27 February 2005

Tall Order

Patient and kind.
Not jealous or boastful.
Not proud or rude.
Does not demand own way.
Not irritable.
Keeps no record when wronged.
Never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Never gives up.
Never loses faith.
Always hopes.
Endures through every circumstance.

Man, do I have some things to learn...

23 February 2005

Available Light

I took this picture in a grade school classroom on the third floor of a dumpy building in Pretoria, South Africa. The halls were dark, with burned out light bulbs or none at all in the sockets, and the walls grimy with the dirt of many hands. Everything was run down and old. The sign on the back wall of the classroom had seemed at first only a worn cliche, a mocking reference to opportunities that would never be offered to students in a place like this. But then the kids poured in the door, radiant in their exuberance, followed by a teacher whose eyes sparkled with almost as much mischief as the students. He was an older man, but plainly not elderly. Rather, he seemed full of life and, suddenly, the sign seemed to make perfect sense. The possibilities seemed perfectly possible.

In my memory at least, the last two months have been all gray clouds and rain around here. Not too many stars visible. But tonight we climbed the fence in the canyon above our house and sneaked up to the concrete dam which protects all us canyon dwellers from the flash floods. With our Brand New Super Bright High Intensity Flashlight, we poked around the base of the cliffs above the dam looking for landslides and checked on the level of the water in the reservoir. The city lights lay out before us and her hand felt warm in mine. It was almost midnight by the time we got back. We didn't see any stars tonight and, from what I hear, we might not for another couple days. But I have seen them in the past and that memory is clear and strong and for tonight, at least, and despite the dark, I'm pretty sure that they will shine again.

21 February 2005

Somebody I Met While Eating Breakfast

My wife and I are attempting to eat better these days, meaning eating things that are better for us. But we walked into this diner and were ambushed. Unable to resist the tacky decor and the condiments which had obviously been there since the founding of the restaurant, and because everybody knows you don't order the cobb salad in a place like this, we went for the obvious choice: chicken-fried steak.

I asked the waiter if I could take his picture and he immediately froze in his tracks. The restaurant was one of those family affair types and his mom, the manager, shouted from across the room that she'd been trying to get a picture of him for 10 years and he had never let her. I snapped a couple. A few minutes later he came over to the table and whispered to us apologetically that having his picture taken "makes him really nervous."

And, so, the first in a Zippy The Fish sometime series "Somebody I Met While..."

17 February 2005

Free Book!

Haven't read this yet, but it sure looks interesting...

A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky, by Malcolm Muggeridge, available for free in pdf format.

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16 February 2005

Making Bricks Without Straw

David Kuo, formerly Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, writing on why 'compassionate conservatism' isn't really shaping up the way they said it would...

More significantly, over time it became clearer that the White House didn't have to expend any political capital for pro-poor legislation. The initiative powerfully appealed to both conservative Christians and urban faith leaders - regardless of how much money was being appropriated.

Conservative Christian donors, faith leaders, and opinion makers grew to see the initiative as an embodiment of the president's own faith. Democratic opposition was understood as an attack on his personal faith. And since this community's most powerful leaders - men like James Dobson of Focus on the Family - weren't anti-poverty leaders, they didn't care about money. The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White Houses' neck showing the president's own faith orientation. That was sufficient.

Made It

Some days it's really nice to see the sun come up.

15 February 2005

Wanting To Believe: GQ Goes To The Jesus Fest

A great read on the GQ magazine website by a writer who goes to Creation, a giant Christian music festival in Pennsylvania. If you're at all like me -- grew up in the church, listened to Petra, etc. -- you'll recognize the landscape. Funny, spot-on, thoughtful, and surprisingly candid, especially for a magazine like GQ. I was pretty impressed.

A quote:

But mostly I thought of Darius, Jake, Josh, Bub, Ritter, and Pee Wee, whom I doubted I'd ever see again, whom I'd come to love, and who loved God—for it's true, I would have said it even if Darius hadn't asked me to, it may be the truest thing I will have written here: They were crazy, and they loved God—and I thought about the unimpeachable dignity of that love, which I never was capable of.

[Thanks to GetReligion for the link.]

12 February 2005

Quote Of The Day: What Prayer Is Really Like

And to me he said: "You need not be cast down
by my vexation, for whatever plot
these fiends may lay against us, we will go on.

This insolence of theirs is nothing new:
they showed it once at a less secret gate
that still stands open for all that they could do--

the same gate where you read the dead inscription;
and through it at this moment a Great One comes.
Already he has passed it and moves down

ledge by dark ledge. He is one who needs no guide,
and at his touch all gates must spring aside.

--Dante, The Inferno, Canto VIII:118-128 [Ciardi translation]

I know this is old news. Really old news, in fact. So I'm a little late to the party. But, just in case you hadn't heard in the intervening 700 or so years since he wrote that little poem thing, I thought I should tell you that that Dante guy was really good.

09 February 2005

40 Days Of Exercise

A couple nights ago I got home from work with tense shoulders and pain in my lower back. This is a regular condition for me resulting from a bad combination of poor desk posture and too many hours on the computer. I was headed for the medicine cabinet when it hit me that what I needed was not an Advil, but exercise. So I put on a sweatshirt, pulled my bicycle out of the shed, and headed for the hills. Which isn't hard because we live in them. I set a few goals and pedaled like crazy. When I reached them, I was breathing hard and barely able to stay upright on the bike. My heart seemed to be trying to crawl out my throat. But I could feel my body warming up and the stiffness falling away. When I got home, I felt refreshed, new again.

This morning I stood in line to be marked with ashes to begin 40 days of another kind of exercise. Just like the hills on the bike, I am approaching Lent this year with some trepidation. Exercise isn't very comfortable. At least not until afterwards. Repentance doesn't come naturally to me. To be honest, I'd prefer the role of recommending it to other people, providing commentary on it in beautifully abstract terms. I'm good at observation. Not so much at participation.

