The Russian Winter


Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study

Morning Person


Dear Russell & Friends,

As usual, I titled my post before visiting Wikimedia Commons to find an appropriate photo.  This was the photo of the day and it was perfect in every way but one.  The sun is setting.  I think and write the best before the sun rises.  I pray best while running trails or climbing stairs.

Here is the story that accompanied this image:

Sunset view of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña (Hermitage of the Virgin of the Rock), province of Huesca, Spain. The village of Aniés is seen on the left. The oldest parts of the sanctuary date to Roman times, while much was built in the 13th Century. The hermitage is only accessible on foot, via a steep path in the forest and through caves in the mountain.

A hermitage.  In a mountain.  Overlooking a beautiful valley.  Accessible only by foot.  Through a forest. Sigh.  I can relate to the hermit and to her temptation to allow solitude’s reign.  But a hermitage is something else.  Alone together.  Isn’t that the motto of an introverted friend?  We are so happy to see you, to listen, to radiate your warmth back to you.  We just recharge alone.  My favorite saying about love and marriage comes from Rilke as I describe my bride in his words, “the guardian of my solitude”.  I’m in the mood for quoting, so to do it justice, from Letters to a Young Poet:

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

So, this morning and in my mind, I hiked that path, jogging here and there and approached that hermitage in the civil dawn.  Coffee was brewing as I arrived and I sat to a rough hewn table to eat simple bread and drink a clear, cold water.  Thirsty parchment and an old pen waited as I sat to write you.  Morning in the hermitage, awaiting the rising of the sun.

Why do I like the mornings so much?  It may be my neural wiring.  It may be the training in my profession that required long hours deep into the nights and shallow into the next mornings.  But everyone works long at times.  Some prefer to work and talk and play deep into the star dotted night.  I find night is best for sleeping and dreaming and recharging a body that is frequently depleted.  But morning!  Morning is my best time.  So that is the time I give to God, and will be the time I give to others.  Don’t run for exercise if you don’t love running.  It will never stick.  And don’t read or write in the morning unless it is your best time. You won’t have the same joy.  The internet is gleefully asynchronous and the world so small.  My dawn may very well be your dusk.  Let’s just find each other in the infinite space between, and enjoy our fellowship alone together.

Pascal – – 1:16


photo credit:  “Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña, LIC Sierras de Santo Domingo y Caballera, Aniés, Huesca, España, 2015-01-06, DD 08-09 PAN” by Diego Delso. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

the Trail



Dear Russell and Friends,

I hiked the trail above about 10 days ago.  It is the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.  Our family has been planning and saving for this trip to celebrate the graduation of our oldest son for years now.  We went with two other families whom we’ve known for almost 20 years.  Our kids call them Aunt and Uncle and their kids are more like the first cousins mine don’t know.


As you might predict, the five boys ranging from 12-18 moved a little faster than the adults ranging from 40-44.  A lot faster.  Along the way we saw this.

Kalalau Coast

It is certainly the type of picture I’ve seen before either in print or film, but seeing it in person was different.  The whole trip was different.  I’m a planner, but I’ve learned from my more spontaneous friends over the years.  This trip was a medley of planned events and open space to fill as we decided with little notice.  I actually caught up on sleep and recharged my batteries to the point that this week’s work was well supplied.

Our halfway point was here.


The water was so cold after the 4 mile hike in.  It was bracing, clean and pure.  My sons and I swam in the waterfall.  I’ll rank the experience, like the hike in general, as one of the most memorable.  Then 4 miles out.  We heated pizza for the kids and went out with the adults – – memories and margaritas.  This was the least expensive, most fun part of our trip.  Hiking.

Why do I like hiking so much?  I’ve been giving that more thought as the boys and I prepare for Pike’s Peak in two weeks.  I’ve been giving it even more thought as I consider this place to read and write with you.  I was decidedly and purposefully off the grid when Russell prompted a flurry of activity with his rainbow removal service post.  And since I’ve been back the question rises – – do I go back on the grid?  Why am I here in the first place?  Why keep writing?  A friend reminded me with my own words.

He needs to talk.  I need to listen.  Why have this conversation?  Why have it in public?  Why adopt pseudonyms?  We don’t think that we are alone.  Many in our generation need a safe place to come and reason together.  My orientation to the skeptic, agnostic, and even atheist has changed.  It has changed like a compass needle with the orientation of my heart.  As I follow Christ I realize . . . he loved me, I will love them.

about Pascal

Then she used her words.

I think it has been useful, although painful at times. A recent example I can point to is the softening in your heart toward gay people—I know you’ve always loved them, but I’ve seen a change in how you write about them. Your response to the documentary my friend recommended was a blessing to me and to my friend. Your words have softened my heart, too.

Why was I doubting this trail at all?  Because I’m tired.  Yes the Hawaii trip added much back, but sometimes that kind of refreshment tempts you to fundamentally change and not let yourself get so tired again.  Because I wonder if the impact of words with strangers can change me to the same extent that unread words in a paper journal can.  Can those words open doors to others or only seal them tighter shut?  Because I’m not as noble as I think I am and I quit sometimes.  No one likes a quitter.  That’s one of the reasons I sometimes can’t like myself.  And yet.

The most beautiful trails I’ve ever walked involved effort, sometimes mud and bruises.  But they were beautiful.  I am not a person who enjoys or seeks arguments.  Perhaps more honestly, I do enjoy arguments but find that they are usually destructive and try to avoid them.  Some of the arguments here have changed me, just as my friend asserted.  Do I still follow Christ?  More closely than before I began.  Do I still care about skeptics?  The same answer applies.  After thinking more about the trails and trailheads in this blog and in my life, for now I need to keep hiking.

Am I the only one who runs away sometimes, even in his own mind?

Have you been tempted to disengage the friends or internet strangers you know you need to know?

Do you get tired and find that re-charging can have a paradoxical effect?

Did any of this make sense?   Sometimes I’m too metaphorical for my own darn good.




The Breakfast Table

rustic table

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m sitting at the same table we leaned on last night.  The table above is just a depiction, but evokes the memory and stirs my hope just the same.  At the table we were seven with a little Pascal darting in and out on spare occasions.  It was a better table than the taco booth.  It was hard dark wood and smithed cold metal with warm lines of approach.  It was not plastic, cramped, or formica.  Our nucleus was complete with our brides J and Mrs. Pascal there.  The valences of friends were three and strong.  Yes – – I just spent 15 minutes with a fantastic high school chemistry powerpoint deck on the periodic table.  Thank you anonymous chemistry teacher and internet Alexandria.  By the way – – you’re a noble gas and I’m an alkali metal, best kept dry.

In person we gained what is so difficult in writing.  We had synchrony.  What writing wins in posterity it loses in the ability to speed, slow, watch, listen, and sub-cognitively interpret what is said and heard, implied and felt.  Smile, posture, tone of voice and stuttering silence were all apparent to me.  I felt at times like an extracorporeal observer.  I suppose for all except myself, I was.  This from a man who claims to love writing in fact to see the world through a writer’s lens.  In person was better.  But here I am at that table.  The sun rose quickly, the grass is greening and birds sing the elegy of night’s retreat.

I asked our readers, some of whom are becoming friends, where to go with this blog after I finished telling the first part of my story.  J was the strongest voice asking for a back and forth about your 42 reasons.  She wants to be convinced and I honestly think you do too.  I just can’t do it.  We will live and die with different ways of seeing the world, different criteria for being convinced, different emphases on the subjective and objective vicissitudes of life.  Madalyn expressed my views well.  Can we respect each other and try to understand each other?  Can we find room in the middle for a rustic table?  That is more where my heart, mind, and soul lie.  I invited a different couple to Détente last night.  They are the age of my older brother, mature, kind, generous, engaged, faithful to work and each other.  She is an agnostic who likes Karen Armstrong’s last book.  He an atheist who likes her first.  They are an amazing couple who love each other and care deeply about other people.  I wanted you and J to see a healthy couple who do not follow Christ but do model his care for humanity.  They care about the homosexual community, racially discounted, urban poor, and those without access to strong education.  I liked this couple when I met them – – just like I liked you and J.

This isn’t only your journey.  As I explained last night, I was raised with inherent biases against gay people, or worse – – Democrats.  These biases are hard to deconstruct.  I was also raised with an abiding love for Christ and the Bible.  The latter has inspired me to leave the former biases.  Just as you and I have come to very different conclusions about the usefulness of scripture, I feel as if my conclusions about people and politics are isolating in the evangelical strands of Christianity that I know best.

The only thing that really bothers me about the journey you and J are on?  You’re leading a double life, expending enormous energy by maintaining a lie.  You’re having to remember who knows what when.  Just tell the truth to real people in person.  “We want to believe, but we don’t right now.”  I can promise one thing and hold myself accountable to any who read here.  You can leave Christ and not leave me.  I will not isolate my circle to an echo chamber reinforcing my own views.  My circle includes you, at the rustic table, in person and here.

This post may feel like a pivot.  Probably because it is a pivot.  I am a strong believer in failure as a teacher and I felt as if I failed you and myself over the past two weeks.  Your posts were not the problem.  I’m glad that you’ve outlined a cogent reason for your non-belief that can allow others to be more authentic.  I will indeed reply to several points that you raised about the Bible.  How can I reconcile the concept that one error causes the whole house of cards to collapse?  Do I think God is bad?  And that’s about where I’ll stop.  Books have been written for and against, and that’s not the book I intend to write.  What about Victoria’s comment post on Miracles?  That deeply affected me and deserves a reply.  What would I like to see from you?  More positive assertions.  You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters.  Could you please tell our friends about your curiosity alarm?




photocredit:  ogstore.com

Where To?


Dear Russell & Friends,

I’ve been up for a while now.  Reading, thinking, and writing at the table in a warm quiet house on a cold day is contentedness.  I never want to take this quiet house for granted and never want to forget others who have either no shelter or no peace.  There is a sense of stewardship for both – – those blessed with shelter should not forget the poor, those who have found peace should not forget the turmoil that led them there.  What exactly does this blog mean?  As Russell and I meet in person to reflect it is apparent that it means something different, but special to both of us.  When the détente group meets at this very table we multiply those interpretations.

Earlier this week I saw Russell exercise his craft.  He knows how to code.  He made several adjustments to the blog format that would make the experience more pleasant for us and our readers and allow room to grow.  It was a pleasure to sit next to my friend and watch how he could execute our ideas.  I’m an idea person.  I’ve always partnered well with implementers.  In marriage, in profession, in friendship – – the yin of ideas craves the yang of execution.  It is rare to find both in one person.  That used to bother me. I would try and try to be a better implementer.  Then I noticed that the implementers were looking for me too.  Neither has imminence.  Neither stands alone.  How rich life looks when lived in partnership.

We passed 1,000 readers yesterday.  What did you come here expecting to find?  How can we serve you well?  I’ve been meditating on those questions.  I made a mistake at the last détente, using one precious hour of shared time to show a video that we all could have watched alone before or after.  Thankfully, the group is gracious and offered feedback.  People who care will correct you in love.  That friend who discretely tells you that there is spinach in your teeth is a keeper.  We learn from those friends.  We learn dental salad awareness and learn that time together wants to be spent completely present.  For our next détente I’m asking the participants to come with a question for the group.  We’ll write them down and draw them from a hat.  Then where will the conversation lead?

I have the same question for you.  Where do we go?  Where would you like to see this conversation lead? Where to?

Pascal – – 1:16


photo credit:  by Jorge de Aguiar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – conclusion


So down that I slept 20 of 24 hours and despaired of the other 4.  Despair.  What does Bertrand Russell know of despair?  What does the writer of Hank know of despair?  Unyielding despair so corrosive that it didn’t leave me desperate.

I hate you God – – just kill me and send me to hell.  Love Letter – – penultimate   from the beginning

I’m crying again.  It’s been a very long time since I confessed those words and everything behind them.  By now you understand why I will not, can not stand in judgment over you and Russell.  By now you understand why I can love you both courageously – – even if you think you’re walking away.  I can’t write anymore J.  It’s unusual for me to feel this way.  I’m exhausted but content.  I know that God is real.  I know that scripture is reliable.  I hope to be a saint that honestly presents himself as once wretched, now redeemed by amazing grace.  Thanks for being my friend.  I hope this didn’t shock you.  You realize that I needed to write it more than you needed to read it.

Always in Christ – – Pascal –1:16

P.S.  So there it is.  A two year old letter about foundational events in my life a quarter century ago.  Why did I write it?  To testify to where I came from and why I needed to turn.  I think that suffering is part of life.  Buddhism does not resonate with me because the avoidance of suffering is not a noble path.  To suffer with another in compassion is.  That’s who Jesus is to me.  He reached into my wreck of a life and loved me.  Then he told me through scripture to love others like he had loved me.  I was not easy to love.  Others are not easy to love. But it does make sense to me.  It is internally consistent and resonates with my experience, heart, soul, mind and strength.  Does personal experience give me an airtight reason to believe and complete immunization against doubt?  Of course not.  But to deny this influence would be false.  It is certainly part of my reason to follow Christ and to love.  I’m willing to let the other parts unfold over years.

Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – penultimate


The P in PICU stands for psychiatric.  The ICU means the same as it would elsewhere.  At SASH it is a place for high risk suicidal patients or violent psychotics.  I represented the latter.  Love Letter – – part 13   from the beginning

How could a 16 year old hold his own with violent crazy people?  He was one of them.  The only time that I’ve ever been hit in the face with a closed fist happened on my first night there.  I think I deserved it.  I was about to throw a heavy chair onto a large Mexican man.  I was convinced that he had looked at me in a sinister way.  Despite delusion I was probably right, but the chair made sense at the time.  He never really bothered me after that.  That episode prompted the first of many physical and chemical restraints to control my violence – – protect others, protect me.  The rooms aren’t really rubber, but the walls were padded.  Over two years I would see five different versions.  Three had green walls.  The color of calm?  That night and many after I screamed with demonic rage.  It may have scared others.  I had lost fear’s protection.  I had abruptly arrived at the bottom of my pit after free fall and a concussive landing – – much like the man with the turban after his encounter with a train.

Could I elaborate?  Yes.  But it hurts.  I’m crying now and it oddly surprises me.  I’m not crying in sorrow, regret, joy or beauty.  I actually think it is the Holy Spirit communicating with God in a way that I can’t understand.  Grieving for me, with me.  That is how I’ve been praying for you since the beginning.  I no longer speak in tongues.  I hope that doesn’t displease God.  I don’t think it does because I love his Holy Spirit and understand him much deeper that I ever did when speaking in tongues.  So that is how I pray for you and your family now.  This part of the letter follows your unspoken request.  I’ve been faithful.  Will I elaborate in the future?  I don’t know.  But in a fragmented style I can recall that fragmented epoch.

Racing thoughts with no conclusions.  All links severed – – the web is for entangled poverty of mind.  Two types of people here – – those on drugs and those not.  I wish I was on drugs.  Then this might stop if I stop.  Molasses thoughts with no rest.  Just stuck.  God help me.  Who is God?  I am god.  Why can’t I read?  Why can’t I think?  Why can’t I write?  It doesn’t make sense and I hate nonsense.  I hate more and more and more.  I hate the one who made me and hate the one he made.  I raise a fist against that god.  Why doesn’t he just kill me?  Man propositions me.  Another fight.  After weeks a lower security unit with a glass door where I can see light again.  I walk through the closed glass door with outstretched arms.  Still.  Have.  Scars.  More restraints.  More meds.  More diagnoses.  Depression.  Mania.  Psychosis – – I favor that one.  Everything is related if I can just figure it out.  Everything has significance, so nothing does.  More drugs, less rage, less everything.  Less.  I don’t have the courage to kill myself.  Myself.  Myself?  Haldol and thorazine until my tongue fills my mouth in dystonic revolt.  Ativan, valium, anything to … calm … me … down.  So down that I slept 20 of 24 hours and despaired of the other 4.  Despair.  What does Bertrand Russell know of despair?  What does the writer of Hank know of despair?  Unyielding despair so corrosive that it didn’t leave me desperate.

I hate you God – – just kill me and send me to hell.

-conclusion tomorrow-




Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Love Letter – – part 13


Actually, Mrs. Pascal would have liked me.  I was friendly and cheerful.  I always helped those who appeared to struggle.  But I was not yet even becoming the man God intended for her and I was too selfish at that point to recognize her demure, elegant beauty.  Love Letter – – part 12   from the beginning

I even grew spiritually by attending a Christian leadership camp called The Summit the summer after sophomore year.  It was in Manitou Springs, Colorado at the base of Pikes Pike.  My folks and I visited the Air Force Academy before they dropped me off.  I’m not sure that I actually grew spiritually.  I spend hours studying the politics of the Christian right – – even picketing an abortion clinic.  I regret it to this day.  You and I must really talk politics some day my friend.  I think one contribution to your struggle must be the Christian imprimatur on decidedly non-Christian politics.  Fair and balanced.  Mrs. Pascal and I are Democrats.  I once had a bumper sticker reading Pro-Life Democrat.  I took it off after someone put a 10 penny nail through my rear passenger side wall.  It either happened at the Mexican restaurant where Russell and I eat or at my place of employment.  Catholic Mexicans or Anglo Evangelicals?  I wonder.

3/15/13 – – KL airport, awaiting Singapore

I did fall in love at the Summit – – with Colorado.  The love continues to this day.  Mrs. Pascal and I maintain it and have shared it with the boys.  After a week of classes at the Summit we had a free day to either River Raft (not sure why I capitalized that) or hike Pikes Peak.  I chose the mountain and completed my first and only marathon that day – – one mile to trailhead – – thirteen up – – thirteen down – – one mile back.  To be 16 again.  Actually, Mrs. Pascal and I will go stay in Manitou on our anniversary trip this year.  We’ll acclimatize in a B&B then hike 1/2 way up one day and camp, summit and return to Barr Camp for a second night – – then back down.  Oh, to be 41.  At least the company will be great this time.

I can’t exactly tell you why it happened other than the groundwork I’ve laid.  You have all the information I’ve had when I try to figure it out albeit from a shallower depth of field.  But it did happen.  I was reading The Talisman by Stephen King.  I was a voracious reader of fiction in high school reading all Tom Clancy and beginning King.  The Talisman is scarey.  “But Pascal, name one Stephen King book that isn’t!”  On Writing . . . Meditations on the Craft – – brilliant and on my multiple reads shelf.  So, I’m sure that reading a book with a significant component of lycanthropy didn’t help.  I was spending the night at Chris Alvarez’s house a week before junior year was to start.  Our friendship was still there but strained.  And we had a fight – – I don’t even remember about what.  I do remember leaving his house at one in the morning with the clothes on my back.  I was angry, confused and lost.  The roads of suburban San Antonio outskirts were not as well marked as the trails of the Rocky Mountains.  I walked until dawn began to break.  In the course of that walk I became more angry, more confused, and more lost.  When the police arrested me trying to throw a newspaper vending machine through a convenience store window I had lost everything – – my way, my clothes, my mind.  There were two arresting San Antonio PD officers.  One man, one woman.  At first they were understandably perturbed by a naked raving lunatic.  But then compassion.

One brought me a blanket.  The other said she would remove the handcuffs if I was calm.  They asked who my parents were.  I said I had none.  They asked why I was naked and wandering.  I said I had become a werewolf for the first time last night.  And I believed it, so on one level I was not lying.  What is a delusion?  A fixed false belief.  Why do I know that following Christ is not a delusion?  Because I’ve been delusional – – it is different.  I was transferred to the PICU of the San Antonio State Hospital and was not charged with any crime.  I was under an order of emergency detention – – a 48 hour hold that allows a person to be held involuntarily until competency can be assessed.  The P in PICU stands for psychiatric.  The ICU means the same as it would elsewhere.  At SASH it is a place for high risk suicidal patients or violent psychotics.  I represented the latter.

-to be continued-




Photo credit:  Handwritten letter by Descarte: by PHGCOM [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons