The next time you read and article or watch a television show referring to the evolutionary process, listen to the manner in which that process is described, not just the description of its result. It is striking how consistently you will hear how the "process" made choices, and how easy it would be to substitute "god" or "intelligence" or "mind" in the place of evolution. With an honest ear it seems we are left alone in the universe to choose faith in something behind all the processes which is able to make choices we must live with regardless of our own choices. (further food for thought here)
This blog is going to transition in the next week or so. I am no longer going to be the only author who contributes to Alt City. In fact this is going to be home to the stories of the Alternate City as told by the many people who are working on it and building it. If you've been a regular reader of my blog I hope you'll stay and participate in the new conversations here. Your thoughts affect our architecture.
#1 - don't act like you're taking the hits; Jesus already took all the hits
#2 - funerals remind me of what happens when an injury occurs: there is the initial pain, a brief interlude, and then the real pain arrives
#3 - more often than not when people come to Jesus seeking a right or wrong answer, they get a right and right or wrong and wrong answer instead.
If I ever get a tattoo, I may use these letters which are an acronym for Try The Simple Solution First. Last week I wrote a piece for a very important meeting at school. I was already five minutes late for the meeting when I finished and hit 'print.' The printer sat there, mute. No little carriage jiggle, no blinking light, no response whatsoever to my urgent request for output. I tried to open the printer queue and clear it. I tried deleting the job and doing it again. Nothing worked. In the end I emailed the document to myself and ran out the door to my meeting. I didn't try to fix the printer problem until the weekend. I was too frustrated and knew it was going to take too long to fix. When I did get to it, I tried every trick I knew, including restoring my computer to an earlier time and uninstalling the printer and reinstalling it. Nothing worked. Finally, reading through a troubleshooting guide (which is always the last thing I read in these situations), I read this:
Step 1: ensure the printer is turned on and connected to the computer.
Immediately I muttered to myself, "That cable better not be loose..." Yep. The cable was disconnected. I really need a tattoo.
have you ever mourned the end of a story? This morning I finished reading Les Miserables. I feel as if I've been reading it so long it is in me and I am in it...finishing the story is like closing a door I can never reopen.
I know people believe in evolution. Obviously some people believe in it so strongly they feel the need to let everyone know they believe in it. I have a question, and it is a real one, not a trap or an attempt to draw anyone into an argument; I'm genuinely curious. What does believing in evolution do for you? How does it help you cope with life? What is the utility of this belief?
overheard outside my bedroom door this morning with the sound of running water in the background:
little girl: "I need somebody heelp me. I neeed somebody heeeeelp me."
momma voice: "What. What do you need?"
little girl: "I need somebody t' turn off the sink."
momma footsteps: "But you didn't need any help to turn the sink on."
running water sound stops.
We often put things in motion we don't have the ability to bring to a halt. Its good to know beforehand.
Saturday afternoon passing through the MMBT on I64 after a grueling up and back, same day trip to Staunton (approx 7 hours of driving), Tina asks Caleb if he is finished with Harry Potter yet.
"Not yet, got about 70 pages to go."
"Wow, you must be taking your time reading it."
This is an interesting subject in our house. Actually it is interesting around the world. Has there ever been such widespread anticipation for the release of a book? The Count of Monte Cristo was published in installments in a journal in the mid 1800's (how many "in's" can you fit in one sentence?). I can imagine people eagerly awaiting the next part to come out. But now? In the 21st century? When we're all so illiterate and impatient? Amaz-za-zing. Still, the last bit of the Harry Potter saga was released into our fast food culture. A ten year old staying with us this summer read it in three days. I've heard of someone else who read it non-stop in the course of one day. Most people read it in a week or two. I heard more than one death threat delivered to would be plot spoilers.
"Caleb may not know the end of the story as fast as everyone else, but he's enjoying it more," I said. "Everyone else gulped it down and never tasted it; he is savoring it."
Why are we in such a hurry? When the story is over there's no going back and experiencing it again, there is only rereading what we already know or letting someone else steal the images and project them disproportionately onto a screen so much smaller than the big one in our minds.
If you are looking for the Symphonic Church Experiment, you are there...kind of. Since we have a real web site for Symphonic now, I've decided to overhaul this one and make it into a personal space. The new name reflects one of those thoughts God gives that stick in your mind, in this case one delivered in a sermon by Tim Keller (I found some notes from this sermon here). Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian, NYC, and is passionate about cities. Redeemer's vision statement begins with this amazing bit: [it is the vision of the church] "to build a great city for all people." Do you see how different this is than any church mission/vision/value statement? It acknowledges the fact of the church's existence and hurls that church into the mission without taking a breath. The mission isn't to build a great church - the church is great insomuch as it functions within the context of God's insistence that his people be a sent people. The city we aim to construct isn't detached from the earthly city, it inhabits it and redeems it from the inside out - accomplishing on a macroscopic level what Christ is doing for us individually on the microscopic level. The city set on the hill is inside the city in which we live now. It is the alternate city. The place where our friends and neighbors should be able to see the values of God lived out through the citizenship of a different kind of city. A place where money, sex, power and identity are redeemed and redemptive. The new name here reflects my desire to participate in building such a city here and now in my place. Amen and amen.
My friend Marce got some bad news one day. He was feeling tired all the time, worn down (understandable seeing he was a Navy doctor in the midst of deployments and training). So the doctor went to the doctor. Several hours of testing revealed his guts eaten up with cancer. Stage 4. Bad news. He told his wife. The whole world stopped, turned over, and spun on its head. All other plans ceased and the new plan became two months of intensive chemo as an inpatient. And so he went to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, 4th floor, oncology ward 4J. He went bald. He got skinny. Early one morning, about half way through chemo treatments the cancer docs told his wife he wouldn't make it through the night. He moved to ICU and hung on by a thread. His Navy career was over, his plan to be a Navy doctor ended, his death benefits were practically signed. But he didn't die. He went back to the 4th floor and ward 4J. Another round of chemo dripped into his ravaged body. One day his wife packed up all his stuff and they moved back home. Slowly his life grew back with his hair. He got back into the Navy, got back into residency as an emergency room doc and got back something no one expected: the ability to procreate.
About a month ago Marce's oncologist called and set up an appointment. When the oncologist calls it makes your heart skip a beat. When the oncologist calls and demands a meeting even when you tell him your wife is going to be induced to have a baby today, your heart skips and moves into fast motion. So on the morning he took his wife to the hospital to have a baby, Marce had to make time to see the oncologist. He went to the office. The doc pushed and pinched and squeezed (in the doctorly kind of way), looked him in the eye and said, "You're done."
"I'm done? You mean with the health screening?"
"No, with cancer. You're done. I don't need to see you anymore."
Marce left the oncology doc and tended to his wife. Her labor was long and hard. Jake was born early in the morning. Mother and baby, both healthy had a room in Portsmouth Naval Hospital. They were in the Mother-Baby unit, 4th floor, ward 4K, across the hall from the oncology ward.
"___________ is the phenomenon whereby people who have little knowledge systematically think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge."
I've encountered quite a bit of this, but I never knew it had a name.
Some of my neighbors broke out the old fashioned sparklers for the kids last night and got more bang for their buck than they ever expected. Three or four little girls twirling sticks in their front yard attracted no less than three cop cars. The owner of the house got a citation and the kids cried. Meanwhile over in Norfolk at a friend's house some real fireworks got fired up. Every year, across the swamp from us, a guy sets off at least a thousand dollars worth of the big stuff. It looks like a Cold War Russian rocket launcher going off. On our side of the water the explosions are a little more modest but still fun. The guy who owns the house lets us use his back yard. This year he didn't want to do it. He is moving soon and his neighbors have complained in the past and he just had a bad feeling about it. As soon as it got dark the over the swamp gang started up with a few preliminaries. We answered back. Everybody cheered. They took another turn. Then we took the whole load and started setting them off in rapid succession. About half way through our stock two flashlight toting cops came out of nowhere and lit us up.
"Who's the owner of the house?" Nobody moved. "The owner of the house???" they said again. It was surreal. My friend stepped back and raised his hand.
"I'm the owner," he said.
"Come with us please," the two cops said.
They escorted him around the house to their car. He got cited for a misdemeanor and gave up a box of leftover fireworks. Fifteen minutes later the other side of the swamp erupted in the best show of the night. It kept going for another hour. We cheered and sang. How they managed to do it was a mystery too much to stand, so a group from our party drove over to find out what the deal was. There was a cop at the party. They got a warning - then put off all their stuff. The difference for them: their neighbors were all at the party too, not sitting in their living rooms watching CNN's coverage of fireworks on the Mall in D.C.
A few things about all of this:
- we really have become a nanny state when sparklers and little girls brings a cop to your house (it is a different world)
- its good to know your neighbors, its better to be part of a community
- I had an indescribable feeling when they took my friend around front. I knew he wasn't going to jail and that nothing really bad was going to happen and yet it hurt my heart. He didn't want to do the fireworks and here he was taking the fall for doing it, the embarrassment, his son crying because daddy was in trouble. It was an ever so slight taste of how Christ stood in for us because of our decisions. We can't step up. I couldn't say I was the owner of the house, only the owner could take responsibility for our actions.
PUBLIC ENEMY NO.1
The court date I wrote about here was a result of a wreck that happened while Tina and I were on a trip to California. The morning we arrived and checked into our hotel in Pasadena the phone rang at 4:30am west coast time. My son told us about the wreck and that everyone was ok. We shifted immediately from vacation/adventure mode into full on parenting mode. One of the first thoughts I had after the initial shock of having my son flip his car over was a very practical one. About a month before we left for the trip he lost his wallet, license included. He was driving without it. How was that going to look to the police? I told Tina about it and we both agreed it wasn't good. My son made several calls to us spaced out over the next hour updating us on happenings at the scene. During the last call he made before he went to the hospital to get checked out I mentioned the wallet. "Oh," he said, "I found it."
"You found it?" I asked.
"Yeah. I was sitting on the curb on the side of the road and one of the paramedics was looking at the car and found my wallet. He just handed it to me."
He found his wallet...had to flip and total his car to do it, but he found it.
After a meeting yesterday a guy representing an inner city ministry cornered me and a friend. He shoved some pieces of his literature into our hands and hit us with a spiel fit for the slickest telemarketer. Funny thing is, I still don't know what he wanted from us. Maybe he was just exercising his right to be obnoxious in Jesus' name. When my friend pointed out how excited the guy seemed he spouted out a line like, "Of course! How can you know Jesus and not be excited!!! We've got to be excited!!!" Confession is good for the soul, right? I'm not that excited. And I love Jesus. What's wrong with people who can't get this? Who insist that the shibboleth for all believers is barely constrained or volcanic eruptions of joy? If I went around trying to act like a Christamarketer it would be fake. My exciter just doesn't run at a high level. I've noticed something about the over-the-top joy-mongers though: their lows are just as low as their highs. Then they isolate themselves and feel cut off from Christ, and they need a word from one of us levelers to remind them they aren't utterly cast down. It all works together somehow. Motors need both governors and accelerators.
The Greeks believed they had divine help with their creative processes. The Muses were a group of river nymphs who would grace a person with inspiration at a needful moment, especially during writing or dancing or acting. There were at least nine Muses, but I can't find any of them lately. If you see one, send her my way.
Our house has been torn up and put back together (almost) this week. New roof. New windows - the old ones were close to becoming more wind screen than wind shield. New bedroom furniture - bedroom reconfigured completely backwards of what it was. New office in place of the old formal dinning room. Question: how many years of NOT using a room does it take before you can make it into something useful. Answer: approximately 14. The kitchen is getting overhauled too. New sink. New cabinets. Lot of changes around here. This is close to the pain of moving all together. Things I've had perfectly in place for years are now in boxes waiting to find their new perfect place. I'm trying to get used to sleeping in a different direction. Because of the upheaval there are a hundred nagging little dominoe projects that keep falling into each other knocking hours out of my days. And the cats! The cats will not leave us alone. They are under foot every time you turn around. I got up in the middle of the night to go do jury duty and stepped on both of them, haunched up right next to the bed. This morning they're both skulking around again. I have been getting very annoyed with them, but today I realized what's going on for them. These two cats are indoor cats. Neither of them has been out of this house in forever. What to me is a minor inconvenience in part of my world, to them is a banging, shuffling, shifting world-quake. Everything they know is moving at once. No wonder they're a bit disoriented and clingy. How many of us see people with 'minor' problems and have little or no compassion? Our attitude is, "what's the big deal? Get over it." Sometimes you need to walk a mile in someone else's paws before you understand.
Receiving a passing grade on a driving test and a piece of plastic signifying you have done so means you can drive....theoretically. But I'm not a theoretical dad and my son isn't a theoretical son and my anxiety isn't theoretical.
The bum sitting in the median held up his sign. "Homeless. Hungry. Need Help. God bless." It was limp and tattered from the rain, just like the man holding it. The light was red. I rolled down my window and called him over. "Here," I said, handing him some money. "Get something to eat. God bless you." He said his thanks and disappeared across the road. The light turned green. The man's image stayed before my eyes. God spoke to me: "That's you," He said. "That man is you."
"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." (Revelations 3:17) This continued a thought that occurred to me on Sunday when a man at church meeting mentioned how he'd helped serve food to people in a soup kitchen. I thought how no one in the meeting would consider eating at a soup kitchen because we all have so much good food to eat. We need nothing. But if we could see our cosmic poverty we would stand in line for a warm meal. We would humbly lift out our hands to recieve God's provision.
"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." (Revelations 3:18)
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:1-2)
I did a 15 minute job Saturday morning - the only thing on my honey do list. Dig up a little crepe myrtle tree and move it to the bed beside the driveway. The new spot was partially blocked with roots from a hurricane Isabel victim. I chopped away with my axe and quickly finished the job. I went inside and got on the computer to download a file I needed for a counseling session. No internet. Oh, skip it I said after trying to get it going, I'll just eat some lunch and catch a few minutes of a football game. No TV signal. Then I had a thought and picked up the phone. Dead. Sharp axe versus thin co-ax cable. My fifteen minute job had me digging another hour finding the cut and asking a friend to come and patch it up for another hour. But life without a phone, tv or internet connection...wasn't so bad. I may have to swing that axe again sometime. The best and most important connections are buried deeper than the cable company runs.
I grew up in Fishersville. It is a nice place to grow up. You have the Blue Ridge mountains on one side and the Alleghenies on the other. In winter it actually snows and summers aren't too hot. The leaves change in the Fall brilliantly and the fields of Spring are electric green. Slow and simple. It is a place where "being" in and of itself has weight. You feel like you are in. You are not floating above it. The earth grabs you and pulls you to itself and connects you. It has the gravity of the created as opposed to the electro-magnetism of the manufactured. I never knew what existentialism was before a few weeks ago. It was an opaque philosophical term for deeper thinkers than me. I almost laughed out loud at myself when the term broke apart and revealed it's simplicity: exist - entialism. Just being. Existing. A philosophy or theory of personality growing out of being. I'm just opening this existential thing but it seems to have a Fishersville ring to it (once you get past the fancy name). You are. You exist. Being something comes before becoming something. Becoming involves choices, and freedom and responsibility. You are and then, in your being and freedom, you make decisions which shape the being or self you become. The question is where do you exist? Where are you? If you are a being before other beings or a being before nature your freedom and choices will form one kind of self. If you are a being before God your freedom and choices will form another kind of self. The valley convinced me where I stand and Whom I stand before, so a guy from Fishersville can quote a guy from Denmark in pursuit of becoming who I was meant to be: "And now, with God's help, I shall become myself." (Soren Kierkegaard)
Here are some images from my visit to the neurologist's office and the oh-so-fun Evoked Potential Test. It started out with a mind numbing, eye rubbing visual response test where red and black cubes flashed back and forth (or up and down....or maybe it was side to side). It was boring but painless. Then we moved on the the real fun. Electrodes on each wrist and ankle, right wrist left wrist, right ankle left ankle about 15 minutes each of sending a current through the nerves which made my thumbs and toes twitch at just the right frequency. When the technician first turned up the juice I almost got her with a cartoon-like reflex leg jerk. Lucky for her she was off to one side. You know the worst part of all these tests they do on you? All the people administering the tests get these read outs that look like God knows what (really) and they look at them with tight lips and narrowed eyes and then and then and then....nothing. They won't say anything about what the tests show. "The doctor will talk it over with you when you see her." One of these days I'm going to get one of these guys in my office for counseling. I'm going to give them the personality tests I administer and when the results come in I'm going to invite them in for a session, put the test results in a folder on my desk, tell them I've got the results and then schedule them to come back in three weeks.
Being good at taking tests is not the same as attaining subject proficiency. I was the top graduate of Engineering Officer of the Watch school in the navy and perhaps the most incompetent engineer to ever take over a division. I bested everyone in Tactical Action Officer school and I was the least effective person on my ship standing that watch position. On the other hand I muddled through navigation and seamanship classes in the middle of the pack but turned out to be very effective directing the maneuvering of a ship. As evaluating progress increases in significance actual progress often diminishes, lost in the student's misdirected energy. Evaluation and progress must be integrated and understood as one thing in both the mind of the teacher and the pupil to produce the maximum effect in the growth and learning process. The teacher must convince the student of the necessity of evaluation and have them buy into it as part of obtaining the goal. Students must be taught to value evaluation not as a learning bulimic who enjoys the taste of knowledge and then spits it out, but as a normal person enjoying a meal tastes each bite of information and makes it part of themselves. Had my first test since returning to grad school this year... (hope I get a good grade, I think)
James Gold rolled over the final 9 players at the final table of the 2006 World Series of Poker. He was the last man standing out of a field of almost 9000 people who plunked down 10k apiece for a chance to win the twelve million dollar top prize. Back in 2003 an amateur player named Chris Moneymaker (his real name) won the main event facing a field of 893 gamblers. In a key moment of the tournament Moneymaker bluffed a seasoned pro named Sammy Farha out of a large pot, a play which many believe was the key to winning the tournament. It was a classic moment. Farha is what you see if you close your eyes and try to picture a professional card player. Slicked back black hair, dark wrap-around shades, button up shirt open at the neck, sports jacket, a glass of bourbon close at hand and an unlit cigarette hanging precariously from the down turned edge of his mouth. Card shark. Bully. Moneymaker is what you see if you close your eyes and try to picture a guy standing in line to buy tickets to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. A slightly chunky red neck boy with a bad hair cut, a pair of Oakleys more in style on a bass boat than at a card table, and a standard issue, well-used ball cap. In front of Farha he looked like a steak dinner cooked up ready to eat. But it didn't turn out that way. The redneck bested the bully and he did it without simply catching cards. He played the game and won.
The next year over 5000 people showed up for the tournament. Last year over 6000 bought in. It has become a place where all the underdogs come to fight the big time players. You can see it in their eyes. They all want to be the next Moneymaker. They all want to beat up the bully just like he did. A lot of these players end up knocking off the best professionals. Most of the final table participants in this year's tournament would be in the part-time poker player category rather than full time professional. When Gold ran away with the final table he put out last year's player of the year, Alan Cunningham, along with 7 of the other players. Watching him hoist fistfulls of cash over his head in victory made me do a little math. With a 10k buy in and the number of people playing the casino collected about 84 million. The total number of people 'cashing' in the event (making any money back) was about 850, and the prize money paid (including the $12 million winner's prize) was less $35 million. The casino, glittering, shining and singing, welcoming all comers with great smiles, pocketed about $50 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. Chris Moneymaker and all the wannabes after him are picking on the wrong bully aren't they? It's easy to throw away a lot of time and money fighting the wrong things.