savior

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 –

Love Letter – – part 13

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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-

Pascal

-1:16

 

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 12

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I heard her say, “it is very competitive, but I think you can do it.”  When a man falls it is so hard to say when.  Is it iced coffee?  No.  That’s just when people knew.  I fell here – – setting my gaze so intently that I mortgaged the present to attain the future.  I’ve told Mrs. Pascal many times – – “I’m so glad that you didn’t know me in high school  – – I was unworthy of you.”  The problem is, no one knew it.  Not even, especially not even, me.  Love Letter – – part 11   from the beginning

Isn’t that the horror of pride?  It is low visibility – – I had no friend close enough to see me or confront me.  And it is low awareness – – like trying to read silver fine print on plastic wrap just a wisp in front of your eyes.  The Academy application process was stringent and it did start the sophomore year for the successful.  High grades were not enough.  They valued physical fitness and community leadership as well.  My school had few clubs and no sports.  I became the sophomore class president and extended my commuting bike rides to 30 mile training excursions.  I ran more, resumed lifting weights to conquer the dreaded 3 over hand pull ups that I must do and even joined a rugby club.  I told my Mom it was less dangerous than football.

I became more involved in my church youth group and less involved with Jesus.  Who knew it?  As a parent that frightens me.  Oh for grace to love my sons and to be an eager, engaged protector-provider for them and my bride.  My father’s passivity, compounded by an extended recovery, could not or would not restrain me.  My mother’s opinion mattered less and less to me every day.  A strong willed son raised by a controlling mother either collapses into her gravity or escapes at great cost.  My path would be the latter.  Layer upon layer I hardened.  I forgot what I had been forgiven and I loved less.  And by consensus criteria for success I was thriving.  The youth pastor with his relevance and trendy clothes had no idea.  Who will stand for people like me?  I needed a father to see my rebellion.  I needed a father to correct and rebuke me.  I needed a father to kick my ass.  My father could not.  My Father would.

What else happened in my heart?  On a visit to my Dad during his first recovery, still in the summer before the sophomore year, I sat with him then went to explore as he dozed off.  Two indelible marks were made on my heart that day – – one yin, the other yang.  For good I was moved by the evening flag ceremony.  I’ve been to many more with the Boy Scouts and I’m still moved.  My Dad used to cry.  For the bad, I visited the gift shop and went to the section I’m always drawn to – – books.  Magazines were there too for the benefit of our soldiers and their visitors.  Some have said that a boy will always remember his first pornographic image.  In my case it only took 23 years to forget.  January 1, 2011 brought an end to my intermittent but pernicious battle with impurity.  Honestly, if the battle had not been decisively won (I must constantly stand guard), I would not have entered this friendship.  That is not a part of my story that I’ll elaborate for you.  Needless to say I know what I’ve been forgiven and love more.  It is a story for my sons – – I’ve warned and encouraged all three – – and a story for my brothers in faith.  Sins of impurity are common and isolating – – low visibility, high awareness.

So the sophomore year progressed and I was doing well by all appearances.  The problem with walking far from God is that it makes life easier.  Not better, but easier.  I make a point with my boys, P1 especially, that I was quite nerdy.  That is true and I suppose that I still am but the point of that assertion is reassurance – – things work out well for nerds.  But this was not at all the same intense social isolation I felt in middle school.  Nerd?  Yes.  But I was the number one ranked nerd in a competitive magnet school where this was more admired than shunned.  Although sophomore class presidency was less a popularity contest than freshman – – it was only a little less.  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.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

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 8

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My difficulty began in earnest the next year when there was no Mrs. Gibbon and the years of Dad’s commuting dragged on.  A postscript to this story that I haven’t thought about much until recently?  I won the contest.  Love Letter – – part 7   from the beginning

Why was seventh grade so much harder?  Like P1 and P2, I hit my growth spurt a little late but hormones and the acne they brought rose.  I retrenched my identify in grades and lost much of my joy in work.  Then I couldn’t sleep.  It was very different from the early rising that I do now – – that is who I am.  No, this was the dreadful racing mind and unstoppable anxiety that fed on itself and would not let me rest.  Many, if not most nights I was in bed trying to sleep for four hours or more.  Beginning band became symphonic and second chair was not enough.  Pre-algebra came and was much more difficult for me than arithmetic.  Math is rarely taught well and it was not (is not) my native tongue.  Then the mystery of girls.  The ones I admired were too shallow to matter.  The ones that liked me were too shy to say.  Junior high became the worst experience I could imagine.  At one point on a Sunday afternoon I tried to explain my distress to my parents.  They must have perceived it true.  My Dad called into work, did not drive back to San Antonio, and pulled me from school the next day for an emergency trip to NASA.  That impromptu field trip means the world to me.  They were stopping the world so that I could get off.  And like a boy escaping from a cruelly pushed playground merry-go-round I stumbled, fell and vomited.

I can’t remember many details about this time J, but I remember it was dark.  After the Fall came, after daylight savings was rescinded, I awoke, lived, and tried to sleep in darkness.  Depression?  Normal reaction to pre-teen angst?  Foreshadowing of something much worse.

Over Christmas break I knew how seriously Mom and Dad saw this.  They asked how I liked school.  For the first time ever I said without irony, “I hate it.”  What I meant by saying that was, “I hate myself.”  It was cold, smooth, black, hard and true.  They did so many things right.  The income disparity between myself and my classmates was about to reach a high not equalled until present day when I interact with Harvard faculty and alumni.  They enrolled me in Northland Christian School – – a 40 minute drive away.  I had to quit band and was so grateful to do so.  Talent alone can’t dictate passion.  I was good at more things than I could love.  I joined a class of 40 (split 7A and 7B) seventh graders instead of 400.  I played sports for the first time, beginning with track.  My lifelong love of running was nourished and at my best I could run a quarter in under a minute.  The girls I liked were shallow, and very rich, living in subdivisions populated by Houston Rockets.  The girls who liked me were not shallow, or stunning, or super rich.  Kelly Amos wrote me a note to declare her interest.  I stopped pursuing shallow Shannon.  Kelly was pretty, quiet and kind – – not gorgeous, boisterous and spiteful.  Our 7th grade commitment maintained innocence and presaged what I would find in Mrs. Pascal – – also struggling through middle school 1,000 miles to the north in Michigan.

I came to love school again.  The sacrifice that my parents made was big.  Mom worked.  Dad worked more.  They may have taken loans.  How did I repay their kindness?  With a growing desire to wear shirts with little horsies of the left front pocket.  My father and I, raised in humble circumstances, struggled with materialism.  My mother, raised in wealth, privilege and alcohol’s legacy did not.  I regret my attitude to this day.  God has been gracious to deliver me from the bondage of desiring wealth and into the life changing concept of stewardship.  I grew in the second half of middle school – – in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  It was a Church of Christ school – – most of my teachers were members there.  Mrs. Gibbon never said a word about Jesus to the best of my memory.  These teachers taught Bible and many professed faith.  Many were kind and dedicated.  The 8th grade Bible teacher who preached the loudest and justified the bizarre belief that instrumental worship was wicked?  Not a nice man.  Why was I loved by one who never mentioned Christ and discounted by one who couldn’t shut up?  Is it what we say or what we do that matters?  If only more people, myself included, would recognize the leverage of both.

-to be continued-

Pascal

-1:16

 

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

Why Church?

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Dear Russell & Friends,

Our family went to church yesterday as we do on most any given Sunday.  In our audience of believers and skeptics I realize that some have been uplifted by church and some off put.  All humans are flawed.  Gatherings of humans compound the mess.  Add that church is designed for the broken and you can get a special kind of mess; in my part of the US, fondly and wryly referred to as a hot mess.

Why church?

Our readers know that I lost my mother last week after a long illness and over two years of debility and pain due to a series of strokes – – the last 17 months confined to a bed.  From my viewpoint her passage was an alloy of relief and grief that will be familiar to the loved one of any who has suffered.  As we made arrangements I expected my phone to ring.  And it did – – hospice nurse, funeral home, other agents of necessary arrangements.  Then a second wave.  This friend.  That family.  My pastor, associate pastor, small group leader, Sunday school teacher.  I lost count.  They knew Mom had suffered.  They fondly recalled our three generations worshipping together before she took to bed.  They offered not an explanation, but comfort.

Then yesterday in person – – it took 15 minutes for me to walk 100 yards – – stopped and hugged at every new sight line or corner.  People patiently waited to bring comfort.  And Mrs. Pascal, and our sons, and I realized how much we needed and appreciated the empathy and compassion.

Then the coincidences.  The scripture my mother had chosen for her tombstone in a moment of lucidity six months ago:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

Yesterday’s sermon was Psalm 103.

Then the hymn that made my father weep and that my mother loved as well:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is Well with my Soul, Horatio Spafford

Those from a Christian tradition may recall the haunting power of the echoing chorus.

This is not an argument for theism.  It is only the evidence of my life and of the community that means so much to me.  Are there other communities?  Yes there are.  Atheists may even have church.  Humans need and crave human connection and comfort.  I would never mock the desire of skeptics to gather and comfort each other.  Is music tapping into something deep within our brains, causing the release of salutary neurotransmitters that given you a brain hug?  Of course.  I’m not arguing the contrary.

Am I aware that I am a pattern-seeking creature?  Yes.  I realize that the constellations are constructs of our human minds.  And yet . . . I needed comfort yesterday.  I had a community where that comfort was freely, physically offered.  I hope that for you dear friend, whether you believe or not.  If you don’t believe, I offer this virtual table (soon this literal table) to be your friend and stand with you in times of grief.

I saw the best of the church yesterday – – not a building, but a community.  I appreciate Russell’s unwritten and respectful pause as I began to process what I thought was already resolved in my heart and mind.  He and CC are actually part of my healing, as are you.  Back to the thoughtful questions of our readers next.  I, as usual in times of trial, will probably return to scripture.  As this space evolves, we’ll have multiple streams of thought and conversation.  You are welcome to read and write in any, all, or none.

Next up for me:  Romans 3.

Pascal

–1:16

 

photo credit:  Stained glass Brussels St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, by Pbrundel (Own work)(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Requiem

Morning Study

Dear Russell and Friends,

One of my strongest reasons for belief is the approach that following Christ has given me concerning one of our universal human experiences – – death and loss.  Below is a lightly edited excerpt from my paper journal.  On Wednesday night, my mother went home ten minutes after I kissed her forehead for the last time.  After almost 17 months, the prayer was answered well.

Pascal

–1:16

8/31/13 – – Saturday, 0430 – –

“September tomorrow?  Yes indeed.  What happened this week?  Much.  On Thursday evening Mom fell in her bathroom.  I was on the conference call.  I finished it then headed to the emergency room.  Mom had been x-rayed – – no break — and was given 1/2 of a tablet of mild narcotic.  The nurses changed her and helped us transfer to a wheelchair.  Mom quivered in pain and I tried to occupy her mind with scripture recitation.  We pulled in at 9 pm.  By 9 am yesterday morning Dan was there with Debra.  We had already agreed to increase homecare services to Monday-Saturday 0900-noon.  We talked and I briefed him on her situation.  Previously I had asked him just what they could do for a non-ambulatory person and he described a split shift 0900-noon and 1500-1800.  We both thought she might need that for a while and he called to confirm when he had seen her.

So Lisa mobilized Rachel, who had helped Mom before.  I asked for help on Sundays too – – at least for now.  We went from 10 hrs a week to 42.  What have I been feeling this week?  A very real sense of Mom’s rapid decline and a growing desire that I hesitate to even think.  Father — please take Mom home.  We talked on Sunday after the very difficult church service (it took twenty minutes for my bride to help her to Sunday school after big church).  She was not sure of her salvation.  I sang Blessed Assurance to her.  I taught back scripture to her.  Grace is how we are saved.  It is all from you.  She is terrified.  Oh, to realize the human frailty of your parents.  Oh, to confront your own frailty.  And to fully recognize how weak we really are.  You are humbling me so that Christ may increase in my life.  The part of me that despises weakness does not honor you.  Forgive me please.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12

Jason and I discussed this by phone yesterday.  We’ll have a chance to fellowship in person today.  We thought that this book addressed children as children when we were growing up – – more like – – children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.  Now we realize it is to us in middle age as we have the privilege of this responsibility.  Is it a burden?  Honestly?  Yes.  But you said – – come to me with your burdens – – I’ll relieve you.  I need that rest.

It is more than a burden.  It is a holy obligation.  Why do I pray that you would take her home?  I prayed it with Dad when his mind failed and his body started to waste.  That decline was occurring 5 years ago.  He died in March 2009.  So — September 2008 – – was it beginning?  I believe so.  We moved him to the nursing home in October or November.

Father, I understand (I’m still learning) that life is a precious gift.  You gave it and only you can take it away.  I struggle with the tension that is future minded – – the focus on an eternity with you – – versus present aware – – our creation on this earth is a glorious gift.  Mom is in pain and is not at peace.  She is chair bound and won’t read or even listen to the radio.  Please take her home and show her that your grace has always covered her.

Then I would lay her to rest next to Dad.  I will likely have her remains cremated.  I think that’s what I want for me.  From dust I came to dust I will return.  Cremation, then a headstone next to Dad.  I would ask Pastor to give a funeral message for our family and the ladies in her Sunday school class.  Please bring me closer to you through this.  Let me realize that my body and mind may fail.  Let me recognize that my strength is declining even as my sons’ strength rises.

Help me to be a wise steward of every resource that is yours – – strength, wisdom, favor, time, talent, treasure – – all yours.  Audit my heart and straighten my path.  Revise my desires to please you.  Given me the right desires.  Author them.  Make me a man that loves you and others.”

 

Romans 2: 12-16

Romans 2: 12-16 (ESV)

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Be careful when you read commentaries about scripture, even mine – – especially mine.  Read it yourself then think.  Read the verses before and after then think.  Go on a long stroll and think.  If you are a believer, pray for wisdom before, during, and after your reading.  If you are a skeptic (or a believer), read naturally and ask rational questions.  Let scripture speak for itself, even if – – especially if it disagrees with the grooves worn in your intellect through the salad days of life.

If have two favorite interlocutors on this blog.  Russell is a personal friend and we meet frequently for breakfast.  CC is a kindred spirit that I met here.  Read her comments on the last post.  How many more have these heartfelt questions?  Can the bride of Christ ignore them?  No friends . . . no.  Why does the concept of hell disturb you?  I hope to address this tomorrow and for the next several decades as my heart pulls more and more to the lost sheep for whom the shepherd would leave the 99 for a season.

What does this paragraph in Romans 2 teach me?  God will judge us by the knowledge that he gives us.  God will judge the secrets of humans by Christ Jesus.  Secrets from whom?  Secrets that I keep from myself.  What about (I’m paraphrasing from my boyhood journal) the person who lives and dies in deepest Asia without ever hearing the name of Christ?  This paragraph tells me that she is safe in the integrity of a just God who can be trusted.  She will be judged by the work of the law that is written upon her heart.

Do I still believe in Christian missions?  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.  I need no other reason to go than this – – Jesus said go.  But this paragraph encourages me and ties well into Romans 1: 18-20.  God has made his invisible attributes of eternal power and divine nature clear in the things that he made.  Our failing is to worship created things instead of creator.  When I, the drop of water on a maverick wave, accuse the ocean of injustice – – I come back to this scripture.  I come back, calm down, sometimes cry and learn to trust him again.

Pascal

–1:16

And yet . . .

Kobayashi_Issa-Portrait

露の世は露の世ながらさりながら

Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

This dewdrop world —

Is a dewdrop world,

And yet, and yet . . .

Kobayashi Issa, Japanese haiku master and lay Buddhist priest wrote this after his second daughter died.  I found the poem as I explored other religions to ask if Christianity is distinct.  It touched me then as it touches me now.  I grieved for my long dead brother.  I grieved for his loss and I grieved for his spare comfort.  I wanted to tell him that Jesus wept.  Tear drops can mean more than dew drops.  Perhaps evanescence is the true vapor.  Perhaps there is something more.  And yet . . .

I am neither a religious nor a superstitious person.  I was raised without faith, taught by my mother to embrace logic and reason, to sniff out and discount dogma and the supernatural.

I am a proud strict materialist, a skeptic.  My first great love was Mr. Spock.  My heroes are Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Randi, David Hume, Robert Ingersoll, and the “four horsemen” of atheism:  Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett.  I’m a bit of a stereotype.

But I am a cancer patient.  In fact, I am probably a cancer survivor.  After surgery, my physicians estimated my odds of surviving my disease at about 70%.

And, no matter how I try to stop myself, as a cancer patient, I look for signs.  A part of my mind fights to discern omens in what I know is a random universe.  My mind that values rationality and evidence above all cannot help seeking portents that will reveal my fate.  There is an article on colorectal cancer in a medical journal one week before my CEA is to be drawn:  Uh oh.  Two obituaries in the New York Times of people who died of colon cancer on the day I am to call to schedule my CT scan:  Yikes.  I know the difference between correlation and causation.  I understand confirmation bias.  But still.  This is the sort of thing that makes people believers, whatever they believe in, in anything.

I am in a foxhole and absolutely still an atheist.  Like everyone else, my brain is wired to find false patterns, to tell myself comforting lies, to delude myself into thinking I have control over my medical fate.  I believe our greatest intellectual responsibility is to strive to overcome this biological legacy, to understand truth through science.  And yet.

Marjorie Schulman, MD, The M&M Game, JAMA July 16, 2014 excerpts

For my contemporary sister I have no derision and certainly no “I told you so”.  I only have an appreciation for her honesty and a respect for her intellect.  She states her case in the affirmative, not in an attack on those who believe.  And I hurt for her, praying (yes, praying) she had a better answer than truth through science.

Perhaps we’re built differently – – and by we I mean us – – some built (made or evolved) to believe and some built to doubt.  She makes perfect sense to me, as does Russell.
And yet . . .
Pascal
–1:16
“Kobayashi Issa-Portrait” by Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons –