Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Church Taglines

In Baltimore, and, I suppose, in many American cities, some of the churches don't simply have names, they have taglines:
The Rock Church: A Unique Ministry
Upon This Rock Deliverance Ministries: A Church Determined to Live for Christ [I have seen this tagline on many churches, or used as a slogan for a weeks-long ministry campaign. Also, there was a sign on the church saying, "Salvation is Free," I suppose this is a secondary tagline.]
Mason Memorial Church of God in Christ: God's Only Business is Soul Business
Lion of Judah Worship Center: Home of Total Praise
Eleventh Hour Ministries International: Jesus Can Work it Out
New Union Baptist Church: Come Unto Me [The tagline in blue neon lights; the church building is a beautiful old gray stone structure.]
Spirit of Truth Church: Where Families Come Together
Central Baptist Church: The church where everybody is somebody
Patterson Park Baptist: Where everybody is somebody and Jesus Christ is Lord
[I forget the church this tagline is for.] A place for everyone and everyone in their place

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rather brief update

I wasn't sure what to write, the past three days have been dense. I could just list the things we did, but Matthew's account is quite effective. I'm not very interested in touristy things in general; I wouldn't have come here just for fun. I'm trying to get a sense of the place to see if I want to move here when I grow up, and I don't know a quick and easy way to talk about the things that play into that decision. I'm thinking about:

  • How awesome the lightswitches are (very)
  • How I'd do with the language (it shouldn't be too bad--I'm surprised by how much I'm picking up. I'ma go agglutinate some crap!)
  • How nice the people are (excessively)
  • What the universities are like (hip, but there's not as much English used as I had expected, even in the "English" universities)
  • How easy it is to eat vegetarian (not too hard, except that it's assumed here, moreso than in the states, that everyone wants to devour as much beef as they can get their hands on)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Layover in London

Matthew and I have arrived in Istanbul. I don't have anything really amazing to report about Turkey so far, because we landed at the airport and immediately headed for our place to stay for this leg of the journey. Couchsurfing rocks. Thanks, Elizabeth!

Matthew and I had a long layover in London, so we went to see Westminster Abbey, but it cost 9 pounds to get in, and I didn't feel like paying that. We saw Big Ben and the Parliament building, then took the Tube (mind the gap) to the British museum, which was closed. Instead, we popped into the Museum Tavern, which opened in, I think, the 1720's, and had a pint of Old Peculiar.

We've been flying British Airways. I've never traveled internationally before, so I don't have much of a standard of comparison, but they're really amazing! I got to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm on the trans-Atlantic flight to London. They gave us toothbrushes and socks! The food was pretty okay, as far as airplane food is considered. I requested vegan meals, and they've done an excellent job of accomodating me.

[Brief editorial note: I normally release posts on Tuesdays at 1 AM. I intend for this to continue; I have one post in the hopper for next week, and I'm working on the next. These posts will be in my normal style. However, during my trip, I'll be posting all willy-nilly, mainly so that you can tell that I'm still alive.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are a peculiar form of communication, because there is barely enough space to introduce a new idea. Instead, normally old ideas are referenced, so I can know the stranger in the car in front of me identifies himself or herself with environmentalism or Wicca or Jesus. Unfortunately, many bumper stickers are obscure enough that I have difficulty comprehending the statement that the stranger is making.

I have, here, recorded a passel of peculiar bumper stickers. I have included explanations for the bumper stickers with obtuse meanings; some, I could not figure out for myself. I would appreciate conjectures from my readers on the meanings of these more enigmatic bumper stickers.

I saw an old car on the I-195 exit onto UMBC with a total of eight bumper stickers, six saying:
  • Go Climb a Rock: Yosemite
  • Underarmour: Run
  • MS Marshall Street Disk Golf [Marshall Street Disk Golf is a supplier of disc golf equipment in Leicester, Massachusetts.]
  • Disk Golfer on Board
  • Rock me sexy Jesus [This is the name of a musical number in Hamlet 2.]
  • Nader-Gonzales '08

The other two bumper stickers depicted:
  • A flower
  • A giant robot destroying a city

I would like to be friends with the driver of this car, if I'm not expected to be excellent at disc golf.

Driving north on I-795, to the Red Robin in Owings Mills, to hang out with Greg:
  • Gwapa Inside [It looked like an Intel Inside sticker. "Gwapa" is Filipino for good-looking, declined in the feminine.]

In San Antonio, Texas, near the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center:
  • In Guad we trust [This is a reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe.]

I forget where I saw all of the remaining bumper stickers.
A bumper sticker:
  • I heart golfing and biking [The heart was faded out.]

I saw a vanity plate:
  • GTD RNK [I like the Getting Things Done methodology; it is unlikely that this has anything to do with this vanity plate.]

One card had a fake license plate mounted above a real license plate. The fake license plate:
  • A map of Africa, on a background of a green, yellow, and red tricolor of horizontal stripes.

The real license plate:
  • Romans 8

I imagine that the driver of this car is an Afro-centric Presbyterian. I would like to be friends with this person.

A bumper sticker:
  • An icon of a fist with lightning bolts, next to the words, "BEW for Obama/Biden"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sharon and Wendell

One time about a month ago, I was having a bad anxiety day. I'd been cooped up in my house too much or something, I suppose. I tried all of my tricks for coping. I had a shot of Scotch before heading out to lead a lunchtime Bible study. I played violent video games. I went to the gym. I went to the grocery store and got some King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread and some terrible Knorr noodles. I really needed a shower, but, driving home, I saw my neighbors Wendell and Sharon sitting with John on his stoop, so I stopped and talked with them.

I first met Sharon as I was walking home one day at the end of the summer. Sharon has an ice shaver, so on hot days, she sells snow cones to neighbors at the corner; some people grab a lawn chair and sit in a circle with their feet in buckets of cold water.

I have no idea how this started, but Sharon started telling me about her cousin Rachel. According to Sharon, Rachel wore mens' size 38 pants at age four. Rachel had "a fat head." Rachel's grandmother would pre-chew her food for her until she was six years old. Rachel's teenage brothers would each drink a gallon of milk a day; it was a tough guy thing for them. Rachel drank two gallons a day. Sharon brought a bag of popcorn over one day, and Grandma tried to take it from her, swearing she'd choke. Rachel's grandmother didn't let her go to school, afraid Rachel would come home to find her dead.

One time, there was a home remedies book being passed around and Rachel's grandmother accused the owner of the book of witchcraft.

Wendell has white wisps of hair and black eyebrows and a knobby nose. He told me about some handy home remedies. If you have a boil, you can put a moist tea bag on it and that will soothe it. Mint tea aids digestion. Sassafras tea is an anti-coagulant and also aids digestion. Castor oil, everyone knows, is good for clearing out the colon.

Through all this, John didn't say much. John has a lot of tattoos and two tiny fuzzy dogs.

Wendell says that Barack Obama got elected because it's clear that OPEC chose him as president by driving up gas prices before the election to make people want a big political shift. I forget if Wendell likes Obama or not.

This was about a week after the election, and the state of Maryland had just passed legislation calling for five slot machine establishments to be opened. I asked Wendell what he thought of this. He recalled when the Bay Bridge was opened; it was supposed to be the case that the tolls would be in effect only until the construction was paid off, and then, Maryland citizens wouldn't have to pay a toll, but we still have to pay the toll now. "Where's the money going?" he asked. We talked about the lottery, and how the lottery was supposed to raise money for the schools, but it really just made rich the company that runs it. Wendell doesn't think that the legalization of slots will help all that much.

We talked about the future. Wendell wants to know why we don't have flying cars. There were amphibious cars made decades ago, but those aren't mainstream yet. He's not sure what to think of iPods.

Wendell is disappointed with cloning. Cloning is supposed to give an exact copy, so my clone should be another 23-year old, not merely an embryo that is genetically identical to me.

Wendell has a sixth-grade education, but he's not ashamed of that, because he feels like life gave him the education that he really needed. "I've got common sense," he said. "That's what you really need."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I go to the coffee shop

If a crazy person, in his ranting, were to give me a great idea for a short story, is it ethical for me to write it? Should I give him attribution? This is not a hypothetical situation--I like listening to a troubled friend I met at the coffee shop.

My lab is on a balcony, overlooking the engineering building atrium. When I leave the lab late in the evening, I often see a couple practicing ballroom dance. The man is tall, of medium build. The woman is short and trim, and well-dressed; the man wears a faded T-shirt and khakis. I wonder if one is teaching the other but I can't tell. I never see them dance to music. I wonder if they love each other, or are simply dance partners. I'm up on the balcony, which is good, because I don't want them to know I'm spying on them.

At meeting on Sunday morning, I often sit in the same row as a man who is serious about journaling; he is always writing in his fine leather-bound journal during the service. That is, that was my first impression. Then, peeking down the row at his journal, I saw that it wasn't a journal, but a day planner. I thought, "Who works out their schedule during the sermon?" This Sunday, I sat closer to him than usual, and was able to read the words he wrote. He wrote legibly enough, but the words didn't make any sense together. He's confided in me about how he made a mistake and became embarrassed one time, a couple of weeks ago. Still, I feel awkward asking him why he writes in a calendar during meeting.

At my sister's guitar recital, I saw a man reading the program with the aid of a magnifying glass. I wondered why one girl played a prelude, instead of the whole piece. I always thought that a prelude is an introduction to a longer piece. It turns out that that used to be the case. Now, preludes don't necessarily precede anything, they're just written in the style of the old preludes.

At the coffee shop, one time, I got excited about Sarah Palin and jostled my mug, spilling a little; I got up to get napkins. On my way back, I was stopped by a fellow patron of the coffee shop who told me that I could have gotten my napkins from him, instead of going back to the counter. This gent has a bushy mustache; maybe he's in his fifties. He introduced himself to me as "Cowboy."

"Cowboy?" I asked, wanting to be sure.


I don't think he is, or ever was, an actual cowboy. I wonder if he did something amazing to deserve being called cowboy. I'll ask him how he got his nickname the next time I see him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mr Willie

Mr Willie lived on Vincent Street, on the same block as the school that my church runs. He smoked a pipe--this is how I met him. Walking to my car after meeting, I saw Mr Willie sitting on his stoop with his pipe, and I commented that I'm a pipe smoker as well. He told me he was trying to quit. His shoes were falling apart. I told him I would come smoke with him, but I never got around to it.

One night, I was walking home from a meeting at church, and I passed Mr Willie's house. Mr Willie had a friend on the stoop with him, and they were looking up at the sky. In Baltimore, it's never truly dark, so Mr Willie was excited because he could see a star.

One time, I went to a community association meeting for the Mount Clare neighborhood. Mr Willie was, I suppose, the oldest person there, and by virtue of his seniority, he was the one appointed to open the meeting in prayer. Mr Willie's voice was notable, it was boyish and warm. He prayed as if he was familiar with God, as if he really thought that God made the sun rise and the rain fall, and that through this, God would always take care of him.

A representative of Mayor Sheila Dixon's office came to the meeting to encourage us to vote in favor of allowing slot machines. He had hipster glasses, and wore a sweater and tie under his sport-jacket. I wasn't sure what to think because I'm a libertarian, and I think people have a right to do very stupid things, but a government-enforced monopoly on gambling isn't very libertarian. None of my neighbors thought that allowing slots was a good idea. This poor gent from the mayor's office got shouted down by the neighbors, but, then, the head of the community association called the meeting to order. Mr Willie then said, "I remember when gambling was outlawed. What has changed that we should allow it now?"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


When I was in first grade, my class divided into three clubs during recess. The most elite of these clubs was the Cool Club, which, as near as I can tell, was dedicated to swaggering and avoiding anyone not cool enough to be in the Cool Club. Then, there was the Cootie Club, which was dedicated to avoiding anyone with cooties. The least prestigious organization was the Bat Club, which was dedicated to hanging upside down on the jungle gym.

I was in the Bat Club, until I got kicked out when it was discovered that I had cooties.

For the rest of the school year, I would wander around the schoolyard alone, gathering crabapples. That is, I was alone until Sarah joined our class--she, also, evidently, was infected. We sat under a tree and talked about how baleen is made out of keratin.

Last fall, I went to the reception for new Ph.D. candidates, of whom I was one. We were each given a mini-diploma, proving our candidacy. Provost Arthur T. Johnston made us promise to go to a quiet place and think about our accomplishments. We all said, "I promise." Some guy near me asked, "Can my quiet place be a bar?"

As I was packing to travel to the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics conference, I wasn't sure whether I could take my Silly Putty on the plane. I realized that, since it deforms continually under shear stress, it is a fluid, so I put it in the one quart zip-loc bag with my toothpaste and mouthwash. Then I realized that fluid dynamicists could be quite cruel to TSA workers by attempting to transport aerogels, shear-thickening fluids, viscoelastic polymers, and Jell-o. 

So far, this trip, I have seen two children on monkey leashes.

Only certain fruits can be eaten defiantly. For example, if a banana were to be eaten defiantly, it would result in choking. There are free green apples given out in the lobby of the La Quinta Inn where I'm staying. A man with a beard just grabbed an apple off of the tray in front of me and took a very defiant bite out of it.

As soon as I got to the conference center, I knew that I was in the company of real scientists because of how everyone is dressed. I can't quite explain it, but everyone looks just a little off. It's not as if there is anyone dressed like they're going to a sock hop, or wearing a jacket with leather patches on the elbows. Dad's theory is that most scientists only own one suit, and the old ones are still wearing the suits they got when they were grad students.

I have defined The Szatmary Interval to be the amount of time it takes for me to decide that a given talk is less comprehensible than French absurdism, and resume reading Voltaire.

I'm not sure why we need nametags. The people here aren't friendly enough to have a real conversation with a stranger. Not only that, but it's clear to everyone else in San Antonio that we're participating in a scientific conference, and not only because of how we're dressed.

I've been to Otakon, an anime convention. (I have since repented.) The people there talked about anime less than the people here talk about science.

Included in our swag bags were laser pointers. I immediately pulled mine out and flashed it around; I blinded a security camera. Then, I noticed that I was the only person in the lobby playing with a laser pointer.

Is it okay to email the people who don't show up to give their presentations, and let them know that I was offended that they didn't let anyone know they couldn't make it?

Yesterday, I saw something amazing. During the question time of one guy's talk, he was asked a question that he, evidently, didn't want to answer. He made eye contact with the one asking the question, waited a beat, and then looked away. Another person raised his hand, and asked another question, which the speaker answered. 

This was notable because only I and another person noticed that the speaker had just refused to answer a question. Everyone else was hypnotized.

Who would buy an APS t-shirt? I have only counted two people here wearing t-shirts, besides myself.

In the bathroom this morning, I saw the man at the sink next to me rinse his hands but not use soap. Fluid dynamicists, of all people, ought to know the effects of surfactants on surface tension!

I have started grading the presentations that I watch, docking points for staring at the screen, mumbling, using six colors on a single slide, having complete sentences on slides, and reading them aloud. Also, please, never end a presentation with a slide just saying "Questions?" or "Thank you."

I know that no one is going to go home and do their work any differently after having seen my presentation; I've not seen any presentation on something related enough to my work for it to affect what I do, either. All that we can do is convey a rough sense of the sort of problems we're looking at.

In the hotel, there are three elevators. If there are others waiting for an elevator with me, I ask people to guess which elevator will come first. Whoever picks the right elevator wins!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jane the Prezel Lady

A couple of weeks ago, I got a voicemail from my friend, Jane. Well, Jane's more of an acquaintance. I've not sat down and had tea with her or anything. The point is, she wasn't sure I would know who she was when she called me, so she said, "Hi, Alex, this is Jane the Pretzel Lady," and then gave me the information on the upcoming community association meeting. (This meeting wound up being both boring and tense. I was glad I went.)

I go to Jane's church. Jane sits in the front row, on the left-hand side of the sanctuary. I walk past her house a fair amount, visiting friends or going to church meetings. She always says hi to me.

At the annual church retreat on Labor Day weekend, I was trying to find a good place to read, so I was poking about in the lodge after ten at night. I found Jane in the rec room, reading her Bible. I walked into an adjoining storage room, the one where the folding chairs are kept, and read in there. Later, Jane told me she saw me go into a room, but didn't realize, until after I had left, that it was a closet. I think this made her feel a little bad for me. I told her I didn't mind at all. We know each other as the other person looking for a quiet place.

At the retreat, I was in charge of registration and keeping track of who ate at which meals and so on, for billing purposes, so I had to learn the names of everyone who came. This was good for me, because, until that point, I only really knew the names of the other young adults, the people in my care group, and the people who lead a lot of things. Even though I've been at this church for almost five years, there were still a lot of people that I didn't know. It was just an hour before reading in the closet that I'd properly met Jane.

One time, I was talking with Harold after church, as he packed up the sound board, when, suddenly, a little kid ran up, gave him two pretzel sticks, and ran away. Harold explained that every Sunday, Jane brings a passel of pretzel sticks to meeting, to give to children for good behavior. After giving out one pretzel to each kid, Jane would give two pretzels to Harold, saying, "And two for the pastor."

I don't think that Harold has been the pastor for the last ten years, but Jane still makes sure he gets two pretzel sticks after meeting every Sunday. I suppose Harold somewhat resented that Jane still treated him like a pastor. Also, I can't imagine Harold welcoming special treatment for being the pastor. I don't think he minds the attention too much, though.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Church Tradition Story 4: Projector Trees Clap

When I was four years old, we had a party at church for a stranger. My four-year old self could figure out that he was important. I didn't know why everyone liked him so much. I was afraid of him, because I thought his name was Mr Witch, and I knew witches are spooky.

It turned out his name was Mr Rich, as in Richard. He was the new youth pastor.

The church was a traditional Presbyterian church, with wooden pews and a pipe organ and choir loft. We were told not to run in church, because it's God's house. People dressed up, Dad would wear a sport coat and Mom would wear a dress. We sang out of hymnals.

Mr Rich brought special music to the church. On the one Sunday out of the month that we would sing this special music with Mr Rich, (in addition to the hymns), he would bring out a portable screen and an overhead projector. Because we could see the words on the screen, and didn't need hymnals, we could clap along with Mr Rich's songs! My favorite song had a line,

The trees of the fields will clap their hands X X

The X's indicated when we were supposed to clap.

I liked Mr Rich. He was fun, and had a big, hearty laugh. He knew how to play the trumpet. Mr Rich invited us to camp, where he led us in playing crazy games, like bowling with a ball that was bigger than me. Of all the grown-ups, his lessons on Christianity were the funniest.

A few years later, Mr Rich got fired--there was some sort of personality conflict among the leadership, and I think that he was fired for unfair reasons. As he packed up the overhead screen for the last time, one of the old church ladies said, "Good. I could never worship with that thing up there."

The last I heard, Mr Rich had become a truck driver.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beards in Space

Astronauts have to be cleanshaven. Although I had worn a full, thick beard for the past few years, I shaved it off to enter the Federation Space Program. Beards would keep our helmets from sealing properly with our spacesuits. Facial hair in space has killed many astronauts. Now, I am in a space pod with my fellow crewmen, McGursky and Savillo. We left earth several months ago, and are on our way to Mars, to join the colony.

"McGursky, did you ever try growing a beard?" I ask.
"I was more a mustache person. I had a pencil mustache, like John Waters, from back in the 21st century. I shaved it, because I looked like a pedophile, even though I could have kept it while in the FSP."
"I had a pudding ring," says Savillo.
"Ah, the McBeard," I say.
Looking out the porthole, McGursky exclaims "What's that?"
I look, and see a metal ring, miles in diameter, straight ahead of us. In the center is a blue energy field. "I hate blue energy fields. Buckle up, boys!"


I hate the inside of my mouth in the morning. I was always bothered by people who brush their teeth before breakfast--I tried it once, but the toothpaste made my orange juice taste untoward. I fail to comprehend how others can find brushing their teeth right before breakfast to be a pleasurable experience. I can't trust these people.

Instead, I drink very dark coffee to overwhelm the bad morning taste in my mouth--it's so acidic and bitter that it turns my stomach, but feeling queasy in the morning is better than having to taste that bad taste in my mouth.

I smack my lips, I am very thirsty. I try to get up to make coffee, and fall back down. My legs are crushed under a collapsed bulkhead. I groan.


I wake up again; all I can see are bright fluorescent lights. McGursky helps me sit up. I am in the sickbay. McGursky tells me that my legs had to be amputated, but I have been fitted with prosthetic robot legs. They're pretty kickin'.


We don our spacesuits, and step out of the space pod. We have crash landed on a planet covered in thick vegetation. We trudge through the vines and fronds; that is, McGursky and Savillo trudge, I more tromp. I'm surprised at how agile my new robot legs are.

Our sensors indicate that the atmosphere is safe for us to breathe. It's rather hot and muggy. We take off our helmets.

Climbing to the top of a hill, we find a large stone structure--perhaps it is some alien temple? A bit rashly, Savillo runs up to the entrance. McGursky and I try to stop him--he could be rushing into a trap. Instead, as we grab Savillo by his shoulders, we are now close enough to peer inside the building, and, sensing no obvious danger, we continue in.

The great hall feels cozy, it is lit by orange paper lanterns. The room is full of tables and chairs. On top of the tables are napkin dispensers and unfamiliar condiments. The wall opposite the entrance is covered in what look to be hundreds of windows, arranged in a neat grid. Drawing closer, we see that this is an automat. In one window, I see a goatee, in another, a handlebar moustache. I see a pencil mustache. And then, I gasp, as I see a beard that looks identical to the one I had before entering the FSP.

The machines take quarters, but all I have is cash.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Singing Unironically

I used to go to a Hip Contemporary Church. The idea behind this church was that if we sang songs in a style that fit with the music that's played on the radio (real radio stations, not religious ones), and if the pastor used Power Point slides and movie clips to give visuals to his sermons, and if we renamed Sunday School to Kidtricity, and if we had a church logo, and we put the logo on frisbees and polo shirts and coffee mugs, then people who would ordinarily never set foot in a church would come and they'd become Christians.

One time, I was driving my family to church in our big blue twelve passenger van. (Dad called it the "Purple Mountains Majesty.") I had to wait, as we entered the church parking lot, because a passel of people were crossing the street. Mom told me that just a couple of years before, none of these people were Christians, and now they're involved in our church; I suppose this idea works pretty well.

One time, at the Hip Contemporary Church, we sang "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." We started singing it in the style of the old hymn that it is; the keyboard was set to sound like an organ. Then, as the second verse began, there was a sudden style change, and the volume went up, the tempo quickened, and the electric guitar got turned on. There was head-banging and applause. At the time, I thought this was cool.

One time, I went on a retreat with my church, the one I go to now, the Hip Mennonite Church. The Hip Contemporary Church is hip as in congruent with our culture; my Hip Mennonite Church is as hip as a church can be and still be Mennonite, which is to say, not very much. We use transparencies, not Power Point, to show our song lyrics. Some of the women wear head coverings and dresses. Each Sunday I expect my thighs to fall asleep, because the pews are old and wooden and uncomfortable.

The speaker on our retreat was E Daniel, the father-in-law of our pastor, Todd, and the father of Todd's co-pastor and wife, Marita. E Daniel used Power Point, but his slides weren't very well designed; they didn't have pretty backgrounds. E Daniel didn't make pop culture references.
E Daniel is bald and old and portly. Before one evening session, E Daniel played Bang! with Richard and Michael and me and I forget who else.

In the evening session, E Daniel talked about how he was always a very religious person. When he got baptized, everyone else getting baptized with him was crying, because they were contrite for their sins. E Daniel didn't have any big sins to make him feel contrite, so, instead, he discretely pinched himself in the back of his thigh until he cried, too.

E Daniel then called Lee to the front of the room.

Lee is old and portly, but he has hair--it's silver. His granddaughter normally sits in his lap during church and pinches his nose and cheeks, and she smiles. I've never seen Lee in a shirt with fewer than two buttons; he is a polite, mature, generous, devout person, and someone we all look up to.

E Daniel told us that he and Lee grew up together. E Daniel asked Lee to tell his story.

Lee used to be a drag racer.

Lee had a fake-o conversion when he was a teenager; he says, he actually just cared about himself, and behaved himself well enough in church to not get into too much trouble. He wasn't truly a Christian. He got married to Ginny, a good Christian woman; she didn't realize that Lee's Christianity was a mask.

Lee hated revival meetings.

He hated how the preacher would yell at people and intimidate them, he hated the weird pressure, he hated how it was the same story every night, but if you were a church person, you were expected to not miss a revival meeting. Most of all he hated altar calls, which always used Just As I Am as the invitation. Lee hated Just As I Am--it's all sappy and the imagery is wimpy. We all laughed, because we hate Just As I Am, also.

Although Lee didn't like revival meetings, he would go to them anyway, every summer, "to keep up the façade." He was more interested in drag racing, so he would fantasize about that while was imprisoned in a pew. He would arrive late and try to sit in the back.

At some of these meetings, he would feel a compulsion to genuinely repent and become a Christian. He didn't want to walk the aisle, though, that would be cliché; he intended to convert at home. However, after he'd leave the revival meeting, the urge would pass.

For no good reason, in one of these revival meetings, Lee realized that he needed to change. Each time he went to a revival and felt compelled to salvation, God was calling him. He had an impression that this might be the last time God called him, after that, God might just let him stew in his stubbornness; God might let him get away with this stunt.

He wanted to do the altar call, but he was ashamed, so when it was time for the altar call, he asked Ginny to go with him, for moral support. The choir sang Just As I Am.

He said that this experience with God was a breath of fresh air. Before, he had been weighed down by living unforgiven, but after he fessed up, he was floating a foot above the ground.

Lee told us that the next morning, at work, he told his buddies that he wasn't going to tell dirty jokes with them any more. He made it clear that he still wanted to be their friend, but something had changed with him, and he felt like he couldn't tell dirty jokes any more. (I suppose Lee was changed in other ways, too, but this was the most concrete change he cited.)

After Lee finished his story, E Daniel asked us if anyone needed prayer, if any of us wanted to live a changed life. We sang Just As I Am.

One woman asked for us to pray for her for freedom from an addiction. Our pastors, Todd and Marita, were the others to come forward for the altar call; they felt overwhelmed and attacked and depressed, so we prayed for our pastors. I don't think I'd ever seen a pastor ask for help like that, before.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Peculiarities and Irritations

I am irritated when people try to schedule phone calls with me, or tell me "leave your phone open". If I can take the call, I will, if I can't, I won't, and it's as simple as that. I can't stand it when someone calls me five times trying to get through to me, without leaving a voicemail.

I like it when postal workers wear pith helmets while walking their routes because it makes them look like they're on a mail safari.

I do not have the mental capacity to understand why people fill the kitchen sink with dirty dishes to "clean up." The worst case of this that I've seen is a pile of dishes that goes above the faucet. This means that the dirty dishes get wet and fester. To actually clean them, the dishes have to get pulled back out of the sink, so that there's room to use the faucet, and now the counter has fetid dirty dishwater on it.

When I am driving somewhere that I have never been before, and I have a navigator (riding shotgun) reading directions to me, I request that the navigator read two steps ahead, at least, so that I know if I have to watch for any quick turns. Some navigators are obstinate, and only give the next immediate step, and refuse to provide any further information. If I have a navigator like this in the future, I will pull over and have them swap seats with someone in the backseat as punishment.

In the house I grew up in, we had an oak tree that was four hundred years old. There was a deer stand in it, or what had been a deer stand--all that was left was four rotting planks. We couldn't get them down easily, and this bothered me a lot.

Dad wouldn't let us build a tree fort. Instead, Dad made a little fort for me. It was barely a fort, it was three pieces of plywood, maybe a yard wide, total, held together with bungee cord. It wasn't as good as a tree house, but it was okay for watergun fights.

One time, I was at the gym, and someone hopped onto the elliptical machine next to mine, and exercised vigorously; ten minutes later, she got off, wheezing. Now, this person was reasonably fit. What was peculiar was the machine was off the whole time, so it provided no resistance. Is it proper to say, "Excuse me, Miss, but are you aware that you frittered away your last ten minutes on a non-functional piece of equipment?"

I started lifting weights this summer. I still haven't figured out the etiquette for that, either. Everyone's listening to their iPod. Someone will walk up to me as I'm doing lat presses, and ask me a question, but I can't hear them, and so an awkward, "What did you say?" and pointing and gesturing.

Also, we only have one rope thing in the gym. I don't know what its proper name is, but it's the only suitable handle for the ab press. People are always snatching it from the ab press, though, and taking it to another machine to do T-Rexes. Well, Mike, Tim, and I call them "T-Rexes", because when doing them, you only move your forearms. T-Rexes can be done with other handles just as well, so I think that it ought to be considered proper to request the rope thing back from someone doing T-Rexes if I want to work my abs, but I'm afraid to ask.

I was walking across the quad last Thursday, when I saw a man with a perfectly uniform halo of hair and beard, making him look like a lion.

When I go to a pub, it's typically because I want to drink beer and talk with my friends. Why do pubs often have the music so loud that conversation is impossible? Also, why do pubs often have muted TV's without captions?

I don't get toothpicks in sandwiches at restaurants. I know that the theory is that the toothpick holds the sandwich layers together, but I've not seen this play out so well in practice. I've had oodles of problems with sandwiches falling apart as I eat them, but this is after I've taken the toothpick out to avoid splinters in my nose. I've never had a sandwich fall apart from the kitchen to the table as a result of not having a toothpick.

Some churches are not satisfied with merely having a name, they have to have a tagline, too. Two come to mind:
Where the nations gather to worship
The Amazing Grace Church

The Amazing Grace Church tagline bothers me, because I hope that it's not the only Church in which Grace is Amazingly present. My big problem here is the definite article.

Another definite article problem I have is the Old Bay-flavored Utz potato chips, with the tagline, "The Crab Chip." I'm always disappointed, because when I open the bag, I hope for only one crab potato chip that just fits the bag. Also, although crabs are often seasoned with Old Bay here in Maryland, they do not naturally taste anything like Old Bay. They should change the packaging to read, "A Passel of Chips Evoking Memories of Eating Crabs."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Proper Names For Things

I don't like it when people refer to anything that isn't knit as a sweater. I don't think of hoodies, fleece, jackets, or sweatshirts as sweaters.

I also don't like it when people refer to anything other than email as email; for example, Facebook messages aren't email. Email is better than Facebook messages by a whoop and a holler, and the two should not be confused.

Juice comes from plant parts that you'd eat ordinarily. Tea is not juice, no one eats tea leaves. Kool-Aid is not juice, it is sugar water and dye. (It is acceptable to call Kool-Aid bug juice.) While real ades, like lemonade or limeade, contain juice, they are not, themselves, juice, because they are diluted. Soda is certainly not juice.

Action figures are not dolls. They might look like dolls, but action figures blow things up. Dolls are precious. Stuffed animals are not dolls, either, because stuffed animals are snoogly, while dolls are crunchy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

No One Should Own a Quesadilla Maker

  • Three billion people live on $2 a day
  • One billion people live on $1 a day
  • 1.2 billion people are malnourished
  • 29,000 kids die each day from hunger and preventable disease
  • Half of disease worldwide is caused by bad water

When I read facts like this, I get upset and I don't know what to do. I don't know if it's okay for me to buy a CD, even used, or if it's okay for me to eat out, except at Taco Bell. I have trouble beating Taco Bell's price on the 1/2 lb.* Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito.

I would like to think that if I don't buy a CD, and give the money away instead, that would help a few people a whole lot, and that's sort of true, but it's not the whole story. Money isn't the whole reason behind the problems in the world--the real problem is people being greedy and wanting stuff more than they actually love other people.

At the same time, I'm afraid that I'm fooling myself, because I was having a bad day on Wednesday and wanted to listen to Raffi, and I didn't care if there was a connection between buying the CD and people being hungry.

I don't know whether it was okay for me to buy the Raffi CD, but no one should own a quesadilla maker. It's easier to make a good quesadilla with a skillet than with a quesadilla maker. Mexicans and Texicans don't use quesadilla makers to make quesadillas. Quesadillas makers have no use other than making quesadillas. Quesadilla makers exist because people feel obligated to give gifts on certain occasions to people that they don't actually care about. There are human beings who would rather purchase a useless appliance and give it to someone than to ask their friend what they really want.

Also, people probably shouldn't own waffle irons unless they make waffles at least once a month.

*Before cooking

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cheap Cooperation

This weekend, I played Scotland Yard, a cops-and-robber game, in which one player, Mr X, is pursued by the other players, the detectives. This game is awesome, because Mr X wears a visor. The rule suggest playing with at least four people.

The detectives have a perfectly shared objective--if only one of them apprehends Mr X, they all win. It's a pain to get four people together, so games that say that they need that many people ought to have mechanics that make each one important. Scotland Yard works just as well with two people, with one taking the role of several detectives, acting as several players, if you will. (Now, as Mr X, I found it fascinating to hear the conversations of four people plotting against me, but the way the game was played, there was no need for an actual one-to-one correlation between people and detectives--the players agreed on what each detective would do.)

The first time I ever went to the Collins Avenue Thrift Store, I paid $3.46 for the Lord of the Rings board game by Reiner Knizia. In LOTR, the players play as the Hobbits from the books, Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry. Fatty is thrown in, too, for good measure, so up to five can play, working together to throw the ring into Mount Doom. It's fun, but I normally play it solitaire, acting as five players--it works better that way. The only reason I'd want other people involved is for help with strategy. I have five Hobbit playing tokens, but I can manage all of them myself.

In Star Wars Risk, the four players play as two teams of two, and the game is broken otherwise. I prefer to play Star Wars Risk with a single friend, and we each handle a team of two players. Just because the game rules call for four players doesn't mean four people are needed to manage them.

This effect even shows up in some competitive games: I have no idea why people bowl as a social activity. You get the same gameplay if you're bowling alone as if you're bowling with others. Golf is the same way. I think darts is, too. The only reason you do these things with other people is because you like them. Croquet is unusual, in that it's a mellow skill game that actually gets better with more players.

Bang! is one of the rare games in which players cooperate, but in which you need actual people to act as each player. Many compare Bang! to Mafia, as each player is given an objective, but no one knows what roles the other players have taken. In Bang!, the sheriff and his deputies face off against a band of outlaws; a couple of renegades are thrown in for good measure. Cooperation is required, but because one doesn't know who is on one's team, it's not the sort of cheap cooperation seen in Scotland Yard, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars Risk.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Church Tradition Story 3: Imago Dei

One time, Greg and I were hanging out with a group called Imago Dei. We went to a Celtic festival with them, but I'm not sure how that's relevant to the story.

Anyway, Greg and I had just met Imago Dei, but we didn't know what it was, so we asked Gary.
"It's us!"
"I mean, are you affiliated with a church or something?"
"I guess you could say that we are a church, but we prefer to think of ourselves as an intentional community. We aren't just about what happens on Sunday morning, we actually care about each other, and go through life together."

We talked about appropriate grounding for theological orthodoxy, I gave my "The Bible is not the word of God, Jesus is the Word" rant, and Gary nodded vigorously. I'm always a little terrified when my opinions on Christianity are taken seriously, so I asked Gary if Imago Dei is Emerging, and he said no, rather emphatically.

Imago Dei is a pretty neat intentional community. When we stopped at a gas station, a hat was passed around, and everyone shared as much money as they wanted to, which seems like a friendlier system than dividing up the bill exactly equally. When we got pizza, later, the hat got passed again. Pierre had given extra cash for gas, but didn't have any for pizza--no worries! We shared.

So we were sitting around, eating pizza, and Greg and I were asking some more questions about Imago Dei. Greg asked Jay where they meet; "Oh, we meet in homes," Jay said.
"So, you're a house church?" I asked.
"No, no, we're not a house church."
"If you grow big enough, would you get a building?"
"That's where our valuing multiplication comes in. If our group gets to be too big for us to have this sense of intimacy that we have now, we'll split."
"So you'll always be meeting in houses."
"Probably, yes"
"But you're not a house church."
"That's right."

Then, Greg asked, "Is there someone who's in charge?"
"Well, I'm the overseer."
"Oh, so you're the bishop."
"I guess you could say that I'm the episcopos, that's the Greek word for overseer, in the Bible."
"You're the bishop."
"Yes, I'm the episcopos."
"You're the bishop."
"I'm the episcopos."

Also, everyone in Imago Dei mentioned how much healing they experienced by reading John Eldredge's books; some spent a week with Eldredge in the middle of the woods in Colorado. I'm not sure how that's relevant to the story.


Edgy church breaks old rules, insists on new ones

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Church Tradition Story 2: Lightbulb Evangelism

I've heard that the Brethren in Christ commonly have "evangelistic services" at 7 PM each Sunday, which is curious, because the services aren't particularly evangelistic, they're just regular Sunday-night church services. Few remember why these services are called evangelistic. In the 1800's, when electricity and incandescent lights were bleeding-edge technology, many churches in this denomination paid dearly to have electric light bulbs installed in their sanctuaries. Then, they started having extra services after dark, so one could invite one's non-Christian friend, saying, "Why don't you come to church, to see the lightbulb?"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Church Tradition Story 1: Dismissal of the Catechumens

There is a part in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy called the Dismissal of the Catechumens, in which the priest chants, "All ye catechumens, depart! Depart, ye catechumens! All ye that are catechumens, depart! Let no catechumens remain!" and this used to be important, because it would have been terrible for an outsider to see and misunderstand the meaning of the eucharist, when the early church was undergoing persecution. Now, the words remain, but it's understood that no one is expected to actually leave--it's just a tradition. However, some Orthodox churches today have problems with visitors leaving halfway through the service, not knowing that the Dismissal of the Catechumens is vestigial.

As Orthodox churches assimilate into American culture, the services shift from using the congregation's heart language to the English language, with some parts in one language, and some in the other. I've heard of a Romanian Orthodox church in DC that has its services entirely in English, except the Dismissal of the Catechumens is in Romanian, so no one leaves by mistake.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cous cous, Speeding, Grandma, Clara

On Good Friday this year, I was driving down 295 to Capitol Christian Fellowship, with a pot of Moroccan cous cous in my passenger seat. For no good reason, I was going 74 miles an hour in a 55 mile an hour zone.

I got pulled over as soon as I passed a federal cop in an unmarked car. I hadn't been pulled over for anything in five years. After I got my ticket, I kept driving, but I felt terrible. I wanted to go fast, I wasn't trying to get to CCF early or anything, I just wanted to go fast, so I ignored the speed limit.

I got to CCF, where Mennonites from all the churches in the district were convening for a potluck. I mentioned that I had sped to my friend, Galen, because confessing sin is important, but I didn't feel any better.

As I ate supper, I wasn't really paying attention to what the other people at my table were saying. I was thinking about why I felt so bad. All of a sudden, I realized that I don't love Grandma.

I mean, I have nice feelings about Grandma and I'm polite to her when I see her. I don't give up much for Grandma, though. She's pretty lonely in assisted living; a visit would mean much to her. It's not like hanging out with Grandma is a wild and crazy time, but, still, it's easy for me to pop by, and I just don't, and that's how you can tell I don't love Grandma. What sort of person doesn't love his grandma? I could at least give her a call. (I think I will tomorrow.)

This scared me, because not loving Grandma is a lot worse than speeding, but I felt worse about speeding than about not loving Grandma.

I was thinking about why I felt so bad, and I figured it was because I had been confronted by an authority figure, and not because I was actually contrite.

After supper, I went into the sanctuary, and sat, alone, and prayed that God would change my heart, and that I would be more loving, like Jesus. I prayed that I would at least love Grandma more than I did then.

During the service, I was distracted by Clara. Clara is, I don't know, five years old? Clara's family was sitting right in front of me. Clara wouldn't sit still, and kept jumping from her seat with her parents across the aisle to her friend, and then back again. I was irritated with Clara because I felt terrible about speeding and not loving Grandma, and it's Good Friday, which is a good day to feel terrible about how bad we are, and I was trying to focus on God, and Clara wasn't being very reverent at all.

And then, Clara handed a piece of paper to her mom. It was a card that said, "I love you, Jesus. From Clara."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Going out of Business

I was driving around Columbia one day, and saw a sign for a CompUSA going out of business sale. On my way to the CompUSA, I saw another sign for a Hollywood Video going out of business sale. I got great deals at each place, however, the countenance of the workers was unusual, because they were losing jobs they weren't excited about in the first place, but they know that the faster they sold stuff, the sooner they'd stop getting paid.

Something just occurred to me about Curious George. Curious George's friend is The Man with the Yellow Hat, but The Man is wearing yellow pants and a yellow shirt, too.

It turned out that the Hollywood Video was five miles from where I saw the sign indicating the going out of business sale. I stopped in at the library to look it up on Google maps. While there, I got a cup of coffee from the vending machine. I don't like paying for coffee when I'm out, because I can make it for so much cheaper at home, but I always get coffee from a vending machine, even if I don't need the caffeine. I like watching a robot make coffee for me.

At Hollywood Video, as I was browsing the racks, I heard a middle-aged woman gasp with excitement: I looked to see her pick up a copy of "Holiday".

I prepared a pizza bagel at home in the toaster oven, and melted cheese dripped through the annulus of the bagel. There needs to be a word for this annulus cheese.

I hate washing my hands while wearing a jacket, because of what I call the wet-hand-loose-sleeve problem. If I angle my hands down, my sleeves slip down, and get wet from my hands. If I angle my hands up, the water drips down my elbows, inside the jacket. I lament my inability to remember to pull up my sleeves before going to the bathroom.

I don't get the American drive to combine things. At a discount store, I saw an Easter-themed travel checkers set, in which the checkers were pegs shaped like carrots. I also don't get strawberry-kiwi juice or four cheese pizza--one cheese is enough.

Some people are mostly vegetarian, but they eat fish. I want to be the sort of person who's mostly vegetarian, but also eats whales.

Why did I buy Gattaca? It was only $5 in the Wal*Mart Bargain Bin. I haven't watched it, and I've owned the DVD for two years now.

I think there ought to be a dentist clinic funded primarily by the loose change that falls out of people's pockets when tilted back at an odd angle in the dentist's chair.

I think it would be great if there were car racks for bikes, so you can take your car with you on the bike trail.

Slinkies are great for people like me who can't juggle.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


[I wrote most of this on a snow day, a Thursday in February, and on the day after that.]

I clipped my fingernails just now, and so I have trouble picking stuff up.

I was in a bad mood, so I made postmodern food. Here is my recipe:
1 lb. tempeh
2 jars spaghetti sauce, nothing weird, maybe the kind with a little garlic and basil in it
3 Bell peppers, cut into 1/4" strips
1 Onion, diced
Some Blueberries (frozen is fine)
Olive oil, I guess
Blanch the tempeh, then chop it into triangles, and set it aside. Fry the onions in a little olive oil. Throw everything in the pot, including the tempeh. Bring it to a boil. Top with the bell peppers. This is awesome food, because the blueberries suck up the spaghetti sauce and they burst in your mouth with sweetness and acidity at the same time. I didn't have enough spaghetti sauce, so I had to go to the grocery store.

It snowed today, and school was closed. Snow is the one natural thing that grown-ups can't keep from interfering with their work. I like snow, because I pretend it's God's way of telling us we need a day off.

When I was in middle school, my friend, Dave, said that snow is like grace, because it covers everything, and you can see what everything was, but it looks completely different, at the same time.

One time, I was talking with my friend, Harold, about snow, and how it's like grace. I mentioned that my friend, Amber, doesn't like thinking of it that way, because she always thinks of the homeless people who are stuck out in the snow. Harold said that it's probably still okay to think of snow as a reminder of grace. He told me about a friend he has who is homeless. The friend would accept food and money as gifts, but, when it was snowy, Harold offered to let his friend into his house, but the homeless friend declined. Harold's mercy was available to his friend, but the friend didn't accept that mercy, so he was stuck, cold and wet in the snow.

So, I was in a bad mood, and I had left my food in a pot on the stove while I went to get more spaghetti sauce. I also needed gummi worms. I've never seen a sad person eating gummi worms. The gummi worms at Giant were unacceptable, they were chalky and very short, so I went to Wal*Mart instead and got gummi worms there. The gummi worms at Wal*Mart were a lot better, they were clear and stretchy. The only problem was that some of the gummi worms were a combination of red and orange, and those two colors don't go together.

When I grow up, I'm going to sell gummi worms with gummi surgical equipment, a scalpel and a needle and that special thread used in dissolving sutures. You can perform segment transplants, so that the gummi worms are only made of colors that go together. It's also fun to tuck a half a dozen gummi worms into my upper lip and let them dangle and pretend to be a monster.

I saw an armored truck parked right in front of the Walmart, with its warning lights on, in the middle of the crosswalk. Do armored trucks ever get towed illegally?

My favorite cocktail is the rusty nail, which is 9 parts Scotch whisky and 5 parts Drambuie, with ice to taste. I like to wait until the ice melts before eating.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the library atrium, avoiding finding useful articles for my research. It's late on Friday afternoon, the place is almost empty.

I notice that there is a table set up near the guard station, where you are supposed to leave your food, before entering the library proper. On the table sits a twelve-inch sub from Sub Connections. There is no guard.

I am tempted to steal the sandwich, and take it into the library, and devour it directly in the middle of the stacks, to see if I can do it without getting noticed. The only thing stopping me is that the sandwich might have meat on it; I'm a vegetarian.

Defibrilator and Spaz are excellent names for energy drinks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Night Ocean

[I wrote this last summer while on holiday at sea.]
Tonight, I took a walk. As I came to the boardwalk, leading to the ocean, I turned on my flashlight, because I was afraid. I kept walking. Upon passing over the dunes, I fanned the light around, and I saw beach chairs and umbrellas, and a tent, left there overnight. Closer to the ocean, crossing the high tide line, I glanced down, to see flash into the hole...something.

I looked around, and in the ground, I saw a dozen holes, right near me, each an inch wide. Looking down the beach, there were more, some only a few inches, one from another. Then, I nearly stepped on it, a sand crab. I took its picture, and then got down close, but it shot into its hole. I found many others, some would hold still, and I would photograph them, but often, I'd take the picture, look down, and the crab would be gone, but my camera got him. I was stepping carefully, afraid I'd step on one, they were all around.

Looking at the crabs, I imagined them running up to me, all around me, in a swarm, and cutting and poisoning me.

When I had taken about twenty pictures of them, I walked back across the high tide line, away from the ocean. I stood there, in the dry, loose sand, looking at the ocean and the dark, cloudy sky, listening to the waves crash. I had been afraid near the crabs, but when freed from that distraction, I was even more afraid, looking at the ocean and the sky and the dark. I was asphyxiated. I was small.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Gap

God put on skin and lived with us. Ordinarily, this is thought of as a bridge between the mundane and the transcendent.

What is the gap between God and people made out of? The Greeks put deities up on a mountain, or underground, beyond the river Styx. Ancient Mesopotamians built ziggurats so that the gods could come down into their cities and bring them favor; they'd even build shrines at the top of these ziggurats, with a cot and snacks, so that the gods could take a break on their way down.

In the myths, the gods had the personalities of Jerry Springer guests; man made gods in his own image. Gods would go to the bathrooms, take naps, go on holiday at the beach. Wars were caused by divine domestic disputes. In the Akkadian flood myth, Enlil started a deluge, because there were too many noisy people, so he had trouble sleeping.

The gap is simple; the gods are just big people with superpowers.

From Or else, what?

God put on skin and lived with us. God drank wine, he partied, he felt pity. God went to the bathroom, he took naps, and he went on holiday at the beach. He didn't look very big. He used his superpowers not as if they were the thing that separated him from us, but what made it so we could coexist with him. The gap was still there.

What was the gap, then?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is God a Christian Existentialist?

The Kingdom of God is like a merchant, who went browsing at a bazaar, and found a peculiarly underpriced pearl. He eBayed his PSP and his Hummer and he got a second mortgage on his condo, so he could have the cash to quickly and discretely buy this pearl, and then resell it. I forget what he bought with the profit, but that's beside the point.

The Kingdom of God is like a utility worker, installing telephone poles in rural, undeveloped land. Once, his pole digger hit something, and made a strange noise. "Treasure!", this bloke thought, and he discretely filled the pole hole, and went on his way. When five o'clock came, he pawned his NASCAR jacket, hunting gun, and his pick-up, he even sold his dog, to buy the land with the treasure in it. Once he struck it rich...

The way these stories were always explained to me, when I was a small child, gluing down cotton-ball sheep in Sunday School, was that I was like the merchant or the utility worker, and I had to give up my stuff so that I could get the better stuff from God. But, what if God was the merchant or the utility worker? What if God was like the stronger man, who beat up the strong man, and stole souls in the middle of the night? What if it's not me, but God, who's like the shrewd servant, who, when he saw that he was about to lose his job, defrauded his boss to butter up the competition?

What did God give up, so that he could have more? What was the PSP, and what was the pearl? What was the truck, and what was the treasure?

Jesus told me I should die, and then I can live. I ought to give away all my stuff, so that I can have way more stuff. This is what Christian existentialism is made of, losing stuff to gain, sacrificing Isaac to have more children than grains of sand on the beach or stars in the sky, pouring water on my altar so that my offering can burn.

Is God a Christian existentialist?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dirty Jokes, my Parents

Dad came back from Utah, and was telling Mom and me about a sign that he saw in an authentic western steakhouse: "A good cowgirl keeps her calves together and her gate shut."

When I was moving onto campus for the first time, Mom was with me to help out. We had to go to University Health Services because I needed a meningitis shot. Mom saw a bowl of condoms, set out like a bowl of candy. Reaching for them, she suddenly realized her mistake, "I thought they were Jolly Ranchers!" I do suppose you could call them that.

[Note: my parents aren't skanky, nor are they repressed. I just thought these were pretty funny jokes.]

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dinosaurs and Jesus

I can not relate at all to people who see the life of a Christian as a series of steps. I've called myself a Christian for as long as I can remember, and I feel like I'm still on step one. If that. I'm agnostic about two days a week.

When I was four, I loved dinosaurs. I read lots of books about dinosaurs, I had plastic toy dinosaurs, my favorite was the triceratops. I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up.

One of the dinosaur books I had was The Great Dinosaur Mystery and The Bible, a terrible piece of creationist propaganda. One of the things this book suggested was, maybe, dinosaurs are still around, deep in the jungles somewhere. When I read that, I thought, "When I grow up, I'll go look for dinosaurs in the jungle, and I'll prove wrong those evolutionists, and then people will know God is real."

I think I feel sort of the same way about finding Jesus now, but maybe with a little less of a sense of proving people wrong.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Is this your canoe?

All of a sudden, my family decided to go camping in Pennsylvania last October. I drove up Saturday afternoon. On the way, I called Mom's cell phone. Dad picked up. "Dad, I should be at the campsite around five. I'm passing by Giant right now, do you guys need anything?"

"No," Dad said, "Mom's out at the store right now, picking up a new bike lock." My family uses bike locks to secure canoes. "Some friends borrowed our canoe."

Synopsis of Caps for Sale:
The peddler wandered around town, with a stack of caps on his head, calling, "Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!". He could sell no caps, so he hiked away from town a little bit, and sat down by a tree, and took a nap, because he didn't have any lunch. When he woke up, all of his caps were gone! "He looked to the right--no caps. He looked to the left--no caps." Then, he looked up in the tree, and saw monkeys had stolen his caps.

One time, when Mom and Dad were newlyweds living in Alabama, there was a tremendous thunderstorm. Mom and Dad lived in a little house in the middle of the woods. Their home was so small and in such a desolate place that when Uncle Bart visited them that one time, he changed clothes out on the porch for privacy.

So, Dad and Mom were driving home in the storm in their Pinto, the Pinto that Dad later wrecked when he drove it under another guy's car on his birthday. On this backcountry road, they saw a car stopped ahead of them, and, ahead of the car, the road was flooded. The water over the road was indeterminately deep. Now, this car was a bit larger than the Pinto, but, Dad is a nice guy, so he called out to the driver of the other car, "You wait here. We'll go ahead. If this doesn't work, you can go another way"

"And it didn't, and we did, and we didn't, and they did," Mom says.

Water came in through the doors and Mom and Dad had to climb out the windows and push the car the rest of the way out of the flooded road. The carpet got mildew. The Pinto, with its black velour upholstery baked in the summer Alabama sun, smelling terrible for months. Mom still has no idea what Dad was thinking.

At five, when I got to the campsite, Dad told me the story. Mom had driven up to the campsite a day before Dad, and she had brought our canoe. At the park they were staying at, there were two boat ramps, one in the camping area, and one that was more open to the public, and Mom accidentally parked the canoe in the public area. This was bad because when Dad got up to the campsite, late the next day, the public ramp was closed. Mom had locked the canoe to a tree with a bike lock.

So, early the next morning, Dad went to the public boat ramp, to paddle the canoe back to the campground ramp, where it would be closer.

He walked up to the tree where Mom had said she'd tied the canoe, and he saw no canoe. He looked to the right--no canoe. He looked to the left--no canoe. He looked out on the water.

"Is this your canoe?"

There were two guys in our canoe, out on the lake. They had one paddle between them, and the guy in the front was the one with the paddle. (If you don't know about canoes, the one in the back is the one who steers.) "We commandeered your vessel."

What had happened was they had tried launching their boat on the boat ramp, but forgot to have any ropes out, to keep the boat from floating away. The boat floated away. One of the guys ran up and down the shore, looking for a fisherman or something, but to no avail. The other broke the bike lock and "commandeered" the canoe. They were out in the lake paddling after their lost boat.

Dad got them to come back to the boat ramp. He got into the canoe, and paddled the guys out to their boat, and taught them about tying up boats and steering canoes. They gave Dad $10 to reimburse him for the broken bike lock.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where did he get his ideas?

I notice that, when it comes to big ideas, the writers who get read a lot are rarely the first to think of these big ideas. For example, C S Lewis is super popular, he says a lot of good things, but he has very few original ideas. This is a good thing! He effectively expresses a lot of important ideas, bringing together the thought of some of the most important thinkers. Anyone would have floundered if he was relying only on his own thought, even Lewis.

It is funny how often people that I've talked to think that Lewis came up with, say, the Trilemma, when he didn't.

This is unhealthy: it's easy for our culture to lose sight of the notion that thinking is an ancient tradition. If we see Lewis' thought as basically modern, we're actually doing injustice to what he says, because, while he has a modern worldview, he is so deeply influenced by premodern thinkers, who have timeless things to say. This is dangerous! We are so inclined to regard modernity as qualitatively better than the past, and use this as an excuse to dismiss antiquity.

I would like to see someone write a blog that lists the big influences on individual books.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tabletop Roleplaying Games That Do Not Exist

Here is a list of tabletop roleplaying games that I would like to try that do not, as far as I know, exist.

Contemporary Mormon Evangelist
Boys Building a Fort in a Backyard
East India Company
Persecuted Anabaptist
Feuding Stage Magicians
Medieval Peasant
Dr. Seuss' I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew
Office Politics
Amish Paradise
Child soldier in Africa
Bag Lady
Cistercian Monk

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fitness for lazy people

I'm getting more fit. I'm a little chunky and easily winded, and I like eating, so if something works for me, I think it could work for you.

I estimate I used to take in 50 calories more per day than I should have. I only need to eat a little better than I had been to be in equilibrium; for example, giving up juice and soda as everyday things takes care of that, and then some. As long as I basically eat well every day, I don't have to worry. I eat until I'm full. Life is short. If I can't eat German chocolate cake without questioning my worth as a person, what's the point?

One of my favorite authors, Daniel Pinkwater, eats ratatouille at the start of each meal. He gets a low-calorie nutrient hit and can then eat whatever else he wants, without eating too much of it. Now, I eat a whole lot of ratatouille, fresh fruit, and vegetables. I feel full, so this made it easy for me to give up eating frozen pizza every day for lunch.

I hate being sticky, so just digging into an apple or an orange drives me nuts. Also, I mostly eat in the lab, so don't have a knife and cutting board handy when I want to bust out a kiwi. Bananas are the only fruit I will just pick up and eat without thinking about it, because they aren't sticky and don't need to be cut up.

I shop at Trader Joe's every week, because it helps me feel more cheerful about eating healthy food. When I get home, I do all of my food prep for the week, cooking a hot entree, roasting tofu for sandwiches, and chopping fresh raw fruit and vegetables. It's a lot easier for me to be really intentionally healthy once per week, than for me to have to worry about preparing lots of healthy food throughout the week. The big idea here is to make it easier to grab a pile of healthy food than it is to rip open a package of frozen pizza.

My big problem with going to the gym was actually getting there. It used to be that if I didn't pack a proper gym bag with proper gym clothes and a towel and soap, I wouldn't go to the gym. That worked as a proper excuse to not go to the gym, I just needed to not have a gym bag ready. I can't stand my own sweat, so if I couldn't go home to get a shower shortly after exercising, I wouldn't go to the gym. (Showers at the gym are unacceptable. I got a fungus there, and I'm a bit sheepish when naked.)

Now, I go to the gym as improperly as I can. I go in my regular clothes. I watch TV on my iPod while on the elliptical trainer. I have no idea what I'm doing in the weight room. This is great, because as soon as I get bored with my work at the end of the day, I can wind up at the gym before my better inhibitions can stop me, and, while I'm there, I can be a stupid putz and still be doing more good than harm. Then, I go home and take a shower.

I think the only other thing is motivation. I'm terrible at thinking in the long term. Goals like losing weight and having six pack abs are ineffective for me. Instead of focusing on losing weight, I think about how good I feel when I have had plenty of vegetables and fruit: I feel more alive! I don't mind going to the gym, because I could either watch TV on the couch, or on the elliptical trainer. I like lifting weights and stretching, it's very meditative. I burn off a lot of stress. I feel happier.

Handy, stupid recipes:
Butternut squash:
Get a container of chopped butternut squash from Trader Joes, divide it into smaller portions, season to taste (I just use black pepper, but sage and thyme might work for you), and squirt some olive oil on there, too. When you want to eat some, nuke it for 3 minutes.

Roasted Tofu:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice a block of tofu into about 8-12 slices. Pat them dry, well, with towels, you'll go through about 2-4 towels in this process. Then, coat the tofu on both sides with some soy sauce and sesame oil, and put it in a casserole dish, laid out flat. Cook it for ten minutes, flip the tofu, and then cook it for another ten minutes. I like to use this instead of lunchmeat. I don't know if it's much healthier, I just don't eat meat.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rainn Wilson/Garrison Keillor/John Locke

Is it just me, or do Rainn Wilson and Garrison Keillor kind of look similar?

Also, I have a theory. Here is my theory. My theory is that Dwight Schrute thinks that he is John Locke.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Evolution for Creationists

Darwin's finches don't ruffle creationist's feathers. They really ought not. What Darwin saw was what creationists call microevolution, adaptation due to genetic drift and natural selection. I've never met a creationist who denies this. I've never even met a creationist that doesn't know that mutation occurs, but they do say that beneficial mutations do not occur enough for macroevolution--what they call the formation of new species.

Modern biology doesn't even make the distinction between macro- and microevolution, which is appropriate, in terms of developing the science. However, this is harmful in talking with creationists, because most of the cases of evolution cited by evolutionists creationists explain in terms of microevolution. 

One time, when Matthew and I were young earth creationists, we showed up late at a talk and discussion on evolution on campus. I asked the speaker for an example of evolution; her work is in physical anthropology, so she talked about the proliferation of genes tied to schizophrenia. Never mind that schizophrenia is a bad thing, unlikely to sell evolution; when we asked her if we could tell at one point the genes for schizophrenia were not there, and then they were, we got an answer about how the genes spread, when we were really interested in knowing if new genetic information had been introduced. This just made us more convinced creationists, because she didn't even realize what we disagreed with her on. Ironically enough, Matthew and I saw this as a cop-out fueled by cognitive dissonance. Then, we talked until late at night about complementarianism, but that's another story.

A recent article in New Scientist helps refute creationism by addressing its actual claim: that helpful mutations do not occur enough to form new species. The article talks not about a whole new species, but it does talk about how, in the lab, a biologist, Richard Lenski observed a beneficial new gene occur by mutation in e. coli, where it hadn't been before--macroevolution. The ones after a certain point had a mutation that allowed them to metabolize citrate, while the ones before this point didn't have that gene. Bob Holmes, the author of the article, did an amazing job of explaining exactly what happened, so that the creationist dismissal of macroevolution does not hold.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kiva Group Loans

My favorite way to help people on the other side of the world is Kiva. Kiva gives out microloans to entrepreneurs. These microloans help people in the developing world get past bottlenecks in development. For example, I headed back to Kiva today because one of my previous loans, to Dr. Sykes Alma Ally, was repaid. Dr. Ally runs a pharmacy, and took out a microloan to increase her inventory. By having a wider inventory, she was able to rapidly grow her business. Inside of a year, she paid back me and the others who loaned to her.

One of Kiva's neat innovations is group loans. The idea is that a handful of close friends, who are all entrepreneurs, take out a loan together, all agreeing to take responsibility if one defaults.

I like Kiva because it is dignifying. It is not a charity; at the end of the loan term, I get my money back. By humanizing hardworking people, Kiva keeps me from feeling like a hero so much as a friend. In addition, group loans promote partnership and trust among people in the developing world. These relationships, moreso than raw resources, are what will bring the stability needed to restore poor communities.

