Sunday, December 21, 2008

Penn gets a Bible

You guys know Penn, right? From Penn & Teller? Big-time proponent of atheism?

This wowed me. I've always been a Penn fan, although he's not much for polite society. See what you think.

God is always at work.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What a great story

Gotta love Joel.

At one point as a grunt in the Israeli Army, I was assigned to work for a high-ranking sergeant major. This guy had years of experience. He was probably 20 years older than me and the other kids in the unit. Even in the field, he always looked immaculate -- he wore a spotless, starched, pressed, full-dress uniform with impeccably polished shoes no matter how dusty and muddy the world around him got. You had the feeling that he slept under 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets each night while the rest of us rolled around in dusty sleeping bags on the ground.

As for the sergeant major's job, it basically consisted of two main duties: being the chief disciplinary officer and maintaining the physical infrastructure of the base. As such, he was a terror to everyone in the battalion. Most people knew him only from the way he strutted around, conducting inspections, screaming at the top of his lungs, and demanding impossibly high standards of order and cleanliness in what was essentially a bunch of tents in the middle of the desert -- tents that were alternately dust-choked or mud-choked, depending on the rain situation.

Anyway, on my first day of work for the sergeant major, I didn't know what to expect. I was sure it was going to be horrible, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed when he took me to the officers' bathroom and told me I would be responsible for keeping it clean. And then he said something I didn't anticipate.

"Here's how you clean a toilet," he said.

And he got down on his knees in front of the porcelain bowl -- in his pressed-starched-spotless dress uniform -- and scrubbed it with his bare hands until it shined.

I want to be like that guy. Minus the wardrobe upgrade. And the screaming.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My visit to the Creation Museum

So this happened quite a while ago, but I haven't gotten around to writing it up (in part because I kept putting it off until I got the pictures off my phone, and in part because I knew it would be long). I went to the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky with the Elderberries, the 60+ crowd from VCC. The Creation Museum is an offshoot of Answers in Genesis and the work done by their founder, Ken Hamm.

It was bizarre. I felt like I was in some alternate universe. I'm a Christian, I'm kind of a big fan of the Bible, and I believe it's theologically and scientifically acceptable to read Genesis 1-11 from a "young earth" perspective (although I myself do not). I've done a TON of reading on both sides of the issue, I'm more than a little familiar with the talking points, and in a one-on-one conversation I'll tend to take the opposite side from whoever I talk to. I don't want to give my whole creation/evolution backstory here (although I may do that in another post), but I can't imagine that the Creation Museum could have a more receptive "unbeliever" (in their particular story, at least) than me. I figured that while I wouldn't agree with the AIG folks' perspective on everything, I wouldn't see anything that would surprise me.

Wow, was I wrong. The diplomatic way of describing the visit would be to say that they're good folks who love Jesus and love the Bible, and they're willing to die on some hills that I'm not willing to die on. And by "some" I mean "lots."

First, let me say good things. The facility was beautiful. And not beautiful in an ostentatious "we threw a ridiculous amount of money at this thing" way, but in a "we really thought about this and wanted to do our very best to make it a good experience" way. The people were delightful... from the security guard to the ticket lady to the tour guides to the animal handler to the dude selling ice cream. They obviously really cared about what they were doing, and it showed. Christians should be the best in customer service, and these folks were.

As soon as you start in, though, you're faced with an either/or choice that framed the rest of the visit. We were told, in big letters and repeated signs, that one could either start with "Man's Reason" or "God's Word." Man's reason would lead you to believe that the evil evolutionists were right, whereas "God's Word" would show that the earth was young (really young) and that Noah's flood took place 4,937 years ago.

This is problematic for me on several levels. First, I believe God has revealed himself to us through the 66 books of the Bible. But I also believe (and I think the Bible is pretty clear on this) that he's also revealed himself to us through the natural order. "Nature itself" teaches us about God's attributes, and the heavens themselves declare his character. So it should be possible to study nature without the Bible and learn something about God, and it shouldn't be in conflict with what God explicitly tells us.

On a more fundamental level, though, everything in the place was a testament to "Man's Reason" as we've struggled to understand what the Bible tells us. On a really fundamental level, I don't see "God's Word" and "Man's Reason" as conflicting. Rodney Stark wrote an amazing book called "The Victory of Reason" where he argued that something like the Enlightenment is only possible in a monotheistic culture where a belief in a Creator leads to a belief in a created order, which in turn leads to the possibility of an orderly set of observations about the world that we today call "Science."

So as I walked through the Creation Museum, I saw exhibit after exhibit that tried really hard to tell one side of the story, and to be honest they did a pretty fair job. But there's something deeply disconcerting about seeing an exhibit on, for example, "A Biblical Model of Coal Formation" or "Biblical Model of Tectonic Plate Activity" or whatever and seeing them labeled as "God's Word." Because when I read the Bible, I don't remember reading much about coal formation or tectonic plates or anything like that.

What they've done is decided ahead of time what the answer is, and then gone back and looked for a theory that works towards that answer. And that's actually somewhat ok... there's a time and a place for that. The difficulty is that any theory of coal formation is a theory that's built on Man's Reason, since the Bible says nothing about that topic. And so because they're committed to a super-young-earth model of Creation, the AIG folks end up dismissing a ton of actual scientific and historical evidence (like the fact that we have more than 4,937 years of after-Flood history) that's really a deal-breaker for anyone who really wants to sit down and think this through. And they get into ridiculous side-discussions (like proving Adam hung with dinosaurs) that don't really prove their point.

The point to this post (there is one, I promise) is that the real problem for me isn't their views of the Creation account. I get how you could open up the Bible at Genesis 1 and come out at Genesis 11 with something very like their understanding. And I certainly get how you could listen to the pabulum shoveled out in your average high school biology class and think "That's a load of feces, and no more reasonable (or scientific) than my beliefs." But when you make this a deal-breaker, you have a problem. When you say that if you don't buy the official AIG understanding of Genesis 1-11, that you're not a real Christian... well then we have problems. Because what happens, again and again and again, is people listen to that logic, look at both sides of the issue, and say "Well then I guess I'm not a real Christian."

And that's tragic. Because a Christian is simply a follower of Christ. And the more pieces you try to add to that simple truth, the weaker your position becomes. My engineering friends would say it has "multiple points of failure." If your Christianity is the same as your politics or your economics or your favorite music or even your theology, then you've missed the boat entirely. And that's a scary scary thing.

Ninety-Six Dollars

Here's what we bought yesterday for less than half of our monthly grocery budget. It helps to have a bunch of post-thanksgiving sales, it helps to only buy the best deals from 4 different stores, it helps to stick with the basics (no pre-packaged meals, chips, or alcohol), and it helps to have a coupon ninja for a wife. But seriously: $96.

17 lb turkey
11 lb turkey
2 boxes stuffing
2 cans sweet/condensed milk
2 cans pumpkin
5lbs potatoes
3.25 lbs dehydrated potatoes
1 gal whole milk
.5 gal soy milk
2.5 lb dried milk
1 frozen orange juice
1 bag lentils
6 lbs apples
4 lbs broccoli
5 lbs Bisquick
12 cans mushrooms
5 lbs Swiss Miss
5 instant pudding (2 choc, 2 cheesecake, 1 pumpkin spice)
tea bags
children's tylenol
allergy medicine

So much for vacation

Well, today's my last day of vacation (although tomorrow is my day off), and I'm shocked at how little I feel like I've been on vacation. I drove 14 hours, though, and took care of a sick wife and daughter. So it's not like I've been totally slacking.

But I have half a dozen blog topics I've been meaning to write up in my time off. We'll see how much I can get done tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My new counseling technique

Ha. This is awesome.

Make sure you watch it all the way to the end.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to scare a 'banger

So tonight I'm driving home from church and I see three guys on the side of the road. Their car has hazards on and one is starting to walk. They're probably mid-20s, all a bit rough-looking (although it's hard to look tough when you're shivering in 35-degree rain).

I pulled over and discovered they were out of gas. I offered to drive one to the nearest station and he agreed. On the way there he gets more and more nervous... first he tells me he's going to put $10 in my tank for me, which I decline. Then he says he'll just leave me the cash, which I also decline. By the time we got back to his car he'd made the offer three more times.

As we pulled up, I said to him "I'm going to be praying for you on the way home. What should I be praying for?" The dude freaked and jumped out of the car almost before I was stopped. He mumbled "safe trip" as he was going, which either meant he wanted me to pray for him to have a safe trip or he was wishing me one.

So on the way home I prayed that he'd have a safe trip home, and that God would handle the follow-up (since I'd probably never see him again). After I prayed, though, I laughed and laughed and laughed. "Free" really freaks people out. It's a scary thing to be in somebody else's debt... to have the slate wiped clean when you'd rather pay back.

Grace isn't cheap, but it's free. And fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Welcome, Mr. President.

My friends know (and I can't imagine anyone else is reading this blog) that I'm more than a little skeptical of Obama as president. He's promised so many contradictory things to so many people that it's more than a little hard for me to see him as an honest politician. People tell me that's how the game is played, which I can accept on one level, but if you're claiming to be the voice of change then "this is the way we've always done it" worries me.

But all that is in the past now. The man is my president, and as an American I'll support him. I watched some of his speech on Hulu, and he said the right stuff. So now it's just a matter of seeing if he can walk the walk.

Here's hoping, Mr. President.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tomorrow it will all be over.

Or so I fervently hope.

The excellent comic is from PvP.

EDIT: Hmm, comic's too big. Click it to see the whole thing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I read this today and liked it.

I thought you might like it as well.

Joaquín shrugs. He can’t read Lucas, doesn’t want to offend him. He goes diplomatic. “Don Arroyo waited also, for years, to court my mother. He wrote a waltz and hired músicos to play it on the street below her window, spent months writing words to it that satisfied him, took lessons to learn how to sing it. He waited. He paced, around and around. At last, one August night, when he knew she was home, he brought the band over. On the last three notes, his voice broke, and she opened the window. My father was already there with her. Don Arroyo was confused. How did you win her? he said. And my father said, I saw her in the butcher and asked.”

I'll leave it to you to decide if the moral of the story is worth believing, or if it's just a pretty lie that convinces us to do poor work.

But it's a great story.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

VCC gets written up

This is fun. Some of our VCC volunteers got written up in a local paper in Nawlins. Speaking of VCC attender Rich Reis, the story opens with a great line: "With a cold drink in hand, he talked to God as if he was standing next to him." It goes on:

Rich Reis, a self-proclaimed "chainsaw fanatic," worked long hours sawing through trees, branches, and stumps. Soon, the smell of Louisiana Yellow Pine settled in his nostrils and lingered for days after the trip. Each deep breath recalled memories of people like the Scaffinis; a family he befriended while freeing their home from fallen trees.

Click here for the full story

I love this church.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And as for zeroboxing...

I was unsuccessful in getting a clean inbox. I'm currently sitting at 50; I'll attack it this evening. For a while it was coming in faster than I could send it out.


Good free music

I have no idea what musical styles you like, but I've been enjoying JJ Heller's new album, "Painted Red." For the next few weeks she's giving it out for free! Check it out... pretty good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I have a love/hate relationship with my email. On the good side, I can use Gmail instead of Outlook. Outlook was spawned in the fires of hell by Bill Gates himself. On the bad side, I get a lot of email. And most of it's not of the FYI variety. So I end up having a lot of email that requires a real response.

My system is to keep something marked as unread until I've handled it. Unfortunately this comes out to a lot of unread email. So this week I'm zeroboxing: pounding away on my email to get every single email out of my inbox. Tuesday when I got in I had 120 unread conversations, and I didn't allow myself to go home until I was at 60. Yesterday the goal was to get answer everything that came in since Tuesday, plus get down to 40. I hit 27. Today the goal was 20, except that I've been away from my computer all day so I'm backup to 61. Gah.

It's been a long day... I'm not sure if I'm up to solving 41 problems before I go to bed. But I'm not done working tomorrow until that thing is clean.

We'll see how it works.

Don't waste your time in a Bible Survey class...

Here's the whole thing in 60 seconds!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saturating the market

Last week Judi and I drove to Tennessee for a funeral, and I saw something I've never seen before. We stopped for gas twice, and both times I noticed that the gas station we fueled up at was also on the other side of the highway. First we hit a BP on the east side of the highway, and when we got back on we noticed an equally large BP on the other side. Two copies of the same gas station, located less than a football field apart. On the way home, we saw the same thing with Shell stations.

After thinking about it, I get the logic. People driving aren't looking for a specific chain, they're looking for a gas station on their side of the highway. So I have no doubt that both locations will thrive and do well... there's plenty of people buying gas.

Saturation's an interesting strategy. It seems like we're hard-wired to expect scarcity, even when there's no real scarcity. It's easy to imagine the manager of one Shell station worrying that another Shell on the same exit would make him lose money, but obviously the larger corp doesn't think that's the case. There's some similar issues with churches, I think.

Joe recently had someone ask if he felt threatened by the success of other churches. His response was perfect, I thought: "They could grow to 100,000 people and we could grow to 100,000 people and the majority of Cincinnati would still have no connection to a local church." If we think there's a scarcity then we're clearly focused on the wrong folks.

A big church within a couple miles of the Vineyard just opened up a young adult ministry. They're going to be able to throw a lot more resources at it than we will. How do I feel about that?

If I'm about the Kingdom of God, instead of the Kingdom of Micah, then there's really only one answer to that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Christianity: Self-Defeating?

Here's a great quote from John Wesley that I had to dig up for something else recently.

Christianity has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself. For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! and riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. Now, if there be no way to prevent this, Christianity is inconsistent with itself, and, of consequence, cannot stand, cannot continue long among any people; since, wherever it generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.

--John Wesley, 1789

It's an interesting problem. Wesley reached out to men and women who were squandering their lives, and he taught them diligence and frugality. Being content with what you have is a pretty amazing financial principle, really. If followed over the course of time, however, it leads to wealth. And wealth, Wesley feared, would lead to people putting their trust in things other than God.

Wesley's solution was to encourage his people to make as much money as possible, and to save as much as possible, and then to give it all away. He goes on to say that he himself followed this example:

I call on God to record upon my soul, that I advise no more than I practice. I do gain, and save, and give all I can. And so I shall do while the breath of God is in my nostrils.

I'm not there. But I'd like to be.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Anything + Benny Hill = Hilarious

The shrimp by itself isn't that funny. Add the soundtrack, and it becomes hilarious.

This deserves further study... clearly this is a new force of nature.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coolest service ever: StopForwarding.Us

I'll be using this gem a few times this week.

Hi {name},

One of your friends has sent you this message from StopForwarding.Us, a website that allows individuals to anonymously email their friends and politely ask that they stop the habit of sending forwarded emails or FWDs.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Politics makes me weary

So I'm in Tennessee, where apparently the election is on everyone's mind. Both sides just make me tired.

One time I read this book with a great quote: "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Like many of Jesus' words, I take this as simple wisdom. It's not a message on the importance of tolerance, it's a straightforward explanation of cause and effect. The measure you use for others is the same measure they'll use for you. If you cut them some slack, they'll do the same for you. If you go out of your way to paint them in the worst light possible, they'll do the same for you. Turnabout's fair play.

In an election season where neither side seems to have a grasp on basic human decency, it tires me to no end to hear defenders of either party try to lay claim to the moral high ground. You think your guy is the lesser of two evils? Fine, I'll not disagree with you. But please don't talk about character unless you're ready for the tables to be turned.

Just once in my life I'd love to see an election where somebody was worth voting for instead of voting against.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Seen this yet?

What do gin and Desperate Housewives have in common? It's not what you think:

Seriously, Clay Shirky has a great mind. And this piece (you don't need to watch the whole thing; the first 5 and last 5 minutes are enough) intrigues me to no end. I don't care much about Wikipedia but I care a lot about what people could be doing instead of watching TV.

I'm in the T-N.

Judi's grandfather passed away this week, so we're in Tennessee for the funeral. It's a weird situation. On the one hand, it's always sad to be at a funeral. On the other hand, Pawpaw was 94 and a strong Christian. Plus we see a bunch of family and friends that we haven't seen in years.

I feel vaguely guilty that I don't feel more sad. Odd.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A gem from C.S. Lewis

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, 'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?' The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise.

This is why I'm so competitive... my pride. I want to be the big noise.

Monday, September 29, 2008

This is where I realize I'm way behind.

I just discovered Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Holy cow, how have I missed this? I heard about it this summer but never got around to watching it until today.

Click here. You know you want to. Do it now.

I'm a sucker for a good fugue, and this thing is loaded. Plus Nate Fillion = Captain Hammer.

Awesome. 42 minutes of pure awesome.

Cleaning the Car (Alternate title: My terrible approach to relationships)

So Monday's my day off, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time today cleaning the outside of my car. It's ridiculous because I'm not a car person... it's just 4 wheels that gets me around, and I'll drive it until those wheels fall off.

But I really haven't taken good care of the car over the past few years. We haven't had a garage since we moved to Cincinnati, and so my car gets pretty beaten up on the outside. I've hand washed it a few times, and sent it through the Shell Wash when it needs it. Last year I even splurged on Mike's. But overall I've just let it be.

That thing was in really bad shape. So I spent today buffing the top layer of oxidized paint off, polishing it, re-waxing it, and then hitting the glass with Rain-X for a finishing touch (that stuff is magic). The car's in good shape, and should be for a while. Half a day of hard work and I'm back where I should have been.

But it would have been better not to get to this situation in the first place.

Here's the nasty realization I had tonight: I do this with relationships too. I let them go on autopilot until they're a mess, then go overboard until they're back up to speed. Then I ignore them again.

Why do I do that? And it's not just me... you do it too. But it's just so easy to be reactive.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Story of My Laptop

For the folks who have been asking about it. It’s long. Sorry.

Just over a month ago, I lost my work laptop. I went over to Mt. Adams to help Bethany move into her new place, and I had it on the passenger side. Jon Reeve rode with me, so we moved it to the back seat. We went in and out of Bethany’s place for an hour or so, and when I came back and drove home I discovered that the laptop was gone.

My entire brain was on that thing. Not just work stuff, either: Every paper I’d written for school, every personal letter, every to-do list was on that laptop. All my contacts, everything. I had half a dozen work projects in-process on it. When I lost it, I spent the better part of three workdays just trying to figure out what I should be doing.

I figured it had been stolen, but you never really know for sure. I was killing myself with “maybes.” Maybe I took it out and put it on the ground to make room for Jon, then forgot to put it back? Maybe I took it inside with me, and it got buried under the stuff we moved for Bethany? I had no idea. In desperation, I posted it to the lost+found page on Cincinnati Craigslist.

A couple of days later, I got a call from a trucker in Illinois. He called me up and told me he’d been driving through Cincinnati and bought a laptop on the side of the road, and after using it a while realized it had probably been stolen. He looked on Craigslist and saw I was missing it, so he called to get my info so he could mail it to me. All he wanted in return was that I send him the cost of shipping, plus the amount he paid to the kid (about $200). And he wanted it up front. Via Western Union. That day.

That raised some red flags, so my distrustful self kept insisting on more details, which he was unwilling to give. The conversation deteriorated from there, with me being convinced he was a scammer and him cussing me out for disrespecting him. Ugly. I just decided I’d have to live without my laptop, and move on.

Then, four weeks later, the church IT folks got a call from a woman who lives in Mount Adams. She found a laptop on the street “two weeks ago” and discovered that it said “Property of Vineyard Community Church.” So she looked up VCC in the phonebook, told them she had a laptop of theirs, read them the serial number to confirm, and dropped it off. No muss, no fuss. It was out of battery (the charger hadn’t been in the backpack) and one corner was busted, but that was it. All of the data was intact, and the broken corner was cosmetic only.

So I still haven’t figured out what happened. There’s a 2-week gap in there somewhere… did somebody steal it from my car, use it until the battery wore out, then put it back out in the street? Did they try to use it but weren’t able to get through the password? Maybe it wasn’t stolen at all… maybe it fell out of the car and the lady picked it up, and just held it for 4 weeks instead of 2. I have no idea.

All I know is I got my data back, and I’m thrilled. I’m feeling a lot more hopeful about the trustworthiness of people than I was after the scam. And I’m thankful to God for taking care of me in a weird situation.

So anyway, that’s the story.

Cross-posted on my blog and on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Be Happy!

Too much gloom so far. This should help even things out.

Sick Kids = No Fun

Ok, so I don't have it nearly as bad as Sean. There's no vomit so far. Still, there's nothing quite like coming home from a death call to a frantic wife and a 103.8 degree baby.

Jenna's doing better today, which is good, although she's still not great. Fever's back under 100, and she's playing a bit. But she won't eat, won't sleep, and won't drink without lots of urging.

Sometimes it's hard to tell where the sickness starts and the stubbornness ends.

How Long, O Lord?

I get it.

It's a fallen world, and sin has broken the Paradise that God created. Disease and death rule. God is on the move, though, and the world is slowly being patched up piece by piece. This isn't the final state of affairs, and there's a backup plan (heaven) in the meantime. We'll see each other again beyond the veil, and we have a hope of eternity.

But none of that knowledge felt useful as I sat next to a guy (my age) who just lost his dad (my dad's age). Healthy as a horse. Thursday he started feeling under the weather. Saturday they figured he might need to visit a doctor. Before dawn on Monday he was gone. What do you say to that?

Sometimes the theologically correct answer doesn't feel helpful.

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

A clean slate

Starting over with a publicly-accessible blog.

For those wondering, the "MR" is my first two initials, not the abbreviation for "Mister." But it's conveniently ambiguous.