Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Princeton and Stir-Fry

This evening, I'm leaving for the New York/New Jersey area to go to a workshop at Princeton University. I'll take the red eye, get there in the morning, and visit a rather cold New York City during Wednesday-day (at least compared to the 100+ temperatures here). I'll probably meet up with the elusive John Barber at some point. Then Wednesday-night, I need to catch a train or something to that effect to Princeton. Which, by the way, is here.

So here's a recipe. Jessica and I decided to try cooking on alternate weeks, starting last Friday. I tried something I hadn't tried before, orange beef stir-fry, and I think it turned out well. Stir-fry is a style I like because you can prepare the ingredients before cooking and the cooking only takes about 10 minutes. Orange and meat yields an exotic taste. Be warned though, that although the recipe claims to give 4 servings, this was just enough to feed the two of us. Oh, and though it asks for beef bouillon, I didn't have any and it still tasted okay.

Orange Beef Stir-Fry

12 ounces beef top round steak
1 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon beef base or bouillon granules
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
4 green onions, bias-sliced into 1-inch

2 garlic cloves, finely minced
6 cups (8 ounces) coarsely shredded spinach
1/2 of an 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts,

Hot cooked rice
Slivered orange peel (optional)

  1. Trim fat from meat. Partially freeze meat.
    Thinly slice across the grain into bite-size strips. Set aside.

  2. For sauce, in a small bowl stir together
    shredded orange peel, orange juice, cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar,
    and beef base or granules. Set aside.

  3. Add oil to a wok or large skillet. Preheat
    over medium-high heat (add more oil if necessary during cooking).
    Stir-fry green onions and garlic in hot oil for 1 minute. Remove
    green onion mixture from wok.

  4. Add meat to wok. Stir-fry fro 2 to 3 minutes
    or to desired doneness. Push meat from center of wok.

  5. Stir sauce; add to center of wok. Cook
    and stir until thickened and bubbly. Return green onion mixture
    to wok. Add the spinach and water chestnuts. Stir all ingredients
    together to coat. Cover and cook about 1 minute more or until
    heated through.

  6. Serve immediately over hot cooked rice.
    If desired, sprinkle with slivered orange peel.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Columbus, Part VI

The Great Commission: Embarrassment or Engine of History? Las Casas, Vitoria, Pope Paul III, and Columbus were motivated in part by the injunction of Christ to communicate the gospel to all nations, which was dear to their hearts. Today, most people, even Christians, believe it is improper to evangelize. Christ's last command seems an embarrassment. Christians should have stayed at home and not even tried, for fear the command would be misused.

Contemporary believers usually think that native religions are somehow valid in their own way. "It will not do, however, given the anthropological evidence, to make facile assumptions that all spiritual practices are on an equal plane," states Robert Royal. "The early explorers who encountered them did not think so, and neither should we."

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, no big fan of Christianity or the Spanish conquest, in the very act of admiring the richness of Aztec culture, characterizes the Aztec gods as "a whole pantheon of fear." Fuentes deplores the way that missionaries often collaborated with unjust appropriation of native land, but on a theological level notes the dramatic shift in native cultures thanks to Christian influence:

One can only imagine the astonishment of the hundreds and thousands of Indians who asked for baptism as they came to realize that they were being asked to adore a god who sacrificed himself for men instead of asking men to sacrifice themselves to gods, as the Aztec religion demanded.

This Copernican Revolution in religious thought has changed religious practice around the world since it was first proclaimed by a carpenter in Palestine two millennia ago, yet is all but invisible to modern critics of evangelization. Any of us, transported to the Aztec capital Tenochtitlàn or to many other places around the world before the influence of Christianity, would react the way the conquistadors did -- with rage and horror. We might not feel much different about some of the ways that Europeans, imitating Islamic practice, evangelized at times by the sword and perpetrated grave injustices around the world. But in strict religious terms, to see evangelization as pure imperialism is without substance. The usual -- which is to say uncritical -- way in which we are urged to respect the values of other cultures has a kernel of truth buried beneath what is otherwise religious indifferentism.

Thursday, October 23, 2003


Columbus, Part V

The World Impact of Fifteenth-Century European Culture.
What were the larger intentions and the world impact of fifteenth-century European culture? The atrocities committed by Spain, England, Holland, and other European powers as they scattered over the globe in centuries that followed are clear. No one today defends them. But do we appreciate the currents within that culture that have led to the very universal principles by which, in retrospect, we criticize that behavior today? For example, it was in the fifteenth century that religious thinkers began some serious work trying to specify what European moral obligations were to the newly encountered peoples.

"One of the controversies from the Middle Ages that Columbus' voyage reignited," Robert Royal tells us, "was not whether the world was round (every educated person knew that), but whether people could exist at the antipodes (the ends of the Earth). Far from being the kind of idle speculation that some anti-medievalists associate with angels dancing on the heads of pins, this question had profound repercussions. Would God have created any people outside of all contact with the Old and New Testaments? One of the consequences of such a creation would be that the people would have been left without at least potential knowledge of what was needed for salvation. The problem arose, thus, not from ignorance, but from profound concern about the form of God's universal charity."

Bartolome de las Casas, the well-know defender of the Indians, was one of the people thinking deeply about this issue. Las Casas, who was the bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, where relations between mostly native populations and the central government remain dicey even today, bent over backwards to understand local practices. He once even described human sacrifices as reflecting an authentic piety and that "even if cruel [they] were meticulous, delicate, and exquisite." Other missionaries learned native languages, recorded native beliefs. The information coming from the New World stimulated Francisco de la Vitoria, a Dominican theologian at the University of Salamanca in Spain, to develop principles of natural law that, in standard histories, are rightly given credit as the origin of modern international law. To read Vitoria on the Indies is to encounter an atmosphere closer to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights than to sinister Eurocentrism.

Las Casas and Vitoria influenced Pope Paul III to make a remarkable statement in his 1536 encyclical Sublimis Deus:

Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by the Christians are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ. . . .should the contrary happen it shall be null and of no effect. . . .By virtue of our apostolic authority we declare. . . that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.

Next time: The Great Commission: Embarrassment or Engine of History?


Columbus, Part IV

They Weren't Sensitive Ethnologists. In one of his first communications from the New World, Columbus described the Tainos of the Carribbean:

I see and know that these people have no religion whatever, nor are they idolaters, but rather they are very meek and know no evil. They do not kill or capture others and are without weapons. They are so timid that a hundred of them flee from one of us, even if we are teasing. They are very trusting; they believe there is a God in Heaven, and they firmly believe that we come from Heaven. They learn very quickly any prayer we tell them to say, and they make the sign of the cross. Therefore Your Highnesses must resolve to make them Christians.

Columbus reveals a naivete about the state of these people, as if they were somehow above the regular lot of good and evil which makes up the human condition. In fact, the Tainos were partaking in the tribal raiding, slavery, and cannibalism that existed in the Americas long before any European arrived. For a while, Columbus was on good terms with the Tainos who used the Spaniards to their advantage against their enemies. But the cultural distance was very great and later Columbus complained about the unprecedented situation he found himself in:

At home they judge me as a governor sent to Sicily or to a city or two under settled government and where the laws can be fully maintained, without fear of all being lost. . .I ought to be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies to conquer a people, warlike and numerous, and with customs and beliefs very different from ours.
(The Four Voyages of Columbus)

Today we might look at Columbus and his contemporaries and criticize them for not having the sensitivity to a newly encountered culture that we expect from a modern anthropologist or ethnologist. "Overlooked in this condemnation," Robert Royal points out, "is the fact that it was precisely out of these tumultuous conflicts that the West began to discern principles and to create disciplines by which we seek to deal with and to understand different cultures as objectively as possible in their own terms."

Next Time: The World Impact of Fifteenth-Century European Culture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


Columbus, Part III

Columbus had an unshakable sense of calling which for him
translated into prophetic destiny. Prophecy was the bridge
between cosmological theory and fifteenth century science and
God's plan for the world. The secret of the Sea of Darkness to
the Admiral had not been penetrated because God wanted it hidden
until He was ready. Columbus firmly believed that God had
selected him to uncover its mystery and to reveal new lands to
gain for Christ. [Columbus] believed
that God had given him a special spiritual intelligence to
understand the mysteries of prophetic Scripture relating to
unknown regions of the earth and then he set out to accumulate
the intellectual abilities necessary to achieve his mission.
Thus, faith and reason became wedded in his mind and created an
unshakable resolve to reach his goal.
-- Delno C. West

Hero or Villain? Some may have viewed Columbus as a heroic proto-American whose major contribution was to put to shame backward critics who thought he would fall off a flat earth. But that's a historical illusion. On the other hand, we have seen Columbus come under severe assault recently. He and the culture he represented have been lambasted for initiating the modern cultural dominance of Europe and every subsequent world evil: colonialism, slavery, cultural imperialism, environmental damage, and religious bigotry. There is some truth to this, but the reality is more complex. To equate an individual or a culture with all the negative aspects of the emergence of an interconnected world is to do injustice to historical truth, and to insult Him who is the Author of Truth.

As scholar Robert Royal puts it, "Whether the issue is natives carrying out human sacrifice, torture, cannibalism, and environmental damage in the past, or Indians poised (in age-old custom) to burn tropical rain forests in the present, the tendency is to paint European sins all the blacker by whitewashing their native counterparts. Native spokesmen and their advocates . . . have a point, but fail at the morally important responsibility of identifying not only Europe's sins, but those aspects of Native cultures that have been changed for the better by the encounter with Europe."

Next time: The First Explorers; They Weren't Sensitive Ethnologists by Any Measure...

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Columbus, Part II

Opening a Western Route. During the end of his life, Columbus compiled an anthology of prophetic texts, Libro de las profecias. In the preface, he speaks to Ferdinand and Isabella about how he was convinced, long before he approached them, that his westward journey was part of his divinely appointed destiny.

During this time, I searched out and studied all kinds of texts: geographies, histories, chronologies, philosoph[ies], and other subjects. With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and He opened my will to desire to accomplish this project. This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit your Highnesses.

We are certainly dealing with an unusual kind of explorer here, one who is moved to his dangerous enterprise by an "invisible hand." Scholars have found notes that Columbus wrote in 1481, over a decade before his voyage, wherein he writes a shorter list of prophecies. These prophecies seem to have shaped Columbus' vision for his life. And as we all know now, the consequences were great.

Mixed in with his other motives, he seems to have believed that his life's purpose was to open a western route to Asia so that the gospel could be preached to all nations. This was necessary in order for the Lord Jesus's return. Some at the time (the Joachimites, which Columbus may have been) believed that Christ was going to return sometime in the mid-sixteenth century.

Next time: Columbus: Hero or Satan?

Friday, October 17, 2003


Applications and Homestar Runner

Last night around 3:43 AM Eastern time, I finished my first application in this latest round of job hunting. It was an online application, and I was able to upload it from the comfort of home. I suppose the first round of job hunting began and ended with Stanford -- it was more of a bonus round anyway. But this time its the real McCoy.

Taking a break from all the application stuff, I like to visit the Homestar Runner, an excellent cartoon series on the web, about the title character and his unusual friends who inhabit a surreal yet fun world—a world of bright colors, cheesy Nintendo-style music, and 1980s pop culture references all neatly packed into a well done show. My facorite characters are: Strong Bad, a mischievous and egotistical little guy dressed as a Mexican wrestler; his friend The Cheat, a little yellow critter that looks like an evil Pikachu; and Bubs, a fun-loving dude who knows how to rule the dance floor.

Series co-creators Mike and Matt Chapman—AKA “The Brothers Chaps”—inspired by old video games, Saturday morning cartoons, and children’s books, came up with the idea for the series in 1996, but did not launch their site until late 1999. You can read about how it all began here. One of the amazing things about the cartoons is that they are appropriate for almost all ages, be it grammar school, college, or beyond.

“Me and Mike look at a lot of the Flash cartoons and get a little pissed off by what’s popular...the gay jokes and sex jokes and crap jokes,” said Matt Chapman. “We just try and think of the stuff that makes us laugh. Remember all the hilarious stuff that happened (in grammar school)? Well, it’s still funny.”

Yes, it still is.

Thursday, October 16, 2003


Columbus Day

Since it was this week, thought I'd write about the man and his times.

The world we know began in the fifteenth century. Not the world in the sense of human history or human cultures, which had already existed for millennia, but the world as a concrete reality in which all parts of the globe have come into contact with one another and begun to recognize themselves as part of a single human family which had been scattered -- a process still underway. The roundness of our world -- the globe -- had been known by serious thinkers since the classical world. Yet it was only because of a small expedition by a few men driven by a mishmash of personal ambition, desire for profit, and religious motives that an old mathematical calculation was turned into a new human fact.

The Columbus discoveries and the European intellectual and religious climate which birthed them are at best taken for granted, and at worst viewed as the beginning of a sinister Western hegemony over man and nature. The last five hundred years have seen the usual human narrative of pain and grace.
But we cannot simply identify the voyages of discovery -- much less the fifteenth-century culture from which they sprang -- with the good or the bad in that story. History is more complex than that.

In the fifteenth century, Europe was recovering from the Black Death of the previous century and also being squeezed by outside forces. Turkish troops had already been fighting as far into the Balkans as Belgrade by mid-century. Otranto, in the heel of Italy, fell to them in 1480 for a time.
Had Islam continued its advance, much of Europe might have come to resemble the cultures we now associate with the Middle East. The Americas might have become largely Muslim countries as opposed to largely Christian ones. Islam was more advanced than Europe in 1492, but in the paradoxical ways of culture, its superiority is what led to its being surpassed. Muslims do not seem to have taken much interest in Western technical developments in navigation, and even well-placed countries like Morocco never sought to brave the high seas in search of new lands. European technological innovation and military advance seems to have been born of necessity, given the superiority of outside cultures and the conflicts and rivalries among European nations.

Speaking of which, the "Eurocentric" forces, of which we hear so much criticism these days, were something quite different in the fifteenth century. What we today call "Europeans" thought of themselves as part of Christendom, and a Christendom that desperately needed to return to some of its founding truths. Similarly, they did not regard themselves as the bearers of the highest culture. Ancient Greece and Rome, they knew, had lived at a higher level, hence the need to recover and imitate classical models for the cultural renaissance. The fabled wealth of the distant Orient and the clearly superior civilization of nearby Islam did not allow Christendom to think itself culturally advanced or, more significantly, to turn in on itself, as self-satisfied empires of the time such as China did. Contemporary European maps -- the ones all the early mariners used in the Age of Discovery -- bear witness to their central belief: Jerusalem, not Europe, was the center of the world.

This sense of inferiority and threat, combined with the unsettling social diversity in Europe at the time, gave Europeans a rich and dynamic, perhaps even providential, restlessness. This restlessness gave birth to a spirit of renewal, of renaissance. There were many renaissances taking place in Europe -- religious, cultural, scientific, artistic -- going back at least to the twelfth century. And all of these played into the motivations of Columbus.

It was an age when for various (and sometimes nefarious) reasons people had the faith to attempt things beyond what was previously thought possible. These reasons are worth looking into. Some have claimed that the Christian dimension of Columbus's personality was just a cover for greed and ambition. These alleged traits are then read as a metaphor for a hypocritical European expansion under the cover of religion. Hypocrites certainly existed in the fifteenth century, as they do today. But real history -- as opposed to anachronistic morality tales -- is always more complex than the simple motives we project back on to figures quite different from ourselves. Columbus combined his faith with new knowledge and interests. He sought the Renaissance ideal of glory; in this case, of an unprecedented voyage. He drove hard bargains with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to secure the financial benefits of his discoveries to himself and his children.

Yet when all the mundane reasons have been listed, the spiritual dimension of this man's undertaking remains in ways that are quite unexpected.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Letting Someone Find the Words

When a person is desperate, they may have trouble getting the words out. Think about it. When you're upset, you may get tongue tied trying to express yourself. Some are more naturally articulate than others, which may make it easier for them to express themselves, but we still need to give everyone room to express, especially when they are sharing a deep concern of their heart.

When someone comes to us to share what is on their heart, one way to kill the spirit of openness is to pick at their words. As followers of Christ who are told time and again to be patient, we should let the person speak and find the words.

If he or she is speaking about some hurt we may have done, we must avoid being defensive, and with the Holy Spirit's help, discern the heart of the matter, which goes beyond mere words. The instinct of self preservation which leads one to be defensive can be a hinderance to living the Christian life.

How harsh are honest words! But your arguments prove nothing. Do you mean to argue about the words I use, to scrutinize the words of someone desperate? (Job 6:25,26)

What do you say to someone who is in a desperate situation? Job's three friends, finding him in despair, filled the air with high-sounding advice. But their main arguments only made Job feel worse and at the end God dismissed them all with a scowl.

Monday, October 13, 2003


Reminiscin' About Britain

In Britain, You have to flush the toilet more than twice before it goes
down -- as a general rule it seems. It then empties, no kidding, 20
gallons into the bowl and almost overflows. Also, as a general rule, you
have to pay a lot of money to use the laundromat. And then you wonder
where to buy laundry detergent and no one knows what you're talking about
until you say "washing powder." And as a general rule, the prices for
clothes at the Gap are the same numbers, but in pounds instead of dollars. And you have to imagine that pounds are dollars or you won't buy anything because it's so damn expensive.
And everyone looks Goth/Industrial (you know, with white face paint), but
it's just that the sun doesn't come out often. And boy, they talk dern

Monday, October 06, 2003


What Are Mountains?

According to local legend, the so-called 'mountains' are "A fearsome apparition in the northern skies rarely seen by mortal man." Fearsome indeed, but residents and experts alike are skeptical.

"What are mountains?", asked four-year-old Timothy Chapman, taking in a day at a Pasadena park with his dad. "I bet they're neat." Timothy is just one of several local youth who occasionally speculate about the local legend, and the prospect of huge piles of earth, rock, and snakes.

"I remember in the days before the War, we'd often see a mile-high wall of snow-capped mountains," marveled 72-year-old James "Jimbo" Parsons, a man of dubious reputation and recollection, who refers casually to unseen forces, such as 'snow', in addition to the aforementioned 'mountains'.

When questioned about where these mountains might be, Jimbo could only answer, "I suppose they packed up and moved to San Francisco." Experts at Caltech agree that moving to San Francisco is a serious possibility for any alleged mountains, but the move won't take place for several million years.

'Something magical in the air'

As the sun shone in Brookside Park near Pasadena's Rose Bowl one recent afternoon, local residents, their reasoning powers atrophied by years of heavy drug use, had a different opinion about the mountains.

Jogger Amelia Carmichael, 34, said she had seen the mountains "just a few days ago. In fact, I go hiking with my dog Hercules up there every week." Carmichael was hard pressed to find the mountains when asked to point them out. Her supposed 'dog' was also nowhere to be found.

Manuel Gonzalez, 29, was pushing his 15-month-old son Patricio in a stroller. He said he sees the mountains every other day, and "they look the best toward evening." Gonzalez moved to the Los Angeles area from a small town in Northern California, where he said, "things were too clear." To mix things, he said, "I came down to live in a place where there's something magical in the air."

Something magical indeed, and our magicians are hard at work to remove that magic. If the mountain story is true, we may soon be able to verify their existence.

A business-magician coalition recently undertook a "Success is in the Air" campaign to advertise the progress of anti-pollution laws and encourage people to believe in the mountains. "We're trying to get the word out on what concerned citizens can do about the mountain issue," said John Berlutini, a magician with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Berlutini is hopeful the program will be a cosmic success, and the mountains will return from the twelfth dimension. "The bottom line is, if you believe it, they will come."