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Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

From Whence Cometh my Help?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Blessed is the Pizzamaker

Sometimes when God gives you exactly what you asked for, it can be very hard to realize it.

There is an old story I’ve heard and read more than once this year. A flood comes. A guy is trapped on his roof. He prays for God to help him. A kid goes by in a canoe, and offers the guy a ride, but he turns it down, saying God is going to rescue him. Two men in a bass boat go buy and offer to help. He turns them down, saying God is going to rescue him. A National Guard helicopter arrives, and a cable comes down with a harness, and the crew signals for him to put it on. He turns them down, shouting that God is going to rescue him.

He drowns. He asks God why he didn’t rescue him. God says, “I sent a canoe, a bass boat, and a helicopter.”

What’s the other side of the coin? You get the help you need, and then you tell God, “Never mind! It worked out without your help.”

Lately I’ve had concerns about a piece of doctrine that may be heresy. A well-known pastor who has a TV show has been telling people to “loose angels” to fix their problems. He says he ordered angels to bring him money for his ministry, and a man showed up with a five-figure check, almost immediately. On top of that, he doesn’t command one or two angels. He’ll issue orders to a hundred thousand, which seems extravagant, given that one angel killed the firstborn of Egypt in a single night, and one angel killed 185,000 Assyrians between sunset and sunrise. How many angels do you need to bring you a check?

I know of no Biblical example of a person commanding an angel. Even Jesus said he would ask his father to send angels, which is not the same thing. I think commanding angels is idolatry. You may think you’re commanding angels of God, but what if you’re commanding demons without knowing it? I will not take part in this practice without confirmation that it’s correct.

In spite of this concern, the new doctrine has reminded me that you can ask God to send his servants to help you. So I do that. These days, I ask him to send out his servants, both spirit and human, to deliver me and my family from trouble, to bring us blessings, and to teach us so we can avoid chastisement. I have no problem doing this. I’m not presuming to tell an angel what to do, nor am I asking for venal pleasures or things the flesh can put to bad use. I just want protection, guidance, and growth. It’s like asking your company to send consultants or new employees to help you get its business done. It’s to advance God’s goals, not mine.

Last night I made pizza at the church. This is a gargantuan job for one person. I have to arrive two hours before the first pie is served, driving through 18 miles of Miami traffic. I have to mix the yeast and water. I have to make dough over and over. Prepare 10 pans. Make sauce. Get pies ready to go in the oven. Bake them twice. Slice them and put them on the steam table. I have to clean up after myself and others. One person can’t do it well.

People have been offering to help, but they haven’t come through yet. Some are busy. Last night, however, a guy named Anthony showed up to work in the cafe, and on his own initiative, he started helping in the kitchen.

I taught this guy almost everything, and boy, did he make a difference. I never had to show him anything twice. He did everything well. He anticipated needs that would come up in the future, much better than I do. With his help, I had so much dough ready to bake, I was able to sit down for maybe forty-five minutes. At the end of the night, we had to bake two pizzas and give them away, because he was too efficient. He had prepared more than we needed. He also worked the fryolator; the pastor who usually runs it couldn’t be there, and nobody else knew anything about it. He kept me going, he kept the fries going, and then at the end of the night, he washed things up before I could get to them. I literally had a hard time finding things to clean up.

I couldn’t get much information out of him. He said it was his first night at Trinity! He hadn’t bothered with the service. He had gone straight to the kitchen. Nobody does that. He said he had been going to Pentecostal Something or Other, on 7th Avenue. I tried to promote the church to him, listing the things it offered.

I could barely get him to talk. Most of the time, he just said, “Okay,” and started getting things done.

There were times when I truly wondered if he were a human being. God sometimes clothes angels in flesh and sends them to do things. At the very least, he was an answer to my prayer for human help. Not just an answer, but an extremely appropriate and effective answer.

As for the leftover pies, one of the girls said that if I boxed them up, she’d see if she could find some homeless people to give them to. That’s not waste. These people would be receiving food from a church, worked and shaped by the hands of people baptized with the Holy Spirit. That has to be a good thing. You can’t tell me God doesn’t work through objects that have come into contact with anointed people.

In my opinion, the extra pies were a blessing.

Naturally, I’m all freaked out.

I don’t want to be like the guy on the roof. I’m not going to wait for a helicopter and still think God is ignoring me. I think Anthony was the kid with the canoe.

If Anthony is on the job, what about the other helpers I’ve asked for? They must be at work, too. God has told us his angel encamps around those who fear him, and that the angel delivers them (Psalm 34). God says he gives his angels charge over us (Psalm 91). God has never lied.

My testimony seems to get better and better, regardless of the challenges I face. I keep going out on a limb of faith, and God keeps holding me up. I leap into space over and over, and he catches me, even though my faith is not perfect. It’s incredible, but it’s true.

It’s important to note that my faith is not perfect. Neither is my behavior. You should always work to have faith and avoid sin, but God can be extremely powerful in your life even when you have doubts or chronic transgressions. Never let anyone tell you you have to be perfect to get God on your side. Think of the people Jesus healed. He didn’t heal the Apostles. He healed drunks and beggars and so on. It’s always better to be good, but your failures won’t destroy you as long as you stay on the path. I believe the trend, not your current location, is what matters.

Moving on to another subject, I had a very odd dream last night. I was trying to cook something, and I noticed lizards had befouled a measuring pitcher I was trying to use. In Miami, this can actually happen. I started cleaning it up at the sink. I reached into a cupboard for something, and I saw a lizard’s toe hanging down into view, and I grabbed some sort of ceramic vessel, like a cup with portions cut out of the sides, and it was full of lizards having group sex. This, too, can actually happen, although the group size is limited to two!

I walked this thing to the back door and shook the lizards out into the yard. At this point, somehow, they had become a single lizard. It landed on a tree by the door, which was covered with snowy white cockatoos. I knew the lizard was in trouble. A cockatoo started climbing down to get him, and he leapt into the yard, where a bluejay grabbed him and took off. Birds do that here. There are lots of bugs for the lizards, and lots of lizards for the birds.

Last night, before going to bed, I saw a gecko in the laundry room. These are very creepy lizards because of their appearance and movement. Though dry, they appear slimy, and they undulate like snakes. This wasn’t one of the usual house geckos we have here. This was a new kind. Bigger and creepier. Every year, something new shows up in town.

It took off down the wall to get away from me, and I told it that it was welcome to hang around and poop wherever it wanted, as long as it ate plenty of roaches. The lizards in the dream were Jamaican anoles, though.

I wonder if the dream has significance. I see the lizards in the cupboard as household demons, making trouble. They interfere with things that need to be done. I see the cockatoos as angels, guarding the “gates” of the house. I see the bluejay as a warring angel that carried off a demon and got it out of my life.

Was the house a house, or was it me?

I guess this has no relevance, but I insure my vehicles with GEICO.

Today I’m waiting for UPS to deliver the ridiculous Makarov BB pistol I ordered. I have to get my point-shooting up to speed. Sadly, UPS requires me to be here to receive it, to prevent punk kids from getting annoying toys via mail order. It ought to be tremendous fun. But I have to sit here all day or miss it. And knowing UPS, there is a good chance it won’t arrive before I have to leave for tonight’s volunteer meeting at church.

I think I’m going to recommend this to the other armorbearers. Can’t hurt.

Free Time; Free Everything

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Keep Those Handouts Coming, Lord

This is shaping up to be a pretty good day. God willing, it will live up to its promise.

I do not have to make pizza today. I do not have a church service to attend. I do not have to work at church as an armorbearer. I have no prayer-group meetings. I don’t have to drive people to church from the shelter up in Broward County. And I got a good night’s sleep, and I still have one cup of coffee to go.

I need to do some housework. I need to get back to cornet practice. I should make time to work on memorizing the Psalms. I should finish up the gun part I’m making. Believe it or not, I’m glad I have time to do these things.

When you’re a kid, having free time means getting to lie on the couch for 16 hours and eat entire boxes of Cap’n Crunch out of a mixing bowl. Or at least, that’s what it meant when Mike and I were kids. Now “free time” means I can take a load of clothes to Goodwill, fertilize the fruit trees, or read the Bible. I still feel like I’m on vacation, but I’m not doing the same types of things.

My toys aren’t the same, either. A long time ago, I liked skateboards, Frisbees, fishing poles, and BB guns. Now I like my diesel truck, my metalworking tools, my cornet, the nifty Motorola surveillance kit I wear at church, and my drill press vise. I like things that are associated with work, self-improvement, and getting things done.

I just bought a BB gun, but I got it so I could improve myself. I want to work on point-shooting. When I was a kid, a BB gun was just something cool I used to destroy things.

I’ve noticed something funny. I used to feel like I was praying selfishly when I asked for stuff like financial success, a good wife, and physical healing. Now sometimes I feel selfish when I’m praying for help dealing with my chronic sins, or help with the church’s pizza efforts. But those things aren’t self-indulgent goodies. They’re things that are presumably God’s goals as well as mine. I guess I’m in the habit of thinking of prayer as selfish. And because my desires are more in line with God’s these days, when I pray for things that will help me do his will, I’m also praying for what I want, so maybe it’s natural to feel selfish.

Odd.

You have to ask God for stuff. Constantly. I’m convinced of it. He wants us to be humble. Part of humility is admitting you can’t do things by yourself. If you resist asking for things, you’re saying you don’t need God’s help. Every second that you live, you survive only at God’s pleasure and only with his assistance. Independence is a seductive, ego-bloating illusion. This is a hard thing for a Christian to swallow, because we believe in work and responsibility, but it’s true. You apply yourself, but you should also pray. Otherwise, you start to think you created your own success. No ordinary human being has ever done that. Not one.

The Bible criticizes people who talk about their expectations without crediting God. You should never say you’re going to have a good year, or that you’re going to do well at a task, unless you acknowledge the need for God’s help in the same breath.

When I remember this truth, I think of Adam. Before the fall, his life was presumably a model for ours. What did he do for a living? Did he slave away behind a plow all day? No, he reached up and picked fruit from trees someone else planted. His job was to manage the world and grow to be like God. While he did that, God provided for him. The need for hard, unpleasant work came after he sinned. If Christians are supposed to live in the kingdom of heaven while on earth, then it seems safe to say our lives are supposed to be more like Adam’s than Abel’s or Jacob’s.

The Psalms seem to support this. The 127th Psalm says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Other translations put it differently; the idea is that God’s beloved are blessed even while they sleep.

My take on this is that you should work, but that you should not make work an idol. If you never see your kids or your wife because you work long hours, it doesn’t mean you’re righteous. It means something is wrong, and it’s causing you to neglect your family. If God is with you, you should be able to take care of yourself and your family while earning a decent living. How can you call yourself blessed and say your life is working, if you always miss your kids’ birthday parties and school plays?

I think about this principle sometimes in connection with sleep. I’ve become nearly fanatical about getting at least nine hours of horizontal time. Before electricity, people slept much longer than they do now, even though they worked harder. Lack of sleep causes obesity and high blood pressure. It ruins your memory and concentration. It makes you irritable and causes accidents. Sleep is not a luxury; it’s essential to good mental and physical health. There is nothing virtuous about sleeping four hours a night. It’s a curse. Your body is the temple of God. Mistreating it needlessly can’t be a good deed.

The book of Proverbs talks about the industry of a virtuous woman. It says she gets up before dawn, to begin working. What it doesn’t say is that she was in bed at least ten hours earlier, because that’s how people lived back then. You got up at around dawn, and after the sun went down, it was hard to see, even if you used oil lamps (which smelled and gave off smoke and cost money to use), so people tended to go to bed early. If the sun goes down at six p.m. and rises at six a.m., and you get up at 5:30, you’re still getting a lot of sleep.

People used to criticize Ronald Reagan because he quit work early in the day. But look what he got done. Bill Clinton worked late, and he was barely competent.

People who don’t sleep much love to brag about it. I don’t get it. To me, that’s like bragging that you never brush your teeth. I’m not impressed. It makes you sound foolish. If you want to impress me, say you sleep ten hours a night and never miss an important family event, while providing for your loved ones.

And most people who brag that they miss sleep because they’re super-righteous are lying. Ask them what Jay Leno said last night, and they’ll usually know, because they were up late watching him.

Sometimes people put me down when I say I can’t do something because I have to sleep. I don’t care. I know I’m right. If you need someone to drive you to the hospital, I’ll get out of bed. But if it’s something trivial, go bother someone else. If you can’t understand your own physical needs, it’s not my obligation to drive the message into your thick head. Maybe you’ll come around after you fall asleep at the wheel and run over a concrete bus bench. Hopefully, no one will be sitting on it at the time. Sleep-deprived drivers kill a lot of people.

Human effort and sacrifice are overrated, because of pride. We love to think we’re martyrs and that we did it everything without help. It’s a hard attitude to give up. It’s wonderful to feel like a saint. But only one person in history earned that feeling. The rest of us are pretenders.

My advice is to ask God for things all day; even unimportant things. Get his advice. Ask for protection. Accept it with humility.

Never say, “I want to try it on my own before bothering you.” If you want to see how that type of thinking pans out, read the book of Joshua.

I slept well last night, I’m making time for God today, and God willing, this will be a good day. If I’m wrong to see things this way, you’ll know, because I’ll be living behind a dumpster in two years. I don’t see it happening.

I Call Dibs on the Guy Under the Flattened House

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Haiti Effort Marred by Competition?

Yesterday I read an interesting article about Haiti. The relief teams that are working there are competing with each other, not just to provide the best aid, but to get the most money, attention, and control. The article cited an organization that ran another organization off, even though the second outfit had essential equipment the first one lacked. Nice. I’m sure the people who died as a result of the turf squabble would be glad to know the first group didn’t lose its spot in the limelight.

It said two “competing” doctors got in a verbal altercation on a flight leaving the US.

If I understood the article correctly, aid organizations or their branches get funding based largely on the turf they’re able to carve out. So if you can set your clinic up in Port au Prince before the next guy can do it, you can keep him out and get more money for your work next year.

Nothing is as evil as bureaucracy. Satan started his career as a civil servant, after all. The Nazis and Soviets were bureaucrats who killed people in the name of efficiency and order. The Chicoms are bureaucrats.

Bureaucrats are driven not by the express missions of their organizations, but by the desire to enlarge and secure their own power. The guy who dies with the biggest cubicle and best parking space wins. If that means a few people who rely on you have to suffer, no problem.

One of the wonders of America is that we keep so much power out of the hands of bureaucrats. That’s the purpose of the Bill of Rights and the Tenth Amendment. Some parts of the Bill of Rights still function pretty well. The Tenth Amendment is more like a whale’s vestigial pelvis. It’s there, but it’s not clear what it does.

Bureaucracy is like idolatry. Sometimes, it is idolatry. It distracts you from the purpose you were intended to serve, and it causes you to hinder that purpose by serving another one. Either you’re trying your best to dig earthquake victims out of the rubble, or you’re diverting some of your strength to venal pursuits such as attracting media attention and increased funding. When you divert your strength from your stated mission, you’re working against it.

I hope Aaron will forgive me for quoting an email he sent me yesterday. It applies:

That “progressives” seek to eradicate poverty flies in the face of scripture which asserts that there will always be some poor people. That becomes a challenge to those better off, but even then there is a hierarchy of what should be done. Among the following levels of “tzedakah”, none include the legislative threat of fine or incarceration for the wealthy to not adhere to an unfair progressive taxation policy. Rambam organized the different levels of tzedakah (charity) into a list from the least to the most honorable.

8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. When the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.
3. When the donor is aware of the recipient’s identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

If you reverse this thinking, you may also conclude that one of the worst evils is to do charity poorly because you subvert the goal of easing suffering in order to gain admiration and wealth. When you do that, you unnecessarily increase the suffering of others–greatly–in order to bring yourself a trivial benefit which is, ultimately, a curse.

If you travel to Haiti and you work hard, but you’re extremely concerned with the attention you get, and you find yourself blunting other people’s efforts in the process of glorifying and financing your own, what have you really achieved for God? Almost nothing. You’re working to bless yourself and your buddies. Heathens do that. For that matter, many non-believers work more selflessly than you do.

Whatever you’re doing for God, you’re certainly doing nothing to improve yourself. If you’re not improving yourself when you do a thing, you’re doing evil. People say life is a test. That’s wrong. Life is a school. If it were a test, you could finish it in a day, like the SAT. It takes decades because it’s a long process of positive change.

The actual test will only take a day. That day has already been named. We call it Judgment Day.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the subtle venality beneath the surface of some of the relief efforts, but I haven’t made a point of writing about it. I don’t want to stir up trouble pointlessly. It’s good that people are getting help, even if a lot of that help is ego-driven. But it’s very ugly to see this kind of suffering used to build careers and draw ratings. And I’m sure it discourages good people from getting involved. This kind of behavior is the reason I vet charities before I do anything for them. You have to be sure you’re paying for rice and bandages instead of Bentleys and hookers. Nonprofits, including churches, have made a lot of carnal people rich.

Nonprofits shouldn’t be glorifying themselves when they help Haitians. They should glorify God. For Christian nonprofits, this should be obvious. If you’re in Haiti, God put you there and gave you every penny and every item you have, and if you succeed in helping, the glory is his. That means you should never even consider getting in the way of another relief worker. The glory isn’t yours to begin with, so competing for it is a type of theft. When you have to explain yourself on the day of judgment, you’ll be told you’re a worker of iniquity. No one will care how many TV channels aired your story. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”

We’re reaching the long-foreseen stage when the attention is cooling down and the public is getting bored. The glory hounds will probably lose interest soon, because the glory will be elsewhere. As relief workers dribble out of Haiti, hopefully, they will leave a residue of people who are humbler and more sincere. I can’t help but think that over the long haul, those people will do Haiti more lasting good, because they will rebuild souls as well as bodies. Ultimately, Haiti’s problems are spiritual, not physical, so spiritual people will do more good than well-financed attention gluttons.

Haiti Freighter Video From Port of Miami

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

The Long Haul

Here’s a news video featuring my pastor and the Friend Ships Limited freighter Integrity.

A More Perfect Union

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Striking is a Sin

This is pretty funny.

Two days ago, I helped some charity-ship crew members get to their ship at the Port of Miami. My last visit, not including random motorcycle rides, had been with another attorney: my dad’s former partner. He represented the Port of Miami, and we were there, basically, to annihilate and impoverish the unions. I considered this God’s work.

Last night at church, Pastor Rich said the union people had decided to donate their time, to load the ship with stuff for Haiti.

Talk about strange bedfellows.

I’m glad these guys don’t know my face.

Thou Upholdest me in Mine Integrity

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

For Some People, Haiti Effort Continues

Yesterday, as part of my duties as an armorbearer for my church, I was asked to drive three people from Miami International to the Port of Miami. They’re crew members on the Friend Ships Limited vessel Integrity, which is docked at the port right now. One is a Merchant Marine, and he’s a captain. The other two are just lay volunteers.

I got to go aboard the Integrity and look around. I enjoyed that a lot. I only saw the cargo hold. I felt like I was on the set of Firefly.

The captain I delivered told me he had to have a lot of shots before going to Haiti. They have a lot of disease there. He mentioned things like dengue, Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, polio, and malaria. There are vaccines for some of Haiti’s diseases. When it comes to others, I guess you have to be lucky or rely on remedies that act after you get sick.

I hadn’t realized it was that bad there. I knew about their drug-resistant TB, and I know a Cuban my age who has a bad leg from polio, but I didn’t know the disease list was so long.

I met the captain’s son. I mean the main captain, not the guy I delivered. He said he hooked a big marlin on the last trip. You can troll from a big ship, if you use heavy tackle to overcome the resistance of the ship’s forward motion. He said the marlin broke his rod. Bummer. I’ll bet they always have fresh dolphin to eat.

He said the weather was nice in Haiti. Mid-seventies and no humidity. It’s so far south of Miami, I had guessed that there were no real seasons there, but it looks like that’s wrong.

The Port has gone nuts on Homeland Security. I used to go for night rides on my motorcycles, and the Port was a good destination, because you get to ride out over the water, and there’s no traffic at night. But last night, on my second trip, I wasn’t allowed to go to the terminal. A cop stopped me on the bridge and had the captain transferred to a car driven by a Port employee. The captain had what is known as a TWIC card, which is a form of ID for shipping industry employees. My driver’s license and carry permit would not have cut the mustard.

I’m glad they’re not playing. The Port would be a great location for a small nuke. But stopping land traffic isn’t very effective. You can still drive a freighter or a big fishing boat or a yacht right into the harbor.

I don’t know much about nuke detection. I like to think we can build devices that will detect nuclear weapons as they pass by in trucks or boxcars or ships. But it’s hard for me to see how that could be done. I would think a little lead around the fissile material would block the radiation well enough to make it undetectable. Hope that’s wrong. Technology is pretty weird; maybe they have a way to do it.

Here’s a link to a photo of the Integrity. I don’t know if they’ll need my help again this week, but I’m here if they call.

Through the Cracks

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Sorry

Should have posted these sooner.

From Heather:

Need prayers for my mom, Penny. We got a call from the gyno-oncologist today and there was a lesion on her pap last week. She has to have blood work today and then a PETScan next Tuesday. Please ask the Lord to cleanse this cancer from her body.
I need you to know that my grandmother was treated with a synthetic hormone called DES while she was pregnant with my mom. DES was taken off the market in 1971 because it causes cancer. Many of you know that my grandmother did die of breast cancer. Somewhere along the way in the daily business of life, we forgot about the DES diagnosis until Penny was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Penny NEVER had the venereal warts that have been advertised to cause the cervical cancer. Nor was she promiscuous-she has been celibate since her divorce, because of her deep and abiding faith in God.
Paedric and I need her in our lives and need God to cleanse this cancer from her body.

This next one is about some babies that disappeared in Haiti. I would assume you can find out all about it at Mercy and Sharing. Philanthropist Susie Krabacher has been going nuts over this. Evidently, most of the babies have turned up. Reader Cindy says:

Steve,

Most of our prayers have been answered. 30 of the 32 missing children from the abandoned baby unit have been locate. Keep praying for the two who are still missing.

http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_14298637

Thanks
Cindy

I don’t know where my brain was when I wandered off without posting these, but there you go.

I Even Dream of Food

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Joseph was Better at This

I had the funniest dream this morning, not long before I got up.

I was in an old house that had been converted into a school. A little girl was in a room on the second floor. She was a demon-worshiper. She believed it was possible to be a Christian and worship other “gods” and benefit from all of it.

She was giving a presentation to her class, about the ways she worshiped this “god” and that one. She had colorful costumes, and she wore a different one for each demon. Each one required different rituals, and she demonstrated them, throwing things into bowls and so on.

Her teacher and I were downstairs, and we were pretty disturbed. We noticed that the ceiling was bulging down toward us, from the classroom above. Something extremely heavy was in that room. The pressure of its weight made a circular bulge in the ceiling. It was some sort of spirit, sitting in the room among the kids. They couldn’t see it.

We went up the stairs to help this girl. A black man was with us. I guess he worked with the teacher. We were going to make this kid understand that you can’t be a Christian AND a demon-worshiper. If you have even one other god, you’re not a Christian. Or you’re a Christian, but you’re going to have terrible problems.

When we got in the room, everyone was gone except the girl. She was dressed normally. She was unconscious, but she was standing in a far corner, facing the wall.

While we were there, food was served. It was chicken that had been fried in breading and then covered with sauce. There was rice under it. Someone asked me how it was, and I said it was okay, but the rice was a little overcooked.

When I woke up, I tried to figure out whether this dream meant anything. I prayed for an answer. I have never had a dream that turned out to be a message from God, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Here is what I came up with. The room is Haiti. The girl represents Haitians who worship demons yet think they’re also Catholic or other types of Christians. The problem with the ceiling is a problem with the rock under the island. It’s the reason they have earthquakes. The presence of the demons–their spiritual “weight”–causes it.

People who go to Haiti to provide spiritual guidance will have their physical needs met in abundance. That’s the food. There was nothing in the dream that I could apply to humanitarian aid.

Is this right? I can’t even guess. Maybe I just dreamed about a confused little girl.

The teacher was attractive. I don’t know her in real life. I don’t know the black man. He didn’t seem like a Haitian, although many Haitian-Americans have no accent.

I can only recall one instance of a dream that had application to the future. My friend Ivette gave me a Cohiba Esplendido, from Cuba. That part had already happened, for real. In the dream, I smoked it, and it had a wonderful flavor like cloves. Later, when I smoked the actual cigar, it had that same flavor, only with much less intensity. That was extremely odd. I had never had a cigar that tasted anything like cloves, but some Cubans have that flavor.

That was a pretty stupid dream, I admit. But it came true. And it’s all I have to offer.

My cornet arrived last night. It’s incredible. It’s a professional-quality horn, and it’s essentially new, even though it was made the year I was born. It has had a couple of minor dents repaired, and the seller thought they probably came from being bounced around in the case, but that’s it. Other than that, there isn’t a scratch on it. You could put this thing in a store and claim it was made last month, and no one would know the difference.

It’s too bad pianos aren’t like brass instruments. You can pick up the brass equivalent of a nearly new Steinway for under $500, because so many people buy horns and quit using them almost immediately. I paid $150. I’m sure this thing would cost at least a grand, new.

Now, if only I could play it.

I have practiced my embouchure for two days. I can go about fifteen minutes without fainting or losing my mind. I figure that’s enough. When you’re working a muscle and building a callus, it does no good to overdo it. That’s what I tell myself, because fifteen minutes are all I can stand at this point. I can make the mouthpiece do a few things, but the horn sounds like a cow with the scours.

My dad says I ought to be able to make a sound that isn’t horrifying within a week or so.

That’s all I have for now. I’m just enjoying my coffee and relaxing.

Bedtime Requests

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Haiti and Kentucky

Two prayer requests.

First, RE Haiti:

Hi Steve,

The babies from the abandoned baby unit need prayers, They are missing! Pray they are found safe.
Susie Krabacher was on CNN this morning and the url is a link to the interview.
http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/world/2010/01/20/intv.krabacher.orphan.aid.cnn

Made “tiny” if the link is broke.
http://tinyurl.com/ye58z5b

Missing babies are the part that just breaks my heart.

Thanks,
Cindy

Second, from Kentucky, Heather is asking for help:

Hi Friends,
Just had my appointment with the high risk OB and they believe that the baby has a tumor of some sort on it’s spine. I know I depend on you for prayer for my mom and everything else in my life, but could you please ask the Lord to heal this?
They believe the tumor is non-cancerous, but would require surgery after the birth, which can be so dangerous and I would love to be able to avoid that if possible.
I am scheduled for an MRI on Friday so they can have a better look. That is the same day as mom’s oncologist appointment, and I know that I had already asked you all to pray for a good result with that.
Thank you and God Bless.
Love,
Heather

Have at it.

Supreme Irony

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I Judge You for Judging, Even When You Didn’t

I got some glib, condescending comments about Pat Robertson today. I started to respond, but then I deleted them. I make an effort to check the things I write, and people show up and post judgmental comments that are obviously not supported by a scintilla of research, and they expect me to post them and take the time to respond thoughtfully. They expect me to work much harder than they do, and I get tired of it. If you’re going to argue with me about the Bible, read it first. If you’re going to argue with something I said, make sure I said it. WordPress’s comment page has a Trash link for good reason.

If you didn’t watch the Robertson video, and you didn’t read my blog posts carefully, and you don’t read the Bible, you will not read and consider my comment responses. I am not stupid enough to waste my time researching and writing for people who have proven they won’t benefit from it.

The irony of the Robertson situation is amazing. The people who are condemning him are doing exactly what they falsely accuse him of doing. They don’t watch the video. They have no idea what he said. Still, they condemn him and post lies. Because, in their own minds, they’re better Christians than he. If judging other people’s sins is bad, how bad is it to judge other people for judging, when they never did?

Robertson did not say Haitians deserved what they got. He didn’t even say they brought it on themselves. He did not express happiness over the earthquake. He sent them (and is still sending them) millions of dollars. He prays for them. He shows compassion. He is doing more for Haiti than anyone who is criticizing him, and when he pointed out that idolatry causes problems, he was doing them a kindness, as a Bible-reading Christian should already know: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness. And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head.”

I guess I should point out that I’m quoting the Bible, so the uber-holy folks who don’t actually read the Bible won’t show up in my comments to tell me how stupid the above passage is.

The only thing Pat Robertson can be accused of in good faith is a breach of tact, committed out of love. I wouldn’t even go that far. If my house fell on me and I were worshiping demons, and an evangelist came to dig me out, and while he was doing it, he said, “You’ll be better off if you give up astrology and Santeria,” I’d thank him for the advice. At least I hope I would. I search the Bible and books and sermons for correction, because I know I need it. I am very concerned about the changes I need to make. What’s wrong with a little advice? I mean GOOD advice, not platitudes offered by people who write by reflex.

The left’s bizarre, unbiblical, unchristian, humanist obsession with denying the existence of sin has leached into Christianity, and now Christians think it came from God. Look, sin is bad. It causes problems. Exposing it is a good deed.

Pat Robertson didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t drive anyone to suicide. No one will have to have counseling because of what he said. BUTCH UP already. How did we end up with such stupid priorities? Bodies are rotting under fallen buildings, and people are up in arms over a few words an old man uttered in compassion. Who knows how many Haitians will hear his words, consider them, and be blessed?

I can’t believe I have to defend this guy. I am no fan, but it’s disgusting to see other Christians lie about him like this. Whatever else may be true of him, he gave his life to God, and he has brought millions of people to Christ, and when we get to paradise, they’ll all be there. How many of his ignorant, lying critics have a record like that? You people would have a Bentley crushed because of a scratch on the fender.

Stop telling lies about this man. Give it a rest and focus on helping the Haitians.

I’m not taking comments on this post. Experience has shown that it would be pointless.

Peacemakers and Pizza Maker

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Pizza is a a Lifelong Pursuit

My church is going crazy these days. Unlike the major news outlets, which will be gone from Haiti in a week, we are engaged in a long-term effort, and because of the earthquake, it’s going to be ramped up. All sorts of stuff is happening. They even have me writing copy for them.

Trinity Broadcasting is all over this, and our church is going to be their main resource in the Haiti campaign. I suppose that makes sense, since most of the people who attend are Haitian. On top of that, our pastor has hooked up with Friend Ships Unlimited, and they have a boat on the way from Lake Charles. It’s going to dock in the Port of Miami and go back and forth between Miami and Port au Prince. The people making this stuff happen are working late hours and going without sleep. It’s pretty impressive.

The services this weekend were largely aimed at Haiti. The Saturday service was converted to a time of prayer, and we heard a lot about the crisis in the other services. Attendance was heavy.

One of the church’s pastors–an older gentleman of Haitian descent–was in Port au Prince when the earthquake came. He spoke to us. He said the ground shook for four or five minutes. Ordinarily, he would have been some distance out of town–he only goes to Port au Prince when he’s on the way back to Miami–but on this occasion he was in Port au Prince a day earlier than usual.

He said he was in a hotel, on the second story, when it hit. The ground moved vertically as well as horizontally. He had to hold onto a doorframe. When it was over, he went out in the short street where the hotel was located, and six people were already dead. One was a little girl whose head had been severed. He also found a woman whose hand had been amputated when her fallen ceiling pinned her wrist against her refrigerator door. She was trapped for six hours like that. The hand was severed, but the arm was still trapped. She had to stand and wait while rescuers freed her.

The neighborhood was white with concrete dust. It must have been like 911.

When the quake was over, no one at church knew whether this man was alive or dead. He managed to hitch a ride to Miami on a military flight, and he arrived in the sanctuary without notice, much to everyone’s relief.

We work with Mission of Hope. They have a big campus outside Port au Prince. It was far enough to be spared significant damage. I suppose now it will be bursting with people who need help.

I don’t know all that much about our involvement, because I have never participated in it. I guess that will change. I don’t know what they’ll want me to do.

There are tons of good charities working on this. I doubt it matters which one you help, as long as they check out. If you want to find out about our organization, you can find it at this link.

I still don’t know what’s going on with their plan to put me to work in their cafe. I hope they follow through on their plan to get a pizza oven. I don’t know if it’s practical, though. I rarely eat anything more complicated than cheese pizza, but most people want a lot of toppings, and that makes the whole business much more complex and bothersome.

My flour education never stops. This weekend, I learned some people use flour made from durum wheat, which is the same stuff used to make coarse semolina. You can’t get fine semolina flour around here, as far as I know. Whole Foods doesn’t have it. I’d like to try it. I’ve also learned that Gordon Food Supply sells a brand of flour that’s very high in gluten. That would be fun to try, although if I don’t like it, I’m stuck with a huge bag of useless flour. I’m sure it would be great, but these days, I tend to lean toward low-gluten flour, and by that I mean 3 grams per “serving,” as defined on the label.

I had read that Caputo 00 flour was low in gluten, and I repeated it, but this weekend I found an “expert” website bearing a claim that 00 flour is actually high in gluten. I don’t know what to believe. I guess I could look for a Caputo label, online.

Man, I love the Internet. Apparently, it’s 11.5% gluten, which is high.

I had read that it was low in gluten, and that the things that made it special were its purity and the fineness of the grind, but apparently I was deceived. I don’t like it in pizza, so it doesn’t matter, but I don’t like being wrong, either.

You can get flour that’s 14% gluten. That must be interesting. Sometimes when I make pizza, I add gluten with a spoon, so it’s not like you’re limited to what you get in the bag. Gluten is easy to buy, and it beats working yourself to death trying to find the ultimate flour.

Costco cheese continues to exceed expectations. I have learned that a lot of the things I do to make pizza work are actually necessary only to compensate for bad cheese.

I put white vinegar in my sauce. It turns out the reason I need that is that most cheese has no flavor. With Costco cheese, I can reduce it or omit it. I also add olive oil to my sauce. I didn’t think it had much effect on the cheese, but it does. If I go over a tablespoon in two ounces (weighed as it comes from the can) of Super Dolce sauce, the oil rises up into the cheese and makes the pie too oily. This doesn’t happen with Gordon Food Supply Primo Gusto cheese, but it’s a problem with Costco mozzarella, so I have to drop the olive oil down to a teaspoon or two. It’s good to be able to reduce the olive oil, because the oil I have degrades the taste of the sauce a little. Oil oxidizes in the bottle before you buy it, and I think that gives the sauce a slight cardboard taste. Mike says the answer is lighter, cheaper olive oil, but if the olive oil is reduced, I don’t have to worry about it.

Someone advised me to add cheddar to my cheese. This pumps up the fat content and adds sourness, which you need. Works great with Primo Gusto, but there is no need to do it with Costco cheese. It might be nice to cut it with a good provolone or scamorza, however.

Mike advised me to underlay the mozzarella with grated Romano. Again, it depends on the mozzarella.

I’ve noticed that Costco cheese has a smoky smell. I was afraid I had gotten something on the bag, but it turns out the smell comes from the cheese. I guess it has a fragrance because it’s quality cheese.

I have read that Gordon Food Service will special-order Grande Cheese, but you have to buy a whole 30-pound case. I don’t think it’s worth it. I know it’s fantastic cheese, but things are going so well now, what’s the point?

I may run up to GFS and get more sauce to freeze. I plan to make more frozen dough portions. They don’t save time, because it takes a couple of hours to turn frozen dough into a pie. But they do minimize the mess and the work. If you can plan a meal three hours ahead, frozen dough will work for you. If you have to have pizza faster than that, because you can’t anticipate the need, forget it.

You’re better off planning ahead and freezing dough or refrigerating it for a day, because the flavor and texture will improve a little as the dough sits. If I could manage to make sourdough portions, I’d be in paradise. You can’t do that on the spur of the moment. Freezing and sourdough crust go together naturally. I should order some starter.

I could also freeze dough for garlic rolls, although I don’t know if I’d ever use it. A small pizza is a reasonable meal. It won’t make you fat. Add two garlic rolls, and you’re way over budget. Maybe on rare occasions I could fix myself three or four rolls, but it’s risky.

Freezing entire pizzas would be great, but you need a very big vacuum sealer. I don’t see it happening.

The major breakthrough that made all this possible was the decision to use the food processor to knead dough. If I had to use my hands or a mixer, I would never have been willing to make pizza often enough to learn anything. The food processor turns it into a three-minute job, from kneading the dough to putting the food processor parts in the dishwasher. The actual kneading is a little over a minute, and the dough is perfect.

Sooner or later I need to get my Sicilian working. I never found a steel pan I liked. Maybe the best thing is to use a big cast iron skillet. If I dedicate one to pizza, I’ll be able to develop a finish that will assure stick-free crusts. I can make excellent thick-crust pizzas just by using more dough in my regular recipe, but I like the pan-baked crusts they make in New York. They’re a little oily and very crunchy on the outside. My thick crusts are plain old pizza crusts. Wonderful, but not Sicilian. Ordinary pizza crust is like baked bread, which must be why you have to use a stone. A stone lets the crust dry as it bakes. Sicilian is sort of fried on the bottom.

This stuff never ends. But it’s okay. I remember a time when my pizza was disgusting. Now it’s always great; the only issue is whether it has the precise characteristics I imagine before I make it.

More Self-Righteousness and Hatred

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Shame on Us

This morning’s prayer group was phenomenal. Oddly enough, the regular leader was out of town, and the guy who led the meeting is Haitian. He has family in Haiti; he still doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with them, and he is very concerned. Guess what he talked about? Ezekiel 33. Read it. If you think Pat Robertson was wrong to say what he did, imagine how you’d feel if he had read this chapter aloud on his TV show. Here is an excerpt:

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. 5 ‘He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. 6 ‘But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.’

That goes way beyond what I feel entitled to say. I just said idolatry causes severe problems, and that it’s a good idea to knock it off.

Funny thing; one of the other guys in the group is Haitian, and he disapproved of Robertson’s words, while agreeing that it was appropriate to talk about Ezekiel 33.

The guy who led the group was a great choice. He knows the Bible really well, and he has tremendous enthusiasm and sensitivity. One of the best things about church is meeting people who stand beside you and reinforce you in your walk. I’m so glad I’m not limited to an hour and a half a week, sitting in a pew, completely passive.

Tonight I’ll be helping with PR, as we reach out to Haiti. Should be interesting.

Bedtime Pushed Back

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Blogging Skills are Actually Useful on Rare Occasions

I contacted my church to see if they needed help during the Haiti crisis. BIG mistake. Now I’m cranking out copy for their website and trying to help them get a blog going. The PR lady at the church says she has been sleeping two hours a night. They’re going to be doing a lot of work, partnering with charities, TBN, and ministries.

Not sure why they didn’t call me instead of waiting, but there it is.

Hope I can be of use.

Mercy & Sharing Helps in Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

100%!

Thought I would remind people of another fine Haitian charity. Mercy & Sharing passes 100% of donations on to the needy. This is the charity started by Susan Krabacher. They are posting updates on their site.

New Haiti Info

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Partnership

My pastor says they can use my help with their Haitian relief effort, but as yet, I have no idea what form that help will take. Hopefully it will not be something that results in me fainting from exerting myself while this virus lingers. Although that would make for a good Youtube.

On Twitter, he reports that Trinity Church will be partnering with Friend Ships Unlimited. That will be interesting. Apparently they’ll be working out of the Port of Miami.