Tuesday, December 18, 2007

FuchsAuto Zwei

Our VW Fox is dead but apparently VW still makes a Fox. Last night I saw it reviewed on Top Gear. Here is the video. You may find the first couple of minutes of review boring. If so, skip ahead -- it ends with a soccer match you have to see to believe.






Thursday, December 13, 2007

A True Urban Legend!


I've become quite adept at detecting urban legend emails. There are enough of them. Testing them is really simple. Go to snopes and search for a key word or phrase in the email.

Today, my mom sent an email about a large flower flag near Vandenberg Air Force base. It had all the earmarks of an urban legend. It is on snopes. But, surprise, it's true!

Bodger Seeds Ltd in Lompoc, CA made the flag for the flag day celebration, June 14, 2002. The city has the satellite photo shown here and an info page. It's probably not a year-round thing as indicated by this google satellite photo.

So instead of an urban legend I received a nice dose of heart-warming patriotism. And I got to be a web geek and do some satisfying research. Thanks, Mom, for making my day better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nerds Beware.

Suddenly, I feel scared. Especially since mathematicians are worth more than physicists.

Nerd Sniping

Monday, December 10, 2007

Changes.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." -- Leo Tolstoy

I couldn't pass up this quote. I'm not sure exactly what to blog about. I'll probably be repeating myself.

I could talk about how many of us parents try to change our children (in my case young adults) by talking at them or yelling them rather than by setting a good example and letting them follow. Sometimes they will be smart enough to think "OK, I know dad's being a hypocrite, but what he's saying is true, so I'll follow it." Most of the time they are only smart enough to think "Dad's being a hypocrite again. I'll just ignore him until he goes away."

I could talk about all the Christians who rail against a certain sin only to find out they secretly are addicted to that sin. Do I need to name names? I didn't think so.

It's not just Christians and parents. We're all better at seeing other people's faults than we are our own.

Is wanting to change the world wrong? Of course not, there's a lot that needs changing. Do we need to be perfect before we can affect the world? No way -- just take a quick look at history. Even Biblical heroes had a lot of flaws.

How about this for a plan? If you see something that needs changing, first ask God what he'd like you to change about yourself in this area. You might be surprised how effective it is. Jesus was the God-man who came to save the world. He changed the world, especially the Western European world. Yet, as far as we know, he never left Palestine during his adult life. We could learn a lot from his example.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nut Job 3


My brother, Ted, sent me this picture from the New Yorker. Seems I'm not the only one who sees Ahmadinejad's same sex tendencies.

I'm having trouble finding the quote. Was it John Cleese who said something about those who don't get much sex are those most obsessed with it -- either they dwell on it all the time or rail against it? It's not my job to psychoanalyze Ahmadinejad or his cronies. But if they weren't so uptight about sex and practically every other little thing maybe they'd stop blowing themselves up so much.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Day that Will Live in Infamy




December 7, 1941 is a day that lives in infamy. Why should it now that 66 years have gone by? Aren't we just being bitter?

I don't think it's bitterness. I certainly hold no bitterness toward the Japanese people nor the nation of Japan. Neither do I sense a lot of that around me. I firmly believe we were on the right side in the war and that the Japanese were wrong to attack us. I'm thankful for those who died fighting for our country. But that doesn't mean I need to hate those who attacked us, especially not after all this time.

It also does not mean I believe we were perfect and blameless in the war. There are stories of back room political manipulations. I don't know enough to comment. I do know that we shipped bus loads of people away from their homes to camps. As a Californian I understand the scare. My mother, who grew up in Redondo Beach, personally witnessed us send anti-submarine planes after Japanese submarines right off our coast. The unpublicized fact that Japanese subs were off the California coast would have probably caused even more panic. It was very scary. Still, what we did was wrong. Not wrong like the holocaust (as some like to imply), but still wrong.

I believe December 7 lives in infamy as a reminder. Like holocaust histories or more recently 911, we are reminded that we live in a world that still has a lot of evil in it. I want God's love to prevail. I like to believe the best in people. I pray for the day that the world is so full of his love that we don't need armies because their will be no wars, nor threat of wars. However, that time is not now. As far as I can tell, it's not even close.

December 7 is also a time to remember our soldiers. The soldiers at Pearl Harbor were killed in battle, yes, but not a normal battle. They were at their home port. Supposedly safe. Not in a war zone. We honor those who have fought and those who have died and rightly so. It's not often we think about how just being in uniform makes a person a target. Makes a person need a more constant vigilance. We forget how much our living soldiers who are "safe" at home also sacrifice for us.

December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. A day to remember the evil in the world and pray for God's love, grace and mercy. A day to remember those who have done and still do so much for us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Allyson Felix


My family actually knew Allyson Felix. I don't think I ever met her or her family, but I might have. We went to the same large church. My son, Dan, was friends with Wes (her brother) and attended school with him. My wife, Carolina, took the kids to the Felix house at least once or twice. I should mention that Dan and Wes were no older than second graders and Allyson was younger than that. It was a few years ago.

What's encouraging is seeing Allyson get such good press. In the current athletic climate, especially in track and cycling, drug use is almost assumed these days. If some star hasn't tested positive it's just because they haven't been caught yet. I'm happy for her.

I pray for her too. I'm not so naive to believe anyone is above temptation. If she were to test positive I've have trouble believing it. I'd also be crushed and that much more cynical.

Enough of the negative. The main point is that a well-grounded young woman from a good Christian family is doing well. I applaud her and her family. I pray for her happiness and God's blessings.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Juggling

Because I loved this and haven't blogged quite enough today.

Wikipedia

Ken Jennings, who knows a thing or two about research and trivia, posted this blog about Wikipedia. It ends with the following paragraph
Ironically, that kind of reader feedback is the very process that powers Wikipedia. These new tools have their own set of advantages too. Educators: you can’t discuss and encourage those advantages when you’re banning an omnipresent seven-million entry reference work like it was porn. Get those heads out of the sand.
Thanks, Ken, for some good old common sense! You should check out the entire post.

Confrontation

A couple of weeks back a friend asked me about confronting someone. My friend was very concerned because of what her friend was doing. This person had moved away. She was a Christian who wanted to marry a non-Christian. She had alienated a lot of people. My friend was one of a few people who still were talking with her. My friend was trying to love her and help her.

I got a bit uptight. I don't like confronting people and didn't know what to say. Then I realized something. Where in the Bible are we called to confront people?

Well, there's Matthew 18. We are told that if a brother sins against us we should talk to them. The word "confront" is not used. The whole idea of the passage is to reconcile when your brother. Also, it is someone who offends you. Not just someone who is screwing up. We should speak up when someone offends us. It can be a confrontation, but we should try hard to keep it an even keeled discussion. We should remember that our goal is to be reconciled with the person, not win a power struggle with them.

This, however, was not the case with my friend. Her friend is not doing things to offend her. She is just doing stuff that is not good.

There are some examples of confrontation of people doing wrong. Jesus confronted the hypocritical religious leaders of his time. Paul confronted Peter when Peter was being hypocritical in Antioch. Paul also urged confrontation of a church member who was sleeping with his father's wife. Even by very loose Corinthian standards what he was doing was notably perverted. All of these examples are cases of someone or some people publicly hurting the church and the message of God.

By contrast, Galatians 6:1-2 says this:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you may also be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
I don't see confrontation here. I see care and love and gentleness. I see carrying someone's burden with them. I see carefulness and even fear in case I screw up the same way. We're all in this together. One day you may fall and need my help. The next day our situations may be reversed. ("We all need somebody to lean on...")

Of course we don't ignore someone who is screwing up. If I see someone getting conned I do what I can to let them know. I talk to them. I find facts and let them know about the con. If they're my friend and they trust me they'll probably listen. My goal is to help them avoid being conned. I don't "confront" them though. Usually arguing and pushing and making ultimatums are not effective at convincing someone. Quite often it's just the opposite -- when someone argues with us we usually dig in our heels and refuse to listen. At least that's how I am.

I'll ask here what I asked my friend. If you strongly believe something, what will it take to change your mind? How often have you actually been persuaded to change your lifestyle or beliefs? Ever? If so, what was effective? Arguing, yelling? Or was it a trusted friend who helped you see what was happening?

Let's be honest. First, as I said above, I don't like confrontation. I avoid it whenever I can. But I will do it. It's kind of a trip -- me being right and telling you what's wrong with you. Almost like I'm God, or at least his special agent. Neato, I'm very spiritual, at least more than you. Admit it, it's easy to be full of pride when we confront someone. If you admit that, you see why confronting is only very rarely the necessary thing to do. Jesus only did it to the leaders leading thousands of people away from God. Likewise Paul. Only when it was very necessary. It's too easy to be full of pride which is most probably a worse problem than whatever you are trying to correct.

My friend had already told her friend what she thought. I told my friend she had done what she could. Now the best thing was to just stay available and listen. To build trust and be there to help her when she needed it. If I had remembered Galatians 6:1-2 well enough I would have told her to share her friend's burdens. After all, if you were in need of correction, isn't that what you'd want?

Auf Wiedersehen geliebtes Fuchsauto


We had a an old 1989 VW Fox.

It failed it's smog test. Actually, it's emissions were OK. The timing and idle were set wrong and a smog device had a broken hose.

The magnanimous state of California will now pay for such cars to be junked. They said they'd give us $1000 to junk our car. It's a program to get smog emitting cars off the road.

The blue book on our Fox was about, oh say, $0. Too good a deal to pass up. We like having a second car, but can definitely use the savings of only having one car. The Fox was getting old and using up repair money.

We applied for the $1000 by mail and got the paperwork. Friday we went to the DMV and turned in our license plates, title and registration (we actually lost our title, but no problem because there is a simple form to sign). Then we drove to the junk place using our special one day permit that allowed us to drive w/o plates. There the car had to pass a rigorous mechanical inspection. It had to run. It had to have a front windshield and at least one front window. A couple of other trivial things to make sure California wasn't paying us to junk a pile of scrap metal. All was good.


I didn't really believe it would happen until I saw the check. "If it's too good to be true it probably is." Well, here is the check we got from the junk place!

The junk place weighed the car and gave us an official weight ticket.


And our car was gone.

I'll actually kind of miss it. I guess I'm getting sentimental in my old age. It was good to us. It had a history. Carolina's sister Rebecca bought it when she was going through a divorce. Her first husband was a jerk and wrecked her credit. We helped her finance it. Now she's married again to a very cool guy and they have two boys and lots of other vehicles. They decided to give us the Fox for free.

It was kind of meant as a car for one of our children to use at school but never really turned out that way. It was a good second car when we had lots of drivers in the house. This really helped.

It was German, well-engineered but somewhat cranky and expensive to maintain. In the end, too expensive. Still, it served us well for many years. Thanks to California we even made a profit on it!

We have a habit of getting older cars and driving them into the ground. This time we actually got some money out of it.

For the record, here are the cars I (we) have owned.
  • 1972 Capri. I bought in 1980 for $1600 a couple years before we were married. Put a new engine in for under $1000. The car was Ok and peppy to drive. The rebuilt engine was cheap and never worked well. We sold it for a few hundred around 1984-85.

  • 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass. This was a favorite old car of the husband of a co-worker of mine. They heard we could use a car and sold it to us for $100 a little before we sold the Capri. We junked it a few years later, but got $30-40 for it.

  • 1978 Grand Prix. We knew a person at church who helped with ministry. People gave the church cars which the church gave to those in needed. We needed a car as the Olds was dying. The church gave us the Grand Prix. Very shortly the engine went. We replaced it for something approaching $2000. It lasted several years and got us to Oregon in 1991 for our summer at the University of Oregon SIL (stuffed to the gills -- packed things in and around the kids' car seats). It died coming home from Eugene at the end of the summer. Conveniently it started having trouble after coming over the grapevine, but made it all the way home to L.A.

  • 1986 Astro Van. That same summer of 1991 we knew our Grand Prix wasn't going to go much more. Wycliffe helped us find a van while we were in Eugene. Paid $9000 -- a good deal but way more than we were used to. It was a tremendous improvement. Very low mileage and lasted a long time. We did have to replace the transmission soon after we got it (while in Dallas in 1991). Loads of room for the kids. A great traveling car. It finally died in 2004 and we junked it (no money received).

  • 1989 VW Fox. Received as gift around 2000. Sold to junk for $1000!

  • 2004 Scion xB. First new car for us -- paid about $16,000. Best car ever. Lots of room for a compact. Good gas mileage. Good stereo. Keeps value. No problems mechanically. I'd buy another if they still made the same model. It's our current car.
Good-bye, Fox. Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nut Job 2

My daughter, Sarah, showed me this video. It confirms the suspicions I published in Let's All Be Friends. After the last couple of "heavy" posts I thought I should share something sweet, light and romantic.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christian Evil

Yesterday I called on Muslims to reject the evil in their ranks. Now I must do likewise for a group of so-called Christians.

Today I came across info about Westboro Baptist Church. They claim America is being punished for allowing homosexuality. They applaud the fact that America's soldiers are killed and maimed because it shows God's judgment on America. They like to protest at the funerals of American soldiers. Last year after one such protest the soldier's father sued the church and won. The jury awarded him $11 million.

Westboro Baptist Church is hateful and mean. This is not what Jesus preached. He told us God loves us. He called us to love God and love people. The people of Westboro grossly violate Jesus' direct commands and the entire spirit of his ministry. Jesus surrounded himself with "sinners." He never condemned a single prostitute though he knew many. He never condemned cheating, evil tax collectors although he had plenty of opportunity. He only condemned one group during his ministry -- hypocritical and mean religious leaders.

People of Westboro, do you read your Bible? Have you looked at Matthew 23 or the "sinful" woman in Luke 7:36 or the woman caught in adultery at the beginning of John 8? Have you noticed that Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1 includes many people who participated in all sorts of deviant sexual behavior? Have you checked out the grossly-less-than-perfect lives of Lot and Samson and many others included in the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11?

Westboro is absolutely wrong. Bruce Willis has a great line in "Sin City" that applies here: "There is wrong, then there is wrong and then there is this." The people of Westboro make me as sick as the rape injustice I wrote about yesterday. Calling themselves Christian makes it so much worse. If all God hits Westboro with is an $11 million judgment and resultant bankruptcy they should consider themselves blessed recipients of his grace.

I want to call down fire from heaven on Westboro, but that would lower me to their level. God loves them just like he loves the evil Saudi judge and everyone else. I pray the people of Westboro really get to know the God they claim to worship and become acquainted with his love and grace before it's too late.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rape injustice.

The BBC carried this story Friday. A Saudi woman was raped and punished with 200 lashes. This is Saudi Arabia -- not Afghanistan, not Iran, not Iraq, not Syria. This is sick. Followers of Islam please explain why I should not be sickened by your religion. Is this against the Koran? Where is the compassion of Allah? Why do the Saudis do stuff like this? Where is the "moderate" Islamic outcry?

I know Christianity has its evils too. I reject them. I've so spoken and written many times. I invite followers of "the most beautiful way" to similarly reject such barbarism done in the land of Muhammad.

Spiked Eggnog

I spent many years avoiding alcoholic drinks. Much of my Christian input indicated they were evil. I've held a more relaxed view for many years now. I realize they still can be abused with some very bad consequences, but they are not inherently evil. They can be very good.



For Thanksgiving we bought some spiked eggnog at Costco. I enjoyed it a lot, but I didn't drink as much as these guys did.

Web Geek

I haven't blogged much in the last couple of weeks. I've been working on our Quartz Hill School of Theology website. Some of what I did was not very visible -- just file maintenance and clean-up. I did change the navigation frame a bit. I also added a link to professor blog feeds on the main page.

I had the most fun working on our related Quartz Hill Community Church page. The main thing I did was add an introduction to our people, including some videos. It was very fun and encouraging.

There are still changes to be made. Some parts are still pretty rough. I'll try not to drop to far out of the blog-o-sphere while I'm being a web geek.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I'm Only Human.

As I mention in Remastered, I become much more peaceful with who I am and what my church is. This doesn't mean it's always easy.

I also mentioned that I'm treasurer and we are struggling. Last night I did the week's finances. We, as a church are as bad off financially as we've ever been since I was treasurer. We are behind on our bills. We won't be able to pay our pastor (Don) this week. It's very depressing.

Don has repeatedly advised me to not take it personally. He's right. Still, it's hard not to. Last night I felt very depressed. Just writing this is making me feel bad again.

Part of the problem is I wish I could personally do more. However, my personal finances are very tight. That only adds to the pressure.

Despite my depression, I actually had a good night last night. My wife, Carolina, and I spent some good time together last night and have been doing a bit more of that recently. That was encouraging. There's more to life than money.

Church life has been good outside of finances. That too encourages me.

Finally, there is a real sense I'm glad I'm depressed about the church finances. I can disassociate very easily and not care about stuff and people like I should. I'm glad to see I'm only human. God doesn't call us to be super-human, only humans that follow him.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Stairway to Heaven



Actually, I do like some new music. Still, is there anything today that compares with Zepplin, Floyd or the Beatles?

