Friday, June 29, 2012

What If Everyone Did What Was Right?

I was reading a book that got me to thinking about what our world would be like if everyone would get their act together and start always doing what was right.  I realize that this is just a fantasy.  And I also realize that 'doing what is right' will likely mean something different to me than it might mean to you.  For some 'doing what is right' may well mean doing what will get me the best deal, regardless the cost to others.  But for my purposes, 'doing what is right' is going to mean that I do what is best for humanity as a whole, rather than just myself.  Of course there will be some disagreement even with how that might be interpreted.  But since this is my fantasy, I am going to go with what I think best.

One of the first things that comes to my mind is that there would be no need of police and military or courts, lawyers and jails.  After all, what are these for but to settle disputes and to prevent people from doing wrong whether at the individual or state level.

So what about employment?  If universally employees did right by their employer, and employers did right by their employees, is it possible that we could get more people to work.  And what would that do to unions and state & federal regulators.  Maybe costs would go down and quality would go up.  Just speculation on my part, but maybe.

If everyone did what was right, how much need would there be for social services.  I suspect there will always be some call for a safety net.  But things like CPS would go away.  Welfare would probably be seriously reduced with people taking care of each other and with a fully employed society.  Malpractice would be non-existent, reducing the cost of health care.

Education would benefit from having better funding, since so many other services would no longer be needed.  And rather than having to motivate kids to learn, and teachers to teach, we would have classrooms of students wanting to learn and all of our teachers would be giving their best.

So much of government is currently devoted to areas that would be unneeded if everyone did what was right.  Governments could likely be reduced to something much smaller, and more responsive, than they currently are.  What would it be like if our government officials really worked for us, rather than seeking to advance themselves.  Yes, I understand that some do this, but many seem not to.

What about the entertainment industry?  Would it be any different if everyone did what is right?  It's hard to believe that most of the movies & shows we currently have would exist if there were no murders, bank robberies, wars or other crime.

Morality is a challenging topic for this discussion, but at the very least we would not have people causing harm to other people.

It would seem like there would be a change in religious practice as well.  Maybe we would be more concerned about helping people than building bigger buildings and focusing on entertainment.

So what would it take to make this a reality?  Is it possible for humanity to live like this?  Our track record would seem to indicate that it is not possible.  But why is that?  Any thoughts?  Or other changes we might see in our world?  I would be interested in discussing this with anyone at Rational Christianity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Producing a Post Trip Map

I like maps. I like looking at them during trip preparation.  I like looking at them on an unfamiliar trail to get myself oriented.  And I like looking at them after the trip to see where I went and to help relate the trip to my wife.  But as I have been preparing for some extended section hiking of the PCT this year, the shear volume of maps required has been daunting.  So I have been looking into electronic mapping this year, both for 'on the trail use' as well as post trip to document the journey.  And I think I have found a pair of tools that offers some real promise.

I have a Droid Bionic phone and have bought a couple of extended batteries for it.  Initially the phone was going to just be used for occasional entertainment and control of SPOT.  But I have Backcountry Navigator (BCN) installed on it now and like the way it works.  I have had it out for a couple of trips so far and it seems to be able to track my course even when in the woods and the phone is in a hip belt pocket on my pack; much better than my previous phone. I like being able to open my map and have the little 'you are here' mark at my current location.  While the screen is much small than a printed map, I can zoom in or out as necessary, as well as shift the displayed view to see what might be coming up.  It is actually pretty convenient.   I do need to take the time to cache the maps I will need onto the phone before I go out, at all the resolutions I think I will need; but not a great deal different than locating the correct map from the pile.  I have also download the PCT half mile maps onto the phone and will be able to use that now instead of printing out a hundred or so pages of maps.

On the last trip I went a step further and created a trip file in BCN and then recorded a track and set some waypoints along the way.  This requires the GPS to be running all day, but it appears like an extended battery should be able to handle at least two days of this.  I have a second battery already that I can swap out, but may need to get a third for longer trips.  I was able to pause, restart and stop the track as needed and when the trip was over I had a blue line along the trail showing where I had gone.  I used this primarily to document the trip, but it would also be useful for backtracking to a particular spot along the trail.  Within BCN you can save the trip and then reload it later as desired.

Once I got home I began looking for ways to get the map out of BCN on my phone and be able to embed it on a web page along with trip pictures and a trip journal.  A quick search on the web produced several options, including EveryTrail.  EveryTrail requires you to setup an account, and then allows you to import gpx files, pictures and words to create a trip that can then be shared with other users of the site.  The neat thing about this site is that once you have the trip documented, they provide you will all of the HTML code you need to be able to embed a Google Map of your trip into your own web page, either as a plain map, or as a flash image.

Skokomish River

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Washington

Above is an example of the plain map option, while below is the flash enabled map.

Skokomish River


EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Olympic National Park

BCN can export a loaded trip to a gpx file, and from there it can be transferred to my laptop via a USB cable.  Log into your EveryTrail account and then select 'Create Trip', select and upload your gpx file, and then fill out as much of the trip info as you desire.  Note that if you are going to show the map on your own site, the trip will have to be public.  Once you select Done, you will get your trip page, and on the bottom right of the page will be the information you need to link the map onto your own site.  You can edit the HTML to change the titles and map size if desired.  Once you have done this you have a Google Map of your trip embedded into your own web page to share with the rest of the world.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spiritual Warfare

Frank Peretti's book "This Present Darkness" was published in 1986 and changed forever my view of spiritual warfare.  While this book, and his follow-on "Piercing the Darkness", were only novels, they did paint a very realistic picture of a spiritual realm that was all around me, freely interacting with the physical world I live in.  And while the spiritual battles the two books portrayed were fanciful, they did illustrate the battle that we, as followers of Jesus, are engaged in, oftentimes unknowingly.

At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul provides some similar insight to spiritual warfare.  Paul's words serve both to open our eyes to that conflict, as well as how to prepare to successfully engage the enemy.  The goal is to be able to stand strong in the face of the evil one.

In the first few verses of Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul tells us four times to stand: stand against the devil's schemes; stand your ground; to stand; stand firm.  This always reminds me of the accounts of two of David's might men in 2 Samuel 23:9-12.
Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.

Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory.
While Israel's army fled, Eleazar stood his ground against the enemy, and the Lord brought about a great victory.  Again, when Israel's army fled, Shammah took his stand against the enemy, and again the Lord brought about a great victory.  Paul challenges me to follow their example.  Get involved in the fight, take my stand on the ground where God has put me and defend it.  And then see the victory the Lord will bring about.

While the enemies that Eleazar and Shammah fought against were human, Paul warns us that our conflict is not primarily against flesh and blood enemies.  Rather we are fighting against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Our battle is primarily spiritual in nature, but I believe we too often lose sight of that and instead direct our energies against those we can see with our eyes rather than the real enemy, the ones directing the affairs of the physical ones we see.  In some ways we are fighting against the sword rather than the one who wields it.

It is frightening to think about fighting evil spiritual entities; surely we are powerless against such as that.  But Paul encourages us to take our stand against them, not in our own strength, but with the weaponry and armor  of God.  Paul uses the imagery of the Roman soldier of his day to illustrate this armor, something that is not particularly familiar to us today.  But even removed from the analogy to Roman armament, the specific attributes are meaningful.

Paul starts off with instructing us to have the belt of truth buckled around your waist.  How important is truth to us?  I do not believe its importance can be understated.  If we veer from the truth we open ourselves to all kinds of attack.  Speak the truth, even when it hurts.  Walk in the truth and never give into the temptation to color it to make it more appealing to others, or less threatening to yourself.  The truth is not always pleasant, and it may cost you in the short term.  But how many people have you seen fall into disrepute, because they left the way of truth.

He next instructs us to have the breastplate of righteousness in place.  Always, do what is right.  Do not give into the temptation to do what is expedient or convenient rather than right.  Do not let your personal righteousness slide, adopting the morality of the world around you.  Live such good lives among unbelievers that, even they they criticize you, they will see your good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).  Righteousness protects me from attack, as well as protecting me when I go on the offensive.  I will not be very effective in God’s service if my life does not reflect well on him.  This really goes hand in hand with living in the truth.  Believe, teach and practice what is true and right.  Doing so will protect your core, keeping you safe in the battle.

With the core protected, we can then get our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  Are we ready to march out into the battle with the gospel, the good news that a relationship with Jesus brings one into peace with God?  The fight we are in is to bring the light of Christ into a world of darkness.  Allow the light of Christ to shine brightly out from you.  If that light is not there, or if you are not walking in the light, it will be difficult to take the gospel to others.

Another piece of the armament that we are to take up is the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  If I depend on what I can see and experience in the physical world, and what I am capable of accomplishing on my own, I will never be successful in the battle.  Instead I will become a causality in the war, and maybe never even know it.  Faith allows me to overcome my own limitations and wield the weapons that the Father provides, weapons that have the power to tear down strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-5).  It is with the eyes of faith that I can see the enemy and deflect his attack, the flaming arrows of doubt, discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, pride, greed, and a host of other arrows that would sideline me if they hit their mark.

With the helmet of salvation in place we can have an assurance of our relationship with God, and do not need to fear anything that the enemy might throw our way.  I can echo Paul’s sentiment “I know who I have believed and am convinced that he will guard what I have entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:12)”.  Having an assurance of my future makes me less concerned about what might happen to me here, and will enable me to fight more fearlessly.

And, finally, take up the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The word is sharper than any double edged sword and able to divide soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12).  Spend time in the word; learn what it has to say to you; apply its teaching to your own life; be ready to share it with the world around you; use it to attack the enemy like Eleazar and Shammah did the Philistines.

While prayer is not listed as a part of the believers armament, it is included here in this discussion.  Keeping the communication lines open with our Lord is vital to a successful mission.  We are not in this fight alone; rather we join with other believers across the earth in waging this battle.  Only as we stay in touch with our commander can we fight as an army rather than as a ragged collection of individuals, each with our own thoughts as to how the battle should be fought.  Pray for your own life as well as for others that are engaged in the fight with you.

Know your enemy.  Put on the armor that will enable you to fight against him.  Take your stand.  And when the battle is over, be standing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

2012 Seattle Rock & Roll Half Marathon

The sun rose this morning over drippy skies and low 50's; but by race time the rain had quit, although still overcast.  It was really just about ideal running weather, at least for me.  Today was my fourth running of the Seattle Rock & Roll, once as a full and now three times as a half.  It was also my wife's second running.

I have been bothered by calf problems off and on all year, and the last month it had gotten worse.  Two weeks ago I actually quit running to try and get it rested up for today.  I was pretty apprehensive about the day and how long I would be able to run.  So much so that I had bought compression sleeves for my calves to wear under my compression tights.  Desperate for something to hold them together for one more run.

During the expo the night before we found a guy who was using KT tape to 'tape' people up so I waited in line for 20 minutes, explained the problem to him, and then got taped up.  Everything felt good through the evening and into race morning.  But still really no idea what would happen when I started to run.

Somehow I had ended up in corral 4, which is a bit faster than I expected to run; but at least it got me to the starting line within 5 minutes of the race start.  The run started good and everything felt fine; for about three and a half minutes.  At that point the left calf seized up and I was done.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement, but since walking did not hurt nearly as bad as running, I opted to go ahead and see if I could walk the course.

In the end, I did manage to finish without, I hope, hurting myself to badly.  It is pretty stiff and sore right now, but will rest it for the next month or so, apart from a couple of backpacking excursions.  And since I had earlier run the Portland Rock & Roll race, I was now eligible for their Pacific Peaks medal.  

Since I was moving along at a 15 minute a mile pace, rather than the hoped for 8.5 minute per mile, I was able to do a lot more people watching.  It is truly amazing to see the variety of people who run half marathons.  Pretty much all body sizes and running styles.  While most of the runners are on the thin side, there were a number of linebacker body types out running, and even a few offensive linemen types.  I applaud all those who took the time and effort to get up off the couch and prepare for an event like this.  Whether you are one of those lithe little wisps that floated along the road, or more of a super-sized plodder, you did much better than 99+% of the rest of the population.

I watched some people float by, rapidly, who looked like they were putting very little effort into what they were doing; like running was as easy and natural as any other activity one might enjoy doing.  While there were others, some moving just as fast, who looked like this was a very painful process.  I suspect I generally look more like the later, while at the same time longing to look like the former.  To be able to cruise along effortlessly, mile after mile, after mile would be pretty cool.

Many of us wore basic black below the waist with a yellow, blue or black shirt.  But there were some out today who chose instead to be much more colorful.  There were a few pretty wild color schemes, lots of tutu's, some wigs (I hope), an Elvis impersonator, and a few other costumes.  The one that stuck out most to me was the guy I saw finish wearing a superhero cape, without a shirt (and he really, really, really needed one).  The gal, of substance, who ran by in a pair of too low tights with a phone in the little back pocket of her shirt was also a sight.  Every step the phone would bounce up and she gave a little plumber's helper audition.  

The course this year was a complete redesign from previous years and, in my opinion, was much improved.  It was a loop this year rather than having the start and end in two different cities.  The course was generally flat with only one hill of any note, and it was short.  The course this year also kept the marathoners separated from those of us doing the half after the course split the first time.  This was a real plus to the marathoners, because each time they joined back up with us they were going progressively faster than the half marathoners, who had been running just as long, but had not covered nearly as much ground.  Having the split course meant they did not have to try and weave through the slower runners and walkers.

For me, the bands were just noise along the way, but I did enjoy the cheerleaders, the folks with the flags, the signs (It's not sweat, it's your fat cells crying), and the crows chasing the eagle overhead.  The crowds were encouraging, as always, and the volunteers manning the water stations were great.  The finishers chute was good, with lots of drink and food and more volunteers.  The finishers village was a bit confusing at the end, but I did manage to find and hobble to the tent with the Pacific Peaks medal, given to finishers of both the Portland and Seattle events this year; providing a map in the finishers chute would have been helpful.

While the run itself was a disappointment for me, it was a well run event and I was glad to be able to be a part of it again this year.  And it was good to see my wife make her goal time of three hours for the half, a 25 minute improvement over last year.  She is already looking forward to next year; which is good to see.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The 2012 Annual Trip up the Skokomish

The North Fork Skokomish trail is one of my favorites in the Olympics.  It was actually the site of my very first solo backpacking adventure some 30 years ago; one that has been repeated numerous times over the following years.  In part its because it is the closest to home and hike-able pretty much year round.  But it's also just a nice trail that makes for a good walk in the woods.

This trip out was intended as both  a relaxing time, and a shakedown for my August PCT trip.  I originally planned on going with a friend, but that fell through so I took off with just me and my thoughts, something I enjoy.  The plan was to hike from Staircase up to Nine Stream, set up camp and then head on up to First Divide, or as close as I could get.  Snow travel and navigation is something I am still working on so I was looking forward to getting some practice on somewhat familiar territory.  Then back to camp for the evening and a quite morning before heading back home.

I left the parking lot about 9 AM and headed on up the trail.  I had a new camera, a Canon SX260 HS, to play with so made frequent stops to take pictures of flowers, bugs and anything else that took my fancy.  The trail was in good shape until the bridge across the Skokomish.  From there to Camp Pleasant there were about 5 trees (a couple were pretty large with lots of branches) across the trail, and another 5 or 6 down heading on up to Nine Stream.  As I was leaving I met an incoming trail crew heading to Big Log, so much of what I saw may already be cleared up.

I spent about an hour and a half at Camp Pleasant on the way up because of a calf that was giving me grief.  I considered stopping there but ultimately pushed on up to Nine Steam and ditched the plan to play in the snow.  Other than a couple of tiny patches of snow off to the side, the valley up to Nine Steam is snow free.

I had the camp to myself when I got there so found my favorite spot between two trees on a small bluff overlooking the river and settled in for the afternoon and evening.  Even though I didn't get to play in the snow, sitting on the river bank watching the water flow by was very relaxing and needed.  The weather was pleasant with some sun and semi warm temps, and no bugs to speak of.

When I got up the next morning I saw at least 4 elk grazing in the trees just across the river.  I grabbed the camera and put its 20x optical zoom to the test, and was very pleased with the result.  I sat and watched then for close to 15 minutes until they moved out of view.

After a leisurely morning I packed up and headed out, getting back to Staircase mid afternoon.  Other than another solo hiker who had come into Nine Stream the previous night, I had the trail to myself until I recrossed the Skokomish bridge.  From there on out I met a steady stream of people heading in, including the trail crew and their pack train.

All in all it was a very good trip.  My calf held up, the new gear performed well, I learned stuff, and the time in the woods was both physically and spiritually uplifting.

At the North Fork Skokomish trail head.  Nine Stream is the evenings destination.


The Ground Dogwood were blooming pretty much everywhere.


The 'bridge' across Madeline Creek.  That log has been there for a long time.


Madeline Creek as viewed from the middle of the log bridge.


The bridge crossing the Skokomish between Big Log and Camp Pleasant.


There were a lot of Stream Violets blooming along the trail as well.  Very pretty, especially in large clumps.

  

This stream is between Camp Pleasant and Eight Stream.  You either ford it or hop across on wet rocks and logs.  I hopped across going and forded coming back.


The bridge across Eight Stream.  Looks like the same builder as the Skokomish bridge.


A long boardwalk in the woods.  There is a lot of water moving under this walkway.


The Vanilla Leaf is in bloom.


The Hosta's are just starting to come up.


There were a few Fairy Slipper's popping up around camp.


Siberian Miner's Lettuce.  Lot's of this around with both white and pink flowers.


A Bleeding Heart poking up on the river bank at Nine Stream.


Still have a few Trillium out, although not near what there was a month ago.


View of the Skokomish just up from Nine Stream.  The beach to the right is just below my camp.


An elk grazing just across the river from camp.


Three more grazing elk.


Salmonberry in bloom.


An old dead snag in a meadow just up from Nine Stream.  Needs an eagle perched in the top.


Home for the night.  On a bluff about 20 feet above the river in the background.


An old slide on the far side of the river between Eight & Nine streams


This guy posed for me just long enough to get the camera out and then he disappeared.


A nurse log about 15 feet above the trail, just upstream from Camp Pleasant.


Official greeter for Camp Pleasant.


Looking down the Skokomish from Camp Pleasant.


Maidenhair Fern.  One of my favorite ferns.


The guy to the right is about as big as my thumbnail.  


The pack trail bring in supplies for the trail crew.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking SPOT for a Walk

About 4 years ago my son gave my wife one of the original SPOT's for Christmas.  The intent was that I would carry it to let her know that I was OK, thus giving her a bit more peace of mind.  It was a bit clunky but it did generally work and let her know at least once a day that I was still alive and well.  But it was a bit challenging to share any kind of change of plans with her once I had left the trail head.

The original SPOT and four buttons, including the power button.  I could send an OK message, a Help message, or an SOS message.  For the OK and Help messages I could set up a list of email addresses and/or phone numbers that would get each message I sent from the device.  The messages sent would include my pre-canned text as well as my location coordinates and a link to my position on Google Maps.  The SOS message would be sent to the SAR folks and fortunately I have never had occasion to test that one out.

Last year I upgraded to a SPOT Connect.  This device is used in conjunction with my Android phone (also works with iPhone) to allow for sending one of a number of predefined messages or a short on-the-fly message you type into your phone.  You can also now select who you want to send the messages to, including Facebook and Twitter.

I used this quite a bit last year, keeping my wife and other interested parties updated on my position as well as an occasional Facebook post.  I liked the ability to customize the messages as well as direct them to specific people.  The Facebook posting was nice as well although not nearly as important.  Also very nice is the reduced weight and size of the Connect.  If you are going to be lugging a phone out with you anyway, then there is little downside to requiring the phone be connected to send a message, other than a bit more futz factor.

SPOT also has a Tracking feature that will automatically send out a position message every 10 minutes.  I tried this the first year but was unhappy with it and did not bother with it again until this year.  I am now setup to track my trips and found it worked fairly well on the first trip out.  At this point I am planning on doing this for the remainder of this years trips, including the PCT in August.

One of the neat things about the Tracking feature now is the ability to share a map of the trip with the rest of the world.  There are several ways of doing this, including the live map at the bottom of this page.  It will show each received tracking message as it comes in, allowing anyone who is interested to see where I am along the trail, and where I have been.  This map will only contain the most recent 7 days worth of messages, but will be good for providing current trip data.

The trip data can also be imported into an Adventure Map, providing a permanent record of the trip data.  This map also allows for embedding pictures and a trip description.  This looks pretty cool so far.  But I have yet to figure out how to load more than the most recent 7 days of SPOT data into it; so a longer trip may be problematic.  Hopefully I will have that figured out prior to the August trip.

I am heading out in the morning for a trip up the Skokomish River in the ONP.  If all works as advertised, and you are interested, you should be able to stop back by here periodically and see how the trip is progressing.  When I get back I will update this blog to indicate anything else I have learned.



This map not be functional until SPOT starts sending data, likely by 9:00 AM PDT on 6/20/2012.  The data in this map will start disappearing after 7 days.




Update 6/21/2012: As you can see from the above map, the tracking did work; kinda.  There were long stretches where nothing got through, a suspect because of heavy tree cover.  I carried SPOT on top of my pack in the correct orientation, so I was not blocking it.  Looks like it should be useful for keeping the wife updated, but probably not something that would do a wonderful job of documenting the trip.  I did have Backcountry Navigator running on my phone on the trip up.  Looks like it did a better job.

Monday, June 18, 2012

When Church Is No Fun!

I have been active in one church or another just about my entire adult life.  And sometimes the experience has been meaningful and rewarding, and other times it has been more of a drag.  While I could wish that it was all sunshine and roses, the reality of it, at least for me, has been different than that.

The tendency for me, when church starts to become a drag, is to try and figure out who or what is causing the problem for me.  Surely, if the worship, Bible study and fellowship are falling flat then someone is to blame.  And if that person(s) would just get their act together then all would be well again.

And the reality is that someone generally is to blame for it.  Unfortunately all to often that person is me.  If my own time alone with God is not vibrant, then why should I expect my experience with corporate worship to be any different?  If I am not excited about spending time in the word, then why should I expect that the sermon or teaching will be meaningful?  If I am not seeking and following God's direction in my life, then why should I expect God to be providing any direction from what I hear at church?

There may well be other problems in the church besides me; after all the church is made up of people like myself.  But so long as I blame others for my struggle with church, and ignore my own responsibilities, then it is not likely that it will get any better for me; even if every other problem were to vanish.

On the other hand, if I take care of what I have some control over, and that is myself, then I might find the corporate experience more rewarding.  And might just possibly inspire someone else who is going through the same struggle.  And if that happened to enough of us, can you imagine what that might mean in the church?

Friday, June 15, 2012

So Let Me Get This Straight

"If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U. S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 yrs ...No wonder we are a country in debt. Re-post if you agree."
I have been seeing this posted on Facebook, by multiple friends, for several months now.  My assumption is that they agree with the statement, but I hope that is only because they have not really read it.  I personally find it to be rather troubling.

There are four countries compared in this diatribe: North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran and the US. It appears like North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran are being compared against the US; and that the North Korean, Afghan and Iranian models of handling illegal immigration are preferred to that of the US.  Do they really want us to authorize our police to shoot anyone who cannot prove US citizenship?  I hope not!

At question here is illegal entry into these countries, although the comparison is actually deceitful.  Yes, if you illegally cross into North Korea, Afghanistan or Iran, and get caught, you are in deep doo-doo.  But is it true that if you illegally cross into the US, and get caught, that you are rewarded with a job,food stamps, housing, health care, etc?  No.  Actually you would be jailed and ultimately deported.  This is really a kind of bait and switch argument.

But what happens is you enter these countries illegally and don't get caught?  Why, you get to live like any other citizen of that country, regardless the country you have entered.  In North Korea, Afghanistan or Iran that means poverty, poor health care, oppression, little education and little in the way of benefits.  Anyone want to go to one of these places?  In the US, it means that you are given the opportunity to rise up out of poverty, have adequate health care, are generally free of oppression, have the opportunity for an education and a wide range of benefits.

The US has many problems, and if I could get appointed emperor I'm sure I could resolve many of them (sounds like another blog post).  But in spite of all the problems we face, including a high debt level (which has little if anything to do with illegal immigration), there are few places in the world I would rather live.  And I, for one, am quite thankful that illegal immigrants are able to get a job, a driver's license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, etc.   Because that means that I, along with the rest of my fellow citizens, are able to do so as well.

And just in case you haven't guessed, I do not agree with the sediment expressed at the top and will not be re-posting the statement.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Married to Jesus


In the midst of Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 is an interesting comparison to Christ and his church.  Much of what Paul has to say to both parties in the marriage relationship is compared to the relationship between Jesus, as the husband, and the church, as his bride.  My previous blog post discussed the husband/wife relationship but I believe that the Christ/church relationship is also worth exploring.

While a certain amount of what Paul has had to say in Ephesians is directed at individual believers, he has also had a lot to say concerning the church as a body; much of it concerned with helping the church to mature.  And that is true in this passage as well.  It is the church, as a body, rather than individual members, being addressed in this passage.  But at the same time it is important to realize that I am a member of that body, and the body will only reach its potential as I, and others like me, commit to it and fulfill the role we were called to.

The role of the church in this relationship is simply to submit to Christ; in everything.  Paul has already shared with us that the church is central to God's plan and that he has equipped the church for success.  All we have to do is submit to him.  But I have a struggle with that; submission requires me (us) to give up control, doing not what we think is best, or makes us most comfortable, but doing what Christ tells us to do.

For a successful marriage with Christ, the church needs to be united as one body, growing in maturity, seeing Christ's direction for us, and then submitting to that direction.  Without unity, without maturity, without knowing the direction we should go, it will not be possible for us, as a church, to submit to our husband in everything.

But how does a church reach this unity and maturity?  I would not pretend to know all of the answers to that, but it seems to me that it will only happen as each of us, as members of that body, learn to submit to each other and to Christ; as we choose to take the role our Lord has given to us; and as we do our part in building up the body.

Christ is described as loving the church and giving himself up for her.  In doing so he made her holy and clean, and can now present her to himself as a radiant, holy and blameless bride.  Many of the Old Testament prophets painted a picture of Israel being married to God, describing what God had done in taking a poor, rejected, and often immoral, young woman, pulling her out of the filthy environment she was in, cleaning her up, giving her new clothes to wear, and then entering into a marriage covenant with her.  This is the same picture, in fewer words, that Paul is painting here.  Jesus paid the ultimate price to claim his church, cleaned her up, put her into beautiful clothes and claimed her as his bride.

To me, the most interesting part of this passage is in verses 21 & 22.  It starts off with a quote from Genesis that many people include in their wedding ceremony: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This illustrates leaving the old life and family relationships behind, and becoming something new; two people becoming one flesh.  That becoming one flesh is the most intimate relationship we have.

And this is followed by: “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.”  Could it really be that Paul views the relationship between a husband and wife as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and his church?  It would appear so.  Fortunately Paul says that it is a profound mystery, so it is probably OK if I do not fully understand all of the implications of this verse.  But at the very least it refers to an intimacy between Christ and his church, of which I am a part, which goes well beyond the master/servant relationship we more commonly think of.

A similar passage comes from John 17:20-22 and following: “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Jesus prayer in this passage is that his future followers, us, would experience the same unity together that Jesus does with the Father.   And not only would we share that oneness with each other, but that we would also share it with God.

I honestly don’t know just what to make of these two passages.  But at the very least it seems clear that God desires an intimacy with his people, Christ’s bride, that goes beyond anything that we can experience apart from him.  The closest we can get is the intimate relationship between a husband and his wife.  But I suspect that is really just a shadow of the reality he is inviting us to be a part of.

So just how do I experience this intimacy with God and my fellow believers?  I believe the answer lies in the word ‘submit’.  The one thing I really don’t want to do, is the one thing I need to do to experience the joy of knowing my creator in a very personal way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All In the Family


In Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9, Paul deals with some specific family type relationships.  Some of these are very challenging to 21st century westerners and are often the most controversial passages in Ephesians.  Wives submitting to their husbands as well as instructions for slaves and their masters just don't seem to sit well with a lot of people.  But before sharing some thoughts on these passages, it might be useful to examine another issue first.

Does the Bible define an 'ideal' family relationship?  Or does it provide guidance for dealing with the family situation in the day that it was written in?  While there may be some element of truth to the first possibility, I believe the second is more realistic.  When Paul gives instructions to families in Ephesians, I believe he is recognizing the current socially accepted family life and is providing guidance to Christians who find themselves in any of those family relationships.  And if that is the case, then as the socially accepted family life changes over time, we may need to be a bit more careful how we apply the guidance provided.

So what was the family like in the 1st century Roman world?  While it consisted of a married man and woman along with their children, the resemblance to modern families in the western world ends there.  This was a very male dominated society where women and children are little more than property.  Marriages were most commonly arranged by the parents, for reasons other than love.  The oldest living male in an extended family had overall control, even over grown sons with families of their own.  Slavery was an accepted part of society and slaves were often considered part of the extended family.

To the believers in this type of family Paul gave the following directions:
  • Wives, submit to your husbands.
  • Husbands (man), love your wives like you do yourself.
  • Children, obey your parents.
  • Fathers (man), train your children in the Lord.
  • Slaves, respect and serve your masters wholeheartedly.
  • Masters (man), respect your slaves.
Notice here that wives, children and slaves and told only to do what they are already expected to do; submit, obey and serve.  But for all three they are to do it as if their husband, father or master was Christ himself.  Treat that one who is authority over you in the same way you would if Jesus was the one in that place.

It is when Paul turns to the man that things get dramatically turned around.  Rather than treat the other three groups in the family as property, we are to love as ourselves, train rather than frustrate, and treat with respect.  This is a pretty radical set of directions that, if followed, would work to transform the family life.

The onus of this passage is really on the man, the head of the family.  He was the dominate member of the family, and only as he changed could the family really become something different.  The others are encouraged to cooperate with him and make his task easier.

So how does this relate to family life today?  For most of us slavery is considered as barbarian with no place in our society.  And, while the western world still has some element of male dominance, it is no longer anything like it was in the first century.  So can we ignore the admonitions that seem at odds to our families today?  Or is it possible that there is something that we can still learn from them?

In particular, what about the direction for a wife to submit to her husband; something many men dream about and their wives laugh about?  Take a look at 5:21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."  This is a general guideline for relations between believers and would seem to include telling husbands to submit to their wives as much as wives to their husbands.  In submitting to each other as believers, as members of the body of Christ, we are putting each other’s interests ahead of our own; something that is challenging, but needful if we are to live in community as a body.  How much more important in the context of a marriage that the two put each other’s interests above their own?

In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus responds to a request for prominence by two of his disciples with some direction concerning kingdom greatness: "whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant."  To live life as a disciple of Jesus, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, is to live as a servant.  Even Christ "did not come to be served, but to serve."  Do you think it might be then that believing husbands might also reasonably be expected to serve their believing wives?

And that is really the instruction that Paul gives to us, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and as we love our own bodies.  What a radical thought for a first century man; rather than be lord of his home, he is to love and care for his wife, as well as the other members of his family.  While our wives may be uncomfortable with this passage today, I would bet it was the men who were when Paul wrote it.  Regardless the social mores of your day and place, choose to submit to and serve each other within your marriage.  Work together for each other’s enrichment and for the strengthening of your marriage.

Before leaving this section on marriage, I believe it is worth noting that Paul’s instruction to the wife to submit is not the same thing as instruction to the husband to force submission.  Those who would seek to use this passage as an excuse to subjugate their wives, or women in general, are seriously misusing this passage.

In regards to slavery, are not the guidelines Paul gives useful in the employee/employer relationship?  As an employee, should I not try to be pleasing to my boss, not just when he is watching, but all the time; serving him as though I were serving God?  And as a manager, should I not treat my employees with respect and help them to be successful?

I believe it is OK, and actually preferably, if our home life does not model the first century home life that Paul is addressing.  But the direction he gives to those homes still has application to us today.  Treat each other with love and respect and seek the advancement of your family, even if it costs you personally.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Gehenna

One of the primary words of Jesus that is translated as hell in many translations is Gehenna.  In fact, there are only two occasions in the NIV New Testament where the word hell is something other than Gehenna: Luke 16:23 with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man; and 2 Peter 2:4, discussing the destination of the fallen angels.  So I thought it might be interesting to look at bit more closely at Gehenna: what was it in Jesus day; and what does he say about it.

Not much appears to actually be known about Gehenna, or Valley of the Son of Hinnom.  The Old Testament identifies it as a place of idol worship and is likely synonymous with Topheth.  There is some thought that it served as a garbage dump in the time of Jesus but that is not known for sure.  The assumption that it had become a garbage dump does have some appeal based on its history as a place of defilement and what Jesus has to say about it.

A burning garbage dump

I spent a few years in Sicily while I was in the Navy and commuted past the garbage dump below the town of Misterbianco.  This dump was in the process of filling the valley alongside the road I traveled on.  The place was always smoking from the fires that smoldered there, and the number of flies swarming the place was truly amazing.  I can't imagine how many maggots must have been happily dining on whatever was thrown into the dump from passing cars.

Jesus describes Gehenna as a place where the wicked are cast (Matt 23:33), a place where body and soul are destroyed (Matt 10:28), a place where the fire never goes out and the worm does not die (Mark 9:42-48).  How like the Misterbianco dump: a place where refuse is tossed; a place that destroys whatever is cast into it; a place where the fires burn continuously; and a place where maggots and other decomposers are continuously at work.

Michelangelo's Last Judgement

But I find it interesting that nowhere in Jesus description of Gehenna is the idea that the garbage cast into the dump will survive the fire and worms.  On the contrary, those cast into the dump are destroyed body and soul. The fire and worms will always be available to consume whatever garbage is thrown into the dump.

In fact, apart from a couple of passages in Revelation, a writing filled with symbolism, I can find nothing in the New Testament to support the traditional view of hell being a place of eternal conscious torment for unbelievers.  Rather it appears to be a place where unbelievers are completely destroyed, or annihilated. I realize this is contrary to the more traditional view, and I am open to correction here, but I just don't see eternal torture in the New Testament.

I would love to discuss this with anyone who would care to at Rational Christianity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Countdown to the PCT - 8 Weeks

Eight more weeks!  8 weeks from today I should be launching out on the 2012 edition of my PCT adventure.  It has been out there in the future for some time now, but it suddenly has become imminent; time to get serious around the preparation and planning.

I launched my conquest of the PCT 2 summers ago when a friend and I tackled the 70 mile section from Rainy pass on Highway 20 up to the northern terminus at Manning Park in British Columbia.  It was a good introduction to the trail and helped to whet my appetite for more.

Last year I had initially planned on Highway 20 down to I-90, but the snow levels were too high for my comfort.  So I shifted down into Oregon and went from the Columbia River south to McKenzie Pass on Oregon Route 242.  This was a much longer stretch than anything I had tackled before and was very physically demanding.

So this year I am responding by increasing the mileage from 160 miles to about 400.  I plan to start this year at McKenzie Pass and head south to Seiad Valley at the north end of California, finishing off Oregon.  Then I will move back north and hike with a friend from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass in Washington.  The month of August is dedicated to this endeavor.

So many things to do to prepare for a trip like this.  The biggest concern to me has to do with the physical conditioning.  I am currently running about 25 miles a week.  But on this trip I will be carrying 20-30 pounds for 20-25 miles a day over a hilly mountain route.  Getting the bony shoulders and hips toughened up to carry the pack, and the feet tough enough to handle the pounding are the biggest challenges there.  And that will only be rectified by more time out on the trail.  I currently plan on being out every other weekend in June and July getting the body ready for this.

I know where I am going, and generally what my rate of passage will be.  But I still need to invest some time in becoming more familiar with the trail and making sure I have all the maps I need.  One of the lessons I learned last year is that the PCT in Oregon does not have nearly as much water as the Olympic Mountains.  It was not uncommon at all to go 10 miles or more between water sources.  So I want to be sure that things like water, good camping, noteworthy sights are marked on my map.  At this point in the preparation I am planning on taking along the overview maps from the USFS for general use and markup.  And I will use Backcountry Navigator, a mapping application, installed on my phone, along with its GPS to handle detailed or more complex navigational issues.

Food is not that big a deal for a trip of 2-3 days.  But it becomes a much bigger deal when preparing for a month.  Fortunately I will not have to carry more than about 5 days of food except for the last week.  But I still need to be sure I have enough variety so that I will not be too bored with the food to actually eat it.  And I need to be sure that it packs as many calories as possible into each ounce.  It is also helpful if it does not require refrigeration, is easy to prepare, and does not turn into a pile of crumbs when stuffed into a backpack.  Further complicating food selection this year is the plan to go without a stove.

I have been working on a diet that reduces weight as much as possible, and can be eaten without cooking, and that tastes good enough to eat at the end of long day after long day.  It is surprisingly difficult to get 4000 calories of editable, easily packable, and simple to prepare food at under 2 pounds a day.  The quest is still underway to find the wonder diet that will get me through this; other than a steady diet of Snickers and Baby Ruths.

There are a number of other tweaks to equipment that I am working on and will be testing out in the Olympics over the next 8 weeks.
  • Learning the best way to use my new Sawyer Squeeze filter rather than chemicals.  Being able to get drinkable water from tiny trickles, and not have to wait 4 hours, is going to be very important.
  • Simplifying the setup for my tarp.  It will go up and down a lot of times in that month and it is a bit cumbersome right now.
  • I have a new camera (Canon SX260 HS) with lots of bells and whistles and want to be sure I can maximize its features.
  • Learning how to use the tracking feature of my SPOT and how to publish the resultant map so if anyone is interested they will be able to track me along the way.
  • How to keep all the electronics charged and functional.  I will meet Sue every few days and can recharge them then, so long as the car is equipped for it.
  • And I'm sure there will be many other things come up as the time gets closer.  The trick will be to deal with things as they come up rather than wait until the end and be overwhelmed with it all.
And, in many ways most importantly, working with Sue as she prepares to support the hike.  She will be traveling along in the car and meeting me every few days for resupply and whatever else is needed, not to mention getting the opportunity to share portions of the trail.  We need to find places for her to stay and things to do when I am several days away from an access point.  We are also working on get the proper equipment to ensure that her trip is as good as possible.  She is looking forward to it, and I want to make sure she still has the same positive feelings come the first of September.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Imitators of God

The fifth chapter of Ephesians starts off with an interesting directive: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children".  If you are like me, your initial response to this might be something along the line of "Huh!  How could I possibly imitate the creator of this universe and all that's in it?  I have a hard enough time managing my own life without attempting to manage a universe."  But fortunately that's not really what Paul meant, and he goes on to give us better instruction in the process of being a God imitator.

Live a life of love

The first clue in how to imitate God comes in verse 2; live a life of sacrificial Christ-like love.  If we are to imitate God, then our best example to follow is that of Jesus, who was God incarnate.  God loved me and gave himself for me.  If I am going to imitate him then I need to love those around me and be willing to give myself for them.

Sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, and greed are out.  And not only are these things to be avoided, we should not even give people a cause to suspect them in us.  They are improper for God’s holy people.  Paul goes so far as to warn us that if these things characterize our life, then we have no place in the kingdom of God.  We cannot be like God and be immoral, impure or greedy.  And note the connection Paul established between greed and idolatry.  Greed, the desire for more and more, is a form of idol worship; you are worshiping the god of materialism.

In verses 4 & 6 Paul again returns to our speech.  He has already told us that only things that are helpful to others should come out of our mouth.  And now he expands unwholesome talk (4:29) to include obscenity, foolish talking and coarse joking.  My mouth oftentimes seems to have a mind of its own, and I really need to guard against letting it run unattended.  Rather than speech that is hurtful or vulgar, focus on helpful and thanksgiving.  Paul also warns us against those who would come with deceitful and empty words.  Don’t be taken in by those would try to lead us astray (4:14).

Live as children of light

We used to live in darkness, separated from the light of Christ.  But that is our past and we should no longer live like that.  Instead we should shine the light of Christ into the darkness and expose those actions for what they really are.  Where the light shines, there is no place for the darkness.

Now we are light, children of light, and should live accordingly.  Imitate God, find out what pleases him, and do that.  If it is truly good, righteous, or true, then we can embrace it and know that it pleases God.  In any situation, we should be able to do what is right, what is good, hold to what is true.  If I am indeed a child of the light, then it will be clear to me what is right, good and true.  I should not be deceived about that by those who would draw me away from God to follow their own agenda.

Live with wisdom

While some will claim that our technological and societal advances are ushering in a new age of enlightenment and growth for humanity, Paul paints an entirely different picture; the days are evil.  Much of the so called advancements that we have made have come at the cost of leaving behind the supposedly old and outdated images of God that have tied us down for so long; a return to darkness.

Be wise and make the most of every opportunity.  Look for ways to allow the light of Christ to shine into the dark world around us.  Do not foolishly follow the ways of the world in its wisdom.  Rather know and understand the will of God and choose to follow it instead.

Be filled with the Spirit of God, and allow the Spirit to speak out through you.  Let’s sing together in praise of God, and give thanks to him, regardless what is going on around us.

How does one imitate God?  By living a life of love, by living as a child of the light, and by living with wisdom.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Up the Dose

It's already the first of June and it had been nearly 9 months since I spent a night in the woods.  But that failing was overcome this weekend.  I was invited out by a couple of young men I had not seen in several years and I jumped at the chance to hang out in the woods and get better acquainted.

I headed out Friday morning early, forgoing the normal long run, and hit the washout/new trailhead on the Dosewallips at about 9:30.  The other guys were coming along later so I set off up the trail/old road.  There was only one other vehicle at the washout, and I met him coming out fairly early; I enjoy being the only person out on the trail.

The weather was really great for hiking, dry, cool and somewhat overcast.  The spring flowers were blooming very nicely along the road and I wasted lots of time taking pictures.  Once I got onto the trail proper there were not nearly as many flowers blooming, but I did find a few.

It was also interesting to see how much the forest is recovering from the recent fire.  There are still a few burnt snags visible, but if you are not looking for them you might easily miss that it had been recently burned.  It is greening up very well through there.

I setup the hammock at Dose Forks and then headed up toward Deception Creek, looking for some snow to play in.  But, alas, I grew weary of the search before snow was found.  I got up to Hawk Creek and turned around; heading back to Dose Forks.  The trail was in great shape as far up as I went.

Shortly after I got back to camp the other guys showed up and we spent a pleasant evening around the campfire.  I am not really a campfire kind of person, but I have to admit that I did enjoy the experience of sitting around the fire and 'bonding' with the guys.

The Dose was up as high as I had ever seen it; and its roar made for good sleeping.  Not another sound could be heard through the night.  Peacefully slept the night away snuggled up in my down cocoon.

Got up around 7 this morning and spent the next 4 hours eating, visiting and breaking down camp.  The other guys were spending a couple of additional days in camp so I headed out alone and got back to the truck just as it started to rain.

All it all it was a very good trip, visiting with Jesse and Carl,  shaking the rust off, getting familiar with some new gear, and working on going stove-less.  I am going to need to get back out and do this again real soon!

Lots of Columbine 
Why did the Banana Slug cross the road?
Plenty of Paint Brush
Lots of Sedum as well
He posed so nicely for me.
A small field of white flowers
The waterfall just below the Ranger Station
Dosewallips Ranger Station
Calypso Falls on the Upper Twin creek
There were quite a few Fairy Slippers above Dose Forks
Mushrooms pushing their way up
Guess who was the most comfortable?
Looking up the Dose from the Dose Fork bridge
There were still quite a few Rhododendrons in bloom.