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Confessing My Racism: A Juneteenth Reflection


The new American holiday, a celebration of the date when slaves in Texas finally heard the news that they had been freed: June 19, 1865. A commemoration of the fact that it took 89 years from the time that Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” until the time that some men stopped enslaving other men. A chance to reflect that it took another 100 years before all men could stay in the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, attend the same schools, and vote in the same elections.

For me, it’s a chance to reflect on how the Founding Fathers patted themselves on the back for their love of freedom, even as they systematically took away the freedom of others. As I reflect on their hubris and self-congratulatory delusions, it’s a chance for me to ask if I need to confront any blind spots of my own.

Two years ago, I saw my own racism for the first time. I wrote this essay just three weeks after George Floyd was murdered. I’m publishing it now, to finally acknowledge my own sin and failures. Public confession is good for the soul. Maybe reading this will help you too.

I didn't think I was racist. I was wrong. I have racist ideas that I've learned from the culture around me, and I didn't even realize that I had learned them. This became clear to me, as I read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma.

DiAngelo kicked things off.

Many of us have been taught to believe that there are distinct biological and genetic differences between races. This biology accounts for visual differences such as skin color, hair texture, and eye shape, and traits that we believe we see such as sexuality, athleticism, or mathematical ability. The idea of race as a biological construct makes it easy to believe that many of the divisions we see in society are natural. But race is socially constructed. The differences we see with our eyes—differences such as hair texture and eye color—are superficial and emerged as adaptations to geography. Under the skin, there is no true biological race. The external characteristics that we use to define race are unreliable indicators of genetic variation between any two people.

And then Ken Wytsma reinforced it.

…the concept of humanity’s being divisible into different races has no scientific validity.

…these features that so impress us when we look at one another are extremely superficial. Beneath the skin we are all basically the same—and this is especially true at the genetic level. Genetically speaking, I (with my rather unmixed Dutch heritage) am more similar to a male Maori than I am to any female, including my own mother and daughters. Whatever genetic differences the Maori man and I might have throughout the rest of our twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, they are fewer than the number of gene differences between men (with one X-and one Y-chromosome) and women (who have two X-chromosomes), even when a man and woman are closely related.

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the genetics of humanity is how little diversity it contains in comparison to other populations of creatures, including other primates. The entire human population displays far less genetic diversity than that of chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans.

…the number of genetic differences among all Norwegians—or among all Nigerians—is greater than the number of genetic differences that could be used to distinguish between Norwegians and Nigerians. Externally, a Norwegian and a Nigerian look very different; but their respective genomes are quite similar, even within the genes that code for melanin and thereby determine skin color. Such genes differ only by a very few nucleotides, and the adaptive change that led to light skin occurred more than once as humans migrated to northerly latitudes.

Distinguishing among people groups on the basis of race is an artificial, superficial venture with no scientific credibility. Of course, this reality is less important than the perception. Even though race has no anthropological or genetic grounding, our modern world is preoccupied with identifying differences between people groups and basing our behaviors on those perceived differences.

These ideas—that there is no such thing as biological race; that genetic differences between people of the same nationality are greater than the differences that can be used to distinguish between nationalities—knocked me back on my heels. I've absorbed the racist idea that there are innate differences between Black people and White people.

I would have pointed to cultural differences and claimed that they were the result of innate differences. Such as: Black people are more athletically gifted and better at sports than White people are. That Black people are more prone to diseases like sickle cell anemia than White people are. That Black people are more exuberant than White people, more violent than White people, and dance better than White people, all because they are less inhibited than White people.

As soon as I read Robin DiAngelo's and Ken Wytsma's words, it was like a bomb went off in my brain. The differences really, truly, are only melanin deep. At the risk of trivializing identity, it's a mask, a costume, a covering that we are all born with. And we randomly get the lighter version or the darker version. But we are all exactly the same underneath. Exactly.

It's horrifying to realize that all of humanity is exactly the same underneath our skin. It’s horrifying to come to grips with the idea that we Americans have treated millions of people differently because of a highly visible, yet completely surface-level difference. People who are the same as me in every way that matters—all the same potential, abilities, and traits—being systematically enslaved, shut out, disenfranchised, beaten, murdered, slandered, feared, and imprisoned.

I haven’t enslaved, beaten, or murdered anyone because of their perceived race. But feared? Slandered? I have felt more unsafe walking through Black neighborhoods than White neighborhoods, even though I knew nothing about the neighborhood other than the skin differences that I could see.

After reading what DiAngelo and Wytsma wrote, I realized that I’ve been putting people into different buckets based on their “race”. I’ve had a mental category for “Black actors” separate from “actors”, “Black scientists” from “scientists”, “Black musicians” from “musicians”, and “Black writers” from “writers”. When I think about accomplishments, I think about them in terms of those categories. “Tom Cruise is a great actor and Denzel Washington is a great Black actor”, as though they weren’t both American men, of similar ages, doing the same job.

Denzel Washington is not a great Black actor. He’s a great actor. Ray Charles was not a great Black musician. He was a great musician. George Washington Carver was not a great Black scientist; he was a great scientist. Frederick Douglass was not a great Black orator; he was a great orator. If I want to truly give all people the same weight, I need to evaluate people as Americans, not African Americans or Chinese Americans or Indians.

This is my racism: I’ve bought into the lie that skin color indicates deeper genetic differences. And while I never would have admitted it, I separated humanity into “us” and “them” based on those perceived genetic differences. And that let me be less concerned about what happened to “them,” then I was about what happened to me and people like me.

I didn’t want to believe that Americans were treating some people better than others because of perceived race. Whenever I heard stories that seemingly showed racist outcomes, I explained it all away. Instead of believing whoever was writing or speaking, I decided that they must be wrong or mistaken or lying or misrepresenting the situation. I would bring my superior education and knowledge to explain what was really going on. I had an explanation for why everything that seemed racist, really wasn’t.

After George Floyd was murdered, I started listening and reading with an open mind. I realized that I have been wrong. That I was guilty of treating some people as lesser. And I made a commitment to start listening when people told me how racism was affecting their lives. Not listening to argue and deflect, but listening to learn. I’ve spent the last 2 years doing that and it has been an eye-opening experience.

I’m not done yet. I’m going to continue to seek out the stories of the people that I used to ignore, because there is no us and them.

There is only us.

Living in Fear of COVID-19?

I keep hearing that people are tired of COVID-19, are tired of the uncertainty and “don’t want to live in fear”. Well, I’m tired of COVID-19 too. I’m tired of not knowing who’s going to get sick next, tired of not knowing when I can go back to church, tired of not knowing when I can go to a restaurant again or get a babysitter for date night.

But I vehemently disagree with the notion that masking up or maintaining social distance is the same as “living in fear”. I disagree with the idea that brave people should go about their lives like it’s 2019. There is a difference between living in fear and taking precautions.

I’m afraid of being bitten by a rattlesnake. So I wear shoes, not sandals, when I go hiking in the washes. I’m afraid of being turned into a pincushion by a cactus. So I don’t lean up against them when I want to relax. I’m afraid of heat exhaustion during the Arizona summer. So I limit my time outside during the daytime hours. If I do have to be outside, I wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and carry a water bottle.

I’m aware of the dangers around me. But I don’t ignore them because I “don’t want to live in fear”. I take basic, sensible precautions and then get on with my life.

Life with COVID-19 is much the same. When I leave home, I bring my mask in addition to my sun hat. I wear it anytime that I’m indoors. And I stay 6 feet away from others, rather than crowding in close. That isn’t living in fear, that’s taking basic, sensible precautions.

The big difference with COVID-19 is that I can spread the disease several days before I’m showing any symptoms. And I can spread the disease even if I never show any symptoms. I’m not guaranteed to be healthy just because I don’t have a fever, don’t have the sniffles, and can breathe fine. As a result, my mask protects you from the risk that I’m sick and your sick protects me from the risk that you’re sick. It’s basic courtesy.

But the effects are counterintuitive. Imagine if I could get heat exhaustion because you’re not wearing a sun hat. I have my sun hat on, I’m drinking from my water bottle, I’m staying in the shade. But you’re standing out in the sun, hatless, and haven’t had a drink in 4 hours. And I get heat exhaustion. Weird, right? But that’s how COVID-19 works.

And that counter-intuitive reality is why none of us can get back to normal until all of us agree to take precautions. We’re not asking you to live in fear. We’re asking you to put on some shoes, put on a hat, and stop leaning up against the saguaro. Do it out of kindness for others, even if you’re not personally worried about getting sick.


This entry was tagged. COVID-19 Personal

Why Fight to Enjoy a Long Winter?

Jason Kotte—a lifelong resident of winter lands—wrote about how he's recovering from two years where winter really bummed him out.

Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings. As Matt Thomas wrote, I stopped fighting the winter vibe and tried to go with it:

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming — rather than fighting against — the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock.

The people in the Norwegian communities Leibowitz studied, they got outside as much as they could — “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” — spent their time indoors being cozy, came together in groups, and marveled at winter’s beauty.

So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far?

I’ve had more time for reading, watching some interesting TV, eating rich foods, making apple pie, and working. I went for a 6-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend and it was delightful. And I’m already looking forward to spring and summer as well. It’s comforting to know that warmer weather and longer days are waiting for me in the distance, when I can do more of what I want to do and feel more like my true self. But in the meantime, pass the cocoa and I’ll see you on the slopes.

​There's a whole lot of wisdom in what he wrote. There's value in having different rhythms to your life in different seasons. There's value in deciding to have a positive mindset about the things you can't change.


There's also wisdom in recognizing when your circumstances are making you unhappy and doing what you can to change your circumstances. I lived the winter blues for nearly 20 years. I worked hard to have a positive mindset. I worked hard to adjust to constant snow and bitter cold. I worked to find winter clothes that were both warm and something that I liked. But I still was unhappy every winter and couldn't wait for the weather to change.

No matter how good the conversation is, there's nothing appealing about taking a 5-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend. And it may be true that bad weather is the result of bad clothing. But I never did find gloves that were the right combination of warm enough, dextrous enough, and small enough to fit my dwarven hands. Or warm, waterproof boots that fit my hobbit feet. And I note that even Jason says that he's already—5 months before Wisconsin spring—looking forward to warmer weather and longer days. That's a long time to remind yourself to stay positive.

My breakthrough happened when I finally realized that no one was forcing me to live in the land of ice and snow and that I didn't need permission to leave. I'm having one of my best winters in 20 years because I finally moved from Madison, WI to Tucson, AZ. This isn't a change that everyone can make. I spent 3+ years making sure that it was the right move for the entire family, not just for me. I made sure that I would have a job after the move. We didn't have extended family in Wisconsin.

I'm fortunate that all of those factors lined up for me. But they did and I was able to move. And the move has had an immense impact on my day-to-day happiness and joy in life. I've smiled more, felt giddy more, spent more time outdoors, and looked at the stars more than I have in many years.

If you're truly rooted where you are, then follow Jason's advice on enjoying the long winter. But if you're only staying through inertia, then don't torture yourself. There are no virtue points for living somewhere that you don't like and fighting for contentment. Spending your entire life in one location doesn't make you more moral or more praiseworthy than someone who pulls up stakes and wanders around until they find their good place. Give yourself permission to move on.

This entry was tagged. Personal Wisconsin

Trip Notes, Houston, May 2018

This trip has really been the best and worst of times. I've had a successful business trip, helping a client. I've had lots of fun with my co-workers. On a personal level, this trip to Houston has been great. It's simultaneously reminded me how much I genuinely love this city and how I could never survive the daily humidity.

And then there's the screwups. So many uncharacteristic screwups.

Monday: My luggage doesn't make it from Atlanta to Houston. I have to make a midnight trip to Walmart to buy slacks and a polo, to look vaguely professional for Tuesday's meetings.

Tuesday: I get my luggage and discover that I failed to pack any t-shirts, for after work wear.

Wednesday: I discover that I left my credit card at Pappasitos, after paying for everyone's dinner. Fortunately, our server was great and gave my card to a manager to stick in the store safe. I drive out there at 8:40pm and then discover that all of my the on-ramps and exits that I need to get back to the hotel closed at 9pm. I spend an extra 15 minutes taking detours and negotiating construction traffic, in order to get back.

Thursday: ??? A breathless world waits and watches with anticipation.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Be Your Whole Self

Almost 13 years ago, I signed up for a shared hosting account on a little web host called TextDrive. I didn't know it then, but that was my introduction to a community that I'm still a part of today.

TextDrive was founded by Dean Allen, a man with a love for writing and for the ability of typesetting to make writing pop off of the screen. I wasn't a Dean Allen fan — I didn't come to TextDrive because of Dean. I came because TextDrive looked like a good hosting company for people who loved technology, and who loved to tinker on the web.

TextDrive was that. Of all of the hosting companies that I've used over the past 20 years, TextDrive was the best. Dean and Jason gave us a remarkable amount of freedom on their servers, while sparing us from the challenges of being administrators of our own systems. They were personable, with a seemingly endless supply of patience for our requests and the ways that we found to crash their servers.

But I found more than just a good web host. I found a community of the like minded. We all liked to tinker and to write. Some linked to tinker so much that they became members of TextDrive's support staff. The TextDrive forums were our shared campfire. (I mostly sat in the shadows). When TextDrive was absorbed into Joyent, we moved together to the Joyent forums. And when Joyent stopped offering shared hosting, we stayed in touch through Twitter and Slack. The community feels special because we each have different backgrounds, careers, and interests. We have different levels of technical skill. On the surface, it sometimes seems that we have little in common. But we're still united by that shared interest in writing and in tinkering.

Last week, I learned that Dean Allen had died. I feel his loss less keenly than others in the community only because I knew him less well than they did. But I mourn the loss of him nonetheless, because of what he did to attract so many like minded individuals. I've been shaped by that community in various ways and wouldn't be quite who I am today without them and without him.

Joel, a member of our TextDrive community, wrote some thoughts on Dean's passing, Retooling. I was struck by his thoughts and his Twitter summary of them.

  • For God’s sake, stay in touch
  • A good way to stay in touch is to keep blogging
  • Be your whole self online
  • Make the whole soup from scratch

I was especially struck by Joel's third point.

One thing about blogging, as opposed to clipping words into a stream of status updates, is that it gives you room to be your political self (say) without collapsing the rest of you out of sight. Dean’s politics were pretty clear to anyone who read him, and he was no stranger to the polemic, but he let himself be more than his politics, to such an extent that people who disagreed with his politics (including myself at the time) were happy to congregate together around him.

Maybe when we each have our own spaces to think and express ourselves, and when we Stay In Touch mainly by checking in on each other’s spaces, we do better at thinking together.

Politics (e.g.) are important. But, thanks in part to my experience with Dean and people at TextDrive, I can see that being inclusive, allowing ourselves to be and see more than our politics, happens to be good for our politics. The fact that they took this approach, and looked past my freshman twerpisms, was helpful for me at the time, and a factor in several changes-of-mind down the road.

I'm not good at being my whole self online. I'm an introvert. I'm very, very comfortable with my introvertedness. I'm not lonely. I'm perfectly content to spend an evening (or 10) with the quiet comfort of my own thoughts. That leads me to spend a lot of time having internal dialogs, forgetting that no one else can hear my constant conversation. And then I realize that's been two months since I posted anything, anything at all, on my blog and longer still since I publicly wrote anything of true meaning.

Joel's thoughts challenged me to make public interaction a priority. Post something, even if it's just a link to something that I found interesting. Post everything, even if it's political and might annoy people. Post about who I am — my whole self — my love for books, my nascent interest in comic books and console games, the boardgames that I'm enoying, the frustrations and joys of parenting, my complaints about American Christianity, everything.

I'm not sure how successful I'll be. It's a struggle to take the constant stream of thoughts in my head and focus on one long enough to freeze it and put it online. But I think it's worth doing. Community is important and I can only be a part of an online community if I'm willing to be heard.

This entry was tagged. Personal

NFL Championship Game Sunday (2018 edition)

Here's how NFL Championship Game Sunday is going to go.

I'm going to take a nap.

I'm going to fry up some chicken wings.

I'm going to make my own version of Subway's Spicy Italian as a sandwich, with some quality lunch meats.

I'm going to watch the Jaguars take on the Patriots.

I'm going to head to church for an evening meeting.

I'm going to tuck my daughters into bed.

Finally, I'm going to watch the Vikings and the Eagles battle it out, on a length tape delay. This is the game that I'm really looking forward to.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Getting Reacquainted

[Adam & Joe at age 10

Twenty-three years ago, I was 10 years old, living in Norfolk, VA. My family worshipped at Norfolk Garden Baptist Church and I participated in the Awana program on Sunday nights, as a Pioneer.

Sometime during that year, I met Adam Volle. His family worshipped at a different church but chose to come to our church on Sunday nights, for our Awana program. We both memorized Bible verses quickly and became friends through our memorization contests and our shared love of Star Wars. We hung out at Awana each Sunday evening and at at his house during the summer.

Twenty years ago, Adam left Virginia. He spent time living in Mississippi and Colorado. I continued living in Virginia. He went to Shorter College. I went to the University of Pittsburgh. We both got married. I moved to Wisconsin and he spent time living in Georgia, Louisiana, and South Korea.

Over the years, we kept in loose contact with each other using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). We IMed enough to have a vague idea of what we were each up to, but not enough to stay in close contact. During our college and immediate post-college years, we even managed to collaborate on a blog together.

As technology changed, our methods of staying in touch changed too. AIM died but we replaced it with a mix of email, Twitter, and iMessage to stay connected. Now Adam is back in the States, ready to begin another chapter of his life. We've been apart for 20 years and have decided that now is the time to get reacquainted and keep in closer contact. We're both fans of podcasting and are both narcissistic enough to think that other people might be interested in our stories. A podcast seemed like the logical next step.

We're getting Reacquainted through a series of podcast conversations. We've already talked about our time together, our respective high school experiences, and how our religious beliefs have changed. We'll be talking about how we met our wives, what careers we're each pursuing, and how our experiences have affected our political beliefs.

We're having a lot of fun together. Won't you join us as we get Reacquainted?

Adam & Joe now

This entry was tagged. Adam Personal Podcasts

Warmth Approacheth

Lately, I've felt like the cold weather will never end. It seems like every single week of the winter has brought more snow, more cold, more icy, and more dreariness. But -- at last! -- I have hope that we're seeing the end of winter.

Average temperature for the first five days of March: 28 degrees.

Average temperature for the last five days of March: 39 degrees.

At this point, that would feel like heaven.

This entry was tagged. Personal Wisconsin

Too Much Snow

How's the weather in Madison, WI?:

Including today's snow, it is the 37th time in the last 67 days -- since Dec. 1 -- Madison has seen measurable snowfall, according to weather service data.

Madison's normal winter snow total is about 49 inches, Kuhlman said, but the city is already well above that average with about 60 inches of snow through midnight. The storm could push Madison to within inches of the snowfall record of 76.1 inches set in 1978-79.

You know, snow stopped being fun somewhere around December 5th. I move that we move immediately to Spring. I further move that we proceed immediately to global warming. The world's climate is obviously not warm enough yet. Can I get a second?

16:30 - Leave the office for my car.

16:40 - Finish digging my car out of its parking spot and leave the office building.

17:23 - Arrive home. The roads are mostly empty. Apparently, the vast majority of Madison heeded the media warnings and stayed off of the roads. Driving down 14-South, to Oregon, a few jerks with four wheel drive pass me on the left. I am driving slowly, to avoid careening off the road into a snow drift. They are not satisfied with my 35 mph progress and pass with only 12 inches of clearance. I want to report them for reckless driving, but snow covers their license plates.

17:30 - Start moving the snow off of the driveway, so I can park my car. The snow-plow-provided drift at the end of the driveway is more than 2 feet deep. The snow thrower gives up in despair. I almost do too. But I won't. I persevere and clear a space just wide enough for my car to slip through.

18:40 -Finish clearing the driveway, sidewalk, and path to the front door.

18:55 -Get dressed, after a warm shower. My lips no longer feel numb!

There you have. Two and a half hours to drive home and get into the driveway. This is just too much snow for this Southern boy. I'm getting more and more tempted to just move to Tennessee.

Birthday Beauty

Birthday Beauty

For contact information, please see postscript

This is not the time to be writing a love letter.

Bluntly, I've got snot all over my face. It's pouring both down my throat and out my nose, wherein it joins a non-stop stream of tears that have rendered this screen in front of me all but unreadable. And good grief, my head - o my poor head - my head right now is so foggy that, were ya t'ask me if I'll be going to Heaven tonight 'pon my surely-inevitable death, I'd quite confidently answer you yes - I just probably couldn't explain to you why.

Brilliant bounds for boogying back betwixt the bedsheets, you might say - for instance, if you were yourself the young lady to whom the letter is actually going. But Darlin', it's your birthday, and lemme tell ya something: the world outside our houses may be diving headlong into Winter (a fitting metaphor for my body), but it's been Springtime in my heart '365 since I started courting you.

And by God, you weren't born on the 25th of October, now were you?

According to Facebook, the answer is no, it was definitely the 24th (knew there was a reason I signed up for that), so let's go.


A best friend of mine once famously yelled, upon being complimented by her boyfriend for the millionth time or so about her physical appearance - not about her mind, not about her spirit, not about her driving record, but about her looks: "Is that all there is?!"

Many a long-form essay has been written to answer exactly that question, but here it's sufficient to point out, if I may plagiarize liberally from Mr. Charles Dickens (yep, I can, he's dead, thanks Chuck!), that Anna was attractive, to begin with. There can be no doubt whatsoever about that. And this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. Just how attractive is she? So attractive that compasses do not function properly within her immediate vicinity. If you were to go hiking in the woods with Anna you would get lost. And if you were a man, you would not care.

I high-light this obvious detail of Anna's character not to elevate it at the expense of other admirable and more important qualities, but to hopefully shed a little light on the position I'm currently in; since the first day I remember meeting her, Anna's always been an object of non-platonic interest to me.* That being the case, I admit to sometimes having difficulty extricating myself from the perspective of the Suitor, which to degrees both wrong-headed and righteous has almost always been my role.

(*I actually suspect Anna doesn't care too much to recall this secret motivation of mine in sharing pre-courtship time with her. Back when we met, the beauty firmly belonged to a school of Christian thought which demands of the meaningful Christian relationship a slow development via at least one year of best-friends-ness, after which both male and female realize that there is something more to their friendship than just platonic interest and weep in their respective beds to the LORD God Almighty for the evil spirits to be cast out of them. This is eventually and grudgingly followed by a second year of companionship, known as "courtship", in which the respective parties involved join each other at their respective family's dinner tables, engaging in wholesome dating activities like passing the biscuits, pouring each other refills, etc. - just so long as their hands never touch. Eventually, this leads to the gentleman caller trying to pass the woman of his dreams a diamond ring, which her mother should smoothly intercept and, if she can get away with it, flush down the commode.

Needless to say, the young lady and I have taken a divergent but equally righteous path, one with which I'm happy to report the gorgeous creature remains perfectly at ease. Yet, I secretly think she still clings to the idea, perhaps just on principle, that there was at least one point in our story in which I did not think to myself, "I must at the very least dance with that exquisite creation, because I'll never forgive myself if I don't."

To my mind, these supposedly base beginnings merely testify to the LORD's humor, and His grand love for subverting all of our expectations. I flatter myself one of God's better jokes on her.)

A birthday tribute is not about celebrating Anna's value to me in particular, however; it is about celebrating Anna's objective value altogether. Or at least, this is how I am feeling about it right now. Joe, if I look like I'm going to get myself into any trouble here, please feel free to edit (Joe: Oh, I'll edit alright. This is the chance I've been looking for since you put up the pizza picture). By teh way, Ana iz also stinki and hr shoes iz bad.

So I switch gears as best I can. I give up the sword and shield of my crusade for her heart for a little while and take up the (party) banner of her life. What is there to say about this woman when I am not in the position of trying to win her?

Summarily: everything I've just said, and far, far more.

That was perhaps never so apparent as over a year ago, when I was hanging out at her house and happened to peruse a couple of her family's picture albums. I got to watch a video or two of her when she was younger, too. The experience was interesting not just because of my curiosity concerning her past, but because of the emotions roused in me by viewing that past. The little girl smiled out from history at me and - she was not yet grown up. O, she was a very pretty child, to be sure, but to my hormones the little one was, of course, a total flop. Her immature body could elicit no interest. And as linked in my mind as this smaller version was to the one I knew... well, neither could Anna herself at that moment.

Point being:

'Pessa, if ever I have seen you with eyes at liberty from those rose-tinted glasses you're always claiming I wear, well, that afternoon was it - and I wanted you more than ever.

But not as a lover - I just wished we'd become friends sooner. I wished I'd known this swiftly-changing girl in the albums and videos; I wished I'd been able to stop in at a much younger Anna's birthday tea party to wish her - in a toff accent of course - the very best birthday she might have. I wish the next day you could've told me what your parents got you. And my heart simply burns with the wish, strange as it may seem, that I myself had gotten you something, on that special day and every one since.

You are a life very much worth celebrating, Anna. I am so very glad you were born!

May God [have blessed] you with a day to equal the joy He, even more than I, takes in you.

And sweet dreams.


PS: I cannot fairly deny my fellow males the opportunity to take their own shots at the most beautiful woman I know. It is not for me to influence who's affections she will accept. So, if you would like to write your own love letter to Anna, her mailing address is provided below.

Anna Fraijo-Ruiz #X10882

PO Box 1508

Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508 USA

This entry was tagged. Personal

The Devil in the Details


There's something both precious and painful about evenings out with my fellow teachers at school. All of us so clearly desire, and desire badly, to be friends, because we are all living in a foreign country far from home's shores, and we consequently know that the immediately available pool of English-speaking Christians from which we might draw fellowship is limited to -... uh, well, us.

But, we are a motley crew. Thus we are having some trouble clicking. Our only extrovert finds himself faced with the horrifying understanding (perhaps not yet dawned 'pon him; I am unsure) that these people by whom he is surrounded will likely not kick it with him on the weekends, at least to his standards. His two fellow men are introverted bookworms. They quietly wait on the sidelines of table conversation like players in a game to which they do not know the rules. And beside them sits a beautiful and intelligent young, ethnically Korean woman about their age, who - being a fresh graduate of hallowed Bob Jones University on her way to law school - is probably not up for dating, along with a woman (a) easily old enough to be all of their mothers and (b) way cooler than all of them, being a field-hardened missionary to Uganda.

Summarily, this is not the kind of group for which you want to pick a movie.

And then there are our theological differences, which really the LORD Jesus must be praised for, as they're the only reliable topic of conversation upon which we've yet stumbled.

The very fact that we all work for our school means we're each classifiable as Protestant, of course, but whereas the beliefs of the good Catholic are well-defined, "Protestant" is a widely-cast label - nearly as widely-cast as the word "Christian" itself. We run the gamut. The older woman who serves in Uganda is Charismatic. The gentleman hailing from North Carolina is, needless to say, not. Cue fun discussions of whether the Church is still given the gift of speaking in holy tongues or the gift of prophecy, etcetera.

Wherein I occasionally hear something interesting like this:

"Satan can't understand what you're saying to God when you speak in tongues. That's because tongues are of the Spirit and he (Satan) is darkness."

Now I first heard this tidbit of spiritual strategy, actually, from a Filipino teacher who doesn't usually eat out with us - and to be honest, my snooty reaction was to off-handedly dismiss it as a bit of quaint Third World tradition which had somehow latched itself to Christian doctrine. Y'know: "Oh, those backward Filipinos."

So to hear it from a missionary raised in California quite surprised me (less surprising was to hear within the same conversation her confident assertion that Satan, the Prince of Darkness, is a fallen angel - a plausible possibility, but simply not so settled a fact as most Christians seem to believe). What surprises me leads to research. What I research leads to this blog.


The Devil We Know, The Devil We Don't

To begin with, let's deal with the question of whether the Adversary can understand prayers spoken in tongues: the answer is "Perhaps!", with an understanding that leaning towards "Yes, he can!" is probably the safer bet. No Bible verse concretely addresses the question, which means, to quote my Old Testament professor Dr. Wallace: "We really only know two things: We know I don't know and we know you don't know."

But when "the devil can cite scripture for his purpose," as the Bard once put it (in an allusion to Satan's tempting of Jesus), when he can presumably understand every other language in the world, and when at least one book of the Bible finds him freely conversing with the LORD Himself in Heaven (Job 1-2), it's certainly not unreasonable to suggest he can hear Spirit-breathed language - especially if, as so many would claim, the Devil is a fallen angel, one of a host quite likely knowledgeable concerning any holy tongue. On what Biblical basis are contrary claims made by those who say the holiest of tongues lies on a devil-jamming frequency?

At least the popular concept of Satan as a rebel angel has (ahem) wings. In the Gospel of Luke we are told that our Lord "beheld Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Reference to "angels who sinned" can be found in 2nd Peter 2:4. Jude 1:6, too. And if you Protestants out there are willing to peer outside the canon a bit, you'll find reference to a fallen prince of angels named Satanael in the Slavonic Book of Enoch.

But the most popular passages of Scripture cited as proof of Satan's former archangelic status are useful only when displaced from their contexts. As Wikipedia's entry on "Lucifer" notes:

"Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are directly concerned with the temporal rulers of Babylon and Tyre, rather than a supernatural being; allegorical readings of these and other passages were typical of medieval scholarship but are usually not considered legitimate in modern critical scholarship. Accordingly, in most modern English versions of the Bible (including the NIV, NRSV, NASB and ESV) the proper noun "Lucifer" is not found; the Hebrew word is rendered "day star", "morning star" or something similar."

It's worth noting, too, that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 never refer to anyone as an archangel; if the latter passage was for some reason truly talking about Satan, then the Lord of Darkness would be a cherub.

Bereft of those sources, though, we are left without any canonical origin for the Adversary. In fact, all the Bible is willing to tell us is, ironically enough, that Satan definitely was never a good guy. Note 1 John 3:8, in which it is said that "the devil has been sinning from the beginning," and John 8:44, in which it is said that Satan "was a murderer from the beginning."

1 John 3:8: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."

John 8:44: "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

I won't suggest the above verses preclude a fall from Heaven. Revelation 12:9 clearly states otherwise:

"The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."

So possibly Satan was tossed to Earth prior to "the beginning", as the phrase "the beginning" could just as easily refer only to Man's start rather than Satan's. Maybe it's even just a phrase (how often have we heard someone accused of being "against us from the start"?).

Regardless, here we've come to the Bible's last mention of angels in conjunction with "that ancient serpent". The phrasing might understandably get any member of the Satan As Ex-Angel camp excited; after all, there it is, in black and white. Satan has angels. Michael has angels. They're fighting. Even though the text does not clearly stipulate Satan to be an angel, one can put two-and-two together without a long leap, right?

Well, before we get too carried away, let's remind ourselves what the word "angel" means in both Hebrew and Greek: "messenger". The word implies status rather than race, much like the word "god" itself (a general term we Christians use pretty much exclusively for the LORD of Israel because we don't consider any other being truly worthy of the title, but don't forget that even Moses was once described as "god" to Pharoah). If Satan can be described as "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), why might his disciples not be described as his own "messengers"? And if the "messengers" herein are indeed fallen servants of the one, true God, does it still necessarily follow that Satan is an angel?

Logically, the answer is "no" - but, of course, that doesn't mean Satan isn't a fallen angel.

It's frustrating, not knowing the answers to the maddening mysteries the Bible often presents us; as unexpected and seemingly contradictory as his presence is in a universe ruled by our Creator, Satan is one of the most tempting targets for which to contrive an explanation. We should never the less resist the urge. False information represented as true is, after all, a lie - and we can be sure that the father of lies will not hesitate to turn new ones about himself to his advantage.

The Futility of Politics

Your Typical Voter

A hypothetical: a friend of yours asks you for relationship advice.

See, he and the gay lover for whom he abandoned his pregnant, live-in girlfriend can't agree on which window treatment they prefer for their new apartment, and despite all the other personal differences they've managed to amicably settle - like your friend's being an Anglican Christian and his lover being a warlock in the First Order of the Antichrist - the issue is threatening to drive a wedge between them, just (this is eerie) as it drove a wedge between your friend's father and his father's own gay lover over thirty years ago.

Now, seeing as how you're a man of God, he says, surely you can give him good advice on how to properly and lovingly resolve the question. Should he (A) compromise on the window treatment issue (even though his lover picked a really icky color) or (B) stand firm, because this is important?

Well? How do you answer?

Believe it or not, the above scenario isn't too dissimilar from some questions I truly have been asked "as a man of God" - although in the worst situation I've ever been presented, the friend asking me for advice was a registered sex offender who quite literally believed himself to be a werewolf and (again, I am not making this up) now found himself blackmailed into a homosexual relationship with a Catholic missionary to Mexico.

In such situations, the base problem is the same: namely, is even bothering to answer at all a good idea? After all, the real problem here obviously isn't your friend's ridiculously petty feelings about household decoration; that's just the smallest symptom of the many, many totally selfish, wrong moves he's been making, each and every one of which dwarfs in importance the issue at hand. He shouldn't be dating someone who doesn't believe in the Christ Jesus. He shouldn't be in any homosexual relationship. He certainly shouldn't abandon the future mother of his child to start one. And he never should have had sexual relations with her in the first place, seeing as how she was not his wife. And - well, let's see here. Anything else?

Oh yeah, wait: and the reason all of this happened in the first place is because despite your friend's declarations to the contrary, he obviously doesn't care what the Christ Jesus thinks of his life.

Well, if you're like me, you tell your friend that the drapes have received way too much attention already and you're not going to give them yours too. Maybe your friend doesn't like this very much, says "If you were really concerned about me, you'd help me", but you answer that if he really wants help, you're perfectly willing to provide it; you'll help him move his furniture out of the apartment, play the part of Best Man at his wedding to the chick, and drive him to church every Sunday. But playing into his delusions won't help him out a bit, so as his friend, you won't do it.

And, if you're like me, you feel pretty much the same way about our country's problems.

The Korean taxi as microcosm

Here's how I knew I'd arrived back in the R.O.K. this morning:

After passing through "Wonderful Immigration!" (make whatever bizarre face you want, but that is what the sign says), I was almost immediately met by a middle-aged man, quite Asian in appearance, who asked me where I was going.

"Seoul," I replied - which wasn't quite true, actually, but a fair approximation. Like saying you're on your way to Atlanta instead of Mableton.

"I will take you," says he, smiling.

"No thanks," I said. "I'm jumping on the subway."

"Mmmm," says he. Then he points in the direction of a set of descending stairs on my right. Says: "You go down there."

And that is Korea. In the U.S., you find your taxi driver; he or she does not come to you. In Turkey, you will be all but bodily thrown into the vehicle of a driver, whether you want his or her services or not. In Colombia, you will see armored cars waiting to pick up many arrivals. In Ireland, you must find your taxi driver in the nearest pub, put him in the shower, etc. Here, the drivers come after you for your business, but upon being refused, assist without any prompting in helping you reach your destination anyway.

I do like this country. Never let it be said otherwise.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Lifest's Lack of Responsibility

I'm disappointed in Life Promotions, the organization that organizes the Lifest Festival each summer in Oshkosh, WI. (Full disclosure: I attended Lifest 2007 with my sister.)

