Those marketers targetted the wrong guy

So, I’ve been seeing one particular ad incessantly lately. It’s a fairly generic-looking ad, with the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” in bold letters across the top. Scroll down a little further, and there’s a very heavily tanned woman, under a thick layer of makeup wearing a skimpy halter top. She’s probably in her early 20s. It’s an ad for a certain Christian-themed dating web site I won’t mention by name.

It seems to be targeted advertising. Fine, my religion is no great secret. Most public databases that I’ve queried about myself identify me as a Protestant, and some even peg me as Lutheran too. But there’s this one other little detail that’s even easier to find out than what religion I practice.

I happen to be married. Read more

I just downloaded Microsoft Security Essentials

I just downloaded Microsoft Security Essentials, and, depending on your situation, I recommend you do it too.

MSSE is free antivirus software, from Microsoft. It’s not the best thing out there, but it’s far from the worst. If you don’t have any antivirus software, go get it.The usual suspects fell all over themselves to heap praise on MSSE. Some people never saw a Microsoft product they didn’t like, so no surprises here.

I trust PC Magazine a whole lot more. They found it was overall a decent product. Not top-tier, but much better than nothing, and it didn’t interfere much with system performance.

That’s the knock on a lot of AV software. Uninstall the preloaded Norton Antivirus from the computer you bought at Office Depot, and suddenly your $399 computer feels like a $3999 computer. And it might also, like, work or something. (My mom’s HP gave random filesystem errors until I uninstalled that scourge on humanity.)

If you can afford NOD32, I continue to believe it’s the best overall antivirus product out there. It’s fast, it’s reasonably priced, it catches more than any Symantec product does, and it slows the system down a lot less. It’s better than McAfee’s products too.

But if you can’t afford NOD32, I suggest running MSSE. And frankly, even if you paid and subscribed to a Symantec/Norton or McAfee product, I don’t think you lose much by switching. Regardless, it’s definitely better than running nothing.

Review: D-Link DSL-2640B

I’ve had DSL for right around 10 years. I would have ordered it sooner, except it wasn’t available in my area any earlier than that.

Over the years I’ve owned several modems. I started out with an Alcatel, then after I moved a mile down the street I owned a couple of different Speedstream modems. Each would drop connections every so often, and each had a different (and undocumented, of course) ritual to get it back online.

The highest praise I can give to the D-Link DSL-2640B is that I haven’t discovered such a ritual yet. If the phone line and electricity are working, it finds a way to stay online.

There’s nothing especially flashy about the 2640B. It’s an unassuming black and silver box, similar in styling to modern PCs, with jacks in the back. It’s a combination modem, gateway, and switch in one package, so in my case, it replaced two boxes–my Speedstream modem, and my Linksys WRT54G. Many ISPs have been distributing all-in-one units made by companies like 2wire in recent years; the D-Link is similar to those, but a bit smaller than many of them.

Setup is trivial for someone who’s set up devices like my old Linksys. Those who’ve never done such a thing may need assistance. I can’t vouch for the quality of D-Link’s customer service because I didn’t need it. Before I plugged the unit into my phone line, I plugged a laptop into the D-Link, brought the two units over to my desktop PC where I brought up my Linksys configuration, and I checked all my settings against the Linksys. About 10 minutes later, I plugged the D-Link into my phone line, it connected to my ISP, and it’s been online ever since.

The nicest feature is its ADSL information screen. It tells me the modem speed (downstream and upstream), number of errors, and other diagnostic information. I’ve seen my speed range from 1.5 megabit to as low as 256K (upstream stays steady at 384K), but it’s never dropped. I’ll take speed fluctuations over dropped connections any day. If the quality of my phone line deteriorates any further (or maybe I should say, “when”)–I’ll be armed with some good information. Southwestern Bell/SBC/AT&T have always been able to dismiss my complaints in the past. I imagine that’ll be harder to do when I can tell them exactly how many tens of millions of downstream errors I have, versus 96 upstream errors.

Despite those connections, the modem keeps on trucking. I’m impressed.

My sole complaint is that the DynDNS client doesn’t pass my domain name to my internal network. I had to put an entry for my DynDNS name into my hosts file. This won’t be an issue for anyone who isn’t running their own web server, but it’s a little aggravating for those who do. Less aggravating than a dropped connection though.

So if you need a new DSL modem for whatever reason, I recommend the D-Link DSL-2640B. It isn’t flashy, but it works and keeps working.

Update 10 October 2010: I’ve been using this unit for about 15 months, and it’s still going strong. So I can recommend it even more strongly than when I wrote this. It’s out of warranty now, and I didn’t even notice.

Being more interested in growth than being Lutheran? Hardly.

On Monday, a group of protesters gathered outside the Vatican, er, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road.

Their complaint: Issues, Etc., a popular radio show on the LCMS’s unpopular talk radio station, got cancelled without warning, and the host and producer were fired.

I know from personal experience that this is how the LCMS does things. About this time of year, people come into work like any other day, and they lose their jobs. The next day, everyone else comes in and finds out a bunch of people are gone. Sometimes there’s an announcement, and if everyone takes it like a man there might even be a little fare-thee-well with cake and punch and a picture for the internal newsletter, but it’s just as likely there’ll be nothing but a few whispers.

Several years ago it happened to me. It still bugs me a lot, since I moved 120 miles, made a less-than-lateral move, and worked for far less than fair market value for those people.

So I feel for The Rev. Wilken and Jeff Schwarz. I’ve been there. And I really hope they find stable employment very soon.

I happen to know David Strand, the LCMS employee quoted in the article. In fact, if my phone rang and I saw it was him on my caller ID, I’d probably pick up. There are maybe a dozen people who work at The Vatican that I can say that for. I spent a fair amount of time with him and I trust him. I also know in the past that his department has been ravaged with cuts. It seems like pretty much every time the LCMS loses money (which they’re very good at doing), his department takes the bullet. So when he throws the monetary figures out there, my inclination is to believe him.

So while I sympathize with those who lost their jobs, and while I’m very disappointed in how it was handled (but not surprised), I very much take issue with what one of the protesters said: “They’d [the LCMS leadership in Kirkwood] like to be more in the mainstream of American evangelicalism as opposed to distinctly Lutheran.”

I’m not sure what Bible the so-called confessional Lutherans read, but my Bible doesn’t say, “Wait, therefore, for 15th-century Germans to come to you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It says to go–don’t wait, GO!–to all people, all nations, and baptize them.

The church I attend takes that seriously. And we attract an interesting mix of people. A lot of people are lapsed Lutherans, like I was. But we also attract a very large number of lapsed Catholics. We also have a small but vocal group who have, shall I say, some Calvinistic sympathies.

Our church looks more like a library or a community center than a German cathedral, and we don’t have a pipe organ and we put–gasp!–Bibles where other Lutheran churches put those horrible blue hymnals. I’ve had people tell me it doesn’t look or feel like a Lutheran church. But the theology that our pastor preaches is extremely Lutheran. The confession and absolution of sins is as Lutheran as it comes–the difference slaps me in the face any time I go to a non-Lutheran church–and in fact, if anything I hear more references to things like sola scriptura, grace alone and faith alone than I did in more mainline Lutheran churches.

And that’s good, because that’s what the people God brings us need to hear more than anything else. Isn’t that what God wants us to do? Heal the hurting? What could be more healing than the message of God’s grace?

We Lutherans have a near monopoly on perhaps the most potent force in the entire universe. I don’t think anybody understands grace as much as we do, and certainly nobody else has studied it like we have, because perhaps nobody in history needed it more than Martin Luther did. But all too often, we just sit on it. Or we bury it in tradition that people don’t understand.

The church I attend does a few things that draw people in, the upbeat, modern music being the most noticeable thing. But I don’t think that’s what keeps people there. Lots of churches have good praise bands. Lots of churches have eloquent pastors. But not a lot of churches have that plus the Lutheran doctrine.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My church is one of the few Lutheran churches that’s growing, but that’s not necessarily a comfortable place. Growing is painful, and it’s expensive. It’s been a while since I was the one counting attendance, but I believe we can fit about 700 people in our sanctuary comfortably, and sometimes we have to squeeze a lot more than that in there. On Christmas and Easter we have to go to extreme measures to fit everyone in. Some people end up watching the service on closed-circuit TV in another room. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than turning people away.

