patience

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

The Cliff

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Dear Russell & Friends,

I’m writing in response to a recent post by a family friend J, Russell’s wife.  She also goes by CC, the Counterfeit Christian, to reflect her journey through the desert of doubt concurrent with her husband’s loss of faith.  In this post she mentions the cliff of infidelity and how it shocked and disappointed her that she could even let it come into view.  I found her admission to be mature, honest, and much more healthy than most of us can manage.  In light of Josh Duggar’s recent revelations I felt an obligation to speak.

Mrs. Pascal and I met at the age of 19.  She actually baked my 20th birthday cake in a dorm microwave one step up from an easy bake oven.  We jogged together (she later confessed that she didn’t like to run), played racquetball, shared meals, and grew in friendship.  We wrote a series of pre-internet letters on paper with pen in envelopes requiring a stamp.  We both still have every one.  We decided to marry after an intense argument.  I asked her for 48 hours space.  I was either going to marry her or never talk to her again.  What a wonderful decision.  We celebrated 21 years of marriage last month.

In a life driven by priorities, following Christ is first.  The second priority is loving others.  These two priorities are why I’m here.  But there is a rank to my others.  My bride deserves to be first in my esteem and affections.  My children know that I love them but that they must play a secondary role in my heart.  Other people – – our community here falls into the third tier.  So if one person is my first priority, how can I guard my heart and hers?  I consider infidelity to be one of my deepest fears.  I would likely feel less guilt with other crimes that might be objectively considered more serious.  Why?  I promised her.  I gave my word.  I said that I wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t destroy what we worked so hard to build.

The photo above is beautiful.  Mrs. Pascal just walked by and said so herself.  I explained the metaphor of the post and she wholeheartedly agreed.  We have tried to draw our stopping line one mile from the cliff.  I am not a young sports car.  I’m not fast, shiny, or sexy.  I am a middle aged locomotive.  I can carry much over great distances.  I am defined by momentum, not acceleration.  A train can take a mile to stop.

Here are my principles for guarding a faithful marriage.  I have built them with the lessons learned from my weaknesses and from the failures of those I consider friends.  In the last twenty years I have sat across the breakfast table from 7 different men who were leaving their wives and children.  Only one turned back.  All of these men had picnics by the beautiful cliff.  For what it is worth – – here is the advice that I give myself.  I ask you all to hold me accountable.

  1. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to yourself.  You can become attracted to another.  None of the 7 men thought they could ever stray – – that was the one commonality.
  2. Friendship is more dangerous than physical attraction.  You’re not 19 anymore.  Finding someone who appreciates you and laughs at your jokes – – danger.
  3. Avoid pornography.  It is corrosive and encourages to ask, what if?  It honors neither women nor men.  How many human traffic victims?
  4. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to your true friends.  Some men (most men) have less than 5 friends.  Find one.  Please.
  5. Do not meet privately with someone from work.  Have your meetings out in the open.  Do not go to lunch one on one.  Take a colleague.
  6. Know yourself.  I am more vulnerable to words than plunging necklines.  For me, to exchange letters with a woman who is not my wife is a crossing of the one mile boundary.  I did that one time.  I thought I had built accountability into the system.  The letters were for a noble cause.  They were openly exchanged.  I was wrong.  My bride asked me to stop and I did immediately.  She knew my heart better than I did and I’m so glad that she loved me enough to guard it.
  7. Be kind, but not familiar.  I hope that I am never rude, but I would rather be considered rude than over familiar.
  8. Do not flirt.  It is jet fuel on a camp fire.

This list is less important than the spirit behind it.  Please – – guard your own heart and the heart of the one you promised it to.  What do you think?  Have I drawn my lines to extremely?  Does this make sense, or not?  Have you successes or failures that may help us?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: By Dinkum (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.

Love,

Pascal

Arguing with Ayn

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Dear Russell and Friends,

There she is.  Demure smile, confident pose, piercing eyes & cigarette in hand.  She created the best book title ever – – Atlas Shrugged – – a title that compelled me to read.  Her first name rhymes with wine.  She is worth arguing with.  We could not disagree more on so many fundamental things.  And yet.

Ayn Rand is one of the best, smartest, most incisive writers that I have read.  She has strong opinions well reasoned that are diametrically opposed to my worldview and philosophy.  Is reading her an exercise in frustration?  No.  Not at all.

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Reading her is pure pleasure and reminds me that my life is too short to pick lesser books.  I’ve just begun The Fountainhead in its 25th anniversary edition.  Rand wrote the introduction in 1968 – – five years before I was born and a full 25 years before I could digest her ideas.

Now I’ll wrestle with Howard Roark just like I wrestled with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.  From the grave their ideas and speeches echo.  And so it is with Ms. Rand.  I want to invite her to our table and listen. Then I’d share what enthralls yet disappoints me.  Her protagonists are my antagonists – – they are Übermensch, gleaming strong and clear.  I need these antagonists – – worthy opponents in the circus of ideas. Her antagonists are straw.  Caricatures of bias, bigotry and weakness.  If only she could revise.  Would she?  If only she had the courage to face the strong and not the weak.  Would she?  Oh well.  Her gift to me remains – – enemies that I can respect and answer with a clear conscience.  Enemies that best me in more areas than I usually admit.  Enemies of concrete, steel, arcs and planes of soaring thought.  Enemies that could become friends.

What of my antagonist to her protagonist?  I hope to return her gift and not to duplicate her greatest mistake.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credits:

Ayn Rand portrait by Phyllis Cerf (1916–2006) Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg#/media/File:Ayn_Rand1.jpg

“Objectivist1” by Michael Greene – originally posted to Flickr as Atlas 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Objectivist1.jpg#/media/File:Objectivist1.jpg

Wealth and Power

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Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Letter to our Firstborn

Morning Study

Mrs. Pascal and I celebrated our first born son last night with his two brothers and our church family.  His real name is Caleb and here is the letter we read to him.  Blessings – – Pascal  1:16

Dear Caleb,

As we gather with our church family to celebrate your coming graduation, your Mom and Dad are pleased to write a brief letter with our thoughts. Just nineteen years ago we were talking about and praying about your name. The family joke has always gone that we chose Caleb because it had only two letters more than the abc’s and we wanted to start life out simple for you. But, being joke – – that wasn’t the real reason. Here’s the real reason for your name, found in God’s word in the book of Numbers.

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Num 14:24

That was our prayer for you and prophesy over you when we gave you a name. And that is what we thank God for today – – that we have seen him say yes to that prayer and to fulfill that prophecy in your life. Yes Caleb, you have a different spirit. Yes Caleb, we have dedicated you, evangelized you, brought you to God’s house, baptized you, and discipled you. Now we see that you do follow Christ fully. There is no greater joy. Are we proud of you for working hard and for graduating from High School? Yes. Are we proud of your diligence and ambition going forward to college and the beginning of your adult life? Of course. But here is where our pride most lies:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. Jer 9: 23-24

We don’t know if time and age will bring you wisdom, might, or riches. Those are good things, but not the first thing. Our desire as you move forward is for you to boast in the Lord and in knowing him. Then our pride is well placed. Our arrow well launched.

With Much Love,

Your Mom & Dad

Apologies (accepted) & Napkins (used well)

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Greetings Russell and Friends,

Much of my reading and writing this week has been in the comments concerning my last post on God’s goodness or lack thereof.  That is a new and exciting way to interact with our new friends – – something that we’ve seen modeled on several of their blogs.  Much of the content in these blogs is in the comments.  So we’re slowly addressing your reasons for doubt and unfolding the map to your intellect and heart.  I find your mind to be fascinating, likely because it is very different from mine.  I also find it fascinating when you and your wife J (aka CC) write each other from the same room.  Fascinating, and completely valid.  She said the following after you apologized for the length of your comments.

Your napkin drawing (that happened on paper, but same idea) was far more effective. Even if you has said the same thing in many thousands of words, I think fatigue would have prevented me (and perhaps others) from getting it. Are there readers who skip your comments altogether because of the length (knowing that they don’t have time in the Subway line)? You have so much to offer that I don’t want it to be missed for that reason.

I need to accept your apology and resist my impulse to reassure you that apologies are never needed.  That impulse does not honor the reality of friendship.  When I apologize I would rather have that apology accepted than deferred.  Why do I accept your apology?  Because I recently found myself in a Subway line trying to engage the blog content and I couldn’t attend to your very good comment, primarily because of length.  I read and scrolled, scrolled and read, gave up, then ordered a six-inch wheat black forest ham toasted with pepper jack cheese, green peppers, red onions, black olives, banana peppers, spicy mustard and a little bit of sriracha sauce.  I woke at four this morning intending to read every single one of your comments.  I’m actually a slow, plodding reader – – speed reading is anathema to me.  And I did, but it took two hours to do so thoughtfully.  Smaller bites and clarifying questions is good advice from your bride.

What about napkins?  That is a favorite strategy of ours when we meet for breakfast.  Back of the envelope analogies fail because the only envelopes I seem to have contain junk mail and I rarely have them at breakfast.  Likewise, we have never eaten together at a restaurant with cloth napkins.  I’m not saying that we couldn’t write on those napkins, just that it could get a little strange or tense.  In the napkin above I’ve illustrated a general taxonomy which may or may not be correct.  The horizontal axis represents a way of thinking – – like you or me.  The vertical axis represents a skeptical or theistic belief.  I’ve taken the liberty of asserting that you think the most like you and I think the most like me.  We serve as paradigmatic members of the quadrants:  you the Russell-like skeptic, me the Pascal-like theist.  Then I’ve assigned several of our more active writers to the quadrants as I see them.  I chose Madalyn for my way of thinking, albeit with very different beliefs, primarily because I find her writing style very easy to read.  I chose Howie for your way of thinking because when he first came by I thought you had adopted another pseudonym.  And so forth – – it’s a bit like picking teams for dodgeball.  It would be better for people to assign themselves – – then I could redraw the napkin, although I did find the creative effort to be draining.

Why a tangential discussion about napkins?  Because I’ve taken so many tangents this week trying to see how we see things differently.  Did you know that Bertrand Russell was an opponent of coherentism as an epistemic strategy?  I did not.  Did you know that Soren Kierkegaard requires too many special characters in the correct spelling of his name to be my favorite philosopher?  That was a joke (although true).  He’s not my favorite philosopher because I don’t have one yet.  Kierkegaard valued the subjective in his understanding of truth.  I didn’t know that, but I’ve encountered him before in many readings and it is probably time to go to the source.  My tangential responses to your comments and your linearity help me to learn and also to respect that I many not ever be able to reply to you in kind.  I understand your objections, I just don’t process the world that way.  And that is okay.  I’ll do my best.  Let’s have breakfast this week.

For our friends — which napkin quadrant would you place yourself in?  Any takers for the lonely square?  If you are one of the 8-in-ink and consider yourself misdrawn I am prepared to revise.

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  the napkin on the table, Pascal, my own work Creative Commons share and share alike