Saturday, June 21, 2008

In Praise of Mystery

I am, if not first, then at least foremost a man of science and reason. It pervades everything I do, particularly considering that Science (or at least its go-getting and more useful older brother Engineering) is what I get paid to do for a living. Even in pursuit of my faith, it informs my thoughts, my theology, and my walk with God, as long-time readers of mine can attest to. Given a few simple axioms, I should be able to justify virtually everything in my system of beliefs, and when I cannot, those beliefs ought to be subject to further scrutiny and potential revision.

One of my own bolder statements regarding the nature of God is that I believe it is perfectly reasonable that nearly all of the miracles described in the Old Testament might be explicable as natural occurrences. Moses’ parting of the Red Sea may very well have been due to a freak, but not impossible, shifting of currents coinciding with some sort of tectonic event. The fall of the walls of Jericho may have been the result of a perfectly-timed earthquake. At least nine of the ten plagues that struck Egypt very well could have rational explanations as well (aside: if Scripture reveals that the Angel of the Lord really did pass over the houses of Israel, then, well, by God, I believe it. So plague number ten gets the proverbial asterisk). I have the sometimes-annoying tendency (particularly to the wife) to view God as, in some part, the Great Engineer. Far from the Deist view of an impersonal God Who created the universe and let it proceed randomly from there, I believe my God is so great that He could create a universe tailored down to the last subatomic particle such that every event He needs to occur would occur right on cue – so from the beginning of Time, He very well knew that the choices made freely by His people would put them, for example, at the shores of the Red Sea with the Pharaoh’s army at their backs at precisely the moment when an earthquake would cause the waters to part long enough for a massive group of people to cross, and then immediately close in on the pursuing force. This diminishes neither the free will of His people (I don’t want to digress into an argument about free will, so suffice it to say that knowing the outcome of an event a priori is not the same thing as causing that outcome to happen) nor the miraculous nature of the event itself (if one ascribes to the view of the miraculous as something which, when quantified as the ratio of the serendipity of an event to its probability of occurring, results in a very large number – but more importantly, to any engineer who has ever managed a project large or small, expecting something to occur as planned with any precision after any significant amount of time has elapsed is foolhardy at best).

Of course, there are a few things within the realm of Christian belief that simply are inexplicable or unknowable. Chief among these is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. This is the first thing with which I always qualify my “every miracle is a planned coincidence” thesis. Jesus Christ, being both God and man, cannot be considered in any way a “natural convenience”. He is, was, and always will be, and was thus a direct, divine intervention into the affairs of man – according to my thesis, the direct, divine intervention, through which mankind has been redeemed and reconciled with God. And this is the Great Mystery – that which is unknowable by us, but only to be accepted on faith.

And far from frustrating me as a “man of science”, the Great Mystery that is Jesus Christ fills me with incredible joy. Accepting Him as an unknowable mystery unburdens my meager and grasping intellect, and uplifts my spiritual self. Knowing (as well as anyone “knows” anything by faith, at least) that I can never rationalize or explain His existence, His life and His death, as a product of the well-designed natural world gives me and the entire world hope that we are not, in the long run, subject to the forces that wear us down, and that we have the actual and miraculous prospect of eternal life ahead of us in Jesus Christ our Lord. And I praise God for that Mystery by which we are all saved.

This is not to say that we can not in any way know Christ. Quite the contrary, through God’s revealed will in Scripture, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can know Christ quite intimately. Part of the mystery of the Christian faith has, in fact, been revealed to us as followers of Christ, in part in the form of a fuller and more complete understanding of Old Testament Scriptures and God’s promises in light of Christ’s role as the fulfillment of millennia of prophecy. This is, in fact, the very essence of a religious “mystery”: the revelation of previously unknown or unknowable things from the Priest (in this case, our High Priest Jesus Christ) to the Initiate (a new believer in Christ).

Still, though, there are those intangibles which cannot be fully understood by us mortals, because God has not chosen to fully elucidate it through Divine Revelation. Take, for instance, the Trinity: a cornerstone of orthodox Christian belief which professes the triune nature of God as three Persons in one God. Much is made by dissenters over the fact that Scripture never uses the word “trinity” (or whatever the Greek/Hebrew analog might be, at least); nevertheless, it repeatedly and (to my own mind at least) clearly establishes divine coexistence of a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit as the One True God. And yet I do not believe that anyone can truly understand precisely what this entails until we go to meet our Heavenly Father and all is made clear.

Similarly, the dual nature of Christ as fully man and fully God is something scholars still spend endless hours and pages of writing debating and parsing from scripture and philosophy: the point being that even the best and most brilliant among us still don’t know. It’s not that it’s a mystery because we haven’t yet figured it out; rather, we haven’t figured it out yet because it is a Mystery. Therefore, we must take on faith and faith alone that Jesus Christ did indeed come in the form of a man (I’m speaking inexactly here, so please don’t parse that statement too deeply) and yet still retained His Godhood. The entire birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ is suffused with similar Mysteries, and He is glorified because of it. It is these Mysteries that separate Christ from the rest of Scripture, and what define Him as the unique and singular turning point in God’s relationship with man.

This post was written at Washington-Dulles International Airport and somewhere above the continental United States, and has been cross-posted at Mazurland.


Friday, June 20, 2008

News FromThe Front

Blog posting from the airport! I doubt some other jokers I know are so awesome and jet-setting… Well, okay, you called me out. While I’m writing this from the airport, I'm not about to shell out the six bucks for two hours of wifi that the airport is “offering” me. I use that word advisedly, as a Mafioso might “offer” protection to a poor street vendor.

Anywho. As fans of My Hero Jonah Goldberg™ are probably aware, there is much reportage of the various sales, positions (both in the charts and quite physically), and availability of his first (and super-awesome) book, Liberal Fascism. A recurrent theme of said reportage is the general lack of availability, or conspicuously poor placement, of the book at typically liberal-leaning booksellers such as Barnes & Noble or Borders Books.

Well, I can now provide some similar “news from the front”: Here in Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, the tide appears to be turning. In the most-prominently featured section of the store is the “Social Science & Politics” section of books, directly in front of the register. Most of these books are in hardcover or large-size trade paperback form. To conserve space, of course, most of these books are stacked spine-out, although a selection of books are featured cover-out, presumably to jack up sales of those titles. At any rate, the choice of which books are emphasized thus provide insight into the political bents (or lack thereof) of the bookseller. And what books do I see cover out? Well, as you’ve probably already figured out, there’s Liberal Fascism, smiling mustachioedly in all its mock-Hitlerian glory. Of course, directly above it was Richard A. Clarke’s presumably execrable new book, the overly-wordy title of which was some generic slamming indictment of the current political regime that I forgot as soon as I read it. But two rows down? Douglas Feith’s book. One row above Clarke’s book? John Bolton’s. Scanning the spine-out books, too, I discovered a fairly and remarkably well-balanced selection (Bill O’Reilly’s book was directly adjacent to Keith Olbermann’s. I felt like warning the poor sales clerk of the impending rift in the space-time continuum that might arise from such a prolonged juxtaposition of two opposing bombasts, but decided against it. The black hole would probably gain critical mass during off hours anyhow).

Finally, my eyes spied my intended objective: My Other Hero Mark Steyn™’s America Alone, in trade paperback form with new introduction and super-awesome cover blurb “Soon To Be Banned In Canada”. Spine-out, of course, but we can’t win every battle. I purchased it more for the sake of buying a book of conservative importance at an airport Borders than any other reason, although I have been wanting to read it since it first came out. I’ve only read the first paragraph of the brand-spankin’-new introduction, and already given it several hearty internal guffaws. Hopefully it’ll give me plenty to blog about, if perhaps a bit behind-the-curve.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Experimental Food Diary

Mrs. Red Shirt has been out of town along with the Little Red Shirt, visiting her family while I slave away during our busy time getting ready for a field test. Whenever the missus is out of town, I get creative in the kitchen (Mrs. Red Shirt doesn't like it when I cook not because the food isn't tasty, but because I'm a messy cook). It was from these experiments that I learned last year to cook Thai Red Curry, which is now one of my personal specialties (one the wife even lets me cook from time to time!), so it's all for the better.

Anywho, what follows is a post facto diary about my current series of experiments.

Wednesday: Pepper-crusted salmon with green beans. Best. Salmon. Ever. I take one salmon filet with the skin still on one side. I liberally coat each non-skin surface with finely ground black pepper, and a dash of kosher salt. Then, in a small non-stick pan, I heat a couple tsp. of oil on medium heat. I drop in the salmon, skin-side down, and let it just sit there for about 6-7 minutes. Then I turn, and let each of the other three sides cook for 1-2 minutes each. The pepper crusts up and seals in all the tasty flavor. I garnish with lime, which adds just the right bite to each... well, bite. I like doing this one while the wife is away because she prefers her salmon a bit more well done than I like mine, and I have a hard time getting more than one piece "just right" if the criteria are different. The green beans, with a light asian sauce, were courtesy of Wegman's. Complemented very nicely with a Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde (don't laugh; they're tasty!).

Thursday: Pho Bo, a Vietnamese rice-noodle soup. This was a favorite of mine when I lived in Seattle, and there's only one place in town that serves it here, where it is under-portioned and over-priced. To do it "for real" requires the boiling of beef bones for many hours to produce just the right broth. Having neither beef bones nor many hours available, I found a recipe online that called for properly-seasoned beef broth instead, and tried this. Let me just cut this little story short with two words: culinary fiasco. Actually, it was the worst thing I've ever cooked. I couldn't find completely unseasoned beef broth, so the resulting mixture did not even really approximate the desired result. Way too salty, AND I apparently ran out of hoisin sauce, which is typically served in Pho restaurants as an add-in which sweetens the typically salty broth a bit. So the result tasted pretty awful. Which makes me sad, because I was hoping to use this to provide myself with Pho on a regular basis.

Friday: Left-over stir-fry. Actually very tasty. I combined some chili-garlic paste, cilantro, and scallions as the base, and stir-fried that with some soy-sauce-marinated thin-cut sirloin, and served it over rice with a side of kimchi (I always buy kimchi, a spicy Korean fermented cabbage dish, when the wife is out of town, because she can't stand the way it smells, which is, admittedly, quite pungent). This turned out vastly better than the previous night's meal -- actually, worth preserving in recipe form. I ended up not using the cilantro the previous night (cilantro is a common Pho garnish), so it flavored the beef quite well. I only had a small amount of the chili-garlic paste left, so it didn't overpower. The scallions and cilantro were the primary flavors, which complement each other very nicely. Accompanied by Spaten Optimator (pardon my lack of umlauts), a nice dark German beer.

Saturday: Pizza and beer. Papa John's "All the Meats" and some more Optimator. (Sorry -- "guy's night in", with pizza, beer, and Settlers of Catan -- no time to cook!).

Sunday: Italian-breadcrumb-encrusted fried "fresh" mozzarella slices. I took one of those big logs of "buffalo" mozzarella (the kind you typically find as big balls floating in water), sliced off some "medallions" of cheese, coated them in Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (using buttermilk as the binding agent -- I swear by the stuff for all my frying needs!), and fried each side in a relatively small amount of oil for maybe 30 seconds apiece. Very tasty, although I had the oil too hot, which had the two-fold effect of a) setting off my fire alarm, and b) causing the outsides to get very hot while leaving the innermost cheese still slightly cool, which was not a particularly pleasant effect. Next time I'll lower the oil temperature and let them cook longer to yield thorough heating without meltage.

Monday: Sushi! I've never tried to make sushi before, so this will be interesting. It's what I had planned the previous night, but the rice I had had gone stale, AND the sushi-vinegar was expired. Oh, and the local fishmonger was all out of sushi-grade fish. That's still a factor, but I figure, for my first attempt, I ought to take it easy, so I'll be making avocado and cucumber rolls. I'll update if all goes well.

Update: Sushi was a rousing success, and surprisingly easy. I bought a bamboo roller and some sushinori (the seaweed wrapper) (chef's note: buy the cheap, separate ones (about $2 each for the roller and a pack of a dozen or so wrappers), NOT the "sushi kit", which is a pathetic ripoff). I used some pre-made "sushi rice seasoning" that Wegman's sells over by their sushi section, which is really just rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Anywho, I cooked the rice, about 2 cups uncooked, and spread it out in a glass dish and poured about half a cup of the vinegar mixture over the (approx) 4 cups of cooked rice and let it cool. Then I sliced up some cucumber, avocado, shrimp, and shallots and combined them in varying ways in about 5 or 6 rolls. I even made a spicy shrimp roll with a squirt of Sriracha that turned out to be very tasty. My favorite, though, was the shallot-and-avocado roll, which had a creamy and subtle flavor thanks to the avocado, with the shallot adding a nice oniony kick. A dash of soy sauce and a pinch of wasabi later, I was stuffed, with lots of leftovers.

Thus we are at an end to my temporary bachelorhood (I fly out to the field test in a couple days), and my culinary experimentation. Final score: 3 hits, one miss, and one old standard that never fails (the salmon). And pizza-and-beer.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Another Milestone of Thirty!

So almost exactly five months ago, I commented upon a milestone in my life involving the number 30. Well, 30 must be my lucky number, as today I've hit another milestone: Over the last year, I have finally reached my goal and lost (as of this morning) 30 lbs! That's right, the Only Red Shirt was formerly something of a porker, but now I'm down below even my svelte college (and subsequent wedding) weight.

I'll probably go a few more lbs. I'm going out on a field exercise for work, which means a per diem, which means eating rich food every night. So I'll need a bit of a buffer. But still, this marks the first time since college, and only the second time of my adult life, that I've been within "ideal weight" ranges by any reckoning. And since it took me a full year and an actual lifestyle change (eating smarter and getting some light exercise routinely), I can probably keep it off. And now I don't feel like such a fat white lump around my hot wife.

Next stop: the Chinese Buffet!