Monday, November 05, 2007

OnStar

Remastered



I am different. My church is different. Today I'm a lot more at peace with that that I was even a month ago.

I've long been leading the church movement away from evangelism. I've felt enough hurt and rejection that I'd rather just stay in my shell and hide behind my walls. I'm happy that I've found a church that accepts (or at least tolerates) me.

For about a year now our church has been in almost constant financial crisis. We've paid the bills but we often have no money to spare and are often a bit behind. I'm the treasurer. I deal with it often.

As treasurer this has often caused me to think about solutions. If we don't have enough income, we need to reduce our expenditures. Unfortunately there is not really any excess spending. We can turn off lights better and try not to overuse the air conditioning, but these are really minor improvements. We still need to pay the mortgage and property tax and pastor's salary.

One radical solution would be to sell some property and fully commit to the idea of little or no future growth. I realized this and actually considered it as a solution for a while. I mean, if God is calling us to stay where we are, why not fully follow his calling? Many at church are like me -- they don't reach out.

The more I've thought of this the more I realize it's the wrong solution. God does not call us to hide in a box (or a church) and tend to ourselves. God has used this radical "final solution" to open me up to the only real solution for our budget crisis. We won't solve our problem by ignoring it and hoping it goes away or hoping a church member wins the lottery. Yes we need to pray and trust God. But we also need to change what we are doing. Specifically we need to reach out to our community.

Duh! Still, it's hard to describe how much I'm naturally against that idea. And, as I said, I think a lot of my church has fallen into the same mentality. What's cool is I'm now open to it.

I want to be clear: we do not reach out just so we can have more money. That's not what I'm saying at all. The financial crisis just highlights our real problem. We need to reach out because it's right and correct.

I've always viewed evangelism as sales. I need to become a pushy salesman hawking my wares door to door. I always fail because I'm not pushy like that. Furthermore I'm weird and once people figure out I'm weird they stay away.

What I'm finally comfortable with is that I'm not called to convince people. I am not called to be a salesman. There will be lots of people who don't like me or our church (at least not enough to attend). If, however, we are following God, if our church is his work, then there must be people God wants at our church. All we need to do is make ourselves known. Not sell ourselves. Not participate in a big sales campaign. Just inform people.

I like informing people. I passed out fliers for our Harvest Day (Halloween) party. I enjoyed it. I was at peace with it. I haven't done anything like it in a long time, and whenever I did I was not very happy doing it. This was much better. I still got nervous and got tired of walking around. I was glad to be done. But I was also glad to be doing it and want to do more of the same.

We don't need to all become salesman. We do need to let people know. If we let them know and they reject us, so be it. If everyone rejects us and we die in spite of our best efforts, then God is done with our church anyway and must have a different plan for us.

It feels like God has "remastered" me -- completely changed a part of me. I believe and hope he has. However, I know me. I'm sure many times I will want to crawl back into my shell. I won't always feel good about this. This blog will help remind me of the right thing to do.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trial by Jury

The trial I was on finished today. I talked about it in my Beyond Reasonable Doubt post, which showed up today but is listed as Oct 17 because that's when I began writing it (I didn't post because I thought there was some chance it violated the judge's admonition to not say anything about the trial, even though it contained none of the facts of the case.)

Now the trial is over so I can talk about it. The only restriction is that I must wait 90 days before taking money for my story. Those of you with the lucrative contracts will just have to wait.

I learned a lot in the trial. I was impressed with the professionalism of the judge and his concern for us, the jurors. I was happy to see they've made the jury process a lot less painful. Still, bring a book, there will be a lot of waiting -- even the juror materials say that.

Our trial was a criminal trial. A woman used fake American Express checks at the EZ 8 motel by Carrows and at Walmart (the old one on the west side of Lancaster). She was charged with two counts of forgery, one count of grand theft and one count of burglary.

The judge and both lawyers wanted us to understand that it would not be like "Law and Order" nor "CSI." ("Shark" also comes to mind, but they didn't mention it.) The evidence was much more bland. It was circumstantial. I thought about detective stories where some direct evidence always pops up at the end to contradict all the circumstantial evidence. Not in the trial. Circumstantial evidence is just as legal and persuasive as direct evidence.

At the end of the prosecution's case I had some doubts. The evidence for what happened in Walmart was not overwhelming. Some of the testimony from the EZ 8 was contradictory. The only fake check in evidence was the one used at the EZ 8 and the American Express expert talked about the check differently than the EZ 8 manager. I thought the defense might exploit some of those holes. However, the defense presented no case! They don't have to -- it's up to the prosecutor to show someone is guilty as the judge repeated reminded us.

The prosecutor gave a very good closing argument. (BTW, the opening statement is not an argument and cannot contain argument. It can only describe the evidence that will be presented.) When she was done I was much more sure of guilt. The key to all the charges was whether the defendant knew the checks were fake. The prosecutor really made it clear why she thought the defendant knew they were fake. Mostly, the defendant had a flimsy story about where she got the checks (some guy named "Marlin", no last name, no contact info). It didn't make sense.

The defense pointed out that the Walmart manager, the EZ 8 manager and clerk all had experience with traveler's checks and all thought the checks looked OK. Even the bank thought the EZ 8 check was OK. It also mentioned that the defendant just stayed at the EZ 8 and didn't try to run away.

That last point was, I thought, the main point in the defendant's favor. Why would she hang around?

However, I thought the defense lawyer made it clearer his client was guilty! How? As I said above, I thought there was some confusion on the facts of what happened. However, the defense lawyer just conceded the events in his argument and focused on whether his client knew the checks were fake. It was the main point, but by letting the other stuff go he helped clarify my thinking. He also made, I believe, an error. He stressed that his client gave her driver's license and other info to the EZ 8. Why would she do that if she knew the checks were fake? However, he mentioned that his client gave a PO Box number. What?? Who gives a PO Box? That's what people do to avoid being found. There was never any other mention of the PO Box except in the defense argument. OOPS! (The prosecutor sealed that argument when she pointed out there was no evidence that the info the defendant gave was correct.)

I was the alternate, so I didn't get in the deliberations. It was kind of frustrating to participate fully in the trial then not get to discuss with the other jurors. On the other hand the judge let me be on call -- I could leave the court house but had to keep my cell phone on and be withing 15-20 minutes of the court. I got to hang out at home while the rest deliberated, so I have no complaints.

Anyway, it took a day and a half to reach a verdict. The decided guilty on all counts. I agreed. I got to talk to some of them afterwards. I was happy with how they all saw things clearly. As one woman said, there was a lot of bullshit presented (by both sides), but the jury saw through it. We weren't just sheep that could be swayed by a clever lawyer. They saw the "Marlin" story as flimsy, just like I did.

I wondered about how the woman staying at the hotel (and not running) would figure in the debate. I noticed she just stayed over the weekend (she passed the first check late Friday night), so the banks wouldn't be open. However, she was arrested on Monday. I wondered why she would stay until Monday. The jury realized this, but noted that the bank probably wouldn't actually clear the check until Tuesday. It was only because the EZ 8 manager was suspicious and called Amex Monday that the fake was discovered so soon. The whole weekend idea was never mentioned during the trial -- the jury saw that on their own.

I liked my jury experience. Being on a jury is kind of a bonding experience. It's pretty cool. Even though I was the alternate and missed the deliberations they still accepted me as part of them. I also got to see a little piece of the legal system. It's far from perfect, but it's generally seems OK.

As a side benefit I learned a couple of other things. First, I now know a lot about what a real Amex check looks like. We saw a real and a fake. I was amazed at how many people with training were fooled. The hologram on the fake was not even close and the printing was very fuzzy.

I also learned that I don't want to be in court. If I am, I want a good lawyer. The prosecutor seemed prepared and organized. She looked at us and made logical arguments. The defense lawyer always read from notes. He repeated himself. He got lost at times. His arguments were at times hard to follow. He made the error I mentioned. He wasn't completely awful, but the prosecutor was better.

Unlike TV, the prosecution case was not all neat and tidy. However, it was good enough. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a tough standard but does not require perfection. Even when we have to judge the knowledge of the defendant, as case can be built.

I'd gladly do this again. I'm happy to have served.

Anger, Lust and Sports.

Sarah made an interesting comment on my last blog. She says she's heard that anger is the only acceptable emotion for men in America.

I have two and a half natural emotions: anger, lust and sports. By lust, I mean sexual desire, not lust for power or money or your possessions. Lust is unacceptable in Christian circles. Sports is OK, but is only a half-emotion. So I guess Sarah is right. I have cried in my life, but it is very rare, and even more rare that I can do it in pubic.

