Monday, December 26, 2005

A Day in the Life of Matthew and Ashley


"Hello, my name is Matthew. And today's name is Christmas.

"This world consists of nothing, or at least nothing significant, but trains. That why I hope that Daddy (over here, look this way!) gets me some new train equipment for Christmas.

"Oh, I think this might be my lucky day!

"Ashley, look! Aren't you jealous?!"

"Me?! Jealous? Poo. I have more important tasks to deal with than the trivialities of trains.

"Why, I'm so busy that I have to eat and dial important numbers all at the same time."

"Oh, yeah? Well, who's the one with servants to shuttle him around?...

"...or buy him tasty boba?...

"...but still, how DO you in fact work this thing...?" Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Asia Restaurant

"In San Francisco, the 13th Annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy Show at the New Asia Restaurant ran Thursday through Sunday, with two shows a night. The dinner show featured a seven-course Chinese dinner and a 90-minute comedy show.

"And you don't have to be Jewish to come. Not all the jokes are based on the Jewish faith," said Pam Lawrence, who helped organize the event. "Last night, we had a whole contingent from Australia, and only some of them were Jewish." ("Chinese food popular for holiday diners," CNN.com)

New Asia! That's where my parents had their wedding banquet, in downtown SF. Apparently Chinese restaurants are popular on Christmas, especially for Jews, since most other restaurants aren't open. This year, Christmas happens to fall on the start of Hanukkah, too, making celebratory Chinese restaurants particularly attractive.

Referring to guests at the Kung Pao Kosher event: "And only some of them were Jewish." I'm not quite surprised, based on her earlier disclaimer: "Not all the jokes are based on the Jewish faith."

The article also mentioned Shalom Beijing, "a restaurant offering kosher Chinese food in Brookline, a town bordering Boston that has a large Jewish population." My brother lives in Jamaica Plains, bordering Brookline, and passes by that restaurant all the time!

Team Young!: Christmas 2005 Has Finally Arrived!

Team Young!: Christmas 2005 Has Finally Arrived!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmastime!


As Ashley points the way, Matthew takes the most strategic route to the presents. Posted by Picasa



It's Christmastime, and Matthew and Ashley are sliding into town!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hard Drive Upgrade

For awhile I've been looking for a way to big backup. So when I happened upon a BestBuy deal for a Seagate 200GB hard drive that normally sold for $160 but dove to $50 after sale and rebates, I couldn't resist.

The hard drive expanded my computing options like never before. For years I worked to cram multiple operating systems into my family's 14GB desktop hard drive. I thought I had realized my Linux ambitions when I got a laptop with a 20GB drive, only to find that 10GB was enough for neither the Windows partition nor the Linux one. When it comes to computers, the old adage holds true: size matters. In some cases, it's smallness that counts most...I've never regretted my laptop. But in other cases, big means business. A 200GB hard drive is nothing to complain about. The drive alone is bigger than all the previous drives I've ever owned--combined!

Now for once I could store multiple operating systems on the same computer while leaving generous space for massive storage. Windows and Linux could happily coexist as brother and sister (don't ask me which is which) in a monster home. And in my own home, the revitalized computer could serve as a server, a wharehouse for backup and storage accessible from within and without.

Two hurdles peppered my path. 1) How would I take a dinosaur desktop to server status with both Windows and Linux? 2) When installing Linux, how could I take a minimal installation to a full-grown graphical system?

Sound easy? It should be, or so I thought. Along the way I found on the web a plethora of questions, a dearth of detailed responses, and plenty of frustration on both sides. Perhaps here can be a contribution, however minimal, to what seems to be fairly commonplace but ill-described computing situations.

2 drives, 2 operating systems, 1 China

If there's one thing I appreciate about the Chinese political system, it's their decision to use Linux as their flagship operating system. But enough political ramblings. Onto Linux itself:

The situation: A dinosaur desktop purchased in 1999 and consisting of a Pentium III, 450MHz processor, 14.4GB hard drive, ATI Rage 128 32MB video card, 256MB RAM. A 200GB hard drive hungry for a home.

Objective: To keep the Windows 2000 installation on the 14.4GB HD, while installing Fedora Core 4 Linux on the 200GB HD. The original HD remains as "master," while the new one becomes "slave."

Problem: For some reason, after Linux installed without a hitch on the appropriate HD, I couldn't find Linux. The computer booted straightway into Windows.

Most Linux documentation recommends buying a new hard drive for Linux installation rather than dealing with the hassle of repartitioning a hard drive to make room for Linux. Here was my opportunity. Finally I could take advantage of the highest calling from Linux gurus. Yet when I looked for solutions to what seemed to me a common problem among such dual-drive, dual-OS booters, I found few answers.

The solution ended up being simpler than expected. Hopefully Google will pick up this blog to save many naive young fellows like myself from needless heartache. (But on the flip side, if Google were to pick up such a solution, then maybe people would need fewer Google pages to discover their answer, and that might translate into fewer Google AdSense pages and lesser Google revenue. Alas, we have a conundrum. But nevertheless I write on.)

During installation, one key is to install the boot loader into a special boot partiation on the 2nd HD, the one housing Linux. According to the Fedora installation documentation, Win95/98 allow the boot loader to be installed in the boot manager sector on the 1st HD, while dual-booting with Win2k would somehow override this boot manager. Choose "Advanced boot loader options" during installation to ensure the appropriate boot manager placement.

Now it makes sense why the boot manager never shows up: it's not on the 1st HD, the bootable one, in the first place. Deeply embedded within a reply to a similar question quarried by Google Groups search, I found how to get the boot loader into the 1st drive. You need to use the Linux CD to boot into rescue mode. Pop in the CD, boot up the computer, and this time at the prompt type: linux rescue.

Linux rescue-mode eventually takes you to a normal command-prompt. Following the on-screen instructions, type, chroot /mnt/sysimage to make changes to the installed Linux.

Now install GRUB, the boot manager, into the 1st HD: grub-install /dev/hda. (If grub-install can't be found, type whereis grub-install to find its explicit location. /dev/hda refers to the first hard drive, which may have a different name depending on your configuration. For more detailed information, see another discussion tracked on Google Groups.)

That's it! Or at least the basics to getting it running. More detailed info is *always* available on the web, and I invite you to scour as many newsgroups as you can.

From Min to Max: Creating a minimal Linux installation and adding graphics

One of my chief joys of Linux is the ease of incremental upgrades. Especially with the advent of Yum, upgrading from, say, ver 2.0.3-3 to ver 2.0.3-4 is only a command away. Not only does this make it easier to upgrade software and the operating system itself after an installation, but it also allows one to install just the bare basics, and then add and update the system with all the latest software straight from the web. Another real plus is that you'll often only need the first disk of the Linux distribution for the entire installation.

The difficulty for me has been bypassing the automated installation of the X Windows system (Xorg), the main graphical powerhouse for Linux. When Fedora does all the work during a normal desktop installation, everything works dandily. But when I try to do it myself, I often can't even get X to run, let alone run with the correct resolutions. The problem stems from the fact that the number of video cards and monitors and combinations of the two exceed one simple install method. But perhaps this solution might help at least get you started.

Before anything else, add xorg after your minimal installation. A simple way is to type yum install kdebase as root to install the latest KDE desktop manager as well as the xorg window manager. Next try typing startx at the commnand-line. If it runs, done deal. If you get a bunch of errors, read on.

The next step is to create a new xorg.conf file. As root, type, Xorg -configure. Out will spit some instructions about testing a new configuration file. Try that out. If that doesn't work, start some editing.

The problem in my newly generated conf file was that the modes and depths didn't match up. In the section entitled "Screen", go to the first section and try a depth of 16. Add a line reading, Mode "800x600". For me at least, that worked, though it wasn't pretty. Other depths (eg 4, 8, 16, 24, 32) may also work, as well as other resolutions ("640x400", "800x600", "1024x768", "1280x1024").

Once you find something that works for you, or perhaps if you don't find any at all, you can try scouring the web with keywords such as, "xorg.conf [name of your monitor]". In my case, searching for the Dell 2005FP provided me with similar instructions from the Red Hat Fedora archives and a nifty blog entry on the lines to add in the "Modes" and "Monitor" sections.

Some other tips to get you started:
  • If using a USB mouse, you may need to change the "Mouse" section from /dev/mouse to /dev/input/mice.

  • Adding the line Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5" to add scroll support to your wheel mouse.

  • If Fedora asks for more than the 1st disk during installation, but you only have the 1st, make sure to choose a "Custom" installation and "Minimal" package options. If you've picked some packages and then choose Minimal afterward, it may still ask for more CDs and attempt to install more than the minimum. Try redoing the installation from scratch.

  • XFCE makes for a decent minimal graphical desktop manager. But how does one install it now that it's not a part of the standard Fedora installation? It's still there, but under "Fedora Extras", and the way to install it is through the command, yum groupinstall XFCE. There's no single "xfce" package, but there is a group called "XFCE" to install (FedoraNEWS.org HOWTO).

And now you're up and running! All with just one install disk and a handy broadband connection.

Linux blog entries aren't entirely fun to read, unless you've been hunting for hours, wading through endless frustration and reading from nothing else but a long trail of other frustrated souls. If this hasn't been helpful, please comment below. Or if it has been helpful, feel free to let me know as well. Or if this has been totally irrelevant, feel free to post a comment on something as completely irrelevant as well!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Integrity

At City Church our pastor has been marching through the fruit of the Spirit, and a couple weeks ago we crossed paths with goodness and faithfulness. After the sermon I couldn't help but email a summary of it, so pertinent and cutting to my heart it was. Below I've reproduced the relevant parts, along with a little more explanation at the end:

It was on the goodness and faithfulness fruit, and Pastor Fred spoke from Ps 15 and 1 Jn 1:5-2:2. Basically the idea was that good/faithfulness speak of our character, our integrity. And our integrity is inextricably bound in our view of the integrity God. Some quotables:

"The trouble with the human heart is not that it's dishonest, but that it believes that God is a liar" (1:10 - "if we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar...").

"The 1st temptation was not for the quality of the fruit, but that God is a liar. The moment that the veracity of God comes into question, hiding comes into play" (referring to the Garden, where the crux of Satan's temptation called God into question and bred humans' distrust in God that led us to hide from him).

"Some people say they're overwhelmed with worry, but they're not really--they're overwhelmed with the lie that God isn't in control" (but if in our hearts we believe in God's sovereignty and integrity, we too will find peace and be freed to be people of integrity.)


To be genuine is easy; to be genuinely good is not. It's not always hard for me to be real with people, but sometimes that reality isn't so pretty to look at. To be a person of integrity means somehow to be genuine, and genuinely good and faithful at the core. It means that both others and myself can look at me at all levels and find no deceit, but soundness of character through and through, one who truly loves God and man. But as hard as I try, for some reason I find this goal seemingly impossible, as if God tantalizes me in another garden with yet another fruit, this time a good one that he commands me to eat, yet one sufficiently out of my grasp as to frustrate me to no end. What shall I do?

Perhaps the heart of the problem lies not in my heart, but in my heart's view of God. At the core of my thought is the lie that somehow God is a liar. In my heart I tell myself that surely I cannot become a man of goodness and faithfulness, true in character and a man of integrity, because I think that when God says that he can bear that fruit in me, somehow he is a liar and will do no such thing. I claim not to sin—I claim to trust in God—yet inside I doubt him and thus make him out to be a liar, as if all his promises to be faithful to me were but deceit and falsehood. I forget—I ignore—that God makes me a promise not to let me lie spiritually stagnant, but continually to complete his good work in me so that I would bear his fruit, bit by bit, more and more, from now til the end. He demands my integrity because he is the Lord of integrity, faithful to his word and true to his promises to me and all his children.

Sometimes I feel as if I've hit a plateau or down-current in my spiritual life, as if I cannot push forward. I try all the things I used to do to reignite and grow me, yet for some reason they don't seem to work anymore, as if they were drugs that sat on the shelf too long and have lost their efficacy. Perhaps now God is showing me that at the core my fault lies in my incomplete belief in him. It's not that I don't believe in him, but that I fail to believe him fully, and he sees that as calling him a liar. In the end I hurt myself more than I hurt him, for by calling him a liar I tacitly forfeit the power he offers me. He claims not merely to be true, but "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), to be truth itself. Perhaps he has led me to this point in my spiritual life precisely to point out a flaw I've buried and hid all along: I need now more than ever to see and cherish more his character, his integrity, that he is true to his people and true even to me, to enlarge my heart and hone my character day by day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Quotable Book Review (Book Review by the Book): On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius

The initial appeal I had to read On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius, was the fact that another favorite author, CS Lewis, wrote an introduction to it. To kick off our "Quotable Book Review," a book review that intends to work "by the book," summarizing and commenting on books by quoting the quotables in them, I start with a lengthy excerpt of this phenomenal introduction:

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook--even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united--united with each other and against earlier and alter ages--by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century--the blindness about which posterity will ask, 'But how /could/ they have thought about that?'--lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative [hey, he's using doctor terminology!] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the /same/mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable [whew, anatomy!], will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them." (pp. 4-5)


I make no claim to have kept to Lewis' recommendation to alternate modern books with ancient. But sometimes I wish I had, especially after reading a book such as this one by Athanasius. I have not even completed the book, but I offer some quotes and thoughts as to why I haven't yet put it down.

What attracts me to the book is that it makes few assumptions. It addresses with freshness and frankness questions whose answers have today become unquestionable. And to answer these questions, it takes Scripture in all its earthiness and apparent simplicity and plants it firmly in front of us, so that we cannot help but confront its many implications on the very complexity of our lives. Allow me to illustrate:

"So much for the objections of those outside the Church. But if any honest Christian wants to know why he suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He 'become a curse' otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? ... How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself.' Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavours with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it. The apostle refers to this when he says, 'According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.' But the Lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air.... This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross?" (pp. 54-5)


The questions that Athanasius address are why the Christ must die, and particularly why he must die by crucifixion? Today we might respond immediately, "Why, he must die to take away the sins of the world," which merely begs the question, "How in the world does the death of one man take away the sins of the world?" We might again respond, "Because he bears our sins in his own body," which begs yet another question, "What makes his death so special that he gets to bear other people's sins?" Athanasius makes no assumptions about why Jesus' death works, but carefully shows us why Jesus must die and exactly how his death carries away our sin. Jesus must die because he must become accursed, and the death he chooses is one of a sinner, of one accursed. God chooses crucifixion as the method of death because it allows Jesus to reach with his arms outstretched to the world, to extend his death as efficacious for all and to draw all into unity through himself. Crucifixion also allows Jesus to rise up into the air, the sphere and bastion of the devil, and conquer it once and for all.

St. Athanasius makes few assumptions. He gets to the heart of the matter; he speaks frankly. I personally have no desire to offend if it can be helped, but sometimes I admire those with the boldness to speak their minds frankly, without looking back. I admire Athanasius:

"In a word, then, those who disbelieve in the resurrection have no support in facts, if their gods and evil spirits do not drive away the supposedly dead Christ. Rather, it is He Who convicts them of being dead. We are agreed that a dead person can do nothing: yet the Savior works mightily every day, drawing men to religion, persuading them to virtue, teaching them about immortality, quickening their thirst for heavenly things, revealing the knowledge of the Father, inspiring strength in face of death, manifesting Himself to each, and displacing the irreligion of idols; while the gods and evil spirits of the unbelievers can do none of these things, but rather become dead at Christ's presence, all their ostentation barren and void." (pp. 61-2)


Is he arrogant? Is he presumptuous? Perhaps we should not speak as such these days, but the heart of his message still rings true, and perhaps by reading his ancient work, that which is dead in us can awaken to his cry for new life through the death and resurrection of our Christ.

All quotations from the work, On the Incarnation, humbly "translated and edited by A Religious of C. S. M. V." St Vladimir's Seinary Press, New York, 1944.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Blog Name

The title "Blah Blah Blog" has unfortunately become all too blah-blah throughout the blogging world. A quick Google scan shows that many people as uncreative as myself have alighted upon this enjoyable but, alas, trite name. It's time for me to leave them some space and choose a new name, one more descriptive of my style.

What is my style? A friend described me as putting a lot of thought into my articles. And I most certainly do. I have fun selecting a topic and trying to flesh it out in great detail, even if just to experiment with a point of view or put into words and organize my otherwise chaotic thoughts. I write infrequently--but I write at length. In other words, what I write tends to resemble the goals of an essay.

"An essay?" you ask. "But surely essays are more formal, more final?" My hope is that the essays I write would not be formal or final, but fun. They're an endeavor to make sense of life and by no means a closed conclusion. "Essay" by the second or third definition refers to an initial attempt or a test. The essays I write are essays to be assayed. They are both attempts to understand life and subject to its rigor; they are both a test and meant to be tested. I hope you would feel free to ponder and assay my essays, so that together each of our thoughts would gradually become a little more conclusive and a little more right in assaying the lively mysteries that God has in store for us.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Torn Loyalties: Giants vs. Cards?

Today Armando and his wife Rizpah treated me to an SF vs. STL baseball game as a belated birthday gift (or premature, depending on how you look at it). I ran late after a short but sweet lunch with friends, and lack of cell phone communication meant we arrived promptly at the stadium during the 4th inning.

That ended up being a blessing from the blue, for we missed the entire scoreless start of the game...and made it just in time for the only two runs scored all day, both by hometown SF Giants. The Cardinals only made a single hit since the time we arrived, while the Giants racked up some five crowd-pleasers for us. The crowd and my buddies left happy, and me, bittersweet.

The story of my team loyalty extends back into the dark days of early development and laid the groundwork for torn heart and bittersweet game. While in elementary school, my oldest brother took a fancy for baseball cards, and, following suit with the rest of the restless nation, my older brother and I followed suit. We were from SF. We were Giants fans. Every Giants card we got, we kept in our special album of clear "sheets" to display our prized possessions. My Giants collection grew, sometimes in multiples for some players.

My oldest brother, for reasons as yet unknown, broke from tradition and latched onto the Oakland A's. The A's?! Traitor! How could he cut across the Bay to the local rivals? What cut closest to home was when the "Battle of the Bay" broke out, the World Series between the Giants and the A's. When the A's conquered the Giants in the 4th game, only Arthur cheered among our entire family.

My loyalties stayed true to the Giants. And they would have stayed that way, had I never developed a newer loyalty within that team. When we collected cards, we didn't always know who was a good player. Sure, we could have looked up the "Becket," the definitive price-guide for baseball cards, but we were lazy. Instead, we instituted the definitive Arthurian guide for high-yield baseball-card financial assessment, which meant that any rookie card (unknown player, but a potential), player batting over .300 (anything above .275 is pretty decent, so over .300 is excellent), or known star (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Will Clark...of course they're keepers) fell out of the pile and into our clear plastic sheets of collectibles.

This algorithm soon proved untrustworthy, full of false negatives and positives, but we discovered it too late. Or just in time, however you look at it. For by the time we revised our scheme, I had developed a large collection of worthless cards that I considered worthy, including the lowly Mike Aldrete of the SF Giants.

Everyone had a favorite player. Most in my 2nd grade class chose Will Clark, star 1st baseman of the Giants. A few renegades crossed the bay to choose McGwire or Rickey Henderson. One off-the-wall sort chose Candy Maldonaldo from the Giants. I never understood why. And no one ever did or probably will understand why I chose my favorite player.

But nevertheless, allow me to explain. The story is fantastic, so gather up your smores and make a toast. I hunted through my sheets and sought after a Giant, unknown but underestimated, a real potential in a field of Giants. And of course I had to have a lot of cards of him. In fact, if I recall correctly, that would be enough--whichever player of which I had the most cards would be my favorite player. My loyalties aligned with Mike Aldrete.

"Mike Aldrete?" my youth pastor asked my brother after handing him a card, a gift to me. "Why does he like Mike Aldrete?" Andrew couldn't really give an answer. My answer was that I happened to have six of his cards--a quantity stemming from his rookie-ness, in turn a product of an obsolete, flawed system--the most of any single Giant in my collection. Plus, I had bought--I had invested--in one of his rookie cards from a different card maker. We won't mention that I had invested solely because his card was one of the cheapest the store offered.

Mike Aldrete became my favorite, and he would stay that way. Even when he grew old and was traded off to the Montreal Expos, when I became an Expos fan. I sent him an 8.5" x 11" photo of himself to autograph for me. By the time he returned it, several years later, he was on the Cleveland Indians, and I was an Indians fan. I had actually lost track of him for up to a year, only discovering him one day on an Indians game stats listing.

I had my first glimpse into the eyes of a parent when Mike Aldrete returned to the Bay Area, this time as an A's player. It was as if he were a son traveled to the East Coast for college and come home. I followed him on local news now and rejoiced in his first grand slam ever. Not long afterward he disappeared from my knowledge, and not until the advent of the Internet in my home did I find out where he traveled (a stint with the Angels and even a one-inning pitching debut and World Series ring with the Yankees) and where he is (first-base coach for the Diamondbacks?).

The last time I knew him as a kid, I knew him as an Athletic, and so my favorite team had become the Oakland A's. I eventually moved to the East Bay, giving me more freedom to Oakland fandom, and soon my roommate and best friend from junior high joined me as he suddenly became a baseball fan and an A's/Raiders avid.

All was well in baseball loyalty land, but I knew that I would soon be traveling to a new school and a new city--and a new team. Who would I root for? When it turned out that I would remain in the Bay Area, just hopping across the Bay to SF, I was excited to return home to the Giants. Of course I would still be an A's fan at heart, but now I could root for my roots, the black and orange, the giants of my past. So long as they weren't playing the A's, I would be a Giants fan. But over the years I had developed one last hurdle. And it refused to remain silent.

My oldest brother, the original instigator of my baseball fandom, had gone to school in St. Louis. He has a sorta magic touch when it comes to sports. Once he moved to St. Louis, the Rams and Cardinals, formerly two nada teams, took the helm and won the Super Bowl and showed of Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run derby, respectively. Now he has moved to Boston...and both the World Series and Super Bowl have moved there, too, with the Red Sox and Patriots. In the meantime, having spent the past seven years flying out to visit him in St. Louis during the summers, I had slowly become a Cardinals fan. St. Louis is a baseball town, and you've gotta love baseball if you're going to stay there for any length of time. My brother and I agreed that we would be St. Louis fans, so long as that didn't interfere with remaining Niners/A's fans. In other words, we would root for St. Louis so long as they weren't playing the 49ers or the A's.

Today a dilemma arose beyond all loyalty proportions. Not the A's, but the Giants played the Cardinals. My two no-conflict-of-interest favorite teams were duking it out. Who was I to root for? The team of my distant youth, the team that had abandoned Mike Aldrete to the Expos...but which nevertheless was home to me, both past and present, or the fling team of my college years, from a city my brother had left? If the A's were playing either team, the decision would be clear, but not so today. The baseball cards were dealt, and I chose the Cards, but I felt that I was in a win-win situation. As I told Armando before the game, "I will either be happy or very happy." A favorite or a super-favorite team would win.

By the game's end I was very happy, but for seemingly all the wrong reasons. I was supposed to be happy, not very happy. I was rooting for the Cards, but the Giants blew them out...the Cards got but one hit in my presence and only three overall. The Giants dominated in hits, fielding, and even that one inning in runs, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Where was my loyalty? What had swayed me? And who should I have, should I now, root for? All I can say is that the Giants played a great game and fully deserve cheering, while the Cards are a great team and are worthy of cheer in times bad or good.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dreams

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
-Psalm 126:1-2

I never realized that to dream is itself a privilege. I had always been discontent until the fulfilment of dreams. Here the psalmist equates the feeling of restoration to that of one who dreams. Previously he must have felt no hope, no ability to even dream of restoration and victory, and now the mere freedom to dream was to him as exhilarating as their realization is to me.

Perhaps I have much to learn from him. So often I view life as "a means to an end," the attainment of career goals or the completion of projects. Maybe the mere freedom to dream should be enough. I have dreamt so much and so long over the years, but always anxious and impatient to realize them or hopeless that they would ever come to pass. Now is the time to bask in the dreams themselves, the opportunity to surpass all barriers for the moment in anticipation of what might come. And therein lies the key. These dreams can provide joy now because I have faith that God can turn them into reality later. The details may change, but God faithfully remains forever the same:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think...to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-1)

And Amen!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Phun(?) with Physics

Some people are making the best of physics under less-than-ideal circumstances:

Lance Cpl. Tony Stevens "has become a seasoned, battle-hardened veteran of the laws of physics. 'When you hear the explosion, that's actually good,' Stevens said, pointing out that because sound travels relatively slowly, hearing the blast means you have survived it. 'It means you're still in the game.'"

Physics is important. And so is prayer:

"What saves his life, Stevens doesn't know. He doesn't do anything special. 'Just pray. That's all you can do in this place.'"

(http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/01/29/iraq.bombing.cpl.sevens.ap/index.html)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Commentary on 1 Timothy (Chapter 2)

Part 2 of a 6-part series (Chapters 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6)

This chapter has got to be one of the most controversial chapters of the Bible, at least in modern-day. Specifically the second paragraph incites great wrath among many who have grown accustomed to the great egalitarian movements of the 1970s and 1990s. Nonetheless, Scripture is Scripture, and we must read and interpret based on what the text conveys itself to be. We trust that God has planned and ordered life according to his perfect will and that he will in the end bring even the native conflict between man and woman to peace.

2:1) Paul urges us to make "intercessions," a concept that he expands in later verses. Here he seeks for us to pray for "all people," though with emphasis on "kings and all who are in high positions" (v. 2). What is the motive, and how should we reconcile such prayer for those who might inflict evil and terror on the people?

2:2) "That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way," sums up the motive behind Paul's words. We pray that our leaders might establish justice in the land. Paul speaks during a time of considerable unrest, with persecution always inflamed or festering. If leaders would give religious freedom--even religious protection--to those of the Christian faith, believers could experience peaceful, quiet lives. No longer would they have to run around as if rats, dodging government officials and persecuting citizens, but could instead live lives "dignified in every way." We pray for evil leaders precisely so that they would turn to good.

Scholars seem to universally acknowledge that persecution drives communities together. The evil that Christians collectively galvanized their faith and unity. Without such persecution, would the community split? By praying for justice and deliverance from terror, do we pray for our own disunity and destruction? From examples in history, we realize that periods of peace toward Christians have indeed developed their dignity, to the point that Christians have become the arrogant persecutors of those of other faiths. "Godly and dignified" have not always gone together.

Paul does not actually tell us specifically what to pray; we infer that he prays for justice simply because the Psalms and Isaiah and so much of the rest of Scripture have advocated peace and justice in the world. What we must realize is that when the Bible speaks of justice, it speaks of justice for all. God does not establish and protect Christians, often giving them prominent seats of authority and judgment, so that they might in turn inflict injustice on others. God seeks for both "godly and dignified" living, both godly and dignified "in every way." Whether as subjects or rulers, slaves or citizens, God seeks to bring justice in this world both for and from us.

2:3) As if anticipating our doubt, Paul declares directly, "This is good." It's all right to to live a peaceful and dignified life. Having become accustomed to life as a renegade, Paul affirms that it's okay to return to normalcy. In fact, it's more than okay--it's good.

2:4) What's not good is returning to one's former state in life. Paul wants peace, but not at the expense of hard-won gains in Christianity. He wants the peace that comes people of all walks of life coming to peace with God. "God our Savior" came not to watch people war in anguish and civil war, but "desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Of course, this very knowledge is what sets many people at war with one another. So many have come to hate hearing about their sin and need to be saved. We need to pray precisely for this reason, that kings, ruler, merchant, and peasant might not only hear the knowledge of the truth, but "come to" it, coming to terms with and accepting it.

Paul seeks peace so that Christianity might flourish. With political protection from persecution, people could finally begin to openly discuss Christianity. While the word may have spread like wildfire through the underground church, the movement probably could have had far greater breadth and depth if people everywhere could bring up the discussion and contemplate it continuously, fearlessly. By praying for the peace of the nation, we also implicitly pray for peace with God. By praying specifically for both the peace of the nation and peace with God, we express the true desire of our hearts, something "good, and...pleasing in the sight of God."

2:5) Just after urging us to make "intercessions" (v.1), for all people, in other words to speak for all people to God, Paul tells us, "There is one mediator between God and men." Speaking in the same passage, we would assume not only that Paul has not contracticted himself, but that he makes a deliberate parallel between our action and that of Jesus. Jesus is the only medidator, yet in a way we get to emulate his character. By becoming his followers, in some sense we become him, taking on a privilege that he solely in the universe holds. We have the privilege--the responsibility--of coming between people and God when they might very well have never come to him, or where he would have come to them only in judgment. We cannot let our anger or unforgiveness toward others thwart the oppotunity to save them from spiritual ruin, for without our intercession they might have little contact with God until he comes in full glory and wrath.

Of course we might respond, "But isn't Jesus the one and only Mediator, anyway? Why should I take on this responsibility of interceding for people?" Paul indicates that one of the reasons that Jesus is Mediator is because he is "the man." Jesus can relate with us because he is a man, just as he can relate to God because he is also God. Despite his manhood, Jesus still remains intangible to many people. They just don't see Jesus in the flesh. We are "man" also, and as people united with Jesus, we can serve as his human, visible extension into this world. The Catholic church calls this concept the Sacrament of the Church, where the Church is the material manifestation of the mysterious concept of Christ. Jesus is the Mediator, but he chooses to mediate some of this intercessorship through us. We become mediators for the Mediator. In the end, however, "there is one mediator." Jesus could operate without us, and I imagine he often does. What a privilege, then, that he does choose to work through us!

In a sense then we can say that Jesus is the mediator between God and man, while we are mediators between men and Man, the Man Jesus Christ. We help bridge the gap between Jesus and those people who otherwise may never have heard of him. We extend his outreach. On the flip side, Jesus doesn't actually need us. As mediator between God and man, he has the capacity to reach all people. For some reason he chooses to use us, however imperfect we are!

Digression: We gain an important lesson from Jesus' example. He chooses to use us even though he knows he could supernaturally, divinely carry out the task with much greater ease and perfection. Nonetheless he also realizes how much we can grow from the experience, and how much even those whom we reach can grow by having to come to Christ through more natural means rather than through a thoroughly supernatural assistance. Christ is willing to sacrifice perfection for our increase in faith. Sometimes in daily life I would rather take care of things than commit the responsibility to others. I simply think that I know the task better and can perform it to greater perfection. Yet learning from Jesus' example, we see how much others can gain by sharing some of this responsibility. Of course, my case is slightly different from that of Jesus, for I couldn't really perform the task perfectly, and one of my motives for doling of the responsibilities is simply because I don't have the infinite strength to do the task even if I wanted to. Nonetheless, one application remains relevant: it's all right to be imperfect. I don't have to demand that everything goes exactly as I had hoped, but can instead let other people work things out the best they can. That in the end may very well turn out the best for all, myself included.

2:6) Who ever heard of a mediator who decides to give up his life for whom he's mediating? Usually a mediator acts simply as a neutral party, someone who merely comes between two warring factions to help them come to an agreement. The mediator himself likely has no vested interest in either side. Jesus' takes his duty as Mediator one step further: he not merely facilitates peace between the parties, God and men, but actually creates the path. He becomes the collatoral, the "ransom," for the peace. As a "ransom," Jesus would seem to be at the mercy of God rather than having the independence of a true, neutral mediator, yet we do find in the Gospels that Jesus voluntarily gives himself up as ransom. He is both Ransom and Mediator at once, the collatoral as well as the conduit for our salvation from sin.

How is Jesus' giving himself as a ransom a "testimony given at the proper time"? How is a "ransom" a "testimony"? Perhaps if we replaced "testimony" with "statement," we would come closer to home. Jesus' sacrifice of himself as a ransom makes a statement, and a very timely one at that. God makes the statement to the world that he does care about people--all people--and seeks peace and justice. He wants people to be able to leade peaceful and quiet lives. We might argue that Christianity has only created greater conflict over the centuries, starting right then at one extreme in the Roman Empire, where persecution sought to root out Christians as scapegoats and gladiator jests, and just as persecution against Christians begins to die out, persecution by Christians begins to settle in with the Crusades and witch-hunts and other prejudiced practices. Yet we must remember that society was no less violent by itself, in places completely isolated from Christianity, and through Christianity we can find peace. First Jesus brings peace in the most fundamental relationship, our relationship with God. By putting as at right terms with God, we suddenly have access to a rich resource of love. He loves us to the point that he changes us, helping us to love others. We begin to pray in thankfulness and humilty for our leaders, seeking for them to come to peace with God, too. As God begins to work in them, he likewise teaches them to love--to love people as well as justice for the people. Peace reigns. As Paul says elsewhere: "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" (Col 3:15).

I'm still not quite sure why the particular time at which Jesus came is specifically "the proper time." Perhaps God has waited until just the moment of crisis in the Jewish faith, when people have become sufficiently familiar with the body of the Hebrew Bible and its authority but also crticially strayed from the heart of its message to the point that they could clearly recognize their need for a Savior. By contrast, maybe "the proper time" is simply Paul's way of saying that God can choose whatever he pleases. He deemed the time proper, and so it was.

2:7) Just as Jesus is the Mediator, and we also are mediators, so also is Jesus "the testimony," and Paul is "a preacher...apostle...teacher." Jesus declares--embodies--the good news from God, and Paul similarly declares the good news that this good news has come. Once again we get to play the role of mini-Jesus, as his followers.

In light of Paul's declaration that the testimony comes "at the proper time" (v. 6), we might note that elsewhere Paul calls himself one who privileged to declare this testimony and yet "one untimely born" (1 Cor 15:8). While Jesus comes as the message itself at the proper time, Paul comes as one who declares the message almost by mistake, as if he shouldn't have even been born, let alone been granted such a privilege. God can take the Great and make it the Greatest, and he can take the scum and make it dwell among the Greatest. God can do all things through all people.

Paul's parenthetical statement stands out like a sore thumb to me: "I am telling the truth, I am not lying." Doesn't he sound like a child, defending himself bluntly, backing up his claims with no more than, "Take me at my word"? Is he just being sarcastic or facetious? Does he have some deeper meaning behind these words? On the contrary, maybe he is being as straightforward as possible. When everyone might roar in raucous mockery and laughter, he responds calmly, plainly, truthfully, "I am telling the truth. It's not that big a deal. It's simply what is." Being an apostle, whle a privilege granted to only a few, doesn't mean that he was some spiritual superstar. In fact, apostleship itself can be a rather unglamorous job. In a society of Jews and having grown up with a Judaic mentality, he has the unglorious, unenviable responsibility as "teacher of the Gentiles." He in a sense gets the backwoods job. He's the janitor of apostles. Yet he shows no shame for his position, but rather delight in his chance to be an apostle to a whole world of people, a world that includes Timothy himself. Paul is an apostle to Timothy.

2:8) Here we hit the controversy. I admit that I have so far thought little about how to reconcile these passages with what we have unnearthed through the modern world of opportunity and experimentation, where we have just begun to unshackle women from stereotype and traditionalism and allowed them to demonstrate their prowess. I have also thought little about the relevance of such modern experimentation, which by itself does not address the underlying ethical and doctrinal ones. Here I hope to prime my thoughts for further research on the Scriptures and their necessarily very practical interpretation--necessary because of their inescapable application on a day-to-day basis, for both women and the men who interact with them.

At first we might wonder why Paul shifts from mediatorship to prayer, but then we recall that he opens the passage on the subject of prayer, and we wonder how he ever got to mediatorship? In usual Pauline fashion, he has broken off on a digression, but at least he remembers to return to his original subject. Originally he exhorts us to pray for all people and uses this prayer to describe our general role as mediators, those who help people relate to God. Jesus is the ultimate Mediator, and as such, our ultimate example. Now Paul returns to one of our chief roles as mediators: people who pray for all people. "I desire then that in every place the men should pray," Paul concludes, for if we are to mediate and make prayers "for all people" (v. 1), we must be willing to pray "in every place," at any time, for every situation. We can follow the example of Nehemiah, who in the moment of crisis offers a snapshot prayer to God. When King Artaxerxes of Persia asks Nehemiah, "What are your requesting?" (Neh 2:4), Nehemiah replies, "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (v. 5), only he does not say this out loud, but simply does it, right there on the spot, before continuing, "If it pleases the king..." (v. 5). Prayers need be neither long nor involved. As Jesus tells us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt 6:8), the point of prayer is expressing our need, rather than describing it. At any given moment, in any given place, we can be ready to pray for all people. We need to pray, and they need our prayers.

Perhaps one of the most obvious and simultaneously subtle imipediments to prayer could be our attitude. Imagine that we sit down for a meal and have just been bashing someone with gossip, and now we have to say grace. The awkwardness can--or at least should--be profound. Or imagine that someone has just cut us off in the road, or flipped us off, and now some strange sensation dawns on us that perhaps we should be praying for these people. Probably the only hands we'll be lifting is our finger to flip them off in return. Some of the most gruesome situations come right in church. At the conclusion of a council or planning meeting, after heated exchanges and bitter frustration, we have to "close in prayer." Now suddenly we have to implement cool-off stages, where we can calm our minds and get into the attitude of prayer. But doesn't that defeat the purpose? Shouldn't we strive to maintain this attitude so that we can pray at any time, in any place? Cooling down is of course better than nothing, but perhaps we could strive for greater peace and readier prayer.

One question that arises is whether Paul means that we should literally lift up our hands? Worship teams generally take this passage literally, or at least apply it as such, whether they know it or not. They find great value in expressing it literally, which may show all the more why the term might be of use figuratively. Paul understands what it means to lift one's hands--to symbolically lift something else, the object of our praise. Just as we can symbolically lift God with our hands, so also we can lift him with our heads by looking to heaven, or our hearts by our expression of prayerful love. The expression breaks all barriers of physical manifestation.

The figurative key may rest in the word "holy." How can we have "holy hands"? Certainly not physically, for holiness on earth seems to have passed from the physical manifestations of the Old Testament to a purely spiritual one. Holy hands symbolizes the spiritual state of our action. If we use our "hands," our tools for action, we must perform with holiness, in purity. By lifiting them up to God, we consecrate them for his use, similarly to how priests of the Old Testament age have lifted the holy utensils and their very bodies to dedicate them to the service of the Lord.

For all the symbolism, sometimes the simple, physical interpretation is all that counts. Why not lift up our hands publically to God once in a while? If we have really dedicated ourselves to God, will we not want to call on him publically sometimes? Must we only bow our heads, as if ashamed, embarrassed, or telling the world that God is our private possession? May we lift our heads and hearts--and hands--to the God we love and who loves the world supremely!

2:9) Both the chief complaint and reconciiliation seem to lie in the word "adorn." At first glance Paul seems to say that women should dress plainly. Forget the braided hair and jewelry, he seems to say. But what does adorn really mean? Does he speak literally about this apparel?

2:10) Apparently not. The "respectable apparel" that he speaks of is "what is proper for women who profess godliness--...good works." In other words, he exhorts women to focus on their inner character rather than getting lost with their external beauty. Obviously he does not mean that women should literally drape themselves with good works, and likewise he does not mean that women should literally throw away their expensive clothing. To idolize that clothing or let it distract them from God, however, keeps women from true beauty. Beauty that digs deep and lasts forever stems from the maker of beauty and the keep of eternity. "Why are you anxious about clothing?" Jesus asks us. "Consider the lilie of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field...will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? ... Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt 6:28-30, 32). God knows beauty, and he knows how to make us beautiful, inside and out.

2:11) This exhortation to submissiveness isn't unique to women. Paul outlines the same principle in different words while writing to the Philippians: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (1:3). He speaks not to one subgroup of the Philippian church, but to the entire body. The principle stems from perhaps the most basic goal of the Christian life: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..." (v. 5), the goal of becoming more like Jesus, the pinnacle of submissiveness and obedience to God the Father.

2:12) However politically incorrect we may become, we must still hear out Paul for what he says and truly means. The matter of fact is that he speaks repetitively and forcefully about the role of women in a way that is subject both to the scorn and misunderstanding of many of our contemporaries. For some reason he seems to make the abominable claim that women should play a secondary role to that of men. In a sense he seems to have cut off half the world's population. Worse, as we'll soon see, he seems to do so based on what many would consider an outdated myth. Even worse, women seem to bear the blame of the mythical she-character in the myth, as if somehow modern women are at fault for that of their ancestor or mythical ancestor.

On the flip side, what if the myth stems from the principle, rather than the other way around? Maybe Paul isn't introducing any new concept here, but merely reiterating the principle that guided God in his creation. The very language of Paul in this passage seem to speak this way, as we'll see in the next verse. He seeks not to accuse women or relegate them to a secondary role, but to allot them the pivotal role that guided God's creation design. Perhaps God does not impose these apparent restrictions on women arbitrarily, but because it fulfills a key--even if not obvious--responsibility in the nurturing and development of humankind. To "remain quiet" is by definition un-obvious, yet not at all necessarily unimportant nor uncritical.

2:13) The interpretation of these next few verses changes dramatically if we alter the tone of Paul's voice in our own heads as we read them. If we imagine Paul as an accusatory lawyer--which he apparently was as a chief member of the Sanhedrin--then we might read the verses as a condemnation of women and exaltation of men. By contrast, if we see Paul as one who has emerged from the Sandhedrin, a former member who still writes as a lawyer but who believes as a new believer in Christ, we might hear Paul exulting in Christ's redemption of fallen creation. He writes that God has created Adam first, endowing him both the privilege and the responsibility of the firstborn. Adam neither earned nor deserves this position, but God merely gave it to him, pluses and minuses and all.

2:14) Unfortunately this order in creation became disrupted. Adam does not take responsibilty for his wife, and Eve does not subject herself to her husband or to God. Both sides, not Eve alone, have erred, and now all of creation bears the consequences. In a sense, if anyone were to be deceived, Adam should have been the one; he should have borne the responsibilty as transgressor. Instead, he has failed his role and heaped the guilt upon her.

2:15) God will not let his creation remain fallen forever. He will not allow Eve and the women she represents bear the guilt that never should have been theirs. How exactly does God begin to save womankind? "She will be saved through childbearing," writes Paul, another verse that seems to come out of the blue. What does childbearing have to do with salvation? In childbearing, both the husband and wife get to re-enact creation. At microscale, they begin to model and mimic Adam and Eve by joining as one flesh and being fruitful and multiplying. In their own family they can restore the roles and responsibilites that God has originally endowed each partner, and through childbearing they can extend that model to an ever-growing family tree of posterity. One caveat remains: "if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Re-enacting creation is easy, so long as we include the Fall. Re-enacting creation as God originally designed and intended for it requires faith, love, holiness, and self-control, weighty words for humanly impossible tasks, at least as fallen humans. Notice too the use of "they." Paul does not heap the responsibilty of returning to un-fallen creation on women. Both husband and wife must work as a team, re-claming the roles that they have both denied.

How could they ever manage? The key is to look at their salvation: "They will be saved through childbearing." They will not save themselves, but "be saved." Someone else, some redeemer, does the saving. This someone is not childbearing, for they are merely saved "through" childbearing; childbearing is one avenue this redeemer uses to save. This redeemer is the one to whom we must pray not only for our kings and governors and presidents, but also for our families, the heads of households--and by "heads" in the plural I mean the plural heads of each household, the authorities over those begotten in childbearing. Both partners act as partners, as a team that strives anew for the original creation. Together we must pray for these teams and their families in this humanly impossible task, for only through Jesus can families find restoration to the paradisaical Garden of Eden that God originally intended for humankind

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Comments on Commentaries

I recently posted my first installment of a serial, personal commentary on 1 Timothy from the New Testament. It is certainly un-definitive. I have simply been writing from the top of my head and the bottom of my heart. My plan for the rest of the commentary is to continue writing from my own thoughts while progressively reading external commentaries to shed light on the epistle and uncover gaps in my reasoning. Eventually I plan to re-issue my chapter-by-chapter commentaries, each with revisions and additions from the outside literature to provide a more balanced persepective on such a weighty book.