Thursday, October 22, 2009

Politics: Front Porch Republic

A few weeks back, a friend of mine introduced me to the Front Porch Republic after I'd mentioned I was interested in localization. Front Porch Republic is a group of folks (at least some of them trained political theorists) writing about localization, communitarianism and distributivism. 

I just started reading some of their posts, and while I obviously haven't read everything they've written, this has to be one of the most awesome blogs ever.

At the very least I recommend checking out their about section and reading 'A Republic of Front Porches' and 'What Our Hands Have Wrought'. 


Monday, October 19, 2009

Politics/Theology: Conservative Bible Project

Some time ago, I wrote an article criticizing Conservapedia for deciding to rewrite the Bible "conservatively". I still think this is absurd. However, I just read something written by Slacktivist on the same topic, and I think his diagnosis is (as often) horribly wrong.

Fred thinks what's going on with the "Conservative Bible Project" is just a result of their conservative outlook. They're conservative and don't want to change, the Bible is liberal, so of course they have to change the Bible. In a way this is right, what's being done does relate to their conservatism, but that's not simple enough. Ultimately, what Fred is doing is saying that conservatism=idolatry. This is absurd. What's going on here is idolatry, the folks at Conservapedia have made ultra-conservatism their god, and the bible has to give. This isn't exclusive to conservatism though, liberalism can do this just as easily. Mostly Fred doesn't do this (though I think he gets close at times) but it can easily be seen in the likes of Bishop Bruno of the Episcopal Church, who will always choose whatever his ultra-liberal agenda dictates. A perfect example of this would be the joint Hindu-Episcopal service he put on.

Of course, we all do this to some extent, taking our own biases and bringing them to the Bible. I think for this we just have to thank God for his grace, which applies not just to our acts but our thoughts. Nevertheless, we have to try not to do this as much as possible, and we should avoid making either liberalism or conservatism, or any number of other things our god.

 I would say that one thing Christians should notice was how Jesus worked out his agenda in the world. He didn't work at a political level, but on a personal level. There are plenty of rational reasons to avoid trying to use the government to change the world to our image, but there is also a very good religious one - the imitation of Christ.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Philosophy: The Role of Law

I have desired for some time to write up a summary of my basic conception of the role of law, and intend to lay it out in this post1. This conception is, essentially, that law functions to create an environment that allows for the flourishing of human life2. Note that this is distinct from creating the flourishing of human life, which I take it to be impossible for law to do.

I come to this conclusion first from the position that the aim of human life is not mere survival but flourishing3 and that part of this flourishing is to be a morally good person. Thus, the life of a murderer would be one that falls short of what it is to be a flourishing human.

Further, I understand that law (and the power that enforces it) cannot make a person good. Essentially, a person is good only in so far as the impetus for their action is an internal (good) motive. Thus, a man who walks around wanting to murder everyone in sight, but is prevented from doing so only by the power of an external force, cannot be said in any real sense to be good. Given a situation in which the law is strong enough in its force that people become mere automata acting rightly only through power of law’s command, no one would have the freedom to actually become good. Thus, no one could fully flourish.

In contrast to this, I also take it that absent any governing law there is no room for individuals to be moral. Survival itself becomes the only reasonable end for any individual because being a good person in such an environment could only lead to death. Thus, those who aimed for a flourishing life and thus behaved morally would die (in terms of that society, cease to exist) and those who aimed for survival would act immorally and thus not flourish.

Given these two understandings, a general rubric presents itself for how law should function. Essentially, law should only exist in such a degree as to create the bare minimum environment necessary for individuals to aim at the flourishing life and still survive. Laws are thus to be the bare moral scaffold of a flourishing human life. Anything more than this restricts the freedom of individuals to achieve the real moral goodness necessary for the best in human life, and anything less would not allow for them to even aim for this4.

1. This is an outline and not necessarily a full argument. You can naturally question me on any of the points I make, but arguing each of the points is outside of the scope of this post.

2. I get this term from the neo-Aristotelian ethics of one of my current professors, but it expresses an idea I have had for some time now.

3. This can be conceived of either religiously, and I would obviously take the religious position that the flourishing of human life is dependent on being what a human is meant to be, which is to be the Image of God. It does not necessarily have to be conceived of religiously, however.

4. I think this presents a very strong argument for the need of more localized government. Just how much law is necessary for moral flourishing is dependent on the needs of a given community, and this can only be determined by those with direct access and understanding of that community. A body of the size of the entire United States, for example, ceases to be a community, but becomes rather a beast driven by forces of sociological momentum stoppable only by totalitarian measures. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

TV Review: Stargate Galactica: Voyager

I've always liked Stargate. Sure, the storyline might not be as dense as some modern audiences like, but it's fun, the characters are great and the shows did a wonderful job of remembering and using concepts they'd introduced in the past. Understandably, the arrival of a new Stargate (called Stargate: Universe) show carried with it both excitement and a certain amount of concern on my part. I love me my Stargate and my science fiction, but promises of dark and gritty had me worried. Mind, I can actually appreciate dark and gritty in my fiction, but it needs a balance, and all too often old franchises that try and go that direction end up in some murky middle between dark and gritty and what they were good at. On the other hand, a dark and gritty spin on an old franchise can sometimes result in the  best of the best. Deep Space Nine was, in my opinion, the best Star Trek had to offer. 

The overarching plot of SGU is nothing new - a group finds itself far from home and must find its way back. If I'm not mistaken this idea is as old as the Odyssey, but was more recently told in Star Trek: Voyager, and the spin-off nature of SGU couldn't help but start comparisons with Voyager in my mind. Well, it turns out this was the wrong comparison.

Last night I got myself over to my best friend's house (I don't have cable) and we sat down to watch.I enjoyed it, but my concern is not entirely lifted. The plot was interesting, and definitely more about character and environment than previous shows, and it had nothing in common stylistically. Indeed, SGU is spot on Battlestar Galactica in style and tone. The color pallet, the cinematography, even the music were all taken straight out of the BSG book. More importantly than the look, SGU has that dark heavy feel, punctuated with moments of terror and chaos. They've even set up for the military/civilian tensions of early BSG (though on a smaller scale). Also, there's selfish scientist character with a British Isles accent who has definite shades of Baltar, but with more balls. 

I'm not really the biggest fan of Battlestar Galactica, finding it far too dark and gritty. Certainly, the show was pretty and had a cool story, but the almost total lack of likable characters, the absence of any sort of nobility (outside of Helo) and the dearth of humor meant I found the show to be something of a headache. Watching BSG felt a bit like what I imagine being clinically depressed feels like. Also, as Will over at Secure Immaturity  pointed on in his review of Caprica, BSG was really just as preachy as Star Trek, just with a darker hammer. Naturally then, the similarity gives me some concern, but I'm not too worried. I don't think SGU is going to sink to the depths of dispair that BSG did - we've already seen genuine compassion, nobility and humor in this show, and it certainly doesn't seem like it's going to be preachy. So, I'm going to stay tuned in to Stargate: Universe, and I think you should do the same. 

P.S. One of the things I found refreshing about Stargate was the lack of gratuitous sex. SGU has already blown it on this account. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Philosophy: Our Lack of Moral Imagination

In the thought experiments we create for the purposes of ethics, we show a disturbing lack of moral imagination. Indeed, this utterly famished faculty might itself be called immoral, and it certainly has the potential to lead to horridly evil acts on our part. Let me give an example. 

One question that gets brought up to challenge any moral system is rather, if given the chance, you would kill Hitler as a child to prevent the Holocaust. Now, apart from any consideration of the grim consequences that might arise from this act, this simply shows a disturbing trend in our philosophy. Note that the question does not say "What would you do if you had access to Hitler as a child?" No, it simply asks would you kill him. The thought experiment jumps straight to murder. The problem creates a dichotomy, a strict dichotomy, and teaches us to think in fixed terms, making it out that there are only two, utterly grim options. But how often does life really boil down to this kind of simplicity? How often are there really only two choices? I suggest, that with a better developed moral imagination we might think of far richer solutions.

So what if you had access to Hitler as a child? Why not redeem him? Why not do the things necessary to make the man Adolf Hitler grow up to be a good man? A man of justice and equity. Imagine a man of Hitler's charismatic powers working to make the world a better place. Now, you might think this impossible, you might say that evil was Hitler's innate nature, and that he could have been nothing other than what he had been. That may be the case, and I'm not going to get into an argument here about determinism, that's beside the point. What is the point is that we didn't even think of it, and that is a moral problem on our part.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review: Red Mars

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson 
1993 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Hold on for a second while I catch my breath.


Okay, thanks. Well, I finally arrived at the end of Red Mars and has it ever been a journey. I can't even remember when I started the book, but I know I've been reading it for a long time. Reading Red Mars has been, really, quite an exhausting effort. The book is long, heavy and slow, but also rich with character, sociology and science (real science). Usually, when I actually picked up the book and read it I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I never felt like reading it when I wasn't. Because of this, I spent a great deal of time reading other books while I crawled through this one.

Robinson's work has been called "literary science fiction" and it's easy to see why, he deals well with the issue.  In many ways, modern science fiction has a lot of similarities to Victorian literature, and Robinson embodies this to the fullest in its obsession with detail, its desire to portray a whole society, and its interest in the effect of environment on the individual and vice versa. Indeed, Robinson's long and detailed descriptions of the Martian landscape reminded me very much of George Elliot's description of the English countryside in The Mill on the Floss.

There was a long stretch of time where I wasn't sure if I liked this book. The pace is plodding and most of the characters are not very likable. Also, this piece is hard science fiction in the truest sense of the term and can get bogged down in technical details (there's even a section where Robinson has a chart showing the Martian calendar). Still, on the whole his portrayal of the science is effective and not boring, and it helps to ground the story. Also, the above-mentioned descriptions of Mars really help to make the setting come alive, and really portray the wonder and the alien nature of the planet. While Robinson takes a long time to get things moving, this allow him to make a convincing portrait of a human society developing on Mars, and the ultimate payoff is worth it (unlike, for example, the payoff in Dune). 

Still, the book is not perfect and I really wish there were more characters I liked. Perhaps it's a weakness of mine, but I really have trouble with fiction that lacks people I can admire (this was the problem I had with the new Battlestar Galactica). I'm also not a fan of the fact that the only Christian character in the book is a particularly nasty person, and it is too some extent stated that this is because of her beliefs. Of course, bad Christian beliefs can lead to nasty people, and the belief that this is the cause of her nastiness is in the mind of someone with a bias, so the writer is not necessarily portraying this as cold hard fact. Particularly painful was the discussion early on in which the Christian character and an atheist have an argument about the merits of faith and the Christian's retort is a pathetic straw man. I also have a distaste for the sexual morality of the characters. Of course, many people have this kind of morality, but, as I've said before, I tire of it being the norm in all of the fiction I like.

Ultimately, Red Mars is a very solid book and a worthwhile read for those who like science and sociology, and who have an unusual amount of patience.

Book Review: The Spirit of the Disciplines

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard is one of the towering geniuses in modern day theology, and his recovery of the importance of discipleship in the Christian faith is of monumental importance to the modern church. The Spirit of the Disciplines outlines Willard's argument for the importance of disciplines in spiritual formation and is an absolute must read for those serious about becoming Christ-like.

Willard's book is a clear, well-reasoned discussion of the Christian hope, the importance of the disciplines to that hope, followed with analysis of the nature and purpose of the major historical disciplines. This is not, however, an outline of the actual practice of the disciplines, for that Willard recommends the reading of Richard Foster's Celebration of the Disciplines.

I actually read most of the book some time ago, but because of starting school I had not finished the last few chapters and it's actually the last two chapters constitute some of the few flaws in this work, though for their placement rather than their content. The last chapter considers the power structures of this world, and I think it should have been part of the introduction to the book, while the second to last chapter concerns poverty and feels like it should be an appendix to the book, as it doesn't really flow with the main discussion.

Finally, while I do agree with Willard about the immense importance of the disciplines, I think he gives a bit too much credit to what they can accomplish. That is to say, while I think the disciplines are of immense importance in creating follows of Christ who live their lives in the presence of the Kingdom, he seems to imply that implementing them would by itself actually bring about the full and final ushering in of God's Kingdom and the return of Christ. I actually doubt that this is what Willard himself believes, but it is what comes across in the final chapter of the book.

So, while I've been saying this about a lot of books lately, I recommend that every Christian serious about their faith should read and understand this book.

Politics: The Problem with Liberalism

A common criticism of conservatives is that they are paternalists, trying to make the world in their image by the sheer force of government power. Really though, it's far more often so-called-liberalism that brings about bigger government and reduction of freedoms in search of a dreamed of Utopia. One needs look no further than hate speech laws to see a vivid example of this.

Of course, in recent years conservatives have taken to trying to do the same thing. This whole business makes me angry. It makes me angry because I believe in liberty and it makes me angry because it doesn't work. We cannot make people moral by sheer force of law, morality is a matter of will. We cannot make utopia in a world as broken as the one we live in. We must strive for a better world, but with a realistic hope. The bloody utopian experiments of the last century should have shown us this. Ultimately, when we try and increase the powers of government to wield it for good, those powers end up in the hands of evil men (or corporation) who take advantage of the new power to increase oppression and injustice in this world.

The purpose of law, fundamentally, is to create a scaffold for society. Laws are moral, but they should consist of the bare bones necessary for maintaining order and civility. Laws, in other words, hold back anarchy just enough so that men can be moral and still survive.

Liturgy: Introduction to the Calendar

I grew up in the Assemblies of God church, a charismatic denomination within the evangelical protestant tradition. While I have never agreed with all of AoG theology, I value it as a genuine expression of faith in Christ.

My own journey, however, has taken me in a different direction, as I have in recent years found myself enamored of the forms of worship and spiritual development embodied in the Anglican Church. Among these expressions is the high church concept of a Liturgical or Church Calendar, which structures the years and months around a rhythm of faith. These include seasons of faith (the most famous of which being Lent) as well as numerous feast days celebrating important events and people in the history of the Christian faith. Used properly, the Liturgical Calendar is a wonderful way of focusing the mind on important areas of faith and creating a pattern of discipline towards spiritual formation.

As I explore Anglican worship, I hope to share with you what I learn along the way. As part of this, I plan to post up reflections on the Liturgical Calendar as the seasons and interesting feast days come along.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Film Review: The Happening

I didn't plan to see this movie. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually a pretty big fan of M. Night Shyamalan, but general bad reviews, a spoiler and the lameness of Lady in the Water pushed me away from it. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans... my friend and I were house sitting for one of his neighbors last week, and The Happening was on TV. My friend watched it, so I watched it, and I'm sad to say it was as bad, or worse, than I'd heard. I should note that I didn't see the entire movie, I missed a good junk of the beginning, but I can't imagine that it would add much to the film. I just have a few things to say about this film:

> Shymalan seems to be trying to do with his menace what Alfred Hitchcock did with birds in The Birds, but despite what he may think, he's no Hitchcock.
> The makers of this movie don't understand evolution... or science for that matter
> The plot of this movie is stupid, and the script terrible
> Zooey Deschanel is cute

That is all.

Misc: Octoseussmobile Celebrity

The Octoseussmobile is now a celebrity. It appeared recently on an episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, staring alongside Megan Fox. The weird bike billed on the show as a "conference bike", and you can check it out here on Hulu (it appears at about 9:15). Enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: Christianity Beyond Belief

Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus For the Sake of Others by Todd Hunter

We’ve all heard the message, it says that we’re sinners separated from God, in desperate need of grace. Thankfully, Jesus came and died and through Him we can have forgiveness and go to heaven when we die, if only we accept him into our hearts. Questions hang in the air, however, why do we stay here? Why the incarnation? What are we saved for? The answer, really, is that this is an anemic view of the gospel (so too, really, is the so called “Social Gospel,” but for other reasons). It is these questions, and a deeper view of the gospel, that are addressed in Todd Hunter’s Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others.

Fundamentally, what Todd develops is a theology of coming to orthodoxy as a result of a life lived in an environment of spiritual formation. Throughout the work, Todd draws heavily on the work of Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright, which naturally sets the theology on very solid ground. He advocates, as any good Christian theology should, the making of disciples who live their lives for the sake of others and thereby usher in the presence of God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

Todd also understands the importance of imagination and story in the shaping our lives, and he emphasizes the importance of understanding the true story of the gospel if we are to really live the lives Christ calls us to live. This understanding, coupled with a deep awareness of the love and grace of God, means that Todd firmly avoids the pitfalls of guilt-ridden legalism that believers all too often fall into, but still maintains that there is something more to Christianity than mere intellectual agreement to right doctrine. As he himself has said, “Anything you can do with guilt, you can do better without it.”

There were a few places were Todd’s theology seemed to come uncomfortably close to that of the emergent church. Really, that’s only natural as part of what he’s seeking to do is to address the needs of the postmodern generation, which is the same thing the emergent church has sought to do. I think, however, that Todd does it better, because he meets the postmodern where it is, but he does it without losing the anchoring of tradition and orthodoxy.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be the prevalent use of The Message paraphrase of scripture. I respect Eugene Peterson and the intention behind The Message, but as a writer I find the loss of poetry in that version frustration. This is, however, only and aesthetic complaint and it in no way dampens the important of the message of this book.

Ultimately, Christianity Beyond Belief is a fantastic book that paints a clear, graceful picture of the Gospel and the vibrant promise of life promised by Christ. I recommend that Christians pick up this book and soak in Todd’s expression of the vision of the Gospel. Also, at the risk of repeating myself too much, if you’re in the Orange County area and looking for a church, I strongly suggest you check out Holy Trinity, the church Todd Hunter is launching in Costa mesa at the end of September.

Film Review: District 9

Because of the awesome road trip I went on in August, I’m a little late getting to see this movie, so most people will already have heard plenty about it by now. Because of this, my review will be brief. Essentially, District 9 is a story about alien refugees who have been forced into in a ghetto in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they are subject to deplorable conditions and vicious racism (obvious message is obvious… and rather late). The aliens are about to be relocated to a new ghetto, and the main character has been tasked with heading up this operation. Things, of course, don’t go according to plan and something terrible happens to the character that places him into a pivotal role in events that could change everything.

District 9 is a pretty good science fiction movie that seeks to portray the horrors of racism, mercenary corporations and weapons dealers. The plot and setting are interesting and the film is well directed, unfortunately I had trouble enjoying a lot of the movie because the main character is a spineless prick. Furthermore, the film also degenerates into a rather typical action climax. I can’t say more regarding the character and finale without spoiling the end, but the way things work out did much to redeem the movie in my eyes.

A friend of mine told me that the aliens in this film were well portrayed as truly alien, but I didn’t really see this. To me they still seemed like humans who happened to look different (and who have an odd addiction, but that’s an old trick and not particularly inspired).

If you like science fiction and haven’t seen this movie yet, you should probably check it out, but I’d wait till it comes out on DVD. Also, be warned that there’s quite a bit of harsh language and gore throughout.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life/Theology: Todd Hunter and Holy Trinity

Through the Holy Trinity Website I found this article. It's titled "The Accidental Anglican" and is about Todd Hunter's journey and his vision for Holy Trinity and Churches for the Sake of Others. I can emphasize enough how excited I am about what he's doing, and how powerful this movement and the people involved in it are. Again, if you're in the Orange County area and are looking for a church home, I strongly suggest you check out Holy Trinity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Theology: Greed

Earlier, I posted on my Facebook a link to this blog post, and I shortly afterward received a message from a friend calling the contact of that blog as "junk". Now, let me first say that this friend of mine is an amazing Christian who has devoted his life to genuine service of God and others, but I don't agree that the above article is junk. Certainly, I don't agree with everything said therein (Bankers certainly shouldn't be shunned, for one), but I think it has a lot of points.

My friend suggested that I read Milton Friedman (which I'll hopefully have time to do some day). Since I respect this friend, I looked up Friedman and found the following video:

I fully, completely, totally agree with one thing Milton Friedman says - this world runs on greed.

This world runs on greed.

This world.

"And do not be conformed to this world..."(Romans 12:2)

Blog: Welcome

Welcome one and all to my new blog, and thank you for your readership.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Review: On Christian Doctrine

On Christian Doctrine by St. Augustine of Hippo

On Christian Doctrine is the first work of Augustine’s I’ve ever finished. The reading group I’m in read the first two sections as a launching point for our discussion of myth and symbol, and I decided to finish the whole thing. The book is essentially a primer on how to read the Bible and then, in the fourth section, how to present the knowledge attained therein.

All in all, On Christian Doctrine is a very solid, though basic, examination of symbol, hermeneutics and eloquence. I like Augustine’s principle exegetical rule (partially, I must confess, because I’ve thought of a similar thing myself) which states that the interpretation of scripture should always be one that leads to the love of God and/or others since Jesus said “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 22: 37-40).

However, I found myself occasionally annoyed and distracted when Augustine chose to voice his opinions on sexuality (it is only for procreation in his mind) and am indeed not a fan of his general asceticism. Mind you, I do believe there is a place for ascetic practices (I’m a fan of Dallas Willard after all) but I think they are always for training. It seems to me that Augustine believes in asceticism because of some platonic aversion to creation, but I could be wrong.

I also found the last section difficult at times because it relied very heavily on Greco-Roman theory about rhetoric, and thus frequently used terms with which I am not familiar. Of course, were I wanting to do a more in depth study of that section, I could easily do some reading on that theory, and it’s certainly not a fault of the book itself. In essence though, Augustine says that eloquence is good, but wisdom is better. If you can have both, than do, but if you have to choose, choose wisdom.

All in all, this book is a good introduction to the reading of scripture and those interested in the thoughts of the church fathers should pick it up.

Life: Ordination

This Wednesday was the ordination Todd Hunter, David Loomis and Silas Tak Yin Ng to the position of bishop in the Anglican Mission in the Americas. The AMIA is a dioceses under the leadership of Rwanda, and is a missionary organization of Africa to the Americas. I attended the ordination at the invitation of my friend Paul, who is working with Todd in the launching of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the first in a series of two hundred churches Todd hopes to start in the next five years. This is the story of that ordination, which took place in the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena.

We filed into the church, the worship group singing praise courses as we entered. Paul and I found a seat and began to talk with each other as we waited for the service to start. Then, from the back of the church, a resonating voice read the scripture and we all stood. The voice declared “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him (Hab. 2:20). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)”. As the scripture finished, the organ began to play, and with solemnity and beauty the bishops and priests processed into the sanctuary, the cross going before them.

The procession and hymns completed, the congregation declared the confession of sins and received the absolution, and then the service turned to worship in praise choruses. It was simultaneously one of the strangest and one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time, as the dozen or more present bishops, decked in their full vestments, swayed and clapped to the modern worship music.

After the worship, we declared the Apostles’ Creed. I found this a little strange, since that creed is singular and is usually used in personal devotion, while the Nicene Creed is usually used for corporate declarations of faith. Still, the creed a wonderful summary of the Christian faith.

Following the creed were more prayers, the reading of scripture, a song of response and then the sermon came, and up to the pulpit stepped Rick Warren. He gave a message to the soon-to-be-ordained bishops on their responsibilities as leaders in the church, and the temptations they might fall into. It was a good, well spoken message, but what I really loved was what this service represented. Here you had the ordination of Americans to the bishopric in America, under the leadership of Africa, meeting in an Evangelical church and being spoken to by a non-denominational pastor. The service itself involved the worship of the protestant church, and the liturgy of the Anglican. As the pastor of the Nazarene church we met in said when he came up, “… the Nazarene church was founded by a rebellious Methodist, and the Methodist church was founded by a rebellious Anglican, so thank you for letting your rebellious grandchildren host you… for letting us truly be the Kingdom of God.”

After the sermon the candidates were examined by the Rwandan archbishop, consecrated and given new bibles, and we then gathered in for the passing of the peace, the offertory and finally the Lord’s Supper. After this, we sang the hymn of procession into the World.

I’m very excited about what Todd Hunter is doing with Holy Trinity, you can find out more about it on his website, on the Holy Trinity site, and on the site of Churches for the Sake of Others. Todd is an amazing teacher, and has a good understanding of the importance of spiritual development and the presence of the Kingdom in our lives, and I think something powerful is happening through AMIA, Holy Trinity and C4SO. If you’re looking for church and you live in the Orange County area, I highly recommend you check out Holy Trinity. The launching service of Holy Trinity is going to be on 9:00am September 27th at Rock Harbor (more info here). And even if you’re not looking for a church, or you’re out of the area, please pray for the work that is being done.

Thank you all, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Theology: Amen

From my favorite liberal blogger, Fred Clark:

It's a well-established fact that vampires can't abide crosses. There seems to be some confusion, however, as to why this is so.Vampire-cross I should note here, before we go on, that I believe in vampire stories. I don't mean that I believe these stories are "literally" true -- they're not that kind of story. But I believe they are true stories -- stories by which we tell ourselves true things so that we do not forget them.Vampire stories tell us, for example, than any of us can have great power if only we are willing to prey on others. Feed off the blood of others and great power will be yours. This is demonstrably true. It's how the pyramids were built. And Standard Oil.The stories also tell us that there's a downside to this predatory choice. You become a creature of the night, unable to stand in the light of day.And crosses will confound you.Some mistakenly think that this is because the cross is a holy symbol, imbued with religious power. But this is wrong. The symbol, like the thing itself, is powerless. And that's the point. That is why vampires can't tolerate it.Most vampires don't believe in the cross, but that hardly matters. It's the idea of the thing that gives them fits. The cross confronts vampires with their opposite -- with the rejection of power and its single-minded pursuit. It suggests that no one is to be treated as prey -- not even an enemy. The idea of the cross, in other words, suggests that vampires have it wrong, that they have it backwards, in fact, and that those others they regard as prey are actually, somehow, winning.This notion is incomprehensible for vampires. The one thing they're certain of, the thing that drives them and tells them who they are and how the world works and that they've got it all figured out is that the key to immortality is in choosing to be the predator rather than the prey. The idea that this might be wrong is so befuddling, so contradictory to everything they have chosen to be that it forces them to recoil. They can't get past it.It has become fashionable in modern vampire stories to portray these monsters as unaffected or somehow immune to the cross. Don't you believe it. This confusion arose due to the ridiculous, contradictorily cruciform objects being bandied about these days as "crosses." A filigreed gold or bejeweled cross refutes itself, denying its own representation of powerlessness. Likewise the oxymoronic martial crosses -- a problem since at least the time of Constantine -- that attempt to present themselves as sanctified symbols of power. Crosses like that aren't the least bit disturbing to a vampire -- they merely proclaim vampirism by other means. Vampires have been known, in fact, to have such crosses emblazoned on flags, or even to have tattoos of them etched into their undead flesh.So the apparent immunity of modern vampires to such crosses isn't what it seems. Sacrificial powerlessness still confounds them, but that idea is no longer quite so effectively signified by this particular symbol.

That, by the way, is also the key to Revelation, or so I believe.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Review: Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

Abraham is the greatest, says Kierkegaard, and “the highest passion in a human being is faith”(Kierkegaard 144). This is wrong. Christ is greatest, and though faith, hope and love endure, “the greatest of these is love”(1 Corinthians 13:13). For this reason, I find Kierkegaard’s method in Fear and Trembling for building a Christian ethic utterly puzzling. Kierkegaard starts from the wrong place, taking signs that point towards Christ and love and making them the point. Fear and Trembling is an interesting book in many ways, but it certainly will not, as my friend promised, completely alter my understanding of morality.

I do not pretend that I fully understand Fear and Trembling. Much of what Kierkegaard has to say is put into Hegelian terms, and since I’ve never read Hegel this makes understanding difficult. I can gather from context the general terms of what is being said, but I ultimately feel like I’ve come away with an outline of what Kierkegaard said, and not the full depth of it. Furthermore, Kierkegaard also relies on Hegelian conclusions, and uses them as givens in his argument. Unfortunately, since I don’t know Hegel’s arguments, these premises are hardly givens to me. Like I said though, to my thinking he starts from the wrong place so thoroughly that his conclusions cannot help but miss the mark.

What I do understand of Kierkegaard I find immensely disturbing. The highest life, that of faith, is one of dread, horror and isolation. What is more, the Knight of Faith (as Kierkegaard calls him) must do whatever God asks of him without testing to see if it really is God asking, without seeking the wisdom of others, and without any reference at all to universal morality. The man of faith then, in Kierkegaard’s terms, is the monster my atheist friends think him to be.

I should say, however, that I am not completely disdainful of Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard starts the book with several retellings of the story of Abraham and Isaac, subtly altering the story in ways that thereby change the meaning. This part of the book is enjoyable, and he does the same with various stories and myths throughout the book.

Ultimately, any student of philosophy should read this book because it is of such massive importance historically. Kierkegaard in many ways fathered the existential movement, and he certainly gave birth to Christian existentialism. This was one of the reasons that I read the book, because as much as I disagree with existentialism, I find it intriguing. Also, I have a friend who is a firm Christian existentialist, and I’d really like to understand where his ideas come from. Thankfully, I think I’m one step closer to that point now.

Book Review: Children of the Mind

Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

When I finished Card’s excellent book Speaker for the Dead, I was looking forward to reading Children of the Mind more than Xenocide. The reason for this, is that Card introduced in Speaker a monastic order called the Children of the Mind of Christ . They intrigued me, and I assumed that Children of the Mind would be about them. It’s not. What it is about is all the weird, cheap and stupid ideas introduced at the end of the last book. These ideas are not very interesting, they allow for all kinds of dues ex machina moments and simultaneously create countless plot holes.What is more, these ideas don't really fit in the universe established in the first two books, making the reader feel cheated.

Children of the Mind is far from being the worst book ever, but it’s definitely the worst of Card’s books I’ve read. The book was, more than anything else, entirely uninspiring, and oftentimes rather boring. Most of the characters I really cared about were pushed to the side, and the plot drags on in melodramatic concern for an issue you know from the start is going to be resolved. It’s also incredibly annoying that one of the two major dilemmas of the book was already resolved in the last one, and Card simply chose to ignore that fact.

The one side plot I found interesting was one involving the search for and interaction with a new alien race. What Card did best in his first two books was making his aliens truly alien and interesting (actually, another one of the problems with Xenocide and Children of the Mind both is that they spend too much time in the minds of the aliens, to the point where they really become less alien and less interesting). Unfortunately, this search is something that he leaves hanging at the end of this book, though he’s promised another one to resolve it and I’ll probably end up reading it when it comes.

Ultimately, Children of the Mind rather crashes and burns and, combined with Xenocide, makes for a disappointing follow up to two excellent novels. Xenocide might be worth reading for the characters, but there’s really no reason to read Children of the Mind. If you take my advice, you’ll skip this book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Theology: The Measure of Christian Law, Part 2

About an hour ago I posted up some meditations on the nature of Christian law, after which I set down to reading more of St. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine. A little while ago I came upon this:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. (On Christian Doctrine, Book One, Chapter 36)

I think that's a very good way to put it, and the fact that Augustine that says it gives it a little more weight.

Theology: The Measure of Christian Law

A brief meditation on scripture:

Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Mathew 22: 37-40, emphasis added)

This then, is the measure of Christian law – when you read the commands of scriptures, ask yourself if what you think they are saying aligns with this. Does your interpretation concern loving God or your neighbor? If not, then you’re probably reading it wrong.

Book Review: Xenocide

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Xenocide is… odd. I am not, really, fully certain of what I think of the book. As anyone who’s read my reviews knows, I loved Ender’s Game and thought Speaker for the Dead was even better. Naturally, despite the fact that I’d heard it was not as good, I picked up the next book in the series and it is, frankly, rather average. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, it had an interesting enough plot and still concerned the lives of characters that I had come to care about over the course of the first two books, but nothing about it made it stand above the crowd.

Of course, none of this would have made Xenocide odd, it is certain events later in the story, building off some weird mix of string theory and Mormonism described earlier in the book, that lead to the incredible strangeness of the book. Orson Scott Card is himself a Mormon, and he has every right to create a universe consistent with his beliefs, I would do the same, but this nevertheless makes the story take some very weird turns. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about these events without major spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that.

If you’re a fan of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, I’d recommend picking this up just to follow the stories of the characters from those books, but be prepared for some bizarre events later in the story.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Road Trip: Final Days

Well, I arrived home yesterday evening safely, and am now preparing to settle back into the routines of my daily life. As some may have noticed, I didn’t post up about the last two days of my journey, the reason being that very little happened. Basically, we left Portland and drove for twelve hours, had amazing pizza at Mt. Mike’s in San Jose and stayed with Tyler’s mom’s best friend, then drove home the next day. All of us switched of driving, and when it wasn’t our turn to drive we mostly read or napped. Probably the most dramatic part of our journey was seeing the massive plume of smoke from the fires out in LA. That situation is definitely something to be praying for, or even volunteering assistance if you can in any way.

Book Review: Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Before I get into any longwinded discussion of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, let me just say that it’s absolutely amazing. I picked this book up and could hardly put it down, its presentation of Christian doctrine is incredible and for many it will be revolutionary (though it is really the historic understanding of things). Get this book, read it, then give it to your friends so they can read it. Don’t just take my word for it either, Dallas Willard, Rob Bell and Richard Foster all praise the book, and their recommendation should carry a bit more weight than mine I think. Now, on to why I think this book is so incredible.

I picked up Surprised by Hope while visiting Regent College, the seminary in Canada where I hope to do my masters education. I’d been given a $25 gift card by the college, and was looking around the store for something to pick, finding myself quite overwhelmed by the sheer quality and quantity of books available. One of the concepts which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, has been the importance of embodiment, specifically as it relates to the biblical and historic conception of the afterlife. Thus, when asked if I needed help finding anything, I asked to see if they had any books on that subject, and I was immediately taken to several (the man knew what I meant and knew where to find it without looking it up, is that cool or what?). As I said, there were several, but in the end I decided to pick up Surprised by Hope, and as you already know I was not disappointed.

The book is subtitled Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, and it addresses the true biblical hope for our futures, the significance of the bodily resurrection of Christ and how these two things relate to the mission of the church in the world today. This is a book bursting with hope, and filled with the message that our lives as Christians have deep significance in the here and now. The book addresses many of the false ideas that have grown up in Western civilization about the biblical understanding of human nature and the afterlife, and seeks to recover the historical understanding of these things, which as Dallas Willard says “uniquely meets the challenge facing the Church by recovering the original, radical understanding of resurrection, salvation and the Good news of life now in the Kingdom of God.”

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I don’t think Wright is quite emphatic enough in emphasizing that building for the Kingdom must not take the form of a Theocracy. Mind you, he says this, but I just wish he’d made it more clear.

Anyway, as I said, read this book, and hopefully it will change your reading of the Bible, and also your life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Road Trip: Vancouver - If they call this a park, what's a forrest

Our luggage packed, and a wonderful breakfast of pancakes eaten, Tyler and I bid farewell to our hosts. Saying goodbye to people is always tough, and I hope I can maintain a friendship with them, they are truly awesome people. Also, Daniel is still ridiculously cute, and was even more talkative this morning. After our farewells, we drove the car over to Regent and picked up Nate, who had once again been driven there by his host, and I picked up my free cup of coffee. It was a very good cup, neither too strong nor too weak, with a nice rich and nutty flavor.

With Nate’s luggage securely placed inside the Scion, we set out from Regent and deeper into Vancouver to view the famous Stanley Park. Curiously, Tyler’s parents had actually flown up to Vancouver the day before, and we thought to meet them in Stanley Park, but, alas, they had to catch a small plane over to Vancouver Island. We had also, by the way, just missed seeing some of our Southern California friends when we were in San Francisco. Seems like everyone is traveling these days. Anyway, about a half-hour after we set out we arrived in Stanley Park.

Stanley Park is, like the Pacific Spirit Park, a little too epic to rightly be called a park. It is essentially, a forest located out on a peninsula. There are walking paths, bike paths, beaches, a lake, a lagoon, restraints, a rose garden, and probably plenty of other things we missed. Our time in the park started with a stroll through the rose garden and onto a path that led us into the forest and past Beaver Lake. Really, Beaver lake hardly counts as a lake, having hardly any water anymore (a sign on its banks calls it “The Incredible Shrinking Lake”). After passing the lake, we came down to a walking path which circled the peninsula and actually walked almost the entire circumference of the park. Along the way, we stopped to eat lunch at a beachside stand. Tyler and I ate Paninis and Nate had a salmon burger. The path around the park was raised above the waterline, and for the most part the beach it passed was rocky, but there were actually two sand beaches along the way, one of which had a swimming pool behind it.

Anyway, after enjoying our trip through the park, we set out on the road and drove all the way from Vancouver to Portland, where we’ll be staying the night. Tomorrow we get up super early for the twelve-hour drive to San Jose. Wewt.

By the way, for those of you keeping track, in two days in Canada, Tyler and I never had an actual conversation with a single Canadian. Our hosts were Australian, and our guide to Regent American. Nate, however, stayed with Canadian hosts.

Road Trip: Vancouver - Radical Hospitality

One of Nate’s hosts works at Regent, and had to be there at eight in the morning, so she took him with her when she drove to work. Because of this, Tyler and I rose early so we could meet Nate at Regent close to eight, though our actual appointment was not until eleven in the morning. Our hosts actually live within walking distance of the college (and are awesome and don’t own a car), so after showers and a breakfast of toast we were shown the direction to Regent by Nathan. By this point, by the way, Daniel had become quite talkative, though his vocabulary was limited to “Dada,” “Daddy,” “Mama,” “Mommy,” and “Uh oh” combined with several grunts and a generous amount of pointing and facial expressions. This was, naturally,  ridiculously cute.

Nate had decided to sequester himself in a far hidden corner of the library, so it took us some time to find him but we did eventually, after which we took a short walk around part of the University of British Columbia campus (where Regent is located) and we then returned to Regent. The college is entirely located in one building, with the library and administration in the basement, as well as several classrooms; the bookstore, coffee shop, chapel and more classrooms on the first floor; and several more classes and offices on the second floor.  We still had some time before we were supposed to be given our tour of the building, so we poked around the bookstore and bought drinks and pastries at the coffee shop. As it turned out, a lot in the bookstore was on sale and I bought a CD lecture for half-off, figuring that’d be a good way to get an idea about the quality of teaching at the school.

Finally, we went down to administration at met Matt, the man responsible for taking care of visitors like us, and he showed us around the building and then sat down to talk with us about various details of the schools, from financing to programs. Matt is an American, so he was able to give us a lot of information on what U.S. Citizens have to do to attend Regent. Regent, by the way, is a Seminary which trains people in theology who won’t necessarily go on to be pastors or theology teachers (though they certainly do train these as well) and with a focus on the goodness of God’s creation (and new creation). One thing I love about the program  is that they present a multitude of orthodox views on various subjects and allow students to come to their own conclusions about them. Anyway, Matt gave us plenty of materials to look at, as well as giving us each a coupon for a free cup of coffee from the café, a CD lecture on the essence of Anglicanism (Regent is not really an Anglican seminary, but they have an Anglican studies program that supplements the education of individuals who want to go on to Anglican ministry) and a $25 gift certificate to the book store.  We thanked Matt for his hospitality, time and the information he had given us, and then walked across the street to eat at a Sushi place recommended by Matt. Apparently, Vancouver has really good Sushi and Nate and I found what we had to be quite good, though Tyler complained about his. To each his own I guess.

We finished our lunches, and then went back to the Regent bookstore to take advantage of our gift certificates. Tyler bought Blue Like Jazz and Through Painted deserts by Donald Miller, and I bought a book called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our age) on the hope of the resurrection. Nate didn’t find anything yet, but he’ll be able to use the gift certificate to buy books through the Regent bookstore’s website.

After our time at the bookstore, we returned to Tyler and my hosts’ house, where Tyler’s car was parked. We planned on heading over to Stanley Park, but realized there wasn’t going to be enough time to do both this and still get Nate back in time for his host to take him home. Instead, we went for a walk in the Pacific Spirit Park, which is within walking distance of Regent. It’s rather odd to call it a park really, since it’s more of a giant patch of forest with trails, or in other words, totally wicked awesome. Sadly, we didn’t actually get any pictures of this park, so you’ll just have to take my word for how awesome it is. There are thousands-upon-thousands of evergreen trees stretching high into the air, between them and the thick underbrush snake a multitude of paths. We probably walked for about forty minutes or so and covered maybe a tenth of the park.
Finally, we returned to our respective hosts. Tyler and I had delicious barbequed and spiced hamburgers, and Nate had barbequed chicken . Tyler and I also had a desert of cherries with our hosts, and an Australian sparkling beverage. After diner, Tyler and I went up stairs to read and eventually fell asleep.

Let me just say that we really appreciated the hospitality of Regent and our hosts. Talking with Nathan and Mareesa was also great fun. It was interesting to note though, that because of our common language and religion, it was easy to forget we came from different cultured. Tyler and I kept assuming they'd know things, like what Calvary Chapel is, or where Georgia is, that they didn't know. For their part, our hosts did a better job than us at recognizing things we might not know about. Oh, and I was apparently the first American to ever request black over Herbal tea in their house. Yay.

Road Trip: Washington and Vancouver: Leaving America

No night of restless sleep could keep us from our adventures, and so we headed back into Seattle for more time of exploration before heading to Canada. Our first stop was a little open air nautical museum  displaying a collection of wooden ships, from old tug boats to steamers. The ships were cool, free to look at, and even the parking was free (which seems to be a rarity in cities). Adjacent to the museum was a cruise yacht offering tours of the harbor and we decided to find out how much tickets would be. The captain informed us that, normally, it would be two hours for $22, but then gave us coupons to get on for $11. Not a bad deal, so we bit. Ultimately, it turned out that we were the only ones on the tour, so we got a private two hour tour of the bay for $11 – even better.

Our captain was a slightly creepy, but amiable older man who was happy to inform us where the Vancouver nude beach was when we told him we were going up there to see a seminary. Something tells me he probably didn’t know what a seminary is, or at least he didn’t hear us right. The tour was great fun, Nate and I both bought lunches on the boat, and we got to get little bits of history and information about the city. Some of my favorite sights were the floating homes within the bay. They’re a group of old, grandfathered in settlements built back in the 20s to avoid property taxes. Some of them are fancy little mansions, while others are little more than shacks, but they all look like they’d be cool places to live. Some of the neatest ones had porches crammed full of all kinds of potted plants. This city has in modern times severely limited the expansion of these communities, and almost the only way to get such a house is to buy one from a previous owner and either use it or demolish it and build your own.

In addition to the floating homes, we saw a whole series of crazy-huge waterfront mansions owned by some of the world’s richest people, including the house of Bill Gates himself (interestingly, I’d say the house was moderate in terms of Gates’ income, but that’s not saying much).These houses were mostly built right down on the beach, which was backed by a short cliff. Each of the homes had a garage on the top of the cliff with an incline elevator/gondola to get down the cliff. I think that in some ways this part of the tour was designed to arouse envy in us, and while a beach front house would be nice, the things many of these people did with their money were just absurd to the point of making them almost clownish. For example, one of the other founders of Microsoft bought a huge yacht with a helicopter pad, then he got bored with it and bought an even bigger one, and finally got a massive one with two helicopter pads.

So, we viewed the homes of the rich, as well as various bridges, famous boats and public buildings and we then returned to shore. After this, we drove back to downtown Seattle and spent about an hour meandering through the Pike Place Marketplace. The Marketplace is a cool covered market with produce, craft and food places packed tightly inside. In addition to the shops, there were several street performers playing, which if you ask me are the best part of any marketplace.

Finally, we got back on the road and headed for the Canadian border, another rather uneventful drive. We arrived at the border, which among other things meant we had to navigate the old fashioned way, because Maggie doesn’t have any Canada maps. The length of the line at the border was nothing compared to the monstrosity that is the Mexican border, but there was a bit of a line, and we ended up behind an SUV from California.

“Hello Fellow Californian.”

But alas, the Canadian border police kept up the car for a long time, probably suspicious of them because they had giant USC stickers on the back. Apparently the Canadians have good sense. (I now wink at my friends from USC). We, however, got through without any trouble. One really clever thing we discovered shortly after crossing the border was that the lanes on the freeway are reversible  for purposes of traffic control.  Before entering Canada, we had written down directions to the place where Tyler and I were staying, but we missed our turn and had a massive amount of difficulty finding our way back onto our route, but we eventually did and soon afterward found our way to our hosts’ townhouse. Our hosts were a nice Australian couple (named Nathan and Mareesa) with a single one-year-old boy (Daniel), and they were wonderfully hospitable, helping us with directions and feeding us well for both breakfast and lunch. That night, they fed us a hearty meal of spaghetti and answering my bombardment of questions about Regent College.
I really enjoyed looking at Nathan’s collection of books, which demonstrated a broad and intelligent theological base (and of course reflected the theological bent of Regent). Best of all I think, was a book on quantum mechanics and theology written by a man who is both an Anglican priest and a theoretical physicist. Though I haven’t read the book, I would imagine this background makes him suited to writing an actually quality analysis of the subject, as opposed to the steaming piles of crap found in such works as What the *Bleep* Do We Know?

Daniel was also a lot of fun, though rather quite at first. After dinner, we drove Nate to his hosts’ house further into the city, and then returned to our hosts’ for a dessert of Strawberries and Cream. After dessert, we bid our hosts goodbye and settled in for a night of good sleep on actual beds (well… a bed and a mattress, but infinitely better than sleeping in the car).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Road Trip: Break in Communication

Well folks, I'm heading up into Canada now, which means ny phone's going off and with it my only guaranteed internet connection. I'll keep writing my blog posts anyway, and if I get no net I'll just post them up when I'm back in the states.

Road Trip: Seattle - Space Needle... in Space

A night of sleeping in a car is hard, probably not so hard as sleeping on an airplane, but it’s definitely not bed-status, nor even as good as a floor. Nevertheless, after finishing working on the blog I posted last night I settled into a relatively comfortable position and then, with the help of rain pattering on the roof, I finally fell back to sleep and didn’t wake again until morning. Normally I can sleep soundly pretty much anywhere… if I feel tired, but my body decided that feeling sleepy in a car at night was a bad idea. The same thing happened to my friends, unfortunately,  and they had a more difficult night than I did, but they managed to get some sleep. So now it’s morning, we’re driving along on the freeway, and it’s time to finish yesterdays story.
Driving up to Seattle proved rather uneventful, Nate read more of Halo: First Strike, and I read for a while myself until car sickness started to make that impossible. Our route was nothing near as striking as the Oregon coastal route, though we got some stunning glimpses of white and blue of Mt. St. Helens through the tall green trees that lined the freeway.

The jutting retro-futuristic spire of the space needle came into view around two in the afternoon. Finding parking proved in some ways as difficult as it had been in every city, but we had a bit more experience by this point and were familiar with the pay-to-park system used for street parking, as we’d encountered it in Portland. We ended up parking some distance from the Space Needle and walking there. Naturally, the entrance fee for the famous landmark was outrageous, costing a full $15 just to ride up on an elevator at get a view of the city, but of course we bit. You can’t go to Seattle as a tourist for the first time and not go on the Space Needle. Getting the gorgeous views of the Seattle skyline, bay and mountains was quite worth it though, and perhaps more interesting to me was the information posted up on the history and construction of the building.

 At the time the Space Needle was built, Seattle had won the right to host the World Fair by pushing its commitment to science and to becoming a 21st century city… almost half a century early. As part of this World Fair, the Space Needle was built to exhibit the grandeur of Seattle’s vision for the future, just as the Eiffel Tower had been built for the World Fair in Paris. One fact about its construction that I found very interesting, was that they decided to have the center of gravity be only a few feet off the ground, this meant they had to have a massive amount of steel and concrete underground as a counterbalance for the Needle. Ultimately, they spent 24 hours pouring concrete for the foundation, which is still the longest time on record.
After our journey up the Space Needle, we went across the street to a little café to have lunch. It was a pleasant little place, with outside seating giving us a good view of the Space Needle. Nate and I had a Chinese dish that was quite good, while Tyler had a BLT. I also had a honey nut latte, which was way too sweet. Though we had a good time, the cashier at the place seemed like she really didn’t want to be there, so that put something of a damper on the experience.

Our bellies fed, we walked back to the car to get more time in our parking spot and then went to the most amazing place ever (well… the second most amazing, the most amazing place ever is Powell’s Books) – the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. We all had a blast walking through the place, looking at all the sci-fi props, signed first edition books and the plethora of information on the history of science fiction. They also had some bits of advice on writing science fiction from some of the greats, most of which was absolute crap, but hey, just because you can perform it don’t mean you can teach it. For example, Ray Bradbury mumbled some mystical mumbo-jumbo about how you had to let the inner-man, not yourself write, and Harlan Ellison said profoundly that the deep secret to writing good was to hear the music. Whatever that means. He repeated the statement several times without ever explaining what he meant by it, and he also managed to call community college writing teachers worthless hacks.

Attached to the Sci-fi museum, and entered on the same ticket, was a musical experience museum on the history of Rock n’ Roll. It was cool, and I think Tyler really liked it, but I wasn’t nearly as exciting for me. Mostly, it consisted of lots and lots of displays of different guitars, and information on the instrument and the musicians. It was real cool, but seemed a tad monotonous to me.

Having gotten our money’s worth and more out of the museums, we set out to find dinner, a task which ultimately took us two whole hours. First, Tyler decided we’d eat out of downtown, and we agreed to try and find something we hadn’t had before. So, we asked our GPS to list restaurant categories in the area, and African cuisine came up. That sounded cool, so I clicked on it and found a lot of places, mostly Ethiopian. We decided on one of these, and drove about a half of an hour to get there, only to find it closed. Nearby, Maggie said, was another restraint called Zulu East African food, so we headed out that way and found… a house. Close to an hour wasted already, I began searching for food on the web using my phone and we finally decided on a German Sausage place, which turned out to be in downtown Seattle. Luckily, it was late by now and parking after six is free, so we drove the half-hour back to downtown and parked. We never did find the German place, and most of the places along the street were far too expensive, but we finally found a neat little fish taco place where we all ordered big fish burritos and had a hearty meal. It was also nice to see that the fish they used was caught sustainably.

Finally, we set out to find a place to sleep, heading to a truck stop I found by way of my phone… only it turned out it was a park-and-ride, not a truck stop, and that it explicitly forbade overnight car sleeping. Lame. We searched around on the net for a while to find a camp site or rest stop we could go to, and I finally called Ernie’s Truck Stop to see if we could park there and sleep the night over. It was not, I gathered, something they did on an official basis, but they told us to park in the employee parking on the side and let them know we were there. After rearranging our luggage so we could all get at least semi-recumbent, we set to the difficult task of trying to sleep.

Road Trip: Late Night Write, Leaving Oregon - Hotcakes and Goodbye

The 76 looks like most any other, wider perhaps to allow for the trucks to come in and fuel up. We've parked here, with the permission of the propriotor, in order to sleep. The windows are down a crack, but even with that they've fogged up thick from all of our body heat. Outside, the city is quite, eery. The good news, though, is cops apparently come around here often, so that makes us feel safe (bias?). Anyway, it's getting on towards two in the morning and I'm writing this now because I woke from sleep and I know I won't be able  to fall asleep again for a little while. So, I'll sit here for a while and I'll type, and when I think I can sleep again, I'll lay down my head and continue this later.
Books began our morning, books and breakfast at McDonalds. Our kind hosts wanted to feed us again, but they didn't feel like cooking, so Tyler's grandad drove us over to the McDonalds (and we saw an Albertsons!) and bought us breakfast. Most of us ordered this breakfast combo, and it wasn't nearly so bad as expected. It came with a potato patty, a muffin, pancakes and sausage. I avoided the sausage, which glissened thick with enough grease to make me sick fast, but the rest tasted pretty normal and went down easy. And of course, I deeply appreciated once again our host's hospitality.
After breakfast, we went back to the house to wait for the postman and my passport (my mom had shipped it up by overnight). For a while, we sat around and read. Tyler read Ender's Game, Nate Halo: First Strike, and myself Red Mars and Fear and Trembling. Eventually, we packed and loaded up the car, and then, with near providencial timing, the mailman came just as we finished up, and I gladly took my passport in hand. I called up my mom to let her know it'd come, and also told me about my sister watching Pan's Labyrinth. My phonecall finished, we bid our wonderful hosts goodbye (though we'll see them soon) and got back on to road and on towards Washington. I looked forward to seeing Seattle, but Portland is an amazing city and I will miss her.
Anyway, I'm starting to feel sleepy again, so I'll return later to tell of our adventures in Seattle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Film Review/Theology: Pan's Labyrinth and the Cross of Christ

Today, I called to let my mom know that my passport had arrived in the mail. I'd forgotten it, and she had shipped it up to me using overnight express. That was a huge weight off my chest, but that's not really what this post is about. This post is about a movie.

When I called, my mother told me that my sister and her husband had watched Pan's Labyrinth and, understandably hated it. As they saw it, it was a film about a bad man doing bad things, and what was to like about that? Also understandably, my mother was concerned that I would like something with that  content. So here's my apologetic for the movie. (slight spoilers ahead)

As I see it, Pan's Labyrinth is not about evil, but instead about the power of love and myth in the face of evil. The story is set in fascist Spain, and the man of power in the story is a horrible, sick and twisted man. It seems he has all the power, but a little girl defies him through her love for her mother and her fable (which may or may not be real)  and in the end he looses everything. The little weak girl topples the wicked giant, though not without terrible sacrifice.

This is not unlike life as I, a Christian, see it. The world in which we live is ugly and brutish, and evil appears to have strength, but as we become like children and cast off all power to become filled with love and gentleness, becoming the image of Christ, we begin to conquer this demonic kingdom, not by the force of greater more brutish power, but by the redemptive love and mercy of God. Indeed, this is how Christ bound up Satan, not with great armies or mighty displays of destructive power, but, first, through becoming the least of men; second, through acts of love, restoration and healing; and finally, through humility unto death, "even death on a cross".

That's is why I like Pan's Labyrinth.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Road Trip: Oregon - Serenity and Thunder

The church sat on a street corner, an old white wooden building – gothic they called it, though I didn’t see it. It was called the Old Church, called that because it was indeed the oldest church in all of Portland, established in the 1800s. We had found it the same way we’d found the park, by way of the AAA travel guide, and we came as tourists. After negotiating the great difficulty to navigation and parking offered by downtown Portland, my friends and I found ourselves standing before the church, wondering whether we could enter, and which of the many doors to take.

As we sat and looked on, one of the doors creaked opened and a couple walked silently out. Through the opening, I caught a glimpse of parishioners in worship. Of course we should have thought, this being Sunday, that there might be a church service there, but I at least had assumed for some reason that because it was a tourist destination it would not still house a congregation. Besides, it was close to 11:00 by this point, and I had figured that even if there was a church that met there, it would have been out by now. Turning around, we noticed the sign set on the side of the street, advertising the Presbyterian service meeting at 10:00. Of course, we could have gone in at this point, but we felt a little self-conscious, especially since the parishioners we’d seen exit had definitely been dressed better than we were.

While navigating the maze of the downtown streets, we had seen another church of interesting architecture, a heavy stone building that looked like the chapel from some old medieval college town. This building also advertised itself as being from the 1800s and we decided to check it out while we waited for the service to end. We walked up the block to the church, which itself advertised having a Bible Church meeting within its walls at 10:00. Portlanders, apparently, do not believe in early church. We wandered back around the block and came once more to the entrance of the Old Church. Still uncertain of whether we should enter, it was decided that we should wait until 11:30, which was only ten minutes away, and then enter whether they exited or not. 11:30 rolled around, and while a few parishioners had left the building, it was obvious that the service was still on. We marched up to the door of the church, Tyler going first, and quietly entered. Inside, a beautiful chorus was raised, praising God for His amazing love for which He died for us. While not large, the building was nevertheless impressively full. We stood there in the back of the church watching, and eventually Nate and I joined in with the chorus of the verse. It was Nate who pointed out that we had walked in on the end of communion. Around this time, another man entered from off the street and stood in the back with us.
After this, the pastor gave a benediction, blessing all there that they would be filled with the hope of Christ, and then began singing the doxology (interesting to me that it would be after communion) and he then quickly walked to the back of the church to greet the members of his church as they left. He greeted us, and the other man, warmly and invited us to come again if we so wished. We, of course, responded that we were out of state, but his invitation was genuine enough that were I from Portland, I think I would have come back. The words he said were familiar to me, but it seemed his heart was genuinely into his hospitality. This is especially notable considering how underdressed and uncomfortable we were. On first impression, I liked this pastor very much. Had we thought of it, it would have been nice to have attended the whole service. Oh well.
We left the church a short time later and got into Tyler’s car.

Our next destination, which had been recommended to us by our hosts, was Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the nation, and Oregon’s tallest. Being in Oregon, the parking for the Falls was beastly, with a long line of cars circling around a tiny parking lot. Lucky for us, a car left its spot right as we were coming up to it and we got prime parking.

An old looking gray stone building sits at the bottom of the trail up to the falls, housing the bathroom, gift shop and information center, as well as a number of coffee and snack stands. After breaking to use the restroom, we ducked into the information center to grab a map and then past up the food stands to head up the trail. We once again had packed sandwiches with us, as well as bottles of water and we carried these with us. I had expected something of a hike before we reached a spot where we could view the falls, so I was struck all the more by its stunning beauty when we rounded a corner of the building and the falls came suddenly into view. Multnomah Falls is a gorgeous double cascade, the water roars down from between green trees on the cliffs far overhead, splashing into a pool and then passing under a bridge to fall again. The scale alone is incredible (and sadly is not captured at all by photographs) and the brown moss covered rocks are entirely beautiful. At the bottom of the first fall, a great gouge has been cut in the cliff side by erosion and all the rocks there gleam in the sunlight. Perhaps my favorite part of all were the little rivulets of white water that split off from the main waterfall to trickle down their own paths.

