Living in Babylon, Buying New Pants

In Jeremiah 29, the Israelites have recently been exiled from their home and moved to Babylon. They’re dejected and confused. “Why would God take us out of the land He promised us?”

The prophet Jeremiah, remaining behind in Israel with the very poor, has heard from God and sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon. I imagine they were expecting some hopeful news: “God is sending some warrior angels to rescue you! He will defeat the Babylonians tomorrow! Pack your bags!”

Instead, he has harder news: you’re not coming back to Israel for 70 years. Settle in.

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

I have long loved this chapter in talking to new graduate students (the not-so-subtle metaphor here is to see grad school as exile, though I think rarely is grad school one of God’s punishments). To thrive in graduate school, one needs to view it not as a transitory period, where the temptation is to focus on schoolwork to the exclusion of all else. Jeremiah’s letter reminds us that we should invest deeply in our communities while we are there – make deep friendships, get involved in a church, even date, get married, and have children. Grad school is real life – not another holding pattern before “real life” starts.

Now I find this passage meaningful in a new way. I’ve been in the long, painful wait of infertility for about two years now. The extra challenge of infertility is that every month could be the last one. The uncertainty, the pain, and the hopefulness cycle over and over again, one after another.

I recently went to a support group where I found people who understood the unique challenges of this season. We shared many struggles, even down to not wanting to buy new clothes. “What if this is the month I get pregnant, and then I won’t be able to wear them?”

One woman wisely shared that God was asking her to live in to her current circumstances: buy a few new clothes, make the “baby room” a sewing room, make an appointment with the doctor. Don’t put your life on hold awaiting the good gift of a child.

I connected this beautiful idea to my beloved Jeremiah 29 passage*. I am especially meditating on the phrase, “Multiply there and do not decrease,” or in another translation, “Increase there and do not decrease.”

Alas, the immediate context of this phrase (meaning, “Have babies”) and being in the state of infertility are mutually exclusive. What, therefore, does “increase there and do not decrease” mean for me? What is God trying to grow in me during this barren time?

I am listening, I am praying, I am waiting as I sit here in Babylon, trying to grow and waiting for the call to come home. And I bought some new pants last week.


*I also have “Run the race that is set before you” (Hebrews 12:1) pinned to my desk. I only have to run the one race that God has given me, which at this moment includes infertility.


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Patient Quotes to Remember

“How are you doing today, sir?” “I only have 4-6 months to live, so I’m not sure how to answer that question anymore. I just hope I can help you with your research.”

“You’re just an angel – there’s angels all around taking care of me. An angel here to take my blood.”

(Translating) “She says, We are all in the hands of God.”

The doctor comes out of the room looking sad, shaking her head. “There’s just nothing we can do.” I enter, in expectation of a somber atmosphere, to shouts of joy: “Oh! It’s the finger-pricker! The finger-pricker’s here!” There was so much laughter in that room.

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A Tuesday in January

Continuing to try to chronicle the daily life of a grad student.
I was tired, as usual, and got in around 10:15. I scanned documents to apply to get a badge to do a study at a hospital – something we’ve been trying to get approval for since April.
I emailed my thesis committee about a date for my defense!
I responded to various other emails, including sending in some puzzles for a podcast I enjoy.
I started to assemble the slides for my research presentation in group meeting later that week.
Getting excited about the possibility of actually defending, I printed and filled out my application for degree. Procrastinating real research, I wrote my biannual progress report for the department. I ate lunch at my desk, surfing the internet.
In the afternoon, I hung out in the lab running lateral flow experiments one after the other. A few looked like success, then a few looked like failure. As I started to investigate why, I ran out of antibody-latex and had to make more. I started that reaction, and then Jessica and I walked to Starbucks for a break.
While I waited on my reaction, I edited an application for Jessica and foozled a bit with the background chapter of my thesis.
I went back into the lab to finish off the reaction, playing Sudoku at my lab bench while things centrifuged.
I drove home around 6:30.

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Read in 2015, Part 2

  1. The Light Princess and Other Fairy Stories by George MacDonald. Delightful and profound as always.
  2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. We listened to this driving back from somewhere, and I picked it up and read it on vacation in Denver. It was a beautiful story – a smalltown Kansas pastor and son of a pastor looks back on his life. I do think this is one of the rare books that was better on audiobook than print – the reader’s voice added much to the story.
  3. Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. Hill’s new book discussing the Christian perspective on friendship – some theory and some practicality – especially as pertains to single Christians. I thought it very good, and very important for our church moving forward.
  4. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams. Crazy, campy, intricate, and funny as ever.
  5. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. We stumbled across Brother Odd on another long drive and loved it. Odd Thomas is the first of the series: An ordinary guy can see dead people and uses it to solve mysteries. The series is witty, funny, and deep.
  6. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz.
  7. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz.
  8. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. This is Hill’s first book, writing about the practicalities of living out a celibate life as a gay Christian in modern times. I thought it was very good – informative and thought-provoking for those gay or straight, single or married.
  9. Patrick by Stephen Lawhead.  Lawhead’s treatment of the legend of St. Patrick covers his early life and a bit of his return to Ireland. I enjoyed it, but was left wanting more, especially about his ministry in Ireland. I really enjoy how Lawhead weaves in native beliefs with Christianity – I think it is done authentically and well.
  10. Peter Pan by JM Barrie. So good!
  11. Tramp for the Lord and Not I, but Christ by Corrie ten Boom. Tales of Corrie ten Boom’s travels and a collection of speeches. Lovely, but I’ve enjoyed her other writings more.
  12. Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov. This and the next book bridge Asimov’s Robots series with the Foundation series, which I have never read. Enjoyable.
  13. Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov. 
  14. Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. My Halloween reading this year.
  15. Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time. Walton sees Genesis One as narrative about the creation of the cosmic temple (with parallels in other ancient Near Eastern writings and in other places in the Bible) and has some convincing arguments. This viewpoint resolves (or rather, removes Genesis 1 as evidence for) a lot of controversies. I really liked this one.
  16. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. Enjoyable mystery introducing Harriet Vane.
  17. Letters to Children by CS Lewis. Read as I was beginning a penpal relationship with my small kinfolk. Very good.
  18. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Potok is Greg’s favorite author. This story follows a young Jewish boy with a profound gift for art.Very good.
  19. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. Part of a kids’ Arthurian series. I enjoyed the first two books, but this and the Grey King had some things in it that concerned me. The book argues that light and dark are equal and opposite powers, and that there is a cold hardness at the center of the light. I will probably finish reading the series and then get rid of it.
  20. Grey King by Susan Cooper
  21. Empyrion: the Search for Fierra by Stephen Lawhead. Lawhead does sci-fi?! I found these at my in-laws’ over Thanksgiving. The main characters go to a far-off planet expecting to find a recently planted colony, but they actually end up far in the colony’s future. I’m not sure it was particularly profound, but I enjoyed them very much.
  22. Empyrion: the Siege of Dome by Stephen Lawhead
  23. The Martian by Andy Weir. I got this for Christmas and devoured it. It was amazing. My two complaints were (1) language and (2) being too short.

Happy reading!

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A Comfort

I had “a comfort” yesterday.

I’ve been struggling with some health issues lately that have altered my appearance – my feet are really only happy in my tennis shoes, and my eyes/brain apparently no longer tolerate contacts. I’ve never really struggled with self image issues in the past, but these two problems have hit me kind of hard.

Andrew Peterson’s song World Traveler came on my radio yesterday.  One of the lines says,

Tonight I saw the children in their rooms
Little flowers all in bloom
Burning suns and silver moon
And somehow in that starry sky
The image of the Maker lies
Right here beneath my roof tonight

The image of the Maker. 

That’s me. I am an image of God. 

How can I not be beautiful if I bear His likeness?

A comfort.

The image of the Maker.

That’s you too, my friend.

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Life as Gift

Christianity teaches that life is a gift from God. It is a gift given and taken away under His authority.

I think seeing this truth is important because it protects against two seemingly opposite errors at both ends of life.

On the one hand, seeing life as a gift protects against the idea that a life that is not wanted is disposable. This error has led to abortion and infanticide at the beginning of life and assisted suicide, “mercy” killing, and neglect at the end of life.  If life is a gift, we accept its entrance into the world at any time and in any form. If life is a gift, we treasure it while it is here and do not throw it away early.

On the other hand, seeing life as a gift protects against a clinging, clawing, grasping for it; it protects against the idea that life is worth preserving at any cost.

With life as a gift, techniques like IVF and surrogacy that separate the marital act from the beginning of life are seen as wrong. If children are a gift to be received, then children are not a right to be manufactured.

At the end of life, if life is a gift, we can recognize that while life is a high good, it is not the highest good.  This prevents us from errors like that of the villain in The Wolverine who grasps and claws at staying alive such that he changes from a kind grandfather to an evil… thing. (Surely there are other, better examples?)

(Edit: OH MY GOODNESS.  Voldemort.  Voldemort was the example of an ugly, grasping, clawing at life that I couldn’t think of the first time.)

I’m currently watching the 6th season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which the Federation is at war with the Dominion. There have been multiple arguments where a character argues for doing a certain reprehensible act because it will save x number of people. If we see that life is a gift, and that it is knowing Christ that is the highest good, then we can reject that faulty logic. It is acceptable for people to die – there is a higher good. (This article, with the phrase, “Better two deaths than one murder,” espouses a similar idea.)

… what do you think?

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Read in 2015, Part 1

  1. Voyage to Alpha Centauri by Michael O’Brien.  In the near future, a group of scientists set off on a 10 year voyage to explore Alpha Centauri.  The book is the journal of a pocket-knife-carrying cowboy/engineer.  It is an excellent story, and I see its depth more and more as I ponder it.  If there’s one book on this list that you pick up and read, make it this one.
  2. Ringworld by Larry Niven.  Explorers stumble upon a “world” stretched out like a ribbon around a sun.  Interesting meditations on how much a world would work; I dislike the worldview purported by the author.  A re-read so I could read…
  3. Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven.  Who built the Ringworld?  Let’s find out!
  4. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers.  Read while I waited in the hospital to collect data.  A murder mystery infused with imagery from English church bell change-ringing.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a lot about bells.
  5. The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. True story of the development of the Eclipse computer (launched 1980).  A loan from my dad.  A fascinating tale of a time when computers were designed largely with pencil and paper.
  6. Nemesis by Isaac Asimov.  Nemesis was the name of a hypothetical star in orbit with ours that caused mass extinctions on Earth.  Here, Asimov posits its existence.  It was a good story and an enjoyable read, however, I feel like he is a better short story author than novelist.  His novels seem to be strung out a bit.
  7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I’m so cultured!  Another read while waiting in the hospital.  Enjoyable, but I’m sure I missed out on a lot.
  8. Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.  I didn’t realize that this was a collection of short stories – did you know there are seals?
  9. At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald.  Another hospital read.  I enjoyed this one immensely, as is becoming a pattern with anything I read of MacDonald’s.  Highly recommended for any age.
  10. Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  Some challenging things in here.  Some puzzling.
  11. Mark: The Gospel of Passion by Michael Card.  We were studying Mark all year in our graduate group.  It’s the Gospel of the current liturgical year.  And my church decided to do a read-through of Mark during Lent.  So, I added on this commentary-ish book by Card.  Very well written; I learned a lot!  I look forward to reading his books on the other Gospels. (It also goes with a CD of music Card wrote on Mark.)
  12. Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  Somehow, I’d never read this.  Enjoyable.
  13. The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton.  The first two collections of Father Brown mysteries.  Think Sherlock, but with a priest.
  14. Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum.  There’s so much more than in the movie!
  15. Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card.  A science fiction story meditating on the necessity of pain for human growth.  There were a few things I turned my head sideways at, but it was quite good.  At some point, I felt like this book had a different answer to a question posed by another book on this list, but now I can’t remember what it was.  (Edit: Oh!  It was on a previous list, and they had similar answers – the End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov.)
  16. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  Not sure why I picked this book up again.  I hated it less than I did in junior high.
  17. Anathem by Neil Stephenson.  Could be subtitled: “Plato’s theory of forms gets its own novel.” “Hey! I know old math stuff!” “I can make up words, too.” Stephenson says just what he thinks of the modern world, but with all of the names changed to protect the offend-able.  I thought it was a little over-the-top at first, but I did enjoy the read.  There are mathematical proofs included.
  18. In My Father’s House and Amazing Love by Corrie ten Boom.  We found this collection at a used book store a while back; I only knew of the Hiding Place!  Good words from an amazing woman.
  19. Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. A re-read so I could get to…
  20. Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston and
  21. Earth Awakens by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston.  Birthday books!  Finishing out the prequel to the Ender’s Game series telling the story of the first Formic War.  Naturally, I loved it.

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