But I've decided that one of the things that this year is about is Getting In The Water. This covers a great many things, but with respect to this issue it means setting my heart out there in the open. It means trusting, even when it's not comfortable and when it doesn't seem safe. It means being willing to be changed.

So, here goes, I'm jumping in, hands clenched, eyes closed tight, but I'm jumping.

08 February 2005

Ellen Macarthur Breaks The Record

Fastest single-handed, nonstop sail around the world EVER, man or woman -- 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 33 seconds. I am in awe.

Check out this website (scroll down) for details and photos. See also her official website.

UPDATE: It's been announced that Ellen will receive a damehood (female version of knighthood) from the Queen of England.

06 February 2005

Spring Fever

You've been waiting for it, full of anticipation, and now it's here -- the California Tree Frog Breeding Season! I walked out of work on Friday to the sound of love on the evening breeze. At least that's what this website says.

Apparently February is the start of the Tree Frog breeding season. If so, they seem to be right on schedule around here, despite the fact that February is largely indistinguishable from January or March. In any case, the little guys all seem to have been simultaneously moved to sit out by the water and squeak away in hopes that somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight, someone's waiting for them.

Last week the night was silent. This week they're singing away. I'm not sure why, but somehow that seems like a sign of something good. What I do know is that it made me inexplicably happy when I heard them. For one thing it reminds me that my schedule isn't the only one running around here. For another, frogs are just funny. You just can't be completely sad when there's a frog around.

So, just for today, despite all the pain and suffering in the world right now, I would like to propose a toast to California Tree Frog Breeding Season. To all you little amphibians out there: good luck, God bless you and keep squeaking.

04 February 2005

In The Basement

This morning I was reading a blogger who was commenting on the hard work of facing our own inner 'basements' which I took to mean the parts of ourselves and our own experience that for one reason or another are difficult to face, unpleasant, or scary. I wrote a response to the post because it made me think about the things that I sometimes try to avoid.

Here's a somewhat extended version of what I wrote:

When I was young, my grandparents lived in a big brick house with a very dark basement. It was full of strange, dim objects and musty shadows. For a small child, it was a rather fearsome place. But I remember the day it changed for me to something different. It was the afternoon I spent down there with my grandmother washing clothes on the old wringer washer. I was only 6 and although I can't imagine that my assistance rinsing the clothes made things any more efficient, they were certainly more enthusiastic (and probably wetter as well.) But she smiled and nodded and helped me to keep my fingers clear of the rollers.

And then, not long later, there was the hot summer afternoon spent in the dim coolness of that basement with my grandfather making ice cream, pouring in the ice and salt.

And the evening with my uncle. He was building something at the workbench. I was most likely busy getting in the way.

After that, the basement was filled more with mystery than with terror and the strange smell of mildew, detergent, and dirt became familiar, and even comforting, rather than alien and worrisome. Sometimes I would even go down there by myself, curious, poking around in the dark corners, discovering long lost treasure.

Two years ago, when my grandparents moved out of that house, the last thing I did before I left for the airport was to stand by myself on the stairs to the basement. I closed the door behind me and stood in the darkness smelling the musty air and saying goodbye to the old house. I think I'll always remember that minute in the dark.

So what can be said about our own personal basements? It's obvious from experience that the dark places sometimes stay dark and the shadows will occasionally remain. Not everything is meant to be bright and shiny, I guess.

But I believe in the reality of redemption and I believe that, like a little seed, life must take root in the depths before it explodes full of promise into the light. I believe that basements are really beginnings, foundations for all the rest of the house that towers above.

And, one more thing: I believe that taking someone with you down those scary steps can make all the difference in the world.

03 February 2005

Words: Mother Theresa

The fruit of silence is prayer;
the fruit of prayer is faith;
the fruit of faith is love;
the fruit of love is service;
the fruit of service is peace.

Amen.

One of the results of personal struggle is that it can push you to prayer. For example, during my daily commute I have been turning off the radio and spending time driving in silence. I can say that prayer has been the fruit of that quiet time. I am hoping for the rest to follow.

[Mother Theresa quote from First Things, Feb '05, "While We're At It"]

02 February 2005

Peanut Butter And Jelly For The Soul

Napoleon Dynamite: Stay home and eat all the freakin' chips, Kip.
Kip: Napoleon, don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know that I'm training to be a cage fighter.
Napoleon Dynamite: Since when, Kip? You have the worst reflexes of all time.
Kip: Try and hit me, Napoleon.
Napoleon Dynamite: What?
Kip: I said come down here and see what happens if you try and hit me.

Vote for Pedro. Yeah.

01 February 2005

Synthetic Men, Uprooted

Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood -- they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardized international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours. -- C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters

This past weekend I was raking leaves in my yard -- I know, I know, how very domestic of me -- and found myself daydreaming of dirt and growing things. So I bought an envelope of radish seeds at the grocery store. I'd like to plant them, although I'm concerned they won't make it to maturity. Do raccoons like radishes? If they do, it's a hopeless endeavor. When the sun goes down around here, the out-of-doors becomes a veritable 'Where The Wild Things Are" cast party. Last night, before I drifted off, I watched out the window at a parade of furry tails going up and down the steps. From what I can tell, our house is one big jungle gym for the neighborhood Bandit Tribe.

In any case, I am feeling like I could use a little dose of the strength of the hills. And something fresh for my salad wouldn't be so bad either.

Photo Of The Day: Light


In front of me were thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. Behind me three people were laughing as if to cry over a game of Scrabble spread out on a picnic table. The evening air was quiet and warm. Thanks be to God for the gift of his peace.