Thursday, May 31, 2007

What's wrong with this statement?

From a book I've been listening to:

"We give mercy to those who deserve it, but justice to everyone."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why I Can't Support Abortion

Because it deals with babies like these, with the only difference being that they are inside the womb.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Birthday!

30 years - has it been that long?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Something anyone involved in church leadership MUST remember.

Dealing with Old Computers

It is a state of life in our age that computers quickly become obsolete. Computers are made with specific metals that individually pose no great threat, but en masse are rather nasty things to have in landfills.

I was looking at the Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful website to see what other events they have coming up after we helped with the activities on May 12, and I stumbled onto a link for a company that does private computer recycling. What's more (and of particular value to me) is that they take non-functioning computer parts, too. Many places will refurbish computers for this or that charitable cause - but there's nothing left to computer when I have finished with my computers.

I encourage you to not toss un-functioning computers when you upgrade, not in the trash at least. These people will salvage what they can, and properly dispose of the rest.

I'm not the only one

Who thinks that the best way to reduce oil consumption is to make it expensive. And who thinks that there will never be the political will to do soemthing like this. It's nice to talk about CAFE standards, and requiring oil companies to invest in alternative energy research. But it is simultaneously painfully ineffective for the same reason it's politically feasible - because the effects center on someone else.

As soon as a voter is hit with a $1.50 tax per gallon of gas, they will get upset at the politicians that allow it. That's a cost they see. But the hidden costs of CAFE standards or "punishing" the oil companies is something they think doesn't affect them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Because I know people from the area

I thought you would appreciate this post on my cousin's blog.

Great Smokey Mountains, Tenenssee and North Carolina

If Ghandi could deserve heaven...

...would Hitler deserve Hell?

A common argument for whether Heaven and Hell are justified is "well, do you think Ghandi is in Hell just because he didn't believe in Jesus?"

The argument has a strong appeal - Ghandi sacrificed himself for peace, putting his body on the line for his people. He tried to follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, even. Giving his cloak to someone who asked, turning his cheek to one who struck him, living as though the meek, humble, and lowly really would inherit the earth.

Hitler, on the other hand, was a demonstrably bad guy. The butchery of millions and millions - driving the world to war, and being a rather rotten human being.

Let's make a broad assumption and say that Ghandi saved 2 billion people - improving their lot, giving them hope, whatever. Let's make the opposite asumption of Hitler - that he destroyed, directly or indirectly, 2 billion lives though war, genocide, etc.

If the "default" afterlife is Hell, would saving 2 billion lives be enough to earn Ghandi a trip the other way? Eventually, wouldn't the bliss of Paradise accrue to the point where what he did in life would "balance" the book? Should he at that point be cast into Hell? Dealing with infinite things like the afterlife is a tricky thing for this reason.

The opposite is true of Heaven: if that is the "default," (as so many people would prefer to believe - just don't be bad enough in life to get kicked out) wouldn't eternal damnation be too much, even for Hitler? If every life he ruined were worth 1,000 years of torment, then his 2 billion ruined lives would nevertheless be paid for in 2 trillion years. Granted, this is a timeframe some 100 times longer than the current theoretical age of the universe... but it is still but a speck in the light of infinity.

The worst part of the argument that Ghandi deserves Heaven and Hitler deserves Hell is where to draw the dividing line. If we assume a statistically normal distribution of goodness across all the people of all time - some very good, some very bad, many more in between - then we will have to make a cut off between two people who are very similar, with a very small thing dividing them. Perhaps Mark and John are the people on either side of the line. They've done their share of good and bad in life, but John cut off one too many people in traffic, and that pushes him just below the cutoff.

Can we in good conscience say that, for all intents and purposes, that one act was enough to condemn John to eternal torment, while granting Mark eternal bliss? Even subdivided, with uber-Heaven, Boring-Heaven, not-too-bad-Hell and Terrible-Hell - you still have to put the lines somewhere in the distribution of man... and you are still making distinctions based on minute differences. distinctions that summed over eternity far outweigh the small choices that put them in category A, B, C, D, or whatever.

The only way I think this can be satisfactory is that everyone deserves heaven (including Hitler, Brutus, Judas, Osama Bin Laden, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), or everyone deserves hell (including Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials).

Friday, May 18, 2007

In short

I love The Office. NBC has the best non-The Simpsons shows on TV right now. It's funny, and I can't help but be caught up in the Pam/Jim saga. The season finale last night was everything I had hoped for.

The season finale for Heroes is coming this Monday. I fear an uber-cliffhanger like the end of Season 2 for Alias.

And I agree with Ted Kennedy about something. It feels so... wrong. "Critics say the deal gives amnesty to people in the country illegally. Kennedy said amnesty was just 'a slogan and a cliché.'" I think it is more, but in most of the heated rhetoric, from talk show hosts to politicians - "amnesty" has become indeed a word devoid of meaning, except to rile the masses. Personally, I have little place for us v. them xenophobic fear-mongering on such an issue.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Clash of Hope and Fear

It's embarassing when I have to read soft journalism pieces like the one I came across today in the New York Times about Venezuela's land seizures. Repeatedly, they seem to approach interesting junctures; repeatedly, they veer off to the side.

"Before the land reform started in 2002, an estimated 5 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the country’s private land. The government says it has now taken over about 3.4 million acres and resettled more than 15,000 families. "

That makes it sound pretty impressive, but it doesn't say much at all. Why? (1) Because it doesn't provide any "after" numbers to compare to the "before" numbers. (2) Because the number cited in the first half is private land (generally known as "land not owned by the government).

"The uncertainties and disruptions of the land seizures have led to lower investment by some farmers. Production of some foods has been relatively flat, adding to shortages of items like sugar, economists say."

This same thing happened in Zimbabwe - taking private farmland to give to "the people." And it ruined the country.

(Of particular note in one article: "Stranded without capital and fertiliser, and hit by persistent drought, many of the new farmers failed to use the land productively, transforming Zimbabwe from the bread-basket of southern Africa into a net food importer, and sending inflation soaring." It's important to tie the two together, since I can't find the paper that showed it so convincingly).

When you drive off not only those who currently own land by force, but those who would potentially invest in your infrastructure (will you invest in a country that will allow you to earn a return on your investment, or who will run you off once you build a plant and say it now belongs to them?), you take the burden on yourself. Venezuela is already suffering from high inflation, the danger is whether this will push them into Zimbabwe's inflationary death spiral.

But the Zimbabwe disaster is not mentioned. Violence is given a passing mention - the title of the article is not "Hope and Murder clash..." From the tone of the article, you would think this is just a painful step on the road to utopia.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell

I have no great love for Jerry Falwell. Between his racist background and his union of politics and Christianity, I think he did plenty to tarnish the reputation of Jesus. Whether he was simply wrong in some areas, yet a man trying his best to follow Jesus, or an evil shepherd fattening himself on the flock of God is something for his Master to judge.

In today's society, "hate" is used far too liberally, applied to and assumed of anyone who does not approve of your choice of life. And so many people believed Falwell hated them, and they loathed him in return. Feel free to see the vitriol for yourself, but be careful where you look.

He stands to me as a reminder that when we claim to speak for Jesus, we had better have a very, very firm footing before we do so. And as a reminder why I do not demand that we make (or remake) America a "Christian Nation" in the common political sense. If Jesus spoke truly, there is NO "Moral Majority," for the way of life is narrow, hard, and sparsely populated. If ever we look to Christianity to be wide, easy and popular, we had best carefully consider whether we are on the right path.

As for his many failings, I ask that God have mercy on a sinful man.

A man just like me.

An International Sensation

Or else a magnet for spam-bots. Either way, here's the list of countries that have visited my blog in 2007:

USA - 1,023
China - 13
UK - 4
Canada - 4
Netherlands - 4
Argentina - 4
Finland - 4
Portugal - 3
Germany - 3
Belgium - 2
Brazil - 2
Australia - 2
Iceland - 1
Spain - 1
Japan - 1
Greece - 1
exico - 1
Poland - 1
France - 1
Malaysia - 1
Maldives - 1
Sweden - 1
New Nealand - 1
Romania - 1

Of these visits, Portugal has the longest average time on my site at a whopping 5 minutes, 3 seconds. With 2 minutes, 43 seconds, second place goes to Greece. Third place is to Finland at 1 minute, 29 seconds. The USA comes in 6th at 56 seconds.

Just so you know. Don't you feel smarter?

Monday, May 14, 2007

I was pretty disappointed

After a start which as often as not left those of us involved dumbfounded, it seemed things had slowed down. It felt ordinary, business-as-usual, not bad, but not exceptional either. The first months of the church felt like every time we turned around, more miracles were dropping from the sky. People who wanted nothing to do with church were attending, the impossible grail of free meeting space dropped into our laps, money came in as we needed it, chance encounters with random people led them to our door.

But the last month or two had cooled. I couldn't sit there and say "Wow, look at what God has been doing." Were we doing something wrong? Was it a test of faith? Had the earlier things been just to get us on our own feet, then to be set free to manage on our own?

I didn't know, and I don't know.

But maybe it started when we gave away our office space. Another church needed it, one who simply couldn't find anything they could afford. A small test of faithfulness, in passing on what we had to those who needed it. Then we got back to geting our hands (literally) dirty serving the community.

Suddenly, in one day, four things happened:
  1. One member of our church was able to share the vision of the church with some guys doing mandatory community service.
  2. It just so happened that the area coordinator for the area we worked at for Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful was a lady we had served with when we were recycling Christmas Trees (and she remembered us, too).
  3. A businessman Dawson has talked to ran across us as we were sorting through a trash pile - actually practicing what we preach (something that came as a bit of a shock), serving the community in nitty gritty things. Again, simple coincidence.
  4. Jose and Dawson were on a hillside picking up trash when Jose picked up a plastic shopping bag. Inside were a wallet and keys. Dawson returned them to a family near his house. They had been robbed near Christmas, and that they still didn't know where one set of keys were had scared them to death. They do not believe in God, but said that "an angel sent you to us."
Perhaps it's all just a coincidence. There was no manna on the ground, nothing that simple happenstance could not explain.

But for these things to happen just as we got back out in the community after our 4-week Marriage seminars (which precluded other forms of Community service), just when we were feeling like things were somehow flat, just when all of our spirits could use a little encouraging. To have people comment that "We've never seen a church doing stuff like this" is telling. I admit, I like to hear it - but I'd rather have the world go "Hey! You must be Christians, because I see Christians serving like this all the time."

I said not long ago that it is better to be giving out of your poverty and leaning on God to be truly secure. It's these "coincidences" that reinforce those beliefs.

It's a poorly constructed thought. All of this to say - the timing of coincidental encouragement, being coincidentally at the same time that I felt like we were getting back out in the community... it encouraged me. And I hoped to convey a sense of that encouragement to you.

Because as it was, only the 9 of us that showed up really got to experience the best part. Hearing the good stories from the pews is comfortable, but does not compare to knowing that your hours in the sun, the landfill-dirt clogging your ears, and your sore hamstrings from a morning of crouched trash-sorting actually meant soemthing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Random... Really Random

As I was grinding out paperwork for the end of the week, I mis-dated something by swapping the day and year. And I realized something:

Today's date (05-11-07) contains the first three non-sequential prime numbers (Non-sequential because 2 and 3 are in sequence). 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 19, etc.

Cry in amazement before the non sequitr state of my mind!

Appropriate, Given the Rants Below

On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B

Coram Deoites

We're meeting at 8:00am Saturday at Triad Plastics to volunteer with Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. Work/Gardening gloves, long pants, and long sleeves (at least for the morning chill) are advisable.

It's fun. It's a way to serve the community. And it looks like it will be a lovely day. So drag yourself out of bed and show up, already!


Here's a summary of Democratic plans:
  • Break up the oil companies. Assumption: collusion among an oligopoly is allowing them to keep prices high. There is a lack of competition. Problem: There's already antitrust laws on the books, and a legitimate way to address that concern. Oil drilling and refining is VERY capital-intensive - small companies CANNOT do it cheaper, because they lose "economies of scale" - the ability to do one thing cheaper because you do a whole lot of it.
  • Windfall profits tax. Assumption: Lots of profit, record-setting profit, even, means oil companies have room to take less profit in order to lower prices for everyone else. Problem: Will we return these profits to the companies during years of very low gas prices, like the late 90's? See point #1 - oil drilling is very capital-intensive. It takes lots of money, involves lots of risk, and is subject to lots of regulation. These things discourage anyone from trying to enter the market (see point #1, if you want competition to lower prices), and artificially lowering their profits will further entrench those that can make very high profits. You can't raise costs and expect prices to hold constant.
  • Price-gouging legislation. Assumption: We can set a cap on gas prices, but name it in such a way that people hopefully won't think about what happened with gas price caps in the 70's. Problem: A rose by any other name, still means "artificially-low-prices = shortages."

But looking behind the scenes - this is probably just posturing from a Democratic Congress whose approval ratings are cozying up to President Bush.

Democrats and gas prices

I heard on the radio, in a teaser for upcoming stories I missed as I was in the shower, that Democrats have said they have plans to bring down the price of gas. I assume they are speaking about short-term prices, at least. Having not seen a single detail yet, I have some general observations.

1) Reducing the price is easy. Barring a veto (that would be almost certain), they could cap gas prices at any level they like. Reducing the price while preventing shortages may not be. To the extent that gasoline represents a competitive market, lowering the price reduces the supply that Evil Oil Companies are willing to supply, while increasing the supply that Gas Guzzling Public demands.

2) Short of an amazingly expensive subsidy program that would drive the Democratic base crazy, I don't see any way to their objective in th e short run except punitive taxes / fines. But adding costs to a producer rarely makes things cheaper.

3) Lower Gas Price = Higher Gas Consumption. They want their cake (low gas prices makes voters happy), while eating it too (but low gas prices also mean higher consumption, which means more CO2 emissions). No ammount of CAFE standard changes would have nearly as much impact on greenhouse gas emissions as a gas price that makes everyone conserve - not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of the paucity of their wallets. It might not have a "feel good" ceremony where lawmakers tell us we should keep them in office, but it's vastly more effective.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bigger than... who?

Google Trends lets you compare search volume for various terms. I was curious which would be more popular: Spiderman, Paris Hilton, or Jesus.

And the winner is....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


It's been the subject of jokes from AM radio personalities, sitcoms, and other pop culture sources: pretty girls escaping tickets.

Paris Hilton (created in the image of God, but otherwise can't stand her) got a suspended license for drunk driving. She then decided to go driving at night without headlights anyway. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail for the violation.

An online Myspace petition has been started, along with the website (no link provided, on purpose), asking for clemency because she "brings beauty and excitement to our otherwise mundane lives."



Look, I'm not joking.

Fine: Here's Proof.

Desktop Manufacturing

The Printer-Scanner-Copier-Dishwasher-Fax is a pretty common appliance nowadays, except for the Dishwasher part, of course.

You can get a throwaway unit with the purchase of a new computer, free. Printing is easy, and has evolved to the limits of it's ability, with only marginal increases in speed an clarity available, right?

Meet the 3-Dimensional printer. 2D printers make pictures on paper. This makes things. And it will be in our futures, sooner than you might think. Creating objects, seemingly out of thin air (though the nylon dust "ink" replacement lets you know you aren't).

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's been a while

Since I've tried probing any deep issues. Mostly, I've just been tired. Helping (well... doing, along with Steve) the setup for the Marriage Seminars at church means I'm there from 2-8 on Sundays - almost like a 6th day of work each week.

Nevertheless, I have been thinking. A little, here and there, and mostly on the topic of stewardship, especially in the context of "what should our church do with its funds?" Because of the position I am in with Coram Deo, this is a much more serious question than it used to be - since my thoughts on the matter, well... they matter.

I do know the general principles of wealth-building - save, invest, earn a return on your savings, save some more, keep a tight rein on your expenses, etc. It's a very reliable, very standard means of operating. And I wonder where the role of faith is in that picture, if it is there at all.

I contrast that with someone like Spurgeon, who relied on God so much that he would gather his (orphans, I think) for a meal though they had no food, and somehow bread and milk appeared at their door, through one coincidence or another.

In one sense, it would be easier without any paid staff, or paid staff that I had no concern for. With no obligations, we could spend everything and not worry at all. But we do have staff, and their provision matters a great deal to me. So how do we spend the money we get?

The world is full of needs beyond our ability to meet them. We could give away every dime we have and every dime we receive, even without staff, and be but a drop in the bucket against the poverty and oppression in the world. Substituting money for arms, we might quote Gandalf in The Return of the King: "We cannot find victory through strength of arms."

And yet, like Oscar Schindler - every dollar we hold back could feed the hungry when they otherwise go without, provide warmth to the freezing, water to the thirsty, a future for an orphan.

We could wait - investing our money, building our reserves, so that like Warren Buffet we can say "Others will meet the needs now - this money can be better used building a reserve to meet needs even better tomorrow." We could hold back, trying to be wise and cautious, not wanting to over-expose ourselves.

But I think that God looks to the small things to see how we will act. Like the parable of the talents - the servants were not given cities to manage until they had used the money they were first given wisely. They were faithful in the small things, and so large things were given.

I think we have to give now, in our "poverty," if we are ever to be a giving church. We have to be faithful with little, or we will never be faithful with much. With much, we may give more - as the Pharisees in the temple did. But it was the faith of the widow that pleased Jesus - giving all she had, trusting God to provide.

So when Dawson freely offered a valuable thing our church had been given to another church that needed it more, though it will soon leave the staff very inconvinienced if a substitute is not found - that's who we are. When we are careful with our resources, pinching pennies so we can build up a large reserve, we will feel secure. But when we give what we have away, trusting God to provide in ways we cannot yet imagine - then we actually ARE secure. And having seen both, I vastly prefer the second option.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Note to Everyone

Don't get drunk.
If you must get drunk, don't go to Sudan.
If you must get drunk and go to Sudan, BEWARE of goats.

Because some things end tragically.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

We still live in a dark world.

And it's important to remember.

Knowing some of you read this blog

I'm letting all Coram Deoites know that I plan on going to support our softball team tonight. Hopefully, I'll see some of you there. 7:40 at the baseball fields north of Rancho San Rafael park. It might get cold, so as Scar from The Lion King might say, be prepaaaaaaaaaaarrred!