Sunday, August 30, 2009

Road Trip: Final Days

Well, I arrived home yesterday evening safely, and am now preparing to settle back into the routines of my daily life. As some may have noticed, I didn’t post up about the last two days of my journey, the reason being that very little happened. Basically, we left Portland and drove for twelve hours, had amazing pizza at Mt. Mike’s in San Jose and stayed with Tyler’s mom’s best friend, then drove home the next day. All of us switched of driving, and when it wasn’t our turn to drive we mostly read or napped. Probably the most dramatic part of our journey was seeing the massive plume of smoke from the fires out in LA. That situation is definitely something to be praying for, or even volunteering assistance if you can in any way.

Book Review: Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Before I get into any longwinded discussion of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, let me just say that it’s absolutely amazing. I picked this book up and could hardly put it down, its presentation of Christian doctrine is incredible and for many it will be revolutionary (though it is really the historic understanding of things). Get this book, read it, then give it to your friends so they can read it. Don’t just take my word for it either, Dallas Willard, Rob Bell and Richard Foster all praise the book, and their recommendation should carry a bit more weight than mine I think. Now, on to why I think this book is so incredible.

I picked up Surprised by Hope while visiting Regent College, the seminary in Canada where I hope to do my masters education. I’d been given a $25 gift card by the college, and was looking around the store for something to pick, finding myself quite overwhelmed by the sheer quality and quantity of books available. One of the concepts which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, has been the importance of embodiment, specifically as it relates to the biblical and historic conception of the afterlife. Thus, when asked if I needed help finding anything, I asked to see if they had any books on that subject, and I was immediately taken to several (the man knew what I meant and knew where to find it without looking it up, is that cool or what?). As I said, there were several, but in the end I decided to pick up Surprised by Hope, and as you already know I was not disappointed.

The book is subtitled Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, and it addresses the true biblical hope for our futures, the significance of the bodily resurrection of Christ and how these two things relate to the mission of the church in the world today. This is a book bursting with hope, and filled with the message that our lives as Christians have deep significance in the here and now. The book addresses many of the false ideas that have grown up in Western civilization about the biblical understanding of human nature and the afterlife, and seeks to recover the historical understanding of these things, which as Dallas Willard says “uniquely meets the challenge facing the Church by recovering the original, radical understanding of resurrection, salvation and the Good news of life now in the Kingdom of God.”

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I don’t think Wright is quite emphatic enough in emphasizing that building for the Kingdom must not take the form of a Theocracy. Mind you, he says this, but I just wish he’d made it more clear.

Anyway, as I said, read this book, and hopefully it will change your reading of the Bible, and also your life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Road Trip: Vancouver - If they call this a park, what's a forrest

Our luggage packed, and a wonderful breakfast of pancakes eaten, Tyler and I bid farewell to our hosts. Saying goodbye to people is always tough, and I hope I can maintain a friendship with them, they are truly awesome people. Also, Daniel is still ridiculously cute, and was even more talkative this morning. After our farewells, we drove the car over to Regent and picked up Nate, who had once again been driven there by his host, and I picked up my free cup of coffee. It was a very good cup, neither too strong nor too weak, with a nice rich and nutty flavor.

With Nate’s luggage securely placed inside the Scion, we set out from Regent and deeper into Vancouver to view the famous Stanley Park. Curiously, Tyler’s parents had actually flown up to Vancouver the day before, and we thought to meet them in Stanley Park, but, alas, they had to catch a small plane over to Vancouver Island. We had also, by the way, just missed seeing some of our Southern California friends when we were in San Francisco. Seems like everyone is traveling these days. Anyway, about a half-hour after we set out we arrived in Stanley Park.

Stanley Park is, like the Pacific Spirit Park, a little too epic to rightly be called a park. It is essentially, a forest located out on a peninsula. There are walking paths, bike paths, beaches, a lake, a lagoon, restraints, a rose garden, and probably plenty of other things we missed. Our time in the park started with a stroll through the rose garden and onto a path that led us into the forest and past Beaver Lake. Really, Beaver lake hardly counts as a lake, having hardly any water anymore (a sign on its banks calls it “The Incredible Shrinking Lake”). After passing the lake, we came down to a walking path which circled the peninsula and actually walked almost the entire circumference of the park. Along the way, we stopped to eat lunch at a beachside stand. Tyler and I ate Paninis and Nate had a salmon burger. The path around the park was raised above the waterline, and for the most part the beach it passed was rocky, but there were actually two sand beaches along the way, one of which had a swimming pool behind it.

Anyway, after enjoying our trip through the park, we set out on the road and drove all the way from Vancouver to Portland, where we’ll be staying the night. Tomorrow we get up super early for the twelve-hour drive to San Jose. Wewt.

By the way, for those of you keeping track, in two days in Canada, Tyler and I never had an actual conversation with a single Canadian. Our hosts were Australian, and our guide to Regent American. Nate, however, stayed with Canadian hosts.

Road Trip: Vancouver - Radical Hospitality

One of Nate’s hosts works at Regent, and had to be there at eight in the morning, so she took him with her when she drove to work. Because of this, Tyler and I rose early so we could meet Nate at Regent close to eight, though our actual appointment was not until eleven in the morning. Our hosts actually live within walking distance of the college (and are awesome and don’t own a car), so after showers and a breakfast of toast we were shown the direction to Regent by Nathan. By this point, by the way, Daniel had become quite talkative, though his vocabulary was limited to “Dada,” “Daddy,” “Mama,” “Mommy,” and “Uh oh” combined with several grunts and a generous amount of pointing and facial expressions. This was, naturally,  ridiculously cute.

Nate had decided to sequester himself in a far hidden corner of the library, so it took us some time to find him but we did eventually, after which we took a short walk around part of the University of British Columbia campus (where Regent is located) and we then returned to Regent. The college is entirely located in one building, with the library and administration in the basement, as well as several classrooms; the bookstore, coffee shop, chapel and more classrooms on the first floor; and several more classes and offices on the second floor.  We still had some time before we were supposed to be given our tour of the building, so we poked around the bookstore and bought drinks and pastries at the coffee shop. As it turned out, a lot in the bookstore was on sale and I bought a CD lecture for half-off, figuring that’d be a good way to get an idea about the quality of teaching at the school.

Finally, we went down to administration at met Matt, the man responsible for taking care of visitors like us, and he showed us around the building and then sat down to talk with us about various details of the schools, from financing to programs. Matt is an American, so he was able to give us a lot of information on what U.S. Citizens have to do to attend Regent. Regent, by the way, is a Seminary which trains people in theology who won’t necessarily go on to be pastors or theology teachers (though they certainly do train these as well) and with a focus on the goodness of God’s creation (and new creation). One thing I love about the program  is that they present a multitude of orthodox views on various subjects and allow students to come to their own conclusions about them. Anyway, Matt gave us plenty of materials to look at, as well as giving us each a coupon for a free cup of coffee from the café, a CD lecture on the essence of Anglicanism (Regent is not really an Anglican seminary, but they have an Anglican studies program that supplements the education of individuals who want to go on to Anglican ministry) and a $25 gift certificate to the book store.  We thanked Matt for his hospitality, time and the information he had given us, and then walked across the street to eat at a Sushi place recommended by Matt. Apparently, Vancouver has really good Sushi and Nate and I found what we had to be quite good, though Tyler complained about his. To each his own I guess.

We finished our lunches, and then went back to the Regent bookstore to take advantage of our gift certificates. Tyler bought Blue Like Jazz and Through Painted deserts by Donald Miller, and I bought a book called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our age) on the hope of the resurrection. Nate didn’t find anything yet, but he’ll be able to use the gift certificate to buy books through the Regent bookstore’s website.

After our time at the bookstore, we returned to Tyler and my hosts’ house, where Tyler’s car was parked. We planned on heading over to Stanley Park, but realized there wasn’t going to be enough time to do both this and still get Nate back in time for his host to take him home. Instead, we went for a walk in the Pacific Spirit Park, which is within walking distance of Regent. It’s rather odd to call it a park really, since it’s more of a giant patch of forest with trails, or in other words, totally wicked awesome. Sadly, we didn’t actually get any pictures of this park, so you’ll just have to take my word for how awesome it is. There are thousands-upon-thousands of evergreen trees stretching high into the air, between them and the thick underbrush snake a multitude of paths. We probably walked for about forty minutes or so and covered maybe a tenth of the park.
Finally, we returned to our respective hosts. Tyler and I had delicious barbequed and spiced hamburgers, and Nate had barbequed chicken . Tyler and I also had a desert of cherries with our hosts, and an Australian sparkling beverage. After diner, Tyler and I went up stairs to read and eventually fell asleep.

Let me just say that we really appreciated the hospitality of Regent and our hosts. Talking with Nathan and Mareesa was also great fun. It was interesting to note though, that because of our common language and religion, it was easy to forget we came from different cultured. Tyler and I kept assuming they'd know things, like what Calvary Chapel is, or where Georgia is, that they didn't know. For their part, our hosts did a better job than us at recognizing things we might not know about. Oh, and I was apparently the first American to ever request black over Herbal tea in their house. Yay.

Road Trip: Washington and Vancouver: Leaving America

No night of restless sleep could keep us from our adventures, and so we headed back into Seattle for more time of exploration before heading to Canada. Our first stop was a little open air nautical museum  displaying a collection of wooden ships, from old tug boats to steamers. The ships were cool, free to look at, and even the parking was free (which seems to be a rarity in cities). Adjacent to the museum was a cruise yacht offering tours of the harbor and we decided to find out how much tickets would be. The captain informed us that, normally, it would be two hours for $22, but then gave us coupons to get on for $11. Not a bad deal, so we bit. Ultimately, it turned out that we were the only ones on the tour, so we got a private two hour tour of the bay for $11 – even better.

Our captain was a slightly creepy, but amiable older man who was happy to inform us where the Vancouver nude beach was when we told him we were going up there to see a seminary. Something tells me he probably didn’t know what a seminary is, or at least he didn’t hear us right. The tour was great fun, Nate and I both bought lunches on the boat, and we got to get little bits of history and information about the city. Some of my favorite sights were the floating homes within the bay. They’re a group of old, grandfathered in settlements built back in the 20s to avoid property taxes. Some of them are fancy little mansions, while others are little more than shacks, but they all look like they’d be cool places to live. Some of the neatest ones had porches crammed full of all kinds of potted plants. This city has in modern times severely limited the expansion of these communities, and almost the only way to get such a house is to buy one from a previous owner and either use it or demolish it and build your own.

In addition to the floating homes, we saw a whole series of crazy-huge waterfront mansions owned by some of the world’s richest people, including the house of Bill Gates himself (interestingly, I’d say the house was moderate in terms of Gates’ income, but that’s not saying much).These houses were mostly built right down on the beach, which was backed by a short cliff. Each of the homes had a garage on the top of the cliff with an incline elevator/gondola to get down the cliff. I think that in some ways this part of the tour was designed to arouse envy in us, and while a beach front house would be nice, the things many of these people did with their money were just absurd to the point of making them almost clownish. For example, one of the other founders of Microsoft bought a huge yacht with a helicopter pad, then he got bored with it and bought an even bigger one, and finally got a massive one with two helicopter pads.

So, we viewed the homes of the rich, as well as various bridges, famous boats and public buildings and we then returned to shore. After this, we drove back to downtown Seattle and spent about an hour meandering through the Pike Place Marketplace. The Marketplace is a cool covered market with produce, craft and food places packed tightly inside. In addition to the shops, there were several street performers playing, which if you ask me are the best part of any marketplace.

Finally, we got back on the road and headed for the Canadian border, another rather uneventful drive. We arrived at the border, which among other things meant we had to navigate the old fashioned way, because Maggie doesn’t have any Canada maps. The length of the line at the border was nothing compared to the monstrosity that is the Mexican border, but there was a bit of a line, and we ended up behind an SUV from California.

“Hello Fellow Californian.”

But alas, the Canadian border police kept up the car for a long time, probably suspicious of them because they had giant USC stickers on the back. Apparently the Canadians have good sense. (I now wink at my friends from USC). We, however, got through without any trouble. One really clever thing we discovered shortly after crossing the border was that the lanes on the freeway are reversible  for purposes of traffic control.  Before entering Canada, we had written down directions to the place where Tyler and I were staying, but we missed our turn and had a massive amount of difficulty finding our way back onto our route, but we eventually did and soon afterward found our way to our hosts’ townhouse. Our hosts were a nice Australian couple (named Nathan and Mareesa) with a single one-year-old boy (Daniel), and they were wonderfully hospitable, helping us with directions and feeding us well for both breakfast and lunch. That night, they fed us a hearty meal of spaghetti and answering my bombardment of questions about Regent College.
I really enjoyed looking at Nathan’s collection of books, which demonstrated a broad and intelligent theological base (and of course reflected the theological bent of Regent). Best of all I think, was a book on quantum mechanics and theology written by a man who is both an Anglican priest and a theoretical physicist. Though I haven’t read the book, I would imagine this background makes him suited to writing an actually quality analysis of the subject, as opposed to the steaming piles of crap found in such works as What the *Bleep* Do We Know?

Daniel was also a lot of fun, though rather quite at first. After dinner, we drove Nate to his hosts’ house further into the city, and then returned to our hosts’ for a dessert of Strawberries and Cream. After dessert, we bid our hosts goodbye and settled in for a night of good sleep on actual beds (well… a bed and a mattress, but infinitely better than sleeping in the car).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Road Trip: Break in Communication

Well folks, I'm heading up into Canada now, which means ny phone's going off and with it my only guaranteed internet connection. I'll keep writing my blog posts anyway, and if I get no net I'll just post them up when I'm back in the states.

Road Trip: Seattle - Space Needle... in Space

A night of sleeping in a car is hard, probably not so hard as sleeping on an airplane, but it’s definitely not bed-status, nor even as good as a floor. Nevertheless, after finishing working on the blog I posted last night I settled into a relatively comfortable position and then, with the help of rain pattering on the roof, I finally fell back to sleep and didn’t wake again until morning. Normally I can sleep soundly pretty much anywhere… if I feel tired, but my body decided that feeling sleepy in a car at night was a bad idea. The same thing happened to my friends, unfortunately,  and they had a more difficult night than I did, but they managed to get some sleep. So now it’s morning, we’re driving along on the freeway, and it’s time to finish yesterdays story.
Driving up to Seattle proved rather uneventful, Nate read more of Halo: First Strike, and I read for a while myself until car sickness started to make that impossible. Our route was nothing near as striking as the Oregon coastal route, though we got some stunning glimpses of white and blue of Mt. St. Helens through the tall green trees that lined the freeway.

The jutting retro-futuristic spire of the space needle came into view around two in the afternoon. Finding parking proved in some ways as difficult as it had been in every city, but we had a bit more experience by this point and were familiar with the pay-to-park system used for street parking, as we’d encountered it in Portland. We ended up parking some distance from the Space Needle and walking there. Naturally, the entrance fee for the famous landmark was outrageous, costing a full $15 just to ride up on an elevator at get a view of the city, but of course we bit. You can’t go to Seattle as a tourist for the first time and not go on the Space Needle. Getting the gorgeous views of the Seattle skyline, bay and mountains was quite worth it though, and perhaps more interesting to me was the information posted up on the history and construction of the building.

 At the time the Space Needle was built, Seattle had won the right to host the World Fair by pushing its commitment to science and to becoming a 21st century city… almost half a century early. As part of this World Fair, the Space Needle was built to exhibit the grandeur of Seattle’s vision for the future, just as the Eiffel Tower had been built for the World Fair in Paris. One fact about its construction that I found very interesting, was that they decided to have the center of gravity be only a few feet off the ground, this meant they had to have a massive amount of steel and concrete underground as a counterbalance for the Needle. Ultimately, they spent 24 hours pouring concrete for the foundation, which is still the longest time on record.
After our journey up the Space Needle, we went across the street to a little café to have lunch. It was a pleasant little place, with outside seating giving us a good view of the Space Needle. Nate and I had a Chinese dish that was quite good, while Tyler had a BLT. I also had a honey nut latte, which was way too sweet. Though we had a good time, the cashier at the place seemed like she really didn’t want to be there, so that put something of a damper on the experience.

Our bellies fed, we walked back to the car to get more time in our parking spot and then went to the most amazing place ever (well… the second most amazing, the most amazing place ever is Powell’s Books) – the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. We all had a blast walking through the place, looking at all the sci-fi props, signed first edition books and the plethora of information on the history of science fiction. They also had some bits of advice on writing science fiction from some of the greats, most of which was absolute crap, but hey, just because you can perform it don’t mean you can teach it. For example, Ray Bradbury mumbled some mystical mumbo-jumbo about how you had to let the inner-man, not yourself write, and Harlan Ellison said profoundly that the deep secret to writing good was to hear the music. Whatever that means. He repeated the statement several times without ever explaining what he meant by it, and he also managed to call community college writing teachers worthless hacks.

Attached to the Sci-fi museum, and entered on the same ticket, was a musical experience museum on the history of Rock n’ Roll. It was cool, and I think Tyler really liked it, but I wasn’t nearly as exciting for me. Mostly, it consisted of lots and lots of displays of different guitars, and information on the instrument and the musicians. It was real cool, but seemed a tad monotonous to me.

Having gotten our money’s worth and more out of the museums, we set out to find dinner, a task which ultimately took us two whole hours. First, Tyler decided we’d eat out of downtown, and we agreed to try and find something we hadn’t had before. So, we asked our GPS to list restaurant categories in the area, and African cuisine came up. That sounded cool, so I clicked on it and found a lot of places, mostly Ethiopian. We decided on one of these, and drove about a half of an hour to get there, only to find it closed. Nearby, Maggie said, was another restraint called Zulu East African food, so we headed out that way and found… a house. Close to an hour wasted already, I began searching for food on the web using my phone and we finally decided on a German Sausage place, which turned out to be in downtown Seattle. Luckily, it was late by now and parking after six is free, so we drove the half-hour back to downtown and parked. We never did find the German place, and most of the places along the street were far too expensive, but we finally found a neat little fish taco place where we all ordered big fish burritos and had a hearty meal. It was also nice to see that the fish they used was caught sustainably.

Finally, we set out to find a place to sleep, heading to a truck stop I found by way of my phone… only it turned out it was a park-and-ride, not a truck stop, and that it explicitly forbade overnight car sleeping. Lame. We searched around on the net for a while to find a camp site or rest stop we could go to, and I finally called Ernie’s Truck Stop to see if we could park there and sleep the night over. It was not, I gathered, something they did on an official basis, but they told us to park in the employee parking on the side and let them know we were there. After rearranging our luggage so we could all get at least semi-recumbent, we set to the difficult task of trying to sleep.

Road Trip: Late Night Write, Leaving Oregon - Hotcakes and Goodbye

The 76 looks like most any other, wider perhaps to allow for the trucks to come in and fuel up. We've parked here, with the permission of the propriotor, in order to sleep. The windows are down a crack, but even with that they've fogged up thick from all of our body heat. Outside, the city is quite, eery. The good news, though, is cops apparently come around here often, so that makes us feel safe (bias?). Anyway, it's getting on towards two in the morning and I'm writing this now because I woke from sleep and I know I won't be able  to fall asleep again for a little while. So, I'll sit here for a while and I'll type, and when I think I can sleep again, I'll lay down my head and continue this later.
Books began our morning, books and breakfast at McDonalds. Our kind hosts wanted to feed us again, but they didn't feel like cooking, so Tyler's grandad drove us over to the McDonalds (and we saw an Albertsons!) and bought us breakfast. Most of us ordered this breakfast combo, and it wasn't nearly so bad as expected. It came with a potato patty, a muffin, pancakes and sausage. I avoided the sausage, which glissened thick with enough grease to make me sick fast, but the rest tasted pretty normal and went down easy. And of course, I deeply appreciated once again our host's hospitality.
After breakfast, we went back to the house to wait for the postman and my passport (my mom had shipped it up by overnight). For a while, we sat around and read. Tyler read Ender's Game, Nate Halo: First Strike, and myself Red Mars and Fear and Trembling. Eventually, we packed and loaded up the car, and then, with near providencial timing, the mailman came just as we finished up, and I gladly took my passport in hand. I called up my mom to let her know it'd come, and also told me about my sister watching Pan's Labyrinth. My phonecall finished, we bid our wonderful hosts goodbye (though we'll see them soon) and got back on to road and on towards Washington. I looked forward to seeing Seattle, but Portland is an amazing city and I will miss her.
Anyway, I'm starting to feel sleepy again, so I'll return later to tell of our adventures in Seattle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Film Review/Theology: Pan's Labyrinth and the Cross of Christ

Today, I called to let my mom know that my passport had arrived in the mail. I'd forgotten it, and she had shipped it up to me using overnight express. That was a huge weight off my chest, but that's not really what this post is about. This post is about a movie.

When I called, my mother told me that my sister and her husband had watched Pan's Labyrinth and, understandably hated it. As they saw it, it was a film about a bad man doing bad things, and what was to like about that? Also understandably, my mother was concerned that I would like something with that  content. So here's my apologetic for the movie. (slight spoilers ahead)

As I see it, Pan's Labyrinth is not about evil, but instead about the power of love and myth in the face of evil. The story is set in fascist Spain, and the man of power in the story is a horrible, sick and twisted man. It seems he has all the power, but a little girl defies him through her love for her mother and her fable (which may or may not be real)  and in the end he looses everything. The little weak girl topples the wicked giant, though not without terrible sacrifice.

This is not unlike life as I, a Christian, see it. The world in which we live is ugly and brutish, and evil appears to have strength, but as we become like children and cast off all power to become filled with love and gentleness, becoming the image of Christ, we begin to conquer this demonic kingdom, not by the force of greater more brutish power, but by the redemptive love and mercy of God. Indeed, this is how Christ bound up Satan, not with great armies or mighty displays of destructive power, but, first, through becoming the least of men; second, through acts of love, restoration and healing; and finally, through humility unto death, "even death on a cross".

That's is why I like Pan's Labyrinth.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Road Trip: Oregon - Serenity and Thunder

The church sat on a street corner, an old white wooden building – gothic they called it, though I didn’t see it. It was called the Old Church, called that because it was indeed the oldest church in all of Portland, established in the 1800s. We had found it the same way we’d found the park, by way of the AAA travel guide, and we came as tourists. After negotiating the great difficulty to navigation and parking offered by downtown Portland, my friends and I found ourselves standing before the church, wondering whether we could enter, and which of the many doors to take.

As we sat and looked on, one of the doors creaked opened and a couple walked silently out. Through the opening, I caught a glimpse of parishioners in worship. Of course we should have thought, this being Sunday, that there might be a church service there, but I at least had assumed for some reason that because it was a tourist destination it would not still house a congregation. Besides, it was close to 11:00 by this point, and I had figured that even if there was a church that met there, it would have been out by now. Turning around, we noticed the sign set on the side of the street, advertising the Presbyterian service meeting at 10:00. Of course, we could have gone in at this point, but we felt a little self-conscious, especially since the parishioners we’d seen exit had definitely been dressed better than we were.

While navigating the maze of the downtown streets, we had seen another church of interesting architecture, a heavy stone building that looked like the chapel from some old medieval college town. This building also advertised itself as being from the 1800s and we decided to check it out while we waited for the service to end. We walked up the block to the church, which itself advertised having a Bible Church meeting within its walls at 10:00. Portlanders, apparently, do not believe in early church. We wandered back around the block and came once more to the entrance of the Old Church. Still uncertain of whether we should enter, it was decided that we should wait until 11:30, which was only ten minutes away, and then enter whether they exited or not. 11:30 rolled around, and while a few parishioners had left the building, it was obvious that the service was still on. We marched up to the door of the church, Tyler going first, and quietly entered. Inside, a beautiful chorus was raised, praising God for His amazing love for which He died for us. While not large, the building was nevertheless impressively full. We stood there in the back of the church watching, and eventually Nate and I joined in with the chorus of the verse. It was Nate who pointed out that we had walked in on the end of communion. Around this time, another man entered from off the street and stood in the back with us.
After this, the pastor gave a benediction, blessing all there that they would be filled with the hope of Christ, and then began singing the doxology (interesting to me that it would be after communion) and he then quickly walked to the back of the church to greet the members of his church as they left. He greeted us, and the other man, warmly and invited us to come again if we so wished. We, of course, responded that we were out of state, but his invitation was genuine enough that were I from Portland, I think I would have come back. The words he said were familiar to me, but it seemed his heart was genuinely into his hospitality. This is especially notable considering how underdressed and uncomfortable we were. On first impression, I liked this pastor very much. Had we thought of it, it would have been nice to have attended the whole service. Oh well.
We left the church a short time later and got into Tyler’s car.

Our next destination, which had been recommended to us by our hosts, was Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the nation, and Oregon’s tallest. Being in Oregon, the parking for the Falls was beastly, with a long line of cars circling around a tiny parking lot. Lucky for us, a car left its spot right as we were coming up to it and we got prime parking.

An old looking gray stone building sits at the bottom of the trail up to the falls, housing the bathroom, gift shop and information center, as well as a number of coffee and snack stands. After breaking to use the restroom, we ducked into the information center to grab a map and then past up the food stands to head up the trail. We once again had packed sandwiches with us, as well as bottles of water and we carried these with us. I had expected something of a hike before we reached a spot where we could view the falls, so I was struck all the more by its stunning beauty when we rounded a corner of the building and the falls came suddenly into view. Multnomah Falls is a gorgeous double cascade, the water roars down from between green trees on the cliffs far overhead, splashing into a pool and then passing under a bridge to fall again. The scale alone is incredible (and sadly is not captured at all by photographs) and the brown moss covered rocks are entirely beautiful. At the bottom of the first fall, a great gouge has been cut in the cliff side by erosion and all the rocks there gleam in the sunlight. Perhaps my favorite part of all were the little rivulets of white water that split off from the main waterfall to trickle down their own paths.

After gazing at the Fall for some time from this vantage point, we walked up the path further to the bridge that crossed the falls and Nate and Tyler took more footage with their cameras. Even here, some distance from the fall itself, we could feel the mist of water on our faces. Going on from there, we wound our way up the switchback trail that moved up the side one of the cliffs near the waterfall. Even on the steep ground between the switchbacks of the trail, trees and ferns grew thick on the ground. Shortcuts between the switchbacks were explicitly forbidden on this trail, and so we wound the way up. Crowds were thick closer to the bottom, but thinned quickly as we made our way up the trail.

Along the way, we paused to eat our sandwiches at a spot that gave us a view not of the waterfall, but of the Columbia River snaking away below. I don’t know how high we got on the trail, though I know I pushed myself further than my body really wanted to go. Really, I wanted to find the top of the trail, but Tyler decided it was time to turn back and so we headed down. Someday I’d like to return and find the top of the trail. On our way down, I decided to run the trail as much as I could, mainly because this was actually easier than trying to walk down hill, but I had to slow down as I returned to more crowded areas. Running down was fun, but I can definitely say that if I did that on a regular basis my hips would be shot, for I could feel every single impact in them.

Ultimately, we spent about an hour at Multnomah Falls and then returned back to Portland. Before going to Tyler’s grandfather’s house, we stopped at a giant Goodwill that Nate and Tyler wanted to check out. I didn’t have any particular interest in going in, but I enjoyed seeing what books they had. I almost picked up a copy of Rendezvous with Rama which is a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, but thought better of it. For now, I need to conserve my money.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Road Trip: Oregon - Portland Does It Better

Portland is a beautiful city, and my time here so far has been wonderful, but before I talk about our day of adventures in the city, I must first backtrack to some events of the night before that happened after the posting of my blog. After Tyler popped the mattress (the duct tape ultimately did not hold by the way) he and Nate went out to the car to double check that they both had something very important – their passports. Nate came in and fished through his bag and revealed it, and in that moment I realized with horror the fact that I had forgotten mine. My mind raced to find a solution, and for a few terrible seconds all seemed hopeless – we would not  be going to Canada. Thankfully, we thought of a solution, though it does mean us spending a bit more time in Portland. That’s not so bad though, because, as I said, Portland is a beautiful city.

Our morning started with sausage and eggs, and we shortly afterward set out on our exploration of Portland. We carried with us a bag of sandwiches that our awesome hosts made for us to take. Our first destination we knew for certain, it had been set in our minds long before our coming to Oregon; we were going to make the great pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books – the world’s largest used and new bookstore. Getting there proved to be rather difficult, as our GPS wanted us to take the 5 North to the 405 (Oregon’s version there-of) North, which was closed. Thankfully, we stayed on the 5 and the GPS figured out another route. This route took us over a huge bridge that crossed the Columbia river. On our way over we got a spectacular view of Portland’s riverside Cityscape. I’m generally not much for cityscapes, but this view was incredible. We arrived in downtown Portland and ran into a different navigation problem – that area of the city has more one way streets than downtown Los Angeles, making it into a veritable maze. We did, finally, find our way into the parking structure for Powell’s, which was small and difficult to navigate, but we got our spot and headed into the book store… and it was worth it.

 Words… words can’t describe how fantastic Powell’s is, though the parking sucked. It was a giant building with four floors packed full of all kinds of books. Secular philosophy had a whole aisle dedicated to philosophy, plus an extra bookshelf (your average Barnes & Noble has maybe four shelves), several aisles dedicated to Christian stuff (including sections on Christian mysticism, church history and theology) and almost an entire floor dedicated to science fiction. It was a little depressing to see, however, that the Christian prophecy section only had premillennial dispensationalist works, but at least it was small. I ultimately did not buy anything, though I was sorely tempted by a signed first edition of The Speed of Dark (one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read) but it was $150, which is out of my price range. Tyler and Nate bought books though, Tyler getting Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Pygmy  and giant book on chess, and Nate getting Empire by Orson Scott Card and several books on various aspects of the military.

After our pilgrimage to this Mecca of literature, we turned to the AAA travel guide Nate’s dad had given us to determine where to go next. The guide mentioned several incredible sounding places, and we ended up settling on Washington Park. Now, I live in Huntington Beach, and so I’ve got a really awesome park a quick drive away from my house, but it is nothing compared to Washington Park. Within the bounds of the park are a zoo, a Japanese garden, a rose garden and a massive arboretum with hours worth of walking trails and thousands of trees. We ate lunch when we first arrived, after which we played on the playground’s seesaw (which Nate tried to kill me with… twice). After this, we walked up to the rose garden and wandered its paths, smelling the sweet fragrance of the flowers. Sadly, Tyler can’t smell the roses, and so couldn’t enjoy that part of the garden’s splendor. From the rose garden, we walked up to the Japanese gardens, which turned out to have an entrance fee. I at least considered paying, but I wanted to check out how much the zoo would cost first. The guide at the gardens told us the zoo was rather far away, and that we could take a bus there if we wanted, but we decided to walk.

The guide pointed out to us the Wildwood Path, which snaked back behind the park through the thick woods of the arboretum. The path started with a switchback climb upwards. Cutting across this path, were smaller paths, made by animals or more adventuresome people, and we took several of these shortcuts for the challenge they offered. We ultimately hiked around for several hours, without ever backtracking and the whole time we never came to the zoo. With the trees and ferns gathered thick enough to make dusk on the path we traveled, I felt like a man transported back in time to some primeval forest. By far the best part of this journey was when we emerged from the darkness of the woods onto a high green meadow. From there, we could see the arboretum trees stretched out bellow us, beyond them the city, and in the far distance the great blue-white peaks of Mt. Reiner and Mt. St. Helens.

Eventually, we found our way back to the car and returned to Tyler’s grandfather’s house. Here we’ve had our dinner, and spent the last few hours reading. Tomorrow, we’re heading out to a local waterfall, and maybe also visiting the old gothic church in Portland. So far, I really love this city, and it’s the only major city I’ve ever been able to say that of on first impression. I even think I could live here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Road Trip: The Western Coast - The Beauty and the Majesty

Today we travelled far, and did little else, but it was nevertheless a good day of beauty and friendship. We woke early to begin our journey, knowing that we had at least eleven hours of driving ahead of us. Late the night before the lights had gone out in a scheduled power outage and they were still out when we woke. I had taken a shower the night before, but for the others this meant a shower in the dark, and for all of us it meant a difficult time making sure we got all of our stuff.

After packing and taking our showers, we got in Tyler’s car, myself driving, and began our journey northwards along the 101. We knew that we could get to our destination faster on the 5, but on a road trip the point is the journey, not just the goal.

The long forest roads which wind along the west coast of American give testament to both the majesty of nature and the ingenuity of man, and both these give testament to the glory of God. The California and Oregon coastlines are spectacularly beautiful, tall emerald trees towering on either side of the black ribbon of highway, and from time to time you will emerge from the thick trees to a gorgeous sapphire sea, the sun glinting off the faces of the waves and white caps dancing in the wind. Dotted along this coastline are countless seaside towns, and occasionally a true city. As beautiful as these places were, I can’t say I would want to live in one. I love the chances living in a populated area gives me to meet new people, as well as the many activities possible (such as taking classes from community colleges). It was in one of these towns, some time before we reached Oregon, that Tyler and I switched places as driver, for he wanted to drive. Tyler enjoys driving on highways, and he stayed as driver for the rest of the journey.

Our journey was slowed by the sheer amount of construction being done on the 101, which often slowed or stopped our forward progress. Seeing this, I couldn’t help but contemplate the massive amount of work we have to put in just to keep our civilization at level, holding back for one more day the forces of entropy. The contrast of this fact to the powerful resiliency of the forests and animals that surround them, their kind having survived the disasters of countless eons by the versatility of genetics – truly awe inspiring. That which God builds endures. Also inspiring awe, and terror, were the roaring gusts of wind that would suddenly shoot across the road and push the car aside.

We finally arrived at the house of Tyler's grandfather, a charming and gregarious old man. He introduced us to his girlfriend, who cooked us delicious meatballs and spaghetti, served with salad garlic bread and a sweet red wine.

They have only one bed for us, which Tyler is taking, and they also bought an air matress for us to use. We ran into a few hitches when pumping it up, however, because they had bought a pump that only plugged into a car charger. Tyler and his grandpa ran out to get the right pump, and when they brought it back Nate pumped it up to a nice plump size. Immediately after this, Tyler plopped town hard onto the matress, keys in pocket, and gashed a big puncture in it. Thanks to the wonders of duct tape, however, we were able to plug the leak - hopefully it'll hold the night. In theory two of us can sleep on it, but it's a little small so I'll take the couch.

And that, really, was our day. Our journey ultimately took us about twelve hours, and along the way we spent some time conversing, but mostly we simply sat in silence, enjoying the scenery and each other’s presence.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Road Trip: San Francisco without the Flowers

Our story today begins with shoes, more specifically one missing shoe. When getting ready to leave, Tyler went to put on his shoes and discovered one to be missing. Both of us had showered at this point and Nate was taking his. We searched in the dirty clothes, under the mattress… everywhere, but the shoe remained missing. Finally, I opened my suitcase and discovered the shoe was there. I knew I had not put anything into the case that morning, so naturally I was puzzled. At this point, Nate came out of his shower and it turned out that he had thrown the shoes in the general direction of my suitcase and one had gotten stuck. Go figure.

Around eleven, an hour later than we had intended, Nate, Tyler, my cousin Chris and I left for our visit to San Francisco. Along the way we entertained ourselves by trying to be the first in the car to spot groups of cows. About an hour later, we arrived in San Francisco, and rather than simply looking for parking and seeing where we’d end up (which worked so well last time), we used the GPS to go first to Fisherman’s Wharf and afterward went to the nearest parking structure. Being close to Fisherman’s Wharf, the parking was naturally outrageously expensive, running $2 for every twenty minutes (with a$38/day maximum). While finding a spot to park in the structure, we noticed a bizarre vehicle, but missed a chance to get a good look, and we made sure to get a closer view on the way down. What we saw, was a bicycle designed for seven people to ride. The seats for the bikes were arranged in a circle around a central hub, each having a pedal that connected into a single drive system. The driver of the vehicle was like the others, but also had a steering wheel. The wheels of the bike were, of course, oriented to the driver's seat. The thing reminded me of an octopus and reminded Nate of something out of a Dr. Seuss. I only wish we could’ve seen the thing in motion.

After viewing the Octoseussmobile, the four of us set out to find affordable but interesting (not In n’ Out) which proved to be quite a quest. There were, naturally, a multitude of food places along the wharf, but they tended to either be food we could get just about anywhere (including at least three separate Boudins), or wildly expensive. Along the way, we of course saw lots of cheaper parking than the one we’d found. Oh Well.

Finally, we came to Pier 39, where we found a nice affordable restraint. Our waitress was a friendly woman with a thick, rich Irish accent, and my friend’s and I had a good hearty meal of Fish and Chips (Nate also had fried shrimp, clams and calamari with his meal). After lunch, we continued to walk along the Pier and view the various shops there. We saw a couple shops dedicated entirely to magnets, a souvenir shop with various signed memorabilia and a hat shop where Tyler found a cap that perfectly matched his jacket (naturally, Tyler bought that hat). The real treats, though, were at the end of the Pier. First, there was a double-decker carousel, and it even ha d a dragon. Now, I don’t particularly care about carousels myself, but my sister has developed a bit of a hobby finding and riding on Carousels, so it was neat to get to see this one and take pictures for her. However, carousels not being my hobby, I didn’t ride it. The end of the pier also had a stunning view of the bay and a fun spectacle of barking and jostling sea lions.

Finally, we took a look at the World War II liberty ship and submarine docked at the bay, though we decided not to pay to actually go onboard. The sheer size of the liberty ship was impressive to see, especially when you consider how fast they built them. Of course, Nate pointed out that one of our modern submarines, the Ohio class, is longer even than the liberty ship. That’s one big submarine.

On the way back from to Santa Rosa from San Francisco the traffic was abysmal, but Nate and I made up for this by getting truly intense in our cow-spotting and the time went by well. At last, we arrived in back and Chris and Tiffany’s place, where we had pizza and started watching I-Robot, which we’re still doing as I type. I’ve seen the movie before, and it’s pretty entertaining, though from what I understand it has little to do with the actual Asimov story, and wasn’t even originally intended to be “I-Robot”. Anyway, during the middle of the movie my Aunt Sheri and my uncle Chuck showed up, and we got to spend some time catching up with them, which I’m very glad of.

Tomorrow, Nate, Tyler and I are leaving for Portland, and I’m very excited – this is going to be my first time in Oregon.

Road Trip: Bay Area and More - Squid, Squid, Fries About the Other Day

I’m not sure exactly when I woke up yesterday, my alarm was set for nine, but I woke up before it buzzed and it never got to do its job. Some time, close to nine but not quite there yet, Tyler grew bored with lying in bed and made a buzzing sound like a dying tug boat. Nate and I, who were both awake, bolted up with looks of total puzzlement on our faces. Had we not been awake, I doubt the dying tugboat routine would’ve woken either of us, but it was certainly effective in getting us out of our dozing.

The day started with a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, muffins, orange juice and coffee that was prepared for us by Nate’s grandparents. They were good hosts, and for their part, seemed to thoroughly enjoy having guests to talk with. After breakfast, through a process of near-comedic trial-and-error, we managed to pack all of our stuff back into Tyler’s car, after which we said goodbye to our hosts and made the short drive over to downtown St. Helena. This is the same downtown of the Woodhouse Chocolates and artisan breads mentioned the other day. We enjoyed ourselves walking along Main Street and looking into all the shops. St. Helena’s downtown is very much the image of a small town main street, and city-raised tourists like us eat that kind of thing up.

Our stroll through St. Helena finished, the three of us got into Tyler’s car and drove a little north of St. Helena to Deer Park Road, a street that winds all the way up the valley and gives the driver a vantage point of all of Napa Valley. Nate’s grandmother had recommended that we go up the road, and we’re definitely glad that we took her advice. On the way up, we actually missed the turnout for us to stop and view the valley, but before too long we realized and turned around.

I don't even think a picture could capture it - the sublime width and depth of the scene, the deep awe with which it filled us, and the sense of privilege that being able to view it gave us.

After trekking up Deer Park Road, we made our final Napa Valley stop, driving into Napa proper so that I could show Nate and Tyler the Oxbow market. Since I’ve already described the market for you, I won’t bore you with details, other than to say that they enjoyed it and appreciated the local grocers. After going to the Oxbow, we went to a cute diner down by the Oxbow, called Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. The diner has lots of white, red and chrome and generally has the image of a place like Ruby’s or Jonny Rocket’s (though naturally they serve wine and beer, being Napa). I got a burger, sweet potato fries and a coke and definitely enjoyed my meal. The sweet potato fries were some of the best I’ve ever had. When you first bite into them, there’s taste of salt, after which you taste the sweetness of the potato and finally a burst of spice. Anyway, the food was delicious, but what really made me happy was the ethics of the restaurant – the beef came from range-fed, hormone-free cows, the menus and cups made from recycled material and they had separate garbage cans for recyclables, compost and regular old trash (and encouraged you to notice where you were putting things).

It may seem like I harp on this kind of thing a lot in my blog, but it’s amazingly important to our lives. Caring for the environment matters for everyone, whether you’re conservative or liberal, because it’s not some abstract and distant object, but it’s our environment in which we live. If we destroy our environment, we’re destroying our home. I should also point out, for those of us who our Christians, our original charge was to be Lord’s and stewards of the world, and our charge as Christians is to manifest God’s Kingdom here on Earth until He comes to establish it fully. Part of that Kingdom is a restored Earth. Think about that the next time you throw a water bottle in the trash.

And…. meanwhile, back at the road trip… Nate, Tyler and I finished our meals and got on the road to Sunnyvale to meet my cousins. The drive there was fun, but uneventful, excepting one bizarre occurrence that has already achieved meme-status within our trio. I wanted to tell my friends about something I had learned the other day and said “Oh, you know what I was surprised to learn about the other day?” Only, I said it rather fast and mumbled, and both of them heard me say “Squid, squid, fries about the other day?” A bizarre sentence, and now very much a part of our vocabulary.

Finally, we arrived in Sunnyvale, but quite a bit earlier than I had told my cousins (and that was earlier than what I had originally told them) and so we decided to kill some time rather than bursting in on them too early. At first, we searched for a gas station and had some trouble, but we quickly noticed a Toys’R’Us and so naturally we had to stop. Visiting that store brought back all kinds of childhood memories (including War Planets) and awakened in me a still unfulfilled desire to own some Legos again. Weirdly though, they didn’t have a magnetic travel chess set, a thing we’ve been searching for and consistently failing to find.

Our pilgrimage to the Mecca of toys complete, we filled up on gas and then travelled to a park to kill the last half-hour of time before we were supposed to arrive at my cousins’ house. In the park, we found a nice cement bench and proceeded to play Bananagrams, a bizarre and entertaining spin-off of Scrabble (both games I’m entirely incompetent at).

At last, five o’clock neared and we drove the short distance from the park to my cousin Dave and Lisa’s house. When we arrived, Dave was still at work (he works for HP) and Aunt Jean had not yet arrived, but we got to talk with Lisa and her kids got to show us their video games (much to their delight). The first was the EyeToy, and old PS2 motion capture game and the other a racing game called Test Drive. The point of Test Drive is to do races, gain money, and buy houses on the island of Hawaii. Naturally, the kids turned it into a game of crashing into other cars and running from the police. Eventually, Aunt Jean arrived and I introduced her to my friends, after which we started dinner. During dinner we spoke of various topics, including the life of a half-Greek (Lisa and Nate are both half-Greek).

About half-way through dinner, Dave arrived from work and after he had eaten, I asked him to boot up the play house… Yep, you read that right, boot up the play house. Dave is a tech guy, and when his children were younger, he build a playhouse for them and wrote code for it. Underneath, the playhouse is a cave and up above, well, a house, while inside it has mushroom lights, music and motion sensors. Oh, and it talks.

While showing the playhouse to Nate and Tyler, Dave noticed that Tyler was wearing a Hard Rock Café shirt and asked him if he was a musician. This led to the revelation that both Tyler and Dave were musicians and we gotten taken up to see Dave’s awesome electric drum kit. This led to an impromptu jam session where Tyler played his guitar and Nate and I played the drums (after a while Dave and his kids joined in with various other percussion instruments). We were having a blast, but the time came for us to leave. We finished off the night with some rich and moist chocolate cake (and that’s no lie) and then headed for Santa Rosa to meet my other cousins and stay the night.

It was my turn to drive on the way from Sunnyvale to Santa Rosa, and it was a nice drive, excepting a brief period of oncoming terror. As we drove, we could see in the distance a vast looming bank of fog that looked strikingly like a mountain rage. The great ominous swath of darkness grew closer and closer as we drove towards Santa Rosa and I feared I would have to drive in the infamous San Francisco fog. Thankfully, when we actually hit the bank of fog it was wispy-thin and offered to actual impediment to driving.

After the terror of the oncoming fog, we discovered to our delight that our route took us over Golden Gate Bridge, and we got to view that famous bridge at night. Curiously, the Golden Gate Bridge actually looks a little golden in the dark.

Little more happened on our journey, and we arrived at our destination at almost exactly ten at night. My cousin Christopher met us and helped us get settled in. Tiffany, unfortunately, had already gone to bed but we saw her briefly as she left for class this morning. Today, Chris will be going with Nate, Tyler and I into San Francisco and we’ll be meeting Tiffany tonight for dinner.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Road Trip: Napa, Day Six - Castles and Coffee

Today was a day of castles, coffee and college shenanigans, and in many ways it marked the beginning of the road trip proper. The day started much as the day before, with me sleeping in and then walking to Peet’s after I awoke. I’ve been trying to get into a British history class at UCLA that fits my schedule better than my current third class, but today was the first day they allowed non-majors to register for the class. I can’t access the UCLA website from my phone, so I needed access to the wireless at the coffee shop. Unfortunately, it turns out the class is waitlisted, but I at least got onto that and I’m in fifth position.

Around 3:00, Nate and Tyler finally arrived to pick me up and begin our mutual journey. It was on Sunday that the two of them departed in Tyler’s Scion and they spent Monday in Morro Bay with Nate’s brother and then left the next morning to meet with me. When they arrived we left my sister’s apartment and drove into the beautiful little Napa Valley town of St. Helena were Nate’s grandparents live. Nate caught up with his grandparents, and his grandfather orated on the various fine qualities of Napa wine and two buck chuck.
When he finished, Nate, Tyler and I drove to the Castello Di Amorosa Winery. The Castello is apparently a recent addition to the valley and is modeled on European Castles. It advertises itself as having hundreds of rooms, guided tours, a chapel and, naturally, a torture chamber. To get to the winery, we drove up the 29 through the valley, passing once more under the wonderful lane of trees in St. Helena I talked about a few days ago. Turning of the 29, we climbed up a windy road lined with trees and arrived at the castle. Perhaps taking  a page from Hearst Castle, the Castello Di Amorosa has multiple different tours that can be taken, each one exploring different parts of the castle and costing different amounts of money. Being cheap college students, we took the cheapest route, a $10 entrance fee that allowed us to taste five of their wines and then explore the main level of the castle unguided. We goofed around, filmed our antics and enjoyed the wine (well, Nate and I did, Tyler only got Capri Sun because he’s a baby). One neat feature of this wine tasting compared to the Sterling Vineyard is that you get to choose which wines you taste. Nate and I tried the four reds and also two dessert wines (they poured one for Nate and one for me and we shared). The wines were good, but I can definitely say I’m still not a fan of dessert wines. I just don’t see the point of them.

Leaving the castle, we drove back down the 29 to St. Helena, and then went out to dinner with Nate’s grandfather. Unfortunately, his grandmother is on a very limited diet prescribed by her doctor and she can’t go eating out (keep her in your prayers). The four of us went on to the Silverado Brewing House, a favorite of Nate’s grandparents. Nate and Tyler got pasta and the brew house’s own root beer and I had a seasonal rye ale (which tasted like a malty wheat beer). I’m afraid I actually can’t remember what it is his grandfather had to eat. While we ate, he told us funny stories about his days back in the war.

After dinner, Nate’s grandfather went back to his house and Nate, Tyler and I drove back into Napa to get some items from Target and Safeway. I drove, and it was my first time driving Tyler’s car. The  car was fun and controlled very well, but I occasionally gunned it more than I intended, being used to far less powerful cars.

Tomorrow, we’ll be spending a little time in Napa and then taking a little detour back the way we came from to visit my aunt and cousins in Sunnyvale. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them and introducing them to my friends.

Book Review: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
1987 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1986 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

More than a year after finishing Orson Scott Card’s famous Ender’s Game, I finally got around to reading (well listening to) its award-winning sequel Speaker for the Dead. The later novel concerns the discovery by humans of a second intelligent alien race, called the Pequeninos on the recently settled planet Lusitania. The Brazilian Portuguese settlers of the planet are thereafter confined to a single city and their growth permanently limited by congressional order. The Pequeninos are a small, technologically primitive species with pig like features (earning them their other nickname, Piggies). Congress decides that the best thing for the Pequeninos is that they get as little contamination from humans as possible, and the only people allowed contact with them are specially trained xenologers (anthropologists for aliens) who have to work their hardest to learn about the Pequeninos while not letting the Pequeninos learn anything about them. I can’t really say much more about the plot without spoiling some very important parts of the story.

Speaker for the Dead is a fascinating book that explores important questions of personhood, religion and psychology. General consensus says that Ender’s Game is a far superior book to Speaker for the Dead, but I’ve heard at least two people disagree with this assessment. The first is my friend John Schiefer, and the second is Card himself, who thinks Speaker is the far more important book. In general, the former group are considered rather heretical by the science fiction community at large, but I’m afraid that I have to throw in with them. Not at all to diminish the quality of Ender’s Game, but I simply felt more invested in the world and characters of Speaker. Ultimately, the world felt more creative and the themes addressed are ones that seem more important to me.

The book is not entirely without its flaws, however. I really only have one minor complaint. This is that Speaker is very clearly written to have sequels, which means that while it addresses the major question of the book, it also leaves some things open so you’ll read the sequel. While I know that this is one way to do things, I’ve never been a particular fan of it.

Anyway, Speaker for the Dead is a great book and I highly recommend it. Of course, to read Speaker for the Dead, you first have to read Ender’s Game, so go pick up a copy and read it, and then treat yourself to Speaker

Monday, August 17, 2009

Road Trip: Napa, Day Five - Little Happens

Today, I’m afraid, was rather uneventful, and there’s really very little to tell about. I’m sure the same wasn’t true for my sister, she had her first day of work. This included discovering that her Deaf aid, while being something of a lip reader, definitely depends upon sign language, doing a lot of paperwork, and discovering that she didn’t have anywhere to put all of her stuff.

I, on the other hand, woke up late, read a little, walked to Peet’s coffee where I wrote and posted up that last post on Revelation, got music ready for my iPod and bought toilet paper for Joy’s apartment. When I got back in the early evening, Joy was already home and preparing to go out for a jog. While she went out I started some laundry that I needed to do, and discovered that I didn’t have enough quarters to dry it. Because of this, I walked to a local store and then back, so I got in plenty of walking today anyway. I also got to listen to plenty more of Speaker for the Dead, which I’ve almost finished. I can’t say how I’ll feel about the book at the end, but so far I think I might actually like it more than Ender’s Game, which I know is heresy, but I guess I’ll have to content myself with being a heretic.

Anyway, that was my day, uneventful but good. Tomorrow my friend’s arrive and we set out for a night in St. Helena down in the valley and then on to the rest of our journey.

Theology: Revelation

Some time ago, a friend asked me something along the lines of if I thought The Rapture would happen before or after The Tribulation. This created an awkward moment in which I had to explain that, well, I didn't really believe in The Rapture, or The Tribulation (conceived as a specific period of seven years where all the unbelievers are punished by God, before being sent to Hell to be punished some more). I didn't accept these concepts, I said, because I didn't think they were supported by scripture, and as those ideas were only about 200 years old, I just couldn't give them much credit. My friend wanted to know more though, and I really couldn't give him much info because Revelation isn't my area of expertise. It's enough for me to accept that the book is meant to comfort us that, though evil may seem to reign in the world for a time, God will triumph in the end. Still, I decided I should do some more research on the topic. I had also at this time begun reading Fred Clark's entertaining but troubling critique of Left Behind, which further persuaded me of the importance of refuting Darby's weird interpretation of scripture.

So anyway, I dove into my research of Revelation during some of my free time, and discovered to my frustration that while there was plenty of information on the internet on the topic, a good comprehensive summary of the topic was hard to find. Because of this, I decided I'd write one myself and post it up on my blog. Well, my research isn't done, and I still may have more to write on the topic, but I discovered that Gregory Boyd had once again beaten me to the task. Boyd is a modern day aplogist, and he has the tendency to write things I was thinking of writing, and doing it better than I would have. I was on Boyd's website looking for some information concerning Biblical scholarship when I discovered he'd written a nice, short summary of various interpretations of Revelation (he, by the way, also had an exact answer to the question I had gone onto the website to investigate).

Here is what Boyd has to say:

Few biblical topics have captured the imagination of contemporary evangelicals like the book of Revelation. The recent unprecedented success of the Left Behind series is evidence of this popular fascination. Many evangelicals don’t realize that the futuristic interpretation of Revelation advocated in this popular series is only one of several interpretations evangelicals espouse. Here’s the major views scholars take of the book of Revelation.
The Preterist View
The term preterist comes from the Latin word praeteritus, which means, “gone by.” The preterist interpretation of Revelation holds that the events spoken of in this book were all specifically fulfilled in the first century. This view has precedent in the early church, but it did not become widespread until the nineteenth century. With the advent of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, it became the dominant interpretation among New Testament scholars, though it has been less popular among evangelical scholars.
According to preterism, Revelation is a heavily symbolic, apocalyptic and prophetic book that was written primarily to warn readers of impending persecution, to encourage them to persevere in the face of suffering, and to reassure them that God is in control and will overcome evil in the end. Preterists argue that most of the symbolic events in this book can be correlated with first-century figures and events. For example, “the beast” likely refers to Nero, whose “number” is 666 (the numerical value of “Nero Caesar” in Hebrew [NRWN QSR]). Similarly, the forty-two months of his horrifying reign (13:5) happen to be the exact duration of the Roman siege on Jerusalem beginning in A.D. 66.
In defense of their position, preterists contend that we must not abandon sound hermeneutical principles when we consider Revelation. As with every book in the Bible, we must attempt to read Revelation from the perspective of the first-century Christians to whom it was originally written. Revelation was written to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4) about matters that “must soon take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3, cf. 22:6, 10). Throughout the book, there is an urgency for the readers to respond quickly (e.g., 2:16; 3:10–11; 22:6, 7, 12, 20). According to preterists, these statements require that we look for fulfillments in the lifetime of the original audience. (They argue the same for Jesus’ pronouncement of impending doom in Matthew 24 [and parallels], for Jesus explicitly states “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” vs. 34). The spiritual themes of Revelation are timeless, these scholars argue, but the specific events of which this book speaks were all fulfilled in the first century.
The Idealist View
Many Christians throughout history held to the idealist (sometimes called the spiritualist) interpretation of the book of Revelation, and many evangelicals today continue to support this view. What is most distinctive about the idealist interpretation is that it denies that the events and figures recorded in this book have a direct correlation either with events and figures in the past (as the preterist believes) or the future (as the futurist believes). To search for such specific fulfillments, they argue, is to fundamentally misunderstand the apocalyptic genre of this book. Revelation should be read as a heavily symbolic dramatization of the ongoing battle between God and evil.
According to the idealist view, Revelation is a spiritual paradigmatic work that summons Christians to faithful living in the face of persecution and reassures believers that, however dire their circumstances, God will win in the end and their perseverance will be rewarded. Hence, the multitude of symbols employed in this book, most of which are drawn directly from the Old Testament, are in various ways “fulfilled” whenever Christians find themselves in spiritual conflict.
Idealists defend their interpretation on a number of fronts. Most emphasize that the nature of the apocalyptic genre does not require and may actually rule out locating specific correlations with the symbols it employs. They frequently point out that attempts to find such fulfillments in the past, and even more so in the future, are guesses at best. They often argue that absurdity results from attempts to interpret Revelation literally (e.g., Rev. 6:13; 8:12; 12:4). Perhaps most importantly, they emphasize that the spiritual application of this book’s message does not hinge on and may even be compromised by trying to locate specific fulfillments for the dramatizations it presents.
One weakness of this view, in my opinion, is that it can’t easily account for the specific historical churches to which this book was addressed — “the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4) — and the repeated emphasis that the events about which it speaks “must soon take place” (1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3, cf. 22:6, 10). Nor can it easily account for the repeated warning for readers to respond quickly (e.g., 2:16; 3:10–11; 22:6, 7, 12, 20).
The Futurist View
By far, the view that is most popular among the evangelical masses today is the futurist view (sometimes called the dispensational view). According to this view, almost all of Revelation (chapters 4–22) records events that will take place at the end of time. While many early church fathers believed segments of Revelation concerned the end of history, the understanding that the bulk of this book concerns the end of history is almost without precedent until the nineteenth century.
A key verse for the futurist interpretation is 1:19, in which the Lord tells John, “Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.” According to most futurists, “what you have seen” refers to the vision recorded in chapter 1. “What is” refers to the seven letters written to the seven churches in Asia minor in his day, recorded in chapters 2 and 3. “What is to take place after this” refers to all the end-times events recorded throughout the rest of the book (chapters 4–22). While there is disagreement about this matter, the fact that the church is not mentioned in these chapters leads many futurists to conclude that these events will occur after the “rapture,” when, according to futurists, the church is literally taken out of the world (1 Thess. 4:16–17).
Futurists usually grant that there are apocalyptic elements in Revelation that cannot be interpreted literally, but they insist that Revelation is first and foremost a prophecy (1:3). The things that will take place are literal events that have yet to be fulfilled. Indeed, futurists argue that many of the events prophetically recorded in this book are such that they could not have taken place before modern times (e.g., the reference to an army numbering two hundred million in 9:16).
Alternative Interpretations
These three options do not exhaust the possible interpretations of Revelation. In the late Middle Ages, for example, a number of leaders entertained what is sometimes called a historicist interpretation of Revelation. According to this view, Revelation records the gradual unfolding of God’s plan for history up to the present. A majority of Protestant Reformers held to a version of this view. They viewed Revelation as a prophetic survey of church history and used this interpretation to argue that the pope of their day was the Antichrist. While one finds occasional popular commentaries yet espousing some version of this approach, it has fallen far out of favor with evangelicals.
Some scholars combine the preterist and idealist interpretations. In this view, the symbolic dramatizations of Revelation have first-century correlations, but they are written with paradigmatic significance. For example, Nero may in fact have been the specific Antichrist referred to in Revelation 13:8, but the reference to him is cosmic in significance, covering all Antichrist movements that resist God’s purposes in the world.
Other scholars have sought to combine elements of all three views. They say that the dramatic events of Revelation have been fulfilled, are continuing to be fulfilled, and will at the end of time be climatically fulfilled as the Lord concludes history and ushers in his reign as king.
For my part, I find the arguments for the preterist reading of Revelation quite compelling, though I also believe there are paradigmatic spiritual truths found throughout the book, as the idealist camp argues. The futurist interpretation not only does not impress me; it frankly concerns me, since it easily leads to sincere Christians wasting time trying to read this book like it is a cryptic horoscope of the future. This is tantamount to divination, which the Bible strictly forbids. I also worry that the bizarre apocalyptic pronouncements of some national Christian leaders, combined with the even more bizarre attempts of some to affect world politics on this basis (as some Zionist Christians have recently tried to do) justify non-believers dismissing Christianity as foolishness.
Two good books defending the preterist view are: D. Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation ( Dominion, 1987); K. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: The Dating of the Book of Revelation (Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).
For several good defenses of the idealist (or spiritualist) interpretation, see L. Morris, The Revelation of St. John (Eerdmans, 1969) and M. Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened: The Message of Revelation (InterVarsity Press, 1975).
For an overview of the four main views espoused by evangelicals, see M. Pate, ed., Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998). For an interesting commentary on Revelation that fairly presents the interpretation of various views, see S. Gregg, ed., Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nelson, 1997).

In my research, I also discovered (thanks to Wikipedia) a nice chart discussing the four majors views of Christ's Millenial Reign, which tie in closely with the categories Boyd discussed above. That chart was made by someone named Nathan Wilson, and can be found on this website.

I have one more thing to discuss, before I conclude this post, and that's a common objection made by the Premillenial Dispensationalists to symbollic or spiritual interpetations of Revelation. Tim LaHaye puts it this way in The Truth Behind Left Behind: A Biblical View of the End Times, "Once you begin heading down that road, however, everything is up for grabs. You can invent any kind of "interpretation" you want." Yep, anything, like you could interpret the beast with ten horns and seven heads as a person. Oh, wait, that's what they do. It's really difficult for me to understand what exactly these folks mean by literal (or even literal as possible) because they seem to selectively decide what to take literal, and what not to. The beast is a man, his ten crowns ten Kingdoms, the locusts are maybe helicopters, but Babylon has to be the real Babylon and the thousand year reign has to be a literal thousand year reign. And the idea that treating something as a symbol means it can mean anything is also just plain wrong. Symbols are what they are because they denote something, they mean something. A symbol is created within a cultural context, and by understanding that context (say 1st century Palestine) we can understand the meaning of that symbol.

But all that aside, their slippery slope fear is absurd. I've even heard it said that if we take Revelation figuritively, well then, why not take everything in the Bible figuritively. Even the resurection isn't safe and sooner or later everyone will be reading the whole Bible as a metaphor. Well, the Gospels are clearly biography (though not of the modern variety) and Revelation is cleary imagery, for one.

Second, you never hear the same objection made about Pslams or Jesus's parables, for example. Imagine if someone said that David had a heart disorder where his heart was literally melting because in Pslam 22:14 he says "My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me." Nobody would take that seriously because people know Psalms are poetry, and they understand that poetry has symbols, imagery and metaphore. Similarly, Revelation is appocalyptic, and appocalyptic literature is symbolic and hyperbolic. As the chart above says, you interpret whether it's symbolic or literal by context.

Third, the fact that the thousands of years of history that the church didn't accept the Dispensationalist view of Revelation didn't lead to people thinking the gospels were symbolic should demonstrate that these fears are unfounded. Further more, the supposed literal interpretation of the Darbyists has lead to all kinds of interpretations of the symbols in Revelation. It has, for example, been claimed that the ten crowns of the beast were to be ten European kingdoms, and so clearly the European Union was going to be the Kingdom of the Antichrist (this was back when the EU had only ten nations in it). Now, they're saying the ten crowns mean ten world kingdoms under one world government, and its cleary the United Nations (which supposedly has plans to reorder the world into ten Kingdoms, though were those plans can be found outside of prophecy club newsletters I've never been able to determine).

Anyway, take all this information as you will, and know that I am not a Premillenial Dispensationalist. I am, I think, closer to a historic Premillenialist view, with a bit of an Idealist and a bit of a Preterist interpretation of the prophecies. What I don't like about the Dispensationalist view is that it tends to lead to a love of war and suffering (because these signal the approaching end and the coming Rapture), a fear of peacemakers (because the Antichrist is interpreted to be a man of peace) and an anti-Biblical refusal to try and make this world a better place (because it's God's will that things get worse and worse). Our mandate as Christians in this world is to be Christ to the world, we're supposed to mend brokenness, to heal all kinds of sickness, and to, as much as possible, manifest the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, which means making the world a place of love, peace and wholeness.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Politics: The Bible is a Liberal Conspiracy

This just in from my favorite nuts over at Conservapedia – the Bible, apparently, is a liberal conspiracy (well, not all of it, just the parts that talk about compassion, and not judging other people). For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Conservapedia is the “conservative” and “trustworthy” Wikipedia (which is, of course, a liberal conspiracy). The truth, of course, is conservative, and so we must create a website dedicated to carefully censoring all information so that the public only gets the truth, unbiased by liberal lies. This is naturally the only way to be trustworthy. Now, I consider myself pretty conservative, so this kind of absurdity really get to me. It’s kind of like having an idiot sibling who always hits on the waitresses, only more embarrassing.

Anyway, on to this business about the Bible being a liberal conspiracy. This is not, first of all, the same as the King James only folks. That particular group believes the King James Bible is the only legitimate translation, because more recent ones have used as reference documents that were not available when the KJV was translated and have decided to remove a few verses as inauthentic. I happen not to agree with that group, but they’re not really crazy. The folks at Conservopedia, however, have decided to retranslate the Bible, and use as many conservative ideas as possible. These include “homeschool” for Jesus teaching his disciples and “rich” with “idle miser” (because stories in which Jesus admonishes the rich look bad for rich conservatives I guess…).

That business about the story of the woman caught in adultery being maybe not in the original gospel, by the way, has been known for quite some time, and really should be common knowledge, it’s in the foot notes of most translations of the Bible after all. There are however, very early copies of the story and its generally acknowledged that it’s a genuine story about Jesus that got later inserted into John. Of course, regardless of whether it’s genuine or not, there’s plenty of other verses about not judging other people which aren’t in question.

Now, I attend college, so I understand liberal bias (well, pseudo-liberal, there’s really nothing liberal about the way they think) but this is not the way to handle it. Conservapedia, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!

Road Trip: Napa, Day Four - Church Search and Wine Taste

Being Sunday, today initiated Joy’s search for a new church community to be a part of. This is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest parts of moving to a new area (it goes right along with having to make a whole new group of friends), and Joy for years attended a particularly good church, so the new one has a lot to live up to.
So, today we attended her first local church, which I found using an app called Bink, on my phone. Bink allows me to search for businesses of a certain type in the area I’m in, and I used it to look for a list of churches. Now, there’s plenty of churches in the area (including at least four Baptist churches within a mile of her house) but not even every good church is suited for every person, as today probably demonstrated. On the list of churches was a Four Square Church. Being, understandably, a fan of Jack Hayford, Joy decided to begin by checking this one out. On Saturday night I called to find out the service time, which was at 10:45. I also learned that it would be casual dress, which made me happy because I didn’t actually have any nice clothes packed.

At 10:30, we pulled away from Joy’s apartment and drove over to the church. Google maps mislead us a little, putting us at a dead end, but it wasn’t far off and we found the church. It was a small unremarkable building with a cracked, weed grown parking lot and a large lawn of brown grass. There were maybe three cars when we pulled in, and ten or so congregants. This was indeed a small church, and many of the congregants were part of the same family, but they were nevertheless friendly and enthusiastic, and God was definitely in the place. I particularly liked the way they got the children involved in the service and the fact that they had a time for everyone to pray for each other. The sermon was also solid, though the pastors beard kept distracting me (he spoke on the necessity of praying for our leaders, even those we don’t agree with. Yes, my fellow Republicans, that means praying for Obama). So, I’d say it was a good church, a true place of healing and worship, but it was tiny. For some people, tiny is great, but it really didn’t seem to be what Joy was looking for, so her search will continue.

After service, Joy and I went to Trader Joes for her to buy groceries, then back to her house for lunch, and, at last, on to wine tasting (my first). Joy decided she wanted to show me the vineyard she had visited on her last trip through Napa, but at first we stopped at the wrong vineyard. It was a nice place, with rows of olive trees and overall an attractive Tuscan appearance, but it was not the one she wanted to go to and so she called the friend she’d originally gone with to learn the name of the correct vineyard (Sterling) and we got back on the road and on our way. The drive through Napa Valley is really one of the more beautiful journeys one can take, there are green rolling hills, covered with rows of grapes, and the whole way is lined with beautiful trees. Even the houses are pretty.

We finally arrived at Sterling, which is much further down the Valley than where we had originally stopped, but Joy certainly made a good choice in deciding to go there instead. What makes Sterling special, is that it is both a wine tasting experience and a tour which tells one all about the process of wine making. It’s great fun to learn about the various steps involved, and how important each little choice is in the final products taste. Even the barrels which the wine is aged in affect the flavor. The tour starts with an air carriage ride up to the top of a hill, where the wine tasting and touring take place. There’s also a lovely view from up there.
The tour was, as I said, quite a lot of fun and the staff at the winery were wonderfully friendly. All in all we tried six different wines, though Joy didn’t drink much of the red. The first we tried was a 2007 Gewurtztraminer, which was a rather sweet and spicy white wine. It was good, but being a white wine was not my favorite. After getting a view of the pressers and barrels where the wine is fermented, we got a taste of the 2008 Viognier, a white wine smelling of peach and tasting, in my opinion, fairly generic white. Finally, we came to the actual tasting room, where we had a 2006 Pinot Noir, before being seated for our final two wines. The Pinot had a lot of dimension, and I would have loved to have a steak with it. After being seated, our hosts brought us samples of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet is usually my favorite wine, and this one was a good strong and spicy tasting blend, but was ultimately a little to vinegary for my taste and so my vote would go to the Noir for this trip. Since Joy didn’t particularly like the reds, our server brought her a Chardonnay, which I also had a sip of. It struck me as a good Chardonnay, but it was Chardonnay, so again I didn’t enjoy it too much. Our server actually poured Joy a glass of the Cabernet, and indicated that it was so I could have more (I can’t say that I minded). Finally, we came to the finale, a 2007 Malvasia Bianca, which is a sweet, syrupy summer wine and totally not to my taste. Joy, of course, liked this one best.

After finishing our wine tasting, Joy and I headed back to Napa, but along another highway. This one was also gorgeous, and had a particularly wonderful stretch in which we drove under a tall lane of trees that looked like something out of an English countryside. We also passed through St. Helena, the town in which my best friend Nate’s grandparents live, and stopped in the downtown area when we saw Woodhouse Chocolates. A friend had recommended Woodhouse, saying they had the best chocolates he had ever tasted. The chocolate I had was indeed good, though I wouldn’t call it the best ever. We also went into an artisan bakery which was next door to the chocolate store. It had all kinds of wonderful looking, expensive baked goods, including a rich and hearty looking granola, and they were as arrived putting together packages of their day old goods. They sell these packages at a steal and so Joy bought one, and I enjoyed a muffin/croissant/cream-filled donut hybrid. After our little stop in St. Helena, we got back on the road and headed back to Joy’s apartment, where we’ve been ever since.

Tomorrow, Joy starts her first day of work, and I’ll have a few hours to kill. I plan on doing some laundry and then maybe walking over to Peet’s to take advantage of the free wireless. My phone is fantastic, but surfing the net on a computer is still much easier.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Road Trip: Napa, Day Three - "Oakland Sucks" and various other rants

The Oakland Raiders have fans. This fact puzzles me because they’re a team that cheats, pays dirty and is proud of both facts. Oh, and they’re also apparently not very good. Now, I’m not too into football,  I see maybe one or two games a season, and they’re usually college games, but I don’t like cheating so I don’t like the Raiders. Oh, and I also don’t like Oakland.  Besides housing a football team I hate, and sometimes supporting cop killers, the freeways there are the worst I've been on this side of Los Angeles. You may be wondering why, in a blog post about a trip to Napa, I am dissing Oakland... well, today mostly consisted of my sister and I driving my dad to the Oakland International Airport for a flight back to Southern California. We discovered, during a morning filled with various logistical phone calls, that a plane flight would cost just about as much as a car rental and would also require a drive into Oakland, so it was decided that my dad would fly home. These logistics, by the way, included a call to Comcast (the only local cable provider) to find out how much internet would cost my sister, this call took over a half-hour of my dad's time (perhaps this would be an appropriate time for me to rant about how much Comcast, like Oakland, sucks).

I should mention, that the logistical summersaults of this morning were mostly worked out by Joy and my dad (I tried to look some stuff up on my phone, but Napa has no 3g and the Edge Network is painfully slow). While they made all their phone calls, I took my Bible and Book of Common Prayer out to the beautiful river trail behind my sister’s house and did my hour of prayer. It ended up that I prayed from 9:00 to 10:00 instead of 8:00 to 9:00 due to my attempts to help with the logistics, but I'm sure that God will understand.
Around 1:00, we left for our trip to Oakland, and while buying lunch for my dad at Wendy's in Napa, discovered that my sister had left her purse behind. Since we didn't really have time to go back, it was decided that my dad would drive to the airport, and I would drive back. This decision would come back to haunt us. Excepting some bad traffic on the way and the general ugliness of Oakland, the drive there was mostly uneventful and we got my dad there in plenty of time. Before getting on the free way, we stopped at Wal-Mart to get my sister a magazine to read on the way and then left Oakland behind us.

On our way back to Napa, we discovered that the 80 East was the only nearby crossing to a wide river and required a toll (a common trick in Northern California it seems). This toll required cash, and since I had no cash and Joy had forgotten her purse, we got off the 80 and ended up in Crockett, a dead little riverside town with nothing but ridiculously steep hills and dark creepy bars. After circling around for some time trying to find an ATM for me to get cash from, we finally went into a place called the Dead Fish and found out we could find an ATM in the Tec Club (the aforementioned dark creepy bar). We went there, parked on a nearly vertical street, and walked into the bar. I had a great deal of difficulty with the ATM and a sleazy man made what I think was an awkward pass at my sister. Finally, I got my cash and we dashed out of there and got back on the freeway, arriving back in Napa around five-thirty, and was it ever a sight for sore eyes. I was already of the opinion that Napa is beautiful country, and Oakland and Crockett only reinforced this. Unfortunately, we weren’t quite through with our adventures because the car decided to start running low on gas on a stretch of freeway with no exits and no gas stations. We did make it to a Shell, however, and got the car enough gas for the rest of the way home, as well as a ride afterwards to Peet’s Coffee and Tea for my sister to use the wireless.

Let me just close by saying that Peet's Coffee and Tea rocks, I'm over there writing this blog and they just gave out the last of their pastries to us lingering customers. Since I'm starving, this is quite awesome. They also happen to have tea and coffee that is far and away superior to Starbucks, a better atmosphere (including lovely classical music) and free wi-fi.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Road Trip: Napa, Day Two - Around Town

Another day in Napa closes, and so I sit here and type another blog post. I hinted in my last post that I might have some wine tonight, that, however, is waiting for tomorrow. Tonight, I… well that’s the end of the story, let me start at the beginning.

This morning I awoke, my head still hurting some, but much improved from the conditions of the night before. I took some more decongestant/acetaminophen hybrid and then launched into my morning prayers. My church, Soul Survivor, is doing a twenty-four hour prayer vigil this week. For every hour of the week, there is a church member who is spending that block of time praying for the church and her community. My hour is eight to nine, and I began the task, unfortunately not finishing the full hour because my sister left for Target and I had to go with her. I cannot speak for the rest of my congregation, but I am definitely still learning this business of being a man of prayer. I must say however, that three things have been invaluable assets during times of extended prayer: The Bible, The Book of Common Prayer and the gift of tongues. The last only God can give, but the other two are easily available. If you don’t have one or both of them, you can buy it, or even find free versions of the texts.

But I digress… Around 8:30 or so, Joy, my dad and I went to Target to buy essential items for her household, as well as several essential items I had forgotten to pack (make a list, make a list, check it twice). After Target, we dropped Joy off at a her first work-training meeting. We had a little trouble finding the place because for some reason it was in the High School District Office (odd because my sister is a special needs preschool teacher). After dropping Joy off, my dad and I went to Home Depot (more stuff for Joy’s apartment) and then to downtown Napa for lunch and perambulation.

We ate again at the little Café and then strolled over to the Oxbow market so my dad could see it. This time we stopped at the Tea shop and tasted several of their teas (for free too). We also tried the Apollo Oil at the Olive Press, which is apparently rated the number 10 olive oil in the whole world. It had a rich heavy taste, and, had I the spare change, I would have gotten a bottle of it ($20 a pop). Finally, we went into the Cheese Shop and I tried several of their cheeses. My favorite was an extremely sharp cheddar that melted in your mouth. That cheese, btw, was about $20 a pound. I mentioned before how excited I was to see that they had a local produce grocer in the Oxbow, if you want a detailed explanation as to why, I suggest picking up a copy of Deep Economy, it’s a great read and will deeply impact the way you view the world. In short though, local foods are better for the environment, the economy, your health and the taste of your food.

After visiting the Oxbow, we went to try and find a way down to the riverside trail. The river is fronted by a series of buildings with a very European look to them and it makes for a wonderful walk. Many of the stores along the front are closed for construction, and we had some trouble finding our way down, but we finally found an entrance at the back of the Napa General Store/Restaurant/Wine Tasting Bar (because you know, everything in Napa has Wine Tasting… even the Whole Foods Market). We took the river trail back to the lot where we had parked Joy’s car and drove to pick her up from the meeting.

After returning to Joy’s apartment, we piled as much of her preschool teaching items as we could into her Car and she and my dad drove over to the preschool to drop it off in her room (and it really is her room, unlike at her last job she doesn’t share it with another teacher, very exciting for her). While they drove there (no room in the car for me and the boxes of stuff both) I wrote up my blog post about yesterday’s adventures on my HTC Touch Pro 2.

When they returned we left for more adventures in downtown Napa, but first we stopped at Walmart for Joy to pick up dishes for her apartment. While there, Joy told me that one of her aids is Deaf, something very exciting for her because she took quite a few years of ASL.

 We had been told there would be a free concert in this little park by the river (another thing we had some trouble finding) but when we arrived there were no musicians there. We were informed that because the Napa County Fair was on, the event had been cancelled, but they apparently have them every Friday night under normal circumstances, so that’ll be something else for Joy to enjoy (she very much loved to attend the free park concerts back home). We again went to Oxbow Market for dinner and ice cream. The ice cream is all natural and the shop sells “The World’s Most Expensive Ice cream Sundae” and “The World’s More Most Expensive Ice Cream Sundae.” Both cost thousands of dollars and involve supporting a cause, the first being local land and the second being global warming awareness (the buyer treks up to Mount Kilimanjaro, where the founder of the ice cream shop hand makes an ice cream sundae from the mountain’s glacier, which is said to be disappearing due to global warming).

After ice cream, we went to the local Peet’s Cofee and Tea so my sister and I could use the wireless (I needed to access the UCLA website, which I can’t do from my phone).  The coffee, as usual, was great and so was the atmosphere. We also checked out the Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market, which were in the same shopping center.

Finally, we headed back to Joy’s apartment and dad helped Joy set up her TV, sound system and DVD player, after which I set to work on this blog. Good night everyone and sleep well. I hope to have another blog for you tomorrow.