Friday, December 19, 2008

What is God's love language?


One of the things that has, surprisingly (at least to me, anyway), made an impact on me recently is this whole idea of people having different "love languages." There are (supposedly) five of them, according to the book by Gary Chapman:


  • verbal expression/gratitude
  • undivided attention/time
  • gifts/tangible expressions
  • help/service/assistance
  • physical contact

You can take a brief "30 second assessment" on Chapman's Web site, or I found a more extensive love language assessment tool I liked on Facebook.

The valuable thing is not only understanding (and helping those who love you to understand) what says "love" to you, but more importantly, understanding how you can effectively express yourself to those you love. If your wife is highest on service and lowest on gifts, and you are vice versa, and you give her an iPod for Christmas, then sit and watch TV while she does the dishes ... she's not hearing that you love her, when you think you've expressed it well. Right?

This also got me to thinking, recently, about what happens in our culture around Christmastime. I watched this really cool YouTube video to promote an organization called "The Advent Conspiracy." Basically the video says Americans spend $450 billion each year on gift-giving at Christmas time. It noted that it would take an estimated $10 billion to solve one of the world's worst and deadliest problems -- lack of access to safe drinking water. If we could redirect just 2 percent of what we spend on Christmas gifts, we could solve one of the world's most pressing problems!

The video makes some stark points. Despite all our gift-giving and receiving, we are not really as happy as we should be, are we? And how much time at Christmastime do we devote to serving? To encouraging and spending time with others? If we put a fraction of our energy into other expressions of love, it would go a long ways to create happiness in the world.

I assume Christmas gift-giving is how we at least attempt to express love in this very fallible society. But the interesting thing is that gift-giving is only one of the five love languages. Are we as focused at Christmastime on expressing love through the other four languages as well?

Verbally expressing gratitude and love? I guess Christmas cards sort of do that. But what about sitting down in a quiet corner, sharing a latte, and just sharing your heart to someone you love?

Undivided attention/time? That's probably the hardest one for us, especially at Christmastime, such a busy time of the year. This season has been unusual for us here in the Northwest. Right now we are in a deep freeze and no one can move anywhere. I haven't been to the office for three days. One of my colleagues made it in last night, but he didn't make it home again. He sat on the freeway near the office for three hours, then finally gave up, parked his car, and slogged through the snow to a nearby hotel to spend the night. He planned to turn the car back around and head back to work this morning when he got up.

So, for those of us who stayed home, it's been a great time to simply spend time with those we love. I've really enjoyed three days at home with my wife, even if I've had to spend a lot of time on the computer getting my shows done. It's just so nice to be near her, and to eat lunch sitting by the fire.

Serving others. I really like how our church has, in recent years, created a seasonal emphasis around service. We have been seeking out single moms and families of lesser means who we can help and serve. This expression of God's love has been life-changing for many, both the recipients and the givers. There's a reason Christ expressed his love by washing his disciples' feet.

Physical contact. Suffice it to say that for many, a touch goes a long way. We are a society too sparse on hugs, handshakes, and a warm, encouraging arm around the shoulders. It's no coincidence that this is our very first language of love ... that without being cuddled, babies languish.

What is God's language of love? We often assume it's giving. But we are in part a reflection of what God is in full. So, if there are five love languages for us, there are probably more for him ... and he is perfect in his expression of each one of them.

God is indeed the ultimate bestower of gifts ... Jesus said that in many ways and places, the Father loves to lavish gifts upon his children. And he himself is the ultimate example of that, according to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son ..."

But, what about words of encouragement and praise? John says that Christ is "the Word," the expression of God's character. And his word to us is not condemnation, but encouragement. To him we are worthy of saving, of the ultimate sacrifice, ultimately objects of his affection. Christ takes us, his church, as his bride, and says, "You are beautiful."

Moreover, for him it is impossible for him to divide his attention, and he has given us all the time in eternity. His focus is upon his children. Zechariah tells us that "whoever touches us, touches the apple of God's eye" -- the apple of someone's eye is that little reflection you see when you are looking into their eye and they are gazing fixedly at you. Moreover, God's greatest gift to us, His son, means that if we are willing we can spend all eternity in his presence. Talk about the gift of time!

And God is also the ultimate servant. Jesus washed his disciple's feet, as an expression of his love. He said, "The son of man came not to be served, but to serve." The idea of God serving them made his disciples very uncomfortable, and Peter protested. But it's in God's nature to serve, and he also wants to serve others through us. We are his hands and feet.

And finally, physical contact ... what more ultimate expression of that than the Incarnation? Christmastime is all about physical contact, God made flesh. Jesus laid aside the benefits of deity and became one of us, born a baby into a cradle in a manger, to make direct contact with a human race that was going to hell in a handbasket and to turn us aside from this destiny of despair.

So, which is God's love language? Giving? Encouragement? Time? Service? Contact?

I can't decide. I think it's all five.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Global Warming: Man-made or natural? Can it be stopped, or is it the end of the world as we know it?

Thanks to everyone who attended the second installment of our Sunday morning class on Creation Stewardship, focusing on climate change issues.

I really enjoyed the interaction. I think everyone was in agreement that it is our responsibility as Christians to be good stewards of God's creation, and we are all committed to doing that. And that is exciting!

I think we also realize that while climate change appears to be a reality, there is a lot of skepticism as to the cause. Is global warming primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions? If it is, can we make a noticeable impact in reducing global warming by curbing greenhouse gas emissions? And what cost is too high to pay for making the necessary changes? Those are some of the questions I know we all are asking.

I would really encourage everyone to be prayerful and open as we seek to understand the answers to those questions. We have a serious responsibility to answer these questions correctly and to take whatever decisive actions may be required to ensure a better future both for our progeny, as well as billions of impoverished fellow citizens of Planet Earth.

I wanted to offer some links and resources which we explored Sunday, which you may wish to review prayerfully as you are seeking to answer these questions for yourself.

A primer on climate change issues -- I found the following URLs on Wikipedia to be very helpful and educational. You have to take Wikipedia with a grain of salt, of course, but it is a very comprehensive source of information.

Organizations Supporting and Opposing the IPCC Claims

One of the first organizations to seek to mobilize Christians (beginning in the late 1990s) in support of the IPCC claims and what it termed as "creation care" was the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN).

The Evangelical Climate Initiative of 2006 was a declaration of hundreds of evangelical Christian leaders who supported these findings and called for urgent action.

The Cornwall Alliance disagreed with the ECI's stance in support of the IPCC findings. In its 2007 response document titled “A Call To Truth, Prudence, and the Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming” (PDF) the organization doesn’t question the reality of climate change/global warming, but it does question the IPCC’s assertion that the undisputed cause of global warming is anthropogenic. It also questions whether global warming could be significantly mitigated through a costly global effort to curb carbon emissions. They argue instead that those resources should be devoted instead to helping the poor to industrialize and gain the wealth that will give them the resources to deal with the effects of global warming.


Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Here are three fun and interesting "carbon footprint calculators" on the Web. I can't vouch for their accuracy, but it doesn't hurt to think about the impact your lifestyle is making on our environment, and how you might be able to adjust it to be kinder to the Earth ...

Let's Keep the Conversation Going!

If you have any additional comments or questions related to this "hot topic," please submit them here (by clicking the "comments" link below) and I'll do my best to address them in future posts.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Creation Stewardship

Much thanks is extended to all who participated in this morning's "Creation Stewardship" class at Elim.

This morning's class focused on three things:

1) My assumptions
2) A Biblical Framework for Creation Stewardship
3) A Recent History of Both Sociopolitical and Evangelical Response to Climate Change Issues

Week after next (Nov. 16) we will meet for a second session during the adult education hour at Elim, to examine specific climate change claims being made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and echoed by the Evangelical Climate Initiative's 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.