Yesterday, I saw an article by Halden at InhabitioDei, "Incarnational Ministry?"; he says,
I have a few problems with such notions. Primarily, talking about ministry as incarnational presupposes that I, the minister, am the one doing the incarnating. In other words, I am the one in a position of power condescending to the realities of the mass of persons to whom I seek to minister. In short, I get to be Jesus and they get to be the needy saps in need of salvation which I am only too happy to provide, being a beneficent minister as I am.
I suppose that in proper incarnational ministry, rather than the minister acting as a proxy for Jesus, the minister would be a friend to the needy, and, rather than being so much a minister, he would be another person in need of grace. Rather than becoming incarnate quite like Jesus became incarnate, he would join with the weak by becoming weak, anticipating the Holy Spirit to give them strength and provision. I like Kiva because it, in some way, diminishes heroism and generates partnership.

I still feel very inconsistent and artificial; I'm not genuinely a partner with the poor, if I'm living comfortably with the luxuries I have. I helped Dr. Ally a little by sharing a couple of bucks I wouldn't have made better use of otherwise but she's the one actually living with and helping, directly, the people in her community.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

600 Books

I am turning 23 next Saturday. I did the math, and realized that, if I read one good book per month, and live to be 73, I only have time to read 600 good books before I die, hopefully of liver cancer.

I'll probably read other books than the big 600. If I wanted to, I could read a book a week, on average. The book a month estimate is for good books. I've read a lot of books in my life, but I think I've only read about six good books in my life:

The Prince

The Art of War

Mere Christianity

The Everlasting Man

Fear and Trembling

The Sickness unto Death

I'm realizing there's a huge difference between plain old books and good books, the sort of books by dead people that are read more than a hundred years later. The Radical Reformission, or Blue Like Jazz, are a couple of books that I really like and have found to be quite helpful, but I don't think they'll be read in a hundred years. They aren't built to last. People are going to read The Republic or Critique of Pure Reason, until the end of the world, and maybe even after that, because they say something no one had said before in a timeless way. 

I want to read good books, because most of the things I say, have been said before me, more eloquently.

What are your suggestions for really good books, the ones that are going to be read a hundred years from now, that say new things that haven't been said before? (I've mostly mentioned non-fiction here, but fiction that's about something big is super, too.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Different kinds of sticky

I hate being sticky. I despise it. It drives me crazy. When I get my hands sticky, I have to wash them, a napkin is no good (a wet wipe will do, though). 

When I was in first grade, my first grade class went on a field trip to the Baltimore Zoo; we were there all morning. Leaving the zoo, we ate lunches our mothers packed for us in brown bags. Well, I packed my own lunch. Mom always made me pack my own lunch. That day, I had peanut butter and jelly, and a bit of jelly got on my hand, and although I could get the jelly off, I couldn't get the sticky off. I couldn't wash my hands, because we'd already left the zoo, we were picnicking in a little park outside the zoo. I was afraid I would have to ride all the way back to school with a sticky hand, so I stuck my hand to the bus seat. It was late spring, and a rather warm day, so my hand sweated the sticky off. Sweat is better than sticky, but only a little.

When I eat pancakes, I use syrup sparingly, and, lifting each bite off my plate with my fork, I let all excess syrup drip off. Syrup likes to form long, stringy bits, and those get stuck on my chin; that was pretty bad when I was a child, but is now even worse, because I like my beard to remain soft and fluffy, and not sticky.

Today, I got bananas. I like bananas when they're a little green, because bananas that are too ripe are too sweet for me. The banana I ate today, though, was a little too green. The peel didn't peel evenly, it was tough and broke in places, and where it broke, it released banana sticky, which isn't a dirty sticky or a horrible sticky, but an irritant nonetheless.

There are other kinds of sticky, too, like milk sticky, which is gross, or the sticky left after taping something with duct tape, and removing the tape. There is pine sap sticky, which I normally need to wash my hands a few times for to get rid of.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Trader Joe's has for sale oblong cookies labelled as "dunkers". I immediately procured for myself a package, thinking, "I will dunk these cookies!"

I love to dunk cookies, it's a relaxing bedtime ritual. I have long had problems with circular cookies, though, when it comes to dunking. Cookies that are too large can't fit into the mouth of the glass, and have to be broken in half, which I find rather unpleasant. Cookies that are too small are trouble, too, because I either can only get half of the cookie dunked or I get my fingers sticky with milk, which is gross. I had basically given up on dunking cookies.

I find Trader Joe's dunkers to be vexing. I have no idea if I'm dunking the cookies because I saw that their shape is suitable, or because the packaging label instructs me to dunk them? Did Trader Joe's design them to be dunkable, or did someone in marketing see oblong cookies, and simply label them, "dunkers"? Am I eating them because they're legitimately good cookies, or because I feel like Trader Joe's cares about me and my cookie consumption style, and so has made "dunkers" for me?

The cookies themselves are oblong chocolate chip cookies, with a good, solid layer of chocolate on one side; something like a larger, open-faced, chocolate-chip Milano. The cookie itself isn't very sweet, it's more of a cracker than a cookie, but, when combined with that chocolate layer, it's satisfying, but still less sweet than, say, a Chips Ahoy. I have no idea if I like the cookies, because Trader Joe's recognizes my refined taste and so does not simply dump extra sugar into their cookies, or if I'd prefer a sweeter cookie. Do I prefer these cookies because they are dunkable and have a refined flavor, or because they're from Trader Joe's, and I'm a sucker for anything from Trader Joe's?

Their Indian food is really good.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Several bread-related objects sorted from smallest to largest

Slice of bread
Loaf of bread
6' long sub
Grain silo
Wheat field

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Midnight Snack

Last night, I dreamed that I found a piece of paper. It was somewhat glossy on one side, and less so on the other, and it had loose folds in it. I started to eat it, and, while having a texture a little lighter than that of paper (it wasn't hard to chew), it also had a sweet and earthy taste, like mashed potatoes with a touch of powdered sugar.

The man next to me noticed what I was doing. It turned out we were at a book signing, and I was eating the dust jacket for the book that this fellow wanted to have signed by some great author. He was quite mad. I apologized profusely for taking bites out of his dust jacket and reassured him that it wasn't that bad, I'd only taken a couple of bites, the dust jacket was mostly there.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Did you know that hummus can go bad?

My hummus went bad. It was acidic and fizzed when it touched my tongue.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Unacceptable Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Flavors

"You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful." said President Ronald Reagan about jelly beans. Well, President Reagan Who Is Unfortunately Now Dead, what would you think of my character if I told you this?

There are three flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans that I find plainly unacceptable. Most of them, assuredly, are delicious, such as Toasted Marshmallow, Coconut, and Lemon Lime. Gourmet jelly beans they are, indeed. However, only grandpas like Licorice, so there is no reason for that flavor to exist. Also, the Chocolate Pudding Jelly Belly jelly beans taste really artificial, like the chocolate-flavored fluoride treatments the dentist gave me when I was a child.

The worst flavor, though, is Buttered Popcorn. It is not that the flavor is anything but delicious, it is not that the flavor is artificial. No, the flavor is too real, so whenever I eat Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly jelly beans, I am always probing my gums with my tongue, to find bits of kernel that might have gotten stuck. There are no kernels to be found. My tongue says that Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly jelly beans taste like Futility.

What do you say to that, Mr. President?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Shady Side of Wisdom

In a previous post, I mentioned the article The Shady Side of Wisdom by George Mendenhall. In this article, Mendenhall uses linguistic evidence to demonstrate a late date of authorship for the first few chapters of Genesis, and exegetes the text in that cultural context. The major conclusion of this paper, that I was referring to, is not just that Genesis 1-3 can be read figuratively, but that reading them literally does injustice to the text, because a literal reading was not intended. If you want a copy of the article, let me know.

Abba Abraham and the man who had no passions

It was said of an old man that for fifty years he had neither eaten bread nor drunk wine readily. He even said, "I have destroyed fornication, avarice and vain-glory in myself." Learning that he had said this, Abba Abraham came and said to him, "Did you really say that?" He answered "Yes." Then Abba Abraham said to him, "If you were to find a woman lying on your mat when you entered your cell would you think that it is not a woman?" "No," he replied, "But I should struggle against my thoughts so as not to touch her." Then Abba Abraham said, "Then you have not destroyed the passion, but it still lives in you although it is controlled. Again, if you are walking along and you see some gold amongst the stones and shells, can your spirit regard them all as of equal value?" "No," he replied, "But I would struggle against my thoughts, so as not to take the gold." The old man said to him, "See, avarice still lives in you, though it is controlled." Abba Abraham continued, "Suppose you learn that of two brothers, one loves you while the other hates you, and speaks evil of you; if they come to see you, will you receive them both with the same love?" "No," he replied, "But I should struggle against my thoughts so as to be as kind towards the one who hates me as towards the one that loves me." Abba Abraham said to him, "So then, the passions continue to live; it is simply that they are controlled by the saints."

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward.