Life in the Big City

Today is the last day of the class I have been taking at the University of Washington. Each Friday I take off early from work and from 2-5 pm I pretend I’m back in college (except for the Frisbee, wargaming, and sleeping-in until 1 pm). The course materials have been dull, and I have been rather bored. But I have found that enjoyment of academic pursuits are a lot about what you put into them … in my case, I get what I ‘paid’ for, since I’ve put little effort into this class. Over the past several weeks, I’ve gotten behind on my semester-end project and had to put in a lot of time this past week to catch up. Ironically, now that I am crunched for time, I find that the coursework interests me and I wish I had made better use of my opportunities to explore some of the more obscure facets. Today I present my class project … I feel a little sheepish about how much more developed it could have been. Hopefully I can bring this lesson forward, if they offer another class that interests me.

This is 4th Avenue, where I go on Friday afternoons for my class.

It is strange to live in the ‘city’ after spending four years in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula. So many things are very convenient and accessible. Yesterday we had cable internet service installed at the house … for the first time ever we are enjoying a heady, high-speed alternative to 56K dialup. While many websites are still slow, download speeds for large content is brisk … it is very pleasant to surf the web without cement blocks on your feet. I spent almost two hours wrestling with our cable modem before I discovered that the connection could not be shared between several machines (only a single IP address is assigned to the cable modem). It turns out that (in order to share the high-speed connection) I need a router to sit between my computers and the modem … at the cost of another $60, arrrgghhh.

This is a strange building I often walk past — I’d hate to be in there if another big earthquake strikes.

Kathy and I have been talking lately about the future … this life in Lakewood feels very temporary to me. I would like to either move back to the Duckabush (if my work would permit) or move closer to work (maybe near the Puyallup or Sumner train stations) once our lease is up with this house in August, 2005. Sometimes we talk about moving to Michigan (although our memories of the winters there have not sufficiently faded). Kathy really likes living in Lakewood … but my folks plan to move away (and I suspect she has the happy ability to be content anywhere). Then there is the question of my brother and his family … will they really move to Fort Lewis, or will they stay in Kansas, where they are very happy? Our families seem to be cursed (like Superman and Clark Kent) to never live in the same town. While I was finishing school in Virginia, Mark was in Germany. By the time he was assigned to Fort Monroe (VA), I had moved to CT. Then he was in Dayton, OH, but left around the same time I moved to Michigan. It would be typically ironic if my brother’s family moved here only to have us pull up stakes and move away.

Truth be told, we do have some misgivings about moving back to the Olympic peninsula, even if circumstances permitted and we could bring ourselves to give up high-speed internet service. Kathy and I were very hurt by the relational damage that came out of our disagreement with the local church’s leadership, and we’re not sure that we could be happy there after all that has happened, and the way that relationships have been soured. It is such a tiny community that a little discord goes a long way.

My folks are enjoying the use of our house in the Duckabush valley as an experimental retreat center, while they continue to wait for the main Retreat House to be built. After a thorough cleaning by our beloved Judy, my folks have been furiously outfitting the house with beds and furniture. I understand that the first official retreat is scheduled in December … it is exciting to see this dream become more of a reality. On Saturday we are holding a board meeting out at the ‘Duckabush House’ (as our former home is now styled) and will likely discuss plans to move forward now that we finally have a permit to build the main retreat lodge. It is sad to me to think that we lived there all those years and only now that we are not there is the retreat center being built … again, we seem to be out of step with the proper schedule of things.

Every day, when I come to the platform, there are two identical trains sitting there. One goes south to Tacoma, while the other either sits there for another 30 minutes or heads north to Everett. The trains are both marked ‘Tacoma’ but only one is the proper train. It is a source of considerable confusion for me, not what I need at the end of a long day.

I’ve been reading in I Kings about the dedication of Solomon’s temple … what a surprisingly interesting passage! The description of the temple furnishings was reminiscent of the tabernacle passages in the Pentateuch … a modern Christian is left wondering why so much narrative was provided on a physical description of the temple when the time or space could have been (better?) used in moral instruction or revelation of God’s nature. I think that our post-modern cynicism and familiarity with spiritual things may cause us to seriously underestimate the holiness and majesty of God. Solomon had 120,000 sheep sacrificed (and sundry other animals) for the dedication of the temple of the Lord God. Most of us would have stopped at a ceremonial 12, if we could bring ourselves to sacrifice at all. The mind boggles at the scale of the bloodshed … yet Solomon’s long-winded and prophetic prayer seems to indicate that he had a pretty good idea of who God is. It must have been really something to be working in the temple when the Presence of God filled the temple area with a cloud … how awesome to see with your eyes a shadow of God’s majesty.

It is always good to be reminded of the awesome power of God … I know that I am prone to continually exaggerate my own importance in the scheme of things. Yesterday I was feeling gloomy (mostly due to a lack of sleep) and was thinking critical thoughts about the way that God is managing my life. Sad to think that I have still not learned the lesson that it is not all about me.

One of the things that troubles me is that I am not enjoying my work very much. A lot of what I do is pretty tedious and there is little opportunity to do anything well. I am almost always under time pressure such that I find myself always reacting and never working proactively. Much of my work is of the use-once, throw-away variety, which is unsatisfying to me. I tend to enjoy building something that has at least some lasting value … a non-trivial challenge in the world of software development. Even the best of computer systems cannot hope for much more than a five-year lifespan. Sadly, the prospects for change are fairly limited … there is no immediate hope of changing this job into something more interesting.

Almost immediately it seemed to me that the Holy Spirit put a thought into my head: what did the Lord do before beginning his public ministry at age 30? Here we have the Creator of the universe, King of King and Lord of Lords, who is willing to waste his time doing rough carpentry? Talk about throw-away work … from an eternal perspective, the things He built out of wood didn’t last very long. Surely He had better things to do with His time? Yet we find no mention of His activities between age 12 and 30.

I find that somehow comforting, as I speculate about the plan for Jesus’ life on earth. Were those 18 years important in terms of building a reputation, or giving Jesus credibility? Or were they critical in fulfilling the requirement that He be ‘tempted in all ways that we are tempted’? Whatever the reason, isn’t it likely that this time of my life, which seems to be going nowhere, is accomplishing some divine purpose?

It is hard to be patient, though. I guess that is one of the temptations Jesus faced … it surfaces in His remark to Mary at the wedding feast in Cana … “My time has not yet come.” (John 2) A human (and Jesus was fully human, yet fully God) feels the pull of time keenly … it must have been hard to wait on the timing set by the Father for the beginning of His public ministry. Jesus’ response to Mary’s faith and the immediate launching of His public ministry make me wonder if He was surprised to find that, in fact, the time had come for the gathering of His disciples and the beginning of His teaching and healing ministry.

Now that I have turned 39, I am a little more conscious of my mortality and the time that I have spent on various pursuits, some of them pretty worthless, some of them having eternal value. I guess all I can do is be patient, trying to redeem the time at work as best I can, watching for the opportunity to make something useful out of this time and learning whatever lessons God teaches me.

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