Because life is a series of edits

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Please, Call Me Comrade

In Politics on January 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

Yes, change has come to Washington…a chunk of change, that is. In case anyone thinks the $820 billion stimulus package is a good idea, please consider these figures from The American Spectator:

  • Only ten percent of the "stimulus" is to be spent on 2009.
  • Close to half goes to entities that sponsor or employ or both members of the Service Employees International Union, federal, state, and municipal employee unions, or other Democrat-controlled unions.
  • For the amount spent we could have given every unemployed person in the United States roughly $75,000.
  • We could give every person who had lost a job and is now passing through long-term unemployment of six months or longer roughly $300,000.

In sum:

"This has been a punch in the solar plexus to the kind of responsible, far-seeing, mature government processes that are needed to protect America. This is more than the pork barrel. This is a coup for the constituencies of the party in power and against the idea of a responsible government itself. A bleak day."

I'm no listener nor fan of Rush Limbaugh, but I do like his bipartisan test idea, as printed Thursday in the Wall Street Journal:

"Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let's say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

Then we compare. We see which stimulus actually works. This is bipartisanship! It would satisfy the American people's wishes, as polls currently note; and it would also serve as a measurable test as to which approach best stimulates job growth."

Again, the problem is not Obama (remember, I like the guy); it's his ideology/idolatry of government-as-God that is. As David Brooks noted today in the New York Times:

"A stimulus package was always going to be controversial, because economists differ widely about whether or how a stimulus can work. But this bill also permanently alters the role of the federal government, thus guaranteeing a polarizing brawl at the very start of the Obama presidency."

I hate to say "I told you so" (well, not really) but I did. Welcome to the U.S.S.A.

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The Report of Blogging’s Death Is an Exaggeration

In Internet, Technology on January 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Is blogging dead? Several people have asked me this question over the past week, presumably having read one or another article claiming it to be. The argument goes that social networking services (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, et. al.) are replacing the impersonal(?) nature of blogs, and that bigger news/corporate blogs are filling the need/desire for an opinionated blogosphere. In essence, they say, the curtain is dropping on blogging, and personal bloggers are just in denial concerning the inevitable.

I started blogging in August of 2003, mostly for the purpose of providing semi-fresh content for twenty-somethings visiting what was then the official TwentySomeone book site. While I don't have numbers, I do know Doug Serven (my co-author) and I had a lot of good conversations with a lot of different folks for several years. Over time, however, and in preparing to go to seminary in early 2005, I wanted to write for a broader audience than just those in their twenties, so we shut down the blog and called it done.

I took a six-month blogging hiatus, which was nice in many ways, but I missed the writing "deadlines" as well as the reader interaction. Upon starting seminary in June of 2005 – in the midst of learning to be a graduate student and having to do so with Beginning Greek – I began an anonymous third-person blog called Seminary Tychicus for the purpose of chronicling my first two years as a full-time seminary student (there, I confessed and the secret's out – it was me – as if anybody cares now…or did then).

The Tychicus blog began as a pseudo-creative way to journal (writing about yourself in third-person is an interesting exercise), but quickly morphed into a form of personal therapy for dealing with some of my insecurities honestly (and often humorously). I didn't allow comments and only sent the link to a few friends, but others (many new seminary students themselves) came across the site and seemed to resonate, sending an email every now and then to say so. It was fun sharing my schizophrenia.

I regret not ending that blog well – I just stopped writing around the middle of April of 2007, presumably because of the month-long push of finishing the semester, and never came back to it. By then, however, I was already 16 months overlapped with the Second Drafts blog, which I began in June of 2006 for the purpose of writing as "me" and interacting with folks again. Keeping two blogs was also a great diversion from Hebrew (the language I was studying that summer…and failed twice), but now that I think about it, perhaps keeping two blogs was too much of a diversion. But I digress.

Now almost three years into Second Drafts, I suppose I've entertained thoughts of letting this one go to seed as well; after all, it's about that time in terms of my nearly-seven-year blogging history and career. Since transitioning platforms from WordPress to TypePad last month, my readership here is down, as are the number of folks willing to comment and interact. Still, I find too much enjoyment sitting down every couple of days to think through something – albeit ever so minimally – by writing about it.

If you're a semi-regular reader of this blog, you know its title is intentional in that what I write is (usually) readable and a step above crap, yet also very much in process and not quite publishable "as is." This is how I've always thought personal blogging should be – not drudgery to read, but not definitive in its importance, either – and that's how I'll continue to blog (if I continue to blog) in the future.

So is blogging dead? I suppose, like everything else having to do with technology, it's fading, but I enjoy it enough to maintain the fantasy that people still care enough about ideas to read some of mine. When they stop caring or when I stop thinking (or some combination of the two), I suppose I'll move on to something else, but I doubt it will be the Twitter route. I'm just not that interested in trying to make myself that interesting.

My Cynicism (Sadly) Knows No Bounds

In Pop Culture on January 25, 2009 at 4:56 pm

It snowed this morning – the first we've had in 2009 – with big flakes and lots of them. By noon, however, the snow stopped, the roads were cleared, and the grass – lightly covered with a nice whiteness that unifies the city landscape – will likely be greener tomorrow. And that's too bad.

It's been a long time since I've watched it snow without holding my breath wondering if it was going to continue. Colorado was great for the occasional snow that was a sure thing, but I even remember times as a kid growing up in Illinois when it started snowing and I never doubted it would continue.

Now, when it starts snowing, the question in my mind is one of how little – not how much – we'll get. Have I somehow become cynical about snowfall in addition to everything else? That's sad.

(Semi-) Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

In Movies, TV on January 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

X-Files: I Want to BelieveOn Friday night, for old time's sake, Megan and I rented The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second of two movies based on our all-time favorite television show that ran from 1993-2001 (we have all nine seasons on DVD). Being the X-Philes that we were/are, we caught the midnight show of the movie on the night it came out last July (I wanted both of us to dress up like FBI agents but Megan thought we might be the only dweebs in attendance, which was far from the case), but were disappointed by creator Chris Carter's decision not to develop the government conspiracy story arc that was so key to the weekly episodes and the first movie in 1998. The second movie worked well enough as a monster-of-the-week episode, but that was about it; I didn't even write a review.

Still (and in light of discussion on my recent LOST post), watching the movie a second time last night, I found that it played better than I remembered on the big screen, mostly because of the depth of characters Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson). Even without the government conspiracy arc, the personal transitions the characters had made over the nine seasons were still there and went beyond "type" to believable humanity. Granted, the direction wasn't as strong and the plot was plenty morbid (think Frankenstein meets organ trafficking), but the humanity of the lead characters really stood out, which made it that much more watchable.

So, if anybody's looking for a new DVD fetish with real characters that actually change and grow over time, let me recommend The X-Files. The stories are well-written, the science is fascinating, and the tension of the modern world trying to make sense of what cannot always be made sense of is a healthy one.

Lost Season 5 Premiere: B-

In TV on January 22, 2009 at 9:26 am

LOSTI can't believe I'm writing a post about the Lost premiere last night, but here goes.

We came to the Lost hysteria late, watching a majority of the seasons on DVD this past summer, and finishing up season four over Christmas break. I just about bailed in the middle of season three (it was like watching paint dry), but season four redeemed things for me as the plot actually began moving somewhere.

That said, I'm semi-bored with the characters and much more interested in the island itself – its history, its abilities, its significance. I've read theories of what the island represents (purgatory, etc.), but I doubt it's that simple (though I don't think it's altogether non-spiritual in meaning either); I'd just rather spend more time on the Dharma Initiative and the island's supposed metaphysical characteristics than watch Kate cry (again).

For me, the most interesting scene of the whole series has been the brief confrontation in season four between Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore. While one could interpret Widmore's claim to past ownership of the island merely as proprietary, it seemed a loaded statement, almost hinting at some larger cosmic "ownership" normally associated with deity. Not sure where to go with this (it can't be a good vs. evil thing between the two – who is which?), but I'm holding onto that scene as a key to the resolution of the story.

Overall, I give the premiere a B- for the evening – not bad by any means – but the human characters are getting in the way of the show's real star: the island.

Your thoughts and theories?

Inauguration Pros and Cons

In Politics on January 18, 2009 at 8:22 pm
A few thoughts from the peanut gallery:
  • The peaceful inauguration of an American President is an inspiring thing; the spectacle of it, unfortunately, caricatures itself. 
  • Obama is trying way too hard to seem Abraham Lincoln-like; that said, better Abraham Lincoln than Jimmy Carter.
  • 42,500 security agents working the event seems overkill; one successful assassin, however, is one too many.
  • Racially speaking, swearing in Obama the day after MLK day is not irony; one could think of it as poetry.
  • The song "At Last" for the First Couple's dance is a great choice; Beyonce singing it, not so much.
  • Now is a good time to buy a new American flag; flying the Stars and Stripes becomes cool again on Tuesday.
  • As a result of all the hype and expectation, we've made Obama so important that he can't fail; brace yourself, America – it's going to hurt the first time he does.
Let's do this.

Obamiconned

In Politics, Pop Culture on January 15, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Changeless 

With the inauguration just a few days away, I thought I'd try to get in the spirit of all things Presidential. The picture is courtesy of Paste Magazine's Obamiconme; the slogan is all Megan's (I think she meant it as a compliment, but I've been wrong before).

In Case You’re Wondering…

In Internet on January 14, 2009 at 10:43 pm

…why I’ve not written much here of late, here’s the deal: as of 2009, I’m blogging at the new and improved Second Drafts. So, in case you didn’t get the memo, please redo your bookmarks or subscriptions accordingly and consider yourself informed.

When Ethics Teachers Email (Or, On Torture and the Authority of Government)

In Thought on January 14, 2009 at 2:41 pm

With President-elect Obama due to take office in a few days, there's been a renewed surge of attention paid to his campaign promise of closing the prison at Guantanomo Bay. As a result, the topic of torture has come up again and, since the question of how we treat terrorists and the like dovetails (somewhat) with the current discussion I'm having with my Ethics students about the Sixth Commandment and murder, it's probably time I write out what I think.

Despite my secret aspirations to be Jack Bauer, I recognize that, biblically speaking, physical torture is wrong. While I do think there are some acceptable psychological forms (sleep deprivation, etc.) of "breaking" someone for the sake of securing lifesaving information, what most of us find ourselves cheering for on 24 is, well, not really something for which we should be cheering. True, Jack always gets his man in the show, but that's not the way it works in real life; it's just not that easy, and rarely is it right. (A corollary question that 24 is initially pursuing is what does it mean to submit (as Romans 13 urges) to a government that seems increasingly unjust?)

Though I've done some initial study in these areas so as to teach them, I admire and teach with a very wise and well-read fellow Ethics teacher, Larry Hughes. So, while my students were watching Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, which is based on the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924, I emailed Larry (whose students were watching the same film) for his thoughts. Here's a little of the conversation:

Me: I just read The Ethics of Smuggling by Brother Andrew. Some interesting ideas and rationalizations, but many came off a little arrogant (probably just the writing). You got any clarifying thoughts on when it's right to NOT submit to governing authorities (this question also got asked today with regard to Romans 13 and capital punishment)?

Another question: how do you think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's attempt to assassinate Hitler compared with Paul and Peter submitting to Nero? Having trouble reconciling that in my mind. And what about torture?

Larry: Profound book entitled Torture: A Collection, essays edited by Sanford Levinson. Don’t know if you could get a copy from the extensive library system of St. Louis or perhaps even the seminary library might have it. With torture, they discuss the difference between terroristic torture and interrogational torture, an interesting and valid distinction as the argument develops.

On Bonhoeffer, the "ultimate question for a responsible man is not how he is to extricate himself…but how the coming generation is to live" (from Letters and Papers from Prison). The key question for Bonhoeffer is not "What is the right thing for me to do?" but rather "What is to come?" In his circumstance, that meant what would the future hold unless action was taken to stop it? It would hold a world in which Nazism maintained its power and extended its sway and its genocidal politics.

Bonhoeffer denounces the "fanatical devotee of truth" who "can make no allowance for human weakness" and who "betrays the community in which he lives." This version of "truth" demands "its victims' even as the truth-teller remains 'proud' and 'pure.'" (Bonhoeffer, Ethics, pp. 361-363)."

Me: Appreciate the thoughts here. Still not sure how I reconcile Bonhoeffer with Paul in Romans 13. Why didn’t Bonhoeffer submit himself to the Nazis as Paul did to the Romans? Not making the connection (it’s probably me).

Larry: The argument as I understand it (and as I have made it myself, too), is that government is responsible, as Paul says, "For he [that is, government] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid." It seems here that Paul’s argument is that government’s first duty is to promote the good, and secondarily, "to bring wrath…on the wrongdoer." At least that’s how I read it about government’s role (C.S. Lewis said that a government can be judged good according to the number of nights it helps create for a man to enjoy a pint and a game of darts with his neighbors – I think that’s a good example).

Once government ceases to be an agent of good primarily (knowing that no government can be totally good), then it abrogates its role as designated by God and the right of revolution is real and even morally necessary. In this complex and messy world, we have to guard against two things: 1) too quickly assuming the evil of the government and hastening to revolution, and 2) too quickly assuming the good of the government and being apathetic and willing to accept a majority influence of evil. It does require thinking. And this is the short version."

Me: This is probably what I didn’t like about Brother Andrew’s book. He makes the same argument, but he does so very assumingly and arrogantly. I get what you’re saying here and like the tension; it’s just so hard to teach.

Larry: Yeah, arrogance will kill an argument every time. Also, on Paul, his submission to Rome was (as I read it) in part a ploy on his part in the courtroom to throw off the opposition, as he asserted his natural citizenship as a Roman, so I don’t see it as just a submission on his part. Paul had his plans (think of Spain), but God has his plans, too. They didn’t necessarily overlap and yet, Romans 8:28 is the larger canvas for the story.

It also seems to me that Rome, though a conquering country, had established the Pax Romana (peace of Rome). During that time, Jesus was free to travel, preach, etc., carrying out his mission without any real interference until the end.

There’s a lot to talk about here.

Indeed there is. Anyone else care to join the conversation?

Less Like a Photo, More Like a Mug Shot

In Family, Young Ones on January 11, 2009 at 5:09 pm

My eight-year-old received a digital camera for Christmas. Along with taking a myriad of photos of the cats and other various and sundry subjects, she's done an admirable job sharing her present with her sisters so they can do the same. That's the good news.

The other news is that, while the girls have no technical capability to upload said camera's pictures to the Internet, I can't quite get over the fear of one day logging on and finding a less-than-flattering image (it doesn't take much) of yours truly making the rounds of the World Wide Web. Think Shamu in a Speedo. My apologies in advance if such horrors ever come to pass.

Of course, we've had the discussion (reinforced several times) of what is/is not appropriate to photograph. Our basic guidelines are: 1) subjects have to know they are being photographed; 2) they have to be agreeable to it; and 3) regardless of whether they know or are agreeable, they have to be fully-clothed. Violations are immediately deleted, use of the camera indefinitely suspended, and guidelines inevitably revisited.

As I was yet again just "captured" (knowingly, agreeably, and fully-clothed), the Lord brought to mind a question: what do my children really "capture" of their father without my knowledge, agreement, or coverage? In other words, what are the "pictures" my kids are "taking" of me that, unlike the digital versions I can edit and make go away, will never be deleted from their memory, especially photos that are less than flattering spiritually, emotionally, and personally?

Playing out the parallel, it's not just the candid shots of who I am that worry me; after all, formal portraits can easily look as silly over time (if you don't believe me, revisit what you as a high schooler were wearing for the dreaded family portrait; circa 1987, we were all in pastels). The private snapshots of a father losing one's cool or being harsh with his children are never flattering, but neither are the public photos of his accomplishments if they're at the expense of relationship with his kids. To be the subject of either is not a goal of mine – that's when a picture feels less like a photo and more like a mug shot.

Seeing as how I have no brilliant application (other than we fathers need to pray God will protect our kids from ourselves), below is one of those random shots of the digital variety my eight-year-old took. This one meets our three guidelines and features my best side.

Daddy Driving

While there are plenty more where this one came from, I'm quite sure she's also taken other non-digital "photos" that will probably be on display in future personal/family counseling sessions. Unlike digital photos, however, those pics are still developing.

Relearning Diligence

In Education, Humanity, Thought, Westminster on January 7, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Normally a prep period (and a really nice way to end the day), seventh hour in my classroom today played host to one of eleven experiments by our Bible department in which our seniors in Worldviews "taught" our eighth grade Bible students lessons stemming from the Proverbs.

The seniors (about 6 per group) were to create a 7-10 minute documentary-format video illustrating the principles of their assigned proverbial topic. Following the video, each of the seniors was to speak a few minutes from his or her own experience on the topic, and this was to be followed by a 15-minute Q&A time facilitated by the seniors and involving the eighth graders. (Over the course of the next few days, the teachers will process with the seniors while the eighth graders interact in a protected digital environment about what they learned, which will be monitored and "graded" by their teachers.)

As I have neither seniors nor eighth graders, I had little more to do with the initiative than serving as room facilitator and grader. My group had been assigned the topic of diligence to focus and teach on, and despite their tendency toward mouthfuls of imperative legalisms and telling rather than showing their point, they did a decent job with their presentation. Rarely have I seen seniors respect both the task and their younger audience as these students did, and the eighth graders were equally respectful and appreciative of the seniors' attempts to present and interact. It was a nice dynamic.

If there was anything concerning about the experience, it would be my group's seeming replacement of faithfulness with success as diligence's final result. This switcheroo is not unique to our seniors and I'm not meaning to blame them for it here; it is a pathology that plagues so many kids I teach at the freshman, sophomore, and junior levels, probably because it plagues their parents as well. It goes something like this:

diligence = good grades = college of choice = good job = happiness = success

Nearly every senior story followed this flow. The progression wasn't formally charted, but it was certainly assumed and accepted to be true. If I had to sum up what was taught in my classroom seventh hour, it would be that diligence always equals success, and that success will be what you want it to be, so get to work.

In other words, it's what you and I, in our "best" works-based faith, tell ourselves every day of our works-based lives. Who says kids today can't learn?

Granted, the proverbs can certainly be read with a very "name it-claim it" hermeneutic (an unfortunate Christian manifestation of our nation's American Dream religion), but we have to read it within the genre of wisdom literature which tends toward trajectories rather than guarantees. For instance, when we read a verse like Proverbs 10:4 which says, "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich," we have to understand that just because we avoid sloth does not automatically ensure wealth. Sure, one has a better chance at financial success by working rather than vegging, but that trail is a trajectory, not a guarantee.

After all, life happens; so does God, and God's idea of "success" often (though not always) has more to do with faithfulness than finances (see Psalm 73 for more on this). How do we explain when one works hard but doesn't make it into the college of his choice? How does our theology make sense when one is diligent and doesn't succeed at the level he or she expected to?

Generally speaking, diligence in the Scriptures tends to look and feel a lot more like perseverance than success. Indeed, God in his gracious goodness as a Father tends to bless diligence (Proverbs says so), but that doesn't give us the right to demand such blessing or to remind God of His part in our equation. God owes us nothing and is debtor to no man; we would do well to remember and live by this if we are to walk with Him on His terms. We'd be more humble and grateful people in doing so.

So, we as teachers have some work to do – not only in our students but also in our parents, certainly within the Church and, if we're honest, probably within ourselves. Indeed, we should be diligent because the Scriptures tell us to be so, but let's not be surprised by how God might respond, rather than demand He do what we think He should to keep up His end of the deal. Who becomes God then?

(Note: For more on how parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids, read The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. Accurate and thought-provoking.)

Wendell Berry for Secretary of Agriculture

In Humanity, Politics on January 6, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I don't know if anyone caught it in the midst of all the tomfoolery going on across our political system of late, but Wendell Berry penned an Op-Ed piece in Sunday's New York Times that's more worthy of reading than what Barack Obama thinks about our economy or what Roland Burris thinks about himself.

Along with a guy named Wes Jackson (plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute in Salina, KS), Berry (former professor at the University of Kentucky, farmer, and writer in Port Royal, KY), attempts to draw attention away from the headlines of the day to some realities that have been in place at least as far as the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s: that is, the loss of land at the hands of man. They write:

"Soil that is used and abused…is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government."

My father owns and farms 600 acres of land and was Illinois' Soil and Water Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1995. Dad has often said a similar thing for as long as I can remember; his version, however, cuts to the chase with regard to God's green earth:

"They're not making any more of it."

Indeed, "they're" not, nor does it seem "they" have considered what will happen if/when we run out of good soil. According to Jackson and Berry, history gives us a clue:

"Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice."

So who's to blame? Is it city folk who have no clue from where or how food shows up on their grocery store shelves? Perhaps, but it's unfair to lay all the blame on those who live in urban areas, especially when a majority of them don't know what they don't know about agriculture as a result of the urban migration of multiple generations during the past 60 years. Granted, I might recommend a field trip to a local family farm, but that suggestion becomes problematic in that there are so few family farms around to visit anymore.

Unfortunately, either out of financial desperation or personal preference, rural folk have bought into globalization's philosophy that bigger is better by consolidating small family farms into giant corporate ones, exploding the scale of agribusiness and exploiting land and livestock to do it; they've chanted industrialization's mantra that faster is cheaper, developing technology and pushing practices that almost seem to farm for them rather than require one to actually be a farmer.

So what? Aren't we growing food in a petri dish already? Perhaps, but who owns the petri dishes (and who gets to decide what grows in them – and how)? Say Jackson and Berry:

"Industrial agricultural…by substituting technological 'solutions' for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods. Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities."

We're in the middle (though some would say we haven't hit bottom yet) of a financial recession and crisis here in America, and indeed, the negative effects of incredibly unethical business practices continue to ripple out and affect millions on a daily basis. But it's one thing to be stuck in a stagnant economy with food on the shelves; it would be quite another to be in the same (or even a better) situation without something to eat.

"For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations."

I'm not one to advocate throwing money at problems, and the past few months have been incredibly difficult to stomach with everyone and their dog asking for a handout. But if our government continues doling out dinero and spending money like we've got it, then I'd encourage us to heed what Jackson and Berry call for, namely "a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities." If nothing else, taking a longer-term approach on this issue at least seems biblical (numerically speaking, that is).

Until then, be sure to save those newspapers and magazines full of financial and constitutional crises, and hold on to those expired grocery coupons and circulars. The way things are going, we may need to eat them later.