When my nephew, Kyle, died my main emotion was anger. According to K├╝bler-Ross' stages of grief this means I'm still stuck and haven't fully processed my grief. Whatever. I appreciate the help and counseling I've gotten to become more expressive and more familiar with my emotions. However, I'm not going to manufacture emotions just to make others happy.

By contrast, women have 800 gazillion emotions, almost all of which are acceptable. That's OK with me. I'm not angry about it and I don't lust after any of their emotions, especially not PMS. If I'm feeling sporty I may try guessing a women's current emotional state, although it is almost always a dangerous and losing game.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Damn It He's Cursing Again

Why do I -- a practicing Christian -- curse?

No, it's not because I want my words remembered, ala George Patton.

I curse because I get angry and want to express it.

I'm old enough that it was wrong to curse when I was a child, even if you weren't a Christian. I became a Christian in junior high and had that belief reinforced. I avoided all bad words. I felt ashamed and embarrassed if someone cursed in my presence.

However, I still got angry. I was shy and tried to hide my anger, but it came out anyway. It came out often in hurtful ways. This kept happening well into my adult life. I hurt those around me with my anger. Most of the time the people I hurt were those closest to me.

I finally came to terms with this. I was suppressing my anger until I finally exploded. To stop suppressing my anger I started recognizing it and dealing with it more. One of the easiest ways to deal with it is to express it. This gets it out in the open where it can be dealt with. Of course, if I express my anger by hurting others I don't really gain anything. So I yell at objects not people. I purposely say how I'm feeling. I have other strategies -- there are many times when yelling and anger expression is bad even if it's not directed at people.

About the same time I learned about how to deal with my anger, I also learned the Bible doesn't really have anything to say about cursing. Taking God's name in vain refers to taking an oath in God's name and then breaking that oath. It has nothing to do with cursing. I find no other biblical prohibition. Cursing helps me be honest about how I feel. I spent so much of my life hiding and holding back. When I suppress curse words I all too often suppress my anger and am dishonest.

I'm not saying it's just OK for me to go ballistic. The standard is to love people and inappropriate yelling is not love. But where possible, I express my anger to avoid suppression, which always ends up being worse.

Best, of course, would be to see life from God's perspective and get rid of ungodly anger. I'm working on that too. I'm very uptight (think Alan on "Two and a Half Men"). I need to learn to relax and trust God.

Now, those of you really paying attention will ask, "But Eric, you curse when you're not mad. Say, for example, your last blog entry." Yes, that's true. Remember I want to be honest. Sometimes I and many other Christians live in such a bubble. It's like if we curse God will break down and cry in shame. Bullshit! God is a big boy. He can handle it (kudos to my friend Don for this insight). I like to break that bubble. To open us up to the real world.

Another problem I've struggled with and still struggle with is pretending to be better than I am. I try to impress people with my righteousness. Cursing stops that tendency dead. Throwing out a couple of f-bombs will instantly remove any comparisons between me and Mother Teresa.

The comic Don McMillan talks about how his dad will pick on him or one of his siblings to pray at holiday meals. Since Don hasn't been to church in a while, he prays under his breath to not be picked. "Please, God, don't let him pick me to say the damn prayer. Damn! I cursed in a prayer, that can't be good. Oh, I did it again!" There was a time when I would have cringed at this. Now I think it's very funny.

Let's all lighten up a bit. Let's all be honest. If you don't like cursing, no problem. But please, don't suppress anger like I did. And don't pretend to be spiritual just because you use fewer adjectives than those around you.

Shit Happens

I had a good weekend. The main message I got was. "If think your life is bad, just wait. It will get worse." How is this good? I have a long explanation.

Saturday I went with my friends Robin and Don to the High Desert Baptist Association semi-annual meeting. I didn't expect much: I'm not a big fan of meetings. I thought it would be good to go at least once. I'm treasurer at my church. Even though we are pretty informal that does make me a corporate officer. I also don't know much about Southern Baptists. This is my first Southern Baptist church. Also, I have been trained theologically so I do have some interest in ecclesiastical doings.

The meeting had three main parts. First there were breakout sessions (seminars). Then the main business meeting. Then a repeat of the seminars.

The meeting wasn't bad, but it wasn't that interesting either. I didn't care much for the main speaker. He had that preacher fast-talking-loud-almost-yelling style that I don't like. Nothing really wrong with him, just didn't do much for me. At least the business side of the meeting was efficient. I appreciated that -- why keep us bored longer than necessary. There was some pastoral posturing and backhanded bragging that I've grown used to in Christian circles. Nothing really bad, and most people there seemed pretty cool. Still, I wish we'd quit doing stuff like that.

The seminars, on the other hand, turned out very well. After the main meeting I attended a seminar on how the Southern Baptist cooperative program works. I learned that Southern Baptist Churches are very independent. We don't even have to affirm the SB statement of faith. The SB hierarchy cannot tell churches what to do. Churches join as they wish, believe as they wish and contribute as they wish. I liked that. There is an approval process, so I assumed no real whacked out organizations can join. The main reason for the organization is to cooperate on stuff. The main stuff they cooperate on is missions work. The SBs are very mission minded. I liked that a lot. Very efficient with a clear goal and methodology for helping fulfill the Great Commission. Overall I was very encouraged. I much more proud of being a Southern Baptist and now can more clearly explain what that means.

So far, you're wondering how all this relates to my title. The link is this: Robin gave the first seminar. Now Robin is not shitty or anything. In fact, I love hearing him speak. However, I wasn't going to go to his seminar. Even after I went, Robin asked why I'd gone. I have heard him give the same talk before. I've read his book on the subject. (The unpublished "The Complaint of Jacob," which I highly recommend.) I've heard his ideas many other times. When we got to the meeting Don wanted to go to Robin's talk and I was new and felt like hanging with Don and I do like listening to Robin. So I went and it turned out to be just what I needed.

In Genesis 42 Jacob complains about his life. From his point of view he is right. His life is crap. His wife, Rachael, the love of his life is dead. His favorite son, Joseph, is dead. His family is staving. His sons traveled to Egypt to get food and pissed off the prime minister so badly Simeon is held in jail. This same prime minister now wants his beloved youngest son Benjamin to come to Egypt.

Jacob is absolutely right from his point of view. However, he is absolutely wrong. In reality Joseph is not dead, but is the prime minister of Egypt. God will use him to bless Jacob's family and the world. Life really could not be better.

I needed to hear what Robin said. I whine and get depressed. I needed reminding how much God loves me. How the bad stuff is not my fault. How God will get me through. Even though there is bad in my life, including bad that I've done and bad caused by the bad I've done, God has not given up on me. He loves me and does have a good plan. It probably won't involve wealth and massive success in this life, but God does take care of me. There really is a lot good about my life. I need to quit searching for current comfort and success and being depressed when it doesn't happen. I need to remember that God is in my life and trust him.

Then Sunday, Don preached about almost the same thing. He talked about how Jeremiah complained in Jeremiah 12. God's answer: "If you've run with men and are tired, how will you run with horses?" In other words, "You think this is bad, just wait. It will get worse!" Wow! At first this sounds depressing. However, pause and think for a minute. If it were true that doing good means you will live a wonderful life, then the fact that your life is not all wonderful and successful means you are screwing up. If, on the other hand, it is normal even for good people to suffer, then suffering does not mean we are evil. It does not mean that we are screwing up. In fact the Bible says the godly will suffer.

So many people in our lives, so many preachers in church and on TV, tell us that if we just believe enough or do something better our lives will be wonderful. It is very easy to feel tremendous guilt for our failures. I do it all the time. I need to stop and accept the shit in my life. I need to just trust that God loves me and is leading me in a good direction.

So God thought I needed to hear essentially the same message twice this weekend. As message I've heard many times before and even told others many times before. God was right. I feel much better and more focused.

I am fickle. After my good weekend I got depressed Monday about stuff that happened in court (I'm still on a jury). Tuesday I played racquetball and got depressed about how I played. I forget so quickly. The good news is that in both cases I finally remembered what I'd learned over the weekend and it helped me through.

I had a chance to share some of these thoughts with a friend who had a hard day Monday. I was kind of clumsy, but overnight it jelled into a thought I want to share.

"Despite what parents and other guilt producing entities may say, most of the shit in your life is not there because you are doing something wrong."

A related idea: "There's nothing you can do to remove most of the shit in your life."

Or, as they say, "Shit happens."

I now have a new erenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the shit I cannot change, the courage to remove the shit I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Shit happens to all of us. Don't take it personally. Trust God, know that he loves you and live through the shit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tech Support

I've never done tech support exactly, but have helped people with computers. This video says it all.



BTW, got this from a friend of long ago, Eric Messelt. He found me on Facebook. More good from the "evil" internet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Beyond Reasonable Doubt

I wrote this while I was on the jury for a criminal case. I can't talk about it until it's over. I wasn't supposed to talk about the details of the case while it was going on and thought it better not to post this then, even though it contains none of the facts for the case.

I picked up a couple of ideas from my case that seem interesting.

The first is the idea of making an unbiased or fair decision. In court they want us jurors to be not unduly biased. They recognize that we all have bias, but they want our bias to not hinder us from making a fair decision in our case. The judge has stressed several times that we need to treat every witness as starting at zero. We let the words they say and any related evidence determine how much we believe them. We don't decide how much to believe by how they look or what their lawyer does or because they are a police officer or for any other non-relevant reason.

Our job as jurors is to fairly judge the facts of the case. There is no appeal of a jury's decision. We are the only ones who ever get to decide the facts. Cases can be appealed on points of law, but the jury's fact finding cannot be appealed. In other words, what we jurors decide is final. We need to be careful and do our job well.

In a process called "voir dire," the court asks us questions to get some idea if we will have a problem deciding fairly. They ask if we know anyone in the trail or have any life experience that might prejudice us in the case. They directly ask if we can make an unbiased decision.

As I've said many times that I think one problem many of us have is that we hold opinions so closely we only argue to prove our position. How much better to listen like a juror and decide the facts. As I've learned already in my trial, this is not easy. It is easier to hold to preconceived ideas. As a juror I feel a tremendous duty to listen carefully and not be biased. Shouldn't we all do the same for important issues in our lives?

The case I'm on is a criminal case. In the U. S. people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because of this, the defendant is currently not guilty. If I had to vote before any evidence was presented, I'd be obligated to vote "not guilty." It reminds me that in philosophy, disproving one side does not prove the other side. And, by the way, in politics proving your opponent is a scumbag does not prove you are a good candidate.

Another concept is proving "beyond a reasonable doubt." In any criminal case in the U. S., guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a pretty high standard. It is not enough to have the weight, or preponderance, of the evidence in favor of guilt. There must be no reasonable doubt. It is possible for me to think a person committed the crime, but still have enough doubt that I'd vote not guilty. On the other hand the standard is not "beyond all doubt." I can have some doubt and still vote "guilty."

Very little in life, perhaps nothing, is beyond all doubt. Yet that is often the standard opponents of a position claim the position must adhere to. It's easy to stick our heads in the sand and just believe what we think we know. It's also easy to just say we can't know anything because there are doubts about everything. Much harder, but I believe much better, is to listen to evidence and arguments and make the best decisions we can.

Since I originally wrote this I noticed that Robin had this quote from Larry Niven which sums up nicely what I'm trying to say:

To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Two years gone by.

About two years ago my nephew Kyle died in a motorcycle accident. I blogged about it on MySpace.

Two years later friends are still leaving comments on his profile. The comments are uplifting. Not only that, MySpace seems to have provided those who mourn Kyle with a forum for expressing their thoughts. How cool is that?

Kyle's death was bad and evil -- I still don't understand it. Nonetheless a lot of good came out of it, as I wrote here. I am very glad to see so many good wishes on his MySpace site. I'm tired of hearing how evil this generation is (they said the same about ours) and how the world is falling away from God. Yes, we have problems. But there is also a lot of good. Even on the internet. Thanks to Kyle and his friends for showing us old farts how good people can be.

Nerd 2.

In my last post I tried to show the hilarious side of xkcd without going overboard on the nerdy side. Since I got such a good response from both my fans and some questions about levels of nerdiness, I present the following. If you get these, you know you're a nerd.


I almost died laughing.


I've actually had thoughts like this.


A comic only a programmer could love.


Even at work (where we all write code), I'm the king of shell scripts and regular expressions.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I am a Nerd

I ran across a very funny web comic strip. It is probably the funniest comic I've ever read.

It's also so nerdy that even my friends and family (except my brother Craig) probably won't get many of the strips.

The comic is xkcd.

Here are a few samples I found hilarious.











Yes, I'm weird.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Air in the Tires

Trevor was happy. Very happy. He had a shiny, brand new bicycle. He never had such a nice gift in his whole life.

It was Trevor’s seventh birthday. He had learned how to ride the old bike in the garage, with his dad’s help. He had worked real hard, and was very careful with the old bike. Then, just like his dad promised, he got a new bike on his birthday.

Trevor rode his bike everywhere. He rode to school. He rode to the store. He rode all over town. People would see him coming and say, “There goes Trevor on his brand new bike.” Trevor was so proud as he rode and rode his bike everywhere.

But after a long time, Trevor felt something was wrong. It was harder to pedal his bike. He barely noticed the difference at first. But it was harder. Not only that, it was getting a little harder all the time. Even though Trevor pedaled as hard as he could, the bike just went slower.

Trevor started to worry. “Am I getting weak?” he thought. “No, I can still run and jump OK. Maybe something’s wrong with my bike.”

But try as he might, Trevor couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally he said to himself, “My Dad’s pretty smart. I’ll ask him.”

So Trevor went to his dad and told him about how his bike was getting harder to ride and was going slower. His dad said, “Well, let’s take a look.”

So they went outside and looked at the bike. His dad said, “Hmmm, I think I see the problem. Your tires are running out of air. When you ride a lot your tires slowly lose air. Nothing’s really wrong, you just need to do is go down to Bert’s gas station and put air in your tires. I’m sure Bert will be glad to help you.”

Trevor was relieved that the problem was so simple. And he was so happy that he hardly noticed how hard he had to peddle to get to Bert’s gas station.

When he got there, he didn’t see Bert. He looked all over. Then he thought, “Bert’s not here, but I’ve seen my dad get air a lot. I bet I could do it.”

And Trevor did just that. He found the air hose, and, since he was a very clever boy, figured out how to fill his tires all by himself. He had gotten his tires mostly filled, when he heard a man shouting.

“Hey, kid, get away from there! You’re gonna break something!”

Trevor looked up to see a strange man he didn’t know. The man was wearing overalls just like Bert, but he was not Bert. He was big and mean looking and angry. Trevor was surprised and scared. He dropped the hose and just stood there.

The man went on screaming, “What do think you’re doing. You’re too young to play around here. You get out of here now. If I ever see you here again, I’ll make you wish you were never born!”

It took a lot of courage for Trevor even to pick up his bike, but he did and rode away as fast as he could. He didn’t ever want to see that man again.

Trevor didn’t know what he did wrong, but he figured he must have broken something. He was afraid of what that man might do. He was afraid the man would tell his dad about it.

After a few days, Trevor was surprised but somewhat relieved. His dad didn’t say anything, so he guessed the man hadn’t told on him. Trevor sure didn’t want to tell. He could still ride his bike, although it was a little hard because he hadn’t filled the tires all the way up. Now he still rode all over town, except he stayed far away from Bert’s gas station.

And the tires eventually started losing air again. This time it didn’t take so long for the bike to be hard to ride, since the tires didn’t get full. Trevor loved his bike, but it got harder and harder to ride. Finally, Trevor gave up. Riding was just too hard. He put his bike in the garage, and just walked. He was also very sad.

One day, Trevor’s dad came to talk to him.

“Hi Trevor, buddy. Is something wrong? I haven’t seen you ride your bike, and you don’t look very happy.”

Trevor liked his dad, and he knew his dad loved him. But he didn’t want to get into trouble. He didn’t know what to say. Finally he said, “It’s too hard to ride.”

Surprised, his dad answered, “Didn’t you put air in the tires like I told you to?”

“Well, yeah, sort of.”

“What do you mean, sort of. What’s wrong, Trevor?”

Trevor couldn’t hold back any longer. He started crying. He had to tell his dad, even if he got into trouble. Between sobs, he told his dad the whole story.

Instead of getting angry, his dad said, “Trevor, I’m sorry you didn’t tell me this sooner. Let’s go have a talk with Bert and see what happened.”

Trevor was kind of scared, “What if that man sees me and gets mad at me?”

His dad said, “You let me worry about that.”

Trevor was still a little scared, but he felt safe with his dad. He knew his dad would make everything OK.

When they got to Bert’s gas station, they saw Bert and sat down with him in his office. Trevor’s dad asked him to tell his story to Bert. Trevor was still a little nervous, but he did OK since his dad and friendly Bert were there with him.

When Trevor finished, Bert said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I hired this new guy a few weeks ago. But I had to fire him. He kept taking breaks and leaving the gas station alone. Not only that, he was mean, really mean. I lost a couple of customers because of him. I apologize. I won’t let it happen again. Can you forgive me?”

Of course, Trevor and his dad said they would forgive Bert, and they were still friends (and customers!). They went to get Trevor’s bike and Bert personally put air into the tires.

After that, Trevor was very happy again. He learned it was a really good idea to talk to his dad whenever he had a problem. And once again, he rode and rode all over town. One of the places he visited most was Bert’s gas station, and he never ran out of air again.*



* Ephesians 5:18 "Be filled with the Spirit." The Greek for spirit is pneuma, which means spirit or air. Bikes have pneumatic tires — tires that are full of air.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let's All be Friends

Anyone else notice the resemblance between Steve Carell and Ahmadinejad?





Oh, I just learned Wikiality sees it too. However, we should not insult Carell. Maybe it's just how much Ahmadinejad acts like Michael from The Office.



Or maybe I'm thinking of Borat.



Cheetah?



To be fair, word meanings often get lost in translation. Maybe we've just misunderstood Ahmadinejad all along. Like, maybe the reason he says there are no homosexuals in Iran is that he has a different understanding of the word.



Wow I feel better. Now that I understand Ahmadinejad, I think we can all be friends. I hope to send him a present soon.

Rocket Man!

Actually, Jet Man. Courtesy of Bubba. Awesome! Thanks.



Fusion Man home page. More Info.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Religious War?

I don't like war. I'm not sure about what's going on in Iraq, as I mentioned a while back. I like to think that eventually God's love, rationality, democracy and freedom will win out. Like the people of Eastern Europe a couple of decades ago, won't the oppressed people of various places, including those in the Middle East, finally see how badly they are treated and rebel?

Unfortunately it may not work out that way. My friend Robin often talks about the Islamic threat on his blog. Lately he has talked a lot about the travesty of Columbia University allowing Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak. Robin admits he may be biased, having lived in Israel on a Kibbutz, and I don't always like the intensity of his comments. However, after knowing him now for over 10 years I've learned not to take what he says lightly. He researches well. His information is rarely wrong and almost always well documented. He also thinks more clearly and in a more unbiased fashion than just about any person I know, both those I've met and those I've read. What Robin has to say disturbs me and I cannot ignore it.

Is all Islam violent? One of my bosses is Muslim. (He is coincidentally named "Oussama" which is pronounced the same way as "Osama.") He is a very nice person and a good boss. My daughter who served in Iraq saw people who just wanted to live a peaceful life like most of us do. I used to attend a church that had an Arabic congregation. My family and I worked in the Sunday school. (Obviously not Muslim, but still most people there were from the Middle East.) When I was just out of college, during the Iran hostage crisis, I and my roommates lived next door to an Iranian family that was very kind to us. When my wife and I sold our first house (just after the first Persian Gulf war) our agent was Iraqi. She and her husband were two of the nicest people I've ever met. This all makes me hope for the best.

And yet ... we have the president of Iran denying the holocaust. He heads up a country that oppresses women and executes homosexuals (perhaps that's why "such people" don't exist in Iran). And he asks why it is not OK for Iran to have nuclear weapons!

Perhaps you think it's just Western propaganda. Do things like this story about the execution of a 16 year old girl really happen? Check out the movie Osama (there's that name again but again has nothing to do with bin Laden) which was made by Afghan film makers. It's chilling.

How can all this be happening and there is not a stronger outcry from "moderate" Islam?

I've rambled a little. What is my point? I want to believe the best. I have known and do know good Arab and Islamic people. The idea of fighting a religious war is abhorrent to me. But I will not let my guard down. We better not let our guard down. The U.S. and Israel and the west are far from perfect. But let's not kid ourselves. There are some very evil people in the world. The kind that torture and kill innocent people. The kind that uses airplanes as weapons against civilians. The kind whose goal is to wreck our way of living or die trying. We cannot allow such people to have their way, no matter what the cost.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Jog in the Desert

(This one's for Justin, er I mean Austin, and Sarah. Let the questions begin!)

It was a crisp, cool morning as Sarah jogged steadily down Avenue J. Turning north on 30th Street West, she stayed to the left, because the dirt on the left side was much kinder to her shins than the sidewalk on the right. Majestic mountains spread out in front of her and to her left. She took it all in — the awe-inspiring mountains, the spacious desert, the clear dark blue sky, still painted with the pastel colors of the almost complete sunrise. Most people thought of the desert as hot and barren. But in these early morning hours, Sarah felt blessed by the refreshing air.

“Wow!” she thought as she once again reminded herself of the reason she put up with the torture of her early morning runs. She loved the solitude and the quiet, giving herself a chance to clear her head before another typically hectic day. The wonder and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed her, and she uttered a silent prayer of praise and thanks as she had done so many times before.

In spite of her general aversion to sports, Sarah had been jogging for almost twenty years now. She hated the torture, but enjoyed her slim, attractive figure and the athletic confidence it gave her. She enjoyed too the way jogging in these quiet hours was so calming. That, combined with the endurance and low pulse rate it gave her, helped her through the stress of her day. God knows she needed it, with a demanding career and two small children to take care of. It also was a break from the drudgery of a daily routine that Sarah often found boring for her active, intelligent mind.

The rare sound of a car approaching pulled her out of her daydream. She looked up to see a blue sedan only thirty feet in front of her and approaching at high speed. “Oh my God, he’s going to hit me,” she thought as she began her next step. Instead of a normal running step, she instinctively pushed down hard with her right foot, sending herself rolling to the left. The car narrowly missed her as she rolled onto her back in the soft desert dirt.

“Idiot! I can’t believe a drunk would be out at this time of day!”

She was still in a state of shock as she looked at the car that had just passed. She saw it screeching to a stop several hundred yards beyond her and beginning to turn around. “I guess he’s coming back to see if I’m OK.”

Then she noticed it wasn’t coming back slowly, as she expected, but was picking up speed again. “He’s coming after me again!” she suddenly realized. Out here on the open, sparsely vegetated desert, she wouldn’t have much of a chance.

She saw that her only chance was to cross 30th Street to the housing tract there. She sprinted across the street, hoping she had time to get there before the car came back. Fortunately, her adrenaline rush and her well-trained legs allowed her to sprint across well before the accelerating car came near her. She leaped up the back wall of the house in front of her. As she rolled over the top, she heard a loud crack and felt something whiz by her ear. “My God, now they’re shooting at me, too! I’ve got to get out of here!”

As she cleared the wall on the other side of the yard, she heard the car screeching through another turn. “They must be turning to get in the housing tract entrance just south of here. I’ve got to think. Got to get to some people, call for help.”

Sarah didn’t want to risk knocking on a door this early in the morning. Most people were probably asleep and, even if they did come to the door, it would probably take too long, making her vulnerable to attack. She had to keep moving!

A plan began to form in her mind. Wal-Mart, just over half a mile away, would be open, as it always was. There would be people there, and phones. How to get there though? She knew she couldn’t outrun the car. But she realized she could hop fences. “I may not may not be much of an athlete,” she thought, “but at least I learned to climb when I was young.” The winding neighborhood roads would slow down and confuse her pursuers, while she could more or less make a beeline through backyards.

She made it most of the way through the neighborhood safely. She could still hear the screech of wheels from time to time, but had avoided her attackers successfully. She had just crossed the last neighborhood street and was beginning to climb into the yard on the other side, when the blue sedan screeched around the corner. It caught sight of her and began coming toward her just as she cleared the fence.

“Great,” she thought, “now they’ll know where I’m going.”

Nothing to do though, but keep on. Over the back fence of this yard lay 25th Street, and beyond that the back of Wal-Mart. She would have to cross the wide street and run through the 200 yard long side parking lot next to Lancaster Boulevard until she reached the front of the store. It was a dangerous open stretch, but she had to risk it. She knew the car would have to go out the housing tract entrance a quarter mile south and then come back up. She hoped this gave her enough time to reach her goal.

Clearing the fence, Sarah sprinted across 25th Street into the Wal-Mart parking lot. As she passed the back of Wal-Mart into the side parking lot, she heard the blue sedan turn onto 25th Street. “God, please help me make it!”

Literally running for her life, she gave it all she had through the side parking lot. It seemed like an eternity. 100 feet to go, 75, 50, 30, 20 — almost there. Just then, the blue sedan turned from 25th Street onto Lancaster Boulevard, at the far corner of the parking lot. She heard a shot and felt the spray of shattered mortar as a bullet struck the store wall just behind her. But now she was at the front corner of Wal-Mart. She rounded it quickly and flew into the store.

The always present, friendly greeter seemed somewhat surprised to see Sarah rush in like that. Nonetheless, she maintained her composure and asked politely, “May I help you?”

“Please help me,” Sarah yelled breathlessly, “I need the police! Someone is trying to kill me.”

“OK, ma’am, please calm down, and tell me what’s happening.”

Sarah drew a deep breath, and tried as best she could to explain what had happened. The Wal-Mart manager was called, and he quickly phoned the police. Sarah was still nervous, but was glad to be around people again. She was also glad that her plan seemed to be working — there was no sign of her attackers.

While they were waiting for the police, the manager had Sarah rest at the in-store McDonald’s. He got her a coke and she was finally able to relax a little. She could no longer hear her heart pounding, and was finally able to put a few thoughts together.

“How’d I get into this mess?” she wondered. “I guess it all started so many years ago, during that fateful year in eighth grade…”

Her mind drifted. It hadn’t seemed so fateful at the time. It had seemed like a rough year. Her family had, until that time, been trying to get on the mission field, but had finally failed at that at the end of her seventh grade year. Then one thing followed another: they changed churches; switched to Desert Christian School instead of the last four years of home schooling; Dad had begun to commute to work again instead of being at home so much; and they had moved from an apartment into their house.

School had been a struggle. Sarah was a new student and felt very out of place. Fortunately, the students were friendly, but still Sarah found it difficult to make friends. Her class work was much more mundane and boring than home school — Desert Christian was so inflexible at times, and not many of her teachers seemed to appreciate her intelligence and creativity.

All of this, plus some family struggles, caused her schoolwork to suffer. Sarah did survive and graduate. She also began to enjoy school more. Perhaps most important of all, she determined to do well in school, no matter how boring it was or what people thought of her. This determination set the stage for her great high school success — between her intelligence and hard work she became her class valedictorian. Her academic achievements lead to a scholarship at Harvard, allowed her to escape her rather bland life in Lancaster and propelled her into the top of her law school class.

That same year too, the summer after her eighth-grade graduation, she had taken up jogging. “Yuck!” was her first reaction. But she was encouraged (maybe a better word is “pushed”) by her Dad, brother and sister, and friends to try out for the cross-country team. She didn’t become a great runner, but did slowly learn to enjoy the sport. Her teammates were often encouraged by her quiet dedication to do her best. It never was clear to her whether her determination got her through four years of cross-country, or whether cross-country gave her the endurance and mental toughness for her later academic success. Jogging was in many ways boring, but it had become a life-long habit, and in the process, her friend.

The cross-country years had also broadened her social life. The girls, and even most of the guys, on the team weren’t just a bunch of airhead jocks. Rather she found some serious minded, dedicated, intelligent people. She made many friends, at last finding people who could begin to appreciate her complexity, intelligence and seriousness.

In a way, that set the stage for where she was now. After graduating law school, she was hired by a top Bay Area law firm. However, she soon grew tired and bored of the office politics. She certainly wasn’t one to kiss-up to anyone, even if they were top-notch lawyers. She had never really cared about making huge sums of money. She only wanted to help people. She saw the only people they were helping were big corporations and the rich, and often helping them to step on the poor.

After quitting, a series of events lead her back to her hometown of Lancaster. Oh, she didn’t live at home with her parents — she was much too independent for that. But she found comfort in being home among old friends after her time away in the big city. The big city hadn’t really been any more exciting than Lancaster, just more frenetic. “May as well be bored among friends,” she thought.

Furthermore, she found there were plenty of people in need of help back in Lancaster. She opened her own office, and did OK for a while. She never made much money, but managed to get by, helping people as she could. She grew tired however, of the court battles. Oh, she could hold her own in a debate all right. But she again grew bored, this time with the courts — the petty little technicalities and the need in too many cases to kiss-up to judges and deal with lawyers who were too full of themselves.

While a lawyer, she had actually spent most of her time investigating. After all, the key to a good case is facts. Most of her clients couldn’t afford a decent private investigator, so she had to do a lot of her own fact gathering, which she enjoyed. She liked being out in the field, gathering facts, and solving problems. There she even enjoyed the people. They were much more honest, and not so pompous as people around the courts.

And that led her to change jobs again — she became a private investigator. This may seem a strange change, especially for a woman. But contrary to popular opinion (and TV shows), the best investigators are not “macho” men. Rarely, if ever, is there the kind of heart pounding danger and action that makes a good TV show and requires some sort of super jock. Private investigation is, in fact, well suited to women. It requires patient fact gathering. It requires talking to people, making friends, and getting them to trust you. And people much more readily trust women. This is not a sexist view, just a plain fact.

So, that’s where Sarah had ended up about five years ago. She had a healthy little business, never making too much money, but helping people and enjoying the chance to be useful. She was a whiz at problem solving, fact gathering, and computer use, all of which are essential to a good private investigator in the twenty-first century. Although it was somewhat boring at times, at least she avoided most of the pompous airheads she had been around.

Just a year later, the biggest surprise of all had happened — she met him. She knew she never wanted to get married — she had known since junior high. She had no desire for the mundane life that she saw her mom and dad lead. Oh, she loved them with all her heart, and they were wonderful parents. She enjoyed her childhood mostly, and even at times her clueless brother and annoying little sister. It’s just that that kind of life wasn’t for her. In spite of being a child of the nineties, and having friends and family that were pretty open about women’s roles, she still envisioned marriage and motherhood as tying her down to a boring life at home.

But Justin had changed all that. He was not only charming and handsome, he respected her. More than that, he treated her as an equal, gave full worth to her mind, her career and her person. Falling in love had not been as hard as she thought.

Even before getting married, they decided to have children. They both loved children, volunteering as Sunday School teachers at church. It suddenly dawned on Sarah that with her own children she could be around the children she enjoyed, without putting up with the adults that often annoyed her. They also realized that with Justin working nearby as a school teacher and Sarah working at her own business out of their home, she could pretty well keep up a full career, even with children. She did most of her work at home on the computer. When she did have to go out, it was often in the afternoon and evening, when Justin was home.

Sarah found herself where she never thought she would be: enjoying marriage, family and career, in love and happy most of the time in spite of her busy schedule. The one thing that bothered her, that had always bothered her, was that life still was often boring.

Her mind drifted back to the present, however. What had happened? She was investigating an ex-husband, delinquent in child-support. Ripped-off mom’s made up a lot of her clients: there were so many flaky fathers it was a big need. Plus, these abandoned women were often some of the most needy. The work was a bit mundane, but the challenge of finding a person trying to hide often stretched Sarah’s creativity and problem solving abilities. She loved the hunt!

The case she was currently working on had been particularly difficult. This guy seemed to have no end of false aliases and addresses. Just yesterday Sarah finally felt like she was making some positive progress, and hoped to nail him today. Could her case have anything to do with the gunmen in the car? She shuddered: that was a scary thought.

Just then the police arrived at Wal-Mart, shaking Sarah from her thoughts. They of course knew she was a P. I., since she was licensed and registered. They asked about her case. She couldn’t talk about it because of client privacy privilege. However, she thought her client wouldn’t mind. After all, her goal was to expose the bum who left her. So she called and, as expected, her client let her talk.

The police were shocked when they heard who she was looking for. “Do you know who Robert Hernandez is?” they asked.

“No, just some bum,” Sarah answered.

“Ma’am, he’s not just some bum. We’ve been after him for a year. He’s in charge of racketeering in for the whole Antelope Valley. He runs numbers, controls book, even has a hand in the state lottery.”

Sarah was floored. She had no idea. No wonder these guys were after her! “Can you stop them?” she asked.

“We’re trying ma’am, but he is a slippery fish. We hope to have a case built in the next six to twelve months.”

“Six to twelve months! What about me, what about my family?” Sarah felt a shudder go through her.

“For now, we’ll give you protection. We’ll have an officer watch your place, at least for the next several days. We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile we suggest you back off, and hope it cools down.”

Sarah hated to back down on her case, but she saw the wisdom of their advice. Even if she did succeed in finding Robert Hernandez, what good would it do? Besides, the police were working on it.

Sarah and Justin were pretty shaken that night. They were in way over their heads and they knew it. They didn’t really know what to do, so they prayed. In fact, they prayed a lot. They prayed for safety, they prayed for wisdom. They even prayed that God would work in the hearts of Robert Hernandez and the men who had chased Sarah.

A week went by, with nothing happening. The police had to withdraw the protection: they couldn’t just keep a man there for months at a time. Sarah and Justin understood that and thanked them for their help.

