Friday, June 29, 2007

Life: Invite me

Would it be too arrogrant and evidence of hubris to say, invite me to speak at your group?

My mission statement would be this: to encourage people to thoughtful reflection on important issues of life through public speaking, dialogue facilitation and writing.

Though I'm a Briggs-Myers I-N/S-T/F-J and get nervous doing public speaking, I enjoy the opportunities I've had to do public speaking. I love the interaction with the audience as we discuss and react to questions about the topic I get to address. I delight in researching a topic and preparing it for presentation.

I've given research lectures as part of my life as a molecular biologist and taught science classes for undergraduates.

In the church setting, I've given talks and lead discussions on topics pertaining to the Christian faith and the Bible.

A short resume:

Education
1993 PhD in Molecular Biology, University of California, Irvine
1986 BS in Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles

Christian Participation
2009-Current Northland Village Church (launch team member and participant)
1998-2009 Glendale Presbyterian Church (member, youth group volunteer since 2003, dialog facilitation team)
1997-1998 Sunset Church, San Francisco (attendance, participation in events)
1993-1997 Chinese Community Church Washington DC (member, Sunday School teacher for adults, event organizing)
1984-1993 West Coast Chinese Christian Conference (organizing committee, small group Bible study leader)
1978-1993 First Chinese Baptist Church Los Angeles (member, participant in events, Sunday School teacher for college students from 1986-1993)

Special Training
2007 Fuller Theological Seminary - independent distance learning course on the Gospels
2007 3-day workshop in dialog facilitation from Public Conversations Project held at Glendale Presbyterian Church
1986-1987 Sunday School Teacher Training Program from First Chinese Baptist Church Los Angeles

Areas of interest
Relationship of faith and reason (people often ask me about evolution specifically and science in general when they find out I'm a follower of Jesus and a molecular biologist), current events, Biblical and theological topics. If you roam around this blog, you'll get a good idea of the topics that interest me and a feel for the perspectives I hold on those areas. Here are some examples:
Discussing Darwin
Choices and decisions in life
Kingdom of God
Bible study training

Also, hit the devotional thoughts label and you'll see more areas of interest!

Contact information: rrblog_at_yahoo_dot_com

LA Scene: Star sighting - Jennifer Robertson


image source: http://www.diamondfield.com/jenniferrobertson.php

Okay, well, Jennifer Robertson isn't a household name yet but she's on The 1/2 Hour News Hour the new comedy that takes the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update concept to a full show.

The other night I got to hear her along with one of the show's co-creators and one of the writers talk about how the show got started and a bit of the behind the scenes fun they all have doing the show.

The show has done well enough for more episodes to be ordered up. Since it is filmed right here in Los Angeles I might have to try to go to a taping!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Music: iTunes fan

Love iTunes. I hear something on the radio, on tv, in a movie, I like and I go to iTunes and can fetch it.

I can make up a playlist and burn my own mix and match CD to play it in the car.

On one recent CD I made the mix included:
American Pie - Don McLean
Kiss From a Rose - Seal
In the mood - Glenn Miller
24 Theme - Sean Callery
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
Who are you - the Who
Evacuating London - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, film score - Harry Gregson-Williams

and many other tracks well known and obscure ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Life: Meaning of marriage?

Dare I write about something I have not experienced?

But I suppose, as a single, I should have some idea of what I claim to want?

So based on what I've learned from my reflections on Christian spirituality and my observations of good and happy marriages, I pen (type) the following for your consideration ...

Marriage is a partnership for life between one man and one woman for:
(1) the daily help of the couple
(2) their spiritual growth and protection
(3) sharing love with each other and together to love others whom God brings into their lives
(4) which may include, Lord willing, children for them to raise into the family of faith.

And what kind of woman would I want to marry?

I want to marry a beautiful, good-hearted, intellectually curious, follower of Jesus, whom I love, who loves me and would want to fulfill the purposes of marriage described above with me.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Non-profit of the month: June 2007 - Freedom Center Iraq Project and Fisher G.I. Research Fund (Stanford Cancer Center)

One of my friends has left this life and has entered into the joy of the Lord.

In lieu of flowers, her family has requested donations be made to two causes she supported and I will be honoring that request and making contributions to these two organization as described in an email sent by the family:

Global Hope – Freedom Center Iraq Project.
(1) Brief description: The Freedom Center is a community center being built in Northern Iraq in a Kurdish city. After many years of war and oppression, the Kurds have opened their borders and its leaders have extended a Macedonia call for us to come and work among them. The door is open to share God’s love!
(2) Tax-deductible donation checks can be written to "Global Hope. Please write "Freedom Center" in the memo line of the checks.

Dr. George Fisher G.I. Research Fund (Stanford Cancer Center)
(1) Brief description: Dr. Fisher was my friend's oncologist at Stanford Hospital. She really appreciated being under the care of Dr. Fisher and Margareet Fledderus, her oncology nurse.
(2) Tax-deductible donation checks can be written to "Stanford University." Please write "George Fisher GI Research Fund" in the memo line of the checks.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Theoretically it is all pretty straightforward

Am looking at Job 11 this morning.

Zophar, the third of Job's friends spoke here.

Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:
Are all these words to go unanswered?
Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce men to silence?
Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens - what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave - what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

When I read Job, I sometimes think about what is needed in a pastoral sense. In most cases, a human response, an emotional response is the first response and are often wordless. When one sees pain in a beloved person, there is the desire to comfort with one's presence and to offer meaningful touch in a hug, in holding hands, in offering a shoulder to cry on.

One could then move toward a verbal response. These verbal responses would still be in the realm of the human and emotional response. They would include expressions of love, support, understanding and promises of continued presence.

When does one move to a verbal and theological response?

I suppose in fairness to Job's friends, Job did start talking in emotional as well as theological terms and thus opened the door to their responses.

We may fault the three friends for not being very sympathetic to the emotional parts of Job's tirades and going straight for the theological.

Indeed, Zophar has done this here.

To his credit, some of his response mirrors what God will say later on: God is beyond our full comprehension!

But Zophar couldn't resist going into ground trodden by the other two friends.

If he comes along and confines you in prison
and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Surely he recognizes deceitful men;
and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
But a witless man can no more become wise
than a wild donkey's colt can be born a man.
Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then you will lift up your face without shame;
you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
and escape will elude them;
their hope will become a dying gasp.

The bottom line: you sin, you suffer, you do good, you are blessed.

Theoretically it is all pretty straightforward.

What Zophar says is usually true. What Job's friends have been saying is usually true.

One of the things in life is that we have our "big premise" which we hold to be true. However, individual cases will vary.

I can think of two films in recent memory where the film makers play with the idea of "you think this way about this person" and then they show you, yes, it is partly true but the story of their life is a little more complicated.

The films American Beauty and Crash very much played into stereotypes and dash those stereotypes to drive their stories. The films are R rated for all the reasons you would expect so I wouldn't recommend them to everyone. But the point of the films are that things aren't always what they seem. The "bad" guy might actually have some redeeming qualities. And the "good guy" might not be so good after all.

But back to Job ... when we see the righteous man suffering, we have a stone in our shoe. We feel there is something wrong with this movie. As humans, we naturally feel the need for an explanation and so we come up with some obvious one:
(1) Job messed up and he is now paying the price
(2) God messed up and we should walk away from God or accept there is nobody out there at the controls.

As humans living our day-to-day life, we do need to exercise discernment. We do need to the best of our ability, call them as we see them. God gave the 10 Commandments and other things like that as a guide for life. And to the best of our ability we make determinations in our life how to live up to it and how to what extent someone else is living up to it.

Theoretically it is all pretty straightforward but this must be all done with humility in recognition that things aren't always as they appear to be.

I do fault Job's friends for endlessly plowing the same ground. I do give them credit for showing up. So much of friendship is showing up. They did drop the ball on the verbal empathy part though!

Lord, some days I look around and see the unfairness of the world in the lives of others and sometimes I feel life has been unfair to me. At those moments, I feel sad. I do wonder if perhaps I have sinned in some way and I deserve my lot in life. But I bring my sin to you and trust that you forgive me of them. I desire to live as full a life as possible. Living in the USA, I have so many opportunities for which I'm grateful. As a sinner, I know I fall short of the high standard you set and am thankful for forgiveness. And I trust in your strengthening to help me live a life to do the right thing more often than not and to love the people you bring into my life. But I often feel that what I have to give them may not be what they need or what I have to give them is not wanted. Yet, you have called me to love others and I realize I may have to often love completely without complete understanding of those I love. And because of the mysterious of how you work and because of the illusiveness of the people I love, I am humbled and must walk in humility before you leaving into your hands so many things that are beyond my control. Please bless me today that I may be a blessing to others. And please bless me because I trust in your goodness to me for my true happiness. Amen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Life: What to say when bad things happen to good people? Part II

This contemplation is provoked by something I read over at Reflecting. Part I of this post was sometime ago. Here is my long delayed follow up. My writing this follow up was spurred by the news that one of my friends will be meeting our Lord Jesus soon freed from a body crushed by cancer. My prayers are with her, her family and friends. With tears, I thank God for her life and with hope, I know she will breath freely in the presence of our God unbound by the limitations of the life she has had in recent times.

The email note from one of her friends ended with this quote from I Corinthians 2:9:
Eye has not seen, neither has it entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.
========

Nick's blog post was a response to the following premise in a seminary school class project:
Sara Smith, a member of the class handed you a note in which she wrote, “As you know, my husband and I had a child who was born with a severe microcephalic condition, and died 18 months later, after much suffering. I tried to understand this as part of God’s plan and purpose, but have given up. I no longer believe that God is all-powerful and controls every event which takes place. I have found Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, to be more helpful. I think that he is right when he says, "I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it more than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die." You decide to write a letter to her in response giving her what you consider to be the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty and the problem of human suffering.
I have to say that this is one aspect of pastoral work that overwhelms me. I truly admire those who have willingly chosen to serve our fellow man in this way. I can't imagine how they do it. How can one offer comfort in such difficult times? How can one find words that are helpful and not hurtful even if well intentioned?

Since I've been reading in Job, I can't help but feel a need to attempt to sit in the shoes of the hypothetical pastor who out of love for a member of the flock must respond. In full disclosure, a lot of what I write below is influenced by Phililp Yancey's book Disappointment with God. If you find what I wrote of interest or compelling, I recommend you get the full story from his book.

Dear Sara,

Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts and feelings in your letter the other day. I appreciate your willingness to share your sorrow over your loss and the struggle you experience as one who is devoted to Jesus and seeking to follow God faithfully even in the most difficult of circumstances.

In my life of faith, over the years, I have seen others suffer terrible pain while battling some dreaded medical condition. Even now, recollecting some of them, I feel tears in my eyes just thinking about what they went through. I also have tears from remembering the visions of beauty and goodness of the Body of Christ gathering around them and supporting them and their loved ones in big and small ways through their time of great need. If there is anything I could do, do not hesitate to ask. My prayers are with you and your husband at this time and I promise to be in touch again.

In addition to the emotional distress we face in life, in our humanity, as people of faith, we do ask the big questions like, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" You are most definitely not alone in this. I believe it is part of the grace of God to us that God has included in Scriptures the book of Job and a number of Psalms where this question is pointedly raised. We have been given these parts of the Bible to give us examples of relating to God in a real and honest way and that suffering is part of the life of faith.

How would we feel if in God's preserving the Word, only the happy things and praises were retained? We would feel that our God is in denial about the state of the world.

Indeed, God is not in denial.

When I struggle with the injustice in the world and the suffering of people near and far, my mind is drawn back to Genesis where we find at the heart of our world is a relationship with God and a relationship broken with all its consequences for humanity where evil and suffering falls on both the good and the bad. This thread of relationship is seen in how God drew out a people whom God blessed so they would be a blessing. This desire on the part of God for restoration came to fullness in the Incarnation when Jesus walked this world. While on this world, Jesus experienced all the pains of this human life, he wept at Lazarus' death, he was angered by injustice and hypocrisy and he, innocent, died a criminal's death for all our sins. His resurrection is the first fruit of a newer world that is coming into being. And we now, as the church, carry in our flawed earthen vessels His work to the world and each other until the day he finishes the work.

Why would God choose such strange ways to restore a world?

God, who spoke the universe into existence could with just a murmur recreate the world and set everything right. By might everything could be set right but we would be swept away or we would respond out of fear rather than love. Instead, God has chosen the slow way of grace and mercy because at the heart of God is a desire for relationship with us. But this slow way has a price: the way things are.

I do not know how what you have experienced fits into the larger story of God's restoration. It is an article of faith that I believe it does. I think that is what Romans 8:28 and the verses before and after it are about. I know that doesn't quiet all my doubts nor ameliorate your pain. And the wisdom of the Scriptures knows this and so before Romans 8:28 are verses 26-27, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

Please be in touch. I promise to hold you and your husband in prayer. And I promise to find an occasion in the near future where I can spend some time with both of you and with some of our mutual friends where we can enjoy and encourage each other.

Sincerely,
Rene

========

UPDATE: I received an email Thursday morning, 6/21/2007. Time of death was 9:01 pm 6/20/2007.

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we remember this day before thee thy faithful servant; and we pray that, having opened to her the gates of larger life, thou wilt receive her more and more into thy joyful service, that, with all who have faithfully served thee in the past, she may share in the eternal victory of Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sports: ESPN.com headline - All They Can 'Eat

Wooooooo Hooooooooo!!!!!

The Anteaters are stayin' alive with a 8-7 win in 10-innings!

Next up, Oregon State today.

Let's go Eaters, stomp, stomp, stomp-stomp-stomp! (repeat multiple times until you go crazy!)

UPDATE: Its a final Beavers defeat Anteaters 7-1. Congrats to the Anteaters for a good run in the post-season!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Youth: Parable of the Mustard Seed

In youth group this morning, we discussed Matthew 13:31-32:

He put another parable before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

To help spur the discussion, we also saw this music video ...



Many of us were quite moved by the video.

What do you think?

Sports: UCLA and UCI in College Baseball Championships!

College Baseball is in its Sweet 16. Both that Anteaters and the Bruins are still in contention.

Here is the current bracket.

Go Bruins! Go Anteaters!

UPDATE: UCLA was eliminated by Cal State Fullerton. However, UC Irvine has advanced to the round of eight after defeating Wichita State!

UPDATE: Anteaters face elimination on 6/18/2007. They are up against the Fullerton Titans!

UPDATE: The Anteaters live to play another day with a 5-4 win in 13-innings.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Devotional Thoughts

Have been posting my reflections on Job.

But this morning, thought I'd take a different turn on "devotional thoughts."

Devotion according to Merriam-Webster:
1 a: religious fervor : piety b: an act of prayer or private worship - usually used in plural c: a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation2 a: the act of devoting b: the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal
Thought according to m-w.com:
1 a: the action or process of thinking : cogitation b: serious consideration : regard carchaic : recollection, remembrance2 a: reasoning power b: the power to imagine : conception3: something that is thought: as a: an individual act or product of thinking b: a developed intention or plan c: something (as an opinion or belief) in the mind d: the intellectual product or the organized views and principles of a period, place, group, or individual
Using Scripture to prompt "devotional thoughts" is quite understandable and well worth doing.

Are their other ways to start the engine of the soul toward "a religious exercise of cogitation and serious consideration" besides opening up the Scriptures?

Indeed there are.


image source: http://www.nih.gov/nihrecord/07_28_2006/story02.htm
ed. note - an interesting article about the labyrinth at the National Institutes of Health!


A couple of months ago, I walked a labyrinth on the grounds of a little church. I was driving and saw it and thought why not stop and take a look and try it out. I can't even remember the name of the church! But I can remember feeling that the physical act of slowly walking this twisty path was a metaphor for the journey of life. And as I walked this path, my mind was drawn toward God and how God walks with me in my life.

I did a quick Google search and here is a web page about the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and some explanation about the concept. Excerpt:
Walking the Labyrinths at Grace Cathedral

The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.

The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.
For me, two other methods are tried and true to help me focus my mind on God and the life I've been given to live to the full... jogging alone and writing in a journal or on this blog.

Hope you spend some time some how today with devotional thoughts!

If you are a regular or accidental reader of this blog, would love to hear from you how you start the ball rolling on contemplation!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Culture: Homophobic is in the eye of the hearer?

The subject of same-sex marriage and the question of homosexuality remains a controversial topic in our society.

As a blogger, I use this platform as a place to articulate and organize my thoughts. I'm open to re-examining issues and so here goes with some of my reactions to this subject.

My experiences with gay individuals is very limited. I have encountered a few in my working life and have found them to be just like everyone else: decent hard working people.

For a number of years, my molecular biology research work was in the area of HIV/AIDS. In the late '80s and early '90s, there was a lot of effort to understand the virus and I worked in two different labs that made some contributions to understanding the field. In a sense, all the "easy" research got done at that time when we went from knowing almost nothing about the virus to knowing some things.

At that time, I was very much moved by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's perspective on the issue. As a traditional Christian (I believe he is presbyterian), he didn't believe that the homosexual lifestyle choice was a good one but his Christian ethics demanded he do what he could to prevent suffering.

With all the interest in genetics, there has been some interest in finding if there is a "gay" gene. I don't know what the latest is on that but my understanding of biology is that finding such a gene would be difficult as it is unlikely that one gene would correspond to a complex set of factors that go into human behavior.

As I see it, there is almost certainly some "hard wired" aspect to homosexuality or for that matter any kind of sexuality. It wouldn't be much of an admission if I were to say that if a woman as beautiful as "fill in the blank gorgeous movie star" was in my church and she lived out the faith and started to pay attention to me, I would have little "choice" in feeling attraction towards her! Thus, the biological basis of desire is probably beyond "choice." However, we have a choice in what we do about the desire that exists within us.

Thus, at an existential level, the individual with homosexual desires who also holds to traditional Christian marriage ethics is in a very difficult situation. But is it more difficult than the heterosexual single striving to abstain prior to marriage? Is it more difficult than the heterosexual married person striving to remain faithful to their spouse? Perhaps in many ways it is more difficult. But life is what it is. For some resisting getting drunk from alcohol is more difficult than for others yet the obligation for sobriety is important.

The Westminster Confession article 24 (a statement of faith that Presbyterians hold to) says of marriage:
Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.
I believe this reflects the wisdom of Scripture.

At a society level, I think my perspective on the issue is shaped by Jewish radio talk show host Dennis Prager. I first heard him when he was on KABC 790 doing Religion on the Line where he would have a Protestant minister, Catholic priest and Jewish rabbi on the program to discuss some topic of the evening and then take phone calls.

He now does a general purpose talk show on KRLA 870 and covers topics from daily life like the cost of weddings to hot political items in the news. I like his motto: "Clarity before agreement." He has guests on the show and callers who don't agree and his goal is to ask questions to bring clarity to where the disagreement is.

On this questions of personal morality, he makes a distinction between how we interact at a personal level and how we plan for society. For instance, as individuals, we are guided by compassion, understanding and kindness. But at the society level, he believes that justice and standards should be retained. I think this makes sense.

As such, he has been a supporter of traditional marriage and has expressed his concern that same-sex marriage supporters are trying to alter centuries of experience defining marriage as between one man and one woman. But at a personal level, gay individuals and couples should be accorded all the respect that everyone deserves.

I hope it goes without saying that I reject those who would literally or figuratively bring out the "torches and pitchforks" against homosexuals.

In my life, I realize not everyone will hold to the ideals I hold. I know I fail to live up to all of my ideals but I (we) still need to have ideals. They give us something to strive for. Ideals give us something to advocate to the next generation.

Nonetheless, the reality is that not everyone will choose the path I think Scripture describes.

Over the years there are the occasional strained relationships with people who make choices that I feel fall outside of the Christian ideal but within the realm of what is accepted (widely or partially) by the broader society.

How does one "thread the needle" of saying, am your friend and all the best but I respectfully disagree with your decision?

These are not easy things to do but my goal is to uphold the wisdom of Scripture but also to exhibit compassion and understanding.

My personal perspective on this in a general sense has been influenced by the film, "A River Runs Through It."

Toward the end of the film, Rev. MacLean says in his sermon:
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.
Does all these paragraphs of writing mean I'm homophobic?

I suppose for some, I sound perfectly reasonable. To some, I'm a squishy lefty. To others, I'm a bigot and homophobic.

What do you think?

LA Scene: Dodger's All-You-Can-Eat Right Field Pavillion

Am going to visit this at Dodger's Stadium. It is one of their new marketing ploys for this season.

Here is the AP story on the new feature.

For a more snarky account of two fan's experiences see this item over at Slate.

UPDATE: For photos and a more detailed account, check my latest post over at LAFB.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

World: Al-Qaida Suspected in Samarra Bombings

The news from Iraq is not good. The country is on edge as the potential for more reprisals is high.

When civil war broke out in Rwanda, the world stood by as hundreds of thousands were killed.

Many blamed the USA for failing to intervene.

Iraq is in Civil War or one or two steps from it.

What should the US military do?

Would it be better or worse for the Iraqis if the USA left?

America is damned if they do intervene and damned if they don't intervene.

What should we do?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: No theological work books in the hospital?

Job 10.

Wow!

I don't know about you but when I'm discouraged to the point of being in the fetal position I have almost zero ability to articulate what it is I'm feeling. Job here in vivid poetic language described his despair.

I loathe my very life;
therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God: Do not condemn me,
but tell me what charges you have against me.
Does it please you to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?
Do you have eyes of flesh?
Do you see as a mortal sees?
Are your days like those of a mortal
or your years like those of a man,
that you must search out my faults
and probe after my sin -
though you know that I am not guilty
and that no one can rescue me from your hand?
Your hands shaped me and made me.
Will you now turn and destroy me?
Remember that you molded me like clay.
Will you now turn me to dust again?
Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese,
clothe me with skin and flesh
and knit me together with bones and sinews?
You gave me life and showed me kindness,
and in your providence watched over my spirit.
But this is what you concealed in your heart,
and I know that this was in your mind:
If I sinned, you would be watching me
and would not let my offense go unpunished.
If I am guilty - woe to me!
Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head,
for I am full of shame
and drowned in my affliction.
If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion
and again display your awesome power against me.
You bring new witnesses against me
and increase your anger toward me;
your forces come against me wave upon wave.
Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
I wish I had died before any eye saw me.
If only I had never come into being,
or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!
Are not my few days almost over?
Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy
before I go to the place of no return,
to the land of gloom and deep shadow,
to the land of deepest night,
of deep shadow and disorder,
where even the light is like darkness.

What could one possibly add to that?

What pastoral and devotional message can we get from here?

I took at look at the notes of one of my study Bibles and this is what the editor said: Job imagines that God is angry with him, an innocent man (Job 9:28), and that he takes delight in the wicked. Such words are a reminder that the sickroom is not the place to argue theology; in times of severe suffering, people may say things that require a response of love and understanding. Job himself will eventually repent, and God will forgive (Job 42:1-6).

Lord, grant to those who minister to the sick wisdom. Help me in my journey of faith to have understanding upon those who are in difficulty. And when I'm the one in difficulty, may I receive your comfort and the gracious understanding of those you have given me to share the adventure of life with. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Youth: Two new films from Kinetic

Two new shorts are up. This time the films are about Matthew 18.

Check 'em out ...

Life: Thank you Lizzie Palmer For Helping Us Remember

Heard about the Youtube.com video "Remember Me" on Fox News while channel surfing ...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Doubt - danger and opportunity

Looking at Job 9:25-35 this morning. Job continues the rant ...

Now my days are swifter than a runner;
They flee away, they see no good.
They pass by like swift ships,
Like an eagle swooping on its prey.

With great imagery, Job recognizes the shortness of his life. Though I think he, and us for that matter, may regret that life passes by so swiftly, the main source of angst is the sense that at times it seems all rather futile ...

If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
I will put off my sad face and wear a smile,’
I am afraid of all my sufferings;
I know that You will not hold me innocent.
If I am condemned,
Why then do I labor in vain?
If I wash myself with snow water,
And cleanse my hands with soap,
Yet You will plunge me into the pit,
And my own clothes will abhor me.
For He is not a man, as I am,
That I may answer Him,
And that we should go to court together.
Nor is there any mediator between us,
Who may lay his hand on us both.
Let Him take His rod away from me,
And do not let dread of Him terrify me.
Then I would speak and not fear Him,
But it is not so with me.

Those who don't think there is a god who "balances the scales of justice" in the afterlife will often say, why can't humans do good for the intrinsic worth of doing good? Why do I need a god to punish and reward me for doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing?

Indeed, we want to believe that we would "do the right thing" even if nobody saw us do so or would reward us after the fact. I'm sure parents want their kids to do the right thing simply because it is right.

That is a nice argument. But I guess the problem is the reality that many people don't do the right thing. The reality is that people do the wrong thing and get away with it. So with one hand, the skeptic will say I don't think we need a god to reward us to do the right thing. And with the other hand they will say, so many people get away with stuff, where is god anyway?

Seems to me like the classic heads I win, tails you lose scenario. The skeptic says we don't need god to reward us for doing the right thing and we blame god for the evil in this world. So I suppose the only "logical" solution is to say there really isn't any such thing as the right thing and the wrong thing? How do you feel about that?

But back to poor Job, he really feels that life is unfair. Can't dispute him on that point.

But doubt and difficulty has two sides much like the famous Chinese word for crisis: When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.

Job is on a knife's edge. He is honest about his pain. He is honest about trying to honor god and as far as he can tell, he has, yet the reality of his pain can't be denied. What will he do? What will he do?

Lord, I know I can complain and whine too often. Part of it is emotional venting. But at the core, I have a choice... what do I do next? Lord, help me to have a more grateful attitude and a more courageous mindset. Help me to say, Bring IT on. But as the disciples said, Lord, I believe help my unbelief. Amen.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Job shaking his fist at God

Continuing on in Job 9:11-24...

Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.

God is different from us. I can't claim I have "seen" God. However, I believe that God is at work in this world. One can't see the wind but one can see the effect of the wind.

But in any case, Job is feeling very abandoned at this moment.

Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
Who will say to him, 'What are you doing?'

Would you ever have the nerve to tell God, "What *are* you doing?" This passage tells us that Job is tremendously honest. It is kind of like a private in the army asking the 5 star general, what are you doing?

Job continues ...

"God will not turn back his anger;
beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.
How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him?
Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
If I summoned him and he answered me,
I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.
For he crushes me with a tempest
and multiplies my wounds without cause;
he will not let me get my breath,
but fills me with bitterness.
If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
I am blameless; I regard not myself;
I loathe my life.
It is all one; therefore I say,
He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges --
if it is not he, who then is it?

Pretty harsh words, eh?

Job accuses God of being indifferent to his situation, that God crushes both the blameless and the wicked and that life is not fair.

In Yancey's book, Disappointment with God he makes that point: we know life is not fair and we then equate life with God, therefore, God is not fair. We may feel this way but is life and God actually this way?

One of my Christian guy buddies way back in the high school and college days used to off-handedly say, yeah, I suppose if God was really fair to us there would be two smoking holes in the ground right now. I suppose to many people that sounds harsh. But if we think about it, if God is totally holy and we are not, how can we stand?

But of course poor Job has been trying real hard to be right before God and as far he knows, his slate is clean. And we know from Job 1-2, indeed, his accounts are regarded as clear with God!

The reality of this world is that bad things happen to good people so life is unfair but life is not equal to God. The rain falls on the good and the bad. Drought befalls the good farmer and the bad farmer. That is the way of the world right now.

As for the problem of sin, God has made provision through the Cross.

My "theology" allows for God to intervene in other ways but my understanding of the "omnipotence" of God is not that God intervenes all the time but rather God can do what God wants to do whenever God wants to. Because God wants humans to have free will means that God often opts to back-off. Yancey called this "divine shyness." God is really caught between a rock and a hard place: intervene too much people and God will seem overbearing, hold back and people wonder where is God? Thus, God is trying to draw the "inside straight flush" of accomplishing God's purposes yet respecting the free will of human creatures.

At this moment in the story, I think Job would find this explanation unsatisfying and understandably so. I suppose by the end of the story though, he would agree with Yancey.

So what do I take from this story: when people shake their fist at God, don't get too worked up. If Job, a really righteous guy, did so and it is in the Bible then God isn't stunned to hear it.

Lord, life at times can be quite difficult. In my prayer times, I can bring to you some of the tough situations in the lives of people I know. I trust in your wisdom as to when you decide to intervene and when you decide not to. I also want to take to heart that I am my brother's keeper and that on some occasions your answer to the prayer is for me to do something. Help me today to keep my eyes out for how you are at work in those subtle ways that led my friends to say, hmm, maybe that was a God thing. Amen.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

World: Remembering June 6, 1944

Thank you!



Image source: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/The-Greatest-Generation-D-Day-Landing-Omaha-Beach-June-6-1944-Posters_i996778_.htm

Go here to learn more about D-Day.

To read two speeches given by President Reagan at the 40th Anniversary go here (Point du Hoc) and here (Omaha Beach).

Excerpts from Point du Hoc speech:
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers--the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
..............
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge--and pray God we have not lost it--that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
Excerpts from Omaha Beach speech:
Mr. President, distinguished guests, we stand today at a place of battle, one that 40 years ago saw and felt the worst of war. Men bled and died here for a few feet of--or inches of sand, as bullets and shellfire cut through their ranks. About them, General Omar Bradley later said, "Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero."

No speech can adequately portray their suffering, their sacrifice, their heroism. President Lincoln once reminded us that through their deeds, the dead of battle have spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could. But we can only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they gave a last full measure of devotion.

Today we do rededicate ourselves to that cause. And at this place of honor, we're humbled by the realization of how much so many gave to the cause of freedom and to their fellow man.

Some who survived the battle of June 6, 1944, are here today. Others who hoped to return never did.

"Someday, Lis, I'll go back," said Private First Class Peter Robert Zanatta, of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, and first assault wave to hit Omaha Beach. "I'll go back, and I'll see it all again. I'll see the beach, the barricades, and the graves."

Those words of Private Zanatta come to us from his daughter, Lisa Zanatta Henn, in a heartrending story about the event her father spoke of so often. "In his words, the Normandy invasion would change his life forever," she said. She tells some of his stories of World War II but says of her father, "the story to end all stories was D-Day."

"He made me feel the fear of being on that boat waiting to land. I can smell the ocean and feel the seasickness. I can see the looks on his fellow soldiers' faces--the fear, the anguish, the uncertainty of what lay ahead. And when they landed, I can feel the strength and courage of the men who took those first steps through the tide to what must have surely looked like instant death."
............
Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate the triumph of democracy. We reaffirm the unity of democratic peoples who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace.

From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure. We sought to bring all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to the defense and preservation of our sacred values. Our alliance, forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities of the postwar world, has succeeded. In Europe, the threat has been contained, the peace has been kept.

Today the living here assembled--officials, veterans, citizens--are a tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago. This land is secure. We are free. These things are worth fighting and dying for.

Lisa Zanatta Henn began her story by quoting her father, who promised that he would return to Normandy. She ended with a promise to her father, who died eight years ago of cancer: "I'm going there, Dad, and I'll see the beaches and the barricades and the monuments. I'll see the graves, and I'll put flowers there just like you wanted to do. I'll feel all the things you made me feel through your stories and your eyes. I'll never forget what you went through, Dad, nor will I let anyone else forget. And, Dad, I'll always be proud."

Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far better than any President can. It is enough for us to say about Private Zanatta and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside him four decades ago: We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.

Science: Global Warming

As a molecular biologist, I can't claim expertise in the global warming debate. Nonetheless, as someone trained in the sciences and having a personality with insatiable curiosity, I am naturally interested in what all the controversy is about.

The IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and they issued a preliminary report a few months back about the lastest research on global warming.

The media is highlighting the findings:
1. Scientists release a 21-page report strongly linking humans to climate change
2. Report scientist: Evidence of warming on the planet is unequivocal
3. Scientists predict global temperature increases of 3.2-7.1 degrees F by 2100
4. Sea levels could rise between 7 and 23 inches by the end of the century

As a scientist, I have to ask, show me the data!

Rising Temperatures

There are a number of web pages that discuss global warming (just run a google search and be inundated!). The National Climatic Data Center has a pretty good summary of the key ideas and data.

Humans have been measuring temperatures only in the last 120 years. There is no doubt that temperatures have been on the rise of late.



image source: http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globtemp.html

Shrinking Arctic ice is another clue that something is happening.



image source: http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/globalwarming/ipcc14.gif

However, one might wonder, how does current warming compare with temperatures further in the past?

How does one measure temperatures in days before we had thermometers and weather reports in newspapers?

This web page from the Environmental Protection Agency explains:
Scientists have been able to piece together a picture of the Earth's climate dating back decades to millions of years ago by analyzing a number of surrogate, or "proxy," measures of climate such as ice cores, boreholes, tree rings, glacier lengths, pollen remains, and ocean sediments, and by studying changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun.




Image source: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/pastcc.html

As a member of the guild of science, I do have to ask, show me the error bars on the data! How reliable are these "multi-proxy" techniques?

This data does nonetheless suggest that temperatures have been on the rise overall in the last couple of centuries.

However, the last few centuries is but a small snippet of time compared to the age of the earth.

This PBS-WGBH-NOVA page has a good introduction to the earth's history with periodic Ice Ages. If I'm reading Prof. Maasch's (University of Maine, Department of Geological Sciences) correctly, he would attribute three major factors to climate conditions: geographic (distribution of land masses and oceans), astronomical (irregularities in the earth's orbit and solar intensity) and atmospheric (greenhouse gasses).

Since Prof. Maasch is in the geology department, his article dwelt mostly on geographic factors. He also addressed greenhouse gases. He didn't say too much about the astronomical contribution known as the Milankovitch theory.

The orbit of the earth around the sun has cyclical irregularities.
He determined that the earth "wobbles" in its orbit. The earth's "tilt" is what causes seasons, and changes in the tilt of the earth change the strength of the seasons. The seasons can also be accentuated or modified by the eccentricity (degree of roundness) of the orbital path around the sun, and the precession effect, the position of the solstices in the annual orbit.
As a scientist, there is no getting around the data that we are currently in a warming trend. The measurements of the last 120 years is pretty good evidence. Looking further back, the data gets a little sketchier but still looks reasonable.

If I had a climate scientist to talk to, I'd ask the following questions:
How good are the techniques in assessing temperatures prior to historical record keeping?
What do you think are the relative contributions of geologic, astronomic and atmospheric factors to climate?
How does the current warming stack up against other warming trends in our geologic past?

The current concern about global warming is contingent on the belief that the human factor is significant. There is nothing humans can do about geology or astronomy. However, humans may affect the atmosphere through the production of greenhouse gases as a consequence of industrialization.

The Greenhouse Effect



Image source: http://www.koshland-science-museum.org/exhibitgcc/causes02.jsp

Simply put, energy from the sun heats up the earth. Some of that energy bounces back into space but the atmosphere traps some of it. Certain greenhouse gases accomplish this.

Mars, the 4th planet has too little atmosphere to trap much heat thus it is cold. Venus, the 2nd planet has a thick atmosphere and so the heat there is extreme. The Earth, the 3rd planet is just right, enough atmosphere to trap heat to the relatively comfortable world we live in now.

The diagram highlights the greenhouse gases generated by human activity. It notes that carbon dioxides has the biggest contribution to the greenhouse effect. Indeed, with industrialization, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased dramatically.

However, it should be noted it leaves out an important greenhouse gas which human activity has little impact upon: water vapor!

Question for the climate scientists out there ... how large is the contribution of water vapor compared to the ones we have control over?

Global Energy Balance


image source: http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/041.htm

Whoa! That looks complicated! This energy balance affects the overall global temperature. For instance, if for some reason the influx of energy from the sun were to increase, the balance is shifted. Likewise, an increase in greenhouse gases would cause a shift.

I have to ask, how confident are we about the numbers in this energy balance? What are the "error bars" for each item on the diagram?

My current view is that there is some global warming happening. The data looks pretty good. What I'm less clear on is (1) the scale of the warming and (2) the relative contributions of the different factors in global temperature.

In the meantime, I do strive to conserve energy by shutting off lights and driving a fuel efficient car. I am also looking into changing out my lightbulbs for more efficient ones.

Stay tuned as the scientists and policy-makers continue to analyze the issue and develop recommendations on how to proceed.

UPDATE: The Canada National Post has been running a series of articles from scientists (this item is 27th in the series) who are not sure about global warming.

Monday, June 04, 2007

World: Remembering June 4, 1989

18 years ago.

There are a handful of events in one's life where you remember where you were when you heard the news.

For people of my age those moments might include:
Attempt on Reagan's life on March 30, 1981.
Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986.
Terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Columbia accident on February 1, 2003.



It was the Beijing Spring of 1989 when students were joined by the masses in rallies in Tiananmen Square to demonstrate for reform. In between the Forbidden City and Mao's Mausoleum is Tiananmen Square.

Below is a music video set to the haunting music of Clint Mansell performed by the Kronos Quartet for the film "Requiem for a Dream."



Click here to see the Guardian's report on the Massacre published on the 10th anniversary in 1999.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

World: Global Warming Dialog

A few months ago, I went through a three-day training workshop with the Public Conversations Project.

This Sunday, our church will host a discussion about Global Warming. As part of our applying what we learned from PCP, our team that went through the training has drafted some questions for the dialog and will help facilitate the dialog tomorrow.

(1) The basis for your view on Global Warming ...
What in your personal experiences have shaped your views on Global Warming?

(2) The reason for your concern about the issue ...
Whatever your views on Global Warming, what values do you hold dear do you feel are at stake in the controversy?

(3) The permission to acknowledge uncertainty and doubt ...
What uncertainties do you hold regarding your personal views on the matter? What troubles you about the way the subject is discussed?

If so inclined, please pray for a meaningful time of sharing and listening to divergent opinions about a controversial subject!

To get a taste of the PCP approach, check out this 4-page printout on Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide.

UPDATE: In the effort to be "fair and balanced" and a useful resource. Here are some web links you may want to check out...
IPCC - intergovernmental panel on climate change. This is the international organization that puts out reports you hear on the news periodically.
An Inconvient Truth web page - the movie page and advocacy page on Global Warming.
Competitive Enterprise Institute's response to An Inconvient Truth. CEI is a think tank skeptical of the claims of Global Warming activists.

Devotional Thoughts: Astronomer Job

Previously, in Job, we got the "behind the scenes" look in Job 1-2.

Job 3 is Job's first monologue where he laments his situation.

Job 4-5 is Eliphaz's first monologue where his argument is mainly, God blesses the good people and won't mistreat the innocent. The hidden message: Job you must have sinned.

Job 6-7 is Job's reply which contains the disappointment in his friend for the implication of his words. Job acknowledges the finite and transient nature of his life but wonders what God is up to.

Job 8 is Bildad's first monologue where he picks up Eliphaz's argument but is explicit about the connection between sin and suffering.

Job 9 is Job's reaction.

Will look at his speech from verses 1-10 only though the speech runs through chapter 10.

Then Job replied:
Indeed, I know that this is true.
But how can a mortal be righteous before God?

In Job's response to Eliphaz, he was much hotter under the collar. This time, Job is a bit more restrained. He acknowledges the "logic" of what Bildad says. Indeed, can anyone of us truly stand before a holy God? The answer is obviously no.

Though one wished to dispute with him,
he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.

Nonetheless, Job would like to have an audience with God but he knows he would stand no chance. And Job is quite realistic about where he stands before God ...

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?
He moves mountains without their knowing it
and overturns them in his anger.
He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.
He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
he seals off the light of the stars.
He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.

Job is upset with God yet he doesn't lose sight of the fact that God is God and he isn't. He is keenly aware that the creator of the universe is very powerful and with a mere word the features of the physical world could be altered.

As a someone who loves the sciences and grew up with the NASA space program and astronomy shows on PBS, I love the next part ...

He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.

Since I don't read Hebrew, I wonder how literal are these translations? I suppose the translators might have inferred these constellations from the text?

I wonder if Job had in mind "Ursa Major?"



Image source: http://stardate.org/nightsky/constellations/ursa_major.html

Orion is one of the most recognizable constellations. If I pointed to it today and Job was with me, would he say, yup, that is what I had in mind when I said that?



Image source: http://stardate.org/nightsky/constellations/orion.html

One of the most famous star clusters is the Pleiades ...



Image source: http://stardate.org/resources/gallery/gallery_detail.php?id=32

I find it heart warming and compelling that Job who lived thousands of years ago would look at the sky with awe and wonder at the same things I do today. Though separated by time and cultures, our common humanity is seen in this bit of astronomy. And it takes the breath away and Job says ...

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.

I hear you Job. Amen.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Politics: 2008's Campaign Should be Interesting?!



Take this test to have a better idea of what you really believe about politics!

Not surprisingly, I was a centrist but leaning toward the conservative/libertarian camp.

First presidential vote

I cast my first presidential ballot in 1984 for Reagan. For the early years of my voting life, I was a registered independent. However, I voted Republican somewhat more often than Democrat. Eventually, I registered Republican in 1996 since I leaned in that direction anyway so why not step fully into that pond!

First campaign

I volunteered in my first presidential campaign in 1996 working in the Dole for president office in Washington DC. Made some fund raising phone calls (not very successfully), answered phone calls from the public (you can't imagine how many loons call presidential campaigns!) and prepared voter information packets for mailing.

Bob Dole had little chance against a popular incumbent in good economic times and we really didn't expect otherwise. What really amazed me was how dedicated the college-aged staffers were! They were taking time out from their school lives to work for nothing or maybe next to nothing on what was an almost sure losing campaign from the start!

As a volunteer, I got a pass to attend the party on election night in Downtown DC. Suffice to say, it wasn't very far into the evening before it was obvious Clinton would be re-elected. Senator Dole made an appearance in the massively crowded ballroom. I could barely see him on the podium as he thanked the staff and volunteers but it was quite the experience. My brief brush with political life was made quite enjoyable because of the fellow volunteers.

The wildest election in recent memory

In 2000, I worked in the Bush for president West Los Angeles office for two evenings. I spent one evening before the election doing get-out-the-vote (GOTV) phone calls. It was quite an experience! The voter lists are often out-dated as people are fairly mobile in Los Angeles. We were asked to call those marked with I (Independents) and R (Republican). Most people weren't home so I would get voice mail and I left a short message reminding them to get out and vote for Gov. Bush.

But, not surprisingly, I got my share of irate recipients saying negative things about Bush since the voter on my list was not who was living at that phone number anymore! I'd usually get off the conversation quickly by saying something like oh, isn't it great we live in a country where we can vote and express our opinions freely, have a good evening ... (click).

On election day, I was at a phone back doing get-out the vote phone calls again reminding voters we got to get out. I got my share of answering machines. I got my share of getting yelled at. And all it took was a handful of people who said, am so glad you called, I went out and voted for Gov. Bush today and am so glad there are people like you helping him out. I hope he pulls it off tonight! One of these responses could keep us volunteers going through handfuls calls where we were getting yelled at by anti-Bush voters.

The perk of volunteering is access to the election night party!

I went to the party in an LAX area hotel after the polls were closed and the phone bank operations were shut down. The energy in the room was completely different than 1996 as it was a contest. But the crowd was still a bit subdued because Florida had gone Gore than back to undecided. We had all figured that Florida was safely in the Bush column. Most of the people there knew that the key number was not the overall votes but the electoral votes. Of those who knew about the electoral vote system probably about 1/2 had a good idea of how many each state could contribute to a winning combination. I had my little note pad listing the states that were "on the fence" and their electoral votes and how many Bush would need to win the election.

The crowd went wild when both Arkansas and Tennessee were called for Bush! In our heads, we quickly added up the electoral vote numbers and realized it all came down to Florida. If Gore had held onto either his home state or Clinton's home state, Florida could go to Bush and Gore would be the 43rd president. I left the party around midnight thinking we might not have an answer until the morning. When I got home, the networks called Florida for Bush. But then the networks had to back off and both campaigns sent out spokesman saying, the votes are being counted and see you all in the morning.

Little did we realize that that night was only the end of the beginning and the nation would begin a journey that at one level showed how messy elections can be and yet showed how this nation is a nation of laws.

2004

I didn't work the 2004 campaign as I had a major health problem in October.

However, my favorite memory of that year was seeing a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on a car at a signal light in my neighborhood. You have to understand my neighborhood is probably 5 to 1 Democrat! I saw the sticker and saw the hot looking young woman in the car and as I crossed the crosswalk, I gave her a smile and thumbs up and said Go Bush (her windows were up so I don't know if she could read lips) and she smiled back. I don't know if she made the connection that I was responding just as much to her beauty as to her wisdom regarding politics but either way it was a nice little memory for me!

Anyway, it once again came down to one state. This time it was Ohio. However, the margin was much larger than the Florida 2000 count and the issue was resolved without the drama of 2000.

The 2008 Republican Field

And so now it is 2008 and the Republicans are in a pickle. McCain is regarded as the "institutional" heir to the nomination much like Dole was in 1996. However, unlike Dole, McCain's relationship to the base of the party is somewhat weaker and so his chances don't look very good. He clearly has a great biography but concerns about his age are real ones.

Mayor Rudy is the current front runner. However, his checkered personal life has been the source of much tabloid material and we are going to hear lots more about it. Also, he might not get fully energized support from the base as he is a less conservative than many would like.

Governor Romney has put himself into contention by leveraging his biography (businessman, rescuing the Salt Lake city Olympics and Massachusetts governship) and sharp presentation skills. There is no question that Romney is telegenic which is a plus in this media society. But questions linger about him being the "robocandidate" sent from central casting... all resume but no soul. My feeling is that the key will be how he handles himself when he is under fire. At some point in the campaign, something will erupt either in world events or in his campaign when all eyes will be on how he responds and if he hits it out of the park, we might have a Mormon in the White House!

And indeed, that is the other issue being raised: is the country ready for a Mormon president? My guess is that the Mormon questions will die down. Kennedy faced the Catholic questions for a while and got past them in 1960. Joe Liebermann faced questions about his Orthodox Judaism in 2000 and eventually it became a non-issue. In the electorate there is always going to be a small group who will never vote for a fill-in-the blank-religion candidate. I don't think that number is going to be any higher for a Mormon than for a Catholic, Evangelical or Jewish candidate.

Fred Thompson is lurking in the wings. He is the recipient of a lot of the hopes of the Republicans who are unhappy with the current top three. However, Thompson's recent brush with lymphoma probably weighs on his mind about making the run. If he gets into the race, it will turn into an opportunity for Americans to hear more about the disease. Paul Tsongas had to address questions about his lymphoma battle when he ran for the nomination in 1992. Sadly, Tsongas eventually died of cancer in 1997. That fact will undoubtedly be pointed out in news stories about the health of presidential candidates.

I'll need to read more about the specific type of lymphoma Thompson had. I don't think it is the same kind as Tsongas but nevertheless, whenever we hear words like cancer or lymphoma we have a natural caution.

Of the various second tier candidates on the GOP side, I don't see any of them breaking out. I suppose Tommy Thompson has a shot since he was a pretty successful governor and cabinet member but it would be a long shot at best.

We shall see!