Friday, February 22, 2008

Seeing God

This is a drash about seeing God, for tomorrow's Shabbat service.

This drash is not about seeing what God is doing (Luke 7:22), which is easy unless God is purposefully obscuring his activity (Matthew 13:13-14). Neither is it about seeing what God is like through nature (Romans 1:18-20), which is also easy. Neither is it about how some people saw Yeshua physically and this counted as seeing God (John 14:9), which is trivial to discuss. Nor is it about how the nations see Yeshua in his brethren (Matthew 25:31-46). We need to discuss seeing God directly.

This drash is also not about perceiving God in general. Besides seeing God we can hear him or feel him touch us. Perhaps there are people that smell or taste God. This sermon, though, is about seeing God.

As a final preliminary note, recall from an older post that that seeing God is not the goal of spirituality but only an important aspect of being with God.

In Parasha Ki Tissa Moshe asks to see God (Exodus 33:18-19), and God allows Moshe to see his glory (Exodus 34:5-8).

Like Moshe, we cannot completely or fully see God (Exodus 33:20, First Timothy 6:15-16). But we are repeatedly told to seek God's face (for example, Hosea 5:15) and we have the promise that those who have a pure heart and are holy will see God (Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 12:14).

Is this a paradox? Not really, because scriptural context reveals that seeing God in an unclear or incomplete manner is possible, and is in fact inevitable. This is sometimes (but not always) called seeing God's glory rather than seeing God himself (Isaiah 40:5, Matthew 26:64, Revelation 1:7). Notice that Moshe only asked to see God's glory, and God's warning was not about his glory but about his face. So people can see God, but only imperfectly (First Corinthians 13:12).

There is a real deeper and more important paradox about seeing God that involves what promotes or hinders seeing God.

We have already noted that it is a pure heart (also called holiness by the author of Hebrews) that allows us to see God. Yeshua also taught that the amount of purity required necessitates being born again through trust in God (John 3:3, John 12:35-36).

What does scripture say gets in the way of seeing God? We would expect the answer to be an impure heart but the actual answer is different. Believing that you have spiritual "wealth" and that you have clear spiritual sight is what interferes with seeing God (Matthew 13:22, Revelation 3:17-18).

Thus there is a paradox: through trust we are born again and receive pure hearts to see God, but if we believe we see clearly our ability to see vanishes. The more clearly people think they can see God, the less clearly they do see God. Yeshua says this plainly (John 9:39-41).

Paul describes a similar paradox about valuing. The more Paul values his spiritual progress so far, the more he realizes it is worthless compared to what he will one day receive (Philippians 3:3-16).

How do we escape this paradox and seek God's face with hope of seeing him? We apply Paul 's model of valuing to seeing by realizing that anything we can see now is nothing in comparison to clearly seeing God. Even our current degree of being able to see God is worthless compared to how we will one day see him clearly (Revelation 22:3-4).

Yeshua once healed a blind man's sight in steps (Mark 8:22-26). Mark arranges this incident in his gospel as a commentary on the disciples learning to see in steps (Mark 8:16-21). Notice that the blind man whose sight was restored in steps was brought to Yeshua by other people and made no demonstration of desiring to see or trust in Yeshua, unlike the next blind mind healed who states his desire to see and is healed in one step through his trust (Mark 10:51-52). We can apply this to our lives: when we desire to see God better and trust in Yeshua we will be blessed to be able to see God more clearly, whereas when we do not desire to see God better then we may still be granted progress through God's generosity but it will be in very small steps.

So seek God's face earnestly, motived by knowing that everything you have seen so far in life pales compared to seeing God clearly, while confessing that you cannot yet see God clearly.

Beauty and majesty are wonderful to see in nature, in our children and families, and in our communities. While appreciative of these we must keep in mind that God is infinitely more beautiful and majestic, and not let the beauty or majesty around us distract us from seeking God's face. This is how a perception of "wealth" can interfere with seeing God and become the opposite of a pure and holy heart.

