Sunday, September 30, 2007

Energy Efficiency

Laura and I have been thinking a lot lately about the ways that we can be more faithful as stewards of the environment. We have always been pretty good about recycling. This past year we have been buying more food locally and reducing the amount of oil that we consume. These past few months we have turned our attention to our energy consumption. We have eliminated the use of phantom power. Phantom power is power that is used when something is not even on. Appliances such as the television, computer, and microwave use power when they are not on. We plugged these appliances into a power strip and only turn them on when we need to use them.

This past weekend I switched all of the 60-75 watt light bulbs in our house to compact florescent bulbs or low wattage bulbs. These compact florescent bulbs are amazing. Not only are they inexpensive (about $1.50 a piece), they use a low amount of energy (about 14 watts) and they last a really long time (about 9 years). I crunched the numbers, and the total wattage used to light our house was 1610 watts. After I made the switch, we are down to a total of 364 watts, a reduction of 78%. Grand total it cost me $26.40, which will pay for itself in lower energy bills in no time.

I think that if a lot of people do little and simple things, it can make a big difference.

The Fog of War

This past weekend I watched the documentary film "The Fog of War." Typically I have not done reviews of films, but this one was so good I had to write about it. The documentary is basically an interview with Robert MacNamara, who, among many things, was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. He is obviously still a very sharp and brilliant man, so it was fascinating to hear him reflect on his position and the decisions that were made during his turbulent tenure.

I found this film interesting on many levels. It was interesting on a historical level, as I learned many things from a first-hand source. For example, I had no idea the severity of the Cuban Missile Crisis and how close we were to nuclear war. The questions about human nature raised by MacNamara were also interesting. He wrestled with the fact that rational human beings could make atrocious and inhumane decisions in the fog of war.

I definitely recommend checking out this film if you have never viewed it. The film was organized around 11 lessons that MacNamara learned during his life, and I thought they were interesting so I am putting them here.

  1. Empathize with your enemy.
  2. Rationality will not save us.
  3. There's something beyond one's self.
  4. Maximize efficiency.
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
  6. Get the data.
  7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
  8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
  10. Never say never.
  11. You can't change human nature.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blue Like Jazz

I went through "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller with my small group. It was an ideal small group book because it was easy and entertaining to read and it brought up good topics for discussion. The book was basically a collection of essays on the general topic of Christian spirituality. The only common theme of the book was the writing style of Miller.

I really liked this book. As a person who has spent 7 years in a formal academic setting, I did wish there was more meat to the book. Each chapter followed the same basic pattern: the bulk of the chapter is a bunch of random and funny stories from Miller's life, and then at the end he ties them all together at the end in a thought provoking manner. If you are reading this book for a small group and get behind on the reading, just read the last paragraph or last page and you will get the main gist of the chapter.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that it did not skirt around, but rather engaged, touchy topics. The book is definitely written in a post-modern style, and sometimes post-modern Christianity likes to gloss over topics such as sin and money. Miller did not do this, but rather wrote about these topics in such a way that you could have a conversation with your friend or neighbor who did not grow up in the church. It is definitely a good idea to read this book.

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

"Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work" by Eugene Peterson is an attempt to re-imagine the Bible as a handbook for pastoral work. In the introduction to the book, Peterson argues that the pastoral vocation has been hijacked by psychological and social sciences of our time. Peterson feels that pastors have taken a therapeutic approach to their work which goes against a biblical approach. The book then walks through five books of the Bible (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) showing how they inform pastoral work.

I loved Peterson's concept in this book. I think he is absolutely right that pastors need to immerse themselves in the Bible in order to get a sense of their vocation. Contained within the pages of Scripture are the way of life and the presence of God that can inform and transform. I did find the book to be a little scattered. I thought that his transition between the biblical story and pastoral work was cumbersome at points. His book gave incredible and creative insights, but those insights did not always fit together into a cohesive whole. I admit that this lack of coherency could be more of a problem with the reader as I have had a lot going on in my life lately and I have not been able to concentrate as clearly as I sometimes do. At any rate, this book was good enough for me to recommend to any pastor. The overall point of the book is important and well worth the price and time it will take to invest in it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


That's right boys and girls; it is time once again to add to my list of things in our society that I find unacceptable.

One of my favorite things to do is ride my bike. I love it! I love getting the exercise and reducing my carbon footprint. It is amazing what you notice about the world around you when you are not driving past it at 65 mph. I love the "bikers code" of waving to other cyclist on the road. I think that biking is my favorite form of transportation.

For the past few months, I have attempted riding my bike to work at least once a week. It is a 20 mile one way trip, and while I do not ride on any highways, I do ride on roads that have a lot of traffic. It is amazing to me how terribly some motorist treat bikers.

