Archive for November, 2016

Wet Bar Wednesday – Apple Fizz

November 30, 2016

I’m somewhat back into my normal routine after traveling to the other side of the world. Ready for something different, I checked out one of my cocktail recipe books for some new ideas the other night. What I came up with was a little something called the Apple Fizz.

I couldn’t find this same recipe anywhere else on the Internet, though there are plenty of other drinks with this name that also include actual apple juice. I like this version because it doesn’t, and there’s a very nice balance between the sour and the sweet elements while the soda water makes it light and sparkly.

Apple fizz

  • 1 part lemon juice (use the real stuff!)
  • 1 part maple syrup (use the real stuff!)
  • 1 part Calvados (or apple brandy)
  • 1 slice lemon for garnish
  • soda water to top off

Calvados is a particular type of apple brandy produced in Normandy, France. There are other variations of apple brandy, including the American knock-off known as applejack. Apple cider is processed through distillation or other processes to increase the overall alcohol content. Applejack is experiencing a bit of a renaissance here in the US after many years of decline and neglect. You can find Calvados or applejack at a well-stocked liquor store.

Mix the lemon juice, Calvados and maple syrup thoroughly. If you have the option of just squeezing a lemon, do it rather than use concentrate. Likewise, real maple syrup (as opposed to imitation maple syrup) has an amazing complexity of taste that you won’t regret the extra cost to have either in your drinks or on your flapjacks.

Once mixed, pour into a glass over ice. Top off the glass with the soda water and give it a final, gentle stir to mix completely. You can put the slice of lemon either in the bottom of the glass or float it on the top. Enjoy!

Chew On This

November 30, 2016

An article I ran across a while back in the Christian Science Monitor regarding the amount of food production achievable if Americans went vegetarian.

It’s interesting, and it makes me want to say Hey, this is really a good idea and we should all become vegetarians!

No.  No it doesn’t make me want to say that at all.

The numbers are interesting, but it begs the question – why is it necessary for us to increase our food production to feed 800 million people?  Are there hungry people in the world?  Must assuredly – and at least a few of them live right here in our own country, if we’re to believe the State’s continued insistence on providing not just an education at school but also meals for students and even their families.

But is the reason that we have hungry people that we aren’t producing enough food?  Or are there other explanations for hunger?  I think before you advocate an entire nation change their diet, you look long and hard at why food isn’t apparently getting to the people who need it, whether here at home or around the world.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it isn’t that there isn’t enough food, but rather that we – or others – just don’t care to make sure it gets to the people who need it.  Politics and human sinfulness is the issue, not whether I have a hamburger for lunch or not.

If we solve some of these bigger questions, then we can adjust our food production if that’s still necessary.  But if we don’t solve these bigger questions, it doesn’t matter how much we deprive ourselves and how much food we produce – it will continue to fail to reach the people who need it.

Belatedly, Halloween

November 29, 2016

A short article with some good links debunking the wildly popular notion that most holidays are somehow ancient pagan celebrations that Western Christianity has plastered itself over.  I was taught these myths as I studied history and read lots of books in my younger years, but scholarship is examining more closely the claims that Christianity is just ripping off older rituals.

I just saw a post on Facebook the other day mocking Christians for celebrating events like Halloween using ancient pagan rituals that were intended as worship for other gods.  It’s good to remember that many of these claims are patently false, and actual historical scholarship rather than Internet memes should be the basis for demonstrating that.

The Importance (and Joy) of Reading

November 28, 2016

A great little essay from the Wall Street Journal on the many values and benefits of reading.  I may not agree or even know about some of the books that she lists, but she articulates clearly why reading is an important thing to do all your life.  I hate the damage that school can do by turning reading into a chore, a necessity, an obligation.  I have a nephew who doesn’t read on his own time because he has to read so much for school.  He associates (I believe) reading with drudgery rather than as a source of pleasure and growth all it’s own.

That’s why I post book reviews from time to time here.  It’s a reminder to me – and hopefully to others – that reading matters.  Reading to stretch the mind intellectually as well as to provide pleasure.  It’s easy to be distracted by digital pursuits these days, and so my reading rate is a lot slower than I would like it to be.  But this essay is an encouragement to fight to turn that around.  There’s so much good stuff out there waiting to be discovered!

Reading Ramblings – December 4, 2016

November 27, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Context: The readings for this Sunday are almost identical between the ‘Lutheran’ version of the 3-year lectionary cycle and the actual Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). For reasons that not even seminary homiletics professors are aware of (at least the ones I’ve talked to), the LC-MS modifies the RCL to suit our own tastes, something that frankly annoys me as something contrary to one of the points of a lectionary system, which is to have Christians reading similar passages of Scripture on the same weeks. But this week, all the LC-MS version tweaks is to leave off verses 18 and 19 of Psalm 72, which the RCL includes. Incidentally, while various traditions assign different themes or meanings to each of the Sundays in Advent, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of agreement on these. The Roman Catholics observe the third Sunday of Advent as Gaudete Sunday, based on the first Latin word of the mass for that day – gaudete (rejoice).

Isaiah 11:1-10 – Isaiah will be heavily utilized until Lent, and will again be drawn upon frequently during Ordinary Time later this year. The readings from last week and this week emphasize the coming glory and benefits of our returning King. Today’s readings emphasize the various blessings He will bear, namely the presence of the Spirit of the Lord which will grant him specifically wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge of the Lord and fear of the Lord (vs. 1-2). As such, his insight and wisdom and judgment will be perfect, free from the sinful brokenness and limitations of human judgment (v.3). Rather his judgments will be perfect, meaning that the oppressed have hope and a champion, a champion who need not cajole or negotiate to have his judgments enacted, but who bears within himself the power to call all of creation to obedience (vs.4-5). This will, in turn, transform all of creation. Natural enemies and predators will be at odds no longer. Frankly, I have no way of even imagining a world where the feeding chain as we know it is no longer necessary. Are there to be no predators and no prey? What will that look like? I don’t know, but I can trust that the righteous and perfect judge who initiates such an order will not do something inappropriate or unnatural. Rather, it is the sinfulness of creation which cannot imagine a world in which peace is not something that we maintain, but which is the natural order of things from largest to smallest.

Psalm 72:1-7 – This is a psalm likely used at the coronation of a king – more specifically a Judean king in Jerusalem. While ascribed to Solomon it is not specifically linked to him, but could be utilized for any king. It clearly delineates the role of the king – to promulgate the law and blessings of God to his people. Righteousness and justice are the chief of these blessings and the essence of the Law. Failure in this respect will mean failure in any and all respects. As the king faithfully does his duties (vs.1-4), the people pray for his strength and power to enforce that right rule against any who would oppose it (vs.5-7). The upshot is blessing to God’s people, even to creation itself as the king properly conducts himself and his duties in accordance with the directives and priorities of God who has placed him on the throne. The Revised Common Lectionary includes the liturgical ending of the Psalm, verses 18-19, which some see as the formal ending to one section (the second) of the psalms.

Romans 15:4-13 – Concluding a section dealing on Christian love for one another as the guiding principle for settling minor theological differences of opinion, Paul turns to Scripture (in this case, and at the time of his writing meaning the Old Testament) as a means once again of validating his message and instructions. God’s Word is given for our instruction. It is not simply history or the issues of a people long-gone with whom we have nothing to do with. It is written to and for us, and for all of God’s people whenever they come to it. A key aspect of how the Word instructs us is the demonstration of endurance and therefore encouragement. Spanning over 2000 years of history, the Old Testament shows the steady working out of God’s plan through God’s people, a plan that had reached culmination in Paul’s day with the life and ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. So Paul writes to the Roman Christians who endure persecution or at least misunderstanding and exhorts them to endure and be encouraged by the example of how God’s people have endured all along. God has not forgotten them or us. Our endurance has meaning because God’s plan to reconcile all of creation is moving forward on his timetable, not ours. We simply are to remain faithful in whatever our circumstances might be. Such an outlook on our individual lives leads us to rejoice and give praise to God, who will indeed work all things to the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). In terms of the Roman’s specific needs for endurance, this means enduring even their disagreements between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians. Each has a role to play in the salvation of creation. God desires the salvation of both groups of people, therefore both groups are to affirm the value and worth of the other as followers of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 3:1-12 – John the Baptist enters the Advent scene, the voice calling out in the wilderness in preparation for the Lord’s Anointed One. Here is an example of endurance in the face of suffering! John endures the rise and fall of his own ministry (John 3:25-30), his own arrest as the Messiah he announced walks free (Matthew 11:1-6), and his eventual execution on the whim of a vindictive woman (Mark 6:17-29). John fulfilled his prophesied role, yet he did not himself personally experience many of the joys and blessings that the Messiah would bring. He himself experienced deprivation, suffering, and death. Yet he was exhorted to faithfulness, to endurance in the midst of his waiting, to the terrible realization that in God’s plan of things, even the coming of the Messiah might not mean the complete reversal of all injustice and suffering – yet.

So we wait. We who in hindsight see and accept the Messiah. We who proclaim his resurrection and his victory over sin, Satan and death – we still deal with the repercussions here and now of our enemy Satan, of sin at work in our bodies, and physical death. Despite the fact that our lot in life does not look appreciably different from the lot of an atheist or Buddhist or Muslim, we are called to profess in faith and praise that our lives are different, both here and now and eternally. It is as though we peer out from the bars of our cell like John the Baptist did, wondering if perhaps we got it wrong, if Jesus really isn’t who and what He claims to be. And like John, without promising to set us free immediately from what appears to be our imprisonment, we are called to endure. To be faithful to the end. To trust that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is only that, a valley, and that our Good Shepherd is both faithful and able to bring us through it and to the banquet on the other side.

Advent focuses us on this waiting, drives us to consider what it means to be an anticipatory people, to consider carefully where we place our hope, and what the repercussions of our hope are. Advent invites us to give voice to the struggles of our life, the suffering inherent in a broken and sinful world, even a broken and sinful world that Jesus has conquered in his own death and resurrection. But we are not to keep our focus on our suffering. We are to lift up our eyes, to wait for the promised return of our Lord, to praise God for what He has already given us in Christ, and what we will fully experience in the day of his return. This is the source of our hope and joy, not politics or economics or any of the other systems the world offers as mechanisms of hope.

Back in the Saddle

November 26, 2016

Everyone knows what you do when you fall off the proverbial horse.  But nobody spends a lot of time talking about how painful it is.  So it is after a very sparse couple of months of pain, I climb back up into the saddle that I made for myself on the horse that I have raised over the last decade.  There are times when I really don’t like the horse, but by now, walking away from it just seems silly.

Tomorrow begins the new liturgical Church year.  Just like we have a calendar that marks off the year from January to December, with associated holidays and milemarkers along the way, the Church has a means of keeping track of time as well.  But the Church calendar isn’t linked to the physical seasons, rather utilizes a series of seasons with holidays and milemarkers centered around the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The Church year begins with the season of Advent that starts the last Sunday of November.  Advent is a season of waiting and preparation for the arrival of the Christ child.  Of course, we’re participating in the waiting vicariously, but also actually.  Vicariously because we aren’t waiting for the first arrival of the Christ, as God’s people were 2000+ years ago.  Rather, we are waiting for his return.  We join with all God’s people in history in looking forward to the fulfillment of his promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 that one of her offspring would destroy the serpent.  But we look forward to his return in glory, to the revelation of the victory accomplished nearly 2000 years ago in his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Advent leads us to the fulfillment of God’s promise in the birth of the Christ child, a moment of fulfillment that gives our hope for his return shape and substance and meaning.  We don’t wait in vain.  God fulfilled his promise to his people 2000 years ago.  He fulfilled it in his time and way, but He fulfilled it, so we can trust He will fulfill his promise that Christ will return again.  The season of Christmas celebrates the physical incarnation of the Son of God.  Unlike the secular ‘season’ of Christmas, the liturgical one begins on Christmas Day, rather than before, and then extends for three weeks and kind of blurs into the season of Epiphany, which accentuates the divine nature of the Christ child.  It is not simply the offspring of Eve who gains victory over creation’s ancient enemy, but the Son of God as well.

The season of Epiphany runs for six more weeks, but after the actually Feast of Epiphany, the remaining weeks are treated as part of Ordinary Time, the description of those parts of the Church year that are not concerned with a particular feast or celebration.  Epiphany ends with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the liturgical season of preparation for Holy Week, which remembers the last week of our Lord’s life from his arrival in Jerusalem to his Easter resurrection, which in turn launches the season of Easter.  This lasts seven weeks and ends with Pentecost Sunday, which initiates the season of Pentecost.  Pentecost, in turn, is the liturgical season which will run the rest of the liturgical year, to the end of November and the beginning of the new Church year with Advent.  Because there aren’t any overriding themes that dominate this time of the Church year, it is considered Ordinary Time – the way the bulk of Epiphany was.

Each liturgical season has a color associated with it.  Advent traditionally was purple – the same as Lent.  Both seasons have a strong element of penitence associated with them.  However Advent has gradually become more of a season of festive waiting rather than penitential, and so the desire for a different liturgical color from Lent has expanded.  Now Advent can be noted either with purple or blue.  Christmas, Easter, and the individual festivals during the Church year are noted with white.  Ordinary Time (including most of Pentecost season and Epiphany) is noted with green as a season, though Pentecost Sunday is traditionally marked with red paraments (cloths that adorn the altar, pulpit, and perhaps other areas of the nave [main worship area] of a church).

So in historic Christian worship, the look and feel of the nave changes through the year.  Roughly half the year – from Advent through Pentecost Sunday – focuses on the life of Jesus, specific biographical and historical events and teachings.  The other half of the year, following Trinity Sunday (the Sunday right after Pentecost Sunday) through the end of the liturgical year is less chronological, and takes time to highlight aspects of a particular Gospel account of Jesus’ ministry.

Traditionally, there are two ways of selecting Bible readings for any given Sunday in the Church year, in an attempt to retain some level of uniformity with historic Christian worship practice, and incorporating two major ways of going about Bible reading in worship.  Both are ancient in practice and deserving of continuity.  One is lectio continua, which seeks to read large chunks of Scripture more or less in continuity.  This is usually accomplished during the season of Pentecost by reading more or less through an entire Epistle (or more) from the New Testament, and by a more or less linear progression through a single Gospel.

The other type of reading is lectio selecta, which more accurately maintains the pre-Christian Jewish way of reading Scripture, highlighting specific texts rather than trying to move through any particular book of Scripture in order.  This is the kind of reading that happens more from Advent through Pentecost Sunday, as the readings are selected to work with each other to flesh out theological themes implicit or explicit in the Gospel narrative.

Another layer of all of this is that there are schedules for Scripture reading.  For centuries, the Roman Catholics utilized a 1-year lectionary (reading) cycle, so that every year you moved through the exact same texts over and over again.  In the last century there was a cooperative effort among Christian groups to create a larger lectionary cycle that would incorporate more Scripture (both Old and New Testament) while still providing a cyclical pattern.  The result is the 3-year lectionary cycle, where each year is associated with a specific Gospel.  Year A uses Matthew.  Year B uses Mark.  Year C uses Luke.  Within each year, the Gospel of John is typically utilized around Christmas and Easter at the high points of the Church year, and therfore doesn’t have a separate year of its own.  There are other lectionary cycles as well, but the 1-year and the 3-year are the most common, probably because they were developed within and still utilized by the Roman Catholic Church.  But other denominations with a keen sense of the continuity of Christian history also utilize them.  This Sunday begins Year A, and will highlight the Gospel of Matthew.

I like the liturgical cycle and the Church year.  I believe that overall it helps keep me from circling around particular texts that I prefer, or themes that I want to preach about.  It drives me to a broad array of Scripture to constantly encounter and re-encounter the Word of God and how it applies in my life and to the lives of my people.  I look forward to changes of the liturgical season just as I look forward to the changing seasons of the calendar year, each emphasizing different things.  As with any set of traditions, they become new and refreshing (God-willing!) each time around, rather than simply rote and repetitive and boring.

So, happy Advent.  Does your Christian community utilize any of these tools for marking time through the year?  Are there some that are particularly meaningful to you?

Book Review – From the Dust Returned

November 21, 2016

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

William Morrow Publishing, 2000


When you’re as prolific a writer of short fiction as Ray Bradbury, it’s probably inevitable that some of your stories will group into families.  Similar themes, familiar characters, a rivulet  from one story cascading into multiple other story ideas.  And it makes sense, at a certain level, to look back across these shirt-tail relatives and begin to shuffle and organize them into piles of similarity.  Before long, with not too much effort, a book can be reasonably fashioned.

I’ve long argued that Bradbury’s strength is in short fiction, and that even his best novels (Fahrenheit 451 included) were strong on the basis of their individual sections more than their narrative arc as a whole.  As such, the idea of weaving a thin narrative thread to bind together various pieces of patchwork created over decades of creativity is natural.  As such, several of the stories in this book are familiar – existing short stories published and re-published over the years in various of his anthologies, and modified only barely in order to connect them to the larger quilt of the book.

If you like Bradbury, you’ll likely enjoy this book for nostalgic reasons as much as literary preferences.  The threads connecting the patches are at times very thin, but you don’t care because the fabric is familiar as a whole.  That being said, I think Bradbury got even more verbose in his adjectival streams of consciousness than in his earlier works, and sometimes this became overwhelming for me.

As always, I am mesmerized by Bradbury’s unique knack for emphasizing the humanity within even the undead or non-human.  His characters may possess fantastic qualities physically but we recognize them because on the inside we are similar.  That’s a beautiful thing to remember in our current cultural climate of discord, division, and dismissal.

Reading Ramblings – November 27, 2016

November 20, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent, November 27, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

Context: Advent begins the liturgical Church year, and combines traditions from varying parts of the developing Church so that it has traditionally incorporated both penitential as well as celebratory aspects. By and large in Protestant circles, it has come to be more celebratory, anticipating the arrival of the Christ child as a means of focusing our waiting on our returning Lord.

Advent calls us to hope. Not in something arbitrary but in someone. To remember the promises our God has fulfilled time and time again as a means of hoping confidently that the promise of our Lord’s return will be fulfilled as well. Not necessarily on our timeline, but fulfilled all the same. It is a hope of joy and peace, of restoration and rightness predicated not on our efforts – which are feeble and sinful even at their best – but on the efforts of a perfect, holy, and righteous God.

Isaiah 2:1-5 – God will establish his kingdom, or more accurately, merge heaven and earth again so that his rule is clear throughout creation. His rule will be pre-eminent (v.2b) and without comfusion or competition. As such, creation will naturally be drawn to it as the proper source of information about how to live. Rather than finding ways to settle issues amongst ourselves, God will provide us with his wisdom. The result is inevitably peace. Without sin and selfishness, with God’s rule as the norm of life, conflict will subside and humanity will go back to the task proper to it from Genesis 1 – the rule and cultivation of the earth. What a beautiful day that will be, and how appropriate it is for we who look forward to it eagerly to begin living that way now!

Psalm 122 – This is the third Psalm of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), songs sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the central theme is one of joy and rejoicing. This psalm appears to have been intended for their actual arrival in the city or in the temple itself (v.2). Jerusalem itself is described as a place where thanks to God should be central (v.4). Part of that thanks was for the right rule which was supposed to emanate from Jerusalem through the kings (v.5). As such, pilgrims pray for Jerusalem’s peace so that proper rule and law can continue to flow to God’s people, an echo of the image in Isaiah 2 where God’s perfect rule and law will flow from his holy mountain not just to his chosen people but all of creation. The pilgrim’s vision was focused on peace and his or her role in perpetuating that peace in and through themselves by the grace of God. If peace for God’s holy city is to be prayed for, it only makes sense for those journeying there to pray for and commit themselves to peace. All of this is to the glory of God (v.9), reflecting his good and perfect will that all should be at peace, and that He would be the God of peace. This will be fully achieved when Christ returns, but we are summoned to take our part in living lives of peace here and now in witness to that future reality.

Romans 13:11-14 – Christians have been waiting for 2000 years almost, expecting the return of Jesus. It might seem as though it will never happen. Yet we are drawing closer to that time, whenever it is. Close enough for us to take seriously the admonitions and exhortations of our Lord as well as the Law of God revealed in Scripture. As such we should adopt postures of self-control, reminding ourselves that his arrival is imminent, if unpredictable. Such a posture may seem silly to a world bent on self-gratification, but such a posture is consistent with who we will be revealed to be in Christ, as Paul has already discussed in Romans 8:18-25.

Matthew 24:36-44 – Waiting is hard work. In a culture of shrinking attention spans and demands for instant gratification, waiting seems pointless when you can have what you want – or something close to what you want – right now. Never mind what needs to be financed or what other problems such short-sighted thinking might cause. But Jesus doesn’t soften his words. We are to wait and while we have some idea of what we wait for, we don’t know when it will occur.

Those who wish to use verses 40-41 to conjecture some sort of rapture prior to Jesus’ return have to deal with the reality that Jesus here is speaking about his return (v.37). Verse 42 drives this home again – Jesus is looking ahead to his return in glory, not speaking about some get-out-of-suffering-free promise like a rapture. Context alone discards such strange theories, even if we have a hard time understanding what Jesus means. But if we use versese 38-39 as a guide, then Jesus is speaking about how his coming will be as unanticipated as the waters of the Flood, and just as disastrous for some. Unlike the Flood, however, far more than just eight people will be saved. Many, many more than this will be saved, even if some are lost because of their lack of discernment and faith.

The key to this passage is not that we should look forward to a miraculous rescue from suffering in this world, but rather that we should seriously wait for the coming of Jesus which will end all suffering, permanently – not simply provide an escape from it for a few. We are to stay awake, language which is similar to what Paul chooses in the Epistle reading from Romans 13.

If we are waiting, then we will be ready. Our faith in Jesus will be strengthened and matured through the act of waiting and the posture of obedience which we are to assume (again, Romans 13) rather than the posture of self-indulgence. It is not our waiting that saves us, but our faith which directs our hearts and minds and lives to waiting. For the Christian our actions – waiting intently for our Lord’s return and conforming our lives to his will – are not the things which save us, but flow from our saving faith in Jesus, as Paul argues powerfully in his letter to the Romans. Christian obedience in itself helps to focus our hearts and minds on our Lord’s return as we are constantly reminded that our choices and values do not synchronize with the world’s. Our lives of obedience make us into pointers for Christ, so that others might be prompted to wonder why we live the way we do, and who precisely it is that we are waiting for, and why. This should give us opportunity to share the good news of Jesus which is our hope and strength for our waiting and obedience!

Book Review – The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls

November 19, 2016

The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls – Thames & Hudson 2002

This is a great introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the enigmatic ruins known as Qumran.  It provides a great deal of detail on the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls – at  least those portions that have been published.  It also takes time to criticize many of the key players with the scrolls who have allowed pride and professional infighting to delay publication of scroll contents.

It covers the contents of the major fragments, providing some interpretation (but not a literal character-by-character transcription).  A good section of the book deals with the enigma that is Qumran.  What was it?  Who was there and what did they believe?  What is the relationship between the ruins of Qumran and the scrolls found in the caves nearby the settlement.  Various competing theories are mentioned briefly and evaluated.

I came away from this book with a better understanding of the actual contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as a sadness and frustration that the vast majority of this material remains untranslated and clutched in the possessive hands of various academic institutions and individuals.




A Long, Strange Trip

November 4, 2016

We’re traveling to Vietnam.  To see the sights and visit friends and there isn’t much we can say beyond that which is frustrating but what can you do about it?  Towards that end we drove our kids to Phoenix on Sunday to stay with family, an 8-hour drive that went smoothly.  Tuesday afternoon my wife and I flew from Phoenix to LAX, there to wait for six hours for a flight that left at 12:30am Wednesday.  I was in pain from a lower back problem, but we were getting by.  The Asiana ticketing person was very kind and bumped us out of the middle of a five seat row and upstairs on the big plane to a 2-seat row of our own.

The flight went well.  Painful, but what do you do?  You try to sleep, and I was able to get a few hours and my wife was able to get a few more.  But 13 hours on a plane is not fun no matter how you slice it.  I’ll simply say that this flight was worlds better than the United flight we took to Europe over a year ago.  Despite the strange food, the staff was very friendly, always ready to serve a cup of water or juice.

We arrived in Seoul at 5:00am.  The airport was pretty deserted, and I could barely debark the plane the pain was so bad.  I took another 600mg Ibuprofen and prayed for it to kick in.  It took a while, and in the meantime I couldn’t even stand up.  The thought crossed our mind in more than a fleeting way that we might not make it to Hanoi, that I might not be able to tolerate the 5-hour flight from Seoul to Hanoi.  We prayed and tried to rest, and eventually the ibuprofen kicked in and we got on the plane.  I was uncomfortable, but not in pain at all for the flight.  I watched Leonardo DiCaprio in Revenant to try and get some inspiration.  If somebody could live through a bear mauling, I could make it through a 5-hour flight on a padded seat.

We had to pick up our visa in Hanoi and wait through the line for customs and immigration.  Our friend, J.P., was there to greet us outside the baggage area, and he had an appointment for me in a few hours with a chiropractor in town.  We checked into the hotel first.  The staff was very friendly, bringing us small cups of green tea.  They also arranged for banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich with a variety of marinated pork meat cuts and pates on a French roll with some fresh veggies.  They were delicious, and we wolfed them down in time to catch an Uber ride to the chiropractic clinic.

That turned into a 3-hour effort on the clinic’s part to get me out of the worst of the pain.  Nothing seemed to help.  They did some light manual manipulation.  They used lasers.  They used ultrasonic treatment.  They used ice packs.  They used acupuncture.  They used electro-therapy on isolated muscle groups.  By the end of the day I hurt as much if not more than I did that morning.  Eventually they gave me some codeine pain medicine and some anti-inflammatories and told me to come back in the morning.

It was 5:30 PM and just about dark  by now.  Walking out of the clinic was difficult, and they were going to send one of their staff with us to help make sure I could get to our hotel all right.  I eventually convinced them this wasn’t necessary, returned their back brace, and under my own power and stubbornness hobbled out the door.  I was still in a great deal of pain, waiting for the drugs to kick in as we headed back to the hotel.  J.P. and the Mrs. headed out to pick up some cash at an ATM.  He headed home, and she opted to go out shortly after to get us some food.  We munched on a couple more banh mi sandwiches – chicken this time, and not nearly as tasty but still more than adequate.  I prayed that I would be able to sleep.

God is good, and I did sleep very well.  Jet lag didn’t seem to be much of an issue so far other than being tired at the end of the day.  The next morning I felt better and was able to have breakfast downstairs at the hotel before heading out again via Uber for my follow-up chiropractic appointment.  I was feeling much better at this point, and they did a few minor things before suggesting that I return that afternoon.  Elated, we headed out for lunch.  J.P. took us to a newly famous site, a typical Vietnamese restaurant newly dubbed Obama Bun Cha.  It’s famous because on President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam, he ate here with famed media chef Anthony Bourdain.

I doubt the food was exceptional, but it was delicious after enduring so much in the past few days!  Bun cha is a traditional Vietnamese dish consisting of a broth with meat bits (pork, this time) that you put over rice noodles.  We had a few deep fried egg-roll type things that were also delicious.

We walked around a bit, stopping in for some coffee at the most delicious chain of coffee shops called Cong Ca Phe.  They serve a coconut coffee that consists of a small amount of coffee mingled with a coconut milk/ice/sweetened condensed milk slushee sort of concoction.  It was amazingly delicious, and our host pointed out the decor that highlighted some of Hanoi and Vietnam’s Communist past.

I went back to the clinic for a few more adjustments and another round of acupuncture.  I left feeling less good than in the morning, but overall still much better.  We headed back out, this time to see the famous Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the  Hanoi Hilton, the prison in the middle of Hanoi where American prisoners of war were held during the Vietnam conflict.  More than half of the self-guided tour and exhibits emphasized the prison’s less famous past, as a French prison for Vietnamese rebels and revolutionaries from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century.  It was a fascinating perspective, to say the least, and we left recognizing the power of perception and how things are portrayed in determining what we believe to be true.

We returned home with J.P. to meet his two daughters.  Then the group of us headed out to our first street food experience – a place known as Street Sushi.  And the name is exactly accurate.  It’s a sushi place that sets up each evening in an area that, by day, serves as a parking lot.  The sushi is served from a portable cart.  You sit at low plastic tables on small plastic chairs.  The menu is an impressive assortment of hand rolls, sushi, and sashimi.  We enjoyed several rolls and sides for a fraction of what it would cost in the US.  I think dinner for all of us came to about $20 US!

Afterwards we walked a short distance to Lotte building.  We headed to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail for the adults and juice for the kids.  The view was spectacular in all directions, with the twinkling lights of Hanoi splayed out far below.  A beautiful way to end the evening, before heading back to our hotel in the Old Quarter and falling blessedly asleep!  I still had pain and discomfort, but it seemed clear at this point that I was going to be able to continue to function and get through the trip.  Thank you Lord!