Tuesday, May 27, 2008

They may want to kill us, but that's no reason to poison their groundwater.


I saw this interesting article in the morning news feed. The environmentalist impulse has apparently come home to root in a field of study which (I feel) is traditionally thought of to be at the opposite end of the spectrum: explosive ordinance manufacturing.

To be honest, I don't know WHY I thought those two camps are opposed. It's not as if the environmentalists are out picketing the major military operations. Sure, the military is devoted to blowing up ground and burning down trees, but on the whole, they just seemed like a big corporation using a lot of gas to move their trucks (tanks) around.

But now here come the scientists making our standard bomb explosives more environmentally friendly. Apparently, when the current crop of TNT and RDX explode, there are toxic byproducts. Even the unexploded compounds themselves are toxic. The new compounds are made of nitrogen products and are much less harmful... well, less harmful to the environment anyhow. The new explosives are exactly as harmful to people.

And who should have made this discovery in bomb-making? It's the Germans. Yes, I *know* there was some unpleasantness a few years back. Something about Germans and bombs, sure. But that was *sooo* last century. Now they only make green bombs and humorously-sized pretzels.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

He conducts like an unfeeling robot!


I just wanted to toss this video up. I'll have more thoughts about it later. It's of Honda's experimental robot Asimo conducting the Detroit Symphony in a portion of "The Impossible Dream" from The Man of La Mancha.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

EDITED 5/8 Err...what's with the rating system?

EDIT 5/8: Blogger has removed the star ratings, making this post confusing. It turns out they're part of an upcoming optional feature which was mistakenly applied to the web coding for blogs at large. So, a big never mind!

I showed up at my blog this morning to see that little widgets involving a star-based system of rating posts have appeared. I don't know how they got there; they aren't an option I chose. Unlike most of the other things on this blog, there was no set of options to control them, remove them, or even interact with them.

I don't know that there's any way for me to get feedback from them, so I assume that they'll just quietly remain there, either being filled out or ignored, as posts slip of the front page.

Huzzah, Blogger? I'd appreciate it a lot more if I could have a nicer system of getting pictures into my blog. Formatting is sometimes an exercise in frustration, rather akin to having to spell things phonetically to get those old voice-synthesizer programs to pronounce your name right.

You may feel free to rate or not, as you see fit. If you really want to encourage or bring change, I recommend commenting, though; those get sent to me by email.

Monday, May 05, 2008

LUCIUS: "O noble father, you lament in vain:

The tribunes hear you not; no man is by;
And you recount your sorrows to a stone.

Ah, Lucius, for thy brothers let me plead.
Grave tribunes, once more I entreat of you,--

My gracious lord, no tribune hears you speak.

Why, tis no matter, man; if they did hear,
They would not mark me, or if they did mark,
They would not pity me, yet plead I must;
Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones;
Who, though they cannot answer my distress,
Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes,
For that they will not intercept my tale;
When I do weep, they humbly at my feet
Receive my tears and seem to weep with me..."

I ended up at the blog of a student this afternoon, mostly by accident. I was following threads around from people I do know and, on a lark, followed a comment made to a friend's profile back to the original writer. She's a student at my university, also studying music, though to my knowledge I've never seen her. Her name is also not one I've ever heard, so she's as good as a stranger to me, excepting that she seems to know a few of my friends.

What struck me about her profile page was the comment in the "Religious Views" box: she wrote "A sinner saved by grace". My first thought was "Wow, a Calvinist, in this day and age?" It turns out she's not really a Calvanist, but that's what happens when I spend more time studying the Reformation than the latest Bible answer shows. Instead, she's part of a large group of Christians who eschew the "Christian" label, for whatever reason. Instead, when prompted for their religion for Facebook from a list of 18 Christian faiths (including plain old Christian and, amusingly, Amish), they choose to put something else in. Common ones I've seen include "Relationship with Jesus Christ", "I love Jesus", "King Jesus", or even just "Jesus!".

So, right from the bat, I'm struck by her duality. On one hand, she fully admits to being a sinner. In itself, I suppose that's nothing: many Christian denominations believe that we're all sinners until we die. I don't know if it's something that I'd be placing on my Facebook page with a proud list of other achievements, but she's not me. On the flip side, she's saved by grace, placing herself in the lee of Jesus Christ who stands firm against the tides of sin.

All this was interesting, but the status updates really hit me. Over the last few months, she's been fighting serious battles, apparently on a daily basis. Again, I don't know this lady, but she's obviously in dire need.

It starts off positively enough:

February 25: I am resting in the mercy, grace, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of my heavenly Father (and every other awe-inspiring characteristic of God).

This sort of flowery and anxiously over-vehement testimony is par for the course, so take this as a happy baseline. She is, by her own admission, "resting" at this point.

February 28: I am waiting on her Lord in following the command and believing in the promise of Psalm 27:14.

Time to seek out my Bible for reference.

Psalm 27 is one of the more famous, beginning with "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" Psalm 27:14 is a psalm of adversity. In the course of the Psalm, the enemies of David have risen up and delivered false witness. He even plans for the time when his own parents will forsake him. In other words, the fan is thoroughly covered in feces. Yet in spite of all, David places himself in trust with God. The ironic twist is that God is an absentee deity in this Psalm. David is singing praises and begging for help from the Lord, but the Lord has made no answer. The chapter is hopeful, but ultimately unresolved.

Verse 14 is the final statement, which says: "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!" In the immortal words of Sam and Dave:

In other words, people don't quote this Psalm when things are going good.

March 2: I cannot love apart from Jesus.

Gosh. That seems pretty severe.

March 4: I am trusting in God's sovereignty.
March 5: I am broken.
March 6: I am broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but Jesus is fighting for me!
March 9: I know that these trials will bring me closer to Him, so I will walk through the valley and go through the fire if He wants me to.
March 13: My knees are on the floor again.
March 15: I am fighting to see things through the eyes of God and in light of eternity.
March 16: I am counting on God's strength being made perfect in my weakness... His grace is sufficient!
March 17: I am thinking God for the amazing day of restoration and renewal yesterday... I am so blessed!

Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel. But that light is apparently just the train coming at her.

March 18: I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle and selfishly long for Home with my Savior where there will be no more tears... no more pain... no more sorrow...

So, she's gone from being blessed on Monday, to suicidal on Tuesday. She'll snap back around, and by March 22, she's back to rejoicing. But by March 31, she's back to accusing herself of being weak.

April 1 brings a carefully crafted phrase that is probably something she's heard time and again in services or worship sessions: I can't live by what I feel, but only by the truth His Word reveals. Once again, the admission that whatever comes from herself is false, weak, transitory, and ultimately unhelpful. Can she have so little faith in herself? Or is it that she's in such a dark place that she's willing to toss the "self-respect" baby out with the bathwater? It's a place where she seemingly spends a lot of time when things aren't going well.

April 12: I am discouraged, frustrated, and hurt, but trusting in God in all things.
April 20: I am marveling at God's thoughts and ways that are so much higher than mine. WOW!

What really caught my attention were the mood swings. Up -- down -- way up -- rock bottom. I have no idea what the individual circumstances are that preceded all of these comments, just a general knowledge about broken relationships and disappointments. But she believes that God is the one taking her from manic to depressive five times a week. That he is showing her something by giving her crushing despair every other day.

That's the image that I had in mind when I chose the beginning passage from Titus Andronicus. It's the most powerful moment in the play (if not all of Shakespeare) for me, because Titus doesn't know what to do besides begging for help. Titus is a loyal Roman general who has given his life (and some of his sons) for the glory of Rome. When things start to turn against him, he goes to the Consuls to beg for the life of one of his remaining sons. They leave the room in silence, leaving Titus prostrate on the floor, beseeching the now-empty chamber for mercy.

When told that the chamber is empty and no one hears him, Titus continues begging even as he acknowledges the futility. He simply can't do anything else. He is appealing to the people in power and they are his last hope for saving his imprisoned sons. The tribunes may be gone, but there's nothing else for him to do; he's at the top of the ladder. His efforts are fruitless, but the efforts are fruitless everywhere else, too. He may as well stay on the floor, in case someone comes back.

That's where I think this suffering student is. She's obviously torn in pain, but her religious convictions tell her that she should just wail at the ocean waves until she gets a response. Eventually, her life goes on an upswing (as it usually must), and it's proof of the power of prayer and the beneficence of God. But why pray? She believes God put her into suffering and doubt to test her character; He's obviously not going to pay attention to her when she asks to be delivered.

If I thought that every good and bad thing in my life was at the will of someone else, I'd go crazy and decide that nothing I did mattered. It bothers my soul to see someone striving for meaning in every single of the ups and downs of everyday life. If you find a good parking spot at the mall, Praise the Lord. If there's a sale on dish washing soap when you need it, Glorify His Name! If the toilet paper runs out at night, show me the error of my ways, Lord! If the car starts leaking oil, I'm willing to go where you lead me, Jesus!

It sounds funny with small things like that, but it's not as funny when the issues are more serious. I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years, but I trust that Jesus isn't putting me through this pain for nothing. He may have been cheating on me, even as I loved him and planned my life: Lord, how can I make it through the day? I got the job I'd applied for: You are forever merciful and loving. My ex is laughing at my tears; I'm trying hard, Jesus, but I don't understand why I deserve this.

I feel bad for this student; she's obviously in the middle of some very tough times. My concern is that she's doing harm to herself by putting so much of the control of her destiny outside of herself. What if she's just pleading with an empty room? Or worse, what if she's pleading with someone who doesn't care?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Why...is there... HAMMERING?

It was the first thing I heard this morning. I heard hammering right behind the wall at the head of my bed. It's the wall that adjoins the one-bedroom unit right behind mine. There was hammering, kind of loud. The sort of noise that so close you can feel the blows as they resound in your head.

When I was still groggy, I just figured I had overslept. Sunlight was streaming in my room and I figured it was now after nine o'clock.


After lying there for about 20 minutes of listening to hammering, I was finally able to sit up. The clock said 7:03. In their (the hammerers) defense, they basically stopped about 20 minutes later. So had I wanted to sleep any longer, I suppose I could now. That's courtesy.