Monday, February 26, 2007

Global Warming Questions

I heard (didn't see) that Al Gore got an Oscar for his "Inconvenient Truth" movie about global warming. Now, this post isn't a swipe at Gore, or the movie (I rarely see documentaries, and this one sure won't be on my list... "Ghost Rider," however, was right up my alley). Nor is it meant to suggest that I want to single-handedly destroy the environment, or that I am insensitive to thought of drowning polar bears or submerged cities or all the rest of the stuff we associate with the worst-case scenarios in enviro-catastrophe-land. I just have questions.

My first question is, is this warming thing really happening? I read sometimes that every decent scientist says "yes." Then I read elsewhere that some say "no." Then I read that the earth has gone through cycles of warming and cooling, and warming again. Then I read that a global warming conference in DC two weeks ago didn't meet due to the snowstorms. Then I read that it's warmer now, but that the process isn't man-made. And finally I read that the data they have doesn't go back far enough to tell us anything. I honestly don't know what to make of it. And some of the folks that seem sure, on both sides, seem TOO sure for my taste--as if their surety isn't the least bit dependent upon science, but instead is agenda-driven.

Secondly, if there IS global warming, what are the genuine, realistic risks? Is it a tenth of a degree over 100 years, or the melting of all the ice at the North Pole and time for an ark? I think I'd buy the whole theory more if the predictions were just a little less dire.

Next, assuming it's real, and the consequences are bad, what can we do about it... again, realistically? I know the senate shot down the original Kyoto treaty by 90-some votes, mainly because it exempted "developing" countries, like India and China, so they could go on burning coal while we in the west are all buying hybrid cars. How much does our effort buy us in terms of relief? Can we make enough difference to overcome 3 billion Asians' bad environmental behavior? Or do we all have to get on board to avoid doom? And what, exactly, is the prescription? Are we talking recycle and carpool, or are we talking the end of the internal combustion engine?

Finally, what's the opportunity cost? We all know that a 20-mph speed limit would save numerous lives. But we don't have one because it's just plain not worth it to spend the time. Likewise, what is the cost--in dollars, in lives, in convenience, in quality of life--of doing what it takes to get the benefits/avoid the pains of global warming? If, for example, the cost of saving a million lives in 100 years is $4 gas, fine. I'll pay. But if it's 250,000 lives in the next 10 years lost as third-world nations are stunted in their development, that reads differently. If it's major world-wide economic depression of 1930s proportions, that needs to be weighed, too. Again, I have no clue. But it seems to me that somebody ought to be asking these questions.

None of this is to say that we should just bury our heads in the sand, or behave badly on purpose until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that our actions have consequences. Conservation, "green" behavior, and the like are worthwhile even if there is no imminent threat of cataclysm. I just wish I heard less doom and gloom, less posturing, and more genuine, thoughtful discussion of the issue. Any of my maybe a dozen regular readers got a clue about this stuff?

When in Rome...

Every now and again, my job presents opportunities that are just surreal. A couple of summers ago when a "dream grant" paid for my whole family to travel 7000 mile cross-country in a rented RV was one such experience. This week, another one popped up--Mrs. Sal and I have been invited to serve as chaperones on a class trip to ROME this summer. That's Rome, Italy, not Rome, Georgia. So we're scrambling trying to make 2 weeks worth of child-care arrangements and getting passports and all the stuff that goes with a huge trip. This trip is amazing... almost $4000 per person for the kids (it's also amazing that ANYBODY can afford to send a child on a $4000 trip). We're going for food and tips. I figure the Sal family in Rome will look a great deal like the wide-eyed wonder of the country mouse when he went to town; people who haven't had a working dishwasher in years don't generally zip around Europe. But needless to say, we're pretty thrilled.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Eternal Birthdays

Last night, while at Winterfest in Gatlinburg, my oldest son, David, was baptized. We had talked about the possibility (briefly) before he left--I had rather figured that a kid on the verge of making that decision might find a good opportunity at a giant worship experience headlined by Jars of Clay. Sure enough, late last night we got the call, plus a couple of grainy photos via email taken by a cell phone. Just like his brother's baptism a few weeks ago, this awesome moment served to put an otherwise great weekend in perspective: there are great weekends and then there are GREAT WEEKENDS! This would have been a much-needed long weekend anyway, and a good time has been had by all (kids spent part of the weekend with a favorite Aunt, so parents spent that same part together and kidless). But only one thing happened in our family this weekend that is going to matter forever. As it works out, I didn't baptize either one of my boys, but strangely, I don't mind--I'm just thankful for the way both of them had the opportunity to obey the gospel in a special way.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ordering Your Private World, Week 5 & 6

Week 5 Notes:

Symptoms of Disorganization:

“The first step we may have to take is that of a ruthless self-appraisal about our habits of time use. Are we actually disorganized or not? Let us consider the traits of a disorganized life. Some of these symptoms may seem a bit ridiculous, even petty. But they are part of a larger picture that all fits together.” (p. 65)

When I am disorganized
My desk takes on a cluttered appearance (along with other horizontal surfaces).
My car is dirty, inside and out (or behind on regular maintenance).
I become aware of a diminution in my self-esteem (as I wonder if anyone else recognizes that I really don’t have it all together).
There are a series of forgotten appointments, telephone messages to which I have failed to respond, and deadlines I have begun to miss. (This is more than just having a day where things beyond our control de-rail us; it’s the process of things beginning to pile up).
I tend to invest my energies in unproductive tasks (including procrastination and the general loss of will to put forth my best effort).
I feel poorly about my work (know deep inside it’s not my best).
The quality of my intimate time with God suffers. (God gets taken for granted, or pushed to the side).
The quality of my other personal relationship suffer.
I don’t much like myself, my job, or much else about my world. (pp. 66-67)

There are plenty of books and systems that offer help with time management and organization. But beneath the tactics, gimmicks, and tricks are some fundamental principles, which can be found in the example of Jesus:

“All four gospel writers present to us a picture of Jesus under constant pressure, as He was pursued by friend and enemy alike…. But one never gets the feeling when studying the life of Christ that He ever hurried, that he ever had to play ‘catch up ball,’ or that he was ever taken by surprise.” (p. 69)

He clearly understood His mission. (To seek and save the lost, Luke 19:10)
He saw “interruptions” (like Bartimaeus or Zaccheus) through the lens of that mission.
He understood His own limits, and therefore spent regular time in solitude with the Father, as well as time in preparation for major events (as did John, Moses, etc.)
He set aside time for discipling the twelve.

Week 6 Notes:

Chapter 7: Recapturing My Time

MacDonald’s Laws of Unseized Time (pp. 74-79):
Unseized time flows toward my weaknesses. (It’s easier to “fake it” in my areas of strength while putting disproportionate effort into areas of weakness. One solution: delegation.)
Unseized time comes under the influence of dominant people in my world. (One solution: formal “budgeting” of time priorities.)
Unseized time surrenders to the demands of all emergencies. (Solutions: Ask the “why now?” question; also budgeting time.)
Unseized time gets invested in things that gain public acclamation. (Solution: Be proactive, not reactive; be called, not driven.)

NOTE: These “Laws” are related to the idea of called vs. driven motivation/

How Time Is Recaptured (pp. 79-85):
I must know my rhythms of maximum effectiveness. (Sleep and fatigue patterns, morning vs. evening person, rhythm of the week, month, and year)
I must have good criteria for choosing how to use my time. (Picking the “best” over the “good” is a function of being called and knowing your mission; the secret to saying “no” is a better “yes” to a higher priority)
I seize time and command it when I budget it far in advance (“put the big rocks in first”)

Time Budgets vs. Money Budgets:
“Give Every Dollar (Hour) A Name” (Dave Ramsey)
Shared Goals and Priorities Within Families/Marriages (The “budget committee”)
Necessities/ “Bills” before Discretionary Expenses
God gets the first-fruits
If you don’t save off the top, there will never be “left over”
Some people have more money than they can spend, but nobody has extra time!

Jesus’ Time Budget:
Luke 4:16
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Luke 4:42-43
Early the next morning Jesus went out into the wilderness. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. [43] But he replied, "I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other places, too, because that is why I was sent."

Luke 6:12
One day soon afterward Jesus went to a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.

Luke 9:51
As the time drew near for his return to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 19:5
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A bad way to get a promotion

Another bantam basketball note for today. As we enter round two of the playoffs, we will do so without our best player, our point guard. Yesterday, in one of the freak accidents that can only happen to 7th grade boys, he broke his thumb. That's bad. What's more, it moves my kid to the point. The only good news is that our pretty-poor record in the regular season bought us a ticket to the lowest level of our playoffs, so hopefully he won't be bringing up the ball against a devastating press like we've seen from some of the big public-school teams we played in the regular season. If we can survive the next round, we may get James back for the semi-finals. Or we may be stuck without him all the way through. Either way, I guess it's a good thing we didn't cut the lucky hair.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I Lost the Bet