Last year and this year, Lifest hosted the "Air Glory" ride at the festival. Air Glory is a bungee-jump type of ride, available for $25 a ride to festival attendees. Unfortunately, a girl died on the ride this year. Fond du Lac Reporter - Girl dies after fall from Air Glory free-fall ride at Lifest

A girl was killed in a fall from the Air Glory ride Saturday afternoon at Lifest.

The victim, who was not immediately identified, was taken to a local hospital, but Lifest officials made an announcement from the Main Stage about 9:35 p.m. that she had died.

The State of Wisconsin licenses all rides that operate in the state. The license is supposed to ensure that the ride is safe and that all operators meet the relevant criteria (being 18 or older). For the past month, state officials have been investigating the ride.

A few days ago, Lifest representatives said that Lifest bore no responsibility for the accident.

Mitch Lautenslager, vice president of operations and programming for Life! Promotions in Oshkosh, last week said the organization had no responsibility to check to see if Air Glory was registered or inspected in Wisconsin before it opened. "Everything we had done with Air Glory, all the homework, showed they had been cleared to go," Lautenslager said. "We didn't have any reason to believe otherwise."

Life! Promotions spokesman Wes Halula said Air Glory also appeared at last year's Lifest. "It's between the state and Air Glory," Halula said. "The onus is on Air Glory to keep up on all that paperwork."

I'm sorry, but I find this attitude unacceptable. Lifest invited Air Glory to appear at the event. Lifest promoted the event to thousands of parents and youth leaders as a fun, safe time. By putting Air Glory into their promotional materials, Lifest gave their stamp of approval to the ride. Like it or not, Lifest bore a responsibility to ensure that the ride was well-maintained, well-run, and -- above all -- safe.

It's not simply a matter of "keep[ing] up on all that paperwork". By it's very nature, state regulation is always going to be a hit or miss affair. Parents trusted Lifest -- not the State of Wisconsin -- to provide a fun, safe atmosphere for their children.

I believe Lifest had their own responsibility to check the ride before promoting it as an integral part of Lifest. That responsibility was a moral one, not a legal one. I would not sue Lifest for failing in that responsibility. Instead, I'll take my own responsible course: I no longer trust Lifest to provide a safe, fun event. I no longer trust Lifest to have executed due diligence before promoting an event.

Until Lifest takes responsibility for what happens at their festival, I will not be attending. My daughter will not be old enough to attend festivals for another 10-12 years. Lifest has that long to earn back my trust and prove that they're willing to do whatever it takes to keep her safe.

Is God A Man?

No. Numbers 23:19 reads: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" There.

But LORD knows, He (!) is referred to as such in the Bible - every reference to Him is in the masculine tense (at least in the Hebrew and Greek; some languages don't have a gender-specific third-person pronoun), and there's no escaping that there has to be a reason for this.

If you're a liberal critic of Scripture, that reason is obvious: a culture of patriarchal tyranny. Men principally wrote the Bible, hence the Good Book is skewed in their favor. Of course if the Bible is so corrupted by masculine intent, its message is logically irredeemably compromised; say that men skewed it and you can say Christians skewed it; say men skewed it and you can say Jews skewed it. The authority of the Word ceases to have any meaning.

No matter how conservative any other critic, though, saying God is literally a man is a non-starter, since physically-speaking He repeatedly proves Himself to be nothing of the sort; for crying out loud, He's a bush at one point.

So God, whatever you choose to make of Him (!), cannot have chosen to be referred to in the masculine because that's an accurate description of His totality; therefore He must have chosen masculine expression because He wishes to be related to as a masculine creature, i.e. as a Father and King, rather than as Mother and Queen. Which makes sense, since we've already had explained to us by Paul that the marital model (and indeed, the life model) is meant to resemble God's relationship with His church. Why on Earth would God be identified with the church in that equation instead of the Christ? It would screw up the symbolism completely.

To summarize, perhaps God did not make men like they are because He is a he, but chose to be known as a he because He made men and women like they are. Perhaps God is called a "He" because He wants us to understand where He directly fits in the symbolism of life (and He designed it right, didn't He? Consider that women adore their fathers and are "Daddy's girls", while men attempt to be like their father. To be a "Momma's Boy" is understood to be unnatural and stunting).

In which case, all this cawing is basically the equivalent of a row about who gets to play the main character in a staged play. Sometimes the actors who play the main character get puffed with too much pride, and sometimes the rest of the actors allow themselves to be touchy and/or bitter; both foolishly judge how important they are to the director by where the director has placed them.

The fairly evident comeback to all this is: "What about all the feminine roles that God plays? How He nurtures us? How we are fed by Him?" Indeed, Jesus at one point compares himself to a hen who wants to take all her chicklets under her wing. My reply is simply that no symbol is all-encompassing ("Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." "What if the chocolates get smashed? How's that like Life? Or what if they melt? What if...?" "Um, lighten up.").

And there's really no more reply that can be made, I think, come that point. Just as there is no Jew or Greek in the Christ, there is no man or woman. Of course we're of equal value.

I'm discussing this today, incidentally, because apparently the number of females on this planet who believe I don't respect the young lady in my life at all has apparently grown to include my best friend, who believes I am a total misogynist [she actually writes 'masochist' in the letter by accident, ironically probably a more accurate description] based on comments I made over Christmas Break. My comment was that I believe God is a man - not that I believe that literally, but I went ahead and deadpanned it. Also I joked to her that talking to my suitee's father would have been a lot easier in the old days: "I have land and cattle. What do you want for her?" (and as a minor aside, a Kenyan City Councilman recently tried this very tactic on our own President Clinton, only to be disappointed; he offered forty goats and twenty cows in exchange for Chelsea's hand.)

These comments were not, to say the least, taken well.

Which leads us to another Minor Thoughts lesson for today: watch your mouth, because not everybody has your sense of humor.

In other news, the world's first caffeinated soap has now hit the market. It's called Shower Shock, and it retails for $5.95. Thank you.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Bible Study: Exodus 1:1-7, continued

Oy; the good folks at the Bridge-Linguatec School just sent me a packet on information concerning the CELTA certification course (Cambridge English Language Teaching Association), which - God willing - I'm taking this June. And here's an excerpt:

"...The course is very intensive. Trainees need a great deal of energy and stamina to work through the course. You will be at school every day from approximately 9 "“ 6, and your evenings will be taken up with reading, research, lesson planning, and written assignments. It is advisable not to have a part-time job or other outside distractions during this month, as it will take your focus away from the course and you will not receive as much benefit from your time here. The course is very intense and requires a great deal of time and energy. Past trainees have commented that homework takes from 3-5 hours every evening."

The failure rate among students, it goes on to say, is roughly 6-7%, and so is the class drop-out rate, for a total of round-abouts 12-14% who are accepted and find they can't hack it. As for those students who pass the course: "C" students account for 65% of the typical class, the "B" students 20-25%. "A" students: 3-4% ("These Candidates usually have a number of years of teaching experience").

I admit to slight concern.

But!: We're not here to worry about my future, now are we? No, we're here to discuss Exodus 1:1-7 some more. So, let's.

We return to the somewhat troublesome question of how seventy-five Jews become 2-3 million Jews within the seemingly absurd span of a little over four hundred years.

  • Exodus 1:5: "The total number of persons that were of Jacob's issue came to seventy, Joseph being already in Egypt [and not counting Joseph's grandchildren and great-grandchildren]."

According to Plaut, this group of seventy consists of Jacob, sixty-seven male offspring, and two wives. Adding in Joseph's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the total number of men comes to seventy-two.

  • Exodus 12:40: "The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years..." [if you believe this verse and not Genesis 15:16, in which God says Israel shall dwell in Egypt for four hundred flat. Gen. 15:16 also says "the fourth generation" shall leave Egypt, whereas 1 Chron. 7:20-27 records ten. We won't be getting into this seeming contradiction today.]

Is it possible that a family of seventy men became a nation of two to three million, or even more? Well, mathematically-speaking, the answer is like every other answer in Judaism: "Yes, but it depends." Several questions have a great impact on the issue.

Question 1: Were the Jews still polygamists? If Jewish men can take more than one wife, the birth rate of Israel increases. Simple.

Question 2: Did Israel's children take foreign wives? Joseph's wife was an Egyptian. If Joseph's kin followed suit (at least until their enslavement), and especially if they were polygamists, then the potential for a powerful birth rate was more strong. On the other hand, Abraham clearly hated the idea of his son Isaac marrying anyone who was not of his own kind. Was this attitude passed down to Abraham's descendants as virtual law, or was it not until Mount Sinai that such rules were enshrined?

Question 3: Did Israel's children take wives of their own kin? We often think of the Hebrew race as simply beginning with "Father Abraham", but of course this isn't true; Abraham himself belonged to a people populating the Fertile Crescent.

Who were these people? A popular theory among today's scholars is that the word "Hebrew" (Ivri) shares the same roots of, or is derived from, the word "Habiru" - the name given to a people populating (you guessed it) the Fertile Crescent.

From Plaut:

"[The Habiru] may have been related by family ties; they became prominent in Mesopotamia and later spread out all the way to Egypt... Although at first they were nomads or semi-nomads, they later settled in the countries of their choice. They were, however, usually considered foreigners, which means that they succeeded in maintaining their group identity..."

This especially clicks when you consider that the word Ivri "was used only when the members of the Israelite tribes spoke of themselves to outsiders and when outsiders referred to them. Thus, Abraham is called ivri (Gen. 14:13)..." Otherwise the people referred to themselves by their tribes (e.g., Judah, Ephraim) or by their more immediate common ancestor, Israel."

Interestingly, despite the seemingly perfect fit, Plaut stops short of saying in his Commentary that the Habiru and Israelites were kin, even though others don't. He only suggests that the Israelites were identified with and/or shared familial ties with the Habiru.

If Jacob and his children were Habiru, however, then the likelihood of their having met other Habiru in Egypt - and intermarried with them - is far from remote. The Israel that left Egypt may even have absorbed some of these Habiru into its body.

The rate of procreation necessary in order, for example, for thirteen men to become three million within four hundred years isn't actually so tough to swallow when you crunch the numbers. Within the first generation, forty children would have to be born (a modest rate of less than four children per man); by the second, there would have to be one hundred and fifty-three. But if the answers to any or all of the three questions I've raised today are "yes", we find the Bible's account all the easier to accept.

That is to say, IF you were having any_ trouble_ accepting the Bible's account. I, of course, never doubted. I'm just doing this for all you faithless people.

Todd Beamer's last words

The following's an excerpt from Mark Joseph's most recent column, entitled 'A&E;'s faith problem':

My wife and I sat riveted the other night, watching Larry King Live as he showed clips from A&E;'s made-for-TV version of the events of September 11th on board Flight #93. Among King's guests was Lisa Jefferson, the Verizon operator who stayed on the phone with one of the flight's heroes, Todd Beamer. It was Jefferson who documented Beamer's last words, which, depending on the account, went either "Help me God, help me Jesus," or "Help me Jesus."

The actors on the show made a point of telling King how accurate and true to the transcripts this movie was, so I was curious to hear how they handled Beamer's last moments. As I suspected would happen, Beamer's final prayer to his God was excised. Although A&E; did allow the two to repeat the Lord's Prayer together, when it came time for Beamer's final, fateful appeal to God, it dropped Beamer's sectarian prayer...

"Jesus, help me," Beamer said. He recited the 23rd Psalm. Then Jefferson heard him say: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

The main thrust of the article is, of course, why A&E; chose to delete Beamer's prayers, but to be honest this subject of why the establishment is resistant to broadcasting Beamer's Christianity doesn't really interest me (and neither do these other stories: "Sun still shining", "Scientists say we breathe oxygen"). Today's Christians are way too shocked about things they were warned about by our Christ Himself, in the Gospels.

This may surprise, but despite being a church-attending son of God, this is the first I've heard of Beamer calling on the Messiah prior to his attacking the hijackers, and I'm thrilled.

I'm always the last to know these things.

This entry was tagged. Personal