I have lost track of how many times I have almost been hit. Cars zoom by and come within inches of clipping me. I think the biggest problem is that most people do not realize that bikers have the same rights on the road as automobiles.

My favorite story came about a month ago. I was on a two lane road coming up to a busy intersection. A right-hand turn lane grew out of the lane that I was in. A massive Lincoln Navigator SUV was coming up fast behind me right at the point where the turn lane started and was wanting to turn right. I was going straight through the intersection, and therefore I had the right-of-way. The woman driving the SUV did not recognize that I was going straight until she already begin to make her turn. We both had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. The amazing thing was that the woman sped past me, stopped her vehicle at the stoplight, got out of her car, and shouted at me "YOU DO NOT OWN THE ROAD!". I was extremely upset, and in a very non-Christian moment, I shouted back "I HAD THE RIGHT-OF-WAY!" Afterwards, I wish I would have kept my cool so I could have calmly talked with her and educate her on driving etiquette.

I cannot stand motorist who are ignorant of the fact that bicycles have the same rights to the road at automobiles. I have coined a term for people like this - ignorcycles. So, next time you see a cyclist on the road, please just slow down (you are not important enough to be in a hurry) and wait until there is plenty of room to safely pass by.

Ok, I feel better now. Well, at last count, here is how the list stands:

1. Wearing a cell phone on your hip
2. The idea that a nice smile is the "normal" way to pose for a photograph
3. People who cut to the front of a traffic back-up when they know they need to get over
4. Local TV Newspeople
5. Confirmational Reactionist
6. Wearing a blue tooth headset as a fashion accessory
7. Putting Bullethole stickers on your car
8. Placing a fake baseball on your car that gives the allusion that it has shattered your window
9. People who litter
10. Ignorcycles

And the name is...

Back in July, I wrote a post seeking help in naming our new VW Jetta. After a lot of consideration, we have decided to name the car Dietrich. Thanks to Bill Shannon (from whom we bought the car), we were able to determine that the car's gender was male. Thanks to everyone's suggestions, we decided to go with a German name. We choose Dietrich to honor one of my favorite theologians/Christian thinkers who also happens to be German - Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even though Laura and I finally agreed on the name Dietrich, I find that more often than not, we simply refer to the car as "the Jetta." Hopefully when we have children, we will not debate a name for a long time, settle on one, and then refer to the child as "the boy" or "the girl."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Consumer Report - Long Lasting Popsicles

I am not going to lie to you, I love Popsicles. In fact, it is definitely one of my favorite things about summer. I can remember as a kid making homemade popsicles by freezing Kool-Aid in a Dixie cup with a stick. Well, over 20 years later I am still enjoying this cool summer treat. For the first 3 years of my married life, I went through 2 boxes (500 in each) of those pop-ices. This past summer, Laura and I have been mixing it up with random types of Popsicles and Fudgesicles.

I think that our culture has this sick fascination and craving for something new. It is not enough to leave something good alone, everything has to be new and improved. Laura went to the store last week and brought home these new improved "Long Lasting Slow Melt Popsicles." Being the student of science that I am, I thought I would put these Popsicles to the test and see just how much longer lasting they are.

I did this in the presence of 3 witnesses (Laura, Kevin & Julie Todd) in a controlled environment. We still had some bomb pops (the red, white, and blue popsicles) left, so I tested the long lasting pops against these. Kevin Todd was the official time keeper, and I tested the popsicles back to back using the same consuming technique (in my mouth, rolling my tongue around the popsicle). The results are surprising, but not stunning. The bomb pop lasted 5 minutes 50 seconds, while long lasting pop took 8 minutes 3 seconds to consume. However, the long lasting pop had a texture that resembled a plastic piece of silverware.

So, after having served humanity with this noble deed, I leave you with this valuable information to use when making future popsicle decisions: The long lasting popsicle will indeed last around 2 minutes longer than your average popsicle, but you will have to endure the plastic-like texture.

The New York Trilogy

"The New York Trilogy" by Paul Auster was another book on my classical literature list. It is a collection of 3 inter-linked detective novels. Auster writes really well and does a great job of developing a plot. In all three novels, you really get inside the head of the main character, so much so that when the character becomes dark (and this happens in all three novels), you understand it because you have progressed and changed along with the character. All three novels are set in New York, which provides a perfect setting for unique and complicated personalities.

After reading all three novels, I was somewhat disappointed because they all were anti-climatic. All three were narrated in such a way that the reader expects something really big or dramatic to happen, but the endings always leave you disappointed that not much really comes out of the multiple possibilities to which Auster alludes. However, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate this type of writing because it resembles real life. So many of us believe that something great or dramatic is going to happen in our lives. We all want to believe that our random movements through life are actually building to a dramatic end. The truth of the matter is that life is not like that. The everyday stuff of life is the drama and we are never able to fully appreciate the climax of our life because we will never be sure of when it occurs.