Our life really would be a lot easier if more churches would make their services a bit more friendly for people who didn’t necessarily grow up in the old German Lutheran tradition. Play a new song occasionally. Preach practical sermons that people can use to apply to their lives, rather than sermons that sound like seminary lectures. Look at the problems we face in life every day and tell people what the Bible has to say about that, and make sure there’s a good helping of grace in the middle and at the end. The word will get out, and people will come. And then maybe my church’s buildings will last 10 or even 15 years before we outgrow them, instead of seven.

I think my church goes beyond what most of the current administration finds comfortable. I occasionally spot some higher-ups in attendance. I don’t know if that’s a sign of approval or if they’re keeping an eye on us. I do know they wish more churches would try an approach like ours, however.

I got a good healthy dose of decision-based evangelical theology this weekend, and it reminded me of how I ended up at this church. CBS News did a special called God’s Boot Camp. That movement is real, and in college it found me. It finally caught me a few months after I graduated. At least it got me in church when I hadn’t been going at all, which I think pretty much everyone would agree is a good thing. But the gospel they preached was very works-based. For a time it was really nice, because I’d never seen a church like this one before, but eventually I realized the burden was literally destroying me.

I found an evangelical-minded Lutheran church that knew what a guitar was, had a pastor who knew how to apply the Bible to daily life and preach a sermon about it, but most importantly, that pastor and his church knew what grace was, and all of a sudden, it was like all was right with the world.

I have a question for the Lutherans who are reading (both of you). Those people are out there. They will find your children. Given a choice between guitars and pipe organ on Sunday morning, your children probably will pick the guitars, unless you’ve somehow managed to spawn a teenager who prefers Lawrence Welk to MTV. So which gospel do you want them to hear? Works, or grace?

I want my son to hear about grace every Sunday. And I couldn’t care less what the rest of the church service looks like as long as the pastor’s definition of grace is something along the lines of “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”

Speaking of expense, I also have one more request, although I’m pretty sure it will fall on deaf ears. I worked nearly seven years at 1333 and other LCMS office buildings, and I saw a lot of waste–waste that wouldn’t be tolerated in the corporate world (I know, because I’ve worked in the private sector too). By and large, the money that flows to 1333 flows there via the offering plate every Sunday morning. Please remember that it’s offering money that funds everything there, and in some cases it comes from people who really don’t have a lot to give. With that in mind, please use it wisely, carefully, and honestly.

The waste I saw wouldn’t have been enough to make a difference in Issues, Etc. being on the air. But it’s a symptom of a large but solvable problem. If the LCMS had addressed this problem seven years ago when layoffs and huge cuts became an annual event, then it’s entirely possible that Issues, Etc. would be on the air, I would be working at 1333, I wouldn’t be writing my offering check in such a way as to minimize the amount of money going to 1333 to be wasted, and none of this talk would be happening.

Good night.

My children, right or wrong

My good friend the Meiers’ neighbor (close enough, at a mile away) and I keep talking about this case. Hopefully you’re not so sick of Megan Meier to indulge me, because this appears to be a case of a parent being an ally, right or wrong, rather than being a parent.Steve once had a boss we’ll call Murray. Over lunch one day, Murray said he’d always stand behind his children, even to the point where he would lie on the witness stand at a murder trial, if it would protect a child.

That goes a few steps beyond creating a fake Myspace profile and using it to bully your child’s ex-friend, but both of them are symptoms of the same thing: Not parenting.

Lying to keep a child out of trouble or to gain information isn’t supporting your kids. It’s also not a parent’s job.

A parent’s job is to teach kids the difference between right and wrong and to help them learn from their difficulties.

I always knew when my dad was disappointed in me. I think sometimes Dad could be overly harsh, but part of that was because he knew I could do better. And part of it was the alcohol. And when I did something well, Dad was generous with his praise, and the rest of the people around him probably got tired of listening to him talk about me.

Dad could have done a better job, certainly, but the important thing was that he tried. For his shortcomings, we knew he would take care of us and support us.

But we also knew that if we did something wrong, there would be consequences.

It’s funny though. There weren’t consequences all that often. When my sister and I messed up, we learned from it and generally didn’t do something a second time.

Support also means something else. After we moved to St. Louis in 1988, I got to start over at a new school and make new friends. I didn’t have good friends at the old school. I made good friends at the new school, and my parents told me so.

If a friend turns on a child, parental support would be to tell the child that’s not what friends do. It might also help to say that this was unexpected, and this friend fooled the parent too–assuming that’s true. Point to an example of a good friend, then assure the child that there are others like that good friend out there.

And when it came to romantic relationships going sour–which didn’t happen to me a lot, but tended to mess me up for a long time when it did–Mom would reassure me that the girl who broke my heart obviously didn’t know me as well as she thought she did. She couldn’t fix the situation and she didn’t try to.

The temptation is always to be your child’s buddy, rather than an authority figure. But kids need authority figures because kids are wrong. A lot. It’s one of the ways they learn.

A big reason why my sister and I are successful today was because we didn’t get to be buddies with our parents until we were pretty much legal adults.

It’s tempting to shirk that responsibility in order to compensate for other things that have gone wrong. That’s not the right way to handle things. If a parent feels guilty, the only remedy is to find and correct the source of that guilt. Not having as much time as you’d like to spend with the kids, or not having enough money to afford to buy everything you’d want to buy for them isn’t a license to let things slide. Make adjustments, learn from them, find ways that the kids can learn from them too, and always keep in mind that those first 18 years aren’t about having fun, they’re about teaching another human being how life works.

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s only 18 years. There’s plenty of time to be buddy-buddy with the kids once they’re grown. And those years will be a lot better if parents spend those first 18 years being parents.

Not only that, the world will be a better place too.

Despite what that final message said, the world isn’t a better place without Megan Meier. But the world would be a far, far better place with fewer parents who facilitate, encourage, and participate in that kind of behavior.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

If, as expected, I get a job offer on Monday, the advice in What Color is Your Parachute? will ring very true for me.

My best job prospect is a place that wasn’t even hiring.I’m going to continue my practice of not mentioning my employers, past or present, by name–savvy people have probably guessed my last one, but I don’t know that I’ve ever even mentioned the restaurant I worked in high school by name–but this one is a very long and winding road.

I spent last July 4 with a good friend of mine from church. He was casually making conversation when he said, "I don’t suppose you’re looking to change jobs, are you?" Well, I don’t remember anymore if that week had been a bad week or not, but it was the start of a new fiscal year and some people had been let go, so it wasn’t like I was feeling terribly secure at the time. So I guess I surprised him when I said, "Talk to me."

He said his engineering firm had been kicking around the idea of hiring a full-time IT guy, because one of his engineers wasn’t getting his projects done because people kept dragging him away to fix computers. I asked him some more about company, and frankly, the only thing I didn’t like was its location. Location was the only thing my current job had going for it; so that seemed like a good trade.

I went home and worked on my resume. And then I heard nothing.

Every once in a while the fire would get flamed again and Jon would mention they hadn’t forgotten me, but each time it turned out to be false hope.

Well, when the now-annual layoffs happened again this year, I was one of the people hit. Jon was the third person I called. I told him if they were still interested, I could start as soon as Monday and we could really get creative. One idea I floated was to work on a contract basis, paid hourly, so they could see if I was worth my asking price.

And a few days later, I got a call from the owner of the company. He wanted me to come in for an interview. I liked him instantly. For one thing, he’s 72 going on 30. While he’s got all the wisdom one would expect from someone who’s run his own business for 42 years, he has the energy and enthusiasm of a 30-year-old. He’s generous with praise when it’s appropriate. When he asked what I knew about the company, I said, "Basically what I know is what Jon told me, and what’s on your web site. I know Jon designs presses."

"No," the owner said, "Jon designs very good presses."

He took me out to lunch. At the restaurant where we went, everyone knew him by name. We were seated at a table and had soup and water in front of us within 30 seconds. I’ve read stories about this kind of thing, but never actually seen it.

My former boss called me a day or two later to ask me how it went. I didn’t elaborate a lot. I think about all I said was that I met the owner, and I like the guy, I respect the guy, but not only that, I really want to be like him. He answered with a question: "Do you know how big that is?"

As a matter of fact, I don’t know that I do. What I do know is I’ve worked for a handful of people who were two of the three. I’ve worked for people who were none of the three. While I’ve worked with people who were all three, I’ve never worked for anyone who was all three. And I figure this may be the only chance I get.

We talked again on Thursday, briefly. There were 47 other things going on that day and I probably only talked to him for about 10 minutes total. He said he still wasn’t convinced that the company needs an IT guy, but that he thinks I’m a tremendous talent, that I’m a good fit for the company, and frankly, if he didn’t move fast, he’d lose me. He said we’d talk again on Monday, and he’d have an offer for me then.

Meanwhile, I’d been filling out applications everywhere I could find on the usual job sites. I’d sent my resume to recruiters and basically done everything I did back in 2000 when I was looking for a job and I was getting so many phone calls that I was turning down an interview a day. What worked in 2000 wasn’t working at all in 2005: I didn’t so much as get an acknowledgement of existance from most of these people.

But the firm that wasn’t even hiring? It looks like it turned out to be my best option. Maybe even my only option, despite me having an inside track at one or possibly even two other places.

We’ll see what Monday brings.

But if it doesn’t work out, I don’t think I’m going to waste any more time with the job sites. I’ll do what the book recommends and rely solely on word of mouth and in-person visits. I’m a whole lot happier with what that’s turned up for me.

What brand of hard drive should I buy?

LinuxWorld posted an article today on how to install another hard disk in Linux. The guide’s pretty good from the software side.
The advice is slightly questionable from the hardware side. Author Joe Barr states that it doesn’t matter which connector on the cable you use, as long as one drive is jumpered master and one drive is slave. For years that was true, but you’re actually supposed to put the master on the end and the slave in the middle. Usually it doesn’t matter. But the newer your drive is, and the newer your controller is, and the longer your cable is, the more likely it is to matter. You also shouldn’t attach a drive to the middle and leave the top connector hanging. Again, you can usually get away with it–and people have gotten away with it for more than a decade–but the likelihood of not getting away with it increases with every passing day, as hard drives get faster and faster, and thus more and more touchy.

What happens when you do it wrong? Usually it works anyway. Sometimes it’ll be flaky. And sometimes it won’t work at all. Don’t you love predictability? So it’s really best to follow the rules unless the layout of your case makes that impossible.

But the main reason I’m writing is because the usual expected flamewar erupted in the discussion thread. Barr bought a Western Digital drive. Predictably, someone responded that Western Digitals are junk. Then someone responded to the response and said Maxtors are junk but Seagates are good. Then someone responded to the response to the response and said Seagates used to be junk. Before you knew it, every brand of hard drive on the market–IBM, Samsung, Seagate, Maxtor, Western Digital–had been trashed. Curiously, except for Fujitsu. But Fujitsu recently had a big scandal with a failure rate on one particular model of drive higher than 90 percent. (Meanwhile, my own experience tells me Fujitsu SCSI drives are fantastic.) And lately, Samsung drives have been getting praise all over the place. So what gives?

The problem with these statements is there’s a degree of truth to all of them. There was a time when Maxtor hard drives were the worst thing you could buy. Ever heard this joke? Fast, reliable, and cheap: Pick two. Well, in the early to mid-’90s, Maxtors weren’t fast, they weren’t reliable, and they weren’t consistently any cheaper than any other brand. The only reason to buy them was because the familiar red boxes were everywhere. The only place you couldn’t buy them was the corner gas station. Well, in St. Louis at least.

During the same time frame, Seagate had similar troubles. Their drives were expensive, but they weren’t fast. I didn’t see enough of them to get any kind of handle on reliability because I was so turned off by their price and underachieving performance that I wouldn’t go near them, and neither would anyone else I knew.

In the mid to late ’90s, it was Western Digital’s turn to go 0 for 3 on fast, reliable, and cheap. From 1997 to about 2000, I saw more dead Western Digitals than every other brand, combined. And I saw a lot of drives come across my desk.

With its GXP series a couple of years ago, IBM had the fastest drives on the market, and they were also among the cheapest. But they were exceedingly touchy, and became notorious for premature failure.

I bought a handful of Samsung drives over the years, never willingly, because of their terrible reputation. They’ve been reliable. And when you look at reviews of their recent drives, they run cool and they’re reasonably fast. They’re not necessarily the fastest on the market at any given time, but they may very well be the best combination of fast, reliable, and cheap right now.

I’ve been around long enough and seen enough that every time I see unqualified statements like “Western Digital drives are junk,” or “Maxtor drives are junk,” or “Seagate and Maxtor drives are the best,” whether it’s from some end user in a discussion forum or a professional hardware reviewer, I get suspicious. The end user is probably basing those conclusions on a too-small sample size, and the professional reviewer probably isn’t doing the necessary homework.

Let me tell you why.

We know how to build a completely reliable hard drive, one that will run for 10 years and never have problems. But it would cost too much money, its capacity would be too small, and it would be too slow. The technology in hard drives changes with each generation, and the company with the best technology is generally the one that produces the most reliable drives. But the most advanced technology isn’t always the best technology, as IBM found out with its GXPs. The GXPs were too far ahead of their time.

It should come as no surprise that when Maxtor was producing junk drives, they weren’t in very good shape financially. There wasn’t much money for R&D. When Maxtor’s financial situation improved, its R&D improved, and its drives became faster and more reliable.

There was a time when someone could ask me what hard drive to buy and I could give them a brand and model number that would give them the best combination of fast, reliable and cheap. But my newest computer at home was built in the summer of 2001 and I very rarely work on desktop systems anymore–I’m a server guy these days, and I have been for the past 18 months. If I’m honest with myself and with the person asking the question, a lot can change in 18 months. In 2001, as far as I could tell, the best drive to buy was a Maxtor and the worst to buy was a Western Digital.

I can go with my old prejudices and continue to dispense that advice indefinitely. But there was a time when that was reversed. And what about Samsung? They’re quiet and they run cool, which is a good sign, they’re very affordable, and while they’re almost never the fastest, they never get blown out of the water by benchmarks.

The best thing to do is to talk with someone who actually works with the equipment on a regular basis, and in large volumes. I want the opinions of someone who speaks from recent knowledge and experience, not someone speaking from old prejudices or a gravy train of free hardware. That means I’d call up a couple of former coworkers who still do some desktop support, or who at least handle the RMAs for subordinates who do desktop support. I’d ask them whose drives have been failing the most lately, and if they notice much performance difference between brands. Benchmarks are more precise, but they can also be fooled. If you can’t notice the difference in the real world I really don’t care about it. If you do notice the difference, I don’t care much about percentages. It’s subjective, but as long as I trust the people whose opinions I’m soliciting, that doesn’t matter much to me.

And after talking to a couple of people who actually handle a few drives a week, I’d go plunk down my cash.

My spiritual journey

I guess this is as good of a time as any to write my spiritual autobiography. It’s not as long of a story as some–years of apathy have ways of shortening stories.
I guess I could sum up my current state in a couple of lines: Reach the world. Work within the system and change it from within.

Here’s how I got there. Read more

The most disturbing story in the Old Testament

Probably everyone who’s ever been to Sunday School is familiar with the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
Matchbook-cover version: To test Abraham’s faith, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his long-promised son, born to him and his wife Sarah when they were aged 100 and 90, respectively. He was their only son. Abraham loaded them up, and as he prepared to slay his son on the altar, an angel came to him and stopped him.

Did you know there’s another case of human sacrifice to God in the Old Testament, and the Bible is a whole lot less forthcoming on whether the burnt offering actually happened?
Read more

What God has to say when someone in your familiy just died

One of my best friends called me last night with news you never want to hear.
“Dave, is this a bad time?”

“No.”

“My mom died yesterday.”

Like there’s such thing as a bad time for news like that. Wait. There’s never a good time for news like that, but you’ve always got time for a friend with news like that. I don’t care if it’s Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the 9th, two out, the bases are loaded, my team’s down by a run, I’m due up and I’m the team’s superstar. Sorry, Mr. Manager, I know the team needs me but you’d better get a pinch hitter ready because I’ve got a friend who needs me more.

What she needed, besides someone who would listen, was a trio of Bible verses for her mom’s funeral mass. I guess I was the logical person to call, because her dad asked who she was talking to, and then he must have asked something like, “Why’d you call him?” because she said, “Because he’s putting together a Bible study for tomorrow night.”

Actually at the time my phone rang, I was laying on my futon thinking about cleaning off my coffee table–hard drives are not appropriate coffee table decoration, and you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to know that–but I did spend some time putting together a Bible study, yes.

After a little digging, we came up with some stuff. And that’s how Protestant Boy here ended up injecting his two cents’ worth into a funeral mass.

“Somewhere in the Bible, it says, ‘Fight the good fight,'” she said.

“That’s St. Paul if I’ve ever heard him,” I thought as I got out my concordance. It was an easy find: 1 Timothy 6:12.

The books of 1 and 2 Timothy are really cool books, because Paul was well along in years when he wrote them–2 Timothy may have been the last thing Paul wrote before he died. Timothy was a dear friend, about 30 years Paul’s junior, so Paul regarded Timothy as the son he never had. So these two books read like a father’s last words to his son–“Since I don’t have much time left, let me make sure I say these last things to you now,” you can hear Paul saying.

A mother-daughter relationship has similarities to that, and Jeanne’s mom spent the majority of her life fighting the good fight. I wasn’t about to suggest any other verse.

For the gospel lesson, there was only one obvious choice: John 11.

“Jesus told her [Martha], ‘Your brother will rise again.’

“‘Yes,’ Martha said, ‘when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.’

“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?’

“‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him. ‘I have always believed…'” (John 11:23-27a, NLT.)

In a mass, you have Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel lessons. 1 Timothy gets New Testament out of the way. For Old Testament, there’s the old standby, Psalm 23. I stumbled around looking for an alternative. I looked in Job 7, which was a mistake–that just gets you depressed. I looked at a verse in Isaiah that my Bible recommended, but it didn’t seem to fit.

I found a passage in Psalm 91 that I underlined long ago:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16, New Living Translation.)

Then I read it in a couple of other translations and didn’t like it so much. Maybe the NLT played it a little too fast and loose with the translation; others didn’t sound appropriate for use in a funeral mass.

So I flipped around to what’s probably my very favorite Psalm: Psalm 18. It’s a little unconventional, as it’s a prayer of praise after deliverance from your biggest enemy, but compared to heaven, isn’t this world your biggest enemy? Even though it’s not the first passage that comes to mind, it just seemed to fit:

“I love you Lord, you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior. My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold. I will call on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, for he saves me from my enemies.” (Ps. 18:1-3, NLT)

Jeanne liked it. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Jeanne’s mom was a brilliant woman; she held two advanced degrees. Her health held that brilliant mind captive for the majority of her years. I don’t understand her illness; I won’t go into any details because I have none. For the people left behind, it’s no good. But this life truly was her greatest enemy. Now God has set her free.

And just as with the rest of us, in due time God will set Jeanne free too. Then they’ll see each other again, each the way God intended them to be all along. What can be cooler than that?

Today, it’s no good. Tomorrow and the next day won’t be much good either, and neither will next week. If she’s like me, she’ll wake up sweating and panting, having just dreamt it was all just a terrible mistake and her mom just walked in the room. My dad died almost 7 years ago, but I’ve had that dream at least once this year. And there’ll be days next year that won’t be so great.

But one day, when God calls us all home, none of that will matter anymore. In the meantime, God still needs us here. And he’s put people around us to deal with getting through all that.

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