After gazing at the Fall for some time from this vantage point, we walked up the path further to the bridge that crossed the falls and Nate and Tyler took more footage with their cameras. Even here, some distance from the fall itself, we could feel the mist of water on our faces. Going on from there, we wound our way up the switchback trail that moved up the side one of the cliffs near the waterfall. Even on the steep ground between the switchbacks of the trail, trees and ferns grew thick on the ground. Shortcuts between the switchbacks were explicitly forbidden on this trail, and so we wound the way up. Crowds were thick closer to the bottom, but thinned quickly as we made our way up the trail.

Along the way, we paused to eat our sandwiches at a spot that gave us a view not of the waterfall, but of the Columbia River snaking away below. I don’t know how high we got on the trail, though I know I pushed myself further than my body really wanted to go. Really, I wanted to find the top of the trail, but Tyler decided it was time to turn back and so we headed down. Someday I’d like to return and find the top of the trail. On our way down, I decided to run the trail as much as I could, mainly because this was actually easier than trying to walk down hill, but I had to slow down as I returned to more crowded areas. Running down was fun, but I can definitely say that if I did that on a regular basis my hips would be shot, for I could feel every single impact in them.

Ultimately, we spent about an hour at Multnomah Falls and then returned back to Portland. Before going to Tyler’s grandfather’s house, we stopped at a giant Goodwill that Nate and Tyler wanted to check out. I didn’t have any particular interest in going in, but I enjoyed seeing what books they had. I almost picked up a copy of Rendezvous with Rama which is a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, but thought better of it. For now, I need to conserve my money.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Road Trip: Oregon - Portland Does It Better

Portland is a beautiful city, and my time here so far has been wonderful, but before I talk about our day of adventures in the city, I must first backtrack to some events of the night before that happened after the posting of my blog. After Tyler popped the mattress (the duct tape ultimately did not hold by the way) he and Nate went out to the car to double check that they both had something very important – their passports. Nate came in and fished through his bag and revealed it, and in that moment I realized with horror the fact that I had forgotten mine. My mind raced to find a solution, and for a few terrible seconds all seemed hopeless – we would not  be going to Canada. Thankfully, we thought of a solution, though it does mean us spending a bit more time in Portland. That’s not so bad though, because, as I said, Portland is a beautiful city.

Our morning started with sausage and eggs, and we shortly afterward set out on our exploration of Portland. We carried with us a bag of sandwiches that our awesome hosts made for us to take. Our first destination we knew for certain, it had been set in our minds long before our coming to Oregon; we were going to make the great pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books – the world’s largest used and new bookstore. Getting there proved to be rather difficult, as our GPS wanted us to take the 5 North to the 405 (Oregon’s version there-of) North, which was closed. Thankfully, we stayed on the 5 and the GPS figured out another route. This route took us over a huge bridge that crossed the Columbia river. On our way over we got a spectacular view of Portland’s riverside Cityscape. I’m generally not much for cityscapes, but this view was incredible. We arrived in downtown Portland and ran into a different navigation problem – that area of the city has more one way streets than downtown Los Angeles, making it into a veritable maze. We did, finally, find our way into the parking structure for Powell’s, which was small and difficult to navigate, but we got our spot and headed into the book store… and it was worth it.

 Words… words can’t describe how fantastic Powell’s is, though the parking sucked. It was a giant building with four floors packed full of all kinds of books. Secular philosophy had a whole aisle dedicated to philosophy, plus an extra bookshelf (your average Barnes & Noble has maybe four shelves), several aisles dedicated to Christian stuff (including sections on Christian mysticism, church history and theology) and almost an entire floor dedicated to science fiction. It was a little depressing to see, however, that the Christian prophecy section only had premillennial dispensationalist works, but at least it was small. I ultimately did not buy anything, though I was sorely tempted by a signed first edition of The Speed of Dark (one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read) but it was $150, which is out of my price range. Tyler and Nate bought books though, Tyler getting Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Pygmy  and giant book on chess, and Nate getting Empire by Orson Scott Card and several books on various aspects of the military.

After our pilgrimage to this Mecca of literature, we turned to the AAA travel guide Nate’s dad had given us to determine where to go next. The guide mentioned several incredible sounding places, and we ended up settling on Washington Park. Now, I live in Huntington Beach, and so I’ve got a really awesome park a quick drive away from my house, but it is nothing compared to Washington Park. Within the bounds of the park are a zoo, a Japanese garden, a rose garden and a massive arboretum with hours worth of walking trails and thousands of trees. We ate lunch when we first arrived, after which we played on the playground’s seesaw (which Nate tried to kill me with… twice). After this, we walked up to the rose garden and wandered its paths, smelling the sweet fragrance of the flowers. Sadly, Tyler can’t smell the roses, and so couldn’t enjoy that part of the garden’s splendor. From the rose garden, we walked up to the Japanese gardens, which turned out to have an entrance fee. I at least considered paying, but I wanted to check out how much the zoo would cost first. The guide at the gardens told us the zoo was rather far away, and that we could take a bus there if we wanted, but we decided to walk.

The guide pointed out to us the Wildwood Path, which snaked back behind the park through the thick woods of the arboretum. The path started with a switchback climb upwards. Cutting across this path, were smaller paths, made by animals or more adventuresome people, and we took several of these shortcuts for the challenge they offered. We ultimately hiked around for several hours, without ever backtracking and the whole time we never came to the zoo. With the trees and ferns gathered thick enough to make dusk on the path we traveled, I felt like a man transported back in time to some primeval forest. By far the best part of this journey was when we emerged from the darkness of the woods onto a high green meadow. From there, we could see the arboretum trees stretched out bellow us, beyond them the city, and in the far distance the great blue-white peaks of Mt. Reiner and Mt. St. Helens.

Eventually, we found our way back to the car and returned to Tyler’s grandfather’s house. Here we’ve had our dinner, and spent the last few hours reading. Tomorrow, we’re heading out to a local waterfall, and maybe also visiting the old gothic church in Portland. So far, I really love this city, and it’s the only major city I’ve ever been able to say that of on first impression. I even think I could live here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Road Trip: The Western Coast - The Beauty and the Majesty

Today we travelled far, and did little else, but it was nevertheless a good day of beauty and friendship. We woke early to begin our journey, knowing that we had at least eleven hours of driving ahead of us. Late the night before the lights had gone out in a scheduled power outage and they were still out when we woke. I had taken a shower the night before, but for the others this meant a shower in the dark, and for all of us it meant a difficult time making sure we got all of our stuff.

After packing and taking our showers, we got in Tyler’s car, myself driving, and began our journey northwards along the 101. We knew that we could get to our destination faster on the 5, but on a road trip the point is the journey, not just the goal.

The long forest roads which wind along the west coast of American give testament to both the majesty of nature and the ingenuity of man, and both these give testament to the glory of God. The California and Oregon coastlines are spectacularly beautiful, tall emerald trees towering on either side of the black ribbon of highway, and from time to time you will emerge from the thick trees to a gorgeous sapphire sea, the sun glinting off the faces of the waves and white caps dancing in the wind. Dotted along this coastline are countless seaside towns, and occasionally a true city. As beautiful as these places were, I can’t say I would want to live in one. I love the chances living in a populated area gives me to meet new people, as well as the many activities possible (such as taking classes from community colleges). It was in one of these towns, some time before we reached Oregon, that Tyler and I switched places as driver, for he wanted to drive. Tyler enjoys driving on highways, and he stayed as driver for the rest of the journey.

Our journey was slowed by the sheer amount of construction being done on the 101, which often slowed or stopped our forward progress. Seeing this, I couldn’t help but contemplate the massive amount of work we have to put in just to keep our civilization at level, holding back for one more day the forces of entropy. The contrast of this fact to the powerful resiliency of the forests and animals that surround them, their kind having survived the disasters of countless eons by the versatility of genetics – truly awe inspiring. That which God builds endures. Also inspiring awe, and terror, were the roaring gusts of wind that would suddenly shoot across the road and push the car aside.

We finally arrived at the house of Tyler's grandfather, a charming and gregarious old man. He introduced us to his girlfriend, who cooked us delicious meatballs and spaghetti, served with salad garlic bread and a sweet red wine.

They have only one bed for us, which Tyler is taking, and they also bought an air matress for us to use. We ran into a few hitches when pumping it up, however, because they had bought a pump that only plugged into a car charger. Tyler and his grandpa ran out to get the right pump, and when they brought it back Nate pumped it up to a nice plump size. Immediately after this, Tyler plopped town hard onto the matress, keys in pocket, and gashed a big puncture in it. Thanks to the wonders of duct tape, however, we were able to plug the leak - hopefully it'll hold the night. In theory two of us can sleep on it, but it's a little small so I'll take the couch.

And that, really, was our day. Our journey ultimately took us about twelve hours, and along the way we spent some time conversing, but mostly we simply sat in silence, enjoying the scenery and each other’s presence.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Road Trip: San Francisco without the Flowers

Our story today begins with shoes, more specifically one missing shoe. When getting ready to leave, Tyler went to put on his shoes and discovered one to be missing. Both of us had showered at this point and Nate was taking his. We searched in the dirty clothes, under the mattress… everywhere, but the shoe remained missing. Finally, I opened my suitcase and discovered the shoe was there. I knew I had not put anything into the case that morning, so naturally I was puzzled. At this point, Nate came out of his shower and it turned out that he had thrown the shoes in the general direction of my suitcase and one had gotten stuck. Go figure.

Around eleven, an hour later than we had intended, Nate, Tyler, my cousin Chris and I left for our visit to San Francisco. Along the way we entertained ourselves by trying to be the first in the car to spot groups of cows. About an hour later, we arrived in San Francisco, and rather than simply looking for parking and seeing where we’d end up (which worked so well last time), we used the GPS to go first to Fisherman’s Wharf and afterward went to the nearest parking structure. Being close to Fisherman’s Wharf, the parking was naturally outrageously expensive, running $2 for every twenty minutes (with a$38/day maximum). While finding a spot to park in the structure, we noticed a bizarre vehicle, but missed a chance to get a good look, and we made sure to get a closer view on the way down. What we saw, was a bicycle designed for seven people to ride. The seats for the bikes were arranged in a circle around a central hub, each having a pedal that connected into a single drive system. The driver of the vehicle was like the others, but also had a steering wheel. The wheels of the bike were, of course, oriented to the driver's seat. The thing reminded me of an octopus and reminded Nate of something out of a Dr. Seuss. I only wish we could’ve seen the thing in motion.

After viewing the Octoseussmobile, the four of us set out to find affordable but interesting (not In n’ Out) which proved to be quite a quest. There were, naturally, a multitude of food places along the wharf, but they tended to either be food we could get just about anywhere (including at least three separate Boudins), or wildly expensive. Along the way, we of course saw lots of cheaper parking than the one we’d found. Oh Well.

Finally, we came to Pier 39, where we found a nice affordable restraint. Our waitress was a friendly woman with a thick, rich Irish accent, and my friend’s and I had a good hearty meal of Fish and Chips (Nate also had fried shrimp, clams and calamari with his meal). After lunch, we continued to walk along the Pier and view the various shops there. We saw a couple shops dedicated entirely to magnets, a souvenir shop with various signed memorabilia and a hat shop where Tyler found a cap that perfectly matched his jacket (naturally, Tyler bought that hat). The real treats, though, were at the end of the Pier. First, there was a double-decker carousel, and it even ha d a dragon. Now, I don’t particularly care about carousels myself, but my sister has developed a bit of a hobby finding and riding on Carousels, so it was neat to get to see this one and take pictures for her. However, carousels not being my hobby, I didn’t ride it. The end of the pier also had a stunning view of the bay and a fun spectacle of barking and jostling sea lions.

Finally, we took a look at the World War II liberty ship and submarine docked at the bay, though we decided not to pay to actually go onboard. The sheer size of the liberty ship was impressive to see, especially when you consider how fast they built them. Of course, Nate pointed out that one of our modern submarines, the Ohio class, is longer even than the liberty ship. That’s one big submarine.

On the way back from to Santa Rosa from San Francisco the traffic was abysmal, but Nate and I made up for this by getting truly intense in our cow-spotting and the time went by well. At last, we arrived in back and Chris and Tiffany’s place, where we had pizza and started watching I-Robot, which we’re still doing as I type. I’ve seen the movie before, and it’s pretty entertaining, though from what I understand it has little to do with the actual Asimov story, and wasn’t even originally intended to be “I-Robot”. Anyway, during the middle of the movie my Aunt Sheri and my uncle Chuck showed up, and we got to spend some time catching up with them, which I’m very glad of.

Tomorrow, Nate, Tyler and I are leaving for Portland, and I’m very excited – this is going to be my first time in Oregon.

Road Trip: Bay Area and More - Squid, Squid, Fries About the Other Day

I’m not sure exactly when I woke up yesterday, my alarm was set for nine, but I woke up before it buzzed and it never got to do its job. Some time, close to nine but not quite there yet, Tyler grew bored with lying in bed and made a buzzing sound like a dying tug boat. Nate and I, who were both awake, bolted up with looks of total puzzlement on our faces. Had we not been awake, I doubt the dying tugboat routine would’ve woken either of us, but it was certainly effective in getting us out of our dozing.

The day started with a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, muffins, orange juice and coffee that was prepared for us by Nate’s grandparents. They were good hosts, and for their part, seemed to thoroughly enjoy having guests to talk with. After breakfast, through a process of near-comedic trial-and-error, we managed to pack all of our stuff back into Tyler’s car, after which we said goodbye to our hosts and made the short drive over to downtown St. Helena. This is the same downtown of the Woodhouse Chocolates and artisan breads mentioned the other day. We enjoyed ourselves walking along Main Street and looking into all the shops. St. Helena’s downtown is very much the image of a small town main street, and city-raised tourists like us eat that kind of thing up.

Our stroll through St. Helena finished, the three of us got into Tyler’s car and drove a little north of St. Helena to Deer Park Road, a street that winds all the way up the valley and gives the driver a vantage point of all of Napa Valley. Nate’s grandmother had recommended that we go up the road, and we’re definitely glad that we took her advice. On the way up, we actually missed the turnout for us to stop and view the valley, but before too long we realized and turned around.

I don't even think a picture could capture it - the sublime width and depth of the scene, the deep awe with which it filled us, and the sense of privilege that being able to view it gave us.

After trekking up Deer Park Road, we made our final Napa Valley stop, driving into Napa proper so that I could show Nate and Tyler the Oxbow market. Since I’ve already described the market for you, I won’t bore you with details, other than to say that they enjoyed it and appreciated the local grocers. After going to the Oxbow, we went to a cute diner down by the Oxbow, called Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. The diner has lots of white, red and chrome and generally has the image of a place like Ruby’s or Jonny Rocket’s (though naturally they serve wine and beer, being Napa). I got a burger, sweet potato fries and a coke and definitely enjoyed my meal. The sweet potato fries were some of the best I’ve ever had. When you first bite into them, there’s taste of salt, after which you taste the sweetness of the potato and finally a burst of spice. Anyway, the food was delicious, but what really made me happy was the ethics of the restaurant – the beef came from range-fed, hormone-free cows, the menus and cups made from recycled material and they had separate garbage cans for recyclables, compost and regular old trash (and encouraged you to notice where you were putting things).

It may seem like I harp on this kind of thing a lot in my blog, but it’s amazingly important to our lives. Caring for the environment matters for everyone, whether you’re conservative or liberal, because it’s not some abstract and distant object, but it’s our environment in which we live. If we destroy our environment, we’re destroying our home. I should also point out, for those of us who our Christians, our original charge was to be Lord’s and stewards of the world, and our charge as Christians is to manifest God’s Kingdom here on Earth until He comes to establish it fully. Part of that Kingdom is a restored Earth. Think about that the next time you throw a water bottle in the trash.

And…. meanwhile, back at the road trip… Nate, Tyler and I finished our meals and got on the road to Sunnyvale to meet my cousins. The drive there was fun, but uneventful, excepting one bizarre occurrence that has already achieved meme-status within our trio. I wanted to tell my friends about something I had learned the other day and said “Oh, you know what I was surprised to learn about the other day?” Only, I said it rather fast and mumbled, and both of them heard me say “Squid, squid, fries about the other day?” A bizarre sentence, and now very much a part of our vocabulary.

Finally, we arrived in Sunnyvale, but quite a bit earlier than I had told my cousins (and that was earlier than what I had originally told them) and so we decided to kill some time rather than bursting in on them too early. At first, we searched for a gas station and had some trouble, but we quickly noticed a Toys’R’Us and so naturally we had to stop. Visiting that store brought back all kinds of childhood memories (including War Planets) and awakened in me a still unfulfilled desire to own some Legos again. Weirdly though, they didn’t have a magnetic travel chess set, a thing we’ve been searching for and consistently failing to find.

Our pilgrimage to the Mecca of toys complete, we filled up on gas and then travelled to a park to kill the last half-hour of time before we were supposed to arrive at my cousins’ house. In the park, we found a nice cement bench and proceeded to play Bananagrams, a bizarre and entertaining spin-off of Scrabble (both games I’m entirely incompetent at).

At last, five o’clock neared and we drove the short distance from the park to my cousin Dave and Lisa’s house. When we arrived, Dave was still at work (he works for HP) and Aunt Jean had not yet arrived, but we got to talk with Lisa and her kids got to show us their video games (much to their delight). The first was the EyeToy, and old PS2 motion capture game and the other a racing game called Test Drive. The point of Test Drive is to do races, gain money, and buy houses on the island of Hawaii. Naturally, the kids turned it into a game of crashing into other cars and running from the police. Eventually, Aunt Jean arrived and I introduced her to my friends, after which we started dinner. During dinner we spoke of various topics, including the life of a half-Greek (Lisa and Nate are both half-Greek).

About half-way through dinner, Dave arrived from work and after he had eaten, I asked him to boot up the play house… Yep, you read that right, boot up the play house. Dave is a tech guy, and when his children were younger, he build a playhouse for them and wrote code for it. Underneath, the playhouse is a cave and up above, well, a house, while inside it has mushroom lights, music and motion sensors. Oh, and it talks.

While showing the playhouse to Nate and Tyler, Dave noticed that Tyler was wearing a Hard Rock Café shirt and asked him if he was a musician. This led to the revelation that both Tyler and Dave were musicians and we gotten taken up to see Dave’s awesome electric drum kit. This led to an impromptu jam session where Tyler played his guitar and Nate and I played the drums (after a while Dave and his kids joined in with various other percussion instruments). We were having a blast, but the time came for us to leave. We finished off the night with some rich and moist chocolate cake (and that’s no lie) and then headed for Santa Rosa to meet my other cousins and stay the night.

It was my turn to drive on the way from Sunnyvale to Santa Rosa, and it was a nice drive, excepting a brief period of oncoming terror. As we drove, we could see in the distance a vast looming bank of fog that looked strikingly like a mountain rage. The great ominous swath of darkness grew closer and closer as we drove towards Santa Rosa and I feared I would have to drive in the infamous San Francisco fog. Thankfully, when we actually hit the bank of fog it was wispy-thin and offered to actual impediment to driving.

After the terror of the oncoming fog, we discovered to our delight that our route took us over Golden Gate Bridge, and we got to view that famous bridge at night. Curiously, the Golden Gate Bridge actually looks a little golden in the dark.

Little more happened on our journey, and we arrived at our destination at almost exactly ten at night. My cousin Christopher met us and helped us get settled in. Tiffany, unfortunately, had already gone to bed but we saw her briefly as she left for class this morning. Today, Chris will be going with Nate, Tyler and I into San Francisco and we’ll be meeting Tiffany tonight for dinner.