If we seek to see God's face in this way then God will reveal himself more, which will humble us more and produce a more pure heart and more holy life, which will then allow us to see God even more clearly, and so on... Thus a paradox about inability to see God will be replaced by a cycle of increased ability to see God!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

44 Questions for a Prospective Pediatrician

My wife and I need to pick a pediatrician. There are a number of websites that suggest questions to ask a prospective pediatrician. Here is our compilation.

  1. When and where did the doctor complete medical school and residency?
  2. Is the doctor a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics or any other specialty organization?
  3. How long has the doctor been in practice?
  4. Does the doctor have any pediatric areas of subspecialty?
Attitudes and Habits
  1. Is the doctor late for the interview or meeting?
  2. Assuming both parents are present, does the doctor involve both parents equally?
  3. Does the doctor treat parents as knowledgeable consumers or accepting clients?
  4. Does the doctor volunteer information or wait for questions?
  5. What are the doctor's views on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and circumcision?
  6. What are the doctor's views on both parents working?
  7. What are the doctor's views on alternative medicine?
  8. What are the doctor's views on treatment of sick kids? When would the doctor take an aggressive approach verses letting nature run its course?
  9. What are the doctor's views on preventative medicine? What does the doctor think promotes health and wellness in children?
  10. What are the standard procedures for healthy child checkups? How much time do they schedule for these checkups, and is that enough time to have parents' questions answered?
  11. How does the doctor stay current with the latest trends in disease prevention, treatment, nutrition, behavioral problems, and child development concepts? What type of continuing education is habit?
  12. As a first impression, do the parents find the doctor and staff likeable and trustworthy?
  1. Is the office conveniently located for less travel time with a sick child?
  2. How long does the practice plan to continue at the current location?
  3. Does the practice have multiple offices you can visit?
  4. At how many locations does the doctor spend time during the workday?
  5. Does the waiting room have different waiting areas for well and sick children?
  6. Does the waiting room have easily cleaned toys? How are they cleaned, and how often?
  7. What are the office hours? Are there early morning and/or late evening hours for working parents?
  8. How long in advance must you book appointments?
  9. What lab work can be performed at the pediatrician's office?
  10. Are there any diagnostic facilities on site such as X-rays, blood work, etc.?
  11. How does the office deal with after-hours minor emergencies? Is there a 24-hour phone number to talk to a doctor?
  12. At which hospitals does the doctor have privileges? Which emergency room should you use for major emergencies?
  13. How many doctors are there in the practice? Are there any plans to add (or remove) doctors from the practice?
  14. Who covers for the doctor when on vacation?
  1. Is there a specific time during the day that the doctor (or office) prefers to take phone calls?
  2. How does the doctor (or office) handle parents needing to call about concerns after hours?
  3. Does the doctor (or office) use e-mail to answer questions about concerns?
  4. Does the office mail out reminders for scheduled immunizations and checkups?
  5. What happens if you miss a scheduled visit? Can you easily reschedule? Is there a fee?
  6. Do appointments consistently run late? (Ask parents in the waiting room.)
  7. Fees and Payment
  8. Does the practice accept your insurance?
  9. How are insurance claims handled? Will the practice bill your insurance company directly?
  10. How much is the cost of a standard office visit?
  11. Does the practice accept checks and credit cards?
  12. Is payment due at the time of the visit, or will the practice bill you?
  13. Are immunization shots extra, or are they included in the office visit charge?
Delivery and Recovery
  1. Will the doctor be present at the birth?
  2. When after the birth will the doctor come to see it at the hospital? How many times?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chocolate Frosted Coffee Bar

This is the easiest chocolate cookie recipe we have. It makes cookies that are almost like cake. It's my wife's modification of an old family recipe. A very moist cookie is a nice contrast to our spice cookies or biscotti.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer combine:
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup double-strength coffee
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
Then add the dry ingredients and mix well:
  • 3/4 cups chopped nuts (we use walnuts)
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
Put a Silpat into a 12" by 17" jelly roll pan. Spread the batter evenly into the pan.

Cook for about 30 minutes. The result will be a lot like a flat cake.

There is no need to transfer it to a cooling rack. (We often keep the finished cookie on the counter in the jelly roll pan as we eat it throughout the week. If you do this, be careful of the Silpat when cutting pieces.)

After the cookie cools, frost it with Gwyn's Frosting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Representation, Advocacy, and Leadership

(Continuing from previous posts in the Politics category...)

As a minister, I should both represent and lead.

I must represent Yeshua. Representing him involves how I think and act. Through prayer (especially talking with Yeshua) and the way God's Spirit is within me I can think and act more like Yeshua and less like my old self. The more time I spend with him the more genuinely I can represent him.

In modern American society, living a life that represents someone else is so unusual it is often not even considered by most people. This is different than in the first-century Roman empire, when trying to emulate a famous philosopher or statesman was common. In Matthew 5:14-16 Yeshua says,
...let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
In modern America the trickiest part of doing this is not living a holy and Spirit-filled life (the first clause) but doing so in a way that prompts others to give God credit for it (the second clause).

Something that does prompt people to give God credit for the godliness in our lives is when a group of very different people look similar as they represent Yeshua. After all, a bunch of people who are genuinely representing him should match in how they do so! It is not difficult to get a diverse group of people to agree on a specific idea. It is difficult to get them to voluntarily live similarly and harmoniously in a manner very different from how they all used to live. This is what Second Corinthians 2:14-15 calls smelling like Yeshua.

Representing Yeshua is different from being an advocate for him. Merely being an advocate does not require any relationship. For example, a person need not have a relationship with Yeshua to decide Yeshua's perspective on forgiveness is worth putting into practice.

Also, people who are all advocates for someone need not think or act similarly. In fact, they can even hotly disagree about how to best advocate for the person. A clear example in recent Oregon politics is the new law about "civil unions": some people claim Yeshua would support such laws as a civil rights issue that grants fairness and security from injustice; other people claim Yeshua would oppose such laws as a gay rights issue that grants approval for a lifestyle defined by behavior that scripture calls wrong.

(Now I have written myself into a dead end, and need to tie together representing Yeshua and civil unions before continuing with my main ideas. First note that I can only represent Yeshua as a person: the moment I start talking about "representing Yeshua's stance on such-and-such" I have switched to advocacy. As a person, Yeshua was willing to eat, talk, and pray with all sorts of sinners, and was so comforting to be with that they enjoyed his company even though he spoke against their sin. Yeshua was not anti-government (Mark 12:17) but avoided the politicians of his day and considered them corrupting (Mark 8:15) even if they claimed to seek righteousness (Mark 6:20). He often spoke against the high divorce rate among his fellow Jews but said nothing about Roman sexual habits, as if they were in a different world.)

Okay...enough about representing someone.

As a minister, I also should lead. Leading is almost the opposite of representing someone. Because God has called me to do a certain kind of ministry work, what I do for God is more than smell like Yeshua.

In my specific case, I used to run a congregation and am now doing ministry work focusing on discipleship. With either kind of work I act unlike Yeshua: he never ran a Yom Kippur service or hosted a weekly evening worship and discussion time.

Also, as I lead the ministry work I act differently from the other people around me who are representing Yeshua. They are not leading a ministry like mine! In fact, if I lead well and am distinct in what my ministry is about that people rally together and join me in its activity, rather than participating in some other ministry, because they feel called to participate in what God asked me to lead. So leading is inherently about being distinct and proclaiming "here is something worth doing besides representing Yeshua".

Furthermore, to lead well I need to share my humanness. The people I lead need me to be somewhat transparent. They do not want to know everything about me, but I need to share enough of my struggles and triumphs that they can relate to me as more than someone who represents Yeshua.

Finally, as a leader I need to cast a clear vision. I need to say, "This is what the ministry should be like, and these are our past successes." This allows unity and promotes enthusiasm.

I can apply these same insights to politics.

In a democracy, one role of a politician is to represent his or her constituents. This means the politician learns to think and act as they would. Initially it might be mere advocacy, but a good politician really gets to known his or her constituents so he or she can genuinely represent them.

When political representation happens well, the politician looses some of his or her old self. They gain views and habits that make them "smell like" their constituents. And when political representation happens really well, the constituents see what happens politically and give themselves credit for it.

A very different role of a politician is leadership. We need politicians instead of just voting boxes because good politicians lead. They inspire people to work together in new ways to create better societies. They add some distinctiveness to their representation, to proclaim, "Here is something worth doing! You might not have thought of it, or thought it possible, but we can get it done!"

A politician that only represents need not share his or her human side. But leadership requires this. Politicians who lead need to be somewhat transparent about how they manage their time, money, and relationships. Constituents feel more comfortable following a leader when they know he or she has a happy marriage, is using tax money wisely, shares the struggle of making family time while busy doing important work, and so forth.

Finally, as a leader a politician needs to cast a clear vision. To promote unity and enthusiasm he or she should say, "This is what government should be like, and these are our past successes."

In closing I'll change the topic slightly...

Oddly, I cannot think of any politicians who make a point of being clear about when they are representing and when they are leading. (As a minister I know I need to be clear about this!) This seems especially odd because the vagueness is often hurtful to their political careers.

A recent example is Barak Obama's flipped stance on gun control. You can read more here. From what I've read, the gist is that if he becomes the president his constituency will change from one that is generally anti-gun to one that is generally pro-gun. Yet instead of explaining this clearly and presenting himself as someone who wishes to dutifully represent his constituents whomever they be, he appears lacking in integrity as he ignores personal views for the sake political expediency.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Enthusiasm and Government

(Continuing from the previous post in the Politics category...)

A worthwhile sermon does two things. It should teach a clear application about how to better relate to God and/or people. It should also use scripture in a way that imparts enthusiasm for scripture: making scripture seem more interesting, useful, and alive. Together these allow God to affect people powerfully (First Corinthians 4:20).

Similarly, worthwhile legislation should do two things. It should tells us how to better relate to each other. It should also impart enthusiasm for government. When this happens people are affected powerfully; when it does not people instead feel that needless laws are accumulating.

Keeping government proactive is one key element, for people have a harder time being enthusiastic for something reactionary. Sadly, many people in my generation see American government as reactionary instead of proactive. To a large extent this is true, for our state and federal governments respond to PACs, which are fueled by fund raising, which is most plentiful for reactionary issues. Thus many people of my generation see politics as a reactionary system of Democrats versus Republican, business versus environmentalism, and countless other opposites all backed by PACs with little room for a strong leader or an individual citizen.

Combining representation and transparency is a second key element, for people are inclined to be enthusiastic when they have ownership and can follow what is happening. Both Oregon state government and the federal government are currently doing terrible jobs in this area. Many people of my generation feel neither represented nor able to follow because so much seems to happen behind closed doors.

In both of these areas the reality is not as bleak as is often believed. Those in government need to do a better job communicating where proactivity and representation-with-transparency are working well.

Spiritual Blindness and Politics

(I haven't done any political blogging in over a year. This post will be the first in a series.)

Scripture has a simple view of politics.

This view is based on the claims that most adults are spiritually blinded by God. As with the generation of ancient Israelites who came out of Egypt, people who do not desire God and pursue other goals will eventually be abandoned by God and subsequently unable to see God's truth (Romans 1:20-25, John 12:36-43). This not irrevocable: if such a person turns to God then God will restore the ability to see (Second Corinthians 3:14-16). However, more often a blinded person allows sin or Satan to reinforce the blindness (John 9:35-41, Second Corinthians 4:2-4).

Thus the normally proper response of Yeshua's followers to people with a spiritually blinded lifestyle is to live separate from them but be kind when relating to them, and let God and the government deal with their wickedness (First Peter 2:11-15, Romans 12:9-13:7).

We should notice that although scripture often speaks against specific, wicked acts and instructs God's people to avoid these, scripture has no interest in discussing a wicked lifestyle because blinded eyes are something God deals with personally.

A lifestyle that is not godly is simply not the business of God's people. Scriptural narratives often include people with a wicked lifestyle but scripture spends no time analyzing it. God's people are simply told to not participate in it and to appeal to God for help if it is persecuting them.

The only instances in which God's people do need to get involved is when they are part of the government, for government is God's tool to manage those whom he blinded. Within ancient Israel, where the society consisted entirely of God's people, there should be no wicked lifestyles. Anyone who has one should be stoned as a deterrent (Deuteronomy 21:21). For any other society scripture provides no guidance since it never considers that one of God's people could be part of the government.

Unfortunately, this scriptural perspective is rare to find in practice in America. It is much easier and more comfortable for Yeshua's followers to be political creatures spending time being opposed to wicked lifestyles (especially lifestyles they will seldom directly encounter) than to be holy creatures transformed by God through spending time in discipleship.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Neti Pot

As part of trying to get rid of the three week cold, I started using a neti pot. The word "neti" is apparently a very ancient Sanskrit acronym for the English phrase "nasal excellence through irrigation".

I certainly have my doubts about the implications of the idea that if regularly washing the outside of our bodies is important we should also regularly wash the inside. But I must admit my sinuses like being rinsed.

Using this kind of neti pot is surprisingly quick and pleasant, and in many ways like brushing my teeth. I suppose some day I will forget to stir the 1/4 teaspoon of salt into the cup of warm water, and suffer having undissolved salt crystals in a sinus. But until that mistake it's a nice addition to my morning routine.

Now I just need to decide whether to get either of my siblings a neti pot for their birthdays, and if so, what humorous note to write in the card.

French Restaurant Ninjas

Tonight the episode in the comic Freefall in which the characters visit a restaurant run by French ninjas came up in conversation.

If you have missed this delightful piece of internet legend, start here.

Once interrupted by a storyline involving two characters in a vehicle shaped like a giant baby, jump to here.

The Le Restaurant Des Ninjas story ends at the strip in which one character finally sees a waiter and takes his hat.

Picasa Test Three

Two more pictures. Family and friends deserve to have some recent pictures of my wife and me.

Here I am in the snow. I'm squatting by the deck to measure 4.5 inches of accumulation.

Here is my wife, with her trekking poles. This is also in our back yard, before we went for a walk to the grocery store.

(My wife does not want me to use her first name, for both my blog and the photo album. That way anyone who does an internet search for her name find her academic work instead of her personal life.)

Picasa Test Two

Here's a second picture of the back yard, this time from the deck.

For this picture I used the "Blog This!" feature of the Picasa2 software installed on my computer.

This photo is not part of the public online album I made with Picasa. Instead, the Picasa2 software created a new, private, online album named after my blog, and put the picture there. So it still counts against my alloted quota of free online album space.

Posted by Picasa

It's bigger too, both in the blog and after I click on it. Interestingly, the software automatically made a "big thumbnail" version of the picture, rather than using height and width properties of the img tag to fit it in the blog.

Well, now I know two ways to add pictures to my blog, and the advantages of each method.

Testing Picasa

I finally got around to learning how to have photos hosted online by Picasa. I should learn how to do this before the baby is born!

The last weekend in January was very snowy. Most years Eugene gets a little snow in January but not enough to stick. This year we got 4 1/2 inches, and it stuck for several days.

Here's our backyard. For this photo I'm going to my online album and using the "link to this photo" option.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Double Chocolate Brownie Biscotti

There used to be a website named with some very nice recipes. It seems to have disappeared. Sadness!

Our favorite recipe which is a modification of a recipe from that website is our Double Chocolate Brownie Biscotti. The source recipe was by Norma Wrenn and has since been copied here. Ours is a bit simpler and much easier to bake.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine:
  • 1 3/4 cups chopped nuts (we use walnuts or hazelnuts)
  • 2 2/3 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup powdered cocoa (we use Euphoria Chocolate's)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp ground coffee
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Mix well. In a second bowl, scramble:
  • 6 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients and mix well.

Put a Silpat into a 12" by 17" jelly roll pan. Spread the dough evenly into the pan. Cook for 30 minutes. The result will be a lot like a brownie.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Wash and dry the Silpat and pan so they are ready to use again.

Cut the brownie into four lengthwise strips. Cut two of these into small rectangles, arranging these on the pan with each small rectangle lying on its side so it will dry quickest while baking. (That will fill the pan.)

Bake a second time at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes, turning each piece over after 20 minutes. The finished biscotti should be dry. Transfer to a bowl or cooling rack (even biscotti needs some air flow) and bake the second half of the batch.

Gluten-Free Flour Mix Update

During the past year our family's gluten-free flour mix recipe has changed twice.

In April of 2006 I blogged the old flour mix here. That mix had rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch. None of those are as nutritious as the quinoa, amaranth, or millet flours that were the more important part of the mix. But having some of those "filler flours" was a mildly nutritious way to make the flour mix have a less nutty flavor closer to wheat flour.

In March of 2007 we changed our flour mix to remove the rice flour and tapioca flour. We had grown used to how our flour mix tasted and decided to get rid of the "filler flours" for better nutrition.

The result was:
  • 1 part Quinoa Flour
  • 2 parts Potato Starch
  • 3 parts Amaranth Flour
  • 3 parts Millet Flour

During my wife's pregnancy potato products began to cause an upset stomach. This is apparently a moderately common side effect of pregnancy. It caused us to alter our flour mix again in July of 2007.

The result is our current flour mix:
  • 1 part Quinoa Flour
  • 2 parts Amaranth Flour
  • 3 parts Millet Flour

I wouldn't recommend this latest flour mix for people new to gluten-free baking. It has a nuttier taste than wheat flour. But it is very nutritious and quite nice once you are used to it.

Two Sermons from DesiringGod

A friend introduced me to a website with some nice sermons. One about Faith and Reason impressed me. It can be hard to talk about that topic well. That sermon is worth reading or listening to.

This friend was more interested in the sermon on Moral Relativism, which I thought was very weak.

The speaker spent a lot of time directly or indirectly criticizing moral relativism for being dysfunctional because it does not give guidance about how an individual or society should behave. But I know many intelligent people who ascribe to moral relativism but not cultural relativism. Empirical evidence clearly shows that individuals and societies function better with certain norms than others. Just because moral relativism does not suggest a set of better norms does not mean it is broken: like calculus or taxonomy it is a theoretical framework with a different purpose, and for which a critique that it fails to establish behavioral norms is a straw man argument.

Also, I've read too much that was better written about the flaws with moral relativism.

For example, C.S. Lewis has written very well about how sane people exhibit a universal built-in moral code, especially regarding how they expect to be treated, with major differences almost always stemming from weighting one virtue to an unhealthy degree (the Mafia exalting family loyalty until it excuses vices, a militant country exaggerating nationalism until it excuses belligerence, etc.) rather than from dismissing any of the universal virtues. Other famous essayists have other well-thought claims about how moral universals and absolutes do exist empirically and logically.

There is also a lot written about how not all moral systems are equally functional. Interesting essays abound regarding how Yeshua's weighting of the universal virtues is healthier for individuals and societies than the weighting seen in other systems. The Middle East is currently an easy theater for this: Jordan and Israel have visible more functional societies than their neighbors because of those two societies value virtues in a balance more similar to Yeshua's.

I've listened to a third sermon from that website (I realized I can listen to a sermon while playing World of Warcraft, but have since been too sick to want either) but it didn't inspire any comments. Maybe the fourth will.

Star Trek

It's possible to mix Star Trek with just about any other cultural reference.

Star Trek and Monty Python? Ta da!

Star Trek and Steampunk? No problem!

(Hat tip: Get Medieval)

An Impressive Juice Company

Yesterday my wife caught the 48-hour flu that is going around. (She had my multi-week severe cold over Thanksgiving, and so far seems resisting having it again.)

She sent me to the store to get juice. She doesn't like grape juice. Because of her extreme gluten sensitivity she has to be careful which brands we buy: some factories use mixed equipment.

I bought a few kinds of Ceres juice, among others. At home a Celiac website claimed these were safe. Today I double-checked by calling the company and was pleasantly surprised that the phone was promptly answered by a person. No phone tree of options, just customer service! Amazing.

Mischief Managed

One problem with being sick and worn out is that I become less faithful to maintain closeness with God through my personal times of prayer, worship, and study. Then I become more evil.

It's not that my "natural self" is hurtful. Rather, it's mischievous. Normally I think of random humorous trouble-making and keep it to myself. When I don't stay properly close to God it takes willpower to suppress my mischievous side.

Sadly, I don't become more witty. Then at least I could write things down to entertain folks.

The best example during the past three weeks of being sick was an incident at the medical center. My wife and I were there two weeks ago for one of her regularly scheduled maternity visits. As we were leaving we stopped by the restrooms. Also approaching these was a cute elderly couple, noticeably old and frail. The wife waited outside while the husband and I went into the men's room. I left before he did, and as I walked by his wife had a strong urge to whisper, "It's impressive at his age that he can still back up four feet and maintain perfect aim!" Of course I didn't lie about what her husband was doing, but I noticed it did take a small amount of willpower to not make trouble.

I'm still sick, but not much. Since Thursday I have been feeling enough better that I am once again enjoying my personal times of prayer, worship, and study, and how tangibly those change my personality.

Three Weeks of Sick

I've been sick for three weeks. My energy level has been terribly low.

Fortunately I have not had to take a sick day from math teaching, and I have been taking good care of my wife the house, but I'm now way behind on e-mail and several other to-do items. Sigh. I like naps, but I'm longing to get back my zing and get out of deep water.

Strangely, I have been in the mood to work on my role-playing game. It's something I can do even when tired and suffering from a headache. Ministry work normally requires doing academic research, writing with carefully chosen words, and sharing the result in forums for which presenting myself clearly the first time is important. With planning a role-playing game I compose a new chapter of nifty ideas with terrible wording and still have made progress.

I last wrote about the game about a year ago. Since then I've given up on trying to create a science fiction setting, and gone back to a fantasy setting. After being sick for these weeks I finally have a working version, and my wife and I finally played a role-playing game for the first time in many years last weekend. Hooray!

Resources for Creating a Fantasy World

Running a role-playing game can be very fun. But sometimes the fun is reduced by the amount of time it takes to plan the setting.

A wonderful article about populating a fantasy world is Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross. He also wrote The Big List of RPG Plots. Also see Shawn Vincent's list of Medieval occupations.

After you have determined the size and population of the world, and some of its troubles that need fixing, you need maps. Resources include a City Map Generator for cities, Dungeon Crafter 3 for dungeons, the WotC map of the week archive, and the booklet of 201 random caves from the Dragonsfoot website. Also be sure to read Dennis Tetreault's map guide.

Finally, it's a bother to make up names for all the people the adventurers meet. Help includes Dragonfoot's Book of Names and the RinkWorks Fantasy Name Generator.