Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lessons I Learned From the Great Mushroom Hunt of 2012

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These past few years I have building experience in an annual fall foray into the forests of the Northwest, seeking wild mushrooms. There are several edible varieties that spring up about this time of year, most notably the Golden Chanterelle, and my son Nathan and I have discovered a "secret" spot where these occur in great abundance. It's primal rainforest, on the slopes of and just about 10 miles or so away from the peak of our state's most majestic volcano, the towering Mt. Rainier.

My portion of this year's take ... golden chanterelles upper
left, oyster mushrooms lower right.
In addition to chanterelles (both golden and white), we also seek the elusive Chicken of the Woods (sulphur shelf), as well as the pretty white oyster mushrooms which grow on decaying wood. Plus, the occasional lobster mushroom, which is actually a parasitic version of several other varieties. Last year's hunt was a fantastic success, with all four varieties being collected, and many dozens of others observed and photographed.

Each year as I am distributing the abundance of wild mushrooms hither and yon, a lot of my friends and colleagues tell me, "Can you teach me how to do this? Where to find these wonderful shrooms?" So this year I decided to open up the hunt and take whoever wanted to come with me. I posted a notice on Facebook about when the hunt would occur, where we would gather to depart, and what safety items to bring.

Saturday evening I gathered in our church parking lot with eight other hardy souls and we headed south to the secret spot. We were a bit late in the season (we really should have done this back in October), but because the summer was quite dry and the rains really didn't start in earnest until a few weeks ago, I figured the growing cycle would be slightly delayed.

First order of business in mushroom hunting is always safety-related, so before we departed we talked about what to pick and what not to pick, as well as how to prepare what you picked; and of equal importance, what safety equipment to carry with you while hunting, just in case you were to get lost in what is very thick and rugged and primal forest. (This I know from experience ... last year I was lost for about three hours. One of my worst fears is being lost and overtaken by nightfall in the cold, very dark, and very damp rainforest.)

One of the golden chantrelles, nearly the size of my fist.
The hunt went well. The hunters broke up pretty much in twos and threes and while the mushrooms weren't as profuse as last year, there were still quite a few out there, and we were re-energized with each new discovery. As the light was beginning to fail and we were returning to the car, two of the hunters told me they were going to take one last foray down into a little valley where others had found the most mushrooms. I should have warned them that this was the valley I myself got lost in last year. The terrain is quite steep and rugged. Instead, I simply told them to be careful and quick.

After a bit of last-minute hunting trailside, and a mile hike back to the car, we gathered. All but our two friends, who were nowhere to be seen.

Another hunter and I decided to head back to place we had last seen them, a camping spot alongside the trail which sat atop the rim of the valley of the chanterelles. She had a flashlight. I should have grabbed another light, but we headed out in a hurry and without thinking about it I had left my pack in the car, just grabbing my red bicycle flasher and my pistol before hurrying off. We hiked the mile back without finding them on the trail. At this point it was dark. I advised my companion to head back to the car with the flashlight, and with my red flasher and pistol in hand I headed further west on the trail (the wrong way from the car), to a certain fork in the road, in case they had turned the wrong direction. We agreed on a plan: If she arrived at the car and they were there, she was to fire off one round to let me know. If I arrived back at the spot we last saw them, I would begin firing rounds to draw their attention. But if I fired three rounds in quick succession, that meant there was a true emergency and she was to organize a rescue party.

(By the way, we had also brought walkie-talkies, but it was so damp they had stopped working early on.)

Barely able to make my way down the trail by the red flashing emergency light, I traveled some distance without any sign of the two women. I achieved the fork in the road and shouted at the top of my lungs, but only silence greeted me. It was now completely dark.

I practically felt my way back to their point of departure from the trail, and made my way slowly up to a very large fir tree on the lip of chanterelle valley, then climbed as high as I dared. I then held my flashing light toward the valley. I was about to fire off a round when I barely heard the sound of a shrill whistle blowing in the distance. It came from somewhere down the valley and to the north. I knew it must be our lost hunters. In response, I fired one round into the air.

I didn't anticipate how deafening the 9 mm shot would be in that close forest. (Ear protection is normally worn when shooting!) But the ringing in my ears subsided after a few minutes, and listening carefully I was able to hear another whistle blowing in the darkness. This one sounded slightly closer. I fired off another round in response.

So it went for the next hour. The blackness was now pitch and I couldn't even see my way back across the campsite to the trail. I continued to hold my flashing red bicycle light aloft, and firing off the occasional round whenever I heard a whistle blow. Gratefully the sounds drew ever closer up the valley. Eventually I could also hear shouts, in response to the shouts I had been making over the past hour. So I continued shouting as loud as I could, though my voice was now growing hoarse.

At first I thought it was my imagination, but finally I saw it ... the ghost of a flickering white light playing delicately off some trees, far below. It had to be our lost hunters! I was grateful and relieved to see that their flashlight was still working.

About this time I began to hear a series of horn honks, three at a time, in a different direction off to my east and slightly south. This was not part of the plan and I wasn't sure what it meant. It was also coming from a different direction and I was afraid it might distract and confuse the lost hunters.

But fortunately about this time, the light of flashlights appeared on the trail behind me. Two of our party, each with a good flashlight, had walked the mile back from the cars to the camping spot to join me. I pointed out to them the light I could see below, drawing ever closer, and they then proceeded to make their way downslope cautiously to meet the lost hunters. Eventually I could hear the sounds of their joyful reunion, now a mere 50 yards or so below my tree.

Our lost hunters were cold and exhausted, but very happy to be found. They said they had acquired a substantial patch of chantrelles in the valley, and couldn't pull themselves away in time to avoid being caught by darkness and lost during the return trip. They basically had remained in place, blowing their whistle, until they heard the report of my pistol up on the ridge and decided to strike out toward the sound. A short distance later they said they caught the gleam of my red flasher, and then attempted to bear straight toward it.

The distant twinkling red light (which was me up in that fir tree) would intermittently appear and disappear as it was blocked by various obstacles, but they were always able to reacquire it by going from side to side. Eventually, in this manner they made their way slowly through the darkness, up to safety.

I appreciated these ladies' calm and thoughtful approach to solving their problem. I'm sure they were frightened (I remember how disturbing an experience it was when I found myself disoriented and lost in that same forest, last year, and it wasn't even pitch dark then as it was now), but to their credit they kept their spirits up and their wits about them, and never lost faith they would be found.

Lost? Head toward the light!
As we made our way home in the darkness, I thought much about how this experience was an analogy for my life. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we're all lost in a great, dark forest where there are many distractions. Disaster lies in all directions but one. While there are many directions we can wander, there really is only one way out of our dilemma, and we must listen very carefully for the voice of one crying out in the darkness, "This way, come this way! Climb higher! Don't be afraid, come toward the sound of my voice!"

And just as our lost hunters eventually saw that red light twinkling, high in the tree up on the hillside where their party awaited them, and guessed they were on the right path, renewing their energy and determination in their journey toward safety, so we must all of us who are lost look for the blood-stained Cross. Jesus told His disciples: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).

An additional lesson came from what our lost hunters told me when they, too, began to hear the distant horn honks. They were coming in a different direction from the sound of my voice and that of the pistol I was firing. They said they were tempted to turn toward the sound. But they decided instead (fortunately) to continue along the original path toward the sounds that I was making. (The honking was being done by one of our party who had taken one of our two cars further to the south to see if the women might have followed the trail the wrong direction, as it looped around to the south and then back east. It was a good idea, but he didn't realize that honking the horn from that direction might prove a distraction.)

Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan speaks of this eloquently. As we are making our journey toward the Cross, there are many distractions off what Scripture calls "the straight and narrow path." We must keep our eyes fixed on that distant goal, our ears fixed on listening to His voice. If we turn from the path and find ourselves lost, our only choice is to turn back, to retrace our footsteps, and to reacquire that straight and narrow path toward our goal. That is the nature of repentance called for in the Scriptures.

There are no shortcuts on the straight and narrow path! It's upward and onward, ever pressing toward the Cross.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Role of Obedience in Worship

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I get the occasional opportunity to preach at our church, Elim Evangelical Free in Puyallup, WA, which I enjoy (even though it is an incredible amount of work and makes me appreciate our pastors all the more!). Last weekend our lead pastor was vacationing in Nevada and Utah so he permitted me to preach on a topic of my choosing.

I chose Genesis 8:18-22 (the story of Noah's magnificent act of worship and sacrifice, after deboarding the Ark) and the topic of "worship" in general. If you are interested in hearing the result, you can listen here (click on "Genesis 8:18-22" under the October 14, 2012 Special Sermons listing ... it's an MP3 about 37 minutes in length).

As I was preparing for last weekend's sermon, I focused on four components of worship: fear, gratitude, praise, and sacrifice. I touched on a fifth (obedience), but as I've reflected more these past few days, I have become convicted that I didn't do it justice.

In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet said, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Genesis 22:1-14 tells a story that is dramatic and beautiful, yet difficult. It even causes a lot of people to doubt the character of God. In it, God instructs Abraham to kill his only son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.

The very first verse in this story reveals that God was testing Abraham, testing his utter obedience. Abraham had come to know God well. God had provided Isaac miraculously, in faithfulness to His promise. Isaac was God's provision, His miracle, and Abraham knew it well. So when he was commanded to sacrifice what God had provided ... his only son, which he loved above even his own life ... would he obey?

Thankfully, Scripture records that Abraham did obey. His obedience was proof of his faith. And you know the story: At the last possible moment, as the knife was raised to plunge into Isaac's heart as he lay there, bound upon the wood of the altar, God's command came again and stayed Abraham's hand. Then he provided a ram, whose horns were caught in a nearby thicket, as a sacrifice instead.

Much has been written about this and I don't have anything new to say. But I think it's important to see this in the context of worship. As they approach the sacrifice, in verse 4 Abraham tells his servants: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Also note he says “We will come back to you. He obviously believed his son would return alive.)

Abraham acknowledged that this act of obedience was worship. True worship fundamentally says to God: "Lord, I am Yours. All that I have is from Your hand. I open my hands to You. You have complete authority to ask for any of it back, at any time.

Predicting a future time when sin and rebellion have finally been dealt a death-blow, the prophet Daniel says in 7:27:

His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.

These passages challenge me in the same way that Noah's sacrifice challenged me. God may, but is not necessarily, calling us to sacrifice in big ways, as much as He is calling us to sacrifice in the small ways of everyday living: To yield our time, our treasure, our talent, our energy to Him in ways that will bring glory to His name. Likewise, we may never experience a huge test of obedience, as Abraham did; yet we are called daily to obey in a thousand small ways: To refrain from gossip, to tell the truth, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to keep our hearts pure, to be kind, to share His love with others, to be a cheerful giver as He has prospered us.

In Christ's parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28, in verse 23 the master of the faithful servant assures him: You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Obedience starts small!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fear

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Sometimes the Bible relies heavily on words whose meaning has shifted dramatically in our language. For instance: "Our God is a jealous God."

We attach a highly negative connotation to the word jealous because our cultural context for the word brings up images of jilted lovers, striking out in petulant anger. Hence our image of a "jealous God" may be one who is mad, spiteful and and vindictive because he isn't getting 100% of our attention.

However, a much more accurate perspective on the word might be conjured up by the image of a mother walking beside her toddler down a busy street. With cars whizzing carelessly by just scant feet away, that mother is going to be very vigilant that her child does not dart out into the street. She is going to be jealous for her toddler. We wouldn't normally use the word "jealous" in this context, because its use in our language has shifted away from that. But that's really a much more accurate portrayal of how and why God is jealous for us. He loves us and longs to see us happy and fulfilled. He knows that the further we stray from His ways, the more likely we are to encounter danger and be crushed. He is jealous for us.

Another word frequently misunderstood in Scripture is the word "fear." In Deuteronomy 6 Moses is giving the Israelites the low-down on God's expectations for them. Verse 13 says: "Fear the Lord your God, serve him only, and take your oaths in his name." If that sounds familiar, it's because this is the verse Christ quoted to Satan when tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4):
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Note that Jesus replaced the word "fear" with "worship."

Not that Jesus shied from using the word "fear." In Matthew 10:28 He advises us: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" I used to think this verse meant that I should tiptoe carefully around God lest I make Him mad and get whacked for it. But the truth is that my sin has already given God all the justification He needs to destroy both my body and my soul in hell. True biblical fear is realizing that God loves me so much that He died so that I wouldn't have to go to hell and be destroyed! A God who would (and did) do that for me is awesomely, scarily, inconceivably merciful. That kind of mercy is way beyond human experience. I tremble and fear when I think about it.

An appropriate response would therefore be gratitude and worship. I find in Luke 17 a fascinating analogy for what God has done for us, and how we have responded:
12 As He [Jesus] entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
I think the 10 leprous men represent all of us who have come to the end of our ropes and have cried out to God to help us. We're all diseased and leprous, and sick with sin. Christ's response? He heals them all with a word.

(And lest we think this was "easy" for Him, Scripture reveals the behind-the-scenes truth: "The punishment that brought us peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5)

So I think these 10 healed lepers represent forgiven Christendom. And nine of the 10 skip merrily on their way without so much as a thank-you. No gratitude, no praise, no worship. Just one returns to fall at the master's feet and worship. Just one thanks God for paying the price!

So what does Jesus say to this one? "Stand up and go, your faith has made you well." Wait a minute ... weren't all 10 healed? Yes, they were. Weren't all 10 therefore "well?" No, just the one who exhibited the faith to worship God could truly be pronounced "well." So obviously, therefore, there is more to being "well" than simply being forgiven of our sin. In order to be truly well, we must be more than forgiven: We must demonstrate the faith to worship God.

Now, back to "fear." (Forgive me, I am trying to weave some disparate strands into a tapestry.) We are told to fear God and worship Him. When we see the worship experiences of certain people in Scripture, "fear" is probably an accurate descriptor. In Isaiah 6, the prophet is struck dumb in the presence of God, realizing that any word out of his mouth rings there as an obscenity before a holy God. ("Woe is me: I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!")

The prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 1 and 2 of his book, falls down on his face "like a dead man" when confronted with the approach of the Holy God. The Apostle John does the exact same kind of faceplant in Revelation 1.