Yesterday I told my oldest son it's time for a haircut--he looks like cousin It. He, of course, had a pre-teen conniption. The big claim was that he just CAN'T get a haircut, because he's doing the Samson thing for basketball. Well, smart-aleck dad answered, "if you hair's so lucky, how come you've barely made a shot the last three games? Maybe a haircut would change your luck for the better!" So the boy makes a deal--he says if he scores in double-digits, no haircut. I think, safe bet. His best game so far this season was 6, and he's been as cold as an iceberg since late January. Well, he grabs the opening tip, and makes a layup. Two plays later, he makes his first three-pointer in a month. A minute later, another steal and basket, plus an assist. He has 7 points in the first three minutes of the game. Little son of a gun winds up with 13 to lead all scorers! Of course, I have to be happy for him. But I'd have been happier with a season-high 9 and a trip to the barbershop.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Open Thread for Sunday School

My notes are on the desktop at home, but I can only log on here at work. So if you are just dying to be the first person to post a comment on our recent discussion of time use in Sunday School, here's the place.

How to Ruin a Dinner Conversation

What is it they say... never talk about sex, religion or politics at the dinner table? Well, I'm going to mix them. And in light of my recent (much-deserved) swipes at Democrat John Edwards, I'm going to provide equal time by sniping at some of the GOP field, at least in passing. Right now the "big 3" Republicans are Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. All three are going to allegedly make some sort of a play for the votes of "values voters" or "social conservatives" like me. Well, here's a news flash: if you want my vote, start by keeping your darn pants up! The main reason I didn't like Bill Clinton had nothing to do with politics--it was that he was unfaithful to his wife. I believed, then and now, that somebody who violates the marriage covenant with his wife and with God by violating the 7th commandment is lower than low, and that such a lack of character can and will show up in other areas under pressure. Of the three main GOP guys (plus Newt Gingrich, who gets mentioned if only for being a former history teacher), only the Mormon is on his first wife. Rudy's wife found out about her replacement in a press conference, for pete's sake! This doesn't mean I'm in love with Mitt Romney, nor does it mean that I will definitely not vote for the eventual GOP nominee if I think the other choice is even worse (like Hillary). But, PLEASE! How tough is it to find a decent man in Washington these days?

Here's an area where I think we evangelical Christian types need to tighten up. I read Dobson. I like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. I think "family values" are among the preeminent issues of our day (which is why I think the issue of judges is so important). But we on the "Christian Right" get all worked up about the issue of "gay marriage" and all its permutations, while that encompasses, what, 3-4% of the population at best? But we have gotten so used to adultery, fornication, and divorce that we almost entirely ignore the way they run rampant through our society, leaving something like half of all families in their wake. As Jesus said of the Pharisees, we are straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Now don't get me wrong--I don't want to swallow any gnats, either. I'm not saying that until we deal with our issues in the hetero community that we have to give a pass to potentially damaging social changes--far from it. Adding more wrongs is never a way to get to right. But we ought to at least recognize that sexual sin comes in many varieties, and not think we're oh-so-moral for not watching "Will & Grace" while laughing our heads off at the promiscuity in "Friends" (or whatever the shows are nowadays--my TV is limited to sports and "Walker, Texas Ranger").

So, in the primaries, don't expect unbridled enthusiasm for the adultery caucus from this angle. And even my weasel-like squirming to maintain my options come general-election time won't change that. I'm very tired of voting against the "lesser of two evils." There will come a time, maybe this time, when that old line doesn't work anymore. But that's a post for a different day

Edwards Redux

I haven't been able to log on to blogger at home, so this is one of those after-hours posts from work that I hope our IT guy doesn't mind. Just a postscript to the Edwards story from a few days ago. Edwards "fired," then "un-fired" the anti-Catholic blogger. Today, she resigned "voluntarily" and apparently within the course of a few hours was back to the same kind of rhetoric that stirred the pot to begin with. Poor John Edwards. Now EVERYBODY is mad at him. If he fires her, it's potentially his Bill Clinton-like "Sister Souljah" moment with the nuts on the far left. If he doesn't, it shows solidarity with the base. But to do, un-do, and then breathe a sign of relief at the re-do--now that's a real sign of spinelessness. Even if his hair won't blow in the wind, apparently he will.

Again, apologies to all who are offended for the snarkiness. I don't think it's partisan to go after Edwards; it's just easy. Give me a few minutes to compose and I'll say something obnoxious about Rudy Giuliani, too.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Little Political Snarkiness

I've tried. I've really tried. Those of you who know me and my big mouth can vouch for me--I've been blogging for over a month, and I have yet to post anything on politics that could be taken as anything other than good-natured and even-handed. Equal time for both sides, pleas for common ground, as much "why can't we get along" as Rodney King, only minus the riots. But today I can't help it--I'm going to be snarky about John Edwards. The big news on the blogosphere today is that he hired a blogger, one Amanda Marcotte, and now may have fired her. Seems she has posted some not-so-family-friendly stuff on her own blog--a few droppings of the f-bomb and assorted bad language, plus some vitriolic stuff that was gratuitously insulting to Christians, conservatives, and others. There are dire predictions that his initial hiring of her will hurt with the center who decide the general election, while his firing of her will offend the netroot/nutroot dem base who decide the nomination. Now, this is a little bit of nothing, substance-wise. But it is just further evidence that old John just isn't ready for prime time. A week ago he was in the news for similar foolishness--he's in the process of building the largest house in his NC county. It's a 28,000 square foot mansion with a full basketball court, squash court, 2 stages... the works. Now, I don't mind that he is buying a nice house; he can afford it, and he has earned the money practicing law. But if you're going to run for president on a campaign of being the only guy in the race who cares about the poor, and pepper all your rhetoric with talk of "Two Americas," those who are comfortable and those who struggle, it is only common political horse sense not to build a house that one of the two Americas could live in with room to spare. Again, it's not DOING IT that's the problem, it's the apparent lack of two brain cells bumping against each other that doing it belies. Somebody tell me again why this guy is among the front-runners! He got beaten for the nomination last go around by John Kerry. JOHN KERRY. You, know, the really unappealing guy who couldn't even beat a weak George W. Bush. And the main knock on him then was that he had no experience (1 term in the senate). Now, the only new experience he has is losing one more election! As I have written before, Obama with no experience seems like a blank slate onto which one can project their own hopes and dreams. Edwards with the same resume screams out "empty suit!" Now, obviously I don't plan on voting for the democrat nominee at this point. But Biden, I understand. Obama intrigues me. Even Hillary, bless her heart, has been running since around Watergate and makes some sense as a candidate. But this guy? PLEASE. OK. End of rant. Sorry. Maybe I'll post something ugly about Rudy Giuliani soon... just to be fair.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Ordering Your Private World, Week 5

Hope for the Driven Person:
“Can the driven person be changed? Most certainly. It begins when such a person faces up to the fact that he is operating according to drives and not calls. That discovery is usually made in the blinding, searching light of an encounter with Christ.” (page 48)

“Paul the apostle in his pre-Christian days was driven. As a driven man, he studied, he attained, he defended, and he was applauded… later, when he could look back at that life-style with all of its compulsions, he would say, ‘it was all worthless.’ …Paul was driven until Christ called him… when, in complete submission, he asked Jesus Christ, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ A driven man was converted into a called one.” (page 48)

John—A Picture of a Called Man:
[27] John replied, "God in heaven appoints each person's work. [28] You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him—that is all. [29] The bride will go where the bridegroom is. A bridegroom's friend rejoices with him. I am the bridegroom's friend, and I am filled with joy at his success. [30] He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:27-30)

Called People Understand Stewardship. Saul acted like the throne belonged to Him. John knew that “his” crowds were only “his” until it was time to turn them over to their real owner, Jesus. “His crowds may be our careers, our assets, our natural and spiritual gifts, our health. Are these things owned, or merely managed in the name of the One who gave them?” (page 54)

Called People Know Exactly Who They Are. John not only knew who he was, but also who he was NOT—the messiah. “…Those whose private worlds are in disarray tend to get their identities confused. They can have an increasing ability to separate role from person. What they do is indistinguishable from who they are.” (page 54)

Called People Possess an Unwavering Sense of Purpose. Notice that John’s purpose was to bring glory to Jesus.

Called People Understand Unswerving Commitment. John was 100% committed to Jesus, to the point of saying “he must increase, but I must decrease.”

Because of These Things, Called People (Like John) are Filled With Peace and Joy.

Becoming Called:
[1] It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. [2] Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living out in the wilderness. [3] Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. (Luke 3:1-3)

The Word of God Came to John… In the WILDERNESS. John experienced both quiet and dependence upon God in the wilderness.

“Look inside. What makes you tick? Why are you doing all of that? What do you hope to gain as a result? Andwhat would be your reaction if it was all taken away?”

Friday, February 2, 2007

Just My Luck

I've been following my friends the Murphys' blog (they are in Samoa--check out their blog with the link to the right if you want to read somebody who's a lot funnier than me). Lately, Philip's posts have centered on his recently-discovered termite problem. For all the times I've thought, "Gee, I wish I could have something cool like Philip to write about," this was definitely NOT one of those times. Naturally, as soon as I began to congratulate myself about not having a major home repair problem, we got one. A couple of nights ago, we got a hard freeze. No big deal, but we never saw it coming, and didn't drip the faucets. I went to take my shower the next morning, and the water sputtered once and then just stopped. Not good. Turned out it was not frozen or broken pipes (I called my father-in-law, who knows everything about hardware, and he made the very smart call to check the water meter... it wasn't spinning, so we had no leak). Of course, nobody has time at 6:30 AM on a workday to deal with such things, so for the last couple of days, we've all shared the kids' bathroom and waited for the weekend. Pop (my father-in-law) graciously offered to swing by this morning and have a look. He came by while we were both at work, and called Mrs. Sal to say there was no big deal--the shower head was gummed up, and he was going to replace it.

Well, she came home at lunchtime to find him just packing up his tool bag. He proudly took her in to show her the repairs. But he took her in to the kids' bathroom--the one that was working JUST FINE. To add insult to injury, not only had he changed the only working shower-head in the house, he had replaced it with the exact same energy-efficient model that I had unscrewed and thrown away when we bought the house because it basically just dribbles on you. So We had gone from two full baths to a bath and half down to... what, a bath and a quarter?

The story does have a happy ending, however. Once Pop realized that (A) it was the master bath that didn't work, and (B) the "broken" shower head really wasn't, he decided that the best possible solution would be to try putting those two together. Voila! All's well that ends well--I can't wait to actually shower in comfort again. Thanks, Pop!

Super Bowl Pick

Just for the record--it's 48 hours before Super Bowl XLI. I'll be happy no matter who wins, as I like both the Bears (ever since the '85 version with the Super Bowl Shuffle) and the Colts (ever since Payton Manning came back for his senior year of college). But this year, my pick is Indy. Count me among those who really hopes Manning adds a ring to the rest of his impressive credentials. My former athletic director, Frank Gendusa, was Payton's high school coach a lifetime ago, and he says that Payton is every bit as classy and squeaky-clean in person as all the ESPN commercials suggest. So, go Colts!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Slow Joe, the Modern Media, and the Death of Media Manners

I've been exhanging emails today with one of my favorite former students, now an Ivy-League collegian who had the opportunity to work as an intern on Joe Biden's campaign last year. He's a Biden fan. I admit, I also have a soft spot for "Slow Joe." He is one of the folks in politics who actually has big ideas, and makes great sense most of the time, especially on foreign policy. Of course, I don't share all his principles or premises, so I don't always agree with his conclusions. But no doubt, his entry into the presidential field makes it certain that the level of debate will be higher and more intelligent. (For the record, I think Newt Gingrich plays a similar role.) Unfortunately, Biden shares a character trait with me: he has a tendency for his mouth to run ahead of his brain. He made some news a couple of days ago when he said about Barack Obama, and the quote is loose, that he is "the first African American, who is articulate, and mainstream, and nice looking, and clean... that's storybook, man." Of course, the media and the usual suspects pounced on him: are you saying that all African-Americans are unclean? Are you saying Jesse Jackson is ugly, or filthy, or inarticulate? And don't even bring up Al Sharpton, who retorted, "you can tell him I take a bath every day."

Now here's the thing. I read that, and didn't think, "what a fool" or "what a racist." I thought, "poor Joe. You can't give them red meat like that." Of course, what he is saying is true at its core--Obama is the first African-American candidate who has a legitimate chance to win, and his personal attributes and background, including his unique transcendance of race, really are "storybook," which is one of the main reasons he does have a chance. But in this era of blogs (present company included) and youtube, every word any public figure says is guaranteed to be taken in the worst possible light by someone. And once that is done, you've got "news," and then the media will gladly run with it. Now, some of this is good--the wide-open nature of the "new media" allows for an opening up of the former monopoly on news once held by just a few "professionals." But I do find myself lamenting a simpler time when "the media" chose not to show pictures of FDR in his wheelchair because it just plain wasn't good for the country.

This doesn't mean that I want some amorphous "them" to decide what I get to see and hear. But I do wish some human charity were extended to the folks who aspire to public office. The bar is so high that many good people might ask, "who in their right mind wants that kind of treatment?" A few years ago, Trent Lott lost his senate leadership post because he said something nice about Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat run for president in 1948. Now, he was just saying something kind about an old man on the occasion of his final birthday. I don't think anybody looks back with hindsight now and wishes Strom had won. Maybe a very few oldsters think Dewey should have, although old Harry Truman has been treated pretty kindly by history. But the news ran the "story" of Lott's "bombshell" until it took on a life of its own. In basketball, you would call either the Lott or the Biden quotes, "a good no-call." The world is full of no-calls and non-stories. I wish we (all of us) could stop nit-picking the unimportant stuff and spend time on substance.