Friendship

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Dear Russell & Friends,

I know that it has been a while since I’ve written.  For a while, I’m pausing here.  Why?  Do I owe an explanation?   If I’ve taken the time to write, and you’ve taken the time to read and write back then the answer is yes.  I do owe an explanation.  TIme.  Time is the explanation.  We all have the same amount of it.  No one is more busy than any one else.  We just spend our allotments of time differently.  For a season of almost two years, this blog was a wise use of time as I poured my heart out to a friend and opened my mind to those with whom I disagreed.  Honestly, in some areas – – I’ve been convinced.  If time is a zero sum game, and I argue that it is, what was I missing?  The pages of my paper journal are sparse.  My academic productivity has waned.  And I’ve read many new books and learned new things that may take me several years to absorb.  One revelation of this blog to me was my own personality and just how strong my trait of introversion is.  I think that I need about a thousand pages and a thousand miles to think in the best way I know how – – prayer during long journal entries and long runs.  Will I return and share some of those thoughts and prayers?  I hope so.  I don’t want my solitude to be selfishness, but for now I ask your leave to enter the solitude that has never left me lonely.  Russell may continue to write here in my absence if he chooses.  There are several other competent and compassionate interlocutors both here and elsewhere.  In fact, Mrs. Pascal and I are looking forward to dinner with two of them on Sunday night.

Thank you for joining this season in my life.  I pray blessings on this season in yours.  I have learned so much more about skeptics and atheists.  Two things are most important – – I know that I love them and I know that the time spent listening was well spent.  I’ll see you later – – here or elsewhere.

Love,

Pascal – – 1:16

Revery Interrupted

Dear Russell & Friends,

I had intended to post on stewardship this morning and was thinking about the structure of the post and the planned alliteration before falling asleep last night.  I awoke to the morning solitude, strong coffee, an open journal and the internet newspaper.

Again.  Terror again.  Violence directed at the unarmed and uninvolved. Violence without warning, without defense.  Violence by those wanting to die – – a locally uncounterable strategy.  And those who started a normal day weep.  And those loved ones lost.  And I just can’t write about stewardship or even the punchline – – time.

I grieve with you, those who suffer the sudden loss of love now fully recognized.  I grieve with you, those in physical pain and mental shock in Paris hospitals.  I grieve with you friends and families at the bedsides I have so frequently attended feeling – – helpless.

Dare I grieve for the misguided, angry and evil young men who convinced themselves that this was for God’s glory?  Dare I grieve for the mothers of these men and wonder if this was their aspiration?  Dare I grieve for those who hold their faith as preciously as I hold mine and see themselves disdainfully numbered amongst the criminally insane?  I dare.

Dear God – – I know these few sentences will be a thin slice of what is aching in my heart. Please comfort the broken.  Please heal the hurt.  Please walk amongst us with compassion and join our suffering as you did in Jesus Christ.  Please forgive these most despicable of our enemies and give us the courage to follow your lead.  Thank you for being there and for caring when we hurt too much to breathe.

Love,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

Love & Friendship

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Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m back a week now and so happy to be so.  The cobwebs of jetlag are clearing.  I’m so appreciative of Russell’s Paean to a Peon in the last post.  I thought I would add my perspective.  When will I speak of the impact of visiting Israel?  Not for some time.  There is so much to digest before I’m ready to synthesize and share.

Last night we drove the 1.5 hours needed to pick up our oldest son at his dorm and take him out to dinner with his brothers.  We met two friends of his from high school out on a dinner date and discreetly enquired as to their social status.  He said they said they were friends.  They looked happy, compatible and able to enjoy each others company.  P1 said it with a twinkle in his eye.  “Yeah – – we’ve tried to tell them there’s more to it.”

Perhaps our young friends are discovering what the older crowd knows.  ‘Just friends’ is a middle school perspective.  Friendship lasts when passion fades.  What then is the difference between love and friendship and how does it relate to my friend Russell and me?

Love is a decision.  For a follower of Christ it is a command.  Love God.  Love others.  It has a description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

It is hard.  At least for me.  Despite Russell’s insistence, I’m not kind by nature.  I actually enjoy sarcasm and that can be quite rude.  I am irritable and prone to resentment.  I don’t bear all things, don’t hope in all things.  Don’t endure.  Love is hard.  But to love and be loved brooks no description.  It is air and you only notice it when it isn’t there. Loving Russell was a choice.  I loved him because God loved him and I honestly admired him for the way he served his wife and daughters and cared deeply about the effects of his deconversion for them.

So, what is friendship?  I’m not sure that it is as much a decision.  It is actually harder to build than love in my opinion.  Friendship is aided by such things as common interests and disinterests.  Much of what Russell and I enjoy is spawned from the common interest of science.  Do our interests diverge?  Of course. Even in science my competency tends towards psychology & biology and his towards physics, math, engineering, computer science, formal logic … (you get the idea).

Friendship requires – – time.  I used to say that time was the currency of love.  That is true as far as it goes, but it is likely more true of friendship.  I can love someone out of respect for God and his commands or out of respect for a fellow human and her intrinsic worth as a co-member of the race.  I need not know her to treat her with love.  I only need the work of:  patience, kindness, humility, pliability, and selflessness. Only that.  Easy, right?  But friendship takes time.

So what if you start with friendship?  That is what happened with my wife.  We talked, walked, listened, wrote letters and realized that we enjoyed each other’s company.  We were teens and next enjoyed each other’s embrace then married and enjoyed sharing more and more of life.  But we were friends.  Still are. In marital love, friendship is an antibody to despair and divorce.

Russell and I inverted the process – – we started with a brotherly love.  The friendship has been building.

I’m curious as to the advice you might give another – – friendship, love, both?  How does it work for you?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  By Pictofigo (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A Little Lost

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Dear Russell and Friends,

This is the view from a place I had never been before on the trails in my morning run.  A man I admire had pointed out a new series of trails that I had not explored.  This was the morning to do it.  The kids were at school and I was off work, preparing to leave with my bride on a long anticipated vacation.  Grandparents waited at home, happy to take care of our sons.  So, as the sun rose I ran and found this trail that others had clearly trodden.  But not me.  It was new to me, so exciting and a little intimidating.  My mileage clicked up a half mile at a time and I ran farther and farther from the car, knowing that each new trail would have to be traversed to return.  And I got a little lost.  Only a little.  I could still hear sounds of traffic so had the reassurance that I had a point of reference.  But a little lost.  I couldn’t have directed you to where I was, and I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to find this trail next time.  Don’t follow me, I’m a little lost too.

Or, follow me, because I know what it is like to be a little lost.  I know what it is like to be hopelessly lost.  I will never judge you for your partial or complete lostness.  To the contrary, I’ll come to find you if you’re gone too long.  Off then with my bride.  Our friendship grows with each passing year.  Next summer we’ll celebrate half our lives spent in the marriage contract that strengthens us both.  Russell promises to write in my absence.

Pascal – – 1:16

Unwell

 

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I’m not crazy.  I’m just a little unwell.  I know, right now you can’t tell.   Matchbox 20

Dear Russell & Friends,

My oldest son and I joke that the best thing for writer’s block is to write about it.  Perhaps that’s why the musician strums and plunks, the sculptor abstracts, and the poet zooms into the mundane.  One week ago I took the first two pills of a z-pack, the five day course of needless antibiotic that I sometimes retreat to after several days of sore throat, low grade fevers, and general crumminess.  Whether it was placebo effect, anti-inflammatory property or response to a true bacterial bronchitis I do not know.  I do know that the rest of the week felt progressively better.  And that I was able to take two hour naps with vivid, forgotten dreams. Unwell.  Why can’t I be thankful in the interregnum?  Why must illness remind me of health?  I can’t be alone.

This season has been more of intake and thought than output.  I’ve read more, written more in my journal, and prayed more on long runs that I hadn’t been capable of in some time.  I lost two colleagues in sudden death.  In career, in family, in calling I’ve been asking that classic middle-age question:  what do I want to be, who do I want to be, when I grow up?

One concept that came back to me was you.  This is only my second foray into digital life.  The first was a blog called The Breakfast Table that neither Russell nor I can find even with the internet wayback machine. I abandoned that blog as the cognitive load of corresponding with strangers was more than I could handle. What is different ten years later?  I have not Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  There is just a friend who no longer believes, his family who may, and many people like him.  There is just my family and me who do believe, and a deep desire to find the intersection.  I need something that will last past fifty even though I am more aware than most that I may not.  You see, I’m an oncologist.  I have more experience than many with those who live with an awareness of the end.  And more recently with those who live life fully with no idea that today’s dawn is their last.

First rule of writer’s block rambling?  Keep it less than 500 513 words.  So, what?  I’m reading Francis Schaeffer, Thomas Paine, Isaiah and Leo Tolstoy.  I’m thinking of the 2,000 people who follow this blog and the 6 people who joined Charity Miles.  I’m thinking of why this effort matters to me and why it is okay to pause and grow and even to decay.  I’m thinking of fifty and how not to fail.  I’m thinking of a book called failure at fifty that I’ve been writing in my head.  All chapters start with an “f” word of more than four letters.  I need help with one for career.  More soon, I hope.  Just a little unwell.

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: Russell, his telescope & the 2015 blood moon

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

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Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Action Required

Our Team

Dear Russell & Friends,

Forgive my absence from the blog.  I completed a difficult assignment at work where I primarily work in the hospital with sicker patients.  I then traveled for committee work and experienced the wonders of perpetual delay in the flight back home.  That said, I read, considered and ultimately liked Russell’s last post very much.  What do I mean like?  Yes – – I hit the like button after reading the post and thinking carefully about it.  Perhaps for another day, but I think that you choose love and don’t necessarily choose like.  I like my bride and that has made all the difference for us.  I would love her from choice and obedience to a standard that is greater than me.  Love can be, often is, painful.  Like is pleasure of the purest form.  Diversion complete.

I liked Russell’s post because it really does reveal who he is – – one of the most moral and compassionate people I have met.

So what?  I downloaded the Charity Miles app.  I’ve begun to use it.  I pray for people who don’t have water as I marvel at how blessed I am to go to any sink or hose bib in my home and know that the water is potable.  I’ve stopped using distilled or filtered water and my tastes and thoughts have changed.

For the people who have joined us in this blog, would you please join our team?  You have many choices besides water – – that’s just the one that moved me on a base level.  The screenshot above is our team.  You can see that my friend Russell is more kinetic than me.  As a believer, do I welcome an atheist challenging me to put action to faith?  Oh yes I do.  I’m so thankful that my friend called me to action.  And will you join our team?  Please do.  I really don’t know why our follower count increases daily.  Perhaps our generation is ready to respectfully reason together.  Could you help our charity miles team grow as well by downloading the app and joining RussellandPascal?  You could.  Will you?

Pascal – – 1:16

The Cliff, part 2

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Dear Russell & Friends,

I lost another friend to the cliff last week.  This was a literal cliff, challenged by a colleague my own age, because it was there.  This was a man who kept his promise to only leave his marriage by death, and did.  As we gather again to support his family and to embrace the community at work I grieve in a very different way.  I understood his sense of adventure and his pursuit of fitness that allowed him to do hard things.  I last spoke with him 4 weeks ago when he welcomed me to CrossFit and explained why he did it.  I understood, as a hiker, the draw to climbing rocks that I was just too cautious to embrace.  I admired him for taking the risks that I would not take.  And when he fell I do not reproach him.  I don’t ask him to do it over, to live a safer life.  Could my perspective be that of his bride or children the age of mine?  It is honestly too soon to contemplate asking.  Yet I know that her husband did not break promises.  And I know that their father was a hero.

The cliff of infidelity is avoidable, and I strive to live away from its ledge.  The cliff of death will touch us all in a free fall or slow slide.  I honor my friend for his choices, his bravery, and his life.  I grieve that we won’t enjoy his company for longer here.  Our family will seek practical means to comfort and support his.  In 6 weeks I’ve lost 2 friends to traumatic death.  Friends within 2 years of my age.  In my profession, half of the people I meet know that they are dying sooner than they expect.  So yes.  I think much about death even when it doesn’t brush this close.  And yes.  That is one of the main reasons I believe – – the hope that the dead will rise.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  David Hiser, 1937-, Photographer (NARA record: 3651517) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons