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  Monday, December 1, 2008

First Week of Advent: Hope

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9 ESV)

I think there is a tendency, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, to see Jesus' birth as something inevitable. We tend to expect the people living at that time to know exactly what was going to happen, and how, and why, because we know the story so well that, well, everybody must know it, right?

Wrong. For most of human history, people only had hope to go on. From the first promise that Eve's offspring would crush the head of the serpent, to the most detailed prophecies in Isaiah, all those people had to go on was hope. They looked forward to the time when God would send his anointed to right the wrongs, bring misery to an end, and (for much of the history of Israel) free His people from domination by the pagan nations which surrounded them, conquered them, and oppressed them.

I have long thought that it would be better if we could hold back our frenzy of Christmas carols, at least in the first part of Advent, and limit ourselves to those songs (like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel";) which look forward to the event in hope, rather than celebrating it as an accomplished fact. I'm not sure that we can really grasp the sheer joy that the word of Jesus' coming brought to the hearts of those who first heard the news unless we can project our imaginations into a world and a time when people didn't know the story, didn't know what was going to happen, and certainly had no assurance that it would happen within their own lifetimes, since so many generations had lived and died in hope, without seeing the fulfillment of that hope.

And it is appropriate for us to learn to identify with that hope, because we have to live with hope of our own. Jesus came, and He changed the world, and we know that we are set free, but that is all on the inside. The outside still hasn't been fixed up. While we know that Jesus will be the victor in the end, the final battle over the fate of the human soul still has to be fought. We live in a time of tension between what Jesus has already done, and what He is still to do. So, like the people in the time of His first coming, we too live in hope. We, too, don't know the story of what will be, what is going happen, or whether it will happen within our own lifetimes.

So, before we celebrate the event, let's celebrate the hope that preceded it. Let us embrace that hope, for it isn't all that different from the hope we live by.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Sing it, pray it, mean it. For yourself, or for those in parts of the world where taking the name of Christ means risking persecution, imprisonment, or even death. For the Jews, too, faced persecution, imprisonment, and death for the sake of the truth not all that long before Jesus was born. For them, the birth of the Messiah was not an interesting theological concept, but a desperate hope when all seemed darkest. Feel that darkness, if you can, so that you can appreciate the light all the more.

Mood: desperate
12:42 - 0 Comments

  Saturday, November 29, 2008

E-mail 2.0

So, I'm washing the dishes last night, and I ask myself, "Self1, what should I blog about today? I've kind of beaten the whole relationship topic to death, and there's probably not much point in posting another book review, since people are going to be too busy for the next month to get much reading in."

"Well," said myself, "you could always blog about how mailing lists were the functional equivalent of crowdsourcing long before anybody ever thought of the term 'Web 2.0.'"

I was really impressed with this new insight, so I just continued to wash the dishes in silence and listened to myself.

"I mean, think about it. On those mailing lists which manage to stay on topic (which is the kind you like best anyway), once the membership of a list gets to a certain critical size, then there are bound to be people on the list who know something about that topic that you don't. When you post a question about finding device drivers on a mailing list, you are essentially depending on the wisdom of the crowd for your answer, aren't you?"

"Yeah, you're right," I had to admit. "As a matter of fact, that holds true even on lists that are talking about, say, science fiction. Most of the titles on my 'to be read' list come from suggestions that I've picked up from various mailing lists over the year."

Myself continued as if I hadn't said anything2. "The trouble is, too many people haven't learned how to handle large volumes of E-mail. They freak out if they see 20 messages in their inbox, because they haven't learned how to sift through large volumes of list traffic to focus in on the threads they need."

"20 messages!" I spluttered, "I used to get 300 messages a day until I switched most of my newsletters to RSS."

"You're an information junkie," myself replied snootily. "Not everybody wants to know everything there is to know about every topic that crosses their tiny little minds."

I was about to frame a suitably cutting retort, when a new song came up on iTunes: "Nothing Really Changes", from Larry Norman's album Upon This Rock. The timing was amazing. Nothing really changes. The latest, most buzzword-laden technology you can possibly imagine is often just a different way of doing the same thing that people have been doing by other means for years. All mailing lists need for people to see the value in them is some trendy buzzword...
  1. I've have a pretty close relationship with myself. We're on a first name basis, and I can talk to myself any time I like, instead of bowing down and knocking my forehead on the ground three times first, as might otherwise be the case.
  2. Generally, I enjoy talking to myself, but sometimes, there can be this whole competitive thing going on, whether neither one of us is willing to admit that the other has a valid point. When it gets really ugly, sometimes I can go for weeks without speaking to myself. After a particularly nasty argument, I might even cross the street to avoid running into myself. But we always make up eventually.
Mood: enlightened
08:26 - 0 Comments

  Monday, November 24, 2008

As Far From Fairy Tale Romance As I Can Get

[Cordelia's Honor] Cordelia's Honor
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Paperback [Amazon.com/Amazon.ca/Amazon.co.uk]

Shards of Honor
Hardcover: [Amazon.com/Amazon.ca]
Paperback: [Amazon.com]

Paperback: [Amazon.com/Amazon.ca/Amazon.co.uk]

[Best Novel]In just about as big a jump from Cinderella and "fairy tale romance" as it's possible to make, I'd like to introduce you to my favourite living author: Lois McMaster Bujold. Her stuff is so good that it has has spoiled me for a number of lesser authors. (And I'm not the only one who thinks she's great: Barrayar won a Hugo Award for Best Novel.)

Originally published in two parts as Shards of Honor and Barrayar, Cordelia's Honor introduces the Vorkosigan family by starting with Cordelia Naismith. Cordelia is a smart, common-sensical, capable, female character. (Which, by itself, makes for a refreshing change from the sort of female character whose main job is to scream for help as she is threatened by a techno-dragon, so her knight in shining... er... spacesuit can ride to her rescue.) At the beginning of the book, she wakes up from being knocked out in a fall, to find a man holding her at gunpoint. Not just any man, though. This man is Lord Aral Vorkosigan, a captain from Barrayar, a neo-feudal, militaristic planetary empire. In fact, he led the conquest of Barrayar's neighbour Komarr, and is universally known as "The Butcher of Komarr." In short, he represents everything repugnant to Cordelia's egalitarian, peaceful home planet of Beta Colony. How Cordelia manages to escape, and thwart the planned Barrayaran invasion of one of Beta's neighbouring planets, makes for classic space opera. (Again, with the exception that the hero who manages all this is a heroine.)

Except that Bujold rises above space opera, and brings the genre to a whole new level. For one thing, her science is a good deal more careful than that of most space opera writers, who (apparently) can't be bothered to learn the difference between that which is currently technically infeasible, and that which is inherently impossible. For another thing, unlike much science fiction (not just space opera), which tends to be driven either by plot, or by (if you will) special effects, and places character in second place compared to evoking a sense of wonder, Bujold's stories are driven by character. You won't find her putting words into a character's mouth which don't belong there, simply because "somebody has to say that." In fact, a great deal of the wit in her books (and they are very witty) comes from that strong sense of character. Many of the funniest lines are not necessarily funny in and of themselves, but hilarious because they are said by the particular characters who say them. (At one point, Cordelia is asked where she has been, and replies simply, "Shopping." When you get to that poin