What is God's response to this display of fear? In Isaiah 6 he takes a coal from the altar and applies it to Isaiah's lips. Suddenly Isaiah is purified and can speak boldly. In Ezekiel, it says the Holy Spirit "lifted him to his feet." Similarly, in Revelation 1 John reports that Christ put His right hand on him and said: "Do not be afraid!"

So, the conclusion is: We are to fear God ... but not to be afraid! In fact, over and over again, He reassures us: "Do not be afraid! Stand!"

Our basis for standing is obviously not any merit of our own. We are cleansed lepers. We can stand because we have been cleansed.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Make sure you're on the right road

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For those who have read and enjoyed John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, you will understand the significance of "the journey" as a metaphor for life. Pilgrim's Progress is built upon such key biblical texts as Matthew 7:14 -- "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." The Pilgrim's road to the Celestial City is depicted as a narrow path, fraught with distractions. There is at least one point at which Pilgrim is led to turn away from the narrow path and to follow a broader way which seems easier ... but which leads ultimately to destruction. His only recourse is to turn back, retrace his steps, and reacquire the narrow path at the point at which he departed from it.

This is called "repentance."

My Conquest Pro, loaded and ready for the
journey up the mountain to Alder Lake.
Several weekends ago I had an ample demonstration of this principle in my own life. Each year for the past five years I have participated in an annual cycling event for the nonprofit organization 4US. This flagship event raises funds to purchase ultrasound machines for crisis pregnancy centers in Pierce County and beyond. These machines are effective because they unveil the truth about the nature of an unborn child.

Every few years the routes change for the cycling event, and last year they launched out from Ft. Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, WA (south of Tacoma). Routes were designed for 25, 45 and 70 mile riders, and launched southward toward Yelm, then back.

The challenging part of the ride last year was that it occurred on the same day as our church's annual Family Camp. I was disappointed not to be able to do both. But when I discovered this year that the two events coincided once again, I figured out a way to do both: I was going to start with the 4US riders, cycle out to the turnaround point, then rather than turning back and returning to Ft. Steilacoom, I would proceed on up the mountain to the Family Camp location at Alder Lake.

This was a personal challenge at several levels. One was that the 50+ mile ride would require me to climb up the slopes of the Northwest's most famous volcano, Mt. Rainier, carrying about 40 lbs. of camping gear with me. The second challenge was that I would need to find a good, safe route.

So I turned to Google Maps. I am a huge Google fan and constantly defending their mapping technology against detractors. Google Maps wanted to take me up the south side of the Nisqually River Basin, then cross over on top of the La Grande dam in order to achieve my objective. There were several warning flags about restricted road usage on the route, but I examined it through satellite view and it looked like it could be done. (Here's a link to the route they planned for me.)

So, I placed my faith and trust in Google Maps and launched out on the Saturday of the event, departing Steilacoom Park shortly before 9 a.m.

I achieved the halfway point, the city of Yelm, about 11, earlier than I expected, and I was pleased. This was the point at which I was departing from the other 4US riders. From this point onward I was on my own. I had intended to eat lunch in Yelm, but had been riding hard and wasn't yet hungry. So I made the decision to press on.

Brody helped me find my way through the forest.
As I expected, when I cycled out of Yelm on Bald Hill Road I began to encounter the climb. What I didn't expect was a lack of opportunity for lunch and refilling my water bottles. Soon I was well into forested areas, and running low on water. Halfway up I stopped and dined on a Cliff Bar, and finished off most of the rest of my bottled water, then pressed on.

I began to run into trouble after departing Bald Hill Road and dropping down into a boggy area just south of the Nisqually River. The paved road I was following ultimately ended, about 10 miles from my destination, and I was confronted by a private gravel road and lots of large "No Trespassing" signs.

I hesitated at the entrance to this private community but soon saw a woman who was mountainbiking, being followed by a very friendly-looking dog. I asked her about my prospects about entering the private community without being shot, and she said she thought I would survive. So I pressed on.

But ultimately I came to the end of the gravel road, and the very last home in this very out of the way spot. I was still at least 5 miles from my destination. As I sat there, pondering what to do next, the woman I had spoken with earlier ... followed by the dog ... approached. "Am I on the right track?" I asked her.

"Yes," she told me, "I think you are close to the forest access road you are looking for. But we should consult with the gentleman who lives here, regarding whether it will actually take you across the dam." So I waited as she went to see if that gentleman was home.

He was, he came out and we spoke, and he was very gracious. At this point I was completely out of water, so he kindly filled my water bottle and donated another from his own collection. He told me I would need to press onward across a ridge that once contained a path, now overgrown by brambles. I wouldn't be able to find the way by myself, he informed me, so he would send his dog Brody with me to be my guide.

So, I pressed onward. With my bike, laden with camping gear, which I now had to walk through the brambles on a mountain ridge, following a dog.

After about another mile Brody and I emerged onto a forest service road. I truly would not have been able to find my way without him, as the trail was completely overgrown. At this point I had a decision to make. Mountain man, who had proved trustworthy so far, told me he thought I actually could not cross the dam to my destination. The only way around, he said, was back at Yelm ... now nearly 3 hours down the mountain I had just struggled up.

But, he said, if I traveled 10 miles down this gravel road, I would arrive at an overlook where I could see the dam and view my chances of making it across.

But by this point I was thoroughly exhausted, and thoroughly disillusioned with Google Maps ... which had been lying to me for the past 5 miles. What they said was a road was in reality an abandoned path overgrown with brambles, and navigable only with the help of a local dog. I had lost my trust.

So, I turned right on the forest service road, rather than left ... heading back toward Yelm. I repented.

Once in Yelm, I could reacquire a way north across the Nisqually River. But it was a long, long way back. My 50-mile bike ride turned into 80 or 90 miles.

Celebrating at Alder Lake with my friends
Lars and Becca Passic.

I ultimately made it to Family Camp at Alder Lake, but not without a major detour up the volcano and back, that cost me more than 5 hours and nearly all of my energy. (In case you're curious, here's the route I should have taken, which would have been only three miles longer than my "shortcut." Make that 40 miles shorter.)

Lessons learned? Well, the primary lesson was that you can't always trust Google Maps. You can't always get there, from here. But, I also learned a lot about the journey ... about the kindness of strangers, and trusting a dog named Brody.

And I learned to carry more water than I thought I would need.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Margin

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It's been a VERY BUSY spring. Perhaps that's the reason God has been working on me to ensure I have sufficient MARGIN in my life. Margin = space for Him to write on the pages of my book.

Busyness -- seeking to do as many good things as possible rather than focusing on the best things -- is the enemy of joy. It crowds out the oxygen in our lives that God's Word needs to take root. And it also robs us of opportunities to show God's compassion to those lying in the ditches alongside the highway of life, depriving both them and us of God's blessings in the process.

Two weekends ago I was asked to preach at our church. (You can listen to the 36-minute sermon, if you'd like, here -- MP3 audio, 9mb.) I asked our senior pastor, who was going in for eye surgery, what he'd like me to preach on. "Whatever the Lord wants," was his response.

Good idea, I thought, so I asked God what I should preach on. I received as an answer, a question in response: "What do you think YOU need to hear?" I hate it when that happens.

But I knew immediately the answer to the Lord's question ... I really need to work on my margin. Of course the story of Jesus at Martha's house, with Martha's sister Mary sitting at his feet and listening to Him while Mary worked in the kitchen, popped into mind. So I preached on Luke 10:38-42.

Since I was preaching on margin, my #2 goal was not to go overtime (as I have a tendency to do ... I'm not near as short as my name implies). I'm pleased to report I finished with 4 minutes to spare.

But that meant I had to leave some key material on the cutting room floor. So I thought I would share some of it here.

One of the things that really impressed me as I studied what Scripture has to say about margin, came from Pastor Mark Driscoll from Seattle's Mars Hill Church. He points out that if we want to understand how God designed things to be, we should go back to the beginning, before we messed everything up by our rebellion.

And he asks: Does this story in Luke 10 mean we're supposed to be all Mary and no Martha? Clearly not. (You can hear me breathing a sigh of relief here, since I'm like 90% Martha and 10% Mary.) God created Adam, Genesis 2:15 says, and put him in the Garden of Eden "to work it and to take care of it." We have a job to do. Work is good. God worked 6 days, and rested on the 7. Did God really need to rest? I doubt it. Perhaps He was trying to tell us something.

So Adam was supposed to focus on the task of taking care of the garden. (I'm sure later he would receive other tasks as well.) But was this his first and most important assignment? No.

Genesis 3:8 says that God Himself walked in the Garden in the cool of the day (in the morning), looking to connect with His creation. His first goal for us was relationship. Likewise, for Martha AND Mary, there was a time to work, to prepare for Christ's arrival. But, once He got there, their first priority should have been sitting at His feet and receiving from Him! Mary left Martha to work in the kitchen alone. Mary chose the better part, and "it would not be taken away from her" (such time worshipping Him, "being still and knowing that He is God," is one of those few things mentioned in the Bible which will endure from this life into the next).

After Adam had his God-time, then there would be plenty of time left over for him to talk to the plants. Or whatever it was he was supposed to do to manage a self-watering, weed-free garden environment.

Adam was to be Mary first ... and then Martha. This is the pattern with God. He always asks for our firstfruits (time, money, talent, whatever) ... the best off the top. What's left over then gets distributed among other responsibilities as He leads.

Driscoll also notes that God created the week like this: Sunday is the first day on the calendar ... followed by Monday. Sunday we Christians dedicate to sitting at God's feet. Monday morning, we go to work. Many people act as if Sunday is part of the week-end ... but it is the week-beginning. Receive first, then work.

So, I would be much better off if I were 90% Mary, and 10% Martha; than 90% Martha, and 10% Mary. But, for now, I think I'll just make 51% Mary / 49% Martha my goal! Please pray for me!!!

How about you? What portion of you is Martha, and what portion is Mary? And what changes, if any, do you intend to make to become more the person God desires you to be?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Footnote on 'The Big One'

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No sooner had I written (last month) my blog about being physically (and spiritually) prepared for a major earthquake, when I experienced one ... on the San Andreas Fault, no less! (Or at least close to it.)

My inlaws live in Wrightwood, a town divided by the San Andreas faultline, in the mountains an hour's drive northeast of the Los Angeles basin. We visited them last weekend. Saturday morning, shortly after 8, we were taking our time getting around ... my wife had just started a shower, and I was lazily lying on my back in bed, eyes open, thinking about the weekend and enjoying the relative quiet ...

A Google map of the eastern half of the town of Wright-
wood. The red line is the San Andreas fault. The yellow
arrow points to where I was lying in bed during Saturday's
quake. The magenta arrow points to a home my wife and I
nearly purchased around 1990, before we discovered it
was literally sitting on top of the fault itself.
... when that quiet was suddenly interrupted by a sharp horizontal jolt, accompanied by the rattle of various things disturbed around the house, and followed by a strange but diminishing vibration. It lasted all of about five seconds. Wow, I thought, suddenly very awake. That had to be an earthquake! And there we were, two short blocks (about 700 feet to the north) from the renowned San Andreas Fault itself.

My second thought was, What if that was a foreshock? I realized I didn't want to go through whatever might be ahead without my contacts on (I'm legally blind without them), and also I should warn my wife ... for who really wants to be in the shower when the Big One hits?

So I rushed breathlessly into the bathroom and asked her if she'd felt it. "Felt what?" she said, fairly alarmed by my sudden entrance. I told her I had just been jolted out of bed by what I estimated to be about a 4.0 shaker. "Nope, didn't feel a thing in here," she said. "But you'd better go check on my parents."

Fred was sitting in his usual chair, reading the paper. He was oblivious. Dottie was puttering around in the kitchen, and she hadn't felt it either. I think both thought I might be a little crazy. So I turned on the news and was vindicated. The moment it came on they were announcing that a 4.1 quake had struck, fairly shallow near the town of Devore (just 12 or 13 miles southeast of Wrightwood). (The San Andreas Fault also runs through Devore, though the epicenter of this quake itself was about a kilometer south of the fault line, and 13.5 kilometers deep, according to the USGS.)

So I felt pretty good about my casual 4.0 estimate. (The USGS later downgraded the magnitude to 3.8.)

Of course it turns out it wasn't exactly a foreshock to the Big One, just another small bump along the long, slow road to catastrophe. Some day the Big One will surely come to the San Andreas Fault (the last time it did was in 1906, the big San Francisco 7.9 quake), just as it will come to the Cascadia Subduction Zone (the last time there, on January 26, 1700). But, hopefully, not within our lifetimes!

Actually, technically, that chance is about 1 in 5, depending on your age. The USGS-associated "2003 Working Group for California Earthquake Probability" assigned "a 21% probability that the San Andreas Fault would produce a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years."

Regarding the Cascadia subduction zone, the government of Canada says geological evidence shows that 13 "megaquakes" have occurred along the Cascadia fault during the past 6,000 years. That's approximately one every 462 years. The last one (a 9.0) occurred 312 years ago, rupturing the fault for a distance of 1,000 miles and causing massive devastation both throughout the Northwest, as well as wiping out fishing villages in Japan in the resulting tsunamis.

What would have happened Saturday morning had the Big One (say, 8.0 to 9.0) struck the San Andreas Fault in Southern California, with me, lying in bed a scant quarter mile away from the slip. Hard to say, for sure. Many older homes in Wrightwood (some made out of stone) would surely be destroyed. Fred and Dottie's is newer, and quite well-built, so it might have survived, but surely would have sustained a lot of damage. I have no doubt we would be isolated in this dry mountainous town by landslides, and possibly faced with the threat of fire. My inlaws stock a lot of food, they're notorious for that; but water might be a problem. Any injuries would be difficult to deal with, with help potentially unavailable; they are both 92. Fortunately my wife is an R.N.

In a town like Wrightwood, population of several thousand, I have a feeling we would be spending a lot of time with picks and shovels, trying to dig people out of the rubble. It would be interesting, that's for sure.

In my role with World Vision, I've seen the aftermath of some major quakes. It's hard to predict who will survive, though the poor generally have a much rougher go of it. When you live on the margins, and you're just trying to survive a normal day, there isn't much thought or room for preparation for a possible catastrophe.

But the rest of us, of course, don't have that excuse. We should be get prepared!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Get Prepared for the Big One!

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Watch this fascinating and terrifying simulation of what
might happen to the Seattle waterfront during a major quake.
Scientists estimate the Cascadia Subduction Fault (which sits 50 miles offshore and is more than 600 miles long, here in the Northwest) is responsible for a mega-quake every 300 years or so. The last time it let loose was in January 1700 (yes, you do the math) and it unleashed furious tsunamis which pounded Japanese fishing villages thousands of miles away.

The last 24 hours there has been a string of quakes up and down Pacific coastal waters (the so-called "Ring of Fire") ... including off the Oregon coast.

A 9.0 quake (the estimated size of the last one) would severely shake cities like Seattle and Tacoma for 2-5 minutes, bringing down buildings and highway overpasses. And it would be followed by a string of hundreds of aftershocks, some possibly in the 8+ range. Coastal areas could be inundated by tsunamis.

This recent MSNBC science article says our undersea megafault "is behaving much like the one that broke offshore in Chile" recently. And that was written last month.

So, are you prepared? Do you have at least three days' (preferably more) supply of food, water, medicines, radio, flashlight with batteries, etc.? Do you know how to turn off your utilities where they enter your dwelling place? Have you made arrangements with friends and relatives how to indicate to them that you are safe, or a safe place to meet?

Same thing goes for my friends in California. Remember the San Andreas fault?

Two other issues I promised my Facebook friends I'd address:

Personal Protection

Personally I don't think families with children should have guns anywhere in the home, unless they are very well and very consistently locked up in a proper gun safe. The risk of an accident is too great otherwise, outweighing the risks that you might encounter during a disaster for personal protection.

But for others, I think it's something to carefully consider. Our constitution and laws guarantee us the right to bear arms for personal protection. I lived through the scare associated with the riots in the Los Angeles/South Central riots in 1992. I realized then that if you need a weapon to defend yourself and your family, if you wait until the crisis itself you really can't obtain one when you need it. It can take weeks.

So, it's something for responsible adults in the right situation to consider ahead of the crisis. Just be sure to follow all applicable laws and train yourself on how to use your weapon responsibly. And don't go overboard and become one of those wacky people that the FBI has to monitor!

Spiritual Preparedness

I think it's even more important to be spiritually prepared for a disaster. There are no guarantees for any of us; no matter how well prepared you are, you might not survive a disaster. And even without disasters, none of us  know for sure what the next five minutes might bring.

So it's wise to be sure you are fully satisfied with your answers to the following questions:
  • In case something happens to you, do your loved ones have everything they need to keep moving forward? Have you "cleared the decks" and are you at peace with the people around you?
  • Are you doing everything in your power to leave a living legacy for those who survive you?
  • Even more importantly, are you at peace with God? If you had to face Him, 10 minutes from now, would you be ready to give an account for your life? Have you received the forgiveness and power for right living that He offers to you as a result of His Son, Jesus, coming to die for you on the Cross?
  • Are you ready for eternity?
Get prepared this week! If you feel you need spiritual preparation, drop me a note. I'd love to help. As far as physical preparation goes, here are some helpful links:
  • Ready.gov ... FEMA's excellent guide to disaster preparedness
  • Bug-out bag ... a helpful article on Wikipedia on creating a 72-hour preparedness kit
  • Backwoods Home Magazine ... see the helpful index of articles under the topic "Self-Reliance"

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Least (and Most) Dangerous Forms of Travel

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What is the most dangerous form of transportation? And what is the safest?

The answers may surprise you.

Also, it depends on how you look at the data. This page on Wikipedia looks at it in three different ways: 1) Deaths per journey traveled. 2) Deaths per hour spent traveling. Or 3) Deaths per kilometer traveled.

It seems to me like the most logical way to look at this data would be the second choice, deaths per hour spent traveling. If you looked at the first, too much depends on the length of the journey, weighting it (I assume) against longer journeys. If you look at the second, too much depends on the speed of travel, weighting it unfairly toward air travel.

So, here are the stats for deaths per million hours of travel by each of the following methods, starting with the safest and ending with the most dangerous:

BUS TRAVEL: .011 deaths per million hours of travel. In other words, there are 11.1 deaths per billion hours of travel. (Or just over 1 death per 100 million hours of bus travel.)

An average lifetime (72 years) is 630,720 hours in length (72x365x24). There are therefore nearly 159 average lifetimes in 100 million hours.

So, in order for there to be a statistical likelihood of you being killed by traveling on a bus, you would have to ride for nearly 159 lifetimes. So I don't think the average person needs to worry much about taking a bus trip.

RAIL TRAVEL: .030 deaths per million hours of travel. In other words, more than 50 lifetimes' worth of travel by train would give you a good statistical chance of being killed on a train. I'm one of the few (well, truthfully, the only) person I know who has actually been in a train accident. A few years ago I was riding the Amtrak from Chicago to Pittsburgh when we struck a car trying to cheat a railway crossing. We were doing about 80 mph at the time. Actually, the accident didn't even wake me up; no one in my car (at the very end of the short, 7-car train) even felt the impact. You've got a lot of momentum on a train going that fast! What woke me up was the engineer abruptly standing on the brakes (for about a half mile, until the train finally rocked to a stop). Of course, by then we were a good quarter mile past the intersection where the accident occurred. The car we hit wasn't quite so lucky.

AIR TRAVEL: .038 deaths per million hours of travel. Still almost 50 lifetimes' worth of flying, 100% of the time. I find that oddly comforting. Like most people, in the air is (for some reason) where I feel most afraid of dying. Statistically speaking, at least, this makes little sense, at least when compared with other forms of transportation.

However, I have also come closer to actually crashing in an airplane than anyone I know. (In a storm in Alaska in 1979. That story for another time.)

WATER TRAVEL: .050 deaths per million hours of travel. (By boat, I assume. I'm guessing they don't include swimming in this, or the number would probably be far higher. But most people don't consider swimming "travel," I suppose.) So, statistically, 1 death per 20 million hours of boat travel ... that means you could travel by boat for nearly 32 average human lifetimes before you stood a statistically even chance of dying.

I have been in one boating accident, in a speedboat that hit a wake wrong and was flipped 360 degrees so that it landed (backwards, but rightside-up). We all got very wet, and a little bruised, but fortunately no one was ejected from the boat or otherwise hurt.

VAN TRAVEL: .060 deaths per million hours of travel make this the second-safest (behind buses) method of travel on our roads. You could ride in a van for about 26 lifetimes before you stood a statistically even chance of dying. (But of course, who would want to?)

I've never been in a van accident. (Knock on wood.)

CAR TRAVEL: .130 deaths per million hours of travel. Here's where the odds suddenly and rather dramatically decrease for you. You are more than twice as likely to die from a car accident as from a van accident (and nearly twice as likely to die from a van accident as from an air accident). But still, your odds aren't near as bad as I might have otherwise thought, considering how many auto fatalities you hear about. Thirteen deaths per 100 million hours of car travel means you could ride in a car for about 12 lifetimes before you stood a statistically-even chance of death. (Of course, many people spend much of their lives in a car.)

Like most people, I have been in a few car accidents over the years. Only one I consider had significant potential for killing me, and even that one I (thankfully) escaped with just a bad bump on my head. (I told that story recently in this blog.)

FOOT TRAVEL: Think you're safer walking? Think again. There are .220 deaths per million hours of foot travel. So you are nearly twice as vulnerable as a pedestrian, as you are a passenger in a car. And, if you live in the big city, I'm sure your odds are even worse. Still, with 22 deaths per 100 million hours of walking, you could walk for about 7 lifetimes without a serious problem.

I have been struck by a car (as a pedestrian) only once, in the parking lot of my high school, by a female teenage driver who was apparently distracted by a letterman. But fortunately she was only going about 10 mph and I rolled off her hood without injury.

BICYCLE TRAVEL: Here's where it gets personal for me. You are more than twice as likely to be killed during an hour of cycling as you are during an hour of walking: .550 deaths per million hours of bicycling. That translates to 55 deaths per 100 million hours of cycling, or 1 death for every 2.9 complete lifetimes spent on a bike.

I probably spend about an hour a day (on average) on a bike. That means my chances of dying (sometime in my life, assuming that statistic held up) on a bicycle would be a little better than 1 in 69. Actually, since I've only been cycling that seriously for the past 10 years, my chances of survival are probably much better than that. (Let's say I keep cycling for another 30 years, 'til I'm 85, which I hope to do. That means less than half my life investing an hour a day on a bike, so my chances of death about 1 in 130. Much better odds, even for a person who spends a lot of time cycling.)

Strangely enough, and this may be just general bad luck or klutziness, I've already had three life-threatening accidents on a bicycle. The first was being hit from behind by a VW bus (doing 50 mph) while riding home from junior high school. I lost a lot of skin on that one and was pretty sore for a long time, but no broken bones. The second was a bad spill mountainbiking in a remote area, in which I broke a cheekbone, and lacerated my face and kneecap pretty badly. And the third was being hit from behind in a crowded urban area during rush hour, the most damage from that being a serious concussion. In accidents #2 and 3, my helmet (which was crushed both times) probably saved my life. In #1 I wasn't wearing a helmet, and fortunately didn't hit my head at all.

So, as I see it, there are two ways to look at it, given how many incidents I've experienced using various forms of transportation. I'm either extremely unlucky and should stay home, or especially stay away from bicycles. Or else, I've already weighted the odds way in my favor (having beat death three times already) and should therefore cycle with abandon. I choose the second option (as I know cycling is, in general, good for my heart health, and I enjoy it so much besides).

However, note here that there is one more form of transportation even more dangerous than cycling (and it is actually nine times more dangerous even than that):

TRAVEL BY MOTORCYCLE: 4.840 deaths per million hours of motorcycling. Breaking it down into "lifetimes spent on a motorcycle" you are therefore looking at one death per every 206,612 hours spent on a motorcycle. Since the "average life" (as we have been defining it) has 630,720 hours, that means you could spend less than a third of your life on a motorcycle before you would have a statistically even chance of being killed.

Not good odds at all, in my book. I've only been on motorcycles a few times (when I was young), and they scared me to death. Never again. Especially given my experience on bicycles, I will stay off motorcycles, okay?

And I am also sending this blog to my friends and loved ones (you know who you are) who are motorcycle people. Be warned!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Danger of 'False Conversions'

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In a new book by Vince and Lori Williams, Falsified: The Danger of False Conversions, the issue of how some modern-day churches (many of them classifying themselves as "seeker-sensitive") water-down the Gospel message is tackled. (Christian Post has a good review of this book here.)

A tree is recognized by its fruit. -Jesus
The Williamses' thesis is that a one-sided view of conversion as simply expressing a belief in Christ, as promulgated by many churches, has led to a high number of converts who have missed the key truth that conversion also involves repentance (turning from sin, to God).

In other words, Jesus not only provides complete forgiveness from sin (available to us as we believe in His grace), but also the power to live a changed life (available to us as we cast our lot with God in dependence on His Holy Spirit).

As a child, I clearly remember being told that the way to be saved was simply to believe. Romans 10:9 was frequently quoted: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

So true. And yet, Scripture clearly indicates that there are different kinds of "belief." There is, for instance, the kind that fallen angels have: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." James 2:19 would seem to indicate that mere "theological" belief is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9.

But then there is the kind of belief that John the Baptist spoke about in Mark 1:15, when he said: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

When the time comes for true conversion, wholesale change, the first step is repentance.

There is also the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter 11, as he recounts Old Testament heroes whose belief drove them to obey God, to seek to please God, to take risks for God. "All these people were still living by faith when they died" (verse 13). Faith wasn't simply a theological expression of belief. It was a way of life, of changed life.

"Such belief (in the good news of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness) must be coupled with repentance. For salvation is not merely "fire insurance" designed for some life hereafter, in the sweet bye-and-bye. A biblical view of eternal life shows that it begins in the here and now. Jesus said in John 10:10, "I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly." He wasn't simply talking about Heaven in that verse. He was speaking of conversion, the life that He purchased, that He desires us to have, from this point onward: forgiven, free, cleansed, pure, and holy. Not just holy, but also wholly ... wholly owned by God.

This is not to say that the hope for Heaven, for a life far better than the one we can have here on this fallen earth, is not a key part of the believer's sustenance. But the "fire insurance" view of salvation, which says, "Heaven is the only thing that matters," is as out-of-balance as its opposite, the view that God's kingdom will only exist here on this earth. The statement that eternity begins now is true in so many ways; life after death must logically be a continuum from life before death.

A scriptural view of the saved person demands that their life bears evidence of their conversion. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruitfruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." And in Romans 7:4 Paul wrote: "So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." As Jesus said, in Matthew 12:33, "A tree is recognized by its fruit."

Many agree that "false conversions" have indeed compromised and corrupted many in our modern-day churches, causing many to live with a false sense of security, believing that they can live however they want (living for themselves rather than for Christ) here on earth since they are "guaranteed" entry into heaven. One has to wonder if Christ won't say to such people, when they cry out, "Lord, Lord!" in the day of judgment: "Depart from Me ... I never knew you!"

How about you and I? Do we simply "believe the right things" (theologically speaking)? Or have we truly repented of the sin that drove Christ to the cross? Have we turned away from our dead life, toward the new life that Christ offers? Does the fruit borne in our life bear evidence of the seed planted in our heart?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Annual Christmas ... er, Easter ... Letter

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Well, I have a confession to make. I wrote the following post back during my Christmas break ... and just now (three months later) discovered that I never pressed the "publish" button! So, for those of you who have been holding your breath in anticipation, here is my annual "Christmas letter." Almost in time for Easter.

Taking a week off work around Christmastime has become a tradition, and also a great opportunity to get that annual review of our year done!

For me, there are three primary highlights of 2011: 1) My job transition at World Vision, 2) becoming grandparents, and 3) the growth of the young adults ministry God has blessed us to lead.

World Vision's Media Relations
website is packed with good info
for journalists.
1) The Web Guru Does Social Media

For those of you who are unaware of this, I've gained several "unofficial" titles during my 18+ years at World Vision. One of my favorite is "Dark Lord of the Web" (bestowed on me in a chapel by our president, Rich Stearns, after I got World Vision's initial internet program off the ground back in the late 90s and early 00s). Another is "Web Guru," which was actually the official job title bestowed on me by my friend and boss (approx. 2006), Robert Coronado (who also helped launch the first website on April 25, 1997).

I had transitioned, prior to that time, from our Marketing Dept. back to our Communications Dept. in order to focus on web content and editing our monthly e-zine. When I began work for Robert I helped with the relaunch of our homepage, as well as implementing search engine optimization and analytics technologies for our new site, and running a usability testing lab. I was secunded for a few months to start an emergency relief extranet for our international office, then took a three-year assignment with World Vision's public radio program, developing two web properties (one supporting daily spots on Christian radio stations, and the other supporting our hour-long weekly public radio show) as well as social media efforts.

But in March of this year my team was informed that World Vision was ending support for the radio program, and I actually got a layoff notice, which was a first for me. I and my radio team colleagues had a few months to wrap up the show and begin looking for new assignments. I applied for four other positions within World Vision (and several without), and in April was offered a position as social media strategist with World Vision's innovative and highly successful Media Relations department.

In many ways this has been a dream job for me, and I have been enjoying it very much. I work long and hard hours, managing the Media Relations internet site (with the help of several very able interns) as well as working on our social media strategy (connecting with journalists on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked In), including blogger relationships, internal PR and other related special projects.

I get to do some (limited) writing -- mostly limited to 140 character Twitter posts, several times each day! -- and blogging, including occasional guest blogging for World Vision's corporate blog site, which I actually started back in 2005 but which has come a long way indeed since those early days.

And now since I am an official "social media strategist" I also find myself paying a lot more attention to my personal blogs, where I have been trying to post engaging content at least once or twice each week, and nursing my "Klout score" (currently 45 ... my goal for the New Year is to get it up over 50, and eventually I hope to match my age!). Editor's note: Klout score now up to 54! I'm now half as influential as Justin Bieber. Supposedly.

Klout, by the way, is one measure of social media influence. Most people who are just starting out and "playing" with social media have a Klout score in the teens. You can get up in the 40s if you work at it and have a very decent influence within your networks. If you are a public personality, a highly visible organization like World Vision, or really experience success connecting on social media, you can get it up into the 50s and beyond. If you are a Lance Armstrong (70) or a Guy Kawasaki (85) you can rise further. You may even aspire to Justin Bieber, who tops the Klout scale at 100 with his nearly 17 million Twitter followers. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I wander. Reigning it back in, hopefully you can tell I'm enjoying my new role with World Vision and am looking forward to whatever the next wave (Google+? Pinterest?) brings. It really is a blessing to work with such great people and to use my gifts and skills, and to indulge my fascination for new technology, all for such a great cause as being the hands and feet of Jesus to the poor!

Annabelle Ivy celebrating Christmas
at our house!
2) Can You Say Gramps?

2011 wasn't technically our first year as grandparents, as Annabelle Ivy Teeter was born on December 22, 2010. But it was our first full year. We were able to visit with Annabelle three times during the year: First in June, when the Teeters (including Mike's parents) flew out to Seattle and we launched a week-long road trip to Southern California, where we visited every grand tree betwixt here and there (and saw many other grand sights as well, including the always-breathtaking Yosemite Valley). Then again in the fall, when Darlene and I were able to spend a weekend on the Teeter farm in Osterburg, Pennsylvania. And most recently, during our Christmas vacation week, where we were able to stay at our favorite B and B (with Nathan and Becky too) in North Bend; take a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the snow and then follow it up with a nice German dinner and a walking tour of Leavenworth; and then celebrate family Christmas at home.

I know everyone's grandbaby is the cutest in the world, but all those others are imposters and for us it's true. Annabelle took her first real steps while she was here, which was very exciting. She is one of the happiest babies we've seen. She has pretty, dishwater-blonde hair and blue eyes and is very thoughtful, funny and creative. We were very sad this morning to have to put them all back on the plane.

This photo was taken at 11:11:11 p.m.
on 11/11/11, while we were celebrating
the wedding of two of our members.
3) Elim has a Pulse

Elim is our church, one of the first Evangelical Free churches founded in the USA (back in the 1880s), and Pulse is the young adults group that Darlene and I started there 10 years ago this coming summer. For several years we struggled to gain traction, but now the group is a steamroller, with 50 young adults on our list and 20-30 at many events. We typically have several events each week, including a Friday night meeting and a Sunday morning book study at Starbuck's.

The young adults in our group are awesome! They love Jesus, they serve selflessly each other, our church, and needy people in our community, and they are growing in their relationship with Christ and one another. We couldn't be more blessed with this group, and we are looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings.

Well, I have tried to include photos illustrating all our year's blessings, though I realized I really didn't have a good photo of my team at work (I'll have to take one as soon as I get back) so I put a graphic of our website there instead.

In closing I realize there are many more highlights to our year than those I was able to mention above ... our niece (Lauren's) wedding; Elim's freezing nights ministry, a great mushroom season, and many more. But most of all, we are grateful for the love and companionship of many friends this year; for good health; that we both have great jobs despite all the difficulties in the economy; and for the protection and blessings showered on us by our Savior who loves us! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Let's Get Siri-ous

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After years as a died-in-the-wool PC-only guy, I finally experienced the Apple revolution in my life this year, wholly through circumstances beyond my control. (Work bestowed upon me an iPhone4S ... since I lost my Android at the Newark Airport ... and then an iPad2. They then gave me a MacBook Pro and instructed me to use it to build a media display system. So I really had no choice.)

But I confess I have thoroughly enjoyed my induction into the halls of Appledom. These are amazing devices that are changing the communications landscape at a phenomenal rate. And since using them I have felt empowered to do things I have never done before ... or at least to do some old things in a new way.

For example: This week I have been locked in my house with my devices. Again, through no fault of my own. I am one of those rare birds who contracted Influenza-A despite being vaccinated against it ... twice. The first two days I could barely lift my head off the pillow, let alone carry on a sentient conversation with Siri (the iPhone4S' intelligent voice agent). But after the fever broke and boredom began to set in, I started playing with my new toys.

I admit Siri intrigues me (she provides some truly creative answers to the weirdest questions you can think of ... for instance, try asking her what her favorite color is), and so I began to wonder if others were feeling affected by her nonhuman presence in the same way I was. Thus I did a web search on the words "Siri" and "relationship." One of the results that caught my eye was this article in Scoopertino: "Apple introduces Siri Pro: For serious Siri lovers."

I'll let you read the article, but before you get too far I should warn you about their tagline: "All the news that's fit to fabricate." So I'm not sure what in this article we can believe, and what not; but one thing I actually wouldn't be surprised were accurate is this statement: "Over 65% of the questions and commands put to Siri by iPhone 4S owners indicate the user’s desire for a deeper bond." Boys will be boys (with their toys).

So, I began to wonder ... rather than use my new iPhone4S to strengthen my relationship with a robot, are there ways I could use it to strengthen my real relationship, with my real, flesh-and-blood wife? Hmmm. And suddenly, the light went on and I got an idea ...

(Conversation with Siri ensues ...)

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. But first, I need to know who you are."

Now that was an eye-opener. I've been talking to Siri for several months now, and apparently she doesn't even know who I am yet! Wow. At least Darlene took the trouble to memorize my name before our first date.

So, Siri proceeded to tell me how to go into my iPhone settings, the Siri module, and identify myself as the owner of my iPhone. (Which I'm sure will probably get me on somebody's marketing or spyware list. But oh well, it wouldn't be the first time.)

Once that was accomplished, maybe five minutes later, I started over:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. But first, I need to know who your wife is."

Seriously, Siri? You are one smart computer. Aren't you smart enough just to go digging into my Facebook profile, see that my spouse is listed there as Darlene Short, compare that information with my address book and pull her up without further adieu? Apparently not.

But naturally, Siri told me how I could quite easily now go and click on my wife's name in my iPhone address book. And so I did so. Five minutes later, I was sure she now knew who my wife was. So I started over, a third time:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. I am prepared to send the following message to Darlene Short:

Message from Larry Short: "I love her."

Insert here a moment of panic, stabbing of buttons, desperately trying to stop this heartless silicon ghost from sending my wife a message informing her coldly that I have given my heart, after 33 years of marriage, to a mindless machine.

Thankfully I was able to stop the message, delete it, and start over again. A fourth time:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love you ..."

... but suddenly I stop, a chill of suspicion running down my spine. That just sounds oh so wrong. "Siri, please tell my wife I love you." How can I be sure Siri won't send the following message:

Message from Larry Short:
He wanted you to know that he really loves me.
You don't even hold a candle to my gigahertz processors, baby.
Why not pack it in right now?

I think that no matter how far we come, it's going to be hard (after HAL9000 and SkyNet) to ever truly trust an artificial intelligence again.

But, after a half hour of trying, I decided my investment was too much not to take the risk. With voice trembling, I authorized the transmission of the message: "OK, Siri. Send it."



Fast forward to dinner out, last night, our favorite Mexican restaurant. I waited patiently, but Darlene made no mention of any message.

So, dying of curiosity, I finally brought it up: "Did you get a message from me today?"

"Sure," she said nonchalantly.

"What did it say?" I asked. At this point she gave me a quizzical look.

"I love you."

Huge sigh of relief.

"So," I continued, as she picked at her tostada. "What did you think about that?"

"I can tell you in a moment," she replied thoughtfully. "But first, I need to know who you are."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thank God for infant seats!

By

Annabelle's self-portrait in her car seat,
courtesy of the iPad2.
I've recently been followed (on Twitter) by a group known as @ChildSeatSafety. Reading through their stream has reminded how far we have come in developing systems for keeping young children safer in vehicles.

I thought I would share two stories from my own personal experience that will demonstrate the risks of traveling with children ... even when they are buckled into carseats.

In January 1984 I was driving on a city street in Upland, California on a cool, rainy night. When Darlene and I married we inherited a beautiful 1967 Ford Mustang from her mother, and it had taken me several years to get it "cherried out" just the way I wanted it ... chrome rims, etc. It was cream white, in mint condition -- a beautiful car.

My son Nathan, who had just turned 1 about 10 days earlier, was buckled into his car seat. The seat was rated for infants through 1 year old, so I knew it was about time to get a new seat, but I did figure there was some wiggle room there as he was of average weight.

Back in 1984 there wasn't near as much research about the use of car seats, and we did not have air bags, so there was no reason known at the time he shouldn't be buckled in the way I had him secured ... in the front passenger seat, facing forward. (Knowing what I know now, of course, I would have secured him in the back, facing backwards, instead.)

As I cruised along, doing about 35 in a 35 zone, not in a hurry, I remember thinking, "Wow, I really like this car! It's sweet." Presently I approached a blind intersection. The light had been green, my way, for the last 10 seconds or so. As I entered, I slowed to about 20 since there was a fairly serious dip on the way in. Doing so probably saved my life, and possibly Nathan's.

Out of the corner of my left eye, as I slowed to take the dip, I saw headlights toward me (against the red light) -- straight into my path. Reflexively, I applied the brakes with all my might, but hydroplaned toward disaster. I knew it would be bad.

All the things they say about time slowing to a crawl at such a time as this, I experienced as reality. In one sense my life flashed before my eyes. I had so many thoughts that turned over about my life. But mostly, I had a great concern for the safety of my son. Therefore, at the very moment of impact, I had turned my vision away from the rapidly approaching headlines, and was actually looking directly (and helplessly) at Nathan.

What I saw is forever etched into my memory. As we were struck, and my head jerked back toward the driver's side window (where it smacked so hard an instant later that I saw stars), I saw Nathan thrown against the restraints of his car seat ... and then break through them. His small body sailed upward and forward, head-first, and his tiny body pummeled hard into that awkward, narrow space where the glass of the front window meets the dash.

As my head struck the glass and stars exploded in my field of vision, the noise was immense. The world spun -- or rather we spun within it, about three times until we came rocking to rest in the middle of that intersection, amidst screeching tires and blaring horns. As I gasped for breath, realizing I was alive, it then became eerily silent.

Nathan was stuck fast between the dash and the window glass, fortunately still intact. I could not see his face, but he wasn't moving at all. For a moment I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I thought about how you should not move an injured person. Then I shakily unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned toward him.

Suddenly and startlingly, Nathan turned his head so that he faced toward me, and began laughing. In that silly, one-year-old voice, he exclaimed, "Big bang! Again!"

(Nathan has always had a great vocabulary -- even at that early age.)

Flooded with an immense relief, I too began laughing uncontrollably, and gently picked him up and held him in my arms. A witness to the accident (who had been traveling opposite my direction and narrowly missed the Cadillac which struck us just over the front wheel on the driver's side) came running breathlessly to my door and opened it, exclaiming, "Oh my God! That was amazing! Are you okay?" I think he was very perplexed by why I was there laughing, cradling my one-year-old gingerly in my arms.

We were both taken to the hospital (where my wife worked) and checked out. Other than a headache and a welt for me, we were unscathed. Everyone was astonished that Nathan actually ended up without a scratch or a bruise, despite being thrown completely clear of his car seat. "It must have provided just enough stopping power to keep him from serious injury," the doctors marveled.

Looking at my nearly-totalled car later, I was also amazed at our "good fortune." The engine compartment was seriously caved in over the left front wheel. Had the driver's door taken the impact, I'm not sure how I would have fared. No doubt I would have been seriously injured, at best. (No side impact air bags on those old 1967 Mustangs!)

The woman who struck us was dazed and somewhat apologetic. The police officer asked her what she had been taking. "Cold medication," was the answer. Whatever it was, she had been too out of it to see the light which had been red in her direction for quite awhile.

A number of years later I stopped at the scene of a similar accident. A woman, driving, had t-boned a van at an intersection, right in front of me. Her one-year-old son was strapped in a car seat (facing forward) in the back seat. He wouldn't stop crying, and later we found out he had broken his femur.

I once read that one of the primary causes of infant deaths in the U.S., prior to infant seats, used to be accidents which occured when small children were traveling home from the hospital where they were born.

As I now have a one-year-old granddaughter, I am very thankful for the high-tech infant seats which are designed to keep our kids safe. I encourage everyone to use them in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications ... and don't fudge on the age/weight limits, even by a day!