must be for him to have to deal with the tremendous disappointment, and I have to say he's got my respect. I thought, “Here's a Real Man, so unlike the adolescent in our White House. We are so impoverished here in America,” and I just started weeping. How did we do this to ourselves? Not just to ourselves, but to the world? And I remembered this:

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame--the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you ….

from Daniel 9:4–11
We are a nation racked by violence and injustice; we have racism and sexism and ageism and lookism; we have not embraced the alien and the orphan and the widow and the poor as we should. And so God says to us, as he did to the Laodiceans:
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:17
Lord have mercy on us, and not on us only, but also on the world that you love better than we do.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

“Did my best” doesn’t mean “Time to slack off”

Did I work hard for my success, or have I just been lucky? Have I always done my best? And will I tomorrow?

These ideas aren't fully developed, but here's where I'm heading: Looking back, I see that I have been astonishingly fortunate in life, but that doesn't mean I should rely on that luck to continue; if I want to continue being fortunate, I need to be diligent and alert to make the best of my fortunate circumstances. Similarly, if we think everyone is pretty much always doing their best, as Brené Brown and others say, that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to grow so that my 2017 best will be better than my 2007 best, say. And since I always like to think of what this means for those who follow Jesus, it struck me that the preceding is similar to the point that just because my past sins are forgiven, that doesn't mean I should just sin when I feel like it (Romans 6:1).

David Brooks writes in a 2012 NY Times op-ed column, “The Credit Illusion”:
You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.

As an ambitious executive, it’s important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it’s important for you to know that’s nonsense.

What does he mean by all that? I can’t improve on Brooks’s writing, but I can summarize: Looking backward, you should recognize that a lot of your success is more about pure dumb luck—being born to the right parents, taking a class from the right teacher/professor, etc.—than it was about your brilliance and hard work, as I’ve written elsewhere. But looking forward, you need to focus on what you need to do to make the best use of the advantages that have fallen into your lap.

A similar oddity applies to the concept that people do the best they can; Curt Thompson writes in The Anatomy of the Soul (2010) about his mother, orphaned at age three. He had been angered, he said, by his mother’s passivity and resignation, but as he listened to her with a willingness to be touched by her story, he began to weep.

As if the proverbial scales had fallen from my eyes, I saw that she had not simply chosen to live her life the way she had. She had done the best she could without anyone to attend to her heart, to her emotional states, to her distresses and hopes. Her anxiety, fear, and passivity were not intentional; they were her coping strategy. Beginning at age four, she had developed strategies to ensure she didn’t tick anyone off, and this eventually included God. It was the only way she knew to ward off the overwhelming feelings of desertion, and she had maintained this defensive posture into adulthood. She had not actively chosen this path but rather had reacted unconsciously.
Curt Thompson, The Anatomy of the Soul (xv)
It was not only Thompson’s mother who had done her best, he realized: “I began to see that I, too, had lived my life as well as I could. No longer was I so ready to condemn myself as being not quite enough.” (op. cit., p. xvi).

Brené Brown presented a more generalized conclusion: that basically, everyone is doing the best they can. MaryAnn McKibben Dana writes about this, summarizing chapter 6 of Brown’s Rising Strong. One of Brown’s big ideas is, those who agreed that “everyone is are doing the best they can” were also on her list of “wholehearted” people: those willing to be vulnerable, and who believed in their own self-worth.

One such person is her husband, who says life works better if you think that way.

I say it’s similar to the luck “vs.” hard work thing, because when we think about the future, we need to make the effort to do our best, to be our best selves, to step up and, as New Testament authors write, “make every effort” to be our best and to do our best.

Speaking of the New Testament, we find there a similar division in how we think about the past vs. the future: in John 5, we’re told that (Jesus speaking) “he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment; he has passed out of death into life.” In 1 John 1 we read that “if we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus… cleanses us from all sin. …If we confess our sins, he… will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we are forgiven.

But how am I to live today? I should make every effort to obey what Jesus said—not because I won’t be forgiven, but because I am forgiven and because I’m also adopted as a child of God, and hence I want to be like him: to be characterized by love and mercy and justice more than by intelligence or competence or good looks.

So looking back, I want to be at peace that I did the best with what I had and who I was at the time. Looking forward, I want to grow and change to become the best person I can be—the best husband and father and brother and son, the best employee and mentor, the best neighbor and friend. So that, in the future, “the best I can” will be better than my best was last year, or what it is today.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

THREE recipes for apple pie?

The recipes are linked in the table headers, but I noticed some difference in the relative amounts of various ingredients.
   Betty Crocker    Taste of Home   Pillsbury 
oven temp 425°F 375°F 425°F
sugar ⅓ ~ ½ cup ½ cup +
½ cup brown
¾ cup
flour ¼ cup 3 Tbsp 2 Tbsp
cinnamon ½ tsp 1 tsp ¾ tsp
nutmeg ½ tsp ¼ tsp +
¼ tsp ginger
⅛ tsp
salt ⅛ tsp - ¼ tsp
apples 8 cup 6–7 cup 6 cup
butter 2 Tbsp 1 Tbsp -
lemon juice - 1 Tbsp 1 Tbsp
egg white - 1 large -
Enough of this; time to bake. (I'm going with Betty Crocker.)
Update: It went well. A few more points:
  • The crust. The lovely Carol froze two crusts’ worth of pastry dough, which she kindly thawed for me. I rolled one out and laid it in a deep dish 24cm (9½-inch) pie plate. (plate?? It was glass, otherwise I'd have said "pie tin")
  • Apples. I used a modern convenience, an apple peeler and corer like this one; it worked wonderfully. We had four fairly small "Granny Smith" apples. I found one apple-like fruit, which I also peeled/cored/sliced. It was a pear, but I threw it in anyway. Then more random apples, for a total of about 7 cups. yes, I slacked off...
  • Oven. Preheated to 425°F.
  • Everything but the butter got combined in a big bowl, then piled into the empty pie shell. Then melt the butter and dot the filling with it.
  • Rolled the other pie crust out (remember to roll from the center outward), laid it on top, and tucked it under the bottom shell, trimming the excess. Poke some holes in the crust
  • Cover edges with foil strips, about 3" wide, and bake 25 minutes
  • After 25 minutes, remove foil and check occasionally for the pie crust to brown and the juice to appear in the holes.
    At about 40 minutes, the crust was brown but juice wasn't coming out. So I turned the oven off and checked it maybe 10 minutes later, when I removed it.
It tasted pretty good to me :)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What makes a good programmer? Or an enjoyable career in programming?

Going through my old magazines, I found What Makes a Good Programmer? by Cegielski and Hall. My nephew is considering a career in software, so I cut it out from my dead-trees issue and brought it with me on a visit. The article is rather academic, and in my mind the title is a bit ambitious. Here's the short version.
Students who took a course in object-oriented programming were given psychological tests before the course began, and the test measurements were compared with their performance in the (16-week) class. The authors concluded that three psychological factors correlated well with student performance in the OO programming course:
  • Theoretical value belief, a personality trait that values proof during the problem-solving process. Basically, theoretical value belief means you think the scientific method (form a hypothesis, run experiments to test your hypothesis, etc.) is worthwhile; you don't put much weight on ideas that aren't proven.
  • Cognitive ability, basically you're smart enough.
  • Personality, and these traits in particular:
    1. High self-esteem
      basically you think well of yourself. This might be important if, when you face a problem, you think you're smart enough to figure it out (rather than give up).
    2. High self-efficacy
      meaning you believe you can apply the resources needed to push through challenges.
    3. "Locus of control"--
      you see yourself as being able to make things happen; you don't see yourself as just a victim of circumstance.
    4. Low neuroticism
      meaning you don't focus excessively on negative aspects of yourself.
The authors had some assumptions, which have escaped me, but I think the surprising thing was that theoretical value belief was a better predictor of OO programming performance (in the class anyway) than raw cognitive ability.
Naturally I have a few comments on the article. Although performance in an OO programming class is easier to measure than success in a multi-year programming career, it really is a different thing. Come to think of it, studies have been done on longevity—comparing for example the proportion of male and female programmers who are still in the field N years after graduation, and so on. It might be interesting to correlate that with the psychological parameters mentioned in the 2006 article.

And as I mentioned to my nephew, one thing that wasn't studied, but makes for an enjoyable career in programming is, well, enjoyment of the programming process! This includes analysis, design, coding, testing, debugging, and documentation.

I obviously enjoy the craft; my latest recreational thing has been hacking a Python script to solve the soma cube. (I hesitate to mention this because you really don't have to enjoy it that much, really…) I was quite pleased to find that my script found 240 unique solutions. But that's already more than you wanted to know.

I also obviously enjoy writing about programming and debugging, too, as shown in this 2014 blog post about a freebsd kernel panic and other posts related to computers.

Oh, and this post from last August about my life as a computer guy.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why follow God if he doesn’t guarantee health or wealth?

During a spiritual conversation, I happened to mention that God doesn’t guarantee career success or wealth or health or those things people often call “the good life.” He said, “Then why should I follow God?” I emailed my answer, a trimmed version of which follows.
Dear Luke,
I’ve given more thought to your question, “Why follow God, if there’s no guarantee that things will go well?” We already talked about the inevitability of certain problems and the uncertainty of life, but I remembered this passage.
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all. 
Ecclesiastes 9
There is no course of action that guarantees wealth, health, happy children, etc., but I can do things that make those outcomes more likely: love my wife (Ephesians 5), not exasperate my children (Ephesians 6), listen before speaking (James 1) and so on.

But the main thing I want to emphasize is the passage which says that in all things God works to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). Just a simple example: suppose I was getting killed by a bunch of people. That happened to Jesus, and he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23). Or, back to Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.
So, I want to be like Jesus, who gives his life for the church; who prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Sure, it’s nice to be rich and to have a good job, etc. But when I die, will I be happy to see God?

Will I hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Will I have real life (Jesus said in John 17: This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he sent)?

If I say I want that, then I’ll want to follow him today.