Friday, January 31, 2014

7 Sort of Quick Takes

In which there is much discussion of food, the power of prayer thwarts the Polar Bear Plunge, and my love life is subjected to Facebook-style psychoanalysis.

--- 1 ---

Rebekah's birthday was this month so I gave her some Vermonty maple soda from Vermont Sweetwater. I tried to ask ahead of time if she likes maple, but Rebekah is too much of a scientist and thought I was talking about the Maple computational software. Fortunately I remembered to take a picture of the gift packaging I decorated. It will come in handy if I decide to do this professionally and need to build a portfolio.

--- 2 ---

I've been told that the perfect Marylandy gift is Old Bay Seasoning so I tried it out first on Allison. I think this Apple Glazed Vegetable and Edamame Stir Fry seems worth a try. After mom made me some awesome homemade Smartfood popcorn with margarine, parmesan, and romano, we talked about trying Old Bay popcorn. Turns out crab corn is a thing.

--- 3 ---

So the Polar Bear Plunge was canceled due to 20 mile per hour winds and three foot waves. I did not get this news until around 9am, after I had spent about half an hour shaving, so at least I made that nontrivial sacrifice. I did feel a little bit like I had dodged a bullet and casually attributed the fortuitous cancellation to intercessory prayers. THANK YOU EVERYBODY WHO DONATED!! About half an hour later I got an unexpected phone call from my friend Ruby. I haven't seen Ruby for several weeks but had emailed her about the plunge and she agreed to donate. So I answered the phone and heard a rush of words as Ruby, who doesn't use Facebook, explained that she had been so concerned about me getting frost bite or hypothermia or maybe ending up dead that she had even worried to her husband and our friend about it and had been begging God to keep me safe. She was so relieved by the cancellation that she had already called our friend to give her the good news. She said, "Jesus, I know you can do anything and that you grant miracles in response to prayer so please do something and keep Sarah from harm." So who knows? The plunge may have been cancelled in response to Ruby's fervent prayers. Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him? [Mk 4:41]

--- 4 ---

When I turned on the water Saturday morning, I stuck my foot under the cold shower and felt a tiny thrill of panic. The chill felt uncomfortable and yet that water must be much warmer than the ice cold Chesapeake. It reminded me of a story from a little book someone gave me on suffering. The story is about two pastors who were to be burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their faith. (It was a Protestant booklet, so they were probably being killed by Catholics.) They were locked in a prison cell at sunset waiting for their execution the next day. Through a window they could see the preparations taking place. One pastor was much younger and very afraid, while the older pastor was calm and at peace with the situation. As it was getting dark, the younger pastor went to light a candle but accidentally burnt his hand. The pain was terrible and he really started to panic. How could he persevere tomorrow, keep his wits about him, and remain faithful to God? Then the older pastor reminded him, "The Lord did not ask you to burn your finger on that candle. But when He asks you to accept martyrdom tomorrow, he will give you the grace to endure it."

--- 5 ---

We had a potluck dinner at our debrief meeting for the winter relief shelter at my former church. I now have a pretty great collection of potluck favorites:
And soon I would like to try Ojos de Buey.

--- 6 ---

I was instructed via Facebook to, "Pick up the nearest book to you, turn to page 45. The first sentence explains your love life."

Since the closest books were my Bible and breviary, I decided to go with third closest, Fr. Elijah: An Apocalypse. "What he really means is he can't stand the Church looking over his shoulder, making him accountable for his nutty pronouncements and for warping the minds of a generation of kids." Admittedly, this sounds like something I might say.

But I got curious and looked up page 45 in my Bible and found: "When she went away, she took off her shawl and put on her widow's garb again." Well, I'm not a widow but I have certainly taken off the shawl. This seems much more appropriate. And it was the closest book. How did Facebook know???  ;o)

--- 7 ---

When she went away, she took off her shawl and put on her widow's garb again. [Gn 38:19] This is from the story of poor Tamar. She had been widowed twice when she decided to put on her shawl and trick her father-in-law into having relations with her. Thinking she was a temple prostitute, he purchased her services without realizing it was Tamar. She gave birth to twin sons, one of which was the great great great... grandfather of King David. A man treating a woman as a sex object and a woman using sex to control a man--I'm sure glad we don't have to deal with that anymore! Oh my, how things change over the course of several millennia. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Nauseating Lukewarmness.

Jan 22 was the annual March for Life during which hundreds of thousands of young people descend on Washington DC in a peaceful protest that absolutely-under-no-circumstances will receive any media attention outside of (maybe) Fox News. Sad to miss it this year because of a business trip, I thought I would prepare a new post.

I was recently reading an article about the prevalence of sex selective abortion among certain cultural groups here in the West. As disturbing as the problem is, it really highlights a disconnect. At this point in time, there is widespread disapproval of sex selective abortion in the western world. And yet at the same time, easy access to abortion is being proclaimed by some to be a basic human right because absolute freedom demands "a woman's body, her choice." Logically, we can't have it both ways.

"A woman's body, her choice" means that it doesn't matter who the baby would grow up to be if allowed to live (girl/boy/whatever). It doesn't matter why the woman is choosing abortion, because it's HER body. If genetic testing shows that her son will be a brunette and she wants a blonde, she can abort him. If her daughter won't be as smart as she had hoped or as pretty as she had hoped, she can abort her. Test results could show that the baby will grow up to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. or another Einstein or Nelson Mandela. If the woman doesn't feel like carrying a baby to term--abort him! A woman's body, her choice means that even if I know ahead of time that the baby will be completely healthy but not as fill-in-the-blank as I want her to be then I am entitled to an abortion.

On the one hand, the "A woman's body, her choice" mentality is completely centered on the woman. In fact, we are told that the "baby" is merely a clump of cells and no human life actually exists at early stages of pregnancy. Therefore, we are told, nothing is being destroyed by the abortion.* On the other hand, laws against sex selective abortion (like in the UK) acknowledge the fact that a human person will result from pregnancy and that abortion can result in dangerous (for example, eugenic and genocidal) effects on a population. 

*Not only is this fuzzy logic (Think. What will happen nine months from now if I don't have this abortion? How am I going into labor if that thing wasn't a baby??) but it ignores that fact that third trimester abortions and live birth abortions (during which the baby is born prematurely and left to die of exposure) are legal and performed at many clinics.

When one considers the many reasons for which a woman might choose abortion, it becomes clear that the "clump of cells" is NOT part of the woman's body. It is, in fact, the first few cells which will form a NEW body. A body which, as Kathy Ireland points out, might even have a penis! And, remembering back to my fifth grade physiology class, a penis is typically NOT part of a woman's body. From the prevalence of sex selective abortion in certain cultures, it is clear that allowing women absolute freedom of choice can have a strong effect on demographics. Many of those who so wholeheartedly promote abortion as a means of liberating women would be outraged to find that females are aborted at far higher rates than males. But we cannot have our cake and eat it too. Either the woman is free to choose or she is not.

The same contradiction is present in the debates over assisted suicide and right-to-death laws. Many of us are perfectly happy to provide certain suffering souls with such a service. We are happy to grant them death because we assume that we would not want to live under such circumstances. However, we don't want to grant free access because we know that this would almost certainly have tragic and disastrous effects. But how can we impose limitations? If a person has a right to die when he/she chooses then there should be no conditions imposed. For those who would complain that a depressed person cannot be trusted to make such a decision because he is not in his right mind, I would tritely reply: "Who am I to judge?"

We have lost our integrity. We no longer seek the truth but rather formulate arguments to justify what we 'feel' should be true.  In order to maintain intellectual integrity, we need to know what we believe and follow our arguments to their logical conclusions. We need to pick a side. As the Lord said in the Book of Revelation: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth." We have taken on a nauseating lukewarmness.

And so I encourage everyone to pick a side--become hot or cold. If you are telling me that you support gay marriage then I would prefer to hear that you also support polygamy and the revocation of laws prohibiting incestuous marriages. If you are telling me that you believe abortion should be legal, then I would prefer to hear that you also support eugenics and infanticide. If you are telling me that you think the terminally ill should be allowed to self-administer lethal amounts of drugs and choose their time of death, then I would prefer to hear that you also support the right of your angry neighbor to choose death in order to get back at his parents who never really loved him. However, my hope is, of course, that upon following these beliefs to their logical conclusions, your eyes will be opened and you will become hot rather than cold!

Friday, January 24, 2014

7 QT: LAST CHANCE to donate!

In which I beg for donations, visit mom in the Bronx, and am graciously hosted by Allison in Boulder.

--- 1 ---

Last chance to donate (HERE) to the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics! As far as I know, the website is open at least until Saturday. Soon the pleading will stop. My suggested donation is anywhere from $5 to $15, although of course one can give more.

--- 2 ---

NOAA data for water temperature measured at the Bay Bridge, near where we will be taking the plunge, show that winter water temperatures can be as low as 35 degrees. The blue line plots data from 2012, an unusually warm year with temperatures around 45 degrees. That would be nice!

--- 3 ---

Last weekend I visited mom in the Bronx to celebrate my birthday and we had tons of fun. We walked around by Radio City Music Hall, went to Mass at St. Patrick's, spent a few hours at the Bronx Zoo, took a bunch of selfie's, and tried out the meme maker. Probably the most unexpected birthday well-wishes I received were a birthday card and two phone calls from the ladies in my rosary group, which I haven't been able to attend lately because of work. I am always especially amazed when people remember without Facebook, since I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to that.

--- 4 ---
Some kind of bird with a mouse @Bronx Zoo

Mom got dripped on outside of St. Patrick's and was worried that a bird had peed on her, because the liquid was clear. I tried to convince her that it was water but, just in case, we decided to learn more about bird excretions. Someone on Yahoo Answers had this to say about it:
Birds excrete their nitrogenous wastes, derived mostly from the breakdown of proteins, in the form of uric acid rather than urea as mammals do. Unlike urea, uric acid is almost insoluble in water, and is excreted in the form of crystals that form a semisolid white paste. Not needing to store liquid wastes, birds lack a bladder. Instead urine passes from the ureters into the cloaca, a common chamber for the passage of digestive and urinary wastes, as well as for reproductive products. A bird dropping usually contains both white uric acid crystals, and a concentrated mass of digestive wastes such as insect cuticle or seeds. 
So I guess mom didn't get peed on.

--- 5 ---

We also watched Young Einstein, a Christmas present from the Cooks. At first I was worried it would be too terrible to be entertaining. But it turns out to be a pretty amazing movie. You can watch it on Youtube for $2! Andy and I watched this movie over and over again on his birthday one year back before I had any inkling of a desire to become a physicist.

--- 6 ---

This week I have been at LASP in Boulder, CO for a work trip and Allison graciously hosted me. I got to see her motley crew of animals and saw her boss give a presentation on a student built CubeSat. These tiny little satellites (about one foot in length with a few inches square footprint) are all the rage right now. They were able to get some great science data for less than $1M and lots of free student labor. Believe it or not, less than $1M is cheap. Hey, some houses cost that much, and this is an actual satellite! Although I don't think that Boulder is some kind of dreamland, I don't yet have anything against it. Let's just say, it is a bit nicer than Greenbelt.

--- 7 ---
Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli

Recently there was a reading at Mass that really struck me. First we heard the story of Samuel mistaking God's call for the voice of his mentor Eli (and the well known "Speak Lord, for your servant heareth."). But the two verses following say this:

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.
1 Sm 3:19-20
Every word of his took effect. Immediately I realized how horrible it would be if all of my words took effect! I don't mean just the blatant offenses when one hurls insults or curses at someone in a fit of anger. I mean all of the times when I speak darkness instead of light, when I assume the worst, or only see the problems, or fail to bring hope to a bad situation. What if my gossip and complaints about things and people were to become self-fulfilling prophecies? I suddenly felt that it's no wonder my prayers are not as "strong" as I would like them to be. Thank God that my words are not powerful since I waste them and abuse them, and yet even my weak words can do immense damage. As the scriptures state again and again, I need to master my tongue. And so begins the grueling cycle of sin followed by awareness leading to repentance and atonement leading to amendment and interior struggle until the next fall into sin. But eventually we die to the sin and rise triumphant. And such is life, as FrC says so often. Suffering. Dying. And rising.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An angelic testimonial.

I wrote this testimonial after a little over a year in the AWC:

I had never been to the Dominican House of Studies when my friend invited me to the enrollment ceremony for the Angelic Warfare Confraternity on the Feast of the Archangels in 2011. I knew little about the AWC, although I had learned as much as I could from the website, and I had no intention of joining. But as Fr. Brent explained the confraternity, it seemed to be just the kind of spiritual armor we need to protect ourselves from the sexual depravity of today's world.

At the time I had not experienced any threats to my chastity and purity in at least nine months and, since I had never struggled much in that area, I felt that I didn't need the AWC for my own sake. But I, somewhat smugly, decided that I could join the confraternity to help my brothers and sisters in Christ. And so I did enroll and have diligently kept up with the daily prayers for myself and the other members of the confraternity.

However, shortly after the enrollment ceremony I came to appreciate how Divine Providence had led me to the Dominican House that night. I had just come through a period of what St. Ignatius would call spiritual desolation brought on, in part, by exposure to the unhealthy attention of certain men. Becoming the object of their inappropriate attention had caused me to feel a certain anxiety and disillusionment. However, knowing that I have recourse to the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas gave me a sense of inner peace so that I was no longer anxiously awaiting the next offense.

Over the course of the next year I received great graces through the prayers, in the blotting out of memories that had certainly stained my chastity and purity. The AWC prayers worked as a healing balm for wounds that had never quite healed. And, thanks be to God, I was still not experiencing any sinful temptations.

A little over a year after the AWC enrollment ceremony, someone asked me to pray for a seminarian who was plagued with intense threats against his purity. So I decided to offer the graces obtained through my AWC prayers, should our merciful God allow it, for this seminarian. I had been doing this for approximately one week when I started feeling a completely inappropriate attraction to someone, whom I had known for quite some time without experiencing such a thing before. It only took a couple of days of this for me to wonder if I needed the graces from the AWC prayers more than I had thought. I decided that I would have to intercede for the seminarian in a different way and asked God to restore to me the graces I had offered for him. Over the next few days, the inappropriate attraction faded away.

This humbling experience certainly taught me a lesson and speaks to the power of the confraternity. May God bless the other members of the confraternity for their dedication to the protection of chastity and purity; I pray that the confraternity will continue to grow and bear much spiritual fruit.

May God bless you and protect you from all evil!

Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Polar Bear Plunge

What have I gotten myself into?

--- 1 ---

Somehow I've agreed to participate in a Polar Bear Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics. Supposedly if I raise $75 then I will get a free sweatshirt. It sounds pretty horrible. But supposedly the Scandinavians are convinced that taking a dip in frigid waters is good for the immune system. Vikings seem pretty healthy. So who can argue with that? I tried the sauna half of that experience in the middle of Alaska, so I guess I'm halfway to a Viking immune system.

--- 2 ---

If anyone wants to donate to the Special Olympics and encourage me to plunge further than ankle deep please check out my page: HERE.

--- 3 ---

This helpful website claims that less is more in terms of clothing for the Polar Bear Plunge. A bathing suit is better than actual clothing because then you don't have to peel off wet layers before reaping the benefits of the heated tent. Hm... I guess that means shaving in the winter. Sigh.

--- 4 ---

When searching for my donor page, I see that there is another Sarah Jones participating from Baltimore! She is on a team from Dick's Last Resort. I'm sure she is totally awesome, especially since she's named Sarah Jones. However, Dick's Last Resort is the trashiest restaurant I've ever been to. Rather than peanut shells or sawdust on the floor it appeared to be cover in wadded up toilet paper. And the decor was reminiscent of the much devolved successor of Fuddruckers from Idiocracy. The future is here!

--- 5 ---

It turns out that many of the Saints regularly practiced the Polar Bear Plunge. They did it mainly to fight bodily temptations, but it's good to know that I can count on their intercession to get me through unscathed. I'll offer up my suffering for the homeless and people who don't have adequate heat and for the repose of the souls of those who froze to death, especially those poor people on the Titanic. Saint Bernard, pray for us!
To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond... You..., what have you done?
 ---St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way 143 

--- 6 ---

There was freezing rain this morning. When I got to the driveway for the chapel on the hill where weekday Masses are held at my church there was a man standing in the rain. He redirected traffic to the main church at the bottom of the hill, since it was impossible to drive up. Our celebrant, who lives at the top of the hill, had to tromp through the leaves and grass in the forest to get down safely. We made it to Mass and the leper was made clean.

--- 7 ---

I'm currently reading a book called Fr. Elijah by Michael O'Brien. My mom bought it for me off of my Christmas list. It is about the Antichrist and the Apocalypse and I highly recommend it. This morning as I was in and out of sleep I had a nightmare that someone was trying to find and kill a priest I know and they were looking for me too. I was hurriedly packing up and getting ready to run for my life as my stalkers were just arriving out in front of our place. This book has seamlessly woven itself into one of my recurring nightmares. (I think that is an impressive review even if I didn't find an occasion to use the term "tour de force".)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Google to foster The Great Divorce.

Yesterday I read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. In this fictional story it seems that upon dying every person goes to a place called The Town, which is a drab and violent village of ruffians. The Town is always in twilight but rumor has it that eventually an intense darkness will come bringing many demons and terrors with it. The residents of The Town are perfectly free to take the bus to another place that is in the light of dawn and waiting for the eventual sunrise. The people of the dawn land (Heaven) are filled with joy and plead with the residents of The Town (Hell) to stay and journey with them into the mountains where all their sorrows will be turned to joy. The vast majority of the residents decide, each for his/her own reasons, that it is better to stay in The Town. In The Town they can hold on to grudges and vices and have their own pet projects and be important and powerful and famous. Each individual is so attached to some person, place, thing, or idea that he/she will remain in The Town in order to hold onto it. How many of us would choose to stay in The Town?

I now see that Google has started a medical company called Calico to help make The Town a reality. The sentiment is that this world and this life may not be perfect but they're all we have and so we should cling to them as long as possible. Google has been quiet about what they actually plan to do, other than solve death, but CNN highlights current futurist research into possibilities such as "mind uploading" which would involve creating a digital "map" of the brain that can later be transferred to a robot or human clone, like installing an operating system. Come on, people! This is evil. And deep down, we all know it.

Rather than hope for salvation and redemption and eternal glory, Google plans to cheat death. But unless Google can also solve sin then they will bring us Hell on Earth because as St. Ambrose aptly wrote, "Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing."

Friday, January 3, 2014

7 New Year's Quick Takes

And so it's another year. And another round of quick takes!

--- 1 ---

Ok, so this is the wrong kind of optimism. I'm going for more of a hopeful realism. But anyway, over the last several months I've been declaring Optimism Monday, since Monday is easily my favorite day of the work week. On Monday the week holds so much promise. By Thursday and Friday sometimes I feel beaten down by the week and can't wait for it to be over. But now Iowa Steve has dubbed this year Optimism 2014 and that's just what I need. Lately I've allowed myself to complain which doesn't help anyone and makes me grumpy. And I have so very little to complain about. I guess Monday will now be Extra Optimism Monday--Optimism 2014 here we come!!

--- 2 ---

I had an awesome trip to AGU in San Francisco during which I made an emergency purchase of a fabric shaver from Walgreens. (Here's the written review, if you prefer.) We also firmly established some AGU traditions: kicking off the week with Trondsen, Fresh Roll with Katie, Chipotle with Phil, the mall food court with Hyomin, and a trip to Millennium--a vegan restaurant with meals that taste like neither vinegar nor coconut milk (I suspect they're practicing some kind of black magic). This year I was all about the early bedtime. I did manage to get to Mass a couple of mornings, including one day when the priest exclaimed "It's great to have so many people here considering the weather!" There was a cold snap and temperatures were in the thirties. Those Californians must have been experiencing some real hardship.

--- 3 ---

I had a great time visiting my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I helped gram finish a puzzle and watched some Andy Griffith, which is much funnier than I expected. Unfortunately, mom had to work so she couldn't be there. But our Pre-Christmas Christmas was a great success!

--- 4 ---

Tonight I'm warming my toes with the fancy rice bag my brother and his girlfriend gave me for Christmas. Good thing mom convinced me to keep the microwave! Someone who is crafty (definitely not me) can make their own using the directions provided here. The only weird thing is that mine came out of a microwave a little bit damp. Is that normal? I hope it's not some kind of residual microwave juice!

--- 5 ---

I have two New Year's Resolutions for 2014. The first is to practice the Heroic Minute as described by St. Josemaria Escriva. Get up as soon as the alarm goes off, if not before. No snooze button. No lingering. Jump out of bed and start the day. And here's the scientific evidence that St. Josemaria was spot on (in addition to having an awesome name). Unfortunately I think some of my difficulty getting up is that I'm one of those adults who need 8-9 hours of sleep per night to be fully rested. Ain't nobody got time for that!
Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single minute to laziness. If, with the help of God, you conquer yourself in that moment, you'll have accomplished a great deal for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find yourself beaten in the first skirmish.
 ---St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way 191 
--- 6 ---

My second resolution is to prepare several weeks worth of easy meal plans that I can rotate so that I no longer have to think about what I'm going to eat this week. However, I have not done the homework for this one yet. And I really hate grocery shopping. So this could be a big challenge.

--- 7 ---

I also decided to compose a list of BIG prayer intentions for 2014. Since I'm rooting for the beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and the canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta maybe they will obtain some miracles!

  1. Healing of FrC's sister who has cancer
  2. Healing of my gramma's cancer
  3. Conversion of a certain family member
  4. Crushing defeat of the HHS contraceptives mandate
  5. A devout Christian husband for a special person
  6. A career job for a close friend
  7. A close encounter with God leading to repentance for a certain person
  8. A supernatural and unmistakable vocational call for a close friend
  9. Mental and psychological healing of a friend
  10. For Stephen Hawking to remember that he believes in God.
  11. Miraculous conversion of one of our "Catholic" politicians--by which I mean he/she would start believing what the Catholic Church teaches and make that clear in his/her actions

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!