Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A Bit of Joy

July 13, 2020

In the midst of a constant barrage of bad news, if you’re looking for an online escape, you might want to check out https://window-swap.com/

You can get a glimpse of what people in other parts of the world see out their window at the moment. Sometimes it’s a pretty urban landscape, and sometimes it’s a stunning landscape. Not a bad way to while away a few of those lockdown moments!

Bucket List!

July 4, 2020

I was today years old when I discovered it was possible to travel by train from Portugal to Vietnam.

It’s not necessarily easy. Or cheap. Or perhaps even possible right now due to COVID-19 restrictions. But you can take a series of trains from Portugal Vietnam over the course of 327 hours, depending on schedules. You’ll travel more than 10,000 miles in the process. One way.

I’m not a big fan of the bucket list concept, but if I were, this just might be at the top of it!

Staying Sane

April 1, 2020

As people deal with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, here are some interesting options for staying sane both individually and as a family.

Here’s a list of movies suitable for watching among multiple generations of adults.  I can vouch for The Two Popes as a worthwhile watch.  Our family has also (previously) watched The Hundred Foot Journey, and were not as thrilled with the overall quality of the movie despite a few good moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is one I only recently watched and found to be deserving of the accolades it has collected over the years.  Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great family classic.  Romancing the Stone isn’t nearly as good in the adventure category, and goes for some more sexual humor than Raiders does (although sequels to Raiders up the sexual innuendo substantially).  While it might sound boring, The King’s Speech is a phenomenal movie from an acting perspective.  As I remember, A Fish Called Wanda also has some sexual innuendo but also some stellar performances.  The Usual Suspects is one of my all time favorite films.

Perhaps you’d rather do some explorations in the real world?  Maybe a virtual trip to Disneyland would be a fun diversion?  Or if you’d rather wander farther afield, here is a collection of walks through various places in the world.

Acts 16:6-10 and Change

July 23, 2019

By all  accounts it was a successful trip so far.  Wonderful reunions with congregations Paul founded on his first mission trip.  Congregations in Derbe.  Lystra.  Iconium.  Psidian Antioch.  How the Holy Spirit was at work!  How much more might be accomplished!  Plans were made to build on these successes by further mission work in the area to the north.  But such plans came to nothing.

What does it mean to be forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (v.6) ?  Was it clear to Paul and his associates that this was the case?  Did the Holy Spirit reveal the divine will in this matter?  It would seem not.  They attempted to go to Bithynia and were unable to.  Confusion.  Frustration.  They had the will and the ability, why couldn’t they make good on their plans?  Why did they reach nothing but dead ends despite all the good work accomplished thus far?

More time should probably be given to considering verses six and seven, to the simple statements that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul and his companions from sharing the Gospel in certain areas.  What a strange thought to us today, who are so certain that we control evangelism, we make our plans, we execute them!  Confident that the Holy Spirit desires all to hear and be saved, how can we make sense of the possibility that for the purposes of God, and without conflicting with the reality of a good God who desires that all would be saved, God the Holy Spirit might for his unrevealed reasons frustrate the plans of faithful Christians to share the Gospel with certain others?  I’d argue we can’t, and we don’t even try any more.  But that’s a secondary consideration for me right now.

In the midst of confusion and frustration comes a vision.  More than a dream, perhaps.  Something visible, and something with supernatural overtones.  Paul can see this man.  Perhaps he can hear him as well.  He understands him despite an accent perhaps.  He sees the different clothing.  Somehow Paul understands where this man is from, where this man represents.

Morning comes.  Paul reports his experience to his associates.  Silas.  Timothy.  And based on the sudden change of pronouns in v.10, many presume also Luke himself was there, the author  of the book of Acts.

What to make of it.  The message is clear – an appeal for help in Macedonia.  Moving from the Asian continent to the European continent.  An entirely different arena for sharing the Gospel.  The vision was clear, but what to do about it?

I imagine that the men were hesitant at first.  After all, they’d had such success in the area of what we call Turkey today.  Thriving congregations!  Certainly, they hadn’t been able to travel north as they intended, but surely that would resolve itself in short order and they could continue with their plans.  Surely there were other opportunities closer to hand.  They weren’t doing anything wrong, but what they were doing wasn’t working the way it had previously.  Was it clear to them this vision came from God?  I presume not necessarily, as we’re told in v.10 they concluded it was.  There was some level of analysis, consideration, prayer.  And the result of all those things was a determination that God was behind this and it was time to follow.

Change is hard.  It isn’t what is expected.  It isn’t what is familiar.  Yet small changes can yield incredible results.  A diversion from Asia to Europe – such a small matter in the moment and yet the history of the world is changed no doubt as part of that change.  Would the Holy Spirit still have worked through Paul and his associates if they came to the conclusion that while the vision was interesting, they really were better suited and preferred to stay in Asia?  Of course.  They might have been mistaken, but that certainly wouldn’t have made them bad or evil.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit would have sent a clearer indication of the proper path.  Perhaps He would have worked with them where they were.

It’s good to remember ultimately that the Church claims that God the Holy Spirit is behind everything we do.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t prone to error, it doesn’t mean we don’t interfere.  It doesn’t mean that things are always clear and simple and easy.  But we have to trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through and at times despite us.  And this should foster a level of humility, a willingness to acknowledge our limitations and brokenness and therefore the very real possibility that we might be mistaken.  And it should drive us to hear in others the possible voice of the Holy Spirit, even if we don’t like or agree with what they say.

Change is difficult.  So is staying the course.  Such forks in the road are an opportunity for faith to work itself out in surprising ways.  Not necessarily pleasant ones, but surprising ones, with the trust and confidence that the Holy Spirit is working things out to the glory of God regardless of what is motivating us and our decisions.

Humbling indeed.  But comforting as well.  Sola dei gloria.  Always and in all situations.

 

Travel Thoughts

June 3, 2019

It is still a source of amazement to me that in the span of  a few hours I can be thousands of miles away from my starting point, with nothing more accompanying me than a wallet, a phone, and a change of underwear.

Nothing makes me so aware of the copious room for improvement in my prayer life than those few seconds as I’m sitting on an airplane hurtling down a runway about to take off (or land).

Am I the only one who never outgrows that momentary feeling of excitement and astonishment that I am trusted enough to pay someone else to use their car for a few days and they just hand me the keys and off I go?

 

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.

 

 

I Can’t Quit Laughing

January 17, 2019

Nancy Pelosi’s move.

President Trump’s counter-move.

I score this 0-1 for President Trump.  Let’s see what  the next round brings!

Wet Bar Wednesday – La Paloma

October 24, 2018

Crafting delicious cocktails can be a lot of fun, but it can also lead to a certain snobbery.  What, after all, is a basic rum and Coke (never Pepsi!) compared to a beautifully balanced Sazerac (here is my version, and here’s another)?

Well for starters, it can be delicious.  Complicated is not always better, and sometimes a good, refreshing drink is great weather it’s basic or not.

But still, the snobbery can persist.  So it was that while I was in Las Vegas this summer playing pool, I walked to a well-reviewed Mexican restaurant for a late lunch and relaxing afternoon one day.  The bar was large and well-appointed with a variety of tequilas, and as I have enjoyed doing for  decades, I asked the bartender to set me up with a recommended tequila-based drink.

Her immediate response was La Paloma (the dove).  It’s just Squirt (grapefruit flavored soda) and tequila.  I was disappointed once I understood properly what was in the drink.  I was hoping for some complicated and impressive drink to enjoy and impress others with.  Instead I get a gross soda messing up my tequila.

But, it was tasty.  And tasty is more important than complicated.  I’ve mixed some very impressive looking drinks over the years, but if they don’t taste good, all that effort (and money!) is for naught.

La Paloma

  • 1 part tequila (I suggest a basic one rather than a nicer/pricier one)
  • 3 parts Squirt (I would like to try this with Fresca instead, as I think the flavor is better)

Pour into a glass over ice and stir.  If you want to make it look prettier, put a wedge of lime on the rim of the glass.  It’s light and refreshing either way, so enjoy!

 

 

Automated Vehicle Ethics

October 24, 2018

I’ve blogged before on the push for automated vehicles – self-driving cars.  While it seems an inevitable application of technology – and may in fact be safer in the long run, it’s still going to take some considerable work to figure out the nuances of it.  There’s the technology aspect, as well as the necessity to direct vehicles in how to behave if they think an accident is unavoidable.  How do  you teach a car to make an ethical decision?

Traditionally, this is talked about in terms of the Trolley Problem, a philosophical scenario developed in 1967 by philosopher Philippa Foot.  It’s a fascinating little thought experiment.  But the first problem is nobody has a good solution for it.  And the second problem is that it’s going to be difficult to program a car how based on it.

The third problem is the assumption that, in a split second reaction time, there can be a pre-defined way of solving the problem.  After all, it’s hard enough to solve given a few moments (or years) to contemplate it.  Save more or fewer lives?  Save more important people or less important people?  Save younger people or older people?  And how do you define and quantify more, fewer, more important, less important, young and old?

I’m not sure how I would react in a split second decision.  Reflexes and some sort of sub-conscious thought no-doubt kick in.  But would I regret my decision after the fact?  Would I castigate myself for what I viewed as an incorrect choice after the fact?  Would I be willing to sue myself to that extent?

I’m not sure I could answer these questions in advance (hence the compelling nature of the philosophical scenario), let alone in a moment of instinctual thought and action.  I pray I am never in such a situation, where such a decision needs to be made.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision, at least not in any sort of unquestionable and always-and-forever sort of sense.  I can say with a far greater certainty about who I wouldn’t intentionally set out to hurt, but in the midst of a split second decision between two equally undesirable choices?  That’s hard.

At the very least I feel bad for self-driving cars.  Just another reason I will likely never own one.

 

What You Do Matters

October 11, 2018

In our Internet-connected age and world, more and more of our lives are open to public scrutiny.  Part of this is based on what we ourselves actively share through various social media platforms, but also what others – whether private individuals or organizations – share about us through their accounts.  People my age and older often joke about how relieved we are that we didn’t grow up in this sort of technological era, as our stupidity and poor choices could follow us the rest of our lives.

But sometimes even our considered choices and decisions have long-lasting repercussions that could affect us in ways we don’t anticipate.  Take, for instance, the situation of Lara Alqasem.  Lara is a US citizen of Palestinian heritage.  During her university studies at the University of Florida, she rose to the position of president of a student organization called Students for Justice in Palestine.  SJP’s web page indicates that while it rejects anti-Semitism, it views the situation of Palestinians as living without basic rights under Israeli military occupation and colonialism since 1948.

Lara applied and was accepted to Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study human rights.  She obtained a legal student visa, but then was detained by Israeli authorities when she arrived in Israel, under suspicion that she might be a sympathizer with a movement referred to as BDS, which stands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.  As per a 2017 Israeli law, foreigners seeking entrance to Israel who espouse anti-Israel stances (such as supporting boycotts, divestments, or sanctions against Israel) may not be admitted to the country.

Predictably, this has outraged some, including, presumably, Lara.  Her appointed Israeli lawyer (I presume) claims she isn’t part of the organization any longer.  I assume this could be attributed to her graduating, as opposed to her renouncing her involvement in the organization.  Her mother insists that while Lara may object to certain Israeli policies, she respects the nation and culture and sees no contradiction in her views and actions.  Her Hebrew professor insisted that she has a positive view towards Judaism and Jews and the state of Israel.

All of which may be true, but then still leaves the question of not only why she would choose to participate in, but actively lead an organization that most people would say is anti-Israel not in terms of select policies but in terms of the country’s existence.  Certainly some people join clubs and organizations to fill out their resumes without ever really participating in the groups.  But to actually lead the organization paints a different picture.

I’m all for free speech.  Go ahead and formulate your ideas and opinions and articulate them intelligently.  But recognize that there may be ramifications for your statements and your involvement.  If your lifelong dream is to study the culture of Israel, then heading up an anti-Israeli student organization in college may not be a good idea.  Some countries retain the idea that while their citizens may have rights of self-expression to varying degrees, they are under no obligation to knowingly let outsiders in who are critical and may seek to work against the interests of the State.  Lara is one of 15 people who have been blocked.

The Israelis indicated they would admit Lara to the country if she willingly and directly (as opposed to her lawyer releasing a statement on her behalf) renounce her former involvement with SJP and the principles it espouses.  The article doesn’t provide any indication that she is willing to do this.  Her case remains at a standstill after an Israeli appeals court decided not to intervene.  Lara is apparently considering an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.  But it seems to  me that if she really doesn’t believe in the principles of SJP, it would be a much simpler matter to say so herself, rather than have others insinuate that she might not have believed them or may not believe them now.  It may not solve her current situation, but it would be a good-faith move towards clarifying her own intentions.

I’m not sympathetic to this young woman who complains about the bedbugs in her Israeli jail cell and the fact that she’s not permitted much contact via her phone or the Internet.  Unfortunately, it might be that living in the US these days Lara was under the impression that laws in other countries would not be enforced like some of the laws in our own country are not enforced.  She took a great risk in seeking admittance to Israel, even if she was accepted by a school  there.  Jail  is not supposed to be pleasant or conducive to free communication – these are incentives to avoid jail.  Her case sounds to me like another petulant person  demanding that the law not apply to them, while remaining steadfast (at  least thus far) that their past words and actions should not be held against them even if the law says that they can and should.  Hopefully she and others will continue to learn that there are sometimes consequences for what you say and do, and so you need to consider your words and actions carefully.  It doesn’t mean that laws are always right, but they are dangerous things to trifle with.