Noteworthy

In Pop Culture on January 4, 2009 at 3:26 pm
I'm easing into the idea of the holiday break coming to an end, though "struggling as if in a straitjacket" might be a more accurate description. Here are a few noteworthy items at the start of the week:
  • My 96-year-old grandfather, Raymond, passed away on Saturday, which is sad, but I'm actually looking forward to honoring him and his life at the visitation and funeral on Thursday and Friday. Death is never easy to take, but it's a lot easier when someone knows the Lord and lives a very long life accordingly.
  • School starts back this week, which is usually awkward for all involved: students are glad to see their friends, but not so glad to see them in classes; teachers are glad to see their students, but not so glad to teach in the midst of the constant classmate reunions. Nevertheless, we press on.
  • Who knew I could like G.K. Chesterton even more than I did? After reading (and loving) Orthodoxy a few years ago, this past weekend I read The Man Who Was Thursday, and marveled (again) at the man's intellectual genius.
  • The weather has been bizarre this year, certainly in the Pacific Northwest, but also here in the Midwest. We've seen next to nothing in terms of snowfall, as the temperatures have been above freezing for most of December. Come on, winter, show us what you got.
  • After making the acquaintance of three of them this past week, I can honestly say that I've never met an Australian I didn't like. Same goes for Canadians. Not sure what that means (or why I'm thinking about it here), but hats off to our friends down under and way up north there, eh? 
  • I've made good progress in bonding with the cats, especially the shy one – Lucy – who becomes absolutely unafraid (and uninhibited – we're talking dancing-on-tables freedom here) in the presence of catnip. Strangest thing I've seen in a while.
Guess that's it for now. Have a good start to the week, everyone, and leave a comment with your own update if you like (over the break, it's felt like someone turned off the Internet around here).

They’ll Never Take Me Alive

In Technology on January 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I thought I was the only one left. As of this news, I apparently am.

For a refresher on my quest, click here.

New Year’s Revolution

In Calling, Holidays on January 1, 2009 at 5:09 am

There's a saying I like that goes like this:

"Great people talk about ideas.
Average people talk about things.
Small people talk about each other."

One of my favorite "great people" in the Bible is Nehemiah, a man God used to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem and the Temple so that Old Testament Israel could safely return to that city. So much of how and why Nehemiah did what he did can be found in the first chapter of his book:

"The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, 'The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.'

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, m confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.

8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’

10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Three things stick out to me:
  1. Nehemiah pondered what God had done (past)
  2. Nehemiah prayed to learn what God was doing (present)
  3. Nehemiah planned for what God would do (future)
But Nehemiah did more than talk about ideas; he did something with them. Consider Nehemiah 4:9 and his description of how they worked to rebuild the wall in the face of opposition:

"And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night."

In other words, planning takes wonder, but planning also takes work. We can dream about the possibilities, but calculating what goes into them (and then working the equation to bring them into reality) has to be included as well.

On the dawn of a New Year, real change often goes beyond just making resolutions; it requires revolution – "a sudden, complete, or radical change in something; a procedure or course back to a starting point." The difference between resolution and revolution is one letter – "v" – which in my own life I think of as standing for "violence," as we must take hold of our lives – sometimes violently if necessary – in order to see change take place.

As you consider 2009, let me encourage you with some practical steps to experience some impractical results (i.e. things God would do) in your New Year. For instance:
  • Be "romantic." That is, use time's markings to measure yourself and take an inventory (good, bad, or ugly). New Year's Day is a great start to this; birthdays and holidays can be as well. In general, establish some frequent benchmarks of evaluation to help evaluate your life experience. 
  • Be Word-centered. Maybe there's a personal theme for the year that sticks out as one you want/need to focus on (mine for 2009 is holiness). There are probably some books – of the Bible, on your shelf, through Amazon – that lend themselves to that focus, as within those books may be key passages to be memorized and meditated upon not just until you've got them, but until they've got you.
  • Be reflective. Give yourself permission and time to think, to feel, to process. Model reflection to others in order to challenge your own. Write things down and re-read them periodically as you go. Talk with others and invite them into your endeavors. Most importantly, talk with God, as He's the one who gave you the thoughts and feelings in the first place.
  • Be purposeful. In other words, do it now. Books only get read when they're read; ideas only get recorded when they're written down. Identify a few purposes for the year, make some monthly objectives to accomplish those, and then break down the weekly and daily steps to get them done (often it's not the work but figuring out what the work is that's hard). What's next? Do them!
May God give success and grant mercy in your pursuits, and may 2009 be in this way a very happy New Year indeed.