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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Quite a bit has been posted recently on consumerism, but I think Richard has said it best. The final paragraph of his post is as succinct and accurate a statement on consumerism as I have ever read. It has given me much to think about (as Richard often does).

Happy New Year to all of you. May 2003 draw you closer to the Lord!

Monday, December 30, 2002

I have a weakness for wordplay. I like the sound of language; I like clever puns; I'm one of those sick puppies who will open up Joyce at random just to hear the flow of words. The latest addition to my reading list, Amalgamemnon, is in that vein (if the title didn't tell you that already. Here is a sample of how Brooke-Rose plays with words (and, as you'll see, why):
His vector will rise from peasant poet singing of cows and ploughs on stately farms toward a hard poetic justice in cybernetics, then carry down again on a tractotalitair of truth as traitor to reality then up through the hard labour of sick stately homes some archipel ago. The first point of intersection will be the word lost in admiration, the second passionate love with no ground to stand on, lost to eternity, the third the clasth, lost in repetition, the fourth the breaking point, lost in silence. Anna my love, Anadyomene he will exclaim, my Annalects of delectation.

Rionek! Why always play with my name, she'll ask, gently perturbed by the shift in identity.

All words should be played with and names most of all, he'll answer but she'll say for fun yes, not all the time though, or you'd undermine the fragile fabric of communication. Why he'll come back quick as a flash, would you separate fun from communication?

Well, that gives you an idea. If you enjoy this kind of writing, then you might seek out this book (it isn't easy to find); if you didn't make it through the quotation, then put this on your "not to be read" list :-)

Sunday, December 29, 2002

It has been a number of weeks since I've posted about the Covenant Discipleship group I have joined. We continue to meet and have nearly finished our covenant. We normally meet on Sundays, and since we are taking this week off for the holidays, I thought I'd post our covenant as it now stands and see if anyone has questions or comments.

Acts of Justice

Acts of Worship

Acts of Compassion

Acts of Devotion

hWe still need to finalize one or two more clauses under "Worship," and we need to write a preamble and a conclusion. Once we're done, I'll post the final product.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

The latest test making the rounds is a personality test from Brainbench. Irene Q and Sakamuyo, among others, have posted their results. Here are mine. They are quite long, so I don't blame you if you skim :-)

Here are your Brainbench Personality Assessment Results.
Please review these results carefully and refer to the
interpretation notes at the bottom.

PART 1 -- PERSONALITY EVALUATION:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Trait |<--|---|---|---- Range ----|---|---|--->| Trait
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Introverted |......X.................................| Extraverted
Candid |......................................X.| Considerate
Impulsive |..........X.............................| Cautious
Excitable |..............X.........................| Relaxed
Practical |......................X.................| Imaginative
Concrete |......................................X.| Abstract
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
|<--|---|---|---- Range ----|---|---|--->|
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Your Social Boldness: Introverted VS Extraverted
------------------------------------------------------------
You are quite introverted. Socially, you prefer a more relaxed, low-key environment, rather than the hustle and bustle of a wild night in the city. You tend not to talk a lot, but when you do people listen, because when you say something it has meaning. You are not seeking the limelight, usually you prefer to let the attention-mongers do their thing while you observe. In an unfamiliar setting, you tend to be cautious and shy while you evaluate the circumstances. You prefer to avoid conflict, so you do not put yourself into a threatening situation. Your shyness may be perceived as unfriendly, but that could not be further from the truth. People need to be patient with you and take the time to get to know the complex, private you.

Your Agreeableness: Candid VS Considerate
------------------------------------------------------------
You are very considerate. You are a popular person, aren't you? Of course you are. You truly value harmony in dealing with others. People recognize your friendly, generous, and helpful personality. Your easy-going, agreeable nature makes you such a joy to be around. This is especially true in meetings or general conversations. The topic may become heated, but you are considerate of other's feelings and you will find a happy medium in order to placate those around you. This is because you have an optimistic view of human nature and you realize that if you trust people with their
decisions that they are not trying to hurt you or take advantage of you. This special and rare quality is also seen in your altruism. You enjoy helping others. To you it is not a sacrifice; to you it is fulfilling to help others in need.

Your Self-Control: Impulsive VS Cautious
------------------------------------------------------------
You are moderately impulsive. At times you can be impulsive, but not to the point where you are jeopardizing work or relationships. You know when to follow rules, but you also know when to bend rules that are not set in stone. If your home or work space gets a little messy, you do not get upset or feel compelled to tidy up. You do not have to have perfect order in your life to feel good about yourself or your environment. You tend to be more on the fun side of spontaneity, and enjoy being flexible with your plans and your life. In general, you prefer to make short-term goals rather than long-term goals.

Your Anxiety Level: Excitable VS Relaxed
------------------------------------------------------------
You are moderately excitable. In trying situations, you feel somewhat stressed and frustrated. At times you are able to overcome these feelings, but other times you feel overwhelmed. This could run the gamut of just being in a bad mood to experiencing anxiety, anger, or depression. In general, you prefer a stress-free existence, so that the possibility of negative emotions would not be a factor. You tend to be somewhat self-conscious in social situations, and are worried that people may judge or criticize you. You may react emotionally to people or circumstances that you find threatening, because you want to protect yourself. Every so often you cave into urges or cravings. Sometimes you feel a little guilty about it, other times you are just fine with your fun streak.

Your Openness to Change: Practical VS Imaginative
------------------------------------------------------------
You are slightly imaginative. It is apparent to those who meet you that you are well educated. You are able to speak on a complex level to one audience, but adjust to a more basic level for another. You are bright and capable of thinking logically. On one hand you are down-to-earth and traditional, while on the other hand you are creative and imaginative. Sometimes you feel more comfortable with familiarity and routine in your life, other times new and novel experiences are more enjoyable. You are not afraid to try new things. You tend to like to do a variety of different activities, so you do not grow bored.

The way you Think/Reason: Concrete VS Abstract
------------------------------------------------------------
You are very abstract in your thinking. You tend to be quick to grasp ideas, are a fast learner and intelligent. You possess a hallmark of intelligence that potentially separates human beings from earlier life forms, the ability to think about future consequences before acting on an impulse. Your reasoning activity involves contemplation of long-range goals, organizing and planning routes to these goals, and persisting toward one's goals in the face of short-lived impulses to the contrary. You also have keen interests in intellectual matters and love to play with ideas and think theoretically. You tend to be open-minded to new and unusual ideas, and like to debate intellectual issues. You often enjoy riddles, puzzles, and brainteasers.


PART 2: OCCUPATIONAL PREFERENCE EVALUATION:

Social people seem to satisfy their needs in teaching or helping situations. They are drawn more to seek close interpersonal relationships and are less apt to engage in intellectual of extensive physical activity. The S type generally likes to help, teach, and counsel people more than engage in mechanical or technical activity. The S type usually likes to be around other people, working in groups and sharing responsibilities. They are good
communicators and are interested in how people get along, and like to help other people with their problems. They like nursing, or giving first aid and providing information. They generally avoid using machines, tools, or animals to achieve a goal. They see themselves as helpful, friendly, and trustworthy.

The adjectives most typically associated with the Social occupational category are:
------------------------------------------------------------
convincing cooperative
easy-going friendly
generous helpful
honest idealistic
insightful kind
outgoing patient
responsible social
sympathetic tactful
trustworthy understanding
warm

Friday, December 27, 2002

I finished Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita yesterday. It is a very interesting novel: raucous, violent, funny, innovative are all words that I would use to describe it. From the perspective of the blog, the premise of the novel is also interesting. It begins in Moscow with two men talking about Jesus Christ and how belief in him is foolish since his story just fits into other mythic archetypes (virgin birth, magic, reincarnation). Into this conversation steps a foreigner who (as it turns out) is the Devil himself. And so the novel traces what happens when a city that basically has no religious beliefs encounters the Devil. Interspersed with chapters about the Devil's work in Moscow are occasional chapters on Pontius Pilate. The Pilate chapters are nothing like the Gospel accounts whereas the Moscovite chapters have obvious parallels with the Gospel narratives. So the novel takes the struggle between belief and atheism as part of its organizing principle.

By no means is this novel a Christian apologetic; it isn't even orthodox (in any sense) regarding belief in Christ. Yet there is the clear idea that if the Devil exists, then so must God. And though it appears that the Devil is in charge here on earth, he does show at times that his is not the ultimate power. It's not surprising that this novel could not be published during Bulgakov's lifetime, not only for its religious content, but for its satire as well. I am glad this book was recommended to me by the great readers at Readers Paradise, and I recommend it to anyone who might enjoy the topic and likes fiction written in the modernist mode.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. is knowingly employing torture techniques, including physical abuse and sleep deprivation, in the interrogation of terror suspects. Further, we regularly turn over suspects to governments who have long been documented as abusing human rights by our own State Department.

This saddens me immensely.

If you are not familiar with FIACAT, I hope you'll spend some time on their web site. This international Federation of Christians against Torture encourages Christians to pray for the end of torture, for torture victims, and for the torturers themselves. I hope many of you will join me in praying that the practice of torture--as well as the practice of terrorism--will soon come to an end throughout the world.
Christmas this year was about family. All my life, Christmas has been about family, but this year was differnt. Christmas day was exactly as I had imagined it woud be. My parents and brother spent the night in our house and were there to see our boys find Santa's gifts. Later that day, my aunt, uncle and 3 cousins who live nearby came over to celebrate and enjoy dinner with us. I had an enormous spread--entirely too much food, to be truthful--and we all ate and celebrated our love for one another. We even had a white Christmas to make the setting just perfect.

Christmas Eve was less as I had imagined, but was wonderful nonetheless. I expected to spend a quiet Christmas Eve with my family and my parents and brother. To be honest, that is usually what I would prefer--a small, quiet, expectant gathering. But this year, another set of cousins who had lived the last decade or more in Rhode Island had recently relocated near us. We hadn't seen them since they had returned to the area, so the six of them joined the six of us for Christmas Eve dinner. It is our family tradition to have fondue, so we scrounged up 5 fondue pots and sat everyone around a fully expanded dining room table (a 12-seater I inherited from my grandmother) and had a jolly, raucous Christmas Eve. I hadn't seen this family since my wedding over 7 years ago, so it was wonderful to renew ties with them on this holiday.

Amid all the hubbub, I tried to keep the Christ-child in mind, and recall that it is only through my status as an adopted son of God that I can fully love and appreciate my family in all its variety.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Life offers many pleasures. For me, for the last 4 months, blogging has been one of them. I've enjoyed writing and I've enjoyed reading the blogs of others. I've enjoyed getting to know other bloggers in this virtual medium.

Today, a new pleasure bloomed from the blogging field. I had coffee today with Pascale of both2and fame. She was kind enough to take time out of her life and join me for an hour or so near my office. I have to admit that I had some trepidation, because I know that there are many people whose writing I admire deeply but who were in their day to day lives thorough-going asses. I can't read 2 lines of John Milton's poetry without shaking my head in awe; I can't read two sentences of his biography without wanting to spit in his face.

But back to Pascale. She is every bit as wonderful, funny, intelligent, and engaging in person as she is on her blog. I'm basically a shy person, but I felt very comfortable with her from the first moment we met. So this post is just a public way of saying this: Thank you, Pascale, for sharing yourself so authentically on your blog and in person. I feel enriched by our encounter, and I look forward to being in touch even after I've moved from the DC area. And thank you for encouraging me to read Real Life Preacher. For those of you who haven't done so, I highly recommend his site; you can read everything he's written in about a 1/2 hour, and I bet it will be as good a 1/2 hour as you spend all day.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Praise the Lord! In the last 24 hours, 2 of my closest friends have had babies. The first happened last night: a daughter born at 9:15 p.m. The second was this morning: a son born at 2:00 a.m. The latter shares a birthday with yours truly--yep, I'm 36 today!

Thursday, December 19, 2002

An NPR story on the end of Ramadan got me thinking this morning. The story was about Islamic Charities and how many of them are in desperate need of donations. During Ramadan, believers are supposed to give to the needy, and many of them (historically) have given to Islamic charities that help Muslims around the world. Since 9/11, 3 of the 5 largest Islamic charities in the U.S. have been shut down because they were suspected of funnelling money to terrorists. The remaining charities have lost millions in donations because people are afraid to give to them in case they are funding terrorism.

Now I feel no sorrow for any "charity" that is knowingly giving money to terrorists. I do feel pity, though, for the many Islamic believers who live in poverty and danger. These charities (the legitimate ones) were a source for great relief for these people. What if we as Christians were to give money to organizations who offer relief to similar groups of people? Whether through Christian or Secular relief charities, what if Christians made a statement with our wallets that says "Your country of origin doesn't matter to us. Your religion doesn't matter to us. You are in need, and the people who normally help you are unable to help you now. We offer you our love and our gifts and our relief"? If we were to fill the void left by Islamic charities with Christian love, we might find that we accomplish far more than any relief agency ever hoped.

So, can anyone recommend charities that provide relief in primarily Islamic countries?

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Have you taken the Denomination Quiz yet? Answer a few theological questions and it tells you how similar (or dissimilar) you are to various denominations. My top 5 results:

1. Episcopal/Anglican
2. Evangelical Lutheran
3. Methodist/Wesleyan
4. Seventh Day Adventist
5. Presbyterian Chruch USA

Only #4 really surprised me, though I have to admit that I need to know more about #2.

My bottom 5?

20. Mormon Church
21. Liberal Quakerism (is that a church or a movement?)
22. Unity Church
23. Unitarian Universalism
24. Jehovah's Witness

p.s. Apparently the quiz is riddled with pop-up ads. I'll take this chance to plug Panicware's Pop-up Stopper Free. When I load the page, I don't see any annoying pop up ads, which is why I didn't warn you all in the first place. Apologies and thanks to Pascale: apologies for failing to warn her, and thanks for telling me so I can save someone else the annoyance.


Last week I dressed up as Santa for my youngest son's Christmas party at his daycare. Neither he nor his older brother recognized me, and it was a lot of fun to engage the kids, give gifts and laugh whenever I wanted. Of course, I scared a few of the younger ones, but I also won over two or three who were frightened initially.

There was one thing that almost ruined it, though. The daycare had asked me to play Santa, but they hadn't told me what I would do--listen to wish lists, give presents, etc. It turned out that I was giving out presents, but parents were supposed to get gifts for any siblings of children in the daycare. No one told us, and so my oldest son was without a present. He's only three, but it was heartbreaking to watch. He was one of the most excited when Santa arrived: he met me at the door, he put on his Santa hat and showed it to me, and he was generally enthusiastic. As I gave out more and more presents, none of which were his, he got visibly less excited. It was as if air was rushing out of him.

Fortunately, my wife noticed and spoke with the daycare director. She apologized for failing to tell us, but said she had extras in her attic. She dispatched her son to get an extra gift and all of a sudden my oldest had a gift just like everyone else. The relief and excitement was visible in his eyes. Yes, he got the last gift (Santa said, "I almost left this on my sleigh"), but that was far better for his young ego than no gift at all.

I am so happy this story has a happy ending, and yet the sadness that almost was continues to gnaw at me. Partially, that's because I can be rather melancholy. Partially, though, I felt like I almost failed him. I hurt not only for the pain he started to feel, but for the longer term pain for which I was at least partially responsible. I know he'll suffer pain and disappointment in his life, but I cannot bear to think about how I will--eventually--be party to it. I cannot imagine how I will feel the first time he looks at me and realizes that I have failed him in some genuine way.

Yesterday when I picked him up from his daycare, he picked up a pad of paper in my car and said, "Look, it's a note to Santa. 'Dear Santa, I love you very much. Please bring me a gift that I want.'" I never thought such me-first consumerism could make me happy, but it did. Santa hadn't let him down; Santa still had a special place in his heart. "Santa loves you very much too," I thought as I gave him a kiss on his still-innocent forehead.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Today is the day...the house is on the market. The rooms are clean, the yard is (relatively) neat, and we are ready for buyers. If you know anyone who wants to live in a big house in Vienna, VA.... OK, more realistically, just keep us in your prayers as we take this step to help us reorient our lives on God and our family.

An update on my son: I took him to the doctor yesterday and he does have pink eye. His doctor has a saying, "at his age, the eyes and ears travel together." So when she peaked in his ears, she found dual ear infections as well! My son was showing none of the crankiness or sleep-problems associated with ear infections (I think he is much tougher than I am), so in some ways the pink eye was a blessing. Anyway, the medicine already seems to be helping the eyes, and he'll be back in daycare (and I'll be back at work) tomorrow. Barring unforeseen developments, of course. Maybe then I'll be able to blog something interesting for a change.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Conjunctivitis.

Pink eye.

Whatever you call it, I think my youngest has it. In some ways, it's not great timing. I was gone from work all last week while in training, and our house is due to go on the market tomorrow. Of course, we don't choose when illness comes to visit, and rarely is it "great timing." There is a bright side...my wife and I worked like crazy this weekend and the house is in good shape. Pink eye generally is uncomfortable but doesn't make the patient miserable, so my son is in a good mood. I'll try to focus on that part of the equation today, and maybe tomorrow I can get back on a normal schedule.

Friday, December 13, 2002

It's been almost a full week since I last posted, and I still don't have much time for the blogging aspect of my life. The vb.net class was great, and I learned a lot. Things are moving quickly for us personally: our house goes on the market next week, and as luck would have it, my wife goes out of town for business at the same time! So I'll be trying to keep a house neat with 2 kids and 3 pets (not to mention my less-than-always-neat self). Wish me luck!

In this time of busy-ness and stress, though, I am trying to remind myself to take some quiet time for reflection, preparation, and prayer. I hope you are all finding that time as well.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I am humbled by the Lord's working in my life. I am humbled by God's generosity towards me and my family.

This week, I told the company I work for about our decision to move. We probably won't be able to move for several months, so the standard employment advice would be for me to keep the news a secret. However, I was scheduled to attend a VB.net class next week--you know, one of those $3000+ classes that runs for a week--and I couldn't take that class in good conscience without telling them and giving them the option to cancel or send someone else. So I told my boss. At the same time, I told her that I enjoy working for the firm and if there were any way I could continue working their, I would be interested. My boss has always been my biggest supporter, so she approached the CIO in our main office (in Chicago) and the Director of Application Development with my situation. They discussed it and they are interested in keeping me on and letting me work from home after I move! We were prepared to live just on my wife's salary for awhile until I found new employment, but now that won't be necessary.
Lord, I do not deserve your generosity and the great gifts you have given me and continue to give me. I know that with gifts come expectations and that when you open a door of opportunity, you want us to go through it for the glory of your kingdom. Help me, Lord, to work in your glory, to do your work and further your kingdom in all that I do. Help me to find creative ways to spread your word and your glory and your promise through your great generosity. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

I received the latest copy of one of my favorite Christian periodicals, Weavings. This issue is focussed on the topic of "Practicing the Presence of God." What could be a more apporpriate topic for the season? The articles are brief but thoughtful essays on spiritual life. They also publish high-quality poetry. I am anxiously awaiting the publication of their topics for 2004, because I would like to try to submit something to them. I can think of at least one other blogger who should consider submitting something to them as well: Sainteros. I took a few minutes yesterday to read some of his non-blog writings (under "Contents" on the page I linked). His homily is wonderful, and closes with one of my favorite poems (George Herbert's "Love (III)"). His poetry is also worth reading, so I recommend spending a few minutes with this wonderful talent.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Now that the Advent season is upon us, I wanted to share one of my favorite poems. Richard Wilbur is a well-respected contemporary poet, but this is a poem that should be much more widely known, not only by poetry lovers but by Christians as well.

A Christmas Hymn

"And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
---St. Luke XIX, 39-40


A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David's city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God's blood upon the spearhead,
God's love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

As they name indicates, this is a hymn and is meant to be sung as well as read aloud (Jeremy and Kristen Grimshaw have written music, and there may be other sources as well). I love the way this poem telescopes Jesus' entire life in a few stanzas. In "We Three Kings of Orient Are," there is a similar compression of Jesus' life, but from the perspective of the nativity. This poem looks at the nativity from the perspective of Jesus' last days.

Monday, December 02, 2002

It's going to happen! My wife and I are going to sell our house and move our family to Richmond, VA to be closer to my parents. We got the final approval on her job switch and decided to go for it. I told my boss today and she is very supportive. Of course, I've given her almost 3 months notice. In the mean time, I'm going to be busy preparing. I'll blog when I can, but I can't promise I'll be as regular as I'd like.

I have lots of things I thought about over the Thanksgiving holiday, but the one I wanted to ask first is this: How do you make time/space for devotion when you are travelling (particularly staying at someone's house)? I always have trouble with that aspect of my life when I'm visiting family. Last week, I was able to carve out about 10 minutes a day (time I spent reading Romans), but that's not what I usually do. How do you manage the challenge of continuing your devotions while the rest of your schedule is in upheaval due to travel?

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