In this blog post, as promised, I am providing the following four appendices:

A) A list of questions I intend to discuss during this session, related to those claims.
B) Scripture passages referenced in today's "Biblical Framework" session.
C) Links and other resources associated with today's "Recent History" session.
D) Details on "My Assumptions" which I omitted for sake of time today.

I would encourage you to click the "Comments" link at the bottom of this post, if you have any additional issues or questions we should address on Nov. 16.

- Larry


APPENDIX A: Questions for Discussion Nov. 16


  • Is global climate change truly a reality? What do we know about climate change? Is there a consensus? How many detractors are there, and what is the basis for their disagreement?
  • What do we know or postulate about the history of global climate change?
  • What do we know or postulate about the real or potential impacts of global climate change?
  • What is being hypothesized about the causes of global climate change? Is it anthropogenic (human-caused)? We will attempt to examine each hypothesis in terms of its support, as well as looking at the arguments of detractors.
  • Politically and socially, how are these hypotheses about the causes of climate change being embraced? (This is where we'll look specifically at the global drive to eliminate or reduce carbon emissions as a possible causative factor in global warming/climate change.) What are the real or possible costs associated with changes that are being made or recommended as a result of this?
  • What about social justice and access to or distribution of natural resources among the neighbors who inhabit planet earth with us? What changes if any are we called to make to ensure that our biblical responsibility for upholding social justice is achieved?
  • If we as citizens and Christians do indeed have a responsibility to make personal or corporate lifestyle changes as a result of environmental concerns, how urgent and critical are the changes that we are being called to make?


  • Additional questions suggested this morning:

    • How are evangelicals in developing countries responding to the climate change issue, as compared to how we are responding here in the United States?
    • Some have criticized the validity of the claims made in Vice President Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. What are we to think of this?

    If you have suggestions for additional questions you would like me to address, please click the "Comments" link at the bottom of this blog posting.

    Also, check back on this blog next weekend, when I intend to post some of the specific links and resources that I will be using on Nov. 16. Thank you!



    APPENDIX B: Biblical Framework Scripture Passages

    Special thanks to the Evangelical Environmental Network, from whose site this framework was adapted.

    1: God created the universe, including the earth (our environment), as well as the heavens beyond, for His pleasure and glory, and as a place for us to dwell as we seek to bring Him pleasure and glory. As its creator He both brings life to the earth, and sustains it through the word of His power. As humans we are intimately tied to this creation. We were created out of the dust of the earth, and to this dust we will return when we die.

    Witness of the Old Testament:
    Genesis 1:1-25, 26-31, 2:1-4
    Psalm 104
    Isaiah 40:12,26
    Isaiah 42:5-7

    Creation declares His glory:
    Psalm 19:1-4
    Psalm 96:1,11-12
    Rom. 1:20-23
    Rev. 4:11

    Jesus’ relationship to all of creation:
    Col. 1:15-20
    John 1:1-3
    Heb. 1:2-3
    1 Cor. 8:6
    Eph. 1:10

    2: When God created the earth, He saw that "it was good." He then committed it into the hands of human beings to steward, or to manage and be responsible for.

    The earth is the Lord’s:
    Col. 1:16
    Heb. 1:2
    1 Cor. 10:26
    Psalm 24:1
    Lev. 25:23
    Deut. 10:14
    Neh. 9:6
    Isa. 66:1-2

    3: Our responsibility as stewards means that we will be held accountable for our efforts in leveraging that which has been committed to us, into greater blessings for God and others. In other words, we are not merely to be self-centered consumers; we are to be multipliers of blessing and goodness.
    What does it mean to “be a steward?”
    Luke 12:42-48 (Parable of the Wise and Foolish Stewards)
    Matt. 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents)
    4: We human beings have already, fundamentally, failed as stewards. We sinned, and both we and the entire earth came under a curse as a result. Entropy and death is the rule of the day in our bodies as well as our environment, thanks to our failure and the resulting curse.
    Creation cursed by humanity’s sin
    Gen. 3:17
    Isa. 24:5-6
    Hosea 4:1-3
    Jer. 4:18-28
    Rev. 11:18

    5: Our failure, nonetheless, does not absolve us of our responsibility to either take care of our (dying) bodies or steward the (decaying) environment. These responsibilities are personal and they are corporate.
    1 Cor. 6:19-20
    6: God has created resources for us to consume in order for us to be healthy and blessed. However, social justice and the law of love demand that we think about others above ourselves when it comes to the distribution of (and access to) these resources. In other words, love demands we ensure that we leave our children and our children's children a world that they can live in.
    He provides the resources we need
    Psalm 104:10-30
    Gen. 6:19-21
    Exod. 23:12
    Lev. 25:1-7
    Job 38:39-41
    Job 39:5-8
    Matt. 6:25-27
    2 Chron. 7:13-14

    He uses us to provide the resources others need
    Col. 1:20
    2 Cor. 5:14-21
    Phil. 2:4-8
    Luke 4:18-19
    John 13:34
    1 John 4:7-8
    Matt. 25:34-45
    Luke 6:31
    Micah 6:1-4, 7-8
    Psalm 72:1,12-14
    Matt. 22:37-40

    7: The earth as we know it is temporary and will someday be redeemed and changed (by God) into a new earth where our current environmental woes will be only a distant memory, if that.
    God’s future kingdom
    Rom. 8:19-23
    Isa. 11:1-9
    Isa. 35:1-2,6
    Isa. 55:12-13

    Isa. 65:17-23
    Rev. 21:1,5


    APPENDIX C: Links & Resources for Recent History

    Initial Concerns Expressed About Climate Change

    1988: Formation of the UN’s “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC)
    1990, 1992, 1995, 2001, 2007: IPCC assessment reports (& sharing the Nobel prize w/ Al Gore in 2007)

    Evangelical Response To These Concerns

    2006: Evangelical Climate Initiative’s Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action
    >2006: Other supporting organizations …
    National Religious Partnership for the Environment -- http://www.nrpe.org/
    Evangelical Environmental Network -- http://www.CreationCare.org/
    2006+: Responses to the Evangelical Climate Initiative …
    Interfaith Stewardship Alliance
    Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (Dobson/Colson)
    2008: Southern Baptist Convention
    Leaders do an about-face on climate change …
    What about the rest of us?
    2007 Barna poll says evangelicals “going green” with caution …
    Only 33% of evangelicals describe global warming as a “major issue,” in contrast to 62% of those associated with other faiths.


    APPENDIX D: My Assumptions

    1) The supremacy of the Bible as the source of truth. I think probably the key assumption that I carry, through which I am going to filter my approach to this topic, is that God's revealed Word to us, the Bible, deals in some manner with every controversial issue, including this one, that confronts us. By "deals with it," I mean that God in His wisdom has given us through His Word an intellectual, spiritual, and philosophical framework to equip us for how we respond to this hot topic. It may not be overt. It usually isn't. We won't find any verses or proof texts to say either, "The current debate about the environment is of the Devil" or "Global warming is a huge danger confronting the planet and we should all focus our time and energy being green." But I do believe we can draw from it principles that will help us frame the debate.

    2) My sociopolitical framework. Socially, I am a conservative evangelical and politically I am a Republican, though like many others, I am always enamored with the attitudes and actions of the Republican Party. I consider it a lesser of two evils, as it were. However, I also work with many evangelicals who are not conservative Republicans and I respect and dialogue with them. And I don't think being either a conservative evangelical and a Republican or not necessarily has a bearing on this debate, but you do have a tendency to see different responses from people about questions of environmentalism and climate change depending on which political party they align themselves with. Hence you don't really see Joe Biden out there crusading for opening up the Alaskan wilderness for oil drilling, like you do Sarah Palin.

    That said, I do think it is interesting to acknowledge that both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat, pretty much now embrace the conclusions of the IPCC on climate change, which has created all the fuss about global warming, as we will soon discuss. So, whether we agree or not, this is going to be something that is going to be a part of each our our lives in the coming years.

    3) My ad hominem assumptions. "Ad hominem" means "to the man," and here I wanted to reveal my assumptions regarding parties on both sides of this debate.

    In truth, I have struggled with some of the more political, radical manifestations of the environmentalist movement, partly because of the perceived assumptions of those who have led it ... their tendency to embrace anti-Christian practices of placing all of their faith in science and big government, and none of their faith in God. It has been my belief since college, partly because of reading books like Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," and other works more recently, that we know less than we think we know about some of the bigger questions in the universe. There are a lot of different questions in this debate, and I think they fall along a spectrum. Some questions have, in my mind, very obvious answers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if humankind is consuming a nonrenewable resource like fossil fuel at an accelerated rate, there is going to come a point in time, though I'm not sure any of us really know how soon, when the availability of that resource is going to diminish, when its price and value is therefore going to increase, and when it will eventually run out. It would therefore behoove us to be planning for that eventuality and developing more renewable sources of energy.

    Another no-brainer is that if you continue to dump untold millions of tons of pollutants into the air we breathe, which is a nonrenewable resource, or if you continue to allow the destruction of the rainforests and habitats that are responsible for converting the carbon dioxide that we breathe out into the oxygen that we breathe in, that this can't be good for the planet and eventually is going to put is into some sort of crisis.

    I think we can put those kind of assumptions and questions into a category of "no duh." There are others that are not so easy. For instance, are burning fossil fuels and carbon emissions speeding exponentially the climate change we are seeing? Is it the primary cause? Does "global warming" on a macro level truly exist and is it within our control to stop it by changing our carbon footprint? Are we fast approaching, or are we past, some point of "no return" where we are dooming all of humanity by our global inability or refusal to cut back our consumption of nonrenewable resources? These assertions are all being made, but I don't think the answers here are as easy to come by.

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that I have a personal relationship with two of the key signatories of the Evangelical Climate Initiative's landmark 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. We will talk more about this important document a little later on during this hour. Those two individuals are Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, and my employer; and also Dr. Robert Acker, the senior pastor of my home church in Southern California, whom I consider a close friend and colleague. I have an enormous amount of respect for both the intellect and integrity of both of these men, as well as many of the other of dozens of evangelical leaders who signed this document.

    4) The nature of scientific dogma. My fourth assumption is best introduced by saying that I am not a rocket scientist, and even if I were I'm not sure how much that would help us. There are difficult questions out there which are a challenge to answer. Our tendency in the face of difficult questions is sometimes to become dogmatic in our assertion of our beliefs which are founded on our assumptions. I think we need to recognize this as a problem which is founded in our human nature to be egotistical and selfish. We often feel we have to know all the answers. It takes some humility to recognize that we are only human, that we are limited, and that we often don't know the answers. It takes humility to listen to others' perspectives and acknowledge that there may be some truth in what they say.

    I think it's okay for us to be dogmatic when it comes to dogma. The definition of dogma is: "settled or established opinion, belief, or principle; specific tenets or doctrines authoritatively laid down." In the case of we Bible-believing Christians our most authoritative doctrine, our dogma, is the body of truths found plainly expressed in the Scriptures. We can be dogmatic about who God is, about who He created us to be, and about how He wants us to live our lives, because we find these truths plainly expressed in the Bible.

    I think our problem comes when we get dogmatic about other things. Our political beliefs are a case in point. If we argue dogmatically about the rightness of our own political framework, and reject out of hand the political philosophies of others, we risk dogmatic arrogance, in my opinion.

    Hence, I am going to be very dogmatic about the Cross. I will be less dogmatic about global warming, or the role of government, or taxes.

    I think the same thing is true of science. Too many people have it backwards. They reject belief in Scripture as arrogant religious dogma, yet enshrine their scientific hypotheses as ultimate truth. So, to many scientists, we Christians are arrogantly dogmatic and they themselves carry the light of truth within their beings. Opposite worldviews.

    I do believe that thinking global Christians will give science its proper respect, it's proper place. The scientific method has yielded many benefits to mankind, including the creation of medicines and medical techniques which save lives and extend lifespans. However, it's also created many monsters. Witness Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And particularly, when science begins to stray beyond its own borders, for instance into realms of history and philosophy; when for instance it starts trying to tell us that scientific hypotheses about our origins are enshrined truth and proven fact; I think we are right in accusing it of arrogance. In truth, science still hasn't been able to establish some of the most fundamental truths about the created order. What is light? Is it a particle? A wave? What is dark matter? Etc. If science is yet unclear about such basic operating principles of this physical world in which we live, how can it so arrogantly assert that its version of history (be it the big bang, or evolution, or any other matters related to origins) is unreproachable truth? And are issues like the causes of environmental phenomena such as global warming really so cut-and-dried? How are we to know that tomorrow's paradigm shift won't change everything we think we know about such matters, once again, just as prior scientific paradigm shifts during the last century or two have done?

    A century or two is, after all, a very short timeframe in the big scheme of things.

    So, I guess all that is a longwinded way of presenting my fourth assumption, and that is that in most cases it is arrogant for us to assert that the science we think we know is in all cases unreproachable truth. I am obviously not a scientist, but I believe this is an assumption also embraced by many honest scientists.

    However, one mitigating factor against this healthy skepticism, in the case of the discussion at hand today, the issue of climate change (global warming) and whether or not it is human-induced, is the issue of urgency. I mentioned the 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call To Action. I have several copies of this document here, hopefully one for each table, which you can be reading this morning. Also you can access this at the web site address given on the overhead and on your notes. This document contains four very noteworthy claims:
    • Claim 1: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real

    • Claim 2: The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest

    • Claim 3: Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem

    • Claim 4: The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now.

    I would postulate that these claims warrant our close attention to this issue. For, IF THEY ARE TRUE, healthy skepticism such as mine shouldn't be allowed to stand in our way of us acting. If human-induced climate change is indeed real, and if its consequences will be significant and hit the poor the hardest; and if our moral convictions do indeed demand our response to this situation, and IF the need to act now is urgent, then truly we would be amiss to delay.

    I am hoping people aren't attending this class looking for me to give easy answers to very complex questions. In many ways I truly am sitting on the fence on this issue right now, whether or not I should be. But if I can provide some of the key questions, and encourage you to think them through honestly; as well as some key resources on both sides, and in doing so you can come to conclusions on your own and be motivated to act based on those conclusions, then I think this session will have been time well spent, regardless of what that conclusion may be.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    The Presidential Candidates as Philanthropists

    As I've come to trust the Bible more fully, I've become convinced that what a person gives away says far more about them than almost any other measure of integrity and commitment.

    Is that giving sacrificial (which relates to percentage)? Is it God-honoring (which relates to the causes they give it to)? And is it given from a cheerful heart (their motivation)?

    The true givers I have known start at 10% and increase the percentage as they are financially blessed. They give cheerfully and quietly. And they give through a portfolio of wisely considered investments designed to make a positive impact on the world in mitigating human need ... considering their local body (their church) first and foremost, and other worthy organizations second.

    In light of these beliefs I thought it would be instructive to take a look at the two primary candidates for the presidency. The final question (cheerful heart) is one that I can't answer from the record (in addition, one really suspects that candidate philanthropy, at least during these past few years, might possibly be related to political ambitions).

    But I think it is nonetheless interesting and possibly instructive to look at the candidates' giving patterns.

    My source is Philanthropy.com ...

    Barack Obama
    • Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, have donated $240,370 to charity over the last year, which represents 5.7 percent of their income, according to their tax return for 2007. (My note: If you calculate this out, that puts their 2007 income at over $4.2 million.)

    • The Obamas donated to 33 churches and charities in 2007, with the United Negro College Fund receiving the largest gift, of $50,000. They also gave $35,000 to CARE, the international relief organization, and $26,270 to Trinity United Church of Christ, whose pastor is Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

    • The Obamas released general information about their income and charitable donations since 2000 last month, which revealed a sharp increase in income and percentage of charitable contributions starting in 2005. From 2000 through 2004, the Obamas' total income did not top $300,000 and their charitable giving represented about 1 percent of their income. (My note: So, under more normal circumstances, when he's not running for President, Obama donated about $3,000 per year to charity ... less than a third of what a family like mine, which makes around $100k per year and is tithing, donates. Hmmm.)

    John McCain
    • In 2007, John McCain contributed $105,467 of his $405,409 income to charity, according to his tax returns, which represented 26 percent of his total income. In 2006, he donated 18 percent — $64,695 of $358,414 in income — to charitable efforts.

    • According to Mr. McCain's campaign, most of his charitable contributions were made through the John and Cindy McCain Family Foundation, which supports organizations that work "for the spiritual, educational, and medical needs of the community." Supported organizations include Operation Smile, which repairs facial abnormalities in young people, and the Halo Trust, which removes land mines.

    • Cindy McCain, an heir to a beer fortune who keeps most of her finances separate from her husband's, did not release her 2007 tax return or disclose how much she donated to charity on her own. But Senator McCain said she donated the same amount he did, $105,467, from their joint assets.

    • Senator McCain donates royalties from his books and increases in his Senate salary to charity.

    My note: As far as I am aware, John McCain is not a churchgoing believer who subscribes to the principle of tithing, so I am not sure his giving can be judged in the same manner as someone like Barack Obama who supposedly is a churchgoing Christian. But it is interesting nonetheless to see that his charitable giving far outstrips Obama's (at least in terms of percentage). Also interesting to see (given all the assumptions) that, at least on paper, Obama is a far wealthier man.

    To be fair, of course, you have to consider Cindy McCain's beer fortune in the mix somewhere. Even though Philanthropy.com says it is unreported, she recently released her 2007 income tax statement which reveals her 2007 income at about $4.1 million. So, this puts the McCain family roughly on a par with the Obama family, in terms of income, and slightly below the Obamas (in 2007 anyway) in terms of combined donations.

    So, what can be learned from this? My general impression is that while John McCain is more generous on paper, neither candidate is really shining when it comes to philanthropy. But I am most intrigued by what Barack Obama's charity life was like before the sudden and sharp increase in wealth that occurred last year. When I sit down with the elders of our church, we fantasize about how much ministry could be done if the average member of our body actually obeyed and tithed their 10%. Even if only half or two-thirds of that amount came to the church, and the rest went to other ministries, it would double our church budget, since our average giver contributes maybe 3%. (Which, sadly, is on a par with, or possibly better than, most church numbers.)

    But, our average giver is making maybe $50,000 per year or less. And Obama, when he was making $300,000, was giving only 1% away. I wonder if that's a result of the philosophy that it's the responsibility of government (through higher taxes, of course) to take care of all those human needs out there. That seems to be the direction, philosophically, that an Obama administration would head, as he has stated support for across-the-board, significant increases for government programs such as:
    • The National Endowment for the Arts ($35 million increase in 2008)
    • U.S. Dept. of Education's "Arts in Education Model"
    • Artist/Museum Partnership Act (S 372) giving tax breaks to artists
    • "Early learning challenge" grants ($10 billion/year)
    • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (would double the federal budget for this after-school program)
    • A proposed "step up" plan supporting summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children
    • American Opportunity Tax Credit (would ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is free for everyone, would cover 2/3 of the average cost of tuition at public colleges, and make community college tuition free)
    • More federal money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
    • Would require companies to pay more (to the government) for carbon emissions in order to help low-income people pay heating and cooling bills
    • He also "fundamentally wants to encourage bright young people to become civil servants," through methods that some fear would bleed talent from nonprofit organizations (in order to increase or support an increase in federal bureaucracy)
    • He would also significantly expand slots in public-service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps
    Would an Obama presidency help or hurt nonprofits? That question is still being debated. But it seems pretty clear to me that Obama would shift financial resources, as well as other human resources, away from the pool of resources that is currently available to nonprofits, and toward big government. His record and his personal philosophy also leads one to believe he would create a regulatory environment that would make it more challenging for churches and other nonprofits to continue to operate.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    My Colonoscopy: The Procedure

    Well, since I definitely do not want to belabor (at too great a length) a topic like "My Colonoscopy," this will be -- I promise! -- my last post on the topic. Hopefully forever.

    When last we left our hapless colonoscopy patient, he had completed his tedious ... but survivable ... colonoscopy preparation regimen, and was headed to the clinic (an hour earlier than originally scheduled!) for the "Big C."

    Waiting rooms at colonoscopy clinics are interesting places. I took comfort in the fact that most of the people there looked (more than I felt I looked, anyway) like they SHOULD be there. Grumpy looking old farts who could have been members of the IBS Club, every one of them.

    Well, we cling to whatever comfort we can at a time like that.

    I was pleased to discover that my health insurance covered (completely!) the cost of this procedure, considered preventative. I was expecting to at least pay a copay. Sweet! Primera, you rock!

    After 15 minutes or so, a cheerfully pleasant (for such an early hour on a Monday morning) sounding female nurse called me into an examination room. She instructed me to dress in appropriate garb (two of those open-backed hospital gowns, one for the front and one for the back, assured a certain amount of decorum.) She took my vitals, explained the necessary details, answered questions, and proceeded to look for a good vein to hook into.

    I used to get pretty nervous around needles, but thankfully that condition has been cured by the fact that I have forced myself to try and become a county champion blood donor (am headed toward my 2-gallon mark right now), and also my numerous bike accidents. (My first accident, I think they stuck me 7 or 8 times trying to find a good vein. Fortunately, my face hurt so bad at the time from striking the pavement that I barely even noticed.)

    So, I could practically sleep while the IV was being hooked up. Which was good, because even with my excellent veins, this time they had a hard time and had to poke me three times (apologetically) before getting what they needed. I think the issue was the fact that I was fairly dehydrated by the prep. I had drunk water for breakfast but only up until a certain point, and I was pretty thirsty by the time the procedure rolled around.

    My wife (the RN) has always said I had great veins, which this nurse agreed was the case, she just couldn't get the needle into them quickly.

    Anyway, once that was done she took me into the procedure room, which was bustling full of people and equipment. I met several nurses, all very cheerful, and then my physician, relaxed and professional. All very reassuring. They had me lay on my left side and a nurse explained that she was pushing into my IV a cocktail of two drugs, one a painkiller and one a sedative designed to send me into "twilight sleep" -- a state of "conscious sedation" where I would probably remember very little but they could still ask me necessary questions or get my help moving, etc.

    At this point I have about 10 or 15 seconds worth of discrete memories left ... I remember (after about 5 seconds), feeling remarkably warm and cozy and exclaiming, "Wow, that feels like one beer."

    Another 5 seconds, I felt twice as warm and cozy. I said, "Wow, and that feels like two beers."

    I fully remember I intended to say, at one point, "Wow, that feels like three beers ..." but whether I ever actually did or not, only the nurses know for sure.

    I don't have any memory of the doctor doing anything behind me, of any cold instruments, or of any other instructions. My only very, very fuzzy memory is that, apparently at some point in the procedure, I felt vaguely uncomfortable (maybe crampy?) in my abdomen. I remember thinking, "I should tell them that feels uncomfortable." I don't know whether I did or not.

    They warn you that you can experience cramping, due to the air that is blown into your colon by the instrument in order to open up the various folds so they can see and navigate. Therefore they give you permission and encouragement to expel this air so you can feel more comfortable. (Like, what guy needs permission to do that, anyway?)

    My next memory is of my wife standing at my side in the recovery room. I have no idea how I got there. I think the doctor may have been there at first, explaining the results of the procedure. He seemed encouraging. They found two "sessile polyps," he felt they were nothing to be concerned about, but they had removed them for biopsy just to be sure and would have results back within 10 days.

    Polyps are fleshy little growths (similar to skin tags, I think) that come out of the sides of your colon. Usually they are benign. Some people (with certain generic predispositions) actually have thousands of them. Most people my age probably have a few. My two were about 6 millimeters in diameter (less than a quarter inch). They remove them with "electrocautery," a little wire loop that is part of the submarine assembly which they tighten around the polyp, then send a current through to burn it off.

    I wondered whether this might have been the source of my brief discomfort, but supposedly you can't really feel that happening, so I doubt it.

    It was probably the air. I remember feeling slightly balloonish. But I am proud of the fact that I was more discrete than some of the others behind various curtains in the recovery room. I don't remember this, but Darlene said it sounded like some kind of macabre musical symphony in there.

    I got a cool souvenir color printout of a couple of photos they took from the inside. How many of you have ever seen what the opening to your appendix looks like? (From the inside?) Been there, done that. Technology is amazing.

    Anyway, a little while longer for me to recover my wits and I was able to walk out of there under my own power to resume my day. They said not to drive or return to work, so Darlene drove us both to a nice cafe where we had a lovely breakfast, then I enjoyed the rest of the day off. I went back to work the next morning. I felt like I had a little trouble focusing my eyes on my computer screen, but I suppose that was just a residual effect of the medication.

    About a week later my results came in the mail. The polyps were completely harmless, the lab said, and I didn't have to return for another 10 years. Hallelujah!

    So, that's it. Nothing to fear. A couple of days thinking about your large colon, and 10 years of freedom. Nice.

    So, to the moral of the story: If you are 50+ like I am ... or, if for some reason (such as other members of your family who have experienced colon problems) you are at a higher than normal risk for colon cancer ... you should DEFINITELY get a colonoscopy. Take advantage of this great technology. It will put your mind at ease and safeguard your health. Ask your doctor for a referral. Do it today!

    Feel free to comment and to share your own story or ask questions. I'm interested how my experience compares to others.

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    My Colonoscopy: The Preparation


    OK, the votes are in, and, by a vast margin of 1-0 (see the blog before last), they are in favor of me sharing about my recent colonoscopy experience.

    This is not for entertainment purposes, mind you. It is simply to help someone (like me, three weeks ago) looking to see what this routine procedure is like from the patient's perspective.

    It started with me overcoming my internal debate and calling the digestive health center to schedule the colonoscopy, after the requisite pressure from my RN wife and me getting a referral from my regular physician. (In my case, my colonoscopy was simply due to my age, now 51, and was meant as a baseline. I haven't had any problems that drove me to get one.)

    The clinic staff was very polite and reassuring on the phone. They would send me an important packet with preparation instructions in the mail.

    The packet came little more than a week before my procedure was scheduled. The instructions were detailed and clear as regards the prep.

    The goal is to arrive at the outpatient clinic for the procedure (in my case, at 9:30 on a Monday morning) as "clean as a whistle." Preparation begins about 3 days before the procedure, by observing a diet mildly restricted -- no seeds or nuts, etc. Things that might get stuck in there and hang around for awhile.

    Then, as of breakfast the morning before the day of the procedure, that's when things really get kicked into gear. Liquids only, then you drink the first of two potions ("Fleet Phospho Soda" or the equivalent generic, which costs about $4 or $5 for a 1.5-ounce dose at your drug store), designed to make sure your submarine has good visibility once inside.

    I had actually been taking it easy food-wise for the past three days. No red meat, etc., which wasn't hard since I normally only eat red meat once a week anyway. This wasn't part of the instructions, I just thought it would be a good idea. And that wasn't hard, but I was a little nervous, so I went into the weekend fairly hungry anyway.

    You have to understand that I am not one of those people who can't fast. I actually enjoy the occasional challenge of going without food for a full day, which I find helpful in getting my mind focused on other things, mostly of a more spiritual nature than my stomach. So, I can deal with being hungry.

    My problem was that the day before Monday was Sunday (no duh, huh?), which is typically very busy for me. I was supposed to make some important announcements in front of the entire congregation during worship. One particular part of the instructions caught my eye: "After drinking your first 1.5-ounce dose of Phospho Soda, don't let yourself get too far away from a toilet." The instructions warned that this need could come on you very suddenly. So the thought of that happening while I was standing up in front of 200 people in church was sobering. I hence decided to push the envelope and wait until after church for my first dose. (And, I dutifully skipped the church picnic.)

    Basically the prep is a clear liquid that you mix in 8 ounces of something drinkable. Looks like water, tastes like concentrated seawater. My wife, an RN with prior experience, recommended cold fruit juice. The thing to understand about this concoction is that the taste is the worst part. It's basically like drinking sea water, even in the juice. But, you force it down, knowing it's what you need to do, and gratefully it's over as fast as you can drink it, in my case about 2 minutes. You then drink another 8 ounces of juice just to clear the saltwater taste off your tongue. Plus it's recommended to take lots of fluids to replace what you're going to lose shortly.

    A normal dose (for laxative purposes) of this stuff is a third of a bottle, half an ounce. So I suspected that a triple dose times two (recommended for just such a cleansing) ought to have dramatic results. I immediately sensed that wasn't far off the mark. The moment the stuff hits your stomach you start to feel some unusual motion. No nausea, or anything like that, just movement. A distant thunder. Storm brewing. Odd.

    Instructions say it takes between 30 minutes and 3 hours to have your first BM. (You're supposed to call the doctor if nothing happens after 3 hours. I assume this means you need a plumber in a bad way.)

    For me it was 45 minutes. Of course the first time (which I was rather hoping was the last -- foolish boy) is the worst, because that's where the heavy lifting is done. But don't think, "Whew, I'm glad that's over," because believe me, it's not. Your GI system is now revved up and the motor is running. The next few hours you will become well acquainted with your commode.

    I had mild cramping (not bad) during this first run. After 3 or 4 hours I felt more or less normal, just a little tired of all the action, and thinking, "Wow, what on earth do you need a second dose for?" I guess it's just insurance.

    Now you're on clear liquids only. Jello, broth, things like that. Whatever you put in pretty much comes out, in pretty close to the same state you put it in. The second dose tasted just as bad as the first, and had an almost immediate result. Each time you're a little clearer, until basically it's just a clear yellowish liquid.

    The only other annoying thing that, and this was really about the worst of it, was that I began to get a little sore "down there." TP was the enemy. I found a little diaper ointment, discretely applied, helped a lot.

    The second dose caused no cramping this time. And of course, if you're like me, by this time you haven't eaten for about 24 hours and you are hungry. But the good news is that I caught up on a lot of reading to try and keep my mind off my stomach.

    The next morning, before the procedure, I just drank water, though they allow more (clear liquid, coffee, etc.). I'm not the kind of person who needs coffee, so I didn't bother.

    I was glad the clinic called and asked, "We had an appointment cancel ... can you come in an hour earlier?" Rather not waste the time just waiting around.

    So, the prep is done. The worst part is over ... and, as I said in response to my one comment, it's really not that bad. You just need to be prepared to do "nothing but" (no pun intended) for 24 hours before your procedure.

    Next installment: the colonoscopy itself.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Clever Tees

    Recently I've enjoyed discovering some of the creative tee shirt designs at SnorgTees.com, and think you'll get a kick out of them ...

























































































    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Just a gut feeling ...

    OK, I'm having a huge internal debate. (And that sentence itself will probably sound a little funny if you read on a little bit ...)

    Recently (a year and a half ago) I turned 50. One of the lucky things that is supposed to happen to you when you turn 50 is that you're supposed to get a baseline colonoscopy. Doesn't that sound like fun?

    Well, it didn't sound like too much fun to me, exactly. My colon has always felt just fine, thank you very much. Most of the time, anyway ... unless I eat one of those little "Madness" habanero sushi things at the Blue Ocean sushi bar. So anyway, my wife (the nurse) convinced me I needed to get it over with. Therefore, one of the things I was interested in was hearing (from someone who had had one already) exactly what it was like. I had questions!

    I talked with several 50+ folks who had already experienced the big C. Mostly they agreed that the procedure itself (because of the "conscious sedation") is a piece of cake compared to the prep. But they didn't get too specific about what the supposedly terrible prep was like, so that wasn't the most helpful statement imaginable.

    I realize of course that anything that has to do with that particular end of your body is normally kept fairly private and is not (hopefully) a huge topic of conversation. At least not polite conversation.

    I actually appreciated Katie Couric's brave "coming out" when she got her colonoscopy on TV, mostly in an effort to encourage more people to have this life-saving procedure.

    Anyway, I went looking for blogs on the topic. I wondered, was anyone out there talking about exactly what they experienced in their colonoscopy? I wanted to be prepared.

    I found a number of blog entries dealing with colonoscopies. Some were technical in nature (apparently written by med techs giving advice about how to get the scope moving when it's "stuck" in there), and lots were, "Wow, I have to get a colonoscopy, I'm really not looking forward to that ..."

    I didn't find any actually describing the procedure (and the preparation) from the patient's perspective.

    So, fast forward to today: I had my colonoscopy a few weeks ago, and it really wasn't that bad (either the prep or the procedure). I mean, I've had more fun at a Tupperware party (just kidding, I've never really been to a Tupperware party) ... but it wasn't as bad as I was prepared for. So, I'm thinking about blogging about it. Sharing the gruesome details for someone else who might be considering it.

    But I'm still fighting this feeling that talking about one's hiney on the internet may be sharing just a bit "too much information." Can the blogosphere handle a blog with me describing the entire colonoscopy experience, step-by-step?

    So I'm tossing a bone out there. Someone please comment and let me know what you think about this. Would this be a benefit to someone out there who is scheduled for a colonoscopy and wondering what to expect, if I shared my experience in detail?

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    I Just Might Change My Vote

    In a recent lunchtime political debate with a friend, I was listening to the stream of invective about all the horrible things Sarah Palin has supposedly done. I stopped her when she began parroting the line about how Palin was "for the Bridge to Nowhere, before she was against it." 

    "Just wait a minute," I said. "Do you mean to tell me that you would vote for a politician who was unwilling to change their position on a project like this even if the circumstances fundamentally changed? Because that's what Palin did."

    I realize, of course, that it makes a damaging sound bite to say, "I voted for it, before I voted against it." But the truth is, I wouldn't vote for anyone who was so unthinkingly committed to a proposition that they would refuse to change their position even if the circumstances changed dramatically.

    My friend then asked, apparently frustrated, "Are you so committed to Palin that she couldn't do ANYTHING to lose your support?"

    Of course not! I'd be happy to work against her, rather than for her, if she fundamentally (through her actions) changed my opinion about her positions and her integrity.

    For instance, she might decide to abandon unborn children (the ultimate powerless victims) to those powerful people who were trying to sanction their murder. She could decide to jump onto the embryonic stem cell research bandwagon, even though it's totally unwarranted and unnecessary, simply because it was the politically expedient thing to do. (By the way, McCain's support for embryonic stem cell research is one of the reasons I haven't been real excited about him.)

    She could stop thinking logically about America's vast natural resources and decide that, rather than supporting the cautious exploration of the ANWR for oil and gas she would instead seal these remote areas off from exploration and seek to throw even more American energy money to Arab nations who don't deserve it and function as a hotbed for terrorists.

    These are just for starters. You see, there's all kinds of things Sarah Palin (and John McCain) could do to lose my vote. I'm not like those who criticize a politician for changing her mind when the circumstances change. If she changes her positions, if she compromises her integrity, I'm sorry, I'm outta here.

    However, I would like to turn my friend's own question back on her: "Is there anything at all that Sarah Palin could do that you WOULDN'T criticize her for?"

    Like others, I've been following the news about the hacking theft of Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account on Yahoo. The Huffington Post had an interesting article about this. They insinuated that Palin was somehow wrong for having such an e-mail account, that she must have been trying to hide government communications from the Freedom of Information Act.

    Comparing Facebook groups 1 million strong for Sarah and 1 Million Against the New Facebook layout
    Give me a break! Did you Huffers even watch the news this morning? Even on the Today Show, they said there was nothing in her personal e-mail account but personal e-mail, and that the theft would actually work in her favor because it would show that she had actually done a good job separating the two (keeping her government e-mail on government accounts, and her private e-mail on private accounts).

    This is certainly better than I could do. My business life and my private life are so intertwined that I have a tough time keeping personal stuff out of my business e-mails, and keeping business talk out of my personal e-mails. I certainly try, but it's a challenge. (Unless, of course, I'm trying to hide something from the public ... then I put it in my gMail account where it is likely to get HACKED and posted on the Internet! Sorry, that's sarcasm slipping in, isn't it?)

    I think this must be true of anyone who loves their job. If you work 60 hours a week, 20 of them at home, how do you keep one sphere from seeping into the other? It's tough. I admire Palin for demonstrating some measure of success at this.

    The REAL question is, why aren't we going after the people who (illegally, I might add) hacked into Palin's personal e-mail accounts at Yahoo? That is so wrong it makes me seethe. Can you imagine that happening to you? How angry would you be if someone hacked your most personal e-mails to your friends and displayed their contents on the internet?

    Why aren't the "champions of privacy" coming to Palin's defense and pointing out that she is the victim here? Why are her private e-mails instead being splashed in the media? (The same media who are refusing to cooperate with the government investigation of the crime?)

    And why isn't the Huffington Post concerned about this aspect of this recent revelation? Oh wait, I guess you can file this under the triumph of ideology, right?

    Okay, this is only my second political post in the last 15 years. And my second in the last month. Hmmm. I guess I must be slipping.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Obama's New Running Mate

    When it comes to the truth, Joe Biden plays it fast and loose ...

    http://weblog.signonsandiego.com/weblogs/afb/archives/026777.html

    One of the things that is bothering me about Obama, is not so much that he demonstrates a deficient character himself, but that he tolerates, associates with and even embraces people who do. Case in point which has bothered me for a long time is his support of a church pastored by Dr. Wright.

    I am a committed member of a local church. The pastor is my friend. I have served on the elder board a total of four separate two-year terms (so far). As a committed Christian (which Obama claims to be) I want to be involved in the leadership of my church, I want to make sure it is on target. My church is important to me and I feel a sense of personal responsibility to help guard the doctrine and integrity of my church.

    Why did Obama tolerate Wright for so many years? Why is it that he doesn't repudiate the man's positions until he is a candidate for president? I can't see myself doing that. If something like that happened in my church, I would feel responsible to either try and fix the problem, or get out.

    And why on earth would you pick a running mate who plays it so fast and loose with the truth? Wouldn't you be looking for more integrity than that?

    Am I wrong that these things are bothering me? Does this bother anyone else?

    By the way, I don't usually go into politics in this blog. For one thing, I'm not terribly happy with any of the choices this time around. I could write at length about my displeasure with John McCain. (And probably will, now that I've started down this slippery slope ...)

    But I just wanted to get this off my chest and see if anyone had any perspective on this.

    Friday, May 02, 2008

    Cool Widgets

    OK, I'm still sitting here in the lobby at the Westin Reston. It's 3:30 and Mandy should be arriving any minute now. But in the meantime I think I'll post some interesting things I've discovered whilst playing around with my free internet access here.

    I promise this entry won't be as long (or as boring) as the entry below, recounting my whole travel experience.

    Add Larry Short Blog to your favorites by clicking here!

    Cool new widgets out there on the internet -- first this cool new "Bookmark" button, which you can see above, and also find on the right, just below the "About Me" box (which, by the way, I realize I should tighten up a bit!).

    I saw this cool button in action on a blog I was reading while sitting here, the "Candid Christian" blog. Which I really enjoyed, by the way! Nice job, whoever that Candid Christian guy is. Great testimony. Reminded me a lot of my own. Nice to meet someone else who discovered Jesus at a very early, then rediscovered Him later, after wandering a bit, who has a dramatic story of how the love of Christ has impacted his life. That's me, man. Jesus is more real to me today that ever before, and than I could ever describe. I'm, so far away from perfect I don't even want to go into it. But the amazing mercy and grace of God is the best thing in my life, for sure.

    Anyway, I'm wandering again. I saw that "Bookmark" button on his blog, and figured out how to steal it and put it on my own. Try it! You'll like it. You can easily use this to put a link to my shamelessly self-promoting blog on your own Favorites, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, Redditt, Furl, Google or Yahoo favorites, however you organize and promote and try to remember your favorite links.

    And if you click on it you'll discover a clever way to get this technology on your own blog.

    OK, that's useful, but this next thing is truly useful. Have you ever wondered how long you would survive in the vacuum of space? No one's ever tried it, of course. But now, believe it or not, using the wonderful technology of the web, you cann calculate how long you would last in the vacuum of space.

    For me, it's about one minute and 35 seconds before my veins would implode and my heart would stop beating. Gratefully, by this time (actually after only about 15 seconds) I would be unconscious. Which I would probably be grateful for, since the moisture in my eyes and mouth would have already boiled off into the vacuum of space. Which is probably at least as unpleasant as it sounds.

    OK, the widget follows. Click on it to calculate how long YOU could survive in the vacuum of space. By the way, here's an important hit: If you hold your breath you'll last longer ... but expelling the air out of your lungs first you avoid pulmonary trauma to your lungs. I guess it speaks to quality vs. quantity of life. Good to know.

    How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?
    Created by OnePlusYou

    We'll see how long it takes Mandy to get here. Maybe I'll be able to find something else to entertain myself with.

    Restin' in Reston

    The beautiful Westin Reston Hotel in Reston, Virginia.Today I'm in Washington DC. Actually, technically right now I am in Reston, Virginia, about a half hour northwest of Washington DC. Had an enjoyable visit yesterday at the World Vision office in DC (just a few blocks away from the Capitol), and spent 3 hours navigating DC's amazing metro and bus system in an attempt to get to my hotel without the outrageous expense and frustrating experience of getting ripped off by a taxi.

    I got ripped off twice by taxis yesterday while trying to get from Reagan Int'l Aiport to the World Vision office, which is only like 20 minutes away even with heavy traffic. It took me two separate taxi rides and $35 to get there. I was trying to imagine how much I would have to pay, by taxi, to go twice the distance (again, with traffic) to get to my hotel. I was warned it might be $75 or more. So I decided to roll the dice and take my chances with the Metro system.

    The taxi drivers who ripped me off were very nice. They always are. But they always charge more than they should and I don't know how to stop them. I'm told I need to negotiate with them before I get into the taxi. But I'm not very good at it. I guess I just look like a sucker.

    Chancing the Metro

    Anyway, I walked 4 or 5 blocks to the Union Station (one of the Metro stops) and after enlisting the aid of a few good Samaritans was able to negotiate what is practically an indoor city to get to the right place to get a ticket and get on the Metro. I put $5 in a machine and got a ticket. Took me awhile longer to find the right entrance to the Red Line station and get through the turnstiles (couldn't figure out how to insert the ticket the right way in the turnstyles while the attendants were yelling at me something like "Arrow in! Arrow in!" amidst the total chaos with impatient people pushing behind me).

    Anyway, I finally made it onto a train, only about 50% sure I was actually heading in the right direction. Fortunately I was, and a few stops later I got off at the right place to catch the orange line, which a helpful attendant had told me I could ride to the end (in Vienna, VA) then catch a bus north to the Dulles airport, where I would be able to pick up a free hotel shuttle to my hotel just a few miles away. A roundabout trip, but definitely cheaper than a taxi. Hopefully.

    So I got on the Orange Line successfully, right from the same platform, so I didn't have to reinsert my ticket. And I rode the orange line all the way to the end, Vienna, VA, almost an hour, quite a ways west of Washington DC. I got off and walked over to where the buses were ... then was chagrined to discover that they all went south. None went north.

    Again, a helpful Good Samaritan came to my aid, a Metro employee who told me I was mistaken, that the northbound bus was two stops back. She very kindly let me back through the turnstile (without charging me) and I got back on the Orange Line eastbound, then got off at the correct stop.

    I had to reinsert my ticket to get out, but I think the whole trip of more than an hour on these very fast and comfortable trains only cost me $1.65. It could be more, I'm not sure, but I know it wasn't more than $5. Amazing. What a way to travel! I wonder how many billions of dollars that whole system cost taxpayers? Most of it is underground. It all runs very smoothly, though you really have to stay away from the tracks, there is no rail up. If you were bumped and fell off the side when a train was coming, or simply didn't watch where you were going, you'd be dead. Don't know how many children they lose there, but I'd be surprised if they didn't.

    Catching Z's on the Washington Flyer

    No trouble finding the "Washington Flyer" bus bound northbound to Dulles. The ticket was $9 but they were very pleasant, the bus was the nicest I'd ever been on, and it was still way better than a taxi. The ride was so comfortable it was all I could do not to fall asleep ... mainly because I had come in on a redeye the night before my meetings and hadn't slept in 40 hours.

    They dropped me off at the airport and I had no trouble making my way to the shuttle stop. The shuttle supposedly ran every 30 minutes but they had said to call them when I got there. I tried directory assistance and it took a long time too get the right number for the Westin Reston. I didn't know this at the time, but they were brand new. The night I was there was their first night open. Which is why, I think, I got such a great deal -- $125 for a night in a very swank hotel, in an area where not-as-swank hotels often go for $200/night.

    Anyway, the driver came and I was the only pickup at the airport. He seemed perplexed about that, but drove me to the hotel anyway. The desk staff gave me the impression they were in training or something, seemed stumbling over themselves to be pleasant. Like they had never done that before. Weird. (At the time I didn't know I was one of their very first customers.)

    The Westin Reston -- One SWANK Hotel

    The hotel was spotless and immaculate, the nicest I had ever been in. (Again, I guess a room would be very clean for its very first customer.) Only three incidents interrupted what was otherwise a VERY restful 10 hours of sleep. Which in my case is a rarity; I rarely sleep more than 6 hours a night, 7 at most. Often subsist on less than 6. I know this isn't good for you; I'm just a little too high strung to get enough sleep. I am so interested in whatever I'm doing, that I have a hard time quitting to go to bed. But I have to get up at a certain time in order to start the new day. A dilemma.

    By the way, my wife says I am ADD. Actually, both my wife and boss told me (in the same week) I was ADD. If either of them had told me that, without the other, I probably wouldn't have believed it. When two people I trust tell me something independently of each other, even if it's an unpleasant truth, I pretty much have to assume it's true. Just a rule of my life. (Now don't go taking advantage of that!)

    By the way (another diversion) ... my wife defines nagging as "the necessary repetition of unpalatable truth."

    So, I guess I'm a little ADD. Among other things, that means I have a hard time sticking to a topic. I get interested and wander off. Now, let's see, where was I ... ?

    Oh yeah, the Westin Reston Hotel. Three things bugged me: 1) I tried to log in to their wifi and was informed it would cost me $9.99 to do so. The wifi was there, they just wouldn't let me in without ten bucks. Grrrr.

    Which I can understand if you're at the airport. After all, you're not paying the airport $125 to sit there in your chair and take up space. You have to wait there, for your plane. (Plus, you practically have to be stripsearched on the way in.) So, if they need to charge you for internet access (by the way, they only charge $6 or $7 for 24 hours' access, not 10 bucks), I can live with that. But I can't abide coffee shops like Starbucks (even though I love Starbucks' coffee) charging you for wireless access, because most of the others don't and it doesn't cost them that much. After all, you are paying $5 for a cup of coffee, albeit good coffee.

    And I REALLY can't abide a swanky, $125/night hotel charging $10 for internet access?. Fuhgetaboutit. Heck, even Motel 6 gives you free wifi!

    In my frustration I reached for a bottle of water. I had been happy to see two nice, juicy bottles of water sitting on the desk when I entered my very swank room the night before. I tore the label off and was about to take a swig, when I noticed a printed tab hanging around the neck of the bottle. The fine print read something like: "Your room will be charged $4.50 for this bottle of water." Which I assumed meant they would charge me $4.50 for ripping the label off, even if I didn't drink their stupid water. Strike two.

    My Wake-Up Call

    Strike three came at 5:00 a.m. I had gone to bed about 11:00 East Coast time, which was 8:00 Pacific Time. Early for bed, but after 40 hours up, I was danged tired. I planned to sleep as long as I could in the morning, knowing I didn't have to check out 'til noon. I didn't even set an alarm. I was sure there'd be no way I'd sleep more than 12 hours anyway.

    But here it was, 5:00 a.m., and my very swank and modern bigscreen LCD TV set (the nicest I had ever seen in a hotel room, by the way) had woken itself up, then me, filling my room with pleasing blue light, and playing very pleasing wake-up music. Why? I had no idea.

    It took me maybe 10 minutes to find my glasses, then find the remote, then figure out how to turn the TV off. By that time I was really awake. And really mad. I went back to bed. Fortunately, I was still so tired it only took me maybe 30 or 40 minutes to go back to sleep, even though I was really pissed off by strike three.

    The good news is that I did indeed go back to sleep, and woke up about 9 a.m. or so, so I did get at least 9 hours of sleep and was a relatively recovered human being again. I was still upset about the three strikes, though. Took a nice hot bath, felt better, packed all my things, and got down to the desk about 11:30.

    "Checking out?" they asked pleasantly. (I still didn't realize this was only their second day on the job.)

    "I am," I said. "But first I would like to know if you would like my amateur review in person, or whether I should give it online." While I was showering I had made up my mind to tell them about the three strikes in person, and to counterbalance my negative feedback with the positive. After all, I really did like the hotel. The bed was SO comfortable, and everything was so swank. They even served free Starbucks coffee. (Why on earth would you charge for bottled water while you were serving free Starbucks coffee? Baffling.)

    When I asked them this, they actually looked a little frightened. Which was also a bit of a mystery to me. Several gathered around.

    "Yes," a woman who looked in charge assured me, "by all means please tell us your feedback. That's better than going online." That made sense to me. That was how I was hoping they would respond.

    So, first I gave them the good news, about how clean and swank my roomn was and how much, overall, I loved the hotel. They smiled, but didn't look very relieved. They were smart enough to know I was offering a sugar pill before the bitter medicine.

    Then I told them about the three strikes. They were baffled about the TV turning itself on.

    "Do you have programming to provide wake-up calls?" I asked. "Because that's obviously what it was. Maybe a prior room resident had programmed it."

    "No," they assured me, "there was no prior room resident. You were the first. Last night was our first night open. We don't know anything about the TVs being able to do wake-up calls." Weird. But that's when I discovered the truth, that this hotel was brand new. And then I felt a little guilty about lambasting them with my review; but I guess it was probably good for them. To their credit, they took my feedback very, very well.

    They apologized for the wireless access charge. "That's just the way Westin does it," they told me. "We know it's weird to charge for it." They also told me I could get free internet access in the lobby. "Really?" I asked, surprised. I wasn't sure how they could confine free access to the lobby of a building but then charge residents in their rooms for it.

    So, I whipped out my laptop and tried it. And I was right. No free access in the lobby. I showed them the screen where Westin wanted me to pay $10 for access.

    At that point the desk lady went back and consulted with "her IT people." And when she came back she apologized again. "I may have misspoken," she said. "We apparently do not have free internet access in the lobby, after all.

    "But since I told you we did," she offered, "Go ahead and put it on your room tab, then we'll remove the charge."

    So I tried that. But they had already checked me out. So, they checked me back in, then my access worked. Strike two resolved. (Assuming I get home and don't find the charge on my credit card!)

    Then I pulled out the bottle of water. "Okay," I said, explaining how I had opened the water before I saw that it would cost me $4.50. "I understand if you need to charge me for the water. I ripped the seal off, so you can't really give it to anyone else. But really ... $4.50 for a bottle of water? Gimme a break!"

    By this time the woman really looked like she just wanted me out of her life. "Take it," she said. "The water is yours. On us."

    Enjoying a Rare Burger Experience at the Westin Reston

    I was so gratified I took my free wifi access and my free bottle of water back into their little restaurant, where I think I was their first lunch customer ever, and ordered a hamburger. Only $12. (The cheapest thing on their swank menu.)

    But at least they cooked it the way I like it. I always ask restaurants for "rare" burgers because no one really cooks it that way. If you ask for rare they cook it medium and slightly pink (which in reality is barely even medium rare). Everyone is so worried about salmonella liability these days.

    But at the Westin Reston, I actually got my burger rare. Truly rare. It was probably a full pound of lean angus burger, only slightly browned on the outside and red and juicy (even cool) on the inside. Wonderful! I really enjoyed that burger.

    Even if I do get salmonella now (which would be something of a surprise -- I pretty much have a cast-iron stomach after traveling throughout Eastern Europe and Latin America and Africa and eating about everything you can imagine) at least I've eaten at a restaurant where they (probably not knowing any better since they are so new at this) actually cooked a burger the way I asked for it.

    So if I do get salmonella I'll struggle through it, knowing it's my own darned fault.

    OK, let's see ... where was I? Darn this ADD.

    Well, I guess actually that brings us up to the present. I'm sitting here in the hotel lobby, after having finished my wonderful hamburger and thoroughly annoyed the staff, enjoying my free internet access and working on my blog while waiting for my daughter Amanda and her fiance Alex to arrive. We are going to tour DC this weekend, and do it right. I'm ready for an adventure now.

    I'm sure I'll have more to report when we're back! Bye for now!