Sarah didn’t sleep at all that night. So she spent most of the night praying. It wasn’t just that she was afraid, although she was still pretty shaken up. She just didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel it was safe to stay at home. But what could they do? They couldn’t just pull up and move, could they?

Then God gave Sarah an answer! She woke up Justin and told him the idea, and after shaking off the sleep, he liked it too. They could go to CBS! Campus by the Sea was their favorite vacation summer spot. Justin had just finished teaching for the year and was on summer break. They had some savings and were planning to spend a week there anyway. The Catalina Island camp was secluded and hard to reach since it had no roads in or out. It would be easy to spot an intruder even if they did find them, and call for help. Sarah and Justin together thanked God for his answer and prayed that he would work out the details.

In the morning Sarah called CBS. The camp director said they had just lost a staff family, who had to make a sudden move back to the mainland. This left them with an open cabin and in need of staff to work with children. Sarah and Justin had volunteered in the past, and the camp director said that if they were willing to come they could even be paid staff and would really help the camp out of a bind.

Sarah hung up singing and praising God!

She called the police and told them the idea, and they agreed it sounded good. They could arrange with LAPD to be on alert, ready to helicopter out in the unlikely event there was any trouble on the island.

Sarah and Justin were able to pack and leave that day. They reached the island safely and enjoyed a great summer.

During the summer the whole camp, as well as their church and many other Christian friends were praying for them. As the end of summer approached, they began to wonder about getting home. Just a week before they were due to leave, they got a phone call in the office. It was the police.

“Lady, I’m not sure you’re going to believe it. I’m not sure I believe what happened. You must lead a charmed life,” the officer on the phone said.

Sarah replied, “I don’t know about charmed, but I and my family and friends have been praying all summer.”

“Well, there must be a God in heaven then.” the officer answered. “Two days ago we were at the station, when Robert Hernandez walked in the front door! He said he’d become a Christian and wanted to confess and turn himself in! We practically fell off our seats! He also said he called off the contract on you. It’s safe to come home!”

Sarah leaped out of the office and practically floated up the hill. What a great God she served!

Back on the mainland, Sarah and Justin were able to visit Robert Hernandez and hear his story.

He said that since early summer strange things had been happening to him. He kept feeling weird. He had dreams and premonitions that his career would end soon. Since mob careers usually end in death, this really shook him up. Then, just a week before he walked into the police station, his right-hand man, and best friend, died in a freak accident. At the funeral, the preacher talked about heaven and hell and the need to believe in Christ. This upset Hernandez so much, that he went up afterward to the preacher and said, “Nobody talks to Robert Hernandez like that. I’m going to get you, preacher.”

The preacher just looked back and said, “Well, sir, I just speak for God, and I believe he has the right to talk to anyone like that, even you!”

This shook Hernandez up so much, he decided to go to that preacher and kill him that night. He found the preacher alone at church that evening. When he came, he brought a loaded gun with a silencer. But when he got there, and began talking, the preacher said to him, “Mr. Hernandez, God loves you and so do I.”

Right then, Hernandez saw his whole life, full of evil, and said, “How could anyone love me?”

The preacher explained how he himself was also evil, how God sent Jesus to die for all men, for all men are evil. Hernandez just broke down crying like a little child and prayed to receive Jesus.

After hearing his story, Sarah and Justin went away, once again praising God.

As they got ready for bed that night, Justin joked, “So Sarah, just another boring summer, huh?”

Sarah quipped back, “It was OK. It wasn’t too boring!”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dean and His Ideal Family

Dean Peterson had an ideal family. His wife, Joann, was active in the church, kept a great home and was a wonderful mom. His kids were all doing well in school and were the nicest children around. Friends, fellow church members and even acquaintances, admired the Peterson family. So he thought to himself, “What can I do to honor this terrific family of mine? How can I impress on them how awesome they are and how happy I am with them?”

Then an idea came. It crept up slowly, almost faded, then reappeared. It began to take hold, and then grew and filled Dean’s heart and mind. He leaped for joy, “That’s it! I’ll make something, something special, that will honor them all.”

He went to the garage and began to work. As he saw his idea begin to take shape, he got more excited. “This is really going to be good,” he thought, “they’re going to love it.”

He worked and worked and worked. As he worked, new ideas came, and he added them to his original design.

Once Joann popped her head in the garage, “Dear would you like some lun…”

Dean cut her off, “Joann, please, this is secret. You’re not allowed to look until I’m done.”

“I’m sorry dear, I just was wondering if you wanted some lunch.”

“No thanks, hon, I’ll get something a little later. I’m pretty busy right now.”

When Joann left, Dean continued to work. He worked so hard he didn’t notice his hunger or the time.

Finally, he heard a knock.

“Yes?”

“It’s me dear. Dinner time.”

“You and the kids go ahead. I’ll just grab a bite later.”

“Uh, Dean, usually we eat together. Couldn’t you just stop long enough to join us?”

“I know, honey, but this is important. Don’t worry, it’ll be worth it.”

“Well, OK, but we’ll miss you.”

“Me too, dear.”

Dean continued to work, until he heard another knock.

“Dear, it’s the kids bedtime and they want you to read them a story.”

“Honey, I know I’ve been out here awhile, but this job is really special, and I want to get it done. Could you handle the story tonight?”

“Uh, alright, Dean. They’ll be disappointed, but I guess it’s OK this once.”

The last knock Dean heard was Joann telling him she was going to bed.

Dean worked on and on, until finally, exhausted, he came in, and not wanting to disturb Joann, fell asleep on the couch.

The next day was much the same. As Dean worked, he kept getting new ideas, and getting more and more excited about his project. “This’ll be so awesome. It’s for my family, I’ve got to put my all into it.”

The project grew and grew, and got better all the time. Dean spent every waking moment on it. He came home from work, and headed straight to the garage. On the weekends, he spent all his time, either there, or buying supplies.

At first, Joann tried to get him to stop once and awhile, but she tried less and less as time went on. The weeks stretched into months, and still Dean worked away on his project for the family.

Dean did miss his family, but he told himself, “It’s for their good, I’ll be done soon and able to spend time with them then. And they’ll just love what I’ve done for them.”

Finally, after the better part of a year had gone by, Dean finished. He burst into the house. “Hey everyone, I’m done! Come and see!”

No one answered, so he tried again. “Hey, where is everybody? Come on out! I’m done!”

Suddenly, the absolute silence in his house struck him. He searched every room, but could find no one.

“Probably just gone shopping,” he told himself. “ Won’t they be surprised when they get home.”

Dean went into the kitchen to get some lunch. As he walked over to the refrigerator he saw a note.


Dear Dean,

If you ever do decide to read this, I guess it means you’ve finished your project. I hope you enjoy it yourself. We’re sorry to miss it, but we just couldn’t take this life anymore. At first the kids cried a little, because they never saw you. It was especially hard at dinnertime or at a basketball or T-ball game. But we figured we could endure it until you were done. Then I started getting tired of taking care of the kids all by myself. I gave up on most of the housework, and started yelling at the kids more and more. This, combined with your absence, caused them to start losing sleep. They cried themselves to sleep, and often woke up at night with bad dreams. This, of course, didn’t help my sleep any, and I just got crankier.

In spite of all this, we tried to tough it out. But then the kids’ grades started falling. That made me realize just how bad it was getting. So I’ve taken the kids, and we’re now living at my Mom and Dad’s. You know the address, if you need to contact us.

Your wife,
Joann.


Dean slumped down it a state of shock.

“What a fool I’ve been,” he said to himself. Then he prayed “Dear God, how could this turn out so badly? I was just doing it for them.”

The thought came to him, “Who were you really doing it for?”

It hurt, but Dean saw the clear answer to the question at once. He confessed his pride and selfishness to God. Then he knew what he had to do. It was hard, but he knew it was the only way.

He first called Joann, begged her forgiveness, and asked if they could meet to begin to repair their relationship. Joann was hesitant, but agreed to meet. She had one condition though. When, she told it to Dean, he said, “Yes, dear, I intended to do that right now.”

And so it was, early the next morning, before most people are up, two beggars were picking through the Peterson’s trash, and discovered an unlikely find.

“Too bad it’s all busted up,” the first one said

“Yeah,” said the second, “we could’ve got a lot of money for it.”

“The world’s full of funny people,” said the first, as they walked away.

What had caught their attention in the trash were the remains of an exquisite wood sculpture, showing a husband and wife and their three beautiful children happily gathered around a fireplace, enjoying each other’s company, in a room that looked remarkably like the Peterson’s den.